Jake comes into the house, dripping with sweat, and bends in half to put his hands on his knees. After a few moments of catching his breath, he says, “I just saw God.”
He has my attention. It’s already ninety degrees, and Jake has just gotten back from his run with his teammates. Often, when runners from rival high schools meet up with them for morning practice on the greenway, trash-talking pushes them much farther, much faster than their coaches have instructed them to go.
So that’s my first thought: is he delusional from the heat? My second thought? Well, crap. Are we going to have to start going to church now?
“You saw God?” I ask as I get him a cup of water. Heat-stroke would be so much easier than religious zealotry.
“Yeah,” he says. He stands up to chug the water, then bends back over to put his hands on his knees again. “Well, Yahweh.”
“Yahweh? Specifically Yahweh?”
“The God of the Jews?”
“Yeah. We passed him on our run.”
That’s all he needs to say, and I suddenly know exactly who he’s talking about. “The man who looks like he’s gotta be from Brooklyn? Grey curly hair, short beard? Tiny bit bow-legged?”
“Baseball hat?” Jake throws back at me, ” Glasses?”
After years of walking on the greenway, I don’t know the names of the regulars. It’s rude to stop someone mid-stride to chat. I refer to them by their descriptions, and Jake always knows who I mean. The British Heroin Addict. Slow Shuffle-y Lady. The Couple Who Holds Hands. One-Eyed Sideways Guy.
This man has been walking for several years now. Cordial in nodding “hello,” but not overly friendly. He’s busy, and now I know why. He’s Yahweh, damn it, and he just wants to get his walk in because he hates those blood pressure pills his doctor wants him to take. His posture and his purposeful gait shout “I”m from New York!” to anyone who knows to listen at that frequency.
“Oh my gosh, you are so right. He totally is Yahweh.”
“Isn’t he?” Jake asks. “That’s what Yahweh would look like. Baseball hat, sitting on a park bench, listening to the Mets game.”
“Well, of course,” I say. “If he was listening to the Yankees he’d have to be someone else, entirely.” Because Satan loves the Yankees.
“Exactly!” Jake throws his hands up and smiles from ear to ear. It’s settled, then. Yahweh is the man on the greenway, and the Yankees and God have nothing to do with each other.
What Jake probably doesn’t remember well is this: Going to Brooklyn on Saturdays when he was a little boy to visit Mike’s paternal grandparents, Martin and Marion Stein: Nana and Poppa. They’ve passed away now, but they were wonderful people, and they adored Jake.
Always the same routine: We’d arrive and visit for a bit, and then we’d sit down for deli. A few moments into lunch, and without fail Poppa would get up and head to the kitchen.
Nana’s questions followed him, “Where are you going, what do you need? Sit down, Marty! We have everything here!”
Poppa would come back in and loudly thunk a small jar of mayonnaise down in front of me. “Shiksas love this,” he’d announce, gesturing to the mayo. As far as I could see it was the same bottle, year after year, and had never been opened. Poppa’s joke made me laugh every time; it made me feel included. You don’t tease someone about their lack of Jewishness unless it’s just fine with you, and Martin and Marion couldn’t have cared less that I was a shiksa.
After lunch we’d go to the playground, and Poppa knew everyone we met on the way; everyone of every age, color and accent. He knew their stories and their kids’ names, and where their elderly parents lived. A quick hello to everyone, but that’s all, because today he’s visiting with his grandchildren.
Martin was a retired corporate attorney, and he had the quiet confidence of a very intelligent man who worked hard for his success and had seen a lot of the good and bad of life. He and Nana bought their house when Brooklyn was still mostly farmland. The changing face of Brooklyn was a source of interest to him, and in retirement he spent part of every afternoon sitting on a bench, smoking his pipe, watching the neighborhood get on with its day.
Jake’s Yahweh has a lot in common with his Great-grandfather. A bit younger, a bit more hair. Lose the pipe, sit him on a bench with earphones.
“Jake,” I say, rolling it around in my head, ” I think nine out of ten Jews could probably get behind you on that.”
Jake slowly nods and grins a huge grin, because it makes perfect sense to him.