The old man seated beside me awaiting the appearance of the celebrated Isaac Bashevis Singer at The Workman’s Circle Auditorium is becoming a pest. From a rumpled brown shopping bag he pulls out and shamelessly shows off photographs of his grandchildren to which I offer the obligatory compliments. Light and sound technicians, meanwhile, test the mike and spot, inadvertently knocking the beam off kilter. The veins in the old man’s ears catch the light like insects trapped in amber. Squinting, he scans the room with a laser-like intensity—a retired diamond cutter from 47th Street, no doubt.
Everybody wants to be in the spotlight nowadays.
If only he’d shut up and let me flirt with the bookish bespectacled beauty to my left.
Little by little, the hall fills up. Coughs and whispers proliferate. Legs are crossed and uncrossed. I crane my neck, scanning the crowd. “Where is Singer?” I wonder aloud, glancing repeatedly at my watch.
“That ganef is always late!” the old man shakes his head with a tisk of disapproval and a rakish wink at the girl, fingering the books in his bag, purchased second-hand for signing, I assume.
The M.C. steps up to the mike. “It is my very great honor…etc.”
But where is Singer?
“Excuse me,” the old man rises with a mischievous grin, having managed in the mean time to get the girl’s number.—“I think I’m wanted on stage!”
A writer in multiple modes, including fiction (A Modern Way To Die), drama (The Tattooed Man Tells All and Burning Words) and translation (most recently, Travel Pictures, by Heinrich Heine), Peter Wortsman is the recipient of the Beard’s Fund Short Story Award and The Geertje Potash-Suhr Prize of the Society for Contemporary American Literature in German. Also a widely published travel writer, his texts have appeared in The Best Travel Writing 2008 and 2009.