I Know About His Ear



Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn

I Know About His Ear
Photo by Yih-Ting Lee

Aunt Judy’s a teenager and my grandmother takes her shopping at Mays Department store in Downtown Brooklyn. Nana chooses the item she wants, then leans close to Judy. “Watch this.”

Nana trumpets: “This is too expensive! I’m not paying this much!”

A clerk says, “Ma’am, that’s the price.”

“Oh, no! You’re not doing that to me!”

Nana continues to bellow as a crowd gathers. The manager appears. “Just give it to her,” he says to the clerk. “Get her out of here.”

Someone says, “It’s the crazy lady.”

But No! She’s not crazy. She got the discount! Judy holds onto this notion with all her will (“She’s not crazy, she’s not crazy…”) as they pay and make for the exit, where Nana turns to her, voice low, and says, “Wanna know why I got away with that?”

Judy bites. “Why?”

Nana lowers her chin and raises one eyebrow. “I know about his ear!”

Nana’s powerful secret is this: J.W. May himself, she claims, was born with a malformed ear. They cleverly conceal this in portraits of him appearing in the store. But Nana knows about it. And they know she knows. Which is why, she insists, they gave her the discount. Hush money.

Chin down, eyebrow up: It’s true!

Incidentally, there is no J.W. May. “J.W.” stands for Joe Weinstein. He liked the way “May” sounded. It reminded him of spring.

I do not know about his ear.

When Judy goes off to social work school, her supervisor asks her to diagnose a particular patient. Judy does the interview and reports back.

“There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s a normal Jewish lady. She’s just like my mother.”

“Judy,” the supervisor says, “that woman is psychotic.”

There’s a joke about Jewish mothers. If you know it, join in.

Q: “How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

A: “It’s all right. I’ll sit in the dark.”

The mother in the story is trying to make you feel guilty for not doing what you already offered to do. But she’s not just trying to make you feel guilty. She’s trying to drive you crazy!

Here’s another story, a parable Mom told Richie and me after Dad moved out.

“A young man is chasing a woman. She isn’t interested in him. ‘Leave me alone,’ she says. ‘But I love you!’ he says. And he keeps chasing after her and finally she says, ‘Okay, fine. Go home and kill your mother and cut her heart out. Bring it to me in a box. Then I’ll marry you.”

I should add that the young woman in the story is implicitly a shiksa. Literally, a shiksa is a non-Jewish woman. But really, a shiksa is a gentile whore who wants your beautiful son for his money and potential, and for the sheer pleasure of forcing him to betray his mother. And cut her heart out.

Mom continues the story.

“So the man goes home and kills his mother and cuts her heart out. He puts it in a box. And he’s running through the woods…”

The woods? Oh, yeah. They live near the woods.

“…and he trips and goes flying and the box rolls, and the heart rolls out of the box…”

At this point, Mom’s nose turns red and she sniffles. She’s got a handkerchief out and wraps it around her index fingers, which she swirls in both nostrils.

“…and the heart says… ‘Did you hurt yourself, my son?’”

We fall on her, crying, swearing undying devotion.

“No, Mommy, we’ll never do that. We’ll never betray you.”

“Okay,” she says, “but you will.”

Of course you will. You will grow up and betray your mother for some evil shiksa. And you will cut your mother’s heart out. You won’t slit her throat or shoot her in the head or slip seltzer into her IV drip. You will cut out her heart, the symbol of her emotions and love and nurturing. You will betray her after all that nurturing. And you must be punished for that now, while you’re still in the house. Because she might not have a chance to punish you later.

There’s a scientist who does research on cats. Cats, he says, hate the noise you make when you puff your lips out: “Pah, pah, pah.” So this scientist, not a fan of cats, devises feeding bowls that hold food but also contain a rubber mouth that puffs air at the cats “pah pah pah” as they try to eat. The cats have to go to the bowls for food, but the puffing terrifies them.

The upshot is that the cats become schizophrenic.

Keep in mind this can only happen if insanity and care come from the same source. Try to make sense out of the craziness, the puffing food bowls, the “Did you hurt yourself my son,” the “I know about his ear,” and you will wind up one crazy freaking cat.

Born in Levittown, Long Island, MICHAEL SIMON is a graduate of Northwestern University and NYU. He’s the coauthor (with Richard Simon) of the Off-Broadway comedy MURDER AT MINSING MANOR: A NANCY BOYS MYSTERY (published by Samuel French) and the author of the novels DIRTY SALLY, BODY SCISSORS, LITTLE FAITH, and THE LAST JEW STANDING, all from Viking.

He has lived in Astoria, Park Slope, Greenwich Village, and on the Upper West Side.

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