The phone rang last night at 10:20 and I knew right away it was Uncle Slappy and that something was wrong.
"Schmendrik," he began, without even saying hello, "An utter Schmendrik."
"Hello, Uncle Slappy," I answered, trying to put a lid on the pot that was boiling over. And then I, mistakenly uttered the sentence you should never say to an old Jewish person, and particularly not to Uncle Slappy.
"Is everything ok?"
"Is anything ok? You mean is anything in this whole fakhakteh globe not run-down, diseased, depraved, vulgar and disgusting."
"What happened? Did you get a hair in your soup at Ben's?" I tried joking him out of the rant I knew was about come, the deluge that was bursting over the walls of the dam.
"You remember Morty Wolff? Morty the Schmuck Wolff? You remember Morty the Schmuck Wolff died last year in flagrante delicto with a bowl of chopped liver? Well Sylvie and I did what we had to do. We went to his unveiling today."
(An unveiling is a ceremony that dedicates a grave monument erected for someone who passed away twelve months earlier.)
"Was it bad? I know how you love unveilings."
"Was it bad? Was it bad? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Was it bad? Let me tell you what it said on the Schmendrik's tombstone:
"Mortimer Frederick Wolff
Gentleman. Scholar. Athlete.
"First of all," Slappy was running now like a Kenyan marathoner, "First of all, Morty Wolff has never been, will never be, could never be a Mortimer any more than Sean Connery could be Jewish. He was the very definition of "Morty-ness." Not a real human being, a Morty."
"I understand," I answered, trying to give the old man a minute to breathe.
"Then there is his ferstunkeneh epithet.
"Gentleman. He's a gentleman like Madonna is a lady. He was always low, vulgar and gauche.
"Scholar, I'll give you. If you count being able to do the TV Guide crossword as scholarly. Give me a three-letter word for feline..."
"Oy," I added, sagaciously.
"And athlete. This is a man who never hit a tennis ball that didn't fall into the net. He cheated at shuffleboard."
Again, I interjected an "Oy."
"Here's the thing. There's very little in life or death--except life and death--that should be permanent. No one, no one, no one is smart enough to put something on themselves that is as permanent as a tombstone."
"You're right, Uncle Slappy. Right as usual."
"In other words, don't be a schmendrik. Don't write in indelible ink."