Academic journal article The Southern Review

The Matchmaker's Mouth

Academic journal article The Southern Review

The Matchmaker's Mouth

Article excerpt

ON ONE OF THE FIRST DAYS of 2007,I met a matchmaker whose life mission was to pair off as many Jews as she could. She interviewed me at the dining-room table in her three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Sipping tea, surrounded by bookcases displaying the rich maroon bindings of religious tomes, she told me about the book she was writing. Her thesis stated that because every girl's life goal was marriage, and because premarital sex was an obstacle to that goal, single women should abstain. "My book make women unite!" she said in a thick Israeli accent. She sat up straighter, smoothing her long skirt over her knees. Her rejection of the future tense emphasized her urgency, but her stylish sheitel--the Orthodox marriage wig--and her stretchy headband that read Gucci in rhinestones rendered her an unexpected revolutionary. "This is feminism," she told me, enunciating as if to teach me the word. "This is empowerment."

I was open to empowerment. Also to employment. Having moved to New York four months earlier, I owed MasterCard $6,000 and was waitressing full time at a restaurant where the management made servers pool tips and illegally added a 15 percent gratuity to each check, thwarting our chances at 20 percent. At the time, there were few things I wouldn't have done for money. Unfortunately, those few things--lending my feet to men who wished to ejaculate on them, for instance-- constituted the majority of available jobs on Craigslist. But the matchmaker, who had gotten my name from a mutual acquaintance and called me the day before to insist on meeting in person ("I see if I like you," she'd said), was hiring a native English-speaking editor for her "holy book about my no-sex method."

Although I refused to prostitute my feet, apparently I was not above undermining the women's movement. "Empowerment!" I said, smiling at the matchmaker.

"I do not call it premarital sex. That sounds ... Christian," she said, wrinkling her nose. "This is for a secular audience. For all women."

Although she had five kids and ten grandchildren, the matchmaker was a decade my mother's junior, and the glossy hair and straight bangs of her wig made her look even younger--roughly my mother's age during my teenage years, when she used to tell my sister and me, "Sex is not a recreational activity." We could take walks, my mother suggested. Play tennis. But sex was for husbands and wives.

"And I don't say, 'Just say no,'" said the matchmaker.

"Too loaded," I agreed.

The matchmaker stared at me for a long time, her gaze a tight grip on my shoulders. Her apartment pulsed with an unseen energy--a ripple in the worn oriental rug, in the clutter on the shelves. Her eyes were the sparkly kind relegated to the ecstatic and the insatiable. "Diana," she said, pronouncing it Dee-ah-na. "You will not be my editor."

I looked down at my jeans and Pumas, wishing I'd worn a long skirt, half wishing I'd heeded my mother's sex advice. I worried that the matchmaker could see my memories, that she was watching the men of my past slide their hands between my legs.

"You will be my mouth," said the matchmaker. "You will come every day and write at this table. You will use my son's old laptop," she added, because, as I'd explained to her, I'd recently spilled a large bowl of Thai soup on mine.

"So I'll be your ghostwriter?" My heartbeat gained speed. A full-time writing job! Wasn't this why I'd moved to New York City?

Not exactly. I'd moved on the heels of a breakup. When you break up with your boyfriend of four years, you move to New York. That's the law. But now my move would be validated. Now I would be what I'd always wanted to be--a real, gainfully employed writer.

"What is this 'ghostwriter'?" the matchmaker asked.

"You want me to write your book for you. About why women shouldn't have premarital sex."

"But we will not call it premarital sex."

"Right. …

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