Magazine article Tikkun

Lieberman's Renewal

Magazine article Tikkun

Lieberman's Renewal

Article excerpt

Lieberman was waiting for the rabbi, determined to get his money back. If anybody asked him, he would say that things were wonderful here: who wouldn't like beans twice a day for a week and a bed as thick as a mouse pad. But nobody was talking to him, so he didn't get a chance. To think that he had paid two hundred dollars plus an extra four hundred for a private room in the first place was crazy. These summer retreats didn't work for him; they were okay for Sixties people, for vegetarians and Buddhists and Jews who were grasping at straws, not an accountant from Fort Lee, New Jersey who couldn't wear shorts and had never believed in God. He had promised himself that he would try it and he tried it and as soon as he got his deposit back he was leaving. But the intern at the desk couldn't give him his money back and the rabbi who ran this place was off chanting in the hot tub and so he waited in the lobby preparing his case.

First of all, his room was hot. Where there was supposed to be a vent for air conditioning, there was a hole in the floor, right over the basement, a perfect place for someone to stand there and look up at him. Lieberman was not paranoid - he had tried it. By balancing on a wooden crate and craning his neck, he could look up the vent and see his bed, a fact that determined Lieberman to remain fully dressed in his room at all times. As to the problem of fresh air, when he opened his windows he heard drums and singing, day and night. Lieberman would be the first to admit that he was not musically inclined, but he did enjoy the traditional songs in shul. Here he didn't recognize one tune. They didn't even use words, these people, they sang "daidai" this and "dai-dai" that like dancing Chassids; even the Sh'ma they changed. What would be so bad if they said Adonai - but no. Here it was Yah they said for God's name; "Yahhhh," like you're opening your mouth for a tongue depressor. Sh'ma yisrael Yah (on the out breath) elohanu - and what was it with these people and their breathing? He didn't drive all the way up here to learn how to breathe; he knew how to breathe and when he forgot he'd be dead anyway.

Lieberman sat in the lobby next to the big stone chimney he had seen in the brochure that had convinced him to come here in the first place, that had put him in mind of mountains and nature. He needed nature. He had been married at nineteen; a father at twenty-one. He had studied for his CPA while the Columbia campus was exploding. Since then, he had steered clear of politics and drugs and sex with other women; he sent three children to college and kept his Oldsmobiles until they had eighty thousand miles on them. While his older brother was looking for yet another job at fifty years-old, Lieberman was about to become first vice-president of his firm. But he was dead inside, his wife had told him so; his ex-wife, who had insisted on ball room dancing lessons and aerobics and couples counseling and finally a restraining order because he put his fist through the windshield of the Oldsmobile the night she told him she wanted a divorce. So he was starting over again and things were different now.

Women expected him to talk about nature, the trees, the water, recycled paper. But the trees all looked the same to Lieberman. Yes, he would admit, on close inspection, some had leaves shaped like almonds, some like mittens, but they were all green, they had trunks in the middle, and branches and roots. If anybody asked him he would say, "Beautiful, beautiful," but nobody talked to him here, so he didn't have to say anything. He was an accountant from Fort Lee, New Jersey, and he looked it, he couldn't even wear shorts. He had legs like big pink bologna sausages. Since he was twelve years old, people laughed at his knees. His world was numbers, tax laws; his specialty the home office deduction. Years ago, he had spotted a trend, when his brother had been laid off. Others, too - loyal and experienced people, men and women both - fired one day after thirty years of service with all the appreciation of a bullet to the back of the head. …

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