Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Party

The party
Hagai Cohen

I found a lilac envelope in my mailbox. There was no return address. I slit open the envelope and removed the contents. The name Rachel Halevi was on top of the personal stationary. Rachel Halevi, a member of the elite, and a classmate of mine, had never taken me into her circle of friends. I was therefore surprised to receive her note.

Dear Yakov
As you well know, the Principal cancelled the end of year party for our class. I am planning to host the class party in my garden instead. I want to ask you a favor. It's not easy for me as we were never close friends and, of course, you may say no. I want you to help me organize and 'produce' the party. I know you can do it. I also know you can write Maqams* (I kept some of the things you wrote in the past and I think you are great). You are the only one who can turn boring parties into memorable events.
If you agree to help, please do not spare the sarcasm. I want you to bring the class snobs down to size.
Please, please do it for me. I am counting on you.
Your friend, Rachel"

Of course, I agreed. It was a chance to see the house of the richest family in Jerusalem.
Rachel was smart, pretty and never spoke about her wealth. Her house was a medium sized palace with an indoor swimming pool and a huge garden. The circular foyer with a diameter of fifteen meters was paved with Carrara marble in which was centered a single huge red marble rose.
Rachel Halevi although issued with a birth permit to be a snob, was in fact, quite modest. Still, it was strange to hear her call the others snobs.
She and I met several times to plan every step of the party. Timing was an important element in my plans and it was up to Rachel to play host and keep to the timing.
Our ‘superior’ classmates played solo instruments. Ruth Goldberg was the first. She played on her flute an obscure piece. It was hard to tell if she played out of tune or what we heard was the nature of the piece. Yair Goodman was next; he played a violin solo, the Chacone by Bach. Although he played better than Ruth, his high tones appeared to come from a circular saw. Some other girl, whose name I have forgotten, played a nocturne by Chopin on the baby grand. It put us to sleep and must have made Chopin squirm in his grave. At this stage, every guest was, as planned, pretty much annoyed. This prelude was a necessary step in my plan to deflate the over-inflated egos of the 'musicians.'

Amos Dagan came next. He was a real musician and he was party to our plans. He loved to imitate other instruments on his accordion and could compose and play in any style and any type of music. However, his "inferior instrument" was a target for scorn from our classmates, who didn’t appreciate his talents. Amos was to imitate the flute, the violin and the piano. He repeated the mistakes, remembering exactly the places where they had played out of tune and he played it comically. It put those other musicians' noses out of joint.

I came to the party well prepared with a chain of trivia questions, many elephant joke and with personalized Maqams. Only a few of my fellow classmates escaped the sarcasm. About thirty verses, all in rhyme, dealt with our principal, our teachers, and our classmates. I had rehearsed the 'show' with Amos Dagan, who accompanied me with his musical improvisations.

I had promised my classmates to read a 'self-incriminating' maqam, but had no intention of doing so. I stalled, until the audience started booing. As planned, I gave Rachel a pre-arranged signal. She moved swiftly towards me with a phone on a long extension and said, "Excuse me, Yakov; you forgot to make your call.”
“Oh, thank you so much, it slipped my mind.” I said.
I took the phone, begged excuse from the audience and dialed the number I had picked earlier from a phone book.

There was dead silence as I was dialing. I had aroused audience curiousty. Whom was I calling and what could be so important for me to stop the the verses?
“Mr. Orleansky?”
“Yes,” answered an old man’s voice at the other end.
“Mr. Samuel Orleansky?” I asked again.
“Yes,” said the man.
“Mr. Samuel Orleansky of 17 Balfour Street in Haifa?”
“Yes – who's calling please”?
“Thank God, Mr. Orleansky, I was afraid I woke the wrong person. Am I glad it’s you, Mr. Orleansky. My name is Yakov,” I said. “I have just arrived from Orleans in France. I met a relative of yours, who sends her regards. Her name is Jeanne - Jeanne D’Arc - also known as the Maid of Orleans.”
The old man paused and then said: "Please wait a moment," and went to consult his wife.
Mr. Samuel Orleansky did not keep me waiting long. “There must be some mistake, Mr. Yakov. We do not have any relatives in France.”
“You are Mr. Orleansky aren’t you?” I asked. “What do you want me to tell her when I go back?” I could barely control the laughter in my voice.
"You may go back to hell where you belong, you idiot nut and don’t you dare wake people up again at two o’clock in the morning. You are a schmock,” screamed the man and hung up. Of course, the conversation was heard by all over the speakers, prepared in advance.

To my great satisfaction Mr. Orleansky supplied the necessary diversion. In fact Mr. Orleansky ended the party and was remembered thereafter as the climactic moment.

A letter from Yair Goodman, the violinist, arrived twenty-three years later. It was an invitation to a class reunion, an offer I couldn’t refuse; I had to see what had happened to all the rich and famous classmates.
Most of the evening was spent to update and renew contacts, and addresses. ‘Mother’s brag books’ changed hands. Boring job-related and number-of-bedrooms issues dominated the conversation. It went on and on. As I was about to leave, Amos blocked my way and said: “Yakov, you are not leaving till you tell us how Mr. Orleansky is.”
“I don't remember being assigned to keep track of his well being,” I said, “but it’s easy to find out.”
I picked up the nearest phone and called information. The operator delivered the number and I dialed without delay.
“Mr. Orleansky?”
The voice of a very old man answered “Yes.”
“Mr. Samuel Orleansky?”
“Mr., Orleansky I have just arrived from France. You have regards from your relative---"
Mr. Orleansky didn’t wait for me to finish. He screamed in Yiddish:
“Surre! Surre! Shttaiioff Shttaioff! Yakov, der mishiguiner,is noch nisht Geshtorbn”. (“Sara! Sara! Wake up, wake up! Yakov, the nut, is not yet dead.")
I was pleased to know that Sara and Sam Orleansky kept a warm place in their hearts for me. I was sure now I’d be remembered forever.

No comments: