Polonius in Israel (11-22-05)
Polonius starts with my memory of a Mr. T. key fob I saw in Toy Boat Ice Cream Parlor and Assorted Toys Shop on Clement in San Francisco. Some will recall Mr. T. from the TV show which was a comic echo of Mission Impossible. Mr. T., the black man with a Mohawk, laconic, strong, of fierce mien. When he moved to Lake Park, Illinois, a tres chic far north suburb of Chicago, where lots are measured in acres, room for horse trails and trees. When Mr. T. learned he was allergic to pollen, he got out his chain saw and cut down all the trees on his multi-acred property.
But the key fob displays his mug and beneath it a series of multicolored buttons, which when pressed, will growl at you
with Mr. T.-isms like, “Don’t mess with me, Man!” or “The end of your story is the start of my glory,” and such.
Nu, what’s this got to do with Polonius in Israel? Imagine a Mr. Polonius key fob, which when pressed, spouted inanities. Inanities that finally pressed Hamlet to silence Polonius hidden behind the curtain. I generally picture this with a thrust of Hamlet’s sword, but once saw an updated version in which Hamlet uses a .22 caliber. Not as moving. Something about the intimacy and immediacy of a fencing move, a thrust, blade briefly buried in velvet curtain, a slow fall and silence.
But this Polonius, the one in my ulpan, spouts, vaguely biblical exhortations. Some are to the point, so to speak.
He is of the elderly sort, in his late 70’s, of grizzled beard that creeps down his gullet, which sways and trembles, the gullet that is, with his pronouncements. These seem to come from deep within, from at least the chest, perhaps lower, rumble upwards and erupt from the lips. He wears a kippah clipped thrice to hold firm to what little decorates his lid. He and his wife just arrived some months ago from Britain. He announces, “I am much younger than most, younger than my children!” Yet, he accepts the double standard: while proud when people compliment him on his youthful behavior, he insists on the respect he should get. He thinks of older as wiser, that he is a survivor. In fact, he has just lasted longer than most. He is a laster. His wisdom is that of an older toddler, quite proud of his accomplishments, such as mastering the toilet, pissing without missing too much; expects applause for each achievement. Each one.
When he arrives late to class, as is fairly often, he pauses at the door, near the teacher’s desk, bows slightly, givies others just a moment to greet him, offer him obeisance. He looks to the teacher to be certain she has an opportunity to be delighted at his arrival, then with a wave of his hand, asks: “Is there an empty seat for me?” as if unsure which of the half dozen empty chairs will entertain him.
His speaking, hard to convey. It comes in mini-eruptions. What I mean is, something like an awakening volcano, you hear its rumbling, some obscuring smoke, before the lava erupts. His erupts in bursts of Hebrew words, but not many, at least not enough to fill in the time. The word-spaces are filled in with “Ehhh’s” or “Dhdhdhdhe’s” or such. At times his almost stuttering noises are onomopeic with words, as if they were words. When he speaks, the right arm does waving, the back of the hand upwards, as if wafting the words from his mouth to ascend, spread to all ears, even to heaven. The ending is with some more rumbles that hint he is coming to rest.
I am generally taken in by British accents, add a few extra points to the speaker’s IQ on behalf of a well-turned Anglo accent or phrase. But, this does not seem to work in Polonius’s favor.
At times he says things that are correct or make sense. Almost. He has a biblical quote for each occasion. He has a rabbinical manner of delivering these, I mean of the High Church/ Anglican/Reform Judaism oratory, of the orotund kind. Perhaps this is his attempt to capture some voice of a prophet or some daemon speaking through the person, as if he had no responsibility for what is being said. Rather some higher source is piping through his being to reach us.
I was not aware of why I was so bothered by this Polonius, until it happened that he sat next to me one class. He came late and assigned himself cheek-by-jewel to me. Then, I discovered that in addition to his class-y pronouncements, he also carries on a personal oratory with his seat mate. An ongoing, sidewards mumble. That being me on that day, I was brought to mind of Hamlet’s father dying from poison poured into the porch of his ear. Until that day, I thought that Hamlet’s uncle had used some physical potion upon his brother’s auricular appendage. That day, I realized that such toxins can be produced by words: Uncle talked his brother to death, so much so, that even when Hamlet’s father returns as a ghost, he is left speechless. I had the sense that I was sitting next to an Evangelical Christian bent on converting me for my own good; he knows what’s best for me. Except, he was trying to convert me to…Judaism! I thought to my irritated self, I am Jewish. I have dear friends who are Orthodox, I enjoy shul; what’s my problem with his blatherings?
Then, insight. I realized that the distance between this Polonius-ski and The Reverend Willy Nilly, was as narrow as an ass’s nose whisker. He pauses, Polonius, momentarily, looks at me to see if I have changed. Yet. Into something or someone else, I am guessing he expects to appear different, laquered with his words.
I change seats at our break. I think I was out to save a life. Had I been a fencer and had their been a velvet curtain, I might have exclaimed, “Dead as a Ducat.” Instead, I sit removed.
And I write a story.