Saturday afternoon. I am over in the next county sitting in the waiting room of a giant auto dealership, waiting for one of our cars to be serviced. We have two vehicles, completely different models and manufacturers, but both have been subject to recalls in recent months. Lacking a mechanical bone in my body, I don’t even try to understand what electronic thingamajig has to be replaced or adjusted to avoid having our vehicle go up in flames or self-destruct in some other equally dramatic fashion. While I’m there, they can change the oil and check our alarm system that keeps going off, at least according to our landlord.
Funny thing about recalls. It used to be that when a product was recalled, it meant that you could return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. While this construct continues to apply to hummus, kids’ toys, power tools and gardening equipment, somehow the concept hasn’t caught on with big ticket items like automobiles. Giving me my money back seems like a reasonable form of demonstrating contrition for screwing up. I’m sure the dealership isn’t thrilled about having to conduct free repairs on hundreds of cars, but presumably they are being compensated by the manufacturer. As for me, my Saturday is now shot and there is no compensation to be found.
They have the A/C cranking at the dealership and the waiting room is freezing. My allergies, already having kicked into overdrive (gotta love springtime), decide to have a little party at my expense while I am a captive audience. I’m glad I remembered to bring a handkerchief.
I brought a thick book with me, but rather than improving my mind, I am allowing it to turn to mush by messing around on my phone. The place has wifi, so what the heck. In walks a man and his developmentally disabled teenager, who sit across from me. Every time I cough, the boy looks straight at me and asks “Are you alright?” His father does not admonish him. Perhaps I am nothing but an inveterate meanie (or just an incorrigible old fart), but my thoughts are not particularly charitable at this time. About the third or fourth time that I cough and he asks the same question, I blurt out “Yes! Are you?”
Then my mother calls. She wants to fill me in on the blow by blow of the Chabad Seder she attended on Monday evening. This is followed by the details of the community Seder that my sister attended over in the Bay Area. I should mention that I have very little contact with my sisters (believe me, it’s for the best), so Mom feels compelled to fill me in on the minutia of their lives. I roll my eyes and say “yep,” “uh-huh,” “that’s good” and “wow!” in the appropriate places.
For the uninitiated, Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish organization that specializes in outreach to Jews scattered all over the world, particularly those in remote locations where little or no Jewish life is available. They encourage donations, but unlike other synagogues, never require anyone to pay anything to attend a Passover Seder in the spring or High Holy Day services in the fall. Although I strongly disagree with many of their beliefs, I continue to support them and am proud of their inclusiveness in that they turn no one away, Jew or non-Jew, black or white, religious or secular, poor or rich, old or young.
I have attended several Chabad communal Seders with my parents, most recently last year. My mother’s description of the disorganization, the bad food and the strange characters in attendance sounded exactly like what I remember. She complained about the constant conversations that prevented her from hearing the rabbi and caused her to keep losing track of what blessing he was saying and what everyone was supposed to be eating at any particular point. The Seder attended by my sister was no better. Having had bariatric surgery (years ago now), she could not tolerate the food and kept having to leave the room to upchuck the bite or two she managed to get down.
I cough. My mother asks if I have a cold. The kid sitting across from me asks “Are you alright?” Grrr!
My mother is fed up with the Chabad Seders but she says it’s better than sitting at home and having a Seder with just my father (who has no interest in anything religious). However, she points out, my other sister (the one in Texas) did exactly that with her husband this year. Instead of a big family celebration, it was just the two of them. Next year, Mom tells me, she is making the Seder in her home. I quickly check the date on my phone and find that it falls on a Friday night. Yes! I’ll be there, I tell her. (And think to myself: God willing.)
Who knows what will happen between this Passover and next? Will I still be around? Will both of my parents, who are in their eighties? It occurs to me that it is not only cars that are recalled.
My mother and father begin arguing in the background. He wants to go into town to do some shopping and she says no, it’s too late in the day already, she’s going to start dinner. They can go tomorrow, she tells him. No! He doesn’t want to go tomorrow, he’s going to mow the lawn then. Mom: We can go before or after! Dad: No! I’m too tired to go if I mow the lawn! Mom: Okay, then we’ll go Monday!
These two have been arguing about everything for nearly 65 years. I am amazed at how they have managed to stay together, particularly when I remember the knock-down, drag-out screaming matches they used to have when my sisters and I were kids. The many fond memories I have of my childhood can never make up for that. It doesn’t help that their current conduct reminds me of that past ugliness nearly every time I visit or talk with them on the phone.
And yet. They’re my parents. The ones who raised me. The ones who put up with me when I was not at my finest. And I know that they’re not going to be around forever. I am getting old and am not in the best of health myself, so I have to laugh when I realize that I’m at the point of wondering who will go first, me or them.
Despite all I’ve been through, I know I will take it hard when they’re not around anymore. By the same token, my father has let me know in no uncertain terms that he will never forgive me if I die before he does. Note for a future post: Do dead people need forgiveness?
I hope it is God’s will that we all make it long enough to attend that Seder together at my parents’ house down in the Central Valley on March 30 of next year. I plan to take the day off work and arrive the night before. I can help make the sweet haroseth and then set the Seder plate by referring to the Hebrew embroidery on my grandmother’s matzah tosh (covering for the three pieces of ceremonial unleavened bread).
I tell Mom I have to hang up because the car is done. The dealership tells me that I should replace my battery and air filter, that two of my running lights are out, and a couple of other things that sound like automotive Greek to me. How much? The guy punches numbers into a calculator and tells me it’ll be about $320. Are you kidding, man? I text my wife, who is up north with her family for Easter, to confirm that we’re not buying their bullshit. Car guys, geez! Shysters all, who live and die by the upsell.
I pay for the oil change and head for the door. I cough. “Are you alright?” says the kid, followed by an enthusiastic “bye!” as I walk out.
“Bye!” I respond. “Have a great day!”
May all our recalls be of the automobile kind, fixable in an afternoon.