I had started to write the plot of what I envisioned as my first novel. Now, I have no real experience in writing fiction; my published work thus far consists of articles that have appeared in journals like Journal of Jewish Education, Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Sh’ma and the like. But I have a good imagination and I’ve been told that my mind works “differently” from that of other people, so I figured I might just give it a shot.
My projected novel would be inspired by the real-life community in which I live. The story line goes like this:
There is a town on Long Island. We’ll call it West Something, NY. Life in West Something is largely uneventful and highly predictable. The community includes a large Jewish community, some 70% of whom consider themselves modern Orthodox. Our story will revolve around their lives and homes.
As our story begins, it is daybreak. We see people waking up. Most are couples with children. There are a few single parents, a few lesbian couples with kids and a few gay male households with nice lawns. Some of the community members are elderly, some middle aged. Some look to be teenagers playing house, but in fact, some of these are homeowners whose parents have generously bankrolled their down payments.
Some of the more religiously committed men head to morning services. The community is so large that there are minyanim (prayer groups) beginning every 10 minutes [this part is pretty much non-fiction]. Each minyan has its own particular style, but there is one commonality: their ending times are tied directly to the departure times of the Long Island Railroad, which many of them take to their jobs in Manhattan.
As minyan proceeds, people begin to look at their watches. At times, it looks as if services might run too close to the LIRR departure time. A hook is kept available to remove any ba’al tefillah (service leader) who will take services into overtime [close to non-fiction].
Meanwhile, the women on the home front are getting their kids off to meet the school bus or to carpool. Once the kids are gone, they too will leave for their jobs. A few are business people who work in the city; some are prosecuting attorneys or public defenders. Most however, are physical therapists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, social workers or, in one case, marketing executive for hip-hop radio stations [OK, not really; But it’s close enough to what one friend does].
By the time the 8:30 train departs, the characters that we met at sunrise have left the stage for their work. But now a new group of characters emerges to take their places. These are mostly women from somewhere in the Caribbean. They have come to clean house and babysit toddlers and infants. On most days, the transition is smooth. The day goes by without incident as these hard-working women, many of whom are supporting relatives in their countries of origin, take on the work load. Laundry is done, houses are cleaned, food cooked, babies taken to the park.
But on Thursday, everything is different. Like every other day, the West Something residents have left town to go to work, and the household workers have come. But on Thursday, something unexpected takes place. Oh, the laundry is started. But suddenly different styles of cooking are emerging. In each home, rather than the kosher food cooking done for the family, the women are all cooking dishes that involve pork and jerk sauce, thus effectively rendering every kosher kitchen in West Something traife. They fry, bake, and broil the morning away. Soon it is just after noon.
The ladies, along with some men who they have invited, emerge from the homes. They are carrying Gourmet Glatt shopping bags full of the food they have prepared, the aromas filling the neighborhood. Many push strollers with napping infants. All head for the Cohenlevinegoldsteinberg house, one of the largest in the area. There, they reheat the food and also bring out rum imported from their native countries and mixers from the 7-11. Latin music is put on the stereo and salsa dancing begins. It is Thursday afternoon in West Something and the party has begun!
The party continues for hours, with drinking, eating and dancing. The scene is vaguely reminiscent of the children’s book, Thursday is Spaghetti Day, except that the celebrants are human rather than cats. As 3:00 approaches however, the mood begins to shift. Knowing the school buses will be returning the kids to their homes, it is time for the partiers to clean up. The last food is devoured or dumped and one last drink “for the road” is offered. The music is silenced and the men return to wherever they came from. Dishes are washed hurriedly and the Cohenlevinegoldsteinberg’s house is quickly vacuumed. The guests leave, returning to the homes in which they work.
Back in their homes, dishes are returned to their regular shelves, sorted either meat or dairy. Cooking for the families’ dinner begins as children return from school. All is ready as the men and women of West Something return home. A warm dinner and children busy with homework await them.
Good story, huh? Except that I can’t write the novel anymore. The world has changed. Instead of a veritable ghost town on weekdays, the streets are now filled with people who are out of work. They are former executives, financial wizards and even some of the PT’s, OT’s, social workers and special educators. Instead of my imaginary scenario that occurs when the homeowners and their children leave for the day, one can now see those same homeowners walking their dogs, strolling with their children, sitting in the library, going out for pizza, or heading to Starbucks as the day goes on.
It is a tragedy for the families that have been impacted (including my own). Perhaps one day our world will return to what it once was. When it does, my novel will be waiting to be written.