It’s nothing to complain about, really. Ever since word got out that I’m supposed to know something about Yiddish, I’ve been receiving scores of e-mails every week. Most are very nice; someone has read something that I’ve written and wants to let me know that they’ve enjoyed it. Some of the correspondents even enclose their own stories about specific Yiddish words or phrases, reminiscences of things that their parents or grandparents used to say.
These are good. Now that snail mail from anybody but billing departments and lawyers is pretty much a thing of the past, e-mails of this type help to give authors the feeling that they haven’t been working in vain.
Not everything is so pleasant, though. Some e-mails claim that I don’t know Yiddish, that I’m a disgrace to the entire Jewish people. I’ve yet to receive an e-mail of this type with a correct “correction.” Most authors enjoy these kinds of e-mails; they read them out loud to their author friends, usually someplace where alcohol is being served. Everybody has a good laugh, especially when the disgruntled e-mailer admits to having borrowed the book from the library.
And then there are the real nudniks. Like the guy who wanted me to read his grandson’s high school essay on Elie Wiesel and “feel free to make any changes that [I] think necessary.” Like the “novelist” who sent me a page of dialogue that he wanted translated into Yiddish; he was prepared to put my name on the acknowledgments page of his book, just as soon as he could find a publisher. Like the woman who asked for the “origin” of the word shikse. I wrote back and told her on what pages in which of my books she could find a detailed explanation of the origins, development and various uses of the word. Her response? “I wanted the origin and you gave me page numbers. Thanks for nothing. Somebody told me you were an expert. Some Goddamed [sic] expert you turned out to be.”
And my all-time favourite, this one via telephone: “Would you speak to an audience of 400 dentists for 400 dollars?” I explained that, at a dollar per dentist for the lecture, the 400 dentists would be paying ten times as much to park their cars as they’d be paying for me.
“Yeah, but what else have you got to do on a Sunday morning?”
“I was hoping for a free root canal.”
I could hear the dentist breathing.
“No? No discount?” I asked. “Then I suggest you get the parking lot guy to entertain you––him, at least, you’re willing to pay.”
“How dare you? No one has ever been this rude to me.”
“That makes two of us,” I told him and said goodbye.
Exactly a week later, the dentist called back. He wanted to know if I’d changed my mind.
Come back all week to read Michael Wex’s blog posts. His new novel, The Frumkiss Family Business, is now available.