Even Jews can Sing the Blues

Being of a certain age and growing up on West 57th St back when ordinary folks could afford an apartment in a brownstone which we shared with rich and poor (but not of course on our floor), I was exposed to a lot of Yiddish as a child, mostly from the two elderly Hasidic diamond merchants who lived in the apartment above us, who Momma would refer to as "confirmed batchelors" without us kids really understanding why such a fine concept should always be accompanied by a maternal frown.

My brother Jacob was the fair-haired boy of the family, in both senses, and could do no wrong. Momma would call him "my little tzaddik". I on the other hand was always referred to by my brother (and I've often suspected, by my mother when I wasn't in earshot) as "the little momser", a nickname I have only recently come to terms with and reclaimed as my own. To cut a long story short, Jacob grew up to be a model citizen and I grew up to be a shit-stirring scofflaw. I know for a fact that my elder brother never had so much as a traffic ticket in the twenty-four years since he was old enough to drive. Until now.

At this point I'd like to make a little digression; or perhaps get back on topic, depending on whether you find linguistics or Jewish Guilt the more interesting subject. In Yiddish we have a word, "treppworter". Treppworter literally translates as "doorstep words", and means the witty riposte you wish you'd thought of earlier, but which in fact came to you only as you are walking down the doorstep on the way out of the building. There's a German folk musician called Gunter Gabriel who wrote a song about missed opportunities, entitled "Worter Die Ich Leider Nie Gesacht". You can tell he's not Jewish because if he were the song would have been called "Treppworter Die Ich Leider Nie Gesagt". Personally I've always made with the quick comeback, but my brother Jacob is a master of the treppworter. "If only I had said ..." is his second-favorite expression. His favorite expression however is "And how long have you been saving that one up, momser?" which is the only come-back he's ever memorized and which he uses consistently every time I hit him with a zinger that I thought up on the spot. Rather ironic really.

Well, last week when I was visiting my brother at his home in Manhattan, I caught him on his return from Traffic Court where he had been disputing the first and only parking ticket he has ever received. I've been saving this one up for about fifteen years now, and finally had the chance to use it: In my best Elwood Blues Chicago accent, I said "The verdict is in; my brother Jake is... guilty!"

And for the first time ever, when Jacob would have been justified in using his only come-back line, he was too struck dumb to remember it until walking down the stoop with me as I said goodbye.

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