| Family Tempo |

Down to a Science

Judging by the awestruck expression on Nechama’s face, my magic hasn’t disappointed

People, I’ve learned, fall into one of three categories.

There are Believers, those inherently trusting individuals who’ll swallow anything you tell them. Take my husband, Yaakov, for example. So easily persuaded. With Believers, the sale is good as done the minute they step through the door.

Then you have the Skeptics. You can talk yourself blue in the face, and they’ll actively refuse to be convinced. For every piece of evidence you provide, they’ll offer a cynical retort. Waste of time, the Skeptics.

Moderates can go either way. That’s where my magic comes in.

Nechama Lowenstein, sitting across from me at the moment, belongs to the third category. And judging by the awestruck expression on her face, my magic hasn’t disappointed.

“So,” I conclude. “You’ve seen the science. Black on white.”

“Wow,” Nechama breathes, studying the small glass bottle on the desk. She shakes her head slowly. “Incredible. The power of a tiny leaf.”

I nod emphatically. “There’s good reason Röyvju leaf extract has taken the medical world by storm.” I gesture at the testimonies from various doctors on my screen. “It’s all-natural”—a decade in the business has taught me the key words— “and remarkably effective. It’s unquestionably life-altering.”

She crosses one leg over the other “How long would it take for this to clear up the eczema?”

“This isn’t medication,” I remind her. “It’s just enabling your body’s natural healing mechanism to kick in.” I finger the small brown flask. “Give it six to nine months for the process to run its course. We recommend an additional six months after that, to ensure permanence.”

She considers. “I guess that makes sense. So how much is it?”

Ah, the million-dollar question.

More accurately, the one thousand, seventy-eight dollar question. I’ve done this successfully dozens of times. “It is somewhat pricey, as the herb is sourced from Iceland, and the extraction process is difficult.”

Nechama looks mildly anxious, I note. At this point, it’s Just Say It. Get it out, smooth it over, work out the technicalities. “It generally runs around $135 a bottle.” Mildly anxious turns to horrified, and Nechama opens her mouth.

“But,” I hold up a hand, “we’re actually running a special now, at $98. A bottle should last you a full month, and we sell them in packs of six. If you buy a twelve-month supply, you get one bottle free.”

Nechama withdraws her phone and begins entering numbers. “So a year would cost me….”

I make a point of punching the figures into my calculator, though I could probably recite the total in my sleep. “Well, 98 times 12 would give you 1,176, though you’re getting one bottle free so let’s subtract 98.” I turn the calculator toward her. “That’s $1,078.”

Nechama stares.

“Whoa,” she manages. “That’s… a lot.”

“You’re right,” I say simply, setting the calculator down. “It seems like a big number. But bear in mind, it’s a full year.” Extra emphasis on those words. “That’s not so much in the scheme of things. Think of what you spend on clothing in a year. Or food. Or housing.” Involuntarily, I wince. I’d know about that. “It’s all about what’s important.”

Nechama chews her lip. “Getting rid of this misery is very important. It’s just… it’s way more than I bargained for.”

“I can show you some other products, if you’d like,” I offer. “Not all as healthy, and it’s hard to predict how long-lasting the results will be. But they’re cheaper.” I make as if to get up.

“No, no,” she interjects. “I am so done with all that. You have no idea how many cures I’ve tried already.”

She falls silent and fiddles with a tassel on her handbag. I say nothing.

She polishes her glasses absently on her skirt. I wait.

Finally, Nechama replaces her glasses and looks up at me. “Do you offer installment plans?”

The deal is closed. We hash out the numbers, I take her credit card information, and we’re done. Another Röyvju  leaf sale on my record.

Mr. Jacobs will be pleased. In the 11 years I’ve been working as a nutritional consultant at HealthNut, I’ve never seen my boss so passionate about any one product. From the day he introduced me to this new wonder, Röyvju  leaf extract has been his pet project.

And, frankly, my lifeline.

For 15 years, Yaakov practically ran the operation at QuickFix. And then, this past May, QuickFix closed its doors. The five months since have been a long chain of e-mailing résumés, fruitless interviews, and a steady stream of rejections. And a desperate struggle for financial survival.

Röyvju extract was a heaven-sent gift just when we had no idea how we’d push another day. The commission has been keeping us afloat for the past little while. But lately, even that hasn’t been cutting it. Between summer expenses, Yom Tov, and Ruchi heading off to seminary, we’re choking. I’ve stretched my hours to the very maximum, and squeezed my spending to the very minimum. And still, we’re just barely making it.

I feel a migraine coming on, and I forcibly banish the topic from my mind. It’s 2:20. Just enough time for a quick coffee before my next consult. I finish entering the sale into the system and make my way over to the kitchenette.

Perel looks up as I pass her desk. “Shaindy,” she stops me. “Do you really believe all that gibberish about the Röyvju   extract?”

Perel’s in bookkeeping, but she’s apparently been keeping abreast of the goings-on in the sales department.

I ponder the question. Do I believe it? I guess. I mean, it makes sense.

“Why gibberish?” I ask. “You’ve seen the demo.”

Perel does a full eye roll. “Hooray, so it turns lemon juice sweet. And therefore?”

I have to laugh. My colleague is a SKEPTIC, all capital letters. Try convincing her the sky is blue.

“That’s not exactly your typical reaction, y’know,” I counter. “Ought to tell you something.”

Perel wheels her chair over to the printer to retrieve a paper. It wouldn’t kill her to actually get up every now and then. “I know you like to go on about the pH level, and draw parallels to how the extract breaks up toxins, etcetera etcetera,” she says. “But really, all you have is an interesting chemical reaction. And you run with that, spouting all sorts of baseless nonsense about unnatural healing properties.”

She collects some pages on her desk and bangs them into a pile with more force than necessary. “And I love how you tell people ‘you’ve seen the science.’ What exactly have they seen? That there’s an easy way to eat a jalapeño pepper?”

I have all the answers, but somehow they’re that much harder to find in the presence of people like Perel.

“Hold it,” I protest, before she can go any further. “I didn’t make this up. ‘All sorts of baseless nonsense,’ as you refer to it, is backed by countless sources.”

“Like, for example,” Perel leans over and removes some printouts from my desk, “Röyvjusource.com. And Icelandic Herb Shoppe; Röyvjuassociation.org.” She raises an eyebrow. “No reason to think these ‘sources’ might be at all biased now, is there?”

Gosh, someone is sarcastic today.

Perel seems to catch herself. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound so confrontational. It’s just,” she plants her elbows on her desk, “you’ve been pushing the Röyvju extract on practically everyone you’ve met lately. And it kills me to see you sucking out their hard-earned money like that.”

Big, bad Shaindy, robbing her clients. “First of all,” I say, “I’m not some sort of ogre, sneaking cash out of people’s pockets. I’m not forcing anyone to buy anything. And besides—”

“No,” Perel interrupts, her voice soft. “Not forcing. Not literally, at least.” She looks at me intently. “You take desperate people, and you offer them a single ray of hope. Is it any wonder they allow themselves to be smooth talked into a scam?”

I think about Nechama. You have no idea how many cures I’ve tried already. And the Schoen woman with the anxiety issues, and Faiga Leah Mandelbaum who complained of constipation. I’ve done everything out there.

“If it was a scam,” I argue, “how do you explain the scores of medical professionals who recommend the extract? Can you claim they’re all blind?”

“Not blind,” Perel emphasizes. “Probably more like blinded.” She leans back in her chair. “I don’t know who all these doctors are, or what vested interest they have in the product. But,” her fingers fly over her keyboard, “I do know what the mainstream medical establishment has to say about the matter.” She swivels her screen in my direction. “Take a look.”

She has a page open from National Institute of Health. Röyvju leaf — Trick or Truth? I skim the words.

There have been increasing claims of extreme healing powers found in the extract of the Röyvju leaf, otherwise known as Icelandic marvel, or lava leaf.

Due to the Röyvju leaf’s  ability to sweeten highly acidic foods, the herb has been touted by many as a detoxifier. The Röyvju plant’s extract is marketed as a cure for various ailments, an aid for general physical and emotional wellness, and longevity.

Currently, there is no scientific backing to these claims. Multiple studies have failed to produce any correlation between consumption of Röyvju leaf’s extract and improved health.

Nothing new here. Big Pharma manipulating the statistics, as usual. Why would they admit there’s an actual cure, when they can rake in billions on years of medication and pointless treatments?

I click on the next tab. Mayo Clinic.

Is the Röyvju Plant Really Beneficial? I’m not sure I want to see their answer, but I scroll further anyway.

The Röyvju leaf, commonly referred to as lava leaf, Icelandic marvel, or sweet leaf, has drawn attention for its tendency to sweeten sour foods. The plant is cultivated in the volcanic Sanajkepur region in Iceland, where the highly basic lava results in the creation of a compound known as paellust. At low pH (resulting from ingestion of sour foods) the release of paellust activates the sweet receptors on the tongue’s taste buds, resulting in the perception of sweet taste.

Marketers claim the mysterious sweetening occurs due to the Röyvju’s ability to break through acids and toxins, making the herb’s extract an incomparable body cleanser. Claims of the plant’s multiple health advantages are largely unfounded. There have been no proven medical benefits resulting from eating the herb or its extract.

No proven benefits, right. As though their refusal to recognize the studies in favor of the product makes those studies magically disappear.

My temples are throbbing.

Healthline.com — Röyvju Leaf Will NOT Solve your Problems: False claims have abounded about the superpowers of the Röyvju leaf, or Icelandic Marvel. Scientifically, there is no proof…

I’ve seen enough. I drop the mouse and turn the screen back to face Perel. She waits expectantly, arms crossed. “Well?”

My heeeaaad. I can’t deal with this now.

I mumble something about a client and make a beeline for my desk, coffee break forgotten. I pop two Maxalts just as Malky Perlman breezes in. Malky’s one of my regulars, and a Believer if you ever saw one. She purchased the herb extract last month, and now she’s back with her latest health saga.

“I can’t move. Like, literally. I just. Can. Not. Move.” She slumps in her chair dramatically and closes her eyes, as if to illustrate her very lack of ability to move. “I have no energy, I can barely drag myself through the day….”

Through a haze of pain, I listen as she outlines the extent of her energy depletion. I hope I come across sufficiently sympathetic as I advise her to try an energy shake in the morning and B12 supplements throughout the day. I see her out the door as soon as politeness allows me to, which is not nearly fast enough. As soon as Malky leaves, I drop my face into my hands and screw my eyes shut. My head is pounding. My brain is spinning. I don’t know which is worse.

Perel’s words reverberate in my mind. I will them to go away, but it’s no use. Scam! hums the whirring of the overhead fan. Scam, scam, scam.

Am I selling a scam?

Of course not! I retort. There’s so much research clearly demonstrating its effectiveness!

But you’ve seen an equal amount of research to the contrary. What if they’re right and you’re wrong?

All at once, I’m angry. Boiling, seething mad. At Perel, at myself, at those stupid websites, at the annoying, annoying fan. Because there’s no reason I have to decide. That’s the customer’s job. I’ve got solid evidence to prove the benefits of the product I’m selling, and I refuse to get carried away by sources who want to ignore it.

Scam, scam, scam.

I yank the remote off the wall and silence the fan. But the voices in my head refuse to quiet down.

Sucking out their hard-earned money…

I log off my computer. Time to call it a day. If people are shelling out that much money, they should do their homework. They can just as well access all the research on the topic. As for my part, I’ve got concrete scientific backing, and scores of satisfied clients.

My skull feels like it might explode.

I haul my pocketbook onto my shoulder and stalk out of the store into the autumn chill. The streets are littered with leaves of all shades. There’s such satisfaction in the way they crunch beneath my feet as I walk. I may be 38, but show me a pile of leaves in the fall, and I’m 6 years old again.

By the time I get home 12 minutes later, I’m somewhat invigorated, and the Maxalt has reduced the headache to a dull throb. I empty the mailbox, put in the combination, and walk in.

“Hi, Shaindy,” Yaakov calls. You’d think I’d be used to it after all these months, but I still find it jarring to see him home midday.

“Hi,” I return. “Any response from Rosen?” Rosen’s Tiles is looking for someone to oversee their employees, and Yaakov has all the qualifications. The interview, apparently, had gone well.

“None yet.” He says this casually, but his leg jerks the way it does when he’s nervous. Poor man. Hard as this is for me, it’s got to be a hundred times worse for him. I’m doing my best to play the supportive wife, encouraging him, and refraining from venting about the nightmare shopping has become. I avoid discussing my work so as not to rub my success in his face. But still, his is a tough spot to be.

I dump the mail on the table and head into my room to change. I have 15 minutes before Avrumi gets home from playgroup. I mentally scroll through various supper ideas as I remove my sheitel and switch into a more comfortable skirt.

Honey mustard bottoms, I decide, reentering the kitchen. I retrieve two packs of chicken from the freezer and dunk them into hot water. One day, I’ll be one of those super organized legends who has her meals planned and defrosted in advance. Meantime, this’ll have to do.

Taking inventory of my fridge and pantry, I settle on Russian salad as a side. “Dice them?” I ask, angling two tomatoes and a jar of pickles in Yaakov’s direction. He removes a knife from the drawer. I pour honey, mustard, and soy sauce into a bowl and whip them together with a fork. “So there’s Rosen, the book shop with the corny name, and whatever happened with Feldstein’s new restaurant?”

Yaakov chops steadily. “I spoke to Asher Feldstein. He’s looking to pay pennies. As for Bookworm, the guy’s a tyrant.” He finishes the tomatoes and concentrates on the pickles. “Basically, Rosen’s the only promising lead right now.”

“Guess we’ll wait to hear then.” I wrestle with the still-frozen lump, struggling to pry the pieces apart. My fingers are going numb. “Let’s hope for the best.”

“I just wish he’d get back to me already,” Yaakov says. He sets the knife down.

As if on cue, his pocket begins vibrating. He whips out his phone and tenses. “Speaking of the devil.”

“Rosen?” My heart does a nervous jig. Yaakov nods and retreats into the room.

Oh please, let this be the one, just let this be the one!

I putter around aimlessly for a minute, then settle on the mail as a distraction. A bill from ConEd, Progressive promising cheap auto insurance, a prescreened offer from Discover — as if we need another credit card to max. I pause at some official looking communication from, I flip the envelope over. CitiMortgage. I tear the envelope open and remove a solitary piece of paper.

As of October 19, 2019, your home loan is 62 days in default. Under New York State Law, we are required to inform you that you are at risk of losing your home. You can cure this default by making the payment of 28,362.04 dollars by January 19, 2020.

If this matter is not resolved within 90 days from the date this notice was mailed, we may commence legal action against you.

I should cry. I should scream. I should faint.

I don’t do any of these. Instead, I stare dumbly at the piece of paper in front of me. So this is how it all starts. This is how people lose their houses. The houses they’d painstakingly searched for, renovated, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into. The houses that had become their homes, absorbed their memories, their joy. This is what it had come to.

I’m jerked out of my stupor by insistent honking outside my door. Avrumi! I dash out to retrieve my toddler, who’s wearing a paper crown capped with an umbrella covered in scribbles to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. He catapults himself into my arms, jabbering about Sarala who didn’t come today, and the punch he had for snack. I reenter the house, Avrumi in tow, and nearly bump into Yaakov.

“He said no.”

He, who— Rosen. Oh. OH.

NO.

Can a caved-in world cave even further?

It’s all too much. The tears come, fast and furious. Heaving, gulping sobs, deep enough to encompass the weariness, the fear, the uncertainty. I am heedless of Yaakov, standing forlornly at my side, heedless of Avrumi, gaping apprehensively.

“Mommy, boo-boo?” Avrumi questions.

I attempt a watery smile in his direction. “Mommy is okay,” I assure him shakily. But Mommy isn’t okay. Nothing is. And if we lose the house, I don’t know if things can ever be okay again.

Belatedly, I become aware of the fact that I’ve botched the supportive-wife thing. Badly.

“I’m sorry,” I sniffle, trying to compose myself through a handful of tissues. “I’m just — it’s been a hard day, I’m overwhelmed, I’ll be fine, we’ll be fine…” I’m rambling. “We’ll get through this.”

Even though, as I twist and turn later that night, I have no idea how.

It’s close to 3 a.m. when I finally drift into an uneasy sleep, haunted by disjointed thoughts of houses and herbs and huge red unintelligible words. I sleep straight through my seven thirty alarm, and jolt awake just after nine.

The kids are out, bless Yaakov, though the kitchen is strewn with breakfast remains and pajamas. I do a 60-second cleanup, turn the kettle on, and get ready for work in a hurry.

When I arrive at the store at 9:30, coffee in hand, I already have a customer waiting. She’s a tall, assured-looking blonde woman wearing a set of gigantic, obviously fake, bangles. She introduces herself as Breindy Siegel before I can even finish sitting down and launches right into her tale.

“I’ve been going from one MRSA infection to the other for nearly a year now. It’s driving me insane.” She fingers the bracelets, and they clang against each other. “Plus, I’m poisoning my body with all the antibiotics. Everyone’s saying I should try the natural route.” Her hopeful green eyes meet mine.

I run a quick assessment as she talks. Believer.

“I need something that’ll resolve the issue once and for all.”

An image of Perel’s computer screen flashes in my mind, and I feel my chest tighten. I sip my coffee slowly and will myself to calm down. I know the science. I have my proofs, I have my sources.

Breindy is still talking. “…hope I find it, because frankly, I’m at the end of my rope.” Clang, clang.

You take desperate people, and you offer them a single ray of hope.

I need air. I need clarity. And fast.

“You are at risk of losing your home….”

Breindy is quiet now, having finished her spiel. I look up into her expectant face.

Why am I sweating?

“So,” she prods. “Can you help me?”

“You can cure this default by making the payment of 28,362.04 dollars….”

I take a great gulp of coffee. It’s cold. I chuck the half-full cup into the garbage can near my desk. No headspace to worry about leaking bags.

“Sucking out their hard-earned money….”

I lean back and cross my arms.

My research checks out. She’s free to do her own before spending all that money.

I draw a shaky breath. “We have this marvelous new product,” I begin, “Sourced from the Icelandic Röyvju leaf…” I find myself relaxing into the familiar rhythm of my pitch. I have Breindy ingest a drop of the extract, and then invite her to eat progressively more sour foods. She’s stunned.

I explain the reaction, using various charts and graphs, and she listens closely, fascinated. By the time I show her the doctors’ testimonies, she’s convinced. We’re ready to wind up. “So you’ve seen the science,” I tell her. “It’s all-natural, remarkably effective, and unquestionably life-altering.”

When Breindy floats out the door three minutes later, bearing a HealthNut bag containing twelve brown glass bottles, I’m equal parts elated and nauseous. And the beginning of a migraine is pressing on my temples.

Scam, scam, scam.

We have the studies to back this up. I’ve seen them. If there are others, customers are free to look into them and come to their own conclusions. Why would someone even buy something so pricey without researching it?

I complete two additional Röyvju sales before the day’s end, both Moderates. A woman seeking enhanced concentration, and a guy who looks vaguely familiar, I think he davens at Yaakov’s shul. Katzman, or maybe Katzburg. It’s been an unusually lucrative day, but I’m immensely relieved when it’s over.

Yaakov endures two unproductive interviews and countless dead-end leads over the course of the next week. I sell another six packs of Röyvju leaf extract.

On Tuesday, I wake up with a headache so excruciating I’m tempted to call in sick. Can’t afford to, though. I press my palms into my forehead. “I can’t even take Maxalt,” I moan. “Already hit the 24-hour max.” Yaakov eyes me worriedly and offers to drive me to work before he heads to a networking event downtown. I accept, down two Motrins, and pray they make a dent.

They don’t. It’s all I can do to retain some semblance of functionality through the pounding in my skull. Thankfully, it’s a pretty quiet day at work. I sell a sleep aid to someone, offer another a weight-loss herb, and Katzman-or-Katzburg comes back to purchase another pack of the extract.

Four o’clock strikes at last, and I can’t get home fast enough. Today, I’m incredibly gratified to see Yaakov. I grab an ice pack, throw out schedule instructions, and collapse into bed and blissful darkness.

When I emerge, feeling groggy and disoriented but slightly more human, it’s dark outside. There’s an empty pizza box on the kitchen table. Shaya and Avrumi are playing with MagnaTiles in the dining room, Tehilla has her nose buried in a book, and Gitty is nowhere to be found, as usual. Yaakov looks exhausted, but there’s a mysterious grin playing on his lips.

“Rise and shine,” he greets me. “How’re you feeling?”

“Better,” I croak. “Thanks so much. It was awful awful.”

“I know.” The mysterious smile again. “I have something for you, Shaindy.” He opens a cabinet and withdraws an oblong box wrapped in cobalt-blue paper with a silver bow. “Open it.” He urges.

A gift? Now? Is there an occasion I’m forgetting?

“No occasion,” Yaakov answers my unasked question. “It’s just, I know you’ve been suffering terribly with the migraines recently. And there’s this drug, it’s new to the market so you wouldn’t have seen it yet, supposed to be something miraculous. It’s not cheap, like a thousand bucks, but worth every penny.”

A thousand bucks? What in the world?! And the house!

“If this matter is not resolved within 90 days….”

My palms go clammy.

My friend Devoiry’s husband once got her a necklace she abhorred. This is worse. Way worse.

I open my mouth, then close it. He means well. But a thousand dollars.

I will myself to breathe as I undo the ribbon robotically.

“Shuki Katzenstein picked it up for me,” Yaakov explains. “He’s got crazy migraines too, bought a pack for himself. He outlined the demonstration for me, mind-boggling. I’d have gone to check it out for myself if it weren’t for the networking thing.”

A thousand bucks. The house. I open the wrapping with trembling fingers.

“The saleswoman vouched for it, Shuki said.” Yaakov extracts his phone and thumbs at the screen.

I open the box to reveal 12 brown glass bottles.

“It’s all-natural,” Yaakov reads from his phone, “remarkably effective, and unquestionably life-altering.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 668)

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