Shlomo, the rosh yeshivah wrote back so quickly that Shlomo was still holding the phone, hatzlachah. Enjoy your guests
Reb Zalman and Mommy had gone off to sleep, and it was very quiet for a moment.
“Okay, guys, come let me show you around,” Shlomo said, feeling awkward, like a real estate agent showing his first house. Shlomo Bass had never had friends come for a sleepover, and he’d never been invited to one either. He remembered that he’d almost made the cut at Bauer’s bar mitzvah.
Lanky Elchanan Bauer had spent the first six months of the year in seventh grade making and remaking the list, actually using a pen and paper and crossing out names before adding them again. Five boys, his parents had told him, he could invite five boys to the mountains for Shabbos. At times, Shlomo Bass was on the list, depending on who was knocked off. In the end, the weeks before the bar mitzvah were socially successful ones for Bauer; he was invited to play baseball on Friday and the Greenberg boy learned with him during night seder and Gutstein was his math partner, so Shlomo Bass was knocked down to number six.
Once, he’d gone on holiday with his cousins in Europe, spending a week at a mansion near the sea, which had been sort of nice, but that wasn’t a sleepover either. He’d shared a room with his father — his parents were still married then, but they said Mommy couldn’t come because she was busy with Savta’s surgery — and most of the day had been spent going for walks or learning. Shlomo imagined that sleepovers involved pillow fights and popcorn, and there had been none of that. There had been singing, though; the British people weren’t like Americans, all silly and lighthearted during songs. They weren’t shy about harmonizing either, and Shlomo had enjoyed that part.
Now, as Lorb and Wagner followed him down the stairs into the basement, he had a moment of total panic as he wondered if he was meant to be sleeping in the same room as them. This hadn’t been discussed, and he was expected to know the right answer. This wasn’t a sleepover, and they weren’t friends, but they were in his house and for tonight, at least, they were being super-friendly. They had told him Zalman was chill and that he was clutch for having them, but he found himself wishing he’d had time to prepare the house a little better. It was clean and presentable — Wagner thought it was massive — but Shlomo was a bit embarrassed by the huge poster of Zalman and his daughters in Disney World wearing Mickey Mouse ears and making weird faces.
“Are those your sisters?” Lorb asked, and Wagner kicked him in a jokey way.
But Shlomo appreciated the question and said, “No, they’re Reb Zalman’s daughters, I guess maybe stepsisters. Not sure.”
The guest room had two high-risers, but as soon as they came in, Shlomo knew he wasn’t staying there with them. No one said anything, but the way both boys possessively swung their little bags onto the beds at once made it clear that this was their room.
Shlomo felt a pang of jealousy but also relief, and he went to bring them towels.
“I am so getting the shower first,” Lorb said, gratefully accepting the towels.
Wagner tripped him, sending him to the floor. “No chance, brother, I drove all day and I am gone. Gone. Wait your turn.”
Lorb stood up, grabbed both towels and tore down the hall. Wagner shouted and Shlomo worried about waking his mother up — she was a light sleeper — but laughed when Wagner dove and caught Lorb’s leg half a foot from the bathroom.
“Okay, you’re the host, Bass, you decide, who goes first?” Lorb looked to him.
“Bass, listen.” Wagner looked like he was taking this seriously, “Lorb hasn’t taken a shower in a week, all of the sudden he’s all Mr. Clean?”
Shlomo briefly thought about pointing out that Mr. Clean was a household cleaner, not a soap, but let it go.
He had to be careful here. Shlomo Bass was astute enough to realize that they were the friends and he was number three, so it wouldn’t be wise to take sides and choose.
He held his hands up. “Ummm… no idea, a number from one to ten?”
Lorb laughed and said, “Fine, seven. Thanks, see ya.”
He swung the bathroom door open. Wagner jammed a foot in and Shlomo worried they would break it.
“Wait,” Shlomo said to Lorb, “aren’t you a Kohein?”
Lorb raised his arms above his head like a championship fighter. “Oh, yeah, step aside,” he said and winked at Wagner.
“Well done, Bass, you’re a legend,” he said over his shoulder.
Shlomo was back in his room when he heard the soft knock at his door.
“Hey, Bass, come on down,” Wagner whispered in a voice that was way too loud for this house but still filled Shlomo with joy.
He’d been hoping they would call him down to chill, and he’d even dressed the part. He colored when he remembered his first night in Modena: He’d gotten into pajamas after night seder, and Noach Perensky had called out, “Oh, baby, Bass has zeidy pajamas!”
It had taken him a moment, but then he realized that every other bochur in yeshivah was wearing T-shirts and sweatpants or shorts, and only he was in light blue linen pajamas with gray stripes. He’d dug his heels in, looking primly at Perensky and raising his eyebrows in disdain, and decided not to ask his mother to send him sweatpants. He’d worn the zeidy pajamas all zeman and the teasing had stopped. He’d considered it a win, but now he was ready to change.
Tonight he’d changed into an oversized day-camp T-shirt in anticipation of this invitation. He followed Wagner down the stairs to the basement, and saw that they’d taken the pillows off the basement couch and formed a cozy circle.
Lorb had his e-cig out, which wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Reb Zalman would tell Mommy that it was okay, bochurim were bochurim, and he would come up with some story about when he was a bochur his friend had driven a whatever into a whatever and then laugh heartily, as if remembering a time when he’d truly been happy, not just content or okay.
“Wait,” Shlomo said, heading back upstairs to get snacks. He didn’t think they had beer in the house, but there were pretzels and Coke Zero. It would have to do. He was new at the hosting game.
He rummaged around the kitchen, looking for more nosh, when he heard his cell phone, which had been charging on the counter, vibrate. He didn’t get many texts, so he jumped and went to check what it was. The last three had been weather alerts from Verizon warning him about the rain.
Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Sholom Wasser was how he had the contact saved. Rabbi Wasser had never texted him before.
Wanted to make sure everyone is safe and sound, the rosh yeshivah had written.
Yes, thanks, all good BH, a gutten moed, Shlomo wrote back, feeling strange texting a rebbi. (“So American,” he could hear his father saying.)
Shlomo, the rosh yeshivah wrote back so quickly that Shlomo was still holding the phone, hatzlachah. Enjoy your guests.
Shlomo went back down the stairs smiling. The rosh yeshivah intrigued him. In a strange way, he really got it.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 812)
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