“Nothing personal, I’m sure he has his issues, but doesn’t he seem like a guy who can ruin a good chill?"
Shlomo Bass had long ago learned to read voices. His father wasn’t much for warmth or encouragement, but he was always honest. Pinchas Bass would often make phone calls on speaker, and he liked to point out the phony cheeriness of customer service professionals with their, “Hi, this is Jennifer, how can I help you today?” Pinchas Bass would shake his head and tell his young son that such fake politeness was destructive and the reason you couldn’t trust other people.
He would wave the colorful flyer that came from the dentist that said, “Mr. PINCHAS BASS, we miss seeing you at Better Bite.”
“Do you think they miss me? Or is it my credit card?” Pinchas would hold the flyer like it was a rotten fruit before gingerly dropping it into the garbage.
In Israel, he liked to point out, the receptionists didn’t bother with pleasant greetings — but they cared about you like family.
It was one of Pinchas Bass’s favorite lectures and it had trained Shlomo, early on, to detect authenticity. He’d never connected with the overly jovial rebbeim and exuberant camp counselors, gravitating to the quieter, less effusive people at the end of the table.
But sometimes, he learned, people could be exuberant but also completely honest. And that’s how he felt as he watched the old Avalon turn awkwardly out of his driveway.
“Bass, this was epic,” Lorb was focused on the steering wheel and he didn’t turn to look at Shlomo, but his voice was filled with both good cheer and real sincerity.
Wagner grinned. “We loved it. And your family is great too,” he added generously.
Shlomo wished he could stand where he was and watch the car pull away, like a child in a book, but that would be weird. He saluted and walked back to the house, tiptoeing as he came in and hoping his mother wouldn’t summon him to the kitchen.
Shlomo, your friends seem so nice, she would say brightly, and he would hear, Shlomo, do you have friends? Or is it just that it was raining and they had nowhere else to go?
Zalman would pretend not to be interested, but he would move slowly, alertly, not to miss a word, and if he felt that the mood was calm, he would weigh in. The Wagner boy is quite a character, no? Reminds me of a friend I had in yeshivah, Moskowitz…
It didn’t work.
“Is that you, Shlomo?” Mommy called, and he headed toward the kitchen.
Bass? For real?”
Noach Perensky’s tone wasn’t nasty, just genuinely perplexed.
“Like, Shlomo Bass?”
Lorb nodded slowly. “Yeah. Bass. Exactly, I want him to come.”
They were standing on Forest Avenue, a little group of bochurim standing in an aimless, hopeful way, as if waiting for someone to drop down and tell them what to do with the rest of the beautiful Chol Hamoed day. They were too old to go out with their families and jostle for seats in a minivan with younger siblings, but too young to be able to make serious plans of their own.
Shimshy Lieber thought they should go to Great Adventure, there was a group discount with Yedidim and they even had a succah there and kosher food, and Walter just wanted to go bowling and chill.
Lorb and Wagner had to head back to Detroit (Why would someone have to go back to Detroit? For what? Perensky asked), but were down to do something if the others would just make up their minds already.
Their only request was that Bass come too, and the others found it strange.
“He’s like, sort of gloomy, you know?” Lieber wasn’t speaking unkindly, just trying to understand. “You know, nothing personal, I’m sure he has his issues, but doesn’t he seem like a guy who can ruin a good chill?”
“You don’t know him,” Wagner jumped in, as if he’d been waiting for the question.
“Whoa, okay, relax,” Lieber said, and then felt badly. “Sure, sure let’s get Bass too, no reason not to.”
And then, because he couldn’t help himself, he muttered, “What can be more fun than going paintball shooting with a guy who probably won’t hold a gun, is allergic to paint, finds screaming to be impolite and will sit with huge earphones the whole time?”
The Avalon was back. Shlomo was in the succah trying to learn when he heard the car pulling up in the driveway, and he knew who it was even before he saw it.
They must have forgotten something.
He tried not to think about the fact that they had left his house two hours earlier, and even with davening, they’d clearly done other stuff in Lakewood. Other friends? Breakfast with the boys? (Yeah, Bass is fine to sleep by, but we’re no way hanging out with him for an extra second!)
“Go change,” Wagner said. “Hang up your little tie back on your neat little tie rack and put on normal clothing.”
Shlomo was confused. He saw that the car was full of bochurim and he tried to arrange his face to look nonchalant, like bochurim pulling up and asking him to come out was a regular occurrence.
Lorb jumped out. “Nu, we have to be back in Detroit tonight, we don’t have all day. Go change, send our love to Reb Zalman and get some cash and let’s go.”
Shlomo tried to sound calm. “Where are we going?”
“Great Adventure, it’s a good chill, just come already.”
Shlomo hesitated, then shrugged and went back to the house. “I’ll be back in two,” he threw over his shoulder.
“Wait,” Wagner, who was unselfconsciously wearing sunglasses, one hand hanging out the window, called out. “Wait… Shlomo, bring your guitar, please. Please.”
Shlomo kept walking. He really didn’t want to take his guitar out of the house, it wasn’t the type. He wasn’t a kumzitzer and he didn’t need it getting scratched or worse, every bochur who thought himself a musician saying, here, let me chap a turn.
But Wagner had asked. Please, he’d said.
Dovi Korman was considering begging off, feigning a headache.
There were two cars in the circular driveway in front of his house, both filled with bochurim who’d come to pick him up. They were going to Great Adventure and they needed him there. Halbfinger had texted him three times to come down.
All the guys are going, come on.
And then: Even Bass is here! Shlomo Bass yah and Dovi Korman no????
Bass? This was intriguing. Dovi Korman looked through the bottom of the window shades, trying to read the situation without being spotted.
He wanted to go. But he could see it. They would get into the cars, negotiate the front seat and drive off and spend a few minutes bargaining about music and then hit I-95. All would be well. Perensky would have comments on every frum car they passed — that family hates each other, that father looks like Trump in chassidish, that car is packed up like they’re driving to Niagara Falls for two months. Halbfinger would have fallen asleep and Jacobs would have spilled on his pants and they would be randomly schmoozing and Dovi Korman didn’t think he would be able to keep the information to himself.
It would be too hard. And he certainly wasn’t going to ruin the mood.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 815)
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