Second in a series.
Hersh had been social distancing for a couple of years. Ever since he retired from his law firm, Macdonald, McPherson & Lipschitz.
He preferred spending his days alone, walking a trail in the rainforest or the beach below his Point Grey home, sitting in his sailboat in the marina rereading Portnoy’s Complaint, reciting lines to a visiting glaucous-winged gull.
Doctor, doctor, what do you say, let’s put the id back in yid.
Hersh still found peaceful places despite the coronavirus panic. Except when he got home.
In the large Tudor-style house on a bluff overlooking the sea, his wife Gillian had been held hostage for weeks by cable news and social media.
Every time Hersh ventured into her airspace, she seemed to have a compulsion to repeat everything she heard and read.
On this morning in late March, her first words to him were, “The prime minister says we should …”
“Enough with the mishegas!” Hersh pleaded.
She muted the TV. “You know I don’t understand Yiddish.”
“You’d think after forty years,” he snapped back, “you would have picked up a few words – like, hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik.”
Gillian appeared hurt by his tone, even if she failed to understand he’d told her to shut up and stop bothering him.
“Let me know when they start blaming the Jews,” Hersh yelled as he retreated down the hall to his office.
He poured another mug of coffee from the thermos on the sideboard. Sipped and scanned the titles in a bookcase on the eastern wall. Hefted a thick volume, The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.
With the plague menacing and Passover coming, Hersh had been fixating on all things Jewish. He didn’t consider himself much of a Jew. Didn’t hide it either. Couldn’t with a name like Herschel Lipschitz.
He opened the book to the first story, Gimpel the Fool. Started reading but couldn’t concentrate.
Needed fresh air. Needed to flee.
Hersh tucked Isaac Bashevis Singer under his arm, grabbed a bagel and a bottle of water in the kitchen, snatched a jacket and Giants cap from the closet in the foyer, and was out the door.
His kvetchy Chevy pickup started on the second try. He left the Range Rover in the garage for Gillian, though she hadn’t left the house since the Trudeau kid told her to stay home. (Their Guatemalan housekeeper, Camila, ran all the errands.)
Hersh headed toward the city, traffic sparse as he crossed the Burrard Street Bridge, down to Georgia Street and the Coal Harbour Marina.
Springtime Vancouver weather varied from drizzle to deluge. Today was a drizzle day.
Hersh shuffled slowly along the soggy walkway to his thirty-foot sailboat – recently rechristened Chutzpah to no one else’s amusement – a runty outcast among a fleet of yachts.
He sat in the stern, looking toward mountains obscured by mist and low clouds. Lit a joint.
The rumble of a truck drew his gaze to the Bayshore hotel. He imagined Howard Hughes cloistered at the top of the tower.
Had an idea. Let it cook while he toked.
Hersh sent a text to his wife – Won’t be home for dinner – and retired to the cabin for a nap.
When he awoke, he filled a backpack with an old pair of old sweatpants, an older UBC sweatshirt, underwear, T-shirts, socks, a half-filled bottle of J&B – “Jewish booze,” his father called it – toothbrush and toothpaste.
He stepped ashore and walked the short distance to the Bayshore.
The big, beefy doorman was acting more as a security guard. “Are you a guest, sir?”
“Checking in,” Hersh said, realizing he looked like either a hobo or an eccentric billionaire in his baggy brown corduroy pants, untucked denim shirt, scuffed and stained boat shoes.
Allowed to pass, he made eye contact with the lone clerk at the front desk, standing well back from the counter. “May I help you, sir?” she shouted across the deserted lobby.
“Checking in,” Hersh shouted back before moving closer, but not contagiously close. “Is the Howard Hughes suite available?”
“Do you have a reservation?”
“No, just hiding out – like Hughes was fifty years ago. He just showed up too. The mashugana threatened to buy the hotel if you didn’t give him the rooms he wanted.”
“I’ll get the manager, sir,” the clerk said, turning her back on Hersh and muttering furtively into her fist like a Secret Service agent.
“Is it something I said?” Hersh addressed the empty lobby, sounding to himself like Zero Mostel playing Max Bialystock.
Within minutes, a finely attired young man approached Hersh and stopped the prescribed six feet away. “May I help you, sir?”
“I asked about the Howard Hughes suite and your colleague called a Code Red.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but Ms. Price said something about a threat?”
“I was talking about Howard Hughes – fifty years ago.”
“In any case, the hotel is not exactly open during the state of emergency – just the top five floors are for guests.”
“Isn’t the Howard Hughes suite the penthouse? Wouldn’t that be one of the top five floors?”
“That suite is under renovation. And the floors that are open are reserved.”
Hersh didn’t like his tone. “Is this hotel restricted?”
“Restricted – Jews not welcome. Like that hotel in Gentleman’s Agreement.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand.”
“I have a good mind to report you to my lawyers, Bialystock and Bloom.”
All the virus mishegas was making him as mashuga as Hughes.
The manager backpedaled a few steps, bowing to his phone, thumbs springing to action. Hersh figured he was texting with Ms. Price, working her phone behind the front desk.
“We can give you the room just below the Hughes suite at a reduced rate,” the manager said, apparently anxious to get Hersh out of the lobby.
“Fine,” Hersh said, “I’ll take it until my suite is available.”
“But, sir …”
Hersh broke out laughing. “Just kidding. You looked like you were going to plotz.”
He didn’t wait for the manager to exclaim, “pardon?” again.
“Just tonight is good,” Hersh conceded.
He texted Gillian that he was spending the night on the boat. She didn’t reply.