Doing the Wrong Thing

Doing the Wrong Thing


Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

It’s always interesting to hear stories which make perfect sense to the teller while mystifying the listener with their lack of logic. At a recent Shabbat lunch, many of us were sharing just such anecdotes.

We’d heard some of them, and we’d personally experienced some of them. Even if they hadn’t happened to us, a couple of them are too close to home to keep to myself.

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The first is about a handyman, James, who came to work at a friend’s house. The visitor was late and in a distraught mood, and his eyes were blood-shot and his nerves were on overload. He explained the reason for his lateness and inability to concentrate: He reported that he’d been up all night after a call from his daughter, Pat, at 3 a.m.

Pat was home alone with her baby because her husband works the night shift. When she awoke in the middle of the night and went to check on their four-month-old daughter sleeping in a room down the hall, she discovered that her house had been robbed while she and the baby were sound asleep.

She immediately called her parents, and James had rushed over to spend the rest of the night at her place, assess the situation and stand guard over his daughter and granddaughter.

“There wasn’t much damage to the place,” James said. “But the robbers took a flat-screen TV and brand-new laptop computer.

“What’s wrong with people nowadays?” he continued, moaning. “You try to be a good Christian, bring your kids up right, go to church on Sunday like clockwork, and then every single dope addict thinks it’s OK to crawl in your basement window and rob you blind!”

“Thank goodness, nobody was hurt!” my friend said, deciding that it was neither the time nor place to suggest that there were probably some innocent dope addicts not out there robbing people blind.

“Sure, we’re happy they’re OK,” James answered. “But it’s worse, because my wife and I just gave Pat the TV and computer a couple of weeks ago!”

“That’s good,” my friend said. “If you have that receipt or your credit card statement, you can make a simple insurance claim.”

“No receipt and no credit card statement,” James answered. “We got the stuff from this guy I know from our church. He’s always getting great stuff and selling it really cheap to other church members – naturally, for cash.”

“You mean you’re angry that somebody stole a computer and TV that were first stolen from someplace else?” my friend asked.

James explained that this stealing was “different.”

“Not from a person; maybe a warehouse or a truck,” he said.

My friend asked James if he found anything wrong with that logic.

“Not really,” James said. “It’s not like we didn’t pay for them.”

My friend sat back, expecting the rest of us to laugh. But, instead, that anecdote elicited a torrent of similar stories. Another guest at the Shabbat table, Shari, told about her secretary, whose father, an auto mechanic, had serviced their family’s cars in the past.

This mechanic’s work wasn’t great, and Shari and her family had stopped using him. Meanwhile, Shari’s secretary constantly complained that her father was always being tricked and taken advantage of, and she had many anecdotes to prove how he’d consistently been maligned.

So Shari decided to call the misjudged fellow to give him another chance. She called to make an appointment, and Mr. Brownstein (the secretary’s father) was happy to hear from her and showed no sign of grudge or resentment.

“I have something useful that will help you,” he suggested.  “Are you still driving that old Volvo?”

Shari sensed trouble and decided to back off.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I have a great mechanic, and I’m sticking with him.”

“It’s not that!” Brownstein laughed. “Remember how hard it was to get your car to pass inspection? Bring it to me, and I guarantee it’ll pass.”

“How?” Shari asked.

“Don’t worry about that,” Brownstein assured her. “I’ll take care of you. I’m a religious man, and all Jews have to help each other, right?”

There was a pause while Shari tried to figure out the right response. Brownstein took advantage of the silence to continue with a litany of the mistreatments he’d recently endured.  One was the agreement he’d signed at a health club, which he felt was highly deceptive.

Now Shari had a response.

“You’re furious about the deceptive health club agreement, but it’s OK to lie on the car inspections?”

“What’s one thing got to do with the other?” Brownstein asked, in all innocence. “I’m a little car mechanic, doing a few clever auto inspections to help my fellow Jews, and the other’s a big, scheming health club chain. No comparison!”

We who were sitting around the table had a variety of reactions. Some sat stiffly and uncomfortably, a few chuckled cynically, and others nodded our heads in recognition. We knew who we were.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines.


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