Faculty bonding at Eleanor Roosevelt Junior High School in New York occurred in the teachers’ break room, where we liked to share useful information. That was where I learned how to choose a sofa and what books to read. We obsessively bemoaned our inability to afford better apartments, and it was morbidly entertaining to hear each other’s horror roach and evil-landlord stories.
Mel, Stepha and Claudia brought different daily newspapers to the room, and Claudia took it upon herself to read and report everyone’s horoscope.
“Chana! This is your day!” she exclaimed one morning. “You’re going to get something valuable. You’re gonna be rich!”
“I don’t believe in horoscopes,” I announced.
Mel looked for my horoscope in his paper. “Claudia’s right.” He affirmed. “Here it is in black and white. Today’s your day of prosperity. Keep your eyes open.”
Not to be outdone, Stepha turned to the horoscope in her paper. “Good grief, Chana! It’s in your stars! It’s the same in my paper!”
“You’re all nuts,” I said. “I only wish it were true.” Naturally, I immediately started to consider various scenarios in which I would come into unexpected wealth.
On the bus home, I smiled meaningfully at each and every passenger. Perhaps one of them was a benevolent zillionaire, who had watched me help people onto the bus each morning. In the elevator up to our apartment, I attempted a meaningful conversation with Mrs. Scafati, who was rumored to have, that very week, inherited a cache of priceless jewelry from her mother in Italy. Maybe the three horoscopes didn’t mean actual cash; it could also be jewels or gold.
Early that evening, I met my friends, Hope and Claudia, for dinner at a kosher deli. Claudia remembered that this was my day to get rich, and when I reported that I was still living on a teacher’s salary (after taxes), she told me not to worry. She explained to Hope that not one, not two, but three separate horoscopes had predicted my forthcoming affluence. I reiterated my dissenting view, surreptitiously scanning the floor under my chair, just in case a couple of 20s were lying there.
Claudia caught me and smiled smugly, but she was smart enough not to say anything else. A true believer must be patient; she was a true believer, and it was only 6 p.m.
Hope, always the sensible one, suggested that, in case I came upon a windfall during our meal, I should treat everyone. Claudia seconded her idea, and I laughed and agreed. It was after 8 p.m. when we left the deli. We split the check.
At 8:30, I was nearing the subway to go home and was surprised when a former favorite student ran up to me. I hardly recognized him, even after he asked,“Remember me? I’m Jacob! I won the city poetry competition in ninth grade!”
He looked much more handsome than when he was a young teen. He now had a beard, horn-rimmed glasses, a crisp lavender shirt and bow tie, and was carrying a gorgeous leather briefcase.
It’s true that Jacob was one of my favorites in ninth grade English. He wasn’t the best at the subjects his parents preferred, but his poetry was mature and clever, and he liked to include beautiful watercolor illustrations with his work. I had many conversations with him and his mother about Jacob’s talents, interests and opportunities. He was admitted to the High School of Music & Art, and eventually we lost touch.
“It’s amazing to bump into you,” Jacob exclaimed. “A big gallery is showing my work. On Monday night, I’m going to read my poetry there, too. The press is coming to take pictures. You’re the one who convinced my parents about the best high school for me.”
“I’ll be there!” I promised. “I’m so happy for you!”
“It’s by invitation only,” Jacob explained, reaching into his briefcase. “Here’s a pass! Imagine seeing you again after so many years!” We talked for two hours.
Our trains came, and we parted. Jacob was now a working artist and poet. That pass and our connection were worth much more than a million dollars or a diamond bracelet.