Yesterday I went for lunch at the Epicure, a market in South Beach, which also has a coffee bar. Customers may buy food in the market and eat it at the coffee bar. I bought three slices of sable, a lightly smoked fish, a pumpernickel bagel, and cole slaw, and took my food to the bar. There was L. with his brother, S. and S.'s mother. They come here to shop, eat, but most of all to schmooze. I sat at L.'s table. He is a great talker, smart, well-informed. He brings people together. He has a marvelous speaking voice, much better than Garrison Keillor's without a trace of Keillor's crankiness. L. has an intimate voice. I can't imagine L. yelling.
I had been reading Leonard Michael's essay, "My Yiddish." Michaels grew up speaking Yiddish and entered kindergarden with very little English. In his essay he summarizes the critic Benjamin Harshav: Yiddish "contains many words that don't mean anything: nu, epes tockeh, shoyn ["so," "really," "well," "already."] These are fleeting interjections, rather like sighs." I would also say, like "shrugs."
I took the lid off the container holding my three small slices of sable. L. looked at it. I said, "Sable, I love it."
L. said, "Carp. It's carp. They give it a fancy name."
"S0?" his brother said, and I laughed. (I've made his response a question, but it was the faintest question.)
I broke up my bagel, scooped out the soft insides--I prefer crust--and covered the dark bread with sable. It was the best sable I had ever eaten.
The soft parts of the bagel I had scooped out filled most of the plate. "Are you going to eat those?" L. asked me, and I told him no. He took a small packet from his pocket and unfolded it, revealing coarse white breadcrumbs. "For the birds," he said. "For the birds," his brother repeated. L. took the pieces of bagel and crumbled the dark bits between his shapely fingertips as we talked about the Federal Reserve, Lincoln's assassination, Juval Aviv, the Israeli agent who was Golda Meir's bodyguard, and upon whom the film Munich was based.
"Yiddish serves speech--between you and me--rather than the requirements of consecutive logical discourse," Michael writes. The English of those who grew up hearing Yiddish, does this as well. At the Epicure we sighed and shrugged with our interjections.