essays kaddish in two-part harmony Seymour Fromer z"l tzaddik stories

the tzaddik and the automobile of art maintenance

Everybody knows about the tzaddik’s cars. They were fairly famous. His vehicles impersonated him. They imprinted on him. Everybody remembers particular stories about his cars.  Only I don’t know all of the stories. And that really bugs me. I guess what I really want is to know everything. Collect everything. Every shred of memory. I want to pull them out of everyone he ever knew. And collect them.

In other words, I’m an awful lot just like him. Only, my excuse is anthropology. What I collect are stories instead of stuff. He collected all the stuff. So how come my house is full to the brim with tzaddik detritus? The stuff that would never make it into the museums of the world.

He collected an awful lot of junk and not just treasures.

Not true, not true.

Every piece of junk was a treasure to him. And he had tiers of storage places.  I’m not sure where to begin.

The garage in his building: The books and paintings there, by the time I got to them, (or rather, when my closest friend T got to them), were already starting to smell.  Their distribution was predictable. Just like having to put down a favorite kitty, I could not have chucked this stuff all by myself.

The apartment itself: Famous, of course. Or infamous. And surely, I’ve already written multiple pieces on the year it took to excavate and distribute the treasures and the junk.  And my own concern that it was often hard to tell the difference. And that was as true for the tzaddik as it was for me. Which is why those things were in the apartment in the first place. Awaiting his proper research to decide their disposition.

The museum, of course: I mean, that’s what it was all about. Building the collection. Using some parts of the collections to enable other acquisitions. It was always, always, always about building the museum.

Mrs Tzaddik’s house: Ah, what would he have done without the flea markets of the world? Garage sales of the world? Auction houses? Junk stores. Estate sales. Whatever. It was as if the tzaddik could just walk down the street and stumble over something that should belong to someone he knew.  And the really beautiful stuff was offered here first. Not that it was always accepted.

Malkah’s house (Beit Malkhut West): The tzaddik knew her weakness. North Africa (and okay, sure, the rest of the Middle East as well — but mostly North Africa).  Truth be told, he did keep all the good stuff to himself.  See under Museum. And then under The Apartment.  But Malkah was a sucker for all those stupid little camels that she still treasures.  Remember his mantra: Everyone should collect something. And his addendum: Everyone should specialize.  Malkah ended up with a shitload of camels.

The car: The car hauled around all the stuff that was supposed to end up with someone that he was about to meet. How many times did he say to Malkah (and likely to everyone else), “I have something for you—come to the trunk” — and then you’d be at the back of his car for the next hour or two as he looked and then explained what he had found. The car was always parked halfway between Mrs Tzaddik’s house and the Museum, and he’d open the trunk, and root around until he found the right painting or sculpture. The right print or poster. Coin from Judaea or silver spoon. Old newspaper or fairly shredded tapestry. Moldy manuscript. Bronze, or book. Catalogue from an exhibition in Berlin. New York Times article. Signed pieces. Unsigned pieces. Amulets or shvitis. Pieces of tombstones. Persian tiles…

Did I mention what a piece of junk his actual vehicle was?

Did I mention the time someone bothered for some reason to steal his car?  I think it was the battered old teal Dodge or was it a Ford? No, no, no—he’d never have a Ford.  Took the cops quite a while to find this missing treasure.  But when they did, all the seats had been removed.  A battered old car with no seats.  But poppa was a good investigator. He could track down just about anything he set his mind to. And in some automobile junkyard, he found a whole set of seats for his jalopy and had them installed.  They were, of course, his very own. I recognized the stains.

There was the time he won a car from some Yehudi raffle.  An Olds Cutlass, as I recall.  Only they’d stopped making the model he had won the year before. And thus— no prize.  They offered him cash instead.  Probably knowing there was no way in hell he’d take money for himself.

There was the time the Museum folk chipped in and got him a new car.  Or a newer car.  Come to think of it, it was probably donated. I can’t remember the occasion.  I always thought it was so his old junk heaps wouldn’t be sitting in front of the Museum, but maybe the motive for this gift was less strategic. At any rate, we all had a good laugh over it, and he did manage to accept it, although with great misgivings.  I believe that was the white Saturn.  The white Saturn he barely fit into.  The white Saturn that nobody fit into. Mrs Tzaddik always rode in the back. But the car had a great trunk.  And it got initiated and filled up pretty quickly.

There was the time he didn’t fix the brakes. The time he didn’t change the tires. The time —

The art of automobile maintenance: Nope. Just a car for art maintenance. I don’t think he really cared if the thing ran well or not.  He treated it exactly as he treated himself.  It was humble. It was shabby. It was filled with history. Stories. Amulets and art. It barely ran. It had great adventures. It was filled with treasure no one else would notice. It was epic. Folkloric. There ought to be ballads sung to the tzaddik’s steed. For all I know, maybe there are.

It was an honor to be invited to the trunk of my father’s car.  I mean, think of it, say, compared to the trunk of my own vehicle:

One doggie bed with pillows. One chuckit.  Ten squeaky Timberwolf balls. A dozen multicolored dogshit bags. Vests and jackets for variable amounts of fog or rain. Two camels. One ceramic goddess. The tzaddik’s knife and hammer. And a mezuzah.

No paintings. No tombstones. No brass trays.

But an awful lot of sand. And twigs and leaves. That remind me of the seasons passing.  Remind me that the tzaddik and his car and his collections are gone now almost a full two years.  And sometimes I see a battered old teal Dodge or white Saturn on the road.

And sometimes I imagine that it’s filled with art.

And history.

And a tzaddik passing by.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

One reply on “the tzaddik and the automobile of art maintenance”

If I had known all of this, I would have conducted the smokey departure of the last tzaddikmobile with more ceremony. We did empty the trunk of all it’s final treasures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.