An error-filled errand in Brooklyn

October 18, 2011

We do The Interview Show each month in Chicago, but last week we brought it to Brooklyn’s Union Hall. I love it there, but I did not do Brooklyn very well.

My mistake was venturing out from where I was staying on the morning of the show.

But I had to find a computer printer. I type up questions for each interview, and before each show, I print them, cut out the sentences and tape them to index cards, because I aim to turn everything I do in life into an arts and crafts project.

I didn’t want to go FedEx Office Cougar Mellencamp Kinkos or whatever it’s called now. It's rarely a smooth transaction there. My theory is there was one original Kinkos employee and all the rest are just ever-fading photo copies of that guy.

So, I went to a place called Away We Go Postal. This was a less-wise choice.

First, it took 15 minutes for the guy behind the counter to set me up with a computer. He couldn’t get his mouse to work. The woman working next to him had a working mouse, but she was on the phone with a friend. It seemed like a fun call.

Eventually, I was set up, and I printed out my pages. The printer was behind the counter, and the guy handed me my 25 or so pages and got ready to ring me up.  But the ink was very faded — hard-on-the-eyes, tension-headache-inducing faded — and so, I said exactly what every other human being would have said in my shoes. Which was: “Um, these are faded. ”

To which the woman behind the counter, looking up for the first time from her phone call, interrupted me:

“Are they legible?”

“Well, yeah, um, they’re legible, but . . .”

“Then you have to pay for them.”

I tried to challenge her, but my challenge hit a snag when I couldn’t remember the term “ink cartridge.”

“Don’t you have one of those little things you put in a printer that, you know, makes the printouts darker — what are they called again, you stick them in and then …”

To which the guy answered, “No, we don’t.” We have one ink cartridge that will last us until we go out of business.

And then the woman repeated, “Are they legible?”

I paid for the printouts.

And left in a huff, my mood brightening only when I saw a Target. I had to go in. My son wanted me to bring him back a Beyblade. These are cheap plastic tops with names like “Storm Pegasus” and “Dark Gasher.” They cost $10. The Beybladium, the official, plastic oversized dog bowl to spin these tops, is sold separately!  Plus, I read The New York Times every day, and every third article is about how all the stores in Brooklyn are artisanal, so I wanted to see what an artisanal Target looked like.

It was spectacular. I’d never seen anything like it.

On my way out, a limited-edition Beyblade now all mine, I had to go the bathroom. And I didn’t, dear reader, wash my hands. The Target bathroom was packed, and I had in my backpack a little bottle of Purell I started to reach for. But before I could grab it, a teenager yelled: “That’s nasty! You got to wash your hands, man!”

For some reason, I walked over to him and showed him the Purell bottle. We then had an awkward conversation.

By the time I got outside, all I wanted to do was get to Union Hall and put my ill-fated journey behind me. That’s when I heard someone yell to me, “Are you Jewish?” That’s not a question you’d ever get asked in Chicago, unless it’s 1997, you are dating my now-wife and having your first conversation with her father.

But in Brooklyn, this happens. Lubavitch Jews ask it. Young, earnest ones, often. They want you to wear the Tefillin. It’s a little black box you put on your head that looks, well, kind of like an ink cartridge. (For a real description of what they are and mean, go here.)

Anyhow, I couldn't lie to him. So, I went over to him and found myself agreeing to wear the tefillin. I wanted to know how he identified me as Jewish. Was it my nose? Was it the hair on my back sticking out of the top of my shirt again? Was it the Purell in my hand? The correct answer, as I learned later, was that he asks everyone except burly blond men over 6’5”.

He took out a kepah (yarmulke) and asked me to put it on. It was the dirtiest thing I’d ever seen meant to be put on one's head. I think if one more head lice had been in there, they would have had a minion. Hello!

So, I refused. The kid weighed my answer. He calculated how many people he’d successfully stopped that day. Maybe he asked God for guidance. Either way, he let me proceed kepah-less. He put the box on my head, which, with two black straps hanging from it, looks like a strange electric device.

As he led me through my assigned lines in Hebrew, I said a silent prayer to not be electrocuted, at least not until after the show.