Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sitting Shiva

"Have you ever been to that place, Loeb's Deli?" he asked, pointing out the window of our #34 metrobus at some McPherson Square eatery.

"No, is it any good?"

"It's New York Style. We're going."

He's in DC for nine short days, the first close guy friend I ever made. I met him in college in 2004, my senior year to his freshman. Ladies' man extraordinaire; my emotional rock during my unfortunate Sobbing Mess phase. Gives the tightest, most comforting hugs. Skanky fratboy with a heart of gold.

There are few things in life that I love more than a good NY-Style deli, so his choice took absolutely no persuasion. Work wasn't expecting me until 2pm, so after a lazy morning of making surprise cupcakes for the Queen of Hearts' 25th birthday, he and I hopped on a Blue Line train due west.

Gray days are known culprits for impressing upon me an unwarranted sense of melancholy.

We arrived, and I was amazed to find that their menu is a virtual plethora of Manhattanite delights -- matzo ball soup, knishes, kosher dogs, and deli sandwiches that feature nothing but glistening, marbled cuts of meat, piled high as the sky.

But just two bites into my heavenly pastrami on rye, the melancholy began to persist. Like gravity, if gravity was a weight that, instead of pulling you down, pushed. And it hit me that this innocent, meaty sandwich was forcefully reminding me of my grandfather's funeral.

I looked at him across the table and, blinking back the tears that I could not have seen coming, I vainly attempted not to think about how powerfully proud my grandfather would have been to see me now, an independent woman working for an organization that fights tooth-and-nail for civil rights. I tuned back in to my dear friend and tried desperately to focus on the words escaping from his mouth. He was talking about law school, and I was catching few words.

"Georgetown... waitlisted... ranked 13th, not bad... asked what kind of law I wanted to study... metro to Union Station... go out tonight?..."

It was then that I realized the rub. That this wasn't an isolated incident, to come and go and not to be thought of again. Instead, corned beef and kosher pickles would, from this point forward, always remind me of that weekend; of sitting shiva on the upper west side. Of the bittersweetness of seeing the family all together while simultaneously lamenting the reason for our strained assembly. Of placating our grief with tongue sandwiches on pumpernickel, and cinnamon rugelach, and whitefish salad on onion bialys.

If ever there was someone who would listen and understand, it would be him. He was, after all, my emotional rock. But his face was alight with the excitement of knowing about a gem in my own city that even I hadn't yet found, and of being the one to take me. And he waxed poetic about how this deli should be "our place."

"Don't ever take anyone else here," he said, throwing me his cute, trademarked grin. "...Or at least, not any guys you're interested in."

Don't worry, I thought, washing down the lump in my throat with a decent amount of Dr. Brown's Cream Soda.

I won't.

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