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  • SLIPPING THEORY INTO LOVE: A Story in Six Parts
    Part Two:

    Herschel’s father's improbable arrival in Venezuela after the war marked the final chapter of a childhood odyssey that began by being thrown on to a train outside a shtetl in Russia at the age of five. He never saw his parents again. When Herschel, a theoretical historian specializing in politics and power at the University of Michigan, thinks of that fact alone, he can think only in terms of his own son, Josh, who, even at the age of six, was forbidden to cross streets alone or speak with strangers.

    Herschel’s father, a factory superintendant for thirty years, does not understand what it is exactly his son does at the University. Or rather, Herschel believes, he pretends not to. He makes a habit of teasing Herschel in front of company, and uses the Yiddish word farkakte to express his pretend-disbelieve that this is what he raised his only son for. It’s a word that sounds vulgar to the ears, always getting a laugh from uncles and male cousins. To Herschel, it sounds, each time, like dismissal. Following the laughter his father boasts about “real history,” as if Herschel’s field of study involves fabrications and invention.

    Herschel always allows his father his moment then withdraws as if on cue. Avoiding further barbs, he retreats to the kitchen, where onions waft eternal, domain of his mother. She always knows by his face, by the painful grimace, raised shoulders, his inability to quiet his hands: “Remember, son, he loves you but never got to have your education…” Guilt and virtue, side by side, thinks Herschel, the particular manacles of immigrant parents.

    Herschel always imagines his father’s landing in South America as the very invention of color for the young boy. From ashen etiolated Europe, to this impossibly bright place. A kodachromatic land of flashing blues, emerald greens, and white sunshine. On a beach outside of the city, with a Red Cross package containing bedding, a tarp, and a change of clothes, his father went about setting up his first real home since that train ride at age five. Herschel’s father's face lights up at the memory. "I had a hammock. Every boy should live in a hammock." There was fruit on the trees. There was fish in the ocean. It was paradise. He ran with a gang of Venezuelan orphans, worked as a shoe shine boy and a runner for the bookies at the races. He came to be known as El Poco Ruso and by the time he turned fifteen in 1950 he was a star cliff diver for American tourists.
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