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“Well, no guarantees, but OK, tell me anyway.”
“I have a copy of your book, the one you wrote, and would like for you to sign it for me before you leave. I will give it to you later, but please don’t mention a word, please.”
Meanwhile, the 10th-graders had spread a white, plastic tablecloth across their desks, and ordered kosher pizza for my going away party. In my honor, someone wrote on the whiteboard in purple marker all the lyrics to “Happy Llama, Sad Llama,” and drew a cartoonish picture of a laughing latke on someone’s toe. I promised to visit for their next holiday party, on Purim, in March. I really meant it.
The ninth-graders, who had carried boxes down to the basement, had prepared their own farewell party. But as I made my way, Smart Moishe, now blushing, asked me to follow him to the dark hallway of third floor, where I had never been. Once there, he ducked into a room, and quickly handed me a black, plastic bag whose ends had been folded over and knotted.
“It’s in here,” he said. “When you’re done, put it on the shelf downstairs, where the hats are, in the main lobby, and push it into the corner. Don’t let anyone see you.” I nodded, as he lightly pushed me toward the stairs.
The ninth-graders were lying in wait in the cafeteria. Some were standing on red vinyl chairs. Others cleared chairs to the side of the room. And when I arrived they let out a series of cheers.
“Mr. Mayer, Mr. Mayer! Look, we bought all this — pretzels, chips and soda — for you. And Weasel’s mother even made you brownies.” One of the boys plugged in an electronic device to a set of small speakers and began to play some bass-driven Hebrew song.
“It’s time to dance, Mr. Mayer.”
“But I’m not dancing,” I said. “I don’t know how to dance, not the way you guys do.”
“Oh, come on, we’ll teach you.”
About eight boys gathered in a circle in the center of the small underground hideaway. They were already holding hands, eagerly waiting for me to join them in a freylekh. “Come, Mr. Mayer.” A place opened in the circle for me to enter the chain.
We began circling to the right. We snaked around between the basement girders and chairs. We completed several rounds, and then Weasel’s sweaty palm let go, breaking the chain, to dance by himself in the center — to show off, I thought. The music was loud, very loud now. Perhaps he would squat close to the ground, fold his arms across his chest, and kick each leg out in a Jewish rendition of an old Cossack dance. But instead, he grabbed both my hands and pulled me inside with him so that we could swing around together. The circle around us clapped in unison, until one of the Shlomos cut in. We were now three.