Wednesday, March 30, 2011


What You Are I Was
(Part 6 of 9)

By Miriam Rosenberg Rocek

My Predecessor hadn’t told me anything of substance since the first time we met. We mainly talked about the workings of the machine, the various obscure and mostly forgotten rituals I performed, and baseball, which he seemed to like and which I knew nothing about. I read the sports page for a month or so to keep up with his conversation, but I forgot to pay for my subscription, and when it ran out I never bothered to renew it. He was a rabid fan of the Baltimore Orioles, though I had yet to deduce what other religion, if any, he adhered to. My roommates and I used to make a game of trying to guess other people’s religion based on clues in everyday interactions and conversation, the more obscure, the better. We would claim to be able to recognize the shoes of a Mormon, the handwriting of an Episcopalian, the coffee-order of a neo-Pagan. Since we rarely sought confirmation of our hypotheses by actually asking the subject of our discussions, we were at least seldom proven wrong.

I had tried a few tricks to see if I could figure out my Predecessor’s faith, not wanting to admit defeat at my own game by asking the question directly. I offered him a beer once, to see if he abstained from alcohol, but he said that he wasn’t thirsty, which was frustratingly distant from the point. I gave him a standing invitation to dinner, and if he ever took me up on it I intended to prepare (or order from a takeout, since my cooking skills were certainly not up to the task) dishes containing shellfish, pork, beef, and some sort of bean, though I had to admit that the idea that he was a practicing Pythagorean was sadly far-fetched.

Unfortunately, he had yet to accept the offer, which left me in the dark as to any dietary restrictions he might have. He didn’t sound very interested when I tried to draw him into a discussion by telling him about my dissertation, but then, if I couldn’t muster up some enthusiasm for the topic, I don’t know why I expected him to. He wore no head-covering, apart from the fedora (I toyed with the idea of a brown, slightly weather-beaten fedora as religious headgear, but Humphrey Bogart imitation is not, to my knowledge, a recognized faith), and did not appear to shun leather shoes. Other than that I had had very few clues. I liked him, but somehow he never really spoke about himself and I found it hard to ask him questions. Once I decided to follow him, at a distance, when he left the Temple, but I lost him trying to get onto the El, when the turnstile I was trying to get through jammed for long enough for me to miss the train he had just boarded. I felt a little foolish about my attempt at detective work after that, and never tried it again. If Humphrey Bogart imitation was a religion, it would seem that I could add it to the list of faiths to which I did not adhere. Eventually I stopped trying to decide what his religion was, and even stopped looking at him directly when we spoke; I found the way he drew the eye disconcerting, and was afraid he would think I was rude for staring.

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I am a graduate of Northwestern University with a BA in creative writing. Since college I have worked as a nanny, and as a tall ship sailor, helping to sail old-fashioned, traditionally rigged sailing ships from the Caribbean to Nova Scotia. I was born in New Mexico, raised in Delaware, and currently live in New York City.


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