I've been spending a fair amount of time in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn lately, while my grandmother is in a rehab center recovering from back surgery. If you're not familiar with the area, think of a 19th century Polish shtetl with double parked minivans. If that doesn't paint a picture for you, imagine Yentl with Blackberries. For the past few weeks, I've been shopping in their messy little grocery stores with refrigerators that are never set to the right temperatures, containing milk that expired three days before it arrived at the store. I've been eating the kosher, greasy pizza served to me by a kosher, greasy man who sees no need for wearing gloves when handling food. And most of all, I've been in awe at how these people dress, act and live.
But there's an odd comfort being amongst what an ex-girlfriend used to refer to as "The Pillow People." (She'd see them on her way to work in Williamsburg, carrying what she thought were pillows but were actually bags containing their tallises and tefillin). I actually lived in Boro Park until I was three, and although we weren't "Pillow People," I feel safe when I know they're around. Maybe their presence reminds me of the times as a child when my grandfather would take me for pizza at that exact same kosher pizza store I ate at today. Or maybe I just feel at ease knowing that if any shit goes down, the Pillow People will have my back. They'll throw a motherfucker off a roof if they have to. I've heard stories.
This afternoon, as I strolled up and down the streets of what seemed like the set of a modern day rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, I was reminded of the time a friend set me up with a girl from Boro Park. I told him she and I couldn't possibly have anything in common, but his argument that at least I wouldn't have to call her on Saturdays was enough for me to want to meet her. I was just out of a long relationship and having Saturdays off seemed like a good idea at the time. I don't remember the pre-date phone conversation with the Boro park girl, but I do recall the sound of her monotone voice. I felt like I was talking to a humorless, robotic salesgirl at B&H Photo, only I wasn't buying a camera - I was asking her out. I remember taking her to some kosher restaurant and being grateful that her Yiddish accent somehow disappeared in person, while at the same time lamenting the fact that I'd dragged my ass all the way to Boro Park for a date that would go nowhere. She was pretty and perfectly polite, but when she told me that she usually dates "Litvish" guys, I knew I was out of the running without having a clue at the time what "Litvish" meant - not that I even really wanted to be a contender.
I used to look down on the Pillow People, wondering how they could live the sheltered lives that they do, but I wonder now if these Pillow People aren't somehow better off not having to deal with Internet dating, and dates who can't stop talking about their exes.