Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016--Creme de la Phlegm

"I don't know how to put this," our friend Bob said the other day, "But every time we have morning coffee together both you and Rona are coughing and sneezing and constantly having to blow your noses."

"It's true," I said. "Sometimes it's allergy season and though neither one of us really has allergies when there's so much pollen in the air . . . Well, you know."

"You never hear me coughing and wheezing."

"Good for you," Rona said, with a tincture of annoyance. She was having a rough respiratory morning.

"By midday, generally, we're both fine," I said, "It's mainly true in the morning. You should hear what we sound like at home. Before we head for the diner."

"Well, at least you have each other," Bob said. This time sounding slightly compassionate. "To tell you the truth," he continued, looking out the window, "I was wondering if something else is going on."

"Like what?" I asked.

"As I said, it's a little delicate."

"I've never known you to be delicate," Rona said, "That's not your forte. You're more the tell-it-like-you-think-it-is type."

"Go on, Bob, we can handle it. What's on your mind?"

"You won't take offense? Promise?"

"It depends," I said, "But give it a try."

"It's no secret that you're Jewish, right. Both of you." Now he was leaning on the window sill with his back half to us.

"What does that have to do with anything?" Rona asked, not sounding happy.

"You know."

"I don't know," I said, now also a little agitated. "Spit it out. Forgive the figure of speech."

"That you're Jewish."

"We established that already."

Now turning to face us, he said, "Is it true what they say about Jews being phlegmy?"

"Phlegmy? And who's the they?" I said, increasingly annoyed with him.

"You know me well enough to know I'm not one of those anti . . . anti . . ."

"Anti-Semites," Against my better judgement I helped him.

"That's not me. You know me how many years? Have you ever heard me say . . ."

"I know, some of your best friends are Jews." Now it was Rona's turn to turn her back to the table.

Defending himself, Bob said, "All I was wondering about was your mucous. Not your religion."

"So why did you link it to our being Jewish? You may not have intended it to be anti-Semitic," I said, "But it sure turned out to sound that way."

"If so, I apologize and promise to be more careful in the future."

"That's all I could ask," Rona said, sounding forgiving. Bob really is quite a good guy and isn't really prejudiced. Not about anything. In fact, he's very tolerant of people's differences and a genuine Libertarian.

"So if I'm a little forgiven, what about what I was asking you about? But please don't get mad again."

"About the phlegm business?" Rona said.

"At the risk of sounding anti-Semitic myself," I said, "I think there's some truth to what you were saying. There are physical, even genetic conditions that are more common among certain racial and ethnic groups. Like Sickle Cell among black people and yes, in addition to Tay-Sachs disease and my favorite, Maple Syrup Urine disease, there are, I'm not making this up, about 100 conditions  that are prevalent primarily among Jews. So I think it may be fair to say that by nature we're phlegmier than some other groups."

"And maybe that's why there are so many Jewish doctors." Rona was now smiling.

"You said it; I didn't," Bob said. Then added, "OK, having established that," Bob was feeling totally off the hook, "What about the Jewish language?"


"Yes, Yiddish. Isn't it true that it helps to be phlegmy to pronounce certain words?"

"That's a new one to me," I said. "Can you give me an example or two?"

"Maybe one since I'm not too up on my Jewish, I mean my Yiddish." For the first time he beamed one of his characteristic smiles. "How about 'hot-spur?'"

"Hot-spur? Never heard of it."

"You've used it a number of times. It's one of my favorites. Means being assertive or, trickier in ethic stereotyping terms, pushy." He maintained his smile.

"I get it," Rona said, "Chutzpah. Not 'hot-spur,' though I like you're version. It's right out of Shakespeare and a wonderful malaprop."

Bob then said, "Look at the difference in the way each of us pronounced it--chutzpah. With all your phlegm you made it sound so authentic, so rich. It's a word made for people who produce lots of mucous."

Getting into it, I said, "Here are some others for you. Yiddishisms that sound better with phlegm flowing--Mishpocha (family), yenta (a gossip), kvech (to complain), gonef (a thief), boychik (a young boy) . . ."

"That one, boy-chick, I could have figured out. I love these!" Bob gushed.

"There are more," I said, on a roll, "Kishkes (intestines, like punch him in the kishkes), bubkes (meaning nothing, as in he has bubkes), nachos (a pleasure), and even kosher. With these it does help to be phlegmy"

Bob was having a wonderful time. And by then so were we.

"And let's no forget all the Jewish foods," I said. "Mainly what I call the K-foods because they start with the letter K--kugel (or noodle pudding), kasha varnishkas (buckwheat with bow-tie noodles), kreplach (the Jewish version of wantons), of course knishes (potato or kasha filled), kichel cookies, and even kishke (cooked beef intestines)--not my favorite."

Rona made a face and said, "But there are hundreds more," Rona said. "And like most of these even if you don't understand them, they sort of sound like what they mean. Kvech is a perfect example. Complaining just sounds like kvetching."

"What about choch-key?" Bob asked.

"That's another new one to me," I said.

Rona said, "He means tchotchke--a knick-knack."

"I have a whole lot of those," Bob said, "A barn full of 'em. Sally's always after me about them. She says, 'Can't you get rid of those tchotchkes.'"

I said, "Think about how much better that would sound if you had a mouth full of phlegm."

Some of Bob's Tchotchkes

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