No Drugs, No Rugs, No Plugs

Herschell Ostrepeller was nervous and couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. He had gone to his friend Moishe’s men’s wear store to buy a new suit. Moishe had looked after him, helping him pick out a dark blue pinstripe suit. Moishe’s wife Linda (known as the local yenta or gossip) had selected a belt, fancy socks, and three shirts for him to go with the suit.

Moishe wanted to shoot the breeze, but Herschell had to get back to his butcher shop. He had left his nephew Yankel in charge and he was worried. Yankel had a tendency to undercharge and the last time he ran the store, Herschell came back to empty shelves. When he questioned Yankel about where all the beautiful steaks were, Yankel smiled and said Mrs. Moscovitz said he should have a sale while his Uncle was gone so he did. Mrs. Moscovitz suggested he drop all the prices by a dollar a pound. As a result, Mrs. Moscovitz cleared out the shelves and called her friends who came over and helped her in her efforts. At the end of the day after doing all his calculations, Herschell had made a net profit on the sales of thousands of dollars worth of meat of four hundred and ten cents. However, he couldn’t get upset with Yankel because the next day all the Jewish women in the neighbourhood were lining up to buy his meat. He raised the prices on everything and they didn’t complain as they thought they were getting great deals. The end result was he made up for the deep discounts of the day before and he had happy customers. Yankel in his own way was a crazy genius, but Herschell didn’t want to have a repeat of the situation.

After settling up with Moishe for his new purchases, Linda came over to join them. ‘’Herschell, how long has it been since you’ve been on a date?’’ Herschell didn’t want to answer. He was embarrassed, it had been almost ten years. He just didn’t feel comfortable as the death of his wife Saide was still on his mind. Her ending had been tragic. She had gone swimming in the ocean in Miami Beach, Florida. Somebody had seen a shark near where she was swimming and before Herschell knew it, Saide was gone. Her body was never recovered and the shark escaped. If only he had learned how to swim, it just wasn’t on Herschell’s list of priorities and he kicked himself about it every day. He was okay with beef and land he just never got into fish and water, he was all turf and no surf.

‘’Since my Saide was lost at sea, I haven’t dated anyone.’’ It hurt Herschell to admit it. ‘’Okay good, I’ve arranged a date with you and my friend Penny’s sister. Her name is Chana and she is a doll. A living doll, so pretty, so smart, and like you, she’s a widow. She also hasn’t dated in a long time. Her husband Morris was big in the tablecloth business. He was at his factory one day and when he went to inspect the scotch guard machines he took in fumes and that was it, he passed. Terrible tragedy. You’re going to meet Chana at ‘’LeRoys Kosher Soul Food’’ it’s a new restaurant on Avenue and Eglinton. I went there last week and the ribs are to die for. The thing is the whole place is Vegan. So there’s no meat, but it’s good. Chana will be there on Thursday night at eight o’clock, I’ve already made the reservations for you, you can thank me later. So, Herschell Ostrepeller, it’s time for you to get back on your bike and start riding. Here’s the thing, if things go well with you and Chana don’t let her swim in Miami Beach. Oh one other thing, wear this new suit with the pale blue shirt and the dark blue tie, you’ll look like a mensch and make sure and wear black shoes that are polished. I’ll get a report on the date, so don’t screw it up and remember the most important thing, you’re representing me. If Chana doesn’t like you, she’s going to think I have bad taste. Now get going and get dating.’’ Linda walked away and Herschell was stunned. How could she have arranged a restaurant for the date that didn’t serve meat?

Yankel noticed that Herschell seemed nervous all week. ‘’Uncle what’s the problem, when Mrs. Hershkowitz came in, I did what you said, I gave her a free piece of kishka and thanked her for her patronage. She smiled and ordered a nice Veal brisket. When she left she said she’d call in an order and pick it up next Tuesday. Your kishka plan always works.’’ Herschell wasn’t thinking about Molly Hershkowitz, he was thinking about Chana, he had a major decision to make. Should he wear a toupee. He was bald and he thought the toupee that Chaim Holland sold him was beautiful. He never wore it very much, but maybe his date was the right time.

He left the shop at five o’clock after he served Morty Stone. He sold Stone a beautiful Rib Eye steak. Morty came in three times a week and always just bought one item each time. Herschell didn’t mind, he knew Morty was more interested in shooting the shit than anything else, it was he just didn’t have patience for him that evening. He needed to get ready for his date.

He drove the six minutes to his house, ran in, and took a nice hot shower. He shaved, brushed his teeth, and toweled off. He put on his new suit and his new shirt. There were some pins in the shirt that penetrated his skin. He removed them and looked in the mirror. He thought for a sixty-year-old guy he looked good, lifting half a beef every other day had kept him in good shape. He then looked at his round, bald head. He walked over to his cupboard and pulled out the box that the black toupee was in. He looked at himself in the mirror one more time and gently removed it. He placed it on his head and was shocked at the results, he thought he looked ten years younger. He got ready to leave and decided not to wear the fedora he would usually throw on. He didn’t want to cover his new look.

Herschell arrived ten minutes early to LeRoy’s and was excited about meeting Chana. He had found a prime parking space just outside of the restaurant, he thought it was a great omen.

As he was looking at the menu, he asked the waitress if he could speak to LeRoy. She left and a woman came over to the table. ‘’Hi, I’m LeRoy what can I do for you?’’ Herschell was surprised, he wasn’t expecting LeRoy to be a woman. ‘’My name’s Herschell Ostrepeller. I’m in the meat business. If you ever decide you want real kosher meat I can provide it. Why do you want this fakukta fake stuff, when I can provide the real deal.’’ The woman laughed, ‘’You are missing the point, Vegan is hot, meat is not. Good Luck Herschell.’’ She walked away and the waitress came back. ‘’Is that woman’s name really LeRoy?’’ The waitress laughed, ‘’No her name’s Marla, she owns the place. She figured if she called it Marla’s Kosher Soul Food nobody would show up.’’ Herschell thought about it for a second and nodded. ‘’Makes sense, can you bring me a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda please?’’ The waitress scooted away and Herschell watched the door for Chana.

He looked at his watch and it was ten after eight, he thought about ordering a Vegan Reuben Sandwich and fries and leaving. He was contemplating getting the order to go when a short, heavy-set woman walked in. Herschell was the only guy in the place but she was looking all over the restaurant. He waved and stood up and she came over. ‘’Hi, I’m Herschell’’, she sat down and grimaced. ‘’Linda told me you were bald, what’s with that thing on your head?’’ It was the worst start of any date he could have ever imagined. ‘’Linda said she sold you a new pinstripe suit, is that it?’’ Herschell nodded. ‘’Funny, on you, it doesn’t look so new.’’ Two insults in two minutes. ‘’Why did you pick this crummy restaurant? There’s all kinds of kosher restaurants and you pick this vegetable one?’’ ‘’It’s actually vegan’’, ‘’Vegan, Shmegan, if you couldn’t afford a good restaurant you shouldn’t have asked me out. You know my husband Morris, may he rest in peace, would never take me to such a low-class place.’’

Herschell was stunned, Chana didn’t let up. ‘’ListenI would like to enjoy what I eat and I won’t be able to if you keep that thing on your head. Please take it off, it’s making me feel queasy.’’ Herschell ignored her, he wasn’t going to remove his toupee under any circumstances.

The waitress came over and asked if they knew what they wanted to eat. Herschell spoke up ‘’I’ll have the Reuben and Fries, it looks good, maybe I could also have coleslaw on the side.’’ Chana looked at the waitress. ‘’Are you paid on how fast people come and go out of this restaurant, I just sat down. Give me some time to read your menu, even though there aren’t very many items to choose from.’’ The waitress who had a name tag that said ‘’Esther’’ walked away without saying a word.

A couple walked into the restaurant and Chana leaned forward ‘’Look two more suckers.’’ Herschell hadn’t been on a date in ten years and this was not the one he wanted to break the streak with.

‘’So, I think I’m going to have the fake Turkey and Cheese. I hate fake stuff, I guess that’s why I don’t like the rug on your head.’’ Herschell was at a loss for words. He looked at Chana and motioned Esther over. ‘’She’s ready to order, she wants the Turkey and Cheese with potato salad. ‘’ Esther didn’t say a word, she didn’t look at Chana and left with the order. ‘’She’s not very friendly’’ Herschell shook his head ‘’She was till you insulted her. Look you seem very unhappy, I don’t know if that’s how you always are, or just tonight, but it’s not very nice.’’ ‘’Oh, Mr. Cheap has figured me out. Let me tell you, I am here under protest. My sister Penny and that nudnik Linda set this up and I had no desire. I wasn’t even going to show up tonight, then I saw the crappy restaurant you chose and I figured I might as well get a bite. ‘’ Esther brought over two waters. ‘’Do you want a drink?’’ Chana looked at her. ‘’Did I insult you?’’ Esther didn’t say anything. ‘’This guy says I was rude to you and if I was I’m sorry. Today was the anniversary of my husband’s passing. Can you bring me a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry?’’ Esther once again walked away.

‘’I’m sorry about your husband’s passing.’’ Chana smiled at Herschell ‘’Thanks, he died in August and this is March. I just wanted the waitress to think I was upset and I didn’t mean to take it out on her, it works every time.’’

Herschell wanted to leave. Chana was extremely unpleasant. ‘’So Herschell Ostrepeller I hear you have a kosher butcher shop and you do okay.’’ Herschell didn’t feel like answering, but he thought he would be social. ‘’Yeah, I love it, It’s on Bathurst Street. My Grandfather started it, my Dad took it over, and now it’s mine.’’ Chana shook her head ‘’And you’re proud of that? What you couldn’t figure out what to do on your own?’’

Esther brought the food over and Herschell was glad to be distracted. He had to admit his Rueben was excellent, it was a huge surprise. Chana was toying with her sandwich while drinking her Dr. Brown’s through a straw. She took a bite and put her sandwich down. ‘’Feh, I’ve had better shoe leather. I don’t know how you could eat that thing they call a sandwich.’’

Herschell finished and called Esther over. ‘’Can I have the bill please?’’ Esther walked away from the table and Chana glared at him. ‘’Can’t wait to get away from me huh, you probably have another date tonight with a hot chick am I right?’’ Herschell ignored her. ‘’You probably expect me to pay, but the food and the company aren’t worth paying for, what do you think about that?’’

Once again Herschell held it together. The date would soon be over and he’d be free. He would tell Linda to never ever fix him up again.

Herschell gave Esther a huge tip and thanked her for her service. As he was standing up a beautiful woman rushed into the restaurant. She ran over to the table he was standing at. ‘’Oh, Gina, we’ve been so worried about you. We didn’t know where you went. You scared us all. We need to get you home.’’

A big burly guy came into the restaurant. ‘’Hi Gina, we need to get you back to the residence, please just come with me.’’ He took her by the arm and led her to the door. She looked back at Herschell and in one final insult said ‘’You are the most boring jackass on the planet Mr. Cheap Meat man.’’

The woman looked at Herschell and there was a tear in her eye. ‘’I am so sorry. My name is Chana Halberstam. I work with mentally challenged Jewish seniors. Gina is one of my patients. I’ve been talking about meeting you all week. I told her about your new suit and Linda gave me your physical description. I was so excited about meeting. I told her I couldn’t wait to try this new kosher restaurant. I told Gina my sister Penny and Linda arranged our date. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with her about my husband Morris who passed away. It was very therapeutic and I thought it was harmless. Then this afternoon she just disappeared. We looked for her everywhere. I had no idea she would jump in a cab and come here. I called the restaurant and spoke to Marla and she told me that she was here on a date with you. She can be a rough character, I’m so sorry. I hope she wasn’t rude. She has some mental issues.’’

Herschell wanted to scream with happiness, Gina wasn’t Chana. It was a huge relief. Chana grabbed his hand. ‘’I have to get back to Baycrest. I want to check in on her and make sure she’s okay. Do you think we could reschedule our date?’’ Herschell leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. ‘’Nothing would make me happier.’’

As they were walking out the door together, she looked at Herschell and smiled. ‘’I gotta tell you, Linda said you were bald, but you look really good with hair.’’ They waved as he got into his car and started the engine. Herschell could only keep thinking one thing, Best date he had been on in ten years.

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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