“That child is getting a synagogue confirmation as sure as I’m standing here,” Joe told his wife.
“He already had a Bar Mitzvah,” Kathleen retorted. “I just don’t see why he needs to spend more time in Hebrew School if he’d rather spend that time playing soccer. And how do you think my parents felt last Easter when Danny said he wanted ‘more scientific proof’ of the resurrection?”
“So what? He’s allowed to question. Everyone should be so sure of things!” “Well you sure don’t seem to be questioning your traditions. Joe, I thought we were going to compromise here.”
“Compromise? Compromise? Do you think 6 million innocents died in the camps because of compromise?”
“You never listen to a word I say, do you.”
“Why should I? You never admit I’m right!”
“Maybe I don’t think you are right!”
Upstairs and to the left of Kathleen and Joe’s argument, 16-year-old Danny Motes gently shut the door to his bedroom in attempt to shut out his parents’ words. He was sorry that the Torah said Jewish tradition got transmitted through the mother; maybe if it were otherwise his father would stop trying to ideologically re-engineer his son’s “gentile” blood. Danny was also glad he didn’t have little brothers or sisters; they would scream and slam doors and try to take the side of one parent or the other, or else run away to New Jersey in terror. Danny considered himself fairly mature for his age; he knew not to ask why his parents had slept in separate bedrooms every night over the past year, why his father disappeared for days at a time without explanation, or why he sometimes heard his mother sobbing in the guest bedroom. These unspoken truths had become part of the old stone 19th-century carriage house the Motes family inhabited, as natural as the yellow dust swirling around under the lights in the basement and the squirrels nibbling on acorns in the backyard.
The derivative of 2x is 2. Slope equals the change in rise over the change in run. The integral of udv is equal to uv minus the integral of vdu. The cosine of pi is -1.
‘I should be a mathematician,’ Danny Motes thought. ‘I’d never have to talk or be spoken to again.’
Professor Motes, he’d be, and eventually just Motes, like Conway or Nash. Recently the Varsity soccer guys at school had started calling him by his last name, and he liked it, love it, thanked his father’s Russian ancestors for shortening the family surname from Motslovsky upon arrival at Ellis Island. Motes, simple and pithy, no first name needed. Only the in-crowd got that kind of nomenclature. The outcasts watched the athletes in awe, wishing they could lose their first names too.
Shortly after Danny neatly tucked his math notebook in his backpack, a large fleshy hand pulled the door open, letting it slam against the adjacent wall with a thud.
“How dare you?” asked the voice thundering from Danny’s father, the giant who hovered over to the teenager seated at the wooden desk. Joe’s face, seemingly more creased every day, was lobster-red, and his eyebrows arched in a pronounced V. The sweat trickling down his forehead smelled like whisky, lots and lots of whisky.
The derivative of 2x is 2. Slope equals the change in rise over the change in run. Fractals are made of complex iterations and recursions. “What?”
“You worthless, lazy, rotten excuse for a son. How dare you turn against me! You always side with your mother, your mother who wants to keep you a good God-fearing Christian. Well you’re not a Christian, do you hear me? Christ, every word I hear in this house is utter blasphemy.”
“Shut up! You said you were going to keep up with your Jewish studies, you said you were going to become a man of the Torah. Don’t tell me you didn’t promise that!”
“I do so much for you, I made you get a good education; that mother of yours couldn’t really care less, but I cared, and now you go behind my back and tell her you’d rather spent time practicing soccer? Well, well. I hope some day you have a step-brother who will teach you some gratitude!”
The door slammed.
The integral of udv is equal to uv minus the integral of vdu. The cosine of pi is -1. Always.
Danny Motes couldn’t think of any moniker for Philadelphia more hypocritical than “The City of Brotherly Love.” From his perspective, “City Where Only the Fittest Survive” would have been much more accurate. He saw in Philadelphia how children shoved other children to get swings on the playground, teenagers shoved other teenagers to get cheese steaks at Pat’s and Geno’s, young women in black stockings and young men in pressed suits shoved each other to get seats on the subway, and parents shoved their 30-something children into marriage. These children, in turn, shoved their parents right back by wedding someone of a different religion, and spent the rest of their lives in constant conflict with their parents, their spouses, and their own children. Why didn’t anyone ever move out of Philadelphia? Why did even the most tortured high school students attend Penn State branches, Temple, or UPenn? Learned helplessness, Danny speculated. If you prevent a dog from escaping its cage and administer electric shocks, it won’t leave when you open the cage door. Trying to escape the shocks is futile.
The city of Philadelphia and its suburbs fed the underlying cycle of shoving by financing schools for these children to get a good religious education acceptable to everyone—at least, everyone who didn’t want to deal with too many theological complications. In William Penn’s woodsy autumn wonderland, the only universally acceptable religion was, of course, Quakerism. A branch of Christianity pioneered in Britain in the 1650s, Quakerism promulgated as its central tenant STEP: Simplicity, Truth, Equality, and Peace. In order to cater to both Jews and Christians, Quaker schoolteachers never once mentioned the name Jesus Christ to students, but they encouraged unconditional honesty, equality of all humans, and nonviolence. The idea that the light of God shines in every person seemed acceptable to Philadelphian parents of all creeds, so they actually smiled when their little kindergarteners came home singing “Walk in the light wherever you may be.”
Motes thought it amusing that not a single member of the soccer team at Wallingford Friends School was Quaker, but each and every varsity-letter adorned jock hushed just like everyone else upon entering Fox Meeting Hall every Wednesday morning. Meeting for Worship, that 350 year-old Quaker tradition of sitting in silence among hundreds of other people sitting in silence, each person waiting for a message from Eternal One to relay to the community. Of course, in a community of hundreds of teenagers, those who chose to stand and speak words of wisdom did not always do so from divine inspiration. Motes remembered one Meeting where a student popped up from the benches and sang the chorus of Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One of Us,” and asked the congregation what they thought God would look like. For others, Meeting seemed more like group therapy. Confessions of guilt, remorse, unrequited love, and suicidal thoughts were all apparently permissible. Motes never stood up to speak during his years at WFS, not even in Elementary School Meeting when restless kindergarteners shared insights such as “I got a bike on Tuesday and it’s really cool!”
At Meeting the morning after his father had introduced the word “step-brother” in his vocabulary, Danny Motes couldn’t sit still in Meeting. Something was eating him alive from the inside, something tearing his organs apart and biting his skin once every 10 seconds. His head was going to collapse on his shoulders, shoulders collapse on legs, legs fall on the gum-littered floor, all because he didn’t want to cry in front of the seniors next to him. He had never seen his father cry, and had long ago decided that such an irrational display of emotion was exclusively reserved for the weaker sex.
Motes’ parents came to all of his soccer games, but he didn’t tell them Wallingford Friends was playing Pottstown Friends that day, mainly because Pottstown had a reputation for recruiting 6ft-giants from public schools just so their sports teams would be best in the league, and Motes hated when other people saw his team lose. Wallingford’s soccer teams hadn’t won against Pottstown in over 10 years.
While the teams warmed up, two enormous, scruffy sandy-haired Pottstown players walked over to Motes.
“Hey, nice jersey there,” one of them said. “You look like you’ve been playing for awhile.”
“Yeah, what’s it to you?”
“Nothing, just, well, most goalies are, you know, taller.”
The fiberglass-tipped gloves heated.
“Yeah,” Number 21 said, “I mean you’ve got the build of a goalie, but, I don’t know, maybe your mother didn’t feed you enough vitamins or something?”
Number 17 chuckled. “Hey, doesn’t he remind you of that guy from Akiba Hebrew Academy? His was name was Steinberg?”
“Oh yeah, Steinberg! But this kid’s nose is smaller and his eyes are a lot lighter. I’d say we’ve got ourselves a regular mutt here. Better keep your eye on the ball, mutt.”
Motes waited patiently while the teams huddled, positioned themselves, and scattered with the blowing of the whistle. Then he charged. The target was not the soccer ball; the target was the jaw of Number 21. The sine wave and the cosine wave are not identical; they are transpositions of each other. The crunch of fiberglass against teeth made Motes think of snapping out Chicklet gum, those little white rectangles he used to smack as a kid. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet form the colors visible to the naked eye, but they are not the only colors in nature. To the left of violet and the right of blue lie infinite spectra of invisible light.