Kagan's Superfecta: And Other Stories

Allen Hoffman

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


This captivating collection of stories by Allen Hoffman, award winning author of the critically acclaimed Small Worlds series are deeply felt explorations into the Jewish mind and world—stories in the tradition of Isaac Bashevis Singer. At the same time, illuminated by compassion and humor, they transcend cultural boundaries and provide fascinating studies in the universal human experience. Kagan the compulsive gambler, Bluma the old beggar woman, Hymie the well-to-do arsonist, and Maxie the juggling uncle are but a few of the comic and sympathetic characters of Hoffman's title novella and four short stories that celebrate the human experience. Hoffman loves and integrates two worlds, the modern secular and the timeless traditional. Kagan's Superfecta is a dazzling, inspirational performance.
Most days Kagan was relaxed as he circled endlessly around Ninety-fourth Street searching for a parking space. Yes, he might eat pistachio nuts, or he might fiddle with the radio to pick up the race results, or he might even engage in an absurd, repetitious debate with Ozzie, his angel; still, compared to everyone else, who developed ulcers, suffered heart attacks, or committed homicide while seeking a parking space, Kagan was perfectly relaxed. And why not? It didn't cost him any money. Not that Kagan was cheap. On the contrary, Kagan was very generous, but, as usual, Kagan was also very broke, and while driving up and down West End Avenue, he couldn't place a bet. While crossing Broadway, he couldn't borrow from a shylock. ("No parking on Broadway except Sundays and holidays so why drive up and down Broadway when there's no percentage?")

No, Kagan wasn't like other people. Other people went crazy trying to park cars on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At first they circled nervously and finally they circled frantically as they came to the terrifying conclusion that they had become one more mechanical appendage of the steering system. Parking on the Upper West Side was positive, irrefutable proof that man was nothing and fate everything. A proposition most people dedicated their lives to denying. No wonder people went mad. In a world reverberating with howling falsehoods, parking on the Upper West Side was a terminal whisper of reality: dandruff cannot be cured, parents disown children, and Sanforized jeans shrink. Most days Kagan did not find such a proposition disturbing. ("Who needs success? I want a few laughs.") But today was not most days. Today was Erev Yom Kippur—and not just the day before Yom Kippur, but the day before Shabbes, too. A little before sunset both would begin simultaneously, so Kagan wanted to get home, wash, dress, eat, and hurry off to the shtibl.

And Yom Kippur is more than a whisper of reality; it is a hundred-piece symphony that runs twenty-five hours without skipping a beat. On Yom Kippur everyone must atone because his fate is at stake. Everyone is like everyone else, a plain simple human being before a Compassionate Master. On Erev Yom Kippur even Kagan was like everyone else, which might not be such a bad thing except that Kagan was trying to park on Ninety-fourth Street—so Kagan was going crazy. And what does a man of integrity ("I'm not saying I'm righteous—I'm saying I'm just as good as all those people who think they are") do when he goes crazy? He blames his wife.

"What the hell does she know about Yom Kippur anyway?" he muttered, his eyes darting from one side of the street to the other. "A lot she knows! Fran from Connecticut. Yom Kippur in boring-land. A comic strip. Everyone's alike and everyone gets into his car and everyone arrives at the temple on time and everyone parks his clean car on the parking lot with the yellow stripes and everyone smiles. What the hell does that have to do with life?" In anger, Kagan gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Parking lots with yellow stripes!

Things weren't that way when Kagan was a kid. That's for sure. Not on your life, thought Kagan. Kagan grew up with life. Surrounded by life. Almost drowned in life!

The quick twinge of memory calmed him. Kagan decided to savor it. He surrendered, slouching down behind the wheel, loosening his grip, and welcoming the return of distant streets and ancient corners, fire escapes and candy stores.

When Kagan was young, really young, Rosh Hashanah was a treat and Yom Kippur was a bore, a dread. Nothing to do, nothing to eat, and all the grownups droning on and on, endlessly pounding their breasts in short, choppy, tedious strokes. And all that sighing! With all that carbon dioxide (and Kagan didn't even believe in science—why should he? it never made sense), its a miracle no one died. No one even fainted, not even Mrs. Rubenstein, and she used to faint at the drop of a hat. The Duke of Windsor abdicated—Mrs. Rubinstein fainted. The seder night of Passover, Hirshorn the plumbers wife went into labor. The ambulance attendants rushed up the steps and Mrs. Rubinstein, a spineless heap, plunged into their arms. They opened their stretcher and rushed her to the hospital, siren roaring and lights flashing as ferocious screams began in the plumbers apartment. And Rubinstein? Rubinstein stood on the sidewalk, a corner of his white linen seder-night napkin tucked under his belt, a high yarmulke on his head, uttering plaintively after the ambulance, "Rivka, what's for dessert?" All the while the flashing lights were growing smaller, the sirens howl more distant, and upstairs the cries more insistent and more urgent.

That was a neighborhood! Oh, how Kagan loved that neighborhood, but he didn't kid himself. He had run away as fast as the others, but he had loved it, too, as much as he had hated it. What's for dessert? Forty-five years, starting in Poland, she makes one thing. Wherefore is this night different from all other nights? What's for dessert? Compote!

"What did Fran know about that?" Kagan cried. Fran said that he romanticized it all. It wasn't that way, she claimed. "Even so," he asked slyly, "do you think I'll talk that way about you someday?" She called him a shit. (Fran was a modern woman; she shit with the door open. "It is honest.") What did she know? She was from Connecticut. Kagan, a shit? A bastard, maybe, but not a shit. (Kagan was not a modern man.) Leave it to a modern woman to get everything wrong—even when she's right.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2000


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