Monday, June 19, 2006 

Chapter 3

It was 6:30 in the evening at the Flopstein home and the patriarch of the clan was not yet there.
“Where’s Totty?” Malky asked her mother, as she helped make the salad – an interesting concoction of cucumbers, lettuce, red peppers and raisins.
“He called a couple of minutes ago; he had to work late but is on his way now” replied Mrs. Flopstein.
The dining room table was filled with schoolwork from Pinny and his friend Shimmy as they studied Chumash vocabulary words together. Pinny had the idea of making flash cards out of index cards so they could quiz each other. Unfortunately no one could find index cards so they cut their own out of paper, leaving little bits of leftover pieces in their wake and all over the table.
“Mommy! I’m not cleaning up Pinny’s mess for him!” complained Shaindy, whose turn it was to set the table.
“I’ll do it Mommy” called Pinny towards the kitchen.
“And I’ll help, Mrs. Flopstein” added Shimmy.
“OK boys, you have a couple of minutes before Totty comes home so you need to do it quick.”
“Shlomie!” called Pinny. ”Where are you?”
Shlomie came out of the room he shared with Pinny. “What?”
“Do you want to help me clean this up?”
“PINNY!” shouted Mrs. Flopstein from the kitchen. “Shlomie is not your slave, even if he does idolize you. You and Shimmy made a mess and you have to clean it!”
“But you clean up Shlomie’s messes for him!” retorted Pinny. Pinny couldn’t resist a good argument.
“I do your laundry too. I guess I should leave it for you to iron those warm cotton shirts you like?”
“No, all I am saying is that not everyone cleans up their own messes here. So it is not fair to ask me to.”
“We are not having this conversation through the kitchen wall. And I am in no mood for an argument now. If you want to tell this to Totty when he comes home, go ahead, but I’m warning you now – you will probably end up doing a lot more chores when the discussion is over. “
“Like setting the table on Shabbos!” added Shaindy hopefully.
“Or vacuuming the crumbs motzei Shabbos” chimed in Malky, trying to get out of her chores as well.
Pinny saw that his argument was not going to improve his life at the moment, so he said “OK, I’ll clean up,” while mentally noting that something still felt vaguely unfair.
Shlomie watched the discussion with some interest and then went into the kitchen. He started picking raisins off the salad and popping them in his mouth.
“Shlomie, no!” said Mrs. Flopstein.
“Shlomie, yes!” said Shaindy, who hated raisins in salad.
“You do not put your fingers in food everyone is eating from,” said Mrs. Flopstein to Shlomie. “Ask Malky for a box for yourself.”
Pinny heard this from the dining room. “How come I can’t eat before dinner and Shlomie can?” he whined.
Mrs. Flopstein sighed. “You can eat raisins if you want, OK? Just finish cleaning the table, your father is almost here.”
“But – “ started Pinny, stopping short as the family heard the front screen door squeak open.
A second later Mr. Flopstein came in the regular door. “Hi everyone! Sorry I’m la-“ he called out, only to be interrupted by a streaking Shlomo hitting Mr. Flopstein’s knees fill force, making him stagger against the front closet door.
“Totty!” yelled Shlomie.
“Shloimimimimimi!” answered Mr. Flopstein as he regained his balance. “How was your day?”
“Boruch Hashem! GOOOOOOOOOD!” Then he thought for a second and said “Tottitititity!”
Mr. Flopstein tossled Shlomie’s hair. “That was pretty witty, Shlomie. You’re growing up!”
“Witititititity!” Shlomie answered.
“Okay, this might get old quick,” said Mr. Flopstein half to himself. And then he asked Shlomie, who was still holding onto his leg, “May I now please go to the kitchen and say hi to Mommy?”
“O-KKKKKK” answered Shlomie.
Mr. Flopstein grimaced and walked into the kitchen. “Hi Devorah! I think I may have created a stutter-monster back there.”
Shlomie ran into the kitchen then “Mom-mimimimimy!”
Mrs Flopstein sighed again. “Why can’t we have a normal family?”
“Whose family is normal?” asked Malky.
“Who isn’t normal in our family?” added Shaindy, a little defensively.
Mr. Flopstein regarded them. “All excellent questions, and they touch on issues of philosophy, statistics, vocabulary, etymology and sociology. I think we should discuss that during dinner.”
“No, that’s OK Totty” said Shaindy quickly. “I, um, withdraw the question. You just made the answer sound very boring.”
“Boring?” Mr. Flopstein said in mock indignation. “It is a fascinating topic!”
Malky said to her father, “No offense, Totty, but you think that how they create paper is fascinating too.”
"And it is!" answered Mr. Flopstein as he placed his briefcase next to the stairs. "Everything is interesting if you know how to look at it right."
Shaindy, feeling mischievous, asked back, "What about setting the table? I wouldn't mind giving the job to someone who is more fascinated by it than I am!"
Her father smiled. "Naaseh v'nishmah is one of our family principles. Do the chores whether you like them or not, and later we can discuss the details."
Malky was smiling as Shaindy returned to the kitchen to get plates. Shaindy shrugged at her sister and said "Well, it was worth a shot!"
"Shaindy, if you ever come up with a way to get out of chores that works, please let me know!"
In no time the table was set and everyone was seated, including Shimmy.
"Why were you late, Totty?" asked Pinny.
"Just busy at work, Pinny. Sometimes you have to work extra hard just to stay where you are." Mr. Flopstein seemed a little distracted as he said this.
"What do you mean?" asked Pinny.
"Now is not a good time to discuss this" said Mrs. Flopstein, shifting her gaze from Pinny to her husband.
"To discuss what?" asked Pinny.
"You and your child-rearing philosophies," sighed Mrs. Flopstein to her mate.
"Maybe your mother is right and this is not a good time" said Mr. Flopstein to Shimmy.
"Ummm...what's going on here?" wondered Shaindy aloud.
"Nothing to worry about" answered her mother.
"This kind of talk is what is making us worried!" chimed in Malky.
"Three against two!" said Pinny.
"Oy oy oy, I see this is turning into a big deal." said Mr. Flopstein.
Sensing weakness, Pinny started chanting "Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!" and then Shlomie joined in.
Mr. Flopstein loudly said "That will be quite enough. Many years ago I told Mommy that I thought it was possible to discuss anything with our children at any age. She didn't agree. But luckily we haven't had too many chances to test my theory out."
"And today you have your chance," finished Malky.
"Go ahead and tell them, Chezky. Right now the truth is less frightening than what they are probably thinking."
Mr. Flopstein sighed. "OK, here's what's going on. And it really isn't a big deal.
"The newspaper today printed a rumor that my company is going to be bought out by a larger company. In the article, the reporter asked my company president whether it was true and he didn't say no."
Shaindy said "Boruch Hashem."
Mr. Flopstein smiled at her. "You think this is good news?"
"Oh, yes! I mean, no! I mean that the way you and Mommy were talking I thought that someone had, chas v'shalom, died."
"Ah, I see. Boruch Hashem it is nothing like that."
Malky asked hopefully, "But the company president didn't say yes to the reporter's question either, right?"
Her father smiled. "In the business world, not saying no means yes."
"So what's the big deal if your company gets bought, Totty? So you will be working for a bigger company!" asked Pinny.
"That's a good question. And it might not mean anything. But very often the bigger company ends up firing many people from the smaller company to save money.
"Also, in this case the bigger company is in Chicago, and they might ask everyone in the New York office to either move or quit."
Shaindy gasped. "So are we going to have to move to Chicago?”
Her father smiled. “No, no! Nothing is likely to happen for a few months. As I learn more about what’s going on, Mommy and I will be able to make the right decisions – whether I will keep my job, whether I will have to look for a new job, or whether something else will happen. Either way, it is all up to Hashem. But I’m not too worried, and none of you kinderlach should be worried either. Just that I might be coming home a little late sometimes.”
Shlomie had no idea what was going on but started to mimic Mr. Flopstein while playing with his mashed potatoes. “Late sometimes, late sometimes, late sometimes,” he sang while he built a mountain.
"The big company is stupid," stated Pinny.
"Why do you say that, Pinny?" asked Mr. Flopstein.
"Because last week you said your company is losing money. Why buy a company that is losing money?"
"Give the money to me instead!" said Malky.
"That's a good question, Pinny. The answer is that they think they can manage the company better and make money. "
Shaindy asked, “Mommy? How did you know about this?”
“Totty called me at lunchtime. Totty and I always talk about boring, grown-up stuff like this!”
“This doesn’t sound boring to me. It sounds scary,” said Malky.
“You shouldn’t worry. Worrying is my job and Mommy’s job. It is your job to go to school, do your chores and to be a happy kid,” answered her father.
“I don’t understand – what does this have to do with working late?” asked Pinny.
Shlomie changed songs as he added a road to his mashed potato mountain. “Tzavey, tzavey, tzavey, tzavey, tzavey yeshuos Yaakov” he sang.
“Ah, very good. I should have explained that. Since the rumors started about the future of the company, people started working late at the office so they look good and, if they do start laying people off, they won’t lose their jobs as easily. Of course, most of them don’t have kids in school that need help in Chumash homework and science projects. But I need to work harder as well just so I don’t look bad compared to them.”
“This still sounds scary to me, Totty” said Malky.
Pinny put on a brave face. “Maybe you’ll get a raise!”
Mr. Flopstein laughed. “Anything is possible, Pinny. But I somehow don’t think that’s what will happen!”
Shlomie poured some gravy down his mountain road. He switched songs again: “Gam zu le’tovah, gam zu le’tovah, gam zu le’tovah, this too is for the best.”
The Flopstein parents looked at each other and laughed along with Shaindy. Malky looked puzzled for a second and then realized what was so funny as they looked at Shlomie and joined in their laughter. Shlomie looked up, puzzled, as was Pinny.
Mr. Flopstein smiled a big smile to Shlomie and asked him “Why are you so smart?”
“Because...I'm smart!" Shlomie answered, grinning at the sudden attention.
"As usual, Shlomie is right. Everything Hashem does is for the best and all we can do is wait and see." said Mr. Flopstein.
"But would we move to Chicago?" asked Malky.
"Your mother and I had a big discussion about that. It lasted around three seconds. We like your schools, we like our neighbors, we like our little old New Jersey town, and we like our shul. And practically speaking, if I do lose my job chas ve'shalom, we like the fact that we are close to New York City because it would be easier to find a new job in the city."
Malky was relieved. "At least it sounds like you have everything planned out," she said.
"As I said, you have nothing to worry about. Besides your history test - which is tomorrow, right?"
"Oh no! I almost forgot!"
"OK, so before everyone forgets, let's find out how everyone else's day was! Shaindy?"
"OK. We spent most of the day making a skit for our Shabbaton presentation on motzei Shabbos."
"Are you acting?" asked Mrs. Flopstein.
"I'm the narrator."
"What's the skit about?" asked Malky.
Shaindy laughed. "Actually, it is about Gam Zu LeTovah, or at least having emunah! It is about a woman who loses her husband and has to raise and support her 7 kids alone. to make a little money she rents out a room in her house for travelers, but she doesn't make much because she is always cooking them expensive meals, saying that she can't send them off on empty stomachs."
"Sounds like Bubby!" said Pinny as he surreptitiously swiped a meatball off of Shaindy's plate.
"Anyway, one day a salesman came by and stayed over. After he left the woman notices that he left behind a money clip. She didn't open it and runs to town to try to find him. Finally she does and he thanks her and offers her one of the pretty vases he sells. She refuses, he insists, finally she takes it. She takes it home and puts it on the Shabbos table."
Shlomie put a meatball on top of his mashed potato mountain and was delighted when it rolled down.
"This sounds more like a whole play than a skit" said Malky.
"Yeah, a lot of the story is me narrating. Only the parts in her house are acted out."
"My baby is the star of her play!" said Mrs. Flopstein in her best exaggerated kvelling voice.
"So what happens next?" asked Shimmy.
Shaindy continued. "Well, she put the vase on the table but of course they never could afford nice flowers for Shabbos so it sat there for a bit. The next spring one of her sons finds some flowers in a field and gives them to her. She fills it with water and sees that it has a hole and is leaking. She turns it upside down to empty it back out and hears a strange sound from the vase, something rattling around. It turns out that the vase has lots of gold coins and she lives happily ever after. Can I get back to eating now?"
Pinny answered, "Wait until I take the rest of your meatballs."
"Very funny, Pinhead," said Shaindy. "I saw what you were doing."
"No namecalling at my table, and no stealing others' food either," said Mrs. Flopstein to Shaindy and Pinny. "We have plenty of food for everyone. Both of you apologize."
"Sorry," they chorused.
Mr. Flopstein mused, "Do you think the woman was allowed to keep the coins?"
Shaindy looked at her father. "Why not?"
"Would she have to find this person and return it, according to Halacha?"
"Finders keepers!" said Pinny.
"Im yirtzeh Hashem, next year you will learn Eilu Metzios in Gemara and learn that is not true."
Shlomie worked on widening his mashed potato mountain road, making construction sounds.
"Come on, Totty, it is only a skit." said Shaindy.
"Where did you get the story from?"
"Ummm....we made it up. But do you really think the woman would have to find him? she only found the coins many months afterwards, he was probably far away."
Malky added, "And if he had known about the coins he would have come back to get them."
"I think you are probably right, but you should ask Rabbi Goldfarb during your next halacha class just to make sure."
"You mean I can't say 'Finders keepers losers weepers' anymore?" asked Pinny.
"You can say it all you want but it is not true," answered his father. "When possible, we try to return lost things. I really don't know in this case."
"I thought you know everything!" said Pinny.
Mr. Flopstein sighed. "I have a long way to go yet to learn everything. But I'm pretty good at guessing."
"So tell us your guess as to what will happen with your job," asked Malky.
Mr. Flopstein looked at Shlomie as he built a second lane on his potato mountain. Soon everyone looked at him as he happily and obliviously placed two meatballs on top, keeping them from rolling down with his knife. Then he said "1,2,3, go!" and lifted the knife up. One meatball raced down the mountain but the other got a little stuck on the knife with some mashed potato. The second meatball went up in the air a couple of inches before falling back down, but it missed the road and fell down the other side of the mountain. It then rolled around the rim of the plate and finished right next to the first meatball. Shlomie squealed with delight.
Mr. Flopstein smiled but seemed sad. "All I can say for sure is that things will work out for the best, Malky. It might be a rough ride but--." He looked at Shlomie and la-la'd to the tune of Gam Zu LeTovah. "La, la, la-la-la; La, la, la-la-la; La, la, la-la-la -"
"This too is for the best!" finished Shlomie as he popped the winning meatball into his mouth.

Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Chapter 2

Tuesday evening, Mr. Flopstein came home to a Shlomie cannonball even more powerful than Monday’s. He staggered backwards, stopping himself from falling only by grabbing hold of the doorknob just in time.

“TottyTottyTottyTottyTottyTottyTottyTotty!” yelled Shlomie.

“Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie Shlomie!” replied Mr. Flopstein in kind. “How is my big boy?”

“BORUCH HASHEM!” shouted Shlomie loud enough for most of the neighborhood to hear.

“Boruch Hashem good or –“






“OK, that’s enough for tonight, Shlomie! You ought to sell aspirin, you are so good at giving me a headache!”

“Headache? Let me kiss!”

Mr. Flopstein obligingly leaned down so Shlomie could kiss him on the head.


“Yes, much better, thanks!”

Shlomie rushed into the kitchen, happily screaming “I kissed Totty’s headache! It’s better!” to his mother.

Mr. Flopstein followed him to the kitchen where Mrs. Flopstein was making dinner, being helped tonight by Shaindy. “Hel-lo everybody!” he sang out. Shaindy answered in the same voice, “Hel-lo Totty! How was your day?”

“Boruch Hashem, not so good. The company announced that it lost more money than expected this quarter. Looks like I will have to work harder, but I hope I won’t have to work late too often.”

Mrs. Flopstein asked, “Chezky, what does this mean?”

“Nothing yet, Devorah. But I will be keeping my eyes and ears open.”

“Better than bumping into your desk,” quipped Shaindy. Mr. Flopstein gave her a disapproving look for a moment, but then his expression relaxed. “Nu, everything is from shomayim anyway. Hashem has taken care of us so far, boruch Hashem, and I’m sure He will continue to.”

“Emunah is great but it doesn’t put food on the table, Chezky.”

He smiled at his wife. “With all due respect to my aishes chayil, I disagree. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try hard anyway.”

“Please don’t lose your job, Chezky.”

“I am not planning to, Devorah. At least not until I have something better.”

“What’s up?” Pinny came into the kitchen, with his best friend Shimmy. The pair of Pinny and Shimmy were well known throughout the neighborhood as two of a kind.

“Hey there, Pinny! Hi Shimmy!” greeted Mr. Flopstein.

“Good evening, Mr. Flopstein, Mrs. Flopstein!” said Shimmy, nodding at each.

Mr. Flopstein regarded Shimmy. “That was a bit more polite than normal. Either you learned some mussar today or you want something from us. Which is it?”

Shimmy seemed a little embarrassed but Pinny spoke up. “Shimmy is making a social studies project with me; could he stay for dinner?”

“You know who to ask such an important question to, Pinny” said his father.


“Of course Shimmy can eat here any time he wants, Pinny.”

“Thanks Mommy!”

“Thank you Mrs. Flopstein,” added Shimmy.

“Isn’t it a nice change to hear someone with manners around here, Chezky?” smiled Mrs. Flopstein.

“Ahem!” said Shaindy.

Pinny didn’t seem quite as insulted as his sister.

“What is your project, boys?” asked Mr. Flopstein.

“The water cycle,” answered Pinny.

Mr. Flopstein looked conspiratorially at Shlomie. “Did he just say ‘motorcycle,’ Shlomie?”

“VROOM! VROOM! VROOM!” yelled Shlomie, running out of the room.

“Works every time!” said Mr. Flopstein.

“That will give us about twenty seconds of quiet,” said Shaindy

“I just hope he doesn’t join a motorcycle gang when he grows up” said Mrs. Flopstein.

“And what exactly is wrong with motorcycles? Maybe he will be the leader of a heimishe gang. The Sefer Cyclists! The Gemara Gang! The Bikur Cholim Boys!”

“Oh, please, Chezky. At times I don’t know who the kids are around here. Somehow I can’t think of a way that people on motorcycles can do mitzvos any better than anyone else.”

Malky came in, steering Shlomie in front of her while he was still vrooming his engine. “Hi Totty! Look what I found in the hallway! What’s up?”

“Mommy can’t think of any motorcycle mitzvos.”


“You mean, like tefillas haderech?”

“No, no…she is asking, I think, what mitzvos can be done better on a motorcycle than in any other way?”

“Weren’t we talking about the water cycle?” asked Shimmy to Pinny.

“Motorcycles might be a more fun report,” answered Pinny. “Too bad we aren’t learning about them in social studies.”

“Set the table, Malky, and we can discuss this important topic over dinner. It’s getting pretty crowded in here anyway,” said Mrs. Flopstein.

“I have the answer!” exclaimed Malky. “I know a mitzvah that can be done better on a motorcycle!”

“You do?” asked Mr. Flopstein. “I thought I was joking, but I’m all ears.”

“DURING DINNER” repeated Mrs. Flopstein.

“OK, I’ll try to hide my curiosity until then. And I think it is a good idea to leave the kitchen, boys.”

Mr. Flopstein, Pinny and Shimmy obeyed and went to the dining room. Pinny asked his father if there was still time to use the dining room table to start working on the project before dinner, but before he could answer Malky started to set the table.

Before they knew it Shlomie had stopped vrooming around the house and everyone was seated. Mr. Flopstein peered at Shaindy.

“May I help you, Totty?”

“Wow, Shimmy, it seems that your good manners are catching!” Mr. Flopstein smiled at Pinny’s friend. Turning back to Shaindy, he asked “Nu, what did you get on your Cold War essay?”

Shaindy’s face fell. “Only a B-, Totty. I mixed up Brezhnev and Khrushchev.”

Mr. Flopstein clicked his tongue. “Khrushchev was the one who banged his shoe, Brezhnev was the one with one eyebrow.”

Mrs. Flopstein giggled while the kids looked at him quizzically.

“Never mind. You should have had me proofread your essay, though.”

“Next time I will, Totty!”

“I hope so!” He now turned to Malky. “Nu, number two daughter, have you managed to bring any amphibians to life yet?”

“Not yet, Totty” smiled Malky. “The nine-volt battery doesn’t seem to be powerful enough, though. I might have to connect a few together.”

“Well, please don’t fry little Tzefardi. Anything else happen in school today?”

“Pop quiz in Navi. I’m pretty sure I got everything right, though.”

Shlomie, oblivious to everything else, was staring in fascination at his straw that he placed in his glass of ginger ale. He kept pushing it down but the straw kept popping up. “Stay down!” he commanded the straw, but it wouldn’t listen. He sipped a little from it, it went down for a minute, but slowly it would rise like magic away from the bottom of the glass.

“How about you, Pinny? Anything interesting in school today?”

“Not really, Totty. You know about the water cycle project already.”

Shlomie’s ears perked up. “Motorcycle?” he asked.

“NO!” said everyone else at once.

“Shimmy, as our guest it is your job to keep Pinny honest,” Mr. Flopstein said with a twinkle in his eye. “Did anything else happen today in school?”

“Well, no tests or anything like that, Mr. Flopstein. Rebbe told us a story.”

“I love stories!” said Malky. “What was it?”

Pinny said “I already knew this one. It was about a king who dressed up as a normal person and visited a Jewish home on a Shabbos pretending to be lost. The food was so delicious that he sent spies to find out how the mother made it taste so yummy. The answer was that Shabbos made the food taste good.”

“Yummy” said Shlomie absentmindedly as he worked on putting the straw down for good.

“You said that very well, Pinny” said Mrs. Flopstein. “Even if you skipped a few parts.”

Shimmy said skeptically, “I like the story too but is it true?”

“You mean, did a king really visit a Jew on Shabbos?” asked Mr. Flopstein.

“No, I mean the part about Shabbos making things taste good. Wouldn’t cholent taste just as good today?”

Mr. Flopstein smiled. “Let me tell you a story, Shimmy, and this is a true one. And it will answer your question.

“When I was 14, I went away to stay in a yeshiva far from my home. So of course I spent Shabbos there along with most of the other bochurim.

“Every Shabbos, the food was the same, and it was quite good. Even though we all complained about the weekday food and how it tasted, no one hated the Shabbos food made by the same cooks. We all looked forward to Friday night dinner after a week of ‘slabs’ and ‘bombs’ and the other disgusting stuff that we had to eat during the week.”

“Slabs and bombs? What are those?” asked Shimmy.

“Trust me, you don’t want to know. In fact, I’m not sure I know what they were supposed to be to this very day!” laughed Mr. Flopstein. “I was a pretty skinny teenager, let me tell you.” He patted his tummy. “Believe it or not.”

Everyone laughed as he continued, “Anyway, most of the Shabbos food was normal food – chicken soup, chicken, some side dishes, cholent, chopped liver. But there was one food that I was introduced to there that I had never eaten before, and even though it sounded strange, I loved it.”

“What food was that?” asked Shimmy, now very caught up in the story.

“Challah with mayonnaise spread on top.”

“Yecch!” said Shimmy. “Just mayonnaise?”

“Yes, Shimmy. Everyone would fight to get the most mayo so they could slather it on challah. It was not unusual to eat eight slices of challah with mayonnaise, besides the challah eaten with liver.”

Shimmy looked at Pinny as if to ask if Mr. Flopstein was serious. Pinny nodded back. “It’s true, Totty still sometimes eats challah with mayonnaise on Shabbos. I tried it and it was OK but I like other stuff on challah.”

Mr. Flopstein went on. “Well, one day, I think it was a Monday, the dining room was serving some sort of yucky dry mystery-meatballs with hardened gravy on top. I thought, instead of eating this garbage, why not just take some mayonnaise and put it on leftover challah or white bread? At least I’ll be eating something I like!”

Shlomie finished his glass of ginger ale, saw the straw on the bottom, and asked “Mommy! More ginger ale!”

“What do you say?” prompted Mrs. Flopstein.

“Pleeeeeeeeease?” Shlomie sang.

“OK” she answered as she started pouring into Shlomie’s glass. Shlomie watched with interest what would happen to the straw as Mr. Flopstein kept speaking.

“So, I asked the cook if she had any mayonnaise and leftover challah. She looked at me like I was meshuggeneh. In fact, I just realized that Mommy often looks at me in exactly the same way.”

“Only a couple of times a day,” said Mrs. Flopstein.

“Well, boruch Hashem you are the normal one in this family!” answered Mr. Flopstein.

“Ahem!” coughed Shaindy.

“Hmm… I’m sorry, Shaindy, it seems I have accidentally insulted you twice today. How can I make up for it?”

“Maybe…some Tofutti for dessert? For everyone?” said Shaindy with a wink.

“It’s the least you can do for her” said Malky quickly.

“And for us!” added Pinny.

“Tofutti! Tofutti! Tofutti!” chanted Shlomie, forgetting about his straw.

Looking at his wife, Mr. Flopstein asked, “Nu, do we have any Tofutti?”

Mrs. Flopstein smiled and said “I have some but I was saving it for a special occasion.”

“This is special!” shouted Pinny.

“Okay, quiet down everyone. Yes, I think this is an important reason to have some. But not too much – we don’t want to spoil your appetites for Shabbos.”

“YAY!” said all of the kids.

“Speaking of Shabbos, Mr. Flopstein, can you please finish your story?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Shimmy. Where was I? Ah, I had just asked the cook for challah and mayonnaise. Well, after we argued a bit, she went back in the kitchen and came back with a bowlful of mayonnaise and two slices of challah.

“I went to the table and spread the mayo on the challah. It didn’t look right and it didn’t feel right – the whole Shabbos atmosphere was missing. But it was still food and I was still hungry, so I took a big bite.”

At this, Mr. Flopstein grimaced.

“It was gross! I couldn’t even swallow the first mouthful; I had to spit it back into a napkin. The other bochurim that were at my table all started laughing. They thought the mayonnaise was bad or something. But it was fresh, regular mayonnaise and the challah was not bad at all. But together? Yecccch!”

Pinny, Shimmy and Shlomie started laughing at the face that Mr. Flopstein made when he said “Yecccch!”

He continued, “The next Shabbos, I didn’t want to have anything to do with challah and mayonnaise. But everyone at my Shabbos table were eating it like normal, so I spread a tiny bit on, and, of course, it was as delicious as it had been the Shabbos before.

“So, yes, I think I can say for sure that Shabbos adds a great deal to the flavor of food! But if you don’t believe me, I think we have some mayonnaise in the fridge – you can experiment yourself.”

Shimmy shuddered. “No thanks, Mr. Flopstein, I think I’ll save room for the Tofutti!”

Saturday, January 14, 2006 

Chapter 1

IT WAS Monday and Yechezkel Flopstein walked in the door of his house, exhausted. It was an unusually tiring day in the office and his train back out of the city was delayed a half hour. He was grateful to be home, or so he thought.

As soon as he passed the threshold, he was nearly bowled over by a speeding projectile that hit him, full force, just above his knees. “Tatty!” yelled the excited 3 year old otherwise known as Shlomie, Mr. Flopstein’s youngest boy.

“Ooof!” was the reply from the house patriarch, as he struggled to stay upright. “How are you, Shlomeleh?”

“Boruch Hashem!” screamed Shlomie, as he tried to get his arms around his father.

“Boruch Hashem good or Boruch Hashem lousy?” asked Mr. Flopstein as he tried to walk further in, dragging Shlomie along as he held on tightly to his father’s leg.

“GOOOOOD!” Shlomie yelled, releasing his grip just long enough to give Mr. Flopstein the opportunity to walk past him and into the kitchen.

“Good afternoon Devorah!” he said as he saw his wife, working on dinner.

“Hi Chezky,” Mrs. Flopstein replied brightly. “I was worried; what took so long?”

“Some electrical problem on the train, they said. It’s always an electrical problem, except when it’s a mechanical problem. Either way we get stuck on a train without air conditioning for a while. At least I had a little extra time to catch up on yesterday’s Daf Yomi.”

“Hi Tatty!” said Malky, his 12 year old daughter. Malky was helping Mrs. Flopstein with dinner, making what would probably be an unusual salad, because Malky hated things that were boring.

“Hey there, Malkeleh!” answered her father. “How was school?”

“Oh great – We are working on a science project –“

Just then Pinny, Mr. Flopstein’s 9 year old son, came in from the back yard, sweaty. “Hi Tots!”

Mr. Flopstein stopped and looked at Pinny. “’Tots’? Where did you get that from, Pinny?”

Pinny, a little sheepishly, answered “That’s what Dovid calls his father.”

“Well, if it is OK with Mr. Chaitowitz that’s great for Dovid, but that doesn’t mean I want to be called that. You should only call people what they want to be called, right? I think that makes sense. I mean, would you like if I started calling you Pinchas instead of Pinny?”

“OK, OK, Totty, I get your point!” said Pinny.

Malky chimed in mischievously, “And from now on I want to be called “Queen of the House. Anything else would make me uncomfortable.”

Mr. Flopstein grimaced, smiled at Malky and said “All right, Queenie…please go fetch me a glass of lemonade, if it pleases Her Majesty.”

Malky smiled. “Coming right up Totty! Have a seat, dinner is almost ready.”

Her father smiled back at her and took her advice. The Flopsteins always ate dinner in the dining room because the kitchen table was not nearly big enough for all of them, so for them the dining room became the center of the house, where nearly everything happened. Besides eating, the kids all did their homework there, Mr. Flopstein learned with his chavrusas there and all important family conversations seemed to be around the dining room table.

As was often the case, the dining room table was not nearly ready for dinner. Mrs. Flopstein looked at the chore chart and called out, “Shaindy! Your turn to set the table!”

Shaindy’s groan could be heard from her room. She slowly trudged out saying “All right Mommy, I’m coming.”

“Honestly, the way you act one would think you were 67, not 16!” said Mrs. Flopstein as Shaindy dragged herself into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, Mommy, but I was studying and I was this close to figuring out a very hard math problem,” she said, as she opened the fleishig utensil drawer to take out the silverware.

“Is this another one Mrs. Brown couldn’t do?” Mrs. Flopstein asked. Shaindy was a true math whiz, and many times already she had come up with elegant proofs in geometry that amazed her teachers.

“Hmmmm…I’m not sure if she knows the answer or not,” Shaindy answered seriously. “I sounds like an easy problem but I was a little harder than I thought. But I think I’m close. “

“Well, good luck, I‘m sure that if there is an answer, you’ll figure it out!” Mrs. Flopstein said proudly.

:”What’s in the salad today, Malky?” asked Shaindy, looking critically at her sister’s creation.

“Nothing that weird. Lettuce, tomatoes, peas, hard boiled eggs, grated carrots and, um, bananas.”

Shaindy kept the face she made to herself. But she finished her job quickly, and soon all the kids’ homeworks were put away and the table cleared and set.

Mr. Flopstein sat at his chair on the end of the table, in the only seat that had armrests. Everyone else joined him and soon they were all hungrily eating Mrs. Flopstein’s excellent meatloaf.

Mr. Flopstein went through what he called his Roll Call.

“Shaindy! How was your day?”

“It was pretty good. I got back my math test and did well, but I don’t think I did as well in my history essay.”

“What was the topic?” asked Mr. Flopstein.

“The Cold War.”

“Oy, I always feel old when history books are teaching things that happened after I was born! Why didn’t you ask me to help you?”

Shaindy answered, “And when do you have the time?”

“Am I a bad father now?” asked Mr. Flopstein with a twinkle in his eye. “Everyone is always busy, but if you let me know ahead of time you know I’ll find a few minutes for you.”

“I know, just it didn’t seem as important as the other things you do all day. I’ll pass, don’t worry!”

“OK, now I’m worried!” replied Mr. Flopstein. “I don’t want you to only pass, thank you very much. You have a good head on your shoulders and there is no reason you shouldn’t be doing as well in history as you do in whatever math you are learning now…what is it, trigonometry? Calculus?”

Shaindy laughed, “You know it’s geometry this year, Totty!”

Shlomie interrupted “I need ketchup!”

Mrs. Flopstein looked and saw that it was not on the table, so she started to get up to get it from the kitchen. Her husband stopped her and said “I’ll get it, Devorah; I need to get some more ice anyway for my lemonade.” “Thank you Chezky!” called Mrs. Flopstein as Yechezkel disappeared into the kitchen.

“Ket-chup! Ket-chup! Ket-chup!” chanted Shlomie. Mrs. Flopstein gave him a stern look but Malky, who loved playing with her younger brother, took up the chant in a mock-loud voice.

“Oh, please Malky, don’t encourage him!”

“WHOA!” came a shout from the kitchen. This was an unusual sound to come from Mr. Flopstein.

“Is everything all right?” called Mrs. Flopstein.

Mr. Flopstein walked into the dining room with a box. As soon as Malky saw the box she turned white.

He surveyed the table and asked, with just a hint of a smile on his otherwise stern face, “Does anyone know why there is a dead frog in our refrigerator?”

Shaindy couldn’t resist. “Did you want to see a live frog there, Totty?”

Malky answered, “Sorry, Totty, I was trying to tell you before about my science project.”

Mr. Flopstein turned to her with a sigh. “OK. So what exactly is your science project?”

Malky answered apologetically “I want to see if I could build a defibrillator for a frog.”

“A what?” asked Pinny, who was trying hard not to laugh at the idea of a frog in the fridge.

“You know, one of those things doctors use for people whose heart stops. You take two electric paddles and shock the heart into beating again,” she said haltingly, still not sure of how angry her father was at her.

Mr. Flopstein regarded Malky for what seemed to her like a lifetime. Then he slowly said, “I don’t think we have that many rules in this house. No jumping on the dining room table. No screaming in Mommy’s ears. No stereo blasting at 3 in the morning. But one of those rules are, NO TRAYF IN OUR REFRIGERATOR!”

“You mean Neveilah” answered Pinny brightly.

His father broke his gaze from Malky to stare at Pinny. “Excuse me?”

Pinny went on confidently, “Trayf means ‘torn’, referring to animals that were torn to shreds by other animals. Neveilah means an animal that died normally but not by shechting. Rabbi Abramson taught this to us last week. “ Mr. Flopstein kept his stare on Pinny. The children knew enough to know that he wasn’t really very mad, but he was not too happy either.

Pinny plowed on, trying to break the silence. “Just call me Mr. Encyclopedia!”

At this Mr. Flopstein cracked a smile. He then answered, “Colloquially, ‘trayf’ means anything non-Kosher.”

Now Pinny was confused. “What does ‘collokwhateverly’ mean?”

“Well, you are Mr. Encyclopedia, go look it up!”

“Aw, Totty, why can’t you just tell me what it means?”

“It says in Pirke Avos, ‘Lefum tzaara agra - According to the effort is the reward’. If I tell you, you’ll forget it in a minute, like Malky is hoping I forgot about her frog already.” Malky shuddered. “But if you look it up, you’ll know a word most grown-ups don’t know.”

That got Pinny’s interest. He liked knowing things, even the most trivial. “Where’s the dictionary?”

“Where it should be, I hope, on the second shelf of the English bookcase.”

Pinny said a quick “Excuse me!” as he got up from the table.

Now Mr. Flopstein turned to Malky. “So what is that rule I just mentioned?”

“No trayf in the refrigerator” Malky answered sheepishly. “I’m really sorry, Totty.”

“I think Mommy is the one who deserves an apology more. She might not have reacted as calmly as I did.”

“WHOA!” answered Mrs. Flopstein, imitating her husband, and everyone laughed.

“And why exactly must this – thing - be in the refrigerator?” continued Mr. Flopstein to Malky.

“Well, so he won’t spoil. I figured it works for meat, so it should work for Tzefardi.”

Mrs. Flopstein laughed. “Tzefardi?”

“Well, I had to give him a name!” Malky answered defensively. “You know, Tzefardaya means frog, so I just shortened it to Tzefardi.”

Mr. Flopstein couldn’t keep a straight face for another second. He started laughing too, and said between guffaws “But how can he be Tzafardi? We’re Ashkenaz!”

Shaindy and Mrs. Flopstein joined in the laughter, Malky looked confused, and Shlomie, who didn’t understand what was going on anyway, saw that he wasn’t getting any ketchup soon so he just got up to get it himself.

“Say ‘excuse me’, Shlomie” reminded his mother.
“Scuse me” Shlomie said in a sing-song voice, and then, “Ket-chup! Ket-chup! Ket-chup!”

Malky finally got the “Tzefardi” joke and started laughing too. “Oh, Totty! That was a bad one!”

Mr. Flopstein composed himself. “Seriously, Malky, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry, Totty, I just wanted what was best for, um, Tzefardi.”

“So let me get this straight. You put a neveilah frog,” he raised his voice so Pinny could hear him, “in the refrigerator so he wouldn’t spoil. You want to build a device to shock him back to life. And he davens a different nusach than you do. Am I right so far?”

“Yes, Totty” Malky answered with a smile.

Shlomie, oblivious to the fact that there was a frog in a box in his father’s hands, returned with his prize ketchup bottle, still quietly chanting, “ket-chup! Ket-chup!”

“I can’t find the dictionary!” yelled Pinny from the other room.

“Sorry, Pinny, I think it’s in my room!” called back Shaindy. “I’ll get it!”

“Hold on!” said Mrs. Flopstein. “Pinny, come back here, we’ll look it up later. Shaindy, you should know to put things back properly after you use them.”

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I used it for my report and forgot.”

“Just make sure you put it back in the bookcase right after dinner. Things are hectic enough around here without worrying abou not knowing where things are.”

“So why didn’t you use formaldehyde?” Mr. Flopstein continued querying Malky.

“What’s that?”

“You know, that stuff that scientists put small animals and organs in to study them so they don’t spoil. I’m sure our little green friend was in that stuff when you got him in school.”

Malky paused.”Oh, yeah, that stuff!” She made a face. “ I’m not going to put Tzefardi in that…it smells gross!”

Mr. Flopstein answered “That may be so, but if you keep the jar closed tight it shouldn’t be a problem. And we won’t have to worry that Mommy might accidentally prepare frog cholent this Shabbos.” Shlomie caught this sentence. “Frog cholent? Yeccch!”

“Just joking, Shlomie” said Mr. Flopstein.

“I thought frogs were trayf?” Shlomie asked.

“Neveilah!” chorused Pinny and Shaindy, laughing, and then to each other “Jinx!”

Confused, Shlomie went back to drowning his meat loaf in ketchup.

Shaindy asked Malky “I still don’t get what you want to do with Tzefardi.”

“My daughter wants to do Tchias HaMaysim for a science project,” said Mr. Flopstein to no one in particular. “No one can say she doesn’t aim high.”

At this Mrs. Flopstein, Shaindy and Malky laughed again.

“I just wanted to see how big to make the paddles, Shaindy” answered Malky. “I don’t want to fry the poor thing instead of saving his life. You have to understand – this isn’t to save Tzefardi, but to save frogs in the future!”

“I’m sure the future frogs will thank you, Malky” said her mother. “But I’m also sure they wouldn’t mind not being refrigerated.”

Mr. Flopstein looked at his glass and said “After all that I forgot to get ice!”

“I’ll get it Totty!” said Shaindy as she got up to go to the kitchen.

“Thank you very much! And look out for lizards or raccoons…who knows what we’ll find next?”

“Totty! Don’t make fun of me!” Malky really did feel bad for what she did.

Mr. Flopstein peered at Malky. “When you are right, you are right. Finding a frog may be pretty funny but you have a good point and you did apologize. I’m sorry.”

“Nobody apologizes like Totty!” said Mrs. Flopstein.

“Well, I have had lots of practice because you are always right!” he answered with a twinkle in his eye.

“And don’t you forget it!” laughed his wife.

“I hate when they get mushy,” Pinny tried to whisper to Malky, but everyone heard him and laughed.

“OK, I’ll try to put an end to this mushiness right now. How was your day, Pinny?”

“It was all right. I got a double in kickball.”

“That’s great!” said Mr. Flopstein. “But I don’t pay thousands of dollars to the school to teach you kickball. Maybe one day there will be a professional kickball league that is shomer Shabbos and you will be able to make gazillions of dollars, with your picture on billboards selling sneakers, but until then, I’m a little more interested in schoolwork.”

Malky, happy not to be the center of attention anymore, chimed in “The Professional Kickball League – the PKL. “

Shaindy picked up on the theme. “Pinny will play for the Pickle!”

“Pinny would do anything for a pickle!” answered back Malky.

All the Flopsteins besides Shloimie laughed at that, because if Pinny could choose his own diet it would consist of 9 parts pickles and 1 part orange soda.

Mr. Flopstein continued his question. “Now, Pinny, didn’t you have a Chumash test today? “

“I think I did good. It was pretty easy.”

“You think you did well,” gently corrected Mrs. Flopstein.

“That too!”

“That’s good to hear. I’d rather see you in an advertisement for being great at learning Chumash than playing kickball anyway,” said his father.

“Can I make money learning Chumash?”

“More than you can imagine!”

Pinny’s ears pricked up.

“Most of it in Olam Habo, though,” finished Mr. Flopstein. “Oh, don’t look disappointed. Since when are you so money-hungry?”

Pinny answered, “Uncle Shmuel once said that it is no mitzvah to be poor!”

“There is a big difference between wanting money for important things and wanting it just for having money. You can do whatever you want when you grow up to make money, but Chumash teachers are probably happier than businessmen who make millions.”

“We should have such problems” sighed Mrs. Flopstein.

Mr. Flopstein just smiled. “OK, Shloimeleh, your turn. What did you do today?”

Shlomie, who had been ignoring everyone while eating his meat-loaf in ketchup soup concoction, looked up at his father blankly.

“Didn’t you make something cool at school?” prompted Mrs. Flopstein.

“Cool?” asked Shlomie uncertainly.

“Something out of popsicle sticks?”

“Oh, yeah!” said Shlomo in an exaggerated voice. “I'll show you!” He shot out of his chair before anyone could remind him to say “excuse me.”

Mr. Flopstein looked at his wife. “Isn’t every craft in nursery school made with popsicle sticks?”

“No, sometimes they use pipe cleaners.”

“Yes, I had forgotten about the eyeglass holder. That was certainly…unusual.”

Shlomie bounded back proudly with something that was clearly made out of popsicle sticks but beyond that was anyone’s guess.

Mr. Flopstein tried to be diplomatic. “This is wonderful, Shlomie!” Long pause. “How do you use it?”

Shlomie beamed. “You slide the pitcher into here!” he exclaimed.

“Ah, a wonderful picture frame!” Mr. Flopstein answered, as the quizzical looks of his family melted away. “Where should we hang it?”

“In my room!”

“That’s a relief!” said Mrs. Flopstein without realizing it. The family chuckled, even Shlomie who had no idea what she meant.

“And how was your day, honey?” asked Mr. Flopstein to his wife.

“Totty!” complained Pinny. “No more mushy with Mommy!”

“So what should I call her, Pinny? Darling? Sweetiepie?”

“What’s wrong with Mommy?”

“Is she my mommy?”

“ No, but you can call her that.”

“Won’t Bubbie be upset if I call someone else Mommy?”

Pinny considered that. “No, you call Bubbie ‘Mom,’ not Mommy…she won’t be confused.”

“It isn’t a problem of confusion…it is a problem of fact. Mommy isn’t my mommy!”

“But you just called her ‘Mommy!” yelled Pinny triumphantly.

“Oy vey!” sighed Mr. Flopstein. “I don’t have the strength. We can finish this when you go to sleep if you want.”

“Well, Chezky, I don’t know where my day went. I visited the hospital because it was my day for Bikur Cholim and I met a lady who is boruch Hashem recovering well from heart surgery. She was a teacher many years ago in public schools and she was a delight to speak with. Before I knew it, I had to pick up Shlomie from school!”

“Mommy is such a mitzvah lady!” said Mr. Flopstein to his family.

“What did I do that was so great?” asked Mrs. Flopstein, seriously.

“You called her Mommy again, Totty!”

“Please cut it out, Pinny!” said his exasperated father.

“No – I have an idea!” Pinny said. “You told me before that we should only call people what they like to be called – let’s ask Mommy!”

“Now, you are thinking!” answered Mr. Flopstein. He then turned to his wife and asked, in all sincerity, “Devorah, how would you like me to call you?”

Glancing at Malky, she said, “I think I like ‘Queen of the House’, don’t you agree?”

“It has a nice ring to it!” agreed Malky.