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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.

I started writing this a couple of years ago, and never got past Chapter 6. I thought I might as well share it with the world and get some feedback.

Enjoy!

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