Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The name of the fellow who sold pretzels by bike in my Brooklyn neighborhood was Meshugeneh. At least that is what I thought. I was 8 or 9 and we lived in a 6 floor apartment building in an area between Avenue V and Avenue X in Sheepshead Bay where there had to be close to thirty of these six story buildings.

As soon as it was warm enough to ride a bike, Meshugeneh would come along in his bicycle that had a large basket in the front. He'd ring a bell on the handlebars and stick, barrel, punch, and assorted other ball games would cease. The Italian, Jewish, Irish, Black, Hispanic, and Polish kids that made up this mini village went to Meshugeneh for pretzels.

"Where's Your Money Sonny? Where's Your Money?" That was the peddler's refrain. Most of the time we were penniless, so we'd go back to our buildings and say, "Ma, can I have a nickel for Meshugeneh." I remember once a mother of one of my buddies telling her son to go "get three pretzels from Meshugeneh. Two with mustard."

One day my Dad heard me asking for money for Meshugeneh. His comment was something along the lines of "Say What?"

"Can I have a nickel for Meshugeneh?" I said.
"Who are you calling Meshugeneh?" he asked.
"Meshugeneh." Who the hell else did he think I would be calling Meshugeneh? "Meshugeneh, the pretzel man--on the bike."

"You don't call people Meshugeneh." said Dad.

This, apparently, was another one of life's perplexing lessons. I don't know when exactly I found out that Meshugeneh meant "crazy person" but it was not right then.

Dad came downstairs from our 5th floor apartment to see who we were calling Meshugeneh. In a real example of "small world" my father knew the fellow. He had been in the army with the guy and at that time, the pretzel man was called simply "Brooklyn." They discuss army times a bit, and I can tell just from this bit of conversation with only my 9 year old head that the fellow is kind of daffy. He is all over the place with his comments interspersing a booming "Pretzels. Pretzels. Where's Your Money Sonny" every half a minute so as not to lose business while chatting with my father.

When they are through Dad asks me not to call him Meshugeneh. I don't get it. Even the grown-ups call this guy Meshugeneh. Eventually he waves a hand as if to say he can't fight all the battles. His pal Brooklyn does not seem terribly perturbed when someone hustling thirty feet away yells, "Hey Meshugeneh, Wait up" just about when the peddler's ready to take off to another cluster of buildings.

If I play back this vendor's mannerisms and conversation, he sure does seem daffy by what passes for normal. But every so often I come to the conclusion that everybody's meshugeneh. Everyone, just some people have nicer duds. The pretzel guy rambled and was sometimes incoherent and gee, he had to be close to 35 riding around in what amounted to be a tricyle selling pretzels with mustard. But, I wonder if I am not just as looney as he is, except I don't sell pretzels and have learned to behave myself sort of.

I finished Innocent today. A real page turner. Don't start it unless it's a weekend otherwise you might wind up using one of your personal days to finish it. The overriding question in the book Innocent is essentially this: Who is? I think a variation of that question could apply for Meshugeneh. Who isn't?

However, you would be meshugeneh if you think the Suns will beat the Lakers in the current series despite last night's game.

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