If Detective Estupinian wished to learn how a psychologist's son from Greenwich Village
ended up beaten to death by a boxer from Harlem on the other side of the
continent, she would need eyes, like Sam's, that saw beneath the skin. The skin
on the left corner of Max's lips, for example, the faint disfiguration she'd
notice if she scrutinized his face on TV. The scar that once was a blazing
Max was three
years old. He had just discovered Batman and deputized two-year-old Sam as
Robin. For years they would patrol their apartment in their Dynamic Duo
costumes, relentlessly droning the old TV show's theme
song--na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman!--until suddenly
evil appeared and they'd hurl themselves at it, punching and kicking it into
One day evil
entered their home disguised as a clock. The clock, which changed colors from
red to pink to blue, was their father's anniversary gift to their mother.
Because Max grew up in a house ruled by a psychoanalyst, he could tell you by
the time he reached puberty that he despised that clock because it was a gift
to the mother who, he felt, had betrayed him by turning her attention to Max's
baby brother: blue-eyed, blond-haired, charismatic Sam. And so Batman convinced
Robin that the clock must be destroyed. Max jerked on the wire while Sam bit
it, to no avail. In his fury Max sank his own teeth into the wire, and all of a
sudden--zap!--he saw zebra stripes and smelled something funny. The burn fused
the left sides of his lips and required three surgeries. What would've been,
their mother still wonders, had that accident never occurred?
Max entered first
grade. His scarred lip made him a target. He told his mother about a boy who
was taunting and poking him in the schoolyard. Tell your teacher, she said.
heard the conversation. Two responses lay coiled in Henry's genetic wiring. You
could ignore the threat and hope the local authorities would protect you, as
Zeida's mother and sister had done. Or you could attack your antagonist, the
way Zeida had as a teenager in Ukraine, cracking the skull of a Jew-baiter with
his own walking cane, then landing a left between his eyes, dropping him in a
pool of blood. The way Zeida's brother really had, capturing two Jew-killers in
the dead of winter, their shirts still red with neighbors' blood, then marching
them onto the frozen Dniester, ordering them to cut a hole, then shoving them
into it and covering the hole with the disk of ice.
Henry, as a
child, became a wunderkind of the Jewish leftist movement, performing dramatic
recitations of resistance poems in Yiddish across the country. The essence of
this poetry was: the Holocaust, never again.
Henry pulled Max
aside. Next time the kid pokes you, the psychoanalyst told his scrawny
first-born, slug him in the face with all your might. And that would go for
anyone who picked on Sam, Harry or Jack, as well, because Max was his brothers'
That kid never taunted or poked him again.