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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 welt....
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 submission.
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.
Max's father 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' keeper.
Max unloaded. That kid never taunted or poked him again.