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The Human Touch

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I have read books, looked at pictures, heard music, blinked at movies, failed to laugh at comedians, attended performances of plays, even heard public speeches, and then written pieces which might be called impressions, but it was not until the other day that I was asked to write a critique on streamlined tasty Matzo wafers.

It appears that an enterprising employee of the Manischewitz firm read my recent piece about foods, kosher and otherwise, and noted particularly my reference to the fact that years ago, around Passover time, I was delegated to deliver to certain Gentile friends of an elder brother five-pound packages of Matzoths, as I used to spell the word. Now, Mr. Bluestone, who is the aforementioned enterprising employee, thought it might be a just thing to do unto me as I had once done unto others and sent, not coals to Newcastle, but Matzoo to the Human Touch.

I assure you that I am not registering gratitude for what might be termed a courtesy when I say that those wafers are tasty and wholesome and more than eatable. Free advertising graft shall not proceed further than this, however; and I must warn competing matzo firms that it will do them almost no good, very little in fact, well not much, if they send me a carton of their brand of Matzo, as the word seems to be spelled nowadays. There are just so many words in the English dictionary that you can use in describing the crunch of matzos, but the words there are to describe the tastes of wines, for example, are much, much more various. Some day I shall take an hour off from my militant idleness and think of all the things, in the form of solids and liquids, in the form of solids a real challenge to my sometimes supple and various vocabulary.


It is of course known that Columbus discovered America and so many generations of immigrant mothers have roundly berated him for that enterprise that no one can be so illiterate as not to know what he did in 1492. It has been for long understood that Columbus was an Italian and no serious effort has been made to take Columbus from the Italians, despite the large number of men of genius they can justly claim. But recent scholarship has attempted to persuade a number of persons that Columbus was no citizen of Genoa, but a Spanish Jew who was under the compulsion, in the years of the Inquisition and the expulsions and the forced conversions, to claim another nation and another faith. Perhaps if the new theory of Columbus’s race gets around in the East Side, immigrant mothers, in their fits of temper, will be a little less ready to berate the discoverer for undertaking that little yacht cruise of his. It would be interesting to discover whether, since the advent of Hitler, Jewish mothers, and fathers, for that matter, are as ready to consign Columbus to the devil as they were in the days of my boyhood. Most of us who have enough literacy to get through night school are rather grateful for Columbus’s enterprise.

On the latest assumption, that Columbus was a Spanish Jew, it is rather fitting and proper that another Spanish Jew, who is paying his first visit to New York, should feel a special sense of surprise at the consequences of his compatriot’s trip 442 years ago.

His name is Fernando Gerassi and he is a painter who has come to town to arrange for an exhibition of his works. He has been exhibited abroad, in Paris mainly. He put up, on the advice of a fellow painter, at one of the bright and modern, but not expensive, hotels a little above midtown. He was rather pleased at the metallic and sanitary brightness of his room, which, although small, yet gave him the sense of comfort within its small space.


There is a radio in his room, but it takes almost no room, because most of the mechanism projects away into the wall, not into the room. Things are terribly compact in that room, where square inches are given the real estate value they lost some time ago, in the days of 1929. All this our Spanish friend took as part of the New World but the other day New World efficiency gave him rather a start, almost a shock in fact.

This story requires the prefatory note that the hotel is run on the European plan, at least to the extent of providing breakfasts. Well, the first evening in America, our friend made certain that his door was locked before he tucked himself into his compromise between a bed and a cot-and a comfortable compromise, he was quite ready to grant. After all, a painter values his pictures, no matter what any one else may say. And he passed the night very comfortably, sleeping the sleep of the just and the hopeful.

And it was the morning of the second day. And as his eyes turned from the window and swept the floor-which was none the less clean-he was aware of a subtle change. His breakfast was in the room. It was on a tray, the coffee nice and warm in a thermos bottle. He tried his door; it was still locked. Now, obviously, the breakfast tray hadn’t walked through the door, nor could anyone have opened the door without arousing him. After all, no one likes to be intruded upon in his sleep, unless by a servant known and privileged.


Now Mr. Gerassi enjoyed his American hotel breakfast but he continued to scratch his head awhile and then, observing the bottom of his door fixedly for a moment, he hit upon the solution. A few inches from the floor there is a transom just about wide and high enough for a breakfast tray, but not for a lunch or a dinner or a supper tray and it was by means of that space, an aperture for ventilation rather than for any purpose more useful, that Mr. Gerassi’s breakfast and the breakfasts of hundreds of fellow-guests were served that morning.

I give you this story in its length not because breakfast tray transoms are entirely unknown to Americans who spent part of their time in hotels, but to show in how many little and apparently insignificant ways the signature of America may become engraved on the minds of visitors. It is possible that Mr. Gerassi may remember the puzzling way in which his first American breakfast was served to him long after he has forgotten the spear atop the Chrysler Building and the magnificently lighted tower of the Empire State.

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