By Alex Berger
I had a childhood friend, Lou, whom we neighborhood kids called “Kreplach,” or “Krep” for short, because of his fondness for kreplach, the stuffed matzoh-ball delicacy. I had not seen him since his family moved from the neighborhood years ago. My story begins one recent, quiet, summer night when Gloria answered the telephone.
“Who? Lou who? Dear, I think it may be for you.” Never would I have guessed who the caller would be. “Lou who?” I also asked. “Lou…. Lou Kreplach… from the old neighborhood,” a slow-speaking, male voice answered. “Not the Lou Kreplach from First Street,” I said in disbelief. “How are you, Krep? It's been a long time.”
I had not see Krep in over 40 years. He was not what I would call a friend. He was more a casual acquaintance whom I mingled with in the teeming mix that populated Manhattan's Lower East Side when I was a child. I was surprised he remembered me.
Krep was a loner. Since we thought he did not possess the quickest of minds, he became the butt of jokes and ridicule. I know children can be cruel to less fortunate peers, but even I sometimes joined in the teasing.
“What have you been doing with yourself, Krep?” I asked. In his characteristic slow drawl, he stated that he was married with no children, living in Arizona and recently retired due to poor health. He then described a by-pass operation he had, but never mentioned the job he retired from. Krep then asked Gloria and me to join him and his wife for dinner to recapture memories.
I assumed that he was down on his luck and I, an old friend, was his way to get a free meal. Well, is not a “mitzvah” — Hebrew for “a good deed” — to feed the poor? We agreed to meet at a Manhattan restaurant.
I looked forward to the dinner date to find out how Krep survived over the years and what his wife was like. Gloria chided me for my pre-conceived, negative thoughts about her.
I quickly recognized Krep standing in front of the restaurant with his wife beside him. I rushed to greet them. “Krep, how have you been?” His wife immediately stared at me and said sharply, “I prefer that you call him Lou.” “I want you to meet my wife, Deide,” Lou said. “She is a registered nurse who took care of me during my surgery.”
Deide was pretty, younger that Lou and charming. She spoke with a Midwestern twang. They had just flown in from Arizona and were on their way to starting a vacation to Europe, South America and points in-between.
The conversation around the dinner table was filled with stories by Lou of his successful business ventures and the illness which forced him to retire. On and on he spoke and on and on I chuckled. So many tall stories just to impress Gloria and me. I had a difficult time controlling the smirks that kept flashing across my face.
I was annoyed during the meal, however, when my guests ordered the most expensive items on the menu: Kobe steak, classic wine and a dessert that would clog a horse's arteries. But who said benevolence came cheaply?
Had the bill finally arrived and, before I could reach it, Krep took it. “This one is on me,” he drawled as he took out an oversized wallet from a side pocket. The wallet bulged with $100 bills. He peeled off three and handed them to the waitress. “Keep the change, honey,” he said.
Krep turned to me and said, “I am old-fashioned. I pay everything with cash. Credit cards are too burdensome.” I nudged Gloria in disbelief as Krep pulled out bankbooks, deeds and other financial certificates from the briefcase he was carrying and placed it on the table before me. Gloria and I, as you can imagine, were impressed.
“Louie, we see that you have made it through life and are quite successful. To what do you owe your financial success?” Krep smiled at me, winked at Gloria and said, “I owe it all to my disbelievers.”
Contact columnist Alex Berger at [email protected].