The phone rings.


“Is this Arthur Rosenfeld?” It’s the voice of an older woman with a heavy, Eastern-European, Jewish accent.


“How can I help you?”


“That means it is or that means it isn’t?”


“It is. What can I do for you?”


“I’m watching you right now on television.”


“Wonderful news.”


“You say that like it isn’t.”


“No, it is. Where are you?”


“I’m in Los Angeles.”


“May I ask your name?”


“Sadie Moscowitz.” (not her real name)


“How can I help you, Sadie?”


“I want to buy a cassette.”


“I don’t sell cassettes.”


“Oh ho. A smartass. All right then, mister. A CD.”


“A CD is just audio, Sadie. It’s sound only. I can sell you a tai chi DVD if you want. Then you can follow along while you’re watching the movements.”


“I thought if I called you I could get it cheaper than the ones they sell on TV.”


“Do you have a DVD player?”


“If I didn’t have a TV, how could I see you on it?”


“On someone else’s TV, I suppose, but I’m asking you whether you have the player. If not, you might be able to watch it on your computer.”


“I don’t have a player. I don’t have a computer.”


“In that case you might want to buy my book.”


I tell her the title and she writes it down, humming to herself as she verifies and repeats every word. “You think you might come to Los Angeles? There are a lot of people here who would like to meet you.”


“I might,” I say.


“But you wouldn’t come around the High Holy Days?”


“I’m not sure of those dates, Sadie, but I’ll look them up and try to avoid them.”


“You’re not sure of what dates?”


“The holidays.”


“What kind of a Jew are you?”


“I’m a Taoist monk, actually.”


“But with a Jewish name.”


“I was born into a Jewish family, but we were not religiously observant. Holocaust survivors in the family. Bad associations with religion. I chose a different path.”


“A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. That’s what my father said.”


“Are you more than six feet tall?”


“Don’t be an idiot.”


“How tall, then?”


“Average. 5’ 4”.”


“Then you can do it.”




“Tai chi.”


“Ha ha! You’re a letz (Yiddish for a joker or a clown). Look, when you come to Los Angeles, come after the holidays and don’t charge too much money. That way, everyone can come. But don’t teach on the Sabbath. No weekends. That way people can drive to you.”


“My guess is that you drive too fast,” I say.


“Ha ha. After the big holidays there is Sukkot. You know about it, yes?”


“Not much.”


“Well, you will, Mr. Monk. Come after that.”


“How old are you?” I ask her.


“Don’t start.”




“I’m ten. And another thing. How come everybody is so fat?”


“It’s funny you ask, because I’ve just been writing about that.”


“You’ve been writing what, a diet book?”


“That’s right. So, first reason is that we eat animals that are treated with antibiotics.”


“Because they’re sick?”


“Because the antibiotics make them gain weight. That way the ranchers make more money. So we’re eating meat full of drugs that make us fat. As if that isn’t enough, most people don’t have a religion or philosophy that helps them make sense of the world. You and your friends are the exception, of course. If nothing make sense, we feel empty inside, particularly when bad things happen. Then we try to fill the hole with food.”


“Where’s the hole? In the stomach?”


“It’s an emotional hole.”


“What about stress? Everybody’s stressed. They can’t control anything. Their lives spin like a top. So they get fat.”


“So you know why.”


“I thought you might have some other ideas. You don’t. I’m disappointed.”


“Not the antibiotics?”


“What kind of an idea is that? I never take them. Better I should have a bath with vinegar or eat some chicken soup.”


“When you come, where will you come to? I know a good hotel that’s close by so I wouldn’t have to drive too far and not my friends either.”


“You leave near Cedars Sinai, right?”


“How did you know that?”


“Just a guess.”


“This exercise you do, it’s perfect.”


“That’s the name of my book. The Perfect Exercise.”


“You wouldn’t think a monk would steal a title.”


“It was my publisher’s idea. They came up with it a long time before you called me.”


“That’s what you say, mister break-your-parents’-hearts-by-becoming-a-monk.”


“The best of Taoist thinking and the best of Jewish thinking are remarkably alike. In both cases the real meaty stuff came from smart people sitting around exchanging ideas.”


“If they’re so much, why not stay Jewish?”


“Because I’m too short.”


“Ach, there you go again with the jokes. Tell me, will these movements help me where it hurts?”


“They will.”


“How do you know without even asking what bothers me?”


“Because I’ve seen them help so many people I think it’s a good bet.”


“You’re a gambler, that’s what you are.”


“I’m gambling on you,” I say. “I’m gambling that when I come to LA and teach you, you’re going to get everyone you know to come to you and pay you a lot of money and then teach them what you learned from me. That way you won’t have to drive and you can even buy your own DVD player.”


“Ha! You found me out!”