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I B Singer, illusion, and the True World

About a half-century ago, Isaac Bashevitz Singer, one August late afternoon, was sitting in a cafe near Times Square. It was not yet that hour at which the waiter would ask the aging tea drinkers to please make room; i.e., get out; and don’t schvitz on the tablecloths. This Isaac (well, it might have been he) was approached by a man whose name he does not remember. That is odd.

Who could forget the name Zelig Fingerbein? It sounds like it belongs to a Borscht Belt waiter doubling as a “Simon Says” caller-leader. The mixed-up name is weirdly relevant to the end of the story, when Zelig and I. B. are looking at a gigantic billboard advertising a movie: “A half-naked woman, four stories high, lit up by spotlights.” As Zelig stared, “half his face was green, the other red—like a modern painting. . . . one eye laughing and one tearing.” Isaac remarks, “If there is no God, she is our god.” Zelig had a modern, 42nd Street answer. “What she is promising, she can deliver.”

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