Written by: Lyle Deixler
(Note: this story is dedicated to my grandfather, The Milkman, Hyman “Herman” Deixler, a wonderful, funny, warm-hearted and hard-working man. We sure miss and love you, Grandpa.)
I was born in Macedonia and come from a long line of trapeze artists. It is an honor to be a trapeze artist in Macedonia and everyone aspires to be one.
All six elders in my town were trapeze artists. They didn’t do it for a living, because they weren’t very good, but did it in their spare time and dreamed of one day making it big. They all had day jobs and worked as bank tellers, shop owners, doctors and architects. One worked the crane that dropped junked cars into the big, car-crushing machine at the local junkyard.
Everyone else who wasn’t a town elder also aspired to be a trapeze artist. Hair stylists, police, school teachers, even the head of the local gypsy clan, Vilgana Likvidnis, wanted to be a trapeze artist.
Our Mayor, Hyman Zorcaucous, was gravely injured when practicing one evening. A jovial man with a paunch belly, he looked like a human medicine ball when he flew through the air.
Hyman owned a delicatessen. It was the only delicatessen in all of Macedonia to survive the war. Hyman was very artistic, besides his aspirations of performing trapeze, and was also a genius in the art of camouflage.
When war broke out and Poland fell Hyman, being the nice guy that he was, tried to pick it up. Since it was oddly shaped and incredibly heavy he almost got a hernia. Then, turning his attention to his delicatessen, he snapped into action immediately.
His delicatessen was his livelihood. There was a clause in his insurance policy that explicitly stated if Aryan lunatics ran amok and started slaughtering innocent people and confiscating their properties he could either start selling cheeseburgers (which was totally out of the question because cheeseburgers are not kosher, but were his underwriter’s favorite meal) or exchange the property for twelve schlingill. Schlingill was a phony denomination of money his insurance company made up, but with their low premiums and big payouts, nobody really cared.
Hyman was dead set against serving cheeseburgers. As he and his wife Anna sat at their kitchen table one night, trying to erase the purple codfish that adorned a five schlingill bill and make it look like real Macedonian money, they suddenly heard a loud explosion down the street. The war was in its early stages and Italy, not knowing yet which side to take, decided to indiscriminately launch the eight rockets it had in its arsenal, hoping to knock out any invading armies. It was a complete failure and led to Mussolini’s rise to power (history tells a different story, but got it wrong).
One of the rockets landed on his insurance company’s office building, destroying it and burning all records. Hyman and Anna were overjoyed. They celebrated by doing the Yitzkel Zarkova dance, which involved taking the liver of a dead bear and squishing it between one’s fingers while simultaneously dancing a jig and two-step. After one had sufficiently squished the liver he passed it onto his partner, who did the same. Their two children also did the Yitzkel Zarkova dance and then they all got drunk on cheap wine.
Hyman and his family awoke the next morning to a horror worse than their now defunct insurance company (and a cheap wine hangover): the Nazis.
The German Blitzkrieg had reached Macedonia and things were uglier than a Friday night of drunken locals beating the gypsies with potato sacks filled with wet sand and petrified pigs’ feet.
Hyman, being a quick thinker and master of camouflage, started sewing together all the black blankets he and his family could find.
They sewed together over four hundred black blankets then tossed the single, giant black blanket they created over their delicatessen. The building that housed their delicatessen had various shapes to it, a water tower on the roof, a discarded football goal post on one side, and with the immense black blanket covering it the building now looked like a huge lump of coal.
The Nazi war machine was in desperate need of fuel, including coal. Hyman, Anna and their twins, a boy and a girl, Barsha and Yarsha, stood outside of their “natural resource” and pretended they were the biggest and most experienced coal dealers in all of Macedonia. They erected a giant sign that read, “Zorcaucous Coal – You want to burn it, we want to sell it.” They were quickly surrounded by machine gun-toting Nazi maniacs.
Hyman knew a man with a machine gun didn’t need to open his wallet to get what he wanted. “Gentleman,” he reasoned with them, “you have a war to fight. Don’t waste your time breaking your backs chipping coal off of my lump here. Go kill some more of those Russian Commies and we’ll get you all the coal you need.”
The local Nazi Commandant,
Underbottomkommandantantpickmynoseump Herr Phil immediately took a liking to Hyman and his family. “Dis ist good sense you make, ja? You supply ze coal, or we kill you.” Hyman and his family were relieved, but only temporarily.
“Schmuck,” Anna said to Hyman that night, “where the hell are we going to get this coal from?”
She was a beautiful woman with high cheekbones and long, straight jet-black hair. Anna came from a family of Polish horse breeders and was a riding champion in Krakow until she met Hyman and he convinced her to take up trapeze.
“Relax, we’ll figure something out.” Hyman was horny and proceeded to fondle one of Anna’s breasts.
“Squeezing my boob will not make the situation any better,” she replied.
“Well yes, it will. Considering if we don’t find a lot of coal, and soon, we’re doomed.”
Anna briefly thought about his comment and then took off her nightgown.
“Wow, listen to that,” Barsha said to his sister as he listened to his parents make passionate love from the bedroom above theirs. “They haven’t done that since the insurance company office blew up.” Sixteen and in great shape from his trapeze training Barsha was smart, warm-hearted and funny.
“I really don’t need to hear this again,” Yarsha, his twin sister, said from her bed across from his in the room they shared. “Do you think there’s more wine in the kitchen?” Yarsha was also lean and toned from practicing trapeze. She had her father’s light-blue eyes and mother’s long, pretty hair. She drove the boys crazy at school.
“I don’t know but let’s go check,” Barsha replied.
They went to the kitchen, found some wine and started drinking. Soon they were hungry. The only thing left in the icebox were some bear livers. Barsha sliced one up while Yarsha made a delicious sauce from some minced garlic and wine. They sautéed the liver slices and had a lovely meal.
Barsha turned on the radio that sat on the kitchen counter. There was a news report about the war. The Japanese had devastated Pearl Harbor, the Allied offensive in Italy was going nowhere and the Germans were a mere 30 miles outside of Moscow.
“This is awful,” lamented Barsha. “Just terrible.”
“We need more wine,” Yarsha said. They put on their shoes and went outside.
They were both drunk and forgot that it was two in the morning, the liquor store was closed and their town was controlled by hundreds of marauding Nazis.
When the German soldiers saw pretty Yarsha walking down the street in her nightgown they began to whistle, call to her and make lewd comments in German. Barsha spoke better Yiddish than Yarsha and could understand most of what the soldiers said.
“What are they saying?” she asked.
Barsha was repulsed by what he heard but being a quick thinker like his father decided to have a little fun.
“Your ankles, they think they’re fat.”
“What?” an extremely angry Yarsha replied.
“And your arms, so muscular. Like a carnival strong man. They said you practice on the trapeze too much.”
“You Nazi scums!” Yarsha cried out, lunging for the nearest soldier she could find.
“Whoa, whoa!” Barsha reached for her, pulling her back.
“I’ll kill all of you, you bastards!” the drunken Yarsha yelled, spittle flying from her mouth, swinging her fists wildly in the air.
“Shut up or we’ll be the ones getting killed!”
Barsha dragged her behind the nearest building. It was the burned out shell of their insurance company. The front and rear walls still stood and were crumbled down to the third level. Debris lay scattered and between the remnants of the two walls was a huge, deep crater.
Barsha suddenly slipped and quickly tumbled to the bottom of the crater.
“Are you okay?” Yarsha called down to him.
“Yes, I think.” He rubbed his banged-up arm but otherwise was fine.
There was a full moon and the crater was illuminated. Barsha noticed some strange, black rocks and picked one up. Coal. He recognized it immediately then gasped at his find.
“Yarsha!” he called up to his sister, “Zorcaucous Coal is in business!”
The next day Barsha and Yarsha brought their father to the insurance building. They made their way to the bottom of the crater.
“Wonderful!” Hyman exclaimed. “What a mitzvah you bring upon us!”
“Yes but father, won’t we be helping the enemy by supplying them with coal?” Yarsha asked.
“You are right and we cannot help them. But if we don’t, they will kill us. I cannot allow harm to come to my family.”
“Father, I have an idea!” Barsha said.
The family quickly tore down the trapeze apparatus in their backyard and erected it over the crater. The two walls served as the launching/landing points. Hyman then set up a generator and series of six shovels, connected to each other and the generator. As one swung from the trapeze a series of cables and pulleys channeled the energy created by the swinging motion into the generator, which drove the shovels. The shovels then dug deep into the crater, extracting the coal.
They hung huge curtains around the building and crater and told everyone they were practicing a new trapeze act for the upcoming Christmas holiday show.
They all took turns swinging on the trapeze, taking breaks to replace each other. Soon they dug two wheelbarrows full of coal. Hyman knew this wasn’t a lot, and would barely help the Germans, but he had to show them something.
“Zat is all?!” Underbottomkommandantantpickmynoseump Herr Phil asked.
“We have more, much more coming. But we are also very busy, practicing for the big Christmas Trapeze Show. You’ll love it, a big moral booster for the troops!”
“I don’t care about your stupid show. Get me more coal! Schnell! Schnell!”
“Yes yes, of course,” and Hyman hurried back to the insurance building.
They worked feverishly and soon had fourteen wheelbarrows full of coal. But Hyman didn’t want to give it to the Germans and help them. Then it snowed. Their huge piece of “coal,” the camouflaged delicatessen they were supposedly breaking apart for the Nazis, was buried in snow.
Hyman and his family were overjoyed. When the storm ended they pretended to be shoveling off the snow from their natural resource but would actually replace areas they cleaned off with the discarded snow.
One day while they were shoveling a man approached Hyman. He said he was a Partisan and they were planning to retake the town during the big Christmas Trapeze Show. He quickly enlisted Hyman and his family.
The locals shoveled a field and erected the big top. During the show Underbottomkommandantantpickmynoseump Herr Phil and his three top aides sat in the front row. Hyman, Anna, Barsha and Yarsha flew high above, soaring in their magical trapeze act. Dozens of Partisans sat in the crowd and more waited in the town and surrounding forest.
On Hyman’s cue the Flying Zorcaucous family simultaneously let go of their trapeze bars and feet first, like speeding missiles, went flying into the front row. They drove their heels into the chests of the four enemy leaders, killing them instantly.
The Partisans then jumped in, quickly overtaking the soldiers at the big top. The town was taken back and the Zorcaucous family was treated like conquering heroes.
Then a tragedy occurred. The three wheelbarrows of coal Hyman gave the Germans were used to try and destroy the three bridges that led into town. They succeeded in demolishing two, while badly damaging the third. The locals tried to shore up and fix the bridge and thought they had done a good job.
As the bus carrying their Regional Trapeze Team drove over it one night, upon returning from winning the first post-war national competition, the bridge collapsed, plunging the bus into the river below. Everyone on board perished.
Hyman was racked with guilt. He began to furiously swing on the trapeze over the insurance building, in memory of the fallen team. While he swung, he dug coal.
The locals wanted to tear down the trapeze over the crater but Hyman convinced them not to. He gave all the coal he dug to the town.
After flying on the trapeze for eight consecutive days an exhausted Hyman could swing no more. His weak arms gave out, his tired hands relaxed and he went flying out into the air. His family was standing by and rushed over and tried to catch him and break his fall.
Hyman flew into their waiting arms and they all crashed and tumbled into the side of the crater. Everyone was banged up pretty good and Hyman broke his wrist.
But that’s not how he got hurt practicing. Five years later, while preparing for the men’s over-70 tournament, he felt a sharp twinge of pain in the wrist he broke years earlier. The sharp twinge quickly turned into extreme pain and he lost his grip. Hyman went flying one last time.