A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman

David Grossman's virtuoso new novel takes the form of a stand-up comedian's set. As he disintegrates on stage the question remains; why has Dovaleh G invited a former childhood friend to watch this performance?

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

I’m really fed up with the new anti-Semitism, you know? Seriously, I was finally getting used to the old kind

‘And gooood eeeevening to the stunning beauties of Netanya!’ he bellows as he resumes his dance across the stage, clicking his heels. ‘I know you, girls! I know you all too well. I know you from the inside… What was that, table thirteen? You have some nerve, you know!’ His face darkens and for a moment he seems genuinely hurt: ‘Hitting a shy, introverted guy like me with such an invasive question. Of course I’ve had Netanya women!’ He gives a full, round grin. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers, times were hard, we had to make do…’ The audience, men and women, slap their hands on the tables, booing, whistling, laughing. He crouches on one knee opposite a table of three bronzed, giggling old ladies with blue-tinted hair-dos made up mostly of air. ‘Well hello, table eight! What are you beauties celebrating tonight? Is one of you becoming a widow at this very second? Is there a terminal man taking his final breath in the geriatric ward as we speak? “Go on, buddy, keep going,” he cheers on the imaginary husband. “One more push and you’re free!” The women laugh and pat the air with affectionate scolding. He dances around on the stage and almost falls off the edge, and the audience laughs louder. “Three men!” he yells, holding up three fingers. “An Italian, a Frenchman and a Jew, sit in a bar talking about how they pleasure their women. The Frenchman says: “Me, I slather my mademoiselle from head to toe with butter from Normandy, and after she comes she screams for five minutes.” The Italian says: “Me, when I bang my signora, first of all I spread her whole body from top to bottom with olive oil that I buy in this one village in Sicily, and she keeps screaming for ten minutes after she comes.” The Jewish guy’s mute. Nothing. The Frenchman and the Italian look at him:  “What about you?” “Me?” says the Jew. “I slather my Golda with schmaltz and after she comes she creams for an hour.” “An hour?”  The Frenchman and the Italian can’t believe their ears: “What exactly do you do to her?” “Oh,” says the Jew, “I wipe my hand on the curtains.”’

Suddenly ravenous, I order a focaccia and grilled aubergine with tahini.

            ‘Where was I?’ he says joyfully, following my exchange with waitress out of the corner of his eye; he seems happy that I ordered. ‘The schmaltz, the Jew, the wife… We really are a special people, aren’t we, my friends? You just can’t compare any other nation to us Jews. We’re the chosen people! God had other options but he picked us!’ The crowd applauds. ‘Which reminds me – and this is kind of a huge thing – that’s what I said – I’m really fed up with the new anti-Semitism, you know? Seriously, I was finally getting used to the old kind, you could even say I was becoming ever so slightly fond of it, you know, with those charming fairytales about the Elders of Zion, those bearded old hook-nosed trolls sitting around together, munching on tapas of leprosy with cilantro and plague, exchanging recipes for quinoa braised in well-poison, slaughtering the occasional Christian child for Passover – “Hey, guys, have you noticed the kids are tasting a little astringent this year?”  Anyway, we’ve learned how to live with all that, we got used to it, it’s like part of our heritage. But these guys turn up with their new anti-Semitism and … I don’t know … It doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve gotta say I even feel a little aversion towards it.’ He presses his fingers together and shrugs his shoulders with genuine awkwardness. ‘I don’t know how to say this without offending the new anti-Semites, God forbid, but for fuck’s sake, people, don’t you think your attitude is just a little bit grating? ‘Cause sometimes I get the impression that if, let’s say, an Israeli scientist came up with a cure for cancer, right? A medicine that would finish off that cancer once and for all? Well then I guarantee you the next day people all over the world start speaking out and there’d be protests and demonstrations and UN votes and editorials in all the European papers, and they’d all be saying, “Now wait a minute, why must we harm cancer? And if we must, do we really need to completely annihilate it right off the bat? Can’t we try and reach a compromise first? Why go in with force straight away? Why not put ourselves in its shoes and try to understand how cancer itself experiences the disease from its own perspective? And let’s not forget that cancer does have some positives. Fact is, a lot patients will tell you that coping with cancer made them better people. And you have to remember that cancer research led to the development of medications for other diseases – are we just going to put an end to all that, in such a destructive manner? Has history taught us nothing? Have we forgotten the darker eras? And besides”’ – he adopts a contemplative expression – ‘”is there really anything about man that makes him superior to cancer and therefore entitled to destroy it?”’

            The audience applauds sparsely. He charges ahead.

            ‘And gooood eeeeevening to all the men! It’s okay that you came too. If you sit quietly we’ll let you stay on as observers, but if you don’t behave yourselves we’ll send you next-door for chemical castration – sound good? So ladies, allow me to finally introduce myself properly, enough with the wild guesses, I know you’re dying to learn the identity of this mysterious man of romance. Dovaleh G is the name, it’s the handle, it’s the most successful brand in the entire enlightened world south of the Nile, and it’s easy to remember: Dovaleh, long for Dov, which is just like ‘dove’ except less peaceful, and G, like the spot, the apple of my dick. And ladies, I am all yours! I am prey for your wildest fantasies from now until midnight. “Why only midnight?” I hear you asking sadly. Because at midnight I go home and only one of you beauties will be lucky enough to accompany me and become one with my velvety body for a night of intimacy both vertical and horizontal, but mostly viral, and of course subject to whatever is made possible by the little blue pill of happiness, which gives me a few hours, or borrows back the prostate cancer stole – open parentheses: such an idiot, that cancer, if you ask me. Seriously, think about it, I have such gorgeous body parts. People come all the way from Ashkelon to look at this work of art. Like my perfectly round heel, for example’ – he turns his back to the audience and waves his boot charmingly – ‘or my sculpted thighs, or my silky chest, or my flowing hair. But that degenerate cancer would rather wallow in my prostates! Gets a kick out of playing with my pee-pee, I guess. I was really disappointed in him, close parentheses – But until midnight, my sisters, we will raise the roof with jokes and impersonations, with a medley of my shows from the past twenty years, as unannounced in the advertisements, ‘cause it’s not like anyone was going to spend a shekel to promote this gig except with an ad the size of a postage stamp in the Netanya free weekly. Fuckers didn’t even stick a poster on a tree trunk. Saving your pennies, eh, Yoav? God bless you, you’re a good man. Picasso the lost Rottweiler got more screen time than I did on the telegraph poles around here. I checked, I went past every single pole in the industrial zone. Respect, Picasso, you kicked ass, and I wouldn’t be in a hurry to come home if I were you. Take it from me, the best way to be appreciated somewhere is not to be there, you get me? Wasn’t that the idea behind God’s whole Holocaust initiative? Isn’t that really what’s behind the whole concept of death?

            The audience is swept along with him.

            ‘Really, you tell me, Netanya – don’t you think it’s insane what goes through people’s minds when they put up notices about their lost pets? “Lost: golden hamster with a limp in one leg, suffers from cataracts, gluten sensitivity, and almond-milk allergy”.  Helloooo!  What is your problem? I’ll tell you right now where he is without even looking: your hamster’s at the nursing home!”

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