Saturday, October 18, 2008

That Buck Stops Here

Orthodox Jews don't do creative work on the sabbath, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Most noticeably this includes things like using electricity, and less noticeably (because of general American workweek habits) this includes work as in like vocation. This concept is celebrated in children's song form in a little ditty called "Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday." According to this barely functional website called, the chorus and first two stanzas go a little something like this:

Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Double, double, triple pay
Won't make me work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
It's Shabbos Kodesh

*******repeat chorus after each stanza*******
I'm big Gedalia Goomber, I'm not exactly small,
But really not so very big, just seventeen feet tall.
I'm really rigged for working, for that I'm very fit,
Six days a week I'm at it, and on the seventh day I quit.

I once helped raise a building, and on the 100th floor,
I was carrying a load of bricks, an easy ton or more.
And here it's late on Friday, I knew I'd have to stop,
So I yelled, "watch out below!", and let the whole thing drop.

This song is harmless enough as far as it goes, even though the most recent paragraph somewhat overstates the case for stopping all work. There is no Jewish legal authority who would ever condone dropping a ton of bricks from the 100th floor of a building just to avoid violating the laws of the sabbath: human life is one of the few things more sacred than the sabbath. The song implicitly recognizes this misstatement by avoiding all mention of a potential danger to others, even as Big Gedalia participates in dangerous activities.

I mention this song because I enacted my own sort of dangerous Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday stanza on Friday afternoon (which I guess would mean that my version of the song would be better described with a title incorporating the concept of not working on Friday after sundown, but that would render the chorus unwieldy and nearly unsingable). Through a somewhat complicated series of events, I picked up my friend from the South Orange station of the New Jersey Transit train line at around 1755h on a Friday afternoon, which left me just about enough time to drive home before sundown. But we would be cutting it close.

Somewhere along the way (I'm notoriously bad with directions, and was just following the prompts of my GPS, so I honestly don't know where, even close to exactly, along the way) I hit a deer with my automobile. Deer are somewhat common in my neck of the woods; the area is surprisingly close to the South Mountain Reservation, a nature reserve which "covers 2,047.14 acres in the central section of Essex County," that contains "various wildlife, including deer." I keep alert for deer whenever I drive through the Reservation. But despite its proximity to this local home of various wildlife including deer, the area through which I was driving was perfectly residential. A flash of brown ran down the slight decline of the front yard immediately to my left on this two-lane street, streaked into the roadway, and collided with my braking vehicle. At first I thought it was a dog. The deer would not continue its dash across the avenue; it flipped onto the lawn of the house to my immediate right. This most probably only occurred in my imagination, but it seemed as if the deer looked into my eyes as I drove away.

I do not know if the deer got up and walked away from the accident. I might have stayed in the area to check on the animal, but it was dangerously close to sundown. I knew immediately that the impact was indirect because my car remained in one piece, but it still seems shocking that I could hit a fairly small living creature with my car and not inflict some damage. I'm heartened by what I found on the helpful article titled "White-Tailed Deer vs. Your Car" on the website of the New Jersey Audubon Society:

Although they appear delicate, deer are remarkably tough animals, so do not be surprised if a car-grazed deer disappears into the woods. Such an animal may in fact recover from its injuries.

I doubt I'll ever find out what happened to that animal.

I returned home, jumped out of the driver's seat and inspected the front of the car. There was no noticeable damage, except that the license plate which was formerly affixed to the fore bumper is no longer affixed there. I don't even want to think about where that thin slice of aluminum ended up.


In an article dated 30 March 2007, Tom Chiarella describes for Esquire's readers what it was like to witness a car accident. The piece begins:

I watched a car accident three months ago. Since then, nothing has been as interesting. On a city street, in a Big Ten college town, an ancient Plymouth, having drifted across the center line of the road, clipped an oncoming Touareg and then curled hard directly into the side of a very old 15-passenger Chevy van. No one was going very fast--by my estimation, 25 miles per hour. But it was loud and sort of wet sounding, bringing to mind large, abstract collisions of ice. Every person in the area, and there were several, took a step back and then three giant steps forward, as if they were dancing. Each, including me at the farthest remove, called out the name of God. Then a woman jumped out of the Plymouth, placed both hands on top of her head. It looked like the dictionary definition of the word alarm. She ran to see if anyone was in the van. "That van is deserted," she shouted, as if that proved something. "That van hasn't moved in months!" Then her nose started bleeding, both sides at once. This made another woman faint.

And he continues:

I went home that night and watched a movie on television. The next morning, I watched sports highlights. Two days later, I paid to go to the movies. Everything I watched seemed to come out of a box somewhere. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking about the accident.

This might be the crucial difference between watching a car crash and being in one, but I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Chiarella. The entire incident, like the deer itself, is a blur to me. The instant replay is running at triple speed, from a bad angle. And the video is grainy. This event is less real to me than almost everything else. And I wouldn't be surprised is this is a common sentiment among car-crash veterans.

Even when it comes to minor crashes like mine.

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