Fasting for Tom Zipper
by Josh Kornbluth
I sent a text to my rabbi, asking whether I would have to give up coffee for Yom Kippur -- but my cell phone "corrected" my message, assuming that "Yom Kippur" was my typo-laden attempt to thumb-type "Tom Zipper."
My rabbi texted me back, asking (reasonably enough) why this Tom Zipper fellow would want me to give up coffee.
I had just started going to temple, at the age of fifty, for the first time in my life -- and the wonderful young rabbi and I were just getting to know each other. So, as far as he knew, maybe I was the kind of weak-willed person who would allow someone else to dictate my coffee-drinking habits. Or perhaps the gentleman I was referring to was a Dr. Tom Zipper, and his reasoning was purely medical.
I was about to send my rabbi a second text, in which I would make sure that he knew I was asking about Yom Kippur, and not Tom Zipper -- but then I was struck by a curious thought: what if a "Tom Zipper" did ask me to quit drinking coffee? Anyone who knows me even moderately well is aware of my deep and abiding addiction to coffee; I drink it pretty much all the time, from when I get up in the morning to the moment before I lay down my head at night (I'm an excellent sleeper -- it's my only real skill). To ask me to give up coffee -- well, it would be like asking Michael Jordan to give up basketball. (And if you'll remember, Jordan actually tried to do that several times, and failed.) I found myself getting indignant about Zipper's hubris: who did he think he was, anyhow?
Now, let me just say here that the rational part of me understood that it was somewhat weird to get worked up about a fictional person who'd only hypothetically asked me to do something. And yet, for some reason, I felt myself getting more and more disquieted by Zipper's intrusion into both the spiritual and caffeinated areas of my life.
Why? Was it, perhaps, because somewhere, deep down, I sensed that Tom Zipper had a point? Maybe coffee had become a chemical/emotional crutch for me -- in which case, going without it for a day might actually give me some perspective on my deeper self.
I began to think a bit more highly of this Tom Zipper guy. Who was he, and what gave him such insight into my character and foibles?
Perhaps he himself had gone through similar challenges to the ones I was now facing in middle age: the heavy sensation that, after years of leaving me pretty much alone (aside from some gray hairs and the occasional backache), time was now insistently pushing me toward the finish line; the knowledge that my young son was rapidly becoming a man (not to mention a mensch), and would be needing less and less of my involvement in his life; the deep pessimism about our species' chances for peace, shared prosperity, or even survival, that kept gnawing at me, despite my best attempts to remain a Pollyanna ... Maybe Tom Zipper had experienced all these things -- or at least something like them -- and had discovered, through the temporary self-denial of delicious coffee, a way to find a bit of perspective, or even relief.
My cell phone bleeped. It was my rabbi, with another text: "Hey, did u mean ‘Yom Kippur'? If so, sadly I must tell u that coffee is indeed verboten - also, all food & drink, even water!"
Alas! So I had suspected. And, as a newly (and still somewhat tentatively) observant Jew, I might have decided, on the spot, to give the whole thing up. Why suffer unnecessarily? Wasn't there enough loss in life already, without relinquishing food, drink -- and, especially, coffee -- for a whole day? In fact, to be honest with you, that was indeed my first impulse: to abandon faith for the relative comfort (and caffeine) of secular life -- to acknowledge the seemingly obvious fact that I didn't have the right stuff to get through Yom Kippur.
But something influenced me to stay the course -- and that something, or someone, was Tom Zipper. Tom Zipper had gotten through to me. I don't know how. I'm even pretty sure that there is no Tom Zipper, other than as a magical creation of the collective human imagination. But I believe in Tom Zipper, or I'm beginning to believe, or I want to believe. And for now, apparently, that's enough.
Josh Kornbluth is a monologuist who lives in Berkeley with his wife and son and their cornsnake, Snakey. His latest solo show is Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? You can follow his doings at JoshKornbluth.com.
Kornbluth, Josh. 2010. Fasting for Tom Zipper. Tikkun 25(6): 80