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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder): I'm Going to be Rich (Zalmen Pt. 8)

I’m Going be Rich (Ikh gay vern raykh)

from Zalmen the Cobbler: Chapters about his 70 years of Life in America (Zalmen der shuster: kapitlen vegn zayne zibtsik yor lebn in Amerike) by Chaver Paver (Gershon Einbinder). Los Angeles: Chaver-Paver Book Committee, 1955: 227-231.
Translated by Caroline Luce, edited by Hershl Hartman.

I looked all over for a place in Los Angeles where I could set up a cobbler-shop, and afterwards send for my wife and children. I had a little bit of money that I’d saved up during those years in Nashville. My Goldie had instructed me, before I left for California, that I should for God’s sake be sure to keep my eyes out for swindlers, who would surely detect that I had a little money, and would want to cheat me out of it.
And there were many swindlers in Los Angeles at that time, and they really did detect that in me and in quite a few others like me could be found a little bloodily-saved money. At that time, Los Angeles was teeming with oil companies and real estate companies that sold shares in oil-fields and vacant lots in various parts of town, and agents with rapid spiels and smooth tongues who walked about everywhere, trying to persuade us to allow ourselves to become rich.
“And what do you have to lose?” I was asked by one of those agents who once caught me on Brooklyn Avenue: a young Jewish man with a charming black mustache in a brand new blue cheviot wool suit, a white silk shirt with a really beautiful colored tie, clipped with a diamond pin. “What do you have to lose? We will give you free transportation and take you to Long Beach, straight to the oil-fields, and you will see with your own eyes that we aren’t selling you any pig in a poke.”
“Really, what would I have to lose?,” I thought to myself, “if someone were to take me there and back for free, without a penny of cost?”And, as I later heard, there would also be free large sandwiches with coffee. After all, no one will force me to buy oil-shares if I don’t want to buy them.
“And the truck,” the black-mustachioed young man said to me agreeably, “will pick you up right at your door. Just give me your address.”
I gave him the address and that Sunday morning the truck actually arrived at my door and got me. And there were already many Jews from Boyle Heights inside the truck, pitifully pure little lost lambs. They, too, probably thought they had nothing to lose and before one knew it they would be taking a trip to Long Beach at the rich man’s expense, that is, at the expense of the company, to catch a glimpse of how an oil-field looks. They could not, however, hold a knife to their chests and say:
“Hey, you there, Sam the cloakmaker, or Louie the sewing machine operator, hand over the eight hundred dollars that you saved up with your sweat and your blood and your health.”
And it wasn’t only one truck that traveled that Sunday from Boyle Heights to Long Beach. When we arrived at the oil field I saw many trucks there that had brought literally hundreds of people, Jews and non-Jews. And the oil field was a big muddy plot with one oil-pump. They lead all of us to the oil-pump to see with our own eyes that it pumped from the earth real, true oil. Was there need for better evidence? But why only one oil-pump?
The answer was provided in a pavilion. An enormous tent of some kind of brown cloth was erected in the oil field, right next to the road. They brought us inside and there were benches set up for probably 800 people. There really were about 700 or 800 of us there. At the front there was a platform and on the platform speaker after speaker spoke with heart and with feeling and demonstrated scientifically that on this very field, deep in the earth, there were inexhaustible sources of oil worth tens of millions of dollars. With the money from the shares that people here would buy they would erect many oil pumps on the field, and they would draw up riches for us.
And, meanwhile, circulating among the crowd were attractive young women in white aprons serving cups of strong, aromatic coffee with donuts and sandwiches. The strong, aromatic coffee had an effect like some kind of drug. It made people’s blood flow fiery hot, and they felt themselves immensely confident. And after a speaker finished, a man or a woman, in very fine attire, also with silver tongues, got up from each bench and sold shares. I will forever remember that scene. Before my eyes there took place a mass “hold up,” without any knives to the chest. To the contrary, people were cleaned out by kindness, by politeness, with caring smiles.
And people, who earlier thought that they would buy one or two shares, and not invest all of their money, now burned and wanted to buy as many shares as they could. And if anyone lacked enough money, they would give diamond rings and expensive earrings as collateral. It was like in the biblical story of egel hazahav, the golden calf. You should have seen the eyes of the people! They burned so bizarrely, as in a grand delirium...
Many people had brought to this place all their savings in the cash that they had saved penny by penny over who knows how many years. With trembling fingers they paid it to the agents, who took it away from them with great friendship and passed out receipts and shares adorned with golden stamps.
My agent, the darkly-charming young man, who did a great deal of business in the tent, sat down next to me to do business with me as well. In order to get rid of him, I told him that I was investing my money in the grocery business. He began to tell me that the grocery business is never really a good investment, and that there were hardly any earnings to be obtained there, and so on and so on...
Seeing that he had not understood what I meant, I had to spoon-feed the matter to him, and I told him that by investing in the grocery business, I meant simply that I had a wife with many kids, knock on wood, and that if they were to eat, I must carry my money to the grocery every day to buy food...

*                      *                     *

Later we traveled back to Los Angeles. It was painful to look at the people in the truck. They looked like shorn baby lambs with pitiful faces. They nevertheless attempted to give courage to one another, that it was a proper thing that they had done, and it would, the Lord willing, begin to go and go...
And a few months later — no more company, no more oil, and thousands of thousands of ruined people...
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