One of his rivals in the Polar-Shtern tonight is a bottom-rung bet runner named Penguin Simkowitz who mishandled a lot of somebodyís money a few years back and was beaten so badly by shtarkers that it addled his brain and speech. The other, working over a plate of herring in cream, Landsman doesnít know. But the yidís left eye socket is concealed beneath a tan adhesive bandage. The left lens of his eyeglasses is missing. His hair is restricted to three downy gray patches at the front of his head. He cut his cheek shaving. When this man silently begins to weep into a plate of herring, Landsman tips over his king.
Then he sees Buchbinder, that archaeologist of delusion. A dentist, he was driven by his talent with pliers and the lost-wax mold, in classic dentist manner, to take up some after-hours form of miniature madness such as jewelry making or dollhouse parquetry. But then, as happens sometimes to dentists, Buchbinder got a little carried away. The deepest, oldest madness of the Jews took hold of him. He started to turn out re-creations of the cutlery and getups employed by the ancient Koyenim, the high priests of Yahweh. To scale at first but soon full-size. Blood buckets, gobbet forks, ash shovels, all of it as required by Leviticus for the holy barbecues in Jerusalem. He used to keep a museum, maybe itís still there, up at the tired end of Ibn-Ezra Street. A storefront in the building where Buchbinder pulled the teeth of low-life Jews. In the display window the Temple of Solomon, built from cardboard, buried under a sandstorm of dust, ornamented with cherubim and dead flies. The place got vandalized a lot by the neighborhood junkies. You used to get a call, working the Untershtat beat, come in there at three in the morning to find Buchbinder weeping among the broken showcases, a turd floating in some gilded copper censer of the high priest.
When Buchbinder sees Landsman, his eyes narrow with suspicion or myopia. Returning from the menís room to his plate of corned beef and his cherry soda, working over the buttons of his fly with the absent air of a man in the grip of a startling but useless inference about the world. Buchbinder is a stout man, a German, enveloped in a cardigan with raglan sleeves and a knit sash. Between the arc of the manís belly and the knotted sash are hints of past strife, but an understanding appears to have been reached. Tweed trousers, on his feet a pair of hiking sneakers. His hair and beard, dark blond with flecks of gray and silver. A metal clasp grips a crewelwork yarmulke to the back of his head. He tosses a smile in Landsmanís direction like a man dropping a quarter in a crippleís cup, fishes some closely printed tome from his hip pocket, and resumes his meal. He rocks back and forth while he reads and chews, humming a song. He loves corned beef. He loves his mishegas. He loves being Dr. Rudolf Buchbinder, DDS.