After a night of snow, the streets of New York had mountainous drifts butted up against cars and sidewalks that were being cleared by superintendents and store clerks. Augustine had to meet Martin at his studio to discuss an editorial job for an art magazine Martin had decided to publish. While walking on Second Avenue, he heard the shrill laughter of Hymie ‘The Rag’ Goldberg, a six-foot-seven inch Jewish man with the mentality of a five-year old child – a kind of village idiot born in New York City instead of a Polish shtetl. Hymie carried a sofa on his back while his two brothers, Moishe and Dan, like Cossack peasants leading a workhorse through a snow and ice covered East Village, screamed at him in three different languages:
“Watch it Hymie! You’ll kill someone! You idiot! You’re gonna get us all into trouble!”
Neither of them helped Hymie. Instead, they poked fun at him. “It’s dangerous to carry a sofa on your back in this weather,” Moishe said.
Hymie stared at his brothers, then twitched all over, raised and lowered his right hand and screamed childlike babble at them. “Da! Da! My Da is Da-dee dead.” Hymie lowered the sofa to the ground and sat on it. “Moishe, Da sat here till Da dropped dead,” he sang like a toddler in nursery school. “Till Ma dropped dead, till Moishe and Dan drop dead.”
“I’m not dead,” Moishe said to Hymie. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not dead!”
“Me either!” Hymie said with a big smile on his face. “Look Dan! Look Moishe! I’m as alive as you…just Da and Ma are dead.”
“And Uncle Israel,” Dan said. “He’s also dead.”
“He’s sitting on the sofa,” Hymie said.
“No he’s not,” Moishe said.
“He is, I tell ya, he’s been sitting here all the time. I’m carrying him to the cemetery.” He began to cry. His right hand moved up and down at a fast pace. “I’m gonna bury Uncle Israel. He’s alive and I’m gonna bury him. That way he won’t have to die.”
“You’re not gonna bury anyone,” Dan said.
“Don’t tell me who I’m gonna bury,” Hymie said. “Uncle Israel asked me to do it.”
“He died years ago, ya big ape,” Moishe said.
“I’m an ape, Moishe. Say I’m an ape who gapes,” Hymie said. “I died many years ago. That’s what Uncle Israel told me; that’s what Ma and Da told me.”
“Me, too,” Moishe said.
He took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, looked at Augustine, and pointed his finger to his head as if to say: “My bother Hymie’s a screwball.”
“Don’t do that!” Hymie said to Moishe. “Ma and Da never did that. They never told no one Hymie’s crazy.”
“C’mon, ya big oaf,” Dan said. “Get the sofa. We’re gonna be late.”
“Yeah,” Hymie said. He picked up the sofa and put it on his back. “Late…Moishe…no I’m not late. We’ve gotta bring Uncle Israel to the cemetery. We’ve gotta do what Da and Ma want us to do.” His whole body began to twitch.
Augustine was worried that the sofa would fall, but Hymie held on. He kept chanting: “Ding-a-dong, ding-a-ling, Da and Ma on the sofa, Uncle Israel on the sofa. I’m taking them to the cemetery. Ding, dong, the clock goes ding and dong.”
“Ya big oaf,” Dan said. “Let’s get out of here.”
The three of them walked south on Second Avenue. Hymie was in the center, Moishe was on his right and Dan was on his left. The three of them talked at once. The childlike mountain man and his two peasant brothers were on their way to the cemetery to bury Uncle Israel…