About three weeks after my daughter, Julia, was born, I was standing in line at Russ & Daughters, a lovely little shoebox of a shop that's been serving the most exquisite Jewish delicacies ever since Mr. Russ loaded up his pushcart and headed for the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1908. I was ordering smoked butterfish and nova, sliced thinner than angel wings, as the guys behind the counter plied me with samples of apricot strudel and raspberry rugelach. It was spring, my baby was healthy, Russ & Daughters had just put out their marble nut halvah, and all was right with the world.
I was experiencing what the late, great Spalding Gray used to call "a perfect moment." Please note, Mr. Gray didn't talk about perfect days, he didn't even refer to a perfect half-hour stretch. Nope, he only suggested that there are moments when life is inexorably sweet, but those moments are few and far between—and generally over before you can capture them on the teeny camera in your ridiculously tricked-out cell phone.
The adorable grandma to my left decided to strike up a conversation: "So, how long have you been coming here, dear?" She smelled like Pond's Cold Cream and cinnamon, and I liked her immediately. "Well, ma'am, my aunt Bernice first brought me here when I was just a kid," I answered between bites. She smiled warmly and told me she grew up right around the corner, on Orchard Street, and had shopped here since the 1920s. "I raised five children on this food," she said, pointing to the baked blueberry farmer's cheese. We were soulmates in sable, partners in pickled herring; we spoke the language of lox. And that's when it happened.
My new buddy suddenly reached out her bony little liver-spotted hand, patted my baby-free middle, and asked the one question nobody should ever ask: "When are you due?"
I toyed with the possibility that she had some sort of death wish. Perhaps the question was actually a thinly veiled plea. I mean, isn't it plausible that what she was really saying was "I want to go out on a high note, so I'll just have a taste of chopped liver, and then do something so heinous that it drives this perfectly reasonable woman to club me to death with a side of salmon"?
You see, there are certain questions that must never be asked:
1. Has your surprise party happened yet?
2. How did you first learn that your husband is cheating?
And, above all:
3. When are you due?
I don't care if the woman you're asking is wearing a T-shirt with a giant rhinestone-encrusted arrow that points to her belly and reads BABY ON BOARD. I don't care if she's writhing on a gurney in the birthing room of Mount Sinai hospital, screaming for an epidural as an obstetrician announces, "One more push and the baby will be out!" You never, let me repeat, never, ever, under any circumstances, ask a woman when she's due.
"June," I replied.
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