Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Man Across the Street: The Story of Coral Graf, a Hanukkah Miracle, and the Landlord with a Cigar

“Why doesn’t The Man Across the Street have the Hanukkah candles burning in his window?” Coral Graf whispered.

She sat with her feet propped up on a family bookshelf, eating her third fried cranberry sauce jelly doughnut. 

“Doesn’t he celebrate miracles?” Coral said, watching him from her Upper East Side New York City apartment.

“Thanks, I like my Hanukkah gift, Dad,” Coral said to him, playing with her hand-painted set of dreidels.

As she grabbed the family binoculars, she watched her neighbor eat burnt rice and beans without any pastries for dessert. 

“I think he’s been having trouble paying the rent for a while,” Mr. Graf said to her nine-year-old daughter. 

“Everyone knows the miracle of Hanukkah! The oil burned for eight days! Maybe he needs extra money for candles. Tomorrow, I will take him pennies from The Man Upstairs so he can light a menorah for the holiday,” Coral said. “It’s almost like paying the rent. If the oil could keep burning, then there will be enough money to pay the rent.”

“Honey, that’s very thoughtful,” Mrs. Graf said. “Just make sure to watch out for the landlord. He smokes a nasty cigar.”

Coral grabbed her tin can from underneath the apartment’s heating vent where The Man Upstairs dropped pennies. He had been dropping pennies for so long that Coral got used to his generosity and knew the power of small miracles.

Of course, The Man Upstairs expected that Coral would always give her pennies away to help others. In the morning, Coral went by her dad’s Jewish deli and bought a box of double chocolate glazed doughnut holes.

She grabbed a couple extra breakfast treats from the glass display in the front of the deli and shoved them in her pockets.

“What if The Man Across the Street doesn’t own a menorah?” Coral asked herself. “My pennies will have to multiply!”

Then she rang the buzzer for the apartment of The Man Across the Street and waited for him to respond. Instead of talking through the speaker, he opened the window and called to Coral: “Come on up kid. Good to see you!”

He buzzed her through the door, and she walked up the stairs to his 10th floor apartment with her tin can full of pennies. When she got to the door, she knocked while finishing a pumpkin pie rugelach and Hanukkah marshmallow dreidels.

“Just thought I would stop by for a visit,” Coral said, as The Man Across the Street opened the door.

“Where are your parents, kid?” The Man Across the Street said, looking over her shoulder for Mr. and Mrs. Graf.

“It’s Hanukkah, but they’re still at work. I’m off from school,” Coral said, handing him the box of doughnut holes. “I wanted to give you my tin can of pennies from The Man Upstairs so that you could buy candles to burn.”

“Thanks, kid. I’ll go get candles today. Since you have so much time on your hands, you can come with me,” he said. “There are still seven nights left of Hanukkah. Do you own a menorah?” Coral said to The Man Across the Street.

“I’ve got my family menorah under the bed,” he said to her, sighing. “But I haven’t had money to pay rent for months. The landlord is furious at me, and I’m afraid that he’s going to come after me with his nasty smelling cigar.”

“Well, I definitely have enough money in my tin can for candles. Then you have a menorah . . . Maybe if we burn the menorah in the window, the landlord will see the miracle, and the rent will get paid,” Coral said, scheming in her head.

“Sure kid, whatever you think,” The Man Across the Street said. “Let’s go get some candles at the Dollar Store.”

As Coral and The Man Across the Street walked down the stairs, the landlord happened to be walking up the stairs. 

“What is the awful smell?” Coral said, sneezing and wheezing. “It’s sure smoke up my nose . . .”

When Coral and the landlord with a cigar met face to face, she had no choice but ask him to put out his large cigarette.

“Who lit that awful thing for you?” Coral said, grabbing it from him and snuffing it out beneath her heel. “We’re going to the Dollar Store and buying candles with the pennies from The Man Upstairs to celebrate Hanukkah.”

“Good for you. Don’t you live across the street? Go back over there!” he said, trying to light another cigar.

“I’ll put that one out for you, too!” she said, grabbing the cigar and smashing it against the wall. “My Nana died of lung cancer. Why do you smoke such awful things? You should only ever light candles, not cigars.”

“Your rent is due. It’s way late. Pay up,” the landlord said to The Man Across the Street. “And you owe me two cigars.”

“Don’t you know about Hanukkah? The oil didn’t run out. The rent will get paid,” Coral said, holding her nose. 

“Let’s go, kid,” The Man Across the Street said, nudging Coral down the steps. “Don’t say another word.”

When Coral and The Man Across the Street got to the Dollar Store, Coral bought nine blue candles. The duo walked back to the apartment building, hustling to avoid the landlord and his nasty cigars. 

“I’m doing this for you, kid,” The Man Across the Street said, setting up his menorah in the window. 

“I’m leaving the rest of the pennies for you,” Coral said, dumping them next to the menorah. “Rent will be paid.”

After dinner that night, Mr. Graf read the Hanukkah prayers while lighting the candles in their window.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment,” he read, while Coral watched The Man Across the Street light his own Hanukkah candles. 

“How lovely,” Mrs. Graf said, watching their neighbor as he ate double chocolate glazed doughnut holes.

“Tomorrow morning, please give this to The Man Across the Street,” Mr. Graf said, handing Coral a check. 

“The rent is getting paid!” Coral said, watching more pennies drop from the apartment’s heating vent into her tin can. “It’s the miracle of Hanukkah. The oil never runs out! Just like the pennies from The Man Upstairs keep overflowing.”


Copyright 2015 Jennifer Waters

Sequel to "The Man Upstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Pennies from a Tin Can" (1/3/15), "The Man Downstairs: The Story of Coral Graf and Her Missing Pennies" (7/13/15), and "The Man Next Door: The Story of Coral Graf and the Neighborhood Pennies" (8/5/15).

Dedicated to my grandmother, Augusta Renner Graf Waters.

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