He was on his way to the Braunstein Center that morning to buy and have a rabbi secure the Flame Filament around his wrist. Levi was somewhat embarrassed that he, the ever-intelligent atheist, was relying on the chance of metaphysical interference represented by a yarn bracelet but he wanted to take no chances of securing that job at the Academy Museum. That potential job offered not just a career step in the right direction, it also meant a step away from that store he was embarrassed to say he managed. And it meant Damien could introduce him as “My boyfriend, Levi. He works for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” But ever since he had read in the textbook for his newest Braunstein Center class, “Obtaining What You Want the Braunstein Way” about the Flame Filament, he had felt that perhaps something he didn’t believe in was tapping him on the shoulder and saying, “You might want to try this. You’ll kick yourself if you blow that job interview and didn’t have one of these.”
Of course, that’s what the online bookstore’s product blurb also said. It also said you’d regret it if your spouse chose to leave you because you weren’t protected by its mystical abilities to absorb negative energy. That you’d never stop regretting it if, after reading about and deciding not to buy a Flame Filament, you went to your doctor and she told you that you had cancer. (“Oh, if only I had been wearing a Flame Filament from the Braunstein Center! That tumor would have been a harmless skin tag!”) And that it was an everyday, spiritual protection device, keeping its wearer safe from unloyal lovers and medical disasters, as well as warding off the evil thoughts and energies directed at the wearer, whether it be other drivers on the road, co-workers with sabotage on their mind, or a potential rapist.
Yes, he had sniffed at the very idea that a piece of yarn, wrapped about a wrist, knotted, wrapped again, knotted, and so on fifteen times while a rabbi chanted some made-up Hebrew would land him that job he wanted—he did know that his fate was his to own; the job interview fully and only his chance to convince the hiring managers that he was the only candidate who could perform this role for them. But that fear, those little salesman-selling fear-based techniques—and techniques he immediately recognized for what they were—played on him successfully. What if. . .what if. . .whether he believed or not. . .what if he chose not to buy and wear that bracelet of yarn and then flunked the job interview? Would he not truly hate himself? And it only cost forty-five dollars. Wasn’t the chance at that new job, a whole new career, a whole world of new possibilities, worth forty-five dollars?
“Remove your watch,” the young rabbi—Levi thought this one looked fresh out of high school–instructed him at the bookstore’s jewelry counter, at which gold charms for the Flame Filament were sold to add a layer of specific protections—and a flash of fashion in among the miracles. One, the placard beside it claimed, would increase fertility; another would help you get a salary raise. Levi was tempted to ask, “Do you have one for prolapsed anuses? Asking for a friend: Lindsey Graham.”
Levi placed his watch on the glass counter as the rabbi unspooled a length of purple yarn and, eyes closed, the yarn clasped by one end and held up to the fluorescent light heavens of the retail store, blessed it with a chant in indecipherable Hebrew-ish words.
“Stretch your arm out over the counter,” the rabbi instructed him. When Levi did as he was told, the rabbi further told him, “Roll up your shirtsleeve.”
“Oh.” Levi hadn’t counted on that. Though his scabs had healed, it was still obvious that he had suffered some type of injury, four clear streaks of stiff maroon fading and drying from streaks to stains still crusted over his pale skin.
Seeing the remaining scabs, their four trails a bit less defined to the fresh-faced rabbi’s eyes than they were to Levi– who knew their origin were the fingers of his right hand–the rabbi asked, “What happened there?”
“Oh—” Levi lied dismissively, “I got scratched up hiking Runyon Canyon. Should have stayed on the paths.”
The rabbi frowned and placed a cold hand atop the lower arm, his fingers slowly locking around Levi’s arm with an unintentional tickle. He said a prayer, again, something in Hebrew-ish, and then ran his fingers lightly over the scabs.
“They will heal,” the rabbi told him.
Levi knew they would heal; it hadn’t been the first time he had scratched himself when in an angry manic fit. His only worry was that they heal before Damien and Track came back from Colorado next week. But he smiled at the rabbi as if appreciative of—and a believer in–his metaphysical Neosporin.
“Now—hold out your arm, like this.” The rabbi held his own arm stretched out a few inches above the jewelry counter. When Levi did as shown, the rabbi explained, “I need you to close your eyes and repeat after me, ‘The filament of the Flame protects me.’ Each time I wrap the thread around your wrist, I will tie a knot. Each time I tie that knot, I will say ‘The filament of The Flame protects you.’ You will then say, ‘The filament of The Flame protects me.’”
“We will do this fifteen times,” the rabbi explained. “Because on the fifteenth day of creation, The Flame created rocks. Huge stones and boulders. And the holiest of these, the Topanga Seed.”
Levi had sarcastically thought, when reading about the Flame Filament bracelet of yarn and its Topanga Seed connection, how convenient it was that the Braunstein Center just happened to be founded near Topanga Canyon and that its holiest of holy relics, a giant boulder found on that original property and named the Topanga Seed in 2007, was deemed to be transmitting a frequency of positive energy only true Braunstein Center followers could hear or understand. The yarn from which the Flame Filaments were made was, supposedly, blessed by Braunstein Center rabbis when initially woven and then wrapped about the Topanga Seed—now relocated to the Braunstein Center’s Beverly Hills courtyard–at a ceremony held once a year. (This year, though, they had sold out of the Flame Filaments by August so the head of the Braunstein Center—after much alleged deliberation about whether the Topanga Seed had enough “spiritual power” in it to support a second ceremony in the same calendar year–consented to a second spiritual wrapping ceremony of the Topanga Seed with purple yarn. Because, after all, one wanted to ensure the bookstore had enough thousands of yards of “Flame Filament” on-hand to sell at forty-five dollars per foot.)
The rabbi in front of Levi began the process with overstated dignity, gently pulling the thin purple yarn to its full length and with its midpoint under the top of Levi’s wrist, pulled both ends up, tied a knot against his skin, said, “The Filament of the Flame protects you’ with Levi echoing, “The Filament of the Flame protects me”. The first knot tied, the rabbi then took the yarn’s two ends and brought them beneath and around Levi’s wrist, repeating the blessing again and again until the yarn was tied with fifteen knots. At that point, the rabbi pronounced Levi protected from misfortune, protected by the essence of their god, The Flame which, somehow, was being transmitted by a giant garden rock to the thin piece of yarn that had been tied around his wrist. It would eventually fall off, the rabbi explained, when its ancient metaphysical powers had been tapped (or, Levi assumed, when the thin yarn wore away by twice daily showers and the like only to have to be replaced for another forty-five dollars.)
When he got back in his Mustang to drive to work, he readjusted his watch so that it covered the purple yarn bracelet.
He might need its assistance in getting that new job next week.
But he didn’t want to look like a goddamned moron while interviewing for it.