Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers Summary

Stanley Elkin


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jake Greenspahn returns to work in his small supermarket saddened and disillusioned by the death of his now idealized son, Harold. The story, told in third person in prose infected by Jake’s vision and vocabulary, tracks his thoughts from a rejection of the seamy world to awareness that all mortals, including his Harold, are flawed. As participants in the imperfect processes of life, people must accept imperfections.

Jake, feeling bloated, his belly pressed against the steering wheel of his car, begins his day of disillusionment as he pulls in next to a parking meter. The Irish police officer, who accepts a bribe of two dollars a week to put nickels into parking meters for people who work in the neighborhood, is already giving out tickets. The police officer, aware that Jake’s son, Harold, has died, expresses sympathy. He has sent Jake a condolence card, but his good intentions have been thwarted by the tasteless pink heaven depicted on the card and his thoughtless choice of a card bearing the Christian symbol of a cross for a person who is Jewish. When the police officer offers an inadequate excuse for missing the funeral, Jake ironically responds, “Maybe next time.” The police officer refuses this week’s two dollars from Jake, but Jake is not impressed.

His attitude darkened by his loss of Harold, who was just twenty-three when he died, Jake approaches his small supermarket. Violating Jewish law, which specifies a pine coffin, Jake had Harold buried in a metal casket that the mortician assured him would preserve the body. Still, Jake is intent on following another Jewish law by offering prayers in his son’s memory at the synagogue for a year. He encounters Margolis, who owns the television store on the block. Margolis, bemoaning the decline in business during Jake’s absence, clumsily tries to be sympathetic. Unimpressed, Jake sourly reviews the state of his supermarket. Frank, his able produce man and assistant manager, attributes the reduced profit during Jake’s absence to repercussions from a strike in West Virginia, but Jake suspects that his employees...

(The entire section is 857 words.)