“What difference did it make to Azrael?” I asked him, when he told me how upset Azrael had been when an insect drowned in hot water while he was running a bath.
“I asked him that after he came out of the bathroom,” he said. “He’d been running hot water to rinse the tub when a bug he realized was alive a moment too late to save it died a horrible, plunging, drowning death in the pipes. What he said to explain it to me was so simple it still strikes me. He said ‘picture your own moment of death — would you like it instant and painless or prolonged and painful?’ I always think of that when I kill a bug, to this day. That bug desperately swimming for his life away from the sucking drain could have instantly been put out of his mortal terror and unavoidable death by a merciful finger.
“Azrael had been too slow to react when he saw the bug, at first he didn’t realize it was even alive. Then he saw it struggling to swim in the hot water away from the drain. Then he’d watched the bug get swept over Niagra Falls to die an agonizing death by drowning in the churning, unbearably hot water. It impressed me how awful he felt about not sparing that bug such a miserable death.”
“Instant and painless or prolonged and painful,” I said. “I like that. A no-brainer for a marketing/branding scheme exploiting that no-brainer: ‘Quick/no pain or slow/maximum pain, your choice.’ It’s appealingly philosophical, too.”
“Of course, life is not so black and white,” he said.
“Exactly, which is why such idiotically phrased choices are so irresistible, anyone who’d choose the wrong choice is so obviously wrong. I like the phrase, and I think we can monetize it, I think it’s a good choice phrase,” I said. “Plenty of imagery and punch, the rubes will love it.”
“The phrase is fine, monetize away, I’m just sayin’,” he said.
“You know, it’s not like Azrael was exactly into Ahimsa or any ascetic religious practice that would have made him so sensitive to a bug’s soul. He ate meat, he’d curse, he was always rough breaking up a fight,” I said. “He certainly didn’t shrink from hurting anybody.”
“He didn’t, but when you say Azrael ate meat, that’s funny, yeah, he ate meat. He lived on meat, ate almost nothing besides meat. He was a shoichet’s assistant, at a place down the street from the butcher’s, from shortly after his bar mitzvah, if I recall correctly, until he started working at the delicatessen,” my brother reminded me.
“He was one tough son of a bitch,” I said.
“Yiss,” he said.
“And he always kept a dog.” We both remembered Azrael’s dogs.
“Yiss,” my brother said.