Mordechai Schmutter

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Welcome back to “How Should I Know?”—the column where you send in questions, and I hit them out of the park. Sometimes I take the time to answer them first.

Dear Mordechai,

As a high-school teacher, are you a supporter of implementing the “Ninth Man on the Team” method?


Dear T.,

What exactly is the teaching method here? Do you mean joining the baseball game instead of taking the injured kid to the hospital? Or suddenly being good at sports? Because I do neither.

My editor thinks you mean “to keep on teaching even though no one’s listening, until at least Lag B’Omer.” Which I do.

Maybe the idea is that if you can show your talmidim that you’re good with a bat (and can, quote, “Knock the cover off a ball and send it about a half a mile”), they’ll be too scared to step out of line. Especially way back in ’65.

Also, I’m pretty sure someone owes someone a new ball. Maybe the moral is: “Get rid of their ball.” They only had the one. That’s why the game was suddenly over after this, even though two minutes earlier they were losing.

I guess, from a chinuch standpoint, I like doing the part where I prove that the kids are big talkers. All they did all day was talk about baseball, but when they actually had to play, they were behind for most of the game even before the guy got hurt. They talk a big game, but they’re not that good at baseball either. What are they good at? Maybe start learning, in case that professional sports career doesn’t go anywhere.

It’s hard to find opportunities to do that with my students, though. There’s no Lag B’Omer cholent cook-off against the boys from Brooklyn, or a rich-girl-marrying competition or anything.

“Eh, I’ll marry a rich girl.”

“Why would she marry you? Also, rich girls are expensive.”

This method doesn’t really work that well anyway. So they started paying attention after Lag B’Omer. Wow. Did they have this same rebbe the next year, too?

Dear Mordechai,

Why does cake taste better when cutting off small pieces and standing at the counter than when sitting at the table?


Dear T.,

I don’t know; why do chicken drumsticks taste better over the garbage?

My editor suggested that maybe you enjoy it more because it’s fewer calories, as demonstrated by the following official list of things that are fewer calories than you think they’d be.

Official List Of Things That Are Fewer Calories Than You’d Think They’d Be

Presented by the American Medical Association

• Food off someone else’s plate

• Anything eaten while standing over the garbage

• Leftovers

• Things you eat so you shouldn’t have leftovers

• Anything you put on a salad

• Things eaten in someone else’s house

• Organic foods

• Anything eaten on Shabbos (but not anything eaten on yom tov)

• Things you have to finish because Pesach is coming

• If you could have eaten something fatty but you didn’t. Also if you could have eaten a bigger piece of something fatty, but you took a smaller piece.

By the logic of this list, if you eat a smaller piece of something than you could’ve and you eat it over the garbage so there shouldn’t be leftovers in someone else’s house, you could virtually disappear into thin air, chas v’shalom.

But anyway, the fact that it’s fewer calories probably doesn’t add to the enjoyment, because if that were true, leftovers should taste better, too. As would things you shove into your face on the back porch on erev Pesach.

Personally, I think that the lack of silverware is what makes these things taste better. Who decided we should put a piece of metal in our mouths with every bite of food? You don’t put metal in your mouth in any other situation. Why not chew on a piece of foil while you’re at it? The only thing that gets us through eating things off forks and spoons is that we don’t think about it that way.

You’re welcome.

Dear Mordechai,

Why do people run over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, and put it back down to give the vacuum one last chance?


Dear S.,

I don’t even do that. I feed the string directly into the vacuum, like it’s a pet.

I think my best course of action is to walk you through the entire thought process:

Number one, if I took the time to get out the vacuum cleaner, then if there’s something on the floor, I’m 100% going to try to get it with the vacuum. And if it doesn’t work the first time, I’m going to try coming at the string from different angles. Every time I run over the string, it changes position on the floor, so the vacuum is doing something, right? And maybe in the meantime I’m keeping an eye on a piece of dirt in the basic vicinity of the string to see if the vacuum picks that up. If it does, I know the problem’s not the vacuum cleaner.

Then it occurs to me: What if this string is attached to the carpet, and if I sucked it up, I would slowly suck up the entire carpet? So I pick up the string, and if it comes right up in my hand, I know that’s not the issue. And then I look at the string. What did it come from, if not the carpet itself? Is it tzitzis? Did it come from the laundry?

Either way, I can technically put the string into the garbage manually at this point, now that I’m holding it. But that would involve turning off the vacuum and walking over to a garbage can. Alternatively, I can put the string in my pocket, forget it in the laundry, and repeat the cycle next week. So yeah, I’m feeding it right back in. Considering I’ve already determined that there’s no reason for the vacuum not to be picking this up, I’m not going to give it the satisfaction of getting out of something that is clearly its job.

I don’t know that I would behave any other way. I actually wish the street sweeper would do the same thing if they find there’s something they’re not picking up: Go back and forth over it a dozen times, get out of the truck and pick it up to examine it, and then manually feed it into the bottom. Instead of just leaving it on the street for the next time.

Dear Mordechai,

Why do car dealerships always have balloons tied to the cars?


Dear B.,

To let you know it’s a car dealership. The issue with car dealerships is that it’s a bunch of cars in a lot around a smallish building. You wouldn’t even turn your head if not for the balloons. You’d assume it’s just a parking lot. For people who are all obsessed with the same brand of car.

So the balloons are there to get your attention. Those, and the sukkah decorations.

Car dealerships have to make their own rules in the first place, because they’re not like normal stores. They only sell about seven items, they don’t have shelves like a normal store or even like a smallish parking lot in the city, they have to keep most of their stock outside like at the fruit store, and every single person haggles. It’s like working at the shuk. Also, they don’t take WIC, or even yeshiva dollars, and you can’t ask them to gift wrap.

But the balloons are misleading, right? They make it look like buying a car is a fun experience involving clowns—a whole army of clowns that they cram into the car as you watch, so they can show you how much storage space you’re getting—when, generally, buying a car is a painful experience that involves you haggling further and further down over a matter of hours, and then watching the dealer tack on hidden charges until you’re back up to the original asking price. But they’ll probably throw in the balloon if you ask. Hold firm on that. Maybe even that waving balloon man. You can set him up outside your house so people can find you on Purim, or when you have a simcha, or if you have a nighttime Hatzalah call.

But no, no one says, “I don’t know if I really need a new car … Wait, they come with balloons?”

There are only two reasons to buy a car, and they are:

(1) needing a new car and

(2) not wanting to clean the old one for Pesach.

Have a question for “How Should I Know?” Tie a balloon to it.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles at


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