I headed for the hotel hot tub.
There were a few Limmudniks already there, and one man with his back to me, lounging in the bubbles. I stepped in beside him, said my requisite, “Ahhhhh,” then turned to say hi.
And noticed—I could not not notice—that his chest was covered with a large tattoo of a swastika.
The man was big, maybe 6-feet, 250 pounds. And when I say there was a swastika on his chest, I mean it was blue black, inked in one-inch wide lines and went from nipple to nipple. My first thought, of course, was, “Maybe that’s the Navajo swastika.” My second was, “Please let that be the Navajo swastika.” My third was, “No, that’s not the Navajo swastika.”
Rob Eshman got to talking to the guy—his name was Don—and learned that the tattoo was a membership card for the Aryan Brotherhood, which his tubmate had joined in an Arizona prison. Don said he wanted to get the tattoo removed but couldn’t afford the expense. Rob offered to walk back into the hotel lobby and raise the money; he said he could get it in 45 minutes.
The man had a tense, unsettled energy. He was twice my size, and we were alone in a hot tub at night, practically naked. It didn’t seem the place to explore his ill will toward the Jewish people. I just wanted to keep things practical.
We set a time to meet later and exchange numbers.
At the appointed hour, Don wasn’t anywhere to be found. I didn’t know his room number or last name, and I tried in vain to find him.
In the meantime, telling the story to others at Limmud, I had raised enough in pledges for Don to get his swastika removed, get lipo, a facelift, a ranch house in Encino—whatever he wanted. But Don was gone. I laid out the whole story to Jessica at the Hilton front desk, and she passed my e-mail and phone number on to all the guests registered from Phoenix, but they claimed never to have heard of Don.