True Stories

Random memories mesh together to create a character. This one happens to be real; a 26-year-old Israeli boy studying film in NYC. (As with anything, it's best to start at the beginning. Go to the archives...) Copyright 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The true gummy worm tales

At the risk of letting all tension go slack, I’ve always begun the following stories by giving away their endings. I am lucky enough to be able to claim that gummy worms have led me into serious trouble not once but twice in my life. These twin tales are the kind you stay tuned to for their absurd details, not for their thematically linked conclusions. They are self-admittedly stupid stories, the kind that have to be punctuated by a “true story” promise, the kind I wished my life had more of, even if I did have to pay for their existence by spending a week in army jail or by losing a comfortable job. What better reason to sit in jail or lose a job over than gummy worms?

My first run in with gummy worms was as a young soldier. I spent my first few months on the base filling in the role of unit bitch, which meant that in addition to my full roster of guard duties and kitchen duties I was first to be called on for any ‘unexpected duties’. These ‘unexpected duties’, a title comfortably squished into a slick army acronym in Hebrew, were usually quite expected and anticipated months in advance, but they retained their ‘unexpected’ heading because that allowed them to be dumped unexpectedly upon any soldier without him being able to argue against them.

I was rewarded with my fare share of ‘unexpecteds’, which were usually chilly mornings spent guarding bus stations and parking lots where massive soldier pick-ups took place. All of these soldiers I was protecting were armed to the teeth and, unlike myself, trained in combat, but officially I was there to guard them as they got on their buses to their bases. Also dubbed ‘unexpected’ were the grueling Passover cleaning duties at the base kitchen, where we mopped the ceilings with soapy brooms and actually blow-torched every corner to assure the base Rabbi that no microscopic morsel of leavened bread was left behind. That the army habitually considered this annual holiday to be an ‘unexpected’ event was, quite ironically, not even close to being the most ironic example of military distortion that I came across during my service.

Another perfectly expected event that lent itself to an ‘unexpected’ duty was the occasional overnight visit by the Israeli version of “Air Force One”. Army laws required that a guard be posted outside of the empty aircraft at all times, but specifically prohibited the guard from being armed. This guard wasn’t there to stop the enemy; that was the duty of the guards placed on the base borders. The plane’s guard was given a chair which he was allowed to sit on for ten minutes every hour on the hour, a walkie-talkie and brief orders to stop any other soldier from touching or boarding the plane. As if anybody ever came anywhere near the airstrips at three in the morning, and, more importantly, as if anybody cared. There was no glamour to the Israeli “Air Force One”, and there was no glamour to being the plane’s personal guard on a freezing winter night.

So there I was, walking circles around a grade-school chair perched under a Boeing aircraft and trying to keep what was left of my body heat from slipping away. I was bored senseless. The officer that had hand picked me for this special assignment had known about it for weeks but had conveniently sprung it on me hours before, so I hadn’t even had the opportunity to sneak an illegal book or walkman up to my post. I was bored, I was cold, I was tired and I was miserable. Three hours into my four hour shift my walkie came alive and nearly gave me a heart attack. An indifferent soldier from the war room informed me I would have to fill in for my replacement, at least three hours longer until six o’clock in the morning.

The last paragraph isn’t a description of that moment so much as it is a list of excuses I’ve compiled for myself, just as I did that night. The truth is that a part of me had already made the decision to do something stupid and it was only a matter of time before I gave in to myself. It was a clarity that set me at ease, as if somebody else had cast the die on my behalf. I would peacefully resign myself to playing along with what had to happen, whether it was cutting an entire day of classes at highschool or, as a soldier, boarding the very plane I was commanded to keep anyone away from. I had no choice in the matter.

I had only intended to take a short break snuggled in one of the comfortable first class seats and wait until my teeth stopped chattering. I had no interest in a tour of the plane; I’d seen it many times before and was as bored with it as I was with anything that had to do with the army. I dove into the first seat to the right of the door and closed my eyes. Ten seconds later I opened them so as not to fall asleep. It was then that I noticed them. They were in a thick, black, industrial-strength trash bag that was placed inside a black milk crate seated beside me. I don’t remember what made me peek inside the bag, its exterior hinted at nothing special, but once I had seen them there was no going back. The bag was packed with gummy worms, the most I had ever seen in my life.

I didn’t question the finding. I quickly figured there were way too many gummy worms in that enormous bag for one, two or even fifty of them to be missed, and before I had enough time for the next thought, I was already wrist deep in them. That skipped thought might have been about how bizarre the existence of this treasure trash-bag was in the first place, or maybe about whose gummy worms they actually were, the Prime Minister’s perhaps? I wasn’t thinking at all. I wasn’t hungry, but I was ravenous for those semi transparent rubbery candies.

Luckily for me, I somehow managed to detect the sounds of the nearing patrol jeep over the rattling of chewing between my ears just in time to run out of the plane and around it. As I ran I unbuttoned my pants and made sure I was seen scrambling through buttoning back up as I came around towards the jeep. I did this to support my story, which was that I hadn’t wanted to waste everybody’s time by hailing the patrol jeep and a reserve soldier just so I could pee, so I’d relieved myself behind the plane’s wheel. According to my story, I’d only been gone for a few seconds.

I never learned just how severe the punishment for sneaking on to the Prime Minister’s plane and gorging on the pilots’ favored snack would have been. I was too scared to find out. For abandoning post, even if the wheel was only a few feet away from the chair, I was found guilty and sentenced to a week in jail on my base. The judge was especially lenient, he happened to be one of the officer’s I’d buttered up the most in that short time with precious favors and favoritism. What followed was the most tolerable week from hell I could ever have had. I knew it was a small price to pay for a perfect moment.

It was even better the second time around, because unlike landing in jail this time I was fulfilling that familiar subconscious wish, the wish to be fired. A year into my empty post-military existence I’d given up all hope of finding a good job. It was a hard time for our state’s economy, and a harder time for my state of mind. I’d sent my resume out to every single editing house within the greater Tel Aviv area and landed nothing more than a couple of unpaid internships that never turned into paying jobs or the sporadic wedding and bar-mitzvah editing gig that had me listening to Jennifer Lopez’s “Waiting for Tonight” till me ears bled. A year after I’d sent out hundreds of copies of my resume one studio called me back. It was a television studio located in an ideal walking distance from my house, but they had no need for an editor, they wanted a part time security guard. “But you’ve got my resume,” I said on the phone. “you’ve had it for a year. You can tell I’m an editor, right? It’s what I did in the army.”
“Yeah, but things are bad in the industry these days and there are no jobs, so I thought at least this way I’d be doing you a favor.” The lady said. “Anyway, didn’t you also have guard duty in the army?”
“Well… yeah. I did.”

So there I was, manning the twelve hour graveyard shifts at “Roll studios” with my buttoned down guard’s uniform, my little satellite TV and my little kitchenette for coffee, tea and soup in a cup. There were only two studios at “Roll”, a bigger one for live or live-on-tape shows, either game-shows or talk-shows, and a smaller one for low budget productions with no audience. From eight PM to midnight I had to convey some sense of vigilance while the bad talk-show was being aired; I stood at the door and oversaw the entrance of crew and guests and chatted away with hilarious groupies that would huddle outside the door but always remain respectful of that border. I became familiar with two competing die-hard fans who were not fans of any celebrity in particular but fans of fandom itself. They each had photo albums of themselves posing with any kind of celebrity they could find, and they’d find them all by stalking them outside television studios. They said I was the nicest guard they ever knew, and they hoped I’d stay for a while.

I shared that hope, since after those few hours of activity I got to lock up the doors behind everybody and stay in wonderful solitude in an abandoned building for eight hours straight. I could write, I could read, I could watch satellite TV, I could play my guitar, I could entertain friends, I could do practice SAT tests, I could sleep, I could do it all with the warming knowledge that I was getting paid for every minute of it. Of course I was expected to do none of the above, to remain alert and to patrol the studios and hallways every hour, but I rarely did so. So while in the past boredom had led me to abandon my job and discover the gummy worms, the second time around boredom led me to actually do my job, thereby discovering the gummy worms.

I was bored and tired and had decided to stretch my legs and do one of those patrols that I was required to do but never did. I couldn’t even remember the route I had been instructed to take along the maze of corridors covered in posters for films that had nothing to do with this struggling television studio except create an atmosphere of importance. I enjoyed walking through the two studios; I loved discovering time and time again how differently the sets looked in reality than on the screen, how cheaply painted and poorly constructed they were, how ugly to the naked eye. That night I walked into the smaller studio, which was usually empty, and found a new world had been erected there.

It was the set for a new children’s television show called “Benny’s Attic”, and unlike the larger studio’s shoddy game-show-talk-show sets this one actually looked like an attic. There was an A-shaped slanting rooftop, a nice wooden wall with a small window revealing a blue backdrop of sky hung behind it, a round carpet with the image of the globe on it covered in furniture and beanbags, three or four bookshelves stacked with all the Israeli children’s books I’d read as a kid, and, on the final shelf, three huge jars of gummy worms.

The decision had been made. My reasoning was that I was merely picking the jar off the shelf to pacify a nagging filmmaker’s curiosity; I wanted to know whether those were prop gummy worms or the real thing. They were real. I was like a kid on the set of a candy store. Now it was only a matter of eating enough to cause a stomach ache and then rearranging those that were left in such a way that they would still reach the same height they had before on the side of the jar that faced the camera. It was as I was doing that, with three or four gummy worms hanging out of my mouth, that I was caught by Igor, the stage manager. I have no idea what he was doing in the studio at two thirty in the morning. He’d let himself in through the back door and was staring at me with a cigarette in his hand. I had nothing left to do but say “Want a gummy worm?” to which he replied “No.” in his thick Russian accent.

Three weeks later I was
fired. My boss hadn't even bothered to tell me I'd lost my job. I suppose he thought I already knew as much. I showed up for my shift in uniform and found another uniformed guard sitting behind the desk. I called my boss from the studio’s phone and he said in his cigarette voice “Oh, yes, our relationship has reached its end.” I wasn’t angry; it was with that final act that the gummy worm stories came together.

I’d lost a week and a job but I’d gained two stories. I couldn’t wait to see what price gummy worms would claim on their third visit. I knew I’d be willing to pay more than ever before, because I had learned my lesson: You get what you pay for. Especially when it comes to those slippery chewy yummy conniving snakes I call true stories.

1 Comments:

  • At 5:31 AM, Blogger cali_t said…

    Though not nearly as exciting as your gummy worm stories, I too have a gummy worm tale to tell, and up until this point have had no purpose to tell it. So, not like any one has asked me to, but ill tell it anyway.

    When you’re a child, a young child, you don’t pick your friends… they come as added bonuses for your parents’ friends. If your caregiver is lucky enough to find a friend with a child that is the same age as their child, it’s that added bonus that makes their friendship that much better. My mother had one of these friends. They were the best of friends; both of them single parents, like-minded… and a little crazy. So it was just the icing on the cake that they had daughters the same age that got along relatively well. They could do whatever it was they did, and we could entertain ourselves, giving them a much-needed break. This is how my friendship with Celene began. We were 2 when we met, what the hell did we know about selecting friends? We were placed next to each other, and played, while our parents did the things they did. A few months turned into years, and Celene and I became the best of friends, probably mostly because of proximity. We did everything together, we went to swimming lessons together, to the fair, the park, ice skating, we were always at one or the others house, and we always had sleep-overs. When we were about 4 or 5, Celene had me at her house for one of our over-nights. It was this night that she introduced me to her 2 pet gummy worms. She kept them in a mini blanket, tucked away in a box, in a cupboard in her bedroom. She told me how said goodnight to them every night, and how she named them, though this late in my life the names have long escaped me. She loved her little gummy worms. I remember thinking that it was really strange to have gummy worms as pets, and even though my imagination was as active as the next kid, I still couldn’t comprehend that Celene really considered these gummie worms her pets. All I could understand in my young and not fully developed prefrontal cortex was that there were gummie worms laying not even 3 feet from my sleeping bag on the floor. Now, this all happened a really long time ago, and to be honest some of the details escape me. I don’t remember laying in wait for Celene to fall asleep, I don’t remember hashing out some diabolical plot to pilfer her gummy worms, but in all honesty I do remember how much I coveted them, but that’s all I remember about the night. The next morning I went home. Later the next night, my mom and I, and Celene and her mother went out for pizza. Celene wouldn’t talk to me. I begged her to tell me what was wrong. She just looked at me. Finally her mother told me Celene was horrified because I had bitten the head of one of her gummy worms. I fell back on the common childhood tactic of denial. For months Celene and I still played together, as our parents still were friends regardless of my monstrosity. But, she never did get over the fact that I maimed one of her pet worms, and every time it came up, I just denied it. Now, I occasionally wondered if I bit the head off in my sleep, as I don’t remember doing it. Did I only bite the head off because I wanted the worm so bad, and could not help myself, but felt so bad about it that I couldn’t bring myself to have more than just a taste? Did I feel so bad that I blocked the memory of the fatal bite out of my thoughts forever? Did I just deny it so long that I wiped out the memory entirely? Did I hope that she wouldn’t notice if I limited myself to just a small taste? Or, am I just a childhood bully, biting the heads of my friend’s imaginary pets? I guess I will never know, and 25 years later Celene still hasn’t forgiven me.

     

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