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

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A true story of politics and betrayal

I have always suffered from inexplicably paralyzing stage-fright. It is a total betrayal of the body that I have wracked my swiss-cheesed brain trying to pinpoint its origin. If I have any childhood public-speaking traumas I’ve hidden them well. In fact, the only traumas I can recall are of my body’s collapse, but even those never resulted in public humiliation of any kind. The only truly searing moment of semi-public speaking disaster occurred as I tried to confront my body, which by that point had already established itself as my worst enemy.

Whether I expect it to or not, whether I am particularly nervous in my mind or not, my body never fails to fail me. My mouth dries up and becomes as sticky as glue, my voice wavers, shakes and stutters as my lips emit those embarrassing smacking noises, my stomach churns vomit, my knees feel watery and weak and my head spins the world around me. I do my best to avoid these situations, and while I feel bad for being a victim of my own self, I am mostly relieved to have another hurdle behind me, whether I jumped it, ran under it or into it or just plain dropped out of the race.

The following is a story of a triple betrayal, of how my body, my mind and my teacher all set out to bring me down.

I was seventeen and the year was 1997. Right winged Benjamin Netanyahu was the prime minister of Israel, an electoral outcome that had shocked and depressed many only a few months after the assassination of the left winged Rabin. Under Netanyahu’s government, these same people felt that Israel was on a scary downwards spiral, and at seventeen, innocent and yet immersed in politics, I was one of those people. One morning I read an editorial written by Shimon Peres, the man who had lost the election. Peres clearly laid out all the horrible mistakes that the inexperienced and over confident Netanyahu was making, and the more I read the more infuriated I became.

I got out a piece of paper and summarized the editorial. I added onto it more points from a few other newspaper sources over the course of a week or so, and then I approached my highschool teacher. In spite of my nerve wracking fear of public speaking and in spite of my inferior body I had decided to volunteer to run the next “social hour”, a weekly hour in which the class was handed over to one of the students. Usually the teacher approved the most banal mind-numbingly predictable topics. Otherwise the time was most likely to be used as an hour long live infomercial for some missionary youth movement or other.

My teacher, who was an incredibly bitter bitch, read my little summarized topics for discussion, smiled dryly and said she’d love for me to do this, she was happy that someone was involved and wanted to use the hour for some lively debate. I asked her if she could possibly lead the discussion, so that it would be about the subject at hand and not about putting me on the stand, and she said we’d work it out.

As the hour of the class grew nearer I began showing the early signs of a full blown out panic attack. It seemed strange to me how everyone around me was just acting normally. By the time class started I had been seriously considering getting up and leaving, and was fighting my body with every ounce of strength I had left.

The teacher presented my list of ideas and asked me to come forwards and stand in front of the class. Even though at that moment nothing could be scarier, I robotically went to the board and stood there, shaking with my little piece of paper, my mouth dry and sticky, my body crashing. I began to read in a quivering, child-like voice, and was barely two sentences into it when the class ripped into me, and all hell broke loose.

I should mention that in Israel the political atmosphere at the time was highly combustible. The political issues there were regarded as life or death for the country, and it was rare to find a student lacking political identity. The argument was very bitter and personal, I was attacked not only for the validity of the points I was raising but for having the nerve to use school time to speak ill of the elected prime minister. Some students were yelling at me, others who agreed with me were yelling at them, and a steady stream of students walked out on me in protest. Finally the teacher, who had been sitting against the wall swallowing her evil little smile, got up and stopped the class.

At that point the loudest student, whose slogans and shouts made it seem as if he wished Israel was a dictatorship, turned his attacks on her, and demanded to know how she dared allow me to use class time for my propaganda. Instead of backing me up, the teacher agreed with him, and in front of the students who were left, calmly explained that she had allowed me to carry out my little agenda in order to teach me a lesson.

I had later learned that she was an avid follower of Netanyahu, and that she had actually prepped a few key Netanyahu supporters amongst my classmates as to what I was going to be speaking about. They had no need to listen to me, they knew what I was about to say.

The trauma of that day is not the birth of my paralysis. My body’s automatic shut-down preceded that experience by years. But that day changed me. I’ve never trusted anyone when it comes to politics since, and the chances of me ever debating anything publicly evaporated into non existence. In fact, politics and I parted ways that day. My political views nowadays are as sedated as my thoughts on politics of the 18th century. I've become a person who may watch idiots from the side, but will never try to argue with them.

Or with my body.

I'm not sure if that makes me an idiot too, but it definitely makes my body one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Old true stories

A couple of months ago an old Israeli army buddy of mine dropped by unexpectedly from halfway across the world. We drank together, laughed, ate and drank some more, and reminisced about those strange strange days when we were both in uniform playing along with a game neither of us thought very much of. In honor of that week I’m posting two memories, translated with accuracy and love from little crumpled notes in Hebrew. Ever since we first met on an Air Force base years ago he's kept popping in and out of my life in a manner that I can only describe as dependably surprising.

The first memory is of him showing up unexpectedly at my home back in Israel at three thirty in the morning. He'd wanted me to join him for a drive to a nearby city, he was extremely tired and the drive would have been life-threatening without me but never took place anyhow since he passed out on the rigid couch in our living room, slept for half an hour, awoke to have some coffee with me and then went back to sleep. During his second nap I sat on a chair by him as if tending to a sick man and strummed my guitar until I thought he'd fallen asleep. He spoke without opening his eyes and asked me to continue playing so I did, I played to him for ten minutes and he slept. He got up and left with the sun. I think I hadn't seen him for five months before that night, and another year would pass before I saw him again.

The second memory is a short phone conversation scribbled down in January of 2003:
"You've disappeared from my life!" I cried to him jokingly.
He answered "I haven't disappeared from your life; I've just disappeared. I'm in the witness relocation program."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at school."
Ever since the tensions in Iraq had started rising my army buddy, who was an officer and had gone on to serve years after I'd been discharged, was forced to spend the majority of his time on his base, which he called 'school'. It sounded less harrowing that way, I suppose.
"Well, I wanted to tell you the news." I said.
"You've got a girlfriend."
"No. But I appreciate that. No, I'm leaving for LA."
"Cool. I'm leaving school next week, but I'm sticking around the country 'till June."
"Why stick around till June?"
"I don't want to miss the war."
"What?! Why wouldn't you want to miss the war?"
"I don't want there to be a war. But if one happens I don't want to miss it."
"Missing a war is a good thing!"
"Listen, in two weeks I'll be able to explain why I don't want to miss this war."
"Oh, come on, please, explain it now, I want to understand how your brain works."
He started another sentence and our conversation was disconnected. I tried calling him back, but he had no reception.

I never did ask him why he didn't want to miss the war. I'd tried to remember to ask him when he showed up at my Brooklyn apartment, but we never got around to it. Asking him in an email just doesn’t seem right. I’m sure I’ll see him again in a year or two.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A true story

As an Israeli living in New York, I’d heard my name mispronounced in a variety of ways. One college Spanish teacher would mispronounce my name "urine", no matter how many times I’d corrected her. My name, incidentally, is not pronounced "urine". Ironically enough, though, my dad is a urologist.

Other than calling me urine, my Spanish teacher tended to go off on little tangents. When she taught us how to speak about our favorite actor or musician, she went off on a tangent about how her favorite Latin singer had recently given an interview in which he’d admitted to being into S&M and golden showers.

She’d expected to get a laugh, but no one other than me was laughing. I had to laugh; I mean it's not every day your teacher talks about golden showers. She looked at all the blank faces and said: "What, no one here knows what golden showers are?" She saw me laughing and said "Well, urine does."