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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A true story about humility

My friend Gil from back home in Israel is a skinny bearded man with triangle shoulders, honest eyes and a modest smile. When we were much younger, Gil would never talk to me about sex. I would hear of his stories through other friends, but he never spoke a word of them to me. When I asked him about it he said “It was just something I needed to get over with, that’s all.” Another time, as he sat beside me in my car while driving in the middle of the night, he told me “You know, oral sex is not that great. I don’t know why people make such a big deal out of it.”
We were both silent for a handful of moments, and then he burst into an open and inviting laughter, which was rare for Gil to do; his laugh had always been an introverted one, accompanied by signs of a struggle.
He laughed and laughed and finally said “What the fuck am I saying?! Oral sex is not that great? What?!?”

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A truly Happy Memorial Day story

I experienced my first American Memorial Day a few years ago, during the months my friend and I spent in Los Angeles. I was working as a production assistant on a film shoot based up in Valencia, he was working illegally maintaining a website for a couple of Israelis down in the valley. Our LA adventure had turned to labor; we lived from our jobs to the mattresses laid out on our floor and back to our jobs again. On weekends we went grocery shopping. We never met a soul other than our coworkers.

When the three day weekend came upon us, we were desperate for a vacation from what should have been our vacation. We found a cheap hotel room in Vegas and drove out in the morning. It was only on the highway that our Memorial Day excursion turned to a hallucination, as we drove by signs that read “Happy Memorial Day!”

Israel is a country with a rich culture of grief. We live with it nearly every day, and then on two days of the year, Holocaust Day and Memorial Day, we soak ourselves in mourning. Children growing up in Israel are yanked out of their bliss and into the world of death twice a year at least, barring any personal tragedy. Memorial Day is a day of somber ceremonies, soul-wrenching documentaries, sad songs on the radio, white buttoned shirts with stickers bearing the image of red flowers pressed against hearts and, finally, a frightening siren sounding across the entire land to which everyone stands in respect of the fallen. This siren produces the iconic Israeli image of hundreds of cars stopped on a highway with their drivers standing beside them, their hands at their sides and their chins to their chests, thinking of death. The grandiosity is reminiscent of the images Spielberg implements in many of his films, except in this case all eyes are shut and none stare up in awe.

The English language has a word for a child who’s lost his parents, but no word for a parent who’s lost a child. The Hebrew language has one. Words are born out of necessity.

The words “Happy Memorial Day!” flashed by us on a highway leading to Las Vegas and hit me in the gut. My friend and I laughed at their absurdity, shook our heads and commented about how insane that combination would sound in Hebrew, but inside me I was not amused, I was shocked. Those words remain the most evil and decadent oxymoronic phrase I have ever read. I never expected an entire nation as vast as the United States to walk around in forced mourning for a day; the imposed grief had bothered me even as a child in the tiny country of Israel, where death is never more than two degrees of separation away. But to place the word “happy” before “memorial day” showed such irreverence, an utter draining of the meaning of words. It scared me.

On our second night in Vegas we ate at a buffet constructed to look like a Parisian courtyard, complete with fake blue skies on the ceiling. While my friend stepped away to refill his plate, a California-blond woman in her thirties, drunk or crazy or most likely both, started talking to me. She sat alone at a table adjacent to ours. There was a palpable sad quality about her.

She heard that I was working on a film shoot and became excitable. She told me all about her dog; she had been forced to give him away to some millionaire film producer who lived on a hill. I remember her dog had a full name; a first name, a last name and a middle name. I asked her if his last name was the same as hers but she said no, of course not. We aren’t related, she said. She had had to give the dog away to this rich man for some reason she wouldn’t share, but they were going to meet one another on a nearby hill every other weekend, she and the dog. He would run away and find her at their spot; that was their arrangement. Their first meeting was a week away. “I’m so excited to see him!” She lit up. “Think of all the stories he’ll have to tell me, living with that millionaire.”

My friend returned and gave me an excuse to pry myself away from her. We spent the rest of our time in Vegas alone surrounded by the masses that flooded the strip on Memorial Day weekend. That night I deeply regretted leaving that woman, with her crazy story of loneliness. I reprimanded myself that I should have overcome my own character and gleefully taken advantage of her frail insanity. My friend told me “No way. You don’t need that kind of insane woman. You’ve got nothing to regret here.”

A couple of hours later I forgot what she looked like. Just like I’d forgotten what the words “Memorial Day” actually meant. Or the word “happy”, for that matter.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The true story of my soldier's sister (part 1)

Before and after my soldier’s sister, whenever I first heard of a girl I had not yet met, whenever a feminine name was put afloat in my life by way of stories or ideas or her presumed existence on the other side of an overheard phone conversation, my romantically ill mind could not resist rushing together fantasies about her fast approaching entrance into my life.

Because it was always an entrance; any girl I ever knew had had her entrance. Men materialized in my life after the fact, some stuck, some didn’t, no one really knew where the other came from, but women, they slowed down time and hastened my heartbeat on first appearance as they glowed with possibility. And none glowed brighter than the ones who had previously existed just outside of my frame line, on the periphery of my world, at a point where our eventual meeting was inevitable.

That is, with the exception of my soldier’s sister, who never glowed and never formed into a fantasy before I met her, even though her name hung in the air for years. For months it was not even her name that was thrown about, we had no way of knowing her name as long as her older brother guarded it with his life, and so she was known as my soldier’s sister.

For the majority of my military service I was coerced into acting as a mock commander of three soldiers: a deaf volunteer, a bitter girl and, finally, my soldier. He was my soldier because he wanted to be my soldier, because he sought out a commander in me. We were friends as well, good friends, army friends who ate shit together and could not stop laughing about it ever since because it still hurt so bad, but back then, every time I nearly blissfully forgot that I was his commander, my soldier made sure to remind me that I was in charge.

The other two never took me seriously, probably since I never took myself seriously. I’d never wanted to be a commander. The thought scared me and made me hate myself. My soldier made me his commander because my soldier needed to be my soldier, he couldn’t handle the chaos of the army without being able to assure himself that I, as his commander, would always be around to bear the brunt of those high up above. I was there to tell him what to do, make every decision for him and create a human buffer between him and any officers.

When he arrived at my unit, fresh out of the scarring fascism of basic training, he treated my rank, sergeant, with grave seriousness. He stepped into my office and timidly introduced himself as I toiled away sweating stress over a highly classified computer that I wanted as far away from me as possible. I asked him to wait around, and twenty minutes later my army buddy Daniel, a devilish character with stories of his own for other times, leaned over and informed me with a grin that my soldier was standing at attention in the corner of the room. I couldn’t believe it. No one had ever stood at attention on my behalf.

From that first day on I couldn’t help myself; I had to play practical jokes on my soldier. He was just too serious, too earnest, too fearful. He needed to be shaken up. Some pranks were more elaborate than others, a few succeeded in scaring tears and whimpers out of him before they were over and we were all laughing, but most were not even practical jokes, they were just jokes; simple, childish, fun-poking “boys-will-be-boys” jokes. The day to day despair of being caged in an army base evoked a kindergarten mentality in the best of us. Our favorite joke was my soldier’s sister, simply because it obviously bugged him so much.

Daniel and I had gleaned knowledge of her existence through overheard phone conversations my soldier had had with her. We knew nothing more about her other than her age; she was seventeen years old. That, and my soldier’s instant tomato-face anger, was all it took to turn his sister into an imaginary presence in our military life. Daniel and I would casually ask each other questions like “Whose turn is it with his sister tonight? Is it my turn?”
“I think it’s my turn.”
“Want to go at her together?”
“Yeah, but I want the back.”
“That’s cool, I feel like the front.”
Other times we’d play out fake phone calls with her in her brother’s presence, or compare false sex tales concerning her within his earshot. If my soldier had ignored us, even once, we would have stopped, but he gave us the gratification of cursing and swearing and promising the worst and threatening with a fist fight (but never making good on the threat) every single time.

My soldier’s appearance gave no reason to assume that his younger sister was beautiful. He was a stout, bear-like fellow who had started balding at eighteen but lacked no hair on the rest of his rug body. I never saw her once during the time we served together on the base, and never even paused for a moment to try and imagine what this imaginary presence was actually like.

As it turned out, she was breathtakingly gorgeous. She had her entrance into my life a couple of weeks after my discharge. After years of jokingly sexualizing her, I took one glance at her and knew I had to have her.

And I almost did.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The truth about my hair

My first grey hairs appeared when I was seventeen. By the age of twenty five I had lost every last brown strand I'd had left. My hair settled into salt and pepper, with stark white wings starting at my ears and flaming towards the back of my head. The strands themselves, whether white or grey, changed to brittle, hay-like, angry hairs that clung to my hands as I shampooed my head or stuck to my pillow while I slept. Soon enough when I looked in the mirror I would see the pinkish pale parts of my forehead that hadn’t seen the light of day since I grew my first golden locks of hair.

My younger brother’s hair flows in strong dark waves down to his neck; he makes a headband of his sunglasses to keep it out of his eyes. My father’s head showed the first signs of grayness well into his fifties, years after his son’s head had lost its color, and even then his aging hair bore the grey with pride like a decoration; it didn’t become brittle or wash away under water. Leafing through our family albums reveals a crude animation of me catching up to my father's age, cosmetically speaking, and then leaving him behind. From a young baby in his arms I grew up to look like the younger brother he never had; my own brother's uncle. Soon enough when I looked at a picture of me and my father I would see two old men. That was set to happen before I turned thirty.

It’s funny what the memory retains. I distinctly remember a conversation my grandmother had with her sister about my uncle, whose hair had withered up as mine did, only that his metamorphosis had occurred around the time he turned forty. I was just a little boy at the time, sitting in another room, eavesdropping. I could hear my grandmother’s sister frown her Polish frown before she said “It’s a shame. He looks like an old man. All the youth gone. It’s a shame.”

This same woman, my grandmother’s sister, who died of cancer a few years ago, had one other sentence that had burned into my mind for no reason I can think of. “You can’t wash your face without washing your hands!” She yelled at me cheerfully once. “Think about it! How are you going to do it? You can’t! You can’t do it!”

I can't. I couldn't do it then and I can't do it now.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A true story with funny parts for entertainment

During the nothingness that came after the army I spent my time floating heavily. I was lucky enough to spend a few strange nights observing Shmulik’s life before he disappeared from our lives several months later. Shmulik and a few of his outcast friends had dragged sofas and love seats and other furniture along highways with determination reserved for ants and the mentally imbalanced, until they reached an open field in Ramat Pinkas where they arranged everything along imaginary walls in a homey rectangle under the stars and called it “The living room”.

Shmulik would invite us over to his “living room”, where he’d boil tea for us over an improvised bonfire and speak in a gentle voice. The only ready-made thing he brought from home was the brown sugar, everything else was picked from the living room itself. He wrote short stories in a tan brown notebook and when he overcame his shyness he would allow us to leaf through its pages. The tiny and carefully elegant handwriting was a big part of the stories' charm. They were straightforward and unabashed. One story included the line “I rode my car around Tel Aviv and thought to myself, either buy ice cream or pay for sex.”

On one of these nights Shmulik’s friend Moshe came along. Shmulik was slowly slipping into insanity, but Moshe had long ago taken the leap. He sighed and complained about the bible and about our lord who created this world we lived in and this living room we sat in. “I could write the bible better.” Moshe said.
“Try to.” Shmulik smiled kindly.
My bearded friend Gil squirmed in his sofa. He didn’t like religious discussions.
“I’m actually writing a book now.” Moshe said. He pursed his lips and added “I know that my book is going to dwarf the bible.”
“You know the bible is the biggest best-seller of all times.” I said.
Gil flashed me a look, unmistakably saying ‘please don’t encourage him’. I had to.
“Yeah, well, not anymore.” Moshe stated confidently. “I can see us all sitting around my book. And it’s got funny parts too, it’s not all serious. It’s got entertainment.”
“Entertainment is good,” Gil said. “Entertainment sells.”
“Yeah, like, there’s this part in the book about this kid whose parents are junkies, and they hit him all the time,” Moshe started laughing uncontrollably as he spoke, spitting everywhere. “And they’re always hitting him, until they finally kick him out of the house, and then he winds up with this woman who uses him, and she hits him too, she hits him with her flip flops until he’s bleeding, and he falls to the floor and cries because it hurts but he also goes to sleep ‘cause he’s tired.” Moshe exploded with laugher.
That was it, that was the punch line, and Moshe’s eyes glistened from laughing so hard. His chest swelled with pride.

Shmulik smiled and nodded. He was one of the only people I ever knew who felt things stronger than anybody else yet never spoke about it. Gil and I laughed about Moshe in the car for days. We never really laughed about Shmulik, though.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A true story about compatibility

I once knew a girl named Hadas. I was introduced to her by a friend who believed, for aesthetic reasons, that she and I would fit together not as different puzzle pieces complement each other, but as identical spoons hug. “You two both have no god.” He said to me before I’d met her. He told her those same words. Hadas and I talked about that for years. In our eyes we were nothing alike.

Hadas was one of those people who always knew how to be cruel to her friends but was never punished for it. She never learned her lesson and never once found herself alone. She had yogurt white skin, a baby’s double chin, small black eyes sunken into her face like buttons on a sofa and big round breasts that were the topic of many teenage conversations amongst my friends. They called it “Hadas worship”, as they jokingly ruminated about the placement, shape and size of her nipples. In fact they were deathly sincere and solemn. They wondered if she was still a virgin, and how she would react to the simple request of taking her clothes off so they could see her naked.

I never expected a thing from her. She could disappear for months and then reappear as my best friend in the world. She’d flutter about between social groups, boring every group with pointless anecdotes about her other friends. She told confusing tales in a machinegun pace that left me uneasy. She spouted nervous laughter in between her sentences. She showed up at my door with a bowl full of vodka-soaked chocolate balls that she’d baked herself for my birthday and then eaten half of. Their smell alone was enough to induce vomit. She ate the rest in my room and then drunkenly harassed me. “Come on,” She whined. “Ask me questions the way you always do.”

She told me a dozen more stories about people who had no more than a name, all delivered in the breathless excitement of a child who’s just run home from kindergarten. Then she said “Maybe you should write a movie about them!”
“I can’t write a movie about them. I don’t know them.” I said.
She was taken aback by that. “I tell you about them all the time.” She eyed me suspiciously.
“Yeah, but that’s not enough. I need to be there, hear them, really understand them. I need to be there without really being there.”
“If you want me to I’d be willing to record them.” She said.
“You’d be willing to what?”

Hadas suggested we place a small tape recorder on her body so that she could secretly record hours of her friends’ stoned conversations. I would collect the tapes from her, study them at home and produce a movie about them. I was to intimately write about the people in her life, since she believed herself to be incapable of capturing them and the truth she felt so strongly about. She needed that from me. I was flattered. My arms tingled. For a moment I could picture myself tying the tape recorder to her pale leg, realizing in my fantasy that all she really wanted was this closeness, this intimacy. All she wanted was for me to touch her leg.

But she and I were nothing alike, and we both knew it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A true story about a small disappointment

At eighteen I secretly pursued a dream of publishing prose. I had a collection of short stories in mind; twenty one short stories of bittersweet nostalgia written by a teenager. I lived my life with a butterfly net in hand at all times, ever ready to frame reality into what I hoped were poignant compositions. My short stories were snippets of overheard or memorized dialogue punctuated by two or three descriptive paragraphs of silence that were all middle; no beginning and no end.

Nothing ever came of these stories. A few months into my military service I handed my short story collection to an army buddy of mine, who’d promised to keep them to himself. A few days later he cautiously admitted he’d passed them on to a friend of his, but for good reason. This friend, my buddy claimed earnestly, was a genius, plain and simple. He was a nineteen-year-old genius, with the soul of a poet and the mind of a scientist, and he would, in my buddy’s words, “go places”. After reading my stories, my buddy had to know what his genius friend would have to say about them, and he believed that despite my explicit orders I would like to know as well. At least he was sure I would have insisted on hearing his friend’s opinion if I’d known him myself and grasped what a genius he truly was.

“You’re not mad, are you?” he asked worriedly.
“I’m not mad.” I said.
“Good, I’m relieved.”
“So what did your genius friend say?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He didn’t say, he wrote you a letter. I have it here, I should bring it to you.”
Even though I knew nothing about this anonymous genius, the mention of a letter warmed my stomach with pleasant expectation. “What does it say?”
“I don’t know. It’s in a closed envelope, I didn’t open it.”
“Well open it now and read it to me.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can.”
“I can’t open your mail.”
“You can open my mail if I tell you to open my mail.”
“No, I can’t. You should open it and read it privately.”
“It’s not a love letter. I can handle hearing it over the phone.”
“I can’t read you the letter over the phone.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Just read me the letter.” I was getting frustrated.
“I’ll just give it to you when I see you.”
“Who the fuck knows when you’ll see me?!” I cried. My buddy and I were no longer serving on the same base, and during the army friends could miss each other for weeks or even months due to mismatched leave dates. “Just read me the fucking letter!”
“I don’t have it.”
“Where is it?”
“I left it at home. I’ll have it next week.”
“Ok.” I sighed. I wasn't sure I believed him, but I knew there was no point in arguing any further. I would have to wait.

I chased my buddy around for nearly two months before I received that letter from his genius friend. He simply would not read it to me over the phone. He finally left it for me at my base on a weekend. I picked it up from the guard at the gate on a Sunday morning.

I couldn’t wait, I ripped the envelope open right there.

Inside was a post-it note that read “Keep writing.”

I'm sure I must have stood there for a moment or two with the note in one hand, the torn envelope in the other.

Then I threw it away and went up to my office on the base. It was a hot summer day, and I was sweating and itching in my uncomfortable starchy uniform. By the time I said “Good Morning” to the first familiar face I came across, I’d completely forgotten about that envelope, though I do remember a lingering feeling of emptiness tugging at me for a day or so, even after I no longer knew why it was there.

I haven’t thought of that letter in years. The other day I felt sadness thick enough to trigger an old memory. I looked back on the memory of that note and laughed. The laughter subsided in my head and I became sad again. With nothing else to do and no letters awaiting me at any gate, I did the only thing I know how to do; I sat down and wrote about it.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A true story about clarity

My friend Yoni from back home in Israel is a tall blond man with big bare statue-feet who wears glasses and smiles with his gums. Years ago, when I still lived there, Yoni sat beside me in my car as I drove home in the middle of the night and asked me, “Do you have any doubts about your talent?”
“Of course I have doubts.” I said.
“I don’t.” Yoni said. “About your talent, I mean.”
“You’ve never read a word I’ve written.”
“That doesn’t matter.” He said.

True Julie Stories (part 2 of 5)

A few months had passed since my illicit proposal had inadvertently cheered Julie up. I can’t say how many with any certainty, I wouldn’t want to lie. The dirty water rose once again and I called her.

As before, she never really gave me the opportunity to stammer on in my shameful horniness but instead plunged me straight into her own life, not giving a moment’s thought to my nasty habit of randomly calling her every five to eight months for no apparent reason. If the voice that last greeted me was sniffling back tears, this time it was chuckling in delight. My selfish attraction to distress left me unsure about whether I enjoyed this happy Julie quite as much as I did the sad one.

“You sound happy.” I said dryly.
“My dad bought me a car!” She squealed. “A used car!”
“Well come on over and take me out for a ride.” I said.
“A ride where?” She was confused. Joy rides were not around in the Israel we grew up in.
“Just a ride.”
“Oh. Right now?”
“Why not.” I feigned confidence; secretly hoping she wouldn’t play along. The moment I’d offered the ride I felt weighted down with laziness. The urge that had propelled me to call her was fast fading away.
“Ok, sure!” She said excitedly.

Twenty minutes later she honked under my window. I stepped out in flip flops, my way of convincing my body it would not be gone from the shelter of my house for too long. I sat next to her in the dark blue used Ford her father had bought her and rolled down my window. She drove fearfully slow. I stared at the streets crawling by and fiddled with her radio. I named dozens of CDs she should have had but didn’t. She wore sunglasses and had a mean look about her.

Ten minutes into our pointless journey, as we drove down a narrow street in my hometown, cars ahead of us came to a slow stop that I could tell Julie was oblivious to. I experienced it all as if submerged in a pool of milk. I had enough time to think it through. I had the time to ask myself, should I say something? I had time to glance down at the emergency brake and contemplate yanking it up. Julie realized she was headed straight into a stopped car, and floored the brakes. We screeched down the road for a comically long stretch of time before the crash sounded, surprisingly loud. Then it was quiet.

Julie was in shock. Her eyes shimmered. The driver of the car she’d hit stepped out and stared at the damage. He looked up at her in awe, momentarily rendered beyond anger. Julie, however, was not. I mistakenly feared that she was about to burst into tears that would make me uneasy, but her reaction was the opposite. She leaped out of the car and let out a filthy stream of curses at the other driver, who didn’t take long to snap out of his state and curse back.

I stepped out of the car and stood numbly amongst the glass on the asphalt in my flip flops. I felt like walking home, but remained there surrounded by pieces of car. The crash that had failed to pierce through the milky skin enveloping me had not failed to completely destroy Julie's new used car.

Julie called her father, who arrived twenty minutes later. He was a dark man with a hilarious thick mustache. He made me feel instantly guilty for fantasizing about his daughter’s big, motherly breasts. He took care of the insurance talk with the other driver as Julie huffed and puffed about them. Then he drove me home in his big car.

I’d been gone from my house for about an hour. I had called Julie to quench my horniness, and she’d squelched it dry. I went up to my room, crawled in bed and went to sleep.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A true story about pain, insomnia and love

My wrist is on fire. Writing through the pain to keep from going insane, I was reminded of another week in my past when physical pain called the shots. I was eighteen, hovering in the limbo between graduating highschool and being drafted to the army. My thoughts were pretty much nowhere. I don’t recall contemplating my immediate future or trying to wrap my head around the chapter of my life that had just ended.

I lived like a vampire, sleeping in until five or six in the evening and opening my window only when I was sure I would find the night outside. My friends and I watched the sun rise every morning and then hobbled off to our beds, content in turning our backs on the world. The emptiness was almost complete, were it not for the fact that I still constantly thought of her; the one girl I had stared at for the entire four years of highschool. Thinking about her and how I’d never see her again was the only thing that had any effect on my stomach.

My mother feared the army much more than I did. Believing, not altogether mistakenly, that I would disappear into it for three years without ever showing my head again, she insisted that I get my life in order before I was gone. The most urgent item on her list was for me to undergo oral surgery and have my wisdom teeth removed, so that they wouldn’t push up through my gums and ruin years of arduous and expensive orthodontic work. Had I known then what the army was about to be like I would have never gone through with the operation; as a soldier there was nothing I wanted more than a reason to take medical leave of my base. I would have gladly volunteered for any procedure, no matter how superfluous. Unfortunately, in my pre-military naïveté and apathy, I lazily went along with my mother’s ideas.

Much as the army would later bring the sky down on me on that first freezing desert night, I only realized what I had gotten into once the doctor was hunched over me and I could see my bloody mouth reflecting all too clearly in his glasses. True to his promise, I felt no pain – only pressure, but that pressure was awfully painful. Once the operation was over I was given a whole mess of painkillers and sent on my miserable way.

Fearing pain as much as I do, I took the pills religiously. I held a bag of frozen broccoli up to my cheeks in a preemptive strike, determined to feel nothing. It worked, I felt fine. By the time I’d fallen asleep that night, I’d allowed myself to feel relieved. The pills worked.

The next morning I awoke to horrible, sharp stomach pains that had me doubling over and falling out of bed. That initial stabbing marked the beginning of six days of constipation, during which I would spasm in pain every five to ten minutes. For nearly a week I barely ate and barely slept. I couldn’t find a moment’s rest for the first three days. By the fourth day the exhaustion was inhuman. My body scrambled for sleep wherever it could find some, and sustained itself on four to eight minute naps between crunches of pain. I went to doctor after doctor. No one knew what was wrong.

As distorted as it sounds, I began to learn how to live with the pain. These “contractions” I was seized with every five minutes became predictable, reliable. The first one hadn’t killed me, neither had the second. However, coupled with a weeklong bout of insomnia, my mind was slowly unraveling. Diving into romantic, storybook insanity, all I could think of was the girl. Highschool was over, and I would probably never see her again.

In the middle of the fifth sleepless night it was perfectly clear to me: I needed to write her a letter. It was the sleep deprivation that made me forget what I already had enough sense to know by then; that letters are always a mistake. I sat down and wrote what I believe and remember to be the most embarrassing and humiliating composition I’d ever stringed together. I don’t know this for a fact; I have no copies of the letter. There was only one copy. It was a love letter, naturally. A shameful, bitter, naked, slightly insane love letter. I believe one of the lines was “I will die regretting never having seen you naked”. I wish I could be sure that that was the worst of it.

If I had been a little luckier, or had been a little more patient, I might have put the letter away in a desk drawer and later on dispensed of it in private humiliation. But I was crazy with insomnia, and with wide vein-colored eyes I counted the minutes between pain and more pain until the sun rose and the post office opened. What should have been a ten minute walk must have taken me forty five minutes. I shuffled along sidewalks like an old man carrying his IV drop down a hospital corridor, repeatedly pausing through the pain. But I made it. I mailed the letter.

When I returned home from the post office my father was waiting for me, wondering where I was. One of the doctors had called him the other night, and later he’d thought of something: was I still taking the painkillers from my oral surgery? Of course I was, I answered. These stomach pains were torturous enough; I didn’t want to add any more pain onto it.

Apparently constipation and stomach spasms were amongst possible side effects to the painkillers I had been taking throughout the whole ordeal, always on time, never once missing a pill. The irony was delicious: My week of pain had been brought on by painkillers.

If I wanted to find additional aesthetic beauty in the nonsensical turns of life, I might point out that a week of stomach pains finally and forcefully removed that girl from my stomach for good.

She never wrote me back. A few years later I saw her again, we even spoke, but she never mentioned the letter, and I wouldn’t dare bring it up. I sat up one night and thought about it. I wondered what I’d really written in that letter, and why she’d simply swallowed it up and ignored it. I asked a friend “Maybe she never got the letter?” My friend, always a realist, said “Did you write her address on it? Did you write your address? Did you get the letter back? No? Then she got it.”

I think that week we both got it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A true story about typing and spelling

Nearly two weeks ago I began to suffer from a dull pain emanating from the center of my left wrist. The pain grew over the next few days, as in my stubbornness I continued to work through it. I felt I had a glowing red ball inside my wrist, which occasionally shot out bolts of blue pain up to my elbow or down to my fingertips, leaving them tingling, then numb.

Today I finally went to see a doctor, who told me I have tendonitis as a result of straining my wrist with too much typing and too much guitar playing. She fitted me with a wrist splint, and instructed me to rest my hand for a week or two.
“That’s it, you’re good to go.” She said.
“Can I just ask one thing?” I said. “How do you spell tendonitis?”
She narrowed her eyes at me and said “All right, I’ll tell you how to spell it, but you really do need to stop typing for a while.”

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A true first kiss story

My first kiss took place in a dream; sad, funny and chilling. It was with a girl I knew. She was slightly different but still herself, still recognizable to that alert part of me that was aware I was dreaming and yet continued to relish every moment of it. We were in a shopping mall, a sparkling white marble mall of spoiled richness full of strolling couples holding hands. We were headed towards the underground parking lot, I’d no idea why since I was not yet of driving age.

We walked down a wide unpainted staircase and stopped at a huge metal door with the words “Minus One” painted on it. She turned to me and said “Now I am going to place my finger on your nose.” She pushed my nose gently, and my heart started to beat rapidly.
“Now I’m going to touch your cheeks.” She said. She placed her warm hands on my cheeks.
“Now we’re going to kiss.” She pressed her face to mine. Something clumsy and embarrassing happened then but I was not embarrassed, I trusted her.
“First kiss?” She smiled. “Let’s try it again on the next floor.”
She took my hand and led me down another flight of stairs. The second door was open to the grey cement of the parking lot. We kissed again. It felt better.

As dreams often unravel, I walked through the door and found myself alone in my back yard at night. Tables and chairs were set out in my family’s familiar cookout party-arrangement. My bearded friend Gil stood above the barbecue and waved a piece of cardboard over the small dead bodies of four white rabbits. I walked up to him and said “I just kissed the girl.”
“Really?” He said absentmindedly.
“Yeah.” I said. “You know, it was kind of…” and a pleasant smile came upon my lips as I recalled the moment.
“Yeah, I know exactly what it was like.” He said. “I know exactly what you did.”

Monday, May 08, 2006

True army stories

My draft date to the army was rescheduled. I heard the news of my earlier draft date in an official message I found on my answering machine on a Tuesday morning in early October, 1998. It was relayed to me in the bored, lifeless voice of a female soldier who informed me I was to be drafted the following Monday, and not in late November as I’d been instructed before. I played the message to my friend Gil, who said “Wow, you must be so depressed. I bet you’re going to cry all day.” I wasn’t depressed. I believed at the time that I was ready and willing to disappear. The idea excited me. I hadn’t spent a moment’s thought on where I was headed, only on what I’d be leaving behind.

One week later I was crouched down in the sand and the heat in front of a lonely payphone, a line of nerve-wracked soldiers behind me. I’d used my one phone call to reach Dekel, the most experienced soldier I knew. He had a seven month lead on me in the army. In my eyes he was a real live survivor of the hellish first months that I feared I would not survive myself. He could hear the cracks in my voice.

“Do you have something to write in?” He asked. “Do you have a pen and paper? It’s important, it’s really important, get yourself a little notepad and a pen, you hear?”

I got my hands on a notebook that had been ripped in half and managed to write a few words in it whenever we had some stolen seconds to ourselves. Over the course of a few days I wrote “The stress is starting to seep into people’s bones. We’re starting to get mad and snap at each other. One guy’s really stressed, he screams whenever someone blocks the one hanging light bulb in our tent. The shower was cold and disgusting. The wound in my leg hurts. Guard duty between three and four AM insures another sleepless night. At night duffel bags around the tent look like people bending over to get ready to leave. I’m washed over with the icy fear that they’ve forgotten to wake me. All the while I never really fall asleep. Then I sleep without dreaming, one bang and I’m-

My pen ran out of ink. I etched and scratched the pages of the half-notebook until I gave up. I stuffed it into my uniform’s pocket and held onto it until finally I brought home to my drawer.

This might be the only true army story I have ever told. Other than referring to my military service as hell every once in a while, those scribbled lines are the only miserable piece of prose I’ve ever written about the army. Every other army story I tell, whether it’s silly, romantic, frustrating or infuriating, is always funny. I think that little ripped notebook is the reason why army stories have to be funny.

You should always have something to write in.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A truth

The greatest feeling in the world is not love, it's freedom. Freedom is an unrivaled euphoria that washes over the body and eclipses all other sensations, past present and future, as it does so.

On the day I was discharged from the army after serving for three years I walked out of the base, stepped into the car, and suddenly - I was home. I’d forgotten to turn on the CD player, I’d forgotten to open my eyes, I’d even forgotten to drive. It had started to rain on my windsheild. My brain registered the first few drops but none of the others that followed. I suppose I could have killed myself in a car crash that day.

A good friend of mine was traveling through India at the time. When I returned home I found an email from him that began with the words “Hi hi happy boy”. I liked that. “Happy boy.”

Of course, in the subject line of the email he had written “YOU ARE FREE NOW - BUT YOU WILL DIE SOON!” The best of friends can always see right through you.

A true Hollywood story

During the first few months of 2003 I worked in LA as a production assistant on a David Mamet film called “Spartan”. My job consisted mainly of office work during the preproduction phase; answering phones or compiling color-coded copies of the script, a script which made no sense to me at all. Once shooting began I became a driver and was sent out on runs back to back thirteen hours a day, crisscrossing Los Angeles like a maniac, holding a page printed off of to the steering wheel with my thumb and glancing down at it every once in a while, hoping not to crash in to the car in front of me while I read the directions.

A few weeks into the shoot one of the PAs was recruited to act as chauffer for one of the female leads. The actress was reportedly hot, and so one of my fellow PAs and friend Michael campaigned for the position. I gracefully backed out of the race, and Michael happily became her driver for the next ten days. A week later Michael was not as happy. The actress was impossible to talk to, he said, she was dumb as a shoe, and worst of all – she seemed to bathe her entire body in some cream or lotion or soap that reeked of fake peaches. She was stinking up Michael’s beloved truck. He couldn’t handle another day with her, and asked me to take over for at least one trip.

I drove out to her hotel on Sunset Boulevard to pick her up. She’d never met me before, so I leaned on my car and waited for her to come out. She was not my type, but she was definitely many people’s type. When she walked out of the hotel, she asked a random man who was passing by her if he was there to drive her to the set of the film and without blinking the man said “Yes, yes I am. My car’s right over here.” I rushed up to her and introduced myself as her actual driver, mentioning the film’s title and Michael's name. The man walked away and she followed me to my car. Instead of being scared or at least astonished by that stranger’s boldness, she laughed the kind of laugh that left no room for doubt about how stupid she was, and said “Did you see that? He said HE was the driver! How funny is THAT?”

On the road she asked me what my name was. That’s a very special name, she said, and I explained that I was Israeli. “Oh my god!” Her eyes lit up. “Maybe you can help me then! Ok, we’re doing my death scene tonight, where I, like, get shot to death. So like I want to research this, so I know how to do it right. So what’s it like to be shot?”

It took me a moment to realize that she wasn’t asking that rhetorically, she was actually waiting for a response. “Uh… I’ve never been shot.” I said.
“Oh.” She almost seemed disappointed. “Well, do you know anybody in Israel who’s been shot?” “No, I… I don’t. Not personally.”
“No, that’s ok.” She sighed. “I’ve like been trying really hard to research this. I even went to an emergency room and I asked this ER doctor what it’s like to be shot, but he also said he’s never been shot. It’s like I have no luck.”

I've carried this secret with me for years: I am an Israeli who's never been shot. And as if that wasn't enough, I never even had the chance to feel a gunshot wound vicariously through the experience of any friends, relatives or even acquaintances of mine. Sometimes when I tell people I'm Israeli I feel like a liar.

And my car smelled like fake peaches for a week.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A true story about winners

For an entire year after being discharged from the Israeli army I did nothing but smoke pot and write horrible screenplays, and a rambly disjointed piece of prose I believed in my haze to be a novel. To give my life some semblance of structure I joined a screenwriting workshop that was offered at the time to graduates of the Screenwriting School of Tel Aviv, where I had been allowed to study during my last year of military service as a treat for being such an excellent soldier. The workshop consisted of eight women in their thirties and forties, one aging Israeli actor-director in his late fifties who had never achieved any fame, and myself at twenty one.

In the middle of the heat of August of 2002 we met on the rooftop of one of the women’s seaside apartment, Ricky Shulman, to mark the end of the workshop. Meirav brought incredible food that she had cooked for everybody, with white wine and homemade sorbet for desert. I loved them all that night, all eight of the women and the aging man as well. Noga Brayness had her hair up and was gorgeous. Aya Shva was glowing in her eighth month of pregnancy. Ilana Grushka was sexy in my eyes and even touched my hand despite the glaring warning etched in my eyes. Ricky was crude and insolent as always. We laughed and I laughed too, though I was perched as always on the periphery of it all.

The aging actor had just returned from a shoot where he played a bit part that had apparently left him in extremely high spirits. He clinked his wine glass and volunteered himself to make a speech. “I enjoyed every moment with you all,” he said. “I learned a lot from you, and I can say that in my eyes the one thing everybody here has in common is that you are all winners. You are all winners.”

It was all very convincing in the unbearable humidity of the August night, and we all remained reverentially quiet until one woman said “Wow, such silence all of a sudden.” Small chuckles broke out, and Ricky said “Yeah, we’re all asking ourselves, ‘Me too? Am I a winner too?’”. The aging actor just smiled and insisted that we were all going to make it.

As far as I know, none of us have made it yet. I haven’t heard a thing about any of them, and I can only assume they haven’t heard a thing about me. I hadn’t even remembered that night until I came across it in Hebrew in my old handwriting. At the bottom of the page I had written “I regretted everything I hadn’t said.”

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

True Julie stories (part 1 of 5)

In highschool I knew a girl named Julie. While it’s a pretty common name in English, not many Israeli girls are named Julie. She was the only one I’d ever heard of. When spoken in a Hebrew jaw with a Hebrew tongue and Hebrew lips, the name Julie sounds dirty and slutty, conjuring up an image of an aging prostitute.

She was big and had motherly breasts. She cut her hair short and spoke aggressively. She would laugh at my jokes in an involuntary manner, and when it was evident that she was fighting it and wishing she wasn’t laughing was when I’d gain the most pleasure out of it. She was by no means pretty and I was not attracted to her, but I was attracted to the idea of her. I was attracted to the idea that she was just ugly enough and just insecure enough to like me.

I flirted with her in classes but that was as far as I could take it under the glaring eyes of all of my highschool friends, who were my entire world at the time. We rarely spoke outside of school and never spent time together, not even once. After graduating she disappeared from my life, but I still thought about her every once in a while, especially when I was feeling lonely or horny.

A few months into the army I was feeling both lonely and horny so strongly I thought I would break. An army friend of mine who came from the north of Israel had an apartment near Tel-Aviv that the army rented for him. On most weekends he’d drive back up north and the place would stay empty. He told me, I can give you the keys and you can have my place any weekend you want, you know, if you need a place for... you know. I didn’t need a place, what I needed was to need a place.

So I called Julie. We hadn’t spoken in months, and I had never been in the habit of calling her in the first place. When I called her she was crying. At first I thought it was just the surprise in her voice coupled with a cold. After a couple of sentences it became clear, she was sniffling and stifling back tears. She cried about her life for five minutes, she hated the army and she hated her body and she hated the future and she hated the present. Her existence was pointless, she cried shamelessly. I felt as lonely as ever, and no longer horny at all.

After the wave of tears subsided she sniffled again and said “What made you call me all of a sudden? Did you want something?”
“Yeah,” I said, and even though I was sick to my stomach, I dove in. “Look, I’ve got this army buddy.”
“What?” She said. “Haven’t you been listening to me at all?”
“Just listen, stop crying.” I said. “He lives up north but he’s got an apartment around here and he’ll give me the keys any time I want over the weekends. So if you want to come over this weekend, you and I can, you know… ‘party’.” I especially regretted the word “party” once it had escaped my lips. I didn’t know myself.
She was silent and then she spoke. “What do you mean by ‘party’?” She asked. At least she’d stopped crying.
“You know, we’ll watch a movie, drink some wine, I’ll go down on you, you’ll go down on me.” Listening to myself talk was like watching a car crash.
“I don’t think so.” She said.
“Why not?”
“Because. I’m not like that.”
“What’s ‘like that’? If that made you ‘like that’ it would make me ‘like that’ too, wouldn’t it? I’m not talking intercourse here, just oral sex, you can still save yourself if that’s what you want to do.”
“That’s too much for me. Putting it in my mouth… it could only be someone I really love.”
“You really think so?” I asked. It was truly awful.
“And you really think I have an army buddy who has an apartment I can use on the weekends?” She said nothing and then smiled involuntarily; I could hear it over the phone. “No way.” She said in an angry grin.
“Well, it got you to stop crying, didn’t it?” I tried to grin as well. I gritted my teeth.
“You bastard!” She laughed. “Party? Party?!? Oh my god, you bastard, I can’t believe you got me like that! Oh my god I can’t believe I fell for that!” She laughed and laughed, while I felt like vomiting.
“Hold on,” She said. “My mother wants to talk to you.” She put her mother on the line. Her mother said to me “I don’t know what you just said to her but I want to thank you. She’s been crying all day and no one has been able to console her, and now you’ve got her laughing. You’re a magician. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome.” I said.

Julie laughed and smiled and felt better. I felt worse than I had in years.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

True low stories

My ego has been punched in the talent more than once. More than punched, it’s been battered and raped. I’ve tried to harness pain like a farmer, transforming shit into fertilizer and growing something good out of it. Writing has been a way of doing that. When propelled from a low to a high it's comforting to believe that the low was a necessary pit stop. Autobiographical writing facilitates the romanticizing of the story-like structure of life.

In January of 2003 a screenplay of mine was making its way towards production in Israel. The producer I'd sent it to was extremely enthusiastic about it, and she'd attached a promising young director to the project. He was a skinny and excitable gay man in his early thirties, fresh out of film school and motivated to prove himself. He made me watch Atom Goyan films and discuss film philosophies while he chain-smoked in my face and occasionally stood on his chair. We'd gone through several drafts of rewrites. I was lost at the time, neither hopeful nor desperate.

In the beginning of a week in mid January I discovered that I'd been fired from my part-time security guard job. My boss hadn't even bothered to tell me I'd lost my job. I showed up for my shift in uniform and found another uniformed guard sitting behind the desk. I called my boss, who told me in his cigarette voice "Oh, yes, our relationship has reached its end." In a way I was relieved.

The next night I spoke to the producer again. She was more confident than ever. "Have you seen the shit on television these days?" She told me. "I have no doubt your script will be picked up. No doubt whatsoever." I knew she was playing games with me, but I believed that the fact that she found it worth her time to butter me up was good enough for me. The next morning she woke me up with a phone call. She said "They said no. And frankly I can't blame them. Your script is sophomoric, it's juvenile. It might be made into something passable, but it'll definitely take a lot of work. Do you want to give it a try?" I mumbled "Sure, sure."

The next day I met with her and her new producing partner, a suave Tel-Aviv character with a shaven head who wore sunglasses indoors. I listened for a couple of hours as they made suggestions that made no sense. I never grew infuriated since deep inside I knew my screenplay was sophomoric and juvenile. I had been hoping to sell it, but realized at that moment that I had never believed in it. I had never believed in me. I had merely believed in a world of randomness and low standards. I smiled and said nothing.

The following evening, a friend of mine showed up a day early from India. He'd been gone for a few months after his army service, and had been extremely reluctant to come back to Israel. I was reluctant to stay as well, being out of a job and out of any prospects I had no reasons to stick around and nothing to look forward to. We walked around my neighborhood that night, he talked about his low and I talked about my low, and within three weeks we were sitting together on a plane headed for LA, without a plan.

If I wanted to paint the trajectory of my life in a clearly defined line, I could say that it was that low that propelled me towards the USA. And I've been here ever since. Now I have to ask myself, where will this new low propel me to next?