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

Friday, June 30, 2006

A true story about memory

After having been twice caught in the surprise net of random drug testing at the gate of my military base, resentfully bracing the plastic cup as another soldier watched me pee, overhearing the crying of the female soldiers in the next stalls for whom peeing into a cup while facing others was far more traumatic, I decided I would remain squeaky clean until the day of my discharge. My freedom was too precious.

And so I became my friends’ designated driver, and the designated straight-man of their pot-head comedy troupe. They say anticipation is half the fun, and in those days it was all the fun. Splitting my time between the grayness of the army and the ridiculous, nearly hallucinatory highs of young and stupid smokers became the dichotomy of my life and sustained itself for a long while. It allowed me to still find beauty around me, even if it was from an outsider’s perspective, in observing my friends with eyes that couldn’t be more different than those of the stiff backed soldier that had observed me peeing.

My friends took some time getting used to the ease with which I slipped into the role of the sole sober one, completely surrounded by stoned people. They found it hard to believe that I wasn’t jealous, bitter or bored. Pot jokes were always wedded to the moment, you had to be there, and even though I was right beside them I couldn’t possibly be there with them. But I was close enough and sufficiently empathic to remember moments vividly, which seemed all the more important since they had taken to forgetting all moments, usually within the moments themselves.

One winter night I drove a few of my friends out to a strip of beach in Tel Aviv known as “Drummer’s Shore” for the drum circles that would spontaneously form on its boulders every Friday morning and afternoon. Yoni had brought along an army buddy of his by the name of Glazer, (pronounced like ‘father’), a frightened guy whose short curly hair had already started peeling back to accentuate his moonlike forehead. The rocks were dark and abandoned at this hour, and the wind from the sea was making it difficult for them to light the bong. All hands were drafted to guard the lighter, while Glazer tried angling the bong away from the wind and wound up spilling the rancid bong water on Gil’s leg. Gil shot up and Glazer apologized ferociously, he apologized and Gil forgave him and this went on for a good while and would have ended in a heartfelt moonlit hug were it not for the fact that we were all freezing and they still weren’t done smoking.

Gil was next to hold the bong, and this time Glazer shot up with a cry; he had dropped his cell-phone into the rocks. Glazer's yelp caused Gil to lose his balance and spill some more bong water, this time staining himself right on his crotch. He shot up as well, pointed both hands to his crotch and cried “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! On my dick! Bong water! I can’t believe it! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Yoni and Glazer nearly fell off the boulders laughing their shrill stoner laugh. I reminded Glazer of his phone, and his eyes returned to their normal skittish selves. Gil offered to call the lost phone, and Glazer nervously dictated his number.

It was one of those perfect moments; the four of us lying belly down on the rocks at midnight and intently listening for Glazer’s phone to ring, stoners on rocks hearing nothing more than the crashing of the waves and each other’s pot-laden belabored breathing.

By the time we walked back to my car, Glazer had already forgotten about his lost phone and they were all laughing at Gil’s wet crotch once again. Gil sat beside me in the car and aimed all the AC vents at full blast onto his embarrassing stain. “It looks like I peed myself”, he whined. “Like I peed stinky bong water!” I said “Better to pee your pants than to pee in a cup.” Gil didn’t really hear me over the obnoxiously loud whir of the AC, and then his phone rang.

Glazer had found his phone lying on the back seat of my car; he had never brought it out to the rocks and had never lost it in the ocean. He’d had a missed call from a number he didn’t recognize, and he was returning that call. The following conversation proceeded to take place within my parked car:
“Hello, who is this?”
“This is Glazer. Who is this?”
“Who is it?”
“Where are you? It’s so noisy!”
“Wait, who is this?”
“I just had a missed call from you. Who is this?”
“Yes. Who is this?”

This would go on for a while before Gil turned around and realized that he had been having a phone conversation with someone seated two feet behind him. Gil, Yoni and I exploded in laughter. Glazer remained confused. He frowned at his phone and muttered “He hung up on me, the bastard.”

The frown couldn’t stick for long. Nothing stuck for long, they were the teflon stoners. I drove them around for a while in search of food, and they rolled my windows down and sang funny songs into the night. The next day I was back on my base, fully dressed in my uniform, and it was as if nothing from the previous night had stuck to me. It was an illusion, and eventually it would be clear that everything had stuck, every single little thing from both worlds.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

True Lisa stories (part 1 of 4)

The army base that was the beige texture of nearly three years of my life was a miserable hellhole, a jail in which elongated, drab one-story office buildings and cement walkways laid on dead grass replaced bars and cells. After a while, however, the routine ugliness of my surroundings and the fact that each and every one of two thousand faces was now familiar had transformed my everyday into an experiment in utopia.

As a simple soldier confined to the base, it was easy to ignore the incoming and outgoing traffic and pretend I was living in an idealized autarky, where all of my needs were taken care of within a two mile radius. My clothes were supplied by the base warehouse and mended by the base tailor, my food was cooked in the base kitchen and served in the base mess hall and additional snacks, as well as other miscellaneous items such as tooth brushes, condoms, cigarettes or blank CDs were to be found in the one and only base general store. I slept on a base cot and could have chosen to exercise at the base gym, and I had very few members of the opposite sex to choose from and absolutely no more options. Every person I passed by on the narrow streets of our base was either performing a service or carrying out a mission on behalf of the collective.

Being an Air Force base consisting mostly of bulky transport aircraft, the ultimate missions had something to do with moving troops about or obtaining intelligence from above, but those concepts were kept blissfully classified from lowly service soldiers like myself. Each of us had a job; tailor, mechanic, cook, clerk, guard. Mine was military videographer. I was distinguished by a blue tag on my uniform, meant to pacify any intelligence officers worried about the random soldier out and about capturing military secrets on tape. I was quickly known around the base as the cameraman; everybody knew me but precious few knew my name. We were living out a communist dream, working for no more than the perpetuation of our bubble world and living on a symbolic allowance of sixty dollars a month. The monthly salary of a Sergeant in the Israeli army was roughly fifty cents above the salary of a Private, and that was after two raises. Everyone was equal.

Of course that wasn’t true, but I’d used this fantasy to get through many months of my military service. It was a way of making sense of a senseless situation. When I escaped the base on leave I left the fantasy behind, I was myself again. When I returned to the base my name was left at the gate and I became the cameraman. I toyed with the system and used photographs and videotapes to bribe my way to a better existence, which meant slightly better food and lighter boots. Mostly I went about my day doing no more and no less than everybody else.

Every unit on the base held a semi annual outing. For the purposes of morale and bonding, every six months we’d shed off our uniforms and climb a bus dressed in our colorful civilian clothes. They’d take us out to see a play, roam through a museum, visit a historical site or just splash around in a pool. It was as if all of a sudden our unit commander was actually our beloved teacher, and we were all students once again, flirting on the bus during our class trip. I did my best to avoid these excursions; they were entirely contradictory to my fictional version of the army base. Unfortunately, after avoiding two of these my commander caught on to my pattern. He didn’t bother to ask himself why I’d twice volunteered for base duties instead of enjoying “fun day”, he simply recognized a subtle form of insubordination and squashed it because he could. I would attend our third outing, and that was a direct command.

It was on this day-trip to Haifa that I first noticed Lisa, the clerk from the base bursar’s, or should I call it the base bank, or maybe the base accounting department. In any case, it was the cramped office that held the base safe and the cream-colored formica counter we leaned against to receive our salaries and exchange our used bus tokens for new ones. I had noticed her before, she was a part of my unit and her office was a compulsory visit every time my bus token ran out, but I had only seen her in one light. In many ways she’d reminded me of Julie; she too had an American name that felt slutty in the Hebrew jaw and she too had large motherly breasts, only hers were of such size that they were the first thing mentioned about her, the kind of breasts that gave a girl back pains shortly into her teenage years. That was how I saw her; she was a nervous midget of a girl with huge breasts pulling towards her knees and eyes lost in thick black makeup, a girl who was well known for sleeping with at least twenty soldiers on our base within three months.

That day in Haifa everybody looked different. Lisa wore an ironically innocent sky-blue sweater that rendered her suddenly sexy. She and I lost the lottery and were designated to carry around M-16s the whole day, an incongruous reminder of the fact that we were still an army unit after all. She had a hard time lugging a rifle in addition to her breasts and so I took on her rifle in addition to mine and strutted alongside her with weapons slung in an X across my breasts like a mock action hero. She felt obligated to trudge alongside me the entire day, and I couldn’t help but flirt. Her laugh was so easily summoned, she was obscenely obvious. Before the day was half over we had already become gossip, and one annoying soldier had taken to singing “Love is in the air” in stilted English around us.

The next day we’d returned to normal, only now things were different. I could no longer simply pass by her on the base’s pathways. Every eye contact was now felt in my stomach and crotch. I stared at her with an ache, and she smiled and said “There’s that desperate sexy look again.” No one had ever called me sexy before her. I found more and more reasons to visit her. “I love that sense of humor of yours.” She said, and laughed at my dampest jokes.

She’d penetrated my thoughts in a way that wouldn’t allow me to leave the base behind when I went home. I had a tendency to tell stories to my friends as I’d wished they’d happened, and so during my next leave I told them all that Lisa had hit on me. By telling them that I was telling myself that I actually didn’t believe anything was going on, and that I wanted it. My friends said “That’s great man.”

I strained my ears to eavesdrop on her conversations with her girlfriends in the clatter and chatter of the mess hall. One of these times they sat around a table behind mine, and I picked up that a friend of hers was trying to set her up with some guy she knew. “I think this guy’s gonna worship you, Lisa.” Her friend said. “He’s twenty two and still a virgin. Think about the kind of man who’s still a virgin at twenty two.” I was nineteen, and I had no interest in worshipping; in my experience it would eventually turn to hatred. But a new fantasy had begun to creep in on my everyday life on the base, and it completely took over on the day I walked in to her office on a flimsy excuse and she smiled and greeted me by saying “I dreamt about you.”

Monday, June 26, 2006

A true story about laughter

My friend Roi from back home in Israel is a pretty man with Indian skin, fine stubble and long eyelashes, whose laugh manages to be the most contagious one I’ve ever encountered despite being one of those silent laughs; he drafts every muscle of his body in on the act but emits no sounds. My friendship with Roi was never the tightest, we’d easily go for months without speaking a word to each other, but it remains my oldest friendship; it began in the first grade and has since withstood twenty years and any of life’s obstacles.

All throughout elementary school and highschool I was decidedly unpopular. Roi, on the other hand, tall, handsome and genuinely interested in the ever popular Israeli youth movements and pre-military activities, found a comfortable place in any social circle. Amongst the more popular crowd I and a few others were known as “Roi’s weird friends”. There was no malice intended in this title, and we were proud and happy to have overheard it. Roi was proud of us as well.

At the age of twelve Roi went through a period of awkwardness and change, and elected to spend the majority of his time with us. We were a haven of late bloomers, a bunch of stumbling preadolescents who never judged. It was during that time that Roi came up with an appropriately weird concept that both he and I found brilliant: we would walk up to classmates during recess and tell them a joke that made no sense, a joke that only bore superficial structural semblance to an actual joke but in reality was nothing but disjointed babble. We would crack up, seemingly uncontrollably, as we told our non-joke and, after the supposed punch-line, we would burst out in aching laughter, which would only intensify at the sight of our audience laughing with us for no reason at all.

The jokes were improvised, and we’d take turns in delivering them, though he had mastered this strange art in a way that I couldn’t have hoped to at age twelve. His laughter was sensational, and he would have kids hugging their rib cages before the joke was half told. Even though the jokes were short and punchy, he would draw them out with his laughter. “A man walks in to a pet shop,” he would start, and already pause at this point, nearly in tears, for a good ten seconds or so. “He says to the owner, do you have any electric guitars?” Another pause, a bigger laugh, side-splitting tear-squeezing contagious laughter, “And the owner says, ‘no, but I have some avocado in the back room!” Wrapping it up, he would have everyone on the floor.

Not that he minded if they didn’t laugh; he actually preferred it. It happened once or twice that a couple of girls barely cracked a smile. They stared at us in earnest confusion as we laughed our asses off, slapped our knees and punched each other on the arm. “I don’t get it.” They’d say.

Roi laughed a lot, more than anyone I knew, but he was also the saddest person I knew growing up. He was almost as sad as I was. That was one of the reasons he was my childhood hero. I occasionally caught glimpses of him as a martyr, and those moments impressed me. Roi turned thirteen six months before I did. On the day of his Bar Mitzvah he said to me “We’re not thirteen. You’re not thirteen.”
I said “I know I’m not thirteen, I’m still twelve.”
“No, no,” He said. “You’re not twelve and you’re not thirteen. You’re at least fifteen. Maybe even sixteen.”
“No I’m not.” I said. “I’m twelve. Maybe even eleven.”
“No. We’re not twelve and we’re not thirteen.”
I was years away from understanding what Roi was talking about, so it’s hard to tell whether he was wrong or right about that one. He was right about the laughter, though, of that I have no doubt.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A true story about cars

At the age of nineteen my father gleefully insisted on buying me a used car. The fact that I had never asked for a car was a source of great amazement to him, and he’d often wonder about it out loud to my mother’s ears, this was his style, and ask her “What kind of teenager doesn’t want a car? You tell me.” At family dinners he’d look at me and say “You’re so modest. You don’t ask for anything.” But he never meant it as a compliment. He was truly puzzled. Then he decided to make it a chore instead of a gift; getting a car would be a life lesson for me.

It happened that my father’s most profound effects on my life came from these grand gestures, but I’d never realize it at the time. He’d bought me my first stereo system at twelve (“Every boy needs his own stereo system!”), my first and only acoustic guitar at seventeen (“You didn’t ask for it, but I know you want it!”), and my first car; an old and beat up silver Golf that stalled, choked and jumped forwards like a sick man.

I was truly grateful. I was a year into my army service, and trading in the helplessness of sweating in my uniform while waiting on buses for the small but precious measure of control in driving myself home from the base did wonders for my soul. My father helped me pay for the hunk of junk I drove around, but after that I was on my own. It was more than anyone could ask for, yet I remember how miserable and petulant I was on an early morning in July, when I had to give up a free morning from my army base in order to take my car in to the mechanic’s for a tune up.

I remember a silver haired man in his forties wearing brown jeans and a baby blue t-shirt stepping out of a shadow and walking towards my car, his hands filthy and caked in a thick layer of oil, a cell phone pressed between his ear and shoulder as he talked with his chin to his chest and gestured emphatically for me to drive forwards. “What’re you afraid of? Drive!” He stopped me an inch from his body. I was very tired. All I could think of was the injustice of my even being awake.

“So, what have we got here?” he smiled. With his face up he revealed an ugly streak of dirt that stretched from his cheek to his ear. “Ah, you’re the doctor’s kid, right? I recognized you, yeah. How are you?” He extended his arm for a handshake but quickly pulled it back, seeing how dirty it was. “Yeah, well, no problem.” He rubbed his hands together and opened the hood.

I began walking circles around him and the car as he worked. He pulled out the air filter and mumbled worried notes. He smiled again. “Are you sure it’s only a tune up?”
“Yeah.” I said. He was annoying me. “Why? Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem!” He raised black hands in defense. “But believe me, after I’m done it’ll be like a new life for this car.”
Everything around us was ugly. There was no pleasing direction for me to look at and this angered me. I wanted to sleep. This was my day off. The man pulled himself up and disappeared into the garage. He reappeared, rubbed his hands and quickly ducked back in. When he returned he was pushing an old and dingy bicycle.

“Listen,” he said. “I have to go for a minute and get you this filter; I don’t have it here, alright? So I’m leaving the place to you, you can sit in there if you want, it’s nice and cool. Or you can start working on this Peugeot if you want, huh?” He grinned at his own joke. “Alright then?”
“Yeah, alright.”
“Good. And if anyone calls asking for Haim or Ben Zion, you tell them ten minutes, ok?”
I nodded, he hopped on the bike and left. I sighed and spit on the sunny side of the asphalt, curious to see how long it would take the sun to dry it. I kept up my ridiculous patrols around the car, marching a slow army march, rolling my feet heel to toes. I stepped into the garage.

A bulky wooden table was matted with old newspapers, faded pink and turquoise. Behind it was a large chair covered in brown upholstery, which I found was surprisingly comfortable. I sank into it and stared at the bleak south Tel Aviv street. I could see all the passers by, vulnerable in the sun, but they could not stare back into my pitch black darkness. I spotted an antiquated rotary phone, a cream colored model from the seventies that was the size of a kettle, with its handset resting on two black buttons. I picked it up and decided to call my army buddy, Ariel. The numbers I dialed clicked back at me, and he answered instantly.

“Hi.” He said. He sounded uptight. Ariel had always made me laugh.
“Hey.” I said. “What’s up? You know who it is?”
“I know who it is.” He said.” Did you hear what happened?”
“No,” I said. I was discovering that I could lean back in the old chair, making it even more comfortable. I could easily have fallen asleep in that chair. “What happened?”
“Yair is dead.”
I sat up. “What are you talking about?”
“Yesterday, in a car crash.” Ariel said.
“Wait a minute, what Yair, our Yair?”
“Yair was killed?”
“Their car flipped over near Jerusalem. He wasn’t even the driver.”
“And he’s dead?” I asked. I had to say the word myself, I had to say it again, out loud, because I was seeing a million faces and hearing a million stories and mumbles, cries and shouts and cars at the same time and something just didn’t fit, something was wrong, someone had allowed my distorted imagination to take over and it couldn’t be right, I –
“Yes.” Ariel said. “Listen, I have to –”
“Wait, wait, hold on!” I panicked. “Is there a funeral?”
“Yes. It’s now.”
“Now?!?” I grabbed my head. A funeral was too real.
“Yes, we’re leaving soon. Do you want to come?”
“I… I can’t make it, I, my car…”
“I have to go.” Ariel apologized in a strained voice. “I’ll talk to you, ok?”
I didn’t want him to hang up. My mind was racing. “Does Yoni know?” I asked, and could hear Ariel pause, confused.
“No.” He said at last. “No, I didn’t… You call him.”
“Yeah.” I said.
He hung up.

He hung up and I hung up. That conversation had lasted less than a minute. There was no one around. There were no eyes on me, no one to test my expression or become alarmed by it, no to ask me why all the blood had drained from my face, why I was suddenly blank like an idiot. There was only me, alone in a garage. Oil spots glistened and my spit dried in the sun and it was the quietest garage in the world, there was no honking to be heard, no shouting, no radios playing the news.

What am I doing? I asked myself silently a few times and then once out loud, but my skinny voice was only making things worse, so I shut up and shut off. I simply stood there. Instead of seeing Yair, which is what I had believed I should be doing, I had the clearest vision of the page in my red phone book on which his name had been confidently marked down, since I knew that one day he would save me.

The man returned, peddling joyfully and whistling. He propped his bike against a wall and emptied the contents of a nylon bag before him. He picked the parts he needed and got to work on my car.
“Listen, you’ll take care of this car after this, right?” He said.
I couldn’t answer. He didn't seem to mind.
“My daughter, this one...” He shook his head as he worked. “She goes out with her girlfriends, last week, yeah? Comes back four in the morning, doesn’t see the parking meter, smashes the whole car. I feel bad for the car, you understand? I feel bad for it.” He talked and talked some more while he worked.

And I tried to remember Yair, because I understood I would never see him again, but nothing came. I could barely hear his voice. I could only conjure up one glossy image, a photograph, the memory of a picture we’d taken in the army when we were youngsters, barely two months into our service and still bearing the white patches on our uniforms marking us part of a military training course. In the picture he stood smiling in a freezing gust of wind in front of one of the ugly structures of the base. His blue and red scarf was wrapped around his neck and its tail waved behind him like a flag. The scarf was far from regulation color but the commanders all loved him and let it slide. He held half a cigarette to his smile with a wavering hand. His lips were swollen and red from the cold and dry air. We’d all laughed at him because he looked as if he was wearing lipstick, and he’d laughed with us and kissed me and wiped the ghost stain of lipstick off of my cheek, but there was no picture of that. In the background I could see myself talking to Yoni, unaware of the camera. My face was hidden under an oversized floppy green army hat, and Yoni was waving his hands in my face with a frown, explaining something to me.

I thought, I should call Yoni. I should tell him, I knew. I was about to turn to the man, to quietly ask for permission to use his phone. He would certainly agree once he heard the grave reason, I knew, but I never said a word. I no longer knew why I thought I needed the phone. I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d talked about with Ariel, or why he’d sounded so stressed, or why the conversation had been so brief and abrupt. The man drained the oil and replaced the filter. He put in new oil and replaced other parts. I gave him my credit card and signed my name without even a glance at the sum. He went back in. I stared at the car, but I can’t say what I saw.

The man came back, put his hands on his waist and said “That’s it. You’re done here.”

Thursday, June 15, 2006

True Julie Stories (part 4 of 5)

My arms tingling, I read on. Julie wrote “I just came out of the shower after getting home after fucking. It is five thirty in the morning here so that you, yes you, are the first to hear that I fucked.” She didn’t write “had sex” or “slept with someone”, she chose to write “fucked”, over and over. She went on to write “I think I might have potential in the field. Yeah, I think I might be known one day as Julie the slut. And when I accept the academy award for best fucking slut bitch of the year, I will thank you over the podium. It’s strange, but that line you wrote to me about hunting and not being afraid of being hunted was what made today’s fuck happen. So thank you, sir, for bringing me this far. Thank you, thank you.”

I had no clue what I’d written to her about hunting or being hunted. I was always delirious as I typed to Israel in that dusty old Los Angeles public library. I was lost, alone, confused. Oren and I rarely ever sat beside each other; we waited our turns and took whatever computer became available. I probably preferred to sit alone. She’d asked if I wanted to hear the details, and I carefully wove in a thirsty request for more between the lines of my reply with the utmost precision.

She delivered all that I could have asked for and more. Her tale was full of teasing. She began by describing her day, a productive day of writing, followed by a meal at a restaurant with her cousins, all of whom were attractive men and the youngest of whom had, according to Julie, grown up to be something beyond attractive, he was “hot as hell”, and he'd looked at her in an exceedingly inappropriate way throughout dinner. “I wish I could say the story ended then and there in the restaurant’s restroom, but no, it wasn’t with him. There’s more.” She wrote. “I got back home after barely eating anything and hungry for sex. I sat at my computer and went online.”

She logged on to an Israeli networking site that was known for being the place to go to for a one-night-stand . She started chatting with a man and immediately came clean: “I’m a virgin and I’m determined to lose my virginity by the end of the night.” She added “But I’m afraid of taking this dangerous step tonight, and meeting someone I don’t know.” The stranger replied “I understand. The decision is yours.”

The man picked her up outside her house at two AM. “He looked good.” She wrote. “Average height, muscular and compact. He didn’t look thirty; he looked twenty three at the most, except for the fact that his hair was all silver. There was something that turned me on about that, and it was the detail I concentrated on the most.” She decided to take her own car and followed his car out to the ocean. He’d asked if they could talk on their cellphones as they drove, and she found that request to be sweet. They parked above the sea and she bent into his car.

They talked for a while, but she wanted him to shut up. His personality, she wrote, “lacked all complexity or awareness. He said I have to give him at least some direction, because he didn’t know what to do with a woman who’d never been touched, ‘a twenty two year old who’s like a sixteen year old’. I thought about it and said ‘if I throw out my gum will you know what to do?’”.

And then it all started.”

He said he’d been gentle with me and maybe he really was, but we did it all, everything but anal. There was some shyness on my part but we did it all, and I enjoyed every moment of it. He took the lead, naturally, but whenever I happened to touch him he asked me again and again if I was sure I’d never done this before.”

He tried to make it as interesting an experience for me as he could, and we did it all, yes, even oral sex on my part, which was actually nice but I had to cut it short because I was gagging. First time and all. I’ll do better next time. I guess my mythological objection to oral sex is out the window then.”

He kept wanting me to look at him, at his face, but I couldn’t. Even when I was able to look at his cock I still couldn’t look him in the face without closing my eyes and kissing him to change the subject. After an hour and fifteen minutes he came on my breasts. It filled me with a sensation of power. He asked for permission, of course, he asked for permission before he did anything. He was really nice. I never came, and it disappointed me. I surprised myself by telling him that I really wanted to have an orgasm my first time, but I couldn’t concentrate and he kept distracting me with things he thought would help.”

I read this all with my grandmother beside me, complaining about the fact that my computer was tying up her precious phone line. What if there was an emergency and someone was trying to call her up right at that moment? I ignored her.

Julie ended her letter with a proposition rendered painfully yet thankfully meaningless due to the oceans between us: “After I did what I did I thought to myself how easy it was, and how much more pleasant it could have been had it been with someone nicer and not this silver haired simpleton. Someone whose face I could have looked at without feeling ashamed. Then I recalled that I’d had the opportunity. Yes, your mythological proposition came up in my mind again.” I stopped to smile at how easily Julie labeled everything ‘mythological’. And I stopped because I was afraid of what she'd written next. “And I regretted saying no back then, even though I’d wanted to say yes. And not only had I wanted to say yes, it had been something I’d thought of many times when we were in highschool. It had been pure fear and nothing more that had caused me to turn you down.”

The other night I asked one of my girlfriends, who knows the rough outline of my story with you, if she thinks I’ll have a chance to make up for my mistake. She rolled her eyes at me because making up for my mistake in this case meant fucking again, and she doesn’t believe in fucking for fun, she doesn’t even enjoy it that much herself, she admitted as much to me. She didn’t really answer my question; instead she asked if I used the word ‘fuck’ so much because I enjoyed saying it.”

So that’s all I have to say about that subject. It’s not that I prefer the hunters, I would have turned them down at the time as well. I made a mistake and I’d like to correct it. Maybe sometime ‘tomorrow’?

I can’t recall what I wrote in my reply. I can’t even imagine what it might have been. The only thing I know for a fact is that she answered my reply with a letter composed of a few words in two fragmented sentences. She wrote “I don’t understand anything. Never mind.”

And that was the end of our correspondence. We never wrote each other again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A true story about America

As a teenager, bouts of loneliness would surely have sent me deep into the world of cyberspace had I owned a computer or been able to connect to the internet. Growing up in Israel in the eighties and nineties was a form of time travel; the generational gap between our newly born country and the world around it entreasured us with a childhood of single-station television, penny bubblegum that unwrapped to reveal a prized sticker and apricot seeds as substitutes for marbles in the sandy back yard of our elementary school, all before Israel caught up with the west and introduced it under the exclamatory heading; “America!”.

During a family vacation to visit relatives in Los Angeles my parents left me to spend a few hours at a comic book store on sunny Melrose, another marvel that hadn’t made it to Israel yet. On a rickety display stand near the store’s entrance, stacked mostly with flyers by young artists in search of work or hopeful bands in search of drummers and bass players, I found a six page newsletter printed on brown paper that immediately caught my attention. It was an international pen-pal newsletter. There were two or three editorials and testimonials on the front page which I skimmed over, and the remaining pages were devoted to a mosaic of classified ads by people seeking to write and be written to. I folded the newsletter over so many times in a nervous rush it had become as thick as a paperback novel. I hid it in my pants and carried it around for the rest of our trip to America.

A week or so later, behind the safely shut door of my room in Israel, I lay on my bed and unfolded the newsletter. I carefully inspected each classified ad in search of the one that would be right for me. I would know it when I saw it. A few things were as clear as truth to me: I would be writing my guts out, giving nothing but reality at its cruelest. I would only be able to write this way to a girl; males were out of the question. She would have to be older than I was, so sixteen at the youngest, but no older than twenty, an age still unimaginably old. I needed to feel drawn to her name; it had to flow out of the word ‘Dear’ in a manner that left no room for doubt. And she had to be from America.

I’d finally found her: Holly from Kansas. She’d been one of the few to add words of physical description to her ad; she was a nineteen-year-old redhead interested in love and the narrative of life. I composed a short, hand-written letter and took great pleasure in every step of the process; in copying her address onto the envelope, in licking the stamp on and the envelope shut, in walking to the nearest drop-off box and in releasing the letter into it. But the most exciting thing by far was finding a letter addressed to me awaiting my fingers on the dining room table as I walked in home from school. It was something I could hold, sense, smell, read and reread; paper and ink that had seen careful care and made their way to me from America.

Holly from Kansas had become infatuated with my writing based on my first short letter, which had been mailed by a teenager all the way in exotic Israel and spelled out in perfect English. Her love only deepened with every confession I sent. She reciprocated with a stream of compliments about how special I was, how mature beyond my years, and then told me about herself. She was dating a thirty-one year old mechanic from her town by the name of Keith, who was treating her well. He was married, but the divorce was only a matter of time. They hadn’t had sex yet, at least not intercourse. “Sex is a very special thing for a woman,” she wrote in her mature, nineteen-year-old wisdom. I didn’t mind the existence of this Keith, in fact I felt I was getting the better end of the deal. He was living out a humdrum existence with Holly in Kansas, knowing nothing of her deepest feelings. Those were reserved for me. After a few letters Holly politely requested that I send her a photograph or two of myself. I chose the most flattering, natural pictures I could find and included them in my next letter to America.

In her response she fawned over me as if I was a puppy, I was “that cute!”. I rummaged through the envelope and found that she’d enclosed a picture of her own. It was one of those small highschool yearbook portraits that had been taken against a blue marble-textured backdrop and featured Holly all made up and smiling, her attention directed unnaturally to the side. My stomach dropped. Her smile was an insecure grimace of sharpened teeth. Her pebble eyes squinted helplessly from within the mounds of flesh that were her face. My Holly from Kansas was big, fat and ugly.

I couldn’t bear the implications of that image, that those beady eyes had been lapping up my impassioned words and that those obese fingers, intertwined just below the photograph’s frame, had been responsible for the delicately cursive writing I’d waited weeks at a time to study. I would ascribe my next actions to a piercing clarity were they not so erratic and frantic. I ran out to make sure that my house was empty, clawed into every letter she’d ever written to me and bunched them all into a ball, then stuffed it in my wastebasket and lit it on fire.

My breath of relief was short lived; my lungs filled with smoke. In my impulsiveness I hadn’t given a moment’s consideration to the fact that I’d stuffed burning papers into a wicker basket. It was aflame. I had to kick it aside to jump out of the room. By the time I’d drowned the flames out the house had filled with thick, smelly smoke, and a dark brown tear-shape had been scorched onto the outside of my door. I did my best to air out the place before my parents returned, and had my door propped uncharacteristically wide open to hide the stain. It was the first and only time in my life that I had ever held my door open to hide something.

When my parents returned they lifted their heads and sniffed the air with furrowed brows. The smoke had cleared but the stench remained, and I heard my father say “The air conditioner is acting up again. We have to get someone to take a look at it.” He came up to my room and said “Don’t turn on the air conditioner for a while, something’s wrong with it. It smells funny.” He took a few steps away, then stepped back and knocked on my open door. “What?” I asked nervously. “They’re coming tomorrow to put in a hardwood floor and new doors for you and your brother’s room. It’s a few days of work, so you’re going to have to be without a door for a few days.”

Normally that would have been horrible news; the idea of spending days with no door to my room made me shudder in nakedness. Instead I felt fantastically lucky. I would wipe the slate clean, erase any evidence of Holly ever having existed and, in a few days, have a new door, one that I would guard with extra care and never allow another American fantasy through it, not if I could help it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A true black sheep story

Despite my pale skin and white hair I’d always been my extended family’s black sheep. I was aware of the way they all spoke about me behind my back; I was a source of pleasurable worry, joyous frowns and extremely fulfilling headshakes. I had never brought home a girl, I had voiced my hatred of our country’s beloved army, I had no tangible profession to speak of and so following my discharge I had become a full fledged bum, a hippy with an unkempt beard and long hair who probably (and actually had) smoked pot. As far as my family was concerned, there was no room for lost years in the chronology of one’s lifetime.

I mostly kept my distance from them all. I lived on my very own vampire schedule and shared my time with friends, who accepted me as a charming failure. My father’s sister lived with her husband, their four children, and, since my grandfather had passed away, our grandmother as well, five houses down from ours on the same narrow street. While my father and brother would make the twenty second walk to visit them at least once a week, I only saw them on a handful of occasions a year, mostly seated around a table on a holiday dinner.

On one of my lost days I was surprised to find myself all dressed up, my awkwardly lengthening hair wet from the shower and pulled back like a gangster’s, forced to shake hands and kiss them all hello under a glaring light that was fixed above a video camera documenting the Brit-Mila, the circumcision ceremony, of my cousin’s first born son. I had known that this day was coming, I’d known his wife had given birth eight days earlier, but for some reason I’d imagined it as a modest event to be held at their house with a Rabbi, wine passed around in tiny disposable cups, some crackers with cheese and no big fuss. I wasn’t ready for the glittery ballroom, the showy five course meal and the dancing. I kissed my cousin and said “Mazal Tov”, he replied “Thank you” in a formal tone that pinched me.

My grandmother from down the street walked up to our table during the main course of the meal and said she had to tell me something. She had woken up that morning after dreaming about me. In her dream she and I had gone on a walk through a lush field of green, and she’d called me by my childhood nickname and said “Pick up some lettuce, you like lettuce, bring some lettuce home!” I bent over to pick up the large orbs of lettuce, which were unusually huge and richly green. She urged me, “Take more! Take more!”

My aunt joined us around the table and told me she owned a book that explained dreams. According to the book, the lettuces symbolized money, a lot of it. “You’re going to bring home a lot of money.” My grandmother promised me solemnly. I could tell she honestly believed that was true. I felt utterly disconnected from any of the people surrounding me, and spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming in the Sheraton City Towers hotel ballroom while the rest of my family danced. I stared in to space, caught up in sweet thoughts about the mass amounts of money I’d rake in and then shower about recklessly onto all my family members, cutting million dollar checks with ease and grace and taking advantage of that moment of insane generosity to tell them all that I loved them, as they danced around me in celebration.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A true story about Gemini

The Israeli army’s lingo has a habit of appropriating English words and subtly, or not-so-subtly, changing their meaning to fit the distorted vocabulary of a military base. When said in a cutting Hebrew accent the English word becomes something new and refined, with explicit applications and connotations. For example, the word “fuck” is used in basic training exclusively in noun form and means only one thing; a soldier’s mistake, one he will pay for. My basic training nights would end in what was known as a “fuck formation”, where the sergeant would pace around us and read out our accumulated fucks and their corresponding punishments. It was on this night that we each found out if we were headed home on leave or staying behind for our fucks.

Another appropriated English word is “distance”. Distance is used to describe the invisible wall, the unbridgeable gap that separates soldiers from their commanding staff during basic training and the professional courses that sometimes follow. It’s an almost poetic use of the word, packing so much meaning into it that it almost seems new. Military “distance” is a palpable beast, one that could only thrive in a world of ranks sown onto uniforms and teenage power-trips.

The flipside of “distance” was described by the phrase “breaking the distance”. After months of strict adherence to the unwritten rules of distance, wherein commanders treated their soldiers like scum, spoke to them in sharp tones not unlike the ones used to train dogs, had them stand stiff at attention and address them formally at all times, all in order to uphold the clear division between themselves as staff and the soldiers as sub-humans, graduation days offered the chance for mutual relief. Suddenly the charade was done with, the distance shattered and hopefully forgotten by both sides.

The stricter of commanders, those who lived off of belonging to the powerful side of the army equation, never allowed for any respite from their façade and kept up the distance until after the final moments, even as their now-former soldiers were being loaded onto buses to be scattered amongst the many bases. One of my commanders during the six-week professional course that followed my basic training nightmare was immediately recognizable as such a girl.

Her name was Talya. She was a redhead, and even though her features made her freakishly resemble a human skull stripped of its skin I still found her to be beautiful. My professional training course was by far not one of the strictest, and by the third week I had seen every one of our commanders slip up with his or her game-face and reveal the human lurking beneath. In Talya’s case the human beneath was still at a distance, and the difference between the two distances was negligible.

Other than being at distance from everyone, her fellow staff included, Talya seemed to particularly dislike me. She would only gaze at me in contempt, and began every sentence she’d said to me with a scornful sigh. At night I was asked by my bunkmates if Talya and I had had a history on “the outside”, if there was any reason I could think of for why she hated me so much. I had none. All I could do was be extra careful around her.

Finally our day of breaking the distance had come. Our commanders would see us one by one, tables had been set out on the grass in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by the typical ugliness of an army base, and there we would be assigned our posts for the next three years of our life and address our commanders as equals for the first time. I wasn’t the first to sit across Talya, and those who had come back from her table shook their heads with a smile and shared what we all could have guessed; she was no different now than she was before.

That was the last of our concerns, as the fate of our service lay in her and the other commanders’ hands. Some soldiers had high hopes for the most challenging of posts, others wished to be reunited with friends who were already serving here and there. Tears of disappointment and shrieks of joy were heard all around, euphoria mixed with tragedy. All I wanted was to stay as close to home as possible and be free to leave my base at night.

I sat across from Talya in the somewhat dreamlike arrangement of a single table in the middle of a field and pursed my lips in what I hoped was a friendly yet respectful manner. She looked up at me from my paperwork, nothing but businesslike, and opened by saying “Well. We were born on the same day.”
“We were?” I was surprised.
“Yes. Same day, one year apart.” She said dryly.
She was a Gemini too. Not that I’d ever believed in the astrological signs, but still I couldn’t help but wonder how she of all people was a Gemini. Weren’t they, weren’t we, supposed to display an inherent duality to our natures? Why then was she the only commander to maintain distance even after it was no longer called for? Why would she be the only one to refuse to take part in what could be the perfect display of duality? Or was she breaking the distance right then and there, only I wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up on it?
“So where do you want to go?” She caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to be asked, simply told.
“Close to home.” I said.
“That’s it?” She was clearly disappointed. “Close to home?”
“Well, you got it. You’re going back to the Air Force.”
A weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I let out the air I’d had locked in my chest.
I smiled.
She didn’t.
I got up and left, thinking I might have been in love with her. Or at least a part of me was in love with a part of her. It was hard to be sure, what with all that distance.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A story about True Lies

As I drove my friend Tal home one smoky night during my lost year, after I’d been discharged from the army, graduated from my screenwriting studies at the judiciously titled “Screenwriting School of Tel Aviv” and then found myself afloat in nothingness, he offered me a job with which I could fill my pointless days: I was to work in a CD store but secretly get paid by a private eye agency, which would be my true employer. I’d be there to keep an open eye on shoplifting customers and, more importantly, spy on shoplifting employees. I’d be an implanted traitor. The salary I’d receive from the private eye agency was set to be double or triple the minimum wage salary one could expect at such a chain. Tal had offered the job to our friend Gil first, seeing as how he was the more critical case between the two of us, having gone for two and a half years without work, but the spy from the agency was unwilling to hire someone who hadn’t completed his military service, and so I, the decorated soldier, was offered the job.

I’d never wanted to work in any kind of store under any capacity, but the shame of unemployment was too oppressive, and I feared it would only worsen if I knew in the back of my mind that I had disregarded such a sensible opportunity.

The man called himself “Aaron the spy.” I called the number Tal had given me and asked the secretary, as instructed, for Aaron the spy. When he answered I said “Aaron the spy? This is in regards to your conversation with Tal?” Aaron the spy spoke in a gruff, slow whisper that had me biting my lower lip to keep from laughing. He said “Let’s just say we’re talking about… a certain… store… somewhere in… Tel Aviv…” he spread out the sentence to add mystery to it. He asked me to email my details over to his agency so that he could run a comprehensive background check on me. That email was my only chore for that week, and I diligently completed it within fifteen minutes.

Later that night my friend Oren was ripped; his eyes bulged red and his dry tongue smacked against the roof of his dehydrated mouth. I said "Get this man a drink of water!" and then slowly explained that it was quite possible I would become a spy the next week. I told him all about Aaron and the CD store, and Oren said “What? I don’t believe you.” I was high myself, and the fact that after years of friendship he would so blatantly state his disbelief in my story blew my mind. “What do you mean, you don’t believe me?!” I cried. “You’ve known me for years, I’ve told you a million stories, and now all of a sudden out of nowhere you just… don’t believe me?!”
“That’s right.” Oren said, and then laughed. “I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“What does that even mean, that you don’t believe me?” I asked. “You think I’m lying?”
“No. I just don’t believe you.”
“But I’m not lying.”
“Probably not.”

This momentary lapse of reason was quickly forgotten, but the astringent amazement I’d experienced at that moment stayed with me. Over the next few days my new career in espionage became the running gag amongst my circle of friends. I was brought in to mediate arguments as the authoritative spy, and shared my fictional ramblings of classified knowledge having to do with anything and everything with my drugged-up thirsty audience. I said “Guys, guys, guys, listen to me, ok? I’m a spy, ok, I know what I’m saying here.”

My new job required multiple interviews. The first one was appropriately shady and took place at a hole-in-the-wall bagel place. I’d been told to find a man named David, who’d be waiting for me at “Tzvika’s”, which was neither a restaurant nor an office, it was a small booth where the parking attendant of a nameless lot sat drinking black coffee and cracking sunflower seeds. The kindly Tzvika told me I’d just missed David, and gave me his cellphone number. David said “I can see you. Turn to your left. Now walk a hundred meters in that direction.” He could have just told me to hop into “American Bagels”.

David was a tanned bald fat man who chewed gum like a lazy cow. He ordered himself some lemonade. I wished I was anywhere but there, sitting across from him. He questioned me relentlessly about my criminal past, as if trying to scare some confession out of me. “I thought you were running a background check on me.” I frowned. “Well, yeah, that too.” He answered. “Why don’t you save us the time and tell me what we’re going to find out anyway when we read it?” We ran in those circles for a while until he was satisfied, and then revealed to me that the mystery store was the nearby Tower Records, where I would find the store manage waiting for me. David raised a fat finger and said “Let me warn you, though – the man stutters. Just so you know.”

He didn’t stutter. The store’s miserable employees proved unhelpful, and I had to pace around the maze of CDs and wait out two sappy, saxophone-wailing love songs before I found the manager and another couple of songs before he was free to talk to me. He led me outside, lit a cigarette and confided in me about the recent rash of thefts they suffered from. I nodded in feigned interest. He glanced over my resume and chuckled. “You went to that screenwriting school crap too, huh? I see you just came out of there. I graduated three years ago. There’s no work in that field.”

He led me back to the office and presented me with a bright orange vest that read “Security”. I was taken aback. I had come under the assumption that I was going to be a salesperson just like the others, with the added responsibility (and pay) of keeping tabs on customers and employees. He had begun to fill out my employee information card and was tapping his pen anxiously on the paper, waiting for me to dictate my name and ID. A pale faced girl came in without knocking to complain about the number of cigarette breaks that another girl had been allowed. That interaction struck inexplicable terror in me. When she left I struggled to find my voice and asked; why would you need a private eye agency to find you a security guard whose sole duty was to stand at the door of the store and check bags?

“Everyone working in the store is checked out by those guys,” he said. “It’s just a screening process we have all our employees go through.”
A screening process?, I though to myself. They had obviously done nothing but badger me in a bagel store. It was clear that they ran no background checks. “But aren’t they paying my salary?” I asked.
“Why would they pay your salary?” He looked up at me. He must have seen the fear in my eyes. He said “This paperwork can wait. Do you want to get it done when you start? When do you want to start?”
“Today?” I mumbled. “Tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow.” He agreed. “See you then.”

I walked out and never returned to that store.
“Fuck that.” Tal said. “I can’t believe that was the fucking job. I wish I hadn’t told you about it. Another thing that blew up in your face.” A few months of unemployement later I did find work in my field after all; I became the security guard at the front desk of a television studio. Instead of an orange vest I wore a buttoned white shirt with a blue logo on its arms. And all the while I thought, wow, Oren had been right.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A true story about apathy

My friend Oren from back home in Israel is a short and tightly built Peter Pan boy with a sharp nose and sharp black eyes whose face hadn’t changed or aged one bit since the day I’d met him at fifteen. During a time in our youth when I’d precariously decided to plunge myself into writing a novel of all things, with no outline or goal or lighthouse to guide me, Oren sat in my room wearing the white t-shirt that was a staple of his teenage wardrobe and asked “Still writing?” I said yeah, I was even on to my second chapter.
“Freestyle, huh?” He said, and it sounded so exciting and poetic coming from his lips that I became certain it was not the right word for describing the mumblings I was committing to paper. My adolescent writing was free, true enough; free of criticism and free of thought and free of planning, but there was no style to it.

Oren made himself some coffee, he took it without sugar as a matter of principle, and told me he was sure he’d lost the ability to feel anything. He’d gone numb. He was no longer happy, he said, but he wasn’t unhappy either. He wasn’t depressed, but he wasn’t not depressed either. “I’m indifferent.” He said.
“And that depresses you?” I asked.
“It bums me out a bit, but only a little bit.” He said, and then let out a fast dying staccato laughter. “You see? I’m just a little bummed, nothing serious.”
He summed up his entire life in a melancholic tone; he’d achieved nothing and would most likely never learn how to play a musical instrument. We were both nineteen years old at the time, and so despite my putting forth the best arguments I could articulate to contradict him and cheer him up, deep down inside I’d believed everything he said and then some.

I kept hard at work on my novel, which could be called a novel only by virtue of being too long to be anything else, although a few of my friends dryly noted that it was nothing more than a glorified, prosaic diary. Six months later it was completed and stuffed deep down into a drawer in my childhood room, where it still hides.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

True Julie Stories (part 3 of 5)

The last I’d spoken to Julie was in a phone conversation a few months after her slow-motion car crash. She’d been increasingly irritated with me ever since, and projected such quantities of anger and sadness that I felt I had no choice but to wipe the cowardly smirk off my face and bow out. She’d said “Why do you always have to talk like that? Like something sexual might happen between us, but nothing more? Do you know what kind of effect you have on me? Do you know how many CDs I’ve bought just because you mentioned them? I don’t even like half of them!” My cheeks froze and hung in a smile, and I never called her again.

Three or four years passed before we came in touch again. It happened a couple of weeks before I’d left for Los Angeles that I came across her writing on the internet. I had once posted my short stories on an Israeli literature portal that eventually ballooned into an ugly beast, an inviting canvas for sixteen-year-olds who meddled in angst post-modernism by writing stories that invariably rotated around suicide and an inconsequential, sarcastic conversation with a less-than-overwhelming god character. I’d stripped my profile of all writing and had forgotten about it. As I was about to leave my home in Israel for the first time as an adult I had a strange need to put my things in order; leave nothing behind that I wasn’t proud of. I entered the site for one last sweep to confirm it didn’t accidentally contain any of my writing. I found that in my absence I had been listed as a favorite author of a handful of friends and one woman I’d never heard of, by the name of Gila.

I entered her profile. It read “Gila was born in 1980. Gila is not her real name. Not at all.” My suspicion was validated by reading her stories; they bore a striking resemblance to my own and yet were written in that archaic school-teacher Hebrew that Julie had always prided herself upon. Everything that was right about her stories was equally wrong. I couldn’t resist an anonymous comment, and I couldn’t resist intentionally jeopardizing my anonymity. I received an email from her no more than an hour later, which marked the beginning of a densely worded correspondence.

I hurriedly lied to her in my second letter and wrote that I was already abroad, chasing my dreams in Los Angeles. I didn’t want to hear her voice over the phone again, but didn’t mind the addictive quality of making her my new diary. Two weeks later the lie turned to truth; Oren and I had had a rough landing straight into my grandmother’s dank house on Fairfax, where we both huddled into ourselves. I looked forward to Julie’s letters; writing to her had become a daily reminder of who I was.

Our correspondence quickly breached more personal grounds than anything we’d ever allowed ourselves in our past, especially on her part. I’d opened with a lie and continued with carefully measured out portions of the truth. She embraced the bearing of every intimate detail of herself, which at the time meant constant lamenting over her belated virginity. At the age of twenty two, she was beginning to feel like a freak.

Oren and I spent our time in search of jobs and an apartment. We could do very little from the confines of my grandmother’s house, and would punctuate our days with a walk to the nearest public library, that offered free internet service in half-hour slots. It was on any one of those old computers that I read Julie’s letters, until we found the library roped off one day and read that it was going to be under construction for the next six weeks.
I could not afford being cut off from the world or from Julie for six weeks. I decided to spend some money I did not yet have and buy myself my first laptop.

I brought it back to my grandmother’s kitchen on a Saturday in mid April and hooked it up to the internet using her telephone line. My grandmother, generations removed from ever understanding how crucial the internet lifeline was to us, hovered around me with a frown heavier than usual. She stood right behind me and stared at my screen along with me as I read Julie’s latest email. It opened with the words “There’s no better way of saying it. I fucked a man.” Fortunately, my grandmother, fluent in Polish, Yiddish and English, couldn’t read one word of Hebrew.

Over the course of years I’d kept returning to Julie in moments of horny weakness. I’d put in time and shame and now, half an earth away, I was reaping my unexpected reward. I’d earned this letter.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The truth about dream knowledge

My dreams have often been potent and overbearing, prone to long lingering and capable of tainting entire days in their melancholy shade. More than once I awoke from a dream with a sense of urgency that could only be resolved through its retelling, usually to the ears of my dream’s subject. One of these dreams took place when I was a teenager, during an afternoon crash-nap I’d taken to make up for lack of sleep in the late hours of the night. I remember the dream’s cold imagery wavering in my eyes and a warm wave splashing up against my insides like tea on an empty stomach.

I called up my friend Oren and said “Listen, I have to tell you this dream I just had.”
“This what you just had?” He asked with his mouth full.
“A dream, I just had the strangest dream about you, just now.”
“You dreamt about me?” I heard him smile faintly.
“No, no, not exactly about you, I mean, it had to do with you. I mean, I thought about you during the dream, since Lea was there.”
“Lea?” He asked, his smile audibly faded away.
“You dreamt about Lea? What kind of dream is this? Do I want to hear it?”
“Yeah, yeah, shut up for a second.” I said, and took myself back to the unreal corridors of the world that was still beating and sweating under a fog of lost details and transparent fingers. “Are you listening? Okay. So I’m in what I know is my elementary school, even though it’s nothing like my elementary school, it’s much bigger and nicer, and also scarier, but somehow I just know that it’s my elementary school, you know? I’ve got this dream knowledge about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know how that is.” Oren said, both impatient and indifferent.
“Okay. So anyway, I’m walking down one of these long marble hallways, and at the doorway of every classroom I see a group of boys or a group of girls our age, teenagers, and they’re all naked; naked and giggling like there’s some kind of joke going on, like it’s a huge prank and everybody’s in on it.

“The girls look so real, I mean, they’re a very believable naked, not too beautiful, not too ugly, just very real, and they’re all laughing kind of shy-like, they’re all covering their mouths with their hands and they’re looking hot. And the boys all have hard-ons and they’re all holding their dicks in their hands, like they’re waiting for something, I don’t know what, and they’re all laughing like delinquents.

“And I’m standing there, in the middle of this fucking endless hallway with more and more doors and naked girls and boys waiting and laughing, it just keeps going till it’s a tiny dot way off, and I look down and I realize that I have all my clothes on. I am the only person who’s got any clothes on. You get it? Isn’t that absurd? I’m having like the exact opposite of that dream that everyone has, where you go to school and you realize you’re naked. I’m at school and everyone but me is naked!

“So obviuosly I’m feeling great about myself, and really comfortable in my clothes, and then I see there’s a camera hanging around my neck. It’s a real professional camera, with a huge lens and a huge flash. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing there or what I’m supposed to be taking pictures of, so I just turn around and head for the stairs.”
“And that’s where you meet Lea.” Oren said dryly.
“Yeah!” I exclaimed. “How’d you know?”
“You said Lea was in the dream.” He explained without a trace of arrogance.
“Yeah, alright, but I never said when – never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
“It really doesn’t matter.”
“Yes.” I agreed. His sudden coldness confused me, but I knew that once I’d started I’d have to finish my story no matter what. “Ok. So, anyway, yeah, Lea was standing on the stairs, naked. She looked a little more mature than the other girls, I mean… her face seemed very mature, and so did the way she held herself, she was radiating maturity, but she had the body of a twelve year old, almost no breasts at all, just these two pale circles on her skin… you know? And I know it sounds bad, and I know her body isn’t like that in reality, yeah, but in the dream it was so sexy. I mean I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

“And when I saw her my head was filled with one thought, my brain was saying ‘Take a picture of her for Oren, take one picture for Oren.’ There was nothing I wanted more in the world than to do that. You know how it is in a dream when you want something so bad, you just fucking need it? It was like that.

“She recognized me immediately. I mean, I don’t know if in reality she knows who I am. Does she know who I am? Does she know I’m your friend?”
“Lea, does she know who I am?”
“She knows who you are, yeah.”
“Ok. Anyway in the dream I could tell by her face that she did, that she knew who I was and that she was really happy to see me, she had this look of someone who finally found a familiar face in a sea of strangers. When I walked up to her everybody around her left her, and she smiled and said ‘Isn’t it crazy here?’

“So I tell her I want to take her picture, and right away she’s objecting. Get this, she tells me ‘No, no, no! I always burn in pictures. It’s like taking a picture of the sun.’ Isn’t that beautiful?”
“Yeah.” He said. It would have been better had he said nothing.
“And I’m saying ‘No, I’m a great photographer, really. No one burns in my pictures.’ But she’s arguing, and she really does have this extremely pale white body. But I don’t care, I want this, it’s the most important thing in the world - getting you this picture, so I’m arguing and really fucking insisting, and she’s smiling and saying ‘No thank you, it’s not necessary’.

“I felt like I was going insane. It reached a point where she wanted to get down the stairs and I was blocking her way. She moved to the right and I moved to the right. I told her she couldn’t leave till I took her picture. So she gave me this look… I mean, you’d think she’d be mad but she wasn’t, she just looked… curious, puzzled, then kind of forgiving. She cocked her head at me like a dog. That just went on forever, until I woke up. I have no idea if I got that picture.”

I found myself catching my breath but smiling, as if I’d just run a marathon. “So what do you think?”
“Well, don’t you… I mean, don’t you have any ideas of what this could mean?”
“No.” He said.
“Aren’t you, I mean, about Lea…” I was lost. The dream had been told, but my sense of urgency was still there.
“Alright, enough.” He said sharply.
“Enough what?”
“Enough, enough.” He said. “Enough talking about her.”
“What?” I was surprised. “Listen, I didn’t mean, I mean, I didn’t know that you were like, I mean, you talk about her all the time, I –”
“Yeah, alright.” He cut me off, and for the first time there was gentleness in his voice. “Calm down, I’m not mad at you. I just don’t want to talk about Lea anymore. No more talking about her.”
“No more talking about her.” I repeated.
“Alright.” I sighed. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say anything else. ”

Monday, June 05, 2006

A true story about friendship

My friend Tal from back home in Israel is a big man with the widest roundest eyes I’ve ever known, softly freckled cheeks and a thin fuzz of light hair that has always invited the curious touch of female fingers and has never once let them down. During a time in my life hazy from drug use I recorded a wonderfully hallucinatory conversation with Tal.
“I remember the farm.” He mused. Needless to say, Tal had grown up in the city just as I had. He continued with infectious confidence regardless of that fact. “Yes. We’d milk the chickens. We’d milk the chickens and hunt the hunters.”
“Are you serious?!?” I shot up. “Do you realize what it is that you’re telling me here?!?”
“What do you want from me?” He turned calmly in response to my cries. “What did I ever do to you to make you tell me these things?”
“Wait.” I stopped. “What came out when you milked the chickens?”
“Crazy eggs.” He answered. “But they were smashed, since we’d milked them.”
“In the sixties?” I asked.
“The fifties, man.” He answered.
“Wait, so how old are you now?”
“I don’t know.” He said thoughtfully. “We’d have to count.”
I remember emphatically thinking, ‘that is the best answer to that question that I have ever heard in my entire life’. I was overcome with gratitude. Tal looked at me, knew exactly what was running through my mind and smiled.

We then pushed everything aside with marvelous ease and started counting.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A true story about Alaska

On the morning of my twenty third birthday I copied down the number of a hooker from the back pages of the free “LA weekly” magazine onto a small, torn piece of paper I then stuffed into my pants pocket. I called her in the late afternoon from my parked car. I’d like nothing more than to assure myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did so without ever intending to go through with it, but I can’t put such a claim in writing. Water was pouring onto the windshield of the used gold Saturn I'd been driving around the streets of Los Angeles. It was my first birthday away from Israel. It had never rained on my birthday before.

During the first few weeks at my new job I’d foolishly believed that I could tackle California without a car of my own. On one of those frustratingly helpless nights, my only American friend Michael had driven me back to my grandmother’s house in his red truck. After idle but enjoyable conversation about the characters in our office, the industry and, as always, luck, I asked him “How dangerous is it to order a hooker?” He laughed, perhaps because of my clumsy wording. Not yet completely comfortable with English, I was still speaking translated Hebrew.
“It’s not dangerous.” He said. “I guess the only danger is STDs.”
“Yeah, but I’m not talking about the danger of fucking her, I mean the danger of having her over. If she’ll show up with some violent pimp or bodyguard, if she’ll rob me.”
“Yeah, but if you have a hooker over you’re going to fuck her.” He said plainly. “You wouldn’t order a pizza and then just sit around with it. You’re going to fuck her.”
The word ‘fuck’ was violent and wet in our mouths.

I could almost laugh, thinking back to my eyes glazing over the sex ads and picking out one that looked like an obituary and soullessly promised a “nice Jewish girl”. She had an ashtray voice over the phone and managed to speak in lethargic impatience. I knew in an instant that I wasn’t seeking sex, only sadness. I felt obligated to inquire about prices, didn’t even bother to listen and then quickly said “I’m sorry, I can’t afford you.”, which, for some reason, sounded like a bitter, layered joke to my ears. She hung up. I was close to tears in the car, sunken in my shameful state.

I proceeded to sluggishly shrug it off, and declared in a phone conversation to Israel that I’d decided to store away all the pain for at least a few years. Even though I was straining to pack as much petulant hurt into my resolute words as possible, my friend Tal answered cheerily from across the ocean: “That’s great, man. I like your attitude. If in a few years nothing’s changed you can move to Alaska.”

Friday, June 02, 2006

A true story about exposition

The sidewalks of my childhood street under my childhood house in Israel were being repaved by a sole city worker on a hot summer afternoon back when I was ten or eleven years old. I walked out wearing one of my childhood ice-cream colored t-shirts stuffed into the ridiculous shorts my mother used to buy me and saw a fresh slab of wet concrete at my feet. Thrilled by the opportunity presented to me, I grabbed a stick and started making my mark on the world. All I could think of was to write my name and the day’s date over and over again.

My outburst of history-making was cut short by shouts from down the street. The worker had spotted me from afar and was crying for me to stop. “Why?! Why are doing that!?” He screamed and ran towards me. I jumped up and escaped back into the house.

I couldn’t stay away for long. The thought of that man wiping away my name with his spatula was painful. I had to go see it for myself. I stepped out and there he was, on his knees, erasing my mark just as I’d feared. It was done. He looked up and shook his head at me. This look of contempt was much worse than the yelling. He asked “Why?” again, wearily. I said “It wasn’t me. It was my brother. My twin brother.” Of course we both knew I didn’t have a twin brother. I hadn’t even bothered to change my pastel clothes. I’m not sure why I bothered with that flimsy lie. He shook his head and looked back down.

I felt so incredibly ashamed. The feeling echoed within me for years. That summer afternoon remains one of the few clear memories I have of my childhood, as if it was some sort of traumatic experience and not the negligible, muted little moment that it obviously was. Then again, all guilt aside, this subdued yet poorly handled confrontation does neatly wrap my entire essence into itself: I’ve always wanted, more than anything, to etch my name into the world, and I’ve always been prepared and willing to lie to get there.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A true story about music

In November of 1998 I was a young soldier torturously surviving the last painful stretch of basic training. Minutes after eleven o’clock on any of those cold desert nights would find us miserably tucked into our sleeping bags, M-16’s resting uncomfortably under our heads so that we would be awakened if they were to be snatched from under us in our sleep. All twenty soldiers around me had fainted away like exploded light bulbs after another eighteen hour day when our commanders stormed in, shouting and banging their rifles against the metal support poles of our tent.

Moments later we were fully dressed in our uniforms and sitting on a concrete slab, cold, tired and more miserable than ever. We were told to wait for a bus. Meanwhile we sank heavily back to sleep in our places, having barely been awake throughout the whole metal-clanging ordeal. Saddam was stirring things up, the Sergeant had barked at us. He knew we had no idea; we’d been disconnected and ripped apart from the world, stripped of access to any media during our sunstroke days and drained of all interest in anything but sleep during the precious little nighttime we had to ourselves. Things are looking dangerous, the Sergeant continued in his condescending shout, and all basic training soldiers are being recruited for extra work.

An hour later we arrived at a huge warehouse and were assigned tasks. We were placed around tables arranged in a factory-like assembly line and began to robotically take apart air filters off of gas masks, replace their batteries, put them back together and pack them up in their brown boxes. For the first couple of hours there was still some talk to be heard amongst us, but the commanders, who paraded angrily between the lines, shut us up.

One by one our commanding staff vanished. They were just as tired and miserable as we were, and with no one to hover about them they gradually sulked off to sleep. By that time there was no need for their intimidating presence over our shoulders; conversation had died out into an eerie silence. We were a factory of automatons, each programmed with the simplest of motions, so mind numbingly repetitive it might even be accomplished in our sleep. I can’t remember what I was doing, was I undoing the screws, was I taking out the batteries and throwing them away, was I putting fresh ones in? I do remember one soldier pleading to trade jobs. He couldn’t find a single friend willing to switch tasks with him, and was finally silenced by a commander. I remember asking myself, why? Was there one step on the assembly line that actually demanded consciousness? Were we all too tired to teach our hands anything new?

And then I blew out like a light bulb face down onto a table scattered with upright screws. They’d been arranged in formation like soldiers. Two of those soldiers would surely have poked my eyes out if a good friend of mine hadn’t caught my head in time. He slapped me awake and then sent me off to a corner of the huge warehouse to sleep. My fellow soldiers had sneakily created a decoy; a few of them were hidden behind brown gas mask boxes they’d stacked ceiling-high in a row parallel to the wall to create the illusion that the warehouse ended there. I welcomed the cold floor and used my hard plastic canteen as a pillow.

Unfortunately, I only got a few minutes of sleep before I was rudely awakened once again by the panicked rustling of soldiers. They dragged me to my feet, out of our sanctuary and into to the smell of cold morning air, where our commanding officer had us all lined up for inspection. I stood stiffly and listened to the officer’s speech, my cheek flat and pink from being pressed up against the plastic canteen, my eyes burning red from being yanked out of deep sleep,

Soldiers are unaccounted for, he yelped. Soldiers are falling asleep! I felt with fearful certainty that his eyes would stop on mine; I knew that everything about my disheveled appearance made it obvious that I was exactly one of those soldiers. He stared at us all with blank eyes and demanded that all those who were sleeping come forward. We were all silent, of course.

Then a frail voice spoke from behind me. I could not turn back to see who it was. Permission to speak sir, the soldier said, and I felt a surge of relief run through my body, knowing that this stupid kid was about to put his army boot in his mouth and take the fall for us all. Permission granted, the officer replied. Sir, the soldier said, why don’t we drive your truck into the warehouse and park it in the middle and turn on the radio?

I could hear every mute response around me in the silence that followed; I heard the rubbery strain of eyes popping out, I heard the grinding of teeth and the biting of lips to hold in laughter, I heard the clenching of toes in boots and the digging of fingernails into flesh, I heard stomach muscles tighten and smiles swallowed. Even the officer himself seemed to be holding back laughter, which he could not allow himself to let out, not in front of fresh basic training soldiers. Eagerly, almost sadistically, we all awaited his response. He paced around us one last time and ordered us back to work.

We sat down and resumed the flow of the assembly line. The brown army truck rolled into the warehouse. The truck’s doors were opened, and the radio was turned on. Music filled the space. It was a fifties and sixties music station. After sleepless days and nights we had finally entered a dream. “Twist and shout!”, the radio sang, “Tell Laura I love her…”, and gas masks traded hands. The sun shone in on us and we were alive. It was the strongest second wind any of us had ever experienced. Every hour on the hour the radio beeped the news, and we heard of the mounting tensions in the gulf, and of soldiers like ourselves who were preparing for any possibility. We imagined ourselves to be heroes, real soldiers and not the scraggy bunch of kids we really were.