Two Weeks in December

I dropped Ima of at the San Francisco air port at 17:40. There wasn’t a lot of time to say goodbye because I had to make it back to the ‘World of Music’ to pick up Osmo from his guitar lesson at 18:15. We had dropped him off on the way to the airport, forty five minutes before the lesson so there was little room for further disruption to his evening schedule. Ima gave me the fake ‘I’ll be fine look’ and I played along knowing that only I believed that to be true. We all know how much Ima hates to sit in the sky all the more so when the sky is over an ocean and worst of all when its at night. As bad as it would be if the plane fell from that sky, there would be hope of finding it if it fell on land. Not only would it fall into water, it would fall into water at night – gone without a trace without witnesses other than perhaps a wandering seagull. We quickly loaded the suitcases on the trolley. I tried to put as much into a reassuring hug as I could, knowing that it would not last her long – she would have to wither her fears and come to a safe landing in spite of herself. I watched her as she pushed the cart through the revolving doors, amused by the fact that Ima was one of the only people who never worry about true and present dangers such as overweight.

 

I tried to call Osmo as I weaved my way through the evening traffic, shuffling from the 280 freeway to Foothill Expressway. I got the immediate ‘please leave a message’ voice mail reply which told me that Osmo was done with his lesson, trying to organize what was left of his evening over the phone. I called Ima. ‘I was at the gate in less than five minutes’, she said. ‘The bags were somewhat overweight but I kept smiling and the lady moved them on.’ Ima could project her own views into the subconscious being of airline ticket agents. If Ima was convinced that a few more pounds did not make a difference, the agent could be made to agree. ‘I had a little scare when she looked at my hand bag.’ The way she said it told me that it was a passing anecdote. ‘But then she looked at it again and approved its size.’ Ima’s ‘handbag’ was large and heavy weight like a sandbag of the equivalent size – but fortunately it was little-girls-pink. ‘Pink makes small’ I thought to myself as Ima switched the subject: ‘Osmo is waiting for you’. ‘I tried to call him, but he was on the phone’, I explained. ‘He was talking to me.’, Ima replied. ‘Call him, I love you, bye’. I got hold of Osmo and reassured him that I was five minutes away. He responded with a suspicious ‘See ya’.

‘Ima wants you too call her’ He said when he got into the car. ‘I talked to her’, I said. ‘When?’, he asked. ‘After she talked to you’, I said. ‘How do you know it was after she talked to me?’, he asked. ‘She told me that you had tried to call me and that she should tell me to call you in case I called her.’ I answered and continued: ‘If she told me that you had talked to her before I called her, and I talked to you after I had heard this from her, and you did not hear from her that she had talked to me prior to talking to you then I talked to her after she talked to you and there is no need to call her again’. Of course the entire theory was based on the premise that he had called Ima only once after his lesson was done. ‘I see’ he said smiling. Since he knew that he had made only one phone call, the fact that he agreed with me told me that the assumption was true. I got back to practicalities, hoping to work from the momentum of his smile. ‘Where are we going?’, I asked. ‘Christen’, he said. Internally I felt a stronger belief in the odds of the survival of the Jewish people seeing that perhaps we were back in cahoots with the Chinese. ‘How will you get home?’, I asked, assuming the responsibility for heading the flock for the night. ‘I’ll have someone drive me’. I dropped Osmo off and called Tintin. I did not expect an answer because Tintin was playing tennis, and I was not sure he would hear his phone ring.

‘Hello?…’, He obviously knew it was I who was calling, but chose to stay inquisitive. This would allow him more maneuvering room to figure out which way the winds are blowing. ‘Hi, Tintin’. ‘Hi’, still not giving up any information – wanting me to show my cards first.

‘Tintin, how much longer do you want to be at the tennis court?’

‘We just got here’

‘How will you get home’

‘My friend’s dad will drive me’

‘I am going swimming and will not be home before eight’ I said

‘That’s OK’, I could sense his wanting to get on with his life.

I knew that he could play tennis for hours so I could take my time. It was boarding time when I got to the pool. I called Ima to wish her a pleasant flight. ‘Everything is fine’, she assured me, and somehow it sounded sincere, not that Ima wasn’t worried about the sky and the night and sea, but it was normal anxiety. I put the phone in my pocket and looked at the pool. The sky was dark and the the pool was illuminated with strong white light coming from the floodlight on the roof of the gymnasium. The evening air was chilly and there was little vapor over the water which was a sign of cooler water. How ironical, Ima is the one worried about getting wet in her warm aircraft, when I am about to plunge into the cold water under the night sky. I had to do it – if only for the sake of being able to tell it that way after the fact.

When I got out of the pool I called Tintin again. ‘Can you pick us up?’, he asked. As though I didn’t know this was coming. The unwritten rule that when two kids go playing one parent drives one way – and the other drives the other way never fails, unless we are the parents that drive ‘there’ first. All kids tell their parents that its the other parent that will be driving both ways. That’s just a polite way of saying ‘X’s dad is driving us there and you have to drive us back’. When Tintin said ‘My friend’s dad will drive me‘ he was really quoting the friend so the sentence actually means: ‘My friend says that his friend’s dad is driving me’, and his friend’s friend’s dad was I. With the second logical twist of the night worked out I drove them back through seven eleven. I often wonder how all seven elevens carry the same horrible smell – no wonder most people who walk in there wearing face masks… The smell is a combination of the aromas of ‘slurrpy’ mixed with detergent which has been spread evenly on the floor with a mop that has been used for the task for a few years straight without ever being washed. Picture if you will, a person goes in with a mask on, and heads quickly towards whatever it is he or she is after, wanting only to get it over with as quickly as possible. No sooner does the attendant see their hasty movements with their masks on, that he grabs a baseball bat and goes after the presumed robber, who now has no choice but to run for his life, having been forced to become a thief by no other than the store attendant, who now stands with his baseball bat moping that he had been robbed for the third time that night. They should take a closer look at those video tapes. We dropped Tintin’s friend at a house lit up for Christmas at the end of a long dark road in Los Altos. In spite of Christmas it was the only house lit up in that perverse neighborhood that uses darkness as a means to bond with nature. We headed home. ‘Do you need help with homework?’, I asked. ‘I’ve done it already’ he answered. ‘You can sleep in our room if you want’ I offered. He seemed hesitant and I left the offer on the table.

When we got home Tintin turned his nose at the food in the frying pans and went ice-picking for scraps in the freezer. He found a frozen slab in a plastic bag. It looked like ice in a zip-lock bag, but we both knew that Ima did not use zip-locks to store ice, somewhere inside the ice-cube there was edible food. Tintin tried to pull the ice-ball from the bag. ‘Tear the bag, Tintin’. He did, and proceeded delectably to try and pry his food from the slab. Knowing the we were not after a rare fully-preserved woolly-Mammoth I was anguished by the care he took getting to his meager ration. I gently pried the ice from his hands and not-at-all gently slammed it into the kitchen sink which fortunately is made of steel. Lo and behold, six buffalo wings emerged from their frozen grave. Tintin gathered them gingerly onto a plate savoring their would be taste, provided that he could thaw them. ‘Four minutes’, I answered his missing question. As he munched his catch I settled in front of the TV. Osmo stepped in an hour later. Tintin slept in Osmo’s room on the Styrofoam cushion.

I believe we all slept very well – not bragging – just a fact. Morning came with two phone calls from un-trusting women. Ima called first, and not from the business lounge. Yeela called thirty minutes later to confirm that the boys were at school. Between the phone calls I prepared their lunch bags, a sandwich with a tangerine and a bag of chocolate chip cookies – hoping to give them a little calories boost for the day. When I returned from dropping Osmo off, Tintin was already waiting for me on the sidewalk, nervous to get on with the day just to prove that life goes on. He had his French Horn in one hand and his scooter in the other.

‘Do you need for me to pick you up from school?’

‘I’ll ride my scooter’

‘How will you carry the French Horn?’

‘I’ll ride one handed’

When I dropped him off I suggested that he might want to hang the horn from the handle. He nodded, said goodbye and carried his belongings into the school yard. I returned home, took food inventory and went through the motions of the day. Osmo would head for Starbucks after school and would most likely spend the entire afternoon with his friends. If I look the other way he’ll probably skip piano practice, I thought to myself and decided that I would allow him that leeway given that he had just been through the double trauma of having lost an hour to faulty guitar lesson logistics and had been separated from his mother. The tennis logistics fresh in my mind, I decided that I would resolve Tintin’s needs in real time, there was no point in planning ahead. Content that I had a grip on the day I left for work. I expected Tintin to return from school at 15:00. It was 15:45 when I finally looked at my watch. ‘I’m at Adam’s’, Tintin assured me in a neutral ‘I-knew-I-could-not-count-on-you-so-I-moved-on’ tone of voice. ‘I’ll come get you around six and we’ll figure out dinner’. At a quarter to six Amita caught me and said that Edward was ready to quit, perhaps there was something that I could do. I stopped Edward from quiting, at least for the weekend, and went home. Tintin called my cab when I was five minutes away from Adam’s house.

He slid into the car, pulled up his T-shirt and showed me a welt on his left rib. ‘Kevin is such an idiot’, he began skipping the greetings. ‘I was this close to him’, he held out his palms facing each other at shoulder width, portraying the perpetrator’s proximity, ‘and he shot me from this range.’. He knew I that I knew all about the ‘soft air’ guns, that I had tested them at zero range against the palm of my hand and convinced Doron to try just for giggles. The reason I tested the gun at zero range was to make sure that in the worst case scenario the pellet will not break the skin. The reason I convinced Doron to try was in order to see someone else jump in pain, not having allowed myself that privilege. Had I complained about the pain Ima would have outlawed the guns before they completed their first hour out of the package. So here he was, having been shot by Kevin at close range, all charged up and firing his revenge story at me: ‘I came up to him and blasted away at his ankles. I hit him three times before he got away’. I commended his presence of mind to aim for the feet at close range – more control and more IQ than his brother-in-arms. I turned on to Helena as the story of the massacre-in-the-hedges continued.

‘Matt would hind behind a bush, raise himself and fire – it was so predictable.’.

‘Predictable is bad for an ambush’, I offered some advice for life.

‘Seriously, Dude, I timed him and fired when I knew he would be coming up’

‘Did you hit him?’

‘In the neck, Dude, it was one hell of a shot’.

With a muzzle velocity of 150 feet per second I could see how such timing worked. Unlike his friends who shot each other with malice, Tintin only took pride in meeting the challenge of making shots count using skill and cunning. As soon as we got home Tintin readied himself for the Seven thirty dance and proposed that we go somewhere for dinner ‘or do you want Yom Hashishi?’, he asked. Osmo was bowling and likely to want to continue to be with his friends. Weighing the situation with great care it seemed that the three of us having a Friday dinner of leftovers would needlessly stain the holiness of the Sabbath. It would be better to desecrate it properly at Quiz-nos, which logistically fit the situation very well. I called Osmo and offered to pick him up and return him with a full stomach. He accepted whole heartedly and the three of us settled for ‘Honey Mustard Steak’ sandwiches, after which I returned Osmo to the grassy knoll in front of the MacDonald franchise where nine females and another male or two were grazing waiting for his return.

‘What happens from here?’

‘Were going to Stacy to play Poker’

‘How will you get there?’

‘Her mom’

‘How will you get back’

‘She lives on Enderby’

‘Bye’

I rounded the MacDonald restaurant and headed toward ‘Queensland’ (I think that’s what its called). We got there ten minutes before the dance. ‘How are you getting home?’, ‘Christopher’s dad will drive me’. Then he hesitated knowing that he had pulled that one less than twenty four hours earlier, ‘I’ll call you’. I smiled and drove home. I knew that he knew that he too had avoided the piano for a day. I checked the answering machine for messages, none yet. I’ll let Ima land – they’ll both be in a more receptive state of mind when that happens, and I’ll be able to put the reins back on with less resistance. I checked British Airways’ web site – Ima’s flight would be landing two hours later than scheduled. I completely missed the fact that the flight had been rerouted to Larnaca – the British had resumed the habit of detaining Jews in Cypress. I had no choice but to settle down and watch the trees destroy the fortress of ‘Helm’s Deep’ and see Frodo loose his marbles and almost kill Sam, only to regain his composure at the last minute and allow Gandalf to promise us that ‘the battle for Middle Earth was about to begin and its outcome lay in the hands of two little hobbits’. With this useless information clearing my mind, I became annoyed with the fact that a British Airways flight disappeared . I called Yeela, Tal answered and explained that they had left the airport knowing about the detention, that Ima had finally landed and would take a cab from the airport and they would meet her at Irit’s.

After some annoying delays the curtain fell on the first day.

I talked to Ima in the morning and found out that the pot on the stove was not clean – it was full of soup so I put it in the ‘other’ refrigerator. That refrigerator always has its mouth open for you to check the contents of the bottom drawer. I thought the half round lettuce that was there looked familiar, perhaps our paths had crossed some months back. I brought beagles when I returned from the pool. The boys munched in front of the TV and then started walking around the house whistling. It seemed like music but it wasn’t like the piano so I asked them and they both played. They played and the house was otherwise quiet. They seemed to be quite serious about it – perhaps assuming some responsibility for the quality of their work now that they were on their own – but more likely that they just went through all their pieces one by one, caring more about quantity than about quality. Osmo did cut some corners when the practice ending phone call qualified as such, inviting him to the ‘Burrito Gourmet’ or ‘arcade’ or ‘charade’ or ‘parade’ or whatever its called. As it was getting closer to Tintin’s basketball practice at Peterson I packed them both into the car, preferring to spend idle time with Tintin at Peterson rather than drive back and forth. Tintin called ‘shogun’ before Osmo. The poetic justice of the achievement would last a few days, and Osmo could easily bear the anecdotal defeat. He would be on his guard next time around. I stalled for time at a gas station filling gas and oil. We still had twenty minutes to kill at Peterson, a mere flash compared to the hour Osmo had to wait the day before. I didn’t even consider bringing a book, neither did Tintin (nor did Osmo). They have such a volatile relationship with printer matter that I wonder if the day will come when we catch them playing ‘read-you, read-you-not’ with the pages of a book. We spent the time at the vast parking lot hearing a new driver learning that you have to be more gentle with a car’s pedals. Between engine roars, plumes of smoke and parent shouts the car was jumping forward, stopping, roaring and jumping again. “First driving lesson’ I said. ‘Seems more like a last lesson’, Tintin answered.

When the coach arrived I returned home and continued to work on the web site, between relentless jingles from Tintin’s phone, which has become Adam’s heartbeat monitor. If Tintin’s phone does not ring once every fifteen minutes, it means that something happened to Adam. The calls also provide a free wakeup service, albeit somewhat frequent. After six calls I knew it was time to go pickup Tintin and arrange for some lunch. As we had our favorite choices at Wendy’s I wondered what adverse physiological effects two weeks of this feeding routine would bring upon on the children. I promised myself to review other alternatives, finished the fries and drove through Ortega park to see if I could offer Tintin a form of amusement that would last him into the evening. Tintin identified friends at the Tennis courts. ‘Would you like to stay?’. ‘I don’t have my tennis racket.’. This was a diplomatic way of passing the ball back to me. It was obvious that he would play tennis with his friends, the only question was would he have to ride home with me to get his racket. ‘Why don’t I go get your racket?’. ‘Can you bring me a sweatshirt please?’. Sweatshirt was a sign of a longer stay out in the elements which under the circumstances was exactly what I wanted for him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want him in the house, it’s that I don’t want him in the house when he is not in a state of mind to be in it.

As darkness began to fall on the valley Osmo called to inform me of ‘his plans for the rest of the evening.’ as he put it. He was calling from ‘Safeway’ where ‘they’ has bought ‘some orange juice’, and were on their way to Casey to feed his dog, and from there they would proceed on foot to Doron’s house to watch a movie. I did not ask who ‘they’ were, or what they had eaten before the orange juice. Somehow I figured I was being fed information on a need-to-know-basis and played along. This however prevented me from providing accurate information when Mike’s mom called right after Osmo hung up to ask if Mike was at our place with Daniel. How could I lie, I would have to produce Mike to back it up so I told her the truth. Her ‘thank you very much’ sounded mean and angry – poor Mike, but there was nothing I could have done to save him. All I could do was assume that he was with Daniel as he had apparently told the nasty woman.

I filled up the gaps between the driving missions working on the family web site.

Tintin called and asked to be transfered from the tennis courts to Adam’s house for the night. ‘Can we go through Kevin’s house to pick up my sleeping bag?’. Kevin’s house was abandoned. Not the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ kind of abandoned where its dark, and falling apart with a one legged chicken is hobbling on its last leg around the carcasses of the horse and the cow, just the ‘no-one home’ kind of abandoned, which was pretty much the same as far as Tintin’s sleeping bag was concerned. ‘Kevin might be picking up his stuff from my place’ Adam hypothesized. Knowing that Adam had an explanation to anything regardless of facts, Tintin had second thoughts about the credibility of his plans for the night. His concerns were put to rest when he personally monitored the phone call between Adam and his father. With the night arrangements behind him, they went on a lengthy conversation about the air-gun battle that took place the previous day. At some point it hit me that I should have a small recording machine in the car because it would be hilarious to write down some of what they say in the way that they say it. I am not able to reconstruct everything they talked about but they covered three topics: Matt’s inexperience with air-guns, whether or not you get used to the pain and the quality of the types of air guns which circulate in their clan.

‘Matt was so owned’ Adam exclaimed. Tintin agreed. I was stymied. ‘All he did was lay behind his bush and get zapped, zapped, zapped’ Adam reminisced philosophically. ‘He’s not used to the pain, he’s never been shot with an air gun before’ Tintin added. This told me a couple of things. ‘Owned’ most likely meant ‘at their mercy’ of which they apparently didn’t offer much. ‘You never get used to the pain’ Tintin exclaimed trying to put Matt in a better light. ‘Sure you do’ Adam hurried to reply and then, having regained the microphone took a moment to think out loud: ‘Well, you kind of you do and you don’t’. He let go of the microphone and Tintin continued to disagree. Adam regained the microphone and accepted that ‘you only get a little used to it depending on where you’re hit’. This switched the subject to the body areas which were the most sensitive to plastic pellets. ‘The legs are the worst’, Tintin said. ‘The legs and the lips’ Adam replied ‘it really stings when you get hit in the lips’. I thanked the powers that control the order of the world that Ima was not in the car. I found comfort in the idea that had Ima been in the car the kids would have had the presence of mind not to have this conversation. Boys know that mothers’ take on guns is ‘I’ll make the best of the first excuse you give me to get rid of these things’ – and a shot to the lips qualifies with honors. Then why am I telling you this? To establish credibility– trust is the foundation of any relationship.

Sensing the somewhat futile nature of their argument, the boys moved on to analyzing the types of guns that they were using. They each held their own weapons in high regard and extended equal commendations to the other’s gun. ‘Is that Panther model that Tony uses any good?’, Tintin asked concerned. Adam assured him that ‘it only holds a lot of shots, but other than that its no big deal’, ‘I went though four clips and that thing was still half loaded, but it doesn’t have a high muzzle velocity’. He gulped some air and went on to tell about an article his dad had shown him about men playing with ‘700-feet-per-second-muzzle-velocity-guns’. ‘They use full body armor, and there was this picture of a guy bleeding, probably wasn’t wearing his protective gear or something’. What Adam was saying was that there was a lot or headroom to grow with soft-air guns, after all kids like to know that the they are acquiring skills that have a future.

I returned to an empty house haunted with health food messages. Ima had slyly left a bowl of fried almonds on the counter. Not just fired – fried and zero-cyanide-peeled. As if the pile of love filled lean protein was not powerful enough, Ima also baked chestnuts – the kings of the nut-and-beery kingdom, and left them right next to the almonds. The grapes were only a blender away to the right. I couldn’t take it anymore so I looked to the left. As my gaze shifted the dryer came into full view: ‘Bushy the drier is full’ the words were now screaming in my ears. Not only are the children poorly fed, they have nothing to wear and are going elsewhere to sleep. Torn with guilt I looked further right to the fruit basket. The three month old pomegranates where showing their rib cages. Rib cages was all I needed to think about right now – hungry, ribs showing and to top it all their disheveled bodies covered with welts from pellet guns. I could hear the fruits and nuts screaming ‘where are your priorities?’, at me. The writing was in the wall: ‘I left you with two healthy young men with bulging chests and hanging nuts and what do I find? Shadows! Shadows with their ribs sticking out, looking like emaciated pomegranates…’. There was only one thing to do. I threw out the pomegranates and ate the almonds. Still shaken I opened the dryer and took out the embroidered mosquito net which we use as a table cloth. Another message came at me like a bolt of lightening: ‘unless you feed them they will be able to pick crumbs through the holes of this net with their scrawny fingers…’ It didn’t end there. All the clothes in the dryer were small, which can be expected after lying in a dryer for three days: ‘without food these shirts will fit them in no time’. I vowed to pick some lemons off the tree and make some lemonade – which bodes the question ‘why am I telling you all this?’. To build credibility – trust is the foundation of any relationship. If all else fails you have to know that at least I will be giving you the facts and be open to criticism, eager to mend my ways. When you stop to think about it, the explicitness of the slyness was contradicted itself; one was not supposed to be aware of subliminal messages, perhaps I was overreacting.

Osmo called at eight o’clock (20:00) to let me know that ‘they’ had landed at Doron’s to ‘watch the movie’. At ten thirty he called again to tell me that the movie was over and he ‘will soon begin walking home’. His choice of words conveyed a deeper meaning. When girls tell you about their plans they are sharing. When boys tell you about their plans using future-perfect they want you to do something that will make their plans come true without their having to do anything about it. ‘Do you want me to come pick you up?’. ‘Can you?’. The voice was full of hope, gratitude and vindication. After all it was late in the night, cold, dark and lonely. ‘I’ll be there in five minutes’. I got into the car with Oshik Levi who had just the right song for the empty streets.

Oshik’s timing was perfect – we live one ‘Shoter Azulai’ away from Doron. Not that anyone cares, but that’s what the Shoter Azulai is all about – let that be our little secret. I waited outside. Osmo waited inside. I knew I had to break the deadlock because I was the one who was out on the street so I called him.

Gas prices were down to two dollars and fifteen cents a gallon as the curtain fell on the Sabbath.

Judging by the time I spent on the toilet seat on Sunday morning the thanksgiving turkey’s state was boarder line. True to my vows, I picked some oranges and lemons from the trees and tried to make a jug of juice. Each orange yielded a tiny amount of juice which for some reason did not ring a bell. ‘Its probably the quality that counts’ I told myself. I worked for a good forty five minutes and the juice had the most putrid taste you can images – we are growing rotten oranges fresh from the tree. However I did notice that the higher in the tree you go, the better the oranges seem to be. Perhaps I’ll try again in a few days. I tried a few more gulps hoping to bond with my creation – not a chance, garbage in – garbage out. I poured it all down the drain catching a good whiff as the volume of the juice spread in the sink – Honey, I saved the kids from myself.

Other than the prevented poisoning by garbange juice, nothing much happened except for Tintin’s basketball game which wasn’t much to write about either. In fact it was one of the worst games anyone had seen in quite some time. We played against Jenine’s team at the Fremont high school. Tintin wanted to come an hour early to watch the previous game so I drove him there and went back home for and hour. We played in our blue uniforms, Jenine’s team played in white. Tintin did not play in the first quarter. Right from the start Ayal caught on to Lauren (Joshua) and stole a ball from her. Ayal scored 30 seconds from the start – 2:0. We lost the ball again, but the other team didn’t do much with it. After one minute the score was still 2:0 which was encouraging. Jacob – son of four mothers was fouled and missed. Lauren caught the ball and Ayal did his job and stole it back from her. For Ayal it was like taking candy from a baby. With 6:30 to go still the score was still 2:0. I kept watching the clock, every second that passed without the other team scoring against us was a blessing – 5:22 still 2:0. 4:12 and the white team finally scored 4:0 and our 33 threw a tantrum – one of many which would follow – all bad showmanship with no added value what-so-ever. 2:41 into the first quarter and the white team’s number 33 – a huge Chinese player scored – 6:0. Their 33 was so much better than ours. Less than a minute later Lauren shot a basket 6:2. As poorly as she plays, she has one spot on the field from which she scores with impressive precision. The Chinese tower returned the favor 30 seconds from the end of the quarter – 8:2. Ryan guarded Tintin in the second quarter and Tintin guarded Jacob-son-of-four. Between Tintin and Ryan nothing happened. Tintin managed to grab the ball a few times but had no-one to give it to so the other team took it back. The ball went back and forth with nothing much happening score-wise. After two and half minutes we scored – 4:8 – what a close game. Our shooting was horrible, but fortunately so was theirs. They had an edge, but were not able to exploit it – that’s the nice thing about messy games, the bad teams survive by creating chaos which their opponents are not used to playing against. Tintin was blocked by three players trying to break into the basket. The refs did not call it. In fact the refs hardly called anything which made the game pretty ugly. Our Shawn tried to take a shot and was blocked by son-of-four. We missed again from under the basket. With 2:16 to go in the quarter we scored one more basket from a foul shot and then our number 54 shot again – a one point game – 8:7 at the end of the second quarter. What a humiliating score but at least we were not getting creamed. Tintin was not happy, which will most likely remain the state of affairs until he finds his way around his own team. At the beginning of the third quarter the giant Chinese shot and missed. Lauren lost the ball to keep things fair and the white team scored 10:7 with 5:49 to go in the quarter. The desk kept the clock running so as not to prolong the misery of everyone in the gym. The Chinese stole a ball from our 33 madman, who true to the sportsman that he wasn’t, tried to beat him up for it. He chased after him with crazed eyes and puffed cheeks but the Chinese was too quick and our gladiator caught nothing but air. The Chinese ran to our basket, was blocked and got two foul shots which he missed and the battle for the rebound began. It was one of the longest battles for a rebound in recent history. It seemed that no-one could get there hands on the ball which kept on bouncing from player to player. The refs stood and watched the brawl and did nothing. Finally, the competitive nature of our 33 enabled him to stomp over bodies and take the ball to the white team’s basket, where he repeated the mistake of trying to come in from the baseline with the Chinese tower blocking him. He managed to throw the ball towards the ceiling and was fouled in the process. He missed both shots. The giant Chinese took the ball down the court, missed and the ball was ours again. Lauren missed a shot but it was nice that she tried. She is also left handed in case anyone cares The white team scored a three pointer. 33 lost the ball again. 2:24 from the end of the quarter Lauren shot – 13:9. Our 33 kept chasing the other team’s players with sole intent of inflicting physical harm, but other than that he did not do much good. With 1:23 minutes remaining in the quarter our center – Spencer – small and efficient scored a three pointer and we were back to a one point game 13:12. The white team shot, missed and Lauren with her statue reflexes failed to catch a rebound which hit her on the head. The bell sounded, our 33 stomped his feet and flailed his arms hoping to draw attention to himself, but few were interested.

The fourth quarter started with Tintin back in the game. The white team did better in this quarter and managed to end it with 20 points to our 12. The fifth quarter, which by definition cannot be a quarter started with Tintin playing again. 33 scored a three pointer – 15:20. For two more minutes nothing happened until Son-of-four scored twice – 24:15. Tintin stubbed his thumb going after a ball. We returned a three pointer – 24:18. 33 locked himself on the baseline again, got his foul shots and hit one – 24:19. Tintin fell on his tail bone trying to block one of their forwards. The last few minutes almost resembled basketball, 26:19, 26:21 and finally 28:21 from a shot by Ayal which set the final score. Tintin managed to bump his knee and was overall ashen – he had not taken a single shot in the game. It looked like it was going to be a long season.

‘Do you want to eat at home or go out?’, I asked. ‘What ever you guys decided’ was their mutual answer. This lethargic attitude could have had multiple reasons, one of which was the depressing notion that the house was losing one of its most basic functions – the food court. As much as they like to eat out, there is a very strong reassuring feeling in home cooking – there is more to produce of the nest than just its taste. ‘Let’s eat at home’ I said. I took the pumpkin soup barrel and poured what looked like three portions into a smaller pot which I set up to heat on the stove. I did not use the microwave because I needed the microwave for the carcass of the Costco chicken. I pulled the shattered remains of the old turkey from the refrigerator and set them as they were on the kitchen table. I tasted the turkey – after the afternoon’s orange juice it was just fine. I put the chicken in the microwave for four minutes, hoping to kill whatever might have been growing on it. Osmo pulled a bag of pot-stickers from the freezer: ‘Do you know how to make these?’, he asked. ‘Read the instructions’, I said. ‘It says to put two table spoons of oil in a pan and brown them with medium heat’. He took a tea spoon from the drawer. ‘Is this a table spoon?’, ‘No, it’s a tea spoon’, Tintin answered without a trace of cynicism – this was serious stuff and he was genuinely supportive. Osmo took the wok from the cupboard, but looked troubled: ‘Is this a frying pan?’. ‘Sure’, I said. He did not seem satisfied and continued to scout the counter until his eyes came to rest on the small frying pan. He found the olive oil which did not say ‘cooking oil’ so he kept looking and pulled out a half gallon of some other oil. I poured some into the pan without using the table spoon. ‘How do you know that this is two table spoons?’. ‘It doesn’t matter, we’re using the oil to heat the food, not as an ingredient’, I explained, taking great pride in my ability to present the distinction so astutely. I made the mistake of preheating the oil which is a very bad idea if you want to heat frozen food. The meeting between the ice and the hot oil was explosive. Osmo and Tintin took a few steps back with worried looks on their faces. Its not that they hadn’t seen Ima put her hands into a shower of oil and ice before, but with Ima it was different, they trusted that she knew what she was doing. With me, the angry oil, which was jumping all over the place, seemed like an accident. ‘Give me more of the pot stickers’, I asked. ‘Are you sure?’. I took a few more and dumped them in the oil. Then I took more oil and poured it into the pan. Peace settled upon the pan as the cooler oil and the ice became friends. I cut a tomato for decor if not for anything else and put out the remaining slices of the black bread. We all had soup. Tintin carved a few pieces of the chicken and ate them with a chocolate chip beagle. Osmo focused on the pot stickers. We all helped ourselves to the remains of the turkey and some of the chicken. I ate the tomato. Dinner behind us we melted into the night, the boys settling beside each other in Osmo’s room.

Yaffa from Globus called from New York at 6:40 on Monday morning, with a sudden urge to tell me that we still had 22 dollars lying around since January in some dial plan. ‘Ha-keseff stam shohev, lo haval?’. The pity in her voice really moved me. I thanked Yaffa warmly for the information, pretended to be taking down her number so that she would be at ease with herself and ended the conversation.

That evening I sat through Tintin’s workout knowing that my presence couldn’t hurt. From time to time I read another page from Hemingway’s ‘The Sun also Rises’. A page at a time was enough because Hemingway has a way of cramming two life stories into a paragraph, and you have to stop and figure out just what it was that you just read. As I broke from the reading I looked at the basketball court. Tintin was as lackadaisical as Mrs. Fromm (hell) had diagnosed, moving slowly on the court, dragging his feet, his unwashed hair in his eyes, making sloppy passes and complaining out loud about the brutality of our number 33 who has it out for anyone who has the ball. At the end of the workout I hung around seeing that coach wanted to ‘have a word with me’. He walked over tall, authoritative and red haired, his hands held slightly away from his body, more rigid than those of regular people. The makeshift importances-conveying body language told me that things were bad. ‘I had a talk with Amitai today’, he began after shaking my hand warmly and pronouncing my name with a ‘U’ instead of an ‘I’. I stared at him with seeming anticipation knowing that not having initiated a meeting I did not have to show my cards. ‘It was about motivation’, he continued imploringly, in vain waiting for the light to come on in my eyes. I kept staring, maintaining eye contact, making it obvious that I was fully tuned to his forthcoming speech, yet sending the message that as far as I was concerned he had not yet said anything that warranted a reply. Fortunately for him he had seen my stare before, so he fast forwarded past a lot of potential embarrassment. He knew that he had said enough to present a dad who viewed basketball as a crucial career building move for his son, with the opportunity to hop right into the conversation and cheer him on. My mute goat gaze told him that he was up against a rare but difficult category of fathers he disliked the most – those that would support the child regardless of the consequences to basketball. He immediately switched tactics: ‘You know what I am?’ he asked, and knowing that it was pointless to wait for an answer to such a stupid question he answered it himself: ‘An Educator’ which must have caused me to blink. This proved that I was not vegetative, but not much more than that. What was I supposed to do with this generic statement, are we not all educators when it comes to our kids? ‘I am a principle’ he continued making uneasy moves with his head, hoping to see where my ‘on’ switch was. ‘Is Amitai a good student?’, he asked grasping for straws that would keep the conversation afloat. ‘Yes’. I said, quite at ease that I had given a complete and correct answer to the educator’s question. What was I supposed to say? ‘Straight A’s, plays three instruments, gave up the school basketball team in favor the school’s concert band which normally does not accept seventh graders, missed the first basketball draft which probably would have gotten him on a better team because he was committed to playing for his competitive soccer team that weekend in spite of the fact that her had a raging fever the day before the game – so please spare me the speech about commitment which you are trying so hard to give me!’. That was Ima’s line, I knew I would mess it up if I opened my mouth so I kept quiet. ‘Do the grades come easy to him?’ I had to break loose. ‘I can see where you are coming from, and I urge you to work it out with him’, I said. His look was a mixture of disappointment and resent. I could see how the neurons were firing under the roots of those red hairs: ‘If he were my student…’, but we both knew he couldn’t say it. I decided to push one more pin into his heart before leaving: ‘You know that giving is a two way street’, he had to agree, but his warning bells were telling him that it was his turn to keep quiet. ‘…and there is some unreasonable lack of sportsmanship on the field.’ I knew that he knew that I had seen 33 all over Tintin. ‘What ever gets the job done’ he blurted. I could see how he tried to run after the ‘alley logic’ before it hit my ear drums, and he knew he had given the ‘gung-ho’ answer to the mothering father – big mistake. I had the high ground so I made sure the needle was all the way in: ‘Well that’s where I believe we do not see eye to eye’. I had earned the right to pretend the conversation never took place. He knew that I knew, I knew that he knew that I knew, which was enough for me to know that he also knew and fell back into silence. The educator smiled, bid me good night. I bid the same to him, turned around, removed the smile which had been glued to my face all along and walked outside to Tintin who was waiting for me. ‘That 33 is nasty’ I began. ‘Dude, seriously… but he yelped when I smashed my elbow into his ribs’…

When we came home I decided to set things right with the educator for Tintin’s sake. After all, it was worth a shot. I sat down and wrote the educator an e-mail. I began by thanking him for taking the time to talk to me and to stare into my eyes. With Ima in Israel, there was no one to look me up close in the face and stare into my eyes, and I was missing having them stared into. I moved on to the body of the letter. I wrote about social justice in the eyes of a child, leadership as it can be exhibited by a youngster and how one can detect it on the court. I used examples I was sure he could not have missed. I wrote about camaraderie, the value of friendship, the role of perception and how far a kind word goes when rearing the young. I had managed to cram everything that Ima had given up trying to teach me into a single paragraph. I concluded by making it clear that I while I could not step in directly, I would be happy to coach the educator behind the scenes to maximize the benefits to the child and the team. I tool special care to use both ‘could’ and ‘would’ so that it would be clear to the educator what was mandatory and what was optional. True to the positive nature of the e-mail I offered to continue our discussion after the next workout which was due on the coming Saturday. I spell checked the message, made sure that I did not use the word ‘like’, and sent the message to do its work.

Without asking the educator for permission I let Tintin know what was going on. I hoped that the educator would see the light, but did not count on it. To be on the safe side I put in motion a more radical rehabilitation plan. Tintin found the new state of the art-of-war game CD on eBay. I ordered it for him without being able to change the shipment address which sent it to Durshire. As much as I didn’t want to see ‘Alien’ again, it would be a small price to pay for the child’s well-being. The game on the way Tintin had something positive to look forward to. He watched me closely as I was filling in the ‘Paypal’ forms.

‘How long will it take to get here?’

‘A few days’

‘How will we know it arrived if it goes to the old house?’

‘We have a tracking number and we get e-mail updates following its progress’

‘Can you forward the e-mail updates to me?’

‘What’s your e-mail?’

dudeofkoolness@hotmail.com‘ – which impressed me, but is probably no news to you.

‘How will we get it from Durshire?’

‘I’ll go to pick it up’

With the wheels in motion, the risk of the CD not arriving, or arriving and the Alien being away had to be mitigated somehow. The next day fate intervened in may favor. Rami forwarded the URL of an eBay warehouse that sold soft-air guns. Not that we needed another soft-air gun – but having another package coming dramatically reduced the risk of nothing arriving at all, provided that Tintin would find something to buy in the online warehouse… ‘Tintin come have a look at this web site’. He went through the catalog with great care. Thankful for the tip, but knowing how ignorant I was, he called Osmo to share the treasures which were unraveling before his eyes as he scrolled down the screen. ‘Are you kidding me, only 1.89$ for this pistol? Sweet!’. I placed another Paypal order for ten dollars – eight of which would cover the shipment. Having reduced the risk and more than doubled the hope we were ready to bear the last week of school before the winter break. As the days went by the e-mail messages indicated that the CD was making steady progress from San Francisco to Sunnyvale.

As the shipment arrival date came nearer I contemplated how I would contact the Alien without falling into his ‘problem of the month’ contest. The Alien was not counting on me, he invited me before I had a chance to call.

‘Iftah, ahalan, mah nisma?’ – as though he cared.

‘Shalom Alien, mah koreh?’ – as though I cared.

‘Tishma, ha-mayim ba-ambatiya shell ha-yalda levanim’.

‘Zeh avir ba-mayim, zeh klum’

‘Aval ze lo yotzeh, ha-yalda lo muhanah le-hitrahetz’

I asked him to call Shaul who doesn’t wash either. I told him that there was a package I was expecting and asked that he call me when it arrived. I prayed that the package would arrive before Shaul. If I came over when there was an open trouble-ticket, Alien would not be able to hit me with another of his issues. The package lived up to expectations. Ilan called and I came over to pick it up. We went through the same greeting ritual.

‘Iftah, ahalan, mah nisma?’

‘Shalom Alien, mah koreh?’

‘Tishma, ha-mayim ba-ambatiya shell ha-yalda levanim’.

‘Zeh avir ba-mayim’

‘Aval ze lo yotzeh, ha-yalda lo muhanah le-hitrahetz’

‘Bo nir-eh’.

The chemist walked me to the bathroom and picked up a water specimen, one which he had collected before I got there. There was a rim of bubbles along the sides of the glass but other than that the water was clear. I had to admit to myself that the rim of bubbles looked as if someone has spat in the water. He looked at me with his beady eyes, his tail features raised: ‘Ze lo yotzeh’. I was a bit surprised that the chemist was not aware of the surface tension phenomena which caused the bubbles to remain along the rim of the glass. I knew that if I poured the water into another glass the bubbles would disappear, but that would open the door to the next problem. ‘Is Shaul coming?’ I asked. ‘Yes, tomorrow’. I had twenty four hours to get away with the CD. ‘OK’, I said and turned to leave. The Alien felt cheated when I did not pop the ‘anything else?’ question so he offered that I pick up the mail.

‘Boyna, ani hayav le-hagid leha sh-zeh hamon doar.’

‘Kaha zeh be-America.’

‘Ei efshar lehagid lahem lishloah et-zeh eleichem?’

‘Bikashnu.’

‘Shapiro bimyuhad, vegam Mick…’

‘Et Shapiro kedai leha lehakir bemikreh she-tahtof Aids.’

I was trying to finish the conversation on the light side before Shaul came, but the leach would not let go. ‘Ken, samti lev, hakol al Aids.’ Not only a leach but a tactless one as well. Not only was he complaining about mail, he had no problem telling me what our mail was about. I let him vent, thanked him for the mail sack and left. When I got home the soft-air gun was waiting in the mailbox, as if to tell me that sometimes things do work out as planned. Tintin spent a day walking around with the pistol and trying to get the game going, but every computer had some problem. It was like Goldilocks and the three bears only with Tintin and four computers and the last one not solving the problem which doesn’t leave that much of the simile does it? As it turns out this is a war game that is played with a group of players over the Internet. My computer refused to load it – probably the hardware is too old. Tintin’s computer was too slow. Osmo’s computer was a complete wreck and Ima’s actually ran the game in stand-alone mode but did not allow Internet connections to it. At least we had the pistol.

The Saturday basketball workout was a completely different ball game. I was there with Tintin and Hemingway, keeping my share of the bargain. The coaches were very supportive of Tintin as well as the boys. Tintin was getting an overdose of encouragement and was thriving on it. He was driving to the basket, shooting, assisting, stealing, running the ball, and having a good time. At the end of the workout I came up to the educated: ‘I think we did good today’, he concurred smiling and that was it. The educator had come around and Tintin accepted him. Osmo was gone for the weekend at some AZA convention so I took Tintin to watch King Kong. Sunday’s game was still a disaster but it was not a route and Tintin recovered well.

I woke up on Sunday knowing the Suma had most likely reached the base at ‘Shizafon’. I though of the pictures that Ima sent earlier – Suma did not want to be in these pictures, but did the honors to get them over with. I thought of the bus ride – at least four hours maybe five. I imagined Suma sitting at a window seat staring at he views going by, thinking about what she was doing, heading to the middle of no-where. You always thought that the middle of no-where was a figure of speech which you could use casually to define some desolate place that you read about, not one that would be your home. I envisioned the the views changing as the bus sped south towards ‘Be-er Sheva’. The morning in Tel Aviv, people rushing in all directions, taxis honking, trucks unloading, buses weaving through traffic, banks, department stores, food stands, electronics – a jungle of sound and color replaced by the rolling hills of the northern Negev, passing Beit Kamah and Lehavim. Did the bus go through Arad or through Dimonah? Did the names mean anything? Did Yeela mention any of them before they departed. This was a longer route than Yeela took. It went through New York and then turned south past ‘Ma-aleh Peres’ and the Aravah junction. Sdom was to the right, Eilat to the left. ‘Kvish ha-aravah’ – Israel’s version of California’s highway five, a long empty road running through a desert valley. Mountains to the East, mountains to the West, little vegetation and a strong glaze from the light colored earth, a mix of light brown, white and yellow. The names along the road probably did not mean much on that first day, there was too much going on in her mind. The road signs in Hebrew and English – which line was she reading? I recalled that when she was two years old I had to get to Shizafon but there were flash floods that day. We stood on the banks of Nahal Be-er Sheva, which is a dry river bed most days of the year, and watched as a truck floated by in the two hundred yard wide brown raging torrent. We could not continue to ‘Dimonah’ so we drove back north and tried to go through ‘Arad’. Micha and Micky bet on the western road – the one less traveled by, along the Egyptian boarder. As we descended from ‘Arad’ to ‘Mitzpeh-Zohar’ we came to where a section of the road was missing and a six foot deep gully split the asphalt. We had to turn back and started from Jerusalem again the next day. Micha and Micky made it – driving all the way south to Eilat and heading back north on the Aravah road, they got to Shizafon a day ahead of us.

Maybe Suma was going through Miztpeh Ramon? One of the most beautiful roads in Israel. I doubted it, the descent into the ‘Ramon Crater’ was not an easy road for buses, but maybe the road was better these days? I thought of the settlements along the Aravah road. First they would pass ‘Hatzevah’, and twenty minutes later they would pass ‘Ein Yahav’, followed by ‘Sapir’, ‘Tsofar’ and ‘Faran’. When she was three and a half she roamed the dry river bed of Nahal Faran, loving the freedom that the desert offered to roam. I hoped she would come to love it again. The bus continued south past ‘Be-er Menuhah’ and ‘Yahel’. I smiled as the bus passed ‘Nahal Yeelon’ – would Suma take a minute to enjoy the though that her older sister was standing watch from the road sign? The bus passed ‘Lotan’ and turned right towards Shizafon – keeping a few more little stories hidden further down the Aravah road, at least for now. Just south of the junction is ‘Kturah’ which was founded by ‘Young Judians’ some of which happened to be my counselors at Tel-Yhuda back in 1974. Maybe some of them are still in the Kibutz, maybe someone remembers them if they are not. South of Kturah are ‘Grofit’, ‘Yotvetah’ and ‘Samar’. Grofit is perched on a hill on the east side of the road. It always reminds me of the ‘Nahal’ stamp which the Israeli philatelic services published in October of 1977. The stamp commemorates the founding of the kibbutz. It shows a lego like house, water tower and tree surrounded by flowers on the top of a hill, which is actually a helmet. It’s one of the Israeli stamps which I like the most for whatever the reason. ‘Samar’ was founded by Michal’s garin. She spent her military service there – at least I think she did. Maybe its time to get some memories straightened out. Perhaps there are people from our high school in Samar. Funny how close to home the end of the world can be, even if its little stories that don’t add up to much. The bus reached Shizafon, the doors opened and the girls descended, each with her own fears. It will be OK, take it one day at a time, spelling mistakes are acceptable and if you cannot write fast enough switch to ‘Hebrish’.

I have no idea where the boys were on Monday. On Tuesday I gathered them from their diaspora tempting them over the phone with dinner at Tony Roma’s. They immediately told me where to pick them up. Tony Roma’s – a place for ribs with no place for brains. The waitress explained that ribs came only in groups of six, nine and twelve which was a little surprising to us: ‘We normally take four or six’ the boys explained. She still didn’t get it: ‘well now they come in groups of six, nine or twelve’. When we got the pork ribs we understood what the young cow was talking about. We asked whether this was beef and the Mexican rabbi assured us that indeed it was. Sitting close to the entrance we summoned the concierge who was a little more skeptical. Finally the waitress broke the tie realizing her mistake. She corrected it by bringing each child a full rack of eight beef ribs promising to charge us for half racks to compensate for the inconvenience. I had no problems seeing these ribs – the radiated health and prosperity. The boys did not need any encouragement either and went for their prey with a frenzy. Osmo slowed down after the third rib, struggled through the forth and gave up. Tintin managed to stay one rib ahead but had to give up as well. The bill showed no indication of compensation, which put me on the spot. Hard as it was I put on Ima’s smile and as I handed the signed receipt to the waitress I mentioned that she might want to double check whether we had been charged for two full racks or for two halves. Wiping the sweat from my brow I could see her discussing things with a man with a tie. A man with a tie, a waitress and our bill in our her hand could only mean that they had screwed up again and she was asking his permission to backtrack. She returned with a corrected bill. Now all we have to do is wait for the credit card monthly report to see if she had remembered to cancel one of the bills or had charged us twice, once for two full racks and once for two half racks.

Their stomachs full, the boys suggested that we pick up a movie at blockbuster. They set up the living room spreading themselves perpendicular to the sofa using the Styrofoam cushions as a reclining bench. I fell asleep behind them on the Sofa but I do know that they watched ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ which was their second choice after ‘Forty Year Old Virgin’ which was rented out. They made up for the loss the following night when they both slept at Gotham’s and watched it there. The next day Tintin called it a flop and Osmo forgot about his guitar lesson.

With weekend approaching Osmo remained true to his obligation to take care of Lulu and made arrangements to go skiing with Doron’s family. ‘They are renting two rooms, one for me and Doron’ he told me. ‘Sure they are’ I thought to myself. I was concerned that they will find some excuse to stuff Doron’s sister in with them unless I do something about it. I called Doron’s father playing the concerned father that anyone would have expected me to be, inquired about the man’s health and his family’s well being and proceeded to ask about the logistics of the skiing trip. The ballon on the other side of the line puffed himself full of righteousness and explained that he was happy to ask Daniel to join knowing how the two boys enjoyed each other’s company. If Osmo had not confided with me a few days earlier that Doron no longer measured relationships in nickels and cents I would have begged to differ, but with Osmo’s observation in mind I could let the balloon inflate.

‘Meod samhnu lehanzmin et Daniel’

‘Eich tishnu?’

‘Doron ve Daniel be-heder ehad ve-anahnu baheder hasheni’

‘Ata ve-Eti?’ I was amazed that I remembered her name, or maybe he too forgot

‘Gam ahoto shell Doron tishan itanu’

I had to hold him to his word. Knowing that he was a man of his greed there was only one thing to do. I offered to split the price of the second room with him which he accepted immediately. Now as fairness would have it I can only assume that if I paid for half a room Daniel would indeed have half a room. However recent family history shows that some people consider half a room to be measured either in floor space, or in people but not both. Which ever way it turns out I am at ease with myself that I did what had to be done to secure the future of the child.

As for Tintin he is left to look after Lulu with me. I had Osmo call his guitar teacher and setup a makeup lesson for Friday night, which kind of brings us back to the beginning which is a good place to end.

 

Happy Birthday Imma

Dear Imma

Yeela told me to write you a speech. Then Yeela told me to write you a speech again. Then again. Then she got mad at me for not writing a speech, because I should have written a speech. When I could hear the intensity rising over the phone (she got that ability from you), I knew I definitely didn’t want to mess with that voice (a sixth sense that I got from Bushi). So, I forced myself to sit down, and think about why it is that I cannot write a little something for my own mother.

It was an extremely frustrating thought. It is not as if we come from a family of no-talkers or god forbid, in the words of jerry Seinfeld, low-talkers. As a member of the Porat household I can say that the table at Friday night dinner is dangerous and all outsiders should be aware of the verbal crossfire. And it certainly is not like we come from a family who didn’t INVENT Qualie the one (or several) time(s) of the day in which we tickle Tin Tin, in attempts to get information out of him. Essentially, Qualie is nothing but another medium through which we openly share the events of our lives and the thoughts running through our heads with you.

Then what the hell?

And then I realized that for my entire life, all I did was hear how wonderful I am from YOU. So, here is my opportunity to attempt to start, even though I am sure that what I can get across in words is only a mere, tiny fraction of what I truly feel.

Thank you-

Thank you for your spontaneity- Remember the time we wanted to visit NYU and I wanted to leave on a random Thursday night? Then we couldn’t because you had a Stanford event? The only reason we couldn’t leave was that you had a Stanford event. It didn’t even occur to you that it was last minute, or that it’s a hassle to go and find a hotel in NY, or that WE WERE GOING TO FLY TO NEW YORK. I feel this quality mostly now, when I am on my own, and I seem to be one of the few people who can take surprises with a grain of salt. Even a trip to Akko that we are given half an hour to eat lunch and prepare for, I find that I am of the rare few who seem excited by the event as apposed to annoyed by it. I think that this attitude to face life with is within the top 5 of most important things that you’ve taught me. One of the things you say that sticks out in my mind every day is, hadvarim etzlaynu dinamim. Every time something changes last minute, I think about you, every time we invite 20 people to dinner, or every time you invite someone to live in our house from one day to another and your answer is always, hadvarim etzlaynu dinamim. It has become my answer to people every time someone seems thrown off when something changes or when someone is strictly opposed to a change of plans. I learned that life is unpredictable and there is no point in attempting to predict it. The best way to keep myself sane and to enjoy the moment is by knowing that the next moment is likely to change, for better or for worse, and even if I don’t like what is happening, the moment after that is also likely to change.

Thank you for being a person who everyone loves. Not only because they have to but because it is impossible not to. Thank you for making the video such a pleasure to make. Yeela and I were looking forward to meeting your old friends and it was a pleasure hearing all the amazing things they had to say about you (which you never said about yourself.) Thank you for being a person who my friends love and actually lead me to suspect that they are my friends solely for the fact that they can talk to you. Lauren, for instance, sits and talks to me only because there is a slight chance I will ask her to call you and tell you to go online.

Thank you for DEMANDING that I always follow my heart and always supporting me on everything I do. Throughout my life, all I got was positive feedback and impenetrable support from you. Whether is was when I first hated elementary school and you volunteered in the classroom almost every day to be there with me. Whether is was when Ms. Bassett was being a bitch and you basically told her that she’s dumb and to allow me to be creative. All the mess with the Tzofim; which you spent unfathomably long hours calling, writing, and protecting me under your wing. Or all my difficulties deciding between NYU and UCIDF, not to mention the difficulties of actually moving to those places and living there. Every day you had as long as I needed to talk on the phone. You allow me to vent, help me with my problems (even homework, because no distance is too great for you), and you guide me to make sure, no matter how tough times get and how many people I seem to be fighting, I always follow my gut and keep my morals in order. If you didn’t have the faith in me and expect me to be so strong throughout my life, I don’t think that I would have been to stand up for myself and for all those people along the way who I was able to stand up for.

And thank you for loving me so much that I cant help but learn to love myself. Every day, I hear how great I am and how confident you are in everything I do and so every day I walk a little straighter and trust myself a little bit more. The amount that I’ve grown, no one can see but you, because it is thanks to you that I’m at this point today.

Even when you are not here, I get strength from you and from all of the people who love you. Every time I hear Nadav say how he changed just from a few months from living in our house I feel stronger. Thank you for believing that no mistake is too bad, nothing is permanent and everything can be fixed; and that there is no such thing as taking no for an answer, unless I’m being offered drugs.

Thank you for literally, no exaggeration, being the best Ima in the world.

Happy birthday, ve ad 220

Your favorite youngest daughter,

Tal

(חמישים דברים שלמדנו מאמא (יעלה וטל

חמישים דברים שלמדנו ממך, אמא

אמא’לה…

לכבוד יום הולדתך החמישים, החלטנו שהגיע הזמן לתת את הזכויות ליוצרים…

ולך בהחלט מגיע לשמוע על אילו 50 דברים אנו מודים.

אין ספק שציידת אותנו לחיים.

את ודאי תשימי לב שמרבית הדברים כבר מושרשים אך לא נשקר, חלקם עדיין בתהליכים 🙂

אז אמא, ממך למדנו….

  1. לא לפתוח שקית פופקורן מול הפנים
  2. שמלח ופלפל הם תבלינים מספיקים, גם לארוחות גורמה למלכים
  3. לבשל ארוחה בפחות משעה, של”שמונה-עשרתם” מספיקה.
  4. שאנחנו מושלמות
  5. אבל לא הגבות
  6. ושכרטיסים להופעות לא צריך לקנות.
  7. Speed limits are optional and speed tickets negotiable
  8. לא להתרגז ממעלית שלא עובדת בבית מלון, British יתנו כרטיס בביזנס ליד החלון.
  9. לימדת אותנו את קדושת המיטה
  10. ושלמלון חמישה כוכבים מביאים שמיכה
  11. וגם כמה גרגירי קפה למסעדה
  12. לצייד את הויטנאמית אסור לשכוח אחרת מהפדיקור לא נחיה לשמוח.
  13. שאלה קטנה שמעטים יבינו… של-price club  מגיעה הספקה של שמיכות פוך, כמה קנינו? אחת לכל ילד בדוק! בית אבוק!
  14. אבל עכשיו נדבר קצת יותר ברצינות,למרות שבבית למדנו את תורת הציניות….
  15. אמא בזכותך למדנו להעריך את עולם התרבות,
  16. ידיעת שפות ומוזיקה מפתחת את הראש פן יהיה נבוט.
  17. כל מחזמר ב- Broadway אנחנו רואים
  18. וממוזיקה קלאסית ואופרה נהנים
  19. אבל  It takes a mother to make a musicianאנחנו יודעים.
  20. גם איך לנהל שיחה בשפה שלא מכירים אנחנו כבר מצליחים.
  21. לימדת אותנו שיעורים חשובים לחיים:
  22. לעמוד על דעתנו ללא ויתורים, גם אם לבקש את המנג’ר זה קצת לא נעים.
  23.  ויחד עם האסרטיביות צריך תמיד לשמור על הזהות… בבית ספר היסודי היית האם היחידה שבכל חנוכה הגיעה לשתף את הכיתה הנוצרייה בסיפור הניצחון והגבורה ,כדי שהיהדות תעורר גאווה בילדה
  24. וכדי להגן על הזהות הנחלת בנו אומץ לב ותעוזה.
  25. למדנו שצריך לחשוב בצורה חיובית (אבל לא מוגזמת)
  26. תמיד לסמוך על תחושת הבטן אם לתחושת בטן שלך היא תואמת
  27. ושרק מתוך יצירת הזדמנויות ועשייה נפתחות אפשרויות.
  28. לקחת הכל בקלות ולהבין את כוח הספונטניות! כמו למשל… טיול משפחתי אפשר להוציא לפועל ב-5 דקות ולשכור ולעבור דירה בשעות ספורות. (כמובן עם כמה כללות בשפות זרות)
  29. אמרת שאפילו אם הסיכוי קלוש, עדיין יש סיכוי אז כדאי להתמיד
  30. ובכל מקרה לאמא תמיד צריך להקשיב
  31. ולזכור לא לנסוע מהר בכביש
  32. אפילו ש’בוקרא פי למישמש’
  33.  למדת אותנו להיות בני-אדם:
  34. מהי נדיבות ונתינה בלי פז”מ
  35. אבל שצריך לדעת לקבל מדי פעם.
  36. מאמא אין סודות, אז למדנו כנות גם יושר והגינות
  37. על טוב-לב קיבלנו ממך דוגמא
  38. ולפרגן ללא הגבלה
  39. לתת יחס אישי כי זה נותן תחושה טובה
  40. וכשואלים אם רוצים לאכול, לא לשאול מה יש?? ולהגיד תודה
  41. למדת אותנו איך להיות אמא….
  42. גם כשהחיילת הרחוקה עצבנית את לא מותרת על הסבלנות הנצחית-
  43. מלווה באהבה בלתי מעורערת ואין סופית.
  44. למדנו ששוקו לבן זה דבר לגיטימי
  45. ושמיכת פוך משהו אינטימי.
  46. החינוך לא ייהרס מקצת קשקוש על הקיר
  47. האוכל מתקרר אז צריך לאכול באופן מהיר! בכלל עדיף לאכול מהסיר.
  48. ואיך לארוך שולחן שהופך לחג כל ערב רגיל.
  49. למדת אותנו  את המושג הכנסת אורחים,
  50. ושבבית חשובה הפתיחות, להגיד כל מה שרוצים, ובעיקר-איך לבנות בית שהילדים (חוץ מטיןטין) לא עוזבים.

Cultivating a Mate

Rehabilitating the culturally derailed is as delicate a task. It is a slow and painful process, which requires patience and compassion of the highest order, testing determination and faith as one faces heart-breaking defeats, which overshadow what little progress is made. It is a way of life based on devotion and hope, which gains the strength to continue from short-lived miracles that give theater precedence over soccer. True to this devotion Imma never gave up on me, biting her lips and moving on in spite of my falling-asleep-in-the-middle-of or refusing-to-go-see forms of art, which enrich the soul of civilized people. Over the years progress has been made, but this last Saturday I think we might have taken a step back. I find the courage to write about it knowing that my awareness is a good sign, so much so that I will admit from the start that to a degree I am at fault. All I am asking of you the objective reader is to help me put the pieces together and get back on track.

It all started on Saturday at approximately 4:20 PM when Imma asked me if I would like to go to San Francisco. San Francisco always spells culture if it starts that late in the day. ‘Who else is coming’ I asked knowing that culture on such short notice meant that someone else had to be coming otherwise I would have had to be primed days in advance. ‘Nehama’ Ima answered. Knowing Nehama I knew that with the exception of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ she did not like movies so it had to be a play.

Which play?’

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

That’s by Tennessee Williams isn’t it?’

Yes’.

Isn’t he the same playwright who wrote The Glass Menagerie?’

That’s right.’

As learned as the set of questions might seem – they pretty much summed up my knowledge of Te nnessee Williams and his work. You see, I am from Arthur Miller’s side of the house, which unfortunately is not as profound as it is true. When I went to high school the country was divided into two and only two schools of thought: those who had to study ‘All My Sons’ and those that studied ‘The Glass Menagerie’ for their English finals. Each side of the house staunchly defended its play in front of the other in a manner that would have made our teachers proud:

All My Sons portrays moral dilemmas in a stirring manner’

What are you talking about; it’s so obvious – you can guess the end without reading Cliff Notes…’

If that’s the case, what would the Menagerie be?’

A simple story with a very powerful undertone…’

The teachers’ pride would dissipate instantly when we finally got to the essence of the debate:

All my sons is longer’

Glass Menagerie is more difficult to pronounce let alone spell…’

It was about fundamentals, that superseded literature or its value, it was about school pride over who had to work harder, not for the sake of grades but for the sake of garnering pity and therefore respect from the other party. It was a struggle that was never decided, eventually everyone graduated and life went on. But somewhere among all these cynical students there were a few who grew up to love plays and theater – Ima was one of them.

When it came time for Ima to select a mate my name made its way into the list of candidates. My name came up because my twin sister, who was Ima’s neighbor at the time, brought it up. My sister had the cultural qualities that Ima expected to find in a civilized human. As they got to know each other Ima became intrigued with the idea that there was a male who was as genetically close as non-identical twins could be to the intellectual qualities that she found in my sister. In my defense I must say that I was pretty up front about the amount of work remaining to be done on top of my sound genetic foundation. Ima quickly put her mate-to-be through a series of tests targeted at identifying my cultural boundaries. I remember failing Verdi’s ‘La-Traviata’ test flat out, a humiliation which I made worse by taking pride in managing to fall asleep without snoring. Ima did not think much of this failure: ‘some men take many years to like opera and some never do.’ Having established that my boundaries were closer to the basics, Ima lowered the bar significantly. I got a passing grade when we watched a wonderful performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in the ‘Sultans Pool’ beneath the stars of a crisp Jerusalem autumn night against the backdrop of the walls of the old city illuminated with floodlights. The setting was so romantic yo u had to be emotionally decapitated to fail. Seeing that I passed, the bar went a little higher and I was asked to wait for six hours in line to see the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in London. We visited the Uffizi in Florence and went on to marvel at the statue of David in the city’s cathedral. Much has been said about the statue of David portraying the youth gathering strength before the decisive battle with the Philistines and Goliath jeering him and his fellow Israelites. As far as I was concerned David should have had his hands somewhere else and the jeering would have stopped.

The road to marriage was almost open, but not before I passed the Louvre test. The easy part came first. The easy part was the statue of Venus de Milo – who in their right mind doesn’t love that statue – a piece of eternal pornography. Remember that this was years before the Internet put porn at one’s fingertips. Knowing that the Venus test was potentially biased Ima r an me by the Mona Lisa test. This was as much a test of integrity as it was a test of appreciation of art. If you know the almost mystical aura that the Mona Lisa has as a work of art, you know how disappointing it is when you finally find yourself in front of her. At first you think that you still have at least a hundred feet to cross before you stand in front of Mini-Lisa. The picture is small, quite colorless and Mona – God forgive me – is as ugly as a woman can get without being a transvestite. ‘That’s it?’ I blurted, instantly regretting my honesty knowing what was at stake. ‘I want to marry you’ was the answer – well it wasn’t that simple but we have to move the story along.

As we drove to San Francisco I faithfully played my part from ‘Defending the Caveman’. I was quite and happy to be so. The girls chatted about Nehama’s son who happened to be going through quite an interesting time serving in the ‘Bo rder Patrol.’ ‘He was going crazy standing at road blocks’, Nehama was saying. ‘So what did you do about it?’ Ima asked. ‘You’re not going to believe this’, Nehama answered. ‘After eighteen months of watching his misery I picked up the phone, dialed up and down the chain of command and got him transferred in a week’. ‘Nehama, that’s so not like you’, Ima complemented. Tali, who had also tagged along, pitched in that her son was living up to the challenge at Cornell. ‘He was transferred to work with undercover security units that hunt down the sharks of the underworld’, Nehama continued. ‘That sounds like a lot of suspense in his young life’, Ima responded. ‘Yes, but you know Dror [my son] nothing interests him for long, all he cares about right now is a double major in physics and electrical engineering’. ‘Well that’s great isn’t it?’ Ima asked. ‘It is but you know Dror’, Nehama continued to lament in a lethargic tone, ‘he probably will not do what it takes to pass the qualifying exams’. Even from within my autistic bubble I got it – Nehama was eating what she cooked all these years – a brilliant boy whose parents took extra care to focus only on his faults so that he would figure out on his own how to become perfect. The boy was fulfilling a parents’ prophecy of screwing up every opportunity he had in life just to prove his parents right. Tali reiterated that Edan was living up to the challenges at Cornell – you see the university is not only challenging academically but also cold in the winter. My mind wondered off hoping that Dror’s talent would outweigh his anger as he walked on-and-off the concourse of self-destruction. Between Dror’s real life struggles under fire and Edan’s achievements in his academic cocoon we got to the city, made it through traffic and parked on the sixth floor of Geary Theater’s parking garage without incident. The caveman had delivered the goods. Now it was my time to follow.

As a caveman would have it we had an hour and half to kill before the play started. As the girls planned it we had an hour and a half to buy tickets which placed us on the left side of the second floor balcony, stroll down to the inside-Macy’s-at-union-square-cheese-cake-factory, bypass the two hundred people who stood in line for a mushroom bun, buy illustrious pieces of cheese cake, walk back down to the street, up the block, stroll through the art galleries, cross the street over to Starbucks, have coffee and cheese cake, walk back across to the theater, take the elevator to the fourth floor and sit down in our seats with two minutes to spare. ‘You know we might have a problem understanding their southern accent, all the more so when we’re sitting up here’ Ima said. Nehama gave Ima a tired ‘win-a-few-loose-a-few’ look. Tali decided to hold the high ground and responded that she had little trouble understanding English. I gave Ima full credit that she knew exactly what it meant to watch a play from seats that cost a quarter of what other seats in the house cost, and braced for the worst which hit us with all its fury shortly thereafter.

It’s been years since they stopped raising the curtain at the Geary Theater. For some reason directors prefer settings where the curtain is up as the audience enters the theater. Perhaps it is a way of letting everyone deal with his or her fears beforehand. The fact that there was only a bedroom on the stage troubled me. After all there was so much you could do in a bedroom with thousands of people watching. ‘There will be a lot of dialog in this play’ I told myself. Indeed there was, even though it got off to a promising start – a young lady shed her dress and remained in her undergarments and started calling seductively to a man in the bathroom who was apparently her husband readying herself for what was not to be – but I did not know that at the time. A hulk of a man wearing only boxers hobbled in with a cast on his ankle and sank into an armchair for all to admire his physique while he ignored his wife’s alluring calls. Most of the audience was more interested in him then they were in her, so the director decided to have him slip into something more modest and put him into a pair of new silk pajamas which to the best of my understanding had no symbolic meaning – it was simply what was available on the set.

I spent the first act staring down the actresses cleavage sitting fifty feet above her and a little to her left. I sat there not understanding why the man on the stage was not staring at what I was. The playwright had obviously decided to take an hour of my time to give us the background through a bedroom scene where nothing happens. The woman’s name was ‘Maggie’, and she was the frustrated fe line after whom the play was named. Her unloving alcoholic husband, named Brick, thwarted her sensual advances. The name Brick was most likely more than a coincidence but I could not find it within me to analyze deeper meanings. Brick was bemoaning the suicidal death of his homosexual friend ‘Skipper’. Maggie had allegedly seduced Skipper into an episode of heterosexual infidelity to keep their homosexual relationship at bay. This was taking place on the sixty-fifth birthday of ‘Big Daddy’ – the patriarchal plantation head who unknown to him was suffering from terminal cancer. The greater family had gathered to quarrel over the inheritance rather than to celebrate the birthday. Maggie, not being able to conceive would do everything she needed to do in order to survive in this immoral game. I swelled with pride realizing that I understood that Maggie most likely made up the story about seeing a gynecologist in ‘Memphis’ who had found that there was noth ing wrong with her. This was all a plot to have her and Brick win over Big Daddy’s sympathy. By the end of the first act we had all this information and I was ready to go home.

I tried to make my point during the intermission, which to my dismay, was to be one of two, only to be thwarted by a loving wife with a growing impatience at my lack of appreciation of the ‘acting qualities’. ‘But we get it, there’s nothing new here’ I argued: ‘Failed marriage, betrayal, homosexuality, and struggle over the affection of a patriarch whose death is immanent – what else is new?’ To me it seemed like a pretty profound argument – Tali stared at me with an I-am-with-you look. Nehama was fast asleep. Ima ended the discussion: ‘It is how it is presented not what is presented that matters, it was never done on a hot tin roof’. Somehow I had missed that subtlety. In principle Ima was right. The ancient Greeks knew the formula of tra gedies by heart, there were no surprises and yet the whole population would go to the theater whenever they got back from fighting the Persians. However in practice I was not enjoying the play.

The second act started with Maggie fully dressed. My only reasons for staying gone, I found it harder and harder to watch what we already knew play itself out. You see, unlike movies, watching a play is all about knowing exactly what is going to happen and appreciating how it’s done – rather than enjoying the suspense of what would happen when Angelina Jolly pulls a gun on Brad Pitt. The second act was all about straining the nerves of the audience playing out the lie in excruciating detail. Big Daddy is met with a fanfare from Gooper (Brick’s brother), Mae (his wife), their children, and Maggie. Using all the weapons at her disposal to curry favor with Big Daddy, Mae has her brood of five neck-less (I got that one) children play ‘Dixie’ on a combination of ins truments to greet him. Big Daddy’s wife ‘Big Mama’ Ida joyfully delivers jubilant news about his medical report. Big Daddy a clean bill of health. The plot thickens until finally Big Daddy forces Brick into a no-holds-barred discussion of his drinking and his total disregard for the family’s fortunes. He interrogates him repeatedly, presses home his relationship with Skipper, Maggie intervenes to tell her version of the truth. After she leaves Brick finally admits to running away from the lies exposing the fact that Big Daddy is dying. With the climax reached – it would be all-downhill from now. At least I knew the recipe I tried to comfort myself realizing that there was still one more act to come.

To my dismay the third act proved me wrong about the recipe. In the end Brick is determined to make the lie about their having a child come true, he summons Maggie to the bedroom and asks her to dim the lights, knowing that all of us would soon be leaving. We woke N ehama and walked to the car. As we drove back home Tali said that she would have probably liked the ‘book’ version better. Ima mentioned that it was a ‘play’, I knew that.

Now you tell me, was this really a setback in my cultural rehabilitation?

What are Kids For

My son Daniel greeted me when I returned from Stanford where I participate in a continuing studies class on Thursday night:

–        How did it go?

–        I got in trouble with the teacher; she wants to see my parents before the next class.

–        It seems crazy to drag your parents over from Israel. You want me to talk to her? After all I’m the one who deals with teachers on a daily basis these days.

–        Makes sense. I’ll e-mail her and let him know that you’ll be coming instead of my parents.

–        I wouldn’t do that if I were you, she’ll probably reject it on the spot. It would be better that I just show up she will not throw me out.

–        How can you be so sure?

–        Come on Dad, leave it to me after all, what are kids for? I’ll go during her office hours, but you will have to drive me.

Obviously I would have to drive him being fourteen he had two years to go until he got his permit and this could not wait that long. As we drove to Stanford I couldn’t help but ask:

–        Don’t you want to know what happened?

–        Let me guess he said sounding amused. The teacher presented a well thought out topic which she expected the class to bless and internalize, and you found a fundamental logical flaw

–        I didn’t mean to undermine her I interrupted with the same eagerness that got me in trouble in the first place.

–        Which the teacher perceived as a threat. Daniel completed my words for me.

–        That’s it, that’s exactly it I yelped

–        and the teacher reverted to shooting the messenger, Daniel continued in a sarcastic monotonous tone, raising his eyes to sky and shaking his head from side to side.

–        I tried to make amends

But Daniel raised his left palm indicating that he didn’t want to hear it. He was silent for a moment, letting his seniority sinks in and then continued: How many times do I have to tell you that how you present yourself is more important than what you have to say, Dad? He sounded a bit irritated This is the age of scrupulous self promotion and playing along with people’s charades it’s not about fact, or logic or honesty it’s about saying what people want to hear. I tried to defend myself against the onslaught of practicalities coming from my yearling:

–        One would have expected a staff member in a place like Stanford to keep an open mind.

–        An open mind with a shut mouth he shot back: The teacher made herself look so good and you burst her bubble purely on the basis of academic truth? It’s about time you grew up, Dad.

We drove on in silence, as Daniel let me stew in my droppings.

We pulled up in front of the Oval. Before we left the car Daniel put his hand on my shoulder, and gave me a manly squeeze: Relax. Dad, I’m on your side, but you have to promise me one thing His green eyes stared into mine. Anything you say, I whispered, crushed. Let me do the talking, not one word out of you. This is a very delicate situation and you have to let me handle it. He let go of my shoulder, maintaining eye contact as we slid out of our seats and closed the car doors. I walked next to him, counting my toes over and over; humiliated by the thought that the only thing that worried him was how I would conduct myself.

He walked straight into the teacher’s office as if he had done it many times before. I followed like an obedient puppy. Good afternoon, I am Mr. Porat Jr., he said in a loud and confident voice, as he approached the teacher with his hand held out in front of him. The teacher rose to greet us. Daniel quickly motioned her not to bother: Please don’t get up, Yiftah just wanted to say hello before he left us alone so we could chat. Daniel half turned to me, ready to waive me out, but the coaching in the car worked; I raised my hand sheepishly, mustered a weak smile, turned and left the room leaving the door slightly open. I could hear Daniel pulling a chair closer to the teacher’s table.

–        Thank you for taking the time to discuss Yiftah with me I heard him say.

–        Yes, I, The teacher stammered.

–        Daniel continued: I have heard so many good things about you; it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.

–        You’re too kind.

–        Not at all, one should give credit where it’s due.

–        Well I’m glad to hear that.

–        Your program is so wonderful; it means so much to Yiftah. You should see the smile on his face when I wake him in the morning of a day when he has your class.

–        That’s good to know the teacher replied, her voice less tense.

–        Daniel continued: My Yiftah is a model student, did you know that throughout his twelve years in school from first grade to his senior year in high school he never cut class?

–        I find that hard to believe the teacher remarked.

–        Daniel sounded hurt: Have I any reason to mislead you? he asked?

–        The teacher rebounded: Of course not Mr

–        You can call me Daniel. So to what do I owe the honor of this meeting?

The teacher opened her mouth to speak, but Daniel was quicker.

–        Did you know that my Yiftah is a perfectionist?

–        No, not really, after all I’ve only known him for such a short time.

–        Well, let me tell you, that it is not easy to have a perfectionist in the house. You feel that nothing you do is good enough; we have our hands full trimming his expectations.

–        I’ll bet he is very strict with you? the teacher said trying to be emphatic.

–        Would we be sitting here talking like this had he been strict with me? Daniel answered, which confused the teacher.

 

Daniel lowered his voice and leaned forward:

–        Pardon my asking, but how old are you?

–        I’ll be thirty in November she answered in a loud whisper.

–        That’s what I thought Daniel responded, you’re a bit young to understand what it means to have a grownup Yiftah’s age in the house you have misconceptions and attempt to stereotype, which most likely reflects on your interpretation of his student behavior.

–        How so? the teacher asked in a tone that conveyed genuine curiosity.

–        You probably associate perfectionism with strictness

–        Aren’t they closely related? The teacher was really interested now.

–        Not really, in fact the only reason they go hand in hand is because ‘Pavlovian Conditioning’ yields expected behaviors which fools people into thinking that punishment is productive form of education. But enough of my talking, why did you want to see me?

–        For a minute I lost my train of thought the teacher apologized.

–        That’s Ok. It can happen when your deck is trashed, let me help you find it.

 

Without losing a breath he continued:

–        With the stereotype of Yiftah that you must have in your mind you most likely assume that I am the product of a strict upbringing, with routine punishments which include but are not limited to spanking, grounding, deprivation of candy, banning of TV, friend lockouts, broccoli and all the other weird things that people beyond forty do to people under fifteen based on the false pretence that it is the correct way to bring up one’s flock.

–        The idea has crossed my mind.

–        Daniel continued: And you, a person sworn to uphold the principles of free thinking and research, are out to get back at this demonized image of Yiftah, having amplified his perceived crime a hundred times over, based on a stereotype rather than the facts?

Daniel leaned back in his seat, his hands flat on his knees, his eyes staring straight at the teacher’s face, not moving a muscle. The teacher stirred uneasily in her seat then she started groping for supporting evidence:

–        Did Yiftah ever ground you?’

–        No.

–        No friends?

–        No.

–        Hit you?

–        Never.

–        What happens if you do not do your homework?

–        Nothing.

–        And when your marks slump?

–        It’s up to me to raise them.

–        Do you smoke?

–        No and neither does Yiftah.

–        Drugs?

–        No and neither does Yiftah.

–        Surely he drinks.

–        Milk.

–        Does he exercise?

–        Judiciously.

–        What about bed time?

–        I go to sleep when I am tired

–        He doesn’t peek through the lock when a girl comes over?

–        He’s not a pervert

–        Are there any rules in your house?

–        Only the bare essentials, you know, keeping an open mind, compassion, basic safety. Is this line of questioning going anywhere?

–        So what you are saying is that most of us tend to over regulate and play role games rather than think creatively and risk learning from consequences?

–        DUHH

–        I beg your pardon

–        I said ‘Dah’ that’s ‘yes’ in Russian, I tend to slip when I am tired.

Daniel rubbed his eyes, then he lowered his hands and continued patiently:

–        The biggest mistake parents can make is become a sheep dog to their offspring. As soon as mothers wean their children, they begin to put in rules in their place in the futile attempt to protect the child from himself.

–        How is that a problem?

–        It erases the child’s personality; it robs them of any sense of responsibility or need to decide things for themselves. They never learn to bear the consequences of their actions. They always expect their parents to be there at the other side of the door keeping tabs on them. If they fail it’s their parents fault because they were never taught differently. They drink because its not their decision to make, and they smoke for the same reasons.

The teacher was perplexed: You’re really putting me in a bind here she said thoughtfully, on one hand you’re telling me that Yiftah is so open minded, a man who corrects without punishment, has taught you to take charge of your life and achievements, and yet he demands perfection? It seems a little unfair isn’t it to ask so much of a person as young as you are not that you are not mature and capable, but still one would expect that you are entitled to make some mistakes.

–        You hit the nail on the head Daniel answered. If there is one thing that I would have him do differently it would be to lower his expectations when he is teaching me something new. All too often he loses his patience with me. I hate when that happens.

–        And what do you do when it happens?

–        Sometimes I have to walk away and come back another time it’s a lousy feeling.

–        And how does Yiftah feel about it?

–        He’s down right miserable but he knows he has to work on himself. It’s his responsibility. I think you experienced some of what I am talking about.

–        Yes, indeed I did.

 

There was a slight pause, this time Daniel waited for the teacher to continue. Well I am certainly glad we spoke about it, Daniel, the teacher said, I really appreciate your taking the time to swing by.

Daniel rose from his seat, shook the teacher’s hand and turned to leave. As he reached the door he turned and asked:

–        What did Yiftah do that got him into trouble?

–        He said I was not average.

–        Daniel did not lose a beat I’m sure it will not happen again.

 

He stepped into the hall and signaled me with his head to follow him. We walked in silence until we were well out of hearing range.

–        She said you said that she was not average!

–        I did but I meant

–        Dad, I know you mean well, but it came across as a very nasty thing to say. You know that there are only two types of teachers way above average and way beneath average there is no such thing as an actual average teacher.

He took a few more steps, stopped and turned to me:

–        When you tell a teacher that she is average you leave her dangling is she better than or beneath the average.

–        I think it is pretty obvious what I meant she’s a member of Stanford faculty for God’s sake.

–        In your logical world it makes perfect sense, but not in a teacher’s fragile ecosystem it doesn’t.

–        I only meant well I lamented.

–        You always do, but your standards and formal logic get the best of you. When you kiss up to a teacher you have to lay it on thick. You have to be very clear and very visual. I’m really surprised at you you could have at least thrown a few sweeteners at her

–        Such as?

–        ‘Cream of the crop’, ‘deep end of the gene pool’, ‘stands above the crowd’, ‘class of her own’, ‘an inspiration’, ‘someone to look up to’, just to name a few.

I had nothing to say. All I could do was wallow in my pool of guilt, hoping to do better next time. On the way home I mustered the courage to pick up the conversation again:

–        What else did she say?

–        Nothing really, she let me do most of the talking, as they always do. Don’t worry; I got you off the hook.

–        Thanks.

–        Don’t mention it; after all, what are kids for? Can you help me with math when we get home?

 

Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is located in the middle of the kettle spout which pours the water into the Panama Canal. Nicaragua is closer to the body of the kettle which is North America – where the water and the thieves come in from. Panama is at the tip of the spout where the water comes out, leaving the thieves. In the other direction Panama is where the killer bees come in on their way from Brazil to California. Unlike its neighbors, Costa Rica is a nice quiet country. A road runs through it and everyone is by the side of this road waiting for you to stop in and eat ‘Casado’ a local dish of rice, beans, chicken, vegetables and half a fried banana. It makes you wonder what they do with the other half of the banana, or whether yours is the half that could only be served fried.

We flew into Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose (the one Jordan does not live in). We rented a car which was designed for seven small people with no luggage and forced it to accommodate six larger people with a lot of luggage. We spent our first drive to Arenal-La Fortuna getting accustomed to the road and car conditions. Yeela who was fresh out of the army volunteered to cram into the back seat with the luggage, thinking nothing of it. Tintin, who over the course of his life, had come to know much higher standards of living bemoaned his pitiful condition as he sprawled over Osmo and Tal rather than cram between them in the middle seats. Tal spent a lot of time looking out the window at the views, deep in thoughts about the future. Osmo spent a lot of time looking at Tintin deep in thoughts about the past. I spent my time between the view and searching for a gas station. Ima spent her time between the view and the kids.

Tintin’s troubles came to an end when we checked into hotel Los Lagos, located on the road between La Fortuna and Arenal, on the northern slopes of the famous Arenal Volcano. In simplified terms this volcano is a geological cigarette which has all but burned itself out. Naturally the last seconds of a volcanic cigarette can span a few years so the mountain is still spewing a steady plume of smoke, but not much more. The locals tell tourists about ‘last weeks’ lava flow, knowing that most tourists stay for only a day or two, so their fairy tale is safe. Reality is that it’s an impressive mountain which is also a once glorious volcano that fried the valley we were staying in back in 1968 which is in our lifetime, which is very close in ‘geological’ terms Tintin cared for the volcano as much as the volcano cared for him. His interest focused on the two enormous rooms which we checked into with all the amenities he had grown accustomed to since the dawn of his existence. The combination of a Shower, a pool, a steak-house, a TV, air conditioning and a large double bed put him back on his feet.

We spent the next two days driving around the volcano. Our first destination was the national park which was supposed to be at the base of the mountain somewhere to the south. Like many other attractions in Costa Rica you find it by turning where the sign isn’t. Right after turning off to an anonymous dirt road we pulled over and decided to make sure we were headed in the right direction by asking the policeman whose booth was conveniently stationed on the other side of the road. The lawman was lawlessly protecting himself from nature by killing the wasps in his shack with the daily news paper which did not interest him otherwise. I walked up to the friendly officer who was gingerly lowering the rolled up newspaper to the pavement. There was a wasp on the tip of the paper and a collection of wasp carcasses on the road. The policeman removed the wasp from the paper with the tip of his shoe and then gently stepped on it so that it looked just like its companions on the road. ‘I guess he’s trying to make it look as if the wasps were run over’ I thought to myself. ‘Buenos Dias’ I greeted the murderer who smiled back at me going about his gruesome business, ‘, ‘Donde esta el-parque nacional?’ The policeman smiled and pointed the paper bludgeon in the direction of the dirt road which we were on. ‘Gracias’ I thanked him from the bottom of my Spanish and returned to the car along with Osmo who came with me in case the officer actually said something of value which needed interpretation.

The national park is really a small fenced in glorified neighborhood park with a ticketing booth. We got even by paying for five people rather than the six that we were. Slanted but it’s satisfying. We stopped to take a few pictures with our backs to the volcano, then we turned around and took a few pictures with our backs to Lake Arenal and then we turned one more time and went back to the car and drove out of the playground. I challenged the elements by drinking from a water tap not much of a risk given that the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink.

Where there are volcanoes there are hot springs. The Arenal geothermal heater warms up an entire river which the locals have cleverly cordoned off into two resorts where you are welcome to soak yourself down hundreds of yards of ascending pools filled with hot water, overflowing from one to the next. One resort is world famous. It’s called Tabacon and is priced accordingly. A few hundred yards down the road there is another set of hot pools which, having forgotten its name, I will refer to as the ‘Sah-neh’ which implies that its for the locals and us. Ima was very eager to get into the water. I found this somewhat hard to reconcile with Ima’s cat-like loathing of water. The look on Ima’s face as she eased herself onto a rock bench under a hot waterfall was one of divinity. Osmo and Tintin found a local spout which was spewing cooler water into a side pool and took to taking turns at trying to cork it with their hands. I knew that both Ima and they could go on for hours; however I did have some concerns regarding how long one could remain in the warm water without cooking themselves silly. We compromised by taking a break to eat some real cooking and then came back for more. After dark it started raining. The sight of the family bobbing in the pools, in the dark and in the rain was an abomination of everything from which a Jewish mother protects her young but like I said we were all delusional at the time.

From Arenal we drove to Hotel La Finca Que Ama in Turrubares going through Palmares, Atenas, San Mateo and Orotina. All the way Ima stopped locals asking where the crocodiles were. None of them knew what she was talking about because there are no crocodiles along the road from Arenal to Turrubares. Turrubares is the closest landmark to Tura-Ba-Re national part where one is mesmerized into taking a ‘canopy tour’. A ‘canopy tour’ is designed to let you view of the forest from above, dangling from harnesses attached to pulleys that ride on cables stretched between tree tops.. The cables are anywhere from two hundred yards to over three quarters of a mile long. There are seven or eight such cable sections. You drift above the trees safe from the venomous forms of life crawling on the forest floor or up its tree trunks. In concept this is very nice. Reality is a tad different. You spend the first two or three cable section traversals focusing on life preserving activities such as keeping you body pointing in the direction of the cable. Over the course of the forth and fifth cable section you give up finessing the impossible posture control and allow yourself to spin slowly as you hurtle down the cable focused solely on the life saving platform on the far end. It is during the course of the final sections that you let yourself look down and enjoy the view which is pretty much the same as what you see from the cable car which took you to the beginning of the cable tour, only uses a much sturdier cable and improved seating technology.

Knowing how exposed we were to the unrelenting hold of gravity, we were all impressed by the attention our guides had for details regarding safety. At all times we had redundant attachments to life preserving harnesses. Not once did our hosts circumvent safety procedures. Clearly they had the best interest of tourism well figured out. If any one of us fell from the cable it could really hurt the season…

No sooner were we done with the ‘vanilla’ seven-section cable tour that Osmo asked ‘do you want to ride the Superman?’ ‘Of course’ I lied immediately. The ‘Superman’ is a mile long cable across a gorge of a crocodile infested river. The turkey vultures (called so because they look like turkeys but are vultures) in the sky improve the ‘Jurassic’ aura of the setting. I felt like a condemned man climbing to the gallows as I ascended up the stairs of the tower where the cable was attached. ‘as though the cliff of the gorge was not high enough’. ‘Cables have a half-life too Shit does happen.’ The first two seconds off the tower are quite terrifying to the non-suicidal, but then you quickly settle into a nice flight down the cable, traveling at fifty miles an hour. The flight along the cable is done face down in a ‘Superman’ position hence the name of this petrifying activity. The ride lasts a little more than a minute, depending on one’s weight. Somewhere in all of this there is a relationship between gravity, friction and wind resistance which slows down the lighter people. Consequentially Tintin had the longest ride. I had the longest braking distance contributing to what was my most significant test of nerve in the past decade. The boys being veterans of drop zones, magic mountains and bone-crushing-hang-by-your-feet roller coaster rides, were moderately thrilled. As for the rest of the family, while we were crossing over the jungle like human bullets, vultures, crocodiles and all, Ima and the girls had no choice but to have another cup of coffee at the bar. Yes, they definitely know how to accommodate everyone’s needs in Costa Rica.

It was time to balance four days of braving volcanoes and jungles with the serenity of a beach side resort so off we went to Manuel Antonio-Quepos. On our way, about fifteen minutes after passing Orotina, we found the crocodiles where they were supposed to be – under the ‘Crocodile Bridge’. Most of the bridges in Costa Rica look and sound like they were taken from the movie set of ‘Lord of the Rings’. They moan when your car mounts them, they tremble and sway when you drive over them, and the chains that hold them at both ends creek and strain to keep the roadway attached to the decaying concrete anchors on the banks of the particular river the bridge is charged with bridging. One cannot avoid thinking that your well being in Costa Rica is ultimately determined by cables and chains.

‘Crocodile Bridge’ is somewhat better built than most other bridges we crossed except for random gaps in its railing which I guess they put there just for giggles. If you are careful where you don’t lean you should be fine, otherwise you join the crocodiles for what is sure to be a wonderful tourist fable for years to come. Come to think of it, someone might have removed the railing on purpose. You cannot explain a fall from a canopy cable, but people dropping from bridges is accepted world wide as a tragic-yet-prevalent phenomenon which people blame of the ‘jumper’ rather that the ergonomics which were supposed to prevent the fall.

At the foot of the bridge we saw a dozen crocodiles doing what crocodiles do best – absolutely nothing. What can you expect from an animal whose metabolism can slow down to the point where it can go for months without food? Tourists tend to add more meaning to the crocodiles doing nothing so as not have their trips be for naught. If the crocodiles are not doing anything visible why not focus on their insides? ‘They are digesting’… When all else fails one can attempt to dramatize the situation by letting imaginations run rampant. ‘Look at how the little one is keeping its distance from that huge croc.’ The truth is that the little one kept its distance a long time in the past when both crocodiles came to this spot to do nothing. Since then nothing has changed so the distance will remain kept, unless both crocodiles are on different tectonic plates which happen to be sliding past each other. The crocodile attraction had us all moderately thrilled. We got back to the car which the alleged thieving locals contrary to Ima’s warnings – did not break into and drove on.

Two hours and lunch later we got to Hotel ‘Costa Verde’ which overlooks the jungle that covers the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park. The hotel rooms are set close up amongst the tree tops as so are the pool decks. You sit and watch the colorful blooms of dozens of types of trees and shrubs, and wait for the monkeys to come and give their daily auditions. I found it fascinating and all the more so while reading ‘The Drunken Forrest’ about the adventures of Gerald Darrell in the ‘Pantanal’ (the massive inland flood plain that spans wide areas of Brasil, Uruguay and Argentina). While the flood plain was four thousand miles further south, I was sufficiently deep into the jungle with my face to the sea, to relate to chasing after Anacondas in tepid waters of mosquito infested swamps. Osmo and Tintin also sensed the proximity of nature and compensated with frequent visits to the bar. Once they had their drinks in hand they waded back into the pool a civil version of the ‘Pantanal’ I was reading about. ‘It’s ok Bushy, we took the ‘virgin’ (alcohol free) Pina Colada they comforted me as if I would have known the difference.

The next day we took the main path into Manual Antonio National Park, staying close to groups with guides so we could get to see the real attractions without having to pay for a guide of our own. We had no choice when it came to not paying for a guide because Ima had decided based on ‘very reliable’ rumors that all Costa Rican guides were thieves (very much like the ones on Crocodile Bridge) that wish nothing but evil upon their followers. This being the case one should only follow others that have decided to follow a guide not bound by the need to receive guidance services in return for funds paid. At some point I wanted to wander from the main path into the jungle but three yards down the new path a small warning sign said ‘if the snakes don’t get you then the spiders will’. ‘Bushy, we’re not going there’ Ima declared. ‘But the waterfall’ I protested feebly, upholding my responsibility to promote the wonders of nature during this trip; while not so deep inside me I knew that my reserves of courage had been severely depleted on the cables. This being the case, I was in no shape to put up a fight for an expedition to a waterfall along a path that might have been guarded by a poisonous bug or reptile. The kids did not seem all too enthusiastic either.

Without much ado we found a path without warning signs and wandered through the jungle to the parking lot. I have to admit that walking with sandals through the habitat of killer-everything keeps you on your toes, and I mean everything. They even have little colorful frogs which could fit snuggly into a matchbox (the small kind) which have such toxic secretions on their skins that it can kill you if you so much at touch them. Of course it’s not the little frogs fault. Since bigger frogs tend to eat smaller frogs the whole idea is to have whatever attempts to swallow the little reptile spit it out immediately and die shortly thereafter so it does not make the same mistake twice. It is one of nature’s clever ways of cleaning up after its own mistakes.

As we began the two day journey back Ima was still determined to prove that the Costa Ricans wished upon us nothing but evil. She tried attracting a policeman to give us a citation by hanging her pants to dry over the front windshield. We had just returned from an ATV ride with a guide that was ‘out to kill us by drowning in mud’ – his attempt foiled by Ima who was the only one to drive her ATV straight through the killer mud without being sucked in. With one survivor to tell the story the guide had no choice but to bring us all back. At the end of the course we washed our clothes in the river that flowed alongside the ATV station, which raised the question of how we would dry them. The solution was to hang them from the car windows rolled up and trapping the ends of the cloth between the glass and the window frame.

Obviously the first policeman that saw the car was concerned that the driver had an obstructed view and waived us down to the curb. ‘I’ll handle this’ Ima told me, convinced that all police officers in Costa Rica bode nothing but evil to tourists. I rolled down the window to greet the puzzled officer. Ima, sitting in her knickers, immediately took over the conversation, and in fluent Spanish (which she staunchly claims not to speak) praised the officer on behalf of all his countrymen for their hospitality and the joyful time we had in their country up until now that is. The officer, somewhat embarrassed by the unintentional peep show he had stumbled upon, smiled broadly and waived us on. It was too easy. Ima felt cheated.

With time running out Ima found one more glorious opportunity to expose the locals’ true face. It happened in the late afternoon hours when we stopped in Puriscal for a disappointing visit in the local tobacco factory. Ima slyly asked me to watch over her backpack as she went to inquire about the visiting hours. The visiting hours were all but over, so we quickly walked through a dimly lit long room with a concrete floor, and tables with benches aligned in two columns forming what looked like a shabby classroom for adults, with tobacco leaves instead of books on the tables. A few cigars gathered in bins at the edge of the tables alluded to the purpose of the facility. Since the workers had already gone home there was not much more to see. We walked out and drove away, Ima shrewdly not asking a word about the backpack she had asked me to watch. Twenty minutes out of Puriscal Ima looked down to the floor where her backpack had spent the past week and asked ‘where is my backpack?’ ‘In Puriscal’ I answered realizing that I had left it lying on top of the spare tire attached to the rear of the car. It could not have possibly stayed in place for more than a few yards after we started driving away from the tobacco factory. ‘I had everything in that bag, credit cards, money, camera, everything’ Ima moaned. ‘There is no way in the world we’ll ever find it in this country of thieves’ Ima exclaimed as I turned the car around to prove Ima right.

As long as the day’s drive had been, the kids’ survival skills told them that this was not the time to complain about having to go back the way we came, in spite of the seeming futility of the ride. When we got back to the tobacco factory it was closed, the unpaved parking lot was empty, not a sign of the backpack and no tracks in the dirt to follow. Ima stepped down from the car to talk to the merchants in the small shops across the street from the factory: ‘Perdi un Mochilla Azul’ (I lost a blue back pack) she explained in perfect Spanish (which she does not speak). The first two merchants had no idea what she was talking about, but the third went into his shop and returned with the backpack (!). Ima was devastated thing such as this did not happen in a third world country of bandits that prey on tourists. In her desperation Ima reached for the wallet which was in the backpack hoping to find it empty no such luck. At this point Ima had to deal with the evidence at face value. Checking the contents of her wallet in front of one of the most honest men she had met since we moved to the western hemisphere was a very rude thing to do, so she offered to pay the man. The merchant refused to receive anything, satisfied himself by Ima’s gratitude. Ima humbly thanked the man.

In the car Ima started a heated debate regarding how she could repay the man for his kindness. Yeela and Tal were all for putting it behind us ‘There’s nothing you can do Ima. He sealed his fate once he returned the backpack.’ Osmo and Tintin agreed immediately understanding that it would spare them on more trip to Puriscal . All in all it was a wonderful experience. Ima realized that she had come out ahead. The accuracy of her Spanish far exceeded the accuracy of the rumors she had been hearing. She had all her money and Spanish which she apparently got for free. In spite of it all something in the back of my mind told me that Ima’s crusade to expose the crooks on our only planet was not over.

We spent the last day at the La Paz Waterfalls. It was pouring that day. It also was the only day which we did not take our ponchos with us. We bought ponchos and got just as wet anyway. The La-Paz waterfalls are perhaps the ultimate form of wrapping up nature in Tourist traps. On the way to the waterfalls which are located half a mile from the park’s entrance there are butterfly gardens, hummingbird enclosures, restaurants and souvenir shops. The waterfalls are a backdrop to everything else. Indeed I must confess that the bio-mechanics of a hummingbird are more fascinating than a waterfall. Did you know that that tiny animal’s heart beats five hundred to twelve hundred times a minute? Its wings beat sixty times a second and it visits thousands of flowers a day? Can you imagine what it means to a hummingbird mother when its children don’t agree on which thousands of flowers they want to go to? Can you imagine what a crocodile with a Hummingbird’s metabolism would be doing under the bridge?

We flew back the next day.

 

Adds Moves and Changes

The events described herein span the period from May to September 2005. Not everything that happened is included, but what is included did happen.

Yeela was discharged from the IDF after two and a half year of service and came to spend the summer with us. Tal came back for the summer after a very successful first year at NYU. Their return triggered some changes in accommodations. Osmo moved back to Tintin’s room from Tal’s room which he occupied when Tal left for college. Yeela moved into Tal’s room. You might ask why Tal’s room when she has a room of her own? Yeela wanted to be alone, so Tal’s room qualified. Tal needed room for Lauren and Andy so Yeela’s room was better. The three of them moved into Yeela’s room displacing Nadav who had no historical claim to any room (but then neither did Jordan). Nadav had nowhere to go so he settled on the family room until Jordan moved in and disowned him of the little floor space that he had left. Nadav managed to float between the sofa and the arm-chair for a few weeks and in the end decided to move back to Israel, leaving us with his TV which he never got to use because the contractor forgot to run a cable when we converted the garage into a room for Yeela who was now in Tal’s room. Tintin did not move when Osmo entered the room so Osmo moved him.

All but one of the new names was expected to be living with us. Nadav, was living with us as he was studying at De-Anza (local community) college. Andy and Lauren were Tal’s roommates at NYU. Tal invited them to spend some time with her after their graduation. Jordan, a resident of San Jose, an NYU student himself, had become aware of the trio’s existence as he roamed their dorm at NYU. I can only guess that when he heard that they moved into our house he mistook 739 Durshire for a summer dorm and moved in as well. I say this because all Gallia and I got from him was a ‘be nice to the doorman’ attitude. When he entered our residence, he would walk right past us, at times acknowledging our existence with a slight nod of his shy majesty’s head. I tried to pretend that it was the Dalai-Lama that walked in past me, trying to feel gratified that I was even noticed. Hard as I struggled with my imagination I must say I was flattered only to the point of wanting to throw him out, restrained by the knowledge that being the doorman I should not have expected better.

Jordan, it turned out, was a man of stature and taste. He preferred the shower in our bedroom to the one shared by guests. He used his own aromatic soaps and lavenders. He dined alone. He was quite picky with what he wore and how it needed to be laundered. Every day or so he would get homesick and have Gallia drive him to his father’s chateau in south San Jose. It is safe to say we had a slight cultural clash between Mediterranean hospitality and far-eastern social standards. Not being completely new to servant mentality (Tintin and Osmo taught me well) I was able to hold back my frustrations, but I did need to vent. Physical violence was fast becoming an option.

One routine evening, Jordan was sitting in front of the television in the family room watching a program of his choice. Ima, who had just served his hors d’oeuvre (or however the French spell it), apparently forgot to fill his wine glass. Seeing the back of Jordan’s freshly showered, Abercrombie style-sloppily combed head just peeping over the armchair’s head rest, not looking back, his hand holding an empty glass waiting for someone to take the hint, stirred me beyond what prose can convey so I switched to poetry:

A quite man aged eighteen years

Befell our daughter and her peers

A resident of San Jose

He did not come from far away

And so we thought that he would stay

For only hours or a day,

To our surprise he got supplies

And built his nest before our eyes

He spread the linens of his excellence

On the bed which fit his preference

He set his thrown for all to see

Right in front of our TV

Legally we own our house

We pay the bills, me and my spouse

Yet he disowned us of our shower

To pee we have to wait an hour

He dines alone as he sees fit

Behind his back we snarl and spit

He eats our food and drinks and snacks

Which we replenish from our stacks

When he is done he cleans his pores

And we are left to do his chores

We wash his dishes, spoons and pot

He thanks us not to clean his snot

To our hopes that he should leave

He seems to show us no reprieve

He must assume that his persistence

Acknowledges his new existence

We hope compassion has its way

We hope that he will let us stay

In the house that runs his errands

A master of his two new servants

After a week or so Andy went back to some town in Michigan. Lauren returned to Boston. Jordan went back to San Jose. He said that he would be back so we moved.

Moving is not to be taken lightly. Everyone who has done it loathes it. Those who are of moving-age and have not yet moved, loath the thought from what they have learnt from others. Mother nature protects those that have to move multiple times by growing moving scabs in their brains, dulling the realization of what is about to transpire, somehow helping get through the ordeal. Having moved four times in the past our moving scabs were developed to the point of making us delusional; we decided to go to take a vacation and prepare for the upcoming move upon our return which was only one week before the scheduled move. Not only that, we wanted to rent our house rather than leave it to Jordan, so we would have to postpone packing until the house was rented. All this would have to be done within one week. As reason would not have it, all this seemed feasible; which was very fortunate because it allowed for a very peaceful vacation in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica

While we were gone Ima had the house painted on the outside a prelude to renting it to someone else given that we were moving. She left the inside painting for the hypothetical time slot that existed between the movers moving us out and the new tenants moving in. What made this all the more hypothetical was the fact that we did not have a tenant yet but we were definitely moving. This situation was somewhat problematic because it aggravated the natural conflict between movers and potential tenants. Movers want your house to be wrapped in boxes, walls bare, and rooms empty when they arrive. On the other hand you want to show your house to tenants at its best – fully furnished, well organized, with all the fancy bed covers and carpets in their places. A strong smell of freshly baked cake is also highly recommended. On top of these general truths, our house really looks worse when it is empty stripped of Ima’s ornaments, pictures and well chosen furniture. These were not only pleasing to the eye, many were strategically placed to hide the warts, bumps and bruises which the house accumulated over the years. Ima made the right decision to sacrifice the well being of the movers for the sake of impressing a tenant. Three days later we found one.

The movers came the next day and found the house ready for people to move in rather than for people to move out not a box in sight. Movers that have to pack are not a happy lot. Fortunately they shared their emotions in Chinese which they did not expect any of us to understand. Ima’s human skills got them back on track with some orange juice and soothing Yiddish but the seeds of suspicion have been sewn…

While the movers worked feverishly there was so much they could do to make up for the time not spent packing three months in advance as most people do. What made things worse was the fact that most people dispose of immense amounts of ‘stuff’ while preparing to move. We did not prepare so we had to move the ‘stuff’ with us. The consequences were dismal. Only the large pieces of furniture followed regular moving protocol and ended up in reasonable places right from the start. This included the piano and the sofa, beds, chairs, tables and a basket of apples. All the rest of the ‘stuff’ was stuffed into rooms in topological order starting from the rear of the house, overflowing from one room to the next. Three truck loads later the movers ran away and we were left to move the remains with our bare cars. At the end of the day we had a roof above our heads but no floor under our feet. The floor was buried under our belongings stacked two, four and at times six feet deep. It was as though someone had opened the roof of the house and dumped three truck loads of ‘stuff’ into it in no particular order.

It was in the midst of this primordial chaos that Ima’s voice hissed over the void: ‘They stole the Pamotim (candle sticks)’. Ima announced the bone-decalcifying tone of her voice a combination of vindication having found the anticipated crime, and grief over the undisputed loss of the family heirlooms. We all were too weak to challenge Ima. The mess being as deep as it was it was tautologically true that we would not see the ‘pamotim’ for weeks or months regardless of where they were.

There was no time to worry about the piles of belongings that threatened to bury us, nor decry the missing-definitely-stolen candle sticks. The house we had moved out of had to have its floors polished and waxed; walls painted, carpets steam cleaned and the entire place scrubbed. Still defying fate, we managed to complete our mission on the evening before handing the keys to the tenants’ representative. During the ritual walk through, the professional eye of the inspector found deal-threatening carcasses of two dead moths in a window gutter. I was summoned urgently to remove the blight a hair’s breath before the new tenants who were completely unaware of all that had transpired moved in. It was really sad to see them admire our dishwasher if only they knew what it took to install it[1].

We could not let the indifference of man weigh us down, life had to go on. As the days went by, the flood of clothing, books and boxes was slowly receding. Tintin, being the youngest had the least time to acquire belongings hence he was the first to get to the bottom of the piles in his room. As he got to the floor, and the walls and the window, his sharp inquisitive mind started paying attention to detail. As he ventured beyond his room to the functioning parts of the house he realized that the dog was missing.

‘Bushy, where’s Tweety?’

‘I put her to sleep, Tintin.’

‘Really? When?’

‘When we got back from Costa Rica.’

‘So is she dead?’

‘Yes.’

Tintin did not want to jump to conclusions regarding the implications of having a dead dog, so he went back to his room to send the message to Osmo on the other side of the wall that separated them. He could not reach Osmo directly because Osmo was safely tucked away behind a pile of junk in his own room his ears plugged with a headset – would not respond to audio signals. Resourceful, Tintin chose the shortest path he could think of. Tintin ‘Internet messaged’ Ori Nadav’s brother in Israel. Ori called Nadav who was now in Germany. Nadav ‘Yahoo Messenger’ed’ Tal and Yeela in Costa Rica who took the news with controlled glee. Tal in turn ‘MSN’ed’ Osmo in the other room. In less than five minutes the news traveled from California, to Israel, to Germany, to Costa Rica and back to Osmo’s room. As soon as he found out Osmo freed himself from his room and came to me, Tintin close in his tracks:

‘Is the dog really dead?’

‘Yes’,

‘No shit, when?’

‘When we came back from Costa Rica.’

The five minute delay allowed me time to gather myself and I explained: ‘She [the dog] was too far gone and there was no point in prolonging her life.’ ‘Oh, well I guess that’s it then’ Osmo said and returned to his den. Tintin followed suit. The girls researched the issue with Ima over the phone in order to understand how it had affected me. Ima assured them that I was doing quite well, but the girls stayed in Costa Rica for a few more days to allow me to adjust to the passing of the animal.

Collectively we put the dog behind us and continued to move into our new dwelling. Ima and Rivka redid the moderately-old kitchen in the style of a very-old kitchen. In all the clash of cultures that the melting pot that California is one of the most difficult to reconcile is that of interior decoration, especially when it comes to kitchen counters and cabinets. The reigning local culture prefers wooden cabinets with some form of engraving around the edges of the cabinet doors. The wood’s natural color is preserved and glossed over with bullet proof wax. To the European or Mediterranean eye this creates a feeling of living inside a tree trunk something that Homo Sapiens grew out of tens of thousands of years ago at least in the old world. Given our ancestry, Ima could not stand the natural forest motif of the kitchen, made worse by the wide stripes of reddish brown grout between the tiles covering the counters. The grout made the counter tops look like the floors of the caves in the forest or in less metaphorical terms like a slaughter house. Ima wanted to dynamite the counter tops and redo all the cabinets. The owner of the house passed on the dynamite bit, but agreed to have the cabinets redone. Instead of cabinets that looked forty years old, we now have the refurbished antiquitated look of four hundred years old cabinets. The cabinets are now painted over with light cream colored paint, with subtle overlays of light green and yellow giving the impression that the new paint is severely aging. To make the point, the rims of the cabinet doors and selected spots on the surfaces are sanded over to expose the wood as though the new-old paint has peeled away a means to fast-forward the ‘sands of time’. To avoid looking at the counters which she could not redo, Ima ‘blind-cuts’ the salad, staring out the kitchen window, planning how she would avenge the stolen ‘pamotim’, unintentionally drawing blood from her fingers as she masters the new cutting technique.

It would be a month before we had our phone reconnected with our original number. Neither AT&T nor SBC were willing to admit that we were connected and when the phone finally rang we stood there trembling, not knowing if we had it within us to bear the disappointment of having been reconnected with the world but with the wrong number. Rather than pick up the ringing phone we waited until the ringing stopped and them Ima solemnly picked up her cell phone and dialed our home number. The children huddled close to one another, seeking comfort in numbers. Ima focused on the cell-phone’s keys like a hawk marking field mice. I watched over her shoulders mumbling the numbers as she dialed 2-4-5 pause 9-6-2 pause 9. It was done. The last key was clicked and it was out of our hands. Would the phone ring or not? No cliched metaphor can do justice to the description of the pace at which time passes when waiting to hear one’s own phone to ring when dialing it from your own house after weeks that you have not heard from it.

The phone rang. Was it Ima’s call or someone dialing the wrong number? Could it be such an evil coincidence? ‘Hang up and dial again I suggested’. Ima hung up and the phone stopped ringing. This was an encouraging sign but it could also have been that the people dialing the wrong number at the other end realized their mistake and hung up at the same time. Ima pressed the keys again and I mumbled over her shoulder as the children huddled ever closer. Again there was no cliched metaphor to describe how time fails to pass when waiting for one’s own phone ring The phone rang again. Yeela true to her officer training – picked it up. Neither she nor Ima had the courage to speak into either of the phones, but Ima’s number showed up in the ‘caller ID’ window which we had failed to look at previously the long wait for a phone was finally over.

The garage continued to serve as the main depot of ‘stuff’. Four more weeks would pass before the bigger piles of garbage disappeared from the surrounding of the house. Osmo and Tintin conducted a token gar(b)age sale. Osmo proved to have inherited Ima’s slyness when he sold the rubber boat to a couple that did not want to buy a computer monitor. He then repeated the trick and sold Tal’s ‘Zippo’ electric scooter to a man who refused to take the monitor as well. The garage sale did not make a significant dent in our junk yard, but it did plug a dent in Osmo and Tintin’s budgets.

Did we really do all this just to avoid Jordan? Not really. Osmo wanted to go to Homestead High School after graduating from Cupertinio Junior High. What’s a move compared with a child’s happiness? The only caveat in the deal was that he had to join the school’s marching band. ‘But I don’t have a marching band instrument’ Osmo stated feeling that his problems were over. ‘You’ll learn one’ Yeela answered. ‘Are you crazy?’ Osmo responded. ‘I have less than four weeks before the audition.’ ‘Then you shouldn’t be wasting any more time should you?’ Tal stepped in sweetly. The girls were doing our educational ‘dirty work’ it was a joy to hear. Osmo could do the math easily. With the girls against him, knowing where Ima and I stood, he really had no choice.

With Osmo pointed in the right direction, Tal moved to Israel to join the IDF. With the headcount down by one, E-Li came to spend a month in Tintin’s room. After E-li left Noa moved in from Israel to play in Homestead’s band. As the summer was winding down Mikey (Maya) moved in for two weeks with Yeela just before Yeela moved back to Israel to begin her first year in the Hebrew University. Tintin started seventh grade in Cupertino Junior high. He was accepted to ‘A’ band and was spared being in Mrs. Shivan’s class which combined together was quite against the odds as he saw them. Osmo was accepted to the Homestead band as a Trombone player four weeks after he picked up the instrument for the first time.

Indeed a lot of ‘moves’ for one summer which brings me to the subject of this letter the anomaly of the English word ‘move’.

Applying the verb move to an object moves that object. However ‘moving’ without an object moves everything rather than nothing! Furthermore you can ‘move’ without really moving, say to the house next door. You certainly didn’t travel anywhere yet you moved all the same and with everything you own. It’s not like you moved the TV from one room to another in which case all that moved was the TV and your whereabouts are assumed to be unchanged. This anomaly does not apply to ‘put’, ‘walk’, ‘read’, ‘write’, ‘talk’ or most any other verb in the language. What could have caused such an anomaly? The answer is simple: PAIN. At the beginning people were expected to provide details regarding the whereabouts of their ‘moves’ and indeed they did. Noah for example gives a very detailed account of how he packed the Arc and where he went with it. As time went by and we became the consumer society that we are moving became more and more painful. When attempting to speak about a move people would be swept with emotion. No sooner would one utter ‘X moved’ that one would be chocked with tears, not being able to speak further. The language adapted and accommodated for the things that are so hard to speak about by allowing the ‘move’ anomaly. There is no need to mention the ‘move ha-mephorash’ the abstract ‘move’ (infinitive-perfect) is sufficient. This can get a little confusing considering all the traveling described herein was not ‘moving’, and all the moving that was going on which was not traveling.

As the last of the people and boxes ‘moved’ to their places we found the box with the pamotim exonerating the Chinese nation. Ima, with a crusade to spare, is now hell-bent on exposing corruption in the management of the concession stand supporting Homestead’s marching band

[1] See ‘Spring Cleaning’ on www.poratfamily.com’

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