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’