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’


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?’‘ – 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?’


‘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.