I bumped into an old friend today. Well, I didn’t really bump into him as much as type his name into Google and found him. I’m not alone, of course. This is how many people reconnect. Since I got an internet connection in the late '90s, I’ve been typing lost friends in to see if I can find them. And I have. I found some folks who I lost touch with when we left school or moved to other countries. I found others I just sort of drifted away from. Sadly, thanks to Facebook, I’ve even found some I would have preferred I hadn’t. It’s a blessing and a curse to find old friends. It makes you think about who you were, who you wanted to be, and who you are.
So, I found an old friend from my High Seas days. I emailed him and asked if he was the same person who I used to work with on Big Blue. He was, and I recognized his sense of humor immediately when he said that he was going to report me as a stalker. I chuckled at this, but then I realized that he is in fact right. I am a stalker. I’ve spent countless hours on the internet typing lost friends’ names into Google and Facebook. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve sent saying things like “Hi, aren’t you the same John Doe I went to high school with?” or “Jane? Jane Smith? Is that you?” Some are hits, and some aren’t. Each and every hit has added a “friend” on Facebook or a contact on LinkedIn. I have successfully found hundreds of old friends and acquaintances. I’ve even reconnected with some who I didn’t even really know. It’s funny how 19 years later, the mere fact that you shared an 11th grade English class is enough to warrant being friends on Facebook.
To be honest, this is how I got into the whole social networking scene to begin with. There are a group of guys I used to hang out with years ago. They were the first ones that I lost touch with who I desperately wanted to find. I remember being at the computer lab in college and typing their names into long-gone search engines. Finally, about 3 years ago, after typing one of their names into Google, I finally got a hit…on MySpace. Of course, I couldn’t see anything about him, so I had to join. I emailed him, and sure enough, he was the very same person who I used to go to school with. From there, I looked into his friends list and found his cousin. Then, I stumbled onto Facebook and found his brother. Now, we are all friends again (and I even met up with 2 of the 3 of them in February).
Just yesterday, not only did I find my old friend who accused me of being a stalker, but I found another old friend from that same point in life. I was scrolling through the friends list of a mutual friend (who I also found using Google) and there she was…sure, her name had changed, but it was still her. We are now friends on Facebook.
I’ve always considered this “research,” trying to find old friends who slipped away. But I think he was right, and I think I need to accept this about myself. When you have spent almost 20 years typing the same names over and over into Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., you need to recognize and accept that perhaps the desire to reconnect is more of an obsession than mild curiosity about what happened to lost friends.
So, I admit it, I am a stalker of sorts. I’m not proud, nor am I ashamed. It is what it is, and I’m OK with it. I like to think that these people meant something special to me, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time, and there’s a part of me that misses them, misses what I was, what I wanted to be, and by reconnecting with them, I might be able to capture a little piece of that. So, as long as the intent is to find people and say, “how are you after all this time? How’s life treated you? What adventures have you had since the last time we talked?” I think it’s OK to be a bit of a stalker. I’m not out to hurt anyone, and I really am interested in what’s happened to these people.
Where do pieces of luggage go when they run away? What does one do when it happens? Should I contact the milk industry to have a picture put on the cartons? Should I tack flyers to the telephone poles? Would John Walsh be interested in producing an exposé on my baggage?
I worked ½ a day on April 10th, then met the Sabra in front of the building formerly known as the Department of Transportation at L’Enfant Plaza. We took the 5A to Washington Dulles International Airport. Once we were at the airport, we checked in at the British Airways desk, deposited our luggage, and headed to security. Once past security, we hopped onto those fun busses they have out there at Dulles—they are actually called Mobile Lounges if you really want to know—and went to the gate to settle in while we waited for the plane. We sat and talked for a bit, availed ourselves of the services (if you know what I mean), and watched the young women who were returning to London after touring New York City and Washington, DC with their school. Once we boarded, we discovered that one young lady was sitting in the window seat next to us. Apparently, she was afraid not of the flying, but of take-off. Several of her school friends came by to see how she was doing, and she said that she would be fine. I offered her the Sabra’s hand to hold during ascent, but she assured us that her stuffed animal would be fine. A few minutes before we taxied onto the tarmac, one of her friends came round and told her that there was an empty seat near her if she wanted to sit there. After the Sabra and I assured her that it wouldn’t be a bother to us if she got up and came back, she did in fact get up, and after we could move about the cabin, she did in fact return to her seat by the window. She put her headphones on and slept almost the entire way.
After dinner and a glass of red wine, I wrapped myself up in an overly staticy blanket and turned on the in-flight entertainment. I watched The Golden Compass. I have to be honest, I was somewhat disappointed. I don’t really remember the book so well, so I’m not sure it followed the script, and to be fair, it was sort hard to hear and the screen was quite small. After the movie, I went to sleep. I woke up about an hour and a half before we landed at Heathrow Airport. During the interim, I watched an episode of Futurama.
Heathrow was quiet when we arrived, and we thought about sitting down and having a proper English breakfast, but alas, we didn’t have enough time for that, and yet we had too much time to do nothing. After finding our gate and going to the bathroom, we walked around Terminal 4 and bought some candy…for little other reason than to use up some quid I had from the last trip to Old Blighty.
The Sabra’s friend who works at British Airways helped us get on the same flights so we could travel together. Unfortunately, the second leg of our journey didn’t work out quite as well as we had hoped. Our tickets said that we were sitting in different rows, so, when the folks arrived to work the gate, I went up and asked if they could help us out so we could sit together. The woman informed me that it would not be possible because a) it was a full flight, and b) I was sitting in a higher class of seats than her. So, poor me had to sit in a nice wide, comfy chair with a foot rest abreast a young, attractive Brit, while the poor Sabra had to sit in the last row of the plane with large, snoring guys around her. I actually felt bad that I didn’t offer her to sit in the better seats. Oh, well.
So, once we were airborne and the cabin crew could deliver food, they did. I ate something hot and tasty, and watched another movie. This time it was Enchanted. It was a cute movie, and I thought it was a clever twist on the same ole same ole. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how it ended as I fell asleep almost ¾ of the way through. This is not a critique of the movie, however. I was just very tired from flying for so long.
We finally arrived in the Holy Land. After 16 years of being away, I was finally back. You must understand that I first went to Israel during the winter of 1988–1989. I spent 8 days in country that winter and fell in love. I went back on the same trip a year later. The year after that, I spent 3 weeks, primarily in Jerusalem at Ohr Somayach on their JLE program. Not even a year later, (JLE was in the winter, and I returned in June), I was back at Ohr Somayach, where I stayed for my sophomore year of college. After that, I returned once more the winter of 1992–1993 to visit, and have not been back since. To say that I was overcome with emotion would be stretching it a bit too far, but I was a little saddened that flying on British Airways is a very different experience than when I used to fly on Tower Air, or Chassidish Air as we used to refer to it. Flying with a plane full of orthodox Jews gives a whole new meaning to the expression “a wing and a prayer.” (On one of my flights, someone was transporting a Torah, and it happened to be a Monday or Thursday that we were flying. As such, during the morning services, they opened the Torah and read from it. It is one of my fondest religious memories.) Landing in Israel aboard a Tower Air flight was surreal. As soon as the back wheels made that screeching sound of hitting the ground, people would start applauding and break out into a round of Hevenu Shalom Aleichem. That enthusiasm seems to have died with Tower. I must confess that I did hum to myself. Looking out the window, all I could see was tarmac and the other requisite airport accoutrement, but I know I was back. I knew I was with my people. I knew that I was once again about to set foot on hallowed ground.
After disembarking, we had to separate to go through customs. For the first time since I met the Sabra, I was now the foreigner. We met up again on the other side of customs and headed to get our luggage. As we were walking, we saw a young woman standing and appearing to be waiting for something. As we approached, the Sabra realized that it was her friend who works at Ben Gurion International Airport. I was introduced, and they chatted as I labored to handle our two overflowing bags (Israelis always bring tons of American shit back with them because stuff is so much cheaper here). After I got the bags, we said goodbye to her friend and headed out the door. My heart was beating hard and fast. The moment had come.
As the electric doors that separated international arrivals from their loved ones and hired drivers swooshed open, I spotted her mother immediately. She was jumping up and down with excitement. It had been many months since she had seen her daughter and her first time meeting me face-to-face. She also knew that her son and daughter-in-law would be arriving later in the day (actually the next day—at 3 am—to be exact), and for the first time in about 6 years, she would have all of her children again under one roof. She pounced on us like a cat onto cheese and gave us warm, welcoming bear hugs. It was a great way to meet the family for the first time. We walked over to the rest of the family, and I said hello and shook hands with her younger brother and father.
After pleasantries were done, we headed out into the parking lot to go home. The first things that I saw were palm trees and blue skies. I could smell flowers in bloom and cigarette smoke. I heard birds chirping and people cursing. I felt comfortable, safe; I had returned home. I was brought back to reality: honking car horns and people who were in a hurry shoving me out of the way. Yes, indeed. I was back in Israel.
We got out of the airport and onto the main road. We were heading south to Gedera, where the Sabra is from and her parents still live. I sat in the front with her father, and he pointed out interesting sites along the way: kibbutzim, towns, and other places of interest. When we got to Rehovot, we drove past a Moshav where an old friend of mine used to live (and I spent a weekend). Instead of heading straight home, we swung by the army base where the Sabra did her paratrooper training. I found it more interesting than I think she thought I did. We finally reached Chez Sabra, and we took our bags to our room and unpacked some of the gifts we had brought.
It was late in the day, but the Sabra and I walked a bit around Gedera. I got to see the oldest building in town, the street with some restaurants and new stores, and one of the main parks, Gan Bilu. We also went past the school that she attended as a child. The school and the street on which her parents’ house sits are named after a famous Zionist leader, Rabbi Yehiel Michael Pines. This is not particularly interesting until you understand that while his name is spelled Pines, it is pronounced with a long i, and a short e. As such, when saying it aloud, one does not pronounce it like the tree, but rather like the male genitalia. As an immature American, I giggle every time I ask the Sabra where she lives in Gedera.
After our walk around town, we returned to the house where her mother was putting finishing touches on dinner: Israeli salad, avocado salad, and bulbonic (a potato kugel that is very tasty and not unlike something my ain dear mammy used ta make). Since her dad needed to be up ridiculously early to pick her brother and sister-in-law up from the airport, we went to bed relatively early.
On Saturday, we got up and walked around some more. This time, we walked the other direction and strolled through Moshav Kidron. There are some new, hip looking houses there. We saw a house for sale when we crossed back into Gedera, and took down the number to call the realtor on Sunday (alas, it was already under contract). We got back in time to help clear the table and get ready for lunch. We had barbeque. It was insane. There was so much food, and I wasn’t shy about eating, that’s for sure. It was all so good, too.
After lunch, the Sabra, her 2 brothers, her sister-in-law, and I headed over to Ashdod to go down to the beach. It was a beautiful evening with a warm Mediterranean breeze blowing off the water. It was also packed. There were a ton of people at the picnic area grilling on small, portable grills, and equally as many people strolling along the promenade. Everyone seemed so calm and at peace. I took a bunch of pictures, but it was cloudy, so this shot was the best I could come up with (although I do like this one as well). After the beach, we went home, chatted a bunch, then went to bed.
Sunday was a big day—it was the Sabra’s grooming day. It started with walking to the post office to get money changed, then to the manicurist so the Sabra could get her nails done. That was weird. I sat in the waiting room (which was really the dining room of an apartment that had been converted into a manicurist’s studio. She tried to talk to me several times, but as I don’t speak the language, it was kind of hard to understand her—not to mention that everything is made of concrete in Israel, so sound echoes a lot in empty apartment dining rooms that have been converted in to waiting rooms for manicurists’ studios. After her nails were done (French manicure), we returned home and headed out to Rehovot so the Sabra could get her hair done. I chose to hang with her brother and sister-in-law. We ended up at the mall, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking to do, but it was fine. I did find strawberry Bamba. I didn’t think Bamba could get any more disgusting…I was wrong. We returned home and picked up the Sabra’s parents and headed to Ashdod. Since it was her mom’s birthday, we went to lunch there in an Argentinean restaurant. I got pargit (young chicken) kabobs. After lunch, we headed home for a bit, and then went back out to pick up the Sabra’s younger brother from Beit Noam in Kiryat Ono. Then we had to get ready for the party.
As I mentioned, Sunday was the Sabra’s mother’s birthday, so we headed out to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where they had rented the café. The catered food was amazing. It was all vegetarian (so the Sabra was pretty happy). Everyone seemed so excited to be there to help the Sabra’s mother celebrate her birthday. It was a little overwhelming for me as I got to meet the extended family for the first time. Fortunately, the Sabra’s cousins were there with their new baby, so they were more the center of attention than I was. I sat next to a couple who were quite fluent in English (in fact she was from the UK, and he had studied there), so that was nice. After a long day of eating, we ended the night with a nosh and then it was off to bed.
After coming downstairs from showering on Monday morning, I discovered that there was a bit of a to-do in the house. Apparently, one of the presents hadn’t made it home. Now, I was responsible for transporting the gifts from the café to the car, and from the car to the house, so I felt a little guilty as I was afraid that I was responsible for losing it. So, the Sabra, her friend, her brother, her sister-in-law, and I went back to Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and checked with the folks in the café. To my relief, it was there behind the counter, waiting for us to pick up. Since we were at the Weizmann Institute anyway, we decided to head over to Beit Weizmann where Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, lived. After going through the house and seeing his grave, we headed back to the mall, and I had a very authentic, Middle Eastern lunch: KFC. We went to a local schwarma place for dinner and got some lafa and brought it home to eat. It was D-LISH!
Tuesday finally came, and I was so excited because Tuesday was to be Jo Cose’s day. The Sabra’s friend (the same one who met us at the airport) came by and picked us up. And we were off, racing up the highway on our way to Tel Aviv. We started our adventures in Yaffo because I wanted to go through the Shuk Ha-Pishpishim. We tried on some fezzes, I bought a mezuzah for my nephew, and the Sabra tried on some pants that she didn’t buy in the end. I was looking for some Christian-type stuff from a friend at work, and the guy was doing his best to see it to me. He told me that he was a Cohen and wanted to get of all the non-Jewish stuff he had because he wasn’t comfortable with it. I chuckled, and the Sabra got mad at me. I doubt he was really a Cohen, and who knows if he was even religious (even if he was wearing a yarmulke). Again, I only got 2 good pictures at the Shuk, this one and this one. We walked around the port some more and ate lunch at Dr. Shakshuka. I’m not a big fan of shakshuka, but 1) the Sabra loves it, 2) Dr. Shakshuka is one of those world famous restaurants, and 3) it’s a Tripolitan restaurant, and I’ve never had Libyan food before. Like many places, they had an open kitchen, and they had 4 burners set up so that the cook overlooked the customers (clearly designed for us to watch the cook make the shakshuka. The guy who was cooking was definitely hamming it up. He’d crack the egg, then fling it into the pans from across the burners. Naturally, I pulled out my camera and started snapping away. Sadly, none came out. After the cook had made the order he was making, he came out into the dining area. I stopped him to show him the pics I had of him, and he dragged me up into the kitchen. They took my camera, placed 3 pans on the burners, then showed me how he flung the eggs. I did my best to copy him, and succeeded on my first attempt. A group of German tourists who were watching started applauding. Then I tried again with the next pan, and f’ed it up bad. I got nervous, so I cracked the egg too hard, and the shell shattered in my hand. Clearly the cook was afraid that I’d get shells in the shakshuka because he pushed me out of the way and cracked a new egg into it. Either way, I can say that I made shakshuka at Dr. Shakshuka. We also got to see Dana International, who definitely has an interesting story. We didn’t talk to her, but I got a picture of her back. After lunch we went back to the car because the Sabra’s friend had to get to work.
The Sabra and I started walking toward Dizengoff Square, but got sidetracked when we got to the Nahalat Binyamin Market. We walked up and down the sidewalk looking at all the crafts. I bought my nephews some hand-painted Hebrew letters that spelled out their names. We bumped into the Sabra’s brother, sister-in-law, and her brother’s friend. We chatted with them for a few minutes, then we moved on.
We got a cab and headed to Ramat Gan to meet up with an old friend of mine from my yeshiva days. It was really nice to see someone that I hadn’t seen in 16 years, but it was also a little awkward. I wanted to reminisce, I wanted to have a good laugh about the old days. Unfortunately, he didn’t have quite as fond of memories as I did, so it didn’t work out so well for me. No matter, it was still a lot of fun to hang out and talk and see someone that I hadn’t seen in 16 years.
After chatting for a bit and having some cake and drink, we piled into my friend’s car and he drove us back into Tel Aviv and picked up a cab to head over to the Sabra’s friend’s apartment. From there, we drove to Herzliya for dinner. We met 3 of the Sabra’s friends from college. They all lived together in the dorms, and they have remained friends ever since. We went to a place called Bleecker, which is right in the marina, so all the sailboats were lined up. It was a beautiful night, and the sliding walls were all open, and people were sitting outside, but we were still a little chilly, so we sat inside. I had schnitzel. It was mediocre.
Of course we missed the last bus back to Gedera and of course it was my fault for not keeping track of the time. So, we went back to the apartment and waited for the Sabra’s father to drive up and pick us up. As I mentioned, it was a beautiful night, and there was no traffic, so it was a good night for driving.
On Wednesday, we headed back to Ashdod. The Sabra’s father had a meeting there, and the Sabra had a doctor’s appointment. I tagged along. We got dropped off at the mall, right by the guy who thought that urinating on the side of the building in front of God and Country was an appropriate place to whip out his manhood and relieve the pressure on his bladder. We walked through the mall and into the business section, went up the elevator and into the office. I sat in the waiting room where the young (attractive) woman behind the desk asked for my help. She needed me to carry the heavy bottle of water from the storage room around to the water machine and put the bottle in place. Now, this young (attractive) woman was clearly not long out of the Army, so why is she asking an old man like me to do such laborious labor?
After the doctor, we headed back through the mall looking for food. We ended up at a place called Roast Beef Bar. It was like a Subway, but so much better. We sat outside and ate. Meanwhile someone who the Sabra went to school with came walking by with her kid. They exchanged pleasantries, and then the woman and kid went on their way. When we finished, we called the Sabra’s father to come and get us, and we while we waited, we went and bought watermelon seeds (mmm mmm mmm, I loves me some watermelon seeds!).
That night, I got to experience what it was like to be Joe Israeli. We went to the supermarket at Bilu Center in Rehovot. The grocery store was weird! They had normal stuff you’d expect to see at a grocery store, like, say, groceries, but they also had electronics and refrigerators and washing machines. It was quite odd. I bought some yogurt for breakfast and some strawberry Bamba because after seeing it the other day, I had to try it. The Sabra bought some Bamba for my nephew who loves the crap, and I bought some chocolate for the office.
Thursday was by far the highlight of the trip! We took the bus to Jerusalem. When we got to the central bus station in the Holy City, we called another friend of mine, the Gib, that I hadn’t seen either for 16 years. The Sabra and I walked to Machane Yehuda where we met him. We walked through the market, then down to Zion Square in downtown Jerusalem. We walked past the Underground (which, by now has closed its doors for the last time), and had some lunch in a pay-by-the-pound vegetarian place (the Sabra was happy about that). After that, we walked down Ben Yehuda Street past Meah Shearim on our way to Yeshiva. It was absolutely crazy to be there after 16 years. We had to leave the Sabra outside (the have gates now and only one entrance) since she’s a girl and all. We saw the guy who was (and still is apparently) in charge of the dorms. He remembered me pretty quickly, but not the Gib…at first anyway. Once he got it, it all came flooding back (in fact, we think he sniffed the Gib to see if he smelled of herb). He gave us a tour of the place…it’s changed so much since we were there. There were a few bochers around (it was erev Pesach, so it was pretty dead), and they seemed a little frightened. We saw the old cook who also remembered me, but not the Gib (who was somewhat offended, I think). We had a great time talking about the old days and what we did where and with whom. It was exactly what I was looking for. Finally, the tour was over, and it was time to leave. We headed back out, and the Gib took pics of me and the Sabra touching each other in front of the Yeshiva (scandalous!).
From the Yeshiva, we headed down Highway 1 to the Old City. Before we got there, we stopped in the travel agency where another Gibraltarian I went to school with works and hung out with him for a bit before pressing on. We walked through the Armenian Quarter then on into the Arab Quarter before finally passing into the Jewish Quarter. We walked through the shuk and haggled with some of the vendors. I bought my nephews little green shirts with the IDF logo on them. I also bought postcards for them, and I bought a box of holy water, holy dirt, holy incense, and holy spice for a friend at work. The Gib and I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Deir es-Sultan, an Ethiopian church I never even knew was there. It was pretty cool. Finally, we made our way to the Western Wall. For such a drab, old wall, it really is one of the most beautiful sites in the world. I don’t consider myself to be particularly religious or spiritual, but there is something about seeing that wall and knowing that my peeps prayed behind it 2,000 years ago is pretty amazing! I put the prayers that folks from the office gave me into the cracks, and gave a little charity and got a red string to tie around my wrist to protect me from the evil eye.
Finally, we headed out of the Old City and walked to a café to get something to drink. I got tea with fresh mint leaves in it…yummy. The Gib and I continued to entertain the Sabra with our stories from our yeshiva days. I’m sure that we entertained a few folks sitting around us as well. Sadly, the Gib had a party to go to and we had to part ways. We promised that we would see each other again before another 16 years were up! The Sabra and I walked back to the bus station and went home. It was bittersweet to get into bed that night. On the one hand I was so friggin’ tired from all that walking that I was so happy to finely hit the pillow, but I was sad because I didn’t want to leave Jerusalem.
I woke up Friday and decided that I wanted to go back to Jerusalem. An old friend of mine (if you are guessing I hadn’t seen him in 16 years, you are wrong—it had only been 15 years) had called me when we were in Jerusalem on Thursday, but we didn’t have time to hook up and I really wanted to see him. So, the Sabra’s father dutifully took me to the bus stop, and it turned out that we missed the bus at that stop, so we jumped in the car and started to drive to the next stop. From out of nowhere, the bus pulls up behind us at a red light, so now we are racing to get to the stop before the bus does. Fortunately, we made it, and I was again on my way to Jerusalem, this time all by myself. When I got to the bus station I called the Costa Rican, and we arranged to meet for lunch. I had a few hours to kill, so I walked back to Machane Yehuda and took some pictures (see here and here and here). I took the bus down to Meah Shearim and impressed myself because I was able to talk to the bus driver all in Hebrew. In Meah Shearim, I headed over to see if the Olive Wood Factory was open. Sadly, since it was erev Shabbos and erev Pesach, most of Meah Shearim was closed (what wasn’t was all hustle-bustle buying last minute stuff for the holiday and burning chumitz. I didn’t remember so many bonfires to burn your bread [see here and here and here and here]). I decided that I would see if my memory was still as good as I thought. I turned out that it was. I was able to find the back route that we would take to get from the bars back to Yeshiva. Needless to say, I did indeed find my way. I was so impressed with myself.
About the time I found myself back at the Yeshiva, the Costa Rican called me to see where I was. I told him, and we decided on a place to meet. He picked me up, and we headed back into town to grab some lunch. We stopped at a liquor store to buy some wine (which I also did for the Seder), then we went to some hole-in-the-way place where we got hummus and falafel. We talked and talked and talked and got caught up on the past 15 years. Then he drove me back to the bus station, and I headed back to Gedera. I asked the driver to let me know when we reached my stop, but it was still one of the scariest bus rides of my life. When I was going to school there, I would travel from one city to the next, but it was generally from one central bus station to the next. This trip was to a random bus stop I the middle of the street in a random town. But, I did good, and got to where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to.
Saturday was busy with all the last minute stuff for Pesach, which finally came. The Sabra’s extended family came and soon we were gathered around the table, ready to start. Her mother went out and bought 2 Haggadahs that had English and Hebrew: one for me, and one for the Sabra’s sister-in-law. We went around the table reading, and when it came to the two of us, we read in English while everyone else read in Hebrew. Yea, it was kind of awkward, but it was OK. Dinner was, of course, delicious, and everyone had a great time.
Sunday was spent hanging out and packing.
Sadly, Monday came, and it was time to go home. Of course, Monday had barely come. The Sabra’s brother and sister-in-law’s flight was crazy early in the morning, so instead of making her father drive to the airport twice, we got up early and went with them. We left the house around 4:30 in the morning. It made for one long day. The flights were pretty uneventful. I watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which was OK. It was, like most of Nicolas Cage’s movies, exactly what you’d expect. Not too great story, not too great acting, but thoroughly enjoyable. After that, I watched Juno, which I wasn’t expecting to like, but Ellen Page is a hottie, and a good actor. I also fell in love with the soundtrack.
We finally made it home to BWI. My one brother-in-law was supposed to pick us up from the airport, but it turned out that my other brother-in-law was in the neighborhood, so he got us instead. When we got to the curb to meet him, we were 2 suitcases lighter than when left Ben Gurion International Airport. We filled out the paperwork for them to deliver our bags. We headed back to my parents house to see my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew who live in Oregon. They were on this coast for Pesach. Finally, after God knows how many hours, we finally went home and went to bed.
Tuesday came and the Sabra’s luggage showed up. Mine didn’t. But, after 2 weeks of calling British Airways every day to find the status of my luggage and over $200 in replacements, I did finally get my bag back. It was wet and my clothes smelled of mildew. One of my gifts was ruined. All I got from British Airways was “Thank you for flying with British Airways.” Not even an “I’m sorry.” These idiots admitted that until my bag got back on a plane, they had no idea where (literally) in the world it was. They thought it was in London, but it could have just as likely still been in Tel Aviv or even in Timbuktu. Now, I have to play the waiting again. I submitted my receipts for reimbursement, but it can take 6-8 weeks for them to process my request (and that’s before they decide if they are in fact going to grant me the privilege of reimbursing me). I was just told today that I can’t call that department, I can only fax or write them a letter…like they’re really going to respond.
BUT, even though I didn’t have my luggage for 2 weeks, and even though it was a short trip, and even though I didn’t get to do as much traveling and touring as I would have liked, I had a great time, and I’m so glad I went. I just hope that it won’t take me 16 more years to get back.
I recently joined Facebook (while I have a Jo Cose account, I also have one under my real name. If you are interested in being as nerdy as me, shoot me an email), and I am going through trying to find old friends. Well, I found one from a long time ago who I'm glad I found. He was a great kid, and I'm really glad to hear that he's doing well.
We've been emailing, catching up, and here's something that he wrote me. I am very happy for him, but it makes me kind of sad to think that it's not me writing the same to someone else:
the truth is that i'm very honored to have this job. I travel all over europe all the time, and i get to have the satisfaction of educating young [people]... i love it! :-)
When I was a very little boy, we had a big ole aquarium (now, in all honesty, I was very little, so it could have been a small aquarium, but only seemed big to me--but it had it's own stand, and I would guess it was 30 to 50 gallons). Since then, I've always wanted an aquarium, and I decided yesterday that the time has come to realize this less than impressive dream.
I hate mornings. I dread the sound of the alarm clock. Sleep usually refuses to release me from her grip, and I find myself using every ounce of strength that I have to swing my legs over the side of the bed and face a new day. It’s not that I dread the coming day—how could that be when I work at such a wonderful place as NASA? Once I’m up, I’m fine…it’s just that first movement of throwing back the blankets and pealing myself from the safety and security of my warm bed. Once I’m out of the shower, I’m more functional. Sadly, however, this means that all of the harsh realities of the day begin to set in even before I can get my Ann Curry fix. Once I’m on the Metro there is no turning back from the inevitable, and I am grateful that I at least have the 25-minute commute to prepare myself for what I will have to deal with at NASA.
Nevertheless, each morning, between the moment that I step off the escalator at L'Enfant Plaza until I cross 4th St. SW, I am no longer in DC. I am somehow transported, for that span of about a minute and a half, to the Old Country. I walk that block and a half in a trance, seeing not the drab buildings of American Democracy or the bleary-eyed civil servants on their way to and fro. What I see instead is a landscape of small, ancient buildings lining narrow, cobblestone lanes with double-decker red buses. A smorgasbord of nationalities and ethnicities pass me on the street, speaking myriad languages, yet all feeling at home in this cosmopolitan scene.
But most of all it’s the smells. As I stroll down the street on my way to NASA, my nose is accosted by so many assorted smells that all merge to paint a clear picture on my mind’s canvas. Call it nostalgia. Call it memory. Call it what you will. For that brief time, I can smell the aroma of sweet pastry, cooking bacon, scrambling eggs, and grease. As I round the corner, these odors mix with the distinctive smell of diesel and carbon monoxide belching from the busses and delivery trucks. As Baby's-breath to this bouquet of scents is the smell of fresh baked bread emanating from the Subway on the corner and the bagels and coffee from the shop next door.
For that brief moment, I get to live my fantasy of being away, living in another land, absorbing the culture through all of my senses.
I went to McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland this past Friday to photocopy some articles, and I had to go up into the stacks. When the elevator opened, I stepped off and just stood there: paralyzed, transfixed. I had been transported to another place: the sight of all those books; the smell of all those books; the knowledge that was before me; so much to read, so much to learn. I just stood there and closed my eyes and drank in the smell of all those books. It was like a glass of fresh water to the parched Mariner. It made me so sad when I came to and realized that I was there for only a brief sojourn and not for good.
I received rather disturbing news this afternoon.
I went home to visit my mom, who recently had surgery and is recovering slowly (normally according to the doctor, but slow nonetheless). She told me that I had some mail, which in itself is rather odd as I have updated my contact information with everyone who sends me anything worthwhile or important. Typically, my parents throw out most of the mail that comes to them for me as it is mostly junk. In order to establish if it’s junk or not, my mother seems to break federal law and actually opens my mail.
So, when I received a letter from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, my mom assumed that it was a letter to ask me for money. She proceeded to open it, in an effort to prove her assumption. Now, we all know about assuming, and sure enough this time she was wrong.
This was not a typical call for money letter. In fact, it was a rather disturbing letter. It seems that Father J, the priest at my high school, was defrocked 12 years ago after allegations of sexually molesting a boy at another school. Now, apparently, an alumnus of my high school has accused Father J of molesting him back in high school.
If I had read about this in the paper, I probably would have chalked it up to yet another pedophile preying on altar boys in the Catholic church. This time, however, it is different. Who would have thought that a Jewish boy from Pikesville would ever personally know a Catholic priest who was not only accused of sexual molestation, but was defrocked. The part that I struggle with the most is that while I never had a lot of dealings with Father J, he was very well liked, and I can’t remember anyone having anything bad to say about him (bear in mind that we were in high school, and the Brothers were all fair game for gay jokes, but Father J was never a part of those jokes).
So, now I have more questions than answers: Was I naïve? Did I just not understand? Was I just too far removed, not needing to attend the religious retreats?
But the biggest question to me is is this even real? While I don’t usually defend the Catholic church (for I believe that they deserve much of the abuse they take for their cover-ups, lying, cheating, stealing, killing, and even molesting), I still have to question this. I accept that it is entirely possible that Father J could like to fondle boys, he might be all that the allegations suggest, but what if he is a victim of American culture. This country has raised a generation who doesn't understand the concept of ownership of actions. This country has raised a generation who believes that the best and easiest way to get what you want is to sue for it (and bring someone down if possible).
Is it possible, then, that Father J is the real victim? That perhaps the guy who is raising the accusations was merely some unpopular shlub who feels that Father J didn’t treat him as well as he wanted to be treated? Is it possible that Father J snubbed this guy in some way and now the guy is seeking revenge in the now traditional American way—libel and slander? Is it possible that Father J was at the wrong place at the wrong time?
While I would like to believe that the memories I have of Father J being a cool, hip, modern man of the cloth, I concede that I am probably wrong, and that the simple fact of the matter is that he likes buggering young boys.
I have some dry hacking cough this morning (I think I got it from my dad), and so I decided to get a drink to see if that would help. The beverage of choice? Dr Pepper.
It’s funny. Every time I drink a Dr Pepper, I am instantly transported back to the swim club we belonged to when I was very little. It was actually a quarry that was filled with water. I don’t have very strong memories since I was so young, but with every sip, I can feel my wet skin baking in the golden sunshine. I can feel the sandy water that I made my mother carry me over because I didn’t like it (I guess I was fastidious even back then). I remember the concession pavilion at the top of the hill where we used to get gummy worms and, of course, Dr Pepper.
My favorite memory from then was my dad holding me and swimming out to the wall that separated the swimming area from the rest of the quarry. My oldest sister used to go on the sliding board that dropped into the deepest end because she was older and could swim. I wasn’t allowed, but it didn’t matter when me and my daddy swam out to the wall. He was the greatest daddy then, and he still is now.
So, I thank you, Dr Pepper, for reminding me of such happy thoughts.