Sunday, February 4, 2018

No Chance

Tuesdays I volunteer to tutor English to seventh grade kids.  For breakfast before I catch the bus to their school, I’m having an egg, yogurt, and two ears full from an American university freshman. The interviewee jack-hammers her dogma: no one she deems a fascist has the right to speak on her campus. Clear from the written synopsis and comments scrolling under her video, top ranked among fascists would be me, Lady Occupier of Jerusalem. Her hair is different, but her parochial language, her narcotic tone I heard before, decades ago, my freshman year.

The introduction to my campus was an oily, torch lit demonstration against the university administration by students masked, outlaw style, in paisley scarves. They chanted


A leader of the march, I would learn, was Paul; grad student in philosophy, Jew, and the upcoming boyfriend of my roommate, Margo. The school did not close down, and with paisley snaking from his belt loop, I found myself standing next to Paul, waiting for the next spin in a night of international folk dancing. With the last stomp of a Balkan line dance (vest, sash, felt boots), the emcee queued an Israeli song. Paul said, “Oh ick,” lit a cigarette, studied its dirty smoke, and finished his thought, “There is no Israeli folk dancing. It’s all stolen from real cultures.” 

I was too green, too cowed, too dumb to reply. It would be years before I’d learn that a business-like European fascist, who erased all but two smears from the family tree of the future Paul, had said, propemodum, the same thing.

Now Paul’s analogue, this woman on the internet, laces into me, the one with spilled yogurt and icy feet, my socks having slipped off and gone missing in my little apartment in Israel.

The door to Natalia’s English room is locked. I grab a chair and sit in the hallway. A collection of female teachers and students is entertaining a chubby bruiser of a baby. They hand him around, make him say goo-goo words, and coo when he does. Here comes Natalia. The whole school wears sweats and jeans but Natalia dresses for winter Pushkin style, in slate cashmere and black beads. 
“Whose baby is this?” she asks. 
A student kisses Bruiser’s doughy cheek. “Ours,” she replies, and hands him to Natalia. 
Natalia makes a fish mouth and pumps the baby’s cheeks, “Do like this.” The whole group goes goldfish. When Bruiser gets it, his fan club goes wild.  

Two things happen as Natalia carries Bruiser in my direction. First, my face, a smiley emoji, is about to crack. Second, a male teacher, short with a short beard, shouldering an overstuffed brief case on one arm and a diaper bag on the other, locks up the science lab, spots his son, and beaming, accepts his baby from Natalia’s arms.

My favorite kids pop into seats around me, waiting for Natalia to unlock her door. They pick up cold from our lesson last week; we work on comparative and superlative.
Maya, a large boned girl, the tallest kid in the class, leans forward. “I have decided,” she says, “The best job for me will be to program computers.”
Daniel, whose hooded eyes make him look torpid but who is preternaturally lucid, pushes aside his long bangs. On his third finger he wears an onyx ring engraved in silver with a Magen David. “Computers? I’m a technophobe. That would be my worst job.”
“What would be your best?” I ask.
“My best would be to get married.”
Maya rolls her eyes to the ceiling. Moshe, who has high Ethiopian cheek bones, looks at Daniel from under eyelashes like mink, “You only want to get married to build your own football team.” 
“Comparative! Superlative!” I insist.
Moshe restates, “You want to get married to build a better football team.”
Maya examines her fingers, “The only team that will not beat you.”

Natalia’s opens her door. I gather my things and say to my trio, “You guys crack me up.” In unison they peer at me. In Hebrew, as one, they ask, “What?”

I get through the lesson with the manic energy of a standup comic. When the bell rings, I make believe I have to sneeze and bury my face in my hands.

I forego the direct route and take the winding paths of a park. I’ll find a bus, any bus, on its other side. Its hills remind me of a short Riverside Park, except here no one will shatter a bottle and pitch it at my head. 

I sit on a bench. I make believe I’m consulting my cell phone. An elderly couple, the woman steadied by her husband’s arm, asks me in Hebrew if I need help. I say I’m looking for a bus. They ask me which number? and I say, out of nowhere, 15.  They sit on either side of me, pull out their phones, and each finds an app with all the gazillion bus lines in Israel. They say, “One second, one second. We’ll find it.” They click this key and that, “One more second; almost got it.”

I want to tell them not to be kind. I want to tell them that Bruiser will not grow up, that Daniel will never marry, that my trio will not live long enough to have jobs. I want to tell them that none of us has a chance. I sob. The woman pulls me close to her, “Why are you worried? We’ll find your bus.” 

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