Friday, September 26, 2008

Israel Schmizrael

Bill and I left for Israel on a dismally cold winters day fom New Jersey. We’d arranged to rent a car and drive to JFK. When we arrived at the car rental shop it was closed. Panicked, we hailed a cab. We summoned the only cab driver in the state that did not know the route to JFK. After several wrong turns, we backtracked over the George Washington Bridge as twilight descended. I stared bleakly out the window. I was bleary eyed so when I noticed a black orb (UFO?) sail, in apparent slow motion, up and over a lane of traffic then into the Hudson River, I did not react. A horrific screeching noise ensued followed by wave of yellow sparks that shot from the rear of the cab.

We had blown a tire. Honking horns, mayhem and panic ensued. We were, after all, in the middle of a bridge. Another cab was behind us. We paid the first cabbie, grabbed our things and ran to the second cab and sped off.

We were at mission critical with regard to time. Arriving at the airport we ran to the ticket counter. No tickets. Bill's face was red and I believe he raised his voice. The mystery was soon solved. Our tickets were in first class, not coach, and under his partner’s name. We rushed to the gate as the doors were closing.

Bill was traveling to Israel on business. There was going to be an exchange of money (Bill had a check) and a new branch of his business would open in Israel.

After settling into our expansive seats and toasting with champagne, Bill asked me to marry him. My response was to laugh nervously and say, “Don’t be silly”. After receiving this deflating answer, he asked me to hand him his brief case. He wanted to review the reams of documents and contracts pertaining to the deal he would negotiate shortly.

"I don't have your briefcase." I said. "What?" he replied. "Didn't you take it out of the cab? I told you to." "No, you didn’t, I said defensively".

A million phone calls were made from the airplane. How would we ever remember the Cab Company or driver of the first cab, much less the second? Frighteningly, there was a blank check for $50,000.00 inside the brief case. How Bill could have an MBA and a blank check in his briefcase never made sense.

Back in those days people could smoke on airplanes. Bill was smoking. An ash sailed from his cigarette and landed on my Haynes Pantyhose dissolving them into ribbons of nylon stretching from my thighs to my feet. I left them on because I could not wear my gorgeously uncomfortable French pumps without them.

We landed in Tel Aviv and made our way to baggage claim. We would be gone for over a month so we had more then a few bags. I was standing alone when a small dark haired man approached. In broken English he queried, "Is this the luggage from Brazil?" I'm from New York," I snapped. I was accustomed to unwanted male attention. Further, it was a stupid question since everyone knew that just one flight arrived at any given time in this Airport.

Bill returned advising that my bag had been lost. “What care I for luggage when there is love such as this to be found?” Um. That’s not what I said at the time.

We proceeded to customs. Embarrassed by my frayed stockings which were decidedly destroying my New York City Slicker look, I bent forward drawing my long black coat down and around my legs. I clenched my coat closed with my right hand and took baby steps. In my left hand, I held a black guitar case meant for the son of one of Bill’s soon-to-be business partners. That's when it happened.

Two soldiers appeared out of nowhere. They grabbed me beneath both arms, lifting me into the air. I suppressed the urge to squeal, “wee”. But the soldiers were frowning. They wore military camouflage uniforms and had rifles with bayonets strapped to their chests. I could see hand grenades dangling from their belts. "Come with me, Police" they said.

They were dragging me through the airport. Every now and again my French pumps would graze the ground. I couldn’t move fast enough. Bill ran behind us pushing the luggage cart. He was literally, freaking out. "What do you want?" Bill screamed. I turned my head around as they pulled me forward. I could see Bill running behind us, pulling things out of his wallet, a passport, his driver’s license...the soldiers were not interested.

They continued to drag me (they were hurting my arms) through and eventually outside of the airport to a large dirt clearing surrounded by 20-foot crumbling stone walls. Every part of me was covered with dirt. They were dragging me towards a small guardhouse at the end of the clearing. Oh Dear God. They were going to shoot me. I started resisting. At the time Israel was at war with Lebanon. Danger lurked in the air. The military in the streets outnumbered pedestrians.

They pulled me to the guardhouse and went through my luggage. That was it. "Okay, you can go", someone said. As I turned to leave more soldiers rushed in. They brought with them, a man in handcuffs. One of the soldiers was a woman. "He can go (Bill) but she (me) stays” she shouted. How do you know this man?" she screamed pointing her finger at me and gesturing to the man in hand cuffs. "What did he say to you? Do not attempt to lie”.

The man in handcuffs was the man who had approached me in baggage claim. "He asked me if the luggage was from Brazil". "I've never seen him before. I'm from New York", I said.

If you are ever speechless and do not know the proper thing to say, take my advice, utter; "I'm from New York". Try it. It works.

After several tense minutes while the female soldier stared intently into my eyes, waiting for a confession, as two soldiers held tightly onto my arms, she let me go.

I was a dusty ragged mess. I was, perhaps 24 years old. I no longer cared to conceal my raggedy nylons. I was happy to be alive.

Bill and I found our driver (a couple of old guys in a tiny beat up car). They drove us to our fancy hotel on the Mediterranean Sea.

Of course the hotel did not have a record of our reservation. Why would they? The hotel manager probably took one look at me and said, “Achmed, do not let hair in. Dis man, he want take woman from refugee camp in hotel. No. Tell him we no have reservation.”

I sat, looking indeed like a refugee on the velvet circle couch in the Lobby thinking, “ I don’t think I like traveling”.

After 30 minutes, Bill waved me over.

“Charmaine, we have to check in upstairs. We’re in the Penthouse”.

Checking in at the Tele Vista Lounge was an elegant affair. Butlers served us champagne, spa technicians offered to rub our feet, massage our hands. There was classical music. My hands were dirty so I declined.

Imagine a butler in a tux, extending a flute of champagne to me as I tried to smooth my dress over my dust-encrusted strings of pantyhose. This action turned into a Linus dust-cloud situation so I abruptly stopped and smiled. There may or may not have been twigs in my hair. Glancing at me, as Bill signed the forms, he gestured with his right finger and touched the side of his mouth. I got the message and removed a blob of dirt from the corner of my lip.

Behind my sweet smile was, “Please God, Please Dear God let this ritual end. God, I know you are here. We are in the God Damned holy land. If one more person sees me I will die. Please let this ritual end so that I can get to the roooooooooom. Ahhhhhhhh.

After approximately 4 years, or so it seemed, we were led to our Penthouse Suite.

“Who do they think you are, the King of England?” I said to Bill. There were vases of flowers, roses, fruit baskets, buckets of champagne everywhere, including the bathroom.

“I AM the King of England. Didn’t you get the memo?” he replied. “I guess they didn’t recognize your Royal Highness at the airport”, I said. He gave me a huge bear hug and we laughed until we fell down on the bed.

Sadly, there was no time to rest. We had dinner with “the business partners and their wives” at 7:00 PM. I showered and changed into a fancy beige backless number with my pointiest red high heels. And yes, back then I wore dresses and had great legs. No one believes it, but it’s true.

There had to be 20 of them, the business partners. Just to make matters more surreal, we had Chinese food. Everyone was speaking Hebrew. Bill found this rude and started speaking in Spanish. I played along.

We returned to the hotel. To say that we were tired doesn’t cover it. I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I remember it as if it had was yesterday. I can see my right foot taking the step. I see the Channel Number 5 cream bottle hanging over the edge of the sink where a small pool of lotion had accumulated on the floor. I step onto it with my right shoe. The faucet from the bathtub rose up and hit me in the eye.

That is what it is like when you take a fall with jet lag followed by too much wine. It is as if the floor (in this case bathtub) raises UP to strike you. I was in the bathtub now, in my dress and heels.

“Oh brother. I can’t believe I just did that”, I thought.

I pulled myself up and out and sat on the edge of the tub. I sat there for a minute with my head slumped over my knees. I planned to continue sitting until the pain over my left eye subsided. Something stopped me. It was a pool of blood on the floor the size of an apple. Wha tha? “Billlllll” I screamed. Bill was in bed. Blood was running down my cheek now (the area over your eyes is highly vascularized.) Bill would not wake up. I was shaking him and shaking him. Of course he was exhausted. But I was wide-awake. I went to the bathroom, got a glass of water, and poured it on his face.

That did the trick. He looked at me. Bill was a well-educated, well spoken man. That is why I expected him to say precisely what he did. “Shit!”

He called the front desk. They were sending the house doctor. It was 3:00 AM. An hour went by. The doctor arrived. “Please, you must get her to a hospital for stitches, now”.

We were outside now, hailing a cab. They gave us the name of two hospitals. One was westernized and one was not. We opted for the closest. It was not westernized.

I have never seen anything as disgusting in my life. I attempted to go to the bathroom but the floor was covered with mud or “something” that smelled revolting. You know what it was. It was too spectacularly impossible to believe. We went to the waiting area. A Hasidic Jewish woman took one look at me and rushed in front of Bill screaming at him and wagging her finger directly in his face. “You hit hair, you hit hair. You air bad man”.

“He didn’t hit me” I said. “You hit hair bad man” she insisted.

They called me to meet the surgeon and plopped me onto a gurney. A man anesthetized over my right eye commenting, “You look very nice”. The surgeon arrived and attempted to place a stitch over my left eye and I screamed. Bill rushed in. “What are you doing to her?” he screamed. “Please leave sir”, they were forcing him out of the room. The Hasidic woman rushed in, “You hit hair”. Then, she spat. “It’s Ok Bill, I reassured. “They anesthetized the wrong eye, no biggee”.

We left at 8:00 AM. I was still in my cocktail dress but now had 7 stitches over my left eye. When we returned to the hotel, I slept for a day. Several dozen roses were delivered by the hotel. They send a battery of people to question me, to determine if I would sue them. Certainly not, I said. I slipped. It was my fault.

Looking back, I’m certain that the people in the hotel did not think I was a refugee. Rather, they thought I was a prostitute. Each day there were flowers and notes waiting for me in our mailbox. One night after dinner, Bill went to the Business Center. One of the managers offered to escort me back to my room(s). “Take good care of her”, Bill said.

En route the man said, “You are very beautiful, unlike my wife. You wear silk dresses, unlike my wife. I could give you many things” he said. I was taught to respect my elders and this man was old enough to be my father. When we arrived at the Penthouse I closed the door but he stuck his foot out. “Please remove your foot from my door, sir,” I requested. He would not. “If you do not remove your foot within ten seconds I will call the police”. (This meant nothing) “Remove your foot from the door or I will scream. Then I will instruct my husband to kill you,” I said. He relented.

From that day forward, I learned to suspect advances from older men. I instinctively knew they thought they could take advantage of youth. In my case, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Shortly, Bill and I left for Egypt.


f1wahine said...

Great story, however I think you're spending too much time in the past regaling stories of some enchanted youth when you NEED to be looking for a job. Unless, you're looking for a writing job. Seriously, where are you on the job front. Get your head out of the sand and get to work :)

Trevor Oseen said...

As always, an entertaining read.

Charmaine said...

Hey Cheryl!!!!

As usual, I can count on you to kick me in the ass when I need a kick in the ass.

Are you around next week? I will either visit you on my way out or on my way back if you're still interested. Still waiting for the "reference" call.

JIMSIGHT said...

Makes me want to look for my always great stuff...

Hey you should stick your head in the sand with spicy and me at bootcamp on the beach treat if you want too...its 9:00am, on the sand PCH and 17th Street, can text me if want in...

SF said...

oh my gosh, dare I say that is hilarious, as only something so horrible can be when looking back a couple of decades!!! You write is so clearly! I can almost see you, trying desperately to keep your shoes from falling off or getting terribly scuffed as they drag you through the airport!!