Monday, September 11, 2006

Two Very Different September Days

September 11, 2001

, Arizona, U.S.A.

I'd spent most of the night before at the University of Arizona library after a fight with my Mom at her apartment (where I was staying at the time), and it was only by chance that I finally decided, as dawn broke, to drive back home to shower before the classes I was to have later that morning. I feel now, in retrospect, stupid for having put in that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV show soundtrack CD as I drove to my Mom's place, instead of turning on the radio. Then again, what happened that day would, I think, have been shocking to learn when described by any medium, at any hour.

I'll always remember walking up to the apartment that early morning, and my Mom pulling the door open right as I wearily grabbed for the doorknob. She was motioning to the television screen, and as I looked, the already oft-replayed image that day of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center seared itself into my brain…the sight coalescing, in short order, into a bewildered, frightening comprehension.

Just writing about it brings up a swirl of emotion, as if 9/11 happened yesterday…instead of five years ago today.

Now, what follows is not what I originally spent a good amount of time typing. In fact, what follows virtually has nothing to do with the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, other than my wanting to talk about something other than terrorism on this solemn day.

But really, I reconsidered for two main reasons: First, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, made comments so similar to my own today (or yesterday, by his own time zone) that I'd feel I be rehashing what he already succinctly stated (even if you all don't have any idea what he said) if I published what I'd done.

That's the first reason. The second reason is that something happened to me last week, the unfolding of a story that only the Greatest Author in the Universe could have written with such quality that it deserved to be included within the pages of my life. I feel compelled to share it.

I actually wrote this last week, or at least some version of it. I've edited it down for public consumption, but I have not changed the basic tone...which, I think...I playful.

This is a true story.

September 6, 2006
Jerusalem, Israel

A man is just about two months and ten days from leaving Israel, the country he moved to following his college graduation. He has been as unlucky in love as a single guy can be since his first relationship in the Jewish state ended. One night, our subject talked with a former job supervisor of his and noted that he wasn’t looking for a relationship of any kind with the girls he ogles, as “Hey, I’m about to leave.”

The next night, though - September 6, 2006 - he decides to take a walk with a new book in hand to the Café Hillel on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. Following the placement of his drink order (a glass of Iced Coconut Milk, his favorite at Café Hillel), he chooses a seat near a glass partition, behind which sit two girls and two guys.

Our hero of the moment assumes that the girls are the guys’ boyfriends, but can soon sense one of the girls watching him, and struggles to not smile as he pretends to ignore the tapping on the glass partition while he very honestly reads the book he’d brought with. He is somewhat in disbelief.

Could she…“No, it’s not possible,” he tells himself. Another series of taps. “That girl is trying to get my attention,” he realizes. Finally, the tapping gets to be loud enough that ignoring it would be too obviously rude. He turns around, and sees one of the most beautiful faces he’s ever seen.

She beckons to him with her mobile phone, and at first only gets the briefest glimpse of a phone number – sending him scrambling for his phone –before she pulls it away types him a message in Hebrew instead:

“What is that?”

Being something of the playful half-wit that he is, our male subject of discussion makes a show of pulling out his own mobile phone, and types back – in English – “A book” and then, smiling, presses the lit screen of his cell phone to the glass partition.

He sees the pretty girl read his English message, and then watches as she types something once again. As she moves the phone back to the glass, our fellow reads upon the screen, in Hebrew, “Do you speak Hebrew?”

What does the man do? He types back “Only a little,” (in English) and waits for the reaction.

The girl types again. “Come sit with us,” her next Hebrew message reads. Our intrepid narrator – if by now you haven’t figured it out, that’s me – looks quizzically for a moment at the sudden object of his desire, and the earnest look on her face (as well as the movement of one of the other guys sitting at her table to make a space) convinces him to get his ass off of his chair and do as she wishes.

Now, dispensing with the third-person narration , I immediately began shaking as I moved into the other room, and sat down across from a girl that was unmistakably seeing me as the attraction of the moment…amongst total strangers. As the conversation awkwardly, barely, got started with a mix of English and Hebrew with her asking me where I was from and me telling her, a Café Hillel server brought out my Iced Coconut Milk – which happens to be my favorite drink at the place. There were some short laughs amongst those at the table, which kind of perplexed me…but the confusion passed, and became something more like dread.

The rest of the group had already finished their drinks, and suddenly I and my drink were the focus of everyone’s attention. Uncomfortable, much? Being around an incredibly good looking girl can unsettle I think even men of the most resolutely stoic character. But you see...

I never get hit on by girls, because generally I'm too shy, or scared, to go out in public to environments where lots of single girls would be present and on the hunt. But this was so obviously what was happening, I didn’t know how to react. I was in foreign territory (in Israel), in foreign territory (being the hunted), with a girl whose first language is a language that, after two years in the country, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to learn all that much aside from reading and listening enough to read it a little bit and understand it a little bit.

This seemed good, though, so I was going with it. We finally got around to introductions; the girl – who with every second I was growing more and more attracted to – asked “What’s your name?” in Hebrew, and I told her. “Jeremy”. She then told me her name...which I will not share here, at the moment. We shook hands (yes, shook hands). Of course, you don't know her name, but it floated around in my head and I wondered whether or not she spelled her name the way that I was thinking about it. Anyway, you'll know her only as Pretty Girl.

The most important exchange of names completed, I was then introduced by Pretty Girl to the friends around her. Following that, we proceeded with asking and answering the questions being sent back and forth…mostly directed toward and not from me, because I was still kind of in a state of shock at being in a situation I’ve thought about being in for…quite some time. Some questions were asked by the Pretty Girl, others by her friends…all of whom are in the Israeli Army right now.

“Where do you live?”

“How old are you?”

“What are you doing in Israel?”

“Are you Jewish?” This was Pretty Girl.

You might get this question from someone here if you don't speak all that much Hebrew.

I nodded. “Yes, I’m Jewish.”

At this, Pretty Girl threw up her hands in a mock celebration. “Well, that’s it then. Chatuna (‘wedding’ – and this would be relevant later, as you’ll soon see).”

Ah ha.

Well…I decided I'd let that little “suggestion” slide. What had I learned from the past?

Take things slow.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I’d finished my drink - with an observation on my good looks from Pretty Girl adding a punctuation to that final slurp of the straw. While Pretty Girl and I exchanged several furtive glances in each other’s direction, her friends were getting ready to go. Finally, having discovered that it was indeed now actually time to go, Pretty Girl gave me her phone so that I could get her number. I dialed my number from her phone, and then immediately called her back so that I could save her number on mine.

The five of us all left Café Hillel at the same time, and began walking in the same direction once outside. Pretty Girl and I said some words to each other, to the effect of “keep in touch”, and then I somewhat awkwardly (is there any other such way in such a situation?) began walking a little faster. At one point I looked back, and they’d all seemed to disappear. Then, having walked a little further, I heard my name being called out by Pretty Girl. Though I don’t recall being able to hear what she said (or understand it) I saw that she was walking with the other girl who had been at the table, and called out something back...what, exactly, I don't remember.

A brief twinge of regret began then, as I told myself “You shouldn’t have walked ahead so fast, Slavin. You could have been walking with her right now.” I briefly stopped to see her and her friend walk toward a shortcut area that I and some of my other Jerusalem-based friends in the country use to get to someone or other’s house, and immediately set about typing a text message to Pretty Girl. I wasn’t going to let this slip away on account of my own inaction. I had to do something, and fast, to make up for my idiotic decision to follow that idiotic urge..."Must go faster. Must go faster".


Now, this is not how the story ends. It's now September 11, and things are progessing at a...reasonable pace. We've talked on the phone a bit, but mostly exchanged a plethora of text messages. That first night, I pulled out Hebrew dictionaries from a shelf that I'd not touched in well over a year. Most of them have followed me from home to work and back this week, and were in easy reach over the weekend.

will this story end? Right now, God only knows. Pretty Girl is in the Israeli Army, and I'll be going to New York in mid-November (contrary to the advice of many friends here who'd rather I stay, I haven't considered canceling or changing my ticket). She says she wants to go to the U.S. after her army service, but who knows? In the meantime, I'm having fun with it. It's nice to think about something else other than the hardships of life in a difficult and fairly dangerous place to live.

And it's nice to have something to write about - or at least publish online - on the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks other than a commentary about international terrorism. This anniversary weighed heavily on my mind, even with my living in terror-prone Israel. I brought in a good-sized U.S. flag to place by my computer at work today. I wore this year's Old Navy "Celebrate Independence" shirt with a fluttering Stars and Stripes image on the chest.

But...but...thankfully I had something else to think about this 9/11.

And, thankfully, I had
someone to think about too.

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