Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Egged Files

Oh Egged. You had to know I'd get around to writing a blog entry about you eventually. The bus company, whose tagline should be: “Egged- sending passengers into a homicidal rage since 1933!” is the largest bus company in Israel and provides most of the intercity bus service in the country. They are also subsidized by the government. According to Israeli law, rule of thumb, and international consensus, this means that they don't have to pretend to care about customer satisfaction. And believe me, they don't.
My story starts 3 years ago, with the introduction of the “Rav-kav,” the personal transportation card which can be used on all public transportation. All you need to do is load it in every different zone you travel in. Deciding how many trips you wants to buy- 1, round trip, 5 (so that you can't get back to wherever you started on that last trip), or even 10 or 20 in certain zones. You can even buy a monthly bus pass for a certain zone and load it on the rav-kav. And as opposed to the paper cards they used to give you that you only had to wave past the driver, these you actually get to run through their nifty technological advanced machines. Sometimes, when their machines don't work you even get to ride for free. This has happened to me at least 4 times. The theory was that this new card would save time. Well, that's true sometimes.
They also had a brilliant idea, which was to put out a student pass available either by semester, or for the whole year, at a very reduced price (half the price of buying a monthly bus pass). Any student who lives off campus, or even occasionally leaves his student cave, would be well advised to acquire one. So the genius minds at Egged decided to create the most inefficient, homicidal rage inducing method of carrying such a task out. Because they wouldn't be Egged if they didn't.
The first thing you need is a multitude of forms and photocopies of things that you don't always have yet because the minds that run the universities are not much different than those that run the bus companies. The first year, many people didn't have a rav-kav yet, so you had to fill out an additional form and bring it to the central bus station in Jerusalem (for the people who lived in the Jerusalem area). No one told us where exactly they were taking care of the student rav-kav so I went to the counter where they sell tickets and monthly bus passes. I was somewhat miffed when they told me (after waiting in what passes as a line in Jerusalem) that I was in the wrong place and then directed me to a back alley at the end of the 3rd floor that I didn't even know existed. The place was mobbed. It was every single person in the Jerusalem area who a.) wanted to get the new “it” card and b.) every student in the Jerusalem area who wanted a student pass. I had left myself an hour before work to get a student pass naively assuming that it wouldn't take longer than that. I was wrong. It took me 3 days. I took a number but when I realized that my number was 300 numbers away I gave up and left. The next day I went back and took another number. I didn't make it that day either. My number was 800 or so numbers away. I kid you not. I had brought a book and some lunch. I ordered myself a coffee. Read the newspaper. But they closed the place before my number was wrong. I was pissed. The next day I got there at 8:00 in the morning (I'm not even functional at that time of day) however, they weren't honoring the numbers from the previous day so I took another one. Then I did some errands in town, wandered around for a few hours, explored the bus station (which alas, is not quite as much of an adventure as the central bus station in Tel Aviv) until they called my number some 10 hours later.
I shoved my way through the mob of perturbed Israelis (and trust me, that is not a place you want to be) and just about collapsed at the rav kav lady's desk. I handed her all of my documents and rooted around for my rav-kav for a few minutes until I had to finally accept the fact that it wasn't there. After 3 days of bedlam, havoc, and a new eye twitch, I couldn't find the card they were supposed to load. I think the woman realized that I was about to turn into the incredible hulk (I may have started turning a bit green and the eye twitch probably didn't help), and quickly assured me that it was no problem and that she would just print me a new one. I thanked her and started my meditation breathing exercises.
The next step, was to wait in another half hour long line so that they could load it. I was about to tell them that that was certainly a load of something, but I restrained myself and tried to quell the rising urge to start throwing things, including my new student card.
And that was year one. I made myself a promise then that if they tried that with us again I wouldn't buy one. Instead, I would pay with a 200 shekel bill every single time I got on the bus. And then I would spread my new movement amongst all the students, gaining momentum and political proficiency which would launch my future career as the prime minister. As the prime minister, I would fire Egged and publicly ridicule their incompetence. Not unlike what I'm doing now, except that when I'm prime minister my word will hold more weight.
Lofty goals, I know. Unfortunately for my cause, the next year they set up stations on the various different campuses in Jerusalem as well as in the bus station and a few other places and it only took me an hour or so on line to get it (I got there early in the morning).
Egged must have been disappointed at the ease with which we were able to get our bus passes last year so this year they decided to “improve” the service by combining the place where you give them your forms and they change the status of your card and the “loading station” where they actually make your card usable. The purpose of this announcement was only to make us more optimistic about our chances of getting a bus pass easily and smoothly than we have any right to be when Egged is involved. In actuality, what it meant was that for the few thousand or so students on the Givat Ram campus who wanted a bus pass, there was one guy sitting at a desk doing everything by himself. There were 2 options: 1.) write your name at the bottom of a 4 page list and drop in occasionally to check progress in the hopes that you wouldn't be in a class doing some actual learning when they called your name, or 2.) leave all your documents and rav-kav in an envelope and they would do everything for you and return it within 24 hours. This was a no-brainer. I would have left them my wallet and my firstborn to avoid the line. So I left them my documents at 10:00 on Monday morning and a few hours later I got an sms that my rav-kav was ready. I was very relieved (not to mention smug as I cut the line to pick it up). I put the whole experience out of my mind and went about my daily business.
Until Wednesday when last year's yearly pass ran out. I don't have classes this year on Wednesday, besides a few labs, so I don't need to go in to Jerusalem at all on those days. I decided to help my dad with the shopping (this nets me a free coffee- I wouldn't want anyone to be under the mistaken impression that I'm a better person than I actually am). We came out of the grocery store loaded down with a cartload and market bag worth of food and decided to take the bus home. No big deal, the bus comes every few minutes at that time of day and we both have bus passes.
The bus comes and I heave the cart up the stairs and confidently place my rav-kav in the machine. A red light flashes. I try again. The red light flashes again. The bus driver looks at his machine and says, “your card is empty.” I go, well that's not possible, and put my card in the machine for a 3rd time. The driver is getting impatient.
“There's nothing in it, it's empty.”
“But I have a yearly student pass.”
“It expired.”
“But I bought in Monday!”
“What, it's my fault it's empty? You're blocking the door.”
I heave the cart up the last step and call my dad back to pay for me (he's the one with the wallet in our relationship). The driver goes, “You're not going to pay? Fine!”
I yell back at him, “I'm paying!” while picturing myself strangling every person involved in this fiasco (including the driver). After laying out 1,400 shekels and printing out form after form, they're telling me that my rav-kav is empty?! Someone's going to pay for this.
I decided to check the Egged website to find a phone number to call so I could yell at someone. They had put up an announcement that there was a bug in the system, and that everyone who had gotten their student pass between Sunday morning and 12:00, Tuesday afternoon had to come back to get their card fixed. They were very sorry about the mess and hoped for our understanding, etc. etc.
Facebook was abuzz with messages of denouncement towards Egged, a couple of which I have shared for your reading pleasure:

“I'm not usually in favor of capital punishment, but whoever is in charge of Rav Kav needs to be publicly beheaded.”
- Sarah

“Egged, I love you. Said no one, ever.” (rough translation from Hebrew)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Summation After My Resignation(s)

In preparation for the upcoming semester, I have quit all my jobs in order to have time to concentrate on my studies (not to mention breathe, eat, and sleep). For anyone who didn't know, yes I am going back to school again to study biology. Ever the optimist, I'm convinced that attempt number 4 will be more successful than attempts numbers 1-3. The alternative is too bleak to contemplate, even for a confirmed cynic such as myself. Considering I've spent a total of 2 and a quarter years in college, I haven't gotten very far. I'm going for a world record, you see.
So in summation of a year of working at the vets' office in town, I've compiled a list of highlights for your reading pleasure:

  1. The time a hairless cat on a leash walked into the clinic. I almost screamed and climbed out the back window. There's a reason that cats are supposed to have fur.
  2. The time I had to make licenses for a guy who had 10 ferrets. I can't imagine he has too much company over.
  3. The time I had to make licenses for a guy with 20 camels. See above comment
  4. The first operation I helped with. Doni (one of the veterinarians) asked me if I had a strong stomach. I answered “I'll warn you if I'm going to faint. Or I'll just faint.” But I didn't faint and it was way cool.
  5. The class rabbit that had fallen into a vat of paint. A woman knocked on the door and said, “I have a little problem with this rabbit.” I responded, “Really? Is it that it's blue?”
  6. The sheep. Doni and Marc walked in, each hefting one side of a large tarp. I asked who'd stopped paying them “protection money” and if they wanted me to “take care of it.” But when they put the tarp down, a very perturbed sheep popped out.
  7. The time I lassoed a chihuahua. This story starts with a crazy chihuahua who just needed to get his nails clipped. He was not very cooperative and had to be anesthetized so he wouldn't chew any hands off. They didn't even have a leash for him, so we weren't sure exactly how to get him out of the cage we'd put him in, when he woke up. The man was like, not a chance in hell am I going in there. We looked hopefully at his teenage daughter but she was in the midst of a mini breakdown. When Doni approached the cage, the dog went nuts, barking and jumping around. When I approached him, he only growled threateningly. Which meant I was elected to get him out. Doni sent me to the hardware store to buy a length of rope and then tied it into a loop at the end. I was like, “so we're going to lasso this dog then?” He looked at me and went, “we? Who's we? You're going to lasso this dog.”
I'm honestly going to miss this job. At least the animal part of it. The other part of my job was calling people up to remind them to vaccinate their pets. This was not my favorite aspect of the job. Lord knows how much I dislike the phone. And talking to people. And especially talking to people on the phone.
A typical phone conversation went like this:
Me: Hi, I'm calling from the vets' office in Ma'ale Adumim. Your dog is due for his shots.
Client: What? Who is this?
Me: I'm calling from the vets' office. You need to vaccinate your dog for rabies.
Client: But my daughter just got her shots last month.
Me: No, not your daughter, your dog.
Client: I don't understand. How did you get my phone number?
Me: You're a client of ours. Your name is in the database.
Client: What office are you calling from?
Me: Dr. so and so's office.
Client: Oooooh, Dr. Doni! When can he come over to vaccinate Lucky?
Me: I don't know, you'll have to ask him.
Client: Can I ask you a question? Lucky's been throwing up a lot lately. And running around in circles with one paw in the air. Also, his eye is red and puffy and he sneezes a lot. Do you think he's allergic to our laundry detergent? Maybe he has worms? Do you think it's contagious whatever it is? My daughter's rabbit has been acting strange lately, too. Does the doctor deal with rabbits? And gerbils? What about trolls? Homeless men who have lost the capacity for rational thought due to cheap vodka? And so on and so forth.

As for my job at the restaurant, there's not much to summate. Every day was a circus. You have to be slightly insane to work there and if you aren't to begin with, you will be when you're done.
There are the questions that remind me why I'm not a people person, such as, “do you have anything that isn't steak? No, I don't eat chicken either. Or fish.” Well then I think you've come to the wrong place, my friend.
And then there are the other questions, such as, “is the steak off the bone? What about the chicken wings?” that make you question Darwin's theory about survival of the fittest. I don't know how these people made enough money to eat at an expensive steak restaurant, let alone put their own pants on in the morning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

That Alien Species Called Children

Children are something of a mystery to me. This is coming from a camp counselor of 3 summers. The more time I spend with them, the less I understand them. In a society that so highly values familial ties and generational continuity, such as Israel, one is expected to know about children. And not only to know what to do with them, but to actually like them. Especially as a female above the age of bat mitzvah.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not exactly the maternal type. I never had any younger siblings or cousins and admit freely that I know nothing about child rearing. As a teenager, I would get calls from young parents who were referred to me through friends, asking me if I wanted to babysit. I don't know why my friends referred me. Or why we stayed friends after that. Probably a mother gorilla would have done a better job than me as a child-minder. And after an unfortunate incident with a prank 911 call and a visit from the police, I stopped taking babysitting jobs if the children were conscious. I would only babysit if the kids were already asleep. Basically I was only there to fight off any would-be house burglars, or call the fire dept. if I smelled smoke. And frankly, I would rather attempt to fight off a burglar than be forced to entertain 6 year olds for 3 hours.
Here in Israel, people are even more trusting of strangers with their children. I was waiting in the Jerusalem bus station with my mother one day, waiting to get on the bus to Tel Aviv, and a woman shoved her baby into my hands and said, “hey, could you hold him for a moment?” while she folded up the stroller to put in the baggage compartment. I was holding the baby as if it was an explosive device, somewhat horrified, until my mother informed me that you have to support the head. I was like, “the head? Which side is that?!” It turns out I've been putting the diaper on the wrong side of the baby for 26 years. Just kidding- I don't do diapers.
Or, considering how ill behaved most Israeli children are, parents know that if their kids were ever kidnapped, an hour later the kidnapper would have crawled into the police station, bloody, broken and deranged, begging to give the them back. It's also entirely possible that some parents just wouldn't mind all that much.
Case in point: One day I was standing on the sidewalk minding my own business, when a 5 year old boy ran up to me, kicked me in the shins and ran off. I yelled, “hey! What was that for?!” as he ran away and his parents, who were standing right there not paying any attention whatsoever to their own offspring, turned to look at me as if I was off my rocker. Like I wasn't the victim in the story.
It always amazes me how much trouble kids can get into if you don't watch them every single second of the day. You turn your back to say hello to someone and when you turn around, the kid has ripped up a bunch of cardboard boxes and used them to start a forest fire. One day, I was watching a little Ethiopian kid running around with a plastic arm in his hands. His father found him, yelled “what are you doing?!”, found the mannequin that was minus one limb, stuck the arm behind it, looked around furtively, and then grabbed the kid's hand and hurried away. Another time, my mother and I were taking a shabbat walk, when we encountered a man reprimanding a bush. Obviously we stopped to watch, curious about any possible outcome of this conversation, when suddenly the man reached in and pulled out an 8 year old. That was the one thing we were not expecting. To this day, neither of us can figure out how he got in there.
A Moroccan jewelery once decided to “read my palm.” He informed me that I would have a long life and many children. I just gave him a look horror. He then offered to read my tea leaves, but I declined. He gave me a knowing look and said, “it's ok, many women are afraid of knowing their futures.” Well certainly, if it involves that many children.

I declare with out any shame whatsoever- I don't like children. And I've come up with a line of defense against being shown baby pictures. I keep photos of my cats on my phone, and if anyone pulls out pictures of their kids, or nieces and nephews, or cousins, etc., I pull out the pictures of my cats and say, “oh good! When you're done showing me pictures of your baby, I'll show you pictures of my cats!” They generally sidle away and mumble something about being busy, maybe later. Of course if they're cat lovers, I'm stuck.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Adventures of a Cowardly Brown Cat

Considering that our Tonkinese cat Moby sleeps about 22 hours a day, he still manages to get himself into an awful lot of trouble (during those remaining 2 hours of the day). This is a cat who hides under the blankets or in a closet when strange people come to the house. All it takes for both cats to scatter into the nooks and crannies of the house is a ring of the doorbell. The difference between Moby and his sister Cookie, is that Cookie is ruled by her stomach. She'll come out to inform us that it's meal time regardless of who's in the house when she gets hungry enough (which seems to be every few minutes). Then there's no ignoring her until she gets her bowl of chicken and liver Fancy Feast.
Moby, on the other hand, does not come out to request food or a lap if he hears people who don't live in the house. As my father likes to say, “Moby only sees people by appointment.” So Moby tends to get into little fixes when he's alone and bored- and there's no one to save him from himself.
A few days ago we got a knock on the door from the guy who lives downstairs.
“Do you have a brown cat at home?”
“... Er, yes.”
“Are you sure he's actually at home?
My parents just looked at each other, and then back at the neighbor.
“Because there's a big brown cat on my balcony.”
My mother looked out the window and found Moby staring at her from the balcony below us. We don't know how he got there, whether he jumped or fell but my feeling is that he was discombobulated by the presence of the sukkah on our balcony. “I don't understand what this strange hut is doing out here! I will jump up on the wall to investigaaaaaaaaaah!”
So my mother had to go down and rescue the big dumb ball of fluff. She picked him up and carried him out of the neighbors' apartment but he freaked out in the hallway and ran downstairs to the lower level and then back up when he realized his mistake.
He was obviously somewhat traumatized by the whole incident. The next morning, we couldn't find him. He had last been seen sitting on the edge of the bed at 6:00 am and by 11:00 we had all 3 of us torn the house apart looking for him and had gone over to all the neighbors to ask if they had by any chance noticed a big brown cat on their balcony or in their house. Who knows, maybe Moby had gotten a taste for adventure? Maybe he had fallen off the wall again? A few years ago our next door neighbor had found him roaming around their apartment, sniffing at the laundry. But alas, no one had seen or heard a cat. My mother was panicking, thinking he had wandered off to die. I pointed out to her that even if he had, his body would still not have disappeared into thin air. That's against the laws of physics and biology.
I had even started making up flyers to hang in the building with his picture and our apartment and phone numbers when my father found him. He'd heard rustling in a box on a shelf and found Moby napping inside it. After all that, he'd been hiding in a box for 5 hours.
We called my mother to inform her that the big lug had been located so she'd stop worrying. She was still worried though that he was behaving strangely. Maybe she hasn't yet figured out that Moby is just a weird cat to begin with. This is the cat we found hanging by his front claws from a coat on the coat rack, and the cat that got one of his claws stuck in his own mouth (we had to call the vet in for that one). We once watched him get his paw stuck to the underside of the living room chair while trying to extract his toy mouse from underneath it. While trying to free himself, he got his second front paw stuck to the chair. By the time we were able to pick ourselves up off the floor and stop laughing at him, he had gotten all 4 paws stuck to the chair. His mouse was still underneath it and was probably laughing at him too.
One day, Cookie was howling at us and running around the house looking distraught. She finally ran up to the front door and sat there yowling until we opened it and found Moby sitting on the door mat waiting to come in.
Owning cats is a trip. Any cat owner will tell you that there's no such thing as a normal cat. All cats are weird. It's part of their nature. Why does Moby like to sleep on my dad's underwear? We'll probably never know. My dad claims that it's to prevent underwear thieves from running off with all his clean underwear. Why does Moby prefer to play with necklaces rather than string? Maybe it's best not to conjecture on that particular issue. Why does Cookie treat the humans like furniture? Because she can. Why did she walk into my room early in the morning, cough until I woke up, and then leave? Because she's a jerk. Why does Cookie aim when she pukes to get the maximum amount of splatter? Maybe it amuses her. Maybe she thinks she's somehow doing us a favor in her warped, pea-sized, kitty brain. She likes to stand on the stairs and see how many steps she can puke on at once, while getting the vomit in between the rungs to hit the coat rack and as much area as possible underneath the stairs as well. Maybe this is the cat version of ring toss- 'Puke Toss'.
So why does my mother worry when the cats are acting weird? I don't know. Living with cats is always an adventure. The real question we cat lovers have to ask ourselves is, even though they abuse us, try to steal our dinner, poop on our history notebooks (thank you Mimi), treat us like furniture and food machines, and make general nuisances of themselves- why do we still love 'em?

Well, for reasons such as these:

That is all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Going Postal

In the United States, the term “going postal” is an expression meaning to go into a violent and uncontrollable rage. This term came into being after several incidents of postal workers completely losing all good sense and shooting or stabbing their bosses, coworkers, and members of the general public.
In Israel, the most likely perpetrators of public violence at the post office are the customers. Case in point:
Angry man whose number finally gets called: I've been waiting for 2 hours to pick up this package! This is ridiculous. I have a life, children, things to do! Why does picking up a package take so long?! If I had known it would take 2 hours, I would have ordered food at Aroma!
Apathetic postal worker: You have my condolences, because your package is actually in Qedar, not in Ma'ale Adumim.

I am not entirely sure I could describe the poor guy's expression, except maybe apoplectic. Yes, apoplectic would be appropriate.
I honestly can't imagine the Israeli postal workers a.) caring enough to get upset about work b.) having much reason to get that upset about anything. I spend quite a bit of time at the post office. For the past year or so, part of my job at the vet's office is to pay the licenses we've accumulated all week at the post office on Friday. It seems that the rest of Ma'ale Adumim has the same idea about paying bills and picking up packages on Friday since that's everyone's day off.
Israeli post offices are a one-stop shop. You want to pay your electric bills? Property taxes? School tuition? At the post office. You want to buy an international sim card, an electronic parking pass, or a foreign currency credit card? At the post office. Getting an officially signed and stamped signature from a loan guarantor or compensation from the German government for forced labor during the Nazi period? That's right, you can do it at the post office. It's no wonder that the post office is so crowded all the time. One post office with 3 (or 4 on a busy day) insouciant postal tellers for 40,000 residents? They don't even have a stamp vending machine. You have to take a number to buy stamps.
The workers seem to have it pretty good. Except for the occasional argument with a customer (which the tellers always win). They sit there with tea or coffee, answer their cell phones if someone calls, visit with people who come in just to say hello or show off their new babies. Basically, they're like the cashiers at the supermarket only with better pensions.
I usually don't mind all that much. I take a number, go get coffee, come back and play on my phone until my number is called. I give them my forms, they give me a hard time if the numbers aren't legible enough, if the form is too old and the computer can't read the barcode at the bottom, or if anything on the form is crossed out, reject the forms they don't like for arbitrary reasons (I have a particular aversion to this font, I just broke up with my boyfriend, it's a full moon, etc.) and stamp the ones they do accept. It only takes about 10 minutes or so for them to swipe the barcodes, type in all the information manually on their outdated machines (the ones that were probably bank castoffs purchased for 20 cents in the 80's when the banks finally upgraded their technology to the appropriate decade), and insert them in their stamping machine. If their machine decides it doesn't like your form, they'll pass it around until someone's machine finally takes pity on you and accepts your form.
Like I said, this usually takes about 10 minutes. Unless they get distracted in the middle. Which happens often. HR must have gone recruiting at an ADD support convention. I got the branch manager one Friday, and right in the middle of swiping my forms, he realizes that it's noon and that it's time to lock the doors. So he gets up and goes to lock the door but just then the mayor, who is up for re-election soon, and his entourage walk in. The manager shakes his hand and shmoozes a bit, until he realizes that he somehow has to get the mayor and his groupies out of the post office so he can lock the door. I can see him considering his dilemma- he doesn't want to push the mayor out, but more people keep coming in either to greet the mayor or take a number. The post office is turning into a circus. Finally the mayor takes his roadshow outside to meet the rest of Ma'ale Adumim and the manager is able to lock the door. He comes back inside and starts talking to the postal workers about managerial stuff I guess, and just forgets to come back to me. I can't even go to another person because he's already started and he's got all my forms on his desk. I finally had to send someone to bring him back so I could finish and get back to work.
A person must be mentally and emotionally ready to go to the post office here. You don't just stop in on your way home. No, you put on your figurative armor, prepare yourself for arbitrary rejection and do meditation exercises on the way. It's the only way to make it through the ordeal.

You are all welcome to share your post office experiences here for the sake of catharsis.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Social Media Is Not For Everyone

Hear ye, hear ye! The apocalypse is near! My father has finally gotten a Facebook account! The man who gets annoyed every time the phone rings has willingly decided to sign up to be bombarded by political cartoons, pictures of people's children, requests for borrowing eggs from people on the other side of the world, and status updates from people whose friend requests he only accepted out of politeness and plans on defriending after an appropriate amount of time (a month seems about right).
Everyone has different uses for facebook. I mostly use it to look at pictures of koalas eating leaves and videos of porcupines eating bananas. Some people use it for stalking high school classmates to see which of them are doing better than themselves and which are in prison. Some people use it to widely distribute messages in the hopes of getting at least a few responses- anyone going out tonight, anyone know where to buy a circuit board, anyone have an extra blow up chair in the shape of a duck? Those kinds of messages. Some people use it to see what their friends are up to without actually having to talk to them. Everyone uses it for stalking people.
What my father uses it for, I don't know (since I've refused to friend him). He only has 2 friends. On a good day. To be fair, that's probably more than me but I can't really see him stalking people he's just met, which is what, um, other people use it for (don't judge me- it's normal human curiosity). He's a follower of the “don't ask if you don't really want to know” policy. My mother is not wise enough to have learned this. Or maybe she just does really want to know. The difference between them is that you will never hear my father asking how a person lost his limb, what the surgery's for, or why the marriage didn't last, etc. This leads me to conclude that my father is not interested in going through people's facebook pages looking for clues about their hobbies, marital status, religious and political views, and family relationships. This also leads me to believe that my mother should probably not be let out unattended. She has occasionally wandered into restricted areas out of curiosity and probably has a file with several government agencies (in several different countries) after being flagged for asking the wrong people the wrong questions.
I understand that different people have different needs when it comes to facebook and everyone uses it differently. The problem is when my facebook needs and other people's facebook needs are incompatible. I just want to be amused. Funny pictures and cartoons, and amusing anecdotes are ok by me. Post a funny video, make me laugh, and I'll be happy. You don't have to announce to the world what you ate for breakfast, your exercise regimen, or what time you went to bed last night (incidentally because you were on facebook all night instead of sleeping). Basically any conversation I don't want to have with you face to face because it's boring is one I don't want to read about on facebook.
I also am not a fan of public meltdowns via social media. I recall a certain very long facebook post concerning the depressed mental state and terrible anguish of the author. I certainly wasn't going to be the one to ask what the matter was but someone else made the mistake of doing so. It turns out she had dropped her phone in the toilet. This is why I never ask. The poster is just waiting for someone to ask about their cryptic post. Well I refuse to fall into that trap. If you have something to say, say it. Otherwise I'm just going to ignore it. Or better yet, maybe I'll start responding to these posts in riddles:
Random person who likes to write ambiguous posts: Want to lay down on the ground and get traipsed on by homeless people.

Natania: 42 and yellow!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm Not a Masochist, I Just Don't Like Change

A few weeks before I was hired at what I will now refer to as “that unfortunate place,” I had gone to the restaurant where I used to work to ask them if they needed help. It's not that I'm a masochist, I just don't like change. After finally finding the new location (it's down an unmarked alley with no sign until the city lets them put one up after 19:00), I wandered in to find the old manager still working there. He was excited to see me and promised he would try to convince the owner to take me back.
“I can't make any promises though. You know him, he's stubborn.”
Well stubborn's the nice way of saying it. I would have said something else. In any case, I heard back from him a few days later that they already had enough people working there but he would try to get me a job at one of the coffee houses in the center of town. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that the hours of a coffee shop would be very difficult for someone who doesn't live in the city. And whose brain doesn't start working until at least 9:00 and one cup of coffee. The idea of dragging myself out of bed to go serve people coffee (people who aren't me) was even more horrible than the memory of dragging myself out of bed for an 8:00 physics class. At least I could sleep in physics class. Which I did.
I thanked him for trying and figured I'd have to go out looking for something new. Finding a waitressing job in Jerusalem isn't so difficult if you have experience. Finding a waitressing job in a restaurant with coworkers who aren't insane, super high strung, shifty-eyed, sleazy, more neurotic than I am, or crazy French people (normal French people are wonderful people, don't get me wrong. It's the crazy ones that should never be foisted upon the good people of society) is another story. I'm at a point in my life where I've had enough nonsense, and I don't tolerate being treated disrespectfully. Luckily I'm not hurting financially so I don't have to work anywhere I don't want to work.
I saw an online posting a few days later that the restaurant had put up for waitstaff. I just rolled my eyes. Here you have someone who worked for you for a year and was fairly competent, asking for her job back and you would rather find someone new whom you'll have to train and for all you know is a reject from the Israel Circus School or secretly a robot? Really? I wasn't sure if I should be insulted or very relieved.
After the whole quitting “that unfortunate place” after 3 days thing, I was semi-browsing the wanted ads just in case I happened to stumble upon the perfect job. Maybe one for a jacuzzi tester in Tel Aviv hotels or a chimpanzee babysitter. Obviously I was not too optimistic, but I figured I'd at least look. No one ever died from looking for a job. I don't think, anyway.
My mother kept nagging me to go to the zoo and see if they have a job available. I was somewhat reluctant because it would take forever for me to get there by bus, and from what I've heard their budget is not doing well. And as I told my mother, I was afraid that once I entered the zoo, they wouldn't let me out again. Maybe an irrational fear, but one that's my mother's fault since she used to call me “her little monkey” when I was a kid.
About a month after my little “visit” to the restaurant, I got a call from the manager asking if I was still looking for a job. I informed him that I had not yet found anything else so I'd be happy to come back to work.
He was like, “excellent, come in next week with a black shirt, a black skirt, and a tie.”
“Wait, what?”
“It's ok, I have a tie you can wear if you don't have one.”
“A tie?”
“What is this, the Olive Garden? I don't even know how to tie a tie!”
“I'll tie it for you.”
“Women in ties look stupid.”
In the end I agreed, because I'm an idiot. An idiot who doesn't mind looking like an idiot too.
Then it occurred to me that if I was going to wear a tie, I'd need a button-down shirt with a collar. Which I don't happen to have, because I am not a man who shops at L.L. Bean. Also, because button down shirts with collars make me look like an NFL linebacker.

So this is how I found myself back at my old job. In case anyone is wondering, I finally found out that the reason the owner of the restaurant didn't want to rehire me is because I don't smile enough. I think from now on I'm going to have him make my checks out to Miss Frowney McScowlson.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Easy Come, Easy Go

Day 3 of my new job saw me standing on the sidewalk across the street from the restaurant trying to cross. For an hour. Yes, that was the day of the Formula 1 race around the Old City. They had blocked off a few streets and thousands of people had come out to watch the race cars and motorcycles fly by. The race started at 14:00, (2 pm for my non European/army time friends out there) and I was due to start my shift at 5 o'clock. I knew that this was a bad idea but no one ever listens to the new girl. They had checked with the city a few times and supposedly they would be letting people cross the street every hour on the hour. 'Supposedly' being the operative word here.
I had been hanging around the area for half an hour or so just to lessen the chances of encountering problems getting to work. I bought a cup of coffee and studied the menu some more while sitting in the shade and relaxing. At a quarter to 5, I wandered down to the crossing where they would supposedly let us cross and watched the occasional race car whoosh past. I wandered down a bit more where I ran into the other trainee waiter and the manager. It was really annoying to be able to see your workplace but not be able to get there. It turned out that the roof of the restaurant was the perfect place to watch the race because all of the kitchen staff had somehow climbed up there. The new shift-manager and the manager for the soon to open dairy restaurant had managed to drag plastic chairs up there too and everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves. This of course irritated the manager who was stuck on the other side of the street with us so he decided to call them up to tell them to get back to work (of which I'm pretty sure there was none). The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, it's me, what are you guys doing?”
“Um, we're busy. Very busy working on... stuff.”
“I can see you up there! I know you're on the roof! Get back to work!”
“Grumble grumble,” click.
He was very frustrated by our inability to get across the street and kept asking the cops when we could cross. Meanwhile, the other waiter and I were both sitting under a tree reading the paper. Sometime after 6, they finally let the 5 of us through (our ranks had swollen to include 2 additional workers). We were like superstars being let through the police blockades. Or not.
There were no customers when we finally got there. Unsurprisingly. It was possible to get to the restaurant from the other direction but that involved meandering through alleys down the side of a hill into a valley and up another hill. If I had known (although admittedly I strongly suspected) that the police had absolutely no intention whatsoever of opening the roads at any point, I'd have come that way. There's no chance that the tourists would have been able to find the restaurant that way without a compass and the correct coordinates. I don't know if a GPS would even be able to point out the way through the artists' quarter. Take a left at the house with the petunias, a right at the tree stump past the funny bird statue, through the parking lot, down the stairs on the right, walk diagonally through the grassy area, slip through the chain on the metal fence due southwest of the field, leap over the garbage cans, go through the alleyway covered over by thorny branches and up the stairs. The restaurant's on the left side. Unless you took a wrong turn and ended up in the Sultan's pool. Warning: wear life jacket when attempting this journey.
Unfortunately the crazy French shift manager was back that day. She kept giving me a task and then giving me another task before I could do the first task, and then giving me another task before I could even start the previous two tasks. In short, managers with ADD rarely get anything done.
Finally, two women wandered in (we kept getting calls from people canceling their reservations because they weren't able to get to the restaurant) and were seated at a table for two. I happened to walk by and heard them talking about leaving although so I asked them what the problem was and they answered that it was too cold. I realized that they were sitting in front of the air-conditioner vent, so I told them that they could find a more comfortable place. The shift-manager walked by and got all upset that they had moved to another table, especially because it was a table for 4 and there were only 2 of them. I whispered to her that they were going to leave if they had to sit where they had been before and she was like, “excuse me, you are sitting at a table for 4, and we might need that later so could you please sit by the door where there's another table for two?” Then she told me off for letting people move to another table and that it was her job to seat people. I'm like, you are aware that there's not a single other customer at the moment and most people canceled any reservations made before 8:30? If we'd had other customers I would have moved them to another two person table but if the place is empty, what's the big deal? They were done by 8 o'clock or so anyway and we only had a few tables at that point.
She also asked me to iron the tablecloth on the large table, so I did and then asked if she wanted me to iron the tablecloths in the lower dining room (what they call the VIP room because it's down a few steps which I guess makes it more “private”) which also needed to be ironed. She was like, “no, you can't iron them while we have customers!” What was I doing 5 seconds ago then?! Did the customers only become real when I was done ironing the large tablecloth? I was just trying to be helpful, but in her mind I had said something incredibly stupid.
At some point the restaurant if not filled up, then at least had some customers. I was following around some waiter who was coincidentally from the town where I was born in NJ. When something needed to be done though, they still asked me to help out. For example bringing out food, or clearing off a table, etc.
Madame Fou (as I shall now refer to her) asked me to bring the food to a French couple in the “VIP room” and then followed me down a minute later to explain to them what everything was. I handed over the food and went to find the waiter I was following so I could, you know, follow him. A few minutes later Madame Fou came up to me and angrily told me that she had been calling my name. I was like, “sorry, I didn't hear you.”
“That's because you walked away! When I'm standing there talking to the table you stand there and wait!”
Wait, she wanted me to stand there during a 5 minute French conversation instead of helping my waiter buddy? Why? What possible reason could I have for doing that? Let me ask all of you readers, when your waiter serves you your food, does he stand there and stare at you for the next 5 minutes? Would you not be really weirded out if he did that? After a minute, I personally would ask him for the check and get the hell out of there before he pulled a machete on me or something.
Another time she asked me to clear the table in the corner. So I did. The waitress whose table it was came over to me afterward and irritably asked me why I had cleared off the whole table. I was like, because I was asked to. No, apparently that's not what the manager meant. She meant could I clear off the one plate in the middle because they ordered the tasting menu. I was like, “I didn't know what they ordered. She asked me to clear the table, so I did.” End of story. So of course the manager comes up to me afterward to tell me that I'd screwed up, and why did I clear off the whole table? She tells me that if I have a question about what they ordered I should check the computer. Really? So every time you ask me to clear the table I should check what the table ordered just to understand what you want me to do? Does that sound reasonable? Just use your words and communicate to me what it is you want me to do. Obviously this woman had failed kindergarten.
A few times when I wasn't doing anything, she caught me standing next the bar resting my arms on it. Apparently this is bad form. I tried to remember not to do that or to stand with my back to the customers (one of the waitresses informed me that the owner of the restaurant would get upset if he saw me doing that). At some point though I'd had enough and decided that one crazy French boss is enough. I told the waiter whom I'd been following around that I couldn't work with this woman and that she was driving me crazy.
When I finally gathered up enough nerve, I told her that I needed to speak to her and that I decided I didn't want to work there. She asked me why and instead of telling her she was a nutjob, I told her that I'd remembered why I didn't want to be a waitress, and that it wasn't for me. She told me she'd have to call up the manager to tell him and I was like, “fine, go ahead.” She called him up to tell him that I'd quit, and then started complaining that I was just standing at the bar all the time anyway and obviously I didn't want to work. She came back to me and told me that he wanted to speak to me so I reached out to take her phone, and she was like, “no this is my phone. You can't use it.” At this point I was obviously pretty pissed off, so when she did finally relinquish her cell phone to me, I told the manager that I couldn't work with her. His answer was that I couldn't continue like this because I couldn't choose whom I wanted to work with. I responded that I had no intention of continuing and that I was going home.
With that, I put my apron on the bar, went upstairs to get my things and walked out without saying goodbye.

And that, my friends is the story of how I quit my job and stalked out in the middle of a shift. I will obviously not be receiving compensation for the work I did for them but frankly, they can take their money and shove it. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Method to the Madness

One thing I've learned about managers is that they are very often completely neurotic. And if I'm calling someone neurotic then they should probably seek professional help. The shift manager the second day of working at the restaurant was a neurotic French woman. I had a feeling she wouldn't be easy to work with but I just hoped that I wouldn't have to work with her too often.
There were two trainees that day, including myself and she must have been so excited to have 4 more hands that she asked me to organize the wine cellar and the other guy to organize the closet with the tablecloths. Poor guy was in the closet upstairs for almost an hour. Instead of us doing something like going over the menu (I had a few questions about the food) or teaching us something we might actually need to know like how to take orders, I was separating the empty boxes from the boxes with stuff in them and the other guy was refolding every spare tablecloth in the restaurant. To his credit though, the closet upstairs did look really nice when he was done with it.
The first table that actually came in were Russian tourists. I was excited to finally see how the orders were taken and to listen to the questions they asked and see how the waitress I was following answered them, but alas it turns out that that particular waitress speaks Russian. The manager (the Arab one, not the new shift manager) jokingly asked me if I had any idea what was going on. I was like, oh the irony! They hired me because I speak English and the first chance I get to see how tables are taken, the entire conversation is conducted in Russian! Admittedly Russian is not my forte. The only Russian I know I learned in basic training and can not be repeated in polite society.
I guess I should just point out now that considering the restaurant is a “biblical, Israeli” type restaurant, the staff is actually pretty diverse. Most of the kitchen staff is Arab-Israeli, as is the manager, one of the shift-managers is French, and at least 3 of the waiters are American (including myself). A few of the Israeli waiters speak Russian and one speaks Spanish. It must be nice to be bilingual. I'm just lingual and a half.
It was a little bit frustrating to be followed around by the shift-manager all night, because every time I tried to set the table, she was like, “no, this is not good! The napkin needs to be in front of the chairs, not on the side where you keep putting them!” My mistake was in putting them to the right of the seat where one could conceivably reach it with his right hand instead of putting them slightly to the right of the center where the plate is supposed to go, thereby preventing possible accidents. I have never seen someone so neurotic about setting tables. The plate must sit at the edge of the table, the napkin should also touch the edge of the table an inch to the right of the plate, the silverware must be perfectly straight and centered on the napkin unless it's the uber-fancy “double setting” where everyone gets two forks and two knives. Then the fork on the left must be an inch higher than the fork on the right and ditto with the knives. The wine glass must be touching the plate next to the knives with the regular glass touching the wine glass above the knives and the appetizer plates must be centered on the big plates. This is all annoying, but fine, unless everyone is setting it differently in which case you keep changing the settings every five seconds to match someone else's settings. And then you get blamed for every “wrong” setting on the table because as usual in this world, nobody knows what the hell they're doing! Ok, note to self, do not attempt to set tables. It will undoubtedly be wrong!
I was quite happy when it was finally time to go home. The kitchen wrapped us all up some food which turned out to be ceremonyless maqluba. Turns out it tastes just as good without being whacked out of the pot. Upon leaving, we realized that 4 out of 5 of the waiters live in Ma'ale Adumim. What are the odds?
The first few weeks of a new job are always stressful. You have to learn everything as quickly as possible while trying not to mess anything up too much. There are two managerial types, the first one is the kind that shows you how to do everything, from answering the phone to tying your shoe, in the hopes that you'll remember at least some of it. The second one tells you to do things without first showing you how and then corrects or criticizes you afterwards.
One thing I've learned from waitressing, is that in restaurants there is a method for everything. When people ask you to do things without showing you all the tricks that make it “upscale,” you just do it like a normal person. This is almost always WRONG. Never ever do things like a normal person! There is a reason people don't pay to come to your house and eat! You should be ashamed of yourself! You low-class, blue collar, barbarian! Serve a bottle of water with the cap still on?! And then not even pour it?! So what if it's just tap water, how could you even consider making our esteemed guests use their own hands!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Grand Maqluba Ceremony (or My New Job is Kind of Weird)

Well, the vacation's over for me. Back to work. At my mother's urging (nagging) I've been looking for a job. It's a good idea in any case to save up some money because you just never know when you're going to suddenly need to book a plane ticket to Africa, or buy a jungle cat. I also remembered that I have a 20 book long wishlist on the Book Depository website. I think that's what I'll spend my first paycheck on. I will also very likely have to pay for much of my school tuition since I screwed up the government by switching majors. Luckily, school tuition here will not leave you in debt until retirement age (if not longer) and it is actually possible to work enough to be able to afford it without having to sell your house and cats and live in one of the empty lecture halls on campus.
I found an ad for waiters in a dairy restaurant so I replied and sent in my resume and within two hours got a call from the manager asking me if I could come in for an interview. I said, sure, why not and a few days later went in to meet him. After the interview he told me that he'd call either that week or next. A few days later he called me to inform me that I would be working at the meat restaurant that they also own (the dairy one hasn't opened yet) and which happens to be in the same location, since I already have experience working at a meat restaurant. I was like, ok, whatever. I will go where you tell me to go.
I was told to come in on Monday at 5pm, so I came in wearing a black shirt, jeans, and closed-toe shoes assuming that I was actually going to start working that day. I walked in and there were a whole bunch of people standing around looking confused. I was like, “um, hi, I'm the new waitress,” but it turned out that we were all the new waiters/waitresses and this was to be a group meeting/tour of the restaurant/learning session. We were taken around the whole restaurant, all 3 and a half floors of it, plus storage area outside, plus balcony where they grow herbs. The new manager told us to make sure to point out to the customers which bathroom is for the women and which one is for the men. He admitted to us that he had walked into the women's bathroom (yes, the one with the picture of a stick figure in a dress) the first time and that it was an easy mistake to make. I disagreed but I didn't want to call him an idiot 5 minutes after meeting him. That's just not nice. After the tour, we all sat around a table (me and 5 other Israelis, plus the old manager and the new manager). The old manager pulled out a bunch of 5 page booklets in English about the restaurant and menu and informed us that we would have to read and learn them. The other waiters looked at the booklets in horror as if they were dancing garden gnomes (which would frighten anyone). I was chuckling gleefully on the inside. Someone then decided that we should go around the table reading out loud. When I started reading everyone just stared at me, astonished, as if I had held up a stick and parted the sea. Then they said suspiciously, “your English is a bit too good.” So I had to admit that English is my mother tongue. Thereafter I became the human dictionary when confronted with words like chastised, charcoal, drizzled, hue, lentils, and okra (many people didn't know what this vegetable was at all), etc. It turns out that there's no good translation for chastise in Hebrew. The two closest words that show up in the dictionary are the words for torment and flog. Hue was an especially fun one. “What's a hoo?”
After this two and a half hour meeting, we were all finally allowed to go home. I was scheduled to work the next three days in a row.

The next day I showed up to work at 11:00 in the morning. A group of 17 people was scheduled to arrive a few hours later so the manager (the new one) showed me the opening procedure. This was made of a list of 30, I kid you not, 30 things that had to be done after opening. Things like refilling EVERYTHING, cleaning and dusting EVERYTHING, and probably anything else you can think of. We spent the next few hours just “opening” the restaurant, ironing tablecloths, polishing, making juice for the large group, etc. The manager was actually a really nice guy, and very helpful. I don't mind cleaning and organizing (as any who knows me will tell you) as long as it's in a pleasant atmosphere.
The group was made up of surprisingly mild-mannered and undemanding Israelis and the time passed fairly quickly. They had ordered one of the tasting menus which is made up of course after course of small dishes- spreads and salads, soups, more vegetables, 2 main dishes, teas and coffee and desserts. One of the main dishes, the maqluba, requires a ceremony every time it's presented. It's basically a rice and chicken dish served in a pot which is turned over, whacked a few times and then removed so that the food is upside down. Why eating chicken legs with the rice on top requires a ceremony I have no idea.
The waitress I was following around that day was the initiator of the ceremony. A table was carried in from outside and an empty pot was set down upside down. The pot of maqluba (or should I say cauldron because that was a pot you could do laundry in) was brought out by the chef with a gigantic serving platter covering the opening. The chef solemnly turned the whole shebang over and the rest of the ceremony was handed over to Charlie, the guy who seemed to be the most in charge of the group. The waitress instructed him to whack the bottom of the pot 4 times with a spoon, circle his hand over the pot 7 times in a clockwise direction, and then make a wish. He performed his duties quite admirably and then the cauldron was turned over and anything stuck to the bottom of it was scraped off into the serving dish.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concluded the maqluba ceremony. I whispered to the waitress afterwards, “we don't have to do that every time do we?” She was like, “yes, of course.” Great. As fun as that is for the tourists, I have a feeling that this kind of thing could get old VERY fast.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Am... Puzzled by Modern Art

So, being temporarily retired, how do I spend my time? My mother spends her time volunteering and helping friends who need an inordinate amount of aid (aka free labor). My dad spends a lot of time glued to the computer, editing and writing. Well I'm not really what is known as a “people person,” and I get antsy sitting in front of the computer for too long. So what do I do? Go to Tel Aviv obviously. What does Tel Aviv have that Jerusalem doesn't, you ask? A beach, an antique market, African refugees, complete and utter slums, humidity, people who won't throw rocks at you for wandering into their neighborhood (in other words, people who are way more chillaxed than Jerusalemites), innumerable art galleries, and 16 shekel coffee (as opposed to the 10 shekel Jerusalem coffee which is just as tasty). Most importantly, the entire city is a photo-op. I like to take my camera and just wander around capturing the architecture, and the singularly remarkable creature know as the “Tel-Avivian.”
I've been to Tel Aviv a few times in recent months. Once, my mother and I went to help Tina pack up for her move to the yuppy section of North Tel Aviv (no refugees there). Once, my father and I spent the afternoon wandering around, photographing before meeting up with the rest of the family for dinner as a celebratory double birthday (Tina's and David's) and anniversary (also Tina's and David's) dinner. We'd made plans to go to a fancy Yemenite restaurant, but a certain someone who shall remain nameless, 'cough' 'cough' mom, didn't think to make reservations, so we had falafel instead. Just kidding, we found another nice meat restaurant not too far away and were welcomed in with open arms. Probably because it was completely empty. Like, Yom Kippur empty. I don't know why, since the food was pretty good. My mother turned to the waitress, and asked “why is this place so empty?” Whereupon Tina and I made a pact never to take her out again since she can't be trusted in polite society. Although I'm probably exaggerating by calling Israelis “polite society,” but we will certainly never take her to visit the queen. Unless the queen is mostly deaf, seeing as she's about 200 years old, in which case it's probably ok. Unless my mother starts making faces at her.
One day, I took a solitary day trip to wander around photographing, and then meet up with a friend for dinner. I started in Yaffo, and then walked up the beach towards central Tel Aviv. In case you're wondering, this is the reason I'm so tan. I had plans to meet my friend at a restaurant across the street from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. So I figured I'd take the opportunity and spend a few hours there. I can usually find at least a few interesting exhibitions; they have a variety of styles of art. This visit however, mostly left me scratching my head. I've never really been a fan of contemporary art, mostly because people use different mediums to express their political views. If I wanted to know about people's political views, I'd read the newspaper. I like art, because I like to look at pretty things, or things that are at least interesting. If a piece of art reminds me of the two elephants in a bathtub joke, then I give it two thumbs down. If it's something I could do, but wouldn't because it would be a waste of paint, then I am forced to give it no stars.
The main exhibition was actually a collection of different exhibits by an artist named Douglas Gordon. The exhibition was very creatively called “I Am Also... Douglas Gordon.” This is the first exhibition I've seen which has an ellipsis in the title. Points for that at least. The best word I could use to describe his work would be “randomness.”
The first exhibit, which I shall from now on refer to as exhibit one, was a collection of photographs. The collection filled about three rooms and packed the walls. I happen to like photography, but it seemed to me to be a mass of random photographs. There were pictures of food on plates, and hands, feet in shoes, and things that to this day, I have no idea what they are. Maybe bugs. Or internal organs. Impossible to say really. There was a dead piano on the floor in the middle of the first room. It had obviously been picked clean by vultures and only the skeleton of this poor piano was left. It is unclear to me why there was a piano corpse on the floor; I would obviously have considered it evidence in a police investigation. Moving on...
There were quite a few video installations as well. You had to go through a heavy black curtain into a completely dark room. The only source of light was from the video itself. I was curious, so I walked into the first one. I almost fell over the security guard's chair on the way in it was so dark. I honestly don't even remember what the video was about because I was so intent on not walking into anyone or anything and feeling for the wall. Another one I went into appeared to be a soccer game. I didn't last too long in that one either. The last one wasn't a video. It was actually just a paragraph on the wall which was illuminated for 30 seconds before returning to darkness. I came in while it was still dark and when it finally lit up I let out a strangled “gaaaa!” because there was suddenly a really tall guy standing 2 feet away from me. I gave an embarrassed cough, and commenced reading. It was something vaguely philosophical and when the light went out again, the tall guy and I made our way back to where we remembered the curtain being. That was the last time I was walking through a black curtain again, so I moved on to the next installation. It was a bunch of random videos, from a burning piano (now I understand about the piano corpse), to a guy drawing on himself with red markers, to an elephant walking. Actually you could only see the elephant's feet (which were admittedly pretty cute).
In addition, the walls of the new section of the museum were covered in non-sequiters. As if someone had opened up a private letter or instant message and taken out sentences and then written them in really big letters on the wall. Not the first time I've seen such a thing but just as strange the second or third time around. As a child, I was always encouraged not to write on the walls, but now I see that my artistic essence was being stifled. I will probably have to sue my parents for the loss of possible future earnings from art installations by discouraging artistic expression on the walls. These exhibits were also... Douglas Gordon.
The next exhibit I would like to mention was a series of collages by John Stezaker, which he called “One on One.” It was basically a bunch of old photographs, altered in some way so as to create “a channel of cultural resistance to the sweeping unification of the image flux in the media; an attempt to reconstruct that which was lost to the gaze in a visual culture founded entirely on excess, flickering, and flattening.” At least according to the Tel Aviv museum. In other words, he took old photographs and stuck postcards over the faces. I kid you not. If I did that, my parents would be furious with me for defacing (pun intended) the old family photos. They will almost certainly be hearing from my lawyer any day now. I could have been a famous artist too.
The cherry on the cake was the last exhibit, called “Host and Guest.” It was described as:
A program of nine exhibitions and events with over 30 international artists and thinkers examining the theme of hospitality. The complex obligations, tensions and generosity between hosts and guests are explored through painting, photography, video, installations, performance and public discussions, touching on philosophy, politics and more.

In other words, photographs of sad looking Arabs, obviously having been displaced by the evil Israeli occupiers (among other photographs and installations; let it not be said that the exhibition constituted only sad looking Arabs). There were also more rooms with black curtains but I wasn't going to do that again. As much as I love walking into walls, a black eye and broken nose for the sake of art is going a bit far.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Living the Good Life

As expected, the woman from MDA did not call me on Sunday to inform me whether or not I had passed the test. I was pretty sure I had passed, but it's nice to have confirmation regardless. Since I didn't know the woman's name or have a working phone number for the Jerusalem office, I just proceeded as if I had passed the test and tried to call up the original number I had, for a 'Michal' at the central MDA course office. Again no answer. I tried again a few hours later. Obviously they work Israeli bank hours, which is whenever they feel like it. I'm convinced that the banks make up their own holidays and then spend the day in Eilat. Which, to be fair, is what I would do if people were giving me their money.
I tried again the next day and someone actually answered the phone. I was so surprised I almost dropped it. But I quickly recovered and told them I wanted to continue with the registration. They told me that not enough people had signed up for the course (or in other words had succeeded in getting someone to answer the damn phone!) and there was a good chance that they were going to push it off a few weeks. They told me to call back Sunday (suuuure) to check. The course was supposed to be starting that Monday and they wanted me to wait until the day before to check. I asked what time I should call on Sunday, and they said, “all day.”
Apparently though, they had a surprise holiday pop up because no one answered the phone on Sunday either. Surprise! I finally sent an email to the first person I'd been in touch with asking if the course had in fact been pushed off, and informing her that I had no idea whether I'd passed the Hebrew test or not. I left my phone number and said if she wanted me to sign up she should call me. That was me giving up on all the craziness that Magen David Adom had to offer. The ball's in your court now, inefficient and hopelessly incompetent people. Not sure I want to play with you though. I'm afraid you'd drop the ball and then trip over your own shoelaces.
This 'Michal' actually did email me back (albeit it a week later) to inform me that the course had been pushed off and that I had passed the test. She gave me the new dates and let me know that the course lasted half a year. Which would be nice if that didn't overlap with next semester. The original date had been perfect- the course would have ended in September, before the start of the semester. Alas, such is life when the world is run by fools.

So what have I been doing in my spare time? Good question. Working twice a week at the vets' office, going to the gym, lots of computer games and t.v. shows, going out to photograph every once in a while, and taking the occasional trip out of the Jerusalem area. In other words, doing all the things I wasn't able to do in my self-invoked library imprisonment. Life is good.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The MDA mission

After a year and a half of intense study I decided to take a break from school. That's my version anyway and I'm sticking to it. I needed some time to figure things out so I notified school that I was leaving the biology/chemistry program. They didn't look too upset. I was kind of hoping for some tears and begging on their part, but alas, they accepted my decision with dignity.
My mother advised me (nagged me until I agreed, since the only other option was matricide) to go to a career counselor. We chatted for an hour and a half, and I learned new things about myself. For example, I don't like helping people. I try to avoid that as much as possible. Also I have no interests beyond music, cooking, and animals. My favorite thing in the world is listening to music while cooking animals. The only thing I can really see myself studying and making a career out of is science (not the physics kind- transverse waves make me dizzy). Actually, I knew all this stuff about myself already but I got confirmation so hopefully my mother will stop nagging me about taking career tests for a while. If not, matricide is back on the table. In any case, we concluded that I should continue studying science.
After a bit of back and forth with my adviser, the secretary of the biology department, the secretary of the... um, honestly I don't know what she's the secretary of. All I know is that whenever I need anything involving forms I'm told to go to her. So, yes, a bit of back and forth with her, plus one of the professors I had last semester (I don't know in what capacity. I was told to go to the conference room on Wednesday between 1:00 and 2:00 pm to talk to him so I did). When I say back and forth, I mostly mean unanswered emails, and running around to various different people who send me to various other people just to get me out of their office. After talking to my ex-professor, I think it was decided that I could switch my major from biology and chemistry to just biology. I think. He told me to be in touch with the secretary closer to the beginning of the semester. Right, cuz that's easy. Sure, just bombard her with emails until I get tired of being ignored and finally storm into her office, explain the entire thing all over again because she has no idea what I'm talking about and has to send an email or call the professor to clarify, who happens to be incommunicado in the Bahamas, and finally get a response two days before the semester starts. Sure, easy as cake mix.
In the meantime, I have lots of free time. Time enough to reacquaint myself with sunlight and vitamin D. I decided to do something I've never had time to do and enroll in an EMT course with Magen David Adom. I found an email address on their website for the central teaching center, so I sent an email hoping that it actually went somewhere and patiently waited for a response. I got an answer back that their was a course starting in Jerusalem on April 22nd. The course lasts 5 months and takes place two evenings a week. Ok, but how do I sign up? I got a reply a few days later- you have to sign up by phone.
The reply came a few days before Passover so I figured I'd better get on it before they left for vacation. I called them 2 days before, no answer. I called them a day before, no answer. So I waited until after Passover to call them. Eventually I got through to someone. She explained how everything works and that any non-native speaker has to pass a Hebrew test first. I sighed and asked her how I set one of these tests up. She gave me the number of the MDA center in Jerusalem and told me to call them to set up a test. Which would have been easy if the extension I kept getting sent to worked. But of course it didn't work. I wonder if they change their numbers without changing the extension on purpose, or if afterwards they just can't figure out why no one's calling them anymore. I can totally picture them getting fed up with the phone ringing and screwing with the extension to send all calls to Mars. Well, won't they be surprised if someone answers and I'm the one who discovers extraterrestrial life. After many failed attempts at contact I called back the central teaching center to tell them that they were all idiots and that I wouldn't take the course if they paid me. Well, that's what I wanted to say anyway. What I actually said was that no one was answering at the number they gave me, so they transferred me directly to the central MDA office (the one on Earth) and someone answered. Three minutes later I had an appointment to take the test that Thursday at 5:00. Which just goes to show how helpful people are forced to be when you finally track them down.
That Thursday at ten to 5:00, I was wandering around the general area trying to find the MDA building. I called my friend first who had taken me there on a blood donating excursion some years before (yes, that's her idea of a fun outing. I know, but she doesn't drink, so what can you do?). She couldn't remember exactly where it was, so I called my mother who didn't know exactly where it was either so I finally asked some lady walking by and she directed me to the building. It was down a side street I'd never have found by myself, and the only two points of ingress that were visible were locked. By now it was 5:00 on the dot and I was starting to get a bit anxious. There was a call button on the wall, so I pressed it. Several times. After no response I went to the other door and tried the call button again. I'm not really sure why, now that I think about it since both call buttons probably go to the same place.
I spotted an ambulance coming out of a driveway, so I followed the driveway around the side of the building where a bunch of people in MDA uniforms were standing around. I told them I was there to take a test and asked where I was supposed to go. After a brief chat in which they asked me why I had to take a Hebrew test if I obviously spoke Hebrew, and I shrugged and answered bureaucracy, they gave me the code to the nearby entrance so I could get into the building. I know, they gave me the code to the building! What ever happened to state secrets and the such? Can you imagine Obama going, “the pizza guy wants the code to the nuclear warheads? Sure, why not.” Not that this is exactly the same thing, but still, you don't want just anyone wandering around a medical facility. In any case, they couldn't exactly remember which floor it was on so I just took the elevator and got off at every floor until I found one with actual human beings on it. I finally got off on the last floor and wandered around til I found a guy behind a desk who pointed me down the hall. I got there and walked into a room full of people who just looked at me and pointed to the unmarked room next door.
I walked in and they said to me, “Congratulations, you have just completed your first mission. Welcome to the Mossad.” Well, that's what I expected them to say anyway. Instead, they just looked at me and went, “yes?” As if I hadn't just achieved a miracle of epic proportions by just finding the right room in the first place. They gave me a 10 page test, and I was done 20 minutes later. The woman who collected my test told me she'd call on Sunday to let me know if I passed.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great Flood

 Next on our list of excitement was the leak in our kitchen ceiling. My mother and I both had a friend staying over for Shabbat (not the same one obviously) and both wanted to take a shower Saturday morning. My mother's friend went first (and last for the next week as it turned out). I passed by the bathroom and heard a strange gurgling noise, so I looked down and noticed that a brook had sprung up in the bathroom doorway within the last 5 minutes where none had previously been. I mentioned to my mother that we had a slight problem and she just sighed. A few minutes later I was sitting downstairs with my father, Michael the aforementioned engineer (among many other things), and Michael's son. Suddenly we heard a dripping sound and I cringed. The ceiling in between the kitchen and the living room was dripping. I stuck a rag underneath the drip and ran upstairs to tell my mom's friend that her shower had come to an abrupt end. By the time I came back down, there were two other drip sites. I put down some more rags in the hope that it would stop dripping once the shower was off. About 5 minutes later, we all heard a whoooosh. Whoosh is a nice sound to hear if you're standing next to a waterfall. Whoosh is not a nice sound to hear in your kitchen. Although when I walked into the kitchen, I was in fact standing next to a waterfall. I ran to get a bucket since everyone else was still sitting frozen on the couch. The waterfall had formed in the nice new light fixture we had installed when we redid the kitchen. Even with the buckets (I'd gone for a second one), there was water accumulating all over the floor.
Something had to be done, so Michael and I went out in the hall looking for the water meter closet with the meters for every apartment. We found it on the bottom floor (I would recommend to everyone to figure out where their water meter is in case of an emergency such as this). Michael found the meter that was rapidly spinning and turned it off. Then we followed the pipes and realized that we had turned off the neighbor's water. So we quickly turned it back on and then stole the knob, since for some reason ours doesn't have one. I noticed however that our meter wasn't really spinning all that much, leading us to conclude that there probably wasn't any purpose in turning it off anyway. I returned the neighbor's knob and we went back upstairs. My mother, in the meantime, had turned off the water in the apartment from the box in our kitchen with all the water pipes.
Finally our senses returned and we realized we were expected somewhere for lunch. My father, my friend, and I rowed out ahead to at least let our lunch hosts know that we had not been gored by rabid wildebeest on the way over and that the rest of the crew would arrive after dredging the kitchen.
At some point we realized that we had invited about 8 people for the Purim feast the next day, and that it probably wasn't going to take place in our dining room as planned since we didn't have enough life jackets for everyone.
After shabbat we called the insurance company, or left a message for the insurance company anyway. While we waited for the plumber to come the next day, we decided to take the light fixture off so it could dry off. We hadn't turned on the light since the ceiling flood for fear of short circuiting the whole house. My mother attempted to get the light fixture off but was unsuccessful so she asked me to give it a try. I gave my father the task of holding the light fixture so that it wouldn't fall on the floor when I unscrewed it. I figured that was probably all he was capable of- standing there holding stuff. I was wrong. The phone rang and he thought it might be the insurance company so he ran to get the phone. Without telling me that he was letting go. So the metal side of the light fixture bent and I had to get pliers to bend it back. The plastic had also cracked which I couldn't fix, so I had to fire him and dock his pay. Actually I just yelled at him for 5 minutes for not being able to do the one task I had given him, which had involved not dropping what he was holding. I now know better. Ask my mother to handle these kinds of tasks and leave my dad alone to cook in peace.
The plumber finally came and located the leak. A pipe had burst outside our upstairs bathroom so he had to remove about 8 floor tiles and a small chunk of the bathroom wall. Which is what everyone needs of course, a hole in their bathroom wall and a channel of dirt in their hallway. They had to be left open for a few days to dry. It looked like an archaeological dig, especially with 30 year old rusty pipes lying around. I also found what I thought was a fossil but apparently it was just an old chicken wing. The guy was supposed to come back on Thursday, but didn't. He didn't come back on Sunday or next Thursday either. By the time he did come back I had planted geraniums in the channel of dirt. He put new tiles over the channel (almost matching but not quite). Whatever. My flowers hadn't been getting enough sunlight anyway.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

“Can Your Husband Do It?”

Our apartment has been going through many changes lately. The addition of my father's new “Big Mac” (a two year old Mac with a 27 inch screen) required a place to put it, since the dining room table was not really a very good option. Instead, he commandeered the t.v. room. He needed a desk, so I gave him mine, and I bought a new desk instead. I decided to buy a real office chair too since my butt was falling through the cane folding chair I'd been using. It took three weeks for the chair to arrive and I wasn't able to answer the door when it did come because I had fallen through the folding chair and gotten stuck two weeks before. The new desk arrived the same day (even though I had actually ordered it two and a half weeks after the chair). The shipping company called me and asked me if someone was home to sign for the desk. I told them I was home, and they asked me if there was someone there who could help bring the desk up to the apartment. I was like, “well I guess I can help,” And the guy answered, “no, not a woman. Is there anyone else home who could help?” Would I have volunteered myself to haul a desk up a flight and a half of stairs if there was someone else who could do it? I told them that my father was home but that he's 71 and it would probably be better if I helped. The guy on the phone went, “hmmm, can I call you back?” He called me back a few minutes later to tell me that the company decided that if there was no one to help him take it upstairs, then he'd just leave it at the entrance to the building. I'm like, “so that it will never in anyone's lifetime make it upstairs? How is that helpful to anyone?” Then I understood why the shipping and handling was so cheap. Because it was just shipping, no handling. A few minutes later, the door bell rang and there's a guy standing there next to a large box. I'm like, “so what was the whole deal about bringing it upstairs?” The guy rolls his eyes and answers, “If anyone asks, I left it downstairs at the entrance to the building.” I just nodded and said, “gotcha.”
First I put together the chair. It had about 4 pieces, and 6 pictures on a piece of paper which comprised the “instruction manual.” I put it together in about 10 minutes or so, sat on it, and tried to raise the seat up so I'd be able to see over the desk (I had to imagine the desk since it was still in the box at this point). I stood up and raised the lever. Nothing. I sat down and raised the lever. Nothing. I turned the chair over and peered at the lever. I poked it a few times. Lifted it, lowered it, pulled at the base of the chair which is supposed to be a piston but apparently is a piston that doesn't work. Also called a useless hunk of metal. I looked at the pictures again, scratched my head, got distracted by coloring them in, got frustrated that I still can't color in the lines, went back over the pictures trying to figure out what I did wrong, then realized that I'd have to be a complete moron to have screwed this up. Which is not outside the realm of possibility considering I can't even draw inside the lines. So I decided to move on to the desk. I brought it up a few pieces at a time because those shipping guys were right, that box was heavy. I finally got all the pieces upstairs and realized that there are about 900 pieces to this thing and a variety of different screws. There's even some furniture glue. I'm not really a fan of furniture glue. I'm always afraid I'm going to accidentally glue the instructions to an important piece of the furniture. Or glue it all in backwards or upside down. Glue is permanent.
An hour and a half later, I've got the whole thing put together. I found good places to screw in the extra pieces and even figured out where the oddly shaped plastic bits were supposed to go (I made a collage on my wall). I've got a few extra holes in the desk drawers, but that's ok because I'd realized pretty early on that I'd put the tracks on the top of the drawer instead of the bottom and you can't really even see them unless the drawers are open. It's not really my fault though because that's how it was in the picture. I was just so intent on the picture that I didn't notice that next to the picture was written “warning, this picture is upside down.” It did come out mostly symmetrical however, and hasn't collapsed yet, so I guess that's a pretty good sign.
I figured that if I could put the desk together, I had probably put the chair together just fine too. So I decided to call the company the next day to tell them that the chair didn't work right. The guy I spoke to was like, “ok, let's see if we can fix this. Sit on the chair.” I sat on the chair.
“Which side is the handle on?”
“The right side. I put the part that said “front” in the front if that's what you're asking.”
“Ok, good. Now stand up and pull the handle.”
Pull the handle?! Pull the handle?!!! Why didn't I think of that?! If I had just “pulled the handle” to begin with, I wouldn't be wasting his time and mine! I could put the entire chair together myself, but I guess pulling the handle that says “lift up” was past my mechanical ability.
He goes, “the piston probably just needs to loosen up a bit, but I guess I can send you a new one.”
I was like, “well I don't have all year to wait for it to loosen up on its own, and as far as I know they don't have yoga classes for pistons so how about if you just do that.”
He says, “can your husband replace it when it comes?”
“I don't have a husband but I can probably manage it.” I spent two years taking apart and putting together M-16s with at least 50 little metal pieces, springs, and pins. I can handle this measly 4 piece chair. Ok, actually it has 8 pieces now that I count, plus wheels and a few screws. The instructions were still 6 pictures long though.
I spent the next week peering over the top of my desk, waiting for the new piston to arrive. My former desk was now downstairs, being covered by “Big Mac,” and the t.v. had found a new place on the floor where the cats could watch Animal Planet if they so desired.
Finally the piston arrived in the mail. Unfortunately, the old piston was still stuck to the bottom of the seat. After spending 5 minutes trying to remove it by bracing my feet on the bottom of the seat while pulling on the legs, I finally gave up and got a hammer. I succeeded in scaring the pants off of Moby (to this day he doesn't wear any) and after clearing the cat fur out of my eyes, got the base off of the chair.
I attached the new piston but was afraid to sit on the chair for fear of getting it stuck and then having to pull out the hammer again if it didn't work and I had to remove it. So we had my father's friend Michael come over to deal with it. I figured that as a fairly large engineer, he could both figure out how to work the piston and remove it if need be. Thankfully, it worked because I was not ready to call up the company again. If I had, I'd have sent the entire thing back and to hell with them.