I’ve run into so many people on the outside who imagine that Israel is a fixed combat zone − that life here is a daily battle where one must constantly run for cover from bombs, missiles, stones and Molotov cocktails. “Sure,” I tell them with a shrug of the shoulder. “We have those from time to time.” I try to impress upon them that we have the mundane as well (not always an easy sell) where we can feel free to indulge in the various ordinary and not so ordinary neuroses that make us Israelis the lovable people we are. Yes, that is usually said with a wise-ass grin. More often than not, however, on the day-to-day level, living in a combat zone is the farthest worry from our minds.
What’s an existential threat, for instance, when one has to deal with claustrophobia? I won’t go into elevators, won’t hike in caves, will always keep the window of my car a wee bit open no matter what the weather is like, and must knock myself out with drugs each time I fly on a plane.
I go to a dentist in Jerusalem whose office is on the 11th floor. And you guessed it; I’d rather walk up the 11 flights than risk the chance of being stuck in that electronic coffin on cables. Usually running late, yet neurotic about being on time for my appointment, I race up the stairs. Without fail, by the time I reach the eleventh floor, I’m gasping for breath, sopping wet from sweat and heading straight to the water cooler to pour a cup of the cool liquid down my blouse. The good news is that the receptionist no longer looks at me funny.
There are those times — say, after leaving a meeting and not wanting to come off as a lunatic — where I force myself to bite the bullet and enter an elevator with the rest of the crew. As I’m concentrating on breathing, slowing down my pulse rate, measuring my oxygen intake (and everyone else’s), I try not to pay attention to the carefree banter. Why are they talking so much and using up my air?
I do not intend to ever use the mamad (security room) in my house during a missile attack. Way too small. I’d much rather try my luck hanging out in the backyard and monitoring the direction of the incoming projectiles.
Having to deal with flat tires likewise raises my anxiety level. I prefer racing my car over the burning tires that terrorists sometimes like to put in the middle of our roads, than having to deal with car trouble. Some things are just too annoying.
Other things as well scare me more than warfare. For instance, losing my way on the highway. It’s not that the roads here in Israel are complicated, as the signs usually are clear. It’s me. In case you couldn’t tell by now, it’s always about me.
I have many friends here who relish getting behind the wheel to journey to new destinations, hoping to get lost so that they can learn the roads. I, on the other hand, will not venture forth unless I have a clearly written-out plan of travel with color-coded demarcation points in the generously worded instructions, appropriately entitled “Directions for Dummies.”
I usually shy away from hi-tech paraphernalia, but having first tried out a friend’s GPS in the States, I was ready to take the technological plunge. I thought it was one of the best inventions on earth and I sensed that the days of the lonely traveler were gone.
The GPS, with its friendly, warm and understanding voice, was going to be my new dependable traveling buddy, and I called it, or rather her, Gloria. I was not prepared, however, for the Israeli version. Make no mistake, this four-inch robot-in-a-box had a personality all its own. From the get-go we locked heads and could not scramble out of the impasse.
I discovered that here in Israel, the GPS has an ego. In the US, the GPS reconfigures the directions for the driver, should one prefer an alternate route. But here in Israel, my GPS literally refused to allow me to make any change contrary to her directions. Gloria gave me no choice. Irrespective of satellites, it was either her way or no way.
When travelling the other day to Modi’in, Gloria was adamant that I travel from Jerusalem via Ramot instead of using the straight and easy path of Highway 443. She would not reconfigure and, for the entire duration of the ride, consistently directed me to turn the car around and head back toward Ramot. Even when I was about a half-mile from my destination, the GPS would not let up. Gloria simply would not admit that there was a viable alternative to her suggested route. I actually detected a tone of annoyance in her voice. Gloria was exasperated with me, and I with her. Having given her every opportunity to switch gears, and with all due sensitivity to robots, I hit the politically incorrect path and finally pulled the plug.
Not too long ago, albeit pre-Gloria, I stepped into a tile store with a friend of mine. We were lost and wanted to ask someone there for directions.
While my friend was jotting the details down, I moseyed over to the bathroom, which to my displeasure was the size of − that’s right — a coffin!
I braved it and did what I had to do, but when I tried to make my way out I found that the door was stuck. It wasn’t budging. I twisted the knob this way and that, but still, nothing.
I couldn’t breathe.
There was no window.
No way out.
How pathetic, I thought, that my last moments on earth would be spent with a toilet. The temperature in the room was rising and I went into full panic.
I called out for help, called out my friend’s name, screamed for someone, anyone to save me. It must have taken a full ten seconds for the staff in the store to congregate outside the bathroom door. What took you so long?!
Several took turns jimmying the door-knob. “Don’t worry, Zahava,” my friend assured me. “They’re working on the door.”
“Break the damn thing down and get me the hell out of here!”
More excruciating moments passed. I heard my friend explaining to the store staff in Hebrew that I’m seriously claustrophobic.
“Move out of the way,” I heard my friend say. “They’re going to ram the door down.”
Move out of the way? “Move out of the way? I’m in a space two feet wide, where the hell do you want me to move to?!”
The air was thinning out. I knew I had to conserve what was left. The sweat trickled down the side of my face. I was mere seconds from peeling my clothes off.
“Try to calm down, Zahava.”
Calm down? She wants me to calm down?
“Get me the $#@&#%^ out of this toilet coffin right this minute!” How’s that for calm?
Finally, after a torturous two minutes and 12 seconds, some burly staff member rammed his shoulder into the door, freeing it from its hinges and freeing me from bondage. As I stepped out to a larger air supply, I was astutely aware of how maniacal I had just sounded to everyone. Whatever, just another day.
Back in the car, I turned to my friend and said, “Forget the rest of this road trip. Let’s just go home…back to Efrat. You know, the West Bank, where I can have some peacefulness, calmness and serenity.”