1. The first time I met him he was operating a forklift and nearly ran me over. I was on my bike. And it was dark. Winter. Probably January. Maybe 4:30 AM. And I swerved out of the way just in time. In all fairness to him I was ogling a fishnet stocking clad streetwalker who was just finishing her shift on Hamasger Street. She smiled at me. Or did she? I could have imagined that part.
He’s always smiling. Which I mistook at first for slowness. And he made a point every subsequent morning to shout and grin those protruding teeth as he saw me approach on my bike. And I would wave back at him. And we became fast friends.
My bicycle was stolen. I’ve written about it. And I would get off the 51 bus on Hamasger Street and pass the straggling prostitute and African migrant worker. And the forklift operator would smile. And ask what happened to my bike. And when I told him it had been stolen he promised me he would bring me his old bike. It was just sitting in the warehouse anyway. Some WD-40 and it would ride like new. He used to ride it up and down the Yarqon on Saturdays. But he hurt his back.
And true to his word he did. And it was rusty. And broken. Well beyond repair. But he handed me a small bottle of WD-40. And I thanked him. Because it was a supremely generous gesture. Especially since we were almost complete strangers.
And a year passed and he hit a bicyclist. And a pedestrian. And totaled my boss’s Hyundai with his forklift.
But there he was every morning. Smiling. And laughing. And telling me about the tilapia he caught that weekend. How he cleaned them. And gave some to his sister. Or grilled the boori (mullet). And I have never seen a man so happy in my life. Here’s a picture of him.
Not on the forklift. I don’t think they allow him on that anymore.
2. He mops the floors every morning. Early. Just as I’m coming to the office. And I apologize. Because I feel bad. You know. He just finished mopping the floor and there I was to ruin it with bicycle tracks. Or muddy shoe prints.
He’s from some former soviet breakaway republic. Like Tajikistan. Or somethingstan. And he has a few kids. And one day he’s cleaning the bathroom and I go in. And apologize. But he shows me a picture of his son. And daughter-in-law. They had just got married in Cyprus. And the Rabbinical authority wouldn’t recognize his daughter-in-law’s Jewishness. Or his son’s. So he asked me what he should do. In broken Hebrew.
And I advised him to get a lawyer. But he didn’t understand. And just continued to show me pics of his daughter-in-law. And wasn’t she beautiful?
His sense of humor is dry. And unpredictable. Like sometimes he’s mopping the floor and the elevator door will open. And there I am. Stuffed into that elevator with my bicycle like a circus bear. Or a corpulent sardine. Or an obese clown in a VW beetle. And he’ll say:
“Stop!” And motion for me not to muddy up his floor. Awkward silence.
But I’m in the elevator. And there’s nowhere left for me to go. But up. Or down.
And the door will almost close before he smiles his big smile and bellows out a laugh before motioning for me to come on out.
And I’ll laugh. Uncomfortably.
And when I took his picture he insisted that I include his phone. Which was playing a VHS quality video of an old-country style band. Like at a Uzbeki wedding. And he was on guitar. Younger looking. With a mustache. And he’ll point to the guitar player. And then point to himself.
“It’s me.” He’ll say in broken Hebrew. And air guitar or air strum a chord or two. And he smiles so infectiously that I can’t help but smile too. He laughs and puts his arm around me and I laugh with him.
This is the picture.
3. J.H. He works with me. And he toils in complete silence. No water-cooler talk with the co-workers about Big Brother. No banter. For months. But I like odd people. So I start to chat with him. And every once in a while we’ll take a walk to this small park tucked away behind our office in Tel Aviv. And we’ll stand over the beautiful Koy Pond. And he’ll rant about my blogs (how bad they are). Or my movies (he’ll quote lines from “The Coat Room”). Or his love of burekas (Israeli “hot pockets”). Or Magnum ice cream bars. Or pizza.
And he’s thin. Rail thin. Like a slim Jim.
And I tried taking his picture once. And he grabbed my phone and deleted it right away.
He lives with his mom even though he’s in his 30’s. He’s as quiet as a mouse. A wallflower.
But he’s always smiling. Always laughing.
And as we’re walking back to the office in silence I take photographs of the city.
And he turns to me and asks me where I’ve gone off to. And whether I’m thinking about my blog again. Or that picture of D. with the sunglasses I had just posted on Facebook. And how many “likes” I got. And that’s all I ever do. And he laughs. And accuses me of neglecting M. and D. And even him.
“You take pictures or check your phone and you completely miss the experience. You’re not even here are you? You’re like an invisible man.”
And the more I think about it the more I realize that he’s right.
It’s me who’s invisible.
And maybe I would enjoy life more if I stopped living inside my own head. Stopped removing myself from the present.
With blogs. With facebook. With photos. With distractions.
And since he refused to let me take his picture this is my (crude) rendering of him:
The three happiest, most satisfied people I know in the world are invisible to the rest of the world sometimes.
But live life more viscerally, more authentically, more passionately than most of us.