My first job after making aliyah to Israel was working for a pharmaceutical company in South Tel Aviv. Of course, pharmaceutical company is actually something of a misnomer, in that it conjures up images of sparkling white laboratories, rats with strange tumors growing in uncomfortable places, and post-Doctorates working to cure cancer, or diabetes, or baldness. My company, on the other hand, was dedicated to fending off that other great fear of the middle-aged man, sexual dysfunction. While we sold several medications via the internet, the most popular, by far, was a little blue pill, highly recommended by one Senator Bob Dole. And instead of driven scientists, most of my co-workers were in their mid-20s, native Israelis with only a few exceptions, struggling to figure out the step that comes after leaving the army and returning from India.
I, on the other hand, was barely on the right side of 35. I learned what the right side of 35 was at my job interview, where I was specifically asked if I was under 35, presumably because this was a “young” office, which when I had read the job description, I had mistakenly taken as a reference to the age of the building. I justified the marginally legal nature of the company by remembering how hard life in America had been for those without health insurance, presumably some of whom had sexual dysfunction, and also by sticking to the letter of my job description, which was to answer inquiries regarding the status of medication which had already been sold. In this way, I was merely helping the owner to find his lost property, without needing to involve myself in how said property had been acquired.
My shift was from 11pm until 5am, and the first bus back to Modiin was at 6am. This gave me plenty of time to do some exploring, and as any walk from my office to the Central Bus Station involved at least a few blocks filled with what a real estate agent would describe as “character,” I decided to take a self-guided tour of the area. I began slowly, by skirting the area around the Old Central Bus Station. I dare say that this is not the most picturesque place at any time of day, but at 5am, it is clearly where dreams go to die. Ladies, and I am fairly sure, more than a few gentlemen in women’s attire, weaved despairingly, hoping for one last chance at finding Prince Charming before dawn turned them back into pumpkins. This was clearly not the A list of the alternative labor force. In fact, it reminded me of when a really good football team plays a really bad one, and the score is so lopsided that the really good team decides to play not just the second string, but to actually bring out the team members who have never been on the field during an official game, and perhaps not even during a practice.
After a few weeks of this, I kicked it up a notch, and starting walking around the outside of Levinski park, better known as “the park with all the African migrants”. From the outside, I could see that much of the park was covered in bodies, many of whom appeared to be lying directly on the ground. Still, it looked pretty quiet. Then one day, I got off work much later than usual, and by the time I had gotten to the edge of the park, I realized that I only had a few minutes to get to the bus station if I wanted to catch my bus. I figured the only way I was going to make it, besides actually running, which was not an option I was willing to pursue, would be to cut through the park. And so, I squared my shoulders, put on what I hoped was a fierce look, and marched across the path.
I made it about halfway through the park, when I noticed that someone was trying to catch my attention. It was a little Asian man, who waved me over, and started talking somewhat excitedly. I was trying to be polite, but I was also mindful of my time constraints, so it took me a minute to figure out that he was offering me money, in exchange for… services. I was shocked! How could he possibly mistake me for a lady of the early morning?! I felt that I should say something to set the record straight, but advising that I was late for my bus didn’t quite seem strong enough. I pointed to my scarf.
“I’m dati… you know, religious!” I protested.
“So?” He responded.
I gave a brief description of what being a religious Jew meant, and he nodded.
“That is a very nice story,” he nodded. “But if you keep talking like this, you’ll never make much money.”
Defeated, I slunk off to catch my bus. And that was the end of my tours of South Tel Aviv.