In America, if a shop needs to close during regular business hours, there will be a sign: “Sorry, back in 15 min.!” Sometimes we get the whole story: “Our cousin just had a baby girl so we’re up in Canada for two weeks! Be back March 4th. Stay safe, we love you, xoxo!” Inconsistency and uncertainty make us anxious, and having the issue explained keeps us from having to wonder and worry. “Ah, so Dick the Shoemaker’s best friend’s nephew is getting married. Of course he has to be there!” Now we can relax.
Contrast this with Israel.
Here in Israel, often all we know for sure is that things appear, disappear, and reappear, without any explanation whatsoever. Yesterday, at 10 a.m., smack in the middle of the workweek, my go-to café was shuttered. It had rained the day before, and more was forecast, so maybe that was it. But there was no sign of rain at that point, and the sun was making a valiant effort to poke through the clouds. So if it wasn’t weather-related, maybe this was one of those tiny, obscure holidays that catches you unawares and wreaks havoc. But no — the other stores were open. Was there a sign on the door, a memo, any words of comfort letting us know that Shlomit the barista and her dog Miki had not been kidnapped by pirates? Take a guess.
The next mystery involved the bottle cage at our corner. An imposing structure, this is the place to dispose of plastic bottles. Strolling to the corner, poking bottles through the hole and placing the glass ones on the sidewalk beside the cage, as per recycling instructions, is a comforting and gratifying ritual. That is, it was, until two weeks ago, when we got to the corner and the cage was gone. A neighbor happened by. “Any idea where the cage went?” I asked. She stopped long enough to shrug grandly in slo-mo and proceed on her way.
Then there was the incident in Meir Park. A number of wonderful wooden picnic tables with benches are sprinkled throughout the park. Almost every weather-permitting day, I bring my notebooks, laptop, and coffee, and, inspired by birdsong, breezes, and the buzz of activity, work at a table, sometimes for hours. Last Monday, I came to my “office” as usual and had a productive morning. Tuesday, I arrived to find that all the picnic tables — every last one — had vanished without a trace. While I scoured the area in disbelief, willing the tables to reappear, people pushed strollers, worked out with the machines, gazed at the pond, fed the crows, rode bikes, played ping-pong — apparently unaffected by this crisis. The next day, I went to the park figuring I’d have to find another place to sit and work, but the tables were back in place! I turned to a fellow sitting on a bench nearby. “What’s the story with the picnic tables?” I asked, craving solidarity no less than info. “Tsk!” he clucked, shaking his head and wagging a finger.
If others are aware of these predictably unpredictable happenings, they don’t let on. Or perhaps they do notice, but consider wondering to be a fruitless activity, and hey, it is what it is. Or maybe, just maybe…everyone else is not only aware of these goings on, but knows the exact why and wherefore. Yes! What if this is a scheme to prey on unsuspecting greenhorns, the end goal being nothing greater than to have a good laugh at the rube’s expense? Or what if government-affiliated cadres are colluding, plotting, and planning to shake things up and… and…
As a need-to-know American, I will have to get to the bottom of this. Meanwhile, I can hardly wait for the day when some bewildered tenderfoot asks, “Hey, who took the picnic tables?!” With a cluck of the tongue, wag of the finger, shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, I’ll answer languidly, “ No idea.” That’ll get ’em.