I got a lecture about modesty today on my bus ride into work. After getting off the train, I mentioned to my best friend that one of the people I am dating called at 11:30 p.m. last night, after messaging me to see if I was still up. Apparently, in Hebrew this is synonymous with a booty call, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know. Then I said that I wish I would have been available for a booty call.
Which made me stop for a minute.
This is the first reason I haven’t learned Hebrew after 10 years in the country. I instinctively know the perfect phrasing for the impossible thing I wanted to do last night (by which I mean the booty call itself, and not any of the completely possible activities that might have taken place), even if I don’t know the term for the verb’s conjugation. I asked my friend, who is a native Israeli, ‘What tense is “I wish I would have”’? They said past perfect. I suggested past unreal conditional … or maybe past perfect subjunctive? I admitted I was making things up at this point.
My friend said that there are fewer tenses in Hebrew, and I countered that this is because every sentence here could have one of about 50 different meanings, based on the people involved, the time of day, the weather, and a host of other variables. I like English. Each sentence means exactly what I want it to mean, unless I choose to make it ambiguous.
At this point in the conversation, I noticed the homeless lady. That is, I noticed a woman with a casual attitude towards hygiene who seems to frequent the area by the Bursa where I catch my bus for work. She’s been there for years, and has impressive dreadlocks that scream “F— the Man!!” while also supporting their own rich ecosystem. I guess today was a field trip day, because when the bus came, she got on right before me, without even pretending to pay.
The woman began a very enthusiastic piece of performance art which consisted of complaining to the bus driver that she needed to get off the bus, while subsequently refusing to leave the bus at every successive stop. At least, I think that’s what she was saying, because there was a large mix of Hebrew and possibly Russian, and no one seemed to quite understand her. We mostly kept our eyes pointed at a spot slightly to the right of wherever her gaze seemed to be focused at any given moment.
Unfortunately, I managed to catch her attention. She came over to me, and tapped me on the knee. I thought she was going to beg for money, so I kept reading my Facebook feed like it was a CNN bulletin. But still she persisted. I looked up and she jabbered at me in Hebrew and then in Eastern European. This is the second reason I don’t speak Hebrew: so I can avoid interacting with intimidating locals as much as possible.
Once she realized that I didn’t understand her, no matter how much she repeated the same set of phrases in various inflections, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Literally. She put one hand on each of my knees, and moved them together. I assume that she felt that the one-inch gap that I had left between them was a bad way to start off the year so soon after Yom Kippur.
I caught the eye of the rather cute man who was seated across from me. He shook his head and smiled. I smiled back, and doing my best Sharon Stone impression, I crossed my legs. Then we both laughed as the homeless woman wandered away, exasperated. And that was my morning in Tel Aviv. Past, unreal, and totally unconditional.