I wished that Israel were a bit more like Japan. The only similarity I could see was a negative one: people rode their bicycles on the sidewalk (without the designated sidewalk bike lanes that existed in some European cities). That had been the only thing that had annoyed me about Japan: the little ring of a bicycle bell as a rider sneaked up behind you as you walked. But it was only one of many annoyances and irritations in Israel, and people usually didn't even have bells like in Japan.
We had a few more days at the end of the world before returning home.
No one really understands this country, I thought. I certainly didn't.
We gave our son the shirt we had bought him in Greece. It was so great to see our kids again.
We tried to cope with our remaining days of swelter.
We only ventured out under cover of darkness.
We were invited to go to Asaph Ben-Artzi's compound for one of his famous get-togethers. Café Ramallah, it was called. Or maybe Disco Ramallah. There was some use of irony, even though Asaph Ben-Artzi -- a fervent Zionist -- had much affection for the Arab, Persian, Berber, and Turkic world.
His circle was made up of young, non-heterosexual army officers.
My spouse was arriving later. The conversation was in Hebrew, so I couldn't really participate. I examined the reading material available.
My Asaph arrived. There was a decision made to go to a party on the beach. I had heard about this party, or maybe had even gone to it before. But I was concerned that part of the party actually took place in the filthy sea. "Don't worry," had said our friend Ron, "it's dark so you can't see what's in the water."
I was repulsed yet attracted.
We went to the beach party. People drank alcohol on the beach and then waded into the depths for conversation und so weiter. I couldn't help but think about the garbage in the sand and the sea. I felt that the whole thing was inappropriate. I was a middle-aged father!
We stayed out extremely late. We arrived back home at around 5:00. When we opened the door, we beheld Audra, feeding our daughter a bottle. Our daughter looked at us with such joy and innocence that I felt as if my wretched and degraded heart had been pierced by a sword of righteousness and purity.
I ran to the bathroom.
A little water clears us of this deed: How easy is it, then! I said to myself, over and over as I scrubbed myself and sobbed without control. I wasn't even worthy to utter my beautiful and noble daughter's name.
I remembered a commercial for some sort of album of songs for and by Evangelical fundamentalist Protestants, and one of the songs went: soap and water will not wash your sins away. Later I tried to look up that song using modern technology, but I couldn't find it.
I slept late, owing to disgrace. Asaph took the kids to his sister's apartment.
Later I made my way there by foot. It was a walk of shame.
The city was relatively quiet, so my disrepute wasn't witnessed by too many.
Awnings! I thought. Unusual. I missed the simple life back in Greece.
That night we ordered jachnun (ג'חנון) for dinner. It wasn't good.
The next day we prepared for our departure. I was dreading the flight.
Asaph's young sister came to say farewell.
We stripped the beds.
We arrived early at the airport. After going through the psychological-profile security screening and baggage scan, we realized that our check-in counter wasn't even open yet. Asaph added a new layer of anxiety as he made us wait to pounce when our flight appeared on the monitor. We watched a large group of people check in for their flight to Kharkiv (Харків/חרקוב).
Eventually check in for our flight opened. Asaph spent 20 minutes discussing our seats with the agent, and then with her supervisor. We were not able to sit together. I was filled with dread with respect to this 13-hour flight, even with Audra to help us.
We proceeded to the metal detectors. We then went through departure passport control.
"We are married," said Asaph, again.
We walked down the long stone ramp into the main terminal, with its fountain, cafés, and duty-free shops.
"I've lost my wallet!" I exclaimed. Several minutes of panic ensued, until I found it in the stroller.
Eventually we boarded the flight. Like idiots, we relinquished our water, even though the Israelis only perfunctorily asked boarding passengers about their fluids as an odd courtesy to the idiotic American anti-terrorism clowns. We could have concealed it with no consequence, but Asaph uncharacteristically decided to be honest, putting our children's feedings at the mercy of angry, resentful and underpaid American flight attendants.
Asaph tried to get the young American Jew sitting next to Audra and me to move from his aisle bulkhead seat to Asaph's middle bulkhead seat. He refused, as was his right, but Asaph became enraged.
"It will only be a small difference to you, but it will make a huge difference to me to sit with my family," said Asaph.
"Dude, I just want to get home," said the young American Jew, as if that explained anything.
An elderly man wearing a kippah (כיפה) sitting nearby offered to switch, reflecting the generosity of past generations, but Asaph couldn't accept. He went back to his row with our son.
In a transitive manner, I started hating this guy sitting next to Audra, who took a pill that he picked from a pack of cigarettes before take-off. I assumed that he had started smoking while on a Birthright (תגלית) tour, to seem more native to the locals and edgy and dangerous to the Americans. The temporary adoption of the smoking habit was widespread among American expatriates.
I thought about rearranging our seating so that he would have to sit in a row with two babies, to punish him. I was worried that he might have some sort of developmental disability, owing to a strange thing he kept doing with his tongue, but I decided that he was just a typical young American who considered the vaguest sacrifice as a form of surrender or weakness. Of course, it was totally within his rights not to move from his aisle bulkhead seat to Asaph's middle bulkhead seat. It was a time in history when people were very aware of their rights and considered them to be very important to fight for.
I realized that posting a photo of him on-line would be unethical.
Every time we went to get water from the back of the plane to feed and quite the babies, the flight attendants acted shocked.
"What's wrong with your babies that they need so much water?" they would say.
"You'll probably never have children and will end up divorced and alone at age 40," I didn't say.
Our daughter started having diarrhea during the flight. I piled up the dirty diapers at the young American Jew's feet while he slept in a drugged state with his tongue hanging out.
Asaph came up from where he was sitting. He was sitting next to an Israeli woman who didn't speak English and who was also holding a baby. Her husband refused to help her and kept rocking back and forth praying throughout the flight. Asaph ended up having to help this woman.
After what seemed like eons, we landed. I was grateful. Never again! I thought.
Outside the plane in the bright light of the passenger boarding bridge, Asaph and Audra gasped in horror. "Your eye!" they screamed. I had felt something crusty in my eye during the flight, but hadn't given it much thought. I ran to a restroom. My eye was deep red and oozing yellow, gooey pus. Conjunctivitis!
We made it through immigration and customs and got into the car that Asaph had ordered. We had arranged for our old baby nurse to come work for the day so that Audra could go home to sleep. I was worried about our daughter's diarrhea and of course about my eye.
We briefly had two Trinidadians in our house.
"Maybe she's teating," they said, regarding our daughter.
"What?" I said. I was alarmed by what sounded like an unfamiliar developmental stage related to lactation.
"Teating!" they said.
"What?" I said.
"Teating!" they said.
Oh, teething, I thought.
A team of us cleaned up the babies.
Then I went to work, taking a short break to run to an emergency care center for antibiotic eye drops.
Our daughter's digestive issues cleared up, but both kids had respiratory infections for six or more weeks.
I bought a favorite Miyazaki (宮崎) film, ostensibly for the babies. It was actually for me. I wanted our daughter to be the hero of a Miyazaki film.
Or maybe I wanted to be the hero of a Miyazaki film.
At the weekend I ate some crusty hard bread while she hung helplessly from my shoulders. Her hair was crumbed.
We took a walk down the park along the Hudson River. There were new Japanese art installations.
Back at home I fed our son using a fancy French bib we had been given. Then I decided to take embarrassing photos for his future.
My father came to visit. We went to the park.
I didn't want my children to grow up with so little nature.
I went for a rare run, north.
In my previous 14 years in New York, I had rarely, or never, been in these strange parts.
They were nothing like my old so-called stomping grounds.
We were invited to Rye, New York, by Asaph's co-worker.
She was a member of a country club popular with non-Jews.
It was nice to do something different.
Our daughter didn't know what to think of the sight of Long Island Sound.
We took them to the baby pool. A young prep-school boy was the lifeguard.
Asaph's co-worker's husband struck up a conversation with him. I didn't dare.
Asaph's co-worker's father's wife's daughter and boyfriend arrived. They were also prep schoolers. The boy had many open wounds from team sports like lacrosse or rugby or field hockey or crew sport rowing.
They were like space aliens to me.
The boy went to school with a Kennedy.
Non-heterosexual male friends of ours were getting married. We brought the babies to a party they had the day before.
Members of a socially prominent, non-heterosexual, male, three-person relationship were present. I wondered what the grooms' elderly parents thought about that. I disapproved of one of the members' choice of clothing, although it looked comfortable. A three-person relationship would certainly make taking care of the kids easier, I thought.
大红灯笼高高挂, I thought.
The next day we went to the actual ceremony. They had vows, which our wedding had not, owing to Judaism, and they had written their own. People cried.
No one cried at our wedding, except for my dad and I/me when my mother had been mentioned by the rabbi (רבי).
At the reception there were speeches.
My food was delicious.
A Latino kissed my hand as I left. It was awkward.
I saw something alarming the next day when returning from the gastroenterologist. It was by the door of a private school on the Upper East Side. I paused to take a photo.
A young wealthy mother walked up just as I took the photo. She looked at me with complete disgust and contempt and hatred. She was dressed in expensive and fashionable clothing. She looked great.
I had to go to Washington for work. I was supposed to stay for three days, but I managed to convince my boss to allow me to go down one night and stay the next day, then go home, then go down and back again in one day two days later.
I took the American equivalent of high-speed rail. It was fine, except for the design flaw of the loudly clacking overhead compartments, and the fact that there was not assigned seating.
My hotel abutted a university. There were excited young persons everywhere, doing excited-young-person things like smoking and reading and hollering.
I could remember that, somewhat.
My hotel was gigantic and empty. I had to walk through a parking garage to get to my room, which was gigantic and freezing. I slept with some lights on.
The next day, I did my job.
Ugh, I thought.
I took a walk at lunch.
Washington was easier to navigate than my city of residence.
Our office was near an international financial institution that provided loans to developing countries for capital programs. Many on the far left thought that it was unspeakably evil.
I didn't really care, at that point.
I ran to the train to go back home.
Two days later I went back down to the capital in the early morning.
Ugh, I thought.
I walked back to the train in the late afternoon.
It was no Shinkansen (新幹線).
I tried and failed to sit in the so-called quiet car. My romance with American high-speed rail had soured.
A government employee was talking extensively about things. Ugh, I thought.
I had missed our sick children.
During a brief lull in their nose running, we went to Brooklyn to visit others who were in the almost identical parenting situation as we were, except that they were wealthy.
"We have our nanny stay late once a week, so we can have dinner with friends," one of them said.
Dinner with friends? I thought.
Others arrived, including non-homosexuals. There was a non-homosexual man with his wife. He had his new baby strapped to his front in a carrier, facing outwards. His baby kept vomiting, and his wife would hold out a towel to catch the emesis. Eventually they just relocated to the bathroom so the baby could vomit directly into the toilet or sink.
What a great idea for a Halloween costume, I thought.
The next day I went for a rare run, in the park. I thought of Faruq.
The Jewish high holidays arrived.
We disrupted a Head-of-the-Year Reconstructionist sermon by a famed non-heterosexual female rabbi (רבי) with our crying children. We had gone for a special blessing. Another non-heterosexual semi-Jewish male couple who had had twins and with whom we had attempted but failed a friendship were there. We all gathered uncomfortably on the stage.
No photos were allowed.
Asaph's father and stepmother came to stay with us. His stepmother made us many amazing meals to celebrate the beginning of the year.
She spoke of her childhood in Israel.
"We lived in a tent, and my father studied Hebrew by candlelight so that he could pass the bar exam," she said.
I felt like a lazy, awful, disgusting person.
We walked in the park for some quanta of solace.
We saw the beginnings of a chess tournament.
We watched a capoeira demonstration.
Since we had numerous rattles and other percussion instruments in our stroller, we took them out and shook them to the rhythm. Passersby were perplexed.
The next day was beautiful.
We went down to the famed Christopher Street pier.
It wasn't what it had been in the past.
Atonement came soon enough.
I fasted at work while Asaph prayed all day.
I continued my fashion free fall.
We had some passes for a gymnasium for children.
They seemed a bit irritated that we kept coming there without paying their exorbitant prices.
A co-worker of Asaph's from his father's company in Israel arrived. Asaph had made this poor woman fly through Moscow on a Russian airline.
She was exhausted by the experience.
At work, the horrors continued.
The babies were my only hope.
The daily walk in the morning became more and more dreadful; that is, full of dread.
I went and had some dental work done -- a pleasant relief from my quotidian routine.
I left work early to take the kids to music class. They were skeptical.
We went to Milwaukee for a weekend, using so-called miles. Since the daughter of our paid childminder, Audra, was studying in a third- or fourth- or even fifth-tier city in Wisconsin, she came with us on the flight, to help us a bit.
The flight attendants were very mean to us and to the babies, as we had learned to expect. In general, Americans hated children, since they weren't rational decision makers who sought to maximize utility. They couldn't pull their own weight; they were takers.
Audra, our paid childminder, met her daughter at the airport and left with her. We headed to the hospital to see some of the nurses to whom we had become attached during the difficult pregnancy.
It was nice to see them.
We went to the apartment where we would be staying: the home of the maternal-fetal care specialist and his emergency-room doctor husband, and their two children.
It was very fancy. I felt like I was in a luxury hotel, resort, or residence chain from Asia.
Our bed had so many pillows on it, I didn't know what to do.
We had a luxurious dinner with them and with our gestational surrogate, Mary, and her new romantic companion, who had a name I couldn't remember. Our daughter learned to crawl during the appetizers.
When I got up to feed the babies the next morning, there was an adolescent girl in the house taking care of the doctors' two kids. She was spooning yogurt into the baby boy's mouth.
As I supervised my kids' playing, the baby boy staggered toward me and then began to vomit up all of the yogurt.
I feared a virus, so I quickly scooped up my babies and took them back to our room, in terror.
We drove into the countryside, to visit a friend of Asaph's.
Rural Wisconsin wasn't as picturesque as I had hoped. There were many large ugly anti-abortion billboards along the highway. I thought that the anti-abortion movement could use some better graphic designers.
We visited Asaph's friend and her children and her staggeringly attractive husband. I had to avoid my eyes, lest I turn to stone. He was like a Teutonic version of a Greek god. He took us out to see their horses. We let the children pet them, although I was afraid that the horses would bite off their little hands.
We said good-bye and drove back to Milwaukee.
The doctors were eating another gourmet dinner. Their young son was feeling better, although it was revealed that the emergency-room doctor had given him an anti-nausea drug causing him to sleep all day. The maternal-fetal-care doctor was upset about this.
"We had agreed that, as physicians, we would never treat our own children," he said. He always referred to himself as a "physician".
We met Audra, our paid childminder, at the airport the next morning and flew back to New York.
The flight attendants were again quite abusive. Why do people fly anywhere? I wondered.
I wanted to get back to nature. I wanted to go "off the grid" as some had once said. This modern life was out of balance.
I found New York increasingly intolerable.
How do people live here? I wondered, after a trip to the grocery store.
Another harvest festival arrived, although there was no evidence of any harvest.
Maybe rural Wisconsin would be a good idea, I wondered.
I retreated into the gentle world we had created for our children. It was a comforting bubble.
But I knew that they, and therefore I, could not be sheltered forever.
We tried to erect a fence to keep our now mobile babies from endangering themselves. They screamed and howled.
They only wanted to play with what was forbidden to them: electrical cords, dirty shoes, sheets of paper, or small chokeable objects. The story of the Garden of Eden (גן עדן) made absolute sense, although since our children were putative Jews, Original Sin didn't apply.
I visited my doctor, owing to palpitations.
My body continued to degrade, as did my tastes.
I started taking a Hebrew class once again. My teacher was a pleasant older Israeli lady. Everyone else in the class was an American Jew.
I didn't feel insecure about my slide into neutered and nerdy motherliness among this crowd.
Our children were made Jews yet again.
It seemed like a never-ending process. And it was expensive! "Baptism is free," I said, to provoke Asaph. But I had signed a contract.
The non-heterosexual semi-Jewish male couple who had had twins and with whom we had attempted but failed a friendship was there too. I had invited my high-school friend Brian, since he was friends with the famous Reconstructionist rabbi who was a member of the house of judgement (בית דין).
We took our children to the playroom in our building. There was a little area that was designed to look like a grocery store.
A blond boy who was around four or five was screaming in anger. He started knocking over the tubs of plastic fruits, plastic vegetables, plastic loaves, and plastic chops of meat. He was furious.
I worried about my Semitic babies. It was like Kristallnacht.
Luckily he had to go to the toilet, so he left.
Our children developed the kind of digestive virus that I had feared. Our daughter vomited; both developed diarrhea.
It was exhausting to change their diapers every hour, or even more often. We gave our daughter baths to comfort her. Our son was inconsolable.
"This better not have been from the [bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism]," I said to Asaph. No one ever got sick from an Anglican baptism.
A storm was approaching, but we took the babies to the doctor. I also consulted our friend the Jewish non-heterosexual gastroenterologist. They said that the babies would be fine.
We bought food and supplies and prepared to hunker or bunker down at home.
Our son tested the flashlights.
We didn't know what to expect.