In a taxi going through Central Park: Traffic is slow, and my driver, Christos, is making political small talk. He’s from Greece, he explains, and he thinks America is wonderful. Are you married, he asks me. Children? Yes and yes, … Read More
In a taxi going through Central Park: Traffic is slow, and my driver, Christos, is making political small talk. He’s from Greece, he explains, and he thinks America is wonderful. Are you married, he asks me. Children? Yes and yes, I reply. And you?
He tells me he’s married but, "My wife is a beetch."
"I’m so sorry!" I sympathize. "Why don’t you get a divorce?"
"Money, the house, the children," he summarizes. "Is okay. I have girlfriend."
"Good for you. I’m glad," I respond.
"Yes, but my girlfriend, she break up with me three weeks ago."
"Oh, I’m sorry! Why?"
"She want me to make baby with her. I say no, I no make baby with you."
"I understand," I flip-flop back to his side. The guy is at least 50, and so I can imagine that being pressured to have a baby would prompt him to have to make tough choices.
Looking in the rearview mirror, Christos goes on to tell me that he’d gone over to the girlfriend’s house in Staten Island and made love to her but then she asked him for a baby, and that was the last time he’d seen her. "But it’s okay," he shrugged again, that Mediterranean "Oh, well" shrug.
"Maybe you can work things out with your wife?" I am ever hopeful, ever helpful, a veritable Girl Scout.
"Oh, no!" His bushy eyebrows raise in horror. "She is a beetch!"
"Why is she such a bitch?"
A dramatic pause, and then Christos pulls his arm back and punches his fish into the air.
"She hit you?" I am incredulous. He nods sadly.
"When we make love," he holds my gaze in the rearview mirror. I am riveted. "maybe I finish first, she so angry that she – hit me!" He punches his fist again.
"That’s terrible!" No matter how bad a guy is in bed, he doesn’t deserve to be hit.
"I say to her, ‘You never see my dick no more!’"
"No, of course not," I applaud his decision. I guess he showed her!
"So, what are you going to do now?" We are through the park. I am less than a half a block from my destination, but I tell him that I have the address wrong, and so we go another two blocks. He drives slowly, and says, "I don’t’ know. I find another girlfriend, maybe."
"That’s a good idea," I concur. I tip him well, because it’s been worth it. "Good luck."
Nespresso, on Madison Avenue: My friend, Talya, who lives in Sao Paolo with her husband and two children, is in town and we are meeting for tea. It’s a warm afternoon, but she’s been battling a bad cold and is wearing a bright scarf around her neck. She looks much like the teenager with long, thick brown hair and warm brown eyes I’d first met 27 years ago when we were roommates and students in Jerusalem. On Friday afternoons she’d stand at the stove and with a big bright shawl draped over her shoulders, stir some Lebanese concoction–maybe lemon and honey to wax her legs, or perhaps bamia, an okra dish, for Shabbat dinner. Born to wealthy Lebanese parents, she grew up in Mexico, spoke French, Arabic and Spanish, then in Israel she spoke Hebrew and English. She seemed international and worldly to me–I grew up surrounded by cornfields and woods on the Portersville Road (Portersville, Indiana, population about 300.) Back then, Talya had dated an American who read palms on Ben Yehuda Street. He accused her of being bourgeois and conventional and of holding bourgeois and conventional values. This didn’t seem like character flaws to me. But Talya, who railed against the West Bank settlements, who wept over the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982, and who was a fiery feminist, was highly insulted by this judgment as she felt that she’d overturned familial expectation and had struck out on her own as her own person. When she married a successful man of Lebanese background, I thought that she was disappointed in herself for having seemingly proven her ex-boyfriend right. Yet, I would argue that rejecting someone because he fit well into your life and you shared similar backgrounds was ridiculous. Why make life harder for yourself? Everyone is entitled to his or her criteria.
Talya coughs now and then, and confides that her husband has been so jealous of her being sick that he’d somehow made himself sick! "Can you imagine?" she asks, with the same smile and the same sense of incredulity that I recall from so many years ago. Her husband is contentious and combative, and while Talya never lacked courage in speaking up for her beliefs, I can’t imagine this soft-spoken woman with the gentle soul living with such an aggressive personality. She goes on, "I said, ‘Yossi, you have a demon in you, and I have to take the demon out of you. I think God put me here on earth to turn the demon into an angel."
She’s laughing as she says it, but she’s serious, too. Her older daughter told her recently that she didn’t have to accept her husband’s behavior, his moodiness, his temper. "That’s exactly what you told your mother when we lived in Israel," I remind Talya. "And you weren’t much older than your daughter is now."
We exchange a glance, so much like one we might have exchanged on a Friday afternoon when the sun was about to set in Jerusalem and we were listening to Neil Young and feeling ever so capable of being different women and making different choices than our mothers had made.
Upper West Side: I’m lying face down and his hands are pressing deliciously into areas of my body that didn’t know they needed pressing. "Russians say that the man is the head, but the wife is the neck. She controls which way the head will turn," Edward explains as he kneads a tight muscle in my back.
We are half way into the massage, and while in general I would prefer silence, Edward’s stories have intrigued me and so I let him talk, putting in the occasional, "Oh, really? Why?" Edward is from Uzbekistan, and he is enthusiastically Jewish. He has already rhetorically asked me why the commandment to honor your parents is found with the five commandments written on the first tablet, even though the other four are all about our relationship to God. Why? Because you can’t honor and love God without doing so to your parents. Your parents–and God–created you. This he tells me with a certain flourish of certainty. Edward lives at home with his mother in Brooklyn. He worships his mother, and tells her he loves her all the time because she gave him life
Edward is about 25, and he has clearly given this a lot of thought. "The most important thing to God is to recognize and appreciate God. The most important thing is to be happy. And that’s the most difficult thing. Being happy brings more good things – and vice versa." As always, I am mentally taking notes, committing these words to memory, because they seem important. Maybe not right, but important, for they are sincere.
Edward tells me that God’s creation is so complex that the complexity itself proves God’s existence. "A louse is so complex," he jumps to another topic, and I don’t know where this is taking me. "It holds on because it knows it has to hold on for survival. Think of how complex we all are. This – this world. It’s no accident, you know?"
"I agree," and in a flash it occurs to me that couples can be delineated into two categories: the lice and the non-lice. Those in the lice group simply hold on to one another for survival. In different ways, both Christos and Talya are lice. And why not?
"I have a girlfriend," he confides. "Oh, good," I encourage.
"We are getting married."
"That’s lovely! How long have you known her?"
"Three weeks. But she’s the one, you know? "
"How old is she?"
"Very nice," I respond. I only want people to be happy. Let Christos find another girlfriend, let Talya and her husband stop fighting, let Edward marry this jailbait girl because after all, he believes that the wife is the neck and controls which way the head will turn. I hope he always thinks she’s so lovely.