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Israeli Fiction: “Everybody’s Autobiography Returns”

One of the most impressive magazines to appear amidst the recent profusion of literary journals in Israel is Masmerim, meaning “nails.” Edited by publishing veterans, Masmerim features the same kind of high caliber writing and slick format of Britain's Granta. Zeek is happy to collaborate with Masmerim’s editors and writers this month to bring American readers the work of new talents Michal Zamir and Zvi Triger. Michal Zamir’s “Raining Neighbors” offers an ironic detachment from tragedy, while Zvi Triger’s “Everybody’s Autobiography Returns,” one part of a trilogy, cloaks grief in the language of technical writing.— Adam Rovner, translations editor


Everybody's Autobiography Returns

(A) Depression

Fathers are depressing things.

They buy electrical devices, they connect electrical devices, they operate electrical devices, and in the end they return to work.

Of all types of people, fathers are the most depressing.

They go to work and operate electrical devices; they return from work and operate electrical devices. They go to sleep. They get up and operate electrical devices, go to work and operate electrical devices, and return home and operate electrical devices and go to sleep.

Once in a while they buy a new electrical device, and connect it to the electricity and sometimes to other electrical devices, and they learn to operate it, and then it joins the other electrical devices so they can operate them before going to work, while at work, or after returning from work.

Here and there they buy an unnecessary electrical device. And then they connect it and learn to operate it and use it once, maybe twice, and forget about it. The closets then swallow up another unnecessary electrical device.

In every house where there’s a father, there’s also a graveyard of electrical devices.

(B) Electrical Devices

So many autobiographies are written like instruction manuals. Here, for example, is “The Autobiography of Everybody”: the manufacturer’s name, the model number, the serial number, the country of origin, a frontal view, right profile view, left profile view, and a rear view.

The rear view is most important during set-up.

The frontal view is most important during use.

What about the profiles?

While reading–because who has the patience to first read the whole autobiography?–assembly and disassembly takes place, connection and disconnection: Connect sockets using the cord that is provided in Bag A. Upon disconnection, the cord will be pulled out of one socket, then pulled out of the other socket.

Next comes the stage of operation: With devices that come with remote controls, two batteries are supplied, packed in shrink wrap. In their packaging they lie head to head, and foot to foot. When they are in operation, in their tiny office in the rear of the remote control, they are laid head to foot. One year, two years, and then into the trash. From being an integral part of the job, they turn into hazardous waste.

So many autobiographies are operated according to the same principle.

(C) Technician

Once in a while it’s hard to connect the electrical device by oneself; there are too many sockets and too many cords. The diagrams in the autobiography of the device are not helpful, sometimes they are even misleading. And then the father who has difficulties is forced to admit his weakness and call a technician.

(D) Repairs

Today, we don’t fix electrical devices. We simply throw them away and buy new ones in their place. The duty free is recommended because everything there is cheap; like the autobiography of everybody, every device there costs 200 dollars, and the prices of those which cost less elsewhere are rounded up in the name of uniformity.

But, in the past, people sent devices for repair. The place that the device was sent to was called a “laboratory.” In the laboratory they would wait in line, approach the counter, explain the problem to the technician, ask how much it would cost, and he would say, “It depends.”

There were places that would ask the father whether they should fix it, or call with an estimate first. He always asked for them to call and provide the estimate first, despite knowing that he would approve the repair, whatever the price might be.

(E) The Author

Writing instruction manuals is a profession in itself. The autobiographies of everybody are written by professionals, unless the manufacturer is a cheapskate.

Here is an example of some sentences that must appear in the autobiography of every device. First, there is an opening with a welcome to the consumer. Something like: “Edom Company Computers, LTD., exclusive importers of Atari computers to Israel, congratulate you on your successful purchase. Read this instruction manual carefully, along with the booklet in English.”

When he bought the Atari Model 600 XL, it had 16K of RAM.. The instruction manual indicated that it was possible to increase the RAM to 64K (technical writing at its best!). But the father did not do so, and the autobiography’s author does not regret this. Some things are better not stored in memory, and when memory is so limited, there is no choice and there is no indecision, and this is a good thing. The problem is not with the memory but rather with the dream; the size of the dream is unlimited, and the manufacturer has no control over it.

Today, many devices are able to perform a diagnostic and report on what’s not right with them. You just press the button, “electronic soul searching,” and the machine runs the introspection and spits out the results in a split second. The autobiography of everybody is not interested in performing a self-diagnostic like this, despite being able to do so. (The option exists, but the button does not.) Therefore, it is worthwhile taking this into consideration before allowing it to return.

(F) Lives of Fathers

Because of alphabetical order, the first name that appears in the list of names in the phonebooks of cell phones is usually a role and not a name: Aba–dad.

According to corporate law, those holding office owe a fiduciary duty to many different people, to the shareholders of the corporation, for example. Fiduciary duty means, among other things, that the obligated party must act only on behalf of his client, and not for himself.

Electrical devices act on their own behalf.

Fathers act on behalf of electrical devices.

In the son’s dreams, the father with the mustache still forces the son to scrub the dashboard of his car. Maybe the father’s name should be deleted from the cell phone’s memory? But who can remember phone numbers by heart these days?

(G) Safety Manuals

Fathers don’t like safety manuals, and therefore a certain percentage of fathers get electrocuted when they connect electrical devices. This problem is well known to manufacturers, and it’s one of the most conspicuous absences in the autobiography of everybody.

The temptation to insert the plug into the outlet while standing barefoot on a wet tiled floor is too great, it seems.

Electrocution is considered to be an injury whose source is in electrical current. This definition is a bit round about, but so is the autobiography of everybody.

At the same time, it is important to always remember that the Consumer Protection Bureau will not help a boy who lost his father to an electrical device. Especially if he’s the one who peeled away the insulation that covered the exterior of the cable and revealed the bare end of the wire.

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