Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Inside one of your gates in your land

All of sudden he appeared in front of me, but he was not a supernatural vision or an angel.
I was walking with my head in the clouds during one of the first chilly evenings of Jerusalem, letting musings about aliyah and galut roll freely in my mind. And all of sudden he appeared in front of me.
Young, mid-twenties, velvet kippah, dark pants, white shirt, and navy blue jacket. I automatically classified him as a Sephardic yeshiva student.
“Can you help me?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t have any money.”
I knew I had no coins and I wasn’t going to pull out my wallet in a lonely, poorly lit alleyway since I wouldn’t want him to grab my wallet and run away with all its content. Or a hidden accomplice of his.
“I’m really hungry…”
This statement gave me complete certainty that there was an accomplice hidden somewhere. One thing I remember from my time in an Orthodox yeshivah, in the summer of 1991: hunger was not the enemy, heartburn and binge-eating were. The students were served a generous amount of food at every meal, always the same gloppy, salty, wilted, deep-fried and over cooked but abundant dishes. The memory of the colorful plastic bowls and plates quickly conjured up the smells from those days next to my growing anxiety for this young man and his lurking accomplices.
“I have to go. Good evening.”
Then the unexpected, that leaves you speechless and throws you in a dark pit for days.
“Let’s go to your car. If I suck you off, what can you give me?”
My standard answer “I don’t pay for sex” didn’t seem to fit here. I just strode away from it all, but it all followed me. I hastened my pace, and all sort of questions about this young man started whirling in my mind. Why is he doing this did he run away from his yeshivah where’s his family does he really need money what can I give him I can’t get too involved in this but I could buy him some food at the convenience store screw the accomplices I could get him some food and ask if he needs anything else was he kicked out of the yeshivah because he’s gay and now he is hungry does he have a place to sleep did his family kick him out too no he can’t stay on our couch
I went back as fast as I could, in the hope to reach him and get him some food, but he had disappeared. I hadn’t gone too far away, less than a block, but he had disappeared. He could have walked in the opposite direction of where I went looking for him, he could have found someone nicer who had given him the little money he was asking for, he could have found someone who had  taken him up on his offer.
That night I couldn’t sleep. Three weeks have gone by since, and whenever I walk the alleyway I still feel the sting of shame for not helping someone who might have legitimately been in need. I’ve looked for him in the neighborhood; I’ve seen him in every Sephardic guy I’ve crossed; but now I’m losing hope to recognize him and right the wrong.

What if he was an angel?

And I never went to bed… (Zohar, Miketz)

And so my overworked phone decided to commit suicide. A few minutes before Shabbat it jumped off my pocket head on onto the stone steps leading to my apartment. Its clumsy suicide attempt failed, but its touch screen and my sabbatical peace were irreversibly shattered. I browsed all the ads in the newspaper until I found my bank account’s match: for only NIS 999 ($285 /€210) at a store-chain near home I could get the same phone that other store-chains were selling for NIS 1299 ($370 /€270). That was a bargain!
On Sunday am, following two dear friends’ advice, I went to try and have it fixed or have my Japanese iPhone unlocked. I could’ve gotten the screen fixed for NIS 400 (almost half of what I paid for the phone), and the Japanese iPhone unlocked if I dished out NIS 800 ($230/€170). The NIS 999 cell-phone looked more and more like a bargain!
I walked in the store full of hope, upset to part way with NIS 999 I don’t really have this year, but excited at the thought of the new toy. Yes, there would be the nuisance of reinstalling all the applications but it would be just a small price to pay to be again connected to the world. If someone had told me that I was about to waste a whole morning on what should have been, if done in honesty, a few minutes’ transaction, I would have not believed them.
The seller gave me the advertised phone and asked if I wanted to extend the warranty for one more year for only NIS 200 ($57/€42). I turned his offer down, I just wanted the NIS 999-one-year warranty crappy phone. The seller, however, was determined to make some extra cash off me, and here please admire the this man’s creativity, his quick wit.
As I’m handing him my credit card he informs me that on this phone Hebrew is blocked and therefore it does not type in Hebrew.
In disbelief I tell myself what’s the point of getting a phone that won’t write mails and messages in Hebrew, given that most of my interactions are in Hebrew? This other one (mind you, the exact same model but in a different color box) would type also in Hebrew. What would the price difference be? NIS 200, and this would include a warranty extension. I pay NIS 1200. The warranty is not valid outside of Israel so I have no use for it if I really leave the country in June, but the phone types in Hebrew, and that’s what counts.
Outside is pouring down as if it were Japan during the rainy season, and the winter cold made it more unpleasant. Walking back home it’s not the rain that’s bothering me. It’s a nudging feeling that I had just been taken in, and this sensation becomes stronger and stronger with every drop of rain.
My crappy phone I bought in Italy types in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, it could type also two variants of Chinese if I wanted to! Why wouldn’t this one, sold on the Israeli market, not type in Hebrew?! But why would the guy lie to me? But Android has Hebrew built in! How could the NIS 999 one be different? No, no, it’s ok, it’s not the OS the problem, it’s that on the other model Hebrew is blocked. The guy said so! And I have to pay for the warranty extension! But I didn’t want an extended warranty! It’s ok.
Home. I dry myself out, pull out the receipt and start reading it. There is no trace of the warranty extension on it, and the phone is the same exact model that was advertised for NIS 999, just that here it’s marked NIS 1200. At this point I’m furious. I need a phone. To talk myself out of returning it, I open the box and put it to charge. Including the fraud, the phone was still cheaper than at the other stores and NIS 200 are not a big deal. Yes, it’s not a big deal, but it’s my money! It’s almost one week’s worth of food. But maybe the guy told me the truth. I have only one way to find out.
With my new toy in my pockets, I go to another store: Do you carry this model? Yes, this one (pointing to what at the other store would have been the NIS 999 phone). Does this model type in Hebrew? (That same “WTF is the foreigner talking about?” look I didn’t expect to receive outside Japan.) All the models we sell here type in Hebrew. Could there be any model in which Hebrew was blocked and doesn’t type in Hebrew? The salesperson’s eyes have now the “Do you think I have nothing better to do than talking with you who are not going to buy anything?” look, but he still answered, a clear, unequivocal ‘no’ and left. On his end no more questions taken. I needn’t any more answers.
Across the street from the store when the ill-starred purchase was made there was another cell-phone store, so why not? Same story as 5 minutes earlier. At this point I’m really indignant and I walk straight into the cheater’s store. The salesperson sees me and he’s definitely not happy. Me neither. I waited for my turn.
Where does it say on the receipt that I bought an extended warranty?
Inside the box there is a paper.
Here’s the paper. It says only 12 months.
Oh, let me fix this for you, and he starts tinkering with the keyboard, gets up, mumbles something, looks carefully in some catalogues, grumbles, types some more, seems to go online to look for information, types some more, and finally gives me a new, doctored receipt.
You see, here it says One year extra warranty. Is everything ok no?
You know, I really don’t believe that the NIS 999 phone doesn’t type in Hebrew. Why didn’t you sell it to me?
No! In that model Hebrew is blocked! With the pouting face of a merchant whose honesty has been called into question groundlessly.  
Really!? Android types in Hebrew on every phone…
No! In that model Hebrew is blocked!
Thanks. Not really fine, but anyway... Thank you.
And I leave. I’m in no position to start a fight.
Outside of the store I look at the new and improved version of the receipt: all he had done was to mark down to NIS 1150 the price of the phone and to add one line NIS 50 warranty extension. I really saw red! The original price for the extension he had told me was NIS 200 (by the way, the price of the extension written on the paper inside the box was NIS 300) so this bogus NIS 50 was nothing but his way to get rid of me ASAP before his other potential customers could have a whiff of what was going on. So I walked back in the store.
You know, you told me the insurance was NIS 200. How come you wrote NIS 50? Why did you lie to me?
No, the PC did not let me change it… (Yeah, NIS 50, yes, NIS 200 no?!)
Why did you charge me NIS 1200 for this phone that you advertise at NIS 999?
That model is locked.
Look, I don’t believe you.
Listen, I’m telling you.
I would like to believe you, but I can’t.
He must have been relieved when I finally walked out. It was still raining as I walked home, but I was now singing and dancing because I was going to do what any faithful American Express customer would do in this situation.
And, oh boy, I slept well that night.

It pains me to put it this way, but… Sicily:1, Israel:0.