My Story: 'I've said too much already'

Like many things in the Middle East, opening and closing hours are subject to change without notice.

By BEN GOLDFARB
November 8, 2007 11:23
3 minute read.
goldfard cartoon 88

goldfard cartoon 88. (photo credit: )

Eight years ago, I was about become an apartment owner. The only thing standing in the way of terminating my landless status was sending a fax to my lawyer by midnight. His failure to receive the fax would have been a deal breaker. My computer was on the blink, but I knew of a store in downtown Jerusalem that had a fax service. They stayed open until midnight. Like many things in the Middle East, however, opening and closing hours are subject to change without notice. I drove to town and found a parking space near Kikar Zion. Short of breath from running from my car, I made it to the store at 11:40. I had plenty of time to spare. Much to my chagrin, however, the closed sign was already on the door. Luckily, the minimum-wage-earning teenager was still inside. His back was facing me and he was busy talking on the phone. I banged on the door, pointing to my watch, but this 17-year-old punk tried his best to ignore me. After repeatedly pounding on the door, he opened it reluctantly. He greeted me with all of the customer service you might expect from a prison warden. In between his conversation with his girlfriend, he made hand gestures to the waiting fax machine, inviting me to fax the document myself. With my shaking hands, I fed the document face down on the machine. After I punched in the Tel Aviv fax number and the glorious electronic sounds began emanating from the contraption, I noticed a middle-aged woman standing at the back of the store. She looked even more anxious than I did. She kept looking at her watch, and peeking out of the small window at the entrance. I said hello to her, but she didn't respond. She avoided making any eye contact with me. I think this is how New Yorkers respond to strangers. In Texas, we respond to strangers by inviting them to our barbecues. In any event, the fax was sent, the confirmation sheet was coming out and I was one step closer to becoming a home owner. I was getting ready to pay the dude who was still talking on his cellphone. He interrupted his conversation to quote the price, and I suddenly became hypnotized by his tongue ring. As he continued talking, the shiny piece of silver darted to the left and to the right, and showed up in unexpected places all over his mouth. I was so lost in tracking the course of his pierced tongue that I didn't hear what he said. He noticed my confusion, wrote down the price and continued blabbering away. In the meantime, the lady in the back finally spoke. She said "they" were going to pick her up at midnight. I assumed "they" meant a tour group, or perhaps visiting relatives. She said she couldn't be late. I paid the teenager and as I was about to walk out of the store, the woman said those magic words that ring in my head to this day. "My spaceship will be here shortly," she said. She was dead serious. There was no trace of a smile on her face - there was no hint whatsoever of a practical joke in the making. My mouth fell open. The proprietor's tongue ring was frozen in place, finally. Her hands immediately went to her mouth as if she could retract her words. "I've said too much already," she exclaimed as she ran out of the store. It was 11:58. I looked at the teenager again. He was as white as a ghost. He actually hung up the phone. I left the store with my copy of the fax and the confirmation and looked up at the night sky. As I was driving back to my home and my version of reality, where spaceships and aliens belong to the world of science fiction, I had two questions in my mind. Did the intergalactic vessel arrive on time or was it subject to Middle Eastern customs? I also wondered if the aliens had tongues and if so, were they pierced? The writer's novel, Double Feature, is slated for publication in the winter.


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