Flipside: In like a lion, out like a lamb

It is a March day like any other - in like a lion...

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
March 22, 2007 12:14
ruthie blum 88

ruthie blum 88. (photo credit: )

It is a March day like any other - in like a lion. But the only signs of the heavy rain that fell till dawn are pothole puddles, cascades from gutters and forgotten laundry that there's no point in removing from its lines. Out like a lamb. It is a March day like any other - halfway between Purim and Pessah - when panic about cleaning and Seder preparations has not quite taken hold, yet anxiety over their approach has begun to pervade the collective consciousness like the onset of a toothache. It is a March day like any other - planned carefully in advance to enable the insertion of extra errands into already tumultuous timetables. Particularly with a public-sector strike on the partly-sunny-partly-cloudy horizon. One whose purpose is precisely to prevent the population - such as this story's protagonist - from taking care of business. Yes, it is a March day like any other for our protagonist, whom we shall call Shlomit, though this is not her real name. But her identity is something she insists on protecting when referred to by someone else. (When she publishes her own pieces, she splashes the details of her life over a double-page spread with the purposeful abandon of a novelist gossiping with his readers about the literal and figurative affairs of his characters.) On this March day like any other, Shlomit gets into her car, puts the key in the ignition and prays. This is not a ritual born of religion, however. It is, rather, a function of the age and condition of her Fiat. And of its being poorly disposed to the damp. Shlomit sputters along with the engine, until it - like she - whirs to a silent stop. The string of expletives she lets loose as she slams the door and heads off in search of a taxi are undoubtedly heard by a neighbor or two. But this is nothing unusual. It is simply Shlomit - admired by her fans for her impeccable pacifism - mouthing off about yet another day's being shot to hell. Another March day like any other - in like a lion. Naturally, then, it should follow that there isn't a vacant cab in sight. Which there isn't. But an occupied one does pull up. And if Shlomit weren't worried about being late for an appointment, she would be shooing him away like a fly, since among the many and varied practices to which she has an aversion is that of taxi-drivers doubling up on passengers without adjusting the meter accordingly. Shlomit lacks the luxury - as well as the right shoes - to stand on principle at this moment, however. "MIND IF I go via Jabotinsky?" the driver asks her through the window. In spite of his question, it is clear to both of them that it is he, not she, who has the right of refusal - otherwise known as the upper hand. "Do I have a choice?" she asks, sliding into the back seat as though against her will. Or better judgment. He does not answer. Instead, he continues chatting with the young woman seated next to him, who - it turns out - is not a paying customer, but an acquaintance of some sort. The conversation resumes where it left off, in mid-sentence. "…so there she was, stumbling all over the place, you know, so I told her, 'If you can't hold your liquor, you shouldn't be drinking,'" the young woman recounts. "So, what did she say to that?" the driver asks, his thick Arabic accent now apparent to Shlomit. "Nothing," the young woman responds. "She was too busy throwing up." Shlomit, all ears, takes out a pad and pen. For all her carrying on about peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, she - like many of her colleagues and cohorts - has no connection with Arabs other than those who do her gardening, clean her house or participate with her in political panels on behalf of Palestinians. She is, therefore, secretly shocked by - perhaps even slightly suspicious of - Jews who do. After a pause, the driver nods. "My brother can usually hold his liquor," he says, honking at the vehicle in front of him - one of dozens stuck in this bumper-to-bumper traffic, on this March day like any other. "But last night, walla, he just kept guzzling; I've never seen him so drunk." "What was he drinking?" the young woman asks, pulling down the sun visor to get to the mirror on the other side. "Whiskey," the driver says. "Even though he had to get up early in the morning to take an exam and everything." "Bummer," the young woman commiserates, while applying a fresh coat of lipstick. Shlomit takes out her compact and does the same. "Muhammad wasn't drunk, was he?" "Nah," the driver says. "He's a Muslim, you know, and they're not allowed. But he and the other guys do hang out at that bar. Some of them sneak it, I guess." "Well, here's where I get off," the young woman says cheerfully, thanking the driver profusely for picking her up from the garage where her car is being repaired and taking her back to work - free of charge. No matter, Shlomit thinks, fuming. Being herself, of course, the one footing the bill for this little mitzva, performed on this March day like any other. "Why did you drop her off at a gas station, if her car is in the garage?" Shlomit asks the driver. Reminded of her own jalopy, and what it's going to cost her, she figures she might as well get an article out of this. One she can sell to US News & World Report or The New York Times. For a lot more money than her Hebrew daily pays, too. But for that, she's got to interview this guy before arriving at her destination. Thank God for the traffic on this March day like any other. "That's where she works," the driver says. "She pumps gas?" Shlomit asks, incredulously. "Nah," the driver says."She manages the station." "You're a Christian, right?" Shlomit asks, clueless about the direction of her focus. What she really wants to know, but doesn't dare ask, is the name and location of the bar he was talking about. The driver turns to look at Shlomit, wondering whether she's a plainclothes policewoman. Slowly he buckles his seatbelt, hoping she doesn't notice that it wasn't already fastened - on this March day like any other. "Yeah," he says, stopping at the address Shlomit requested. "So?" "So," she says, slinking out of the taxi - like a lamb. "Have a happy Easter." [email protected]


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