First my heart sank, then it leapt, then it sank again when I returned with The Wife to our car parked on a Jerusalem side street last month.
My heart sank when, after unlocking the door with the remote control, I pulled on the handle, but the car wouldn’t open.
My first reaction was to check if, indeed, this was my car. And then, when I was sure that it was, I tried again – but the door still would not budge.
When I stepped back, scratching my head, I saw the reason: The door had been bashed in, as had the front end of the car.
The side-view mirror was smashed, the hood dented. I was parked on the street not far from the Supreme Court, purposely far away from any other parked cars so that no one would dent the side or smash the side-view mirror when opening their door, but it made no difference. Someone had slammed into my vehicle.
And then my heart leapt as I looked at the windshield and saw a white piece of paper under the windshield wiper. Not only did my heart leap, but my faith in Israelis – nay, in people in general – was restored.
Surely the piece of paper contained a note with an apology and a phone number.
And sure enough, it had a phone number, and a first name: Ilan. There was no apology, but there was a number. I could definitely live without an apology (who was I, John Kerry?), but the number was very important.
“Isn’t that decent,” I said to The Wife as I climbed into the driver’s seat from the passenger’s side, to see if we could drive the car home. We could.
No use calling Ilan from the cellular phone, I told The Wife. This was the type of conversation I wanted to have from a land line, where I could concentrate on the call and actually hear the person on the other end of the phone.
So I waited, all the while singing Ilan’s praises to The Wife for doing the good, decent, honorable and right thing by leaving his number. Sure, I was annoyed that many hours would now be burned schlepping to and from the garage and doing all kinds of insurance paperwork, but at least I would not have to pay for the damage.
And from experience, I knew that paying for the damage would not be cheap. Even though the car was not hit that badly, and it was still in driving condition, every fender- bender or nick in the body of a car nowadays costs a fortune to fix. Break off the electronic mirror, damage the door to the extent that it won’t open, bash in the hood, and certainly we were talking some serious money. But good old Ilan had left his number, so surely he would cover the deed.
Or not. And this is when the heart sank again.
“HI, ILAN. My name is Keinon. I’m the owner of the car you bashed in today,” I said politely but firmly in my deep, don’t-fool-around-with-me voice when I called the number on the note.
“What?” he said, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, I’m the owner of the Mazda. The one you hit,” I said, a bit befuddled by his initial response.
“Who are you? What are you talking about?” he replied.
My befuddlement turned quickly into bewilderment and then full-court annoyance.
Turns out Ilan, the guy who was going to reaffirm my faith in the basic goodness of Israelis – nay, in all of humanity – knew not at all of what I spoke. Not only had he not bashed in my car, not only had he been nowhere near where my car was parked that day, but he claimed he did not even own a car.
At least he confirmed that his name was Ilan.
My mind raced. What was I supposed to do now? “Well, if it’s not you,” I said, “then you should just know that someone is smashing into parked cars in Jerusalem and leaving your name and phone number behind.”
Thanks for the tip, he said, promising to let me know if he had any idea who might be responsible. Yeah, right.
And that was that.
UNTIL THE Wife heard the news. Generally we avoid second-guessing each other in circumstances like this, when one person is dealing with some bureaucratic or uncomfortable matter on the phone, and the other overhears the conversation. The last thing you need in those situations – indeed something that is incredibly annoying in those situations – is for your spouse to ask why you didn’t ask this, or why you didn’t say that, or why you didn’t press harder on one particular point or another. Refraining from that type of behavior is a crucial ingredient to a good marriage, I tell my kids whenever I impart key life lessons.
But this time she couldn’t help herself, and asked why I didn’t follow up with more incisive questions.
“Honey, this isn’t The Good Wife,” I said, referring to that popular television series about lawyers. “The guy said he doesn’t know anything about it. Why would he leave a note, and then deny it? It doesn’t make sense. He wasn’t involved.”
“Then how did his number get there?” she queried, sleuth-like. “His number just didn’t plop down on our windshield. Maybe he has a clue. Maybe he has enemies. Maybe he can give us a lead.”
“And then what?” I asked. “What are we going to do, stake out his house?” My youngest son had a say as well.
“Sue him,” he said, channeling his inner Alan Dershowitz.
Indeed, since they were small, my kids have always proposed suing. Got bumped from a flight? Sue. The store sold you a spoiled chicken? Take it to court. Pebble in a felafel ball? Litigation.
I actually don’t know where this impulse came from, since neither The Wife nor I have ever sued anyone, or been sued in return. Forget suing, even when we write a letter to the airline protesting that they lost our bags for three days and that we should be eligible for some compensation, we get nothing. A good friend of ours, an expert at this sort of thing, could have the exact same experience with his bag, yet end up with an upgrade on his next flight and $500 in vouchers. We would get a note back saying, “We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
My father, too, had his input.
“Take the note down to the police station,” he said. “Maybe they can take some fingerprints.”
“Yeah, right, dad, the cops in Jerusalem are going to drop everything, send this note to the lab for fingerprints, and launch a full-blown investigation. What is this? The 1950s in Kansas?”
Then he laughed. Not at my line about Kansas, but at an old joke he had remembered about a guy who slammed into someone’s car and left a note on his windshield that read, “I’m writing this note because people are watching and I want them to think I am writing down my phone number.”
In the end I didn’t urge the police to send fingerprints to the lab, as my father suggested; nor sue anyone, as my youngest son recommended; or shake down Ilan, as The Wife would have liked. No, in the end I filed a claim with my insurance company, and paid a NIS 1,258 deductible.
And as for my dad’s old joke, that one’s a real hoot. Until, of course, it happens to you.
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, will be published in June.