Last week I had a phone call from the son of one of my many cousins who lives in San Francisco. He told me that he and his wife are now on a visit in Israel and he would like to come around to say hello. I agreed although I have lost touch with this branch of the family a long time ago and I could hardly remember who he was, and I only vaguely remembered his mother...
One afternoon they arrived here at five. He is a psychiatrist and quite successful as I have heard somewhere. His wife is pretty and in her forties I estimated. We had coffee in the cafeteria and then I invited them up to my home. From then on my endurance was put to a test. I understand that a man who was trained to listen, doesn’t talk much, but what about his wife? She never opened her mouth even once! Two silent people in a probably very silent marriage.
There they sat, elegant, quiet, nearly motionless, waiting for me to entertain them and not contributing a thing to the conversation!
I do like to talk, don’t get me wrong, but talking for a couple of hours to people whom I hardly know, and who have nothing to say themselves, definitely takes its toll.
After they left I was completely and utterly exhausted, much more than after a couple of hours in the gym.
While lying down for a rest, I suddenly remembered that I had found myself in a similar situation many years ago.
In the eighties we had a pleasant neighbor who was a well-known dermatologist here in Haifa. One day he came to our house and told me that he would soon leave for a medical convention in Mexico. His English being quite rusty, he asked if I would I be willing to give him some of my time for some English conversation. I recalled the day he gave me some ointment against a sudden allergic itch and did not charge me for it, so I said of course, we can talk English preferably in the early evening.
He arrived punctually the next afternoon and that’s when my problem started.
I couldn’t think of anything to talk to him about. I knew that two of his main interests are politics and sports and these are two subjects on which I have nothing to say.
I always fought with my husband over TV rights when he wanted to watch a soccer game, and as far as politics are concerned, I definitely knew the name of our prime minister and I also knew that not everybody liked him, this being the extent of my political knowledge.
Now I sat with the good doctor, trying to start a conversation and I did not know how. There he was, looking at me expectantly, and after I had inquired about the health of his family, I couldn’t think what to say next.
“My son intends to become a veterinarian!” I said.
“That’s nice!” he answered.
“I hope he’ll get into a good university!” I continued.
“I hope so too!” he agreed.
“Do you know any veterinarians in Haifa?’
Complete silence descended upon the room and I started to wonder how to exit from this arrangement gracefully.
Suddenly inspiration hit me like a bolt.
“Tell me," I asked him, "how was your day in the hospital to-day?”
And the man finally found his tongue:
“Oh, yes, I’ve got to tell you about it! Can you imagine a 70 year old woman getting the chicken pox? I couldn’t even diagnose it, because this was something for a pediatrician to diagnose, and I had the good sense to call some colleagues to look at it! And then there was the man who suddenly got his back completely covered by hair, he says it happened overnight. From behind he looked like an ape. Further he said he had tried to rub it off in the shower but it wouldn’t go away! And here, let me show you some photos of the colorful rash that a young girl has had for the last few months! It looks like a modern painting like a Matisse definitely these colors…”
He took out some photos, made me look at them and I got acute nausea. He demonstrated one photo after the other, each of them shown to me with his great gusto. Seems he carried these photos with him the way I carry now photos of my grandkids. I was not at all anxious to see his complete collection which he said represented his work of the last week. Now I tried to find a way to interrupt his sudden great flow of verbosity. This turned out to be a crash course in dermatology and not exactly English conversation!
Luckily after a couple of weeks the good doctor went to Mexico, came back with a Mexican hat for my husband and a Mexican doll for myself, and thus our arrangement came to an end.
His speech at the convention was a great success he told me and he was very grateful.