Yesterday was a milestone because I got my first credit card. I put it off as long as possible, choosing to stick to a debit card until my phone broke and my plan ran out. To get a new plan, I needed a credit card. There has to be a way, I begged the phone service man, you have to be able to charge it to my debit. He said he couldn''t and I knew then that I was doomed.
Because there''s really no way to get around it- I''m going to look fabulous this season. New bags, patterned summer dresses and endless pairs of strappy wedges...all made possible now by a little gray card. Not that I believe I''ll spend beyond my means, but that I''ll now spend in advance of my means and will later suffer for it. I''ll have to eat cucumbers for every meal in order to stay within budget. Fashion will trump rationality every time I pass an Aldo shoe store. I will turn into a walking cliché.
It''s more than the fear of vegetables for a meal, though. It has to do with change. By signing off on this card, I''ve joined a new community- that of virtual-money spenders. Not to mention that my new phone is an iPhone. I am terrified of it. Of its tiny touch screen buttons, the unfamiliar layout, the really ugly case they gave me for it. I am terrified of carrying around the internet in my bag with me everywhere I go, of the other community I''ve joined- that of the people who live inside their phones, even in the presence of human beings.
Gone are the days of BUM sweatshirts and New Balance sneakers. I now own seven belts, though I don''t have a single bottom that requires one to be held up. Three full makeup bags, a bag for hair accessories, another one just for nail care tools (manicure sticks, cuticle remover, etc.). It''s as if someone gave me a manual on how to transition from tomboy to woman and I followed it to the T.
It feels like one humongous exercise in how to remove yourself from practicality, from reality. Here are the accessories you don''t really need but will wear for some obscure reason. Here''s the technology, so you never have to interact with warm-blooded creatures again. And don''t bother trying to maintain all of this with real money, you should do it with the fake stuff instead.
It''s not an age or growing up issue, and it''s not a fear of responsibility. It''s a nostalgia for how real things were. I am missing how simple I dressed as a kid. I miss the way it felt to feel like I hit the jackpot whenever I found myself walking around with a ten dollar bill, carefully weighing the decision to hand it over in exchange for the food of my choice. Now I feel as if I am on a perpetual hunt for petite-cut cardigans, in purple, wine or gray. Do I even like cardigans? Or did someone once tell me that women like cardigans and I adapted accordingly?
The funny thing about nostalgia is how irrelevant it can be. Missing something doesn''t mean it was better than what you have now, or that you need to resort back to old ways. I am not on an anti-capitalism, anti-globalization crusade. I recognize the benefits of the modern age, I accept that owning an iPhone will probably make my life more efficient. So does it matter that I miss?
It''s like the way I feel about New York. I miss my family, my friends. The stupid Q train (but never the F train. Never.). I miss normal pharmacies with normally priced deodorant, Union Square lit up during the holiday season. I would not say it''s a romantic city. It''s not a city of peace and quiet either. More than anything, it is a city of light and sound. Evocative at every turn, it demands a strong emotional response every hour of the day. I get insulted by chauvinistic deodorant ads on the subway. At the supermarket they guilt you into using a paper bag for your groceries instead of plastic because it''s better for the environment. The population has color coded their accessories according to the cause of the month- pink for breast cancer, yellow to support the troops, red for AIDS awareness, etc. You get desensitized to all of that noise until you find yourself in the Middle East with a new kind of noise, with its own rhythm.
Here, too, you are in constant dialogue with your surroundings. Your political party is also your religious congregation. You choose to walk on the ‘Bring Gilad Shalit Home’ side of the street instead of the ‘We Don''t Negotiate With Terrorists’ side on your way home from work. The Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem can''t legally have a pig exhibit. The difference, I think, is in the desperate way people here seek divisions. Maybe because New York is so diverse by nature, people have already accepted difference as a premise. There''s a strong feeling of “agree to disagree” that you only appreciate once you''ve moved to a country of people who live to disagree.
If all of Israel sometimes feels like one tiny city of Jews, its people take care to establish their own neighborhoods. Every dispute here feels like a matter of life and death. Life here thrives on labels, and stereotypes. You are constantly asked to define yourself, to check off the terms that apply. Eventually the terms lose their meaning, and we are all running around with stickers on our shirts that say “Hi! I''m Ronen. I''m a religiously traditional Shas supporter from Moroccan roots and that''s all you need to know about me.” I am missing how anonymous New York felt. How strong but simultaneously detached its people''s opinions are. How unpredictable it gives you license to be.
The funny thing is that if I''m having trouble with joining the global community of credit card holders and iPhone owners, I should probably find comfort in the familiarity of life here. Everyone in Israel mistakes you for their daughter, or sister. There is no sense of personal space. They touch a lot. And as annoying and irritating as these things are when you''re standing at a bus stop and uninterested in befriending the lady to your left, maybe I do like the feeling a bit- the assumption that of course I''d be okay with your criticism even though I don''t know you. We are both human, we live in the same city. We are more real to each other than the credit cards we carry, than the identities we have created and developed in a completely virtual world.
Okay, dai, sorry to get preachy on you guys and for the absence of a coherent thesis in this rant of mine. I promise more lighthearted tales next time.