Flipside: Just another November day

ruthie blum 88 (photo credit: )
ruthie blum 88
(photo credit: )
Ira circles the block yet again. It's hard enough finding a parking space in Jerusalem these days in general - and in this area in particular - as it is. But now, with roadworks clogging the city every which way, and detours where you least expect them, wheels have become more of a curse than a blessing. He considers giving up and heading for a lot, then changes his mind. The closest one he can find is just far enough away from the shuk to make carrying heavy bags, laden with fruit and vegetables, seem not worth the effort. Maybe not even worth the money he's trying to save by shopping here in the first place. Why, Ira wonders, slowing down to scour the street like a scavenger, didn't he simply walk over to the neighborhood supermarket and have the groceries delivered? He sighs, knowing the answer all too well. He and his wife are both high school teachers. Both on strike. No breadwinners. No bread. No winners. Gotta cut down on expenses drastically. Turning on the radio as he turns the corner, he sees a spot where he can stop to wait for someone to pull out. It's got to happen eventually. The best he can do is succumb to the situation. Going home empty-handed - when he'd volunteered to take care of the shopping - is not an option. Or at least not a wise one to exercise, tension at home being what it is these days. Minus pay checks, that is. Bad luck breeds bad vibes, Ira has learned. Just one of many of life's lessons he never got from books. Certainly not math books, at any rate, which have always been his preferred reading matter. IRA SHUTS off the engine. This is as much a function of his trying to conserve gas as it is of his pessimism about the amount of time it will take before he's able to park legally, and get down to the business at hand. The air conditioner now off and the unseasonable heat make it necessary for Ira to open the windows. But doing so leaves him vulnerable to beggars and other passersby, who interpret an open window as an open invitation, if not an open wallet. "No, no," Ira signals to the bearded man who has lowered his face to Ira's eye level in order to request a donation for a yeshiva. "Sorry," he then says to an Arab selling dishrags. "Hey," he protests, as an arm reaches in and drops a leaflet in his lap. It reads, "The Olmert-Abu Bluff agreement will explode in our faces." Perfect timing, he thinks, noting that the on-the-hour news broadcast has led with an item about the prime minister's statements ahead of the upcoming Annapolis summit. Ira crumples up the flyer and fishes around the back of his seat for the mini trash bin he bought at the auto supplies counter of the car wash he used to frequent. When he finally does locate it, he discovers it is filled with a stack of his daughter's CDs - some encased, others not - in addition to a few broken hair clips and some sort of gooey stick of uncovered lip gloss. So much for having anything in life remain constant, stable, intact. The way he left it. Clucking his tongue with irritation, he tosses the wad of paper onto the dashboard, and resumes his perch. He is reminded of how he felt whenever he did guard duty at an IDF lookout tower: strained, drained and bored. The traffic doesn't budge, however. Ira imagines himself stuck here till after dark, when all the vendors will have packed up their wares and dispersed. "What's up, buddy?" asks a policeman, who has strolled by, done a double-take at the sight of Ira tapping nervously on his steering wheel, causing his horn to beep like a heartbeat. "Nothing," Ira says. "That's the problem." "Well, move it along, then," the policeman says. "You can't loiter here." "I'm not loitering," Ira says, trying not to lose his temper. "I'm waiting for a parking spot, and I'd appreciate a little leeway." The policeman hesitates, then nods. Man-to-man understanding. It's a good thing he doesn't know Ira is a high-school teacher. This strike is taking its toll on his own family, too - and not only financially. For one thing, if his son hadn't been on this extended "vacation," he wouldn't have been allowed to follow Betar Jerusalem to Haifa for the game this week. And if he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have been caught on camera joining his compatriots in jeering during the moment of silence dedicated to the 12th anniversary of the Rabin assassination. "EXCUSE ME," a young woman addresses Ira in accented English. "Do you have the time?" Ira looks at his watch, and answers "Three fifteen," carefully enunciating the first word, containing the combination of consonants with which he always has trouble. "Thank you," she says, helping an elderly woman across the street and onto the curb. Now that the two are in front of his car, Ira is able to see them more clearly. The young woman is a Filipina with a long, black pony-tail down her back. The woman whose arm she is holding has short, white wisps barely covering her scalp. They are moving at a snail's pace, yet look almost as though they are gliding - the one not much older than his daughter, the other not much older than his mother. "Miss!" he suddenly calls out, turning his key in the ignition. "Can I offer you ladies a ride?" After consulting with her employer, the young woman smiles gratefully and waits for Ira to pull up to where they are standing. As he does, a couple approaches a car parked nearby and begins unloading a bunch of parcels in the trunk. "Wouldn't you know it?" Ira whispers under his breath, sorry he can't take advantage of the coveted, long-awaited, finally available parking space, while simultaneously relieved at having a legitimate excuse not to enter Mahaneh Yehuda at this hour. By next week, he consoles himself, we'll all be back in school anyway. [email protected]