OUT THERE: Serendipity

Thirty-four years ago, after being in this country for about three years, I was off to the University of Illinois to study journalism.

An illustration by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
An illustration by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
I should have known.
Thirty-four years ago, after being in this country for about three years, I was off to the University of Illinois to study journalism. I had accumulated a few items during the three years I was here already – a bike, a few cartons of books, some bedding – and needed a place to store them for a year.
Though at that time personal storage units were all the rage in the US, they hadn’t yet reached Israel – and in the early 1980s there were not a lot of storage options in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the Holy City, but it lacked a Storage City, the name of a self-storage facility I was accustomed to in the States. There was, I believe, just one storage place in central Jerusalem at the time: Machsanei Stern (Stern Storage).
I still remember that place, and that experience.
I approached every transaction back then with fear and trembling, as my Hebrew was rather weak. Would I understand what the other party said? Would I be able to communicate what I wanted? Back in those days, as is surely the case with new immigrants today, every interaction was a big deal. Before making a doctor’s appointment I’d rehearse what to say on the phone; before ordering in a restaurant I’d practice out loud how to pronounce the food.
I lived in constant fear that I would be taken advantage of simply because when I spoke Hebrew, with my heavy American accent, it actually sounded as if I was speaking English.
The worst were the taxis. I dreaded taxis. Perhaps it was because of some bad personal experiences, perhaps because of stories I heard from friends, perhaps because of unfair stereotypes. But whatever the reason, I would no sooner open the door to a cab then I would become aggressively defensive, thinking the driver was definitely out to cheat me. “Turn on the meter,” I would bark, even before the driver could ask me where I was going.
I would brace for an argument before getting into the cab, which pretty much predetermined that there would be an argument inside the cab. If you go into a situation ready for a confrontation, expecting a confrontation, imagining a confrontation, then nine times out of 10 you are going to get your confrontation. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Which is how I spent my time in taxis back in those early years – in perpetual confrontation.
SO I WAS concerned about going to Machsanei Stern, because I figured it was all the same industry: cabs, moving companies, storage.
Cabs and moving companies use vehicles, and moving companies are synonymous with storage. All these guys are cut from the same cloth, I figured. And all of them were out to make a fortune off the new immigrant.
But, to my relief, it was not to be so with Machsanei Stern. No, at this storage location there was no argument, no fuss, nothing that left any scars. For years after I had retrieved my belongings I would pass the building in the center of town and smile, thinking back fondly on how lucky I was then, how easy that storage experience went, and how decent those folks were.
Not that Machsanei Stern in the 1980s was a state-of-theart storage facility, mind you. There were no private lockers or rooms – at least not for the few items I had to store.
The facility was not climate controlled to prevent mold, and my stuff was not locked down in any manner. Rather, I went in, the guy at the desk told me to take my belongings to a corner, he threw a rope around the stuff, wrote me out a receipt, and that was that.
I walked away seriously wondering if I would ever see those belongings again. And when they were there when I returned a year later, I was pleasantly surprised and thought that Israel really was a land of miracles.
SOON AFTER, I married a woman whom I met during that year in Illinois when my stuff was stored at Stern’s, found a job, had some kids and raised them.
One of those kids – the youngest – came home last week and announced he was engaged. To whom? To the granddaughter of the guy who owned Machsanei Stern.
I should have known.
I should have known that the decent guy who took care of my belongings way back then, the guy who didn’t take advantage of me when he heard my accent and could have, the guy who promptly returned all the belongings I left in his care as promised, would someday be the grandfather of the woman my son will marry.
“See?” I told The Wife, ‘It’s a good thing I never yelled at him.”
Which, by the way, is a pretty good rule in this country.
Be careful about whom you yell at or make angry finger gestures to in the car, someday they could turn out to be part of your family.
“Is this serendipity or what,” I said to The Wife, thinking of the enormous benefits that would now accrue from our son marrying into the family of the guy who once had the only storage facility in central Jerusalem.
First, I’ll always – in a pinch – have a place to store my stuff. Second, my new daughter-in-law – the blood of her grandfather coursing through her veins – probably keeps a neat closet. And, finally, I’ll have a built-in ice-breaker when I meet her parents.
“Once, many years ago, I paid to store my stuff at Machsanei Stern,” I’ll say. “Our kids will get married soon. Can I get my money back?”