Sunday, March 18, 2012

Of Christians and Patriots...and Pillows

                Mendy, our tour guide, explained to us that, if the inhabitants of this particular kibbutz appeared to us as extremely tired this afternoon; it was because they’d spent the night in their bunkers after having caught some rocket fire from Southern Lebanon on the previous evening. He also explained that they were perfectly used to this sort of thing and how we, as tourists, should follow their example and not be afraid either. And so we did. Abbie and I weren’t afraid because we now found ourselves in a beautiful eatery with glass windows everywhere and the Sea of Galilee sparkling right outside in millions of golden, little ripples. Also, the fact that there were a couple hundred other tourists in here eating with us (from all over the globe)…and the fact that they were experiencing this same beautiful afternoon and eating a delicious lunch of fresh fish and other Middle Eastern fare and drinking wine even…and the fact that none of them were acting panicky or nervous or were looking over their shoulders often and unnecessarily…and the fact that they weren’t acting jumpy somehow kept us from acting jumpy and vice versa. However…
                The reality of the situation did remain. And that reality was that, at any given second, a rocket could come flying right through the ceiling and make a mess of everyone’s lunches. Spilled wine, in a flash, would instantly become spilled blood. And in the stone-deafness and rubble; people would probably be pacing in that weird sort of shock as if only their bodies are left wondering what to do. And that’s just for those of us who lived!
                Yet, in the here and now, the silverware did continue to clink, the jabber to murmur, and the kibbutzniks to make their rounds with their trays from which they proudly served us vegetables grown on this very farm.
                When the lunch ended and Abbie and I had paid for our drinks and everything, Mendy came back around and gathered us up…us and the rest of the group. The ridiculously Christian group. My mistake though. I guess I really should have known better. And it’s not like we’d booked this trip through a church or anything. At least I knew better than that! We’d booked it online through an online travel agency as part of a package deal that included our airfare and hotels and everything and it sounded pretty sweet! Plus, for what it would have run us in airfare alone (privately); we’d also have our asses carted all over the country for an entire week and, although Israel is a relatively small country, there was a lot we wanted to see and dropping money on independent cab rides would have broken both our banks. So again…it sounded like a pretty sweet deal. But I guess we were just expecting a few more…nonaffiliated travelers in our group? Travelers such as ourselves. Maybe another young couple to hang out and have beers with or something. That would have been nice. Or Jews! Why couldn’t there have even been any Jews on the bus with us…just to mix it up. But no. Abbie and I stuck out as the only agnostics in this otherwise homogenous mixture of people on pilgrimage. And we were straight up stuck with their asses  too.
                As much as they were stuck with us, I guess.
                Unless, of course, we had decided upon our arrival (or even after our first day of tourdom) that it would somehow be worth it not to travel with these people any longer and opt to shell out the shekels on chartered cabs at that point but…what would really be the point in that? The shit was already paid for and, as a whole, the group really wasn’t that annoying. But it was just so weird to see them all on the bus with their bibles out and open. And although nobody said anything openly, we were smart enough to realize that or own lack of personal ‘good books’ and gold cross necklaces did automatically label us as heathens…which we were. And just why, you may ask, would two heathens want to visit the Holy Land? Well…
                That part was on me entirely also. I’d simply had this year-long obsession with the state of Israel that I can’t quite rightly explain even to this day. I wanted to know what it felt like just to be there. I researched it and read about it every night. I also dreamt about it every night and, interestingly enough, none of these dreams had ever really ended that well. In fact, they usually ended in a scene similar to the hypothetical rocket bomb bursting through the ceiling that I’ve just described above. But still. I had to go. I don’t know what it was but I just had to.
                So eventually I told Abbie about this dream I’d been having (the dream of going to Israel, that is, and not the bomb-ridden nightmares I’d been having every night). And, surprisingly, she seemed sort of interested in it. Her dad was Jewish and her mom converted or something and I think she’d just always maintained and entertained a certain soft spot for her faith. Or, rather, the faith of her parents and its rich history and all that. But, like myself and most Americans these days in their 20’s and 30’s; the faiths of our parents and/or grandparents was only something we may have grown up with…some weird and abstract scenes from temples and churches that we now only associated with our childhoods. We were secular. And after learning that most (or at least many) Israelis our age considered themselves to be secular as well; I began to consider just how fucked up life must have been for these peers of ours who just happened to be born in this country.
                Because Israel, since its inception, has always maintained a citizen’s army. And to them this meant that everybody who was born here, moved here, or who has ever had to flee here (for persecutive reasons); must serve in the military for a minimum of two years…minus the Ultraorthodox and Hasidim, of course, but I won’t get into details. Everybody. Has to serve in their army. Usually when they turn 18. And pacifism has been tried many times, I’m sure, but has also never worked out as a viable excuse. You either serve or go to jail or are deported. And this is a necessary evil, I guess. But for the kids brought up in this country; it must seem like a pretty raw deal indeed. And, from my perspective, it seemed like an ongoing draft such as we had back in the Vietnam era…but a draft that never ended. And a draft that affected not only men but women. And, for the women, the very same consequences applied.
                So why would I suggest to Abbie that we take a vacation here? Again. It’s something that I couldn’t explain. Though I do distinctly recall that, while waiting at the gate to board our flight in JFK, we both took notice of the boarding gate across the way. Over there, there were people with Hawaiian shirts on. Over there, everybody was smiling and the stewardesses literally wore flowers in their hair. Whereas, everyone on our side was dressed darkly and conservatively. Every lady had their elbows covered and every guy was wearing a hat. And it was only then that I began to feel sort of bad and sort of responsible for leading my girlfriend here rather than to a nice, tropical location with beaches and drinks with fruit in them and little cocktail umbrellas. But I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I did on the boat on the Galilee after having lunched at the kibbutz that day.
                Like I said; the group wasn’t too, too bad. They could be a little overwhelming at times. Like…at dinner one night at our hotel. There wasn’t assigned seating or anything. It was just sort of a catered event with a two hour window in which to eat. So, naturally during this time, Abbie and I did see just about everyone down in the large dining area who’d been on our bus. And because they’d been on a bus with us all day; I guess they felt comfortable enough to talk to us…which was fine. But you already know where this is going.
                So we’re sitting there eating (a delicious meal every night by the way) and up walks another middle-aged couple. They must have introduced themselves to us before because we knew a little bit of their background already. The guy…the husband; he was a pastor from the Midwest. And she was a pastor’s wife. And, since Abbie and I had been sitting alone at a table truly meant for four; these two took the opportunity to sit down in the extra chairs and smile at us extra widely.
                “So…what brings you guys to this holy place?” the wife started things out.
                And Abbie and I just looked at each other not knowing quite what to say.
                A pillow fight? I actually think that I’d told that to an airport security guy here already. And it’s true. I’d had basically no interest in Israel (even its political situation) until I’d seen a story covered on the news about a pillow fight involving several hundreds of people in Tel Aviv. I guess the event  was supposed to make some nice mockery out of all the violence that everyone here was subjected to throughout their lives but…I just thought it was cool! And after that, I wanted to meet some of these people. I wanted to hang out, even for only a few beers, with the 20 and 30-somethings of this country to just pick their brains in person for even a fleeting evening or round at the bar.
                But I didn’t want to get into anything even halfway introspective with these two now at our table. So I banally answered, “I guess we just like to travel, ya know? See the world and that sort of thing?”
                This conversation took place, I believe, after only the first day and I don’t believe that we’d even seen anything too Jesusy just yet. And, if this holds true, then the bus had taken us to see Masada that morning and the Dead Sea that afternoon. It was great times for Abbie and I but, at the same time, it didn’t quite fulfill just what these New Testament seekers were after.
                “So are you two married?” she asked.
                And later, just after we got off the boat on the infamous afternoon aforementioned, this very same lady would make her presumption very clear to me and it was that she’d never doubted for a second that I’d brought Abbie all the way out here to propose to her at some point along this trip…which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I mean…I loved Abbie and everything but we just kind of had the relationship where, if the topic of marriage was on the table, the two of us would definitely take some time to talk about it first. And we totally weren’t there yet. We were boyfriend/girlfriend. We did love each other. But the future, at this point, was sort of unforeseen so… But I don’t believe this lady understood even such a simple explanation as that for a relationship. And I definitely knew then that her husband was the first person who’d ever lain with her…in the biblical sense.
                “Are you two familiar with the Bible?” she asked, “And isn’t it wonderful to see these stories coming alive before your very eyes?”
                Jesus, I hated her. But luckily Abbie picked this one up for me. “We’re um…actually not that religious. In fact, he’s actually done a lot more background research than I have.” Thankfully, as an afterthought, she threw in, “And I’m Jewish.”
                Not that they heard a word of this anyway. Not that they were at all interested in what we might have to say.
                So she just went on, “Oh. It’s the greatest story ever written. It’s the greatest book ever written. And I just love how you can get lost in it but then find yourself in it again. You should really read it if you haven’t already.”
                “Really?” and I just couldn’t contain myself any longer, “You definitely make it sound good, ya know? You make it sound good. And worth while. And I like that. And I’m a big reader.”
                “Really? And you haven’t read…”
                “No. And believe me, I’ve been meaning to get around to it. But…and I’ve gotta tell ya. ’Cause I just finished two books that I just have to mention right now ’cause I just really believe they have to be contenders. The Glass Bead Game and Gravity’s Rainbow. Herman Hesse and Thomas Pynchon. One’s a Nobel Prize winner and the other has a PEN/Faulkner under his belt so… I’m just sayin’. They’re really good and they’ve definitely changed my life. Or, at least, changed my perception on what a book can actually be so…”
                Shortly thereafter, they got up and left. Thankfully.
                Had we run into them again at the hotel bar afterwards, I would have been surprised. But, of course, we did not.
                But…back to the afternoon in mention. On this afternoon, just after lunching at the kibbutz and boarding a boat onto the Galilee itself…  I honestly have no knowledge of boats so all I can really say is that it had no sails and that it did have a large, outboard motor and could comfortably fit around 30 people on its deck. This boat was not painted but rather left the original color of the very local wood of which it had been comprised. And it was to take us cross the small lake of a sea to the town of Tiberias which, in itself, was ancient and biblical and all that but, most importantly, where our tour bus would be there waiting to take us…who the fuck knew. To the Jordan River or something where Jesus himself was originally baptized…by John the Baptist! You see! So my research and studying had paid off and had made this trip more enriching to me after all. But!
                So we, the whole group, stepped onto this boat with full stomachs while feeling happy and glad. And this was going to be fun. It was, as I’ve said, a beautiful afternoon with the water sparkling and the sun just barely beginning to set. What could be better? Unless they served free beer on the boat…or even for a price. What could be better? Here I was in a strange and beautiful country with a girl whom I loved on a boat together. And we were both now nicely buzzed off the wine we’d had to drink with our recent meal. Bliss. It should have been blissful and yet it just so wasn’t.
                After all were aboard, the boat departed and Abbie and I found a nice ‘bench’ to sit on along the port side. And again, I’m sure there’s a technical term for such ‘benches’ but I just really don’t know shit about boats. And so we’re sitting there as the boat just sort of idles away from the dock for a while. And then the motor is finally turned up to full blast and we’re just loving it all with the wind blowing through our hair. We were so far away from our jobs and the day-to-day people that we just hated to deal with and the US in general and…it was a nice spot. A nice place. A nice feeling. And if that feeling could’ve just lasted until the end of this boat ride; I really think I would’ve been okay. I might have even had a new outlook on life. But of course, like all blissful feelings, this one was also fleeting and also came to an abrupt sort of end.
                Because while we were smiling at each other and pointing out things in the scenery far off into the distance; there came…our national anthem? Which was cool and all. It was a nice gesture on the Israelis’ part. Maybe they were just trying to show some respect. And it was cute since, in our particular tour group, we were just about all Americans. And I only say this because, I believe, there were actually two folks on board who did actually reside in America but held different citizenships. So there we were just bumping along with the waves; Abbie and I just tapping each other’s shoulders and speaking right into each other’s ears because of all the noise from the wind and the motor. And that’s about when she tapped me on the shoulder again and pointed out something for me to look at. But instead of pointing towards either shoreline this time, my poor girl did point towards the very deck we were all now standing and sitting upon. Actually…make that all standing. Because every single person. Every individual human being in our group (and even Mendy, our tour guide) was now standing up and facing an American flag that had been unfurled…and they were facing it for real. But not only!
                Not only were they facing it! But all 30 people (or all 28 or whatever if you exclude Abbie and myself); all 28 of them were not only facing it and staring into this cloth of red, white, and blue blowing beautifully in the wind; they were each holding their hearts with their right hands and each held an expression of pure rapture on their faces.
                Oh, God. So what do we do?! We were obviously the only ones not standing!
                At first we weren’t drawing any looks but about halfway through the anthem they did come…mostly through people’s peripheral. I couldn’t say they were looks of disdain though. I couldn’t say they were anything really since each one was so fleeting. But, if I had to guess, I would have to say that, more than anything, they were looks of surprise. They (every passenger) were probably just as surprised that we had not stood up automatically as Abbie and I were surprised that they had! And the keyword here is ‘automatically’.
It’s not that Abbie and I weren’t good sports. It’s not like we were trying to cause a scene or anything…or even invoking a conversation. Because, if anything, I’m sure that either of us would have stood up automatically just to avoid one. However, we just weren’t programmed to stand up (automatically) every time our national anthem was played. And the question for us was; why were all these people? I mean, I guess if you’re at like a sporting event or something and the national anthem is played prior to the game; it’s customary to stand and take off your hat or whatever. But usually, and I’ll just admit it, the only reason that I do stand during these times is to avoid people’s looks or attitudes. It’s so they don’t give me shit for appearing to be unpatriotic…which I’m not. However…given the time that this situation was actually unfolding. It was November, 2005 and the war in Iraq was definitely starting to peak if it wasn’t in full force. The same war that was presently but two countries away from where we now sat on the boat and the same war that we didn’t necessarily agree with. In fact, now that I got to thinking about it, I’d seen several stories in the news ever since we’d invaded Iraq about people who purposely turned their backs to the flag during the anthem at various sporting events. But this wasn’t even an event! It was a fucking boat! And sort of a rocky boat at that. This deck wasn’t opportune for the standing and yet…
Out the corner of my eye, I looked at Abbie and shrugged as if to say, “I mean…I  guess we should. You know…just to avoid any weirdness. We are going to be stuck on a bus with these same people for days still to come.”
And, as if able to read my look and these thoughts exactly, Abbie took my hand in hers and we stood up together…just in time for the anthem to come to an end. We did not, however, put our hands over our hearts. But I didn’t really care if anyone noticed that part. We’d stood up at last and that should be good enough and count for something. At least it better.
But, of course…
Before any official inquiries were made on the group’s part, though, there is one detail that I absolutely have to include and that is; just after the anthem wound itself out at a ridiculously high volume, there began to play another song. And although nobody was expected to stand for this one, the song itself caused Abbie and me to feel even more awkward than the anthem had. At first, it was no big deal. That is; the intro wasn’t. It consisted of nothing more than a standard rock beat and cheesy rhythm. The others in the group were really digging it, though, and even dancing to it…and why not? They were happy. We were on a boat. The anthem was over. Let’s party. And then the first verse of lyrics began and… I can’t remember exactly how it went but I am sure that the words, ‘God is good. God is great,’ were strung together in that order.
                So great. As if the whole anthem debacle weren’t enough, we were now being subjected to…Christian rock? Possibly. But I did taken notice that nothing about Christ or Jesus was mentioned. Nondenominational religious rock? Did such a genre even exist? I didn’t know and I certainly wasn’t going to find out. And as if this weren’t psychological torture enough… I mean, seriously. We were on a fucking boat here without any way of escape. Except maybe…for walking on water? Nah. Because even if we’d been able to pull that off; that would only mean that these people would wind up worshipping our miracle working asses and then we’d really be stuck with them. Forever. But! As if the nondenominational religious rock weren’t enough; one of the nosier wives did begin to make her way across the deck with a crinkled brow and air of concern. And she was headed straight for us.
                And again…with no way of escape, there was obviously no way of ducking her. I did, for only a moment though, consider faking a medical emergency. But the lady moved fast and before I could decide on either a seizure or a heart attack; it was too late. The bitch was upon us.
                “Hi!” her smile was huge.
                Abbie and I had sat back down by now and, by now, the lady was standing directly in front of us so that I had more of a direct view of her belt buckle than anything else. That is, I had to look up just to see her face…and I didn’t like it.
                Once again, I was glad to have Abbie there to do the talking since I wasn’t even feeling particularly civil. And so she addressed the lady, “Great boat ride, huh? Are you guys enjoying yourselves?”
                “Oh,” she replied, “The journey is absolutely amazing. There’s nothing like walking in the footsteps of the Lord.”
                “Yeah,” but Abbie’s smile was noncommittal.
                “So you guys don’t normally stand up when the national anthem is being played?” and there it was…all out in the open. The lady’s tone, though, wasn’t one of disdain or even irk. Rather, it conveyed vex and concern as if she couldn’t possibly believe that there were any Americans anywhere who didn’t automatically stand before the first few notes were up. Oh, say can you see?
                “Oh. Yeah,” I sort of took over, “I guess we just weren’t really paying attention. You know. Just overwhelmed by the scenery and all. And the…sacredness?”
                Add more God music. It persisted to drive us crazy in the backs of our minds while this woman worked us on a more cerebral level.
                “So are you guys going all the way to Jordan with us?” she asked. That was the plan. Most of the group was to fly down to Eilat together at the end of the week and then cross the border from there. And she continued, “Were you guys scared when you heard about the bombers?”
                Then I stepped in again, “We were reconsidering the Jordan part of the tour, I guess. But, and this is the God’s honest truth; I was…that is, I am…way more scared than she is.”
                And this was true indeed.
                A few days ago. Literally, a few days ago; three simultaneous suicide bombers had detonated themselves in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Simultaneous; meaning they’d each blown themselves up within minutes of each other. However, each one had gone off in a different hotel. And seeing this shit go down on the news back home, for us, had been terrifying. I was frozen with terror. Did we really want to get on a plane and fly directly into this mess? Fly straight into the Middle East and Jordan specifically?! What the fuck was wrong with me?! And to endanger the life of my girlfriend while I was at it? Nice, Mick. Real nice. And it’s not like I was just imagining things or overreacting because right there on the TV screen was the proof! Three bombs had gone off! And 60 were dead! And all we had to do was not get on the plane. It was just that easy. Just don’t get off the couch and we’d remain perfectly safe. Sure, we’d be out a little bit of money but…
                “Were you guys scared?” Abbie threw the question right back at her but she asked it in all sincerity.
                “Us? Well, maybe a little. But I think, ultimately, we’re faithful and knew the Lord would protect us. And he has.”
                Yeah. So far, bitch.
                “Plus,” the lady then added, “My son just got home from Iraq and I just felt like…I felt like,” and here she sighed, “If he came all the way over here to defend our country then… I guess I just felt like this would make me closer to him is all. Somehow.”
                Alright, lady. Ya got me. I guess, I could kind of respect that.
                Not that I respected her son ‘automatically’ for being a soldier. And not that I respected the term ‘defend’ she’d just used and applied to this war next door in Iraq and our country. Yet…this was a mother’s love at its most denuded.
                “He’s been a lot sadder ever since getting back,” she added glumly.
                “Ahh,” Abbie empathized, “That’s so sad.”
                And it was sad, I suppose. War is sad and that’s a fact. But for this kid…this solider who was, no doubt, right around my age to be, perhaps, psychologically damaged for the rest his days for nothing…for nothing! Well, that was much sadder. He wasn’t defending his country. Iraq       wasn’t attacking us. They’re half a world away. And none of the 9/11 hijackers were of Iraqi citizenship. And nobody in the entire world believed that Iraq actually had any nukes…not even Colin Powell as the very words were coming out of his mouth. Probably not even this nice lady’s son…this soldier. And if he did…if he truly did believe; then I feel more sorry for him because of his ignorance than I would for him because of his post-traumatic stress.
                I wanted to talk to this lady. I wanted to pick her brain. I really did. I wanted to ask her what the hell ever happened to the conscientious objectors of her time during the Vietnam draft. Did she consider them to be cowards? And did she consider the military personnel who’d fled to Canada rather than fight in this war to be the same? I already knew that she did. I didn’t have to ask. But why?! Why was it considered to be such a sin in this country to criticize our own soldiers? Why was it such a taboo? And why was it that we were almost expected to kiss their asses and/or feel sorry for them or donate to them or strictly refer to them as ‘our brave men and women overseas’? Sure, they’re brave. Iraq is a dangerous place…and so was Vietnam. But what exactly is noble and respectable about following the decisions of our leaders so blindly that they’d march straight into hell for them and often commit countless atrocities once they got there? What the fuck was so admirable about that?! Because, as Americans, we’re taught growing up respecting freethinkers like our forefathers. The problem is; we’re not taught to actually be that way ourselves. Not anymore, at least.
                But times were different back then…for Americans. Back then, we were fighting on our home turf and being attacked not unlike the Israelis or even the Jordanians of this particular scenario. Shit. Washington D.C. was fucking burned down as late as 1814! But now, things were different. Now, we had to travel to fight for ideas…not just land. And travel we did. Like no other country in the history of the world had ever done before. We had the money! All we needed was a steady supply of man power. And, with money, men can be bought and the risks that they’re willing to take can be upped drastically. But men are bought every day and everywhere. They’re bought with jobs and the whopping majority of us have to do them just to survive. There are, however, what the masses would view as respectable and unrespectable jobs…but even this, depends on the perspective. For instance; a guy who’s paid to cut down rainforests in, say, Brazil. The guy’s family might respect him greatly for working hard to put food on their table but, in the eyes of Americans especially, this very same guy is viewed as the absolute slime of the Earth. He’s cutting down our Earth’s precious and ancient forests and knocking off countless species of flora and fauna in the process…some of which may hold in them lifesaving medicinal properties. And what the American government needed, when it came time to start fighting idealistic wars across the globe, was not only the men to fight them…but the blind support of its united countrymen. Unquestionable support. And to this day, for the most part, they still seem to have it. Perspective is everything.
Because, it’s acceptable to criticize the military as a whole. And it’s now perfectly acceptable to criticize our government and our president. But it’s still pretty far from okay to publicly critique our soldiers…for going over there in the first place. But isn’t that where it really all begins? On the individual level. As citizens, we may elect our leaders via democratic process but…I guess I was just thinking about a different kind of vote. A more personal one. A more human one and one that comes from the heart. Because, if fighting a senseless and unnecessary war (or, at least, in such an unnecessary way) just because some super rich bureaucrats in Washington think it’s a good idea solely because their own political careers and agendas depend on it…well, then that’s not respectable. For any amount of money, it’s not. And I just wish I could implore every individual soldier to just…just refuse to do shit that they felt was wrong or shady. Just put your foot down! Say, ‘This isn’t acceptable,’ and, ‘It’s not what I signed up for’. And yet, they still had so much support back home. And yes…it must be pretty difficult to question what you’re actually doing when your mom comes into your bedroom just before you’re about to deploy and looks you straight in the eye with her own watery glance and says, “Son. I just want you to know that I love you and that I think what you’re about to do is so brave right now.” Yeah. That’s some hard shit. Nobody ever wants to be seen as a coward…especially not by their own parents! But, is it cowardice really…to think for one’s self? On the contrary; just being one’s own man or woman is one of the hardest and scariest hurdles to overcome in life.  
And still, I just wish I could urge our soldiers to question our government more and their role within in it and their true role upon this very planet. And still, I just wish I could urge all of their supporters to support them (not to diss them)…but to support them to think for themselves and be their own men and women and even put their feet down when they smell bullshit on the horizon…despite the consequences. Which, let’s face it, could be drastic and harsh.
                And all of these thoughts had run through my brain in about 2 seconds and, as much as I did want to ask and discuss such topics with the lady standing in front of us right here on the boat in Israel; I was also human enough to put my own foot down (on myself) and realize that this wasn’t exactly the most sensitive or opportune time to do so.                 
                So luckily, it was right around this time that Mendy, our trusty tour guide, made his rounds right over to the three of us and asked how we were doing.
“It is a very beautiful land, don’t you think?” he asked us proudly and in that most unique of accents that only such a tiny country could offer.
He was a good guy. An honest guy. And he’d even brought tears to Abbie’s eyes (and almost to mine) when he’d described how, when he was just a teenager and working in the IDF, they’d obtained the Wall. He told us how he was manning radio transmissions down in the Negev desert when the static word had come through. Fuzzy white. But he’d heard all that he needed to. “We got it. We got the Wall.” And it had just meant so much to him. Because he’d described to us how, when he was a little boy and before Israel had any control of Jerusalem whatsoever, how his father would take him to the highest hill in Tel Aviv and how there they would look through their binoculars and pretend to see it. That’s how much it meant to this guy and that’s how personal and how close the combat and the meaning behind that combat was to where this guy laid his head every night.
                “It’s going great,” Abbie answered him with a smile, “And it is beautiful. And it’s such a beautiful day. But…can I ask you something?”
                “Please, my dear one! Ask away!” he was so jovial without being overbearing.
                “Do you think they have any Israeli music on this boat that we could listen to instead? Because Mick and I would really love to hear some of that…from a cultural perspective.”
                And here, he just smiled back at her. He knew. And he’d already asked us once what we were exactly. And when Abbie replied with, “Well, I really don’t know yet.”
                He replied with, “That’s good!”
                He’d sensed that we didn’t quite belong with the rest of this group. And subsequently, I recalled just then how he’d told the rest of the Christians on the first morning of our first outing how he considered them to be very lucky. For they already had their savior and how the Jews were still waiting for their own. We really liked him. And we really liked our friendly bus driver for that matter and just about every Israeli and Palestinian we’d met here as a whole. Everyone was so fucking friendly and nice! And not just those employed in the hospitality industry and not just Israelis. Because, just last night, Abbie and I had become lost while walking down the side of the road in East Jerusalem. And yes. Not only did I put my girlfriend’s life in danger by coming here; I fucking pulled the Joe Schmo trick while we were here and well after dark by refusing to ask for fucking directions! So along comes this cab that screeches to a halt upon seeing us…and we were a little apprehensive to say the least. And this guy rolls down a window and, from the darkness of his cab, beckons us, “Get in.” And so we did; not knowing whether or not we’d be held for ransom within the hour. But sure enough; this turned out to be a Palestinian cabbie and he did, after a couple miles, drop us off exactly where we were heading…but here’s the clincher. He actually refused payment. And I tried. I was like, “Come on, man. It was totally cool of you and you rescued us in fact. Because, honestly man, we were fucking lost.”
                “No, my friend,” and his voice was firm, “First time to Jerusalem?”’
                To which we both answered, “Yes.”
                “Then first time in my cab is free.”
                He did give us his card and everything but it was surprisingly without any sort of sales pitch. And he wouldn’t even take a tip!
                It was just confusing, I guess. Not the cab ride but how so many friendly people could be living in an area so riddled with violence on every side. And yet remain so friendly and impartial to tourists! He didn’t ask us if we were Jewish. He could have never known for sure. Which only proved that he didn’t really care.
                “Of course, my beautiful lady! Please excuse me while I see if they have some other music to play.”
                “Of course, Mendy,” she answered, “And thank you!”
                “Thank you, Mendy!” I added too, “You’re the best.”
                And, on the rocky boat, that made him smile as he walked away.
                He didn’t have to try, though, as Tiberias’s shoreline was now fastly approaching. That is, we’d barely have time to listen to one more song anyway. But he did try as we saw him talking with this ship’s first mate.   
                Before the boat landed, though, somebody on board must have asked him a question or something and even persisted in the asking of it once the group was, as a whole, back on dry land. And I could only assume so because Mendy, who  so far had always been of an extremely cheerful disposition, seemed suddenly agitated and short.
                “Why do you ask this?! Do you ever ask a person this?! No! No, you do not.”
                And, as the group was now clumped back up together while we were making our way uphill to some point unknown; I couldn’t quite tell whom he was addressing. But, at the same time, I guess I really didn’t have to think too hard in order to figure out just what the inquiry had been that had set him off.
                But for Abbie and I, as Americans too, it was just embarrassing.