Sunday, January 20, 2013

Drugs & Couchsurfing



- Hey guys! You don't have to be afraid of me, I should be afraid of you, teenagers late at night on this lonely dark street. Can I borrow a telephone? I just came from Europe and don't have a phone. I'm supposed to meet a man who lives in that house.
- That house?
- Pretty spooky house.
- You said it. Who lives there?
- A Couchsurfing host. I've had a bad feeling about him all day.
- And look at that place. Can you see inside the glass door behind all that jungle?
- Yes. A long passage with small lights at ground level, dark and tangled growths along the walls. Weird.
- You're going in?
- Let's see if he's home.

- Sorry I'm late. Come in.
- What's that fire doing here? I've never seen such a large, what? Fire dish? Brasier? More than 3 feet wide I'd say.
- I wouldn't know. I share this patio with my neighbors. I don't get in their lives. Just go around.
- It looks like it's for ritual, sacrifices.
- Come this way. Turn right around the building. There's no door.
- Why not?
- We don't need it.
- No one dares come in?
- Is that bag all you have?
- I have another bag with the rabbis in Beverly Hills.
- Sit down, do what you want. I'm in the middle of something.
- What?
- I smoke. There are stores on the main street if you need anything.
- If you have coffee or tea, that'd be fine.
- Coffee, maybe. But wait until I'm finished.

While I'm waiting I connect my computer to the internet, check mail. My fighter friend from the rabbis writes I can come to him. So what I doing here, I ask myself? This room, with three fans, ceiling, wall, standing move softly and sonorously, small lights in many many corners, tribal art, small figurines, unframed paintings sitting here and there on shelves and sills of closed off windows and shelves. I can hear my host coughing and spitting, coughing and spiting. Periodically he emerges from the bathroom holding a complicated pipe, small containers and clearing instruments I can't recognize. Incense is burning somewhere. My host: with his tunic sleeves rolled up, his immense belly protruding under it, with arms crossed scratching his hands and wrists and forearms methodically, higher then lower then higher then lower. As he talks, listing the nationality of all the guests that preceded me his eyes wander the room, jerking back and forth, briefly settling on me, then jumping away. He writes philosophy, has published 20 books. I don't speak ironically to him about how he practices his knowledge of how to live well.

A young woman's head appears in the kitchen window, calls out my host's name. Does he want anything from the Mexican restaurant? No, he doesn't. I stand up, introduce myself, ask could I go with her or would she get something for me?  "No. I don't care about you," she explains.

I don't get angry. I try not to get angry at anyone. Last time I got angry I got really angry, but it really wasn't my fault. I know that's what they all say. But here's the story.

It was the end of the Tel Aviv summer, the hottest summer in living memory, still extremely hot and near 100% humidity. Unbearable, except it was bearable, all you had to do was take it as a vacation from the responsibility of living like a human being. Anything creative was out of the question. Maintenance was the best to be hoped for.

So walking down the street on the way to visit my former English student and sometime supplier of English editing work I passed an art opening, asked what it was all about and was invited in. Uninteresting art. That's what I said, too, when a man approached, introduced himself, asked who I was. Didn't I like abstract art? Sure I did, but not this. What was wrong with it?  To be honest, I answered, it doesn't looking interesting enough for me to bother finding out why it doesn't interest me.
- You don't think you're rude saying that to me? I explained the artist is my friend?
- You know, it's hot! And it's Israel!
- What about it being Israel?
- Israelis want everyone to know that they don't accept the principle of caring about strangers. They're rude to strangers just to make that clear. They act for their own reasons and for what those reasons tell them to do. You don't agree?
- I wouldn't put it exactly that way, but I do agree.
- OK. So don't call me rude, call me an Israeli.
- Are you an Israeli?
- I could be if wanted. Will that do?
- Would you like something to drink? Come to the table. Have a cup of wine if there's some left.

He pours me two fingers of wine into a plastic cup, says he has to go speak with the other guests. From that moment things get strange. My heart gets my attention pounding in my chest, my sleeves feel heavy from the sweat weighing them down, I'm dizzy and walk down the street again towards the English student's house. But when I get there he's not home, his wife is and comes out into the hall to give me that information, and I snap, rage at her for committing the crime of being Israeli. She tries to defend her national honor, but this thing I am, an American newly drugged by an Israel rages clear and deep against her, and then goes to the Couchsurfing host he's arranged to stay with, collapsing immediately on the couch once in the door.

That's what I'm thinking, when my Santa Monica couchsurfing host emerges finally from the bathroom, with glass pipe and handful of small bottles and goes into the kitchen, then comes out with an extra large mug of coffee. He sets down a small packet, a sample of instant coffee. That's what's inside, he explains, but he added, he said, something to make it better.

I look at the little packet, then at the deep black color of what looks like half a quart of liquid. I think about him adding something to make it better.

Since you are reading this you shouldn't be wondering what happened next. I got out of there!