The Curious Pot

THE CURIOUS POT

Oranges once grew in the field across the road from my flat at the edge of the kibbutz. Now, a collection of expansive, self-proclaimed villas built by people who were attracted to the tranquility, nature, and comfort of the kibbutz without having to be a part of it. On my side of the road is what remains of the kibbutz – unchanged yet totally different from what its pioneering, socialist founders meant it to be. Members continue to negotiate the maze of asphalt paths on their bicycles to and from a working cow shed, factory, children’s nurseries, communal dining hall and unimaginative living units. However, one cannot help noticing the growing presence of motorized disability wheelchairs, tourist zimmers, and arrow shaped signs directing the unfamiliar to a swimming pool, restaurant or parking area. It is a community that had reluctantly succumbed to impatient financial directives, yet struggles to deny change, simultaneously.

My modest flat is in a 2-story building on columns situated between both opposing worlds. Rental is reasonable, the flat well maintained, the other three residents are friendly and mostly unobtrusive, and the location is convenient. Admittedly, there is nothing particularly special about this arrangement – except for a collection of random, albeit curious, objects in the open entrance, between the columns, that residents use as a storage area, bicycle stand, children’s play area, and plant nursery.

At first, the potted Iris that someone brought me during a recent house warming party brightened up the otherwise unremarkable window sill in the salon. But, the flower soon wilted and the leaves sagged sadly. Either I had watered it too much or too little, depending upon who was asked.

So, I resignedly decided to surrender my unhappy Iris to a collection of homeless potted plants that were unwanted or too demanding along the perimeter of the entrance. There, they could enjoy partial sunlight, an occasional breeze, and the fortuitous misdirected spray of the automatic lawn sprinkler. Nature would take its course: plants either flourished or wilted. I hoped for the best.

Next to my unfortunate Iris was a large terracotta clay pot with a solitary recently sprouted seedling. Unrecognised, unclaimed and unknown – this too sought life.
Occasionally, I would stop by my poor Iris on the way to see how it was doing. Alas, it had withered into nothingness without much of a fight. But, the young sprout quickly reached a foot tall and clearly had no intention of stopping there. It was in its element. Unashamedly, I soon forgot about my Iris as my curiosity grew about the mysterious flourishing sprout that I was determined would turn out to be anything but a common weed. I wasn’t alone. Other residents, I had noticed, glanced at the potted plant as they walked by. There was no flower, yet, but the green and serrated leaves seemed oddly familiar. There was something about the pointed shape of the leaves (seven per stem) and a central vein that extended to its tip. Wikipedia confirmed without a doubt that this seemingly benign plant was indeed, Cannabis.

Someone had the audacious Chutzpah to challenge Kibbutz policy against any sort of drugs, challenging behavior or inconsiderate expression of personal needs by openly growing Marijuana (aka, weed) in the open. How daring! How adventurous! How jealous I was! Clearly, the Kibbutz central committee concerned with community issues would not take this lightly, if they knew. The screening process that residents are subjected to left no doubt about their attitude, indeed apprehension, towards anti-social behaviors. Simply in order to rent this flat I had to submit countless documents to affirm my good standing in society, which included several written references, criminal record checks, bank statements, salary slips, medical tests, and signed oaths. Only a DNA test and a polygraph record of interrogation by special security services were omitted, although there is little doubt that this too would have been considered if permitted by the Geneva Convention on Human Rights.

So, who could it be among the other three residents in the building? The most likely suspect was Amir, a 20 year old single man who lived alone in the ground floor flat. He was neither sociable nor talkative. In fact, I don’t recall him saying anything. Amir would quietly slip to his work in the Kibbutz carpentry shop and back to his solitary flat without a word – avoiding eye contact, and smiling out of embarrassment rather than happiness. Only once did I manage to get a brief and surprising peak into his private life when he momentarily left the door of his flat ajar while taking out the trash. There, in his living room, were no chairs, no sofas, no wide screen televisions and not a single house plant (real or otherwise) or decorative wall display but a full sized snooker table. One can’t think of a pool table without conjuring up a picture of bottled beer and cigarettes. Drugs are not far off. Did the reclusive Amir ’party’?

But, Amir would hardly have the courage to challenge Kibbutz establishment and defy the law in this way, let alone interact with other people. Everything about him screamed caution and pursuit of the illusory safety that is promised by social disengagement. Amir had a lot of secrets, but openly growing cannabis was not one of them.

Perhaps it was the busy young couple, Gadi and Yael, next door? He did some sort of high tech office job in the nearby city of Tiberias. She periodically taught Israeli folk dance whenever not consumed by the needs of her two young children, who were absolutely adorable when asleep. Frequently the children played in the small landing between our two flats, which was likely to be more of the parents’ idea than theirs. Yael was pleasant enough but an anxious type – always worrying about this or that and endlessly seeking reassurance from anyone ready to stop and listen. She had this revealing compulsion to flick her hair over her shoulder when she spoke – more out of nervous habit than need. One could easily imagine the couple taking a stolen puff of the magic weed to calm down after a hectic day once the children were finally asleep. Then again, to openly flaunt the law and kibbutz policy was highly unlikely given their daily struggle to cope with life’s stressors and keep their heads above water level. Their boat could not risk any additional load or disturbance without losing balance and sinking. I am sure that they knew that. On the other hand, if they were not using cannabis to smooth the edges, maybe someone should have recommended it to them.

Mr and Mrs Schwartz were, on the surface, the least likely culprits in this mystery. In most Western societies they would be considered Pensioners and expected to take up their conventional role on a well-padded recliner across from the television set and commenting on how the world has changed, soured, lost all meaning. But, Kibbutz living is good to seniors in that everyone is encouraged to contribute according to their ability rather than status. Founding members of the kibbutz, Gideon and Shula Schwartz remained as active as ever within the kibbutz and as residents in our building. Gideon – with his relentless sunrise exercise routine at the entrance to the building – was determined to regularly embarrass me as I sleepily stumbled my way with a plastic coffee mug to the car each morning.” At your age, young man, you should be taking a bicycle to work, “he would cajole, “That coffee is a drug. Try carrot juice each morning,” he would add. Gideon made health gurus look amateur.

Mrs Schwartz was more reserved, but as busy as a bee. She spent a lot of time in the open entrance foyer tidying up things, tending to the plants, putting up decorations, and feeding the stray dogs. Never in one place for long, Mrs Schwartz seemed to be everywhere at the right time – like the time when my bicycle went missing. Shula noticed that I had taken it to the post office earlier and suggested that my bike was probably there, which it was. Or, the time when the water main cracked and Shula was there with a large plastic bucket, which she then used to water the plants. Ever practical, always vigilant and usually helpful, she has got to know that cannabis was growing under her window sill. Why would she keep quiet about it? Who was she protecting? Was she caring for this plant?

As much as I tried, I could not conjure up an image of Mr and Mrs Schwartz smoking reefer in their bedroom at night, without laughing. Besides, everyone knew that their real presence in the rental building was to spy on the tenants for the kibbutz and to ensure that no problems develop. But, what about their strange son who visited on occasion? Rumour had it that he was screwed up from one of the wars; the one that was too many. He escaped the kibbutz and the country for several years either to lose himself in the Himalayan mist of Dharamsala, India or to discover himself through ritualistic Chakra chanting. Periodically, he would appear to pick up the mail and reconnect, briefly, with the reasons why he remained anchored to the kibbutz as well as the reasons why he left it, which were frequently the same. Was he planting cannabis along regular stops in his global journey in order to ensure an available supply of the medicinal spiritual enhancing drug? Hmmm! This sounded rather logical and bordering on a micro conspiracy of some sorts, but a bit too sophisticated to expect from someone who appears in a purple robe, sandals, and knotted long hair.

Weeks passed and the cannabis plant soon reached two feet tall but had yet to flower. I paid close attention to see if someone lingered longer than expected when passing by the illicit pot. One evening I noticed Mrs Schwartz and Yael standing by the pot and whispering to each other. Upon joining them, I calmly commented, “Some plants seem to be growing quite nicely here. Not so my Iris. Maybe someone is caring for the others.” Rather subtle, I thought.
Mrs Schwartz smiled and said, “It seems to be getting out of hand. The Kibbutz worries when people take liberties without going through proper procedures as required by the committee.”
“How are you settling in to your flat?” asked Yael.” I noticed that you have regular visitors,” she added.
“Yes, was that incense emanating from your flat the other night?” inquired Mrs Schwartz.
“Incense,” I asked?
“It was late at night, about two in the morning,” Yael said, “I thought it could be a fire,” she added.

Suddenly, I realized that I too am a suspect. Indeed, being the newest resident I am most likely the prime suspect. Had someone noticed that I had been checking progress of this plant regularly? Were my friends attracting unwanted attention upon leaving? Did my choice of music, casual dress and affinity for late night snacks fit some sort of undesirable profile? My mind raced.

“Don’t worry, Yael. The smoke alarms would have sounded if it was a fire,” I explained.

“So, it must have been incense, or something else,” Mrs Schwartz concluded.

“Yes, incense,” I confirmed before excusing myself for a late appointment – ensuring that I held my head erect and retrieved the car keys from my pocket without fumbling. Somehow, I had the familiar sense of guilt for something that I did not do.

Some of my friends thought it amusing. Those who had a particular interest in this sort of horticulture seemed to visit more regularly as if waiting for the right moment to make good use of the plant. I, on the other hand, anxiously hoped that the plant would be gone, more concerned to avoid suspicion than finding out who was responsible. And then, it happened. One morning, on my way to work, the pot was vacant – pulled up, somewhat crudely, from its roots – leaving a large hole where the cannabis plant once was. There was a void.

Life settled back to its normal routine leaving residents with polite and superficial brief interactions upon passing each other on the stairs. Someone had placed a large barbecue grill in the open foyer, and a new palm plant replaced the cannabis sprout in the terracotta clay pot. There were no culprits, no curious suspicions, and little intrigue. Never did I discover who owned this curious pot. Few noticed the migrating birds perched on the balcony railing above the clay pot that stopped by along the way to a nearby nature reserve from Eastern Europe and fed on seeds along the way.

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Where is David Schmidt?

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Ever Have One of Those Days?

Ever have one of those days?

 

  1. Event: Tuesday morning no hot water. Shave anyway, but can’t shower (at least not without making a lot of unmanly high frequency vocalisations).

Action: Look at combi-boiler downstairs and notice low pressure indicated. So I add water.

Event: Still no hot water.

Action: Notice fault code on display of combi-boiler. Look at manual and discover that “no flame is detected.”

Event: Can’t figure out how to re-light boiler.

Action: Call annual emergency boiler service and ask them to call my mobile phone, they say that they cannot attend to problem until tomorrow. They will call my mobile phone, which I gave them again. No hot water or heating.

  1. Wednesday: Event: Engineer calls home and speaks to Rina who gives her mobile number to call (instead of mine), then she calls me and says the engineer (apparently part of the Royal Family) has agreed to come and inspect within 30 minutes.

Action: I rush home and try to call engineer (either Andy or Wayne) but his number is unlisted. Make it home.

Event: Engineer arrives eventually and fixes boiler within one minute by pressing a secret button. But, says it sounds funny and begins to fiddle with it. After considerable time says, “Mate, your boiler has packed up. It needs a new fan. Earliest is tomorrow . Someone will call to arrange installation. “

Action: I call service and ensure the part is ordered, remind them to call my mobile phone when they can arrange work. No hot water or heating.

  1. Thursday, Event: Nobody calls, so I go to work. Rina calls me and says the engineer called her again and said he had left her a message, which she did not check. Says he will be at house within 30 minutes.

Action: I try to call engineer but number incorrect, get another number and leave message and text saying that I am on my way. Cancel an appointment at work and rush off to house in car.

Event: Car suddenly breaks down (clutch I think) on busy steep road near Apex Corner. Blocking huge construction lorry and rubbish lorry. Three big blokes push car to a side street.

Action: Try calling Rina, but goes to messages, same with engineer’s number and other numbers. Go to nearby mini cab office but told it will take at least 20 minutes to get a cab since all are busy due to the pouring rain (forgot to say it was raining). Wonder if I should call recovery service and wait, or wait for response from boiler engineer. Get small pack of cigarettes after abstaining for over one month, and sit in car trying to call someone, anyone.

Event: 90 minutes nobody answering phone. Still raining. Turn off car radio because everything is irritating.

Action: left voice and text messages, same with clients that I needed to cancel. Nobody is answering their mobile phone. Conspiracy?

Event: Colleague of engineer calls me and says his mate will be in the house within an hour.

Action: Take mini cab (£12) home and wait. Call garage to ensure I can tow car to them later. Look at website to buy another car.

Event: 13:12, solitary wrap on door. It is the Wayne. Says he has had a busy and difficult day. I say, “me too.” We look at each other, briefly. There is an understanding of some sorts.  Brings in tools and begins to take apart the boiler. After 40 minutes says it will be working fine once it builds up pressure. I sign a blue form and he leaves.

 

PART II : THE CAR

 

Action: I call Recovery Service and give details. Told that I need to be with car before a recovery vehicle is called. Will have to take cab and call again.

Event: Walk to bus stop and discover bus 614 can take me to Apex Corner where the car is. Comes every 10 minutes. 40 minutes later finally catch the bus. Cost £2, instead of £12. Call Recovery Service and they arrive in 30 minutes. Car towed to garage.

Event: Told that car cannot be examined until Tuesday , which means it will sit there for five days.

        Action: Ask to speak with manager and “encourage” him to inspect car today, which he says is impossible. He is very apologetic and polite despite my arrogance.  They probably think I am a typical arrogant American, but I don’t care. Got some of my angst out.

Event: Take bus to nicely heated home.

        Action: Take a shower, make self cup of coffee, turn on TV news and PC, and suddenly get urge to buy lottery ticket.

Event: Call from garage saying they have already inspected the car and suggested work that will cost me £900, or they can ask “sales” to contact me about trading in.  Not sure if this is good or bad news.

        Action: Realise it is a Bank Holiday long weekend. I will manage. May get new car. House is warm and just had a good shower. Will have glass of wine with dinner.

 

 

 

 

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The “Good” Big Brother

Great! The anti smoking campaign is really having a significant result in those countries that have adopted strict laws restricting tobacco smoking. The air is cleaner, the lungs are healthier, and smoking has lost its appeal. What is next? Have you noticed a campaign against fast foods with high caloric, fat, and sugar content? This campaign is picking up speed in much the same way that the anti smoking campaign did. Soon, certain foods will be heavily taxed, banned, and even prohibited. Good? Of course! Then what? You can be sure that this is not the end. Perhaps, a campaign and legislation against certain treatment and use of animals for sport, amusement, domestication and even food. Perhaps a ban on Kosher and Halal food preparation and medical research on animal rights basis? Then, perhaps our “good” big brother will decide to address, and subsequently dictate, issues related to the environment, noise pollution (e.g. loud concerts and headphones), responsible and regular excercise, risky sports, “unnecessary travel”, porn, television viewing, “innappropriate” communications, red meat, all alcohol, bean bags, tight fitting trousers, high heels, bicyling at night, etc. Good? Who do we want to make these decisions for us? To what extent do we want others to dictate our lives? What will become of independent and innovative ideas? What manner of fiction will come out of a society that has been conditioned to defer independent thought and responsibility? Will parents feel empowered to raise their own children? Oh my! Oh my!

 

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9/11 and the Holocaust?

Many recall exactly where they were, and what they were doing when they heard about the horrible Twin Towers tragedy on the 11th of September 2001. I recall that I was treating a Holocaust Survivor from Germany at the Holocaust Survivor Centre in Hendon. Someone knocked on the door and said that something horrible is happening in NYC and that there is a TV next door in the community centre. Other Holocaust Survivors were watching the event and appeared upset. So, with the permission of my client, the session was interrupted so that we can join the small group watching the event unfold. I prepared myself for eruption of repressed fears, anger, and panic among the Holocaust Survivors. As a Clinical Psychologist, I knew what to do. Lucky I was on hand.
Indeed, there was panic, shock, crying, and stress among the viewers of this live event on television. But, it was the staff, not the Holocaust Survivors, that worried me the most. Most of the Survivors expressed sadness for the victims and anger towards the perpetrators, but quickly returned to their usual routine at the community centre. My client wanted to resume the therapy session, which I reluctantly agreed to do.
Their cool and detached reaction concerned me. Have these Survivors become indifferent to suffering? Were they denying stress and fear? I had to know. I reflected my surprise at the relative easy reaction of my client to her and wondered what she made of this. Her reaction was, ” When you see terrible things like this, your first thought should be to get on with your life otherwise you will be a victim too. This doesn’t mean that you should not be concerned, but you cannot help anybody if you stop living your life. In Germany we saw and heard about what was happening to the Polish Jews, but instead of deciding on a definite course of action, we looked for any reason to deny the significance of what was happening to the Jews by philosophising, writing articles, setting up committees, and avoiding. There is a time for that sort of stuff, but now now. Now, everyone must get on with their lives and find these bad people and kill them quickly. Then we can think about it later.”

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Why the EU will fail

WHY THE EUROPEAN UNION WILL FALL

The initial rationale for the European Union (EU) was to establish a unified body that could compete, or at least endure, growing global developments in China, Brazil, India, Russia and the USA. It made business sense. But, then it lost direction and became an over inflated, expensive and anti capitalist enterprise aiming towards the spread of wealth throughout Europe. The reason for this is simple: Communists.
Prior to the fall of Communism, there were plenty of die hard socialists and communists in Europe who had successfully implemented wide ranging and generous social programmes paid for by high taxes (the highest in the world). Pension age was lowered, the work week was cut, health, social and housing was free or largely subsidized, and borders were open in order to promote openness, multicultural diversity, and free movement. With the fall of Communism, these socialists adopted a new project towards the same aim. The European Union.
These individuals represent the opposite of capitalism. Since the establishment of the EU their actions have less to do with the original aim and more to do with socialism. Liberal, intellectual, naïve, and misguided “do gooders” argued that all Europeans must be equal in order to become a unified entity .Their decisions will lead to the collapse of the EU.

Examples
1. Disparity in salaries and fees must be equalised. A dentist in Spain was charging less and making less than a comparable dentist in Germany. The EU action was to raise the standard, fees, and salaries of dentists in Spain. A business decision would be according to supply and demand. In other words, German dentists would eventually reduce their fees and accept less profit.
2. Pension age and work conditions were more generous in France than in Portugal. EU decision: reduce retirement age in Portugal and reduce the work week. Business: the opposite.
3. Disparity in cultural amenities and institutions within Europe. EU decision: build, borrow, tax, and build. Business decision: reduce reliance on public funds for this and encourage private charities and funding.
4. Over fishing of the seas: EU decision: talk, talk, and talk. Business: allow prices to shoot up so that fewer people will buy fish. Meanwhile limit fishing (despite expected strikes) for a moratorium period until fish populations become sustainable. In the long run: more fish and lower prices.
5. Influx of poor, uneducated immigrants from the third world. EU decision: open borders, detention camps, resentment and loss of European values. Business: limit immigration to those who can contribute to the EU wealth.
6. Wealthy people relocating outside of the EU. EU decision: nothing. Business: encourage investment with tax relief and facilitating development by reducing bureaucracy.
7. Import of cheap goods from China. EU decision: Pressure EU to purchase EU manufactured goods, which meant higher prices, less competition and inability of EU to sell goods globally. Business: TAX imports from manufacturers that do not treat employees and the environment at reasonable level, while encouraging EU manufacturers to be more competitive in their practices instead of compensating them financially (like is done with EU farmers, etc).
8. Lack or competitive spirit and drive by EU business. EU decision: nothing. Business: sink or swim.
9. Expensive health, housing, social care. EU decision: keep giving and print more money. Business: ensure FUNDAMENTAL care, but nothing more. Not everyone will have the resources to buy luxury items, but nobody will starve, go cold in the winter, or be unable to educate their children.
10. Inefficiency in taxation by countries and individuals: EU decision: complain and offer more time and loans. Business decision: enforce taxation, demand that countries apply what they have agreed to implement, and accept that countries that do not profit will have less to tax and therefore fewer resources.

Until the EU adopts a more business approach to these matters, it will struggle. The EU might not disappear, but will gradually become less relevant, powerful, and meaningful.
There is not a single communist country in the world. Former communists have long abandoned their naïve ideas and adopted a very aggressive capitalist agenda. Look at China, Russia, etc.
WAKE UP EUROPE AND GET REAL!

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The Story Slam

The Story Slam

I arrived early, as usual, and squeezed behind a corner table with a small beer and the daily crossword. The Lamb Pub was exactly as described in their web site: quaint ,unassuming and English. It was the kind of place where stories were told, rather than made. Most concerned office intrigues, football highlights, and holiday plans. Soon, my son, Tal, arrived after a long day at work. He, too, had some stories to share. Between my work and his friends we had few opportunities to meet without distraction. When he suggested going to the Story Slam, I did not hesitate. Within 90 minutes the competition would begin somewhere upstairs. Contestants had five minutes to tell a story. There were no other rules. I was curious.

His friend, Josh, soon joined us with his dad, Mike. A young colleague of mine, James, was also in the area and decided to attend. For most it was a good excuse to break the routine: an evening without TV, chores, or boredom.

The competition, however, was never to occur. Perhaps it was because of the Football match. Maybe Monday evenings were too close to the preceding weekend. It could have been due to poor publicity. At any rate, only ten people arrived for the event – mostly story tellers who looked anxious to impress an audience. Notwithstanding, we agreed to go ahead without a competition, devoid of an audience, and foregoing the five minute rule.

Standing was discarded in favour of sitting around a large table. Then, without any particular order or procedure, people began telling their tale. Some, who had simply come to listen, joined in, as well. The informal atmosphere encouraged it.

I began to wonder whether I might join in, as well. Should my story be funny or dramatic? Should I tell a true story, or one based on fantasy? Maybe it would be better to keep quiet and play it safe, for once?

Reaching across the table, I gently tugged at Tal’s shirt sleeve, trying not to disturb the others. Unfortunately, my hand slipped over Tal’s unfinished pint almost causing a disaster. This immediately summoned the attention of the others. “Whew, that was close!” I remarked.

“What’s up Dad?” whispered Tal.

“Do you think I should tell a story?” I asked.

“What?”

“I mean, if they should call me. What story should I tell? Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.” I explained.

“Too late, Dad,” he said.

Yes, perhaps he was right. Haven’t I embarrassed him enough in the past? There was the time when we arrived a day early to the airport because I misread the ticket. Then, there was the regretful incident at my 50th birthday party in which I made a fool of myself by choosing to sing before others. Tal wasn’t exactly pleased with that. The same with funky dancing at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Finally, there were the relentless and senseless jokes. For some reason, the humour of fathers of friends is always funnier that your own father’s jokes. Then again, Tal’s embarrassment is not always the consequence of my humour, but frequently its aim. To me, that is funny.

Never mind, I thought to myself. Perhaps Tal is preoccupied with the gorgeous blonde who was sitting next to him. I had noticed some stolen glances between them, already. Ahh, to be young again. If only I knew then, what I know now. The blonde is pretty, albeit rather talkative. I was certain that she owned a T-shirt that read, “I am trouble, but worth it,” at home. Go for it, Tal, but be careful.

I too was needlessly afraid of rejection at his age. I recall that we used to frequent a particular club with the intention of getting lucky. Alas, we returned alone most evenings to finish a pizza, or something else, by ourselves.

This all changed dramatically on one particular evening. Sitting at the bar, in our colourful polyester shirts, we invented The Rejection Game. Rules were inscribed on a napkin. Points were to be awarded for different imaginary scenarios of rejection. Asking a girl to dance might result in a simple negative, which would be worth 10 points. A slap on the face would be awarded 25 points. The best was to be thrown out by two brutish doormen, who happened to be her brothers. That was worth a whopping 100 points. Whoever achieved the most points at the end of the evening would have his entire bar bill paid for by the others. It was a win-win situation. Suddenly the fear of rejection was gone. Of course, we never managed to finish the game because we were too busy dancing.

I scanned the faces of others around the table looking for an inspiration, a cue, a leading word. All had a glass of lager or wine in front of them. Only one poor chap unwisely ordered a full dinner. He must have expected to sit at a back table and enjoy his dinner as everyone was focussed on the performance at the front. Suddenly, he found himself sitting amongst the others, in full view. He was an intellectual type: frail, spectacled, pale, and plainly dressed. Most likely he was reared with manners. He sat patiently while others were speaking as his roast beef dinner got cold. The French call the British, “Roast Beef”. I suppose it is better than being called, “Frogs,” by the British. Funny, this custom, of calling people by their national dish. I guess the Italians are called, “Linguine’s”. The Germans are “Krauts,” and the Americans are “Hot Dogs.” Personally, I wouldn’t want to be called something like “A Gefilte Fish,” but, wouldn’t mind reference to an olive or falafel ball. Anyway, the French say that the British struggle with their food, rather than enjoying it. There might be something true about that.

Next to him sat another young man who told a story about wine. Clearly it was something that he knew quite a lot about. Despite a concerted effort to appear casual and somewhat breezy, this public speaker was anything but. For him, wine provide more than simply culinary interest. It was his Valium, his jaw grease, his fruity confidence builder. I usually have no trouble speaking in familiar groups. There was, however, one occasion that I wished I had taken a shot of whiskey before speaking. It was a brief telephone interview on LBC talk radio. As I held the received to my ear, I could hear the tail end of the previous caller. “Just don’t make a fool of yourself,” I said to myself. Thousands are listening. All I needed to do was to sound relatively sound, professional, and rational. I rehearsed, in my head, what I planned on saying when my turn arrived. Then, the radio presenter wrapped up the preceding conversation and turned to me. “We have David on the line from Southgate. Hello David, this is James O’Brian,” he said. I replied, “Hello David,” unable to stop my foolish lips from moving as I spoke. “No, you are David. I am James O’Brian,” he cynically said. Yup, I managed to make a fool of myself even before I said anything significant. Wine! Why didn’t I drink a few glasses of wine before speaking?

To his left sat an attractive young woman who had just finished telling her yarn. To be honest, I cannot recall the content of her story. It had something to do with a bird in a box, or something like that. But, I did like the way she told stories. There was something adorable, dramatic, and endearing about her. She had attentive eyes and a huggable body. I could easily listen to her for hours as long as it was not important. I would give anything to have the guts to give her a nice, comforting embrace. Nothing nasty, just nice, almost fatherly. Then, I would have to apologise, no doubt. The last time I apologised to a woman was catastrophic. I had received an invitation to join old friends at a school reunion in California. I wouldn’t be able to attend, but the letter interested me. It was from Patti, “an old friend.” I had often wondered what happened to Patti. We had a thing many years ago, when I considered myself God’s gift to women. Hedonistic pursuits overwhelmed good judgment. Patti’s considerate, caring attention to me was hardly appreciated. Basically, I treated her like shit. I sent Patti a letter explaining reasons for my absence. I also took the opportunity to offer a full, albeit belated, apology for my behaviour. Several weeks later, Patti responded in a letter. “ Thank you so much for your thoughtful apology. I am sure that Patti would have appreciated it. Unfortunately, I am not the Patti that you are thinking about. We have never met, but I have known men very much like you and accept your apology on their behalf and on behalf of all the women who have been in similar relationships. “

To my side quietly sat James. He didn’t tell a story. He just listened. A young promising psychiatrist, James remained unaware of his potential. Recent cuts in the health budget had brought into question his future career options. He looked tired, demotivated and somewhat fatherless. I wished that I could encourage him to believe in himself. Few careers provide consistent pleasure. At times, the work is boring. At times it is challenging, At times it is exciting. I recall a similar episode in my professional life as a clinical psychologist. It is not always easy to remain normal when you are a shrink. Someone had once suggested that I engage in creative hobbies to replenish my energy. I purchased a block of paper and some water colours, and began painting familiar objects in the clinic after hours. There was a painting of the flower pot, a shelf of books, my desk, and the telephone. One morning I had left the art pad on the small coffee table. A couple, who arrived for marital therapy, began flipping through the pad, without realising that they were mine. “Oh, that is wonderful,” remarked the wife. “And look at the vibrant colours here,” said the husband. Gee, I thought to myself, maybe I have talent after all. Then, without warning, the wife looked to me and said, “Gee, Doctor, these paintings are really superb. We didn’t know that you receive children for therapy.” So, I started writing.

Perhaps, my most exciting job as a psychologist was as the consultant for the Dolphin Reef Therapy Project, in Eilat. Surprisingly, I had few opportunities to actually swim with the dolphins, Mostly I remained on shore and supervised others who conducted dolphin-assisted therapy. One afternoon, a young swimmer approached me and asked about the two tailed dolphin. I thought little of this, but Maya, the dolphin trainer, immediately knew what he meant. All swimmers were immediately instructed to vacate the water as available staff, including myself, jumped in. Maya realised that one of the dolphins was about to give birth. We took positions along the floating circumference of the lagoon to ensure that the newborn dolphin does not get caught up in the net and tragically drowns. He emerged from the female dolphin like a torpedo. His cetacean mother, Domino, could hardly keep up with his wild and haphazard thrashing. Maya would yell, “Heads up David, he is heading in your direction!” Eventually, Domino gained confident control of her new baby dolphin. Surprisingly, a second birth was to occur later that day. Sadly, at this stage in my career I sought less adventurous pursuits. Not so with Josh, Tal’s friend, who was sitting next to me. As a newly qualified doctor, Josh had his entire career before him. He was about to go on an extended experience in India before continuing training in London. Josh was the kind of person who appears laid back, non conforming and mischievous, but would receive the highest marks in his class. A conventional career he would not have.

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Like myself, Josh’s father, Mike, sought opportunities to steal some quality moments with his son. We meet infrequently, but when we do it is as natural as chatting with a friendly neighbour over the shared garden fence. Mike has many experiences that he could share. He is the one that I would go to if I have a question about anything practical: cars, DIY, literature and films. Most importantly, Mike is a good person. We are of similar age, hence in the same boat. Youth is recaptured in memories or vicariously through our children. I have, alas, long given up the health club. For a while, I went to the gym every morning before work. I worked up a decent sweat on the treadmill, took a few laps in the pool, relaxed in the Jacuzzi, showered, and arrived bright and refreshed for work. A knee problem prohibited treadmills, which left the swim and Jacuzzi. Then, a chronic ear infection cut the swim from my routine. Eventually, I arrived at the club for a relaxing Jacuzzi and refreshing shower before having a full breakfast at a local diner on my way to work. Finally, my wife, Rina, wondered if the monthly membership fees were worth it since mysteriously I seemed to be gaining weight rather than the opposite.

Another presenter told a humorous tale about vegetarians. The ugly truth about meat eating was drummed into us with gory details of a fishing trip that went drastically wrong. The last, and only, time that I went fishing was with my old friend Danny in the Okefanokee Swamp in Florida. We stayed with his grandpa, Bubba. Danny thought they would get a kick out of my New York accent. “You might omit the fact that you are Jewish,” he said, “unless you want to sleep in the car.” Bubba took us in his old Ford pickup to a secluded river bank within the swamp. Cat fish’n is done at night, at full moon. Several were caught, cleaned, and deep fried in corn flour and salt at the camp site. We enjoyed the meal as Bubba refilled with his favourite illegal brand of moonshine, “White Lightening.”

Danny drove the pickup home as Bubba collapsed in the bed of the truck. The dirt roads that unimaginatively crisscrossed the marsh were virtually indistinguishable at night, or by day. Every now and then, Danny would nudge his grandpa out of his alcoholic stupor for directions. He would barely sit up, glance at the surroundings as if reading a road sign on the highway, and say, “Turn right at the next turn and then left at the tree where we shot that bear,” or something like that. By dawn we hit tarmac.

Tal elbowed me back to reality. It was apparently my turn to tell a story. Nothing came to mind. I raised my glass and toasted the group. “Thanks for the wonderful stories, but, I think I will pass,” is what I said.

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