Little Secrets– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

“Don’t look,” said my friend Alon. “But the former Shin Bet chief just sat down at the table to our right.”

I gazed intently into my soy latte and then, without moving my head, squinted over in the direction of said table.

illustration by Avi Katz

“All I see is a blur,” I said. “I think I need to get my peripheral vision checked.”

“No, that’s really the way he looks,” said Alon.

Alon is a correspondent for one of the major dailies. I’d called him in desperation on Saturday night because I had a column to prepare and had no idea what to write. Alon knows everyone and everything and I figured he’d be able to slip me a scoop.

“Meet me at 10 a.m. in the Aroma Café on Arlosoroff Street,” he told me. “We’ll brainstorm. And it’s a good place to pick up a tidbit or two.”

The cafe was buzzing at mid-morning. Nearly every table was taken, and at least one person at each table was a familiar face. Over the bar hung a large sign with large letters: “Aroma Arlosoroff: A Quiet Spot For Intimate Encounters.” The morning sun flooded in through the plate glass windows that made up three of the café’s four sides.

“It’s where I meet my most confidential sources,” Alon whispered as we walked through the door. “If you come here, you gotta know how to keep a secret.”

“I see there’s free WiFi,” I said.

“Hey, stop staring,” Alon hissed.

“But that guy over there, surrounded by the paparazzi,” I whispered as we ordered our coffees at the counter. “I mean, I can barely see him through the flashing cameras, but isn’t that the tv celebrity-cum-writer-cum-pop singer-cum-political messiah who’s thinking of announcing his candidacy for the Knesset?”

Alon leaned over to me conspiratorially. “A guy I know who’s deep—very deep—at the Weizmann Institute says that he’s ordered 119 clones of himself so that he himself can occupy every single slot on his slate. But promise not to tell anyone.”

“And that blonde who people keep butting in front of at the cash register—isn’t that the former leader of the opposition? You know who I mean—Tziona whatshername, no not Tziona, Tzruria, or maybe it’s Tzilla …”

“No, I think it’s Tzahala or something like that—wait, it’ll come to me in a minute,” Alon said.

“I can’t believe I don’t remember,” I said as we settled down at a table in the middle of the room. “I mean, after the incisive and passionate stands she took on … well … I think I agreed with her once about something. Oh, and look over there, it’s the president of the Bank of Israel!”

“Could I please have a cappuccino?” Tziona, Tzruria, Tzilla, or Tzahala asked quietly, but the man at the register looked straight past her.

That’s when the former Shin Bet chief arrived the next table over, bearing a tray on which were arranged six double espressos. The table, I should note, wasn’t unoccupied. A somewhat frazzled-looking young mother sat there rocking a baby carriage while she tried simultaneously to calm down the bawling four-year old girl in her lap, sip her ice coffee, and shout into her Samsung. She didn’t even notice when the stranger sat down opposite her.

“You call yourself a kindergarten teacher?” she screamed. “You’re an ogre! You hate children! How dare you tell my daughter that her mother is late picking her up! Don’t you know what I’m going through with my ex, may an Iranian ballistic missile inject fissile material straight into his groin?”

Then she looked at me and shouted even louder: “Who told you to listen?”

“Isn’t he a master of disguise?” Alon chortled. The chief downed his espressos, one by one, in quick succession. “That woman hasn’t a clue that Israel’s former top spy is sitting right next to her!”

A quartet of muscular buzz-cut young men with coiled wires coming out of their ears suddenly barreled through the door and took up positions at each corner of the café. A fanfare sounded and an angry and determined minister of defense strode through the door and went straight up to the cash register, giving the forlorn former opposition leader a push as he went by. The cashier cowered as the defense minister slammed his hand down on the counter.

“Could I please have a cappuccino?” Tziona, Tzruria, Tzilla, or Tzahala asked helplessly, but no one heard.

“My secretary called ten minutes ago to order me my usual,” he said loudly, “and she was told by the idiot who answered the phone that there is no Courvoisier to put in my Americano.”

He surveyed the room and added: “No one here should quote me on that.”

The former Shin Bet chief, who was staring vacantly into the air, said loudly and to no one in particular: “The idiot is the guy who just walked in.”

The defense minister swiveled.

“Who called me an idiot? I dare you to stand up and show yourself!”

“Ofri!” the distracted mother exclaimed as her daughter slipped out of her seat and began pouring her lemonade on her baby brother. The mother jumped up to stop her and two of the bodyguards tackled her. The defense minister strode over and held out his right hand to help her up.

“You imbecile!” the mother kept shouting into the phone. “I’ll call the mayor! I’ll go on tv and tell the world who really runs the kindergarten on Frishman Street! You think I’m lying? You know who’s sitting here next to me?”

“So now I’m an imbecile?” the defense minister said sternly as he shook her hand vigorously and wiped a spray of lemonade off his face. In the meantime Ofri bit the leg of Bodyguard A. He palmed the kid in one of his huge hands, ready to throw her through the plate-glass window, but the defense minister motioned him to put her down.

“As a defender of human rights and free speech and all that stuff,” the minister said, “I am of course willing to defend to the death your right to call me an idiot, but you should take into account that our country faces a deadly threat. A crazy, irrational Islamist regime is developing nuclear weapons that will completely change the geopolitical situation in the Middle East to our detriment. If the world does not take more concerted action by, say, July 19 at 3:30 a.m., we may have to launch a surprise preemptive attack.”

The former Shin Bet chief leaned over to Alon. “Let me tell you, off the record of course, that the defense minister is a messianic maniac who is totally out of touch with reality.”

“Don’t write that down,” Alon warned me.

“Two-tenths of a percent!” the bank president shouted into his iPhone. “The day after tomorrow we’re raising the interest rate by two-tenths of a percent. Yes, it’s final! Just make sure the announcement is embargoed until the press conference!”

“Could I please have a cappuccino?” Tziona, Tzruria, Tzilla, or Tzahala asked, in a slightly louder voice this time.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” the defense minister said to the blurry-faced erstwhile spook. “You know and I know what the public can’t know. I know that you know that I must make tough decisions based on new information that only I know and that you would know if you were still in the know but because it’s new you don’t know now, nor would you have known it even then if I’d known then what I know now about you, so who knows why you think you have the authority to naysay my judgments about what I know best. So, with regard to the newfangled notion that’s got into your noggin about newspaper notoriety, I say, nu?”

“How dare you imply that I am not a good mother!” the woman shouted into her phone.

“I can’t hear you!” the president of the Bank of Israel hollered into his phone. “Speak up, there’s a lot of noise here.”

Then, after listening a moment he said: “Well, just tell the Greek finance minister that I don’t give a booger about what happens to his economy.”

“Was that for attribution?” Alon shouted over to him, but the bank president just waved his finger.

“Hey people,” the celebrity yelled out, “whadda you say I throw my hat in the ring? Who’s gonna vote for me? Hey come on now, let me see some hands!”

Could-I-please-have-a-cappuccino?” the former leader of the opposition asked slowly and deliberately as the celebrity shoved her aside and jumped on top of the bar, waving the victory sign. Then he looked over at Alon.

“But let’s keep it quiet for now,” he said. “Because it’s not official yet.”

“Speak up, lady,” the cashier advised.

“I just want a cappuccino,” the former opposition leader said sorrowfully.

“Regular or decaf?” the cashier asked.

She hesitated.

Alon motioned for me to follow him. “This might be your chance!” he hissed. We sidled up to the counter to hear her decision.

“Well, of course, it’s a very complex issue …” she began, but by that time three other people were loudly placing their orders.

“Hey, I owe you an apology,” Alon said. “I was sure I’d get you a story, but everyone’s being so secretive today.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” I said. “I think I’ll manage.”


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