Brine Drain–“Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Avi Katz -- Brine Drain

illustration by Avi Katz

When Daniela woke up she saw Jupiter glowing brightly in the sky. Or was it Venus? She would be able to tell if she could find her binoculars. Jupiter would have its four Galilean moons ranged around it and Venus would show a phase. Sometimes, while out camping in the Negev, she had been able to see, or think she saw, those distinguishing marks with her naked eye. But everything was blurry now. She felt for the binoculars, which should be here beside her in the tent, but she couldn’t find them. B, her little brother from hell, must have taken them. Whenever she needed something badly, it turned out that he’d run off with it. She tried to lift herself up on her elbows to see if B was with her in the tent, but her head suddenly went woozy and she fell back down on her back.

“It’s ok,” a friendly voice said. “Take your time.”

Daniela glanced to her right and saw a woman who looked like a Fox News anchor sitting in a wooden chair next to her. She herself was lying on a cot. What she’d thought was a planet was in fact a naked light bulb. The walls were bare. She knew the scene from countless movies. And now she remembered the raid on her lab at Georgia Tech. She was the planetary geophysicist who had come in from the cold.

“My name’s Cindy,” the anchorwoman said. “I’m really sorry we had to bring you here. Rich, your research partner, and your grad students are just fine. You’ll get to see them in good time, after they all wake up.”

“CIA?” Daniela asked. “NSA? FBI? Shin Bet?”

“YKVK,” Cindy said. “But that’s just a moniker. The real name is ineffable. Far more secret than all the others.”

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Keeping Spain Spanish — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

April 15, 1492

To her most royal Catholic highness, Isabella, Queen of Castille and Leon:

The Genoan madman who bears this letter assured me that he will be received into your august presence this very week. Knowing, as I do, how intelligent you are and how efficient you always have been in acquitting your duties as sovereign, I cannot give much credence to the claims of this man whose breath smells of sausage and whose speech consists mostly of arm-waving. But at this point I am desperate and have no other prospect for conveying a message to court.

  illustration by Avi Katz

 illustration by Avi Katz

I perhaps may take credit for teaching you to first read the second paragraph of every document as a way of deciding whether it is worth your time, so let me get to the point. I have been incarcerated this fortnight in a so-called open detention facility somewhere in Andalusia, on the grounds that I am an illegal infiltrator into your majesty’s kingdom.

You may recall that at the end of last month I requested your leave to travel to outlying areas of your realm to ensure that your highness’s taxes are being collected efficiently. Just outside of Toledo I was abducted by a gang of gendarmes claiming to be in Your Majesty’s service. They served me with a warrant for my arrest—which I am sure was fabricated by Her Majesty’s enemies, or perhaps by lackeys of your most royal but not always very sharp husband, who could easily have been tricked into signing a document unread—on the grounds that I reside in Spain illegally.

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Persuasion — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman
Written while reading Jane Austen at election time

Mr. Gary Melman, of Lowry, in Denver, was a man, who for his own amusement, never took up anything but the Wall Street Journal, there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there is faculties were roused into admiration and respect for the resourceful and responsible; there any unwelcome sensations arising from the state of the economy, the terrorist threat, and the future of the state of Israel changed naturally into anger at and contempt for the man in the White House.

Mrs. Beverly Melman was a wife of very superior character, an excellent woman, sensible and amiable, whose had humored, or softened, or when necessary headed off her husband’s habit of collaring strangers on the street and telling them in no uncertain terms that, in his long career as a job-creating small businessman, he had never had the such displeasure with a president, a man who sought to raise taxes on the income brackets to which Melman had long aspired to accede.

When Gary Melman met the then Miss Beverly Freund at a dorm Halloween cider and keg party during their senior year at the University of Washington in St. Louis, he had been quite taken with her perky smile and the manner in which she had, when Gary inadvertently vomited on the carpet, politely looked away and engaged in an animated conversation about the weather with his roommate Norman the Geek

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Sex in the Diamond City — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Leaflet pasted up on a bulletin board at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station:
“The Carat Hotel in Ramat Gan: small, comfortable, discreet, rooms equipped with DVD and coffee, hourly rates.”

illustration by Avi Katz

To: Adina Hefetz, counsel, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel
From: Gal Dagan, proprietor, the Carat Hotel, Ramat Gan

Dear Ms. Hefetz,

I write in response to your letter, received today, with regard to the large sign that I have placed in the front window of my establishment in Ramat Gan’s Diamond district, which declares in large, bright orange letters “No Jerusalemites Allowed.”

You state in your letter that your organization, for which I have the greatest admiration, “has reluctantly concluded that said sign may, by denying access to a group based solely on city of origin, constitute illegal and unwarranted discrimination. While the sentiments expressed may be understandable, indeed shared by a significant portion of the Israeli population, our mandate requires us to take legal action to end all infringements of the rights of all Israeli citizens, even in those cases, as this one, in which they are richly deserved.”

Believe me, I am happy to see that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the watchdog of our freedoms, stands vigilantly on guard. But I am certain that if you knew the facts of the matter, you would agree with me that the sign in my window is not an infringement of human rights but rather a desperate attempt by an embattled Metropolitan Tel Aviv to survive in the face of an onslaught of medieval mores from the primitive Levantine highlands.

The incident occurred on Monday, March 21, a normal work day, although we were all still feeling the effects of our hard Saturday night Purim partying.

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The Big Schlep — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
A shamus knows he’s getting old when people ask him stupid questions. And this shamus has been getting a lot of stupid questions lately — things people ought to know without needing to have an over-the-hill private eye like me to tell them. I realized that early one Friday morning in the damp room in Old Katamon that I call my office. The rain was so heavy that even the Hasidim with the plastic bags over their homburgs didn’t dare go out. And that’s unusual for a tough neighborhood like Katamon, where everyone — and I mean everyone — is holier than thou.

I had my feet on my desk, Rabbi Menachem Meiri’s Beit HaBechira open on my lap, a half-filled highball glass in my hand, and a nearly empty bottle of really bad schnapps on the floor. The wind blew the door open and I caught sight of the shingle I’d put up when I was a young dick with an attitude. “Ahrele Andorra—Kushiyot,” it read. Hard questions. That’s what I do, hard questions. Although I’m at an age when nothing that ought to be hard is really hard anymore.

But I guess the all-seeing private investigator up in heaven saw I was getting depressed and, even worse, that if something didn’t happen I’d have to go out in the deluge to get my bottle filled. Providence works in mysterious ways. He didn’t send me something hard. He sent something soft–real soft.

Because after the door opened the next gust of wind blew in this dame. Actually, I couldn’t tell it was a dame at first because she was so wet and bundled up in sweaters, coats and scarves that she looked more like a blowfish after a haircut. But as she started peeling off layers, she revealed a figure that would have inspired Maimonides to compose a 14th article of faith.

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For Whom the Pole Knells– “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

My friend Frank is a man unto himself, a person apart. He stands up for what he believes. He always tells me: “I countenance no compromises in the venue of values. I care about the indigent in India, about the glaciers in Greenland, and about the war-weary in Waziristan.”

illustration: Jerusalem Post
He is involved in mankind, but as a Jew he is particularly troubled about how Israel is falling short of his ideals. “I cannot be unconcerned,” he says, “about the ultimatums of the ultra-Orthodox, the subjugation of the Sephardim in Sderot, and the plight of the Palestinians.”

And he’s got a way with words. Sometimes his rhetoric sweeps me away and lodges in my head like a leitmotif that doesn’t let go. Still, Frank is sincerely concerned about my moral fiber, as a good friend should be.

“Every time you pick up your phone in benighted Baka to engage me in enlightened LA,” he always assures me, “I’ll be ready with compassionate counsel about how you should be living your life. I’ll keep you in line, ensuring that you’ll be a better human being and a more genuine Jew.”

While by now I’m used to Frank catching me off guard with precipitous pronouncements about how I should better my behavior and polish up my priorities, he staggered me when I Skyped him last week to wish him a sheyne Shmini Atzeret.

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Train Tale”–Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Photo by David King

It’s six thirty-five a.m. as I pull my bike into Jerusalem’s Malha train station. The sun is rising over the seam where the Pat neighborhood’s low, long public housing projects abut the houses of Beit Safafa. A handful of inchoate off-white clouds float through the air like empyrean amoebas, seeking to grab unwary prey in fluffy pseudopods. I lock my bike at the rack and take the escalator up to the station two steps at a time. The security guard, usually stationed downstairs, has set up her table at the top today, to escape the chill. She’s padded in a thick parka, but I’m warmed up from my bike ride and raring to get on the train. I’ve got work to do.

The train ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv takes an agonizing 80 minutes—agonizing if you are in a hurry to get to a meeting or if you are one of those high-powered high-tech guys who get apoplectic when they discover that there’s no cell phone reception for half that time. But if you are on your way to visit your mother-in-law, as I am, it’s heaven.

And I don’t mean that longer is better when the trip is to my mother-in-law’s apartment. We get along just fine. What I mean is that in the two hours and forty minutes that I will spend on the train today, to Tel Aviv and back, I’ll get nearly an entire day’s work done. The cars are comfortable, roomy, and quiet. They’re equipped with tables to put your laptop on and sockets to plug it into. There’s no Internet to tempt me and none of the distracting paperwork that sits on my desk in my office at home. It’s just me and the book I’m translating, and there’s nothing a translator needs more than a place he can focus. And in this modern age, such places are few and far between.

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