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First Encounter

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Day of 02/17/02

I woke up early for Ulpan-Hebrew school that warm Israeli morning. My rama-gimmel-third levelteacher T. knew how to hold our interest. We started each lesson by listening to the previous day’s news. She’d ask up to interpret as much of this as possible. Then we’d go over last night’s homework.

I usually hadn’t done mine. Instead I’d been up running along the Tayelet, preparing to one day run the marathon. I’d run downhill from the apartment I shared with my roommate along Bograshev to the seafront; then towards the Dolphinarium, (a popular night club which had been blown up by a suicide bomber at the beginning of the Second Intifada), back to Bograshev and up the steep alley leading home.

I’m not sure whether T. was happy with me that day. She usually took my inaptitude for any kind of work for granted. We were on good terms. My friend S. had told me about the Tel-AvivUniversity Mechina, a preparatory program attended by immigrants from the former Soviet Republics and by Israeli high school students who’d scored low on their Psychometria-or graduate exam.

As I entered one of the dorm offices of the Einstein dorms (they stretched along

Einstein Street
in one of Tel-Aviv’s wealthiest neighborhoods), my glance instantly fell on a girl of about 18. Though I couldn’t mistake her for an Ethiopian, she was definitely not European (and I wasn’t looking for one).

“Where are you from?” I asked, taking her not entirely by surprise.

Uzbekistan” she answered and the skin on her face paled a little. I knew I had her.

“I’m American” I said in fluent Russian. “I came here recently. Anyhow, I don’t have any time, but I’m taking down your phone number nonetheless!” Before she had the time to properly assess the situation, my cell phone was out. I looked down at the numbers as if to say: “I’m ready when you are!”

Sure enough, she dictated her number for me. I reacted as only as a wanna-be womanizer would, demonstrating neither too much interest nor any sort of disdain. I simply took what was given me.

As this was taking place, I was trying to hold a conversation with the secretary. She asked me the usual questions: where was I from, how long I’d been in Israel, my level of Hebrew. I kept my eyes on her, my ears to the numbers, and my hand on the phone, blindly taking down her digits.

As I prepared to leave, I told her I’d be in touch. It so happened that we took the same bus (line 24) home. She had an appointment in downtown Tel-Aviv and I was going home.

I motioned for her to get in ahead of me. As she took a seat in the rear section of the bus, I kept standing, holding on to a safety railing with one hand, the other resting on the back of her seat.

I was 19. My armpit presented a scene from a horror movie. I was wearing a dyed sleeveless shirt. She was bundled up in a warm woolen jacket. I had shorts on and while it was fairly warm at this time of year in the Middle East, most people were dressed in anticipation of rain.

I didn’t need a manual to read from. I had practiced this on every pretty girl I’d met on the bus since coming to Israel less than a year ago. I told her I had come to America at the age of seven, been State chess champion, had practiced karate and Tae-Kwon-Do for half my life, was a rap-star in waiting. I didn’t know if she was impressed. I didn’t care. I craved the attention of a pretty female and could only hope for the best.

I later learned that earlier that morning she had had a session with a guy who could analyze one's handwriting. Judging by what (and how) she wrote, he had told her that the time had come for her to free herself from her step-father’s overzealous influence. It was time for her to find what she was looking for.

I called my best friend Kobe as soon as I got off on King George. Brushing past strangers with dyed hair and belly piercings, I told Kobe I’d just met a girl.

“She’s hot. I don’t really know what to think but I’m hoping it’ll take 2-4 weeks.”

“Where’s she from?”

“She said Uzbekistan and she’s nice.”

“What does she do?”

“Stays with a family where she babysits the kid and prepares the food. She looks great!”

I saw Kobe later on that day. We shot some hoops. Back then, I thought I was literally unbeatable. Whether it was close-quarter combat, chess, looks, or basketball, no one-especially not an Israeli-could take me.


At least that's what I thought then. I'd learn to appreciate others, even perfect strangers who were, as it seems in retrospect, better equipped to deal with the challenges life through their way.


At the end of three games, I was down 150 sheckels, back then an equivalent of about $37. Promised to pay at a later date and talked about the girl.

“Her name’s Mary. Strange name. Sounds old…and proper. Just the way I want it to be.”

“What are you gonna do with her?”

“I don’t know but it’s not what you think.”

“Not what I think? How do you know what I think?”

“Because you’re like every guy I’ve met since I came here. Talking about how ‘a boyfriend isn’t a wall’ and all other nonsense.’. You and all the sabarim. Kobe, bro, I ain’t like that. I grew up in Chi-town but I ain’t like that. My folks always treat each other with respect. I can’t do that to a woman.”

“But see, what you don’t understand is I ain’t like that either (he’s trying to match me, trying to show me he knows where I’m headed and where I’m coming from). I treat women with respect, man and I just beat you three times with my jump-shot. You can’t leave me open like that.”

Sure enough, I call P., a Russian friend of mine that evening.

“I met a girl. She’s from Uzbekistan. Looks good.”

“What her name?”

“Mary”

“Gradma Mary?”

“What’s wrong with you!? I like her name. Who knows what’ll happen…”

“Well, let me meet her as soon as possible. I’ll tell you what you do. Bring her over tomorrow and we’ll hang out.”

“I barely know her.”

I did my 5-mile run that night. The air was chilly. No clouds. No people. Just the waves and the stars and me.

Felt a certain amount of content going to sleep that night. Told my roommate about the encounter. He said he was happy for me and wished me luck.

That year would be a fury of fast-paced deals, a new and amazing journey, a science fiction story, and, more than anything else, an unassailable obstacle course.

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

So Kobe expected you to approach Mary with an agressive "center strategy." I'll bet you follow the hypermodern school, ala Reti.

Joshua Hennen
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hey Joshua,

I don't-nor have I ever approached any particular strategy with girls. I felt that Kobi, like most Israelis, was over-aggressive with girls, while I just tried to go with the flow and not expect too much.

Greg.

Regbi23
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