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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lounge Lobster

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“Hey Sam, did you know there’s a really nice upright piano locked up behind the spare wash basins?”

Samantha Frankel placed the opal-polished index finger of her right hand on the next evening’s reservation book, checked that her new Macintosh reservation system and the hostess’s notes agreed, and then raised a laconic eye to Dimitri. “So?”
“Why in hell is it here if nobody plays it?”
“Don’t ask me; I just work here.”
“But you’re boss. You know everything, don’t you?”
“Don’t you forget it. I can set up a party for New Year’s 2012, but I don’t know about pianos.”
Dimitri froze. The world’s ending in 2012, don’t’cha know? Just ask the Mayans.
“Don’t you have tables active, Dim?”
“Yeah, I wonder if they’d like to hear Chopin or show tunes.”
This time, Sam froze. Something had always added up wrong about this guy. Twenty-three, vaguish accent, claimed a degree from Western Galilee College in Israel. She knew she should have taken Hebrew seriously at Temple Beth Sholom. How the hell did she know that she’d never leave South Jersey, and still have to verify a diploma from some place that could be hit by a Katyusha rocket?
“Go ask ‘em.”
Dimitri disappeared. Samantha punched a few keys on her Mac, set the beach ball screensaver rolling, patted the hostess on the butt in a way that would have drawn a scowl or a come-on from a man, and headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Dimitri had two tables still eating dinner at 9:40. Dimitri’s section reflected his seniority; he had the tables nearest the windows on the side parking lot.  For the waitresses, the section nearer to the bar was a better bet; proximity breeds orders, and orders breed tips. The side road, Buttonwood Street, looked out on a new theme restaurant and bar that seemed destined to run the Red Lobster out of Maple Shade. Bartenders wore football referee’s uniforms complete with whistles. The draw was the wait staff. All female. All young. All in orange go-go pants. Most with bare midriffs. All paid to smile nonstop and to put some extra bounce in more than their steps. More than a few evenings when the weather was warm, the server in that section would “work” through a break.
This evening, Dimitri had other thoughts in mind, especially since with snow on the ground, even the most exhibitionist Hooters waitress arrived in sweat pants and an overcoat.
“OK, folks, our manager Samantha wants to know, would you rather hear Chopin or show tunes?”
It took most of the diners at the two adjoining tables several seconds to hear “Chopin” instead of “show-pan.”
“No, for real. We have a shiny black upright in the back. What would you rather hear, Chopin or show-tunes?”
“Right now?” One patron spoke up after the general twittering subsided.
“No, I have to tune the piano, but you come back on the same night, at the same time, and I’ll buy the pitchers.” Did Dimitri really say this? He began calculating, “twelve people, half a pitcher each, a few glasses left over, say, nine pitchers. I can get Sheila to give me half-off, that’s $4.50 a pitcher…”
Five votes for Chopin, three for show tunes. One person came up with a suggestion of a nocturne or intermezzo, and then two suggestions from the house.
“OK, this time next month good for you guys?”
Dimitri ignored the inconvenient fact that the two groups of diners never saw each other before in their lives.
“Done.”
And so “Second Tuesday By Request” was born. And now, Dimitri had a piano to practice on that didn’t require a bus ride to the JCC, or to the synagogue he’d never set foot in.
___
Setting up “Second Tuesday” was no problem. Samantha saw a wasted evening converted to a profit maker. She even let people enter their mailing addresses into her Mac Office mailing list if they wanted a reminder postcard. Response had been surprisingly strong. Samantha took stock near closing time on Saturday night, just over two weeks to go before Showtime in Maple Shade.
Database of 60. Ten tables already booked. That could be half the dinner crowd for a Tuesday in February. Now we’ve got an event. I’m SO toast if the kid can’t play.
“Dim,” Samantha tossed her golden curls with just a touch of flirtation. Up and over her right shoulder crept a designer lock. She flicked it away without setting down the pen she held in her right hand.
“Yes, Sam.” Throwing his left hip forward, and placing his hands on his hips, the would-be lounge lizard upped the ante.
“When do I get my private concert, huh?”
 Dimitri knew what was up, but his thoughts flashed back to a girl he’d accompanied four years ago, on the Kibbutz. Same height, same hair past the shoulders. Smoker. He couldn’t tell exactly with clothes on, but same slim waistline. Yasmeena. OK, I can do this. Just pretend, but keep in check. You don’t make garab where you eat.
“I’m coming in to tune the piano on Monday morning. You’re here to open, yes?”
“I get here at 10.”
“Well, because you gave me the key, and trusted me not to take all the seafood, I come at 8.” But only because those lazy bums who clean up won’t let me get to the piano until 2:30.
“See you Monday.”
“Formal wear. Backless.”
“In your dreams.” Samantha flipped the curls, tilted her head, and swished over to the bar.
 Samantha had more than a little trouble getting to sleep that Saturday night WMMR. Nope, Aerosmith at 3am?! WLIT. ABBA? Gag me with a spoon. OK, WRTI. Jazz all night. At least…Ornette Coleman. Shit. Who goes to sleep with Ornette Coleman on? Samantha had a screaming flash. It’s Sunday in Israel. They don’t have to go to church in Israel. Now did he say Western Jezreel University? No, it’s not a university, it’s a college. Shit. All I know is the Technion. Oh, yeah, and Bir-Zeit, but isn’t that Palestinian? No, Galilee. That’s it, Western Galilee College. If he’s lying, it might as well be Western Gethsemane College, and his name is Judas. OK. How do you say, “What’s the number?” in Hebrew? I can’t even remember how to say, “Bat Mitzvah.”
Samantha got the international exchange code. She called the operator for the number.
“KJFGHJGHFF azor l’cha” Samantha could barely think, let alone remember a phrase she probably hadn’t learned in Hebrew school.
“Eastern…Galilee College…”
“Tov, tov, connect you now.” The operator bypassed procedures and connected the call. So do they charge me for an international collect call, operator assist?
“Oniversitat Galil Mizrachi, OUYFYUYUF azor l’cha?” crackled the voice across the Atlantic.
“Diber Anglit?” Samantha asked hopefully. She didn’t know that she had just said, “He spoke English.”
“Yes, sure.” The receptionist lost her Hebrew accent. “I was born in Columbus. How can I help you?”
Several points fell off Samantha’s systolic blood pressure, and the rushing of blood in her ear stopped competing with the receptionist’s voice.
“Shalom, thanks, I’m from Cherry Hill. Can you verify a student’s enrollment? I’m a hiring manager.”
“Does the student go to school here now?”
“No, he says he was there from 1985-1987. He lived on Kibbutz Halivat… Halivat…”
“Hadarat Haderech. Most of their olim go here. But I don’t have the records for former students.”
“Oh, shit – sorry, I didn’t mean that. Just transfer me to someone who speaks English?”
“I’ll get Shachar Dvoretzky in Student Records. She’s from New York.” Please, please don’t be a Giants fan.
Samantha was relieved to hear that there was music on the line while she held on. At least the connection was still live. For what I’m paying, this better be the best music in the Middle East. It was Gevatron, the most famous Israeli live music group. R’kudei am, Israeli dance music. Barefoot in the fields. “Hava netzei b’machol…” Sam was, despite her insomnia and anxiety, tapping her toes against her nightstand. When Sam was in Hebrew school, people knew Israel for the dances. And Jaffa oranges. And June 5, 1967, her birthday. No, not Israel, Samantha. The Six-Day War started on Samantha’s birthday. Had she been a boy, it would have been over before her circumcision. The music switched to a driving hora. Up went Samantha, wide awake, pretending she was at the dance hall at Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech. The full-length mirror on her closet danced in time, glancing back at the dancer in a T-shirt and all legs. I’d’a killed ‘em.
Shachar Dvoretsky, whose first name means “dawn,” answered in a voice that sounded like it was born on a mucosal, gravelly February morning. The receptionist from Columbus introduced the manager from Maple Shade to the registrar from Queens, and they tracked down the records of the renegade from Rhawnhurst there in the Jezreel Valley. Sure enough, Dimitri Katz had earned an associate’s degree with a performance diploma in piano.
“Todah rabbah.” Samantha thanked the women, who answered, “B’vakashah” two octaves apart. Within five minutes, still before the dawn in Maple Shade, the dancer fell asleep.
Less than thirty hours earlier, Samantha couldn’t sleep worrying if her multinational waiter was a fraud; now she had arrived at work more than two hours early on a Monday morning to listen to Dimitri play a few numbers. She pulled her shiny black 1988  BMW 325i into the handicapped spot nearest the door. She wrinkled her upper lip at the 1978 Datsun 280ZX with the low-hanging muffler sitting in the other handicapped spot.
At least he has some conscience. She experienced no cognitive dissonance with this thought.
She unsnapped her Lobster key ring from inside her fake Fendi bag, inserted it into the lock on the glass doors of the restaurant, and almost tripped on the doorjamb when the door opened itself.
“Dimitri, if you don’t want to serve breakfast, you’d better lock the door, yo!”
Duingduingduingduing. The response was that of a piano string being lowered, and then raised in pitch until the Russian-Northeast Philly-Israeli-Jerseyite was satisfied with its temperament.
“Samantha, since when does anyone eat seafood for breakfast, yo?” Two can play that game.
“Since when they invented shrimp cocktail, yo!”
Check and mate.
“So do I get my concert now?”
“I still have some work to do on the piano.”
“How much work?”
“I think a half an hour, no more.”
 Samantha was none too interested in hearing the squawks and peeps of a half-hour piano tuning session, and Cherry Hill Mall was right down the road.
“Dim, I’ll be back. Want anything?”
“Yes. Lox and a bagel from Bain’s. Lobster pays.”
“You’re pushin’ it, Dimbo.”
“Yep, I love you too.”


Salman

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“The chicks dig my accent.”
”Even the rich ones?”
“Especially the rich ones.”
Nachum Salman was a sabra, like Rafi, but unlike Rafi, “Salman,” as most people called him, made y’ridah  for good. This was a chance trip back to visit old friends, get laid by a few new ones, and qualify at the 1988 Tel Aviv Interzonal. Salman owned a home on Berkeley Street in Cleveland Heights.
“Rafi, you run to work every day for eight months, you run two blocks from my house, you never stop in?  I have to go to Tel Aviv, then I still find you out here in Suryah!” To expats like Salman, all the kibbutzim in the northern Galilee were “Suryah” since Israel took the Golan Heights in the 1967 War.
“I had to come back. I left my guns here from the War. ” When Rafi was in gan y’ladim, kindergarten, the children danced to lyrics that Salman wrote. One in particular went like this:
            Dance, dance on the water, water (mayim)
            Sing about uniting Yerushalayim
            Sail in peace upon the sea (yam)
            Sing Hatikva b’kol ram.
The class play featured a crude movement “dance” staged to these lyrics. Rafi had dressed up in a uniform that looked like a sailor suit had a nasty encounter with a bottle of Clorox bleach, but to victory-crazed Israelis, suggested the national flag. He had charged up a set of choral risers with cardboard cutouts in the shape of mountains. “Golan” was stenciled in Hebrew underneath largely fictitious snowcaps. The children behind him were the Israeli Defense Forces waving cardboard Uzis, and the school staff, dressed as Syrian soldiers and all wearing Hafez al-Assad masks, tumbled down a ramp built for the purpose out of wood borrowed from the loading dock at the wrong end of the cafeteria. Ouch. It’s just that none of the kids wanted to be Suryans. So the people who couldn’t fight had to tumble down a board, brick, and burlap slope while wearing masks. Ouch, hoi!
Salman threw his olive skinned head back with such a laugh that all Rafi could see were his too-big lips and his too-hairy nostrils. He had fought in ’67. After the outcome was no longer in doubt, he wangled a trip to a recording studio at Sharm-el-Sheikh, a Sinai resort town taken from Egypt on Day 3. There, he recorded the kids’ song, which the star Boaz Arnon covered, and a novelty song called M’shaneh Makom, M’shaneh Mazal, which means “Change the place, change the luck,“ in his own gnarled nasal voice. This song went right to the top of the chart before Day 6. In these days, Sadat was bound by a peace agreement, but blood, both Palestinian and Israeli, was flowing freely. The triumphal spirit of the new Colossus had dissipated into memory.
Rafi agreed to go to Tel Aviv and compete in the Open tournament, held in the King David Hotel ballroom, while the Interzonal would take place in the much more cozy press room. Salman had no business being there. He was as Israeli as Katarina Witt was East German. But his friend Edgardo Rosario, a former professional baseball player who had a cup of coffee (or a line of coke; this was the ‘80s) with the parent club, went home with his wife to the Dominican Republic to have their children so the kids could compete in the athletic Olympics (the oldest, a boy named Fredy, was an 8-year-old who designed video games in his bedroom and could run the 40 in a week), so why not Salman in chess? The previous August , Salman placed second in the Haifa Zonal to Yehuda Gruenfeld, but first in the InterZayin with all the tourists. Here’s a Zayin. ז What do you think he was doing in a resort town full of tourists in string bikinis?
So Nachum Salman sat down with the likes of Viktor Korchnoi and the Syrian-American wunderkind Yasser Seirawan. A real Suryan. The genuine article. Rafi, who was later to crush Salman with an outrageous Queen sacrifice in front of a full rank of pawns sheltering a castled King, just muttered. This guy is no more going to beat the second best player in the world than I’m going to beat him on the beach.
Rafi had a sideline as a chess hustler in Cleveland. Nobody at the Agnon school had a clue that the teacher with the nice voice could play. Since he earned extra money as the cantor for the school’s Saturday services, he couldn’t play tournaments during the school year. OK. No problem. Keep my head down and my ego small, and I can go to the clubs and take everybody’s money. I wait for the summer for tournaments anyway.  In the US, all I have to do is keep my rating low and I can win class prizes. They don’t have class prizes in Israel. You could pay for a year in the States by winning the Class C section at the World Open. CLASS C!! Those people have the vision of a fruit bat. All I have to do is lose the rapid transit tournament at the same time and act stupid. These Yankees will never know.  In all, Rafi had played in about thirty chess tournaments and had won $30,000.  In Israel? With a master’s rating, he didn’t make a penny, but he did beat that same Yehudah Gruenfeld as Black by double-daring the guy – he played the Gruenfeld Defense and rolled up Gruenfeld’s Queenside like he was, well, Gruenfeld. That time, the tournament was at Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech. Rafi earned nothing, but for a few weeks he was a minor celebrity.
This time, Rafi was playing for nothing particular. There was a chance, with Rafi’s strong openings, sound game and eagerness to sacrifice his pieces, that he could beat anyone in the Open field, but to win a ten-round, five-day event, he’d have to beat at least three people Salman’s strength, at least one of them with the black pieces. Salman liked the more relaxed, one-game-a-day schedule of the championship tournament. Games starting at 6 will be done by 11. The discos just get going by then. Rafi imagined spending the days with Salman, hiking in the Golan, swimming in Yam Kinneret, maybe doing a tourist before the game, and even hanging out at the tournament with both Salman’s and his own girl.
Salman had other ideas. Back in the States, he was an independent contractor, who also flipped houses for profit. He had responsibilities most days. Here his day started at 6pm. The mylar ball danced in Salman’s eyes. I have halivat boker for part of the second week. Who gonna be his wingman? Viktor Korchnoi?  Rafi made a copy of the key for the visitor’s dorm, and bought the guy a map. Aizeh gever. What a man.
It was Day One, Round One of the Interzonal. Salman found himself immediately thrown to the Suryan lion, Yasser Seirawan, who shared Rafi’s age and quick mind, but while Rafi was trying to find out who he was as a high schooler in an unmotivated Kibbutz classroom, Yasser was ripping his way through his agemates across the world to become World Junior Champion. This guy was a weapon. His warm, fuzzy gaze matched his high black Afro, turning him into an adorable catch for any girl on the beach, but he would not be there. He was a Vulcan over the chessboard. Daggers came out of the eyes, all the soft cuteness consumed as fuel for that agile mind. With the second highest ranking in the tournament, Seirawan would sit on a podium reserved for the top three players. Viktor Korchnoi and Yehuda Gruenfeld took up residence at the other two tables.
Seirawan entered the hall wearing tight jeans (“I hate adjusting loose pants during a game”) and a Hawaiian silk shirt, half open in any temperature. Rafi and Salman came fresh from the beach. The Interzonal would go for a week before Rafi’s section, so he could do halivat boker and meet Salman for breakfast. They had brought a change of clothes, “just in case,” said Salman. The girls were out with a group, so the closest Rafi and Salman could get was to play in the volleyball game. Beach volleyball. Eight girls, two guys. The girls- maximum twenty-one years old.  Salman got the number of the hot one in the fishnet string, who kept readjusting the few lonely pieces of yarn on her private parts after diving in the sand – almost every point. Rafi got three other numbers. Salman had violated his usual pick-up principle. Salman would always talk to the prettiest girl, and then switch to one who was hanging on to the clique by her fingernails.  This would usually make the girl happy, and more receptive to an offer of breakfast (around 2 am), and an early morning romp. He must be taking his tournament seriously.
So the mermaid in the fishnet wasn’t there at opening night. Probably just as well. Seirawan is going to roll over him like a tank.
Salman had Black. Seirawan played the King’s Pawn, eschewing the slower, more positional Queen’s Pawn openings. Salman must have had that in mind, when he played his queen pawn one square forward. He remembered a game from Chess Informant in which Seirawan played the Scotch Opening against some pathetic local master and checkmated in seventeen moves. “Let him try to mate my Pirc defense that fast,” thought Salman.  The game developed along theoretical lines that favored Black. After Salman didn’t lose before the first ten moves were completed, Rafi headed off to the skittles room.
This procedure became Rafi’s mode de vivre during that first week. During the day, he’d do his Kibbutz chores, call one of the girls, head into the beach or the town, and hang out. Then he’d head back to the Kibbutz for dinner and the tournament. Salman had focused his attention on splitting off the mermaid in the fishnet bikini from the rest of the group. By the fourth round, Salman had only one half-point draw, having frustrated Nigel Short into a childish mistake in the late middle game, when Short found he couldn’t roll over this obscure player. However, Salman chalked it up to Short’s early teenage hormones. Mermaid had shown up to the game barefoot, with white shorts and a ripped rugby shirt that displayed the bikini masquerading as underwear.
Rafi started hanging out with Mermaid in the bar at the event site. It was clear that she was supposed to be part of the clique, but Rafi knew before Mermaid said it that she was just getting to sleep when the girls got to the beach. She was only 19, and Salman was 44.
“He’s magic!” she volunteered.
“What are you going to do tonight?”
“The disco, maybe another one, Chummi promised there was on that plays Yemeni beat, then we’ll go to breakfast, and take the first bus back to the Kibbutz. Everyone else will be going to work.”
“What about your girlfriends?”
“They know, they aren’t that dumb. So you still playing with them volleyball?”
“Yes, yes, I can’t jump, but I’m OK. Your friends are pretty. Are they sabras?*
“No, I was born in Italy, and most of us are on an exchange program.”
Why do you guys speak such good Hebrew? I am dreaming, yes?
“What do they say about me?”
“When Chummi gets done with me, I’ll let you know.” Mermaid giggled. When she flipped her hair like that, especially when she touched him with her toes for punctuation,  she looked just like Roza.
“I like Francesca. What do you know about her?”
“She comes from Nice. Her father is a professor there, and her mom tutors the piano. She wants to be animal doctor. “
“I know, I talked to her, I’m not that dumb either.” As he said this, Rafi quickly slipped off his sandal and planted his right toes back on Mermaid’s calves. Mermaid giggled again.
“Well, she’s not good at men, I don’t think.”
“You mean a lesbian? She plays for your team?”
“Ha, no! She’s just a little nerdy, that’s all. She reads too much.” Reads too much?! You have got to be kidding. No wonder Salman is in your fishnet.
“What does this mean, too much?”
“She’s got Les Mis in her beach bag.” Andrew Lloyd Webber fan? Grrrr.
“So what do you read?”
“Schoolbooks, Cliff’s Notes, my dictionaries…”
“You mean you can speak English, Hebrew, and Italian and you don’t read any of the great books in any of them?”
“Don’t forget Russian.”
“Russian?!”Grrrrrrrr.
“I will be a translator for NATO. Maybe US. Not Israel. I don’t want to spend my life in a US jail.”
Rafi was aware of Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy who was spending a life sentence for infiltrating the US nuclear establishment. But the flirtatious way she delivered the last sentence put the lie to the serious nature of this point. He was on the verge of suggesting a quick walk when Salman walked in.
“Hoi, Sofia, hey, Rafi!
“Ma yesh?”
“Another draw. The guy didn’t want to play, he offer me draw after eight moves. I had White, so I say no, but I couldn’t get the advantage.” It’s the fucking Interzonal, and you let this guy go just because you don’t have an easy win? You could have stayed in Cleveland for that!”
The mermaid finished her Mai-Tai, flipped Rafi a dorsal fin, and put her hand on Nachum’s ass.

In the Key of V

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.

One after another, each telephone pole on Mayfield Road passed Rafi in the breeze.  Running east through Cleveland Heights brought about its own breeze in the still May air. Rafi had run this route a hundred times in the past year or so. Never after coming out of the funny farm. Oh, right. I’ve never been in a funny farm before. Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.
The mantra faded as he passed Jaguar Cleveland. It was replaced with the image of Vered, naked except for a white fox stole, on the front seat of an XJ6. Omigod. Omigod.  Then came the image of that night.

Rafi was in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon. One of the other Yordim, émigrés,  from the kibbutz, had celebrated his sixtieth birthday that morning in synagogue. Rafi had led the service, while his friend, Netanya, had read the Torah and given the “sermon.”  Like Rafi, Netanya was a sabra, native-born in Israel. Unlike Rafi, Netanya had been twenty-two years old when Israel declared her independence from the British Commonwealth.  Netanya had never known peace during his sixty years on the planet, beginning in his early years in the yishuv, which was what the Jews of pre-1948 Israel called themselves (“Palestine” was a dirty word in the yishuv, of course).  During the War of Independence, Netanya had earned the status of a minor war hero by taking fire to rescue a fallen comrade. When he told the story to the y’lidei kibbutz, the children born on the kibbutz, they would all ask him, wide-eyed, how he accomplished such a miracle, when he himself took a deep shrapnel wound during the retreat.

“No big deal,” he would shrug while making his voice even more gravelly that the driveway that was his normal voicebox. “Everybody do it.” Yeah, Right. I was barely alive in ’67, and just a kid in ’73. Parents suddenly decide Israel’s not safe, and make y’ridah (emigration from Israel). But they send me back for college in ’78, I come back, come here, come there… Never shot a gun in my life. Omigod. Omigod.

Asshole.  Rafi left Netanya’s phone number with Vered.  He knew she’d call. He wanted her to call. When she did, he took the phone from Netanya.

“Please come,” said Vered.
“When?”
“Now. How fast can you be here?”
“About two hours.”
“Not to stop!”

Please come. Not to stop. Damn her, what can I do? I tell Netanya I’m leaving his party to drive two hours for a girl, and he…

“Nu, so what are you going to do?” rattled the war hero.
“What would you do?” Rafi asked.
“Get laid first, ask questions later,” growled Netanya.

Rafi had not told Netanya anything about Vered. Not the first date. Not sleeping naked with the girl the first night and no sex. Not the tennis and the shower afterward. Not the early exit from his day job in order to bring her chicken soup from Katz’s Deli on Chagrin Blvd.  But it was written on his face with a pen of iron, like Jeremiah said.  So rather than mumbling some pathetic excuse, Rafi just hugged Netanya.

“Call me. And if you’re successful, you know what to name the kid, OK?”

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.

The drive was an incomprehensible babble of Hebrew singing, poor English rhyming paraphrase, and FUCK! CUS-A-MAK! And similar drivel. After however many hundred phrases, Rafi settled on:

               Ramblin’ cross Ohio with my windows down,
               Lookin’ for the words along the way,
               Thoughts of love and passion swirlin’ in the sound
               The air you breathe me knows just what to say.

               Magnetic soul , let it be drawn to you.
               Magnetic fingers, polarized your touch.
               Magnetic heart, your pulsing guides me true.
               Magnetic dreams, promise me so much.

Pedestrian? Well, OK, but this pedestrian is flying over Rt. 70 at 85 mph, and I haven’t seen a state trooper yet.

Rafi bounced out of the Ford Tempo almost before it stopped rolling into the parking space in front of Vered’s building. He grabbed the creamy orange roses he had bought along the way with his right hand while he threw open the driver’s door with his left.  About halfway across the parking lot, he thought he’d better grab his shoes, just in case. Don’t take anything for granted. He thought, “Shoes on, shoes off?” as he rung her bell. At least he could make the decision; her screen was mostly shut and he didn’t notice her peeping out observing him. He finally decided to hold the shoes and offer the roses. Vered’s breasts rubbed his through her see-through cami, and of course, Rafi was wrong on the shoes. Vered stood with her toes on Rafi’s. Savlanut, chamor, savlanut. No tongue yet. OK, only a little. Fingers. Hairline. Ears. Thighs. Breathe. Breathe.

“Are you hungry?”

Vered suggested takeout. Rafi hoped he had made a big statement.

Lewchenko’s Deli was less than five minutes away. Vered was not one to pay any attention to the ubiquitous “No shoes, no shirt, no service” signs anyway, but Rafi slipped his boat shoes on before entering. Vered’s every curve competed for attention under the barely-there pink cami and opalescent one-layer shorts. No time to get self-conscious now. This is my prize. Let them try not to serve us. Rafi opened the door for Vered, and ushered her into the restaurant as if she were wearing diamond slippers. He looked the waitress in the eye, and said, “Takeout, please,” as if she should be honored by his address. They ordered cabbage borshch, potato dumplings, and cabbage stuffed with veal. Even though the sun was still shining and the fragrance of cherry blossoms perfused the late afternoon breezes, neither of them suggested that they ate on the grass. Instead, Vered cast a tablecloth over her mattress, produced two fluted champagne glasses for the Stolichnaya, and gave Rafi a quick peck on his collarbone.

As they ate their Ukrainian picnic, they purred at each other. The subject matter was Netanya’s event, but it could have been the periodic table of the elements. Vered poured a second round of vodka. Rafi took the plates to the sink. While Rafi was in the kitchen, Vered folded the tablecloth, lit a candle, and turned out the light.

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. Rafi could not jerk his mind out of the heat of that Saturday night. Here he was trying to shake off the effects of being thrown into a mental hospital because a casual acquaintance heard him talking about suicide, bought him some drinks, and called the cops. I — don’t — have — a —choice — I — have — to — live — his mantra changed as he thought back to his betrayal by the acquaintance. Several minutes of panted obscenities later, Rafi settled into a steady 8:20 pace and recalled THAT NIGHT.

He had returned from the kitchen to the flickering of the candle. Vered was partially seated on the mattress, her rich black hair flowing over her shoulders like a tapestry. The pink cami seemed like naked skin in the subdued light. It was like she was sitting naked under a gently out of focus lens. She had disposed of the ivory shorts, so that only the thong of the cami covered her nakedness. Rafi stood, flatfooted, at the head of the mattress.

“Come here,” she smiled. “What waiting for?”

Rafi slowly stepped onto the mattress. He knelt down and kissed her on her forehead. He patted her eyebrows, her cheeks, her nose and her chin softly with gently parted lips. She unfastened each button on his shirt with far more skin contact than was needed to do the job. She ran her index finger up and down the hair from his belt buckle to his breastbone. Rafi returned the touch to the tops of Vered’s ears. Soon his fingers danced down her collarbone to her chest to her nipples. He reached his thigh, still clad in jeans, over her bare thighs. She pressed against him, and whispered, “Lose the jeans.”

“I don’t wear underwear.”

“I know.”

He was naked with Vered, in the same bed, again. This time, She still wore the cami that had disappeared between her thighs only to reemerge behind, where underwear were supposed to go. She was kissing. Each. Toe. It took her an eternity to stroke every cell, first of one foot, then the other. As she caressed her way up his left calf, up to his knee, his thigh, she slipped her leg over his right foot and eased herself onto those toes. She could squeeze this foot. He could press just a little higher, just a little more deeply. Finally that beautiful black web of silk that was Vered’s hair came close enough that he could caress it and give her pleasure – and have something to do with his hands.

There could not have been a more beautifully orchestrated procedure. Vered operated like a Steinberg, a Bernstein, a Slatkin, and every nerve ending in both their bodies were the orchestra members. Just the right amount of crescendo led into a sudden change of position – a shift in orchestration that led to an even deeper level of intoxication. When finally, the climax of the music overtook the performers, it came in waves of synesthesia – vivid blues, golden lighting bolts, earthquakes, gasping, exhaustion.

Omigod. Omigod. She said later that day that it was sex. Really great, headbanging sex, and how great Rafi was to let her take the lead and do what she does best. And does he always allow a girl to lead? It was so sweet. But.

But. But. But. But.

It was great, it really was, but it didn’t mean to me what it mean to you, Rafi! I love to have sex. It’s like my drugs. But it’s too much for you. It’s your life.  I don’t want your life. Rafi. I like your sex. I love your sex, you are so sweet.

She. Has. No. I. de. a. How. This. Kills. A. Man.