Thoughts of a Security Guard

Thoughts of a Security Guard

Arik Glasner

 

 

1. August 2003-october 2003 (or: Etiology)

 

 

 

In our society, people holding a weapon are powerless people. I, too, was granted powerlessness when I received my light blue uniform in November 2003 and began working as a security guard at the Tel Aviv University dormitories.

 

In August 2003 my work at a Jerusalem research institute had ended. For two years I had studied and worked there, playing well my part in my solid middle-class life, watching with well-masked indifference, the economic deterioration of Israeli society. Friends had been fired from their hi-tech jobs, others gone back to live with their parents and I – who, incidentally, was paid my salary in US$, which made the figure rise steadily – well, I … did go back to live with my parents too, but this was more due to my lifestyle, rather than market economy.

 

That August, however, it was all over for me. 'Come back next March,' said the head of the department where I had been teaching for the last two years. 'We're overstaffed, bursting at the seams, and timetabling is already closed.' No doubt I am not a particularly effective economic unit – I had arrogantly resigned from all my previous jobs, thinking that there is no point in working like a donkey. But history didn't wait for me – buses were exploding, university faculties were exploded. And the museum where I had worked for three years has shut down.

 

At first I found my new proletarian image amusing, leafing through wanted-ads, just to get by, living modestly, and writing literary reviews in the papers. Then, living even more modestly, waiting for phone calls, leafing through the wanted-ads – this time not quite getting by and spending because I was tired of living so tight, buying all the papers for the wanted-ads. In short, downsizing on life.

 

I took a test to work as a proof-reader in one of the newspapers – either I wasn't good enough, or, as they said, they just didn't need any workers at the time.

 

Another time, I went through several excruciating stages in the recruitment process for an elitist private educational institution, only for the interviewer to point out at the final stage that I am a writer, and so can not truly commit to teaching – he wasn't born yesterday.

 

And then when I deliberated too openly over whether I really wanted to be a university entrance preparation teacher, they didn't like it. In short, it was a problem.

 

 

2. Yechezkel (or how cultural wealth charges/fuels? mobilization)

 

I met my friend Yechezkel Rachamim at university. "We're like the barbarians invading Rome," I once said to him. "You're from Yaffo and I'm from Kfar Hare, and we're both at the heart of Tel Avivian decadence: starved, envious and furious.

 

"I'm not comparing our difficulties," I hastened to add, "but there is some resemblance."

 

Yechezkel is studying for his masters in sociology, and makes a living as a security guard at the Tel Aviv University student dormitories. He is most certainly the only security officer in the country who has published children's books.

 

"Look," he said to me, "why don't you work as a guard with me until you find a proper job? It's probably only a matter of weeks."

 

The weeks turned into six months, and I had several problems, so I accepted the offer.

 

"You can read here too," Yechezkel said. "Your visiting me in the dorms and getting paid for it. And the surprisingly human university security staff that the university employed via a private company helped me to reach a decision. I began my security career.

 

I leafed through my old documents and to my surprise found my IDF release certificate (Arieh Glasner, Gunman 0.3 has a highly developed work ethic, good critical skills, he is devoted, attentive and caring). I traveled to the security company offices in south Tel Aviv (which brings Shalom Chanoch's descriptive phrase "its rear end" to mind), put on my uniform and reported to the student dorms at 11 that night. I arrived early, to create 'a good environment', as instructed in the security briefing folder that rested on the counter. I switched on the radio and heard 'ten years anniversary of the death of Benny Amdursky, as the broadcaster advertised a new album. Exactly ten years ago, I had heard about the death of Benny Amdursky at an army checkpoint near Nablus. But in our society now, armed people are powerless people.

 

 

3. November-December (or: all beginnings are difficult, but you end up falling in love with the difficulty along the way)

 

On my first night, Yechezkel wasn't there. I listened to the radio, smoked and tried to read. A few students came in and I checked their IDs. I multiplied eight hours by 17.9 shekels, smoked some more, listened to some more radio and at around 4am the newspaper delivery boys came. My replacement arrived at ten to seven. I changed out of my uniform and hid it in a bag. To my superiors, I said from the start: 'only the dorms, no way for the entrance gates. I was a teacher at the university and it could be a real mess.' They promised that they would try.

 

The second shift was at noon on Friday. It was a completely different experience to guarding at night – and here is where the real skill lies. At night, there are no students, whilst during the day there are plenty. 'You're new?' they ask me, and, second time around: 'don't you recognize me? Oh, you're new.' The third time, they don't even bother talking to me any more, just silently showing the ID. But by the fourth of fifth time, we've reached an intimacy. People open up – they ask about my education, or at least try to determine my cognitive skills. 'How can you not know me – I've passed by here a hundred times,' they say. I explain through gritted teeth that there are some 300 people in the building, but the insult remains: 'How? How can you not recognize me? Me? Me?'

 

During the following shifts I try to work out whether there is a rationale behind recognition and non-recognition. One student reminds me of Yuval Banai, which is why I remember him; some other students looked at the books I was reading with interest. But besides these, I could find no rational criterion – no outstanding beauty or ugliness, no Arab or Jew, no clothing or shoes.

 

It's nearly 9 o'clock, Saturday night and I have a date with Keren for the movies at 10. My replacement, Vadim, doesn't follow the instructions on arriving 10 minutes early to create 'a good atmosphere' and is fucking late. At half past nine the son of a bitch finally shows, moving fast as if he has run all the way from Rishon, where he lives. I stand red-faced in front of him: 'What's this supposed to be? Tell me!'

 

'Don't raise your voice at me,' he says. 'The ride was late. Don't shout at me!' I come closer, can't hear his exact words, astonished by his nerve – instead of apologizing, he's busting a gut. 'What do I care about the ride? You won't fucking keep me here for another half hour,' I say. Vadim reddens. 'Don't shout at me. I told you. Learn from me. It's always like that with this company. You're still new.'

 

Finally I realize. On Saturdays, the guards' arrival is subject to the company's transport service, the same on that takes me back to the centre of Tel Aviv. Vadim seems determined to make peace. 'I can't take it when I'm shouted at,' he says weakly. He enlightens me on the principles of guarding: 'always separate the ID card from the student ID, yeah? That ways it's easier to find and give back.' And as I turn to take my ride, he has reached a peak of sweetness: 'And it's better to separate out the boys' and the girls' – that way it's easier to find them when they arrive.' I raise my hand to show I understand – and to stop him patronizing me.

 

In the car sits Ami. He is about 50, dressed in a random unkempt way, with a hungry look. He will also be picking me up tomorrow, Saturday afternoon, for the next shift, he says. I prefer working Saturday morning because it's 150 per cent, meaning you get 27 shekels an hour. The bummer is that the company is very strict, and the rate only applies after Shabbat starts, so that in a shift that begins at three and ends at nine, the guard gets the extra rate for hardly three hours.

 

I get to Keren's. We won't make the movie. I tell her about my experiences. She laughs: 'You're the security guard straight from hell, the bitter type – I know your kind. You're the kind who isn't built for a relationship with the guarded ones.'

 

The following afternoon, Ami picks me up, as told, on Ben-Gurion Avenue. His van veers wildly through the streets. "Arik, look how everyone in this town enjoys themselves. They say there's a recession – where's the recession? Eh? It's only us who have to work on Shabbat, whores". We've reached Ramat-Aviv and I step off to solid ground. 'It's the ride that made me late,' I tell the guard on duty, and settle behind the counter. The radio is to my right; to my left is a small heater, and on the counter is a sheet of paper where I write who comes in. Above me are eight stories, counting some 300 students, and around me is Ramat-Aviv. Very quickly I learn that the 300 students are all the 'others' of Israeli society: Arabs, olim hadashim, students from low income families, and foreign students.

 

Next door is a Chabad synagogue, whose minions rejoice in artificial 'happiness', trying to persuade passers-by to pray or don Tefilin. An Arab student who looks like a young Yuval Banai confuses them. The young Chabadnik manages to overcome his confusion and says, 'never mind, come, pray Mincha.' Both are smiling. And all around is Ramat-Aviv, one of the most comfortable areas of the country. In short, I'm sitting on the top end of a socially explosive tank.

Guard duty is a delight on Shabbat – all those great songs on 88FM and hardly any movement – everyone's asleep or has gone home. But then the door opens and in walks perhaps a student – but definitely a brunette, short and possible Russian. I ask her for ID, but she doesn't appear to hear and just keeps walking. I ask more loudly: 'ID please', but she keeps going towards the lifts. I jump up from behind the counter and hurry after her: images of Entebbe, the Sabena hijacking, Green Island Raid, and the movie Naked Gun flash through my mind. 'ID please,' I say. 'How can you not recognize me?' she shouts. 'I'm sick of this – it's like a prison here. I've already passed by you a thousand times.'

 

'Sorry.' I try to react rationally. 'I don't remember you. Please show me your ID and we'll get it over with.' But she refuses and I feel furious. 'Give me the ID or I'll give your name to the chief security officer.' She's aware, of course, of the paradox: if she doesn't show me the ID I can't give her name to the chief. She decides to make a run for it and heads towards the lift. I jump up and stand between her and the lift. Defeated, she takes out the ID and flashes it before my eyes. 'All right? Now you're satisfied?' she says contemptuously, and steps into the lift. No. Not all right. I sit in the revolving chair and light a cigarette to calm my nerves.

 

An hour later, I notice Adiv, smartly dressed, curly hair, with glasses and a thin moustache. He looks very young. We met once at some literary event but he doesn't seem to recognize me in uniform – or he does, but won't admit it to himself. 'You live here?' I ask. No, he's from Brodetsky dorms, his cousin Samir lives here – but say, why security guard? I tell him pleasantly that there will be a war here – not between Arabs and Jews, but there will be a war.

 

'There will be a war,' Adiv repeats, nodding in agreement, 'not between Arabs and Jews, but there will be war.' And he tells me sadly of his sick father's situation: an Arab intellectual from Baka El-Garbia, negotiating our endless hallways of public healthcare.

 

'There are insoluble problems,' he says. 'But we can live with them…'

 

I complete his sentence: 'We must come to terms with them. But the way people live, the way sick people are treated, one way or the other, there will be a war.'

 

Then we start to talk about literature. I dismiss certain authors on a whim, and praise others. Adiv is excited: 'Yes,' he says, 'all those theories they teach us at university – we must understand them just so that we can despise them. I'm embarrassed by how modern Hebrew writers use language. Just embarrassed for them. You should be ashamed for not knowing Mahmoud Darwish. Shame on you. Show him the ID, Na'im, he's new here, this guard.' Adiv winks at me as he says this.

I step out from behind the counter and stand in front of Adiv. 'Oh yes, literature! Philosophy! Our conversation has turned into a passionate dance, and I start asking for people's IDs in tune. 'You live here?' I sing to a woman entering. 'No? So you'd like to live here?' I give her a witty smile: she's not used to such wit. 'No, I live in Brodetsky,' she says. You're all blind, you only see me as your security guard, but I'm actually here to solve the greater questions: Tolstoy or Dostoyevky – who is greater? Proust or Joyce? Brenner or Gnessin, Mann or Kafka, Shabtai or Kenaz?

 

 

'I have to go and see my cousin,' Adiv interrupts my euphoria and turns cold. The abrupt ending of our exchange disappoints me. 'I noticed,' I tell him as he leaves, 'that the Hebrew word beseder finds its way into Arabic and also the Russian spoken here by olim. Why is that?'

 

'Yeah, beseder where it's not beseder at all.' Adiv smiles and shakes my hand.

 

 

4. A passing thought that one cannot help thinking

 

Again I'm left alone. Alone, alone, alone. I wallow in self-pity. I am alone and unarmed, I suddenly realize. There is a strike at the Ministry of the Interior and we have not received our weapons. 'But we have a permit to employ you without arms for the time being,' our boss murmurs, not necessarily to me but to himself and to the future investigation committee. 'Fact is that at the scene of the crime the guard was unarmed, Your Honour, which may have contributed to his death. But we did receive a permit, Your Honour, we followed procedures, so the incident does not reflect upon us, there is no breach of contract or procedure.

Oddly enough, I hadn't thought about it until that shift. I was actually quite pleased not to be handling that cold burden. But this thought has at last come to me, a thought that did not come even to a graduate of Yad Chana high school, or a former resident of the settlement Yitzhar, and, I allow myself to add, to an Arab or a jew. This is a thought I find it difficult to hide from, especially if you're standing like a blue-striped uniform duck, unarmed at the guard post.

 

I wonder whether the fact that the building has Arab residents decreases or increases the chance of a bomb. Do not underestimate the importance of this tricky, politically incorrect question. I had passed several shifts in its company, until I received the weapon – as ridiculous as it sounds, because how would I actually use it? Inform a suicide bomber who's determined to end his own and my life? The shot would detonate his device, unless aimed at the head or towards the hands as they activate the bomb. Could I hit the head or hands? Only once I'd had the thought did I feel calm.

 

 

5. Sexuality market (or: what Israeli girls want?)

 

Night shift again. Half past eleven and I go on patrol by the dorms, back and forth, finally standing outside with my back to the shut door. Suddenly, a young woman stops five meters away from me. She's looking at me and I'm looking at her. The seconds pass. She is exceptionally beautiful, silent, and she's occasionally peeking at my face. The seconds thicken into minutes.

 

What's going on? Why is she silent? I daren't speak, and light a cigarette. Our eyes meet like spotlights every few seconds: exceptional beauty. I hear the door open behind me and a tall student approaches the woman. They exchange words in Russian and turn towards the dorms. I watch them head towards the elevators, magnetized.

 

I suddenly remember and run after them. 'Sorry, I need the ID.' They laugh and I blurt out, 'she's so pretty, your friend, that I completely forgot to be the guard.' The guy smiles, but the girl reddens. She takes out her ID and hands it over without looking at me. I smile at her, look at the ID and let them go.

 

Minutes later the door opens and a guy of about 30 runs out: high forehead, glasses, and a scarf wrapped round his neck in a non-Israeli style. European? 'They fired me.' He bangs on the guard's counter. 'They fired me those sons of bitches.' He's from South America. You notice his accent right away.  He was working as a waiter here in a South American restaurant in town.


'Daniel, my name's Daniel. Yes, of course I'm a student. You're new here? Here's the ID. Masters in Literature and Film. From Uruguay. Yes, but your mom – when did she come here? The Sixties? Well, I made Aliyah on my own and I'm not a Zionist. I came here because it was intolerable back there, but I'm dying to get out of here to Spain. What are you reading? So you're also a student. Its easy to say: you'll find something else. A pretty girl, you say? There are a few here – don't know that one. What does it matter anyway? – Here in your country a girl won't go out with a guy who doesn't have a car. Yes, I definitely think so. You'll go out with me without a car?'

 

We both smile and I give him my opinion of the current situation. In light of the extensive feminist discussions, as part of  'identity politics' – dull, unattractive, yet pressing issues, such as the relationship of money  to the sexual market, are pushed aside and ignored.. I strongly recommend he read Houellebeq: he's not a great writer, I say, but he's one of the few who really understand what's happening in the West today. More than all the post-modern, post-colonial theorists taught at this university. 'Here in your country it's actually important to study post-colonialism,' Daniel says with a poisonous smile.

 

I tell him I'm an Israeli patriot, and certainly it's important to study them, just to understand the injustice, the injustice in the Israeli context, no? But that's not the point. You're a neo-Marxist, I tell him – so am I – but I don't repeat the fatal error of left-wingers through the generations since Haskala (enlightenment), I do not undermine the positive effect of nationalism.

 

He disagrees but returns to the point of agreement. 'I'm misunderstood at university. When I told a few girls that I found Israeli girls don't date a guy who doesn't own a car, they dismissed the idea. What are you rabbiting on about? They said. What's that compared to the discrimination of women?' I nod in agreement. You don't have to convince me. 'And now they fired me!' He bangs on the counter. 'I'm here in this country all alone. It's not good what's happening in your country.' His eyes glitter evilly. 'This is the only campus in the world with no student life, no cultural life. You know that? How do you explain it? It's midnight and all quiet – what's that all about? It's like a cemetery. No vitality, everyone's walking about with their back hunched as if they were at a funeral. I've been to Spain – trust me, what's happening there…

 

I am silent, then say weakly, 'don't exaggerate, please.' He shakes my hand and goes upstairs.

 

 

6. The Literary circle (or: how many Raskolnikovs are wandering about here)

 

It's getting late and the dorms turn silent. Rachel, the blind American girl, steps out for a walk with her obedient white stray dog. 'What's her name?' I ask when she returns. Rachel smiles: 'Hasha. First it was Penelope, but this is Hasha. Perhaps you may know,' she says in English, 'where I could get a microwave?' Maybe second-hand, cheap – it would help her. I dread the void her disappearance would leave and start reeling off options: The local paper, websites, etc. I write it all down on a piece of paper.

 

'You know Israelis really help you out,' she says. In the US everyone's very polite – they'll always listen to you, but the bottom line is that they won't help. Here, maybe, everyone wants to show you he knows best, I don't know, but they really do help you out. Thanks. Good night. Hasha, let's go upstairs.'

 

 Being a Russian junky culture has made me look for Russian conversation partners, ones who know the great writers in original. But experience has taught me that, to make a wild generalization, Russian literature enthusiasts can be divided into two groups: those who like Dostoyevsky, and those who disagree with him and like Bulgakov or science fiction – or both. Katia, for example, from my building, passionately asserts that Dostoyevsky is depressing and doesn't speak to her.

 

She likes science fiction, fantasy and 'uplifting' books. Nadia, my Russian language teacher, can't stand Dostoyevsky either, preferring the 'liberal' Chekhov, using the same words: 'Dostoyevsky is depressing.' The point is, and it's an important one, that the seriousness characterizing the Russian classics is associated by part of the Russian intelligentsia with the terrifying failure of communism. Western capitalism is perceived as gay, free and enlightened, and the 'losers' shame cultivates resentment towards the 'heavy'; A minor form of self-hatred.

 

One finds, in a minority of the Russian immigrant community, admiration of the US and capitalist, which is at times almost unbearable. Not that I'm one of those who automatically hates anything American – but this admiration of success, coming from the 'losers' side, has a dark, unappealing quality to it.

 

So, as the weeks went by, I finally found a 'Russian' conversation partner at the dorms. Elad speaks Russian but had come here as a child. It was fast turning into quite a literary circle here behind the guard's counter. Elad is skinny, with glowing eyes and a fair beard covering his pretty face. 'How many little Raskolnikovs you find wandering about here,' I dare him. 'Just spark off their fuse and they'll explode.' Elad recommends I read Leonid Andrayev. 'There's a part with a sated lion in it, with tired eyes and small turtle passing by. Go on pass, he says, with the generosity of sated cruelty, go on, pass.' Elad curves the palm of his hand.

 

'Go on pass, the lion says. It's alright, I'm full now.' Elad's eyes shimmer when he speaks of the cruel lions and of his great force, his mercy, the unexpected rescue awarded to the turtle. It's turned into quite a literary circle here, but sometimes you just don't want to say anything, don't want to be forced into conversation. Sometimes you feel like retreating into your book or your cigarette or your loneliness or your anger or your fantasy or all five of the above. To be as correct as you can: you live here? Your ID please. Thanks. To be as correct and impersonal as possible; especially when you see the heart-rending loneliness all around you; Lonely students from the four corners of the earth looking for someone to talk to. Small talk. A word. And you talk to them, throw them a bone, but sometimes you just don't feel like it. They don't pay you to be psychologist, or a friend for that matter. I'm just a guard here. Full stop.

 

One night an older woman walks in. She's well-dressed, from Ramat-Aviv, probably. 'Do something,' she orders me. 'There's a group of boys there – vandals. They're not from here. They're tearing up the bench over there.' She's shouting in excitement. I follow her. 'Do something!' she shouts behind me. To my left, about five meters away, I see a group of 14-year-olds on bikes, their feet up on a torn-up bench, turned on its side. 'They're not from here,' the woman yells, waving her hands. This is the third time I've seen these boys. I take a step towards them and they start to move. I turn round. 'Call the police!' I tell the woman, and head towards the building. She looks at me with tears in her eyes: 'aren't you going to do anything?'

 

'Madam, I'm a security guard here. This isn't my business. Call the police if you want. I'm a guard here, just here in the dorms. Full stop.

 

7. The shooting range (or: a bookshelf as an absorbing object)

 

The Ministry of Interior strike is finally over and I've been summoned to the company's office to collect my permit for carrying arms, as well as the gun. 'Come on time, quarter to nine,' my boss says. 'They'll give you the permit; you go out to the shooting range and get the gun.' How long will it take? I ask. No more than an hour and a half, he promises me.

 

I arrive at a quarter to nine and wait patiently for half an hour. At a quarter past nine I step outside for a smoke. When I get back, the person in charge still hasn't arrived. We've been waiting for over half an hour. The secretary at the front desk promises over 40 minutes ago that the person in charge was 'on his way'. I raise my voice: 'we don't get paid for this morning, so make him come.' The secretary seems overcome by the fact that a simple guard, at the bottom of the food chain, has dared to speed up the arrival of the supervisor, but the supervisor shows up a few minutes later and hands us weapon permits, gun and a couple of bullet barrels. We're told to go to the shooting range, which is nearby. On the way I don't know what to do with the strange weapon and put it in a bag. As we reach the entrance to one of the shabby buildings near Hamasger Street, I pull it from the bag.

 

'Hey, don't take out your weapon,' the man behind the counter yells at me. 'You don't know how many misfired shots we've had here.' I replace it quickly and wait as we've been told to. The shooting range instructors wait until security guards from the various companies have arrived so that a new range may be shot. I look around me. We're in a very dusty, wide basement. It smells oily and sour, its rough machismo absorbing those who enter, like dust. A simple coffee machine stands in the corner, on it written 'we grind our own coffee on the premises', a sort of yuppy flamboyance out of context, in a place where decent bourgeois are scarce.

 

 

at the long awaited hour two groups had gathered and each received ear mufflers and we were then taken in a narrow corridor towards a small room at the end of which stood the targets, behind these the wall has been padded with a certain material that will absorb the bullets; a slim rather handsome Russian man, with a grey bohemian hair style Stands in front of us, looking very assertive. He starts lecturing on the mantling, dismantling, and firing of gun. This was a very short lecture (briefing, explanation).by the end of it, I hardly managed to understand how to shoot; definitely not how to dismantle. But, when they aren't paying you for your time you don't really seem to care that the explanation's so short. "When you want to take the gun out of the carrying case? Always use the hand that is further away, in this case for me- it's my left hand. Do you know why?" he asks his improvised class, one of the students who wishes to show he knows best – I know these guys already from the army – says giggling: "so they don't think you want to shoot", "that's right", says the Russian, "if I see someone reaching for the gun with his right hand, a maniac like myself would shoot straight off". Everyone smiles. No doubt, we're faced with a real man. "Now let's talk about dismantling", he continues and the student from before springs out: "First off it's important to dismantle a weapon facing an absorbing object. The best option will be a book case" clearly he mentions a well known convention, and indeed the instructor agrees. "Yes, it's important to remember: dismantle facing an absorbing object, a sofa or preferably a book case, so that if you miss one- there goes a book nothing more"   

 

 

New Year's Eve (or: the food chain)

 

8. My boss calls me begging me to guard on New Year's Eve. "I've got no one, the Russian guys are on leave and I'm desperate" I agree, I don't usually celebrate New Year's Eve; due to biographical issues. When I get there at eleven o'clock the parties are in full swing. Apart from the Israeli students celebrating, there are in the building some "Christians" from abroad, who are taking the event completely seriously. People are passing by me with bottles of Vodka and beers, offering me a sip. I refuse. I'm on duty. Others stop to express their solidarity: "you're stuck here on New Year's Eve?"

 

Around midnight the dorms clear out of people. Everyone's partying outside.  They're partying even on the radio; I turn it off with contempt. Around one AM people start coming back. Girls in all their drunken glory, the guys swaying from side to side, giggling. "You're stuck here on New Year's Eve?"  They stop for a second. I'm finally encouraged by their empathy and end up acting out the most improbable act for my situation. I call for take-out and order the spicy noodle dish, there's a minimum fee per order, so I add another Sushi Cone, sixty shekels altogether and it'll will arrive in no longer than one hour. My hands shiver when I hang up.. I just ordered take-away for half my salary for this long night ahead of me. But I am also human. Forty minutes later the delivery guy arrives, I hesitantly give him the Visa. Half of my salary is wasted on this take-away, I tell him. He smiles suspiciously, this isn't going to be good for him. Do you get your wages for the deliveries or just the tips? I ask. "Bro', give only if you want" he says benevolently. I hesitate for a moment. Usually I'm not bad tipper, but the shock caused by my irrational decision confuses me. For a moment there I'm not myself. He gives me a weak smile and says "bro', don't bum out, you don't have to give", I awake all at once. 'Excuse me, I don't know what happened to me', I reach out and hand him a Ten Shekel coin. "Thanks bro" he answers with a smile. "They've fucked us – working on New Year's, huh?"   

 

January-march (or: over and undone with)

I am less acquainted with the other guards than the residents themselves. After all, I meet them only at shift changes, for brief updates when there are unusual events to report. (Students requesting to bring a friend over to sleep in the dorms, these requests are later passed on by the guard to the security officer; objects that were left at the guard's post, in order to be picked up later etc.). However, I will attempt to give an impression of their character in a few lines.

 

First, the guards are divided into two groups: the young and the old. Among the young, I am practically the only one who isn't originally from the former USSR. The older ones, forty or fifty years old – are what can be referred to as "veteran Israelis". Most of them are quite intelligent, people who have been uprooted from their various working environments. In the meantime they are earning their meager livelihood in provisional jobs like security. People who have failed to find their proper place in the current economic system. Only their "meantime" has suddenly turned into months. For example, Avram, as Yechezkel tells me with a smile, is incredibly devoted to the building. If he is supposed to guard it, then he wouldn't do it half way. Or Yiftach, who comes rushing every Saturday night to replace me, and immediately turns on the radio to listen to soccer. Or Bernard, who dreams of publishing a novel in German and listens to classical music from behind the counter; or Menachem, grumpy and mean, who despite the fact I come earlier than I should have, leaves the post all at once without even waiting for me to set up.

 There is a certain degree of charged irony between these men, especially the older guards, and the "enlightened" feminine youthful students. I would like to comment on that. During one of the long night shifts I discovered underneath the guard's counter an Israeli monthly pornographic journal. There isn't enough privacy here at the post, so I had put it back in its place without leafing through it. But I would like to say something about all the erotic legends revolving around college girls. Yes, all those well-known legends that fuel men's imagination all around the world.

 

What have we got here? Here, in the distant marginal parts of Tel Aviv University, 2004? At times one may find a surprising amount of untamed beauty, the kind that is not produced by a work-out at the gym or by certain Pilates exercises. A strange beauty, unknown to its' embarrassed proprietor. A lot of young embarrassed women lacking in confidence, tensioned, stressed, coming from complicated backgrounds, and here and there, in the midst of all this, banal yet wise insistence to enjoy youth in the way one should. This insistence is evident almost only on Saturday nights.

 

As months passed, I have already grown accustomed to my work. Trying to take advantage of the spare time for reading and writing, and also for conversations with new acquaintances. To the left of the counter a messianic Christian Arab argues with a convert American Jew of Korean origin, on the importance or lack of importance of the Talmud. A student comes running over and tells me he's seen a group of young boys on bikes vandalizing parked cars. The beautiful girl lingers a little too long at my counter. No doubt, compliments pay-off. Adiv comes to say goodbye. He leaves the dorms and moves back home to care for his sick father. Rachel passes-by again with her guide-dog Hasha, and stops me from changing the radio station. She likes  the florid oriental style of singing. 'It's so beautiful' she says, and for a moment there she can see again. That's cool.  

 

Daniel complains again in anguish about how materialistic Israeli girls are, and I can't bear it since I identify with him so profoundly. The door opens and a student walks in. Daniel hisses to me "isn't she cute?" is she available? I whisper back, and he nods, 'I think so'. That's it, I've had it. I get up and turn to her 'what's your name?' Naama, 'look Naama' I say authoritatively. Excuse me for asking but do you have a boyfriend? She blushes and says she doesn't but wonders what I'm getting at. So, I go on 'listen, this is Daniel, you know him, lovely guy, very intelligent, looks good, doesn't he? And you live right here as well, in the dorms. You look like an intelligent girl, and sorry for being rude but you're also very attractive, so what's your problem people?! Why don't you go out for a movie? Talk a little; have a drink, why rot in here? 

 

I glance over at Daniel and there is blind fury in his eyes, but Naama is actually smiling. Come on, go take a shower and get dressed, and in half an hour, meet down here on the way to the movies. Is that clear? Naama says she's not up for a film but she actually wanted to ask Daniel about the computer in his room. They both try to dismiss my suggestions as crazy and bizarre, and prefer to continue their indecisive course till the end of time. But when they are leaving together, I feel content and settle back in my chair.

 

A familiar student walks in and bangs on the counter, he got fired too. He worked as security guard in a Jerusalem hospital. "They fired me for nothing", it's unbelievable, a real slave-market, the whole thing. They can fire me because there are thousands like me. Tell me, how much are you getting here? Also minimum wage?" and when I not in approval he says "it's all the same shit, what else do you do for a living?" When I tell him I feel as if an invisible wall has come between us. "So you write for the newspapers? Well, you've got it all worked out" he looks at me suspiciously, a little alienated.

 

Maybe I shouldn't have told him but why should I feel guilty? Perhaps this is because of the mobilization, I tell myself, that wonderful word, the magic cure of liberal economy. Here I am not an un-talented individual, thirty years old, with no money or a decent job. It is so obvious to me that from middle class I came and to middle class I shall return and god bless the free market. And still I feel guilty. "You write for the paper?" he says "so why don't you write about us and about this slave-market? Could you also give me the number of the security company you work for? Maybe I'll try talking to them tomorrow, what have I got to lose?"

 

Daniel comes downstairs, his face all pale. So, how did it go with Naama? I enquire, although I already know the answer. He dismisses the question. "nothing's right in your country, terrible and vulgar film-making. It's all dead here." You can tell he's on the edge. He's all stirred up, repeatedly throwing the scarf around his neck in violent gestures, banging his fists on my counter. "If I want to go have a drink or two, I need at least fifty shekels. I want to take a girl out but she won't even piss in my direction 'cause I don't have a car." He sits down beside me and then stands up again, all excited. "I heard that in the Nineties it was like heaven here, is that true? I wouldn't know, but now, what is this place, tell me?"  

 

I whisper to him, in trance "you know Daniel; there are old ladies here in Ramat-Aviv, old ladies". Daniel is focused on his own suffering, sitting restlessly on the chair, but I can't resist the temptation: "Alone, Daniel, I whisper," Old ladies all alone in their apartments, with lots of money". I'm shocked at myself but I can't help it. He suddenly realizes what I mean and looks at me as if I was mad. what are you babbling about? "People with money are sitting in their apartments all around us, get it? Old women, it's pretty easy…. "What do I need old ladies for?" Daniel jumps up from his chair," I'm talking about young girls, about finding a girlfriend". I come back to my senses, like waking up from a bad dream. He didn't really get what I meant and that's just as well. What was I thinking? He's more into films, rather than literature, let alone Dostoyevsky.

 

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