What can I say? I was a middle-class brat running away from a broken home. I dropped out of community college, sold my Gibson Explorer (I know, don’t remind me) and bought a plane ticket to Israel where I had hackneyed, weed-addled fantasies of becoming an Israeli army scout sniper. I promised myself I’d exhume my good liberal conscience after I had become a war-hero—a war-hero peace activist. What an all-around great guy I would be then!
First I volunteered on a kibbutz. For those who don’t know, the kibbutz used to be a rural agricultural collective where the residents tithed their earnings, dined side by side in a single cafeteria and sent their kids to be raised together in on-site communal dorms. There are over a hundred such communities in Israel, though nearly all have privatized by now, which means two things: that they’ve basically become bedroom HOAs organized around vestigial on-site enterprises owned by outside investors, situated on seriously prime real estate; and that the back-biting and nosiness one might expect in such a tight-knit community is exacerbated a thousand times over by the floodgates of income disparity being suddenly thrown open. So while kibbutzniks cling to their self-image as veritable founders of, and best damn folks in, the country, they actually hate one another, because throughout the years of collectivism some of them had been shrewd enough to keep money invested (or just stashed) off-site, while others left, only to return highly educated or married to more affluent people, leaving an underclass to languish as well-kept but resentful proletarians who give tours, rake leaves, man the cafeteria, stack palettes at the factory or supervise while Indochinese temp-visa coolies do any of those things.
Within a week of arriving I had befriended half a dozen male high school seniors, with whom I bonded over plastic bong hits of godawful filler-cut hashish first melted on a butter knife, then massaged into the emptied-out contents of a Winston Light. They suckered me into helping them with their English homework.
One of these kids, Shai, was slightly off. At first he was my go-to homie on account of his superb English, but I quickly noticed that when teased by his peers in even the most innocuous manner he would erupt into fantastically infuriated violence, throwing furniture, kicking holes in drywall and screaming at the top of his lungs. When this happened everyone would just clear out of his way, and I came to find out through the merciless little kibbutz grapevine (which, unbeknownst to me, was well aware of my drug use—I was considered a bad influence and mistaken by half the parents on the kibbutz for a big bad American drug dealer who preyed upon hapless teenagers) that Shai’s father was dead, his sister was in a mental institution and he himself was on psychotropic prescription medication of some sort. The army was well aware of all this, and come late July, Shai would be left behind while his schoolmates shipped out for the quintessential rite of Israeli adulthood that he had been raised to anticipate.
Later that summer, the kids had all been drafted and I was living and working in Tel Aviv, doing odd construction jobs and working on moving vans, when I got a call from one of the recently-minted soldiers, asking if I would like to replace him at his six-day a week landscaping job in the town nearest the kibbutz. He even offered to let me stay in his now-vacant dorm room. Hells yeah, I told him.
The job was ten rigorous hours a day. On weekends I would take the train north from Tel Aviv to an affluent foothills town above Haifa to luxuriate at my girlfriend’s parent’s house. Unfortunately, life around the kibbutz had gotten pretty dull without the boys around, but Shai had it much worse than I did, languishing, playing video games and half-heartedly tending to the humiliating odd jobs his neighbors pityingly offered him. In the evenings he and I would smoke weed and play video games. Every few nights he drove me to Tel Aviv and parked out front of the apartment building of a former co-worker of mine who moonlit as a drug dealer, while I went inside and took care of business.
In those days Shai was pretty down in the mouth all the time. Once he even took a swing at me when I tried to turn down his car stereo so I could take a phone call. It was around that time that I decided to stop procrastinating and go cold turkey on the reefer. I was expecting a letter from the draft board and wanted to be clean in case they piss-tested me at my physical. But when I informed Shai that I could no longer be of assistance in procuring his hash, he threatened me. Then he started ringing my phone off the hook. Finally, one evening as I was returning home from work, I turned on my phone to discover a string of Hebrew text messages threatening to kill me and warning me not to return to the kibbutz. Fuck him, I thought.
Late that night, while I was telephoning my mother from the little orange Bezeq payphone along the frontage road outside the kibbutz (payphones are orange in Israel), Shai’s beat-up old blue Subaru wagon came screeching up, kicking up a dust cloud as it swerved into the dirt along the shoulder. He burst out, slammed the door behind him, took four or five tense steps in my direction and yanked the phone away from me, slamming it down onto the receiver as he bitch slapped me with his ginormous opposite paw.
Did I mention that Shai is about six-foot-five? I’m six even. With those figures in mind I abruptly decided not to fuck around with formalities and just reached out, wrapping my fingers around the back of his skull, plunging both thumbs deep into his eye sockets. He writhed and roared, kicking and clawing as I held on for dear life. After a five to ten second infinity he broke loose and began flailing at me erratically, attempting fisticuffs. I took a boxing stance and commenced thumping, landing a good, direct four out of five. Deep in the throws of frothing rage, Shai’s attempts to straighten out and focus yielded limited success; he must’ve landed about three out of seventeen. But for as good as I gave, he just wouldn’t go down. Hell, you try fighting Frankenstein’s creation three days out of a years-long, everyday weed habit and see how well it goes for you. Again, considering the options, I decided it was best to quit fucking around, so I hightailed it.
Just then, Shai dove into the driver’s side door of his station wagon, hit the ignition and fucking floored it. I felt the whoosh of his front bumper sweeping my ass as I hopped into a bush. The crazy motherfucker tried to kill me.
He slammed the brakes and reemerged from the vehicle in hot pursuit, this time on foot. I fled once more, but because at this point I was thoroughly convinced that Shai would have no problem chasing me all the way to my door, beating it down and murdering me with a brick, I ran in circles. Before long I had worn him down to the point that I was about to start lapping him, which (considering the sheer length of his arms) would have been a major tactical blunder on my part. So I caught my breath as best I could and put up my dukes for the round two bell. This time I landed a hundred percent, each thumping blow as ineffective as the last. Giving up on throwing punches, Shai started walking me backward, lunging as he tried to get me in a bear-hug. Again, it seemed best to run, so we resumed our track meet. Once more I gained a good head start and with ten or twelve meters between us I noticed a big boulder along the side of the road, big enough to do damage but just small enough to hoist and aim. So I gambled on it, turning around to face my attempted murderer. As he closed the distance between us he lowered his head, charging as if to tackle me. I stole the opportunity and bent down to swoop up the rock, hoisting it with two arms up over my head. As Shai came within grabbing distance he reared his awful cranium. That’s when I slammed the rock down upon it. “Thud!” Then silence. Crumpled on the ground, Shai rolled over, gave a moan, then slowly pulled himself up to his knees and began bawling like an infant in choking, stentorian sobs. I froze, dismayed and remorseful (I’m not a fucking sociopath, after all).
Those waterworks were like sprinklers on a timer, for at that very moment an old man emerged from around a bend in the frontage road, out for a walk with a poop baggie and a Standard Poodle. And this is what he saw: the big bad American drug dealer, heaving but erect, looking down at the poor mentally ill kid who was clutching his wounded face and emitting a by-then shrill whimper. The old man came running over, crouched down next to Shai and gingerly helped him up.
Cops were called. We were detained. As we sat handcuffed in the back of the police jeep, we were asked if either of us wanted to press charges against the other. Shai was over it, but I could hear the old man a few feet away from the vehicle, telling one of the cops that he would press charges against me on Shai’s behalf, that I was a drug dealer, etc., etc. Recalling the threatening text messages that I still had in my phone, I decided I had better press a counter charge and avoid the risk of being the only one on the defensive. I informed the officers of my decision when Shai told me, in English, in a whisper, that if I pressed charges against him he would rat out my dealer, whose address he knew from our trips to Tel Aviv together. So I told the officers that, on second thought, I wanted to decline the opportunity to press charges.
Those cops must’ve been lazier than shit. Apparently not wanting to fill out the requisite paper work, they prevailed upon the old man not to press charges against me, either.
We were let out of the Jeep and our handcuffs removed. Shai was taken to the hospital where he was treated for a concussion. His right eye was swollen shut for the next six weeks, big bandage, stitches across his forehead, bruises all over the place. Given the size difference between contenders, the kibbutzniks developed the impression that I was some kind of Chuck Norris/Bruce Lee hybrid. Little did they know I remained scared shitless of ol’ Shai, swollen eye or none.
(originally published April 18th, 2012)