A few weeks before our son Lev was born, four years ago, two weighty philosophical issues came to the fore.
The first, will-he-look-like-his-mom-or-his-dad, was resolved quickly and unequivocally at his birth: he was beautiful. Or, as my dear wife so aptly puts it, “The only thing he inherited from you is the hair on his back.”
And the second issue, what-will-he-be-when-he-grows-up, was of concern for the first three years of his life. His bad temper qualified him to be a taxi driver; his phenomenal ability to make excuses indicated that he might do well in the legal profession; and his consistent mastery over others showed his potential to be a high-ranking member of one totalitarian government or another. But during the past few months the fog surrounding our son’s plump and rosy future has begun to lift. He’ll probably be a milkman, because otherwise, his rare ability to wake up every morning at 5:30 and insist on waking us too would go completely to waste.
One Wednesday, two weeks ago, our routine of being awakened at 5:30 a.m. was preempted by the doorbell. In my pajama bottoms, I opened the door and saw my best friend, Uzi, standing there, white as a sheet. On the balcony, he smoked nervously and told me that he’d had dinner with S., a crazy kid who’d gone to elementary school with us and had become, of course, a crazy high-ranking military officer. Around dessert, after Uzi finished bragging about a dubious real estate deal he’d just closed, S. told him about a secret dossier that had reached his desk. It dealt with the psychological makeup of the Iranian president. According to the dossier, which originated in foreign-intelligence agencies, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the only living leaders in the world whose real views, aired only behind closed doors, are even more fanatical than the ones aired in public.
“It’s almost always the opposite,” S. had explained. “World leaders are barking dogs who don’t bite. But with him, it seems, his desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth is really a lot stronger than he actually says. And, as you know, he says quite a bit.”
“Do you get it?” Uzi, covered in sweat, asked me. “That crazy Iranian is prepared to destroy Israel even if it means the total annihilation of Iran, because from a pan-Islamic perspective, he sees that as a victory. And in a few months, that guy is going to have a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb! Do you understand what a disaster it’ll be for me if he drops it on Tel Aviv? I rent out 14 apartments here. Did you ever hear of a radioactive mutation who pays his rent on time?”
“Get hold of yourself, Uzi,” I said. “You’re not the only one who’ll suffer if we get bombed. I mean, we have a kid here and—”
“A kid doesn’t pay rent,” Uzi yelled. “A kid doesn’t sign a lease with you that he’ll break without a second thought the minute he grows a third eye.” At that point in the conversation, I lit a cigarette too.
The next day, when my wife asked me to call in a plumber to check a wet spot on the bedroom ceiling, I told her about my conversation with Uzi. “If S. is right,” I said, “it would be a waste of our time and money. Why fix anything if the whole city is going to be wiped out in two months?” I suggested that maybe we should give it half a year, and if we’re still here in one piece in March, we’ll repair the ceiling then. My wife didn’t say anything, but from her look I could tell that she hadn’t realized the seriousness of the current geopolitical situation. “So if I understand you correctly, you probably want to postpone the work on the garden too?” she asked. I nodded. Why waste the citrus tree saplings and the violets we’d plant? According to the internet, they’re particularly sensitive to radiation.
Aided by Uzi’s intelligence, I managed to save us from quite a few chores. The only home-repair job I agreed to take part in was roach extermination, because even radioactive fallout won’t stop those pests. Gradually, my wife also began to realize the advantages of our shabby existence. After she found a not exactly reliable news site warning that Iran might already have nuclear weapons, she decided it was time to stop washing dishes. “There’s nothing more frustrating than getting nuked while you’re putting the soap in the dishwasher,” she explained. “From now on, we only wash the dishes on an immediate-need basis, a second before we eat.”
This if-I’m-going-up-in-flames-anyway-then-I-won’t-go-as-a-sucker philosophy extended well beyond the dishwasher edict. We quickly stopped unnecessary floor-mopping and garbage removal. At my wife’s cunning suggestion, we went straight to the bank to apply for a huge loan, figuring that if we take out the money fast enough, we can screw the system. “Let them come looking for us to pay it back when this country turns into a giant hole in the ground,” we laughed as we sat in our filthy living room watching our enormous new plasma TV. It would be nice if only once in our short lives we could really put one over on the bank.
And then I had a nightmare in which Ahmadinejad came over to me on the street, hugged me, kissed me on both cheeks and said in fluent Yiddish, “Ich hub dir lieb,” “My brother, I love you.” I woke my wife. Her face was covered in plaster. The problem of the wet spot on the ceiling over our bed was worse than we had thought. “What’s wrong?” she asked, frightened. “Is it the Iranians?”
I nodded, but quickly reassured her that it was only in a dream.
“That they annihilated us?” she asked, stroking my cheek. “I have one of those every night.”
“Even worse,” I said. “I dreamed we were making peace with them.”
That hit her really hard. “Maybe S. was wrong,” she whispered in terror. “Maybe the Iranians won’t attack. And we’ll be stuck with this filthy, rundown apartment, with the debts and your students, whose papers you promised to give back by January and haven’t even started to mark. And with those nudnik relatives of yours in Eilat we promised to visit for Pesach because we were sure that by then—”
“It was just a dream,” I tried to cheer her up. “He’s a lunatic, you can see it in his eyes.” But that was too little, too late. I hugged her as hard as I could, letting her tears flow onto my neck, and whispered, “Don’t worry, honey. We’re both survivors. We’ve already survived quite a bit together—illnesses, wars, terrorist attacks, and, if peace is what fate has in store, we’ll survive it too.” So it was that in the middle of an autumn night, we found ourselves sweeping the living room in tense silence. First thing tomorrow morning, I’m calling a plumber.
Translated by Sondra Silverston