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Seeing Things

When fast-food-induced hallucinations of Chelsea Clinton precede Yom Kippur, extreme measures must be taken

Etgar Keret
September 17, 2010
Collage Tablet Magazine; doughnut photo MorgueFile; Chelsea Clinton photo Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Collage Tablet Magazine; doughnut photo MorgueFile; Chelsea Clinton photo Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Collage Tablet Magazine; doughnut photo MorgueFile; Chelsea Clinton photo Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Collage Tablet Magazine; doughnut photo MorgueFile; Chelsea Clinton photo Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I’m writing this column at four in the morning, and not because I’ve decided to pursue a second career as an insomniac or a vampire. It’s just a nagging case of jetlag that I hope will pass by Kol Nidre. It’s hard enough to ask forgiveness for all the bad things I did last year even without my screwed-up biological clock waking me long before dawn.

I have to admit that the jetlag this time was way beyond physical and made the return to Israel especially difficult. After three weeks in Urbana, Illinois, with my wife and son, the American Midwest had penetrated deep into our bones through the grease in the food, the bagel-shaped billboards, and the ubiquitous supermarket specials (otherwise it’s hard to explain why Lev, my five-year-old, insists on presenting himself as “only $4.99”).

My wife’s jetlag manifests itself in the new daily routine she developed in consultation with the unusually sticky menu of the Urbana IHOP. Back in Tel Aviv, she continues to begin her morning with pancakes and strawberries, goes on to a lunch of French toast slathered in butter, and rolls up to a dinner of Nutella crepes topped with whipped cream and a side of onion rings. If she lumbers in at this rate, very soon Lev and I will be able to leave our apartment and go to live inside her.

My son’s tough return to Tel Aviv has mostly taken the form of heartbreaking monologues about “our home in Urbana.” He’s constantly telling anyone who will listen how much he misses the safe we had in our hotel room and how much he wants to go back to the LL floor, “my favorite floor in the whole world,” as he loves to say in a pathos-filled voice. LL was where he was free any hour of the day to bowl and to choose from an array of alluring snacks and neon-colored energy drinks on display in the glittering, greedy vending machines.

And I, like the rest of my battered family, also got hit square in the stomach. My addiction was to doughnuts. Surprisingly, I discovered that the combination of the sugar high, the doughy softness, and the unsaturated-fat poisoning my body caused psychedelic hallucinations. After three doughnuts, the sky turned purple, and after five, I believed that the shanah tova card I got from the American Embassy was actually a three-dimensional hologram of a huge doughnut out of which Chelsea Clinton leapt, topless.

And burdened by all that baggage, we’re supposed to deal with Yom Kippur. I don’t want to complain, but you have to admit that diving into that fast while a 3-D hallucination of Chelsea Clinton jumping out of a huge sugar-coated confection rolls around my brain is a bit Job-like. Except that your faithful servant, unlike that cursed biblical figure, didn’t just sit on his backside and scratch himself, but decided while still in Urbana to prepare for resisting culinary temptation on the coming Day of Atonement. At night, when my sweet family was sound asleep and dreaming of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was busy recording 60 straight minutes of fast-food commercials in our hotel room. The kind of ads where the announcer, with the jaded tone of someone who’s already seen and swallowed everything, promises you a 4-foot-long sandwich and a gallon bottle of Coke for under five dollars (maybe that’s where my son got it) or a free vat of fries with every sizzling 9-pound steak topped with bubbling cheese. And so, for the entire hour of my recording, the screen is filled with horrifying shots: a frenzied dolly zoom of a monster-sized hamburger bleeding ketchup; a giant pizza spinning wildly around your head, threatening to destroy the world with an artillery shelling of extra spicy pepperoni; and a waffle the size of the U.S. national debt sinking slowly into an endless swamp of chocolate chip ice cream in a calorie-rich homage to the Titanic.

Since we’ve been back in Tel Aviv, that disk has been sitting innocently in the inner pocket of my suitcase. And when the right moment comes, exactly one hour before the fast begins this evening, I’ll innocently invite my nuclear family into the living room, shove the doomsday disc into the kishkes of the DVD, and make us all watch it straight through to the end, extra-crunchy, jalapeno-coated Buffalo wings commercial included, no exemptions or bathroom breaks. And if that disgusting commercial diet fails to keep us food free for the next 24 hours, I’ll have no choice but to submissively accept any flood God sends my way. Although if it turns out that we have a say in the matter, my wife would strongly prefer a maple syrup one.

Translated by Sondra Silverston.

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer.