It doesn't really help to be downtown. I still don't have anything to write about. I arrived at the office around 6:30 A.M., and en route I saw kids making their way home from Beitar's championship celebrations in Sacher Park. No inspirational ideas came to mind. Yeah, there were the images from the day before in Gaza - the funeral, the mass of armed men, lots of gunshots, lots of kids, and "our" intrepid military correspondent, who couldn't disguise a little smile as he commented on the pictures. For some reason, it sounded to me like he was saying, "Let them go ahead and finish each other off."
For an hour and a half I stared at the blank screen and by then I was seriously missing my old study at home, where at least I had the option of escaping to the television. I had to go outside, into the city, to look for a story - or for something to drink at least.
"Coffee, please," I tersely requested of Ovad, who stood behind the counter.
"What's eating you, so early in the morning?" he asked as he went about his work, snipping open sacks of milk, turning on a machine, refilling the containers of ground coffee.
"It's nothing, I'm just a little stuck. And this whole thing in Gaza is killing me. Did you see Channel 10 yesterday?"
"What really bugged me yesterday wasn't Gaza, but my own people, who stood in Sacher Park waving yellow flags and hailing Caesar," he demonstrated by clenching his fist and holding his arm straight out. "How, how is it that they don't get it ...?" He shook his head in annoyance. The door opened and his expression instantly changed, as he said: "Hello, ma'am. How are you this morning?"
"Fine, thanks," answered the respectable-looking woman who had just come in. She didn't need to ask for anything; Ovad already knew. "Decaf, light, with four sweeteners," he murmured and set about making it. "Thanks, see you," she said as she departed with her take-away.
"And that reporter Zvi Yehezkeli of theirs?"
"Ah, yes, the report from Jordan? There really was a racist overtone there, with that toothless Bedouin guy."
"I'm not talking about that," said Ovad. "I'm talking about the way he plays right into the hands of the leftist Ashkenazi consensus. They sit there cracking up when he shows them either floozies with big chests, or fanatics who stab themselves. There's nothing in between. That's the Arab world, as far as he's concerned."
"You're right. I hadn't noticed that before," I said.
"Because you're as bad as them," he said, and his expression turned particularly serious. "What's his story? He probably studied something about Arabs - history, culture. And this is what he chooses to show? Wallah, it's like as if an Egyptian reporter - let's say - was to spend a whole week selecting the stupidest quotes by Knesset members or from some soap opera, and then go and present Israel that way in Egypt. It's a disgrace."
The door opened. The conversation, the furious looks, the anger - all instantly vanished. "Hello, Mr. Samuel. Is your wife feeling better today?" Ovad asked, and immediately began to prepare a cup of herbal tea with two sugars for the gentleman.
"Hey, what about my coffee?" I protested, offended that he was serving others ahead of me.
"You ... I haven't yet figured out what you drink. Everyone has a certain kind of coffee that they like. You've been here a week and every day you've asked for something else. So what'll it be for you today: black, cappuccino, espresso - what?"
He's right. There is nothing I could call "my coffee"; I haven't yet formulated a clear stance. I haven't even made up my mind if I like it with or without sugar.
"Around here you don't change your order. You decide on a drink and it's yours forever," he added with a smile, and then left me to ponder the dilemma as he greeted more customers whose obvious status as regulars left me feeling like an unwanted stranger.
"Nu, have you decided?"
"No changes allowed?"
"Nope," he decreed.
"Well, if it has to be the same each time ... Do you have any whiskey here by any chance?"
Ovad was a bit taken aback. He glanced around to see if anyone had heard my request and then whispered over the hiss of the coffee machine: "You've got to be kidding! It's not even eight o'clock yet. But I'll just go and check if there's anything." He finished making another cup of coffee, handed it to a satisfied customer, and then opened a wooden cabinet and took out a bottle of very cheap-looking Scotch. He wiped off the dust with a rag and began pouring. Noticing that some of the seated customers were observing him, he raised his voice and addressed me: "Happy birthday! May you live to be 120, habibi!"
"What's this? First thing in the morning?" I played along. "How will I be able to work afterward?"
"Hey, birthdays come just once a year, so here's to you!" he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"And what will we do tomorrow?" I asked him quietly. "Another birthday?"
"Tomorrow," he whispered back, "I don't want to see you coming near here."
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