Reduktsia

Or, a chronicle of a cowed citizenry

This is the story of Reduktsia (or "Rudika," to her dwindling circle of friends) Eliminatsovich, who one day, as was her wont, clicked on the remote control of HOT, the cable company, to watch the CNN news. What she got was a screen full of snow.

The next day she tried again. Now she saw a discussion featuring a priest from Delaware on the question, "Should Santa Claus cut his budget in the current fiscal year in order to show kids a good example?" Thinking she might have made a mistake, she clicked again on the analogical Channel 12, only to discover that instead of CNN, she was now getting the conservative Fox News channel, or maybe it was some fundamentalist station.

At least, this was how Ms. Eliminatsovich - a solitary widow, no longer young, who was signed up with HOT for four catalytic converters and the expanded family package, or something like that - understood it. This "savings package" had been offered her many years earlier by a salesman in a starched shirt who emitted a powerful aroma of after-shave. The smell came back to her every time she recalled the remnants of tangerines and guavas that had been squashed amid the embers of a bonfire in which a skunk with digestive problems had been roasted.

Not that she thought about it all that much. But one evening, four or five years before, her nostrils had picked up that rare aroma together with the feeling of deja vu. It happened when she clicked Channel 14, and instead of the BBC World Service, saw a widow, no longer young, sitting on a sofa and desperately clicking on the remote. Finally it dawned on her that she was watching her own reflection on a slide, which declared that the BBC had been removed for all time by HOT in order to improve consumer service.

The scent of that same deja vu, however exotic its components might sound, became quite familiar to our Rudika in recent years. It was evoked whenever something was removed from her world - something that happened with increasing frequency.

It started with television, the niche that was her escape and her window on the world, but did not stop there. First the Italian channel disappeared, then France 2, along with an array of channels which had been promised her by the mandarin salesman, who later also recommended that she "switch to digital" in order "to see better" the successive slides announcing the extinction of channels. But Ms. Reduktsia was already then the victim of the somewhat apathetic mood that characterizes many Israeli consumers: Like the metaphorical horse, they became habituated to eating less and less straw, until in the end they were used to eating nothing at all.

"Nu, what do I need an Italian channel for?" Reduktsia asked herself. "And was there a French channel in the Krakow Ghetto? And why would I want the BCC and CNN when I can sit back and watch 'Sami and Susu' on reruns of best-hits programs, based on archival clips of salutes to the retro shows that surveyed the programs that were recycled the first years of Israeli television? You should be grateful, Rudika, that there is anything moving on your screen at all, or that the man with the bald head and the satisfied look who manages HOT doesn't assault you in the middle of the night and whack you on the head with a sharp-nailed board."

Reduktsia was not the only one who found solace in every new situation to which she was reduced by the service non-providers, the political leadership, the CEOs of companies, and the controllers of the monopolies, duopolies and triopolies - those entities that engage in free-market competition to see which of them can raise consumer prices and CEO wages the most while cutting the benefits to the citizen the most.

A case in point is Rudika Eliminatsovich's best friend, Regressia ("Gressi") Amortizatsia - she who for years advised her to move from HOT to the satellite network YES, only to find herself staring for two weeks at what she thought was another mass terror attack in Manhattan, but turned out to be a frozen whirlpool of static brought to you by a Dutch spy ship, or maybe it was alpha waves emanating from the office of the defense minister.

"It's not so terrible," the two good friends said in mutual consolation. "It could be a lot worse."

"How?" Regressia asked Reduktsia.

"It could be a cataract."

Reduktsia turned out to be a better prophet than she realized: Not long after these events, her vision became impaired. But when she went to claim her rights as a longtime member of an HMO, it turned out that her illness was not covered. However, as one of the marketers of the new health insurance plans explained to her, if she were to mortgage her home and acquire a complementary insurance plan - say, the "titanium rigor-mortis plus" one - she would be reimbursed to the tune of 1.5 percent of the medicines that are not included in the health basket, plus she'd get a discounted ticket to a performance by Infected Mushroom.

That deja-vu aroma hit her again. But when she checked her bank account she discovered that her savings had been depleted due to fines levied by her cellular phone company. It turned out that she had signed up for the "post-escapism slalom-surfing package," which she had bought years earlier for her nephew in a "free plus special," which turned out to include free online viewing of NBA games that ended a week later, and then leveled off at a cost of NIS 1,500 a month. But the cellular salesman offered some friendly advice: If she were to sign up for the "devilishly speedy terminator package," which enables a 10-mega online connection (on clear days only) to Channel 10, which has relinquished its night broadcasts in favor of transmitting bets to a Hungarian casino, she would get a discount of 0.4 percent on her debt and a luxurious set of bed linen.

"But I still haven't told you the main thing," the cellular salesman said.

"What could that be?" Reduktsia gasped, feeling her strength draining away.

"As a service to the consumer, we are raising the price of air time and awarding you two minutes of fireworks for free."

But the explosions she heard were not from fireworks. They were the shells and rockets of another war. The government's promise of peace and security had long since expired. The terms of her insurance policy were also altered and no longer covered the damage to her apartment and her property caused by the war.

"It's not so terrible," Reduktsia consoled herself. "The main thing is health." But when she was rushed to hospital it turned out that there was no place for the old woman even in the corridor. Instead, she was given a place on a rag-dryer in the broom closet.

"It's not so terrible," she panted. "The main thing is to leave this world peacefully." But then it turned out that the only remaining burial sites were at Ramat Hovav, and only in the plots available for NIS 15,000 in unmarked bills.

Her nephew, who read about an end-of-season special being offered by the Dry Leaves Co., decided to economize and haul her in the trunk of his car to be cremated. But as luck would have it, on the night she was turned into ashes, Haredim burned down the crematorium.

"It's not so terrible," said the minuscule ember that was still floating in the air for a few seconds, and used to be Reduktsia Eliminatsovich. "After all, it's better than nothing."