It's a slippery slide
The roads to pure pleasure are many and varied at the Holon water park. But keeping it all running like clockwork on a hot summer afternoon is a demanding business.
The road to the Kamikaze goes through Peace. Nobody wants to climb the Peace Tower, but everybody wants to get to the Kamikaze slide. They want to so badly that they climb and climb. The way to the top is not easy. The attempts to butt in line are incessant, the climb itself takes 20 sweaty, exhausting minutes of dirty curses, venomous whispers and gentle strangulation. Is it worth going through all that just for five seconds of pure pleasure? Why not - is sex different?
Ilan Cohen is in charge of the slides and other attractions at Yamit Water Park. He's happy with the Peace Tower and the monstrous, twisting Blue Anaconda, the Cobra and the new, steep yellow Kamikaze slides that emerge from it. Cohen, 48, whose bald head is bronze, has been working at the park for three years. "Look how much fun they're having. I see kids coming here, sliding, having fun, and that makes my day," he says. He adds that the Kamikaze went into service only yesterday. "It's called 'X-Treme,'" he says proudly. "Look, it's real classy. Eighteen and a half meters high. The tallest in Israel."
They say it's the tallest in the Middle East.
"Forget about the Middle East. I don't care about the Middle East. The tallest in Israel."
Why did you call it "Peace"?
"Because this is the Peace Pool. I don't know. It's from before."
The kids are pouring into the Peace Pool, one after the other, doing a kind of alien dance under the water until they pop up looking confused, smiling, their bodies weaving, breathing hard, blowing a victory spray and hurrying out for another turn. Round and round they go - from the Banana Jump, to the Amazonas, the Rainbow and the Free Fall, the Black Hole, Typhoon, and Hurricane. They take a run at the Space Bowl, and finish up at Ecstasy. The Yamit Water Park is a world of names unto itself. In Hebrew, it is called Yamit Water "Spark," a combination of the words "spa" and "park."
Cohen doesn't like the looks of the moves he sees a slider making. "Peace Tower, do you copy?" he radios the guards at the slide. "I don't want to see anyone coming down the way that slider did now. How is it up top, Peace Tower?"
He is responsible for 70 kids, he explains. "Everything is my responsibility. Twenty-two slides. It's no joke." He is the ruler of his water kingdom. Everything runs like clockwork, including the snack bars, which serve soft ice-cream, pancakes, and American-style pizza with an Argentinean flavor. He stops under the X-treme tower, from the top of which three slides emerge - the Super Kamikaze, Black Hole and Amazonas.
"You'll see them coming down now," he says, primed. Nothing happens. "Ilan here, do you copy?" he says into the radio. "I want to know why nobody's coming down." A voice from the radio responds that there's an argument going on at the top. Don't stop the flow, he orders. "I am down at the bottom, come down," he orders, and sends up a lifeguard wearing a three-dimensional Star of David on a chain.
"Here, here - he points up gaily and the sight of a blurred figure can be seen making its way down the loops of the narrow, green, X-tremely fast Super Kamikaze.
Daniel, a combat soldier, is standing in line at the Amazonas together with friends from his platoon. They are waiting in a long line in the shaded area, holding on to a double inner tube, on their way to conquer the wild Amazonas. "Wallah, that looks to me like X-treme sport, cool and stuff," the soldier says.
"Don't you have enough excitement in the army," I ask.
"We've got enough, but in the army you can lose and die. Here there's controlled action."
I can see fear in the eyes of Or, a 10-year-old girl in line for the Super Kamikaze. "Scared - yes," she concedes. She's here with her uncles from Holon and seven other children. "But you come to deal with fear. I was here on Tuesday and I was afraid to get on the Banana. Today I did the Banana three times."
"Training is everything," one of the uncles offers.
Cohen knows how to mix business with pleasure. At least twice a week, before everything gets under way, he does some sliding himself. At 7 A.M., a moment of grace, it's just him and the slides. "I do all the slides before they open. Check to see everything's OK. I have a good time every time. These are slides. It's no joke."
Security and problem-prevention are a top priority for Cohen. "There's a mess, the Arabs slide down on their stomachs and make problems," Adi, the lifeguard's assistant says, speaking at noon on Friday.
"I told them clearly, there are rules."
"So we'll throw them out, no compromises," Cohen decides.
"What a mess. But Peace is moving like clockwork."
"Peace is the best."
"She's my star," Cohen says of 20-year-old Adi, who has been working at Yamit for six years. "They are really like my children," Cohen says of his staff. The child places a hand on her boss' thigh, leans forward and calls out, "Dedi!" as one of the young workers, who's more of a problem, approaches us. "I don't feel well, "the teen says, his face flushed. His ear hurts, he has a crick in his neck, and he wants to go home. "Sit in Peace and rest for half an hour," Cohen tells him.
The boss and his adopted daughter sit overlooking the Space Bowl. "An X-treme and fast water slide with a round and dizzying landing pool." Ilan waxes poetic about the slide: "It's like a toilet bowl," he says. "You turn around and around and then smack, you're down in the water." One after another, the children land in the water, shocked, from within a kind of chlorine-dripping space ship, coming to their senses, writhing. "They start to turn around, and they don't know where they are," Cohen says. "Sometimes they get disoriented, like they're going crazy, but then you go in and fish them out. You can hear crying from inside the slide, screaming. That happens enough. But the team is skilled. Somebody always slides right in, with their clothes, and gets them out. There are closed-circuit cameras following when they go in and when they come out. That's how we know when to send the next one in," Cohen adds.
"That's part of the idea: You go crazy," Adi confirms.
A young girl wearing a black baseball cap comes up, wearing a little black dress, matching the color of her nail polish. She has just been pulled out of the water. Her boyfriend and a lifeguard wearing a peace symbol are with her. "She was trying to slide with her clothes on," the lifeguard says. Ilan makes it clear to the girl that sliding with clothes on is not allowed. "Last year I was here and they let me," the girl retorts.
"We've gotten some new slides since then," Ilan responds.
"We have rules, we go by the rules," Adi chimes in.
"I don't want to be naked," the girl pouts, adding that just recently she was in another pool and they let her go in with her clothes on. Ilan's ears perk up, "What happens with my competitors is none of my business," he says. "This is not a regular pool. This is the 'Water Spark.' You know what 'water spark' means? It's a spa and a park."
He gazes toward the horizon, and points out the Rainbow 8: double free-falls, double Ecstasy and four colorful slides next to each other. "There you can come down holding hands," he says, grasping his wrist with the fingers of his other hand.
The sad story of the camel
You have to start with X-treme - the new, yellow Kamikaze that overlooks the Peace Pool. There are 300 people in the water, mixed together in a hot turquoise cocktail, warm eddies of water, the clear blue water delicately fogged. A mother and her little daughter are standing close to the fence, watching the sliding children. The mother still won't let her do the Kamikaze.
"I have to make pee-pee," the little girl says.
"Why didn't you do it in the water," the mother asks her.
"I forgot," she answered.
"Then go now." A look of concentration crosses the girl's face; there is a hesitant flow, then stronger. The stone floor drinks it in silently.
Hundreds of people are waiting on the way to the top of the Peace Tower, laughing and pinching each other. "Hey, gay boy," a plump young man teases his hesitant companion. "That's nothing. I was in Orlando, where they put you in a rocket and shoot you out and then you fly into the water." I look out at the soft sands of Holon beyond the park. Meanwhile, we're swallowed up by the crowd.
Riki and Sasson, a young married couple from Haifa, came with another 80 people for a staff day of Sasson's army reserve unit, and could not get enough of the slides. They have also tasted America. "We were in New Jersey; they have the fastest slides there, the coolest in the world," Sasson says. "You go in something like a roller-coaster on a flat area and then you go up 90 degrees, make a U-turn and come down. I remember that in three seconds it reached like 180 kilometers an hour," he says. "That does something to your body," Riki adds.
A tattooed and bleached-haired lifeguard sits in front of the two yellow slides, talking on his cell phone. "Lifeguard, he butted in front," a grown man yells at him. The lifeguard ignores him and continues to wave his hand every time the next child's turn comes. My turn comes. A marvelous slide.
Riki and Sasson were in a hurry to get back to their group, but with all the sliding and spouting, they missed the speeches and the thank-yous. The company commander is already on his way home. "I want to tell you, I was really depressed when reserve duty ended the last time," Sasson tells him. The camp was studded with empty plates and beer cans, Crocs of all colors, and vouchers for popsicles and beer at the Yamit Water Park. "We are a serious company, we do serious work. I get there, do my bit, we have jobs to do, and I do every job the way it should be done," Sasson says.
The last time Sasson did his bit on the Egyptian border. "There's a lot of drug-smuggling around there, we caught a few," he says, pulling out his cell phone. "I want to show you a picture, you'll die," he says. On the small screen is a small Sasson on a camel that bears big, strange sacks. "We caught marijuana," the caption says. "That's me, sitting on the camel, with 200 kilos of marijuana on it," Sasson boasts. "Come here, take a look, Yaron," he calls to a comrade-in-arms. "Oh, the camel," Yaron gushes. "I brought that camel in." The brigade commander took the drugs and we were supposed to return the camel to the base." Where were the smugglers? "It got away from them," he explains. "He was standing there by the road, I thought he looked hungry to me. Looking for grass."
"If the camel had eaten the grass, it would probably have been better off. This story is a little sad," Yaron warms to the tale. "We took the drugs off and then we tied him to the jeep and he ran with us back to the base. Then somebody came from the Nature Protection Society or something, and put him to sleep, because they bring all kinds of diseases from Egypt."
Yuri, Korale and Yarin
Hoda, 23, is sitting on a plastic lawn chair next to her mother, Mahira, who is swathed in clothing from head to toe. Around them are plates bearing the remains of French fries and ketchup. Hoda's daughter is asleep in her carriage. "Unfortunately, we can't take it off ever," she says, speaking of their modest garments.
The family lives in East Jerusalem near Jaffa Gate. "The men go swimming, and have a good time. But they can't drink alcohol, so they just swim and look at the girls. They said before they were going to the whirlpool," Hoda says, looking out at the pool, and straining unsuccessfully to locate them in the crowd. Her little sister, 15, is with them. How much time does she have left to swim?
"Three years, until she's 18, and that will be that," Hoda responds.
Yarin, 5, is standing on the stage, in the arms of the D.J., Lior Finkson. "Pretty soon I'm going to be on 'Fisfusim'" [an Israeli version of "Funniest Home Videos"], he volunteers. Yarin has lost his parents. "Daddy Yuri or Mommy Korale, there's a cute little boy here who's lost," Finkson calls out over the mike. Meanwhile he plays a song for Yarin: "I Want Girls."
D.J.s are a sharp bunch. "I'll interview Yarin until his parents get here," he continues broadcasting to the entire park.
"How are you doing?"
"Are you married?"
"We're the Fantastic Four," a quartet of teenyboppers pipes up all of a sudden. Sometimes they storm the stage. "We did a really hard dance," one says.
"Who's your drama teacher," Finkson asks them.
"Lior Finkson!" they cry in unison.
"We're crazy about all the lifeguards. Everybody at Yamit Water Park knows us," one of the girls, Florine, says.
"We want to be actresses and singers. Famous, you know."
"So we connect with this," her friend Chanel says. These are their real names.
Finkson also connects with this. He puts a close-up of himself on the screen. "Like Yehuda Levy," he says, referring to a popular actor. He and the Fantastic Four belt out an exclusive remake of the Hebrew pop song "Just Because of the Wind."
"He also invented the song 'Reason for Living,' I have it on my cell phone," Chanel says, and starts singing. "When I see you, I feel a pinch in my heart. You're a ray of light and I love you so much; I'll wait for you princess... great love...like movies with strong feelings, I want to be with you."
What happened with Yuri and Korale? I remind Finkson. "Yarin, where's daddy? What's going on here, Marco? Yuri, where are you," the D.J. calls out.
Problems with Peace
An older couple is standing in front of me in the line for the Banana Jump, short slides that spit the sliders into a deep pool. They are necking. Then, time out. He looks out toward the X-treme yellow slide, far off. "How much do I have to pay you to do the big new Banana?" he asks his companion.
Behind me in the line for the Black Hole, hands and lips are moving silently. A group of deaf people is waiting their turn. I climb into the slide. I start to drop and whirl through the black pipe, through impenetrable, blood-chilling darkness. I think about the people behind me who will lose another sense, not being able to scream. Then illuminated arrows pop up, pointing in the opposite direction. Then comes the light at the end of the tunnel. The landing is in a shallow bath, and you hurry out, before the black hole spits out the next person in line.
Ready to relax, I head for the spa. Adults are sitting in the six whirlpools of various sizes, in circles. The tension is palpable. The bubbles are working. Looks are exchanged, but even in the spa, Cohen finds no rest. "Ilan, do you read me," the radio blurts out.
In the boss' office are huge TV screens, and posters of Yamit Water Park then and now. "We have 32 closed-circuit cameras. I built the network," Ilan says.
"I've got a few individuals who are making trouble at Peace, at the Blue. You can let them go home," Ilan speaks into his radio.
"Ilan, do you read me? I'm dealing with a theft," the voice crackles.
Cohen: "Victor, do you read me? Where, exactly?"
The voice: "An American girl who thinks she knows who took her stuff. She wants me to accompany her."
Cohen: "Excellent, excellent."
"In a minute we'll see what's happening at Peace. There's probably a little mess over there," Cohen says, sweeping the area on the screen. Peace looks pixelled, crowded and quiet. "The bunch from East Jerusalem come here and make trouble," Cohen says. "They don't listen, but they get taken care of. 'Bye and see you later.' If they want their money back, they're welcome to it." He scans. "If we were a little quicker, we'd have caught them."
What did they do?
"They slid together." Cohen gets a report of another little mess, this time in the X-treme tower. A woman in the Super Kamikaze sprained her ankle. Meanwhile, the lifeguard has arrived on the scene. Cohen is annoyed. "It's unacceptable that they call for a medic and he calls for the Peace lifeguard." W