Neri - Avi Ofer - March 2, 2012
Illustration by Avi Ofer
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Studies show that as you get older, your reaction time becomes significantly longer. In that sense, for me growing older is a small miracle. No longer do I shoot from the hip instinctively in response to every insult − nor do I engage in saber rattling when responding to every stupid statement I hear. For a long time now, I’ve been a calm and conciliatory person. For instance, this week a woman from Haifa – who is considerably older than I am – asked me whether, as a native of Haifa and a frenk ‏(a derogatory term for Jews of Middle Eastern descent‏), I am familiar with what she called the “well-known Haifa saying”: that a frenk is a-haya ‏(an animal‏) and an Ashkenazi is a-mehaya ‏(a pleasure‏).

Instead of hitting her over the head with a five-kilo hammer − as I probably would have done in the days when I still had amazingly quick reaction time − I told her that possibly because I was born so many years after her, I had the privilege of growing up in a much more progressive environment, which is why I missed the era of deep-rooted Haifa racism. I’m not sure why, in spite of my impeccably polite behavior, the Haifa woman looked as though, in the final analysis, she may have preferred being hit over the head with a five-kilo hammer. Or maybe I should say funf kilo.

One of my Facebook friends asked me to join her battle to help people who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. I don’t know her personally, although judging by what she writes, she seems like a very nice person.

Despite that, I was forced to write to her that my problem − and that of most of my non-virtual friends − is the opposite: Usually we have difficulty keeping our mouths shut, and the last thing we need is a workshop to teach us how to speak even more freely.

Since I’m not actually a friend of hers in real life ‏(although maybe I will be someday‏), I didn’t burden her with additional explanations. Such as that although a few people have fallen in love with me just because I’m smart and clever, most of the time when someone did so, it happened because for a brief time I seemed hesitant and inarticulate. In other words, not only did I feel that way inside, as I always do − but I also came across that way to others.

So people like me need a different kind of workshop, one that will teach us how to dare to look vulnerable when we actually feel that way, without rushing to hide behind mountains of verbiage.
But the reaction time that lengthens with age can also cause certain communication mishaps, especially when it comes to dealing with virtual friends. I tend to communicate with my real-life friends via phone calls and meetings, and when there’s no choice via e-mails and Skype, but it’s obvious I don’t do the same with most of my 4,000-plus Facebook friends. That’s an advantage, because I don’t have to talk on the phone with each and every one of them, but also the drawback, because for the most part I have no idea who they are.

Yet, although I have made a rule for myself not to initiate non-virtual contacts with my Facebook friends, I do make exceptions. I have already met with people who wanted to get me involved in some activity relating to some cause that interests me; twice I met up with old childhood friends; and once I even managed on my own to rediscover someone who was a close childhood friend, whom, until the moment I found him, my brother and I had considered lost forever.

And a week ago I agreed to give my phone number to a particularly insistent Facebook friend who looked very nice in his picture. Like everyone in my situation, I like being wooed. He phoned me immediately and informed me that he was convinced that a great love could begin between us, which suited him because he is actually “half-separated.”

Due to problems with delayed reaction time, it took me at least 20 seconds before I asked him whether “half-separated means that you’re separated but your wife isn’t?” He, whose reaction time is even longer than mine ‏(after all, he’s a few years older‏) didn’t exactly understand the question. So I asked whether his wife knows he’s separated from her. “No,” he said, “that’s why I’m half-separated.”

Once upon a time, in the olden days, I would have recounted this story to a few friends, who would say, “What an idiot,” and then tell me their own horror stories and suggest that I quickly move on. But now that I have Facebook, the reactions I get are far more entertaining. For three days there was a discussion on my wall on the subject of what it means to be half-separated: Is half-separation like a date or half a date, as the old song goes − or like being half-pregnant?

But the funniest responses came from a woman who wrote to me that half-separated means “the bottom part is completely free, while the top part is married”; and from someone who raised the mathematical question: “If he is half-separated and his wife is half-separated, do you say they’re both one-quarter separated, or one-and-a-quarter separated?”

The guy who contacted me originally was the only one from whom I didn’t receive even half a phone call. But that’s probably only because the reaction time is long at his age.