The year 2000 was supposed to be the future, and as it looked for a moment, the future would be cool. After I awoke from the Millennium Bug and discovered that the world had not been destroyed, an astonishing prospect lay before me: the Internet had arrived in the moshav − the rural cooperative village − where I still lived at the time; Hapoel Tel Aviv took a soccer double; Ehud Barak, who had just kicked out Netanyahu, pulled the IDF out of Lebanon; the bizarre humor of Eyal Kitzes and Tal Friedman dominated Channel 2; and the local papers that arrived from the metropolis were saying that Tel Aviv is the city that never stops, because it travels on Ecstasy.
I had just completed my army service and was excited by the pleasurable new world that awaited me: a future composed of Ecstasy, girls and unilateral withdrawals.
Not long after I got back from a post-army trip to classical Europe (five capital cities in 21 days), something happened that showed me we were marching into a better tomorrow that I had no doubt would change the face of Israeli culture: PingPong was representing Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest.
PingPong − Guy Asif, Ahal Eden, Roy (Chicky) Arad and Yifat (Fajoya) Giladi − was an enjoyable, hapless band. By a combination of circumstances that was undoubtedly investigated by the Broadcasting Authority, their song, “Sameach” (Happy) was chosen as the Israeli entry at Stockholm, where the contest was held that year.
The people of Israel hated PingPong. Hated the exuberant Tel Aviv approach; hated the fact that they appeared for all of Europe to see with Syrian flags; hated their outsize spectacles and weird clothes. PingPong was what the people of Israel like to call “freaky.” Everything the people of Israel hated about them, I loved. Just for a second, I thought PingPong augured a happy secular and civil revolution. However, the band’s comparative failure in the competition (22nd place out of 24) prompted the people of Israel to believe they had been right all along. Even those who had viewed PingPong as a “freakish sideshow,” though not harmful, now turned around and marked them as enemies who were responsible for everything that’s drek in this country. The revolution (which was never really on the cards) screeched to a halt; the big victory turned into a defeat. I was proud of them, but the waves of hatred washed over PingPong even before they arrived back in Israel.
I was there, at the airport, when they landed. Apart from three journalists, I was the only one waiting for them in the arrivals hall. I wanted to thank them, I wanted to express my high regard, I wanted to see them, to communicate. I waited for one of them especially: Roy (Chicky) Arad.
I’d heard a lot about him: heard that he was a poet, heard that he was a star in Tel Aviv, heard that his nickname came from a snack at Burger Ranch, heard that he was successful with girls, heard that he hadn’t done army service. Those were things that thrilled me at the time. I wanted to see him and tell him something − I have no idea what. Probably didn’t back then, either.
After I’d waited quite a while and talked to the Army Radio reporter (that was another thing that thrilled me: it was the first time I’d ever spoken to someone from Army Radio), they arrived. Tired and frazzled, carrying bags from the duty-free shops. They looked defeated, drained of the spirit of joy that had let them leap around the stage, without the Syrian provocations.
The Army Radio guy asked them if they had anything to say to the fan who was waiting for them. They guffawed and kept going. Roy (Chicky) Arad, in sunglasses, kept asking, over and over, “Where are the chicks?” until he left the hall. I won’t say that something in me broke or was bruised, but it was no great fun. I went on believing in the spirit of Chicky, but not in the false messiah himself.
Years passed. I moved on, progressed, fell, endured small victories and middling failures. One day I’m walking along a small street in my town, Tel Aviv. Two elderly women, Bauhaus tourists from Ra’anana or Jerusalem, stop me. “Excuse me,” one of them says, “are you by any chance the poet Tsicky Arad?” (Yes, she said “Tsicky,” not “Chicky.”) I froze for a second, and with the instinct of one who knows what he’s doing, replied “Yes.” The woman gave me a broad smile. “I like reading you very much,” she said, as though she were giving me a large gift. “Yes?” I replied. “And for that you stop me in the middle of the street? I am an important poet! Don’t you have anything better to do, you bored windbag?”
I turned and walked on.
Moran Sharir is Haaretz’s TV critic
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