Turning Over a Dead Leaf

The severance pay dwindled, and my friend D. moved out of his small apartment in south Tel Aviv up to the roof of the same building, where a laundry room had been converted into an apartment. His wait for his nice fat pension was spent in the newspaper library.

At the age of 52, my friend D. came to the conclusion that his life was essentially over. He wanted to discuss with me ways in which the natural process of ending his life could be expedited. I asked if this was a joke and my friend D., who is a moderate man not prone to kidding around, said he was dead serious. At first I was frightened, then I demanded explanations, and eventually I became convinced that the arguments in favor of my friend D.’s life continuing are indeed very weak.

About a year ago, my friend D. was fired from his job as the manager of a printing house he had built up with his own two hands. He was called in to the office of the owner, who told him he was being fired because of cutbacks. The employer explained in a most friendly manner that for the high salary he had been paying him, he would now be able to hire at least four workers. Not that he intended to hire four workers now, the owner of the printing house said brightly, but the thought of the savings warmed the cockles of his heart.

My friend D., who was familiar with the numbers, agreed with him at once. The owner of the printing house gave him an affectionate pat on the shoulder, telling him that now he would be able to turn over a new and beautiful leaf in his life. He would receive severance pay immediately, and waiting for him around the corner was a nice fat pension he had amassed over the course of his 20-plus years of work. His retirement, the owner of the printing house added, could be devoted to fishing, painting and spending time with the wife and kids.

My friend D. thanked his employer and shook hands warmly. The thought of his nice fat pension was gladdening. He did feel regret over the fact that he hates fish, does not know how to paint and that his wife had left him, but the thought of the new leaf he was about to turn over was heartwarming. So he celebrated his retirement with a farewell toast. Only after the guests were gone did he ask himself how the hell he would get through the 16 years he had left until the nice fat pension arrived.

My friend D. first looked for work as a manager in the printing industry, then as a manager of anything, never mind what, and finally as an manual laborer. He quickly discovered that at his age, there is not much demand for print managers, managers in general, or manual laborers. He met with colleagues from the printing industry. The meetings were pleasant and mostly were given over to amusing reminiscences. When he explained to his colleagues that he wanted to work for them, even as a junior printer, they fidgeted in their seats. One said it was as if an outgoing military chief of staff would ask to return to the army as a squad commander.

My friend D. is an energetic, active man and did not despair. He was ashamed, a man of his age and standing, to receive unemployment benefits, so he registered with the employment bureau. He proudly told the clerk about the nice fat pension that awaited him just around the corner. The pension impressed the clerk, who pondered it for a moment or two, then asked my friend D. what he thought of changing his vocation. My friend said he would be delighted to hear about the options. The clerk offered him a job as a night watchman at a plant not far from home. There, said the courteous clerk, he could quietly wait for the nice fat pension and enjoy the pleasurable anticipation of spending time with the wife and kids, painting, and perhaps even fishing.

My friend D. thought that such a job did not suit his skills. On the advice of friends, he decided to invest his severance pay in the private sector. He rented a kiosk on Nahlat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv where he sold candy, soft drinks and fresh-squeezed juices. To his astonishment, City Hall inspectors harassed him, and neighbors poured gasoline on the door of the kiosk as a final warning. He also discovered that he, as well as he understands printing, was unable to handle the carrot juicer.

After eight months, by then aged 52, my friend D. was forced to close the kiosk ‏(or “the business,” as he called it‏). The severance pay had dwindled, and my friend D. moved from his small apartment in south Tel Aviv up to the roof of the same building, where a laundry room had been converted into an apartment. He lived off the remains of his severance pay. His wait for the nice fat pension was spent in the newspaper library at Beit Ariela. He always lost the battles over getting the daily paper and so he relocated to Dizengoff Center.

At the air-conditioned mall, he commandeered a chair and passed the day reading Israel Hayom. He did not forget for a moment that a big bright light was waiting for him at the end of the tunnel in the form of a nice fat pension that would enable him to lead a pleasant life, full of meaning, but he did not know how to shorten the path to it. His money ran out. He was forced to reduce his circumstances.

He introduced a sublessee into the rooftop room and did his grocery shopping right before the market stalls closed. He switched to a summer wardrobe in the winter as well, wore flip-flops and a tank top sporting a moving-company logo. He hid from old acquaintances, and others pretended not to recognize him. A woman he did not know once offered him a bologna sandwich. He thanked her politely and told her his situation was not that bad yet.

Nevertheless, his situation was that bad. He stopped shaving and was pleased to discover surprising food items in dumpsters. When I told him that the government is contemplating cutting pensions, he asked what would happen to his nice fat one. I said to him: What do I know? He asked which would be finished off first, he or his pension − and right after that asked if I knew of some pills that could put an end to his story once and for all.