A Nation With Character

An encounter with the devil at the supermarket on Friday the 13th.

I knew I shouldn't have left the house, certainly not on such a rainy morning, and definitely not on the morning of Friday the 13th. But there was no choice: "There's nothing here," said my wife, opening the refrigerator door with one hand to prove her point - and holding a hungry Arab child in the other.

The crappy feeling continued when I turned on the car radio to hear two broadcasters egging one another on, in support of the new law to imprison refugees from Africa. Yes, it is indeed tough legislation, the two nudniks agreed, but in the same breath they declared that it was also utterly vital for "preserving the nation's character." They're right, I thought, this country has always had a strong character and we can't start playing around with it now, lest the nation lose its sense of itself, god forbid, and become enlightened and egalitarian overnight. After all, without strong character, it will be hard for the nation to pass laws preventing the unification of families for those citizens who were not born into the preferred religions and nationalities.


I turned off the radio so I could concentrate on driving. I'm not a Christian, but when it comes to scary days, I honor all religions and all cults. I drove very slowly so the car wouldn't skid, and I ignored the honking of the irritated drivers behind me.

"Maybe I should run for office?" I mused as I searched for a parking space in the supermarket lot. Granted, I don't host a television show, but I do have a column in the paper. And maybe if I do run, I thought - the idea of starting a new party taking hold - I wouldn't have to come up with a weekly column anymore.

As I watched a couple pushing a heaping cart full of shopping bags toward their car, I became convinced that Yair Lapid decided to go into politics because of the difficulty involved in having to write something every week. But what platform would I have? And who would really want to support a party that's calling for the nation to immediately shed its character and find a new one?

I waited patiently for a long time for the couple, who were unloading their bags from the cart and putting them in the car, so I could take their parking spot. The lazy bums didn't bother to return the cart and just left it in the middle of the parking space. I'll take it, I decided, as I got out of my car and began walking toward it.

"Excuse me," a soft female voice called out, and when I turned around I saw a nice woman with an angelic smile hurrying toward me. "Do you want that cart, or can I take it?" she asks.

"Sure, you can take it," I reply, starting to blush, pleased with the gentlemanly instinct that I always knew came naturally to me.

Outside, at the entrance to the supermarket, I found that the cart-storage area was totally empty and a line of customers was waiting for carts to be returned. Now I cursed that woman with the bewitching smile with all my heart. That's how it is, people just have no manners anymore, and they even have the gall to talk about the nation's character.

The rain started coming down harder and there was no sign of any cart. I went to the head cashier to ask for help, and she pulled the long-necked microphone to her mouth and called: "Walid, Walid. Assistance with the carts. Right now, Walid."

Except Walid didn't show up, and neither did any carts.

"You'll just have to walk around the parking lot and look for carts," a guy selling flowers outside in a blue jumpsuit called out to us, his head covered and his hands stuffed in his pockets, while jumping in place to keep warm. "Ever since they stopped having the NIS 5 deposit arrangement, no one returns carts anymore."

Grocery shopping on a Friday morning is simply a curse every time, let alone on Friday the 13th. It's a sort of punishment for all the lazy folks who procrastinated and never got around to doing their shopping during the week, and then discovered at the last moment that they had no choice. On Fridays at the supermarket you can't really wander around with a cart and take your time selecting items from the shelves. The most efficient method is to park the cart in a safe spot, run back and forth grabbing the most vital items, and rush back in the hope that the cart is still where you left it.

I cursed my wife's shopping list, the food companies and the cleaning-product manufacturers. Every five minutes, I called my wife, annoyed: "Why does it have to be Sano? I don't understand." And, "Which cream, exactly? There's a kind for cooking, there's a sweet one, high-fat, low-fat and everything in between."

It took me more than an hour to collect all the items on the list, and every time I had trouble finding something, the Arab supermarket workers kindly helped me. Every so often, a loud thud was heard, or a crash, and immediately afterward, over the loudspeaker: "Hamdi, Hamdi - to the cleaning-products aisle right away, Hamdi."

The checkers are not Arabs; the packers are. I know because I observed every single one of them before selecting the line that looked to be the shortest. After more than 20 minutes of waiting, I finally heard the cashier address me with those two beautiful words: "Club card?" I was thrilled to tell her no, and immediately set about unloading my cart.

As soon as I picked up the first bottle it somehow came open and a clear liquid spilled all over my hands and dripped onto the floor.

"That's bleach," a familiar voice behind me said, and I turned around to find the sweet-faced woman who stole my cart earlier.

"Hamdi, Hamdi - to register No. 3 right away, Hamdi," I heard over the loudspeaker as I set the bottle on the floor.

My hand started to burn and the woman behind me said with a malevolent smile, "You need to wash your hands quickly. It's dangerous."

Not in a million years, I decided. It was clear to me that if I forfeited my place in line now I was forfeiting all of my values - whatever they may be. I will not surrender to her, or to the pain in my hands. Giving in to people like her won't help me get very far in politics.

"It's okay," I answered, trying to keep unloading the cart - although in another minute the burning got so bad that I realized that if I didn't want to spend the rest of this accursed Friday in the emergency room, I had to give in and run to rinse my hands. I let the water flow over my hands for a long time, trying to quell the pain, before I made my way back to the checkout line. I was dearly hoping to find that evil woman, hoping I would find the courage to give her a piece of my mind. Maybe I'd shout at her, tell her she has some nerve, accuse her of gloating and something else I was struggling to put into words - something about the character of the nation.

"That comes to NIS 1,245," said the cashier when I got near the checkout again.

"What?" I didn't understand what she was talking about.

"This woman here," said the cashier, nodding at the she-devil who was behind me in line, "she unloaded and bagged all your things for you."

"Wow, thank you so much," I said to the woman, looking at the bags so neatly arranged in my cart - much neater than I could ever have done it.

"You should probably put some ointment on that when you get home," she replied.

All the way back to the car, I felt terribly ashamed. I loaded the things in the car slowly and carefully. When I finished I looked for a moment at the empty cart, glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and shoved it between two parked cars.