Mad Man

How did I get into this mess?

I'm going nuts, my head is killing me and all the pain relievers I've been taking nonstop aren't really helping. How the hell did I get in this mess? Actually, I can say exactly how. It all started with a phone call from my agent, a few months ago. "Listen to this," he said after the usual pleasantries. "I've got another lecture invitation for you."

"What is it this time?" I asked happily, expecting to hear the name of another library somewhere in Israel where I would talk about writing and my new book.

Illustration (Amos Biderman)
Amos Biderman

"It's a marketing conference," my agent said.

"Marketing?" I asked, surprised. "What's that got to do with me? I don't know a thing about it. Nada."

"I know, I know, but they really want you there. They want you to talk about the consumer habits of the New Arab."

"Absolutely not," I said firmly. "I have nothing to say about marketing, and what's this 'New Arab' business?"

"It'll only take 10 minutes," my agent said. "You know how much they're offering for 10 minutes?"

"I don't even want to know."

He told me anyway. And out of sheer surprise, like an idiot I repeated the amount out loud and said, "for just 10 minutes?"

"Yes," my agent replied, but I got hold of myself immediately. I told him that I still had a little self-respect and there was no way I would make a fool of myself like that for money. "No, I have nothing to say about marketing," I said, and hung up.

"What was that about?" my wife asked. She had been following my side of the conversation from the moment I mentioned the sum.

"Nothing," I said, and then told her about the marketing conference and the New Arab and his consumer habits.

"Tell me, are you out of your mind? That much for just 10 minutes and you say no!?"

I tried to explain that I couldn't find enough to say about marketing for 20 seconds, let alone 10 minutes. And yes, it was a nice amount of money, but still. After all, if I understood anything about marketing maybe our financial situation would be different!

My wife said she couldn't see what the problem was. She and I are the New Arab.

"They didn't call you for no reason, they knew that you're New," she said, adding that our consumer habits are precisely those of the coveted Arab consumer.

"So what do you suggest?"

"Look, if you just take the register receipt from our last time at Rami Levy and read out all the items, even if you read fast 10 minutes will go by like nothing, and then maybe we'll have money to buy groceries again, too."

After five minutes of deep thought and deliberation, and an online glance at our bank balance, I decided to call my agent back, in the hope he hadn't yet told the marketing folks no, and to tell him I'd appear at the conference. At that moment I knew for certain that I was about to make an absolute idiot of myself, but the truth is that for a certain amount of money I'm willing to do exactly that. Somehow we never manage to save anything, and I wouldn't want to land in a refugee camp without a cent to my name. Just one red cent for those black days, I told myself. They're getting closer, I know it.

My agreement to appear before an audience and talk about something about which I was clueless, at a conference that hasn't even been held yet, started a snowball rolling. In the past few months I've appeared at nearly every event where a single Arab was needed. That's how I came to represent the Arab sector at a pharmacists' convention, even earning enthusiastic applause at the end of my remarks about the effect of Xanax on the peace process. I was the only Arab at the big physicists' convention, where I advanced the irrefutable argument that the force of gravity exerted by the Arab is greater than that of other people: It's a fact that more troubles always fall on him. I appeared before the building engineers wearing a hard hat, I appeared before an assembly of school principals. I spoke about education, medicine, planning and construction, about the state of the national infrastructure, about reservoirs, tourism, eating habits, sports, law. All from the perspective of the Arab sector, of course, and what's happening there as I see it.

Nothing terrible happened. All I did was to represent the Arabs, the audiences probably weren't really listening, and if they were and they found my remarks puzzling they probably just told themselves that with "the Arabs," anything can happen. And even if I did embarrass myself, the payoff was worth it. So I made a fool of myself in front of a few dozen Jews. Most people still consider me a bright guy.

But that marketing conference - the first step of the slippery slope - is threatening to become a real danger. Had I know that hundreds of people are expected to attend I might have reconsidered. Had I known that a few days before the conference a reporter for a financial paper would call for an interview about the state of marketing in the Arab sector I would surely have said no.

"Uhhh ... " I told her. Her call woke me from a nap after a tiring evening lecture on the state of archaeology in the Triangle area.

"Marketing, yes, marketing ... in the sector ... yes ... certainly ... People in the Arab sector buy things ... It's amazing ... You just go to the grocery store in the Arab sector and, of course, it could also be a butcher shop, and the way that we do it, at least, is that you can choose what you want to buy there, from the grocery store, or it could really be the butcher, too, and at the end of the process, the Arabs, in the best-case scenario, tend to go pay the cashier, or the owner of the grocery store, who, since we're talking about the Arab sector, could also be a butcher."

"And at the conference," asked the eager reporter, "aren't you going to talk about the neglect of the Arab sector?"

"Of course, of course. How can you talk about the Arab sector without talking about the neglect of the sector, especially when it comes to marketing? I've had occasion to go into a grocery store in the Arab sector, and the neglect from the Israeli side was just appalling. And by the way, the same thing could happen in the butcher shop."

"And the New Arab? I understand that you're going to be speaking about his consumer habits."

"Yes, of course," I said, covering the receiver with my hand while I yelled to my wife, "Bring me the Rami Levy receipt! Quick!"