Stranger Than Fiction

The man's extraordinary modesty captivated me immediately. 'Nu, really,' I replied. 'Do you really think that there is a single person in this country who doesn't recognize you?'

It happened six years ago. The university campus was packed with world-famous scholars and cancer researchers, but the eyes of all the guests were turned to one man, dressed in an elegant dark striped suit, and this man was walking straight toward me: "Maybe you don't remember me," he said, "but you interviewed me once a long time ago. My name is Yehoram Gaon." His extraordinary modesty captivated me immediately. "Nu, really," I replied. "Do you really think that there is a single person in this country who doesn't recognize you?"

Of course I myself could easily have been that person. As it happens I always recognize Yehoram Gaon, apparently thanks to the warmth with which the man who was then the legendary star of the Israeli hit musical "Casablan" gave an interview to four pimply 13-year-old girls, myself included. But Gaon is the exception, because for years I really have had no idea whom I'm talking to.

They say it's a matter of age, but I remember even 15 and 20 years ago conducting enthusiastic and detailed conversations with people who knew me from somewhere, but who were total strangers to me. And then, as now, I've been capable of talking half an hour straight without the person in front of me imagining that all that time I'm making an effort to remember where on earth I know him from, and whether I like him or there is long-standing hostility between us.

Usually what gives away the answer is an expression or a factual detail that the person speaking to me suddenly utters by chance, and from that moment the exact opposite occurs. From the moment I recall the person's name, suddenly I remember everything: when we met and where, what he said, what he wore and how much I weighed that day. Sometimes the moment of recollection heralds the end of a friendship that could have remained beautiful, had I only remained ignorant of the identity of the speaker. In fact, only today I fell all over someone who I decided over two years ago never to speak to again, because I confused her with my squad commander in the officers' training course. And of course that's the positive side; I can't be - or be considered to be - a quarrelsome woman who bears a grudge, since the fear that I will behave coldly to someone I liked in the past dictates my behavior on the city streets as a conciliatory woman, pleasant to every passerby, with an idiotic smile on my face.

Lest there be any doubt, this tendency of mine not to recognize people extends to all levels of society. Just a week ago I sat in the shade of the trees in the dogs' park next to the Tel Aviv Hilton, when from the direction of the sea - with an open shirt exposing a somewhat overdeveloped body, and accompanied by two gorgeous girls - emerged a guy whom I immediately recognized as an electrician whom I met once, two months ago, with his dog on Ben-Gurion Boulevard.

"Hello, Ms. Livneh," he said. And I, happy that I had managed to recognize him, immediately asked, in order to celebrate that happy fact: "Where's the bitch?" I think he replied, "In the sea" and therefore I continued the conversation, and wondered out loud, "You left her alone in the sea?"

"Who?" he asked me with a worried look.

"I thought you had a dog," I stammered, and my stammering was swallowed up in his explanations that he had no dog, no children, and not even a house plant, with a crazy schedule like his, particularly now that he's doing a show in prime time. I immediately remembered that that electrician had long hair tied back in a pony tail, whereas the television star is as bald as an egg and also, I think, at least a head shorter than the electrician.

A few days later, in my favorite cafe, I noticed at a nearby table a man whose face was very familiar to me. I immediately recognized him as a controversial film director, and I shared the information with my table companion, who usually lives abroad. In a moment of generosity I approached said director, introduced myself and showered extravagant compliments on his latest film, which by the way I haven't seen, and therefore my opinion of it was undoubtedly intellectual and not influenced by emotional issues.

"May you live long and prosper," replied the man, who was apparently pleased with my compliments, and even surprised me with information that was news to me: "We're neighbors, you know."

"No, I don't," I replied. "Are you new in the building?"

"Not in the building - on the page: We're neighbors on the page. Sayed Kashua. Pleased to meet you," he said, extending his hand, and promising to tell the director that I had praised his film highly.