The Postman Never Rings Twice

I don't know how it works with the Jews, but here in Beit Safafa, as in every self-respecting Arab community that is respected in turn by the state, there are no street names and no house numbers.

I don't know how it works with the Jews, but here in Beit Safafa, as in every self-respecting Arab community that is respected in turn by the state, there are no street names and no house numbers. The most accurate address an Arab can give in the Interior Ministry is something like "Second turn left on the street going up to the mosque, fourth house on the right side, after the orange truck."

All right, why lie? There is one street in the village that has a name, and not only a name, but the municipality outdid itself and hung festive signs all along the street called "Unification of the Village," whose inhabitants are privileged to know where they live. Unification of the Village is actually the name of the street that was built in place of the fence that divided the village into Israeli and Jordanian sections from 1948 until the redemption in 1967. The prices of apartments on the street that got a name shot sky-high, and competition among the residents for an exact address reached the point where a one-room flat on Unification of the Village Street is worth more than a luxurious villa in nameless neighborhoods.

Once, it's true, there was no need for addresses. Not only the security services, but every kid knew where all the village residents lived. It was enough to write the addressee's nickname on the envelope for any local postman to deliver the letter safely. In the meantime, though, the village grew, and with it the number of migrant families who settled here, so the work of delivering the mail became a little more complicated.

The solution - numbered postboxes in the center of the village - is not the most convenient in the world, especially for those who live on Unification of the Village Street, because checking the mail necessitates driving there, finding a parking space, and hoping that the postbox has not been jimmied open with the aid of a small screwdriver. The well-connected and influential, I tend to believe, received the better postboxes, the ones at shoulder level. I get envious when I see the owners of the expensive cars park, position themselves in front of the postboxes and take out their mail. I always have to wait for the place to empty out - it's not nice for people to see me bending over, knees on the floor, trying to open my ground-level postbox.

Not convenient, but nevertheless efficient: 50 percent of the mail that is sent eventually reaches the postbox. There are no complaints. That is a superb average. In any event, I try to check the box once a week at most, because I am not really expecting anything.

"Say, why don't we subscribe to the paper?" my wife asked me last week. "Why would we want to do that?" I replied in amazement. "Because it's nice, like in those movies where they read the paper over their morning coffee."

"But we don't have a morning coffee."

"Enough, stop, I like it. It's nice, it's educational. We don't read books, so let the children see that at least we are interested in the newspaper. Everyone at work subscribes."

I had a lot of doubts about a subscription to the paper. The argument that went the longest way toward convincing me that a newspaper is important was: "You can't take the Internet into the bathroom."

I was very surprised when the new-subscriptions customer representative said, "Certainly. We have a delivery person in your area." It didn't bother her that there was no exact address; she was forgiving, tolerant, smiling - I would go so far as to say that I pictured her in my mind's eye as a left-winger. "We are aware of the problem of the addresses in the Arab communities, so our delivery person gets exact instructions from the client about how to get there." I supplied my credit card number and they even gave me a special: a monthly discount of NIS 50. I was delighted, and when I hung up I thought to myself that we are needlessly accusing the Israeli press of being right-wing and of showing no consideration for the Arab population.

Within half an hour of my conversation with the subscriptions department, the delivery person called and I gave him precise information about how to get here. The next morning I got up at six, put on a housecoat I don't have, and just like in the suburbs of New York I opened the door holding a steaming cup of coffee in my hand and bent down to pick up the paper that wasn't there. I understood that the delivery person hadn't been accurate and envied my neighbor, who was now probably reading the paper that I paid good money for.

I called the subscriptions department. They apologized for not having a second delivery in my area, but promised compensation and a return call from the delivery person. A whole week I waited for the paper and for the delivery person; neither arrived.

Yesterday I called the subscription department irritably and shouted that I did not want compensation, that I had taken out a subscription so I could get a newspaper at home in the morning. "I want to cancel the subscription," I shouted quietly. "You can't, sir," the customer service representative explained. "You got a special for people who sign up for a year at least." What? But I'm not getting the paper, I protested, and she promised to raise the issue that very day with her superiors. "If the delivery person does not show up tomorrow morning," she promised, "we will find another one."

This morning, without any hope of getting a paper, I awoke to the sound of pounding on the door. "Hello, I wanted to make sure that this is the address of Sayed Kashua."

"Yes," I exulted, and reached out my hand for the coveted paper. "At last you found it; I am deeply grateful."

"Listen," the newspaper man said, swiveling his neck right and left to the sound of popping vertebrae, "my cousin delivers papers and he says you complained about him."

"No, heaven forbid," I sniveled in self-protection, "I thought he didn't know where I live."

"Make sure nothing like this ever happens again," he said nastily. "We know very well where you live - understand?" I nodded yes and offered him a cup of coffee, but he refused and left without saying another word. I closed the door. Just then the phone rang. "Hello, this is the subscription department. We want to know if everything is to your satisfaction, sir."

"Everything is perfect," I replied. "Thanks a lot."