My wife bought an electric bike and I am utterly appalled. I would find it less upsetting if she confessed that she had cheated on me with a Castro model or that she’s a Radiohead fan and bought us tickets for the show in Hayarkon Park. Imagine that the woman you love came home from the supermarket one day carrying a hand grenade in her purse, with the pin removed. What would you do? Chase her out of the house? Hide under the sofa? An electric bike is a ticking bomb. An existential threat to every family in Israel. An instrument of destruction that goes from zero to 25 kilometers per hour in under 10 seconds – and on the sidewalk.
And to make me even happier, she proudly informed me that she’d also attached a child’s seat to the bike. So now, when I watch her riding it, I feel tears welling up, as I imagine myself a widower and bereaved father. It’s incredible that this thing is legal. Then again, the settlements are also “legal.” This whole country is built on agreed-upon tacit silence and turning a blind eye.
On Friday night, we went to some restaurant that, like most of the restaurants around here, serves up memories from Grandma’s house on a plate. Young folks haven’t yet committed patricide and they are already longing for their grandmothers. I’m not sure what to call it – nave infantilism or cheap sentimentalism. The food was mediocre – and expensive. But everybody knows that the Grandma thing really pays off these days; it’s the lowest common denominator.
Israel is mired in an ongoing reckoning with its past, but refuses to move forward to a Grandma-less future devoid of childish yearnings for a sappy, idealized family cocoon. Grandma is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Grandma stands for the familiar, the safe, the comfortable. Grandma will shower you with hugs and kisses and fix you a nice bowl of matza-ball or kubbeh hamusta soup. But Israelis don’t need a hot meal to warm the stomach. They need a swift kick in the ass.
My wife parked her electric bike next to the restaurant. She locked it, but left the battery in place. The area was crowded with people and brightly lit by Tel Aviv’s neon lights. We thought we’d be back in an hour, or an hour and a half at most. What could happen in such a short time? Would someone really try to steal the expensive battery that’s worth more than the bike itself? Could Grandma have a stroke?
We came out of the restaurant and walked toward the spot where we’d left the bike. Suddenly we noticed someone fiddling around near it. In his hand he held a pretty massive iron bar, which he was using to try to break the lock that was protecting the battery. I had to react in a flash. My immediate instinct was to let out a hysterical shriek. The kind of sound emitted by blonde starlets in bad 1950s horror movies when they met a Godzilla-type monster. On second thought, that wasn’t going to get us anywhere. I’m the man here, after all. By my side – my woman, who spent lots of money on a coveted electric bike. I’m supposed to defend her and her property. To be her prince. The elite Sayeret Matkal warrior for our love.
Actually, why shouldn’t she defend herself? We’re living in the 21st century. Women are equal to men. They enlist in combat units. They fly fighter jets. I had a lame desk job in the Navy. Anyway, it’s her electric bike, not mine. Let her do something about it.
“Do something,” I said to her.
“Me? You’re the man,” she insisted.
“Wow, I didn’t know you held such primitive attitudes,” I told her.
“Coward. You go over there.” She pushed me to confront the robber, the thief, the burglar, the cad. I didn’t want to. But I saw her look of deep disappointment. I had no choice.
In those brief seconds during which I weighed my options, my life passed before my eyes: I pictured the dastardly thief pulling out a switchblade and stabbing me in the abdomen. Waving the crowbar in the air and whacking me in the skull. Hurling me to the ground and choking me to death. I engaged in racial profiling. No, this wasn’t an Eritrean. I scolded myself for the automatic racism. And no, not a drug addict from a slum whose career path demands that he steal electric bikes. Actually, he looked like he could be a relative of mine. Wearing yellow Adidas sweats and a matching cap. Maybe I should shout at him in Russian. Or maybe he speaks Ukrainian. I prepared to charge. Wait, am I out of my mind? Charge this guy? Yes, let’s do it, here goes
“Hello, hello – hey you!” I yelled at him, and for some reason the words came out with the accent of a third-rate comedian doing an imitation of a Mizrahi. “Hey, get away from there!” I raised my voice and shouted with a distinct guttural pronunciation. He kept right on with his business, wholly unperturbed.
“Hello, hey!” I kept shouting, puffing out my puny chest like those lizards you see in nature films. At last he turned around and gave me a quizzical look. “Yallah, beat it,” I said to him, my heart thudding wildly in my chest. He put the crowbar down on the ground. Okay, that’s progress, at least he’s not going to crack my skull.
Then the thief snorted contemptuously, casually straightened his cap, got on his non-electric bicycle and pedaled away from the crime scene at what seemed to be a deliberately unhurried pace, like a tourist out for a jaunt on the Riviera. My heartbeat gradually returned to normal. The electric bike was saved!
“You were amazing,” said my wife, hugging me and kissing me on the lips. “You acted like a man. You’re my man.”
I wondered what would have happened if the thief hadn’t been dissuaded by my calling out to him and would have continued his attempt to steal the bike. What would I have done then? Physically confronted him? Begged him to stop? Tried to bribe him with a 200-shekel bill? I wasn’t angry at him.
In our current economic reality, with such stark gaps between rich and poor, one should be grateful that Tel Aviv hasn’t become as dangerous as a Brazilian favela. Every day you’re not robbed in the middle of the street is a big miracle.
My wife mounted her electric bike and rode off into the sunset. I told her I’d walk back. The whole way home I thought about what a real man I am. Or, really, am not.
As time goes by, I keep noticing more and more qualities in myself that for some reason are thought of as “feminine.” I get cold when the air-conditioning is turned on. I cry watching romantic comedies. I can’t manage to open a jar of pickles and I don’t know how to fix things in the house. Masculinity in the old-fashioned sense doesn’t call out to me. I don’t want to be strong and heroic. With a man like me, you’re not going to win any wars. I won’t take up a rifle, or a pitchfork, for that matter. If really needed, I’ll call for help, so that other men will come who are ready to die in order to prove that they’re that kind of man, and they’ll save me. There are already too many “real men” in Israel and everywhere else.
The time has come to be less of a man and more of a human being. I got home and we had great sex.
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