The garbage disposal was clogged again: It’s one of the few things I admired in the American kitchen, and it too was crashing before my eyes. The truth is that at the beginning, I was so flabbergasted by the garbage disposal that I knew the only way I’d get rich would be to return home and sell units for local kitchens irrespective of religion, race or gender. But the dream of being a licensed purveyor of garbage disposals in the Holy Land slowly faded.
- The Palestinian professor who took students on Auschwitz trip and paid a heavy price
- With my wife and kids back at school, I wonder: Am I an underachieving parent?
- 24 hours in Majdal Shams, a pastoral Druze village in northern Israel
I tried to fix the device myself, first watching a slew of videos about how to take it apart, clean it and put it back together. I thought I’d understood — disassembling the unit looked pretty simple — but already in the first counterclockwise rotation, done precisely as in the video, I cut the palm of my hand. Whereupon I cursed the United States and the Israeli governments that had been the cause of our ending up here.
Richard, I swear to God, is how the plumber who stood in the doorway introduced himself. Richard. I almost bowed to him, then looked at him uncomfortably — white, blond, tall, almost my age, here to unclog the garbage disposal. Well, around here, the plumbers — at least the ones named Richard — don’t just saunter into the kitchen with their filthy shoes and ask you to make them a cup of coffee before they start, or if they can have a cold drink.
After shaking my hand, he slid his feet into a sealed plastic boot-shaped coverall and followed me toward the kitchen. “Coffee?” I said. “No,” he replied with a smile. “Thanks for the offer, really, but I’m good.” I hoped I hadn’t offended him by offering him coffee — I don’t know the code of behavior here for white plumbers — and you understand, reader, that this is exactly what stresses me. These are exactly the things that scare me and make me miss Israel. What in the world is Richard doing fixing a garbage disposal for a Middle Easterner in short pants with an accent? It’s not supposed to be like this, it doesn’t make sense and it only strengthens the right wing here.
“This wouldn’t have happened in New York,” I whispered to my wife as Richard worked in the kitchen. “I tell you, it’s a bit of a problem, the Midwest, it’s confusing.”
“What are you talking about?” she whispered back, imitating me.
I didn’t know what to say to her, only that it’s a lot more reassuring sometimes when people from different races are slotted for certain jobs. After all, one of the things the Arabs won’t be accused of in Israel is competing with Jews for a living; nor are they likely to become the target for channeling mass rage during an economic crisis. And hey, this Richard, look at him, I said to my wife: Does it seem right to you that this guy with the forelock should be a plumber?
“What’s wrong with being a plumber? He probably makes more than the two of us combined.”
“Fine,” I replied, “it wouldn’t be fair for Richard not to be richer than us, but he doesn’t have to work, for heaven’s sake. That complicates things, don’t you see?”
Maybe I’m just an arrogant snob for getting so anxious about some Richard lying on my kitchen floor. Maybe it’s the Israeli trauma, maybe it’s the accepted thing here and social classes aren’t judged by name or whiteness. And why should I immediately infer that Richard hates me and what I stand for? Maybe he’s a left-winger, not only a Hillary-supporting Democrat but a member of some genuine socialist party that unites tradesmen of all colors, races and sexes.
Maybe I’ll try to get into a conversation with him about capitalism and my fears of Trump, who’s doing everything to blame the foreigners for the whites’ economic problems. And about how he sets members of the same class against one another and that way whitewashes the truth about who’s mainly to blame — namely he and his ilk, who are sucking people’s blood and selling them slogans about the fulfillment of an American dream that will be attainable with the aid of national and ethnic purity.
Not that Clinton’s any better, and in the end it doesn’t really make a difference who the president of the United States is. But Trump is a more real danger. There might be Republicans who can only vote against a Democrat, and maybe there are some like an Israeli I met, someone who’s been living here for 20 years, who explained to me that he was going to vote for Trump because, “I can’t stand that klafte.” But there’s no doubt that Trump has a voting base that’s impelled by the xenophobia and racial supremacy to which he gives expression and legitimization.
Maybe in the big cities it won’t make any difference whoever is elected — the cities will be cosmopolitan enough, and the rich will continue to live on the high floors and the poor will sweep the streets. But in places like ours, it could be problematic. Sometimes I think about those 40 percent of Americans who back Trump and how they’ll react if they lose the election. After all, they already feel like victims who are having the country pulled from under their feet. If now, the forces of evil and conspiracy again deny them their rights, maybe the time will have come to take action to restore their America and regain control. Sometimes I think it would be better if he wins, because that will assuage the wrath of the racist nationalists: They will be in power as lords and masters.
But, of course, it’s not so simple. Holding power is not enough to satisfy their wants. How in the world will they react when there’s an economic crisis and their leader stands on a high balcony and, predictably, begins to aim his fire at the foreigners, the others, the weak?
You know, if I were named Richard and couldn’t get through the month, I would kick the first Arab I saw.
“That’s it,” said Richard, wiping his hands. “There was some broken glass in there, but it’ll be alright now. Be more careful next time.”
“Yes,” I said to him. “I promise you we will be a lot more careful, and I apologize with all my heart, Richard, I’m really sorry. It will never happen again, I swear.”