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Friday, April 20, 2001
By Paul Ford
Exercising my Flight of Return
I am near Tel Aviv, in the suburb of Savion, at a mansion, built by a fish merchant in the 1970s in high-porn style, now converted to an office and research lab by an entrepreneur who seeks to create a machine that can carry on a human conversation. Circular bathtubs, etched marble, chandeliers, plastic cows and a swimming pool in the backyards, and some of the oddest art I've ever encountered.
In the last year, the mansion was converted to offices, but the new owners left some of the native campiness intact. My desk is downstairs, near the bomb shelter, now a meeting room. My bed is upstairs, in a suite larger than my Brooklyn apartment. In between are meeting rooms, a kitchen with two of everything to keep holy law, and all of the spidery wires and pipes that circulate words and water through the building.
I came in to Ben Gurion Intl. at 3:30PM, April 7, on a plane made hideous by Peter Max. It was Passover and the crowd on my flight was secular, sporting no ringlets of tassels or big hats.
The waiting area in Newark was a sea of Hebrew: “yah,” “beh,” “kah,” “ma,” “va,” “leh,” and the hard “ch.” I met a radiologist and a handwriting analyst who gave me her card.
The radiologist asked me where I went to school, and he knew the tiny place; he's the fifth to recognize my Alma Mater in 6 years. He lives 20 minutes from the campus, in Hornell, New York, a town which proudly advertises itself at the city limits as "the home of Bill Pullman." It is also the home of the Morrison-Knudsen company, a train-construction firm that has overhauled many NYC subway cars, including F trains.
“Do you know the optometrist X?” the radiologist asked.
“Yes, an ex-Marine,” I said. “I had a weird afternoon of him poking around my eyeballs.” I thought back to a long hour, when a man stuck a metal machine into my eyes and asked if I had ever served my country, railing about the moral emptiness of youth like me. My eyes were fine.
“He's still in the active reserves,” said the radiologist. I closed my left eye - my right eye is the bad one - and realized that my vision is worse than when I was 18; I'll need glasses before this decade is over.
At Israeli passport control the computers were down, so hundreds of us waited for 30 minutes; finally, it came back up and the sound of passports being triple-stamped ricocheted off stone and concrete. When I came to the Plexiglas-shielded counter I showed the faxed letter, in Hebrew, that explained my business here. A bored young woman skimmed it, stamped the passport, and nodded. A few meters away my new traveling case rode the luggage carousel, shiny and silver. I pulled it away from its endless path and walked through customs, where I met the man who'd hired me. He wore a T-shirt; I shook his hand. Everything was normal. It was warm, 7 hours later than New York.