Ashdod, Israel

Beautiful…simply beautiful, I thought, standing out on the balcony – the mirpeset – of my apartment in Ashdod. A city of beauty, though not one inclined towards academics…the veneer of new apartments hiding what was, in reality, a fugue state of mind more worthy of a Buffalo bender blackout weekend than a deluxe beach city with stacked high rises, the waves crashing just a few blocks from our building.

I thought of the old, yellowed copy of Rumble Fish I first picked up when I was six or eight and sleeping on a basement floor in Philadelphia, and I was suddenly sad that I had given up smoking tobacco a few years earlier, and shamelessly mournful that other substances couldn’t be enjoyed until after my military ID was cut in two and I was discharged in what then seemed like something that would amount to multiple lifetimes.

Laundry spinning…sort of…in a mostly working washing machine, a beautiful new kitchen completely empty and devoid of anything that any human would consider food. Some bread with all the nutrients removed that was whiter than my Ashkenazic skin was freshly purchased and waiting on the counter next to some army cheese I had stolen from the base kitchen earlier in the week, in what had now become a routine of constantly swindling the base chef out of any food that wasn’t locked down (and even then, locks have a funny way of opening when you’re hungry enough). We had purchased an onion earlier in the day, the biggest one we could afford, in the hopes that it would last through the weekend and it was tempting us next to the sandwich press to start early, to eat all of what we had now. We knew better…we knew what giving into that temptation would mean, and so we waited.

The usual filler of a box of popcorn alongside a jug of the cheapest store brand cola that a pair of starving soldiers could afford to buy on military welfare sat in front of the microwave, borrowed packets of ketchup from the local fast food restaurants were kept neatly in the fridge.

British comedy subtitled in Hebrew flickered across the television screen in the living room, like the ashes from the cigarette dangling from my friends mouth – I can’t remember what brand he smoked now, but I remember it being only one step better than the Nabalus brand that the Kibbutznikim smoked and miles away from the Marlboro and Lebanese Cedar that I used to enjoy as an undergrad. Whatever it was, it smelled good on him…he was incredibly handsome.

We were other men, in another life, we were the story, both trite and real, experienced by so many and only understandable by those who sat in the same two seats that we sat in every weekend, eating the same toasted cheese, onion and ketchup sandwiches, watching the same british comedy. Whether or not they did it before or after us wasn’t as important as the fact that they did it at all.