18.

Superheroes are always alone. Heroes too. Defying challenges inconsiderate fate throws in their path. Darah cleans her refrigerator, gets rid of all half-full cans and packages. What do they think, how much beans can a sane person stuff herself with? Why don’t grapefruits grow in halves? All too big: half-empty carton of milk gone sour, half-eaten sushi – grains of rice thick as worms, cut-in-half cucumbers. And all the while she’s supposed to feel guilty for the starving people of Asia and Africa. She should sue the manufacturers for constantly depressing her. She should. Start a class-action suit, simultaneously, one on each of the continents.

Darah basks in her solitude. Especially evenings. She lies on the couch with feet scooped up and lets her fancy run with sweet little children about to be eaten, ogres and ghouls of Grimm brothers’ stories. Happy endings make her laugh, but laughter echoes strangely in an empty house. Darah noticed, it’s much easier to be sad or even cry, more natural. Must be because of the silence. It’s interfering with her reading. It’s too loud. She can hear the grandfather clock from the apartment next door, steps in the hall, washing machine drone, furniture creaking, TV on. Someone’s having someone over. Not her. Silence rolls like a steel marble across a table of glass. Can you imagine what would laughter do to it? It would break the glass into thousand hissing pieces, melt the steel into quicksilver.

It’s all part of the plan. The walls around her are erected with a dark, destructive design. To keep her away, as far as possible from fellow beings, spiders and termites included. They let you have everything: clothes, lots of food, newest DVDs, deep, dark radio voice you can happily masturbate to, uninterrupted, in private, safe. On occasion there are spectacular fireworks to observe from your balcony, but for someone else’s birthday. They give you things, you work for things with things, smooth, shiny, reliable (people aren’t nearly as reliable). It’s a positive feeling, to work and live with a purpose, get paid for your time and effort, in attainable beauties and useful objects. Yes, you understand it’s because they want you under their control, they want you addicted to comfort and security. They want you alone and in need of a human touch, it’s perfectly normal, just go talk to your shrink, he’ll break it all down for you. It’s good to want, to yearn, to necessitate, it makes you shop better and keep yourself happy, keep shopkeepers happy, keep Dow Jones happy, that’s your function; you’re a regular little happiness dispenser.

When Darah gets exhausted by the persistent silence and its overbearing noise, refrigerator purring, air-condition crackling, computer sighing, she turns on the TV for the babbling men and overbearing women to molest her with their affordable stories.

 

19.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, give a warm triple-C welcome for… Elad Gilbom!”

There’s a sort of welcome, but it's hardly warm. It’s near the end of the talent show and the crowd has grown tired of stale jokes, stale air, stale beer. One of those nights when the excitement just never came to bloom from that first bottle of Bud conveniently included in the price of the admission.

But Nasia is clapping, so Oren claps too.

The Crummy Corona Café is dim, dull and wooden. Faux leather whimpers and crackles as people shift their behinds in uneasy expectation, the stained brass-studded bar glows like yellow teeth of a dead man, a jangle of ice loosens the air for the comedy to work its magic.

Elad Gilbom enters the stage and women in the first row immediately giggle. It’s easy to see that he who never wears suits has dressed up just for the occasion. He considers himself a professional. Professionals wear three-hundred-dollar, pure-wool suits, white shirts and drowned-blue ties.

Elad starts with his standard opening joke. “First let me explain what a sit-down comedian is. It’s a sort of comedian who stands up for a while, before he gets his chair and sits down.”

From outside the wall of spotlight he pulls in a chair and takes a seat. Now he’s got everyone’s attention.

He looks tired, but his face shines with a kind of dogged determination. The corners of his lips point downwards giving him a timid, almost frightened expression. People think he’s going to cry. But then he speaks, just soft enough to make all in the club bend slightly towards the stage:

“Tonight I’m going to talk about politics.”

One person bursts into nervous laughter.

“Do you have any idea what the government you voted for is doing to you right now? No? Well let me tell you. First of all, they are washing your brains squeaky clean by using your deepest fears and the cheapest dish-washing liquid.”

Silence takes a deeper bite of the auditorium. People hold on to the drinks that have to last them till the end of the act. Fear shrinks the brain to a raisin of reason. Liquor keeps it nice and soft and swollen.

“In the cold war era they used the bomb on you. Today they are using the credit card.”

More than one hand flies involuntarily towards a pocket, purse or a wallet.

Nasia and Oren chuckle in anticipation. They’ve seen Elad’s act before, never uses the same material twice, doesn’t have to, at least that’s what he says, the woeful ways of a morally bankrupt administration provide him with more than enough.

“You think you’re supposed to be afraid of the terrorists? No, the terrorists are just a comic relief! The real fear is whether you’ll have a job tomorrow. And if you do, will you have to go find a second job anyway? The real fear is that you work to stay alive, but you stay alive only in order to work. The real fear is that you’ll get sick, and what’ll cover you won’t be your medical insurance but a white sheet pulled up over your face. You’ll scream, I’m not dead, I’m alive, I’m alive! But they won’t care, they’ll be just doing their job happy to have one.”

By now some members of the audience are getting up to leave, peeling away like guilty shadows; others are pinned brittle like butterflies. Elad Gilbom owns the place.

“Think about it, what’s a credit card?” The crowd is dumbstruck. “A gamble. The money you never had with which you’re buying things you’ll never own. All this time you’re hoping you might win, you just might end up holding some cold, hard cash in your hand. But you never do, because you’re spending money you never had, buying things you’ll never own, which automatically disallows you to ever really have that money you never had in the first place. A gamble, the dice are loaded, you’re not. And you end up working all the time and making money, but never seem to have any, and you don’t own the car you’re driving, or the house you’re living in, you’re just taking care of them for the bank. When you look at it, you’re just taking care of yourself for the bank, ‘cause they own your ass, and all you have for your very own are your fears. Why? Because they let you have them! But not for free, mind you, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and eventually you have to pay, even for your fears.”

With this his set ends. He walks off the stage carrying his chair. The only one clapping now is Nasia, since Oren is too embarrassed. The spell Elad Gilbom put on the club slowly eases up. People come around blinking like children, they stagger for the bar, the toilet, the exit.

“So, how did you like it?” Elad pops up at their table in black T-shirt, jeans and bright smile, miraculously transformed, looking as refreshed as if it was one of his other multiple personalities using his body up to a minute ago leaving the real him enough time to rest.

“I hope you have your get-away car parked near.” Oren grins. “Soon as they take a piss people will be calling the cops.”

“You were great!” Nasia never has a problem giving a compliment.

“Okay, then let’s get out of here!” Elad snaps his fingers and they hustle out into the ignorant Hollywood night.   

 

20.

Wooden poles stapled to death - slim punk poles with pieces of flyers helplessly fluttering in the wind. A forest of stapled trees, that’s LA. Stapled poles – cacti in the human desert.

Lost, kitty? Not to worry, momma’s gonna put your picture up on the pole and you’ll be found within a week, unless you get run down by a Chevy Impala.

Moving sale, everything must go!   

Everything must go? Okay, but do we really have to? We just got here.

 

21.

“You shouldn’t have come here.” A parrot-like voice greets them from rows of bottles and candy. A two-note electric bell agrees in a sad, belated welcome. Al’s Liquor is a true Ali Baba’s cave of alcohol, walls covered in liquid ambers, emeralds and rubies, refracting the light, keeping it imprisoned.

“Don’t mind, Grandpa,” says Al, “he’s harmless.”

But the clinking of the bottles comes from the belly of the store to contest this allegation.

Al’s probably the only shopkeeper in the neighborhood who doesn’t mind breaking five-dollar Lincolns into laundry quarters. Oren picks up the papers, Nasia goes among the racks to investigate.

“I shouldn’t have come here.” The voice leads her deeper into the dark, away from refrigerators filled with beer wrapped in cold luminescence. She knows what it’s saying. It’s cold here, intentions and thoughts stored away behind thick glass doors, nothing relayed, nothing passed on except looks, glances, people communicating in a language of nuisance, not a language of necessity, a supermarket existence with emotions packaged in plastic vacuum, frozen, dehydrated. What are you people thinking, you can’t microwave yourself into feeling when you just happen to feel like it!         

The voice turns into cough when Nasia corners it between fruit-flavored vodkas and martini mixes to discover it belongs to a four-foot old man clad in clean white. Sleeves of his shirt are too short, making his arms, his fingers and hands appear even more odd, gnarled, knotted, monkey-like as he skillfully sorts bottles of wine in the obviously wrong section of the store.

“This is my punishment.” The old soul chants, white cap plugged with his brown skull shaking. “For selling poison to the children.”

“That’s not true, Grandpa.” Al winks at Oren. “We never sold liquor to kids.”

“Yes we did, Ali, yes we did, all of them are children of Allah.” Grandpa wipes his nose with a handkerchief he could fly off on.

“I led a shameful life.” He whispers to Nasia. “And this is a horrible place, I can see that now.”

Then he scurries away pushing an empty cardboard box with his feet. Nasia follows. Oren’s waiting, papers in one hand, change in the other, when the old one runs into him.

“Horrible, horrible place. Tell me the truth, are all women in your country as beautiful as she is?” Nasia is right behind him. The old man looks up impatiently; his eyes pouched blind as egg whites, dead under the thick film of cataract. He explains. “It’s time I leave America.”

“Do you think we should start drinking?” Oren asks once they’re outside. “Do you think it would help us with our writing?”

 She gives him a blank stare, then moves ahead of him. “I think you should call your mother.”