Dickinson College, circa not-that-long-ago, CE: Sitting at the ultimate frisbee table in the cafeteria one afternoon, I got myself into a hilarious little pickle. A friend of mine accidentally dunked his elbow in a bowl of jelly, (which was probably sitting there for alternative purposes to consumption, as we were deservedly loathed by the lunch ladies for food fights and other tactful mealtime shenanigans). As he reached for a napkin, I grabbed his wrist and said, “If you can lick that jelly off of your elbow, I’ll make out with you.” He spent the next eighteen minutes trying to lick his elbow, which is biologically impossible for most hominids. But most college kids are still easing their way into humanity – like slow steps into a cold pool of water. And as I gave him a final smirk and a condescending pat on the shoulder and turned to leave for class, my departure was stunted by an uproar (and a mildly strained popping sound). I wheeled around to find him rubbing his shoulder, but smacking his lips with the remnants of artificial strawberry stickiness on the tip of his tongue. He was smirking back at me, “I guess I’ll see you later. I think I’m going to go get a bowl of onions for dessert.”
I won’t bore you with the consequences of our bet; but the reason I am pausing at this landmark of maturity and tact on Memory Lane is because I was thinking of how with one great and final heave in the last seconds of his opportunity, he had accomplished the unaccomplishable. And earlier this week, I paralleled that feat in the Jerusalem housing market. I have been sleeping on a mattress on my host’s bedroom floor for three weeks now. He’d cleared room for me in the closet as if my stay would be longer than just a few days; but trying to fold myself into a two-dimensional existence to create as little consequence in my bachelor pad encampment as possible, I left everything in my suitcase and immediately, optimistically began calling on rental opportunities.
You can read about my efforts in my previous blog post, but for now let’s just say it hasn’t exactly been a cake walk. I won’t complain because the process got me oriented with the city. And my hosts have been so incredible. I’m staying with three guys in their 20s, all of whom are very unique, intelligent, kind, and hilarious. We chat about photography and philosophy courses they’re taking in school (college starts later here because of the military, so it’s very interesting to be back around academia (sans cafeteria food fights)). I assume they don’t mind my company because they keep telling me so in English, but when they speak amongst themselves, I wouldn’t know if they’re talking about the Queen of England or how females are solely responsible for deforestation given their exorbitant toilet paper consumption. But whether they appreciate my company or not, it is high time I find my own space and graciously return my host’s privacy to him. Which leads me to this week’s predicament…
I’d looked at a slew of apartments and my hunt had culminated in two options available to me. One was a huge apartment in a funky part of town about 15 minutes from the city center. My would-be roommates were three seemingly kind yet dweeby guys from the US and Australia. As set on this space as I was at first, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would be creating a culturally-isolating Anglo bubble for myself. My alternative was a young, platonic pair that was getting an empty apartment near the city center. They’d narrowed their candidates down to two; and by their scheduling error, I went to meet them a second time while they were still having beers with my competition. The following hour was spent exchanging pleasantries and oozing as much awesomeness as I could in a double third-wheel group interview. I knew I’d won the guy over, but when I began to explain my work for a nonprofit that uses religious pluralism for environmental work, the girl cut me off after “interfaith” with “Aww, that stuff is bullshit.” Seriously put off but not seeing any other alternative, I forged ahead through the social sludge she’d placed at my feet to discover she was an environmental studies major…with a particular interest in sewage. We bonded over recycling, but I could tell that I lacked the charm and intrigue of my German neurobiology PhD student counterpart. I came home still feeling funky and trying to convince myself that I could make do in that apartment if I got to know her better and hung out more with the guy. It was like re-trying on a pair of pants that make your ass look great but the legs are simply too short. But winter is coming and I desperately needed pants.
Here is where my jelly-makeout analogy comes in: my final housing heave. I woke up the next morning knowing I had two options, one of which may not even be an option if Dr. BrainScientist von Shmoozer had anything to say about it. I reverted to my obsessive scanning of Craigslist, Facebook, Janglo and a few other apartment sites. I emailed three folks and against my better judgment of messaging anyone at 8:30am (they start construction out my window at 7:00am, so I figured what the hell – the world must wake up early here), I texted Rina.
Rina is Russian. Her husband, Jay, is an American who is home for an indeterminate number of months taking care of his mother in NYC. Rina keeps kosher, which I am learning to navigate; but she is not a fan of keeping Shabbat – which means we can turn on lights and make coffee on Saturdays. An economist by trade, Rina is currently pursuing a secondary degree in astrology. Rina was home that morning, so I trekked the two blocks from my current residence to pop in before work.
Another girl came to look at the apartment while I was there, and despite my empathy for every home-seeker in this town, I was turned totally cutthroat. I established a commanding presence, emotionally and physically standing my ground. Rina excused herself to answer the phone, and I gave the girl a tour of the home similar to that which I’d just received myself. When the girl asked to use the bathroom, I took a moment to cover a few more intimate details like move-in dates and deposits and such. When I took my leave, Rina offered me an umbrella. I secretly wondered if I could hold it hostage in exchange for six-months of a home, but I didn’t have to. She invited me for tea that night, and we made a verbal agreement that I’d move in later this week. Fast forward to Friday afternoon: I am actually supposed to be moving in at this moment, but instead I am snowed in and all of the boys are still snoozing. So instead, I am being patient with the world and satisfactorily munching on a proverbial, swinging-back-to-the-analogy-at-the-end-of-the-story slice of toast with strawberry jelly.