At 5 a.m., when you know you’re not going to start work until nine that evening and you lay wide awake contemplating 24 hours without rest, and your prospective new love has just been shagged by someone else, life stinks.
It was time to swim across the pool.
Off I trotted in the dark, towel in hand, mind in gear, ready. Halfway there, I stopped dead in my tracks. What if I get into trouble in the water? Who will be there to save me? I told myself I didn’t care, but I came to my senses about three seconds later. The pool would have to wait until another dark night when no one else was around. I turned round and headed off to breakfast with all the chicken workers. Andrew was already munching on his hummus and an egg when I approached him.
“I thought you were working nights,” he said through a mouthful of food.
“So why you here?”
“How much sleep does one need?”
“Your girlfriend shagged a blond Israeli guy last night.” Sticking the knife in.
“Yep,” I said, trying hard not to look upset.
“They were quite vocal in the room next to mine. Kept me up into the night. You missed a great show. Oh, and the concert was good, too!” Twisting the knife. He was messing with me as friends will, and I was trying hard to be nonchalant.
“Whatever turns you on,” I replied.
“She’s loud you know, and very demanding. Not for you, I’m afraid.”
Could he rub it in any more?
After breakfast, when everyone went to their place of work, I decided to pay a visit to Shimon to see what he actually did and how he did it. His office was next to the dining room, and although he was supposed to begin work at 7 a.m., you could always find him behind his desk by 5:30 or six at the latest.
“Shimon!” I shouted as I walked though his door. “Ma shlomcha?” (Hebrew for how are you?) I was learning. My vocabulary was increasing by the hour.
“Tov Eli, Tov!” which meant he was good. From his large smile, he looked good too. “Why are you up? You don’t need to be up this early.”
“Yes, you and 20 others have told me the same thing. I need to keep busy, Shimon, tell me what else I can do? What do you do? Can I help you?”
I knew he could see the frustration in my eyes. “Sally?”
“Uh, sort of, but not all her.”
“Listen Eli, there are many nice Israeli ladies on this kibbutz, you should try with them. They will love you. Trust me.”
“Shimon, you asked me what my ideal job would be while I was here, remember?”
“Yes, and did you come up with something? You want the cows now?” he laughed.
“No, I want your job. I want to be in charge of what the volunteers do each day. I know I can do it and I’ll be good at it too. You can train me in a day, and I can do it from lunch time until I go to Plastophil in the afternoon.”
Shimon said nothing. He just looked at me intensely, and honestly made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I presumed I’d asked for the wrong job, or insulted him, but that was far from the truth.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he began. “If you put in a good shift for a week in the factory, I will consider your request. Don’t let me down, and we can talk again next week.”
I was delighted, so much so that I decided to go for a run, which in 90-degree heat was no mean feat. I put on my running shoes and headed for the front gate, running along the perimeter of the entire kibbutz and back, about a four-mile jog, with some intense effort required to get up one steep hill at the end. After I finished, I showered and went back to bed for a nap, only to be rudely awakened by my roommate as he came back from high school at noon. My five o’clock work time was drawing closer, and I was excited to begin my manufacturing experience. Plastic seemed destined to play a major role in my life.
After spending the hottest part of the afternoon in the shade reading the enthralling memoirs of Golda Meir (one of my favorite books ever), I arrived early for work at 4:00 ready and willing to partake of my first ever night shift. Chaim was waiting for me, ready to explain everything I needed to know: when I could take a break, where I could grab a bite to eat, the do’s and don’ts of when I could call him, and most importantly, how to never fall asleep no matter how tired I might feel!
I said, “B’seder” (“okay” in Hebrew), and within a short time I was operating the extrusion machines. Well, not quite operating them. More like watching them work. There wasn’t much to do at first, and I began to wish I’d brought my book to read. I sat and watched the electronic gauges and made note of all the figures. Once every two hours, I was told, I would have to change spools, and that after the first change, the rest should be easy.
Around 8:00 I began to feel hungry, and as I sat listening to music playing on a radio I’d been left with, my mind began to drift to Sally and what she was doing with her new lover. I couldn’t believe she’d gone off with him. My mind kept going back to those positive vibes she’d been giving me. Why was I rejected? Why was I so naive? Why did everything—
“What the fuck was that?” I jumped out of my seat and was shocked to see an ocean of plastic spread across the entire floor. “Oh shit! I am in deep trouble.” Plastic was everywhere: not only on the floors, but the bubbles had burst on two more of the extruders. This was really bad. I knew I’d be thrown off the kibbutz for falling asleep and letting this happen.
My embarrassment was complete when out of the blue, Chaim walked in with his wife to check on me. When he saw what was happening, his bewilderment was overwhelmed by his instant anger. They probably heard his yell back in London. My days on Hazorea seemed numbered. Looking at the rage in Chaim’s eyes, my inclination was to run, and run fast. I looked at my watch: 10:23 p.m. Then I looked back at Chaim. I had no choice. I had to beg for forgiveness.
After screwing up so badly, especially doing something that should be taken seriously, to expect the axe man to do anything other than tear my head off might be a pipe dream. Chaim called Shimon, who came running over to the factory. Shimon had called a backup crew to come and assist, and by the time we all managed to put everything back together and get the extruders up and running normally once again, it was 2:45 in the morning, and some very unhappy, exhausted people made a move for a bottle of whisky hidden in one of the cupboards.
With glass in hand and with a shouting match about to begin, I was reluctant to drink and even more afraid to move.
“Who thought Eli was capable of running this alone on his first night?” Shimon asked Chaim. Not a bad question. I had wondered the same thing myself.
“Shimon, even a fool could run this place.” Chaim retorted. “No, not just a fool, a fool who was blindfolded!” They’d already decided that the loss in material alone was a few thousand dollars, and now they were deciding, or so it seemed, what they should do to recoup that loss in the way of firing my ass and kicking me off the kibbutz. I was tired, they were tired, and the conversation was becoming tiresome. In for a penny, I thought—
“Okay so I fucked up, right?” I said forcefully, making them all look up. “I’m sure I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, so what did we all learn from my errors? We learnt that a sixteen-year-old Scottish Jew would rather be in his bed with a sixteen-year-old Israeli virgin than sitting in a plastic bag factory desperate for sex, sleep and then a decent meal.” I looked up, saw I had their full attention, and continued. “Look at all of you, just look. You’re ready to explode, but inside you know you also fucked up by putting only me in charge of something that needed two people not just one. Got it?”
I was shaking now. They were speechless, and we were all starting to smile.
“Go home to bed,” Shimon said, and began to laugh. “Come and see me tomorrow after lunch and we will decide what you can do next. No chickens, no cows, no plastic bags and no night shift. Your volunteer service has ended Eli. You are going to be running this place before you leave, I just feel it.”
A good night’s sleep, no reprimand, and my introduction to night shift employment had gone by the wayside in favor of a position in management! I could scarcely believe it.
“Yo! Jimmy!” I shouted towards Andrew as I headed back toward my dorm. He was rising for his meet and greet with Foghorn Leghorn and Co. Andrew was now well versed in my customary Scottish greeting, which I have used ever since, no matter who I was addressing or in which country.
He looked suspiciously at me. “Why you home so soon?”
“I fucked up. Fell asleep at the machine, caused damage, chaos and a serious issue with people’s impression of my ability to do anything right.”
“Are you in deep shit?”
“Does the Pope pray?”
“Christ, what did I do to deserve you?” He looked toward the heavens.
Nothing could spoil my good mood. “I might have some very good news for you later, so treat me nicely, and I’ll see you when you get home,” I said. “I’m off to bed.” But Andrew wasn’t finished. He shouted out to me as I was turning my back and heading for my room. “Did you know there was an archeological dig on this kibbutz?”
I stopped, turned round and shouted back, “It’ll probably turn up my bones after what I did tonight!” By now I was at my door, and with a casual “fuck you” finger, I went inside, got undressed and fell blissfully asleep. My dreams were solid and colorful, and my mind was relaxed for the first time since I’d arrived. I had no idea why calm had descended upon my being, but I accepted and enjoyed it.
By the time I arrived in Shimon’s office in the afternoon, he looked like he’d gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali. “Eli, come in and shut the door,” he said. “You are one crazy Scotsman and one crazier Jew. You want my job, but you cannot do any of the other jobs we want you to do.”
“I know, that’s why I need your job. It was meant to be, Shimon, can’t you see? I am useless at anything other than being the boss.”
He laughed. “Okay Eli, have it your way. You can be in charge of the daily workload for all the volunteers.”
“Yes my friend. It’s the only way I can watch over you to make sure there are no more fuckups.”
“You’re the best!” I said it with so much excitement in my voice as I stood up to shake his hand that he waved me to sit back down.
“Today I will show you how you organize, and tomorrow, you choose where everyone works. Give no favors to anyone. Everyone has to do every job, so we rotate them where necessary. Understood?”
“I think so,” was all I could muster. I still couldn’t believe that he was trusting me to arrange the work schedule for all the volunteers. I decided to sit, stay quiet and listen. Once he was finished I would sprint over to the dorms, wake Andrew from his afternoon nap, tell him that his days as a chicken Angel of Death were numbered. He would thank me for the rest of his days—or he would accept that I was a better fuckup than he was. I was sure that I was one step closer to Club Med and one step further away from using my platform shoes as a diving board in order to commit suicide.