Wednesday, February 22, 2012
“Wouldn’t you try just a little bit harder//Wouldn’t you try just a little bit more?” Rafi didn’t need headphones and a Walkman to listen to the Dead tape from a show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, USA. A hitchhiker he had picked up outside Boardman, OH not long after he moved from Israel to Cleveland called it “state consciousness.” Bah. Garab. State consciousness, my ass, the guy just wanted to drive while he was drunk. Rafi had run drunk, he had run high, and famously, he had run while tripping. That time, in college, he had taken a friend who was straight to remind him not to take off all his clothes. Now he was running away.
That girl. That. Girl. That. Girl. That… Rafi’s heart kept fighting his ears to change the mantra as his New Balance 875’s floated up Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. “That. Girl.” led him to leave his dad’s 60th birthday party early for their first maddening sexual encounter. “That. Girl.” She was a Russian girl, a musician born Roza Sax, who took the Hebrew name Vered, which also means “rose,” when she arrived at the kibbutz as a talented teenage flautist. That. Girl. That. Girl. She could run with the best of them; she had left the Moscow Youth Symphony on a cultural exchange tour. Just walked out from the hotel in Venice, carrying her flute and the backpack she had stowed with the help of the young concierge. Little did he know that she was paying in advance for this favor with the time they shared in the steam room after hours. That. Gi….Wouldn’t you try..That. Girl. Spoke English like an American student speaks Russian in tenth grade. Spoke Hebrew like a Soviet. Settled near Akron after making a modest living as a substitute for the Israel National Symphony and teaching privately. That. Girl couldn’t hook on with a university because she never bothered finishing tenth grade. She just lied when she reached Kibbutz Chovevei Zion and took a shift milking cows at 5 am, the chalivat boker, which nobody else wanted but she found romantic. That. Girl. That… would be up until then anyway. Yeah, playing her flute or somebody else’s.
They had met through a personal ad. The World Wide Web hadn’t been created by Tim Berners-Lee yet, nor discovered by Al Gore. Rafi, who turned his technical savvy and ease with five languages into a consulting business, called himself a musician (he composed well and played the piano badly), a business guy, and a student (oh, yeah, the MBA – BOOOOOOring, but he hadn’t gotten into the Ph. D. program in economics yet). She found the combination amusing, and when he answered the phone with a vaguely Israeli accent, she decided she could make room in her social schedule. On their first date, they played racquetball at her health club. Three games. He won, 21-16, 26-24, 21-17. Rafi was a class B tournament player. How good was Vered? he wondered. Did she throw the games so she wouldn’t crush my fragile male ego? She put on a good act if this were so. She was out of breath and glowing; she peeled off her t-shirt, which had formed a second skin except where it covered her sports bra, and they finished their workout with her nipples doing push-ups through the Gore-tex fabric.
They practically closed down an all-night coffee shop, their conversation stimulated by the fact that neither of them had brought underwear to change into under their light summer clothing. She reminded him that she had an afternoon concert that began in only eight hours.
“I’d like to go. May I?” Rafi actually wanted to hear the girl play. Here was a cute, sensual, talented Russian girl who spoke a little Hebrew and was Jewish, to boot. He didn’t know about the defection yet, nor about the favors provided to the concierge in Venice.
“Sure. You can stay at my place, we’ll have breakfast, and we’ll go.”
Rafi and Vered had been wearing flip-flops a few hours ago, but had been playing footsie long enough that it really wasn’t clear which toes went with which ankles. It was socially acceptable for her to show her excitement through her summerweight pink tee, but he knew he’d better get himself under control, soon. The opportunity presented itself when Vered excused herself to go to the bathroom. His predicament was compounded when she padded off and he could detect every curve.
Savlanut, chamor, savlanut. Patience, jackass, patience. You’re playing for keeps.
Vered lived in an efficiency apartment on Akron-Tallmadge Road. Rafi had never been in Tallmadge, or Akron for that matter, until he picked her up before going to the gym. She was practicing flute, barefoot, in gym shorts and the sports bra, when he caught a glimpse of her through the French doors. The sheer apartment-complex drapes didn’t block very much; this was a young lady not given to privacy. She had returned his hug with the kind of enthusiasm that would itself render this first date a success for most men. But now, he turned the 1984 Ford Tempo with the T-bird engine and brake upgrades into the parking lot without asking for directions.
She poured a White Russian for each of them. She made her White Russians with Kahlua and Stoly, back when the vodka was a new Soviet import with a bad marketing strategy. “Stuh-LYICH-na-ya,” intoned the Russian on the radio spot. “STOH-litch-NA-yuh,” sputtered the Amerikansky in response. After a few turns of this frustration, the Russian tried to make the other character say “RAH-dio” instead of radio. An alcoholic would have been pouring Smirnoff. After some chit-chat, Vered asked Rafi if he had brought anything to sleep in. Since she never slept in anything, would he feel comfortable?
“Don’t ravish me the first night,” Rafi half-joked. For keeps, remember?
“I try not. I have playing later.” No comment.
Rafi, a ben-Kibbutz, had grown up sleeping cheek-to-jowl with kids in Israel, but this was way different. This was worse than containing any eleven-year-old fantasy from the other boys. This was worse than not showing anything when the teenagers snuck out of the dancing that happened after Sabbath ended most Saturday nights to swim naked in one of the creeks draining water from the Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee, which they called Yam Kinneret. His erection was stifled half by will, half by terror.
Still, the chat that started five hours earlier at the coffee shop continued in three half-broken languages even as the form he’d admired through the cotton filigree she wore at the coffee shop revealed itself as she neatly folded first her pink tee, then her opalescent white shorts through which the decorative stitching on the inside of the pockets could be seen. He trembled as she stepped casually to him and took off his glasses.
“Everything off but – how say – eyeballs?”
Vered sounded a lot more like Roza in this exchange, as “eyes” and “glasses” live one letter apart in Russian. She looked like a five foot tall Venus de Milo, except she had arms, and the index finger on one of those arms just brushed his left nipple.
An hour later, the first rays of dawn changed the hue of the now-dark room.
“Good night. I go to sleep now before sunlight. I sleep bad in sunlight.”
With that, she rolled over, turning her back to him. Even through the blanket, Vered’s curves radiated energy. Rafi did not sleep. I have never, ever done that before. He had indeed been patient, excruciatingly so, limiting their intercourse to a rundown between second and third base.
Four hours later, Rafi sat at Vered’s breakfast table naked, scribbling away with one of Vered’s Oberlin Preparatory School pencils on music paper. The first page, already filled with music, read, “Flute Sonata #1.”