Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Suleiman the Coffee Guy July 12, 2009

A few weeks ago while shopping in Tel Aviv’s Carmel open-air market I ducked into a side street tchochkes shop to buy a glass carafe.  Mine had accidentally banged against the marble counter top at home and cracked into pieces.

It was midday and the outside heat and humidity were starting to  bear down.  The narrow shop,  divided by a sales rack crammed with a range of home appliance and accessory items, was cooled only by a high-powered standing fan.    Cluttering the shelves, a range of inexpensive items vied for space.  There were glass tea pots, no-frill wine glasses, cheap dishes sets, Turkish coffee Finjans, pots and pans, stainless steel plated silverware, dime store variety candles, laundry clips, waste baskets…Garden variety tchochkes.

As I scouted a glass carafe, I bantered with the shop owner, a tanned and fit 70-something year old man with silver hair, Coke-bottle glasses, thick lips and wearing a maroon and white Hawaiian shirt.  We joked a bit about the heat, I commented about his store’s cramped quarters and, hearing my accent, he asked where I was from.

Then, while ringing my sale, he gingerly queried:  “If I make you Turkish coffee, will you sit and drink with me?”

My knee jerk response was to beg off with a “have to run” excuse.

But during the split seconds of contemplation I came up with: “I have time.  Why not?  What’s the harm?  Why not have AN EXPERIENCE?”

So I pulled up a wooden stool and seated myself behind the counter as he went to the back room to boil water.  A few minutes later he returned with two demitasse cupfuls of black sludge and sat down beside me on his stool.

He introduced himself as Suleiman (Soo-lee-mohn) and told me he was from Iraq.  In Hebrew, his name is Solomon.  He asked my name.  “What?” he repeated several times, scratching his cheek and furrowing his brow.  He then shook his head and announced:  “No. It won’t work. I’m calling you ‘Hellwa.'”

I laughed but didn’t protest.  Hellwa means “Beautiful” in Arabic.

Suleiman told me about himself.  He lives in a Tel Aviv suburb, has owned his shop for 40 years and is married.  The marriage was not good, he shared, but admitted he was loathe to walk out at his age and after so many years spent with the same woman.  “Sometimes it’s just easier to stay together,” he sighed.

His malcontent came as no surprise.  Because unless he’s a connoisseur of new people, I somehow doubt he’d otherwise be inviting a younger woman in for coffee and re-dubbing her “Hellwa“.

But he wasn’t bitter.  He was funny and his attitude was upbeat.  So when he jovially started on the a man is a man, AFTER ALL, and has needs – needs his wife was apparently uninterested in meeting –  I didn’t get the usual surge of:  “Oh god, here it comes.  THIS is going to be uncomfortable to deflect.”

Suleiman was a  coffee-pal/buddy sort of guy.  He told me about his girlfriend, a good girl he sees several times a week who he “doesn’t have to pay” and who is content with their arrangement.

And he asked about my situation and listened to my history in brief before serving up,  as people tend to do in this part of the world, advice.  Suleiman told me what type of man I should find, what type of man I should avoid and estimated the time it should take for me to “settle down and be taken care of”.

When one of his regulars,  a stout 50-ish Russian woman looking for 2 medium sized drinking goblets, dickered with him on price, he rolled his eyes and elbowed me with a grin.  “Okay okay,” he conceded.  “You’re going to put me out of business but I’ll give you your price.”

I sat a while longer and sipped my coffee as Suleiman tended to other customers.  When the cup contents were down to dregs alone, I stretched and stood to go.

“Come visit me again,” Suleiman winked and smiled before planting a peck on my cheek.

“I will,” I promised, meaning it.

It had been AN EXPERIENCE.  And I don’t mind going back for seconds.

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Chick Versus Chick April 29, 2009

Confession time:  I stand alongside the global multitudes struggling to make ends meet during the current recession. Jobs are scant and it’s downright scary right now.  Especially as a single mom.

Luckily I rely upon faith, hope, networking, routine and friends to buoy me.  And thank goodness for chat rooms and friends’ IM & email messages discussing fear, job scarcity and struggles.  “Thank goodness” not in the Schadenfreude way; I’m grateful not to be alone.  

I felt loads better last week after watching a NY Times video profile of a laid off exec who had formerly managed multi-million dollar accounts and is now pushing a janitor’s broom.  His wife needs cancer treatments so guaranteed health insurance benefits are essential.  He can’t afford the luxury of leisurely looking around.

Instead he kicks off the covers at 4 a.m. each day, checks emails and sends out resumes to potential employers.  He then heads to his janitorial job where, during breaks, he sits in his car placing follow-up calls.  I don’t know if I was more blown away by his story or by his bravado in letting the world know what he currently gets up to between 9 and 5.

I, too, am working overtime at phoning contacts, tapping into networks, making new contacts and attempting to drum up work.

Which makes having to go up against female colleagues doubly frustrating.

I have spoken several times with a work contact about leads in news production.  And each time I talk with this woman  she asks: “But what about your son?  Do you have anyone to take care of him?  I mean he IS young.”

And each time I reassure her  that yes, I do have a network in place.  A really good one.  Not to worry, the childcare issue has never presented a problem.  I even have overnight babysitters.  “I HAVE A VILLAGE!!!” I internally dialogue. “So please, send the work my way.”

But she hasn’t so far.  And I don’t believe she ever will.  Because I don’t think she can wrap her head around my being a single mom and concommitantly producing television news.  Never mind that scores of anchors, producers, editors and camerawomen before me have done just that and are faring quite nicely. Or that I myself have done just that.

I’m being pre-packaged and labeled from the get-go and not only by this particular woman.  Recently a well-known anchorwoman told me:  “You certainly don’t want to work full time or get into a heavy career.  You have your son to think about.” She wasn’t asking.  She was stating how “it is”.    And I thought:  “But you’re so wrong!  By getting into something full time I AM thinking of my son. ”

It reminds me of the time I went to see U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright speak in San Francisco.  Someone in the audience asked if she regretted the choice of fast political track over full time mommy.  She explained that there isn’t a cookie-cutter path for all women – some are meant for careers, others to stay home with kids and others to do a range of things in-between.

But she told the packed house I DO believe there’s a special place in hell for women who give other women a hard time for the path they have chosen to follow.

And the room erupted in applause.

I don’t believe the women I mention here are malicious.  But their notions are misguided and create a certain level of frustration for me.

 

My Friend Jo April 19, 2009

Yesterday morning I found out my friend Jo died.  Via Facebook.

I knew Jo was ill & her condition rapidly deteriorating –  I had talked with her daughter in San Francisco earlier in the week.  But the Inbox message was shocking nonetheless.   It’s a sign of the times.  Notification via Facebook.  I don’t know if it would have been less impacting had there been a phone call.

I have been privileged so far in life  – I’ve lost no one close to me other than beloved pets.  This is a first & memories have been surfacing since receiving the news. I have cried intermittently.  It’s surreal.   What do I do with Jo’s address and phone number  in my contact list?

At one point when I was crying in my bedroom, my 7-year-old came in and wrapped his arms around me.  “It’s just like that in life sometimes, mom.  But you still have me.”

He doesn’t remember Jo but she visited him in the ICU after he was born, bringing him his copy of Goodnight Moon. She indulged his piano banging whenever we went ’round her place during his toddler years and she didn’t mind when he pulled out and scattered the cat and dog toys.  She was at his 1st birthday party, pouring herself a drink in the kitchen when I stormed in.

“The cake is horrible!” I panicked, my face flaming hot with embarrassment.  “Nobody’s eating it.  What do I do?”  Jo burst into raucous laughter.  “Tell them they don’t have to.  Let them off the hook,” she suggested.

I met Jo at the dog park when I moved to San Francisco in the 90’s.  We both had Golden Retrievers who became thick-as-thieves friends.   As publisher & editor of the reputable photo metro photography magazine, she gave me my first literary break as a reviewer of photographic works.

The years progressed and Jo & I attended photography lectures together, hung out in her kitchen, took the dogs for outings at Alamo Square, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge for a Thomas Friedman book signing and we shared. Gossip, hopes, dreams, disappointments, failings, family talk.  Jo was there snapping pictures at my City Hall civil marriage and she was there not long after offering refuge and comfort as the marriage went to pieces.

She was always ahead of her time with the latest Mac , scanner and photography gear, trying out digital but hanging onto her decades-old Leica.  When she discovered Photoshopping as a means of removing errors, she sat   for hours clicking away at dust particles and glitches.   The scanning phase…I don’t think there was a plant or flower for miles that didn’t get plucked up and pressed to the screen for scanning & photo-shopping.

Three years ago she was at the other end of the phone line as I sobbed.  My Golden Retriever Atticus had died.  Two days later she emailed. Her Golden, Chance, had perished suddenly  as well.  “Attie must have needed Chance.”  That comforted me – the thought of perhaps the two of them frolicking together in some parallel universe.

Rest,” she wrote “knowing that she is no longer in pain and that she will be with you always in the best of ways.  Don’t forget the (somewhat schmaltzy) crossing over the rainbow bridge where she will be waiting for you.

How apt.  Jo is no longer in pain.  And I hope she has crossed the rainbow bridge to meet her friends waiting on the other side.   When it’s my time to cross, I hope she’ll be waiting there for me  too.

 

Why Ikea is Cool February 13, 2009

…er well at least their Europe ads are