Nov 21, 2021

Firehouse

1.

In New York Succos falls in the autumn. You need a sweater or even a jacket to eat an evening meal in one of those little booths. As you’re eating, leaves falling on the Succa’s bamboo roof sound crisp, like potato chips. You feel a shiver of winter on your skin. It’s the weather that used to make me feel alive.

Here in Israel however it’s nearly 100 degrees. My walk from the bus stop to the firehouse fries me. My knee highs are so sopping wet they roll down to my ankles. Every few feet I have to drop my pocketbook, drop my shopping bags, and roll them back up.

The firehouse, with bays for its many trucks and engines, covers half a city block, all protected by a high red gate. Outside the gate in a patch of grass a bunch of teen age boys is kicking around a soccer ball, whooping it up. I don’t know what comes over me but when the ball lands at my feet I kick it. It lands plunk in some sloppy shrubs. The boys fold their arms across their chests; one covers his eyes with his yarmulke. They murmur it’s okay lady, and wait in the blazing sun till I’m blessedly out of their way.

 2.

Usually I would buzz the intercom at their gate and explain why I’ve come to pay the firemen a visit. But today, for the first time ever, the gate is unlocked, open, swinging on its hinges. This is ominous. I am certain that when the men see me invading their grounds unbidden and unannounced they will take me for a terrorist, fetch an Uzi from the coffee room, and rat-a-tat-tat me dead. Or easier, take aim from the nearest engine and hose me till I drown.

I’m surprised therefore to encounter three of them relaxing outside, shooting the breeze around a spotless glass table. They’re not afraid of me. And they don’t evince stress from weeks of battling wildfires; arson fires set by the professionals. I don’t know what to make of them. I have forgotten the speech I prepared in Hebrew, and stand blinking dumbly in the sun.

The fireman at my right asks how they can help me. I hand him a freezer bag; he lifts it to the table and peeks inside. For a long time he’s silent, then he unpacks the containers of ice cream and carefully lines them up on the table; the box of sugar cones on top. The other men are silent too. When they look up at me their brown eyes have melted. The guy next to me opens his mouth and pours out many, many blessings, on me and on my family. The other men nod; an equivalent of amen.

 3.

I catch a bus to the American supermarket across the street from the little firehouse just blocks from my apartment and luck out with a Rich’s cheesecake, large. I write Happy Succos on the cake box and cross the street.

This firehouse is tiny; with a modular office connected to a garage that holds only one vehicle. There’s a little Succa in their yard, and a police car parked outside the gate. A muddy rivulet flows from the garage. Inside a fireman is recounting something rapid fire to a police duo – a man and a woman. He rubs his hand widely over the flank of the fire engine, backs away, and demonstrating something, makes his index finger into a gun and shoots. The cops look stricken. The policewoman shakes her head and moans, aye-aye-aye.

I know this duet, I’ve seen them twice before.

Once, I was reading on my porch when across the street a patrol car pulled up and out they got to join my neighbors the Spiegels watch Uri the Dog Trainer teach puppy Cookie Spiegel to heel. The policeman is middle aged, with a dominant belly. The policewoman is also middle aged, with curly salt and pepper ringlets pulled back, her right forearm covered in golden bangles. The women chat, the men chatter separately, until the trainer yells pay attention and everyone shuts up. Except Cookie, who howls.

The next time I saw them they were whizzing by in their cruiser, the woman’s arm hanging out her window, her fingers flicking away a cigarette, her head thrown back laughing.

No one is laughing now. The fireman says something to the policewoman and she turns to me. She looks dazed. I take out the cheesecake, mumble my Happy Succos speech, and present it to her for the firemen. It takes her time to understand what’s going on but when she does she clasps my hand, tips the cake box towards the garage for the men to see, and soon all of them are asking me do I want a drink: water, Coca-Cola, coffee? Do I want to sit down? Come, you’ll have a slice, and the policewoman pulls me with her.

I extricate myself, wishing them a good holiday, a good year. They raise a chorus of thank-yous and as I’m walking away the policewoman yells into the garage, Enough, come into the Succa, and into the open door of the little firehouse, Moshe! Bring out your cake plates.

2 comments:

  1. LOVE IT! Mi K'Amcha Yisroel!

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  2. I cried when I read this. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart.

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