Etgar Keret and I were traveling in New York City, though not in a recognizable area. Maybe it was Carroll Gardens or somewhere uptown like Sugar Hill. We were tired and it was late so we decided to get a room. He’s five years older and much shorter and Israeli, but our eyes light up when we talk about Kafka’s humor and things like that so it makes sense we travel together and are friends.
Extreme graciousness is the first thing you notice when traveling with Etgar Keret. He always makes sure you get everything you want. No, no, I insist, after you, finish my last piece of chocolate, let me swipe you into the subway with my MetroCard, I will buy you another hot dog and soft drink but you must never feel a need to reciprocate. What’s remarkable is that you never feel you owe him. It really seems like an inextricable part of his being. To insist otherwise or reject his offer, or to offer a small graciousness of your own, would be stupid and wrong, like trying to light a candle with a glass of water.
The room we rented was wood-paneled, the bedspread was brown, everything was brownish in fact. The TV screen was even covered in a scrim of dust that made the news come through sepia-style. We joked that the day’s events actually occurred in some idealized past. The other thing odd about the room was that it was on street level, and yet it didn’t have curtains on the windows. Instead, there were these wickery blinds, like long sticks of black nylon, many of which were missing or broken. There was only one bed, but it was large enough for both of us to get some rest without being too worried about bothering each other. Again, Etgar Keret is extremely considerate and very small.
We turned off the TV in favor of reading in bed, but then a woman came in, or maybe she’d always been in the room? I never saw her enter or heard the door open. I was standing, so I turned to see she was tallish and wearing a clingy silver dress that seemed encrusted with some sort of diamond powder. I needed to touch it, so I poked her with a fingertip. I sensed the firmness of her body, its spectacular buoyancy, beneath the dress, and so I poked again. I let my fingertip linger as it indented the flesh above her hip. She put her arm around me and just like that we were a loving couple. Freckled and red-haired, she seemed like someone in her early thirties who channels anxieties about never having children into running two marathons a year. She hopes to qualify for the Boston race before she’s 35.
“There’s only one bed,” she said.
Etgar stood and said “I’ll go.”
“Stay,” I said, but he was out the door before I could hold him back.
Whatever business he discovered that night would involve a very small man no bigger than your kneecap always struggling under a beard as long as your shin. In a way, I envied Etgar Keret’s destiny for the night, getting to know a tiny bearded man who led him down a corridor to something he only revealed to people he knew could handle seeing such a thing, down old subway tunnels and such, where at the end of a long passage there’d be something funny and tragic that only Etgar Keret would be able to properly relate. When I think of what he’d see, I can only say something like a furry octopus that’s been in hiding since the Holocaust or some lesser known Middle Eastern atrocity. But Etgar would see it clearly, precisely, definitively, and he’d describe it in such a way that made you laugh while simultaneously making you aware of the potential horrors of the world.
That’s the sort of situation I imagined Etgar was headed for as the marathoner and I fell into bed. But almost as soon as we were horizontal, I stood to adjust the shades.
“Everyone can see us,” I said.
Maybe that was how this cheap hotel made its money: they sent this woman into the room to seduce its occupants while the owner charged peeping toms to watch outside.
As I tried to adjust the terribly useless curtains, she said she was hungry, so I ran out and found a very small Chinese restaurant a few doors away. At that hour, they were only offering a lightly fried filet of chicken served with a side of rice.
“How you like your chicken?” they asked.
“Medium,” I said, “but I have less than five dollars.”
“Each filet, four dollars,” they said, so I ran down the streets looking for an ATM.
I passed our hotel room. The brown bedspread hung in front of the windows.
“Good girl,” I said. Soon I’ll bring you some chicken, I thought, though I didn’t yet have the money and didn’t want to just order and run, never to retrieve the order, so I returned to the Chinese place, where the cook told me they had an ATM in the basement.
I thought I’d find Etgar and the tiny bearded man, but instead all I found was an old ATM machine that dialed up the internet to access my account and probably steal hundreds of dollars from me very subtly over time.
I paid for the chicken and returned to the room. The woman, miraculously, was still there. She ate in hearty gulps, and seemed very thankful. But all the while as we ate I wondered what was up with Etgar Keret, what small act of graciousness was up his sleeve now, what sort of adventure was he in the middle of?
I waited for him deep into the morning and I haven’t heard from him since. If you see him, please let him know I’m sorry for obsessing about sex and money and the casual consumption of so much poultry. It’s really clear there must be more to life.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/etgarkeret.html]
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