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Old and New Friends

6:47 am

Tel Aviv, Israel

As I rode in yesterday from Ben Gurion International airport, I listened faintly to the Russian radio broadcast my cab driver was glued to as a box of Kleenex bounced back and forth like a ping pong ball on his dashboard. The last time I was in this city, marked distinctly by Bauhaus buildings of the 1930s, was four and half years ago. Life seemed far less complicated back then though I’m sure it wasn’t.

I waited outside Pinsker Street wondering how on earth I was going to coordinate with my AirBnB host without access to my phone and the sometimes herculean battle to get WiFi. Just then a young woman in her mid-20s appeared seemingly out of nowhere. “Nick?” she asked. “I’m Ira.”

She stood about 5’6 with short black hair, different from her AirBnb profile. She beamed with a smile and was courteous. I couldn’t make out the accent in the moment but gathered she was from Israel, or perhaps moved here like many others from Russia.

We made small talk as she guided me into her apartment. She lived in a building that may have been situated on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or St. Marks in New York. Two lively blocks I would have jumped at the chance to live at or around in my youth of youths. As she opened the first black gate I heard her gripe about two large piles of vomit that instantly greeted us. She too had just gotten off a long flight, working as a part-time flight attendant for a private jet company. “Gross!” she cried. “This is so embarrassing.” I begged her not to worry and convinced her I’d seen much worse, recently even.

Soon we made our way into her living quarters after a rather entertaining few minutes trying to get in. She seemed keyless as was I obviously. She pounded on the door while trying loudly to summon her friend, Natalie, in Russian. Eventually she answered the door and I was led inside.

The apartment itself was okay. Ira admitted the building was old and that she’d done her best under the circumstances. “It’s kind of a steal,” she said. After she showed me the bedroom, the patio, and the bathroom there really wasn’t much else to it. The three of us got along well and after a few moments the two girls left to do young people things. It was a hot summer afternoon after all.

I sort of marveled at the AirBnB model for a few lax and quiet moments alone. The notion of meeting a perfect stranger a mere 20 minutes earlier and essentially entrusting that person with your most personal space as you headed out into the world seemed like the most irrational thing you could do. Perhaps we should all be as hospitable. There’d probably be far less problems, or at least more compassion in the world. Of course it didn’t hurt Ira also had all my credit card information.

After a little bit of writing, returning emails, and trying to contact my friend Rony, I too decided it was time to hit the town. I headed north on Pinsker towards Idelson Street and eventually hit Dizengoff. The streets were alive with people enjoying lunch with family and friends. I overheard Hebrew, Russian, French, and English.

I rounded a corner and grabbed a juice trying madly to make up for lost time. Though it was the Sabbath and many stores were honoring this day of rest, many storefronts forged ahead, this juice bar included. I walked aimlessly but happily and took Ben Gurion right down to the beach. What a site. Gordon Beach was packed with thousands of people swimming, surfing, lounging, and playing paddleball. "Life is really tough," I said to myself.

I decided to walk all the way to Jaffa and was strangely familiar with many of the sites en route as they quickly returned to me. It really did seem like yesterday I was last here. Upon my arrival to the oldest part of Tel Aviv, the port where Noah was swallowed by the whale, and even Napoleon passed through, I was greeted by a middle-aged man named David. He spoke passionately about the Chinese meditation practice of Falun Gong and how thousands of people in China had been violently persecuted for following its doctrine. He listened patiently as I clumsily compared it to the likes of Buddhism and Tai Chi. In the end, I told him I supported his desire to practice, particularly since its roots were in peace and communion.

A few hours later I returned to the house and realized I’d missed several Facebook messages from Rony. After a shower I tried to coordinate with him once again. A few dropped calls later we finally succeeded to hear each other’s voices and fix a meeting time.

At 7:00 pm, I walked out the long path shielding my view from the vomit to meet him and his fiancée Ella on the street. He looked exactly the same and different. It was strange; the same smile, buoyant spirit, with perhaps just a little less hair. We hugged before he introduced me to the love of his life.

We walked the streets I’d strolled just a few hours before, talking, laughing, and getting to know one another again and for the first time. Ella was honoring the Sabbath and therefore not taking part in any type of work or labor. Rony was doing the heavy lifting of turning on lights and washing dishes. I’ll have to remember that one when I get married, I considered.

We rounded a corner or two and headed back to the beach, walking along the boardwalk as their dog Mona led the way. Ella ran into a few friends she knew, cordially introducing me to them as well. “I just have to say, you have a very beautiful face,” her friend commented to me. “But I’m not gay. Okay?” he confirmed.

We continued our ramble before deciding it was time for a bite to eat. Each moment we inched closer to our chophouse in waiting, I kept thinking, It was really great to see this guy. It’d been nearly 5 years and as strange as it sounds, my worries just vanished. Time seemed to take me back to the morning warm-ups on the cold hard floor of Riverside Church, where we once trained as young wide-eyed actors, 16 stories high overlooking the Hudson River. Time had been kind to us though there was no denying that we were men now. No longer boys. As much as we may have yearned to be.

We ended the night by having sushi at a restaurant that seemed far less popular than the many we’d just passed. We didn’t seem to mind as we laughed loudly and unapologetically, reciting the comedic routines of Conan O’Brien, John Mulaney, and Brian Regan. I listened attentively as each of them spoke trying desperately not to let my focus wander to the beautiful Israeli girl waiting on our table. “I really needed to laugh,” Rony said. “Planning this wedding has been so stressful.”

We headed back towards Pinsker and Rony joked I’d find my way my home led by the scent of urine. “You’re not too far off,” I joked. I offered each a hug before heading into the night of this beautiful and strange city.

My friend Jessica, 31, a modern dancer from Denver, Colorado told me: "Honestly, this may sound like it is out of context. So if so, not to worry, I have written an entire dharma talk on the issue and if you would like to see that, please let me know and I will send it along. In short, the punch line is that, 'Sometimes life sucks. And that’s okay.' I think that if we allow ourselves to know that life is about expansion and contractions, inhalations and exhalations, we can realize that nothing is permanent and everything is ALWAYS in transition. Consequently, there is no need to feel like there is something wrong with us whenever we happen to find ourselves in one of those contracted, dark and deep, sucky places in life."

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