Bucharest

Hey, Chief. Hope you’re doing better today. Sorry we haven’t been able to connect. I thought I would write you an installment in lieu of silence. I had an experience not long ago that I thought maybe could give you some food for contemplation, and maybe a bit of a chuckle.

It starts with a deportation. Yes, I have been determined to be an illegal immigration risk. You know I set out in the fall to head to Spain to look for a publisher for my book with the intention of going to Jordan for some tourism and then heading off to Israel for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to talk to my rabbi about converting to Judaism. He lives in Safed, and we’ve been talking at a distance for two years, and it came time to meet in person and take things to a different level. Also, though, I wanted to do research for my second book, which is supposed to be set in Israel.

Things haven’t turned out like that at all, however. The Israeli consulate in Madrid wouldn’t respond to e-mails or calls, nor would it allow appointments to be made in person. This was the first of a number of strange things that have made this trip not unlike the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The 2013 version with Ben Stiller that we have been talking about. Bizarre challenge after bizarre challenge. And you now know that 2022 is on the horizon, and I am here in Belgrade, Serbia.

With the problems with the consulate in Madrid, I decided to cancel the Jordan leg of my trip and head to Serbia where I have a friend. This friend doesn’t want to be connected to any story I would write, so we’ll call him Bucky. Another superhero reference.

Captain America with his sidekick, James Buchanan Barnes. “Bucky Barnes.” He would later become the Winter Soldier, which some may be familiar with from the Marvel movies.

I thought I would have a better chance with the Israeli consulate here, but that has turned out not to be the case. In fact, recently I was at a Shabbat lunch with some visitors to Belgrade from Switzerland, and they said they couldn’t get any kind of response from their Israeli consulate either. It seems like Israel’s consulates are just shut down altogether.

But to continue this tale, while here in Belgrade Israel opened up its borders for tourists, so I thought I would just take a flight to Israel with no visa or anything. Americans and travelers from most European countries normally don’t need to get visas to go to Israel for 90 days. As soon as the borders opened, I booked a flight to Ben Gurion Airport. Since you never know what you will be able to do with COVID, I did not get a hotel. I did not get a return ticket. After all, it’s the twenty-first century. With Expedia, Airbnb, or any other travel app you can get any hotel or flight almost instantly. And thank God I didn’t pay for all of that stuff in advance, as you will soon see.

When I arrived I was surprised at the ease of arrival. I had read about the requirements for multiple COVID tests at every phase of travel to Israel, but everything looked fairly normal and convenient. I made it through all the usual customs ordeals, got my 90-day visitor permit, and all was well until the very last point at which I was about to receive my passport stamp. At that last moment I was asked to go talk to a border control officer.

I thought it might have something to do with an interview I had with Shin Beit, Israel’s domestic security service, when I returned to Israel from a day-trip to Jordan while living there in 2018 or 2019. So I was a bit deflated, but not surprised.

As soon as the interview took place, however, my black and white, angels and demons “prophet sense” couldn’t help but kick in. I could tell from the get go that things were going to get tough. The first sign that things were about to tank was the guy constantly telling me to put my mask over my nose.

You know I have zero interest in all the COVID garbage. The mask I wear was specifically chosen to maximize my ease of breathing. It’s a loose-fitting cloth that constantly slips from my nose and contains every kind of gaping opening and perforation imaginable. I took a little time to research COVID at the beginning of all this nonsense and found that SARS-CoV-2 is a waterborne virus that transmits on droplets that basically amount to vapor. 99% of masks don’t do jack.

While watching this guy constantly tell me to put my mask over my nose, I couldn’t help but observe the colossal openings in his mask on either side of his nose and his cheeks and imagining the dreaded COVID shooting from the guy into the room via huge jets of COVID vapor with every exhalation. And you know, SARS-CoV-2 lingers in the air for four hours, right? I mean I would have burst out into laughter if he weren’t some kind of authority that I would be best served in complying with. So I would put my mask over my nose only to have it back down around my mouth not fifteen seconds later. The guy must have told me to put my mask over my nose twenty times during this conversation.

That’s usually a tip for me that I am dealing with the devil. Or someone acting as his thrall, anyway. God is not unreasonable. God is not stupid. We, his servants, are weak, and oh so often we don’t express his values of love and genius, but I couldn’t help but understand that I was talking to someone who had not been steered by the divine in the right direction.

This suspicion that I was talking with a servant of evil was confirmed very quickly by the nature of the conversation. He asked me the initial questions of where I was staying and what I was doing. I of course told him that I would be getting a hotel once I had successfully made it through the airport. Again, an irrational border control agent is going to look for his signs of normality – that a temporary tourist would show him all sorts of travel details. He would have no idea just how much traveling I had done, and how confident I was that I would be able to get a room without reserving and paying everything in advance. And of course the guy would not consider for an instant that making all sorts of reservations under the current travel circumstances would be nothing other than the zenith of human idiocy. It’s like asking to lose money – something that would certainly make the devil the happiest of all the fallen angels, if I may add. I have some stories about how that son of a bitch has been nickeling and diming me lately.

So after finding out that I had just showed up with no hotel or transportation matters taken care of, the conversation turned to what my purpose of travel was. I told him I was going up to Safed to talk to my rabbi about converting to Judaism. Here is where the guy decided to appoint himself some evaluation authority of Israel’s chief rabbinate or something. As if he were qualified to make a satisfactory evaluation of my spiritual aspirations in five minutes in his little office at the airport.

I honestly wished I had paper copy of my latest eighty-thousand word novel that I had written about the two-decade long set of experiences that resulted in my taking this profound decision. Or better yet would have been to hand him a CD with the recordings of two years of conversations with my rabbi about the subject to say, “have a listen, buddy.” I was really dumbfounded. I had no idea what two or three sentences this guy wanted to hear that would convince him that I was genuine. Almost in mockery, I told him, “My rabbi says I have a Jewish soul.” I really couldn’t think of anything else.

Of course he wouldn’t know what to make of the statement. That’s a thing that the rabbis have: the Jewish soul. It’s profound, and one can study the idea for months. But he wanted a five-word answer, so I gave him the five-word answer I had.

He then started asking me all sorts of questions about the conversion process. What could I do but answer his questions? The guy was telling me to put my mask over my nose twice a minute. I was complying. He was asking me about conversion to Judaism. What could I do but comply and answer his questions? I mean I wanted to tell him how much of an idiot he was, Chief. I really did. But it looks like I was in a no-win situation. Telling him this was all stupid wasn’t going to work. Getting into a six-hour conversation about the entirety of my spiritual history culminating in my decision to convert to Judaism just didn’t seem to be an available option. And he seemed to be intent on making sure that complying with his questions wasn’t going to work either. I told him the process usually took a year or longer. So this beady-eyed little bureaucrat saw the whole thing as a guy showing up with with no hotel or definitive travel plans talking about intending to stay in Israel for a year or longer. I imagine his IQ could possibly have been down in the single digits, or, all the more likely, whatever infernal spirit of darkness that infested him caused his every thought to construe things as such.

He asked me for further confirmation, and I gave him the contact information I had for my rabbi. This is the same rabbi I talked about in chapter nine of my book that you read, by the way. The agent insisted on calling the guy at almost midnight. I took that as the sort of profound disrespect for a religious figure that one would expect to find among the sons of Satan’s army. Surprisingly, the good rabbi actually answered. God was on my side in some way, at least. The border agent was confronted yet again with a voice of reason. He confirmed the intention of my trip. The agent asked him if I was going to convert to Judaism, and the rabbi told him explicitly, “he is coming up to talk about options for converting to Judaism.” Like, making absolutely sure there could be no confusion that this was a temporary tourist visit of a personal and spiritual character.

Confusion was something that this agent was looking for, however. Reason and truth be damned, he was going to keep me out of Israel. This is what my “prophet sense” was telling me. Just like every freaking Israeli consulate in Europe that I had ever even heard about closing down for business without any official edict of that purpose ever being issued. The world was going to shut Israel down for entry, whether it took making every consulate in Europe dysfunctional or whether it took driving this border agent to act completely insane.

In the end, he told me that I would be deported as an illegal immigration risk. I’m not lying, Chief. I’m an American citizen, a retired military officer with a pension that pushes six figures, and I come from a family far wealthier than I am with residences in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico, among those being penthouses and haciendas. But this guy thought it made sense to treat me like I was a danger of staying in Israel illegally to get some eight thousand shekel a month job like some destitute Ethiopian. That’s what was really on this guy’s mind. Or at least that’s what he seemed to be saying. I think the spirit that controlled him was basically just looking for anything it could to keep me out of that country that is important to me.

But this story isn’t entitled “Ben Gurion.” It’s called “Bucharest.” So I should get to that part before you nod off wondering what the hell all this is about. I’ll just quickly wrap up the deportation story. I was whisked to a plane and promised that it would take me back to where I came from. While waiting to get on, a really cool Shabak guy came out to talk with me and ask security questions. Intel debriefers are always the coolest. I should know. I am one. So I gave him some kind of narrative about what I was up to, and he ended the conversation with “interesting. Good luck.”

From there they put me on a plane. Of course I wasn’t confident that they would get me back to where I was going because my flight from Belgrade connected through Bucharest, Romania. And when I arrived in Bucharest, of course nobody had any idea that I needed to get to Serbia. This is bureaucracy at work, Chief. Of course my bags would be nowhere to be found, either. After a lengthy ordeal that would take a week, I would get my bags back with all kind of seals on them that I didn’t put on them. No doubt Shin Beit had been rummaging through everything. Not that this was a problem for me. I know their job. And I want Israeli intel to know I am on their team. I had nothing to hide.

More interesting than these details, though, all of which were to be expected, was my company. There were four other deportees with me. Three of them were absolutely stunning twenty-something Romanian chicks. Quite likely they had been trafficked into Israel to be strippers or prostitutes or something and had been sent back to where they came from. At the Bucharest airport they were complaining madly about what they were supposed to do with themselves after being dumped at the airport. One of them asked me where I was sleeping. That caught my eye. Had I been in another mood I am sure I could have had a hell of a foursome that night. I was still trying to figure out what the hell country I was in at this point and was bitching about my bags, though. When they caught on that I didn’t even know what country I was in, they giggled, and off they went.

Of greater import to this story, however, was the lost little lamb I picked up on the journey. We will call her Buba. You might think that name a bit silly or demeaning, but she was a Serbian with a slavic name that has a nickname that is even funnier. This is just a slight modification of that nickname.

So Buba was a little younger than me, rather attractive for those of our generation, and the poor woman didn’t speak a word of English or Romanian. She had a cheap phone plan that’s only worked in Serbia, and couldn’t even ask anyone where to find wifi. She just stood there like the epitome of “I’m just standing here dying in place, hoping some wolf makes quick of work of me with the least amount of pain possible.”

There’s just no way I could have left her there, Chief. And in the back of my mind I was thinking all of this had to be arranged by some cosmic force for some grander purpose. But was that a force of good or of evil? An affluent American tourist being deported from Israel as an immigration risk seemed miraculously unfortunate, and I was basically forced by every circumstance imaginable to spend the night with a Serbian woman. It was like the Prince of Darkness was telling me, “sorry, Israel is off limits, prophet. You will accept this Serbian woman instead.”

She didn’t have her bags either, and on top of that, she didn’t keep her baggage tags. I took her to the baggage area to put in a claim at the same time I was taking care of mine. Everything looked like I would get my bags, but her prognosis was not so good. Then I let her onto my hotspot so she could make use of my three-hundred dollar a month phone bill that lets me, Caterpillar, and X-23 have unlimited phone and data anywhere in the world. It cures cancer. It does everything. She contacted her uncle in Israel who wired her some money. So I took her to Western Union. From there I took her to a hotel. All of our communication was via the message translating feature that Viber has. Viber is the main messaging app in Serbia. It was freaking annoying, Chief. But I seriously worried she would be eating garbage off the streets of Bucharest if I didn’t get her out of there somehow. So I took her to a hotel I booked on Expedia. Yes, I should let the border control agent in Israel know you can indeed land somewhere without a reservation and get a hotel fairly easily.

We took several trips between the hotel and the airport when we were trying to take care of our stuff. It was an “airport hotel” within walking distance of the airport. I was just being practical. One thing that struck me was her taking pictures of the utterly mundane airport environment on our walks. I thought to myself that for me, this was a layover given to me by the bureaucratic incompetence of the Israeli border authorities, but to her, she was in Bucharest. This was a tourist adventure for her. She had hardly been outside of Serbia. And what for me was just another Jonathan Bailey hassle, was for her a magical mystery tour to another land. In a sense this broke my heart. In another sense it was adorable.

Of course, always being conscious about how His Infernal Majesty is always trying to milk whatever coin he can from my account, I was not about to buy this girl her own hotel room out of some sense of modesty and propriety. She’d get her own hotel room on her own dime, but she could stay with me for free if she wanted. I told her as much. She chose to stay with me. Again, could this be anything other than a story arranged by God, or by the devil? I’d just left Mayra. I’d been in Madrid for a month making sure I didn’t get anchored to anyone or anything there, wary of the tendrils that Mexico had sunk into me over the last two years. I was going to accomplish my mission to Israel, all else be damned. But this Serbian chick was just being given to me, Chief. There is just no other way to describe it. Like some otherworldly force ordained that I would spend the night with some woman.

In the hotel I tried to keep the conversation going through Viber as best I could. To make things easier I decided we should exchange pictures. Looking at pictures is easier than machine translation. Of course I showed her pictures of Caterpillar, and for her part, I learned that the highlight of her life was also her daughter, who I would see was an absolutely stunning 22 year-old medical student in Novi Sad. This will become important in a bit. You know about the thing with Harold van Ouwerkerk and his daughter. And you know I have a thing about daughters. But first, a few more details.

Now I was stressed a lot. I hadn’t been smoking lately, but upon landing in Bucharest I bought a pack and made like a chimney. And talking to this chick over Viber was annoying. Further, I was sharing a hotel room with one queen bed with this woman I hade never met. She seemed perfectly cool with everything, but I certainly was not. In fact, I went to the concierge and asked him if he could put my backpack in a safe or something because I was stranded in the city and in the hotel room with a woman I had never met. He chuckled and looked at me with a twinkling gaze of absolute understanding as he took my backpack and gave me a claim ticket, telling me that everything would be alright.

So, of course I was in a mood. I was smoking, stressed, pissed off, deported, and paying my way home at my own expense, and the only thing going for me was I had a woman in my bed. Chief. I am a man. I had not heard from Noah. Noah keeps me focused and on track. But she hasn’t called, and I was under so much stress. So I did what any man would do. I fucked her. The experience reminded me of those times in Mexico that I wrote about in my book. It wasn’t great. I won’t get pornographic with details. I will only say that it took a bit for the blood to get flowing, if you know what I mean. That made me somewhat nervous, but eventually everything worked well enough. The experience wasn’t enjoyable altogether, though. At least I got off, and that provided a modicum of calm. Afterward, I apologized that it wasn’t better for her, but that I was truly thankful to her. I’d put some time and effort into getting her home, and she gave me some grounding with her body. Fair trade, Chief?

The last thing I did was call Caterpillar. I showed her me together with Buba, and her response was “Way to go, Dad!” I don’t know what to make of that. With all of my periods of multiple years of celibacy and monastic vows and my gay friends and tales of orgies from my youth, I get the feeling that everybody around me wants to know if I am gay or a pervert or a whoremonger or molester of little boys. I suppose, like my mom, Caterpillar just took comfort in seeing me with a woman. Remember, she knows about Noah and all that. So I guess she was just comforted that the woman in my bed wasn’t her age. I dunno, really.

So the next day we were able to get on a plane and head back to Belgrade. From the money from her uncle she was able to buy her own ticket, thank goodness. But it was only eighty bucks to fly “home.” I could have covered it if I had to. She and I vowed to stay in touch.

At some point during the trip I had found out that she was Jewish, but she didn’t have any sort of verification of it. She was completely detached from her Jewish heritage, though I did pick up from her conversation that she was Jewish from her mother. This made her “legally” Jewish. Having this recognized would help her get back to Israel in the future. Further, in Belgrade I have been hanging around with Jews from the Chabad organization. They run centers around all the world. Jews can be notoriously hard to find and get ahold of in the diaspora. But Chabad has two missions. Their general mission is to be the light of the world, and the source of truth to the nations, and this had always impressed me, as I have always thought that this was what God was getting at on Mount Sinai when he revealed the Law of Moses and got the whole bible ball rolling. My rabbi is from Chabad, and another rabbi friend of mine, also up in Safed, is from that group as well. So I take their mission seriously. Now being the Jewish light to the world is Chabad’s general and secondary mission. Where they get specific is in their primary mission: to find Jews wherever they are and bring them to the Torah, the Law of Moses, and the commandments of God. Because this is their main mission, I take this bit even more seriously.

So knowing that she was Jewish but without any legal recognition of such, and because she had an uncle in Israel who she wanted to visit, but had been deported, and because she had calmed my post-traumatic stress with her very body, I vowed to keep contact with her.

The contact was difficult. It was through Viber, as usual. Machine translation sucks. It was on again and off again, and a few times involved the phrase, “nice knowing you…goodbye.” It was usually her that would keep the contact going. I would find out that meeting an American was important for this woman.

At one point she messaged me after not hearing from her for a good while saying that she had health problems. She had told me in the hotel that her brother had recently died in his forties. I would later find out that he died just a couple of days after taking some COVID vaccine. Her family had a history of some heart problem, and I had been reading about all these athletes being forced to retire from sports because of heart problems, something that was an issue for the COVID vaccine conspiracy people, a crowd that I don’t entirely discount.

True to my mission for Chabad, and in the style of Christian evangelists that I know from my two decades with that religion, I decided to go to her as a pair. I invited Bucky to go with me. “The Lord sent them out in twos” is the line from the New Testament. Besides, Buck spoke some Serbian. I would be lost without him.

When we arrived, Buck found out everything about her situation. She had some surgery that she would need. We vowed to visit her and offer what help we could, and she agreed to come to the Jewish center with us and get her Judaism recognized and connect with the Jewish community in Belgrade.

While there, Bucky took at a look at the pictures on her wall. That’s where he saw her daughter. He was impressed. I’ll tell you at this point that Bucky is looking for a good woman. Under normal circumstances he could find one with ease. He is not yet thirty, and he comes from a European country where the dudes speak with an accent that should impress any Serbian. He owns his own company and has plenty of money by Serbian standards. But because of COVID everybody is clammed up at home with people they’ve known forever. More than once I have gone out clubbing or bar hopping trying to find a girl for Buck. He just hasn’t had luck so far while I have been with him in Serbia. This will make for an interesting situation here in a minute.

So Buba wasn’t around much, and I only had one or two awkward conversations with her over Viber machine translation for a couple of weeks, but then she sends me a message out of the blue asking for six hundred euros to have a surgery.

Have I not told you I feel like the devil is trying to milk me for every penny he can, Chief? And now I am a character in a common story: an American in a foreign country with a cheaper economy with some local chick asking for money. Buck and I didn’t know how much of her story about the surgery was real. She hadn’t come with us to Chabad or said anything about going to get her Judaism recognized. But I hear from her out of the blue about asking for money.

This is where I pulled a Jonathan Bailey. I suck at the normal stuff, Chief. I have no earthly idea how to interact with my fellow man according to typical conventions at this point. I left that shit behind decades ago. And I have been frustrated on my own, trying to get to Israel with all this bizarre crap, and trying to play according to social norms. And I was just sick of it at that point. The last thing I needed was a Serbian chick messaging me out of the blue asking for money.

You also know I have a thing with daughters. My daughter, and my X-23, are the most important people in my life. And above all things, Chief, you know about Noah. There is nothing that can describe the thing with Noah. There is nothing that awakens whatever divinity can be found within me like a young woman. And my only friend in this country is a young man who can’t find a young woman to be his own. So I pulled a Jonathan. I threw all the normal shit at the wind.

I told this chick that I would pay the six hundred euros for her surgery if she would send her daughter on some dates with Buck. I told her that it was in no way prostitution. She would have absolutely no obligation to have sex or do anything in particular for Bucky. I told her that I wanted to know how much she trusted me, and that I wanted to know how much she valued what I would do for her, to risk her daughter to get what she wanted. Finally, I told her that this would tell me how much her daughter loved her mother. For her daughter to go and be taken to dinner by some guy from Chabad in order to save her mother’s heart would certainly be scary, but if she had the courage to do something like that, I would know a lot about her and her mother. That would tell me something. If these people had a healthy enough relationship to discuss these things and do them, it would tell me a lot, not only about them, but what I was for them, and what Buck was for them.

The answer was typical. Rage. I suffered every accusation possible. I had no compassion, apparently. I had no concept of common culture, she said. She raged and raged and raged, and accused and accused, and finally told me she never wanted to hear from me again.

For my part, I knew that this woman was a danger. She had a lovely daughter. If I had gotten into a relationship with her, I would have come to love her daughter. I would have smiled too much or glanced too long, and the police would have been knocking at my door.

This told me a lot. I think she wanted an American to make her problems go away with money. When I would not submit, she accused and disappeared. I had been wanting to know if she were just another snare to keep me away from Israel and my mission, and I found out. The consulates were closed. The border agents did everything they could to keep me out of Israel, and the devil had put me together with a Serbian woman to distract me and control me and deplete my resources and send me to another direction. Buck would not have a good time with a beautiful young woman. A daughter would not help her mother. And a lady would not have an American with a few extra dollars pay for her surgery. My requirements were just too weird. I asked you above if the situation had been set up by the forces of good or the forces of evil. Now I knew.

This is just one of the many adventures I have been having here, Chief. The world doesn’t want me to get to Israel. It will throw anything it can at me to distract me. It will literally demand that I sit local girls in my lap and donate my bank account to whatever it wants. And whenever I go against that grain, I am greeted with rage. Not just going with whatever flow the world puts in front of me is greeted with rage. Doing anything unusual, even if it’s the most logical thing to do, and even if it is what would be best for everybody, is going to be greeted with rage.

This is just an installment about the Belgrade adventure, Chief. More to come.

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