Holon, Israel, 2006
Today is was a bully. I mean, Bully. I entered the Holon Division of Motor Vehicles, after the hour or so bus ride from Ra’anana, and was transformed some dozen minutes later. Like the Hulk, bursting fissures through his skin.
In Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz, when the film switches from Kansas to Oz , it changes from black-and-white to color, the first use of color in a Hollywood film, I believe. Here, I went reverse: from color to black-and-white. And as in the film, Roger Rabbit, three-dimensional creatures turned into two-dimensional cartoons (who then pop-out 3-D eyes; here too, 3-D became 2-D. I may have become two-dimensional also, I just couldn’t see myself too well; I felt a bit, well, flat. But enough film-ishness. On to the tale of my transformation.
Here’s the deal. The DMV (I will call it) is open Sunday through Thursday, but will only change American licenses to Israeli permits on Mon. and Wed. This, I am later told, was publicized in newspapers (in Hebrew), Radio (ibid.) and even internet (op. cit.).
But, I left Raanana with robust intentions. I was forewarned by fellow student, Miriam, that the Holon place is a place of snakey lines, Hebrew only, and being told to go from the front of one line to the end of another, and then again. I had girded my loins with a visit to the MEMSI (pre-license) office in Ra’anana: got an official-looking light green form with my photo in one corner, filled out by an optometrist after an exam (40 shekels), then by a physician, then I completed it with questions that I mostly understood. Brought all my other documents: US license, US passport, Israeli I.D., Israeli Oleh card, and a blank check. Hopped the bus to TA at 800 ( a bit on the late side, I was forewarned), into TA central bus station by 9, through security, only to learn that I had to exit the building to get the Holon bus. (Holon means something like “sand-edness”, as does in Arabic, Ramleh). In Holon, the driver tells four of us to alight at a busy intersection, in an area that was in transition from rural to semi-industrial. I gather that the DMV is nearby, as I see student drivers with a big “L” (for learner) magnetized to the top of their car, perched anxiously over the steering wheel, a bit praying-mantis-like, crawling in the right lanes of traffic, while their examiner sat next to them. Their examiners are too busy talking on their cell phones to notice anxiety.
But where’s the building, I ask as I alight, one foot still on the bus? The bus driver tosses his head back and to the right. I see nothing, but follow my co-miserables. One says to me, the driver couldn’t deposit us over there? He points to a bus stop on the other side of a busy road, and only five minutes walk from the building. I joke, that he looked at us and thought we needed exercise. My jokiness doesn’t sustain itself.
We pass through the usual gun and metal detectors and are swept by the wand for weapons, as well as a pat down in the small of the back. After today’s experience, I gather that security should not be concerned about Palestinian bombers/shooters, but Israelis who know what they will soon endure.
Short and sweet, I get the run-around. The lady at the information desk tells me return Mon. or Wed. and tries to hand me a long sheet in Hebrew telling me what she had said. I have learned now, not to even try Hebrew; to act dumbly American monolingual. I ask to speak to the manager. She acts now, as if she has lost her English comprehension. Finally says that the manager’s name is “Lital,” then changes to “Atal.” (Names are changed to protect the guilty, I gathered.) She tells me to go around the corner. There, hidden in another corner is a door. It is cracked open as the woman, Lital/Atal, is talking to a man, telling him in Hebrew, “Take a hike.” As I step forward, she slams, then locks the door. I am brought to mind of speak-easies, and am thinking of some code-knock that will get her to look through the peephole. She opens promptly, however, hears my American, and gives me the quick brush off: Mon. or Wed. I explain that we have one day off monthly from Ulpan and it is Sunday. (I don’t tell her of my gimpy leg.) She persists; I persist. She tells me she’ll meet me around the corner. I hesitate, figuring this is a feint. And I am right.
Around the corner, Lital/Atal has evaporated. But, as in Roger Rabbit, my detecting skills persist and I see her scurry through another locked door. She stops when I call, “Lital/Atal!” Says she is late, late to a meeting. Now, I like Alice, ask this white rabbit to see the Queen of managers. She says it is Ital who is out right now. (I later learn, she is “out” at the meeting that Atal is trying to get to.) Atal does another feint to the first clerk; says she will tell me the name of the Real Manager.
No doing, Tal (the first lady) says. There is no other manager; doesn’t know what I am talking about; I must have heard Atal wrong; only Ital, who is ….. out. An older man comes up, bushy mustached, pulls aside his plaid shirt to flash a name tag; says he’s a driving instructor here. Walks me over to the locked door through which Atal disappeared; tells me to wait there.
Whereupon, “Alice,” another clerk with a upper Midwest US accent approaches me. Says that Atal is gone; won’t be back; Ital is out. I have to come back Mon. or Wed. I said I just saw Atal walk through that door and I will just wait here. No, Alice insists. She is of impressive bulk, of the kind that the airliners have invented “seat-belt extenders” so that they can get the belt around them, of
the kind who the airline put in the three-seats-across aisle, then do not book the middle seat (if you are fortunate). She uses this bulk to good stead. She stands out in this flat cartoon universe. Tells me I can wait for Atal out there, in the general waiting area, a place akin to purgatory, with forlorn looking souls, bent-necked, waiting with waning hope. As in those in Dante’s purgatory, they have
committed no crime, just born at the wrong time or place and hope for the kindness of strangers.
I am transformed. I, Bullius won’t move. Alice ups the ante, tosses some of her higher cards on the poker table. I can’t stay there. I must go out. She will call the cops. I tell her, quietly, that I want to speak to the Manager. And here, she tips her one big card so I get a peek: she tells me the name of the Real Manager. He is upstairs. I go upstairs. A locked door again. Again, a woman is talking to some said plainants through the door slightly ajar. She tells me to wait out in the hallway. Half an hour and the Manager will be out of his meeting.
I have brief interlude during which I talk by cell phone with Myron, my Virgil in this Inferno or is it Purgatory. He wonders how this will turn out. Not so bad, after all.
Someone comes twenty minutes later, buzzes the door and …. is buzzed in. I now figure that I may try this maneuver. I am buzzed in. There is another ante room, with a secretary’s desk, but no secretary. There are small offices, in which two woman work, while talking on their cell phones; people come and go, not talking of Michelangelo, nor any other such art. Perhaps forty minutes later, a pleasant, self-assured fellow walks out, as if ready to leave with a woman soldier next to him. He pauses at the exit. Asks the pelephone-chatting women, “Who is this man waiting for?”
“You,” in one-word chorus.
He apologizes that he is stepping out to say goodbye to the soldier; will be right back.
And he does return. I tell him I need help. Show him my forms, tell my tale. He takes me about the shoulder, says, “Let’s go downstairs, see what we can do.”
I see him huddled next to Alice downstairs. He speaks with a smile, arm around her shoulder. She is petulant, bumps him with her ample rear. Twice. Makes a motion to him that he should plant a kiss there. He does no such thing, but implores further, steps out to reassure me she will help me. Invites me to sit and notices crumpled trash on the seat; removes it, with an apology and ascends. Alice is unhappy. After a feint, as if she is too busy, she removes the “closed” sign over a window and motions me over.
I surreptitiously time this. Slightly under 2.5 minutes, she has glanced at my US license, Oleh certificate and signed my provisional Israeli license. Tells me to go outside to the post office to Xerox a copy of my US license. I hesitate, not wanting to lose my contact with her as we are about to consummate the deal. Think for a moment to slip up to Manager’s office to Xerox there; think better, slip out to the PO, which is inside the security perimeter (no bag checks), make two copies and hustle back. She tacks on the copy and dismisses me. I thank her. She ignores me.
Shortly after leaving the building, the retransformation happens. I see color again; I feel myself in three-dimensions. Almost feel a “pop,” as I am reinflated. Remarkable. Like the Purple Rose of Cairo, I am transformed from the flat screen to 3-D life. I rather like all three dimensions.
In Dante’s last circle of Hell, the sinners are cursed to stand at the foot of Satan; their tears flow and freeze on their faces; their bodies are encased up to the neck in a block of iced tears. Had Dante known about the DMV, he would not have to have been so imaginative. Just wander this lobby of lost souls, peopled by more lost souls on the other side of the counter. And briefly, occasionally, a decent fellow descends and acts humanely.
Now, to pass the driver’s test.