November 20, 2018

Dating 101 – Bald is Beautiful

Last night I went out with friends for drinks. On my way home I spoke with a man who had emailed me online, and in a moment of unusual spontaneity, I agreed to meet him for a drink at a bar in my neighborhood. I went to the bar, didn’t see him, so I sat at the bar and waited. When he was ten minutes late I decided I was going to wait five more and head home.

 

Just before I hit the fifteen-minute mark he called me and strangely asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine, but had waited fifteen minutes and was going to head home. He then told me he was waiting for me at the bar and had been on time. I felt bad and told I was there too and didn’t see him. He laughed and said he was coming to find me. We stayed on the phone as I looked around.

 

A man from the other side of the bar approached on his phone and laughed when he saw me. He hung up his phone, gave me a hug, and said he was sorry we missed each other. He then told me I was more beautiful than my picture and shared that I had beautiful hair. I looked at the man, smiled, thanked him, and wondered how quickly I could leave without being rude.

 

Over the next 45 minutes of getting to know each other, I found out that his inline photo is 15 years old. I also discovered that he had three patches of hair which he appeared to have grown out, and then carefully wrapped around his head. I am not sure if it was taped, or perhaps glued, but he had fashioned himself a helmet of hair. A helmet of strategically placed hair. Dear Lord.

 

I stared at his hair as it was a great wonder of the world. I listened to him tell me how he couldn’t find a more recent picture of himself, how his wife left him for another man, how he had not been on a date in four years, how he had not spoken to his son in three years, and how he had to medicate after his divorce. I listened, distracted by hair, then politely wrapped up the date.

 

He didn’t seem surprised when I told him I didn’t; think we were a match and declined a second date. I felt bad and almost explained what went wrong on the date, but quickly changed my mind. There will be a woman who finds him handsome, charming in his honesty, and want to be with him. I believe there is someone for everyone, which is what keeps me hopeful and dating.

 

I didn’t find him attractive, or particularly interesting, but someone will. It is not my job to tell anyone what I think unappealing, as what is unappealing to me, might be sexy as hell to someone else. I happen to think bald is beautiful and helmet hair is not, but that’s just me. My dating life continues to be interesting, tragic, and funny. It is also exhausting, but I am keeping the faith.

 

Kafka and the Cat Lady

Eva Hoffe with Max Brod Photo from Hoffe’s family archive

The story of Eva Hoffe is a sad one. In essence, it is a long, sordid history of broken promises. It begins with Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka. Before passing away, he entrusted his friend Max Brod with a large collection of his manuscripts, instructing Brod to destroy them.

He did not.

Brod, in turn, left them to his secretary (and alleged lover) Esther Hoffe, with the instructions that she transfer them to a public archive in her lifetime.

She did not.

Thus they ended up in the hands of Esther Hoffe’s last living daughter.

For decades, Eva battled the Israeli courts for her right to Kafka’s manuscripts, stored in vaults in Tel Aviv and Zurich and (according to some individuals I asked) in a small, brown suitcase hidden somewhere in her squalid apartment.

Had Eva won her case, she would have sold the manuscripts for millions of dollars. But she lost. And then, in August, she died at the age of 85.

Reading of her death, it wasn’t her manuscripts that I thought of first. Rather, it was her cats. Before I knew of her as the keeper of Kafka’s lost work, I knew her as the cat lady of Spinoza Street.

It was years ago that I met her for the first time. This was back when I first moved to Tel Aviv. I didn’t know many people and would sometimes spend my afternoons wandering around the city — mentally mapping the streets and trying to get my bearings. It was during one of these walks that I happened into Trumpeldor Cemetery.

Minutes from the hectic commercial center of Tel Aviv, the quiet and dignified cemetery felt a world apart. The names inscribed on the graves sounded familiar to me. Nordau, Ahad Ha’Am, Arlozorov, Dizengoff, Bialik, Tchernichovsky – the politicians, poets, and leaders of Israel. Until then, they had been nothing more than street names to me.

As I continued my walk, I saw a familiar face pass by — an older woman with a scowl and a hunched back.

Back then, I was working at a small nursery school on Spinoza Street. My days were spent shaping Play-Doh, building with Legos, and taking the kids out to the small back garden to run around.

The woman I saw in the cemetery was familiar to me as the pair of peering eyes that sometimes glanced at us from a window high above our nursery school’s back garden. 

Franz Kafka
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I had never spoken to her, but I knew of her through local lore. It was Eva Hoffe, the much-maligned cat lady of Spinoza Street, and the unlikely keeper of Franz Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts.

She turned and saw me looking at her. It appeared that she recognized me as well. Slowly she made her way over to me. “You work at the preschool,” she said.  “I can hear you very well from my apartment. The children make a lot of noise.”

The truth is, we could hear her too. More specifically, we could hear her cats.

She paused a moment, weighing what she wanted to say. I assumed it would be something unpleasant. My boss had never missed an opportunity to characterize her as a child-hating and crotchety neighborhood burden.

 “You make a lot of noise,” she repeated. “But you make the children laugh. It’s lovely to hear to them laugh.”

This caught me off guard, but before I had a chance to respond, she took my arm and began pulling me with her. “Come,” she said, gesturing to a grave. “This is Max Brod. Today is his memorial. He was a friend of my mother’s.”

We stood in silence a moment as we looked at the grave. I don’t remember how much I knew then of her legal battles for Kafka’s manuscripts, or of the significance of her mother’s relationship with Brod. She didn’t bother explaining. After a beat, she said goodbye to me and walked away.

The next week at work, I saw Hoffe taking out her garbage during the students’ outdoor playtime. 

We exchanged waves. My co-worker, Jenna, cocked her head at me. I explained how we had met and added that Hoffe was, surprisingly, a very sweet lady.

Jenna rolled her eyes.

This was to be expected. Those who worked at the nursery school thought of Eva the way my boss did. She had even managed to influence the thinking of the class mothers.

The issue was her cats. Back then, Eva’s shrieking cats could be heard from her windows at all hours. She must have had at least 20 of them in there, all fighting and bristling and mewing plaintively to be fed.

My boss so disliked having Eva as a neighbor that she led a small but determined campaign against her. She encouraged the class mothers to lodge complaints with the municipality about the cats, telling them to say that the presence of so many animals in a confined space had a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of their children (a complete falsehood). “Without more voices,” she would say, “nothing will be done.”

After a certain number of calls had been lodged, the city would come and clear out the cats, after which Eva would begin to collect them again.

At times, I would defend Eva’s right to her cats, but I was always met with the same response, which was that it wasn’t ethical to keep all those cats cooped up in there. I would tend to agree, but somehow I sensed that cat-activism was not the motivation behind the campaign. It was something else. My boss’ ire was aimed at Eva herself and the appeal to “think of the cats!” was unconvincing.

As I learned more about Eva’s case, I began to defend her right to her manuscripts as well. And for the same reason. The state’s case didn’t convince me.

The state argued that the Hoffe family had no legitimate right to Kafka’s manuscripts. Brod had specifically requested that they be placed in an archive. In disobedience to his wishes, the Hoffes had decided to cynically profit off of them through private sale.

But if the state was truly concerned with honoring the wishes of the manuscripts’ rightful owner, why not look to the source — to Kafka himself — who wanted them destroyed?

As a writer, I am always disturbed when the posthumous requests of authors regarding their own work are disregarded. The dead have few advocates, and the long-dead have none. The question of destroying the manuscripts was not part of the equation in the Hoffe case. As such, it seemed to me that this was a matter of two illegitimate parties battling over a piece of property which belonged rightfully to a fire pit.

Before I knew of Eva Hoffe as the keeper of Kafka’s lost work, I knew her as the cat lady of Spinoza Street.

If that was the case, why not rule according to “finders keepers” and let poor Eva keep her ill-gotten heirloom? The state of Israel surely had no greater claim.

Had she won her case, she would have made millions through the sale of the manuscripts. The highest bidder most likely would have been a national archive anyway. Israel would have lost a literary treasure, but Eva would be luxuriating in a gorgeous mansion, her cats strutting about happily, crystal dishes of food in every room and a servant making the rounds tending to the litter boxes.

But she lost and the work contained in the vaults was ordered to be transferred to Israel’s National Library.

In lieu of a truly legitimate claim to the manuscripts, one question considered in the case was that of stewardship. Again and again, it was pointed out that Eva Hoffe was unqualified to care for historical documents — especially if some were kept in her own home.

This same argument was thrown around on Spinoza Street by those who wanted to rob Eva of her cats.

I am a cat owner myself and have always loved the way the strays stalk the streets of Tel Aviv. There are those who complain about Tel Aviv’s cat “infestation,” but for me, they stir up a sense of wilderness and mystery. If every street hides a story as interesting as that of Eva Hoffe’s, surely the cats are the keepers of those stories. This is, I believe, as it should be.

On more than one occasion I asked my boss if she ever considered the possibility that Eva’s cats were not mistreated. That they were noisy because they were cats and because cats make noise. After all, we worked at a preschool.  Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that, in addition to their charming laughter, they make plenty of noises far less pleasant, often resorting to screaming, yelling and crying. This in no way reflects on the warm and loving environment we provided for those children day after day.

A woman so devoted to cat ownership, I argued, is surely devoted to their upkeep and health as well.

“How can you know for sure?” my boss would ask me.

I didn’t know for sure. Nor did I consider it my place to try and find out.

Some stones are better left unturned.

And so it was that I found myself defending the right of an old woman to be ornery and mad, of cats to live in squalor, and of great works of literature to go lost.


Matthew Schultz is a writer living and working in Tel Aviv.

Dating 101 – The 7 Year Itch

Last night I was contacted by a man online who said he’d like to take me out. He was 56 years old, Jewish, attractive, 5’10”, and seemed interesting. We emailed a couple of times, then I gave him my phone number because email is a painful way to meet someone. He called within about an hour and was charming on the phone, until he wasn’t. After the obligatory dating small talk, he decided it was time to be honest.

He began by letting me know he was actually 66. He assured me he looks 56 and said I clearly thought he was younger as I responded to his interest. I am not interested in dating a man who is 66 years old, so I simply told him that while I appreciated the interest, I wished him well with his search and was going to decline his invitation for drinks. He then told me I was a “silly young woman” who needed to be realistic.

He let me know that if I gave him a chance, I could fall in love and we could be together for the rest of our lives.  He then told me that in seven years he would be 73 years old and probably too old to scratch his seven year itch. Probably. He went on to explain in seven years I’d be 59, and undoubtedly would have no sex drive, so we would be perfect for each other and could enjoy our golden years.

I pointed out that he was 66, and suggesting I would be uninterested in sex at 59, didn’t speak well to a healthy sex life with him. He explained that women get “dried up” around 55 and men can have sex until they are 100 because they are more sexual beings. I reminded him he would not be interested in sex seven years from now, and he reminded me he said “probably”, not definitely. Dear Lord. I just can’t.

I wished him well with his search, shared that no good could come of his lying about his age, and told him he was a pig. Not necessarily in that order. I then hung up on him, made myself a cocktail, and went to bed with the cat. My dating life has always been interesting, but as I get older, it seems to be getting less interesting. I have a date tonight, which I am tempted to cancel, but I will go because I remain hopeful and am keeping the faith.

 

Dating 101 – Texting

I have said it before and I will say it again, I am not big on texting. Of course there are times when I text, but do not think it is a particularly valuable form of communication. I use texting for quick messages, or to check in, but having full blown discussion by text are not something I do or am interested in.  Texting is for kids. It is also a very bad idea when you are trying to date someone new.

There is too much room for misinterpretation. When you meet someone new you do not know the nuances of their voice, so you can read a text in a tone that was not intended by the writer. Additionally, if you have never met someone, but have exchanged number in the hope of talking, texting is simply stupid. I think it is also a red flag. If a man sends texts rather than call, one has to wonder why.

I do not trust a man who only communicates by text. I cannot think of why a person would not be able to find a minute to make a call. Even if the call is to say they are unable to talk, that call should be made. If he has kids, then he steps away from the kids and makes a call. It takes the same amount of time to text you can’t talk, as it does to call and say the same thing.

Important to note that when you know someone, and have or are starting a relationship, texting is fine because there is less of a chance of misunderstanding what is being written. I text a lot with my son, and my siblings, but we know each other, and we know that while texting is convenient at the moment, a call will follow. To just communicate by text is strange to me and I don’t do it.

I recently met a man online who is big on texting. So much so that 99% of our communication was done over text, and 50% of my texts were to tell him I do not like texting. He didn’t get it, and I kept waiting for him to get it, but he didn’t. He just kept texting. After two weeks, I just stopped responding and so he stopped texting. Two weeks? I know, pathetic.

There was something very compelling about him, and his eyes were so blue I was mesmerized, but I can’t help but wonder why texting was his thing. I thought maybe he had a wife, or a girlfriend, or perhaps a parole officer who is monitoring his phone log. I don’t know, and at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. He likes to text and I don’t text, so that is the end of that.

Sidebar: When you are in a meeting at work, or at an event, or simply busy with life and cannot talk, getting a text from someone you are interested in is a great thing. Getting a flirty sex, or perhaps a sexy text, can make your day and start your heart fluttering, but those texts can only be good if they are accompanied by phone calls and real life interaction. One does not make sense without the other one. it’s not rocket science gentlemen.

I’m still dating and remain hopeful. I am honestly amazed it is this hard to meet someone I want to invest in. My heart is open, and I am putting myself out there, so it will happen. There will be a man who knows texting is not the only way to get in touch. Hopefully I’ll find him while I still have my own teeth and a healthy sex drive. I am 52, so the chances may be dwindling, but my odds are better if I’m keeping the faith.

Kindness to Animals

The other day we found this little fellow sitting in the driveway at work. He was not moving, breathing heavily, and clearly struggling. My heart just broke for him and I never once thought about his being a rat, just that he was an animal in trouble. I wanted to help him and wasn’t sure how. By help him of course I mean take him home, introduce him to the cats, teach him how to speak English, and have him cook ratatouille for me. He was a sweet boy and I was on a mission to help.

He was trying very hard to walk, but kept tipping over. Bless him. We put him into a box and gave him some seeds and fruit. He was weary, but started to eat and seemed to be quite happy with his meal. He slowly started to regulate his breathing and within a half hour was walking around the box. He may have simply been in shock and terrified, rather than seriously hurt. We thought perhaps he had fallen off of the driveway gate and broke something, but he was getting better.

While he was eating and catching his breath, I called my local vet to see what I should do. I was placed on hold and then told by the receptionist she had spoken to the vet and he said to bring it in and he would take care of it. I was thrilled, until she clarified that by taking care of it, he would be euthanized. Not on my watch he wouldn’t. I get he is a run of the mill rat, but his life has value. I sound like the bleeding heart, liberal, vegetarian that I am, but whatever. He mattered to me.

The beautiful little rat ate his seeds and chilled out, then became restless and was trying to get out of the box. He got his footing back and was ready to go home, so we took him away from the street, up into the canyon, and let him go. He was given a stockpile of food, and simply sat there and ate. I think he was appreciative and counting his blessings. He looked at us with gratitude and it was special. I thought about going to check on him later in the day, but decided against it.

Mother Nature is powerful and she needs to take care of things in her own way. My job was to give another living creature comfort during a trying time, and I would do the same for any creature. Except perhaps a roach. I would not give a roach comfort. I would also not kill it, just run away screaming. I love animals, don’t eat them, and my heart breaks when they suffer at the hands of a human. Mother Nature can do her thing, but we must be kind because we are all in this together.

When you see an animal in trouble, help it. When you want to get a dog or a cat, get one from a shelter and give an animal who is sad and lonely, joy and comfort. Animals are truly wonderful and I am grateful for the interaction I had this week with a rat. I never thought I would say such a thing, but that is the great thing about kindness. It comes up in unexpected ways and will bring you profound happiness if you are willing to pay attention and are keeping the faith.

 

Online Dating 101 – Oh. My. God.

My dating life has always been interesting. From my first date with my ex-husband, to all the men who have wandered into my life since, it has always been… interesting. I don’t know if that’s because I’m interesting, because I really am, or perhaps it is simply because I am brave and willing to put myself out there. But interesting is a good thing.

Until it isn’t.

This week my dating life was interesting for a lot of reasons, but I am left exhausted and wanting to get another cat.

I went back online this week, because how else do you meet anyone? I looked around on Match.com and JDate, and was not even a little surprised to see it is all the same people, with all the same photos, saying all the same things. I updated my profile, and put up new pictures, because it has been several months since I was dating online. I don’t think the majority of men got the same memo. Would it kill them to change it up a bit? Ugh. I am back where I started. Whatever.

I got a notification on Wednesday that I received an email through one of the dating web sites. I was happy that he wrote a proper note and didn’t send a passive aggressive wink or simply “like” one of my pictures. I logged in to my account and found the following message, which I have read at least a dozen times to make sure I understood. Important to note I’ve blurred his picture and name, but he wears glasses, is losing his hair, and his name sounds like Barvey.

You really must read it a few times to get exactly how gross this email is. He is 66 years old and his photo is as creepy as his note is. I think it may be in my best interest to get another cat and call it a day on my dating life. I will never understand how someone could possibly think this email is cool to send to a stranger. In what world does this man think this is okay? He is repulsive, and I am offended by his note. It has also somehow managed to hurt my feelings.

Of course, that is silly, because I don’t know him, and he is just a freak on the internet, but it is sad to me. I suppose I could adjust my thinking, view it as funny, and wish this man luck on his search for the woman who will float his boat. But I can’t get there. There is no world where his note to a stranger is acceptable, and there is no world where I would find it funny. Dating is tough, but I am tougher. Usually. It is taking a minute however, to shake this one off. Barvey is a pig and now blocked.

My dating life is always interesting and occasionally sad, with just a pinch of pathetic thrown in this week for good measure. I told my son I was going to die alone with 18 cats. He told me if I have 18 cats I won’t be alone. Why stop at 18 is the bigger question.

I am going to services tonight to pray the stink of Barvey’s email off of my dating life. As we enter the month of Tu B’Av, the holiday of love, I remain hopeful. My remarkable Rabbi, Naomi Levy, will bless me, and that blessing will guide my search. I am blessed to have a lot of love in my life, and am certain I will meet a man to share my journey with. Anyone with the name Harvey is now sadly out of the running, but he is out there and there’s a chance our paths will cross, so I am keeping the faith.