April 22, 2018, 5:36 p.m.

A Concrete Slab

This story goes back about ten years to a pre-swiping era of online dating, when men and women filled out long, detailed profiles on actual computers. I was in my early twenties.

I was messaging back and forth with one fellow on OK Cupid for a while before I agreed to go on a date. Let's call him Adam. Adam's profile exhibited playfulness, zaniness and zeal. The combination of goofiness and passion - particularly about left wing political causes - was attractive to me, even if his photos weren't particularly enticing.

Yet there were indications that he might be a little over the top. At the time the site had a feature where a user could hyperlink pieces of text as a way to find others with matching interests. Usually people hyperlinked things like "tennis" or "samosas." Adam hyperlinked " a concrete slab in a closed miltary zone." The full sentence was "I can sleep anywhere, even on a concrete slab in a closed miltary zone." I clicked on it just to see if any other users shared this experience. Adam was unique!

Adam's over-the-topness made me reluctant to meet him in person. But he coaxed me out with the promise of mind-blowing falafel in an authentic setting. It was an offer I could not refuse. I also guessed that an evening with him would not be boring.

We met early on a warm, sunny spring evening in Williamsburg, a popular hipster neighborhood in Brooklyn. The cafe was instantly charming. The owner and chef, a charismatic middle aged Palestinian man named Najib, gave us a hearty welcome. In addition to running the cafe, Najib also played and repaired ouds, and several of the handsome wooden instruments were hanging on the walls. Newspaper clippings under the glass on the table described the acolades of Najib's brother, a standard bearer for Arabic music in America. For most of the meal, we were alone save for Najib, who could probably hear every word we said.

The food tasted like a home I wished for but never really had (as a white American Jew who had been to Israel twice and bellydanced through college, I had a slight familiarity with the Middle East, enough for a few bites of Najib's lentil soup to evoke a beautiful sense of romantic yearning for the land of my fore-fore-fore-fore-forefathers). Not insignificantly, Adam was also a white American Jew who had traveled to the Middle East.

Adam was indeed a bit much. I don't remember what we started off talking about. We definitely discussed his activism and our views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His lived experience, as he described it was consistent with the combo of passionate activism and abiding goofines expressed in his profile.

For example, he spoke with pride about the time during his university years when a right wing member of Israel's parliament came to give a talk on campus. Adam preempted the talk by running up to the podium and chucking a pie in the politician's face. (It's a true story; I checked).

Adam got up several times to go to the men's room during dinner. He felt the need to offer an explanation: he was taking a prescription steroid, and it made him gassy. "I thought about rescheduling our date," he said, "but I thought 'if she's cool, she won't mind.'" I mustered a smile.

Before long I got to the irresistible question: What was the story behind sleeping on a concrete slab in a closed military zone? Adam was only too happy to share.

That concrete slab was a reference to a time he was in the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement, or ISM. The activists were defending the house of a Palestinian family that had been scheduled for demolition by the Israeli army, to make way for a piece of the wall then being built to separate the occupied West Bank from Israel propper. It seems there was a week or so of more or less sitting tight, waiting for the bulldozers to arrive. During that time, Adam sometimes snoozed on a concrete slab.

Adam was a vegetarian, and spent the week subsisting on hummus and falafel. He explained, this had given him a case of diarrhea. He was using the outhouse on the property when his business was interrupted by a goat ramming its head inside the outhouse.

"Meeeeeh!," Adam bleated, bucking his neck and stretching his head out across the table in a startlingly accurate impression. He had a small chin beard, and in the moment looked the very image of a goat. Also at that moment, I realized I would never be touching his penis.

I don't reacall whether the goat's intrusion heralded the soldiers' arrival. But when they did arrive, Adam and the other activists fanned out to create a human barrier in front of the house.

He and I were sharing a plate of hummus and pita and by that time of the evening, and delicious as it was, we had eaten our fill. Leaning into the weirdness, I asked him to sculpt the standoff scene into the hummus, and he of course, happily obliged. It certainly enhanced the drama to see it in 3D.

With the activists linking arms in a human chain, the soldiers moved in to physically remove them. Employing passive resistance tactics, Adam and his friends were rounded up and put in an army bus. The protesters were taken to an IDF facility, where a male officer interrogated Adam about his political beliefs and actions. The story even had a punch line: at the end of the interrogation, the officer asked him, in an inviting tone, if he wanted to move to Israel. As an As an American Jew who received this invitation multiple times on two trips to the Holy Land, I found this turn of events funny, but totally believable.
As noted earlier, the desire for a romantic or sexual interaction was gone with the goat impression. But I was having a good time, and wished, selfishly, to get the maximum entertainment value out of the evening. And so we decided to continue with the Middle Eastern theme and go to a hookah bar. Najib recommended a place in Greenwich Village that was close to the subway I needed to catch the bus back to New Jersey.

It was Manhattan-style close quarters in the hookah joint. We sat on low cushions and took turns sucking sweet flavored smoke from a long, twisty tube. On my dating profile it said I loved writing parodies and would "sing them to you at the drop of a hat." Adam asked for a rendition, and I obliged with a parody I wrote to "Stayin' Alive" about surviving a snowy night stranded in the woods by creating body heat with group sex. ("Grounds is a thumpin' cause everybody's humpin'/ We're just stayin' alive, stayin alive./We're all gonna make it cause everybody's naked/ Stayin' alive, stayin' alive...)

Adam smiled wide and his eyes twinkled. "My bubbe would love you!" he exclaimed. I was starting to feel bad.

At the end of the evening, Adam walked me to my subway stop. When he leaned in for a kiss, I dodged. "That was a bit...pre-emptive," I said. As I turned to head down the steps to the subway platform, Adam looked crestfallen.

I never heard from Adam after that. But I did go back to Najib's cafe. Najib asked me how the date went. "He's a nice guy, but a little too much for me," I said. "But he has good politics!" said Najib. "Still a 'no.' " But Najib told me if I wasn't into Adam, I shouldn't have gone to the hookah bar after dinner. "You lead him on," Najib scolded. I had to admit he was right.

A few years later the HBO series "Girls" was in its first or second season, and I was a fan. Lena Dunham's lead character Hannah, an aspiring writer, de a series of questionable decisions, including doing coke with her neighbor and offering sex to her boss. Eventually she admits the reason she does these things: it's all "for the story." With a tinge of disgust, I realized the reason I went out with Adam to begin with and kept the date going was also "for the story," even though I didn't admit it to myself at the time.

Since then I've made an effort in my dating life not to sacrifice the emotions of others on the altar of "the story," even though that was a pretty good one.


Login to leave a comment.