New Nouns, Same Me
It was always talked about. ‘The Vatika’: that mirage sifting through my desert-trained mind since day one of training. The patches on our commanders’ weapons and dog tags their testimony of them having gotten there. Palchod, Messayaat, Mivtzait; the beginning of the end; where the action is. 365 crazy-freezing-boiling-backbreaking-inspiring-frustrating-awesome-awful-memorable-I-hate-everyone-and-everything-right-now-fulfilling-I’m-really-proud-I-drafted-annoying-hilarious-I-still-can’t-believe-that-all-just-happened, days later, I got there, too.
The vatika houses of all of Givati’s active-duty soldiers that have completely finished training and is the furthest you get in infantry. My platoon’s vatika currently houses the draft classes of March ’11, August ’12, and now us, Nov ’12.
We leave our old base with smiles abounding and heads high only to arrive at the vatika with our lips pursed and heads lowering. Reality is sinking in: We’re the youngest again, which means helping everyone without getting helped in return. We’ve finally made it to the end. But we’ve moved up only to move back down.
A new platoon means new people, places, and things, and of course as is inevitable for me, new fadichot. Like still no one being able to pronounce my name.
Back in the US I had it easy. Fox. Three letters. That’s standardized test bubble gold. If members of the Israeli Knesset had to take the SAT’s with me in 2006 we’d still be waiting for Yitzchak Aharonovich and Penina Tamanu-Shata to finish bubbling in their names.
But, as I have kvetched about in the past- and will continue to until I get the chance to go to misrad hap’nim and actually change it- my name continues to be an unpronounceable protean mystery in hebrew due entirely to the fact that an aleph managed to sneak its way in there and subsequently ruin my life. According to the amount of times I get pulled over at the airport, it may be hard to believe that I’m of polish descent. My family’s name in Poland was “Fuks” (pronounced “Fooks”) When my grandfather got to America, perhaps upon noticing its inconvenient resemblance to the F-Bomb, he decided to change it, and between the closest sounding options- Fox and Fuchs- he went with Fox. (So if your name is Fox I’m probably not related to you. Except that time I convinced my entire kita in tironut that I’m related to Megan Fox and that she just called and she’s coming to our swearing in ceremony. I got whatever I wanted from the shekem for a week). There’s no such thing as “Fox” in hebrew- it’s “Fohks”: Pey VAV Kuf Samech. But no, some Yankele, Berel, Moishie, Other-Generic-Ashkenaz-Name Fox somewhere in the annals of my family’s history changed it to Pey ALEPH Kuf Samech, resulting in the following ridiculous evolvements of my once conveniently pronounceable name.
Names/Unintelligble sounds that people have called or call me in the army:
Mitpeset. No, jobnik from the afsanaut. MY NAME IS NOT FAX MACHINE IN HEBREW.
Speaking of fadichot, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t already have a story about one happening soon after I get to the vatika.
Every day 2 soldiers spend 12 hours going around with the police, and after my shift ends at 1 AM instead of 8 PM, I pass out and manage an hour of sleep before I’m shaken awake and told I’m going to the pillbox. A pillbox is guard tower overlooking a valley or situated near a village to act as a buffer zone between Palestinian and Jewish settlements.
Since my commander (let’s call him Raymond because chances are there are no commanders in the IDF named Raymond. And I apologize in advance to the token IDF commander Raymond, shaking his fist at home at me and my generalizations) is a complete shokist and communicates via freak out instead of utilizing the fundamentals of normative communication of a non-pressured situation in which an issue at hand is first explained so the action to address it can be properly executed, starts rolling my body like I’m an unmade laffa, while shouting at the top of his lungs.
MEIR WAKE UP!!! WE NEED TO GET OUTSIDE!!! NOW!!!
Without thinking I throw on my vests and helmet, burst outside, and tear down the hill with Raymond to a few officers waiting outside their jeep. But as I approach the assistant head of the platoon- the Samech Mem Pey- to see what’s going on (it was quickly affirmed that they were just doing a routine check, hence no need for a freak out, RAYMOND) a lot of noise quickly overcrowds my ears.
Samech Mem Pey, fuming: MA ZEH HA DAVAR HA ZEH?!?!?!
Meir, confused: What?
SMP, still fuming: This!
Meir, still confused: What’s this?
SMP, still fuming : Is this a joke? THIS! He yells, his pointer and thumb pinching his uniform and flapping it up and down.
I look down and immediately wish I was anywhere except right there.
The navy sweatshirt I put over my uniform to fall asleep in is still on, blaring out from under my vests and helmet. Rushed out in my half groggy half suddenly extremely awake state, I didn’t even notice it was still wearing it. I look like Cookie Monster decided to eat his former military self and got a perm to celebrate.
All I can manage is, “I.. I have my uniform under it…”
SMP: WHAT?! I DONT CARE!!! RAYMOND TAKE CARE OF THIS!!!
Raymond takes me to the side and starts freaking out: What’s wrong with you!? Why did you do this!?
Even though Raymond is conveniently ignoring the fact that we both got on gear and left the pillbox together, so he clearly saw how I was dressed and therefore this all could have easily been avoided if he would have just stated the obvious, I can’t make excuses. I still have to be aware of these things. And although I miraculously escaped without punishment last time, this time I’m really finished. Going to a mesimah on ‘chetzi bet’? Jailtime. 30+ days detention. This is going to turn out very badly.
I throw off my sweatshirt, stuff it in my vest and head back to the jeep but my Samech Mem Pey mentions nothing about what just happened. Until two nights later when comes back to mention something about what just happened.
Samech Mem Pey: Pahks come here.
Pahks: Here we go…
SMP: Oh, very nice to see you wearing a uniform
Pahks: “…” SMH
SMP: So, what are we going to do about this incident?
The army is all about quick, confident answers, and I find myself saying the following:
Pahks: Look, I didn’t do this on purpose. There was situation at hand and I jumped to it like I was trained. I barely slept two hours last night, and in my rush to get outside I didn’t even notice I was wearing the sweatshirt I wore to sleep over my uniform.
The 20 seconds he spends weighing my response seem like 20 years.
SMP: Listen, from my perspective you’re closing shabbat, I’m giving you a judgement, and you’re getting a 28 day detention… But your officer and commander say you’re a good soldier and this isn’t you and since I trust them and you’re new here I’m willing to let this otherwise very serious incident go.
Can I rely on you?
Are you kidding? I’m getting out of this somehow!? I just decided I’m donating my entire life savings to the Jewish Agency.
SMP, leaning in so only I can hear: Pahks, be very wary of me.
Pahks, gulping: Yes sir.
SMP: Pahks… be very very wary of me. If anything like this happens again I’m going to put you in a room and throw gas grenades at you until you die.
Pahks: I’d um rather not experience that. It won’t happen again.
Another fadicha, another miraculous escape. I don’t know how I get into these as much as I get out of them. They just happen to me, no matter how hard I try to avoid them. Since I’ve already made such a wonderful first impression in just my second week, it looks my time here in the Vatika is going to be pretty eventful. As much as I do or don’t want it to be.