Note: I had coffee with my dear friends Neal and Varda Farber (photo opposite) a few months back, a few weeks after my Dad passed away and they were here on a visit. We reminisced about our lives as students in Jerusalem almost half a century ago. Back in 1972 Neal and I were studying chemistry together at Hebrew University, and Varda was house-mother in a dormitory in Jerusalem. I recently found this story which I wrote back then, and have retyped the manuscript here. Although I was tempted to do a major edit, I have changed just the typos (and one other word). At least part of the story is true. George was not his real name (Varda and I do remember what it was but we ain’t telling).
“Varda, what am I going to do? I left my Vaseline hand cream in the girls’ showers.”
Varda and I had been talking in her cozy counsellor’s room on the second floor of the dormitory. We quickly turned our heads in the direction of the plaintive cry.
Someone had indeed entered; to me it seemed as if he had followed his voice into the room. The door was ajar and he was barely in, but already awaiting our reaction.
Apparently I was not the only one taken aback. Varda hadn’t caught it either. “What?” Before he could answer, she added, “George, come in and sit down. And relax. And take that idiotic look off your face. Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
So the distraught stranger had a name. It was obvious that he was one of the college students under Varda’s supervision. Probably one of the nuts here making my friend earn her keep.
“Varda, there was no hot water in the boys’ shower so I took one in the girls’ shower and I forgot my vasline hand cream in there and I don’t know what to do.”
George had crumpled into the armchair and in attempting to take one idiotic look off his face had proffered an even sillier one. He must have been nineteen or wenty, although he looked a good few years younger. Short unkempt brown hair, glazed blue eyes behind grey glasses, average height, average build, open mouth, sparsely stubbly beard, knitted brow. His attire was average, but sadly out of place. I wanted to mention to him that this was February in Jerusalem and not July in Togo. He had on a white T shirt, checkered red bermudas over hairy legs reaching their illogical conclusion in socks and sneakers. I refrained from interjecting and instead turned to see Varda in action. After all, she had the BA in psych, not me. In addition she obviously knew the fretful young lad, and I naturally anticipated a witty retort on her part.
“We’ll go and get it, George.” Such an anticlimactic reply! I was disappointed and, apparently, so was George.
“I can’t Varda, there might be girls in there.”
True enough, I thought.
“I suppose I’ll have to go and get it for you. Sit here and wait for me to come back so I won’t have to run and look for you.”
George complied. I introduced myself, and then set upon this poor creature. I took advantage of Varda’s absence to be a mean bastard.
“George, I hope you don’t mind me asking”, I began with a growing sly grin, “but just what were you really doing? I mean in the girls’ showers with the hand cream?” I needed to satiate both innate curiosity and sadism.
He feigned incomprehension and then giggled nervously. “I told you. There was no hot water in the boys’ showers so I used the girls’. And the hand cream was for my calluses. “Really,” he add, “I just spent a week on a kibbutz and I have calluses on my hands.”
Photo: Varda in 1972, Jerusalem
I never finished the cross examination as Varda had returned, hand cream in hand. George thanked her profusely, got up and bounced out of the room, thanking her all the way. Two minutes later he popped his head back into the room to say, “Thank you again, Varda, I really appreciate it. You’re the nicest madricha (counsellor) we’ve had around here.”
If they’re all like him, I thought, they’ll soon be shopping around.
George soon bounced back into the room to retrieve his hand cream – he had left it on the way out. None of us said anything. Even facial expressions are, on occasion, superfluous.