Authors: Etgar Keret
“Etgar Keret’s short stories are fierce, funny, full of energy and insight, and at the same time often deep, tragic, and very moving.”
—Amos Oz, author of
A Tale of Love and Darkness
“Keret is a cynic who can’t manage to shake off his hopefulness—the most reliable kind of narrator there is…To call Keret apolitical would be to miss a seminal moment in the history of Jewish literature. Indeed, it would be like pigeonholing Isaac Bashevis Singer—at whose knee Keret seems to have learned the art of magic realism, only to use it with more discipline than his master.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Possibly the most absurd, funniest book ever to address suicide bombings…Each story is like a tightly wound joke, a concise and targeted observation that slays because of the truth of its content and the expertise in the execution.”
Time Out Chicago
“If there were a fiction genre combining wit, wild imagination, penetrating insights, fantasy (sexual and otherwise) and the paranormal, Keret would dominate it like Stephen King dominates horror…Keret’s a strange genius.”
The Tampa Tribune
“A fresh breath of honest weirdness that doesn’t forget the heart of its characters when dishing out the creepy…Keret’s fiction is thinly packed and calmly paced, gobsmacking the reader when she least expects it. He uses one word when five will do.”
“Keret’s stories are strangely compelling—or compelling in their strangeness. The Israeli author blends Kafka’s eeriness, fairy-tale wonder, and the absurdity of everyday life.”
“These stories exude a force and zing that some readers will find life-changing.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Mr. Keret has cousins at an international level—like Haruki Murakami, his young male characters favor hardboiled speech and make no apologies for their juvenile habits, and they seem unfazed by the mild magical realism that pervades their lives. Yet Mr. Keret distinguishes himself with a kind of overarching sorrow…. His imagination cuts through to the reader, making an incisive gesture, hard to interpret but easy to feel.”
The New York Sun
“Effectively communicates the violence and complexity of contemporary Israel with humor and a touch of the absurd…Keret’s vision is both universal and utterly bizarre.”
The Nimrod Flipout
] has been translated from Hebrew to English, you don’t lose his raunchy sexual humor or beautifully delicate descriptions…You’ll wish the addictive collection…was twice as long.”
“Hilariously stark…The 30 included here are Keret classics.”
Etgar Keret is the author of three bestselling story collections, one novella, three graphic novels, and a children’s book. His fiction has been translated into more than twenty languages and has been the basis for more than forty short films. He lives and teaches in Tel Aviv.
Surprised? Of course I was surprised. You go out with a girl. First date, second date, a restaurant here, a movie there, always just matinees. You start sleeping together, the sex is mind-blowing, and pretty soon there’s feeling too. And then, one day, she shows up in tears, and you hug her and tell her to take it easy, everything’s going to be OK, and she says she can’t stand it anymore, she has this secret, not just a secret, something really awful, a curse, something she’s been wanting to tell you from the beginning but she didn’t have the guts. This thing, it’s been weighing her down, and now she’s got to tell you, she’s simply got to, but she knows that as soon as she does, you’ll leave her, and you’ll be absolutely right to leave her, too. And then she starts crying all over again.
I won’t leave you, you tell her. I won’t. I love you. You try to look concerned, but you’re not. Not really. Or rather, if you are concerned, it’s about her crying, not about her secret. You know by now that these secrets that always make a woman fall to pieces are usually something along the lines of doing it with an animal, or a Mormon, or with someone who paid her for it. I’m a whore, they always wind up saying. And you hug them and say, no you’re not. You’re not. And if they don’t stop crying all you can do is say
. It’s something really terrible, she insists, as if she’s picked up on how nonchalant you are about it, even though you’ve tried to hide it. In the pit of your stomach it may sound terrible, you tell her, but that’s just acoustics. As soon as you let it out it won’t seem anywhere near as bad—you’ll see. And she almost believes you. She hesitates and then she asks: What if I told you that at night I turn into a heavy, hairy man, with no neck, with a gold ring on his pinkie, would you still love me? And you tell her of course you would. What else can you say? That you wouldn’t? She’s just trying to test you, to see whether you love her unconditionally—and you’ve always been a winner at tests. In fact, as soon as you say it, she melts, and you do it, right there in the living room. And afterward, you lie there holding each other tight, and she cries because she’s so relieved, and you cry too. Go figure. And unlike all the other times, she doesn’t get up and go. She stays there and falls asleep. And you lie awake, looking at her beautiful body, at the sunset outside, at the moon appearing as if out of nowhere, at the silvery light flickering over her body, stroking the hair on her back. And within five minutes you find yourself lying next to this guy—this short fat guy. And the guy gets up and smiles at you, and awkwardly gets dressed. He leaves the room and you follow him, spellbound. He’s in the den now, his thick fingers fiddling with the remote, zapping to the sports channels. Championship soccer. When they miss a pass, he curses the TV; when they score, he gets up and does a little victory dance.
After the game he tells you that his throat is dry and his stomach is growling. He could really use a beer and a big steak. Well-done if possible, and with lots of onion rings, but he’d settle for pork chops. So you get in the car and take him to this restaurant that he knows about. This new twist has you worried, it really does, but you have no idea what you should do. Your command-and-control centers are down. You shift gears at the exit, in a daze. He’s right there beside you in the passenger seat, tapping that gold-ringed pinkie of his. At the next intersection, he rolls down his window, winks at you, and yells at a girl who’s trying to thumb a ride: Hey, baby, wanna play nanny goat and ride in the back? Later, the two of you pack in the steak and the chops and the onion rings till you’re about to explode, and he enjoys every bite, and laughs like a baby. And all that time you keep telling yourself it’s got to be a dream. A bizarre dream, yes, but definitely one that you’ll snap out of any minute.
On the way back, you ask him where he’d like you to drop him off, and he pretends not to hear you, but he looks despondent. So you wind up taking him home. It’s almost three a.m. I’m hitting the sack, you tell him, and he waves his hand, and stays in the beanbag chair, staring at the fashion channel. You wake up the next morning, exhausted, and your stomach hurts. And there she is, in the living room, still dozing. But by the time you’ve had your shower, she’s up. She gives you a sheepish hug, and you’re too embarrassed to say anything. Time goes by and you’re still together. The sex just gets better and better. She’s not so young anymore, and neither are you, and suddenly you find yourselves talking about a baby. And at night, you and fatso hit the town like you’ve never done in your life. He takes you to restaurants and bars you didn’t even know existed, and you dance on the tables together, and break plates like there’s no tomorrow. He’s really nice, the fatso, a little crass, especially with women; sometimes the things he comes out with make you want to sink into the floor. Other than that, he’s lots of fun. When you first met him, you didn’t give a damn about soccer, but now you know every team. And whenever one of your favorites wins, you feel like you’ve made a wish and it’s come true. Which is a pretty exceptional feeling for someone like you, who hardly knows what he wants most of the time. And so it goes: every night you fall asleep with him struggling to stay awake for the Argentinean finals, and in the morning there she is, the beautiful, forgiving woman who you love, too, till it hurts.
Miron Freaks Out
When it comes to Miron’s problem, there are, as they say, several schools of thought. The doctors think it’s some trauma he suffered when he was in the army that re-surfaced all of a sudden in his brain, like a turd that comes floating back at you in the toilet long after you’ve flushed. His parents are convinced it’s all because of the mushrooms he ate in the East, which turned his brain to quiche. The guy who found him there and brought him back to Israel says it’s because of this Dutch girl he met in Dharamsala, who broke his heart. And Miron himself says it’s God who’s messing with his mind. Tapping into his brain like a bat, telling it one thing, then the opposite, anything, just to pick a fight. According to Miron, after He created the world, God pretty much rested on His laurels for a couple of million years. Until Miron came along all of a sudden, and started asking questions, and God broke out in a sweat. Because God could tell straight off that unlike the rest of humanity, Miron was nobody’s chump. As soon as you gave him the smallest opening, he’d slam right through it, and God—as everyone knows—is really big on dishing it out, but not on taking it, and the last thing He feels like putting up with is a rebuttal, especially from a guy like Miron, and from the minute He realized what was going on, He just kept driving Miron around the bend, hassling him whenever He could, with everything from bad dreams to girls who wouldn’t put out. Anything to make him fall apart.
The doctors asked Uzi and me to help them a little with Miron’s case history, because the three of us have known each other all our lives. They asked us all kinds of questions about the army, about what had happened with Nimrod. But most of it we couldn’t remember, and even the little bit that we did remember we didn’t tell them because the truth was that they didn’t exactly look like nice guys, and Miron had told us a couple of things that bordered on something you’d see on
. After that, during visiting hours, Miron begged us to bring him some hummus from the hunchback, because more than anything else, it was the food here that was doing him in. “It’s been three weeks since I got here,” he figured, “and if you add that to the four months in the East, that’s almost six months without hummus. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, I really wouldn’t.” So we went to get him some. The hunchback said he didn’t do takeout. “Only sit-down,” he snarled, half-menacing, half-indifferent, the way he does. “I’m not running a snack bar here.” So we ordered a plate of hummus, and stuck it in the pita ourselves. When we got back, Miron’s mother was there. She said hi to Uzi, but not to me. She hasn’t spoken to me for years, on account of me influencing her son to experiment with drugs. We didn’t give him the hummus while she was still there, because we were afraid she’d tell the doctors. So we waited for her to leave. Meanwhile, the
was getting cold, but that didn’t matter to Miron, who wolfed it down. Three days later they discharged him. The doctors said his reaction to the medications was remarkable. Miron still insists it was on account of the hummus.
Uzi Loses It
In June, Miron and I went down to Sinai. Uzi was supposed to come too, but he stood us up at the last second for an appointment with some dot-com German from Düsseldorf who could put up millions for a project with Uzi’s company. It was supposed to be a kind of celebration, in honor of the fact that Miron wasn’t considered crazy anymore, and Uzi felt kind of embarrassed about his childish attraction to money, so he promised that as soon as his appointment was over he’d join us there. “I’ll bet you anything he doesn’t show,” Miron said. “A double bet: First off, he won’t show, and second, give him three more months and he’ll marry the Turnip.” I didn’t want to bet Miron about either, because what he said sounded depressing but basically true. Turnip was our code name for Uzi’s obnoxious girlfriend who was also deep into all those virtual hi-tech deals that Uzi loved to manage. I remember him asking us once why we called her Turnip, and Miron told him something about how it was because turnips are underrated: some people don’t realize how good they can be. Uzi didn’t really buy it, but he never asked about it again.
If life is one big party, Sinai is definitely the chill-out room. And even Miron and I, who hardly did anything in regular life anyway, could appreciate the ultimate nothingness of the place. Everywhere you looked on our beach, you saw dozens of spaced-out hippie chicks, and Miron kept hitting on them, going on about all the time he’d spent in the East. It even worked, sometimes. Me, I didn’t have the energy, or the coordination either. So I just smoked lots of weed, stared at the sea, and kept debating whether to order a pineapple pancake for lunch or take my chances with the fish. I also kept an eye on Miron from a distance, checking to see if he’d really straightened out. He still came up with some pretty weird stuff, like for instance when he insisted on taking a shit right near our hut because he was too lazy to walk all the way to the restaurant. But the truth is that he used to do stuff like that before he went crazy too.
“I have a good feeling about that short one with the navel stud,” he told me at night after we came back from the restaurant on the beach. “You have to admit, she’s cute, isn’t she?” The two of us were sitting around, out of it, just staring out at the sea. “Listen,” I told him, “about that whole thing when they put you away, I know Uzi and me acted like it was no big thing, but you scared the shit out of us.” Miron just shrugged. “It was pretty freaky, like suddenly I started hearing voices—talking, singing. Like some broken radio that you can’t figure out how to turn off. It drives you up the wall. You can’t think straight even for a second. I’m telling you, I felt as if someone was trying to flip me out. And then it just stopped.” Miron took one more drag on the cigarette, and put it out in the sand. “And I’ll tell you something else,” he said. “I know this sounds wacked, but I think it was Nimrod.”
The next day, contrary to all our predictions, Uzi arrived. Too bad I didn’t take Miron up on his bet. As soon as Uzi put his bag down in the hut he dragged us straight to the restaurant, chewed some squid, and told us all about how the German guy had turned out to be even more of a pushover than he’d expected, and how happy he was to be with us, with his best friends, in Sinai, his favorite place in the whole world. After that, he went charging up and down the beach, calling “Yo Bro” at anything that moved, and hugging every Bedouin or Egyptian who wasn’t fast enough to get away. When he got tired of that too, Uzi made us play backgammon with him, and after he beat both of us, he clobbered one of the Bedouins too, and then he made the Bedouin traipse up and down the beach behind his bald opponent yelling, “Watch out, girls, Abu-Gara’s big.” Miron tried to chill him out with a joint, but that only made Uzi crazier. He started coming on strong to a forty-year-old American tourist, gave up in no time, ate three pancakes, told Miron and me that he couldn’t get over the peace and quiet of the place, ordered kebab, and suggested that maybe the three of us and his new Bedouin friend, who turned out to be a taxi driver, could go down to play the casino at Taba. Miron was dead set against it, because he figured he was just about to get lucky with navel stud, but Uzi was so worked up that he didn’t stand a chance. “No shit,” Miron said as soon as we got into the taxi. “The guy’s completely lost it.”
Abu-Gara and the Bedouin made a killing at Taba, swooping down on one table after the next, leaving nothing behind them but shattered croupiers and scorched earth. Between killings, Uzi wolfed down enormous slabs of apple pie and chocolate mousse cake. Miron and me just sat there, watching patiently, waiting for him to wear himself out. But the thing was, he just kept getting stronger and stronger. Once Uzi and the Bedouin had finished humiliating the casino and divvying up their winnings, we took the taxi to the border station. Miron and me reminded Uzi that we were supposed to be heading back, but he said it was out of the question. As far as he was concerned, the day was still young, and there was no reason not to cash in at a couple of clubs in Eilat before heading back. He made sure to give the Bedouin his business card, and they kissed about eighty times. Miron made one more try to persuade the Bedouin to take us back to the beach, leaving Uzi to continue his escapades on his own, but the Bedouin told us off and insisted that for us to leave a wonderful friend like Abu-Gara right in the middle of a celebration would be a disgrace, and he’d have loved to come with us himself except he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. After that he kissed us too, got into the taxi, and disappeared. When Uzi got tired of the Spiral, we went to the Yacht Pub and then to some hotel called the Blue Something, and only then, after Miron and I had refused two different times to let him get some call girls sent up to our room, Uzi turned over on his stomach and started to snore.
Ever since that time in Sinai, Uzi’s company’s been on a roll. After the German pushover, Uzi found two other suckers, one an American and the other from India, and it looked like he was about to knock the whole world on its ass. Miron said it only went to show how crazy all those businesspeople were. Because the fact was that ever since Uzi’d gone off the deep end, he’d been getting bigger and bigger. Sometimes we’d still try to drag him with us to the beach or the pool hall, but even when he did come, he was so busy the whole time telling everyone how much he was enjoying it and what a great time we were having together, and checking the voice mail on his cell phone, that after an hour with him you’d simply lose the desire to live. “Don’t worry. He’ll outgrow it,” I’d try to tell Miron, as Uzi got caught up in another transatlantic call just when it was his turn to shoot. “Sure,” Miron would say in the tone of an ex-wacko who’s got it all figured out, “and if it’s doing the rounds, you’re next.”
Next in Line to Lose His Shit
The next morning, I woke up in an utter panic. I had no idea what was causing it. I lay there, pressing my back to the mattress, trying not to move till I could figure out what had me so scared. But the more time went by, the less I could figure out what brought it on, and the more scared I got. I lie there in bed frozen, and keep telling myself, in the second person, as calmly as I can, “Take it easy, man, take it easy. This isn’t really happening, it’s all in your head.” But the thought that this thing, whatever it is, is inside my head makes it a thousand times more horrifying. I decide to tell myself who I am, to say my name a few times in a row. That’s bound to help me get a grip on myself. Except that all of a sudden even my name is gone. At least that gets me out of bed. I crawl around the house, searching for bills, mail, anything with my name written on it. I open the front door and look at the other side of it, where there’s an orange sticker with the inscription: “Have a hell of a life!” In the hallway there’s the loud laughter of kids and the sound of footsteps approaching. I close the door and lean against it. Stay cool. In a minute I’ll remember, or not—maybe I never had a name. Whatever happens, that isn’t why I’m sweating so hard that my pulse is about to blow my brains out, that’s not it, it’s something else. “Take it easy,” I whisper to myself again. “Take it easy, whatever your name is. This can’t go on much longer, it’ll be over soon.”
As soon as it eased up, I phoned Uzi and Miron, and arranged to meet them both at the beach. It was just a few hundred yards from my place, and I had no problem remembering how to get there, except that all the streets suddenly looked different, and I had to keep stopping to check the signs to make sure they were really the right ones. Not just the streets, everything looked different, even the sky was kind of squashed, and low.
“I told you your turn would come,” Miron says, and sucks at the red tip of his Wave-on-a-Stick Popsicle. “First I lost it, then Uzi.” “I didn’t lose it,” Uzi protested. “I was just a little high, that’s all.” “Whatever,” Miron went on. “It’s your turn now.” “Ron isn’t losing it either,” Uzi said, beginning to get worked up. “Why do you keep putting those ideas in his head?” “Ron?” I ask. “Is that my name?” “Know what?” Uzi concedes. “Maybe he has lost it a little. Can I get a bite?” Miron hands him the Popsicle, knowing perfectly well he’ll never see it again. “Tell me,” he asks. “When it started, didn’t you feel there was someone in your head?” “I don’t know.” I hesitated. “Maybe I did.” “I’m telling you,” Miron whispered, as if it was a secret. “I could feel him. He was saying things that only he could know. I’m sure it was Nimrod.”
Until he turned twelve, Nimrod was a shitty person. The kind of whiner that, if he wasn’t your best friend, you’d have kicked his ass a long time ago. And then one day, just before his bar mitzvah, they put insoles in his shoes, and suddenly the guy was a whole new human being. Yes, Miron, Uzi, and I had been friends with Nimrod even before that, but now, when he became nice too, it actually started to be fun to be around him.
Later, in high school, Uzi and me were in the honors program and Miron and Nimrod went to vocational school and mostly the beach. Then came the army. Miron was drafted six months before us, and by the time our turn came he’d sucked up to enough people to make sure we’d all be in the same unit with a cushy office job. Nimrod used to call it the padded pad.
Most of the time, we didn’t do anything except sit around in the canteen, threatening to file complaints against our commanders, and go home every day at five. Other than that, Uzi would surf at the Sheraton, I was forever jerking off, Miron took courses at the Open University, and Nimrod had a girlfriend. Nimrod’s girlfriend was as good as they get, and because all of us except him were virgins, that made her even better. I remember I once asked Miron what he would do—hypothetically, I mean—if she came to his house, say, and asked him to fuck her. And Miron said he didn’t know, but whatever he did, he’d regret it the rest of his life. Which is a nice answer but knowing him, he’d be sure to take the fucking option first and the regretting option second.
But with Nimrod it wasn’t even that he was horny; he was simply in love with her. Her name was Netta, which is a name that I still love to this day, and she was a paramedic at the infirmary. Nimrod told me once that he could lie next to her in bed for hours without getting bored, and that the place he liked her to touch the most was the spot on his foot where everyone had an arch but his was flat.