A thousand words

Having a best friend named after a machine gun for over five decades is something worth writing about | Non-Fiction | Canned Soup

Two years ago, I was asked by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph to write a short piece about a photograph dear to my heart. As someone who doesn't really have any photo albums, this was a very simple task. I have four photos in my study: one of my late father, one of my late mother, one of my brother and sister, and this 33-year-old photo of me and Uzi, my very best friend for the past 51 years, whom I miss on a daily basis now that I'm away on sabbatical in Berlin.

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In October of 1970, my father gave in and agreed to allow a television set in the house. I can’t say if it happened because of my older brother’s constant nagging, because all the other tenants in the building already had one, or because one of our aunts convinced him that watching TV for extended periods of time would benefit the development of his children’s brains (yes, back in 1970 there were still aunts who believed that). And so, my father, a known technophobe, who avoided ATMs for years and believed the automatic transmission in cars was the devil’s work, walked over to the electronics shop, “Tzur Monitor,” on Bialik Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, and came home carrying an enormous cardboard box with a black-and-white TV inside. An electrician by trade, my father hooked the TV within minutes, and then invited the entire family to experience the slice of future he’d brought into our living room. He hit the button, and nothing happened. After an exhausting thirty minutes of failed attempts, my father furiously called Shuki, the owner of “Tzur Monitor,” scolded him for selling us a defective set, and demanded that he come by and fix it immediately. Shuki explained that he couldn’t make it that day because he had to watch over Uzi, his three-year-old stepson, named after the world-famous Israeli machine gun. “Bring him with you,” my father demanded. “I’ve got a three-year-old, too. They can play together while you fix that crappy TV you sold me.”

Within half an hour, Shuki was over at our place. It took twenty minutes to get the TV working, and three hours to get me and Uzi apart. That crappy TV lasted for six years in our living room, before making way for a newer, even crappier TV. Uzi and I have remained good friends to this very day.

In this picture, taken thirty years ago, we can be seen in a typical pose: Uzi, tall and masculine, easily hoisting me in his arms as if he were a newlywed husband, carrying his bride over the threshold, or a firefighter saving an elderly lady from a burning building. And, in fact, there is more than a little truth to both of these similes: Over the past forty-eight years of friendship, we have shared an intimate relationship that very few couples can claim, and we have had the opportunity, on several occasions, to help and even save each other from tight spots.

Plenty of scientific and artistic texts explore the irrational element at the heart of romantic love, but far less has been written or researched when it comes to friendship. What is it that makes two toddlers realize their lives will be intertwined forever? What exactly drives two teenagers, who attend different schools and pursue completely different fields, to insist on nurturing their relationship? What is the reason that drives two young, confused soldiers to fight and trick the military system, for the sole purpose of getting to serve together? Even today, I am not sure I can provide an answer.

In the picture, Uzi and I are smiling. As liberated citizens who completed their service just days ago, leaving the military behind them, we have a good reason to smile. Alongside that smile, I can recognize fear and confusion in our eyes. Less than a week after our discharge, we both know that our civilian lives await us, but we can’t be sure whether that life will greet us with confetti and champagne, or with a baseball bat and brass knuckles. Whatever it is, we know that, as long as we have each other, we'll make it.

Translated by Yaron Kaver

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