By Ela Moscovits-Weiss
Translated from Hebrew by Yaron Regev
Hebrew version edited by Chaim Pesach
From a distance, they were a tall, handsome couple. The man was wearing an elegant business suit with the hem of the jacket protruding from under his open suede coat. She was trim and willowy. A long coat made of rain-resistant fabric covered her slim body from below her knees right up to her neck. Her black hair flowed down to her shoulders and her sharp features were partly concealed by a pair of large, black sunglasses, despite the fact that not a single sunbeam penetrated the heavy, leaden winter sky of Tel Aviv.
All the tall, skinny ones are whores, he thought, as he glided towards this couple in his noiseless taxi.
The irksome rain that had been falling incessantly for a week now had become a drizzle that was too thin even to wash clean the pavements in Ibn Gabirol Street. The young driver stopped his taxi beside the curb and gazed gloomily at the piles of filthy mud that seemed to be everywhere.
In the first few months, he had thought he would be just like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. I’m going to witness human filth at its finest, he had written as he waited at one of those slow-to-change traffic lights. He kept a small notebook in the glove compartment. And you can bet your ass I’m gonna use it. He’d cursed when the tip of his pencil broke from the pressure.
He had purchased the taxi with money inherited from a childless aunt who lived in Jerusalem. It was a smart move after he’d had to leave the apartment he shared with his sweetheart onDubnov Street, and he dropped out of film school right after that. The apartment had been hers, and when he confronted her about the affair she’d been having behind his back with her boss, she had not only not bothered to deny it, as he’d expected her to, but had told him she was sorry but this was a time, an era, when women could have their fun, too.
He hadn’t even bothered to answer her and, on that fine autumn day, packed his few belongings — some clothes and all the books he loved — and rented a one-room apartment in Ramat Aviv, near the university. It was a tiny flat, old and dilapidated, and the landlady reminded him of Raskolnikov’s old woman. Two weeks later, when his scriptwriting teacher told him, in front of the whole class, that his scripts were boring and unimaginative and his plots were underdeveloped, he quit film studies.
The following day, the teacher had a change of heart, even before he knew his student had gone, and sent him an email. I was nervous yesterday, the email said, and I reacted in an improper way. I never said you were talentless, I only meant to say you lack experience, that you need to get out into the world and observe people. Really look at them. Your vision is one-dimensional. Perhaps because you have been fortunate enough not to have experienced enough pain in your life.
For months he lay in his room, sick and depressed. When he ran out of money, he started waiting on tables, at the end of each shift returning to his dreary apartment. One waitress hinted that she’d like to go out with him. She was short and chubby and he thought there was something cunning about her. Women left him generous tips, often accompanied by seductive smiles, and it sickened him. He didn’t need anyone. He would go home after work and watch and re-watch Charlie Kaufman’s filmography. Kaufman was the screenwriter he most admired. It was because of Kaufman that he had gone to film school in the first place, and the way Kaufman wrote was exactly how he’d once wanted to write. Scripts about people, about love, about human compassion.
Then he watched all the films featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, his favorite actor, who had killed himself — just like another wonderful actor he’d admired, Robin Williams. Hoffman and Kaufman — names that rang Jewish and ordinary and similar to his own. Had he been gay, he probably would have fallen for them. But he wasn’t. So instead he felt inspired to use their accomplishments, in both writing and acting, to stimulate the talent he knew he possessed.
He watched them on a continuous loop, perhaps because of some foolish hope that something of their genius would rub off on him. A director who had worked with Kaufman later wrote and directed Her, a movie that made a powerful impression on him because he, like Joaquin Phoenix (yet another gifted actor he appreciated), was solitary and divergent in the deepest sense of the word, unsuited to this new and alienated world. Before falling asleep, he would often wonder whether it was only a coincidence that the actor he admired most, the screenwriter he admired most, and the director of Her, (which had so stirred him) had all collaborated on the movies he loved.
All these thoughts conspired to confuse him, so that whenever he left his apartment, every random encounter seemed to him like a perfectly orchestrated scene in a script he would write. A scene in which the real and the fictional blended so perfectly and brilliantly that no one would be able to tell them apart. Yes, he thought, just like Kaufman — who had failed in his attempt to adapt a book about orchards, and had instead ended up with a script and a movie that were worth an Oscar — perhaps he, too, would write about all his attempts and failures writing screenplays. He thought it funny that he wanted to be like Kaufman, who had written a script about people who wanted to be like John Malkovich, yet another Jew.
He strained his mind to find some meaning inherent in all this, but couldn’t. The problem became broader, deeper, when he suddenly realized that all the movies he was drawn to dealt with self-reference, the invading of another’s consciousness, or the bumpy road an artist is compelled to tread on his way to completing his masterpiece. And the virtuosic film Synecdoche, New York dealt with that, as well. Not that he'd ever fully understood it, despite having watched it four times.
With most of the inheritance money left to him by his childless aunt, he’d bought himself a luxury taxi, a Mercedes X5, and had gone out into the world to gain life experience as a freelance taxi driver.
Now that he was closer, he could see that the woman was exquisitely beautiful, and that the man had a sizeable pot belly, bright little sunken eyes, and triangular eyebrows that lent him the touching appearance of a circus clown. They were both about forty, a little older perhaps. He was thirty-three and had never got the hang of guessing other people’s ages.
The man gallantly opened the door for the woman and allowed her to climb first into the taxi. Then he sat in the back seat beside her. The man gave the driver an address and asked, apparently concerned, if he needed directions or preferred to use the GPS.
“It’s fine,” said the driver. “I know this clinic. It's in the northern part of town.”
The man raised his clownish eyebrows in wonder, then turned to look at the woman, his eyes suddenly soft. He smiled at her. She said nothing. She simply peered through the car window at the cold outside.
Stuck-up bitch, the aspiring filmmaker thought.
The address he had been given wasn’t far away, but the heavy traffic, probably caused by the rainy weather, forced him to go slowly. It didn’t bother him; he was happy to have an opportunity to study their expressions in the rearview mirror. He was interpreting their personalities as reflected in their behavior. The man spoke to the woman in a soft, placatory voice. Occasionally his face creased in a kind-hearted smile, but the woman went on behaving like a hostile sphinx. When the man reached a hand out to stroke her hair, she pulled away from him.
Fucking cunt, the scriptwriter thought. What the hell is he doing with her? What makes a man settle for such compromises?
The woman, as if she could hear his thoughts, started talking. Not to him, but to the man beside her. Her voice was sharp, her syllables deliberately, separately articulated. “Don’t forget to pick her up at three.”
Wham! The temperature in the taxi dropped to sub-zero.
“Yes, of course.” The man smiled and looked at her expectantly.
The driver was disgusted by the man’s flaccid attitude. He felt like saying something, but what could he say? The woman went on issuing a steady barrage of orders and instructions, her lips hardly moving as she spoke. The driver wasn’t able to decipher everything she said, but the deliberately freezing, castrating tone was unmistakable, as was the man’s softness, his yielding love for this demonic woman.
She was really getting on his nerves. Cynical, condescending, domineering. His own sweetheart would probably look just like this woman ten years from now if they were still together. He had been saved! Thank God!
The longer the drive went on, the better the would-be filmmaker felt. I’m getting back to my old self, he thought. Everything will be different starting today.
And then, with a slight start of surprise, he realized that already many things had changed for the better lately. He had become immune to derisive staring, and he no longer cared much about what others expected of him. He felt strong. This was the only way, he finally realized,, the only entrée into the world of fiction, but also to a fictitious world grounded in reality, and therefore deeper and far more fascinating.
He knew that Tarantino had relocated to an apartment on Rothschild Boulevard, just a ten-minute drive from his own, and perhaps this was some sort of omen. Perhaps he would show Tarantino his new script. He’d go home soon and start writing it. He tried to etch every second of this ride into his memory. This would be his opening scene.
For the next ten minutes of the ride, the woman was silent, as if being so actively cruel had tired her. The man was quiet, too. Then, two minutes before they arrived at their destination, the woman cowered in her seat and put her right hand up to her eyes, as if she had forgotten she was wearing sunglasses.
The man looked out the car window, through the screen of wildly lashing rain.
“And don't forget to tell them,” he said, “that you got out of bed in the dark and banged your face on the wall.”