Last week, I happened to be in a laundry mat with a cute guy...and his gun.
"Nice gun," I said when I saw it sticking out of the back of his jeans. I couldn't resist. After all, it is not often that I have the opportunity to open with such a bizarre line.
"Oh, sorry," he replied. "You're not supposed to see that. I'm really sorry."
He actually seemed embarrassed. It seems that he was more afraid of making me feel uncomfortable than I was afraid of the fact that I was alone in an empty laundry room in Jerusalem the middle of the day with a guy and his gun.
"No need to apologize," I said, while nonchalantly folding my unmentionables. "How long have you carried that gun?"
"A long time," he said.
"Have you ever used it?," I asked.
"Not in a laundry mat," he said.
I was momentarily stunned by his response, I decided to just smile in recognition of his dark brand of humor. The thought occurred to me that only a girl from Virginia can appreciate that sort of sarcasm. He smiled back when he saw that I understood his line of thinking and wasn't the least bit intimidated.
"Yeah, but I bet you have a lot of problems in laundry mats," I finally replied.
"What do you mean?," he said.
"Well, you have to find some way to scare away the women who would otherwise throw themselves at you during the spin cycle," I said with amazing flatness and a wry smile.
Equally dripping with sarcasm, we were thus even.
With this, I said my good-byes to the guy with the gun, took my laundry, and split. After all, there is no need to taunt a man carrying a loaded weapon in a laundry mat.
Last night, I happened to be out on the town with a couple of new acquaintances from the US. Shortly after midnight, we walked into our destination of choice, and we were greeted by a friendly young woman who directed us to three seats at the bar. As we made our way around the smokey room, I immediately saw the guy from the laundry mat. Maybe he saw me first. I can't be sure.
We exchanged hellos and he offered me a seat and a drink. He was alone. Well, I guess he wasn't completely alone because I noticed right away that his gun sat in its customary station in the dip of his lower back. I couldn't tell if he was waiting for someone to arrive, or this was his usual thing to do on a Thursday night. He, himself, and his gun...
We chatted for a while, sarcastically as ever. Before I knew it, my friends decided to go to another room for dancing. In a blink, I was seated alone, being entirely entertained by a guy with a gun.
Overall, the company was good. The guy with the gun was funny as hell. His apparent "bar game" was incredibly unrehearsed, and this made me relax and actually have a series of real conversations with him. His Israeli humor really shined. We exchanged dark and sarcastic jokes and asked each other questions about our backgrounds and family. I learned that he served for several years in an Israeli sniper unit known for producing some of the most messed up soldiers in the lot, and yes, he admitting to killing people with much bigger guns than the one at his side. Of course, he said that he tries not to think about these things now, that he was doing what he had to do to server his country, etc. I asked him to put aside the soldiering and tell me about the human side of what he did and saw. He added that he knows that Palestinian folks are just like you and me. He said that he wishes he never had to be in a position to shoot to kill anyone ever again. With this, I asked if he would ever stop carrying a loaded weapon? He emphatically said no.
As I sat there listening to his explanations to the contrary, I couldn't help but wonder how much our respective circles overlapped without our knowing. Between my time in the West Bank and his time in the West Bank, I silently calculated how many people we might have in common, dead and alive, only from radically different perspectives. Of course, I rationalized that this may not be the time to name-drop...
Later--much later-- after he spent the evening talking to me by leaning in, putting his arm around me, and touching his chin to my bare shoulder when he spoke into my ear--he offered me one of his cigarettes and asked me to dance. Of course, I couldn't say no. I mean, how many opportunities does a girl have to dance with a guy...and his gun?
As I write this, I can't help but laugh at the oddity and strangeness of it all, but the truth is that dancing with him--at least on the surface--didn't seem or appear as anything out of the ordinary. We were just two young kids in Jerusalem who blended into the warm sea of gyrating bodies around us. Anyone watching would have seen a good-looking, clean-cut blond boy with tan skin holding a dark haired girl very close to him on the dance floor. They would not have known that both of us look far younger than our respective ages, and that neither of us were able or willing to let our experiences betray ourselves to the other. Someone looking on would have seen him leaning in to smell the girl's perfume, each time coming exceedingly close to kissing her at the nap of her neck under the obvious guise of telling her jokes. Meanwhile, she was just a typical girl--laughing and smiling from the tickle of his breath on her skin, lost in the moment (but not too lost), liking the attention and flirting (almost) malevolently in return, just like certain dark-haired girls of this sort (sometimes intentionally) seem to do.
But take away all of this--the smokey room, the mild alcohol intoxication deepened only by the fatigue of a late night, the pairing off of a lovely pair of people--and what you get is.... a sniper and a peacemaker making friends in a basement in downtown Jerusalem, under a strobe light in the wee hours of a Friday morning.
Perhaps this is what was meant when the "lion finally laid down with the lamb"? Or not. In this case, the lion (and his gun) inevitably escorted this exhausted lamb to a waiting taxi at 4am.
Afterward, he sent her a text message the following day:
"Hope you are not as hung over as I am today. Let me know when your clothes are dirty again...:)"
Only in Jerusalem, I sighed when I fumbled for my phone to read the text. I laughed at the thought of this being one of those stories that will not be included in my official dossier known as "Ph.D. Field Work". I turned off my phone, rolled over in bed and attempted to get another few hours of sleep. Doing this, I absently hoped to wake up with the smell of the guy, his gun and half of Jerusalem's cigarette smoke out of my hair. But, of course, in Jerusalem, wishes and dreams such as this must contend with an even stranger reality.