Alvin

I step off the bus and into Alvin. It's almost March and I'm in shorts, but he's dressed for winter; sweater, thick jacket, knitted cap. I ask if he wants to join me for pre-ulpan coffee.

He sits opposite, drinking nothing, worried about the effect coffee has on his heart, while I dunk my croissant into a milky cappuccino. He tells me about the breakfast juice he makes every morning. He doesn't like the way the ginger makes his fingers go yellow. I tell him this is turmeric, which is often sold fresh here. I don't think he believes me. I hear about the exercise he takes every day.

He is in good nick, I'd say, for 68; trim, all his hair, strong, white teeth. In class, he stammers, looking for the right Hebrew word, it seems as painful for him as backache. On Thursday, Shlomit asked everyone what they're doing at the weekend. Alvin said that he'll be cleaning the apartment with his wife. You don't have a girl to clean for you? she shrieked. Then, Not that there's anything wrong with cleaning. Alvin has an answer, We're going to live a long time, we're gonna need the money.

He and his wife live in a tall, shiny tower block, in the east of the city, and he tells me the difference in the time it takes him to get to the ulpan, depending on whether he leaves home at 7.12 or 7.15 or 7.18. I ask why he doesn't leave later, so he won't have to sit around waiting for the lesson to begin, but he laughs that his wife wants him out of their apartment, out of her way.

Almost everything he says includes something about his age and his wife, one way or another. She is a real estate agent and I fantasise people call her Cookie, because she is a tough one, but I don't know if they do. Her actual name is Claudine, I've heard Alvin say it a million times. There is a bench somewhere in Tel Aviv with an ad for her firm on it, with her photo, that you can rest on.

They came here from Palm Springs, although she was born in France and lived for some years in Tel Aviv with her first husband. Alvin has said several times he admires Donald Trump. He once told me that he and his wife hoped Marine Le Pen would win the French election because then even more French Jews would come here and Claudine would make lots of money.

At some length, he tells me about the large population of gays and lesbians in Palm Springs, says he has no problem with them. I guess this is to reassure me, but later, in class, we're talking about the transsexual Israeli singer Dana International, she won Eurovision one year, he calls her 'it'.

And then he says something quite odd.

A few years ago, he was showing a client around a house, he was working in real estate then, who asked him about the mezuzah on the door jamb. Alvin said it was a Jewish thing. The man said, I hate Jews. Alvin said ok, and continued showing the property. He thought his duty to real estate took priority over challenging bigotry. I ask him about this, but he holds his ground, still thinks he was right. Maybe he was, what do I know?

I pay and we walk to the ulpan. I'm not sorry to get to class.

Today's word: di-rah – apartment – דירה

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