Israel By Way of New York, Maybe
Well… This has certainly been one hell of a rollercoaster ride the last 24 hours. Finally pulled into NYC last night at about 1am. Talk about tired. But that was nothing compared to what was to come. I know this now because it’s nearly 1am Saturday night/Sunday morning. Took a car to Boo Boo Kitty’s apt in Midtown last night. Was great to see her. Was great to be back in the City. Words just don’t do it justice. Can’t. If you’re a lover of New York. As I’ve said countless times here before, there’s just a very special magical feeling that overtakes you when your plane first descends below the clouds and you see all those lights of Greater New York and it’s Five Boroughs glistening below. It’s an indescribable feeling of giddiness. And last night was no different.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane — I Tweeted this, much to the confusion of many — is how many different kinds of people you see in New York, compared to Seattle, WA. We’ve been living in both cities simultaneously for about four years now. People call it bicoastal, though we’re nowhere near a coast in Seattle really. There’s water… but they’re lakes and sounds. Not the ocean. But it’s as far away from New York as you’d ever want to get. The point really, the aspect of it that stands out the most, is how homogenous and white Seattle and it’s suburbs are. One would not be exaggerating if they said that all you ever see in Seattle is WASPy white people with an occasional Asian thrown in. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it before. This includes a sincere lack of Jewish people as well. It’s like nowhere else in the US of A. If you stay in Seattle long enough, you might forget about other kinds of people entirely. Until you land in New York City that is. I got off the plane and my senses were immediately bombarded by the sounds and sights of black people and Latinos, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since, well, the last time I had been in New York. It had been a while I guess (a few months…?) and you just forget about other cultures when you spend a lot of time in a place where everyone is the same. Chances are most people in Seattle aren’t even aware of this strange phenomenon. That’s my guess, because it’s not like anyone ever speaks of it.
I shot out a Facebook/Twitter update that read something like “Just landed in NYC. Holy cow I just saw a black person! And look there! A group of people speaking Spanish!” People had no idea what I was referring to. But it really is like that. They say that New York has the largest collection of people from different countries and nationalities per square block than any other city on earth. I’d say this is a good thing. I’ve always personally loved it. Who doesn’t like arguing with someone at the post office or a restaurant who doesn’t speak a word of English in your own neighborhood? It’s good times. Just one of the many aspects of life in New York City that make it indomitably unique and spectacular.
Though I was exhausted from all the driving and the long flight (it’s 12 hours door to door from our house in Seattle to our apartment in New York), I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated in the car on the way into the City. Felt like a little kid, peering out the window with a smile on my face at all the bright lights and colorful sights. Got to Boo Boo’s apartment and exited the car. Doorman was exceptionally helpful. We forget what midtown living is like until we return. Like no place on earth. Thoughts: Great to see Boo Boo again. Funny that I had to fly all the way to Seattle in order to hang out with her, when we lived no more than a mile away from each other for a year. But that’s another New York thing. Was very surprised to see how small her apartment was. Again, another thing we forget. But in Manhattan we PAY for space. As in square feet. As in $500,000 for a 450 square foot apartment. And that’s not half bad a deal. So there she is in a 450 square foot apartment. But she OWNS it. And there’s no better feeling than owning a little piece of your own in the greatest city on earth.
People from anywhere else on earth would be shocked to see the size of the tiny dwelling places we call home in New York City. But they’d also be impressed with what we do with them. The creative design entailed in turning a tiny one room apartment into a decent feeling living space is impressive. The bed is in the living room. As is a small couch. As is a small office desk. As is a small dining room table. Everything all in one room. To the side a small kitchen that you can just barely do a 360 in IF you’re small; and in another room off to the side is a small bathroom and a closet just big enough for a mouse to store a few clothes in. But somehow it works.
Why would anyone endure such grueling living conditions when the same amount of money would buy you a small mansion in another part of the country? Well the answer is simple. As soon as I unloaded my bags, we stepped out into the night. A Friday night. Past 1am in the morning. But the streets were packed with people. And so were all the stores and bars and restaurants. A city that truly never sleeps. Because there are just so many people living there. 14 million at last count. And for those that like that kind of thing, there’s no better place for it than New York. We had a blast catching up. Hanging out in the City. Just goofing around. Going into stores. Grabbing some food here. A drink there. The City was pulsing as it always is. A million different things all happening at once all around you. It’s utterly fantastically thrilling. Completely the opposite of Seattle or just about any other city or small sleepy town in America. I tried really hard to find that in Miami. There are little pockets of it here and there. But not really. Even South Beach, the infamous Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive… by 1am it’s a ghost town for the most part. Moving to New York was the best move I ever made.
[For those that don’t know, though I am sure we’ve already covered it here, the reason we’re in Seattle is because Princess Little Tree has/had kids when we got married. They grew up in Seattle. It’s home to them. Yes we had every right to move to New York when we got married. That’s where I lived after all. And Princess Little Tree LOVES New York. But her kids are small-town people. They’d never even been to New York before. It was completely overwhelming to them when they came to visit the first time. I had the luxury of growing up in a small town when I was a kid. And I wanted them to have the same benefit. To stay in the same school. Keep the same friends. It was a major sacrifice, but I figured it was the least that I could do. I know how strange and disturbing divorce is. And how much weirder still a new marriage is with someone new moving into your home can be. So keeping them in their same hometown till they graduate just felt like the right thing to do. It’s been four or five years now that we’ve been going back and forth between the two cities. It’s been expensive and physically taxing. We own two of EVERYTHING. It’s a crazy life. But we’re almost through it. We’ve got less than one more year to go and then we’re back in NYC full-time.]
Boo Boo Kitty has started trading again. That was interesting to hear since I too had jumped back into the trading game as well. We shared war stories and successes like two old soldiers, but with a spark in our eyes as if we were little kids talking about Christmas. It’s amazing how once the trading bug gets you, it just takes you over. She actually turned me on to a lot of interesting new data. Things I didn’t know. I taught Boo Boo how to invest and play the markets originally. Then she turned it into a full time gig. Ended up really getting into it and learning more than I had. It’s interesting how that happens in life.
Flash forward to the next day. In such a small apartment, you may be wondering just where does a person sleep when they come to stay with you in New York. Valid question. Well, we use air mattresses. Lots of them. Everyone in New York owns at least one to three air mattresses. In our case Boo Boo had a small twin one, we blew it up and placed it smack dab in the middle of the living room. Meaning that we now could not walk anywhere in the whole apartment without leaping over the air mattress. Slept like a baby. Didn’t have to be at the airport until 10PM. So we had all day to hang out. Do the usual. Brunch. Walk around the City. But as soon as I wake up i receive this frantic text from one of the leaders on our team, “Fishy, go to their airport NOW! Problems with the flight!” So I throw everything in my bags and run out to grab a cab. That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But oh well, “See ya next time Boo! Thanks for the place to crash!”
I get to the airport and receive another text, “Don’t go to Terminal 2! Go to Terminal 3 instead!” Great. I’m already in Terminal 2. Schlep my bags a mile to the other terminal. One by one people from our small group start to arrive, each one as confused as the other. Evidently our Delta flight had been cancelled. As in completely cancelled and no flight. They were trying to book us on other flights. Talking about splitting the group up. If there’s one thing you KNOW about peace mission trips, it’s do NOT split the group up. But evidently they’d already sent three people to Newark Airport on their own to grab totally different flights. Another 15 of us were stranded at JFK. No flight. A few of the people in the group I already knew thank God. Been on several other trips with them. Norma Jean was there. Felt a huge relief knowing she was going on this trip. Been to Africa, New Orleans, Biloxi, MS and South America with her already. Same with Zubes and The Javelin. He’s a pastor, of the Methodist variety. Same age as I am. On trips like this, you need a few religious leaders. They’re essential parts of the whole that make for smooth missions. There’s a certain nobility to being a pastor or reverend or rabbi even when you’re on any kind of peace or diplomacy mission trip. They’re almost always treated with a respect that you don’t really see bestowed upon anyone else except for heads of state and rock stars. That’s where I come in I suppose. For some reason we’re able to get away with just about anything. For no real reason from what I can tell. But like religious leaders, people just tend to throw you a lot of rope when you’re a recording artist.
I introduced myself to everyone else on the trip one by one as we all just sat around in the terminal for hours waiting to learn of our fate. Would we ever actually get to Israel? At that point, we had no idea. The leader on this particular trip is a semi-retired business consultant turned peace activist lady by the name of Joy Gladry. She’s very typical of what you might meet in New York in certain circles. White, well bred, upper class, grew up somewhere else but relocated to New York because of work. Did well in her career and now still has plenty of time to enjoy her life. Spends a lot of time giving back to her community. Sits on the board of a variety of well meaning charities for human rights, feeding the hungry, the arts. Very active. She was one of the few people who put this whole trip together. She went for the first time about three or four years ago. She came back a changed person. I’ll never forget the first time we sat down to talk about it. I assumed she would just fill my ear with the usual oooos and aaaahhhhs about “how wonderful it was to walk where Jesus walked….” which is what you tend to hear from many people when they first get back from Israel. Or at least that’s what you used to hear.
Over the last five to ten years things have really changed. Now the main thing you hear instead is how horrific and shocking it is to see how the Palestinian people live. Joy had the same experience. She ended up going back two more times. This past summer she went there and lived with Palestinian families for about six months. She’s completely without prejudice, even with everything she’s seen. Because of the tight bond the Christian community feels with and for the Jewish community in Israel — it’s a biblical thing, and quite frankly not only do I not believe that the feeling is not necessarily reciprocated, I’m not even sure that Jews even realize just how much the average Christian knows about Jewish history and their religion. But needless to say, we read The Torah as often as they do and study their history an equal amount if not more, for no other reason than that the central figure of the faith, Jesus of Nazareth — as well as all the other primary and secondary characters of Christianity — was (and were) Jewish. Every time I see or talk to Joy she always says something to me like “We’ve got to help our Jewish brothers and sisters. They know not what they’re doing over there to the Palestinian people. We’ve got to do our part Fishy.” Granted though, we can never understand how they feel; no matter how much of their history we know or how much of their religion we practice on a regular basis. Christians for better or worse in the modern age have been kept relatively safe from persecution. I do not pretend to have a clue as to how it FEELS to be Jewish.
This is what first captured my interest in actually going on a peace mission trip to Israel in the first place. A large group I knew had gone back in 2010. And instead of gushing over all the sacred sites, they all came back shocked by the horrors they saw and completely committed to helping the Palestinian cause. This was very unexpected for me. I had no interest in going to see supposed sacred sites truth be told. I figured that’s the kind of thing you can busy your time with when you’re older. Much older. But send me there on a peace mission, as a means to try to help bring more peace to the world through resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I’m in. So that was how the invitation was first presented to me. Like I said, lately I’ve been turning most of these trips down. Just so busy with trying to finish these new albums and with other things. But this was an opportunity that I couldn’t say no to. Joy Gladry had convinced me that this wasn’t going to be just any normal trip to the Holy Land, but rather we were going deep inside both Israel and Palestine. We were to meet with many high ups in various fields of peace activism and government and really try to get to the heart of the matter.
Well… that’s if we get there at all. It’s now well past midnight on Saturday. Needless to say I’m back at Boo Boo’s apartment in midtown Manhattan. We waited at the airport for about six hours. Then everyone was told to leave except for me. Delta believed that they secured me a flight on Al El Airlines. Only problem was that it wasn’t guaranteed and it was just for me alone. I begged and pleaded that I didn’t want to go alone. I’m going to just get on a place and wind up at the airport in Israel 24 hours later in the middle of the day alone? But they insisted that if one person was capable of pulling it off, it would be the one person who bothered to learn Hebrew. “What was the sense in going to all that trouble if not for an adventure like this Fishy?” Joy heckled me. I figured “fine it’ll certainly be an adventure at the very least.
She warned me how intense the security and scrutiny was going to be here in New York and once I got into Israel. I had already left a large supply of various different questionable items from my spy-bag with Boo Boo Kitty back at her apartment. A few syringes and vials of various different chemicals. Some fireworks, smoke bombs, some utility knives. Things I would never normally travel without. And yes, truth be told I have traveled all over the world — and America — with every single one of these items in my bag. Including mace, pepper spray, tasers, stun guns, fire starters, sterno fire cans, the works. Security never catches them, or when they do they just let me go through with them anyway. This is true. Don’t ever think for a minute that you’re safe on an airplane in the States just because of the TSA. I can promise you just based on what I bring through that none of us are any safer than we were twelve yeas ago. So as Joy and The Javelin were heading out to return to Manhattan I was headed to the gate to head to Israel on my own. I kneeled down on the floor and unzipped my spy-bag and began taking things out one by one. I pulled out a giant handful of stuff. I barely know these people and here I’m handing them a big handful of knives and stun guns and fire starters. “Perhaps it’s best if I don’t try to get through security with these items… Can you take them back to Manhattan and I’ll get them from you after our trip please?” I ask. The looks on their faces… Wide eyed shock.
Not knowing what to expect I went right to the gate. Hours early. Just to be safe. I had heard the stories. I already knew that I’d be suspect because of my appearance. Not only am I not Jewish, but security people at airports just have this negative bias towards long haired types with earrings. And I was not to be disappointed on this little jaunt. They hand-searched my bag for about an hour. I had already given up almost everything I thought was suspect to Boo Boo or Joy. But they found plenty of items still to question. Why was I carrying a short wave radio? Hand cuffs? A lock picking kit? a multi-bit screwdriver? And that was just the beginning. Surprisingly they didn’t take one thing away from me. They did NOT catch my pen collection, which besides being a stellar set of some of the finest writing instruments in the world today, also contain a pen-disguised pepper spray, a pen-disguised audio/video recorder, a pen-disguised laser and a pen-disguised utility knife.
Once I got through security I thought I was in the clear. But that was far from the truth. The Israeli women who work security at the gate are absolute ninja warrior types. They look you right in the eye and start asking you a hundred questions. Trying to trick you with each one. They’ll ask you the same question three times even though you’ve answered it. The lady who was interrogating me was razor sharp, focused like a laser beam with one intention: to not let me on that plane. I wasn’t Israeli. I wasn’t Jewish. I had no business going there as far as she was concerned. Never mind that tourism from Christians from all over the world is the number one revenue generator to the nation of Israel. Without that, their economy would be greatly challenged. Similar to Paris or Rome or Disney World for that matter. But impressively this woman did not let that fact sway her one bit. When told that I was going on a peace and fact-finding mission with a large reputable organization, she was intrigued by the fact that there was no one else in my group traveling with me. Telling her that everyone had to go back to Manhattan and would be flying there tomorrow did nothing to assuage her fears. If anything it only made her more suspicious.
I was told by many others that you will never feel more like a criminal than when flying to Israel. They were right. I actually started feeling guilty for no reason other than the fact that this woman and then her manager were giving me the third degree. As if I were really a criminal but just didn’t know it or something. They took my passport for about an hour. Did God only knows what with it. Inspected all my paperwork. And continued their onslaught of questions. Where do I live? Who have I talked to since getting to the airport? What items am I carrying that I didn’t pack myself? (really?) How can I be sure that no one else has touched my suitcases? Most suspicious of all, my trips to Iran. We knew going in that that would or could pose a serious problem. But it also isn’t that difficult to Google my name and see exactly who I am and what I do for a living. I am certainly no terrorist. In the end, it worked out. I simply explained that I was going to Israel, if they let me, for the same reason that I went to Iran: to listen, learn and negotiate and promote peace. Between all peoples.
After about an hour of this, I was finally let through to the gate. Seriously. At least an hour. Talk about trying to talk you out of visiting their country. I know plenty of hardcore libertarian-minded Americans who would have walked away after five minutes of that kind of treatment. We were still in the U.S. after all. But I was determined to get there. I figured it was worth it. Once I got the gate I was told that I was NOT guaranteed a seat on this plane actually and that they didn’t care at all what Delta said. Told that I was actually on standby and to go sit in the corner and wait. How long? A few hours. We’ll let you know. I had never flown standby before. There’s a reason for it. Some people value money more than anything. To others it’s time. I fit into the latter group.
Turns out that they were overbooked by about thirty passengers. I waited there till 11pm. No one ever came to talk to me or inform me what the status of my seat was. I had never seen anything like it. If you’ve ever worked with Israeli movers, multiply that by ten. The rudeness and callousness with which we were all treated was so intense, so overt, that it was funny because it was so beyond disbelief. I was absolutely exhausted, after rushing to the airport as soon as I had woken up, having not eaten anything all day and then all night (they told us that if we left and they called our name that they would immediately give our seat to someone else… So we didn’t dare leave our spot on the cold hard airport floor.) After every single person boarded the plane I finally lumbered over to the counter and asked if there was any update on my ticket, to which the agent just casually replied “Oh the flight is full sir.” As if I wasn’t even sitting there and they hadn’t already spoken to me. No sorry. No apologies. No offer to help book me another flight. Just looked past me off into the distance.
The airline is called El Al. In all my years of extensive traveling, I thought I had seen it all (Africa will blow your mind when first flying there… many aspects of it) but I have never seen an airline so rude, uncaring and unprofessional. But I kept reminding myself what they had been through as a people. That there was more to this story than just the here-now. This was a people who had by their own account been “abused, mistreated, taken advantage of, used, lied to, enslaved, ostracized, tortured and even murdered for thousands of years no matter where we have tried to live”. The foundational impetus for the Zionist Movement. So perhaps this is something that runs deep… a self protectionism that to the average person who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth could never understand. A kind of “every man for himself” defensive offensiveness. An existential anger. I really got the point how after a few generations of that kind of abuse, it can sit inside of a person’s DNA and form who the person is and how they act. I get that. But when will they begin to let it go…? That’s the question. [Then again, it’s only been 60 years since one of the most brutal genocides the world has ever witnessed. Perhaps it’s not yet time to let it go. And in fact, maybe letting it go may actually work against their very survival. I get that.]
So back in a car to return to Manhattan. I’ve made this trip to and from the airport three times now in the last 24 hours. Evidently we will all head back to the airport tomorrow to see if Delta can find us a replacement flight. As of now we don’t have one. Three of us are already in the air and on their way. That has to be an odd predicament to be in. But tomorrow’s another day. More then. Ambassador over and out.