with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Cleaning Up Ruth, Again

Whew! I am totally exhausted. Did a lot of final work cleaning up the web site, working through validation issues, and cleaning up some code Friday morning. Time got away from me, so I shoved lunch in my face, jumped in the shower, and raced through the neighborhood dry cleaners to drop a dress off, the veggie stall to get some fruit and vegs for the weekend, into the kiosk market to get the Friday Jerusalem Post (the source of all entertainment news for the country…well, almost), then boogied down to Ruth’s office to be there by two, carrying my weekend detritus in my backpack.

The next five hours were spent ripping and tearing apart Ruth’s office. Ruth has had the same office for something like thirty years. Once in an upscale neighborhood just off Dizengoff, still a popular street but fading as everyone moves to the malls, her building has gotten a bit seedy, and her office is terribly overrun with clutter, carefully disguised, but still clutter. I and her friends have been incredibly patient with our suffering while in her clinic, but it was finally time to take action.

The criminals in clean-up-crime were myself, Maureen, and Ruth. Now, I’ve been through the clean-up process with Ruth before, helping her attack her “kitchen” in the clinic, an office/storage/lab/kitchen/junk room, and her bedroom at home, so I know how she gets. How she “gets” is teary and nostalgia over things that most people would pass over without a second glance. I’ve found her sobbing over cancelled checks, calling herself dumb and stupid over other pieces of paper, and making tons of excuses to justify the keeping of junk. Now, she is not a junk-collector, like I tent to be (and I battle it daily, mind you). She just saves everything on paper. She also has this need to justify to the world her value, and it shows up in strange ways, like saving check stubs and cancelled checks dating back to 1971. “But if the government comes to check on me – I have to prove to them what I did with the money.” I don’t know what the specifics are here in Israel about saving paperwork. I know it is three to seven years in the USA, but I don’t think that junk from 1971 is of any interest to the Israeli government. Toss it!

Actually, Ruth is really good at all of this. Once she gets the flow of things, she plows through with a vengeance. But we have to get through the first hour of “but this is important” and “I worked so hard to get that” and my personal favorite: “people will think I am important if they see this”. EERRRGGGGHHH. One of the first of the latter excuses came up right away as we tackled a gigantic oxygen tank painted a yellowing color with a couple of pink flowers on it. I told her it had to be moved somewhere else. It was right in the middle of the walkway between her main room and her small “clinic” room. For three years I have stared at this, wondered about it, and hated looking at it. I keep thinking that I will get a balloon if I’m good.

“But I can’t get rid of it! I need it for my work.”

“I didn’t say anything about getting rid of it. We just need to move it.”

She hammered and stammered and then popped out with, “I have a confession to make.” I have a love/hate relationship with that statement when it comes out of her mouth. “I want people to see this.” Now, Maureen and I were truly flummoxed. Ruth hunted around and came up with a red leather cloth and wrapped it around the nozzle and released the gas. “You see, it makes ice. I use it for treating acne. It’s a very good treatment and I am the only one in Israel who does this.”

“So what does it matter if people see the tank or not,” Maureen always speaks my mind for me, and does it so well. We think on the same track so often, it’s frightening.

“People will see this and know that I do the treatment and think ‘wow, she is so good and important.’ This is very special treatment.”

I asked Maureen if she had looked at the tank and known about the treatment. She shook her head. I had never heard of this. How many people out there in the world have heard about this treatment and would see a big tank and think “wow, this person is some kind of freaking genius to have such a treatment available – sign me up immediately and I will pay thousands of dollars for this treatment!” I told her that and we made a compromise. We’d move the tank over to the corner of her smaller clinical room, right where everyone would see it when they come in to lie down on the table (and probably hang their jackets on it – not knowing how “important” this thing is). She agreed and I was left with the back wrenching task of rocking and rolling this heavy air tank into the corner.

We had made a “blue print” of her office and played around with the furniture, work tables, and beds, finally getting a layout that we thought would work. Maureen started pulling the pictures off the walls and I started in on moving furniture and giving Ruth something to do to stay out of our way. It takes very little to distract her and get her running off on a tangent. We would give her something to do, and then find her wandering over to move this, clean that, and get in our way. If someone was recording the conversation, they would think we were the meanest bitches in town, if not the country.

“Ruth, what are you doing over here? Go back to what you were working on.”

“Ruth, what were you working on? Well, go do that.”

“Ruth, get out of here.”

“Ruth, shut up.”

“Ruth, don’t touch that. Didn’t I tell you not to touch that.”

“I’m not throwing it away. I’m moving it over here.”

“Ruth, get out of the garbage.”

“Ruth, that is trash, put it down and leave it there.”

“Didn’t Lorelle tell you to work on that? Then work on it.”

“Ruth, leave me alone. Go do your own thing.”

And so on and so on. We laughed, we held her when the tears came over strange things, and we pitched and tossed and carried tons of shit out to the street.

Now, there is an amazing thing that I adore about Israel. Nothing goes to waste. Just about everything finds a purpose and a home. If you don’t want to try to sell it, if it’s broken or beyond repair, or you are just tired of it, carry it out to a street corner and walk away. Odds are that within five minutes (actually I’ve seen things disappear in seconds between loads) it is gone. We carried out a ton of clothing including two ugly, moth-eaten fur coats (beyond hope, trust me, and who wears fur in Israel…dumb!) and it was gone twenty minutes later. We also carried out old makeup displays, strange rolling carts designed only to hold specific makeup and skin care product lines as part of their promotion, and those were gone in minutes. We came out to find the street corner clean as a whistle (except for the typical dog-shit pile). Amazing.

We came back at eight the next morning and started in on more details, arranging her work products and chemicals, all the paper crap under her desk, her kitchen/work area, and the bathroom, which is actually a huge bathroom, bigger than it should be for such a small place, but a bit of a mess. A little bit of tidying turned it into an elegant room.

One of the funny, and hardest, things to clean up where all her samples. Ruth has collected up hundreds and hundreds of samples for the different skin care products she carries. Two years ago I helped her get rid of the samples for products that she would never recommend or sell, but now it was time to clean up the ones that have value to her. She is supposed to give these to the clients, to help sell the products, but she forgets so we needed to make this more accessible.

Ruth has been studying English very hard, as I’ve mentioned before, and doing very well, but the names of her products are very difficult English. “Gentle Exfoliation and Dermabrasion” just doesn’t roll off your tongue, no matter what language you speak. When she pulls out a sample, the writing is so small, she has to put on her glasses to see it, and then she has to figure out which is which in English. There are some snags. There isn’t a lot of difference between “facial cleanser” and “facial cream” or “multivitamin cream for neck and hands” and multivitamin cream for eyes and lips”. You read the first bit and miss the second detail and the product is different. She also has things like “anti-aging lotion” and “intensive anti-aging lotion”, again, easy to miss with the problems she has reading English.

So I got three shallow boxes and we started putting all the samples together in groups, and I had her write in Hebrew the words that would help her identify the product at a glance, no glasses needed. It seemed like a simple task but it took over an hour to get it all figured out. The companies changed their color scheme for packaging from last year to this year, so many things were the same but the package colors were different, so each one had to be looked at. With the tags in Hebrew, I had to look at the sample to see the English, since that kind of Hebrew isn’t in my reading vocabulary, as limited as it is. And just when we thought they were all done, we found another bag of the stinkers. We added those to the pile and then Maureen pulled open one of Ruth’s desk drawers and found a couple hundred more samples. UGH! They are like rabbits, popping up everywhere!

I had warned Maureen to stay out of Ruth’s “kitchen” as it was a black hole that would suck the life and soul right out of her body, but as usual, she didn’t listen. She actually did amazing things in there, tossing out two or three garbage bags of absolute shit. She kept bringing things out for Ruth to dissect, and that kept Ruth distracted and out of the kitchen while Maureen trashed and restored the place. I was absolutely stunned by the brilliant cleanliness of the room when I peeked in before heading home for lunch. Incredible, and what an amazing amount of work.

But we finally got the place pulled together and looking, if I do say myself, really awesome. Maureen and I are going to talk paint and figure out how to fix up all the nail holes from the millions of certificates she had covered her walls with, and then paint the whole thing. We’ll do that in the next couple of weeks, but it really does look roomier and awesome. There is a nice flow to the traffic line and customers can now look at her products and be more comfortable. We’ll see how it goes over the week as she starts working with clients to handle the changes.

Tomorrow, Ruth needs to vacuum and clean things up, as we did leave a few bits of stuff around, and then she has a whole list of projects to work on to make the space more functional. She is so gloriously happy. She keeps telling me over and over that this is such a blessing and such a rare experience. Who gets two brilliant people to come in and turn everything upside down and shake things up to make things every better. She loves the throwing out, once she gets the idea about it, and she will put a lot of what we told her into practice. We’ve warned her that we will come and do inspections at least once a week and there would be dire consequences if she slacked.

About one in the afternoon, Ruth and I walked to Kikkar Rabin, a good place for her to catch a taxi the rest of the way home, and only a block from my house. She went on and on about how happy she was about all of this. It’s kinda strange. In a lot of ways, we were beastly to her, but she got the spirit of the whole process right away, and her external optimism in the face of Maureen and my cynical nature – well, Ruth just shines like a diamond no matter what we do to her. An amazing lady. It was great fun, and it will probably inspire me to get busy with my own place. Actually, the living room, kitchen and my office are in good shape. The bedroom is a total disaster as I’ve piled up tons of boxes and crap for mailing off to Christmas, which has to be done by October in order tog et there on time, but I am not going to make it, obviously. It’s half way through November. More ugh.

Brent almost had lunch finished when I got home. He’s been down for two days with a vicious sore throat and runny nose. This is his second in just over a month, and he rarely gets sick more than twice in one year, so I’m worried about him. I’m not sure if he is up to going to work tomorrow, but we’ll see how he feels. In spite of feeling miserable, he still cooked an incredible baked chicken from a new recipe I found a couple weeks ago, and worked on his guitar in between naps. He wanted his warm-ups sweat suit because he was feeling chilled, and I had to tear apart the closet to find them. Yep, it’s time to start finding the winter clothes. We feel a chill in the air – but only after the sun sets.

I wanted to rest away from the computer for an hour this afternoon and watch “Enterprise”, the new Star Trek series, but it was not on because Channel 10 was running redundant stories about the simultaneous bombing of two synagogues in Istanbul. Last I heard there are 20 to 30 dead with possibly as many as 300 injured, many critically. Terrible. Israel and Turkey have very strong ties, especially because Israel gets most of their water from them and Turkey buys tons of military gear and planes and such from Israel. A nice match. Tourism from Israeli’s make up a huge portion of tourism income, too. So it is a nice relationship. Israel has sent over representatives and aid to help with the recovery. Combined with this, another synagogue in France was burned to the ground in the last day or so, another wonderful statement for peace and tolerance between religious groups.

On CNN there was a new woman reporter I’d never seen before giving the Israeli perspective on the events. The reporter in Berlin asked her if Israel was surprised and shocked by this event. The new reporter admitted that there was surprise, but Brent and I gagged at the question and the response. I’m sorry, but Israelis are shocked, angered, dismayed, frustrated, pissed off, sickened, and a lot of other things, but “surprised” just isn’t in the vocabulary. Israelis, specifically Jews, have thousands of years of persecution in their history, then and today. Every day somewhere in the world a Jew is persecuted for being a Jew, often resulting in death. Brent and I have learned that there is a fatalistic view inherent in the Jewish culture. They really believe in a twisted way that “if you can’t pick on a Jew, who can you pick on?” So as horrible as these bombings are, there is a lot of acceptance that this is just the state of affairs. “Of course we’re a target”, we’ve heard over and over again. I’m sorry, but there is not surprise any more. Just disgust.

Brent commented on the term “Islamist” to describe the terrorists behind the bombings. What the hell is that? I explained that this is the new media-speak for Muslim Extremist or Muslim Terrorist. They want to make a difference between Muslim and Islam, making Islam the “bad word”. The United States has played around with right and “wrong” or “bad” words to describe people with black-colored skin, with some of the terms moving in and out of fashion as good or bad words. Now everyone is trying to do the same thing with Muslims, wanting to “code” the good ones from the bad ones, I guess. “But Muslim and Islamic are the same things,” Brent said. He’s right. It is just the game of words. Not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all who practice the faith of Islam are terrorists, but the media has to create terms to keep the enemies separated from the good people. Yah Dah Yah Dah Yah Dah!

Tel Aviv, Israel

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