. . . then someone took my balloons

Approximately 12:15 pm yesterday I locked my Lexus hybrid in the underground parking garage of the Giant food store at Van Ness center in Washington, DC. I then opened the trunk with the “power door” button on my key to get my recycle bags, remembered I didn’t need them, and closed the door. After all, I was only getting helium balloons for my grandson’s 7th birthday party today. My daughter said this was the place.

She was right. The balloon selection, immediately inside the door, was great. I bought five in solid colors – red, blue, orange, purple, yellow – with large white polka dots and the words “Happy Birthday” on them. I also bought two large metallic balloons in multi-colors, one of which was 3’ long and shaped like a trumpet.

I went directly to the checkout counter and back to my car. This is where the trouble began. My keys were not in my small purse. The car was locked with my smartphone sitting on the passenger’s seat.

I tied the balloons to my car door and retraced my steps to search where I’d been – with two clerks, the checkout person, and a couple customers. Then I went to the “Solution” counter, i.e. customer service. By the end of the day I made four more trips to that counter to see if keys – a large clump of keys – had been turned in.

The first taxi driver

Around 1:15 I hailed a taxi to take me home to get my emergency key – a flat key that snaps into a plastic form about the thickness of three credit cards. I had had this key for five years without needing it.

It was the worst taxi ever. Filthy and smelly with a 5”-wide swatch of exposed electrical wires at my feet, banana peels between the front seats (amidst who knows what else), no a.c., and the little passenger television that has continuous loops of inane quizzes with plastic-looking t.v. hosts was on full blast. I interrupted the driver who was doing his own loud unending loop into his ear phone to turn it off or down. He said it was broken and could not be turned down or off. I told myself this is heaven compared to Gaza.

Once home I got my emergency key and we returned to the car. (I would have taken another taxi except there are no taxis right where I live.)

Back to the car

The emergency key did not work. Even though it was labeled with my name, it belonged to a Lexus I sold five years before. Presumably the owners have the emergency key I needed.

I went outside to catch a second taxi to take me home again to find a spare key that I have been vaguely aware that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, but it had to be somewhere, right?

Arjuna, or the second taxi driver

Arjuna drove the second taxi. Arjuna, named I presume after the converser with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, was my angel. His cab was spotless, air conditioned, and we said “How are you?” at the same moment and laughed. This, I thought, is the opposite of Gaza.

Arjuna also had surround sound phone speakers that I ended up using a lot. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Arjuna started praying for me that I would find my spare “regular” key. I ran into the house and went through every little box and pencil cup I had, plus several purses. His prayers were not enough. There was no key.

I sat in front of my house in Arjuna’s cool crisp taxi and tried to collect myself. The numbers of the people I needed to call were, of course, in the memory of my iphone locked inside my car.

But, smarty under stress that I am, I remembered my daughter’s number and called her on skype from my ipad. No answer. She was at her aerial class. My daughter does acrobatics while hanging from large ribbons. I texted my plight. She texted back with the 800 telephone number of the “help me whenever wherever” desk at Lexus, and Arjuna called them on his surround sound phone. So nice.

The “help me whenever wherever” desk couldn’t locate me or my car – common name, various moves, no vin number –  but let me know that my regular roadside assistance with them would have expired after four years.

Arjuna dialed my friend Mike for me (number supplied by my daughter down once again from the ribbons), who called Tony my accountant and then called me back. No, I did not have roadside assistance coverage with my car insurer.

Arjuna drove me back to my car and assured me that God was watching out for me: “Think of all the real suffering in the world. This is just a bad day.”

He then called two locksmiths to compare prices. Who knew that locksmith companies use the same free-roaming people to unlock locks? They network, and they get angry if you call more than one place. They call you and ask “How many locksmiths did you call?” and if you don’t give the right answer, i.e.“Only one other and I want you, and you alone” they hang up on you in surround sound.

Yvan drove up around 4:30. Arjuna handed me off to him with tenderness and care.

Yvan, the locksmith

I jumped in the passenger seat of Yvan’s van with “Locksmith” written on the side and we turned into the parking garage. First step: push the button to get the ticket that will lift the arm so you can enter. Instead Yvan turned to me and said, as closely as I remember: “Hello, I’m Yvan, I’m Israeli, we’re not going to pay this.” He argued with the man in the cubicle but eventually took a ticket.

His next words to me were “What do you do?”

I felt myself flinch slightly and edge to the door, “I started a peace organization.”

Yvan: Oh, so we’re on different sides. . . . he smiled.

(How, how, how is this happening?)

Me: I don’t know.

Yvan, as we turned the first corner going down: Are you Jewish?

Me: No, but I marry Jewish.

Yvan: You marry Jews?

Me: Yes. My car is over there.The one with the balloons tied to the door.

At the point where Yvan set off the car alarm in the unsuccessful attempt to open the driver’s door, he shouted, “This is nothing compared with the noise in Israel right now.”

(I tell myself I will say nothing about Gaza until he gets my car unlocked.)

Me: I guess not.

Yvan: I was in the Israeli military for three years.

Me: Oh. (Anyone with experience with the Israeli military would already know this – the shaved head, posture, health, and strength. It’s a look. The abruptness. It’s a style.)

Yvan – Hebrew for “John” – did get the passenger door open. I retrieved my phone, which had 12% battery on it. There were, as I was 95% certain, no keys in the car.

Yvan was about to leave me standing, after I paid an exorbitant amount, by my dead car with the passenger door open (he said if we shut it, it would lock again) when he said, “Where do you want to go?”

Me: I don’t know. I need a moment to think.

He looked closer at me: I don’t have any other jobs in line, I could take you home.

Me: Oh, so now you’re the nice Jew? (Yes, I really said that.)

He laughed. He took me home, though not without arguing with the man in the cubicle and somehow distracting him on a related subject, and when we drove out without paying he said – I swear – it works if you just distract them.

Yvan called towing services. The first company hung up because he wouldn’t tell them what kind of car I had on the theory that they would charge more for a Lexus. With the second company he told them it was a Toyota. They said they would be there in an hour.

One hour gave me time to get home, get 20 minutes of recharge on both my iphone and ipad (taking no chances), quickly walk my dog, call the Lexus drop off place, and get a list of food items for the birthday party to my daughter since I was failing miserably at this responsibility.

It also gave me time to challenge Yvan who was intent on convincing me how compassionate the Israeli Defense Force is, and how all of Hamas wanted all Israelis dead, and how Hamas targeted civilians but Israel warns people before bombing.

I said: You are missing information. Do you know 10 or so Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military in the month or two before the three settler youth were kidnapped and killed?

Yvan: That’s not true.

Me: Yes, it is. There are videos of two Palestine young men just walking by Ofer prison – you know, where the prisoners are on hunger strike – who were killed by snipers. It’s all on the video, they were just walking by, no one else around. Killed, dead, down.

Yvan: We don’t have snipers.

Me: Okay, prison guards then, the guys in the towers at Ofer.

Yvan: So what were these guys doing before then? What were they throwing? They must have done something.

Me: Nope, want me to send you the video? They were just walking by, not even looking up. You see them hit. They’re not talking to anyone. No one else was around. They’re walking next to the prison wall at about the distance from where you’re sitting to that tree.

Yvan: Sure, send me the video.

Me: Okay, you let me know what you know and I’ll let you know what I know.

Giving him credit, he did bring up that he understood that Israel had taken “their” land and that resentment was justified. He also seemed to like Fatah in the West Bank and made sure I understood his father’s very best friend lived in Jenin. His father is a mechanical engineer and they had some business together. (I did not bring up the ongoing weekly nonviolent protests against the occupation in Jenin, but did say “business together is the fastest road to peace.” He shook his head yes.)

I ran into the house and returned to give him a copy of the book “Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. (Get it at Amazon.) I tell him, “I was the editor, photographer, and primary interviewer.”

Yvan: Wow, this is a real book.

Me: That it is.

Back to the garage

At 6:25 my daughter and son-in-law took me back to the Giant grocery store, before going on to a party. She went in with me, to the Solutions desk, then the garage.

I said: Someone took my balloons! Someone took the balloons! They were tied right here, right here on the door. Someone took them!


At 6:45 Lee pulled up in front from District Towing. I rode with him pass the man in the cubicle. He took the ticket with no hesitation.

Lee: Where is your car?

Me: One level down. It had balloons tied to the door, but someone took them.

Lee, seeing the car: My boss said it would be a Toyota.

Me: The call was placed by the locksmith. He might have been confused. (Yeah, right.) Are you going to be able to get it out of here?

Lee: No problem.

I adore Lee. We talked about the amazing technology of modern day towing, how the little towing wheels go under the car’s back wheels and pump them up, and how it all clicks into place.

Me: Any chance you’re going through town?

Lee: Sure, need a ride?

Me: Would love it.

(I contemplated asking him to wait while I ran inside and bought more balloons, but figured he was being too nice for me to ask for anything more.)

7:15, walking home

Lee let me out a few blocks from my home. Such a beautiful summer night. My car would be going around Dupont Circle as couples strolled hand in hand and ate at outside cafes.

I let the balm soak into me. And, once home, I went out again with my dog who like me was slightly crazed, and I thought of the bombing and killing of people far away and so very close.

The birthday party

We had 15 children and 14 adults here this morning. There were no balloons, but my grandson didn’t notice. He was happy and surrounded by his best friends – I didn’t know he had that many, and he taught me how to play “Ghost in the Graveyard” where if the chosen “ghost” looks at you, you can only breath, sneeze, cough, or blink, or you become a ghost’s helper.

Twelve miles away my Lexus has a note on it with my name, telephone number, and the words “NO!!! Keys.” I expect to hear from them tomorrow morning.

The pain in the world right now, the violence, the imbecilic belief that there are reasons to kill other people . . . I am haunted. All those people praying to stay alive, to keep breathing, sneezing, coughing, and blinking, and not become ghost’s helpers. All those people.