I was informed a few weeks ago that I needed to go back to the army base in Haifa. Apparently the team manager had called the army to check in me and another player to see what our status was. I felt this was unnecessary to begin with. Why call them before they contact us? If I’m not on their radar at the moment why make waves? Maybe they would just forget all about me if I kept a low enough profile. This strategy worked flawlessly when applied to my relationships with professors in college, so maybe the same thing would work out here. I suppose college professors can’t thrown you into jail and ship you off to die if you don’t participate, so there might be some merit in keeping the army abreast of your whereabouts. The army informed my manager that the other player was all squared away, but I had a major issue going on. Fantastic. Great. (at this point in the season a teammate has taken to uttering those words when something bad happens in practice, making fun of my constant sarcastic use of the terms. They have replaced my go to phrase from college: jeeeeezus christ. They usually come out after we have just gone over an out of bounds play for 20 straight minutes and I realize we might run this play once during the game. Meanwhile no one knows the proper defensive rotations to make. Fantaaaaastic coaching guys!)
Turns out, according to the Army’s system, I never returned from summer vacation and was still enjoying the California sunshine. If only. Nope, I am toiling away on the bench of a last place team. Just where I envisioned myself at the start of the season! So, I was told that I had to go to the army offices and clear things up. The consequences of them finding out I am in Israel when I should be in the states are apparently rather severe. Like lock you up and question you severe, so it was imperative that I set the record straight.
I met up with an assistant manager one afternoon and off we went. There were kids all over the streets dressed in costumes because of the Purim holiday. That’s fun and all, but it resurrects the age old question of what hours kids in Israel actually go to school. I cannot tell you how many times I have been driving somewhere and seen hordes of seemingly school aged children happily going about their business in the city. When I lived by a high school there were always clusters of “students” meandering around the streets no matter the time. They are definitely not on any sort of strict 8-3 schedule, thats for damn sure. For a country with such a reputation for having intelligent people this is kind of alarming. Maybe they figure they are all going to the army anyway so what the hell why not just ditch history class. I can sympathize with that train of thought. Might as well have a little fun before you find yourself eating canned food in a bunker near the gaza strip.
Once we arrive at the base I immediately encounter an obstacle. They would not let the assistant manager come inside with me. He put up what seemed to me to be a pretty half assed argument and then retired to the outside bench. I am sure he would rather just hang out then do a bunch of translating, so he was probably ok with the situation. I on the other hand was considerably more worried now that I would have to navigate this thing alone. My last trip I was escorted all over by a teammate in the Army and this time I would not be so lucky. The girl at the front told me to go to the 4th floor. I had no choice but to trudge up toward the unknown all by myself. I found the room they told me to look for and a girl came out and told me to wait a few minutes. As I sat there I thought about how strange it was that all the people I deal with when I come here are about 20 and a lot of them look like they are 15. It is odd when I can envision the Army authority figure hanging out with my sister.
The girl came back out and immediately fired off a pretty heavy question: “Do you want to be in the army?”
Waaait a second. The team manager told me that all I had to do was show up, tell them I am indeed in Israel, and then I would be all good to go. I wasn’t ready to be asked if I wanted to be a soldier. I hesitated for a second thinking about how important my reply to this might be. Was this a chance for me to get out of any potential duties and walk out of there that instant never to return? Or would an answer in the negative prompt someone to escort me to a private room where strong people with guns would make me change my mind? I decided honesty is the best policy said something like “uhhh…..nottttttt really…” She quickly snapped back “well you have to.” Great. Why’d you ask me if I had no say in it? Who knows. Maybe she likes torturing incoming recruits by making them think they have a modicum of control over the situation. She told me me to wait outside the office.
Next she she asked me to wait for an interview and in the meantime provide her with some proof that I was a basketball player. So I pulled out the letter from the team owner that I keep handy for situations like this. She thanked me and went on her way. Oh wait, I obviously had no proof on me that I played basketball. I was wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, does that count for anything? I racked my mind for a way to answer this when she simply started to walk away. She might have been going for a coffee or something, but for all I knew she was going to report that there was a fraud in the building who needed to be dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. I quickly placed a call to the head team manager, hoping he could explain the situation. Once I had him on the line I hurried over and gave the girl the phone, and to my relief she reversed her direction and headed back to her office to talk. When the call was done she simply returned the phone and told me to wait. I’m not sure what, if anything, the call accomplished, but it made me feel better that someone spoke with her who at least knew her language. So now they are talking army service, interviews, proof of my occupation. This was not at all how I had hoped the day would turn out.
The vaunted interview begins a few minutes later. She starts off by filling out all my updated living information, asking basic questions about my address and stuff. Then out of nowhere she hits me with another “Do you want to be in the army?” What? Didn’t she just ask me that? I paused, thinking about the best answer this time around, when she interrupted me by saying “You have to do it, I’m just trying to test your motivation.” Now things were much more cut and dry, so I told her that I would have to say my motivation was “very low to none.” She scribbled something on her paper. I said “I’m a peaceful person.” She laughed and scribbled some more. I imagine she was writing stuff along the lines of “we have a huge sissy on our hands, make sure to really focus on reworking him into an Israeli killing machine if his pansy ass ever makes it to basic training.” I decided this was the optimal time to tell her that the offices were really rundown and the Army needed to step their renovation game up. She laughed and agreed with me, but it’s probably unwise to remind someone of the awful conditions they work in if that person is in the midst of a decision on whether a privileged American basketball player wise ass will enter the armed forces of their nation.
She ultimately told me that since I am going to be 24 in June I only need to serve for 6 months. She added that since I was an athlete (at least that got cleared up) I “might not have to come in everyday.” Woohoo! I might not have to show up every day at 7 AM to some army base in the middle of nowhere in a country I have spent all of 16 months in!
The next step in the process was to see the doctor, since the last time I was here he requested all sorts of medical documents that I failed to provide him with. He saw me, looked at my chart, and told me to send him records of what happened during all my colonoscopies. I really regret mentioning the colonoscopies in the first place, but he asked me about operations so I told him. Maybe it will be good in the long run because they won’t want someone with a bad colon, prior knee surgeries and oh ya DOESN’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE. You think that would be a big deal, but apparently they are starved for soldiers out here or something. It’s not like 100% of the population is required to serve or anything.
The thing is, the Israeli army doesn’t know what they would be getting in me. I would be the laziest, most pessimistic, most sarcastic soldier ever to grace the ranks.
-“Why would you start the attack from that side? Did I not get the ‘do the dumbest thing possible’ memo?”
-“Who would ever think this food is adequate for human consumption. My dog would smack me in the face if I tried to feed him this.”
-“No this is a really good idea. We should definitely be out here running in the sun for hours on end. I heard they were going to make us jog to Iran if we invade it.”
-“3 people assigned to keep watch over a 5 sq. meter area? Faaaantastic use of resources.”
Maybe a steady stream of those could get me honorably discharged. I should just have a bunch of former coaches, teachers and authority figures sign a letter agreeing that I would be of no benefit to the army if I didn’t want to be there.
I should also note that the whole time I was at the base I don’t think I saw any soldiers do anything other than stare at a computer or play on their phones, so maybe it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
I am still unclear as to whether they would make me forfeit an entire basketball season to do this crap. I have been with a couple players thus far who were doing army service and not missing practice so I guess it’s possible. But I don’t have any clout here, so things might be considerably more difficult for me. All this means I definitely have a new factor to consider when deciding on whether to play in Israel again next year. Should make for an interesting next few months.
-quick bball update, cause oh ya that’s what I’m out here getting paid to do. I haven’t played more than 3 minutes in a game in like 3 months, and the majority of the time I never leave the bench. And we lose every game. It’s the first time I have been in a situation like this and I can say with confidence it sucks pretty bad. I played pretty well when I was given a fair shot, but all the people who were there to witness that have been fired now. Oh well, all I can do is work in practice and hope something changes for the better. At least it’s getting warm again.