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Our New (New) Apartment: Tel Aviv's Most Stylish Poop Chute


You don’t really recognize the value of sunlight until it’s all but gone. Sure, that sounds like a draft of a Rolling Stones song, but I’m not talking metaphorically. Sunlight quite literally changes your mood and puts you in a better headspace. That’s one, among many reasons, I’m sure, why solitary confinements makes people go crazy and invent new languages and such. They just miss the sun. A little backstory to explain this rambling: when I last wrote, Tal and I had just moved into a new apartment, then about a week later heard our neighbor (probably?) get stabbed. That was a big up, then a fairly big down. But as the weeks went by, some other things came to be. The positives: we both got jobs, Tal as a teacher and me working international relations at the Joint Distribution Committee. The negatives: our apartment, which we loved so very dearly at first, became a sanctuary for the many creatures of the shuk, or open air market, just two blocks away. Slugs made their way inside in the mornings, leaving their long trails of shiny goo. At night, a pair of violently sexual cats would fuck each other to the edge of death, often waking us up with their cries of pain and/or pleasure. During the day, jukim (cockroaches) tended to scamp about in corners. And once — just once, mind you, as we didn’t live in a sewer — Tal saw a rat, which scared her exactly half to death. Beyond that, the one room apartment became a little suffocating, as the only windows were high up, along the ceiling, and couldn’t be opened. So we got no breeze, and minute instances of real sunlight. Plus, we’d only rented it as a six-month sublet, and we were already approaching the end of month three. So you do the math. We both became recently, gainfully employed, and we weren’t satisfied with our apartment. A note here: I still love that place. It had an amazing vibe; it was big and cheap. But when we put the pieces together one night over sushi in north Tel Aviv, we made the decision: we had the money, we had the time and we just barely had the will power. It was time to find a new apartment. Again. The following two weeks were among the most hellish of my entire young adult life. You see, apartment hunting in Tel Aviv is a lot, I imagine, like New York City. People are all ruthless assholes, and become combative in their search for the perfect place. The realtors, landlords and tenants showing apartments follow suit — they know the demand is ungodly high, so they can be total dickasses and get away with it. In two weeks, we saw about 25 apartments. A short retrospective: - One man put up an ad that he was showing his perfectly priced, perfectly located apartment. That night, we joined about 30 other couples waiting outside for him to open the door for the open house. We waited up until the advertised time, then about 5 minutes past it. Asshole never showed up. Who knows if his apartment is really even for rent. - We saw one apartment in a great neighborhood with no less than five rooms, each the size of a shoebox. Why not knock down some walls and make two big rooms? The landlord showing the place also smelled like pee and had that distinct ‘I’m going to rape you’ face. When he approached us after we’d called him, we thought he was a homeless man. Nope! Just an average Tel Aviv landlord. - One place had no windows. Downgrade. - One guy showed us his apartment, where his shower was bigger than his entire kitchen. And the shower was the size of, you know, like a regular sized shower. The rest were simply not big enough, or in a not-great location, or not-whatever enough. As I didn’t initially want to move, I felt I had the right to be picky. If we were going to leave, it had to be to move into a perfect, absolutely perfect apartment. Then, hey!, one day we found it. We’d been searching just over two weeks, and we were both weary, stressed and constantly arguing about the whole awful process. I’d lost a significant amount of hair. But we saw one last place, in the exact location we wanted, for (just over) the exact price we wanted to pay and with, yep, tons and tons and tons of natural, fresh, beautiful sunlight. We jumped on it as soon as we could, and two days later we were signing papers with our landlord and building owner, Moshe. He nearly forced breakfast on us when we met to sign. “Which pastry do you want?” he asked with his hand already inside the pastry case. I took this as a good sign. Just a day after that, we were packing up our stuff and preparing for a move that, truthfully, wasn’t so big. Our old place was in Kerem Ha’Temanim, the Yemenite Quarter, wedged between the shuk and the sea. The new place is on Sheinkin, a street that literally begins at the edge of the shuk. From apartment A to B is less than a 5 minute walk, and as shopping in the shuk is an important, beloved weekly tradition for me, it was the lynchpin of our decision to take this place.

One minor hang up: it came unfurnished. We didn’t let that deter us, vowing that we’d fill it with Craig’s List stuff and other second hand furniture, but promising ourselves we’d stay away from street pick ups with a high likelihood of being soaked in hobo pee. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Then we realized something was falling into the wrong place. Namely, our poop was falling onto our neighbors. Here’s how it started: Moshe tells us the whole building was redone. In fact, we are the first tenants in our new apartment since it was renovated. Everything is clean and white and beautiful. One morning, while moving in, a woman in the next building, across a tree-covered alleyway, called out to me from her window. “There’s water coming from your apartment,” she called. Barely listening, I nodded and said, “Yes, I know,” which was a lie. But she was persistent, pointing frantically downward towards our apartment. She waved her hand in front of her nose, so as to suggest that she either smelled something funny, or came from a weird Eastern European country where people wave in odd ways. I looked out our bedroom window and saw two pipes, sticking perpendicular to the wall and shooting about three feet out. One of them was dripping. Making very little of this seemingly who-cares discovery, I told the woman I’d call our landlord. And that was the end of it. But then, this other morning, I was brushing my teeth in our beautiful, clean and white bathroom. Tal, in the bedroom, heard running water outside. Curiously, she peaked out of our bedroom window to see a flow of water spilling out of the pipe. Not a drip, but a flow. A heavy flow. This, it seemed, was slightly less who-cares, and more what-the-fuck. The faucet went on, and a few seconds later, out came the water, falling two stories down into the alleyway. We were terrified, but compelled to test the inevitable question: was our toilet also suffering the same malady. I put two pieces of toilet paper in the empty toilet and flushed. “I see water,” Tal yelled from the bedroom. “And… one… and two! Both pieces!” Our hearts sank. For nearly a week, we were quite literally shitting on our neighbors and not realizing it. All the water from the bathroom was not drained into the sewer, but into our alleyway. I felt terrible for the apartments below us. We called Moshe, who sounded surprised. “Hm,” he said after his initial shock. “I did have a fight with the contractor who did the plumbing.” A fight, apparently, that caused him not to finish the job. The implications of this discovery astounded us. This was some shit straight out of the middle ages, when lords and ladies would empty their chamber pots into the gutters outside their windows — a fact which I remember learning at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire about twelve years ago. Or even out of some impoverished nation, in one of those scenes where the white Christian guy with the beard walks down a poop-filled alley holding a tiny kid and says, “For only 40 cents a day, you can keep this boy from drinking this poop water.” But not Israel, right? Not the great Jewish state, so advanced in medicine and technology. No, this could never happen here. And yet, two stories below us was what I can only imagine to be a scene of true horror, which was, thankfully, covered up by toilet-water-soaked trees. So that night, we threw a party. We bought a bunch of beers, invited some friends and all the neighbors showed up. Our lack of plumbing became a fun party trick. “Nice apartment, guys. I really like it.” “Thank you! But you wanna hear some shit? We don’t even have plumbing!” “(Stunned silence)” “Seriously, though. Don’t drink too much, because you can’t pee here.” Thus began several days of living like nomads, our days spent buying a coffee at a cafe so we could pee, and saving any more serious business for our places of employment. It took days, instead of a day, because in Israel late September and early October are the chaggim, or the month of holidays. First Rosh HaShanah, then Yom Kippur, then the week-long harvest festival of Sukkot, then Simchat Torah. And no one can be bothered to do anything productive on or between any of these holidays. Thanks a lot, God.

I climbed into freezers to pee. I bought single cookies at coffee shops. The first plumber who actually showed up wasn’t much help. He entered our apartment and looked out the window to see the pipes. “Holy shit,” he said in unexpected English. He then told us he needed to go find some tools, and never returned. The next plumber came two days later, and actually hooked up pipes. Our problems were solved, and we rejoiced by spending the rest of the day in the bathroom. I don’t anticipate the rest of our time in this lovely apartment to be so tumultuous, because the first week was certainly shitty enough.