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Down In Front

(Published on Israelisms.com - 2000)

Did you know that there is a rest-stop on the way to Hell? It's called Malcha Mall, and if you're pushed through it's portals, you can be pretty darn sure that you will not be gamboling in the fields of Paradise any time soon. Malcha Mall is G-d's way of notifying you that you've screwed up big time and will soon be entering Satan's sweltering airspace.

Ordinarily, I give Malcha a wide berth. I would sooner run naked through the alleys of Meah Sharim on Shabbat than endure a single minute in that awful "din" of iniquity. Religious I am not, but I live by some very strict laws and one of them is "Thou shalt not step foot in Malcha Mall, especially on weekends or holidays". Alas, Fate is an entirely unpredictable animal, and tends to override personal preferences.

So there I was, in the middle of the Chanukah holidays, on my way to the dreaded Malcha Mall. I had been duped by my delightful nieces Rachelli (11) and Noa (9) into taking them to see Woody Allen's latest egotistical escapade, Antz. I had tried everything to resist this nightmare! I had offered sumptuous meals at Burger King, Chanukah gifts of Barbie apparel, a year's supply of Bamba* - but they hung tenaciously on to Malcha. I was on the verge of offering to buy them a hamster when my brother entered the room and shot me a "do-it-and-I'll-murder-you" look. For a few seconds I weighed up death or Malcha, but the image of my parents weeping over my grave and my brother sitting in an Israeli prison, forced me to acquiesce to Malcha.

The moment we entered the Mall, we were confronted by a cacophony so loud, it would have woken Beethoven from a deep slumber. There were, what seemed like, hundreds of thousands of children, and a handful of adults, coursing through the three story monstrosity. Trying to reach the movie theaters was like rowing upstream in a leaking kayak. Just as we'd gain some ground, a crowd of people would advance in our direction and sweep us back to where we'd started from. After about five minutes of frustration and an already developing migraine, I was ready to flee. Rachelli and Noa however, were clearly having the time of their lives, totally oblivious to my mounting dementia.

I decided wisely to deposit the merry twosome in a toy store with orders not to stray, while I pushed my way to the movie theaters and bombarded my way through the ticket line. I had decided to dispense with my first world politeness, and pushed and cursed my way to the front like all the other rude Neanderthals. Adapt or die. Or, when in Malcha, act Machiavellian!

Having collected the nieces, been practically strip-searched by the theater doorman (lest we had committed the terrible sin of bringing in our own food, instead of blowing our entire monthly salaries on a box of popcorn and a coke), we finally found our seats. As I looked around the theater in horror, I became convinced that the entire audience was on Ritalin, and had, collectively, forgotten to take their last few doses. Hyperactive children were yelling, throwing popcorn, and practically bouncing off the ceilings in a state of complete mayhem. I sat there in the darkness, breathing deeply, trying to restore my inner calm by pretending I was someplace else. Anywhere else!

And just as the movie began, I heard the little plaintive voice of Noa beside me:
"I'm thirsty - can I get a Coke?"
"Me too," chimed in Rachelli, "and some popcorn, can we get some popcorn?"
They were both already up and out of their seats and looking at me expectantly. I didn't have the energy to protest, I just handed over the money like a helpless mugging victim. Ten minutes later they reappeared with popcorn and Coke in quantities big enough to support the entire population of Biafra for a year. Of course, having missed a quarter of the movie, they now began to volley questions at me. They weren't alone, as 99% of all the brats in the theater were asking each other what was going on, as the soundtrack was in English and most of them didn't have a hope in hell of reading the sub-titles. And let's face it, Woody Allen is a little beyond the scope of the intellectual capacity of recently potty-trained children!

And just as I was on the verge of throttling a few little movie-goers, I heard Noa shriek and then burst into tears.
"Oh G-d, what now?" I thought, summoning up the last smithereens of my patience to deal with the latest catastrophe.
I glanced over at Noa. She was sitting, frozen in her place with the huge cup of Coke lying upturned in her lap. The poor kid was completely sodden from her chest down to her knees. I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and FREAKED! My first thought was… Pneumonia. Every offspring of a Jewish mother knows that if you spend one minute in wet clothes you are sure to get afflicted with some awful illness! Luckily, due to another common Jewish mother practice, she had been dressed in so many layers of clothing that by the time I'd peeled off the top three, she was left with two dry layers underneath. This whole performance went on during the movie and no-one even batted an eyelid, as if stripping in movies was as normal as throwing popcorn or shouting comments at the onscreen characters.

As usual in movie theaters across Israel, when the movie ended we were led out through the back door via an underground passageway that made one feel like you'd just been to a top secret screening sponsored by the French Underground. By now the Mall was teeming with people and my only thought was to get out of there as soon as humanly possible. Clutching my partially sodden niece in the one hand and Rachelli in the other, I pulled them along through the masses like a bulldozer ploughing through a forest of redwoods. Just as we were nearing the exit gate, Rachelli suggested we go for burgers. I laughed out loud like the mad Ophelia, and told her I'd sooner shave my hair off. Poor kid, one day she'll understand…

" So, did you have a good time?" asked my brother as I deposited the children safely at home.
"Just swell" I enthused, "Hope we can do it again real soon!"

* Peanut butter flavored potato chips