Israeli Machine Gunner



Some 56 years ago, in a world much different from today, Saturday mornings I’d get on my bike early, head out the two miles up the highway to the shopping center. My destination, a small hobby shop where I’d buy stuff for my HO train platform.

This morning, I wanted to get a couple of bags of lichen for my trees and sure, droll over other stuff. I had my eye on a new engine, well out of my reach. Before my front tire hit asphalt, my father’s voice sung my name from the porch, him waving a 16 oz brown Schmidt’s beer bottle in the air.

I thought to pretend not to hear him, that 2, 3 hours on the bike, he’d be passed out in front of a Tarzan movie, maybe Wild Kingdom. I wheeled back.

“Where you going?” he asked, attempting to give a fuck. He had a history of not giving a fuck, which was good.


The best you can hope for from your abuser is neglect.


I told him my plans.

“I’ll take you. Let me tell your mother.”

Again, I thought to ride away, but I had to come back. In the car, him with a sweating beer bottle, cigarette dangling, dancing in his mouth, he told me we had to make a quick stop. 15 minutes, me sitting in car at the liquor store. Halfway back to the house, he remembered he was taking me to the hobby store. The 20 minutes, he pontificated about Herb at work. It seems Herb told my father he didn’t have any couth. He forced a laugh. When he saw I didn’t get what was funny, he explained.

Enduring such occasions without my head blowing up is a testimony to how resilient we human beings are. He had to follow me into the store. I knew what I wanted, grabbed it, went to the register.

“I got this,” he said, opening his hand, change spreading on the counter.

I imagine he spent all his walking around on the three cases of Schmidt’s he had Ralph put into the back of the station wagon. My two bags of lichen were just under 2 bucks. He counted twice. He was short. Pushing in, I offered a bill forward.

He pushed me off, his hand on my shoulder, more forcibly than he had to. “I got this!”

He dug and dug, lint coated pennies coming to the counter. The clerk rolled her eyes for my benefit. I pursed my lips, nodding.

“And that’s it!” the clerk announced, raking the coins into her palm.

“You sure?” my father asked.

“Positive,” she affirmed.

Trapped in the car again, my father pontificated about the clerk, a large woman in her twenties with dark features. He told me, “She was a machine gunner in the Israeli army.” I believed the statement. I had no reason not to. I was kind of awed.

The next week, I rode up to the hobby shop, placing 57¢ on the counter, what I owned the shop. Having seen war movies, even not sure who the Israelis had a war with, I was starstruck, unable to do anything but grunt, maybe a please and thank you.

Years would melt away. I’d leave my trains and the hobby shop behind. The woman would be a hero to me for being that machine gunner. Today as I road my bike hitting the 40-mile mark, reflecting on this person I once knew, I realized my father laughed when he told me of her past career like he laughed when I didn’t get why not having couth is funny.

When I felt my heart could take no more, I left the house, never looked back, living here and there, getting by. When I was old enough, I joined the Navy. He said what he said about the woman because she had dark features and was a big woman. It was a joke.

He reaches from the grave across time and space, breaking my heart again. All those years ago, sitting in the blue Ford station wagon enduring my father, even if I caught the joke, even if I understood the racism and misogyny spilling out, I wouldn’t have said anything.

I felt myself an interloper, a stranger among them.





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