The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 8, No. 2

The Nimrod Flip-Out

by Etgar Keret


Translated by Miriam Shlesinger

When it comes to Miron’s problem, there are, as they say, several schools of thought. The doctors think it’s some trauma he suffered when he was in the army that resurfaced all of a sudden in his brain, like a piece of shit you suddenly see floating in the toilet long after you’ve flushed. His parents are convinced it’s all because of the mushrooms he ate in the East, which turned his brain to quiche. The guy who found him there and brought him back to Israel says it’s because of this Dutch chick he met in Dharamsala, who broke his heart. And Miron himself says it’s God who’s messing everything up. Tapping into his brain like a bat, telling it one thing, then the opposite, anything, just to pick a fight. According to Miron, after He created the world, God stayed awfully complacent for a couple of million years. Until Miron came along all of a sudden, and started asking questions, and God broke out in a sweat. Because God could tell straight off that, unlike the rest of humanity, Miron was no pushover. And soon as you gave him the smallest opening he’d slam right through it, and God—everyone knows—is really big on dishing it out, but not on taking it. The last thing He can afford is a rebuttal, especially from a guy like Miron. So from the minute He realized it, He just kept driving Miron around the bend, hassling him whenever He could, with everything from bad dreams to girls who wouldn’t put out. Anything, just so the guy would fall apart.
          The doctors asked Uzi and me to help them a little with Miron’s case history, because the three of us have known each other since day one. They asked us all kinds of questions about the army, about what had happened with Nimrod. But most of it we couldn’t remember, and even the little bit that we did remember we didn’t tell them, because the truth was that they didn’t look too nice and Miron had told us a couple of things about them that bordered on 60 Minutes. After that, during visiting hours, Miron begged us to bring him some hummus from the hunchback, because more than anything else, it was the food here that was doing him in. “It’s been three weeks since I got here,” he figured, “and if you add that to the four months in the East, that’s almost six months without hummus. I swear to you, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemies.” So we went to get him some. The hunchback said he didn’t do take-aways. “Only sit-downs,” he snarled in his half-menacing, half-indifferent tone. “I’m not running a snack bar, y’know.” So we ordered a plate of hummus and stuffed it in a pita ourselves. When we got back, Miron’s mother was there. She said hi to Uzi, but not to me. She hasn’t spoken to me for years, on account of my influencing her son to experiment with drugs. We didn’t give him the hummus while she was there, because we were afraid she’d tell the doctors. So we waited for her to leave. Meanwhile, the ful was getting cold, but that didn’t matter to Miron, who wolfed down the pita. Three days later they discharged him. The doctors said his reaction to the medications was remarkable. Miron still insists it was on account of the hummus.

In June, Miron and me went down to Sinai. Uzi was supposed to come too, but he stood us up at the last second for some appointment with this German guy from a high-tech company in Düsseldorf who could put up millions for a project in Uzi’s company. It was supposed to be a kind of celebration, in honor of the fact that Miron wasn’t considered crazy anymore, and Uzi felt a little uncomfortable with his childish attraction to money, so he promised that as soon as his appointment was over he’d join us there. “I’ll bet you anything he doesn’t show,” Miron said. “A double bet: first off, he won’t show, and second, give him three more months and he’ll marry the Turnip.” I didn’t want to bet Miron about anything, because everything he said sounded depressing but pretty true. Turnip was our code name for Uzi’s obnoxious girlfriend, who also was deep into all those virtual high-tech deals that Uzi loved to manage. I remember him asking us once why we called her the Turnip, and Miron told him something about how it was because turnips are underrated: some people don’t realize how good they can be. Uzi didn’t really buy it, but he never asked again after that.
          If life is one big party, Sinai is definitely the chillout. And even Miron and me, who hardly did anything in regular life anyway, could appreciate the ultimate veg-out nothingness of the place. Everywhere you looked on our beach, there were these moonchild chicks, and Miron kept trying to come on to them and to make like he’d spent a lot of time in the East. It even worked now and then. Me, I didn’t have the energy for that stuff, or the coordination either. So I just smoked bagfuls of grass, stared at the sea, and debated whether to order a pineapple pancake for lunch or to take my chances with the fish. I also kept an eye out for Miron, to see if he’d really straightened out. He still came up with some pretty weird stuff, like for instance when he insisted on taking a shit right near our hut because he was too lazy to walk all the way to the restaurant. But the truth is that he used to do stuff like that before he went crazy. “I have a hunch I’m going to luck out with that short one with the navel stud,” he told me one night after we came back from the restaurant on the beach. “You gotta admit, she’s cute, isn’t she?” The two of us were sitting around zonked, just staring out at the sea. “Listen,” I told him, “about that whole business when they put you away, I know that Uzi and me played it cool, but you scared the shit out of us.” Miron just shrugged. “It was pretty freaky, like suddenly I started hearing voices—talking, singing. Like some broken radio that you can’t figure out how to turn off. It drives you crazy. You can’t think straight for a second. I’m telling you, I felt as if someone was trying to flip me out. And then it just stopped.” Miron took one more drag on the cigarette and put it out in the sand. “And I’ll tell you something else,” he said. “I know this sounds a little whacked, but I think it was Nimrod.”
          The next day, contrary to all predictions, Uzi arrived. Too bad I didn’t take Miron up on his bet. Soon as Uzi put his bag down in the hut he dragged us straight to the restaurant, chewed some squid, and told us all about how the German guy had turned out to be even more of a pushover than he’d expected, and that he was happy to the max to be with us, with his best friends, in Sinai, his favorite place in the whole world. After that, he went charging up and down the beach, calling “Yo Bro” at anything that moved, and hugging every Bedouin or Egyptian who wasn’t fast enough to get away. When he got tired of that, Uzi made us play backgammon with him, and after he beat both of us, he clobbered one of the Bedouins too, and then he made the Bedouin traipse up and down the beach behind his bald opponent, yelling, “Watch out, girls, Abu Gara’s big.” Miron tried to cool him off with a puff, but that only made Uzi crazier. He tried coming on strong to a forty-year-old American tourist, gave up in no time, ate three pancakes, told Miron and me that he couldn’t get over the peace and quiet of the place, ordered kebab, and suggested that the three of us and his new Bedouin friend, who turned out to be a taxi driver, go down to the casino at Taba. Miron was dead set against it, because he figured he was just about to make the babe with the navel stud, but Uzi was so worked up that Miron’s horniness didn’t stand a chance. “No kidding,” Miron said, soon as we got into the taxi, “the guy’s completely lost it.”
          Abu Gara and the Bedouin made a killing at Taba, swooping down on one table after the next, leaving behind nothing but shattered croupiers and scorched earth. Between killings Uzi wolfed down enormous slabs of apple pie and chocolate mousse cake. Miron and me just sat there, watching patiently, waiting for him to wear himself out. But to tell the truth, he just kept getting stronger and stronger. Once Uzi and the Bedouin had finished humiliating the casino and divvying up their winnings, we took the taxi to the border station. Miron and me reminded Uzi that we should be heading back, but he wouldn’t hear of it. As far as he was concerned, the night was still young and there was no reason not to cash in at a couple of clubs in Eilat before heading back. He made sure to give the Bedouin his business card, and they kissed about eighty times. Miron tried to persuade the Bedouin to take us back to the beach, leaving Uzi to continue his escapades on his own, but the Bedouin told us off and insisted that leaving a wonderful friend like Abu Gara in the middle of a celebration would be a disgrace. He said he’d have loved to continue with us himself, except he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. Then he kissed us too, got into the taxi, and disappeared. When Uzi got tired of The Spiral, we went to the Yacht Pub and then to some hotel called the Blue Something, and only then, after Miron and me had refused twice to let him get some call girls sent up to our room, did Uzi turn over on his stomach and start to snore.
          Ever since that time in Sinai, Uzi’s company has been on a roll. After the German pushover, Uzi found two other suckers, one an American and the other from India, and it looked like he was going to knock the whole world on its ass. Miron said it only went to show how crazy those businesspeople were. The truth was Uzi’d been getting bigger and bigger ever since he’d gone off the deep end. Sometimes we’d try to drag him to the beach or the pool hall, but even when he did come he kept telling everyone how much he was enjoying it and what a great time we were having together, while checking the voice mail on his mobile every thirty seconds. After an hour with him you’d simply lose the desire to live. “Don’t worry. He’ll outgrow it,” I’d try to tell Miron, as Uzi got caught up in another transatlantic call just when it was his turn to shoot. “Sure,” Miron would say in the tone of an ex-whacko who’s got it all figured out, “and if it’s doing the rounds, you’re next.”

The next morning, I woke up in a complete panic. I had no idea what was causing it. I lay there, pressing my back to the mattress, trying not to move till I could figure out what had me so scared. But the more time went by, the less I knew what had brought it on, and the more frightened I became. I lay there in bed frozen, telling myself in the second person as calmly as possible, Take it easy, man, take it easy. This isn’t really happening, it’s just in your head. But the thought that this thing, whatever it was, was inside my head made it a thousand times more horrifying. I decided to tell myself who I was, to say my name a few times in a row. That was bound to help me get a grip on myself. Except that even my name was gone all of a sudden. At least that got me up, though. I crawled around the house, searching for bills, mail, anything with my name written on it. I opened the front door and looked at the other side of it, where there’s an orange sticker with the inscription have a hell of a life! In the hallway there was the loud laughter of kids and the sound of footsteps approaching. I closed the door and leaned against it. Stay cool. In a minute you’ll remember, or not . . . maybe you never had a name. Whatever happens, that isn’t why you’re sweating so much or why your pulse is about to blow out your brains, that’s not it, it’s something else. Take it easy, I whispered to myself again. Take it easy. Whatever your name is, this can’t go on much longer. It’ll be over soon.
          Soon as it eased up a little, I phoned Uzi and Miron and arranged to meet them at the beach. It was only four hundred meters from my place, and I had no problem remembering how to get there, except that all the streets suddenly looked different and I had to keep stopping to make sure the signs were really the right ones. Everything looked different, not just the streets, even the sky was kind of squashed and low.
          “I told you your turn would come,” Miron said and sucked at the red tip of his Wave-on-a-Stick Popsicle. “First I lost it, then Uzi.” “I didn’t lose it,” Uzi protested. “I was just a little high, that’s all.” “Whatever you call it,” Miron went on. “It’s your turn now.” “Ron isn’t losing it either,” Uzi was beginning to get worked up. “Why do you keep putting those ideas in his head?” “Ron?” I asked, “Is that my name?” “Know what,” Uzi gave in, “maybe he has lost it a little. Give us a bite.” Miron handed him the Popsicle, knowing perfectly well he’d never see it again. “Tell me,” he asked, “when it started, didn’t you feel there was someone in your head?” “I don’t know,” I hesitated. “Maybe I did.” “I’m telling you,” Miron whispered, as if it were a secret. “I could feel him. He was saying things that only he could know. I’m sure it was Nimrod.”

Until he turned twelve, Nimrod was a shitty person. The kind of whiner that if he weren’t your best friend you’d have socked a long time ago. And then one day, just before his bar mitzvah, they put insoles in his shoes, and suddenly the guy was a whole new person. The truth is that Miron, Uzi, and me had been Nimrod’s friends even before that, except that now with the change in Nimrod, being friends with him became pleasant.
          Later, in high school, Uzi and me were in the honors program and Miron and Nimrod went to vocational school and mostly to the beach. Then came the army. Miron was drafted six months before us, and by the time our turn came he’d sucked up to enough people to make sure we’d all be in the same unit with cushy office jobs. Nimrod used to call it the padded pad.
          Most of the time we didn’t do anything except sit around in the canteen, threatening to file complaints against our commanders, and go home every day at five. Other than that, Uzi would surf at the Sheraton, I was forever jerking off, Miron took courses at the Open University, and Nimrod had a girlfriend. Nimrod’s girlfriend was as good as they get, and because all of us except him were virgins, that made her even better. I remember I once asked Miron what he would do—hypothetically—if she came to his house, say, and asked him to fuck her. And Miron said he didn’t know, but whatever he did, he’d regret it the rest of his life. Which is a nice answer, but knowing him he’d be sure to take the fucking option first and the regretting option second.
          But with Nimrod it wasn’t even that he was horny, he was simply in love with her. Her name was Netta, which is a name that I still love to this day, and she was a paramedic at the infirmary. Nimrod told me once that he could lie next to her in bed for hours without getting bored, and that the place he liked her to touch the most was the spot on his foot where everyone had an arch but his was flat.
          At the base we would do guard duty twice a month, and once every two months we had to stay the weekend, which Nimrod always managed to schedule when Netta had infirmary duty so that even on guard duty they could be together. A year and a half later, she left him. It was a strange kind of split, even she couldn’t really explain why it happened, and after that Nimrod didn’t care when his guard duty took place. One Saturday, Miron, Nimrod, and I were on duty together. Uzi had just managed to forge some kind of a medical pass for himself. We all had the same patrol—Miron first, Nimrod second, and me third. And even before I had a chance to replace Nimrod, this hysterical officer rushed in and said that the guy on duty had put a bullet through his head.

The second time Miron lost it, it was much more pleasant. We didn’t say a word to his parents. I simply moved in with him till it passed. Most of the time, he was quiet, sitting in the corner and writing a kind of book to himself, which was supposed to eventually replace the Bible. Sometimes, when we’d run out of beer or cigarettes, he would swear at me a little and say, with conviction, that I was a demon disguised as a friend and that I’d been sent to torment him. But other than that, he was almost bearable. Uzi, on the other hand, took his extended period of sanity very hard. He didn’t admit it, but he’d really had it with that skyrocketing international company of his. Somehow, whenever he was in a flip he had a lot more energy to write dreary prospectuses and things and go to boring meetings. And now that he was a bit more sane, the whole businessman thing was a lot more of a drag, even though it seemed his company was about to go public and he’d be raking in a couple of million with no extra effort. Me, I’d been fired from another job, and Miron, in a lucid moment off beer and cheap fags, claimed he was responsible as a result of his unearthly spiritual powers. I don’t know, maybe all those jobs just aren’t for me, and I simply need to sit it out till Uzi strikes it rich and tosses me a little.
          The second time Uzi went bonkers proved once and for all that there was definitely a rotation thing going on, and I started worrying because I knew I was next. Miron, who’d chilled out by then, kept insisting it had something to do with Nimrod. “I don’t know what he wants exactly. Maybe he wants us to even the score or something. But one thing’s for sure, so long as we don’t do it, whatever it is, I don’t think it’s going to stop.” “Even what score?” I countered. “Nimrod killed himself.” “How do you know?” Miron wouldn’t let it pass just like that. “Maybe it was murder? Besides, maybe it isn’t exactly vengeance. Maybe it’s just something he wants us to do so he can rest in peace. You know, like in those horror films, where they open up a beer joint on an ancient burial ground, and as long as it stays there, the ghosts can’t rest in peace.” In the end, we decided that Miron and me would go to the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery to make sure nobody had set up a coke-and-mineral-water stand on Nimrod’s grave by mistake. The only reason I agreed to go with him was because I was really freaked about it being my turn soon. The truth was that of the three of us, my crack-up was the least enjoyable.
          Nimrod’s grave had stayed exactly the same. We hadn’t been there in six years. At first, on the memorial day for fallen soldiers, his mother would call us. But with all those military rabbis and fainting aunts, we weren’t exactly keen on going. We kept telling ourselves we would go some other day, on our own special memorial day, except we always put it off. Last time we talked about it, Uzi said that actually every time we went to shoot pool or took in a movie or a pub or whatever, it was a commemoration of Nimrod, because when the three of us are together, even if we’re not exactly thinking about him, he’s there.
          It took Miron and me maybe an hour to find the grave, which actually looked well tended and clean, with a couple of stones on top as proof that someone had been there not too long before. I looked at the dates on the grave and thought about how I was just about to turn thirty, and Nimrod wasn’t even nineteen yet. It was kind of weird because somehow whenever I thought about him he was sort of my age, when in fact I hardly had any hair left and he was hardly more than a kid. On our way out, we returned the cardboard yarmulkes to the box by the gate, and Miron said he didn’t have any more ideas, but that we could always have a séance. Outside the cemetery, on the other side of the fence, there was a fat, shaggy cat chewing a piece of meat. I looked at him and, as if he felt it, he looked up from the chunk of meat and smiled at me. It was a mean and ruthless smile, and he went back to chewing the meat without lowering his gaze. I felt the fear running through my body, from the hard part of my brain to the soft part of my bones. Miron didn’t notice there was something wrong with me, and just continued talking. Relax, Ron, I told myself. The fact that I remembered my name made me so happy that tears came to my eyes. Take a deep breath, don’t fall apart. Whatever it is, it’ll be over soon. At that very moment, in the stinking office of some attorney in Petah Tikva, Uzi was chickening out of a deal that would transfer 33 percent of his company’s shares to an anonymous group of Polish investors for a million and a half bucks. Think about it, if only he’d stayed flipped out for another fifteen minutes, he could have taken us and the Turnip on a Caribbean cruise. Instead he was making his way home in a number 54 bus from Petah Tikva with a creep of a driver who wouldn’t even turn on the air conditioning.

When Uzi announced he was going to marry the Turnip, we hardly even put up an argument. Somehow we’d known it would happen. Uzi lied and said it was his idea, that it was mainly so he could take out a mortgage for an apartment he’d planned to buy anyway some place near Netanya. “How can you marry her?” Miron tried to reason with him, though without much conviction. “You don’t even love her.” “How can you say I don’t love her?” Uzi protested. “We’ve been together for three years. D’you know I’ve never cheated on her?” “That’s not because you love her,” Miron said. “It’s just because you’re uncoordinated.” We were shooting pool, and Uzi had clobbered both of us with the bull’s-eye shots of someone who’d made up his mind to squeeze every drop out of the little bit of luck he still had left, quickly, before it had a chance to run out. There was only the eight ball left, and it was Uzi’s turn. “Let’s make a bet,” I offered Uzi in an act of desperation. “If you pocket the eight ball, Miron and I will never call her Turnip again, ever. And if you miss, then you drop the whole wedding thing for a year.” “When it comes to feelings, I never make bets,” Uzi said and pocketed the eight effortlessly. “Besides,” he smiled, “it’s too late, we’ve already printed up the invitations.” “How could you make him such a bet?” Miron told me off later. “That shot was a sure thing.”
          By the time the date rolled around, Uzi had managed to lose it two more times, and on both occasions he said he would call it all off but then immediately changed his mind. As for me, I just crashed in Miron’s apartment. Now that we were wigged out most of the time, it was much nicer living together. And besides, I couldn’t really afford my own place. Miron had stolen a big pile of wedding invitations from Uzi, and we used them to make filters for joints. “How can you go and marry someone whose mother’s name is Yentl?” he asked Uzi whenever we had smoked a joint together, and Uzi would just stare at the ceiling and give that spaced-out laugh of his. The truth was I felt it wasn’t much of an argument, even though I was on Miron’s side.
          Three days before the wedding we held a séance. We bought a piece of blue construction paper, I drew all the letters on it with a black marker, and Miron got a glass from the kitchen, one of those cheap ones, and said he’d had it for ages, from his parents’ house, and that Nimrod must have used it. We turned out all the lights and placed the glass in the middle of the board. Each of us put a finger on it, and we waited. After five minutes, Uzi got tired and said he had to take a shit. He turned on the lights in the living room, found a week-old sports section, and locked himself in the bathroom. Meanwhile Miron and me rolled a joint. I asked Miron, if it had succeeded and the glass had moved, what did he expect to happen. That pissed Miron off, and he said it was too early to say it hadn’t succeeded and that just because Uzi gets bored with everything so quickly, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work. Finally Uzi came out of the bathroom, Miron switched off the lights again and asked all of us to concentrate. We put our fingers on the glass again and waited. Nothing happened. Miron insisted that we try again, and nobody could work up the energy to argue with him. A few minutes later, the glass began to move. Slowly at first, but within seconds it was racing all over the board. Miron wrote down each of the letters, keeping his finger on the glass the whole time. T-r-i-l-i-l-i-l-i-l-a the glass hummed, and came to a smooth stop on the exclamation mark in the right-hand corner of the paper. We waited a while longer, and nothing happened. Uzi turned on the light. “Tri-li-li-li-la, eh?” he said, annoyed. “What are we, in kindergarten or something? You moved it, Miron, so don’t you go pulling an Agent Mulder on me now. Tri-li-li-li-la? Goddamnit, okay. I’m dead beat. I’ve been up since seven. I’m going to sleep at Liraz’s.” Liraz was the Turnip’s name, and she lived close by. Miron kept staring at the page with the letters, and I read a bit in the sports supplement Uzi had taken to the bathroom, and when I had read it all I told Miron I was going to get some shut-eye. Miron said okay, but that first he just wanted us to give one more chance to the thing with the glass, because no matter how much he thought about it, that tri-li-li-li-la thing didn’t mean a thing to him. So we turned out the light again and put the glass in place. This time it started moving straight away, and Miron took down the letters. D-o-n-t-l-e-a-v-e-m-e-a-l-o-n-e, the glass said, and then it stopped again.

The wedding itself was awful, with a rabbi who thought he was a comedian and a DJ who played Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin. Miron actually met a girl there with a squeaky voice but a bod to kill for. After the ceremony, he even managed to get Uzi worried when he said that the glass he’d stepped on was the one we’d used for Nimrod’s séance. While this was going on, I got another one of my anxiety attacks and puked about two kilos of chopped liver in the toilet.
          That same night, Uzi and the Turnip flew off for their honeymoon in the Seychelles Islands. Me and Miron sat on the balcony drinking coffee. Miron had a new thing going now. Whenever he’d make us coffee, he’d always make one instant for Nimrod too, in the séance glass, and he’d put it on the table, the way you leave out a glass of wine for Elijah on Passover, and after we were through drinking, he’d spill it in the sink. Miron did a take-off of the DJ, and I laughed. The truth was that we were sad in a big way. You could call it chauvinist, possessive, egocentric, lots of names, but the whole wedding thing weighed down on us like a ton of bricks. I asked Miron to read me a chapter from that book of his, the one he writes whenever he flips and which is supposed to replace the Bible. The truth was I’d asked him a million times, and he’d never do it. When he’s flipped he’s scared someone will steal his ideas, and when he’s sane he’s simply embarrassed. “Come on,” I said, “just read me a chapter, like a kind of bedtime story.” And Miron was so depressed that he agreed. He pulled a bunch of scribbled pages out of his shoe drawer. Before he started reading, he looked at me and said, “You realize it’s just the two of us left now, don’t you? I mean, Uzi will still be one of us, and all, but he won’t be part of Nimrod’s rounds.” “How can you tell?” I protested, though in my heart I’d thought of this before he said it. “Listen,” Miron said. “Even Nimrod knows it isn’t right to pick on someone who’s already married. The way he flips us out isn’t always the best idea either, but the truth is that he wouldn’t be doing it to us if he didn’t feel in his heart that we agree. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re screwed, Ron. There’s just me and you, one week on and one week off, like kitchen duty.”
          Miron picked up the pile of pages and cleared his throat, like a radio announcer who chokes in the middle of reading the news.
          “And if one of us suddenly goes?” I asked.
          “Goes?” Miron looked up from his pages, confused. “Goes where?”
          “I don’t know,” I smiled. “Just goes. Imagine what if the chick of my dreams comes onto me in the street tomorrow, and we fall in love, and I marry her. Then you’d be the only one left to flip with Nimrod, full time, alone.”
          “Right.” Miron gulped down the last drops of his coffee. “Good thing you’re so ugly.”

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