By Steven Wenick
It was on a miserably cold and rainy December evening in 1959 that Montezuma decided to visit his revenge upon me for the first time.
As a new member of a communal farm named, Kibbutz Sheluchot in the Beit She’an valley of Israel, I had adapted quickly to most of the rigors of kibbutz life—but not all. My primary job was to gather and vaccinate recently hatched chicks to immunize them against a deadly strain of avian influenza. Working amidst the droppings of thousands of recently hatched chicks, as they chirped, fed and pooped their way to adulthood, foreshadowed what was to follow.
I soon discovered that I was not immune to a wicked intestinal virus, commonly found in the Middle East and called Shilshul by the locals. In the interest of propriety I’ll only say that the sound of its name is an accurate onomatopoeic description of what it is. The hut I occupied at the time had neither indoor nor outdoor plumbing—not too good for someone with my condition.
Fast-forward to just before last Passover, the day before my daughter Jennifer’s wedding. Although the nuptials were conducted in a hotel in Jerusalem, Montezuma was still able to track me down from Mexico to my room at the Mt. Zion Hotel (I guess GPS technology isn’t all good.)
Twice stricken, I frantically sought a stopgap in order to get through the wedding day. When I told the hotel concierge that I needed something for an “upset stomach,” he hailed a taxi to take me to a pharmacy. The cabbie turned out to be an elderly Sabra named Yaakov Mizrachi. His deep Mediterranean complexion nicely complemented the silver mustache he sported, in an Omar Sharif kind of way. His black beret added a finishing touch helping to make his appearance suit his name.
As I clambered into the back seat of Yaakov’s garishly appointed cab, replete with hamsa (good luck charm) and dangling tassels, he asked why I needed a pharmacy.
“Hmmm,” he responded knowingly, suggesting a remedy that would fix my problem chick chock (immediately). “It’s better than anything a doctor will tell you to do,” he guaranteed. What was it? “Just eat cooked rice and drink plenty of Coca Cola,” he said, in a voice with the gravitas of a gastroenterologist’s.“If they don’t do the trick, I’ll pay for them,” he added as an afterthought.
Having put the cab in gear Yaakov slammed down on the accelerator, thrusting my head against the headrest as we bolted forward, signaling that our quest for a cure had started. After making stops at a near bye Super-Pharm for pills, then at Ezra’s Grill for a take-out order of cooked white rice and finally at the local convenience store for a liter of Coke, our ride came to a screeching halt at the hotel entrance. I caught my breath, paid my fare, gathered my packages and climbed out of the cab. As we parted, Yaakov volunteered some added pro bono advice, saying, “And eat some bananas too.”
The cures—or at least one of them—worked, and I was able to celebrate my daughter’s wedding without any unwanted visitors. To this day I wonder about where to direct my gratitude. To a cabbie named Yaakov? A pill? A bowl of rice? A liter of Coca-Cola? Or just a bunch of bananas?
Let’s hope I never have to answer that question again.