September 1, 2011

Suku, Mikal and the Russians

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You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently. I’ve spent a year of my life overseas, including a few summers in the Middle East and a semester abroad, and I’m trying to take some lessons from it all. And something I’ve realized is that, wherever I travel, I’ve met crazy people. You can’t escape them.

Take Suku. I met him in Israel back in 2007 when I worked on a “kibbutz,” or cooperative farm, a place called Mishmar HaSharon, except we nicknamed it Mishmar HaShithole. And for all you lefties who think that “cooperative” part sounds inspiring, let me tell you, it was a lot of dragging nets in the industrial fish ponds at 5 a.m., and reeking like fish shit for the rest of the day. Industrial fish shit, which is probably more concentrated than ordinary fish shit. What do I know. But back to Suku.

It was one of those summer evenings in Israel, when it’s 95 degrees out and there’s really nothing to do (especially in Mishmar) except chain-smoke and bathe in your own sweat. And the most chain-smoking of all the chain-smoking bastards was Suku, who strolled over in his undershirt to where I was sitting, and offered to help me study Hebrew. He was about 23, a former combat soldier in the British army, who had since immigrated to Israel. The guy was short (around 5’7’’), but strong — not distorted like some body builder, just lean and powerful. You wouldn’t want to mess with him, if his scarred knuckles and face attested to anything.

Suku had a friend named Michal, or Mikael, or Mikal — I don’t know how to spell it, and it was pronounced differently every time I heard it. Anyway this guy Mikal or whatever was this big, dumb, lumbering American around Suku’s age. He was a head taller than Suku and at least 40 pounds heavier. I hated the bastard; he was the embodiment of ignorance, arrogance and apathy combined. So I was pretty happy when every now and then, Suku would tell Mikal to just shut the fuck up. This, Mikal would do, instantaneously and meekly.

I have to admit, that while I was definitely more pleased with the silent version of Mikal than the loud and obnoxious one, I wondered why he listened to the commands of someone a head shorter than he was. So, one of those sweaty chain-smoking evenings when Suku had just insulted Mikal, I asked the big idiot why he put up with this abuse. Suku exhaled a cloud of smoke with a grin.

“Hey Mikal,” he said, “Give me your arm.” Mikal calmly extended his right arm, and Suku pushed his lit cigarette into its flesh. And the most bizarre part was, Mikal didn’t even flinch. I looked closer, and with horror realized that his whole arm, from wrist to shoulder, was covered in those little circle burns. Some were almost healed, the new skin pale white; others were fresh and scabbing over. These guys had to be clinically insane.

“That’s how I keep him in line,” Suku noted, while Mikal passively looked on. And over the next few weeks, I observed Mikal fetch things for Suku and otherwise obey all his commands, while I heard rumors of the beatings Suku would mete out to his minion for misbehavior.

But it gets stranger. One night Mikal limped home to the apartment he shared with Suku, his eyes almost swollen shut, and his lip split open — I saw it with my own eyes. Some Russians that Mikal knew had finally decided to teach the annoying bastard a lesson. Suku asked Mikal what the Russians’ names were, and left. He strolled back a few hours later, grinning and unharmed — except for his bloodied knuckles, a testament to what must have befallen the Russians. Nobody fucked with Mikal except for Suku.

Kind Suku! He was always so friendly when he ran into me, inviting me to eat lunch with him and meet his friends. Always polite as can be, and quick to smile, he was well-liked around Mishmar. Who was this creature who could be warm and sociable in one moment, cold and cruel the next? Maybe he was a sociopath, a manipulator devoid of true emotions and conscience. Or maybe he sensed that apathetic Mikal needed a taskmaster, and he, Suku, needed someone to control — and what developed was a symbiotic and sadomasochistic relationship of chance.

You know what, though? All psychoanalysis and morbid fascination aside, it’s all just fucking crazy, Suku and Mikal and the cigarette burns and the Russians. It could be that there are actually more bozos abroad than here in the U.S., though I think we just tend to notice them because we’re hyper-observant when we travel. Either way, keep that in mind, all you would-be travelers. If you don’t like nutjobs, don’t leave the U.S.. Or better yet, just don’t leave your house, because the world is full of crazy people. It really is.

Jonathan Panter is a senior in the College of Arts  and Sciences. He may be reached at jpanter@cornellsun.com. The Storyteller appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Jonathan Panter