April 11, 2013

A Table, A Chair, A Bowl Of Fruit

Table: 'a piece of furniture that has a flat top and one or more legs.' (Merriam-Webster) Sounds like a straightforward innovation that requires basic tools.

Israel is the new Silicon Valley of the east. Israeli researchers have developed USB flash drives, drip irrigation systems and nanowires. Want some fun? Israelis invented Rummikub. Thirsty? Israel’s original summer staple is Limonana (lemon juice with mint). Time for a snack? Crunch on Bamba, our original best-selling snack food.

If Israel is a leading innovator in medicine, economics, physics, optics, chemistry, biotechnology, theoretical computer science, computer hardware, computer software, agriculture and energy, then why can’t we have a table with a flat surface?

Case in point. We ordered a table for our living room. Since we could not find one that matched our furniture, we ordered a custom piece from a store in Tel Aviv. Since we wanted to have it for our daughter’s bat mitzvah party, we ordered it two months in advance.

“No problem,” we were told. “It should take two weeks.”

We gave the store our specific measurements. We brought in a sample floorboard so they could match the table top’s color.  We left them a deposit and our phone number. They sketched the design on a piece of paper and we left the store.

Two weeks went by. Nothing. I called the store.

“I am so happy you called. I wanted to get in touch with you but I don’t have your number. Your table is almost ready.”

That’s strange, I thought; my phone number was on the design sheet. If they don’t have my number, what are they working from?

I called again a week later.

“I am so happy you called. The table is ready, but they placed the shelf too low. I am sending it back and it will be ready soon.”

I called two weeks later.

“I am so happy you called. The table is ready. It will be delivered Monday.

I called on Monday.

“It will be delivered on Thursday.”

I called on Thursday.

“There is a problem with the color of the glass. We want you to have a perfect table. It will be ready next Thursday.”

I called back in a week, biting my nails. (The bat mitzvah party was a mere four days away.)

“So glad you called. The delivery man is coming to you tomorrow.”

Morning. No table. Afternoon. No table. Delivery guy AWOL. We parked our furniture anxieties aside as many out of town relatives arrived to celebrate with us and they were all coming to dinner. Just as we were ready to sit down, the delivery guy knocked on the door. The table was here!

Everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as we unwrapped our custom table and placed it in its proud position in the living room. And then there was silence.

My husband ran to his toolbox and came back brandishing a level. He placed it on the glass top and everyone, all twenty of us, including the delivery guy, watched the little bubble floating in the level, finally settling to the far right of center.

“This table is not level,” my husband pronounced. 

The delivery guy, still astonished by the level, muttered under his breath, “In my life, I have never seen such a thing.” That is, until the proverbial table leg hit the fan.

“I am not paying for this,” my husband yelled, repositioning the level. “Take it back.”

The delivery guy scrambled and called his boss. There was an exchange of words and numbers. The food was getting cold and the conversation was getting hot.

Vexed, my husband proclaimed, “The owner wants me to pay in full and says he will pick up the table later and then fix it. Am I a fryer?”

Before we knew it, the owner jumped in his car and was making a beeline to our house. Dinner was on the table and was cold. The driver was sitting on our stairs nervously looking at the level and then at the crowd. I was looking at the driver and wondering if I should set a place for him at the table. The table sat in its corner looking despondent and crooked.

We ate and drank. The delivery guy refused our offers to join us, preferring to sit on the stairs and becoming more despondent than the table…until there was an abrasive knock on the door.

Two brothers descended on our merry party and then all twenty-three of us watched the bubble on the level as it pondered, then positioned itself off-center.

The brothers conferred. We added our two bits and then they asked for our tools. Our tools? Were they not master furniture makers?  Was this not a custom piece? Are tables supposed to be sloped?

By the time we finished dessert, they invited us for a demonstration. It was a refurbished table that was, lo and behold, straight. The brothers beamed. The delivery guy caressed the table. We all nodded in assent as if this were the most innovative table that ever was. As Einstein once said, "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” 

The brothers carefully counted every hundred shekel bill, paid the poor, starving, depraved delivery guy and left.

Amidst the chaos, I did not mention that the color was wrong. Completely. I had given them a brown floorboard to match the wooden shelf. They had told me over the phone that the color was perfect, then returned the brown floorboard with a black table. Details. Perhaps Israel should invest some research into color blindness.

Although this country seems to have its head soaring high in the academic clouds, its shoes are often worn on the wrong feet.

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