Travels With Yossi--Part II
While the Boy was in the hospital, Yossi and his mom visited him daily. After one of those visits, Yossi offered to take me on an errand I needed to run. En route, he received a call from a 'client' who calls him regularly for transportation.
This 'client' is a guy just a few years younger than Yossi, but who has been disabled from birth. Yossi started providing transportation to him about eight years ago, and they became friends, of sorts. In the interests of privacy, I'll call this client "Ari" which is not his real name.
Ari has called taxis on many prior ocassions....and in the usual manner of taxi drivers, they pull up to his building at the designated time, honk, wait five minutes and then leave. They often leave without Ari, because Ari is struggling to get his socks and shoes on, to fix the foot rests of his wheelchair, to find his keys and his 'tik' with his wallet, MP3 and other necessities. He isn't always able to wheel himself out of the house at exactly 9:00 am for a ride to work.
Another problem with Ari's transportation is that he has often called a taxi, and when the drivers saw a guy with limited eyesight, the wheelchair and the obvious muscle control problems which Ari exhibits, they often just drive away. Passengers with wheelchairs are a problem many drivers simply refuse to deal with.
Over the years, Ari and Yossi developed a relationship beyond that of driver/passenger. This is in large part due not to Ari's dependence but to Yossi's soft heart. When Ari didn't come outside to the curb at 9:00 am precisely, instead of driving away, Yossi parked the cab and went to the door, banging on it until Ari answered. He saw Ari's struggle with the footgear -- one sock was on, one sock wasn't on, and the shoes were still on the floor next to the wheelchair footrests.Yossi helped him put on the sock and shoes, attached the wheelchair footrests to the wheelchair, gathered up Ari's 'tik' and made sure his wallet and other things were in it, then wheeled him out to the taxi.
Yossi became Ari's regular 'driver' and took him to and from work, to and from an after-work adult social center for disabled adults, but more importantly, took him "out" when Ari wanted to go to the mall and go shopping, or go get his hair cut, or wanted to go to Sambooki and get a bagel toast, and generally try to live a life outside the narrow confines of what is provided to the disabled. Yossi has even driven him to the beach at Ashdod for pizza, a cool breeze and a nice view.
Yossi doesn't do this for free. He needs to make a living as a taxi driver, but he arranged to bill Ari's father monthly for the cost of the transport to the job site and the adult center and back. If Ari wants to go to the mall, go out to lunch (he works part-time), get a haircut or go to the beach, then Ari pays the freight from his disability allowance and his income. It isn't a free ride for Ari, but neither does Yossi take advantage of it: he charges him like he charges any customer--and sometimes throws in a discount for long rides to Ashdod so Ari can enjoy the boardwalk.
Yossi has also protected Ari from the bottom-feeders of society who prey on the elderly and disabled. These cretins are the people I most enjoyed prosecuting when I was working because of their predations on the most susceptible victims in our society.
I found this out almost by chance. Yossi is aware of my former occupation, and he picked me up from ulpan one day in a rage. He had in his hand the torn up pieces of a personal check.
"What's this?" I asked.
He told me that after taking me to ulpan, he had driven to Ari's home to take him to work. Once again, he went inside to help Ari get ready and he saw several personal checks lying on the table in the front hallway. He looked at them and saw all of them were drawn on Ari's personal checking account, and each check was successively larger in amount than the earlier check. Each check was made out to a 'charity' Yosi had never heard of.
"What are these checks for?" he asked Ari.
Ari balked, clearly uncomfortable with the probing. Finally he admitted that a 'rabbi' had come to his door seeking tzedakah and so he wrote a check to the 'rabbi's' organization. These funds were supposedly to feed the poor of Geula. However, the first check wasn't acceptable to the 'rabbi' who told Ari that certainly he could make a larger contribution. Ari ended up writing larger and larger checks until finally the rabbi was satisfied and walked out the door with a check for six thousand shekels.
Six thousand shekels is a huge amount of money for most people in Israel. It is as much or more than many people make in a month.
It wiped Ari out.
Yossi somehow teased the name of the rabbi out of Ari, and then drove him to work, telling the distraught man not to worry. After depositing Ari at work, Yossi telephoned the number on the sheet which the 'rabbi' had left with Ari. A woman answered the phone, confirmed that "Mr.Goniff" did in fact work at this organization. Yossi told her that he needed to meet with him and what was the address of the organization, as it was not on the paper the 'rabbi' had left with him? She gave Yossi the address, and confirmed what he already suspected--that "Mr. Goniff" wasn't a rabbi but merely the head of this unlisted "charitable organization."
Yossi drove promptly to Geula, and found that the address was that of a small apartment on an upper floor. There was nothing on the building, the mailbox or the door that indicated it was anything other than a residence. He telephoned "Mr. Schmidt" and spoke to him.
"Hello, you took a check from Ari ben Canaan last night? He lives on Rehov Aleph? Remember? For 6,000 shekels?" he pressed.
Mr. Schmidt didn't remember until Yossi told him he was holding the receipt....then Mr. Schmidt recalled hazy details of the transaction.
"He's disabled, you recall? He's in a wheelchair. Certainly you remember that?" Yossi continued.
Ah, yes, he recalled now, a fine young man, very generous.
"How can you take advantage of a man who is disabled, can't see well, is in a wheelchair and depends upon his disability payment to help him make ends meet?" Yossi snapped.
"And just what business is it of yours?" Mr. Goniff snapped back.
"He's my brother," Yossi replied tersely. "Maybe you'd like to return that check to me before I do something official, like involve the police?"
Mr. Goniff laughed out loud. "The police? Why would the police care?" he hooted disdainfully.
"Because Ari is my brother and I'm a police officer--you're ripping off one of our own when you rip off my brother," Yossi retorted.
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. "What do you want from me?" Goniff demanded.
"I want the check returned to my hand, right now, and I want you to never contact my brother again," Yossi told him.
"Okay, you can have the check--where are you?"
"Right outside, parked at the curb," Yossi stated.
A moment later, a fat man garbed in full black-hat regalia appeared at the door of the building, and looked up and down the street for a police car. Yossi was leaning calmly against the passenger side of the cab, looking straight at Goniff.
Goniff caught the look. "You?! You!! You're nothing but a cab driver! You're not a cop!!" he sputtered in a rage.
"So?" Yossi snarled. "You want a cop, I can get one here in five minutes!" he retorted, holding up his cellphone.
"Pfah!" Goniff huffed, turning away. Yossi started dialing.
"No, no, now, no need for that!" Goniff said. "Here's the check--just give me the receipt."
Yossi told me that this was his mistake--he handed the receipt to Goniff before getting the check in hand. Once Goniff had the receipt, he tore the check into shreds and dropped it on the sidewalk, then ran back upstairs and slammed the door. Yossi picked up all the shreds and laboriously pasted them all to a piece of paper, so that the jig-saw-puzzle check was legible.
"Sarah, you are a criminal lawyer--will the police take this as evidence?"
Yes, they would, I told him. Whether or not they would do anything about making a case against Goniff when the victim has been made whole by Yossi's actions is dubious, and I said so. "It can't hurt to try."
Yossi opted instead to tell Ari not to write checks to strangers, no matter what the cause, and then told Ari's father about the matter so he would be alerted to any attempts to extort money from Ari.
This wasn't the first time.....several years earlier, a local predator refused to leave Ari's apartment unless Ari wrote him a check for a large sum. Ari, fearful that he would be hurt, wrote the check and then called Yossi.
Yossi knows the street. Yossi also knows the predator and saw him at the makolet down the street from Ari's home. After talking to Ari, Yossi walked up to the makolet. "Give me the check, and I won't call the police," he told the predator. "F#@$ you! Mind your own business," the predator replied, standing up so he could tower over Yossi.
"Give me the check and that's the end of it -- no trouble from the police," Yossi offered reasonably. "Don't give me the check, and I'll take Ari to the bank the moment it opens tomorrow, stop the check, have him fill out an affidavit that you extorted it from him, and call the police. You don't want this kind of trouble, believe me."
"You screw with me like this and I'll kill you," predator threatened.
"You do what you have to do, but if I don't leave here with the check, you're in a world of trouble tomorrow." Yossi said with apparent equanimity. The bluff worked. Predator handed over the check.
"And don't go near Ari again, you understand?" Yossi added. Predator hasn't bothered Ari since then.
No good deed goes unpunished, my grandfather used to tell me. This year, due to the general rise in the cost of living, and particularly in the cost of gasoline, Yossi told Ari's father that he was going to charge 5 shekels more per ride. That totals an increase of 35 shekels per week.
Ari's father is rich. He lives in villa, holds a well-paid prestigious position, makes an enormous salary and earns 50,000 NIS for each of his consultations outside the country, which consultations take place approximately every month.
What did Ari's father do? He fired Yossi. 35 shekels more a month was too much, and he hired another cab driver to drive his son.
Ari hasn't made it to work in a week but once. The other driver simply drives away if Ari isn't outside, on the sidewalk at precisely 9:00 am. And one day, even though he was outside on time, the driver called him after an hour and told Ari, "Take another cab--I'm too busy to come get you today." Needless to say, Ari doesn't get to go to the mall, have lunch at Sambooki and socialize, or get his hair cut or go shopping any more with the new driver.
Thursday, Ari called Yossi. "I want to go out and get my hair cut," he pleaded. "Will you take me?"
Of course Yossi took him.
"Just don't tell my father, " Ari begged.
Yossi kept that secret, too. After all, Ari is his brother and brothers keep each other's secrets.