LESLEE AND DR. ISAAC CARVER
“THE WHEELS OF CHANCE”
Swigging a malt brew, with a cigarette tucked above his right ear, Isaac L. Carver, Ph.D. was standing, up to his gray, sweat-stained, soft-wool fedora in …
… an excavation pit scooped out of the Negev Desert floor. He was wearing a perspiration-soaked, non-logo tee-shirt because he totally rejected the idea of being a billboard for any ‘goddamn corporation’ without being duly compensated. A worn leather belt, with the words Archeology<>Dig It! inscribed on a round pewter buckle, was wrapped around his waist holding up a knee-holed pair of washed-out jeans. Carver took a long chug-a-lug and wiped his hand across his mouth. The beer provided a modicum of relief from the unrelenting heat of the desert sun. Zack never drank real booze on the job. It was his only hard and fast rule.
In his younger, more sober days, Isaac Carver was regarded as a prodigy and to his credit, at the age of twenty-two, he earned Harvard doctorates in both archeology and anthropology. Zack therefore considered himself an archeoanthropologist or if the occasion required—an anthroarcheologist. However, most who knew him basically considered him an obnoxious prick in the extreme. Though he did have an intelligence quotient well in excess of one hundred and fifty, he unfortunately also had an intoxication quotient in excess of 150—proof.
A wiry and rugged-looking twenty-six, Zack had recently completed his second semester as a Professor of Archeology at Arizona State University and also completed his first stab at wedded bliss. His ex doctoral thesis advisor, Alida Gray, also became his first wife and first ex-wife.
Included in Dr. Carver’s teaching curriculum was an official archeological dig, and to lend a tone of authenticity to impress his latest entourage of Indiana Jones wannabes, Zack secured a position as a guest instructor at Tel Aviv University. The money was good and he needed the additional funding to pay part of the freight for his recent, self-induced marital train-wreck. In order to qualify for certain government grants, it was required that the program be open to a limited number of worthy students from other schools. And so it was that the Negev Desert would provide the summer playground wherein Carver’s varied collection of rookie, relic-moles could gain some practical experience.
She walks like a penguin, Zack thought as he watched her shamble timidly past some of the other archeo-tyros and toward his hole in the desert sand. It looks unnatural. Her arms don’t swing at all. They just hang stationary at her sides, like a rag-doll’s. As she waddled along; her klutzy gait and almost waist-length hair made her seem out of touch and out of rhythm with everything around her—a classic misfit. If first impressions really mattered, this meeting had false-start written all over it. Therefore, neither one of the parties to this paradoxical encounter could have had the slightest inkling of the exceptionally significant role they would each play as shapers of destiny.
Clutching a crumple of paperwork with a trembling hand, Leslee R. Myles clumsily extended her arm toward Zack. He impatiently stared at her and waited—after a few pregnant seconds and a few self-conscious glances at some of the other young ‘dig we must’ crew-members, she managed to coax her voice up to a mumble and croak out in meek and barely audible tones, “Ummm, uhhh … hi, Dr. Carver, I … I’m Leslee Myles.”
Following a few phlegmy, tuberculin-sounding cigarette coughs, Zack dragged himself out of the trench and stood up. Being six-feet tall, he was surprised to find that he was almost eye to eye with this uneasy, lumpish figure. Zack brusquely snatched the hodgepodge of documents from Leslee’s outstretched hand, and began separating the pages. As he proceeded scanning through each wrinkled leaf, the bulk of his annoyance gurgled to the surface. “I didn’t need this right now,” he bristled, then drained the remaining amber liquid, crushed its container and tossed it on a recycle mini-mound where it clanked against a substantial heap of other dead aluminum players. He continued shuffling through Leslee’s rumpled file, then removed the cigarette from behind his ear and lit it. “You’re a week late!” he rasped through a mouthful of smoke. “And fuck! Archeology was only your goddamned minor … and you plan on going to law school!”
“Well … I’m gonna apply to … to …” Leslee stammered.
“I told those bastards, I wanted science majors … master and doctoral candidates only. Damned imbeciles!” he roared and then returned his attention to the papers. “Suck-hole grades as well. Pretty sorry-assed student, aren’t you?” He said without looking up. “How the hell do you expect to be accepted into any law school with numbers like these?”
“Well, uh yes, Dr. Carver, I mean, I don’t know but I …” Once more Leslee looked around and couldn’t find anything to say that would be coherent, much less helpful, so she just stared blankly like an abandoned Muppet.
Zack took another drag on his coffin-nail. “Look, Ms. Myles, you’ll do us both a big favor if you cut the bullshit.” With each fricative and plosive syllable Zack uttered, wisps of secondhand smoke came out in small bursts and swirled around Leslee who coughed several times and then took a step back. Zack took another puff and exhaled it to the side. “I know, I know, you thought it would be way cool to spend the summer at a real archeological dig.”
“But I really like studying archeology, it’s …”
“I couldn’t tell by your transcript. You got a C in it … crappy grades … strike one! You’re not a science major. Strike two!! And finally, you‘re gonna be a fifth-year student. Strike three!!! There it is.” Zack made the baseball out sign with his thumb and simultaneously shouted, “Yer out, not qualified for the program.” Then realizing, “But how the hell did you get in?” Zack read a bit further and then a light bulb came on. “Oh, along came daddy Myles. He made a donation to buy you a slot.”
Leslee knew that was not quite the case. “No … uhhh … it was Uncle Mal. He’s on the board at Arizona State.”
“Uncle Mal, daddy, whatever,” Zack grumbled. “Okay, here it is. Don’t even think that you’re gonna get any preferred status here. You won’t be digging in prime areas.” Zack grabbed a broken chunk of pottery from a wooden sifter on the ground. “It’s not like the Indiana Jones stuff. It’s sweaty and dirty and grinding … and there’s no Ark of the Covenant or Holy Grail at the end of it. There’s mainly pottery, shards of pottery and if you’re lucky … maybe a spearhead or two. Isn’t that right, everybody?” The small company of amateur, artifact-baggers looked up from their ground-based chores, nodded vacantly and then carried on with their burrowing.
“And so Miss Rich-Girl,” Carver went on, “you will work your ass off like everyone else, or you’ll be home in time for the Fourth of July fireworks at the Beverly Hills Country Club.”
“Uhhh … Malibu, Dr. Carver.”
“Who in the fuck cares?”
In truth, Sanford Myles did not necessarily have Leslee’s best interests at heart when asked his brother Mal to make the arrangements for her to go to Israel. He did it mainly because he saw the opportunity to ship his underachieving problem child off for someone else to deal with—someone else who would badger, bully and berate his only daughter who was toting around enough psychological baggage to fill the hole Zack had been standing in—and then some. Although Leslee’s loose-fitting garments partially masked thirty-five plus pounds of chunky, there wasn’t much she could do to hide the clunky. At the end of the day—any day—Leslee Myles was just a few weaves short of being a total basket case.
Zack quartered Leslee in a tent instead of one of the prefabricated aluminum lean-tos, and as the days plodded by he assigned her to every shit detail he could think of and some that broke entirely new fecal ground. She dug, sifted, stooped and scraped in the sweltering desert sun from before light until after dark. She would bruise, bleed, burn and ache until she welcomed numb. At times she felt as if she were excavating the entire Negev Desert on her own. But she never complained or showed the slightest sign of dissatisfaction in regard to the grueling work. She looked at it as a way of doing penance for all her frailties; inherent and acquired.
After several weeks, Leslee realized that something totally unexpected was happening. Because she was essentially being left alone with her labors, the incessant pressure and criticism that was so much a part of her life had mostly evaporated. This left her psyche free to be the Taoist un-carved block which made her receptive to a way forward—a way that might hopefully see her gain a sense of who she really was. To her great surprise, instead of feeling physically drained at the end of each day, Leslee was actually finding the work to be invigorating and she discovered that with each passing sunset she was anxiously anticipating the smell of the next morning’s desert air. She was like an athlete getting a second wind, and no matter how early Zack arrived at the site, Leslee was already there digging and sifting. The harder and more drudgery-intensive the work got, the more she wrapped herself in it. In her mind it was a form of redemption and she began to wear the toil like a protective veil which all at once seemed to shield her from her demons both within and without. Leslee had always been a half-a-tone flat and dissonant to the key of life’s music, but now she was becoming attuned to the harmony of the natural concert playing all around her.
When Jewish boys and girls reach the age of thirteen they have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. These are traditional religious ceremonies that commemorate their rite of passage into adulthood and its inherent responsibilities. Leslee’s Hebrew name was Leah Rifka and in preparation for her Bat Mitzvah it was compulsory for her to read and speak Hebrew. Having acquired some familiarity with the Hebrew language, young Leah Rifka figured that it would be a breeze subject at Beverly Hills High—it wasn’t. But now in the land of Israel, due to her constant exposure to it, she truly began picking up its cadence and pitch and was amazed that she was actually starting to think in the Hebrew tongue. She also began to stand taller, walk less gawkily and speak less haltingly. The need to eat became a practical matter as opposed to an obsession, and for both coolness and convenience she had her overly-long auburn hair cut short. Makeup became a trivial matter.
After nearly a month, Leslee’s impromptu life-style adjustments began to provoke unforeseen side-effects. Some of the men on the project, who at first hardly even thought of Leslee as a female, began to pay attention to her and would vie to get assigned to the same dig site where she was working. Gary Layton, a USC senior, actually asked her out on a date, and they spent several evenings dining together—with no side deals.
In the fifth week of Leslee’s Negev experience, while she was exploring a hillside cave, Gary slithered into the cramped area and began whispering warm-fuzzies, kissing her neck and nibbling her ear. This was dark territory for her and at first she didn’t know how to handle the situation. So far Gary had been a gentleman.
“Gary, not now,” Leslee objected but as her lips formed the w at the end of now, Gary’s mouth was pressed against them and his tongue was heading toward her tonsils. Oddly, she didn’t find herself put off by Gary’s aggression. He certainly kissed a lot better than Georgie Weiss, and she found the experience somewhat pleasant. However, before she knew it, Gary unbuttoned and unzipped her khaki cargos and his hand began creeping where no hand, other than her own and her OB/GYN’s, had crept before. She tried to push him away, but he resisted. It was time to draw the line and Leslee’s rich-girl terrorist training kicked in. Being less than three inches shy of six feet, she was easily able to force her right knee between Gary’s legs. She could have driven her knee hard into his crotch, rung his bell and won a giant stuffed panda right then and there. Instead she decided on minimal action and chose to simply take a long step forward.
“That’s enough,” she bayed, as her move upset Gary’s balance and slammed him hard against the opposite wall. After he smashed into and bounced off of the rock, Leslee grabbed his hand, spun him around, locked his arms and wrists up behind him and applied leverage to force him down and drive him like a wheelbarrow toward the daylight—with some serious attitude. “Yeow,” Gary bellowed, in reaction to the intense pain.
Zack, alerted by the shrill expression of apparent discomfort, turned in the direction of the disquieting yelp just in time to see Gary come flying out of the cave entrance as if he were launched, and as a finale, crash and burn into a mound hot desert sand—face-first. Zack cringed at hearing the sound of the resulting muted crunch.
A few seconds later, Leslee, looking somewhat disheveled, stepped out through the cave opening. Zack was very quick to notice that she was buttoning her shorts. Gary in the meantime didn’t notice much of anything. He was too busy spitting out a generous helping of the gritty dune, riding out the dull pain in his groin area and fighting to hold down his lunch. Zack, however, immediately did the math and without a word he rushed over to Gary, grabbed a handful of his shirt, and pulled the would-be ladies’ man nose to nose.
“Listen, you walking hard-on, this is not a goddamn singles bar. It’s ARCHE-ology, not BI-ology. You wanna get laid, go to some pick-up joint or get yourself a pro. I catch your ass coming on to …” Zack turned in Leslee’s direction …“what’s your name again?”
“Leslee Rose Myles,” she answered as she finished straightening her clothing.
“Right,” Zack said and glared back at Gary. “If you make one more horned-toad move on … Rosy here, you’re gonna be stateside before you can say ‘what the fuck?’ Got it?” Leslee never liked being called Rosy. There was a Leslie in her summer camp group and every year she would have to endure being called Rosy to distinguish her from the very popular Leslie Ginsberg.
After being read the riot act by Dr. Carver, Gary dolefully nodded in the affirmative and without another word dragged himself toward the hole in the hillside. Skulking away, he looked back over his shoulder at Leslee.
“Sorry, Ms. Myles, I was out of line,” he acknowledged. “I know it’s not an excuse, but you smell so nice and you stopped wearing all that gooey stuff on your face and your hair looks great.” Leslee, not wanting to encourage Gary, just shrugged her shoulders. However, she gushed a bit inside and had to apply some serious lip muscle to fight off the satisfied grin that was threatening to creep onto her lips.
“Thanks, Dr. Carver, I’d like to get back to work now,” she said and turned to follow Gary toward the cave.
Zack put out a hand to stop her. “No, uh … Rosy, you’ve had enough of that pecker-head. I think it would be better if you come over to the main dig and work with me. We’re down near the 3000-BC level. I’ll show you some of the more promising areas, and you can choose one of them to excavate on your own.”
Zack didn’t have the slightest idea why he did this. Maybe he saw something in her that was—no. Maybe he had a hunch—not likely. Maybe it was compassion—not possible. Whatever unexplained thought-train was rumbling through his mind, Isaac L. Carver, a man with no patience for anything or anyone but himself went out of his way to be kind to Leslee and even upgraded her living quarters.
In the next several weeks, the newfound reinforcement Leslee received from Zack so focused her that on her own she unearthed several rather substantial artifacts that dated back over five millennia. But her most important achievement happened very late in the summer. Zack became embroiled in a legal hassle with the local authorities when a dispute cropped up regarding the legitimacy of his dig. The landowner alleged that Leslee had picked out a site not within the dimensional dictates of the contract. That particular dig yielded an intact, circa 3000-B.C. Sumerian water jar probably from a passing ancient caravan. Leslee surprised herself by logically interpreting the written agreement and convincing the powers that be that Zack’s actions fell within the dictates of the deal. Leslee, by now fairly conversant in Hebrew, introduced herself to the landlord Elon Margalite as Leah Rifka Millstein. Her original family name was Millstein before Sanford changed it to Myles. With some assistance from several of the local students on the dig, she explained to Mr. Margalite, in his native tongue, that he had misinterpreted the measurements.
“The contract terms were set forth in kilometers,” Margalite sputtered in a rat-tat-tat burst of Sephardic Hebrew, fully expecting Leslee to be unable to interpret. Leslee was right with him, however, and her words came out with equal velocity as she displayed the contract.
“Mr. Margalite, with all due respects … if you will kindly look at the definitions page, it states in no uncertain terms that the excavation areas referred to are expressed in miles and not kilometers. Miles are two-fifths longer than kilometers. Thereby ten miles encompass more area than ten kilometers. I assure you that there was not a spade full of sand or an artifact taken outside the perimeters specified in the agreement.”
Before they knew it they were all laughing, singing Israeli folk songs and drinking plum wine. They all became pals and Elon Margalite showed up at the dig after each day’s work to hang out with the college professor and “that nice, tall, and very bright” Millstein girl.
For the good work she did, Zack rewarded Leslee with the first A of her collegiate life. Her hard labor in the scorching Middle Eastern desert sun also brought additional and unanticipated bonuses. By the end of the summer, the thirty-five pounds of chunky became less than ten; the clunky was barely evident; and the hint of attractiveness that Gary Layton spoke of was handing a pink slip to the old, misfit version of Leslee Myles.
On the night before they were to depart Tel Aviv, Leslee, draped only in the sheer curtain that hung in her room, slipped into Zack’s hotel suite and served herself up on a platter to him. “Ms. Myles, you’re a student, for God’s sake!” Zack insisted, despite the fact that after his divorce his love-life was nonexistent.
“Uh-uh, I’m over twenty-one and school’s out,” Leslee purred as if it were an invitation and then held up her final grade card. “I got an A,” she added as she walked over to the bed and planted herself on a corner near the headboard.
Zack considered all the people that he had hurt and disappointed through the years. “Look, I’m sorry, but you’re just not my type,” he said, knowing full well that he was lying through his teeth. Although not much outside of his work did turn him on these days, a selfish quick dip might have had its upside. What the hell kind of perfume was she wearing? That Gary bastard was right… there was something about her. Zack took a few measured steps toward this freshly minted sultress-in-training. She reached out to him, but then he stopped himself. Zack was mildly flabbergasted by the fact that he was actually considering someone else’s feelings over his own. Ignoring his prurient interests, and somehow reasoning that carrying on with this particular student was on its face dishonest and selfish, he sheepishly backed away.
“What’s the matter?” Leslee cooed and then lowered the sheet, exposing a wee bit more of her ampleness. “Gary’s been practically begging to get in my pants all summer. Even after the cave thing when I almost made him a eunuch,” she chuckled. “He said my power really turned him on. What do you say … Dr. Zack?”
“Ms. Myles …”
“Please, I liked it when you called me Rosy,” she breathed demurely. Actually, the first male that ever called her Rosy got a black eye for his indiscretion.
Zack moved a step closer and then gently took her hand. He coaxed her up off the bed and for the first time looked directly into her hazel eyes. He read something that he found somehow extraordinary and yet elusive. Then Zack let go of her hand, put his arm around her waist and gently guided her over to the door. “Rosy, you deserve better than that … Gary,” he said softly as he opened the door. “Christ, you deserve better than me! Have a safe trip home and a good life.” This was an unprecedented display of restraint on Zack’s part. He said, “Shalom,” and tenderly eased Leslee out into the hallway and began to close the door. Then he added, “You really did good work, thank you.” Zack clicked the door shut and went directly for some vodka and—more vodka.
Leslee, the rejectee with her chin on her chest, sullenly shuffled along the hallway. Then something struck her and she stopped. A smile curled on her lips. The new and improved glass-half-full Leslee had unexpectedly arrived at another conclusion. Dr. Carver had acted quite chivalrously not to take advantage of her vulnerable state, and his stock rose even further in her mind. She turned toward Zack’s room for a last symbolic look. “Well Dr. Carver, you’re not really the son-of-a-bitch that everyone thinks you are. Are you?” As she moved on, Gary Layton came out of his room and stopped to admire Leslee’s current sheer wardrobe selection. She raised her hands in a mock fighting position. Gary immediately got the message, waved and popped back into his room. Leslee’s smile widened, she took a deep breath, pivoted around and headed resolutely down the corridor.