What I Dug Up Today

Copyright © 2001, David A. Epstein.

All Rights Reserved.

 

Jerry awoke to the scorching sounds of a blaring trumpet. He wondered if he was listening to Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie; he often left the radio on when he went to sleep. In fact, it was one of his house mates, Simon, practicing his trumpet outside of his room. Simon would usually play during the evening.

“Hey, what’s the deal?” remarked Jerry, as he poked his head out of his bedroom.

“Pretty funky stuff, no?” replied Simon.

“Oh, sure thing. Love hearing you play at seven in the morning.”

“Yeah. Maybe I should play a bit louder.”

It was this type of a light conversation that Jerry often engaged in with Simon. On this occasion, though, he wished that it had occurred later in the day when he was wide awake. He returned to his comfortable bed, placed his head beneath a couple of pillows to filter out the sound, and slept for a couple more hours.

When he awoke, Jerry changed into a pair of khaki shorts and put on his favorite tie-died T-shirt. Since he had overslept, he decided to skip breakfast. He placed some fruit into a brown paper bag. As he left the apartment, he shoved the brown bag into his handbag and headed towards the bus stop.

Arriving at the archaeological dig was a special event for Jerry. The bus let him off at a scenic spot where he had a spectacular view of the terraced Jerusalem hills, the olive trees, and shrubbery sprawling through the slightly-twisting valley.

Jerry enjoyed the short walk to Tel Efon, the Roman period archaeological site located on the base of a hill. While he was walking, he felt the power of this ancient community. He thought about their agricultural workers who diligently cultivated the sacred land. As he approached the dig, he visualized the Greek and Roman conquerers desecrating the city.

“Hello, Jerry. Glad you could make it,” said Zvika, the head archaeologist. He wore a sardonic smile as he put his arm around Jerry’s shoulder.

“Sorry about being late,” he replied.

“Not to worry. It’s good having you here. Here, take this pick. It will be more gentle on your delicate, American hands.”

“Thanks, boss. Your concern deeply touches me.”

“Hey, Jerry. Only about an hour and a half late. Glad you could drop in on us, ole chap.” Ian, Jerry’s best buddy on the dig, picked away at the hard ground.

“Yeh, I know. My loss. That’s an hour and a half less I get to look at your stunning physique.”

Ian mockingly ran after Jerry with his pick as if he had an axe to grind. “You can run, but you can’t ... Come to think of it, you can’t run either. You Yanks are so out of shape.” After about thirty seconds of frivolity, the two sat down on the ground and started laughing.

“OK, silly Anglo-Saxons, let’s get back to work.” said Zvika.

“Right, we don’t want to fall short of that strong Zionist work ethic, do we?” replied Ian.

There were two groups of volunteers working on the dig. One group was excavating the dwellings, the other a cistern. Jerry, Ian, and a couple of young Americans named Sarah and Rachel were working in the dwellings area.

For the next four hours, in the dry hot sun, Jerry and his co-conspirators worked intensely to get a peek at a dwelling. Several steps which led down to that area had been exposed, but not enough dirt had been removed to reveal the floor.

“Whew, I’m exhausted,” exclaimed Sarah as she wiped the sweat from her forehead. Sarah was the most dedicated and hard-working of the volunteers. She was not one to complain about the tough work conditions, so when she made that remark, it was quite apparent, at least to Jerry anyway, that it was a rough day.

Zvika came by to notify the group they could go home early. It was only two-thirty, but he told them that they made significant progress. The two groups came together. Most everyone drank water from canteens supplied by the archaeology center. Ian lit a cigarette and started walking up the hill to the bus stop.

Zvika approached Jerry. “Since you came late, you could continue digging if you want ...”

“That’s what I'll do. I’ll work a little longer.”

“Fine. Keep digging around the steps. On your way home, drop off the pick at the center.”

The group of volunteers walked together, lugging their picks and shovels toward the bus stop. Jerry heard faint giggling sounds and laughter, but he could not decipher what anyone was saying.

For the next half-hour, he continued digging and penetrating deep enough to expose some of the floor tiles. He was standing in a large hole six feet deep. The stairs descended to this depth. The tiles were located to the right of the stairs. During the next few minutes, he picked away at the wall in the hole.

Jerry took a short break to recoup his strength. While he was sitting on the stairs, he thought about life back in California. His mind drifted to scenes from his youth. He could see himself playing in his middle school’s symphonic band. He heard the various instruments, from clarinets to trombones, and could see himself playing the coronet.

As he resumed his picking, he could hear the faint sounds of the coronet in his mind. It was an unfamiliar melody. He used his bucket to remove as much dirt as he could. Tossing each full bucket out of the hole, he was beginning to feel a sense of accomplishment. With increasing fervor, he started picking more rapidly. A few stones fell to the ground. Then, with one bold swing of the pick, it happened.

It was a real break through. Several stones and some loose dirt fell nearby, but other than some minor scratches and a stone pelting his foot, he was not hurt. He peeked into the cavern that he just unveiled.

An unseen person said something in an unrecognizable language.

Jerry felt tremors vibrate through his fragile body. He saw an elderly, slightly bruised man sitting on a large stone. His stench was strong enough to repel any potential intruders. He was wearing a dirty robe and holding a trumpet.

“Whhhhhhhhhhhooo are you. Whhhhhhhhhhat are you doing here?” said Jerry. The old man walked out of the cavern and shielded his eyes from the sunlight. An amused look conquered his face.

“Guess you don’t understand Aramaic. How about Hebrew?” replied the old man, in Hebrew.

Jerry had been studying Hebrew at night school in the city. The old man’s pronunciation sounded strange to Jerry.

“I speak it,” replied Jerry.

“Good thing for you that I studied the old language. I rarely get to use it.”

“So, who are you?”

“Who am I? Who are you?!”

“What? How did you get down here?” Jerry looked upwards for about ten seconds; then he smiled. “Wait a minute. OK, now I get it. You’re one of those members of the theatrical reenactment group. You guys are reliving the lives of ancient community residents and are preparing for a show.” Jerry felt relieved.

“Theatrical reenactment group? What’s that?” said the old man.

“Ah, come on. Did Zvika put you up to this? What a joker.”

“Zvika? What type of name is that? Sounds funnier than Caligula. Ach, what a ruthless moron. His own horse was smarter than him.”

“I’ll have to find a way to get him back.”

“Well, if you will excuse me, I need to continue practicing.” The old man resumed playing his trumpet.

“Practicing? Here? That’s crazy.” Jerry no longer felt relieved. He now was perplexed.

“They told me to keep practicing. They said ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Well, I’ve been practicing for quite a while now, and you want to know what? I’m nowhere near being perfect. So I just keep playing and playing and playing.”

“What? Who told you to do this?” replied Jerry.

“The leaders of Tel Efon. I’m in the community marching band. Hey, it’s better than taking care of the sheep. Say, I haven’t heard them for some time. Maybe they got stolen again.”

It took a few seconds for Jerry to become pale. While effusive melodies were blaring from the old man’s trumpet, he ran up the steps. He continued running towards the bus stop. When he stopped for a second, and turned around, he distinctively heard the old man yelling, “Is my playing really that bad?”

 

 

David Epstein

resubmitted 3/24/98