The hostilities between Eric and Tom continued unabated into the early-morning hours yesterday, marking their longest email chain in years. Ever since the June kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, the two have been unable -- or unwilling -- to stop their vitriolic Israel-Gaza exchanges.
"Actually," claims Eric, "the argument began a few hours before that, when Tom emailed me about some settlement activity."
"What? That is ridiculous," retorts Tom, "I only sent him that because of one of his tweets."
"WHAT!? That tweet was clearly directed at someone else, you could only see it by going to my profile page thingy."
"Well while you tweet innocent people are dying."
"Wow, you must hate Jews."
"What? I AM Jewish."
"Well, you might as well be Arab."
"You have no compassion for the oppressed."
"WHAT? My family died in the Holocaust. Do you even have any idea what it's like to serve in the army?"
"Look, all I did was send you some insightful commentary about the history of the conflict--"
"History? Ha. History? Ha. Your trust in French media is astounding."
And so, while it is unclear who began this latest skirmish, it is clear that both sides have again been swept into an almost-too-familiar cycle of non sequiturs.
Their boss, Solomon, has tried to bring about a resolution between Eric, who recently turned 66 and speaks flawless English in many accents, and Tom, of indeterminate age but certainly far far older than Eric in his estimation and certainly old enough to just throw a blazer over anything. For Solomon, however, success has proved elusive.
"At first their emails contain well-meaning -- though not completely informed or well-thought-out -- analyses and there is some hope that this time they might come to some sort of understanding," said Solomon (who has access to "anything on their computers"), himself launching into a too-long commentary about the state of affairs:
But then, very quickly, for one reason or another, their back and forth turns into something ugly. It's almost as if they are looking for an excuse to devolve the situation. Soon enough they have moved far away from their wholly derivative position points to ad hominem attacks and then to just snarking about each other's grammar and typos. And then suddenly one of them will say something well-meaning and this whole mini-cycle starts over and repeats again and again until they run out of energy or one of them gets a girlfriend. And then for a while they seem to coexist, with the tension kind of building but undisturbed, unfortunately refusing to use the quiet for any of the numerous company-offered interventions. Of course, eventually something happens in the Middle East or one of them reads an article and it sets them off again. It's really quite tragic, the two are remarkably similar. Also, on a worrying psychological note, I don't think they understand that their argument has absolutely no effect on the thousands of dying and wounded.
A coworker, who asked not to be named for fear of getting sucked into the conflict, added, "It's weird, I really thought they'd have outgrown this misery contest by now. I mean, they're older than my parents. And they always talk a little too loudly, as if they want to make sure we all hear them. In fact, sometimes it doesn't even seem like they're talking to each other at all. That's when I wish I could just go to my office. But I don't have one."
Another coworker worried that if the situation was not contained soon, it might spread to surrounding cubicles. "Other parties, witnessing such outrageousness masquerading as informed opinions, might not be able to resist joining in," she said, "which is odd considering that everyone knows how irritating they'll be to everyone around them if they get in on it. And yet, as soon as someone gets sucked in, self-awareness is poof and they get carried away. I even got caught up in it once and I've never even heard of Palestine."
"I can't not respond. That would show weakness."
"The guy, he barely knows C++, what does he know about history? He voted for Obama."
"Look, when someone is attacking you, you can't just sit there and be the victim."
"Honestly, sometimes I don't even believe what I am saying. But I have to say it."
"I'm the victim here!"
"He started it."
These quotes were each heard from both Eric and Tom in moments of candor.
There have been brief respites over the past few weeks, periods when both parties agreed to, say, not G-chat each other so that some necessary work could get done, but otherwise not even sleep has kept these two from launching inflammatory missives at each other. The breaks, while all too brief, provided hope that perhaps the arguments might finally stop, that a resolution might be brokered over a game of Risk. But then one side or the other would engage in questionable activity, perhaps "liking" a long Facebook post explaining the entire history of the region in a pseudo-objective tone, or leaving a partisan article open on a computer in full view of the whole office during lunch, and they'd find themselves sniping once more.
While it is unclear when and how -- or even if -- this tragic flare-up will be extinguished, and equally unclear how a future recurrence can be prevented, both sides acknowledge that the vehemence is taking a toll on them. Just yesterday, Tom complained that many hours of his life had been wasted reading and answering "the aggressor's" emails and that he no longer has time for the company's foosball table. Eric maintains that while it is true that he has wasted far fewer hours than Tom on the discussion and still plays plenty of foosball, he would still characterize his losses as "significant" and contends that if he doesn't respond to Tom's provocations now, he could waste far more time in the future.
For his part, Solomon has resigned himself to one small wish: "I really hope they at least stop using my Facebook status as a venue to trade venomous and obnoxiously long comments. It really weirds out my kids."
Back to you, Wolf.
Follow Omer Rosen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omerrosen