From the piece :. In a climate speech during the campaign a few months ago, Biden relied on the tried-and-true alarmist tack of attributing every adverse weather event to global warming. The flooding in the Midwest was an artifact of climate change, never mind that, as Bjorn Lomborg points out, the U. Of course, Biden maintained that California wildfires have been caused by the upward trend in global temperatures, and it is probably a factor.
Still, as Lomborg notes, the amount of land that is burning around the globe has fallen sharply since the late 19th century in response to changing human behavior e. Finally, Biden cited Hurricane Laura, the Category 4 storm that made landfall in Louisiana, as yet more climate-driven extreme weather.
The studies do show more storm activity in the Atlantic, Lomborg writes, although not necessarily from climate change. From the essay :. Currently China is suffering its worst global-popularity ratings in its modern history.
Most countries in Europe, the U. Such negativity is hardly surprising when over 75 million worldwide have been sickened with Wuhan COVID — and perhaps another million untested have had symptoms or at least developed antibodies to it — along with 1.
Many Western countries have vowed never again to outsource their medical equipment and pharmaceutical industries to China, given their ensuing exposure in times of a Chinese-spawned viral global pandemic. The chief rub for an awakening but recently somnolent Europe and a drowsy U. Brilliant American engineers design battery-operated cars and sophisticated solar panels; elite-glut environmental studies majors fight over how best to bankrupt the American consumer and raise prohibitive power costs for businesses.
China prefers to emulate the former, not the latter. China tactically wages war against the U. But more important, it counts on a sophisticated strategy to subordinate the United States, and thereby remake the entire international order to enhance its own agendas.
Many Democratic-appointed judges were hostile to Trump lawsuits. That may explain some bizarre dismissals of lawsuits. David Shestokas, a Pennsylvania attorney, says a judge canceled the hearing where we was to produce evidence. Two days later, the judge dismissed the case. In one court, Trump did come close to victory. Their silence speaks volumes for how concerns about fraud were handled this year.
The second rule applied to pension-fund managers voting on corporate shareholder resolutions on behalf of their beneficiaries, and it similarly reinforced that investment returns rather than politics should guide their decisions. Unfortunately for American retirees, Team Biden is widely expected to ignore or actively undermine the enforcement of both of those rules. Because formally repealing a published regulation can be time-consuming and legally complex as the Trump administration found out on more than one occasionit will be much easier to simply publish a new interpretation of what the rules mean.
We expect subregulatory guidance such as FAQs and advisory opinions to help bring things back toward the old status quo. The Monarch Butterfly, says Shawn Regan and Tate Watson, make the excellent case for how bureaucrats are misfits when it comes to protecting endangered species. Shawn Regan and Tate Watson: From the article :. When it comes to recovering imperiled wildlife, the ESA has a dreadful record. The law may be good at halting activities that harm species, but its punitive approach does little to encourage people to proactively create or restore habitats.
In fact, it often does the exact opposite. Rather than rewarding farmers, ranchers, and other ordinary citizens who provide habitat for listed species, the act imposes significant costs by restricting how people can use their land and reducing property values by introducing regulatory uncertainty. If I have a rare metal on my property, its value goes up. But if a rare bird occupies the land, its value disappears. This is especially vexing and troublesome when it comes to the monarch, whose survival depends on the goodwill of landowners across the nation.
The butterfly is found in every state in the lower 48 and relies on habitats ranging from rural prairies to urban gardens. But the weed is in short supply today, in part due to increased herbicide use. First, plant more milkweed.
According to the U. Geological Surveyas many as 1. The irony, however, is that granting endangered-species protections to the monarch might be the surest way to discourage people from planting milkweed.
After all, why would any farmer, company, or gardener want to attract butterflies that bring restrictions on how they can use their land? Judd Berger has a story about a stew of contrived consternation, with a side order of sanctimony. First, for the uninitiated i. The photo Izard included on her now-denounced Instagram post was. It looked more like a bowl of pho that had been left out in the sun, with strips of desiccated beef and torn mint all that remain. The call for vote reparations is absurd, says Horace Cooper.
From the beginning of the article :. The scheme recommends double-counting the votes of black Americans. Counting some votes more than others is a throwback to a bygone era that Americans — black and white — fought to overcome.
Perhaps Hasbrouck has forgotten that one of the primary aims of Jim Crow was to prevent the counting of the votes of citizens in communities and states solely on the basis of race. Fred Lucas assesses the lame-o impeachment of Donald Trump, launched a year and a million news cycles ago. The Trump impeachment was also the flimsiest impeachment in part because it demonstrated a complete cave by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her left flank.
Leadership is not only about being the loyal opposition and fighting the good fight. The Constitution makes impeachment in the House relatively simple and removal by the Senate very difficult. Still, the House seldom pulled the trigger despite requiring no more than a majority vote. Normalizing House impeachment — if that is the result of lowering the bar — will likely have the effect of desensitizing the public to a legitimately impeachable offense by a future president.
There certainly are grounds to investigate. Congressional oversight should be robust in any administration, of course. But impeachment — which at least offers the possibility, however slim, of deposing an elected leader without an election — should be the last resort. Michael Brendan Dougherty goes to Church. Where are all the parishioners? From the reflection :. If airlines will fly us packed into a little tube with strangers without spread, then surely we, acting cautiously and according to the regulations of state and church, could do this safely.
We had avoided going partly because the system of reservations that our parish instituted seemed to suggest that by asking to come to Mass you would, by necessity, deny the chance to others. Our parish church normally has a seating capacity of When the five of us arrived and filed into the last pew in the church, the number of worshippers was In the time before COVIDthere might have been 32 people serving in the sanctuary alone, a parade of priests, deacons, subdeacons, and row after row after row of altar boys.
Several pews were roped-off between us and another worshipper. The Mass itself was consoling and depressing in equal measure. First, the consolations. The church building itself, with its Marian blue ceiling, recently renovated sanctuary, and painting of the Assumption was a deep comfort.
The Mass itself. The ancient Latin prayers, sung during other plagues, famines, wars, and panics — almost all of them much worse than what we were enduring. The voices of the two choir singers — and their children. The depressing: Seeing our pastor put on a face shield before distributing communion, which was done after the conclusion of the Mass itself.
Combine that sight with the tiny number of worshippers and the whole scene had a post-disaster mood. Then there was the awkwardness of being forbidden to sing ourselves — which meant being forbidden the normal sung responses. But muscle memory applies to worship as well.
We choked on our own Et cum spiritu tuos. And overall, I think DeSantis made the right call on long-term-care homes, and Cuomo initially made the wrong one. But what if you think climate and lifestyle are some of the main factors in the spread?
The sheer endlessness of this is mind-numbing. Three weeks to bend the curve, then a hope for reopening in Easter. A false dawn in the summer, and now, what? The hope for vaccines? This pandemic is easily the worst national disaster of my life.
Rebeccah Heinrichs locates the Red China drones that are spying on America. From the beginning of the piece :. That is the public conclusion of a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Drones made in China and operated by Americans map U. The data collected in those drone flights are believed to be sent back to China, where there is no divide between civil and military sectors.
But it is time to go further. The U. While there are U. This is one of the arguments against cutting off access to the Chinese drone market. But the risks to national security are too great to move slowly, and so in addition to cutting off access to the Chinese drone market, the U. One can easily see how a national emergency or a conflict over the defense of democratic Taiwan could require ramping up the scale of production of drones.
Depending on China for that should be out of the question. From the article :. Russia has even suggested the creation of a new U. The United States should develop an agile strategy based on deterrence instead of turning to international law and institutions that have been coopted.
Like nuclear weapons, cyber weapons are cheap to deploy but difficult to stop. Preempting cyberattacks is more effective when offensive attacks are easy and defense expensive.
Evidence suggests that the Kremlin stops short when Washington pushes back. Take, for example, the U. It is quite possible that similar operations prevented Russian interference in the elections. Rather than building expensive — but ultimately vulnerable — security systems, the U. The goal is to raise the costs for Moscow until it stops its cyberwarfare.
Cyber Command should not only put Russian hackers on notice that they will face U. More important, the U. If the Russians break into sensitive U. If Moscow seeks to disrupt U. Severely harmed in an infamous IRA bombing, Margaret Tebbit conquered in many ways the afflictions that constrained her for 36 years.
From the remembrance :. It narrowly failed to kill its principal target, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but it killed five people and it severely injured another Two of the most seriously injured victims that night were Norman Tebbit, then-secretary of state for Industry and a rising star of Thatcherite Toryism, and his wife, Margaret. She suffered perhaps the worst injuries of those who survived, first suffering great pain as they waited for rescuers to dig them from out of the rubble, then feeling nothing at all, which as a former nurse she realized meant paralysis below the neck.
Earlier this week Margaret now Lady Tebbit died after 36 years of fighting disability, determinedly wresting some mobility back from it, but finally losing the battle we all eventually lose. Start with the physical descriptors of the continent of Africa in the song. Some of the greatest civilizations in human history have managed to thrive in Africa both despite and because of its diverse features.
If you believe that last sentence, you will also believe that these measures are compatible with a properly functioning democracy. And when value is destroyed, jobs tend to be destroyed along with them. Joe Biden has a China problem. A federal investigation is currently underway. More broadly, Biden has been far too accommodating to the ambitious and unscrupulous Chinese state during his tenure in elected office.
The CCP is clearly hoping for a return to the squishy policies it was treated with under the Obama-Biden administration. But if Biden wants to govern effectively now, he must toughen up. China difficulties extend far beyond our now-strained trade relationship ; indeed, these problems stem from politics, not economics. From the piece. I think there are two ways by which this claim is disproven. The first is by looking at trends in growth rates. Economic growth is typically faster at the beginning of expansions, which is why, historically, the amplitude of an expansion is strongly correlated with the amplitude of the preceding contraction.
But when we estimate trends in growth rates for a variety of macroeconomic indicators during the Obama expansion and project those trends into, andwe observe large residuals, indicating that growth during the first three years of the Trump administration exceeded the trend. In many instances, this is confirmed by statistically testing for slope changes.
The second, more straightforward approach is to simply look at outcomes relative to expectations. For example, in the three years before the pandemic, the U. In the first two months of alone, the U. Marc Joffe wonders if we are witnessing a repeat of the failures by rating agencies. A fter facing widespread condemnation for their contributions to the financial Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl), U.
Indeed, the Federal Reserve used credit ratings to determine whether certain classes of borrowers should get emergency loans and what interest rates to charge them. This move contravened the spirit of Dodd-Frank, which sought to separate credit ratings from federal regulation, while underscoring the fact that the reform failed to replace the assessments of highly conflicted private firms in financial-industry oversight. These problems have flown under the radar in because the recession was caused by the pandemic rather than by financial engineering gone awry.
Also, aggressive fiscal and monetary policies have limited the number of large, institutional defaults we have seen thus far. If highly rated yet insolvent firms continue to service their debts with the help of the government, regulators can overlook the accuracy of their ratings.
Indeed, high ratings may even be seen as reflecting the possibility that government will come to the rescue of a distressed borrower. Like the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities instrumental in the financial crisis, CMBS are serviced from principal and interest payments on a pool of real-estate loans.
But the underlying mortgages are liens on large, income-producing properties such as office buildings, apartment complexes, hotels, and shopping malls.
From the review :. Felzenberg finds The Reagans a pathetic bashing of Ron and Nancy. What you see on Showtime is neither objective history nor a fair-minded attempt to review past controversies through the perspective of the present. Its creator, Matt Tyrnauer, to his credit, is straightforward about that. He is a man with a mission. In comparing the two presidents, the creators overlook some essential facts: Reagan twice won the presidency in two landslides, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College.
Trump twice lost the popular vote and prevailed in Electoral College once and narrowly. Hidden in the numbers are the hopes and expectations the American people placed in both presidents and how the presidents regarded them. Wonder Woman is an ode to parachute pants, fanny packs, eyeball-scorchingly bright colors, teased pouffy hair, and shopping malls, but the throwback item it implanted in my mind is Cheez Whiz.
This movie is laboratory-made processed corporate goop in a can. Picture the dumbest imaginable Cold War script, except with so little effort to make the action scenes zing that you might as well be watching an episode of T. Hooker or Hardcastle and McCormick. From the end of the article :. Referring to the new resolution of the European Parliament on the Uighur situation, Member of the German Bundestag for the Greens, Margarete Bause, asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel whether Germany and the EU should enter into an investment agreement with China, while Uighurs there are being subjected to forced labor.
At The Imaginative Conservativethe eminent Brad Birzer posits six things that define conservatism. Third, when conservatism began in the late nineteenth century, it did so, first and foremost, as a cultural movement.
They and their ideas were everywhere, whether one liked them or not. One could not pick up the most prominent newspapers and periodicals without encountering their ideas. One radical minister, Charles Francis Potter, even went so far as to create a religion, Humanism, based on their teachings.
In a more restrained fashion, T. Eliot based many of his own poems on the ideas of his favorite Harvard professor, Babbitt. None of this should suggest that conservatism was not political. Yet, in its beginning, the cultural aspects of conservatism controlled politics, and conservatives considered politics a vital but limited sphere of human activity. For the most part, conservatives resisted the urge to become political until Barry Goldwater arose.
At that point, all restraints came loose the political aspect of conservative grew dramatically. Today, of course, little of conservatism remains outside of the political sphere, which has swamped nearly all of human existence.
Fourth, and closely related to the third point, most conservatives of the twentieth century thought the highest human faculty was reason or, as defined properly, the imagination. They distrusted both the faculty of rationality as that of the automaton and the faculty of the passions as that of the animal.
Only reason or imagination — the chests — properly ordered the human soul and human society. Babbitt and Eliot argued that one might employ three types of imagination: the diabolic, the idyllic, and the moral.
Paul Elmer More claimed there could be no conservatism that was not an imaginative conservatism; and Russell Kirk always waxed eloquent — in high Platonic tones — that the imagination ruled everything. She can be quite funny herself when she wants to be. I just smile. What is normal, after all? Nor is it normal for parents to train teenagers not to laugh, nor for people to suppress their natural urges because someone else in the house might pitch a hysterical fit.
It goes against every impulse. When our friends visit, the way we tiptoe around laughter is viewed with uncharitable suspicion. They are right. It is abnormal. At Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ben Lieberman sounds the alarm about the war — a bipartisan one — on affordable air conditioning. From the analysis :.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans are currently collaborating on a bill that will make air conditioning more expensive. Hooray for bipartisanship! Both the House and Senate have verbally agreed to add the pending Senate energy bill to must-pass year-end omnibus spending legislation. Included in that bill are measures that would restrict future production of hydrofluorocarbons HFCs on the grounds that they contribute to climate change.
The problem is that HFCs are the refrigerants used in literally hundreds of millions of pieces of equipment owned by Americans — most home and automotive air conditioners as well as refrigerators.
Recharging any of these systems after a leak would become more expensive once HFC supplies dwindle and prices rise. Buying new equipment would also get costlier as systems will have to be redesigned to use one of the environmentally acceptable HFC substitutes. The leading one, called HFOyf, is nearly eight times more expensive than HFCa, which it would replace in new vehicle air conditioners as well as other applications.
In addition, some of the new refrigerants are classified by standards-setting bodies as flammable, which may pose safety issues. F-Bombing does not make the bomber more authentic, argues Boston Globe columnist and non-prude Jeff Jacoby.
But it would be a fine thing if most of them were once again banned by convention, Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl) a sense of respect, and by an appreciation for social hygiene. What happens to a culture in which obscenity and raunchy language are omnipresent? Its effect over time is to build up resistance to gentleness and patience. Sometimes salty language is exactly what a situation calls for.
But like saltiness in cooking, too much can ruin everything. At the Desert NewsScott Rasmussen looks past a Biden presidency and describes what a truly transformational president will do. Reagan and Roosevelt were influential not because they changed the national mood, but because they followed the nation and put the mood into words.
The two presidents did not change America. Instead, their rhetoric and leadership confirmed that America had already changed. The agendas and policies that flowed from their leadership did matter, of course. The significance, however, was not that they changed America, but that they changed American politics and government. Reagan and Roosevelt took a political system that had drifted away from the public mood and forced it back into closer alignment with the consent of the governed.
In the Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl), both presidents helped the political system catch up with where America had already gone. Instead, we can glimpse the future of American politics by looking at where the culture is today. Though remembered as a conservative, Burnham eschewed philosophical labels. He was an empiricist. He studied and analyzed facts, historical circumstances, geography, and political realities before reaching general conclusions.
Some criticized him for celebrating power and those who wielded it. It is more accurate to say that Burnham understood power and carefully studied how political leaders wielded it. Those theorists focused on spatial relationships and the power potential of certain geographical regions. Burnham did not mention Mackinder or Spykman in The Managerial Revolution but he did cite them in his later geopolitical works.
Other smaller nations would coalesce around the three super-states. Activist members of the student government at Cornell University are waging an ideological war against fellow Cornell Student Assembly members who recently voted against disarming campus police.
Their campus careers are over. We must disarm, defund, and disband the Cornell University Police Department.
True, it was not his first appearance. Having pitched decently in the minors, he was picked up by the St. But as luck would have it — and luck would by all accounts the Browns that day made many a great play in the field — when our oft-mentioned pal, yes, Eddie Robinsonflew out to end a nascent rally in the top of the Ninth, not a single Athletic had registered a hit.
Bobo Holloman had an official no-hitter. The historic outing was not an indicator of forthcoming greatness. The year-old righty would earn only two more wins in his brief MLB career, all of which was relegated to The most impressive one and he final one came in late June at Fenway Park, when he gave up only two hits and five walks over 8 innings as the Browns blanked the Red Sox, Bobo started the Ninth, but when he walked the first batter, Billy Goodmanhe was yanked for reliever Satchel Paigewho earned a save.
From there on it was dreck. His arm hurting, Holloman pitched just a few more times, bloating his ERA to 5. In a few days he was gone to the minors, and would never play in the Big Leagues again. We think today, amidst the merry-making, of those suffering, from pathogens or whatever afflicts the body and the mind.
And too, the soul. More than think, we might offer a prayer that the Creator is moved to offer them peace, comfort, and health. More than prayer, the tuneful among us might sing this line from a favorite carol:. Bless all the dear children in Your tender care And fit us for Heaven to live with You there.
Jack Falalalalalalalala, who will be in receipt of greetings and laments and reflections on the National Pastime at jfowler nationalreview. It should be noted, as the subject line states, that while Santa Claus and Macys may have pulled off something extraordinary at Herald Square, a true miracle took place a block over, on 35th Street, where William F. Buckley established the headquarters of an infant National Review, where it took root, where it grew and thrived, where it make good on its pledge to stand athwart history yelling stop.
Our friends at National Review Institute — which Bill also founded, and also on 35th Street — have, as explains our paysan David Bahnsen, helped launch and sponsor a mighty effort on NRO, Capital Mattersthat in the face of ascendant Socialism daily makes the case for free markets and free people, that hurls wisdom and insults at leftist fiscal lunacy, and that defends that vital thing that has lifted billions from poverty: capitalism.
In an age when too many in the political class, the ivory tower, and yes, even Fortune companies have abandoned the empirical testimony of history and rejected the inherent morality of markets, the duty those of us have to defend ordered liberty is most profound.
National Review Institute, the nonprofit journalistic think tank that supports the National Review mission, has collaborated with NR to launch a new, bold project — National Review Capital Matters — because we take this duty seriously and believe that the greatest defense against the argument of leftist economics is to, well, win the argument. While the other side seeks to gather power and to monopolize messaging in the classroom, we must win the debate in the public square.
We must capably defend the call of the entrepreneur, the vitality of capital markets, and the nobility of free enterprise. We must highlight the capitalist dynamism and impulse to create that have lifted more people out of extreme poverty in the last 30 years than in all prior human history. Capital Matters holds in disdain the worldview that, in its vain pursuits, squashes human flourishing.
The greatest tool the Left has in to undermine free markets is a mainstream and unopposed demonization of capital, of capital markets, and of capitalists in its day-to-day reporting, commentary, and editorial content about business and finance. It remains just as miraculous.
You can do the same here. Now, rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums of conservative wisdom await, so put down the figgy pudding you God-rested merry gentlemen and ladies and indulge! Frederick M. Thomas W. Miller Jr. Graham Hillard wonders if comedians will give Biden a pass: Punchline in Chief.
Andrew C. Kevin Williamson assesses the strong support for marijuana legalization: The Marijuana Majority. William Barr has chosen to resign as Attorney General. He leaves with our commendation. He found himself caught between, on the one side, subordinate prosecutors who were recommending a draconian sentence for Roger Stone and, on the other, a willful president who wanted the case to disappear. He recommended a sentence in exactly the month range that the judge, no Trump or Stone fan, ended up embracing.
Bush 30 years ago. He is smart and savvy in the ways of Washington, so he knew what he was getting into. Biden wanted the credential for its own sake. As for its quality, well. That the University of Delaware would have rejected her dissertation as sloppy, poorly written, non-academic, and barely fit for a middle-school Social Studies classroom all of which it is when her husband had been representing its state in the U.
Senate for more than three decades was about as likely as Tom Hagen telling Vito Corleone that his wife is a fat sow on payday. The only risk to the University of Delaware was that it might strain its collective wrist in its rush to rubber-stamp her doctoral paper. Which is exactly what happened. It is not a demonstration of expertise in its specific topic or its broad field. It is a gasping, wheezing, frail little Disney forest creature that begs you to notice the effort it makes to be the thing it is imitating while failing so pathetically that any witnesses to its ineptitude must feel compelled, out of manners alone, to drag it to the nearest podium and give it a participation trophy.
Which is more or less what an Ed. Descended upon by the flying monkeys of various social media platforms, Kyle doubles down on Mrs. Biden academic thin gruel with apologies to gruel. From the encore :. That also should have tipped reporters off to the fact that the letter was rank speculation masquerading as informed analysis. But true to form, they happily ran with it instead. In a complete reversal from the Cold War era, journalists in the Trump years have not only reflexively believed representations from national-security professionals about nefarious Russian plots, they have actively sought them out and promoted them.
In this case, it was former U. The call came from inside the house. Anyone believing the officials, who used their past titles and long experience to lend credibility to their letter, would have been shocked to learn last week that Hunter Biden is under federal investigation for tax crimes. What does Biden do? He brings them back. Janet Yellen gets Treasury — and a sure-to-be awkward relationship with her replacement as head of the Federal Reserve. Alejandro Mayorkas was deputy secretary of Homeland Security when he became ensnared in a visa scandal.
Biden wants to promote him. Jeffrey Zients salvaged Healthcare. Having lied about both Benghazi and Bowe Bergdahl while coordinating national security, Susan Rice will apply her mendacious talents to domestic policy. A few officials — Vivek Murthy, Tom Vilsack — will be nominated for exactly the same jobs they held during the Obama years. The cases where Biden has struck his own path are either strange or disturbing. The selection, which requires a congressional waiver, not only raises the fraught subject of civil-military relations.
There will be an unraveling of border rules under Joe, says Mark Krikorian. The consequences will be bad. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse the immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration. Despite what anti-borders groups saythis will be relatively easy to do. Because virtually all the changes to immigration policy made by the Trump administration have been executive actions of one sort or another, the incoming administration will simply rescind them in the same manner.
Biden will not face that hurdle, and so will be able to undo most everything Trump has done; in some cases immediately, in others over a period of several months. Hess interviews outgoing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about four years of slings and arrows and accomplishments.
She believes this had its benefits. She offers up an anecdote as a distillation of her time in office. While many Trump supporters greeted the Supreme Court decision with dismay, they should welcome it.
The move represents the latest step in a gradual process of rebuilding the wall between law and politics that progressives have sought to pull down since the beginnings of the Warren Court. It also requires that federal law provide a right for the plaintiff to sue. Yes, those were the days when boys and girls, young and old, wise or ignorance bled raider red in the old town. Do they still do so today? And do they still make those furtive glances? I hope so. Labels: be-bop saturday nightgrowing up absurd in the s.
Click on the headline to link to a photograph of a Hayes-Bickford on Huntington Avenue in Boston no Cambridge one available to add a little flavor to this entry. The scene below stands or falls as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline. And where do I find myself sitting at this time of morning? Tired, but excitedly expectant, on an uncomfortable, unpadded bench seat on this rolling old clickity-clack monster of a Red Line subway car as it now waggles its way out past Kendall Station on its way to Central Square and then to the end of the line, Harvard Square.
Sanctuary, Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford sanctuary, misbegotten teenage boy sanctuary, recognized by august international law, recognized by sanctified canon law, or not. Damn, let me just get this off my chest and then I can tell the rest of the story. Ma said X, I pleaded for Y hell this homestead civil war lent itself righteously to a nice algebraic formulation. You can use it too, no charge. Sure, but I had to get it off my chest.
Oh ya, I forgot, I had to sneak out of the house stealthily, run like some crazed broken- field football player down the back of the property, and, after catching my breathe, walk a couple of miles over the North Adamsville Bridge and nasty, hostile hostile if anyone was out, and anyone was sniping for a misbegotten teenage boy, for any purpose good or evil Dorchester streets to get to the Fields Corner subway stop. The local Eastern Mass. Right now though I am thinking, as those subway car wheels rattle beneath my feet, who knows, really, how or why it starts, that wanderlust start, that strange feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have to move on, or out, or up or you will explode, except you also know, or you damn well come to know that it eats away at a man, or a woman for that matter, in different ways.
Maybe way back, way back in the cradle it was that first sense that there was more to the world that the four corners of that baby world existence and that if you could just, could just get over that little, little side board there might be something better, much better over the horizon.
But, honestly, that sea dream stuff can only be music for the future because right now I am stuck, although I do not always feel stuck about it, trying to figure my way out of high school world, or at least figure out the raging things that I want to do after high school that fill up my daydream time study hall time, if you really want to know. Of course, as well, that part about the ocean just mentioned, well there was a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my-back sometimes right at my back New England homestead meant unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that meant I had to head west.
Right now west though is Harvard Square, its doings and not doings, it trumpet call to words, and sounds, and actions in the October Friday night all-night storm brewing. The train now rounds the squeaky-sounding bend out of Central Square and stops at the underground Harvard Square station. So now I leave my pensive seat and stand waiting, waiting for the driver to release the pressure to let the sliding train door open, getting ready to jump off the old subway, two-step-at-a-time my way up the two flights of stairs and head for mecca to see if things jump for me tonight.
The doors open at last. Up the two-stepped stairs I go, get to the surface and confront the old double-glassed Hayes door entrance and survey the vast table-filled room that at this hour has a few night owl stranglers spotted randomly throughout the place. Steamed and breaded everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner anytime topped off by dishwater quality coffee refills on demand, if you feel lucky. This is not the place to bring your date, certainly not your first date, except maybe for a quick cup of that coffee before going to some event, or home.
What this is, really, is a place where you can hang out, and hang out with comfort, because nobody, nobody at all, is going to ask you to leave, at least if you act half-way human.
And that is what this place is really about, the humans in all their human conditions doing human things, alien to you or not, that you see floating by you, as you take a seat at one of the one-size-fits all wooden tables with those red vinyl seat covered chairs replete with paper place settings, a few off-hand eating utensils and the usual obligatory array of condiments to help get down the food and drink offered here. Let me describe who is here at this hour on an early Saturday morning in October I will not vouch for other times, or other days, but I know Friday and Saturday nights a little so I can say something about them.
Of course there is the last drink at the last open barroom crowd, said bar already well-closed in blue law Massachusetts, trying to get sober enough by eating a little food to traverse the road home. Good luck. Needless to say eating food in an all-night cafeteria, any all-night cafeteria, means only one thing-the person is so caught up in a booze frenzy that he mainly or she very occasionally is desperate for anything to hang the name food on to.
Frankly, except for the obligatory hard-dollar coffee-steamed to its essence, then through some mystical alchemic process re-beaned, and served in heavy ceramic mugs that keep in the warmth to keep the eyes open the food here is strictly for the, well, the desperate, drunk or sober. I might mention a little more about the food as I go along but it is strictly to add color to this little story. Here is the kicker though; there are a few, mercifully few this night, old winos, habitual drunks, and street vagabonds I am being polite here who are nuzzling their food, for real.
This is the way that you can tell the "last drink" boys, the hail fellows well met, who are just out on the town and who probably go to one of the ten zillion colleges in the area and are drawn like moths and like wayward high schools kids, including this writer to the magic name, Harvard Square. They just pick at their food. Those other guys again, mainly, guys those habituals and professional waywards work at it like it is their last chance for salvation.
Harvard Square, bright lights, dead of nights, see the sights. Their hustle. Three card Monte, quick-change artistry, bait and hook, a little jack-rolling, fake dope-plying, lifting an off-hand wallet, the whole gamut of hustler con lore. Go to it boys. As to the con that got me, hey it was simple, a guy, an older guy, a twenty-five year old or something like that guy, came up to me while I was talking to a friend and said did I we want to get some booze. Sober, sixteen years old, and thrill-seeking I said sure drinking booze is the coin of the realm for thrills these days, among high school kids that I know, maybe the older set, those college guys, are, I hear, experimenting with drugs but if so it is very on the QT.
Sure, whatever is right. I gave him the money and he returned a few minutes later with a small bag with the top of a liquor bottle hanging out. He split. We went off to a private area around Harvard Yard Phillips Brook House, I think and got ready to have our first serious taste of booze, and maybe get rum brave enough to pick up some girls.
Sucker, right. Now the only reason that I am mentioning this story right now is that the guy who pulled this con is sitting, sitting like the King of Siam, just a few tables away from where I am sitting.
No, hell no. You are way to cool to let him or occasionally her think that they have conned you. Out loud, anyway. That possibility is what drove me here this night, and other nights as well. Or that Bob Dylan sat at that table, that table right over there, writing something on a napkin. Or some parallel poet to the one now wrapping up his seventy-seven verse imitation Allen Ginsberg's Howl master work went out to San Francisco and blew the lid off the town, the City Lights town, the literary town.
But I better, now that the five-ish dawn light is hovering after my dawdlings, trying to break through the night wars, get my droopy body down those subway stairs pretty soon and back across town before anyone at home notices that I am missing. Labels: blue-pink great American West nightgrowing up absurd in the s. I have also mentioned the close connection between this rural music, the routine of life on the farm mainly the Mississippi Delta plantations or sharecropping and simple religious expression in their works.
The blues singer under review meets all of those criteria and more. The Reverend Gary Davis, although not as well known in the country blues pantheon, has had many of his songs covered by the denizens of the folk revival of the 's and some rock groups, like The Grateful Dead, looking for a connection with their roots.
Thus, by one of the ironies of fate his tradition lives on in popular music. That placement is insurance that that the Reverend's musical virtuosity is of the highest order. As an instrumentalist he steals the show in that film. Enough said. The tobacco crop acted somewhat as a buffer against the worst ravages of the Depression. During the fall harvest, with its attendant tobacco auctions, there was a bit more money around, and that, naturally, attracted musicians.
Performers would drift in from the countryside and frequently took up residence and stayed on. Two master musicians who made Durham their home, whose careers extended decades until they become literally world famous, were Reverend Gary Davis and Sonny Terry. He could play fluently in all major keys and improvise continually without repetition. His finger picking style was remarkably free, executing a rapid treble run with his thumb as easily as with his index finger and he had great command of many different styles, representing most aspects of black music he heard as a young man at the beginning of the century.
Beyond his blues-gospel guitar, Davis was equally adept at ragtime, marches, breakdowns, vaudeville songs, and much more. Born in Lawrence County, South Carolina inDavis was raised by his grandmother, who made his first guitar for him. Learning from relatives and itinerant musicians, he also took up banjo and harmonica.
His blindness was probably due to a congenital condition. By the time he was a young man he was considered among the elite musicians in his area of South Carolina where, as in most Southern coastal states, clean and fancy finger picking with emphasis on the melody was the favored style.
Sometime in the early 's, Davis started a ministry and repudiated blues. Inhe recorded twelve gospel songs that rank among the masterpieces of the genre.
Inhe moved to New York where he continued his church work, and sometimes did some street singing in Harlem. By the early 's, with the re-emergence of interest in traditional black music, Davis finally received the recognition and prominences he so richly deserved.
Do you hear that playin'? Gabriel, Gabriel sayin' "Will you be ready to go When I blow my horn? Oh, I was low, Gabriel, low, Mighty low, Gabriel, low. So blow, Gabriel, blow! Come on you scamps, get up you sinners! You're all too full of expensive dinners.
Stand up on your lazy feet and sing! Go on and blow, Gabriel, blow. Blow, Gabriel! I was low, Gabriel, low, Low, Gabriel! Mighty low, Gabriel, low. But now since that I have seen the light I'm good by day and I'm good by night So blow, Gabriel, blow. So blow, Gabriel! Labels: country bluesreverend gary davis. Yes, Lonnie is in the house.
Janus, call me fickle, call me, well, call me perplexed. Mainly it depends on what was the last CD, last YouTube clickor last whatever other source I have filled my head with. A couple of weeks ago it was definitely those mad men swing masters like Benny Goodman and his hard, sexy sax players and occasional clarinet per Benny swingman.
A couple of days later it was definitely Joe Turner be-bopping his big snapping fingers beat on Shake, Rattle and Roll putting later Elvis and Jerry Lee renditions in the shade. So hear me out. I mean real poor. The music around the house was strictly country Hank Williams, Earl Tubbs, etc. It was not until I got my first transistor radio look that up on Wikipedia if you are clueless about what that was or is for old fogies, maybe. But I knew it from then on. And I know it now.
That now leads to this King Records compilation which, no question, has many, many riffs that sound a hell of a lot like the birth of rock and roll just now. Not good enough-try this. I thought that would get your attention. So I rest my case. Then call be Janus. Labels: growing up absurd in the srock and roll.
Plenty of deodorant, hair oil, and breathe fresheners, no question. What does stand some further inspection is something that has received scant notice in all this welter of detail, with the exception of that overblown coverage of the last dance.
Nothing on the inner workings of the dance itself. Actually, and I will only speak to the late fifties and early sixties but I am sure this observation will hold up for other times as well, there are two school dance sequels, that first tremulous middle school dance series, and the later even more significant high school dances. Age, more convoluted socials relationships, physical and sexual growth, changes in musical taste, attitudes toward life and toward the opposite sex or nowadays, perhaps, same sex all made them two distinct affairs, except the ubiquitous teacher chaperones to guard against all manner of murder and mayhem, or, more likely, someone sneaking out for butts, booze or off-hand nuzzling or, have mercy, all three.
I will keep strictly to the high school dance scene here since the compilation under review includes musical selections that were current in the time of my high school time.
These musical selections "spoke" to that gnawing feeling in the back of your mind, half hidden by massive teenage psychic overlay, of the need to take a constant survey of what is going on in your little so-called world.
A moment's glazed stare as you wait to get into the dance venue allows you to think through the litany of problems to be addressed as soon as you get a breather.
Shall I give examples? But those issues will wait for another day because right now the doors are opening and you have more pressing issues in your heated little mind. Hope drives your every move from here on in. For this baby-boomer, that particular high school dance, could have taken place at my high school when I was a student in the early s.
From the throwaway crepe paper decorations that festooned the place placed around the gym by the ever helpful Girls Club or Tri-Hi-Y up to the ever-present foldaway Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl) bleachers to those evil-eyed chaperones to the platform the local band a band that if it did not hit it big would go on to greater glory at our future weddings, birthday parties, and other important occasions covering the top hits of the day performed on it was a perfect replica of my own experience.
Of course, perfect replica were the infinite variety of dances frug, watusi, twist, stroll, etc that blessed, no, twice blessed, rock and roll let us do in order to not to have to dance too waltz close. We all owe Chubby Checker and Gary U. Bonds a debt that can never be repaid.
Damn, my going on and on about the physical descriptions is just so much eye wash. The thing could have been held in an airplane hangar for all we really cared.
Artists like Mohsin face either unemployment or a future of painting shop signs. Inevitably, Omar Khan is a fanatical lover of the artisanal craft of billboard painting, and tucked away in a corner of the Hotspot Online, you will find scores of two-by-three-foot movie posters for sale, hand-painted by Mohsin and his ilk. Mohsin loves theater. The most famous, like Madam Nargis, are superstars whose recordings sell internationally; newcomers, meanwhile, usually resort to wardrobe malfunctions to pull in the crowds.
Regardless of the stature of the performer, almost every theater is booked out every single night, at a cost upwards of rupees per male head. Live theater here is not exactly a secret. But its public nature is no indication of its respectability, and the clearest sign that it might be frowned upon is a recent film from one Rasheed Dogar entitled Sachaday Night. The protagonist spends his Saturday nights preying on live theater actresses who are, of course, all prostitutes.
On the pretense of a quick romp, he takes them home, kills them, and has his father hide the bodies in his backyard. Eventually the police track him down and lock him up. When asked to account for his love of film — and his taste for trash — Omar, in a time-honored maneuver, blames his parents. But the primal scene of his childhood, his initiation ritual, if you will, transpired during a full moon in Kent, England, where the five-year-old Omar and his parents attended a nighttime showing of The Wizard of Oz.
Unlike many children, his favorite was the Wicked Witch of the West. And unlike nearly everyone, the character Omar identifies with or at least, most closely resembles is not plucky Dorothy Gale or the Cowardly Lion but the man behind the curtain, the great Oz himself. Omar is a highly hands-on manager, meddling daily with one or another aspect of his businesses, up to and including the songs on the jukebox at the various cafes.
But he prefers to be hands-on behind the scenes. He is strikingly introverted, preferring not to leave home if he can help it. His living area is dark and furnished with a variety of state-of-the-art electronics, including a professional projector that beams onto a giant collapsible screen. The whole house is a sort of deluxe version of the Hotspot idea. There is a bookshelf filled with biographies of serial killers and a desk with a computer jacked into what must be one of the best internet connections in Pakistan.
On the outside, his house is plain, worn, and somewhat unadorned. In Bangalore, where I live, this would be another ordinary upper-class dwelling; in status-conscious Islamabad, it looks positively mysterious. This summer, all of Pakistan was thrown into a cycle of power outages, causing untold damage to his filmic explorations. Omar was sanguine about it, and it seemed as though he relished the idea of conversation as a kind of novelty. But he remains the kind of person who luxuriates in his privacy.
Later on in the broadcast, he relented a bit. To live a little, or indeed at all, is not a choice available to most of the characters in Zibahkhana. It was a meeting of like minds, and the beginning of a series of collaborations. When Omar decided to make his own movie, Pete and Andy were the first people he talked to. They decided to produce the film together, Pete assisting Omar in the writing and Andy taking charge of the editing.
Omar would direct. Their first attempt at production was derailed by the Kashmir earthquake ofin which close to eighty thousand people died. The shoot finally began on July 10, — just in time for the monsoon. Start to finish, it took one month, during which time the Islamabad police found two dead bodies in the forest where the film was being shot. It turned out that their chosen forest was a choice dumping ground for inconvenient bodies. Zibahkhana is a supremely satisfying romp.
But the Burqaman is just the beginning. The film is studded with tributes and in-jokes for the cognoscenti which is to say, readers of the Hotspot Online. The Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl) consists of sizzling, scratchy tunes from old Lollywood dance sequences.
None of them are straightforwardly sympathetic characters, and this may be why Omar hurls abuse at those who would mistake Zibahkhana for anything less or rather, more than a good old-fashioned horror film. After a brief tangle with the board of censors, who rejected it outright at first, Zibahkhana opened in Pakistan at a cineplex in Rawalpindi.
The film was a mad success, running for ten straight weeks. A private screening for students in Lahore turned into something of a riot. Outside Pakistan, Zibahkhana has traveled to dozens of film festivals, horror and otherwise. This year it took the top prize at RioFan, the Brazilian festival of fantastic cinema. Certainly, there were setbacks.
The Pakistani commercial rights — DVD included — were negotiated hastily, resulting in little revenue. Still, the film made its mark in Pakistan, and in its own weird way, put Pakistani cinema on the map.
As is usually the case with Omar, there are plenty of plans in the pipeline. There are more film festivals to enter, screenings to attend, and awards to collect. There is a suitcase full of scripts waiting to become films, including Jhabarjhillaa genre-busting women-in-prison meets porn-factory meets monster-spectacular. There are films new and old to be reviewed for the website; new ice cream flavors to be invented; a possible new source for vanilla beans to be explored.
In short, the mundane work of magic-making. And through it all, there is a small but determined army of Omarites, in Pakistan and beyond, following his every move. Cute little Leila. We smiled with her smiles and wept with her tears in Appointment with Happiness. But Nadia grew up abroad, and her stay in the land of the West has turned her into a Hollywood girl. As for Nadia, there is fear for her upbringing.
If the Zulfiqar family does not quickly take charge of their daughter and bring her back home, they will be held responsible should anything happen to her—before God, her country, and her dead father, whose remains lie under the ground of his homeland and who directed more than one powerful Arab film. I saw you a few years ago in Appointment with Happinessafter which you stopped acting?
I was six at the time. My father was the director and my mother the lead actress. They chose me because they needed a small girl to play the part, and I was the closest in age to the character.
I stopped acting to continue my education. Because I like traveling and visiting places and the lifestyle. Any girl my age would want this job. This job is paradise, why would I refuse it? You are constantly moving from one place to another. How do you think you could have a long-term relationship with anyone with this lifestyle of yours?
You have no privacy. When you get used to the idea of traveling and you roam the world, you become more self-confident. As for my privacy…I have friends in every country. I am not always with Omar. I spend most of my time going out with friends. If I had neglected my private life, I would have died a long time ago.
Caroline is a whole different story. She quit because it was time for her to think about her future. You are very young. I am not going through any phase. I see the whole world in its diversity. Where is the boredom in that? I have no time to be bored. Whatever—work is work. During the day I go to the studio with him for a little while. At night he sits by himself and reads or sits with his friends and plays cards.
When you go with him to the studio, do you find that acting is harder than people think? Of course, there are innumerable good things about this type of career. You have met many celebrities, for sure. Who is your favorite? I would say Michael Caine, for the men. Do you want to be famous? Who would you want to be if you were famous? I liked Lawrence of Arabia.
I hated The Appointment. I watch all kinds of movies. I like movies. When I can, I watch Arab movies. Do you think you are a talented actress? I am not talented. I get nervous even in front of a photo camera. What language do you speak most of the time? It depends on where I am. Do you have a certain literary favorite? I read a lot of novels and detective stories. Any collections? I collect leather belts. I have a very old one that might have been used as a saddle. Do you believe in luck?
And Beirut? I was ten years old the first time. Do you want to get married? And the moon? People talking bothers me. I"m tired of gossips. Why do you think we are talking to you now? Maybe you should ask yourself that question.
According to my old neighbor, Kamal Hanafi, the vegetables in Israel are huge and good for only one thing. Kamal could see it. A flood of Israeli vegetables, inundating the Egyptian market, washing away the old dream of agricultural self-sufficiency.
More pernicious still: the image of oversized Zionist produce coming for his two young daughters. Kamal was very concerned with what his children put in their mouths. If he had a son, things would be easier. But Kamal has not been so lucky. He tries every night, he told me, but all his wife has given him are girls he will lose one day to a wet t-shirt contest and the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in Sharm el Sheikh. My friendship with the Hanafi family was my proudest accomplishment in Cairo.
Kamal, his wife, and his two daughters lived just down the hall in my building, a not-so-solidly middle-class apartment complex in Sayyida Zeinab. Kamal was an old friend of my Arabic teacher and, soon after I moved in, I began an aggressive charm offensive. In the afternoons, I came back from my job editing English translations and stopped by their apartment for tea, practicing my Arabic with Kamal while the two girls practiced their English with me.
I made a point of bringing them tasteful and conservative gifts Egyptian-made, of course. Colored pencils, expensive stationary, pale white dolls with long, knotty hair and ugly lace dresses. I sat with Kamal day after day and held my chin thoughtfully through long lectures on the dangers of foreign involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. One day, after polishing off a plate of kunaffa, I criticized the idea of US intervention in Darfur.
The United States is treating Sudan like Iraq — a staging ground for imperial expansion. Kamal nodded, gazing approvingly at me through his large square bifocals. I had friends. My conquest was not complete, however. Rania taught literature in an adjunct capacity at one of the universities in town. I would ask her about Arabic literature and poetry, about her classes, her family, politics, movies — she was never anything but cordial, but there was something about the perfunctory way she answered my questions that made me think she was wary of my presence.
She had cause to be wary. Soon after he declared me an honorary Arab, Kamal embarked on a courtship of his own. It began with a series of quiet taps on my door. It must have been sometime after two in the morning, and I was lying in bed, neither awake nor asleep, paralyzed by the heat and a nameless anxiety. The taps sounded like Morse code. An SOS? I tiptoed to the door and looked through the peephole.
I opened the door. Kamal was wearing his pajamas. He was barefoot. And he was holding a trembling pack of Cleopatra Superlux — super, because they came in an extra-wide hard pack; lux, because they were extra-long. He showed himself to my couch and sat down, placing the pack of cigarettes on the coffee table. I looked at the cigarettes and hesitated. It was an odd request. He used to smoke two packs a day, he said, back before he got married. His wife had made him promise to quit, and he had.
I sat on the couch with Kamal and tore the plastic off the cigarette pack. The couch was a gift from my boss, an ancient, leonine woman who had grown up in the days of King Farouk, drank gin straight, and muttered angrily under her breath at the sight of muhajabahs. She must have been very fashionable in her twenties, which was when she bought the couch. It was faux-French, with dark green fabric in a paisley pattern. There were cherubic faces on the wooden backrest, carved in bas-relief, blowing whorls of wind from pursed lips.
Over the decades, a rusty spring had cut its way through the center of the couch. Six inches of jagged metal wobbled between Kamal and me. Each failed attempt added to a small mountain of matches on the table and a stench of sulfur in the air. Finally, it caught. The cigarette flared as the paper started to burn, and I carefully drew a cloud of smoke into my mouth. He had removed his glasses for the occasion. I could see the pores on his skin, the light razor burn on his left cheek, the mustard-colored stains on his incisors, a testament to years of heavy smoking and poor oral hygiene.
I thought he would close his eyes, or at least look away, but he stared right at me: I noticed for the first time that his light brown irises were speckled with flecks of gold. Then I exhaled, releasing a stream of smoke that traveled in a long, unbroken line before curling up into his nostrils. The scent of his cologne mixed with the bitterness of the tobacco. Kamal threw his head back, his eyelids fluttered, his upper lip quivered, and his cheeks hollowed as he sucked away in my direction.
Somehow I had not noticed the awkwardness of the whole scene until that very moment. If smoke represented freedom, Wagdi and Kamal had spent the s liberating Egypt. Kamal chuckled as he described the quantities of tobacco they burned — fields of tobacco as wide as the Sahara and as tall as the pyramids.
There were modest amounts of alcohol, as well, and some wink wink hashish. And there were politics. Wagdi was a secular leftist, and so deeply principled as to exert a gravitational force on those around him. Unlike Kamal, who retreated into a stultifying world of domesticity, Wagdi remained politically engaged. Even after starting a family, he had spent five years in prison for attempting to stockpile explosives. Not because anyone told him to, but because even homegrown Cleopatras were no longer percent Egyptian.
The night ended as abruptly as it began. He made fun of my sneakers. He looked around the living room of my apartment and told me I needed a woman to take care of me. Then he stood up, thanked me for my hospitality, and tiptoed down the hallway to his wife and daughters.
Our secret relationship went on like this for months — the nocturnal visitations, the secondhand smoke, the stories about Wagdi. Every few days at one or another inappropriate hour, Kamal would knock softly but insistently until I woke up and let him in.
Sometimes I tried to stay up to wait for him, but his comings were unpredictable. He would probably have come every night if he could have, but he had a whole series of deliberate precautions, designed to hide his perfidy from his family, and after a while I just accepted it.
One afternoon I stopped by the Hanafis to drop off a plate of sweets my coworker had given me; it was more than I could eat myself. The door was open, and I stood at the entrance for a moment without announcing myself. Kamal and Rania were having an argument. I can tell. You go out at all hours of morning and then come sneaking home, washing your hair in the dark. His voice sounded desperate. They have terrible habits. Your friends are a Naked - Uptown Bones - Satans Confusing Realm (Vinyl) influence on you.
I left the sweets by the door and crept away, feeling sick to my stomach. I was the bad influence? I had started inhaling. A week later I heard the familiar tap-tap-tap on my door. I lay in bed, ignoring it, hoping he would go away. But he kept drumming his fingers, and despite myself I let him in and once more acted out the ritual.
We had achieved a kind of equilibrium. I mostly stopped listening to the stories he told, chain-smoking the time away till he was done. His visits became less frequent — his precautions had become still more elaborate, I guess.
One night Kamal appeared at my door in a state of extraordinary agitation. I was already smoking; in fact, I was marinating in smoke. He sat down next to me. She was going to Beni Suef, to visit her family. Then he leaned across the metal spring and put his hand on my arm. My dignity and I had parted ways some time ago. I probably would have agreed to anything.
He had made plans to see his old friend Wagdi. The toughest man in Cairo, remember? I nodded. It was to be a reunion of sorts. He wished I could meet him, he said, but it was not in my destiny; I had my own, very important, role to play. He needed me to watch his daughters while he was out.
And now, suddenly, my betrayal of Kamal. My hand shook. When he left, I lay in bed, sweating through my sheets. It was a hot night, and it was almost impossible to sleep. I lit cigarette after cigarette and stared at the light cast on my ceiling by the street lamps outside.
I woke up covered in ash. My recollection of the next day is hazy, filtered as it is through my guilty conscience. I remember slowing my sprint to a walk when I passed a security officer, as though he could see my intentions or, worse, what was in the bags I was carrying. I remember closing my curtains because the sunlight hurt my eyes. The girls must have sensed something was wrong. They looked into my dark, drab apartment with trepidation.
Kamal was oblivious. Uncle will take care of you today. The girls filed in, reluctantly. I should say that my intentions were not evil. I did not intend to hurt the girls. They were merely pawns in a game their father had set in motion. I swallowed hard. Sit down over there, I said, gesturing toward the couch with my cigarette hand.
I told them not to be frightened, that we were going to have a special English lesson, that we were going to have a good time together. Ash fell on the floor as I spoke, my hands moving dramatically with my words.
I was calm at the time, but in retrospect I must have seemed kind of crazy. I was dimly aware of how things must have looked through their eyes: the precipitous ceiling fan and the bare light bulb, the couch with its rusty spring, the bizarre cherub carvings, the spinning shadows.
I saw myself: wild-eyed and disheveled, shouting things in English, waving my arms in the air while holding a lit cigarette. The older girl, Reem, held a protective arm around her sister Haneen, who looked like she was about to cry.
Their fear made me feel crazier. Is this what it feels like to be dangerous, I wondered? Well, then, I was dangerous. I was Dracula, bizarrely accented creature of shadow. I was Shaitan, my apartment a trap for the unwary. I was Hindu, my gods many and many-armed, my habits terrible. I was the darkness, the ugliest American, the lord of imports.
I was the terrible Zionist vegetable. My glasses slipped down my nose. I pushed them back up with a talon. The girls looked at each other in fear. I returned with the plastic bags from the corner store and placed them on the coffee table. I cleared my throat and was all set to ask them again when I realized that with each question, spittle was leaking from the corners of my mouth. I was foaming. The girls were trembling.
This had to stop. I had to stop it. So I jumped up, took hold of the bulkiest bag and turned it upside down. Suddenly, the table was covered in… chocolatescandiescookiescrackerschipssicecream-deliciousness! The girls were in shock. Reem stopped crying and Haneen looked slightly less anxious. I pulled open a box of Raisinets and threw them in the air, laughing as the American chocolate rained down upon us.
Amazingly, all of the tension disappeared. Pretty soon we were all sitting on the floor, tearing open candy wrappers and eating bite-size Snickers bars.
They jumped around the tiny room, mouthing the sounds to Britney Spears songs. I helped them. It was a fine English lesson. I started to feel self-conscious. Reem smiled a gigantic smile. We should be careful. I lost track of time, and when the door to my apartment opened without warning, the girls were spinning madly again, mouths smeared with chocolate and nougat. I was clapping my hands out of time, pausing occasionally to toss candy wrappers in the air like confetti.
I tried to sweep the candy wrappers under the cherub couch with my foot. I was teaching them English. Kamal grabbed his daughters by the wrists. Kamal never forgave me. And there remained a part of me that wished things had ended on a more graceful note. After our mutual betrayal, our shared hallway continued to reverberate with ill feelings, and at any other time of my life I might have dreaded leaving my apartment on the off-chance I might encounter him or his family.
But thanks to Kamal, I was a changed man. I was shameless. I wore shorts in the hallway and t-shirts in the street. I smoked a pack a day. I started drinking.
One tale in particular fascinated me. Kamal and I had been driving from the airport to our apartment building. I was returning from a short visit to the United States and had thought it very kind of him to make the hour-long drive on my behalf. When I came out of the terminal, luggage in hand, I looked around to find Kamal standing by his car, a gleam in his eyes and a pack of cigarettes in his hand.
He had missed me. On the drive home, Kamal refused to open a window. I puffed and he vicariously inhaled until I grew dizzy and Kamal, drunk off the smoke, began de-claiming. Then they took the chair and tore the legs off and beat him with the legs of the chair.
Kamal intercepted it and began waving it up and down in a chopping motion to demonstrate the violence of the torture. There were splinters everywhere. They squatted down and yelled at him. And you know what happened? His eyes were wide and distorted behind his thick lenses. Nothing happened. He was asleep. I cringed. Maybe he was right. Maybe that was courage and not just psychological trauma.
All I knew now was that I wanted to meet this man who had yawned in the face of torture. I wanted to see just how tough he was, how strict his principles were. Finding the toughest man in Cairo was remarkably easy. My Arabic tutor knew him and arranged a meeting:Saturday afternoon, Midan Orabi. Deciding what to wear was more difficult. A suit was meant to impress, or, at least, to insinuate. I wanted to intimidate. I found my most shameful possession, a shirt so embarrassing I had repressed its existence by wadding it into a ball and burying it in the deepest crevice of my bureau.
The shirt belonged to my father. I knew that if I told him the truth he would scoff. Prostitutes and Israelis, he always said, those were the only things that existed in Dahab. He was wrong: There were shirtless Australians as well, and a class of Egyptian salesman evolved specifically to seduce my father. They called my dad Amitabh Bachchan, and he was flattered; he thanked them in Hindi, and they complimented his Arabic. Within hours of our arrival, my dad, giddy with the attention and the power of the dollar, had bought three t-shirts, two with a camel and a pyramid, and, more humiliatingly, a third emblazoned with an image of the Stella beer label.
He wore the shirt for the weekend. I pulled the t-shirt on and stood in my bathroom in front of the mirror. I rehearsed talking points to my reflection: The war in Iraq, I said, was necessary to disturb the unproductive stasis of Arab politics.
I turned so I could look at myself in profile. Opening the Egyptian markets to foreign goods was necessary to shock a stagnant economy into action. I sucked in my stomach. It was Hayek who said it best. Or Milton Friedman. I shrugged. Liberal interventionism would trump Oriental despotism. I arrived early for our meeting. Wagdi was two hours late. I waited for him in a coffee shop and got a table in the center, strategically located underneath a ceiling fan and next to a giant plastic bust of Umm Kulthum.
Her impressive head gazed impassively at the hordes of teenagers roaming outside. Most of them were playing Amr Diab ringtones on their phones and sweating; others were buying bodybuilding magazines and tabloids with news about Hollywood celebrities from a group of old men who seemed to despise their customers as much as their wares.
I had a hard time knowing what Umm Kulthum was thinking.
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