When I was in 9th grade in Lebanon, I had this friend named Ryan.
I’m not sure how we got close in the first place, but we just clicked one year. He and I weren’t friends for very long (I moved to Canada after 9th grade and I think he moved to the US) but we had a special bond that I’ll always remember.
This is a story that started one day during our morning recess period. Me and a few other guys would stand in our usual spot outside a classroom window. My mom packed me lunch every day: Two hearty sandwiches (one for each break), a drink, and an assortment of treats. We’d eat and hang out, as 14-year-olds are wont to do.
Ryan, who I was already friendly with, made a habit of coming over to me and asking if I had anything good. It became so routine that I’d smile when I saw him heading my way and took to affectionately calling him “The Leech”, a title he wore with pride. If anything, I usually did have “something good”, (see aforementioned treats). I was always happy to spread the sugary goodness, and the guys were more than happy to partake. (I tended to spend mealtimes with the boys for some reason. The girls hung out…somewhere else?)
Somehow, the tradition of handing out candies and sweets to Ryan evolved into giving him my lunchtime sandwich. Every morning, I’d zip open my lunch bag and split my sandwiches among the two of us, and we’d stand there and eat. He never pressured me to do this, it kind of just happened. (I’m thinking maybe the first time he may have been hungry but either didn’t have money for the cafeteria, or wasn’t in the mood for their food). After that, giving him a full half my food for the day felt normal.
Well, my mom found out about my generosity (because I told her) and was a bit bemused by the whole thing. After all, the sandwiches were there to last me the whole day, so if they were both gone in the morning, what was I eating for lunch?
I wish I could say. I don’t even remember going hungry, and I know I never bought anything from the cafeteria. I think I just started eating half my sandwich in the first break and ate the second half later.
My mom, you guys, is a saint. Instead of telling me to stop giving him my food, she started packing him his own lunch. She’d never even met him, and that was her solution. I remember eating breakfast as she cut open fresh baguettes, filling them with cold cuts or cheeses or any assortment of spreads. If there were candy bars, she’d toss me an extra for him. She would joke, “Shoo, khalafto w nseeto la hal walad?” (What, did I give birth to then forget about this boy?) But the whole thing developed without any discussion, it just became normal.
Which is what I love about it.
I’ve been working on a post for two days, the draft of which I started like two years ago. But it’s not rounding out the way I want it to.
Ever want to tell a story that has multiple facets, and you can’t bloody figure out which ones you want to focus on? Or, worse yet, how to focus on them? That’s my problem right now. I have this story from when I was in 9th grade in Lebanon, and it’s really sweet…but I can’t figure out how I want to tell it. The way it is now, I read it and there’s no impact—it just falls flat, like a vertigo-ridden toddler.
*Sigh* It’s all good. It’ll come to me.
I’m feeling good.
I tend to not always vocalize when I’m feeling upbeat because my brain tells me that as soon as I say it, something horrible will happen that will destroy everything.
I never want that, obviously.
But I’m feeling good these days. And I’m happy.
And that’s all.
Sometimes songs I haven’t heard in practically decades get stuck in my head, and I end up digging them up on YouTube for a merry trip down Nostalgia Lane. Yesterday was one such occasion.
First, some back story:
When I was really young, we had this tape featuring an Egyptian lady named Maha Abu Ouf. It was aimed at little kids, and it basically consisted of her alternating between reading the viewers a story (often a classic Arabic fable) followed by a song. The songs were about a myriad of topics, from going to a party, to learning to count to 10, to a song about a hyperbolic clown, to another about pantomiming. (Can’t say she didn’t cover quite a bit of ground). Some of the songs were set to familiar rhythms, like “This Old Man” and “Witch Doctor”.
Maha often dressed as a clown named Boo-Boo in the music videos, who was sometimes a character in her songs. What’s funny is that when I dug the songs up, I realized that her Boo-Boo persona is probably the only ‘traditional’ clown I ever took any liking to, and still do. (I’ve liked the Joker for years, but he doesn’t count).
The thing about digging up relics from your past, though, is that you can’t avoid seeing things a little…differently. Like noticing the ridiculously cheesy effects and transitions, or the embarrassing children’s fashion of the decade.
Or the blatant copyright infringement.
Seriously. Her videos are full of clips of popular cartoons as well as a liberal dose of Sesame Street Muppet knock-offs. (It would have made a lot of people very sue-happy if it were anywhere where copyright laws matter). But as a kid, it was perfectly normal to see all these familiar characters bouncing around to these catchy songs. It didn’t even matter that Big Bird’s eye was flipped around pretty creepily and Oscar the Grouch was uncharacteristically enthusiastic.
In spite of it all, guys, it’s so genuine and sweet. Like even now, Maha’s demeanor and interactions with the camera and the kids is so natural and loving–not like some other artists who act like they can relate to kids. I’m glad that wasn’t ruined for me.
So this is kind of a long-winded lead-in to say that I learned the chorus to “Witch Doctor” very differently than a lot of people reading this. In case you grew up having missed out on Witch Doctor’s super-important message of babbling nonsense at the object of your unrequited love, here is a referesher.
And here is Maha’s version, adapted to be a song about going to the circus and seeing a magician (very creatively) named Leelo the Magician (Al-Saher Leelo). The song’s in Arabic, but the chorus is still nonsense. (Big Bird’s lopsided eyeball makes a grand appearance).
Needless to say, having grown up on this version, hearing original sounded so bloody weird and wrong.
I got this from Greg Fallis, whose post you can check out right here. Feel free to check out the rest of his blog, he’s both hilarious and insightful! I just figured I’d go along with his post and also answer the following questions (These are what John Lipton from Inside the Actor’s Studio asks his interviewees). I mean, why not?
So here goes:
What is your favorite word?
This one is hard, as there are a handful of words I have some kind of affinity to because of the initial weirdness. Off the top of my head: Onomatopoeia, oxymoron, and spatula. (This list could totally change tomorrow). I’d include Arabic words too but I have more of an affinity for phrases than specific words.
What is your least favorite word?
Slice. I don’t know why.
What turns you on?
Intelligence, dry humor, and the ability to see things from an intersectional point of view.
What turns you off?
I’m going to steal this straight from Greg Fallis, because honestly, I couldn’t say it better:
“Willfully stupid people. You know, folks who are capable of learning and understanding, but either can’t be bothered to learn or refuse to learn because it would make them doubt something they believed. Willfully stupid people can fuck right off.”
What sound or noise do you love?
Hysterical laughter. Granted that can be a very quiet sound, but I love it when people lose it. I like hearing people having fun. Second is whatever song is on my playlist, and third would be the doorbell letting me know my food is here.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Literally? Loudness I can’t control. Most kinds of loudness. Pounding music, jackhammers, people who do not have indoor voices…if it’s consistently loud, I will get extremely antsy and will probably either leave or retreat into myself. (Do not try to talk to me).
Edited to add: I can’t believe I didn’t include this before. Sound I abhor: Loud chewing. Loud chewing will turn me into a crazy-eyed murderer. Unless your excuse is that you were literally raised by cows, (and if so, just don’t eat near me), please shut your mouth when you chew.
What is your favorite curse word?
The one I use the most would be “shit”. A word I don’t use but think is kind of awesome is “pissant”.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Perhaps work in an NGO or an activist organization.
What profession would you not like to do?
Sales, or police work, or medicine, or anything to do with crunching numbers.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Hey, sorry the state of the world was kind of…uncool. We’re working on it.
– What do you on your phone all the time?
– Oh, I read…about Palestine, about Syria, about massacres, about Donald Trump, about religious fundamentalists of every stripe, about injustice, about abuse of power, about whatever other general bits of awfulness.
– And then I get angry at everything and then harbor it in me until it swells up in an uncontrollable crescendo of silent impotent rage.
I live in a pretty cool apartment complex. It’s quite new, and they seem to pride themselves on taking good care of their tenants. Usually, it seems like they do.
So when I called the front office asking if they could have maintenance come around and fix a bit of a leaky shower-head, I was expecting a 10-minute quick fix. Not a thirteen-day ordeal.
But that’s what happened.
Thirteen days without a working shower in my bathroom. Oh the shower itself stopped working? Yes, indeed it did.
That one leaky shower-head turned into “We have to replace the entire valve in the shower”. Which meant ordering parts. Which meant that, somehow, trying to fit those ordered parts didn’t work. Which meant other stuff about cracking a hole through the wall and replacing tiles and drywall and such and at this point I was just smiling politely and nodding along. (I mean, what else does one do at that point? They were doing their best and the glory of renting apartments means you’re not paying extra for shower-fixing).
It would have been a real bloody nightmare if the complex wasn’t nice enough to give us a key to an (obviously unoccupied) 1-bedroom apartment to use the shower there. And then my cousin/roommate left to Lebanon for a few weeks shortly after the shower stopped working so we could use her bathroom. (We are currently three people living in a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom that became a 2-bedroom/1-bathroom)
So things could have been a hell of a lot worse, is what I’m saying. Still.
Thirteen days for…One. Leaky. Shower-head.
Maintenance guys were really sweet and super-apologetic though, so I wasn’t mad. I knew it would be done in the end, and it wasn’t their fault anyways. Plus, it’s finally working good as new! (With the added bonus of no leaking, I may add).
Now I’m wondering when the front office will start asking for that extra apartment key back…
Today, I saw a video of three brothers in Aleppo, Syria. One brother died before their eyes at the hospital. They were all children, tear-streaked faces covered in thick, gray dust. Their devastated mother walked every step to the cemetery cradling her shrouded dead son like a baby.
Today, I read a letter by the father of a convicted rapist, asking the judge for leniency for his son. He reasons that his offspring, who raped an unconscious woman behind a Dumpster at a frat party, has been through so much already. He is no longer his carefree self. He even refuses to eat his favorite foods—like steak. His son’s victim, however, was alluded only once, in the following phrase: “20 minutes of action”.
Today, I watched a video detailing how the US holds more prisoners than literally every other country in the world, with the vast majority of prisoners being minorities. America: 5% of the world’s population. 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Today, I realized none of this surprises me. It’s all been done before. But all of it still angers me. I cried.
Today, I will go to bed safe. I will go to bed secure. I will have run-of-the-mill dreams. I will wake up tomorrow and start another day, like any other.
I will not have to worry about missiles landing on my house.
I will not worry about being raped. Not in my house, anyways.
I will not be under any of the stress that comes with being in prison.
But I will know and I will remember. I will always remember.