Saturday, October 22, 2011

Who will love Aladdin Sane?

During the day, everyone stays inside - in cars, in buildings, in houses - in the air conditioning. As the sun goes down and night approaches, Jeddah starts bustling with activity. Boys roar by in their cars; sometimes these boys are the ripe old age of 12.

Watching him dash away / Swinging an old bouquet…

On weekends in the evening, Abrahim and I go to the Corniche, which runs along the Red Sea or an inlet of such where we meet up with his cousins. Or sometimes, I ride with his cousin Abdu who is a bit more fluent in his English. Last night, Abdu wanted me to hear what he says is one of the most beautiful English songs. Westlife sings the song. After splashing around in the Red Sea, I can strangely embrace Westlife. Please don’t tell anyone.

All the seas go coast to coast / Find the place I love the most / Where the fields are green / To see you once again my love.

And then it hits me:

Who will love Aladdin Sane?

Outside the window of my apartment in the compound, on the other side of the concrete wall with the barbed wire on top and then on past the second retaining wall that keep trucks from parking and exploding and blowing up my apartment and on past the four-lane road and then there, there in the parking lot that houses Al Baik (the favored Saudi fast food chain that I heard is actually not Saudi, and that same building that houses a few clothing shops including European Shoes that sales, for the most part, shoes made by Caterpillar which is pretty much not European but maybe Kansan or Nebraskan), African immigrants wash cars. Where they get the water, I do not know but there is a gaggle of them with buckets and sponges. There are puddles everywhere. Sometimes I watch them from my window.

A few weeks ago after I had gone to the Corniche, Abraham took me to Al Baik for the first time. We arrived during prayer time. At prayer time, as I have said before, everything stops for 20 minutes at least. Sometimes shop owners are in no hurry to open to the mad throng that is waiting because the crowd gathers like birds in uh, well, Hitchcock’s The Birds. This is what happens; someone who finally gets fed up after a thirty-minute wait starts pounding on the door like the birds that got fed up waiting for Tippi Hedren or the others trapped in the house to come out of the house and the birds pecked their way into the upper floors. Thirty-five minutes later the doors open after five minutes of mad knocking and the crowd flock in like birds or, more like, swarm in like bees.

So in this instance we were waiting in Ibrahim’s battered Honda with nothing to do but wait. One of the Africans approached. Ibrahim rolled down the window and negotiated a car wash. Soon after, bucket upon bucket of water landed upon the car starting with the windshield, thrown on the car by a bedraggled young man who looked to be in his mid-teens.

This is his life. Washing cars in Saudi is his life. Dressed in rags is his life. Living in someplace amongst strangers who do not care for him, do not notice him, is his life, anonymous and marginalized. This ragged Saudi life must be better than what he had in Africa. Do we have to see someone less fortunate who does not question his fortune to know how lucky we are?

That being said, I snapped pix of him while he washed the car because I was struck by something in him, something unexplainable, maybe his acceptance of life with no question. Something stirred me and I don’t know why but it did, maybe it was some sort of Death in Venice wish. My involvement or notice spurred him to clown a bit and throw a fresh bucket of water on the windshield to shield himself from my camera, my life from his - my age, his youth. He smiled as he splashed.

After he washed the car and Ibrahim paid him, I took my picture with him. Ibrahim navigated this because the young man was not sure what I wanted. Why would someone want a picture with him his eyes asked? This seemed like some sort of hallowed moment. Now, here and there I see him in the late afternoon when he arrives to wash cars or at night when he is wet with soap and perspiration and we recognize each other’s existence with a nod of the head. Hallowed be thy name.

Nighttime is when the Saudis truly live. This seems to be the routine for most of them from what I have witnessed. They get up, go to school or work; their first meal is at noon. That is breakfast. They have a big lunch, maybe cupsa, after work or school and then they take a four-hour nap and wake up and go out.

The streets are roaring with cars and activity at night. Sometimes, driving down the highway, I will spot three or four cars pulled over on the side of the road with young men doing nothing but talking and laughing and yelling revving their engines and being nothing more than young men but young men without alcohol since alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom.

Motor sensational…

Sometimes as well, and this always makes me laugh, I see a pre-pubescent at the wheel that can barely reach the pedals. Yes, I know this is a serious business but it cracks me up. Women can’t drive so they have to have their young sons who are not driving age drive to run errands or to pick up older or younger sisters.

Here four cars crowd into three lanes. The lanes seem to be nothing more than white painted lines.

But then what happens at lunch here? For the first few weeks, I went next door to the school for a kibda sandwich but then I decided to change it up. Last week, Michael asked me if I wanted to get falafel at his favorite falafel place that was a bit of a walk. I told him sure. So we started walking. Fahd joined us. He seems to be wherever I am quite often. He has a mountain of things to say to me but all he can ever say since I often saw him at the kibda place is:

“Teacher like kibda?”

The three of us walked a couple 100 meters and then a car nearly overtook us screeching to a halt seconds away from English teacher of the Michael-and-Tyson-variety extinction. We turned around to see a rumbling white 80s model Chevrolet Caprice. Dust was still flying. The car honked. And a large figure blurry in the midday sun emerged. There stood Khaled, one of my students who is big and jolly and should be driving a Caprice. Imagine Peter Sellers coming back from the grave and playing John Candy (grave fabulous) in a movie scripted by Hunter S. Thompson (grave slightly unwashed) and directed by Jim Jarmusch (who is not yet of the grave).

“Teacher! Where you go?” He motioned for us to get in the car. That one phrase was the most English I had heard him speak yet, which made me wonder if some of these guys are just faking it to get out of doing work in class. “Me go you.”

I understood what he was trying to say and got in the front seat and Michael got in the back. As soon as I got into the car, I completely fell back in the seat because Khaled had the passenger seat and the driver seat reclined all the way back. This was his own magic carpet and he cruised the Kingdom on and in it.

“So I see you sleep as you drive,” Michael volunteered. Khaled just let out a blast of laughter.

“Teacher where you go?”

“Falafel,” I said.

“Falafel good,” he confirmed.

Since every driver seems to think he is driving a Ferrari though he is really driving a Crown Victoria, or an Impala, or in this case, a Chevrolet Caprice; Khaled zipped in an out of traffic as if we were racing in Monte Carlo. The affect was that of a ship which through some magic power had suddenly become a rocket. At one point, since I had no seat belts, since seat belts are frowned upon in the Kingdom - or any leverage whatsoever since I was basically being propelled through this cruise ship on wheels or this oversized low-flying magic carpet - I found myself tumbling across the front seat much like Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole.

“Teacher funny,” Khaled laughed.

We arrived at the falafel place and the falafels are godhead. This is coming from someone who is not a falafel fan but then I had never had one in Saudi. Stuffed in pita bread, there were carrots and tomatoes, French fries and all sorts of other secret magic ingredients. I ate a whole one and then I split one with Michael. While we ate, we crowded six people onto a bench made for four people.

After this gastronomic revelation, the next day, Michael – we share an office – asked me if I wanted to get falafel again since I had been so demonstrative in my love for my first Arabian falafel.

“Yes,” I replied. “Should we try to con a student into taking us?”

“Yes,” Michael confirmed with a giggle. With that, we walked to the school gate where students congregate and asked somewhat loudly who wanted to take us to get falafel. Several students offered.

We accepted a ride with Camel Eyes, Michael’s student. I had met him at the kibda place one day at the start of the term. At that time, I told Michael that I met his student who has beautiful eyes, like a camel. Now we call him Camel Eyes. In the car, Michael who teaches higher-level students told him that we call him Camel Eyes. I added that he has beautiful eyes and that I love camels. He told me that most people think his eyes are not beautiful. I repeated his eyes are beautiful.

Last night, I got a call from a student who was ready to take me to the Red Sea Mall, which we had been discussing for a week or so. He is an Abdullah. We were set to go on Tuesday. To him, Tuesday is Thursday. I tried to explain there was a misunderstanding. Because to me, Thursday is Thursday not Tuesday but he did not understand this. He wanted to go on Tuesday, which is really Thursday because that is when all of the girls are there. And since this society is segregated and single men cannot be around single women, he is often not allowed in the mall on Thursday, which he calls Tuesday, because Thursday, again which he calls Tuesday, is family night.

So he called me when I was with Abdu and Ibrahim and I tried to explain the mix-up, which I could not relay so I finally had Abdu explain it to him. But this made him hang up because he did not understand that I had put Abdu on the phone to explain the situation with him. He thought this to be interference. Naturally, here there are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

As in what happened on Wednesday afternoon, Fareed invited me to go drink the milk of the camel with him. After that we would go to watch the Ittihad Football Club (the Saudi team) play at the stadium. Abdiramen told me this at the end of the last class of the day. I was perplexed. Why did Abdiramen assume that I knew about this? Then I remembered a few weeks ago when I had marked a date on Fareed’s calendar when I would go somewhere with him.

Fareed is full of energy and is linguistically ambitious at times but at other times when I want him to complete a task he says “Homework,” which always perturbs me because I always know that he is going to say it before he does. He wears me out and I had already had two heart attacks and a meltdown during the day. Not to mention, my head was starting to pound.

The heart attacks were the simple heart attacks that occur when someone says ‘is’ instead of ‘has’ or ‘he’ instead of ‘she’. This is what happens - my eyes roll back in my head and I fall over what happens to be in my way, be it a desk, a chair, another teacher, or a student, whatever. Sometimes a student will come and fan me to revive me.

My inspiration for this comes directly from Edith Hicks, my journalism teacher my sophomore year of high school. In my younger years before I could truly appreciate performance, she was the first teacher who saw the importance of impromptu performance in the classroom. By the time, I had her as a teacher she was near the end of her career but that never stopped her from putting a fruit bowl on her head and singing the Chiquita banana song.

So my mock heart attacks may or may not impose the importance of ‘has’ and ‘is’ or ‘he’ and ‘she’. Or maybe it keeps those metaphysical wolves at the door at bay. Sanity must be my friend. Calgon take me away from meltdowns.

Who will love Aladdin Sane?

Before I go on, I should say that later in the day, after my aforementioned meltdown, my mental sun shone. “Metal Guru is it you?” When Mohammad came to tell me that Bandar would not be in my afternoon class because he is pregnant, I seriously had trouble containing myself. Naturally, I asked Bandar if he was expecting and I pantomimed pregnancy with my right hand making a basketball shape in front of my stomach. Bandar always has a look of shock and surprise on his face, which becomes more pronounced the longer he thinks. I was quite proud that Mohammad - the Mohammad who asked if I would accept his offer to live with him and his three cousins in a two room apartment – could concoct that sort of English ribbing.

When I had my meltdown, there was really nothing unusual going on in the classroom. There was the usual group of students who were listening and the usual group that weren’t. Yussef who I thought had been kicked out of the program because of several absences and extreme tardiness was sitting right by my desk. Yussef is the Herman Munster in my life, not scary just annoying with that same sort of Herman Munster clumsiness and oafishness.

We had been talking about car crashes. This was the question and answer:

“Did you crash your car?”

“Yes, I crashed my car.” Or “Yes, I did crash my car.”

Students had written the answers on the board.

Yussef showed me his answer:

“Did you crash your car?”

“Claw wife indecipherable house.”

Granted, I love the Dadaist movement just as much as the next fish is a light bulb but my classroom has not advanced to the stage of dada. Thus, Yussef coming in and generally dada-ing up my my classroom via his Herman Munster persona was an annoyance to say the least. Especially when he had the gall to start chanting:

“Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break…”

When he walked up to my desk, Saadoon did not know he was walking up to a loaded gun pointed at the first person to be stupid enough to pull the trigger. He was pleased with what he had written in his notebook:

“Did you crash your car?”

“Yes, I crashed my.”

“My what?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “My what.”

Of course, deep breaths were in order while Herman Munster Yussef in the background chanted:

“Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break. Break Teacher! Break…”

“No,” I continued. “I crashed my what?”

“No, I crashed my what,” Saadoon confirmed.

Also keep in mind that since he was at my desk and Herman Munster Yussef was chanting the Break Teacher! Break mantra, this gave the rest of the classroom carte blanche to bring their general disruptiveness to a crescendo much like the 20 bar orchestral break in the Sgt Pepper closer ‘A Day in the Life.’

Honestly, I was starting to become envious of the man who ‘blew his mind out in a car. He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.” Did I notice that my lights had changed? At this point, there was a yellow light flashing in my head.

“My what?” I asked again with an increase in urgency. “I crashed my what?”

At this point, Saadoon had that sun-cooked carp look on his face and we were at the point of no return.

He blew his mind out in a car…

“I crashed my what?”

Who will love Aladdin Sane?

Saadoon blank carp stare staring.

“My what?”

Saadoon mouth agape.

“I crashed my what? I CRASHED MY WHAT?! MY DOG?! MY FISH?! MY CUPSA?! MY CAMEL?!”

Here the montage becomes clear as the aforementioned 20 bar orchestral break plays “A Day in the Life” – an atom bomb exploding; Frankenstein pulling the head off of his bride; Jack Nicholson hacking his way through the bathroom door; the Nazi’s lover blasting him with a machine gun in Genet’s Funeral Rites; Anthony Perkin’s in a wig; John and Yoko’s Two Virgin’s album cover; and, last but certainly not least, Shelley Winters as Shelley Winters.


With that I collapsed in my chair and in my head the final E chord resounded in ‘A Day in the Life.’

"Who will love Aladdin Sane?"


Blogger Frances said...

If this Aladdin Sane isn't a car salesmen, I'm pretty sure that people searching for cars for sale by owner would go to him if ever he sells one of his cars.

3:15 PM  

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