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Thursday
Feb172005

Bombs over Alhambra.

Had lunch with the Old Arabic Crew™ last week. These meetings happen one Friday a month in a really awful Lebanese restaurant in Alhambra, and they’re attended by my father and six or seven of his cracked out friends and colleagues from back east (way, way east). Most of these guys are between late 60s and 70s and are retired from professions including: banking, real estate, import/exporting, consulting, film school chairmanship, professional gambling, weapons development and arms dealing. And I’m not kidding about any of that.

Naturally, I find these gentlemen to be educational instruments of great worth. Amou (“Uncle”) Roger— who used to travel the world for Lockheed Martin, teaching foreign military personal how to operate war machines — spent most of the lunch talking about what he learned at an investor’s conference in Florida a couple of weeks ago. I know these lunches sound horrifyingly dull, but I’ve occasionally enjoyed the rewards that come with listening to what men of their years and experience have to say. If you’re at all interested in making a shitload of money over the next few years, buy land in the sunbelt. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada — these places are going to explode.

That fact prompted my Amou George (who’s recovering nicely from a 90 thousand dollar spinal cord operation) to explaim, “I hate Arizona. If there’s one place I truly hate, it’s Arizona.” He never explained why. Lots of funny stuff at these lunches, like my dad trying to tell jokes. I can’t even begin to figure out how to convey the hilarity of this in text form, but take my word for it: Dad is not funny. He tells horrible jokes and nearly collapses in a fucking fit of laughter because he thinks he’s so goddamn funny. Seriously, a fit. You’d think he was about to fucking die from laughing, the poor fool.

History and politics come after money on the list of conversation priorities, and that’s where things get really fun. Let me tell you something, these old dudes really have it in for the British. “As bad as this President is, Andy,” Amou George told me, “and don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand Bush —”

“Son of a bitch,” Amou Naseem interrupted, as he did nearly every time someone mentioned the President’s name.

“Everything is really the British’s fault!” George continued. “If you think about it, you can trace every fucked up thing in the world back to those goddamn Brits.” Which segued into a discussion of India’s independence, which segued into a discussion about Eisenhower telling the Brits and the French to “stay the hell out of Egypt” when they wanted to go in and reclaim the Suez Canal that Nasser had nationalized (in spite of the fact that the Brits and the French and the Israelis actually financed the canal’s construction) because Ike didn’t want Egypt going to the Soviets for help and because he was rumoured to have installed Nasser in the first place because Egypt’s previous leader King Faruk was supposedly a British puppet, which segued into a discussion about how Christians and Muslims always got along back in Palestine, which segued into a discussion about how Judaism is supposedly the only one of the “Big Three” that directly alienates people (“chosen people” and whatnot), which segued into a discussion about how the guy who designed the phrase “Judeo-Christian” was the greatest genius social engineer in history, which segued into a discussion of Newt Gingrich.

“Son of a bitch,” Amou Naseem said, again.

I gave up years ago trying to argue with my dad and his peers about the Jewish thing. I mean, I think any thinking person can understand, at least on an academic level, why older Palestinians might harbor some degree of prejudice for Jewish people, but the final straw came for me when I was visiting Dad and his mom and they tried to tell me the government’s anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft® was a Jewish conspiracy perpetrated out of jealousy over not making any money in computers in the 80s.

But these lunches aren’t just full of greed and hate.

“The greatest enemy of the Arabic people is themselves” is something I hear a lot. One thing you need to understand about Arabic people is the history. It’s not that Arabic people love history, it’s that history is in the blood. You can talk to any Arabic man of my father’s generation and they can tell you the history of the world. Every name, every place, every coup d’etat, every thing.

It’s heartbreaking to see how much pride they have in the history of the Middle East and talk about how it’s all turned to shit. Corrupt monarchies, warlords, despots, extremists… bleh. I’m really grateful to have spent my earliest years in a place like Abu Dhabi. I lived with Muslim neighbors; my mom was respected as a woman; we were always safe; and we had this amazing desert right at the end of the street that we used to shoot fireworks into at night.

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