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Friday, May 15, 2015

Stupid Piece of Lettuce

My teeth sunk deep into the soft buns, bursting a medley of juicy flavors. A sliver of lettuce broke free, smearing my chin with mayonnaise, and fell to the floor. I tried reaching down to pick it up but I couldn’t. Michael, sitting across, chewed on his mouthful until it chuted down his esophagus. He took a swig of soda then he coughed and cleared his throat.

“You’re such an obsessive-compulsive old man. Will you just forget about the stupid piece of lettuce and enjoy the damn burger?”

Michael was right, I was frigging old. I nudged the gummy piece of lettuce with my foot, hoping it would stick to the side of my shoe but it didn’t. I stomped it flat. Crap! That only made it worse.

After the third bite, my burger crumbled.

“You’re holding it backward.” He said. “Keep your thumbs underneath the lower bun and the other fingers on top.”

My thumbs disbanded the sandwich as they bore into the bread. The patty slid askew, diced onions fell on the Formica table, and a slice of tomato threatened to follow. Crossed-eyed, I saw a smudge on the tip of my nose.

“Here, use a napkin.” Michael mumbled as he chewed and sipped, ignorant of the fix I was in, or pretending to be.

I looked under the table again then back at him, cloudy, gray eyes imploring.

“I won’t pick it up.” He said. “And neither will you even if you could. Just stop stressing about the goddamn lettuce.”

Michael scoffed what remained of his burger and slurped the last two ounces of his drink. The ice rattled in the paper cup. Gazing at some point above my left shoulder, he frowned as if deep in thought then laughed like a maniac.

Wipe that smirk off your face. I just don’t like making a mess.

“That’s why they hired that Mexican girl. Not because she has a PhD in physics like you have but to clean the floor after sloppy customers. If everyone cleaned after himself or herself, she’d be out of a job. She’s cute, isn’t she? Look at her firm, little butt and perky breasts.”

The girl was beautiful. Twenty, twenty-one. I held her in my eyes.

Only if I were younger, Pretty Thing. You should’ve seen me in my twenties. I had a full mane of dark hair and I was taller, much taller.

“You know why this joint is painted in bright orange?” He asked. "It’s to drive people nuts so they eat and take off.” He answered his own question. “Come on, let’s go.”

Michael helped me to my feet. I grabbed the cane and walked stiffly across the diner. I stole furtive looks at the girl’s butt and breasts. She caught me gawking and smiled at me. I smiled back, almost tripping. Michael held me steady.

“Hey dad, how about some ice cream before I drop you off? We can take the beach road.”

I nodded. I had nothing better to do.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I picked up the receiver after the third or fourth ring, tipping the glass of water on the night table. “Hello!” I cleared my throat, but my voice came out hoarse. The colon in the middle of the clock display blinked, while the digits stared without a flinch.

“Hi daddy, it’s me. I’m sorry to wake you up at this hour.” Liz was crying.

“What’s wrong sweetheart? Are you two fighting again?”

“I left the house and brought the baby with me. I’m staying over with a friend.”

Before she hung up, she assured me that Brandon didn’t hit her. He never did, she swore.

He was a passive-aggressive bastard who transferred his neuroses to her, a control freak with a tongue capable of lashing out words soaked in bitter venom. A divorce was the obvious answer, but Liz’s life was a little complicated. She would lose custody of Michael, who was named after me, or more likely, after his paternal grandfather. Brandon wasn’t a bad guy, she claimed, but I never liked him. I told her that it wouldn’t work between them. Liz was in love, though, and she brushed me off with a sweet giggle.

“Oh come on, daddy. He’s a brilliant programmer, just like you. Give yourself enough time to know him better. Besides, you’re going to spend your summers in San Francisco from now on. Brandon’s dad’ll buy us a house overlooking the bay as a wedding present.” She kissed my forehead and tickled me. Her mirth was contagious. I burst out laughing.

They were married in London and left on their honeymoon the next morning. It was Liz’s dream to travel to Japan, but something important came up for Brandon. Instead of staying there for a month, they had to cut it short and fly to California a week later. I hadn’t seen my daughter since, and only knew my grandson as an apparition on a computer screen.

I switched the bedside lamp on and sat straight. A pool of water enclaved my pillbox. The ulcer scraped the lining of my stomach like an errant fingernail on a chalkboard. I winced and reached for the telephone.

“Hello Sid. It’s Michael.” I listened to his response and feigned a smile for my own benefit. “You sound good too.”

We chitchatted for a minute. He asked how I was managing alone. I sent Maggie, his wife, my regards. A pause wedged itself into the conversation before I filled the gap. “I need a favor. You have someone on the West Coast, right? Uh huh, San Francisco. Eight o’clock’s perfect. D’you still drink single malt? Good! I’ll bring you a 28 year Singleton. See you tonight.”

I shuffled my feet and found the wet slippers. Behind the curtains, the sun sneaked above the cityscape resurrecting shadows long presumed dead. I had a few errands to run, I thought on my way to the kitchen, but first, I needed a glass of warm milk.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beauty and the Beast

At last, the Levant is under the spell of a conventional Mediterranean winter. Conventional in the sense that it's raining hard and snowing as it should, and that the temperatures are down to single digits at night in the coastal plains and below zero in the mountains and inland.

The earth was parched and the subterranean water reserves were all but gone. Had this winter been as benign as the previous one, Syria would’ve gone thirsty this coming summer. We were in dire need for Ghayth, rescue from the sky, to permit the lucky ones among us to live under worsening socioeconomic conditions for one more year.

But with the beautiful sight of white snow and the latent promise of a better tomorrow we shouldn’t overlook the true nature of the beast, the homeless, the orphans, the wailing mothers and grieving fathers, those who lost everything while the onslaught of war continues. We should remember our refugees, now scattered all over the world, freezing to death in the outback of neighboring countries or keeping warm in distant, Nordic lands. We need to honor the memory of those who died because they had no place to go to and those who were lost at sea trying to make it to safer shores.

Although the war in Syria has reached an unprecedented magnitude of baseness and cruelty, let us never forget how it all started so we can, or our descendants, breathe the fragrant air of the coming spring. No matter how calm it was before the storm, the cruel heat oppressed us. It’s always after the storm that beauty prevails.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je suis moi

I'm against the fanaticism of the Kouachi Brothers and the vileness of Charlie Hebdo. No one has the right to take the life of other human beings for a word they wrote or a cartoon they drew, or to cause them bodily harm. Similarly, free press isn’t an open license to ridicule someone else’s beliefs, culture and sanctity.
This tragic event is a dirty reminder of the bigotry and atrocities being committed in the names of freedom of speech and religion. Before we identify ourselves with one wicked side or another, let us not forget the thousands of innocent people dying every day, everywhere in the world, of hunger and cold and disease and war and torture. Let us identify with them instead, or at least with our true selves.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Orzo Spinach Soup

1 diced white onion
3 diced cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup Arzo pasta
1 cup diced celery
I cup diced carrots
2 cups roasted diced tomato
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups diced spinach
6 cups Water + 2 chicken broth cubes
Oregano, rosemary, thyme, a pinch of each
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a pan, add onions garlic and soy sauce, stir for 4 minutes until gold in color and sprinkle with brown sugar (optional but I love the caramelized hint of sugar).
Add diced celery and carrots, stir for 4 minutes.
Add water, chicken stock, tomatoes, butter, oregano, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cover and bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat, uncover, add the orzo pasta and simmer while stirring lightly but continuously for 10 minutes, add spinach for an additional 2 minutes.

Ready to serve. Enjoy it! (Serves 6)