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Friday, September 09, 2016

Down In Smoke


“Women! You can’t live with them. You can’t live without ‘em.”
“So true! They’re like popcorn.” I ruminated and took a slow drag. Smoke descended on the table like chemical mist.
“What do you mean?” He asked, “Women are tasty, ephemeral and frail?”
I hadn’t put any thought behind my words. They were the bastards of a threesome of beer cans.
“Precisely.” I crushed my cigarette and lit another.

Leaving in twelve hours, I had resigned myself to be molested on both sides of the great divide by people, mere people, who held absolute power over my destiny. I had to pass, with poised docility, the obnoxiousness of sunburnt, potbellied men whose armpits stunk down to seventh hell before the crossing, and then, twenty-four hours after the travail of travel, the scrutiny of uniformed inquisitors with swollen egos and a worldly empathy smaller than a scorpion’s pussy.

“Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you,” I blurted, savoring the misquotation.
“Cheers, buddy. Kassak! May you go and return safely.”
“The pussy of this place’s sister. It’s but a grotesque mutation of those who reign over it. JFK wasn’t more important than America. Was he?”
“No, but Hitler, the little shit, was bigger than Germany. Stalin's mustache thicker than Russia. Idi Amin fatter than all of Africa. And we, here, in this goddamned place, eat, sleep, fornicate and ultimately die beneath the feet of tyrants who are larger than life.” He gulped down his fifth or sixth. I lost count. “And you know what? All of the third-world dictators were propped into their chairs by the Americans.” He burped. “Yet, and here’s the irony, this is where you’re going. America!”
“For once, I wanna live the life of the blissfully ignorant. I don’t wanna give a shit anymore about Middle East politics or the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar. I might even get a dog and feed it better than these children of a lesser god. I’ll post pictures of Rex, that’s my Lab, lying in bed and sticking its tongue out on Facebook.
“You’ll get hundreds of Likes!”

“I’m gonna miss you.” I looked away and smoked.
“I’m gonna miss you too, man. And, I’ll join you as soon as I close shop here. We’ll start a Hummus joint together. We’ll call it Hummus Tartous.”
“Hey, we can hang a copper plaque on the wall and write in cursive that Hummus started in Tartous, spread to Mesopotamia, and eventually inundated the whole world. Americans like this sort of shit. And they’ll buy it, eh!”
“Millions of them support Trump and the others turned Bernie Sanders down. They’ll buy anything.”
“I think I’ll change into a white racist bigot once there. Trump is Great!”
“Yeah, the pussy of his mother.”
I was glad the night had fallen. I avoided his eyes but when I looked, there was nothing to see except two dark pits in the infinite blackness of this place.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Wedding


Andrea and Rami led me to the kitchen and asked me to officiate their wedding. That was over a year ago at my sister’s house in Porter Ranch. Just like that!
"You are the one we both unhesitatingly chose. You’re not just an uncle to us, you’re a very close friend." They said.
I mulled it over, did the math (which I’m terrible at) and reached the conclusion that it was doable. Difficult but doable. I could make it to Los Angeles for their big day on July 16th, 2016.
“I’d be honored!” I exclaimed.
So it came about that I got myself ordained as a minister and showed up sober and all dressed up in a suit and tie right on time on a beautiful beach in Malibu.
It was a simple ceremony of charming elegance. In the shade of an old tree, flanked on both sides by handsome groomsmen and gorgeous bridesmaids, the three of us stood. Friends and family sat on lawn chairs. The ocean waves lapped softly. A light breeze carried the notes of a guitar. The player and I momentarily exchanged glances. It was time to start.

Welcome Everybody

On March 13th 2013, Andrea and Rami stumbled into each other’s life on Tinder. Two days later, on a Friday, and after a barrage of text messages, they went out on their first date.

Despite the mellowing effect of drinking two glasses of wine earlier, Andrea was still nervous. Rami, his heart racing, was anxious that the girl he had promised to literally pick up, turns out heavier than he had imagined her to be.

A few heartbeats after they both emerged from the shadows of the unknown, however, her worries melted in his Mediterranean blue eyes, while he was blown away by the lightness of her grace.

During dinner and in the ensuing time since, they fell in love over and over again, the profound kind of love, the one that draws its nourishment from the innermost folds of the soul and transcends physical attraction and the compulsiveness of youth.

"We complement one another, each with our own individuality, yet with just enough overlap to make it a seamless fit." Rami told me.

"He is not a person that you meet everyday. He is the kind of special that every woman dreams about but can never find. Well, I guess I am definitely the lucky one, because I found him." Andrea said.

The way Rami looks at Andrea conjures an image of a wanderer in a vast desert. He drinks her with his eyes as if his very survival depends on it. She, in return, takes his face in as if to etch his features on the wall of her memory, to connect the dots with the tips of her fingers like Braille in the darkness of his absence.

Every time I see them, every time, my mind invariably drifts to “Letters to Véra”, by Vladimir Nabokov, and when they asked me to officiate their wedding, I was more than honored and I knew exactly what I was going to read on this enchanting evening.

Vladimir began writing to Véra, his wife of over half a century, the day after they met in 1923 and continued to do so until his final hours. I dug up a copy of the Letters and found the passages I was looking for. It’s Andrea’s and Rami’s primal and instinctive need for each other that is so well conveyed in these words. I’m very pleased to share them with all of you.
---
Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with: about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.
How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours — with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it — and can’t recall a single trifle I’ve lived through without regret — so sharp! — that we haven’t lived through it together — whether it’s the most, the most personal, intransmissible — or only some sunset or other at the bend of a road — you see what I mean, my happiness?
I simply want to tell you that somehow I can’t imagine life without you…
I love you, I want you, I need you unbearably…
Your eyes — which shine so wonder-struck when, with your head thrown back, you tell something funny — your eyes, your voice, lips, your shoulders — so light, sunny…
You came into my life — not as one comes to visit … but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.
---

Friends and family of Andrea and Rami,

These two beautiful people have entrusted me with joining them in marriage. To them I say, hold on to your precious love, no matter what, forever or until the end of time, whichever comes last.

After Andrea and Rami exchanged vows and brought tears to all eyes, I continued...

Rami, is Andrea the one that you will dedicate your entire life to, to be with lovingly and faithfully, through difficulty and success, day in and day out, as her rock, her shoulder to lean on, her best friend, her biggest fan and inspiration, her protector and her partner, on this day and forever?
I DO!!!

Andrea, is Rami the one you envision yourself spending the rest of your life with, in joy and in laughter, through the effortless times and the difficult ones, cheerfully and supportively, with no limit to the love you possess for him, as his best friend, his life partner and inspiration, today, tomorrow and for as long as you live?
YES!!!

By the power of love, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Rami, you may kiss Andrea now and everyday thereafter.


The Wedding


Andrea and Rami led me to the kitchen and asked me to officiate their wedding. That was over a year ago at my sister’s house in Porter Ranch. Just like that!
"You are the one we both unhesitatingly chose. You’re not just an uncle to us, you’re a very close friend." they said.
I mulled it over, did the math (which I’m terrible at) and reached the conclusion that it was doable. Difficult but doable. I could make it to Los Angeles for their big day on July 16th, 2016.
“I’d be honored!” I exclaimed.
So it came about that I got myself ordained as a minister and showed up sober and all dressed up in a suit and tie right on time on a beautiful beach in Malibu.
It was a simple ceremony of charming elegance. In the shade of an old tree, flanked on both sides by handsome groomsmen and gorgeous bridesmaids, the three of us stood. Friends and family sat on lawn chairs. The ocean waves lapped softly. A light breeze carried the notes of a guitar. The player and I momentarily exchanged glances. It was time to start.

Welcome Everybody

On March 13th 2013, Andrea and Rami stumbled into each other’s life on Tinder. Two days later, on a Friday, and after a barrage of text messages, they went out on their first date.

Despite the mellowing effect of drinking two glasses of wine earlier, Andrea was still nervous. Rami, his heart racing, was anxious that the girl he had promised to literally pick up, turns out heavier than he had imagined her to be.

A few heartbeats after they both emerged from the shadows of the unknown, however, her worries melted in his Mediterranean blue eyes, while he was blown away by the lightness of her grace.

During dinner and in the ensuing time since, they fell in love over and over again, the profound kind of love, the one that draws its nourishment from the innermost folds of the soul and transcends physical attraction and the compulsiveness of youth.

"We complement one another, each with our own individuality, yet with just enough overlap to make it a seamless fit." Rami told me.

"He is not a person that you meet everyday. He is the kind of special that every woman dreams about but can never find. Well, I guess I am definitely the lucky one, because I found him." Andrea said.

The way Rami looks at Andrea conjures an image of a wanderer in a vast desert. He drinks her with his eyes as if his very survival depends on it. She, in return, takes his face in as if to etch his features on the wall of her memory, to connect the dots with the tips of her fingers like Braille in the darkness of his absence.

Every time I see them, every time, my mind invariably drifts to “Letters to Véra”, by Vladimir Nabokov, and when they asked me to officiate their wedding, I was more than honored and I knew exactly what I was going to read on this enchanting evening.

Vladimir began writing to Véra, his wife of over half a century, the day after they met in 1923 and continued to do so until his final hours. I dug up a copy of the Letters and found the passages I was looking for. It’s Andrea’s and Rami’s primal and instinctive need for each other that is so well conveyed in these words. I’m very pleased to share them with all of you.
---
Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with: about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.
How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours — with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it — and can’t recall a single trifle I’ve lived through without regret — so sharp! — that we haven’t lived through it together — whether it’s the most, the most personal, intransmissible — or only some sunset or other at the bend of a road — you see what I mean, my happiness?
I simply want to tell you that somehow I can’t imagine life without you…
I love you, I want you, I need you unbearably…
Your eyes — which shine so wonder-struck when, with your head thrown back, you tell something funny — your eyes, your voice, lips, your shoulders — so light, sunny…
You came into my life — not as one comes to visit … but as one comes to a kingdom where all the rivers have been waiting for your reflection, all the roads, for your steps.
---

Friends and family of Andrea and Rami,

These two beautiful people have entrusted me with joining them in marriage. To them I say, hold on to your precious love, no matter what, forever or until the end of time, whichever comes last.

After Andrea and Rami exchanged vows and brought tears to all eyes, I continued...

Rami, is Andrea the one that you will dedicate your entire life to, to be with lovingly and faithfully, through difficulty and success, day in and day out, as her rock, her shoulder to lean on, her best friend, her biggest fan and inspiration, her protector and her partner, on this day and forever?
I DO!!!

Andrea, is Rami the one you envision yourself spending the rest of your life with, in joy and in laughter, through the effortless times and the difficult ones, cheerfully and supportively, with no limit to the love you possess for him, as his best friend, his life partner and inspiration, today, tomorrow and for as long as you live?
YES!!!

By the power of love, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Rami, you may kiss Andrea now and everyday thereafter.


Friday, July 08, 2016

The Art of Shaving



Whether a man is a rapacious glutton or a Sufi hermit, he is essentially a slave to his desires. He overindulges in carnal delights on one hand or in abstinence on the other to satiate his physiological drives or his spiritual compulsions. Being but moderate in my pursuit of revelry and a devout secular humanist, I heed idiosyncratic thrills with pious abundance. Come evening, for instance, I smoke one roll of tobacco that costs next to nothing to buy but days and weeks to acquire and cure. I light it with reverence and draw its smoke between sips of amber Scotch, which I can’t, for the life of me, imbibe unless poured in a specific glass that I call Véra. Such is the case with shaving. For ten minutes every other morning, I have elevated the elimination of my facial hair, save for my mustache, to a hedonistic feast of self indulgence.

I like growing a beard. In fact, I wore one for years. Had it not been for the indescribable joy shaving brings me I would’ve kept my beard forever. Perhaps my mustache is my way of rebelling against ephemeral fashion.

I feel sorry for the poor sods who hate shaving but have to. I would hate it too if I had to use disposable razors and gas-propelled foam out of canisters. Ewww... No way! I have turned a dreaded chore into a zen moment of aloof extravagance.

I’ve used every conceivable blade on my face, disposable Bic shavers, electric, wet, dry, three in a row, and five in a row, to name but a few. I shaved in the shower and out in the field. Gosh, I shaved whilst floating in a river once, but that’s another story. After close to 6,000 shaves by my count, I couldn’t find anything that comes close to using an old Merkur Classic razor, a boar hair brush, a stainless-steel bowl and a tube of Hamol shaving cream. Sure, many a shaving enthusiast might dismiss my choice of boar hair for a brush instead of a badger’s as that of a boor. I look at it differently, however. I strive to possess the highest quality tools I can afford. I can conveniently buy the best boar brush in the world but only a mediocre pure badger’s. The same is true about my possession of a German Merkur razor instead of a Japanese Feather. I do use Feather Doubled-Edged razor blades almost exclusively, though. The almost is dictated by the fact that I’m not allowed to pack double-edged blades in a carry-on when I choose to fly light.

Running a blade across one’s face is a most intimate affair for a man. I seek solitude, like a Sufi mystic, and pamper myself to unabashed excess, like a lascivious rogue, or gentleman, depending on the observer. I have to yet fulfill my ultimate shaving fantasy, though, a mysterious woman giving me a close shave with a straight razor on the morning after.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Voice


The cellphone Stephanie bought me rang, breaking the silence into tiny shards. It must be her, checking up on me.

Had I eaten? Was I warm enough? Had I heard from social services? Anything she should bring me on Friday?

At the other end, a woman who didn’t sound like Stephanie said hello. Her voice cascaded through the earpiece the way the white satin sheets slid over my naked body in the Hotel Rouge a lifetime ago. I hadn’t spoken a word all day.

“Who’s this?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I must’ve dialed the wrong number.”

I cleared my throat. “But, but… you sound familiar. Your voice, I’ve heard it somewhere. Sometime before.”

“Perhaps in a previous life!?” She laughed. An irresistible small chuckle that didn’t stop but dissolved unhurriedly.

Emily? My first love, my sweetheart. Could it be Emily? But we haven’t spoken since I left to Vietnam.

“Are you there?” The woman asked.

“Yes! Can you talk some more, please? I’m still somehow groggy…”

“And, you’re trying to figure out if you know me.”

“Yes, I am.” I replied.

Ellen! It must be Ellen. My lovely bride. But wait a minute, Ellen died twenty years ago. She had cancer. Oh, my darling Ellen. “I’m so confused. I don’t know what to say. You’re not Betsy, are you?”

“Who’s Betsy?” She asked, seemingly amused.

“My ex-wife. But she wouldn’t call and she doesn’t sound anything like you.”

“Then I’m not Betsy. Listen! Who’s been on your mind lately? Someone you often think about.”

“No one. They’ll never come back and it only makes their absence harder.”

“Do you live alone?”

“Yes.”

“Any children?”

“A daughter. Stephanie. She visits once a week. So!”, I swallowed hard. “You really dialed the wrong number.”

“Uh, huh.”

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting. It’s just that…”

“That you’re lonely.”

“I guess so. And, you have such a beautiful voice.”

“Hmmm, you still got it in you, old man. How old are you?”

“Seventy-two.”

“That’s good enough for me. But, where are you?”

“Modesto, California.”

“That’s not too bad. I live in San Francisco. My name is Michele Wright, by the way.”

I felt light-headed. The possibility of daring to hope was intoxicating.

“I’m John Forest.”

“Like the Franciscan Friar.”

“I have no idea who that is.”

“Never mind. Say, would you like to get together for a cup of coffee? Do you drive?”

“I’d love to, but I don’t have a car.”

“I have to come to you then. You can take me to your favorite café in Modesto.”

“But… What if?”

“What if we don’t hit it off? Let’s leave that until it turns out to be the case. How about Saturday? Are you free on Saturday?”

I nodded as if she could see me. “Yes!”

“I have your number. Until then, John.” She hung up leaving the sound of her laughter behind.

As a huge grin wrinkled my face I popped a Warfarin with a swig of water.



*Photo “By the Window”, Edvard Munch, 1940

Sunday, May 08, 2016

What the Robin Heard


They lay down on a stretch of tended lawn in the shade of the largest oak tree. From up here, their merged shape resembled the hands on a watch dial indicating six o’clock. I looked at the dimming sky then back toward the humans. Uh, huh, that’s about right, I told myself. There’s plenty of time still to hunt for worms and insects. I hopped to a lower branch.

“What will you miss the most?” The female asked.

“The feeling of your ear against mine.” The male answered.

The smell of your hair, the ocean in your eyes, the taste of your lips, the freckles on your breasts, the dip above your pubic hair. The male’s breast heaved. Only a robin could hear what the human didn’t say.

“You know it’s for the best.” The female said.

“I know.” The male agreed.

I heard the silence gurgling in the male’s throat, its heart pounding, its hands shaking. Its fingers grasped the grass and pulled. The green blades cried.

Sluthia called from our maple tree. “Where’s the food? The babies are starving.”

“I’m coming. Just listening to these humans breaking up.” I whistled.

“Breaking up? They look so happy. Well, they looked happy when they first got here. I saw them leaning on each other, holding hands. I loved their singing.”

I darted into the light of the dying sun. The firefly didn’t even see me coming. I landed in the nest, shredded the corpse to pieces and fed the nestlings. I kissed Sluthia. She kissed me back and rubbed her beak on my neck.

“Are you going to leave me too?” I asked.

“If you keep acting like them,” gesturing below, “Maybe I should.”

“Can I go back now? Please?”

“Okay, go. But I want you to tell me everything after I put the babies to sleep.”

“Why, no sex tonight?”

Sluthia giggled and pushed me off the branch. I dropped to the ground, skipping as close as I dared.

“You’ll be alright, won’t you?” The female asked.

The male shifted its body, lifted its arm and reached for the female’s hair. I was a human arm’s length away.

“I’ll be fine.” The male answered.

“I can’t go on like this any longer. I’m so tired, my heart.” The female said.

My heart? They aren’t local, this pair. I only heard of humans using body parts to call each other in old bird songs. I always thought it was a myth. I couldn’t wait to tell Sluthia. My heart, ha! She’d be thrilled.

The female pulled itself up on its elbows and I flew away. The male didn’t move.

“Be happy, please!” The female said, walking away.

The male nodded, its eyes closed, two teardrops running down its cheeks.

I shadowed the little red car until it came to the stop sign on Parkway. I dived and zoomed past the open window. I saw the female in that instant. I heard it too. Its shoulders shuddering, it sobbed beyond control.