December 10, 2006

Weekend Fiction

From the journal of DR:

Oh the Middle East--
Fertile crescent of humanity!
Your sands pile curvaceously
To the clip-clop of donkey rhythms,
From you comes the rich arterial reds of Persian carpets--
Is that the Angelus you recite so piously five times a day?


October 21st of 1995 found David Richardson mentally inventorying his fantasy vacation to Damascus. Nothing quite transfixed him like a foreign environment coupled with the sweet scent of danger. There America was called "The Great Satan", and he considered this quaint in the same way bovine have the run of the place in India.

Part of the attraction was going where Westerners were forbidden. Iran was his first choice but the State Department warned against it so Syria seemed a safer simulacron. “Iran on training wheels,” he called it. He’d heard non-Muslims weren’t allowed to go in mosques and that made the holy places instantly appealing in the way that being photographed just beyond a sign that said No Trespassing Beyond This Point was. There would also be antique Persian rugs and large bazaares where you could engage in authentic Middle East haggling, not the ersatz American garage sale equivalent: “Would you take a quarter for the Bronco's clock?” There it was in their blood. He thought of them as nomads, lean & swarthy Monty Hall’s who carried their wares on camels’ backs and knew how to make a deal.

He found the lack of interest in friends and family members surprising.

“Syria?” they’d say, “Why do you want to go to the crazy Middle East?”

“Am I the only one who finds the scent of danger intoxicating?” he replied.

He leaped at danger as only the comfortably secure do, incarnating those of whom one of Henry VIII’s martyrs spoke: “Some brave champions have taken the initiative by publicly professing their Christianity, though no one was trying to discover it, and by freely exposing themselves to death, though no one was demanding it.”

Deep down he knew there was little danger. Westerners traveled there all the time without incident. He wondered what was driving his interest because he thought of Islamicists as little different than himself, really, though with odd notions: “Those poor benighted people!", he thought, "believing the U.S. the Great Satan! They’d be afraid of a lamb!” He wanted to go there and laugh at them until they realized their error and then they'd all laugh together. He felt little fear because he was an American citizen, backed by a government steeled by the Reagan Era. The U.S. passport gleamed in his hand and it amazed him to think of all those who longed for this small square of blue and gold leaf. The only time he appreciated America was when he left it, when he saw other people coveting what he had. The trip remained in an embryonic stage for more than half a decade.

He was taking a smoke break, the first of the day, when he heard the news. Two planes hit the World Trade Center. Islamic terrorists. Potentially thousands killed. His jaw dropped and he burnt his thumb retrieving the cigarette. After the shock had begun to wore off he remembered a trip to Florida in his youth. An alligator farm. “Aren’t those adorable? Can we pet one?” he recalled his sister saying.

“The gators have grown up,” he now muttered bitterly to himself, “and have become crocodiles.”

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