Trumpet & Accordion

‘The Cave’ has joined the constellation of favorite jamming places tracing back to my visits to Bogue

Maria’s (Mattson) Adams’ photograph.

Street bridge, freshman and sophomore

years of college. I felt drawn, in an almost mystic way, to that alcove under the bridge crossing the Red Cedar River. By chance, a young artist named Maria found me and took an iconic photograph of my silhouette, with the river in the background and the outline of a trumpet protruding from my shadow. In starkest contrast, I became the daemon of a sunny park bench by the Grand River after the collapse of my last romance. I am nostalgic for the bath of unbridled sound and reddening sunlight that I took every day for a year, finally finding the fortitude of heart to improvise without worry. That was the last place I called home before I moved to Bethlehem. I wept openly, last fall, mumbling “I just want to be by the river again.” Since then, I have managed to dry my eyes –and my heart.

 

A piece of my heaven in the midst of strife.

Friday blustered as if every gust of wind wanted to bring the first surge of winter rain. Wa’el, Drew, and I were out in the drizzle for half the work-day, trying to unhook the tarp that covers the picnic area before it takes any more damage. It was weighed down and holey with a mixture of stones and expended tear-gas canisters, since the nearby gate became the locus of all Bethlehem’s coiled frustrations with occupation, released courtesy of Gaza’s suffering. My own angst started to leak out of me when I got an e-mail to the effect that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was ‘more of a Christmas Eve song than an Advent song’. I had to scrap my rendition of the former for the first Sunday in Advent for what I understood to be a nit-pick. Consequently, we had a discussion in our staff meeting about anger and Sara suggested that I fill some of the empty spaces inside myself with music or sports.

 

Friends make the difference in life. I practiced moodily for a few minutes before the heavy iron door creaked open. There was Rajaee: carrying a square instrument case. He had brought his accordion into the blackening cave to play music with me!  We have a history together, by now. He used to play the piano while Lucas strummed his guitar and Rafiq played the drums – we would all play together, getting gradually more chaotic until we either faded into awkward chord progressions or else ended abruptly in laughter. With only Rajaee and I, we were able to play long improvisations on minor keys or renditions of “Time to Say Goodbye” that decayed into original melodies. There is a point, in encounter like this, that I used to become embarrassed and excuse myself. My need to be ‘perfect’ and ‘excellent’ holds me under curfew during those times but this time I was with my friend. I knew I could play however I felt and we would make it work, together.

 

Eventually, we played something more upbeat and polka-like (this is an accordion and a trumpet: how could we stay drear?). My lips were already beginning to give-out but I continued to pop joyful, staccato notes to match the swells of Rajaee’s harmonious accordion. When we tired, we stepped out into the court-yard area and enjoyed the falling rain. Without introduction, I started to play “Singing in the Rain”.

The Reluctant Fictionalist (& The Friend on the Pier)

I wondered when I would write this. I am writing to say I am writing again, though I was afraid to say so in so many words because it means I cannot retreat any more. Growing-up, I day-dreamed about being an author but I never sat down with a notebook and started sketching most of those story ideas (really, any). By the time I had a computer, it was just in time to make the internet my drug –as much as it has also been a tool. My first blog was more like writing therapy than a discipline and my second was more like a soap-box than a story-book. Reverse Exiled was my attempt to drift closer to the goal of writing narratives.

I have fiction in my background: two courses and a senior thesis made from three sections of an unwritten book. Three good sections I have not truly visited since college. I wrote several short stories that I am not ashamed to share, and some poetry as well. The past three years I have mulled over what really bars me from writing, and what kept me stalling the process even in my teenage years. Followers will be puzzled: I write non-fiction. I know I can do it – but I don’t want to be limited by it. It also makes me nervous to tell stories others have been witness to, though the responses to my wedding posts have been humblingly positive. I could never leave blogging, entirely, after that!

Tonight was going to be a re-run. Unable to focus on Arabic, I found myself on the couch reading hand-written journal entries from last fall and sipping tea with a sense of overwhelming dread. I psyche myself out. There are too many possibilities or else I never feel like the language is just right. Perhaps I cannot bear to commit myself so much to something that would dead-end or, worse, flow nicely and then be rejected (not that I know anything about that process). No one has ever, in my life, told me I could not write well… except me. Even my poetry professor, at her harshest moment, was saying “you CAN do better.”

I finally posed the critical question: why does the thought of doing what I want to do most cause me emotional pain? Immediately, I thought of one of my dearest friends who studies psychology. I had the urge to find her and vent, again. Instead, I wondered what it would be like to write from the perspective of someone like her encountering someone like me. Though it’s not much, I now have a stub – not even a complete scene—of a character like her going to visit a character like me. Already, though, I can tell they will not be precisely like us ~ that’s good. Even if this stub goes nowhere, I am proud that I opened the word-processor and wrote something instead of just crawling into bed and saying ‘tomorrow’. Tomorrow has never quite come. Today will have to do (tomorrow).

I see my narrator at first coming to my ‘subject’ character our of a sense of obligation, having tried to warn him that moving to the middle-East was a bad idea (this is nothing like my friend and I, by the way – she drove me to the airport and told me I was brave). She will wonder, aloud, at some point why he would ‘follow some woman’ into what she could only imagine as a dangerous place and be even more baffled that he would stay for months after his romance failed. He will show her that he has seen a different kind of love and offer many deep insights but, also, confusing emotions.

 

I know something about this stuff. Interestingly, the themes I picked for my thesis is close to the theme I am living right now and the theme I want to actualize in my ‘day-job’, studying arts-based approaches to conflict resolution and community building. Getting past barriers. I confess, I know only the smallest amount about the field in general but — but I digress… getting past barriers. If I were in the publishing industry, my barriers would be completely useless to me. Now, I have the chance to know what it is like to overcome a barrier to creativity.

 

Ironically, I balked at fiction that was too autobiographical for fear it would just turn into masked non-fiction. However, even as I journal I find myself almost saying things that might have happened. As I started to write from this narrator’s mind, I found that she was not entirely similar or dissimilar to my friend. I could put some of myself into her, or some part of someone else. I know I can do these things, I just do not have the habit yet. For all these months I have been trying to find the specific obstacle I could remove that would make everything ‘click’.

 

It’s the desire for a ‘click’. That’s not writing. I know from my non-fiction, it can take a long time to write something when you know what happened, let alone when you are DECIDING what happened. In the mean time, I am glad I dumped a page of even terrible writing because I know it must be part of my own healing process. It also pays to keep telling myself “I can write fiction; I am not strictly hardwired as a reporter – I can train my imagination again…”

–but I could always use some prayers. I am ever a flawed but spiritual man – I need the best help I can get. It is a long journey ahead and I often have an easier time seeing many small obstacles than the grand reasons to push past them.
If you would humor me… here are my scraps:

 

                Scott was laying chest-down on his step-father’s pier, left arm draped into the water. On mostly cloudy days, the surface of the small lake looked black and almost smooth, as if his arm were petrified in volcanic-glass. I hesitated on the back porch, wondering if my friend would move and if he were asleep. That would give me an excuse not to disturb him; I felt awkward already. Adjusting my glasses on the bridge of my nose, I tried to glean if his eyes were open but his own glasses made it hard to tell. The fogged lenses looked like plastic-framed cataracts and gave him a mug like a fresh, astute corpse. Some seaweed was stuck to his bare arm where the checkered sleeves of his shirt would have been if he had not unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled them up to his shoulders. April is not an appealing time to sun oneself on a pier, much less be the anti-social flounder who lays there in khakis and a wool vest when the sun is little more than an incandescent stain. The weather  with an indecisive timbre, sending chilly gusts that threatened rain but instead wore faded, powdery blue patches in the overcast sky.

                I hesitated on the back porch for a long time, throwing a glance toward the house from time to time to see if his mother was watching. She put in me in an awkward position. When I arrived, I thought that Scott had asked her to call me and invite me to visit. Months had passed since our last contact but, apparently, Scott’s mom made an executive decision on his behalf. On the telephone she said ‘Scott has missed you so much while he was gone doing, you know, things over seas,’ but when I arrived at the door and asked for him, his step-father Steve smiled politely and gave her a questioning look. “Clara, dear. Scott’s friend from High School. The nice one who became a psychologist.”
                “Does he think she’s nice, too?” said Steve, chuckling. Or, more to the point, does Scott’s mother know that a bachelor’s degree does make me a psychologist. In the course of asking them where he was, it became apparent that he did not actually know I was coming nor was there any reason to believe he had requested a visit. Honestly,  we drifted apart after high school. I think I was the first one to tell him that following a woman into a conflict zone was not the way to build peace or change the world or whatever rhetoric he built around it. I think I was not the last either but the silence that followed in our friendship was telling.

                “Do you want me to get him for you?” said Steve, helpfully.

                “No, thank you, no. I can do it –“
                “Just kick him; he could use a kick in the ribs.”

                “Oh.” Not knowing Steve I just said, “okay.”

                “I don’t mean literal. I meant like a metaphor or something. Something like that .” He was suddenly uncomfortable. “Why don’t I get him for you, quick? SCOTTY!”

                “Oh. Thank you? I was going to—“

                “Look, he’s awake now!”

                “—poke him with my toe.”

               

* * *

               

The grass wet my feet as I

with powdery blue sky lights opening and closing slowly.

                “I wish that it would snow, that a fluffy snow would come down. I don’t mean little ice-pellets but I mean wispy snow like ashes. Do you know what I mean?”
                “Scott, I know what you mean but, well, I don’t really understand why.”

                “What?”
                “Why you want it to snow in April. Did you miss playing in the snow while you were in the middle East?”

                “Sometimes.”

                “It will snow again.”

                “I just wanted it to snow right now.”

                “Okay. I was just saying that it is going to snow eventually.”

                “I know. I know it’s going to snow eventually. I was just saying I wanted it to snow right now.”

                “You just said that.”

                “Well, I wanted you to understand more clearly.”

                “I did actually understand; you would like snow right now but it is April. I am telling you that you can expect snow around the end of October.”         
                “That’s technically correct.”

                “That’s absolutely correct, Scott. Why do you need to have such a grouchy tone?”

                “Forget it. Fine. I hope it rains. There, now I am realistic again.”

                “I hope you go inside before it rains. Your butt looks a little wet – did it rain on you earlier?”

                “I sat on the moss by the shore.”

                “Okay. I guess that moss was wet?”
                “Yes.”
                “Yes. Alright. Now your butt is wet…”

* * *

 

Late April is not the time that social people prefer to sun themselves on the pier, so Scott

 

That moment, watching him lay motionless, had a washed-out sense of doom

 

“it was not a conflict zone when I arrived” [<Syria? That would require research… ]

“what do you mean?”

Between Tea & Coffee

Beverages matter. My co-workers once called me down to the foyer and offered me tea brewed with maleesa (an herb). I added sugar from a small metal bowl, using a little spoon, to my tiny glass cup with no handle. Just then, Saliba came from his office. I immediately rose and went to the kitchen, bringing another glass and setting it on the tray.

“He doesn’t take tea– but you are getting better…”

Two microscopic ripples of emotion collided in that moment. I saw the shift in my orientation, my ability to not only notice there was not a glass for Saliba but be actively caring whether or not there would be enough glasses for everyone. At the same time, I felt sad that I had sat with Saliba so many times and not noticed that he usually is just sitting with us: being present.

I do not know how to tell these people I love them in a genuine way. In fact, I feel as if the normal activities of life are supposed to be love, so that it does not have to be explicitly mentioned. When we orient to ourselves, we want our acts of love recognized as special. When we orient to others, we want our acts of love to make them feel welcome and accepted. Since I have returned, I notice how often Adnan is ready with the coffee-pot, filling our فناجين as we enter. Today I sat by the coffee-pot and did the same, for everyone but especially Adnan. Shortly after, he asked for the pot so he could pour himself a second cup. Then, he put the pot by his feet. That is what I should expect from a Sulha man (a mediator) and his negotiating tools: I suspect he usually keeps the coffee under his thumb. My imagination engulfed me and I tried to picture all the فناجين of coffee Adnan has drunk, plastered in a pattern on the giant concrete wall by our office. I cam confident that if there were an individual فنجان for each dose

Tray of Arabic coffee

Small but mighty

of Arabic coffee, we could really do something like that. Now I am picturing all Zoughbi’s cups, plus the cups from all of Bethlehem and the surrounding villages, materializing and clinging like hungry suction-cups to the annexation wall. Then, by magic, the wall disintegrates and fills all those little coffee-cups. They fall in waves and cascade down our adjacent driveway, or into the playground, or the ditches around the distant Qalandia check-point near Ramallah. Cups falling in Al-Waleje, in Al-Masra, and rolling down the divided streets of East Jerusalem.

When all the cups have finished their work, we can see Rachel’s Tomb and all of the Israeli officers running into the street with their guns drawn, panicked, because they know what Arabic coffee is but they don’t begin to understand what it represents, nor what it could do for them if they did.

“Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”

A 2005 Sunfire named “Fiona”

…the CD player sucked the newly purchased album into its slot. That was the perfect moment to push the pedal completely to the floor, just as I cranked my wheel into a tight left turn. In a wave of synesthesia, the g-forces splashed me with the first exquisitely loud burst of rock music. It erupted through the sun-roof, spilling onto the hills that line Michigan’s wrist on US-20.

“This is my home now –my red Pontiac~ my Fiona.” I loved speeding through the Irish Hills on my way to work at camp, desperate to start fires and lose myself in the woods, again, and forget… forget… forget…

* * *

I dragged my tail from the blankets like a komodo dragon on codeine. I flicked my tongue through the air a few times, then brushed the bacteria off my fangs. I was bound for Jeru—check that—Al-Quds Sharqia in less than an hour. I fumbled for my keys but…

“Oh… my car ain’t here, on the continent. Just as well, I couldn’t ever find a place to park it…”

I hung my Sunday best over my carcass and smirked; “they can’t stay up all night any more? It’s two days later and I am more dragging than ‘dragon’…” My youthful energy was also at an ebb. Emma Clare and I caught the 21 bus at the cross-roads and I slipped into a trance. Just as we passed into area-B, I realized my passport was still next to my bed.

She helped me pull an idiot-couple routine, where she handed them her passport and I patted myself down, faux-distressed, and then looked up at the guard and entreated, “I left it in the safe at the hotel!” Of course, the other guard waved it off and we passed. My heart was throbbing anemically somewhere in my intestines. “You know, after going all the way to Haifa to get a legitimate visa, monkey-business like this doesn’t satisfy quite like it did nine months ago…”

Close to church of the sepulcher, a street with cafes.

After we visited the Jaffa-gate post-office, Clare and I went to a cafe for breakfast.  I had already started to ferment a journal entry called ‘Things Ain’t What They Used to Be’ in my mind but it was not enough: Clare and I had to talk about the passage of time in Palestine. She said that events from before she left the United States seemed ‘closer’ than her first day in Bethlehem. In a similar fashion, that day I climbed on a bus, full of conservative settlers and soldiers, bound for the bridge feels more distant than a less harrowing day when I walked from Bethany to the Holy Sepulcher with friends, which seems more distant than boarding a train in South Bend Indiana but not more distant than riding the back of a motorcycle across Geneva. Events happen in a particular order but they age differently, depending on the momentum and succession of experiences curing in our memory. I knew how to get to the post-office from Damascus Gate, by the way, but I had not done it since February.

I knew I had the day off on Friday, so I had stayed-up the entire night on Thursday having a video-chat with friends in the United States. They all quipped that I ‘must be young’ to stay-up all-night and it secretly rankled me. I want to be the prodigy but I also want to ‘belong’ – the reciprocal of what I wanted when I smoked the hookah with Tim and Clare, playing the sage but trying to regress. Yet my existential moment caught me completely off-guard because I felt my age precisely. I arrived at Dar Annadwa for a program I would never see, since it was running late. Going out into the court-yard to pray (and wait?), I noticed the ancient pine trees above, cuddling against walls and balconies, and labyrinthine passages below, lined with planter boxes. It struck me that I was “here”, in one of Bethlehem’s church-embedded intellectual oases. For the first time, it sank into my intuition that I would never have alternative attempts at life on Earth. A thousand times, I thought about replaying life due to regret but for the first time I wanted to replay life to have additional, alternative memories of bygone times. I wanted existence to be like reading a new book or starting a new file on a video-game just to see if… if – but I FELT I could not. I always ‘knew’ but this time I FELT it. Returning home immediately, I took an eight hour nap.

My story is becoming an essay, today, about time and aging: how one passes, how neither is repeatable, and how the latter feels. I reached my maximum age, so far, after twenty-four years but I reached maximum maturity yesterday. These qualities ebb and flow, since I felt oldest when my mother was suffering relentlessly, and I was trying to show everyone how responsible I could be, but I felt most mature when Zoughbi said “he is Palestinian now—he has suffered” and I said “no, you treat me too well – we have tea with sage, today.” Zoughbi had surprised me in the morning, while I was eating my thyme and oil (زيت و زتر, هذا شاتر!) and he looked me straight in the eye and said “you will meet someone and get married—you are a nice man; and, I tell you, nothing can replace having a family…” His comments were out of the blue, in the flow of my life, but made perfect sense when I took time to see where he was: his sons left for the United States to join their mother just a day before. He wished for me what he wanted most for himself. My own father took offense to the word “ditched” in my prologue. He has the self-aggravating problem of

trying to mitigate the wretchedness of his image, actually drawing more attention to the past that made him wretched to me.

More than memories, these photos remind me of how much I miss my friend from high school — just being close.

But things ain’t what they used to be. I deleted my reply to my father because I love him much better since I decided his decisions were no longer central to my life. A treasured friend chimed-in with her sympathies, in regards to disappointing fathers we love, and reminded me of how she was never quite a ‘memory’ during all those dark times, always just a few days delayed with a call-back or a message of encouragement. She will be married soon but I am invited to visit  when I return– a future so close I can smell the pizza, though I will probably be somewhere I cannot imagine first. Friends pass through our lives like comets but a few drop into orbit with us. As for family, I wonder if that is necessarily those friends who will not leave our orbits, since Western family structures seem unable to persist as strongly as those in Palestine.

We feasted in honor of Khader Zoughbi this weekend. Clare and I were the odd foreigners among three generations of Zoughbis. I am amazed to say that the entire flock of little ones were all grandchildren of Lorette and Nicola Zoughbi, the elder brother and respected clan-leader. It was refreshing to see Nicola pick-up his youngest grandson and go…

“lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo!”, until the baby giggled.

The beautiful little grand-daughters raced up-and-down the stairs and ramps of Wi’am Center while I watched, with a glass of mango juice in my hand. One of the mothers started calling for hers and I noticed she was not with the group. The next thing I knew, I was hurrying toward the back of the property. When someone found her in a perfectly safe place, I had caught myself in the act of worrying.

Things ain’t what they are going to be, even when it comes to things that already were. I had dinner with Clare again  at Casa Nova and we somehow started talking about television shows. I was incredulous that “How I Met Your Mother” could be running for seven years. I thought it was three years old: one year before I watched it, one after, and the year I followed it with my friends at Michigan State University… three years ago. Noticing the problem with my math, I let the conversation drift elsewhere. For now, life continues to add material to my train of thought. She and I segued into a conversation about relationships… it came-out that I was a nice guy and I repeated what my boss had said.

Pizza on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday only?!

She said, “you are a nice guy as opposed to, you know, a ‘nice guy’.”

“…no, you might have to make that distinction for me… I don’t quite understand.”

Anchor, Pipe, and Needle: Bethlehem Ink

I remember the day I lost it. My mother would have disapproved. We squished together onto the back of a motorcycle and rode through the Philippine jungle to a series of small waterfalls. There, all the knots in my torso came undone in the fast, cool water. I relaxed and swam. Dante* was sitting in the cabana having a smoke when I asked him, “have you seen my anchor-cross?”

“I thought you were wearing it…”

“Me too,” I said, picking my finger-nails, “it must have slipped off when I went over the falls.”

“Oh man. That sucks. I guess you can ask for a new one.”

“I have an idea. I think I may never lose it again…”

“What are you suggesting?” replied Dante. I think he already knew.

And now, for a brief word from out sponsor…

* * *

Last month, I had my first upper-room experiences with the hookah; two expats invited me to smoke the juices out of some apples and tobacco (that is not a euphemism). Once, we congealed with a bottle of arak on the same third floor patio where I had played one-on-one soccer with Rafiq and prayed beneath the Autumn constellations. There, I bonded with the interim tenant and our lovely friend, the ex-roommate of my boss’s daughter. Tim and Clare had already gone to get tattoos from that guy in the old city. I teased that they should have waited so I could go with them; though I passed his sign [“Paint Art Studios”] on my way through the storefront for months, I assumed I would never go inside. Palestine is not on the block-list for blood donation. Giving blood was an experience like communion, to me, since I shared from my body to help others live. Perhaps it was an extension of the white-savior-industrial-complex but the point was rendered moot by the fever I brought with me from the Philippines—I doubt I can give soon. As one rite comes to an end, others emerge to fill the vacuum.

I mumbled my greetings to the barbers working on the first floor and shuffled up the narrow stairs to Walid’s office. The artist’s lair seemed like the perfect blend of doctor’s office and photo dark-room. Clare curled up like a cat on one of the leather couches while Walid inspected Tim’s tattoo, a depiction of Handala on his back. Meanwhile, I fished the internet for my anchor cross: not a navy anchor nor one of the endless procession of crosses but the anchor-cross: my vestment of service. I typed “Anchor Cross UMC” into the search box.

The tattoo-parlor images from television and movies are contrary to Walid’s sophisticated man-cave. He has a computer monitor so big it should be hanging from a mast. We spent a decade, it seemed, in graphic design. This was our intersection as artists, working together on the computer; Tim made a critical contribution, though, which will forever eclipse whatever I thought of him before and everything since. Walid and I agreed that the tattoo should look like a necklace, complete with a loop of cord, but Tim suggested there should be words on the inside.

“…to seek Justice and resist evil,” I said. The words fell easily from my mouth. All I can remember from my vows is those words; they may, in point of fact, be some inkling from God that I misremember as part of my commissioning. Every day for the rest of my life I am going to read those words and wonder “did I really? I know I sought Justice but…”. For many reasons, I decided I was ready to carry those words not just on the inside of my heart but the outside, too. EPIC.

What I was not ready for was the second-half. My friends were already having their whiskey and lighting coals for a good smoke. Suddenly, my tattoo was off the screen, printed onto special paper which Walid used to put it on my chest– like the fake-tattoos that come from vending machines. Just as Walid prepared the needle, I decided to avail myself of his hospitality.

“Do you want coke with that?”

*downs it* “No; pour me another.”

Scholars, feel free to debate if I took the whiskey for the tattoo or the tattoo for the whiskey. What I know for sure is that when they asked “what music do you want us to play while you get it?” I said, “Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’.” As that mellow and exquisitely trippy chart emerged from the speakers it dawned on me that I could not ask for a better first tattoo. The hurt itself was less of an obstacle than a cathartic process. As the alcohol slowly leached out of my system the pain swelled in intensity. It was vivid but shallow and I experienced it as if I were a guest, rather than a prisoner, in my body. Pain gave me a reason to enjoy the music and concentrate on my breathing, so that I did not flinch and carry an ‘oops-mark’ with me to the grave. I took just one puff from the water-pipe while Walid changed inks to do the shading. The psychological possibilities are fascinating; I like to think the tattoo would be empty without the pain. Numb experiences should never define us. On the other hand, the pain was not severe. It could only sting skin-deep. My mind was stirring, as it ever is, emulsifying many dark memories with the antiseptically bright quality of that pain and the meaning of the words burning into my chest: “…to seek Justice and resist evil”.

I am just pasting in unrelated photos from the Istanbul airport to make this entry more visually appealing, since my camera is still decommissioned.

* *

The next day, I returned with Tim so he could get the Unitarian Universalist Chalice on his arm; as interesting as the topic of Tim’s symbol and our conversations about spirituality might be in hindsight, I dozed-off while Walid was actually putting the tat on his arm. The next time, I came to have the tattoo examined. We sat together alone for a while, chatting, and it dawned on me that he was a social butterfly perched a little too high above the street. His hospitality, though easy and Palestinian, was not strictly policy but also an invitation to linger with him – to commune over a couple of orange sodas. We looked at some Wi’am Summer Camp photos together and then he showed me pictures of his son. When six days had passed, I returned again to the barbershop and found Walid on the ground floor, giving his friend a hair-cut.
“I fixed hair for fifteen years,” he said with a wink. His portrait was coming even more clearly into focus: he is a unique human being. As much as I enjoy my hair-cuts, I realized that I share a link with Walid that is much more permanent. It is a more salient link than I have with the various doctors who have done surgery on my body, since I was conscious and I chose the design. It is bound to attract more attention than any other procedure because it’s the kind of procedure intended to speak on its own. It speaks about the person who commissioned it as well as the one who made it —

Yesterday, I saw Walid for the fifth time. Once again, I sat next to the desk and had something to drink (apple juice). For the second time, I walked over to the chair by the mirror and took off my shirt. This time, it was just a matter of touch-ups. The sting was not any worse, which meant that I must have been more sober than I believed, the first time (mind over matter). Something special in common with getting a shave and getting a tattoo, at least here, is the final spray of fragrant disinfectant. I love that feeling.

The best feeling of the day, though, was when I shook his hand and he said, “stop by. Feel free, you’re always welcome.”

“Next time, I might need a hair-cut.”

This is a good thing.

*By Dante, I mean Clifford.