Sunday, July 26, 2009
LADY, DON'T BE PANIC!
Hey dear readers- remember a couple of posts back, I mentioned that ten years ago, during the first Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival, I had gotten into a big heap o' crazy trouble? About seven years ago, I wrote a short-story chronicling the events that transpired in Cairo on that trip. It wound up getting in the anthology "Pills, Thrills, Chills And Heartaches: Adventures In The First Person", published by Alyson Books. So, here it is, in all it's kookie glory.
LADY DON’T BE PANIC!
The fat businessman flashing his brassiere in the middle of the street should’ve been a red flag, but being a Hollywood native, stuff like that happens to me on an everyday basis, so it took a moment to register that I wasn’t at home, but in Cairo. I'm a freak-magnet. Weird circumstances and insane people actively seek me out. Once in a while, the way five-year-old girls dream about being Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, I have fantasies about living like “everybody else”- but no matter how hard I try to behave, to act normal, it never seems to work.
I was traveling with my friend Tracy, whose stage name is Layla. We both belly dance professionally, had been to Egypt before, but this time we were in Cairo for the huge Ahlan Wa Sahlan dance festival featuring classes and workshops by legendary choreographers of le danse orientale, many of whom had been famous for decades. Performers from all over the world were attending. We'd been giddily planning this trip for months, leaving messages blasting Arabic music on each other's answering machines, saving every penny for dance classes and costumes. We were not only excited about going to Cairo, but more than happy to leave our everyday lives behind. Tracy was going through a nasty divorce; I’d been dealing with veterinary and automotive problems on a constant, nightmare level. Counting the minutes 'til our departure, we breezily waved away everyone’s concerns over terrorism. Anything would be better than what we'd both recently been through! Tracy’s mom, a nice Jewish housewife from the San Fernando Valley, was almost as excited as we were. She stuffed Tracy's suitcase with munchies, trial-sized shampoos and travel accoutrements, even scored us a bottle of Valium for the plane. But the piece de resistance was the tiny, state-of-the-art video camera she gave her daughter, so the entire trip could be documented.
"This is gonna be so great!” Tracy gloated, standing in the middle of LAX, stroking the camera in a gesture not unlike a lover's caress, "We're gonna be able to record every little thing that happens to us!"
The second we stepped off the plane, conservatively dressed, trying desperately to look and act like average tourists, the Fellini shit started. It began with the hotel, which was a dump, even by Third World standards. We'd both agreed to staying in a budget place, being tough chicks who'd back-packed through Europe, camped out on beaches and stranger's floors. We didn’t need cushy surroundings, we both reasoned, we'd hardly ever be there! The lobby of Hotel Amon Toushka said it all. There were a couple of dead palm trees sitting in decomposing clay pots filled with cigar butts and crumpled up tissues. Old men loitered smoking sheesha pipes, their ratty turbans and food- stained galibiyyas barely visible through the haze of stale smoke. The desk clerk was a nastier-looking, vampirical version of Sirhan Sirhan. We considered offering him a pen (for some reason, Western style pens are in huge demand in Egypt, and are considered a status symbol that can also be given as tips or tokens of esteem) but it didn't seem as though it would change his sneering attitude. He demanded our passports immediately, as though he’d sell them on the black market the second we stepped into the elevator. Fortunately, it took almost fifteen minutes to come.
The creaking ride up to our seventh floor room was terrifying; we expected to plunge to the lobby with every lurching second. We wended our way down a narrow corridor, barely lit by naked light bulbs. The dirty salmon-colored walls were punched in every few feet; threadbare oriental carpets littered with piles of chipped plaster and discarded food wrappers were spread haphazardly over bare concrete.
Our room, of course, wasn’t made up. Damp, ragged towels covered the floor, and sagging beds revealed dirty sheets with black pubic hairs interwoven. The sun-bleached curtains had once been a gay Flower Power Seventies print, but were now torn and rotten, falling off their hooks. The indoor/outdoor carpeting was stained with grease, and a dead radio hung by its own wires from a trashed cabinet within the bedside table. Amazed to see a television set, Tracy touched it and the front control panel fell off.
There are only two phrases one needs to know to survive in Cairo. One is "In Sh'Allah,” which means " If God is willing,” the other is "No problem". They are used ubiquitously as well as inter-changeably, covering everything from the answer to a simple question, to the rationalization and/or solution for a major emergency. If something is going to happen, it will…In Sh'Allah, so you wait—no problem—as long as as you need to, until God wills the outcome.
Delirious from lack of sleep and urgently needing to flee the flea-bag, after hearing forty five minutes of "In Sh'Allah" and "No problem" (without tangible results) from the front desk, regarding everything from getting clean linens to making an overseas call, Tracy and I locked our valuables in our suitcases and made for the street, waiting the requisite half-hour for the elevator. While I was looking for the stairs, I opened an emergency exit door and made the rather unsettling discovery that the hotel simply did not exist between our floor and the lobby. There were four steps and then six stories of twisted metal and raw cement (courtesy of the last earthquake) with no stairs or even floors between the ground floor and us. Comforting!
Walking on one of Cairo’s main thoroughfares, Giza Street, between the Ministry Of Culture and the upscale Cairo Sheraton, we were approached by a tubby, balding man in Western clothes. Seemingly reaching for his cell-phone, the guy lighting-quick unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a gray JC Penney's-style, no-nonsense grandma-type bra. It was so threadbare and dirty it couldn't even begin to qualify as lingerie- even a bag lady on crack would’ve been ashamed of it! Looking directly into our eyes as he passed, he tongued his lips lasciviously and squeezed his left nipple. Stunned and speechless, I asked Tracy:
"Did that really happen?"
"I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!" she replied in amazement.
Our first impulse was to reach for our cameras, but by the time we had them in hand, he was gone. The soldiers guarding the Ministry Of Culture hadn't even noticed him. But we sure noticed them. And it wasn’t just their snowy white Tourist Police uniforms, a beret tilted jauntily to one side. How hard is it to miss lithe, café au lait-skinned nineteen-year-olds with Pharonic features and puppy-dog eyes—especially when they're smoking casually, wearing gun-belts and packing gigantic automatic weapons? Since our cameras were already out, we tried for a photo-op. Instead, we succeeded in attracting the attention of their first in command, a pot-bellied, toothless guy who screamed in broken English that we were violating an Egyptian law we didn't know existed: it is illegal to take pictures of anything having to do with the military. As we left, Tracy whispered, "No problem!" launching us both into fits of punchy giggles.
That night, we were determined to paint the town, even though I'd developed a nasty bladder infection. We’d been guest-listed to see the Dina, the most famous belly dancer in the Arabic world. Dina is a household word, like Cher or Barbra Streisand. We couldn't believe our good fortune. At 9:30 we began our toilette. By 10:00, we discovered the shower wouldn't turn off. By 10:15, we 'd begun a frantic series of calls to the front desk. When 10:30 arrived, the bathtub had begun to fill up, and the whole room was inundated with steam.
" No problem," said Sirhan Sirhan, in a lackadaisical, offhand tone.
Soon the bathroom floor was completely flooded, so I called again at 10:45, and tried to describe in detail, slowly and clearly, what was happening.
"LADY, DON'T BE PANIC!" he hollered in disgust, banging the phone onto the receiver.
I calculated that we'd need at least twenty minutes for the elevator to come, so if we weren't going to miss Dina, we'd have to leave now.
"Fuck it!" I said to Tracy, "We’re outta here!"
We piled our suitcases on top of the dressers, left the windows open for the water vapors to escape, and bailed, drenched as though we'd come out of a steam room.
Dina was awesome, with a huge orchestra and multiple costume changes. For the climax of the show, she danced to a song by Om Kulthoum, and the entire crowd lost it. Om Kulthoum, for those who don’t know, is to the Arabic world what Elvis is to Westerners…and then some. Like The King, after she died, she became even more famous, as though canonized. Every cabby in Cairo has a picture of her in his wallet. The first time I heard Om Kulthoum, I was an immediate convert. Then I saw her picture…and, well, let's just say that she makes Fat Elvis look dignified. The passion in her voice is stunning, but towards the end of her career, she was old and bloated, and didn’t really manage to cover it up in voluminous caftans. Nearly blind, she wore oversized Jackie O sunglasses; she had a number of double chins, which were only accented by her massive beehive bouffant, hair-do. She always sang with a white handkerchief in one hand—some said because her songs were so full of sadness and longing; others insisted it was because she was an addict who concealed cocaine in her hankie, sniffing it onstage during her lengthy concerts. Whatever… the handkerchief, like the glasses and scary hair, were her trademarks. I must say that Om Kulthoum, more than any living human being, resembles those scary old beehive haired ladies in the comic strip "The Far Side." But even mention her name and Egyptians get misty-eyed…. and seeing Dina dance to a thirty piece orchestra playing Om Kulthoum made me and Tracy so crazy we had to go out and party with George, a jovial Lebanese guy we'd just met. We went to the Pyramids Mena House Hotel, where he managed the casino, and got shitfaced on his tab, listening to stories about the multitudinous times he'd been arrested in various countries; then he took us to an after-hours disco. Somewhere along the line, we changed his name to “G-Dog.” Just before the sun came up, we went with G-Dog to his place, right around the corner from our hotel, to have a nightcap of arak (an Arab version of Pernod or Ouzo) with juice and smoke a sheesha pipe before turning in.
We arrived back at our room after the day had officially started. Unbelievably, the shower wasn’t running. Utterly stinko and jubilant that our entire room wasn’t soaked, we documented our hotel room's splendor with Tracy's video camera. We showed off every carpet stain, duct-taped piece of furniture and mildewed towel, reaching new heights of delirium, laughing so hard we ached, and then we discovered that the shower hadn't been fixed—they'd merely covered up the problem by turning our water off! A series of phone calls to the front desk ensued; all met with the standard "No problem" answer. By the time the plumber, accompanied by a shifty-looking, unsettlingly quiet security guard arrived, it was so bright in the room, and we were wearing our shades.
“Look, it's the water doctor!” Tracy cried, sticking the camcorder in the men’s faces the moment they came in through the door.
She giggled drunkenly and filmed everything, from the Arabic curses streaming out of the plumber’s mouth as he wallowed on the bathroom floor getting soaked, to my slaphappy, slurred commentary and Roto-Rooter jokes. Finally, the water pressure was restored and the guys left. Brushing my teeth with my sunglasses on, my hair wadded up into a sloppy bun on top of my head, I was struck with my uncanny resemblance to Om Kulthoum. Grabbing a bed-sheet and draping it around my body to fashion a caftan, waving a piece of Kleenex in my hand, I stepped onto the balcony and started prancing around, bellowing phonetic lyrics to a famous Om Kulthoum song, "Ya M’ Sharni" at the top of my lungs. Tracy filmed my psychotic histrionics with the Nile as a background, until I stepped inside, laughing so hard the sheet fell off.
“Keep singing!” Tracy cried, maneuvering camera angles like a guerilla filmmaker, "Do X-rated nude Om Kulthoum!"
Of course, I obliged her.
* * * * *
We spent most of the next day jet-lagged and hung over, in a cab circling endlessly around Cairo looking for a post office. The one we finally found had a mud yard, with chickens pecking around inside the lobby. Exhausted by the nearly one hundred and twenty degree heat, we sat down at a café. We needed caffeine so badly we were practically sobbing. After waiting ages to have our orders taken and longer for the coffee to get made, the waiter dropped the tray with our drinks just as he approached our table. Maintaining our composure, we actually smiled at him as he slowly shuffled his way back to the kitchen. Finally, my spoiled American need for instant gratification surfaced, mixed with my pounding hangover, and I let loose with a full dose of cranky, culture-shocked sarcasm.
“Trace- you know the Seven Day War?”
“…Yeah,” she grunted, gamely trying to gear up for a political conversation.
“If it takes this long to get a coffee,” I sighed, “I just can’t see how it’s within the realm of possibility that an entire war could’ve gotten started and finished within a week!”
She grinned at me haphazardly, her bloodshot eyes wandering off in two different directions.
* * * * * *
It wasn’t until late that night, still functioning on no sleep, yet about to go clubbing again, that Tracy noticed her camcorder was missing.
"Are you sure?" I asked, thinking it was just buried in her suitcase jumble of blow dryers, workout wear, pantyhose and lunch-box sized snack foods.
"It's gone," she said mournfully, " I looked everywhere."
Our luck was such that Sirhan Sirhan was on duty again, so I went to the lobby to call Raqia Hassan, the woman running the dance festival, who spoke fluent English. Meanwhile, Tracy came down to the lobby and started shrieking, causing a major scene. Sirhan Sirhan, the hotel's manager, and all the old men sitting around smoking sheesha stormed up to the room, throwing everything around, arguing with each other in Arabic and trying to find the camera, which they figured we crazy, rich Americans had only misplaced. All they succeeded in doing was (as we call it in the States) "tampering with a crime scene". In other words, they destroyed any evidence that may have been left behind and left their fingerprints all over our belongings. Raqia sent over one of the festival’s representative/liaisons Mohammed, who arrived looking like a slick, Eighties-style Vegas gigolo, or maybe a near-Eastern version of Don Johnson in “Miami Vice,” dressed head-to-toe in silver sharkskin.
Pissed off and keyed up as she was, Tracy took one look at Mohammed, and began covertly pointing at him, frantically mouthing to me, "HE'S CUTE!"
Trying to be serious, even in the face of Tracy's cartoon-like libidinal display (in spite of his garish taste in clothing, Mohamed was pretty damn easy on the eyes) I kept a straight face and attempted to answer questions posed in Pidgin English. Tracy alternately ranted, giggled, eyed Mohammed lasciviously, and wept.
"There, there, Trashy," Mohammed said, mispronouncing her name as he patted her back while she gave me a sly sidelong glance,” Trashy, please, don't be hysteric! Is OK… no problem!"
Mohammed had me write up a statement for "Trashy" to sign, flashing his silver Bic pen for us to use. At this point, we'd been in Egypt long enough to be duly impressed—a man is only as good as his pen, after all! So all this posturing was Mohammed's way of saying he was on top of the situation. He assured us that Egyptian police were “very clever.” Out of sheer nerves, Tracy and I were compulsively munching our way through her stash of junk food as Mohammed stared in disbelief.
Just then, with a dramatic gasp, her hands flying up to her mouth, Tracy remembered that the missing camera contained footage of my nude Om Kulthoum act, something I’d thought of grimly the very moment she discovered the camera was missing. In fact, I was reasonably sure that my nude concert was all over the Internet by now. With renewed fervor, Tracy told Mohamed it was an absolute necessity she gets her camera back, and, pulling him aside, urgently stage- whispered that there was footage of me naked. At this, Mohamed's eyes nearly popped out of his head in shock over the sinful and almost incomprehensible antics of Loose Westerners.
"We must get the camera and tape back," he said, gravely.
Then, giddy with testosterone and brightening at his good fortune to be in a room with two women who would commit such a licentious act, he leered at me pointedly and said,
"So I can see this!"
After more Arabic arguments with the non- English-speaking contingent from the lobby, which were chain-smoking cigars at a rate equal to our junk food consumption, Mohamed made it clear that it was necessary to go to the police station to give a report. As Tracy and I grabbed our sweaters, Mohamed looked us over dubiously.
"Ah…I mean no offense," he said as politely as he could muster, "But you cannot go to station looking like…" He threw his hands up heavenwards, " Like… one hundred percent… nightclub womens!"
Obediently washing off our glitter make-up, we changed into baggy, covered -up "decent” clothes as I noticed my jeans had also been stolen.
Even though it was fucked up that we’d been robbed, and that we weren't going to go out to see Lucy or Fifi Abdou dance, we both were a little excited and adrenaline -charged with the prospect of going to Police Headquarters in Cairo. It would, after all, be An Adventure.
The moment we entered the station, our illusions were shattered and we started to get scared. It was as though we'd stepped out of a James Bond movie and into Midnight Express. As our eyes adjusted to the dim, flickering fluorescent lights, we took in the cracked, filthy linoleum floors; the rat-traps in the corners; the battered file cabinets, their drawers open and bulging with folders; not to mention the surly-looking, middle-aged cops lounging on dilapidated naugahyde chairs, nonchalantly cleaning their Kalashnikov machine guns. Tracy gripped my hand so hard her bubble gum-pink acrylic nails dug into my palm. Mohamed and the head cop started yelling at each other immediately.
"Not Without My Camcorder!" I whispered, trying to put Tracy at ease with a joke.
Mohammed motioned us frantically to be quiet as the head guy, who had a huge scar down one cheek, stood up abruptly, adjusted his gun-belt in a macho pose, and said to Tracy in deadly calm, perfect English,
"Whom do you wish to accuse?"
"Accuse?" Tracy asked, her voice barely audible and quivering with terror.
"Yes, you must accuse someone!" the cop said, his gaze steely, as he took out a long knife and began tapping it impatiently on the desk.
Tracy stood silently, suddenly looking very small and young, her eyes darting around nervously before finally meeting mine. I felt skittish; my breath was quick and shallow, as I took in the whole situation, sizing things up. Self-preservation tactics and plans began running through my mind. It seemed as though… maybe we should just…forget the whole matter, go back to the hotel, get some rest, take it easy…perhaps do some light sight-seeing the next day…. Chalk up the camcorder as a loss… and say anything to get out of this situation. What's a camcorder, anyway? Just a material possession that can be easily replaced. And really, what would happen if they did get it back, and- oh my god! - Saw Naked Om Kulthoum, then what?
Quickly, reality hit me, as well as waves of dread. I felt panicky about what I'd done on film, what I’d done thoughtlessly in a foreign country. Was I out of my mind?
To me, at the time, it was just tipsy shenanigans. If I had done this at home, in Hollywood, it would've been a joke, even with the cops, but what about here? Surely, there were laws about nudity not to mention lewd conduct—was I completely insane? What the hell was I thinking? Egypt may not be as hardcore about morality and religion as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Iran, where women are mandated to veil and not even allowed to drive, but still, it's an unbelievably conservative, 98% Muslim country.
I had the distinct feeling that what I did would never fall under the umbrella of Allah having willed it, and there'd be no way I could never explain away my flagrant display by saying “No problem.” Totally horrified, suddenly I felt the need to pee. Badly.
"Mohammed," I whined, like a kindergartner about to have an accident, "I have to go to the bathroom!"
Tracy was biting her cuticles, saying nothing as Mohammed regarded me and said emphatically,
"But you cannot go to the bathroom here. You must wait."
I resigned myself, rationalizing that it was just nerves and not my bladder infection, trying to breathe deeply and think calming thoughts, when the hotel's plumber was brought in, hands cuffed behind his back, looking absolutely terrified.
The cops roughly threw him onto a bench facing us and began harshly interrogating him. I openly stared at his cheap rubber sandals, worn-out pants and his haggard face, and felt horrible. He looked like a nice guy, a decent sort. It didn’t seem as though he would steal anything. He probably had a wife and kids at home in a hovel somewhere. Soon, my remorse changed to desperation: after another forty-five minutes of everyone in the room screaming at each other, my teeth were floating.
"I have to go to the bathroom," I said urgently, pummeling Mohammed.
"YOU CANNOT GO TO THE BATHROOM!" he hollered,
"THIS IS BATHROOM ONLY FOR CRIMINAL!"
"I HAVE A BLADDER INFECTION!" I yelled right back, as all the policemen's heads snapped around like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist.
"But listen to me," Mohammed said carefully, as though he was talking to an obstinate child or someone with a severe mental disability, " You must wait. This bathroom is…. INHUMAN!"
"I'm going to wet my pants," I said truthfully, through gritted teeth.
Another agonizing ten minutes went by as Mohammed attempted to explain my situation to the cops, who regarded me dubiously. Finally granted reluctant permission, Mohammed took my hand tightly, and with an escort of two cops, I limped down a corridor to the toilet.
There were a bunch of men loitering around in pimpy-looking 80’s sweat suits with pagers and cheap cell-phones prominently displayed. I noticed that they were linked together chain-gang-style with Medieval-looking iron leg-shackles. Standing near them was the most over-the top, freakish hooker I'd ever seen. If she’d been a character in a Tarantino or John Waters film, she’d have been hard to believe. She momentarily made me forget my bloated bladder. Tall and corpulent, she wore a luridly patterned mis-matched skirt and low-cut blouse, which looked even more psychedelic than it already was under the strobing fluorescent lights; the cheap, sparkly fabric nearly bursting over huge, melon-like, stretch-mark-scarred breasts. Shiny taupe Spandex tights encased her sausage-shaped legs, leading to white pumps almost completely black with scuffmarks. Her massive, badly permed ‘do was bleached a sickly shade of orange, filled with plastic flowers. Her clown-like make-up resembled Joel Grey's "Emcee" character in Cabaret—two symmetrical circular splotches of red on her pock-marked cheeks complimented the harsh, silvery blue shadow which almost—but not quite—hid a huge shiner. She was handcuffed, and on one of her scratched and hirsute arms, wore bangle bracelets up to the elbow. From the noise they made—a tinkle, rather than a clank—it was obvious they were real gold- a fortune’s worth.
The guards went into the bathroom first, roughly dragging a man in traditional Saidi dress out, as he protested violently. Actually, the toilet was no worse than any other Egyptian bathroom I'd been in, except for the fresh feces smeared on the walls. There were two metal foot-forms on the floor flanking an open hole in which to relieve yourself. No toilet paper, no light. As I urinated and endless stream, sighing in relief, Mohammed guarded me, providing a human barricade so no one could open the door, which didn't have a lock. I could see his Italian loafer-encased feet planted firmly, inches from my own, outside the stall door.
Back in the main room, Tracy was still sitting morosely, looking small and scared, squirrelly at being left alone in this hellhole. More arguing ensued. Perhaps "Trashy” had brought the camera to Cairo only to lose it intentionally, so as to collect insurance? How did we know in fact that the perpetrator wasn’t one of the hotel maids?
We valiantly tried to explain that Tracy had never even insured the thing, and if she had, wouldn’t it have been much easier to just "lose” the camera in Los Angeles…why go through all the red tape of doing it in a foreign country-one with a different alphabet- for Christ’s sake?
We both were positive that the culprit was the suspicious-looking hotel security guard who’d accompanied the plumber. First of all, the door hadn't been forced, so it was obviously an inside job. Second—and more importantly—the security guard was the only person besides the plumber who'd even seen the camera. And the plumber was here, shitting bricks, probably thinking he was about to get his hand cut off or something. Plus, both Tracy and I thought it odd that if indeed the thief had been one of the naïve- looking teenage chambermaids, why hadn’t they stolen any of the multitudinous beauty products, costume jewelry or feminine clothing we’d left out? The only item stolen other than the camera was a Levi 501’ s- coveted American men’s jean that would’ve fit the security guard perfectly. With the severe language barrier, all this was almost impossible to translate to the police.
Finally, Tracy was made to sign a statement that she couldn't even read—it had been typed up in Arabic, of course. We were finally allowed to leave, just as dawn was breaking.
"I feel as though you are my sisters," Mohammed said, darting expertly through Cairo’s kamikaze traffic, apparently forgetting about being all hot at the possibility of seeing my nude Om Kulthoum karaoke act. As he dropped us off in front of the Amon Toushka, he handed us his business card , saying he would get the matter sorted out, which we severely doubted. Relieved to be done with the whole incident, we'd both written off the possibility of ever seeing the camcorder again.
We immediately started packing our belongings, planning a hasty exit. There was no way we were going to spend even another minute in the hotel. Tracy called G-Dog, who was just arriving home from his casino job.
"GUESS WHERE I'VE BEEN?" she shouted hysterically shrill and almost gleefully into the phone, "I'VE BEEN IN JAIL!!!"
After hearing an abbreviated version of our ordeal, he commanded us to get a cab to his house immediately. We could stay with him, he said chivalrously; or he would help check us into a Five Star hotel. As Tracy struggled with her overstuffed bags, waiting impatiently for the elevator, she suggested taking the stairs, too delirious to realize that all her luggage would've been totally unmanageable.
"Let's just wait," I sighed, too exhausted to explain to her that there was literally nothing between our floor and the lobby.
As we tried to beat a hasty exit, attempting to forego the proper check- out procedure with Sirhan Sirhan (whom we never, ever wanted to see again) the scene at the front desk could've been any random newsreel footage of people trying to escape a Third World country as a coup took place. Everyone sitting around the lobby, all the old men, even a bunch of newly arrived, jet-lagged, hippie-looking Norwegian tourists, got involved. Sirhan Sirhan was going apoplectic, pounding on his ledger, shrieking and gesturing wildly. On the street, the cabbie we’d just flagged down and bribed with a ten-pound note, was simultaneously stuffing our luggage into the trunk of his car while bellowing loudly, violently engaged in a duffel bag tug-of-war with the Tourist Police, who’d been summoned by Siran Sirhan.
We finally escaped, and safely at the entrance to G-Dog's building, I started laughing hysterically while Tracy broke down in the tears that had been threatening all night. At this point, we hadn't slept more than four or five hours in like…six days.
Later that day, we checked into the Ramses Hilton, where the Oriental Dance Festival was being held. The employees at reception were charming and fawned all over us, sending our bags up to our room with a crisply -uniformed bellhop and offering us a gratis cocktail we gulped gratefully while we waiting for the paperwork to go through.
We were amazed at the cleanliness and luxe modern amenities of our room. Feeling like we'd won the lottery, we noted the sparkling clean bathroom, with a tub, shower and bidet, plus fluffy, pristine bath-towels, tiny soaps and lotions neatly sealed in Hilton wrappers. There was a big-screen color- TV (that actually worked) with a remote control, double beds, and a phone whose receiver wouldn’t give you hepatitis, trench mouth or some leprous skin condition. Putting on our bikinis, we went down to the pool, crashed onto chaise lounges and ordered more liquor immediately, charging the cocktails to our room.
After the dance festival started, Mohammed came by, wearing a Mafioso-like combo of a black polyester shirt and skin-tight, white-brushed denim jeans, which unfortunately showcased his beefy thighs. Shiny-faced and sweaty, he had bags under his eyes, was in need of a shave, and reeked of cheap cologne.
"Still no news on your camera, Trashy," he said, trying to look all in charge and official with his clipboard.
We knew through the grapevine that he'd been bungling matters all week, including taking care of some other festival attendees staying at the Amon Toushka, who’d had property stolen out of their rooms. As he fumbled, flipping through some paper work looking for a police document Tracy needed to show at customs upon departure, Tracy and I both eyed him critically. There were wet rings of perspiration under his arms, his hands were shaking.
Leaning in close to me, Tracy whispered cattily,
"You know, Mohammed's not really that cute… he's kind of a dork… and he's sort of fat."
I nodded in agreement.
"All he really has going for himself," Tracy yawned, "Is a good pen!"
He was a harried, stressed-out mess, a polyester disaster, a buffoon- a mere shell of the take-charge guy he had been the week before. Chunky and inept, he was almost endearing in a pathetic sort of way. He’d put up with a lot- from us, especially. Feeling a wave of pity, for a few seconds, I wished he could see my Om Kalthoum impersonation after all. It’d do him some good, cheer him up, possibly restore his former macho jauntiness.
Tracy and I did our best to appear grateful. We tried not to roll our eyes as Mohammed continued earnestly, "…But the police, I am sure they are working on your case…"
"Yeah, sure Mohamed,” Tracy said, all Valley Girl and sarcastic, cutting him off mid-sentence while catching my eye.
“ I know -one hundred percent…The police, they are very clever!”
Her sarcasm sailed with an almost audible swoosh right over Mohammed’s head as she drawled,