Barf in the UAE!

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Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Some uncouth readers may think that by "Barf," I'm referrring to the colloquial Americanism for vomit. In fact, dear reader, I mean no such thing. Barf is a marvellous Iranian product, a detergent that makes clothes so white, they're just like barf! (Which, of course, is Persian for 'snow.') I pray for your eternal souls, you poor ignorant things.

13 April 2010

Take Off

Every time, every time the plane began its acceleration he thought of what could happen, of the moment when the "crack" would be followed by the noises of unintended friction, the slow-fast slide of events, all happening so fast that the fear couldn't have time to fully fill him, the objects around the cabin - that bottle of water, the briefcase under the seat - all now given new vectors by their inertia and the sudden jarring, the noise, the end, the pain. He folded his glasses, held his hands on his lap, and wondered if this - of all the times he had done this, more than forty-five years of commercial and military take-offs since his childhood - if this time, it would happen. And yet, the reassuring tilt, the acceleration of flight, and the plane's freedom was now complete. If there were ever times he felt the slightest sense of a need for religious reassurance, it was then, just when that metal tube careened at steadily higher speeds down a thin strip of asphalt. But, of course, there was already a kind of faith at work: moments later, more certain as any prayer, the physics of flight ruled after all.

07 May 2009

A letter from Dalton Trumbo (1905-1970) to his son, circa 1958.

My dear son,

I am sending you two books I think appropriate for a young man spending five-sevenths of his time in the precincts of John Jay Hall. The first is Education of a Poker Player by Herbert O. Yardley. Read it in secret, hide it whenever you leave quarters and you’ll be rewarded by many unfair but legal advantages over friend and enemy alike.

The second book I think you should share with your young companions. It is Sex Without Guilt by a man who will take his place in history as the greatest humanitarian since Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Ellis, Ph.D. This good man has written what might be called “a manual for masturbators.” The result, mailed in plain wrapper under separate cover, is one of those fortuitous events in which the right man collides with the right idea at precisely the right time. This whole new approach, this fresh wind blowing under the sheets, so to speak, this large-hearted appeal for cheerful self-pollution invokes perhaps a deeper response in my heart than in most, for I – sneaky, timorous, incontinent little beast with my Paphian obsessions – was never wholesomely at home with my penile problem, all because of that maggoty, mountainous pustule of needless guilt that throbbed like an abscess in my young boy’s heart.

On warm summer nights, while exuberant, girl-hunting contemporaries scampered in and out of the brush beneath high Western stars, I, dedicated fool, lay swooning in my bed with no companion save the lewd and smirking demons of my bottomless guilt. Cowering there in seminal darkness, liquescent with self-loathing, attentive only to the stealthy rise and crafty ebbing of my dark scrotumnal blood, fearful as a lechway yet firmer of purpose than any rotting buffalo, I celebrated the rites of Chuarson with sullen resignation. Poor little chap on a summer’s night! Morosely masturbating, tisk tisk tisk. Even now, more than three decades later, even now when I forget a friend’s name, or mislay my spectacles, or pause … in midsentence idiocy, even now such lapses set a clammy chill upon my heart; it’s then, while panic tightens my sagging throat that I whisper to myself, “It’s true after all, it does make you crazy… It does cause the brain to soften. Why, oh why, did I like it so much? Why didn’t I stop when I was ahead of the game? Ah, well. Little good to know it now. The harm’s done; the jig’s up; you’re thoroughly rattled; better to have been born with handless stubs.”

I recall a certain chill winter night on which my father took me to one of those Calvinist fertility rites disguised as a father-son banquet. Master of the revels was an acrid old goat named Horace T. McGinnis. He opened his discourse with a series of blasphemous demands that the Almighty agree with his ghastly notions, and then got down to the meat of the program, which, to no one’s surprise, was girls. “When you go out with a young lady,” he slavered, “You go out with your own sister!” It seemed plain to me that if one day I did burst upon the world as the hymeneal Genghis Khan of my dreams I would be in for an extremely incestuous time of it. I can still hear that demented old reprobate howling his bill of particulars against poor Onan, the Bible’s first recorded masturbator, shaking his fist at us and sweating like a diseased stoat. “He wast-ed his seeed, O monstrous shameful nameless act, he spilled it! right out onto the grounnnnd, all of it, and this displeaaased the Lorddd, and the Lord slew him!”

Yet, the more I think on it, the more positive I become that you will never truly be able to comprehend in all its horror that interminably sustained convulsion which was your father’s youth. It’s only reasonable that this should be so, since you had so many advantages that were denied to me. To name but three of them: a private room; a masturbating father; and Albert Ellis, Ph.D. I carry the ball for all of us, and carried it farther any anyone had a right to expect. I was the Prometheus of my secret tribe, a penile virtuoso, a gonadic prodigy, a spermatiferous thunderbolt, in fine: a masturbator’s masturbator!

23 February 2009

The Bulls

On any given Friday, locals in Fujariah meet at a field near the corniche to the south of the city. Farmers come from the cities and towns on the UAE's Indian Ocean Coast, from Fujariah, the Sharjah enclave, Kalba, Khor Fakkan, even Dibbah and the Omani coast nearby. They bring their prize bulls and in a series of struggles with rules that are obscure to outsiders have them butt heads in conflicts designed to bloody neither them nor the spectators. Contests start in the late afternoon and continue into the fading light of the early evening...

05 June 2008

Shipwrecked, abandoned, they sit at airport short-term parking waiting for a return, a rescue, their lives suspended, their owners long since fled for countries fair and green.

Others circle near them in the heat eying their coveted spaces, thoughts of a similar abandonment tempting them... Dubai's summer descends in its merciless blazing heat.

10 February 2008

Under Construction

Dubai, constantly unfinished: amid chaos, building construction and reconstruction, working and reworking of the roads, rewritten laws, reshaped priorities, those who stay remain unfinished, incomplete, half-lives here and other half-halves there.

Nonetheless, the towers do eventually emerge, but half-full of promise, waiting for a completion to come...

09 December 2007

The Desert

The desert is eternal, or so it would seem, but the dunes are most vulnerable to man. In that stretch of desert in the far reaches of Dubai a road is being cut through desert of unsurpassing beauty, opening a previously untouched part of Dubai's last scenic desert to visitors. Although the road is only two or three months old, there are many using that stretch of desert, long caravans of commercially operated SUVs and the occasional groups of motorcycles or four-wheelers. By dusk, however, they clear out, and a quiet group can cook kebabs and burgers and sit in silence and quiet talk around a fire fueled by charcoal briquettes and scrap lumber. On a moonless night, the sky is still bright around the edges from the spilling of light from nearby towns, but above the stars stand clear and bright against the blackness of the sky...

29 November 2007

The Iranian

From across the ocean doors she came; life clicked into temporary balance. Her departure left a quiet void...

11 August 2007


"We taste the spices of Arabia, yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth"

Soon. All too soon.

25 May 2007

Those who say that life is only a combination of misfortunes mean that life itself is a misfortune. If it is a misfortune, then death is a happiness. Such people did not write in good health, with their purses stuffed with money, and contentment in their souls from having held Cecelias and Marinas in their arms and being sure that there were more of them to come... If pleasure exists, and we can only enjoy it in life, then life is a happiness. There are misfortunes, of course, as I should be the first to know. But the very existence of these misfortunes proves that the sum of good is greater. I am infinitely happy when I am in an dark room and see the light coming through a window which opens on a vast horizon.

-Giacomo Casanova, History of My Life (Willard R. Trask, translator)

Paris, May 2007

11 April 2007


Each city its own world, one older but not by much, the other pushing so far so fast it screams with rage at the fallibility of its own flesh, frantically tearing space and materials and humans to remake itself in the image of the other. To fly between the two in the space of a day is to shift time itself, to move into another dimension where six months equals ten years...

20 March 2007

March 19, 2007


"The flag's off to that filthy place, and our speech drowns the sound of the drum.
In the centers we'll feed the most cynical whoring. We'll smash all logical revolts.
To the peppery dried-up countries!-in the service of the most gigantic industrial or military exploitation.

Goodbye to this place. No matter where we're off to. We conscripts of good will are going to display a savage philosophy;
ignorant in science, rakes where our comfort is concerned; and let the world blow up!
This is the real march. Forward, men!"

-Arthur Rimbaud
(written 1870-71, published 1886; translated by Wallace Fowlie)

16 February 2007


For a moment it seemed as if this country could become a verdant land, as long winter rains greened even this most desolate of places; grass springs from nowhere, like worms in cheese, in places, flowers thick, the world filled with green.

Battuta resisted cheap metaphors of regrowth and rebirth in arid worlds, and yet, and yet, so tempting they were... so tempting...

20 December 2006


Days before Christmas in a land near the Two Holy Places, the Lebanese haircutter at Diva’s Men’s Salon leers at passing Filipinas and snickers with his Algerian colleague while above them on the newly rebranded Dubai One Martha Stewart stridently constructs the best blueberry tart in Arabic-subtitle English. Blocks away, Choithram’s aisles ring with carols as construction workers eye Butterball turkeys and bags of whole cranberries with mystified wonder.

09 October 2006

Indian Ocean

Ramadan, dawn, ocean still, wind light, air warm and moist. From the nineteenth floor the hotel lay quiet save for fumigating machine, hammers of workmen, and an ocean quietly lapping, lapping a beach picked clean by workers. The fountains of the pools splashed, all water, water everywhere, water as if the hills behind were not as dry as death, the hard bare rocks barren even of grass. At poolside, any time of day, drinks of sugared liquid quell any sign of thirst.

21 August 2006


In another land, Battuta gathered together trade goods, vestments, nostrums, codexes, gadgets. Mysterious forces gathered his trunks into the belly of a magical beast as on its back he was strapped. At tremendous speed he re-crossed ocean and continent, the suffering of mythical people in a bright tiny box entertaining him...

Returned, delivered, deposited. Installed. He now faced a much more powerful beast, the “ghit-lahg.” Long hallucinatory hours under its sway as his brain scurried about the estranged corners of his memory, hours spun away like butterflies’ wings.