Monday, July 14, 2003

FROM THE ESSAY ARCHIVES - "From Here to Burger King"

I will occasionally repost an article or essay I wrote years ago on my blog. I thought people might enjoy this one.

Date: Thursday, June 21, 2001 1:09 PM
Subject: From Here to Burger King.

OK, I'm really tired because last night, after closing the store, I went with friends for a little post-midnight birthday celebration. Darren and Vanessa from the store took me to TGI Friday's, and I invited along Yusuf, a new employee whom I've had a couple good talks with.

Yusuf is a 21-year-old devout Muslim born in Lebanon but raised in Trinidad, and we usually talk about politics. When I asked him to join us, initially he was reluctant because it was against his religion. Yet he said he wanted to have a beer anyway, since I told him it was my birthday and I was buying.

So I'm quizzing him on music, Palestine, religion, Osama Bin Laden, poetry and stuff. He talks about all this stuff anyway, in fact I think that's why we get along well.

In regard to Bin Laden, Yusuf is reading a bio about him and said that he agrees with many of the man's beliefs but none of his methods.

I said that was really good because I liked Yusuf a lot and didn't want to die at his hand. (Trust me, he and I have talked enough so that he can distinguish my sarcasm.)

Yusuf talks about praying, how he's done with prayer for the day and really shouldn't drink because it means he has to stop praying for 30 days. He says he's just going to disregard that.

I said he didn't have to do so.

"It's my birthday, but I don't want to get you in trouble with God."

On a completely different tangent, I mention Madonna. He notes that I like her and asks why. I say, "It's pretty much a given." Then, I note his non-existent reaction to that and mumble, "Oh, you don't know."

"Don't know what?" Yusuf asks.

Everyone at the table shuts up, so I say, "Nothing."

Then later, Yusuf's looking at a blinking light sign up on the wall or an annoying couple or something and says, "Damn, that's really gay."

"That's really what?" I ask.

"Gay," Yusuf said, noting my concern. "I'm sorry. Are you a Republican?"

"No, I'm gay," I said, so bluntly that Vanessa started to laugh. "No one told you?"

"No, but that's cool," Yusuf said. "You know, whatever you like, that's your business. So, are you a Republican?"

"Raised Republican, but no."

So we discuss the gay thing amongst the whole table a little bit (though Vanessa and Darren tire of the topic), and Yusuf says that I'm the first gay person he's ever met. He transfered here from Miami and worked at two Barnes & Noble stores. Something tells me I'm not the first, I say.

"You're the first gay person I've ever met who I met and then they told me they were gay," Yusuf clarified. "You're the first one I've gotten to know, anyway."

I nodded. Then, Yusuf dropped this aplomb bomb into the conversation, and everyone at the table immediately adored him.

"Gay people to me are like monsters. I only see them on TV."

So we all just start laughing, and Darren says to Yusuf, "Oh, you're going to start going out with us more often."

So Yusuf starts talking about more stances, asks us all if we smoke marijuana.

Darren used to. Vanessa has once. I never have.

Yusuf grew up in Trinidad. He's been smoking since he was 12. It's a part of his culture, he argues.

Midway through him talking about how he stopped wearing dreads recently and instead opted to wear clothes from Banana Republic, we toast my birthday, and I start giggling. I thought I had a friend to fit every category, and Yusuf is so fascinating and unique to me that I realized he didn't fit into any available vacant slot in my head. He was completely new.

So I told him, "Oh my God, I've never met anyone like you. You're my first Rasta-Arab."

He thought that was really funny.

Darren thought it was cool, too, that the two of us proved to be new firsts to each other.

I know not to hit on him. I know that he likes reggae and fireworks. I know that he gets mad if I call it Israel.

Later, Yusuf gives us his full name. Yusuf Ataf Alfitav Diab, or something like that.

He said it's a Muslim custom for a man to take the names of his previous male ancestors. From the table, Yusuf looked out the window to measure a hypothetical distance in his head.

Then he said, "Given the chance, every Muslim would have a name from here to Burger King."

Yusuf and I stayed up until 2 a.m. in the parking lot, after everyone else had left, chatting about our respective stances and trying to determine how to relate with each other.

He said that, when he started at the store and began gauging people, he identified with me best because, using his expression, "our blood was the most alike." He would talk about the Middle East, express his opinions on it, and I knew what he was talking about. We were both really chatty.

He asked me questions. I answered them as best I could. I asked him questions. He answered them as best he could. There's still a lot of uncharted territory.

We talked about girls, about boys and listened to cool Kuwaiti pop music. At one point, Yusuf even taught me to speak with a Trinidad accent.

"There are no 'th-' words, only 'd-'s, and we have a lazy language," he said. "If I were to revert to it, you wouldn't know what I was saying."

Eventually, "dis is 'ow 'e was speakin."

It's different, but, for my birthday, I got an opposite-of-the-spectrum friend, and it's a pretty cool gift.

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