Rarity of the Century: An Excerpt
When the world ended I fell in love for the first time. But before any of that, I’d just turned twenty-seven, I was living back home with my flamboyant uncle in Miami Beach and cleaning tables at a churrasqueria.
For those unfamiliar with a churrasqueria, it’s basically a steak house but Brazilian styled, sans fried onion in the menu or saw dust on the floor. And the one where I worked, Bife Norte, was like the steak emporium with armies of waiters in tuxedos arriving at the tables every five minutes carrying giant slabs of meat on skewers. I was a busboy, and my job was to clean up the mess after the slaughter.
My parents were dead. I was raised by my Uncle Rodrigo since the age of three. At some point early on my parents turned into a radiant blur, kind of like a falling star your eyes are trying to focus in on while taking an evening hike in the Everglades. And the older I got, the more they faded. My uncle didn’t talk about them. But sometimes, or more like once in a blue moon, he’d give me morsels of information, which wasn’t much, but it sustained me throughout childhood and adolescence.
Most of these short bursts of clues were in the form of one-act plays. And the majority of these plays were exclusively about my mother. The themes that my uncle followed faithfully in the telling of these brief, albeit quite epic, stories were of my mother’s adventurous spirit and quirky sense of humor. And of course, those traits became my holy grail.
Uncle Rodrigo never told me how my parents died. I suspected a horrible car wreck but I could never be certain. On those days when I was brave enough, I’d press my uncle about it, and he’d say that it was better that I not know. He would then quickly change the subject and start talking about our Arab heritage which he always recited with pride. According to him, he and I were the last survivors of a once numerous clan of Palestinian fabric dealers from El Salvador, the little flea of the Americas. I never challenged him on it, for my prominent nose was enough proof of that.
But despite the odds against him, my sweet and loveable uncle always tried his hardest to fill the hole in my heart.
“Chucho,” he’d say, meaning dog in El Salvador, “You and me is all we have in this sorry, rotten world. But don’t you worry. For that is enough, okay papi?”
Growing up with Uncle Rodrigo was like having a supporting role in a 1980s sitcom. He was a natural born comic with impeccable timing. Sometimes he’d perform a Don Rickles inspired character but in drag.
The character’s name was Donny Don Donna, and he played him Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Jazzid on Washington Avenue.
In our very own living room he had a Jim Carrey act planned out all over the apartment that began in the kitchen and ended at the bean shaped IKEA coffee table in front of the couch. For the sake of my own entertainment, he’d walk into things like the tall, metal bookcase filled with Stephen King novels or trip himself and roll on the floor in a dramatic way like he’d just been flicked by the giant fingers of God. But my all time favorite slapstick routine of his was when he’d walk into the sliding glass doors of our balcony where we kept our pet cactus named Josephine:
“Oh Jooooseeeeey…Jooooooseephineeee…coooome out and plaaaaaaay…”
And BAM like in an old Tom and Jerry cartoon!
I’d laugh, howling like a baby hyena (for I was six at the time), and from down on the floor uncle would stare glassy eyed into the void with both hands on his cheeks as left over eyeliner from last night’s show ran down his face, frowning at me like the sloppy, queer clown he was, “Aie, Chucho, why you so mean to me? Can’t you see I’m hurt? I think I really did it this time.”
I’d run over to him concerned, and he’d spring to life like a wild salmon.
“Psych! Just kidding!”
And then gently placing his hand on my little shoulder, “You are so kindhearted mi hijo!”
No matter what the hatemongers might say, his lifestyle did not rub off on me or make me gay. But a funny thing happened instead, I turned into an L’Enfant terrible obsessed with girls. I also developed a slight case of the Madonna/Whore complex; there was no gray area for a girl as far as my heart was concerned. She was either one or the other.
In the third grade I fell for a dark-skinned girl with big, soft, hazel eyes by the name of Joan. She had a doll’s face, and every boy in class had a crush on her. I never said one word to her. The only time she noticed me was because I got in trouble during a spelling bee. The word I was trying to spell was “madness.” I believe I thought it had an extra “D.”
“That’s incorrect,” the teacher said.
“Fuck,” I said.
Then our teacher came up to me and dragged me to the hall by my right ear lobe. In that brief moment of intense humiliation, Joan made eye contact with me, and it was a look of severe pity.
In high school I had a crush on a cheerleader named Edie. She was arguably the prettiest girl in school. The first time I saw her was in yearbook class. She sat three seats ahead of me on the left row. Sometimes, when she turned around to pass notes to her friends, she’d look at me and smile. I was always the one to pull away like a turtle sinking back into its shell. I never really talked to her either. Then one day I bought her a dozen roses and had a friend deliver them after third period Spanish class. I never heard from her again.
During my only semester of community college, I became infatuated with a girl from Venezuela. Her name was Sarah, and she was like a sunflower. Her yellow petals were as bright as the sun and they didn’t make you squint. Back then I was going through metamorphoses – turning into a stray dog right before her eyes. Now try to picture a dog sitting next to a sunflower.
I did manage to say a few words to that girl. We even became friends in the traditional way that a boy and a girl can be friends. We used to wait for different buses at the same bus stop, and it took some time before I could understand that. And despite that, I approached her. She had a boyfriend, and foregoing that fact, when Valentine’s day came, I declared my love for her with a poem and a white tulip. After that she started acting strange. When the semester
ended she never talked to me again.
I never got a girl in community college but I did land a job at my friend’s porn website where I’d eventually meet my first real girlfriend. My Russian buddy Gary Tsypkin helped me get the job. We were each other’s only friend in junior high. We used to have lunch every day and discuss the latest news on the Hoke Mosley affair until we got into a minor misunderstanding over a girl. After we graduated he was bold enough to follow his dreams and became a millionaire overnight thanks to an obsession with beautiful women and pornography.
In high school he had amassed so much porn – including thousands of videos, DVDs, magazines, dolls and fake sexual organs – that he was forced to move it all to a warehouse after running out of space at his parent’s house. He wanted to be a porn connoisseur, spending thousands of dollars making short, artsy 20 minute amateur triple X films. It
was mostly his Real Estate developer father’s money that helped him start up his first pornographic web site – the famous VanMiniVan.com.
I looked up to him because he turned a negative (porn-obsession) into a positive (porn riches). Gary got me an interview with his cousin and partner Pyotr Rublyov, and the rest was up to me. Even though I had no previous experience except for having taken a couple of business classes in community college before dropping out, my enthusiasm for the job showed in my face.
Mr. Rublyov was a hairy man with a bushy mustache like Mark Twain. He had striking green eyes that sparkled when he got excited.
“Do you know fetish sites are some of the most visited sites in the Internets,” he said.
“No, I didn’t know.”
“Yes, most people are ignorant of this. Fetish is the future of porn. We have a network of more than three-dozen membership based websites across wide varieties of fetish. And HorseSluts.com is our newest baby.”
“So it’s girls…with horses?”
“No man. That would be sick. No, at our site, we just have guys dressed in horse costumes having sex with super hot girls. So it’s pseudo bestiality without any real animals getting harmed in the process.”
I gave him a nervous laugh.
He squeezed his nose for a stray booger and smiled.
“Young man I’m evil, but I’m not THAT evil,” he said. ”But tell me, have you ever been to a fetish site?”
“Come on man. No shame here. We’re all adults.”
“Okay, maybe a few times. You get curious.”
“Yes,” he said.
He raised his index finger.
“Curiosity is a wonderful thing man. Different strokes for different folks. And does curiosity have to be a bad thing? If we weren’t curious, would we have sent Sputnik to space? Would Columbus have discovered the Dominican Republic? But yes, that’s how I got into this business – through good old-fashioned curiosity. And look at me now, I became a millionaire on foot fetish films among other things.”
“Yes my friend, wow is right.”
He grabbed a fat cigar from a desk drawer, put it in his mouth and lit it with a chrome Zippo. The office filled with smoke followed by a cinnamon flavored cigar stench, and then his eyes started beaming like the eyes of a man obsessed with life.
“Guess what,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“You’re hired. I like you man. You’re laid back. You remind me of me. You start in two weeks. Get ready. I see a lot of pseudo horse sex in your future.”
In six months time I had my own corner office with a view of Biscayne Bay and a salary of 7K a month. Since I was a decent writer, they created the positions of “online editor” and “content developer” just for me. After a year on the job, my ego grew as tall as the Four Seasons hotel in Brickell, and humility walked out of my life.
Whenever I stood in front of a mirror I started to believe I saw a wunderkind, the Steve Jobs of the online pseudo-bestiality industry with a glorious destiny unveiling before me. I worked at HorseSluts.com for almost three years and did not save a penny. My life was fetish sites and wild South Beach parties with my coworkers.
Then in the summer of my second year employed there, we got raided by the DEA. Mr. Rublyov had been money laundering for a rogue chapter of the St. Petersburg Mafia that was operating clandestinely out of a NW 36th St. strip club where we all hung out. Apparently HorseSluts.com wasn’t really the fetish porn moneymaker that it was made out to be by its founders. It was all a front. Pretty soon the website was taken off the Internet. My friend Gary was taken in too for his role in the whole illicit business. Both Gary and his cousin had the misfortune of being sentenced to 25 years hard time by a German judge whose mother
died in Russian captivity during WWII.
I was forced to file for bankruptcy. My South Beach condo, yellow Porsche 911, and jet ski were all taken away. My exotic dancer girlfriend, who I hate to admit was also one of the models on the site, broke up with me during breakfast at Versailles.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said.
“But I love you.”
“No you don’t.”
“I think I do.”
After all that and with no other options left, I moved back in with Uncle Rodrigo who accepted me with open arms and a long list of chores.
“Aie, Chucho! I missed you so much!”
The story of my Uncle Rodrigo and I really begins with the tragedy of my parents. Rodrigo Valentino Del Fulan had been a decorated Marine that served during the Gulf War before getting an honorable discharge to find his gay pride in Miami Beach. At that time he was living in his first apartment in a run down 1940s building on 25th Street between Collins and Ocean when he received a phone call notifying him of the sudden, tragic death of his big sister and her husband. He then received a second phone call right after letting him know that he was to be given custody of his 3-year-old nephew.
I grew up solemn and shell shocked, but not exactly sure from what. There were times when I’d wonder what sort of traumatic event bore the responsibility of stunting my emotional growth. Because I woke up one day, a twenty-seven-year-old nobody. I had no job, no girlfriend, no college degree, and no prospects. All my friends were getting married and disappearing. I was so lonely in those days, but no matter how lonely I got, I never got so low that I started thinking about death. It seemed to me like even in my dreariest days I was still trying to rebel against my own parents’ death.
After settling back home and begging humility to come back, I sent out job applications everywhere, but not many places returned my calls – at least not the places I was interested in. So for a long time I just sat home dwelling in self pity.
The irony was that before my big break in the fetish industry, my resume read like that of a road-hardened immigrant. All throughout high school and my only semester of community college, I had worked as a busboy, car wash attendant, landscaper, valet, and dishwasher. In
other words, I had mastered the manual arts in all their striking realism. The burning sun on your back as you’re vacuuming a vehicle’s interior, the hot steam coming off a dish washing machine, the grass cutting in 90-degree-temperature, the distorted shame that comes with
the cleaning of toilets – they all help you find God in your heart but not in your head.
So then one Saturday morning as I sat in my old bedroom chatting online with a chubby girl from Minnesota, my uncle barged in and ordered me right then and there to place my penis, which was in my right hand, back in my pants, and to get off my “self-deprecating ass”(exact words) and get a job.
“I repeat, Chucho. I will not have a loafer living under this roof! You better turn that computer off before I gently drop it out the window or give it to the Goodwill trailer at Publix.”
“The Goodwill trailer only accepts clothes.”
“Well, the fucking Salvation Army then.”
“You’re not serious?”
“Don’t fuck with me, mi hijo. There are bills that need to be paid around here.”
”Go on now, go, get out of here you Mal Criado.”
And that was the catalyst that led me to apply for a job at Bife Norte. I didn’t mind the restaurant work at all because I was used to it, but after the amount of success I’d tasted, it felt like being left behind in the third grade. The one thing that I couldn’t complain about was all the beauty that surrounded me. The hostesses, cocktail waitresses and female bartenders in their sexy outfits and short miniskirts brought me fleeting happiness by their mere presence. At least I had beauty by my side, but in Miami it’s always around the corner.
Nothing significant occurred between me applying and my first four months on the job.
Looking back now, I realize how the beginning of the end started with that pretty little Argentinian Jew, Shiraz Zirel. Shiraz was a hostess. We were introduced by a co-worker, and I didn’t pay attention to her until it was too late. By then, the world had stopped moving.
I stayed away from her at first, and since she didn’t really catch my eye in the very beginning, I managed not to mess it up. But slowly and surely she swallowed me like a big, beautiful, giant woman from a 50s Science Fiction movie. But it was also the way she carried herself. She seemed to glide like an angel through the restaurant. She held the menus like her babies, and I too felt like one of her babies.
Most of our conversations went like this:
“Hello, how are you Shiraz?”
“I’m well, how are you?”
“I’m good. How is everything with you?”
“Fine,” she said, picking up the menus. “Excuse me, I have to sit some customers.”
That exchange summarizes my entire history with women. I’d reached a point where I could only ask questions and not make statements or carry a conversation. I was turning into the lovelorn mute of Coral Gables.
The only downside that I could see to working in a restaurant filled with so many beautiful women is that the competition is fierce. If a female co-worker is pretty, not beautiful, but just pretty, every guy in the place, including the managers and perhaps even the owner, have given her their spiel. You are competing with at least five other guys. Three of them she finds to be just okay, and another that is just fun to hang with, and one that she might actually really be interested in.
So what’s a guy like me to do? Pretend that she doesn’t exist. Every day I would act as if that lithe, petite body didn’t matter, but that’s like saying that the sun doesn’t matter to the earth, and that’s a lie. It sounds pathetic, I know, but that was my game. It never worked, but I refused to change my strategy. It was foolproof in the “not getting heartbroken” department.
My wishful thinking was that it was the infallible way of having her go home every night thinking about the busboy that really wasn’t trying too hard and how he might be a good candidate for future sexual relations. But of course, she didn’t really think that because one could only come off as the weird guy, and that’s not a very good first impression to have with a woman you’re interested in. Hot women are self-aware creatures, and that’s what makes them dangerous.
But why am I even referring to them as women when they weren’t women but eighteen-year-old college girls who were as horny as I was? And yes, my biggest regret was not going to a real college, not because of the reward of a higher education but because of the girls and the parties I missed. College is a rite of passage that every young American should aspire to. In our modern times, the great tragedy is to miss the college experience. You miss that and you’re fucked – for you’ll be jumping straight to the real world without the buffer of college getting you ready for all the intricacies of American life.
By the end of my first month working there, I had already made a list of the girls I wanted to be with. There were only three girls on the list, with Shiraz being the top girl. Every girl below her was my plan B. The last one on the list was a white girl from Boston by the name of Britney. She was very hot and skinny and was really into cocaine. Out of all the girls, she definitely had the best ass.
The girl in the middle was Andrea who was Colombian and stacked like a porn star but with the face of Snow White. It was a mind-fuck because on the one hand I wanted to just sleep with her, but when I looked at her face I wanted to ask her to marry me; her face was that pretty. She was so approachable that I asked her to the movies one time but she flaked out at the last minute.
At the very top of this implausible girl pyramid was Shiraz Zirel who deserved her own book. She didn’t have the roundest butt, but it was definitely the nicest. She didn’t have the biggest boobs, but they were still a handful. Everything turned slow motion whenever she walked into a room. Her gaze was piercing me one minute, then wine and roses the next when greeting customers. After she’d exit the room I’d go back to my Van Gogh doldrums.
We were as different and similar as two individuals can be, she was an Argentine Jew and I was a Palestinian Latino. As far as culture is viewed in Miami, since we weren’t full Latinos or even Caribbean we each were a non person. Despite Miami, if not for the hearsay regarding my heritage taught to me by Uncle Rodrigo amidst the long, black,
faceless shadow of my parents GREAT DEATH SPECTER, I would have no self worth.
I didn’t know she was a Jew until one day when she told me that I was her favorite person to “mess with” which, of course, put me in an ecstatic mood, walking around with empty confidence wiping tables and lifting glasses.
At one table I was cleaning I found a toy car a child had left behind and gave it to Andrea who was right behind me.
“Merry Christmas girl.”
“Thank you, but I want the real thing,” she said taking it to the hostess stand where Shiraz was getting ready to sit some customers.
I headed for another table still floating on cloud nine. Picking up all the glasses in record time and quickly wiping the table down, I noticed another toy, an armless Barbie doll. I grabbed it, and as soon as I noticed Shiraz had returned from seating the party of four, I went right up to her and said, “Happy Chanukah,” thinking I shouldn’t repeat the same holiday.
“Gee thanks. That’s considerate of you. I’ve never received an armless Barbie doll for Chanukah.”
“Wait a minute. You’re Jewish?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Really? I didn’t know.”
“Well now you know.”
“That’s good for you.”
“So there’s Jewish people in South America?”
“Yes, there are. A lot, actually. But you can find us almost
“My great grandmother was half Jewish.”
“Really? That’s interesting, I guess.”
“Have you ever been to Israel?”
“My uncle told me that my grandparents are from Jerusalem.”
“That’s good. I have to sit someone.”
In that moment I realized that in life we all have to sit someone at some point or another. And even though I acted surprised, it didn’t really surprise me because it felt obvious for some reason that she was a Jew. When I was younger and my uncle had already told me about our Arab heritage, I used to watch CNN with their specials on the Middle East Conflict showing brutal images of Jew on Arab crime, Arab on Jew crime, Arab on Arab crime, the West on Arab crime. I’d have Lawrence of Arabia type fantasies involving Natalie Portman. I had a theory that it would all end when an Arab Warrior King married a Jew Queen and these two would bring peace because they’d fuck so good that all the tension in the region would go away, evaporating into the desert sky. And who would be this gallant Arab Warrior King in exile? That would be me. But I was still searching for my Jewish Queen to impregnate and ultimately give birth to our Jewish/Arab hybrid that would lead a revolution of peace and love unheard of in modern times. So when Shiraz revealed the Jew, I knew that she had to be the one. I simply followed my instincts that the queen would be beautiful and a Jew rolled into one.
But as things turned out in real life, everything went from just okay to bad to worse with my potential Jew Queen mother of hybrid savior. I continued to put my foot in my mouth. It was like picking at a scab.
“So do you have any family in Israel?”
“No,” she said.
“Like I was saying, my great grandmother was born in Jerusalem.”
“Yes, or a village near there.”
She walked away.
After that she just continued to avoid me, and I made up my mind that I would just stop trying, prophesy or no prophesy. No small talk, no hello, goodbye, how was your weekend? I stopped dreaming about her and looked at her in reality as who she really was: a heartless bitch.
One afternoon I was standing next to Benito, a very handsome Cuban server with a shaved head. He had already had sex with a manager and two servers. I think he fooled around with at least two hostesses except for Shiraz. His act didn’t seem to work on her, despite the fact he resembled a young Marlon Brando.
It was a slow day, and we were standing in the patio facing the hostess stand watching Shiraz take down a reservation.
“Look at her,” he said. “That cute little body. God, how I would love to fuck that. Imagine fucking that. She’s so cute and innocent looking. I could break her.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“She seems like a real bitch though; from the two times I’ve talked to her. A beautiful bitch. A fucking beautiful Jewish slut.”
“Wait a minute, you knew she was Jewish?”
“Yeah, you didn’t know?”
“Well not until she told me. I thought she was just Hispanic.”
“Dude, it’s so obvious,” he said then walked away.
About a month later I stopped thinking about Shiraz Zirel altogether. My own stupid fantasy fell apart before my eyes and I about almost gave up on the Middle East peace process when the end of the world came not with a bang but with a yellow evening followed by a gray windy morning and complete silence.
Rarity of the Century is published by Tiny TOE Press
Copyright Fawzy Zablah 2014.