Consider the falafel sandwich. At under $2, it was my obvious move. But I was sick and sad, and the kids behind the stove looked like 12-year-olds who should have been in school. An alarming percentage of children here work instead. The last time I bought a falafel sandwich, the guy ahead of me had a growth on his face. It was so big I worried he might tip over, face-first, into the grease.
A falafel was not happening. I staggered past the stand and into the echoing cool of Hardee’s. Those early years in Southeast Asia; long summer nights in Russia; endless stretches in Saudi Arabia—when I hit bottom out here, it's to a cheeseburger I turn.
The woman behind the counter smiled broadly.
“Number Four,” I said.
At nearly $10, this was no bargain. But the person behind the counter was not a child; there was no guy with a growth on his face. There were nothing but clean surfaces and sharp edges, and the smell of fries and burger, and a cup into which I could pour soda from a machine I learned to use when I was a boy, in America.
For a few minutes the white noise neared zero.
Then I watched a Mercedes double-park, with its occupants munching fries. After that, a Lamborghini rolled by, axels shaking over potholes, with three parking tickets fluttering under a windshield wiper. Down the street, soldiers fingered machine guns.
I stared at the mess in front of me, shuddering. Wearing all black—a citizen of somewhere, a family man in a place called Beirut—I wiped my mouth, and headed to another funeral.
One last time, I filled my paper cup, a dark splash of something sweet, and then I walked out into a gray afternoon.