The life and times of an ethnically ambiguous little lady.

Monday, November 23, 2009

When You Assume . . .

I had one of the most delicious falafels I’ve ever tasted in Budapest, Hungary. It seemed like fate that we found it. After a long day of wandering up and down the Danube, we needed sustenance. My brother flipped open one of those free city magazines and we saw the ad for it immediately: Hummus Bar. After days and days and days of potatoes, which I love but can only eat for so many meals in a row, I was beginning to hallucinate about meat. My nightmares involved schnitzel, huge phallic sausages, and goulash being thrown at me by old Hungarian women wearing babushkas. Hummus Bar cried out to my vegetarian soul.

At first we missed it. Maybe because the restaurant had only a small chalkboard sitting in front to identify it. Or because the name of the restaurant was mostly wiped off the board. We walked in. A guy and girl, both somewhere in their twenties, dusted themselves off from their seats in the corner, welcomed us, and set to work. The restaurant was otherwise empty.

“What would you like, my friend?” the man, who was now behind the counter, asked. He was wearing a soccer jersey and an eager smile. He wore a gold chain around his neck, his skin dark and sun-kissed.

We ordered two falafels with the works and when we asked if they came with hummus he looked at us as if we were stupid.

“With hummus? Of COURSE it comes with hummus,” he bellowed, his voice thick with an indiscernible accent, while gesturing wildly.

As the young woman began to roll out the falafels from scratch in the small exposed kitchen in the back, our new friend began making our sandwich with so much care, it seemed he was giving birth to his creation. First the hummus was spread evenly and carefully, coating every inch of the pita. Then the lettuce, then the tomato, each placed one by one. Some pickles were delicately placed on top and a sprinkling of cabbage. Then the tahini, dripped evenly over all the toppings. When the woman appeared from the kitchen, fresh falafels in hand, he placed them in the sandwich as delicately as one would place sleeping children in their beds. He continued layering the sandwich until it was about to burst. I sensed that this food was an act of love, a call to his heritage. My mouth watered in anticipation.

“So where are you from? Israel? The Middle East?” I asked.

“No, my friend. I'm Indian. Do I look like an Israeli? You crazy Americans.”

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Unwanted Guest

It all started normal enough. My alarm goes off. I hit snooze. Eight minutes later, I hit it again. I grumble, roll over to look at the clock, and slide out of my side of the bed. As I walk around the bed I see something on the floor. Thinking it’s a gray T-shirt, I lean over to pick it up, when I stop.

It’s not a shirt.

I scream before diving back into bed headfirst, whimpering.

“What? What is it?” my boyfriend demands, rousing himself out of sleep. I can only point. He looks in my finger’s direction and screams himself, much like a little girl, though he denies it.
It’s a dead pigeon.

The pigeon isn’t bloody, or old, or terrifying. He actually looks kind of peaceful, folded up into a ball of gray iridescent feathers, his small head resting to one side. But pigeons are not supposed to be on your bedroom floor.

We debated under the covers for a long time as to who should take care of our visitor. He felt because I found it first, it was my job. I hated myself for pointing out that he was the man, and that was why one kept men around—to handle these types of situations.

We compromise. He will get the pigeon into the trash and I will discard of the evidence. My boyfriend carefully scoops up the body into a dustpan. We both cringe at the thump the pigeon makes as it hits the bottom of the trashcan. I crawl back under the covers. I stick my head out to watch as my boyfriend sprays an entire bottle of disinfectant onto the crime scene. He ties up the bag and sticks it next to the front door.

“How did it get in here anyway?” my boyfriend asked. We both looked toward the open window that has a large, industrial sized fan blocking its entrance. There was no space for a pigeon to fit through.

“Maybe someone is trying to send a message,” I surmised. “A horse’s head is expensive, but pigeons are free.” But there is no mafia presence in our neighborhood, unless there is a Caribbean or Orthodox Jewish mafia that I don’t know about.

“Possibly. Maybe it’s the fish.” We had recently gotten a goldfish. My boyfriend repeatedly called the fish a bird by accident, so he decided to name him Bird. “Maybe it’s Bird’s way of telling me that there’s a difference between a fish and a bird.”

Both possibilities. Both highly unlikely.

A friend told me later that sometimes animals come out from their hiding places to die. I imagined passing the pigeon in my hallway before his demise, him wearing a tiny bathrobe. When I’d ask him how he was, just to be a polite neighbor, he’d say “I’ve been better, but enough about me.” I mean, seriously. I would have noticed if there was a pigeon wandering around my apartment. We truly had no idea how our visitor had gotten in.

I got dressed, checking to make sure all our other windows were closed, jerking at everything I saw out of the corner of my eye. I put my coat on, took a deep breath, and got ready to leave. “Don’t forget your lunch, honey,” my boyfriend said with a smile, kissing me on the forehead and handing me the ominous trash bag. Damn you, teamwork.

I closed the door behind me and carried the dead pigeon to the trash room, trying not to jostle him. I wondered if he might come to life at any moment and try and fight his way out of the bag. Impossible. Was this how hit men felt after their first kill, the body of their victim rolling around in their car trunk? I had to stop: This was not productive.

I opened the door to the trash room and placed the pigeon gently in a large trashcan, shutting the door quietly so as not to disturb him.

Outside my apartment building I tried to shake off the events of the morning. “No big deal,” I said out loud. “It could happen to anyone.” I turned the corner and walked right into the path of a pigeon. He stopped and stared at me with what looked like suspicion before looking in the direction of my apartment building. I dug through my bag, found the sandwich I had packed for lunch, and threw the whole thing to the ground. Can’t hurt to make amends, I thought. Again, the bird eyed me and sauntered over to my offering. “Sorry for your loss,” I said, and then hurried for the subway.

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