A Beachside Cafe in Opa-Locka
"You should match your ghitra to your kandura," Waleed Alsheri tells Abdulaziz Alomari, who's listening intently, stirring his yogurt on the rocks with a swizzle stick.
"Who says?" Abdulaziz asks.
"Now, listen," Alsheri patiently explains.
He's drinking a glass of apricot nectar and eating rice wrapped in grape leaves with goat sausage and, incongruously, French fries. "If you wear a white ghitra, you wear a white kandura. It's as simple as that."
"But wait," I interrupt. "What if his bischt is black?"
"For God's sake, Ali-Hamoud," Alsheri moans. "I wasn't talking about dressing for a fucking wedding. What's wrong with you?"
"The bischt isn't only for formal occasions anymore," I shoot back. "Sure, the older, thicker bischts, the ones made of heavy wool or cotton material, are used exclusively for ceremonial occasions. But the lighter version, the semi-see-thru bischt made of thin linen, is often worn now as an everyday alternative to formal business wear. As professional attire, it has a playful but regal quality, but it is also the garment of a good Muslim."
Alomari nods as though he's taking this in, but I know that he knows this already, and it irritates me that he's pretending. "Okay," he says. "I get it. But what about the color? Fine, black, beige, and brown, but what about the gold trim? Isn't the use of gold trim restricted anyway depending on the social status of the wearer?"
"Fuck you, Abdul," I hiss. "You know as well as I do that it's the material, not the color, that signifies social status. Is that your Taurus double-parked out there?"
He peers under the table canopy toward the street, seeming crestfallen all of the sudden. A pair of ripped jogger-faggots wearing sweat-drenched Florida State t-shirts trots by. "No," he whispers, shaking his head sadly. "No, that's not mine. I don't have a Taurus."
The three of us, Abdulaziz Alomari, Waleed Alsheri, and I are sitting at Easy Earl's beachside cafe in Opa-Locka, and it's a little after four. Alsheri is wearing a beige ankle-length dishdara with flared bushti and red micro-piping, a matching gahfiyya and gold-encrusted agal made of tightly-wrapped spider silk, all by Fahad, and black Mecca sandals with camelskin toe-straps that I mistakenly think at first are Nila Rafiq but which are actually, Alsheri tells me later, handmade. Alomari is wearing an understated sleeveless Elham Abbas kandura, a red-and-white patterned El Mouf ghtira, and a pair of tan Armani poplin shorts to help fight of the hot Florida weather (we're allowed to wear shorts with a kandura). Our table is on a raised oak deck overlooking the ocean. I'm wearing a Joseph Abboud solid red silk dishdara that comes with a matching exercise bag and, like Alomari, a red-and-white patterned ghtira-gahfiyya arrangement, although mine is Elham Abbas and much more expensive. Alomari and Alsheri finished their flight classes early for facials somewhere and their tans look good. The O'Reilly Report today was about the expansion of NATO to include the Baltic states. skater prom dress
"Guys, guys," I say. "Who's sitting with Karim Koubriti over there? Is that Ahmed Hannan?"
"Negative," Alsheri grunts. "That's Nabil Al-Marabh. You can tell by the crop-duster glasses."
There's a short but uncomfortable silence at the table. "No," says Alomari quietly. "That's not Al-Marabh."
"Are you sure?" I ask.
He nods, and you can see it all of the sudden: he's never been more sure of anything in his life. "It's not Al-Marabh," he says. "It's... Atta."
The infidel hardbody waitress, definitely an FSU cheerleader type (or maybe Georgia Tech), blond, huge tits, snake-pattern tattoo encircling the left bicep, sleeveless cutoff T-shirt, denim jeans, friendly face, comes over to ask if we want a new drink. We've been coming here every day for four weeks and she's always asking us questions, trying to make conversation and get to know us. "Where y'all fellas from?" she asked Koumbari and me yesterday. "Howdaya like Opa-Locka?" "Opa-what?" I answered. "Opa-Locka," she said. "Our town." "I know it's the fucking town," I growled, and after that she didn't ask us any more questions. Now she's trying to smile but is definitely keeping her distance as she steps around Alsheri's dishdara to pick up his plate.
"They make them healthy here, that's for sure," Alsheri says, leering, as she walks away.
"Just once, God," Alomari says, mock-bowing toward Mecca. "Just once. After that, you can do what you want with me."
"Yeah," snorts Alsheri. "He can do what he wants with you. Just wait."
I'm not sure how Alomari knows Atta so well -- maybe through the Germans? -- and it slightly pisses me off but I decide to even up the score a little bit by showing everyone my new box cutter. I pull it out of my exercise bag (Ahmed's, $39) and slap it on the table, waiting for reactions.
"What's that, a lighter?" Alsheri asks, not apathetically.
"New box cutter," I say, trying to act casual about it, but I'm smiling proudly. "Opinions?"
"Whoa," Alomari says, lifting it up, snapping the blade in and out of its stainless steel sheath, turning it until it glints in the sunlight. "That is nice, Ali-Hamoud. Take a look." He hands it to Alsheri.
"Picked it up at Staples yesterday," I say. "Jiffi Safe Cutter, 2 and 3/4", Left hand model, custom-shined. Ninety-seven dollars for a pack of six."
"Good coloring," Alsheri says, studying it closely.
"That's Siberian steel," I point out. "Something called Omsk Blue."
"Omsk blue?" Alsheri asks.
"Really stands out, doesn't it?"
"Yeah," Alsheri says guardedly, the jealous bastard, "it is cool, Ali-Hamoud. I'm sure the fucking metal detectors will like it, too."
Alomari doubles over. "Oh, shit," he says, wheezing with laughter. "Oh, shit!"
Alsheri just sits there, grinning smugly, pulls something out of his bag and slaps it down on the table, next to the napkin dispenser. "What you really need," he says, "is something like this." He turns to me. "What do you think?"
"Nice," I croak, but under the table my hand is involuntarily gathering into a fist.
"Good God," Alomari says, picking it up. "Is that a three-color plastic design?"
"Four," Alsheri says.
I snatch it away from Alomari, who's smaller than me and, I think, worried that I might secretly be on the liquidation team. He relinquishes it instantly. "Where's the fourth?" I say, not looking up. "I only see three."
"Modern Specialties, Inc.," Alsheri says. "Kutto Master Carton Cutter. Model #20. Right-hander. The shell is three-color plastic, but get this: the blade is plastic, too. Well, the outside of it, anyway."
"An alloy?" Alomari says, admiringly.
Alsheri shakes his head. "Not only," he said. "The body is a plastic alloy. But there's a hardened polymer coating. Totally undetectable."
Even I have to admit it's magnificent.
Suddenly the cafe seems far away, the wind dies, even the sound of the waves diminishes, everything a meaningless hum, next to this box-cutter, as I hear Alomari reading the sans serif inscription on the shell: "Al-Qaida, Laden, Inc..."
"Holy shit," Alomari says. "I've never seen anything like -- "
Atta stops by our table on his way out. He's wearing sunglasses by Persol and he's carrying a briefcase by Coach Leatherware.
"Allah Akhbar," he says. "What have we got here, box cutters?" He lowers his sunglasses just to make sure, picking up Alsheri's, not even looking at mine. "Modern Specialties, Inc. I recognize it. The Kutto Master. Not bad -- but look at this."
He opens up his briefcase and takes out a large plastic shopping bag and turns it upside down, emptying the contents -- a good two dozen completely translucent box cutters -- onto the table. One spills off the edge, bounces off the deck, and lands in the sand. A fat infidel who's been sitting at the next table with his fat infidel wife and their two children with jelly-stained faces reaches down to pick it up, just being friendly. Atta slaps at his arm.
"Hands off, devil," he hisses.
"I'm just trying to help -- " the infidel begins.
"Help yourself first," Atta snaps. "Lose some goddamn weight."
"And stay away from New York," Alsheri says.
"Shut up, you fool," Atta snaps.
The infidel crawls back to his seat. Catching his breath -- he was shaken by this totally unnecessary interruption -- Atta picks up one of the cutters on the table, flicks open the blade, and holds it, demonstratively, to Alomari's throat.
"Griptite, USA-made, three-inch, Right-hand models all," he says. "These are custom-built diamond box cutters. Razor sharp, saws through iron. Individually, they cost $960 apiece, but I got a volume discount -- 96 for $80,000. And the guy who made them is already dead."
"Is this the Cedar Rapids factory?" asks Alomari, the ass-kisser.
Atta turns to him and frowns contemptuously, which pleases me. "Cedar Rapids? Griptite's Cedar Rapids location is closed. These are from Butte."
"Opened three months ago," sighs a defeated Alsheri.
Atta turns to me. "What do you think, Ali-Hamoud?"
"Nice," I say. "Very nice."