Woman Is a Devil

    Another obscure Islamic cleric has thundered in self-righteous indignation about a young woman who didn’t know her place. A woman, who, God forfend, expressed herself without concern how it would enrage some screaming man who’d forgotten his last erection.

    Perhaps a notable instance of a female believer backhanding the hierarchy receiving longer than fleeting Western coverage involves the Persian actress Golshifteh Farahani. Discontent with roles rendered leaden and opaque through censorious allegory, Farahani pursues a career in France. There, female roles require more than servility and ennobling suffering.

    Besides, in France Farahani isn’t compelled to cover her hair or wear a bag.

    If the part so demands, she foregoes clothing altogether. Which several of her roles have asked and she’s complied. After all, it’s acting. They’re jobs, not who she is.

    Her body. Her choices.

    Farahani’s nudity so incenses officials, she’s become persona non grata in her native Iran. Which may be a good deal for Farahani because isn’t the Shiraz better in France?

    Imagine that. A cadre of sexually repressed men passing judgment of the blue-veined variety on a woman comfortable with her own body.

    Such reaction against sin most recently occurred in Tunisia. A disgruntled enlightened local bared her breasts on the web in order to manifest the general displeasure of many youthquake Tunisians. It is for the young to rebel, no? Against u-name-it.

    Probably while trawling for Israeli porn, one of Tunisia’s more voluble imams happened across her chest. I bet he was so transfixed by all that fresh supple flesh he ignored the messages scrawled upon her torso.

    Talk about missing the writing for the billboard.

    Naturally the imam demanded her pro forma lashing. Save stoning for adultery. Yet doesn’t lashing enflame another sexual frisson? Prone women, their tender skin mortified, doubtlessly further stir him and his ilk. Seems the cure just adds to the curse, doesn’t it?

    If an unclothed female incites anger rather than ignites imagination, shouldn’t the fault reside with the observer, not the observed? The authorities, always male, always stressing moral superiority, spy temptation everywhere. Their eyes must be especially attuned. Strong, clear-sighted men who don’t sense imperiled virtue in the most innocuous avenues of life must exert themselves.

    Or maybe most men are simply more resilient than those safeguarding public decency. Who’s to say otherwise that harrowing in overweening faith may’ve sapped the paragons of the rigor enjoyed by less mindful laity? Then again, maybe it’s possible weaklings and others easily susceptible to prurient suggestions crowd the clergy.

    However these cases of overreaction erupt, don’t we Westerners fairly regard them as unspooling on a loop?

    The Tunisian incident might’ve transpired anywhere the citizenry has been browbeaten into believing only answering the muezzin’s call provides nourishment for today and tomorrow. Across North Africa into South Asia, and steadily seeping throughout Europe, pernicious 13th century Islam remains pitched against the future.

    An almost insurmountable hindrance for believers; thankfully it occurs elsewhere.

    Here in America where freedom from state faith, greater tolerance, and the sort of integration, and its byproduct, assimilation, are so thoroughly ingrained they would make the most committed socialist happily surrender a week of mandated vacation, it’s different. Or a jumbled game whose hard and fast rules are often played fast and loose. 

    For example, years before my previous job dissolved through my imbecilic former employers’ complete loss of self-control, Egyptians had engaged the company. Behind clients’ backs, my ex-paymasters rarely spoke kind words. Italian surnames were enough to arouse specious mob affiliations, while Jews let them spew in ways Father Coughlin and Joseph Goebbels ought’ve admired.

    One can only imagine how those baboons disparaged me and my then-colleagues beyond earshot. I still curse them daily. Twice on Sundays.

    Just as well the negligent boss and his twisted spawn never had substantial contact with the Egyptians. Maybe they’d have let “restraint” abandon them and personally expressed their other Semitic scorn.

    Or maybe not. The Egyptians loved listening to Bob Marley while smoking spliffs and sucking on cognac. (Anything more true red, white and blue than that?) Given my former employers’ habits those pastimes could’ve made them kissin’ cousins.

    Well, not cousins. Maybe hardy handshake in-laws.

    The serial spate of holy men disgusted with female sexuality got me recollecting. I hadn’t thought of Aziza in years. Life had gotten complicated. She was a disposable woman. A rough though true confession.

    We first met while Aziza’s figure captivated and her careless, dark-eyed gazes encouraged lust. Perhaps my own presentation equally pleased her.

    I correctly presumed patience would reward us frisky 40-somethings with blissful opportunities. Although the newness of our bodies quickly faded, the pleasure they accorded one another lingered longer than we both likely expected. 

    Tides also ebb. The day her attitude started disintegrating, prompting my reevaluation at who she’d become, we grew remote. That is male prerogative. Nature can be delayed, though never denied.

    The best aspect about Aziza: we are of compatible ages. As I reached into 40, my fuck-buddies remained supple, limber and unblemished. Not because I refused growing up, but because marriage and “survivors of toxic relationships,” respectively, depleted the stock or tainted who remained in that end of the pool.  

    Only dopes bed women whose troubles are worse than their own.

    Aziza didn’t become tiresome until much later. She amply fit my after Austria/before Argentina gap.

    Her people had emigrated from the Balkans. I never asked whether they left through ethnic strife or just gumption. But in the late 50s the young couple saw a way to the United States. They skedaddled.

    The folks owned a Brooklyn pizzeria. The kind that provided its proprietors accommodations above their shop. Believers as they were, what must have they made of our infidel taste for pork? Day in and day out of handling impure meat. Evil as they likely regarded sausage, emerging from the Balkans had prepared them for worse than handling it.

    Times we went out and got hungry invariably pizza the quick snack. Incidental, not ironic; despite her upbringing, merely coincidental. Late nights in New York pizzerias are far likelier to be still serving than other food outlets. Either that or take chances with street meat.

    And it is coincidence that a woman who spent her formative years slinging pizza eats the stuff so readily. One would be mistaken believing pizza or pasta constituted the bulk of her early diet. Her family ate diverse meals upstairs. They only served customers Italian cuisine downstairs.

    Americans confuse irony and coincidence easily. The former occurs accidentally and we imagine a connection. The latter results from opposing events producing cross-purposed conclusions.

    Aziza herself is a good example of coincidental circumstance. By the way Aziza is her real name. No character fig leaf this post. Yet her “American name,” a mainstream coping mechanism for children whose parents bestowed uncommon appellations, is the feminine diminutive of my own true given name. 

    Irony, though? Here’s irony. A husband acquaints himself with a stranger. For whatever reasons, the husband kills the stranger. Unbeknownst to him, he’s dispatched the man who raped his wife. What? You expected O. Henry?

    When I imagined myself somewhat interested in Aziza, that is beyond pleasurably, I sought out her old homestead. She casually obstructed discovery.

    Withhold as she did, enough pictures of home peeked from mirror corners and from behind tchotchkes meant to limn newer, depressive addresses. When asked, Aziza answered grudgingly. These responses should’ve dissuaded, and would’ve, had my purpose been merely to make inter-coital conversation.

    At best a nominal Muslim (and even that’s a stretch) she adhered to one stricture fanatically. Never knowingly eating pork.

    When we first snacked on pizza I always made sure sausage topped both our orders. Call me malicious. Fine. Her reaction fascinated. Textbook Pavlovian.

    Without fail or fanfare, Aziza automatically plucked every offending morsel off her slices. Witnessing this reflex repeatedly, I eventually inquired about it. So unconscious of her practice, she was unaware of it until my mention. She then rummaged memory and confessed this the sole duty she continued following.  

    Afterwards I never tasked her with sausage again. Well, not the kind to be chewed and digested.

    Personal information parsed, I eventually put together more about her. A day’s business done, journeying to Aziza’s origins occupied the rest.

    That fairly sums up our conduct. Making time and fitting in. Our schedules diverged. I lived in sunshine. She kept vampire hours. No. Really What supported her mostly took place evenings. Bartending, the occasional under the counter illicit transaction, and when her own recreational drug usage sloshed into bingeing, she sought out the kindness of strangers. By the hour.

    It’s doubtful we ever commingled at night. Or even twilight. We filled our cards during afternoons. The start of her workdays dovetailed with the ends of mine. Then, fortunately, muscle memory alone allowed me to complete tasks. Long trusted I was given my head with scant oversight. Any looser and I could’ve been mistaken for an independent operator. Measuring twice and only cutting once freed many afternoon hours.

    Just when lousy coffee and stinkpot cigarettes would’ve been clearing the previous night’s cotton from Aziza’s head, the obligatory portion of my day started subsiding. How insidiously did her “Sure. C’mon over” become my “I’m on the way”?

    During the concentrated time we busied one another she claimed and abandoned several Bronx addresses. Irresponsible money management drove Aziza’s Bedouin nature. Over time recreational needs imposed themselves on her essentials. Therefore, that cozy rental in quiet leafy Baychester descended into a menacing Mott Haven tenement, with stops at Bedford Park and East Tremont among moves.  

    Give Aziza this, getting atop her I toured the borough.

    In her better neighborhoods I practiced discretion. From habit, not shame.

    No furtive trots from car to house door. Never any hinky suspicion-raising glances during the walk. Neither her doorbell nor door itself suffered incessant ringing or frantic knocking. I behaved like I belonged. As if me and my tumescence were so commonplace we quivered below notice.

    Aziza’s more down-market residences never rated any concern. Towards the end, street life bustled so on those sidewalks I would’ve needed exhaling fire while juggling chainsaws to draw attention beyond a nod. Once streetlife determined strangers carried no tin, we could join the loud, bristling al fresco community … or glide past.

    Etiquette seldom varied in Aziza’s bed, no matter where she situated it. No doubt why I contended with her caravanning. Standards are fine. On-demand is better.

    The Brooklyn excursion illuminated. My voila! moment tolled almost as soon as entering that pizzeria. Register near the door, the proud proprietor had decided family photographs should spruce up his machine. Of course the snaps were exclusive to family members toiling in the familial salt mine. I recognized Aziza. A younger Aziza. She’d either been given or had absconded with portraits from the same sequence.

    Or maybe her prints were copies. Ones which commemorated some milestone. Aziza’s first day waitressing. The girl’s first day without breaking a plate. Something significant.

    Her family’s establishment was a neighborhood hangout. Nobody needn’t ever worry whether Zagat would visit, sample then rave. Or condemn. The pizza-loving world was not about to crowd those tables or exhaust whoever pounded and spun dough there.

    Worn linoleum cracked underfoot. Fluorescent lighting emphasized drab walls. It appeared scouring had recently irritated oven grime. As I mentioned, no one from Manhattan or aspirational Brooklyn would ever inspect then deign or disdain this eatery.

    It was a neighborhood place. It sought no higher than satisfying however many generations of local residents. Should someone, an outsider naturally, have acknowledged the pizzeria’s deficiencies, resulting indignation would’ve crushed the critic. Ambiance is nice, but loyalty matters.

    If known, diners could probably carry tabs there. On the coin’s reverse, the offerings weren’t budget busters. For New York, tasty portions filled cheaply.

    Until recent ramped-up homogeneity through gentrification, New York City niches could’ve suited the most obscure trait-seeking anthropologist. Unique and distinct were common block after block. Didn’t The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell make his career bringing such locales and their denizens to Dubuque’s notice?

    The pizzeria I then sat inside, whose slices I devoured, hadn’t yet succumbed to improvements meant to homogenize into numbing indistinctiveness. Customers who would’ve been reflexively possessive about “their pizzeria” likely counted its homeliness as a virtue. One of those indicators of “realness.” Of home. Theirs.

    From what little Aziza let slip home was way too real stifling for her. That pressure ground down from the top. Naturalization aside, her father embodied what ought have been left behind. In their family he spoke as God’s emissary. Both agreed there would be no deviations. America, the concept, cooled outside. Within his reach extended the Balkans. Here as there he expected, no, sorry, demanded unquestioning, unswerving, unchallenged obedience.

    With his wife’s rubber stamp, her father even selected a nice boy for Aziza to serve as an inferior. Aziza never clarified whether her husband was a nice import from the back of beyond or a neighborhood boy who shared her first-generation heritage.  All that grated was other people determining these two strangers would become a compatible pair.

    Two reasons why she acceded. First, that woman knew no better. Second, the shimmering dream of independence.

    Like multitudes of other brides, Aziza saw marriage as finally losing her shackles. Of course quicker than ultimately she simply traded for shinier chains.

    She retained one marriage photograph. Or at least kept one displayed. Not the expected pose of the bride and groom on their big day. I’m guessing both were just awakening from their honeymoon swoon. Inside some swank club or restaurant. Their happiness already looked on the way to becoming a predicament. Like Brenda and Eddie.   

    American as he might’ve been, Aziza’s husband proved a domestic version of the dominant male figure who’d imprinted her. The punch line to the Borscht Belt joke is “brace yourself!” For her husband it wasn’t a yukety-yuk to be punctured by a rim shot, but his everyday manner. Then, Aziza knew nearly nothing about gratification and satisfaction, except instinctively understood she got none of the former while he hogged all the latter.

    What courage it must’ve taken Aziza to divorce him. While general society sees and accepts a couple that failed, her background complicated their sundering.

    I know “face,” all important “face,” was lost. And a man losing “face” goes around hat in hand with shame. And shame is unbearable. More so when men outside the contretemps suffer the brand deeper than the people involved.

    Divorce became a rupture. She no longer had a Brooklyn home. Aziza had yielded one refuge for another through forfeiture of the first. No possible recourse in returning home. Entering matrimony, having been taken by another man as chattel … burden … baby-making device, reassigned Aziza’s order in her family. Her subsequent action went farther, leading into ostracism.

    At least that’s what I compiled from her spotty revelations across our years. Friends should’ve confided more. But we weren’t friends.  Just intimates.