Holiday Inn Resort
32.03° N, 35.72° E
Dash’s fingers twirl the stem of a wine glass, swishing a splash of Jordanian red. The sun’s arc in the sky casts golden hues on his blonde hair. In this light, his lesser stature casts great shadow. Outside the resort, the scene is unforgivingly devoid of taste. Outside, the land is thirsty. Within the resort, the grass is green, the waters are blue and reek of chlorine. Within, they serve cold beer with complimentary pistachios.
Its paradise, innit, Vic?, Dash Havisham asks me. He has a boyish smile under stylish Italian sunglasses. Paradisiacal, one might say, mightn’t one?, Dash says with his Great British accent… not Etonian, but English-smarmy, nevertheless. Dash continues, saying, it’s our own little oasis within these walls, yeah? Exterior landscape’s absolutely beastly, though, innit? Faded hues of shit and piss, like a chamberpot tossed against the canvas, yeah? But not here, is it? Not in our Holiday Inn oasis. Is it a mirage? A mirage with promises of, of what?, of air conditioning, swimming pools, Western women in bikinis… coup de rouge and a cup of nuts?
I listen. I crack pistachio shells. And I munch.
Dash continues his line of questioning. The feral cats are no cause for concern, are they? Keep the Arab rats at bay, don’t they? Lawns could use a good Beduin goat herd, yeah? Groundskeeper must be on holiday, mustn’t he? Otherwise, paradisiacal, innit? Dash pauses long enough to take off his sunglasses and wait for a response. I continue cracking pistachios, tossing the fruits of my labor into my maw, chomping as I stare back at Dash. Realizing no response is forthcoming, Dash asks me in his cool, calm, English gentlemanly fashion, then what’s with this ghastly business, Vic? Dash waves his sunglasses at my presence, the ghastly business in question. You’re bloody-well bleeding all over our oasis, aren’t you, bruv? You look the corpse of T.E. Lawrence, don’t you, Vic? Desert-preserved jackal-jerky, freshly camel-fucked and not fit for tea, are you? Here you are bleeding all over my bloody siesta? You couldn’t finish bleeding outside the gates?
No cold beer outside the gates, I say. I’ll bleed where I want, thank you much, I say to Dash Havisham. Where’s Croesus?, I ask. Croesus is resting ahead of the mission, isn’t he?, Dash says. Are you fit to see Big Abu?, Dash asks. I don’t think you are, do I? He’d be gutted to see this ghastly, mingin’, ape-shank of yours, wouldn’t he? I shrug at Dash. Fine, I say to him, I will head back to Amman.
I don’t need to be here. This place is a fucking dive. 4 star resort, maybe. Dive nevertheless. Dive bar criteria is rather subjective. I like to define dives based on depravity. Should I define dives based on depth, this shit’s the divest. We’re sitting in the middle of a most despairing ditch, a desolate stretch of the Jordan Valley, the lowest dry point on earth, the Dead Sea. 436 meters below sea level. This is 1/4th as low as Denver is high. The Dead Sea is 14,500% deeper into the earth than Amsterdam and New Orleans. It’s an open air salt mine. If a canal was built from the Mediterranean through Israel here, these deck chairs would soon be a quarter mile underwater.
This is a new personal low. Even for me.
How’s it, then, Vic?, Milly of Manchester inquires. She is one of Dash Havisham’s retinue. She’s 90% piss, vinegar, petulant eyes and freckles. And perhaps Dash’s latest paramour. Dash’s followers mostly comprise, at present, young Englishwomen in bathing suits. Milly the Mancunian chief amongst them. I feign a smile and tell Milly, not so bad. Hurts though, yeah?, she says of my mangled leg. Yeah, I confirm.
Mol, Milly’s cousin, a fellow-Mancunian, asks, were you already lagered then, Vic?, when you got here, I mean? Mol is 95% blonde curls and sunburnt sadness. She’s the shy one. Not as much savoir faire as her cousin, Milly. Especially after a few glasses of white. Mol asks of me, a bit daft then, wasn’t it, Vic? You going into the sea? All salty, like? Must’ve stung quite a bit, yeah? It burned my nether bits and nips, that water, yeah? My armpits burn like hot chips. I can’t imagine your gammy leg, Vic.
The salt water did burn, I admit to the cousins from Manchester. But the wound is clean, I insist to them as blood trickles from the bandages. I had thought a quick swim would be best. I grew up on American beaches where salt water is considered to be healing. Of course, Florida’s seas are at a salinity level of 3%. By comparison, Great Salt Lake can have a salinity level of 5%. Here, though, the Dead Sea has a salinity of 34%. Nothing can live in these waters. So yeah, it fucking burned. It felt like a carpenter was sandpapering the bulbousness from my kneecap. Internally, I cried for mum. But on the surface, I barely flinched. Stiff upper lip. I must have some English blood in me. Whatever blood is left…
And no, Mol, I tell her. I wasn’t lagered when I arrived. Milly attempts to cheer the mood left sour by her dour cousin by saying, all the easier to get legless drunk if you’ve only one to stand on, innit? She smiles and raises her wine glass.
Yallah!, Dash Havisham says, imploring us in the customary levantine way. Needs must speak with Croesus, Dash says. Are we just going to be late, then? Yallah!, ladies, he says to his Manchester favorites. Vic, can you drag that scuppered leg along more briskly?
Dash Havisham is eternally Junior Varsity. He may be mid-twenties, and handsome, but you wouldn’t trust him to valet your car. He’s literally half my size and twice my energy. He should be a fighter pilot for the RAF, or a horse jockey at Ascot, or on extended holiday with his mother and Croesus. Dash is a speck of man a cannibal might find wedged in his teeth. And Croesus (should his epicurean proclivity reach the point of anthropophagy) could be a cannibal large enough to swallow Dash whole. Dash might be half my size, but Croesus is two of me. Croesus is an African American whose lust for luxury is only second to his love of beauty. He’s wandered the far corners of the world, searching malls and souqs, bazaars and flea markets, acquiring pretty things, hoarding treasures within his massive arms, compounding his riches, a dragon with the sweet ambition of surrounding himself with jewels of stone and flesh. I am not sure if Croesus is a member of Dash’s harem or if Dash is another shiny object within Croesus’s treasure trove, but the two are inseparable. The giant American and the speck of Brit. Oh so spicy, Croesus would say. Yes, Abu, Dash would eagerly reply, looking up at the tall man, very spicy, innit? Their secret handshake was sprinkling imaginary spice into each other’s hands.
Abu!, Dash calls to Croesus, who is napping in the sun. We’ve arrived as quickly as we could, haven’t we? Croesus rises from his patio chair and stretches his vast shoulders. The crunch and crack of his weathered back sounds like blistered wood in a fire. Dash says, Vic got coat-hangered, his gimpy limp slowed us down, didn’t it? Croesus waves a hand at the thought, al ajala min al shaytan, as they say. Croesus then translates his own Arabic, saying, hurrying is for the devil. What have you brought me, habibi?, he asks Dash. It’s Vic Neverman, isn’t it, Big Abu?, Dash says. He’s your fellow countryman, isn’t he? You would remember him from the Beduin cake & arse party in Wadi Rum, wouldn’t you? Oh yes!, Croesus says emphatically with a single clap of his hands. The hissssssstory man. Thank you, habibi, for reminding me. Aql zeena, habibi, Croesus says. Your mind is your beauty. Dash bows towards Croesus, thank you, Abu.
Croesus directs us to a gazebo within our Holiday Inn oasis. This place, the resort, is dead. Unoccupied. Our party is 30% of all living bodies, stray cats excluded. Well, history man, Croesus says, do you aspire to endeavor? Yeah, I say, but can I put in an order for another beer first? Of course, Croesus says and snaps his fingers with a ferocious click. The resulting sound resonates, but no servers come jumping out of the palm trees like Pavlov’s monkeys. Croesus snaps his fingers again with the same lack of results. He sighs and his frame deflates. What the fuuuuck?, he says rather languorously. Dash, ya albi, my heart, habibi, would you run off to the front desk with those quick little bird legs of yours and ask them what the fuck? Dash promptly departs. Croesus shakes his head, saying to me, by the sword of Al-Battar, we will all find quick refreshment. Do you know of this sword, history man? It is the sword of Goliath, taken by the giant-slayer, David, and eventually placed into the possession of the Prophet, Mohammad. It’s some pretty rich gravy, my guy, Croesus says. I held it in my hand, he tells me. It was on the 71st floor of a parking garage in Doha, the broker was a chinaman, the muscle was Chechan, the owner was a black sheep Saudi prince whose cocaine habit was beyond his meager billion dollar allowance. He had a face like a hole. Anywho, that gravy was too rich for my blood. I mean, who am I?, Mansa Musa? Hahahaha, Croesus laughs extravagantly and I smile along.
These dudes, Croesus and Dash, are pure bullshit. But I like them.
Dash returns in the company of a Filipino waitress, as well as his mother, Dame Havisham. The dame is extraordinary, a youthful white-haired elder, mother of many, though she favors her youngest, Dash. She is his moneyman, laying down the quid, financing his feckless endeavors. Milly and Mol kowtow to her, wisely seeking her favor. Dame Havisham is delighted to see me. Oh, Vic, darling!, Dame Havisham says. You’re not up to dick, are you?, she asks worryingly. What’s this about a scuppered leg?
Mum, we’re discussing business, aren’t we?, Dash tries to hush her. Dame Havisham is perturbed by his insolence. Dame Havisham tells her son, take heed, lad, or I’ll sew-up your sauce box. If you want mum’s dosh, you’ve got to humor her musings, don’t you, love? Besides, this lovely has refreshment. Dame Havisham is referring to the waitress who’s brought several glasses of chilled Jordanian white wine. Dame Havisham takes a glass of what she refers to as “a little colonial claret” and toasts, God bless dead Queen Bess! To Queen Bess, I say, clinking my glass with hers, and to our future. Only the past is written!, I say. Milly likes this and toasts, the future is unwritten! Dash toasts, to dead Queen Bess and King Chuck, the Queen is dead, long live the King, yeah? To Il Bahir!, Croesus toasts, the sea is dead, long live the Dead Sea! And biscuits, Mol adds, raising her glass. Can I get some biscuits?, she asks the Filipino waitress. I’d fancy some biscuits.
Once the waitress is out of range, Croesus says, welcome to the first ever meeting of the Dead Sea Leisure Club. I trust everyone understands the role they are to play today. Mol asks, I’m to just stand on the beach then? Indubitably, Croesus says. It is I who will do most of the labor. Floating mostly, eh, Abu?, Dash says with a smile.
I do have new intel, I say to Croesus. Oh do tell, history man, he says. I tell the Dead Sea Leisure Club, I’ve reached out through my Uncharted Dive network to delicately inquire what cocktails Oprah is fond of. I’ve learned while in Martha’s Vineyard, Oprah’s favorite drink is called, the Cape Codder, which is a simple vodka and cranberry. Oooh!, Croesus says, sitting up. Dame Havisham says, brilliant!, great for the UTIs, cranberry juice is. Christ mum!, Dash exclaims. Should everything go according to plan, I say. When Croesus is rescued off the beach of the Crown Plaza, his heroic host will offer tea. It is the Arabic way. After three glasses of tea, Croesus should then inquire if he might have vodka mixed with cranberry juice. He should do so loud enough for Oprah and/or her minions to overhear and identify him as a kindred spirit.
Mmm, spicy!, Croesus says rubbing his hands together. Glancing west over the Dead Sea, in the direction of Israel, he asks, what if I drift clear across the sea? The Mossad isn’t going to Uzi me to pieces, are they? Nah, I say. Doubtful. Besides, the current should gently nudge you south to the shores of the Crown Plaza. Oprah will find you in the reeds like baby Moses, I say. But for real, Vic Neverman, if that is who you really are?, Croesus says. If I float off this beach, I’m not going to find any crocodiles or sharks or any shit like that, am I?
Vic is a crocodile expert, aren’t you, Vic?, Milly suggests with a proud grin.
Well, I shrug, wondering how drunk I must have been whenever I bragged to Milly about my croc adventures. You are safe in the Dead Sea, I tell Croesus. Maybe upstream there are dangers, but not in the Dead Sea. It’s too salty here. Although, back in the day, crusaders who returned to Europe had tales of crocodiles in the Jordan River and how the reptiles preferred the taste of Christians to Jews or Muslims. Of course!, Croesus says. Christians taste like bacon and lobster. Christians eat everything, don’t they? Christians eat pigs, shellfish, Taco Bell, butt and pussy. You are as tasty as you eat! Good luck getting the same Christian flavor out of a vegan, Croesus says. Of course, I am speaking from the crocodile’s point of view… No disrespect to vegans!
Suddenly hungry, Croesus pauses with a thought. He says, I wonder if I should snack first. You shouldn’t swim after a meal, should you, darling?, Dame Havisham says. It’ll tie you in knots. Croesus nods and returns his focus to the sea.
The Dead Sea Leisure Club accompanies Croesus to the shore. As salaam alaikum, lovers, Croesus says, hugging his people before wading into the water. He gets waist deep and settles backwards into the buoyant water. It’s been a pleasure intermingling with you commons, Croesus says, but it is time I assume my rightful station in life.
There is no current. Croesus bobs in place. Maybe splash about a bit, yeah?, Dash suggests from shore. Croesus begins paddling, sending his body south along the shore towards the Crown Plaza. It’s been real, y’all, Croesus calls out to us. Deuces Medusas!
As the Dead Sea Leisure Club watches Croesus float off into the sunset, Mol takes a curly strand of sucked blonde lock out of her mouth and asks, do you think he’ll tell Oprah about us?