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The Accidental Oracle

Dear Oracle:

Tensions between the West and the Muslim world remain high. (If you wanted more oil, why not just ask? We have so much here it’s a nuisance, bubbling up on tennis courts and in the servants’ quarters, dirtying the maids’ uniforms. I am so happy Halliburton is moving to the UAE—as faithful viziers to the Bush and Cheney clans, I am sure they have experience with such problems.)

I have many friends in America, especially Texas! God willing, I will make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders my wives, when I have enough goats for the outrageous bride price demanded by the Cowboys.

But Americans do not understand why we are so upset, and I’m tired of being labeled a “hot head” who’s heated up for no good reason. Can you explain our anger in terms the average “Joe Blow” can understand?

—Sheik Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Dear Sheik:

Yes, I think I can explain to the average American what’s “put the bee in your bonnet”:

Islam was born in the desert, where life is hard and unforgiving, and tempers are quick to flare. Here in America, look no further than the parched barrens of the west for a similar environment.

Imagine you’re a cowboy in the Arizona Territory in the 19th century, and you and your horse—your partner and confidante, who practically lives in between your legs—spend all day chasing cattle through hot dusty hills full of cactus and rattlesnakes, and build up a powerful thirst. Then just as you pull up to a saloon in town, some whiskey soaked deadbeat calls your horse a “swayback, donkey faced, mule-brain mutt.” Do you think you’d take kindly to that—forget the feelings of your horse?

Or imagine you’re a Mormon fundamentalist here in the 21st century. You have taken on every spare female in the county and spread your precious seed thin as a spider web to produce dozens of obedient Josephs and Josephines—out of nothing but the goodness of your heart—when some big city divorcee driving to California stops at the village laundromat and tells your wives all about the outside world, where women wear next to nothing, or police uniforms, or whatever they want, and give their kids names like Angelina, Leonardo, and even Lil’ Bow Wow. Would you take kindly to that, when you know all it takes is one weed to start cracking the foundation of everything you’ve built?

Or for the most likely case, imagine yourself drifting from one miserable job to another all over the southwest, living out of an old pickup truck and dumpy motels full of noisy lowlifes and prostitutes, and so poor you can barely afford to drink yourself to sleep.

Then ask yourself: if you came across a haughty Danish couple in a luxury car, out of gas in the middle of the desert, wearing stuff worth more than everything you’ve ever owned, and barking at you in their arrogant foreign gobbledygook like they’re the King & Queen of Wherever They Go, wouldn’t you be tempted to rob and leave them for the buzzards if you could get away with it, or at least look the other way if you saw some biker gang do it?

So there you have it, Sheik: an explanation any “Joe Blow” can understand, no matter where they’re from.

And by the way, if you are lucky enough to make the Cheerleaders your wives, I trust you understand they won’t be content to milk goats and file their nails while they wait for your next conjugal visit?

Because they are highly trained dance professionals, I suggest you hire an instructor to keep them busy working on routines. I understand MC Hammer has been living in a van behind a Las Vegas carwash for the past few years. I’m sure you could lure him to the UAE, and that he’d soon fall into the rhythm of life there, running dance classes in the morning and watching I Dream of Jeannie reruns in the afternoon with the rest of your male staff. Or should I say “your eunuchs?”

Hammer probably wouldn’t be too happy about the traditional desert rite he’d have to undergo to work in your harem—who in their right mind would enjoy choosing between a scimitar and a sand viper when it comes to that region of the anatomy?—but he should be able to adapt. After all, his biggest hit was U Can’t Touch This.

—A. O.

Dear Oracle:

12 years ago I bought a computer, thinking it would improve my life. Soon after that my wife left me.

She was the woman of my dreams, perfect in every way. Her betrayal turned my heart to wood, then shattered it! I carried the splinters for years, making my flesh scream at the slightest touch, ruined for love. It was not until four years ago that I finally managed to crate her memory and ship it toward shores so distant it could not return to haunt me.

And I lost interest in all the things that used to bring me satisfaction, like breeding hedgehogs (you’d be surprised how large they can get—big enough to give a Brahman bull pause—before their rib cage starts to buckle from the weight) and building microscopic models of the hedge maze where Marie Antoinette’s head rolled from the guillotine. Now I stare at a computer screen all day every day, working to make more money so I can buy more computers. I am stuck on a treadmill that moves faster and faster, but goes nowhere. My question is: can I get my life back?

—John Wilkins IV, Ross-on-Trent, England

Dear John:

How’s the war going? Did you get the Burger King gift certificates I sent? The cashier said they were good in Iraq. I really hate to do this to you, but I’ve met someone new…

Sorry John, I couldn’t resist the “Dear John letter” joke! Maybe I shouldn’t kid you, since we’ve never met. But we have so much in common, from our nations’ wars to… well, you’ll find out soon enough.

Unfortunately, the only choice you have is to either (1) stay glued to your screen until your body withers to peanut size and your head explodes, or (2) create a diversion and sneak away while the computers are busy reporting your actions to the British version of Homeland Security (the “Home Office of Homeland Security?” I haven’t watched much Public TV lately).

If you do escape, disguise yourself and stick to back roads until you’re off the “grid” controlled by the machines and their spy satellites. Continue until you find a tidy village in a green valley, then join the cultists there and make love to every woman who will have you, so you can raise dozens of children—with any luck one of them will become the messiah who can save us from the machines.

And if that bleak vision of the future makes you sad, have I got a surprise for you! In one of those little jokes life plays, your “ex-wife” is sitting across the room from me right now, reading a magazine in an easy chair!

You’ll be happy to know that she is still beautiful—I never cease to be amazed at the color of her eyes and luster of her hair. If she (just listen to me… I can’t bear to call her “it”) did not have “Mrs. John Wilkins IV Forever!” engraved on the bottom of her left foot, I would swear you’d had the genuine article stuffed and mounted! The sculptor did an incredible job, and even though it cost me a fortune to have her shipped from the curio shop in Trieste where I found her, I have never regretted it—she has become my muse, my light, my Venus!

Thank you, Dear John!

—A. O.


Kurt Strahm


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2007

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