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The world according to Very Abdul

Walking to work, sometimes I see the cold scowls on stranger's faces, and wonder what could make people so pained, sealed off, so bitter... until I catch my reflection in a shop window, and I'm wearing the same frown.

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A beggar at Shattuck Street was hoping for kindness. Usually I'm fresh out, but when my luck turns I'll be homeless myself, so I try not to be rude. Usually.

Depending on my mood and the particular panhandler and what's in my wallet, depending on the weather and my recurring jock itch, sometimes I'll hand over a dime or a dollar. Lately, though, I've been poor enough to have no concept of "spare change."

This guy was slouched against a building, and he'd left his tin can in the middle of the sidewalk. Hey, bub, I was thinking, don't make me step over or around your tin can. I stepped around it, though, and noticed the cardboard sign at his feet: "Six kids, no job, please help."

Reading it made me reconsider my coldheartedness. Here was someone I could help. I reached for my wallet, opened it, watched his eyes widen with anticipation, and dropped a condom into his can.

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It was a dull day selling fish. Newcomers to the zine might not know, but I'll do anything legal for $5 an hour. My steady gig most days is selling sacrilegious fish on Telegraph Ave.

I'm not a natural at sales or customer relations. Most people on this planet bore me, and the few who don't anger me.

I'd be a better fit for a graveyard shift at some factory, working alone, mopping the floors, instead of smiling at strangers and pretending to laugh at the same stupid fish jokes I've heard and told a thousand times. Or snapping back at the next Christian who's offended that Jesus isn't all over all our fish.

It's a living, though, and today there weren't many customers I wanted to punch. Oh, and the city inspectors never came by, so nobody cited or scolded me for having a magnet display that's a foot and a half taller than regulations allow, or for taking the contraband Darwin fish out of my backpack and putting them back on display. Oh, I was quite the rebel.

♦ ♦ ♦

Each day has its annoyances, though, and today I worked next to Very Abdul, the Avenue's most Muslim vendor. He's cordial, he smiles, he watches my booth when I gotta pee, so what's my complaint? He's completely serious and devoutly religious about everything, from the sandals and socks he sells to whatever comes up in conversation with his customers.

And I mean, whatever comes up.

A customer mentioned the tarot card reader down the street, and Very Abdul announced, "I disapprove of tarot sellers on the Avenue. Some are sincere, some are fakers, but all are dabbling in witchcraft, and witchcraft is real. Even the fakers could stumble onto some powerful evil."

"Dogs are filthy animals," said Very Abdul to someone else. "They play in their own feces, eat their own vomit, mate in the street. They have no shame. Ah, but a cat understands the difference between right and wrong. A cat defecates in private, mates in private. Cats have dignity." Sorry, I didn't hear whatever a customer might've said to trigger that response.

And "What these street urchins need is discipline in their lives, something to respect. They need rules and limits. They must be harshly punished when they go beyond the bounds. The first rule should be, no, you cannot live on the streets."

Saddest was when his wife and daughter brought him lunch. They were both wearing what looked like ten pounds of robes and wraps, covering everything but their shoes and a narrow slit for their eyes. And he spoke to them like they were staff.

They were soon gone, and Very Abdul returned to selling and editorializing. He judged whether various products sold in stores are moral or immoral — Playboy, toy knives and guns, candy bars and non-fat milk are all immoral, and I was eavesdropping carefully but didn't hear of anything he considered moral for sale anywhere.

It's my opinion that Very Abdul is very full of shit. Seeing every moment as another decision between right and wrong, with immorality all around us, is a waste of your life. I didn't say that to Very Abdul, though.

The first time we worked near each other, I tried to engage him with my politely contrary opinions. It was futile and frustrating. Smiling but stern, Very Abdul knows what's right, what's wrong, and knows that you're wrong.

It's wiser, I've decided, and better for my own mental health, to let him babble at others all day, rather than saying something, which only gets him babbling at me.

♦ ♦ ♦

Maybe it was obvious that I needed some cheering up after work. Judith and Jake invited me and Corby, their houseguest, to see Babe. We'd heard it was good, and it was good.

A pig dreams of being a sheepdog. It's a kids' movie, but it's inventive and imaginative, warm-hearted and funny, beautifully filmed.

Judith bought the tickets and popcorn, and I don't know when I've had a better time watching a G-rated movie in one of the tiny box auditoriums inside the slimy, sticky, decrepit UA Theater in downtown Berkeley.

From Pathetic Life #17
Sunday, October 1, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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