Friday, June 10, 2016

Wedding Waste

The Unhappiest Day of Your Life

Weddings are the worst and even worse, they are a waste. I have been a bridesmaid 17 times and a bride myself. What I learned is that no one is ever happy at a wedding, except for those swindling the future Mr. and Mrs. out of their joint life savings. Let’s go through all the different categories of misery you’ll find at a wedding. 

Brides-to-be choose their best friends to be their minions on the big day. I do not know why you would want to subject anyone you truly like to this thankless chore. It is expensive being a bridesmaid. You have to buy a disposable dress, because no one wears their bridesmaids dress again. Most people don’t want to wear them in the first place. Depending on the popularity of the girl getting married, the bridal party can be anywhere from one to a dozen women. No dress on Earth looks good on twelve different body shapes, ages, and races. I allowed my seven brideminions to choose their own dress. There was only one rule. It had to be black, because weddings are worse than funerals so I thought it was fitting. I saw no benefit in dressing them alike. Inevitably someone would look awful and ruin my wedding pictures. This also made my less fortunate bridesmaids happy. Almost everyone has a black dress in their closet. The average bridesmaid’s gown costs $150 to $500. Three of my bridesmaids spent absolutely nothing on their outfits. They just opened their closets and were ready to party. 

The dress is the least of the expenses. As a bridesmaid, you are also responsible to chip in for the bridal shower, the bachelorette party and the rehearsal dinner. Even though you’re paying for the festivities, you also have to buy engagement gifts, wedding gifts, and gifts to throw down a wishing well at the bridal shower. I’ve known folks who had to get a second job and sell plasma just to be able to afford attending their best friend’s wedding. As a bridesminion the best that you can hope for is that the marriage fails or that one of the newlyweds is infertile so that you don’t have to spend money on baby showers in the near future. IVF takes much longer. So there’s a better chance they’ll be divorced before you have to buy again. The bridesmaids aren’t the only ones who suffer. The parents of the bride are often stuck footing the bill for their little princess’s dream wedding which will never live up to her expectations and is bound to end up a nightmare. 

The idea of spending thousands of dollars for one night of dinner and dancing is obscene to me. When I got married, I decided that instead of having a wedding I would buy a $2,500 ad in the New York Times announcing my nuptials. I would request that, in lieu of gifts, friends, family, and absolute strangers who felt moved to gift me, send donations to Maysoon’s Kids, my charity for disabled and wounded refugee children. I thought it was the perfect plan. I would save $48,000, spare my family and friends the financial burden, and publicize the plight of Palestinian refugees with disabilities. I also don’t look good in white and in my society page wedding picture I was going to be donning disco-ball silver gown. I had the perfect picture. Chefugee even looked taller than me. I would have gotten away with it, too if it wasn’t for my meddling mother. She pointed out to me that some of the more backwards beings from our village in Palestine would assume that I wasn’t having a wedding because I have a disability and therefore was being treated differently than my three older sisters who had huge shindigs.  I had no choice but to play along for the sake of all disabled brides and grooms who would come after me. 

The final guest list was 400 people. I cut costs at all costs. If you insist on having a party to celebrate the end of your independence, I suggest you follow my lead to save your sanity and your savings. 

Cut the fresh flowers. One of the biggest wastes at weddings is live floral arrangements. Most weddings serve food and it’s hard to enjoy your penne vodka when the hall you are sitting in smells like a funeral home. Also, we live in a world full of allergies and your guests won’t be forced to pop a Zyrtec in order to enjoy the evening. Flowers are also extremely expensive and you don’t get to keep them because they die. Why would you want something so strongly associated with death present on the supposed happiest day of your life? Instead of flowers, I opted for fake peacock feathers and jewel-toned votives from The Dollar Store. What would have run me 25 Grand if I had gone with gardenias cost me $85 instead and it looked lovely. 

It’s important when planning your wedding budget to keep in mind that no one cares. Half of the guests are taking bets on when you’ll get divorced, while the other half is simply wishing they weren’t there. They can’t tell the difference between live flowers and fake flowers especially if you have invested in an open bar. All they want is good food, a great DJ, and to get their car back from the valet without having to wait ‘til sunrise. Forego the light shows, the personalized favors, and the horse drawn carriage unless you have a disposable income and nothing better to invest in. 

Marriage is stressful, but starting off in debt because you burned your money on one forgettable evening instead of putting a down payment on a house makes it even more daunting. Weddings often bring out the worst in people. They seem to awaken the ugly green monster known as jealousy in many souls. My stepmonster had always assumed no one would marry me, because in her eyes I was an old washed-up cripple. When I got engaged, the ugly green monster consumed her. She was so worried my wedding would outshine her not-yet-engaged son’s future wedding that she set out to sabotage it as if she was a Beastie Boy. Her nefarious plan was to remove the RSVP cards from the invites I had given my father to hand out to his people. In our family, this is how it is done. Mom gets a stack of cards, Dad gets a stack of cards and whatever invites are left over go to the bride and groom. Each of my parents invited 150 people to my wedding. I was left with 100 invites since Chefugee knew absolutely no one in America at the time of our nuptials. 250 people RSVP’d “yes” and 404 people showed up. The catering hall was thrilled. Weeks later I questioned my cousin as to why she hadn’t bothered to RSVP. She looked at me confused and said, “How? There were no RSVP cards and no number to call.” Now either the Elf on the Shelf had come early this year or my Disney-like evil stepmonster had a hand in disappearing them. Either way, my wedding ended up being a zoo with half of the guests not knowing where to go and the wait staff not knowing what to do. 

I gave my bridesmaids fashion freedom, but I should have given my family a dress code. My dad looked dapper in a suit and traditional Palestinian headdress. His sons however chose to wear tuxedos and looked identical to the wait staff, because no one else at the festivities was sporting them other than the servers, and my dad’s three sons. My mom wore white, which was perfect since this party was obviously for her and not for me. I also wore white, a color I loathe that makes me look much like the Michelin Man.

One thing you should invest in is a photographer. The only thing anyone cares about is the wedding picture. I decided to save money by using a friend. I have some extremely lovely wedding pictures and I barely spent a dime. It wasn’t really worth it though, because the photographer forgot to photograph the groom and I together. We have absolutely no wedding photos on our own as a couple. I attempted to crop the other people out of several pictures just to get one I could use as us for the Thank You cards. I finally gave up and did not send any Thank Yous. 

When all was said and done, the half of my family that didn’t already hate me now did. They thought that I only made seating cards for the white people and didn’t realize that theirs were missing because of the mysteriously missing RSVP cards. Chefugee and I broke even. The cash in the wedding envelopes covered the catering and The Dollar Store decorations, but we went home empty-handed. With the money spent on the reception we could have put a hefty deposit on a house. Instead, we remain homeless burning money on rent that still doesn’t equal what we wasted on that one wonderful wedding day, the unhappiest day of our lives. 

As a bonus, I broke my finger at my wedding. Having lived with Cerebral Palsy I have been known to fall down on occasion but I had miraculously made it to my 33rd birthday without breaking a bone in my body. Right before my wedding reception that had cost me a shaking arm and a leg, my friend Mike shook my hand to congratulate me, and broke my ring finger in three places. I spent the entire wedding wearing a splint made out of chopsticks and my wedding night that I had patiently waited three decades for in the Emergency Room. Since I had waited so long to go get it set, my finger remains mangled to this day and is my fondest memory from my wonderful wedding. 

If you insist on investing in your wedding and it really is your dream to have a big day, keeping the following in mind will help lessen the stress. Remember that family members who always behave badly are not suddenly going to wake up and be good people for your special day. Either don’t invite them because they hate you anyway so who cares if they get mad, or invite them and realize that they will be themselves. Don’t let it ruin your day. If you decide to have a destination wedding know in your heart of hearts that everyone you are dragging with you, hates you but have agreed to go because at all other times they love you. Make the trip as easy as possible on everyone. Don’t drag a hundred people to Paradise Island and leave them with nothing to do during the ten hours you are in hair and makeup, or trying to figure out how to tie your bowtie. 

Crying all the time in the weeks leading up to your wedding will guarantee that you will look like Hell in your wedding pictures. No makeup in the world can cover up that kind of puffy. So get a hold of yourself and stop crying because all the tears in the world will not make your day perfect. There is no such thing as perfect, so let it go, and at least look great doing so. Finally, never forget you always have the option of going down to the local Justice of the Peace wearing whatever floats your boat and ending up just as wedded as the next couple and just as likely to get divorced.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Flashback: Visit Palestine 2006

Welcome to Palestine

Before I ever went to Palestine, I knew Palestine. It was all my dad ever talked about. Every summer my parents would send us back to our village Deir Debwan to live with my grandparents; because my mom hated kids and my dad was afraid that if we didn’t go to Palestine every year, we would forget our roots, and grow up to be Britney Spears.

The first summer I ever went, I was five. I packed all my favorite things: my wonder women underoos, my stuffed bunny Checkers, and my most favorite thing in the world—my Michael Jackson glove. I shouldn't have taken anything. My grandmother was like the Muslim Robin Hood—but instead of stealing from the rich, she’d steal from me and give every single thing I owned to the poor refugees. I spent days trying to explain to her that although I felt sorry for the poor starving refugees, I could not comprehend what use they would have for my sparkly glove since it wasn’t even a pair.

Having my stuff stolen by grandma and learning the importance of charity was the fun part of Palestine. The not so fun part was having to deal with the Israeli army since I was five years old. I like to call it Jersey vs. the IDF. My first run-in was with Israeli airport security. Every summer my three older sisters and I would land at Tel Aviv airport. For those of you who don’t know, there is no way to enter Palestine without crossing an Israeli border first. (Yes, I am aware of the Rafah crossing, but it’s closed, like all the time.) The Israelis would search us with a fine toothed comb because four little girls traveling alone were obviously terrorists.

I had gotten used to being strip-searched at the airport, but when I was eight I was subjected to far worse. They beheaded my bunny, Checkers. It was not self-defense. It was murder. Checkers was a blue and white stuffed bunny with a beating heart that traveled with me. The Israelis could have easily x-rayed Checkers to see what was inside of him, but instead they decapitated him and pulled out his heart. Then they handed him back in pieces. I will never forget dropping his head as I struggled to keep all his parts together. My grandmother, in an effort to console me, reattached Checker’s head. Unfortunately, the cross-stitching queen of Deir Debwan had only red thread. The result was horrifying. That would be the first of many memorable run-ins.

When I was 14, both of my grandmothers passed away, and I refused to go back. I was 22 when I finally returned. My mission: to find a husband. My cover: working with disabled orphans in refugee camps.

For those of you who’ve never been to a refugee camp, they don’t have horseback riding, arts and crafts, or roasted marshmallows. They have trash piled sky-high, sewage streaming through the streets, and narrow, winding alleys that make it impossible to tell where the shooting is coming from. And there are kids—millions and millions of bored, hungry kids. And I was going to be their Oprah. I’d bring them medicine, shoes, and Doritos, while simultaneously catching myself the most gorgeous refugee man ever. We’d fall madly in love, get married, adopt differently abled babies, and live happily ever after.

By the way, I hate kids. The first time I ever walked into an orphanage this thing ran up and hugged me with a Fraggle puppet growing out of its head. I mean, you could pet it, and it would giggle. So I decided I would work with teens. I went there like an idiot thinking I could be Michelle Pfifer from Dangerous Minds. I was going to teach them theater and they were going to stop throwing rocks. When I got there I realized these kids didn’t need art, they needed shoes.

In April of 2001 I founded Maysoon’s Kids, a not-for-profit charity funded primarily by my friends on Facebook and Twitter followers. Our mission was to address the needs of the growing population of disabled children in the West Bank.

We don’t give people money, we’re very much hands on to “teach a refugee to fish.” Due to the political climate, I am not allowed to travel to Gaza, which is why we work exclusively in the West Bank. Past projects include art and wellness programs, summer camp lunches, eye exams and glasses, Mommy classes, providing physical therapy equipment to rehab centers, tutoring seniors preparing for college, and providing shoes clothing and milk locally made for orphans.

I have seen the landscape of Palestine change drastically over the past 30 years. The beaches I went to as a child with my grandparents are no longer accessible to Palestinians. The wall was built before my eyes. I remember crossing Kalandia and having to step over the first concrete block and thinking, “Why is this here? This is so annoying.” I had no idea that only a few years later Ramallah and Bethlehem would be completely cut off from Jerusalem by this crazy thing that is three times the height of the Berlin Wall.

One of the fringe benefits of the wall is that it comes with checkpoints. Checkpoints are like being stuck on the longest line at Disney but there’s no ride at the end, and there’s a fairly good chance you’re going to encounter violence. I have been shot at at a checkpoint, but not hit. Which makes all the difference.

That was my second run-in with the Israeli army. When I first used to cross the checkpoints I was totally obnoxious and fought with the soldiers over the injustice. I mean they weren’t going to hurt a differently abled American, were they? March of 2003 everything changed. Rachel Corrie a blond-haired, blue-eyed American was run over by an Israeli bulldozer and I immediately stopped sassing soldiers.

I also spent many months living under curfew. Curfew means if you go outside you get shot. I got stuck eating peanut butter and Cheerios for three whole days once. My stomach was a mess. I am forever grateful that I didn’t have Twitter at the time because I would mostly definitely be in political prison if I did.

My most recent run-in with the Israeli army was in June of 2006. I was flying back to New York to do a show that night when Israeli security held me for three hours. I was strip-searched and left to bleed on myself in a wheelchair that I use for travel. The woman in charge who refused me access to my belongings was named Inbal Sharon.

I will never forget her name because she proudly gave me her card. I am an American citizen who holds no other allegiance. A simple Google search shows that I am absolutely not a security threat. Yet, I was forced to board the plane with nothing but my passports and a credit card and denied access to sanitary products. Onboard, the Continental stewardesses gave me their clothing. It was beyond sickening and yet I go back every Christmas, every summer, every chance I get. I have no choice.

One thing that drives me insane is the way the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is portrayed in the media. Let’s simplify the whole thing. The issue is bigotry and oppression. The solution is equal rights for everyone. The theory that these people can’t coexist is ludicrous because they already do. The majority, yes the majority, work together, study together, hitch- hike together and even date. The only issues are those who insist on religious exclusivity and, being heavily armed, denying freedom to everyone else. And that, my friends, is why they’re fighting.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lightbulbs and Losers

           Based on a true story
One name has been changed to shame the evil.

I have been a bridesmaid 17 times. After spending $28,000 on my friends weddings, I decided it was time to make my money back.

Gollum was one of those guys who’s just always around until you're like best friends. After years of working together in the Palestinian refugee camps, Gollum decided to take our friendship to the next level. He dropped to one knee at a checkpoint, held out a ring, and said,“Here—take it.”

He was skinny, ugly, and boring, but I  was 27, and time is running out. So, I said ‘Alrighty.’

Gollum landed in New York City on Valentine’s Day. It was a fight to the finish getting him a visa. If you've never tried to get a 30 year old muslim former political prisoner into the USA, let me tell you. It's no picnic. The night my fiance arrived, my bridesmaids threw us a spectacular engagement party. Payback was as delicious as the butterfly sugar cookie favors. After the party we unloaded the my precious gifts into the cute little furnished apartment I subletted for Gollum cause good Arab girls don’t live in sin.

The next morning I got up bright and early to go pick him up to scout out wedding locations. I walked into the apartment and he was gone. So was the furniture. And the engagement gifts. And the lightbulbs. The icing on the cake, the punk also cleaned out my bank account. Oh AND I had a $25,000 bond with US Immigration stating that, should my Arab, Muslim fiancĂ© violate his Visa by, oh say, disappearing, the The Department of Homeland Security would own my mom's house – and we would be homeless, a fun fact I never mentioned to her.

Months go by. I can’t find him anywhere. Then I got a text message. It read,“Has my Socialized Secure Card get there yet?” 

“Has my Socialized Secure Card get there yet?!!!!!!!” Asshole’s acting like nothing happened! I texted him back, “Why yes it has. But, I need your exact mailing address, so I can send it to you. Exactly where you are. Right now. At this moment. Exactly.” And that poor, dumb popple sent it to me. I could see him on the frickin’ Google map, and so could the Department of Homeland Security. As the clock struck midnight, they threw his skinny ass into a burlap sack with some rocks and tossed him back into the West Bank.

Nine Lives: 2 Down Croaking in Cairo

Snow White and the Seven Pharaohs

In 2009 while on tour with Arabs Gone Wild, I booked my first Egypt show. I had grown up watching National Geographic specials about King Tut and the curse of the pyramids so I was super excited. I couldn’t wait to finally see the Sphinx up close and in person. I arrived in Cairo and was whisked straight to a fancy-schmancy five-star hotel. When I walked into my room, I found a beautiful basket of fresh fruit awaiting me. Like Snow White, I grabbed an apple and bit into it. I remember very little about my trip to Cairo after that first bite. I have never been so sick in my entire life. I threw up my own shoes. When I looked in the mirror, my face was actually green. I looked like Kermit the Frog in a Cher wig. The apple was poison. My food poisoning even had a name; the Pharaoh’s Dreaming Death. I believe it is called that because if you have it you dream of dying just so the diarrhea will stop. The hallucinations were the upside of my digestive dilemma. 
The show must go on and the next day I headed to The Cairo Cultural Center trying desperately not to vomit on my fellow comedians en route. Cairo is overflowing with people. In my mind they looked like Smurfs and I really enjoyed watching them scurry about. I was determined to find Smurfette, like a Where’s Waldo in Cairo and was annoyed that the other comics refused to help me. They kept insisting there were no Smurfs and begged me to go to the hospital. For obvious reasons I have hated hospitals since the day I was born and I certainly was not going to voluntarily die in one in the third world.

The only time I went outside my bathroom in Egypt was when I walked from the hotel to the car service and from the car service to the theatre. I was only outdoors for a total of ten minutes and still managed to get groped by half of the male population of Cairo. In the end, vengeance was mine. I barfed on one of the creeps who rubbed up on me. Somehow I managed to get on stage and do a coherent set in front of two-thousand people. They were not Smurfs. They were Fraggles and they seemed to be having a fabulous time. We had booked back-to-back shows so I had one more set to do. Between shows I went back to puking. Dean found me shortly before show time, lying in the fetal position on the floor of the dirtiest bathroom I have ever witnessed. The show must go on, so he dragged me up to my feet and I hit the stage for Round Two.
This time there was a very angry Fraggle in the audience. I was doing a joke about Egypt Air, the country’s national airline. The word “air” in Arabic means dick. My joke was questioning why any Middle Eastern Airline would call itself “Air” instead of “Airlines”. Unbeknownst to me the angry Fraggle in the audience was Fayza Abu Naga, the Minister of Tourism and she did not appreciate my blue-collar comedy. She charged the stage and attempted to hit me but two other comics held her back. I was quickly shuffled off the stage and escorted to the airport. The next thing I remember was waking up at Newark Airport still wondering why they chose to name that airline just Air. I never got to see the pyramids and after my dalliance with the Pharaoh’s Dreaming Death, I was also never able to digest meat again. 

Shortly after our show, there was a revolution in Egypt and I thought that I would finally get to go back and see the damn pyramids. Unfortunately, the Minister of Tourism survived the revolution, the elections, the ousting of the new leadership, and the new regime, which means no Sphinx for me.

Nine Lives: 1 Down at the Daytime Emmys

I have been addicted to soap operas since I was five years old. Yes, five. Although my parents were super strict and conservative, they missed the boat on monitoring our television consumption. As a tot I spent a summer wondering “Who shot JR?” I memorized Andrew Dice Clay’s entire nursery rhyme routine at age ten which included gems like “Miss Muffet, I Ate Her Tuffet”, and I loved my soap operas. I followed three religiously; As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, and my most favorite, General Hospital. Being a fan of Guiding Light and General Hospital posed a challenge. They were on at the same time so for years I flipped between the two during commercials. Then I got a VCR. We always got cutting edge equipment before anyone else because my dad used to deal electronics. I would tape Guiding Light while watching General Hospital live. And my dream in life was to be on General Hospital. I even studied acting in college.

When I graduated ASU, I moved back home because that’s what good Arab girls do. I altered my dream of being on General Hospital to being on As the World Turns instead. They filmed in New York City, the perfect location for a life-long Jersey girl to have her dream come true. I landed in an acting class recommended by my mentor from ASU, Marshall Mason and low and behold two of the actresses in my class were on As the World Turns. We became besties. 

Terri Conn was my blond-haired, blue-eyed photo negative of me.  We were the same age, 22, but she already had tons of TV experience. Jaime Dudney was the other As the World Turns starlet in my class. She was also Barbra Mandrel’s daughter. I had grown up watching Barbra Mandrel and the Mandrel Sisters variety show, so I was star struck . Terri petitioned to get me on As the World Turns. My first ever television appearance was as an extra on a soap opera. Dreams do come true if your dream is to play Diner Number 3 and to only be recognizable by the back of your head. The year I met the girls from ATWT was also the first year I ever attended the Daytime Emmy Awards; the Oscars of the Soaps. I wasn’t nominated. I wasn’t even invited. I was a seat filler. 

A seat filler is a person who fills any empty seat in the audience so that if the camera pans to the stars being nominated, there is never an empty seat in the house. Basically our job was to keep Susan Lucci’s seat warm while she went to the powder room.  The key to being a great seat filler is the ability to move fast through a row of evening gowns without knocking people’s knees. I was very bad at this job. Dick Clark yelled at me during a commercial break to “move faster”. He had no way of knowing that I was gimpy, so I don’t blame him. Also he made the announcement over the PA system so there’s a possibility he wasn’t talking about me when he said, “The person standing up, please sit down immediately.” But in my mind, he was totally talking to me. It is one of my fondest memories. 

After the awards ceremony concluded, each network or producers had their own party. The ABC party was the party that everyone wanted to be at. It was where the General Hospital stars were. I would have killed and gone to jail to be at the ABC party. Instead, I went with Terri and Jami to the Procter and Gamble party. I was wearing a lilac corseted bridesmaid’s dress with way too much cleavage. Corsets push you up while pulling you in. I had no business pushing up my chest. It practically blocked my vision. I had never worn the dress before because the wedding I was wearing it to got called off by the bride. It was like something out of a soap opera, so I thought the dress was perfect for the occasion. I followed Terri around the party like we were conjoined and tried my best to look hip. 

After some mingling, we gave up and sat down with Jaime. There were servers passing out hors d'oeuvres. I grabbed a beef tenderloin crostini and popped it in my mouth. I had really impressed myself by not dropping it. The tenderloin slid down my trachea and I began to choke. I was going to die in the coolest way possible at a Daytime Emmy’s after party. But I was not ready to go so I tried to cough up the assaulting appetizer. Unfortunately, the way-too-tight corset top of my dress made coughing impossible and I began to turn lilac. 

I remember Terri screaming, “Oh, my God” and getting super blurry. And then Jaime Dudney whacked me on the back with the kind of strength only a southern girl has. And that meat went flying out of my mouth and across the table. One of the hottest male actors on Guiding Light turned around and looked at the moist lump of meat and bread in disgust. It was the greatest night ever.

If You Can't Fast, Give

I was born and raised in the United States. I spent my school days in beautiful New Jersey and my summers in the war zone known as the West Bank. The first Ramadan I ever fasted was no joke. I was 8 years old and on summer vacation in my parent's village. It was late June and the Middle East is a sauna at that time of year. During Ramadan, those observing the fast abstain from food, beverages, smoking, and shagging. I have never had an issue with fasting. I'm one of those crazy Muslims who loves Ramadan.

I have cerebral palsy. That means, technically, I am exempt from fasting; even though it is one of the five pillars of Islam and extremely important to the faith. The Qur'an states clearly in Surah 2, Ayah 185 that those who have medical conditions are pardoned, so I was treated like a champ for fasting. My family was over the moon and I refused to show any weakness. I knew that by fasting against the odds I had been born with, I'd totally get into heaven and more importantly would get amazing gifts for Eid. Eid is the celebration that marks the end of fasting. Muslims celebrate for three days because after 30 days of fasting, one day simply isn't enough.

Regardless of the heat, its fun to fast Ramadan when you are in a country where the majority of folks around you are also starving. Ramadan is not as much fun in America when you are the only one fasting. In my day, teachers weren't as culturally savvy as they are now. I had teachers who genuinely feared for my life and were convinced that I was being forced by my horrible Muslim parents to fast. They'd try to slip me a butterscotch candy at lunchtime. I would shove their candy away and tell them not to push their beliefs on me. I could eat whatever I wanted at sunset, thank you very much.

Every Ramadan, without fail, my mother has given me the option to not fast. Those who cannot fast during Ramadan get to make a donation that will feed a hungry person for the duration of the holy month. If you cannot afford to do so, you should instead perform any acts of charity within your capability. My mom has donated on my behalf every single year I have fasted, just in case it ever got to be too much and I had to give up. How is that for faith?

My most challenging Ramadan came in the form of a ten-day road trip in 2011, in America's Deep South, on a comedy tour called "The Muslims Are Coming". Ramadan which moves back 10 days each year landed in August. I was filming a documentary in addition to performing nightly. We would spend all day on the street doing interviews with the locals who weren't too fond of Muslims. For the first time in my history of Ramadans, I complained. I was hot, thirsty, and tired of bigotry. Some nights, I didn't break my fast until 10:30 pm, but I survived. I only broke down and broke my fast once on tour. We were at Elvis' house in Tupelo, Mississippi. The statue of the King spoke to me and I realized if I didn't drink water I would drop down dead just like he did. I did not want to die where Elvis was born. It's okay to miss a day or five, if you are sick, or traveling, or are on your ladies holiday. You then have a whole year to make it up. Some Muslims are slick and do their make-up days in December when the sun sets at like 4:30 pm and they only have to fast for six or seven hours.

On July 10, 2013, after three decades, my days of fasting came to an end. As I mentioned, I have cerebral palsy. One of my symptoms is that I shake all the time, just like Shakira's hips. On the first day of Ramadan 2013, my shaking got the best of me. By noon, I no longer had the coordination to Tweet and by the time I broke my fast at 8:30 pm, I could barely breath. I knew that I had fasted my last day. The next morning the water I drank tasted like poison. It felt so wrong to quench my thirst during the daylight hours. Ramadan is something I strongly associate with the happiest times of my life and I felt like a tradition was lost.

I am not ashamed that I cannot fast, but I know many who are, even though they are excused for God's sake. I miss fasting, but I'm happy to take on my newest mission of reminding those who can't fast, that there is no reason to put themselves at risk. Muslims fast so they can suffer a little. It is important not to die in the process. Instead, those who can't should channel their devotion into charity. This will not only help you stay healthy, but also help someone who is genuinely suffering. Those who are blessed with the health to fast, please don't interrogate your fellow Muslims about their hunger status. It is impolite to ask others if they are fasting unless you are in the process of offering them something to eat and sometimes you really don't want to know the answer.

All Cats Go To Heaven

All Cats Go To Heaven

Tiger, the cat pranced into our lives when I was five. Her name was less than original but absolutely fitting. She looked like a tiny Tony the Tiger down to her big blue eyes. I do not know why my father brought home a cat for us, but he did and Tiger was a great cat. She didn’t scratch. She never had accidents and six months after we got her she was shot dead by my neighbor.

This was not in Palestine this was in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Apparently, Tiger had a taste for strawberries. She was feasting on my neighbor’s crop when she was caught red-handed and blasted with a bb gun. She dragged her wounded body back home and my parents rushed her to the vet. The doctors couldn’t save her. My dad was as heart-broken as we were. He wanted to teach my neighbor a lesson so he seated his four bawling daughters on her doorstep and played ring and run.

To help ease the trauma of Tiger’s murder, we immediately got a new cat and named her Cherry. She was named after Cherry Valance, a character in The Outsiders. She too was a great cat. I have had unbelievable luck picking pets. I have friends whose best beasts are horrifying feral monsters that scratch, hiss and go to the potty wherever they please. Our cats were always decent animals. Cherry would walk up the block and wait for us to come home from school. She would sit in the middle of the dining room table surrounded by notebooks while my sisters and I did our homework. Cherry was a cool cat and one day she disappeared. She was nowhere to be found.

We posted posters on every pole in Cliffside Park offering a substantial one-thousand dollar reward for her return; but the cat never came back. My sisters and I took to badmouthing our missing pet. Fifi believed that Cherry was a CIA agent and that once she had gotten all the dirt she needed on us she left for her next mission. I remember listening to Fifi’s theory at the dining room table and thinking it could totally be possible. I grew up in a Palestinian household in an Italian Mafioso New Jersey suburb, so the idea that my cat could be a rat was totally plausible. My sister, Hanan was less of a conspiracy theorist and more of a slut-shamer. Her theory was that Cherry had runoff with some Tom cat. She called her a skank and a whore and one day my poor father just couldn’t take it anymore. He burst into tears at the dining room table and said, “She was a good cat, Goddammit! She got runned over by a car.” My father had wanted to spare us the trauma of another dead cat, even though it had been seven years since Tiger’s brutal killing. Our grief had traumatized him and when he found our perished pet lying in the road, he hid her body to spare us the pain. We all learned a very important lesson that day. Nothing you do can make loss more bearable. You have to deal with it head on, just like the car that hit Cherry.

Soon after Cherry came Sandy, named for the lead character in the musical Grease. After years of being an exceptional member of the family, she succumbed to the same fate as Cherry and was run over on Christmas Eve, my senior year in high school. I decided that day that no pet of mine would ever leave the house again.

I adopted Lucy my senior year of college at Arizona State University. I had moved out of the dorms and could finally get a cat even though the apartment complex I was renting in strictly forbade it. She was going to be an indoor cat. No one would ever know. Lucy was special, and by special I mean like me, short bus special. Her owners prior to me thought it would be fun to toss her out the window so that they could test the theory of cats always landing on all fours. Lucy landed on her head and in a shelter, where I found her. It was love at first sight. I flew back to New Jersey with Lucy sedated under the seat in front of me. When I walked in the house carrying her, my mother threw a slipper at us, but they soon became best friends.

Lucy was a superhuman kitty. She survived every one of my nieces and nephews. She never fought back as they yanked her, pet her, and fell down on top of her. She would just meow calmly which was her way of saying, “Kindly get the fuck off me.”  When I became a touring comic, I always said goodbye to Lucy last and hugged her first when I got home. Lucy was an alarm clock and a life saver. When my sister Lamiah was diagnosed with brain cancer and living back at home, Lucy would stand guard over her as she slept. One night Lamiah had a seizure. Lucy ran upstairs and started banging her body against my mother’s door, waking her up and leading her back to Lamiah. She was extraordinary, but despite my best efforts I could not save her.

Lucy died in my arms at the age of seventeen. We were lying on the couch and she just fell asleep. She spared me the awful decision of whether to let her live or die, by going peacefully into the night. I have never been more heartbroken. I have lost friends, family, and other pets, but Lucy was my child. Unlike my other cats, there was no replacing her. I couldn’t imagine any other animal coming close to being that cool and I knew I would resent them for not running to the door to meet me when I screamed, “Hey Lucy, I home!” There would never be another Lucy, so as far as I was concerned, I would never have another pet. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of having to yet again outlive something I loved so dearly. I would soon realize that the greatest lesson Lucy taught me was that part of growing up is outliving the those we love the most.