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Published:August 3rd, 2009 11:02 EST

The Horrors of Beirut Parking

By Rouben Alikian

One early morning, I leave home, bound for the University " Half asleep and stooped in the scraps of dreams, I suddenly envision a perverted version of the morbid reality that events take every morning.


 I reach the University and find a miniscule place in a shoddy side street, just enough to squeeze my car in with every ounce of special skill I might conjure. I end up curbing. It`s illegal, naturally, but there is no other choice. Content with my miniscule deviance, I lock the doors and grab my bag to mush down the street to the University gates.


And suddenly, as if taking root from mine own dream which I forget it is, the curb begins to rise into the sky, toppling my car over onto its passenger door. The fresh dent that was just mended is back again, like a plague that should have been extinct long ago. With a sky splitting sigh worthy of Thor`s rebirth erupting from my chest, I rush to the car and lift it above my head, only to stuff onto the sidewalk all the way.


Speaking of the plague, the army`s well sober representatives suddenly appear almost ethereally from the early morning smog and slither before me like cobras, hissing of the rules they themselves break every hour when screaming past bewildered drivers on escorts of dignitaries who ride like feudal lords. There are at least three dozen of them, and as if in synchronous creation, they peer their hollow gazes at me and begin to chant Mamnougha`! Mamnougha`! Mamnougha`! " Forbidden! Forbidden! Forbidden! "


With the warm heartedness of a witch I smile at the high and mighty and mentally bid farewell to the two dollar bills in my pocket that will now be sent on a funeral procession into the thief parking owner`s clammy hands of soot.

 Boiling over like an overfilled kettle full of tar, I circle the University and find my favorite parking lot, the one where cars are routinely banged against each other in some kind of mechanical choreography of bumper damnation. Content that I will at least know where my car is when my courses end in a couple of hours and that no sudden and massive vehicle evacuation will grill my mind, I lock the car and take two steps out of the parking lot.


Macbeth would have been pleased at this, for like the Three Weird Sisters, the cops are at it again and materialize before me out of nowhere, repeating over and over again Mamnougha`! Mamnougha`! Mamnougha`! Today Walid Joumblat is passing through this street! No cars are to be parked here! Fair is foul and foul is fair! Hover through the fog and filthy air! "


Fantasizing of the dreaded payback that I will exact one day and fully aware that I am incapable of anything against the corrupt might of the feudal lords, I spin around a few blocks and find the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Though it is naught more than a spot beside a dumpster, it is quiet and safe as I get out of car, for the last time, hopefully.


But before I can take a couple of steps, a friendly local fanatic suddenly eyeballs the QUEEN labeled CD lying on my passenger seat and with a horrified look tosses a black plastic bag at me with the words Hide it!! " To respect everyone`s musical views, I conceal the Lord of Rock`s frenzied image. Another click of the autolock was meant to end this charade, but here the horror rises again with twenty mortal gashes on his crown and shouts at me. A male nurse from the hospital across the street runs at me with his face smeared in blood and yells No honking here! Disable your alarm or it will disturb the mental patients! We`ve had two suicides already this week and if Dr. Hassan finds out about my disturbingly high mortality rate, I`m screwed! "


I pop the hood, disconnect the alarm and smile at the heaving young man while imagining him in one of those metal cellars. At long last, I march to the University gates and think to myself Well, it would be a rotten joke if the Uni is closed today " "


It`s closed alright, and I head back to the car. The drive home is just as familiar as the war path to the battlefield of learning.


Halfway home, all of Beirut suddenly explodes behind me with a blossoming nuclear mushroom. The shockwave begins to scream at me from behind like a roaring wall of flame and dust as I see it through my rearview mirror and push the pedal to the metal without thinking about the fact that this scenario no longer bears any rhyme or reason. But that one lapse in contemplating concentration was enough for me to miss the female abomination of plastic surgery with pirogi sized lips and eyes concealed behind mile wide glasses that attempts a U turn right in front of me in the middle of a highway on a mountain of a Mitsubishi Pajero.


With my eyes closed, I do not push the brakes, I hit the gas and slip right underneath the steel monster without even noticing it. But the shockwave reaches me in seconds and smites away all around me, even the pavement.

 Darkness consumes my vision. Dust begins to swirl. I feel my car scraping through the air thick with debris until I open my eyes and see that there is nothing but an open field of nuclear winter all around me with not a hint of life in sight.


No orientation, no horizon, only an ashen sky remains. Thinking that there is no place left to go and my might just be a lone survivor condemned to a miserable fate, I decide to just drive and drive without end until my gas runs out.


Before the needle strikes E on the gauge, I start to think that my eyes deceive me, for I have reached the Edge Of The World. The engine sputters one last time and I finally pull the handbrake to see if this is still but a dream or the new reality of some kind of perverted Novo Ordo Seclorum. In disbelief, I leave my car and begin to walk towards the end of the horizon where sand streams off the edge into nowhere like a golden waterfall.


And there it is, the Edge Of The World. A dark abyss of the universe itself spanning into infinity with a myriad of stars and galaxies beneath the slab of earth I stand upon. And yet, there is hope still, for about fifteen meters away from my Edge Of The World floats an island the size of my car beside a green dumpster, out of reach and out of hope.


How do I reach that spot? Can a parking space be even more unreachable than the Edge Of The World itself in this world of restrictions and urban pornography where concrete jungles consume our souls and feed upon the remnants of our sanity.


I understand only that as I finally awake from this moment of imagination before the wheel and realize that I am almost there, ready to face another everyday challenge of finding parking in Beirut.