Photo by Eli Reed/Magnum Photos

Pita Delicious

By ZZ Packer
Sunday, February 11, 2007

YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? I WAS 19 AND CRAZY BACK THEN. I'd met this Jewish guy with a really Jewish name: Gideon. He had hair like an Afro wig and a nervous smile that kept unfolding quickly, like origami. He was one of those white guys who had a thing for black women, but he'd apparently been too afraid to ask out anyone until he met me.

That one day, when everything went wrong, Gideon was working on his dissertation, which meant he was in cutoffs in bed with me, the fan whirring over us while he was getting political about something or other. He was always getting political, even though his PhD had nothing to do with politics and was called "Temporal Modes of Discourse and Ekphrasis in Elizabethan Poetry." Even he didn't like his dissertation. He was always opening some musty book, reading for a while, then closing it and saying, "You know what's wrong with these facist corporations?" No matter how you responded, you'd always be wrong because he'd say, "Exactly!" then go on to tell you his theory, which had nothing to do with anything you'd just said.

He was philosophizing, per usual, all worked up with nervous energy while feeding our crickets. "And you," he said, unscrewing a cricket jar, looking at the cricket but speaking to me, "you think the neoindustrial complex doesn't pertain to you, but it does, because by tacitly participating blah blah blah you're engaging in blah blah commodification of workers blah blah blah allowing the neo-Reaganites to blah blah blah, but you can't escape the dialectic."

His thing that summer was crickets -- I don't know why. Maybe it was something about the way they formed an orchestra at night. All around our bed with the sky too hot and the torn screen windows, all you could hear were those damn crickets, moving their muscular little thighs and wings to make music. He would stick his nose out the window and smell the air. Sometimes he would go out barefoot with a flashlight and try to catch a cricket. If he was successful, he'd put it in one of those little jars -- jars that once held gourmet items like tapenade and aioli. I'd never heard of these things before, but with Gideon, I'd find myself eating tapenade on fancy stale bread one night, and the next night we'd rinse out the jar, and, voila, a cricket would be living in it.

Whenever he'd come back to bed from gathering crickets, he'd try to wedge his cold, skinny body around my fetal position. "Come closer," he'd say. And I'd want to and, then again, I wouldn't want to. He always smelled different after being outside. Like a farm animal or watercress. Plus, he had tons of calluses.

Sometimes I'd stare in the mid-darkness at how white he was. If I pressed his skin, he'd bruise deep fuchsia, and you'd be able to see it even in the dark. I was very dark compared to him. He was so white, it was freaky sometimes. Other times it was kind of cool and beautiful, how his skin would glow against mine, how our bodies together looked like art.

Well, that one day -- after he'd railed against the Federal Reserve Board, NAFTA, the gun lobby and the neoindustrial complex -- we fed the crickets and went to bed. When I say went to bed, I mean we made love. I used to call it sex, but Gideon said I might as well call it rape. Making love was all about the mind. One time, when we were in a position that would have been beautiful art, he said, "Look at me. Really look at me." I didn't like looking at people when I did it, and when I looked at him, we locked eyes, and I must admit, it did feel different. Like we were -- for a moment -- part of the same picture.

THAT NIGHT WE DID IT AGAIN. I couldn't say for sure if the condom broke or not, but it all felt weird, and Gideon said, "The whole condom-breaking-thing is a myth." But we looked at it under the light, the condom looking all dead and slimy, and finally he threw the thing across the room, where it stuck to the wall like a slug, then fell. "Lifestyles! Who the hell buys Lifestyles ?"

"They're free at the clinic," I said. "What do you want, organic condoms?" We looked it over again, but that didn't stop it from being broke. Gideon made a look that just about sent me over the edge.

I had to think. I went in the bathroom and sat on the toilet. I'd done everything right. I hadn't gotten pregnant or done drugs or hurt anybody. I had a little life, working at Pita Delicious serving up burgers and falafel. Almost everything was awful, but the falafel wasn't half bad. It was at Pita Delicious where I first met Gideon, with his bobbing nosetip and Afro-Jewish hair. The Syrian guys who owned the place always made me go and talk to him, because they didn't like him. The first couple of times he came in, he'd tried talking to them about the Middle East, and even though he was on their side, they still hated him. "Talk to the Jew," they said whenever he came in. Soon we were eating falafel on my break, with Gideon helping me plot out how I was going to go back to school, which was just a figure of speech, because I hadn't entered school in the first place.

When I came back to bed, Gideon was splayed out on top of the blanket, slices of moonlight on his bony body. "All right," he said. "Let's get a pregnancy test."

"Don't you know anything? It's not going to work immediately."

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