As we sat in the Iraqi restaurant (in Kentucky) I felt increasingly apprehensive. I was visiting with a friend and his girl. It wasn't them. And it wasn't the Iraqi proprietress, it was the other Americans. There was a large table of Americans sitting together enjoying dinner, or perhaps plotting. A Caucasian waitress comes to take our order and I become increasingly more frightened. Straight ahead of me there is a belly dancer in exotic clothing who is handed a sword by some long-haired yokel who takes a seat with the potentially dangerous conspirators.
Fear turns to confusion when I realize I thought belly dancing was primarily a Moroccan thing, extending across North Africa perhaps, but not to Iraq. Don't pay me too much mind about that, I'm not a traveled person. But was the dancing just in the interest of entertaining the unknowing, uncaring American patrons? Is one Arabic speaking country just as good or the same as the next to us? Can we mix and match Middle Eastern novelties? Two young, good looking Arab girls walk in and start smoking a "Hooka" and speaking in Arabic to the Iraqi owners. They are more mysterious than the American family but less ominous. Both parties seem equally unapproachable. The American waitress brings our stuff. I feel like I have seen her in a barbecue joint before or someone like her playing a waitress in a movie in a scene in a barbecue joint. Or perhaps it was a Cracker Barrel, but not in a movie or on TV.
The food is excellent. Humus and stuffed grape leaves with lamb and some other spices I don't know about. But it was great. Middle Eastern food hits the spot. The belly dancer came out again. She didn't look Iraqi to me but that does not mean that she wasn't. After she finishes she sits with the ominous group, who were becoming increasingly more evil looking by the minute for no particular reason that I can pinpoint. I decided the belly dancer was nice and possibly somehow the victim of some situation that would remain unclear. The "Hooka" girls are wearing jeans and laughing amongst themselves and I wish I was sitting with them, speaking Arabic and puffing tobacco on that magical looking smoke contraption. But I can do neither and I don't bother to ask.
I realize that I am having these fits of paranoia because we have just seen that new Clint Eastwood film, "Mystic River." That's why my mind is doing these perceptual shifts on my surrounding patrons. The film evokes some diminishing gap between good and evil. Or rather that evil passes for good sometime due to compromise and circumstance. Evil as an entity moving unchecked and invisible through the streets.
Who is evil is a matter of perception and whose interests you have at heart. I could say that murderers are evil and you might agree wholeheartedly. But we might disagree on who is a murderer and who is evil. Perhaps if we all just had a little more information to go on. If we were not so numb to our surroundings we could see things clearer. Me, I try to keep my vision stuck between black and white in shades of gray, but I realized I can't see that way all the time.
Things are never so clear-cut as they say, but that doesn't matter so long as it's official and you saw it right here on and stay tuned for something else. No questions, just commercials. Now fact. Now history. Evil is a smile and a handshake. TV Commercials. It's happening right now somewhere.
The family next to us is still evil and if I let my imagination run wild here, I suppose anything is possible. What are they doing over there? Who are they plotting against? How many will die? I want to know. All I have to do is ask. On the other side of me are the two pretty Middle Eastern girls, eating and laughing just like that all-American family. And smoking that cool Hooka thing that I want to try. All I have to do is ask.
Zach Porter is a photographer for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 256.