The i-House

January 2, 2011

I tightened my grip around my purplish-blue cup with Miss You painted across it. My red-head Canadian class-/building-mate and I just said our good-byes as she took a left to get to her dinner date. I stayed on 59th. It was a little after 6 pm, which technically isn’t really late at all. But in Southside Chicago, it was late enough to warrant mug-gripping vigilance.

Baqar, my Pakastani friend, invited me and another Egyptian friend, Doaa, to have Pakastani tea at his humbling abode, the International House. We were asked to bring our own mugs as our host had none but one. So I stuffed my favorite and tiniest mug, made by my dear brothers and dear cousins as a farewell gift for Chicago, in the pocket of my poufy blue coat and headed out. I ran into my Canadian friend as we were both exiting the building. In tacit relief for the unexpected company, we crossed the daunting Midway Park together.

Twenty minutes later, I was buzzed into the i-House.

“What’s that on your coat?” was the first thing Baqar asked me as I walked in.  I anxiously scoured my coat. He pointed to a tag that was pinned to my upper left pocket.

“oh. It’s from snowboarding. I went snowboarding for the first time over this break”.

“Well take it off. It doesn’t make you look cool you know”.

I pondered over that statement for a moment. I thought about my thermal underwear under my jeans that kept me warm but also made me walk funny. Like a penguin. An image that was further fostered by my poufy coat that made my mitten-covered hands stick out like flippers. I readjusted my oversized and permanently blotchy glasses for the umpteenth time and poked my unruly hair under my new hat (purchased for half price for being ‘damaged’). Cool was hardly the right word to describe my general demeanor and I wondered whatever prompted him to make that association. I tugged at the tag unsuccessfully which inspired him to reach out and rip it off completely.

Baqar is not a rude person. He’s just honest, well-meaning, and entirely oblivious to social niceties.  He is also one of my favorite people in Chicago. Our relationship revolves around constantly arguing about just about everything. High on the list was religion of course. I remember the first time I met him at orientation he managed to get me all worked-up by flatout accusing me of being an Americanized Egyptian. Not your typical conversation-starter, to say the least.

Last night too, he got me so worked up, my eyes were blazing away in fury and self-indignation. I probably was slightly too loud as well. We were talking about the religious relevancy of ways in which a person can wash his or her self after excrement.

We sipped Pakistani tea as the discussion dragged on. Doaa and Baqar were arguing it was not, citing the Qur’an and hadith. I mainly just had sparks of incredulity shooting out of my ears and blurted words such as asinine and belittling, pleading common sense.

I had generally gotten better at controlling my temper, but I attributed my inappropriate combustibility in the i-House lounge to the general quality of my day up to that point. Before heading out, I had just spent the better part of my day watching movies and tv shows off of my laptop. I had relinquished willpower and submitted to the mind-numbing droll of television for the whole of six hours after a brief morning excursion revealed that the Hyde Park area was effectively shut down for New Year’s Day. After my watching mania, a general state of emotional desensitization ensued. I had semi-consciously transitioned into a passive receptive mode to escape the nearly intolerable emptiness that seemed to have engulfed the windy city.  Chicago appeared to have turned a cold shoulder on its tenants. On my morning walk, the wind was so harsh it pushed me off of the daunting Midway crossing.  It felt like I was being unjustly evicted. Dismissed. Thrown out. Like I was not welcome anymore.  When I finally got home, I warmed up my left over pizza and drowned into the six-hour daze.

I almost called Baqar and Doaa to cancel our plans. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sustain any type of social interaction. Ultimately, I just went for it.

What’s funny about this whole episode is how ironic this conversation seemed to be, given the context. I have never had to argue or even discuss the issue of whether using Kleenex to wipe one’s rear end was a question of religion in Egypt. I knew it was a question out there that some people discussed. But it was a distant and nebulous question that I never had to articulate my feelings towards. A lackadaisical silly or that’s sad was generally considered a potent enough argument and no one ever felt the need to push it further. The absurdity of it was plain enough. Here, in Chicago, it was an hour-long debate with rebuttals and citations.

The discussion ended cordially with plans for lunch the following day. I apologized for losing my temper, but in truth I was grateful for it. I had been inundated with the anesthetic humdrum of TV and consumed with Chicago’s sudden surliness. I was grateful to be roused out of my stupor. I put on my coat and stuck my Miss You mug in my pocket. I walked out of the i-House with a more cheery outlook and a friendlier Chicago to greet. Knowing its capricious nature, I still gripped my mug ready to whup any potential culprit, but this time with a smile and a lighter heart.

2 Responses to “The i-House”

  1. Yehia said

    I enjoy everything you write sometimes I see u sometimes I see me
    Love you and miss u

  2. Khaled Morshedy said

    Thinking and laughing…one of my favorite entries, for some reason.
    Take Care

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