Here are two parking stories, both of which I encountered today within a few hours of each other.
While getting my head shaved at my favorite barber, H., this evening in Beirut, I learned that he had just been in a fight with the owner of the shop next door. The fight began as an argument over a parking spot, but soon escalated into a brawl. The local neighborhood boys quickly came out of the woodwork, hustling to H’s defense, but by then he had already gotten the better of his adversary and sent him packing.
As I sat in the chair, my head covered in shaving foam, H. received one phone call after another from people who had heard about the fight and were trying to mediate between the two men. My barber, who is typically a very mild-mannered man, spent half an hour shouting into the telephone, vowing to bring the world down upon the guy’s head if he dared to say a word about parking ever again. There were threats veiled and direct, and mentions of aquaintances with itchy trigger-fingers.
As he fumed and spouted, the phone tucked into the crook of his shoulder, H continued shaving. His hands remained as steady as ever and the straight blade didn’t so much as tremble as he scraped it over my scalp. I sat still and sipped my coffee.
Earlier in the day, my grandmother told me that she’d gotten a call from a police officer a few months back. My aunt was visiting at the time, and she answered the phone. Here’s the conversation, as my grandmother told it:
Officer: May I please speak with Umm Ibrahim?
Aunt: Who’s speaking?
Officer: I’m calling from Maghfar Hbeish.
Aunt: I’m her daughter. Can I help you?
Officer: Yes, it seems your mother hasn’t paid a parking ticket in Hamra for six months.
Aunt: That’s impossible. She never travels to Hamra.
Officer: Well, we have a record here of a ticket for a car registered in her name. The license plate is 1234567.
Aunt: Oh, I see. There’s been a mistake. She sold that car five years ago. The current owner is responsible, not my mother.
Officer: Well, I’m afraid she’ll have to come down to the station to clear it up.
Aunt: What? She’s an old woman! And she lives in the mountains! She can’t come all the way down to the police station in Beirut.
Officer: She’s an old woman? What year was she born?
Officer: 1932?! Let me speak to her.
Aunt: Hold on. Mama! Come speak to the police.
(My grandmother shuffles to the phone)
Officer: What are you still doing driving at your age?
Grandmother: Well, I…
Officer: Stop driving! You’re too old!
Grandmother: Ok, I’ll stop. But what about the ticket?
Officer: Don’t worry about it. I’m tearing it up, and I’m going to write down that the owner of the car is dead.
Grandmother: Thanks, ya habibi. I appreciate it.
Officer: Wa law, ya Sittna? Have a nice day.