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Bad Day at the Cat-Pee Cafe


My father doesn’t speak French or Arabic.  He only speaks English actually.  When my parents visited me in Morocco, my father was always trying to speak to the Hassan the concierge of our riad (Riads are centuries old houses that contain a large, open inner courtyard that do a pretty good job of ridding their inner world of all the noise from the streets.  Perfumed flora, colorful tiles, and large, open roofs produce an agreeable atmosphere that must be experienced whilst in Morocco) for something or another and it just didn’t quite work out. 

What a spectacle.  None of them spoke the others language.  I knew when I heard my father’s voice down in the courtyard speaking English to Hassan, he would be forced to respond and pure nonsense would ensue.  It was like a hen trying to talk to a donkey.  Of course it wasn’t long before my name would come pouring through my windows for help. 

“KahLees!”  That’s the way most Moroccans (and French people too) say my name.  My father instigated this butchering of my name each time he went down to talk to Hassan.  I never did quite understand this exercise in utter futility.  It happened a few times a day.  They both knew that they would not be able to understand the other, but damned if they weren’t going to keep on poking away at it trying to force the other’s hand at learning the ins and outs of THEIR language in the course of each conversation. 

We traveled to Marrakech, which is where this farce took place.  My parents were quite transfixed with the whole panorama of Jemma Fna as everyone who experiences it for the first time usually is.  Acrobats, story-tellers, magic sellers, finger foods, pickpockets, monkey fur, fruit flies, horse hooves and dirty trousers.  All of it is for sale and all of it is a spectacle experienced uniquely in this Jewel of the Desert. 

Our first night there, we met a man.  He urged us to go to this traditional Moroccan eatery for dinner and tea.  I let him know that this is not a unique business idea here as tourism draws everyone to “traditional Moroccan eateries.”  They abound here.  His response to my knowledge was that this is one of those places that is “well hidden and no one knows about.”

I love this.  If it is a place that no one knows about, how does it manage to stay in business?  Who do you think you are?  Vasco de Gama?  People who give us these words and attach them to some special place act as though they are some fearless explorer who has forged new paths and done all of our footwork for us.  Of course people know about these secret venues and they really can’t be hidden.  Any idiot who opens a business and expects it to stay hidden is either a Ding Dong or lying about its existence.  Location, Location, Location anyone? 

After stumbling through a few alleys, we ultimately found it.  Someone who thought they could speak English pretty well clearly translated the name of this establishment, but perhaps Arabic has a different connotation.  Either way, there was no mistaking it.  The Black Towel stood before us like a virgin wilderness.  Written under the name was, “Friendly, little Moroccan Wenches to serve you tasty little napkins.”   I had never been served tasty napkins before.  I felt like Darwin on the isles of Galapagos.  I didn’t realize the new species of Moroccan I would unearth within those walls and I’m sure Charlie would have been proud to know that I was bold enough to undertake the adventure.  The wispy smoke seemed to dance with the light as we stood there wondering what to do.  What else could we do?  Our hands parted the strings of beads to see what mystery lied on the other side. 

As we entered, we found that out source was correct.  The place was a definite treasure.  If nothing else because of the odoriferous tang of cat excrement that apparently had set up housing in the carpets of the establishment years before.  I think it is these types of unique traits that actually make people want to spout off about how great of a place they have found.  If it has one-of-a-kind additions to it like kittie tinkle, then obviously it’s great and since we were told by some random guy that it was great, well he must be great for having found it.  Who are we to argue with this clear expert (whom had disappeared for the rest of our natural lives seconds after we met him, as is the case most of the time in these sorts of situations) on the finer nighttime activities of a city as foreign to him as it was us? 

As we approached a table, we noticed the sign was right.  There really was a friendly little Moroccan band playing friendly little Moroccan tunes and a friendly little Moroccan staff of bar wenches ready to help serve us friendly little traditional Moroccan foods.  Our wench resembled a male pirate.  She took our order and walked away mumbling something that sounded like “Batman likes apples.”  Translation was a killer here.  After a few minutes of getting a feel for the new surroundings, our olfactory membranes had become deadened to their new intruder and we were actually able to commence with enjoying our cozy environs.  I started to notice a theme here.  I think if nothing else can be taken from my experiences in this country, the underlying idea of smell should be taken to heart.

As we were getting comfortable in The Black Towel, a minor argument seemed to be brewing in the kitchen.  A few choice words were bouncing around the restaurant.  Add the words to the odor, what do we have?  Not the most approachable of atmospheres and definitely not a five star ship being sailed here. 

Picture this.  If you walked by a restaurant that smelled like kitty left over and you heard people playing nasty insult tennis, would you make a beeline to be part of this social psychological experiment?  For the next five minutes, the argument bled out of the kitchen and into our vicinity.  Half of the band wanted to play louder which didn’t really work because the other half of the musicians wanted to watch and know what was going on.  Moroccans, be they musicians or not, always enjoy a spectacle.  What a feast for the senses!  We had half a band of musicians too busy staring to play, a fight, and one or two really loud drummers and recorder players playing to offset the staring of the other musicians.  It was as though they were trying to create a soundtrack to this occurrence.  All it did was accentuate the fact that this was not a common occurrence at Chez Feline Piss. 

This was permeating everywhere.  The verbal aggressor started squirming around as though someone had just now announced that it was time for him to be circumcised and castrated (an endeavor that would have had my unadulterated backing) simultaneously at this advanced stage of his life.  Our final analysis was that the guy had consumed a drink or thirty and was allowing the alcohol to run what remained of his motor skills. 

Imagine someone who had just swallowed about forty lit cherry bombs.  This kid made an onstage Joe Cocker look as though he had a serious spinal injury.  And while that may have been pretty interesting in context, it just didn’t really fit in given the circumstances of being in Morocco.

King Convulsion was spewing all kinds of interesting new vocabulary words to my little pitchered ears.  I actually learned some fun things to say from this veritable fountain of lush lingo.  Unfortunately, I never was really able to ascertain the actual problem he had with every entity in his field of vision.  It appeared “Bring your addiction to work night” didn’t quite work out as the owners of The Black Towel with Bar Wenches had planned.  As he himself finally spilled out onto the dining room floor from the kitchen, he was offering to take swings at just about anyone his little arms could reach out and touch.  More of us became entranced. 

My parents could scarcely believe what was happening.  They are used to the American way of things, that if we see an argument such as this, then it’s logical that what would follow would be a fight of grand proportions.  To them, it appeared that we were on the brink of an all out rumble and in the tradition of an old Star Trek episode when Kirk got leery of any given alien, his stunt double would resort to a Starship Enterprise style ass roasting that would have a magnetic domino effect causing us all to be sucked in.  We’d soon all be locked in to battle.  To the untrained foreigner’s eye, this is how things appeared.  I knew better because I know that Moroccans do this a lot. 

The first time I saw it, I was sort of dumbfounded, but I have become accustomed to this behavior.  They blow up and yell, flailing arms, volcanic words, and usually appear to be gesticulating nothing short of Animal on the drum kit from the Muppets.  It is quite the opposite at home in America, because in many cases, there is no build up at all and fights can explode from nothing.  Such as the type of sock someone is wearing or the name sewn onto their pants pocket.  A sucker punch is commonplace enough for us to make a phrase defining what it is.  While in Morocco, there is a build up and a few tremors but nothing ever really physical happens.  Sucker punching isn’t really practiced.  The spectacle is comparable to a gorilla knocking his chest for show but not acting on it, as this man was doing.  He was taking swings knowing that what he was doing would never really amount to hurting anyone.  Eventually, he was called upon by many of the staff to kindly exit and to sleep off the evenings contest winner, Jack Daniels.  A squadron of female waitresses finally full-nelsoned him to the ground.

My parents took this crack pot buffoon to be some sort of wild mad man capable of blowing up many buildings.  They were sure he was out masterminding some terror organization that would be able to seek out any American within a four country radius, target them and take them prisoner only to force them to make African Tinker Toys for underprivileged children in the Ivory Coast.  This type of man, who I have seen just about every day of my tenure in Morocco would be lucky to know how to plan the tying of his shoe. 

Observing him through western eyes, we may dig around and find something different than the truth.  My father seems to have become worried by this type of behavior because he thought if a war would break out, someone like him may launch their own attack on someone like me.  This man had seemingly drank a few drinks but I highly doubt he would reach that level.  Half the time when I see men on the streets talking to their friends, they are pushing, pulling, tugging, and giving noogies to their friends shirts as it looks like that the whole scene may be a preamble to a WCW smack down.  And these are friends talking together.  It is just a completely different style of mannerisms and body language that we are not accustomed to. 

My parents saw this for the first time.  They took the alarmist route and jumped to the not necessarily so illogical conclusion that I wasn’t safe in the country because of this dope’s flailing arms.  The most interesting part of this whole exchange that after the little tango between the man and his ladies ended, and he was successfully pushed out the door, our order sort of got lost in the mix, so we never really did get to see if our sage tour guide was right in his opinion about this hidden treasure of Moroccan cuisine. 

After doing a little bit of a huddle with The Fam, we realized that it might be best to exit ourselves as quickly and as quietly as possible from our favorite place that we will never go to again, The Black Towel.           

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