I arrive at the bar in a state of high dudgeon, not to say mid-argument with the taxi driver, who has just offered me $200 for sex (which, yes, I find offensive, although, I guess, at least it wasn’t $20) and then tripled our pre-agreed cab fare when I say no.
“NO!” I say (recalling an exchange my father had along these lines with an Athenian taxi driver when I can’t have been older than Z is now, minus the preceding proposition, of course). “YOU give me the 5000 change now. After YOU give ME the 5000, I give YOU this 10,000.”
He hands it over rather sulkily and honour (or lack of it) is satisfied. I figure my skinny jeans must be tighter than they feel.
Or, of course, it could be the old single mother = prostitute issue playing out. We are, after all, in the Middle East.
“Ooh! Hello!” I say. It’s that doorman I last saw at the gay night. “Do you know that man just offered me $200 for sex and then tried to charge me $10 from downtown?!”
He shrugs and sniggers. “Welcome to Beirut!” he says.
This is a good bar, but not primarily a cocktail bar, I’m here for fun after my work stuff, though if I can read my handwriting, I’ll probably write it up.
“Negroni, please,” I say to the bartender. “No soda! I’m not having a good evening.”
And then I inflict my cab driver story on him, too.
I’m dancing with a group of hipsters when one of them, the gay one, starts buying rounds of shooters. Beirutis love their shooters, in particular one called the dou dou, which is vodka, tabasco and lemon with an olive in it.
He’s a club promoter. He’s affecting keen interest in my cab driver story.
And I’ve decided he’s gay.
No matter how many times he tells me he’s not gay, I say, “You must be! That’s a gay moustache. That’s a TOTALLY gay moustache!”
It’s not, actually, I’ve now figured out that it is, in fact, a hipster moustache, but to anyone my generation it speaks of back-pocket handkerchief codes (side note: Elton John’s husband has, allegedly, been known to go out with a starred handkerchief in his back pocket. Oh, work it out!) and Earl’s Court Road and leather jackets.
Still, in my brain, he’s not someone I’m going to sleep with, he’s my new gay friend.
He is, like most people in the bar, younger than me — but hey! I’m wearing makeup! And it’s dark! — plus everyone in here’s so utterly lathered I even feel comfortable dancing.
We’re in conversation about how similar Beirut and Tel Aviv are – he has friends from Tel Aviv, but as the two countries are still technically at war, they can only hang out in Ibiza – when this cherub walks into the bar.
Great! He knows my gay friend! Wicked!
He’s also hot, drunk and clearly not too picky!
All three criteria met. Thanking you!
Time washes away in a flood of gin and tonics and dou dou shooters and I find myself sucking face at the bar, with the cherub, who turns out to be 26.
Yeah, I know.
“Everyone in Beirut hates you,” I say.
“Yeah,” the cherub says. “I know.”
“Seriously, you spend more than 15 minutes talking to anyone and they’re bitching about the generators,” I say. “If I were you, I’d lie about your job.”
One of many, many bizarre things about Lebanon is its infrastructure. Hezbollah runs the infrastructure in its bits of the country, so much so that when the government tried to insist they moved over to the same phonelines as everyone else they invaded Beirut and blew some stuff up.
In the rest of the country, there are a limited numbers of generators, so most businesses have their own generators to cope with when the electricity goes out, which it does most evenings with tiresome frequency.
This is because, as others have explained to me, and the cherub will explain to me, “Yeah, if we got more generators prices would go down and it would be like a normal job. I’d be earning $1000 a month! I spend that on my cellphone!”
“You need a new contract,” I say. “That’s just stupid.”
“What?” he says.
“Spending a thousand bucks a month on your cellphone. That’s stupid.”
Though, if Lebanese telecoms work the same way as Lebanese power infrastructure, I guess he doesn’t have much choice.
“No,” my new gay friend is explaining to me for, perhaps, the fifteenth time, demonstrating reserves of patience that with sober hindsight beggar belief. “I’m not gay. In fact, I’m very attracted to you, and until he came along, I was hoping that we could get together.”
“Oh,” I say. “Sorry ’bout that. You’re not friends, are you?!”
“We were at school together,” he says. “I hadn’t seen him for years until he walked in here.”
“Oh,” I say.
The cherub has also explained this to me but – and until I got to Egypt I’d always assumed that Middle Easterners couldn’t hold their drink, whereas at least the ones I’ve tried to match make Russians look like a bunch of pussies – what with an evening’s bar reviewing under my belt and now keeping up with the shooter rounds, my grasp on events is kinda fuzzy.
Every time, in fact, I’ve found myself drinking with Middle Eastern men I’ve been comprehensively outdrunk.
Which, as someone who’s been reviewing bars on and off for pretty much two decades, is not, actually, all that usual.
I could always STOP drinking, of course. But I’m enjoying myself.
And what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Oh yeah, going home with a cherub!
And, given I am child-free, at leisure and actively not looking for a life partner, that’s not a bad thing at all.
“Why are you wearing your seatbelt?” the cherub asks, heading into a particularly savage turn at speed.
We are on the way back from his pick of hotel, because he has the national infrastructure to fuck up this morning and his dad (I’m guessing it’s his dad, though possibly it’s his uncle or his brother) will kill him if he’s late.
A myriad answers race through my head, in roughly this order…
Because you’re Lebanese. You’re male. You’re 26. You’re drunk. You’ve been up all night. And, even by Lebanese standards, your driving style is absolutely fucking terrifying.
“Look!” he says, laughing. “No hands!”
“Yeah,” I say, tensing on reflex then forcibly relaxing, because if you’re going to hit something, especially at this speed, you want to go in floppy. “The thing is, I was in a car crash a month or so ago. I still have the holes in my head, and I do have a child, so when you… Jesus!”
He’s going for the overtake. With no hands.
My hands go towards my face on reflex, but I restrain the movement for fear of encouraging him further.
“How are you going to cope at work?” I ask weakly.
“Oh,” he says blithely. “I’ll probably do some coke.”
I am afflicted by nostalgia for those halcyon days when I had the energy and dynamism of youth and drugs and I were friends (as I explained à propos of a séance, drugs and I are through).
“Call me when I finish work,” he says. “12 hours from now.”
I don’t. I need to be up before 4am to make my flight to Dahab, where I intend to get a house, stay out of mischief, do some work and generally prepare for the return of my beloved spawn.
Further, while the younger me would have partied straight through and got on the plane still buzzing, I’m a responsible adult now. Allegedly.