My friend Nicholas is telling everyone that before winter he will be moving to Saudi Arabia.
The reason: women aren't allowed to drive there.
Given that I just published a novel set in Saudi Arabia, it seemed like a bad idea. Stay in Culver City.
But this made sense to him, despite the objections of his female friends who never found him attractive, as well as a few of his male friends that are popular with these same women. The accusation was that something fundamentally misogynist underlies his repatriation. I'm afraid of the fallback for saying this but my duty is to report with honesty--these are chest hair-raising times for males to say anything about women. That's even if, like Nicholas, you've been rear-ended by a disproportionate number of women, and this is your remedy. But he reminds us that he loves both women and femininity more than anything in the cosmos, even though that only adds to his woes. You see, as it turns out, in this millennium, loving women in whatever way Nicholas does and wanting to move to Saudi Arabia is rather like being an Arab at an airport in this millennium. You really can't win. You're pinned against the wall. So he told me not to say anything to anyone about why he's looking at listings for air-conditioned duplexes on the sandy outskirts of Riyadh. But I'm a writer, so I must apologize, "Nicholas."
An actress friend told him that were it really because of the driving, he ought to consider somewhere littoral, like Venice or Hydra, avoid cars altogether. But Bill loves his horsepower too much for that, so what he told her was that he had a job opportunity in the Middle East. He has no such opportunities. In fact, he may not even be able to afford a car once there. He's a loser at heart, in every respect, except for his knowledge of modern fiction. And the one thing distinguishing him from many of us is his sexual attraction to women in burqas.
Once you fly from Tehran or Dubai to Paris, you'll understand, he related to me while downing his third Bloody Mary in an hour.
I still didn't understand.
So he upped the ante, drooling a bit. Married women in burqas like me a lot, he said next. In fact, they're pretty much the only women who like me. And wouldn't you know it, but they're very needy. Sexually, of course.
He had become attracted to the one demographic that showed any interest in him. So why don't you just go to Paris every once in a while? I asked. Seek out other desperate, unhappy spouses.
Nicholas became frustrated. I told you already. I'll live in a society where women aren't allowed to drive. And the kicker is they're drawn to me. I finally got my finger on understanding their hormones. What's wrong with that, Bernard?
It was his life. Maybe I ought to encourage him to go. An Arab proverb instructs that if you see someone will fall off a mountain anyway, you ought to give a push.
Their husbands have too many wives to keep track of, he said.
It wasn't looking good for Nicholas, so I warned him. When you're the sole, practically alcoholic descendant of Norwegians living in a suburb of Wahhabis, bedding all these women in burqas isn't prudent. At some point your good fortune with turning on veiled women will backfire.
Well, I've got that covered. I'll tell my neighbors that I am teaching English.
These women don't learn English in apartments. And doesn't it bother you that underneath the burqa you don't know what's lurking?
Nicholas orders another drink, leans forward. It doesn't matter. Because the thing is, you pretend you know what is underneath a woman. You look in their eyes. But I have been looking inside myself my whole life and still I don't know anything. I don't know who I am. So the burqa is perfect. It doesn't matter who the other person is. We take a bath together and everything in the world is perfect, for a moment. If you were wearing a burqa right now, I would like you, too.