My thesis partner slides two DVDs across the table. One is The Fresh Prince Season 2, and the other a Chris Rock special. I wake up to fifty notifications from My New York Times subscription. Russia has invaded Ukraine. War is eminent, and in all the colorful, glossy ways a newspaper can say Fuck you Putin without saying Fuck you Putin, it does. My roommate is Polish, and I find her in tears near our kitchen counter. What will happen to Poland she asks, her all too green eyes all too wide. I am suddenly privy to the information that the KGB Bar with its Soviet propaganda posters plastered over every inch of the second floor is in fact, Ukrainian. It will no longer stock Russian vodka. I can see the owners rushing to their Red Room on the third floor when the news broke out, emptying the clear liquor onto 4th Street from the safety of their window.
Our revolution will come from Instagram stories. My Muslim friends are outraged at how well the New York Times has reported Russia attacking Ukraine. Where was this coverage, this vitriol last week or the week before that or the week before that and so on when Israel bombed Gaza back to Before Christ. I live next to The New York Times building, and I thought I should go ask. You must understand and this is very very important. The New York Times has a sick tote bag, and it was already in my shopping cart. Now that the New Yorker is a mainstream tote bag corporation, that’s where the trend will go, and I need to be on top.
On Facebook people are even angrier and it’s more real, because if you’re on Facebook in 2022 you don’t care what people think of you. Here the Anti-Israel sentiment is straight up antisemitic. Now my uncles and aunts, I don’t think really understand the difference. I think about drafting a post that highlights how Judaism and the state of Israel are, get this, two different things but remember that an assignment that is due. I fail to see the value of Younis Bin Azeem being the champion of Jewish rights on a Lahore Facebook feed. There are 200 Jewish people in Pakistan, my uncle has 214 friends on Facebook, and are any of these people going to do this assignment?
Outside The New York Times building a huge billboard has gone up that accuses the Times of burying Jewish voices. Someone posts the pastrami on rye from Katz Delicatessen on a Pakistan culinary group. Is that Halal, all the comments scream? Someone writes it’s Kosher. People delete their comments. We eat Kosher.
I select the Chris Rock CD. Is that cause Chris Rock has the moral high ground or I can see Will Smith slapping me if I ever do stand up again? You know our boy Zelensky, fighting the good fight in Kyiv, was also a comedian. Reddit has exploded and everything has been pushed elsewhere. Someone asks what if Will Smith was white, it’s followed by what if Chris Rock was a woman followed by what if it was on the street and not on the Oscar stage?
What if and get this, Will Smith was the dude behind the Katz counter and he slapped Putin on the streets of Islamabad as Hamas and the IDF bombed them both from above.
The point of this really is that somewhere during all this, the dollar pizza I lived on silently went up to a dollar fifty. You know the place right? On Perry Street and 7th Ave?
My heart shatters when I see the menu, and the shards turn further inwards. Tangible pain. Real problems. Ali, the guy who runs the place comes out for a smoke and starts explaining. He believes he owes me an explanation. I am a patron of this fine establishment. It’s the war my guy he says. Everything is going up. Up. Up. Up. The sack of flour that was 32 is 50. What can I do?
He’s smoking a Marlboro and I’m having one too. I offer him another cigarette. The street rate for a loosie is a dollar. I think to myself Please accept it Ali. Maybe if you do, we can adjust this in the pizza. My friend weeps in York, PA because her grandmother has just passed away. All she wants is five more minutes. Five fucking minutes and the world can’t even grant that. There is nothing I can do from here. Here in New York where things are good. Where the vodka is Ukrainian. Where I go to the mosque on 72nd and Riverside in the afternoon, and Katz for lunch.
Where dollar pizza is now a dollar fifty. Ali please, Ali take the fucking cigarette! I’m sorry he says. I stamp on my cig till it becomes crumbs. The moon hangs overhead, suspended by threads I cannot see. It is 2:35 in the morning. I lean over the sidewalk and retch dust and rockets and plastic cheese and stars into the eyes of Oscar Wilde. He lies there in the gutter, body seizing in tune with the 1 train, arms folded, on his back, looking up
Younis B. Azeem was born and raised in Islamabad, Pakistan. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School that he attended as a Fulbright Scholar, and currently teaches Writing at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan.