Unbeliever, Respect The Veil

Unbeliever, respect the veil
Cease the quest for the Holy Grail
When corporate criminals call the tune
Infidel, respect the crescent moon

Lousy reader, respect the Torah
Cover the eyes that have seen the horror
When do what you wilt is the whole of the law
Heathen man, respect the Halakhah

It’s been twenty-five years of bombs in the desert
Bombs in the desert — that’s the world we’ve made
Nuking Iran won’t make you a man
We don’t need your secular crusade

Techno-conformist, respect the cross
Number the people and count the cost
When disenchantment pulls the world apart
Sophisticate, respect the Sacred Heart

Unbeliever, respect the veil
Stones will weep and walls will wail
Find the rock to build your life upon
Kuffar, respect the holy Quran

Thanks for Visiting


Tris McCall recommends…

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    Many of the country’s legendary old-school delicatessens treat vegetarians like apostates at the temple of meat. Not so at Russell Street Deli (2465 Russell), which is a Detroit institution for all the right reasons. These people understand that vegetables belong between bread, and then the vegetables between bread belong in your face. There’s a whole section on the extensive menu devoted to green sandwiches. I’m partial to the grilled vegetables on rye, which has a classic deli heft to it, but there’s also an avocado melt, a meatless reuben sandwich, and a bunch of other plant-based options. Nice lentil and West African peanut soup, too, if you’re willing to forgo bread for the afternoon. 

  • House of Worship

    There are mosques all over Detroit and Dearborn. Many of them are quite beautiful. But none says “our worship community is large, and established, and will not be pushed around” like the Islamic Center of America (19500 Ford Rd. in Dearborn). Given the present political climate in the country, that’s indispensable. The ICA is large, loud, unapologetic, and absolutely worthy of your serious engagement. Just like Islam itself. 

Spread the word about this Musical Almanac:


Farzad did a head count. Thirty-one, no, thirty-two, that was far too many, even for a gut. Madness — the administration was mad. Then they’d insulted him further: relegation to a basement room in the student union. Chairs were scarce. Farzad ordered some of the freshman boys to knock on the door of Professor Sempler’s classroom, and they did, but Professor Sempler had no desks to spare. Finally Farzad told them to sit where they could. One girl deposited herself in the lap of another and giggled.

Some of these students will drop, he reminded himself. They’d switch out for something else, or they wouldn’t tolerate the crowding, or they’d abort their college experiment early and return to civilian life. Students at the university vanished all the time. He’d wonder if he’d said anything wrong or if the reading load had been too onerous. Then he would discover that a family member had died. A job had fallen through. An imam had forbidden further education. The lives of these students were so much more complicated than his, more vexed; surely more interesting, too — or was that condescending even to think?

This would be his third time teaching The Bible and Near Eastern Literature, or as he preferred it and even wrote it on his syllabus, The Bible in Near Eastern Literature. His was a general education class, which meant it fell into no particular discipline. This was fine with Farzad, because neither did he. Lots of freshmen in the section, many upwardly-mobile Muslim girls in stylish hijab, vaguely attracted to the course description or deposited there by an advisor who felt they’d respond to a teacher born in Tehran. No appreciation for the subtleties of geopolitics among his colleagues, no feel for the distinctions between Islamic traditions. Certainly it could be worse: he could have landed in some horrid little Ivy where the only nonwhites around were there on scholarship. Farzad rather liked Michigan, even in the Stygian hell of a spring semester. Everything frozen to the spot, nonmoving and nongrowing and easy to apprehend, just how he liked it.

He aimed to upend some of their expectations about the Bible: what it was, and what it did, how it was assembled, the uses to which it had been put by the religious and the secular. In his two prior semesters he’d found the students, even the devout ones, diligent revisionists, open to reinterpretation and recontextualization and comfortable receiving the text as literature. Perhaps they’d tried that on for the grade and were eager to shed it at the door of the temple, but he hadn’t had the disruptions he thought he might. So he began his class as he had in the fall, and in the spring before that: he asked, with the wry, disarming, complicit smile he’d perfected in border regions around the globe, the one that best utilized the dimples near his beard and the deep lines at the corners of his eyes, if there were any creationists in the room.

One hand shot up. It was attached to the arm of a boy whose natural tallness had been enhanced to a comic degree by the radiator he’d chosen to sit atop. He’d slid a textbook between his jeans and the hot coils, but he still fidgeted like a popcorn kernel ready to burst. Unlike most of the rest of the students, he was fair, with brushed-up curly hair and wide pupils the color of a chlorinated swimming pool. Farzad asked him to introduce himself.

“Jonas, sir.”

“Jonas, you’re a believer in intelligent design? God created you and me and the rest of the galaxy?”

“I don’t ‘believe it’. It’s the case.”

Some tittering, some head-shaking; more, Farzad felt, in response to Jonas’s appearance than anything he’d said. He’d hiked his pants well north of his bellybutton, and his collarless work shirt was at least two sizes too small. Perched on the radiator, anxious and hot-assed, Jonas spoke in the high and wheedling twang of the Great Plains. Farzad did not push him farther. It was a long semester; plenty of time to work out why they all believed the things they believed. The professor pivoted and began his first lecture — the material conditions of the writing of the Gospels and the epistles, the New Testament environment, the power of Rome and the international politics of two thousand years ago. Farzad began to be absorbed, as he always was, in the rhythms and cadences of his own speech. This feels right, he thought, imparting wisdom. As destinies went, it was not half bad.

So it went for the next ninety minutes — some students engaged and lively, other faces glazed over, girls anxious to please the teacher, boys already thinking about the various preoccupations of their lives outside the classroom. Jonas, Farzad noticed, did not participate in the discussion. He was, however, attentive throughout, slow-roasting on his radiator but never breaking his concentration. There he sat, as Farzad approached the end of his lesson, and concluded with one of his standard exhortations: embrace the Bible, he told the kids, and the Bible will embrace you back.

“Unless you’re gay,” said a squarish, athletic boy. Much merriment ensued.

Ah, thought Farzad, an opportunity to slip into one of his favorite scriptural apologetics. Better early in the class than late, he supposed. The Bible, he told the class, is remarkably thin on the subject of homosexuality. So rarely do Biblical writers approach the subject, said Farzad, that it could be reasonably said that the Bible hasn’t got much of a position on homosexuality at all.

“Not true,” said Jonas, flatly but clearly, from the radiator. This time he didn’t bother to raise his hand.

“Oh? A few scattered verses in a text of hundreds of thousands of words? Many of them internally contradictory and begging the interpretation of the reader?”

“You aren’t weighting those verses properly.”

“Illuminate us.” Farzad held his hands open, palms up.

“Leviticus 18:22, thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, it is an abomination. That’s part of the holiness code. It’s the first big set of laws that God gives Moses on Sinai. It’s bedrock. All the other composers of scripture wouldn’t need to repeat it. They already know it.”

“Well, I wouldn’t –”

“But they do repeat it. It’s important enough that it’s returned to anyway. Romans, that’s the heart of the New Testament. Romans 1:27, right at the beginning of the letter, it’s a condemnation. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of woman, burned in their lust one unto another, men with men, working that which is unseemly. God gave them up unto vile affections. There it is. Can’t duck it.”

“Believe me, professor,” added Jonas, “I don’t like it any more than you do.”

Later, at home in Corktown, at her prompting, he told Ségolène all about the class, including Jonas’s coda to it. That little shit, she said.

“He’s actually rather tall.”

“Pure intolerance. I suppose you had your hands full with alarmed young men and women after he’d finished his preaching.”

Actually, he hadn’t. Nobody reacted much to the recitation of scripture. Most of the class behaved as if Jonas wasn’t there. It was something he’d noticed during prior terms: if a student didn’t look like he belonged, he wasn’t condemned, he was ignored. Perhaps if he’d piped up earlier, it would have been more destabilizing. Ségolène didn’t think so. The students were sleepwalking again.

“The thing was,” said Farzad, in between sips of tea, “he seemed quite intelligent, really. It was strange. It was almost as if he was apologizing for a rude older brother.”

“That’s you all over. Always making excuses for offensive behavior.” She was irritable, he thought, because of the cold. Ségolène wore two sweaters, one right on top of the other, and still she shivered. It was the house: their Victorian was beautifully appointed, but drafty. They’d purchased it in the height of summer. Three months later they’d been forced to confront a hard truth about Detroit — wherever in the city you are, and no matter how thoroughly you renovate, and insulate, the wind always reaches you.

He’d just prepare differently next time, that was all. He’d been caught flatfooted with no good responses at his fingertips. Even now, Farzad readied his rejoinders; of course there were a thousand and one ways to parry Jonas’s thrust. Really he was looking forward to it. He’d happily match wits with the boy. He felt that he could anticipate Jonas’s next moves, and he knew he could box his student into a logical corner. That way, thought Farzad, lay enlightenment. Yes, this was going to be an interesting semester.

After Ségolène had turned off the light and gone to sleep, Farzad stumbled to his laptop and checked the roster for The Bible in Near Eastern Literature. It was thus that he learned that Jonas had dropped his class.

Snow fell to the sidewalk in the squalls; flurries, really, nothing that would trouble a plow. At the picture window, warming his hands on a cup of mint tea, he watched it fall. In a few hours it would warm up, a little bit anyway, and Farzad would direct his bicycle through the drifts. He’d expected to need to learn to drive in the Motor City, but Ségolène had been correct as always: Detroit had changed. Many wide, open streets with little traffic, perfect for cyclists, weather permitting, of course. She’d left a package of those apricot jelly pastries he liked on the dining room table. Also a note apologizing for her beastly behavior the night before. Farzad didn’t recall anything out of the ordinary, but he never refused contrition. Ségolène was long gone — she was probably through with class by now and sparring in a meeting with administrators. Farzad, too, had preparation to do, papers to grade and return, but it was hard to find the motivation on a morning so dreary.

The semester had gone well enough. Two and a half weeks in and not many had dropped — he was still borrowing chairs from Professor Sempler and shoehorning students into the corners of the basement room. They’d been attentive and sometimes even perceptive. His musclebound pupil wanted to discuss the graffiti-bombing of a nearby mosque, which led to a good conversation; Farzad had performed outrage, but found the vandalism too remote from his experience to care all that much about.

Instead, Farzad found himself wishing that Jonas would return. He felt he’d been robbed of a chance to best the boy in a contest of ideas. Certainly he had no wish to humiliate him or anything like that; no, he just thought he’d pry open his mind a bit. Often in mid-lecture he’d imagine Jonas’s voice, coming from the radiator, challenging something he’d said — and Farzad, with the witty riposte, there to enliven the atmosphere and put the boy in his place. But the words died on his tongue. Jonas wasn’t there. Given the difficulties that most of Farzad’s students faced, it was a safe bet that he’d dropped out and returned home.

It was, then, a shock for Farzad to see Jonas, gaunt but red-cheeked and lively, distributing used coats outside a community food bank. Doing my charitable work, he said, and didn’t C.S. Lewis write that the only safe thing for a man to do — the only way to be sure to be right with God — was to give more than he could spare? To feel the pinch of charity; to be inconvenienced by it? Jonas didn’t want to misquote. He hadn’t left school at all. He had a class just after this: he’d finish up in a half and hour and then rush back to campus.

Jonas was adversarial, self-impressed, an unnavigable river. Farzad wanted to smack him hard. He himself was only passing through to get a loaf of bread. An old machine shop in the neighborhood had been repurposed and was now a bakery: Ségolène’s very favorite. Rather than donate to charity they patronized start-up businesses. This, he felt, when he thought about it at all, was a quicker way to assist in the revitalization of the city. This was a major preoccupation among the faculty: what could be done to put the city and its communities back together? Farzad would nod and smile. He didn’t want to get in anybody’s way. He liked Detroit as it was.

With absolute sincerity Farzad invited Jonas to visit him at school. No danger the boy would take him up on the offer — he’d turned his back on the Bible in Near Eastern Literature and chosen a different course of study, whatever that happened to be. But there he was the following afternoon, waiting in the cheap canvas chair outside the door in the lobby of the department of religious studies. Farzad was fifteen minutes late to his own office hours.

“You wanted to see me,” said Jonas.

“What? Oh!, yes, yes, I did. Come in.”

Jonas followed Farzad into his narrow office. Not much on the walls or on the shelves; he hadn’t bothered to decorate the space. No posters advertising campus events, no couch meant for dark carnal purposes, those intense conferences favored by some of his more unscrupulous colleagues. The spare quality of the room made the ornate gold arabesque cover of the compact Quran on Farzad’s desk appear especially gaudy. Jonas stared at it. He looked like a thin feathery bird; a river bird staring into the water in search of a fish to strike. He sat with his arms crossed, waiting for the professor to make his first move.

“Would you like it?” asked Farzad, at a loss. How was he to start the conversation? He didn’t think Jonas would actually come, dammit. What was he doing here?


“No? It’s a nice edition.”

“I’ve read it.”

“In a class?”

“No. I read it on my own.”

“Your impressions?,” asked Farzad, realizing at once the idiocy of his question. Why did everything out of his mouth sound so dimwitted? He may as well have been asking Jonas his opinion of the sky.

“It’s in every way inferior to the Bible.”

“Surely you’re not one of those people who finds the Quran morally objectionable but the Bible unimpeachable. They contain many of the same ideas.”

“But one is true revelation and the other is not.”

This child is impossible, thought Farzad. Intellectually impregnable, a tall brick wall. This was the whole problem with Christians — there was never any wiggle room. That smug authority. Was he a fundamentalist? A charismatic evangelical? Jonas demurred. Those words, he said, don’t have any meaning to him.

“Do you believe everything in the Bible is literally true?”

“Of course not.”

“No?” Now Farzad was confused. But curious, too.

“It’s not literally factually true but the meaning behind the words is true. The writing is from humans. The message is from God. Sometimes it’s parables and sometimes it’s long metaphors. Especially when the word isn’t pleasant but you have to accept it anyway.”

“What about evolution. You said in class you’re a creationist, you don’t accept evolution?”

“None of that is important.”

“Not important? Millions of years of natural history, that’s not important?”

Jonas pulled his head back and lolled open his mouth. Like seals do when receiving dinner at the aquarium, thought Farzad. When he spoke again some of the aggression was gone from his voice, but the dead certainty hadn’t budged a bit. That’s all just… abstraction, said Jonas. Numbers too big to comprehend as anything but a blur. You and I don’t have millions of years. We have seventy years maybe. Every birth creates a world and every death destroys one. We go from Genesis to Revelations, each one of us.

“But you know all this. You’re the professor.”

It could have been sarcastic; Farzad didn’t know for sure. Jonas’s tone didn’t betray him. One-note-Johnny even, no perturbations, the boy should sell something. Farzad huffed and pressed both hands on his desk.

“I’m wondering, Jonas, and I do have to ask. Why did you drop my class?”

“My understanding was I could add and drop classes freely in the first two weeks. With no penalty.”

“That’s not what I asked you.”

Jonas said nothing.

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think you removed the Bible in Near Eastern Literature from your schedule because you believed the instructor was a fraud.”

Again Jonas was still.

Farzad began to move about the small office. You’re not incorrect, he said. Well, fraud, that’s a strong word; maybe underqualified is a better one. There wasn’t much demand in the academy for experts in twentieth-century Persian literature. Gharbadzegi, that he could talk about all day, the Bible, maybe not so much. He owed his position at the university to his wife, the chair of mathematics and one of the leading lights of the faculty. Ségolène, yes, and budget cuts. The hiring freeze made it attractive to select an internal option to fill a vacancy in the department of religious studies. Tenure track job. Lots more money than an adjunct makes. Farzad asked Jonas: was he wrong to take it?

“That’s not for me to say.”

“Sure it is. And I think you did.”

“James 4:11, if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver who is able to save and destroy: who art thou that judgest another.”

Who art thou indeed. What about you, asked Farzad. What are you doing here in frozen Michigan, shouldn’t you be in a seminary somewhere? Jonas turned two blue eyes up toward him and called him sir. This was the only school, he said, that he could afford — the only one that would have him.

“I find that very hard to believe. You’re not unintelligent.”

“It’s true.”

“High school grades terrible?”

“That was very long ago.”

Farzad stopped pacing.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight, sir.”

That pale white skin, insulated by dogma from the passage of time. Those glossy blonde locks, so inelegantly coiffed, each strand in place on a head unmolested by real-life experience. My oh my, Farzad had mistaken him for a damned teenager. Twenty-eight and living in the freshman dormitories. Yes, yes indeed, said Jonas, and the school had been very kind to grant him a special dispensation. Otherwise he’d have nowhere to go. Farzad was overwhelmed with disgust. An eighteen-year-old with doctrinaire Christian beliefs was a project, a thread to be unraveled, kink by stubborn kink. A twenty-eight year old was intolerable. Concrete set in place, unmendable, unmovable, a fissured foundation that could not be removed without destroying the whole house. Farzad picked up the Quran and shut it. I apologize, he said, I really don’t know why I asked you to come here.

“It’s okay,” said Jonas. For the first time, Farzad saw him smile. Then he left.

Nobody came by during office hours. Farzad watched the pale sunbeams rise along the spines of the books in his small library, catching the gilt lettering, authors and publishers, titles pinched from scripture. The Quran on his desk had been a gift from a student he’d had in the prior semester — a Muslim girl from Dearborn whose writing had come alive during his tutelage. Concentrate on her, his achievement with her, not this unreachable specter with his unscientific beliefs.

The Quran, for Farzad, conjured memories of his very early childhood in Iran, before his family fled the advance of the fundamentalists and their prisons, intellectual and otherwise. He’d read it, but didn’t remember much of it. Okay, he’d never read it. But the literature that had formed the basis of his dissertation — it had all referred to the Quran, sometimes derisively. He felt he’d apprehended it through a frosted glass.

Oh, that was an abominable excuse and he knew it. Farzad picked up the book, closed his eyes, opened it, and dropped his finger on a verse. Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed herein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers.

A few days later, Farzad entered a tiny masjid. For anthropological purposes, he told himself, research for his course, something like class preparation, only a bit more hands-on. Once inside, memory took over, orienting him to the washbasin for ablution and Mecca for worship. It had been some time. He’d deliberately chosen a mosque on the outskirts of his neighborhood, far from the routes he was used to traveling with Ségolène. Farzad entered stealthily and covered his head to disguise himself, but there was no one he knew inside anyway. The feeling of surrender, so familiar from his childhood, was not an altogether pleasant one: it chafed against his defensive rationality like a wool scarf at his neck. He dropped to his knees at the behest of the imam. The rhododendron-colored carpet rose fast to swallow him. This, Farzad knew, was not something he could explain to Ségolène, ever. Guilty, he prayed.

Bundled up against the cold, they rode their bikes to brunch: Ségolène going first, her blue skirt flapping over her longjohns, and Farzad at her tail, watching her feet as she pedaled. He’d wanted to call a car. Not only would they freeze on the way, but they’d look ridiculous at the party. Ségolène had insisted: she had not been on a bicycle since autumn, and this was her best opportunity to ride before mid-terms hit. But she was out of practice, and Farzad worried she’d slip and fall. Ahead of him, she grew frustrated: he knew the way better than she did. Why wouldn’t he trust her to follow?

The way was unvexed: straight up Trumbull Avenue to the Boston Edison historic district and the squat green-shuttered home of the President. Farzad had been there before, but only as Ségolène’s dark Iranian consort. Now that he, too, was a member of the faculty, he felt exposed — he was no longer a site of mystery, but just another employee on the same grubby ladder as the rest of the guests. It didn’t help that he found the President hilarious.

The administration had been very good to Ségolène, and was responsible for their present material comfort. The week prior, the President had announced more austerity measures — budget cuts, changes to staffing and scheduling, more centralized control over the departments. The brunch party was designed to mollify the few remaining stars of the faculty.

Together they rolled on Trumbull, past the big windows and crumbling turrets of old homes that hadn’t been maintained, housing projects behind tall iron gates, churches and corner liquor stores advertising lotteries, deserted lots that had been reclaimed by vegetation, a flat warehouse with the word DESTROY hung in white letters over windows choked with concrete. This was the state of Detroit: a city that contained a fraction of the population it had had at its peak, and which was now contracting, giving back to nature what it had taken, homes falling out of the grid, whole city blocks lost or dotted with a building or two. To Farzad, there was nothing threatening about it. On the contrary, it felt pleasant to him. Lots of space and straightaways, hollows to duck into, a great flat in which a person could find his footing.

At the party it was all politics. Professor Reese, flame-haired and sharp-collared, cornered Farzad, as he often did, pointing out the obvious as his sociology line required him to. You are Middle Eastern, he said. How do you get through the day. Are you not in a perpetual state of outrage. Enlightenment called from the far shores of Lake St. Clair: are you not making plans to jump the river to Canada. Farzad smiled.

“You are aware, I am sure, of the spike in hate crimes on campus?”

“Sheer nonsense.” This was fat Professor Westland of the history department, the faculty’s token Republican. Here in Michigan on some bizarre inverse affirmative action program, Ségolène had once joked.

“Deny all you like, you know it’s happening.”

“The lurid imagination of Professor Reese, desperate for some sensation on a cold Sunday.”

Reese was undeterred. Had Farzad heard the latest: a young woman had had her hajib torn off, right off her head, right on the quad, in broad daylight, by a freshman male.

“That story is a known hoax,” said Westland. “Farzad, you’re a sensible man. You don’t buy this bilge, do you?”

“What bilge?”, asked Ségolène. She’d brought over drinks.

“Westland,” said Reese, his face now as red as his hair, “engaged in her usual fascist denialism.”

Professor Westland swung her belly in Farzad’s direction, boxing Reese into a corner. Next he will tell us that the attacker was a conservative Christian. He was!, he was, insisted Reese, he was a holy roller. Intolerant, self-righteous, a bigot armed with a cross.

“Oh, sure, those. Poor Farzad had one of those in his class this semester,” said Ségolène.

“He dropped,” said Farzad.

“Lucky you.” This was Westland. She approved, broadly but blandly, of Christianity as a bulwark of American enterprise. He had no actual love for Christians.

He was a holy roller, continued Reese, and they kept on coming. Arriving radicalized from the echo chambers of the Midwestern churches, organizing into action groups on campus, spreading hate, tomorrow morning they’d be at the student union, they had plans to disrupt the distribution of free Qurans by the Muslim Students Association. There’d be a fight for sure, violence by the university store, the President needed to be made aware, everybody had to be aware.

Naturally, Farzad had a troubled dream that night: Jonas, bare-chested in the snow, with a cross around his neck and his hands on a woman’s headscarf. She stood still, as if bound to a stake in the earth, and he tugged, hard, and as he did, her head pivoted on a hinge and dislodged from its socket like the top of a candy dispenser. It tumbled into the snow and nestled in the discarded hajib. Comfortable there, unburdened by the demands of the déclassé regions of the body, the head began to sing.

Farzad woke in a sweat — a great biological accomplishment in a house so cold. Michigan cold: a cold deeper and blacker than iron pylons plunged into the river. That damned story of Reese’s, it hadn’t even been verified. Even if it had happened, which was by no means certain, there was no proof that the attacker was a militant Christian. It could have been anybody.

Still, something told Farzad that yes, yes, it had been Jonas, towering over the Muslim girl, long fingers at her neck, constricting her windpipe, turning the signifier of her faith against her; Jonas, brutal Jonas and his acts of mercy. Further Farzad was certain that he had failed a test: it had been his designated responsibility to steer the boy (who was by no means a boy!, why on Earth did he still think of him as one?) away from extremism. He’d messed up.

Well, he wouldn’t again. With Ségolène still asleep, he mounted his bicycle and kicked off for campus. In the gloom of the early morning, the back roads were absolutely deserted, silent, shorn of traffic and people: they were long black fingers of tar, stretching everywhere, only occasionally knuckled under by a zonked house or a stand of scrawny trees. It was as if the entire day had been paved over and made ready for his wheels. Only when he reached the freshman dormitories did the sun make its face visible, peeking over the line of the horizon, millions of frozen miles away.

He thought he’d have to search. He was wrong. There was Jonas, coming down the steps as if summoned, boots on and pants hiked too high, a canvas bag slung over his shoulder, alert despite the hour. He smiled at Farzad, as if there was nothing unusual about his presence there, in student housing, at seven o’ clock in the morning.

“Jonas, I can’t let you do this.”

“Do what?” His face crossed up, Jonas stopped on a step and grabbed the metal handrail.

“This action today. I can’t let you go. You’re too smart for this.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Farzad felt foolish; cold and exhausted, too. He’d always been proud of his composure. Why, now, was it deteriorating, and at such a pace? He felt it incumbent upon himself to follow through with the accusation, even though he was certain now that he’d made a mistake. What are you doing where are you going, he grumbled, more to the staircase than to the student.

“I’m getting my laundry,”

Jonas slid past Farzad and down the stairs into the bowels of the dormitory. The professor followed after him, ducking under the metal pipes that lined the ceiling of a tight corridor. It was downright hot in the laundry room. Clothes spun in circles, around and around and up and down, behind the fogged glass of antique machines. I want to apologize, said Farzad, I was given incomplete information. I was told that a group of Christian students would protest the Quran giveaway today. You can see how I would be concerned. Jonas extracted a pair of jeans from a dryer. The denim was still damp. He tossed it back in and slid quarters into the tray, punched it in. Blessed are ye, quoted Jonas, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.

“Matthew, no?”, asked Farzad.

“Yes, Matthew.”

“Somewhere close to the beginning?”


“5:11, yes.”

“You’re the expert.”

“God!”, said Farzad, angry, slamming his hand against the lid of the dryer. A thin steel sheet quivered. You have so much contempt in you. Your religion is nothing but masochism, condemnation, tacit judgment — people like you, you give believers a bad name. I have known many real Christians, good Christians, ones who lead with the heart and spread the Gospel of love. You are nothing like that, nothing.

“I never said I was a good Christian.”

“Well, what are you then?”

“A sinner. For sure. Wicked for sure.” Jonas paused, considered. “Like you. It’s all over you.”

A blacklight had switched on behind Jonas’s eyes. Farzad stood in the beam. Drippings of evil, rivulets of trouble, the stains of sin, were apparent all over his body. They formed a network, they laced over Farzad as if he’d stepped into a spiderweb. He could sidestep the boy’s gaze, shake free of it, cal it the nonsense it was, get out of the basement and back on his bicycle and pedal for Corktown. Yet in his knowledge of himself as Jonas saw him, he apprehended something else: he knew, at once, and with dead certainty, that he was being lied to. Jonas’s designs were suddenly legible. He had woken today with an intent to disrupt. He was going to that bigot rally. Farzad was sure of it.

He steadied himself against a pipe. It was scalding hot. He tucked his left thumb into his red palm and suppressed an urge to howl. Jonas watched him, impassive, saying nothing, unmoving, tall and thin and cramped under a low ceiling. At once the light in the room changed, as if a filter had been switched, a dial turned and clicked into place. An ungovernable impulse seized Farzad. He took Jonas by both wrists and kissed him, roughly, on the lips. To his surprise and delight — joy, really — Jonas kissed back.

– Tris McCall

Pick our next destination:


Pick our next destination:

Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Hopscotch Otters Collegetown Blues”
Atlanta, Georgia: “King of Pops”
Austin, Texas: “Chelsea”
Baltimore, Maryland: “(That’s What I Like About) Baltimore
Billings, Montana: “Tight Times (In the Land of Silence)”
Cambridge, Massachusetts: “You Could Meet Me There”
Camden, Maine: “I Dream Dead Ends”
Charlestown, South Carolina: “He Eats Well”
Chicago, Illinois: “Gurleez”
Columbus, Ohio: “O Columbus”
Dearborn, Michigan: “Unbeliever, Respect the Veil”
Denver, Colorado: “Conspiracy Theory
Houston, Texas: “Houston Calls the Space Cadet
Indianapolis, Indiana: “A Girl With a Bicycle”
Jersey City, New Jersey: “Paul Simon, I Had to Ask”
Las Vegas, Nevada: “All the Money in the World”
Los Angeles, California: “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby”
Miami Beach, Florida: “Every Day is Children’s Day”
Monticello, New York: “Sector B”
Nashville, Tennessee: “You’re No Good to Anyone”
New Orleans, Louisiana: “The Unmapped Man”
New York, New York: “The Prince of Daylight
Northampton, Massachusetts: “The Blue Door”
Orlando, Florida: “Nowhere to Go But Down”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “Backstage @ The Hungry Bum”
Phoenix, Arizona: “On Indian School”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “Kate Beaton
Portland, Oregon: “Turbulence at Night”
Raleigh, North Carolina: “I Like America”
Richmond, Virginia: “American Flag”
San Diego, California: “Route 52
San Francisco, California: “Joe Panik”
San Juan, Puerto Rico: “The Tantrum”
Seattle, Washington: “Take Me to the Waterfall
Washington, D.C.: “You Used to Sing About Manhattan”
Wilmington, North Carolina: “Somewhere Down the Line”
Yountville, California: “The Sybarite”