Most nights between 7:30 and 8:00 the Palestinian kids in my strip of the Council Flats hit the Common Area for a soccer game. They’re a raggedy bunch of refugee camp escapees ranging in age from about 9 – 16. They use the covered drain holes at each end of the Commons as goals.
They are well-behaved kids. I say this even though I really don’t know how they behave. They keep to their own kind. They don’t mix with the Asians or the blacks or the white trash among us. Since they will not have anything to do with us, this makes them well-behaved, in my estimation. Perfect neighbors.
The Commons is right out my back door, so I see the Palis turn it into the Occupied Territories almost every night. Saturday I took some pictures, with my two kids tagging along. One of the Pali moms saw me with the camera and asked what I was doing.
“I’m a social scientist. I’m doing field work,” I say.
She stares blankly at me, then jabbers in Arabic to the other Pali moms. They sit there drinking Coke and snacking puffed Cheetos as they watch the bambino Pali rugrats play on the Commons’ beat-up slides and swings. I see her looking at my kids. She sees me looking at her.
“Where your other kids?” she asks.
“’Other kids?’ That’s it. Just those two,” I say.
“Two only? Nine I have.”
Nine? She looks maybe 35. Nine kids. No wonder she’s so fat. She’s been popping them out one after another, without a break to take the weight off.
Nine kids in these tiny Council Flats? Plus two adults? Hell, maybe a couple grandparents, too? A camel jockey demolition derby 24/7. My two kids have put a beating on our little flat, imagine what a wreck their place must be. But Hell, if they came from some slum in Gaza, it must seem like one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.
“Nine kids. That must be a lot of fun,” I say.
The Pali mom nods her head.
“Why you have two only? Your wife sick?” she asks.
“Sick of having kids,” I joke.
She doesn’t laugh, though. She looks at me like I just threw a shoe at Allah.
I start to slink after my sons, who are heading for the basketball *court* (a small slab of blacktop with a pole, a backboard and a bent rim with no net) when the Pali mom says:
"The Chinese have two only."
"The Arabs they keep out. All Chinese come now. Two kids only."
It's true, in the last couple of years there has been a real Asian invasion. The Asians and the Arabs are now neck-and-neck for the majority.
"The Arabs, they don't want. Too many kids."
"I got Chinese on one side," I say.
"How many kids they have?"
She nods and jabbers in Arabic to the other Pali moms. They are all fat. Prolific breeders, never allowed to deflate.
"The Chinese. The smell!" she says, and she makes a face as she shakes her head.
Ha. How many white people have I heard say the same about Arabs? People are all the same, all the same. They all stink, to somebody except themselves.
"The Chinese stink?"
The Pali mom crinkles her nose.
"And they always cooking." She opens her mouth and pretends to vomit. "Pigs cooking."
She jabbers in Arabic, and the other fat Pali moms nod and make faces like a pig has just farted.
"I hear the Chinese walk around nude a lot," I say.
She tells this to the others. They all stare at me.
"The Chinese you see naked?" she asks.
"Not me personally. Somebody else who lives here told me he sees them walking around nude in their house, with the curtains open."
She passes this on. They all look scandalized.
I feel bad for messing with them like that. Like some fucking Bruno or something.
"It's probably not true," I say. "You know how people are. Hey, in the end, we all got to live together, right?"
The Pali mom just looks at me.
"I mean, us poor, we got to stick together, right?"
"Who poor?" she asks, indignant.
"No, uh, I mean, we all just have to get through this together. Make a nice environment. For our kids."
"You have two only," she says.
Man, there's no way out of this conversation. Then it hits me:
"At least no Jews live here!"
Her face lights up. She laughs. She laughs and laughs, then jabbers in Arabic to the other Pali moms, and they laugh and laugh, and I laugh, and we're all laughing. We chat amiably for a couple minutes about this and that. We've made peace. We've made peace at the expense of that old scapegoat. I'd have liked to have done it in a more dignified fashion, but this is the Council Flats, man—you do it by any means necessary.