I’ve been a little nervous about writing, lately. I was in the middle of an essay a few weeks ago about the Saudi Royals entitled, “You May Have a Beard, But You’re Still Wearing a Dress,” when I chanced upon the story about Jamal Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. I guessed that he was dead, and apparently I guessed right. Now if I can only guess the lottery numbers for Georgia’s 1.5 billion-dollar jackpot, that would be a pretty impressive two-for-two.
I decided to suspend my essay about the dissection of the Saudi Arabian fashion sensibility. It was becoming obvious that they were into a more gruesome dissection, and were intent on having the last laugh. Instead I took the dog for a walk and said a little prayer of thanks for the First Amendment of the Constitution, remembering that in many parts of the world the exercise of free speech is as life-threatening as getting cancer, and with a higher mortality rate.
Absolute rulers have a very poor sense of humor, on average. They would not be good candidates for those Seth MacFarlane roasts. There they would sit, stone-faced, while comedian after comedian ripped them a new asshole, and then the next day each guest comic would be cut up by the royal morticians and fed to the pet tigers. Or their insides would liquefy after being fed a plate of Novichok brownies by gay Russian nutritionists, who, because of their sexual preferences, would be barred from any direct ties to the Kremlin.
Dictators are also very bad liars because in their own countries it doesn’t matter what they do or say, and they are mostly immune from the greater world-at-large. So to watch Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s team of public relations officials stumble over a handful of contradictory excuses for Khashoggi’s disappearance was like watching a man with no toes try to walk, lurching in every direction except the one in which he actually wants to go.
“The Saudi Embassy is so big that it is easy to get lost. We think Mr. Khashoggi is somewhere on the third floor, caught within a bland array of poorly marked hallways.”
“We watched as Mr. Khashoggi walked out of the consulate and immediately floated off into the sky like Remedios the Beauty in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude. Isn’t that a lovely image?”
“Because Mr. Khashoggi was at the consulate for a document to secure a marriage license, we wanted to show him, in a kind of conceptual art installment, what actually happens to a man once he is married, so we pulled his arms, legs and genitalia off. He was dead within the hour, relatively quick and painless. In a way, we did him a favor.”
The final story was that he got into a brawl, which is the lamest excuse of them all. They should’ve just said he fell into a tank of alligators that had been held up in customs, or something. The Crown Prince is known for his taste in exotic animals, and once they get loose it’s every man for himself. One time a plump and dwarfish accountant with an overbite like a rat was consumed by the King’s fifteen-foot python in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Shit happens.
The brawl story had rung a bell in my head. Like I mentioned I had taken my dog for a walk and had chanced to see my neighbor lingering around her mailbox, scanning the road. I asked what was up?
“Street brawl on Flamingo Drive,” she murmured.
My neighbor is an avid user of “Next Door,” the website that alerts neighborhood busybodies about everything from lost kittens to code violations. She has encouraged me to join up in the past, and I’ve always demurred, but this time she had me hooked.
“What?” I said.
“You heard me,” she muttered.
My neighborhood is so quiet it was hard to believe she was telling the truth about a street brawl. We exist in this weird pocket of anonymity, like some lost tribe of the Amazon Delta. Every once in a while we will sniff and grunt around a visiting anthropologist, but for the most part we are like a mound of church mice. Flamingo Dr. is two blocks up from my street, and just as quiet. It was almost impossible to fathom a huge street fight breaking out. So when I got home I signed up to “Next Door” and sifted through the more mundane notifications.
“Man on Lyndon Lane clears throat.”
“Poodle poops on Parker, ends up with a dangler.”
“Street brawl on Flamingo.”
I clicked on the link and sure enough there was an account of four cars that had pulled onto the quiet road, got out, and started kicking the shit out of each other. A real street brawl, and not the fun, musical kind like West Side Story or Michael Jackson’s Beat It, in which the the leather-clad toughs end up in a huge synchronized dance routine. Well hell, I thought, if it could happen on Flamingo Drive then there is a chance it could happen to Mr. Khashoggi in an incredibly secure and highly monitored state building in Turkey.
Then I laughed, noting the difference. In America there is always the possibility of something unexpected, which is a consequence of a democracy. Under an absolute monarchy, nothing is left to chance.