So, I’m at Beirut airport on a Saturday afternoon waiting for my mother to arrive from Paris. As per my habitual organizational prowess, I’m about 45 minutes early and have plenty of time to look around and take in the sights and sounds. I decided I needed to buy a bottle of juice and a croissant to stock up on energy for the observational foray ahead. I hand the cashier the GDP of a small Caribbean nation, grab my sustenance and head over to the heart of the arrival area.
Compared with the arrival area at Heathrow, this place is supremely exotic. In England, most people have given up on picking up their relatives at the airport, because they’re too busy watching chubby siblings punch each other on X-Factor or ordering a skinny Latte at Costa. The only people who still make it to the arrival terminal are an army of South East Asian minicab drivers armed with signs bearing the misspelt names of customers who’ve probably just landed at another terminal. Or at Gatwick. But I digress, let’s get back to Beirut.
A cursory analysis of the area reveals a few types of people. First of all, we have the village people. And when I say village people, I literally mean the entire population of a medium sized village has showed up to welcome home one of their own. They show up with bouquets of flowers, balloons, musical instruments and sacrificial virgins. I fully expect to see a goat sacrificed on the tiles some day. Then there are the taxi drivers, who poke at their ears with the elongated pinkie nail and ask everyone non-Lebanese if they’re the person whose name they have on their sign. There are the unhappy couples, pot-bellied uni-browed macho-sexuals pawing ineffectually at their mobile phones flanked by women who seem to have fallen through the makeup and wardrobe section of a 1990s Ukrainian strip club.
Then there are the children, who seem to belong to no one. They run around untamed, bumping into the sparsely disseminated furniture and seem to defy Darwinian logic. But my favourite are the men who seem to be there for no reason whatsoever. They stroll aimlessly, their hands interlocked behind their backs. They cultivate a very particular look which I would describe as Albanian-human-trafficker-chic, replete with thick black leather jacket, wife beater vest, gold chain, hairy knuckles and a look that tells you they’ve stuffed a few people into the trunk of their car over the years.
As I was engaging in this afternoon anthropology, and admiring the various costumes people choose to wear when they head to their airport, I remembered that I had a Halloween party to go to on Sunday. Now, I have a dubious relationship with Halloween. As a child in London, I was the annoying kid who kept reminding everyone that it was an American holiday and that it had only reached our shores due to rampant commercialism and whatnot. I know what you’re thinking, I must have been a bundle of fun as a 10 year old. Sadly, or happily, I still cling to my hatred of Halloween and dressing up. Even though I must admit that, as I grew older, I enjoyed the fact that women usually took “Tonight is Halloween” to mean “Tonight I feel compelled to wear as little as is legally permissible in public”.
I hate the effort that goes into dressing up. Where do people find the time and the energy? And are they dressing up to hide who they are or show who they are? Is that guy in the sequin dress actually telling everyone that he wishes he could be Liza Minnelli all year round? Is that girl in the leather catsuit telling us she actually wishes she was a dominatrix rather than a junior auditor?
As for me, I’m usually the annoying guy who shows up without a costume and gets told off by everyone throughout the night. I might steal a wig or a pitchfork to blend in, but the result is usually quite pitiful. I also sometimes say things like: “I’ve come as a disgruntled unemployed banker” or “I’ve come as an existential void”. But this year, I’ve decided I’m going to give it a shot. I’ve decided that I could stick a black shoebox on my back and go as a fridge magnet. I might carry a coin in one hand and a hammer in the other and go as a quarter pounder. Maybe I’ll put a ball on my head and go as a lowercase “i”.
I have two friends in London who went to a party dressed as traumatised Chilean miners on Friday, which I thought was hilarious. But copying them would be derivative. My favourite idea so far is to go as a pile of dirty laundry. If you have any suggestions I can put together by tonight, your help is greatly appreciated. I don’t want to be booed this year.