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Original Issue


I WALKED into my favorite falafel joint the other day, The Pita
Palace, and took my normal table in the corner.

"The usual, Achmed," I said.

"Yes, yes, very good," said Achmed, scribbling. "Please, your
total is $56.03."

This was a shock.

"No, Achmed. You mean $6.03."

"My kind friend, you are forgetting about the $50 seat license

"Seat license fee?"

"Oh, loyal sir, it is the latest thing I learn from your
American football teams. It is a fee you must first pay me in
order to enjoy the privilege of paying me even more later."

"It is?"

"Oh, yes, yes. In Baltimore, the newest site of an American
football team, people will pay great sums just for the honor of
paying even greater sums later for a season ticket. And when
they returned to Oakland this year, your Raiders asked up to
$4,000 just for the privilege of buying season tickets. I am so
pleased at being so current on American business practices."

"But this is ridiculous," I said. "I've been coming in here once
a week since 1975. Doesn't that count for anything?"

"Oh, yes, true friend," Achmed said, "but I must be able to


"I am afraid so. A big chain, The Falafel Waffle, has moved in
down the street. It has twice as many tables as I have. Its
river of resources runs deep. It is even attempting to hire away
my best busboy, Faheed. I have already had to double his salary,
and still he may go."

Just then Faheed brought me my lunch. It was a lukewarm hot dog
in a stale bun and a 12-ounce soft drink. He threw it down on
the dirty table with disdain. He was on his cellular.

"This isn't what I ordered," I said to Achmed.

"True, true," he said. "But this is the way I maximize my
profits. This I learn from your NBA. Did you know that a
12-ounce soft drink at a Golden State Warrior game is $2.25? A
plain hot dog at your famed Madison Square Garden is $3? The
average night at an NBA game for a family of four now costs
almost $200? Did you know that the top ticket for your worst
football game, the Super Bowl, went up another $50 this year, to
$350? And yet attendance at these spectacles does not recede.
From this I have learned that the American people, they will
support any habitual activity as though it were a jihad."

I told Achmed that this wasn't the way to compete.

"Oh, so very true, valued customer of mine," he said. "That is
why I am afraid I must move my restaurant away from here. I do
this because the town council has refused to build for me a
restaurant five times the size of The Falafel Waffle."

"Wait a minute," I said, getting agitated. "Why should the
public build you a restaurant? You're a private enterprise!"

"Oh, esteemed patron, it doesn't matter. This I learned from
your Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns. He, too, has a private
enterprise, but he demanded these things from Baltimore and got
them. It never hurts to ask. Do you know that I get no share of
the parking on the street in front of my establishment? Nor from
the billboard advertising that sits high above my roof? And yet
the town squanders thousands on a new crossing guard. I must
leave. I have no choice."

"Where will you go?"

"To the new Factory Outlet Mall at Exit 32B. The people out
there have guaranteed me a brand-new place with many luxury
booths and preferred seating and a huge loan I need not pay back
for at least three lifetimes. Plus, at my new location I can use
a new logo, enabling me to double my concession income. I need
only to know the area's local youth gang colors, and, as you
say, I am going laughing to the bank!"

"Hold on a second, Achmed. Look around you. This place is always
jammed. Look at the faces. These are your friends. Didn't we
stick by you during your Spam phase? Didn't we start a fan club
for you--The Unruly Tabouli?"

Achmed began to stare at the floor.

"And remember, Achmed, this restaurant is a place of rich
tradition. Don't you remember when the great Dumpster Williams
won the 1978 Hummus Eating Championship here, after spotting Two
Forks Finnegan an entire lamb shank? How can you turn your back
on memories like that?"

Achmed's lip began to quiver.

"Why not just sell it to a local buyer? This place has got to be
worth 50 times what you paid for it. You'd be rich, Achmed."


"Please, Achmed. I beg of you. Don't take this thing away. It
means too much to us. We can float a bond. We can hammer through
a ballot initiative. Just don't go."

Achmed stiffened. He presented me with my bill.

"I am sorry. It is too late. You will just have to learn to look
someplace else for your gyros."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of man in suit squeezing people through one end of wringer and getting money from other end]