Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Born on the same day

   Last week, I was talking with my brother on the phone, and an interesting subject came up.  He had mentioned that his wife shared a birthday with Jerry Garcia.  I asked if they shared the same birth year, (knowing fully well that they did not). Yet, it got me to thinking about who might be born on the same day, in the same year, as me.
So, being internet capable, I decided after our conversation to see which celebrity (if any) shared my actual birthdate.  Maybe it would reveal to me a connection, or an insight, into my attraction, or inexplicable dislike, of said certain famous person.  
I was curious to see what I would find.
A quick Google search revealed a site that allowed me to pick any day of the year and see who (famous) was born on that day.  I entered October 20th, and came up with this list of kindred souls who share my birthday... but not my birth year:

1). Snoop Dog (I'm six years older than him)
2). Mickey Mantle (I have his baseball card from 1959, one of my most coveted possessions from my childhood)
3). Bela Lugosi (we are both "night people")
4). Tom Petty (he's a long-haired hippy freak, which I was for a while... I've always been a fan of his music, now I know why)
5). John Krasinski (Jim, from The Office)

He is wearing a Steelers hat

That was interesting.
Now I know why Snoop Dog and I have the same effect on women.
I always found Jim's character on The Office to be very likable (but then, so does everybody).
I must go to Frostwire and get some more Tom Petty songs in honor of our shared birthday... he'd be so proud.

I pressed on, trying to find my true kindred soul... someone who was born on the exact same day as I was, and lived a parallel life to mine, being alive for the same amount of days as me.
Then, I found him.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

I have that same beard right now


Ok... so he's a terrorist.

Let's find out a little more about Abu, before we rush to conclusions.
Abu was born in Zarqa, Jordan in a cave (Ok, I made the cave part up).

Actually, Abu was born Ahmed Fadeel al-Khalayleh on October 20, 1966, in Zarqa, Jordan, a large, economically depressed city north of the Jordanian capital of Amman (pretty much the Cleveland of Jordan). One of ten children, he was raised in a poor family with roots in one of the Bedouin Arab tribes of the region's deserts. Abu was remembered as a disruptive and untalented student, and he briefly worked as a clerk in a video store.
Let's see... I was raised in a family with four kids, in a middle-class, racially-mixed city neighborhood in the East end of Pittsburgh, (a two hour drive from Cleveland). I too, was a disruptive student (albeit in the Scholars program), labeled gifted but lazy, and one who admittedly never used his time and materials wisely. Maybe, like Abu, I felt unchallenged, and unmotivated. (This would continue for me... not so much for Abu).
I worked as a clerk in a fruit store for the nicest, funniest little old Jewish man in Squirrel Hill. Abu would have hated him (because he was Jewish) but if he got to know him, he would have shared my opinion and high regard.
Our lives began to go in different ways as we got a little older.
In 1981, when we were both 15, things began to get exciting for both of us. I was heavily into Dungeons and Dragons at the time, playing lots of frisbee, and hanging out with my nerd friends. Abu was already in trouble with the law, as he had been involved with a botched home invasion, during which one of his relatives was killed. The teenaged Zarqawi was thrown into a downward spiral by the death of his father in 1984 (the year I graduated high school). He left school early and began to abuse alcohol and drugs, joining a local street gang and gaining a reputation as a thug and a trafficker in illicit materials of various kinds. Jordanian police also accused him of sexual assault, and it is thought that he may have been active as a pimp.
I smoked a little pot, and was sexually active myself... but hardly a pimp. Who knows, had my father also died, I might have gone to the dark side myself, and became a different person.

By the time he was twenty, Abu had been charged with 37 separate crimes. He served a brief prison term, and it was in prison that he first encountered strict forms of Islam. After his release, in 1988, he got married (to his first wife), as I was graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Social Work.  In my sophomore year of college, I spent my Bar Mitzvah money back-packing through Europe for 13 weeks.  

Lee, Italy, 1985

College, for me, was again, not much of a mental challenge, but it was a time for fun and frivolity.  I smoked a little more pot, drank a few beers and had a torrid love affair with a cheerleader.  During this period in our lives, Abu and I weren't exactly living parallel lives.

Abu left for Afghanistan to join the fighting in 1989 and saw action with Islamic mujahedin fighters in several battles that eventually led to the takeover of Afghanistan by the repressive Taliban militia. I went to work at a therapeutic preschool, teaching 2 and 3 year-olds who had been court-ordered into our program because of their abusive pasts. Most of our children's mothers were prostitutes, and they had lead troubled little lives. I spent my days in a basement classroom in an old building in downtown Pittsburgh being a positive male role model, while Abu spent his days on the battlefields of Afghanistan, cultivating his hatred of Shiite Muslims. 

I took a job in 1990, working for UPMC (The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) where I was a Developmental Therapist in another therapeutic preschool, this time in a partial hospitalization setting.  For four and a half years, I worked as the only male and the only white teacher.  I enjoyed the kids, but hated the sameness of every day, and the constant schedule that rarely changed.  I was doing well financially, earning well enough to support myself in my own apartment, and saving money to boot.  Then, on a whim, I quit my job, sold everything that couldn't fit into my Honda Civic wagon, cashed in my retirement fund, and drove to California.

Meanwhile, back in Jordan in 1993, Abu and his new bestest buddy, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a radical Sunni cleric and fellow native of Zarqa, planned to blow up a movie theater that was showing X-rated films. The plot was botched, and Zarqawi was caught by police carrying seven hand grenades. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, he became a combination of Islamic scholar and gang leader. He spent long hours memorizing the Koran, but he also wore the outfit of an Afghan militiaman and made an impression on his fellow prisoners.  Released after a stretch in solitary confinement following a brawl, Abu returned to the ward with a phalanx of bodyguards. By that time Zarqawi was already called the 'emir,' or 'prince, of the prison. "He had an uncanny ability to control, almost to hypnotize; he could order his followers to do things just by moving his eyes." said a prisoner who spent time with him.  Like so many other prisoners, Abu acquired an intimidating group of tattoos.

His mother must be so proud

I myself was never tattooed, nor did I do any prison time.
I settled into my Northern California life, after spending 34 days criss-crossing the country with my brother (halfway) and a friend from college (the other half). We camped in the midwest, and the Grand Canyon, spent a few days in Vegas, met family in Taos, New Mexico and visited my uncle in Temecula, all on the way to the Bay Area. I moved in with my sister, staying on her couch in Corte Madera, before getting a job and finding my own place.
I taught preschool in Mill Valley for the next eight years, living comfortably in a cottage in the Redwoods at the base of Mt. Tamalpias.  Eventually, I became a "Manny" (a male nanny), working for families whose kids I had in preschool.  During summers, I would load up my Chevy Blazer with as many kids that would fit and spend my days at the water slide park, or Marine World (an amusement park).  I charged $5/hour per kid, sometimes making $30/hour to float down a lazy river at Water World, or riding roller coasters.  Life was good.

While still in prison the barely literate Zarqawi, began to write militant Islamic tracts that were smuggled out by sympathizers and posted on the Internet. The legend of Zarqawi among disaffected Arab youth with few prospects in life began to spread, and one of his Internet postings found its way to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. When Jordan's King Abdullah II declared an amnesty in 1999, Zarqawi was released, but the Jordanian government suspected him of the bombing of a series of hotels and Christian sites, so he was to be executed on New Year's Eve, 1999. The plan was foiled, and Zarqawi left the country, hoping to join separatist Islamic rebels in the Russian province of Chechnya. Instead he was arrested in Pakistan for having an expired visa. Forced to leave the country, he entered Afghanistan. Equipped with a letter of introduction from a Jordanian cleric, he was taken to the city of Kandahar to meet bin Laden. 

In contrast, I spent New Years 1999 at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland.

Abu was given seed money by bin Laden allies in Afghanistan's radical Islamic government to set up a militia training camp in the desert near Herat. Once again Zarqawi emerged as a natural leader; his band of followers grew from a few dozen to some 3,000 men between early 2000 and the American invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. 

By 2001, I had attended around 85 Grateful Dead concerts (41 on the East Coast, 44 on the West).   I was babysitting for David Grisman, a mandolin player who had played with Jerry Garcia for many years.  Twice, I had seen Bob Weir (the other lead singer in the Dead) in his powder blue BMW, driving through my neighborhood, in Mill Valley.  I had built a network of friends and family, and had thought I had found my own personal Mecca.
Then, in the summer of 2001, one of the moms who I worked for, who was a flight attendant, gave me a "friends and family" pass.  She suggested strongly that I go visit Hawaii, specifically Maui, and mentioned that it would only cost me around $100 round trip.  It was an offer I could not refuse, so I went to Maui to check it out.  I spent a week on the island, then I went back home home and began to making plans to move to Maui that fall.  Once again, I sold everything that I couldn't ship to Maui (this time, I had to sell my car as well) and I relocated in September... a week before 9/11.  I got a job working for a nanny company, as the token manny, and began to babysit nightly in the resorts of Wailea.  Then 9/11 happened and all the tourists went home.

As Zarqawi's influence grew, money and guns flowed his way. He was summoned to bin Laden's headquarters in Kandahar five times to swear allegiance to al-Qaida, but refused each time.
After the Americans attacked Afghanistan in the wake of bin Laden's terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001, Zarqawi and his men joined with the Afghan government to fight the invasion. Zarqawi was wounded in the chest when a building that was bombed by American planes collapsed on top of him. In December of 2001 he and a group of about 300 followers slipped out of Afghanistan and crossed into Iran.
In a speech at the United Nations in February of 2003, laying out the case for invading Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell named Zarqawi as a key al-Qaida operative in Iraq, an assertion that probably surprised Zarqawi greatly, inasmuch as his ties with that organization were tenuous at best. Powell also said that Zarqawi was Palestinian, and that he had lost a leg in the Afghanistan bombing, (both later to be found false statements). After the American-led invasion deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, insurgent Sunni Muslims flocked to Zarqawi's side as he came to southern Iraq and likely lived in the violence-riddled city of Fallujah.

As Abu settled into his exciting life, my life on Maui also went on.
I worked for the Nanny Connection regularly, often getting paid $20/hour or more (based on the number of kids and the generosity of the tips) to swim in the pools, and at the beach, in the posh resorts of Wailea and Makena.  I never took for granted that my work office was in a place where most people worked all year long, just to be able spend a week there... and that my "work" was literally "child's play".  
Eventually, I began to work at one of the resorts (The Grand Wailea) at the Kids Camp, so that I could finally get health insurance and the promise of steady work.  All went well, and I enjoyed my job.  A year later, I transferred to the pool, to work as a lifeguard (actually, a pool attendant).
For three years, I sat in my chair at the top of the water slide, or at the bottom, or worked at the Tarzan Swing, the rapid slide or the Water Elevator.  It was all good, as I was constantly working with a good view of the ocean, not to mention a few bikinis here and there.
Yet, I never married.
I golfed, kayaked, snorkeled and played tennis... but I never married.

Abu, on the other hand, had by this time amassed three wives.
His first wife, Umm Mohammed, was a Jordanian woman who lived in Zarqa, Jordan along with their four children, including a seven-year-old son, Musab.  
Zarqawi's second wife, Israa, was 13 years old when he married her (he was 37). She was the daughter of Yassin Jarrad, a Palestinian Islamic militant, who is blamed for the killing in 2003 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the Iraqi Shia leader. She bore him a child when she was 15.
Al-Zarqawi's third wife, allegedly, was an Iraqi. (I suspect she may have been Joan Rivers).

Zarqawi's most attention was still concentrated on his homeland of Jordan. He organized a massive plot in 2004 to blow up the buildings that housed Jordan's intelligence service. This included a convoy of truck bombs containing lethal chemicals that could have killed 80,000 people. The plan was disrupted, and in May of 2004 Zarqawi became known to the American public at large when his group released a video showing the beheading of American contractor Nicholas Berg. Zarqawi himself may have been the hooded figure wielding the knife in the video. Numerous less-publicized attacks by Zarqawi's bands of Sunni insurgents increased in intensity, eventually killing an estimated 6,000 Iraqis. Late in 2004, Zarqawi finally pledged allegiance to al-Qaida; by the middle of 2005, the $25 million bounty placed on his head by the American government equaled that offered for the capture of bin Laden himself. 

Even at that point, Zarqawi still hoped to create chaos in Jordan, and on November 9, 2005, he succeeded, when suicide bombers hit the Radisson SAS, Grand Hyatt, and Days Inn Hotels in Amman. Zarqawi claimed credit for the attacks, which killed over 55 people, including a group of Palestinians attending a wedding. Even al-Qaida's leadership had reportedly reprimanded Zarqawi for the bad publicity generated by his grisly tactics, and now street opinion in the region began to turn against him. Large demonstrations in Amman demanded his death, and tips on his whereabouts began to cross the paths of Jordanian and American spies. Several times he eluded capture as American troops closed in on his hideout.

For all his bravado, al-Zarqawi knew he could be caught at any time. In January 2004, U.S. intelligence officers intercepted a 17-page letter addressed to Osama bin Laden in which al-Zarqawi expressed concern for his longevity. "[Iraq] has no mountains in which we can take refuge and no forests in whose thickets we can hide," he wrote. "Our backs are exposed and our movements compromised. Eyes are everywhere."

During the second week of June, 2006, I had jury duty and I was looking forward to the upcoming Maui Film Festival. I was working at the pool, babysitting a few times a week, and generally enjoying the good life.   

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence operatives gave the special-ops task force a tantalizing lead. For nearly a month, the commandos had monitored every move of Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual adviser, whose locations had been revealed by an al-Qaeda operative captured in May near the Iraq-Jordan border. When Abdul-Rahman surfaced near Baqubah last week–apparently in the same location as the Jordanians’ Mr. X–the commandos moved in for the kill. On June 8, 2006, an American F-16 fighter jet dropped a 500-pound bomb on the safe house.

"We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house," Army Major General William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad the day after the strike. 

Remarkably, al-Zarqawi apparently survived the attack, at least for a short while. Iraqi police, Iraqi security forces and military helicopters bearing U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division swarmed over the safe house immediately after the strike. Iraqi police were the first on the scene, and they put al-Zarqawi onto a stretcher. A special-ops exploitation team arrived with photos, fingerprint smudges and descriptions of the scars and tattoos on his body, much of which had been supplied by Jordanian intelligence. As the team began examining him, al-Zarqawi muttered something and tried to "turn away off the stretcher." He was quickly "resecured" and died of his wounds shortly thereafter. After investigators on the scene positively identified him, word reached Pentagon officials as they awoke Thursday in Washington. "It’s been a long, long effort," says one. "But we finally got the bastard."

I've been referred to as a bastard once or twice, but never by anyone at the Pentagon.

Sadly, Abu's child bride, Israa, who was 16 at the time, also died in the bombing, as did her son,  Abdul Rahman, who was 18 months old.

This is where our timeline stops.... and the connection is broken.
Abu will always remain a 39 year-old slain terrorist (a martyr to some), as I continue to grow older, fatter and hopefully wiser.  I now carry the torch of those born our particular day in history.
Perhaps some day, one of Abu's surviving children will vacation in Hawaii and cross my path.
He could look at me and wonder to himself if I look around the same age as his dad would have been.

Who knows?
Maybe some day, I'll have a child of my own, who, around the age of seven or eight might get read a bedtime story about two daddies born on the same day.


Anonymous said...

Lee, I think your life parallels those born on the same day more then your actual birth date. Did you ever think about writing children's books? you must have enough stories

Cul-de-sac-ed said...

Nice. It's like you were separated at birth.

I share a birthday with Mel Gibson (not the same year). He and I are like "this".

Annie said...

It's good to see you,and Abu have VERY LITTLE in common. Now about those pictures--one of you looks like a terrorist, the other looks like one of the "Back Street Boys". Didn't know you were such a dude!
It was an interesting, informative, and entertaining read...well done!