I didn’t write this, but I wish I had: profile of Ross Anthony Roberts

By William Wheeler (used without his permission)

Okay, Hotshot. Here’s the scenario: what do you do when…
you’re a 20-year-old American male with broad shoulders, rich
parents, a strong chin, a fine head of red hair and bullish youth
and you find yourself in Lebanon at a time like this one, during
your first trip to the Middle East…. Oh yeah, and you happen to
be from Texas. Well, if- in spite of yourself- you also happen to
be totally awesome, then your name is Ross and you just happen to
be my hero.
Here’s why:
As I reflect on what exactly drew me to Lebanon (4 weeks into a
war with Qaeda-wannabe’s that’s decimated a refugee camp and
displaced 31,000, one week after a car bomb that killed yet another
prominent anti-Syrian in a string of attacks in the last two years
and months before presidential elections that could help resolve
the country’s 9-month political stalemate between western leaders
and Hezbollah allies or, many fear, plunge it into another civil
war), one factor seems to rise above the rest: I knew that anyone
else who chose not to cancel their plans and showed up to study in
Beirut was bound to be a character. I was half right.
Wisely, it seems, I chose LAU over AUB. Why you ask? They are both
American universities located blocks away from each other in scenic
West Beirut. They both have nifty 3 letter acronyms. They both
teach Arabic….. yes indeed. But that is where the siilarities
end. I had wanted to attend AUB because it has a more impressive
reputation, earnest and hardworking students from impressive
schools who really wanted to learn Arabic and who also, it turned
out, were not much fun at all. After a string of emails from AUB’s
intransigent administrators- they used words like “attendance
policy” and “strict” and “intensive” and “study,” while LAU
marketed itself as a more “student-centered experience”- I would
like to chalk it up to instinct or shrewd foreshight but it really
comes down to the way that Nicole (a cute Lebanese girl I met at
Columbia who had attended LAU’s program) spoke so lovingly of the
time she spent at the beach there. Her eyes lit up when she talked
about the great coffee break at the school. Her fellow students
said that she never went to class. The right path was becoming
clearer (I’m always one for research). In contrast, the equally hot
Bana (who had studied at AUB), told me that she loved the AUB kids
because they were “nerds” like her. They are more interesting there
while LAU students might be the kind who are “looking to have a good
time.”
While I’m certainly no enemy of a good time, this summer was about
work for me and I did have some concerns about the integrity of my
experience. Then I met Ross. Integrity’s loss was Experience’s
gain.
Now Ross’s profile is best understood against the background of
every other student on our trip that Ross is not.
Ross is not Paul, another 20-year-old redhead American who-
because his mother is Scottish, maybe, or because he studies
philosophy very earnestly- tells stories about how he almost got
arrested for shoplifting the week before he left and, just a few
days later got stopped by the cops with a car full of buddies and
“my Dad’s Arthurian sword” (watever the hell that is). We got into
an argument in Syria over “constructivism” (which I thought were
those toys, like Lincoln logs, that I played with in the 80s) but
is apparently a reference to a school of philospophical thought. He
said my argument was “narrow” and “facile” (apparently two of his
favorite words). I told him he must be talking about his penis (and
the word should be “flaccid,” I said, correcting him).
Neither is Ross a guy named James- the 24-year-old Canadian who
has already racked up masters degrees from Oxford and Harvard,
where he is now working on his doctorate as part of an elite group
of students in the Politics, History and Economics program. Last
summer, James turned down a special helicopter limo that Harvard
sent during the war with Israel to airlift him and some other
doctoral students out of the war zone. James preferred to smoke
hookah with his buddy Boolos in the mountains, eventually giving up
trying to convince family and friends (who were watching images of
Beirut’s southern suburbs being bombed to hell on TV) that he was
in fact quite safe, finally just giving into the power of their
illusions and conceding “yeah, you’re right- this is terrible”
before ordering another beer and having a four hour lunch with all
the Lebanese who went to party in safety, moving clubs and bars
intact to their mountain retreat. His buddy Boolos (which
apparently means “Paul” in “Arabic,” which is all the “Arabic” I’ve
learned) dropped out of college to do nothing but build websites and
smoke pot for about 10 years. At 31, he’s finishing his
undergraduate degree and, to make up for lost productivity, getting
married next month. Its actuallly pretty impressive for a guy who
registered the web sites chillism.com and chillism.org (which have
very little on them besides a Plato quote about ‘being chill’ and a
link to the sister site. Rather than merely a self-referencing joke,
however, these websites are a project he takes seriously. “I just
haven’t decided what to put on them…. yet” he says thoughtfully,
as if he ever will. I suggest he do a “Daily Roundup” of things he
sees or reads about that he thinks are “chill,” but that it could
be done on like a monthly basis. When I asked him to write for me
an account of meeting famed Lebanese politico bigwig Jumblatt the
other day, he winced as he thought about it.”I’d really like to,”
he said, “but the problem is that I’m just really lazy.” But he
said it in a way that made me think he really wanted to help me and
was kind of disappointed with the unlikely odds he would be able to
transcend his unfortunate condition). No, Ross is not Boolos. But
we’re getting closer.
He’s certainly not Bram, a 35 year old with a Buddha tatoo on his
forearm (the world traveller equivalent of a Marine) who teaches
high school at a Quaker school in New York. Neither is he one of
the Middle Eastern scholars, wannabe spies or American apologists
like the rest of us. Against this background, Ross could have chose
to blend in. Instead, he chose to be Ross.
When I asked Ross how he ended up here at this particuarly dynamic
confluence of national and international developments, he looked me
straight in the eye- like the mullet-haired neighbor in “Office
Space”- and said “Cause I heard that people here know how to have a
good time.” Well, they might have thought so but they’ve probably
learned a thing or two (that Bana never learned) about good times.
They have Ross to thank for that. And so do I.
Ross is not really from Texas. He ‘s from Austin, which is
different than saying someone’s from Texas. But still, there’s
something of the George Bush fraternity years in Ross, which he
pulls off with an impressive generosity of spirit, indulging the
rest of us and our humor. Thinking back on all the Rossisms and
stories of the last two months, I can’t really tell many of them
because my parents are reading this. Suffice it to say, he’s the
Mark Grace of the group (who once donned a mascot’s full costume
and began tackling his teammates on the field and punching them in
the face laughing hysterically all the while or told Howard Stern
about a ‘slumpbreaker’- “you know, when you’re in a bad slump and
you roll into a new town and just go out and find the fattest cow
you can and you sleep with her- you know: a slumpbreaker”) He’s
also the most likely in the crowd to be wearing a shirt unbuttoned
to nearly his navel and to throw a credit card down at the end of
the night while ordering two rounds of shots for all of us, at a
time when no one in their right minds wants another drink. But
still, no one exactly wants Ross “to get his mind right,” either.
It would be like breaking Cool Hand Luke’s spirit, making
Michelangelo’s “David” wear pants, or castrating your favorite
racing horse, thus ending a blood line that would birth generations
of heroes for my children’s children- or horses- to emulate. Ross is
not bequeathed to us by our parents; he is loaned to us by our
future, or whatver the Indians would say (oh yeah, like Monday when
a teacher was demonstrating the vocabulary “min ausl” which means
“descended from” and Ross said Texans were “min ausl cowboys,” as
if they were descended from a race of God’s own prototypes- you
know, Cowboy Creationism- sprung forth fully formed from Zeuss’
brow just to show the Earth how to wear boots and ride bulls. He
then proceeded to describe how Texas got its name from “Indian
language.” When anthropologists worlwide choked on their organic
tofu, Ross corrected himself” “Oh sorry- Native Americans,” with
more than a hint of sarcastic retaliation. Befuddled as to why he
was apparently still making some grievous error, and answering
grievously for it as Marc Antony would say, he continued “I don’t
know what tribe…” pausing as if trying to decide whether he
should continue and… then making the right choice: “But I like
their casinos” he added with the kind of smile that makes you want
to amend the Consitution just to heartily elect him the nation’s
first 20-year-old President).
Ross reminds me of my own younger brother, not just because he
makes the best out of the situation by living up whatever role you
want to typecast him with (like when, in Zimbabwe, my brother Jake
wore a red Gap vest and I called him “Backstreet” and for four
weeks he proceeded to tell me that, yes, he was a Backstreet Boy
and a rather good looking one at that in his fly red vest and all,
and that I needn’t “be jealous, girl- I’ll take you out and treat
you right and let you fill up the water cup with soda when no one’s
looking and won’t even tell nobody”) but also, I think, because Ross
can’t help but remind one of youth: he makes old men feel young,
wise men feel foolish, and contented men yearn for what they do not
have. He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Ross
is Bob Dole’s spiritual Viagra (swallow that one, Boston). I
thought he should work as a pool guy for the summer and channel his
experiences into a column called “Ask Ross” (Reader: my wife is
unhappy. What should I do? Ross: Who cares if she’s happy. Just
make sure she’s satisfied. You know, stay up drinking all night and
screw her about 20 times. That’ll damn sure help.”). Or maybe a
softcorn porno series on HBO.
Now it may be that my society is morally bankrupt- what with a
president that started four wars in one administration (one in
Iraq, one in Afghanistan, one on the separation of church and state
and one against any scrap of dignity that American policy had every
hoped to engender, bleed for, tearfrom the spirit-crushing jaws of
tyranny as a victory for human rights, civil liberties,
international standards, world opinion or the dream if not the
reality of a more just- if not just- world) and who every
Republican up for re-election probably now wishes had only been
caught getting blowjobs from his gay pet monkey- and I have just
elevated entertainment above integrity once again.
Or maybe I lead a dull life. I have been working rather hard and,
as they say, all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. But I had
by far the wierdest day of my life yesterday, rolling with a
busload of Americans- the loneliest tour bus in Lebanon- into the
Hezbollah stronghold of Beirut’s Shi’a suburbs- the ones where its
leadership was based and knew to evacuate everyone last summer as
soon they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and the same neighborhood
where Hezbollah’s bulldozers and teams of workers are rebuilding in
football-field sized holes, digging down to the former foundations
to rebuild the gaping craters of 300 buildings that Israel bombed-
and got a guided tour of the hood and a new “museum” full of
captured Israeli tanks, video games about “Tale of the Truthful
Pledge”, a mock-up of a “resistance bunker” replete with praying
militants with one hand on the Koran and another on a Kalishnokov
and where an impressive combination of design and propaganda
combine in a high tech PR bid to reach out and convince people that
Hezbollah “won” a war that left 1200 Lebanese dead and $4 billion of
damage. I did this on a tour bus full of Americans. That was my day
yesterday and instead I’m writing about Ross.
Why is he worthy of your time and mine, as I sit at 4 a.m. instead
of basking in his glory with the rest at a houseparty. Because I
have the good news ringing in my ear, and I’ve just got to tell it.
It happened tonight at a party at the American Embassy, where
everyone else from our program and the AUB students went at the
invite of the American Ambassador’s cultural attache (a former LAU
student like us…. ashante, SINARC)).
Now, not all the AUB students that I’ve met are stodgy,
egomaniacal d-bags. Bas Percival (an Arthurian name if ever I heard
one, eh Paul?) is decidely mellow. But the rest of them kind of have
the attitude of the one who told me last week: “I’ve been studying
Arabic so much that my English vocabulary has totally
deteriorated… oh my gosh, you see? I can’t believe I didn’t say
‘subtantially’ deteriorated.” Like a nerdy valley girl, that one.
Now I was working so i wasn’t there. But, as I’ve heard it
recounted by many- the best was Ryan, who said that one minute some
AUB kid was talking about how he’s “totally crazy and like really
infamous for just doing crazy stuff like he would totally dance on
tables and crazy stuff.” Huh-huh. And this one time at band
camp….
And the next minute, it happened. The cultural attache’s pupils
dilated as he heard the quiet stillness before the storm descend on
the area near the bar at the pool and he asked what was going on.
“You don’t really want to know,” said Ryan. The diplomat moved as
in slow motion toward Ross, who saw him coming, and made his move
deftly, unequivically with the certainty of Achilles’s swordarm in
battle.
What happened, you ask? Well, let’s just say that ee cummings once
wrote a poem prasing his father and said that “even if every friend
turned to foe, my father would laugh and build a world with snow.”
Well, if cummings knew Ross, he might have penned this dainty bit of
verse: “If every American Ambassador grew dumb and cruel, Ross’d
strip buck-ass naked and just dive into the pool.”
“Legendary,” was the solitary word that Boolos could muster from
his as-yet-substantially-undeterio

rated vocabulary to describe the
scenario via-text message. “We’re the cool, smart fun ones,” as
Tyler, himself a Middle Eastern studies graduate student, put it.
“They’re not.”
Apparently, on the way out, some no-doubt-accomplished man in the
employ of the embassy (he ranked sufficiently high- or low- enough
so as to be prohibited from leaving the grounds of the embassy)
said “You guys made the party,” and practically begged them to
return. He may as well have added in an urgent whisper, “Soylent
Green is made of People.” Or maybe “They’ve cut off my hands.”
No doubt the rest of the pack or herd or whatever phylum describes
the group that filthy swine run in these days, will put them on the
no-fly list in that mountain bunker in Colorado- “it’s the black
masks and off to Pakistan for you and your people, bastards!”
they’ll say- but I’d say it was worth it. The tree of liberty must
be refreshed from time to time with the blood and outraged decency
of tyrants, and all. I think Bob Dylan said that. Or maybe I’m
wrong. I’ve been working much too hard recently…. well, you can
decide that for yourself.
For my part, every man needs a hero. And every Psalmist needs a
muse:
Ross was in dustbowl Oklahoma, urging the Oakies on.
He was there with Abe “Log” Lincoln as he sang Emancipation’s
song.
Ross’s there with Old John Henry as he put the ties of the
railroad on.
He rose with Moses every morning to chart the way through
desert’s dawn.
He cracked the liberty bell that didn’t ring right, and smiled at
his own brawn.
Fought the communists with Patrick Swayze, in that 80s movie
called “Red Dawn.”

So I’ll continue to sing of Ross, Glad and Big (as ee cummings
might say). Proud to be broad-shouldered, hard-drinker, Hog Butcher
of the world, laughing a husky, arrogant laugh like a fighter that
has never lost a fight (as Carl Sandberg would likely add).
So I sing you the song of Ross, broad shouldered and wide grinning,
like Peco Bill after he slapped Paul Bunyan and ate his ox and then
kicked Joe Stalin’s momma in the gut cause he spat at Lady Liberty,
then called the Irish “lady-boys” and drank up all their booze, and
fell down before their amazed stares (like mere mortals before some
crude Pagan god of the sweltering jungle’s dark places) and laughed
at the swirling starspangled tumult of the once-still heavens above
him and woke, belching, naked in the king’s courtyard and asked
where the pool was to be found- it gets hot in the middle east and
a man’s got to “tend to his julies.”
Every generation needs something to believe in: I believe in Ross.
I believe that Ross will live till he’s 60. No, forget that. He’s
gonna live till he’s 70. He’ll screw like a rabbit and breed like
rats. He’ll spawn whole ranches of children who will take over his
oil company and let him settle into reirement- you know, chasing
tail and drinking bourbon in the morning and shagging all
afternooon and waking up in a different girl’s bed every morning.
Or maybe he’ll stumble out to sleep under the stars, beneath the
ruins of galaxies far away. Nation states will rise and fall,
crumbling into ruins. Oceans will rise and species will die but not
in Ross’s neighborhood. They will live and thrive and breed and
build and drink and plunder and start the new day to do it all over
again (everybody’s gotta have something to do, right?). And, like
Dorian Gray, he’ll never age a day…. on the outside at least.
Generations will surround his open casket and stare into his
youthful complexion. They will see peace in his eyes and a slight
smile on his lips and they will not cry. “There was a man,” they’ll
say. Not a Prince Among Men or a King of Kings. Just muttered low,
and soft and sweet, like a gravel-mouthed hard and scrappy people’s
best attempt at bewilderment- a people not accustomed to gushing or
wanting anything that the good earth- and Ross- hadn’t already
given them, that they couldn’t just plop down an oil rig or three
into the soft navel of their land and take. Like a whisper. “There
was a man.”
And then they’ll go drink up rivers of booze and pass out in the
stars. His legend will echo down to their grand children’s children
who will name pools and bars in his honor like temples.
Ross- red headed, firebreathing, bone-laughing bastard.
A man’s man and a good old boy.
A real live pioneer. A redneck outlaw. A pilgrim soul. American
Badass.
Fluent in Indian.
Min ausl Texas.

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