The restaurant is dim and empty; you have arrived too early for a late dinner. A dark-skinned young man in a pressed white shirt shows you to a table far away from the stage. Halfway through your baba ghanoush
or hummus appetizer, a stoic-faced band begins to play Middle Eastern music, although it's clear they are not playing for you. Around 10:30 p.m., limousines begin to pull up outside the door, depositing dark-suited businessmen and their handsome offspring, or protégés, or girlfriends. They double-kiss each other as they file past to the tables surrounding the stage. They drink from special bottles of water and smoke from ornate hookahs -- neither of which has been offered to you. Gathering more and more energy, they clap to the rhythm of the music and shout greetings across the room. The owner of the restaurant sings a song and then shakes hands knowingly with the patrons. Finally Veronica rushes to the stage in a blur of gold sequins and mesh. She shakes her stomach muscles and undulates her abdomen, letting her long, curly hair fall over her face like a soft-core porn star. The dark-suited businessmen and their handsome companions put money in Veronica's clothes. You strain to see. You want to be closer to the action, enveloped in the moment, invited to join this club that hints at wealth and family and sex and foreign lands. But you realize that you are lucky just to be sitting where you are, a fly on the wall.