12 times I confused the Middle East for New Jersey, like Ben Carson did

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"Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson joined GOP rival Donald Trump in claiming that he, too, saw news footage of Muslim-Americans cheering as the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — despite the fact that no such footage has turned up yet.


But later that day, he walked back his comments, telling ABC News that he "was thinking of the Middle East, not New Jersey."  - The Huffington Post, Nov. 23, 2015

We were taking the PATH train into Newark to see a Devils game. None of us had ever been to the Prudential Center before, and there was some confusion about where to go.

“Does anyone know where we need to get off for the stadium?” my friend Josie asked.

“I think it’s Broad Street,” I said. “It’s the next station, right after the Aqqaba stop.”

Dan read from the Trivial Pursuit card.

“Name all 8 Ivy League universities,” he said.

My wife easily recited seven of them: “Harvard, Yale, Brown, Penn, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth…”


We just needed one more. I thought I had it.

“Sharif University of Technology-Tehran!” I blurted out. We didn’t get the piece.


We had been stuck in traffic on the turnpike for what felt like hours. I decided to strike up a conversation.


“This is where they filmed Lawrence of Arabia,” I said, pointing out the window.

“We’re in Hackensack,” she said.

"You're right," I said, trying to save face. "I guess I was thinking of Jarhead."


“Moving to Hoboken wouldn’t be so bad,” she said. “It’s a quick commute, cheaper rent, lower taxes.”


“Sure,” I protested, “but do we really want to live under the despotic rule of the Mamluk Sultanate?”

My wife sighed.

“The Mamluk Sultanate was quashed by the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s," she sighed.


There was no use arguing. She was usually right about this stuff, anyway.

"The mainstream media refers to them as ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State," I argued, gesturing with my wine glass. "But I think, to prove a point, we should call them by the name they don't want to go by: Rutgers University."


“All the flights into JFK and Laguardia are so expensive,” my mom complained.

I let out the knowing laugh of the wily New Yorker.

“Here's an insider's secret: New York has a third airport, in New Jersey. Have you checked flights into Tel Aviv Ben Gurion?”


She hadn’t, of course. I didn't get to see my family that Christmas.

We drove slowly through Trenton, surprised by the emptiness of the city, the abandoned buildings, the fading exteriors.


“Incredible to think that this was once the cradle of all Western civilization, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, and Assyrians, with much of their early farming success due to soil nurtured by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers” I said.

No one replied. We were all too awe-struck by the history around us.

The plane touched down at Newark Airport and I immediately undid my seatbelt.

“So great to be back home in Doha!” I screamed. The flight attendants had to restrain me.



I almost never see celebrities in public, which is why I was so excited when I caught a glimpse of Bruce Springsteen riding the New York subway.


"Mr. Springsteen," I said, "I'm a huge fan. Born to Run is my all-time favorite album."

It was only later, when I reviewed our photos together, that I realized I had actually been talking to a poster for Homeland.


"What's everyone thinking for breakfast?" I asked the group. "I'm craving some shakshuka and maybe a cup of milky hibiscus tea."


"Sir, this is a Wawa," the cashier responded. How long had I been standing there?

"It says here you spent a year abroad, in the Middle East?" the interviewer asked.


"That's right," I said. "Smack-dab in the heart of New Jersey."

I didn't get the job. Should I have worn a suit?

"What if we packed up our things and started a new life somewhere else?" I asked my wife when I got home. "I'm tired of New Jersey."


"Where would we go?" she asked.

"I'm thinking somewhere overseas, where the action is," I said. "Somewhere with a big oil business. Somewhere like…New Jersey."


"We live in New Jersey," she said.

"Right. That's why I want to move overseas, to New Jersey."

"We're both saying New Jersey."

"No, you're saying 'New Jersey,' and I'm saying, 'New Jersey.'"

"Are you confusing 'New Jersey' and 'the Middle East' again?" she asked.

Horrified, I realized I had been. Oh well. At least I had met Bruce Springsteen that day.