GUESTWORDS: Osama at the Planning Board

By Bruce Buschel

    Before Osama bin Laden built his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he spent a few harried years looking for the perfect property while looking over his shoulder. One wife liked France, another Marrakesh, another Afghanistan, another Dubai, and so on and so forth. Fortunately, he had an excellent broker at Corcoran who showed him many fine locations in many countries before he decided on the half acre less than a mile from the National Military Academy of Pakistan.
    The original estimate for construction was $600,000, but it went slowly and ran over bud­get. When the cost hit $1 million, the general contractor went missing. Turns out he was building two other mansions at the same time, on the other side of Abbottabad, and was overextended. Pakistani officials say they are searching for the poor fellow, and the U.S. reports that no Navy Seal team has been dispatched to find him. (Real seals, in this instance, might have better luck.)
    One of the properties Osama bin Laden seriously considered before settling on Abbottabad was in Southampton, N.Y. (The exact address is being withheld for obvious reasons; it would hurt the summer rental.) While initially balking at the suggestion, his excellent Corcoran broker reminded Bin Laden of all those years spent in desert tents and in mountain caves, so why shouldn’t he spend some quality time with his family near the ocean and enjoy the peace and quiet of Southampton?
    Additionally, his agent told him, Southampton suited his needs for modern connections — satellite television, optic-fiber Internet, Twitter, Foursquare, iMovie to edit his videos — in order to keep in touch with his minions, who hated everything about modernity. Except Boeing 737s and Kalashnikov AK-47s.
    Among the fascinating items found at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad was a scratchy audiotape of his one and only appearance before the Southampton Town Planning Board in May of 2003. (We would thank Wiki­Leaks for the tape, but we don’t want to get anyone in trouble or see The Star hauled before a government subcommittee.) Apparently, Bin Laden was accompanied by his attorney, Al Keida, who insisted that his client disguise his identity and came up with the alias “Obama Lin Saden.”
    The record shows that they arrived late for that morning session at Town Hall. We must assume they did so in order to skip the Pledge of Allegiance ceremony that starts each day. Obama Lin Saden did most of the talking through an interpreter.
    This is the unexpurgated reprint of that initial meeting with the planning board of Southampton.
    Good morning, Mr. Lin Saden.
    Good morning, gentleman of the planning board. Salam-alaikum. And you two women too.
    Your elevations are very well executed.
    Allah be praised.
    Are we looking at a single-family dwelling here?
    Yes. But you must remember that I have many wives, too many children, and 34 security guards. Not to mention a live-in cook and an organic farmer.
    Bodyguards? Do they sleep at the residence?
    I hope not. I pay them to stay awake.
    You said farmer, right?
    Yes. He interned at Quail Hill many years ago. He is fantastic. He can get blood from a stone.
    Will he be growing anything on the premises?
    We are very green, if that is your concern, no pesticides, no chemicals. We envision some raised beds in a modest garden. Potatoes, kale, cabbage, basil for pesto, and a bushy plant with a pungent Afghan smell and delicious taste which my people dry in the sun and smoke in rolling papers. I prefer Zig-Zag. Some people think I look like the Zig-Zag guy. I laugh when I hear this. It is quite a compliment.
    Why are you growing your own vegetables?
    We don’t go out much. We are on the lam.
    On the lam? What do you mean?
    (The attorney, Al Keida, breaks in here.) “Mr. Lin Saden meant to say he likes lamb, but cannot find it in Southampton.”
    We like lamb kabobs very much. This is true. We don’t like to go out to eat much. Except for lunch. Love the salad nicoise at Silver’s. A little pricey, but very satisfying. I usually share one with two wives. My third wife on this trip cannot handle roughage.
    The plans for your new house indicate it is rather large and sprawling, more like a compound than a house. Is that right?
    My excellent Corcoran broker has been driving me around the area and showing me impressive mansions much larger than my own. Can you believe the Rennert spread in Sagaponack? Allah be praised. It has 29 bedrooms, 39 bathrooms, a basketball court, a bowling alley, two tennis courts, two squash courts, and a hot tub that can accommodate 72 virgins, comfortably.
    We see no hot tub or swimming pool in your plans.
    I cannot swim. I have nightmares that I will end up in the water, unable to see land.
    We also see no basement, no laundry room, no wine cellar.
    Nothing underground, please. I have had it up to here with dark and dank places. Besides, basements always leak. No leaks, please. I have had it up to here with leaks. I drink no wine, Allah be praised. I drink Pepsi Max. I like very much Pepsi Max with a sirloin cheeseburger at Silver’s.
    It looks like you have enough open space in this compound to land a helicopter.
    A helicopter? That thought never entered my head.
    How do you plan to use all the empty space?
    We will be burning our trash so we don’t have to haul it to the dump. Save on petrol. We would not like scraps of paper or discarded letters to fall into the hands of the TMZ or perhaps this very planning board. No offense. But I remember what happened to Bob Dylan. They rummaged through his garbage. That’s how I found out his true name was Robert Zimmerman. A Zionist. Too bad. I used to sing “Just Like a Woman” when we did karaoke in the caves.
    How many bathrooms do you plan?
    Two. One inside, one outside.
    How long do you think this construction will take?
    I have a large construction crew. They also do demolition. Very fast. Very effective. What are the hours permitted for work? In my homeland, we are so courteous that we work only a few hours each day.
    In Southampton, where building is our main business, we allow loud construction and deafening jackhammers 12 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — 7 days a week.
    On the Sabbath you sanction work?
    What do you do for a living, Mr. Lin Saden?
    I am an inspirational speaker.
    We couldn’t tell.
    It loses something in the translation. I had 565,000 hits on YouTube last week. Perhaps you have seen my work?
    Anyone on the board familiar with Mr. Lin Saden’s work?
    (Board members look at one another and answer, from left to right, “No,” “Not me,” “Sorry,” “I have grandchildren,” “No,” “What is YouTube?” and “I am getting ready for polo season.”)
    No harm. I am a humble servant. How long will permit take?
    As you can see by the crowd here today, we are swamped. Ever since 9/11, more and more people are moving out of the city and building homes in the Hamptons.
    I understand. You have a lovely community. I haven’t seen a policeman in two weeks. Your citizens are very kind. Some salespeople at P.C. Richard can be curt, but I am sure to feel safe and secure here.
    In these plans, your mansion resembles a fortress of seclusion.
    You make me sound like Superman. I blush.
    That was the Fortress of Solitude.
    Oh, right. With so many wives and rivals, I’d settle for seclusion.
    You have exteriors walls of 8 feet and 13 feet and even 18 feet — one on the third-floor balcony. That one has barbed wire. We want to protect the look of the neighborhood more than the residents who live there, so can you talk about the composition of walls, please?
    We use brick and mortar, maybe some cinder ­blocks. Old school. Nothing modern. Fundamental elements.
    We will need samples of the exact bricks and the mortar before we can approve anything.
    You don’t know what a brick looks like?
    You’d be amazed, Mr. Saden. Some people try to sneak in oddly colored or oddly shaped bricks. They even dye the mortar just to be different. We don’t like different. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want your neighborhood wrecked by surprise mortar, would you?
    Death to dyed mortar!
    Your plans also call for metal doors, metal security gates, and a natural camouflage provided by surrounding hedges and trees and man-made dunes.
    When in Southampton, do as the Southamptonites do. Everyone here lives as if they are international terrorists hiding from the authorities. I will too. Not to worry. We will blend in. You won’t know we are here. Except when the adhan calls us to prayer five times a day.
    With that, Obama Lin Saden looked at his watch, stood up, and marched out of the meeting. It was lunchtime. His lawyer apologized and later withdrew his application. No explanation was offered. This did happen, however, shortly after Page Six spotted one of Bin Laden’s wives walking down Main Street with a young waiter from Silver’s. That claim has never been substantiated.

    Bruce Buschel is a writer of nonfiction and an Off Broadway musical. He blogs for The New York Times about his restaurant in Bridgehampton, Southfork Kitchen. He has also directed and produced a series of jazz films, “Live at the Village Vanguard.” He lives in Bridgehampton.