The city of Los Angeles is a sprawl; an untamed sprawl – yet within this cultural desert, one is apt to find pockets of charm and civility. One such place is Third Street where Hancock Park meets Hollywood. On this last Sunday in October, I find myself at the entrance of the “Little Door”, a cozy eatery which boasts a decade of catering to the rich and famous. Despite the kitsch décor, the faux-French accented wait-staff and the overpriced Chardonnay one cannot deny the ambiance which is distinctly un-LA. I fancy it to be just the right place for a dalliance. The lights are low, the food is passable and the staff discrete. I give my name and am led to a table set for three. The waitress brings me a Gin and Tonic; the salve to give me Dutch courage for my rendezvous with Reza Daleer and his beautiful paramour, my good friend, Mira.
I have dressed for the occasion just as Mira had subtly begged.
“He is very proper Solo.”
I suspect my entire outfit is cheaper than the price of the entrée. Luckily my handbag, a gift from my generous sister-in-law, makes up for my modest taste in clothing. I reach into it and gingerly take out my reading glasses, put them on and proceed to pore over the menu. But my mind is on the couple who will shortly be walking through that door. First encounters excite me tremendously. I fantasize about the other person, and so much more so on this very occasion as I am afforded the privilege of meeting the man who has had a hand in the makings of my good friend. She has told me plenty about him. Yet nothing has prepared me for the person I see walking in with Mira on his arm.
Men come in all shapes and sizes. Yet there is something distinct about the Iranian man; for however ordinary his looks may be in his youth, the passage of time is kind to him. No matter what his shortcomings, philosophies or occupation, one thing is for certain; the Iranian man ages well. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he has been groomed throughout a long marriage to a woman who is a notch or two above him. It is as if she has taken an eraser and painstakingly softened the edges. Having carefully done away with the coarse language, the poor taste in clothing and the uncouth mannerisms; she has lovingly filled the void with refined sensibility. Gone may be the jet black locks and the wild in the deep dark brown eyes of his youth. In its stead appear the salt and pepper sprinkling at the temples, and soft wrinkles around the eyes, the mouth and the furrow, all wrapped up in a gentle demeanor. In time he develops a comfortable carriage despite his modest stature and learns to own his prominent nose rather than simply endure it. His body finds its home; a home that only a wife can build. In short he becomes handsome.
I let my eyes rest on this man as he approaches, taking in all the cues. He is shorter than Mira by a good inch. He is slender but not slight. He commands a certain authority. Impeccably attired in tailored pressed pants, a monogrammed polo shirt and suede loafers, he exudes a sensual quality particular to the well-seasoned Iranian man.
They arrive at the table. My face breaks into a smile.
“Solo - you are here.”
“Yes” I reach over to kiss Mira.
“Meet Reza. Reza this is Solo.”
I extend a hand and all the charm I can muster. “Khoshbakhtam.” I utter keeping my eyes firmly on his – to establish a connection.
I catch the gleam from the diamond on his platinum wedding band. He wears a Patek on his right wrist; one that could be an inheritance. I can’t be sure though. Something about his faintly arrogant stance suggests to me the watch is more likely to have been a gift.
“Beh hamchenin Khanoum.” He squeezes my hand with confidence and a smile.
They are seated. We engage in small talk. I manage to eke out a good five minutes about my recent brush with an allergy. We order our food and Reza chooses the wine. We talk about Seattle’s rain, LA’s smog, London’s fog and Iran’s beautiful blue sky. Once the safe subjects and the menu are tucked away, I turn to this lovely couple and express my pleasure to be here with them.
“Samira has told me so much about you. I feel as though I know you.” He says.
“All good I hope.”
“Absolutely. She thinks the world of you.”
“The feeling is mutual. She is one of a kind.”
“That she is.”
He reaches for her hand and squeezes it lovingly and possessively, extending a tender smile to her. She responds in kind.
“Samira tells me you are in electronics. How did a feminine type like you end up in such a male-dominated business?”
“Is there any other kind of business?” I smile.
“Touché.” He laughs nervously and turns to Mira. “Your friend over here promises to be a ball of fire.”
“Adequate to the occasion.” I laugh. “ I design hardware for the music industry.”
“Solo used to be a groupie.” Mira pipes in.
“A lover of music; a woman after my own heart.” He flirts.
“Hardly.” I joke. “These days I live vicariously through my daughter – a groupie wannabe.”
The food arrives. We start talking about flavors and aromas. We all agree that America has bastardized our taste buds. There ensues an animated discussion about Iranian cuisine and its superiority to any and all. The wine helps the conversation flow easily.
I fancy capturing this moment in pictures. I gesture to the waiter, hand over my cell phone and ask him to photograph us. Snap – snap – Mira and Reza. Snap - snap- Reza and me; and then me and Mira – arms around each other. One last snap with the three of us, smiling into the camera – friends at a seemingly innocent Sunday brunch in this pocket of civility miles from Seattle and miles more from Iran.
“Mira tells me you go to Iran often.”
“I prefer that you call her Samira when I am around. I like her Persian name.”
I look over to my friend, smile, and say: “That would be Queen Samira then, no?” Mira returns the compliment with a coy smile.
I turn my gaze back to Reza. “What’s Iran like these days?”
“Same as before. The rich are getting richer, the poor getting poorer.”
“Reza – that is your standard answer. Surely there is more to it than that.” Mira chimes in.
“That sums it up.” Reza responds.
“What do you think will happen; what with the elections, the Green movement, the youth?” I ask – curiosity wrapped around every word.
“I don’t get into politics.”
“Don’t you? An apolitical Iranian man? A breath of fresh air.” I laugh teasingly.
“Politics are best left in the hands of politicians. I am a businessman. I keep to my own business.”
“Is it true that the price of a whore is less than a pound of meat to feed a family?”
Mira looks aghast. “Solo – what on earth would you say that for?”
“Well – I don’t get to see many Iranians and even fewer who travel back and forth to Iran. I tend to take what I hear with a grain of salt. But here is a person I feel I can trust to tell me the truth.”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t engage in those activities.” He sounds agitated.
“Yes – of course. We hear that the streets of Tehran are lined with young women willing to sell themselves to visiting expatriates for the price of a meal. It sounds outlandish. But then I have heard many outlandish things about Iran and Iranians. We are many things – and simple isn’t one of them; won’t you agree?”
“Iran has a long history of exploitation and servitude. It has made for complex people.”
“Yes – complexity. We pride ourselves in that, don’t we? We think we can outmaneuver the cleverest Western mind. We are a proud nation, but truthfully what do we have to be proud of? Defeat, duplicity, desperation? ”
“I tend to be more optimistic about my people.”
He is now noticeably irritated. Clearly I am getting under his skin.
“There is the literature of course, heavily influenced by the Arab invasion. There is the civility, brought to our land by the English and the French. The sense of humor, the double entendres, and the camouflage – we can be all things to all people. Nobody can figure us out. Or so we fancy.”
“Solo – there you go again, with your analyses. Must you be so resentful of your own people?”
“Refute it. I am all ears.” I smile.
“You don’t know Iran and the Iranian. Your views are that of an invader. The British who raised you appear to have done a good job in coloring your perception.” He attacks- below the belt.
It so appears that he has been thrown off kilter with less than five statements.
“Possibly. I can’t say I carry the same convictions as someone who was raised there. I happen not to believe that the Iranian is unique in any form. Just like all other nations, the Iranian is a product of its history. He has, time and time again, chosen the easy path – shifting blame, shrugging accountability and instead taking refuge in a false sense of accomplishment. The Iranian has delusions of grandeur and is the laughing stock of the Westerner. In this game of East and West it is not always obvious which is the clown and which the puppet. We Iranians prefer false admiration to genuine respect. Hypocrisy is in our blood.
“I happen to admire and respect the Iranian, for his mind, his heart and his soul.”
“And the Iranian has that market cornered, does he?”
“We are a sensitive people who appreciate art and music. We know about the good things in life. We have knowledge and acumen. We are loyal and warm. And when we love, we love it all. Not like some ‘dahati’ American who is only a couple of generations away from the farm.”
“Oh yes, but of course. Iran -the land of Kings and Princes. A 3000 year history. We hold on to the past every which way we can.” I say with a touch of sarcasm.
Reza is positively seething. He looks over to Mira beseeching her to save him from having to continue with this nonsense. Mira on the other hand appears to be fascinated by Reza’s reaction. She has never seen him challenged – nor be angry. It seems Reza is human after all – not some god-like figure that she’d cooked up in her mind for decades. He is just like any other man – even more ordinary. For all his acquired sensibility, this person apparently is unable to even control his temper. The mind boggles what would happen if he were to receive a direct order. He is used to pushing people around, issuing threats and taking what is not rightfully his. This man has been having his cake and eating it too for a good long while. But what can he do now that he is nailed to his seat at this very civilized restaurant, sipping French wine and engaged in a difficult conversation with an ornery so and so? Being a gentleman is not something that comes naturally to this person.
Our tête-à-tête, combined with charm and smiles has certainly brought a forced intimacy and some tension to this gathering. He is a proud man and he will not be outdone – not even in a casual conversation. He blushes beetroot red. Now I can take a good look at this so called ‘ashrafi’ specimen from the motherland as the veneer slowly begins to peel off.
The waiter arrives to take away my polished plate and that of the half-eaten ones of my companions. I order the house soufflé and coffee. Mira asks for green tea and Reza for a shot of brandy.
We switch to domestic subjects, Obama, the health plan, unemployment and of course the stories of woe from a businessman who is finding himself in a tight spot amidst the financial tides of this land of opportunity. Here is a chance for Mr. Daleer to regain his composure and redirect the conversation to where he wants it to go. He is in his element and I allow him a reprieve from our earlier verbal fencing.
Despite my offer for a taste of the delectable dessert, this lovely couple refrains thinking wisely of waistlines, something I said good bye to many moons ago. We are approaching the end of our meeting. I have thoroughly enjoyed the food, something I was apprehensive about; and as for the conversation – it has been most enlightening.
Mira gets up to go and visit the Ladies room. This leaves Reza and I to continue with polite chatter.
I drink the last of my coffee, take a deep breath and brace myself.
“She usually takes at least 10 minutes – so that gives you and me a little time to come to an agreement.”
“Well, it’s like this. You may have fooled Mira – but your act is not lost on me.”
I show him the ring on my right hand with the palm turned toward me.”
“See this? You will find one just like it at Fred’s – not too far from here. My suggestion is that you take yourself over to that store and buy it for her. It costs $25,000; chump change for you. Consider it payment of $1000 for every year of lies you have fed my friend; or, a gag gift for me – whichever you prefer. You may give it to her as a parting gift.”
“WHAT?” He looks stunned.
“Afterwards I suggest you take your leave and return to your Bellevue mansion where your ugly and not so frigid wife awaits you. You need not look back – ever.”
“What the hell?”
“You are a businessman, so I am talking to you in a language you understand. You are not some political activist from an aristocratic family. More than likely you are the son of a two-bit ‘bazari’. Swiss school – my foot, you don’t know how to spell Lausanne, let alone live in it.
“I won’t stand for this.”
I let out a guffaw. “What are you going to do? Jump up and protest? Pretty soon, she will come out of the powder room and you have to don your fake face again. Now listen to me Mr. Family man, Mr. Loyal and sensitive, the lover of music and art, Mr. Patriot. Party is over and you are history.
“How dare you?!”
“You have come a long way from the days of landing in Canada with nothing but your lies and a few thousand bucks. What do you do now for a living? Hauling people’s garbage? Calling it a lucrative business, do you? Isn’t it closer to the truth that if it weren’t for the in-laws, you’d still be going around collecting monthly rent from the down-and-outs; Mr. Slumlord. Some silver spoon you had in your mouth!
I watch the blood drain from his face, his moustache starts to twitch and those lovely brown eyes turn stone cold ready to pierce me.
“Where do you get all this from?”
“I make it my business to find out about people who screw with my friends. You get lost and you get lost good. Change your address, block your number, shut off email; take yourself off every page of the net. Lose her number. Lose her. Go.
“And what if I don’t? What are you going to do?”
“Evin will look like a vacation by the time I am done with you. Not that a pig like you would know what a political prisoner has to endure.
“Guilty as charged and proud of it.” I smile victoriously.
“You can do nothing.”
“Business 101 - Don’t ever underestimate your enemies. I could tell you what your wife had for breakfast today. She is probably sitting with her friends at that country club right about now; sipping champagne and laughing her head off with her friends about you and your floozy. She’ll throw you out to the dogs - with a flick of her finger. And you know it.”
“I should have known better than to have agreed to this lunch.”
“Of course you should have. But you’ve got idiot written all over you. Here she comes. Smile. You don’t want to give her ideas now, do you?”
“Fuck you.” He spouts under his breath.
“You wish.” I smile. I bend over as if to share a private joke. I whisper: “You fuck with my friend Mister and I will crucify you.”
I throw my head back and break into a hearty laughter. I wink at Mira approaching.
“I am back. Reza: What’s wrong? Why are you so pale?”
“I think it’s the fish. I ate too much.”
“But you hardly touched your food.”
“Damn restaurants, the more they charge the worse the food.”
I gesture to the waiter for the bill. He is waiting in the shadows with it. Three hands reach for it and I manage to grab it amidst protests. Reza reaches for his wallet, opens it up and hastily pulls out four crisp $100 bills. But I am ahead of him pushing my credit card into the hands of the waiter. I secretly think of one month’s groceries that act will have bought me. But I want the receipt, so I pay.
Mira chides me. “Solo – you shouldn’t have. We invited you. This place is very expensive. Let’s at least split the bill.”
“My treat – please.” I smile and touch her hand lightly. She smiles back and mouths a thank you.
I see terror on his face.
We get up, gather our stuff and head for the door. Once outside in the afternoon sun, I put on my sunglasses so that I can take one last good look at this cretin. I extend my hand.
“Enchanté Monsieur. It’s been a pleasure.” One last toothy smile.
His hand is clammy and limp. He can barely hold the grip.
I turn to Mira, give her a big hug. I then hold her face in my hands, smile into those almond eyes and put my lips to hers for a smooch. I hold the kiss just long enough for Reza Daleer to cringe in disgust. She is shocked and breaks into laughter. “Solo – what has come over you? That bloody wine.”
“Love you pumpkin.”
And with that I turn on my heel and head west. I raise my hand above my head, my heart in my mouth, I wave them a V-sign.
* Reza Daleer is a fictitious character. Any resemblance to a person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Glossary of Persian Terms
Be hamchenin Khanoum Likewise, Madam.
Khoshbakhtam Pleasure to meet you.
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