Monday, December 9, 2019

Pardon My Persian by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri

A young American writer feels oppressed by his father's pride in their shared Persian roots; by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri.

Your father has dragged you to another Persian party, even though you know almost nothing of his culture, a culture he has attempted to impose upon you, deeming you too American because you like movies, don't adhere to his chauvinistic notions of gender roles. Because you lead a social life that is anathema to his own vision of things. At this stage, you're young, in your early twenties, and don't yet have the balls to draw lines in the sand.

The facts: You are American, by birth, by sensibility. English is your natural idiom, the language in which you create and curse out people you despise. The language in which you argue with your father, the mustache man. You're in your early twenties, and have lived in this city, attended party after party for years. Your father calls you Persian, slipping that fact surreptitiously into any conversation.

Women and men with grotesque smiles kiss and hug you, streaming in slowly, half an hour late, the pace picking up. Salaam, salaam, they proclaim. Peace. Peace. Your father shoves you into their line of fire, space invaded by labyrinths of arms. They grow in number, expanding, like a bad Sci-Fi Channel movie. Persiannado. They wear fakeness like a veil. You cannot pronounce their names. They offer a few words in English, retreat into their social orders, into the Persian language, a language replete with fake sweetness. A spoonful of too much sugar and bullshit.

You need a joint.

You need a fucking joint. Hopefully your cousin Sandro will come soon, a cousin who has grown up in a similar milieu, but managed to engage in his own antics. Antics that hold a certain daring, electrical energy. Smuggling pot into Turkey, smoking pot in saunas, mooning vice-principals. Cheerfully embracing bad grades. And on top of that, he is an aspiring screenwriter, someone who shares your fondness for movies and the worlds they induce.

But until then, you have to be good.

You have to be the good man, the straight man. Even in the life you can control, the choices you make, you are a straight shooter. You write conventional stories of dysfunction and darkness, color inside the lines, address people with respect, don't drive drunk, don't do a lot of things. Except where pot is concerned, that salve for tortured American youth.

You have no place in their order, sit on a chair in the living room, an island among the easy chatter. No one offers to translate their low, mysterious words, to let you into the world. They offer no comfort, don't ask if you're all right.

You are drowning in their words, overwhelming and vast. They laugh, gesticulate in that Persian manner. Your father included, who pretends to laugh and love these people, even though he badmouths them in private, calls them fake. Phony. Just as the other people in the room are wont to do. What a social order. Your father laughs, his mustache bristling with faux cheer, reminding you of Joseph Stalin. He is capturing their secrets, surveying them, just as they are likely capturing his. It's their way of engaging. Smile on Saturday, stab each other in the back on Monday.

Pot calling the kettle black indeed. Although, you don't know what hidden nuances linger in the parties you've attended. Hanging out has always seemed straightforward, people conveying truths. Yet even your friends and acquaintances might be hiding things. What they might hide about you, about themselves? This frightens you.

Sad.

You make a face or two, something that conveys discomfort, disgust. Hope someone will see it. Get pissed off. Nope.

The party's hosts can't even offer a little booze. They claim it's because they're Muslims, yet they're not practicing Muslims. You could really use some booze. And some pot.

They laugh on and on. You let your mind drift off everywhere. Into your writing, the art of constructing, of creating. You dream of exodus, leaving this city, these people, going off somewhere. Oregon, Washington, Colorado, bulwarks of coolness, places where people abide. You imagine telling your father what you think of his parties, instigating a revolution against his customs. His criticisms echo. You're too unsociable, too American, have no respect. What does this mean? Too American.

You need your cousin. And a joint.

Is your Americanness a mighty fortress, protection against his edicts? In part. You believe in the dignity of all, gay, straight, Greek, Roman. What-have-you. Your father and his fellow Persians categorize and demean. But it's too simple to think like that. You genuinely value the notions of freedoms, of expressing yourself, even if your country often fails to live up to its own creed. Perhaps to create is a vital part of being American, letting loose your anger, poking the bears that be. The spirit of insurrection.

You cannot deny your own country's flaws. It can be a son-of-a-bitch, like Iran, like any other country. You despise the stereotypes of Middle Easterners that abound, images of swarthy invaders carrying bombs. But when Persians assault your nation verbally, people who live within its boundaries and shit upon it day in, day out, you defend it with all the jingoism of a Tea Party member. You're tired and weary.

The Persians begin dancing, blasting music that assaults your ears. Bodies move, swarthy, corpulent, slim. All sorts. Persian singers wail from speakers, as if someone has grabbed their nuts and forced them to sing. People snap fingers, dance with rehearsed precision that emulates spontaneity. Your father's mustache is bristling, conveying his need to be the corpse at the funeral, the bride at the wedding, the most prominent man at the party.

Where's Tchaikovsky when you need him?

Your father has no understanding of your creative processes, of what it means to write, to imagine, to think beyond his proscribed cultural lines. He claims your stories cripple him, you're too selfish thinking of your work. Be a lawyer, a doctor, he proclaims. Get pussy, use people. This is his life, transactional, without love. Kindness. He lives for calculation and you almost pity him. Almost. He has chosen this life, after all. Whatever ideals he held as a youth, he has discarded with coldness.

The monotony and dancing are disrupted by dinner, by that common ground of digestion and good culinary delights. The act of delight, of feasting. Of enjoying the sumptuous spread. But all too soon, people revert back to the conversations and dancing. You look around, hoping someone might notice, offer some compassion, interest in your life. But you know it's foolish. You must hang in, hold on.

At last, your cousin shows up. There will be more boredom in the future. But for tonight, you and he slip away, into the backyard, into those hidden spaces. You can speak languages you both know, pretend that things are easy to compartmentalize. The words slip from you with ease, the complaints. Your cousin laughs. The joints and lighters come out, smoke drifting into the night, that beautiful night, so vast and open, stars smiling, a moon dancing through wispy clouds. You speak the language of youth, or an idealized language, a language of your creation. You speak this idealized language, a language of laughing and smoking and Coen Brothers, laughter rising into the night, something all your own. Something you hold onto, while a part of you envisions the next Persian party.-

6 comments:

  1. An interesting read, engaging and well-written.

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  2. "pretend that things are easy to compartmentalize."

    That might be the central point of this wonderful story.

    I've been to many of these parties, though as an American outsider and merely the father-in-law of my son's wife. As with all human actions, there is depth and nuance that escapes us all.

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  3. Entertaining story. Persia today seems also to have this generational split. Vivid descriptions.

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  4. As an Iranian guy, I'd like to share my honest feedback here.

    Well, I've read a few stories by Mir-Yashar this year. Honestly, I'm not his fan, but I'll surely keep reading his short stories whenever I get the chance.

    One thing good about this story is that the main character talks frankly and does not censor his thoughts and feelings.

    However, I believe that there are too many (unnecessary) insults in this short piece. Freedom of speech ... I think! ;-)

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  5. Engaging style. Nice job dissecting all of the complicated thoughts and relationships.

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  6. Complicated. What it feels like to be an outsider to other outsiders. A very emotional story.

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