Yesterdays and Todays
I do not know why, but every time I hear the song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, I feel very sad. And since the guys in the shop leave that wonder of reptilian repetitiveness that is Pandora on the same 80s station all fucking day long, I cannot help but hear it…oh, I don’t know…1,2, 10 times a day. Maybe it is the slow drawn out flute-like notes on the synthesizer, or the minor key chord progression, I do not know. It could, also, be that 1984 was the year that I first decided to give up my notions of global domination for things more impractical like enlightening my fellow humans on the terrors of war, the desperate need for more compassion, the benefits of an altruistic and focused drive for improvement, and other shit like that. Whatever the case, the soft and gentle sounds drill through my rib cage like tungsten carbide tipped router bits.
Those early years in The States were pretty difficult. Forget the difficulties of an upper middle class family on the run, with all assets frozen, kept whole solely on the anticipation of a return to Eden, whatever that may have been. Forget the sudden poverty, the hunger, the 80 hour work-weeks my parents put in, or the burning crosses on our lawn, or the bricked notes stating that we “Armenians or whatever-the-hell-you-are are lowering our home values” so we should skip Dodge and “take that n*gg*r kid with” us. I am pretty sure that the family “n*gg*r” was me. After all, that is what many addressed me as; whether in Virginia or in California. I did not know what it meant, then…I do not think I fully understood the meaning until my early 20s. Even in the family, I was (affectionately, though) nicknamed “susk-e sia” or “black insect” because my rail thin appendages stretched out from my torso like that of a bug’s, and my, obviously, much darker complexion and big eyes.
What seemed to be the cornerstone of our misery, or so it was made out to be, was the lack of proper ingredients for our ethnic dishes. In Persian culture, food plays such a huge role, as I would imagine it does in most Old World cultures; in cultures old enough that the plenty of the New World, even while in the West seemed absurdly in excess. The preparation of food, presentation of food, the giving of food, the sharing of food…the right food, at the right time, with the right attitude. Maybe the Zoroastrian emphasis on the timeliness, and properness of everything flavored that a bit, too. 1984 was, also, the year that our supply of food became steadier. I remember watching my grandma, mom, and sister literally spending hours rearranging the placement of fruit on our table for guests, all throughout my life.
Recently, a sales person visited me in hopes of winning over my employers’ business. I stretched out my hand to greet him. He brought his out, and as soon as it touched mine, he pulled it back. Quickly. I mean I thought I would get friction burn on my still unclasped digits. He, then, wiped his palm on his pants. After a few introductory words, which included his asking of my ethnic make-up, why I looked so dark for a Persian “who are typically more ‘white’ looking,” I led him into our breakroom, and offered a drink and a snack from our small assortment. Duly denied. That’s OK. During our business talk, I maintained an amicable attitude; after all, I am representing my Serbian-American employers. I was hoping to turn this into a positive experience, if for anything, for my own sake. I interjected things that I hoped would make him feel more comfortable. He mentioned playing the guitar, “well, I, too, play.” He asked about my skin color disparity, I replied that Persians have been subjugated as much as we were subjugators. I, even, told him “the truth” that Iran literally means “land of the Aryans,” taught him some cognates, and that my complexion is probably from my South Asian DNA shown on my DNA test.
As he was leaving, he started chuckling about how funny it was that I showed him “that famous Persian hospitality.” His one other Persian customer “always offers me stuff…but, at least you offered me coffee and not TEA! Yuck, yuck, yuck.” Yucks of laughter. I was baffled by that. I thought I was just being courteous. Well, when I think of Persian hospitality, I think of the whole “a guest in my home is entitled to my entire home and what it offers. Its protection. Its comfort. Its everything.” Offering a snack…I thought that was polite anywhere. The whole situation really made me feel sad…and uncomfortable…and unaccepted in a dirty way….And, of course, Everybody Wants to Rule the World comes on.
The Dearilization Ritual
Thankfully, I had uncut pomegranates at home. I love pomegranates. I love everything about them. The tree, the blossom, the bitter white membrane. What I love even more is the preparation of pomegranate. I have that down to a science. I can remove the arils, membrane-free, of a large Pom within 15 minutes. I have even gone 8 pom deep preparing for guests, or to make stew, or whatever.
I have it turned into a ritual. I lay out a blanket on the carpet and place my tools in the proper place. A bag for waste. All pom at the ready. Turn on some music; preferably instrumental. All the while, sipping on an alcoholic beverage or three. To properly get to the pom’s innards, one need not make more than two cuts: one across, right beneath the stamen cluster, and one about 1/4 of the way through. It may be necessary to make another, if your hands are not strong enough to split it with the one. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breath. As a younger chap, I even tried performing my own personal pseudo Ab-Zohr; pressing the arils in my mortar and adding it to milk (lactose free).
Rituals are done for many reasons, I guess; To aid in concentration, To occupy the brain’s corporeal control portions, to calm anxiety, to allow deeper levels of thought, to clear out the waste water around the brain, if you will. Well, at least that’s why I do this ritual. It really eases my mental burdens…plus, I can usually play better guitar afterwards. Yet another reason that I prefer the colder seasons, as it were…I guess better to say the slightly cooler seasons, here in sunny Southern California.
Pomegranates and Pistachios. Pomegranates and pistachios are what I would use as my excuse anytime someone caught me crying for no apparent reason. It may have happened minutes after or years after the fact, but, I would eventually cry. Whether I was regretful for bullying somebody, or, more frequently, for being bullied. The first desert I ever saw was in California, yet for some odd reason, I was a desert dwelling sandn*gg*r. I was 19 when I saw my first camel in person. It was at the LA County Zoo, with my friend Angie. The second time was a few years later at the same zoo. Probably the same camel, too. I, however, was the neighborhood camel jockey. My mom and/or sister would ask what was wrong, and my answer was always “I miss home. I miss the pomegranates. I miss the pistachios.” Well, I did. I, also, missed my family, and not being bullied, and being rewarded for being smart or learning something new.
By the time I was a teenager, I toughened up. I changed from violin to guitar. I developed the pomegranate ritual.
A Wonderful Discovery
In late 1984, my aunt and her family moved to The States for a brief time. One of my cousins is the same age. We used the same bike. We used the same skateboard. We went to the same school. We had much of the same friends. We did everything together. We spent virtually every waking non-classroom moment of the day together. It was awesome. I still think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. One day, we were playing by the Adventure Camp facility and the library behind University Park Elementary, as we liked to do. We were riding/ running through the shrubs and bushes, getting all cut up and muddy, as kids do. We were 6 in number, and broke up into 2 teams. I struck a tree with the bike, and fell into the mud hard.
I laid there, catching my breath and ego. My name was called. I opened my eyes, and saw an unripe pomegranate above me. Well, I thought it was. A few years had passed since I had last seen one. I called over the gang and after a number of attempts, lifting configurations, and falls, we were able to recover one from the tree. We set off homeward, post haste. My brother placed it on the center of the dinner table where my grandmother and sister were chatting. We were all excited. My grandma and sister started throwing numbers out. “What do you think, 6, 7 weeks?”
“No. Maybe 8.”
A few months went by.
It’s 2:45 and school is out! The usual crew made our way toward the library, and there they were. My sister on one tree plucking pomegranates, and my grandmother, with pants under her dress, skirt lifted to catch and hold the pomegranates. We ate pomegranates for weeks. My mom and grandma made all of our favorite pomegranate dishes, and we harvested that tree for years. Until we had to split the spoils with another pomegranate enjoying family, until the tree was taken down.
A few days passed from when the salesman had dropped by. I receive an email from the salesman. In it, he stated that he had looked into our conversation, and if I were interested in meeting him for a music session. I declined citing business conflict of interest. Then, he asked if we could play at my place of employment, so it could be seen that there was no impropriety happening. I turned him down, again.
I gotta get more pomegranates.