Tales from the zirzameen
June 28, 2003
All morning different revolutionary groups had been fighting over
the National Iranian Radio and Television station, the next hill
over from where we were at the Hilton. Each Group knew that whoever captured and controlled the station could
go on the air waves and claim authorship of the revolution.
The employees were taking a break from the lines and the filling
out of paperwork for the out processing by going to the lunch room
where the Hilton had set up a nice buffet. I asked my boss "Neil"
what we were going to tell the employees about the imminent attack.
He said:" Nothing! We will welcome the revolutionaries with
open arms and make them feel at home, that is our best strategy!"
was amazed once again by Neil. He was so smart beyond his years.
I remember studying in Anthropology about how the sedentary Pueblo
and Hopi Indians would set up huge feasts before the attacks of
the warlike nomadic Commanche Indians so that instead of offering
resistance they would welcome them home like heroes and give them
such a party they would forget about making war.
Neil couldn't have been 24 years old when I knew him and
he was the head of an entire department of employee relations which
included a travel agency. I remember that I was three years older
than him. He had very cold hands and pale skin and dark hair and
he spoke Farsi very well indeed. He was very reserved, aloof and
unemotional, almost British, when you first met him but once you
got to know him he had a wicked sense of humor and loved theatre
and we would often make up completely on the spot fantasies just
riding on a bus for example.
We would pretend to be whispering
out loud bank robbers plotting our next heist just to see how the
passengers around us would try to studiously ignore us while they
died of curiosity inside, we liked to imagine. Once I got to be
friends with Neil, I understood a lot of his superficial reserve
was his defensive coloration for being gay. The security gorillas
had once tried to plant dope in his desk and get him shipped home
after one of the young Persian drivers had complained about him
making unwanted advances.
All that scandal was well before I came
on board and I always try to let bygones be bygones as they say
but Security had a permanent "Hard On" for him, being
homophobes from East Texas. Neil subtly taught me, often by unspoken
example, many things about human nature, about public relations,
about corporate politics, about bravado, about overcoming fear
and taking risks, about keeping a positive attitude and optimism
and all about life's infinite possibilities. All in all he
was a wonderful human being, whom in retrospect it was my great
privilege to know...and I am left wondering how someone so
young had gotten to be so wise....
At any rate on this particular occasion on the eve of our being
taken hostage he imparted an incredible calm. I don't know
where people find their courage but I have come to learn that each
of us has a different capacity for courage and some of the most
courageous people of all do not fit the stereotype...the archetypal
God of War, Ares not....
About an hour after lunch, we started to hear that characteristic
sound of many people outside the hotel clapping, it sounded like
they were applauding a speaker but it was not applause it was automatic
weapons fire. The bullet holes started appearing in neat rows across
the glass curtain wall of the ball room we were working out of.
I ran out of the room, across the lobby and headed for the front
door but it was under siege. There was a shoot out going on between
two groups over that front door. I ran down stairs to the kitchen,
to search for another way out. It occurred to me that there might
be a food delivery chute but there wasn't.
I went to the
laundry room to see if there was a laundry delivery chute. None!
Then I found a hall that led to a fire tunnel exit but it was locked.
Shit! I was determined not to get caught but unbelievably there
was no way out except by the front door?!! I tried to open the
windows on the ground floor but they weren't even designed
to open. The Hilton was on a hill top and so there was a considerable
drop, too far to jump down, to the ground from the first story
windows, which is probably why they weren't meant to open.
In retrospect I could have taken a fire axe from it case in the
hall and broken open one of the windows but when shit starts happening,
you try to cling to what you know and smashing windows just wasn't
something that I had ever had to do in an emergency so it didn't
even occur to me now.
Finally all that I could think to do was go into an adjacent
ball room that wasn't being used and keep the lights turned off
and sit on the carpet in a corner under a table in the hope that
if I remained quiet enough that I would escape notice until I could
somehow find an opportunity to escape later after the siege was
over. At least this would buy me some time to think. As I sat quietly
in the dark listening to my own breathing, I began to become aware
of some other breathing and then the snuffling of weeping. It was
a woman's weeping.
I said quietly: "Who is there?" "It
is Mahaste" came the reply. She was one of our Iranian staffers
from our head quarters building. Then: "My husband told me
not to come to work today. It said on the radio that the revolutionaries
would be capturing the main hotels, he was right, I shouldn't
have come...O boohoohoo..." I said: "Please
Mahaste Khanoum, don't make noise or they will find us, please
The very next minute two armed tuffs had opened the door and
flipped on the lights and then herded us at gun point into the
room where everyone else was sitting on the floor with their knees
up and with there hands folded behind their heads and elbows up
in the air in that classic prisoner formation as if we were waiting
to do sit ups in a gym class. Everyone was quiet and numb in the
shock of disbelief. Our captors frisked us for arms and took my
walkie talkie and eventually all the walkie talkies.
Next they rounded us up into a line and started marching us down
the stairs into the fire tunnel. It was at this point that one
of our captors said in good American English: "We have nothing
against the American people but we do not like the policies of
your government." I remember thinking that most of us had
no idea what the policies of our government were especially the
classified ones of the CIA that these revolutionaries found so
offensive. They went on to apologize for having to use us to make
a political statement. I noted that they were all very young in
About half way through the tunnel, there was a sudden commotion,
a ripple in the crowded line and then we stopped moving like a
traffic jam in rush hour. Another group of revolutionaries had
forced open the fire tunnel door from the outside and were proceeding
towards us. Thinking that we were trying to escape, since they
couldn't see our captors who were behind us, they started
pointing their guns and prodding with bayonets at us to stop us
from moving forward while the revolutionaries in the back were
prodding to keep us from going backward.
It was like some kind
of a scene form Dante's Inferno like poor damned souls being
prodded by devils with little pitch forks in a dark throat of hell
mouth. We told our captors to please make up their minds which
way they wanted us to go and finally they decided to take us back
to the main ball room and return us to the fetal sitting position
with hands behind heads again.
It was about this time that being good Iranians, even if they
were our captors, that they decided it was time to be good hosts
feed us even though we had all just eaten lunch. So they raided
the hotel kitchen and brought us up all kinds of food: chicken
and rice and cucumbers and barbari bread accompanied by the usual:
"Bokhor, bokhor, eat, eat!" I tried to explain we had already eaten
but it was useless. I mean like who has an appetite anyway, even
if we hadn't just eaten, when one is taken hostage anyway,
I heard the security officers muttering to each other that if
only they could wrestle a few guns away from the revolutionaries,
could take back the hotel for us Rambo style. I remember thinking:
"O God, if anyone is going to get us killed, it is going to be
baboons!" Just then I looked up in time to see Neil with
a white revolutionary head band like them, walking full stride
up the middle of the room to the front where he proceeded to bark
out orders to our captors.
I thought to myself: "What the
Hell is he up to?" Then it struck me, it was brilliant, brilliant
like Neil and I wish I could have had this segment on film. He
told me later that he had noticed a dearth of leadership among
the young revolutionaries, so doing what he did best which was
people management; he had decided to take over.
I watched in utter amazement as they began following his orders.
He had figured out that as long as we were all herded together
in one big room, all 800 of us,
that it would be too easy for our captors to just eliminate us with sprays of
automatic weapons fire or else herd us en masse to a prison or former military
base and hold us there for ransom.
Neil talked the revolutionaries into letting
us go back to our rooms individually which would make it harder for them to
shoot us all or move us all together to a prison. He had us form
a single file while
the revolutionaries frisked each one of us again before sending us off to our
rooms. I noticed that there were also one or two gun moll type, really attractive
revolutionary women with bandoliers and Uzis accompanying the young tuffs and
it was said that they made love to the Mojaheddin guerilla fighters as part
of their support for the revolution but I don't know if this were
Only a few of us had cleared the inspection when suddenly there
was a flurry and in strode my assistant Jamshid with two revolutionaries
prodding him in
the back with their rifles. He said he had come to help us. I was scared
because he had been a former Savak and was married to a Christian Armenian
girl and he shouldn't have come here.
At one point he spun round on his heels
and started screaming at the two revolutionary guards who were bird-dogging
quit sticking me in the back with those bayonets understand, why don't
you just shoot me and get it over with!" About this time Neil and I jumped
Jamshid simultaneously and literally shoved a sock in his mouth! We whispered
in his ears that we had things under control and he needed to get calmed
down. Eventually we un-gagged him and he took to sulking. The
back to frisking us one by one and sending us back to our rooms with Neil
issuing directives all the while.
Then only perhaps ten minutes after this there was another little
flurry of activity and suddenly, totally unexpected on my part,
in sashayed my friend
two gunmen carrying Uzis at each side. She caught my eyes with hers and
made straight for me through the crowd. There were armed revolutionaries
up in front of her with their guns aimed at her and her entourage, as she
forwards un-phased by them.
When she came up to me in the line, she stopped
with a swagger planted her feet splayed apart in front of me and crossing
her arms barked out at the revolutionaries: "This is Rasool, he is a
Moslem, he is a friend of my family and he has nothing to do with
we are taking him away from here right now. Any of you who try to stop
us we will shoot it out right now!"
Instantly I grew quite pale and rasped out: "Pouran, we had things
under control here, what are you trying to do, get me killed?"
She turned on me almost venomously and hissed: "You shut up!
I know what I am doing.
Do you really think they will die shooting it out over the likes
of you dear?! Don't flatter yourself!"
I felt stung but she was right. Our adversaries took one look
at me, then at her automatic sub machine guns and then at their
own semi automatic
rifles and without a word they all fell back a few steps and made room
for us to
giving me a satisfied look, then stopped and barked at them once more:
"And furthermore, not only are we taking him out of here but we are going
by his room and collect his things on the way out!" What she knew and
didn't yet was that as we were being held hostage down in the main ball
room, the revolutionaries were sacking our rooms. I found out later that
one of them had come across one of our female employee's bras in the
drawers of her room and spreading them out over her bed had ejaculated
Anyway, after collecting my things we took the elevator back
downstairs and strode through the lobby, the four of us unopposed.
A group of American
knew me casually, who were still being held called out to me as we
passed by: "Where
are they taking you? Are they letting us go now?" I had this sudden
mental image of someone yelling fire in a movie theatre and starting
or a drowning person grabbing hold of a swimmer and pulling him under
words that sprang from my chest unpremeditated and yet strangely familiar
as if rehearsed I shouted back: "No, I am being taken out for interrogation!"
That immediately stopped any thoughts of charging towards the
front door which
might have had as we quickly passed out into the sunshine and my hours
of being hostage were suddenly over as if they had never happened.
kick ball in the street outside. Women were shopping for flowers with
in their arms. Old men were drinking tea and reading the paper as if
nothing at all were any different while inside the hotel about 800 – 1
(less me) people were still being held hostage.
One of our gunmen brought
a big SUV JEEP
around and we all piled in and drove over to the next hill to the
Dumas apartment tower where she lived. When we got inside her apartment,
it was all I could do
to thank her, when she launched into her next
mission of the day which was apparently to go with her hired guns
to Gasr political prison and help liberate it. I had heard that the
locked underground and the approach to the electronic door had been
mined by the retreating
guards. The door was like one of those bank vaults which were programmed
to only open on a certain day at a certain time.
I told Pouran that I doubted if the revolutionaries would take
too kindly to an American showing up at the prison and besides
I had had
for one day.
Pouran got angry at me then. She had had a lot of therapy and
in the past she had often launched into long rambling soliloquies
slowly poisoning her and her sister was poisoning her. The supposed
motives were very complicated and convoluted and I could never
sort them out
but it had something
to do with their trying to gain custody of her little girl.
that I wouldn't go with her to help liberate Gasr prison, she
quickly turned on
me and began
accusing me of poisoning her as well. I began to realize that
where she had found the courage to do what she had just done for
madness and I felt
bad for her. She left her apartment with me in it. Ranting and
motioned her gunmen out the door and slammed it behind her and
although I didn't know it at the time that would be the last
that I would
ever see of
I sat there for a few minutes merely trying to digest everything
which had just transpired.
Here I was in the peace and quiet of her luxury apartment with
a view above the clouds from the top of our hill looking down
The sky was light blue and sunlight sparkled in the reflector
pools from the hidden walled gardens of Tehran. I could see pigeons
starlings winging about down below me. Quietly a little voice
inside me started
like Neil, Charlie and Jim who were still being held hostage
Finally I couldn't ignore that voice any longer and I called
As if nothing at all were going on, the hotel operator transferred
me to the front desk and the front desk had Neil paged for me.
Amazingly, Neil was actually
able to come to the phone. I had rehearsed a little speech in the mirror before
I called and now I tried it out: "Hi Neil, I guess you must be disappointed
in me for abandoning you guys but I figured being taken hostage wasn't
in my job description. Anyway I'm sorry..."
"Yeah, you're right it was a shitty thing to do!" he replied
and the started snickering.
"What are you laughing about at a time like this Neil?" says
"Well, do you remember how the three security pigs were trying
to go Rambo on us and take back the hotel?"
Yeah! What did you do to them Neil? Tell me!"
"Well, I told the revolutionaries that they were CIA agents and
they have them locked up in the basement sitting back to back in
a circle on the floor tied
elbow to elbow." And with that Neil started laughing mischievously again. "They
are going to be taking General M and his wife and our three" CIA agents" down
to Khomeini headquarters for interrogation and I'm going along to act as
The next day it was in the local paper that the revolutionaries
had captured three CIA agents. Neil told me that during their interview
with Khomeini they
had been separated from seeing him directly by a black lace curtain reminiscent
of a Roman Catholic confessional. "So what did you guys talk about?" I
wanted to know.
Well, I asked him what they intended to do with all of us now that we had been
captured and his reply was: ‘O nothing. You are welcome to be our guests
in Iran and if you insist on leaving we will offer you armed escorts to and from
Mehrabad Airport if you like!'."
And that is exactly what they did. Everyday when we got all our
employees and their dependants loaded into our buses and mini-vans,
the revolutionaries on
motorcycles and packed into Paykans and Iran Chevrolets would ride with our
convoy waving their weapons around for the benefit of the spectators.
They also set
up a collection point in the lobby of the Tehran Hilton for the return of our
looted stuff where we could go and identify it and collect it. Suddenly they
became very anxious to keep a good reputation.
But I digress. I spent the night alone in Pouri's apartment.
She never did come back that night and by the next morning I was
feeling guilty and starting
to miss my friends at Bell Helicopter. So believe it or not I decided to go
back to the Hilton where they were being held. No sooner had I
stepped back inside
the front door of the Hilton lobby than a gunfight started between our revolutionary
guards and some snipers on a hill across the way. In that instant, I couldn't
believe how stupid I was for coming back for more of this.
Without a moments hesitation and knowing from bitter experience
that the front door was the only way in our out, I spun on my heels
and ran back out the door
as bullets ricocheted all around me and I ran all the way down the hill just
as fast as my little legs could carry me weaving from side to side to make
me into a more difficult moving target.
Once I got down to Pahlavi Blvd, I hailed a cab and went home.
By the next morning I was feeling like a buffalo in stories I had
heard about the American Wild West.
Even when a buffalo had succeeded in escaping from its stampeding herd, it
would inevitably re-enter the fray because without its herd it
was at a loss for what
to do. So I went back a second time. I made it inside and as far as the main
ball room this time and studiously went back to work helping to out-process
employees. Looking at the passenger list of the next group scheduled
to go; I saw my name
at the very top of the list. I went to Neil and asked him what the hell that
was all about. I had no interest in leaving.
Neil replied: "Well I can't get any work out of you. Every time
the shooting starts, you run away. So I might as well send you
back to the US."
Well I'm here now aren't I?" I got his point despite my protest
and ironically I ended up being the last employee to leave Iran, having stayed
even after Neil left the circumstances of which is another story in itself.
About this time a platoon of regular infantry from the US Army
Hospital showed up looking for our help to be evacuated. I can
still see them in their olive
drab combat fatigues and camouflage suits armed to the nines with all kind
of ordnance and walkie talkies hanging off their web belts and
we told them that
before we could do anything to help them that the revolutionary guards would
be collecting all their weapons. This must have been very humiliating for them
but it was not negotiable.
That night what a picture it was to see an entire
platoon of US Army sleeping in their sleeping bags on the floor of the lobby
of the Tehran Hilton because we had run out of rooms, where only a few months
before, Touss and I had been lounge lizards and the prior spring uncle Mamdahli
had taken us for an "all you can eat" and drink, caviar, champagne
and fillet mignon New Year's dinner at the elegant Chez Michelle restaurant
in there. The American soldiers were very appreciative of our help actually.
I believe that it was during their brief stay on the lobby floor that Conrad
Hilton died of a heart attack in the news and I remember wondering if the Tehran
Hilton, being changed into a detention center had anything to do with it.
During the months of December 1978 and January 1979 we managed
to evacuate over three thousand employees and dependants out of
Iran from our staging area at
the Hilton. We also managed to smuggle out a few British subjects including
one colorful, blow hard quack named Michael Pelham, who claimed
to be a movie producer
and also a few Iranian nationals who had life threatening reasons to want to
leave. Neil and I felt good about that like we had earned some "Brownie
Points" somewhere on the big score board up in the sky.
Meanwhile on the national scene beyond our microcosm, the Shah's
pick, poor Sharpour Bakhtiar's government had come and gone and
who was Khomeini's pick was trying it on for size. Some dirt bag from the
University of Miami bearing the same last name and claiming to be his relative
showed up at our offices at Jordan Avenue looking for a job. The revolutionaries
had let a group of about 5 of us from Bell Helicopter move all the company
and employee files to a single building there which had been our
head quarters and
from which we worked.
I knew that the owner of this building was in prison, having
been one of the Shah's generals and so whenever nobody else was
around I was on the phone
calling long distance to school friends in Italy, the USA and Tokyo talking
for hours, yucking it up. I knew that the billing system had been
up during the revolution and I would probably be long gone by the time it was
sorted out esp with the owner in jail....
At anyrate, "Miami" Bazargan Jr. was given the assignment of
trying to collect some of the company assets in various bank accounts
around Iran. He
headed down to Isfahan and that was the last we ever saw of him. Several months
later his sister and his mom were in my office crying their eyes out and claiming
that it was all our fault and that we must do something to help.
I managed to
get them calmed down enough to explain to me what was happening. Apparently
the revolutionary committee down in Isfahan had allowed "Miami"
all the Bell Helicopter money from our corporate accounts there but then the
temptation proved too great for the revolutionaries, for the minute he was
in possession of several million dollars in his attaché case they nabbed
him, accused him of grand theft, slapped him in jail and confiscated the money
in the name of the Iranian people and in jail he had been now for months with
no prayer of reprieve.
The American knuckle head they had left in charge of the
skeleton crew which was now five of us had no clue what to do to help. I went
back to talking to mom and sister and together we decided I should write a
letter on Bell Helicopter letter head, get it notarized and explain
in it that he had
been authorized to act on our behalf as our power of attorney in fact in disposing
of these funds. I'm not sure what happened because I left country without
hearing anything more however at least mom and sister left dry eyed with my
letter and a thin ray of hope.
Very strange situations arise in the aftermath of revolutions,
in the aftermath of mass civil disobedience and the break down of law and order
such as police. The jails emptied out during this time of both criminals and
political prisoners. Caviar and opium and automatic weapons were traded and
flowed like water since all regulations broke down. People laundered
money, sold traveler's
checks, forged passports and smuggled in goods normally subject to tariffs
in their cars everyday from Iraq and Turkey for a living. Ever
kinds of new enterprises sprang up like the auctioning off of the contents
of rich people's houses who had either left country, been executed
rotting in jail. Sometimes the revolutionary auctioneers would forget to invite
anyone and back up a truck at official closing time to freeload the stuff for
Our Iranian lady office manager at our head quarter's building
had worked for us for 20 years and received a $35,000 severance
check which the revolutionaries
got wind of and jailed her, at which point we complained to another revolutionary
committee who in turn got her released and jailed the group that had jailed
her...."these were the best of times and the worst of times!"
Then there were the "Laissez Passer" bunch I would have to help
out. These were usually Vietnamese or Thai women and children in
laws of some Bell
Helicopter employee who did not have US citizenship or even residency yet and
whose white immigration booklets had expired during the chaos before they could
get out in time to use them to enter the USA. The "Catch 22" was
that these booklets once they had expired could only be re-issued from Wash.,
D.C. So, Oh dear me what to do, what to do? I don't know how I figured
it out, maybe one of my US Embassy or Counselor friends told me but I would
send them to the German Embassy to get a one time travel document
called a "Laissez
Passer" which allowed the bearer to go from country A and to country B
once with this document.
Once they were able to get to Germany, they could
register with the US Embassy and wait for Wash., D.C. to send
them a new one via the Embassy's
diplomatic pouch but at least they were out of the "war zone." Of
course it was always dicey trying to get the custom's officers at the Mehrabad
Airport to accept this form of document as a valid Passport and allow my
charges to board. I would always hold my breath when they would
stand in line to get
these papers stamped with exit visas. I got way too much experience explaining
what they were to these officials, who only felt comfortable with little
booklet shaped passports not flat sheet of paper equivalents...
I spent days shredding documents and photos for a group of Bell
Helicopter die hards hanging out in Athens waiting for an opportunity
to sell the revolutionaries
on a new contract to at least properly store and maintain the 2000 aircraft
helicopter fleet if they weren't going to fly them. Apparently
aircraft have to be
stored properly with special oils and so forth and can't be left parked
out on airstrips immobile for long periods of time. We even set about trying
to re-establish contact with all our Iranian counterparts who had been trained
as helicopter mechanics and pilots so we could rehire them if our delegation
By this point in time Khomeini was embarrassed by all the
foreigners leaving even though he had invited them to stay and
so he decided that in order
to save face that they should all leave. They were not interested in Bell
Helicopter's offer, they were not interested in showing any need
for foreign assistance
in their own affairs and in fact the newspapers panned the Bell
offer and criticized
the Shah for "spending the Iranian people's money on aging American
military hardware." This of course was not true since these aircraft were
state of the art and some had been specially designed and developed for high
altitude and rapidly changing altitude for Iran which is quite mountainous
in certain regions.
The arduous task of documenting all the employees' claims coming
in from back in the USA for lost wages, vacation days and personal
assets and household
effects had finally come to an end. So too the documentation of corporate
bank accounts that the revolutionaries had frozen. I was to later
learn that any
contracts between the government of the United States and a government of
any other nation
which were to be subcontracted to private American companies were insured
by the US government with a certain % of money held in escrow which
in the event
of revolution or expulsion could be used to pay claims of losses from these
subcontractors on a first come first serve basis which is why they were in
such a hurry to get
the documentation done.
I remember trudging to work at the H.Q. on Jordan
Avenue in the snow and then spending the day working through
the file cabinets with
long lists of telex messages trying to match up names and employee numbers
with their files and then trying to glean enough info from within them
to either corroborate
or deny their claims.
We had some comical exchanges with the revolutionary guards who
had been assigned to our building. I remember arriving one day
in time to see our
at the desk in the lobby hide away a Playboy magazine and then proceed
to proudly inform me that he had arrested a young couple he had
out in their
car in our parking lot the night before. I told him they were only doing
what he wished he could do! He didn't like that much. Then another day,
two guards came to me and asked me what all the boxes were in a
I went with them to look and to my surprise, it was wall to wall
of fruitcakes from Texas, which what with the revolution coming, the
employees had not bothered to collect this year. The boxes reached
almost to the
ceiling and when you opened the door you were confronted with
a solid wall of them.
I explained that they were a special kind of cake that Americans ate
on our Christmas
holidays. I went back to work and about an hour later I passed by the
room and found the two revolutionary guards had opened one and
were eating great
of it unaware that it was rum soaked. I had a good chuckle over that
One day Neil finally decided to leave. I went with him down to
a former Savak office where the former Savaki agents told us that
in order to get an exit visa
he needed documentation that he had committed no crimes against the Iranian
people and owed no taxes and this should come in the form of a
letter from our former
Iranian sponsor. Well, we had a problem with that because our former Iranian
sponsor was the late General Khosrodad, chief of the army avionics, whom the
revolutionaries had executed.
It was in the tabloids just to prove to the masses that he was
really dead. He had had a handsome physique of which he had been
very proud and for which he
had worked out in the gym on a regular basis making him look like a man in
his thirties rather than his 50's despite the white hair. He had
and full of life and arrogance, strutting like a peacock, bragging in public
addresses about his philandering. Now his body lay there on the ground in the
photo pumped full of bullet holes like a Swiss cheese. He and a friend had
been captured while trying to escape piloting their own small plane.
sure what his list of crimes had been, I had heard he had helped put down an
insurrection in Azarbaijan once killing thousands of people, who knows...anyone
from the Shah's regime was a target because the people were so afraid that
if they left any of them alive they would plot to overthrow The revolutionaries
and bring back the King.
It was understandable that violence begets violence especially
when it had been repressed for 50 years and had been simmering
like a volcano all this time only
now erupting...still it was horrific to see photos in the tabloids of people
I had been to picnics with like Dr. Said Said, speaker of lower house of parliament.
A gracious man whom I had once had a picnic with, with his friends and family,
near Dezin, composed only of romaine lettuce heads for each of us with our
own little bowls for dipping in honey vinegar dressing, now in
the tabloids lying
dead on the ground pumped so full of lead, looking like a bad case of measles.
I would fight to hold back my tears as I would overhear the list of executions
each day on the drive in to work on the car radio while my fundamentalist driver
relished it all...Strange world it had become rather like the Reign of Terror
in post revolutionary France I should imagine.
Anyway regarding our late Iranian sponsor, ever resourceful Neil
thought about it for all of ten minutes and then told the former
be back with your documentation tomarrow." He turned to me and said:"Come
on!" We hopped in his car and I said nothing as he drove us up to the far
northern end of Tehran to the Army Avionics Base near Niavaran which I believe
was called Lalezon. Somehow he managed to talk our way in almost like using
Jedi mind tricks. Then he proceeded to find his way to the office
of a colonel, who
had once been the General's aide de camp. I don't know how Neil used
to do this stuff. He was uncanny. He had never been to this base before and
yet it seemed like he could find his way around it, sleep walking.
Neil had an intuitive
ability to deal with bureaucracy no matter of what stripe.
We got to the colonel's office and Neil explained what he needed
and in no time at all, the colonel's staff produced the letter
that he used to
leave Iran. He turned to me and said: "Pay attention to what we just did,
because you may have to do the same thing yourself by the time you leave."
We had stayed on for Bell Helicopter at our own risk by now and
they had us sign
waivers that they were no longer able to guarantee our safety. I ended up actually
being the last American Bell employee to leave and probably one of the last
Americans to leave Iran.
When I walked down Takht-e-Jamshid Avenue crowds of children
would encircle me staring as if I were an alien from outer space
which I probably was. Once I started
speaking Persian to them, they would tell me all kinds of anti-cleric jokes
and swear that one day they would hang all the mullahs from the
street lights and
drag them behind the bumpers of cars. That was 22 years ago now and I am still
One joke they told me went like this: One day Khomeini and prime
minister Bazargan were flying in a helicopter down to Qom. Khomeini
turned to Bazargan and said:"
dear, are you feeling cold?"
No your holiness, I am just fine, thank you for your concern."
Don't be shy to tell me if you are actually feeling cold!"
No, your holiness, I am not just being polite, I assure you I am quite comfortable.
But again I thank you for your kindness your saintliness."
O.K., Mehdi, if you insist you are not cold I accept, but if you change your
mind, we can always turn off the fan so don't be shy," he said pointing
up at the propeller.
Finally the day came when I had no more work to do for Bell and
foreigners were being asked to leave. I had seen many amazing things
in those four months after
the revolution, like the 20,000 modern Iranian women who had been the first
to march in protest against the mullahist regime. Hooligans on
motor scooters had
come along side and jabbed at them with pen knives until Khomeini himself had
to come on national television to tell the hooligans to stop. The next week
he had 2 million peasant women from the countryside bussed in from
in their veils to march in counter, counter protest.
There was the day the famous newspaper published a blank edition
except for one sentence on the front page which said that due to
the current atmosphere of censorship
which had returned that they saw no further point in publishing anything. That
edition sold out and the next week their newspaper office was burned to the
Meanwhile the crowd was putting the last touches on dismantling
the torture house up the street from where I lived on Kuche Khaghani
and the Semiramis Hotel on
Roosevelt Avenue about two blocks from the US Embassy.
I had watched the butchers go on strike when Khomeini announced
that only meat slaughtered in the Islamic way by slitting the throat
of the sheep and bleeding
it was acceptable. I saw this being done in the gutters of the city streets
right down town. Anyway the Iranian butchers had to get the Pakistani
in Australia to do a video which they got onto the TV somehow to show Khomeini
that the Australian sheep were in fact slaughtered in the Islamic way even
if they did arrive frozen to Iran.
I remember that week I couldn't find any
meat to buy and so finally I decided to buy a sheep's tongue which was
all I could find. I boiled it for a few hours and it was still too tough to
cut. Three hours later it was still too tough. Finally I left it
to boil all night.
When my old Kurdish landlady came up to say good bye to me she laughed when
I told her about the tongue. She explained to me how I was supposed
to make a slit
and peal off the outer membrane which was the only tough part. She was right,
the inside had turned to mush.
She gave me at least a dozen looleh of opium to take with me
on my trip home. All that last week I would go evenings to Touss's
house to receive friends
and his relatives who wanted to say good bye to me in person after five years.
My girl friend Roya was going to be the hardest one to say goodbye to but it
was not easy at all with anyone and we shed many tears.
Sure enough Neil had been right and I eventually found my way
back to the colonel's office at the Army Avionics Base. This time
he stared to obfuscate. I figured
I was just not as savvy as Neil. I reminded him that I had been there a month
before with Neil and now I needed the same kind of letter. "But I don't
know you...how do I know you don't owe taxes and didn't commit
any crimes against the Iranian people?"
"Well let me put it to you this way Colonel sir, I am going to
sit down in the middle of your office on the carpet and I am not
leaving until you get me such
a letter," and so saying I sat down cross legged in the middle of his floor
space. He was terribly embarrassed and immediately his sergeant started bringing
me in pastries and tea. I thanked him and said: "You may bring me all the
tea and pastry in Iran, but I am not leaving without that letter."
After about 25 minutes working at his desk pretending to ignore
my presence, he peered down at me over his glasses when no one
else was present and whispered
to me that the problem was that his secretary in keeping with the spirit of
the revolution was on strike and he couldn't type. I asked him
if he would
mind if I spoke to her myself and he said alright and pointed her out to me
in the next room where a passel of women gadded about the water
cooler. I went over
to her and politely introduced myself and then explained what I needed and
offered to pay her handsomely for the letter which I did, about
$20 and that was how
I got out of Iran. I took it back to the former Savak office, they ran me in
their computer once more and then without any further delay, having remembered
me from before with Neil, they stamped an exit visa in my passport.
I spent my last night at Touss's house. One of our good friends
whom we had nicknamed "Court" for his courtly manners had stopped
by to say
goodbye: "Well, I don't suppose I shall ever be seeing you again....so
have a nice life."
That last week I had also run into Khorso Eghbal, younger brother
of the late and great Doctor Manoucher Eghbal, former prime minister
and one time president
of Nat'l Iranian Oil Company" standing in a doorway chatting with
an Englishmen to escape the rain. I said hello and he responded nonchalantly
while all the while I was shocked that he would be still in country.
The last person to come to Touss's house was the neighborhood
mullah who had come to bless me for a safe voyage. He whispered
in my ear: "I hope
you don't think all of us Moslems are like these fanatics!" I told
him I knew better and returned his hug.
I cried in the taxi all the way to the airport. Roya met me at
the gate to say goodbye. She was being quite brave until I called
her one of our mutual terms
of endearment in Persian and then we both broke down and cried. I gave her
one last hug and hoped that she would be able to get out of Iran
soon. I told her
that once I figured out where I was going to be that I would write to her but
right now I had no clue and no job waiting and was headed to spend some time
in Samos, Greece for the summer to write about all this and to decompress.
In the men's room of the airport I found myself flushing all
the looleh of opium down the toilet afraid of what they would do
to me either here or at
the other end of the flight if I got caught with it. This made me cry too...
On the airplane which was Iran Air since that was the only airline
flying in and out of Iran at that time, who should I run into but
our friend "George",
a British red headed airline stewardess whom Touss had nicknamed, who use to
invite us to the parties she and her stewardess roommates would give. She smiled
at me and made sure I got plenty of vodka and orange juice on the flight to
The next day I was sitting reading the newspaper in Ammonia Square in downtown
Athens and the headlines were about the beginning of the Iran Iraq war.
O God, how much more must my adopted country of Iran suffer? This is Khomeini
trying to keep his revolution alive with this war since in peacetime he has
no agenda, no mandate, no plan...nothing to offer Iran but misery...little
did I know the "Silent War" was to be fought for 8 years in which
a million Iranian youth died and that Saddam Hossein was egged on and armed
the USA. Dr. Buehler, a Viennese doctor who had performed surgery on my friend
Touss's knee for his bone cancer voluntarily went to Iran and fitted out
hundreds of amputees from that war with prostheses. I wonder how all these
real politique bastards who say that Saddam served our needs at
the time would feel
if something like this ever happened to us?
By September I was back in Washington D.C. staying with my parents
trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life when
I received a phone call
from Robert Ode.
A mutual friend of ours had referred him to me. He said that
he had been called out of retirement to go to our Tehran Embassy
to help give out visas and what
did I think of the situation over there? I told him that the situation was
not stable and advised him not to go; 480 days later his wife still hadn't
heard from him. He was the senior diplomat of the group taken hostage.
What most people don't know is that the entire staff of the US
Embassy, including a gorgeous Pakistani nurse friend of Neil and
I named "Stella," had
been rotated out and sent back to the States because they had been through
so much already and so all the people that were taken hostage had
only been in country
I can also tell you that there were mile long lines outside the
US Embassy of Iranians trying to get visas to come to the US and
was quite an embarrassment
to the revolutionaries that so many people wanted to leave. Contrary to the
pundits who came up with conspiracy theories that Reagan had control
over the hostage
situation and timed their release for his re-election, my simple theory is
that the revolutionaries took the embassy in order to stop the
bad press, the mile
long lines of people trying to emigrate who were voting against them with their
feet, was giving them.
Neil was back in San Francisco, working as a manager of an engineering group
at the phone company by day and studying law at night having decided to become
a gay rights advocate but his life was cut short at age 40 by aids. Stella
called us from Beverley Hills where she was a nurse for some psychiatrist!
talking to me for 20 years because I wouldn't help him with a referral
for a job in Saudi Arabia in an American firm but then he went on to an OPEC
appointment in Vienna ...as a result of chapter 8 of these Zirzameen Tales,
a friend and former boss of his located me and together in a day and a half we
relocated Touss and he and I are now in regular communication.
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