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November 29, 2002
The Iranian

Part 9

January 12
5:36 p.m.

I got a gig! Woo-hoo! The first audition I bagged since I moved here, to the West Coast. It was about time too! My patience was running about as low as the funds in my bank.

Okay, okay no need to get all in a tizzy. It's not like I got Lady Macbeth or Antigone. Nor Sally Bowles, or Evelyn Mulwray. Jeez, I knew I was going to do this to myself. Just couldn't remain happy for long. Instantly, I had to start thinking of the half-empty part of the glass. Fine! Time to come right out and say it! I got cast in the straight to video feature: Return of the Attack of the Killer Tomatos: The Next Generation.

So how did I get this choice part?

I am tempted to tell you about my great acting accolades, my thespian talents, my dramatic delivery.

But what really happened was a couple of guys with bad teeth and a nasty chain smoking habit sat me down in a stuffy office and asked me to imagine giant killer alien tomatos rolling menacingly towards me down Sunset Boulevard.

Instead, I closed my eyes and pictured Shohreh's face smugly looking me up and down on the Queen Mary. Then I let out the biggest most blood-curdling scream ever to be heard in the history of B movie scream queens. Jamie Lee Curtis must have heard me all the way from her mansion in the hills. When I opened my eyes again, I noticed my propsective employers' faces had turned white.

-- "Errr... You guys okay?" I ventured timidly.

They just blinked a couple of times, as if in a daze. Then one of them shook his head really fast, one hand to his ear, like he had stayed under water for too long. He finally spoke:

-- "Y...Yeah sure... sure honey... Tell you what... You got the part! If you can scream like that on cue forty times a day, you got the part!"

I smiled and thanked them as demurely as possible while in my heart, I was performing a joyful soft shoe routine in celebration of my big break. As I was walking out of their office, I noticed the receptionist giving me dirty looks. Her blouse was drenched in coffee, and her mug had rolled down the carpet, as if it had been thrown in a moment of shock. But nothing could dampen my good spirits.

The return of the attack of the Killer Tomatos. It wasn't exactly what I had envisioned. When I was a kid, the first movie my parents took me to was a revival of Gone with the Wind. I looked at Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara and instantly I was a goner. I soon started collecting posters and articles of all the classic actresses I worshipped: Davis, Hepburn, Hayworth, Taylor. Baabaa and I would stay up late watching these old black and white movies with their brilliant dialogue and plots, acted out with flawless timing by these great dames.

Over the years, I went through many phases. There was the foreign movie phase where I got to admire Moreau, Loren, Ullman, Adjani, Schneider and countless others. And American movies from the 70s, dominated by strong and at the same time fragile female characters played by Dunawaye, Spacek, Minelli...

But what really opened my eyes to the possibility that I could actually become an actress was watching countless Iranian movies both old and new, where I got to admire everyone from Googoosh to Niki Karimi. I became giddy with a weird sense of complicity and sisterhood when I found out successful actresses like Gabrielle Anwar, Fairuza Balk and Catherine Bell were Iranian.

Before that, I had no idea acting was a remote possibility for an Iranian woman. Maamaan, bless her heart, raised me with the hopes that I would become a doctor, just like all the other nice Iranian Maamaans out there. When I fainted at the prospect of cutting open a frog in 8th grade, she put all her hopes in my career as a lawyer. But here again, I would disappoint her.
Still, no matter how grandiose my dreams, I still had to deal with reality. The Return of the Attack of the Killer Tomatos. Oh, and don't forget, it was: The Next Generation.

-- "Well... George Clooney got his big break in the original Tomato movie..." My friend Chloe sympathetically advised, while trying to suppress a fit of giggles.

We were sipping margaritas at a Mexican joint in Sherman Oaks, near her apartment. After meeting accidentally at an audition weeks before, we had finally managed to get our schedules together so we could meet for some celebratory drinks, and gossip about our past (in New York), present, and hopefully glamorous future.

-- "You know how many actors in this town go years before getting anything? Let alone a part in a movie?" Chloe continued, her tone getting more confident. I think in the midst of making me feel better, she was also convincing herself that this, indeed, was a great idea.

-- "I know..." I sighed.

We all knew the numbers... about 100,000 SAG members in Los Angeles alone... and less than 1 % actually making a living out of their craft. I myself was soon going to join the ranks of the countless waitresses/hostesses/gym trainers/ trying to become the next "It" singer/actress/stand-up in this town.

-- "Oh Naz! Don't worry. At least you're not wasting away as the assistant of a bloated, over-indulgent, narcissistic troglodyte with delusions of artistry!"

In case you hadn't guessed, Chloe makes her bread working for a Hollywood producer, whose ego is only outgrown by his belly. Mr. Piggy, as she likes to call him, is an abusive, loud, grunting animal who has been making her life miserable. Bottles of water and Dom Perignon alike have been known to be thrown and smashed against the wall, just inches from her head, after one of her "huge mistakes", such as ordering the wrong brand of toilet paper, or forgetting to add sweetener in the boss's nonfat-decaf-vanilla flavored-latte.

-- "Chloe, you have amazing talent. It's just a matter of time before the stooges in this town discover it. I remember how you blew them all away in that play in New York."

-- "Yeah", Chloe chuckled, "The play that I didn't get paid for!"

Chloe and I continued to chat happily, sipping our margaritas and gorging ourselves on happy hour complimentary appetizers. It felt good to have a "girls' night out." Ever since I moved from New York, I have terribly missed my best friend Manny, with whom I used to share all my romantic woes.

My cousin Sami is really nice and understanding but it's not the same. She comes from the perspective of a happily married woman who thinks love conquers all and other similar completely infantile theories. It felt good to just rant and rave about my less than perfect love life with someone who identified.

When I told Chloe my dilemma with Ali, she was instantly sympathetic.

-- "Helllooooo??? He just forgot to tell you the itsy bitsy part in his life when he was married? I mean, what is that? What else has he forgotten to mention? A couple of fatherless children here and there? Perhaps a decomposing body in his trunk?"

I shook my head, laughing.

-- "In all seriousness Chloe, the worst part is, we used to be so close. Now, I feel like I am such a phony. I walk around the house pretending everything is okay but it's not. I don't know how much longer I can stand it."

-- "Well, Naz... Whenever you've had enough, you know one of my roommates just eloped without warning. Art and I are trying to make ends meet for now until we find someone else. But it's really hard to find someone in this town who isn't either an addict, a hooker, a nut, or all of the above!!! So, please... Our door is open!"

I thanked her but changed the subject. Okay, things were pretty bad but I wasn't anywhere near the point of taking such a definitive final step. Deep down, I kept the flickering hope that we could work things out still... somehow.

I asked for the bill and reluctantly started gathering my stuff for the drive back home.

-- "Oh Naz... you look so miserable..." Chloe exclaimed, "Tell you what: Why don't you come to a party with me tonight? Mr. Piggy is throwing it and I am in charge of the guest list. There'll be some celebrities there. All the fabulous people. It'll cheer you up! And it certainly will make my evening go by quicker."

-- "Oh... I don't know... Let me call Ali..."

-- "What? Don't even! Come on, you deserve a night of fun. He'll just spoil everything, trust me. You need some distance."

I didn't know what to do. The party sounded like so much fun. On the other hand, I didn't want to antagonize Ali. Finally, after a few more minutes of Chloe's pleadings, I dialed Ali's number.

-- "Hi Eshghe man..." His voice answered on the other line.

I cringed. Just a few weeks ago, my heart would have melted at his tender greeting. Now every word out of his mouth was painful to me. I had all this pent up anger and I struggled more every day to push it deep down.

-- "Umm... Hi... Mozaaemett hasstam hatman?"

-- "Of course not sweetie, are you on your way home?"

-- "Well... That's what I was calling about actually. It's really stupid. In fact, I don't even want to go...But..."

-- "What is it Naz?"

His voice had suddenly become colder. He knew what was coming.

-- "There's this party in Bev Hills and... Chloe asked me to go with her... for moral support you know... But I know you're waiting for me. I should really be coming home right?"

I didn't invite him to the party. And my offer to come home sounded more half-hearted than the most purely Iranian "taarof."

Ali didn't speak for a few seconds. Then finally, he said:

-- "I think you should do whatever feels right Naz. Don't worry about me. I have a lot of work to do."

I muttered a quick goodbye and hung up the phone, forcing a smile.

-- There! Problem number one solved!" Chloe triumphantly stated.

-- Uh... problem number one? What's problem number two?"

Chloe glared at my outfit. I was wearing an Ann Taylor twin set and sensible black slacks.

-- "Problem number two is... we've got to "slut-ify" you before the party!"

-- "Whaaat?"

But before I could protest, she had dragged me back to her place.

8:45 p.m.

-- "FORGET IT!!!!!!! I am not wearing a mini-skirt!"

-- "Why not?"

-- "Because I stopped looking good in them when I turned 23!"

-- "Oh Naz! You sound like such an old fart! You may as well add a string of pearls to that Laura Ashley outfit and go have tea and crumpets with the Queen!"

-- "It is NOT Laura Ashley! It's Ann Taylor!"

Chloe rolled her eyes and continued to plead with me while I tried to get out of her lycra micro mini. I was having a hard time. The stuff stuck like velcro on my butt. Chloe's roommate Artie was also sitting there, laughing his head off.

-- Listen!" He chuckled, "The only Queen in this room is me... and I think you look fabulous Naz!"

But there was no reasoning with me.

-- "Chloe! Miniskirts are made for you ass-less hip-less Wasps! Not for a curvy Middle-Eastern chick who has more bumps in her hips and thighs than cottage cheese!"

Chloe rolled with laughter.

-- "Excuse me? Who are you calling ass-less? I happen to be very proud of my booty thank you very much!"

-- "Chloe, just because your great-grandmother happens to be Mexican does not make you J-Lo!"

We went back and forth like this for another half-hour.

A tight pair of leather pants were instantly rejected. I couldn't get them past my knees!

So was a fluorescent green belly button shirt, which unflatteringly exposed what I like to call my jelly belly.

Finally Artie saved the day.

He reached into Chloe's closet and pulled out a perfect looking black cocktail dress. Audrey Hepburn would have been proud.

The dress modestly covered the whole area from my neck to just below my knees. But a revealing open back added the right touch of sexiness.

-- "Oh Naz..." Chloe sighed dreamily "Your skin... how do you keep it so beautiful?"

I blushed and quickly made a joke. Have never been able to take compliments.

Now that this issue was resolved, hair and make-up came next.

Luckily for me, Artie was a stylist with dreams of catering to the big stars one day, a la Jon Peters. For now, he worked in a little salon on Melrose, and spent his free time grooming and prepping Chloe for her auditions. I suspected this was the main reason she had taken him in as her roommate.

When he was done with me, he finally allowed me to glance in the mirror.

-- "Oh Artie..." I exclaimed "What have you done? I look like... like..."

-- "The most beautiful drag queen in the world!"

My face crumbled. He instantly cried out:

-- "Oh no sweetie, it's a good thing! You look fa-bu-lous!"

I think his eyes actually turned moist.

I tended to agree with him. With a few strokes from his magical brushes and an elaborate twisting and pulling of my hair with a zillion pins, he had managed to make me look glamorous, like one of the old time movie stars I had always admired.

The change was so complete I couldn't stop looking at myself in the mirror, smiling like an idiot, until Chloe screamed that we were late.

On our way out the door, I couldn't contain my excitement. My first Hollywood party. I wondered what mischief was awaiting me there...


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