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Shahr-e Farang
Going to the movies in Tehran

March 24, 2005

Going to the movies was a paradox in my family: While it was a common event and we probably went to the movies at least once a week, it somehow maintained its novelty and remained an exciting event.

For us kids it was hardly ever the actual movie, it was rather the whole process of going to the movies that was all the fun. It was the KaalBus [Mozzarella] or Egg Sandwiches with a lot of Khiar Shoor [dill pickled cucumbers] that my mom and my aunts made which would make the entire theatre smell as if someone had farted the moment we took them out of their bags. It was the Pepsi and the Canada Dry treat which we would generally not have at home until years later. It was the bus or the cab ride, even the walk to the theater with a dozen or so cousins which made it all the fun .

I loved hiding in every single alley and scaring my cousins, busy trying to take turns sharing stories to make themselves older and more mature ... And then there was always the miserable trip back from the theater when the younger kids Aar Mizadan [Crying] because they were either hungry, or thirsty, or had to go to the bathroom, or worst of all, they were tired or sleepy with no incentive to behave themselves: They already had it all.

Going to the movies with Dayee Ali, who is only 5 years older than I, was my most favorite activity in the universe. First of all, my mom or my aunts always took us to these Indian movies, from Sangam to Avareh, which were loud musicals with exaggerated acting, screeching singing, and silly dancing, which we hated with vengeance. I have learned to appreciate the cliché Indian movies as an adult but not as a 5 year old ... Dayee Ali took us to the movies that he liked, which were the movies that we liked.

Second, and equally as important, although we liked Kaalbus or egg sandwiches, Dayee Ali would buy us food that we loved like Chaghaleh Badoom [baby almonds] with a lot of salt and Zoghal Lakhteh.

Finally, if a fight broke out between us kids, which always did particularly on the way back, we always fight it -- There were no parents to prevent us from getting it out! Ali was only 5 years older than the rest of us, 4-5 years younger than my oldest cousin, and he would be in the fight himself. Despite his threats that he would never take us again, and despite our parents’ orders that we HAVE TO listen to EVREYTHING Ali said, we never did and we always returned home not exactly the same.

Although all of us skillfully put on a good face, it was that torn shirt, or ripped pants, or the little bruise on the arm or a scrape on the knee that gave it away -- We would then all defend ourselves at the same time, blaming someone else, at which point the moms would threaten we will never be allowed to go to the movies again, and we would do it again the following week.

It was just yesterday when Dayee Ali took us to see “Jason and the Argonauts”.

I was not in school yet. I remember how kindly and responsibly he helped Mansoori, my nagging cousin, after he fell in the waters jumping over those impossible Tehrani Joobs. Although he made the movie miserable for the rest of us, complaining about his hurt knee and moaning about his wet socks and shoes, we gobbled up every second of that movie to the point that after some 40 years, I still remember that metal giant with the steam coming out of its ankle and the fighting skeletons.

We were glued to that screen and none of Mansoori’s howlings seemed to matter and we all ignored him even on the way back, as we were trying to convince each other that metal giants and walking skeletons were real and we had friends who had seen them -- They do exist.

As I grew older, 12, I started taking my younger sisters to the movies. I loved taking Niloofar to Cinema Cine Monde, where they always showed Farsi dubbed Disney movies or other animated films from Europe. Niloofar and I would buy one bus ticket and catch the route 215 bus to Takhte Jamsheed Ave to go to paradise.

Just like Ali bought us ChaGhale Badoom with his own allowance, I would buy her ice cream with my allowance. Once this woman accidentally hit Niloofar and she dropped her ice cream - Although she was a crier, she didn’t this time. She just looked at me with those big beautiful eyes. All I could say was “Eyb NadaReh” [it doesn’t matter] and bought her another one ... Walking home was fun that day.

As I grew even older, 15, and now in college, I started going to the movies with my own friends, all at least three years older, some would drive. We could be ourselves, we could be silly, we could be... and we could smoke, even in the theaters. In 1973 as I reached forward to tap the ash on my cigarette, the guy in front of me was also lifting his right arm to put on top of the seat. My cigarette and his hand painfully collided. I got a bit of it on my pants, but he got the whole burning tobacco right in the middle of the back of his right hand, as if I had thoroughly extinguished that cigarette on that hand.

I could not imagine the pain. Although close to our own age, he cursed like a grown man. Apologizing repeatedly, with the lights now on and everyone else cursing at all of us to shut up and watch the film, my friends and I rushed out of the theater, laughing in both embarrassment and the excitement of whole ordeal.

I never smoked in the theaters after that, and quit smoking completely a few years after that.

A little over a month ago, we were invited to a friend’s house for Christmas (2004) and the host had invited a large number of guests -- Looking around the room, most guests seemed pretty much the same age, with kids, also close in age.

This gathering of dressed up grown ups, the aroma of unmistakable Persian food (e.g. Ghormeh Sabzi, Saffron, rice, Cutlets) and kids chasing after each other, reminded me so much of our own gatherings at my grandmother’s and how similar and yet how different they were. By the way, yes, they did prepare Ham and Turkey and different potatoes and cranberry sauce ...

Bored with the typical Iranian men discussions where every single one of them knows everything and sure of it (e.g. I call it “whose dick is bigger discussions”, but no one dares to show his), I decided to join the women’s group. Unfortunately I think women were talking about men, particularly about us the husbands because as soon as I got close to them and was ready to sit down, they stopped talking and started looking at me with a silly smile, basically telling me to leave without exactly saying it.

I finally decided to join my most favorite group, the teenagers, also heavily involved in their own discussion, which interesting enough, was not about just boys or just girls, it was rather about drugs, and alcohol, and addiction and even smoking!

My daughter, in the heat of the discussion, and to support her point, turned to me and asked me to tell them the story about how kids smoked in Iran and at what age and, and then “ye ye dad, please tell them about how you burnt that guy in the theater” ...

Towards the end of my story, Sameera, the oldest daughter of a family we had just met at that party, quickly got up and politely asked me if I would tell her dad that story!

She rushed to her dad and dragged him out of the men’s group - When she returned with her dad, he already knew the story. “Aghaa Bahram” he asked, “do you remember which movie theater this happened?” When I heard this, I froze in my place. The joy and the pride that my story was so interesting that a teenager wants even her dad to hear it, gave place to a dark and very uncomfortable suspicion of why this man is asking such a specific question? Is he ...?

Before even asking him that question, I looked down and there it was: a substantially bigger scar than a small cigarette burn on his right hand!

I could not believe this recurred nightmare. “Beh Been[look], I am sincerely so sorry. I no longer even smoke, it was just a short few years, a period I went through as a teenager” I explained. I was so embarrassed, so ashamed, and so pissed off that people get away with fucking murder and here I am, in California, several thousand miles away from Tehran, and 30 years later, facing this man whom I so innocently injured.

To everyone but his daughter’s surprise, he came towards me and although I had already raised my guard even a leg to defend myself in case of an attack, he hugged me and “Ghorboon Sadaghe” me. Because of all the commotion, his wife and the rest of the guests joined, even the territorial guys -- I guess no one’s was going to be bigger than mine that night!

After my friends and I had left the theater that night, Hamid had too left in pain. Careless about his burn, he finally develops a bad infection to the point that he was running fevers and becomes seriously ill, requiring serious medical attention.

He was hospitalized at Mehr Hospital for several days -- On his last day, a nurse’s aid who had come to his room to change his bandage, would not stop staring at him to the point that she even neglected why she was there and carelessly hurts the poor man while replacing the bandages.

Hamid and his mother objected to the woman’s profoundly rude and even improper behavior -- Although very apologetic, she was crying that Hamid is her husband’s brother or his son. In tears, she explained that Hamid, from head to toe, had an uncanny resemblance to her husband, who had lost his entire family in the earthquake, referring to the devastating quake of /Buin Zahra earthquake of 1341 (1962) where over 10,000 innocent people were killed. “These are my husband’s hands, this is his nose, bekhoda Khanoom, and this is his hair” the nurse said.

Offended by the woman’s claims, Hamid’s mom asked her to leave the room immediately, and in fact even pushed the woman out of the room, threatening that she will have her fired. Crying and apologetic, she would not quit. Despite his mother’s gross objections, Hamid insisted her to stay and to finish her story ...

Hamid’s father was a close friend of Takhtee’s, the highly motivated and accomplished Iranian wrestling champion. After the Qazvin quake, Takhtee heads up a relief effort and helped many families to adopt orphans who had lost their parents in the quake.

Hamid, a first grader in 1341, dazed and confused after the quake had hit, was assumed to have lost his entire family to the quake and was adopted by his new family.

Hamid’s biological father, who was actually the only other survivor of this killer quake, was transferred to Tehran immediately for treatment after the quake, which is also where he met Simin khanoom, the nurse’s aid, whom he married a year later.

Hamid stayed with his adopted family and regularly visited his biological father and his four half siblings ...

He came to the states in 1977 after finishing college.

As I was listening to his stories about Takhtee’s visits with his parents and how sad they were when Takhtee died (was killed), I lit a cigarette and asked him: “Let me see your left hand”.

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