As I returned to my homeland after twenty years, I was faced with two major dilemmas. No, they had nothing to do with political, social, religious, or economic issues. And they weren't related to childhood memories, past experiences, or present uncertainties. They were serious in nature and personal in content. I had to deal with them on my own terms.
My dilemmas, elementary as they seemed, had a profound effect on my state of mind and physical well being. The first was to re-learn the lost art of using an Iranian-style toilet in a squatting position with efficiency and deadly aim. But the most intimidating dilemma, which I would like to focus on, was kissing guys on the cheeks — something I have had no formal training in, no confidence to perform, or consider particularly appealing.
I had so many questions. How do I avoid the lips? How do I make minimal contact? How do I dodge the mighty Iranian nose? Do I kiss twice or three times? And by the way, what is the difference between kissing twice and three times anyway? How do I avoid rashes and zits? Do I wipe my face or do I allow the spit to site there for a while? There was so much to learn in such a short time.
Living abroad for so many years, I have developed social skills which do not include physical contact with males other than a simple handshake or high-five. Although, the majority of my social interactions revolve around my Iranian friends, we simply do not kiss each other. I know it's a form of greeting, brotherhood, tradition, affection, or what not. But the sheer fact of kissing another man is extremely revolting to me.
I perhaps developed this phobia from my father. He is a very loving individual, like any hot-blooded Iranian man, and likes to show affection by slapping big slobbery kisses on the cheeks. However, the problem is his incredibly huge and bushy mustache. He has a mustache made for kings of the early Persian Empire. It starts from his big nose and moves down to the sides and immaculately points up to the sky on both sides.
When I kiss my father, I have to close my eyes for fear of getting poked in the eye by his mustache. This can cause permanent damage. I also fear that his mustache might end up in my nose — not to mention the three-day skin rash caused by thick and unforgiving facial hair. A traditional friend of mine claims that kissing guys is a sign of manhood. Well, I simply fail to find manhood in kissing men.
I needed a teacher. I was the grasshopper in need of a master. I was Luke Skywalker and needed Yoda's help. I was the Karate Kid desperate for mister Miyagi. I was the Buddhist monk in search of the Dalai Lama. At a moment of panic, desperation, and exhaustion, I found the answer. It was in front of me all a long but I was cursed with such monumental ignorance that I almost missed it all together.
“Hay dad, do you have a moment?”
“What is it? I am busy watching this stupid Iranian satellite program. The damn thing shows five minutes of programs and twenty minutes of commercials. How many Iranian realtors can we have in this town?”
“Dad, the time has come for you and I to have a man to man talk. I have questions and I desperately need some answers.”
“I thought your mom already told you about all that stuff,” he laughed.
“Dad, I am thirty-years old for god's sake. What I mean is this kissing business. You know, this kissing guys in Iran.”
“Well, I'll tell you what I know and then it's all up to you to apply the art.”
This was great. I was benefiting from sixty years of pure Iranian kissing experience. I was being taught by the best of the best. A man who has mastered all the moves, techniques, and formations. One who can teach me the tricks of the trade. The one who has not lost any of his traditional Iranian foundation and is willing to lead a lad through the great odyssey of life.
“Well son, make no mistake about it. Kissing a man's face is more than a simple act of affection. It's the manifestation of power and social importance. It's the public projection of a powerful social and economic position. A position that should be presented as fundamentally strong and unshakable,” he said.
I felt like I was attending the Communist Party's propaganda meeting.
“What I'm trying to say son, is that by kissing properly and powerfully, you show the other guy that you are in control of the situation and you are a power to be reckoned with.”
There was much more to this than I originally thought.
“First you look deep in the other guy's eyes. A look that would project power yet respect. Then you move close to him with your right hand extended in a forty degrees angle. You shake hands with a powerful grip. A kind of a grip that says HAY MAN I DON'T TAKE CRAP FROM NO ONE. The stronger his grip, the harder you squeeze.
“Now comes the moment where you need to position your body. Balance is the key. You will not move toward the guy, as this will signal weakness. You will pull the guy forward with a swift hip rotation using your torso while throwing your weight in opposite direction.”
This was getting too complicated. I needed to take notes.
“Now you have to be careful since the guy might be a pro and he might counterattack your move with a reverse shoulder fake. This will throw you off balance and will force you to move toward him. You can counter his strategy by utilizing his momentum and catching him off guard with a swift shoulder alignment.
“Now comes the hard part. This is when you need to force the issue. You will be the one who determines which cheek will be kissed first. If the guy is uncoordinated or unable to make up his mind, you need to take it upon yourself to direct his head towards your right shoulder with a soft but effective head butt. This is critical since the direction of the kiss will be determined at this moment. You will assess the situation with watchful eyes and avoid lips at any cost. If the guy's lips, for any reason, are in your way, immediately perform the second head butt with authority.
“Once cheek-contact is established, turn your head slightly to the right and dismount with a quick and unexpected move. Tilt your head back as far as you possibly could to avoid contact with obstacles such as glasses, big nose, or both. You are almost done. Now you need to complete the second part. You should take advantage of the momentum and move your head to the left. You will apply the same movements and principles to the other side of the face with powerful and authoritarian moves. Once the kiss has been completed, you will put your left hand on the person's shoulder and dismount.”
Woah! This man really knows his kiss. I was impressed by my father's knowledge on the subject. He opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed. He showed me the knowledge only possessed by masters. The man is my hero. I never knew kissing another man carried so much politics. I never imagined that a simple act of affection could signal so many social implications. I understood the delicate balance of power and prestige. It all made sense now.
I was ready to face the best of them. I knew what to do and how to control the situation. I was the puppet master. I could move in and out, side to side, up and down…. I was like a pro basketball player. Fake left, move right.
During my stay in Iran, I was forced to kiss at least 50 relatives and friends on a daily bases. I was getting extremely good at it. I would move in, kiss twice and move out like a woodpecker. They didn't even know what hit them. I was sensational. I developed a technique custom-made to my height, weight, and style.
I grew facial hair and stopped taking showers. At the tail end of my journey, fewer and fewer relatives showed up at my house. Those brave souls, who came to visit, avoided kissing me at any cost. Finally, I became the master of my domain. A strong and mighty presence in the Iranian social food chain.