Compatriots

Even if I hate waiting I always get to my appointments ahead of time. It is a disease that I have unsuccessfully been trying to shake off for years. But I think this is a terminal disease that I should learn to live with. The consequences of this disease are more acute when I have to deal with my compatriots. I think it is a cultural thing, a degenerated one, at that.

If you show up early at your appointment, or at a party it means that you have a lot of time on your hand, which in turn means your time does not worth much. From there to not being an important person is but a logical conclusion. So, showing up at appointments, parties, or even on dates, is a race; and the winner is, as a matter of principle, he who shows up the latest. But hey, who am I to judge? Love them or leave them.

I think it is not as much loving, as it is needing. We need each other. Maybe that's why we put up with each other. No doubt this need is one of those things that we are very good at concealing from each other. If, ever, we look at this thing in terms of a need, we prefer to think of it as the other party's need not ours. We are there just to satisfy this need, to sacrifice in the name of true friendship. We are not called a nation of martyrs for nothing; it is in our blood, or at least this is what we have been told generation after generation. There should be some truth to it otherwise they would not insist on it for so long. Or maybe the other way around.

I order my third Dos Equis. By the time I am half way through my third beer. The fact that my friends have not shown up yet does not seem to matter any more. I am having my Happy Hour just by myself. Come to think of it, it is really funny. I am sitting in this Mexican restaurant, owned by a Pakistani, waiting for a bunch of Iranian guys to show up! What a “Melting Pot”! Or, maybe ” Aush-e-Sholleh-Ghalamkar”, as we say in Farsi, an elaborate porridge prepared for special occasions.

But we have also been told that if somebody offered you a dish, don't break the plate in return after you enjoyed the contents. So, I better curb my comments, until we have managed to offer some “Aush” of our own. I wish we could melt as smoothly together!

I have emptied my fourth bottle of beer along with two bowls of chips and two cups of salsa and nobody has showed up yet. I've been stood up again. Who needs them, anyway? At least, if I can manage to get home now I would be just drunk, rather than tense, depressed, with all my nerves like taut ropes, and the nasty taste of frustration in my mouth. I cannot live with them or without them. I wish there was another choice.

No sign of my friends yet, but looks like the business is booming at “El Sombrero” tonight. I am going to have some entertainment right here. And I have the feeling that what is happening is going to be lot more entertaining than what my friends could provide. It appears that the convention of the local chapter of puppeteers is going to be convened right here.

At the far end of the room several tables are pulled together, and two guys with their dummies are sitting there and seem to be waiting for more people to arrive. Lucky devils, at least some of them have shown up, unlike my “important” friends. So important that they decided not to show up at all.

Interesting; the two dummies are talking together now! Another guy with a dummy is approaching their table. The two dummies at the table get exited and welcome the new comer with cheers. The interesting thing is that each dummy looks exactly like the person who handles it. The only difference is the dummies look a lot younger.

I never understood this. Why should dummies look like their puppeteer? What is the significance of this similarity? For me this similarity causes confusion. Who is real and who is fake? Who is handling whom? Who is in charge? Should I base my judgment on occasional brief conversations between the dummies and their puppeteers? I should say the dummies seem to be smarter. They should put dummies in charge.

We like to think of ourselves as intellectuals, and in a way we are. Isn't it true that whenever we get together the talks revolve around books, authors, literature, novels, poetry, philosophy, psychology, postmodernism, and eventually politics? So weive got to be intellectuals, otherwise we would have found something better to talk about.

We are Iranians, if we are alone by ourselves we masturbate´┐Ż and if there are more than two of us around we talk politics. Honest to goodness, I did not make this up. This is a piece of conventional Persian wisdom that I share with you. This probably makes talking politics kind of like mental masturbation. In both cases you long for a phantasm, which is not achievable for you; a woman, democracy, or maybe a piece of the pie of the power. What else can we call ourselves?

But, even as intellectuals, we have preserved our unique characteristics. The fact of the matter is we are not of this wide-eyed, idealist, daydreamer type of intellectuals who always live in future neverlands. We come from an old and rich culture; we have a big history behind us, so big that it is difficult to pull yourself out of its gravitational field. So, our uniqueness is in our attachment to the past.

Two hundred years is like yesterday for us, we are talking about twenty five hundred, three thousand years. This is what we call history! Why should we look into future when we have such a big past? Whatever everybody else strives to be in the future we have been in the past. These days everybody wants to be on top, the top dog; we have been there, we have done that. We are happy with our past glory. It is our comfort zone, our refuge.

The puppeteers' convention seems to be in full swing now. There are at least twenty-five to thirty dummies around the table. The atmosphere around their table is very festive, and the dummies are having fun. Their raucous conversation, their loud laughter has taken the restaurant by storm. After each wave of laughter, heads turn toward their table. They have become a source of amusement for other patrons, and nobody seems to mind the commotion they have caused.

Puppeteers seem to be passive participants in this group. Every now and then they make an attempt to take part in the conversation, but each time they are snubbed by their own puppets and become a laughing stock for the rest of the puppets. Puppeteers don't seem to mind. Each time they are snapped at, they retreat in resignation.

The relationship between puppeteers and their own dummies resemble that of fathers and their spoiled children — their illegitimate children. Symbol of a lost love, or maybe love of self. As if the dummy were a copy of the puppeteer in his better days. A copy that wont age, physically or mentally. Who would not jump at the opportunity if one had the chance to freeze oneself in time at the climax of one's life? Past the climax is all down hill and out of spotlight, and nobody likes to leave the spotlight. But sooner or later you are obliged to leave the center of attention. When you do you like to stick with a glimpse of it. Maybe the dummy is a glimpse of the past for the puppeteer.

Emigrating is kind of like stepping out of spotlight. You become a second hand citizen, you are unmoored, and you are floating on your own. The fact that you are an emigrant automatically put you on a lower rung of the ladder of social hierarchy. Who likes to look up and see someone else's behind over his head? Reality stinks; that's why you are driven to illusion. Anything that puts you back in the spotlight, anything that anchors you, anything that gives you the feeling of connectedness. This could be success in career, self-reliance, or belief in future. But these are what reality is made of.

I have yet to see an intellectual who is a successful businessman or professional. My friends are no exception. But anything can be used as a cover, an excuse, an escape route, even intellectuality. The future is uncertain, but the past is there to hang on to, or can be rewritten to suit our needs. Unfulfilled dreams or ill-conceived ideals die hard. In a complicated, unforgiving and fast paced world, where nothing stays the same but change, past is the safest refuge.

To keep up with change entails hard work. It is lot easier to stick with the past. It does not seem to matter what you pull out of the past is fabricated or illusory — as long as it makes up for what is lacking. The illusory world is a perfect place to live in. You are in charge, you are the god. You eliminate what you do not like and you create everything in your own image. You can inspire life into your nostalgic dreams and can become the hero of your ill-conceived ideals. If this hero looked like a dummy to others, it is their problem.

I find my table laden with empty Dos Esquis bottles and I feel a spin in my head. The place is quiet now. I am not sure if my senses have gone dull or the place has been deserted. I turn toward the puppeteer's table. There is no sign of the dummies, only a bunch of drooped figures around the table with a silent gloom hung over their heads. Reality has settled in. I swear, I can recognize myself among them! I look at the empty bottles on my table wondering what kind of brew they contained. On the way home I feel tense, depressed, with all my nerves like taut ropes, and the nasty taste of frustration in my mouth; end of another Happy Hour with my compatriots.

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