I am a Londoner (born and raised) now living in San Francisco and like almost every Iranian alive; I have relatives in Los Angeles. I have visited Los Angeles a few times now and when people who have never been there ask me to describe Los Angeles, I do not go the usual route of throwing out adjective laden phrases like; “Fake Gucci-licous”, or smiling widely while raising one eyebrow and saying “Surely you mean… Tehrangeles?”
Instead I tell them, tales of three short events that happened on my last visit to Los Angeles a few months ago.
Only in Los Angeles 1
It was my grandmother's 90th birthday and I was staying in Santa Monica with my cousin. The night before her party, my cousin and I decided to go out clubbing. It was a Friday night and I was sitting in the passenger seat, parked in the gas station while my cousin filled the car up. Suddenly a black eep pulled in very fast, wheels skidding and techno vibrating the shaded windows. The driver, a tall-dark-haired-guy, dressed all in Prada black, shades on head, jumped out of his black-on-black leather seat and walked right up to me.
Now, where I come from, when caught in such situations, you straighten your back, stick your chest out, flex your knuckles and get ready for a fight. In London this is a potential mugging from an Eastern European, or in San Francisco this could be the South San Fran Mexicans looking for some trouble. But what happened next is something I totally did not expect.
He first knocked on my window, which I duly brought down. Next leaning-in a little, he said: “Farsi baladi?”
I immediately relaxed and thought that although this is a very strange twist of events, let's run with it. I replied: “Baleh.”
Nodding he continued: “Kababi kojaas? Midooni restauraan e Javaan kojaast?”
I would make fun of this whole episode and the Iranian fondness for Chello Kababs, but sadly, I too had been there the previous night and I pointed out that his destination was only three blocks behind him.
Only in Los Angeles 2
That same night my cousin and I met up with a friend of his, who was also bringing some others along. He had told us he could get all of us in the club for free AND into the VIP room.
So we picked him up and drove fast, nodding our heads to rap, thinking we're cool on the way to the club. We got in exactly as he had promised and were escorted to the VIP 'cabanas', in the back of the club. Though this was a regular Friday night in a top club, I would guesstimate that 45% of the club was Iranian. This was something I had never experienced before. I met a few people there who were very popular, wearing the newest most expensive fashions, modeling the newest hair from MTV and throwing the newest 'pimp' words to the ladies.
I naturally presumed these guys were all the rich kids, living every man's dream of prosperity and pleasure in the free world, from their parent's money. It was the next day that I saw the reality.
We drove to one of the cool guy's apartment from the night before. I noticed it was not a very 'nice' area and he did not have a car outside. We rang the bell and heard a shout of “Come in!” The door was unlocked. His apartment was very small and very bare. In fact this was either a work of minimalist art or he really did not have enough money for furniture. A very small TV was on the floor, with a coat hanger aerial. There was no cable, music or anything else for entertainment. In fact in his bedroom, which I could see form the corner of my eye, there only was a mattress.
To fulfill the image of being a rich player with the 'bling bling' wardrobe, he had to live with no furniture or a car. When I asked my cousin but what happens when the image works and he brings a girl home. His reply was, “Well, she's faking her image and wealthy style too, so they both realize they're in the same situation and it works out.”
I met a few other players that week as well and a conclusion I made was that they are all very similar with one differentiator: Those with real jobs (being Reza Shah's personal pilot before the revolution doesn't count) also have a leased car.
Only in Los Angeles 3
My final story is on the day of my grandmother's birthday. My cousin and I were going to stop off at a florist and buy some flowers from us for her. I also was told to buy a very large bouquet from my family in London. So we went to the first florist we could find. As two western (English native tongue) born young men (don't like buying flowers), we quietly and shyly crept into the florist.
Immediately the florist approached us speaking Farsi: “Khoob hastin aaghaayoun? Khaahesh mikonam, bifarmaayid…”
We looked at the flowers and made our best impression of what people do when they are comparing bouquets or trying to think of a combination that will look nice. It was evident very quickly we had no idea what we were doing and our friendly local Iranian florist agreed to just choose for us some flowers.
Suddenly I had an epiphany: I could ask this man to write a nice Farsi message for my grandmother in my name! He agreed and started writing what I was reciting to him: “Khanoom Manoucheri e aziz, tavalod e Shomaa Mobaarak… Maryam, Fatemeh, Zahra, Nouri, Mohammad o Reza.”
He looked up at me frowning after deciding he needed a bigger card and sarcastically he commented: “Hich kess-e dig-e nist?”
While paying for the flowers, I looked to my left and saw some photos on the florist's wall. I was in total disbelief. Here before me was a photo of our florist, outside his store. He stood smiling with one arm around the notorious rapper, record label mogul and southern gangster legend: Master P. Master P was holding a nice bunch of roses not dissimilar to my grandmother's.
Only in Los Angeles does one get constantly approached by people who do not even bother to presume you are not Iranian and do not speak Farsi. Only in Los Angeles are celebrities very used to Iranians and the fact that every store owner is one. Only in Los Angeles is everything you see the finest, most expensive and at the same time leased for the day.
I looking forward to my next trip to Los Angeles this week and I am sure, as always, the city of angels will have some surprises for me.