The other night Becky and I arrived at a large gathering of family and friends. Our generous guest, Mrs. Nicey had obviously spent a good deal of time meticulously preparing for this occasion, cleaning, cooking, and decorating. Her recently remodeled home was tastefully painted and painfully overfurnished with the usual suspectsin the mix, French, Qajar and modern American articles.
As soon as we arrived Mrs. Nicey rushed to greet us. She looked rather frazzled though. It must have been the stress of all the hard work of arranging the perfect party. She shook hands and accepted the bottle of wine.
“Welcome to our humble gathering! Why did you have to go through so much trouble for this unnecessarily lovely bottle of fine wine?”
But she rushed away to another arriving guest before I had a chance to explain that it was no trouble at all, even though in truth the wine had caused a fight with Becky, her fault really for insisting old wine was better than fresh. She had bought a wine so old I couldn’t subtract its year and come up with an age. So, to avoid the embarrassment I had scratched out the wine’s age when Becky wasn’t looking.
A couple of Armenian helpers were busily following instructions in attending to the guests, serving hors d oeuvres, taking away the plates as fast as the famished guests were picking them up, and refilling their drinks the moment the content of the glass fell below the dangerous level of three quarters full. Armenians are especially popular for these occasions because they speak Farsi and when needed they revert back to their secret language when the rest aren’t supposed to understand. Mrs. Nicey looked on in horror at one animated guest who excitedly recounted his valiant adventures as salsa dripped from her paper plate onto the priceless Persian carpet while she was busy talking, and not the last mess to be made that night.
“That’s not going to come out.” I said to Becky.
“What kind of furniture is that?” Becky asked as she marveled at the luxurious gilded chairs in the living and dining rooms.
“Louis The Thirty Fourth furniture,” I said as I took stock of deteriorating situation.
“I didn’t know there were that many Louises.”
“Look. The living room furniture is Louis The Sixteenth and the dining set is Louis The Eighteenth. That adds up to thirty four. Now go get me a drink while I try to figure out how long before this party gets out of control and Mrs. Nicey snaps. And make sure it’s not our own wine.” Who knows how acrid wine gets after thirty years.
It was clear that despite the help Mrs. Nicey was just too stressed out. She must have worked night and day to get to this point of material perfection. As much time as Mrs. Nicey and pliant husband had spent on remodeling and food arrangements they had neglected the guest selection process. Their goal in having arranged the party was perhaps to pay back their ‘party’ debts to all those to whom they owed one, as well as the auspicious occasion of showcasing the remodeling job. After all, what’s a new granite kitchen counter without others oohing and aahing over it before scratching it? As a result, the guests consisted of a mishmash of strangers of all ages and classes, kids in diapers and senior citizens recovering from their age, a sexy college graduate on her way to Peace Corps as well as a shaven-headed and tattooed high school dropout on waiting lists to join a gang or two, middle aged men with wandering eyes and middle aged women with wandering tongues, catching up on gossip.
A family I knew had been blacklisted for parties elsewhere, for reasons to be soon revealed, arrived with some fanfare. Somehow, Mrs. Nicey had not received the memo on how much trouble that particular family was. The lady was holding an infant. She must have given birth ten minutes earlier because a long ropey thing was hanging from the milk-spitting bundle of joy, possibly the umbilical cord with too much slack left. Either that or it was a leash missing its dog.
The lady’s father was in tow, hitting everything with his newly acquired cane while helping his own nagging mother who was cracking pumpkin seeds and complaining that she should have divorced her husband before Reza Shah came to power but it wasn’t too late yet. She was convinced of her own youthful beauty having been wasted on someone who had blown his father’s wealth on a shipload of rotting watermelons from Burma. Her husband whom she wished divorced was close behind. He was carrying what looked like a respirator, or a life support gadget or maybe just his great grandson, Mahmood’s toy. He dragged a walker along going “what did she say?” Fortunately the battery in his hearing aid had run out and he had missed his wife’s bickering during the two hour ride because he looked quite well-rested. Neither the extreme of a newborn nor the opposite extreme of a very old man was enough to make the anxious family miss a party like that.
Becky pointed to their unruly son, Mahmood. “How come he is climbing the wall to the rooftop?”
“He’s just inspecting the roof for loose shingles or meteorite pieces to throw at other guests’ cars.” I missed my own childhood. I also wished I owned a body shop next door because I knew what was coming. Fixing a scratch on Mercedes, not cheap. Watching the owner’s expression when handed the bill, priceless.
Behind them their late-teen daughter in a skimpy outfit was busily texting her many friends reporting where she was as her friends were busily texting back reporting where they were not. Apparently her skirt was too short because she kept pulling it down to cover her bare thighs. But it was also too low-cut because she had to keep pulling it up to cover her exposed crack. Fashion was literally at war with itself. She was caught in a three way loop of pulling her skirt down, then up, and then texting her every move to her friends: “I just pulled up my skirt”, “I just entered a lame party”, “OMG everyone is so old here”.
Mrs. Umbilical Cord’s husband wasn’t too far behind, talking loudly on his cell either having an imaginary business conversation at 9 PM on Saturday night to generously share his financial importance with people who didn’t already know it, or trying to divert attention from the belt buckle, which was failing to hold up his pants, to his upper regions such as the big gold medallion around his neck. “Sell it. I don’t care how much. Tell him money just doesn’t matter to Lahimi. Tell him Lahimi is not the kind of weeping willow who would bend in his kind of wind. Lahimi has prestige. Lahimi name goes back hundreds of years. Ask any corner green grocer and they’ll say ‘Ahhhh! Lahimis own this city!’ You tell him that. My father slapped the prime minister once. How much was gold today? Sell the Euros and buy the gold.”
Within seconds of the arrival of the new guests the helpers magically emerged from the kitchen to offer hot tea. The old man with the walker turned to his wife. “What did she say?”
“She said do you want tea.”
“No. I don’t want to pee. I just did it ten minutes ago.”
“In the car??? I should have divorced you years ago. I gave up princes and sons of ministers for a bum like you. I could have had class. I could have been somebody.” I could have been a contender.
Everyone in the new group took a cup of tea except for Grandpa Pee. Grandpa knocked over someone else’s glass of wine when he reached for the fake banana in a decorative fruit basket. Fortunately nobody saw it as it dripped onto the carpet.
“That’s not gonna come out,” I told Becky.
“Was it our wine he just knocked over?” She said it as if that necessary and entertaining part of any party was a disaster.
“I hope it was.” That stuff was thirty years old for God’s sake. “Why didn’t you get a fresh bottle like I told you? Wine should be fresh just like food. Our wine must taste like feet.”
“Should we tell Mrs. Nicey?”
“That our wine tastes like feet?”
“No. That someone knocked the wine over her carpet.” Silly gal. She doesn’t know how these things are done.
“No,” I said with a sarcastic grin only Iranian men can muster. “Because then they’ll think we are the ones who knocked it over. There are two things you’re advised to not get involved in. One is fights between couples, and the other is spilling the beans on who spilled the wine.”
Papa New Cane kept staring at the college coed, trying to lock eyes, very sure of his undying sex appeal despite the elongated ear lobes and the loose dentures. My audio radar zoomed in on Mr. Sell The Euros who had struck a conversation with another guest, Mr. Looking For Madoff. “It’s time to buy property. I’m buying this plot of land 800 miles from Palm Springs that’s a sure bet. It’s not going to be long before it becomes part of downtown Palm Springs and then it’s as good as gold. If you want I can get you in on the deal.”
Grandpa Pee picked up a fake banana and tried unsuccessfully to peel it. He handed it to his nagging wife. “Peel it.”
“It’s not too late. I should have divorced you years ago. The baby was peeing in the front seat while you were peeing in the back seat.”
“What did you say???”
“Where is my hot tea?” Grandpa asked impatiently as he nearly knocked over a Tiffany lamp.
“You said you didn’t want any.”
“What did she say?” He reached again and this time he successfully knocked over the Tiffany lamp which dropped and shattered on the new travertine floor.
“Did he just crack the travertine?” Becky said with eyes popping.
“I do believe he did.” Now I had seen everything. “The old man broke the floor.”
It wouldn’t be long before Mrs. Nicey would find out. And the world took one step closer to fireworks.
From the outside came the sound of a windshield getting smashed followed by a symphony of obnoxious sounds by the scared car alarm. An even more frazzled Mrs. Nicey rushed out the door.
“Looks like Mahmood the Bad Mood found the magic meteorite on the roof,” I told Becky. She who was following with her gaze Mahmood’s mother who put down her infant on Louis XVI and ran behind Mrs. Nicey.
“Should we go outside and help her?”
“Nonesense. Mrs. Nicey is going to tell Mahmood’s mother it’s not a problem and may every car in the universe be sacrificed to the whim of the playful child. She’ll offer Mahmood another car with a good windshield for him to throw things at. That’s called hospitality.”
“How can she take it?”
“Oh, she’s not going to take it for much longer. Mrs. Nicey has entered the ‘zone’. She has worked hard for weeks, has had to smile while the guests destroy her property, and is suppressing a good deal of conflicting feelings. She is now a ticking time bomb. Fireworks are on the way. Fasten your seatbelt because it’s going to be one bumpy ride.”
Laying on his stomach on the sofa the newborn puked as babies are supposed to when they’re in the vicinity of fine furniture, newly dry cleaned dark suits, and prized, one of a kind gowns whose value disappears when they come into contact with baby vomit. The gastrointestinal discharge dribbled on Louis XVI first and then dripped on the carpet.
“That’s not gonna come out.” I said to Becky who grabbed Mrs. Nicey who had come back through the front door and was going by.
“Excuse me,” Becky said in her usual sweet voice. “It appears that cute baby over there just had an accident on the sofa.”
“And on the carpet,” I added. “That’s a nice carpet. What is it, Esfahan? Looks like 300 knots. One hell of a carpet. Many went blind weaving that priceless gem and a fat store owner paid for his son’s college education and his wife’s tummy tuck with the proceeds.” Some tummy tucks cost more than college education. The medical industry is only beginning to catch up with the ravages of decades of eating rice with delicious khoreshts.
Mrs. Nicey turned red and shook her head.
“And don’t forget the wine that was spilled on the table and onto the carpet,” Becky helpfully blurted.
“If it tastes like feet it’s not ours,” I said aloud. “We don’t like old wine, do we Becky?” But Becky ignored me.
“There was also some salsa spilled over that other portion of the carpet,” Becky was on a roll. Too bad she wasn’t reading Mrs. Nicey’s warning signs while she was pointing to all the accidents.
“Where?” Mrs. Nicey wondered.
“It appears it has now been covered by a fresh spill from someone’s greasy dolmahs,” I said. “Where did you get the dolmahs? Becky would like the recipe. Don’t you, Becky? Yes you do.” I wished she could cook. If one could just combine her American beauty with Iranian mastery of cooking, French elegance, German engineering, Mexican patience and Canadian cheerfulness the world would be your oyster. That thought alone gave me optimism that there was still hope for humanity. So I grabbed a handful of caviar.
Mrs. Nicey was seething now. What she needed was a good distraction to get her mind off the spills. Fortunately Mr. New Cane provided that. He was trying to impress the coed by pulling closer the dish of nuts with his cane but he knocked over a priceless Nasserdinshah The First lamp which crashed into an Ahmad Shah The Last hubblebubble, ending the Qajar dynasty in that house.
And then the final straw landed on the camel’s back. Mrs. Nicey snapped in one operatic moment. The floodgates opened: “Hey, hey, hey! Unknown Guest whom I don’t recall inviting! Stop looking in the fridge. Whatever food you were allowed to eat I have already spread across the open areas of the house. Dinner is being served. I know an eighteen course dinner and thousands of hors d’urves are not enough. But why do you prefer the stale, cold leftovers in the fridge to the freshly cooked food I slaved over for a whole week either purchasing it or cooking it because mine tastes better? Is the dinner line so long you had to raid the fridge now before you starve to death?”
“You! Eyes Are Us!” She then pointed to the drooling middle aged guy who was checking out the teen texter. “You do NOT look at young girls’ thighs at a family gathering, you pervert!”
“To be fair, he wasn’t looking at her thighs,” I told Becky. “He was looking at her panties.” Besides, it wasn’t like she was the only one he was staring at. He was taking inventory of all the females of child-bearing years.
A guest leaving the dinner line, having triumphantly filled her first plate because she was party-savvy enough to be in line first, praised Mrs. Nicey who was now nervously looking around at one unfolding disaster after another. “What a delicious fessenjoon. Did you make it yourself?”
“No! She must have bought it,” interjected another meddling busy body of the type whose jealous contempt usually trumps their fake overpoliteness. “I recognize restaurant food from a mile away. Mine is more delicious than this. I cook it myself.”
The first lady didn’t pay attention and continued the praise. “Why don’t you rest a little and have a seat to eat something yourself?”
“If I sit down who’s going to reload the huge trays of food? Do you think fesenjoon walks to the table by itself?”
She turned her head to someone else. “Hey! Midlife Crisis! Get your foot off the table. Do I come to your house and walk on your table?”
She then confronted an aloof mother. “Excuse me Miss Permanent Diet who always talks about counting calories instead of minding her children… Are you going to behave your kid or shall my kick meet his behind?”
Seconds later she went into the bathroom for an inspection and came out glowing red. “Who put the seat up in the bathroom? Who? Was it you, Grandma? Whoever it was, I have installed a security camera in there. I am going to review the video and find out who it was. Once I find out I’ll chase the culprit to the ends of the earth and dunk your bogus face in that same bowl. You all just watch it next time that you’re in there doing whatever it is that you all do when you’re all alone in people’s bathrooms thinking you can do whatever with impunity. And one more thing. Do the heavy lifting at home, not mine. We don’t have an aftabehdar here.”
She pointed to two whispering ladies: “Loose lips sink ships! Stop talking behind my back in my own house. You don’t think I realize how you disapprove of all my remodeling efforts while as soon as you see me you fake a smile and pretend you like my taste?”
“Hey, Baba Ganoush mixed with salsa drippings! Are you going to eat all that is on your plate or are your eyes bigger than your stomach? I know half of that is going to end up in the trash. That fillet mignon kabob that you have generously served yourself, depriving the guests in the back of the line, cost enough money to pay a year’s salary of a phone support guy from Bangalore. Stop treating it like dog food. Serve only as much as you are going to eat. Why do you act like you just endured Egypt’s seven years of famine? If you look behind you there are other guests here besides you.”
“You! Ammeh Gossip! Put the plate down immediately and nobody gets hurt. I said put the plate down! I’m giving you a time out. You finished the salmon all by yourself, as though you are the only guest here. The others must be thinking I’m a cheapo for not providing enough salmon even though I ordered enough for an army, and you ate it all by your lonesome self. Off to the backyard you go. Turn in your food plate, utensils and your stuffing-your-face permit and report to the help, NOW!” The Party Nazi had finally arrived.
“Yo, Gangster,” she said to the young guy with shaven head who was suspiciously hanging outside. “What’s with the shaved head? Too lazy to apply moose so you shaved it all? And what of the hanging out by the door hiding your hands suspiciously in your baggy pants. On what planet do you go to a family gathering dressed like you’re getting ready to either deal drugs or start a shootout? Are you being nervous that your application to Harvard may get rejected? Come inside. Have some caviar. Maybe that’ll make your hair grow back and shorten your pant legs.”
She turned to the texting teen. “Child! People don’t dress up to go to a party to sit in a corner texting their friends nonstop like there is no tomorrow. They go there to say hello to the host when they enter, to show the ability to maintain some eye contact with the rest of humanity, and to socialize with other guests. Instead you maintain that frozen stupid smile typing with thumbs one idiotic message after another, never lifting eyes from the phone. Seriously, why did you bother to come, other than putting on that skanky panties show for Mr. I Left My Youth In San Francisco, and San Fransisco didn’t want it?”
“Yo! Mahmood’s Mother! Ms. Umbilical Cord… He is now upstairs in my bedroom jumping up and down on my bed with his muddy shoes. I was going to take the ladies upstairs to flaunt my new decor, to show how my thick curtains which look like Vatican’s tapestry now match the comforter and sheets so that when you all go home you rush to do the exact same thing without giving me the credit. But you all were so frenzied by the amount and variety of the food you didn’t give me a chance. I guess it’s impolite of me to say something, especially after my smoothing over Mahmood’s shattering of the windshields. But you’re the mother. What stops you? Let me guess. You are so fed up with running after wild children at home that you think when you come here it’s your time off and whatever the kids do is someone else’s responsibility because it would otherwise interfere with your mini-vacation. That’s fine with me. In a minute I’m going upstairs as soon as I find my baseball bat. The same way you are ignoring his yelling joyfully upstairs now, combined with the sound of my mirrors, jewelry box and new LCD TV breaking, you can also ignore whatever shrieking I’m going to cause because after all, it’s your time off. Enjoy it. Have some finger food.”
She turned to the dealing Mr. Sell The Euros. “Rule number one: If you’re so important you don’t need to make deals, loudly I might add, on Saturday nights at a party. Rule number two: Important people don’t let so much chest hair show just to display their gaudy male necklaces. Rule number three: Your fly is open. Do something. Rule number four: There is more class in the fingertip of a single lady living in a tiny shack somewhere in The Valley working to raise a decent human being by herself than the class you tried to purchase in a gated Newport Coast palatial home with all its fake waterfalls. And stop bragging that you see Kobe on the street every day.”
“Alright!” I told Becky. “This party is finally getting started.”
Someone who had just drunk a glass of wine dropped his glass, spilling the wine, screaming “this wine tastes like feet!”
“Oooh! That’s not gonna come out.” Becky said with delight. At last, she was learning how to enjoy a good party.