I met Ehson by chance. He was a doorman at a strip joint. He motioned us in as I was showing my clients around the neighborhood. They were in town for a technology exhibition; a boondoggle. My company treated them to an elaborate dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant. After dinner they wanted to walk around and see the city. They were from the Midwest, from one of those towns that you fly over when you go coast to coast and wonder how boring the life must be down there.
As we walked by the strip place, Ehson smiled and invited us to come and take a look. He wore a suite and a chapeau hat. “Here gentlemen, come and take a look, beautiful girls, no cover charge!” He advertised. My clients got curious. I thought that after a big dinner and lots of wine, they probably wanted to take a look, but they said no and wanted to go back to their hotel.
Ehson looked 100% Iranian and had the distinct accent. I just said thank you and kept on walking. But he insisted. He finally said, “C’mon Khomeini, come and take a look, it is free!” My clients chuckled. They knew that the Khomeini comment was directed at me.
Here I was, in my Italian suit and tie, talking consulting mumbo jumbo with my clients and this guy in the cheap hat and suit called me Khomeini! In a weird way, I liked his self confidence. I looked back and smiled at him. He smiled back and said, “You’ll be back. You’ll be back!”
I hailed a cab for my clients and sent them back to their hotel. Then I walked the couple of blocks back to Ehson and the strip club. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He was a humble guy. “They call me Exxon here. I’ve told them that my father has an oil field back in Iran! They think that all Middle Easterners are in the oil business!” I asked him about the girls who worked there. He thought for a second and then said, “Most of them are from small towns, with either drug dependencies or some kind of abuse in their childhood. They are all screwed up. There are also a couple of smart ones here who are trying to earn enough money for either a college education or a down payment for a business or a house. They just don’t want to be waitresses at Denny’s for the rest of their lives.” Ehson seemed so mature beyond his years. I told him about our soccer practices at the park on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He promised to come and join us.
They say that everybody has at least one book in them, meaning that there is enough material in one’s life to write one interesting book. We Iranians, because of what we have been through in the past 30 some years, have a few books in us. And Ehson had a library in him!
After the soccer practices, and over the pizza and pitchers of beer, I learned that he was from my old neighborhood in Tehran. He lived a couple of blocks from me in Abbasabad, but our paths never crossed. We talked about the corner grocery store, Tabrizian and laughed about how all corner grocery stores in Tehran were called Tabrizian! He came to the US around the same time that I did. He came to the big city with just enough money to last him for one year. In contrast, I went to a small college town, protected from all the harshness of life. By the end of the first year he ran out of money and had to quit school and go on his own. He held odd jobs and did whatever he had to do, just to survive. He told me about his first job working at a gas station.
“I worked for a Chinese guy at a Chevron gas station. He managed us very tightly. If we were short at the end of the day, he would take it out of our paychecks. One day a lady drove in and wanted $10 worth of gas. I put the nozzle in and went inside to answer the phone. By the time I got back, the meter was showing $20. She refused to pay me the $20. She said that it was my fault and she would only pay $10. So I took a hose and put it in her tank and siphoned the extra gas out and put it in a can. She couldn’t believe what I did and was very pissed. I cursed her and said, “You stupid bitch, don’t come here again!”
“She left but a couple of hours later, she pulled into the gas station with a cop. The guy came to me and asked her, “Is this the guy that siphoned the gas out of your tank?” She said yes. He then looked at me and said, “And you called my wife a bitch?” I just didn’t know what to say. Here I was, out of college, illegal, working without a permit, and could have been deported back to Iran in a minute, and now I had to deal with a policeman over $10 worth of gas. I tried very hard to explain the situation, but he didn’t want to hear about it. So finally the policeman said, “If you get on your knees and apologize to my wife, I’ll let you go.” I thought for a second about everything and then I did as he said.”
Ehson was that kind of a guy. He lived on the edge, he got into trouble, but then, he found a way out. It was all street smarts and hustle!
A couple of months later after we became close friends, I got a call in the middle of the night. It was Ehson. He needed me to come to the police station and bail him out. He was arrested for soliciting an under cover police woman.
The only other time that I had to go to a police station to bail somebody out was a few years earlier, back in my college town. My roommate’s girlfriend Regina was stopped by the police for speeding late at night. Regina was an aspiring model, like many girls in their early 20’s. She looked like Diana Ross. When she opened her purse to get her drivers license, the policeman noticed a bunch of pills. They were Regina’s mom’s pills. She couldn’t explain why they were there. They took her in.
My roommate woke me up at around 2 AM in the morning. He begged me to go with him to the police station to get Regina out. He was very worried. “Poor girl must be in a cell with a bunch of women with tattoos doing push-ups! I hope that she doesn’t freak out!” He said. We just didn’t know anything about the police and the jails in a small college town.
We checked in with the policeman on the night shift at the station. He told us to sit down and wait while he was finishing the paperwork. As I was trying to calm my roommate down, a pizza delivery guy walked in! He told the policeman on the night shift, “I have a medium vegetarian for Regina!” The policeman buzzed him in. I couldn’t believe that they delivered pizza to the jail! At that point, I knew that Regina was fine. This was a small town police station! Half an hour later, Regina walked out of the jail with us with the leftover pizza!
I bailed Ehson out of the jail. He was furious. “I was driving home at around 11 PM when I saw this beautiful girl in a mini skirt. I pulled over and asked her what she was doing. She flirted with me and made some suggestive comments. Then before I knew it, a bunch of undercover cops jumped on me and took me in!”
Ehson is that kind of a guy. If he sees two people fighting on the side of the road, he would pull over and jump in the middle to stop them. And he would get punched in the process. While most people would just ignore the whole thing and move on, Ehson would not only stop the fight, but he also would try to get the two guys to kiss and make up!
Ehson is a successful businessman now and he is very good at what he does. We both started from the same place, the same neighborhood and at the end, we both ended up in the same place, but we took different paths. I went to a college in a small town, studied hard and tried to be good and make my parents proud. Ehson came to the big city, dropped out of school, and just rolled the dice. To this day, I can still read it in his eyes that at times he wants to be me, and believe or not, I envy the thrill and excitement of his life. In a strange way, it is our version of Mark Twain’s story of the Prince and the Pauper!