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Boys to men
From innocence to...

February 26, 2002
The Iranian

The other day, I was approached at an Iranian mehmooni by a little boy. He couldn't have been more than 12 or 13, though he was tall for his age. A handsome little fellow, with candid blue eyes, olive skin and a face full of both mischief and innocence. The kind of face that only exists for a split second, after the first crush, but before the first heartbreak. I thought the little boy was approaching me to ask if I had seen his mommy or something. So imagine my surprise when he said, in a heavily American-accented Farsi:

-- "Shumaa cheshme keily gashangui daareen." (You have really beautiful eyes.)

At first, I wanted to burst out laughing. He was just a little boy. But his gesture was so cute! He was standing there, so brave and vulnerable, so genuine and sincere. I didn't want to be cruel to him, to shatter his self-confidence, and the courage that had allowed him walk up to a complete stranger and tell her such a simple, but beautiful thing. So I suppressed my giggles and answered as politely as I could the typical Iranian formula:

-- "Cheshmhaaye shomaa ghashang mibinan." (Literally translated: It is your eyes that perceive them as beautiful.)

He smiled, seeming satisfied at this answer. We chatted a couple of minutes about this and that, then I excused myself. When I later related the story to my friend Sheereen, she sighed:

-- "At least, your pick-up story is cute and innocent. You won't believe what happened to me last week at Barnes and Noble."

I was perplexed. What kind of danger could await a young, single Iranian girl at a Barnes and Noble for god's sake. So I listened, intrigued.

Sheereen explained:

-- "I was browsing for books at Barnes and Noble when I decided to get a mocha at their coffee shop. As I was sitting there, sipping my cup, turning the pages of my magazine, MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS, suddenly an older gentleman showed up at my table and shoved his cell phone in my ear. He said to me in Farsi: 'Bebakhshid, khaanoom, shomaa ro poshte telephone mikhaan.' (Excuse me young lady, but someone is asking for you on the phone.) I was so shocked that I didn't know how to react at first. I just accepted the phone and listened, wondering who could be on the other line?"

-- "Who? Who?"

Amazon Honor System-- "Well, it was his son. This complete stranger started asking me all these questions, like where I went to school, what my hobbies were, where I 'hung out', etc etc. I was speechless. I thought that the older gentleman had seen me in the bookstore and was trying to set me up with his son. I finally regained my speech and told the son 'Bebakhshid aaghaa, vali man shomaa ro nemishnaasam, va shomaa ham mano nemishnaasin. (Excuse me sir, I don't know you and you don't know me.) I know your father meant well but this is inappropriate, for a whole host of reasons? And anyway I have long since graduated from university, so obviously he made a mistake. We should end this conversation right now."

I laughed:

-- "Well, that isn't such a bad story. Poor Iranian parents, they always worry about matchmaking for their kids. That's also a cute story."

Sheereen roller eyes:

-- "Niki, you don't understand. Let me finish the story. Well... The son actually laughed at this point and replied on the phone: "Naaaah khaanoom, baraaye khodam nemiporsam, baraaye PEDARAM miporssam. Shomaa ro too bookstore dideh va khoshesh oomadeh" (Noooo ma'am, I am not asking for myself, I am asking for my father. He has seen you in the bookstore and he likes what he sees.) So, will you go out with him?"


Sheereen went on, in a sad, almost wistful voice:

-- "Niki, that man was older than my father. Bald head, with a few strands of white hair here and there. An old, well-dressed, Iranian gentleman. He looked respectable, at least on the surface. And he was asking his son to pimp him out!"

-- "What did you do?"

-- "I hung up the phone and handed it back to the father. He actually had the nerve to ask me: 'Khob, javaabettoon chieh?' (So, what is your answer?) I wanted to smack him but I was so ashamed. He did the horrible thing and I was the one who felt shame! I just ran away!"

I couldn't believe this story. But I wanted to learn more. So I decided to interview a couple of my female friends, to find out if anyone could top Sheereen's misadventure.

Laleh recounted this episode:

-- "I was at Nordstrom, at the perfume counter, looking for a gift for my friend's birthday. Suddenly, a voice near my ear whispered in a French accent: 'Du yu like Givenchy?'"

-- "Hahaha... was it Inspector Clouseau?"

-- "I wish! It was a middle-aged man with a receding hair line and a tiny, minusucule little pony tail. He was dressed in expensive but flashy clothes. I guess he had a certain handsomeness about him, like he could have been a devastatingly handsome young man, but years of 'experience' had given him this corrupt look, like an aura of sleaze. You know the type?"

-- "Eurotrash!" I replied, giggling.

-- "Exactly! Well, I could see the perfume clerk behind the counter rolling her eyes up. She obviously was familiar with this gentleman. So my guard was up. But I decided to play along to see what he would say. So I replied 'Yes, I like Givenchy.' Mr. Eurotrash smiled and told me: 'Mademoiselle, allow me to buy zees parfume fur yu, and zen... I want to take yu upstairs and buy yu a beautiful evening gown... and zen, I will take you to ze jewelry counter and buy yu zee most beautiful necklace to put around yur neck..."

I was dying from laughter.

-- "What did you do!?"

Laleh replied with a smirk:

-- "Wel, I said to him sarcastically 'Woooow... that's so generous of you... But... wait a minute, what's the catch?' Mr. Eurotrash replied: 'No catch.. no catch... A butiful mademoiselle like yu ought to be surrounded with butiful seengs... I just want one seeng from yu: To be able tu see yu veering deez butiful seengs... when I take yu tu dinner tonight.'"

-- "Did you run?"

-- "Nope! I did a much better thing: I put my hand up and, showing the wedding ring on my finger. I replied to him in my best imitation of a French accent: 'Vell sir, dat sounds really gud, but actually my husband also needs a new pair of socks. Can he be part of dees bargain?"

-- "Noooooo Way!"

-- "Ha! Sooooo way! So of course he ran off with his tail between his legs. Later, the perfume clerk told me Mr. Eurotrash has been coming to her counter picking up a different chick EVERY week. He is apparently very very rich. And many of these girls go for it, so I guess that excuses his behavior somewhat. Once though, apparently, he was burned pretty bad. This one girl took him up on his offer to go for a shopping spree. She made him spend like thousands of dollars on clothes, perfume, lingerie etc. Then the second he turned his head, she slipped out with all her goodies. The poor sap was running around the department of store for a half-hour before he gave up!"

-- "Good!"

Next, I called my friend Beth. She got very excited:

-- "Ohhhh, Niki, I have got the perfect story for you."

-- "What happened?"

-- "I was walking back to work after my lunch break, and I stopped in the entrance way of a shoe store to light my cigarette. It was very windy that day and I only had matches so I was there for a couple of minutes, in full view, I guess, of the people in the store inside. Well, this guy came out and offered me his lighter. He was tall, not bad-looking except for being a little on the plump side. He had Mediterranean looks, dressed all in black, with black hair slicked back with gel, and a five o'clock shadow on his cheeks. I lit my cigarette, thanked him, and I was about to walk away when he asked me if there was a Starbucks around here. Containing my laughter, I gently took him by the elbow and turned him around. Directly behind him was a huge green and black store sign."

-- "The Starbucks sign?"

-- "Yup!" Beth giggled.

-- "Nice try!"

-- "Oh yeah but he wouldn't give up. Without losing his cool, he told me he didn't like this Starbucks and asked me whether I knew of ANOTHER Starbucks nearby!"

-- "You're kidding?"

-- "Nope! I guess this line had worked really well for him in the past so he wasn't giving up! Anyways, I decided to humour him and, since I was familiar with the area, gave him directions."

-- "Yup, you can never run out of Starbucks in one single neighbourhood."

-- "Yeah, exactly, there is always an average of five Starbucks per block! So I gave him his directions and started resolutely to walk away but he caught up with me and continued walking by my side."

-- "What did he want this time?"

-- "You won't believe it. He wouldn't give up. Like a parrot, he asked me for a THIRD TIME if there was yet ANOTHER Starbucks in the neighbourhood. At this point, I couldn't help laughing anymore. I asked him 'sir, Just HOW MUCH coffee do you need?' He blushed and laughed along. I started walking faster, to lose him, but he also speeded up. I couldn't shake this guy!"

-- "Oh my god!"

Beth was dying. In between hysterical bursts of laughter, she explained:

-- "Finally...hehehe... he played his last card. You won't believe what it was. He asked me... hehehe... whether I... hahaha... wanted to be in the 'movie business' And he said... hehehe... I should come up to his 'studio right now' so he could take some pictures of me!"

-- "You're kidding right? And I bet the 'studio" as he called it was his own bachelor pad, conveniently located nearby!"

-- "You got it! Hehehe... so I told him in my best Gloria Swanson voice 'Oh, yes Mr. DeMille. I am ready for my close-up!'... hahahahaha... And I bolted out of there! As I was running, I could still hear the guy behind me shouting... 'Heyyyy... Why you don't wanna be in my movie?' It was sad!"

Unbelievable! I didn't know how much more I could take. Wouldn't anyone have a charming romantic story with a happy ending? I gave it a last try with my cousin Mina. When she heard my inquiry, she immediately began to laugh:

-- "Oh, Niki, I don't even know where to start..."

-- "Well, start with the most recent one!"

-- "Okay.., let me think... ummm... Oh yeah, this is a good one! Last month I went to an Iranian discotheque."

-- "Was it called Club X?"

-- "Yeah, how did you know?"

-- "Ummm... Never mind... go on?"

-- "So, I was at the bar with my friends, having some drinks, and the bartender comes over and tells me a certain gentleman would like to buy me a drink, anything I like. I looked over and this guy was standing at the other end. He was really good-looking, with these hazel eyes, and he was smiling at me. But he just looked like a total player and as you know, I was just getting over that hell of a relationship with Alireza. I just felt this guy was trouble so I didn't want any part of it. I politely declined the bartender's offer, and went back to my conversation. Five minutes later, the bartender comes back with a glass of wine. Looked over, the guy was still smiling at me. Now I was annoyed. I gave the drink back to the bartender and told him curtly that I wasn't interested. You would think that would be the end of it, right?"

-- "Obviously not."

-- "Well, five more minutes and the bartender starts assembling all these glasses on the counter in front of us. He was putting glasses on top of each other, like a pyramid. I was dumbfounded as to what he was doing. Finally, he opened a bottle and started pouring it from the top of the pyramid down to all the glasses below. By now, people around us were starting to look over. And then, for the coup de grace, he lights up a match and sets the whole construction ablaze!"

-- "What?!"

-- "It was like being at a Las Vegas show. People started cheering and laughing around us. My friends were besides themselves but I was mortified. Next thing I know, my admirer was before me, all smiles. He started offering drinks to all my friends. I was so angry and embarrassed, I scowled at him and tried to walk away but he blocked my way and told me, in a very laati voice 'Eeeh, kojaa miri?' (Where are you going?) I told him I was taking off. 'Don't I at least get a phone number for all my troubles?' He said. The nerve! I just wanted to get rid of him so I lied and said I was flying back to Germany the next day."

-- "I guess that finally did it."

-- "Yeah right! He said that was fine, could he get my phone number in Germany?"

-- "Maaan? Was he for real?"

-- "And the best of it was, I later found out this guy is MARRIED! Apparently, he is very well-known in the community through his business, and everyone gossips about the way he has been openly cheating on his wife -- for the past six years!"

I hung up the phone with Mina, sat back, and tried to digest all that I heard. I wondered about these men, where they had learned these pick-up routines, whether they were still using them to this day and just what kind of dimwit could fall for it. I wondered if they knew how phony they sounded, how repelling their behavior was. I wondered when exactly in their lives, they had lost their innocence, the ability to interact with others with sincerity and genuineness. When they had lost the simple courage to walk up to a woman and tell her, without any pretense, just how beautiful her eyes were.

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Niki Tehranchi

By Niki Tehranchi

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