Boys to men
From innocence to...
February 26, 2002
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
-- "Shumaa cheshme keily gashangui daareen." (You have really beautiful
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.
-- "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?"
"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."
-- "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
-- "SHOOKHI MIKONI?" (YOU'RE KIDDING?)
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
-- "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
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!"
-- "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.