An evening at the Cabaret-Irooni
January 18, 2002
Disclaimer: The views reflected by the author do not intend to defame,
denigrate, or otherwise de-fill-in-the-blank-icate the reputation and good-standing
of any specific or general Cabaret-Irooni establishments. The characters
and locations depicted in this article are purely "fictional"
(*wink*) and do not represent any actual living person or existing Iranian
food and beverage and belly-dancing tavern in North America.
I love Iranian food, and while I usually get my fill of polo khoresht
at home, I get a craving once or twice a year for some real chelokabAb with
all the trimmings. However, I stick to the lunch hour and never venture
to an Iranian restaurant past sunset
No, it is not because I am particularly afraid of vampires. It is just
that, as an innocent housewife with a string of pearls and cotton apron
by day suddenly can be found to turn tricks in a lace teddy and fuscia colored
lips by night, so the most benign, pleasant little Iranian chelokabAbi by
day can transform itself into a gallery of infernal exhibitions when darkness
arrives: This is the infamous Cabaret-Irooni experience. I experienced this
during one memorable night of my teenage years. This was my first and last
venture in this field.
I must have been 16. I went with my parents and my ammeh. This was the
first time for all of us to go to Cabaret-Irooni. We were doing it at the
request of my ammeh who was visiting from Cambodia (don't ask.)
The first thing I noticed when I entered was how dark and smoky it was.
Immediately past the entrance was the "bar" where only men were
standing, drinking shots, and chain-smoking. I had no problem with that.
In fact it was kind of exciting. I felt I was being allowed in some forbidden
place for grown-ups (Okay I was 16 but very immature).
However that impression soon dissipated as I almost got run over by half
a dozen screaming runny-nosed little brats who took the place to be their
personal amusement park. Well, so much for illicit and forbidden. I just
love parents who never let an insignificant thing(not finding a babysitter)
get in the way of their fun: They usually just bring along the family's
roussaried grandma to take care of an army of kids so they won't be disturbed
from their bAbA karaming on the dance floor.
We sat down at a table very close to the stage where they had set up
a keyboard, drums and microphone. Next to us was a group of rowdy men and
women, all dressed in black, and cackling at endless jokes. Little did I
know how well I was going to get to know one of them as the night progressed.
As our chelokabAb plates hit the table, I eagerly picked up my fork and
was about to dig in when suddenly, out of nowhere, a shrill sound like Clarisse
Starling's lambs screaming into the night pierced my ears and made me drop
my fork. The "AAAaaaaAAaaaooooOOOooo" came from behind the burgundy
velvet curtains. I turned my head, ready to fling my precious steaming hot
kababs into the face of the psychotic killer who was about to lunge at us.
But it turned out to be only the singer. The show had begun.
The reaction in the audience was mixed. I saw some of the running kids
stopping dead in their tracks with the look of a deer caught in headlights.
Some of them started crying. Others ran back to their tables where they
plunged under the table. I guess they thought World War III had been unleashed
and they would be safe in their bunkers. If I wasn't a decade older I would
have done the same.
The adults, however, seemed content. They started clapping and beshkanning
their hands, and moving their butts on the chairs. This, I later found out,
is known as the phenomenon of "neshessteh raghssidan". Then, slowly,
one by one, the men started to get up and invite their female companions
to dance, including our neighbors at the table next to us.
Another interesting ritual occurred. For the entirety of the first two
songs, the men pleaded and begged for the ladies to get up, and the ladies
stubbornly refused to move from their chairs. From behind shyly lowered
eyelids and rosy cheeks, they swore up and down that they did not know how
to dance, they could not possibly put one foot in front of the other, they
would be too embarrassed to step on the dance floor.
I kept watching, fascinated, wondering who was gonna win in the end.
Then suddenly, a young couple in love showed up in the center of the dance
floor and started a slow romantic tango. They were so in love they did not
notice the singer was doing a fast Shahram Shabpareh number. As soon as
the ladies saw the couple on the dance floor, they let go of all their inhibitions
and rushed from their seats. In seconds, the dance floor was filled to the
brim and it stayed that way all evening.
This was so entertaining for me. And apart from the shrill singer's voice,
I was really enjoying the experience of seeing all the different dance moves
and outfits. There were young girls who had well-rehearsed dance routines
copied undoubtedly from the latest video from what's his name (that short
porky Iranian dance teacher who keeps encouraging ladies to create "eshveh"
with their hair). The old couples, young couple, and even some of the kids
had joined in the fun after the initial shock had worn off. The outfits
varied from jeans and sandals, to elaborate prom-like gowns, and countless
mini jupes in between.
I munched happily on my chelokabab but found that after all this excitement,
I had let it go cold. "Darn," I sighed. Soon, the lady next to
me had returned from a frenzied macarena number and noticed my untouched
plate. She turned to me as if I was her pupil and stated in an authoritarian
tone: "Nemisheh! bAyad ghazAto bokhori." "Bebakhshid?"
I replied hesitantly, not knowing whether she was joking or not. The lady,
with the nicest smile in the world, joyfully exclaimed:"Agar ghazAtto
nakhori, changAll mizAran too cheshmett."
Now, my command of fArssi is not the best in the world, especially in
a crowded noisy, smoky place. So I asked myself if this complete stranger
really had threatened to put a fork in my eye if I did not finish my plate.
I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and humbly repeated: "Bebakhshid?"
After all, maybe there was an explanation to this mystery. The lady answered:
"Rassme in restaurant hasst. Agar ghazAtto nakhori, changAll mizAran
I sighed in relief. The explanation was evident. Some evil woman-hunter
had spiked the lady's doogh with LSD and now she was having a psychotic
episode. As I was about to explain this to her, THE music abruptly stopped
and the M.C. stepped up to the microphone and announced in a mix of fArssi
and Ingillissi otherwise known as Fringillissi: "KhAnoomA va AghAyoon,
AghA J**** is only here for te-ree more monss... (then, after a dramatic
pause) The rest is up to you!"
I was still trying to decode this message when he announced the next
good bit of news. Apparently, the young romantic couple I had first seen
on the dance floor were here for a special occasion. The young man had decided
this would be the perfect place to pop the question to his loved one. In
the most original proposal ever, he had placed the ring in the middle of
a torobcheh on a plate of sabzi they bring you as appetizer. Luckily the
lady did not chip a tooth, just the rock a little. The spotlight illuminated
their happy faces as the whole cabaret exploded in applause. This must have
been the inspiration for the episode that was about to happen to me.
As the cAbAre continued to vibrate to the sounds of music and high heels,
the M.C. unexpectedly showed up at our table. He bent down to whisper something
in my dad's ear. I could not quite make out what he said. My dad got up
and followed the M.C. who led him to a short plump middle-aged lady dressed
in pink standing by the bar. If she had been holding an exotic umbrella,
she could have passed for a giant strawberry daiquiri.
I looked at my mom and she said: "Probably a client of your dad's."
I was not satisfied with this explanation. How could you conduct business
at a cAbAre Irooni of all places? I knew there was something rotten when
my dad came back after a few minutes, his face red, his eyes bulging. My
ammeh, mom and I all three looked at him with worry: He looked as if he
was going to burst. But he refused to speak, and I got the feeling it was
because he did not want to say anything in front of me. I got up to go to
the ladies room, so he could spill the beans to my mom, from whom I could
get the story later as easily as taking candy from a baby. But I did not
even have to wait that long.
In the ladies room, the crowd was as thick as some of the women's ankles.
Everyone was perspiring from the aerobic workout they had been getting on
the dance floor and mopping up their forehead with big wads of toilet paper.
I decided to stick inside as long as I could before retreating to our table
when lo and behold who had followed me right into the bathroom... if it
wasn't Ms. Strawberry Daiquiri.
Without any need for introduction, she went straight into the heart of
the matter: "Dokhtaram, to kheili dokhtare khoobi hassti. Hameye dokhtarA
raghssidan, to neshessti va naraghssidi. Man mikhAm bA pessaram biyAm khAsstegAri."
I don't know if it was the stuffy air that finally got to me or this
declaration or both, but I suddenly felt dizzy. That was it. I had had enough!
I mumbled something about needing to go and I got back to our table where,
fortunately, my family was already waiting with their coats on. The Fork
Lady, seeing our premature departure, exclaimed in contrition: "Eh!
ShomA dAreen mirin? Hanooz raghAss arabe nayoomadeh, vAghan kheili khoub
miraghsseh, shAgerdeh man bood!"
With visions of forks and tropical drinks pursuing me, I hastily put
on my winter coat and headed outside.