July 16, 2001
As I stood there watching the sweaty couples gyrate to the African rhythm
my aunt was playing in her tiny apartment in the Upper East side, I noticed
a cuddly guy observing me with a smirk. I questioned his analysis in the
dirty look I shot his way. He laughed standing up as if it were a chore,
took his time finding his drink, turned, and walked towards me with a Zelam
look. Oh, now I have to explain what-who Zelam is. Okay, this has to be
really quick. When my sister and I were kids -- some would argue we still
are; let's not go there right this minute -- we developed certain fictional
characters. One was Ms Yooyooyoo. Her distinguishing trait was that her
manner of speaking involved much yooyooyooing, as in heyoo, howayoo, soy
nyce tyoo meet yoo. She possessed the tall, thin and wobbly limbs to go
with the speech. The other personality was Mr. Zelam. Salam in Persian means
hello. Mr. Zelam was a suave character certain of his superior qualities
who approached women with a winning yet subtle smile whispering to them
Zelaaaam. The targeted women would of course drop to their knees in response
to this and offer Mr. Zelam life-long servitude. Ms Yooyooyoo and Mr. Zelam
were a couple. And so here was this man approaching me with a Zelam attitude
etched on his round face. I was not in the mood for entertaining base intentions.
Only a few hours before the party I had gone to a healer to have energy
work done. And I still felt physically and emotionally dehydrated from the
experience. The healing work was my aunt's idea. She was trying to help
me to let go of the anger I was feeling after my last break up. This guy
- "You're Armenian, aren't you?"
- "Yes, I am."
- "Then you must be the hostess's niece."
- "How clever of you."
- "She has told me all about you. I'm Armenian too."
- "And you feel an immediate connection to all Armenian women?"
- "Not all, only certain very attractive ones."
- "I'm flattered."
- "I wasn't referring to you."
Vartan had quite a sense of humor. And he was very proud of the fact
that he shared his name with a French chanteuse. He went by Vartan Vartan,
or V-squared as he often referred to himself. He was about 30 pounds overweight,
which put him in exactly the same ballpark as me. After the entertaining
introduction he extended his dimply hand for me to shake. I just looked
at him unsure of what he was doing. He nodded with a smile as if that would
explain the hand. Feeling rather tired of the confusion I expressed my need
for a cold beer. He said it's not good to have alcohol after energy work.
Obviously my aunt had told him quite a lot about me. Okay then, just a glass
of cold water. That's better, he said joyfully and followed me to the tiny
We had a very interesting conversation that night. Vartan told me about
his own energy work. He went through it after the death of his father. They
were very close and the loss was devastating, he said. Of course being the
only son and the eldest child he was expected to be strong, i.e. no emotion,
just cold thank you's and manly handshakes as the attendants offered their
condolences. He said he gained fifty pounds in the two years following his
father's death as if all the grief had welled up inside him. He had drowned
himself in work and had lost all sense of time and place. He had given up
music. Which must have been difficult for a self confessed music prodigy.
And after plunging way deep in his own sorrows my aunt who knew him for
many years suggested he visit the same energy guy I had. He said in the
beginning he would just go there, sit and not say a word and then one day
he just burst open and blood filled the small office, the walls, the windows,
and the poor energy guy were all covered in blood. Vartan didn't know what
to do. He started screaming, running around looking for someone to help
him but there was no one there. He took his shirt off and began to wipe
away the blood from his own face because he couldn't see anything. Everything
was red. He felt he was suffocating. He was coughing blood. Then he felt
the energy guy's hand upon his own and he heard him say "It's okay."
Hearing this Vartan broke down and cried for thirty-five days. He continued
to visit the energy guy every week.
The Korean shop owner on the corner of Hudson and Fourteenth monitored
Vartan's progress according to the number of bottles of water he bought
after each visit. He lost almost seventy pounds in two months. Or so he
claims. You have to understand, this is his story. This is what he told
me exactly as I'm telling you. He said he still visits the energy guy, once
every three or four months and is happy to report profound openness and
contentment. I was pleased for him. And thankful for the fact that he talked
the whole night. He took my number in San Francisco and promised to visit
one of these days which turned out to be only two weeks after the night
of the party.
Maybe it was Vartan's openness that drew me to him or his wacky sense
of humor but we hit it off quite well and continued our exploration of the
occult in his visits to San Francisco. He introduced me to a psychic in
Sonoma who quite diplomatically suggested I focus on the present and not
worry so much about the future. The psychic's house was not at all what
I expected. In my imagination a psychic living in Sonoma would be sitting
in an incense-filled room surrounded with burning candles. Perhaps jingly
bead curtains would be separating the various rooms where anxious seekers
would be patiently awaiting the master's attendance. In fact the house we
walked into reminded me more of the pueblos in Taos. Or not even.
I know, it was just like the communal Darvish house I visited with my
father when I was about eight or so. The house was outside of Tabriz in
northern Iran. Light-brown mud walls encapsulated the barren compound. Tall
men dressed in white cotton walked about in silence allowing one to hear
the music to which their long black beards danced. I was small and so it
is not surprising that they seemed so very large. Yet their manner was unimposing
and the one who had been assigned my guardianship for the day observed me
from a distance and spoke only when I directly asked him a question. I'm
not sure exactly where my father spent that day. I assume he too was being
inconspicuously watched and carefully encouraged to explore. When it came
time to eat, the same large men turned into dainty hosts carrying large
trays containing rice and stew with fresh herbs and yogurt. Moving very
lightly on their feet they turned the empty room into a sumptuous feast.
They formed circles on the floor around each tray of food, three or four
men per tray.
I was squeezed in among one group and watched in wonderment when one
man at our tray began to dig into the rice and stew with one hand, fingers
held in the form of a cone, grabbed some herbs with the other and proceeded
to empty the contents of each hand into his mouth one after the other. The
other men followed suit. Another minute passed when I noticed a giant hand
offering me a full load of rice and stew. The sheer size of the bite frightened
me. How wide would I have to open my mouth to fit this massive compilation
into it? Sensing my hesitation the man smiled and put some of the food back
onto the tray and offered me a smaller bite. I grabbed it with my hand and
put it in my mouth. It was delicious. Now, so many years later, whenever
I think back to that time I still can taste the rice and stew in my mouth.
A kind hand offering delicious food. Eyes smiling. I don't know much about
the beliefs of those Darvishes but to me they are the incarnation of what
life is all about. Breaking bread together. Second only to sex in its ability
to bring people together; and proven to have longer lasting effect.
And so Vartan and I broke bread together quite often. We went wine tasting
and helped each other gain another ten pounds that summer. I usually lose
weight when I'm happy, not in this case. Maybe it was the wine or the sun,
or the wind for that matter ,but I had to ask why he continued to visit
me. In truth my real question was why he didn't want to sleep with me. So
I just asked it outright then and there in the tiny bistro in Healdsburgh.
- "I just don't find you attractive."
- "So you don't find me attractive but still want to spend time
- "Are you into men?"
- "Are those the only two options, you or men?"
- "Thank you."
- "Have you ever had sex with a man?"
- "Now you sound like the Red Cross."
- "Can you donate?"
- "I see."
- "I prefer women but you are not my type."
One would wonder why we in fact did have sex after such a conversation.
I am proud to report that we used a condom. It was one of those things that
I still wonder about. Not why we used a condom, but why we had sex after
six months of just chumming. Why is it that when someone rejects me I do
everything in my power to make them change their mind? Unfortunately the
opposite is true too. When someone accepts me, I do everything in my power
to change their mind. The strategist would presume that it was Vartan's
tactic to profess not desiring me only to get me into bed. But quite honestly,
I'm very easy. Sex to me is one of the ways we enjoy life, like a good dinner
or a bottle of wine. It doesn't have to be as complicated as some people
make it. If two people are mutually attracted by all means hit the sac.
I don't really see any reason not to. Let me rephrase, I see very few reasons
not to. So if Vartan had expressed an interest, trust me I would have gone
along and I think he knew that. But it was after he expressly indicated
that I wasn't his type that he had had sex with men that we formed the beast
with two backs, if I may borrow from Shakespeare's immortal words. Why?
I can't speculate as to Vartan's reasons. All I know is that we didn't really
spend much time together after that. We certainly didn't have sex again
which technically makes our experiment a one-night stand. My one and only.
I still believe that sex doesn't have to ruin a good friendship. But the
fact is that I have no evidence to support this belief and all the evidence
to its contrary.
Sometimes coming together breaks us apart. Sometimes we share more than
the other can take. Sometimes we cross the invisible limit. And sometimes
coming together is just an experiment. One that is bound to end no matter
what the observations are. I sent Vartan a Christmas card. He replied in
an email. The email was signed, "Love, Vartan". That must be worth