Just bitchin'

Irani Among Us

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He is of late middle age. Dark hair salted with white and gray. Knuckles gnarled.

I found him when my car broke down and I called the American Automobile Association for a tow to a triple-A approved garage. They brought me to him.

He and his mechanic, a younger version of himself, worked on the car. The fee was reasonable. I drove away and broke down again a few miles later.

I called him bent on tearing into him for a job done poorly. Instead, I listened to an honest apology and a request that I give him another chance. It was a rare moment when I heard a foreign sound: the sound of quiet pride and integrity and a genuine desire to set things right. Not something you hear often. Not something you forget soon.

I was towed back for round two.

He did more work, presenting me a bill for $11.00…the cost of the part I needed. No charge for hours of labor. No excuses or arguments.

When all was done and settled, I waited in the small, shabby foyer for my car to be brought around to the parking lot.

A woman burst through the front door. Red-faced. Fuming. Shrill and Ugly-with-a-capitol-U; the kind that has nothing to do with physical appearance, but stems from a much deeper source.

“Get out of our country!” She screamed. “We hate you! There is no place for you here! I called the police and they’ll lock you away!!”

Both the owner and I stared at her in shock. I think his English deserted him, so I asked in a quiet, unsure voice, “What’s wrong?”

“This!!” She shouted, shoving an invoice under my nose. It took me a while to find what she meant at the tip of her shaking, pointing finger. A math error. The mechanic had added incorrectly.

A $1.25 mistake.

I stared at her, speechless before such extreme overreaction as she continued to harangue the man frozen behind the counter. Sure enough, a police officer showed up, giving that once-over, wary scan of the situation that they do, seeing a livid, prancing woman, a statue of a shocked and frightened man, and me.

The woman repeated her performance, brandishing the invoice at the cop. He read it through. His brows rose. “You said someone robbed you, Ma’am.” He handed back her receipt.

He did! He did!” She pointed, jittering with venom. “He’s a thief! A liar! He’s from Iran!!”

The owner found his voice and began to apologize. “I’m sorry…”

“You will be!” the woman shrieked.

“Ma’am, I think there’s been a mistake, but this isn’t robbery.” The calm words of the officer had the opposite effect of what he’d hoped.

With a strangled cry of rage, she slammed out of the shop, unaware the owner had opened the register and was holding a handful of cash, apparently refunding her entire bill. We watched her lumber into a decrepit van held together by duct tape and rust and careen out of the parking lot.

The officer took his leave.

The owner put the money back in the register and closed it. He came out from behind the counter and took a seat across from me. Hands trembling. Eyes full.

“I am from Persia.” His voice shook with the aftermath of fear and shock. “I leave my country because they try to kill us. They try to kill us all. I come here.” He gestures with one work-hardened hand, encompassing the whole of his establishment. “I make this for my son.” His eyes finally overflow.

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“Persia is beautiful country. And Persian people are so kind. But…Them…” His lips press into a thin line and he shakes his head. Words have deserted him again.

I offer him a sad approximation of a smile.

“I like your cats,” I say.

He blinks. Then, tears still tracking downward, he gives a ragged laugh.

I hope he knows that every country has a ‘They.’ But it’s not everyone. And today it’s not him… and it’s not me.

We’re just us.

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Just bitchin'

Reality Check

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It was a headline in the September 29, 2015 New York Times online edition:

At the U.N., Obama States His Case for Fighting ISIS With Ideas

I couldn’t read the entire article or watch the full accompanying video clip. Mainly because I couldn’t help the laughter that started bubbling up as my mind leapt to an analogous situation from an old Hollywood classic…the Sigourney Weaver movie ‘Aliens.’

The futuristic marine toughies, armed to the teeth with a frightening array of weaponry…looking all muscled and fierce…were doing a cautious, battle-ready walk-through, looking for the enemy.

Despite their firepower, they were on the adrenaline edge, their reflexes primed for attack. Because their adversaries had demonstrated how little value human life had for them. Chitinous exoskeletons and acidic saliva rendered these creatures virtually indestructible.

The marines were deep in enemy territory…

…and that’s when it happened.

The command post observing this foray realized that firing powerful weapons could ignite a catastrophic explosion. Chagrined, the man in charge communicated to the soldiers that no guns could be fired. Absolutely none. No matter the provocation.

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Disbelieving looks were exchanged among the troops about to engage the enemy. And that’s when one particularly cocky enlistee responded…

“What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?!?”

And so, I’m really sorry to find myself laughing at the NY Times headline. Because so much consistent hate has been spewed by ISIS…just like the acid-laced saliva of the Hollywood creations that would give no quarter to any member of the human race…they’ve made it so abundantly clear that they will not rest until Western culture is obliterated from the face of the planet…that fighting them with ideas is, well, unthinkable.

I keep seeing the old news footage of laughter and celebration from that side of the globe when thousands of Americans were killed on 9/11.

I keep hearing the vows they spat that there would never be common ground between our cultures.

And, as much as I respect anyone who attains the office of President of the United States, I can’t quell the slightly hysterical giggling at that NYT headline.

And the frisson of fear that we’ll be standing naked and vulnerable with only ideas to shield us from the acid.

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Just bitchin', poem

A Page Turns…

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A tiny thing has vanished.

Like the barest tip of an iceberg, its disappearance signifies something much bigger. Something as vast as sorrow and as limitless as history.

Every year, no matter where I’ve lived, the weekend of Veteran’s Day will find an elderly gentleman sporting a military hat, or sometimes a chest of medals, sitting at a small table, handing out red, paper poppies in exchange for a small donation. Often these simple tokens are handed out for free when  their bright color catches a child’s wide, untutored eye. It’s just a pretty thing to them. They don’t yet know what it means.

But this year there is no table at the usual place. No poppies. No veteran.

When I asked about it, I was told that there were no more of the old school soldiers left to take on the task of dispensing poppies at this locale. They have all passed on.

So for those children who won’t see the poppies this year, know that they were the first flowers to grow among the graves of soldiers in a faraway place called Flanders.

Remember…

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields.

                     —– John McCrae, 1915

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