I have a dream

April 30, 2007 at 8:05 pm (Los Angeles)

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Iranian women in In-N-Out Burger, circa 2007

Just as I was about to munch my second double-double burger on this trip to Los Angeles (not bad after two weeks), I spotted Kathy, left, who used to run an art shop on Westwood boulevard. We were very surprised to have bumped into each other (this meant not being able to devote all my attention to the burger in hand — her cousin Sally didn’t say a word because she chose to precisely that. She also ordered fries “animal style” which I did not know you could do — smothered with cheese and grilled onions and pink sauce. It was delectable.) Kathy said she is getting married and moving to Germany. I told her had visited Westwood and found her shop closed. So thank god for In-N-Out. I say god because the people who run In-N-Out are religious (it’s a private company), but unlike their customers, not about burgers. Discreet Bible citations can be found on its wrappers and at the bottom of its soda cups. I also discovered the other night that family-owned chain has a customer service line that operates until 1.30 at weekends. (What could you want to say to In-N-Out at such an hour?) I have a dream that one day women in Tehran will be able enjoy burgers without being punished for not adhering to Islamic dress codes.

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Email to a comic

April 27, 2007 at 3:18 am (blog, Los Angeles)

M

Thanks very much for yesterday, it was great to see you so confident
and in your element on stage. A curious thing happened to me on the
way to the Comedy Store though. Across the road from it is a Cuban
cigar place. Mike Tyson was sat outside smoking one and talking to one
or two people.

When I was 17 I was cycling uphill, at speed, to catch Tyson’s first
fight with the UK’s Frank Bruno. The front wheel of my bike came off.
I came to in hospital. My sister was there, in tears, my dad,
distraught — half of my face was purple, my upper lip stitched and
bloodied and I had lost a front tooth; a bit like how Bruno ended up.
When I saw him last night I thought I would share this memory with
him, and perhaps ask him to pose in a picture with me.

Then, remembering his history, I decided not to in case it cost me
another tooth.

Keep up the good work.

P

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Clive

April 25, 2007 at 3:32 pm (short story)

I was lucky to get my old job back. He was hesitant at first, Arthur, who owns the shop, afraid that the media pack would be tailing me, disturbing the peace of his bookshop, which for thirty years he’s managed to keep. I got a job with Arthur after university. It was only meant to last for a month or two, fifteen years ago. What happened? I’ll be blown if I know. Time moves on even if you don’t.

TV was never going to bring back those years. I wear a beard now but still get the odd “You’re Clive Goodson aren’t you?” That’s right – from Remote Control, the show where viewers vote to decide whether you can eat with your housemates, whether dinner would be roast lamb or cashew nuts and whether you are allowed to use the swimming pool. Every nook and cranny of our personalities, every orifice of our anatomy was there for every crook and granny in the nation to gawp at.

And what years they have been. Years of lost opportunity, of dreaming, of promising myself that I’ll achieve, that I’ll find myself, years of opening boxes, filling shelves, ordering books, setting up a website, observing idlers, reading – well there’s one thing, I’ve read a few books in here, no one can deny me that, not enough to prevent me from being a contestant, but enough to make me a half-decent person to talk to.

She was a very good actor, Kate. The whole nation laughed when we got into bed. By that point everyone in the house knew as well – that I’d been voted to fall for a honey-trap – everyone except me. When I finally got to kiss her, I thought of everyone who had ever known me as a dull person watching the show thinking: “I wish I was Clive Goodson.” I rolled on top of Kathryn, we were about to make love. Then she said: “Have you got a rubber”. That was their cue – they all jumped out from behind this door. “Remote Control!” they yelled.

Dad could have died any time, he just happened to die when they charged in. It wasn’t my humiliation that killed him. He could have died at any time and I hold no resentment towards the producers. No. Only the chief executive of the company, Greg Snipe, he killed my dad not me. Imagine a son being sexually humiliated in front of the nation. No father wants that, no father. Then it was the tabloids’ turn to take a stab at me. I was on my own crying in bed when the others were toasting Kate in the living room floor and dad was in the ambulance.

I had no idea what had happened to dad – I was dying my own death and even now I don’t know if I’m alive. They’ll miss me at work if I don’t turn up, Arthur will phone me up and be angry if I miss a day without telling him, this keeps me ticking. Two days later I was put up for eviction. The morning papers all carried the news of dad’s death. A debate raged about whether the channel should let me know what happened. But a clause in the contract meant they didn’t have to. I had, apparently, agreed that it would be okay for my dad to die and me be alone in bed and in the toilet crying after falling for Kate and being mocked by my housemates.

I don’t blame Kate, she probably needed the money, the exposure, and really, why should she make love to me on camera, it’s something I’m glad we didn’t do although I’d be up for it now, only I don’t want her now. She reminds me of my humiliation. Yes, you can see why I’m glad to have got my job at the bookshop back. Arthur saw early on that I’d be forgotten, that nothing long-term could come of my eviction – oh, did I tell you? I was evicted because the viewers pitied me: it was unethical for me to be there unawares, they decided.

When I came out of the house, the crowd was oddly silent. Then, Rebecca Hyde, the beautiful Becky, interviewed me. She started off playing clips of my humiliation. Then clips of my post-humiliation, which were now humiliating me more.

“How did you feel?” she asked me. I didn’t answer for a few moments; then I managed one word. “Shit.”

“I can understand that,” she said. “Did you feel angry at the other housemates?”

The studio lights were bright and by now I was aware that everything and anything I did could only add to my humiliation.

Rebecca decided to help me out.

“I have some bad news for you Clive.” I could not at that point have imagined my life getting worse if I had been told I have six months to live. In fact, if she had told me that I think it would have made me more focused, at least for the duration of those months.

“That night, while you were cavorting with Kate, your father died.” A smack around the face with a baseball bat would have been less numbing.

“How do you feel toward Kate now?” Rebecca now ceased to be the presenter I knew and loved from telly, she was a monster, out to pummel me into the ground. This whole show was a set-up to punish the Goodson family. But I had a sense of humour, I played along, in case they were joking, and I was sure this was a joke.
“Very funny Becky, my dad’s already had three attacks, I’d hate to think he’s had another.” Then they brought on mum. Her eyes were red with tears. She hugged me. It was true. I was truly in another place. The cameras wouldn’t stop shooting us. I dug my face in mum’s shoulder and cried. The picture of Clive Goodson’s reaction to news of his father’s death made the front page of every newspaper, tabloid, oblong, triangle.

We were a family, publicly hanged. My life stopped in that week, I stopped breathing. In fact, I’ve certified myself as dead. I am a sleepwalker waiting to for the good lord to strike. Perhaps he already has, perhaps what I am experiencing is the sum of his intention for me; if he has cable, that is.

Here lies Clive Goodson. Humiliated on Remote Control. Caused father’s death.
My poor mother. She still consoles me, in her own, rather unwelcome way. “Don’t worry Clive,” she says. “You’re not a Goodson like your dad was and his dad was before him. But you’re a good son, and I love you.”

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City of Angels I

April 23, 2007 at 4:21 pm (blog, Los Angeles)

The other day my friend Marj took me to a warehouse full of decorative stuff from India.

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Some of it was indoors, some outdoors. LA is a strange place. Yesterday afternoon, at a friend’s house, somebody’s therapist was invited to give a talk about “energies” and psychology in the living room. I tiptoed out. Energy — this city guzzles oil and gas like nobody’s business. One look at freeway traffic explains why the US pulverized Iraq and is itching to bomb-bomb-Iran. Still, this corner was India. Not the polluted urban India, but the India of the imagination. And what a fine refuge it is.

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Sure.

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Checking out

April 19, 2007 at 3:04 am (Los Angeles, Voices)

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Sorry to say goodbye like this. I had to rush for the train I threw myself under. In two to three days you’ll receive another packet with the DVD I made – CCTV footage of my first suicide attempt, which failed (the 5.30 to Brighton was late). It also contains my final speech to the family. It is my wish for it to be played after the funeral. My last request is that Michael be barred from shovelling any earth on to my coffin. I know he would take a secret pleasure in this, nice though he is. If I hear those thuds I will never rest in peace.

I’ve put cash for Tim’s trumpet lessons in the microwave. It’s important that these continue. He has a future as a trumpet player. Perhaps, when he is sixteen, he can learn the harmonica. I wanted to learn an instrument, but I’m dead now. In a month or two – whatever seems reasonable – you and Michael will be shacked up together. He will become something of a father to Tim, I know. Mike has my blessing – he’s a responsible sort. Still, I know you will honour my wish for Tim to learn the trumpet, well after my bugle has sounded.

Jenny, I hope you’ll read my instructions for the DVD player I’ve specially prepared for you. These manuals start off in Japanese, are translated into German, then French. By the time they reach English they are far from the writer’s intention – how faithful to Ibsen’s original was my father’s stab at translating Ghosts into Persian from Swahili. I remember reading Ghosts at college. The teacher said it was about “skeletons in the closet.” I didn’t know this was a metaphor. I read it and read it again – but there were no skeletons, or a closet.

In my coffin I want you to place a double-double burger from In-N-Out – “animal style”, with grilled onions. I know that you can only get them in California. If you can’t UPS fast food internationally, I don’t want any other brand; but do make me a burger yourself. The thought of spending eternity without one upsets me – it’s dark, I’ll need one. Fries would be good too, who cares if they get soggy. Forget all of my last wishes if you have to, but do stuff a burger in, for me, as a goodbye.

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Venice Beach, California

April 18, 2007 at 8:34 am (blog)

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Berkeley, California

April 17, 2007 at 3:40 pm (blog)

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Dog and bike. I tried to get close to the hound but it barked. This is on Berkley’s famous Telegraph Avenue. Yesterday I meant to visit San Francisco and take in some sights. Instead, being English, I went for a curry — there’s a serious Indian right next door. High quality meat. It’s not the same in England. Anyway, I like the dog in the photo.

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This is a tree on the university campus. There were no dogs tied to it. It’s a lovely campus. The picture below is of the student rag, a daily.

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Next is a bicycle tied to a bus stop. (The captions were supposed to go below each photograph, I don’t know what happened.)

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An apartment block.

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And my bed this morning. I slept five hours, and well. Off to LA today.

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Soul bean live

April 13, 2007 at 12:14 pm (blog)

Tell your friends in Berkeley, California. Next update: Tuesday.

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The phone with no ring

April 11, 2007 at 9:54 am (Anecdotal, blog, Double espresso)

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Yesterday I went to the basement of Carphone Warehouse in London’s Oxford Street, a first-aid centre for mobile telephones. The older gentleman in front of me looked familiar. I asked if he was a writer. “Yes,” he said. It was, as I had suspected, the novelist and essayist John Berger. I was chuffed. Even great writers line up to get their phones fixed. He asked what was wrong with mine. It has a torch that works, I said, but doesn’t ring. (Like a car that has spell-check but no wheels.)

I told him I met Salman Rushdie a few months back. He was in a pub with his partner Padma Lakshmi. I patted him on the shoulder and said, “I’m Iranian and on behalf of my country I apologise”. Rushdie laughed but gave me a look of unease as if I might shout “Blasphemous swine!” and stab him. That was my cue to leave but I asked if he would endorse the book I have written. He said he might and that I should send it to his publisher. I haven’t yet. Written it, that is.

“Why don’t you ditch Salman for me,” I wanted to tell Padma, who is beautiful and my age. “I’m not quite as distinguished yet but I am rather hip.” Imagine prising Rushdie’s wife off him. In what would be a poetic role-reversal, he would issue a fatwa on an Iranian.

John — we were on first name terms now — asked if I did any writing. I told him, sir, if you write, I scribble with a blunt pencil. I didn’t actually but I wish I had. Bugger. His wife appeared. I forget her name, maybe Bernadette. I asked how things were in Switzerland — John was being served now. “We live in France,” she said. “Not Switzerland.” She told me that a Berger season is running in London and that’s why they were here. She quizzed me about why my family had left Iran, after which they left the shop. I refrained from insisting on coffee lest I frighten them. They both seemed surprised someone had recognised John in Carphone Warehouse.

At the repair desk the image of a mobile phone with hands and feet, its head bandaged, white coat on another — the doctor treating it — decorated a glass panel behind which was the fix-it lab, with a green hospital cross on the door. I was glad to have told John that I think the cell phone industry should be nationalised, with people’s phones, dull as East German Trabants, issued free-of-charge to single mothers among others. No cute ring tones and no cameras, I said — like mine. His wife smiled. Although I admitted, “If I did have a camera I could take a picture now with Mr Berger”. Consumerism has its merits, after all.

I checked my phone in at the counter, oddly humanised in cartoon form, with arms and legs, in a mass communication culture that dehumanises the poor, especially if they sit on oil, so that they can be colonised and their limbs blown off. Fortunately the couple escaped this lecture. That’s what you do when you meet big writers, you want to impress them with your ideas. Berger was one of few whose writing influenced me as a student, partly because his seminal book Ways of Seeing had bold type and pictures, perfect for when you’re stoned.

The cell-phone doctor, wearing puppy stubble, name badge, shirt and tie, examined my Nokia so thoroughly it belied a suspicion that I have no friends who might call.

(“Can’t fix your social life here mate, there’s a bar next-door.”)

“That man you just served”, I told him, “he’s a great writer.” He looked at me, nodded and pressed a button.
First published on Iranian.com in April 2005. Off to US.

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Date

April 2, 2007 at 4:09 pm (Espresso)

Young woman from Leeds (who is Jewish): “If I ever slept with an Iranian, I could never look my grandparents in the eye.”
–“Why would they be there? To hold the sheet?”

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