About… My Lousy Life Stories
An Abstract Novel
The Big Plan
plan officially began with a long journey from
“My first sale of a seat on this magnificent ship,” he told Father with triumph, as if talking about a spaceship going to Mars.
you said this magnificent, speedy ship still takes five days to reach
he and Father stared at me briefly before continuing their serious work on the
cheapest travel itinerary for me. So I just leaned
back in my chair with despair, admitting finally that no part of this whole shenanigan
was for adventure or fun, but only penny-pinching. The three-week, tedious
voyage was merely a part of Father’s clever scheme for shipping me to America
for higher education and returning to Iran to become a cabinet
minister—something the poor aristocrat had himself strived for all his life in
vain. He always claimed that not having a graduate degree from a prominent
university in the
had already told Father a hundred times that I was not really up to taking on
all the hassles involved in his big plan for a shaky political career in a
flimsy monarchy. Yet, amazingly, he seemed to have gone deaf. He only smirked,
as if watching a moron not appreciating the wisdom of his free advice. My cynicism
about the Shah’s prospect irritated Father the most, though, which nicely soothed
my tension a little. I believed my life was already perfect without becoming
another arrogant, greedy official like many of Father’s snotty friends. I had a
good job, a bright future, and a pretty girlfriend, Haydeh. Actually, we had
vowed to marry soon. But that was all before Father’s
gradual brainwashing me about the path to a ministerial position as the
ultimate purpose of life. In fact, I got so carried away at the end, I decided
to shoot for the Prime Minister’s job, after all. Too bad we already had a
dogged king with a bunch of heirs, quite friendly with
I set out to break my promise to Haydeh and renounce our love very calmly and
rationally like Humphrey Bogart in
She was more stubborn and annoying than I had anticipated. My pitiful presentation was simply going nowhere, despite all the fine justifications I had diligently prepared and practiced in the last few days for my great speech today. My tone of voice was probably ineloquent and maybe even girlish when she challenged me. Learning that I lacked even the slightest trace of Father’s power of persuasion was also embarrassing. She only rolled her eyes and overruled my strong reasoning with a lousy argument and a smirk as if saying, “Okay, what else have you got?” So, out of desperation and frustration, I started to sob, and she thought I was crying because of leaving her. Magically, the mere notion of my loss and despair calmed her and she suddenly seemed happy and convinced. “Go, go. Just leave me alone, you selfish bastard,” she yelled.
How weeping alone seemed to authenticate one’s intentions most naturally and faster was enlightening. Maybe women respect and trust the legitimacy of certain tactics best, regardless of the gender using it! Had I known this spectacular secret sooner, I would have wept at the beginning and gotten the matter over with quickly instead of wasting an hour and all that sound logic. But then later, I wondered why she had not cried herself to convince me to stay, instead of only insisting on rejecting my arguments so stubbornly. Did this mean she had her own doubts about our affair and her love for me? Was she fighting me only because I had ruined her chance of dumping me first after finalizing her own lame excuses in a few days or weeks? What would I have done had she really cried hard and begged me to stay? Many perplexing questions haunted me because of my simple intention of justifying our break-up like a real gentleman.
got a little clearer during the send-off party, however. I felt a little guilty
in fact, as she moaned furtively in a corner with vengeful stares. Meanwhile,
Father grinned victoriously, as if he had discovered
“Get off the devil’s donkey, forget your stupid fantasy, let’s get on with our own fancy.”
But then it was all too late to abort that masterfully laid mission anyway. Too late for any amount of tears, including my poor mother’s, to trash the big plan! She had listened cynically to Father’s gibberish and plans all a long, cried her heart out, and savoured the last minutes before her spoiled son goes away. She just kept making the best Persian foods that she knew I loved with basmati rice and saffron, constantly worrying and hinting how I could live without this kind of luxury for three years. “Do you wanna take five kilos of basmati rice, too, to cook there?” she asked and I declined her generous offer patiently.
She had started my luggage two weeks prior to my departure. Soon two big suitcases and a huge carryon were filled with all kinds of stuff she believed I needed no matter how much I insisted that I did not, including dried fruits and vegetables, delicacies, pistachio, and a large assortment of winter clothing and boots. I kept telling her that winters are not nearly as cold in California as they are in Tehran, but she insisted that it was better to be safe than sorry. “You never know,” she said. Every time I turned my head or left my room, she sneaked back in and hid a few more things underneath the presently approved pile, as though I would not double check and take them out again. At the end, my luggage weighed over fifty kilos at the airport, even though the winter clothing was restricted to four wool sweaters and a long heavy overcoat like Dr. Zhivago’s. All along, her narrow, sad eyes were buried behind her heavy tears anytime I had looked at her. So, how could I refuse hauling most of the things she wanted me to take with me?
I hit the road one early morning in May 1969 with an admission letter from the University of Southern California, my jam-packed heavy luggage, a journey itinerary, a handful of tickets, all my personal savings turned into $1,250 traveller’s cheques, and Father’s moronic promise that I could find work in Los Angeles quickly—hinting not to expect any money once I got there. He always had better use for his money, even though, in this case especially, only his ego and rivalry with his friends was behind this preposterous project.
“Bah…! Any young man can find a good job in a jiffy in the great land of opportunities,” the bigheaded Father had repeated every time I had complained about the difficulty of finding a job and working to pay for the steep tuition and living expenses while going to school too. His idiotic cool and apathy was odd and frustrating. Still odder, his confidence and persistence had finally calmed my nerves and I set out to get a job, find time and energy to go to school, and learn something, too—at least enough to reform the economy of my chaotic country upon my triumphant return to Iran in a few years! Going by Father’s diligent descriptions of my forthcoming role and responsibilities, I had to save the Shah from the rising unrest all over the country! I imagined myself already back from the U.S. and being the Prime Minister with Father always sitting in my office—maybe even behind my desk—to advise me, or expecting me to go visit him every night so that he could outline my duties and decisions for the next day.
“Come back soon and make me proud, my son,” Father whispered in my ears at the airport before I left.
I nodded sceptically.
Iran Air flight had long stops in
close friend, Jafar, who had started his own education in
have changed recently, though. Going by the TV clips, even the
drove me to a hotel and left me lonely and homesick quickly. With all the
daylight still out there, I did not know what to do as I lingered in the middle
of the room like a misplaced ghost. Equally rude, I was too exhausted and upset
to thank him for picking me up from the airport and possibly waiting for my
late arrival too. I felt slightly bad a few weeks later when I realized my unintentional
insolence, although I believed Jafar’s behaviour at
the airport should be blamed for my clumsiness anyway.
Actually, thanking him had suddenly felt necessary only because he had changed.
Otherwise, close friends do not think or worry about these formalities anyway.
I needed time to adjust and learn all these new raw formalities, right? I had imagined getting out of
next day, I found a cheaper bed-and-breakfast accommodation, learned about the
underground subway, and fooled around the city on my own, completely bewildered
about my identity and purpose in
did not find Jafar until the last day of my stay despite my earnest attempts. I
went to his flat tensely to say goodbye and complain about his hiding. He
blamed his final exams. But I believed he had really
changed, already melted in the cold culture of foreign lands. This time, we did
not even shake hands and I left with more despair. I wondered and worried about
myself becoming aloof like Jafar very soon. I was
feeling weird already, anyway! I took a taxi, the subway and trains, carrying
my heavy luggage in the streets and from station to station, panting and
perspiring like a dog, to get to
boarding the ship in the final minutes felt like winning a major triathlon. I
gasped a sigh of relief despite the grimness of the tiny cabin I had to share
with a tough-looking, impatient guy. Soon, however,
the rhythmic, loud sound of several heavy chains banging the shipboard
shattered my tentative peace, especially at night when the racket impeded my
sleep. I complained once to a ship steward about the matter. He listened in
bewilderment, glared, and then left coolly after murmuring some words like,
“What do you expect for the price you’ve paid? You think we can move the big
anchor and chains for your convenience, Mr. Big Shot.” I remembered Father and
the travel agent collaborating on the ‘most economical arrangement’ and cursed
both those idiots. That was all I could do other than jumping into the ocean! I
felt doomed like a convict without any hope for mercy whenever I returned to
the damp cabin—as if trapped in one of those medieval dungeons with hundreds of
chains and cylinders clashing around me. My cellmate was hardly around to
complain, not even for sleep. That remained an unsolved mystery all by itself.
The next day, nausea and vomiting aggravated my agony when the ship hit a rough
storm and the banging of the chains got fiercer. The
A thrilling moment raised my hopes a little at dinnertime when I looked for my pre-assigned seat in the dining hall. When booking my ticket, the jolly travel agent had keenly recorded my profile, emphasizing proudly that the ship’s crew—or some experts—arranged the seating according to passengers’ profiles. I had not believed in, or cared about, the outcome of such scrutiny until I saw the only empty chair at Table 21 next to a gorgeous blond, quickly assuming to be mine—the chair, I mean. Though, my inane brain promised that soon she would be mine, too, since, at the very least, the crew’s wisdom to put us together must surely mean something. I also assumed she was equally intelligent to know that we must not disappoint the crew or waste their goodwill and expertise. So I moved forward firmly with a wide grin, hoping that she had not suffered too much in anticipation of my arrival to claim a Scandinavian heart. The reason for my tardiness was that I had dozed off in the lounge with a headache and nausea, unaware of the fate’s impeccable plan for me. Hopefully she takes my delay as a sign of confidence—so casual and cool about the rigid timetable and all.
At last, I arrived cheerfully with my charming grin beaming quickly around the table before focusing on the beautiful girl. But it seemed to be losing its magic recently. She did not even hesitate to show her disappointment rather hastily and openly. Perhaps I had not looked classy enough for the snob girl who soon proved to be out of place in that part of the ship. She was quite blunt about this matter, especially, announcing quickly that she must go to the first class section of the ship right after dinner. It sounded as if she had been waiting for my arrival to share this vital information when everybody was accounted for at the table. Then she whispered to me, in particular, that she must go dance with her friends on the other side instead of going to the lounge like the rest of us. I only grinned at her with a show of support. Was she lying just to get rid of me? Would she hide in her cabin five nights and days just to avoid me? Nah, she definitely stayed on the other side save for her meals and maybe sleep. Had I looked more stylish or assertive, she might have taken me with her at least for a glimpse of the better world. Not even my well-groomed, groovy mustache had impressed her the way it made me feel handsome.
For easing my cynical mind and curiosity, I considered sneaking into the first class to check out her charm among her haughty friends. Life must be on the other side, judging by Marie’s timidity during her limited presence at Table 21. The indignity she bore for half an hour during each meal saddened me too. The burden dulling her beautiful eyes was heartbreaking and totally unfair. We chatted sporadically for etiquette and then she vanished swiftly after finishing her meal rather hastily and excusing herself with a cold courtesy goodbye to all of us losers at the table.
wondered whether the first classers knew about the economy class and steerage
in the way we were so carefully isolated and hidden from them. Marie would most
likely not reveal her knowledge of us, either, to protect her own secret. I
would have not been any smarter myself, if it were not for Marie’s admirable persistence
to educate me. I would have kept imagining that the vast territory we occupied
so freely comprised the whole passengers’ domain. The ship must have indeed
been really big then, as that young travel agent had
so cheerfully bragged about, as if describing his dad’s yacht. I bet the fool
had envied me for my fabulous adventures, especially riding the steamship! He
had surely wished he had a generous father, too, to send him to
On the other hand, you could take Marie’s timid presence at Table 21—more like a spy—as a calculated, cruel plot by the first classers perhaps to convey their displeasure of sharing the same vessel with us. Her incessant gloating about the other side, including the big music band, showed her meagre view of us despite her etiquette and bearing me rather patiently. At least she did not ignore me completely! “Now I’m going to escape this hellhole,” she usually whispered to me just as she rose to leave. She seemed to really enjoy torturing me with her subtle sarcasm and putdowns! In return, I cursed the travel agent every time—for faxing my profile.
For five nights, bingo or dancing to a measly record player amused the rest of us after Marie left. We pretended everything was fine, although I could not get Marie’s words out of my mind. I imagined those people dancing the real dance, unaware of our existence, or assured that we were safely babysat out of their way. My half-assed attempts to find the gate to the high society failed, too, and I never saw the boys who danced with Marie. I quit looking quickly considering my apathy for exploration and conquest—unlike any adventurous son that Christopher Columbus or Father would have been proud of.
least the young man from
peered at the seascape stretched widely beyond the glass wall of Mr. Ganji’s
large, impressive office. The U.S. Steamship anchored like a sleeping giant at
the harbour. Its proud stillness, after all that bobbing and throbbing, felt
soothing. It needed a rest, too, after hitting and defeating all those wild
surfs for four days. I missed it, somehow, despite my gloomy memories, and
doubting I would ever dare to board another ship. I pointed it to Mr. Ganji and
bragged about my adventure, without mentioning the nightmarish banging of the
chains or Marie’s undivided enthusiasm to humiliate me. Oh, gosh, where did she
get all that energy and tenacity to educate me about everything on the other
side? I mentioned her, too, to Mr. Ganji, anyhow—only vaguely just to complete
a fanciful picture of my fabulous experience on the ship—all for Father’s
benefit, of course. In that moment, I was more excited than
the travel agent in
next day, I tried to repeat the joy of riding the subway in
“Where’re you heading?”
shouldn’t go there. I’m personally running away from
“You are?! Why?”
“Haven’t you heard?”
“The big one…”
“The big one…?” I asked with shame for my ignorance. Everybody probably knew what the ‘big one’ was except for stupid me—just fresh off the boat.
“Yeah… The earthquake…!”
“No, I haven’t heard anything. Was there an earthquake?”
“No, but it’s coming soon…”
it’s going to cause a major catastrophe,” she said with horror in her eyes. “I
advise you go back to
“Are you serious?”
The idea of abandoning a city for good because of a possible earthquake sounded absurd. Was everybody warned about this looming disaster, or the secret was shared only with pretty and privileged people like her?
“When is it coming?” I asked like an imbecile.
“Well, nobody knows exactly when, but it’ll come sooner or later. Believe me… I’m not gonna sit around for it to kill me.”
or later…!?” I did not quite understand what she
meant, most likely due to my poor English again. But I
did not want to go all the way to
“Yes, one of these days,” she replied.
“Many people are…”
If she did not look so elegant and gorgeous, I would have not taken her seriously and gotten anxious so quickly. But she was too cute to doubt her judgment. She was obviously a godsend to save me from the hassle of going all this distance to an empty city with no job opportunities. The university would probably close down soon, too, if it had not already. There was clearly a major flaw in Father’s big plan and it was a shocker how he had missed this major bottleneck. Despite causing me a big dilemma, I appreciated her warning and concern. I thanked her a few times, almost bending to kiss her gorgeous hand, too.
“When’s your train leaving?” she asked to break my pensive shock.
“In about an hour,” I murmured timidly while totally sunk in despair.
better decide quickly. The
“I don’t know what to do. I’m confused.”
listen to me. Go change your ticket and come to
I was more tempted to go to
such an important decision quickly was excruciating. Forget the damn
earthquake, the temptation of going to
one of Father’s teachings had been to eventually marry an Iranian girl, because mixed marriages
always lead to disaster. Of course,
‘eventually’ meant, ‘if you really
have to, and only after you are at least in your thirties.’ He had a big
reservation about marriage, anyway, especially with foreigners. The liberal family
lifestyle was the only thing about
“Oh, what a madness,” I blabbered.
“This Big One…”
“Just listen to my advice…, will you?”
She sounded exactly like Father already, pushing her advice like the eleventh Commandment and not merely a friendly suggestion. Now I had to choose between two adamant experts with contradictory plans for me. The funny thing was that I trusted and liked them both almost equally in that instant, even though I had met her only half an hour before. A big competition continued in my head between these two pushy advisors for about two minutes before Father finally prevailed with a narrow margin.
must go to
“That’s too bad. I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she replied with an angry tone and smirk. Then she got up to leave.
we can meet again sometime, though?” I asked anxiously. “Maybe I go to
don’t have any address or phone number in
gazed at her with embarrassment, feeling guilty and lonely. I was about to cry
for losing the chance of seeing her again. I had no address or telephone number
to give her either. Besides, she was already quite
disappointed with me and walked away too fast for my overheated brain to react
creatively. I just stared at her disappear in the crowd before realizing that I
could have given her the address of the English school to contact me. Still
better, I could have given her the telephone number of Glen Wymore, my
around the station frantically, I did not give a damn about my education or
Father’s diligent plan for me anymore. I was glad, though, for having realized
my serious mistake quickly while there was still a chance to find her and
apologize. I missed her miserably already as if we had been lovers for two decades.
Now I was willing to sacrifice everything for her and forget my patriotic
obligations, too. I could not care less about the Shah’s problems either. I will follow that woman to the edge of the
earth if only I find her, I promised the devil and ran faster. The true
meaning of life had suddenly manifested only in the warm cuddle of this elegant
lady whom I had forgotten to even ask her name. For
ten more minutes, I rushed around the station with a lump clogging my throat
and tears gathering in my eyes. I ran along the windows of the train bound for