At sixteen I was diagnosed with a rare stomach ailment, a superfluous hole had developed. I was in the hospital for six days. I was given codeine tablets. I was allergic to codeine. I nearly died. I was given a morphine drip and lovingly gazed at my pierced left vein for two weeks. In and out I went. The surgeons repaired the hole in my stomach and I was finally allowed to return home. I walked with a hunched back for almost two months. At twenty the hole reappeared. Instead of going to the hospital I stole opiates from Sam’s mother. Sam was my closest friend. “All Jewish moms are addicted to prescription drugs,” he told me once. He was only half Jewish. He claimed the other half was Navajo, though his father looked white as paper to me. Sam’s mother, Meredith “Mama Mia!” Johnson, had immense fake breasts and bad teeth. I snuck into her bedroom one afternoon and sniffed her large black bras and absconded into the bathroom for a quick jerk-off. Sam and I got high on Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and Phenmetrizine. Sam was asthmatic so we tried getting high on Albuterol. It did nothing. Sam drowned in Lake Ballinger trying to reach the bottom. For me, intense Jungian psychotherapy became my substitute for opiates.
My father’s youngest brother was kicked out of the family long before I was born. He was a devout alcoholic and beat his girlfriends religiously. Worst of all, he repeatedly disobeyed his mother. It was my father’s job to exile him, and he did. My father lived with that guilt all his life and in the end, when he heard of his brother’s sodden demise, the guilt exploded in him like a trumpeter’s squall. This was the second time I saw my father weep. The first was the day my mother, a Turkish woman with sound Turkish values (Respect! Moderation!) finally freed herself from my father’s distorted beliefs. My father sent money to Denmark where his brother’s wife and children lived, and never again mentioned his brother. Old family photos went missing.
People called my dad Al, and thought it stood for Alberto. In fact it stood for Ali. My father let people think he was Italian, or Greek, or even Lebanese. My father was Iranian. He called himself Persian, but that’s a euphemism; there’s no Persia. He knew Iranian translated to barbarian in America. His English was horrendous. He could never enunciate the th sound; it came out as t, like in talk. We were at Dominos once and my father was attempting to order thin crust. “Tin crust—tin,” he said to the pink-faced kid behind the counter. I wanted to hide. My father blamed everyone else for his shortcomings. “The Arabs raped our people,” he said. “We’re supposed to be Zoroastrians!” My father never spoke English to me. Only Farsi. Afghanistan is the only other country in the world where Farsi is spoken.
Drug lords repossessed the poppy fields in Afghanistan. “We have abandoned our purpose there,” a professor of History at Yale wrote in an article. “We are washing our hands, having accomplished nothing. We’ve built a house with no roof or door and said it was ok to move in.” After reading the article, really apropos of nothing, I thought about the hypocrisy that weaves its way through the self-proclaimed virtuosity of fanatical Islam, and I thought about the time—I’d heard the story often—when my grandmother purposely burnt my mother’s dinner while my mother was pregnant with me. My grandmother was strict in her beliefs. My grandmother was wicked.
In Rome I found Bukowski. Bukowski taught me about Celine, Mahler, how to take a whiskey shit and respect it, the horses, what it looks like to see a pit bull’s stomach gutted like a fish, what it means to fuck, to hate, but secretly love, secretly cry for justice, to work at the post office, to have a terrible complexion, to wonder why no one remembers Sherwood Anderson, and that love is a dog from hell. Bukowski said he hit some of his girlfriends, but if you ask me, he only wished he’d hit them.
I volunteered at Steven’s Hospital when I was fourteen. I thought I was going to be a doctor. What a flawed sense a reality I had. I hated it. But I worked with Kristen. Kristen was eighteen, had blonde hair, large beautiful breasts (my father once told me that all you needed was a handful; he was drunk), and an ass that brought a tear to your eye. I was too young at the time to know what it meant to cry over something like that. I attempted nothing with Kristen but in countless nights of desperate imagination. I learned to hate doctors for their bravado. Nurses were short or butch, or both. A simple woman in her mid-sixties managed the front desk where Kristen and I worked. She refused to be left alone. “Do you know what Murphy’s Law is?” the old lady said. “It’s like irony. When you least expect something to happen, it happens.” What she meant was, if we’d left her alone a thousand anxious visitors would miraculously appear and she’d drown in concern. Kristen and I stayed with her most of the time; we answered phones and made buttons. Kristen smelled like pineapple everyday.
At Il Duomo (The Cathedral) in Florence, I was sitting and writing in my journal. I’d had enough of Jesus by then; churches became resting places, places to pass the time between bars and museums. As I wrote an old man came and sat beside me. He said hello and asked where I was from. My broken Italian somehow led him to think I was a Christian missionary from Santa Barbara. It was the best I could do. He asked if I had a girlfriend. I told him that I used to. It’s what I meant to say. He asked if I liked boys. I said no. He placed his hand on my knee and I did nothing. Not for a few seconds anyway. Then I slowly moved my knee away from him and with a look made it clear that I was not going to be sucking his dick. This was the house of God.
I was born in Tehran on June 2, 1978. This was right before the revolution, right before Carter’s hostage crisis. I was a child of The Shah. I was born in my grandmother’s house. My father held me under the throat of a half decapitated sheep and washed me in its blood. Two hundred people came and watched and chanted “Allah O-Akhbar!” (God is great!). The day after, they did this for another child in the neighborhood. They did this for all newborns. Before my grandmother died, every year on my birthday, she would burn some esoteric spice called esfhand and fill the house with smoke. With the black, pasty residue she’d draw an X on my forehead. This was in observance of my equal divinity in the world, because it was well understood that we were all equally divine.