To My Beautiful Iranian Friends
Fuck this shit.
All of this has hurt, but nothing has induced glumness of quite this viscosity. Donald Trump, a man who could not pass the English 102 course I teach at a city college in Chicago—in a building where he will never be welcome, a few blocks from the famous-rapist-hosting skyscraper with his name plastered on it in penis-obsessed all-caps letters, looming over the crumbling institution of civic education—has implemented a “temporary ban” on refugees and immigrants from a series of largely Muslim nations. As anyone who could pass my class will tell you, this is a protectionist fear tactic meant to stoke emotions he can capitalize on and convert into more despotic power than he already has. By not banning immigrants from Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia (known as home to those who fund many anti-American terrorist associations), the president has made clear that the professed practicalities of this policy are utterly empty.
Though I am rapidly consuming rhetoric of the sort above, concerned with the fine print of geopolitics and the historical precedents of racially and religiously based immigration policy, this is not a reflection of how I feel. How I feel is incredibly sad. I cannot stop thinking of all the beautiful Iranian people I am friends with. Maryam and Ali come foremost to my mind. Family friends back in Iran and both painters in America, both have made me feel immeasurably more at home in the world. In Houston and New York now, I hug them both like family when I see them, which is never often enough. Neither will be able to see their actual families for years, now, if they intend to stay in this country.
In 2015, before Maryam left Chicago, she had a going away party in her friend’s tiny apartment in Lakeview that I went to. I was one of two white dudes at the event. Everyone else was an immigrant from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. The guests gleefully played with my relative lack of knowledge about their culture, shoving heavy Persian dishes at me all night and remarking on my skinny frame, suggesting they were all acting like true Iranian mothers. They passed me around and taught me phrases in Farsi and made me say them on the cameras of their phones. The men made me say things that the women didn’t want me to say. Everybody danced together in a space no larger than most public one-person washrooms. It was super sweaty in there, and everybody kept calling me their brother. Here is a video from that night:
The guy in that video with me is a guy I never saw again because he was only passing through Chicago. I don’t remember his name but hey, you rule, guy. He was a photographer who got a grant to live in New York for a while and go to the court house every day to work on a portfolio. At the court house he would find gay European couples from certain unaccepting countries coming here for completely symbolic marriages and, you know, vacation. He would photograph the couples if they let him. Isn’t that pretty dope? In this video we are pressed all the way up against a doorway together and we are inches from other people.
This sort of claustrophobic partying is not how I mostly know Maryam, though. She is a quiet, thoughtful type who likes to drink tea with one person at a time and speak deeply about matters of aesthetics and the heart, and the way the two of us understood those things and other things too made her once tell me I made her feel less alone in the world, by the water that’s by the Lincoln Park Zoo. I told her I felt the same way about her. We are very good friends! This was after I couldn’t stop staring at the vulture at the zoo for a while, and saying how much I loved it due to no one else loving it enough. I didn’t know how serious I was being when I said that and Maryam recognized my not understanding my own tone or sentiment and was laughing her ass off about that, which is my attempt at explaining why we’re such good friends. I got to see her again in December and it was great. Here’s a picture of a giraffe thing she once gave me on my birthday, hanging currently from the inside of my front door:
I last saw Ali in August, when I was in Brooklyn. The picture at the top is from then. Ali was limping when I finally found him in a pharmacy; his foot was fucked up from having stepped on fiberglass in his studio that he also lives in, and experiences art-and-booze benders in, days at a time. This manic, health-denying obsession with creative process is sort of why he and I are such good friends. We like to lock eyes and cackle over a shared insanity. I walked at less than half of my normal pace to accommodate him as we made our way back to his studio, grumbling in depressed tones about the crooked downfall of the Democratic Party, ruing the assassination of the Bernie Sanders campaign. At his studio he showed me this painting that I loved:
When I first met Ali in 2012 he was mass-producing paintings of penises. He said that was his best way of understanding the bewildering America he’d just moved to. Those paintings and this one, and also a crumpled-up toy basketball with a cigarette coming out of it that he used to keep in his downtown studio here in Chicago, are all reminders of how essential incoming voices are to understanding the strange spiritual leviathan that this country, unprecedented in scope and in what it purports to glue together, has created.
To see that collective shape take such a nasty, hateful, and dangerous turn in real time is more jarring than any of us can say. The best I can do in terms of putting words to it is explaining my friends: lovely, unbelievably warm people who are now being painted as the enemies in both policy and terms far more real than policy. Since Trump draped his demonic dingus across the dotted line on this disgusting new piece of parchment grafted from Paul Ryan’s skin, unworthy of touch or forgiveness, a mosque has been burned down in the Texas that Maryam lives in. I am so fucking sad and I’m scared.