On a Mediterranean boat heading nowhere in particular but probably past Rhodes, an American backpacker wonders whether there is an alternate way to Iran, and if they play Uncle Wiggly in Tehran
Once I met this rather good-looking and plucky Swiss adventurer who repeatedly kept trying to convince me to travel to Iran. He said he was treated very well there, and that I being an American, who had pretty much traveled everywhere on the planet, that they might in fact actually be interested in meeting me. He said, in so many words, “Jah, of course dey party,” but then paused with an appraising look and suggested that I “get a haircut first.”
“What if I tied my hair back into a ponytail?” I responded glumly.
“It is just not polite” was his unsatisfactory explanation.
“Hey, can you drink and stuff there?” I asked hopefully, carefully looking over his shoulder and hoping nobody was listening in.
“Uh, alcohol? I think there are some discreet establishments.”
Anyway, seized by the powerful provocative mythos of Ancient Persia, I came this close to actually going. I’m sorry, but it’s almost impossible to sustain pretending to be Canadian abroad that long while also playing “The Pathfinder.”
I thought it indeed lame that the two American drecks, with overt personality disorders, lying on the deck of the Mediterranean cargo ship we were on, had actually had the audacity to sew Maple Leaf patches on their packsacks.
Ah, you ask where we were heading on this Mediterranean cargo ship under a crisp cobalt sky punctuated by a spiky red sun seemingly bound for nowhere? That would be telling.
Come on, I’m a proud American citizen. Even my blood is red, white, and blue. Although I’d love to down nice cold Cokes ™, or its domestic imitation equivalent, in a souk somewhere with a bearded gentlemen in rapture, fiddling with Parchesi pieces amidst the ululating whine of the muezzin, in the back of my mind I would ultimately wonder whether I could land upon a private party of gorgeous veiled women shyly flitting about like harem flies.
My face a Grand Vizier mask, straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, breath redolent of the heady incense of frankenberry and myrr, I would daydream about Barbara Eden from “I Dream of Jeannie,” and, that weird made-for-TV movie she was in, where she is a painter canvassing an alien landscape and speaking in tongues, ready, with one greasy rub of the bottle, to instruct me in the art of Oriental angle bumpy—before the dream fades and the suddenly grim-faced locals flat-out find out I’m American.
Feeling as flighty as a semi-mythical Roc, I dropped a couple of travel-pack-sized Alka Seltzer ™ discuses into my water bottle, which dissolved like Hamurabi Code tablets in the strained sunshine. My caravanserai gaming partner’s vaguely alert expression would suddenly shift to anger flash. He now looks as vain and cruel as the sandblasted visage of Percy Byshe Shelly’s Ozymandius:
I am Ozymandius
King of Kings
Look upon my works ye mighty and despair!
“So you are American, are you, and what are you doing here, and what do you think of your mean president Mr. George Bush the second?” my private bodyguard and energetic translator might have whispered what the turban-headed old man had just said in an otherworldly dialect of Farsi, had I actually really been there.
It was secondary that he was the spitting image of the Ayatollah.
“Uh, I’m vacationing here,” I guess was always in the end the best response.
Anyway, Alexander the Great dug it.
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