چلپ چلوپ

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 5

چلپ چلوپ

توضیح مختصر

فصل 5

  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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Every family has a daredevil. In my father’s family, the honor goes to Uncle Nematollah, whose daring feat consisted of selecting his own wives, three times.

Marriage, in my culture, has nothing to do with romance. It’s a matter of logic. If Mr. and Mrs. Ahmadi like Mr. and Mrs. Nejati, then their children should get married. On the other hand, if the parents don’t like each other, but the children do, well, this is where sad poetry comes from. As odd as these logical unions may appear to the Western world, their success rate is probably no worse than that of marriages based on eyes meeting across a crowded room and the heart going va-va-va-boom.

After my uncle’s second divorce, he decided to take a break from his medical practice in Ahwaz and come visit us in Whittier. For my American friends, “a visiting relative” meant a three-night stay. In my family, relatives’ stays were marked by seasons, not nights. No one bothered coming halfway around the world for just the month of December. Might as well stay to experience spring in California, the children’s graduation ceremonies in June, and Halloween. It didn’t matter that our house was barely big enough for us. My father’s motto has always been “Room in the heart, room in the house.” As charming as this sounds, it translates into a long line for the bathroom and extra loads of laundry for my mother.

My father and his younger brother, Nematollah, share many interests, none stronger than the love of new foods. Some experience a foreign land through museums or historical sights, but for our family, America was to be experienced through the taste buds. Every day, Kazem and Nematollah, like cavemen headed for the hunt, would drive to the local supermarket, returning with cans and boxes of mysterious American products. They picked foods for the pictures on the containers, inadvertently proving that American marketing is sometimes better than American cooking. Since Iranian flavors are quite different from the flavors found in American convenience foods, most of the purchases ended up in the trash can.

In Iran, meal preparation took up half of each day, starting early in the morning with my mother telling our servant, Zahra, which vegetables to clean and cut. The vegetables were either grown in our garden or had been purchased the day before. The ingredients in our meals were limited to what was in season. Summer meant eggplant or okra stew, fresh tomatoes, and tiny cucumbers that I would peel and salt. Winter meant celery or rhubarb stew, cilantro, parsley, fenugreek, and my favorite fruit, sweet lemon, which is a thin-skinned, aromatic citrus not found in America. There was no such thing as canned, frozen, or fast food. Everything, except for bread, which was purchased daily, was made from scratch. Eating meant having to wait for hours for all the ingredients to blend together just right. When the meal was finally ready, we all sat together and savored the sensuous experience of a delicious Persian meal. Upscale restaurants in America, calling themselves “innovative and gourmet,” prepare food the way we used to. In Iran, it was simply how everybody ate.

As Zahra began frying the onions and vegetables each morning, delicious smells wafted through our house. She and her husband, Ali, who was our gardener, lived in a small house on our property. Unlike America, where only the very wealthy have live-in servants, in Iran even middle-class families employ full-time help. Ali and Zahra were from a small village in northern Iran; with us, they could earn more money than was possible back home. They were very happy, and even though my parents found them another family to live with, no one cried harder than they did when we moved to America.

After several weeks of trying every TV dinner, canned good, and cereal, my father and uncle concluded that the only ready-made American foods worth buying were canned chili, ice cream, and Chips Ahoy cookies. The rest, they concluded, was too salty, too sweet, or just plain bad.

They next set out to explore the unknown territory of American fast food. We lived near a strip mall well supplied with restaurants, all of which took a similar high-grease approach to cooking. Starting at one end, we ate our way through the mall, skipping only a hot dog place called Der Wienerschnitzel. The name was unpronounceable and we had no interest in dogs, hot or otherwise.

After weeks of research, we concluded that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the best thing we had tasted in America, followed by Baskin-Robbins, every last one of its flavors. No one was made happier by our foray into eating prepared foods than my mother, who, lacking both Iranian ingredients and Zahra, had a very difficult time cooking in America. The Colonel’s secret recipe had set my mother free.

Several times a week, my father would buy a couple of buckets of fried chicken on his way home from work. We’d fight over the crispy crumbs at the bottom and wash it all down with Coke. On other nights, we ate pizza, marveling at the stretchy cheese and our insatiable appetite for this wondrous food.

A couple of months after my uncle’s arrival, he realized that somehow none of the clothes in his suitcase fit him. He had spent the past few weeks wearing his new American wardrobe of T-shirts and sweat suits, clothes that had stretched with his palate. My uncle spent the morning trying on all his old clothes, putting on a fashion show of sorts. With his pants halfway around his bottom, he hopped around telling us that these were the same pants he had worn on the airplane two months ago! Unable to button his shirts, he sucked in his gut and tried not to exhale. My father tried to help him with the various buttons, zippers, and snaps, which refused to button, zip, or snap. It was no use. My uncle had come to America to forget his marital problems. In a way, he had succeeded. Now he had his weight to worry about.

Starting that day, my uncle decided to lose weight. Dragging me along as his interpreter, he and I headed for the Sav-On drugstore to buy diet pills and a scale. We came home feeling hopeful. My uncle swallowed a few pills, then took his regular spot on the sofa to watch the game shows. The next morning, he weighed himself, threw out the diet pills, and dragged me once again to the drugstore. This time, we returned with a powder, which was supposed to be mixed with milk and consumed instead of meals. Since we didn’t have a blender, he spent hours in the kitchen, stirring vigorously with a fork, trying to smooth the clumps to make his meals bearable.

A couple of days of this powdered cuisine and my uncle actually lost a few pounds. Things were going well until he decided that adding a couple of scoops of Baskin-Robbins improved the flavor substantially.

Following my uncle’s post-diet celebration meal, he discovered that his attempts at dieting had left him with a few souvenir pounds. With renewed dedication, my uncle turned to Plan B. Our marathon television-watching sessions now had a higher purpose. I was to write down the phone numbers for all the products that quickly and painlessly melted away the extra pounds. Ten minutes into Love, American Style and we had our catch. I dialed the number on the television screen and ordered the cure. Waiting for the package to arrive, my uncle was on a frenzied mission. Like a soldier making love for the last time before he goes to war, Uncle Nematollah spent the next few days embracing his favorite American foods one last time, some twice. Knowing the end was near, he began trying foods whose siren song we had thus far ignored: Twinkies, tacos, beef jerky, guacamole, and maple syrup.

The package finally arrived. The miracle cure was a stomach girdle. For $19.99, Uncle Nematollah had purchased a scuba-diving outfit of sorts that covered only the stomach, the original owner perhaps having been attacked by a school of sharks. The contraption, when worn for days on end, was supposed to train the wearer to eat less, while firming the stomach muscles. Getting my uncle’s overflowing gut to fit the stomach girdle was a task left to my father. Every morning, before going to work, he helped his brother squeeze into his sausage casing, being careful not to trap Nematollah’s ample body hair in the zipper. If you ignored the bulging rolls escaping from above and below the stomach girdle, my uncle did look slimmer. But it was hard getting used to his new, erect posture, which prevented him from slumping on the sofa with the rest of us. He strolled around the house admiring his new silhouette, pretending that having his organs crushed was somehow enjoyable. But like all forms of self-inflicted pain, the stomach girdle eventually lost its appeal. It may have been the severe cramping after meals, the inability to slouch, or the welt marks on his skin, but either way, the girdle became history.

Uncle Nematollah’s next shortcut to svelteness consisted of a specially constructed exercise outfit, advertised during The Newlywed Game, that promised to help sweat away those pesky pounds. The outfit was constructed of a thick silver material, a cross between aluminum foil and vinyl, something perhaps left over from a failed space mission and purchased at a NASA garage sale. The instructions stated that the outfit had to be worn for twenty minutes before each meal, during which the wearer was supposed to engage in some form of exercise. My uncle decided to speed the weight-loss process by wearing his moon suit all day. He thought nothing of circling the block endlessly, leaving neighbors wondering whether perhaps he was looking for the mother ship. Dressed for a jaunt on Venus, he strolled to the supermarket, the hardware store, and everywhere else he needed to go. Unable to understand English, he had apparently forgotten the international meaning of stares as well. Kids at school asked me about the strange guy who was staying with us. In terms of weirdness, my family and I were now off the charts.

The state of euphoria brought on by losing a few pounds soon wore off, accelerated perhaps by the annoying stench of stale sweat emanating from the suit. As far as we knew, the suit was not washable. As attached as he had become to his dehydration chamber, my uncle had to admit it was time to get rid of it.

A few more hours of TV viewing and we placed an order for the Body Shaper. This latest gizmo consisted of a nylon cord attached to several pulleys. By attaching the Body Shaper to a doorknob and lying in the most inconvenient spot possible, the user could exercise one arm or leg, two arms and two legs, one arm and one leg, or any other combination.

Perhaps realizing some contortion fantasy, my uncle was completely hooked on the Body Shaper. He spent his days attached to various doorknobs doing endless leg lifts. Transformed into human scissors, he sliced through the air for hours. We learned the hard way never to open a closed door without first listening for the distinct swoosh-swoosh coming from behind the door. It was a mystery why his latest weight-loss gizmo was so successful. We assumed his dedication had something to do with his impending return to Iran and his desire to find a wife. Male peacocks display their feathers to attract the female, but a male human displaying an overflowing gut yields far different results.

A month later, with the Body Shaper having worked its magic, Uncle Nematollah was ready to go home. We watched him pack his suitcases, all of us wishing he could stay longer. My uncle had exercised his way into our hearts, and the house was going to seem empty without him.

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