Drinking With Iranians, December 1979


We didn’t dwell on the streetlights,

Festooned with garland-strewn bells, ersatz nutcrackers,

And the odd buoyant and ebullient snowman;

We were crossing the Hempstead Turnpike,

No task for the faint-hearted in bright light of midday,

Outright perilous on a late Friday evening

(Especially for those feeling the effects of an afternoon of social drinking

Which had gently spilled over into that good night.)

There were four of us—myself, and a Tehran-born trio

(Fun-loving, almost jolly guys—a group of thin, dark Falstaffs,

As it were) heading to a nearby off-campus bar,

Low-slung ranch-style edifice constructed on the Levittown model,

As non-descript and indistinguishable as its regular clientele,

Some of whom eyed us warily, perhaps weighing

The pros and cons of saying something to us

Before we headed to the “Downstairs Disco”

Which had been added, very grudgingly at that,

As a nod to the times and fiscal necessity.


In between ear-numbing bass lines

And the strobe light’s cornea-threatening ministrations,

We drank significantly watered vodka-and-tonics

Smiled unsuccessfully at spike-heeled and Jordache-clad local girls

(No less welcoming of obvious outsiders

Than their decidedly less glamorous counterparts upstairs),

And carried on brief, lightweight bits of conversation.

I’d mentioned that I was looking forward to getting home

And partaking in some peace and quiet and home cooking

When suddenly, one of my companions

(A fully-bearded sophomore named Anush,

Whose last name I never knew; as his roommate Mossoud once said,

Shaking his head and smiling, You would never be able to pronounce it)

Gave forth with a wail—full-throated, tear-stained,

Pained to the point of almost bestial.

As I stared uncomprehendingly, Mossoud snapped at me

(His eyes darkened thunderclouds, the words sharp and blunt as broadswords)

You! What do you understand of any of this?

And as he continued to console Anush as best as he could,

The music the volume of bombs,

The disco ball spitting light like tracer fire,

I began to suspect my relative uselessness

Was not simply the inability to comprehend Farsi.




6 thoughts on “Drinking With Iranians, December 1979

  1. “The music the volume of bombs / The disco ball spitting light like tracer fire…”
    Nicely captures the era while raising the stakes in the poem itself. Those were my high school days. What a strange time it was to be coming of age.

  2. Nassau Community College or Hofstra? I was a student at Nassau Community College for a spell in 1984 and 1985. Interesting poem, to say the least. Not to nitpick, but I’m sure you know already that it’s Hempstead Turnpike, not THE Hempstead Turnpike. I lived right near where you’re talking about when I got poison ivy in Uniondale.


    1. I had a cousin at Hofstra in the late 70s (when they were still Flying Dutchmen); he told about how lousy things were for the Iranian kids, who were screwed in both directions, which was the genesis for this piece.

  3. 1977-1980 I went to a small liberal arts university in Southern California to which dozens of wealthy Iranians sent their kids during the debacle with the Shah. Their worlds were never the same. Mine was forever altered by their friendships.

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