I got a bit angry today. I'm not sure if this is the next stage of grief. I cried for like three days straight after doing the Gestalt Therapy in the barbershop where the barber refused to cut my hair when I was nine years old. But, today, I was a bit tougher.
"That's good," my father said. "Tough is good."
We were driving up to his old house. I suppose he lived there about 20 years. It was a good bit.
"Does this look familiar?" I asked him.
"If I drive," he said. "Everything will come back."
We pulled up to the old house, and he was already out of his seat.
"Oh, my God!" he exclaimed. "Look at the trees!!"
"Wait, Dad!" I shouted after him. "We gotta see if anyone's home."
My dad walked up to the doorbell and rang immediately. There was no answer. Then he walked over to the trees and raised is arm. "When I planted this tree, it was your size," he said to me.
Now, it towered over us a good 20 feet.
"Let's walk the neighborhood," I said.
My dad ran right up to where his old neighbors were. "I use to live here," he said.
"What?" a woman said.
"I use to live here," my dad said and pointed to the house next to them. "Now, I am visiting after 18 years."
"Okay," the woman said and then shielded her eyes from the camera. "Are you filming me?"
"My son is making a movie," my dad laughed. "He is documenting."
"Okay," the woman said. "Well, I don't want to be on camera."
"We're not filming you," I said.
My dad just laughed and said, "Nice meeting you."
Then we walked over to where my best friend John lived.
"Oh!" my dad exclaimed. "What a great neighborhood! You played so much here."
"Yeah," I said.
We rang John's old house, but no one was there either. We were about to head back to the car when John's mom came out.
"Do you remember me?" my dad asked.
"Of course!" she said and gave him a hug.
Then we chatted for a bit and heard how everyone was doing. I really wanted to see John. He was my best friend. Still is. We spent everyday together playing baseball, basketball, kick the can, RBI Baseball on Nintendo, you name it.
"He lives close by," John's mom said.
"I'll send him a message," I said.
Then we started walking back to the car. That's when I saw this Stop sign with the street name over top. I figured it'd be a good place to have my dad stand.
"It says 'stop'," my dad smiled. "We have to stop this racism business."
"Yeah," I said. "Maybe you could give us a Rumi poem now?"
My dad started reciting poetry in a booming voice. We did like 3-4 verses. Then we walked up the car.
"Oh, my God!" my dad said, as he saw his other neighbor, working on something outside his garage.
"Are you sure it's your neighbor?" I asked him.
My dad talked to him for a bit. Then he asked if he could walk in his backyard to get a better look at his old house.
"Remember, I clean all these bushes with the thorn," my dad said. "I was so proud. I clean this place, so it has a nice view."
"Yeah," the neighbor said. "I remember that was the first day I met you."
Before we got back to the car, my dad wanted to try the doorbell to the house one more time.
"Let's try," he said.
There still wasn't anyone there, and we started getting ready to pack up. That was when the neighbor's wife, who was now with the first neighbor we met, came walking up towards us aggressively.
"Okay," she said. "You got us curious now. Why are you filming?"
"We're making a documentary of my life and where I grew up," I said.
"Well, you set off the alarm to the house," she said.
"We just rang the doorbell," I said. "We didn't do anything."
"Yeah, the whole alarm went off," she repeated.
"We just wanted to see if anyone was home," I repeated back. "We were just standing at the door waiting."
"Don't you remember me?" my dad asked her. "I lived here for many years."
The woman looked my dad over. "Oh," she said. "I remember you."
My dad reached out his arms and went and hugged her. She backed off a bit and said: "It took me a minute, but I remember."
"My son is making a movie," he said proudly.
"Are you filming me?" the woman shouted at Aaron. "Didn't I ask you not to film me?"
I handed the male neighbor my card, because he asked for one.
"Give her one too," my dad said of the female neighbor.
I gave her one too.
Then she looked up at Aaron again. "Are you still filming?"
Aaron knew he was well in his first amendment rights to document the event. We were a non-profit documentary for educational purposes. He also wasn't shooting people's faces -- just shooting off to the side, and he knew full well, we'd blur anyone's face we didn't have a release for if they were caught on tape. In fact, Efrain Melendez had already considered that for our budget that we were presenting next week.
"I'll have to blur stuff as well as color," he told Aaron.
I didn't worry about any of this. I was surprised at the way we were treated: both, before the recognition of my father, and then, afterwards, when they were aware of the person they lived next to for over 15 years.
I brought it up to my dad, as we were walking the Ashland Nature Center. "That was some serious racism," I said.
"This is not racism," my dad said. "Everyone has problems."
"Who treats a neighbor they've known for 15 years like that? Like we were criminals?"
"You can't be upset at this, Pirooz. This is nothing. It is like this pine needle," he said and pointed to the pine needles on the forest floor.
"Yeah," I said. "It might seem small to you this little incident, but if you don't acknowledge or say anything about it, then this one pine needle becomes a whole forest floor of pine needles like this."
I pointed to this big stretch of pine needles on the ground. This was actually the exact place I was told to envision as a safe place by my therapist. I came up with the place in my head. But she told me to envision a place of safety when I felt anxious or stressed in my daily life.
I thought it was funny that this very place of safety was now put in jeopardy because of my dad's lack of acknowledgement.
"This is just like the barbershop the other day," I said. "It's important to recognize these moments and communicate together. It happened. It wasn't your imagination."
"This is nothing," my dad said again. "If you work for 20 years for Dupont and they don't give you retirement one month before you are supposed to, this is racism."
Aaron commented on the situation later, saying how interesting it was that my father saw microaggressions as not worth the effort, but only big, tragic life moments as proof of racism at work.
"It's probably generational," Aaron said.
I told my dad this later. He quietly considered this, but didn't comment.
We were already at the old barbershop, where they had kicked me out for being Iranian. It was still there.
I went in first. I found out the guy's name that owned the place. It ends up he had been there for 50 years, and then sold it to another guy, who then sold it to the guy I was talking to now.
"Yeah, I cut his hair last year," he said. "If you want, I'm sure someone could find him for you."
I didn't pursue it. I thought about the film being that, like Michael Moore confronting Charlton Heston, but this wasn't what the film was going to be. It was a film about our family and coming to America, and then this event that made me who I am, and then all these movies I've made that deal with different elements of social justice and the disenfranchised.
"I can't believe that guy stayed there 50 years with that belief system," I said, pulling out of the barbershop parking lot. "You'd think karma would get him."
"Look, at Trump," my dad exclaimed. "Do you think karma is there for him? All the countless people he has bullied? He is now President."
"Yes," I said. "Well, that proves there's no such thing as karma."
I pulled into another barbershop across the street. This was where we ended up going afterwards. I walked up to the counter, and at first, no one wanted to talk to me, but then this older guy came over.
"I heard you talking about Tom," he said.
"Yeah, he was great," I said. "he really made me feel welcome. He would massage my head and always make me laugh."
"Yeah, Tom dies a few years back," he told me. "I'm the last of the old crew. Everyone else has passed away."
This barber was nice enough to let us film in the space. I brought my dad over, and we looked at the place, now, completely remodeled: gone was the coke machine with glass bottles and the smell of aftershave in the air -- or the old leather seats and ashtrays. It was like any other Supercuts now, streamlined, and ready for business.
"Is different," my dad said.
Then, he did it again. My father rushing to the old chair where Tom used to cut his hair, which was now taken by a 20 year old, looking suspiciously at us both.
"I use to get my hair cut here," my dad told him. "Many years ago."
"Okay," the 20 year old said.
My dad tried engaging more, and I walked over and put my arm around him. He wanted to see the best in everyone. He wanted to share love. Only love.
Aaron and I talked about it later. That it probably came about because he experience the worst things.
"He probably doesn't want to go there," Aaron said. "It's just too dark."
"Maybe, you're right," I said.
""He described that time when his father was beaten," Aaron reminded me. "He's seen the worst of people. Now, he doesn't want to keep that in mind."
"Yeah," I agreed. "It's hard to live with so much hatred."
My dad wanted to go to Brandywine Park after that, so Aaron and I dropped him off so he could run while we visited my old schools.
"Where do you wanna go?" Aaron asked.
"My middle school," I said. "Where I was when I was nine and this thing happened."
I sat right on the steps of my middle school. Then I told the story of my last memory in that spot. I had been asked by the school to be a representative. I didn't know what that meant, but it seemed important, so I just listened to what they told me.
Apparently, Jess Jackson was coming to the school. I was picked along with Carlos to meet him outside the school and escort him inside.
Carlos was too nervous though, so it was just me on the steps.
Jesse jackson showed up in three limousines and he had this whole entourage of people with him. But, when he got out of the car he came straight up to me on the steps.
"Hello, my young brother," he said to me and shook my hand.
"Hello, Mr. Jesse Jackson, sir," I said. "Welcome to Alexis I Middle School."
Then he put his arms around me and we walked into the school and straight to the back of the auditorium, where these other people in suits were standing. Jesse just introduced me like I was one of them: "This is my brother, Pirooz," he said to them.
"This is Governor Castle," he said to me.
"Nice to meet you," the Governor said and shook my hand.
"This is Senator Biden," Jesse said again and gestured to Joe Biden.
"How are you?" Senator Biden said and shook my hand.
Then, just as quickly as I had been brought in, Jesse went straight onto the stage and started doing a speech about not doing drugs, staying in school, and being a good person. I was so moved by his his performance. He got the whole audience involved and engaged. I was mesmerized.
This was just after the barbershop incident, so I suppose this is why I ended up making the movie I made at 12 years old. I suppose I'll tell that story tomorrow.
Right now we're headed to Philadelphia to climb the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and screen CTRL ALT DEL.
"Are you nervous?" my wife Sohee asked about the premiere.
"Why would I be?" I said. "I don't expect people to like all my films. I know they're different, so they'll either like it or not."