I didn't know what was going to happen at the salon. I had been there a month ago and gotten a haircut from Samantha. She was very kind and mature.
"I don't care about money," she told me. "I just want to do something I love. That's why I chose cutting hair. I like connecting with people."
"What helped you realize that?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know," she said. "My parents and my church."
I wanted to know more. I asked her if we could film us getting a haircut and then talk about this again.
"That sounds exciting," she said.
Now, I was there with my mother. She was in a chair next to me. She had told me she didn't know anything about the barbershop incident. I figured I'd start there.
"You've never heard the story?" I asked.
"No," my mother said.
I told her and Samantha what happened. As soon as I looked into my mother's eyes and talked about the pain of being told to get out of the barbershop because I was Iranian, the waterworks started again.
"I'm sorry," I said. "This just keeps happening."
"Let it out," my mother said.
"Yeah," Samantha agreed.
"When you have this, you have to cry," my mother said.
"Dad said to be tough," I said.
"No," my mother said. "When you need to cry, you have to cry"
Then she told us about her trip to Iran to visit her brother. Mohti's two sons were in a car accident. One of them died and the other was paralyzed. My mother said she just cried with her brother, and then sat with Iman every night.
"I tell them we have to let it out," she told us. "We cannot keep it inside."
Then Samantha started talking about her father and his health condition. That that's how she learned how valuable life is. That we only have a short time in life, and she wasn't going to waste it chasing money or success.
"Have you talked to your dad about this?" I asked.
"No," she said. "We keep things to ourselves in my family."
I pulled out my Transformers from my pocket. I handed one to my mother. "You remember these?" I asked her.
"Yes," she said. "You love Transformers and puzzles. Every day when we were in Indiana, I put hundreds of puzzles on the ground. Then we make them until your father comes home. I even get puzzles from the neighbors. And books! You love books. I never forget you win Readathon. You always were reading books."
"286," she said. "I never forget this number. You read all day and night to win this Cabbage Patch Kid doll. When you start, we have to give 25 cent for every book, but when your dad see how many books you read, we change to 5 cents."
I transformed the cassette Transformer into a Lazerbeak bird. My mother transformed her cassette.
"Wow!" I said. "You remember how to transform Frenzy!"
"I love that you know their names still," Samantha said.
Then I held up my Lazerbeak to my mother's Frenzy and made them kiss.
"Alright," Samantha said. "Time for your head massage."
"Mom," I said. "Do you want it instead of me?"
"No," she said. "You need it."
I got the head massage, while my mother moved to a closer seat in the hair washing station. She talked about me as a kid and Samantha talked more about herself as a kid. I could tell the two of them were getting on pretty well. I closed my eyes and just relaxed for a bit. I didn't know it at the time, but one of my greatest teachers had just passed. Bobbie Louise Hawkins one of my best friends had died right around that time.
At Naropa, her and I would spend almost every couple nights cooking salmon and hanging out. She taught me that "a great talker is a great writer" and vice-versa. She loved performing pieces, and when she'd go over pieces, she'd talk them aloud to see how they sounded in her mouth.
"Oh," she said, reading the word aloud again, "Smoosh is such an ugly word. Let's change that."
Then she kept reading changing smoosh, and then not reading the sentence at all:
Just yesterday, Havah called me up, and the first words out of her mouth were, “You’re an asshole.” She said she was uncomfortable around me because I made her feel like a kid. This is pretty crazy considering I am the same age as her. I mentioned this, and she shrugged it off.
I reminded her about the time she beat the shit out of me because I stopped her from feeding Houssein’s sister bumblebee stew. She tried to convince us that it would be so funny. She would drink it. And say she liked it. I told her I was going to tell, if she did it. Then she swung back and gave me a fat lip. “I don’t understand why you’re bringing that up,” she said.
"See," she said. "That sounds better already."
That was my first short story. After I wrote it and Bobbie found out I was in the poetry track, she said I had to switch. "Oh, honey," she said. "You need to be in fiction. Those poets all want to be rock stars. Come over with us."
"Okay," I said.
I had to re-apply and then did my second year in fiction with Bobbie, Keith, and Junior. I learned how to be honest and find my voice as a writer. And when Bobbie didn't like something, she'd tell me straight out.
"What's this?" she said about a story that was more experimental than anything else.
"You don't like it?" I said.
She just looked at me like I had two heads.
After grad school was over, I stayed in Boulder for two more years. Bobbie and I would take walks, have dinners, and even go see Star Wars.
"What'd you think?" I asked her.
"It was pretty," she said. "I liked all the sound effects."
I'm realizing now that the first movie I ever saw in English was Star Wars with my mother in Indiana. I guess sharing that moment with Bobbie was me showing how much I loved her. It's sort of like when you got all these songs you've written, but they're not really finished, but you play them for a friend, because you know they'll get that they're half-finished, so they won't judge it the same -- or that it's like in this other place -- research into something you'll launch into later.
Bobbie would do the same with me.
"I wrote this last night," she'd say, and launch.
Well, dear, love is always a problem. It doesn't matter if it is in a book or—love isn't at all what it pretends to be. It is essentially a form of self hypnosis, an obsession. If you watch a cat in heat, you know much more about love than if you read a romance novel. I mean they look so luxurious and lovely and they are stretching and feeling great about themselves. It is wonderful to stretch and feel great about yourself. And then when the person you have manufactured this feeling with or had this feeling with, when they go away, it's like they take it with them. And suddenly you don't even feel the size you were before you met the person. You feel less than that, you feel shrunken.
Once she had a bunch of pieces ready for her one woman show, I suggested she perform it. She was complaining about how she'd like to be better known.
"You're already famous," I said.
She wanted more. That kind of shocked me. She was so amazing already. Who cared if more people knew? Now, I get it a bit more. She had to sneak writing in the house when she was married to Bob Creeley. He had some fucked up idea that there could only be one writer in the house. She just wanted to be out there to offer people another way of looking. It was what Kevin Ramsey, the Broadway actor and director, told me later he called "legacy".
"You've already created all this legacy," he said.
I had been lukewarm about how CTRL ALT DEL might perform in theaters. He just kept on about my "legacy" and "shining".
I wanted that for Bobbie, so I called up the manager of Joe's Pub in New York City. I figured she could do a show there. I got my buddy Mark and my brother Paiman to film the event.
Bobbie was so excited about the show. I wanted it to be a huge success. I don't think she advertised that well for it. Ann Waldman showed up. I think Bob too. I just heard about it through my brother second-hand.
"Ann says you're going to be famous," he told me.
"What?" I said. "She said that?"
"Yeah," Paiman said.
At the time, I was so flattered. I still am. But, now, I realize I'm just like Bobbie was then, trying to offer a voice for people like her -- trying to break free and shine a light.
"I'm probably not more well known, because I did so many things," Bobbie said. "Painting, theater, and writing. I should have focused on one."
"Nah," I said. "They all inform each other."
After we shot in the salon, I drove Aaron to the Buffalo airport for his flight back to LA. I talked about how Melissa Broder just got her book The Pisces reviewed in the New York Times, and how her Twitter So Sad Today was connecting with folks. That she was so dedicated even from the first time I met her. We were shooting CTRL ALT DEL and she showed up for a poetry reading we did after a shoot. I remember she came into the room and asked: "Are any of you writers?"
The other writers in the room were in that game of competition and mumbled about their statuses and books like badges on a General's uniform.
"I write," I said. "I'm mostly a filmmaker though."
"I never want to be a person that doesn't connect with people no matter who they are," I told Aaron this, and he nodded his head.
Then I talked about how important it was to be emotional. That maybe what this film and So Sad Today was doing was giving people a chance to be honest with how they feel -- a world that was so different from their avatars of perfect brunches, holidays, and relationships.
"An artist's job," Aaron said, "Is to be able to communicate feelings. That's why we engage them. They just do it in a way that other people can't, because they're in touch with those places."
I remember when I first met Bob Creeley. He was over Bobbie's new house. I shook his hand. I thought about how Bobbie told me all the stories about how she saved poems from trashcans, the wild times in Bolinas, a poetry collection called Love and Bobbie's one woman show on the same topic. He looked like he wanted to talk, but Bobbie just got me out of there.
"Pirooz and I are going for a walk," she said, and then we headed out.
We walked down Bluff Street near Lover's Park and talked about divorce. She told me about how she was done with relationships. That they were too much trouble. Then we picked apples from a crabapple tree and ate them. Then we circled back around the Boulder hospital to that house painted all white.
"Oh, honey," she said. "This was good walk and talk."
After that walk, I'm sure we had a dozen or so more over the next couple years. Then, I ended up getting divorced and moving to LA. I'd call her every once in a while. Every time I did, she started the phone call the same way:
"Oh, honey!" she'd shout. "Spill."
Bobbie loved gossiping. I'd tell her about being alone. She'd talk about reading romance novels with Joanne Kyger and how much they loved them. "You need to talk to her."
I saw Bobbie only one time in person after that. Her memory wasn't doing so well. It was 2008, and I had already been to Korea, and married Sohee, and I brought her with me.
"I like this one," Bobbie said, when Sohee walked over to the piano. "She's a keeper."
I'd call every once in a while after that, but I'd never get an answer. I heard from someone else that she had moved again. Sohee would ask how she was every once in a while, but I wouldn't go into it. I knew it'd be too hard for me to find out if she had passed, and I just didn't want to know. I'm good at bottling up feelings. It's what I've been taught to do all my life.
"You can't cry too much," my dad said, as we interviewed my family on a couch. "Everything in moderation."
"If there was one word you could tell the nine year old me, what would it be?" I asked them.
"Love," my mother said.
"Courage," my brother Panauh said.
Then my dad talked about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
"He said one word," Panauh laughed.
"That is one word," my dad said.
I realize now that without Bobbie I would have never been able to write or be a filmmaker. She was the one that got me into telling these family stories. I also realize without her, I wouldn't have been so close to my parents now either. She taught me that break-ups and differences were good things, and we'd have it out about everything. I suppose it was with her I found another family member and she helped me connect back with my own.
My dad sent me this pic of me after shooting last week. It's his latest digital painting. He makes them with mathematical code and fractals. He told me to share it with the world.
When I look at it now, I imagine myself at that age talking to me, and then talking to Bobbie, saying how much I wish I could call you again.
"I was planning on coming to Boulder on the road trip to see you, Bobbie," the picture of me says. "I wanted you to meet Meina. I figured we could walk and talk."
"Oh, honey!" her picture says to me. "I will always talk to you."