Alethophobia - Chapter 4 - Fallout

In a daze, I climb the stairs.  My body is heading instinctively toward my office.
With a trembling hand, I open my office door.  I step to the window and rest my forehead on the icy glass.  Though I keep my eyes shut, I know that three stories below, cars are swimming in and out of the parking lot.  Tired of seeing what I am not even looking at, I plunge into the nearest chair.  I gaze at a poster of a Van Gogh’s sunflower, as if for some light in this dark and difficult day.  The painting looks flat like a child’s work.  Van Gogh couldn’t give them away, and now they are sold for millions.  His fame surfaced only after he was buried.  So often, the living are treated as dead, and the dead as the living!  I call this the Jesus Conundrum.
After a short repose, I grab my brief case and leave the office, as if pursued by a hive of angry bees.  I slam the door so hard the department secretary shrieks.  I tell her I am not well, and leave for the day.
Driving home, I feel as though I have finally cast away my false identity like stinking underwear.  I feel free.  This rupture in my dissimulation- -- my flight from multiplicity -- reunites my inner and outer selves with my true identity.  I feel exhilarated for being myself, even if it is only for a moment.
Then it occurs to me that my victory is pyrrhic.  I unburdened myself to five students.  Only five!  How can I compete with Professor TV?  Maybe I should write a book?  I chase the idea from my mind right away.
I do not cook that night.  Bobby eats at McDonald’s as I watch and dutifully ask him about his day, and then journey to my inner world while pretending that I am listening to his answer, until he interrupts the process.  “Where are you today, Baba?”
“I wish I knew, Bobby.”
“You aren’t in a talking mood?  No advice for me today?  Are you sick, Baba?”
“Depending on what you mean by sick, I am very sick.”
He prods me to tell him what’s the matter.
“I’m sick of haunting questions that seem too big for simple answers: how and why we believe in the beliefs we believe?”
“In my case, it is you, Baba, who are busy forming my consciousness.  This is monopoly.  It should be made illegal!  But still, brainwashing or no, Baba, never forget I’m with you all the way.”  His big laughter makes me smile.  His beautiful brown eyes see through my despair.
I notice that I am the kid and Bobby is the adult in this conversation.  I know he is special, but I won’t tell him so, not in so many words.  If I did, he would have “monopoly power” over me.  Bobby surprises me every day, but so far so good.
Later, when Bobby is asleep, I feel more distanced, cold, and lonely than Mount Everest on a moonless night, but do not want to remain as silent, or as lonely.  I call Jesus Constanza, but he is not home.  Then I call Maria.  We chat for a while about what has happened and I prattle on about the Jesus Conundrum that plagues dissidents, saints, saviors, and alethophobic professors.  She welcomes me to what she calls “marginalized souls in purgatory,” and assures me with her convincing voice: “I now appoint myself as a member of your support group, Pirooz.”
Later in the evening, feeling much too lonely, I can think of only one thing.  Get out of this sexual funk.  I think of calling Tanya, the beautiful Russian exchange teacher I met in the library a few days before.  She seems unattached.  But I dismiss the idea.  It is too late for tonight.  I fantasize about the policewoman.  But who is she who sparkles naked in my neurons, and refuses to be extinguished?  I must find her, as I found my new self.
But what if she is already taken?  My mind wanders again.  We mammals are condemned to seed, and seed in the most beautiful and fertile gardens, and since that is not possible, we are condemned to be frustrated!  At times we confuse nature’s command with the fuzzy word love.  Love is for art, science, family, truth, justice, etc.  Erectinal love is just sex!  Copulation of strangers would be as natural as breathing if there were no guilt and no AIDS and no fears.
For a brief moment I wish I were back in Iran, as if there were no problems back there.  Between the Iraqis’ bombs and the mullahs’ rigid interpretations of the Koranic verses, my people have become meat in a giant McDonald’s hamburger.  No, I do not really wish I were back there.  I feel like a defeated army with nowhere to retreat.  I try to read, but can’t.  The TV bores me -- no, it tortures me.  So, I go to bed and beg the angel of sleep to hurry and rescue me from my thoughts.  Soon, in my first nightmare, The Big Red, with a red beard and a huge syringe in hand, chases me all over the campus.
I wake up rethinking about the attack of The Big Red against me.  I do not mind being called an atheist, since it is very likely that I am one.  “Alien” does not bother me either, since more often than not I feel like one, a bewildered visitor to an unfathomable world.  The word “raghead”, however, cuts me to the quick.  It refers to the traditional linen headdresses, the turbans, worn by Moslem men.  I often hear “camel jockey”, too; and “A-rab”, even though very few Middle Eastern people ride camels, and the Arabs make up only one ethnic group in the so-called Moslem world.
There are so many of these words: Nigger, Kike, Injun, Spik, Mick, Frog, Gook, Jap, Gringo, Chink, mackerel snapper, redneck, yuppie, chick, broad, fag, and raghead.  It is unfortunate to have such a rich cornucopia of names.  They make killing and stealing and hating so easy.  They are the mother’s milk of Alethophobia.  I am as human as the next guy, as ignorant as the next guy, as afraid of truth as the next guy.  Lying is the most equal opportunity thing since the dawn of language.  Falsehood nests only in the human brain.
‘Guy’ started out as one of these words, by the way.  Today we use it to describe ourselves and our friends, to confer a positive, every-man status on strangers: regular guys, one of the guys, a nice bunch of guys.  When the British started using it in the 1800s, it referred to some regular guy named Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up King James and Parliament.  It was a name to bring ridicule back then.  So, perhaps there is hope for me.  Three hundred years from now, raghead may be a compliment.

*               *               *

I know I have already given you two long and troubling words -- Alethophobia, fear of truth, and Philopseudia, incentive to lie, to ponder.  It brings to mind our politicians’ partial-truths and half-lies, imparted to get your vote.  Think of all the donkeys’ asses that have been kissed to keep jobs, or to pursue promotions.  Think of all the fantastic sex that occurs for the sake of a lie.  Philopseudia and Alethophobia are the foul flavors of an unsavory life, my friend.
Some might ask why I would ever complain.  I am allowed to emigrate here from a country you don’t understand or like at the moment; allowed to educate myself at one of your finest universities with fellowships; allowed to become a citizen; given a job with health insurance and a retirement plan; for Christ sakes, I have even been given -- tenure -- a form of job security most American workers only dream about.  Believe me, I am grateful for all these things.  I don’t want to be obnoxious, or disagreeable.    
I’m just not satisfied to be freer than I was in Iran.  America offers a great chance for truth.  I only want to see it realized and embraced.  Not feared and manipulated.

*               *               *

Two days later, the department secretary hands me three dropout slips.  It seems that The Big Red and two others would rather forfeit their parents’ money than risk mental contamination by me.  It is obvious that my reality is changing.
At the faculty restaurant the next day, I get a plate of cottage cheese, some vegetables, and half a cantaloupe.  I take my tray into the rather empty dining hall where the department chairman is making himself comfortable at a table by the second floor window, which overlooks the college walk.  Since eating alone can be worse for me than not eating at all, I join him.
“Hello, George,” I say and greet him as warmly as I can.
He stands up, nods, as if to a stranger, then walks away mumbling, “Excuse me.”
Maybe he has had a sudden call of nature, I conjecture.  I wait for him to return, watching the steam off his soup slowly evaporating and vanishing.  As I take a spoonful of cottage cheese, I glimpse him outside, heading toward his office.  For George, eating with me is apparently worse than not eating at all.  
Like the steam off his soup, the exhilaration of my classroom confession vanishes.  I feel guilty, as if I am responsible for his rejection of me.
That evening, the white lumps of rejection still blocking my throat, I push away my plate of salmon and rice.  Bobby wonders why I’m not hungry, I lie, and he knows it.  If I am able to confess to strangers, why am I unable to tell a simple truth to my son?  My failure as a father joins George’s rejection and the lump of cottage cheese in my throat.  
Even though my Bobby sits close enough for me to hug, I feel so alone.  My two brothers and my mother live in New York City.  My father is back in Iran, buried in the holy city of Ghom.  Bobby’s mother lives in New York and changes her address and phone number constantly, as if haunted by the immigration office sharp shooters.  So for now, it is just me and my son -- with whom I can’t even be truthful! To win custody of him, I had to walk barefoot across shards of molten glass.  And now I lie to him with my silence.
The next morning in my school mail, I receive an unsigned letter typed in capital letters, except for my name!  It says:

Word of my heresy spreads quickly.  Soon Maria Firestone and Dr. Off are the only two faculty members who do not hop off like frightened rabbits when they see me coming.  In fact, they go out of their way to be seen with me.  They recount the output of the gossip machine to me.  My words, like anyone’s in a rumor mill, are taken out of context, deformed, and exaggerated.  
One day, Maria rattles off all the unkind words she has heard about me from other professors: Uncouth.  Maverick.  Unprofessional.  Ungrateful.  Loose Iranian cannon.  Dr. Off is more analytical: “Few are upset that you’ve been lying to your students. But, everybody is worried their students will be asking them if they’ve been lying to them like Professor Pirooz!”
“Cowards,” I grumble.
“That’s your other sin,” Dr. Off tells me.  “You should never have called all professors cowards.  You’ve scared the daylights out of them and turned them into your sworn enemies.”
So, the poisonous words about me whirl around the campus and destroy my standing with the velocity of a Kansas tornado.  Noticing ominous glances sweep over me as if I had leprosy, I stop eating in the cafeteria.  However, no one confronts me and engages in a dialogue with me.  Not surprisingly, their silent hostility fuels my rage, so I intensify my assault on the idols of Alethophobia.  
“Let’s face it,” I tell my huge introductory class, the class my new young friend Amerique hides in, “America, the beautiful is in the mind, but the uglifying of America is what’s happening. Observe the suburban strip malls creeping upon us from coast to coast.  Observe the millions of beautiful acres being paved with concrete, putrefied with garbage, and jeopardized by radioactive dumps.  Observe the meadows and mountains hidden by billboards touting cigarettes and beer.  Observe the old sections of once great cities being allowed to rot.  Breathe the poisoned air, drink the poisoned water, and eat the poisonous junk foods laden with white death, and get cancer.  Dammit!  Look around, and look until your eyes get sore, and listen, until your ears ache from partial-truths and half-lies floating everywhere like turds in America’s rivers!
“If you want to know about the American Dream, ask the multitudes of homeless, the hungry, the abused children and battered wives; ask the speechless and helpless immigrants in sweat shops and farms across the land; ask the millions upon millions of drug addicts, the millions driven to madness by their bosses and their bills, by their hours imprisoned on interstate highways listening to their angry radios; ask the millions in jail; ask the millions in therapy; ask the millions with no idea how to pay their credit card debts; ask the ghosts of the tens of thousands every year who take their own lives; ask the people in other countries who suffer from our self-righteousness, from our arrogance, from our greed, from our dominance, our exploitation and our bombs and Agent Orange poisoning the land and the people of Vietnam and finally ask yourself: Why, dammit, why do I still think America is beautiful or perfect and cannot be made better?”  I hesitate and whisper, as if to myself.  “And ask about my wounds.”
“Jesus Christ, professor Pirooz,” someone says, “what is wrong?”  
“Jesus was a rabbi who performed miracles in public, claimed virgin birth, as others had claimed before him, and was crucified for demanding love to be a guideline of human behavior.”
Then I stop cold, with a burning face and icy sweat.  I sweep the hall with my worried eyes.  The way my students look at me, or try to look away, makes me feel as if I was standing stark naked, as if guns were aiming at my brain.  Why am I doing this?  Am I still fuming because the CIA installed the Shah as a dictator in Iran whose police killed some of my friends, or angry because they imprisoned and tortured my uncle with instruments supplied by the CIA?  Is it because I was forced into self-exile?  But that was so many years ago, I think.  Do I reject America, because I am homesick or because I want justice for a large part of the world mistreated?  Am I angry with the Media for demonizing my fellow Iranians?  Why am I not talking about American scientific, artistic, medical, and economic achievements, or the many wonderful individuals I know?  Am I blind-sided?  Why am I here?  I know I ran away from possible arrest, torture, and death in Iran, and came hear at fifteen to know what is going on?  But it was a CIA organized coup in Iran that overthrew the popular democratic administration of Dr. Mossadegh and installed the Shah -- a bloody dictator.  And this was orchestrated all for oil.  I escaped to the belly of the US beast for safety -- how ironic!  Am I really trying to save my students’ partly-empty brains from becoming a depository of lies, or am I simply and selfishly trying to salvage what is left of my identity?
I hear a basketball player yell, “Love it or leave it, raghead.”
“I am wearing a beret, you jumping oak!” I yell back.  Then I say this: “Anyone who uncritically accepts things as they are, is semi-chloroformed!  Hallucinating that America is beautiful is not good enough for me -- not for this citizen!  America the Beautiful must be made beautiful on the inside, too.  Pretty trees and mountains are not enough.  I want my taxes spent to make America beautiful, not to kill people across continents as if they were mosquitoes.  Do you hear me?”  As I rant, I think of what J.J., the decorated veteran and lifetime Janitor, says about what the acronym U.S. means to him:  “Urine and Shit.”  I hear myself shouting it over and over, without explanation to my students: “Urine and Shit!  Urine and Shit!”
About six hundred eyes stare at me in disbelief, as if I am a caged monkey screeching because no one has brought me a banana.  I run out of the hall.  Their nervous giggles chase me.  I begin to realize that I’m out of control as I’m accused to be.
Soon, I receive another unsigned letter.
I fear that these new threats are more devastating than the poisonous gossip about me reported by Maria and Dr. Off.  By just a few lectures, I’ve turned myself into a traitorous, demonic person.  Maria tells me that yesterday in the cafeteria The Big Red called me a communist.  Daniel retaliated by calling him a redneck goon.  The argument led to a shoving match that Daniel lost, even before it was his turn.  Maria also tells me that The Big Red’s father is a big contributor to the university.  “Which means I am in big trouble,” I joke darkly.  
So, I become a lone iconoclast, paying the high price of not playing by the unwritten rules.  I declare in a lecture, “This isn’t a university, it is a glorified temple of national religion.  It is an untended garden where Alethophobia and Philopseudia prosper like weeds and mosquitoes.”  A student asks me what we should do.  I reply: “As a starter we must use our great potential to become what we claim that we already are.  We must improve our democracy and support democratic – not dictatorial -- regimes throughout the world.  We must also have parents, educators, artists, scientists, physicians and philosophers have an input in Media programming. As it is only businessmen decide what we hear and see on TV.  They have only one goal in mind – profit.  We need a more enlightened citizenry.

*               *               *

One night I wake from a nightmare sweaty with doubt and remorse.  While my clock pounds like a bass drum in a military parade, I chastise myself: “Dammit, Pirooz!  You are losing your mind.  You are being anti-reality!  You will be annihilated just like anti-matter when it collides with matter!  Even if every mind is stuffed full with false beliefs as you say, who elected you Mr. Universe Vacuum Cleaner?  Back off.  Apologize.  Blame it on an allergy.
Call Tanya, I think.  Maybe if you are lucky, your spurting sperm can cleanse you of your demons.  In the morning, I’m my usual disagreeable self again.  I know my words are a threat to me, just as they are a threat to the other professors.  I have torn myself from my peers. Those who know, and know that they know, consider the separation of inner and outer selves a professional necessity, even an occupational hazard, like a prostitute’s vaginal warts.
The teaching schedule for the fall term is finally out.  I have been given very early classes and very late classes.  I have been stuffed away in classrooms far from my office and have been given all unpopular courses.  Even junior faculty wouldn’t be treated so shabbily.  
Many of my graduate students now follow the hostile faculty and begin to ignore my greetings.  I don’t know whom to greet and whom not to greet.  Fear of rejection forces me to turn my face away even from those who are not unfriendly.  Paranoia invades me: I am being psycho-lynched!  I may need counseling and consoling.
New stresses and strains begin to mount around me and within me.  Insomnia takes over and an ulcer chews on me.  I’m torn apart again, but this time it’s for trying to be me.  I talk to myself not only in the middle of the night, but also in the middle of the day: “I have a right to be myself as long as I don’t violate others’ rights.  I must regain, and retain my identity, for me, for my Bobby.  I must survive.  I must survive.”  As I write this poem my tears precede my words.  

I must be blind and deaf, searching for the world
Or else denying what I find, to find another world.
I thank my parents for bringing me into this world
But curse history for bringing this world to me,
I’m an orphan planet with no sun to turn to,  
As wolves of the darkness keep howling around me.
I’m a monster to so many
And I’m becoming a monster to myself.
I’m the book of the future, waiting to be
Written, but, the author is long gone.  
I’m a nail, hammered by my fate,
But I refuse to go in, and fit into my fate.
I’m the mind of humankind tortured with lies,
Like justice, liberty, happiness, faith, and hope.
I’m a river held back by concrete and steel,
My teardrops escaping the dam—into the unknown.  
I’m time, wounded, exhausted, and despaired,
Whipped by myself to move on, to move on, and to move on!
I’m space, dreading all that exists,
But I’m forced to hold all that exists,
I’m a bed, waiting to be made, waiting,
Missing love, missing love, missing love.

 A couple of days later Bobby asks, “What is wrong, Baba?  You wrote that sad poem I found on your desk which is not even true because I love you.”
“It is nothing Bobby,” I answer, “nothing really.  I am just a bit down.  I will snap out of it soon, when the sun is out.”
“OK, Baba, you can tell me what’s wrong when you’re ready -- but not later.  I’ve been very patient with you, the way you are with me sometimes.  But don’t let this phony-baloney nothingness do you any real damage.  You are the only Baba we’ve got.”  His words force a bitter smile on my unloved lips.  He has made me my own Baba!  I give him a big lasting hug.
One afternoon as we are walking across the commons, Maria warns me that all the harassment is just a warning, to make me alter my behavior.  She makes a joke: “If you don’t alter your behavior, Pirooz, your enemies are going to change that alter to an altar, where you will be disemboweled like a sheep!”
And as dark as it is, I shock her with a quick kiss on her cheek.  “And you, Maria, are my beautiful pure-black intelligence!”
That night she calls me at home to encourage me: “More than anything -- certainly more than buildings, football victories, grants, and empty words -- this university needs a whistle-blower.  Every institution in the country needs a whistle-blower.  You already have some dedicated fans, Pirooz.  But please watch yourself.”  She tells me we’ll get together when she gets back from her conference in Palm Springs.  
“Why,” I tease, “are all your conferences in Palm Springs or Hawaii?”
“The value of any academic conference is directly related to the number of tennis courts and palm trees,” she teases back, adding: “I thought you were a smart man, Pirooz?”
While she’s gone, Daniel the Mirror and his girlfriend Lia send me a surrealist post card they’ve made.  It has a man with a French beret -- In case I haven’t told you yet, I always wear one -- holding a lighthouse several times his own size, standing on a cliff in a dark night with the sea below convulsing, hurling up wolf-like waves.
Amerique and Jesus keep supporting me, too.  Amerique hugs me without reservation.  “You are one awesome dude,” she says one day after class while dozens of her fellow students are still in the hall.  “We love you, we love you, goddammit!”
“Goddamit.” I say.  “Only a few souls are left in my ‘ we–love–you’ basket.”  
One day in a coffee shop off campus, Jesus holds my hands in his big hands and remarks: “Thank you for waking us up, Pirooz.  Those who are shocked now, will see the courage and sincerity of your heart later.  The college must provide more than socialization.”
One Saturday Jesus and Amerique take me out for lunch and tease me about my sagging love life.  But I say nothing of my strange enchantment with the mysterious police officer, or the tempting Russian woman, Tanya, whom I met a few weeks back in the library, as I told you.  I also hide my now and then frolicking in the waterbed bed of President Wright’s secretary.  I am afraid they will take me for a lecherous scamp.  Am I already paranoid?  I notice that I seem to dissimulate regularly even from my son and my friends.  Soon I’m afraid I may start dissimulating from myself.  
These are my choices: I must conform outwardly and thus be deformed inwardly, or see my social identity further deformed by more vicious innuendoes.  I also dissimulate my agony from everybody, even from myself.  What I’m telling you now, I first told my red Toyota to see how it would react.  It listened, and didn’t respond judgmentally.  Sometimes inanimate objects are silently wiser than animate things.  What do you think?  Is it me who is off, or is it my tormentors?  Oh, my God, how bitter I’ve become.
I have noticed a depressing pattern in life: Fear and want never leave anyone entirely alone.  Some kind of poverty climbs with us as we try to climb out of it.  Once hunger is satisfied, then the need for health and shelter dominates and, right away, sex knocks urgently at the door.  When these basic needs are satisfied, curiosity about all things creates a need for the arts and sciences.  Soon we notice our poverty of the spirit.  Soon we notice our cravings for love, for respect, for recognition, for liberty, for meaning in this life, and for salvation in the hereafter.  So the hunger never leaves us alone.  Life is a constant hunger, a constant foraging constantly for fulfillment.  We are the Milky Way’s starved tribe!  So I come back -- as I usually do -- to where I started.  To Sex.  I’m starved.  Sex is a natural healer -- hopefully with no side effects!  Sex -- shall I call it lovemaking to make it sound better -- will relieve me.  I am starving for it.
I have diagnosed myself as a sexoholic because of what I consider to be a dependency, a problem.  According to my upbringing, sex is considered good only when it is sanctioned in matrimony.  Outside marriage, it is pathological.  A sin.  Of course, you may think this is all nonsense, and I do too, really.  But it is a problem nevertheless, actually a tragedy of sorts.  I find it impossible to deprogram myself.  As you know, guilt is imbedded deeply in us.  Try to learn a new language, to change your religion, or develop new tastes in food, or lose some weight.  Try creating an entirely new lifestyle, as if you were just born.  Try!  You will find it harder than scaling the Washington Monument with butter on your bare feet.  Though new software cannot be inserted in our brains nevertheless the self-conscious consciousness can de-program or re-program itself, and thus you!
Freud would say psychoanalyses could help.  I wish he were here to analyze me.  Now, alone at home and trying to alleviate painful thoughts, I think of Tanya, the Russian exchange literature teacher.  I think of myself as a sun person, and of people from warm climates as sun people, who are generally humanistic and spiritual.  Tanya is from a cold country, one of the ice people, who, according to my stereotype, are mostly materialistic and domineering.  In fact, she seems to me the Russian version of the policewoman, whom I don’t know, but who lurks in my mind now and then without my consent.  Yes, she seems to have arrested my neurons one by one until she has captured them all.  The policewoman is not available, but Tanya could be.  
This division of people into ice people and sun people is, of course, self-serving and silly, I remind myself.  Even though Tanya is from Russia, she is the fire inside the ice.  I already know that.  Then I think of the sun glistening on ice, its rays refracting into so many colors, the ice melting with joy in the arms of the sun’s loving caresses.  Maybe opposites do attract.
Anyhow, I need Tanya now, and as close to now and to me as possible.  I need more.  I must escape from everything and into her arms, if she will take me.  God, if you are not dead and can hear me, tell Tanya to take me!  I am so isolated.  I’m so lonely.  I need love!  I need more than the  now and then sex with President Wright’s secretary!
These random thoughts and expectations do me some good, but not enough.  So I tell myself: To hell with what your students, colleagues, and bosses think of you.  Put their disapproval out of your mind, just as you put out the trash on Monday mornings.  Don’t shoot bullets of despair through yourself.
I turn to the Sungod, my point of reference, symbolic and real.  I meditate: “Magnificent benefactor of life and vision, I beg of you:  focus your beams on hardened hearts -- mine included -- and please also direct Tanya to me.”  Then I laugh, then I cry, then I think I must be wrong in thinking others are wrong, and worry that I’m flimflamming into insanity.
I pick up the phone and call Tanya.  We agree to meet for lunch.  Then I go to the long mirror in my bedroom and look at my tall frame and mast-like shoulders.  I study my drooping mustache and my chocolate-brown eyes and my mischievous Persian smile.  “Lunch?  Ha-ha!  How innocent, Pirooz!  You fool the world by your semi-dissimulation and now you consciously fool yourself, too, Pirooz!  Do you think Tanya will like you?” 

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Novel / Novella
writing MParvin
Professor Manoucher Parvin, a polymath, has published novels, poems, short stories and numerous works in various fields of sciences.
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a•leth•o•pho•bi•a ( ă -leth- o' - fo´be- ă) n. 1. A crippling fear of truth. 2. The inability to accept unflattering facts about your nation, religion, culture, ethnic group, or yourself. [Greek aletho, truth + phobia Late Latin, from Greek, from phobos, fear.] a•leth•o•pho´bi•ac´ (-ak) n. a•leth•o´pho´bic (-fo´bik, fob´ik) adj. & n. Alethphobically