Dinner at IHOP or Life According to Two Lebanese

I think I have figured out my life. It started early this morning. Robert asked me what’s important and I didn’t know the answer. So he told me I couldn’t make any major life decisions without figuring that out first. I don’t like roadblocks so I set to thinking about it right away. What’s important? My mother told me to look for signs to find clarification.

All day I was hit by signs and signals. I try to ignore them but they’re there. It all reminds me of the story called The Hitchhiker. I heard it told by Orson Welles on an old radio show. The hitchhiker appears over and over to the lonely traveller. He tries to outrun him in the rain, veers off course, takes alternate highways and byways, but the hitchhiker is always there. I won’t tell you what happens in the end in case you’re lucky enough to uncover a recording but it’s pretty horrific. The hitchhiker is the signal he cannot escape. My hitchhiker appears in less dramatic ways but still, it’s there…

So we went to dinner with my dad tonight. We’re regulars at IHOP. He likes the kids-eat-free promotion they have there. It really doesn’t matter if the food is edible so long as it’s cheap. My father also likes to engage everyone around him in conversation. No one is safe. Tonight there was a middle aged man with his 86 year-old mother next to us. I guessed she was 86, correctly, but she wasn’t like our great-grandma version of 86. She was a Borat version of 86, complete with comfortable looking chunk-knit leg warmers, a balding head and serious hunchback. He was friendly and patient.

Blah blah blah we get home. Orion goes immediately to Robert and announces that he met a very nice Lebanese Armenian man at IHOP and he really liked him because he was just like Eugene. Robert asked his son politely, “Oh really, in what way?” Orion took barely a second to answer, “He was smart.” Then he announced that he’d like to learn the language Eugene speaks and about Lebanese history. He was disappointed that I didn’t have any in the house right now. I promised I’d get him some from the library tomorrow.

What was it that appealed to him so much about this stranger? Well, he did laugh a lot. And he did remind me of Eugene, too. I’m not sure if it’s because he was Lebanese, but maybe it was. He forgot to eat when he talked (Eugene), he translated to his mother only the necessary information to keep her engaged (Eugene), he listened intently and if he totally agreed or disagreed, we would never know (Eugene), he never once answered a question straight (Eugene) and here’s where I’d like to skip back to the blah blah blah part and describe a few examples.

Question: What’s your favorite color?
Answer: Oh, I like different colors. Green, blue, red, you only want me to choose one? Ok, it’s green, and blue, and red.

Question: What’s your name?
Answer: James.
Question: That’s not your real name. What’s your real name?
Answer: Silent smile.
Question: What did your mother name you?
Answer: You’re very smart. You’re very persistent.

Question: How old are you?
Answer: I don’t talk about age.

I hope you get the point here. I’m really not certain that this kinship could be purely cultural.

My dad went into high-gear jealousy mode when the stranger mentioned he was from Lebanon. (This after playing 50 questions to get the answer.) You could see, from my father’s reaction, why it took 50 questions to get the answer out.

“My wife ran away with a Lebanese guy. Man, he just stole her away from me. He wrote poetry, that’s what got her, poems!”

Another one of my favorite moments was when my dad thought he’d really got him:
“I love gambling. I just love it. Here, I’ll give you 10 bucks if you can guess my daughter’s middle name. You can have 10 tries.”
Asher yelled, “MANDALAY!”
“Forget the 10 bucks,” my dad said. “Where’s the check?”

Well, after an hour and many persistent questions, I finally got ‘James’ to admit his real name was Vatche. Orion was so proud of this accomplishment, which Eugene is also a master of: hold back the info and the recipient actually feels a reward once it’s finally released. I can see why Orion wants to be Lebanese.

I want to become French, or Italian, or Mainien. I don’t think that’s a word but if you’ve read anything about my trip to Portland you know what I mean.

So back to figuring out my whole life. As if my dad hadn’t been enough of a handful (“I’m a little embarrassed by Grandpa,” Asher said shyly on the way home, “He shouts and everything.”) he also plowed out every failure and success of my life. He didn’t bother to blunt the sharp edges of those failures and he certainly sharpened the successes. He also spewed the “My son graduated #1 in his class” a few times in case the guy hadn’t heard the first time. Or maybe he had heard but he hadn’t dished out the shock-and-awe reaction my father was going for. Speaking of shock-and-awe, I saw my son’s shoulders sink and his perfect-parent ideal dashed when he discovered the unforgiveable sins of his mother.Upon hearing my life concentrated thus, I, on the other hand, cemented what’s important to me.

It’s never changed, really, it’s always been there only it was clear and pure early on and then later, as life happens, polluted by environment, family, circumstance and situation. But it’s still there, it’s always there, sometimes cloaked sometimes naked, it’s all there. What’s important? Well, I guess I’ll pretend to be Eugene for the answer to this question; What’s important to you?

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One Response to Dinner at IHOP or Life According to Two Lebanese

  1. Eugene Topalian says:

    This blog of yours makes me want to write! The fingers are not mine, whose are they?
    Long pause – entry from the fingers you guessed. Long pause and chuckle from the Lebanese who takes a while to answer the questions even in his mind.
    From your Mom: What is important to me is to take all the daily joy, the true daily bread my soul needs by looking for it and partake of it. And my deepest joy comes from my family.
    Tiprina , you can ask the question at the beginning of the day, or at any time for that matter, the answer comes the next day, i.e. What took place yesterday, what you and the universe have brought to life… Right now it’s 11:30pm, and the universe wants us to take time out – before the next question pops up, so good night (it’s been a hard day’s night – dot dot dot…
    Bisou et a demain pour plus de sagesse et de belles histoires. Ta Maman

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