By Misha Mehrel, a student in Writing Class Radio. He shares a story he wrote in class.
My mother was one of the original video pirates. She’d rent VHS tapes from Blockbuster and copy them onto her own blank tapes. She made hundreds of duplicates, the titles scribbled on little white tags. It became a compulsion. Even if she didn’t like the movie, she’d copy it, and neatly stack it with all the other hoarded tapes in the white wooden cabinets below the television. Eventually, Blockbuster caught on and the tapes came with a lock on them, so she started renting from a local video store called, New Concept. Besides them not locking their tapes, they also had a more independent collection of movies. I remember running my finger along eclectic titles like, “Ichi The Killer”, “Knife in the Water”, and “The Piano Teacher”.
There was a special section, behind these thick velvet curtains, where I’d poke my head while my mom had hers buried in the Iranian Film section. Behind the curtains was a sea of flesh colored VHS sleeves, pornos stacked on aisle upon aisle. I was probably nine or ten and sex was already a big mystery. My mother has always given off this impression that she’s very open-minded and kind of la-di-da, and she kind of is – I’ve always seen her as a real life Annie Hall: beautiful, nonchalant, warm yet neurotic, and always throwing on mismatched outfits that somehow look incredible on her – but unlike Annie Hall, my mom is Kurdish, and Iranian, and Muslim. That’s the thing, along with the Kurdish Iranian Muslim-ness, comes all this embedded repression about sex. There’s this story I like to tell people about my Grandmother, her mother, Salime, whom we called her Maman Joon. When I was 7 or 8 she came to visit us in Florida, it was during hurricane George, which turned out to be pretty tepid. Every so often Maman Joon would try pulling my pants down to check if I was circumcised. My mom sat down with her and assured her I was, but Maman Joon needed to see it with her own eyes. She wound up catching a glimpse of it, but since her memory was going, she’d forget whether saw it, and then try again. I enjoy telling this story because I feel like it confuses people the same way I’ve been confused in regards to my mother, my grandmother, and all things penis related. That old world Kurdish Iranian Muslim-ness, in combination with my father’s ‘Jewish German never trust a German or an-anyone-else-ness’, have been integrated into their new life here, in America. Cut to video pirating days.
My mom didn’t only copy the films, she also edited them, censoring out all the scenes she saw as inappropriate for us kids. She’d cut out entire portions of the movies: any bits with kissing, or boobs, or explosions, she’d just fast forward through them on her copies. I don’t think there was even one movie from my childhood that didn’t suddenly freeze over the image of two people, clearly about to kiss, and then speed up with those gray squiggly bands across the screen, all the action hidden by the chaos of fast-forwarding. For years I thought the movie Grease, with my then idol, John Travolta, was this avant-garde experiment of structure, with odd holes in the story, and characters would pop up and then disappear for the rest of the movie, until years later when I realized that my mother had fast forwarded through maybe a third of the film. Then there was the Wizard of Oz; the flying monkeys scared the shit out of my sister, so my mom made a new version without flying monkeys in it, which I have to say, didn’t affect the story that much.
I understand why she did it. She didn’t want us exposed to those violating images of debauchery and violence. She wanted to protect us. And there’s something endearing about the panicked, urgent ways my mother used to scramble, somehow tying together these severed movies. The mother’s cut to all these movies, which in the end resembled something like my life: scattered and confusing with very little sex.
Writing Class Radio
Writing Class Radio is a podcast of a writing class. It is for people who love stories and who get inspired by hearing other people tell their stories and who want to learn a little bit about how to write their own stories.
There's no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and telling our stories.