In the spring of 1977 in Tehran, Iran, I was on the ground about to be murdered. I begged the man sitting on my chest not to hit me then felt the jaw-wrenching explosion as the brick came down and slammed into the side of my face. My world went dark, stars shot across my eyes, and the pain thundered in my head. The man raised the brick again, and for a split second, I saw my death.
All trauma leaves imprints: I can clearly remember his face and how his eyes were on fire with rage. Even now, I can see him raise his arm for another blow, perhaps the one that will crack my skull like an eggshell and leave my brains splattered on a dusty side street in Tehran.
This remembrance is not about politics; it’s about stupidity – teenage male stupidity. There were no liquor laws in days of the Shah. The King of Kings was focused on his own self-preservation, and as long as you didn’t cross paths with his internal security force, SAVAK, the city was wide-open. As teenagers we smoked the best hashish, shopped at no-prescription-required pharmacies and drank gallons of cheap Russian vodka. The only thing we didn’t have was our own transportation. We got around via taxis, which was a blessing as the traffic was chaotic and deadly, even for those who weren’t stoned to the gills.
On the night that could have been my last, we were packed into a taxi and headed to a teen dance at the American military base we called the "Gulf District", or GD for short. Along the way, one of my friends suggested that we bail and have a little smoke before facing a night of disco music and awkward attempts at dancing. The idea was to find a nice quiet street, cop a buzz, and then catch another taxi up to GD.
We walked a few blocks off the main drag, found a dark street corner and proceeded to smoke. One of our group, Bill, filtered off from the circle to stretch his legs. The rest of us kept passing the pipe around until a crew of Iranian workmen suddenly poured out of a nearby construction project, screaming and raising holy hell.
The men drug Bill from a nearby parked car and started shoving him around. Bill later confessed that he was trying to hot-wire the car so we could all go for a “joy ride”. The car must have belonged to the workmen because they were pissed. What did Bill know about hot-wiring cars? Nothing except for what he’d seen in the movies, but when you’re stoned, 17, and you’ve never driven a car before – the stupid becomes plausible.
The workmen started wailing on Bill so we ran to his side to bail him out. The rest was quick: boards, rocks, screams and shouts. I punched a man who was trying to club Bill with a two-by-four, then I was hit from behind and found myself on the ground with a man on my chest. He hit me with a brick and I was dazed and defenseless. As I stared up at the angry man, I saw a hiking boot slam against his head. Another of my friends, Tom, pulled me to my feet and said, “We gotta go, man.”
The five of us fought our way free beneath a hailstorm of punches, kicks and curses. As we ran for our lives, we saw a light coming from an open gate. A middle-aged Iranian man stood in the street gesturing us into his carport. We dashed in as he slammed the iron gate shut behind us. A woman stood in the doorway, probably his wife, and motioned for us to come inside. They lead us through their home, out the back door, and through their garden to another gate that opened to the alley. No thank you’s or goodbyes. We ran as fast as we could.
Elton John released a song back in 1975 called "Someone Saved my Life Tonight". To me it’s not about a doomed relationship; it’s about that night in Tehran when my friend Tom saved my life and two complete strangers risked theirs to help some American kids flee into the darkness.