Porochista Khakpour is the kind of person that makes you wonder where you went wrong. She is attractive, of course. She is brilliant, of course. But there is something more, a breath of worldly sophistication accompanies her. Sort of like… I am the chicken and find myself sitting in a restaurant, talking with Colonel Saunders about side dish recipies. She can make a guy nervous. We are riding in Esmerelda heading south along the picturesque Gallatin Highway toward Yellowstone. She asks me who I will tell when I find Forrest’s treasure.
But let’s move back a little in time. It’s the first week in August, 2013 and I am around the West Yellowstone neighborhood. Things are moving briskly. I came out here this time of year, in spite of my intense desire to avoid Yellowstone during peak visitor season, just to be with the BBC. They are here filming a story about Forrest’s treasure hunt and my searching experience in the Red Canyon is part of their story.
A few days earlier, before I leave my island home for the mountains north of Santa Fe, Forrest writes that a lovely and charming, dark haired journalist by the name of Porochista Khakpour is penning a story about him for a national magazine. She has spent several days interviewing him in Santa Fe and even visited his friends in Temple, Texas. He further writes that the poor deprived woman has never had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone and since I am headed there perhaps I could meet her at the airport in Bozeman and take her to all the important places in the most important park in the country. “You’ll like her,” he adds.
Forrest also puts me in touch with a member of his family who lives in Montana and happens to have rental accommodations near the park. His relative, Chip, agrees to put Prochista and me up for a couple of days. So, now I have an appointment to be a guide for someone who needs to know everything there is to know about Forrest. I have free accommodations arranged by Forrest and I am going to meet a relative of Forrest’s who clearly must have some idea where the treasure is hidden. Sounds like a plan made in heaven.
Except…what kind of name is Porochista Khakpour? Who is this dark haired siren about which Forrest has told me little? If I were not curious I wouldn’t be looking for the treasure in the first place. Hand me that computer.
I know for certain that she’s not from the eastern European neighborhood in Detroit where I grew up. Too many vowels in her name. Kids there had last names like Wojciechowski and Czarnecki. She’s not Polish, Slav, Romanian or German. Maybe Italian…I try pronouncing her first name aloud as if she were a fine goat cheese from southern Italy…”poor-ohh-cheeeees’-ta”. It sounds right..it’s also fun to say. I decide she is Italian.
Not long after I consign Porochista, along with Muscato wine and hard salami, to the Italian corner of my brain I get cc’d on a note from Forrest to Porochista and Chip that reads something to the effect of-
“Chip, whatever you do don’t let anyone find the treasure up on Grayling Creek.”
I stared at that line for awhile. I cocked my head one way and then another…like a black lab watching a squirrel. I read it a few hundred times to make sure I had all 14 words in proper order in my brain. I took a short walk out in the woods. I ran into a beautiful Sphinx moth and took a few mindless pics.
Then I came back to the house, opened the laptop and looked at the message again. All 14 words were still there. That sneaky Forrest. He knows I won’t be able to look anywhere I’d planned now that Grayling Creek is stuck in my head. Of course it’s a red herring. Of course Forrest is having fun with us. I know this as clearly as I know my own name. I’ll bet he’s smiling right now! For some reason Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne in the film, The Witches of Eastwick comes to mind.
I need to stop thinking about Grayling Creek. I decide to look up Porochista and see what kind of journalist she really is. To my surprise, before I even get her entire first name punched into Google her full name pops up in two dozen different references. Not like mine does. Not at various state and federal criminal postings but at places like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Village Voice…impressive stuff! She’s written for those three and more and her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, has garnered notable awards including the California Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. The only thing I can see to hold against her is that she is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence. On the upside she has an MA from Johns Hopkins.
I was concerned. Porochista and I clearly have little in common. I was lucky to get into a state college and my accomplishments so far are pretty narrow compared to her own. What will we talk about? I have to spend 2.75 days with her. Esmerelda will be happy for someone intelligent to listen to. Do I resent her? Am I humbled by her? Am I frightened of her? Will this be a crummy 2.75 days? Based on her profile Porochista is probably vegan and can’t even savor a simple pizza with pepperoni. Will she show up in some highly fashionable but unhikeable shoes? Maybe there is a good reason she has not been to Yellowstone. Maybe she doesn’t even like bear, buffalo and beaver…unthinkable, but possible…she’s from NYC.
But wait! This isn’t a date. This is an assignment. Show her the treats of Yellowstone. Show her the secular icon’s of Forrest’s youth in the wild and woolly west. I can do that as well as anyone. Forrest is what we have in common. She just spent several days with him. I can probably garner information that will help me think creatively about the treasure…I am beginning to see how only good can come from this. Just don’t stress the small stuff, I tell myself.
Confidence is in the ether.
A few more lines in Wikipedia and I discover Italy is not even close. Not even on the same continent where Porochista is from. She was born in Tehran, Persia…aka Iran. Her family fled during the revolution in the 80s. She speaks fluent Arabic and her book is about the aftermath of 9/11 and it’s effect on sons who in every culture try to find part of themselves in their fathers. Alice McDermott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her wonderful book, After This, described Porochista’s novel:
“Sons and Other Flammable Objects is a marvelous novel: witty, wise, continually surprising, continually inventive, exuberant, heartbreaking. It resists the easy categories of immigrant lit, family saga, first novel—because it is, first and foremost, a delightful, generous work of literary art.”
—Alice McDermott, author of Charming Billy
Confidence evaporates in the ether.
Ding! An email from Chip. “My plan is to walk straight to the treasure with you sometime Sunday.”
Back out to the woods and find the Sphinx moth for more portraits.
So now it’s Saturday, day of reckoning and I am sitting in Esmerelda at the Bozeman airport, short-term parking lot. I am considering the next 65 hours with Porochista. She writes for national magazines, the biggest and baddest newspapers and has a wildly successful novel to her credit. I write posts on a blog. The gap is wide. The possibility for learning is vast.
I am an hour early, as is my lot in life. Lateness is one of the eight deadly sins…wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and lateness. I like to have knowledge of a place…get there in advance…know where the exits are…the fire extinguishers…the restrooms. If someone told me that after this life I was going to have to come back as an airport I would prefer to come back as the Bozeman airport. It is efficient and friendly and the fire extinguishers are conveniently located.
I am thinking about how to greet Porochista. I have never met her. But we have exchanged email. She wanted to make certain I was going to meet her in Bozeman on time. A worrier. I liked that about her. But now, the issue at hand was “hug” or “shake”. Did one or two emails and a common friendship with Forrest constitute a socially acceptable welcoming “hug”…or should I retreat to the always acceptable yet somewhat off-putting handshake? What to do? It’s never an issue between guys. I can only remember actually hugging a few men in my life. Proper hugging was not part of “de rigueur” taught in Marine Boot Camp. I learned to salute. I learned the value of a solid, single pump handshake. I learned how to greet the enemy with a simple thrust and twist of my bayonet. Nothing about hugs. Sister Mary Linus never taught us about hugging in Catholic school either. In fact, I am pretty certain, had I actually hugged one of my female peers in 7th grade I would have been taken out and turned to salt on the spot. Touching, even handshaking was frowned upon between the genders in Sister Linus’ classes.
Not only was I never taught when a hug was appropriate. I also struggled with how. My right hand clearly needed to go to the back, in the upper area…perhaps near a shoulder blade. At any rate, above the hook and eye thingy. But the left hand…that was the devil. The allocated area for it to land was lower and smaller, below the bra but there would be hell to pay if it landed too low. And being too high and actually touching the bra was not considered polite either. It was always a gamble. You could get in a lot of trouble by hugging a woman you did not know well. Particularly if her husband was standing behind her. And how close do you place yourself to her? Sister Linus always maintained that a foot was plenty close enough in dancing. But I’d learned from experience that in hugging, a foot of space was not what women who didn’t wear a crucifix expected. It was embarrassing to be pulled closer to a woman than my already shaky stance could afford. My footing lost, I would crash into my hugee like a drunk and lose my balance, sometimes twirling around once or twice in a little uncoordinated ballet that made everyone giggle. To this very day that still happens as I try to maintain the good Sister’s one foot of clean, unromantic air between myself and my hugee. I watch other men smoothly pull off the mixed gender, socially acceptable, greeting hug with a great deal of admiration.
As I enter the luggage collection area in the airport I can see tired passengers from the flight trolling down the steps from the restricted area above. It suddenly occurs to me in a flash of blankness that I cannot remember what Porochista looks like. I am here to meet someone and I don’t know what to look for…a woman. I try to imagine up the photo I saw of her on the web. She looked sophisticated, powerful, … and….and… Jeese! It’s not working. I remember her age as around 30. I am certain she had dark hair. She was from Iran for goodness sake, of course she had dark hair. I think she wore glasses in a photo I saw. It seems like every other passenger is a woman in her 30s with dark hair. I choose a stranger wearing glasses who might be Porochista. I smile at her. Welcoming her to Bozeman. She gives me a look that clearly lets me know I should be handcuffed and removed from the airport.
Tone it down.
I fully expect Porochista to be in the leading group of discharged passengers. Her Sarah Lawrence seat would be in first class. First on and first off. But the line of satiated travelers in linen and silk carrying suit bags, matching brief cases and complimentary roses moves past me and Porochista is not among them. We are now clearly in the economy class group…backpacks and small duffels. More stressed from having perched for three hours in an ergonomically designed seat that offers a tad less comfort than a plank. Still, no Porochista. Next are the partiers…twenty-somethings…t-shirts, shorts and hiking boots. Still no Porohista. Off comes the smartly uniformed crew and then, finally a familiar face from Wikipedia, but wearing a cranberry hoody and magenta sneakers…Porochista has materialized.
I plaster the “welcome to Bozeman” smile on my face and she posts her “thanks for being here on time” smile on hers. She throws her arms comfortably around me and exclaims that we have to stop at a burger joint somewhere…anywhere and get something…anything to eat.
I don’t even remember where my hands land but she does not yell for TSA so I think the hugging part went well. We pick up her small, well worn travel bag and head out the door. As we approach Ezzey, Porochista points and says in an admiring voice that she has read all about Esmerelda and is looking forward to the ride back to Yellowstone in my trustworthy companion. She has read my blog!
“She’s not so bad”, I tell myself.
Part Two – Meeting Chip exploring YNP and searching Grayling Creek. CLICK HERE.