On judging books by covers

Published 7:42 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

“Hello, my fine, good friend Ray…” — Monsoor Abisloo

Until the bizarre little guy who apparently makes daily life a living hell for everyone except his family (the members of which he doesn’t have killed, that is) in North Korea moved up several notches on the nuts-with-nukes nightmare hierarchy, there was pretty much unanimous agreement that Iran was at the top of that potential radicals with radiation rating.

And everybody considered an expert on things worldly still thinks Iran represents one of the great troublemakers on the planet and is generally about as stable as nitroglycerin in a ’56 Ford pickup on any street in Jackson.

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But that wasn’t always the case. Until the religious zealots took over there and the subsequent hostage crisis, the U.S. and Iran were on pretty good terms and had quite an active student exchange program between the two countries.

Which leads me to the only Iranian individual I have known on any kind of personal basis, and who, in no way dovetails into the image that most Americans probably have of those folks.

It was 1970, the second semester of my freshman year at the University of Mississippi and thanks to a then not-at-all-unusual screwup in the housing office of that austere institution, I walked into a dorm room to find a guy in a Navy uniform, on his knees, head down, facing the window.

Being most agile of mind in those days, I quickly deduced: “Hmm…don’t think that’s John.” And it wasn’t. John, who like I, thought we would be rooming together that semester, was at that moment getting a similar surprise in another room across campus.

I started to say something, didn’t, and then quickly arising and fairly sprinting toward me with his hand out, the non-John person said “HELLO, my name is Monsoor Abisloo…”

Oh, good, I thought. This was going to be fun.

I shook his hand and introduced myself and this fellow just kept pumping my hand as if he thought water might start coming out of my mouth in a minute. “You are to be here with me, no? Oh, very good, my fine new friend,” he said with what was pretty hard not to understand as genuine glee.

“Well,” I started to say something like, “hold on,” but it was at that instant that the French part of my French-English ancestry kicked in to cause me something of a linguistic dilemma. This fellow just told me his name was “Monsoor Abisloo,” which is a whole lot like “Monsier Abisloo,” so was he telling me he was Mr. Abisloo or Mr. Abis Loo? What the hell did I call this guy and what offense might he take if I got it wrong?

“Well, Abis,” I said, “nice to meet you.”

To which he said, warmly, genuinely, and without drawing a large curved knife, “No, my friend Ray. Monsoor is not a title, it is my name. My name is Monsoor Abisloo, but I will call you Mr. Mosby, if you like.”

Oh, good. Turned into an idiot by the foreign dude.

And that made me smile and after getting the name thing settled, I excused myself for a moment to enjoy a totally wasted discussion of my Daddy’s hard-earned money with a genuine moron in the housing office, after which I settled in for what would prove to be my brief, but memorable Life-With-Monsoor period.

Monsoor was one of those exchange students studying Navy ROTC for what he later let me know was his prescribed would-be naval officer career. As it turned out, he, too, was supposed to have had another roommate, but like me was told by the dope working there that it would be at least a month before the two needed forms to fix things could be changed.

So I said to myself, “What the hell?” A week or two couldn’t hurt; this guy was in a strange place where he didn’t know a soul. Besides, he’d been the first person in my life to ever call me “Mr. Mosby.”

And you know what? Monsoor turned out to be the most thoughtful, most considerate roommate I ever had. He studied diligently but had problems with some of the intricacies of English and I helped him out with that because he would keep telling me with just a hint of desperation in his voice how important it was for him to make good grades “because of his family back home.”

I could translate what that meant and so I wrote some papers for him and he did my college Algebra — a good deal for both of us — and in the process a very strange thing happened. We became friends.

After the housing thing got straight, whenever one of us would see the other on campus there were waves and more often than not a shouted, “HELLO, my good friend Ray.”

So, invariably when I read news of Iran, I can’t help but think of Monsoor and how countries can be bad when their peoples are not. And I know that had we ever gotten into a shooting war with Iran, I wouldn’t have shot Monsoor and he wouldn’t have shot me.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.