Now it's our turn to be touchy. As anyone who can tell you the location of the holycityofqom (always one word) knows, there are certain times of the year when Moslems are too prickly to approach.
First is Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar when you can't eat or drink while the sun's up. As a result, people who have to work all day must stay up all night schlurping down what they didn't get earlier. That makes them grouchy and dyspeptic and unable to negotiate or stand criticism, even the most constructive kind.
More recently, we've learned there is another month of the year when Islamic tempers get frayed: Muharram. In the holymonthofmuharram the people in the holycityofqom beat themselves with chains and march through the streets wearing winding sheets.
To American eyes, everything that goes on in Iran is a bit strange. It appears to be like an Oz with minarets where the only hope for not being devoured or otherwise zeroed out by the wicked ayatollah of the west is to be saved by the good ayatollah of the east.
We must appear as inexplicable to the Iranians. A visitor from those parts watching our TV a few weeks ago would have seen some blue-eyed Shiites in Minnesota throwing rock 'n' roll records on a bonfire because they offend the Christian god.
Iranian students of American culture may be advising their countrymen that in the U.S.A. this is the holymonthofdecember, when the Christians rush through the streets carrying pine trees and, swept away by emotion, ceaselessly sing sacred music. On every street corner there is an ayatollah in black boots, a red jumpsuit and a long white beard, endlessly tolling a bell. This bell calls the faithful to prayer. The children are forced to line up in front of these ayatollahs and then one by one they must whisper confessions in these ancient holymen's ears. The santatollahs, as they are called by the Americans, must pass judgment on the children. The good children are awarded presents, the most valuable being lumps of coal because, thanks to our saintly Islamic revolution, America no longer has any fuel.
The Americans set great store on the exchange of gifts at the climax of the holymonthofdecember, a day called Christmas. They spend all their money and go into debt for these presents, and it is considered a great shame to give someone a present costing less than the present that person gave you. The origins of the custom are in dispute. Some think it derives from potlatches, or give away-everything feasts of the Kwakiutl Indians; others believe it is done in emulation of the three sorcerers, who, bearing gifts, are supposed to have been led by a star to the crib of the infant Jesus, the Islamic prophet erroneously worshiped by many Americans.
Most Iranians would find the gifts Americans give each other neither beautiful nor useful. There is a device being given this year that beats an egg still in the shell.
Another present is called an Ork Egg. Many Americans believe that a man from outerspace named Mork came to visit them a few years ago from the planet Ork, arriving in an egg. In commemoration of this mystic event, they exchange Ork Eggs in which, according to the newspaper, there is "a fetus-like object surrounded by green play slime."
For American families who don't care to lay the sacred Ork Egg at Christmas, there are other presents that santatollahs direct be given to the children. One is a kit called Dr. Drill & Fill. They also give their children toys named Scorcher Chamber, Sudden Death, Energized Hulk, Sucker Man and Kissin' Barbi. They are a very immoral people.
So I send to the Iranians the traditional greetings of the holy season here: "Wishing you very merry na-nu-na-nu and a hairy narzbatt."