When I first saw a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I thought to myself, what the heck is Fritz doing in the newspapers?
My mother knew a Ukrainian handyman that did odd jobs around the house. Sometimes he would come over and just bullshit with her and have a beer or a shot of liquor. I’m sure he’s dead by now, but he sure did resemble the Iranian president.
Fritz was always unshaven and his handyman jobs never required him to wear a tie. He was slender, with an olive skin tone, and had the same kind of wrinkles when he smiled as Ahmadinejad.
Fritz scavenged the sidewalks on garbage days and his worksites for any usable junk to add to his collection at home. A spare bedroom in his house had, among other stuff, a couple of used toilets stored there just in case he needed parts.
One time when Fritz was over my house, our cat jumped through his open Impala door window, fell asleep in the backseat, and took a ride with him back home to Hamtramck. Fifty years ago Hamtramck, was filled with a huge Slavic, mostly Polish population. All my grandparents came from Poland, settled in Hamtramck, and never learned to speak English since they didn’t have to. Everywhere you went, Polish was spoken. Help wanted ads for a bank teller preferred applicants that spoke Polish, and that was just within the last five years. Over the last 30 years, many people from the Middle East and Southern Asia began settling in Hamtramck. Today Hamtramck is the most diverse city in Michigan with 41% of its population coming from foreign lands.
One time Fritz took my mother and I to a closing down paint store in Hamtramck. He went to scavenge more junk for his collection, I think my mother and I went along for the ride. I saw an old wooden shelving unit that I wanted for my books. It was pretty ugly with its splotches of different colored paint, assorted stains, and wobbly legs.
I wanted to cut this shelf down since it was too high and uneven. Fritz liked to think that he was indispensable as a handyman. He said cutting down the legs was a complicated job and I couldn’t just jump in there and start sawing with any success. After all, I was female and not in the handyman line of work. But I measured and measured the shelf and cut it to the height I wanted. Then I painted it my favorite color, green. The shelf sat evenly, sturdily, and freshly painted on the floor and stunned the Ukrainian.
The southeastern corner of the Ukraine and the northwestern corner of Iran is only a day’s car ride from each other. Maybe that explains the physical resemblance between the president and Fritz. Given a few weeks, his ancestors could have walked the distance either way. After World War II, Fritz himself walked from Russia across Poland and Germany to France where he somehow shipped himself to the United States.
So when I see the president of Iran, I can’t just echo hatred over a professed enemy of my country. I have to smile and think back to this Ukrainian character I knew from my childhood. Mahmoud, are you handy around the house? Maybe we can all find unusual, non-destructive connections with our adversaries. The world is not that large, somehow we are all related. Wow I didn’t know I could do bleeding-heart liberal. But it would be nice to give peace a chance.