Arzon Supermarket is in my opinion Toronto's finest Iranian grocery store. They are open 24 hours and I go all the time, usually very late at night, typically ordering either the fesanjoon stew or some of the various kebabs, grilled over what in the wee hours are just little piles of pale charcoal dust tended by a kindly white haired old man. He takes a torn piece of cardboard and waves it over your food. And that charcoal dust, seemingly hopelessly spent, springs back into life red hot.
On a recent day I went to the store with my mother much earlier than normal, at around 8pm. My mom and I were there to get some baklava pastries. The two guys who are always there late at night manning the cash register were already there. They are both about late middle age. I see them all the time but I don't know their names. One of them is very handsome and I've always thought he looks like an Iranian George Clooney or Cary Grant. The other man has the bulldog look of a beleaguered business man, which makes me believe he is the owner even though I don't think he is. I've always wanted to get to know these guys but other than pleasantries while paying I have never have really talked to them.
With their help, my mom and I chose some pastries from the glass cases underneath the cash register. And we told both of them how we were going to serve these pastries at a charity dinner at a church. This seemed to pique the interest of the handsome one, but there were a bunch of customers in line behind us so we moved on and perused a bit in the store. There are hundreds of products in their brightly colored Farsi wrappers, fresh flatbreads strewn on shelves, towers of lemons, hookahs and pottery on high racks, portraits of royalty, flags, posters for visiting singers - an attempt to fit all that is longed for of home into one little store.
My mom and I wandered over to the middle of the store. I showed her the freezer filled with sunshine-yellow saffron-and-rose-water ice cream. There are tubs of the ice cream alone, and some of it is sold in plastic cups where the ice cream sits swirled atop a pile of what look like white noodles. My mom and I have never seen ice cream with noodles and we wondered what it might be. The line at the cash had dissipated and I asked the guys there what these noodles were. They told me that they are made of rice, powdered rice. Persian heartthrob showed me a little bag of it in the form of flakes.
Then he came around the counter and asked me and my mom to follow him. The three of us went over to a narrow aisle in the store where they have bulk bins. He reached down and handed us these little white things, misshapen bits like from the bottom of instant noodles. Mixed in with these were flakes and odd gravelly stone shapes very small and tiny. He motioned that we should taste them, and right as we put them in our mouths he says, "I want to ask for your help, can you help me find a woman?" Immediately I'm thinking this guy wants to ask my mom out or something, my newly widowed mom, but he kept going, "Do you know anyone? I've tried but all the women I meet are bad, they like to drink too much and do drugs and smoke. Do you know anyone at the church?" My mom looks at him with both kindness and sadness and says that she had met her husband at church, and then with a laugh that not all people at church are good. And we asked him about online dating and he said it didn't work. He said he didn't care about ethnicity or religion or anything, he said he was just desperate to meet a nice woman. Can anyone help him?
My mom and I left with our pastries, not sure of what we should think. The white flakes we tried were totally flavorless and tasted like chalk, like the bitterness and emptiness of a life without love.