Touching History

I have always been a person of many passions and interests… and am constantly curious about history and events. Have you ever come close to touching history? Perhaps you attended an historical event or been introduced to a person of great renown?

One of my many diversions has been the Middle East…  its people, history, culture, language and food. Through this interest, I was lucky enough to have met many historical figures, often royalty from that part of the World. For example, I had attended two different dinner parties during the Shah of Iran’s stateside visits, and was seated each time at the Shah’s table, [where I was formally introduced]. The first time, he was with his wife of the moment, Soraya. The second time, years later, he was with a new wife, Farah Diba who sat next to me at dinner. I remember her leaning over to me after we had been introduced and quietly remarking that we had the same name. It turns out that Farah means “Joy” in Farsi! I later became friends with a member of the Shah’s immediate family which lead to a formal invitation to the Shah’s coronation in Tehran. What a thrill! This was at a time when Shah Reza Pahlavi decided to crown himself emperor to celebrate the 2500th Anniversary of Persia. Of course, I didn’t go… but can you imagine all that pomp and circumstance? See?… touching History.

I have another story that is entirely different but terribly tragic.

I love Arabic Music, especially when it is played by a live band with belly dancers and everything. Los Angeles, in the Sixties had many Middle Eastern Night Clubs with music, one of my favorites being in Hollywood, called “The Fez”. I would bypass the lavishly decorated dining room with its expensive menu and high roller clientele, strolling strings, large band, the whole nine yards… and head upstairs. Upstairs was another world entirely. It was a darker moody setting, dangerous looking in a James Bond Movie sort of way, and full of mystery. Patrons were seated on large cushions atop Persian carpets at low tables placed very close together. There was a full bar… an oud player with percussionists and belly dancer.     The music was so sexy and seductive. When the mood and atmosphere had risen to its most decadent point, listeners were encouraged by the belly dancer to get up and join in. Sometimes she would start a line dance, leading with her scarf ala Zorba the Greek. Other times, she would pick out someone from the crowd to dance solo. How embarrassing I thought, but she had plenty of male volunteers to choose from. I loved the whole scene so much that I would later enroll in belly dancing classes and even learn to play finger cymbals!

It was in this setting where I met the well known oud player, Adel Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian who had come to the U.S. with his mother and brothers. They were a very normal loving family who lived in Pasadena. We became good friends and he introduced me around.

Adel’s youngest brother, Sirhan would come to the Fez every once in a while. He was polite, very soft spoken… almost shy. We learned that Sirhan was having trouble staying in school and seemed pretty lost at the time of that meeting. Adel had become very concerned about his younger brother’s well being.

One Monday in June 1968 during one of our many nights out at the Fez, Sirhan appeared to be upset and very preoccupied. The club had closed for the night and a few of us were chatting over turkish coffees. Someone brought up the recent war (1967) between the Palestinians and Israelis. As the conversation escalated, Sirhan became very involved and animated, gradually getting louder and louder… until he was totally out of control.

It seemed that he blamed Robert Kennedy for that particular War, as his use of language and statements became very inflammatory… very extreme… and very hateful. He got so angry that his Arabic and English was all running together. Needless to say, it had gotten very uncomfortable so we all decided to leave. Adel apologized and took Sirhan home. It was very a upsetting evening to say the least and it had started out so nice and civil.

The next day was Primary Election Day in California. Bobby Kennedy was standing for the Democratic nomination for President. I had been working the phones for his campaign alongside many celebrities who had also volunteered. One such celeb being Rosie Grier, the football star. To our elation, Kennedy won! I was at home that night watching the election returns on TV with my daughter when Bobby gave that wonderful and historical victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. After he finished and the seemingly never ending applause died down, the TV cameras followed him and his party through the hotel kitchen when suddenly, came the sound of gun fire and Kennedy was down. It became total chaos. Oh My God!! Rosie and some others tackled the shooter and brought him and his gun down to the ground. Other people had been shot as well. All of this was of course on live TV. How could this happen… again?

Cameras stayed on Kennedy who looked just horrible… blood was everywhere. Ethel, his wife was on her knees trying to help stop the bleeding. One of the cameras panned towards the shooter as he was disarmed and pulled from the floor. People were screaming. Nobody knew who he was. Much to my shock however, I did recognize him and couldn’t believe my eyes…  it was Adel’s younger brother, Sirhan.

I quickly dialed his mother’s house, hoping I was wrong. Nobody was home. I then called a mutual friend, George Elias, [another musician who worked at the Fez] and who had also recognized Sirhan from the live newscast. We didn’t know what to do but George suggested that he should call one of the leaders of the local Arab community… which he did. That call resulted in Sirhan’s official identification.

Tragically, Robert Kennedy died the next morning at nearby Good Samaritan Hospital.

Days later and still grieving, I was approached [while at my Salon] by two FBI agents and two members of the Elite LAPD Squad who were investigating the tragedy. They wanted to hear my story, what I knew about Sirhan personally, and most importantly if I thought Sirhan had acted alone or was part of an organized conspiracy. I told them all I knew and that I was almost positive that Sirhan had acted out of his own convictions and hatred.

I would find out later that my home phone had been tapped for about ten days. The LAPD Squad was still checking out their conspiracy theory and were especially interested in any calls to or from my Arabian friends, which made me very angry but I understood. Consequently there were no such calls, I had had no contact at all. The only calls they would hear were teenage girl talk by my daughter and her friends! Ha ha, I thought.

This time, being touched by history broke my heart. I am glad that Sirhan Sirhan is spending the remainder of his life where he is unable to ever hurt anyone else.

I often wonder how different the World would be if we had been able to live under the guidance of President Robert F. Kennedy.

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