Monday, October 5, 2009


By linking my dinner prospects to the tidiness of the garage, my wife got me rummaging through the pile of clutter accumulated over years of Costco executive membership. I began to sort the totally-useless from the probably-useless (with my one-year-old wailing his head off in the background) when a brightly-colored package fell out from an old box. I recognized it immediately – after all these years! The outer cover still crinkled like new. I felt the hard wooden frame inside with the stone-edged contours. As I spun it in my hands, this crazy thing I bought fifteen years ago at a curio shop in an Indian town, memories came rushing back.

In the late summer of 1994 in India, my loan search to pursue a Master's program in America got three dispiriting rejections. Just when I'm ready to toss out the idea, I ran into "Loafer" Sharma sucking on a cigarette at the tea canteen. Into the seventh year of a four-year degree, Loafer's flunked-it-all record never stopped him from being the local career counselor. Over a cup of tea and few cigarettes, he heard my story, and said I got it all wrong. All I needed, the ultimate non-achiever opined, was just enough dough for the flight ticket.

"The trick to getting financial aid is really simple," Loafer said, scratching his armpit, "take an expensive gift from India, a decorative piece like a wall hanging. Walk into a young Professor's office and give it to him. Funding guaranteed."

"That sounds crazy!'

"Not in a University," the hopeless deadbeat replied, blowing a cloud of smoke right into my face. "Try that anywhere else and they will slam you for bribery. But put yourself in the Professor's shoes. No human being ever approaches him, because, face it, these birds are intimidating. Just imagine his joy when someone actually presents him with a gift. He thinks 'they must like me, after all, in spite of the crazy subject I teach.'"


"Absolutely. This is how every Indian student gets funding there. Now there's a craft shop just down the road. You will find a great number of impressive stuff over there."

Maybe the slouch had a point after all. I paid for his tea and cigarettes. Least I could do. Within a few minutes, I found it - Lepakshi, a dimly lit gifts and crafts shop. The interior looked like a store room for pirate loot. Bronze figurines, chandeliers, vases – there was just way too much stuff to make one definitive choice.

"Can I help you, sir?" I turned around to face an oily store clerk who looked a bit like a handicraft himself.

"I'm looking for a gift that I can carry in a suitcase."

"Oh, this is for America?"

"Well, yes."

"I know exactly what you need. This is a collection that just arrived this morning from Darjeeling. It is both a toy and a piece of art."

He led me to the back room where three pieces were set up on a worker's bench. Animal statuettes with bodies carved from wood, fur from stone. Crystal lights for eyes. Just a thousand rupees, what a deal I thought! I chose one and he wrapped it up for me.

Two months later, in the Fall of 1994, I rapped on Prof Scottkid's office with the shiny package under my arm. The door flung open revealing a hairless birdie in horn-rimmed spectacles.

"Yes?" rasped the man better known in classrooms as the Grim Reaper.

His voice jolted me to my senses. What am I doing here? Why am I acting on the advice of a complete dingbat? I'm on the horns of a dilemma: on one hand, if I were to hand over this stupid gift, the Prof will peck me with his pointy nose. On the other hand, it is bizarre to carry on a conversation holding a brightly-colored gift package in plain view with no intention of giving it.

I chose bizarre. But, after some very awkward exchanges, my head couldn't take it any more. In a sudden bout of insanity, I bolted with the package leaving him there like a surprised fish. It struck him deep, because for the rest of my two years there, this birdie studiously avoided me in the hallways.

Several years passed. Downsizing at the end of my Colorado trip, I found the handicraft, lying still unopened in my suitcase just when an old friend Nitin - who was in town for just a couple of days – called me unexpectedly. We go back a long way. In college, there wasn't a hedonistic pleasure on this planet not explored by this dove. He gave us many unforgettable memories. I still remember the night he stood inebriated outside the girls' hostel in underwear singing Bollywood duets into a megaphone. But, that was then.

Now, in the recent past in America, tables have turned. The Art of Living meditation society got him into their inner fold and systematically purified his soul. What was remaining of the filtered ward greeted me at the café in kurta and sandals.

"What's happening?" I asked.

"I cannot say. Whatever happens is destined to happen."

"You sound like Morpheus."

"Who is Morpheus?" He asked puzzled.

"Never mind, you don't watch movies I suppose."

I tried a meaningful conversation for fifteen minutes, but finally gave up. I just had one last thing to say to him.

"Lest I forget: Happy Birthday!"

"Oh, thank you. You still remember my birthday."

"Of course I do," I said. "Who can forget those raining booze parties?"

He winced noticeably.

"Look, I got a gift for you." I handed him the package, expecting some sort of positive reaction. But his face fell. He looked like it instantly complicated his life.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It is a handicraft. Open it."

"Thanks, I will open it in my hotel room. I have to go. I'm teaching a meditation class tomorrow." He bolted in a hurry.

A couple of days later, Nitin called me looking for a ride to the airport. When I got to his hotel, I popped open the trunk as I waited for him to load and get in. A minute later, he slid into the passenger seat with a bag slung over his shoulder. After we arrived at the airport, I got out first and opened the trunk with my key. Imagine my surprise – it was almost empty save for the very same gift package.

"Where is the rest of your luggage?" I asked.

"This is it." He said.

"That is it? Just that bag and my gift?"

"Yes, all I need in my life is in this bag. Two sets of Kurtas, a cotton towel, underwear, my books. The package doesn't fit in the bag, so I'm carrying it by hand."

"But, you haven't even opened it yet."

"Sorry, I just didn't have the time. I will."

I couldn't believe it. This guy has no strings, he lives on twigs and salt. As we walked to the gate, I felt I was burdening him with irrelevant weight. At the security gate, I called him aside.

"Do you really want the gift?" I asked. The pleading in his eyes answered no. I pried it from of his grateful hands. Thanking me, he soared through the gate like an uncaged bird.

Soon after my wife started working, her German boss invited us to their home warming. We were running late and we still had to stop to buy a gift. Suddenly, I remembered the old handicraft lying somewhere around the house. I rapidly searched through my old bags and voila, I found it. Perfect! Finally, it was going somewhere. My wife drove while I fixed a label on the package.

"What should I write?" I asked.

"To Heidi, Congratulations …" she said.

"Shouldn't we also address it to her husband?"

"Oh yes. His name is Wolfe. To Heidi and Wolfe: …"

I was just going to write it down when a chill ran down my spine.

"Her husband's name is Wolfe?" I asked, incredulous.

"Yes, what is the matter?"

"Oh no! This won't do. We got to buy a new gift."

"What is wrong with this gift?" she asked puzzled.

"This handicraft is the statue of an animal. Of a wolf. A wolf! We can't give a wolf statuette to a guy called Wolfe."

"You're right. It is insulting. What will he think?" my wife said, and hastily U-turned into a mall. I tossed the package into the back seat. It was jinxed. Stuck to me like glue.

Returning to the present (double entendre intended), I gingerly opened the outer wrapping on the garage floor. Then, I uncoiled the cotton-string inner wrapping, and set it on an upturned box. The wolf, its head toward the sky, howled soundlessly at an imaginary moon.

Suddenly, I became conscious of a silence in the room. The wailing had stopped.

"Coo," said my one-year-old, peeking from behind my arm.

"Yep, it is cool, isn't it? Let me find the batteries."

"Bow-wow," he declared, looking at it intently.

"Not any bow-wow. Wild bow-wow! Wild!" I found the batteries, and inserted them.

The wolf's eyes glowed, and it howled. My son's face instantly changed from dour to excited. It charged him up: he ran around it, clapped, and chortled every time it howled. He played with it the whole day.

The gift finally found a taker.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Importance of Hair

It is tremendously awkward when your fiancée runs into you at the supermarket while you are cradling a can of Rogaine Advanced Formula in your hands. Having had this unfortunate encounter over the weekend, my friend Ajit calls me out to the coffee shop in a state of panic.

"She is getting cold feet now. She thinks I'm bald!" Ajit says.

"Are you balding?"

He bristles taking offense, rather surprisingly: "Can't you see the hair on my head?"

I can see lots of seemingly flawless flowing hair on a tall frame and recall back in the college days girls swarmed him like he was a mythical hero.

"Then, why were you buying Rogaine?"

He answers curtly: "For a friend."

"Are you stupid? Rule # 0: In matters of hair oil and butt creams, only shop for yourself."

"I just didn't expect this - just imagine the odds of running into her at a random store. Now she is wary of me. She is trying out tests to find out if I'm really bald."


He leans over and drops his voice. "She pretended to trip and grabbed my hair for support. I'm sure she is testing if it is a wig."

"Nonsense! She could have tripped for real."

"No. The day after that, she insisted on going all the way up Mt. Hamilton."


"You know how windy the summit is? She took me there to get my hair to blow in the wind so she can get a closer look at my scalp."

"That is preposterous!"

"I'm telling you – that is what her plan is." Just then, the man in the next table gets up from his chair accidentally dropping a quarter that rolls down and stops at Ajit's feet. When Ajit instinctively bends down to pick it up, the ugly truth reveals itself to me. I reel in shock!

"Dude, I saw it!"

Ajit is puzzled. "Saw what?"

"I saw the patch. The open field. The milky way. The deforestation at the very top! Very early, but you are balding. And you know that!"

"Darn it! Listen, you cannot tell this to anyone. Do you understand?"

He pauses, looking away for a moment, and continues in a hurt voice: "This hair is all I have you know. Some guys write music, some guys have PhDs, what I got is long hair. God gives me this gift and He is now taking it all away from me. Why?"

Cruel. He shrugs. "Now I found Rogaine. They say it works. Only time will tell, but I don't have much."

"Hair or time?"

"Both, I guess."

"How did you manage to hide it from her?"

"Not easy. I'm tall so she can't get the top view that would bust the whole thing up. I never get ahead of her when we are climbing up or down a staircase. The other day at the mall, she got onto a busy escalator going up before me. If she just turned around, I'd be below her and the spot clearly visible. I acted quickly, I took the parallel staircase two steps at a time just to keep the top of my head above her line of sight."

"Wow! But, you can blow it all by bending down to pick up a coin."

"Stupid of me."

I scratch my head. "But, dude, why are you hiding this? If you are going to marry her, she deserves to know the truth. You know, women don't really care as much you think they do."

"Not with this girl. Two things instantly happen. She will dump me on the spot, and I kiss goodbye to the career I really want."


"Her father is the CMD for Sunsilk the Shampoo company. Women in their family choose husbands based on hair texture."

"Holy cow!"

"There is a real kicker – my wedding gift from her father is GM of their new division. Think about it – a great career, rich in-laws. I'm set for life."


"Now, put yourself in his shoes. You are the CMD of a shampoo company. Can you afford to have a son-in-law in charge of the Herbal Hair product line when his own hair is eviscerating?"

"This is serious shit."

"It is. Now, I need a small favor." He takes out a notebook and a Verner Caliper from his bag. "Can you measure the size of the hole?" pointing to his bald spot.

"Are you crazy?"

"No, seriously. This is the only way to find out if Rogaine is really working. I'm tracking the size day by day down to the mm. It hasn't changed much either way so far."

He drops his head and juts the bald spot right in my front of my eyes. I take the Caliper and reluctantly measure the dimensions (last time I used the Caliper was in the high school Physics lab.) He studiously jots the readings down in his spreadsheet. I get up to leave.

"By the way," he says, "I told her the Rogaine is for you."

A few day later, he convinced me to carve a hole in my head, and then we manage to create a scenario where I run into his fiancée at a store while holding a can of Rogaine. The next day, he calls me again.

"Thanks for your help. She is finally coming around. She really thinks you are the one who is balding. Whew! We are off to India for engagement and wedding. The engagement is a private ceremony at their house and the wedding is on the next day."

"Oh terrific! Congratulations! I'm delighted for you, buddy. How is the Rogaine working out?"

"It is not. The spot is only getting bigger. I'm just learning to accept the inevitable."

"But what are you going to do after marriage when she finds out?"

"Once I am the husband, there is nothing they can do about it. Ok, so he will transfer me. Maybe I will be the GM of their skin cream division, who cares?"

"Good luck! Send us pictures."

A couple of months of hearing nothing from him, I run into Ajit again at the coffee shop. He is sitting alone reading poetry.

"DUDE!" I shout. "I've been trying to reach you for weeks! How did it go? No party, no announcement … where are you?"

He looked up in mild surprise. "The wedding is off, friend. I'm all alone in this world."

"Oh no! What happened?"

"Everything was going fine at the engagement ceremony. We got through the formalities and rituals. We got through the picture session. And then … " his voice trailed off.


"The part I did not forsee – getting blessings from the elders. We bowed down to touch her father's feet."

"Holy crap! He saw it."

"Like the sun breaking through the trees. I got my blessings. I was thrown out of the house in 10 minutes."

"This is terrible. I'm really sorry."

He bends his head down philosophically, now making no effort to cover his baldness, to read a passage from Emerson: "Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My American Ligament

Originally published in July 2009 issue of India Currents. Read online version here.

A thirty-something Indian guy, I woke up one morning feeling invincible. The back didn't hurt when I bent over the sink to brush my teeth. The arm didn't ache when I pulled out the medicine drawer where I keep my Calcium Tums. I even squeezed the juice out of a lemon with bare hands, an erstwhile impossible feat. So when my neighbor Jim told me they were one short for a ball game, I said "Take me on!" But my wife, a world-renowned killjoy, chased me into the closet where I was changing.

"You are not fit to play basketball. Look at you, you are a cartoon."

"Honey, today, I feel like the ultimate athlete. I'm craving for action. Don't stop me for your own good!"

"Listen, your enthusiasm is delightful. Just channel it towards something in your league - maybe Carom board? Mini-golf? Bocce ball?"

I only smiled, because I knew exactly what it takes to shock her out of her cynicism. Oh yeah, I had been planning this all along. I shooed her away and changed into my secret game wear. When I stepped out again she was, just as I expected, shocked.

"You look different. Something is missing …"

"You bet. Guess what?"

"Your potbelly! What happened to it?"

"Gone, baby, gone." It was there just minutes ago, magic! The utter confusion on her face was worth all the trouble. Now, I was ready for a good game. But when I got to the court, I realized this wasn't only about fun. It was also about responsibility. I was the only Indian in the bunch. I was representing motherland (whether motherland likes it or not.) Now, I could imagine what Sachin Tendulkar feels every time he walks out to bat. I must be the best, soon as I learn how to play this game.

"Have you ever played basketball in your life?" Jim asked me.

Something in his tone suggested I did not. All right, so I never did, but I was not going to take that snobbish remark lying down. I wanted to wipe that smirk off his face even it calls for a little untruth. I remembered a tip from a compulsive liar friend of mine about how the word absolutely projects confidence, I replied:

"Absolutely! I played for my school."

"All right, so you can drib, right?"


What the hell was drib? Isn't the game just about tossing a ball through a hole?

Big Mike interrupted us. "Jim, we have a problem. Dark shirts everywhere!"

Jim and Mike pondered over the problem of too many dark shirts. I didn't quite follow what appeared to be, at worst, some kind of a laundry issue. Jim spoke up. "Ok, listen up, guys. We are picking teams – Jim's HotDogs vs. Mike's Burgers. But, too many dark shirts here. Can't tell teammates from opponents. Solution - one team wears shirts and the other goes shirtless."

Shirtless! God, no! It better not be my team …

"The Burgers keep their shirts. HotDogs, lose yours." NO!

I spoke to Jim alone. "You know, Jim, I like burgers more than hot dogs. Ethically speaking, I should play for Mike's team."

Jim looked surprised. "You are a vegan, what do you care? Anyway, I got you here, so you are in my team."

"Ok, do I really have to take my shirt off?"

"Relax bro! Do you see any chics here? All right, Dawgs, shirts off!"

All the HotDogs removed shirts except me.

"Come on! Take your shirt off." Jim barked.

Reluctantly, I stripped and got the anticipated reaction. Jaws hit the floor.

"What the hell … is that tape?"

"Holy Cow! He taped down his belly!"

I cleared my throat. "Cosmo, November issue. Main idea is to keep it from flopping around."

"Doesn't it hurt when you peel it off?" John asked.

"Not clear Scotch tape. Cellophane tape rips the hide off," I winced. "I wish they mentioned this little detail in the Cosmo article."

"Can I borrow your Cosmo, please?" John pleaded.

Mike whistled. Whew, the game was finally starting. Jim grabbed the ball and threw it in my direction, bouncing off my midriff and knocking me over. He frowned, and called me aside.

"Ok, new job. Hustle!"

"What is hustle?"

"Just stay aggressive. Follow the ball."

I hustled like a dog spinning around snapping at its own tail. I tore up and down the court, in the process grasping the concept that no one ever passes the ball to the guy whose only job is hustling. It is like the substitute player in cricket who fields all day, hauls the drinks, massages cramped butts, but is denied complete batting and bowling privileges. But, ultimately, it didn't matter because in a fastbreak opportunity, I tripped over my shoe laces and tore my ACL. They carried me home where my wife, who answered the door, reminded one of a wide-eyed Goddess Kali ready to perform a human sacrifice.

Two weeks later, I was lying on the operating table while the surgeon stuffed a fish-like tissue through a hole in my knee. He didn't say where the cadaver tendon came from, but my wife said she spotted a graveyard next to the hospital (a rather mutually beneficial arrangement, now that I have to time to reflect upon it).

They handed me a spreadsheet about what to expect in the long road to recovery.

Recovery Time

Knee Flexion

Actions Impacted

12 hours

20 degrees


2 days

70 degrees

Ducking objects chucked by spouses

4 days

90 degrees

Western toilet

3 months

135 degrees

Picking up your goods while keeping your eyes on the other side in a Mafia suitcase-exchange rendezvous

5 months

180 degrees

Eastern toilet

Even though I am a Western toilet user in America, I needed to finally learn this sitting down method. Not really efficient, but at least I don't need to wipe off footprints from the seat after every usage. On the bright side, the doctor just told me who the donor was – a farmer from Houston countryside. I have a white Texan's ligament screwed to my bone. Heck, I'm part born American. Happy independence day!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Sapphire Duck

Backing up the car into the only available spot in the rundown alley, I first glimpsed the abomination in my rearview mirror. Tacky pink stall with a swinging plastic door and loud Mariachi music blaring out every time the hatch swung open to let customers in.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"Yes, that's it," my wife nodded excitedly, referring to the Expedia printouts in her hand. "Just like it says right here in the map. Amazing! San Diego's uncut diamond. El Rojon Rodeo. Listen to this:" She read aloud.

Over a hundred years old, it was the last stop on the Wild West border into Mexican country. This is where Senorita Cellaquez sang for the Hispanic Elders in a private rendition of the operatic soprano Esclarmonde reaching a pitch so high that it is said to have shattered their fragile eardrums. Where Raul Samba, a Baja revolutionary, died choking on a fishbone in his MexiCali club sandwich leading to the famous catch phrase … "

"Ok, enough. Let us go."

I had to muster every ounce of tourist enthusiasm to walk through the hatch without staring at the cat feces on the ground. Inside, fifty more easily excitable types crowded around the tables looking utterly amazed. I noted they were all clutching identical Expedia printouts.

"What would you like to order sir?" The girl at the counter was a gum-chewing American teen with grotesquely pierced eyebrows. My wife referred to her printed sheets again.

"Amazing! What it says here is what is up there. Expedia recommends everything. The Asparagus Verde soup, the Nachos Hombre, the Carbonara Chipotle … I can't make up my mind!"

The girl smiled revealing the speckled green gum vibrating between her teeth like a tadpole. "I know how difficult it is to make a decision here." No kidding.

"That is why we offer something outside the menu. The sampler. The full combo costs only $35 per person."

My jaw hit the floor. "35?"

My wife asked, "Is it available without meat?"

The girl smiled again. I couldn't take my eyes of the gum. "Of course, we do! By the way, I'm a vegetarian too." Yeah, right. And I am El Zapata, Miss Unctuous 2009.

My wife smiled. "Two Full Combos please!"

"Are you nuts? That is $70 for lunch!"

My wife lowered her voice to a menacing tone. "Remember, bonehead, we are in El Rojon. The El Rojon Rodeo. So, try to fight that penny saving urge ingrained in your genes to object to anything over five dollars."

Two gigantic plates of the Mexican deluxe combo arrived at our table. Three bites into the meal, the stomachs pleaded for mercy. My wife - after all it was her idea - held on bravely for a fourth bite, but gave up after that.

"Now listen to my idea," I said, "I'm calling for the doggy pack. We are going to eat only this for the rest of the trip even if it smells like a decomposing carcass."

"Not tonight, obviously. We have dinner with the Mishras in the old town."

"With whom?"

"My friend Anu Mishra from school? Don't you ever remember my friends?"

"Not really. Why aren't they inviting us home?"

"Oh come on! It is a weekday. They already chose the restaurant. We just need to show up there at 8."

I checked the restaurant online.

"Holy Cow! This is a $30 entrée restaurant! Are they paying for it?"

"I don't know. Maybe not."

"They didn't say anything?"


"Find out. We'll go only if they are paying for the dinner."

"Oh come on! I can't ask them that question."

"Here is the problem. If I know they are picking up the bill, I will eat like a starving pig. If I know they are not paying for me, I got to eat less to make up for this El Rotten Revolto food."

"How do I know if they are paying for us? We are going. Don't be a spoilsport."

"All right, ok! Well, this means I make a guess. Good news is that I can usually spot a stiff just from a glance. If I think he is ok, we order whatever we want."

"What if you think he is not ok?"

"We order only starters. No entrees, no drinks, no desserts. Invent whatever excuse you have to. If you are still hungry after the dinner date, we will eat from this doggy pack when we get back to the hotel. Comprehende?"

"Ok. Just remember, my friends are your friends. They are not indirect friends. The Mishras are a fine couple. They gave us an anniversary gift, remember the beautiful oval fruit bowl?"

"Oh that! It is from them?" Something in my tone ticked her off.

"What is wrong with it?"

"It is the classic Macy's pass-it-on. Someone gave it to them and they are giving it to us."

"You are incorrigible."

The Mishras met us outside Luigi's at the appointed time. Anu is a petite woman with gentle manners, though her habit of constantly blinking when she wanted to speak vaguely reminded me of my answering machine. Her husband, Jay, is the classic pursed lip type. From the distant hello to the vacant stare, I could tell from his brevity that this guy must be a world-class scrooge. The less wordy, the less charitable - old jungle saying. I balled my right hand into a tight fist, the universal signal for scrooge, to my wife who immediately frowned.

We sat down and the Mishras ordered their entrees and wine. I ordered a starter plate.

"Is there anything else you'd like, sir?" the waiter asked.

"That is it, thanks." Anu started blinking.

I tried to explain. "We are not really that hungry. Heavy lunch!"

Anu was flustered. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe we should have gone to a smaller place …"

Jay interjected. "Well, do you mind if we carry on?"

"Not at all. By all means, please."

"How about drinks?"

"No, I don't drink. You carry on."

For a scrooge, he spent an awful lot on food. He ordered more wine, a fancy side dish, and a scrumptious dessert. My wife and I watched them devour everything while we chewed on our bruschetta in ponderous silence. Finally, they were done and the bill arrived. I was searching for my order when I heard Jay utter two words to the waiter that knocked the breath out of my lungs.

"Split it."

I looked up. Jay was handing the waiter his card. The waiter turned around to me.

"Your card, sir?"

"Split it! SPLIT IT!" I screamed.

"Watch out for the truck!" my wife screamed.

I was lurching on the highway 15 miles over speed limit quaking in anger.

"How can he call for a split when his order is 90% of the bill?"

"Calm down. I don't think he was trying to deliberately screw us."

"Oh it is deliberate! He's a crafty guy! He would never eat so much at a place like this if he didn't find a couple of idiots to pay for everything – his wine, his seafood pasta, the fantastic Tira Misu …, and all we had was brushchetta. " I stopped, and took a deep breath. I patted my wife. "Sorry, I'm shouting at you. I need to calm down."

"I'm hungry, " she said.

"We have the El Rojon leftovers."

She burst into tears.

A few months later, back in San Jose, I just got home from work to hear a bit of fantastic news. The Mishras were coming to the Bay Area. They were staying with Anu's sister, and had only one evening to spare with us. I grinned from ear to ear. God is merciful. A plan was already forming in my mind.

My wife said, "Now, don't look into this for revenge. I hope you are mature enough to forget the whole San Diego episode."

"Are you kidding? This is a golden opportunity! We are talking French. Oh, no less! Le Papillon. Michelin three star."

"Oh come on! Now, don't overdo this …"

"We – you and I – are going to eat to our hearts content. We will have the full seven course meal with expensive wine, we will order the Fondue, oh we are going to have a blast!"

"But they will also have it. How is that revenge?"

"Because we will eat more than them. We will starve before the dinner, so we will be hungrier than a pair of mongrels."

"That's your plan?"

"Wait, the coup de grace – scheduling the dinner for 6 pm."

"But, that is too early!"

"Precisely! We are skipping lunch that day, so the time is perfect for us. But, I suspect the Mishras cannot skip lunch. They are guests at her sister's place. "

"You have a devious mind."

"Thank you."

"That wasn't a compliment. If you want to starve, fine. But leave me out of your plans."

Suit yourself. I found the Luigi's bill, and marked the Mishra dishes with a highlighter. I nailed it on the wall. It was all the motivation I needed to resist the urge to eat. I survived on a strict diet of water and light salad for the next two days. My wife even made some fantastic curries, but the bill on the wall kept me focussed on abstinence. I worked out. I ran. When Thursday came around, I was hungrier than a wolf.

"Just sit back and relax, I'm going to eat at least twice as much as I pay," I said to my wife as we waited for them at Le Papillon.

"That's mathematically impossible," my wife said.


"Say you eat x dollars worth of food. You want to pay only x/2 dollars. But, if Jay even spends 1 dollar, you are paying for x/2 + 1/2. That is half a dollar more than what you want to pay."

"I don't get it."

"Never mind, they are here."

The Mishras were walking towards us, and I could see even from the distance that Anu was blinking.


"Are we having dinner right away? It is a bit early."

"Yeah, we want to avoid the rush. Come on in."

We got a great table. The Mishras, as I suspected, clearly weren't hungry ordering some light fries and sandwich. I scanned the menu for the purse-breaker, the one item that settles the entire San Diego balance sheet. I found it. $43. A bird basted in arugula sauce, slow-cooked over an open fire with the finest root vegetables, floating in a pool of gin and vinaigrette.

"The Sapphire Duck."

"Excellent choice, sir," the waiter said as he picked up my menu.

"So when have you started eating poultry," my wife whispered.

"Without the duck, please."

The waiter paused. "The Sapphire Duck, sir, without the duck?"

"Yes. I don't eat meat. Can you substitute it with tofu?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Tofu, sir?"

"Or cheese. Whatever."

"I'm sorry, sir. It will cost you the same with or without the duck. On the other hand, there are some nice Vegetarian choices…"

"No, the price is fine. Please, I will take it without the duck."

"If you say so, sir."

"And ... " I searched for a pricey wine. Chateau Marquis d'Alesme Vieux. $18 a glass.

"Two glasses of the excellent chatoo mar-kiss de-a-less-me view-ex."

"You mean the shah-TOH mahr-KEE dah-lem-vyew sir?"

"Right, I said the same thing."

Jay leaned forward. "I remember you saying you don't drink."

"That was then, this is now."

Half an hour later, the others were done but I was still waiting for my dish. It must be good if it takes this long. And then it arrived. Artistically plated, in vegetables and sauce, though the big bird-shaped hole in the center was hard to ignore. With the gourmet side dishes and sauces, I decimated the plate in under ten minutes. As I was licking the crumbs, the waiter approached us with the bill when my wife asked Anu an unnecessary question.

"What are your plans tomorrow?"

"Oh, we are going for a romantic cruise because …"

The waiter arrived at the table. I was just going to say those two words I had been rehearsing all week when Jay startled us.

"... it is our fifth anniversary today."

What! My wife looked stunned.

"Split it! Split it!" I hurriedly whispered to the waiter.

"Wait, sir. It is their anniversary. Champagne on the house for the anniversary couple." The waiter disappeared with the bill.

"Oh of course! How could I forget! Congratulations!" my wife said, looking embarrassed.

"Don't worry."

"No, I shouldn't have forgotten. You remembered our anniversary and gave us that nice gift …"

"The fruit bowl. You liked it? "


Jay smiled. "Original Murano piece. Anu spent an hour choosing your gift. Do you know it is hand-made?"

My wife looked increasingly flabbergasted. The waiter returned with two glasses of champagne.

"Those two are free on the house," he turned towards us. "If you also like champagne, I can put it on your bill ... "

"No, we are fine, can we get the check, please?"

"Here it is, sir."

I got out my card, and was just going to say "split it" when my wife instincitively pounced on it.

"We will pay the tab."


"This is our anniversary gift to you. Least we can do."

"WHAT! No!" I shouted. They all stared at me. "I mean, they hardly ate. We should get you a proper gift, not this."

Jay smiled. "Oh, come on! This is more than enough. Thanks for the excellent dinner. Excellent restaurant, by the way."

My wife picked up the tab. I left the table. I needed my indigestion pills.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jejobar Luzviminda

I can never go around making friends with the neighbores, I mean neighbors, because I need my space. I run into them all the time, and to keep up with the customary small talk is a relentless burden. I can't deal with it. I just want to live in a state of blissful unawareness. But, you know how the neighbors never leave you alone, and it causes many problems. The day we moved into the house, the doorbell rang while my wife was still unpacking boxes in the bedroom. I came down to the foyer and saw the big white mess the movers left on the doormat. I shouted to my wife:

"There is white trash at the door!" And flung it open. Standing outside, in a state of shock, was a White couple, seemingly here to welcome us into the 'hood.

"Get rid of it!" my wife shouted back. They ran away, before I could grab the apple pie from their hands.

Later on, the guy who lives right next door hollered just as I stepped out of the house.

"Hey! Check it out. The Sun is shining today."

Save me, Jesus! "Sure, it is. "

"You think it will shine again tomorrow?"

"Sure … well, nice talking to you. I got to run …"

"Don't forget, tomorrow is the trash day."

"Oh yes! Well, I'll be seeing you … "

"When tomorrow is the trash day, you have to put out the trash cans tonight. You remember that, don't you? It is tricky, man."

"Right. I think I figured that one out." Like, the day after my birth.

"What do you say - nine tonight? "


"Putting out the trash, duh!" He shook his head and rolled his eyes: "I saw you last week: putting it out all alone. I'm saying - to myself - Guilty me! I put out my stuff too early or I could give the fella some company. Then, I got thinking - to myself – we fellas gotta stick together when it comes to trash. We gotta sync-up so the womenfolk know we are having fun! I figured out - to myself – why not nine every Wednesday night, eh? Right between dinner and bedtime. We all need the exercise. Good time for you?"

"Uh … ok. Whatever."

"Right on. I will set up a recurring Evite and send it out to the Hillcrest group."

"Hillcrest group?"

"Yeah, that is our Yahoo page. Don't tell me you are not subscribed."

Great! (a) I just made a putting-out-the-garbage date with the Mr. Junk Foreman here, and (b) our tiny little street has its own Yahoo group. Why do I even endure this shit? Just because we are living on the same lane doesn't mean we got to know each other.

Then, there is Judge Judy, in the house opposite, who stares at me with unblinking recrimination. She thinks I'm trying to poison her creepy cat Frizzit, who likes nothing better than to litter on my porch. Judy got this wild idea when she caught me feeding expired milk to the cat. Let me say in my defense that we buy our milk at Costco. There is only so much Costco milk a family can consume before the milk expires or the family dies on lactose overdose. But, I can't bring myself to throw away a full carton of milk - someone has to drink it (just not my family). That is why I feed it to the boneless wonder. After all, it is malnourished – I hear we dump our expired drugs into Mozambique to treat sick children. How can this be worse?

But, really, the story I am here to tell you is the enigmatic guy who moved into the vacant house next door a month after we moved in. I just came back from buying a laptop and a WiFi router eager to set it up and download pirated Indian movies from the web. Clutching the bag, I reached out to unlock the door when I heard this:

"Lovely day!"

Is someone talking to me? Ignore, ignore, just get inside! I unlocked the door.

"It is at least eighty degrees!"

I paused with my hand on the door knob. Still safe. Just need two more seconds.

"Must be a good time for shopping!"

Darn! I turned around, and forced a smile.


He looked like a slightly built Vietnamese.

"Hi, I am your new neighbor. You are Indian, great! I love Indian food."

"Really, yeah I like your food too. Pho is good."

He frowned. "Pho? You think I'm Vietnamese? I'm a Filipino! What's the matter, bro, you can't tell a Filipino from a Vietnamese?"

Hell. "Sorry, of course, you are Filipino. It is just the shadows, you know, …"

"So, you like Pho? You should try Pho King. You will like Pho King." He burst out laughing.

Boy, heard that one before. What are you? Fifteen?

"Right, well …"

"You know where to go if you made a serious mistake and you need a coffee to clear your head? The joint called Pho Cup!"

That is a new one. But, he laughed so hard he spoiled the pun.

"Well, it is nice …"

"I know what you are thinking - What The Pho, bro! Well, that is a nice place too. Hee hee ha ha ha!" He was screaming laughs now.

"I really got to go."

"Nice talking to you, bro. What is your name?"

Glad that he asked. There is one thing to be said about unpronounceable names. People think twice about approaching you again once they realize they have to master this unrepeatable word to keep up with the friendship. Ever notice John and Jenny have way too many friends while Phinnaeus and Guilluame are eating alone in Denny's? I keep different versions depending on how much I really want to hang out with the person. For the office guys, it is Bharad. For the drink buddies, it is Brad. For the rest,


Got the desired effect. He was startled.

"Eh? Got shorter version?"

"Nope. That is it, I'm afraid."

His face clouded. He was obviously ticked.

"Well, my name is Jejobar Luzviminda. Sorry, don't have a shorter version either."

Ha! The sword is double-edged. Even better for me! So long, bro. Maybe, in the next life, when you are Jim and I'm John, we will think about hanging out together. Adios.

So, imagine my surprise when a few days later, I was again entering the house when I heard this:

"How are you doing, Bha-rad-waj?"

The heckles on my neck stood up. I turned around. The Filipino stood there smiling with his arms crossed. I stammered something that I don't really recall. How does he still remember my name? I said it only once. No one here knows my name. I was still thinking about it when my wife and I were having dinner that night.

"Now, what do I do? All I recall about his name is that it sounds like Zanzibar Lascivious. That can't be right. It is a mystery how he remembered my name."

"Maybe he is good with Indian names," she said.

That is not possible. He had the same incomprehensible reaction everyone gives me when they hear my name the first time before they forever disappear from my life. I noticed the mail lying on the table. It suddenly came to me.

"I got it. He snooped!"

"What do you mean?"

"You know the mailboxes here don't have locks. He stole a letter addressed to me."

"Oh, come on!"

No, I'm right. There was no other way. Well, two can play this game. Better keep my plan to myself, if I want to finish this excellent dinner.

On the next Saturday, I watched him leave from my window. Then, the mailman came and stuffed his box with a pile of letters. This was it. The golden opportunity! No one was looking. Armed with a notepad, I pulled out the first letter I could reach from his mailbox. I jotted down the name. Jejobar Luzviminda! I got it, yeah!

"What in the world are you doing?" Judge Judy was right next to me, in her most chilling avatar.

"Oh hi!"

"Why are you stealing the Filipino's mail?"

"Really, oh. OH! I thought this is my mailbox."

"Don't fool me. I know you are the mail thief. I always knew it. Who else could it be?"

Unbeknownst to me, there was a kleptomaniac roaming in the neighborhood. This guy, for whatever reasons, only stole Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, so no one really bothered to complain, because, really, we were all sick of those coupons. Except Judge Judy here who started a one-person neighborhood watch just to catch him in the act so people can continue receiving that incessant stream of junk.

"Wait. Whoa! Hey. This is an honest mistake."

"We will see about it. You are not going anywhere until the cop shows up."

She called her cop friend who lives in the next street. He came over ambling and asked me a few questions. He went off to check on my background when the Filipino returned. Judy immediately pounced on him with a grossly exaggerated version. He was shocked.

"Why are you stealing my mail, bro?"

"Hey, I'm not stealing. I'm doing the same thing you did. Just snooping around to figure out your name."

The Filipino frowned. "I didn't snoop your mail, bro. Not cool."

"Well, then, how did you do it?"

"I'm not telling you."

I was burning with curiosity. The cop interrupted us.

"He is not your guy, ma'am."

Judy was livid. "Why not? I caught him red-handed. Listen, I'm a good witness. I won't turn hostile even though I realize my life is at stake. We will nail his ass to the wall."

The cop shook his head. "I think his story checks out. Look at the letter in his hands."

I held it up. It was a Fry's coupon. Not Bed Bath and Beyond.

"Doesn't fit the pattern," the cop said, and left me with a warning.

Judge Judy, obviously disappointed, muttered some curses under her breath and went back to her house, to her watch station behind the curtains. I caught the Filipino just before he stepped into his house.

"Jejobar, wait! How did you figure it out?"

He stopped at the doorway. "Well, if I tell you, will you hang out with me?"

"Well, I got to …"

"No one hangs out with me because of my name. Please. I just want to have a friend with whom I can have a drink. Just once a month."

"All right. Just tell me how you did it."



"The Wi-Fi network you installed last week. It is unsecure. Everyone here gets on to it. It is like the Community Center. I got that tip from the Hillcrest Yahoo group." He paused. "Bro, all the stuff you download from the net, you just can't put it in a folder called "Technical." You think your wife can't figure that out?"

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tips for the India Traveler

All right! You are going to India this summer. Fantastic! Well, I hope these tips will help you.

  1. Buy your external clothes in India because those sorry American clothes won't survive the Indian Wash Cycle. Let me explain how this wash cycle works. The garment is soaked in a river for five hours during which the entire village gets a chance to pee over it, to lower its Ph value. Then, the junior dhobi (Hindi for washerman) batters it repeatedly against a slab of rock smashing all buttons to smithereens. The spiritless cloth is then petrified in a boiling starch solution until it turns stiff as a plank. It is hung dry in blistering sun, when the senior dhobi takes over ironing it with a portable blast furnace while simultaneously reading the day's newspaper till he smells burning. The garment is done. Now, it is ready to wear the man.

    Dhobis in action: Notice the dhobi on the left beating the red-colored garment to death.

  2. On the contrary, never buy male underwear in India. In particular, avoid a brand called VIP Frenchie. It should really be renamed VIP Wedgie, but that won't do it describe it accurately either. It is a windowless elastic fabric that soon after wearing it begins to rapidly contract to zero volume. If the secret design motive is to cull population growth, as some conspiracy theorists believe, there is nothing more effective than this.

    VIP Frenchie: Seen here 30 seconds before contracting to zero volume.


  1. Don't forget ear plugs. When they serve the Asian food, plug your nostrils.

Indian Airport:

  1. For returning Indian families, there is a sound-proof family room right next to the gate. Whisk your children there for the good thrashing they deserve for being such a pain in the ass in countries where you can't thrash them. For the Americans, try this out. Your kids will never touch drugs.
  2. Remember, your luggage only goes around once on the conveyor belt. Don't think it will come back once it disappears behind the loading curtain. If you walk in just as it is disappearing, dive after it.

Public Toilets:

  1. The toilet is not inside the bathroom. The toilet is the bathroom. Men pee into it from outside. So, don't go searching for the toilet inside, unless you don't mind getting peed upon. It is quite simple - stand outside, open the door with the point of your shoe, and pee through the open doorway. You don't even have to flush anything. Point and shoot! Once in a year, a janitor comes around and chucks a couple of fragrant naphthalene balls on the floor to comply with the country's stringent hygiene standards.
  2. Better, find an open place for urination. Choosing the right spot is a subject in itself outside the scope of this article, but you know there are many factors involved such as the direction of the wind, the clearance from ground, the type of soil, and the visibility from the nearest women's hangout place. But, you can't go wrong with trees. You are even nurturing them – our output is their daily water and minerals. Here is an excellent choice for the roadside urinator (term I coined to describe one who pees by the roadside).

    Mango Tree: Notice the strategic importance of its location for the roadside urinator.

    Observe the tree carefully.
    (a) conveniently close to the road,
    (b) the big shade,
    (c) the strong trunk to lean against for the torrential flows, and
    (d) the ground sloping away so the piss doesn't travel back to wet your shoes.

    You can even pluck a mango while you release, though I wouldn't eat it.

Drinking Water:

  1. There are many different brands selling mineral water. Almost all come from the same source – a small borewell groundwater manual pump in a Kolkata street corner. True, though no one really knows why. So, they are all the same except one, which most people avoid: the Moraji Desai brand of mineral water. Moraji Desai was the first opposition party leader who became Prime Minister of India, introduced sweeping reforms to the Parliamentary powers, and created a secure fund for India's nuclear reactors. But, history only remembers him as the guy who drank his own urine. Historians say that he slipped some into the water glasses of his foreign guests Jimmy Carter and Margaret Thatcher. Just a small note: all three have or had long, healthy lives. Hey, maybe you should eat that mango you plucked from the tree.

    The famous Kolkata borewell: Source for Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Ganga, Godavari. The women are corporate employees.


  1. Westerners, oh yeah, I know the vocabulary you grew up with – vaccines, mountain spring water, pasteurized milk, processed meats, vitamins, minerals, Botox, flu shots. Heck, even Airborne, though I have no idea what it is. Does it throw up an impenetrable virus shield around the head? Bridge to Captain, Airborne Defense System has been activated.
    Intruders will vaporize on contact.

    Well, get used to a new word – mosquitoes. A few bites and all the vitamins and the *bornes in the world won't help you. The insects have a special love for foreigners. I can almost hear them cry when they see fresh meat: "Loookeeee! A spotless White guy! Last one to the bridge of his nose is a rotten egg." Best way to fight sickness? Become sick. Don't be the spotless White guy.


  1. Let me give you a general tip about India's roads. Walking gets you to your destination fastest, because you can walk anywhere. On the sidewalks, in the middle of the road, and through someone's backyard. Cycling is the next fastest. Auto-rickshaws next, followed by buses, and finally cars. Counter-intuitive? You bet, that is what makes this a uniquely great country. The faster the vehicle, the slower the travel. Never take a Ferrari on Indian roads, you will be cut off by the vehicle whose 0-60 is 3 hours better known as the water buffalo.
  2. There are many airlines for domestic travel. You want a quick-rich scheme? (a) Take Deccan Airlines. (b) Buy flight insurance. Only one out of every two Deccan flights reach their destinations. Most Deccan passengers in mid-air don't worry about that statistic. They just pray for the flight to reach a destination, doesn't matter where.
  3. Trains are the other alternative. If you can find a place to sit. Or stand.


  1. Never go around smiling at strangers on the street going "How Ya Doin'?" They will be startled. They think you are some kind of con man. True, the most affable Indians are usually the con artists. In fact, the proper way to greet is to snarl and growl at strangers. If they respond in kind, you know you just made a cultural connection.
  2. Don't be startled when your male Indian acquaintance there slips his arm around your waist. He is not gay. He is just trying to be your buddy. He also expects you to slip your arm around his waist, don't disappoint him. Guys holding hands in interlocked grips when crossing streets is very normal. But, never touch a girl in public even if she is your wife.

Guys holding hands: They are not gay. Just friends.

So, there you are. I hope you learned something. One last tip: doodle around, just live on your feet. That is one thing seldom done over here. As for me, I just can't wait for my trip in May. Got to find that Mango Tree.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So you dinked a car in the parking lot …

After circling the mall parking lot forever, I finally saw a vacant spot by the entrance wall next to a shiny BMW. My inner voice woke up. Looks a bit small, it warned me, not gonna make it. But in a quick split-second decision, I swung into the lot.


Heard it. The sound of damage. The clamorous entry for a new record in world-class stupidity. Grinding score for "I'm so screwed now." Told you so, my inner voice said, before dozing off again. I just dinked a shiny new BMW with my old Corolla. I'm in shock, almost ready to cry. I'd give anything for the last three seconds. Now that it is over, I'm thinking, hearing, and seeing a whole lot better. In fact, I just see the new parking lot extension on the other side of road, wide and empty. Why I didn't see that extension in half an hour of driving right past it beats me. Intense feelings of self-loathing take over: I'm Maximus Doofus, Fool-iana, Jellybean Jackass, Joe the Neanderthal.

Of course, what is done is done. The right thing to do is to leave the own-up note on the BMW with my insurance number. But, the wise thing to do, on the other hand, is to run the hell out of there, which I did. I refer to this table when in doubt.

Table: Best course of action when you dink a car.

You are …


Bill Gates

A check for a new car, and a complimentary copy of Halo 3

Art of Living student

Leave the note, and concentrate on the purity of your soul, for god's sake!

Engineer in dead economy (no crowd)


Engineer in dead economy (crowd)

Leave a note that reads:

Sorry, dinked your car, I have no intention to own up, just pretending to leave my contact details.

So, I backed out from the lot.


More BMW damage. Going back the same way apparently has the same result. But, once the decision to run is made, the mind at peace. Yes, the damage is awful. Yes, it does look like the beamer got a personal carwash from Edward Scissorhands. But I have a job to do. I must run, drive up my Corolla to the parking lot in the opposite street, in a spot shrouded in the darkness. A bit of touch-up paint on the bumper gets rid of any evidence.

Now, before you feign outrage, it is not that I never tried owning up. The very first time I dinked a car, I left a note on the windshield. For a minor scratch on a really spotty Nissan 240SX. I thought the owner will call the insurance directly like most normal human beings do. I even imagined that he will appreciate my integrity. Here is a good citizen, the owner would think, I for one am lucky he left me a note.

Half an hour later, my phone rang. I picked it up.

"Hey! You banged my car!"

Several things ran through my head. First, this guy was an Asian Indian. Second, why didn't I think of that possibility before leaving the note?

"Yes, but I left my insurance card number..."

"Hey Banger! You banged my car. You can't bang cars and talk nonsense. Come over here right now!"

Five minutes later, I met the guy in the parking lot. He looked he just swallowed a gallon of petrol and, for some reason, was trying to keep it down.

"Do you know what you have done? Do you know what a Nissan 240SX is? Have you ever been in one in your entire sorry life?"

He regarded me with such utter contempt I had to look away. I wished I had at least shaved my furry chin and looked like someone who had indeed been in a Nissan 240SX even if only as a passenger.

"What did you bang it with?"

I pointed at the Corolla. He looked shocked - how could a common Corolla dink the magnificent 240SX? That was like William Hung stealing a kiss from Scarlett Johansson.

I had to follow him to the Body Shop. There, he managed to get every scratch outside and inside into the claim. The Body Shop came up with a $1500 estimate.

"Man, you are lucky," said the dinked one.

"Really?" I asked.

"My brother says it would cost at least $4000. That would be major damage to your insurance."

"How is your brother an expert? Does his car get dinked often?"

"No, he works on rockets for Lockheed Martin. He knows stuff." Right, that made his brother an expert. Part of rocket science. Lucky for me, his brother was wrong on this occasion.

My insurance got him a rental car: a Mazda Protégé. The same evening, he swapped it for an SUV without informing me. Obviously, I had to cover for the difference from my own pocket. He said that the Protégé was too small for his groceries. Unless he bought Elk wholesale, I couldn't figure out why a car is not big enough for groceries.

So, all I got from writing the note was a guy spitting in my face and taking me for a ride. You can't blame me for running.

I get back to the mall, walking through the parking lot. I'm trying to see if the BMW owner discovered the damage. I hear conversation, in German. I spot a boy picking up something from the ground and showing it to his father.

Papa, Betrachten Sie diesen! (Dad, look what I found)

Ah! Sie wissen, was dies ist? The father bellows, picking up the piece of scrap from his son. He is tall, at least 6'7", looks like a brick wall, with flaming blond hair.

Es ist ein Stück eines Bumper Sticker!

A piece of bumper sticker! Oh shoot, part of my bumper sticker must have ripped off in the collision. But, how can he possibly tell anything from it?

Es ist gelb. Siehe gibt es noch eine halbe Schreiben sichtbar, ein schwarz M.

Oh no, the piece has a black M in a yellow background. I hope it is not ...

Ich habe diesen vor. Es ist ein Mystery Spot Bumper Sticker.

Oh no! It is the Mystery Spot bumper sticker.

Was ist Mysterys Spot, Papa?

Es ist ein Ort, wo Indianer fahren Corollas hängen aus.

He knows! He knows that most people who go to Mystery Spot are Indians driving Corollas. Just then, he spots me. I freeze.

"Hey you, you Indian! Do you drive a Corolla?" That is it. I can't deal with this. I run.

Papa, ist der Mann, der zerstörten unser Auto?

Ja. Fang der Bastard. Ich werde ihn töten.

He says he will kill me. I tear away with their footsteps pounding behind me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


An Evite pops into my mailbox this morning: from baby Jimmy for his first birthday party. The program is smashing - green cake, cheese pizza, and a clown. The only problem is that Ramon’s party is also scheduled for the same time. Ramon’s party is simpler - beer, cigar, and a stripper. Of course, there are no Evites for bachelor parties, just a terse message from a shifty-eyed guy at the water cooler giving the time and location. It is a tough choice to make. Much as I like the kid, I have given my word to Ramon. I just have to reject this Evite, sorry, Jimmy. Oh wait! Oh no! My wife’s name is on the invitation list too. Oh no! Please … ! Argh! She has already accepted. With two guests – that is me and our kid.

I call my wife. Hi! Can I get out of this? I have work to do. (pause) Yes, I know, Jimmy’s parents came to our homewarming. Got it, the Reciprocity Law. But, I must go to work. (Pause) Right, they are the only American buddies we have…

She’s right. Jimmy’s parents are the only White Americans left in our network. We are holding on to these guys with dear life. The others gave up trying to understand our accent.

Listen, I can’t go, but you can still go without me. (Pause) I will iron all your clothes for the next two weeks. No? (Pause) Wait, hold on. I will hunt down the pesky rats in our crawl space. (Pause) There are no rats in our crawl space? Ok, all right, I have a better idea. I’ll stop making fun of your parents. Honest! (long pause)

Whew, she’s considering the offer. The jokes on her parents must be hitting a raw nerve.

I’ll get them a nice gift when we visit India next month. (Pause) Fantastic! Wonderful!

She agrees! I’m free! Wow!

Thanks. Have fun at Jimmy’s party! (Pause) Hey, when we visit your parents, I’ll even bear your father’s nutty philately collection. Ha ha ha! Oops. (Pause) Hello? Hello? Are you still there?

I blew it. I blew a once-in-a-blue-moon chance with that dig at her father. No use ruing about it now. All right, I have to go to this infernal kid’s party, but it is just a couple of hours in a long life…big deal, right? Wrong.

First, the unforgiving last minute trip to Babies R’Us for the gift. The only likeable part about this store is that you don’t need driving directions. Just follow the first minivan on the highway with the yellow “Baby On Board” sign stuck on the rear window. But, the store is huge, and we find ourselves moving around in circles trying to find that elusive toy, while dodging pregnant women bouncing down the aisles like giant rubber balls. Suddenly, we are running out of time. We just have to get anything. After some more hypertension, we finally find something: a decoy remote control. The minor difference to a real remote is that this one sings. Right, some Jimbo thought that a singing remote control fools a baby. But, we still take it. It is better than the dancing vacuum cleaner and the talkative rice cooker. Ok, so all we need is a gift bag now…, hold on! Are you telling me that the gift bag is more expensive than the toy? You can’t be serious.

Ok, I take the bag, and finally get into the cashier line when I realize the bloody irony. The three women ahead of me are pregnant. So are the two women behind. I’m the lone guy standing right in the middle of five pregnant women. Not exactly the scenario I planned for when the day began.

We go to Jimmy's party. Only kids have chairs, the adults are gathered around like a human version of Stonehenge. The food is just great - the cheese pizza is cold and the pepsi is warm. But I'm too nervous to eat. There are balloons everywhere. They are big and moving slowly. Moving balloons give me the heebie-jeebies. Just the thought of a pricked balloon is frightening to me. Oh crap! A beastly kid is creeping up on the large bumper-sized buster right in front of me. I need to find a corner to roll into a fetal position to prep for the blast. I get down on the floor and wait there with my head in my knees, but the balloon never bursts. I just hear lot of cheering and look up. The kid is gone. The danger has passed.

It is the cake cutting part of the ceremony. The adults who have been clinging to the walls like barnacles swoop down finding something to talk about. Oh the cake is wonderful! Look at the plastic doll holding the candle, it looks so cute! Guys, you know, HP has a new device that prints the icing on the cake. Supports 705.39c protocol.

The chatter runs out its course after a while, but the birthday kid is still not appearing. I don't know if you ever noticed, but birthday babies are big party poopers. All they want to do is hunker down under their blankets and sleep, but their parents drag them out in front of suffering grow-ups who sing "Happy Birthday to You" with the same gusto as prison inmates singing the National Anthem.

It is over. Now, I can go home. My son is turning one in a few weeks. Got to plan his party. I hope you are going to make it. It will be great fun. Look out for the Evite in your mailbox. Please come and make it a success.