Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just for an Ipad

Which Shakespearean tragedy is set in Scotland?

My eyes lit up, synapses inside my brain set off like mini-firecrackers.  Finally, a question within my range.

‘I know. Hamlet!’

‘Wrong again. It is Macbeth. You are hopeless!’

She chucked the trivia book in my direction, and collapsed on the chair with a sigh.

‘I cannot depend on you, I have to do this all by myself,’ she proclaimed.

‘Well, let us see you try, genius,’ I opened the book to a random page. ‘Who invented the flush toilet?’

She hesitated, before dropping into a French accent: ‘Toilet? Jean-luc Toilet?’

‘No, but impressed by the way you delivered a totally random guess. The answer: a 16th century guy called John Harrington.’

She threw up her hands in the air. ‘What are we going to do? We have zero chance of winning the contest.’

‘Why are you so obsessed about this quiz?’

‘It is humiliating. Five holiday quizzes and not a single win! We got to end the drought! We must win the grand prize tomorrow. Do you know it is an iPad?’

‘Something we don’t need.  You already have the touchscreen tablet I got for your birthday.’

She held up the Maylong from the table. ‘This? You mean this $79 cutting board? This is not a touchscreen, it is a stabscreen! I need a pedicure everytime I try to use this.’

‘It is a resistive touch screen, that is the future of technology.’

‘Resistive? Yes, it is resistive! And you bought this thing at Walgreens? What kind of a dork buys a computer at a pharmacy?’

Before I could retort, the doorbell rang.

‘If I had bought you an IPad, I wouldn’t have taken you to the Opera. It is either-or.’

‘All we need to do is find out a way to win the grand prize tomorrow.’

‘Keep dreaming. We need an act of God to win this quiz.’ I said, as I opened the front door.

Brandon, my neighbor across the street and the autocratic community President, rocked on the balls of his feet with thumbs hooked in the pockets. I knew he was going to hit me with a charge.

‘Hey, what’s up?’ I quivered.

‘Your trash cans. Still outside in the street at noon. I pulled them into your side gate,’ he drawled. Ok, so I left my trash outside for collection last night.

‘Thanks. I was going to get to them today.’

‘Trash is picked up at dawn. You have to abide by the 3-hour rule - get your ugly bins off the street by morning eight,’ he said. He flipped out his dreaded notebook and scribbled:  

‘I’m noting this down as an advisory, all right. Don’t let this escalate. We don’t want a special board exigency session to address this. ’

‘Ok, officer, is that it?’

‘No, actually not. May I come in? I have a favor to ask.’

He stepped in and my wife greeted him.

‘I changed the locks to my house yesterday,’ he announced.

‘Did you get locked out?’ I asked.

‘No, I just change it every year,  you can never be too sure. Now, I want to leave this spare key with you folks.You can easily tell it is my key because my name is engraved in the keychain, you see that?’

‘You certainly think of everything,’ I said looking at the monstrous keychain with his name engraved in pink lettering. He handed the key to my wife.

 ‘So are you and Elaine going to be here for the holiday party?’ she asked.

‘Of course. After all, I’m the President. And, without me, who’s going to run the quiz?’

‘Are you running the quiz?’

‘You bet. In fact, I just finished making it. You better prepare well, because you know my breadth – I’m going to ask all over the place. American Civil war, Hollywood, Geography, Science … you name it!’

I waved goodbye, shut the door, and turned around to find the spouse in a hypnotic trance.

‘Hey, what’s the matter?’

She smiled beatifically. ‘Who mentioned that we need an act of God to win this quiz?’


‘God is kind. Brandon is the quizmaster.’


‘And the key to his house is in our hands. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’

‘No, but I’m thinking jail.’

She leaped on the sofa chair, and peered through the blinds. ‘We don’t have a moment to lose. Brandon just opened his garage. He is going out somewhere. I know Elaine is not back until tomorrow. This is our chance.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Not me. You are going there. Someone reliable has to watch out for his return. You are going to slip into his house, and find the quiz.’

‘Are you crazy? That is a criminal offence called breaking in.’

‘It is not breaking in. You are using his key.’

‘He didn’t give us the key to barge into his house. He gave it to us for safekeeping.’

She suddenly yelled. ‘Brandon is leaving. Go right now. Go! Go! Go!’

I was being propelled into this. No choice.

‘Cell phone –charged and ringer off,’ she threw it across.

‘Cap.’  Installed it on my head.

‘Ok, here is the plan … he is backing out his SUV right now. It will take him twenty minutes even for even the shortest trip to the nearest store. When I signal, you put on your cap, cross the street …’

I strode across with my cap low down on my head.

Pick up the newspaper on the porch, stuff it in your coat pocket.  
With one stoop, I lifted it and crammed it in the pocket.

Unlock, step in, and close the door. 
Whew! The tensest part.

Now, you have exactly four minutes inside the house. 
I triggered the stopwatch on my chronograph.

Head upstairs to his study. Search the desk. You are looking for a file with two or three stapled copies lying neatly away from the rest of the mess.
The study was strewn with papers all over the place. Just as she guessed, there was one blue file on a shelf above the printer. I opened it and found two copies of the quiz. I quickly took pictures of all the pages, and slipped my phone into my pant pocket.

Head back out through the front door …
Wait! I noticed a neat set of yellow files organized by names. The thickest file carried my name. I pulled it out and glanced through it. It is an FBI-style almanac of transgressions:

Feb 17th:  Noisy Music.
April 3rd: Suffocating cooking odors.
July 9th:  Clothes (including underwear) hung out on the fence to dry.
Dec 24th: Trash cans left on the curbside.

So the bugger records all his notes into this file! 

Suddenly, I heard a whirring sound. The garage door! He is BACK. Only two minutes on the stopwatch. Oh my God!

I headed towards the stairs, but the kitchen door squeaked. Darn it! I darted into a bedroom looking for a place to hide. I heard his step on the stair. I crammed into a sliding door closet. Just then, my phone vibrated. I pulled it out of my pocket.

Text: He’s back. Where r u?

I froze. Brandon entered the room. He was breathing heavily and I heard the rustle of clothing. Suddenly, the closet door slid from the other side, and he tossed some clothes into a hamper. It closed again, and he seemed to have gone out to the bathroom because I heard running water.

I called her while trying to squat down, and whispered: ‘Why is he back so soon? You said I had 20 minutes.’

‘Well, he took the car to check his mailbox which is only 100 yards away. Never would have guessed that. Where are you?’

‘I’m in his goddamn closet. Ouch!’

‘What happened?’

‘I just knocked my head on some woman’s shoes.’

‘I always wondered where Elaine gets her shoes. Can you read the labels please?’

‘WHAT! Do you realize that I’m inside his closet? Get me out of here!’

‘All right, calm down! You will be safe. Where is Brandon in relation to your position?’

Just then I heard a humming sound. I peaked out of the closet into the bathroom.  Brandon had one leg up on the counter.

‘Oh no,’ I groaned. ‘Listen, Brandon is right now in my line of sight wearing nothing but a sarong and hairdrying his butt. I can’t take this any more. Extricate me!’

‘Ok, I’m coming.  When you hear met at the door, wait a bit and then get out.’

A few moments later, the doorbell chimed. I heard Brandon dress up quickly and take the stairs.

I sneaked down the stairs. I could see Brandon from the front window, he was outside on my porch helping with the holiday lights. Good, he cannot see me geting out. I opened the door quietly, stepped out and closed the door. She caught my eye and jerked her head in the direction of the road.

‘Oh crap!’ I just remembered something. To her horror, I unlocked the door again and got back in. Taking the stairs two at a time, I found the yellow FBI file still on the desk. What a dead giveaway! I quickly stuffed it back in its place, but not before yanking a good number of pages out.

When I came out again, Brandon was up on the ladder installing a snowflake.

Head straight to the playground, and read the newspaper.

I was still reading it when she finally came around in the car to pick me up.

*  *  *  * 

Name the great mathematician who died in a duel at the age of twenty.

The defending champions were stumped, this was clearly beyond their prowess. Brandon looked to us.

No hesitation: ‘Evariste Galois.’ 

‘Right again. Now, this is the last question to you. Where were the first sho…’

I eagerly interrupted him: ‘The first shots of the Civil war were fired on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter!’

Brandon looked puzzled. ‘I haven’t even finished the question. But you are right. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new winner. Team Integrity!’

‘Did you really have to call ourselves Team Integrity?’ I whispered, but she was too busy accepting the IPad3.

Later on in the party, I observed Brandon looking forlorn.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked him.

‘You know, Elaine said she was at her parents' in the East Bay last Friday.’


‘But, look what I found in her closet on the floor.’

He showed me two Opera tickes: ‘What was she doing at the Opera in San Jose? Who was she with?’


1 comment:

  1. Hey Bharadwaj,

    Excellent narration. Enjoyed it thoroughly. Don't tell me you and Priya really did it. ;)