Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reluctant Caretaker

Reluctant Caretaker

I grabbed the railing and tried to avoid letting the balls of my feet touch the loudest spots. But it was useless. Every step creaked, like the beginning of “Thriller.” The railing was made of thick rope.  It wasn’t nailed to the wall so it was actually a liability if I were to lose my balance.  In my haste I forgot the most basic part of the strategy: avoid the fifth step.  I imagined the crack of that step compressing beneath my parent’s bedroom door, then exploding like a grenade inside their room…. But when I stopped to listen, the entire house remained unaroused.

I slid my wetsuit on slowly, right in the middle of our living room-a space so expansive, we never really used it.  It remained adorned with things-Persian rugs, two full-sized sofas and a loveseat with a chaise-but always neglected of body heat or voice.  At the entrance to the room, there was a sitting area populated with the Louis XIV sofa (the most uncomfortable seating apparatus known to man) and the equally uncomfortable, matching lounge chair.  I stood facing the French doors that opened into the patio, resting my knee on the lounge chair.  I wasn’t worried about anyone seeing me: The nocturnal birds had finally sung themselves to sleep and the morning birds had yet to begin their songs ushering in the new day.  

The neoprene stuck to my leg hair.  I would have winced, but for the fact that pain had become a defining characteristic of my existence.  I zipped up the back using the long nylon cord.  My squandered thighs left a lot of room for water to gush in. I looked outside again.  The sun’s rays shone through the image of a bunch of grapes embedded within a panel of the French doors.  I picked up my oversized Michigan Wolverines towel, slid on my flip flops and grabbed the car keys from the granite counter top in the foyer.

As I turned the door handle, I was hit with a pain in my abdomen like a barbed rolling pin puncturing my delicate intestinal wall, moving from lower to upper abdomen several times per second. Reflexively, I ran to the bathroom, tearing off my suit.  My colon was totally empty-I made sure of that before I even came downstairs.  But the spasms paralyzed me regardless of whether I evacuated or not.  I hit the floor and grabbed what little flesh I had left on my abdomen and pinching as hard as I could with one hand; I cradled my knees with the other, rocking gently back and forth.  I closed my eyes.  I focused on my breathing, slowly, trying to calm the parasympathetic impulses. 

I did anything to distract myself during these moments.  I couldn’t pray with any degree of sincerity, since I was angry at God.  I often recited the lyrics to “Rocky Racoon,” without knowing why.  Most often, though, I whispered amma, over and over and over again, though I had never called my mother anything but “mom.”  Once I tried to make myself laugh by calling out for my dad.  It worked in some way, I suppose.  Sometimes I forced my brain to see the faces of girls I had dated, perhaps hoping that their collective affection for me would magically assuage the pain. 

The onslaught passed within a few moments, but the feeling of those spasms lingered, the way amputees feel the pain of a limb they no longer carry.

For whatever reason, that day I had the energy to continue.  I wouldn’t be scuba diving, of course, but just getting into the car and going somewhere…fuck, the day before, I barely made it from the den to the patio.  There was a quaint coffee house, Sufficient Grounds, a few doors down from our San Marino home.  I always told myself that if I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.  But it just turned out to be another bullshit optimistic lie I told myself.

I walked up the driveway, trying to avoid those little red berries (fuzzy on the outside, and sticky-like-tar on the inside) that never came off the soles of my shoes.  Aside from that trifle, there was calm throughout the neighborhood.  It was the first time that I could remember not hearing the incorrigibly loud Stanton kids next door; I noticed that tree in their front yard had much more toilet paper wrapped around its branches than it typically did.  

My arm quivered when I yanked open the door of my mother’s bright red Mercedes (why the fuck to Germans have to make cars with such heavy doors?)  I remembered the time she scared the piss out of my dad by pretending she was going to run him down.  That was in the parking lot of the hospital the time I had surgery - and he had a party the night before.  But back then it was just a sinus surgery.

Feeling slightly light-headed from all the movement, I slid inside.  I squeezed the unnecessarily large key fob between my right thumb and forefinger and turned the ignition slowly, as if it would make the engine start more quietly.  I pushed my left foot down hard, searching for the clutch, but then remembered I wasn’t in my own car.  I shifted into reverse and did my best to avoid the leaves of the pomegranate tree and the orange beaks of the birds of paradise tree as I pulled out of the driveway.

I was the only one on the road, this being the first day of the new year.   I could go as fast as I wanted, but it was hard to break 75mph on the 110S and stay in my own lane with my biceps begging for a break.  The 110S lived up to its name of being the windiest freeway in the country.  The irony of my own circuitous path in life was not lost on me. I smiled that new smile at the irony.  It was my way of telling the world to fuck off, but simultaneously acknowledging its sick sense of humor.

I thought of all the times I had driven this route in the past…in my own car…all the times I smoothly passed through traffic after late nights with friends, a just under-the-limit amount of alcohol pulsing through my bloodstream.  I liked to hold the wheel gently with just three fingers, downshifting from sixth to fifth at 80mph, enjoying the twists and turns like a kid flying down a water park slide.  But now I was concentrating as if I were taking a standardized test.

As I approached downtown LA, I looked at the sleeping industrial buildings and corporate skyscrapers alike.  There wasn’t even a light on inside the Staples Center.  There was a single CD in the changer.  I pushed play and immediately remembered it was my 80s rock mix.  “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac came on…an captivating Stevie Nicks solo.  I loved the song, but never really paid much attention to the lyrics.  Nevertheless, I always felt in Stevie’s voice that she was coming to terms with her life...or maybe some part of it.

I crossed over to the 10-W toward Santa Monica, and twenty minutes later I was at Venice Beach.  I was the only one out there.  Even the surfers, ever-present as conch shells, remained snoozing in their bungalows…or wherever they slept.  I set my towel down and ambled quickly-and awkwardly-toward the water.  The sand was cold, like a greeting received from a best friend’s ex-wife.  I thrust myself into the icy water.  (I stuck my tongue out ever-so-slightly, the same way I did in all those pictures my dad took of my sister and I at whatever beach it was when I was three.)  The ice water seeped into my suit through the too-large holes where my once robust biceps and thighs were flattered by recoiled neoprene.  I floated there amongst the waves; they pushed me back toward land.  Perhaps, they too, were overwhelmed and eschewed the responsibility of caring for me.  But I kept pushing forward, and for the first time in seven months, I was autonomous.

I was a world away from my bi-weekly visits to G-money (my affectionate moniker for my GI doctor); days spent putrifying in bed or on the sofa; sifting through photos of best friends grilling on the tiny hibachi at our legendary Rosslyn pad; staring at my clinical anatomy book and remembering how I was asked by the Dean of Students to get my classmates to have more fun; smelling the letter Atasi wrote to me in on sky blue paper with silver scented pen; bitter moments grasping the shiny Médecins Sans Frontières internship certificate of completion.  For those thirty-some minutes the reluctant ocean agreed to care for me.  I tasted its salt while it blanketed me in blue-green algae.  

When the ocean and I both agreed to end our embrace, I paddled back to shore.  Approaching my towel, I saw a seagull. It was grey and white, like every other drab bird of its kind.  Its feet webbed and orange, it had no expression, which is what troubled me so much about animals of its low evolutionary stature. 

Can anyone tell the difference between an angry gull and a curious gull?

I had long ago developed an inexplicable, intractable fear of all avian creatures, so I kicked some sand in its direction.  But instead, that damn whitish-grey bird merely stood there, observing me.  I tried to ignore it by turning away, but this gull, which was actually much larger than I had originally perceived it to be, wouldn’t leave.

“What the fuck do you want, bird?  There’s five miles of beach here and you have to loiter over here? I don’t have any damn bread crumbs, so get the fuck outta here.”

I grabbed my towel and began to dry off, shivering throughout the entire exercise, but unaffected by the proximity of that bird.  I slipped on my flip flops, staring it in the face.  “You know your brain is the size of the tip of my thumb, don’t you?”

I dried my back and arms with anemic vigor.  I looked back and saw that the bird was still there, looking straight at me with that expressionless expression.  The morning rays of the sun made a sharp line in the sand between the bird and me.  I picked up a sharp rock and looked at the bird again.  It had made itself quite comfortable resting on the part of sand now being warmed by the sun.  I finished drying my hair with the “M” part of the towel, then bent over to pick up a half-eaten Fig Newton that I eyed a few feet in front of me on the wooden sidewalk. “Fuck you, you garbage-eating scavenger,” I said as I tossed the cookie sidearm without turning back to see where it landed.

I slid back into the car.  My arms and legs hurt, but not nearly as much as my core muscles.  The back of my ankle pulsated gently as I pressed the accelerator.  I turned onto I-10 E and accelerated hard to 80mph.  It was a bit sluggish compared to my sports car, yet respectably reached target speed in about 9 seconds.  I turned on the stereo and placed the index finger and thumb of each hand on the steering wheel, loosely gripping it as I pushed the gas a little further to 85mph.  

Saturday, April 16, 2011



“Oh, this is so good!” said Doshin as soon as he heard the first few notes.
“I knew you’d like it!  I put this one on just for you, homey,”  I replied.
“You guys aren’t serious are you?  Come on.  This is like…eighth grade dance.”
“Exactly!” Doshin and I said in unison. 
“How do you guys consider yourselves music snobs?”
“We’re music snobs because we know everything about good music, so we get to define what part of bad music is really good,” clarified Doshin.
“Oooh,” I said, flipping through the 857 songs on my iPod.  “I’ve got a really good one for next.”
“We’re going to Newport Beach!” exclaimed Hamza.  “Aren’t you supposed to be getting us pumped up?”
“Yes…but this is doing it in a reverse psychology sort of way,” I said through my trademark smile.
“Well played, man,” said Doshin.
Doshin was quite possibly the only male at the DoD with a nose ring and that’s just a small part of what made him so cool.  Only I knew that Doshin posed over a dozen times in various outfits highlighting his sleeveless, faded Ella Fitzgerald t-shirt.  So to everyone else, he was just smooth, like pistachio gelato.  He redefined the whole headband-thing and made the white Adidas Superstar kicks he wore seem novel, even though that style was played out if worn by anyone else.  I suppose his clean, black chin goatee gave him enough disco-Buddhist vibe to pull it off.
“Oh wait, here’s the best part,” Doshin said, throwing his head back and holding the steering wheel loosely toward the bottom. 
Guilty feeling got no rhythm, though it’s easy to pretend, I know you’re not a fool,” Doshin and I sing, swaying as we nurtured the lyrics.
“You know they tell you over there you’re supposed to hold the steering wheel like this,” he said, hands at five and seven. 
“Why is that?”
“Because if there’s an explosion or something ahead of you, and you’ve got to get around it, this allows you to keep turning without having to switch hands.”
“That’s wonderful.  Another piece of civilian life in Afghanistan that I didn’t need to know about,” I said.
“Hey, this is a survival skill,” man.
“This is L.A., homey.  The only explosions you gotta worry about is when you eat a chicken burrito that’s a bit too authentic, know what I’m sayin’?”
All laugh in unison
“So, did I tell you Tylanni says ‘hi’?”
“Tylie!  For real?  In DC?”
“No, in New York.  She was there for the economic summit.”
“Oh, get out!” I said, accidentally slamming my iPod into the dashboard.
“So, what, did you guys party?”
“Yeah, it was like a reunion.  Peter was there, Romit was there, Brennan came out.”
“No shit! How’s Romit’s wife?”
“Still smokin’ man.  Still scandalous with those-what did you call them-electromagnetic eyes?  Do you still have that scar on your lip?” 
“Oh, shit, man!  I’m surprised it went way. That Beirut party was insane.”
“What happened at the Beirut party?” Hamza asked, not realizing he had just embarked upon a long and circuitous path.
“Well…basically, I caught Milan under the porch holding Anika’s bra, but she was fully clothed.”
“Wait.  You hooked up with Romit’s wife under the porch, while he upstairs?”
“No, no, no.  No.  Way better.  I can’t believe I haven’t told you this story yet! O.K., so Amika was totally hammered because she kept adding that Russian grain alcohol into her sangria.  You know, ‘cuz it was that high-grade shit that Serge brought back from Croatia.”
“O.K.  We gotta catch up on Serge too, but then what?”
“So, Amika wandered down under the porch and I was looking for the fire extinguisher because Raheem’s eggplants caught fire in the oven.  So, she’s just standing there emitting that scent-like the skin under the breasts of a hot chick.”
“Yeah, you lost me there, homey, said Hamza, puzzled and slightly perturbed.
“I don’t know man.  But it was like sex chopped up and condensed, then placed on a spitfire till all the juices come out.  And I’m like, ‘Remember, the root of all human suffering is desire.’  Man, I’m thinking about our Nutrition in Crises reading, I’m going over the starting lineup for the 1997 Michigan football team, anything to not think bad, very bad things.  Then something took over and I just blurted out, ‘I bet you I can take off your bra without removing your shirt.’  And she took it as if I offered her a falafel, and took a stiletto step closer, and said, ‘Let’s see whatchu got’ in that sick Elizabeth Hurley accent.  So, I’m standing there in front of her, I’ve got the fire extinguisher in one hand, and she’s there, this ribbed raspberry sorbet-colored tank top and this turquoise skirt and just winked.
Then what!”
“So, I said ‘aren’t you gonna turn around?’  And she breathes, ‘No, no.  This one’s for big boys.  The clasp is in front.’”                    
Oh, shit!” they both exclaimed-Hamza because it was his first time hearing the story, and Doshin because he couldn’t hear this story enough.
“So, I’m like, ‘Well, looks like I’ll need to put the fire extinguisher down for a moment.’  And she puts her fingers to my bottom lip, squeezes so hard it went numb, and again in that insane accent whispers, ‘On the contrary, you may still require it,’ and she leaned forward just so that I could see between her bra and her skin into that little triangular space beneath. I drop the fire extinguisher and-without making any nippalry contact-unfastened her bra.  But there was an unanticipated issue.”
“What do you mean?” said Hamza, now at the edge of the backseat, talking into my ear with his cheek resting on my headrest.
“It was a UBO.”
“UBO?  What the fuck is that?”
“Unidentified Brazillary Object,” Doshin explained.
“See, it was this crazy French lingerie and one side had a plastic spaghetti strap, and the other side was strapless.”
“So what did you do?” asked Hamza, pounding the side of my seat.
“Well, going for the strapless side would have certainly offered more breastillary contact.  However, going for that route might be sloppy: The bra might not come off smoothly and that would have damaged my reputation, ruined the whole sleight-of-hand.”
“So, I went for the strap, thereby allowing me to feel less guilt when I encountered her husband, who was presently a guest in my home, while also enabling optimal exitary fluidity.  I put my left hand under her shirt to nudge the one side along and pulled the strap with my right hand.  And as I produced two crop circles of lacy-plastic silkiness from her shoulder-” 
“I walked in.”
“Yes.  So, there I am with Romin’s ugly wife and her bra.”
“Wait, ugly, what happened?”
“Nothing.  She was just so hot that she can only be described as it’s opposite: ugly.”
“Hideous,” said Doshin.  “And-”
“No! No, you’re gonna try to tell it to make yourself sound like less of a dumbass!”
“No! I’m telling Hamza the-”
“You, no!” I said playfully holding an extended index finger in front of Doshin’s face. 
“Fine, go ahead, but, Hamza, this is not how the rest happened.”
“So, Doshin’s like, "Uhhh.  Romin said the kafta kabobs are really good.” 
“What!?!” exclaimed Hamza with eyebrows raised and his open jaw resting on the top of my seat, just behind my ear.
“Yes.  Drunk Doshin, who had been pounding drinks since 4pm, offers, ‘Romin says the kafta kabobs are really good.”
“So, Anika and I just looked at each other, then looked at Doshin, and we both said at the same time, ‘Thanks.’  And after that, due to the bizarre juxtaposition of Anika’s brazier and grilled lamb-not to mention her husband-the moment had come to a tire-torching halt.
“So, what the fuck did you do with the bra?”
“Oh, God.  This part is the best,” said Doshin.
“So the fucking fire extinguisher cap is all loose and coming off-”
“We broke it playing Misguided Warfare late one night,” explained Doshin.
“Wait, what the fuck is Misguided Warfare?  Like Battleship?”
I explained, “It’s when-”
“No!  It was my idea! I get to explain it!” insisted Doshin. “So, one night we were drunk as fuck after Milan dropped off the girls, and we were out on the porch smoking.  It was winter, so Raheem figured that throwing lit BBQ matches wouldn’t start a fire.”
“You guys started a fire on the porch?”
“No…not exactly,” I said.
“So, there was something about the varnish-or whatever-that they used on the wood.  It started these tiny fires-like the size of a silver dollar.  Hence, I invented the game of Misguided Warfare.  Raheem’s territory was Vietnam and Milan’s territory was Iraq.  So I made stealth bomber runs and dropped the matches and each person had to try and protect their territory.”
“One match at a time?” asked Hamza incredulously.
“Well, that’s what we started off with.  But then I discovered I could light about five matches at a time and drop them in different parts of enemy territory.”
“You guys are fucking insane.  Where the hell was I during all this?”
“Well, this game was invented on a Thursday, so you were probably doing work, like we should have been.  Anyway, we played for like an hour.  But then Milan’s territory started to have flames adjoin because he kept running back into the kitchen to get more beer.”
“And then I had to pee really bad.”
“That’s right, Milan had to take a piss, and it lasted like a decade-”
“So, when I came back, all of Anbar was in flames and Baghdad was lit up too.  And while I was running back up the stairs, Doshin was running down with a cigarette in his mouth, yelling, “Oh, shit! I think I dropped one missile too many.”
I tried to continue, but I was laughing so hard I was hyperventilating. “So, so, I’m thinking he said, ‘I dropped a fissile too many!’”
“And Milan yells, ‘What? You went nuclear!?!’”
“Yeah! I come up and I’m like ‘Oh fuuuuuuuck!’ And Raheem is there trying-brilliantly-to put out the fire with his loose tobacco.   And Doshin came running up with the fire extinguisher yelling ‘Everybody down!’ and he just fired that thing all over the porch, all over me, Raheem, everything.
“That fire was no fucking joke man!  I used the whole canister and even then we needed some dirt to put it all out.”
“And I think Doshin tossed the fire extinguisher off the porch and I imagine that’s how the canister got loose.”
“So, what then?”
“Then Raheem had tied a wife beater around his head and was yelling, Ho Chi Minh!”
No, I mean, what happened with Anika?”
“Oh, right.  So, since the cap of the fire extinguisher was already practically off I just rolled her bra up really tight and-”
“You put it in the fire extinguisher? Oh my God!”
“And then I said, ‘I’m keeping this because I will never believe this story otherwise.’  Then she held my face in her hands like she was going to say something really deep.’”
“But instead she…”
“Bit off a piece of my lip!”
“A whole fucking chunk!” Doshin added. “He was bleeding like he got stabbed with a bayonet.”
“I was like ‘Ow! Fuck! Ow! You bit me!’ but I didn’t realize I was bleeding until I saw droplets on my shoes. 
“What!?!  So what did you do?”
“I was in total shock!  I ran past her up to the porch and Doshin’s like, ‘Wait.  You just had her bra in your hand and now you’re bleeding like a ruptured fallopian tube.'  So he ran and got me a towel-the towel Raheem used to discard of the extra cayenne pepper and I’m like ‘What the fuck is going on?  I’m bleeding, my tongue is on fire? What the fuck is happening?’”
“So, I took ice cubes from all the empty cups in the kitchen and made Milan an ice pack.”
“Cayenne ice pack.”
“Right.  And we iced Milan’s lip.  Meanwhile, Romit comes in for a refill and he’s like, ‘That’s a hell of a tear in your lip man.  What, did some vampire get you?’”
“Wow, said Ahsen with an expression and tone I'd never before seen. "That’s all I gotta say.  That is…wow, man.”
“So, what happened with her in New York?” I asked, criminally, turning to Doshin.

Sunday, April 3, 2011



And so Vik did end up bringing Ananya back to his place that night.  We had all taken bets about whether she’d be down to go home with him.  The final vote was 3-2 in favor of Vik being able to pull it off.  The dissenters thought that, judging by her somewhat reserved friends, she wouldn’t have the confidence to part ways with them.
But we had put on quite a show in the hour or so leading up to Vik approaching the girl.  We began with a couple dirty martinis.  And after we had downed those, it was clear we were having more fun than anyone else in that joint.  There was no secret to this.  We simply happened to be outstanding at making fun of one another. We also ordered drinks that required a bit of a discerning taste.  Well, perhaps not really, but for some reason, drinking mojitos and vodka gimlets can do a lot for the way a guy is perceived when standing amongst so many others desiring the same thing: attention from attractive girls. Once the alcohol began to bring us back to our first year out of college - when we used to get in stupid fights and close out dingy bars - we started with the shots.  We made allies with the White boys facilmente by inviting them to partake in a slamming a Sambuca shot.  There wasn’t really any Machiavellian motive here.  We had fun getting others to have fun and we did so regardless of whether there were girls to impress.  And we were cool about it.  It was always a trip getting the dorky trader types to try something other than their gin and tonic.  After one or two Sambucas, Aastin (a.k.a. MCA) would affectionately mess up the guy’s hair and encourage him to lose the glasses.  “Your vision is already blurry, isn’t it? Come on, get rid of these for a couple hours.” he’d chide.
There was a group of three girls a couple of tables away.  Our age.  Dressed impeccably, but not as if they were trying to be on Sex and the City.  (It’s a difficult balance to strike in New York, where critiques over fashion sense are even more cruel than restaurant reviews.)  Somewhere during the crescendo of drinking, Vik had trained his gaze one of the girls.  Eye contact was made and a smile or two was exchanged.  When Vik warned us not to look all at once, we did the exact opposite, of course.  She was a hottie.  She wore whatever couture dress she was wearing rather casually, without any bullshit fanfare.  She sported a cool broach which looked Indian.   Her (yes, silky) dark brown hair fell delicately on her shoulders and was accented by pencil-straight bangs – if one saw her from behind they might mistake her for a Japanese girl.  “O.K. I’m going in.  Who’s my wingman?”  We all, in unison, said “Jahan.” 

Jahan was designated wingman because he had a mystical charisma that made it impossible for people to dislike him.  He was engaging without trying to be, and had an uncanny ability to bring forth more information from a group of girls than anyone I’d ever seen.  Girls clearly knew he was the wingman, but nevertheless fell easy victim to his sincere disposition and clear, deep voice.  The secret it seemed, is that Jahan was a master of being able to get a group of girls to feel better about themselves and their bond with one another.  This renaissance of goodwill allowed his friend to have a much higher chance of having a positive encounter with a girl because the entire energy of the group was cleansed of jealously or petty ill-will. 
And so, Vik’s conversation with Ananya was fluid, unforced, and as natural as possible under the circumstances.  Here were two people that truly desired to know the other better.  Beneath this desire, of course, was that basal urge to embrace the other in a hot, naked, steamy mess.
It wasn’t long before Vik headed back to his place with his hand, gracefully around Ananya’s waist.  He was more than a gentleman, and I knew when the two were deliberating about where to go next, it went something like this:
“Um, so, what do you feel like doing?  I mean, we could go somewhere for another drink, or, I don’t know if you’re hungry.  We could grab a slice.”
“No, it’s O.K.  We’ve been out since, like 9.”
“O.K., so do you want me to drop you off at your place?  Or, I mean – and it’s totally cool if you don’t want to – but we could hang out at my place for a bit.”
“Yeah, that sounds good, because I actually live in Princeton.”
“Oh, O.K., so let’s just do that then.”
“Do what?”
“Head over to my place – I mean, if that’s still cool with you.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
“O.K. Cool.  I guess I’ll hail a taxi then.”

Once Vik got past this part, he usually regained his bearings.  I think the lawyer in him simply required full disclosure or he would feel somehow at risk for being disbarred. 
Surprisingly, things between Vik and Ananya lasted beyond just this one night.   
“So, what’s the deal with Princeton?  Does she have some phat pad down there that justifies being so far from work?” I asked during one such conversation.
“No, I’m not really sure.  Her place is nothing special, but she does have a yard.  I’m beginning to think it’s because of her dog.”
“Wait. What do you mean?  She commutes to Princeton into the city every day so that she can have a dog?”
“That’s what I’m saying, dude.  It’s like, she loves that dog.”
“Don’t most dog owners love their dog?”
“No, no.  You don’t understand.  That thing can do whatever it wants.  If it’s taking up the couch, we’re relegated to the bean bag.”
“Bean bag? And don’t use big words like relegated, O.K.?”
“Yeah, the damn bean bag is supposed to be for the dog, but it ends up being where we sit.”
“Interesting.  So the dog takes up the whole fucking couch?  What the hell kind of dog is it?
“It’s a Great Dane and it’s freakin’ big for a Great Dane.”
“Great Dane?  So, what does that mean?”
“It means this dog is about 150lbs.”
“Holy fucking shit! Are you serious?!?  That’s how much I weigh.”
“Yeah!  And the bastard slobbers all over me, so I keep having to go to the bathroom to wash that shit off.”
“What does Ananya say?”
“She thinks it’s hilarious.”
“Damn, homey.  I’m pretty good with the relationship advice, but I’m stumped here.  Looks like you’ve got a little competition and that competition is edging you out.”
“That’s exactly what’s going on.  I think I’m gonna carefully bring up these issues and hopefully she’ll understand.”
“I can’t see why she wouldn’t.  Maybe she just isn’t really aware of the dynamic here.”
“Yeah, well, I think she sees it, but she doesn’t think there’s anything odd about it.  O.K., bro.  We just pulled into the station.  I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.”
“Looking forward to the next episode.  Late.”
That night, Vik and Ananya held each other close on the bean bag as they sipped red wine and watched an Audrey Tatou film (Vik’s choice).  Somewhere between the protagonist walking the streets of Paris at dawn and dreaming of herself as Coco Chanel, Vik and Ananya began to kiss with anachronistic passion.  As Ananya began to moan softly between long, satiating lipped embraces, Rufus began to stir.  And as Vik untied Ananya’s halter top and gently squeezed her breasts, the Dane guffawed and threw himself upon the carpet.  Vik did his damndest to ignore this distraction, but instead of closing his eyes, he kept one eye trained on the restless beast.
I heard about the unusual dynamic the next day when Vik came over to watch the Nadal match.  I don’t recall exactly how the conversation went, but for the most part I was replying, “Are you fucking serious?”  Once I had absorbed the exact nature of the Dane’s perturbation, all I could offer was the obvious: “Well, I guess you’ve just gotta hook up in her room and make sure you lock the door behind you.”  Vik agreed that this was the only way to survive the subversion by Rufus.

A few weeks went by and it seemed the lockout strategy was successful.  But while Vik and Ananya were able to sleep together in relative peace, Rufus began to act out in other ways.  One night, as Vik and Ananya were enjoying yet another sappy foreign film, Rufus began to ram the unsuspecting Vik in the flank with its giant noggin.  Apparently, a 150lb dog can generate a decent amount of force when it so desires.  Vik attempted to push the beast away, as Ananya responded with innocent, playful laughter.  While Vik really wanted to say, “Ananya, can you get this fucking slobbering behemoth off of me – for good?!?” he knew that the closeness between beast and vixen was too great to overcome.  Vik was on his own. 
Rufus, sensing the popular sentiment was on his side (i.e. Ananya’s reaction) began to wrestle with Vik.  After it was clear the Dane would accept nothing less than a direct challenge by Vik, he reluctantly obliged the beast by engaging in a passive-aggressive sparring session.  (Ananya even paused the film to spectate.)  Vik understood the level of aggression demonstrated by Rufus was not suggestive of simple play.  This was about territory and canines are perhaps the most territorial of all domesticated animals.  Vik, having been a part of the Brazilian jui-jitsu club for two years in college, was successful in staving off the Dane.  But as Vik rose to his feet to take Ananya by the hand into the bedroom, he understood that his dancing days with Rufus had just begun. 
The day after, Vik, MCA, Jehan and myself had another night out.  MCA and I were psyched because the plan, after dinner, was to meet up with Ananya and her two hot friends.  Vik texted each of us that we’d meet for dinner at 9:30pm.  He didn’t have to name the place – that, we all knew was Los Dos Tomingos.  Owing to the insatiable need for habanero enchiladas and the propensity to leave 25% tips on the part of Vik and MCA, we had become quasi-celebs at the ever-packed cantina.  As we walked in, we were greeted with stiff margaritas, genuine smiles, and soft cheek kisses by the smoking hot receptionist.  We were seated immediately and the steak nachos and ceviche arrived almost as quickly as we had ordered them.  By the time we actually looked at the menu (Jehan and myself, at least) I had started on my third margarita.  But while the atmosphere around us was festive, we had serious business to discuss.  
“So, Vik, I hear you’re dogged by some relationship troubles,” said Jehan.
“Yes.  You could definitely say that.  This fucking dog, man.  It’s ruining everything,” Vik lamented.
“O.K., so you need a strategy, bro.  You’ve gotta get this thing the hell away from you guys when you wanna hang out alone,” offered MCA.
“Yeah, but how the fuck do I do that when she lives in a one bedroom?”
“Didn’t you say she has a back yard?  Can’t the dog go hang out there?” asked MCA.
“Dude, I’ve tried so many times to play with that damn thing in the yard so that he’ll wanna stay out there, but as soon as he sees me and Ananya together, he has to come back in.  Plus – get this – Ananya doesn’t want to leave him outside after dark for safety reasons.”
“Safety reasons?  Is the dog some fucking foreign dignitary?” I asked.
“Why don’t you just shoot the damn thing?” asked MCA.  “This dude I work with from Serbia has some crazy semi-automatic rifle that he goes hunting with once a month.  I’m sure he’d knock of this dog just for sport.”
“O.K., man.  That’s not funny,” Vik scolded.
“Who said I was kidding?” MCA said with uncontrollable laughter.
“So, you’ve read all kinds of stuff on this breed of dog, right?” queried Jehan.
“Yeah, I’ve read the whole fuckin’ Amazon.com top ten list for Great Danes.” 
“Was there anything useful about like training it or subduing it when it gets hyper?” I asked.
“Well, yeah.  There was some stuff.  But the books said behavioral modification takes weeks.  The only thing that works right away is establishing pack order.”
“What the fuck is pack order?” we all blurted out in unison.
“O.K., so dogs in packs have to figure out who’s the leader.  And that’s called the alpha male.  One of the books I read said that if a dog isn’t following any commands, it may be necessary to establish who the alpha male is.  Right now, Rufus thinks he’s the alpha male because of all this babying Ananya’s given him since he was a pup.  He never had to compete for her attention.  And dogs are pretty smart.  They pick up on pheromones and shit so they know something sexual is going on when Ananya and I are together.”
“So…what’s the solution?” MCA asked.
“The solution, according to what I read yesterday, is that I’ve gotta wrestle with this beast and pin it on its back.  And when I pin that motherfucker on his back, I’ve gotta look him straight in the eye to let him know I have power over him.”
“You know what?  I’ve heard of this.  I was flying out to Boston one time and on the plane they showed this National Geographic special on wolves.  I think they do the same thing,” offered Jehan.
“Right.  But the question is, ‘what do I do about it?’” asked Vik.
“Well, it seems like you’ve got it figured out.  Go on and wrestle that slobbery beast until you pin him, then talk some shit and squeeze his balls.  Seriously, do exactly what that book says to do,” I suggested.
“Dude.  I just googled apha dog control on my phone and I got some pretty disturbing porn.  Wanna see?” joked MCA.
“No thanks, bro.  I’ll pass on that.  O.K., so the plan is to pin Rufus and show him who’s boss, right?”
“Right,” we answered in unison.
“O.K., so now that we’ve got that figured out.  What’s the story with Genevive and Clari?” I asked.
“O.K.  They’re both, obviously, single.  Genevive was dating this Italian dude, but they broke up a couple weeks ago because he kept secretly skyping his ex – in his underwear.  Clari is super cool.  She hasn’t been in a relationship for a while.  But she’s hardcore Catholic, so she might want to get to know someone kinda well before she’s down to hookup, I think.”
“How well is ‘kinda well?’ Like more than an hour?” I asked.
“It would be evolutionary time for you, man.  You should probably go for Genevive.”
“O.K. cool.  She had like dark brown hair and blue eyes right?
 “More like blonde hair and brown eyes.”
“Yeah, dude, that’s what I meant.”
Vik rolled his eyes and tried to stifle his laughter, but to no avail.  Just as a strategy for the rest of the night was being devised, blistering hot plates of enchiladas, mole poblano, camarones a la diablo and tacos al carbon arrived.  We all stopped talking briefly as we gorged ourselves.  The habanero sauce was so hot that I pounded my water along with Vik’s and MCA’s.  Upon leaving the restaurant I insisted that we walk 6 blocks out of our way so I could buy a slushie to cool down the heat. 
We arrived at the bar about 30 minutes late.  If Ananya minded she certainly didn’t make it appear that way.  As Vik and I went to push the adjacent table together with the table the girls’, Vik stopped me.  “Dude, now do you see what I’m talking about? Do you see her neck?”
“Yes, Vik, I see her neck.  So what?”
“Dude, she has the most beautiful neck I’ve ever seen.”
“You do realize you’re talking about her neck, right?  Not her breasts or her ass or legs – or even eyes.”
“No, for real, it’s so… graceful.”
“Vik, I’m gonna tell you this one time, and one time alone.  Get yourself together, go and barf out a few margaritas or whatever, but do not – ever again – discuss your enchantment with Ananya’s neck.  You sound like a Nature Channel mating study gone awry.  Either way, it’s not a role you want, got it?”
“I don’t care what you say, dude.  I know the truth.  But don’t worry, I won’t tell her,” he giggled.
“Or anyone else!” Stop giggling!
“O.K.! O.K.!  Let’s move this damn table.”
We had barely sat down before MCA started fucking with Ananya.  “So, Ananya, what’s goin’ on?  How’s Princeton?” 
“Princeton is fine, MCA.  I happen to like it there.”
“So, what’s the appeal.  You obviously love the City, like any of us, but you commute all the way to Princeton, like 90 minutes each way?”
“Well, as you know, MCA, I have a dog and I think it’s cruel to have a dog in the City.”
Jehan and I could tell that Vik was getting very uncomfortable because he knew MCA well enough to spot a set-up from a mile away.  But MCA had a certain charm about him that, in combination with a knock-em-dead smile allowed him to walk that fine line of fucking with someone without getting slapped or worse.
“Ah, yes.  Mr. Rufus.  I’ve heard much about this canine of great stature.  Is it true he has diplomatic status?”
Ananya laughed good-heartedly.  “No, MCA, but I do tend to spoil him.” 
“So, if you were on a sinking boat with Vik and Rufus, and you had to choose one of them to toss overboard, who would it be?”
“Nice try, MCA.  I’d let us all sink together.”
“Ooooh.  Good answer, Ananya.  Very good answer.”
Anyway,” Vik finally said, “MCA was talking about getting tickets to Thievery on the 17th.”
“Yeah, this guy at work organizes a huge fantasy football thing, so he knows a bunch of people with connections,” MCA said.
“Yeah that would be awesome!”  said Ananya.  She turned to Genevive and Clari, “Do you guys wanna go?”
“Sure!” said Clari.
“I’ll go, but only if MCA stays home,” Genevive said jokingly.  “No, no, I’m kidding, I’m in.”
“So, Ananya, back to Rufus-“
“Oh, God. I thought we were done!”
“Almost.  I just have to know if-“
“O.K.!  O.K.! That’s hilarious, MCA,” said Vik.  He squeezed MCA’s arm to let him know that he’d gone far enough.
“Ow!  No, no, it’s not bad!  I just want to you if you and Vik are in looooove?
Both Vik and Ananya blushed like they were dusted with a field’s worth of pink pollen, as this was one question they were not prepared for.  Vik now wished it had been another obnoxious question about Rufus.
Clari saved them both by asking, “So when is this concert again?”
Jehan and I looked at one another and laughed under our breath. I decided to do my part by heading to the bar and bringing back a round of drinks.
“So, did anyone see that viral video of that Ukranian chick who was so flexible that she could kick herself in the back of the head?” I asked. 
Yeah, dude! That was fuckin’ hilarious!” exclaimed Jehan with genuine enthusiasm.  Oh, wait, I can pull it up on my phone.”
What?” chimed everyone else.
“No, really.  This is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen.” Jehan passed his phone around for everyone to see the clip.  And from there, we all let Vik and Ananya just have fun without the harassment.

On August 14, Vik and Ananya decided that they would move into the city together.  With Vik starting as an analyst at Swift & Jensen, he would be working some 80 hours a week and would never see Ananya if she continued to reside in Princeton.  They rented a one-bedroom in the E. 100s, in one of the few buildings that allowed dogs of Rufus’s girth.  Vik had been secretly modeling his new collection of Canali suits in the mirror for the past five days.  He changed shirts to match with the undertones in the jackets, then chose the tie to magnify the more prominent colors - they always implied strength and power.  On his first day, Vik chose the charcoal suit with the subdued green stitched lines with a powder blue shirt and a solid navy tie.  “Damn, I look good!” he said has he pulled his toffee Ferragamos from their respective creamy cloth shoe bags.
“You do, baby!” said Ananya.

Vik went to the kitchenette and carefully prepared his coffee – making sure to tuck his tie inside his shirt.  Rufus began to stir, undoubtedly salivating for his morning trough.  He followed body heat into the kitchen and stood up resting his crusty paws on Viks lapels.  In a single motion, Vik stepped away and swatted away Rufus’s grimy claws like a giant greenish-metallic tropical fly. 
Vik!” Anaya said, quickly comforting the beast who was surely aware of the consequences of his actions before he executed them. “He was just greeting you good morning.”
Vik ignored her, as he was reviewing the names of all the partners in their heads, what they looked like, odd moles and hairstyles to help jog his memory.  Hello…two-second pause…grip firmly…I’m Vik Patel…release hand…It’s very nice to meet you.
“Aren’t you gonna take Rufus for a walk?”
“Are you kidding?  Ananya…this is a hugely important day for me.  Whatever impression I make on all the partners today is what is going to stay in their minds.  You know that on any other day I’d have no problem, but I really need to be focused now.”

That night when Vik neared the apartment, he didn’t hear Rufus shuffling around on the hardwood floor. He assumed Anaya was curled up with him watching a movie - again.  He walked in.  The bookcase had disappeared.  I thought it looked nice there.  He looked to the bedroom to see there were no skinny jeans or lacy push-up bras scattered about the floor.  And then he realized that the sofa had been lifted from the very room in which he stood.  Without putting down his work bag, he went to the kitchen and in the trash he saw several versions of a note.  But no final draft lay on the counter.

Vik stood, replaying the insignificant events of the morning.  He repeated his steps.  And repeated them again.  He pulled his cell phone from his pocket, looked at the screen for several minutes, and then turned it off.
He opened every single window in the apartment.  He threw off his jacket and tossed his work bag on top of it.  He searched in his fire-proof file cabinet for his pack of Newports and lit one.  He poured himself a 2 oz. Ketel One, 1Tb of lime juice, 1tsp of sugar, and stirred it vigorously.  He took the first sip so quickly that it trickled out the both sides of his mouth and made tiny splatters on the floor.  And then Vik stretched himself out on top of the only remaining piece of furniture in the living room: the giant red bean bag.

Too Easy

Too Easy
I was thrilled when a black Escalade full of football players honked and flashed their brights at me.  “What’s up girl?  Why don’t you roll with us tonight?”  I figured I’d play up the act, so I blew them a kiss; the rose jasmine lip gloss made a sticky imprint on my fingertips.  With great concentration, I crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of Village Corner.  I relished the familiar grainy gust of Natty Light as I walked through the heavy glass door. 
I had a strong feeling I’d see someone I knew, but was surprised it happened before I could even make it to the back of the Beer, Beer Everywhere section.  I was about to hang a sharp left into the aisle with the (imported) Fuckin’ Snob 12-packs, when I caught the eye of a couple of stoners that never missed a smokeout at our Viscount apartment last year.  Those guys used to smoke so much that walking to the stairs was like being a pilot navigating through a cumulonimbus weather system. 

Say-bash laughed so hard when they saw me that his hash-colored eyes lost their glassy film.  “Yo! That is off the hook!  Damn, I’m turned on!”    
Knoll took a piece of my thigh high boots between his thumb and his forefinger.  “Damn, you’re not fuckin’ around, are you?  Saybs, you gotta feel this. It’s like sliding your balls along the hood of a 911 GT.  Never did I imagine you’d shed the preppy look for this, homegirl!” 
“You want some candy little boy?  Tell me now because tomorrow there won’t be any left” I said giggling.  Then I turned and bent over - with my ass just brushing Knoll’s leg - pretending to pick up a piece of paper.  I nearly lost my balance as my hand-rolled crimson skirt prevented my fingers from actually reaching the floor.  I stood up and turned, with my hand over my mouth, but simply couldn’t continue the rest of the dirty secretary maneuver.  I laughed so hard that I stepped backward into the Tostitos display, knocking off ten rumbling 1lb chip bags onto the floor.  We picked them all up together, but I spent considerable time pretending to adjust my top so that Say-bash couldn’t see between my charcoal embroidered bra – a loan from Claudine – and my moisty skin. 
“Ooooh,” warned Knoll.  “You’re gonna be a Gold Dust Woman with that Stevie Nicks voice of yours.” 
“Oh, you know it, biatch,” I said, grabbing my padded breasts.
“Why aren’t there more chicks like you?” asked Say-bash.  “No, seriously,” he said, unable to keep a straight face.
“That’s because there just aren’t too many girls as experienced as me,” I replied, licking my finger and touching the tip to my ass.  “Ohhh! That’s so hot! Blow on that, boy!  C’mon, cool that off!  Cool that off!
As we giggle-footed toward the Brewer’s Dozen aisle (like a Baker’s Dozen, but you still only get twelve) three wasted Frat boys stuffed ice down a pledge’s underwear.  They were dressed in the lamest superhero costumes – Hulk’s paint job was starting to oxidize from green to rust.  Just then, the lights were turned down for closing.  One of the sloshed punks said, “Girl, I’ll tap that ass like a Saudi oil field.”  He went on, “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt...after a week!”  This is exactly what I was hoping for.  Thanks to the lights it came so much easier than I had anticipated.  I played coy for another minute or two and then trapped him with my right heel planted at his side. 
“You want it, little boy?  Are you sure you can handle this?  ‘Cuz I might be the one doing the hurting,” I whispered in my raspy, baritone voice.
“Oh, shit, no! Ahhhhh!  Fuckin’ nasty, dude! No, I thought!  I thought….Fuck!”
But with my heels, I towered at 6’3” and regardless, I had a considerable strength advantage owing to my sprinter’s body.
“Come on, bitch, feel them,” I chided him. He was so drunk, I could manipulate him like a wasted sorority slut.  I grabbed his hand and made him feel my breast, which felt like a giant tumor since it was merely a 34 DD bra with a couple of rolled up soccer socks inside.  His friends feigned sickness as they nearly fell to the floor laughing.
“Ooooh, yeah, just like that, Incredible Mulch,” I said groping and grinding him now, keeping his body firmly against mine as I clenched his button-down flannel shirt.  To ensure Knoll and Say-bash made this the biggest story on all of campus, I grabbed his collar and pushed him back against the fogged glass door.  I licked my white blossom syrup lips, pulled out my camera from my sock wad, pressed down on the tiny capture button, and said with my best James Earl Jones, “Happy mutha’ fuckin’ Hall-o-ween, bitch!
“Who are you, Incredible Mulch?”
Knoll yelled out as if on que, “Oh Snap!  Whatchu gonna do when these 24-inch pythons get ahold of you?”
Unable to return serve, Mulch just threatened, “I got a whole house full of brothers can are gonna run wild on your ass if you guys don’t shut the fuck up.”
“Oh, yes, baby, bring those hot brothers of yours to my pad,” I said, feeling myself up.  Then in my dirtiest whisper I said, “Bring them right now.” 
“Fuck you guys,” said the alpha male as he pushed Say-bash aside, creating an exit for he and his loyal followers.
Just then, the lights were turned down for closing.  One of the sloshed punks said, “Girl, I’ll tap that ass like a Saudi oil field.”  He went on, “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt...after a week.”  And this was, exactly what I was craving.  It actually came so much easier than I had anticipated.  I played coy for another minute or two and then trapped him with my right heel planted at his side. 
“You want it, little boy?  Are you sure you can handle this?  ‘Cuz I might be the one doing the hurting,” I whispered in my raspy, bass voice. 
“Oh, Oh my God! Shit, no! Ahhhhh!  Fuckin’ nasty, dude! No, I thought!  I thought….Fuck!”
But with my heels, I towered at 6’3” and regardless, I had a considerable strength advantage owing to my sprinter’s build.
“Come on, bitch, feel them,” I chided him. He was so drunk, I could manipulate him like a quarterback with a concussion.  I took his hand and made him feel my breast, which felt like a giant tumor since it was merely a 34 DD bra with rolled up socks inside.  His friends feigned sickness as they nearly fell to the floor laughing.
“Ooooh, yeah, just like that Captain America,” I said groping and grinding him now, keeping his body firmly against mine as I clenched his button-down flannel shirt.  For dramatic effect (and to ensure Knoll and Say-bash made this the biggest story on all of campus) I grabbed his collar and held him back against the fogged glass door.  I licked my blossomy lips, pulled out my camera from my bra, pressed down on the tiny capture button, and said “Happy mutha’ fuckin’ Hall-o-ween, bitch!

Dirty American

Dirty American

It was my first day of my UN internship at the Nasir-Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan. I was looking forward to attending to the care of the Afghan refugees, who made up this camp of some 100,000 residents.  Most of these refugees had fled from the brutal Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.  As I arrived that morning, I saw young, thin boys swimming in an impossibly filthy stream in the front of the camp.  After turning left and crossing a narrow bridge, we drove down the long, dusty road toward the large, canvas tent, where we would see our patients.  Along the way, I saw vegetable vendors and make-shift stores embedded alongside the countless rows of mud huts. 

Upon arriving, I joined my superior, Dr. Alam, and the rest of the UN staff around the large table outside the main tent. Alam made polite small talk with me and served tea.  Tea far too hot for the 116° heat.

I was still getting accustomed to Peshawar.  I had only been in this dusty, poverty-stricken city for two days.  I was still jet-lagged and rather self-conscious that I did not speak the local language.  At the large, wooden table, Alam and I were joined by the nurses and midwives, who all seemed to be talking about me.  I was slightly relieved to see kind nods and smiles.  On the other hand, I remained rather nervous because this was my first time doing any type of aid work.  I just didn’t know what to expect.   

Alam continued break thxe ice, but it didn't make me any less uneasy.  "You have settled into your room O.K.?”
"Yes, my room is quite comfortable."
"Are you liking Peshawar?"
"Yes, I'm growing accustomed to it."  I decided not to tell him what I really thought, which was that Peshwar was one of the most bizarre places I'd ever seen.  The filth I saw when walking along the streets was unrivaled. They day before, I had seen a man leaning over a whole chicken, removing its feathers on a dirt path, with hands covered in motor oil.  "Note to self," I thought, "eat rice with lentils from now on." But poor cities are almost always dirty places.  What was truly odd about this is that I saw absolutely no women about the town.  Not a single one.  I knew that Pashtos (the dominant ethnic group in Northwest Pakistan) had a custom of not allowing women to leave the home, but I thought I'd at least see women with their husbands.
"Soooo, Sasha, how many girlfriends do you have?"
O.K. This was not a question I had anticipated, but I fielded it as well as I could, given the circumstances.  "Well, Alam…uhhh…I have one girlfriend."
"Oh, you only have one girlfriend?  I thought you would have many more. 15."
"15 girlfriends?” I began to laugh.  “No, no. I've never heard of anyone in the States with so many girlfriends."
"Really?" he said inquisitively.  "So, what is her name?"
I cringed.  We were getting into territory I really didn't want to be in.  My stomach churned and it wasn't the astronomical bacterial content of beef stew I had the night before.
"Her name is Anita."
"She is Indian?"  he asked without judgment.
I looked across the table and felt that all the rest of the camp staff were listening, as their eyes were intently fixed on me.  I had to reassure myself that they didn't speak English.
"Yes, she's Indian," I replied. 
"Oh, God!  Why did I say that? Here I am in one of the most conservative Muslim cities in one of the most populous Muslim countries in the world and I just told my superior that my girlfriend is Indian.  Fantastic.  They’re going to think I’m a bad Muslim and a traitorous Pakistani.  Great start to this internship, buddy.”
"Very interesting," Alam remarked.
“’Very interesting?’ Oh, no.  I hate ‘very interesting.’ It seems innocent enough, but anytime someone says ‘very interesting’ it really means, ‘Yeah, that’s some fucked up shit?’"  So there I was, being welcomed by the doctor who would be my internship supervisor and I was stupid enough to reveal my girlfriend was a member of the only religion that my coworkers might have a problem with.  “What the hell is he going to think of me now?” I wondered.
"Is she a Hindu?"
With great hesitation, I answered, "Yes, she is Hindu - so what time do we begin seeing patients?"
Alam didn't hesitate nor did he go for the change in subject.  I thought, "He's not going to give me some lecture about why I should date Pakistani women is he?  This is absolutely not how I want to begin my work here."
"Sooo, what do you do with her?" 
"I'm saved," I thought.  I was relieved Alam was not one of those self-righteous people that always feel they need to judge Americans.  "Well, we go to movies. We go to restaurants for dinner. We spend time with friends.
"No, no.  I mean, what do you do with her in the bed?"
"Did I hear that right?  Did my superior, a UN doctor, just ask me about what I do in bed with my girlfriend?  Isn't this place supposed to be ultra-conservative?  What the fuck am I supposed to answer?  Wait! Clarification!  Yes, yes there must be some language gap here.  He must mean something else."
"I'm not sure I understand, Alam," I said with a furrowed brow.  "What, exactly, do you mean?"
"Oh, I mean, like what positions are you liking?  How do you like to do it?"
I couldn't believe what was happening.  I looked over at the nurses and midwives.  I was desperately hoping someone would comment that it was time to begin seeing patients.  I was hoping a meteor would hit.  Anything, anything to stop this conversation. Did I just hear a Taliban rocket? “What does he think," I wondered, "that Americans are all sex-crazed miscreants who live real-life Cinemax movies?
"I see.  Ummm.  I'm sorry, I'm not really comfortable answering this question."
"O.K.  Tell me, are you a good fucker?" 
"Oh, I am a very good fucker," Alam said confidently while smiling and gesturing with his forearm and upper leg. 

I had to ask myself whether this was all really happening.  I mused that it might be the heat that was making me imagine this whole situation.  But in my heart I knew this was, in fact, reality.  It was officially the most bizarre first day that I could ever imagine.  "Please, God," I pleaded" I will never question another girl who claims to have been sexually harassed in the workplace.  Just please, I beg of you, get me out of this conversation!"  In a desperate attempt to change the subject, I asked, "So, Alam, tell me about your wife.  What is her name?"
"Oh, ha, ha, ha," Alam laughed as people often do when a social custom has been violated by an outsider. "We do not consider it appropriate to talk about our wives here in Peshawar."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rockstar Moment

I stood outside my apartment building in the Februaried air.  It was a Sunday night, and my sight was a bit blurry from reading 200 pages of How To Win in Washington. I fidgeted with my pashmina, a gift from my Kasmiri ex-roomate, that I was never seen without during these wintry days.  There was fresh mulch at the base of the large oak trees that stood guard in front of my apartment complex.  It looked strange there, superimposed on the tundra that wouldn’t become grass again until April.
I pulled out a blue, cardboard box of Nat Sherman’s, and removed the one remaining cigarette.  I could feel a subdued adrenaline rush in anticipation of a hit of nicotine.  I lit up and took a long drag as the wind threatened to put out the just-lit smoke.  I thought about how I could market myself differently to the countless think tanks in Washington, of which, owing to the financial crisis, none were hiring.
A well-dressed girl turned the corner from N St. onto New Hampshire.  As she neared, I saw that she was both tall and beautiful.  Being weary of staring, I turned so that my back was toward her.  Her heels made a clip-clop noise that steadily grew louder.  Then the noise suddenly stopped and I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I spun around with a surprised smile. 
“Hey, sorry to bug you, but do you have another one of those?”
“Oh, um, I’m really sorry, this is my last one.”
“Oh, that’s ok.  I was just out with some friends for drinks and I’m totally craving a smoke.”
While maintaining my smile, I said apologetically, “Yeah, I know how that can be.”
She started to continue on her way when my partially paralyzed mind instructed my mouth to say, “Hey, do you wanna share this one with me?” 
She turned around with remarkable grace, given that she was in heels.  She said with alacrity, “Sure! Why not?”
I walked toward her and handed her the cigarette.  She removed her trendy blue leather gloves and took a few puffs. 
“Oh wow, what are these?
“They’re Nat Shermans.”
“Oh, so you’re too good for Camel lights?”
“Exactly,” I replied cheekily.
“These are so much better than the shit everyone else smokes.”
“Hearing you say that is actually the main reason that I smoke them.”
“Ha! You’ve got quite a sense of humor.   There’s a lot left.  Wanna walk me home while we finish this off?”
“Sure.  Where do you live?”
“I’m like two blocks from here on 22nd.”

As we walked we exchanged names and, of course, work information and where we had received our graduate degrees.  She was impressed that I studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, though she had received a law degree from Duke and a master’s in international relations from Hopkins. Her name was Sonia and her parents had immigrated to the US from India when she was very young.   As we rounded the corner onto 22nd St., I noticed that she was wearing a white colored cashmere coat with a faux fur collar.  It wasn’t the type of coat one could wear every day and I knew she’d never wear it to work at the firm she practiced at.  I started to understand that this was a girl was part of DC’s “upper crust.” As the lights shined upon us from the Wyndham hotel, I caught a glimpse of her enormous pink diamond earrings. I was a bit disappointed because pink diamonds were almost always conflict diamonds.  I realized this was the type of girl my friends and I regularly chided when out at a bar or lounge.  It wasn’t that any of us couldn’t afford nice things; we just had our fair share of disasters with “princesses.”  Princesses cared more about money than substance, more about where you worked than what you did, more about which senators you knew rather than which ones you voted for.
To hell with it.  She’s super cute and seems like she’s into you.
Upon reaching her town house I was glad that DC was being hit hard by the financial crisis as it made me one of thousands of highly qualified people not presently working.  Sonia didn’t seem fazed by my circumstances despite being a lawyer at a high-powered law firm.  We stopped at her doorstep and she said, “Well, thanks for walking me home – oh, and for the cigarette,” as she smiled, showing her brilliant white teeth for the first time.
“No worries.  Next time you’re fiending for a smoke, just stop by,” I said.
“Ok. Cool.  See you around.” 
She stepped up to her door, and as she turned the key, I asked, “So, would you be up for dinner sometime?”
“Umm, sure,” she said pretending to not have expected my inevitable query.  “Here’s my card.  Just shoot me an email, O.K.?”
“I’ll do that.  Have a good night,” I said playfully.
I turned and walked back toward my apartment, feeling both excited and surprised.  I immediately called my friend Zaytun.
“Ettie,” he said, as he always did whenever I called.  That’s the thing I loved about Z.  He never answered with a “Hello?” Instead he always said your name, as if he had been looking forward to hearing from you.
“Z! Dude, you’re never going to believe what just happened.”
“What’s that?  Wait, hang on, let me turn this down.  He turned down the Portuguese ambient electronica he was presently obsessed with.  Ok.  What up?”
“Dude.  Check it.  I’m standing outside my building having a smoke.  This super cute chick rolls up, and asks for a smoke.  But I was on my last one.  So I ask her if she wants to share, and she’s like cool.  So we end up sharing the cigarette while I walk her home.”
“Nice, dude.  So did you get her number?”
“Well, when we got to her pad, I asked for it and she gave me her card.”
“That’s pretty money considering you knew her all of, what, ten minutes?”
“Yeah, something like that.  Only thing is that I think she might be a princess.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Dressed all in couture.  Pink diamond earrings bigger than T.O.’s”
“Hmm….Well at least go out with her and decide.  You got nothing to lose, right?”
“Yeah, definitely.  What do you think, the Peruvian joint in Adams Morgan?”
“It’s been nothing but good to you in the past, right?”
“Yeah, I’d say that’s about right. Just don’t want it to seem like I’m trying too hard to impress. Cool.  So, yeah, just called to tell you about this.  Nothing else has happened since I talked to you, like, 3 hours ago.”
“Alright, man.  Let’s talk about this more tomorrow and we can strategize on the email.  I’ve got a big donor meeting tomorrow so I gotta crash pretty soon.” 
“Ok, man.  Talk to you tomorrow.  Can I come to the donor meeting?”
“Uhh, no.”
“Come on, dude.  I’ll tell them how well you can withstand multiple alcoholic drinks.  And how you used to handle way more E than any other human weighing 130lbs.  I want to reassure them that you’ll be doing good things with their money.”
“Somehow I don’t think any of that would go over too well, Etienne.”
“OK, dude.  Let me know if you’re starting to get cold feet and you change your mind.”

I made plans with Sonia for later that same week.  Zaytun’s email edits were invaluable and helped me strike just the right balance between playful and confident.  We met at the Peruvian restaurant, which was known for excellent food in an intimate, though unpretentious setting.  It was a fairly small space, only about ten tables.  The walls were painted a pinkish-red and each table had a small, unassuming candle placed upon a bluish-grey tablecloth. 
We started with the ceviche, which was fantastic.  As the conversation began to move fluidly, I became less nervous.  A bottle of Chilean petit syrah arrived, and was poured into trendy, stemless wine glasses.  We sipped the wine, and Sonia complemented me on the selection.  As she was a progressive, we shared much in common.  We discussed our love for Amartya Sen, Raphael Nadal, and Bollywood films. 
“Actually, you’re never gonna believe this, but I started watching Indian movies because I was trying to improve my Hindi language skills when I was studying for the foreign service exam,” I confessed. 
“That is so funny!  Did it work?”  she asked playfully. 
“Yeah, I think after about three weeks I could understand when they read the title of the movie.”
Sonia was definitely digging my sense of humor and I started to feel at ease.   Our food arrived just as we began to share our favorite travel destinations.  
“So, where are some of your favorite places in Europe?” she inquired.
I sensed that she was after a little dirt, and I had no shortage of stories to satisfy.  “Actually, I went backpacking in Europe with six brown guys.”
“Oh my God! Are you serious? That’s so crazy”
“It was hilarious.  I mean, it just happened that way.  Most of my housemates senior year were Indian, so we all went together.  The token Whitie, Brad, wasn’t able to make it. Anyway, we’d walk through any city, and people would be like, ‘India! India!’  We didn’t mind, ‘cuz they treated us a lot better than they would have if they thought we were American.”
“So what’s your favorite memory?”
“Oh, that’s so tough.  Man, I guess I’d have to go with Marbella, you know, Spanish Riviera.  We had partied all night, and at like 2am, they started blinking the lights.  Of course, we thought it was last call and started pounding the rest of our drinks.  But it wasn’t.  Get this: it was a Michael Jackson contest.”
“Wait, what do you mean, Michael Jackson contest?  Like karyoke?”
“No, no.  This was the real deal.  They would play a Michael Jackson song, and you have to dance to it.”
“Oh my God!”
“So, all of us are trying to get my friend Rahil to do it ‘cuz he’s a kick-ass bhangra dancer.  But Niraj was like, ‘No way, no how, never.’” 
“So what happened?”
“O.K., so no one knew, but I was quasi-obsessed with Michael, and I used to practice his moves in my bedroom every morning while I got dressed.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sonia said as she nearly snarfed her wine. “That is so fucking funny.”
“Yeah.  I was drunk, and I was like, ‘Yo, I’m never going to see any of these people again.’  So I told the bartender I was in.”
Sonia was enjoying all this immensely.  She punched me in the arm playfully and insisted, “What happened then?”
“So then, like three guys and one girl were ahead of me.  The girl was money.  One of the dudes was a shit-faced Greek dude who almost did a face-plant.  So I roll up and, of course, they played Billie Jean.  Man, I knew the song and the moves so well that it just no contest.  The only thing I was worried about was the Moonwalk because the stage was kind of sticky.  So while I was dancing I kicked off my shoes and then I poured a drink all over my socks so they wouldn’t stick to the floor.”
“Oh my fucking God. So then what?” Sonia asked with wide eyes and an open mouth.
“I totally nailed the Moonwalk.  And everyone in the bar just went insane.  At the end of the song, this insanely hot Scandinavian DJ came over and kissed me on the lips.” 
“That is the fucking funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah, it’s like…we get one of these moments in our entire lives.  You have no idea when it’s going to happen, but we all get this singular chance to be a total rock star.”
“So, wait.  What did all your friends say?”
“Ha! They were like where the fuck did that come from?  Who are you?”
“I was like, yo, I got skills.  I got skills that you don’t even know about.  Then all these people started crowding around me.  And they were like ‘how did you learn the Moonwalk?’  And I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.  Like ten different people bought me a drink.  Then people started chanting ‘Encore!  Encore!’ but I knew I had to quit while I was ahead, you know?
That is a great story.”
“So what’s your rock star moment?”
“Definitely when I was in college.  I was a theatre major.  So, there’s this big Shakespeare festival every year.  And it’s just kind of understood that no freshman, no matter how captivating they are, can take on anything except for bit parts.  So…I was like, ‘fuck that,’ I’m so much better than these upperclassmen chicks.  About two months before the festival, the drama faculty comes around and hands out the parts.  I had like two lines in The Tempest, which was totally beneath me because I was a total drama nerd in high school.  I actually went to Shakespeare camp every summer.”
“Wow, I bet you got yourself into loads of trouble there, huh?  What did you do, interrupt people studying with a soliloquy?”
“Shut up!  O.K., where was I?  Oh, yeah, so there’s this bitch who was a sophomore and they gave her Cleopatra because her Dad was like Ambassador to Brazil.  So, this chick was notorious for sucking dick right and left.  So guess what happens?  She ends up getting fucking mono and loses her voice two days before the production.”
“No, way!”
“Way.  Very way.  So, there’s this urgent email from the head of the drama department in search of anyone, female or male, who could do a cram session and perform as Cleopatra in front of the whole campus.” 
“So, I replied, and said I could do it.  Actually, the summer before I started at Yale, I had played Cleopatra - ”
“- At Shakespeare camp!”
“Yes!  So I emailed back and said I could do it and that two days was enough time for me to prepare.”
“So then what?”
“So then I crammed like crazy, ‘cuz you have to remember all the gestures and everything too.  Performance day came around and people were like, ‘Oh, Antony and Cleopatra is going to blow because Veronica’s not doing it.’  I was just like, whatever.  I went out there and I was just like in a zone the whole two hours.”
“Then what?”
“They did the curtain call and I got mad ovations.  I was like, ‘yeah, you know it!’”
“Nice, very nice.”
“But that’s not even the best part.  After the head of the drama department totally kissed my ass, I went back to the dressing area.  Everyone was giving me high fives and shit.  But then came the total rock star moment.  All of a sudden everyone started cheering.  None other than William Jefferson Clinton walks in.  He came right up to me and said, ‘That is the best performance of Antony and Cleopatra I’ve seen in my entire life.  And that includes the time when I saw it as president.’”
“Holy shit!  I get kissed by a hot DJ and you get props from Bill Clinton.  Un-be-liveable.” 
We had eaten our entrees without noticing.  And it had been at least ten minutes since the waiter placed the desert menus on the table. 
Sonia’s story was so amazing that all I could do was smile and shake my head.  She seemed like she’d need a moment to return from her surreal memory.  She was looking at the candle and smiling to herself.  I consumed the image of her full lips just barley parted.  She had a large dimple on her left cheek.  Her eyes were so large and dark that they made me want to beg them to take me wherever they were.
“Ready for dessert?” I asked. 
“Sure. Hmmm.  Everything looks good.  Oh, do you wanna share the leche asada?”
“Yeah, that’s cool.  I always end up getting flan.  I think it’s time to move on.”
“Excelente.  Hey, do you watch soccer?”
“Yeah.  I mean, I don’t have the soccer channel, but I def watch the good club games whenever I can.”
“What’s your team?”
“I dig Man U.”
“Oh, really?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Oh, my girlfriend is from the U.K. and she’s like an insane Arsenal fan.”
“Yeah, you match the passion of the Brits for football.  It’s part of their DNA.”
“Totally.  Did you used to play?”
“Yeah, man.  I played all through high school and then intramural in college.”
“Cool.  Were you good?”
“Ummm.  I was pretty average until senior year.  Then I put on a bit of weight on my super-skinny frame and that helped a lot.  You know, you can move a lot better when the wind isn’t knocking you over,” I shared with a smile.
Sonia laughed, showing her dimple again.  “You know your sense of humor is quite charming, don’t you?”
“I’ve been told this.”
“Yeah, by who?”
“The little butterfly that lives in my sock drawer.”
“Were you born this cute?”
“Yes,” I replied with a playful smile.
“Oh!” Sonia jumped in her seat.  “That’s my phone.  Hang on a sec,” she said as she pulled her phone from her Fendi handbag.  “Hi babe, what’s up?  No, no we’re just finishing.  Yeah, for sure.  O.K., sweets.”  She hung up her phone and placed it back in her handbag.
“Meeting up with some friends after this?”  I inquired as carefully as possible.
“Oh, no.  That’s just my boyfriend.”
“Cool,” I said, but I meant, “What the fuck was that all about?  You’re playing me?”  I could feel the leche asada climbing back up into my throat.  I was shocked, but I still maintained sufficient wits to be able to ask the painfully obvious, “Soooo…this is not a date.” It was a statement more than it was a question.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry, sweetie.  I thought I made it obvious.  Yeah, I mean, this is just hanging out.  Two friends enjoying good food and great conversation.  I mean, your Billie Jean story is fucking awesome.  Sheel is going to die when he hears it.”
“I hope he gets a kick out of it,” I said with my teeth clenched and my fingernails tearing into my palms. 
The check came back and I signed it furiously.  To make matters worse, in my disorientation, I gave the waiter a 40 percent tip. 
We stood up, and Sonia reached out her arms to hug me.  I wanted to drop-kick her in the face so hard that that damn dimple would fall right off.  Instead, I played it cool and attempted to save face.  This ended up being the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done. 
“Oh, thank you, sweetie!  We have to do this again sometime.  You have to tell me more of your crazy stories!”
“Definitely.  I’ll give you a ring next week.”
We walked out of the restaurant and Sonia reached out her arms for another hug goodbye.  I half-heartedly wrapped one arm around her.  She planted a warm kiss on each cheek, in the European fashion.
“Bye, sweetie!”
“O.K., you heartless bitch,” I said under my breath.  She started walking south toward Dupont Circle.  My apartment was in the same direction, but the last thing I wanted to do was be anywhere near that evil chick.  I walked uphill toward Kindred Spirits.  The irony was not lost upon me.  I slid my Blackberry out of my pocket.  I held down the side button, and said “Z” into the receiver.