26 March 2020

India with Dad

Dad and friends 

Back when I was working in NYC, I dated a woman who was a numerologist. We met at the first and definitely the coolest party I was ever invited to. A small apartment building in Manhattan, all four apartments on one floor were open. One had the food, another the drinks, the third a jazz quartet complete with upright bass and the fourth was where I met the numerologist.  

It was the mid-eighties and consequently it was a fast romance. After the party, we were kissing on her couch when she pulled her head back and said stop. I was about to apologize when she took me by the hand and lead me to her bedroom. Since then, I’ve used the same tactic with surprising results. Not all good. 

The next morning, we had breakfast at JG Melon and began to introduce ourselves. I was a park ranger at the Statue of Liberty but had higher ambitions. Acting, screenwriter and if that all failed, at least I could work for an ad agency.  I wanted to be Don Draper long before there ever was one. 

She worked in an office as a secretary but numerology was her passion. I had no idea what she was talking about and being horrible at math, assumed she loved it. She explained and asked for my numbers. We were not finished with breakfast when it started to rain. She asked that I hurry because we had to get back to her place because nothing was better than doing it while it rained.  Every time I’ve walked by JG Melon’s I think about rain. 

On our next date, she explained the results of my numbers. She said I was prone to talk too much and that combined with a good hearted honesty, my career would be a failure if I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s just what she thinks of me.”  But she was right. So dead on right, I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times I was fired for ‘speaking my mind’ over the past 35 yrs since her reading. 

My father had the same problem. A lot of people thought he could’ve made general were it not for his... correcting of superiors. Or, what he called, “The perfumed princes of the Pentagon.  Actually, he’d have been better off staying in Special Forces where that kind of contrary nature was popular. But he even pissed off the Green Berets by saying they were all show and no go in Vietnam. In fact, the gate over the entrance to his SF camp had a large sign over it that read in Vietnamese, “We are only what we say we are and not what we do.”

There’s a black cow that loiters about my Jaipur residence every night with four or five other cows. When I first saw her, she stared at me - - Watched my every move while the other cows ignored me. That was the first night I stepped in cow shit. There were two other times I misstepped, and that black cow was always there staring at me.  I’m not superstitious but I think that Black Cow is my Dad trying to tell me something. Or, maybe he isn’t and just likes roaming around Jaipur, completely safe as a sacred cow, and shiting all over the city. That would be my Dad and maybe me. I wonder what the numerologist would think? 

25 March 2020

India Lock Down

My napkin at the table

Rather than knock, many Indians turn the locked door knob back and forth as a way to let you know they want in.  It’s unsettling when it first happens. Especially when you open the door and three strange men are outside with the apartment manager who looks very uncomfortable. In fairness, he always looks uncomfortable. Whether he waves good morning or trying to tell me in his limited English the elevator ain’t working. 

The three men want to see my apartment.  One man points at his eye and says, “Look, look.”  It’s almost 8pm and I’m saying to myself, “this is not good.”  Well dressed terrorists comes to mind but I scratch that and looking at their height assume they’re cops. I let them in. They look around quickly, exchange a few words amongst themselves in Hindi and leave. 

I found out the next morning they were prospective buyers of the the apartment building. Suddenly, memories of countless real estate agents knocking on my various apartment doors reminds me that people are all the same.  The good and the bad. 

There are pigeons outside my bathroom window who coo, purr and squak.  They drove me crazy for the first week. The window is frosted and I can only make out their shadows as they flap against the window. I take my four minute shower because that’s how long the hot water lasts and while using bottled water to brush my teeth, I hum The Beach Boys, Don’t Worry Baby.”  I spent a glorious summer with a girlfriend in Florida having sex everyday and listening to The Beach Boys afterwards, a cool breeze blowing thru her bedroom window and landing on our naked bodies. That was the Summer after I graduated high school. 

This is Spring in India. And the pigeons, still outside my window, don’t make a peep. Every morning I hum a Beach Boy’s song and they keep their mouths shut.  It’s my 23rd day in India and I’ve sung to pigeons, had my four minute shower, an orange, some honey and a malaria pill with bottled water for breakfast. 

I’m invited to the home of my host for lunch, as I have been almost every day.  His wife, parents, sister, two children and cook along with a caretaker are in serious discussion. While it’s Hindi, I can tell something is wrong. I kick off my shoes by the door and greet all with a poorly pronounced Namaste. Their reply is with smiles but they’re wooden and tight. I sit at the table and all discussion continues in Hindi. I want to ask, “what’s up?” But I don’t.  I assume my host will speak with me privately and so this lunch drags on while they speak quickly in a language that sounds Italian one minute and Japanese the next.  I hear ‘American’ buried in the rapid fire Hindi more than once. 

I push flat bread into a pile of potatoes that look just like hash browns. With thumb and index finger I clamp the bread around the potatoes, pick it up and stick it my mouth dropping a couple in my lap. I’m the only one at the table who uses a napkin because I’m not good at eating with my right hand. I also remember I forgot to wash my hands but figure pushing buttons on a elevator and opening two gates isn’t going to kill me. Or will it? I’ll find out in 14 days. 

These people are warm and generous and sitting at their table, I am aware they’re just like everybody else I’ve ever had a meal with. They have the same problems as everyone in the world right now and I feel the 7,599 mile difference for the first time.  I really am on the other side of the planet and it makes me feel lonely. And then I think of The Beach Boys and the pigeons and the lyrics of Don’t Worry, Baby.  And I feel better...just as slices of chilled mango are piled on my plate.  Who in the world doesn’t like mango.