Hey, I’m a person offline too.

I read a ton of biographies. In almost every biography of a success story, there is a moment early in their life when our protagonist goes against the grain and shows some initiative that separates him or her from the pack.

Two weeks ago, I decided I was tired of emailing my resume out endlessly. No longer content to let my future be determined by the whims of somebody’s inbox, I printed out a dozen copies of my resume, put on some nice duds, and set out to walk into the cushy offices and environs of the people that I want to work for. I don’t especially enjoy walking into the offices of people I don’t know and disrupting their work day, so I had to muster up a little moxie to do this. I did this by drinking a stiff coffee and listening to my spirit animal Eminem’s 8 Mile Road battletrack.

“I got every ingredient, all I need is the courage…”

I repeatedly found myself twenty feet from my destination, taking a deep breath and wiping away the beads of sweat from my brow. I checked my clothes in the semi-reflection of the glass office walls next door, and I walked into my possible bright future, all perfect posture and clean-shaven polite smiles. Not a single office would even look at my resume. I was polite. I wasn’t asking for an interview. I simply wanted to leave a paper copy of my resume and cover letter in an office of people I respected and wanted to work alongside, and people looked at me as if I was a billigerant and pantsless drunken door-to-door salesman with his fly open. (I know that’s technically not possible)

A few people were visibly uncomfortable and behaved as if by putting a resume on a desk I was littering. Time and again, the security personnel or the person at the front desk of said company would tell me that “All our hiring is done online” and direct me to their homepage. I would counter politely that since I was physically in the room now, could I just leave my information? However, our online society of 2014, this handless brainless army we’ve become, these people’s somewhat calm exteriors morphed into palpable discomfort at my suggestion. More than three people literally put their hands up in the air in a display of graphic exasperation to illustrate to me the depths of my demanding boorish behavior. Walking in was seeming to have the opposite effect of what I anticipated, rather than give me an in due to my initiative, it was taking me out of consideration because they thought I was outside my damn mind.

I wondered what the biography subjects I had read about would have done. Well, Einstein probably would have laughed and ridden his unicycle home. But what would the late Youtube commencement speaker Steve Jobs have said to the gentleman who told him to only contact them through their website or LinkedIn? In his biography he repeatedly told prospective employers he was not leaving their premises until they hired him. I appeared to be running the risk of incarceration if I inquired one more time if they could direct me to the person in charge of new hires. The irony was not lost on me that the very companies and industries that were built around ideas of thinking differently, built by people who chased uniqueness and persistently at that, their successors seemed to all be thinking alike now, and not courageously. These days, people celebrate thinking differently as their cover photos and profile pictures but in an ever-increasing number of actual human interactions, something as simple and harmless as asking to leave a paper on a desk can get you treated like a pariah and any deviation from the mundane order of the day appears borderline anarchic.

You may say, the system works fine, dude. You apply online, present yourself as best you can online, that gets you in and then you are there in person. So why did I want to visit these places in person first? It’s because I don’t have any connections, and I feel like I am consistently losing out to those who do (not sure of this but it’s possible), and it’s also because I think my online self is a shell of me. I’m better off paper. Online Me is significantly less charming, impressive and three-dimensional as my real self. The only thing he has going for him is a certain mystique but offline me? I’ve spent every hour of every job of my adult life dealing with people. I used to be terrible at it. I was deathly afraid of speaking to strangers when I was a teenager and only a little better till my early twenties. I could have looped the equator thrice with my long line of “I shoulda said”-s. I eventually improved at talking to people, picked up lessons from others I admired and after years of sales jobs, I became attuned to quickly finding common ground with people and cutting through the false pretenses most put up. Now I’m continuously disappointed in the people I MEET! And I think talking to people is one of my biggest strengths. That’s mainly only because I genuinely love talking to folks. That does not translate online. I can claim that as a “Skill” on my LinkedIn but so can every person on LinkedIn. By being refused the opportunity to speak to people at my dream job headquarters, I began to think that in a way, for the first time, my physical human presence was now being devalued as a result of my online presence constantly becoming ever more influential.

Online Me is only supposed to be a cardboard cut-out, a 2×2 inch screenshot that is a flat and broad clue that could hint at the possibilities of the blood, spirit and joke filled person behind him. But he’s boring. He used to simply be a virtual Driver’s License and now he’s apparently got the keys to a better life for me. I’ve gotta be responsible for this guy, now? I’ve always been averse to technology and while I realized long ago that I would not be a Software Engineer with my lack of appreciation for all things tech, it was hard to foresee that connection between people would come to dwindle so much that our internet representations would come to mean much more than our voices on the phone let alone our presence across a desk.

Isn’t something lost if we are exclusively dating people chosen for us by algorithms on Match? Are amazing new restaurants declaring bankruptcy prematurely because we won’t try them because they have no Yelp reviews? I worry that the era is upon us where our reliance on the Web and our digital selves will cost us the joy and pleasures of connecting offline. There’s no denying that the world has changed and being tech-savvy is very important but let’s try to always hold onto the fact and celebrate it, that Hey, we’re people offline too. We should use technology for conveniences we could not have without it, but if we continue removing human interaction from things that we personally did pre-internet, we run the risk of becoming useless sheeple and that bothers me. I asked someone for directions the other day, and she confided to me that she felt silly asking people for directions nowadays, because it was expected that people should check their phones for maps first and foremost. I told her what I’m telling you, I’m always going to ask people because I love talking to people and it gives me a reason to do so, even if they send me down the wrong streets much too often.

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To Tom Drew, Wherever You Are, I Saw Tom Petty Last Night, So Screw You Pal

When I was 17 years old, I moved from India to America.

One of the most exciting things about this move was that I would now have access to attend rock shows. In the late 1990s, not many musicians toured India although I HAD had the pleasure of seeing a who’s who of one-album wonders from Inner Circle to Michael Learns To Rock to Apache Indian.

Upon arriving in New Jersey, what soon became even more exciting than going to concerts was trying to win free tickets to concerts through radio station contests. This was my idea of Heaven. In those halcyon days, I probably went to about ten to fifteen shows that either myself or a friend won by being caller number one hundred four or ninety-nine or whatever the hell the lucky number was. Through a complex, precise and ingenious system of frantically calling up the radio station as many times as possible from as many numbers as possible, we ensured our invitations to concerts near and far to see acts from Guns & Roses to Poison to Skid Row to Neil Young and Motley Crue.

One day, my friend Tom Drew and I were calling off the hook and finally he got through and we won a pair of tickets to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Jones Beach. Yay! So excited! High-fives ensued and I laid out my rock & roll plan. “Look Tom, we’re seeing Petty & the Heartbreakers next weekend. This gives us only 7 days to learn every song, every opening chord, every big riff. We’ve got to get to work. I have 5 Petty albums in my room, I will give you 2 today, get it done, then we’ll exchange albums mid-week et cetera.”

Tom’s face however was bereft of the enthusiasm I carried on mine. He looked like I was assigning him a heavy load of homework during the last class on Friday afternoon. Goddamnit Drew, where is your passion? I wondered. Either way, I had enough fire for both of us. While I listened to more Petty that week than every one of his roadies combined, I also found time to put on a shirt and tie and walk two miles to a liquor store where I proudly and underage-ed-ly purchased a bottle of rum to help us get “in the mood to rock” on the day of the show.

The day of the concert came, and I was PUMPED. I had listened to Freefallin’ a dozen times in 3 hours but in the meanwhile, Tom Drew had disappeared.

Unreachable.

Scumbag.

I called him repeatedly and after destroying my Swiss-watch of a plan (which demanded we leave my place at noon so we could “soak up the atmosphere in the parking lot for at least 4 hours”), he called me back at about 4 PM. The show began at 8 PM at a venue that would take more than an hour to drive to. He very casually said “Hey, I don’t feel like going.” My initial thought was to rip his soul out of his head and kick it in with my high-top Nikes. But I instead replied “Are you f*cking kidding, dude?” He confirmed he was not joking and that not only was he not going, screwing me completely because I didn’t have a car and now I would have to take about 3 hours of taxis, trains, subways and a bus to get to the venue but for the ultimate measure of the sh*tty man he was, he added that he would “give me a good deal on the tickets”. To this, my ears instantly burned as if they were bleeding profusely while being doused in barrels of after-shave. I said “F*ck you, Drew” and hung up.

I knew he was a worthless waste of skin and blood and guts right there but he confirmed it in Boston six months later when he unbeknownst to me made a deal to get my roommate a sh*t load of mushrooms. I only found out when lying in bed one night and my preppy roommate walked in, turned the light on and with the most frustrated look of sobriety I had ever seen – yelled – “Tom Drew’s Mushrooms are f*cking bullshit! Your friend f*cked me!” This brought a huge smile to my face because firstly, had I been consulted, I would have vouched for growing your own mushrooms in a septic toilet versus counting on Tom Drew and secondly, I was now just one person among two in my room who had been burned by the disease known as TD.

Well, it took almost 15 years but you got yours last night Tommy boy. I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and sure, they were 15 years older, and sure it wasn’t a beach. And sure it wasn’t free. But it was good, and it was loud and when the sticks hit the drums, it felt like landing an overhand right to your jaw you lying sack of sh*t.

A beautiful day to avenge my greatest defeat. Choke on that blue sky, Tom Drew.
A beautiful day to avenge my greatest defeat. Choke on that blue sky, Tom Drew.
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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Forefathers of Chandelier Rock
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Marking the Spot I would need Tom Drew to stand on to ensure this chandelier falling would crush him
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The Stage at The Beacon, pristine venue, too classy for the likes of Tom Drew
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Set List For Night 1 at The Beacon Theater. Personally delighted he did “Billy The Kid” and “Rebels”.

I enjoyed the concert and it delved deep into their catalogue. As expected, I somehow managed to make a direct association between every song’s lyrics and that horrible SOB Tom Drew. When Petty began the seminal classic Refugee and sang “Somewhere, somehow, somebody musta kicked you round some”, I yelled to the horror of everyone in my row “Hell yeah! But no more Petty! I’ll kick his ass now!” When Petty sang I Won’t Back Down and Billy The Kid, I zoned out of the concert for those ten minutes as I vividly imagined me shooting Tom Drew down in a duel of pistols at thirty paces at high noon on the streets of a ghost town with no name. Eat lead, Drew!  Songs like American Girl fell flat because even I couldn’t misconstrue their lyrics into my revenge-filled vengeance-soaked violent fantasy.

Walking out of the theater, I thought I saw a familiar face in the crowd shuffling out. I pushed my way past some giddy middle-aged blondes and spun around this lanky brunette dude. I was sort of disappointed that it wasn’t Tom Drew. I wanted my revenge gift-wrapped with a big bow on it. To be thorough, I planted myself outside the theater and scanned every face of the three thousand in the audience as they exited. When the security guards eventually locked the doors, I had to accept the fact that my revenge would have to be a metaphorical one versus a physical and vocal assault on an unsuspecting prey.

In the end, I was delighted by the show. Music has healing powers and with each bass line, piano fill, drum roll, the load on my heroic shoulders was lessened as I slowly convinced myself that living well is the best revenge.

Still, I did come home and do a search for “Tom Drew” on Facebook just so I could send him a triumphantly nasty message or perhaps even a photo of me under the marquee. Sadly, it is such a common name, that I gave up after the first two dozen.

Daft Punk Is Playing At The Shoe Store

After lunch today, I was walking around listening to that new Daft Punk album Random Access Memories through my headphones. Was severely rocking out when I chanced by a shoe store and felt a sudden pang for new socks. Wasn’t as flippant a decision as it sounds, my socks seem to be quite worn as of late and my heel and certain toes have been navigating their way out of growing holes, throwing the smooth workings of the inside of my shoe into complete turmoil. I needed new socks, okay? Not some impulse buyer here!

I walked into the shoe store during Track 3 and found the socks on a wall on the far right side. Noticing that they had no socks in my size 13/14, I picked up the ones labeled “for size 6-12” and went to ask the clerk if they would fit. So I walked up to the register and I assure you I’m not exaggerating, the clerk was one of the most gorgeous girls I have ever seen in my life. So beautiful that Megan Fox would have been her frumpy sister who everyone feels sorry for. Her looks kind of sent a brief shock to my system so autopilot kicked in and the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling while I asked the question and suddenly I could only intermittently hear her lovely Mediterranean accent “Yeasss….cotthon….eaxpaandhs…..comforth….very goood stitching…….”.  She was illustrating the stretching qualities of the socks with her fingers in one of the finest theatrical solo performances I have ever seen. Track 4 began. 

And so it was I found myself in love with the shoe saleswoman. Maybe she was the One! (Peep Show running joke) I was the Peggy to her Al Bundy. And she was ultra-professional by the way. That’s always a turn-on, isn’t it… Enthusiasm? Now, strangely, there was a woman leaning on the counter while I asked this so I assumed she worked there. My autopilot replied to The One “Oh yes. Let me think about it.” or something and I hastily retreated back to the sock wall to get my bearings. It was a diversion you see. I ALREADY KNEW I was getting the socks, but now Plan B was to get her number IN ADDITION TO the socks. To be a well-socked lad who gets the digits was the new goal now. Two birds and all that.

While she tended to other customers like the professional she is, I did a quick recon of the store. I then came up with a brilliant idea so I wouldn’t get her in trouble if the lazy leaner worked here (which I assumed she must) or was her mother (I hoped not). I didn’t want this third wheel from Hell ruining my sweet serenade so I figured I would very deftly sneak my girl (henceforth known as the One) my number, she would call me when she escaped the leaner’s evil clutches, and tell me how slick and wonderful I am. All the time, forever more.

The leaner wore a bored expression, one of those long faces that scans her watch almost reflexively. Jamming out from my vantage point alone in my sock aisle, I realized I had a stack of post-its and a pen in my pocket. The serendipity factor was off the charts right here. I would write something! So I put the post-it up against a shoebox and wrote my phone number down. But it was a strange angle to write at and I thought to myself the handwriting looked too ineligible. So I tore it off the pad and put it in my pocket. This time, I wrote “Hey!”, then I thought, why am I writing Hey? Say Hey in person and just hand over the number, man. IMG_0635 Then I thought that looked impersonal. So I decided to write “Let’s get coffee!” followed by my number. But I decided the first L was too soft, cursive was a stupid choice, a weak first impression. IMG_0632 The used post-its were stacking up quickly. I then wrote “Let’s have coffee sometime !?” and immediately chided myself for including a question mark. You trying to talk her out of this dude? IMG_0634I rewrote that with a firm L and an exclamation mark (sans question marks or other punctuation). Boom. After what had been a half-dozen rough drafts,  the invitation was complete and Track 5 was rocking. 

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I walked up to the register and paid for the socks. The leaner was still there but I tried to ignore her. The One had something in her eye now. You could tell it was bothering her but ever the pro, she soldiered on with the transaction. She was sort of trying to get it out when, of course, as I was about to pop the question, some little toddler began to start crying. This brat turned on the waterworks and her mom started asking for something while I thought “Where the hell did you people come from?!?” I swear the best laid plans…

I had to awkwardly wait for the tearful toddler to chill until I could finally ask The One her name. She told me and so I said “Oh cool, ______, this is for you” and handed her the Golden Ticket. She was slightly confused. The communication gap came in to play here. In 2 ways, one that she claimed she couldn’t read the post-it, two that she couldn’t really understand what I was saying, and suddenly I couldn’t quite understand her either. Thanks, languages.

Upon second reading, she said “Oh coffee! I think it’s saying cossee”. So I said “Hey, you can have cossee if that’s your thing!” (A+ right?) She laughed. I laughed. The leaner laughed! The toddler stopped crying just to laugh! I thought I could hear Daft Punk stop playing and break into hysterics…It was electric! And at that moment she said “Hey but I can’t! I have a boyfriend!” so my voice immediately broke and I squeaked out a meek “Really?” (F – right?). And then I fell silent. Just standing there. Kind of thought about going into a mopey lean on the counter myself but I stood tall. She then added “I’m engaged actually!” So I said “I’m returning the socks” which I think she actually thought I may do. But she added “Thank you so much, this was great (holding up post-it)”. Then I launched into a series of questions* to determine the true existence of said fiance, and her story seemed to check out. And she was a very genuine and cool person. Had that foreign innocence about her. (*Series of questions meaning One question – “Are you really engaged?”

So, although technically a Loss, I am marking the shoe store visit as a Win. Although I did find out The One was engaged to another man, I did vibe with a dime I would normally shy away from – and hopefully these socks are comfortable too.

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The Joy of Socks

LIKE THE LEGEND OF THE PHOENIX, ALL ENDS ARE BEGINNINGS….

“It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” :The Nice Guy Rises in Sports

I was watching Roger Federer, the all-time winningest male tennis player, receive this trophy for a record sixth time in a row. It was not a Masters tournament or a tune-up tourney but an award won off the court – one for sportsmanship. Each year, the players who form the pro tennis tour vote to determine the Sportsman of the Year aka the Nicest Guy aka the Best Clubhouse Bugger. And Federer remarkably collected this award as consistently as he did Grand Slam titles. He won it six times in a row from 2004-2010 until interrupted by his fellow Hall-of-Fame Nice Guy Rafael Nadal. (Federer has however since snatched back and put a stranglehold on the coveted Chill Dude award.) Fed has managed the miracle of not only beating all opponents into the ground (except Nadal) – he has managed to trounce all comers and leave them wanting his company. He’s the guy who wins every Poker game – while telling all the best jokes too. Ever loquacious and garrulous, Fed forever remains the picture of the country club tennis player, both in demeanor and appearance: lips curled up in a smile, mildly tousled hair, white trousers and cream cardigans. He walks onto Centre Court at Wimbledon appearing to have just walked off of the set of Chariots of Fire. And he sounded every bit the part of the suave pro when he collected his award and said:

Well, it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” 

And I thought that was amazing. I had never heard the phrase and his delivery was as flawless as his backhand. It was politician level stuff. He could have been Bill Clinton’s son.

federer-nadalAs I mulled over his remark, I became more impressed. I began to realize that Federer and Nadal represented a Rise Of The Nice. Most top athletes of the past twenty years had been known for their curmudgeonly to hostile behavior. The Michael Jordans, Pete Samprases, Mike Tysons, Kobe Bryants and Zinedine Zidanes were celebrated for being so single-minded in their focus that they could be mean and surly to those around them because that was their right as per their greatness. Their talents were so vast that they left no room for mild manners and their focus so laserlike, it left no room for considerations.

Nadal and Federer came along in the mid-2000s and managed to quickly create and endure a historic rivalry- while remaining genuinely friendly. This was unique because tennis is such an intense and solitary endeavour (each loss results in elimination from tournament and a trip to the airport) but these two men not only act as gentlemen, they actually like each other… I was fascinated by this question: Does a professional athlete compete exactly as hard against someone he likes as he does against someone he despises? Does he execute as exactingly against a practice partner as he does against a total stranger? Or is it vice-versa?  Is it simply a different result for different people? Rafa and Roger both seemed to be succeeding historically well and doing so while remaining true to the code: The Dude Abides.

It reminded me of 90’s NBA Basketball when my favorite coach of all time, Jeff Van Gundy of the New York Knicks admonished Knicks forward Charles Oakley for being friends with the sort of dickish Bulls guard Michael Jordan. Now here was a guy who nobody ever called nice. MJ was a trash talking, opponent taunting, teammate-Steve Kerr-fighting, Bull-headed assassin. And he was loved for it. Van Gundy argued that it was Oakley’s job to stop Jordan at any cost and that drinking and dining with him could only weaken his resolve to slay the mighty Jordan. Conversely, Jordan would have gone all Knights Tale and challenged Oak to an impromptu life-or-death joust if it insured him home court in the Finals. This is a guy whose entire Hall-Of-Fame Induction Speech was a middle finger to all those who ever doubted him. Michael Jordan was better than all his peers, but Michael Jordan is also more bitter than his peers. Is that ratio telling? Does that mean that bitterness equals competitiveness and ultimately success? So does that in turn mean it’s better to be LeBron James than Mike? LeBron at least appears to have the ability to go home and enjoy a movie after work.

Kobe Bryant is also a maniacally competitive athlete. He is so averse to niceness that he went so far as to nickname himself Black Mamba.  Bryant recognized his best qualities in the highly venomous serpent – cold-blooded, very deadly and capable of killing easily and quickly. Kung Fu Panda, he is not. The basic question about niceness in sports came up again in a fantastic article I read about Kobe and his father Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. Joe is a former NBA player, but a journeyman and one of those hoops lifers who eventually weaved his way across the world, zigging through Europe and zagging through Asia. In the article, Joe’s peers unanimously assert that he could have been better than he was, that his talent exceeded his accomplishments. Kobe himself says that he got his will power and work ethic not from his NBA-playing father but from his mother, even adding that she used to elbow him in highly competitive one-on-one games when he was a young teen. The writer details Joe’s life today as Coach of a fledgling team in Thailand and contrasts his seemingly nomadic and adventurous life of travels with the singular tunnel vision exhibited by his son since he was a young child who would practice his jumper for three hours each night. The story of the pair leaves one wondering if that is the choice: to be a well-balanced well-traveled and satisfied man or to be a continually unsatisfied man thus always pushing yourself to another level of productivity… Is there a right choice? Is one really more wrong than the other?

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In terms of pro basketball, selfishness is almost requisite of champions. I saw Kobe say that he couldn’t care less about being remembered as a good teammate. He claimed that he wanted to be remembered “for getting the most juice out of this lemon.” By any means. And that’s why the most refreshing thing about LeBron James is that he is unselfish both on court and even more impressively, off. Probably the most non-aggressive Alpha Male in the NBA since Tim Duncan or Hakeem Olajuwon, LeBron scales new highs each year but he’s never a jerk about it. I watch him and wonder when he’s going to just let loose a Jordanesque stream of insults to all his detractors. Where’s his infamous grab-the-mic-in-the-club moment when he asks EVERYONE how his bleep tastes? For him to take the level of abuse he gets (and he’s definitely done some dumb things) and not retaliate after slaying every Dragon, rescuing every damsel, pulling the sword out of the damn stone- he’s in Gandhian territory. He could be double-swording heads off like Gladiator right now but LeBron seems to be a happy person, one who can go home and relax after a game. Young Kevin Durant may be the one guy more chill than LeBron. Durant is so nice that his current Nike ad campaign reads KD IS NOT NICE, a reverse psychology tactic to insure us of a nasty streak within the charming Iceberg Slim. These two are considered the two best basketball players on Earth. They both play the same position and are competing for the same prize for the next ten years. But they are cool with each other. And I like that.

So what is the exact correlation between niceness and success? What is the formula? How does one impact the other? Certainly, those who are more successful are often pardoned for a lack of niceties that would be inexcusable going in the other direction. And being less nice could be as extreme as aggressive physical behavior to as easy as passive aggressive remarks. Of course it’s all subjective, the entire universe altogether probably has a million different ideas and notions about what success is worth. A successful businessman recommended to me once “A lot can be learned from Attila the Hun. His strategies were brilliant, minus the killing of course.”

One of my favorite books in ages, David Remnick’s King Of The World details the rise of Muhammad Ali, particularly his teenage years before winning his first Heavyweight championship. Ali is selfish, cocky and arrogant even before success. He crudely insults his opponents and the press celebrates him for it. Ali’s most popular refrain was of course “I am the Greatest!” and the adult Ali asserts that he had to say that as a youth to believe in himself and ultimately to make himself. Ali, Jordan and Bryant represent the model of athlete whose attitude is one of pure cocksure swagger, individuals who aggressively talked a big game and then played an even bigger one. Nadal, Federer and James represent a seemingly more well-balanced attitude, one more harmonious and joy-seeking which still allows them to maximize their abilities. Part of me wonders if this is a trend illustrating that today’s athletes, similar to today’s youth in general, are maturing faster and thus realizing at a younger age that they can just as easily achieve their greatest goals without being at each other’s throats. As a result, things are less personal these days and hence, more professional. It’s nice to be important but it’s also nice to be nice.

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This is a link to the story I referred to above about Kobe Bryant and his parents. It’s called “Where Does Greatness Come From?” by Chris Ballard of SI. I thought it was excellent.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/magazine/05/10/kobe.bryant.ballard/index.html

New Online Dating Personal Ad

In efforts to meet a cool girl to romance, it was recommended to me to put out a personal ad for myself on various websites such as match, shaadi (like a good boy) and -leaving no stone unturned- christianmingle. I move around a lot and don’t meet any cool people at the gym or bars so I did pimp myself out online and then immediately proceeded to mostly ignore these websites for months. However, last night I was sitting in a mall with my uncle when he happened to be asking me about this very topic – and on cue a parade of couples began to stroll by us hand in hand. As I explained to him that it’s “very difficult to meet someone nowadays” , approximately thirty to forty young couples exuding the pure bliss of companionship paraded past us in a montage-worthy ten minute span. There were white ones, black ones, small ones, big ones, preppie ones, trashy ones, interracial ones, inter-sized ones, even Asian ones. It became so comical that my uncle began laughing hysterically and I thought to myself that I’m lucky that the fates haven’t sent a gay couple, a lesbian couple, an octogenarian couple and a pair of loving pandas down the pike in addition to this Noah’s Ark of romance. It was surreal, these f*ckers kept coming like The Walking Dead.

Not only were 85% of these couples holding hands, they seemed to saunter by in slow motion like some sort of corny choreographed advertisement for love. (“Love is a word created by men like me to sell nylons.” -Draper) Not a single couple had one bad word to say to one another. Not an argument in sight. All the body language was impossibly positive. And they held hands in every way possible. There was the couple where the guy has his hand around her waist and he’s holding her hand there. There was the couple swinging their arms in unison and laughing hand in hand. SWINGING, REALLY? Is that necessary? The coup de grace was this pair of lovesick puppies who deliberately kept 3 feet between them and walked with their arms extended toward one another like Michaelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”. They left me no choice but to run up in between, slap their hands down and dropkick the pair of them.

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Artist’s Rendering of Mall Situation 1

Could my uncle have orchestrated a casting call and paid a hundred up and coming actors to pull off this stunt in an effort to convince me to get married TODAY? The syrup on the pancakes was when a near four hundred pound gentleman ambled up with a good looking girl on his arm. My brain was reassuring me “Chill, Sid. Chiiiill. Now this dude has to be a drug dealer or a rapper or-” but was interrupted by my uncle’s voice- “Even this fellow has his girl, huh!? HAHAHA. And she’s very fit also! Come on Sidhu! What about you?”  I have to admit that really was funny as hell, like something from a Punk’d episode. I watched them walk away in disbelief and waited for him to hand her a huge wad of shopping money or maybe she would slap him and spit her gum on him but they just kept holding hands and giggling. Jesus Christ, always with the giggling. What the f*ck elicits these constant giggles? It’s never a full blown laugh and it’s never a chuckle or a cackle or a guffaw. You giggling giddy bastards. At that point it wouldn’t have been surprising to see all these dudes get down on one knee, pull a ring out, pop the question, her answer yes and then jump in each other’s arms and then the guys could all pull their fiances in tight with one arm while using their other hand to stick a massive middle finger up in the air to me.

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Artist’s Rendering of Mall Situation 2

The only situation I remember being worse than this was a rainy Valentine’s Day evening in 2006 or 2007 when I was driving onto my college campus and stopped at a red light. I looked up to see in every possible direction a dude holding an open umbrella over his girl. And under every umbrella, that dude was making out with his girl. I was livid. I am not exaggerating, I surveyed all in front of me from left to right and back again and the landscape was just littered with couples making out under umbrellas. I never again hoped for umbrellas to fall apart as badly as I did that day. It was a scene out of a classic Hollywood movie. These couples were all standing in the most picturesque backdrops, it just made me sick! I still can’t believe I had to see that. I went home and ate two pieces of cheesecake that night. For sure. Amongst other stress relievers.

Anyway, back to my personal ad. I wrote one a while back and it was really boring. After answering the questions asked of me, all I had was a resume in a friendlier font. I was advised not to say too much and that I “don’t translate well online” so I made my profile as Vanilla as possible. It said some stock crap about how I am a good person/nice guy/non-threatening and all that. However, when I began reading other profiles, I realized everyone says the same thing. Over eighty percent of women on these sites say: “If you ask my friends about me they will say that…”

1) They are funny.

2) They are sarcastic. (I don’t understand why they say this)

3) Their friends and family mean the world to them.

4) They are hard-working.

5) They are looking for a guy with all of the above qualities.

Reading this made me marvel that every girl out there thinks she is funny. I’m sure some are but a disproportionate number of them think they are Woody Allen. I had said I was funny in my profile so I was annoyed that every single person was saying that.  Still, I do have to admit that a ton of girls have much better and funnier and well-detailed profiles than mine. I figured I may as well try to put some effort into this so as it stands now, I have nothing to lose and I am bored with Vanilla and am upgrading my personal ad to a Hot Fudge Sundae with Butterscotch ice cream and extra hot sauce. FULL ON HONESTY. With the old standard profile, the online scene had worked just like the bar scene worked before it- which is to say that nobody I was interested in was interested in me- and of course I was never interested in anyone who was interested in me. I’ve been down that road so many times that the tar waves at my shoes. As the waiter in Old School says “Love. Eeet’s a motherf*cker.”  Anyway, before I dehydrate from crying anymore, here is a copy of my new personal ad. I’ve tried to accentuate my positives and have completely avoided my negatives (Of which I have none). As Hemingway told me in Midnight in Paris – “You’re too self-effacing! It’s not manly!”

Hello, my name is Siddharth. I’m the f*cking man. Awesome awesome awesome guy. I love me. If you ask me, there’s no better guy than me. I’ll take a lie detector test on that if you want. I’m no braggart but pardon me while I brag a little. I’m usually quite modest but when in Rome, no? I know that doesn’t sound quite right, boasting about being modest but come on, that’s nitpicking isn’t it? If you ask my friends about me, they’ll respond by saying “WHO?” or by laughing because I don’t bother having friends who wouldn’t laugh at a question like that. If you ask my best friends, I imagine they will tell you that I am a complete psycho and a dangerous one at that. And one with many horrible contagious diseases (both mental and physical) that they wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. Or at least I hope they would say that because otherwise they wouldn’t be my best friends. And I would say the same for them. My truest and most trusted friends would use this opportunity to disparage me to no end, scare you a bit, confuse you a bit more, assassinate my character and absolutely paint me out to be everything you fear/despise/loathe/are allergic to and then they would casually and generously add on at the very end as you walk away “no, no, heh heh, aside from that he’s a good guy!” And they would be right because as I said at the outset, I’m the best. I know many people claim to be the best, but today you have come upon true bestness. For you see…

I am a gentleman. I hold doors open and close them as well. I push and pull them depending on what the situation calls for. I am a supporter of the arts (I watch a lot of movies). I am tall, but not freakishly so. I have no (very) major blemishes on my face. My acne is not as bad as it once was. All that remain are light scars. I don’t do drugs, at the moment. But I don’t mind if you do. Depending on which ones and how often. I don’t eat ice cream for breakfast. Except maybe sometimes on Sundays during football season (If I wake up late enough). I once made twelve straight free throws. I’ve never murdered anyone, even those scumbags who completely deserved it. I’m generous enough to always give you a ride home or some spare cash but I’m not generous enough to give you the last bite or let you hold the remote control. In other words, I’m not stupid. So don’t even try to take advantage. I’m a gentleman. But I can be a bit dodgy if needs be. The coolest thing I ever did was I was in a laundromat and I saw a little Mexican kid at an arcade machine with his parents. They put a quarter in and they tried to direct the big mechanical claw toward a specific toy doll and they missed it and the kid was upset but either the dad didn’t want to try again, or didn’t want to fail again or maybe he didn’t have another quarter so I checked my pockets and I had one last quarter and I walked right up to that machine and I asked the kid to point out which toy he wanted and he did and sure as hell I directed that mechanical arm right, back and down to that f*cker and I got it locked in the claw, the claw dropped it in a metal chute, I pulled it out of the basket underneath and stuffed it right in the boy’s hands all in one motion like the best Alley-Oop dunk of all time and they were a bit stunned but the cool part actually was that they never said thanks but I was thrilled because for the first time I didn’t even want them to. So that was cool for me. 

I’m not an expert at arcade games or anything. I guess I’m a regular guy. If regular means f*cking spectacular in every single possible way (except some). To be completely candid, I’m not one hundred percent sure I’m the best guy out here. There may be a charming hilarious piano-playing doctor out here who saves lives everyday. There could be a handsome self-made mogul out here who was volunteering in war-torn nations while I was watching wrestling on TV and eating ice cream sandwiches. There may be a guy here who… a guy who…you know what? I’m just being modest. False modesty too. To Hell with that, I won’t lie to you anymore. I’m better than all these clowns. I guarantee it. Sorry, Doctor. Later, humanitarian. It’s my time, bozos. 

To you reading this: At this very moment, You stand alone in front of the big mechanical claw arcade machine, looking past your semi-reflection in the thick glass for something new and exciting. And I’m the plushest softest funnest brightest-colored squeakiest toy in here. Step up, drop a coin in, see what happens. Why not? 

Oh and my mother asked me to add that I look much better in person. So there’s that. 

Image
Don’t screw up.

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What I’m Listening To:

Blanco

To my left was a barbershop called Pablo’s. Liking the name and needing a haircut, I walked in with no clue that getting a cut would never be the same again. I sat down and surveyed the layout. There was an older dark-skinned man with long, curly, slick hair doing something to a woman’s head involving pink paste and a lot of pressure. It looked like a project. Was he Pablo?

Standing closer to me was a younger, lighter-skinned man with a lot of tattoos. He was bobbing up and down at his station, working his razor on a young child’s head. His face scrunched up and eyes squinting from focus, he bobbed and weaved like Sugar Ray Robinson. He leaned back like Fat Joe, he was the only one who could hear the beat. Inspecting the scalp, he stood on his tip toes like a boy trying to peak over a fence and survey the world. The father of the kid in the chair sat on the couch next to me with two more sons. They all had the same cut. I wondered whether I could pull that off, the Cristiano Ronaldo coif on a manlier, less athletic face.

The barber circled the kid. The dad started talking about boxing. The barber nodded as he slowly spun his son in his chair. He opened the back door so that the kid was now bathed in sunlight from the front door and back. It was as if he was saying  fluorescent lights were not good enough for him. He was an artist and he would not let his latest work off the chair until he inspected it from every angle and under every ray of sun. He circled the chair from the right while spinning it slowly to the left.  Chasing it. Stalking it across the ring. That was Blanco.

He powdered the kid off, turned to the dad and said You think HE’s bad!? Tyson, now that dude…NOBODY badder than Tyson, B. The dad ambled up to the chair with his arms open and reasoned “Well, shit. I KNOW Tyson’s bad. But Holyfield beat him, didn’t he?” The barber jumped into a reenactment of Tyson-Holyfield II with the only two details he remembered being that Holyfield deserved to have his ear bitten off and one does not mess with Tyson, B. The dad opined “You know who really messed it up? Mills Lane. He was the ref that night.” I did not know that. The barber replied with I stopped watching boxing after Tito, man. When Tito fell off, I said I’m out. Now I wanted to get involved so I said that I bet he was happy when Trinidad robbed De La Hoya. He said he was. The dad got him talking about all kinds of sports and it was incredible because both the dad and I knew more about sports, but he was the barber and we were in his pulpit so his word was God. Talk turned to the Knicks and he said Please. You know who the baddest was, right? JORDAN. Maaan, that dude was unstoppable! We both agreed that yes, Michael Jordan could play. Meanwhile, Blanco was averaging about 45 minutes per haircut. The dad noticed the time and remarked that he was surprised that it was so late. The barber replied that people who want some quick-cut, they don’t come to him. Come to him only if you know and recognize that he takes his time. YO, I CHILL. To me, I gotta get it perfect and I’m gonna CHILL. He followed up with an anecdote about how some fool tried to rush him and he told him “YO.” Like the works of Terrance Mallick and Axl Rose, Blanco’s was a pursuit unbound by time, no matter how their fans clamored or how long I waited on that couch.

Still, I couldn’t be happier. After getting my hair cut in one sterile salon after another, I had finally found my spot. I didn’t even care how my hair cut was going to be (when I got it). Then the man called me up. I took the throne and he put the cape over me and said “So what’s up? How you like it?” I said short would be fine and he got to work. I wanted to get him to rant like the dad did. At that point my feelings would have been hurt if he got me out of there in less than 30 minutes. I sat and tried to think of a topic to peak his interest. He was doing his bobbing and weaving routine behind me when we heard the TV set and a girl said to her man “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll be back at the end of the summer and I’ll call you every day.” And Blanco immediately said Yo he is f*cked! Homeboy bout to get cheated on. DAMN. Believe ME. I KNOW, ya know what I’m saying? I KNOW.  I had no idea who they were or what show it was (neither did he) but of course I said “Oh hell yeah! You can tell.”  UM HMMM. I can see it in her eyes, dawg. Women yo. You married? ( No.) NEVER TRUST A WOMAN. TRUST ME, NEVER TRUST WOMEN. What could I say? I couldn’t argue with him. I was on his turf.  He had a razor to my head.  So I said ” Oh Hell no!” and he then told me that his ex had cheated on him with his friend and at that moment this heavily tattooed diminutive Puerto Rican John Leguiziamo-looking barber started spinning around the barbershop with his arms open wide to the sky with his scissors in one hand and a razor in the other shouting WHAT DID SHE THINK? SHE THOUGHT I WOULDN’T FIND OUT? IN THIS TOWN WHERE EVERYBODY JUST LOOOVES TALKING BOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S BUSINESS? 

I thought to myself this is the best hair cut of my life. I averaged 3 or 4 hair cuts a year before Blanco. After meeting him, I was at his place every 6 weeks or so. He was not one to slave for the man though. I’d swing by at 5:30 in the evening on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and the place would be closed. Their posted hours were the opposite of their real hours, all day, everyday versus never, never. I would drive by Pablo’s during especially good weather, on the day before a holiday, anytime that I could rationalize to myself a barbershop would and should be open. My logic could never match their’s but sometimes I would drive past by chance and run in when  I would see the man in white gliding around the shop. Once, as my man was performing the pre-game ritual of spraying that water bottle thing into my hair, I casually remarked “Been here a bunch of times. You guys been out-of-town?”  He pirouetted away from me , turned around and his eyes ablaze, he said YO I love my customers but for real you n*ggaz is crazy! I’m here all the time! Nobody comes, then I got to go take care of some stuff and THE WHOLE WORLD STOP BY!? Come on man! You guys is a TRIP. I was embarrassed by my stupid remark but at the same time proud he called me n*gga.

Aside from the enormous entertainment factor, this dude’s haircuts were the best I ever got. And he knew it too. He was not lacking confidence. He used to cut all his friends as teenagers and they all told their friends and he became a barber by default because of the demands of everyone he knew. This followed the Good Will Hunting script where his friends realized he had a gift and although he wanted to do other things,  damnit, he didn’t owe it to himself to be a barber, he owed it to them to give them all free haircuts for life. Or so they said when they showed up on his porch every Friday after work.

We talked about everything at Pablo’s and the best days were in the summer with a bunch of scruffy heads talking about anything not worth talking about, which of course are the best things to talk about. There was the time I said Denzel Washington is overrated. I argued that Matt Damon was better and that Jason Bourne would kill Alonzo from Training Day in less than a minute. Questioned what the hell happened to Michael Jackson. Suggested that the Fellowship of the Ring didn’t really need Gimli. Okay, I did not bust that one out.

A few months ago I told him the Knicks had added Jason Kidd. No reaction. Someone said Kurt Thomas was back. Barely a shrug. I mentioned Marcus Camby’s name to some other guy and before I could finish my sentence, Blanco left his station and was popping off imaginary jumpshots, fadeaways even and yelling Marcus Camby used to drill those threes! Swish! Swish! Knicks got him!? Damn. He eventually calmed down, resumed his cut and remarked that this was the first time in a very long time that he had heard the name Marcus Camby. I wondered if he was thinking of Reggie Miller.  People were vague and confused a lot. Someone would say “Yo, who’s that guy? The guy with the sick jujitsu?” and everyone would guess random names until someone got it. I would wait each time for someone to bring up Floyd Mayweather so Blanco could instantly contort his body into a weird hunchback stance with his shoulder to his cheek and say repeatedly BOY’S DEFENSE IS TOO GOOD! You can’t touch him! Nobody can! Hit me! Hit me! It’s impossible!! MONEY! Look at this stance! And he can knock a guy out from this stance! 

Nice sunny day today. Went down for a cut. Walked in and sat on the couch. There was nobody there. Ghosttown. Tumbleweed. Things felt off. Pablo walked in and said to take the seat. Dude, where’s Blanco? No Longer Here. I took the seat and Pablo asked me how I wanted it. I wanted to say “Like Blanco does it! I hate you Pablo! Where is he? I wanna go there!” but I just said short. He asked me if I want a 1 or a 2. I wanted to say “What are you, a robot? Blanco didn’t throw numbers at me!” but I just pointed at a photo of some guy and said ‘like that’. Pablo gave me a really good cut. Probably just as good as Blanco. It’s his name on the shop after all. Still, it wasn’t fun. He didn’t say a thing, although I didn’t want him to.  He didn’t use a toothbrush to even out my fade like Blanco used to. He didn’t talk sports or do impressions. All he did was give me a damn good haircut in a short amount of time and for a reasonable price. Lame, Pablo.

I walked out of there thinking that’s it. Never going to see Blanco again and all I have to remember him by are those eight business cards sitting on my desk that he asked me to hand out for him.  No goodbye, no see you later. Good barbers are hard to find nowadays but good characters even more so. And both in one? Irreplaceable. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. As Pablo cut my hair and the curls accumulated on my cape, I was going through a Blanco’s Greatest Hits montage in my mind and I remembered something else he said.  One day his cell phone rang a few times and he looked at it angrily and he said STRAIGHT UP, I been through so much f*cked up shit, I can’t even tell you dawg. Prison. Women. CRAZY SHIT.  Like, you wouldn’t believe it type things, but what all those people who tried to bring me down don’t know is that out of the darkness comes the light yo, I BELIEVE THAT 

Two minutes later, he told me it was his father trying to reach him on the phone because he wanted a ride. Blanco said he had forbidden his dad from driving because Yo some people drive bad, my pops is TRYING TO HIT MOTHERF*CKERS ON PURPOSE. He got anger issues dude but for real if he calls me one more time I’m gonna knock old man the f*ck out when I pick him up!  Scissors and comb in hand, he threw a  jab-jab-uppercut combo into the air of the barbershop. BAM! 

The Lassi Man

From the time I was 10 until I was 16, my school bus more or less took the same route everyday. Barring a few months of changes here and there due to bus strikes, bus burning, reversals of one-ways or big ditches in the road, we always passed along the length of RT Nagar main road en route to and from school. On the way back, towards the end of the long road, we’d approach a speed bump and slow down to assuage it.

The back of the bus, the footboard and the floor space behind it, lined up and paused directly in front of a Sreeraj Lassi Bar. One random day when I was twelve or thirteen, a few of us were sitting on the floor, daydreaming out the open doorway, when we found ourselves making eye contact with the Sreeraj Lassi Bartender. We gave him a thumbs up. He gave us one too, immediately. He did not hesitate. I think we had been trying to mess with him. The bus came down the other side of the bump and we were hurdling toward DD. The next day, we yelled out for our buddy and this time he threw in a complimentary Sreeraj smile with the thumbs up.

Two weeks later, he had become a mild phenomenon on the bus and we were counting down the minutes between Hebbal Main Road and the best damn Lassi bar in town. Vying to get his attention and see what he’s going to do today. We didn’t care how busy he appeared, how many customers were in his bar, whether he had his back to us or whether he was in the middle of preparing a Sweet Lassi.  When the bus driver began breaking for that speed bump,  we were standing up. The front tires climbed the sleeping policeman and that set in motion three seconds of excited anticipation before we would be shouting for the Lassi man.

Oye! Oye!

Without exaggeration, we yelled at him everyday for a year. Maybe longer. And without fail, he would acknowledge us. A wave, a thumb, once in a while an exasperated look.

These fellows again?

Sometimes he would point at us and start explaining to his clientele:

These school fellows simply shouting hello everyday this time. Crazy fellows.  Look, that big fellow is still shouting something…

There were times a crowd of Lassi regulars would turn and wave at us – but their faces revealed they thought we were absolutely jobless.

We weren’t, you know.

In fact, it was my job to remember to give this guy a thumbs up five times a week.

When we’d get lost in other things, someone would say “Shit! We forgot that guy” and you’d know you dropped the ball. Terrible guilt when you came upon the TV tower and realized you missed the stranger. What if he saw us pass by and threw up a thumb? Getting sloppy old chap.

It was an exercise in discipline. To get him every day, for him to catch us, one of god knows how many buses on that road, for that many days in a row – was the prank in itself.  Except it wasn’t even a prank now. What had begun as a playful prank had become an inside joke between strangers. It eventually turned into a legendary streak which in turn became a sort of ritual. A brief tradition, even. While I always enjoyed jokes and pranks, this was something else. Nothing beats a running joke between two people.

Today, when someone fails to run with a joke, and it happens all too often – I sometimes think of how game the Lassi man was. When I recognize a stranger making a return appearance in my daily routine, my thumb flies up in accordance with the RT Nagar Main Road tradition. But these clowns get confused. They aren’t on his level. Lassi man was up for anything, anytime. Nothing psyched him out. I’ll bet anything you could roll any creature real or fictional past his shop, and he’d wave at it and sell it a goddamn Salt Lassi.

We finally made it in there one day. And the Lassi was damn good too, by the way.

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If you’re ever in the mood:

The inimitable taste of tradition.  http://www.sreerajlassibar.com/