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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“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?

bird erving

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

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/

Ritual.

Tonight, I’m writing just to write. 2am. Laptop. It’s become a ritual. By the way, ritual is one of my favorite words. Rituals are usually the most fun parts of things. For example, if you smoke cigarettes, it’s the ritual that’s harder to break in my opinion than the physical addiction. I miss buying a pack and packing it tight, squeezing out that first guy to see how much white was left on the end. You miss the cigarette breaks more than the cigarettes. Ritual. You miss having a smoke post-meal. Post joint. Post…many things. Ritual.

I read an article today.  Have you ever had a very brief flashback to a moment of personal triumph? I’m sure you have because I do all the time. Mine are quite small in the scale of the world and all else in it but they fill me with enormous well-being. They are random flashbacks of  quiz competitions as a schoolboy, playing basketball from the time I was a kid up till and including three weeks ago and lastly this little blog and a handful of things that I wrote that I come back and read and I say “Wow, that’s not so shitty.”  In fact, to me, it’s good.  That article said that whatever comes to you in those fleeting moments are the pleasures of your life. I suppose it sounds obvious. Anyway, it’s been two years + since I started this little bugger and although I haven’t been consistent, it’s given me a place to be forthright and true. I don’t even have anything to write tonight. Nothing to say really. I came just because.

Why is life worth living?

This is one of my favorite Woody Allen scenes. It comes toward the end of Manhattan, Woody’s tour de force about relationships and life in Manhattan circa the late 1970s. It’s a stunningly shot movie, especially the black and white cityscapes set to the tunes of  George Gershwin. It’s gorgeous and I always feel good when I’m done watching it. I love this scene for it’s concept -naming what you love about life- and for the way it is shot. I also especially love the tape recorder.

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‘Alright, Why is life worth living? That’s a very good question…Uh…Well, there are certain things I guess, that make it worthwhile. Like what? Okay, for me…’

For me…

Black & white movies especially when it’s raining outside (Bicycle Thief, Manhattan, Young Frankenstein)

Gene Wilder (In anything)

Morning newspaper (even more so on Sunday)

Wes Anderson’s first three films

Gardens and Parks (even more in a light drizzle)

The Beatles (pre- 1966)

Trains

Noreabang

Graffiti/Design

Girls in Salwar Kameez

Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part 2

Open windows

Women’s necks

Martin Scorsese’s work in Goodfellas

Swish 

Running jokes

Rooftops/Terraces

Headphones

Laughing until I cry

Comics

Sev dahi puri

Balconies

Soft idlis with coconut chutney

Hot dosa on a cool evening

Rains (obviously)

Fish 101

Well, it’s been six months since I started selling seafood. It’s been a learning experience. This is one thing I learned.

The fish is caught. We pay the fisherman. A truck picks up the fish, takes it to a freezer on a ship. We freeze it. Pay the truck. Pay the freezer. Pay the ship. Bring it here. Pay customs. Take it off the ship. Pay a truck to pick it up. Take it to a warehouse. Pay the warehouse. AND THEN SELL IT. That’s why things cost so much more here than they do at the point of catch. Simple Fishonomics, kid. We pay seven bills before we even get our hands on the fishes.

Cochin, Kerala, India

Paintings

“We’re all works in progress … we’re paintings… the oil don’t dry till we die” – Kanye West

I’VE been taking a ton of photos lately and I’ve really come to love my Nikon. I bought it a year ago in Korea and it was expensive. I felt a little buyer’s remorse since it was a total impulse buy. I had researched Canons for weeks when I went to the Bupyeong Underground with Yong, the social worker from my school and an avid photographer. He had a Canon but kept advising me to buy a Nikon based on the photos I had taken throughout my first year in Korea. His logic went “Canon looks real, Nikon looks like a painting. I like real. I think you like paintings.” I switched from Canon to Nikon based on this and the fact that my Nikon cost substantially less than a Canon. Hey, I like paintings, you know. I had the camera for my last six months in Korea and I got some awesome shots of my elementary school students and random sights here and there. As time passed, I finally learned the basic tricks of it and I especially loved the photos I got of my friends on my last night in Korea as well as the pics I snapped in Japan, Germany and Holland. I thought for some reason that I would hang up the camera when I got back stateside, but it’s been the opposite. This addiction to photography has made me constantly seek out fun and colourful scenarios to capture on camera. I haven’t been going out and drinking at all, it seems like every weekend has revolved around me getting some good photos. And I’ve been loving it. I’ve reached the point where I’m getting some photos that make me feel good, like how I feel after I write something I like. I guess it has to do with capturing something in a moment in the manner that you want to convey it. Damn, I sound like a pretentious tool right there. Oh well, I love this sh*t.

I took photos galore at the Men’s semi finals at the U.S Open last week. It was fantastic taking photos of two of my all time favorite athletes, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I’ve said before that while writing, I’ve come to appreciate the work and effort people put into writing a movie. Likewise, photography has made me appreciate the art of a good movie shot even more, the angles, the depth and the colours. I’m ecstatic to capture one second well and it makes me marvel at directors like the Coen Brothers who sustain visual excellence for an entire 90 to 120 minutes. When I watched the Hudsucker Proxy this week, I tried to think of better shots or angles or any way to improve the movie visually and I just could not. It’s perfect. Now, add to that, perfect writing, music, acting, pacing and costume and set design. These quality movie directors are the Van Goghs and Picassos of our time. They’re extraordinary. Their paintings move.

The US Open Tennis Championships. Flushing, Queens, NY

Rafa sprinting to the baseline to kick off the matches...

Federer Vs Djokovic proved to be a classic match with Fed losing the match in 5 sets despite having two match points.



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Sports is strictly business.

Soon after LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, I was watching a youtube clip of “The Decision” when I saw that someone had transcribed this scene from “A Bronx Tale” and posted it in the comments section except instead of Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees, he substituted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It went something like:

Sunny: What are you, a Cavs fan? Sit down. So you must be pretty upset after the Cavs lost?

C: Rajon Rondo, I hate him, he made LeBron James cry, the papers said King James was crying.

Sunny: LeBron James, is that what you’re upset about? LeBron James makes twenty million dollars a year, how much does your father make?

C: I don’t know.

Sunny: You don’t know? See if your father can’t pay the rent, go ask LeBron James, see what he tells ya. LeBron James don’t care bout you so why should you care about him? Nobody cares HAHA.

FROM THAT DAY ON, I NEVER FELT THE SAME WAY BOUT THE CAVS AGAIN.

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Back in the day, I clearly remember thinking how wrong Sonny was, how he didn’t know how great it felt to be a fan, to be an extension of the team. Those Knicks teams of the 1990s had me feeling good.

Things change.

Now, I kind of agree with Sonny. Enjoy the wins but don’t beat yourself up about losses. It’s not worth it. If that means the wins don’t mean as much…c’est la vie. I’m ready after a decade of Knick beatings, zero playoff wins,  Isiah Thomas, Eddy Curry, Starbury, the highest payroll in the league and and the worst owner in sports.

And about football, Darrelle Revis is holding out on the Jets and it looks like they are worlds apart in negotiations. I don’t give a sh*t.

I don’t blame Revis for holding out.

I don’t blame the Jets for not paying him.

Don’t blame me for tuning out.

Sports is a business just like selling food or selling real estate. It’s the exact same thing with one huge exception. In the case of sports, these businesses are usually supported no matter how poorly they perform simply based on nostalgia. It’s more glamorous and the products have cooler names like Kobe, Dirk and Peyton, that’s all. If the owners of the Knicks ran a restaurant, those doors would have been boarded up ages ago. Anyway, I’m done paying attention to sports matters that happen outside the lines. When I go buy a hamburger, I don’t want to know about the negotiations for the buns and pickles. I just wanna eat mang.

Brett Favre left Green Bay for Minnesota. LeBron James left his hometown for Miami. The Supersonics left Seattle for Oklahoma City. The Knicks re-hired Isiah Thomas.

Nobody cares HAHA.

Noreabang [NRB]

I was recently trying to explain to a friend exactly how amazing Noreabang (pronounced NO-REE-BHAANG) is when he said to me “Yeah, I went to Karaoke night at this pl-” SHUT UP. Don’t even compare the holy grail, the sweetest heaven that is noreabang to your stupid thursday night at T.G.I Friday’s.

Noreabang is a tradition. It is a culture. It is a release.

SINGING SONGS IN A ROOM IS FUN.

It is one of the best things in South Korea and in actuality one of the best things in the UNIVERSE.

Everyone does it in Korea. Drunk English teachers sing their faces off till 6am following a hard night of drinking, blowing off steam so we can teach better come Monday. The hardworking Korean students sing at 4pm in between school and academy. Boys out on the lash. Girl’s night out. Families. Entire school staffs. Drunk ajashis(old dudes).You can’t go wrong, come one, come all.

READ THE WORDS AND SING ALONG. IGNORE THE RANDOM RACING CAR, FIGHT OR SOAP OPERA FOOTAGE THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SONG WHATSOEVER

Noreabang literally translates to “singing room”. They have them all over Korea and elsewhere (I’ve seen a couple in L.A). Instead of going up in front of a whole bar, you enter a private room. They range from cheap and basic rooms to lavish penthouses. The cheap ones usually have a couch, a worn carpet, a crap tambourine and a mic. And they’re still very capable of giving you an unforgettable night. Personally, I love NRB so much that I have no problem coughing up a little more dough for a straight up luxurious experience. Ironically, I usually did this at Luxury, a chain of upscale noreabangs.

LET IT BE

We did it BIG at the Lux. This palace of song spared no expense flying in marble from the Taj Mahal and snacks from the GS25. They also featured huge bay windows overlooking city lights, wall to wall black leather couches, at least 4 tambourines and nice cozy slippers. The message was loud and clear, HEY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS, WE KNOW YOU DIRTY SCUMBAGS DON’T TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AT YOUR CRAP APARTMENT BUT THIS PLACE IS MUCH NICER SO TAKE THEM OFF AND TRY ON THESE KOREAN LOAFERS and even though my heel stuck out the back of the loafer by about 4 inches…it was comfy as hell son. It really was. The only downside w Luxury was they didn’t allow outside alcohol. I didn’t mind the rule until the one time they enforced it. NOT COOL. I had to take a tambourine home to even the score. Still, they were good people and I remember them fondly. Some people don’t know this but there is an even higher level of NRB. Unfortunately, I never made it there. A friend who shall remain nameless (*DAVE*) told me all about it. At certain noreabangs, guys go in and sit around singing while “helper girls” sit with them, all the while flirting with them,feeding them and pouring drinks into their mouths. (In Dave’s defense, his school took him. Every other day. For a year. He didn’t like it but the culturally sensitive Dave didn’t want to offend anyone.)

DON'T STOP BELIEVING

People approach singing in different ways. It’s fun to see different styles on the mic. Some people just yell every song the same way. Others sing pitch perfect renditions of your favorites. Some are nervous, some are crazy, some are crazier, some are better than others. Some hold back a little and others let it fly. I always loved watching people sing. I really felt it let me know a lot about them, like what songs they liked and how drunk they were. The drunker the better, by the way. THAT IS INDISPUTABLE. For the best and most honest performances, one has to be wasted. Or at least buzzed.

I BELIEVE I CAN FLY.

Americans have football. Brazilians have futbol. Koreans have noreabang. I’ve been stunned by Koreans singing. They’re truly next level. I’ve seen teachers from my school put tissues in their noses and ears and jump around on tables. I’ve heard dudes deliver note perfect renditions of all kinds of English and Korean songs from ballads to rap. However, the all time number one performance I ever heard was my friend Hee Hoon singing “Lately” by Stevie Wonder. He gave me chills, he was that good. It’s not just that he sang it perfectly but he sang it with such overwhelming emotion.  I had never even heard the song till that night but it is one of those things I will never forget. Later on, I would find out that Hee Hoon had been born a poor, blind, black child.

KOREANS BLOW FOREIGNER MINDS AT THE NOREABANG

NICKELBACK.SERIOUSLY. CANADIANS.

The whole thing is about letting loose. When you lose your inhibitions and swing for the fences, it doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t matter what you sound like. And don’t discount the fact that when you go all out with your friends and let it rip on the mic, those are friends for life. It’s like serving in a war together, it’s like winning a championship. That room is the locker room and if you’re in there, you’re part of the team. Now, are you going to pull your weight or are you going to choke? You’ve got to look into that foxhole (couch) next to you and see if that soldier (singer) is locked and loaded (mic + tambourine) and then make a pact that you will be there for each other (band). Trust. Songs. Drunken.

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SWEET HOME ALABAMA.

9 TO 5

JANGSU ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FAREWELL PARTY

ONLY HAPPY WHEN I'M NOREABANGIN'