“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

Jay-Z’s (sure to be upcoming) Baseball Sports Agent Rap

Feels like Jay-Z is becoming a sports agent just so he can put a verse about it on his next album. So why wait? Here it is:

Uh Who ya think got Cano those incentives?

Told Cashman half a mill per home run , so inventive

Cha-Ching (sound of cash register opening)

everytime the ball clears the fence kid

Did the game dirty like Pigpen 

It’s ya boy Hov live from the bullpen

Everywhere all at once like Ze-lig

Ah Now I’m smokin’ cigars with my new Bud Se-lig

Roc Nation, Beyonce, big clubs, hit songs

Uh My head’s gettin’ bigger than Barry Bonds

Signin’ clients to muy lucrative contracts

takin’ these clubs’ cash, balls and bats

Playin’ my hand so perfect,  

liar’s poker

Leavin’ no prospects for these jokers

Take the jersey off they wall ha!

it’s funny yall

Streets of Marcy is the home of Moneyball

Leavin’ em there

with their junk in they glove

if they don’t open the checkbook

and show us the love:

that’s seven zeroes for all you laymen

Canyon of Heroes, bank’s in the Caymen’s

If you build it they will come, I heard the whispers

So now we get that coco and we get it crisper

Talk the best game like Harry Caray

The New McGwire – Not Mark – Jerry! It’s ya boy!

Image

“1-900-HUSTLER”

You’re So Vain 2013

Re-discovered Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” from 1972 and it’s been in the rotation since. Have always loved the details in the lyrics, though I couldn’t help but notice that some are a bit outdated now. Since it’s been more than forty years since the release of the song, I thought I would try to re-write this tune with a modern slant because while some of these references have gone by the wayside, vanity has survived quite nicely. I looked up the song on Wikipedia and it’s fascinating how much the world has pined for Carly Simon to reveal the identity of who she wrote this song about. Candidates include a who’s who of 70s hunks from Warren Beatty (who actually hopes and insists it is about him) to Nick Nolte (who has probably never cared one iota) to Mick Jagger (who contributes backing vocals to the song) to a random non-famous person or perhaps even that the song is about all men in general and written from experiences with several different dudes. I am happy to however report that Carly Simon has gone on record and said that it is 100% NOT about her recently divorced ex-husband at the time Mr James Taylor. Not JT! I couldn’t handle Sweet Baby James acting like that!  I love how she begins the song by whispering “Sonofagun” like she’s been hurt and screwed over by this guy. So I guess that’s where I’ll start: 

Ssskank (whispered) 
You walked into the club like you were walking on the ramp
Your top strategically dipped below your arm
Your sunglasses were extremely camp
You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself duckface
And all the dudes dreamed that they’d be your boo They’d be your boo, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this status update is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this status is about you Don’t you? Don’t You?
You had me several years ago when I was still mad naive
Well you said that we should be In A Relationship
And that you would never leave
But you constantly upgraded the things you loved and one of them was me
I had some dreams, they were bubbles in my tea Bubbles in my tea, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this meme is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this tweet is about you Don’t you? Don’t You? Don’t You?
I had some dreams they were bubbles in my tea Bubbles in my tea, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this email is about you You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this thread is about you Don’t you? Don’t You?
Well I hear you went up to Coachella and naturally got backstage VIP
Then you flew your lear jet down to Ibiza
for a David Guetta underwater party
Well you’re where you check-in all the time
And when you’re not you’re with some start-up tech mogul or your cigar buddies
Your cigar buddies, and…
You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain, I’ll bet you think this #hashtag is about you Don’t you? Don’t You? Don’t you?
You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you
You’re so vain, you probably think this blog is about you… _______________________________________________________________________________________
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What I’m Listening To:
Isn’t it obvious? Didn’t you just finish reading an entire blog post about that very subject? Oh what the hell, since nothing’s ever enough for you people:

Andy Vs Novak: That Moment

Words and Photos by Siddharth Chander The Arthur Ashe Stadium located in Flushing Meadows in the Queens borough of New York can seat up to 22,547 people. It is easily the largest tennis venue in the world. When I visited the stadium on a perfect summer’s day this past autumn, there were about a quarter of that number in their seats as I arrived. Still I had no doubt that every last seat would be full. For in addition to that gargantuan number, two additional people would be at the stadium that evening. They were according to their ranking the second and third best male tennis players in the world, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Great Britain’s Andy Murray respectively. They were playing for the last Grand Slam title of 2o12, Andy playing for his first taste of a Slam and Novak the defending champion playing to keep that taste all to himself.

Riding the 7 train out to the stadium, the subway car was the biggest collection of tennis fans I had ever seen. What’s a tennis fan look like? Well, in everyday society, one may occasionally see someone wearing a hat bearing a regal RF on it, but on the way to the US Open you will see it in every colour under the sun including ones that would make Roger Federer himself cringe. Now, I can honestly say that Roger Federer was my favorite tennis player before he won a single Grand Slam so I feel like I am one of the stalwarts in the Roger camp. But when I got on that train, I knew I had underestimated the popularity not only of the Fed but of tennis in general. People flew in from all over the world for this thing. Trying to gauge what direction the crowd was leaning, I asked the man across from me (branded by the RF) who he wanted to win. I was pulling for Andy, not because I liked him or disliked Novak in any way. I simply felt Andy had paid enough dues to (I hate the word but) deserve a Slam. (Deserving something is a funny concept because it’s a completely subjective abstract thing. I once saw Gregg Poppovich of the Spurs say in a post-game interview seconds after his team got screwed by a referee’s botched call that his team “can’t start thinking about deserve. There is no deserve. There’s what you got and that’s it. You start thinking about deserve and you get soft.”  He said the two of those words with such disgust that I don’t think I’ve ever thought I’ve deserved a thing since. That Poppovich could be a Life Coach.)

The man wanted Novak to win. This led to quite a few people saying they wanted Novak. I was surprised but Rafa and Roger being my guys, all I really wanted was 5 sets. I said as much and there was unanimous agreement on that. Now all that was left was for these two young men to deliver the goods to those twenty-two thousand. Talking to the hardcore tennis fans on the way, the conversation kept coming back to Roger and I realized Federer is to them a savant, a genius, a once in a lifetime phenomenon. There is no criticism they accept. Roger is one of my favorite athletes but to criticize him in any way was sacrilegious even if I offered that he was the best. I liked hearing it. I enjoyed meeting people so passionate about tennis that they would argue a failing argument to the death. The truth, another abstract subjective notion?

Walking into Arthur Ashe is incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a game in most pro sports and nothing has been superior to the two matches I’ve seen at Ashe. In my opinion, tennis is simply the most intense from a viewing standpoint. You have two men standing alone. No teammates. No coaches. Nowhere to hide. Most sports offer moments when an athlete can get a break, whether it be when his teammate takes the heat off him or whether the ball is simply far from him. In tennis, and in Arthur Ashe, the players can’t escape for a moment. You see their every move from the first second they walk out onto the court. You see them warm up. You see them when they rest in between games. You see every inch of them on every single point because there is no other body that will ever obscure your view. They are all alone. John McEnroe compares it to Boxing, saying two men walk out on their own, take their respective sides and then attack each other until one emerges victorious. The size of the stadium completely lends itself to this Gladiator analogy because after 4 hours of watching Andy and Novak battle, it really felt like one of them would have to kill the other to walk out of there.

One aspect of a tennis match that is unique is the silence of the crowd while a point is in play. This increases the intensity by tenfold because you clearly hear the grunt of the player, the thwack of the ball off the racquet, the squeak of their sneakers on the court. The echo reverberates through the air when a player lets out a yelp of anguish after he has mishit a ball or been run ragged in the pursuit of winning one solitary point. All the adrenalin builds up in you silently during a particularly long point and then when it finally ends, you release the emotion via a clap or a shout and then it’s silence again. This process repeated intensifies the entire evening. A good crowd becomes one collective mass and an integral part of the match.

You hear everything. You see everything. You feel everything.

Which is why I wanted to attend a Final. From the time I was a child and began watching tennis, that moment of winning a Championship seemed magical. One would watch the world’s best transform in an instant from stoic squinty-eyed robots into puddles of emotions and bundles of nerves with an opponent’s final backhand hit just long or a forehand that found the net. That moment when you become a champion. And none more special than the first time. Maybe the seed was planted with that old Archie’s Gallery ad featuring a guy striking out with a girl – until he saw a poster of Bjorn Borg celebrating his Wimbledon title by falling to the grass with his eyes closed and his hands to the skies. The aspiring Romeo falls to his knees and wins Juliet forever. I’m telling you, that moment stays with people. I got chills when the umpire said it: Championship Point. I knew I had pulled for Andy. Was it subconsciously because I had a chance to be there for that moment? When he would break through, when twenty odd years of hitting balls would be everything him and his fans hoped it would be? I was only pulling for Andy because Roger was ousted earlier and Rafa was out with injury but in that moment, you wanted him to win it so badly. I just kept wondering how he would react. It was the 5th hour and 5th set of the match. It had seen everything. Momentum turns. Raucous tie breaks. A 55-shot rally. Wind gusts that blew the ball around like a candy wrapper. Cramps. Bathroom breaks. Physical therapists. The bright afternoon sun had given way to a gorgeous sunset which had given way to a clear night under the bright stadium lights and airplanes coming to and fro LaGuardia Airport.

In the 5th set, Andy managed to get his second (or third or sixth) wind just as Novak began to cramp and fade a bit. As Novak was treated  in his chair, Andy Murray who had already been labeled the best player to never win a Slam walked over behind his baseline and volleyed against the wall to stay loose. 4 hours and 47 minutes had passed. Everyone in the Stadium believed in that moment he was going to win his first Slam in a minute or five or another thirty. But he was going to get it. How would he celebrate? Was he thinking of that as he volleyed and waited for his hobbled opponent to return to his feet? I thought he had to be but he said later he wasn’t.

Novak saved the first championship point with a forehand winner. On the second, Novak brazenly returned Andy’s serve with a blazing forehand that was either going to be a sure winner. Or that moment for Andy Murray. And so it was. At the end of one of the longest Finals in Grand Slam history, the first time Champion dropped his racquet, held his hands over his mouth in disbelief, went into a squat for a second and that was that. It’s unbelievable. You work your whole lifetime for that moment and it passes before the ball even comes to a stop.

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/

Just My Type

Typewriters are hot. The hottest writing tool ever. Quills? Fountain Pens? No. The clickity-click-click sound, the feeling of pushing the roll to the side to reset, the look of the words on the page. From Woody Allen to Mad Men, typewriters are strutting their stuff more than ever. I was lucky enough to see a couple of hotties at a museum. Get ready to throw some sexist jeers at these babys.

In exquisite olive green. Not trying too hard. Classic understated elegance.
A more youthful silver and green combination. Stunning. I don't know whether to type my research paper or go get a nice bottle of wine with two glasses.
Lady in Red. Fiery Gorgeous Traffic (and work) stopping red. Matching lipstick is a killer.
Be My Valentine You Qwerty Femme Fatale.

Woody’s been with the same typewriter his entire life.

Some guys have all the luck.

Magazine Life

This isn’t about the magazine Life. I haven’t read it. I feel like that’s one of those magazines that people used to buy for photos of the moon landing or royal weddings. The internet probably ruined them. I however did buy a magazine this week. It was Men’s Health. Remarkably, it’s a decent rag. I was stuck in a train station for an hour and after looking through every domestic and foreign magazine for forty-five minutes, I went with this because it seemed to have a lot of content and not too many ads or filler. The thing is that when I turned back the cover, I was immediately confronted by a black and white photograph of a very stylish young man and his two pale girl friends. They were pushing his motorcycle across a New York street and as my eyes moved downward they fell upon the letters DKNY. I instantly got a flashback to when I was 17 and I used to buy every issue of Rolling Stone and Premiere. I didn’t consciously realize it back then but I must have devoured those ads. For the force to be strong enough to flash me back more than a decade later? Yikes. God, I used to think those people in those ads were so damn cool. I clearly remember thinking some of those girls were so attractive and that I was not on the level of those guys. I actually remembered the ad campaign that stuck out at the time, it was that Tommy Hilfiger sh*t when they would show all these blonde girls on a beach in Nantucket with these white dudes with black curly hair (Simon Rex?) and there’d always be one token black dude (Tyrese?) SMILES FOR MILES, Holy hell, I wanted to be at that party.

I turned the page from DKNY to the next glossy ad and the one after and the one after. Perry Ellis, Aldo, Armani Exchange, each scene weirder than the last. If each of these two-page ads was a party, I’d walk right out on sight. They pay these models and photographers to make these layouts appealing and now I’ve gone from envying them to being completely disgusted by them without them changing the formula even a bit. I just don’t give a crap about their $285 scarves and weird make-up. When I was a kid, I thought that growing up meant becoming a part of that world. I thought if you didn’t, you were corny. Once again proof that you didn’t know Jack teenage Siddharth! I’ve grown up now motherf*ckers and I’ve got better jokes than any of you boring douchebags. I’m a better person. Well, yes, I am completely assuming they’re boring and shitty people but you can’t blame me when they all look so bored and nonplussed in their fancy duds. Come on, they’re hardly sympathetic figures.

So then I got to thinking about how much these magazine life images are projected on us when we’re kids. These car ads with their smooth jazz music and serene countryside backdrops. How everybody always has teeth like those marble slabs at Coldstone. So there’s magazine life and then there’s life. Life comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s teeth are sometimes yellow and frequently misshapen. It’s cars are usually in stasis in between thousands of other cars. In life, when a guy is pushing his bike across the street, it’s normally a piece of junk and he’s normally not dressed like the world’s richest beatnik. He’s probably dressed in beat up corduroys and a tattered old T-shirt and that guy’s much cooler than anybody you’ll ever see in a magazine ad. Magazine life is the pipe dream that keeps people on the hamster wheel. They’ve got to get that job to pay for that stuff, do what they don’t want to do just to get things they want but don’t need. Jonesing to keep up with the Joneses.

Personally, I can’t even imagine a scenario where I would even be able to have a conversation with these people, let alone be in this photo. I’m just going to skip the ads from now on, obviously my kind are not their target market.


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On Humanity

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” -Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity

Dance

Like the guy in the back of the car in Dazed & Confused, I wanna dance. Dancing has shot up the list of things I wish I could do, as evidenced below.

TOP 5 THINGS I WISH I COULD DO.

1) Dance

2) Dunk

3) Dribble

4) Play a musical instrument

5) Mack

The first time I paid attention to dance was in South Korea at the Annual R16 B-Boy Festival where breakers come from 16 nations and compete for the title of “illest freshest crew” or in Korean parlance, first prize-uh. Some of them were really good but I couldn’t get any good photos because it was insanely crowded there.

This gentleman's not lacking in confidence.

When I was in California, my favorite place by far was Venice Beach. There were a few too many druggie scumbags but that’s to be expected when people flock there from all over the country expecting hippie Shangri-la. The best experience I had there was one random afternoon when I went there just for lunch but chanced upon a really good crew doing some ridiculous routines on the boardwalk.

These guys run full speed and somehow turn in mid-air- without ever touching someone- and clear up to 9 heads. WILD!

HOPS

 I’m becoming obsessed with appreciating dancing but I still can’t do it worth a lick. The second I start moving in any way that can be construed as dancing, I no longer hear the music and just keep hearing that sound when a DJ scratches the record to a halt. In Venice, the leader of the crew gave this speech that said to remember not to get caught up in drinking and smoking and that all you need to do something fun and amazing is in your body already. He really made me feel like crap. I kept thinking he was trying to butter up the parents in the crowd but maybe he was serious? Anyway, a few weeks later I came across some high school kids in San Francisco raising funds for their dance program on the street. They were about 16 or 17 and so passionate about it, it made me think I must have grown up a lot slower than other kids. All I did was play outside and prank call people. Damn.                                  They really made me feel like I need to lose some inhibitions. And I don’t mean that in terms of dancing but just in general. If you’re feeling something, anything, you need to drop your cool and just go for it. If I told you I had an idea about two twins dancing while pretending to be rug dealers in a carpet store, what would you say? It’s been done. And it’s awesome.

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Some Dance Clinics by Les Twins, Madhuri Dixit and Sam & Dave