Monday, February 4, 2008

last days in the city: alcoholics, whores and Iron Maiden (who are both)

On Thursday, I was looking forward to two events: getting drinks with Hugh and Saket's birthday party.

I met Hugh the night before at the train station. A funny old man with a clipped British accent, he made me laugh with his kookiness and Keuorac style talking so I gave him my number to hang out sometime. I impressed him by correctly guessing his age at late 50's. I actually thought he looked 20 years older and I thought my guess low to the point of absurdity.

He called me at midnight that night for an interesting conversation. He sang a lot of American rock songs including my favorite Goodnight Irene, talked about all the money he made in the oil business and rapped a lot of clever puns. He struck me as odd but I stole a line from "Man on the Moon"and told Tessa "He's crazy but he might also be a genius."

After we met for drinks, I concluded that in fact, he was simply crazy. He rambled on and on in a flow of consciousness that, nevertheless, impressed me with its memory. As we left the little chai shop, some goondas (mafia types) outside tried to warn me but I had not been with him long and wanted to see a little more. We sat in a local park and he went through his bag for some papers he had for me. Food covered everything in his tattered briefcase including the resume he gave to me and his wife's death certificate that he kept. In a wise move, I saw my business card with my number on it that I had given to him. I slipped it into my pile of papers to escape the inevitable follow up calls from this lonely old man. I sympathized for him but I coudln't be around him anymore. I made up an excuse about Tessa being lost and escaped to the train station. An odd experience.

That night, I had a wonderful time at my friend Saket's birthday party. We met on, a site that is fast becoming my best way of meeting interesting people and acquiring cool house guests. Seeming much older than his 21 years, he's made movies for National Geographic and currently works as an editor for prestigious law journal papers. We immediately bonded intellectually over books, politics and movies. He's soon leaving for many months in the Czech Republic after a stopover in Vienna to see his Austrian girlfriend. I'm sad to lose him so soon after we met.

However, his birthday party turned into a networking extravaganza. I met a great couple who just moved back to Mumbai from LA. He still runs a wine distribution company in California but now also works for the slum rehabilitation project in Bombay. It sounds like depressing work for an honest man as the project becomes rife with corruption. I found an interesting fact from him: the technical definition for a slum is more than 40 families per toilet and lack of dug foundations. Proudly, this makes my place Slum Plus. His wife works with the Screen Actors Guild in California and offered me contacts at the Times of India, the country's most prestigious paper. They invited us for dinner upon our return to the city and I'm looking forward to it.

I also met Saket's godfather, Shawn from England. He spent 19 years in an ashram in the north of India with his wife who he met at university in the UK. In a sign I always love in new people, we never got to any biographical questions. Tessa and I picked up a travel companion from South Africa named Astrid. We've hung out for almost two weeks and still have not asked any boring questions of each other. It's great when it just flows like that. Anyway, Shawn dominated the room with his guitar playing (weak), his song writing (strong), his girl pinching (often) and his jokes (very often). I also had a hit with a spirited rendition of Jabberwocky complete with removing my shirt to show off my tattoo of the monster as it charges into view in the poem. A very fine night except for having to take a cab home from Grant Road. Still, it's a half hour ride for 4 bucks.

On the walk into our place, we found a little something I'd like to call the Heartbreaker. Tessa loves dogs. People always scold her for petting stray dogs but she loves them. They can sense it and she finds canine friends everywhere. I even heard her once say, "If I had a dog here, I wouldn't mind not having friends." We've been talking about adopting a dog by feeding it but having it live outside on the street. That way, even if we have to leave, at least it had a period of good food and love while retaining its street smarts. The stray dogs here have to be strong and smart by natural selection. Nobody helps them and its survival of the fittest.

Tessa spotted the Heartbreaker and fell in love. A tiny puppy with large souful eyes and all black coloring except for brown on its neck and paws, it hid underneath some bicycles as we approached. As the girls tried to grab it, it howled pitifully until they got it into their arms and settled it down. They spent the next hour at the house holding it, taking pictures with it and making little happy noises. It slept between Tessa and Astrid that night with me on the outside. Somehow, despite Tessa's status as bug magnet, I'm the only one who kept waking up to squash fleas.

She tried to give a bath the next morning but it howled so loudly that she thought it might wake up the whole neighborhood. When I went downstairs to pee in the shower, I became confused at all of the black hair dye on the floor. I didn't realize that the ten second bath had left a large pool of thick dirty water behind. She took it to breakfast that day and then to our friend's Bob's house to see if he could take while we left for a month. He didn't so we had to return it to where we found it. I felt bad for my little sister. She really loved that dog. However, I bet it will be there when we get back. At least, I hope so.

Friday was my last day in the city for a month because Tessa and I will be in Darjeeling for a wedding, travel around Nepal or the Five Sisters (the five little states to the extreme northeast of India and far off the tourist path) for ten days and then go to Assam for a week long television shoot where we will play husband and wife.

After breakfast at Hotel Shivvlas with the nice Icelandic boy and Australian girl who stayed over the last two days, I spent the morning taking care of errands. I went to the post office to have all my mail (especially the package of books, goldfish, blonde hair dye and cheez-its from my loving parents ) forwarded to my friend's house. Bob and Pratsut, you eat anything but the artificial cheese products. I need my artificial cheese. For this package forwarding I only needed to talk to four people and go to two locations, a marked improvement over my first post office trip.

Then I went to the tailor to pick up my favorite pair of pants that had a huge rip in the crotch. I dropped them off yesterday and they said come back at 5. I got there at 4:30 because I needed to be somewhere and they said they weren't ready yet. I had Tessa stop by when she went by at 6 but still no luck. They told her to come back at noon the next day. I come by at one and he says "2 minutes". Then he takes the pants and finished the entire job in two minutes. In the words of Charlie Brown, arghhh.

Then I headed down to Bandra to meet some people for the Iron Maiden concert. I blew a months rent ($25 USD) for a ticket. We got into the venue, after a severe pat down for liquor and a cigarette confiscation, to discover that the only thing they only sold shitty sandwiches and Pepsi inside. No beer. Let me repeat. No beer. As the yellow zig-zagged shirt said, arghhh. Also, since we had the cheaper tickets, they put us so far back from the stage. You could only watch on the video screens and could barely even see the 20 foot tall Eddy skeleton come out with his giant gun and point it at the crowd. They played a high energy show but I couldn't get really into it.

We blew early with a nice kid from Israel who came here to find music. There's lots of young Israeli's traveling India after their compulsory military service. We went to Bandra West for beer and dinner. We found a nice restraunt but they didn't have drinks. We asked him to recommend a spot and he told us about a place down the street called Topsy. I'm still not sure if it was mirth or spite that made him send two guys and three girls to a whorehouse.

In either case, we had a great, albeit expensive, time. We walked into a room filled with mirrors, a psychedelically glowing ceiling, a band with singers straight from 70's porn playing Bollywood hits, men seated quietly around the outside with their beers and whiskys and fairly pretty Indian girls in modest saris. However, in a country with little intergender eye contact, I quickly realized these girls meant business. Tessa and Astrid started dancing and some of the girls seemed to like it although I knew it hurt their business. All the men stared at Tessa the entire time. I danced for awhile too and eventually sat down. The singer came up and asked me why I stopped. I said I'm a terrible dancer. He nodded agreement and kept singing.

I studiously avoided eye contact although the madame (?) and I kept exchanging glances. A girl behind me kept accidentally touching my arms and looking at me in the mirror. Not knowing the etiquette of the place made it a trifle weird. However, I knew it mostly came down to baksheesh (Hindi word for tips, bribes or alms depending on the situation). I made friend with the head waiter but he wouldn't explain to me how things worked. I'm waiting to meet a rich guy who wants to find a place like this so I can spend his money to make friends there and learn how things work. One of my favorite activities in this country involves finding out all the complications behind every seemingly simple operation. Things in America generally operate as they appear on the surface. India always has many more layers than you would guess. I love it.

We had a round of beers and I tipped the female singer a few bucks. Apparently, this meant I bought myself an hour of singing just as we meant to leave. She got huffy and stopped singing as I got up to pay the bill. I had to apologize on the way out and assure I loved her singing and would listen more attentively when I came back with a better crowd. I tipped a few bucks to the head waiter and we left Topsy. I'm very curious to get back there.

Then we got dinner while my friend's Bob and Aimar showed up in their car. We headed to a bar/restaurant close to my house. Unfortunately, there's almost nothing in the way of as bar culture where people go for a quiet place to drink and maybe meet people. It's either clubs or restaurants with not much in between. We left when the place closed and got home with enough time for an hour nap before our flight to Darjeeling. Unfortunately, we slept through two alarms and a phone call but that's a story for another day.

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