Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Week

What a week it has been. I have been stressed beyond belief and am glad it is all behind me. A week ago, I had some tests done and some biopsies were taken. The C-word was thrown around a bit. Both of my parents have had cancer. Twice. I have known for years that I am in a higher risk group than if they hadn’t. Every once in a while this fear comes up. This time it was much more intense. Being in India I found myself faced with questions about what I would do if I did actually have a major illness. Would I go to the US and be with family? Stay here in India? Where would I get the best treatment? Europe? It was quite an intense conversation I was having with myself. The week long wait between the tests and the results meant I had a lot of time to think about it all. The strange part is, I wasn’t as freaked out about it as I thought I would be. I think having known for so long that it is a possibility, a probability even, I have kind of accepted that it would happen one day. So I try to hold it off as long as possible. I try to eat healthy, I started yoga to reduce the stress and keep my body in good shape. I don’t smoke and I have cut way, way down on drinking. But still, in the back of my mind was this big “what if?” What if it has happened? What if I need surgery or other major treatment? What would I do?

Those are the times when being so far away from the people that really know me becomes so much harder. And I wanted to say something, but there is nothing anyone can really do and I don’t want anyone to worry, so I kept it mostly to myself and hoped for the best. I did my yoga, tried to relax and just counted the days, the hours, the many hours until the results would be known.

I went to the doctor yesterday not knowing what was going to happen. Would there be more tests? Would I be OK? The good news is that everything is fine. I have 4 weeks of medication to wipe out whatever is happening in my body, but there were no signs of anything I need to be concerned about. After a week of stress, not sleeping and holding my breath, I can do what my yoga instructor is always saying… “Exhale completely and relax.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris

“Let’s do a shopping weekend in Paris. Just you and me.”

And within minutes I had reserved our first class tickets on the Thalys and a room at Axial Beaubourg, a tiny yet chic hotel Rue du Temple in the Marais. That is one of my preferred hotels to stay in Paris. The Thalys arrives at Gare du Nord and it is a quick connection to the number 4 metro downstairs, change at Chatelet and catch line 1 for the one stop to Hotel de Ville. Once off the metro it is less than a minute’s walk to the hotel. Catching the train for the 10:03 arrival meant being checked in and having first cocktails in hand by 10:30.

Ann and I met when we both had our first day together at new company and I instantly took a liking to her. But we really bonded over a misunderstanding. I walked into her office one day and asked if she felt it was inappropriate to invite someone from the office out for a drink. A date, really. I assumed she had me figured out and she assumed I was talking about her. She assumed that I was hinting around, trying to figure out if she would say yes before I asked. After about fifteen minutes of awkward conversation we bridged that communication gap and she discovered I was really interested in the student she had hired on her team.

His name was Daniel and he had just arrived from Paris to work with us for a few months. A few months which would ultimately be a couple of years, and I did invite him out and he accepted and we spent the evening at de Paap drinking oversized beers, listening to music and talking about his girlfriend. Even though the evening seemed to be a total waste of brand new Dolce and Gabbana, we became friends. But before that, when she discovered I was not into her, at least not that way, she breathed a deep, audible sigh of relief and I wasn’t sure whether I should be insulted or not. But it didn’t matter. From then on, we were pretty much joined at the hip. She was fabulous and I was just happy to orbit.

Thursday evenings quickly became ours. We had very busy work schedules and it was the only evening when shops were open late. Normally everything was shut tight before we even thought about leaving the office, but Thursday evenings we tried to keep our date. We would load ourselves up with bags full of Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, Gucci and Chanel and then head over to H&M café for a glass of beer or wine while waiting for Ulco to arrive. We would all have dinner and Horace, one of the owners would make us go through our bags showing all of our new purchases. One by one the shoes and handbags, shirts, sweaters, scarves and whatever else caught our attention would get looked over and he would give us his blessing while Ulco rolled his eyes and tried to be supportive.

We had talked several times about going to Paris. A year earlier I had been going about every two weeks to see friends, taking the train after work and arriving in Paris in time for pre-dinner drinks followed by a night of great food and champagne. I rarely went with anyone else. I had my friends there, a bit of a life that would be reborn every other Friday evening. And suddenly Ann wanted to go with me.

But she was also on a secret mission. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had major lust in her heart. Lust for the silver Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis Houston handbag and I was to be her accomplice, her usual partner in crime. Whenever we went shopping, Ann would pick something out and I would give my honest opinion, we would debate and deliberate, argue and concur before anything was ever purchased. It was our thing. It as what we did.

We woke up that Saturday morning with our goal in mind and made our way to Avenue Montaigne and before I knew it, I was walking staring into the Louis Vuitton windows which were tastefully decorated with the coveted handbag in every color possible. We walked in and Ann marched up to the counter and caught the temporary attention of the saleswoman.

“I’ll take that silver one.”
“I can’t help you right now. There is a list. You need to be on the list.”
“Excuse me? The list?”
“Find the man with the clipboard. He will put you on the list.”

We went to find the man with the list, the short little man holding the passport to the kingdom Ann was so desperate to enter and he informed us that we had to wait just to get wait-listed. The list was full. It was not yet lunch-time. We were basically on luxury purchase stand-by. The store, as usual, was full of Japanese shoppers with seemingly bottomless wallets who bought up everything in sight. The air was tense. Beneath her cool exterior, I could feel Ann’s fear. A fear they would sell out before we even made it to the bottom of the list. I wanted to be supportive but I started complaining.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You are seriously going to make us wait so we can put our names on a list so we can wait some more so that you can spend a ton of money on a handbag? A handbag?”
“It’s not a handbag. It’s the Vernis Houston. It’s not a handbag. It’s a work of art.”
“Heather Locklear has one. It was in Vogue.”

It was a dirty low-down trick to play the “Amanda Woodward” card and she knew it. If Heather Locklear had one, I knew there was no way she was leaving Paris empty armed. She knew I would have nothing to say and no choice but to wait it out with her. An hour or so later, they were kind enough to let her hand over an absurd sum of money for, I have to admit, a rather fabulous bag which spent the rest of the trip hanging off the arm of a glowing Ann who would every now and again get a far off look in her eye as she stopped to pet the new love of her life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Caught in the Act

Just like in a movie. I was obviously the last one to know. The unsuspecting victim who should have seen it coming, but instead chose denial. I should have paid more attention. I have only myself to blame. It was right there in his eyes and I chose not to see it. To make matters worse, it was happening right under my nose. In my own home. Whoever said what we don’t know can’t hurt us has obviously never been in my shoes. What we don’t know can sometimes be our worst nightmare.

The house was unusually still and suddenly I could feel the icy chill run down my spine. Something was wrong. My gut knotted as I walked toward the door. I thought I might be sick but managed to keep my composure. I knew it was happening right on the other side. Just the thought was almost paralytic. I didn’t know what to do. I could keep the door closed and continue to live in my semi-polished Swarovksi-esque bubble of a world, or open it up and shatter my world, smash my dreams and have my trust broken beyond repair. My body tensed with fear and I thought my knees might give out. I knew things like this happened, but I never thought it would happen to me. I never thought I would be a statistic. I decided it was time for action. Time to rip the band-aid off the wound and just get it over with. Yes it would hurt and yes, perhaps I may not see an immediate reason to go on, but I knew I would survive, that I’d learn how to stay alive. I took a deep yogic breath, reached for the handle and opened the door quietly. If I was going to catch him, I wanted to see everything. I wanted to catch him in action.

And there he was, Manuel, just as I suspected. He looked me right in the eye and with no disregard for my feelings told me he ran his fingers around his eyes, applying my MAC MoistureLush Eye Cream. Of course I had seen the signs, the odd finger smudges in the cream early in the morning, coming home to find the container left slightly out of place. But suddenly it was all real. Manuel, fingers gouging out heaps and heaps of cream, smearing it with abandon all about the eyes. And he didn’t even bother to do it in a different bathroom. He defiled my personal morning pull-myself-together space as if it were nothing more than a cold slab of granite.

Me: What the HELL is going on in here?
Manuel: This is really good eye cream
Me: I know. It’s mine! Why are you using it?
Manuel: I ran out of mine and this is really good.
Me: I know. But M-I-N-E. I'm 41, you're 29. You don’t need it. Why?
Manuel: (slapping another layer on his eyes) I do so my eyes don’t get like yours.

But this wasn’t the first time he had strayed. Just a few weeks back I caught him red handed with my Lakme Pure Defense Anti-Pollution Detoxifying Facial Wash. He told me it meant nothing and that I was blowing everything out of proportion. I took him at his word, fool that I am. And what am I supposed to do now? How can I trust him when I see how he looks at my MAC Microfine Refinisher?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Paging Dr. Robb

I have become one of those people I swore I would never be. One of those people that buy television series on DVD and then watch an entire season in one or two marathon sessions only to run out and buy the next season a few days later.

I think I might have seen too much Grey’s Anatomy. I think it might be affecting my behavior and I find that some of my actions get strange looks from my co-workers. For starters, whenever I go to the men’s room, I end up washing my hands like I am scrubbing in. I scrub them all the way up to the elbow and then walk out of the men’s room with palms held up, toward me, so as to keep them sterile until I can be gloved. It is only half-way down the hall that I realize I am heading for my office for a dull and unimaginative meeting instead of the O.R. for a quick bit of pre-lunch neurosurgery.

Although I have to say, there are times when I am in a meeting with some seriously stupid people and I would love to have those electric heart paddles to zap the ones that get on my nerves or have moronic ideas or worse, regurgitate my own ideas back to me pretending they just thought them up as if I won’t remember they were mine in the first place.

But in addition to that, I also think I am getting more engaged than I perhaps should be. I find myself caught up in the lives of the characters and when I see them faced with a problem they can’t solve, I feel I have no choice but to help. When faced with a perplexing issue like a patient with Dyskinesia, they stand around looking perplexed while I shout to the screen “Intraspinal catheter. Intraspinal catheter STAT! Duh!” And it aggravates me when they spend their time reviewing symptoms when it’s painfully obvious it’s a simple textbook case of myxopapillary ependymoma. I mean come on, all the classic signs are right there. And they keep going on about it, contemplating this and that when what they really need to do is get their surgery on and then start the patient on a course of chemo and radiation.

I also enjoy medicating my patients and keeping them loaded up on all sorts of drugs and can often be heard sprinkling my conversations with phrases like “Let them have Droperidol and Dihydroemetine”, but my absolute favorite is assisting in surgery… I encourage them and gently guide them through it… “Deep breath… Don’t worry, I GOT YO BACK, PART-NER! Now you just go on with your bad doctor self and make a large anterior lateral, mid-auxiliary incision in the 5th intercostal space.“

But seriously, if you’re an armchair surgeon like myself, I just found a fabulous website. Visible Body. It is a completely interactive 3D model of the human body that lets you dissect, and investigate the digestive system, skeletal structures, circulatory systems and all the rest.

I’m off to mess around with the Integumentary and Nervous systems. I think I may be developing a virtual God complex.

Amen and pass me a scalpel.

Dr. Manish Gupta to the Rescue

Every morning on my way to work, I end up stuck in traffic just like every other person in Delhi. And after having sat in traffic in Los Angeles, New York, London, Amsterdam, Milan, Barcelona, Tel Aviv and Beijing, I can honestly say that there is no traffic like New Delhi traffic. Except for maybe Bombay traffic, but that is a different story all together. If the past year has taught me anything, it is that Delhiites are professionals when it comes to creating jams and pure traffic pandemonium. Not that I can really complain as I am normally only twenty minutes of traffic between work and home, a time frame that can triple if there has been a bit of monsoon passing through town.

And every morning I pass my time by either posting Tweets on Twitter or more likely just checking out the scene from the streets, peering into cars, making up stories in my head about the people in the car next to me and sometimes feigning sleep in the usually unsuccessful attempt at keeping street vendors from knocking on my window selling their wares of the day.

So today I was checking out the sights and sounds on the street that runs between my house and office when I found myself stopped in front of a sign that has always intrigued me. I first noticed it over a year ago when I first moved to Delhi and it never fails to conjure a sense of wonder and inquisitive curiosity in me. It is the sign for Dr. Manish Gupta’s clinic for skin, hair, nail, sex disorder, laser and cosmetic surgery. It's all right there, listed on the sign in bright red letters.

Normally when I look at that sign, the first question that comes to mind is “which of these specialties does not belong in this list?” But this morning I looked at it from a different angle and realized it is the perfect combination. I mean if you are going to have blemish-free skin, a to-die-for do, cat-like nails and corrective cosmetic surgery to snag a potential mate or play date, then it only goes to reason that you would want to ensure that all the fun parts are working properly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Darwin's Zoo

After hearing the question “Have you ever had sex with someone whose name you did not know?” the audience gasped a gasp of shock and disapproving judgment. The girlfriend held her breath and waited for the answer. It was a tense moment for all. The only thing I had going through my mind was “it’s 2008! Who hasn’t?” Well, apparently the guy in the hot seat as he answered “no” and the lie detector confirmed his response as true. The audience clapped and cheered. His stud quotient went down in my opinion. Loser. Then they asked if he had ever made ethnic jokes about his girlfriend’s family. He answered “yes” truthfully. Ultimately he lied on a question. He lost his money but gained a pissed off girlfriend with her pissed off family, an angry boss and suspicious co-workers as he admitted to stealing tips from tables that weren’t his, and clients who will be reviewing their old credit card slips as he admitted to changing the amounts to get a bigger tip – something that I believe is a federal offense, but I would never throw stones.

I hate to admit it, but I have become a bit hooked on a couple of game shows lately. Not because the shows themselves are interesting, but for me it is like going to Darwin’s Zoo. It’s a place to see stupid people in what seems to be their natural habitat – cheesy TV. The first show that has my attention is “Moment of Truth”, a show in which contestants have to truthfully answer 21 questions for a prize of $500,000. The question I want them to ask is “what kind of fucking moron are you to come on to a show, admit to adultery, lying, stealing, and at least three of the seven deadly sins in front of friends, family, the fiancé, and any person in the world with a television all for the possibility of winning a bit of money?”

And then what I find even more interesting is the audience response. A female contestant was asked “as an adult, have you ever taken a nude picture of yourself?” and again I thought “who hasn’t?” The audience audibly held their breath and then clapped when she answered “no”. It wasn’t as if they asked her if she had her own porn site – and more power to her if she had – or used nude pictures of herself to gain a high-end paying clientele – and again, snaps if she pulled that off! I, for the record, have never done either, but had the internet been around when I was a young lad, my career might have turned out quite different.

But for the most vulgar display of stupidity, one needs look no further than ‘Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” First off, let me say this on the record – Those are some stupid assed people they get on that show. Where do these people come from, and why does there seam to be a never ending supply of them? Stumped by questions like “Which state on the west coast of the United States is the furthest west?” It’s like watching Miss South Carolina all over again. What planet are these people serving donuts on? And what is it with all the “whooping” and clapping for themselves, cheering themselves on yelling out “yeah, that’s it… Let’s go… Whooooo!” OK, so they think they know the answer to a question about 1st grade English? A question like “How many nouns does the word ‘apples’ contain?” And of course someone will think that because it is plural, it means multiple nouns are involved. It’s not cute. It’s not sexy. It’s embarrassing. Not only for them, but for the entire US. It’s embarrassing for me, because I get asked if American’s really are that stupid. I try to say we aren’t and then they bring up the fact that George Dubya was elected to a second term and suddenly I have nothing to say.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Excuse me?

Over cocktails at Diva...

Me: "I love the MAC shaving cream."
Anjali: "Is there really any difference between shaving creams?"
Me: "Grow some facial hair and then we’ll talk."
Anjali: "I have facial hair. I just got threaded today."
Me: "Could I get another martini, please? Thanks."

And still at Diva...

Me: "I just ordered curtains for the bedroom."
Chris: "Great!"
Me: "They are brown with a pinkish color in them."
Chris: "You got pink curtains?"
Me: "Not pink, they have splashes of pink in them. well, a greyish pink, really"
Chris: (Scrunching up her face at me) "Pink? For guys? Well, then again, it’s you."
Danielle: "When I was in Nicaragua..."

ThreeSixty at the Oberoi...

(To set the scene, the Oberoi is rated one of the best hotels in the world, the conversation was between a rather loud Frenchman and the Indian chef while the Frenchman’s bleached blonde wife/mistress looked on with a scowl.)

Frenchman: "This is the worst meal I have ever had on the plate."
Chef: "Sir, I am really sorry, I could…"
Frenchman: "My wife and I we come here for the Indian foods and this is not Indian foods. You don’t know how to cook the Indian foods. How is this possible?"
Chef: "Sir, I really apologize…"
Frenchman: "I have had the chicken curry all over the entire world and I come to India and you give me this dish that is not the chicken curry. How is this possible?"
Chef: "Sir, I really apologize, I can get you another…"
Frenchman: "This is not the Indian foods. I know the Indian foods and this is not the Indian foods. All over the world I eat the Indian foods and this is not the Indian foods. How is this possible that you make so bad the Indian foods?"
Chef: "Sir, I can arrange a table for you at the Italian restaurant next door…"
Frenchman: "We are on a diet. We don’t eat the pizzas. This is not the Indian foods. I have had the Indian foods all over the world. The spices, they are all wrong. This is not the Indian foods. How is this possible?"

For 10 minutes the conversation went around in this circle. We left our table while it was still going strong.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Remembering Arleen

When I was living in New York, I worked with a woman named Arleen. She was a small woman with dyed red hair, old enough to be my mother and I got on with her amazingly well. I was pretty much the only one in the company that can make such a claim. Most people tried to avoid her. They would go out of their way not to be in her general area. It wasn’t that Arleen wasn’t nice, she was. She used to bake me brownies just the way I like them, a bit undercooked in the middle. I think she adopted me a bit and became a sort of surrogate mother to me at the office. But there was one rule that applied when it came to Arleen. One topic that was never to be raised. One question that as never to be asked under any circumstances. That question was “How are you, Arleen?”

Those four words would initiate a twenty minute download of all her aches and pains. Her toes pointed the wrong way, her arthritis was acting up, the medications to help her sleep were keeping her awake at night , and if she did sleep, then those darned dogs started barking. I used to wait until everyone was gathered around, then ask Arleen how she was just before dashing off for a non-existent conference call. My colleagues hated me for the rest of the day. And not only would she give a detailed answer to the whole “how are you” question, she was one of those women that would sit at her desk in her cubicle (which happened to be right next to mine) and give a running commentary of the entire day. In one long sentence.

But I could handle Arleen. I have always been one of those people that can pretty much say whatever I like, and people tend to let me. I say the things others think and don’t dare say. I don’t know why, but people let me and I know that if anyone else said such a thing, there would be a war. I would just tell her to shut up and that the sound of her voice made my bagel repeat on me and that she was driving me crazy. In the beginning, people would look at me shocked, wondering what was going to happen next. If Arleen had anything, she had a quick temper. But she never took it out on me. I could talk to Arleen in a way nobody else dared and because of that, we created a wonderful friendship. Arleen was just a very lonely woman. She was divorced and her daughter had been killed by a drunk driver several years earlier. Like most people that go through such a situation, she never got over it. It was a topic we would sometimes discuss but I would never pry for details. I gathered from conversation that her daughter was about my age and Arleen thought we would have been great friends.

I always felt sad for Arleen, but I never treated her like everyone else did and she came out of her shell for me. I think I saw a side to Arleen that very few people have. We even got the point where I would ask “Arleen, how are doing? You’ve got five minutes. Go!” She would laugh and giggle and tell me all about her toes and neck aches over coffee and bagels with too much cream cheese and I would cut her off after five minutes and then we would talk gossip. The thing is, she knew she was annoying to people. It was her way of keeping people out of her actual life, away from her real feelings. Once someone dared to peek through the curtains, they would find a wonderful woman, kind and caring and wickedly funny almost bordering in evil.

When I moved from New York, Arleen was one of the people I really missed. Every once in a while her face comes to mind and I wonder how she is doing and I hope she is well. It has been 14 years since I left New York and still I can hear her voice in my head. Tomorrow is my birthday and if she were here, there would be hot, fresh baked brownies sitting on my desk. No note, no card, just the pan of brownies, cooked just the way I like.

Friday, August 08, 2008

My Coerced Posting

I just received an SMS asking me to post something more cheerful than that last post… Hmmmm… The pressure of having to write under pressure is a lot of pressure. I hope I don’t buckle under the weight of exceptional expectations… I don’t really have anything to say, but I was raised to obey orders and so I will be making this up as I go along. So if this post sucks, then blame the guy who sent me the SMS, not me. This is not my fault. I am a victim, a pawn, a prisoner in an alphabetical Guantanemo of my own making.

First off, let me start with an update – Manuel and I are doing much better and things seem to be on a very good track and going in a good direction, and for now, that’s all I will say about my relationship.

Blogging is a strange thing and at times I find myself at odds with my life, what is on my mind and what I write about in my blog. When I first started, I wanted to write funny stories, I wanted to make people laugh. I wrote things that sometimes made me laugh as I was reading them. I would often write for a specific person and imagine their laughs or comments or looks of shock. Christina, Marco, Ulco, Joe, Nik, Laura, and many, many others were often the inspiration behind a story just because I know their sense of humor, I know what will make them laugh and if I knew someone was going through a hard time, I would write to cheer them up in my own little way. It's also my way of spending time with people that are way too many time zones away from me.

And all the while, life happens and many times it happens in a way other than I want it to be happening. Then I have to decide if I want to fake it and be funny or witty, write the truth about my feelings and thoughts, or avoid it all together by not writing. I broke one of my rules recently about not being too personal, especially if someone else was involved in any negative way. I was scared to do it and scared of what people might think, but getting it all out was hugely therapeutic and it let me examine my thoughts in a different way. And then the question arises of how personal I can get without getting too personal and giving away my life. And then there is the question of what type of writing I want to do… Do I just write according to what my mood is and what’s going on (maybe it will be funny, maybe it will be depressing, maybe it will just be) or do I force myself to keep it on the lighter side. I also have no idea what everyone likes to read - and when I say everyone, I mean the three people that visit my blog – Hiya mom!

So, why don’t you tell me. What would/do you prefer?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

He Questions

He questions if it is over.

Nobody actually ended anything, but it all feels so foreign and strange to him. It feels like a void filled with conversations that never took place and hurts that were never tended to. In his mind he hears the unspoken accusations and feels the missing touches. His lips feel the ghost of longed for kisses that never come, kisses they themselves are reluctant to give.

He questions how it happened when just a short time ago everything seemed to be so different. He ponders all of this as the heavy rains from the monsoon pour down. The street below quickly becomes a creek and minutes later that creek becomes a stream. All too quickly the road is nowhere to be seen, a memory of what was, the knowledge of what is. It is there, just below the surface of the muddy waters. The road that is so riddled with pot holes is now a smooth river, the water hiding the damage and decay.

He stands on the terrace holding a hot cup of tea in the china cup. A souvenir of happier days. The rain pours down. The water rises. The doubts and thoughts and disappointments float to the surface. Leaves frolic and race in the flowing water below. Do they know they are dying? Do they have any idea where they are heading?

He blames himself for the way things are and wonders if they actually ever were the way he remembers or if he merely remembers the way he wishes it would have been. He wonders if perhaps that first kiss, stolen on a stormy Paris night was the beginning of the end. The ending written long before the story began and he, just an actor saying the lines he never wrote, lines he doesn’t fully understand, words he doesn't want to say. These thoughts torment him and the tea grows cold in the china cup. The cliché almost makes him laugh, but the thought of smiling, much less laughing is too painful. A cruel trick of emotions playing themselves out against each other, each cancelling the other out.

He questions if it is over.
He questions what to do.
He questions.