N, U and I

The cab rolled in around 10:30 pm. The driver saw me standing outside the house on the phone, and still went ahead. Oh well, I thought, maybe it’s someone else’s cab. But it wasn’t. The driver was just retarded. He made a grand reverse as he faux parallel-parked into the center of the street. I rolled my eyes and asked N to step out. N and U walked out muttering something under their breaths, both visibly nervous. Some married couples give you a very clear indication of how well they click together. N’s parents were coming to the US, it was their first trip.

I sat in the front seat next to the desi cab driver, yeah that’s a big surprise! A small note to cab drivers: I understand you like the idea of picking up a desi customer, but that doesn’t grant you the privilege to babble away until we reach our destination. Thank you. I speak to N & U in Hindi, unfortunate as it turned out, for every sentence we said was prompted with sage advice from the cabbie. Thanks for telling us what airport trolleys cost when you came to the US dude, now please keep your eyes on the road; getting us killed will affect your tip adversely.

Anyway, he drove competently, made a couple of wrong decisions in avoiding traffic, but eventually got us there. As we had no luggage, he knew we were picking up someone, and started offering to take us back home. You know what, at least he was enterprising. We muttered a quick no and walked into the terminal. Thanks for overcharging us by the way.

We knew the flight number by heart, as we had checked the status every five minutes since 9:30 pm at N’s house. In the cab, and N and I used our respective smartphones with the flight tracker app to confirm that the flight had in fact landed. N, U and I have made over 10 trips to India between us, but somehow seemed to conservatively estimate that getting off the plane plus immigration and customs clearance would take his parents only 5 minutes.

It actually took them about 15 minutes. See paranoia works! U noticed N’s father first, followed by his mom and his nephew. They were beaming with an excitement our faces reserve for the kind of fatigue only a 16 hour flight could generate. Still, parents are always excited to see their son, his wife and his best friend, so what the heck.

 I always hated walking out into the airport waiting lounge after a flight simply because of the hordes of people among which you need to find the guys waiting for you. It is one of the highest stress situations in daily life, and should be included in the astronauts’ training course. You’re walking out of a tiny opening in the wall, so everyone can see you, and they’re watching you incompetently scan the crowd. I would worry about not being able to spot my deliriously waving family as I was wheeling out the luggage I had ever so gingerly stacked on the trolley as a challenge to gravity. But, N’s parents strolled out cool as cucumbers, so cheers to them.

There were six checked-in bags plus three carry-ons which meant that we would struggle to fit everything in two cabs. Somehow we managed. U got in one cab with N’s parents, and the rest of us rode in the other one. U had forgotten her phone at home, I mean come on, it’s not like cell phones are used for emergency situations, so N gave her his phone. N and U were communicating between cabs as frequently and with as much poise as I imagined the navy seals who hunted down Osama to have.

There is one thing I simply do not understand, and please correct me if I’m being elitist. I believe, as a cab driver, one should drive capably and be well versed with the city. So why is it that I always find myself giving the cab driver directions from JFK to my area: a fifteen minute journey involving precisely one exit and two right turns?

When we reached the destination, the cabbie sauntered out to pick up the bags. I was impressed, this guy was gunning for a whopper of a tip, and was about to get it. He opened the boot, and took out the smallest, lightest carry on bag at the top. Thanks Schwarzenegger! How does 2 percent  sound?

It was well past midnight as we dragged the luggage into N’s house with U nervously walking around, all the time monitoring N’s parents’ reactions to the neatness of the house. Personally, they didn’t have a thing to worry about. U is a conscientious person who doesn’t spill much, and while N is not as smooth as she, once a month he gets down on all fours and scrubs the floors with a gusto that would make the peering butt-crack from his sinking jeans almost bearable.

N’s parents are among the warmest people I know, and sure enough, they brought a lot of food, with the only regret that the damn weight restrictions made them throw out nearly twice of what they were actually gonna bring. As N was scratching his head while isolating all perishable items from the six mammoth sized bags in which they were randomized so well that it seemed planned, U made us some tea.

I said my goodbyes and ambled home in the slight teasing remnant of the New York winter.

Social parachutes

We’ve all been there: there are so many awkward situations we face that it is impossible for us to think on our feet in all of them. We’re bound to slip up. We better come up with some cheat-sheets cataloging the prototypes of various awkward situations and the ways we can parachute out of them salvaging a smidgen of dignity. Of course, if you’re getting life lessons from a blogger of questionable social judgment and ethics, chances are that dignity isn’t a priority for you. There! I have insulted the minuscule readership I have. But wait, you’re still reading? What are you made of? Huhhh…lemme go on then. Looks like nothing will budge you. Okay. Here’s a list of some of the awkward situations I (or friends of mine) have faced, and dealt with to satisfaction. Now I know some of you out there have never had a faux pas, or know the perfect things to say in every situation, but the rest of us are fun! Sounds like something to think about on those lonely Saturday nights with a Haagen Dazs and an insufferable Meg Ryan movie.  But now that you’re here, read on…

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The bachelor grad student experience

Here are some strange things I’ve learned as a bachelor grad student:

    1. It is ok to wear a pre-worn t-shirt to college as long as you have given it the three-day shame wait. If you re-wear something within three days, you are a slob
    2. If I find a potato chip below my bed, it is mine
    3. A day is wasted if deals2buy.com has not been visited
    4. Winter is appreciated because food does not spoil no matter how long it stays outside
    5. Bed bugs are not your friends
    6. Maggi is full of nutrients. In fact, it has its own food group: Easily made crap
    7. No matter how filthily a bunch of guys live, we are surprisingly clear about which razor is whose
    8. Study tables are for storing papers; mattresses are for curling up and reading
    9. The frequency of laundry is directly proportional to the level of filth a guy can accumulate and inversely proportional to the distance between home and Laundromat
    10. Doing the old ulta-palti to the underwear once is completely fair. It is even in the Geneva Convention. Doing it twice however, is a grey area and needs to be explored
    11. Getting up at 10 am for a 10:30 lab meeting, showering in under 10 min, and crunching an apple on the way is a perfectly good morning-routine
    12. It is not a coincidence that your cooking turn is on the same day that Papa John’s has a ‘buy one get one free’ offer
    13. It is impossible to dress according to the weather when you live in a basement, hence those embarrassing bundled up moments when the sun is shining after a long hibernation
    14. Whether you’re going to that conference in California or making the big trip to India, packing for more than a half hour makes no sense
    15. Always buy dark bedspreads and sheets to minimize washing: if you can’t see the dirt, it does not exist
    16. A headache does not justify a 911 call. (This one’s for you blondie)
    17. Takeout food is not purchased for taste but for convenience of not cooking and more obscurely because there is no dishwashing involved
    18. Shoveling snow is particularly hard, even though most people I meet seem like they’re extremely handy with shovels
    19. In every department, there is always a guy who looks like he’s buried a few bodies around the campus
    20. There is a fire almost every day in a building with chemistry labs, sometimes more than once. The day we have no fire, we have a fire drill
    21. Almost everyone has a coffee maker in their house with coffee powders of various flavors, yet coffee is invariably purchased on the way to the lab

Sartorial maladies

Let me begin with a confession. I have horrible fashion sense. Now I know many guys out there have this problem, but I’m beyond help. I once wore a red cargo for over a year (not continuously though!) that would put Govinda’s fashion designer to shame. I have always relied on my mother’s & sister’s help (did I say help? I meant total dominion) in this department.

Cut to a scene of me shopping with my aforementioned fashion-nazis. Mom says, “Take these pants and try them out.” I proceed to the trial room like a man about to get the ultimate punishment for a crime he committed.

I hate trying on clothes. I enter that tiny room, which is built to house only those with bodies so perfect that they don’t need to try out anything. As I take my caricatured self into one of these enclosures, I spend most of the time on self-appraisal in the mirror. I check out my teeth, smile, give the evil grin, and frown. Finally I come out with the pants only to see my sister armed with a couple more, giving me a critical look (which suggests unadulterated disapproval) that says, “The only thing worse than those clothes on your body is your body itself!”

Mom beckons, and I obey—she asks me embarrassing questions about the fitting of the pants at various places. I always nod in assent, whether true or false, simply because I’d rather face lifelong discomfort than the ordeal of ramp-walking for my mom and sis.

They argue about the fashionableness of the clothes, sis always suggesting that mom’s taste is too 80’s. This argument ends in one of them admitting that I don’t have what it takes to pull off a crisp look. Salesmen stare.

I get more clothes to try out; some t-shirts this time. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘How can anybody mess up t-shirt fittings?’ Well, that’s because you don’t have hate-handles.

Meanwhile dad is looking for a parking space on Gokhale road.

The thing about memories is that that the average ones keep flitting on and off, the good ones rarely remain clear except the feeling, and really good ones stay fresh (for easy recall when a train journey is long and there are twenty people sharing standing space on my toes); but the really embarrassing ones stick. My attention to detail is poor, but these examples of sartorial ignominy are etched inside my skull.

Café speak

“A grande latte please, no cinnamon…”

“Boy! You’ve not changed a bit I see…”

“Hey, if old habits are allowed to die hard, I think coffee preferences deserve immortality”

“Double cappuccino, just a hint of cinnamon, less foam…”

“Wow…living on the wild side, I’ve never seen you order cinnamon…speaking of old spices I hate, there’s Sam…”

“Sam…surely you mean Sameer, don’t tell me he has Americanized his name too…he is just in his second semester…”

“I know, it is presumptuous of an international PhD student to become red, white & blue before he clears his comprehensives.”

“Ah! What the hell…I heard the NMR machine in his lab is a 600MHz! Is he using it now?”

“Not unless you count the new Taiwanese MS student being spread-eagled on it succumbing to his lecherous advances as research!”

“Well…chemistry manifests itself in weird ways!”

“That stab at humor was passé even for you”

“Hey…you should have ordered a decaf I guess…the last thing you need is more caffeine at your crabbiest best…I take it your animal protocol was turned down again?”

“I will never understand how a person who regularly endorses the slaughter of cows and pigs by sauntering into Burger King can cry like a baby if the protocol has a lower quantity of anesthesia than regarded as appropriate…for god’s sake I am researching pain management, how can I do that without causing the animals some pain…”

“Calm down, they are doing their job…we can’t have people being callous about animal handling in the name of research…so tell me do you get time to spend with your girlfriend at all?”

“Not really, between her trips to the polytechnic department for the gel filtrations and my constant bickering with the animal department and numerous protocol addenda…we manage to squeeze a phone call in every 3-4 days or so…”

“She lives three blocks away…her lab is three buildings away from yours…I think one or both of you might be consciously avoiding the other…”

“I need a refill…what about you?”

“Yeah…tell the waitress to repeat mine too…so I got lucky last night”

“God! I noticed that grin on your face ever since we sat down…I knew if I did not ask you, you would certainly rub in my face all the action you’ve been getting…so who is she?”

“Remember that cute ABCD biomed student of mine…well…she is not my student anymore, so I asked her out and she came in if you know what I mean”

“Your innuendoes never cease, do they?”

“Yeah whatever, while you spend your nights playing pocket-billiards mulling over doses of propofol, I am playing the game…did I mention I am up for an NIH grant?”

“F#$% you…all the fun and yet you get the laurels too…you cell culture waalahs get your own way on everything!”

“Well, not to sound too churlish, but animal research is like having a girl friend- lots of work and negotiation and not much scoring…cell culture is like my life…scoring all the time and no adjustment!”

“Hey…I have a lab meeting in half an hour…need to shave, shower and order pizza…”

“You are proving my point!”

“Same time, same place, next week?”

“Until then!”

“Bye bro…bye Sam (a little louder)”

“Bye…Hey Sam…guess who I banged last night…”

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