Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Noodle arms and flat noses

How many kinds of push ups do you think exist?

a) Twelve
b) Two
c) Twenty seven
d) Way, way, way too many

I recently discovered, much to the agonizing distress of various muscle groups, that the answer is, without a shadow of doubt, 'd'.

A group of friends and I decided to try out the P90x exercise program. I discovered quickly that having the upper body strength of a wet noodle is incompatible with this exercise regimen. The trainer orders you to the floor once every four seconds and cheerfully exhorts you to do a gadzillion push ups. The first time I tried this out I completed a third of a push up. I raised myself a scant millimeter off the floor and then unceremoniously thumped back down again. My arms wrote a strongly worded letter threatening divorce. My friends took pity on me and introduced me to cheaty-ups. These are the ones in which you put your knees on the floor and then do push-ups. In cheaty mode there was no stopping me. Before you could say 'Muscles' I was doing two push-ups without breaking a sweat. Then the instructor added variety - pushups with your hands close together, pushups with your hands really far apart, pushups with your hands placed on the mat such that your index fingers and thumbs form the shape of a diamond, pushups to the side, pushups with your feet on a low bench, pushups with your feet wide apart, phoenix pushups (These ones were the worst. I got into the starting position and then entirely failed to move. It did not matter which muscles I strained and pushed and willed - I did not move at all. I had to remind myself that I was on a rock hurtling through space, so technically I _was_ moving. At that point I decided to take advantage of the situation and snuck in a wee nap). Having exhausted all possible permutations and combinations of hands and feet, they played around with timing. Go down on four counts, back up on four counts. Do four fast. Do six slow. Push ups to the rhythm of the waltz. Push ups in the scale of C. Of course, I was still manfully doing two of each kind. But that isn't the point. For the other eight thousand reps I had to lie on the floor, flopping around like a beached fish, shedding every last vestige of self respect and self worth. Just when I thought that I had scraped the bottom of the humiliation barrel, they suggested that I incorporate applause into my push ups. I had to push myself up, sneak in a clap and then lower myself gracefully to the mat. I learned that if you don't clap fast enough, this exercise involves landing on your nose. This move is called the anti-occhio. If you don't exercise enough, your nose shrinks. And everybody who takes one look at your face can see it. The last straw came when they suggested that I attempt a one handed push up. I pushed myself all the way up and walked away.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Keeping 'up' with the Joneses

HWIL and I dwell in a high rise building whose pants are so fancy that they have been known on occasion to take tea with the Queen of England. Our building is all new and shiny. It has free (and compulsory) valet parking. A doorman. The fanciest earthquake proofing outside of Tokyo. Bells and half a dozen whistles. And our apartment has views like this:

and this:

And on days on which I _really_ want to show off to a guest who is visiting our home for the first time ever, views like this:

None of these things are the best part of living here. That honor is reserved for Elevator Emperor.
The game controls look like this:
The way it is played is:

Step 1: Enter elevator.
Step 2: Hit your floor number.
Step 3: Wait for all other gamers to complete steps 1 and 2.
Step 4: Allow elevator doors to slide smugly shut and await the coronation.

If your floor is the highest, you are crowned the E. of the the E. and all minions must bow and scrape before you and bend to your superior will. In my experience, the tighter you close your eyes, the more effectively they grovel. On days on which the crown does not adorn your brow, do not be disheartened. You can play Snob instead. If someone lives more than eight floors below you, they are so low on the social scale that as far as you are concerned they don't exist (Unless they say hello, ruining everything. In which case you smile and exchange pleasantries and when they are done being social you can proceed with your game of Snob). You avoid eye contact and raise your nose just ever so slightly. Press your lips together just so. (Dogs are exempt. You can, and should, _always_ pet the dog - unless it is a rat pretending to be a dog. We have those too). From eight floors below you to eight floors above you, these folks are your peers. A slight smile, a nod, even a few words of conversation are permissible. Folks who live more than eight floors above you are snooty little pricks who think they are better than you are for no good reason and you must seethe resentfully (but quietly and respectfully) in their presence.

It is the little victories that make life worth living.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Being a boa constrictor

Today was the San Francisco Street Food Festival. I ate the equivalent of my own body weight and am now going to have to toodle off and hibernate for a bit. In my defense, I couldn't help myself. The food was yummy, there was so much of it (80 vendors) and I didn't want any any region of the world to feel slighted.

HWIL and I started out coupons in hand, stars in our eyes and growls in our stomachs. I was immediately rendered helpless by choice paralysis. Every time HWIL asked me if I wanted to eat at a particular stall, I felt compelled to say no - the next stall might be better, or the next, or the next. HWIL got hungrier, and grumpier and that made me grumpy and before we knew it we were both running for the position of mayor of Grumpytown. Luckily, before the votes could be counted, we found ourselves at the Hapa SF stall. Filipino food to the rescue.

We ordered the Lumpia Shanghai - deep fried spring rolls filled with ground pork, carrots, onions, water chestnuts and garlic - and a peach basil soda to go with it. All of these offerings from Hapa were endowed with satisfying amounts of yumminess and I am pleased to report that Grumpy dissolves in Lumpia.

Our next stop was To Hyang. The proprietor, Hwa Soon, was born in Korea and now, with the help of her family, whips up Korean food in the city.

Their offering at the food festival was spicy pork ribs. The ribs were not really spicy, but they did fare well on the yumminess scale.

 The next dish that we set upon was jambalaya (by Good Foods Catering).  This was mediocre and I was resentful of it occupying much needed room in my stomach. I wanted to charge it rent.

Our next stop was at Chiefo's Kitchen. Her Moi-Moi (black eyed peas, crayfish and corned beef) was weird and yummy. The Bissap (a drink made from hisbiscus, vanilla and pineapple) was good too. This surprised me because I normally can't stand the cloying sweetness of pineapple.
Six! At the tender age of six! When I was sixteen I asked my mother if I should use a potato peeler to peel an onion and she has never let me hear the end of that.
Dessert at the Three Twins stall was next - bittersweet chocolate (ok) and mint with chocolate (yum). That marked the end of round one.

We inaugurated round two with cocktails and chased those down with Takoyaki by Nombe Izakaya. Nombe means "someone who likes to drink heartily" and an Izakaya is a "Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks". Oh, and Takoyaki is octopus.

Our last food stop was at Zella's Soulful kitchen for some chicken sliders. Zella is the name of the proprietress's grandmother - her grandmother taught her to cook when she was eight. I am not even sure I could tie my shoelaces at that age.

We washed this down with Su Gung Ka, a drink made of permisson, ginger and cinnamon and then curled up into little balls and rolled all the way home.

Friday, May 7, 2010


A friend's mother died recently. A sudden death, a death of one too young. My friend told me about those last few days, her mother on a ventilator, in an intensive care unit, tracheotomy in place. She said that her mother used the written word to communicate. Two days before she died, her mother frantically signaled for her notebook and wrote the word 'Jam'. Faced with the collective incomprehension of her near and dear, she explained that by her calculations (she had been hospitalized for close to a month by this time) the supply of jam in the house must be running low and needed to be replenished.

Jam. What clearer indication of a life well lived? If ever I find myself in critical care, forced to live on what may well be borrowed time, this is what I would wish for myself. May I live my life such that at the end of it my one concern is jam. That I have no regrets but that the level of jam in the jar may slip below whats acceptable and there will be no one to notice. That I have loved so well, there is nothing left unsaid. That if I have children, I have done such a good job with them, that if my only message to them is top up the jam jar, they will want for nothing.

To all those out there whom I love, and even those whom I just about like - here's wishing you a jar of strawberry jam on your death bed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The celebrated Zem

Welcome to the latest installment of my Spot The Difference series of posts. Once more, I call your attention to one of the many charming differences between life in India and the USA.

In the country of my birth mattresses are discreet creatures. They lurk shyly on beds across the nation. They do not intrude. One could go a lifetime without spending more than an hour thinking of a mattress. Mattresses here are a different breed. They are in your face. I defy you to listen to your radio for more than an hour without having some cheerfully aggressive soul tell you all about the fantastic deals on mattresses that are yours for the asking - and the first 3 years of financing is interest free! Um, what? I need to buy a mattress on a monthly plan? And grow old paying it off? And it is not made of gold leaves? If I die, do my progeny take up the burden? Are there family feuds over mattresses when granny dies?
Mattress stores abound. No, the word 'stores' does not begin to cover it. Emporium perhaps? Or gallery. Anyway, they abound. There are eleven of them within a five mile radius of me. Here is an excerpt from an online review of someone's mattress buying experience:
"I dreaded the experience of buying a new mattress after the heavy-sell experience I've received in the past - just as bad as trying to buy a car"
A car! The mind boggles.

They must be throwing a party on Squornshellous Zeta.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The cursing of the seeds

A perfect world would be a world sans papaya seeds. I am fond enough of the fruit. I have nothing against papaya trees, you understand, long may they grow and greenly prosper. I would, however, prefer that Mr. and Mrs P. Tree manage to make their gorgeous babies without the seeds.

I find that I cannot adequately describe my feelings for papaya seeds. Words fail me. However, smoke signals fail me more, so I will manfully make do with words. Papaya seeds fill me with deep disgust. My reaction to the black mass of them clinging glutinously together is visceral. Every fibre of my being revolts against the abomination of their existence. I would rather embrace, and lovingly at that, the slimiest, wartiest, most tentacle prone creature from the very worst alien movie of your choice than have to gaze upon papaya seeds. I could run on and on. I'll spare you though. The long and the short of it, neatly summarized for those of us who are slower on the uptake than the rest, is that I dislike papaya seeds a tad more than your average Joe.

What provoked this spew of venom, you ask? I was ambushed by the seeds. Being a reasonable person, I came to terms with the fact that though I find said seeds repulsive and nauseating, they probably do not deserve immediate extinction. It takes all kinds. All I asked was that we keep to our own corners, the seeds and I. Half the earth for me, the rest of the planet for them to gad about in, doing whatever distasteful thing it is that papaya seeds do in their spare time. I bought seedless papayas and raised a glass to their happy sterility. This happy state of co-existence came to a grinding halt last week when I slit open the fruit and was greeted by multitudes of the enemy, smugly, stomach-churningly, foully grinning back at me. A dastardly act. If it's a fight they want, we'll give them a fight. A call goes out to all good men to come to the aid of the party. Etc.

It turned out though, that having grimaced and delivered the seeds into the dustbin, repeating the mantra of yuck all the while, I was hard pressed to actually draw up war plans. My army was surprisingly tiny. And I make an excellent general but a surprisingly poor grunt. So I settled for this rant instead. May they know no happiness in this world or the next.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A conversational tool

Coffee conversation this morning, over the hissing of the steam machine.

"They have a prompt"
Somewhat hungrily, a touch of greed, "A plum? Who has a plum?"
"Plum? No, prompt, a prompt"
Definite grumpiness at the withdrawal of the possibility of a snack, "Who does?"
Impatience creeping in, "They do"
"Who? Oh they? They have a prompt!"

There is a lesson to be learned here. An important lesson about human communication.

The power of repetition. Don't knock it till you've tried it. The next time someone does not appear to comprehend some piece of wisdom that comes sailing out of your mouth, don't bother rephrasing, paraphrasing or explaining. Just repeat the same sentence. Again. And again. And yet again. You can try varying the volume if you get bored. Play around with the emphasis. On each repetition give a different syllable its day in the sun. Experiment with tone. Or pitch. The success rate of this tactic will surprise you.

I've given it some thought. Here's why this technique is successful:

a. Headphones. The noise associated with modern living. Ear wax. People hear less than they used to. Its not that they don't comprehend, they just did not hear. Give them a second chance.

b. People are lazy. It takes effort to actually listen. To pay attention. To analyze what someone has said, to rummage in the attic of your head for some forgotten context, to snap out of your pleasant daydream and be dragged kicking and screaming back to the hallway conversation. People try and make you do all the hard work, provide the frame of reference, perhaps throw in a little joke to make it more palatable, work on an analogy. The greedy ones will even expect a metaphor to be included in the package. Repetition is your defense. It forces your audience to do their share of the work.

c. People are not always smart. Sad, but undeniably true. It has to be said. If your audience belongs to this category, repetition might be the best tool in your arsenal. It requires little effort on your part (you can plan your grocery shopping list, recite poetry in your head, try to find a word that rhymes with retard - all while you say the same sentence out loud sixteen times). This gives the slower ones time to catch up with the conversation.

Try it. And remember to be appropriately grateful when it works.