Posted by: PG | January 15, 2010

The Empire (State) Will Strike Back

“And there will be contests and special prizes tonight. The first will go…[suspense building] to the baldest gentleman. Who is the baldest one? [Using the sugary voice she typically reserves to beckon her cat, Fluffy Mittens Gabor] Come on now, who is the baldest?” While the outcome of this Bourne-esque nailbiter hangs in the balance, Jamie, Srikant, Brooke and I informally wage another contest– outcringing each other. Our New Year’s Eve dinner emcee figures on social acceptability because she calls baldie a gentleman AND bestows a prize. But, Mr. Clean, you settle this. Does that voucher for a free night at a hotel of your choosing take the edge off the dinner-wide attention called to your less than ideal hereditary circumstances? Sure, I can wait till you read all that fine print to answer the question.

Psst. PSST…hey Warbucks. Yea, you Curly. YES! Yes…Listen, an afterthought. Just between you and me, you can get something done about that now, in 2010. This is the future and your genes are the same but the toupee has evolved. Anyway think about it. Because the roving spotlight might find you before you bravely volunteer yourself as baldest next time. And you don’t want to be on the business end of her excitedly drawing attention to the blinding glare. Think about the hair thing so you don’t have to worry about the glare thing. If you’re interested, meet me by the river and bring a nondescript briefcase, not a canvas bag with a dollar sign on it. It’s legal…but shady. Otherwise, the bag would be totally cool. Someday.

Sometime after the highest heels contest, and in between acts by the anti-Dangerfield/anti-Copperfield hybrid entertainer, Jamie and Brooke jointly join the rarified air of prize winners. They place 2nd in a timed contest in which Brooke runs back and forth ~10 yards placing each time a single additional clip in Jamie’s hair. 6 clips. That gets you into the bonus round. Do it again! Well done, both times. Here’s your voucher! (I officially allege cheating–multiple clips per trip–by the first place team but it falls on deaf ears. I had hoped for def ears. Cahoots? I don’t know but suspicion certainly lingers–I’ll tell you that much.)

Jamie and Brooke deserve even MORE credit than their impressive showing alone merits, for three reasons: 1) they hang with the likes of the Srigg and me after the winners’ ceremony–they could afford to be more exclusive; 2) they accept the cheating with more grace than I do; and 3) in their participation, they effectively take the fall for our table’s wild, enthusiastic support of our gracious hosts. They were “rewarded” for our table’s efforts in managing to drown out the crickets.

We head down to the clifftop bar area overlooking the beach as soon as I finish my third dessert plate. Nobody says it, but I feel it: put down the Yule log and let’s go already. I consider protesting. I run my best argument through an internal filter first. “But we’ll miss the hybrid entertainer’s third go-round!” This contention ends up caught in the filter, unlike my idea to suggest egg-and-spoon and/or potato sack and/or two-person/three-legged races to the emcee. So instead I grab a yule log and make a break for it. I strike a chocolatey-faced Heisman once I get off hotel grounds, having evaded would be tacklers. Mid-pose, I note to myself the yule log makes a surprisingly good substitute for a football. No, truthfully, the triumphant choc-face idea got caught by the filter too. So we part, only one among us reluctant. (For the record, if anybody is unclear: I wanted a fourth piece of yule log not a fourth showing of the Rodney/David Anti-Field double threat)

2010 arrives to much fanfare and fireworks. A relatively unlubricated fanfare. Jamie observes with some chagrin, “Finding a beer in Varkala on New Year’s is like finding a Cabbage Patch Kid in a toy store on Christmas Eve in 1984…I thought under communism* everybody gets the same amount.”

The communist cops cane locals to keep them away from the tourists. Yes, like that Singapore thing with that American klepto in the 80’s. Pretty strange. As I dance my way down the streets, I exclaim my sobriety and my western origins as a policeman threateningly glares and raises his cane in my direction. In MY direction. As if. All the makings of an international incident. Srik has my back, “I know that guy, dude. I am from Jersey; he’s from New York.” Which is met with a response of a classic Indian head waggle**, a huge grin, and an accented recognition of Jersey but not New York. Still, he shoos me on. And I was just turning up the heat on that par-tay.

Thank God for the Jerz! That cop is the first ever dude to appreciate B&T. If I had known how much weight Jersey carries over here, I would have mentioned it first. I have a legitimate claim–Srik took in my homeless ass the last 3 months I was in the New York metro area. The Srigg accurately notes, “man, 20 minutes into 2010 and you’ve already faced a caning threat.” Jamie dryly observes how I have taken the heat off the locals temporarily, “An extra glint in their eye…an extra hop in their step. I am sure they feel extra triumphant for not being caned for walking along the beach.” If you know these two, you know how funny this all is. Maybe even if not. I’m not paying attention though because my head is on a swivel looking out for the fuzz. He got to me.

When I am not on the lookout, I reflect and appreciate. Especially in the midst of this trip, it is amazing to celebrate New Year’s Eve (which means a lot to me (Wonderlust: Barber Shop Shaves)) with two friends I have known for a combined 45 years. And Brooke, Jamie’s fiancee, fits in perfectly. The fairly familiar faces and some time away from hostels are welcome. (No hostel could have put on that kind of dinner.) We travel together for just about two equally ridiculous weeks.

“This might change international relations but the story has to be told.” Yea okay Jamie, but be careful what you wish for. This entry will almost definitely compromise your free night at the hotel of your choosing***. Don’t let that take away from the 2nd place finish though. And there’s no shame in 2nd place. I happened to notice 2nd baldest looked pretty happy about it.

*-the state of Kerala is unique in India and the world for that matter. It is the world’s only freely-elected communist government. Interestingly, it has India’s highest literacy rate and life expectancy.
**-in between a nod and a shake, with a circular sort of motion. It can mean either depending on context, but in an agreeable manner even if it means disagreement, which is much less frequently.
***choices extremely limited

PS-I know Jamie and Srik from home in Niskayuna (field of corn in Iroquois–big ups). Meanwhile, as I post this, most of my best friends from college get together for our 9th annual Working Man’s Mountain Weekend. Or palindromically, WMMW. I’ll skip the many ridiculous stories I could tell. A fake squirrel trophy, losing streaks and the hope of ’06, a certain bell at Arby’s, the Price is Right at Wal-Mart, altitude sickness, a full Yankees uniform (with stirrups) and a bet, a Chris Paul tank top and an ill-placed microphone, creative facial hair, 20 red cups, sub sandwiches hidden in garages, mustard in shoes, a rag oily from deep fried turkey (eaten with hot sauce) later figuring into a wrestling match, uncooked ribs and noxious fumes, Christmas Miracles, a broken angel, snow, political debate, wet beds, and an un-doored toilet stall might figure prominently if I didn’t.

In addition to my friends Henry, Will, Anthony, and Jeff getting married to their fantastic fiancees (Fantastic Four? I used “fantastic” before that occurred to me) during the course of my trip, WMMW 9 is the event I will miss most this year. I humored myself by looking up last minute ticket prices for the weekend. Shocking what it costs to get from Delhi to Asheville on short notice, or Houston even with a month’s notice. Would buy me a lot of piping-hot Jalebis. Or yule logs, depending on mood.

Fortunately, I make it back in time for Jamie’s and Brooke’s wedding in late August. I fly in the day before. Don’t tell Brooke and Jamie but I am flying in the hybrid entertainer as a surprise wedding gift. Hope he doesn’t upstage the band.



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