Thursday, March 12, 2015

Life Unbuckled.

She walks into my classroom almost every day, short hair bobbing, a half-eaten cornetto in her hand. She comes to 'hang out', a child with an adult. She talks of this and that as I listen, bemused. But she goes back to her question ever so often. "Ma'am, what's it like being an adult? Is it fun? Do you like it?" Each time she asks me, I have to consider her question carefully. When I do answer, I'm surprised at the number of 'ifs' my answers have. She must think happiness as an adult is such a conditional prospect.

Maybe I am just ill-prepared to answer her. Sometimes, when she asks me, my first reaction is surprise at being asked. It feels like just yesterday, I was her. I was a little girl too, chock full of carefree thoughts, uncertain about life but strong, armed as I was with nothing but a few fairytales. Will she too grow up and be disillusioned? Will life's experiences huff and puff and blow down the castles that housed all her beliefs? Will she learn that those who love her the most can hurt her the worst? Will she break her heart, and heal it, and still trust, still look up with shining eyes at all the possibilities that are before her? Will she be plagued by self-doubt, quailing at the prospect of having to make decisions that shape her future? Will she move from sadness to happiness to sadness, an endless cycle, and struggle to stop and settle so that peace can walk in and take root? Will she look at her parents and realize with sadness that she has moved beyond their world, and where she goes, they will not follow? Will she be utterly terrified to look back and see the proof of their mortality in the bends of their back and the lines on their faces? Will she learn how many nights money will keep her awake, this paper backbone that seems to hold up the planet? Will she stand alone, in a strange country, surrounded by the new and the unfamiliar, and still feel safe, at home, because she knows she belongs to the whole world, and it to her? Will she discover the depth of her own compassion, the shallowness of her own thoughts, the futility of her pride? ...And if she felt all this, lived through all this, would she be lucky or unlucky?

Maybe what I should tell her is that you never stop growing up. Only the lessons change, the field expands, the people come and go, varying in their intensity, in their capacities to surprise, disappoint, to love and hate. But she won't understand. She cannot yet. And when I realize that, I have this overwhelming urge to protect her, to shield her from all the pain that will come. I see myself in her again, strongly this time, and I want to whisk her away, the little girl that was me, to some magical place, perhaps Blyton's Faraway Tree, so that she/I can move from one land of joy to another, our fairytale castles intact. Because, though people insist that life, with all its highs and lows, is a great blessing, it can also be tiring, demanding, always 'on'.

A TV show told me once that it takes courage to keep moving, and sometimes, it takes courage to stand still. Life itself is an exercise in courage... She has courage, this little one who can think for herself, as she nods at whatever answer I give her, barely understanding but satisfied that when she grows up, like she thinks I have, she'll know too. I'm laughing at that. Little girl, you have no idea. Just buckle up and be unprepared.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


My neighbors are a good sort. They generally are around here. However, one day, I was awoken from my afternoon nap by the noise of a song filtering through the walls. Having a holiday where one can indulge in a nap is not something that happens often enough, so I was understandably mad. Our apartments are connected by the wall that adjoins my kitchenette. So I took my laptop, chose '1234, get on the dance floor' (an Indian number that could actually register on the Richter scale), pointed the speakers at the offending wall and blasted the music at it. After one song, the music died down on both sides. When I related this story to someone later that day, I finished with the moral- "see, violence IS the answer to everything."

Humor aside, there's no denying that sometimes, the low road just feels good. Cheap satisfaction, but quite satisfactory. So I'd say that though searching for heart-warming stories to rekindle your faith in humanity is definitely a good idea most of the time, there are some moments when you just want to slump to the dark side. During my latest slumping, I found an inspiring story. I meant inspired. Whatever.  All I know is that the guy in it is kinda my hero now.

So, this is a story about a guy who had a freeloading roommate desperately needing a lesson in manners. It has a moral too! Enjoy ;)

March 4th, 2012
There are multiple ways of preventing the mooching roommate from devouring your food. The simplest is to obtain your own mini-fridge and put a lock on it, as suggested. I, however, took a different approach with my roommate during my college days. Please note that my roommate did not confine himself to the kitchen, he “borrowed” shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and, well…everything. That is, he did this until I could no longer tolerate it.
One Friday, after he had left campus to return home to his parent’s house for the weekend, I loaded the fridge with gag food. I made a salad topped with shredded soap for cheese, covered it with some Saran wrap, and put it in the fridge. I made a couple of sandwiches with soap slices for cheese and put them in there as well. I bought a half-gallon of some kind of chocolate ice cream that had fudge chunks in it, but I emptied the ice cream out of the carton and gave that to my girlfriend. I filled the carton back up with some store-brand chocolate ice cream that I put bits of roofing tar in and put that in the freezer. I baked some chocolate chip cookies with chocolate ex-lax for the chocolate chips and arranged them on a nice plate that I covered with some Saran wrap and left sitting on the counter. I ordered a Papa John’s pizza, ate half of it, and covered the other half with Bhut Jolokia chili peppers (had to order these).
I filled an emptied 2-liter coke bottle with some kind of awful “dark” beer and put that in the fridge. I also put a pitcher of water in the fridge that was dyed with red food coloring and had a cup of salt added to it (looked like Kool-Aid). I blended a half cup of salt into the jar of peanut butter in the pantry, and I sugared the potato chips. I ruined a few other food items as well, but I can’t remember every food product that I tampered with.
Anyway, when I was finished in the kitchen, I moved on to the bathroom. I squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube, mixed it with salt and some ground Bhut Jolokia chili peppers, and then re-loaded the tube using an over-sized syringe that I obtained from a nursing-student friend. I found a brand of shampoo that was clear and replaced the contents with Wesson oil. I loaded an empty lotion bottle with some creamy vegetable shortening (from the restaurant that I worked at). I filled an empty Visine bottle with soapy water (he was a stoner), and I pushed a needle through the condom packs that I kept in MY room.
Now, this was kind of expensive to do, but I could not take the mooching any longer. This had gone on for almost a year, and it persisted in spite of multiple discussions regarding the fact that he needed to chip in if he wanted to consume my groceries and use my toiletries. Please note that every product that I tampered with was mine AND had MY name on it (except the condoms as they were in my nightstand). Every food item had a small sticky with my name on it, or my name was written on it with a Sharpie. This was always the case, but not really necessary since he never bought anything. The bottom line was that I was tired of supporting this guy, and payback was waiting for him on the following Monday.
Monday came and he returned in time for his afternoon class schedule. While I watched, he Zip-locked up two of the cookies and a slice of the pizza, stuffed the food into his backpack, and ran out the door. I was overflowing with smug. I had no classes that day and could not wait until he returned. While he was gone I decided to hide all of the toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and coffee filters in my car trunk. At six PM he came busting through the door and ran straight for the bathroom. He yelled from behind the door, “Dude, that pizza was the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten; I thought I was going to die after one bite! It has my stomach tore up!” I yelled back, “Well, how were the cookies?” “Awesome,” he replied.
After a few minutes he yelled, “Dude, where is the toilet paper?” I informed him that “we ran out.” He wanted to know if I could “pass him some paper towels.” “Out of those too,” I replied. “Any Kleenex?” “No, sorry…someone needs to go to the store I guess.”
In true college guy fashion, he jumped into the shower to wash himself off. While in there he decided to take a full shower. When he finally came out he asked, “Dude, what kind of shampoo are you using?” I looked at him and said, “Mine.” That was when he knew something was wrong. He sat on the couch, with his flat and crazy-looking hair, and watched television with me for a while. Then he went into the kitchen and helped himself to another cookie. After a while he decided to eat one of my sandwiches. After the first bite he yelled, “What in the hell are you trying to do here?” I looked at him in a frank and serious way and asked, “What do you mean?” He slammed the sandwich onto the counter and said, “Dude, this sandwich has soap or something on it!” I told him, “Frank, that is a special cheese that my mother makes, I like it, that is why I put it on my sandwich. If you don’t like it, don’t eat my sandwich.”
Now he was mad. Steaming in fact. He said, “look, I’m starving, I’m going to eat this salad in here.” Same thing as with the sandwich, “Dude! This has that crappy soapy cheese on it too???” I told him, “Frank, why are you complaining about my food?”
Frank pulled the freezer door open so hard I thought it would break off. He saw the ice cream but passed on it and went to the pantry. After surveying the contents he made himself a peanut butter sandwich with some potato chips on the side and poured himself a glass of “Kool Aid” to go with it. Let’s put it this way, after tasting everything on his plate and taking a swig of the “Kool-Aid,” Frank got the message.
He looked at me and said, “clearly you don’t want me here!” I told him, “yes, I want you here, but I want you to stop mooching my stuff. Buy your own groceries, buy your own shampoo, I’m not your mom, it is not my place to support you.”
Then, the Ex-Lax kicked in again and Frank ran off to the bathroom again. He yelled, “You have got to get me some toilet paper!” I said, “Uh, no, I don’t….” He was groaning, there was splattering, and he was pleading, “PLEASE, PLEASE!” I said, “Okay Frank, I’ll go to the store and get some, I’ll be right back.” I went next door and played video games for about half an hour, went to my trunk, got one roll of TP, and passed it to Frank, who was surprisingly still topping the toilet. He eventually emerged from the toilet and said, “Let me guess, the cookies were made with Ex-Lax?” I smiled and said, “I like them that way, it keeps me regular.”
Frank stormed off to his room for about an hour and I could hear him talking on the phone (later I found out he was talking to his dad). Eventually he came out of his room and went out the door. Through the glass doors leading out to the balcony I could see him pull away in his car. Two hours later he returned with a car load of groceries, toiletries, and other various consumables. From that day forward he was always willing to split the grocery bill. Too bad he had to eat soap, Ex-lax, Ghost chilies, sugar chips, salty-peanut butter, drink Krap-Aid, wash his hair with vegetable oil, and end up on the pot without toilet paper in order to learn his lesson. Actually, I was a bit disappointed that he never got around to the toothpaste, ice cream, and condoms!
Frank and I lived together all throughout college, and the expense I put forth to teach Frank his lesson was worth every penny since it started him down the road to contributing his fair share.
Don’t put up with mooching roommates, put them in their place. Some people just never seem themselves for who they really are until force them to do so. However, I will concede that there was the slight possibility that Frank could have gone crazy and killed me in the middle of the night, so whatever you do, you assume the risk associate with doing it. In fact, I recommend that you never do anything that I have mentioned here. Ever.