A Tale of Two Bags

I could begin this post with some florid prose replete with the superlative degree of comparison – e.g., It was the best of flights, it was the worst of flights – but won’t. Not because I lack the talent of my favorite novelist, but because my tale is not as lofty as his. It is about two bags that traveled from Mumbai to Los Angeles recently. Since neither bag is as handsome as Carton and Darnay, and neither city as romantic as London and Paris, my opening paragraph must be less orotund.

When I checked the titular bags at Mumbai airport on the last day of February, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t see them at LAX on the first day of March. But I was so happy to get rid of them that I didn’t give their onward journey a second thought. They were the airline’s responsibility now. (Actually, that should be airlines’, since one leg was on Delta and the other on KLM.) All I had to do was to get myself and my three carry-ons through the security rigmarole and on board. And of the four of us, I cared most for myself.

Yes, dear reader, you may call me selfish. But I’d advise you against it because I’m about to make a confession in your interest. I am generally averse to making confessions, but if it will help you in your travels then the ignominy is worth it.

'Your best bet is reincarnation.'

My confession is that in my carry-on I always carry one empty bag so that once I am past the check-in counter, I can make my hand luggage lighter by making it more numerous. The security folks don’t care how many carry-ons you have. They only care that your carry-ons don’t have bombs, weapons (actual or potential), liquids in excess of 3 fl. oz. per bottle, and water in excess of one drop of saliva.

I only had the saliva, and in vast quantities, but I kept swallowing it down. I’m glad no one searched my insides (though they searched my outside thoroughly). Otherwise, with all that saliva, I’d be inside by now, if you will pardon the pun. (I hope you will, because it’s the first time I’ve asked you to pardon a pun this year.)

I’ll spare you the details of the two legs straddling the layover in Amsterdam, during which my legs got their exercise running from gates E to F (which aren’t as close as they sound). That exercise kept me from contracting deep vein thrombosis on the LA leg, so I thank the Amsterdam Schiphol authorities for keeping my planes as far apart as possible.

Eleven hours later I entered Tom Bradley International for the first time since its renovation. Instead of the usual lines, I was shocked that I was the only one. In the entire terminal! An attendant directed me to the self-service kiosks at which I could go through the entry process. I answered every question honestly, except the last. But it was an honest mistake. Being jet-lagged, I selected “No” in response to the final question (“Is all the information correct?”), which resulted in my having to exchange pleasantries with an Immigration officer.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind exchanging pleasantries with Immigration officers, but they want you to be chirpy, and it’s hard to be chirpy after a sleepless day-long journey from the other side of the globe. And perhaps I haven’t yet got over what I went through the first time I entered LAX sixteen years ago. I remember each detail vividly, down to the names of the three officers who grilled me. And although I’m generally bad with faces, I remember theirs clearly.

Naturalization has erased the sting of that initial welcome (such as it was), and having “Los Angeles” on the cover of my book has been redemptive, but I’ll never forget the events of that evening in March 1999. Sometimes I wish my memory were worser.

Romeo and Juliet, III, ii

I reached Baggage Claim hoping that someone had mistakenly taken my bags off the carousel (so I wouldn’t have to), but the carousel was empty. It wasn’t even revolving, which meant that all the bags that had to come had come. (And gone.) The truth was just sinking in when an airline rep approached me. My name was on the list in his hand and, the rep said cheerily, my bags would be delivered to my door the next day. He made it sound like the airline was doing me a favor.

I tend to be gullible when I am tired, so I smiled gratefully and let him tell me about his one-eighth-Indian heritage. As I was writing my address on his list, another passenger appeared to claim his baggage. I don’t think my fellow passenger can expect the same favor from the airline, and not on the basis of our looks. He was by far the handsomer. It’s just that he said he was on his way to Guatemala but didn’t have an address or phone number to offer. And he didn’t know the name of the friend he was to visit.

He was either one of the few who travel through the US knowing nothing about their final destination, or one of the many who travel through the US with every intention of making it their final destination. I’ve said this on my Facebook page (facebook.com/consonantbooks) so I can do so here: I can’t help wondering whether my fellow passenger made it to Guatemala, or if he ended up wherever they take “undocumented persons.”

Illegals working

Since returning from India, I have decided to limit my posts to 1,000 words or less. This, dear reader, is for the sake of your eyes. (That would be “for your eyes only” in Indian English.) The word counter is giving me dirty looks by way of warning, so I’ll stop here and resume my tale next time. As you know, A Tale of Two Cities was also first published in serial form.

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Pardonnez Mon Français (or, The Benefits of Haldi)

Non, cher reader, je ne vous ai pas oublié. J’ai de très bonnes raisons pour ce long silence.

But first, my apologies to the francophone reader who knows I should have used excuser and not pardonner in the title. My French dictionary is right now louring upon me like the clouds upon a Shakespearean king’s House, but I’m not apologizing to it. It’s a Webster, not a Larousse. It has no right to lour upon me. Au contraire, it should be beaming gratefully at me for picking it up a Staples or Office Depot store closing sale and giving it a home almost ten years ago. It might have been pulped or donated to a thrift store otherwise. Instead, it has a seat on my Reference shelf, with prospects of seeing a certain French monument in the near future.

Eiffel Tower

Perhaps I should apologize to the anglophone, lusophone, hispanophone, or any other-phone reader who, understanding a little French, clicked on this post hoping to find some four-letter words that count as “French” in English. I’m sorry to disappoint you – unless you consider the four-lettered word 75% similar to the word word as a four-letter word.

Since I am kindly disposed towards you – don’t I often insert a four-lettered term of endearment before reader? – let me give you a clue. The four-lettered word in question has a five-lettered synonym, which has six letters in British English, thanks to u.

For the reader who is still scratching his head, let me give a clue about the clue. The five-lettered Am. Eng. version has a national holiday named for it (clue: first Monday in September). The six-lettered Brit. Eng. version has a political party named for it (clue: not that of Britain’s only female PM, who was in labor once but delivered twice).

Margaret Thatcher and her kids

As I was searching for images of Margaret Thatcher and her twins, I came across this tribute Meryl Streep, who played Thatcher in The Iron Lady, sent out when Thatcher died in April 2013. Naturally, Streep’s first adjective caught my attention.

“Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer, willingly or unwillingly, for the role of women in politics. I was honored to try to imagine her late life journey, after power; but I have only a glancing understanding of what her many struggles were, and how she managed to sail through to the other side.”

Playing Thatcher was work for Streep, and I wish the work that kept me from you these many weeks had been as glamorous. Alas, it was a prosaic matter of coming up with descriptions for products with ingredients like methylchloroisothiazolinone. If you want to know more about that 27-lettered word, it has its own Wikipedia entry. Just for fun I searched for “methylchloroisothiazolinone images,” and you won’t believe— No, actually I believe you will believe. You’ve searched for images of 27-lettered words yourself. You know what’s out there.

No MethylchloroisothiazolinoneI had not intended to mention methylchloroisothiazolinone when I turned on my computer to write this post. You must forgive me, reader. I have been laid up with a cold and fever since the day after Thanksgiving, alternating between shots of NyQuil and DayQuil, and that’s bound to have affected my ability to think coherently. Perhaps the reason I have come this far is because I have also been drinking haldi milk.

For those who don’t know, haldi in milk is an Indian remedy for colds – haldi being Hindi for turmeric, that yellow spice that gives curry its color. The Wikipedia entry for turmeric begins with the sentence below. (The sentence has six hyperlinks, including one for the phonetic transcription. All of these, dear reader, bearing your sanity in mind, I have removed.)

“Turmeric (Curcuma longa) / ‘tɜrmərɪk/ is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.” 

What I knew of turmeric before writing this post was that it has anti-inflammatory properties, it is rich in antioxidants, it helps prevents cancer, and it’s considered an antiaging agent because it combats free radicals. To make sure I was not omitting any of its many benefits, I searched for “benefits of turmeric” and found this gem from a book titled Indian Spices and Condiments as Natural Healers by Dr. H.K. Bhakru:

“Turmeric is aromatic, stimulant and tonic. It corrects disordered process of nutrition and restores the normal function of the system. It is a carminative, antiseptic, a great anti-flatulent, blood purifier and expectorant.”

Through that same article I learnt that the benefits of haldi include:
(i) Lowering cholesterol;
(ii) Controlling diabetes;
(iii) Preventing liver disease; and
(iv) Preventing Alzheimer’s (either I didn’t know that, or else I’d forgotten).

Please don’t rush off to your favorite Indian restaurant just yet. I have a story to tell you. I’ll tell it, you read it, and then we can part ways until my next post, which will most likely be written in the land of haldi (and other spices).

India spices

When I started writing this post, I had intended to share the ten Shakespearean plays I like best and why. You might have been surprised why some make my list and others don’t, but I’d have reminded you of what the 17th-century French mathematician-physicist-philosopher, Blaise Pascal, had said (“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”), and I’d have begged your pardon for not including one of the four great tragedies. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, there’ll be no prizes for guessing which of the four great tragedies would top my list.

NyQuil and DayQuil are doing their number on me, dear reader, and my position has been getting steadily more horizontal with each successive paragraph. But I promised to tell you a story and you know I like keeping my word. In “Keeping My Word,” I had told you that I was keeping my word to a couple librarians to promote my events at their libraries. One of the ways I did this was by posting the flyer I had created (in Word) all over the cities of Pasadena and Sierra Madre. Well, all is hyperbole, but I certainly put in many flyer miles. My story takes place on one of those frequent flyer trips, outside a coffee shop in Pasadena.

Sharon Edwards ArtNight

I was walking to my car after posting my flyer at the back of the coffee shop (the only place they allow flyers to be posted). I’d had to get the barista’s permission because the manager was “at lunch,” and since they don’t serve lunch at the coffee shop, she was not on site (and therefore out of sight). But my story is not about the barista or her manager. It’s about a cute guy I found seated at a table, reading a book, outside the coffee shop.

Now I have a personal rule not to approach cute guys outside coffee shops, though I don’t mind bending this rule if they happen to be reading a book. I didn’t ask this cute guy what he was reading, which would come across as your standard pickup cliché. I merely asked him if he had read my book.

He looked up with a slightly bemused expression and I quickly showed him the book. He blinked, looked at it, and said he’d never heard of it. That’s no way to flatter a famous author, but I’m not a famous author so it didn’t bother me. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to give him the thirty-second promo spiel. He seemed to find it interesting, so I gave him another thirty seconds. And another. And perhaps another. By which time he had the book in his hands and was reading the back cover.

I invited him to ArtNight Pasadena and he said he’d try to make it. Then, out of curiosity, I asked him what he was reading. I’m passing this information on to you, dear reader, because I know how much you like puns. He was reading Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield.

Just My Type

As we were saying goodbye, I asked him his name. I know I should have done that when we said hello, but we never actually said hello. Our conversation had begun in medias res, like epics do.

Reader, it was an epic moment when he told me that his name is Hamlet. Here’s a picture to prove I am telling the truth. The camera never lies.

Sharon Edwards and Hamlet

Keeping My Word

Unless I suffer blogger’s block between tomorrow and Halloween, this is not a blog proper. I had promised two librarians I’d promote my upcoming author events on social media, and I’m keeping my word.

I doubt my readers in Latvia and Liberia will be able to attend either event, but I request the rest of you to do your best. Or, as some might say in the land of my birth, your level best. I’d especially like readers in the land of my birth to do their level best, since there are so many of them. And please bring your neighbors, cousins, cousins’ in-laws, cousins’ in-laws’ neighbors, and cousins’ in-laws’ neighbors’ cousins. I don’t think that’s asking for much, given that there are 1.2 billion Indians to go around.

Sharon Edwards ArtNight

I had set aside half an hour this evening to design the flyer, which I thought would be a piece of cake. You can tell by “I thought” that it wasn’t a piece of cake, but let me tell you why. If nothing else, it will be free therapy for me, and I’m desperately in need of therapy after what happened. I’m also in need of free therapy, but that’s because of what my publisher is doing.

Before I tell you about that and the other “Publisher trauma,” let me tell you about what happened outside my home office window. A few minutes after I sat down to design my flyer, my apartment manager began trimming the palm tree outside my home office window. I won’t describe what that was like. I trust you have enough of an imagination to visualize a petite blonde woman trying to trim a palm tree with a rusty handsaw.

The city has strict rules about tree-trimming and I could report her, but it may become a court case and that will put my life on hold. I don’t know about Latvia and Liberia, but in this country court cases drag on ad infinitum, so I decided not to stir up the hornet’s nest. Maybe the hornet’s nest was in the palm tree, stirring itself. 

I could also say I decided to let sleeping dogs lie, but my apartment manager’s dog was not sleeping. She was running around the garden yelping at imaginary hornets. But at least she was alone today. Usually she has a couple canine companions to contribute to the chaos. My apartment manager pet-sits for a living. Apartment-managing is only a way of freeing her from the trauma the rest of us experience on the first of the month (in a word, rent). I don’t think she has signed a contract binding her to remain on the premises daily, because whenever there is a problem in my apartment, she is away in Hollywood, pet-sitting for one of her celebrity clients.

Hornet's Nest

I’ve never met any of my apartment manager’s celebrity clients, of course, and I can only take her word that they are celebrities. Her word, and what the dogs tell me. That impeccably groomed Scottish terrier with the attitude certainly comes from a celebrity home, but the rest feel like wannabes. I like some of them better than others, and I’m sure that would be true of their owners too. That is, if my apartment manager ever brought them to our building. I doubt she will, so you can stop dreaming about that story. If my apartment manager’s celebrity clients were to visit our building, they’d stop being her clients.

That, dear reader, is why I will never bring you to my building, even if you were to travel all the way from Latvia or Liberia. If you were to visit the building in which my thoughts are collected, you’ll stop being my reader. So just keep visiting my blog and the venues where I hold my author events, and we won’t have a falling-out. I’ve already had one falling-out today – with my Publisher.

The capital p means I’m not referring to Constance Brooks. We are still thick as thieves. If I wanted to pun (but why would I?), I’d say I’m thick and she’s the thief. My royalties are suspiciously low this quarter, and I doubt it has to do with poor book sales. Constance, I suspect, is dipping her little fingers into what is rightfully mine. She has little fingers, but boy, do they know how to take other people’s money. With those deft little fingers (not to mention her greed), I’m sure she’ll make a successful pickpocket in the literal sense too. Still, she’s my publisher and I haven’t had a falling-out with her. My falling-out has been with my Publisher, the MS Office program on my older laptop, and maybe I’m about to have a falling-out with the laptop too.

I bought the laptop just before leaving for Keele in September 2010. I had purchased it online and by the time I’d figured out that it was going to cause me trauma, there was no time to return it. Someday, when I have nothing better to tell you, I will tell you how it has troubled me, but for now suffice it to say that I’m never buying the brand again. What’s the brand, you ask? No, dear reader, decency forbids me from telling. Decency, and the fear of being sued my pants off (not to mention my shirt and other garments).

Brand New Clothes

My relationship with my Publisher began when I had to design my business card. I should not have ignored those early signs of trouble but, like many in new relationships, didn’t. The breakup occurred this evening, and my apartment manager’s activities outside my home office window played an important role. After I had spent half an hour designing the flyer, I decided to take a leaf out of her book and save a tree. In other words, I should make the single-page flyer half page. Two flyers would fit on one sheet, and voila.

Mais non, cher reader, malheureusement there was no voila. I spent another half hour designing a half-page flyer but when I saved it as a PDF (which is easier to print), each half appeared on two separate pages! Another half hour later, it struck me that I could create the flyer in Word.

I hope you’re not sitting there judging me, dear reader. If the palm tree outside your home office window were being sawed by your apartment manager, and if her dog were running around the garden yelping at imaginary hornets, it would take you as long to think that up. (Knowing you, probably longer, but let’s not go there.)

As of this evening, I am convinced that Word makes a better graphics program than Publisher. If (if) I wanted to pun, I’d say I’m keeping my Word.

Listless in Los Angeles (Or, How Not to Be)

I came up with this title on a muggy Sunday afternoon earlier this month, but it was so muggy and I was feeling so listless that I didn’t bother doing anything about it. At least, nothing that required physical activity, such as getting off the couch, turning on my computer, and typing. To meet my posting goal later that week, I wrote a public apology to Brazil (but not for those seven German goals). Meeting my posting goal by saying “Sorry Brazil” felt so good that I no longer felt listless. I might have forgotten this title but for two events that happened recently.

Last Saturday I met a gentleman who has been mentioned in a memoir I edited fourteen years ago. Meeting him reminded me about something in the memoir I had found amusing while editing it. I never told the author, of course, because she wouldn’t have been amused. She passed away in 2004 so I can blog about it without worrying about her sense of humor. She did have one, incidentally, except where her late second husband was concerned. It had been eight years since his death, but I could tell she was still grieving. Since the bit I found amusing appeared in the chapter on their romance, I thought it best to feel amused privately.

My author had described her late second husband as “an inveterate list-maker” and the chapter on their romance included a list he’d suggested they make, something to the effect of “Why You Are Right for Me.” Her list included nine qualities, including:

  • Your kindness
  • Your sense of humor
  • Your need for a wife (just like me)

As an inveterate list-maker, the late second husband’s list was longer. He had included 17 qualities, and the ones I found amusing came at the end:

  • Right age
  • Right height
  • Right shape
  • Available

I remember finding the last two especially amusing, but looking back now I don’t know what was so funny about a widower in his fifties liking that a widow in her fifties had the right shape and was available. Maybe it’s because I am closer to my fifties than I was when I edited that memoir fourteen years ago.

The 50s

Fast forward to this past Monday, when a friend tags me in a Facebook post. The post includes a link to a blog which, like most blogs (most of the popular ones, anyway) is a list. I resist the temptation to click on the post when I see the notification, but it is a slow day so minutes later I succumb. It is one of those feel-good-about-yourself kind of lists, and it reminds me of others like it. One collected thought leads to another, and soon I am imagining a series of lists available on blogs today.

Although my list of lists went on and on, I am including only twelve items here. Had I published it as a separate post, I’d have titled it “Twelve Lists You Might Find On the Internet.”

  1. Five ways to feel good about yourself
  2. Six signs that he’s lost that lovin’ feelin’
  3. Twenty mistakes to avoid when planning a bridal shower
  4. Current trends in decorating a nursery
  5. The most cruel rulers in history
  6. Ten celebrities who looked better before they became famous
  7. Why you should never pick this fight
  8. Ways to lower your gas bill without lowering your usage
  9. Which industries will be hiring in 2040
  10. The best and worst Indian restaurants in Southern California
  11. The most romantic beaches in the Southern Hemisphere
  12. The oddest things Santa was asked for in the Fifties

Little Craigs List

Webster’s defines listless as “characterized by lack of interest, energy, or spirit” and lists these adjectives as synonyms: enervated, lackadaisical, languid, languishing, languorous, limp, and spiritless. Since none of these states is desirable (although one can feel deliciously languid and languorous at certain times), I have come up with a list on how not to be listless – in Los Angeles or anywhere else. I am limiting myself to five things so you can count them on one hand and single-handedly attain the blissful state of unlistlessness.

1. Get out of bed with a positive attitude. The best way to seize the day is to seize the morning, and we do this by putting on a positive attitude. Yes, a positive attitude is something we choose to wear, like clothes. So as you change out of your nightclothes, put on the garments of cheerfulness, expectation, and such. If you’re going through a hard time, don’t make it worse by groaning, “Oh no, not another day.” Remember that many didn’t make it through the night.

If you’re fortunate enough to make it through the day, these two nighttime activities will help counteract listlessness:
(i) Brush, floss, and change into nightclothes. You’ll sleep better, and a good night’s rest helps us not to be listless during the day.
(ii) Be thankful for something specific. If you are upset or worried about something, force yourself to lay it aside. Agitation disturbs sleep, and I’ve already told you about the close connection between sleeplessness and listlessness. And when being thankful, try not to repeat an item. Ever. Because no two days are alike.

Life is like a fingerprint

2. Stretch. After being in the supine position for so long, your body will thank you for it. It will also be motivated to move throughout the day. A sedentary lifestyle is a good way to become listless, because listlessness produces listlessness. Try to keep your body active in some way throughout the day. And more power to you if you can throw in a trip to the gym (but don’t trip in the gym).

This might seem paradoxical when I am talking about physical activity, but try to include some sort of rest in the middle of the day. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown nap. A few moments of stillness and silence help banish listlessness, although research shows that catnapping has several benefits. Many companies now have nap lounges, as a result of which fewer employees are caught napping at their desk.

Napping

3. As far as possible, avoid refined sugar. Even if you’re not diabetic, refined sugar has many toxic effects. Sugar is better in its natural forms, as in fruit. Refined sugar may give you energy in the short term, but it ends up making you feel more listless. Sugar is also known to trigger depression – and if depression comes, can listlessness be far behind?

Just as listlessness produces listlessness, yielding to a sugar craving creates a craving for more. But the good news is that the converse is also true: Cutting down on sugar helps reduce the craving. I tried this with tea years ago. From two teaspoons of sugar in a cuppa, I reduced it to one-and-a-half, which I reduced to one and then to half. Now I can’t drink tea with sugar.

Toxic effects of sugar

4. Think about something you read. For this, dear reader, you must be reading something stimulating daily. If academic articles aren’t your cuppa, read a blog. Reflect upon an idea or opinion expressed. What is the writer trying to say? Do you agree? Disagree? Why? If you were to write about the same topic, what would you say?

Reading and thinking about what we read keeps our mind on its toes. (Yes, the mind does have toes. You just can’t them because you can’t see your mind.) A mind on its toes is not a listless mind. And when the mind isn’t listless, the body it controls usually isn’t.

An active mind

5. Do something for someone else. I’m referring to what they call random act of kindness and what I call intentional acts of kindness. The RAK is simply meeting a stranger’s need when we notice it. It is random in that we don’t know when the opportunity will present itself, but it is not truly random, because it involves a choice and choosing is act of the will. Exercising our will in the right manner reduces listlessness.

I was walking into the gym yesterday when I noticed an older lady with a bunch of things in her hand. I went ahead and held the door open, and I am happy to say I kept holding it even though she dropped first her keys and then her phone on her way over. I smiled as she neared, and she gave me a shocked glance. I don’t bother with my appearance when I go to the gym, so I suppose she had reason to be horrified, but I couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t so much as nod in acknowledgement. For a second I was tempted to dwell upon the ingratitude of humanity, but I chose against it. As the guy at the front desk was swiping my membership card, I had the idea to put the episode in my blog. You should have seen how energetic my workout was after that!

And then there are IAKs: intentional acts of kindness. The beneficiaries are usually people within our social network: family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. We live with the intention to do them good whenever possible. The more closely we interact with them, the more often can we bestow IAKs upon them. Sometimes it’s easier to be kind to a stranger than to someone we know well, but even so, it’s good to be kind to those we know. Otherwise we’re no different from that remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain who was a little more than kin and less than kind.

The kindness of strangers

Hot Rockin’ Bikini Shape

I finally made the free personal training session at my gym on May 29. The trainer had first called with this offer on April 29, which I took as an anniversary gift. No, we’re not married and it was not our wedding anniversary. It would have been my parents’ had my father been with us, but even when he was I didn’t get gifts for my parents’ anniversary. And I stopped wanting anything on April 29 after my niece Alita Sharon was born on that day.

While I am on the date (which is not to say I am on date), to date the only year I have not been in LA on April 29 since 2005 was when I was at Keele, six stories into Pioneer Boulevard, in 2011. It was the hottest, most bikini-friendly April in England in over 350 years, and perhaps the most royal-wedding crazy in its entire history. The revenue generated from merchandise and memorabilia commemorating Kate Middleton’s change of status from commoner to royal is said to have exceeded £0.5 billion, but many small businesses incurred huge losses that week because employees had been calling in sick.

Royal Wedding Sick Bag

In “Pledging Allegiance” (April 29) I tell the story of how I changed status from resident alien to citizen on that day in 2005. I do something special to celebrate every year but I never expect an anniversary gift, not even from Uncle Sam. (On the contrary, Uncle Sam always expects a gift from me, and two weeks before April 29.) So I was delighted that the gym would offer me a freebie on the ninth anniversary of my becoming a US citizen.

The gym could care less whether I am a US citizen or not. The gym only cares about whether I use the facility (for which I must pay up a month in advance). The gym does care about my health (because I am of more use alive), but it really only cares that I keep coming back (because I mustn’t wake up one day and realize I am paying for nothing and cancel my membership). The gym may not be able to speak, but it isn’t dumb. Still, the personal training session was free and it was offered to me on April 29, so I took it as an anniversary gift.

Hot rock

The trainer wanted to see me that same day. It’s been a while since someone has been that desperate to see me so I said yes right away, but “Pledging Allegiance” (which had to be published that day) fated otherwise. When I called to reschedule, he wanted to see me the next day, but this time I had to say no right away because I had an author talk on April 30. I consulted my planner and asked him for an appointment on Monday, May 5, the day I have thought of as Cinco de Mayo since the year after I moved to LA.

Early that year (Y2K for short) I met a woman named Sheri, who told me her official name was Sharon and that she was born on Cinco de Mayo. When I asked what’s that, she said her birthday commemorates Mexico’s independence from Spain. When Cinco de Mayo rolled around, I found out that it actually marks the Battle of Puebla, when Mexico defeated the French.

Cinco de Mayo Battle

The trainer said he’d see me on Cinco de Mayo, but for a reason I now forget I couldn’t make it that day. I called to reschedule, and even though the receptionist forgot to pass on my message, the trainer called back to offer me an appointment the next day. I didn’t like the idea of a workout on a Tuesday, so I asked if Monday the 12th would work out, and he said yes.

Reader, if you have read the first sentence of this post you will know that I met the trainer for the first time on May 29 and not May 12. That’s a whole month after I first heard his voice. Based on his first name (which is all he gave me over the phone), I thought he might be from Egypt. I imagined asking him that, and him telling me that he loves Bollywood, but when we met on May 29 we spoke about only one of those things.

No_Bollywood

I wish I could say I forget why didn’t I see him on the 12th, but that would be a lie. I could say I’d prefer not to tell, but why else would you want to read about my workout? I had to cancel my appointment on May 12 because on May 8 I did one of the dumbest things I have ever done.

I was on the treadmill, running at a good clip, when my ponytail came undone and my scrunchie fell on the track. I didn’t want to stop so I merely slowed down. Maybe to 2.5 mph, maybe a little less. Either way, it wasn’t slow enough to pick up my scrunchie and not fall. My workout capris couldn’t save my knees, but I wasn’t thinking of my knees as I slid off the track. I was thinking of my poor bruised ego.

The Treadmill

When I finally showed up to receive my anniversary gift a month after my anniversary, I discovered that the trainer isn’t Egyptian, he’s Asian. The Arabic name is because his parents are Muslim. Since he didn’t ask why my name isn’t Sapna or Kalpana, I said nothing about my own name. I took the seat he offered, expecting him to get right into facts and figures (and facts about figures), but he wanted to know about the exciting things that are happening in my life. One of the first things I mentioned was this blog (which should give you an idea of how exciting my life is).

“So you sit at your computer for long periods,” he remarked.

I couldn’t deny it.

“And probably with a bad posture.”

He glanced at my posture and I straightened up.

“But you want to be healthy and fit so you can keep bringing joy to your readers.”

He smiled and I smiled back, but I was crying on the inside (wondering whether joy was the right word). After that he took my weight and handed me an instrument to measure body fat, which he took back without a change of expression.

“Your body fat needs to be lowered by 9.6%,” he said eventually.

“Only 9.6? That’s still single digits!”

If looks could kill body fat, the look he gave me would have reduced my body fat to 0 in an instant. He opened a folder and turned to a page that had figures with various amounts of body fat. He first tapped the figure that represented me and then the one with 10% less body fat.

“It’s going to take effort to get from this to this,” he said. “But don’t worry. We can get you in hot rockin’ bikini shape in six months.”

Summer will be over in less than six months, I thought, but I said nothing as I followed him to the training area. And when he had shown me what it would take to get me in hot rockin’ bikini shape, I was in no shape to get off the floor. My body was so sore, I didn’t return to the gym for four days. But at least I know what I’ll be wearing to the beach this summer. And what I won’t be wearing.

Bathing suit 1864

Surreal Estate

The incident I am about to blog about took place just before an incident I have already blogged about. But please don’t stop reading just yet. Even with your sleuthing skills you won’t be able to discover which previous post is related to one titled “Surreal Estate” because the two incidents are not related. Well, perhaps sequentially (in that that incident followed this) and consequentially (my blogging about that made me not blog about this that day). Maybe there’s a thematic connection too, but I haven’t made it yet because I haven’t yet had my chai.

Between you and me, reader, even though I am not violent by nature and I really like our feathered friends, I am trying to kill two birds with one stone. I haven’t yet had my chai because I am trying to: (i) cut down my intake; and (ii) finish this post in one sitting. Chai can be interrupted in a heartbeat, as I said in my last post, but duty calls.

Duty Calls
Moments before the incident I have already blogged about I was at the library, ready to check out my book. (Well, it was not technically my book, just the one I’d decided to spend a couple days with.) Even though there wasn’t a line I still had to wait because the three men manning the checkout desk were engaged in a debate. I shuffled my feet for eleven or twelve seconds, and when you’re waiting every second feels like a hour. (In the Balcony Scene Juliet said it would be twenty years till she saw Romeo again next morning, but that may be star-cross’d lovers’ hyperbole.) After what felt like thirteen hours I walked up to the counter with a cold smile (which, I admit, was probably not a smile).

“Which of you . . .?” I asked, hoping my unfinished question would serve as a call to duty.

Unfinished questions generally don’t serve as a call to duty for people engaged in debates when they should be working. You must make the effort of finishing your sentence before they will consider getting back to work. But happily (for me), my unfinished question did the job. The two men on the outside bowed out, leaving the man in the middle to answer duty’s call.

Duty Calls

The Real State of Real Estate
I wasn’t interested in what the debate had been about so didn’t give it another thought. I passed the book and my keys across the desk, and the librarian scanned my library card and returned my keys. I was subconsciously expecting the question I am always asked at this point of the book borrowing experience: “Would you like a due date slip?” Instead he said, “We were talking about how many feet there are in an acre.”

“Depends on how many people are in it,” I replied at once. I was repeating a joke I’d read years ago. The original version was about feet in a yard, but I figured it would work for an acre.

The librarian responded with a blank stare. Perhaps he hadn’t got it, so I said “Ha ha” to cue him to the fact that it was meant to be a joke. He didn’t laugh even then. Now that I attribute to the perversity of human nature, which is infinitely worse than not getting a joke. Even more perversely, he added in a serious tone, “Forty-three thousand five hundred sixty. At least, that’s what I told them.”

I had to address the perversity of human nature. In a mildly condescending tone – as an author I can’t afford to be too condescending to librarians – I asked, “Did you check that on the internet while you guys were talking?”

He looked down with a blush of humility (but it may have been a flush of pride). “No, it was actually something I’d studied.”

Why would someone need to study how many feet there are in an acre, I wondered, and I was struck by my own stupidity (a phenomenon that occurs once in a blue moon) when he said it was one of the first things he’d learnt while training to get his real estate license. He’d got licensed in 2005 but had had to take up this job after the housing market crashed.

Housing Market Crash

Funny by Half
I was touched that he had shared his story with me and wanted to hear more. “So how do you like the change?” I asked. “Or do you?”

“I used to work here before I got licensed,” he replied. “I like being back. And I still sell houses on the side, so it’s not like I’ve left real estate.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the housing market. He said something that sounded like it might be inside information but it was Greek to me and I cannot recall it (not having studied Greek). When he handed me my book – which, as I said, was not technically my book – I noticed that he’d included a due date slip, and it was the kind I like best: the one that lists all the items you’ve borrowed, not only what you just checked out. My conscience doesn’t always permit me to ask for that because I like trees (in part because they’re real estate for our feathered friends), but this time my conscience was clear. I hadn’t asked.

As I was leaving the library, I realized that my joke didn’t work half as well as the original because unlike yardacre does not have two meanings. There can be feet (units of length) in a yard (unit of length) as well as feet (parts of the body) in a yard (part of a building), but in “feet in an acre” the wordplay is only on feet. And that’s half a joke. I hate doing things by halves, so I’ll put my joke out to pasture until someone asks me how many feet there are in a yard.

Feet

Two Postscripts
1. The incident took place moments before the one I’ve related in my first blog proper, “The Fire Thieves” (January 23). Notwithstanding what Romeo says about the moon in the Balcony Scene, that evening the moon really was surreal estate.
2. I wrote this post without chai, but not in one sitting. I was two-thirds (or maybe three-fourths) of the way through when I got a call from an area code that rarely calls me. I didn’t recognize the number, but in a split second I made the call to take the call. I’m glad I did, but this post is long enough and I really need my chai now, so maybe I’ll tell you about it another time. Ay me, dear reader! Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Balcony Scene

How a Cardiologist Broke My Heart

If there is such a thing as a Compliment Blacklist, circulated among the male species through some means known only to man, my name was on that list last week.

After publishing “Insult to Injuria Formae” (May 24), in which I had related how a member of the male species had slighted my intelligence, I left for Pioneer Blvd., the street for which my book is named. (Please, please spell out Boulevard when referring to my book. Even an unitalicized title doesn’t make me wince quite like a Pioneer Blvd. does.)

I must explain upfront that the cardiologist who broke my heart on Pioneer Blvd. on Saturday did not insult my intelligence. Neither did he pass so much as a comment, complimentary or otherwise, on my looks. I was wandering about a strip mall on the east side of the street when I noticed two guys having a cuppa, and I figured they’d have time for a chat. They were chatting with each other, after all, and three can be company. In some contexts three’s a crowd but these guys are from the Indian Subcontinent, where it takes three million to make a crowd. Surely they’d say yes.

Sharon Edwards Hearbreak 1

They did, so I introduced them to my book. Sometime during the conversation I discovered that they are doctors. The Indian is an internist, and his Pakistani buddy is a cardiologist. When I heard that, I naturally asked, “Can you cure a broken heart?”

Believe it or not (and I won’t blame you if you don’t), I wasn’t trying to pun. I was simply asking the question a woman who has made the Compliment Blacklist would want an answer for.

Sharon Edwards Heartbreak 3

I can’t repeat his answer because he didn’t give me one. Instead, he returned my question with a question: “How come your name is not Sapna or Kalpana?”

In “Insult to Injuria Formae,” the insult to my intelligence had resulted from a question I couldn’t answer. Not so here. Not only could I answer the cardiologist’s question, but his breaking my heart had nothing to do with my name not being Sapna or Kalpana. I wasn’t offended with his question because:
(i) He rhymed. Maybe the reason for his rhyme was that he thought that I, being a writer, would like a bit of poetry. I did, because I am a writer but especially because it spared me from saying what Horatio tells Hamlet after the play-within-the-play (“You might have rhymed”). You see, reader, I don’t want to be Horatio.
(ii) It’s a fair question. Even Indians ask me that. Well, Indians usually ask me why my name is Sharon, which requires a different response than the one about why it is not Sapna or Kalpana. I tell Indians that my name is Sharon because it’s what my parents chose to name me, whereas I told the Pakistani cardiologist something I’ll share in another post.

No sooner had he asked me why my name is not Sapna or Kalpana than his internist friend remarked, “He’s having a sapna about Kalpana.”

Sapna and kalpana are Hindi words meaning dream and imagination, respectively. Kalpana represents creativity in general and the arts in particular, so I said, “My book is about kalpana.” Not the best pun, I admit, but it’s the best I could do. And at least I didn’t stoop to saying something about Kalpuna.

Humerus

A word about the Indian love for wordplay. Indian puns are not rare, and they are usually well done. Like rare meat, bad Indian puns (which are rare) are not my cup of chai. But what I cannot stomach are puns about Indians.

At the farmers market where I sometimes help a friend at her booth, a customer of hers once asked me if I’d heard about the Indian programmer who’d had to work as a standup comedian during the recession. The previous week this customer of my friend’s had become a customer of mine when he bought a copy of Pioneer Boulevard from me, and I thought he was referring to my book, which is set in the context of the crumbling economy. Delighted that he’d already read the book and now wanted to discuss it, I immediately said no and waited to hear more about the poor programmer-turned-comedian.

It was a wrong assumption on my part. Our (not-so-cool) customer hadn’t read a single story in Pioneer Boulevard, and he didn’t want to discuss it. He gave me a pitying look (for the bubble he was about to burst) and said, “They called him a pun-jobbie.”

Hay job

To finish my Pioneer Blvd. story, at the end of the conversation with the Pakistani cardiologist, I realized I had the chance to do my bit to mend Indo-Pak relations. Diplomacy can come in many forms. There’s cricket diplomacy (which stirs up more passions than it subdues). There’s Bollywood diplomacy (which is one-sided, since only one country can offer it). There’s chai diplomacy (which doctors know contains caffeine, raises blood sugar levels, and can be interrupted in a heartbeat). Surely my brand of diplomacy, storybook diplomacy, would be more effective.

“If I gave you a copy of my book, would you read it?” I asked the Pakistani cardiologist.

And that’s when he broke my heart.

Just say no, says the anti-narcotics slogan, and perhaps that two-letter word, which can save a person’s life, is his instinctive response as a heart doctor. But that two-letter word cut me so deep, I’m still nursing my broken heart.