Thursday, April 17, 2008

Five More Jared's Visit Scenes

1. We were walking along a small side street in Colaba laughing about something when an Indian shopkeeper with a bushy mustache caught Jared's eye. He was holding a two-liter bottle of water -- overused to the point of being label-less and tinged with brown -- and staring at the sidewalk with determination.

The Indian took a couple purposeful steps toward the street, started to raise the water bottle, but then quickly shook his head and clutched the bottle almost lovingly to his chest. He turned around, took a couple more steps, studied the ground thoughtfully and nodded. Then, with the sudden erratic violence of Britney Spears, the Indian shopkeeper upended the bottle and shook it radically and indiscriminately over random patches of sidewalk and street. He looked like a mental patient attempting to water the lawn but who, due to furious irrationality, also managed to drench his car, the paper boy and the neighbor's dog.

"Oooooooh," Jared said, as wet Rorschach patterns formed on the sidewalk before us, "so that's where the water goes."

2. Jared was still a bit jet lagged, and we were looking for a bit of wine to help him sleep.

After asking directions to the nearest wine shop from two doormen and a beggar in Colaba, we found ourselves walking down a dark alley spotted with malaria-friendly pools of black water.

"Um," Jared said as we plowed on.

At the end of the alley was an open window and counter, behind which was a small inaccessible wine shop. I smiled at the three gruff Indians behind the counter.

"One bottle of Sula red, please," I said.

One of the workers ambled off his stool with a hint of surliness and walked to the wine rack along the store's back wall. He grabbed a bottle of wine and returned to the counter to hand it to me.

"Hmmm," I said, studying the label. "Zinfandel? No thanks. What else do you have?"

The worker huffed and took the wine back to the shelf. Meanwhile, two small Indian men who smelled as if they'd just bathed in feni slammed exact change on the counter and barked orders in Marathi. One of the shopkeepers handed them two fifths of cheap whiskey.

My guy returned with a bottle of wine.

"Reserve?" I said, reading the label. "No, I don't want this. Bring me a cabernet, or a shiraz, OK?"

The shopkeeper's tired eyes silently called me a fancy boy and he returned to the wine rack. While I waited, a dark-skinned man who smelled like urine and had a huff rag tucked into his back pocket elbowed me aside, dumped a handful of rupee coins on the counter, and received a bottle of vodka without having to place an order at all. A regular.

Finally my guy came back with a bottle of reasonably-priced, Indian-made Shiraz. I squinted and studied the label before smiling.

"See?" I asked the shopkeeper. "Was that so hard?

3. "I think this is rigged," Jared said as he lost another hand of blackjack at the rigged digital blackjack table we were gambling at in Goa.

The casino was in a decent air-conditioned hotel appropriately called Chances, and included a handful of Roulette tables and a bunch of rigged digital games. The blackjack game was a sleek black table with invisible sensors beneath each player's betting area, and several small screens on which a player's "cards" appeared. The dealer stood behind the table and pressed buttons to "deal" the "cards."

A new round began and I was "dealt" an 8 and a 3. The dealer was showing a 4. I doubled down. I was "dealt" a 2. Then the dealer "flipped" her down "card," which was a Jack. Then she "dealt" herself a 7 and everyone lost.

Similar things had happened several times, and while our own experience was not even close to a large enough sample to draw any firm conclusions about the stilted statistics on which this digital game was based, the lack of transparency provided enough circumstantial evidence for me to convict.

"Jesus!" I said, slamming the rigged blackjack table and turning to a man in a suit standing behind the dealer. "Why don't you have a table that uses real cards?

"That is not allowed," the casino official said.

"Well, how do I know this digital game isn't fixed?" I demanded.

"That is also not allowed," the casino official said.

"Seems rigged to me," I said, as I placed my bet for the next rigged hand.

4. "I can't believe you made me wear this," Jared said as he walked into a busy outdoor Saturday night market in Goa wearing a loose-fitting long-sleeved black-and-white shirt with portraits of a passively plaintive Jesus on the chest and both elbows.

"You lost a bet, dude."

"This is a very nice shirt," an Indian woman said to Jared as he passed her stall. "You want to buy bed cover?"

Jared had that afternoon lost a passionately-contested game of Playa (a mashup of Spades and Hearts that Aliyah and I invented on the beach in Mexico last year), and as punishment had to either get a card-sized temporary tattoo of our choosing, or wear for one night the shirt of our choosing. He'd opted for the shirt. We made him wear Jesus, which was not hard to find in Goa, which is full of God-fearing Christians.

"I like very much your shirt," an Indian hawker said to Jared as he strolled with a modicum of embarrassment through the market. "Want to buy another one?" he added, pointing to several identical shirts in his stall.

"No thanks," Jared said. "I think one shirt of this fictional character is plenty."

The guy looked a little hurt.

We kept walking and a hefty Indian woman soon latched onto Jared's Jesus-elbow-patched arm.

"I love this shirt!" she said. "Where did you get it?"

"Bala," Jared said, repeating his chronic mispronunciation of Baga, which is the beach we were staying near.

"Oh yes, Bala," the woman said. "You must have bought it from my friend Maria. She's the only one in Goa who sells that shirt."

"What?" Jared said. "What about that guy? And that one?" he quipped, pointing to two nearby stalls selling his Jesus shirt. The woman shrugged.

"Jesus," Jared said, shaking his head sarcastically.

"Exactly," I said.

5. The three of us were ass to ankles in the back of the autorickshaw, and all wondering why on earth our autowallah had pulled to the curb on this random street.

Motioning with a stubby digit that he would be just one minute, our autowallah started fiddling with the lockbox-cum-seat in the front of his vehicle. After much jingling and fumbling, he pulled a small metal cannister out and smiled.

"Is he going to drink that?" Aliyah said.

"Brake oil," the autowallah said in broken English.

"Don't drink it," Jared said.

The autowallah bent over and generously emptied the contents of his brake oil can into a his green and yellow machine. Then, standing up, he lightly shook the can to make sure it was empty. Satisfied that it was, the autowallah, with absolute carelessness but clear purpose, tossed the empty metal can into the street next to his vehicle.

Jared giggled before I could begin one of my overused rants about how so many Indians seem to keep their homes immaculately clean, no matter how slummy the neighborhood outside, while being so quick, obvious and almost proud to litter in even the nicest public spaces.

"Excuse me," Aliyah said to the autowallah as Jared kept giggling. "I think you dropped your can."

The autowallah said nothing and started his vehicle.

"Oh," Jared said, looking at the garbage in the street. "So that's where the brake oil goes."

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