Best friend

“Mommy, but I really, really, really want a puppy”, Cody sniffled as his mom hugged him and drew him closer, now completely enclosing him in her arms: shivering shoulders, knees bent up to his chin. “Okay”, she finally declared with a relief, with the worst deliberations behind them, as if celebrating a difficult decision, “We are getting a puppy!”

That night Cody dreamed of a brightly lit meadow that he and his beloved puppy ran across tirelessly. He’d been asking his parents for a pet for what seemed like a lifetime. Cody was five and not a day had gone by without him badgering them. There was an excuse every time he brought it up. Like their apartment was small… or Dad is allergic to cat dander … Or baby Emma is too small for a pet to be around … or Mom lost her job. Cody wasn’t buying any of that. After all, how can this all possibly matter?

Finally, the ice melted. Mom and Dad agreed on a puppy. Not too fast, they said, first we need to make sure you’re ready to have a puppy. He’d been trying hard – helping with chores, taking care of Emma. The day had come when they were ready to get in the car and head over to the pet store.

Dad was whistling a happy tune, Cody’s heart jumping out of his chest, Mom and Emma closely behind them. “Well, that’s going to be an problem”, muttered Dad. “Oh no”, Cody’s heart dropped as he followed Dad’s troubled look and saw a flat. Mom signed but quickly recovered, “George, just get it fixed, honey, that shouldn’t take long”. Dad countered, “Sheryl, someone slashed two tires with a knife, I think it is going to take some time!”

They never made it to the pet store that day. Later on, Mom consoled Cody, “It’s okay, baby, we’ll go next weekend”. He sighed and went to sleep, upset and wondering why someone would try to carve their names on a tire when there are so many wonderful trees around.

Next weekend took forever to come but, as promised, the family headed to the pet store. Dad stopped at the red light. Seconds later, their car got a big jolt. “Is everybody okay?” Dad yelled and then said something short that Cody or Emma couldn’t understand but Mom scolded him about: “George … The kids!” Dad stormed out but put on the breaks when he realized he was dealing with a 90-year old offender in a Cadillac. “Well, look at that, what are we going to do now???” A tow truck showed up 3 hours later. They all got into a rental but it was too late for a pet store and the mood was ruined. Cody was beyond himself. When he drives his car outside and bumps into Sean’s, nobody yells or says weird short words. And he’s pretty sure Sean’s parents still take him to a pet store after that.

Another few weeks went by. He overheard Mom talking to Dad in the living room “George, are you avoiding this? We promised Cody, you can’t do that to him”. “Sheryl, we’ll go, I promise, it’s just these bozos in Corporate are driving me nuts, you know that!” Cody had no idea what bozos meant but he knew he didn’t like them.

In a couple of days Dad got sad news that Nana passed away. Cody loved Nana and almost forgot about a puppy until one day Mom and Dad decided on the pet store again.

There were no carvings or accidents this time, and they finally made it to the pet store. Cody walked around, taking his time, looking into cages, when he saw a black lab puppy that he thought was the one. “I am going to get my Mom and Dad, I want this puppy!”, he blurted out to the nearby salesman and went off. “Mom, Dad, I found him!!” He gasped for air as he ran back to get them, grabbed their hands, dragged them to the cage only to see that it was empty. “Where did he go?” He turned around and saw a fat red-haired boy, licking a whirly lollipop, his mom next to him and that salesman holding his puppy! He couldn’t help it and started crying as Mom went into argument with the salesman and the boy’s mom. “Well, it’s our puppy and that’s the end of it!” The boy’s mom kept on shouting. “Charlie loves his puppy, right, Charlie? You think you rich people can just snatch stuff away from us??” Dad tried to chime in, “Sheryl, it’s alright, we’ll find another puppy”. Mom snapped, “Whose side are you on, George?? Your son’s or the chubby chubbs’ here???” The boy’s mom then yelled that same word that Dad said before and stormed out. “George, I’m sorry, but this was the last drop”, Mom started crying but Cody’s own tears dried out as he wondered what Mom was talking about: “Drop? It’s not even raining…”

Later that night, when Mom put Cody to bed, she held him close and whispered “Cody, baby, your Dad will not live with us for some time, but I promise you, promise you that we will buy you a puppy”. The dream of him and the puppy on the summer meadow seemed like a miracle now.

Another month went by. It was winter, Dad moved out, and Mom, Cody and Emma were getting used to the new life. One day after school, Cody was at home with Emma and the nanny, looking in the window at how the sun played with snow and icicles in all kinds of colors. The door swung open, a gust of cold air and steam rushed in, with it came Mom, red-cheeked, laughing, happy, and she was holding the most precious creature in the entire world – a white, black and brown puppy! Cody grabbed the dog, hugged and kissed him, and the puppy returned love incessantly licking Cody’s face. Everything around him looked different now and his heart was singing. “I just went to that shelter downtown and saw him, and I thought Cody would love this guy”, Mom told the nanny. And to Cody, “What will you call him, Cody?” “I don’t know yet, mommy. Maybe … Brownie?”

For the first time in months Cody slept peacefully, Brownie whimpering on a pillow next to his bed. Mom closed the door and sighed. She went to the living room and sat on the couch listening to the comfortable silence, and for the first time in a long while she knew that things would get a lot better from now on, no matter what.

Cherry pit

I looked at the cherry pit and moved it closer to my face, as if inspecting it. And I thought to myself: “This is the one”.

When I was a kid, I loved cherries. I also loved cherry pits – pitting them, often with bare hands, looking at them, spitting them out. It was intriguing that there was a rock inside food.

When I was 3, my mom washed me a whole plate of cherries. I ate one or two for starters. Next, I filled a mouthful with 10 or 15, chewed slowly and skillfully spat the pits out one by one. Then I started thinking, what else can I do with cherries and, more importantly, with pits? I thought, ”It would be cool to plant a cherry pit in my nose”. I studied the next one carefully and stuck it up my nostril. Nothing happened, so I thrust it further and waited patiently.

The pit got wedged so high up and swelled so fast that no finger in the world could ever pry it out. (C)

My mom ran into the room, following my outcry for help. She rushed me to the doctor, where, with the help of 3 nurses and what looked like pliers, an enormous, swollen up pit was extracted out of my nose, onto a metal tray.

Fork in the road

Caleb wiped off the sweat with his plead-sleeved arm and sighed, crunched over on the bench, looking older, more fragile. “I’m not feeling too hot, mother”. Darlene held his face in her cool, callous hands, couldn’t find a familiar, devilish sparkle in light-blue, cataract eyes and muttered in a deep voice: “We are going to see a doctor”.

The hospital was a mere 20 minutes away but, not knowing the area, she took extra turns before pulling up to the emergency room. “Oh Lord, Caleb, you’ve gone pale as paper!” She rushed to the passenger side and helped him out. The doors slid open and the air of death and desperation mixed with smell of blood, sweat and iodine enveloped them. “We have a real emergency here!”, her scream at the top of the human sound spectrum. Caleb crushed in the chair. “Mother…. It hurts really bad”. “Can we get someone over here, pleeeeease!!!”, Darlene started panicking, wringing hands, biting lips. Seconds later, Caleb in a wheelchair, carted behind the flap doors, Darlene by his side, consoling him: “It’ll be fine, Caleb, just hold on”. The doctor was older, a wise-looking owl with bushy eyebrows that he frowned, it seemed, upon everything. “So, Caleb, what happened?” Darlene butted in, “We are on vacation from Nebraska, headed to the ocean side, and Caleb always wanted to see the ocean. We’ve never left Hastings, you know, and…”. “Can you please just tell me what happened?” The doctor interrupted. “So sorry. We are on a road trip, and yesterday was so warm, so we stopped at a park, saw a lake and Caleb said, it’s still a ways to the ocean, I feel like a swim, Darlene. And so he went”. The doctor weighed each word, as if going through an encyclopedia in his head, and leaned towards the nurse. “Blood and urine, and CAT scan. No X-rays for now”.

The painkillers were still working magic on Caleb when the doctor briskly walked in, openly nervous. “Caleb, you have contracted necrotizing fasciitis, or more commonly known as flesh-eating disease. I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is. You have to treat it immediately”. Darlene went into offense. “Do what you need to do. We have insurance, you know, and some money”. Caleb interrupted, “How much time do I have, doc?” “24 hours at the most. Maybe less. You two stay put, the nurse will be here to get you”. Caleb looked at the wife and for a moment she saw that boyish glint again. He started peacefully, “Darlene, honey, what am I clinging to here? I’m almost done anyway. Nothing will ever bring Scottie back. Remember what he always dreamt of? And that was our dream too? I just want to see the sea, smell the wind, touch the sand. Please… I’m 84 years old, what am I doing here?” Darlene hesitated, wiped off a lone tear and carted him out.

When the nurse came back, they were long gone.

Snowman

Isn’t it amazing when it snows in Miami? Good thing some kids got out in the street yesterday and made me. Especially that little girl who gave me a hug – I think she’s a friend now. The kids thought of everything – a carrot nose, plastic rings for eyes, sticks for arms. I feel like I’ve been in a cage my whole life, and now I’m free. Isn’t it great that it’s 34 degrees in Miami?

A friend just stopped by, lifted his leg and muttered: “Hey, don’t pretend it’s all good and dandy, you know it’s all going south tomorrow, I heard a weatherman”. I know he’s right. He scurried off and I sighed. Last night I had a dream, a distant memory of my great-great-great-grandfather moving up north. The sweet sound of just two words – Northern Canada – has been ringing in my ears since. I can’t get rid of that dream now. Wouldn’t it be great to be there, just to stand there, look across the white plains and be in my element? Free forever?

A black bird landed on my shoulder. She tried to eat my nose but I still like her. I think she’s a friend. Someone walked by and she flew off. Black birds are mysterious. I wonder if they live in Northern Canada too…

It’s getting dark. I guess it’s soon now. It’s making me sad. That little girl from yesterday is right there, she’s waving at me. She’s gone now. I’ll miss her. Better get some sleep…

It’s sunny. I don’t want to open my eyes but I have to. It’s so bright. The weatherman was right, he’s always right. I feel shorter for some reason. Is my mind playing tricks on me? The sun is hurting me now… Oh… what is it on the ground? I think it’s my arm… I see that girl, and the black bird is back… and the four-legged friend… they are looking at me and smiling… farewell, my good friends, until next time….

Isn’t it awesome that it snowed in Miami?….

Experiment

7 years ago me, my future wife and another couple traveled the American southwest by car. One of our stops towards the end of the trip was a Sheraton in Vegas. While checking in, my friend who lived and continues living in Canada came up with an idea that we should trade places, just for shits and giggles, and swap our names and phone numbers. Thus I became Vladimir Choulkovski (my friend’s real name is modified here for privacy) and Vladimir became me.
What follows is a detailed account of a long social experiment with no real objective in mind or end in sight. Sort of a journal of a prank that keeps on entertaining its participants. Just a quick note- the real Vladimir has very little knowledge of any events related to this prank. It helps him that he lives in the international area code. So here it goes.

Event 1… some two weeks after the above trip ended, back home and still unaware of what’s to come. I get a phone call from an unknown number that, after a few seconds of silence, opened with a sales pitch for a travel package promotion. The voice on the other end was of a typical phone salesman, polite at first and obviously, unmistakably indifferent after I declined the offer. The salesman asked for Vladimir and I pointed out that I was not Vladimir. He asked if I’d still be interested in what he has to sell and after I said no, the indifference was quickly followed with a click. He hung up. No harm done, just another telemarketing call. I chuckled as this brought back fresh memories of a fantastic trip we just came back from and the swapping joke we played.

Event 2… some months after the trip. A different phone number and the voice telling me about a promotion, all the while expecting Vladimir to be the lucky winner. I pointed out that I’m not Vladimir but also asked to be removed from the calling list. All along still being very polite. The voice assures me that the relationship between my phone number and his service are a thing of the past. Click. I sigh pleasantly reflecting on the power of regulations that so wonderfully control direct marketers.

Event 3 through infinity. Many events over the course of the following 8 years, all with a different outcome and underlying theme guided by the creativity of one of the participants – me. And after numerous times I begged and pleaded to stop calling me with this nonsense and no longer impressed with the regulation, I still get on average two calls a week.

Here are transcripts of some of the better ones.

Call comes in as always. The salesman asks for Vladimir.

Salesman. Good afternoon. Vladimir?
Me: “Vladimir Dracula?”
Salesman, unshaken by a curve ball thrown at him: “No sir, I’m looking for Mr. Vladimir Choulkovski”

Me (with a fake, probably horrible European accent): “Only Vladimir Dracula here”.
Salesman, a little taken back but still going strong- gotta feed the fam, you know: “Vladimir, we have a special promotion for a 7-night stay at blah blah blah with the blah blah blah…”

Me, a little ruder this time, kind of European way: “Where is the blood?

Salesman: “Excuse me?”

Me: “Where is the blood? Vladimir Dracula drink blood. You sell blood?”

Salesman: “Yeah OK buddy”. Click.

 

Call comes in. A girl this time. Asks for Vladimir.

Salesgirl: “Can I speak with Vladimir?”

Me: “This is he”

Salesgirl: “Valdimir, we’re offering yada-yada-yada on yada-yada…”

Me: “Hi sweetie”

Girl: “…yada. Is this something you would be interested in learning more about?”

Me: “What are you wearing?”

Girl: “What is your problem, buddy?”

Me: “No problem, I just want to talk. Vladimir lonely”. Fake sigh and sinister laughter.

Girl: “Oh you are a sicko, you know that?” Click.

Me: hahahahaha

 

In retrospect – who’s more of a sicko here? An 8-year fruitless plead to stop calling me entitles me to whatever behavior I feel like. Granted, they are doing their job but kind of breaking the law while at it. Can’t call the number unless I told them it’s OK to do so.

The saga continues. More to come on this. Next, we’re going to go through a list of famous Vladimir’s. Who would’ve thought there are so many of those???

 

Time is relative

I want to talk about time relativity today. You know, Einstein and his tongue kind of relativity. Only a little more absurd.

Part one. My wife, like the rest of us, drives a car. She has had several of them, some she loved and some she hated, some took care of and others let be on their own like unwanted puppies. No matter where her affection landed for a particular car, not a single one of them ever, and I mean ever, had the clock set to the correct time.

Not a few minutes fast or slow which could easily be explained by looking up time in one source, remote from the car, and while traveling to the car to actually set the clock, being distracted by kids, a magazine, some shiny object or chicken.

And not a full hour ahead or behind which is a direct result of blunt disrespect towards daylight savings.

What I’m talking about is the odd one hour 22 minutes fast, as it is now in her Honda Pilot. When I drive her car, I almost cry every time we are late and it’s so obvious it’s because of that damn clock. My weak attempts to confront the time regime were met with stern resistance. I changed the clock once in my wife’s earlier car and was almost kicked out of the moving vehicle. To this day I find it mind bending how she could arrive at one hour 22 min difference. I think my wife lives in a different space time continuum from the rest of us. Or she may be an alien.

Part two. As I already conveyed in my earlier post,  I work for a very large company. The nature of my job is to provide support to other people, mostly internal clients, who take the results of my insights and research and further develop product and marketing strategies. What I do is less important. How I do it is most relevant. I aim for 100% on time delivery and accuracy, and I’ve never been known as a slacker or scatterbrain. Basically I’m a good old employee and my heart is generally in the right place.  More often than not, I work on projects that involve a certain degree of urgency. Not efficiently managing my clients’ expectations in the past – a cardinal corporate sin I was made aware of throughout the course of many performance reviews – I have rarely since succumbed to the temptation to let my annoying clients hang dry or figure out the stuff themselves. Basically, I’m always there for them, and with a ridiculously punctual update schedule for every step of the way.

And yet, occasionally, there is someone who ignores the laws of my universe and keeps pounding me with donkey-like questions “Are we there yet?” What I tend to do as a result, unbeknownst to that person, is commit another crime known as shirking. Popular in the 1920s, it was a technique for workers to slow down productivity so that the boss man wouldn’t end up expecting them to do even more. Basically Taylorism term for slacking off. That way I create my own timeline, which casts a shadow over the  entire analytical profession but keeps me sane. If only they let Shrek do what he does best, the world would be a better place.

Part three. My mom. Wonderful human being for the most part, aside from certain episodes in her earlier life. My mom has an awkward relationship with time. My dad, married to my mom in the past, firsthand experienced that awkwardness too. That entire relationship (with time, that is) is based on a premise that her own time exists in one parallel whereas everybody’s else’s in a different one. Here’s how.

Imagine the timeline which entitles my mom to a certain benefit. For example, timeliness of phone calls on her birthday from relatives and friends. If the day is kind of getting away from her, like just before lunch, and she has only received a handful of calls, say 20% of the total expected yield, that could be a strong reason for her to consider that day a complete waste. Her birthday mood would be turning from pale to gloomy, and certain conclusions could follow (like, they all forgot about me).

Imagine now a different scenario.  My mom is out shopping. She made plans with me or my dad or whoever else to meet at a certain time and in a certain place. This of course goes back years, before cell phones were widely available, so the arrangement of that sort would’ve been akin to a letter signed with  blood. And so it goes like that. My dad, me, whoever else whose own schedule so unfortunately depended on my mom’s, would be stranded in a strange place for a long, sometimes very long, time facing a series of ridiculous dilemmas. Stay here or look across the street? Outside the subway station or did we say inside, in the underpass? Or maybe, just maybe, I thought it was 3pm but in fact we agreed on 5pm? Or was it 6? The conditions for this suffering could vary from brutally cold to brutally hot, and were always accompanied by a burning regret for the time lost. Then, when all hope was gone, my mom would show up, walking slowly down the street towards you, still window shopping with quick glances and perhaps muttering something poetic while obviously thinking of far more interesting matters that the letter signed in blood.

I can’t express how much anger would befall on her when she’d finally meet up with her date. Where it gets interesting, and Einstein would agree with me, is the reasoning behind being late. Most of the time it was lack of clocks – an excuse so unbelievable, considering we lived in a city that was literally covered with street clocks (only pigeons were a more frequent resident). Or that there were clocks, but, alas, all of them showed the same – and inaccurate – time. Often 2 hours behind or so.

Years later, it is impossible to hold the grudge. There wasn’t much grudge in the first place, just a strong feeling of the time wasted. But again, in the end, everybody’s got their own sense of time.

Part four. I had a friend in the past. An OK guy as far as I was concerned, with hardly any long term prospects for us to hang out forever, but we shared the love for night clubs, music, drinking and relationships – exactly what guys in their late 20’s typically care about. Let’s call him Tom.

Now, Tom had a full appreciation for finer things in life, like a good company, sharp dress, thoughtful drink over a thoughtful conversation, and all of that with some hint at style. You would expect such person to be balanced in every respect or at least stylishly approach the difference in opinions, right? Wrong.

What happened every time I had pleasure of making plans with Tom was that he turned into a complete maniac in trying to stick to some kind of self-imposed schedule. I could drop by his place five minutes later than agreed, to pick him up, and even if I was a designated driver, he’d meet me with his eyes wide open and the whole mood one step away from complete hysteria. “We are late!”, he’d proclaim in disgust and after thirty seconds of a rapid fight with laces, jacket, wallet, sunglasses and other essential carry-ons he’d rush out the door. First, this was innocent enough that I didn’t care. Later on I asked him, what is it that we are late for, dude? Did you make plans with other people? Is there a deadline to get into a club? Is the world coming to an end? What is it, damn it??? And he’d just say, “No, none of that. It’s just that we’ll be late to have fun”. To this day I find it ironic how it was worded. I guess he never really left work, even when he was off work. But … you know… it’s all good, as long as it’s on time.

Part five. Me.

My relationship with time is nothing remarkable, really. Being in the mid-forties with 2 kids, full-time job, a house and a mortgage, time is often a concept so rare to me and my wife, that we hardly even realize it exists.

But despite that I find sometimes a little bit of it to reflect on my contribution to the relativity of time. I remember when I was much younger, my parents could say something like, “Oh, it was like yesterday and it’s been 20 years … Doesn’t time just fly?” I often listened to them in absolute bewilderment – what are you talking about? This year has been forever!!! Remember such and such did this and that … well, that was a long time ago, in April!

Or they could something like, “Oh, you are so young, you have your whole life ahead of you”. And me again, annoyed with that statement – don’t patronize me! I am not that young, look at such and such, he’s old, he just turned 30.

Well, I’m sure all that sounds familiar to both sides of the Turgenev’s divide. And yet, not a day goes by that I’m not thinking along the same lines. A little less dumb and pretentious thoughts, with more wisdom that life has finally hammered into me, but generally within the same theme. 50 sounds much older, I’m thinking. I am not that young but younger than a 50-year old. What is it like when you are 50? And it’s not that I don’t respect the elders, I really do, but I think our civilization made it a norm that being young is preferred over being old – with all opportunities still ahead of you and the physiology to match.

I guess, in a way, we just never stop hoping for a miracle.

Blood

My wife, my two kids and I were at the science museum the other day. One of the rooms educated visitors about heart, blood and arteries. Like with many science museums, there were plenty of interactive devices that demonstrated to kids (and generally less educated folks) the obvious facts about us and the world around us. And so one of the devices had a metal plate with two footprints on it, a stand at the end of the plate with a jar, a huge green button and a sign instructing to step on the footprints and press the button to learn how much blood you have. I stepped on the plate, pressed the button and was happy to learn that I have 10 cups of blood. Then my wife, who is a good 40 pounds lighter than me, stepped on the plate and stated with a giggle that she has more blood than me- 11 cups. When she asked me why she has more blood than me, my comeback was swift: “That’s because you keep drinking the blood out of me, woman”.

Mascots

Mall mascots freak me out. I was in the mall the other day and a red mug was handing out flyers. A huge red mug equipped with a handle, saucer and a set of two eyes each the size of a serving plate, with saucer like black dots representing pupils. The mug was chatting with some girl who found the conversation amusing. She laughed and kept touching the mug’s arm. The mug sort of reacted with a hardly visible movement. It probably amounted to a significant effort inside the suit  but it was so stiff that, on the outside, the movement translated into what could be described as a shrug. The girl finished her flirting business and retreated while the mug sort of moved a few degrees. The new position placed him directly across from me, 20 or so feet away, and with the serving plates looking straight at me. No doubt, he was looking at me, the mug was looking, not the person inside it. After a few seconds passed, he didn’t look away but continued staring. Considering his constrained movements, it was obvious he was doing something else all that time- like scratching his balls (did I mentioned the suit even looked warm) or taking a more comfortable position inside the suit, so he could double his flyer distribution productivity while doing it in relative comfort. That’s what my brain saw. My eyes on the other hand registered two fist size felt pupils peering through me with the stubborn ability to win the blinking contest. A minute later a few more degrees to the right released me of my arrest.

That day I learned two valuable things: do not make eye contact with mall mascots and add the mall mascot to my “the last profession on earth” list.

Ah… to be 15 again

My wife and I used to go to a Greek restaurant that we loved. The place had good food, a decent crowd and a vibrant atmosphere. There was a feeling at that place that you have finally arrived at your destination. The lights are bright, the host and hostess are all smiles, people chat away and the food is plenty. The walls were decorated with Greek style fake balconies and shutters, the ceiling painted blue and the TVs streamed breathtaking bird eye views of the Greek islands. There was a feeling of certain unity at that place, family like feeling. There’s no need to go back to the blizzard or 100 degree heat. Basically, you’re home. Except you don’t speak Greek.
Well, we didn’t (speak Greek) but from the many signs I could tell that some families were in fact privy to the wisdoms of the ancient language. Large families, with kids, grandmothers, neighbors, all talking at the same time and gesturing … and constantly on the move, as if they absolutely had to move, now that they were forced into their seats. The food was a common Greek fair like lentil soup, souvlaki, gyros, lamb chops, spanakopita. The couple – host and hostess – immigrated from Greece years ago, settled down in the Midwestern suburb, opened this restaurant and were doing well to the extent that the place had once won some kind of local dining award. They were swift too, making round eyes, roaring with laughter, constantly chatting with guests while miraculously balancing with trays of food between the tables.
The core entertainment was basic – two very Greek looking fellas, one short and round, with a very kind, moustached, plump face, the kind of guy that when you meet his gaze, you just can’t help but smile back; and the tall, thin, sort of ill-looking fella, glasses, not very friendly, at least initially. The moustache guy played a keyboard and a drum machine to help him with the Greek beat. The thin guy played a guitar that resembled a ukulele. The odd couple were most likely family friends, or relatives, of the owners, the kind of folks that live in the community for decades and everybody knos who they are. So this odd couple rocked the place with all kinds of tunes from the old country, and the moustached guy even chimed in with a very pleasant falsetto, thus creating a musical concoction that was noninvasive and ever present at the same time.
But the true highlight of the entertainment pack, the reason people paid top dollar for their gyros and souvlakis, was a belly dancer named Anastasia, also Greek looking beauty with a sole purpose of demonstrating her squiggling middle section to the rhythms of the odd couple. She only performed at prime time on Fridays and Saturdays and attracted a bit of a crowd, although it could be that people would go out at that time anyway, with or without Anastasia’s majestic naval on display. We always managed to get a table though and since we mostly went out on Fridays, we saw her perform a few times.
Now, I don’t know much about belly dancing but I do know that it originated in the Mediterranean or Middle East and since Greece is right around the corner from both of those, it’s natural to expect that the Greeks would adopt such a lovely tradition as their own. Unlike the Eastern neighbors though, whose belly dancers would likely envelop their gorgeous faces with a traditional veil, right below the eyes, Anastasia didn’t feel the need to hide her strong features and pearly teeth, and added a good deal of warmth by sending her inviting smiles all over the place, while of course performing the squiggly dance. She also wore finger cymbals, called zills, that she clasped rhythmically with every move and beat, only to add to the rhythm of the moustached guy’s drum machine.
To top it off, she wore a rather open dress that revealed her cleavage. She had no intentions of hiding her forms, that was no mistake, as she wanted this to be part of the overall experience. The whole thing was far from vulgar though – just the right amount of openness and intrigue.
As I said before, we had seen her in action a few times and I took notice of Anastasia’s openly provocative forms and her dance. My wife also enjoyed watching her artistic movements but was probably far more indifferent to her cleavage than me. After a few times, many unique aspects of Anastasia’s presence and behavior faded away and we started accepting her as something that’s always there… like tzatziki on my gyro.
So back to family gatherings. One regular Friday, the place was especially packed. All kinds of people, mostly large families, with all generations present at the table …. Kind of fun to watch and observe. One table, closest to us, was in fact a combination of a few tables, to accommodate a huge (perhaps Greek?) family. Two teenage boys, I’d say 13-15 years old, sat in the front closest to where the odd couple was warming up and Anastasia was expected to appear. They sat with their backs to the stage during the meal but as soon as the Moustache started off, they turned around and, facing the musicians, continued looking down at what appeared to be some kind of device. I couldn’t tell for sure but it could be a portable video game or smartphone. In any case, they both were completely immersed in whatever it was they were doing – game, Facebook or some other kind of chat or virtual social interaction. Very soon, Anastasia stepped out from the shadows and onto the stage, glamorous, glittery, very hot. She looked fantastic, even for a seasoned belly dance connoisseur like myself, and I noticed that she took extra care in preparing for the show – make-up, dress, her whole demeanor. So the music kicked off and she started dancing, clasping, swirling, with the ever increasing graciousness, to the upbeat rhythm which itself seemed to accelerate, lifting everyone’s spirits higher and higher. I found myself forgetting about my lamb shank and started tapping my foot under the table, admiring Anastasia’s curvy forms and graceful dance. The whole room seemed to go along with that liveliness, people chatter growing more excited, eyes brighter and more smiles than you’d ever see. And amidst all this excitement, liveliness, love of life, music and dance, amidst this sexy celebration of life and sacred female, I glanced at the two teenage boys in the front row and almost choked on my lamb shank. Despite all this excitement and emotional overload in the room, those two poor schmucks kept on tapping or clicking on their devices, oblivious to the world around them, still immersed in their second life.
I think Anastasia knew all along that something was off there. I mean, after all, she gathered crowds of hungry eyes weekend after weekend, with men consuming her bodacious forms and women so envious of them. She – the culmination of a long working week, the centerfold of this establishment’s entertainment, the main act – couldn’t possibly understand how  these two adolescents could miss her gorgeous presence.

After a short break, she came back, looking even hotter and sexier than in the  first act. She added some make-up, her cheeks were blooming (perhaps she had  a shot of ouzo backstage for an extra drive), skirt shorter and cleavage noticeably lower. I’m looking and thinking, oh my dear god, she’s an absolute Greek goddess. So the music kicked off, and the duo played as if that was their last concert ever. And she started swirling, and cymballing, and bending, and almost moaning with every move. It was one step away from an erotica film. The patrons visibly quieted down sensing something different this time. Anastasia went offense. In a gracious dance, she approached the youngsters, cheeks flaring, her mouth half opened and almost uttering “Hey, look at me, I’m yours”. And guess what? Those teenagers just kept on tapping on their devices like none of that was happening around them. What has this world come to?

There are valuable lessons to learn here. Perhaps the society these days puts an enormous pressure on young individuals to adhere to new social norms. Their parents lived in a different world, perhaps growing up in the 1980s or in Greece which was in any case more open to sexuality. These two boys are told these days that even looking suggestively at a girl could get them landed in the principals office or worse, like getting their parents sued

It is also possible that those two particular youngsters were gay but that’s highly unlikely. Even gay people admire female beauty and fine dance.

And then there is the most plausible explanation of all. Those boys were absolutely in love with their smartphones, Facebook chat rooms, Twinter feeds or whatever else digital they preferred to Anastasia. To the point that it replaced real world for them. My wife joked that day, “Those two are probably texting each other, check out the boobs on that one lol”. And that, my friends, is just plain sad.

The longest 4 years

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s and life was somewhat uneventful, 4 years meant very little. Don’t get me wrong – 4 years still feels like a long time, it actually feels like forever when you’re younger, but still not too rich with major changes. At least it wasn’t for me. It was consistent, if anything.

I picked a 4-year mark because of the Olympics schedule. There is a certain beat to life on even years. Every 4 years – Summer Olympics, alternating 4 years – Winter Olympics. Same goes for World Cup and EuroCup. But it always  alternates with 2’s or 4’s. Essentially, the even years are milestone years.

The Rio 2016 Games just finished a couple of weeks ago. Great event … that I had a very limited opportunity to watch … but as with any international sporting events, good variety and certain class and quality of performance. As the Games were happening, I reflected on the 2012 Olympics in London and looked back at the 4 years that had passed.

So what happened in the last 4 years? A lifetime happened. More than anyone can wish for. And it was in such stark contrast with the previous 4 years or prior, that it makes me wonder – what’s in store for me by 2020?

While London 2012 Games were happening, my wife was 3 months pregnant with our son. We lived in Ohio, in a rental townhome, I was finishing up the business school (writing thesis at the time), had a fairly full head of dark hair (no grays, with only a slight loss at the very top), and was genuinely worried about the most stupid things. My wife just turned 30, was still a bit shallow and was equally ignorant of the upcoming change in her life.

Shortly after, i.e in a 6-month time, our son arrived. A little bundle of joy that first didn’t cry or make too much noise at all, slept most of the time and was a real angel. Mommy and daddy were tired but moderately, and still retained the ability to worry about some stupid things (although the list had gotten shorter). Well, that relative tranquility didn’t last long, and there started the crying, and night feedings, and ear infection and so on and so forth. As hard as it sounds though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Soon after, I managed to graduate from business school (try writing a thesis when your wife is pregnant and then the kid actually arrives!). I was awarded a Master’s degree with Honors for all my hard work.

Just months before The London Olympics, I changed jobs after 4 years of doing exactly the same thing – same department, pretty much same boss, same general responsibilities. Same pay, too. Right around the time that our son arrived, and perhaps related to his arrival (considering my tired, zombified state, I wasn’t performing at my best), I was asked to start looking for something else, a sort of a soft layoff. I landed a new position with the same company very quickly and continued on.

Around that time, I realized that I can’t see the fine print on food and medication packages. And I had difficulty concentrating on the computer screen. So I went to see an optometrist who quickly quoted a bunch of meaningless numbers that really meant that I had lost some of my original, hawk-like eye sight. Damn, I thought, now that’s a huge change.

About a year later, we decided to leave Ohio behind. Many reasons for that … perhaps one of the main reasons being that being true to the Olympics 2’s and 4’s beat, we joyfully watched both Beijing and Vancouver Olympics while living in an Ohio rental (although a different one) and it looked like it was turning into a lifetime of uneventful stupor, with each day looking exactly like the one before. Even with the bundle of joy on our hands, the Midwestern slow motion kept me tranquilized, so we decided that it was enough.

I quickly (again) landed a new job with the same company in the Philadelphia area and my wife found a new job (also very quickly) with a different company in South Philly. We moved and first decided to rent, so we could look around, get used to things… and decide on the next thing. Well, the next thing was, we started looking for  a house and got pregnant. And very quickly again. By the time we signed on the house, my wife was 5 months into it. I expediently repaired and painted what I could and as soon as I was done, another bundle of joy arrived. By that time, I pretty much slept in my glasses and lost 2/3 of my crown hair. The rest of it now looks like someone mixed salt and pepper.

With the baby here and money safely invested in real estate, I thought, well, that’s enough being in the same company, bought the house, now have 2 kids, pretty much anchored myself to the area, so why not try looking for some new adventure, that is, a job.

I didn’t end up with a new job – my ex-manager left the company for medical reasons and I moved into his role. So I had essentially a new boss too… who changed to another boss within 2 months.

As I look back now, it was by far the most staggering 4 years of my life. Here’s a tally:

  • went from simply married to a father of two
  • went from rent to single home ownership
  • went from full sight to God knows what number up or down… but not 20/20, as it was oh not so long ago
  • went from full head of hair to a shiny patch – constant object of my wife’s mockery
  • went from Midwest to East Coast
  • changed a 4-year job to three other jobs

So what’s next?