Sunday, September 28, 2008

Toilet humor

Everyone who has a child knows this: you just cannot enjoy a restaurant meal again the way you used to as a couple, looking into each other's eyes, sipping wine or a martini, sharing bites and commenting on how the food is simple yet complex or just plan bad and therefore beneath you. It even worked (for us on some fortunate days) when the baby was an infant sleeping rapturously in his car seat while we made intelligent conversation.

Now, of course, all that has to be left in the past.

These days dinners are all about trying to make it through the evening without a tantrum, without spoiling everyone's outfits with a sloppy mess, and by deftly negotiating with the child over his angry demands for that one toy that he just has to have that very minute. All of this I can deal with, with elan. There is just one thing I try and make sure doesn't interfere with dinner and that is the toilet. The rule is: the boy has to make a trip there before we sit at the table to avoid any unforeseen consequences.

All had been going well, according to plan (or close) until this one night.

Picture this: We're at a lovely Italian place. Dim lights, soft music, the smell of garlicky dishes being delivered here and there fills the air. It's crowded and loud which is great since it keeps our boy amused. He happily makes squiggles and patterns with his crayons until his pasta arrives. It's steaming hot so I ask him if he wants to make a quick pit stop before he starts eating. "Yes," he says and so we go to the bathroom and are back right in time for the pasta is now just right. He begins eating. I sip happily on my Peach Bellini able to, if not stare into my love's eyes, at least chat with him looking at him sideways.

Then it happens. Hubby has to take a "quick" phone call and our son suddenly stops eating.
"What's the matter? Don't you like it?" My calamari arrives, hot, spicy and steaming. I take a bite when he answers, "My stomach hurts."
I put down my fork and ask the dreaded question, "Do you have to go potty?"
"Yes," he says eagerly and begins to slide down our booth. I sigh and look towards the door where hubby is still talking on the phone. Fine. I dutifully start to pull our boy out of our booth.

Our 'too close for comfort' neighboring booth has an older couple seated talking animatedly. They're super well dressed and sipping wine. "Sorry," I say as we scootch past. "I am going potty," my son announces to them. Luckily the woman starts to giggle and dismisses my mortified apologies. On our way to the bathroom I tell him never to do that again.

I take the boy to the toilet and settle him down. And there we are for ten minutes.
"Nothing," he says and we step out.
As soon as we reach our table, he settles down and eats a few more bites. I eat my calamari and watch for hubby to return so we can have a semblance of a civilized dinner. Minutes later, baby clutches his stomach again and says, "My stomach hurts, lets try again."
We slide out once more.
"So soon?" The chic lady asks.
"False alarm, last time," I offer.
I try to be motherly and patient and lead my son back to the ladies. He settles down again and I stand by the door, clenching my teeth, losing my appetite by the second (now I know you're shaking your head saying what a bad mother I am but hear me out. I have had to consult psychiatrists about my aversion to public bathrooms so bear with me).
"Are you angry with me?" the poor thing asks.
"Of course not darling, are you able to...?"
Another ten minutes pass and we're nowhere close to putting an end to this saga.
"Nothing, lets go," he says.
We wash hands etc etc and go back to the table. The calamari is cold. Hubby is back from his phone call looking perturbed but luckily the boy is digging into his dinner. I attack my cold calamari and warm peach bellini and wait.
It's always third time lucky.
"I want to try again," he says at last.
"Your turn," I say to hubby, and take a swig of my drink. Then I look at the waiter and ask him to pack our tortellinis to go.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Race relations

My son goes to this nursery where he's one of two Asian kids or to be more specific, one of two South Asian kids. The other's also a boy. I have never had a problem with race relations in the U.S if I exclude the one time a disgruntled car wash manager called me an Indian b!@#h because I left the car wash without getting a wash. And I only did that since he was so rude from the start. Anyhow, the car wash closed in a week.

Revenge is sweet.

But I digress. This school. I've been taking my son there for over two years now. The other mum I speak of wears a hijab. A charming woman but we aren't even friends. And I mention that for a reason--why is it then that everyone mistakes me for her and my son for hers, asking after my son naming the other boy.

Even after their kid's been in the same class as mine for months. Then they ask me inane questions such as, so you speak Urdu at home? No we don't. Its a beautiful language, but not ours. It's appalling how little people seem to know, or even notice. The headscarf should be a dead giveaway. No?

To top it all, she's all American, born and raised. Close your eyes and Tiffany or Heather might be speaking. I on the other hand am the one with the accent. I wonder if she has similar problems. Probably, this is why she avoids me. Still, I suppose it's the best we can get for living in a sterilized suburb.

Now, for all that ranting I do above perched on my high horse, here's the shoe on the other foot.

Every teenage Caucasian girl with straight hair of no matter what color, looks the same to me. It's my shame.

I once had to go like two feet close to a girl playing soccer to make sure she wasn't my son's baby sitter. I mean I had been waving to her frantically for over the course of an hour and she had ignored me. It then occurred to me that perhaps she wasn't being rude. That it probably just wasn't her. And lo and behold, it wasn't. I needed to be within kissing distance to be sure. Skinny girl, straight brown hair with blonde highlights, heavy eye make up, playing soccer. Must be her.

So I guess, its all the same folks. The confusion, the "exotic" faces that blend into one other. It all depends on what one's used to. What one has grown up seeing. Its my only excuse, and a bad one too, since I have been in this country for twelve years.

In my defense, I seldom confuse the adults. And then too, only if they have blondish, brown hair and similar names.

But hey, I am a member of an ethnic minority. That gives me the right to be indignant, doesn't it?

"Sure it does Mrs. Rafiq," they say to me in placating voices. "Sure it does."


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My tryst with the movie business: "Beyond the crap"

I was cleaning out my CD drawer and what should I find but a dusty DVD, a copy of a film I'd like to forget, but which is also kinda memorable in many ways.

It was a copy of my first film. The first film I produced. Sounds grand, doesn't it? This film, which no one shall ever get to watch unless they're under my close supervision and even then they will be allowed to watch only the opening title sequence where it says in capital letters, "Produced by Ranjini Iyer and friend".

This labor of love and irritation took about a year and a half of my life and taught me a great deal. The first lesson: don't go about producing films with nary a care as to who is directing/controlling them. Second: this is bloody hard work and Third: I LOVE doing this. Next time, just make sure the people I work for are human and, Fourth: try and get paid for it.

Oh yes, we weren't paid. Or rather we're still waiting for our share of the profits. 5%, I think. It was the cherry on top of this sundae--the two people who walked away from the picture with the most injuries were my producing partner and I and we were the only two not to get paid for our efforts in this masterpiece.

This film (I won't give its name) is so bad, so very bad that Roger Ebert would be rendered too speechless to even give it three, four, six, infinite thumbs down. His thumb would be paralyzed by its badness (I don't mean badness in that hip way which means rad). His hands would be unable to move, his eyes would be blooodshot and unfocused. His lips frozen. His mind numb.

The sad, sad irony is...the book I've written which I think is a competent, strong effort (not genius of course but dashed good) is being rejected left, right and center while this vile piece of @#$%, I mean work, has won awards. Not razzies, but true awards--best picture (har har), best screenplay (which we co-wrote and therefore even more har har).

Despite the crappiness of the end result, I still wouldn't have minded so much the whole process because really, it is most interesting being a Producer. It's like being the COO of an operation. You get to hire people, location scout (since it was a low budget affair, we didn't have a location manager), conduct casting calls, manage the budgets. All this would be wonderful if only we weren't 'Producing' with one and often both arms tied above our heads. I.e no check signing power, no say in the final decision and so on and so forth.

What we were given full power of and left completely alone to deal with were the myriad complaints. Complaints from crew members who weren't paid on time (we didn't have the power to sign checks remember), complaints from actors who were called on set (and who'd taken days off from work) but who weren't on the shooting schedule because someone goofed up, complaints from people receiving rubber checks, complaints from the people who owned various shooting locations regarding insolent behavior on the part of the big guns. Complaints get the idea.

To be honest, there were some flattering moments as well. To the average person on set, we were the top guns. Every so often I'd have some random crew person assume I was an extra and ask me not to stand in his light when I'd very coolly tell him who I was and watch as the gruffness melted into an almost feudal sensibility.

Then there were the overeager ones handing us scripts. We were the Producers right? The ones putting in the money. This is a common misconception. The Producer doesn't necessarily put in any money into a project. We're the hired underlings who're usually paid a lot of money. Executive Producer. Co-Producer and many creative Producer titles are reserved for money givers. Next time while watching a movie, especially an Indie film, see how many producers are listed. Several is the usual answer. The people who did the donkey work and got salaries and the well heeled ones who funded the film and got a title in return.

So much for the industry info. Where was I? Oh yes, the flattering moments. People, usually actors, would walk over to me and tell me about their true ambitions (to direct of course) and that they had a sizzling script that I just had to read. I'd open my mouth to tell them my husband and I were having trouble paying the mortgage (at that time, I was working with three clients on consulting jobs and working nights at an online teaching job. We were undergoing a rather troublesome financial crisis which is a story for a different post :-). But saying that would've sent them packing so all I'd do was nod. And they'd give me their ten second pitch. Now ideally, this should be what the script is about. But usually it would be an opening or very dramatic scene from the film. And of course they always know who they wanted to cast.

"So, what's your script about?" I'd say and glance at my watch as if I had places to go and they'd clear their breath and say, "Picture this. Jim Belushi..he'd be perfect for this standing at an empty corridor. And suddenly, a pack of pit-bulls run up to him and leap towards him. Cut to title sequence." "Yes," I'd say patiently, but what's the rest of the film about. "Oh right," she or he'd say and launch into some detail.

There'd then be a loud call, an irate crew person striding towards me. Some complaint, of course. "Excuse me, important producing business," I'd then say and make my escape before my cover is blown.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Do kids not climb trees and get dirty anymore

I thought this when my son and I were taking a walk. I was walking, he was on his scooter along the sidewalks of deserted, climate controlled suburbia. He attempted to climb a tree but at 3'3" wasn't able to make much progress when I thought, how sad it is that kids don't do much kids stuff anymore. Play dates, soccer games, ballet class are what kids' lives are made of. How unnatural.

I remember how games were so different when we were little. We made up stuff, TVs seldom worked and anyway in India while I was growing up we had all of one channel that was specially programmed to be especially boring.

And so thinking of all such things, I decided to be different. My son said our car was dirty so I said lets wash it. Lets get our hands dirty too. We got out a couple buckets and began scrubbing. He with a nice soft cloth, I with my scotch brite (I know you're wincing, I know). I wanted to get rid of all the hardened muck you see, efficient housewife that I am and I did. We soaped, rinsed, my son got nice and dirty. Very organic. The car was wiped clean and suddenly the result of my organic activity was apparent. I had ruined the paint on the car. The muck was all gone and so was much of the sheen on the paint. It looks like someone had angrily scraped against the side of the vehicle again and again and again.

So folks, I am all for soccer classes and organized childhood now. And yes, car washes too. Even if have to wait for an hour to get it done.

No more unplanned activities, for this mum anyway. The paint job on the car (if it cannot be buffed) will cost as much as the old car is worth. They say going organic is expensive, don't they? Why didn't I listen?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Aging happily ever after

I turned 36 today and I am happy to be growing older. No, no I am not lying...I haven't looked better (I wish I could be as slim as I was when I was 17 but I LOVE food too much so that's a pipe dream...:-).

But I am wiser, more aware, less diffident, less hot headed, more understanding of others than ever before. A lot has to do with having had my son but also growing older has been good. I no longer wish to explain my choices to people. Being able to wear my heart on my sleeve here and bearing all (to a point of course) is very freeing.

The less there is to hide, the less issues one has accepting oneself.

Best of all I got my "Sex in the City" moment or rather couple of hours today. Sweet husband of mine presents me with a pair of Manolos. Of course I am quickly stung by sticker shock but once (again quickly) it wears off, I am thinking, the shoes could fit better. It's a size too big.

We should visit Neiman Marcus where he got them and exchange them or better still look for a different pair should a nicer one present itself. There we go then and enter this shoe paradise with a sales assistant who could well be a cast member of that popular show I am now feeling like I am part of myself. Prada to my left, Manolo to my right, Stewart Wetizman glistens in front, Gucci and the latest kid on the block according to hubby's research, Christian Louboutin in the middle. I try on several pairs of the highest heels I've ever worn and feel prettier by the minute. Now, I am a DSW girl who sometimes ventures to Nordstrom but encouraged by my better half, I manage to try shoes without even so much as a glance at the price tag.

We settle on a Prada. Fabulous! And now that I feel right at home, I try on a Stewart Weitzman pair of jeweled sandals Marie Antoinette would have approved of. Hubby says get one more, early Christmas, what the heck. And I ask the comely assistant to order me the pair in my size. At $450, it seems like a bargain compared to the Prada we have just bought.

Those of you who had once sympathized with me as a "starving' writer and are now shaking their heads. Well, smarty pants, I keep my laptop and Pradas in separate closets. That should count for something.

Besides, I plan to lose a lot of sleep over this birthday gift. Does that make me a worthier person??

I wonder.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The philosophy and $$$ of being a first time novelist

My friend sent me a note when I emailed people about my blog. His observation was (and it's a sound one) to write not with a commercial bent but for oneself. This is very commendable and I am happy and also on days proud of having written a novel that is actually readable (according to 60 odd people anyway).

Now here are some realities of this business in case you wondered why I and so many of us clamor to be published. The money you say!! Truth? The advances for first time authors (average) is about $25000 if you're lucky to be taken on by a big house. That works out to an hourly rate for me of about oh let me see...$ 0.00001 or so. You may say some get hundreds of thousands of $$$. Names that end in King, Grisham and Hilton get those numbers. Lets say I knock the socks off an editor and get--hold your breath now--six figures!!! That works out to about $ 0.00005 an hour for my labor, not counting the uncertainty, tears and so on. So its not the money. The fame then! Yes, the wonderful fame (which I truly think is vastly, vastly overrated) I am sure to garner as the writer of a obscure niche book on an ordinary Indian family.

What is it then?

Not yet self-actualized as I am, I want the validation no matter how small. I don't care if its Penguin or Jack and Jill Press who publishes me. It's just a notch on the belt, trying to reach for something out there, no matter how difficult and unattainable and no matter how unreasonable the establishment might be.

And I have started a new book so I don't have all my eggs in one baskets. I have started weaving a new basket to put the eggs in :-)

In addition I am one of the lucky ones. The "real" writers work two, sometimes three jobs then go home and write. I on the other hand have a husband who supports my writing habit and has even made the gross error(?) of encouraging it.

I truly admire the ones that do get published, especially unknown, unconnected ones like yours truly, for it isn't easy.