Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ode to my peoples!!!

I love my people! Don’t we all! In fact guerdons of my patriotism date back to childhood memories of festooning my rusty terrace with green ‘jhandiyan’ and candles on ‘choda’ August. Of waking up at the crack of dawn, to watch groggy school-kids robotically recite patriotic anthems on TV as they shivered and froze outside the PM House. I even enjoyed the warm, fuzzy feeling of being serenaded by the melodious crooning of Sohail Rana and the Benjamin Sisters and yes, I was once also guilty of begging my poor father for the TDK cassette of Vital Signs. And as I lip-synched along to ‘Dil, dil, Pakistan’ my male suitors in their mismatched knickers mimicked the same song with badminton rackets, cricket bats and even hockey sticks substituting for make-believe guitars. But enough of nostalgia, these days we come across a different kind of familiarity. A situation, a trait, a habit that we see our natives indulge in forcing us to sometimes cringe, sometimes wince but mostly just smirk and look away. The people and the scenarios I am about describe are mere acquaintances and in some cases even strangers, yet each and every one of them represents a certain someone you have all once crossed paths with. We will always have in common; a bourgeois Aunty, a ‘Vilayat’ palat, a hijabi conservative and a provocative nonconformist. So without further a due, lets cut straight to the point since introductions are undoubtedly in order.

Why yes…or as Mrs. Shamim would say ‘Why Not?’

Specimen 1:
‘Darling, just call me Mrs. Shamim!’

…but don’t you dare call me Aunty or I will make keema, bootee out of you!
We have all heard that line before right? And when we eye the source of the request from her bleached blond head down to her immaculately pedicured toes we meet our very own Aunty Begums. We wonder the entire time, when they would finally embrace their forties…fifties…or even their sixties. Psychically they all fit the profile down to an exact match; give or take some. Usually mid to late forties with a surprising disdain for the word ‘Aunty’ or for reality in general. Other signs of age are carelessly masked with coats of foundation ending just at their necks while blond bleach in bouffant perms serve as desperate substitutes for desi botox. Picture Bozo the clown, Stephen King’s IT or John Wayne Gacy. Got it? Now picture them in a sari. That my friend is an image of Aunty Sh…ahem…oops sorry I mean Mrs. Shamim that we all know. One in every family, admit it! Grinning from ear too ear at every marriage hall with bright red lipstick and perfect blush-on circles. The rest of their features ornamented with flashy diamonds, emeralds and gold, forcing their heads to look no different than a Faberge egg. Their gaudy jewelry, uncannily similar to the furniture that occupies every corner of their house. Those drawing rooms where we have all once battled boredom while staring offensively at the skinned, stuffed and now luckily extinct remains of a safari fusing perfectly with the ambiance of a Lollywood Smuggler. Alas, in interior decoration jargon it probably translates to slow suicide by garish distaste. But who are we to judge right? Noveau riche or born into money but at the end of the day, isn’t it just the riche that matters? Agreed, no arguments there. Now Mrs. Shamim doesn’t just dress in her finest but also jet-sets around the world with her hubby in ‘first’ and ‘business’ only. Her conversations always prefaced with the melodious purring of ‘Daaaahling’ punctuated with dropped names of the rich and famous.
‘Daahling when I was in Convent…I remember….”
‘Daaahling….I have to confess, I find the room service at the Ritz Carlton only mediocre compared to the Mandarin Oriental.’
‘Daaahling, I sure paid a fortune for this bag but WHY NOT its Ferragamo!’

And true to her words, the exorbitantly priced yet eyesore of a purse slung smugly over her shoulders did once bear more zeros than numbers on its price tag. Apart from her make-up faux pas – which I theorize is because the more expensive an item, the more horrid and cadaverous it promises to make you– she remains revered and envied as the IT socialite begum in a circle of country club jogging, Sunday brunching and high-tea hosting acquaintances. A close friend of my mothers, I grew up watching middle-aged, female arrivistes basking in the self-assured nimbus of Mrs. Shamim while flitting around vying for her cachet. It was not rare for me to arrive home from school only to find Mrs. Shamim perched elegantly on our chaise longue – sans the bad make-up – with her enormous, Hulk Hogan-esque arms peeping – rather menacingly – through sleeveless shirts. And while her husband worked hard to put the best bread and only the most exquisite butter on the table, Mrs. Shamim spent her days out-shining her peers and swanking her wealth. Lavish trips to Europe, States and Dubai were eloquently described in great detail, often. Careful never to omit the most miniscule of particulars like the heavenly beds she slept on in the world’s finest, most decadent hotel suites. Expensive brands always etched on her neon pink pumps and commonly interrupted (mid-boasting) by the incessant ringing of her Paktel –later replaced by a nifty Startac – for long distance money requests by daughters who only boarded in Switzerland’s finest finishing schools.
‘Why not?’ she would gush when people’s eyes widened at the cost of a European education in etiquette.
‘Why not?’ she would shrug after having casually revealed the amount she dropped on an Yves Saint Laurent belt or a Hermes handbag on a recent trip to Geneva.

During dinners, she impressed everyone at the table with her knowledge of expensive cuisine from around the world.
‘I always prefer my Fillet Mignon, medium rare…’ or
‘My husband and I decided that the calamari in Rome is far better than what we had in Venice.’
At parties, she always served and sipped expensive champagne while nibbling on shrimp hors dourves crafted like Origami butterflies.

Mrs. Shamim always spoke fluent English making sure her sentences burdened in cumbersome verbs spoken once only by female protagonists in Jane Austen and Somerset Maugham novels. I have to admit, I too was once guilty of being in awe of her glamour. It was hard not to admire that matter-of-fact shrug garnished with a signature ‘Why not?’ when it came to generous and lavish spending.

The last time I saw her was a couple of years ago, on a trip back home when I had stopped by Jumma Bazaar to purchase a few ethnic knick knacks. They make for excellent gifts for American friends and co-workers and because I knew I had ‘foreign-return’ or ‘F-10’ plastered over my face, I didn’t argue with the pathans who conveniently hiked up their prices even when I attempted to feign a lack of interest. As I deliberated over the durability of a set of mirror-work cushion covers, I spotted Mrs. Shamim engaged in conversation with the pathan vendor across from me. We had not met since I left for college and I was impressed that she still looked good. Sure, she was slightly aged, but the bleach in her hair still diligently competed with the years under her belt. Delighted by the pleasant surprise, I decided to walk over and greet her. She looked almost humble for the first time with a dopatta covering her fake blond locks and very little make-up as she haggled loudly with a pathan.
‘Koi naheen, koi naheen…pachaas rupay? Ham atay rehtay hain yahan…pachis rupay kee cheese, pachaas may day rahay ho. Mujhay naheen pata kam karo…Itwaar bazaar may das kee bhi mil jatee hay yeh.’ Then she followed her routine with the oldest trick in a seasoned bargainer’s bag. The walk away of disinterest…a five-second pause followed by a dramatic 180 turn to warn that the moment was now reduced to ‘last chance, take it or leave it!’
‘Bas tees ka kar kay…baat khatam karain. Aap bhii khush, ham bhi khush. Chalain shabaash.’
Granted the guy had probably jacked up the price. Granted the item’s price fluctuated based on each customer’s attire and accent. But in the end, it was only fifty rupees which amounts to less than a buck for a gentry begum who had probably never once dared to bargain with a sales-girl selling her a plain black shoe as if doing her a favor because the D&G anagram etched conceit inside the sole.
I remember a desperate urge to walk over, place my hand on her shoulder and remark ‘But Aunty Shamim….why not?’ Instead, I walked away quietly. As irked as I was, by the time I walked out of Jumma Bazaar and ran my eyes around the dusty field, I realized that it wasn’t just her. I was surrounded by many similar versions of Aunty Shamim. Head covered, sleeveless concealed. A designer bag on their shoulders from a shopping spree abroad but tirelessly haggling over twenty rupees with a local vendor. My people! Gotta love em!

Specimen 2: ‘My good name, Abdul Qadoos Jhangya, sir’

Ok granted I don’t really know this one personally, nor intimately, but neither do any of you. We have all, however, spotted this certain fellow citizen at many International airports. In fact, this once comes in every shape, every size, every gender and every age. The one most memorable for me, was the one I spotted on a recent trip home. I had arrived at the JFK airport lugging my 1 check-in suitcase and 1 carry-on (an utter sin for all the aunties who had preyed on me for months to become their shipping mule…only to be disappointed by my ‘badtameezie’ when I declined.) JFK airport, I might add, remains to be as eclectic of a desi melting pot as Jackson Heights, what with the cabbies blasting Bhangra out front and the interminable lines of kurtas with sneakers inside. Bursting leather suitcases with a Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Calcutta, Mumbai or Chennai address scribbled untidily on swinging tags. As I fumbled with my own sinfully frugal luggage; my eyes fell on a nervous man enter through the same sliding glass doors which had once ignited awe and wonder of ‘gora’ technology but now seemed trite. His over-sized T-shirt and the blatancy of its embossed Diesel stretched proudly across a chest which had finally grown a few inches more as opposed to the scrawny torso he had probably once landed in the states with. His carry-on’s black strap stretching diagonally over his ambitious pecs and a fanny pack full of photocopies, plane tickets, itineraries and a passport (unfortunately still green instead of blue). Still, it encased the nurtured stamp of an H1 visa pasted on one of its pages and thus was to be handled as it if it were the most fragile item in his luggage. Apparently he had granted the wish of many predatory aunties with gifts to send home, because he tried aimlessly to juggle two large suitcases with optimistic reassurance that it would only pump up his biceps and forearms before landing. Jeans nearly as faded as his t-shirt but the white of his expensive sneakers spotless and fresh; probably plucked out of their box for this very occasion. At this point, I felt nothing but affectionate warmth for this hardworking Engineer? IT specialist? Who probably worked hard as an alien in a land he now referred to as home yet wondered why it felt like the loneliest of all his homes. Coincidentally, we ended up in the same line at check-in. Each time he looked back apologetically for taking up space, I replied with smiles instead. My smiles induced a reaction of surprise followed by hope. I always find that my friendliness with such FOB boys initially ignites a shocked response. Some even look over their shoulders to make sure I’m not smiling at someone else or better yet a cute, white boy. When I smile again, they display gratitude towards my civility with a reciprocal smile. But then again, their first impression of me was probably of a westernized biotch who believes to be in another league only because she can pronounce a word or two better and wear tight jeans and tops. The ‘greasy’, ‘Fobby’ and ‘smelly’ types remind such girls of what they are trying effortlessly to suppress. I in turn, stand patiently behind my Pakistani brother and watch him fumble tensely through documents and words. The indifferent and discourteous man at the counter continues to fire off questions.
‘Yes sir…No sir…Yes sir…” Mr. H1b answers in concise and obedient sentences. ‘My good name, Abdul Qadoos Jhangya sir’. At this point, his submissively polite demeanor is endearing and even admirable.
When ‘Sir’ informs him that one of his suitcases weighs over fifty pounds, he instantly apologizes and begins frantically transferring other peoples gifts and favors from suitcase to suitcase. Once again, he flashes me an apologetic look and this time, I surprise him even more by replying in perfect Urdu.
‘Koi baat naheen, aaraam say karo.’
He replies with another grateful smile and hopefully realizes that I am not the stuck-up ABCD he deduced I was. When he finally leaves the counter, he digs into his pockets to pay 3 bucks for a trolley. He even allows two older Caucasian women to jump ahead of him in line.
The next time we meet is at the airport waiting lounge. Much more relaxed than the last time I saw him, he still displays the fidgety nervousness of an alien traveling home on a green passport. When he spots me across the room, I pretend to be engrossed in my magazine to discourage any possibilities of ‘gup shup’. Sneaked glances from my magazines confirm that he is not really that bad-looking and will probably marry a girl more attractive than himself. On a similar nervous trip home in the next few years he will return with more items in the aunty gift-exchange and a wife in tow. He will then for the first time assume the role of a tour-guide from tourist. It will also reduce the loneliness of living in the States and make it more bearable.

The last time we meet is at the airport in Pakistan. As we are welcomed into our homeland with whiffs of heat and humidity, people impatiently off-load themselves with complaints about the weather, the smell and the headlines. Still, they are ecstatic to have returned home and run amok like excited school children in a candy store. He too, no longer appears nervous nor lost. Now confident with the sudden addition of a buoyant pep in his step he swaggers to baggage claim. First, he cuts in line at the passport counter.
‘Aray yaar jaldee kar na…’ he orders around.
Then he snatches a trolley and heads straight for his luggage. The man is almost unrecognizable and within minutes, I can hear him arguing loudly with two other men. One of those men appears to be airport staff.
I hear the words ‘Kya baqwaas hay…kya nizaam hay yaar…app jantay naheen may kon hoon…’ spewing out of his mouth. Then his vitriol is followed by a barrage of Punjabi swear words about mothers and daughters. The endearment I once felt for him at JFK is immediately replaced with disgust and embarrassment within minutes of landing in Pakistan. A part of me, wants to walk up to him and share a few Punjabi swear words myself. Remind him of how he stood in the ‘Attention’ position with his palms folded obediently over his crotch just a mere twenty hours ago. How he was bowing down, apologizing, and following every rule with added courtesy. Now, all of a sudden he has mutated into an obdurate rioter who could care less about laws and rules. The word ‘Sir’ now replaced with ‘BC’. My anger quickly turns into a smirk when I look around and realize its not only Abdul Qadoos who has made this extreme transformation from civil to evil. Every single person around me, who had quietly and obediently filed into our plane like sheep is now scampering in chaotic frenzy with stubborn indifference. I cant help but smirk at the women in kurtas and sneakers who could barely allow a sentence to escape their lips at JFK airport are now fanning their faces with boarding passes yelling ‘Kya ghatya nizaam hay….aap ko ladies kee line tu alag rakhnee chaiyay…’ The same men who had graciously slipped in three whole dollars for a trolley cart in New York are brawling over trolleys and with old and withered cab drivers over a 100 rupee fare. Outside herds of families await with garlands of roses and rupees (currency which would probably add up to even more than a 100). I watch Abdul Qadoos with his chest heaved forward, the Diesel on his shirt more cocky as he walks out in his brand new sneakers. The air of Amreekan-palat caressing the expressions of a proud family that wait impatiently. I will not damper his bliss, I will not rain on his parade. Go ahead Abdul Qadoos Jhangya, enjoy your moment. Because a month from now, you will be exiting a similar baggage claim at JFK airport. Your chest shrunken, your shoulders slouched. Not even a hint of surety in your walk as you politely dish out a twenty without questions or complaints. When the Jamaican cabbie is the only one to greet you with a ‘Where to bud?’
You lower your head and whimper, ‘72nd and Roosevelt…sir.’

Specimens 3:
Assama-alaimkum I am Sister Saba and
heyyyyyy what’s up guys, Sabs in the house!

So we all either know a Sister Saba or a Sabs or both. I actually fall in the latter category, because I know both. I didn’t realize about this lovely irony of their existence till their thoughts and views were once juxtaposed to me on the same day, same night. Both are wonderful people, I should add with hearts of gold and I am lucky to have them both in my lives. Both named Saba. One is quite religious and wears a hijab which is admirable to me because it shows a certain courage and confidence that I envy. The other brazen, bold and unafraid to flaunt her sexuality, which I can relate to. Some details about my life (Rosa, the Latina firecracker), I choose not to share with either because…well lets not open that Pandora’s box on the interacts section again. Sister Saba (religious one) has shared that she disagrees with some of my life choices and she makes good and valid points. Sabs, thinks I am just the coolest girl in the world and I share my gratitude for that too. Friends are supposed to be honest and I appreciate them both for it.

I met them both on separate occasions but during my graduate school years in the halls of NYU. I rarely ever hang out with either of them but I make sure to stay in touch with them through sporadic dinners, movies, etc. Most of the time, Sister Saba declines which is understandable but Sabs doesn’t which is great too! Neither of them have ever met each other even though they both share a mutual friend which would be moi.

Recently I saw them both in the loft of a friend’s baby shower. As much as I detest baby showers and being trapped in a room full of desi women, I am working on my resolution for the year of being open to new experiences. While I strolled from room to room, carefully engaging in small-talk polite enough to respect the host but concise enough for my sanity. And also to tactfully avoid being cornered into any commitments or inquisitive queries of when I planned to take the big plunge into marital bliss and motherhood.

For the most part, I was content with standing in a corner of the loft, sipping my tea and talking to Sister Saba about her life. Sister Saba used to be an active member or maybe even an officer at the NYU MSA. I once ran into her at an Iftar dinner, which I had snuck into only to pilfer a Samosa or 2 for class. These days I usually cross paths with her at stuffy alumni events or equally ad nauseum fêtes such as baby showers. Though we treaded politely around the terrain of safe topics such as movies, work, mutual friends and maybe even a grad school memory, I mostly just hid my anxiety to ditch the party and head for my bed or a bar. Sister Saba – as she is popularly referred to by all the pious bachelors of our MSA – has often struggled with being judged by her headscarf. Understandable and though I cant truly empathize, I can console. Even that night, as diverse as the women were from brainless doctor’s wives to single career gals and a range of couture from hijabs to suits to sleeveless and halter-tops, I didn’t doubt for a second that some of those women were already forming their own preconceived notions about Sister Saba when she walked into the room with a hijab. I, in my chamo green skirt and white collared shirt, made sure to make her feel welcome. Sister Saba, aware of the judgmental eyes, remarked again about how she was tired of being viewed as an uptight and boring fundo, But then, even Saba forced out a ‘gotta love my people’ smirk when my other friend Sabs sashayed by us in her barely opaque top – which I envied – and skin-tight gold-lame pants.
‘Ugh have you seen what she’s wearing, what a slut!’
Judging people by the way they are dressed Sister Saba…I inquired. Only because it sounded like dejavu from an earlier conversation.
‘That’s different’ Sister Saba rolled her eyes.

A few minutes later I found myself on the living room sipping my third cup of chai and ensconced comfortably between Sabs and her friend who looked more like a clone. As they giggled away on the fashion don’ts of the party attendees, they seemed unperturbed by the world around them. Sabs, also an acquaintance from NYU who usually only runs into me inside overpriced clubs and on overcrowded dance floors. Though she wasn’t an active member of the MSA, she was definitely a dedicated officer of the university’s PSA. She made sure to invite everyone to the PSA events and currently also runs a regular email listserv of desi parties in town. I usually don’t go but she herself makes for a great lunch buddy and always arrives with a never depleting dish of gossip and scandal. Glad I never joined any of the NYU’s PSAs or MSAs because they sound a lot like a soap opera. A desi versions of the Young and the Restless (Jawaan and the Baitaab) perhaps? What I do admire about Sabs is her party streak which we both have in common– albeit mine is of a different scene – and she sure does have an enviable wardrobe. Back in grad school, our dinner conversations after evening classes usually entailed her disgust at how some chicks had the audacity to judge her character by her clothes. Having been victimized with similar accusations myself – maybe true, maybe not – I could empathize with her. But at that party, she too brought that smirk on my face when she looked up at Sister Saba walk by and then turned towards me.
‘There goes a Ninja.’
‘Hey those hijabi types are always out to convert someone to the right path or something...’
‘She’s just at a baby shower.’
‘Look how firmly pinned that hijab is….’
‘Whatever, trust me, that ones a fundo!’

I spent the rest of the night playing a game; how many girls were probably judging each other on clothes. Maybe, I’m guilty of it sometimes too. Because honestly if I ever stopped befriending girls who did not judge other girls by their clothes (too slutty, too fundo) I probably wouldn’t have any desi female friends. But wait…that’s probably why I don’t have many in the first place.

But when its all said and done.
Nobody’s perfect…right?
You cant change people or the shystem…right?
But you can smirk and sigh ‘Gotta love my peoples…’

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Soliciting Juicy Stories!

What is your craziest sex story? Your first time? The craziest place you did it? Almost got caught? Tried out a fantasy you never wanna repeat to someone? Email me your responses! Its for a column I am writing...no names will be included...just the stories!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My New Anthem!

To all the haters out there!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not ALL feminists will disagree with my life =)

A very interesting article I came across! I like her! =)

Thoughts on Sex and Politics

By Jenna Mellor


Friday, September 17, 2010

Two tears in a bucket!!!

Many of you – even those who enjoy my work - really do not want me to write any more about my experiences as a stripper. I fully understand that it can be overkill at times but the more I thought about what to write this month, the more I was drawn to back to the old haunts and foliage of my memories at Club Candy. Call it a need for closure or an innate obstinacy, but this column my dear friends, is also going to be about Rosa as well. As for those who truly detest my writing and would rather use this time to gouge out their eyes rather than succumbing to the painful torment of my mundane/immoral/insertyouchoiceofjudgementhere columns, I would advise you to treat this like any other conversation. Leave! As for those who don’t loathe me as much, be assured that not all of my columns will be about my Latina stage persona. The fact of the matter remains that during my brief time at Candy, I learned so much about myself, about life and the world that its almost inevitable for me to not return to those lessons. So for those who may still possess an inkling of an interest, I invite you back into my life once again. Kick back, relax, make yourself at home. Grab a cup of coffee, some chai, maybe even a Heineken, a cigarette or a joint. This promises to another fun filled evening with Padash, Rosa and lots of juicy stories from Club Candy.

Why Yes!

So lets start with Rocky shall we? Club Candy’s resident Bouncer. What a warm and fuzzy fellow, why wouldn’t we start with the enormously juiced but loveable Rocky. The first time I ever laid eyes on the bouncer, I was taken aback with both intimidation and disappointment. Intimidation at such a gigantic specimen of a man and disappointment because the ravishingly bulked up physique was topped with a very ordinary – if not unremarkable – face. I mean the man’s arms were as explosive as Greg Valentino’s, height which fell somewhere between the CN and the Eiffel Tower and thighs as thunderously large as Double Debby’s voluptuous figure and that my friends is truly HUGE! Our first encounter was also as insignificant as his face. Although I have always been schooled to never judge a book by its cover, but this book’s jacket seemed nothing more than a mean gymbo who probably and conveniently squashed people like flies on the first roid rage to hit him. A man with very little to boast besides his biceps and triceps which he had wisely put to good use by working as a bouncer at a back-alley strip club in Manhattan. It was also evident that his overly muscled-physique was the product of a deliberate decision at a young age to make up for a not so attractive face. In his early thirties, he still had zits, uneven teeth and a lopsided nose but still I would like to believe that he probably had the potential of bedding several women, the kind who settled for the ‘forget the face, do the base’ mindset on a desperate night. However from that first meeting, his wry smile and his sarcastic yet courtly chuckle at my stage name ‘Rosa’ is always the first thing that comes to mind. And even from that expressionless wit, I could surmise that deep down inside - once you got past the stacks of protein shakes and creatine - probably lay a heart of gold. A soft and endearing side to a body-builder than never meets the eye at first impression. In the weeks that followed, my hunch was accurately confirmed. We all adored him deeply and he was always there for us. Even during those late nights when after ‘closing’ down the bar, the girls and I would head to the Tick Tock Diner for waffles and pancakes. Since we all adored Rocky and savored the sight of his cheeks blushing into crimson when we flirted with him, we would always invite him to join us. Of course we needed his overwhelming protection but for the most part, we enjoyed Rocky’s company. He was the innocent and childlike teddy bear being corrupted in the uncouth company of foul-mouthed strippers. So we would tease and scandalize.
‘Look Rocky that girl over there likes you…go over there get her number.” And he would turn crimson.
‘Rocky, don’t watch I’m going to take my bra off…” And he would surprisingly obey.
“Rocky…how big are you?” And he would just shake his head and lower his eyes hoping for the topic to change.
Maybe because of our crude behaviors, he would often try to decline accompanying us to the diner but Snowflake would always ask me to pout my lips. He would blush, gently look down, smirk and relent. It was a known fact by all the denizens of Club Candy that Rocky never turned Padash down. His fists perpetually balled up to ward off riff raff the entire time we walked to the diner.

Not just the girls but even some of the patrons began to tease me about his ‘puppy dog crush’. But I chose to never really believe them. It just seemed highly unlikely because for me he was nothing more than a gargantuan bouncer and to him I was probably just another girl on the books, shaking my badonkadonk for tips. Nonetheless, I always admired and complimented his chivalry and thoughtfulness. I even remember a particular Sunday afternoon he and I spent together walking around Central Park eating hot dogs and drinking bubble tea. It was a spontaneous yet pleasant day where we both found solace in each other’s company and the day ended with him asking me to be his date to his cousin’s wedding in Connecticut. I enjoyed spending time with him so I immediately agreed and for the most part we had a great time. His family was nothing like him; over-starched, new haven gentry and stepford wives who did not seem too surprised by Rocky’s lack of ambition in life yet made sure they were overtly cordial to his exotic date. I too succeeded in upholding my end of the conversation as the seer-suckers and the summer dresses boisterously bounced from topics such as Nabakov’s Lolita, Paris in the summertime, Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans and the political unrest in Pakistan (a topic always in fashion no matter which decade you have lived in.) Rocky stood taciturnly besides me the entire time but with a proud smile. On the way back, he gave me a few dozen roses and professed that he harbored special feelings for me. In the back of my mind, I had both expected and dreaded this revelation while always hoping that the speculations were as substantiated as meandering musings of a group of bored pole dancers. But then again no one is more perceptive than a bunch of strippers and why wouldn’t they be, they build a career around the skill of learning exactly how men think, act and feel at any given point. Alas, rejection is never easy no matter which end you’re on. So even though I tried to be as careful and polite but we all know that no matter how genteel the words, a rejection can never be gift-wrapped as anything else but a rejection. To make matters worse, when I returned to work, the Club was already abuzz with news of how Rocky had asked me out and I had declined. What made it worse was when I discovered that I was apparently the first girl from the club that he had ever asked out. Gossip obviously breeds more gossip and when scandalous tits were reciprocated with even juicier tats, Rocky was slapped further across the face with the ‘didn’t-you-know’ news that DJ Stan-O and I had slept together in the DJ booth one night after closing. I am sure Rocky felt like a fool for being oblivious to that detail and had he known, he would never have confessed his feelings for me but regardless of the fact, the relationship between Rocky and I succeeded in staying cordial but failed to remain the way it once was. Even then, Rocky’s compassion never died. All those countless times of rushing late to work when I would be trying to scrounge for a cell phone signal underground to inform Stan-O that I was running late, I would rush into the club only to be greeted by a now-aloof Rocky who would politely disclose with a strained smile that he already persuaded Stan-O to switch the line-up order and I didn’t have to go on till the end. I would want to hug and thank him now he remained distant and guarded till my very last day at Candy. I don’t blame him and I say this with the utmost sincerity that whoever ends up with Rocky, is one lucky girl! He is a good man.

Ok, so now for the burning question. What really went down in the DJ booth that night. No it wasn’t meaningless hearsay and yes, DJ Stan-O and I did sleep together. Also as previously mentioned in one of my tips in ‘Shake what yo Ama gave you’ sleeping with you boss is always a terrible and awful idea. Even if it is your only chance to get it on in a DJ booth with someone as deliciously sexy as Stan-O. Now it didn’t happen during the first time I worked at Candy. However, when I returned to the club two years later as a fresh college graduate in the Big Apple, Stan-O was surprisingly more generous and obvious with his flirting. He seemed pleased, almost ecstatic to see me return and immediately offered me back the job while I searched for other, more appropriate jobs. The sexual tension between us was becoming hot and heavier. Now of course we were both missing the fantasy element of the flirtation, since he would practically see me naked at work every night and I had seen him naked many a times…well… in my dreams; we still had to improvise and be creative to sustain the chemistry. Long story short, after I stayed back to help him close the club one night, we ended up naked in his DJ booth. We made love to the spinning record of a Lords of Acid Vinyl. Very trashy I must say even for a woman like myself, because personally I would have preferred something more mellow or more romantic like…lets just say…some Michael Bolton or Sade perhaps but I must admit it was an experience. Unfortunately once it was over, the post-sex cigarette we shared was far more uncomfortable than the lewd lyrics we had just banged to a few minutes ago. Though our cigarette eventually managed to fizzle away…the awkwardness between us didn’t. He coldly resumed the role of boss with an added title of jerk and I was left to wonder of all the other similar girls in his life and all the other notches under his belt or his DJ booth. The irony of it all…I would now always ask him to play our song from that night ‘I Sit on Acid’ every time I walked on stage to do my routine. Youtube the song and you’ll know that DJ Stan-O was a pure, unadulterated freak! Dag I loved him!

Oh and as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t and never will be the only Pakistani stripper in any city of the world. Once when Ebonii and I were bonding over cigarettes, I made a comment along the lines of how strange it was to be a Pakistani girl doing this. She took one hard look at me and replied ‘Don’t flatter yourself honey, you aint the only girl!’ I agreed that I probably wasn’t the only desi stripper in this city but I was shocked to hear that another Pakistani used to work not just in the same city but at the same club too. Eboni later showed me pictures of an attractive girl with olive skin and bleached hair (the most unflattering of her physical traits). I asked if she was a student like myself but Eboni told me that as far as she knew the girl had immigrated to the US when she was 11. She lived in Jackson Heights with her family in a one bedroom apartment and Eboni seriously had her doubts about the girl having gone to anything but a community college. The story didn’t end just there. One night, I arrived to work to find a balled up silhouette curled fast asleep on the raggedy couch of our dressing room. When I inquired about her, the girls informed me that it was an old friend of Eboni’s. Trying to ignore the fetal mess in the corner, I prepped for the night. Still, I couldn’t help but watch from the mirror as Eboni came and sat down next to the girl, cradling her with a cup of herbal tea. The girl truly looked like a train wreck; a couple of her front teeth missing, cheeks sunken in and her eyes glazing droopily at the world before her. Dizzily and sluggishly, she slurred the few words that escaped her mouth but they were enough for me to discern that this chaos of a girl whom I watched covertly in my mirror was the other Pakistani stripper.

I can still vividly remember her icy stares as she sipped her tea ‘That the new Rosa? Where she from?’ She squeezed her eyes as if she could decipher the familiarity of our ethnicities.
‘Mind yo business and drink your tea. I gotta get ready for work.’ Eboni’s replies.
‘You know I used to be the Latina firecracker on a pole.’ She was still speaking to me as she chuckled sarcastically.
‘Girl, didn’t I tell you to shut up and drink the tea that just cost me 2.99.’ Eboni’s last words to her followed by ‘And when you gonna check yourself into a program like I done told you to?’

When I returned back from my set, the girl was already gone and Eboni sat smearing bright red lipstick on her lips. She appeared cold, as if to deliberately avoid the barrage of my several concerned queries.
‘Is that the one I replaced?” I remember asking.
‘Everybody replace every body up in this joint if you not careful.’
‘Drugs?’ I probed further.
‘Girl, mind yo business.’
I was struck with a strange sense of disgust and fear. I realized for the first time that I did not want to be just another Rosa. I did not want to go on and further replace her as another sob story. I feel that she was there that night to warn me, of what I could become. I quit Club Candy shortly after when I finally got my first job as an administrative assistant at an Ad Agency. I still kept in touch with most of the people from the club but eventually we all lost touch. Rocky is the only one who still works there, the rest of them have all moved on with their lives. I was particularly amazed to hear that Eboni too had quit since she had been working there the longest and had never expressed a desire to do anything else. Sometimes, I wish I could get back in touch with all of them but in a city like New York where you can run into the same strangers every day of the week, you can also loose your closest friends in the crowds and never once see them again. All I have now are memories of special moments shared between us. The giggles, the tears and the jokes about clients that still bring a smile to my face.

Oh those clients. I mean the normal ones were the drunken frat boys that would slur their ‘Rosa caliente’ or the lugubriously nostalgic Wall Street yuppies in their skinny ties. But every now and then, a client would walk in, so exceptionally odd that you questioned the myth that such characters only existed in cheesy, B-grade movies. But then again, fictional characters have always been known to take their muse from reality, right? I could go on and on about the strange clients like the female-to-male transsexual who still thinks to this day that everyone in the club was oblivious to her little post-op secret. Instead we had guessed the minute she had swaggered into the club that he was once a she, but still we pretended to make ‘him’ feel like we had no idea and ‘he’ in turn kept the tips rolling like raindrops. That one was in love with Ebonii. Also not the only person to skew the club’s hetero saturation, there was a loyal regular who would usually be found prancing around the club, lip-synching to Britney remixes. I still chuckle when I think of how Stan-O despised Britney but Snowflake insisted that it was either Britney or Aguilera. So he had to cave especially because she drove the men wild with her genie in a bottle routine. The effeminate, Britney aficionado would also spend hours raving about the fact that although he liked to drop the soap on purpose, he still loved to come here and ‘appreciate the female body’. That and he also ‘like totally loved the fabulous music, duh!.’ I always wondered if I should introduce him to the same surgeon who did the gender reassignment for the other FTM client but believe it or not, he was one of our good tippers too. But those were just the regulars. The weirder ones were the whack-jobs who never returned after just one cameo but boy did they leave their mark at the club. One particular cat, I cant ever seem to forget was a lanky, almost reclusive desi boy in his late teens. He could easily have been a fresh off the boat freshmen, wallowing in the combined gloom of homesickness, intimidation, loneliness and libidinousness now trying to cheer himself up with a guilty trip to his first titty bar. I would have mistook him for just another frat boy save for the fact that he was sitting all by himself in tight black-jeans with an unnoticeable presence for the most part. As I entered the stage to do my routine, I remembered he kept getting close to the stage almost crawling onto it. Tip after tip, he dished out like free Kleenex for a jilted woman. I didn’t think much of it till I finished and realized that my thong was stuffed with nothing but 20s. “Dag girl, what was you doing out there, stripping or robbing?” one of the girls remarked. Later, a girl informed me that he was waiting outside and wanted to talk to me. It was normal for us to sit and have a nice conversation with our admirers. It ensured their return especially if they were good tippers. We had a good conversation and I was right. He was a privileged little Indian boy raised in Oman. He showered me with awkward compliments which were endearing in a boyish and geeky sort of a way. I reciprocated with coquettish smiles but when he requested a private dance, I politely declined. I still didn’t hold that against him because such requests were normal from clients. I informed him, that we had no champagne rooms at Candy and I never did private shows either. He insisted some more, I remained adamant. Somewhere along the way his persistence morphed into begging. ‘Please, just one song…please…I promise…’ He also began to double his monetary offers. From hundreds he began suggesting thousands as if he was bidding on an original Monet at an art auction. I tried to steer him towards some of the girls, who would accept his offer by the time he got to triple digits but he insisted that he was not interested in any of the other girls, he only wanted a South Asian. When he began to make me uncomfortable, I excused myself back to the dressing room. I had barely begun describing my strange encounter with a potential stalker to the other girls when he entered the dressing room. No one is ever allowed back there and we were amazed that he managed to sneak back. I remember tears streaming down his cheeks as he kept on begging in Hindi. ‘Please…you don’t understand…you don’t understand…just do this for me’. Eboni was not having any of it. She sensed my discomfort as the other girls began to yell at him and the next minute Eboni was dragging him out and yelling for Rocky. I remember the ruckus at the club. I was overcome with both fear and pity for this poor lonely boy as I watched Rocky and Stan-O literally man-handle him out of the door. The boy kept sobbing and crying for me. I was petrified and I hated that I had caused all of this. Stan-O sent me home for the rest of the night and made sure Rocky escorted me all the way to a cab. In hindsight, I’m sure the boy had mental health issues but to this day I can’t ever seem to forget that scary and strange look in his eyes.

Not all of the incidents were as scary. Some were equally freaky but when an insensitive soul would crack a joke about them at the diner, we would discover the humor in every tragedy and cackle with irony at how crazy our lives had become. For example, there was an older client who often frequented the club. Rich but not very elegant, always attired in a suit and carried with him an overworked demeanor. I also remember he was balding with a bad comb-over and his suits were always of different shades of gray and no other color. Slightly paunchy, thick glasses on a stubby nose and an ominously awkward stutter. We would joke behind his back that he was probably some sleazy snuff pornographer or maybe even the next serial killer but to his face we treated him no less than the most handsome man in the world. He never really said much and was as invisible and unnoticeable at the club as he may have been anywhere else in his life. Always in the back sipping his strawberry daiquiri in the dark. He would walk over to the stage, stuff a few bills. Smile clumsily, blush when the girls would wink and then retreat shyly back. As he sat gawking he was probably pondering over something totally unrelated to the nudity in front. It was a night similar to that when we got done with work and as we walked out planning our trip to the Tick Tock diner for breakfast, we saw that he was still slumped in his usual spot even after the lights had been turned on. A few minutes later, the bar-back rushed over to the DJ booth to inform Stan-O that the man wasn’t asleep but in fact, dead. I will never forget how all the girls huddled around him while Stan-O and Rocky checked for his pulse. Eboni was the only one brave enough – and smart enough – to plan for what lay ahead. Stan-O wanted to get his ID but Eboni stopped him and pulled out a wedding band from his front pocket. ‘What you gonna tell em? Kids tell your momma when she gets home from Pilates, that daddy just done breathed his last at a strip club.’ She had a point. Apparently, he wasn’t the first client to have died in front of Eboni because she seemed calm and performing a routine she had once practiced earlier. I too quietly took notes in case stripping also became my long-term career. I remember we drove him to the hospital and dropped him off. Stan-O, Rocky and Eboni spoke with the people inside while the rest of us sat in the car biting our nails and fidgeting with the radio dial. From what I could tell, this was not an unfamiliar situation for the people who worked at the hospital either. Word of advice: don’t frequent strip clubs if you already have a weak heart.

The sun had already risen by the time we all sat down in a booth to grieve over a quiet breakfast. Everyone ordered their usuals and sat mournfully. Even Stan-O sat besides us and he had never joined us for breakfast before. But that night we were all acting civil to each other. The man’s death had forced us all to put our differences and our pasts aside.
‘Well….’ Double Debby finally sighed ‘There goes my twenties….’
Eboni immediately spun around to shoot an angry look at the heartless comment but surprised us with her reply ‘Biotch, you think you’re mad, he had just promised to pay my sprint pcs bill.’
We all cracked up! It was heartless, it was wrong and we knew that. But such was the profession. You weren’t ever supposed to get emotionally attached to the clients. They all arrived at the club with their own share of histories and baggage tucked somewhere away in the back-pockets of their suits. We too performed for them shedding away our own histories and baggage in the back along with our clothes and neither of the parties were to be interested in the other’s histories or baggage.
‘I knew he was gonna die at the club…he just looked like somebody who would die at a strip club or a porn movie theater.’ One of the girls chimed in.
‘I just thought, he was gonna die of weight trauma. Getting run over by a truck or getting a lap dance by Debby!’
‘Girl who you think you is…them mens come from all over the world to see me. You cant super size these shakes, legs or thighs in no KFC bucket’.

By the end we were all in hysterics. Napkins flung at each other. Stan-O and Rocky in fits of laughter watching us cat-fight at the diner!
‘Ya all girls aint never up to no good’ One of the old and withered waitresses smirked as she passed by juggling her orange juice cups.

And that really was it. These were my friends, my coworkers, my family at that particular time. We didn’t care where we came from, where we were going or where we would end up. We didn’t even care what the world thought of us. Because at moments like these when you have all just driven across the city together with a dead corpse whose lap you have all sat in at one point, you learn the most important rule in life. The infamous words once echoed by Lady Chablis to John Kelso at his arrival in Savannah, Georgia:
‘Two tears in a bucket, motherf&%k it!’

Monday, September 6, 2010

Afia from Karachi Company!!!

People often wonder – as I do so myself – of the things that shaped me into the person that I am today. Defiant, carefree, brazen maybe even controversial. Of course, events had a lot to do with it but also the people who waltzed their way in and out, leaving a mark in their own special way. Friends, lovers, foes. I was always unlucky in love but very lucky when it came to friendship. Platonic companions who taught me how to live with a balance between sanity and hedonism. Girls these days may seem a dime-a-dozen with their aped shock-the-world attitude but back when we were all supposed to be ‘sweet’, ‘haughty’ and ‘innocent’ – such girls were not only a rarity but also heavily penalized for their unabashed demeanors. Yet, I chose to befriend such girls and learn from each and every one of them. Alisha (the promiscuous and unconventional girl from the States in Pakistan for the first time). Afia (the over-ambitious girl determined and destined to leave the mediocrity of her Karachi Company home for a life of glamour and decadence). And then there was Jenny (A best friend in college who personified class and poise yet possessed the street-smart astuteness of a girl raised in the projects of Compton). I could dedicate a section to each of them in this piece but it wouldn’t be fair. And since there is just too much ground to cover, we really should tread along. Shall we?

Why Yes!

Before I had ever met my Jenny from the block and a few months after having dealt with the mysterious disappearance of my best friend Alisha; there came into my life an inspiring, go-getter called Afia from Karachi Company. We had met on the #Pakistan channel on mIRC. For those of you who don’t know what those acronyms mean, I’m revoking your FOB membership card. Also, just to make it very clear, I wasn’t really trolling the chat-rooms for women – my elevator doesn’t stop on the lesbian floor – I was simply chatting with random people on the main screen. A certain nick called Pakizah caught my eye and we immediately bonded over our shared habitual sarcasm when it came to misspelled nicks that typed ‘Madam-can-I-be-your-boyfriend’ on the main screen. Pakizah was hilarious and I was instantly drawn to a girl who was enjoying typed praises from all the men in the chat-room. Every five minutes a loser with an equally sad nick like ‘L0V3RofallFR13NDS’ would profess his undying love for Pakizah along with a pitiable rose crafted on the keyboard: @}—‘,---

Her replies: ‘LOL, ROFLMAO I need a man with money not a cyber-café loser!’

Apparently a chat-room regular, she was savoring each click and tap of her cyber popularity. As snooty as she seemed, the boys remained relentless in pursuing her.

And I had to agree, all these acne-layered boys who probably sat in their shorts and shalwars hoping to meet a Lara Croft on the internet, were not worth our time. So I chatted with Pakizah instead and pretty soon, we were typing ‘hahaha’s’ and ‘LOL’s’ as we made fun of the losers on the main screen together. So honored was she to have met a female like herself, she gave me 3 free passwords. Ok, for those of you who weren’t around during those days, internet access in Pakistan was bought from shady offices called Supernet or Cybernet that sold hours. Pakizah on other hand boasted of a list of passwords with several pre-paid hours. Later, she told me how easy it was for her. She would flirt with the boys in chat-rooms, call them a few times to let them hear a girl’s voice. Then, carefully she would craft a sob story of how she lived with conservative parents who wouldn’t allow her to talk on the phone so the only way she could communicate with them was over the net (emails/chat/ICQ). The men – now already falling in love with their first girlfriend – gave her their passwords along with sappy and mushy Blue-Mountain cards with animated hearts and corny ring-tone-ish ballads beeping in the background. The words ‘Missing You’ shimmying across her email inbox with such desperate longing only to be deleted. But the passwords she kept for herself. In a few months, the boys would realize that they had just been conned and they would eventually change their passwords. Still, the fact that Pakizah’s stash of pre-paid passwords were never depleted should be indicative of how many boys in Pakistan would kill for a ‘garrfrand’. As for Pakizah, I loved her already and we decided to stay good friends.

In the beginning, we exchanged a few customary emails, then one day we decided to talk on the phone. The minute I heard her voice, I was shocked.
‘Hello Padash, hoe are you, I am Afia from Karachi Company. Pakizah is my nick-handle on Pakistan channel’.
She sounded nothing like I had imagined. A mousy voice drenched in a strong Punjabi accent. While her cyber persona had invoked an image of a badass and sultry Angelina Jolie-esque vamp, all I could picture now was an Anjuman Cholie in a long, oiled braid. Still, even with this anti-climactic discovery she sounded interesting. Her words were almost endearing when inserted statements like ‘This is me only, love me or hate me, I damn care’ would pop up out of the blue! Later that day, I was meeting up with some school friends for bowling at Hot Shots and the next thing I know, Afia shows up like a stalker to say ‘just hello, hi’. My friends instantly began to scrutinize this local girl with judgmental eyes while wondering how I could know such a paendoo girl. Still, in an effort to be courteous, I sat down with her and engaged in polite small-talk. Afia too was well aware of the disapproving looks and sniggers being flung her way but she really did ‘damn care’ as she continued to rant and rave about herself. Instantly, I knew that Afia was no ordinary girl from around the corner. She was a woman with much bigger dreams for herself than what her Karachi Company life offered.

As the weeks rolled by, Afia and I became closer. It was almost refreshing to meet a friend outside of the private and elitist walls of UCI where everyone looked and acted the same way. Aptly referred to as Burger Central by the lafungas who hung outside our gates for hungered peeks of girls in tight tops and jeans instead of the boring white and pallid shalwar kurta uniforms. Afia would shamelessly confess that she wanted nothing more than to be a burger herself. An IT student at Quaid-e-Azam University, she would proudly wear jeans and T-shirts bought from local, knock-off stores and would then devise ways of infiltrating into the world of burgerdom herself. Whenever we talked, she wanted to know about dance parties, restaurants and the celebrities (or their kids) that I went to school with. A world alien to her, she wanted me to describe everything in detail and then she would admit her utmost desire to experience it herself one day.

So determined to transform herself into a celebutaunt, Afia would spend hours repeating dialogues in American movies while imitating accents. I remember when she wouldn’t stop saying ‘As if’ like a broken record after having memorized all of Alicia Silverstone’s quips from Clueless. Still, I encouraged her as much as possible while slowly beginning to detest this tragic culture of elitism in Pakistani society. Afia, became hope for me – or even an experiment unraveling before my eyes– of how this unjust and pre-destined system could in fact be changed. Sure, the noveau riche could one day, swivel a party invite from a contact, private schools for their children and maybe a country club membership from a bribe but would they ever be truly accepted by the so-called true elites? These born-rich, English medium, US educated, Cuaba smoking and Cognac drinking snobs that seem to clout the social scene and the decision-making in Pakistani gentry.

You see, mimicking American accents and British slang from movies and music videos, only allowed Afia the ability to mask her background on the surface. But to enter the social and elitist scene of Islamabad, she had to offer something of potential use in return: a well-connected patriarch, a glamorous name for others to drop or a simply a colossal bungalow to entertain in. Still, naïve to that fact, she would spend hours asking me to detail the self-indulgent lifestyles of spoilt, daddy’s girls of Froebells and UCI. It would invoke in her, a strange excitement, as she would imagine the possibility of being chauffeured in expensive cars to parties where youth danced, smoked, drank and conversed in flawless English. All superficial fantasies in hindsight but had I not met Afia at that age, I would never have known what others outside of our little bubbled world perceived us as. How they would stare from afar and maybe even wish to one day touch: this fate of being born in a privileged family and all the glamour that came with it.

Luckily Afia had discovered the internet at just the right time to help her achieve her dreams. In cyber-space, a person’s class and social status didn’t matter. One could envelope their fabricated personas into whatever they hoped to be. So Afia spent hours trolling the internet for connections or coat-tails to sneak her way past the velvet ropes of the upper class. At first she began talking to boys who lived in the affluent sectors of Islamabad; F-10, F-11 or F-420. These were boys who may have been privileged but were socially awkward at the same time. They existed invisibly or as social misfits in their schools. Lack of self-confidence usually brought upon by a nerdy appearance, obesity or an irksome stutter. They too were able to live out their fantasies of being studs and gods in cyber-space since one really couldn’t see what they actually looked like. A match made in heaven for social-climbing and materialistic girls like Afia. So while the world struck up conversations on mIRC with asl? (age, sex, location?) Afia usually typed in ‘What school do you go to?’ or ‘Where sector do you live in?’ She also made frequent appearances on channels such as #Froebells and #UCI to cruise for similar prey. I have to admit, I was amazed at this girl’s determination. She would ask me if I knew of a boy called blah blah at my school. I would confirm that he was a pimpled, overweight boy who never left a corner in his classroom. ‘Purfect’ she would then hiss like a business savy exec closing a lucrative deal. After all, she got rides in expensive cars, meals at expensive restaurants and gifts bought from vacations abroad. The boys in turn began to return to school with raised self-esteem. Amazing what having a ‘garrfrand’ can do to a boy’s ego at that age. For my friends and I, lunch at Pappasalis or dessert at Hot Spot was part of a commonplace routine after school. For Afia, it was a novel experience she had only heard others talk about. Slowly, I began to appreciate what I had long taken for granted.

Soon, Afia moved on to bigger and better things when she began to frolic around the city with certain species we like to call ‘Uncles’. Married men who too had discovered chat-rooms from their glass-castle offices in Blue Area. Chatting with a girl like Afia, gave them the ego massage they had long bid farewell to somewhere after their fourth kid, the last patch of hair on their head and the seventh inch added to their own waistline. Afia was young and hot and thus the perfect candidate for a casual fling or a clandestine rendezvous for these bored but wealthy men. And for Afia, they were men who didn’t have to ask their fathers for money. They were the fathers with the money. Thus began Afia’s escapades with her countless sugar-daddies.

Now sometimes she would meet a man that sounded interesting on paper but when she found a richer, wealthier man the first one had to be ditched. It was a similar experience with a boy called Akbar whom she passed on to me. Desperate for a boyfriend at that time, I embarked on a 9-month relationship with the boy. Most of you may have already read about him in my previous piece (Happy Effing VD to you too!). An opportunist by nature, each man Afia met was an open door or a free ticket out of the middle-class. Each ‘uncle’ she canoodled with sparked a new idea for a possible escape from her current life. She thought about becoming a model, she desired to be a fashion designer, a business executive, a socialite begum of a rich industrialist and once she even toyed with the idea of becoming a fashion photographer. Sure, a little confused but she was inspiring nonetheless. A girl almost the same age as I who savored each chance and chased every opportunity only to make something of herself. I could get all the same things at the snap of a finger but instead I was too lazy and uninterested. I will never forget when she excitedly disclosed to me about the married Ad exec she was having an affair with. He was fearful of his suspicious wife so she suggested an internship at his agency. That way, not only could they carry on their illicit hanky-panky in his mammoth office but she could also walk out with a fictitious yet lionized description on her resume of projects she worked on and all the ‘wonderful’ tasks she had accomplished at this agency.

While some men merely gilded her resume with make-believe internships, others took Afia out for lavish feasts at exclusive country clubs. Places she had only wondered about from the other side of the members-only bougainvillea walls, she now sashayed around alongside the city’s crème de la crème.

Besides being impressed with Afia’s drive to design her own future and destiny, I also admired in her the honesty with which she lived her life and the unapologetic way she lived it. Affairs with married men, sizing up potential dates by their take-home salaries, courting men for dinners and lunches and carrying on pretend ‘relationships’ for free internet passwords were all laurels under her belt. And so jaded had I become with the female clones that cat-walked along the walls of UCI with their droned whining and their priceless accessories, that I welcomed her into my life more and more. I secretly detested those bratty girls who knew nothing but to sneer down at ordinary, inadequacy and difference. So self-righteous they pretended to be with their noses stuck up in the air because in their world, class was synonymous with conceit. On the other hand, I found Afia’s honest confessions both refreshing and exciting. I immediately realized that these were the kind of friends I felt comfortable around and wanted to have in my life. That is why our friendship, even though we belonged to two very different worlds, continued to last.

Now of course, Afia was only able to conveniently pursue her dreams and her antics because she enjoyed a certain independence which other girls in her neighborhood didn’t. She could drive her father Suzuki FX to university or to her cyber dates. Once when we shared ice-cream at Yummy 36, she told me her story. She was the youngest of three children. The eldest of the siblings was a cherished brother whom the entire family had pinned their hopes and dreams on. He was schooled in private institutions while Afia and her sister would take a wagon to Model School. Still he was their pride and joy and so when it came time to study further, their father used all his savings to send him off to England. Sure Afia was resentful of the favoritism and envious of such blatant sexism but she hoped that her cherished brother would one day return home to whisk them off to a better life. One which came with a kothee in F-10. After he graduated, the brother informed his Karachi Company family that he had met a British Pakistani girl and was getting married. The family called and asked if they too could be a part of the wedding but he argued that it was too expensive and all he wanted were their blessings. Discouraged, they still decided to support him. The girl apparently belonged to a rich family and immediately the brother moved in with her family and began working for their father. After that, Afia’s family got a total of four abrupt aerogrammes from him and eventually he faded away from their lives. Afia’s family concluded that although they were happy for him they belonged right here in the mediocrity of Karachi Company themselves. Her parents then immediately busied themselves in saving up for their daughter’s wedding but Afia decided she was going to do what her brother had once promised. She immediately assumed the role of a son in the household. Driving her family around the city, bargaining with plumbers and electricians and negotiating with landlords. She also promised them that one day, she would bring home enough income to not only support them but shower them with comfort. So headstrong had she become that she even argued with her father about pursuing an IT degree over Home Economics. She had decided early on that it was a more lucrative career choice. All her decisions, she made for herself and then dreamt of success, which she struggled each day to make a reality.

I could go on and on about my friendship with Afia because we managed to become extremely close in those two years. How she stood by me after my failed relationship with Akbar and when I wanted to end an affair with a married politician myself, I conveniently passed him on to Afia. (‘Happy Effing VD to you too’) Afia’s men weren’t limited to just rich businessmen. She was later escorting high-powered celebrities around the capital’s party circuit; politicians, television artists even diplomats. Unfortunately, no names will be mentioned as I remain sworn to secrecy for a true friend.

Our friendship didn’t always remain hunky dory either. We had our share of arguments. Nations have warred each other on merely being different, so it was inevitable that the two of us – as different as we were – would one day squabble. A brawl in particular strained our relationship to an irreparable point. Afia had always asked me to invite her to a UCI dance party. Although I would often spend time with Afia to escape the superficiality of my classmates, our friendship was essentially of the furtive and covert kind. She took me to a different world when I wanted but then I would return to my cushioned life built on the fortune of being raised with comforts. What I was accustomed to and what Afia fantasized about. Still, towards the end of my A-levels, I decided to finally invite Afia to a friend’s party. Usually, I would be lucky to have received a invitation myself but since this was a friend’s party, I managed to get an extra one for Afia as well.

She was ecstatic and immediately borrowed an old top of mine to wear. The party was no different from any other party where we swayed to bubble gum beats and smoked our menthols to assert our roles as popular girls and high school elites. It was not till much later when Muzna, the host of the party and one of the most popular girls in school huffed over to my corner and emitted a theatrical and deliberate shudder.
‘What’s wrong darling?’ her friends fawned over her.
‘Gate crashers yaar what else’ Muzna scowled ‘So many cheapsters have snuck in.’
“Uff I cant stand stags. Why cant they just stay on their Vespas where they belong. Isn’t the guard doing his job?”
“He is but you know how they are, they still sneak in. Not just boys. Girls too. You should see this third-class, Bollywood type dancing like a whore. Bitch thinks my party’s a damn mujra.”
The girls cackled and pointed at the girl. Spiteful comments were then flung conspicuously her way as she tried her best to ignore them while dancing by herself.
‘Oh my God! What the hell is she doing?’
‘What a paendoo loser yaar!’
They howled and soon some of the boys even joined in “Dude she winked at me! Where did this weirdo come from anyway?”
I stood there with my ‘friends’. People who had made me popular by association. Girls who had allowed me the privilege of acceptance in high school. Who I would never dare upset. So as they mocked and ridiculed Afia – who really did look out of place on the floor with her filmy dance moves – I pretended I didn’t know who she was either. In truth, I hid behind the other girls petrified that Muzna would find out that I was in fact the culprit who had invited this ‘wierdo’ to her party. For the rest of the night, I avoided Afia. When a couple of friends decided to leave the party early, I immediately tagged along before Afia could spot me. It was a weird feeling of both embarrassment from my peers and guilt from Afia.

The next day as expected, I got a call from Afia. She wasn’t her usual chirpy self. Instead she began her tirade right away.
‘Stuck up bimbos. You are a snob too. What do you guys think of yourself. No one talked to me, no one danced with me…I damn care.’
I wanted to inform Afia that her perception of our world was heavily twisted. That here, people did not socialize at social gatherings. Mingling was reserved solely for familiar faces and conversations were reserved for gossip about mutual acquaintances. Everyone was to represent a surname here even if they were oblivious to that fact. Instead, I shot back. ‘What else did you expect Afia? This is how we are, this is how I am! You cant just become a part of Islamabad’s in-crowd by simply donning a designer T-shirt which must I remind you, came from me. And these boys aren’t your horny married men who will come running when you flirt with them, they have class. They have standards! They don’t date girls from Quaid-e-Azam University or Karachi Company! Did you even see the way you were dancing? You looked like a fool!’

Wont go into much detail but eventually we made peace. Our friendship however was now at an eternally different place. Irremediable. When each word, each thought, each gesture became formal, calculated and deliberate. Fear of being judged by the other during conversations, honesty and comfort now took a backseat. So we spoke only of what the other wanted to hear. Or what we thought they wanted to hear.

After my A-levels, I left for college. Afia and I stayed in touch through sporadic email exchanges. She was genuinely excited for me and wished it was her who was starting an all-expense-paid life in the West. I was glad that even though our little incident had tarnished our relationship’s innocence, it still did not discourage her from chasing her dreams. She still ‘met’ men with important names and notable job titles. A year later, when her agency offered to transfer her to their Germany office, she jumped at the opportunity. She was finally leaving a home and a life she had longed to flee from. Her emails now gushed with optimism. She loved her job, she had bought a cozy flat in Frankfurt and was even able to send home a big fat paycheck to her proud parents. I too was genuinely happy for her.

We met again last year in LA. I was going up for my 28th birthday. Afia had informed me that she too was going to be in LA for work and we instantly planned to meet up. Though we both had other plans, we decided to meet every night for 4am breakfasts in her room.

Meeting Afia was surreal. She looked nothing like I had last seen her. Dressed in a dapper Dolce & Gabana suit, she looked elegant and sure in her short, power bob. Her make-up meticulous, her Blahnik’s intimidating. She welcomed me with a big smile from the top of the lobby’s balustrade as if she was a princess and The Omni, her castle. I had arrived at her hotel after a night of clubbing, a brown paper bag in my hand full of greasy diner food.
‘You look marvelous darling! I love the transformation.’ She exclaimed as we hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks.
‘So do you?’ I reciprocated the compliment, meaning it.
‘I sure hope so. I paid a hefty sum for these.’ She grabbed her two round breasts ‘They don’t lie when they say beauty and perfection comes with a price and a plastic surgeon.’
We spent the next few hours catching up on life on her bed as we stuffed our faces with French fries soaked in Tobasco.
I couldn’t believe how much she had changed. She had become so European even in the way she dangled her clove cigarette. Not a single trace of Karachi Company in the same girl who had once fanaticized about this life. I sat before her in my tube-top and leather pants. How much we had both changed. The protected little daddy’s girl living life out of her shell, perfectly content with her modest bed and breakfast. My clothes worn more for sex appeal than the brand stitched meticulously on the back. Afia on the other hand was enjoying a stay in a five-star luxury hotel as she commented about how much she adored Europe and how unimpressed she was by America. Her parents had even managed to leave Karachi Company and were now living in a nice house thanks to their youngest daughter who had once decided to assume the role of both daughter and son. We had breakfast again a few times after that and then we even shared a limo to the airport together. She giggled lovingly at my NYU sweatshirt, ripped jeans and a backpack as I slid into the cab with her royal highness. Her three pairs of matching Burberry luggage, and her designer suit to travel in. Channel shades on her nose and a chiffon scarf wrapped around her neck as if she was on her way to high-tea at a country club instead of an international flight.
‘God you have become so American!’ she joked. ‘You always did have that hippie streak in you!’
‘God you have become so Euro’ I laughed back ‘You always had that diva streak in you.’
And so we celebrated the fact that we were both finally content in the women we had now become.

I will always admire Afia for everything she taught me. The brash and carefree lifestyle I live today is attributed to what I once learned from that ambitious girl in an orange T-shirt and knock-off jeans I met a long time ago outside a bowling alley. Afia taught me many things but most importantly, that one should always dare to dream. She is a walking example of a person who managed to leave her middle-class life to achieve what she had always set out to accomplish. Her past no longer matters because today, she rubs shoulders with the same people who may have never looked at her twice. When we are young some of us struggle some of us don’t have to. But come tomorrow, its all fair game and that certain classmate, that peculiar acquaintance and that boring cousin we thought would never amount to much may end up being the one we send our resumes to. Even in a nepotistic nation like Pakistan where mostly those born sucking on Cerelac in golden spoons are able to pay their way through a VIP ride.

I don’t know what Muzna or my friends from UCI are currently doing. I have a hunch they are all running a tired boutique bought by husbands and fathers. But I know very well what my Afia from Karachi Company is doing….or should I now say my Afia from Europe!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

You cant blindfold an entire nation...we still demand justice.

My dear friend Dr. Gols lends his Avatar to the cause of justice for Muneeb & Mughees.

Keep em coming friends. =)

Going to the Bazaar in Chains - Maheen Usmani

One of the best blogs, I have read on this issue. Makes us question and realize our "not in my backyard" mentality.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Justice for Muneeb & Mughees

Call it Blind Justice....Call it what you want....

You maye Blindfold us with your lies and trickery....but we still SEEK justice. We Demand Justice!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Odd Jobs!!!

Now, I’ve worked several absurd jobs in my lifetime, but whenever – and if I ever – mention my uncensored work history to another, they always stub and obsess over just that one section which would read something like:

Occupation: Stripper/Go-Go Dancer
Duration: One semester in college and a summer after graduation.
• Danced diligently on a pole for a diverse clientele from Wall Street businessmen, media celebrities and NYU frat boys as Rosa The Latina Firecracker.
• Mastered the “flirt” and the “upside down pole-split”....

The only section of my resume which then incites a prying check on my references: Rocky the bouncer, DJ Stan-O or even from my coworkers like Ebony the Nubian princess, Snowflake the vanilla goddess and Double Debby for those who like their dancers like their Big-Macs; a little on the pluz-size. The weird thing is that my resume – both the one I actually use as well as the one hidden in an imaginary box of shame – have many such sections of equally peculiar jobs. I mean seriously, wouldn’t you much rather hear about my experiences as an office gopher cum administrative assistant to an ad exec? Or when I was promoted to Special Assistant; just another glorified gopher with a higher salary and more travel? Face it, those jobs are just as odd and demoralizing as all my other hustling gigs. Yet, who wants to read about those, right?

Why yes!

But truth is, that before I ever paid my bills as a management prostitute to the advertising world or as a risqué bartender for private parties or even as Rosa the exotic pole dancer, I did 3 very odd jobs in just one summer of self discovery in Philadelphia which led me to shed all inhibitions once possessed. They will all be detailed in due time but lets start from where we left off.

I had a 20-dollar bed in an adequate hostel and only the first week was paid for. For the rest of the month, I needed to find at least 150 bucks a week to keep this roof over my head. That estimate would only pay for the “Makaan” in this equation as I still needed additional funds to pay for the “Roti”. I mean sure, I look damn good skinny but a sister still gots to eat a meal every now and then! So with just fifty bucks (part of it was going to pay for my weekly bus pass, the other thirty was going to be used for the week’s food) I knew I had to find a job and I had to find one fast.

In the beginning, I looked at all the obvious places. Desi restaurants, coffee shops and even thrift stores. But all those ‘get paid in cash’ jobs were already snatched up by younger kids with dyed hair and lip-rings. Since high schools were officially out for the summer, so were any chances of me finding a cash job. In the end, it was off to a job market a little less conventional than the rest where I finally found my calling. Jobs which finally paid for my roti, kapra and makaan…well actually only if I took the kapras off.

Nude Art Model:
On my first day at the hostel; I woke up early and walked around the busy streets knocking on doors. By 10am, I returned to my room disheartened with a cup of coffee from Xando’s (remember them before they became COSI?) and a Philadelphia City Paper. I decided to spend the next couple of minutes on the top bunk searching the jobs section of the free paper. An hour later, the only listing I could circle was an ad by two artists looking for a nude art model. No other specifics were shared except their contact info and a blunt disclosure in bold Sans Serif, that ‘THE JOB SHOULD IDEALLY NOT BE THE PERSON’S ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME.’ Great, so I guess I shouldn’t expect any health benefits either! Still, I scheduled an interview for the next morning. Desperation: not a very cute color on me.

In class that day, I vented my frustration out on the clay we were coincidentally instructed to channel our emotions into. After class, I sat in the computer lab relaying my tragic dilemma to Nickolas. My only friend in class, an extremely effeminate raver with bleached hair spiked always under the same orange visor, a glow-in-the-dark barbell on his tongue, oversized smiley-face jeans below an emaciated torso and a pacifier hung loosely around his neck. If you have read me for a while, you must already recognize by now that I am an eternal fag-hag, a gay-boy magnet. But then again, so is Madonna, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Fifi Haroon and Madam Noor Jehan. Add me to the list of divas too! Anyway, as we checked our emails and I complained about how my life had turned into an upside down mess, he surfed various gay chat rooms and hookup sites. A promiscuous little boy, that Nickolas – and yes, the word sounds funny coming from me doesn’t it? But Nick’s entire sex life revolved around dates arranged with anonymous strangers from the internet. A full-time student at Moore; he bragged about the time his roommate woke up and found a forty-year-old man walking around in tighty-whities in their room and immediately requested a room change. Left with a room all to himself, he now proudly boasted of an invisible revolving door, which allowed various cyber strangers into his room like clockwork. Some of those wham-bam love-affairs as frequent as three a day. Gotta, love my gay boys! Anything I’ve ever done, they have done…already…five times last week. Mama always said, if you want to feel less like a sinner, stand next to a gay club-kid. Your sins will seem like kindergarten play dates.
As Nick described his internet sexcapades to me; I poured my heart out to him too. For the first time in my life, I needed a job or a place to stay more than a man. Although my girls would agree that dealing with a man is a full-time job in itself, which requires plenty of unpaid over-time. Ever wondered why the words blow, hand or even head are followed by the word job? Exactly, expect my bill soon, Visa or Mastercard? Somewhere in that conversation, Nick suggested a website as a solution to my woes. A website he usually frequented where I could also find – apart from a quick lay - places to sublet, couches to surf or even menial jobs. It was an internet bulletin board of a sort, very similar to Craigslist but for local Philadelphian college students. Nick mostly surfed it for Mr. Rights or Mr. Right Nows and the website has since closed down. But back then, it served as my savior. Immediately I posted an ad for an angel in Philly who was willing to offer me their couch for free. The website should have just shot me back an automated response with the words ‘Fat Chance in Hell’ because it yielded zero replies. On my way back, I did stop by the job board at the local library and grabbed several numbers from ‘House Cleaner Wanted’ ads.

Oh by the way, in my times of distress, I did learn a few tricks though. I think its my duty to share some of those with anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. For the rest of the week, I bought a 12-inch sub from Subway for lunch, which came roughly around to six bucks back then. I would eat half and then save the other half for dinner. That way, I managed to spend only three bucks a meal. Genius, right? My best friend, Jenny taught me that trick. Also, who needs soft drinks when you can drink tap water. Great for weight management too. I was quickly becoming my own version of the optimistic Pollyanna Barbie. That night, as I ate my remaining 6-inch sub in the hostel courtyard, I called all the numbers I had brought from the library. I spent about four bucks on unsuccessful calls on a payphone. I thought the fact that I was young, bilingual and enrolled in a decent college set me apart from the rest of the applicants, I soon realized those were merely prerequisites for this job. What was then needed were references from past employers, my work history and some probably expected FBI clearances. Geez, you’re hiring a jamadarnee not a top secret Fed.

The next day, I woke up early for my scheduled nude art model interview. I’m not going to lie, I spent over an hour deciding what to wear. I was always told by snooty businesswomen at college internship fairs that one should always dress to impress. But how does one dress for a job which requires you to not be dressed? Surely, I could walk over to the interview in my birthday-suit but that may lead to an added accessory of handcuffs which I don’t really want, unless I ask for them of course. Wink! Now come on girls. All of us have secretly aspired to be a supermodel. Don’t try to tell me that you haven’t cat walked in your room or practiced the seductive lip pout with your reflection picturing yourself on a runway in Paris, Milan, Dubai or Karachi with the Vinnies, the Zoellas, the Bibis and the dum-dums.

I decided on an outfit that emphasized my sexiest traits. A black tank top to draw attention to a tiny waist, low neckline to not only pop good cleavage but also accentuate my come-hither shoulders. Then, to just be very Avant Garde, I threw in a tight pair of leather trousers, which left very little for the imagination. My hair, I left in the wet, sexy, just showered look and my make up more vamp-ish than sedate. With the address forced into my tight leather pocket, I decided to save money by walking. Bad idea, especially when you’re dressed in all black and leather in the dead of summer. When I finally arrived at the address on Spring Garden Street, sweat and makeup raced each other down my face. Luckily after being buzzed in to the door, I realized that beauty nor sex appeal was required of models here. As serene music played in the background, a young Caucasian couple sat and painted together on a piece of canvas. Ladies and Gentleman, in front of them was their previous nude art model: a man in his late sixties (and I’m being generous) with his entire skin folded meticulously into wrinkles, an unshaven crotch which could now only be salvaged by a weed-whacker instead of a razor and a beard which was probably grayer than good ole Santa Claus. I was clearly, over-dressed and over-sexy for this job! The artist couple told me to wait in the hall. I guess that meant that I was still in the running to be America’s Next Top Model. It was at that point when skinny Santa came over to me – still naked mind you – with a freshly popped open can of root beer.
‘So you’re going to be the new model huh?’ He asked animatedly.
If you can even call yourself that? ‘Yeah!’
“Great, it’s pretty easy.” He grinned a toothless grin ‘They’re a laidback couple and I enjoyed myself.’
I bet you did old man. Yet, still helpless from habit I sustained the small talk with the man I was going to be replacing. Interesting fellow though. A modern dance instructor at UPenn, he was also an avid exhibitionist who liked to spend his summers in nudist resorts. (Note to self: Cancel any future plans to nude resort for the next sixty or so years to blend in with the others.)

When I was finally summoned in for the interview, I realized that the couple was as dysfunctional as John & Kate plus Who Cares! The girl, a bossy little blonde with a bad bob and a stuck up nose. The so-called ‘man’ in the relationship; more of a stoned, vegan, feminist hippy. One who had probably checked both his masculinity and dignity outside the chapel door before he entered into a ‘till death do us part’ contract with this witch. Immediately they began to shoot a few generic questions my way.
Your name? Goli Mar Kee Ranee!
Past experience as a nude art model? I wasn’t alive to witness the first World War if that’s what you’re looking for.
Why are you interested? I need the effing cash cuz im sleeping in a hostel and eating a 6-inch sandwich for dinner when I don’t ever put anything less than seven inches in my mouth! Does that warrant good enough interest?

Once the questions were answered, they immediately asked me to take off all my clothes. ‘Now?’ I asked? ‘Of course’ she answered slightly irked. I swear, it took every muscle in me not to plunge at her and scratch her face out in front of her man but I let professional judgment prevail. So one by one, I began to shed each item of clothing and then stood before the couple in a work of art far more beautiful than any mixed-media Picasso-esque concoction they would ever jointly produce with their sorry palettes. The look on her man’s face was priceless and for that moment, I didn’t even care if I got the job or not. Still, they pointed at a couple of abstracts on the wall and asked me to recreate them in my own interpretation. How in the world, does one pose as random colors splashed clumsily on white pieces of paper? But since I had already left the last scrap of logic and dignity at the door, I began to instantly strike poses! Shantay, sashay, pirouette. Whirl my hair around, squeeze my eyes, pout my lips and now…bang, pose for the camera. Only problem; there was no camera. Just two smelly artists trapped in a loveless marriage probably embarrassed for me.

‘Thank you!’ the girl nodded and then resumed stroking her brush on the canvas in front ‘You’re gorgeous, absolutely stunning but that’s exactly what we don’t need, the whole universal beauty. We are not really painting magazine covers here. We’re looking for beauty a little less conventional.’
Yeah, something more along the lines of an old geriatric on his deathbed with a private so shriveled it looks like a zit between his legs. You’re just intimidated by me because you’re afraid your man would run away with me, you dumb waif. But instead of saying all that, I grabbed my clothes and headed for the door. I was already prepared for many such, degrading and unsuccessful job interviews ahead so it behooved me to tough it out and move forward.
‘I disagree.’ the man finally spoke up. About time buddy. Let her know that you got balls. Sorry, old, nudist, model man…I’m sure you had some too at one point but since we really cant see them right now, we’ll just leave you out of the whole ‘be a man’ conversation for now. You just drink your root beer and work on your will. Its all hunky dory in Viagra land, so send us a postcard every now and then.
The look on blond-bob was priceless as she allowed her husband to continue. ‘I think it will be different. We’ve been working on a very redundant perspective for a while, the inner beauty concept, it would actually be a welcome change to try and capture what the world considers the norm for beauty.’
Pretty much, everything you aint, blond bob but I’ll keep quiet, I may just get a job out of this philosophical mumbo jumbo!

A couple of minutes later, I was back in the hallway talking to the old-man; now dressed in a pair of cargo shorts and a Woodstock tee, as he pulled out his bicycle (I guess expecting a ride home is also pointless.) The husband who had miraculously received miracle growth for his balls by moi, shared his gratitude by letting me know that I would start the next morning bright and early, right after their meditation and soy breakfast.

I had found my first job but in truth it wasn’t much of a job once we discussed the particulars. I was going to be paid 25 bucks an hour. That clause in the imaginary contract brought a Cheshire grin to my face. But I was only going to work four hours a week. The Cheshire grin reduced to a half-smile. Oh and by the way, the job was only for a week. Even the faintest smile now replaced by a scowl. Still, it was a start!

The week at the job went well. I would wake up at 8 am and with a breakfast of free coffee at the hostel and then head straight to their apartment. There, I would lie down on the floor naked, reading a book or talking to the couple while they painted me. Once the hour was up, I would get dressed and head to class. The couple always painted together. They claimed to only work together and signed a combined version of their name at the end. Painting without the other would be the equivalent of infidelity in their eyes. So, she threw in some colors on the canvas and he threw in some more strokes from his brush, and together they savored their own twisted substitute for monogamy. Blond bob and I even made peace in the end. She wasn’t really that bad of a person, just a little rough around the edges and probably just needed to get laid. The completed masterpiece in the end looked nothing like me either. In fact, it looked nothing like a person. More like the puke of a pallid monster on paper. No eyes, no arms, no breasts, nothing. Just a whole bunch of black and brown blotches on a canvas that could easily be among cards held up for a homicidal criminal during a Rorschach inkblot test.

In the end though, I enjoyed the experience. I don’t really know if they ever got to sell my portrait at some chic art gallery in Manayunk and how much it went for. Hopefully more than the measly 100 they paid me. But back to reality, clearly my income from the modeling job was not going to suffice. I needed other jobs and more money. Enter Padash the Naked House Cleaner…

Naked Housecleaner:
Although, I had enjoyed the whole nude modeling stint and unleashed the exhibitionist in me, I still needed to find other jobs that week. I placed a few ads for a housecleaner on the Philly bulletin board website. Most of the responses were flaky replies of disinterest but finally came one woman’s promising request. Her housecleaner had gone home to Salvador and after bidding farewell to messy weekend guests; she wanted someone to clean up. I agreed and scheduled the house cleaning for that Saturday. I arrived at 10am sharp and she immediately began to instruct me on what needed cleaning. A large and busty black woman with untamed salt and pepper dreads. She resembled Toni Morrison a great deal and was probably also aware of the fact, evident from the proudly autographed copy of Sula resting on her bookshelf. First, we engaged in brief small talk as customary assessment of each other’s credibility. I informed her of my degree and how I was in the City of Brotherly Love to take a summer pottery class at Moore while paying for my lodging at a hostel. I never mentioned the part of growing up as Daddy’s princess in marble mansions and exclusive country clubs. She, on the other hand was an eloquent African American studies professor at Temple and an avid slam-poet in her spare time.

Once the small-talk was over, I was asked to get down to business. If you truly want to know someone, you need to clean their house. What would have left me with an image of a very articulate, educated and impressive woman had I merely met her for coffee or a drink, was replaced by the reality that she was one of the messiest pigs in North America. Not a corner in that house, comparable to the pleasantry she exuded. The bathrooms mucky, the furniture layered with many coats of gathered dust and a laundry basket erupting with a season’s worth of unwashed clothes.

Once I was done, the woman handed me some lemonade and a check for 80 bucks. Yes, a measly 80 bucks. It was my own fault really, she had mentioned that she paid her Salvadoran housecleaner just under a 100, but still I was thinking more like 99 bucks (true that aint much either) but only once I received my payment did I realize that it barely matched the amount of work I had just provided. I walked out with a fake smile and a renewed sense of respect for every Spanish woman I have carved the words Basura for on a discarded box. You literally take what you get in this land of opportunity.

After this dismal job, I had at least made enough to pay for next week’s lodging. Even some twenty bucks to take care of my weekly Septa pass to ride the buses and trains around the city. Now I needed some more dollars for next week’s meals. As I described my predicament to Nick, he made a very good point. I am almost mad I didn’t think of it before.
“Of course honey,” He clicked his tongue “What ya need to do is become a naked housecleaner. Shoot, that’s what I would do!”
Pure genius! I was already getting naked for one job and housecleaning for the other. Why not combine the two skill-sets and pioneer my very own business.

The idea of naked housecleaning is actually not as novel as I had thought. Still, I placed an ad peppered with just the right details that would catch a cluttered pervert’s eye. My age, my ethnicity, the fact that I was a student (for the whole college girl fantasy element), and my body type. Heck, I wasn’t voted the top 5 hottest girls on campus by my school’s fraternities for nothing! Immediately, the next day, I had 5 emails in my inbox from interested parties. I called each and every one of them and scheduled appointments.

Whoever had the eureka moment to realize that sex sells, knows true brilliance. Because trust me honey, it does. I bet you anything that even at the sabzi mandi, a mango shaped like a voluptuous woman will sell before and at a higher price than your regular, aam sa “Aam”. Its just the way the world works. Why not milk the concept for your own benefit. Marketers have been doing it for years, trust me I work in the field and was aware of the fact long before I sold my soul to advertising. The first day, I already had three back to back appointments. The first one was with an old, retired, widower whose house was in immaculate shape but he only needed eye-candy to tickle his pricey furniture with a duster. An hour later, I walked out with 200 in cash. I spent the rest of the few weeks, juggling a tight schedule before or after class between naked housecleaning or Indian massaging (discussed next) and was making anywhere from 200 to 300 a pop. One generous man even offered to pay 500 if I agreed to wear French-maid lingerie that he had picked out himself. Show me the money and bonjour it is!

I made a lot and the business savvy woman I was, I even offered a discount for a second cleaning, if they found me a referral. Yes, my dear friends, Padash the naked housecleaner could have quit school and started her own business because by the end of the week, the subway diet I was on was left for Jared to fend. I was eating expensive meals and back to my spendthrift, super indulgent ways. I no longer spent my evenings on my bunk bed or smoking away the stress in the hostel courtyard with new roommates each night. I was bar hopping on South Street and dancing at my favorite club in Philly, Egypt.

Sometimes, the clients would make odd requests too. Instead of being naked, they wanted me to dress a certain way and for the most part, I would try to oblige most requests. Some of the wishes I was able to fulfill besides naughty French Maid was uptight school teacher and one even wanted me to wear nothing but roller skates as I cleaned his house. I definitely got a hefty tip for that one.

Indian Masseuse:
Now, you wonder, what exactly is an Indian masseuse and how does one master the art of Indian massage therapy. Well, there is no such thing. However, though the whole, naked housecleaning idea didn’t really score much points in the innovation department, I can proudly attest to the fact that my Indian Massage idea is as novel as the first halal personal shopper. I came up with it, partly out of greed and partly due to my thirst for adventure. It was almost intoxicating to be able to fool these men by merely pretending to clean their house and being paid double the amount of what a real housecleaner would charge. Let it be known, most of my clients also had actual, proper, clothed housecleaners to come in. I was just an excuse for eye-candy.

The idea came to me as I sorted through the many emails I got requesting a naked housecleaner. It was time to post another ad so I figured, why not try something different. Something a little less exhausting than cleaning houses in Victoria Secret’s lingerie. Instead, I posted an ad on a whim with ‘Namaste’ as a salutation and the sentences which followed, peppered with broken English and deliberately inserted words like ‘Chakras’, ‘Karma’, ‘Shivasna’ and ‘Sutra’. Lo and behold, I had over ten emails the next day from men, women and couples interested in an appointment with Shanti the Indian Massuese. By the time I got back to the hostel, I already had two appointments lined up for the next day. Now I needed the costume and the accessories to appear legit. After digging through my suitcase, I pulled out the token sleeveless shalwar kurta for those agonizing variety shows organized by the international students in college, a packet of bindis, my Afghani jewelry and my Phoolan Devi CD, I like to fall asleep to when I’m stressed. Then, I ran down to the local Border’s (or was it Barnes & Noble) on Rittenhouse square and grabbed a book aptly titled Massage for Dummies. Spent the next three hours curled up on their couch learning a few techniques. By the time, the bookstore closed, I had even taken a few notes for myself. When I returned to my room, I described my plan to my roommate, a gorgeous Sudanese girl en route to Amsterdam. She too was intrigued by the idea and wondered if she ever could pull it off herself if she were ever broke and stranded in Europe.
“Do you have a Sudanese outfit? Sudanese music? Fake a strong Sudanese accent?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, yes.” She nodded each time.
“Well voila my dear” I chuckled as we both sat by our window smoking “You have mastered the art of Sudanese Massage Therapy.”
I even practiced on her that night and she agreed that I had created such an amazing ambiance, she hardly knew nor cared what I did with my hands.

The rest of my clients felt the same way. Most of them were just curious or interested locals who wanted to try something different. Something to insert into pretentious dinner and cocktail conversations to impress a date.
‘And on Saturdays, I have my Indian Massage Therapist come over for a Devdas massage. You really must try it. Its quite divine. Remind me to give you her number before you leave the party, she trained at the Devdas ashram with a guru her whole life.’
I was amazed at how many of them were just Americans who had once traveled to India – or wanted to. Just so excited to talk to someone about their nomadic experiences. I would nod along and fake a very quiet and content, almost meditative persona. Sometimes I would add a trancelike reply with philosophical pensiveness: ‘Your place of complete surrender does not have to be good nor bad, it is both because nature is both.’ To which they would contemplatively nod and ‘ah’ while returning their over-worked and exhausted minds to the stress of their current lives.

So I would show up in my kurta, glass bangles, Afghani jewelry and a bindi. My hair tied into a tight braid, I would draw the curtains and throw in my Phoolan Devi soundtrack and light a few incenses (a trip was made to a desi store in Upper Darby just to buy those nag champa agarbettes). Then I would bestow a relaxing and soothing massage experience for my goras. I did have a strict rule that I offered no happy endings for various reasons mainly to uphold the legitimacy and revere my guru from the Devdas Ashram. (Don’t worry I didn’t really name it that but something not too different.) I am lucky that I was never spotted later that evening dancing away on a speaker at club Egypt in a tube top and booty pants, smoking my cigarette and chewing my gum loudly.

So that memorable summer in Philly was spent either cleaning houses naked or giving Indian massages as my alter-ego, Shantee the Devadas Massuese. In the end, I was not only able to pay for all my weeks at the hostel but my meals, my transportation and some personal indulgences as well. I managed to save over a thousand. Save me the lecture of how much of that money was made shamelessly, I already know and don’t care. I find my current job as a prostitute to the corporate world just as demoralizing and shameless.

Everything worked out in the end, I even enjoyed myself in Paris on the way home and once I got home, it was back to the cushioned life once again. Breakfast in bed, wishes made on intercoms to armies of servants, shopping sprees, high teas at country clubs, fancy dinners or just hanging out in grandiose dance floors of high school parties. Millions of others spoilt brats lighting up their cigarettes and talking about how much they enjoyed college and were now enjoying a summer of doing nothing but lazing around.

But I was a whole a different person this time around. I knew I wanted more from my life and wanted to care very little of how it would look on honorable mantelpieces in esteemed houses. We spend our entire lives viewed through society’s eyes and for their acceptance. What school we go to? What family we marry into? When we plan on finishing our third Phd? How much salary we make? But after spending that summer working those three odd jobs in Philly. I realized that life is far too short to be lived for others. So what if you ever scrubbed a toilet in a rough time or worked at a gas station or shed every sheath of your pride at a job interview? Remember, days from now, it will merely be an interesting memory for you and only you to cherish.

So what will it be? Visa or Mastercard? ;)