Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snow Hurts Mala in Rockefeller Center

UPDATE: Post-French madness, I moved to New York City to start grad school. I've been schooled in many ways thus far.

Until December 19, 2008, I have never been ice-skating...and for good reason. I knew I would inevitably hurt myself the minute my skate hit the ice. When one of my best friends, Pat, came into town for the day, and made clear his only two goals for the duration of his stay were good food and ice-skating, my brain entered fart mode and agreed to both.

After a random night of Thai food in a makeshift fish bowl restaurant (best Pad Thai and dumplings of my life, by the way) and a “finer” selection of bars in the East Village, Pat, my friend Elmas, and I dressed ourselves in our winters best, stormed the streets of New York, and watched as our faces collectively fell. The snow had quickened from a romantic dusting to an actual snowstorm. Rather than turn around out of safety for ourselves, we did what any self-respecting, educated adult would do: we started a snowball fight.

12 successful hits later, and we were soaked enough to walk to the subway and for once feel grateful of the 20 degree increase in temperature inside the station. When we finally managed to bend around screaming tourists and their whiny kids to find the rink, my internal “You’re being an idiot Geiger” hit near maximum, but I shut it off with a lot of denial and few pictures in front of a pretty statue.

I was wrong about one thing – I didn’t hurt myself as soon as I hit the ice, I waited a full 20 minutes before doing that. Admittedly, a few people confirmed that I actually did a good job skating having never gone before. Granted, many 5-year-old children were more skilled than me, but I did manage to get around the rink at least one time without help of a rail or a rail-like body (actually, no bodies at all).

Perhaps it was the unnecessary quantities of snow on the rink, perhaps overconfidence in my abilities, or the desire to impress no one in particular, but in the midst of one of my ice-skating champion moves, I came crashing down on my left leg as it bent outward in agony. For anyone who knows me, I tolerate pain well, but as I hit the ground, a small trickle of panic crept into my brain – I thought I had broken my ankle.

Thankfully, I was able to hoist myself back up on the rail, and started screaming for bloody mercy at Pat as he casually danced around the rink. He helped me over to Elmas, who slapped some sense back into my head, and got my shoes for me. One day later, and I was sure nothing had broken, but was also sure that my dreams of exercising holiday fat off had come to a crashing (har har) halt. After icing my ankle for nearly two days straight, I strapped the nearly frostbitten, sprained POS in and with a little help, hailed a cab to the bus stop for another invigorating $40 ride down to Richmond to see my parents for the week.

There are only two things I consistently do while in Virginia: break at least one piece of exercise equipment and visit every doctor possible. So in suit, after jamming a weight machine, I called for a same-day appointment on Monday to have some X-rays taken. The obviously intoxicated/irresponsibly mentally retarded receptionist picked up the phone and asked if I would be able to come in at 11:40 AM. I looked up at the clock, and replied, “Actually, no. It’s 12:05 PM.” This started the worst doctor’s appointment of my life.

Upon arrival, I was forced to fill out the slew of sheets the government finds prudent to waste at the start of any new appointment. I wanted X-rays of my ankle, so naturally, I filled out questions about my family history of heart failure, any masochistic tendencies, my history of asthma as a child, the last time I drank a Heineken, my favorite color, any dreams I had during high school, and if I were alive, who I would have voted for in the 1948 presidential election.

I returned the book of forms back to the receptionist. Five minutes later, she asked for “Marla Koomer” for I had “forgot” to write in my father’s social security number. I politely reminded the receptionist of my name, the fact that I had never seen that form, and that his SSN was right in front of her face, and I returned to my seat. 15 minutes later, after smoking a joint or something with similar effects, another office aide called me back to take even more family history. The conversation went something like this:

Her: “Who is your family doctor? You wrote doctor Jones, but she retired.”
Me: “Oh, well she was my doctor until last summer when I moved to New York. Now I see someone there, do you need her name?”
Her: “I think Dr. Valmy replaced Dr. Jones. Should I put him down?”
Me: “No, I see a doctor in New York now.”
Her: “Yes, I am positive Dr. Valmy took over.”
Me: “But I’ve never seen him, I see a doctor in New York.”
Her: “Oh I understand honey.”
Me: “Ok, my doctor in New York is Patricia Hsu.”
Her: ::blinks:: “I’m going to put down Dr. Valmy.”
Me: :defeat:

Back to the waiting room I went with my new friend, splitting headache. Finally, 40 cries from screaming baby later, I was ushered back to the…second waiting room. Ms. Mentally Incompetent, who I might add came complete with a moustache, nose hairs and boogers sticking out, looked at me and asked why I was here. “Um…I’m waiting to see a doctor, isn’t that what this place is for?” Well, I should have said that, what actually came out was a fourth office assistant saying, “OH! WELL, she is a doctor’s daughter, so she gets priority over everyone else.” Between grinding teeth, I coughed at the assistant in an effort to alert her to the fact that I was still sitting right there and that even doctor’s daughters have feelings too. I restrained myself enough from hobbling out the office, and instead took my “rightful” place in the main waiting room.

Apparently equal treatment of doctor’s daughters in this office meant worse treatment than the rest of the patients; nearly five patients who came after me were called back before me. Had the TV been turned to FOX News, I might have thrown spitballs at the office staff, but MSN kept me calm enough until the pearls of the orthopedic office decided I was ready to be seen. Ms. Mentally Incompetent asked me to take off my shoe, then looked at my ankle at proclaimed, “Well, it’s swollen, but not as bad as it could be!”

As suspected, any person in the office with any education whatsoever (the actual nurses and the doctors) were fully competent, and after a quick three X-rays and a consultation, I was waiting for Ms. Mentally Incompetent to bring back some sort of boot contraption to be fitted to my leg. In she strolled (after first walking into the wrong room) up to my leg, and displaying the most hideous and gaudy “boot” I have ever seen. Imagine a ski boot with horns, pumps, and a vague reference to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and you have an idea of what I was expected to wear. The fitting involved her twisting and turning my ankle in every way deemed harmful until she slid a piece of cloth over my foot, then attempted to fasten Velcro straps designed for toddlers into their rightful places. Obviously, this task was too challenging for the woman, which I used as an opportunity to explain I would not be wearing the contraption in public. A few confused, booger-filled looks from her later and I managed to escape the horrendous office in one piece. I did keep the boot; however, and promised to bring it back to New York as a demonic souvenir of my first attempt to ice skate. I can only wonder what attempt number two will bring.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mala no es mala

Many people are fascinated with word origins – how time, movement, and trade have shaped our modern lexicon. I, however, am not. Most word origin speak ranks about as highly as grass fertilizer does on my list of desirable subjects. It’s ironic then that my name has several meanings around the world: “small” in many Slavic languages, “holy garland” in Sanskrit, and best of all, “bad” in Spanish.

Somehow the last meaning evaded my parents in the naming process of their first child. Despite the fact that I was born just south of Los Angeles, one of the ‘80s Meccas of all things Spanish, “Mala,” a seemingly simple, nondescript Indian name popped up, and thus, I was forever branded “bad” for the rest of my life.

Even more astonishing is the fact that I escaped realization of this meaning until I moved to Florida my second semester of college to work at Disney World, another Mecca of all things Spanish. Little known fact, but every Disney character walking around one of the burning hells of corporate America is either a gay man trying to start his theater career, or a gentile Spanish-speaking woman who speaks no English, therefore finds convenience in fake smiles and lots of waving.

The makeup of workers at my Disney job consisted of disgruntled children stuck in adult bodies, former trailer park live-ins turned lower managers, a handful of burnt-out students on the college program (myself included, high school was hard), and a ton of Latin American immigrants. Between the most common first language of half my coworkers and the gossipy nature of the other half, the news that one of the new employees had “Bad” as a name spread like wildfire. Within three hours, I sent in a petition to change my nametag to read “Buena.” Unfortunately, Disney has an annoying policy of requiring only real names be used to address their “Cast Members.”[1]

To my great hope, this tricky little name did not prevent me from befriending the sane half of my coworkers – the Spanish half, and l left Florida with a number of Puerto Rican friends. Eight months later, and I decided to visit my closest Puerto Rican friend, Barbara, in Caguas and San Juan. I was accompanied with another guy from Florida; a week later, Barbara and I realized that neither of us really knew the guy, but he managed to sneak in like that weird kid at the party who no one knows but anyone refuses to question.

On day five of our little excursion, we took a battered SUV up to the top of a mountain for a traditional festival celebrating Three Kings Day, which apparently has something to do with the Virgin Mary and cooking an intact pig. I had scored my way into one of the most traditional and hard-to-access-as-a-tourist festivals, because the national news crew was on hand. As soon as they spotted me and my other friend, a tall, obviously out-of-place, Georgia-bred black man, they were on us.

Through a series of hand gestures and eye-narrowing, we deduced they wanted our take on this festival, to which I said, “Uh…bueno! Hablo Inglés y French.” That, apparently, was enough, so to wrap up the interview came the question I had been dreading all trip long, “What is your name?” Shit. I decided to go for the plunge, and gave them my real name, but all I got back was, “No! Your NAME! Nom! Namen!” “MALA! My name is MALA!” “NOOOO! YOUR NAME!” “MALA!”

After 15 minutes, the reporter finally got what I was saying, and left with a sinister smile on her face. Barbara’s entire family consisting of cousins, great aunts, grandparents, step-children, in-laws, and that kid that kind of dated her sister decided to stay that night in the house to continue the Three Kings day celebration. Later that night, while the entire family was gather 'round, in a national synchronized broadcast of the interview, my broken Spanish was featured beneath the blazing caption, “MALA MALA MALA MALA.” My humiliation was followed the loudest roar of laughter I have ever heard, and as it erupted, so did my brain. Or at least I wish it had; anything to get me out of that god-forsaken house.

The taunting caption followed me around for the next few days; I could barely set foot outside of the house before I was tackled down for an autograph and a request to reenact my Puerto Rican doom. Needless to say, I laid low as much as possible the rest of the trip, but for fear of syndication, I have requested a face transplant before I go back to the country. That, or a new nametag.

[1] As if a whopping $6 an hour wasn’t enough to entice you to come work for the Mouse, Disney employees are referred to as “Cast Members,” and customers are called “Guests.” I call it a headache.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

American Movie de l'Inde

As a partial attempt to get out of the often limited Western world view, and a whole-hearted attempt to get out of paying for anything for a few weeks, I decided to break up my time in France with a trip to India to visit family. For years, the West has taken the rich expanse of Indian culture and placed these elements on overpriced messenger bags, crappy Yoga workout videos, and ill-fitted T-shirts. For decades, India has preempted this stolen culture by pirating every American movie known to man.

Fortunately, I mostly hail from Bangalore, where movie-goers can see a genuine copy of these films. So my cousins strapped me into a rik[1], and we sped[2] off to one of the new state-of-the-art theaters to watch an American movie on one of the most unceremonious days of the year – Christmas.

Ever since I was kid, trips to India meant two things for my cousins – a chance to practice their English, and an excuse to do all the crap their parents would never pay for without special, special occasion. On this special occasion, my visit meant my cousins could see a mainstream English movie. Their choice? “I am Legend”, starring Will Smith and throes of no-name actors playing “dead body 1,” “dead body 2”, “creepy zombie-like woman 1,” etc. Somehow this subtle cast of characters and the movie rating of “R” never send any red flags to Indian children nor their parents, so by my side were my cousins, aging: 21, 20, 17, 15, and 14.

14-year-old cousin, Pranav, decided it would be best to have 20-year-old cousin, Swetha, buy all six tickets at once. “Just to make it faster, you know?” So we got our tickets, stood in line, and had the ticket collector take all the tickets, tear them, and then prevent the younger two from entering. Apparently new movie theaters with unpirated versions of films require actual enforcement of rating laws. After, of course, you render all tickets non-refundable. Thus began the fighting…

Pranav, in his pre-pubescent wisdom, demanded to speak to the manager, which promptly began a thorough shouting match of how mature Pranav is, and how it is the “duty” of the manager to let him see the movie since the ticket was already sold and validated. My other cousins decided it would be a good idea to use me as a pawn, “But sir, she came all the way from the United States to be with us! She came all the way to see this movie!” This did little to phase the manager, who instead used this time to ask me questions about getting a student visa to New York. “I just love the movies, madam, I want to study film!”

Eventually, to avoid 7 headaches and missing the beginning of the movie, the manager agreed to let the two youngest into a Hindi movie for free instead of letting them into “I am Legend.” (Nevermind the fact that Pranav doesn’t speak Hindi, he’ll learn eventually). That left me and the three oldest to “I am Legend.”

“I am Legend” vaguely follows the theme of “Children of Men,” and “28 Days Later.” Mankind is coming to an end, and the plot of the movie follows one man’s attempt to keep going for the sake of continuing the human race. It is also one of the goriest and violent movies I’ve seen the past 5 years. In my cousins’ excellent research, they walked into the movie theater expecting a lighthearted comedy. Ha. 1.5 hours and 702487502 screams later, we walked out of the movie; they very visibly shaken, me in desperate need of Ibuprofen.

They asked the standard questions, “What did you think?” “Do you like scary movies?”, along with “Why the hell is it so violent?” “Why did we see that movie?” “When is the sequel coming out?” 30 minutes later, the two younger cousins came out of their Hindi movie, which apparently, was absolutely amazing. When asked of “I am Legend,” the three older cousins just squealed and rolled their eyes. Merry Christmas. Ho Ho Argh.

[1] rik - a yellow tin box with a small motor and three wheels, used as a taxi

[2] by “sped,” I mean we averaged about 20 mph

Italian Churches

The last two months I was in France, I found a group of friends through another English assistant. The group consisted of us two Americans, two Spaniards, an Italian, and one Austrian. No French people of course – they were busy watching American movies, listening to Spanish music, and eating Italian food with the sole intention of never interacting with any respective nationals of those countries. (We all do that in our native countries, whatever.)

On the last full weekend I was in France, one of the Spaniards and her German roommate decided to throw a party, so those of us in town dragged our lazy asses up 343 flights of stairs to the top of a mountain for the sake of free food and the opportunity to speak in broken French to each other.

Alongside was the other American, and my Italian friend, Fiòrella (Fiò) Milano (I kid you not, that’s her real name). We got there early, despite a pit stop to question a few French people on why there was a giant pile of rubbish set afire in the middle of the street. The only others there when we arrived were a mousy Chinese guy we met the previous night, and some other guy we had never seen before.

Somehow, Chinese guy had slipped through the cracks and never managed to pick up enough English to hold a basic conversation, and to add a little fun in his life, his academic advisors shipped him off to France to study some sort biomedical engineering without acknowledging the fact that his French speaking skills are equivalent to that of a deaf-mute 5-year-old. On his quest to find a social life via this party, he got horribly lost, but through a series of hand gestures and smoke signals, found a Nigerian guy with a car who drove him to the party, who was then invited in for a bit.

Naturally, Fiò wandered over to poor Chinese guy and his new found friend, and decided to strike up a conversation about the role of Italian cathedrals in modern-day society. I might add that Fiò is gorgeous, and has the body most modern-day women (and some men) would kill to have, so the very sight of her makes most guys (including Mr. Chinese guy) faint. It is also important to note that Fiò is not blessed with the ability to go more than 1 hour without eating (and that b**ch never exercises[1]); she also wrote her Masters thesis on churches and modern-day society, and she speaks French pretty well.

So poor Mr. Chinese guy’s question of “What time is it?” was answered with a summation in French of Fiò’s thesis work interspersed with breaks to consume a bowl full of nuts for sustenance. I might have saved Chinese guy had I known sooner, but I was busy questioning every German in the room about whether they know my other German friend. Luckily, Nigerian guy escaped after I asked him a series of overly complicated questions about Africa, and only ten minutes of Fiò’s recount. But poor Chinese guy…hopefully Fiò’s speech will at least help him with his biomedical research.

[1] Fiò is a really awesome person, and absolutely hilarious. I’m just insanely jealous of her metabolic rate.


During my stint as an English teacher in France, I had thirteen classes of “eager” French primary students to occupy into delusion of actually learning something useful. By class # 12 on day two, I hit my natural reaction when faced with difficult situations – my face glazed over with an overly jaded expression, and the only words I could steadily process were “gratuit” (free), “chocolat” (chocolate), and “chocolat gratuit” (free chocolate). Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for the commentary of Charlène.[1]

Teacher 12 was nice enough, and the kids were admittingly adorable, especially Charlène. Then she opened her mouth. One might expect a jolly hello, or a welcome to France from something so cute, but Charlène’s first words were, “Ma mère a dit que les anglos sont fou!” (My mother said that English-speakers are crazy!). Since none of these words involved free chocolate, it took me a solid 5 minutes to process what she said, but when my brain finally decided to turn itself on, damn was I pissed.

Having the attention span of an average 8-year-old (roughly equivalent to a meat-head at a vegan convention), Charlène had no idea what I was talking about when I finally got a chance to confront this 8-year-old piece of work. My quest to stand up for English-speakers around the world didn’t go as valiantly as I pictured in my head, but I did manage to get a head-tilt and a sigh.

Charlène and I spent the next few weeks suspiciously eyeing each other until week 4, when I assigned the toughest of all assignments: draw a picture of your family and for each member write IN ENGLISH, a one-word relation to you. (Example: sister, brother, my guinea pig). After a little perusing, I noticed that dear Charlène wrote the following: “This is my mother, her name is Sabine. This is my father, his name is John.” The typical responses of other kids in the class consisted of something along the lines of “sester,” “bruzzer,” “muzzer”, and “mon oiseau”. Between Charlène’s genius response, and the fact that she listed her father as “John”, I finally added 2 + 2 to get 4, and asked if her father is a native English speaker.

He is, en fait, she said, along with, “Mes parents sont divorcés, il habite en Angleterre…ma mère lui déteste.” (My parents are divorced, he lives in England…my mother hates him.) If there are two reasons I understand French people hating English-speakers, it’s for our abysmal selection of crème fraîche, and bad divorces. It turns out Charlène can actually form a few sentences in English thanks to her father. From that day on, I often let her help “teach” the class the fabulous world of colors and numbers while I wandered off to find the free chocolate.

[1] Charlène’s real name has been changed to protect her 8-year-old identity, and because I can’t remember her real name.