Monday, March 31, 2014

Gan's Cereal

When I was in fifth grade, my brothers and I went to visit my grandparents, Nanny and Gan, in Manville, Texas. They had built a small house there, near my Uncle Charlie, after moving from Chalmette, Louisiana to the small town on the outskirts of Houston.

There, standing on a small bridge that spanned a shallow creek, my mom told the three of us that she and my dad were getting a divorce. We wouldn't go back to Florida, but spend most of fifth grade and all of six grade there, living with Nanny and Gan.

It was mostly a happy time. I don't ever remember being sad. I don't know what other divorces are like, but my parents' was seemingly without conflict. At least, from my vantage point. Perhaps, a lot of conflict raged behind the scenes, but my brothers and I were never privy to it. Both my mom and dad did a very good job of shielding us from any conflict. If it was ever there. Like I said, I imagine it was, I simply don't know.

Most of my memories of Manvel and living with Nanny and Gan were good ones...going to Astroworld, high school football games with Uncle Charlie under the Friday night lights, visiting our cousins in Sugarland, going to country-western bars and eating Nanny's pancakes and biscuits.

I do remember my younger brothers and I flying from Texas to Florida as unaccompanied minors. It is the only time I remember wanting to cry. But I don't know if I did or not. Josh and Carlie were crying, so I might not have. It wasn't because we were sad, I think, just scared.

This isn't a blog post about my childhood or divorce. Quite the opposite. There aren't a lot of memories of my parents fighting (if they ever did), because I honestly don't remember a time they lived together. So, in my mind, there are no instance of them together, happy or otherwise. Only memories of them as distinct individuals. Separate.

This is a blog post about granola.

Gan's favorite cereal was Quaker Oats Granola.

Soon, it became my favorite cereal, too, and I always referred to it as Gan's cereal.

In Brazil, I somewhat foolishly and environmentally-incorrectly ordered it on Amazon to have it shipped to us even though perfectly good granola was available locally.

Elise does a lot of nice things for me. It's taken some getting used to. I wasn't very good at dating and got used to not having anyone except my mom do nice things for me. Girlfriends (as few and far between as they were) certainly didn't. They just broke hearts.

But Elise does. And, perhaps because I still have trouble accepting all the nice things she does for me, I call everything she does the nicest thing she does for me, when, in truth, it is just one of many very nice things she does for me.

Elise makes granola for me weekly, and it is the nicest thing she does for me. It's really good granola, too. Way better than Gan's cereal. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The World's Greatest Apology

Back in December, Elise and I went on one of our first date nights in India.

It wasn't our very first. That night I remember well. We walked a short distance from our home and flagged down an auto. Though we were only going a block or so away, to the Sheraton, we were still too trepidatious to cross the street. This didn't make us pansies. Crossing the street is not easy to do in India. It is like the most dangerous game of Frogger ever, because there is never a pause in the traffic. So, instead of waiting for a break in the flow of cars, motorcycles, buses, water trucks, bicycles, cows and water buffalo you kind of have to just take a leap of faith, hold your breath, step out into the street and pray. 

We can do this now. We couldn't in December. So we flagged down an auto to take us a block and half. When we told the rickshaw driver where we wanted to go, he gave us the noncommittal Indian head bobble. Did he know where we wanted to go? Did he understand us? Did he know where the Sheraton was? The head bobble said both yes and no at the same time. So, unsure what to do, we got in. 

Come to find out....he didn't know where he was going. After driving a kilometer or so in the wring direction, he banked the auto into a crowd of men in dhotis eating vada straight from the frying pan at a roadside cart. They barked at each other in Tamil, and the men sent us on our way. When I called, "Nundree! (Thank you!)" back to them, they giggled as though to say look at the white man speak Tamil. 

We finally found the Sheraton and after overpaying for the auto ride, Elise and I walked hand-in-hand to the palatial hotel. There was a giant man in a red turban standing next to a metal detector at the hotel's grand entrance. He had a towering, bright red turban on his head, and an imposing scimitar at his waist, and the broadest, bushiest mustache I had ever seen in my life. The tips of his mustache curled and touched the tips of his earlobes, and disbelievingly grew even bigger when he smiled. 

Inside, Elise and I found a sitting room, and I ordered a Kingfisher and she a dirty vodka martini up. There was an old-fashioned rotary phone on an end table. We had a view of the pool lit for night swimming, and an Asian woman soon stepped up to the mike and began strumming a guitar and singing a song I didn't recognize, maybe Sheryl Crow. It was perfectly British Colonial and perfectly Indian. 

A few weeks later, we ventured to the rooftop bar at the Raintree. There, the twinkling lights of the village spread out before us, punctuated by the occasional, violet-lit facade of a five-star hotel. There, too, the constant bleating of traffic was dimmer fifteen stories below, but not entirely gone. Fireworks went off for seemingly no other reason than to celebrate date night. I thought I could almost see the Bay of Bengal as a black hole on the horizon.

After ordering grilled chicken tandoori my cellphone rang. Of course I answered it, thinking it could be Shanti, our babysitter. 

It wasn't. It was the owner of the car rental company we had been using since our arrival in Chennai. I could barely understand him. It sounded like he was calling us from a party. Moreover, he sounded drunk, and I doubt I could have understood him if he were stone-cold sober, but what I did make out was disturbing. He was trying to tell us that Sundar, our driver, was mad and that he was going to quit after the New Year. After hanging up on him, I tried not to let this distressing news ruin our night, but it was hard. 

The following Monday, Elise and I confronted Sundar. If he was unhappy working for us we wanted to know. I didn't want someone who was mad at us driving my family around town. Come to find out through a very difficult conversation that, looking back, I really only half understood, he wasn't mad at all. His coworkers at the car rental company were expecting me to give Sundar a gift, a bonus, candy, I'm not sure what, for Christmas and they were expecting Sundar to bring it back to the office and share it with them, and when that didn't happen they decided to call me and heckle me about it. 

After finally figuring out where the breakdown in communication had been, Sundar began to insist, "Everybody happy. Everything no problem." And then, he got down on his knees and started patting my legs and toes, apologizing. 

I told Sundar he didn't have to do that. I was embarrassed and touched at the same time, but I couldn't get him back on his feet. 

It has not always been smooth sailing with Sundar. We went through a period when he insisted on calling Peter "Crane". We couldn't figure out what it meant or why he did it. Our only theory was that Peter is a "Christian" name. Anyway, we didn't like it and put an end to it. Then, there are a the times when Clementine is crying in the car, and Sundar eggs her on by offering her a lollipop we don't have. Yeah, not super-helpful that time, Sundar. 

But four months after our arrival in Chennai, we were finally able to buy our own car, a 2002 Honda CRV that leaks oil and has a mini-Ganesha on the dash. It is always filled with mosquitoes but at least it is ours. When we got our own car, we asked Mr. Sundar to continue on as our driver. He negotiated hard, but we were able to hire him away from his rental car company. He seems happier, and, as always, "Everything no problem. You coming. You staying, Everything no problem."

Friday, March 28, 2014


Usually, I am the one that gets to greet Clementine when she wakes up in the morning. She is now in her own room, so sometimes sleeps in a few minutes later than her brothers. When her mom goes to yoga in the mornings, I listen for her stirring in her crib.

When I lift her from her crib, I say, "Good morning," and she always says "Good morning" back. I ask her if she slept well and she always replies, "Yes."

The other morning, I had come downstairs to start breakfast, and Elise got to wake Clem up. Downstairs, in the kitchen, not yet having had the opportunity to ask Clementine how she slept, I asked, "Did you sleep good last night?"


"Do you feel rested?"

"Yes." (around pacie implanted firmly in mouth)

"Are you ready to tackle the day?"


I took that as a yes.

Clementine recently received birthday gifts from her grandparents in Cheney. They haven't seen her in awhile, but they know her too well.

Immediately upon opening the gifts, she put her hair up into a pony tail with the new pink hair ties she received. She put the Minnie Mouse head band in her air and asked me to put her watch on which she calls a "timer".

Then, she proceeded to inform us all that it was 2:40. It stayed 2:40 for the next several hours. I wish it could be 2:40 forever. 

Monday, March 17, 2014


Monday, March 3, 2014

Portable Starbucks

I don't know when high tea is. I am usually working, and would miss it anyway. But around 4:00 I can walk out into the parking lot outside my office building and a man with a scooter is serving tea and sugar cookies. The tea is in plastic thermoses and the hot water is in a metal urn strapped to the back of the scooter with several bungie cords.

He asks if I would like tea or coffee, and I say tea. I am in India. He pours a small amount of tea into a paper cup and adds a small amount of hot water from the metal urn, then he mixes the two by pouring them back and forth from the paper cup to a metal cup. He holds the cup high over his head and pours it straight into the other cup held at his waist, and the tea goes back and forth like that several times before he gives it to me.

"How much?" I ask, almost ashamed for not knowing.

"6 rupees." One dollar. And I drink my tea with the other local staff.

On my drive home from work, I see crowds of Indian gathered around similar tea vendors, metal urns bungee-corded to the back of scooters, portable Starbucks.

In the morning, as Sam and I wait for the school bus, a man rides by on a bicycle, yelling, "YEEEEE-AAAAAAH!!!!" every minute or two. He rides through the neighborhood yelling, an urn of tea strapped to the back of the bicycle. When people hear them man's call, they come to the street for their morning tea.

We know when the school bus is close to coming, because it is right after the tea man rides through our neighborhood. I ask Sam if he wants tea. He says no, shlyly. This morning the tea man told Sam hello quietly then yelled, "YEEEEE-AAAAAAH!!!!" We could hear him as his cried carried away for several blocks. I think Sam may take me up on my offer one of these mornings.