Breaking Bad: Not-So-Live Blog of Episode 515, “Granite State”, and the De-Heis-dration of Walter White

Undoubtedly, everybody’s held off actually watching the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad so they can instead follow it on my as-it-happened, minute-by-minute, far-from-live blog. So, grab the popcorn, dim the lights, and just pretend it’s last Sunday night. SPOILER ALERT if you’re still not up to date on the show, or if you’ve never seen Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

0:52: So the Vacuum Repair Guy (credited, according to IMDB, as Ed) is that crazy sergeant dude from Full Metal Jacket, right? Oh…apparently not. They must be twins. Oh…they’re not.

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1:41: Saul’s not too crazy about Nebraska. I’m on Wikipedia now, searching for something interesting to say about the Cornhusker State. I got nothing.

4:16: Uncle Jack and co. are having family movie night in front of Jesse’s tell-all videotape for the DEA. It’s nice to know that, just like the rest of us, Nazis take that special time out to bond with loved ones. Next time maybe they can connect over giving their place a little spring clean. (And it so happens I know just the guy if they need a vacuum, too.)

Quotable #1: “Does this pussy cry through the entire thing?” – Jack on Jesse’s interview

5:50: Say all you like about Uncle Jack, but the man’s not greedy. $80 million is perfectly enough for him. Walt should really take a page from his book (“The Jack Welker Guide to Contentment”).

6:20: Quotable #2: “She’s probably got a wood-chipper for a coochie.” – Jack on Lydia

6:35: “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Another gem from the Aryan sage’s book. Is Uncle Jack the next Dr. Phil?

7:43: On the phone: “How thick is it?” Guy-who-looks-like-Full-Metal-Jacket-guy ordering deep-dish pizza? “This is mild steel?” Probably not pizza then. Or bad pizza.

8:43: Walt’s still plotting away – now planning a hit on Jack and the gang. The man’s a workaholic. Relax! People who take business on vacation are party-poopers.

11:10: “What I do, I do for my family.” There he goes again. I believe you Walt, thousands wouldn’t. (I don’t either, but I don’t want you to kill me.)

12:02: Finally found a fact about Nebraska: the state is the nation’s largest user of center pivot irrigation. And Saul would rather go there than tag along with Walt. Told you: all work and no play makes Walter a dull travel buddy.

13:06: “It’s over.” Saul stands up to Walt, as the once-indomitable power of Heisenberg is swiftly fading with each cough and splutter. Is this the last we’ll see of Saul and the comb-over? (Until the spin-off, that is.) Or will Walt still be sending him to Belize?

14:07: Hey…she just won an Emmy.

18:26: Todd all dressed up and bashful for his coffee date with Lydia. Is that gel or pomade? “Mr. and Mrs. White’s house”: so respectful, a true gent. Nazi family time really has paid off.

21:12: “I just think we work together good. We make a good team. It’s kind of…mutually good.” So, in summary, it’s good. Todd and Lydia bring romance to a whole new level. A couple that produces methamphetamine together stays together.

22:11: The hostile, Southwestern desert landscape is replaced by an equally hostile, snowy New Hampshire landscape. Does Walt never get to see New York or Miami Beach? Why can’t he be relocated to Disneyworld?

23:13: Quotable #3: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Two copies.” “I’m not much of a movie guy.” – Walt being overly fussy over the DVD collection

23:28: He paid $50,000?! And no TV, phone, or Internet? He should have gone with Expedia. Room service and buffet breakfasts thrown in. And pay-per-view movies other than Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

27:47: Even after donning the magic Heisenberg hat, he’s too afraid to leave the reservation. First backing down to Saul; now to the fear of getting caught. And the cancerous cough, clearly a symbol for the weakening – dying – of this alter ego. Back in the cabin, we see the black, pork pie hat finally hung up. Walter White is being de-Heis-drated.

Ben & Jerry's Americone Dream

28:59: An ice-cream treat for Jesse! Peanut Butter Cup and AmeriCone Dream?? Has Todd been reading Jack’s book again? He already gets to work for the rest of his life chained up as a slave, piss in a bucket, and sleep in the stench of his own shit! And now Ben & Jerry’s? Guyssssss, you’re spoiling him!!

32:09: GO! RUN, JESSE! GET OUTTA THERE! #TeamPinkman

34:10: Quotable #4: “Just so you know, this isn’t personal” – Todd reassures Andrea, before he shoots her in the back of the head. I’m sure felt blessed to hear that, in the nanosecond before the bullet entered her brain.

34:38: I genuinely can’t take Jesse’s life being ripped apart any longer. He’d better escape soon and kick some Nazi (and Walt) ass. Seriously, #TeamPinkman 4 lyf.

35:53: Heisenberg hat replaced with gray, striped beanie. I actually have that very same beanie. I don’t see the Nike check mark on his – must be a knock-off.

37:12: On his first glance at the newspaper, Walt just thinks he needs new glasses because he thought he just saw a photo of Hannah Montana twerking.

38:24: Vacuum Repair Guy is no one-trick pony: he can now perform chemotherapy. Courtesy of YouTube, where he surely got distracted by Miley videos, too.

39:05: Bearded, frail, shortsighted Walter White, sat by the fire begging Vacuum Repair Guy/Part-Time Oncologist to “stay a little longer”. Not brave enough to prick his own arm with the needle. No desire to even cut the cards. Loses the first round of cards to two kings. Emaciated and powerless. No trace of Heisenberg in sight.

43:21: When he finally makes it past the gate, it’s not for his original Heisenbergian purpose of going to town and taking care of business. This is pure Walter White: selflessly putting his family first by sending a modest (well, $100,000 – but modest in comparison to what could have been) sum of money for the sole purpose of their wellbeing. And again – donning not the black hat, but the humble gray beanie, even if it is a cheap Chinatown counterfeit.

44:06: I wish my high school had had a hot, Latina principal. Mine was an old, pudgy white guy. Funnily enough, his name was Carmen, too.

46:37: On the phone to his son: “I wanted to give you so much more…but this was all I could do.” Heisenberg wouldn’t have settled for “all I could do.” It seems to me that Walt isn’t just talking money here: he’s addressing his failures as a father, and as a fender for and protector of his family. “I made some terrible mistakes”: this is the confession we’ve been waiting long for – not only for his guilt for crimes committed, but for his divergence from the objective of keeping his family safe.

47:37: Tears running down Walt’s face as he realizes it’s too late for reparations with his son. Flynn – not Walt Jr., and not Walt Sr. – is now the protector of his mother and sister. “You asshole, why won’t you just die!” Now that both Skyler and Walt Jr. have expressed their wish for Walt’s death, there’s nothing left for him. Family-less, now twice the pushover he once was, he turns himself in to the DEA. An episode ago, I wanted to punch him square in the jaw when he spitefully told Jesse that he watched Jane die. Now, I want to give him a reassuring hug. Why do the writers of this show do this to us!

51:00: Hey, it’s Ross’s lesbian ex-wife’s lover from Friends on TV! Oh, wait, she also plays a character in Breaking Bad. We haven’t seen Gretchen and Elliot since Season 2. What is it about their Charlie Rose interview that puts Walt right off his Dimple Pinch, whatever the heck that is, and sets him off again? Surely it’s this: “Is Walter White still out there?” “No, he’s not.” Well, he just was. Now Jekyll’s turned back to Hyde. Thanks guys, we’d just gotten the beast to sleep. Gretchen and Elliot were, theoretically, the fundamental cause for Walter White syndrome. They’re the ones who, inadvertently, led him to become a downtrodden, worthless teacher whose great chemical mind was wasting away. They’re the ones who, indirectly, spurred him on to become Heisenberg.

And, yup, there’s that face – here he goes again. He’s out of there. In a reversal of chemical reactions, the Heis-dration process is under way.

So what now? White dudes with beards are always good guys, right? Santa. Jesus. Mr. Magnorium when he’s out of shaving cream. Well, beard or no beard, it certainly appears that Walt’s going back to Albuquerque for one last showdown, and to fetch his money back – whether for his family or simply for his own pride. Of course, it’s no coincidence that Walt was relocated to New Hampshire. The Granite State’s motto is Live Free or Die (incidentally the title of this season’s first episode). It finally looked like Walt was ready to live free, whether that meant staying at the cabin or turning himself in and putting the past behind him, thus freeing himself of his burdens. But at the end of the episode, he makes his choice to return to a Heisenberg state of mind and do just the opposite of living freely: dying. The question is, though: who will he take with him?

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End-of-Summer Music Roundup

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It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve been patiently waiting for the summer to end so I’d have the chance to write my “End-of-Summer Music Roundup”. I assumed I’d be writing this sometime in early June, but the sun’s been kind this year, and every time I sat down at my laptop, fingers poised to hit the keys and delve into it, that ball of brightness cheekily reappeared, as content at its mischievousness as the smiling (yet thoroughly punchable) mutant sun baby from Teletubbies. It’s now early September, and as I force myself to forgo waiting on the end of summer, those flirtatious rays are still peeping through the window, and all the cherished elements of British summertime are still also present: air-conditioning on full blast indoors, because if it’s slightly warm outside, of course we all want to simulate the Siberian igloo experience inside; and middle-aged men strutting around topless, exposing their beer bellies adorned with enough tattoos to put both Parker pens and octopi out of business.

But while crowds have been gathering alfresco to soak up the sun, à la Sheryl Crow, perhaps they’ve been out of touch with what truly matters: the radio waves (Spotify), and the box (Netflix). In other words, while they’re spending their sunny season socializing and living their lives, they’re missing out on hearing and watching others socialize and live their lives through the media. God forbid these sun-soakers missed the news that the hyphen has been permanently removed from Jay Z’s (formerly Jay-Z’s) name. While they’ve been basking in the heat with few cares in the world, the rest of us have been incessantly troubled by the subtle name change (this is no explicit alteration like Puff Daddy à P Diddy…or Diddy…or Diddy Dirty Money). Grammatically speaking, what if we need to use Jay Z as an adjective? Then is it plausible to reinsert the hyphen? For instance: “That was a very Jay(-)Z performance”, or “Are you using that hyphen in the adjectival Jay(-)Z sense?” Note, of course, that the hyphen should not be confused with the em dash, as in “Jay Z – Jay-Z, as he was formerly known – confused rap fans and grammarians alike with his impetuous hyphen deletion”.

Do these revelers even realize that Kimye had a baby? Do they even know that Kimye is a thing? Though it may sound like a refreshing yet potentially disease-ridden tropical fruit, Kimye is actually a portmanteau of KIM kardashian and kanYE west. How would these sun-coholics know how to react once they finally learn the baby’s given name: North? As in: North West. As in, she’s not just a baby girl, but also a portable compass for journeyers traveling from Florida to Washington state, for instance, without a GPS navigator. Of course, on the way back she would be useless; her counterpart, South East, would be required in her place. (Incidentally, the hyphen issue extends to Kanye’s daughter’s name: does North West become North-West when used adjectivally? Or does it merge into a single word, Northwest?)

Oh – and babies and hyphens aside, Jay and Kanye also released some music this summer. Their albums, along with J. Cole’s Born Sinner, were the big three hip-hop releases of the season, as discussed by the critics on the New York Times Music Popcast. Reviewers agreed to disagree about their likes and dislikes, especially in the case of Kanye’s modestly titled album, Yeezus, which some thought pretentious and others deemed artistically solid. Personally, I found the record aggressive and abrasive – and unnecessarily so – all for the objective of bolstering the ever-growing “Kanye West is a jackass” notion (in President Obama’s words, of course). It appears to me that West knows that his big ego – or, more specifically, the concept of his having a big ego – will sell, so he throws together a messy jumble of mostly hostile tracks, knowing he’ll reap the monetary rewards. It’s an intelligent move from an unquestionably savvy producer. But the more critics praise this work as “creative”, the more he’ll escalate the antagonism and the egotism, however disingenuous, for publicity’s and finance’s sakes. At this rate, with a track on the album entitled “I Am a God”, apparently by Kanye West featuring God, the possibility of a return to the simpler yet vastly superior College Dropout style seems bleak.

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There’s a reason why Jay Z is vastly more respected than Mr. West. Though Jay’s album has an equally arrogant title, Magna Carta Holy Grail, the veteran rapper balances his braggadocio – unarguably necessary in hip hop – with a certain dose of humility. Indeed, he recognizes his unique power in tracks such as “F.U.T.W.” (Fuck Up The World), but this aspect is evened out with more modest elements, such as insights into his doubts as a father in “Jay Z Blue”. But this is irrelevant; as the most famous rapper in the game today, and possibly of all time, Jay Z has reached a point in his career where he can say literally anything he wants and still sell records. Take the track “Tom Ford”, whose hook comprises three distinct statements that, when put together, form no sense of story. “I don’t pop Molly / I rock Tom Ford / International, bring back the concord.” It’s as if someone’s asked him to tell us three completely random facts about himself, and he’s consolidated them into a chorus. A rough translation may read: “I don’t take drugs / By the way, I wear pretty nice, expensive, designer clothes / Oh and before I forget – please sign my worldwide petition for the reintroduction of fast airplanes.”

Yet Jay is untouched by critics. He doesn’t hold his own lyrically these days, but he’s still so amiable in that he can brush pride off (his shoulder) and team up with pop’s sugary superstar, Justin Timberlake, for the album’s opening track, and go on the road with him on the Legends of the Summer tour. This is something his pal Kanye cannot yet do: perhaps envious of Jay’s newfound touring partner, he lashed out at a recent show, spouting “I ain’t fucking with that Suit and Tie” – referring to the other JT and Jay-Z collaboration. (Did you notice that natural use of an adjectival “Jay Z”? You’re welcome.)

The Legends of the Summer tour kicked off at the Yahoo! Wireless Festival in London, two days of which I attended back in July, thus joining the rest of the sun revelers. In addition to the headliners, I had the distinct pleasure of watching the (indirect) contest between Miguel and Trey Songz as to who can be the douchier R&B crooner. Both artists scored several douche points for lifting up their shirts on multiple occasions to reveal their show-off 12-pack abs to the gushing audience; but the coveted douchebag award had to ultimately go to Trey for not only performing his douchey-lyric-laden song, “Dive In” (incidentally not about his experiences at public pools), but also taking breaks to shout out to the audience asides such as “How many ladies out there ready for me to dive in?” and “I’m swimming, I’m ain’t gonna drown”. Suffice to say we were all relieved to hear of Trey’s safety. Furthermore, Miguel’s rendition of “Adorn”, other than being the only track of his people recognized, was admittedly sing-alongable – and he was gracious enough not to kick any fans in the face this time around.

Hip-hop royalty shone at Wireless. Snoop Dogg, also known as Snoop Lion, formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg (a series of name transitions totally free of hyphens), played a set brimming with career-spanning hits, from “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to “Still D.R.E.”; the crowd was so adoring of the Compton legend that all he had to do was stand still for an hour and not waste any energy on performing – which was just as well, because marijuana is a known detractor of stamina. A$AP Rocky played a set, and might as well not have bothered. A long time now since Jay Z and Nas’s beef was buried, consistently underrated Nas showed off his unrivalled lyrical skills and social clout during his set, while super-group A Tribe Called Quest reunited for the first time in 20-odd years to achieve a similar feat, also bringing politics into the equation with frontman Q-Tip’s shout-outs for Trayvon Martin, whose aggressor, George Zimmerman, had been acquitted earlier that day.

Opinions about the best rapper in the game aside, all these towering acts were still merely a warm-up for rap giant Jay Z and Justin, the latter now automatically venerated in urban music merely for his association with Hova. Timberlake behaved as was to be expected when given equal standing with a more powerful, distinguished and probably formidable co-performer (Jay Z grew up selling crack cocaine in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn; Timberlake is the son of a preacher and was a Disney Mouseketeer opposite Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling): namely, he threw out unnecessary F-bombs at times and even inserted a rendition of “Niggas in Paris” into pop ballad “Cry Me a River”. But all this is forgiven (and appreciated, really), as Timberlake is indubitably musically gifted: not only were his vocals faultless, he also showcased his other talents as he played the piano and even the electric guitar.

Like at the Watch the Throne gigs, Jay seemed happy to take the back seat and allow the younger artist take the helm, with Justin truly shining as he performed back-to-back hits; but the true magic emerged when the duo teamed up, from the opening “Holy Grail”, to a clever blending of “What Goes Around…Comes Around” with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, to JT pre-cursing “Empire State of Mind” with the inspiration itself, Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. Clearly, though, the highlight was when the schmaltzy and guilty-pleasurific “Mirrors” dropped. It’s SO good. So I walked away from the festival a happy bunny, until I squeezed onto a packed Underground train – and as numerous other Londoners sweated and coughed over me in the routine tube fashion, I opened my drawstring bag to find that my pasta salad saved from earlier had burst and covered my headphones, books and wallet with honey-mustard dressing and a putrid stench. What else was I to do but eat the pasta out of the bag for lunch the next day?

As entertaining an artist as Timberlake is, I was not prepared for The Justin Timberlake Show, aka the MTV Video Music Awards 2013. JT performed an entire setlist in 15 minutes, within which was sandwiched the much-hyped *N Sync reunion. For a whole week, Twitter, Buzzfeed and all the other sites I use as a distraction at work from time to time (or rather, all the sites I browse at work while using work as a distraction from time to time) were “blowing up” with updates of the boyband’s reconciliation; as twentysomethings asked “will they?” and “won’t they?”, Beliebers and One-Directions tweeted: “Who or what is an *N Sync?” As I felt the irritation of these ignorant youngsters churning inside, I realized how my generation’s parents must have felt when we mocked their old-timey music, thinking for half our lives that Fleetwood Mac was some kind of first-generation Apple computer made from timber.

After all the buildup, the reunion did happen, but lasted approximately two minutes, after which Fatone and friends were shoved offstage before an encore of “Mirrors”. But it wasn’t just the over-abundance of Justin that signaled the desperation of the once-glorious VMAs. The scandalous award show with which I grew up in the late 90s and early 00s – spawning timeless performances like Britney on stage with a Burmese python around her neck, and Britney stripping off for a raunchy rendition of “Oops, I Did It Again”, and Madonna kissing…Britney – is now an utter mess, devoid of interest, and Britney, and laughably trying to exist while MTV today plays a grand total of 0 music videos. The VMAs now merely create scandal for the sake of it, in an attempt to live up to what it once was – which would explain the gag-inducing display that was Miley Cyrus and the Twerk-a-thon.

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I need not write an account of what happened during those dreaded minutes: if you haven’t heard by now, you must be living inside a giant, furry teddy bear like the one from which Cyrus strutted out, tongue out to one side – an image that would recur time and time again during the performance, in memes and gifs in days to come, and in many normal people’s nightmares. We all knew what was to befall us, having seen the video for “We Can’t Stop”: Hannah Montana twerking. We were forced to watch what looked like a pancake gyrating as the little white girl aimed to shake what her momma never gave her; and as if it that wasn’t enough, she insisted on grinding that pancake into sleazeball Robin Thicke’s crotch while he stood there dressed like the McDonald’s Hamburglar with the stripes the wrong way round. I still haven’t the faintest clue “what rhymes with hug me”, but what I do know is that I was repulsed as 2 Chainz and the stupidly talented Kendrick Lamar joined Thicke for another track, while Miley seemed quite contented to stand in the corner, tongue still out, fingering herself with a giant foam finger. Next time you’re at a baseball game, my advice would be to think twice before picking one of those fingers up to innocently support your team with – it might well have been in or around Miley Cyrus’s vagina.

Kendrick Lamar must have been embarrassed to be associated such a sham, given his unfathomable adeptness, lyrically speaking. Again, for those sunbathers’ benefit, Kendrick delivered the rap verse of the year, killing and calling out Big Sean on his own track, “Control”. In the most talked-about verse for a long time, the biggest new star in hip hop spits a rhyme that indirectly wiped the floor with aging rappers, and directly challenged his peers to step up their games: Kendrick summoned Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky and a host of other young emcees to come out of whatever giant, furry teddy bears they were hiding in and to join him in the ring – tongues intact and without foam fingers in this case, please.

Yet amidst the shambles of the night, from somewhere in the middle of the twerkage wreckage came a faint flicker of hope. Two commercials aired during the US broadcast of the VMAs, both advertising Beats by Dre headphones, but in reality advertising the return of one of Kendrick’s – and just about every other modern-day rapper’s – heroes. In the first TV spot, we are given the lowdown in a few words projected rapidly onto the screen: Eminem. MMLP2. Executive producers Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin. 11/5/13. But it was the second, longer spot I saw first; I was in Paris at the time, waking up for sightseeing duty in the early morning, and was prompted by a tweet or two to watch the ad, which featured a blond-haired Eminem, swagging in front of a speakers in a plain white tee, reminiscent of “The Real Slim Shady” video, now 13 years old. Was this a dream induced from the fatigue of climbing up the Eiffel Tower the day before (rapping Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” to myself all the way up, by the way)? Clearly not, as the whole ad was spliced over a brand-new track, “Berserk”, different from anything I’ve ever heard from Eminem, an homage to the Beastie Boys and to old-school hip hop in general. The Marshall Mathers LP 2: ingenious publicity-wise, and brave and perhaps stupid in what it must live up to – that is to say the seminal 2000 album that sent stunned parents of America into a frenzy. The suspense is already thickening, and it will certainly take more than a head of freshly dyed hair to settle critics come November.

At which point, presuming the summer hasn’t become irregularly Indian and stuck around all the way through the fall and into Guy Fawkes Day itself, the sun-soakers should be back indoors, tattoos once again unexposed for the good of humanity, and will be able to make their own minds up about the record. As for the summer shenanigans just passed, they’ll have to take my word as truth. Though they may return, skin red and peeling like tomatoes being savagely julienned, to politely disagree about the merit of Yeezus or the Jay Z/JT dynamic, they will surely find the Twerk-a-thon just as harrowing and violating as the rest of us, and may be forced to find comfort in hibernating in a giant, furry teddy bear – only to find inside a menacing Miley, tongue and all, ready to murder them and sell their organs in return for a lifetime’s stash of foam fingers. Serves them right for being able to enjoy the sun while the rest of us are working overtime, not unlike Miley’s buttocks. And as I conclude here, I’d just like to point out that no hyphens were harmed in the writing of this article.

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Rolling in the Deep

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There are no menus or reservations at Burger and Lobster. Well, you might ask, are there at least tables? Are there plates? Are there waiters and chefs, or is it just a free-for-all, grab-what-you-can, London-riots-style set-up in the kitchen?

While culinary anarchism may well turn out to be the next new “trendy” thing in the gastronomic world, the Farringdon branch of the hugely popular surf ‘n’ turf eatery does, indeed, possess everything else that defines a restaurant. Instead of menus, waiters verbally list the items for you as you settle into booths or single-file bar stools that look onto the open-plan kitchen. There are just four items on the (intangible) “menu” here: burger, California burger (where the meat patty is, in true West Coast fashion, wrapped in lettuce rather than compressed into a bun like the shameful rest of the world still stubbornly continues to do), lobster, and lobster roll. Which begs the obvious question: why is the restaurant, then, not called “Burger and Lobster and Lobster Roll and California Burger Which Is a Patty Wrapped in Lettuce Rather Than Placed in a Bun”?

All items are served with French fries and a salad, and all cost £20. A whole lobster with sides for £20 is an extremely reasonable price; a 10oz burger and fries for £20 is outrageous. Buy two McDoubles from the Dollar Menu and you’re already winning with 12 ounces of the finest* ground chuck for $2. Come to think of it, the last time I was in New England, one of the regional items on the McDonald’s menu was the McLobster Roll, for a mere $1.98. Though, despite my genuine and somewhat irrational love for Mickey D’s, I cringe to think what part of the lobster is ground up, smothered in American cheese and served in a roll. The brains? Ground-up shell?

So the choice was clear: it would either be the lobster or the lobster roll. The latter sounded tempting: lobster meat served chilled in a brioche bun with Japanese mayo. But there’s just something special about ordering an entire animal and having it sit in front of you, losing any ounce of dignity still left as you scrape every last morsel of meat out of its body. (Just to clarify: the burger is not served with cow on plate.) Besides, this is not one of those places where you can walk in and view the lobsters in tanks, as if they’re on death row for shellfish. I don’t blame them: the lobsters hail all the way from Canadian waters, and what with the jetlag and all, they’re probably not looking their best, and the last thing they want is to be paraded on display as if they’re in a lobster-themed Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. So I figured if I couldn’t see a live one in a tank, I had no other choice but to see a cooked one on my plate. (Though it’s regrettable that they travelled all the way from Canada to be steamed alive – without, I should add, having seen the London sights pre-murder. It’s kind of like a seafood version of Hostel.)

We’re not done ordering yet. The lobster can be served steamed or part-steamed then part-grilled for a smokier flavour; I picked the latter because it sounded more intense. There’s then a choice of clarified butter or lemon garlic butter for dipping; again, I selected the latter, since going for option (b) was becoming the theme of the night. Root for the underdog, I always say.

Lobster cracking is messy business, but it’s fun. We all get cracking and scooping as soon as the meals arrive, and when the meat is finally detached from its red home, we dunk it in the butter and help it reach its new home. After one butter-dip, though, I decided – chiefly since I’m still on the P90X workout program and loosely following the nutritional guide – to cast the gravy boat of grease away and create my own dipping sauce: the classic blend of ketchup and mayonnaise. Yes, I realize there’s fat in mayo, too, but there has to be a balance when you’re living your life by two polar opposite philosophies – P90X and YOLO.

Things can get a tad cramped with the large platters of food, and given the arm space necessary for the physical activity of tearing out the meat before being able to eat it. And I think I found it harder since my lobster had been served on a small plate, the reason being that I was sat on the end of the table. Havoc almost ensued as my ketchup/mayonnaise-drenched knife slipped off my kids’-meal-sized plate and landed on my friend’s work pants, but thankfully, the sauce didn’t stain. Crisis averted. Crisis reappeared when said friend got home that night and vomited after indulging in too much of the butter dip. When hearing about this, I sympathized, but secretly felt smug about my alternative Heinz/Hellman’s concoction.

Lobster meat tastes good, there’s no doubt about it. It’s like a giant shrimp with attitude and a hot wife. The lobster knows he’s a boss in the deep-sea world. He knows he’s the tits. I’m surprised he doesn’t come dressed on my plate in a mink coat and gold chain. But you pay the price of the lobster’s popularity, literally: it’s expensive, and what’s more, there’s not much meat on it, even after paying it the respect its due and scraping every last piece from its shell. The restaurant offers larger lobsters – including a seven-pound guy for £105 – but the bigger the creature, the emptier your wallet. So I actually ended my meal feeling a little hungry, even with the fries and (notably tasty) salad on the side.

A couple of the members of my party dug into dessert, which was a pre-packaged but nevertheless delicious-looking white chocolate ice-cream sandwich, and there was also an option (b): a vanilla cheesecake-mousse topped with a mixed berry compote, which I heard was berry good and compote-ntly tasty. Dessert-less and disgusted by that last line of appalling punning, I returned home and gobbled up some leftover chicken and rice to fill me up, and as I lazed in bed that night with a stomach crammed with lobster, fries, chicken, ketchup, mayonnaise and a two-thirds pint of Sam Adams, I wondered why the hell they hadn’t give me a toy with my small-plate lobster Happy Meal.

*Factually incorrect.

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Album Review: The 20/20 Experience

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Just when we thought that maybe – just maybe – the coast was clear and that someone else could have a turn at bringing sexy back, our collective thunder was stolen by the return of the phrase’s originator – this time around embodying SexyBack in the form of a slick and snazzy Suit and Tie.

Six years ago, Justin Timberlake seemed to leave music by the wayside as he delved purposefully into a movie career. While he was serious about the professional change of track, fans perhaps struggled to label him an actor; just as it’s hard to view Matt LeBlanc in a movie and not see him as Joey Tribbiani, we watched The Social Network and half-expected Joey Fatone, Lance Bass et al to jump out from behind the set and join Timberlake in a rendition of DIRTY DIRTY DIRTY DIRTY POP (POP POP POP YOU CAN’T STOP). But the film world accepted his genuine career shift and threw several success-earning roles at him – which made it even more doomful for supporters of his musical alter ego to expect a comeback.

The simple fact is that Timberlake is neither a pop star nor a movie star: he’s a superstar. It’s hard for anyone to dislike JT (the fact that he can be recognized simply by initials now reinforces the notion of his superstardom); he’s taken seriously by the movie-watching public, college kids who prolifically Facebook-shared his now-legendary “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover” sketches on Saturday Night Live, moms who find his always-polite demeanor on talk shows endearing, rappers he’s worked with from T.I. to Snoop Dogg, and of course, twenty-something women who grew up with his washboard abs all over their bedroom walls. I think even the seemingly callous Eminem, who once rapped “Instincts to kill *NSync, don’t get me started / these fuckin’ brats can’t sing, and Britney’s garbage”, may now bite his tongue – I wouldn’t even be surprised by a future collaboration.

In other words, the world was waiting for his return to music. JT could have released an 80-minute album of bleating noises over a cowbell and the public would have eaten it up. But instead, his efforts have gone into his third studio album, The 20/20 Experience. The record is upbeat and buoyant in tone, and plays with a range of distinct styles and genres; this is a more mature (now married) Timberlake, who effuses a sense that things are going well – but there’s no hip hop-style bragging, but rather, it’s demonstrated assuredly and artistically.

2002’s Justified was a quintessential pop album, with still-catchy hits like “Rock Your Body”, and was thus perhaps an extension of the *NSync feel. 2006’s FutureSex / LoveSounds was edgier (insomuch as JT can be considered edgy), with heavy hip hop influence and a defining futuristic mood, probably best summed up by the synth-led rhythm of “My Love”. The 20/20 Experience goes in the opposite direction and embraces the past, with an incontestable retro feel right from the very top with the opening track, “Pusher Love Girl”, a hark-back to slow-tempo, old-school R&B, a track that immediately shows off Timberlake’s signature falsetto.

The retro atmosphere allows for some corny lyrics, clearly written tongue-in-cheek, and surely a homage to the love songs of the ‘50s that covered up sexual content with harmless-sounding words (an example that comes to mind is from the rock ‘n’ roll classic, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, with the deceiving lyrics: “I’m like a one-eyed cat, peepin’ in the seafood store”). Timberlake’s versions include “Won’t you be my strawberry bubblegum / Then I’ll be your blueberry lollipop / And then I’ll love you ‘til I make you pop” – from the similarly laid-back track, “Strawberry Bubblegum”. One of my favorite tracks, “That Girl”, is in the same nostalgic style, this time flirting with the doo-wop genre; it is reminiscent of something you would hear from The Temptations on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show.

“That Girl” also stands out for the reason that it’s the only song on the album that’s shorter than five minutes in length. The majority of the tracks are seven or eight minutes long; sometimes this elongated technique works, but at other times it doesn’t. They follow in a similar vein to successful songs from FutureSex / LoveSounds such as “What Goes Around Comes Around” and “Lovestoned / I Think She Knows”, where the melody would break down halfway through the song and the pace would shift dramatically (to the point at which you’d question if you were still listening to the same song); Timberlake and long-time producer Timbaland are trying to recreate the same magic but end up overdoing it a tad. However, Timbaland’s influence is still felt in the production, as well as in his signature interjections (à la “Cry Me a River”), which work well in tracks like “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Tunnel Vision”.

The eight-minute method is effective in “Mirrors”, the current single, mainly because it’s so good that you want it to go on for eight minutes – I’d probably be even happier with sixteen. And possibly even more pleased if the entire album was just “Mirrors” repeated over and over again. It’s undeniably poppy in structure (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus) and in sound (it’s catchy as a common cold in a hospital sauna), which is why it’s a sublime choice for a single. It’s also vintage JT, packed to the brim with falsetto – and he and Timbo nail the long-song format, getting the second part of the eight-minute extravaganza just as catchy and falsetto-y as the first. It’s SO good. But despite its poppiness, it still fits with the style of the entire album, and does not stick out crudely as a moneymaking hit.

If there’s a track that does do that, perhaps it’s “Suit and Tie”, the lead single – but maybe that’s just because it’s the only song with a featured artist, and none other than the superstar to top all superstars (sorry, Justin): Jay-Z. On paper, it’s a match made in Heaven, chiefly because “JT and Jay-Z” has such a tongue-twisting ring to it, and it’s clear they think so too – they’re going on tour together this summer and I’ve already bagged my tickets – but the song falls flat. It’s slick, it’s retro, it’s classy, but there’s just something missing. Even Jay’s verse is slow, labored and simply a bit dull. Perhaps it’s like a clash of the titans and superstars work better alone – but if Jay and Kanye can do it, surely the inoffensive-by-comparison Timberlake can get a slice of the action?

But the album is solid, and the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it. Does it live up to the hype? Probably not. But that’s only because the hype was suffocatingly overdone – but it had to be, for JT’s homecoming was no small matter. There were his Grammy and Brit Awards performances, his return to Saturday Night Live as both host and musical guest (and induction into the elite “Five-Timers Club”, where he joins Steve Martin, Tom Hanks and other huge names who’ve hosted five or more times), and his appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for an entire week, which came to be known as Justin Timberweek. In the face of all the hysteria and his unfathomable popularity, it could have been easy for JT to churn out an uninspired record with umpteen collaborators and guest rap verses, and sell just as many – if not more – copies, but with the exception of the Jay-Z inclusion, he was having none of that. Instead, what we’ve been handed are ten eclectic tracks – including an apparently Latin-influenced “Let the Groove Get In”, which sounds like it features Gloria Estefan on the bongos – with an overarching retro mood personified by the new, determined-not-to-sell-out JT and his accompanying band, The Tennessee Kids. The boy done good.

How would I grade it? I guess I would award it a well-deserved 16/20 (though The 16/20 Experience just doesn’t have the same appeal). But it’s clear that he’s home, and Hollywood is going to have to wait their turn. My only fear is overplaying “Mirrors”. It’s just way too good.

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Push-Ups, Pull-Ups and Throw-Ups

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I’ve just come to the end of Week Two of a brutal, thirteen-week fitness/torture program known as P90X, which I am assuming stands for something like “The Pain of 90 Xecutioners”, or “Please, 90 Xylophones dropped onto my back is more than enough”. The program, widely recognized as only a slightly less cruel alternative to waterboarding, is surely only taken on by people who:

a) are sadistic;

b) don’t read English so thought they were buying a pair of UGGs or a George Foreman Grill;

c) hate their gyms and would go to extreme measures to find an exercise alternative.

I belong to group c), although I, too, wish I were the owner of a Lean, Mean Fat-Grilling Machine. My local gym can only be described as more pathetic than Eeyore the donkey getting caught in a bear trap in Pooh’s backyard. I’ve been paying £37 per month to work out on broken benches with weights that are falling apart, drink from a water fountain that thinks the hosepipe ban is still alive and kicking, and have MTV Dance blasted in my ears, with the same three God-awful songs on repeat, all three of which seem to be by Rita Ora who, incidentally, needs to add at least a few more words to her lyrical vocabulary, which currently consists solely of the words PARTY, NIGHT, DANCE, LOUDER, and HOTTER. Her music is becoming more predictable than the likelihood that Ke$ha has three or more STDs.

So, I decided to save my gym money and put it toward buying the P90X DVDs. I then decided to download the DVDs from a torrent for free, because I would rather not pay for things than pay for things. This came back to bite me in the ass when I realized I would have to fork out for dumbbells, then for another set of dumbbells when the first set was too light; for a pull-up bar; and for proteins on proteins on proteins.

Almost three weeks into the workout, though, I can honestly say I am enjoying it considerably more than going to the gym, which becomes stale after months and years of doing the same exercises over and over. This is, in fact, the whole theory behind P90X: it is based on the notion of “muscle confusion”. This (probably pseudo-scientific, which I am taking as 100% scientific) theory is nothing to do with asking your muscles perplexing questions on the meaning of life, but is about varying routines day to day and week to week so that your muscles are constantly adjusting to new techniques. Essentially, you’re keeping them guessing, and apparently they love the suspense. While going to the gym and performing similar workouts every week leads to the “plateau effect”, say the creators of P90X, this program keep muscles more bamboozled than a group of old folks getting lost on the way to the bingo hall and turning up at a Rick Ross concert.

Rick Ross, incidentally, has not been following the P90X regimen, though his body begs to differ. Celebrities such as Pink (sorry, P!nk) and almost-Vice-President-but-not-quite-so-tough-noogies Paul Ryan are apparently subscribers. Tony Horton, the designer of the program and “instructor” on the workout DVDs (torrent downloads) – not protagonist of Dr. Seuss sequel, Tony Horton Hears a Who – has also personally trained stars such as Ewan McGregor and Usher.*

*After re-reading the last two paragraphs, I’ve realized than I sound like a salesman or spokesman for the P90X DVDs. I feel I should make it clear that I am in no way being paid by P90X executives to make it sound good. Please refer back to my comparison to waterboarding to assure yourselves.

There’s no doubt about it – it hurts like a motherfucker. Cardio days may consist of plyometrics, which is the technique of “training muscle elasticity, power and explosiveness” – or, as I see it, jumping all over the place. Yoga is also categorized as a cardio workout, which I questioned before starting it, as I always thought that yoga was a rather stationary pursuit, focusing on deep breathing and meditation – the type of thing you could do while simultaneously watching an episode of Homeland or cooking a three-course steak dinner. I thought wrong. I think yoga loosely translates from the original Sanskrit as: “Excessive pain and tumbling over multiple times per minute”. I fell off my chair just thinking about it.

Cardio days are interspersed with weight training days, when the dumbbells I bought cheaply from Germany and which took their sweet time arriving – thank you very much eBay – come into play. Every major muscle group is targeted, with the most intense so far being the Chest & Back day, which essentially switches between push-ups and pull-ups. Who knew there were so many different kinds of push-ups? There are military push-ups, wide push-ups, narrow push-ups, push-ups with your hands in the shape of a diamond, push-ups with a monkey lightly tickling your belly button, push-ups while balancing a dozen eggs on your butt cheeks, and if they crack, the next set is push-ups with your hands resting on eggshells. There are almost as many variations of pull-ups, which I perform on the pull-up bar I crudely fixed – without screws or hooks – inside my bedroom doorframe. One day, the bar – which is pretty much being held in place by absolutely nothing – is inevitably going to collapse on top of me. I’ll be sure to capture it on camera and upload it onto YouTube for everyone’s entertainment, and will try to make sure it lands somewhere painful (groin) for maximum laughs. Oh – and after push-ups and pull-ups come a final set of exercises called throw-ups.

There’s also Ab Ripper X, a twenty-minute routine focused solely on the stomach muscles, added on to any days when there’s weight training involved. Ab Ripper X is the bane of my existence; it makes me grunt like Venus and Serena balancing bowling balls on their heads. From doing the Hip Rock ‘n’ Raise – kicking your legs straight in the air and then thrusting your ass toward the sky – to Leg Climbs – exactly what it sounds like: climbing up your own legs – you come to the conclusion that Ab Ripper X holds a personal vendetta against you and hates everything you hold dear (like sanity).

The only thing other than the countdown clocks that gets your through the savage workouts – which are over an hour, six times a day, mostly done after a long day at work – is Horton himself. Many reviewers ridicule his style, in that he cracks (cheesy) jokes and is constantly upbeat, even during 90-degree wall squats, which feel like Henry VIII is chilling on your quads while carrying his obese pet walrus – but I actually find his bubbly nature refreshing and motivational. I would rather hear his frequent chants of “BRING IT!” and “DO YOUR BEST, AND FORGET THE REST!”, and even watch as he compares cooling-down stretches to stirring a pot of lobster bisque soup, than follow a militaristic bootcamp sergeant yelling drills in my face as if I’ve just been drafted to Afghanistan and have twenty-four hours to sculpt a bullet-proof vest out of my pecs.

Still, the hardest thing about the program is not the exercises, but the nutrition guide. For the first month, the creators want you to avoid carbs completely. Is this some kind of sick joke? I’ve eliminated white bread and saturated fats (butter, cheese, chocolate, sugary drinks, fast food*), and have switched to 1% milk. But that’s where I draw the line.

*I may or may not have stuffed my face with Chicken Cottage (the poor man’s KFC) on Day Three of P90X. I also may or may not have eaten McDonald’s this past weekend – albeit the healthiest thing I could think of: two plain hamburgers. After promising myself to also give up beer for the three months, thus avoiding surplus carbs, I may or may not have had four or five in the last fourteen days.

So shoot me in my bulletproof chest-vest, then. My theory is, if I’m confusing my muscles, shouldn’t I be confusing my stomach, too? Grilled chicken and vegetables everyday will surely create a plateau effect; a bit of French-fried junk here and there is sure to confuse them. Right? Am I right, Tony? What’s that? Yes sir, 50 push-ups on eggshells with Henry VIII sitting on my ass coming right up.

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Training Day

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Sometimes I marvel at the incredible complexity of the London Underground. I think about the ingenious minds that came together to design such an intricate underground network, calculating how to dodge electrical cables, sewage systems and water pipes to establish a staggeringly complex piece of practical art.

But most of the time, I marvel at how much it fucking sucks.

I take care, in most of my written work, to present a two-sided argument, or at least a one-sided one with sprinkles of counterarguments. This piece will not do any such thing. It will be a maniacal rant about the tube/train system and its inconvenience, noise, dog hair-fart odor, and often rude passengers who seemingly create this smell.

As a way to explore and explain the aspects of the Underground that grind my gears, I’ll bring you along with me on the mind-numbing morning journey that I take to work on a daily basis. Grab a seat! That was a joke. Because you won’t ever find one.

Here it is, then – a real-time account of taking the tube every morning; you’ll truly feel like you’re there. It’s like the worst ever episode of 24.

07:43: Arrive at Rickmansworth (that’s my hometown) Station approximately six minutes early, just in case the train decides to come early. It comes late every now and then (everyday), so you would assume it could arrive early once in a while, right? Wrong. This has never happened once during my train-taking lifetime. Still, I like to call myself optimistic. Others say naïve. Most would say moronic.

07:49: Train is supposed to arrive.

07:51: Train arrives.

There is a mad rush to get the one remaining seat on the entire train, since the rest are already taken up by the fortunate ones who live at the beginning of the line; the joke, however, is on them, since on the way back, they become the end of the line – as they say, “you win some, you lose some” (though on the Underground, no one ever wins, which led to the coining of the updated expression, “you lose some, you lose some”).

I settle for a “leaning spot” on the door; it’s worth not having to stand up straight, even if you do risk flying out of the carriage when you lose concentration and the door opens at the next station. Then, at least, you would have found a nice “leaning spot” on the track.

I also cunningly choose to stand in the carriage flooded with uniformed, 12-year-old private school kids. Before the Jimmy Savile / Jerry Sandusky chants begin, I should explain that it’s because I know they are going to get off at the next station, a mere five minutes away, where all the local schools are. Still, I have to endure two or three minutes of cramped space, and of envy as they chat to each other about pre-teen “problems”, such as having gotten into trouble for wearing un-ironed PE shorts, or how “well unfair” the science test was for having questions on solar energy when “we only did wind energy”, or how “well fit” Miss Tate is (the teacher’s name has been changed to Miss Tate to spare Miss Willis embarrassment).

07:57: Once the kids alight, I scramble to take advantage of about seven or eight minutes of quiet / uncramped time, before the next station’s masses barge in. This is my time. Talib time. Private time. Shower time. (This doesn’t mean I shower on the train. I don’t whip out two bottles of Evian and a bar of soap and scrub myself in the middle of the carriage, before wiping myself down with a copy of the Metro. What I mean is I enjoy the same private time as people may enjoy in the shower – thinking their own thoughts in peace – during this space of time. Others who enjoy this time of tranquility in the bathroom may call it toilet time; again, I do not mean to say I perform my ablutionary activities on the train – which, I presume, would this time turn the Metro into toilet paper.)

08:05: Talib time comes to an abrupt end as the train pulls into the next station, where the doors open and allow a chilling gust of wind to freeze the brass balls off…well, off me, and the mob piles in, making us all feel like chickens in a coup, but without the altruistic feeling that in a few days time, we’ll be making some KFC customers finger-lickin’ happy. Any newspaper or book I’d opened during private time is now flung into my face – if the Metro’s in my hand, this invariably means a half-naked picture of “world’s sexiest woman” (presumably excluding all other women ever) Tulisa will be flung into my face – and as the train starts moving again, I’m holding the paper so close to my eyes that it looks as if, rather than reading the words, I’m carefully studying the grains in the paper. (This is known in scientific circles as graintology). If I have the urge to turn the page – to compare the grains on the following page, I guess – the likelihood is that I will not be able to turn the page, because a) I am squashed between folks like a butternut squash in a vat of orange squash on a squash court, and b) you have to hold onto the railings for dear life as the train rattles and clanks and throws you about as if you’re on the worst Universal Studios ride ever invented (assumingly based on the motion picture Speed 3: London Underground, except instead of Sandra Bullock, it’s the fat, sweaty lady next to you, and instead of Keanu Reeves, it’s a talented actor). So you either keep reading the same page / staring at the same half-nude photo of Too-looser / admiring the same grain for the next ten minutes, or you take the risk, let go of the handrail and turn the page, which will undoubtedly result in you falling onto that fat lady next to you, which at least means there’ll be a soft landing – and a new leaning spot.

Incidentally, the Metro is, hands down, the worst newspaper I’ve read. I am far from pretentious about the news I read (the last article I read was about Eminem’s daughter’s tweets about One Direction), but Metro truly hits an all-time low. You may say that for a free newspaper, it’s not too bad – but then you would be wrong. (You may also say, in just as wise a tone, that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yet the sandwich I carried out of the store without paying the other day ended up being free.) The content of the news is such that Metro might as well be called Today in Tulisa’s Life or Rihanna’s Latest Slutty Escapade Explained in Detail With Unnecessarily Detailed Pictures Over the Next Fifty Pages, with a tiny little headline in the bottom corner of the final page reading “Flood In Indonesia Kills Two Hundred”, though the word “Hundred” is hard to make out, as it’s mostly covered by Rihanna’s left tit. 

08:17: If all has gone to plan and the driver hasn’t suddenly announce that the train will be terminating earlier than expected – and on the day of writing this, that exact thing happened – it is time to alight and change trains. Which brings us to Part II of this exciting, real-time journey I’m leading you all on. Having proceeded out of the Metropolitan Line train and caught a breath of fresh air, we pile ourselves into a Jubilee Line train, which is structurally thinner, more compact, and contains 10% instead of the usual 20% oxygen present in the atmosphere, because there aren’t enough plants growing inside trains for photosynthesis to occur. (This is a fact. Ask your local grainologist.)

The chicken coup ambience is reenacted on this new train, and is even more accurate a comparison, since we move from the cooler, overground train temperatures to the hotter, molton-lava-like temperatures of the underground as we travel into Central London. And also because feathers are flying around the carriage, since the ostrich costume I happened to be carrying just came apart. As we all shove into the train, someone will predictably shout, “Move down please!”, and I look to see if there’s any space for me to move into, when I realize that OF COURSE THERE’S NO FUCKING SPACE TO MOVE DOWN INTO, OTHERWISE I WOULDN’T BE STANDING HERE SQUASHED BETWEEN TWO HEAVYWEIGHT EATING CHAMPIONS READY FOR ONE OF MY RIBS TO SNAP. Idiot.

08:23: Some bitch coughs in my face. The Jubilee Line train is a melting pot of diseases. There’s like a hot mist of cold and flu viruses, pink eye and stomach flu germs, and a dozen or so STDs rising and covering everyone like a big, warm fleece blanket soaked in crabs and wrapping itself over you. The point is that, when someone coughs, sneezes or ejects mucus on the tube, you have no escape from the airborne virus. You can’t move when you’re in the chicken coup. Whatever diseases Chicken #1 has, Chicken #2 is inevitably going to get, and that’s why colds spread so rapidly on the tube – and it’s also why KFC has so much flavor.

Even if no one directly ejects mucus into your face, your hands have already caught the virus from touching the handrails – which, remember, are impossible to avoid, unless you want to be thrown onto the now skinny gentleman next to you, who is less of a comfortable lean spot than the chubby lady – and the next time you innocently rub your eye, scratch your nose or pick your nose, the germs enter your system and hey presto, you’ve caught the flu-gonorrhea hybrid virus going around.

I am not a hypochondriac. I have just had it up to here (I’m doing the gesture, don’t worry) with the incessant cough-mongering on the tube. However, remember that if you are the one coughing and spreading your germs, then that’s absolutely fine.

08:29: A seat right behind me becomes vacant. I politely take a good look around to make sure there are no elderly people or pregnant ladies around who need the seat more than I do. If I don’t see any, I settle myself into the seat, feeling snug and smug at the same time.

If any elderly people or pregnant ladies board over the next few minutes, of course I will stand up and allow them to take the seat. But the trouble is…sometimes you can’t really tell. Obviously, you can recognize an old person. The telltale signs are: grey/white hair, not just on the head, but also protruding from the nostrils; slight smell of the 1950s (cigarettes mixed with a strong loathing of communists); and a general wrinkly and/or cute look about them. The problems set in when you try and identify pregnant women. Is this woman pregnant or just fat? And before you label me as mean for asking that question, I am actually trying to do a considerate thing and give up my seat for knocked-up females, so hush up. Sometimes you just can’t tell! Pregnant women and plump women both tend to wear baggy clothes, meaning that it’s hard to see whether the swollen tummy is in fact a baby bump or a burger bump. Is it more awkward, given the scenario of not knowing, to not give up your seat to a pregnant lady, thinking she’s fat, or to give up your seat to a fat lady, thinking she’s pregnant? There is no happy ending in this situation. Therefore, the key is: make no eye contact. Pretend you don’t know they’re there. Get immersed back into Talib time.

But then, there’ll be the occasional stroppy woman who demands that you should give up your seat. Again, I really don’t mind if it’s an elderly person or a pregnant lady. But more often than not, the stroppy woman is neither old nor pregnant, because no one has yet wanted to make her pregnant, and pass on those stroppy genes. This is the woman who believes that all women are entitled to a seat over all men. Is this the way a lot of women feel? I don’t know. If it is, then I would be more than happy to accommodate their whining and give up my seat to women. But then there’s always the ultra-feminist who’ll say, “Well, why should I sit down? I am just as capable as a man to stand. How dare you assume otherwise!” At which point I, so confused as to whether to sit or stand, just lie in the fetal position on the train floor, waiting for some kind soul to scoop me up and carry me to a real vehicle – a car.

Given the choice if I could drive to work for an hour or sit (stand) on a train for an hour, I would indubitably choose the former. I feel more in control in my car; I have the freedom to pull over or take a detour if I need to. I can turn up my jams to full volume. I can use my car as a trash can. I don’t have to change cars halfway when I get onto a new highway. My car is not a chicken coup or a melting pot of diseases. There is, evidently, the issue of being “green”, and that it’s kinder to the environment to use public transport. However, I get around this matter by just not thinking about it.

08:38: The tube stops at Waterloo station. The next few minutes are the low-point on a journey of rock-bottom lows. Waterloo station is convenient in that it is a connecting point for train lines all across the country, which, in turn, is inconvenient for me, as it means that I will be completely deprived of oxygen for five minutes everyday as hoards of people cramp into the already packed carriage. Deep-sea divers actually prepare for the lack of oxygen underwater by standing in an underground train for hours on end. Well, OK, they don’t do that. But if I were president of a high-profile deep-sea diving squad, I would suggest the idea. Perhaps that’s why I’m not the president of the deep-sea diving team. Another reason is probably that I can’t deep-sea dive.

By this time, of course, I’ve been ushered out of my seat by the neither-old-nor-pregnant-bitch, and am back in center-stage chicken coup territory. This time, instead of a cougher, I’m inevitably stuck next to either an eater or a stinker. Specimen A, the eater, is on the one hand an admirable character, in that while I am yet unable to turn a page of the newspaper, he or she is able to produce a breakfast burrito from his or her bag, remove the packaging, and calmly chow down on the wrap as if he or she were comfortably resting at a dining table. The bad news is that you become his or her bib. As you stand in awe of the miraculous feat, you haven’t yet realized that there’s a runny, cheesy, eggy substance running down your right jean leg.

Specimen B, the stinker, is another story altogether. There is zero admiration whatsoever for the stinker. He or she achieves no miraculous feats, but rather just smells like absolute shit. I am not talking about a homeless person. I am referring to a seemingly well-to-do person who just happens not to know what a shower is, or has not yet discovered soap, like the rest of the human race did about three thousand years ago. Bless their ignorance. But fuck their stench. It is an inhumane smell: an odor best described as the amalgamation of the ones emanating from Golem’s breath and Honey Boo Boo’s ass.

08:44: At long last, I arrive at London Bridge, my final destination. There’s a last-minute struggle to exit the carriage, and as I push through the crowd, I wonder with paranoia if there’s a conspiracy to keep me inside this hellish compartment, like some form of fucked-up medieval torture as a punishment for something I did in my past life. Perhaps in that life I was unkind in some way to the underground system – maybe I bullied a tube driver, urinated on the seats, or didn’t “mind the gap” – but it’s evident now that the underground is finally taking its sweet revenge on me. As I finally inhale some oxygen in the open air, wipe the eggy substance off my jeans and sigh with relief that I’m free at least for another twenty-four hours, I acknowledge with regret the reality of the situation: the London Underground has made me its bitch.

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Recipe For Disaster (Clichéd Title With the General Meaning That If You Eat Food That I’ve Cooked You’ll Probably Vomit Profusely)

I often find myself wondering if I missed some important lesson somewhere down the line that I should have taken to learn how to cook. Was I supposed to attend a cookery class at school that no one told me about? Was there some ridiculously vague memo that went around at some indefinite point during my childhood that said something like:

All children across the world aged [insert age as appropriate]: meet in the kitchen at 5pm on Thursday to learn how to cook.

I don’t remember getting this futile memo. Even if I had gotten it, maybe I ended up going to the wrong kitchen, or to the right kitchen on the wrong Thursday.

Because my invitation to “Learn How to Cook Stuff” was lost in the post (or emailed to me before I had email, or successfully delivered but ripped up by my parents in an attempt to sabotage my cooking skills as a source of humour), this is the complete list of dishes I can currently make:

  1. Toast.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m quite the toast chef. I can cook a mean toast “any style”; varieties include: regular toast, burnt toast, buttered toast, burnt toast, untoasted toast (bread), burnt toast.

I don’t tend to venture away from my toast comfort zone (an actual zoned area in my house, bordered by a wall of toast), because I end doing things like making leek and potato soup for two people using two leeks and six potatoes. Needless to say, the soup was very potato-y. And I later felt very bloat-y.

I can’t even “cook” mashed potatoes out of a packet, and those are for people who can’t cook. So what does that make me? (Don’t answer that.) The last (and first, and only) time I tried to do so, I was stunned, after having followed the recipe word for word, when my “mashed” potatoes were the consistency of porridge – and thin porridge at that. Prison porridge. The potatoes were drowning in some kind of watery, milky, greasy gloop, and they did not taste good – even out of a straw.

(It later turned out that the gourmet powdered potatoes had gone wrong because I hadn’t understood that “a cup” referred to, in fact, a concrete measurement – equivalent to around 240 millilitres – not an actual cup. I’d been frantically throwing mug-fulls of water into the mix as if I were trying to bring a dehydrated goldfish back to life.

When I manage to successfully follow a recipe, it’s not a lot better. After a hard day’s work – hypothetical, of course – it’s exhausting to have to return home and spend an hour slogging away at the stove, only to wolf it down within ten minutes, and then spend another half hour cleaning egg yolk off the kitchen walls, dragging chicken fat out of my hair, and fishing carrots out of the toaster. (My first instinct is to put anything edible in the toaster; it’s an appliance I’ve grown fond of.)

Some people (good cooks) sneer and assert that it’s better to experiment by adding spices, herbs, and so on, casually with a trial and improvement method, instead of measuring ingredients precisely. These people clearly think of cookery as an art, whilst in my mind, it’s very much a science that requires precision – and a brain the size of Einstein’s hairdo – to figure out. I’m very much for free-pouring spirits, but my liberalness with foodstuffs ends there; I need to follow recipe measurements to the T, using lab pipettes and test tubes. I am not opposed, if I think I’ve added too much of an ingredient, to dig out single grains of salt with a pair of tweezers. (Obviously not the same pair I used to pluck my nose hair. Not that I have nose hair. It’s hypothetical.)

So this is why I leave the cooking to the pros. There are a lot of people out there who enjoy cooking, so why not let them have their cake – but not eat it, as that’s my job. I love to eat good food, but I kindly let others – relatives, friends, restaurant chefs, people who owe me favours in return for shady, unspeakable dealings – prepare it for me. I’ll even help clean up at the end. No chicken fat in their hair, you say? They obviously didn’t follow the recipe correctly.

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Conventional Wisdom

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Everybody’s looking for that all-important “convention bounce”: the “bump” in polls following the US party conventions. Well, not everybody. I’m not. But then I didn’t just have a convention held in my honor. (Incidentally, if I did, the TVC (Talib Visram Convention) would be the least conventional of conventions. Delegates would be bribed with FDA-unapproved chocolate and black market iPods, threatened with the prospect of being thrown in the on-site piranha pool, and heavily under the influence of tequila and illegal substances while casting their nomination votes. In this respect, the TVC does sound eerily similar to the KJICs (Kim Jong-Il Conventions) of the past.)

Polls following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are showing that Obama and the Democrats “won” the conventions and garnered the all-important “bounce”, with the President leading by a four-point margin over Oven Mitt Romney. There is, however, a lot more that I learned from the six days of political razzamatazz.

 

Things we learned from the conventions

1. Democrats will win in 2012; Republicans will win in 2016.

Here’s the thing. I stay confident that Mitt Romney won’t beat Barack Obama this year. In the battle between man and robots, man always eventually emerges victorious through strength of reason and emotion, which android Romney lacks. After November 6th, he’ll be repackaged and re-bubble-wrapped, and sent back to his maker (Reagan’s Republican Robots) for a complete rebuilding of the political android, in an attempt to once more try to overcome the age-old issue of empathy (the closest the Romney Robot got was excessive empathy for corporations, which he/it mistook for people).

In all honesty, I think Obama will clinch this one, due to the same underlying mentality of keeping the incumbent for fear of change – sticking with the devil you know than the Mormon version of Satan you don’t. Which means, I believe, that the Republicans will re-attain power in 2016, with a President Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Marco Rubio. Without a doubt, the Dems showcased some fine up-and-coming candidates with presidential qualities, most notably Governors Deval Patrick and Martin O’Malley, and Mayors Cory Booker and Julian Castro. However, the American bi-partisan system is such that power swings like a red, white and blue pendulum from party to party so predictably every eight years that Obama would have to pull of something miraculous before 2016 for the Dems to stay in the White House – like single-handedly crushing the Chinese economy, or killing Osama bin Laden again. Castro et al will be trump cards to play in 2020 after America realizes President Jeb Bush is related to George W., or after President Christie eats half his administration.

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2. I am in love with Michelle Obama.

The Princess Kate of America, Michelle Obama, is an absolute gem. When Americans were asked who the best First Lady of recent times was, Mrs. Obama won with a staggering 72% of the vote, crushing former moms-in-chief, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps part of her popularity is her dedication to fighting childhood obesity. If I could go back in time to when I was 10 years old, I would buy the Supersize Me cookbook and balloon up like Humpty Dumpty on the Paula Deen diet so that Mrs. Obama could tackle my childhood obesity. Thin, healthy children have no chance with Michelle, as she leaves them well alone. I would let her personally train me; she would feed me lettuce and yell at me while I struggle on the 4.5 setting on the treadmill, and I would call her regularly at 3am with my late-night Wendy’s overdose crisis, at which point she’d have to crawl out of bed without Barack noticing to comfort me in my time of need.

Sometimes I wonder if Chris Christie is subtly trying to attract attention from the First Lady by eating everything in sight? Or if former meat-lover Bill Clinton is trying to impress her by turning vegan? Let’s be honest: who would choose to be a vegan without an ulterior motive? Eating rice cakes and lentils for the rest of your days without getting some action in return? Everything in life is done for food or sex, and when the only food you’re allowed to eat is celery stuffed with cabbage, sex becomes doubly important. Especially if you’re the fucking man like Bill Clinton (see later section: Bill Clinton is the fucking man). By the way, I doubt Michelle would touch Chris Christie with a stick, mostly because that might cause him to burst.

3. Clint Eastwood is senile.

Really? Dirty Harry, and now this? Talking to a chair? Or is Clint Eastwood actually a genius, and a secret weapon used by the Democrats to make Mitt Romney’s introduction speech look like an elderly man’s audition for admission to an elite mental institution? Everyone’s favorite part, of course, was Eastwood telling Obama to go fuck himself (“I can’t tell him to do that to himself!”), which I can imagine Obama had already found a way to do and was now going to town at the time in a moment of pure joy at seeing Romney’s world fall apart. I don’t know the logistics and repercussions when you “go fuck yourself”, but when a rich guy like Obama does it, it could result in the birth of a million dollar baby. (As cringeworthy as that was, you know you were waiting for a movie title pun. You’re welcome.)

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4. Voucherization is a word.

Verb: To turn into a voucher. (I voucherize, you voucherize, he/she/it voucherizes, we voucherize, you (plural) voucherize, they voucherize.) Example: I voucherized my cat yesterday. (Meaning: I transformed my living, breathing pet into an inanimate, paper voucher yesterday.)

The controversy stems from the fact that a Romney-Ryan presidency would change Medicare (the “net” that keeps senior citizens from financial instability by covering various medical bills) into a voucher system, meaning that seniors would get a specific amount to put toward private insurance – thus keeping the corporations (sorry, people) happy.

This whole debate triggered the widespread use of the word “voucherization”. I have long been an advocate of American English’s way of simplifying certain words (humour to humor and centre to center just make sense), but does this mean we can add –ize to any word now?

“I totally boyized my daughter by giving her an embarrassing bowl haircut. LOL!”

“It’s so hot today, I think I need to cut the sleeves off my t-shirt. Tanktopization is the fashion these days.”

“Been going to the gym everyday for months, but still no results. It takes so long to Schwarzeneggerize!”

 

 

Things we already knew, but that were reinforced by the conventions

1. Bill Clinton is the fucking man.

Billy boy killed it once again. While Clint Eastwood’s ad-libbing was nail-bitingly awkward, Clinton’s (somewhat oxymoronic) planned improvisation was the height of rhetorical sophistication and class. The former president has a rapport with the American people unlike no other recent leader, and it’s deserved: Clinton made fifty minutes seem like a mere ten, charming delegates with humor and his trademark Southern swagger, while also laying down facts and figures intellectually and effortlessly (which, by the way, fact checkers had a hard time disproving – unlike those little truth-tweakers in Paul Ryan’s fairy story speech). The night before Obama and Biden even spoke, Clinton had already secured the convention bounce.

I’ll say it again: Bill Clinton is the fucking man. In the picking of American political leaders, the intellect factor is no more important than the likeability factor: Americans want an intelligent leader, but also one with whom they feel they could sit down and grab a beer. With Obama, the scales tip a little more toward the intellectual side; I could imagine drinking a beer and shooting the breeze with Obama, but more likely I feel we’d be dressed in tuxes and sipping on a fine port at a dinner party, Frasier Crane-style. The scales tip massively in the other direction with Bush: we’d definitely be drinking Bud Lights like the average Joe, but what would we talk about? Could he muster up an intelligent conversation? I feel like he’d be asking me which breakfast cereal I’d be if I had the choice, or my favorite flavor of cough syrup, or perhaps he’d just be making farm animal noises, completely oblivious to the fact that I was sitting opposite him (and apparently unaware of the fact that cows do not go “baa”). Just one Bud for me, thanks.

Clinton doesn’t tip the scales in either direction, but reaches perfect equilibrium between intellect and likeability, as proven by his convention speech. I would absolutely want to sit down to a beer with Bill. But it wouldn’t end there. After a few beers, we’d hit the bars hard, slamming shots of Sambuca and downing Jäger bombs, hang out with the University of Kentucky cheerleading team (why Kentucky? Why not?), ignore Hillary’s calls, steal a few street signs and break open Bill’s signature cigars, one of which he’d be sure to keep for later in case a situation called for him to use it for a purpose other than smoking.

Would you want to get a beer with Mitt Romney? Well, he wanted to get one with this guy, but it didn’t work out too well…

 

2.  Romney and Ryan would be disastrous.

The Republican Party has changed dramatically, even over the last four years. Say what you like about Bush (I certainly will: he started a devastating war that nobody wanted; he crashed the economy; he misunderestimated a lot), but despite his faults, blunders and general incapacity in mastering the English language, I do think he was fundamentally a good guy with good intentions. No one can accuse him of prejudice, with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both playing major parts in his administration; he was an evangelical but never an in-your-face evangelical, nor was he outspoken about social issues that he may have felt strongly about as a Texas Christian. Dubya embodied “compassionate conservatism”.

Nor was John McCain a bad guy, but he inadvertently played a huge part in changing the face of the GOP for the worse. By picking Sarah Palin, aka Psycho Bitch, as his VP candidate, he not only lost himself the 2008 election, but also created the monster that became one of the heroines of the Tea Party Movement. As soon as Dr. Frankenstein’s creature turned loose, Palinites rallied in support of the movement, thrusting other right-wing radicals into the spotlight, from Michele Bachmann, aka Psycho Bitch 2.0, to the Rick Santorums and Rick Perrys of the current GOP.

By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has gained the crucial Tea Party support, but has also alienated his moderate conservative voters and many independents. What does Mitt Romney stand for? No one knows. The moderate ex-Massachusetts Governor, who was a champion of healthcare and a pro-choice and pro-gun control politician, has now reversed his stances on all three issues. (Or so we are led to believe.) With so much focus on the economy (where he wants to cut spending – affecting the middle class and seniors – and keep the rich guys’ taxes the same as everyone else’s), social issues have been swept under the rug; but when they do come up, a President Romney would surely be pushed to the right by Ryan and the supporters of the current Republican party: the one that has made me kind of like George W. Bush – and thus hate myself.

Don’t be fooled by Ryan’s rugged good looks and Romney’s faultlessly thick hair (they can put any kind of hair on androids); I know that a candidate composed of Romney’s hair on Ryan’s face would be a no-brainer vote for many people. But people need to think about the issues, not about the fact that Obama’s hair on Joe Biden’s face would be eerie and alarming.

3. Tampa is horrible.

I know I may seem overly opinionated at times, perhaps occasionally about things I don’t know enough about. But I know a thing or two about Tampa Bay. Both those things, among all the other things about Tampa, suck.

Being a swing state, Florida was supposedly a decent choice for the Republican Convention, but why not hold it in the visually stunning Miami? Or in the tourist haven of Orlando? Or even in the middle of the fucking Everglades? Why Tampa? Why the strip mall-crammed, strip club and drag racing centre of America? Bill Clinton wasn’t going to be there, so there was clearly no necessity for the presence of strip clubs. I can’t really compare Charlotte, the venue for the Democratic Convention, but I spent two hours in transit in Charlotte Douglas Airport, and it was already better than a year in Tampa.

During that year living in Tampa, I taught English to bright, talented kids at a wonderful school, and I got to know a lot of really great people. It’s hot all year round. Beaches and resorts are not so far away. The Taco Bus, a Tampa staple, rustles up some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tried, uniquely served out of a stationary bus. But the city itself is God-awful. The heat breeds bugs. Bugs breed mosquito bites. Mosquito bites breed itching. Itching breeds scratching. Scratching breeds rashes. Ergo, Tampa = a rash. There were many days when I thought of hijacking that Taco Bus, filling it with my friends, colleagues, students and a couple of Tampa’s finest strippers, and taking it up North, or West, or to Canada, or anywhere really, other than Tampa.

(The main problem with the idea was getting the clearance from parents for their children to ride the same bus as a group of strippers. Apparently it wasn’t reassurance enough for them that they would be sat at separate ends of the bus, and that the strippers had kindly volunteered to help with math homework. With their clothes on.)

The Democrats have won the sought-after convention bounce, but what happens now? I do think Obama will win, but I’m not as overly confident as I made myself out to be earlier on; I think it’ll be a close one. I know who I’ll be voting for – no one, since I’m not a US citizen.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for figures following the TVC, but all indications are suggesting that Talib Visram has been nominated, with a blind eye having been turned toward the dozens of bags of weed scattered across the convention floor, and toward the intoxicated bloodbath in the piranha pool.

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Upper Tier Blues

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I was going to write this article three weeks ago, right after seeing the Watch the Throne concert, but I couldn’t find the words to describe what I’d just witnessed. There were a multitude of adjectives buzzing around my head at the time, including the ones below:

Electrifying. Stupefying. Awesome. Mind-blowing. Momentous. Grand. Sensational. Spectacular. Phenomenal. Insane. Unreal. Surreal. Extraordinary. Meaty. Artery-clogging. Bloating. Constipating.*

(*There’s a chance that some of these words describe a particularly troublesome burrito I was eating at the time. I believe the two lists of words somehow got mixed up.)

After sifting through the innumerable words that could possibly have described the event, I turned to plagiarism for my selfish benefit. The word I came up with (stole) to characterize the event was: Cray. There’s truly no other word that suits. That shit (was) cray.

But more on cray later. (Also coming up, in case you’re already bored: Paris, pickles and sex tapes. I like to include something for everyone – Francophiles, foodies, and sex maniacs.)

Before even stepping foot inside the hallowed walls of London’s O2 arena, we knew this was going to be something special. To see Jay-Z or Kanye West solo is a huge deal; to see them together is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Which is why I was pretty dismayed after walking – climbing – up to our upper tier seats. I’m pretty sure I could see asteroids flying around up there – but maybe that was just the altitude sickness kicking in. A buddy of mine, who bought tickets on the day from a scalper, paid half the money I did, and secured better seats, said I looked so upset “up there” that he thought I was about to cry. Upper tear seats indeed.

So I sat up there on the summit of Everest and sulked, munching on my grubby-ass cheese pizza and sipping on my £8 Heineken that I’d bought from the concession stand, and generally wishing bad things on the lucky bastards with standing tickets way down there on the floor. When, without any warning, two figures appeared on huge cubes in the middle of the floor, and the bass-heavy tones of “H.A.M.” started pounding from the speakers. I was mesmerized. Here they were, two kings of modern-day hip-hop, Jay and ‘Ye, the rap veteran and the virtuoso producer, the businessman and the egomaniac, gracing their cube-stages just for us. And I couldn’t see jack shit.

“Cheer the fuck up, you miserable piece of shit,” were the paraphrased words that my buddy aimed at me. (Actually, they were pretty much the exact words.) So I did. As much as I hated the floor ticket people for that party of a lifetime they were having, and for almost being able to touch Kanye’s leather skirt, I put on a happy face and, like the two hip-hop heavyweights on cubes, resolved to “go H.A.M. – hard as a muthafucker”.

And, boy, did they go H.A.M. After the defiant “Who Gon Stop Me”, during which images of great white sharks appeared on the side of their cubes, they proceeded to the main, front stage as the soulful tones of Otis Redding signaled the start of “Otis”. The party had officially begun, and the giant TV screens suddenly came to life, meaning I could finally see, not just hear, what the hell was going on.

I should note that, from the very start, even though we were in “seated” tickets, I’d been standing in front of my chair. I saw it as taking a stand against the O2, The Throne, but mainly Ticketmaster. Three months ago, I woke up early to get on a 7am train to get into work at an unpaid, two-week internship at 8:30am on the dot so I could log into Ticketmaster and have my finger poised on the “Buy Standing Tickets” button at 9am sharp. Is that not good enough for you, Ticketmaster? Did you want me to camp out in front of the palace at Ticketmaster headquarters (I assume they work out of a palace, not an office, so I can hate them more for being snobbish and rich) the night before and beg for tickets, in return for a hundred years of indebtedness to Ticketmaster? Sadly, I would have considered this. I assume being Ticketmaster’s slave for a hundred years – doing mundane tasks such as sending out flyers, updating the website and performing creepy sexual favours for the King of Ticketmaster – kills you slowly, which knocks at least thirty years off that hundred. And by 11am that day, the site had crashed over and over again, leaving me with no choice but to settle for the cursed seated tickets. So now is my revenge, Ticketmaster. I am going to stand for this entire show, blocking the views of the poor guy behind me, who probably thought he was going to have a relaxing Monday evening, and now he has some jerk in front of him and has to videotape around his fat ass. This is your fault, Ticketmaster, not mine.

(Dear Ticketmaster, I repent for my sin of this outburst against you. It’s only a joke. All praise be to Ticketmaster. As soon as I finish writing this article, I will be sure to get back to scrubbing the palace floors, gypping other helpless people out of their standing tickets, and then I’ll be in the Ticketmaster Master Bedroom for whatever freaky ticket shit you have lined up for me as punishment.)

Luckily, most of the others around me were standing now as the rappers ran through their Watch the Throne collection; it was difficult to not want to be on your feet. The theme of the show, like the title of the Kanye track, was power: about being the best of the best, about being wealthy and having risen up from nothing to being on top of the world – on The Throne, in fact. (Not the toilet.) As Kanye raps in “Otis” about his “other other Benz”, and Jay describes himself as “looking like wealth, I’m ‘bout to call the paparazzi on myself”, it’s evident that the two have reached a point where they have nothing to prove – but they’re proving it anyway. The only people that can top them…are themselves.

On a simpler level, the show was about giving the fans what they wanted: the hits. And, unquestionably, they followed through on this. Jay and ‘Ye went on to run through streams and streams of their solo hits while the other took a quite respite – or even stuck around to play the other’s hype-man; Kanye even played the racist cop in Jay’s “99 Problems”.

For me, it felt like Kanye was running the show. I’m not suggesting, by any means, that he was better – just that Jay, the already accomplished, wiser, more disciplined of the two, was letting Kanye take charge. Jay’s already been there and done that – and, besides, he gets to go home to Beyoncé and baby Blue Ivy, while poor Kanye has to trudge backstage and continue teaching Kim Kardashian the alphabet. (She’s currently on S- and T-, for S-ex T-ape.)

Jay still played the role of the mentor, picking up the slack when his former apprentice was out of energy. During the slower “New Day”, when the two sat and caught a breath after a kinetic string of songs, Yeezy, out of breath, looked over to the veteran, and Jay knew what to do: he rapped part of Kanye’s verse for him, while he recuperated. At this point, the two looked less like two giants, and more like a vulnerable son leaning on his sapient father.

This is not to say that Kanye slumped; in fact, the crowd responded wildly to Mr. West’s solo compilation – perhaps because, in this country at least, Kanye has generally had a more successful track record in terms of chart hits and popular consensus; or perhaps because, let’s face it, he has some rockin’ stadium bangers that are designed to tear the roof off. As soon as his first solo song – “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – rang from the speakers, the entire arena broke into screams. Everyone rapped along as he went from hit to hit to hit, from “Jesus Walks” to “All Falls Down” to “Monster”, and from to “Good Life” to “Stronger” to “Touch the Sky” to “Gold Digger”. It was no wonder he was drained of energy – so was I, and I was just standing up on some precipice on the top of Mount Fujiyama, looking down.

Before each hit played, the name of the track would flash across the screens, so the audience knew what was coming next, and so they could respond in the appropriate fashion. For me, that response, in nearly all cases, was: “OH SHIT! [Insert name of song here]! THIS IS FUCKING INSANE! (I WISH WE HAD STANDING TICKETS!)  BUT STILL, THIS SHIT’S INSANE!” I rocked up to the arena dressed in a pretty nice, off-white Polo shirt and dark jeans, and by the end, after all the rapping and arm-flinging to the beat of the music, I was a sweaty mess. The Polo was clinging to my chest as if I’d partaken in a Ralph Lauren wet T-shirt contest. My hair was dripping with perspiration, and my voice had gone. I’m sure it was an incredibly unattractive sight. This, then, was not a great time to pick up girls. Although, if any ladies out there are into sweaty brows, dehydrated cottonmouths and runny noses (which actually had nothing to do with the concert; I just also happened to have a cold at the time), please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Kanye didn’t fail to inject a little of his egomania and sidetracking into his performance, though. After “Runaway” and “Heartless”, he “went off on one”, as it were, preaching and philosophizing for ten minutes about love and “holding on to the one you’re with”. Which seemed rather romantic and idealistic coming after a song that includes the lyrics: “24/7, 365, pussy stays on my mind”. Perhaps it was the thought of his newfound sweetheart, Kim Kardashian, sitting backstage and reciting her five times tables. (You would think, incidentally, that a man who thinks as much of himself as Kanye does, especially intelligence-wise, wouldn’t settle for a reality TV star for whose brains God didn’t have any neuron fibers left so used dental floss instead. A friend of mine has an intriguing theory that Kanye is gay, and that all this “player” talk is simply a ruse.)

Kanye also stopped “All of the Lights” halfway after the line: “MJ gone. A n***a dead!” He demanded that everyone join in and yell “a n***a dead!” the next time through – “this is the only time you’ll get away with saying it,” he joked. Or was it a joke? Was he making a serious, philosophical point here? Did he mean, on a deeper level, that everyone, despite their race or background, should all come together as one and disregard pre-existing racial and class constraints? No, probably not. But I still held back, uncomfortable with the thought of uttering, let alone shouting, the N-word, even if Kanye had given us his baffling blessing.

Of course, the two rappers alternated, with Jay-Z taking the reins in between Kanye’s ever-enigmatic performances. With Jay, there was a sense of refreshment. Jay gets to the point. He’s there to perform, not to sermonize, and for him, it comes effortlessly. Like his approach, his outfit was straightforward, and without a need for a leather skirt: “all black everything”, topped off with a Brooklyn Nets hat, representing, of course, the team he part owns. He needs to do nothing more than this to show that he’s the shit, and his repertoire supported this, with hits like “Dirt off Your Shoulder”, “Hard Knock Life”, “Public Service Announcement”, “On to the Next One”, “I Just Wanna Love You”, “H to the Izzo” and “Big Pimpin’” – not to mention his full rendition of New York’s unrivalled theme song, “Empire State of Mind”, which was a breath of fresh air directly following Kanye’s “Runaway” rant.

They were at their best when they shared the stage (or their own individual cubes), whether they were playing their Watch the Throne tracks or featured songs from their solo albums, such as Jay’s “Run this Town”, and the remixes of Kanye’s “Power” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”. Oh – and then there was that other one song, and one song only. What’s it called again? They didn’t play it enough times for me to remember…

Of course, I’m talking about the most epic rap song I’ve ever heard: “N****s in Paris”. That shit is more epic than Ben-Hur. It’s more epic than a triathlon across the South Pole with nothing more than a Speedo and a bicycle pump. (And not even a bicycle. That has to be acquired via some shrewd bargaining with penguins. They may look cute, but they’re swindling sons of bitches.)

Why is it “epic”? First of all, the name of the song is “N****s in Paris”. Clearly, the duo’s point is that it’s a rags to riches fairytale for two guys from the hood to be able to producing music in Paris (most of Watch the Throne was recorded in France), in the fashion capital of the world, wearing designer clothes and jewelry and generally “balling so hard”; as Jay says: “[If] you’d escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too!”

Another reason is that the track has enjoyed what I call the “SexyBack Effect”. Every once in a while, an artist releases a song containing a term or expression that everybody will start to use in daily conversation. After the release of Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” in 2006, it was hard to avoid hearing at least one obnoxious college kid a day saying: “Yo dude, I’m totally digging these new kicks I picked up from Pac Sun the other day, they’re so sick bro! How much am I bringing Sexy Back right now?!” Even The Queen was heard using the term, on more than a single occasion: “One is looking utterly handsome this wintry eve, Philip, in that terribly tight tank top. One can see one’s six-pack! Has one been working out lately? One is certainly bringing Sexy Back tonight!” Sure, it was irksome that the expression was so overused, but it was a testament to the popularity of the song and its mass effect on the public. Another example was Rihanna’s 2007 hit, after which it was impossible to walk outside on a rainy day without hearing: “Hey, kids, did you remember to bring the umbrella? –Ella, -ella, -eh, -eh?”

“N****s in Paris” is enjoying the SexyBack Effect currently, with “ball so hard” and “that shit cray” – the song’s hooks, repeated by Jay and Kanye respectively – having become the latest slang words to enter the Urban Dictionary. Incidentally, “cray”, evidently a contraction of “crazy”, has been analyzed by some to actually be “Kray”, in reference to the British crime lords, the Kray brothers, who evaded police for several years – they “balled so hard, muthafuckers wanna find [them]”.

Either way, the song is famous not just for these catchphrases, but also for the fact that Jay and ‘Ye close their Watch the Throne shows by playing the track over and over again. The day I went to the concert, the two played the song four times in a row, which seems like a lot, but made me feel like I(‘d been cheated after hearing that the night before, and the night following, they played it seven times. (They recently set a record – at their show in Paris, fittingly – by playing it a whopping eleven times.) Now, my list of ways I have been screwed over looks like this:

  1. No standing tickets
  2. Only four renditions of N.I.P.
  3. Amazon Prime charging me a monthly fee without emailing me with notification of the end of my free trial. (Again, this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but still noteworthy, I feel.)

I have since become so used to hearing the song multiple times in a row that it simply doesn’t seem right when played a single time. At a club, recently, soon after the DJ played the track, I went up to her and asked if she could play it again. “I just played it,” she said, perplexed. “I know,” I admitted, “but it’s just so epic.” I think would happily fork out a decent amount of money for a N****s in Paris tour, comprising solely the one track played over and over again.

In fact, I want N****s in Paris to be the theme tune to my life. I want the song played at my wedding. When the bride, shining angelically in her pristine white dress, cheeks glowing with excitement (it hasn’t yet fully dawned on her that she’ll have to spend the entirety of the rest of her life with me), instead of the wedding march, the minister will announce: “We’re gonna skate to one song, and one song only”, at which point the organ, connected to a bass-heavy sub-woofer, will start playing the melody, and the congregation will begin balling so hard.  I also want the song played at my funeral. As guests dine on fish filet, instead of uttering the usual condolences and remarks like “what a shame”, they will – equally somberly – shake their heads and say: “that shit cray”. My gravestone will say: R.I.P., N.I.P. (Obviously, the cause of death will be: balling way too hard.)

After the fourth N.I.P., the show was over, and it was time to descend the steep ridge of the upper tier seating area. (The people in the standing area were able to leave pretty quickly – just saying.) I walked down the steps eating the remains of the grubby-ass pizza, which was now cold, and had probably been stepped on several times by latecomers squeezing through to their seats; and as I chomped down on the cold, hard cheese, I heard a person behind me – who can only be described as an asshole – complain to his friend: “Why did they have to keep playing that song over and over again?”

Instead of cutting his harness and pushing him down the mountain, I reflected on the momentousness of the show and knew it was easily the best concert I’ve seen. Though, admittedly, I seem to say that about every new concert I go to. I said the same thing when I saw Jay-Z solo for the first time in State College, Pennsylvania, where he kicked off his tour for The Blueprint 3. I said the same when I saw a low-budget T.I. concert (in-between his jail stints, I suppose); and also the same when I was fifteen and saw a drugged-up Eminem in 2003 (although to see the newly reformed, top-of-his-game Eminem today would be a mind-blowing experience). And I even said the same when I saw Akon and Rihanna live in 2007, though that was probably because I was a sophomore in college and drunk 95% of the time; and I’m pretty sure that concert was not part of the 5%, as I only reserved that for events that called for sobriety, such as going to the gym, reading books, and some exams.

Incidentally, one concert I did not say was the best I’ve been to was – and don’t judge – a Nickelback concert. Let me firstly defend myself by asserting that this was the tickets were sold at student rates, so I paid rather little to go. And, although the band’s music is generic (generock) and there’s a Facebook group that’s managed to recruit more fans of a picture of a pickle than of Nickelback, I have to admit that they did put on a pretty good show. But the problem arose out of the fact that I’d only bought my own ticket, having been assured by my roommates that they would also be buying tickets in the coming days. Of course, the day of the concert arrived and they had not followed through, and so I was forced to get my money’s worth by going to the concert…alone. In one of the most embarrassing moments of my life (and there have been countless), I tried to avoid looking as if I were there by myself by casually standing close to a large group of people who were there together, pretending I was with them. I even stooped so low as to nod along to their group conversations and laugh along with their jokes.

But at least I had standing tickets for that concert.

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What’s in a Name?

It would have been so much easier if I had been named Bob. Or Jim. Or Jim Bob. Or Bob Jim. Really any monosyllabic name. Actually, any common white name would have been ideal. For a second-generation immigrant – a person, like me, of Eastern descent who has been born and bred in the West – it is unreasonable to complain of cultural factors “holding you back” in Western society. Accent is not an issue. I don’t have to worry about slurs and jeers aimed toward me on account of a “fresh off the boat” accent. I have a pretty standard, middle-class British accent – albeit mixed with an American twang by virtue of my five-year stint in the US (although some would prefer the term “debased” to “mixed”; a potential employer once disclosed to me that we would have to “do something” about that American drawl because buyers “wouldn’t like it”). Nor is race any longer an issue. Without sounding insensitive to those who suffer the still existent manifestations of racism, the only verbal discrimination I have ever encountered was more amusing that offensive. During my first year of high school, I was advised by an older student that I should probably “take a bath” since it looked like I had “shit” on my face. The notion that I could go home and scrub the brown off my body was entertaining to me; it certainly would have made Michael Jackson’s pigmentation ailment more easily explicable.

Brownness aside, the only aspect that makes me feel different from the indigenous population around me is my name. On a consistent basis, white people love to fuck up the pronunciation of foreign-sounding names. Hey, white people – I love you, but how difficult is it to pronounce these names? Is this one long, drawn-out inside joke or game that you’re all participating in by screwing up our names on a regular basis? One day, four hundred years in the future, when the joke has worn dry, is some white representative named Michael is going to appear on a news special on TV (or whatever freakishly innovative technological appliance will have replaced good ole television) and finally reveal that his entire race has been mispronouncing Eastern names just because it was, well, sort of funny? “Guys, we knew the whole time that Amir was pronounced “UH-mir”! We were just saying “AI-meer” to piss you off! It was hilarious, though, right?!” Yeah, real funny, Mitch-ay-ell.

I wish I could tone down the bitterness, but this acerbity derives from the fact that my own name has been mispronounced more times than Gordon Ramsay has thrown a quarter in the swear jar. Talib, in its most eloquent Arabic utterance, is said “TAHH-lib”. But I’m really not seeking perfection. A simple anglicized version, “TAA-lib”, the vowel sound produced with a slight projection of the tongue, will do nicely. In fact, this is even how I say my own name (probably due to that same assimilation into the West idea). At a push, I’ll even be willing to accept “Tuh-LEEB”, which is how it was often voiced in America – I believe it is an African-Americanized pronunciation; there is a black football player for the Buccaneers called Talib, and a rapper named Talib Kweli (which led to my nickname through college by those acquainted with the rapper to be Kweli. I didn’t oppose that particular name; it had a neat ring to it). A pronunciation that I would not accept, by any means, is Tulip.

Yes, like the fucking flower. It was on a school ski trip to France, actually, where the ski instructor perverted my name. And its meaning, come to think of it; the rather noble meaning of Talib is “student” or “seeker of knowledge”, and now it had been degraded and emasculated rather dramatically into a name which signified “a pretty, pink, heavenly scented Dutch flower, xoxoxoxo J” (the last part of that might have been exaggerated for purposes of emphasizing the effeminacy of my new name). Maybe I should forgive the man, I thought, considering he was French and perhaps the error was due to a linguistic discrepancy. Then I realized that there are more people with Arabic-sounding names in France than in Britain (the Maghrébins, as the French call these immigrants). So, there was really no excuse. Besides, the taunting had begun; Tulip was a name that was sure to remain for quite a while. I imagined flamboyantly conjuring up bouquets of tulips in my pink fanny pack, pulling them out and shoving them into the Frenchman’s nose, rubbing pollen all over his face and watching in amusement as the exacerbation of his hay fever reached sneezing point. But he probably didn’t even suffer from allergies. And he was actually a pretty nice guy, especially in comparison to the ski bitch who he had replaced after she had yelled at me for feebly falling off the drag lift and had more or less tied me up, beat me and thrown me down a ski piste, promising that if I didn’t return with multiple fractures and convincing bruises, then she would kill my entire family and eat my dog with garlic butter and Bordeaux wine. (Again, I might have exaggerated that last part. I don’t have a dog.) But I do remember his name to this day, and that I pronounced it perfectly. His name was Eric. What a nice, simple, Viking name.

I’ve heard my name said “Taylib”, which eventually transformed into “Taylor”. I’ve been referred to as “Tablibi”. I’ve been called “Tah-LEEEEB” by a high school teacher who thought another boy’s name was Yoghurt. In the States, Talib was often – not rarely, but often – confused for the name Tyler. Conversations at parties and social events would go something like this:

–       Hey, I’m [insert generic white American girl name, e.g. Megan, or Katelyn, or Kaitlyn, or Catelyn, or Caitlin]. What’s your name?

–       Hey, I’m Talib.

–       Oh, hey Tyler.

–       (A little embarrassed) Oh, no, it’s (emphasizing phonetically) Talib.

–       Tylib?

–       (More embarrassed) No, like…(spelling it out) T-A-L-I-B.

–       (Shouting over bass-heavy music) What?

–       (Giving up every last particle of faith in humanity) Tyler. My name’s Tyler.

–       Oh, hey Tyler.

I don’t blame people for not recognizing foreign names. But by the same token, introducing myself to someone shouldn’t embarrass me. When does Bob ever have to spell out his name to avoid ambiguity? (“No, Bob. B-O-B. You know, like the mountain cat? No, not boob. Bob. Like Bob Dylan. Marley? Hope? Oh, forget it, just fucking call me Talib.”) Yet, the truth is that it was extremely distressing to have to begin every conversation with a new individual hollering my name as if I were addressing a half-deaf auntie who only speaks Mandarin. So Tyler became my pseudonym. Whenever I needed to complete an administrative job, for instance, as expeditiously as possible, Tyler was the alias that I employed. There were no questions asked, as they might have been back in the UK, such as: “Why are you called Tyler even though you’re brown?” Americans are either less curious and inquisitive or they are more accepting. Whatever the case, it was my only option. Even when I ordered a sandwich at the residence hall deli, Tyler was the name I gave for the server to call once it had been prepared. This would save the embarrassment of the deli assistant alerting me by screaming “TYLIB!” or “TULIP!” No heads would turn at the sound of “TYLER!” Except mine, as sometimes I would forget that that was my name, and so I would look around and snicker to myself, thinking, “some idiot called Tyler left without picking up his sandwich.”

Despite the ease of usage of Tyler, I haven’t taken the ultimate step of legally changing my name, unlike my cousin. He took the initiative after his name was garbled by others time after time; I won’t disclose his given name, but it least half-rhymed with “boil cream”. Although, in his situation, his move to alter his name stemmed from some sort of identity crisis whereby he thinks he is Brazilian. His new name is of Brazilian origin, and he now announces that his mother is Portuguese and his father is a Moroccan named Emilio. Even I was forced into the (somewhat obscure) North African / Latin American / Iberian charade when I played soccer with them and was made to adopt the Brazilian stage name (or soccer field name), of Alex. (For readers who have seen my earlier work, this was the same game at which I had the pleasure of meeting Dave “motherfucking eyes” English. Had the man never seen a Brazilian with blue eyes before?)

However, if I were to ever legally change my name, it wouldn’t be for the simple fact that people mispronounce it, but because of it being constantly ridiculed – and for the fact that it’s actually a rather loaded name these days. You’ve certainly already gathered that Talib is two letters away from the world’s most threatening terrorist organization. Obviously, this is pure coincidence (I was clearly not named after the Taliban, nor was, I would assume, the Taliban named after me). But it nevertheless generates undue anxiety when I arrive at airport immigration and customs, just wondering what will be going through the officers’ heads as they check my passport. Will they send me to join the line that leads out of the airport and into the American land that I love so dearly? Or the line where I’ll be ushered into an interview room and interrogated for the rest of the day to the point where I’ll miss my connecting flight? Or the line which leads to the receipt of a free one-way ticket to Guantanamo? Thankfully, the last option has never reared its terrifyingly unjust face, but I am remarkably familiar with the first two. This Russian Roulette-esque random draw reminds me of those old-school game shows where the winner may choose between doors A, B, and C, and behind only one of these doors lies the jackpot prize. Except in the airport version, you don’t pick your own fate – they pick for you. And in the game show version, if door C doesn’t hold the jackpot, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t hold a plane to Guantanamo as the consolation prize. If it does, then that Bob Barker is one sadistic son-of-a-bitch (though he does have a wonderfully monosyllabic first name).

My most frightening brush with immigration was not even at airport, but at the land border between Canada and the US. Halfway through my bus ride from Toronto to State College, Pennsylvania on the Greyhound (and may I suggest that no one who values their life at anything more than twenty-five cents and a free bag of Cheetos should board a Greyhound), we had to, understandably, take our baggage from the bus and stand in line with it for customs. As I am summoned (so cordially) to the immigration officer’s booth, I approach and hand over my passport with the usual “yes, my name is two letters from America’s number one most wanted group” dread. This time, though, I had cause to be uneasy. After numerous questions are catapulted at me (so cordially) about why I changed my degree halfway through college (actually, why I specified, as I was supposed to, my degree on my documentation), Mr. Cordial comes out with: “Are you a real student?” Taken aback, I asked him to repeat the accusation. “Are you a real student?”

“Oh, no, I’m not a real student, I’m just a figment of your wild imagination. I’m actually a hologram of a student produced by Disney. You know, like how Celine Dion performed on American Idol with a hologram of Elvis? Yeah, they thought it might be fun to try it again, but this time with a nobody college student at a border inspection site in the middle of Bumblefuck, New York. Or maybe you’re just trippin’ hard on those ‘shrooms, bro.”

Clearly, I did not dare say that, lest I would be branded with a first-class Fed-Ex stamp on my ass and shipped to Cuba. But he then clarified his question for me: “Do you take your own tests?”

What the FUCK kind of questions are these? Bob Barker’s contestants would be nonplussed with these enigmatic conundrums. “No, actually another brown kid takes my tests for me. We all look the same to the instructors. In fact, there’s a network of us brown students taking each other’s tests just to mess with you guys. It’s kind of like revenge for that joke you play on us where you constantly mispronounce our names. Hilarious, right?! Plus, I need someone to take my exams when I have to be out here in the wilderness doing my hologram work.”

Obviously, I gave the boring answer, “Yes, I am a real student and I take my own tests.” The hammering of questions continued: “Are you sure?” “Oh, no, you’re right, I momentarily forget, I don’t take my own tests. My dog used to take them for me, until some French bitch sautéed him with garlic and ate him.” At this point, I’m convinced that I’m not boarding that bus for Pennsylvania again; I would have to wait for the one headed to Guantanamo. To my astonishment, he stamped my passport and wished me (so cordially – for real, this time) a pleasant rest of the day.

I suppose he was satisfied having gotten his rocks off from interrogating a harmless college student returning after Thanksgiving break. I realize that national security and illegal immigration are not laughable matters – and I later learned that these interrogative examinations occur as a result of myriad individuals who acquire a student visa and then disappear into the midst of the country, never to be found again. Nevertheless, it is patronizing to bear these accusations brought on – let’s face it – because of my name. Is Bob ever accused of not being a real student? Hell, no. Bob is not nearly photogenic enough to be the subject of rural holograms.

Immigration officials are the least of my worry, though, compared to the abuse that transpired from friends and classmates following the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the comments were all meant in jest and in good spirit, but when every cretin who mentions the similarity of Talib to Taliban believes that he or she is the original composer of the “joke” and runs to broadcast it to the entire class, it became, to say the least, a little tiresome. Although I must commend those who spun a little variation on the trite quip. One adaptation was: “Imagine if you lived in Mississippi or Alabama where their names are Mary-Ann and Sally-Ann. Your name would be Talib-Ann!” One point of extra credit for effort.

My name was even teased by a bouncer at a bar in London who, while checking my ID, mentioned that there were two letters missing. At first, I did not catch on; I had had issues with using my driving license as ID in the past, so I assumed that it was another one of these technical problems. It was only after some contemplation inside the bar that I became cognizant of the derision. But how could he have been mocking my name? He was brown! Why would a brown man be so callous as to poke fun at his own kind; surely he must have himself suffered slurs and insults? His name was probably Faqrudin or some other self-destructive Eastern term (bear in mind, of course, that the “aq” sound in Arabic resembles the “uck” sound in English). He certainly was not a Bob. Or perhaps he was a fake Tyler just as I had been. Whatever the case, by the time of my epiphany, I was slightly buzzed after a few beers and I contrived to settle this dispute with the Traitor of the Browns. I stormed outside and launched a melodramatic verbal attack on him, my friends holding me back in a pseudo-Hollywood fight build-up scene, and another doorman, who happened to be black, eventually approached me in an attempt to placate me. Just throw in a white guy and a Chinese dude and I was ready to start a full-fledged multi-representative race riot then and there.

All because of a name. And I haven’t even mentioned my last name yet. Evidently, Visram is less offensive than Talib, and so does not attract nearly as much negative attention. In this case, it is solely the mispronunciation that aggravates me. While Talib is of Arabic origin, Visram is a Muslim Indian name, and evolved from the Hindu equivalent, Vishram; somewhere along the line, the “h” was dropped. However, some Hindus still prefer Vishram. This produces some confusion, and as a result some people, mainly high school teachers, called me Vishram. It was most irritating when voiced by my biology teacher, who seemed to emphasize the “sh” sound so enthusiastically, as though he were hinting that I was spelling and saying it wrong, and thus needed to be corrected.

I think in this case, though, I was more irritated because I hated my biology teacher with every bone in my little brown body; I can still feel the rancor traveling through my veins this very moment. The man was pure evil. I truly believe that he was the product of a mass orgy between Lex Luther, the Zodiac Killer, Satan and Mel Gibson – with Gibson clearly transmitting the dominant gene. (Imagine if the sex tape of this leaked online?) Just to highlight how malign this brute was, below is a compilation, in descending order, of the top three instances of him inflicting physical abuse upon students. Drum roll, please:

3.             After constantly verbally tormenting a student on account of his recently broken ankle and reliance on crutches, Dr. Evil coerced him into standing on top of one of the laboratory tables, and then instructed him to “jump”.

2.             He once persuaded another student to stand on a table (he seemed to have a knack for that); he then climbed up himself and tied the pitiable boy’s tie to one of the arms of a ceiling fan. Then he switched on the fan.

1.              Top of the list because it involved me. I was ordered to do push-ups on the classroom floor (“Vishram! Push-ups!”) as a punishment for mistakenly suggesting that carbon dioxide, rather than oxygen, is the gas produced by photosynthesis. How foolish of me.

Other delights experienced while in the spawn of Gibson’s classroom included him revealing to the class that he would be extremely inclined to have sex with his brother’s wife, and referring to HIV as “bum-boys’ disease from Nairobi high street”.

So, even my last name has been corrupted, from Vishram to even Visraman and Visramaman, which, I presume, my name would be if I were a superhero; I suppose I would wear a cape and a colorful (brown) suit with a giant “V” on the front – not to be confused, of course, with the attire of Viagraman or Vaginaman. (Viagraman’s superpower is pretty self-explanatory, though I am not so confident as to Vaginaman’s purpose. He probably just tries to spur along Viagraman on behalf of vaginas everywhere. Of course, the arch nemesis of both these heroes is Virginman.)

But I’m not prepared to change my name (and adopt Brazilian nationality); it’s too much hassle, and besides, I wouldn’t be used to my new name and I would forget that people are addressing me. Most importantly, and surprisingly, I actually kind of like my name. There’s no way Bob could have had the material to write a piece such as this or had the ability to look back and realize, in hindsight, that these name variations are rather comical. Though, in keeping this God forsaken name, I will have to continue to deal with the mispronunciations, the (cordial) airport procedures, and even my iPhone auto-correcting Talib to Taliban (this is completely true – even my phone mocks me). Perhaps I should count myself lucky that my parents didn’t go with their original choice of name for me, Aurangzeb – which, I’m sure, people would spell Orengzeb, which in turn would encourage them to call me “Oreo”. Which, I suppose, would not have been an inaccurate analogy. I am an Oreo, with brown cookie on the outside and white filling inside: the manifestation of my Eastern origin on the exterior, and my deeply Westernized nature and attitudes within. This is where I finally score a point against Bob – he’s merely a plain slice of white bread.

Well, it won’t be too bad. The next time someone mispronounces my name, I can readily shed my quotidian clothing and reveal my alter ego, Visramaman, and wreak vengeance upon the offender. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if, instead of uncovering my masculine superhero suit with the iconic “V”, the suit will turn out to be pink and flowery, with a fluffy and glittery “T” in the center – “T” for Tulip.

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