Category Archives: Personal

Rolling in the Deep


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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Push-Ups, Pull-Ups and Throw-Ups


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


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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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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Excuse Me, But I Think I’m About to Have a Disney Moment

A monkey made me cry the other day. Not even a real monkey, but an actor in a computer-generated chimpanzee suit. Try going to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and not feel your tear glands getting a little agitated.

Let’s be clear: I didn’t cry, per se, but I was undeniably “welling up”. Completely ignorant of the older Planet movies, I did not really know what to expect. I knew I would see plenty of action, stunning special effects, some freakishly hirsute apes, Freida Pinto looking gorgeous as usual, and Michele Bachmann somewhere in the back shaking her head and tutting: “There is no way we evolved from these brutes.” At no point did I consider that my tear glands might be treated to a workout. From John Lithgow’s poignant portrayal of James Franco’s Alzheimer-touched father to main monkey Caesar’s humanlike attachment to his adoptive family – and his springing to its defense in the face of harm – the film was unashamedly saturated with Disney moments.

“Disney moments” is the term I use for teary episodes during movies. I think I first coined this phrase after watching Cars at the theater with a couple of buddies. At the touching Disney moment, when simpleton truck Mater sensitively confesses to protagonist Lightning McQueen that he was his “beeeeeerst frieeeyend” (“best friend” in Larry the Cable Guy diction), the audience, caught in the Disney bubble of sentimentality, became as quiet as a mute person in a silence contest at a library. With the exception of one of my friends, who burst into inexplicable, uncontrollable laughter, assumingly embarrassed by the schmaltziness. “Great,” I whispered as disconcerted faces turned to him with scowling looks, their immersion into enchanting fairytale land shattered suddenly by his incongruous chuckling, “you just ruined the Disney moment.” The Disney moment should be cherished: it is the emotional turning point in a movie that will eventually drive the hero to accomplish whatever needs to be done. Disney moments should generate awe in an audience, and a couple of tears shed in the visceral detection of this awe is a natural and healthy reaction.

Or is it? For men, at least, is it acceptable to well up during a movie? Don’t get me wrong: it’s not as if I reach frantically for the Kleenexes in the middle of Die Hard or Terminator. But some movies do tug incessantly at the heartstrings, to the point that I feel that male viewers are secretly being jeered at and ridiculed by a panel of macho judges somewhere. I think Sly Stallone, Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are in an undisclosed location someplace, sitting in a room filled with guns, beer and pictures of Tom Selleck’s mustache, peeking at hundreds of little TV screens which show the reactions of men watching romantic comedies and bittersweet dramas, while these men are unaware of the fact that the ultramasculine trio have planted cameras in living rooms and theaters everywhere, as a means to mock those of us more susceptible to blubbering.

I’m ashamed to admit that it has gotten to the point where I started welling up during Click. Yes – the Adam Sandler flick about a remote control. A monkey is one thing. But tearing up because of a remote control? Tearing up in a movie whose ending was: “it was all a dream.” How pathetic is that? I’ll admit wholeheartedly that I am a sucker for formulaic, Sandler-esque comedies, but when it reaches the extent at which they are making me sob – that is something I would be less inclined to disclose. Still, I can attempt to rationalize this uncomfortable deed by explaining that, actually, Click does contain more than its fair share of Disney moments. There is the moment when his father, played affectionately by Henry Winkler, dies without Sandler having uttered a kind word to him for a long time; and then Sandler himself ends up on his deathbed, surrounded by his children and estranged wife. (No need to panic, I repeat: at the end, it’s all a dream). These are pretty profound issues for a man whose films have previously consisted of him teaching an adopted boy how to piss against a wall (Big Daddy, incidentally, is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll explain another time). But here’s the thing: bring out your pretentious talons and claw at Sandler all you want; criticize and despise his motion picture template to your heart’s content, but the man is truly not a bad actor by any means. He’s believable and convincing – even in the laid-back, easygoing characters he usually plays, probably because they’re so similar to his own character – and that is the key to a great performance. If I can believe that he is dying; if I can believe that he deeply regrets the way in which he treated his father – which I can – then this is what turns me into a crybaby. Surely, good acting – breaking down the fourth wall and all that jazz – is supposed to provoke your senses and fire up your emotions. And what can I say: it works on me. This is why I have never brought myself to watch The Notebook: if I can’t control myself during Click, what chance do I have of holding it together during one of the most maudlin “weepies” of the past decade? Vin Diesel and co. would be pissing in their jockstraps.

I have been absorbed in ER reruns lately. I used to follow the show every Thursday night; it followed Friends, a childhood favorite of mine, and I began to get hooked by the effortlessly drawn storylines. I hate to repeat myself, but “effortless” is truly the best word to describe this legacy of television history. Revolutionary in being the first (and only true) hospital drama, it was a tearjerker, though not in the same sense of the word as the films mentioned earlier. It was never intentionally schmaltzy or sappy, rather painfully accurate and staggeringly realistic. The writing was flawless, the dialogue never being contrived nor clichéd, and the main characters’ plotlines were weaved so naturally around the chaos and energy of the emergency room. In its heyday, even the seemingly lackluster episodes would, in the space of a second, take a 180-degree turn and things would start to spiral out of control, and in the aftermath of patients spontaneously combusting and doctors getting arms severed by helicopter propellers, the writers would make you hate yourself for ever doubting them.

“Aren’t “spontaneous combustion” and “realistic writing” ingredients for an oxymoron?” you might ask. Quite the opposite, I think. The writers would follow scenes of blood, vomit and general pandemonium with the most pacified, restrained scenes, and it was this obvious juxtaposition that – just like in real life – felt so stupefyingly moving, and that’s exactly the point at which you would feel that embarrassing choking sensation at the back of your throat. It was only a few hours ago, incidentally, that I watched the episode in which the amiable, wise mentor, Dr. Green (not too amiable, not too wise, and not too mentoring, though: remember – the characters were painted without clichés) learns that he has an inoperable brain tumor; a frenzied scene where Dr. Carter attempts to suppress a sudden, violent seizure induced by the tumor is juxtaposed with the poignant scene when Green has to inform his fiancée, Elizabeth, of the devastating news. ER is so realistic that although it chokes viewers up continually, its Disney moments are distinctively produced through – here it is again – its effortless study and depiction of human nature and life.

So, in these cases, where the writing and acting are so strong that you can’t help but shed a tear or two, does “welling up” become permissible for men? I say: have no shame. This is why they personify the vehicles in Cars, and why they get an actor (Andy Serkis) to play the chimp in Apes – so that we can see and feel the human emotion. And it’s no coincidence, Michele Bachmann, that the animals rising are apes and not octopuses or Komodo dragons – because apes are so similar to us that we can relate to their feelings. Call me a crybaby, but it is the job of writers and actors to move us and to stir in us some sort of reaction, and if this reaction happens to be a little watery, then so be it. Otherwise I feel as if I’m doing a disservice to the people in show business, and it’s evident that they care an awful lot about what I think. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, all this talking about emotions has got me a little worked up so I need to go and break open that Costco-sized crate of Kleenexes that I bought the other day. Excuse me, but I think I’m about to have a Disney moment.

Hey, Dwayne Johnson, stop judging. You were in a movie called Tooth Fairy so you can shut up.

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Mutation or Installation? Getting to the Bottom of the Eternal Nicki Question

There’s so much on this Earth that we simply do not know. We have a myriad of enigmatic questions floating around our world, and despite the numerous theories and hypotheses that attempt to offer answers, the mysteries still remain. What happens when we die? Is there extra-terrestrial life out there? What is the meaning of life? Is Nicki Minaj’s butt real?

Of course, all of these are timeless, bewildering questions, which have puzzled and will, I am certain, continue to puzzle us for decades and centuries to come. But I am sure that most people would concur that the last question in the list is by far the most baffling. The world’s most popular female rapper (rapstress? Like seamstress?) is a hugely talented lyricist, is enormously gifted in her persona portrayals, and last but certainly not least, is gigantically endowed in the gluteus maximus region. We’re not talking “pretty big” or “bigger than most”; we’re talking “check out our custom-fitted pants department” big.

Now I’m not saying the size bothers me – I’m not really sure how I feel about it either way – but I can’t help but let my mind wander and explore the possibilities. Perhaps it is real. It might be a medical marvel or a horrible mutation, depending on your point of view. Maybe it’s a condition which we need to be taking more seriously and researching more effectively. Imagine the stress on Minaj’s mother when she gave birth to little Nicki: the head popped out and that was only the easy part completed. Then the embarrassment: of discovering that diapers didn’t fit; of trying to potty train without getting it outright stuck in the potty. The bullying and taunts at school every time she turned around and it knocked someone’s glasses off their face. It’s possible that we should all be wary before splurging on that new pair of shoes we’ve been eyeing or before ordering a round of desserts at dinner with the family. Instead, we should be thinking about sending that extra cash to aid research for this often ridiculed condition. Please see below for more details on how you can help:

Oversized Badonkadonk Syndrome (OBS), also vulgarly known as “Fat-ass Disorder”, is a frequently overlooked and sadly mocked condition which affects hundreds of helpless men, women and even children every year. It is a hereditary illness but may skip generations. Nevertheless, if your mother or father has the condition, you should visit your family doctor immediately for a check-up before the signs expose themselves. Common symptoms include: a huge ass. Don’t wait until it’s too late. A simple vaccination in the early stages of adult development can prevent the illness. We are very close to finding an outright cure to conquer OBS once and for all. This is where your donations come into play. Please give generously.

I am personally not a stranger to freakish mutations. I am dark-skinned yet I have bright blue eyes. Like Minaj’s booty, this is a double-edged sword. It is an asset (or an ASSet, in her case), and attracts much attention. But on the flipside, it triggers countless aggravating questions: “Are those real? Or do you wear blue contacts?” One year, on a visit with some family in Toronto, I was introduced, by my cousin at a pick-up soccer game, to a fellow by the name of Dave English. Dave seemed like an inoffensive guy at first, as we trudged through the formalities – the handshakes and the name exchanges. Then, out of nowhere, he stares at my face and enquires: “What’s wrong with your eyes?” I was unaware that my eyes were in any kind of trouble but suddenly became self-conscious: is there something in one of my eyes? Are they bloodshot? “What do you mean?” I replied courteously, if a little vexed. Which immediately elicited the response: “Are those your real motherfucking eyes??”

I was a little taken aback. I’d encountered the question before, just never expressed in such poetical language. I felt as though my eyes had offended him. Perhaps the bright blue produced a burning glare in his face which was slowly melting his skin. He demanded to know the rightful proprietor of these glowing eyeballs of death before it was too late. “Who the fuck’s eyes do you think they are, shithead?” I didn’t actually say this. But I wanted to. What I did say was: “I actually borrowed these for the night. Haven’t you heard of Rent-an-Eye? It’s the new big thing. Yeah, you just go down to the store, choose a color and size, then they take a deposit, extract your existing eyes, and the new ones are yours for the night. I think it’s a single eyeball for $59.99 or a pair for $99.99. No insurance, no hassle. You should try it out sometime. The fit is just divine.”

No, I didn’t say that, either. I claimed that they were, in fact, my property and then the game started. I should say that my soccer skills were a little rusty at the time, and my only other encounter with him that night – and just as pleasant an encounter – was when he called me over halfway through the match. “Hey, number ten! Come here!” (I was wearing a number ten jersey), “Look, I know you’re just trying to have fun out there but everyone’s getting pissed. You should sit down.” I’ll always remember Dave English for his felicitous words, so aptly chosen and so gently spoken. What a charming man. (Having said this, if I do decide to change my mind, I always have the option of dissolving him entirely with my two blue ocular lasers).

Before I am labeled a hypocrite, I realize that in writing a piece questioning whether or not Nicki Minaj’s butt is real, I am, in theory, behaving like Dave English. “Hey, Nicki, is that your real motherfucking ass??” Allow me to offer my disclaimer: I am only curious and am not being judgmental. Nicki and I are both mutational victims and so we are on the same side. Team Mutation. (I wear the number ten shirt for the team).

So maybe it’s fake, then? Again – not judging! But if so, this explanation in turn sparks a plethora of new questions. It can’t be comfortable to sit on two plastic buttocks, can it? Or, at least, it must take some getting used to. Does it feel like there’s something inside your butt when you sit? Are the implants engineered so that the individual’s weight is balanced safely on the two buttocks? If so, what if you lean too heavily on one buttock and the pressure overwhelms the implant and it bursts? Obviously, I’m no cosmetic surgeon (although after I successfully implanted fake blue eyes into my sockets I briefly deliberated a career change). But I do know that a pain in the posterior is no laughing matter. In high school, I once accidentally sat on a toothpick. Another student had mischievously wedged a toothpick into a nylon-cushioned seat and forgotten about it. Well, without too much further explanation, this sharp, pointed object was lodged in my right butt cheek. Just a couple more inches to the left, and the pick could have done some incredible damage. Thankfully, I was treated swiftly (by way of our teacher tugging it out of there), but until the skin grew back, I was left with a second hole in my backside. (During high school, I was excessively injury-prone. Within the same few years as the toothpick incident, my appendix burst and my leg was run over by a quad bike).

So it’s really more out of sympathy that I ask about Nicki’s rear. Accidents happen, and what is stopping a roguish toothpick from embedding itself in her butt cheek, too? (If it’s the same toothpick that attacked me, this should be considered a serial piercing case). In this situation, the consequences could be dire. The toothpick could puncture the implant and saline would start gushing out, her rump beginning to resemble Old Faithful. Again, I’m no cosmetic surgeon, so maybe I am making too much of a comparison between an implant and a water balloon. But how would she recuperate from the embarrassment of spending the rest of her life with a cork shoved in her butt cheek to stop the leakage?

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Forgive the morbidity, but let’s ponder a post-existence consequence. Whenever Minaj’s time comes and she leaves this Earth, and her body is buried, even then, the remnants of the fake hind will not be forgotten. After years of bone decomposition and flesh disintegration – after everything is gone – surely there’ll still be two giant balls of plastic lying there in the soil. Clearly, no one will know of all this six feet underground (I assume everyone down there is pretty unconscious). But it’s just the thought of the whole scenario. I guess they could exhume the two implants and the family could keep them in a jar on display in the house, like an urn. And then just like scattering the ashes over the Grand Canyon or some other memorable landmark, they would throw the implants down the canyon and watch the water balloons burst in the valley below in a cloud of dust, like Wile E. Coyote falling from a cliff.

Again, pardon the rather macabre thought, but it’s just a consideration. However, it is likely that I am looking too deeply into the negatives rather than embracing the potentially playful nature of the situation. After some reflection, whether it is real or fake, it appears that her tush has alternative uses. For example, Nicki has her very own in-built trampoline inside her derrière. It could also be used as a punching bag for any company she may have in need of some stress relief. And from an aesthetic point of view, it has the potential of looking horrendously abnormal, but hell, she knows what to do with it and that has certainly earned her bootylicious status. On second thoughts, don’t donate a penny to OBS research. Some things are best left the way they are.

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