An Immigrant and Carl

I was fresh off the boat those days when I landed a job in a downtown hotel as a Select Guest coordinator. New marriage, new job, new country – life, then, was a little overwhelming, very exciting and full of hope. I was trying to understand this new country – its culture, tradition and most importantly, the accent. There were many ‘aha’ moments and then there were ‘oh my goodness, is that true?’ moments. At work I was somewhat of a novelty. In the mid nineties, I was the only Indian in that company so the questions I got ranged from ‘did you go to school on an elephant?’ to ‘are you an Indian princess?’ to ‘are you so quiet because if you talked loudly the tigers will come and get you in your country?’ (yes, I have been asked this question in complete seriousness. And yes, I used to be very quiet once upon a time, mainly because I did not understand what people were saying, the accent, you see!)

They were days when I looked down upon unfamiliar American sports and considered baseball as a poor cousin of the king of sports, cricket and considered American football bestial. Sean tried a few times to expound the virtues of baseball (faster than cricket) and of his team Red Sox but I argued relentlessly to prove him wrong. He made fun of cricket and I made fun of baseball.

As a Guest Coordinator, I had to attend meetings every morning with the Assistant General Manager of the hotel along with the heads of reservation, front desk, hospitality etc. One time, the hotel was hosting a big event where love and pride of Maryland, the star baseball player of the state was going to feature. So at the meeting, I said, “So when Carl Ripken arrives….”. I was cut off quite rudely as the room erupted in laughter. There were loud guffaws all around me. I looked at them puzzled. What caused this eye watering mirth? The Assistant GM said, “What did you say? Carl Ripken? Hahahahaha. Guys, we have to take her to a ball game. We need to educate her in baseball! It is our responsibility!” More hahahahahas followed. I was still puzzled. “What is so FUNNY?” The head of Reservations was a very nice woman who finally wiped her tears and said, “His name is CAL Ripken and he is a legend in these parts!”

See, growing up in a country which was under British rule for many, many years, I knew the language relatively well and I was certainly familiar with names like Tom, Dick, Harry, John, Johnathan, Carl, Bill, William, even Julian (Enid Blyton, Famous Five, in case you are wondering). I was not aware someone could be named Cal. I thought my American mates said Cal but they just pronounced Carl in a different way than I did. And yes, I perhaps never encountered Ripken’s name in written words. There are many excuses I can provide but the bottom line is, I never lived down that story during the time that I worked at that hotel. I was often the target of a friendly banter about ‘Carl’ Ripken.

Cal Ripken is coming to my library for a book talk. I have a baseball crazy almost 11-year-old, who has read Cal’s books and would dearly love to see this legend and perhaps shake his hand, if he is allowed. The tickets to that event sold out in four minutes and I could not get him a seat. His face fell when I told him that. Now our only hope is to try to buy a book and see if he can get a picture with Cal. In between calling the library to secure a spot and trying online, I remembered this story from the past when I did not even know the name of this man at one point. And here I am, getting excited that he will use a room close to my office as his green room before he talks about his book, and I may get a glimpse of him. I have indeed come a long way!

I don’t think about it often, after living in this country for so long, but I realized yesterday what a daunting task it is for immigrants to any country to learn whatever they can about the cultural, social and political history of the land they have emigrated to. The venture is exciting, enlightening and yes, overwhelming.

Don’t go away with the Frenchman, you said he was hot!!!

This happened a long, long time ago, maybe a life time ago! At a time when I had long, black hair, not a touch of those ‘stress related highlights’, when I was in a perpetual sense of wonderment of all the things around me, I was easily amazed, easily happy, when I went places, I actually took the sights and sounds in instead of looking around constantly to see if my kids are within my eyesight, when my thoughts didn’t wander from one schedule to the next, my face didn’t sport the worry lines, it easily broke into a smile, when I thought, felt, experienced! Wow, MUST have been a long time ago. Now that we have established the time frame, on to the main story.

I was very new to Baltimore and I was going with Sean to see Washington D.C for the first time! I had read about Washington D.C, heard stories about it, regarded it with awe! Powerful, make or break decisions were made in the cavernous insides of the beautiful buildings there. Not just of USA, but sometimes the fate of other countries are decided there. Since my blogs are apolitical, we will not get into the merit of those decisions but will leave the readers to make their choice. But I digress.

Sean drove into Washington and quickly ditched me. He had an all day meeting, he brought me along to do the sight-seeing solo. We planned to meet at a place after his meeting to grab a bite. I wasn’t unhappy about being on my own, though. It was a gorgeous day, the green of the mall stretched before me, the reflecting pool reflected the breathtakingly beautiful buildings spread around the mall. I sat on a bench to just take in the beautiful scene  when a young man sat next to me and smiled. Since I am very social (read talker), I smiled back and said hello. It turned out he was from France, traveling alone, first time in Washington D.C, and overwhelmed. His English was slightly better than my French, but we hit it off. I should mention here that  my sweet husband once told me to walk a few steps behind him in Champs de Elysee, Paris, when, in my usual state of wide-eyed innocence, I said at the top of my voice, ‘Sean, this is the famous Champs (ch sounding like CHocolate) de (sounding like DElhi) elysee (el-i-see)! Sean turned to me with a sombre face and said in a quiet voice, ‘You need to walk a few paces behind me because I don’t know you!’ This must have been a terrible faux pas, since he didn’t say that when I didn’t recognize Sting in Varanasi! But then, he is a little snooty about his French and Spanish!

All this was to make it clear that my French is terrible….ok, non-existent. The Frenchman could speak English, barely. But we decided to tour Washington D.C together. We did the usual touristy stuff, went up to the Washington monument, Jefferson memorial, Lincoln memorial, et all. I helped him out in ticket counters, took pictures of him with his camera, he took pictures of me with my camera, had lunch. It was fun to discover a new city with a new friend. At the end of the day we parted ways without exchanging numbers or promises to stay in touch. We both knew that this was where our camaraderie ended.

I met Sean at the appointed time (I am pretty sure he was late, he always is) and gushed about what a wonderful day I had with a friend.

‘How awesome! You met an old friend here?’ he asked.

‘No, I made a new one!’ I told him about my new friend.

My husband is not the jealous type at all but till date, 14 years later, he sometimes jokingly talks about my ‘going out with the Frenchman’! We have shared many a laugh over it and  my kids have been told the story as well. No prizes for guessing who told them the story, though.

Anyway, Sean and I are planning to go to Rome for a week. He has a meeting, I am tagging along to revisit one of my absolute favorite cities.  The kids are being left with the grandparents. Predictably, the preteen girl is ecstatic about this unexpected freedom from parental watchfulness. She is arranging rides for her innumerable student council meetings, birthday parties, and other social activities. I am just standing by the side line watching her manage her social life and her rides with such ease. She truly is on her way to growing up!!! But the little guy is not super happy about the prospect of both parents leaving for a week. He is split between looking forward to being pampered rotten by the grandparents and missing mom and dad. So he is trying everything in his power to make us review our decision to go. Last night, the dinner table conversation went like this:

“Dad, you really shouldn’t take mom with you!” he said.

“Why Ryan? You will have so much fun with Didiya and Dadai!” Sean said.

“Yes, I know. But Dad, what if mom finds a Frenchman when you are in a meeting?”

I had to interject, “What Frenchman, Ryan? Why would I find a Frenchman? What are you talking about???”

“Just like you found a Frenchman in Washington D.C when dad was in a meeting. And you said he was hot!” he points out.

Sean burst out laughing while I glared daggers at him.

“I didn’t say he was hot, I don’t even remember how he looked!” I try (its the truth)!

“Yes, you did! Yes, you did! You said he was hot! Dad, don’t take mom to Rome, don’t take her!”

Katy Perry, Drake, LMFAO, and other singers of the ilk, you are banned from my radio stations.  Why does a seven-year old talk about ‘hot’??? Oh wait, he does have an almost thirteen year old sister!