09 February 2010

After my gibberish talk about my encounters with the perilous McDonald's burger, lots of my friends/relatives probed into my sanity (or the lack of it) as to why an endangered pure vegetarian would want to trek through the chasm of pepperonis and bacons which form the crux of a McDonald burger !

"Go to Subway you idiot" they said. "That's where all the veggies go when they are struck with malnutrition".


You think that's an easy solution?

Know what... I've been there.

I walked into Subway after I found nothing in McDonald's sometime around the August of 2008. I felt pretty cool and sophisticated. I made a mental note to myself that I have to call some uncle/aunty of mine from Subway so that I can enlighten to my overcrowded family in India of my whereabouts.

Me: HeY Uncle! HeY Aunty!
Uncle/Aunt: Can you call us back after 15 minutes?

Me: Huh? (darn! no respect for ISD calls!)
Uncle/Aunt: Ok ok, so where R you calling from?

Me: I'm here in the US; in Pittsburgh, its right below New York.
Uncle/Aunt: New York ? Wow !!!

Me: Right now, I'm at Subway
Uncle/Aunt: What's that? Those underground tunnels where mugging is not that uncommon

Me: (gasps!) No, the Subway. The cool restaurant
Uncle/Aunt: Oh Subway? Wow !!!

Me: Ok! Bye! Need to go back to my cancer lab
Uncle/Aunt: Cancer lab? Wow!!!

Of course, after this, uncle/aunty lynch their own kid for not growing up to the stature of me.

Anyway, coming back to THE issue - Subway ... I walked into Subway. This time, I see this tall guy in the counter and he looks at me (not menacingly but) with a sweet smile. He looked safe. And gay. And the conversation started. The darned conversation - yeah - started again!

Me: Can I have a sandwich ?
He: What size?

Me: Medium?

I sense that he might spit on me at any moment.

Me: Ok what sizes do you have?
He: (not accustomed to such questions) 6" and foot-long

Me: (I smile because I find the foot-long word amusing. I wanted to ask him if their sandwiches taste like feet. But sensing the hostile environment...) 6" sounds good
He: (waits... and then...) And which one?

Me: (looks up at the plethora of boards above) A veggie sandwich
He: We have the veggie delight Sir, if you'd like that

Me: (ahhhhh! sounds delightful). Sure ;)
He: Which bread would you like Sir?

Me: Huh? (what in the name of lord !) What are my options?
He: Italian/Honey/Flat-bread ... they are all right here

Me: Italian (huh! That ought to teach him a lesson ... Italian bread sounds neat. I'm sure by now he thinks I'm the inheriting son of a multi-billionaire business tycoon)
He: What cheese?

This time I was stumped! Now I never consumed cheese in India, but thanks to my inquisitiveness about the outside world, I knew what cheese was. It is produced by the coagulation of milk protein Casein. But to me, cheese is cheese. Now how can a cow product give rise to varieties of cheese? A sudden fear struck me that they may have something meat-ish. I looked at their choices - they were of all colors and shapes. No! I am not gonna eat meat just a week after landing here. I am gonna be cautious and smart, at the same time.

Me: Ok (raising my voice) Vegetarian cheese!
He: Sir?

Me: Vegetarian. Nothing non-veg please...

This time, he pauses, looks at me (with an expression of 'what's wrong with this guy' and gives me a foundation course in diary technology)

He: Sir! Cheese is vegetarian. Its a milk product.

Me: Oh! I dunno; here you add meat to everything (salvaging my pride which was never there in the first place). I'll have cheese
He: As in... cheddar, provolone...

Me: Cheddar! (the first one is always the most recommended one)
He: Ok... do you want me to change my gloves?

Me: Change your... what again?
He: You want me to change gloves?

Go change your undies... who cares? Since when did I become his honorable master that he takes my permission to change his clothing accessories? I recapitulate and remembered that he passed on bread filled with some pig-stuff to the next person before he started handling my sandwich. Makes sense. I want to give myself a pat on the back for my almost-quick thinking but then I can't reach my back thanks to my little hands.

Me: I would really appreciate it!

One of my first lessons in American lingo... when someone's nice to you, appreciate it. Or even if you don't, say that you do. They'll be so happy that they might pledge their blonde daughter to you if you want them to.

He: What veggies would you prefer?

This one would be easy. I could identify the most basic vegetables. I knew what I wanted. There were labels. This would be one answer I'd give him with such triumph that he would apologize for causing any embarrassment to me through this entire ordeal.

Me: Tomatoes, Lettuce, Cucumbers, Red Onions, Bell Peppers (I was still saving up my dollars and wanted to get the full return on my investments)
He: Anything else?

Me: (there were more?) Oh yeah... jalapenos
He: What's that?

Me: Jalapenos
He: You mean...

I point out. Unfortunately, my finger hit the glass and they couldn't be zoomed in any further. But i think he got my point

He: alapenos?
Me: (English... darn it!) Yep!

I consciously use 'Yep' when I have enervated the guy behind the counter and I need to uphold the integrity and respect of our motherland and firmly establish that even we are equally flamboyant when it comes to slang-talk.

He: Any dressing ?

Now I ONLY love ketchup in my sandwiches/burgers. But I see no ketchup bottles there. Hoping I could find it elsewhere and praying that I don't radiate more idiocy, I said...

Me: Nah!

I half expected that my lack of interest towards dressings would illustrate that I know what dressings are, what are the types and what are its nutritional constituents. Reality check: I had no frikkin clue what it meant - i kind of convinced myself that its like whipped cream which is used to decorate the top part of any food item (and now you know I failed to understand the purposes of whipped cream too)

I bill my stuff. I made sure I took the receipt (when I was new to America I took the receipt everywhere and for everything. I was always afraid that they would take away my money, hide my sandwich under their shelves and then protest that I have already taken my sandwich away). I walked off to the nearest table to dissect my new born baby which I obtained after much pain.

Now there are one of 2 things that are likely:

a) These stories are too far-fetched and adding to this the variable of exaggeration which is the underpinning of my writing, all of this is a sham

b) I'm slightly dyslexic and take WAY too much time to understand certain things. Funny things keep happening in my life and insanity rules my celestial objects.

I assure you that its the second option; those who know me well would nod their heads at this point. Exhausted though I am, it is indeed memorable to walk into an American restaurant without the slightest clue of what to order. Its like the village idiot in a corporate environment ... nobody suspects ... everyone knows he's gonna screw up! I went to Panera recently, think its my first time ... life was easier there coz they had a veggie sandwich option and they didn't look at me as though I'm from the Mbundu tribes of Central Africa.

So for all you folks who think my best bets are in Subway, remember one thing - its me they are dealing with. And in the path that I tread, insanity reigns!

04 February 2010

If you have watched the movie 'The Pink Panther' ... I can really crack you up when I say "I would like to have a hamburger". Little did I reckon that few days from watching the movie probably a 4th time, I would have to put myself in the same situation. Well, not exactly...

1) I don't eat ham

2) I'm not French and/or stupid

3) I wasn't planning on smuggling the damn burgers out of USA

So it was a usual Thursday noon when the mind was fidgeting between how unfruitful the week was and how welcoming the weekend is. I was starving; my meeting with my mentor wasn't happening; so what's the difference between a dementor and a mentor? As far as I know, both suck the soul out of you ;)

Anyway, darn it! I get so distracted when I type. What was the main point? Oh! I was starving; my meeting with my mentor wasn't happening. I took off for lunch. But where do I go?

a) Indian truck food: Eww! Too many times this week

b) Scaife cafeteria: I'd rather pick and eat worms

c) Somewhere in Forbes: Cool idea!

I walked down Forbes Avenue and stood right in between Subway and McDonald's. Time for a quick mental analysis... logical algorithms at play:

Subway has one veggie sandwich
McDonald's has none that i know of

Subway - I can choose whatever I need... customize!
McDonald's - I might be able to but it ain't easy

Subway - I won't make a fool of myself. I know what I want
McDonald's - High possibility of embarrassment

And so I walked inside... the big red M towered above me!

I guessed it right. No veggie burgers in sight. I cursed McDonald's and walked towards an old lady in the counter who looked menacingly at me. If I don't appear sophisticated, she'll put me into one of the subs and eat me off with mustard sauce. I stylishly flaunted my abilities to switch over to an American accent and the conversation began. The darned conversation began!

Me: I would like to have a veggie burger!
She: You would like to have a ... what?

Me: (adjusts my throat) I would like to have a veggie burger
She: Sir, what's that? I don't know what you are talking about

Me: (huh?) I would like to have a vegetable burger! (Clearly understanding that her blank expressions haven't altered, I went on)... you know just the vegetables; no chicken; no meat.
She: ???

I made flowery movements using my arms to describe how the lettuce looks like and how the onions and tomatoes are shaped.

She: So you need just the vegetables. No meat. A small burger?
Me: Ok!

She: What's it called?
Me: A veggie burger

She: A what?
Me: (Oh no!) A vegetable burger

She: Sir, we don't have a veggie burger. But we can make anything you want us to make. So what is it that you want?
Me: (world peace... can ya give it to me? Start off by pointing directions to the nearest subway or a mental asylum, whichever is closer) A burger with ONLY vegetables like tomatoes, onions and lettuce; no chicken or meat

She: Ok. (She calls out to the manager and repeats what I said)
Manager: He gives us our meat back, so give him extra tomatoes

She: You don't want mayo on it?
Me: No

She: Cheese?
Me: Sure

She: You want mayo but no cheese. Dairy ok?
Me: Yeah

She: (stares at me with awaited expressions)
Me: (thinking i need to say something) Ketchup!

She: (she looks aghast as though I just stepped on her toes)
Me: Ketchup instead of mayo

She: Ketchup in your burger?
Me: (no, in your %$&*) Yes

She: Ok. Sir, what do I bill your burger as?
Me: (stares blankly)

She: (annoyed) She asks me if I need anything else
Me: Small fries

She: Rice?
Me: Potato fries; small (i point to the chart with my little hands)

She: Is that all sweet heart?
Me: (a moment's shocked expression) Uh...hmmm... yeah!

Why the heck do all these people address me with "sweet heart", "honey", "kiddo" and all that? I'm doing a frikking PhD here, am not a low-budget child celebrity!

She: Swipe your card in there son
Me: (son... I sure don't resemble you in any way) (swipes)

She: You want you receipt?

Now normally I don't take the receipt coz its useless anyway. Not like my mentor is gonna reimburse me for eating burgers during lab hours. But for some reason, for some weird reason, perhaps I was too tensed as too many heads had turned already and the whole thing was turning into one big scene, and the entire world had come to a standstill to watch the touring circus and the joker, I said:

Me: Yeah
She: You want the receipt???

This time her voice screeched as though I was asking for her breast size. But if I said 'no' now, I would look even more funny

Me: Yes (i so damn need it now! I need it more than my burger)
She: Ok sir (taken aback by my persistence and conviction)

I finally get the damn burger and out I ran with such great speed that even the fastest land animals would be humbled. I made a mental pact that I'll never ever step into McDonald's again even if there was a nuclear holocaust and the entire earth collapsed and McDonald's was the only place I could find food in

I sat down and took a little bite of the burger. Music filled the air, violins played behind my back, spring was back in Pittsburgh and my eyelids fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. Damn you lady! I'm coming back for you... and i'll keep coming until you have the damn veggie burger up in your menu list. But presently, I chew on the burger and...

I'm lovin' it!

03 February 2010

He didn't move an inch.

Sweat trickled down his forehead. He felt his heart beat could be heard for miles. No one would find him here; but he wasn't taking chances today. He had left the computer facility long time ago. He will not be treading that path ever again. But he had to hide. Hide where he can never ever be located.

He breathed only when he really needed to.

"Things are gonna be ok" he kept telling himself. Flashes of past memories kept flickering in his mind ... "its all over ... its not gonna happen again" ... he kept convincing himself. It felt like it was indeed over. 2 months back things had looked so bad, there was no respite. Off-late, nothing much was happening. Things were quiet. Was it the silence before the storm? Doesn't appear so. Probably things were indeed ok. Probably he had no one to fear. Probably he could come out of his hiding place. And just when he decided to move an inch...

It happened...

...his phone beeped !

There was a message.

It wasn't over. It was coming back. It will never be over.

All of mankind is doomed for eternity!

He looked at the message again... and with a sigh of exasperation, he walked towards the computer facility.

You want to know what the message was ?

It said...

"Please check http://down-in-the-pitt.blogspot.com for latest blog updates!"

I'm back!
Who's proud of their workplace? I know a person who is ... he's called 'everyone!'

Almost everyone HATE work, but all love their workplaces - at least most of them wish they did; or had an awesome place to show off as theirs even if they hated their work more than they hated their own wives!

Now being a researcher can be pretty cool (you conduct path-breaking drug discoveries wearing a hoodie and denims ... now who'd trust their lives on someone who wears converse to work?) because you get to work in really cool buildings. Now, the government thinks healthcare is one of the topmost priorities in today's world. This makes sense. The government also thinks we researchers are actually gonna bring a change to society by improving life quality and well-being. This doesn't make sense. All we want to do in a bunch of these five years are get a bunch of them publications and cool our heels in some low-wage fantasy central government research institutes where we can play solitaire during productivity hours (believe me... this happens!)

Anyway... coming back to the point. So the government gives us a LOT of money to alleviate or cure diseases of public health concern. We use a fairly large sum of this money to build a LOT of cool skyscrapers with state-of-the-art infrastructure. After all, if you want the job done ... you better give me a good place to sit first. We graduate students who fall way down the scientific hierarchy in terms of funding, priority and respect at least get to enjoy the amenities offered in these places of research. This is precisely what I'll talk about - my workplaces !

Now for safety reasons (concerning my own employment AND a means of earning my daily bread which I wouldn't want to put into jeopardy) I cannot specify the names of these buildings. Lets just say 'its confidential' and appear a lot cooler to the ignorant layman.

One place I worked actually still gives me the creeps. Nothing of what I described above. Recall those places where the 'Saw' series of movies have been shot ... I'm sure one of them were shot or at least had the potential to be shot here. The endless corridors of doom ... that's what we call it - it was a typical place you'd want to lock graduate students up and force them to perform a series of endless experiments and the day they are rendered useless - you let them graduate!

The second one was even worse! Irrespective of the fact that my lab was on the 17th floor (which was pretty cool actually), this place was also a clinic with zombie patients everywhere. It was a mental asylum (literally!). The only thing that encouraged me to redeem my sanity everyday was the project I got to work on - neurology - something I was always fascinated with.

The path to success is filled with potholes and washed bridges; in my case, extremely depressing workplaces. It was then cool things began to happen. I got to spend some time getting trained in a brand new facility. Things were SO brand new, they literally had to be opened out of cardboard boxes. I even had to take my work seat out from a box and unwrap the plastic around it. It was the best! Downtown view from the window ... cemetery across another window (did I fail to mention ... cemeteries are tourist spots in the US ... they actually look pretty neat). Doors swing in and out automatically; cool IDs that I just need to flash and the whole building comes to life; lights have minds of their own; this felt like a country kid who was tending to buffaloes all his life has been put right inside the White House!

If this wasn't good enough, I then went onto work in a center which was the most artistic research facility I had ever seen. It had fountains and gardens inside close to the lobby area. The entrance doors rotated 360 degrees and threw people like me into shock and awe. The labs were a little cramped but who cares! Its the place that counts ... we had a wishing well inside and we threw in a coin every time we conducted a BIG experiment.

I currently work in a highly secure building (which has ion sentinel scanners and all that ... are you sweating already?) and it is at the heart of Oakland where I really need to be. Its undoubtedly a place everyone wishes they were in. The views from the 10th floor is swell! I can see the river from up here where I sit and type and gloat - all at the same time. It gets connected to every damn building I ever want to get into through overhead bridges - I can travel all over without even getting outside the building. Every floor does some of the coolest research ever (actually, they sound cool) - drug discovery institute; neuro-degenerative disease research; structural biology; neurobiology; zebra fish research and so on. There is 'supposed' to be some research relating to biological warfare going on somewhere here ... but that might be a speculation too. Everything's all so hushed up - that it appears pretty cool!

So that's about it ... the stage is set for some groundbreaking discoveries to happen ... I've got my chair ... I've got my Mac ... I just need to write a program for a disease-free world. Sometimes all of these are good for the esteem of a student - the rate at which he's kicked around in lab, at least the amenities offer some degree of justice to why he needs to come to work everyday. And unlike most professions ... its not just our work places we are proud about ... its our work too! Why? Because ... its so damn cool !