Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Indibloggie winners (in short)

On this momentous occasion of the 2008 or 2009 (who the hell knows or cares) Indibloggie winners being declared, I have compiled my own list of winners in categories I have created myself because they make more sense. To me. I shall be curt because I'm in a hurry and I'm doing this now because I haven't posted anything for a while and this would be a good way to write something without having to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

So here are your winners:

1.> Most useful blog : Patrix. Also very useful, his twitter feed. Always learn something new from him. He is always the first one to answer any technical question you might throw out in the twitterverse. Go forth and drink deeply from the fount of his wisdom.

2.> Most honest blog : TGFI. She is not trying to impress anybody. She is honest. She is all of you. Except of course, those among you who are dishonest.

3.> Blog most likely to make you an alcoholic : Bongopondit. He will most likely make you an alcoholic. Worse, he will utilize a wide variety of liquors towards that endeavour, thereby making you a destitute for life. If you don't already drink, save yourself and stay away.

4.> Blog most likely to force you to revise your opinion of yourself as being master of the English language and other fine stuff : J. Alfred Prufrock. He will force you to revise your opinion of yourself as being master of the English language and other fine stuff by the simple process of out-mastering you.

5.> Funniest blog : Neo Indian. This is humor done right. And, according to reputable sources namely him, he is also good looking. Something else that is as funny, his twitter feed.

6.> Most cutting edge Indian political commentary blog with a bite: Overrated Outcaste. His skewering skills are second to none.

7.> Lifetime achievement award : The Acorn. India is serious business. And nobody's been at it longer and better than has Nitin Pai.

And those are your winners. Congratulations to everybody. Good night folks, and have a safe drive.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Fashion and religion

It is interesting how organized religions came up with different ways of using religious attire to make a fashion statement. Today, we study the cultural origins of the attire of two such religions.


Ancient Hindu priests initially used to wear jet black apparel in the temples. They were a fashionable bunch. They were aware that the best way to defeat the competition was to look chilled out so as to attract the hip crowd.

However, there was a problem. The temples had dark interiors and after repeatedly bumping into each other with their lamps and dropping hot oil on each others' naked bellies, the head priest had had enough.

"Fuck this shit", said the head priest. "Something needs to change. My girlfriend keeps making fun of my hairless patches."

"Girlfriend?", replied his deputy. "Aren't you married?"

"I'm sorry, did I say girlfriend, I meant the village blacksmith", said the head priest, looking sheepish. "He makes fun of my patches. Anyways, the point is, we need better visibility in here."

"I have an idea", said the deputy. "Let us remove our dark sunglasses. Maybe that will help."

"Yes, it does help, but not quite", said the head priest after testing this hypothesis. "We need something else".

"I know what to do", said a young priest. He was no.5 in the priestly hierarchy but was brash enough for a no. 3. "Let's install light bulbs on the ceiling and the walls".

"Fool!", said the head priest. "Electricity won't be invented till the late 19th century. What do you propose we do till then?"

No.5 quietly slunk away to his corner, miffed. Only temporarily, though. You couldn't keep no.5 down for long.

Suddenly, the head priest squinted into the distance. "What is it that your wife is wearing", said the head priest to his deputy. "She is two kilometers away, yet I can see her from here. What gives?"

"It is my own invention", replied no.2, not immodestly. "I call this color 'saffron', or the color of fire. I make her wear it so I can spot her from afar, which allows me to carry out any necessary evasive maneuvers."

It was then that a light bulb suddenly switched on inside the head priest's brain

"That's it!", he exclaimed. "That's what we need in here. Fucking fluorescent saffron clothing. You're a genius. Just for that, I shall ask my "blacksmith" if he has any "friends" who will be willing to "forge" your "hot iron" for you", said the head priest, giggling at his cleverness.

And that's how Hindu clergy adopted saffron into their garb.


When prominent Sikh saint Guru Gobind Singh was discussing religious attire with his favorite disciple, he went to the crux of the matter.

"Look", he said, "Life is complicated as it is, what with the Mughals trying to fry us in giant pans and all. Let us keep it simple. How about we mount a few, fairly easy to obtain items onto our bodies and call it a day?"

"Certainly, it is a good idea, Sirjee", said the disciple. "Please continue".

"Before we go any further, let me just comment on your hair. Wow! I mean, wow!", said the guru with admiration writ large upon his face.

"Thank you, Sirjee", said the disciple, flattered.

"It is long, flowing, very few split ends and it glitters with a healthy radiance. It makes a very good first impression during all our sales presentations. Everybody should have your hair. In fact, let us make it a mandatory requirement. "

"Okay, Sirjee", said the beaming disciple. He was indeed, proud of his hair. "Rule 1 : Everybody should have 'Kesh'".

"But if you don't mind me asking, how do you manage to keep your hair in such a state of salubrity?", asked the Guru.

"I use goat saliva", replied the disciple.

"Goat saliva, eh?", said the Guru in a meditative voice. That could potentially hamper the spread of the religion to goatless lands. He tried another approach.

"My son", said the guru. "Goat saliva does indeed give your hair that distinguished, slicked back look, but how do you manage to stack it up in a geometrically perfect manner?"

"Oh, that", said the disciple. "I use a comb".

"Excellent", said the Guru. "Add the comb, or 'Kanga' to the list. By the way, you need to wear pants. Why are you not wearing any pants?"

"I was wearing pants, Sirjee", said the disciple. "They were stolen when I removed them in order to trim my fingernails".

"What?", said the Guru. "How....why did you....okay, nevermind. Here is the thing my son. We lose credibility when we go around preaching virtue with our junk hanging out", said the Guru. "Let us make pants, or 'Kacheras' compulsory. And here's a 'Kirpan' to help you fend off potential pant bandits."

"Thank you, my Guru", said the disciple. "That brings it to four items".

"Hmm.....Let's make it five,", said the Guru. "Something utterly useless, just for kicks, just so we stand out in a crowd. How about this ugly old metal bangle to wear on your hand?"

"The 'Kara' is a great idea, my Lord", cried the disciple. "As the saying goes, 'With your hands and feet, do all your work, but let your consciousness remain with the Immaculate Lord'. Perhaps this bangle will be a symbol of this reminder."

"Okay, whatever", said the Guru. All he really wanted was for his disciples to be clearly audible to his naked ears if they approached him while he was engaged in, let us say, activities of a delicate and private nature.

And thus were the Five Ks of Sikhism born.


I appear to have lost the farm picture on the top. Why did you have to shut down, Geocities, why? Where will all those homeless gifs and jpgs go now?

Anyways, I guess it was time for a change. That farm is probably not even in business anymore.

Monday, September 28, 2009


I was hiking the other day along the Skippack creek and suddenly found myself face to face with a horse. Actually, it was face to giant dong and testicles, but I digress. The person atop the horse smiled at me. I smiled and waved at him until I realized that his smile was actually an invitation for me to get the fuck off the trail and let him pass. So I did.

But as he was passing me by on the trail, the horse gave me a look filled with such pathos and horsey misery that I went ahead and connected with him telepathically to find out what was wrong.

"What do you mean, what's wrong", said the horse, "I've got a fucking asshole on my back. Get him the fuck off me".

"I would if I could, my equine friend", said I, "For I commiserate with your plight. But the asshole you refer to has some sort of leather-bound weapon of mass destruction in his hands that I fear he won't hesitate to use on me."

"So what you're saying is, you're a pussy", said the horse. "Here, pussy, should I set out a bowl of Purina pussy-food for you, little pussy?"

I felt wounded. "Look, it's not just that I'm a pussy", I said. "I also respect the strategic height advantage that the asshole enjoys by virtue of being aboard your back. One doesn't fight a war one knows one can't win. Sorry dude, hope you have a pleasant life."

And then I continued on my way. It was mighty callous of me, I realized. So I repented. And as I was repenting, I began to think about horses, assholes and why assholes continue to ride horses even in this day and age.

Seriously, what is with horse-riders? I can understand children riding a horse. Children like to do a lot of weird lame shit. Like sit on a vertically oscillating wooden platform. Or climb up a ladder, only to slide back down. Or excavate massive amounts of sand from a beach without first developing a viable business plan to extract valuable minerals from it. Or ride on dad's back.

Riding on dad's back. That's when the seeds of this insanity are first sown. From the back of a dad as a child to the back of a horse as an adult to the backs of random strangers in the mall as a senile old fuck are but logical steps of progression.

My neighborhood is rife with horse-owners. Everywhere you drive you see signs saying, "Caution : horse-crossing", depicting an asshole on a horse crossing a road without first checking to see if a vehicle is approaching. Fucking guy, did you already forget your road-crossing lessons from elementary school? Let me refresh your memory :
1.> Look to the fucking left
2.> Look to the fucking right
3.> Cross the fucking road
4.> Follow these same fucking instructions even if you're on a fucking horse.

Even deer aren't this goddamn stupid and they didn't even go to school. What's your excuse, asshole?

But returning to my original point, why are people still riding horses anyways?

Some people might say, why are you so bloody concerned about horses when you stuff your face with cow every day? Trust me, when the day arrives that they manage to create cow from cardboard, I will happily stuff my face with that. Because as of now, I do not have an alternative. But in your case, hey, it's already been 80 years since the internal combustion engine was invented. Can we upgrade already? And don't talk to me about riding a bicycle. Bicycles burn calories. That's their purpose. What does horse-riding burn, except your inner thigh, and that too, only if you're doing it naked? (Which, for the record, I am all for. Not the thigh-burning but the naked riding. Because it serves a purpose)

Some people pretend to look at it from the horse's point of view. They say horses like to be ridden. Fuck you. Your horse hates you. If it could speak, it would recite a little haiku for you. It would go like this :

Fuck you,
Ride me?
I'll ride
To death.

What the fuck does a horse know about haiku?

Look, I can understand horse-racing. For it is a sport. The world has all kinds of weird sports that don't necessarily have to make any sense. Like cock-fighting. And basketball. Even as we speak, somebody somewhere is inventing a sport where you slide a rock along an icy surface towards a target as you run behind it with broom in hand. What's that, it's already been invented? Just serves to illustrate my point.

I can also understand descending into the Grand Canyon on the back of a horse. Okay, a mule, if you want to be an anal SOB. Because the fact is, you're too much of a wimp to do it on foot, and yet you harbor a desire to immerse yourself in the cooling waterfalls of the Havasu. A mule is your only option. And it breaks your fall if you lose your footing and crash into the abyss.

But I just cannot understand the need or the desire to ride a horse into the woods. Why are you not walking? Were you born without knee-caps? Why are you wearing that stupid cap? And is that a cup of tea in your hands? You disgust me. On multiple levels. As a human being, and as someone who wears a stupid cap while drinking tea.

Stop riding horses, Mankind. It is time to quit this barbaric practice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I really hate you. But I won't kill you because :

Hindu gawker : I'll be born as a rat in my next incarnation, which would suck because I am lactose intolerant and claustrophobic. Oh, if I could only digest dairy products and tolerate closed spaces!

Christian gawker : Much as I would love to, I do not have the authority. I would rather wait for our Lord, the Christ, to return to earth on judgment day and have his way with your sorry ass. I hope spiked dildos are involved. It should be fun.

Muslim gawker : It's Ramadan today and I am not allowed to kill you on Ramadan. Oh, I so wish it weren't Ramadan today. Could you meet me here again tomorrow, you think?

Buddhist gawker : Killing you would give me great pleasure, but since pleasure only leads to suffering, it would hamper my quest for a permanent state of enlightenment or Nirvana, even though I believe Soundgarden was in fact the best 90s Seattle-based band.

Jain gawker : My religion forbids me from harming living beings. You are alive, aren't you? Maybe if you pretended you weren't breathing for a second so I could tell people I didn't know you were alive and then I could jump up and down on your face.....Godamnit, you're breathing again. Ah well, I'll just go shoot a pillow instead. Oh wait, I can't, there's probably a bacterial colony living on it. Motherfuck!

Atheist gawker : I won't kill you because a> it wouldn't be a nice thing to do, b> It's against the law and c> Maintaining the integrity of this law is essential to my own survival.

Monday, August 31, 2009

God is not a She

I don't understand these so-called progressive women who like to refer to God as a She. Or the men who do it in order to get to know these women better. Ladies, I understand that you wish to rebel against this society of patriarchs by implying that the person who created this world is a woman and gents, I understand your deepest desire to get laid, but come on, by referring to God as a woman, aren't you really putting down the entire female gender?

For God is an asshole. The biggest asshole ever. Look at God's record. Doesn't matter which resume you are looking at, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism, they all conclude that God is definitely a very shady character, prone to senseless acts of violence, has anger management issues, is needy, jealous and lacks any sense of personal responsibility. God even thinks menstruation is a curse and forbids you from appearing in God's presence for the entirety of its duration. Wtf is with that? By implying that God is a woman, what you're saying in essence is that these Godly character flaws are all feminine traits. Why would you do that? That will only re-empower the misogynists and the sexists and defeat the very purpose of conferring Supreme divinity on your gender.

To conclude, there are better ways of fostering a sense of feminine self-worth than cultivating the belief that God is a woman. Cultivating the counter-belief that God is a man would be a good first step. Men are assholes. Men wage wars and engage in wanton bloodshed. Men like to create stuff and then blow it to smithereens. Men don't have a green thumb and can never be left alone with any living organism in need of loving care. Men are afraid of menstruating women.

Just like God.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Following Bryson II : The Pinnacle

(continued from here)

As I re-entered the woods on my way to the Pinnacle, the only thing on my mind was big rattlesnakes that moved through leaves. The trail was covered with leaves that were moving. It could have been the wind or it could have been rattlesnakes. Or it could have been rattlesnakes breaking wind. Fuck you, hiker guy, for your well-meaning warnings.

The problem with keeping an eye out for anything while hiking the AT in Pennsylvania is that it is virtually impossible to do so without inflicting grievous bodily injury upon your person. This trail is a fucking rocky mess. It demands intense concentration from you, the hiker, at all times. You cannot withdraw your gaze from the path immediately preceding you even for a split second, because by doing so, you are inviting permanent disability upon your ankles and any other body part that embarks upon a collision course with the ground as a result. Therefore, while you're on the trail, you may not admire the scenery. You may not observe the serene verdancy of the surrounding foliage. You may not even turn around to check if that grunting growling sound that has been following you in close proximity for the past fifteen minutes is an harbinger of doom or merely a benevolent fellow-organism desirous of initiating contact with you with the benign intent of accompanying you in your adventures.

The end result is, on the trail, you turn into a quivering bundle of nerves. Anything your peripheral vision makes out to be an object of even a remotely reptilian nature, be it a twig or your own forearm, spooks you out. Finally, after being startled by a log for the twentieth fucking time, I realized that I needed to have a talk with myself.

"Listen up", I said. "No matter how many times you shit your pants at the sight of a log, if it has been written in the stars, the snakes will still get you. Look up, do you see any stars? No? It means you're safe. So get back to work, chickenshit". I even tried to shame myself by doing the chicken dance. It worked.

"Yes Sir", I said to myself and began to walk again, feeling less terror-stricken.

This feeling lasted until I reached the boulders. Again, those fucking boulders, as far as the eye could see. I thought I was done with the boulders but here they fucking were again. This time it was even worse because snakes in crevices had gone from being just an old wives tale to cold hard reality. Well, there was nothing to do but keep forging ahead. So I forged ahead.


For about twenty minutes or so, I never touched the ground, flying over the tops of boulders like a hovercraft. Finally, I stepped over the last boulder and was back on level ground. I saw a guy approach me on the trail from the opposite direction. He looked like a good old country boy in very unhiker-like clothes. In fact, he looked like he had just finished painting someone's house and having extramarital sex with the home-owner's wife. He accosted me from afar.

"Go Phillies", he cried out to me in a very cheery, fraternal manner.

I realized that I had my bright red Phillies cap on. So I replied with equal enthusiasm saying, "Yeah, Phillies" or something similar, although I might also have said "Yeahhohey". I think all that boulder jumping had caused me to displace my tongue.

On seeing me up-close, he stopped and gave me a curious look. I had seen that look before. In bars during Eagles games, me with my Eagles cap on and my Eagles jersey on, screaming E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES with the rest of the bar crowd, with everybody giving me that same look, thinking, hello, what have we here, an ethnic looking guy cheering for our beloved sports team? Where's he from? He looks like somebody who should be following "soccer" and not football.

It was that very same look.

Still continuing to subject me to close scrutiny, the guy said, "So gonna be a good game today huh? Who are the Phillies playing, the.....", and trailed off. I got his drift. He was giving me a test. A test to prove I really was a Phillies fan. A test to prove I was authorized to wear official Philadelphia Phillies team apparel on my head. But I was ready for him. Bring it on, homie, I said to myself.

"I think they are playing the Marlins today", I said confidently.

"Yeah, yeah, the Marlins", he said pensively. "I wonder who's gonna start today. Probably the new guy, right, Pedro........". He trailed off again.

"Pedro Martinez? Yeah, probab.....", I said and then paused. Hold on. This was a trick question. I mulled it over for a bit.

"Nah, I said. "I don't think they'll start Pedro today", I said.

"And why's that?", asked the guy, feigning ignorance.

I took a deep breath.

"Because before they allow him to start a game, the Phillies will probably need Pedro to pitch a couple of bullpen innings first with an existing good lead. You know, just to get his confidence up before throwing him into the high pressure situation of a starter. Besides, Cole Hamels is due because his last start was five games ago. So no, I don't think Pedro's gonna start today. It's most likely gonna be Hamels"

I had nailed it. I could see it in his eyes. I had passed the legitimacy test. Wishing me a good hike, he waved goodbye and I continued on the trail.

The trail climbed some more along the side of the ridge, until I finally reached Hiker's Mound which my friend from Pulpit Rock had told me about. This is a large mound of rocks on the trail that has been created by hikers. Apparently every time you reach this point on the trail, it is customary for a hiker to add another rock to it. I wished to make my contribution to this structure but no matter how diligently I combed the area, I just could not find a single rock. Hikers before me had swept it clean. I decided to continue on to the Pinnacle and import a rock from there.


To get to the Pinnacle from Hiker's Mound, you need to follow the blue trail (Another blue trail?? Sure, why not.) This isn't really a trail at all and involves more bouncing along more boulders for another fifty feet till you reach the Pinnacle.


The Pinnacle is a bunch of large rocks resting upon the edge of the cliff, standing on top of which allows you to partake some excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Churches, farmhouses, distant hillocks and even a cemetery. Although it was a bit hazy, the view was as pretty as the reviews had made it out to be.


After spending a few minutes enjoying the view, battling the wind, enduring some egregiously sappy love talk from the couples canoodling on the rocks and spotting (what seemed to be) a freshly moulted snake skin on the ground, I decided to embark upon my return trip. I was gonna continue on the AT, which does a sharp hairpin turn at Hiker's mound, and then make a left onto the Furnace Creek Trail (The Blue Trail, yes, another blue trail) that would take me back to the reservoir and the parking lot.

I returned back to Hiker's Mound, added my own rock to it and after spending some time searching for white blazes, began the descent back. This section of the trail was quite broad and ideal for normal walking. On the way, I met a group of hikers who asked me, "Do you know how to get to the yellow trail?"

This time, to be more accurate, I replied, "Yes, it's over there", waving my hands vaguely over my head through an angle of 360 degrees. After conferring amongst themselves, the group chose an arc sector of 15 degrees out of my 360 and started walking in that direction.


The Furnace Creek Trail diverges from the AT at, what my Pulpit Rock friend had called, "The Helipad". The "Helipad" turned out to be a misnomer. It's not like I had expected a fully functional runway, air traffic control tower with a brewpub restaurant at its base with fifty different beers available on draft and pretty barmaids eager to pour you a long cold one, accompanying it with small talk, oh to heck with you, so what if I did?

Anyways, there was no such thing there. The "Helipad" turned out to be an unkempt grassy meadow that suddenly appeared in the middle of the forest. To show my displeasure at being bamboozled, I emptied my bladder right there in the center of the meadow where the "helicopters" would be landing.

The Furnace Creek Trail ran alongside a mountain spring called, I'm assuming, the Furnace Creek, because if not, it would have been a shitty choice of name for the trail. It was lined with gigantic rhododendron bushes and was in general, the perfect trail for a nice leisurely walk. At one point where the trail crossed over the creek, I filled my bottle with fresh spring water, having being informed by online reviewers that the water was perfectly potable and 99% hanta-virus-free. And so it was, and quite delicious too. I realized that it was the first time I had suckled from mother earth's untreated teat.


The trail led down to Hamburg Reservoir, a small artificial lake created by damming the Furnace Creek. A sign on the side of the lake said "No animals allowed in the lake", which was very impressive to me because for the past year and a half, I've been trying to teach the deer in my backyard how to read English, but they still have problems differentiating "dessert" from "desert". The wildlife in this area must have evolved from a different gene pool.

Finally, I walked down the reservoir road to the parking lot and my car. My stats according to my newly acquired pedometer were :

distance walked : 7.2 miles
calories consumed : 950
steps walked : 18,000
survival rate : 100%

All in all, I would call it a successful hike.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Following Bryson II : Pulpit Rock

So there I was, once again at the base of the Blue Mountain Ridge, this time about thirty miles west of Palmerton, near a small lake called Hamburg Reservoir. I was going to hike up the mountain on the Appalachian Trail to a place called "Pulpit Rock" and then push on to "The Pinnacle".

View Pinnacle Hike in a larger map

The Pinnacle is a scenic outlook on the Appalachian Trail that is said to possess some of the finest views the trail has to offer in the state of Pennsylvania. Through careful online research, I managed to uncover the following salient facts with regard to this particular hike.

1.> It usually takes about 3.5 to 4.5 hours to complete the 8.5 mile round trip.
2.> You may encounter copperhead snakes on the trail.
3.> You definitely need lots of water.
4.> You may encounter rattlesnakes on the trail.
5.> If you fail to follow the trail map posted in the parking lot with adequate discipline, you may get lost and find yourself in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
6.> The rattlesnakes that consider this trail their home are of exceptional quality, if what you look for in a rattlesnake is girth and bloodcurdling ferocity.


Armed with these helpful facts, two bottles of water, brand new leather hiking boots and a camera, I drove up to Hamburg Reservoir near the small town of Hamburg, PA, where you can hop on to the AT. To get to the AT from the parking lot, you have to walk uphill along a service road that leads to the reservoir. The AT intersects this road about a half mile up the hill and enters some woods after crossing a stream on a wooden bridge. Heeding the advice of online hiking reviews, I looked for copperheads sunning themselves on the creek stones but I saw none, which wasn't a disaster because I really fucking hate snakes.


I had decided to hike up the AT to the Pinnacle, then descend back down along the Furnace Creek (Blue) trail, which forms a loop to the parking lot. About half a mile into the woods, the Blue trail branched off the AT. Immediately thereafter, the AT began a steep climb up the side of the mountain. After an initial shock to my cardio-pulmonary system during which I aged twenty years within the span of twenty seconds, I settled into a nice rhythm.

About a mile into the hike, I ran across my first fellow hiker. She was twenty yards ahead of me, an amply proportioned woman, also climbing up the trail. As I caught up to her, I saw that she was arguing with somebody on the phone. Just as I passed her, she turned to me and asked me, "Do you know where we are?"

"We are on the Appalachian Trail", I replied, not hugely surprised by her question because she looked like somebody who had just stepped outside to get a cup of coffee and somehow inadvertently managed to end up on the Appalachian Trail.

"I need to get to the blue trail", she replied. "I've been walking all morning, trying to get to the white trail that leads to the blue trail".

"This IS the white trail", I said. "But why are you climbing up? To get to the blue trail, you would have to climb down".

"I climbed up the blue trail and I made a left on to the white trail and now I need to reach the blue trail to climb down to my campground, so I'm climbing up again", she said. "Do you see now?"

"I see", I replied, not seeing at all. "The blue trail meets the white trail at two different locations, the closest of which is a mile down this trail."

"Oh damn", she exclaimed in disgust. "Alright, thanks", she said, turned around and began to walk down.

After marveling for a moment at how anyone could get lost on such a clearly marked trail, I walked on.

A few minutes later, I came to a blue blazed trail branching off the AT to the right. Another blue trail? Perhaps the mysterious, mythical blue trail the woman was looking for?

Now here's my problem and it is a very general problem that I have faced many times in my life. I have a pathological desire to assist mankind through the generous dissemination of my knowledge. The problem is that frequently, I lack knowledge of any kind. In such a situation, I manufacture knowledge through the process of theorizing and deduction and in my defense, there have been numerous occasions when this method of knowledge manufacture has served me well and earned me accolades.

Apparently this wasn't one of those times.

"Fuck", I muttered under my breath because I had just been hit by a severe pang of hiker's conscience. Quickly, I did an about-turn and jogged back down the trail to see if I could find the woman and inform her that I had discovered a blue trail that might be the one she was looking for, but she had disappeared. I never saw her again. They say her spirit still wanders these woods at night, giving unwary hikers false directions in a fake Indian accent.

As I continued to hike up the AT, it continued to get rockier, with more and more boulders appearing on the path. As I mentioned in my previous post, Bill Bryson has called the PA Appalachian Trail a place where hiking boots go to die. After reading his description, my initial impression was that the AT in PA was probably akin to an old age home for footwear, where already decrepit boots would be allowed to die quietly with dignity, catheters being disengaged at regular intervals, culminating with the final unplugging of the dialysis machine.

And my experience on the Delaware Water Gap section of the AT had only served to confirm my hypothesis. After I returned from the hike, my old shoes which were already well past their expiration date, called it a day and kicked the bucket.

But this trail was different. In fact, for this particular section of the AT, a more apt comparison would be to Vietnam. Young, healthy shoes being sent off to battle for a lost cause and be slaughtered like sheep. I felt a deep sadness for my new Timberlands. They were not having the best of times. I could sense their muted suffering through my Dr. Scholl's insole.

It began with the appearance of a few rocks on the path. I snapped a picture, thinking hey, that's cool, so this was what Bryson was talking about. A few steps ahead, these turned into boulders. I snapped another picture, thinking sweet, I am THE MAN for doing this trail alone. And then, the path disappeared entirely, turning into a field of giant rocks, climbing up the side of the mountain like a stairway to hell and identifiable as the Appalachian Trail only by the white blazes painted on trees surrounding them.


My problem wasn't merely with regard to the technical issues involved in climbing up a rocky mountainside. I also knew (again, from online research), that the rattlesnakes of this region, displaying uncommon enterprise, often occupy the empty space between two rocks, staying still for prolonged periods of time and awaiting rodentia or human limb to succumb to gravity and fall in. Therefore, as I jumped from rock to rock, I could almost hear hollow fangs clicking away in anticipation all around my feet.

As I was standing on one of these rocks, trying to catch my breath, my cellphone rang. It was my dad.

"Why are you sending us money?", my dad wanted to know.

"Who else will I send money to?", I replied.

"We don't need your money, we are relatively well-off", replied my dad.

"Dad, I already sent you the money, so donate it to the poor or something", I said.

"Okay, I will send it back to you, then", said my dad.

"Dad, I have money now, I am no longer poor", I said, "But anyways, I'm standing on a rock surrounded by snakes right now so I gotta go, I will call you later, bye" and hung up.

After carefully leaping from rock to rock and making my way up the ridge for another twenty minutes or so, I finally emerged onto a flat area on the edge of a cliff with a nice view of the surrounding countryside. This was probably Pulpit Rock. I confirmed my suspicion by asking two women lounging around on a couple of flat rocks at the edge of the precipice. One of them was lying on her stomach, peering through binoculars at the birds of prey circling the cliffs around us.

"Is this Pulpit Rock?", I asked.

"Yes, it is", the non-birdwatcher replied. I walked up to the edge of the cliff to take pictures. Down in the valley at a distance, I could vaguely make out the "Blue Rocks", a boulder field supposedly deposited there by glaciers during the last ice age.


The woman who had replied to my question got up from her roost and at the same time, a skinny guy in well-worn hiking attire emerged from the trail. He immediately walked up to the rock the woman had been sitting on, carefully scrutinized it and then broke out in smiles as if he had just spotted an old friend.

"There it is", he said, "There's usually at least one in there".

"Where is what?", I asked him, puzzled.

"A copperhead", he replied. "It's coiled up inside the crack between these rocks you ladies are sitting on."

This revelation caused the birdwatching lady to temporarily suspend her ornithological activities in favor of leaping to her feet and saying, "AaaaA. Where?" I have never seen anyone transfer body weight from belly to foot with such agility.

The man pointed to the crevice between the two rocks. I stepped onto the ledge at the very edge of the cliff to spot the serpent. A sudden attack of vertigo hit me. Carefully, I backed off and tried to get to it from another angle. As I raised my camera and moved my hand towards the crevice to take a picture, I asked the guy, "Where is it"?

"Stop right there", he said. I froze.

"What?", I said.

"There's one right underneath your hand", he said.

I looked closely at the crevice my hand was passing over and sure enough, right there among the leaves was a curled up copperhead. It was quite difficult to spot due to its amazingly camouflaged skin. There were two of these snakes, in the very same crevice.



"Sometimes there are so many in there that they get stacked up on each other", said the guy. He had obviously made a career out of studying the relaxing habits of Appalachian Trail copperheads.

"That's nice", I said, thinking otherwise. "Are they venomous?".

"Yeah", he replied. "Also, the babies are more dangerous because they keep biting and inject more venom than the adults."

I decided never to hand-feed a baby copperhead. Sure they are all cute and scaly and all, but on the whole, it's just not worth the risk.

"We've been sitting here for a while now", said one of the women. "We never knew it was in there."

"You were lucky you didn't drop anything into the crack and try to retrieve it", I said.

"I know", said the woman, "My water bottle was right there".

After taking a number of copperhead pictures, I put my camera away.

"Anyone going to the Pinnacle?", asked Hiker Guy.

"Yeah, I am", I replied, "Why?"

"Watch out for rattlesnakes", he said. "People have seen big ones among the rocks there".

"B...B?", I said.

"Excuse me?", he said.

"I said B...B", I explained. "I was actually trying to say 'B..B..Big?' in a terrified voice."

"Yeah", he replied, "You might also run across them on the trail. I saw one the other day, moving through the leaves. Just make sure you keep an eye out for them."

And so, after taking some more pictures of the view from Pulpit Rock, I took my leave of these good folks and headed out towards the Pinnacle.

(continued here)

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Today I did my once-every-five years pilgrimage to the DMV. I already had a license and merely needed to renew it. Therefore, the paperwork I needed to take along with me caused the destruction of a smaller swathe of the Amazonian rain forest than usual. Along with my passport, H1B documentation and I-485 receipt, I merely included my mother's birth certificate, my dad's fourth grade essay competition gold medal and my great grandfather's 1920 tax returns from his goat-herding business. I was ready to renew.

When i entered the DMV office, I saw that there were a mere ten people ahead of me, praise the Lord. After taking a number, I busied myself with attempting to discover a free wi-fi connection for my phone to climb on to. After "HMP500" and "TestyTestMan" both failed to provide me with unsecured internet access, I decided to go with the tried and tested method of staring at the floor. I wondered if there was any paint drying in the vicinity.

Finally, when my number was up, they called me to the photography chamber where the lady behind the counter gave me a computerized questionnaire consisting merely of (a), if I wished to answer (b) in Spanish and (b), if I wished to be an organ donor. After I had answered yes to both questions, the lady, in a tone implying her belief that I had misunderstood the second question, asked me, "You've stated that you want to be an organ donor, is that correct?"

I replied yes, accompanying it with a look that I hoped would communicate to her my view that if people wished to help themselves to the much abused and heavily shredded cables of my mortal coil, hey, more power to them. I really hope she got that look because I put considerable effort into its manufacture.

With all formalities completed, I settled down into the chair for my picture to be taken.

"You may smile if you wish", said the lady, "Please look at the camera".

Since smiling in photos makes me look sheepishly apologetic about my presence on the planet and not smiling in photos announces to people my intention of invading their house while they're asleep and raping their pillows, I offered her my standard "fuck all government issued documents" glare. The camera clicked.

But something appeared to be amiss. The lady called one of her coworkers to her desk. I could hear them whispering and I thought I saw her point to my picture on her screen and say, "Does his (inaudible) look tiny to you?"

I looked down to check if I was wearing pants, which I was, so it had to be something else that had violated the good lady's sense of proportion. I listened more closely in order to make out their conversation. This time, I heard the words shiny and nose.

"Excuse me", I said, "What's wrong?"

"Your nose looks too shiny in the picture", she said to me. "Is it too shiny for a license photo?", she asked her coworker.

"Hold on, my nose is too shiny?" I said. I wanted to be sure that I had an exact understanding of the problem.

The room laughed. I realized that I had been too loud. Reflexively, I wiped my nose on my shirt sleeve. "Shit", I said to myself, realizing too late that wiping it would only serve to augment its reflective properties.

The coworker finally came to my rescue.

"It's okay, his nose is fine", she said.

"Yeah, i guess so", said the picture lady. "I think i was too picky about your nose", she said,turning to me.

"That's okay", I said. I guess it is a good thing that the world contains people willing to burden themselves with the task of maintaining societal nose glitter within manageable limits.

I seated myself beside another Indian guy who had yet to have his photo taken and waited for the production of my new license card to be completed. I noticed that the guy next in line after me had already received his card. The lady behind the counter explained to the Indian guy sitting next to me, "It's because your card needs to be reprinted." Seeing his puzzled look, I explained, "She's speaking to you, but she's actually talking to me." We were both brown so I can understand her confusion.

Finally, my card was done. I walked to the counter to retrieve it. I wished to check on the shininess of my nose first-hand. Well, I couldn't see anything because I was blinded by the light emanating from my nose in the picture. My license picture looked like a miniature solar system with my nose providing life-giving light and warmth to my eyes, ears, forehead and chin that were revolving in elliptical orbits around it. My chin appeared to be simultaneously rotating about its own inclined axis, thereby leading to perfect conditions for the birth of hair. I named my eyes Klaxon and Zorn and drove home humming the Star Trek theme song.

I wonder why no one's ever mentioned anything to me about my shiny nose before. Are you people blind?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Following Bryson

A couple of months ago, I read Bill Bryson's awesomely funny book "A walk in the woods" for the very first time, in which he describes his attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail, or, as lazy folks like to call it, the "AT", is a 2200 mile long north-south hiking trail that runs throughout the length of the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. The AT, along with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) of the Western Mountains and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) of the Rockies form the Holy Trinity (HTNT) for long-distance hikers (people who have way too much time on their hands, or SOBs).

After reading this book, I made the spontaneous life-changing decision of dedicating the remainder of my time on earth to hiking the AT and retracing Mr Bryson's journey along this trail. That decision turned out to have a very limited lifespan, the end of which, curiously enough, coincided with my wife coming to know about it. Only after changing it through the addition of various legal amendments such as, "only on weekends when nothing else is planned" and "subject to absolute spousal veto that may not be appealed" was I able to revive it and get it approved.

A significant chunk of the AT passes through Pennsylvania. Bryson has not been too kind to Pennsylvania in his book. As he describes it (or cites someone else describing it, I forget which), the Pennsylvanian portion of the Appalachian trail is where hiking boots go to die. And I realized the truth of this statement when I did the Delaware Water Gap section of the AT some weeks ago. My right shoe passed away soon after, leaving behind a widowed left shoe, a couple of orphaned shoelaces and a large credit card debt that I'm still paying off. I had no idea the fucker was living beyond his means.

So last week, continuing on my mission, I decided to do a section of the AT that lay closest to me. Through a Google maps research session, I discovered that there was an AT trail-head with parking facilities about 60 miles from here where it crosses PA Highway 309 on the summit of the Blue Mountain Ridge.

View Larger Map

As we were pulling into the trail-head parking lot, I spotted the white blazed trail entering the woods from the highway. I showed it to my wife.

"Look, there's the trail", I said.

My wife, after observing it through the window, replied, "That's the trail?"

"Yes, there it is", I replied.

"But it's going into the woods", said my wife. "You didn't tell me we would be hiking in the woods. They look scary".

I realized that I had been somewhat secretive about the exact location of our hiking trip. I also realized that I had made a good call.

"What's wrong with hiking in the woods", I said. "Where else would you hike?"

"I don't know, a mall?" said my wife. I observed her closely to detect any signs of intended humor. I found none.

"Ah, don't worry", I said. "It's just trees. Luckily for us, the woods in this part of America lack any major predatory species, other than the black bear".

My wife, who was just about to place a foot outside the car, pulled it back in. "Bears?"

"Oh come on, the possibility of us happening upon a bear is extremely small", I said. I tried to mentally wish away the sign I had seen by the side of the highway at the base of the mountain that said "Bear crossing, next two miles". There, no more sign. It wasn't there anymore.

I had actually decided to hike the AT in the opposite direction, going towards Hawk Mountain, so we drove around, looking for the other trail-head. At the top of Blue Mountain Ridge, just across the AT trail-head lies the Blue Mountain Summit restaurant. I decided that I would have a beer there after the hike. Perhaps watch the Phillies game. It was then that I spotted white blazes descending down the mountainside on the other side of the highway.

"There, that's the side of the trail I want to do", I said to my wife.

"But we'll have to climb back up. How about we do the other section across the road that doesn't involve any climbing?", said my wife in a tone that seemed to suggest a distaste for gravity-opposing activities.

"Okay", I said. "Hey, look, an apple tree". We appeared to be parked right under an apple tree. "Do you want to pick a few apples?", I said, knowing through scholarly research that apple-picking is an activity women seem to harbor an inexplicable fondness for.

"Sure, why not", she replied, "The bear's gonna be hungry, right?"

We drove to the trail head parking lot without picking any apples. Finally managing to leave the car before sunset, we entered the woods. It was a nice day, not too hot, not too cold and not wet at all. The trail, in its initial section, was very narrow and I was a bit apprehensive because I had come to know from this guy on the internet that this section of the trail was pretty well-stocked with rattlesnakes. "Large" ones, he gushes on his website with considerable enthusiasm. Luckily, there were very few rocks on the trail, which rattlers are known to hide under. Nevertheless, I was happy when the narrow trail joined another larger, better maintained trail.

The AT travels along the top of Blue Mountain Ridge through dense woods. Even though you are about 1200 feet above sea level, there are no scenic views of the valley below simply because you are constantly surrounded by trees. Nevertheless, it was a great hike with the woods smelling flowery fresh and the air slightly muggy but replete with summer fragrance.

The trail was heavily populated with mushrooms. Lots of different varieties and a whole lot of different colors. My wife was mesmerized by them. Often, she would walk all the way back just to take another look at one of her favorite mushrooms that she had passed on the trail. Sometimes she couldn't find it, in which case we would spend a few minutes looking for it. Blueberry bushes were abundant as well, although blessed with very few berries. However, we did manage to snag a few. Even though I was pretty sure the animals that left those berries untouched had a very good reason for doing so.

We passed a number of places on the trail where thru-hikers had obviously camped and enjoyed a roaring campfire, although AT rules strictly forbid it. Bill Bryson never mentions starting any campfires in his book, although he did use a propane stove for cooking his noodles that were a dinner staple during his hike.

After the initial anti-bear remarks, my wife did not appear to be showing any significant bear-anxiety on the trail. I was pretty impressed. She had either lost all of her fear or was doing a good job of hiding it from me, both of which I found to be accomplishments of a highly commendable nature.

"Aren't you afraid of bears anymore?", I asked her as we walked along the path.

"Actually, I'm terrified. But this stick is providing me with a little bit of confidence", she replied.

I looked at the stick she was holding. During ancient times, in the absence of warming massage gels and edible lingerie, our forefathers would have used a comparable sized stick to tickle our foremothers as an act of foreplay. But I did my part in urging her confidence skyward.

"Good, I'll stay behind you then", I said, also expressing a hope that if a bear should happen upon us at the same time as an attractive mushroom, first preference kindly be given to bear destruction rather than mushroom inspection. I then pulled back, now wishing I had eyes in the back of my head. On the way back, we passed a dung-covered stone on the trail. I expertly analyzed it to be of ursine origin. Look, berries, I said. It means a bear did this. We spent about five minutes staring at and marveling over supposed bear shit. Then, we moved on.

On the way back, we passed a female hiker impressively equipped with hiking poles, correct hiking attire and humongous backpack. As she passed us, I asked her, "Hiking thru?" She stopped, looked back, smiled and confirmed my suspicion by saying yes. I said all the best, hope you make it to the end. She laughed, thanked me and moved on. Apparently less than 25% of thru-hikers complete the 2200 mile long trail. I'm hoping I did my bit to add to that number.

After we made it back to the parking lot, I decided to cross highway 309 in order to check out the southbound side of the trail. It turned out to be a highly dangerous place to test your road-crossing skills. For one, I don't think anyone's even aware that the AT crosses the highway at that spot. Also, because it's on the summit of a mountain ridge, cars in both directions, having made the slow climb up the ridge, are now looking forward to speeding all the way down. Nevertheless, having made it to the opposite side of the road in one piece, I looked down at the southbound trail. This section appeared to have more possibilities with regard to scenic views and so, I decided that I would return someday soon and do this section of the trail as well.

Bill Bryson recounts an amusing anecdote during his Pennsylvania AT hike. He traveled to a city called Palmerton, which is just off the trail, more famous for being a US government superfund site, which appears to be code for "ecologically super-devastated". Apparently an old zinc smelting facility, located at the base of the mountain has fucked up the area soil to such a horrible extent that the entire north-facing slope of the mountain is now defoliated, allowing nothing to grow there anymore. And considering how lushly forested the rest of the ridge is, I can see why Bryson would have believed such a place to be worth taking a gander at.

So Bryson appears to have walked onto the property of this zinc facility, and just as he was gazing up at the devastated mountain, a guard walked up to him and asked him what he thought he was doing, trespassing on the property. Bryson's reply of being out of zinc appeared to have infuriated him and after some more humorous back and forth, was just about to arrest him when Bryson was saved by the guard's supervisor appearing on the scene and directing him to the nearest AT trail-head.

Since I was intent upon retracing Bryson's steps, I thought we should drive the 14 miles to Palmerton as well and take a look at the famous treeless slopes of Blue Mountain. It turned out to be a gorgeous drive along PA Route 4024 West along the southern base of the ridge. The road passes through woods, farms, meadows and tiny villages while the dark green mass of Blue Mountain Ridge looms constantly to your left.

Palmerton is an average American town with a wide main street that is mostly devoid of humanity and lined with shops that, from the outside, offer very few hints as to the possibility of being occupied by humans on the inside.

As I drove down the main street, I was looking for this famous barren mountain slope Bryson speaks of, but I just couldn't see it. To the left I could see some strange shaped rock formations on top of a hill, which I pointed out to my wife.

"Look, rocks. Over on that hill", I said.

"Why are you showing me rocks?", she replied.

"I don't know, this could be the barren hillside Bryson was talking about so I don't want you to miss it", I said.

"Alright then, I see them, thank you", she said.

I was still skeptical that those rocks were what Bryson was talking about so I drove on some more. Finally, a large shabby evil-looking factory building came up to our right and a signpost indeed confirmed that it was a zinc recycling plant.

But there was no barren mountain slope. Bryson traveled here in 1996 or so. During the ensuing decade and a half, the mountain soil appears to have shedded all its zinc and tourist potential in favor of luscious green grass. It certainly wasn't wooded like the rest of the ridge, but it didn't look substantially toxic either. I have a feeling that the factory guard today would be much less averse to letting people gawk at his mountain than he had been in the 1990s. But anyways, I wasn't interested in finding out. Disappointed at all the greenery, I turned around and began the long drive home.

Coming up next on the "Following Bryson" tour, Centralia, PA.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Green Ribbon Trail 1

The first time I became aware of the existence of the mighty Wissahickon was during a massive rainstorm in the winter of 2003. It had snowed heavily a few days ago and it was now raining heavily and as I stood on my apartment balcony contemplating the overabundance of water in this country, I noticed something curious. A pool of water was slowly creeping towards me. Some indeterminate body of water that had previously occupied the space at the end of the parking lot was now advancing towards my building at the speed of, say, a frightened turtle. Holy fuck, I said to myself, what is this indeterminate body of water that threatens to engulf me and my rental property on this sad morning? It turned out that this water body was the Wissahickon Creek, in a state of flood due to the lethal combination of snow-melt and rainfall. It appeared that all this time, I had been dwelling on the banks of the famous Wissahickon Creek of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Wissahickon is legendary. It is lusciously pretty and an aquatic heavyweight in these parts. Before it enters the city of Philadelphia through the steep ravines of Fairmount Park, it meanders along the rural countryside of Montgomery county, forming a ribbon of green running through Philadelphia's northern suburbs. Poets have admired it, authors have written about it and old colonialists from the 1700s and post-revolutionaries from the 1800s have forged iron by harnessing its hydro power. Native Indians, impressed with the yellowish tinge of its water, named it "stream of yellowish color", or "Wissahickon". That was before they stopped urinating in it.

When we purchased a home in this area last year, we did so after being hugely impressed by its natural beauty. Also, the close proximity of an Indian grocery store. And, a beer distribution outlet. Plus, a Burger King. A mall. And an Indian restaurant. But mostly its natural beauty. And little did I know at that time that this place had an additional treat in store for me. A treat in the form of the Green Ribbon Trail.

The Green Ribbon Trail is a hiking path that follows the wooded banks of the Wissahickon Creek for twenty miles as it commutes through the suburbs, originating in the burrough of North Wales and forging right into the city of Philadelphia. Imagine, a trail with historic implications beginning virtually in our own backyard. Well, I don't really have to imagine it, do I?

After a year of being aware of this trail's existence, I finally decided to hike it this summer. I realized that I would have to do it in sections because of all the sore feet involved. I began my hike in the North Wales burrough park where the trail starts, armed with a water bottle and legs of steel.


The trail began quite innocuously, with a paved, tarred path, running beside a residential neighborhood. Notice the chimney in the distance.


The trail then turned left into a powerline right-of way. So far, so good. The trail was marked with green blazes throughout, so it was quite easy to follow.


To the right was the immense industrial complex of the Merck pharmaceutical company, to which the aforementioned chimney belonged. I could feel my arteries being drained of cholesterol and my prostate reducing in size, just by breathing in that lovely fresh Mercky air.

The trail then turned left and took its leave from the powerline right-of-way. It turned into a tunnel through the bushes. Things began to get interesting.



Here's where the trail actually came in contact with the Wissahickon creek for the very first time.


Soon, I came to my first wet stream crossing. The Green Ribbon Trail is liberally endowed with these. Either due to a lack of funds or a desire to keep the trail environmentally as less intrusive as possible, there are no pure pedestrian bridges on the trail. Whenever the Green Ribbon, for no rhyme or reason, decides to leap to the opposite bank of the creek, the hiker needs to either wade through the water, or as in this case, walk over some very unstable-looking stepping stones.


After crossing the creek, I paused to take a picture of some strange but pretty flowers that begged me to. I heard them sing. And so will you, if you stop texting and twittering for a moment.


I had barely overcome the trauma of my first wet stream crossing when, after crossing North Wales Road, another, wetter crossing presented itself to me. Here, not only was the stream wider, but the stones were also farther apart and partially submerged in water. Additionally, the creek appeared to be swift and I could also see faces of dead people on its bottom.


Then, I came across something strange. A random concrete bridge across the creek. No road, just a bridge. A bridge to nowhere. I crossed the bridge to see what nowhere looked like in order to describe it to my grandchildren.


Tiny blue wildflowers on the side of a wooden boardwalk on the trail. Somebody had thrown a plastic bottle onto them. You will die, son. And you'll come back as a tunafish in your next life, swallow a plastic bottle and die again. You'll keep dying through various plastic bottle-related mishaps and keep coming back. And I would feel sorry for you, were it not for the fact that you threw a plastic bottle into the woods.


Soon, I came to a crossroads. Apparently, the trail had decided to turn right. I followed it without questioning its motives. The trail knows best.


Here, I came across my first fellow hiker, a running woman. I wondered why she was running. But once the undergrowth began closing in on my feet and nipping at my knees, I began to run too.


After outrunning the shrubbery, I came to the third wet stream crossing on the trail. Pthooey. I did this one with my eyes closed.


I finally opened them after falling into the water for the third time.

Much of the Wissahickon's passage through Philadelphia city is through a deep narrow gorge. Here's where it gives you just a slight hint of what it will be doing to the landscape later on in its route.


As I was walking through a section of the path enclosed on all sides by high bushes, one of them suddenly groaned. It sounded like a cow that would really have liked to moo, but was just too tired.

"Groan", said the bush.

After I had descended back to mother earth, I addressed the situation. I peered into the bush.

"What?" I said.

"Groan", the bush replied.

"I'm sorry, I did not wish to disturb you, I shall be on my way soon", I said to the bush.

"Groan", said the bush, apparently satisfied with my explanation.

I fled. I did not wish to partake of groaning bushes.

But then, I crossed a sweet idyllic meadow and all my fears soon left me.


Here's where somebody had planted trees on the trail and encircled them with wire so they would be protected from the deer (I assume). I don't know any hikers who like to gnaw on trees.


Here is where my other great fear, that of snakes left me. I saw this small dead mouse lying on the ground. If a dead mouse could lie unclaimed on the trail, it meant that there were no mouse-eating predators around. No snakes. Alright, high five.


A great blue heron roosting in the creek flapped its wings mightily and flew away.


Here's where the heron was. Right there. It was right there, I tell ya.

Finally, I emerged from the wilderness onto Swedesford Road. An elderly couple in an SUV gave me a puzzled look as I emerged from the bushes and drove away.


After inspecting the Satan's maw-like entrance of the trail on the other side of Swedesford road and inspecting my watch, I decided to turn back for now and come back another day.


The groaning bush awaited me. I wanted to tackle it before nightfall.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I wonder if mannequin makers feel suffocated under the weight of censorship. Mannequins are strange beings. Highly detailed in face, expression and muscular tone, yet curiously smooth in crotch and breast. To our religious leaders, mannequins probably represent the ideal human form : Uniform in nature, obedient to the point of subservience and a refreshing lack of pretty orifices or projections that could be used for ungodly pleasure-seeking purposes.

I pity the young mannequin builder, fresh out of mannequin-building school, who's been itching for a chance to showcase his skills to an appreciative world. But just as he is about to sculpt a voluptuous nipple onto the breast of his work, his manager rushes in and though bent and clutching his knees in exhaustion, manages to blurt out the words, " Don't make her look so realistic."

Most mannequin makers, I am sure, will learn to squash their artistic impulse through the passage of time and the slow demise of creative brilliance that usually occurs at a 9 to 5 job. But surely there must still be a few out there, rebels who ache to let their fingers flow free, to breathe life into their work, to be true to their inner perfectionist by adding a labial fold here, a scrotal wrinkle there.

I hope they exist. And I hope they bring their yearnings to fruition. My dream is that someday, there will be a moment when a slight whiff of breeze lifts the skirts of a mannequin in a department store, causing a collective gasp of horror from everybody present. But as for me, I will stand up and clap. I will applaud the courage of the renegade artist who refused to let his art wither and die in the face of squeamish society.

I will applaud you, sir. And I will continue to applaud till they escort me out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trash thief

Each day at work, I see my trashcan has moved a bit closer to the door of my cubicle than it was the previous day. I think somebody is trying to steal it an inch at a time. I noticed because lately, I haven't been having as much success with my paperball 3-point dunks. And they say one gets better with practice and human growth hormones.

I suspect it's John. John with all those banana skins and candy wrappers lying around on his desk. How many bananas does one eat in a day? Should have noticed it at the time. Although I'm not exactly sure what his exit strategy is. How it's gonna work when he makes the trashcan disappear entirely. Theoretically, it might be possible not to notice something move an inch a day but surely one would notice it's total disappearance?

Right now I'm toying with the thief. Pretending I suspect nothing and letting the charade continue. But just when the trashcan is almost out the door, I'm gonna bring it back in. All the way in. Make him wish he could get back all those wasted minutes of his life. Gonna make him realize crime don't pay. Gonna get John back on the straight and narrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Clearing brush

I cleared brush the other day. It might seem like a strange thing to do for somebody who owns two patches of land that measure a mere five feet by two, but clear brush is indeed what I did. It was a necessity. Mother Nature had taken over my property and was bent upon pushing me and my house out of her life. I have never ever seen twenty square feet of such tightly packed vegetation. It was fucking ridiculous. You know how it is in spring, when you see tiny little green shoots making their way up through the soil and you're so happy to see life returning to the cold parched earth. And then those shoots begin to grow and turn into stems and leaves. And then they grow some more and they keep growing and they just don't stop growing and then you realize you are the modern day version of Jack with the bean stalk. Except Jack climbed the beanstalk in search of better career opportunities and you continue to be grounded because you value job stability.

Apparently in my case, the previous owner had decided to throw all condo-living etiquette to the wind and recreate a miniature tropical rain forest in her front yard, which is an area, the size you wouldn't even be able to park a hatchback in. This place was a botanical Dharavi. Plants were living on top of other plants, other plants were trying to crawl underneath still other plants, all engaged in the business of trying to squeeze every drop of sustenance out of the land. In between were the illegal squatters : weeds that had somehow escaped everyone's notice, grown to a monstrous height and were now pretending to be rose bushes. When I purchased this house, I remember the previous owner telling me how she had been desirous of importing and planting the 59,500 sq. feet spanning giant banyan tree of Chennai in her flower bed. Luckily for me, while she was there, she incurred the wrath of Rajnikanth fans by being openly skeptical about his bullet-catching abilities and had to fly back in a hurry.

Also, my wife brought up the snake issue. I am only slightly terrified by snakes. If I see a snake, I feel only a mild urge to curl up into a ball and roll downhill. My wife has considerably less reptile tolerance. According to her, every inch of soil on our property not visible for inspection due to its foliage cover could potentially turn into a snake sanctuary. So she assigned me the task of getting rid of the jungle and using my famed people skills, gently coax any angry snake that I happened upon to depart from my property.

So I began to clear brush.

The one thing that aided me in drumming up the required enthusiasm for this brush-clearing project was the knowledge that our last president spent so much time doing it. It's a well-known fact that President Bush liked to have his fun. If this guy spent six months of every year clearing brush, surely there had to be something enjoyable about it. But then as I plunged deeper into the project and realized how thoroughly unpleasant and soul-crushing this activity really was, I realized something. If President Bush chose brush-clearing over his job as leader of the free world, boy, he must have really really hated his job. Well, good for him for surviving his eight years in office. I developed a gnawing sympathy for the poor guy. That's when I realized I was either getting dehydrated or the sun was doing something terrible to my brain. So I went and put on my cap and drank some water.

My first order of business was to trim the peonies. Peonies are to flowerbeds what the African elephant is to a bathtub. They are huge monstrous organisms that start out in life as cute little baby plants, which then sprout out roots that run all the way to your neighbor's medicine closet where they find and suck down all the human growth hormones they can find, marry Maria Shriver Kennedy, get elected Governor of California and then grow up all the way to your chimney. Just like you wouldn't raise an African elephant in a bathtub (if you are, more power to you, sir), you should not plant peonies in a flower bed.

Two days out of three hundred and sixty five, the peony "plant" bears flowers. These flowers are ginormous. Sure, they are reasonably good looking. Not pretty like the rose, but they do have petals that are not transparent. These flowers are heavy and the plant is unable to bear their weight. So it bends under the load and onto your driveway. There they remain in a drooping position for two days. On the third day, it rains, causing each and every petal of those flowers to fall to the earth where they turn into a rotting brown mush, are discovered by your local ant colony which, in light of this wonderful find, relocates in its entirety to your driveway. Trust me, you do not want to plant peonies in your garden.

I did not want those peonies in my garden next year. In fact, next year, I did not want to see in my garden a single thing that was growing there right now. I wished to start afresh with a clean slate. So I began the scorch and burn process. After I trimmed the peonies, I tried to pull them out by the root. I had very little success, although at one point, it did feel like I had pulled my shoulder out by the root. So I retrieved the pickaxe from my garage that I appear to have purchased at some unidentifiable time for some unidentifiable reason and haven't yet put to any use. After punching the peony plant in its nutsack a few hundred times, I realized that I was going nowhere. As, apparently, did my neighbor, who walked out of her garage to check where all that cursing was coming from.

"Here, you probably need this", she said, throwing some kind of large dark metallic object at my face. It turned out to be a shovel. I put aside my pickaxe and started pounding on the peonies with the shovel.

"Is this the first time you've used a shovel?", she asked me. "But I remember your dad telling me you have a large garden back in India."

"Yes, we do", I replied with some shame. "But I came here when I was a little boy so I didn't have much gardening experience from back then."

"Really?" she said. "How old were you when you came here?"

"Let me see", I said, doing some quick math. "I was....uh.....23".

She looked at me without comment.

"Okay, here's how you do this. The key is to push, not pull. Insert the shovel into the soil. Push down on it hard with your feet, then press the handle sideways, using it as a lever."

Lever, yes, that sounded familiar. I had studied levers in college. I wished I hadn't bunked all those "Theory of Machines" classes. Anyways, too late to do anything about it now. So I followed her instructions and after a bit of strenuous pushing, out came the peonies, roots and all.

"Alright", she said, "I think you've got it. Throw the shovel back into my garage when you're done."

There was a lot of crap to get rid of. Another bunch of peonies, two hydrangeas, some vague creeper with red flowers that appeared to be called a "chlamydia" although that doesn't sound right, a bunch of gigantic lilies, two enormous weeds that had turned into trees through the passage of time and a large bush that appears to have acted as a meeting-place for a number of shady members of the local wildlife club who scurried out when I pulled it up by the roots. It took me two hours to strip my garden of all that chlorophyll, but I was finally done.

I spent the next few days repopulating that space with small proportionate things. I purchased some day-lilies, a blue shrubby thing that they claim will last through winter and a number of petunias. My neighbor visited me again in order to monitor my progress. She remarked that the blue shrubby thing will be growing up and in due time, will be taking over my entire garden. She held her arms in front of her, trying to give me an idea of the future hugeness of the blue shrubby thing by air-sculpting its size and I tried to help her by eyebrowing her ample waistline to use as a measuring benchmark but she didn't get the message. I said fuck no, really, oh man. So I guess I'll be clearing brush next year too.

But at least it will keep me off the streets.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Deer and rabbit


Here are deer and rabbit. Deer and rabbit are seen sweetly entwined in the symbiotic harmony of harvesting my neighbor's crops. As seen in this exclusive surveillance camera footage, rabbit cautiously makes his way to the day lilies as deer watches out for the long arm of the law. Later, rabbit will stand guard as deer forages on the tulips. In my role as an embedded journalist who refuses on principle to interfere with their garden consumption activity, I receive unfettered access to all the inside scoop. Here is their story.

Deer and rabbit have come a long way from their troubled past. There was a point when each time deer applied snout to vegetation for grazing purposes, deer would come up with a mouthful of bunnies and had to spit them out like you would spit out goat bones from the mutton masala at Sunny-da-Dhaba on the Mumbai Pune highway. It resulted in a poor dining experience for the deer and led to a frustrated deer introducing the phrase "breeding like a rabbit" into the English vernacular. This, in turn, pissed off rabbit who, under the glare of the public eye, was forced into using protection during sexy-time. It was tiresome for someone unendowed with opposable thumbs to have to spend time fiddling around with condom wrappers at such a delicate, fleeting moment.

But then, just when it seemed that a deer-rabbit final confrontation would be inevitable, Man stepped in. Man cleared away all the brush and planted short grass everywhere, so deer could spot bunnies more easily and rabbit could continue with his baby-making efforts without fear of criticism. In fact, Man made it safe and even desirable for deer and rabbit to co-exist peacefully. Man planted pretty, tasty stuff in his backyard with easy access to deer and rabbit. Stuff bearing colors of such vividity that they might as well have been neon signs proclaiming, "I am delicious...Eat me". Now, deer and rabbit live together in a mutually beneficial partnership, the serenity of which is only occasionally interrupted by the sight of my wildly gesticulating neighbor running out of her basement with chainsaw in hand and murder in her heart. It is not without irony that Man, who was responsible for the deer-rabbit collaboration, turned out to be the worst affected by it.

But regardless, deer and rabbit are now happy. Deer and rabbit, friends forever.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rednecks and hillbillies

So Bill approached me at work today.

"Yo, K-Man", said Bill.

That's what Bill calls me. By the time I had developed a dislike for this nick, it was too late.

"Yo, K-Man. I'm going to this bluegrass festival in the Poconos this weekend. Wanna go?"

"Isn't that like a redneck thing?", I said. "Tell me the name of the town, so I know where to stay away from."

"Why?", said Bill. "You know, you should really go, you might like it."

"Nah man, I said. "Most of you might not have seen an Indian guy before. I am afraid I'll be hunted for my skin or something. Maybe captured and locked up in a cage for observation. Declared a new species and pickled in formaldehyde."

"And if you're lucky, that's all they'll do to you", said another colleague who happened to be passing by. He left, laughing at his own joke.

"You know what I realized", said Bill, "I think you're confusing rednecks with hillbillies."

"What's the difference?", I said.

"Rednecks are racist of their own volition", replied Bill. "Hillbillies are racist because they know no better."

"Ah, I see", I said. "So you rednecks are well-informed racists. You haven't taken the decision to be racist lightly. You've given it considerable thought, mulled it over. Weighed the pros and cons, done your research."

"Exactly", said Bill. "Whereas a hillbilly is born into racism. Kind of like how one is born into a religion. Rednecks, on the other hand, are the free-thinkers of racism."

"That's a great way to put it", I said. "Nobody's explained it to me in those terms before. But still, how does this affect me? Regardless of the nature of your racism, I'll still be in danger, right?"

"Rednecks are harmless", said Bill, "The nature of our racist tendency implies that we are capable of making a conscious effort not to harm you. Whereas hillbillies will come at you like a bear after honey. It's a primal urge."

"And you're saying there will be more rednecks at this gig than hillbillies?" I asked.

"Yes, very few hillbillies in Southeastern PA", said Bill." So will you go?"

"Doesn't bluegrass involve those tiny guitar-like things that sound like someone strumming on his pubes?"

"Yes", said Bill. "Banjos".

"Sorry, I like my guitar heavy", I said. "But have fun. You gonna take your livestock along with you?".

"That's hillbilly", said Bill. "I take dead flesh".

"Oops, gotcha".

Friday, June 05, 2009


So somebody's been stealing the fruit from the strawberry plants on my deck. It looks like a clean professional job. No crumbs lying around. My wife says it could be the squirrels who've have been loitering around in a suspicious manner lately but my money is on the asshole grackle. He's a shady character.

The grackle has devised a great workaround for getting to the contents of the bird-feeder for those times when I'm on the deck. This is what he does. When I'm not around, he violently waggles the feeder back and forth, causing all the birdseed to fall on the ground where he can later browse it at his own leisure. What the grackle doesn't realize or is callously insensitive to is the fact that through his actions, he is spoiling the dining experience for the rest of my patron base. If you're a bird and planning to go out for a nice romantic dinner with your lady friend where you'll be popping her the ultimate question, whose establishment are you gonna visit, the guy who keeps a full feeder or the one who forces you to eat off the ground? The answer is obvious. Each day the grackle finds new ways of getting under my skin. Wars have been waged due to far less provocation. The sad part is, I am sure the grackle would be a much more productive member of society, were he to apply his powers of deductive reasoning to its betterment rather than its downfall. But he chooses to follow the dark side and that is a pity.

A raccoon now trespasses on to my deck every night. He climbs up using a ladder that one of his raccoon buddies or perhaps a mercenary deer has got to be holding down for him because unless he was bitten by a radioactive spider during his stint at the Daily Bugle, there's no way a raccoon would be able to climb up the ten foot post, crawl upside down on the underside of the deck, then make his way up the railing and onto my flowerpots. I have asked around for advice on how to keep him away. An American colleague suggested that I use a BB gun on him. I asked him, what's a BB gun, is it the one that shoots water and is popular among Holi revelers who lack access to a faucet for balloon-filling purposes? He asked me, what is Holi? I replied, it is a Hindu festival celebrating the fortuitous escape of young Prahlad from an assassination attempt by the demoness Holika who carried him into a raging fire on behalf of her brother, the demon Hiranyakashipu. I see, said the colleague, who's this Prahlad, is he an ex-President of India or something? Well no, I replied, India being a parliamentary democracy, the president of India is a mere figurehead. For his escape from a demon attack to be met with such rambunctious delight, it would have to be at least the prime-minister, who happens to be the working head of the executive branch. All in all, it was a highly productive discussion.

Since my colleague turned out to be useless, I turned to my next-door neighbor for help. She informed me that another home-owner up the street also currently had a raccoon visiting him. I said, "Really, does he have any idea why it's doing that"? She replied that apparently it was after the bird seed in his feeder.

"Goddamn you GRACKLEEEEEE", I yelled, raising my face up to the heavens. "The grackle keeps spilling my birdseed onto the lawn", I translated for her, "which must be what attracted the raccoon to my deck in the first place". "Here's what you do", she replied, "Add hot pepper flakes to your birdseed, that should keep the raccoon away".

So that's what I'm gonna do now. Hopefully the raccoon doesn't have any Indian ancestry in his blood. If he does, I'm gonna have to use plan B which involves playing heavy metal music loudly at all times. It might cost me friends and family but every war has its sacrifices.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dying happy

When celebrity professionals pass away while at work, it's very common for people to comment, "Well, at least he died doing something he loved the most". Surely these people had at least one thing in their life they loved more than their work? How about sex? Or snorting coke? I wonder how many celebrities died on their toilet seat, reading a pornographic magazine and had the media go, "Well at least he died doing what he loved the most."

And why's that a good thing anyways? If you were doing something you really loved, wouldn't you be pissed as heck if you were to suddenly pop off? It's like, you're sitting in your studio, painting a masterpiece that Bill Gates has agreed to purchase from you in return for half a share in Windows 7 profits and you're so goddamn happy, you're loving every minute of it and just as you're about to put the finishing touches on your work by painting the head on that sweet innocent moose calf, BAM, your palette turns into an urn of nectar, your paintbrush into a harp and you feel something fluttering on your back which, as it turns out, are wings. You feel like you've died and gone to heaven and you really have. You're an angel.

And then you remember your unfinished masterpiece with the now permanently headless moose calf and you go looking for God to get some answers. You ask Him, "Why God, why me?" And God replies, "Well son, you looked like you were deriving so much enjoyment out of what you were doing right there, I felt that it was a great time for you to die". And you're all like, "What the fuck God, are you a complete idiot, why would you do something like that?" And God, doing His thundering Christopher Lee impression that he performs at parties nowadays to considerable critical acclaim, replies, "Silence fool, it is my world to fuck around with, now go play that harp like your life depended on it". Here, God would probably laugh his stupid face off because God is a fan of his own funny. Asshole.

Me, I want to die doing something I really really hate. Nothing would give me more satisfaction. Could be I'm shoveling someone else's shit, giving a cow a colonoscopy or trying to fix a memory leak in somebody else's software code, if I were to die at that moment, it would be with a fucking smile on my face. And really Society, I want you to be happy for me. I want you to look back at my life and say, "Boy, that guy's lucky, he died doing something that he really really hated. Good for him."