Archives For Could Only Happen to Me

Mental Block

June 18, 2005 — 14 Comments

I hate going shopping. I hate trying clothes on, I hate the crowds, I hate watching people who love shopping. Harumph! So I use the web to order most of the things I want.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll order by phone instead of placing an online order, particularly if the company’s website is difficult to operate. I’d say about 90% of my phone calls to telephone sales agents proceed exactly as follows:

Me: I’d like to order item #41928.

Order-taker: Great. May I have your name?

Me: My first name is Narayan. That’s spelled n a r a y a n.


Order-taker: Could you repeat that?

Me: Sure. My first name is Narayan. N a r a y a n.

Order-taker: OK, Ryan, could I have your last name?

Me: No, my name isn’t Ryan. It’s Narayan.

Order-taker: I’m sorry. Could you…

Me: N a r a y a n.

Order-taker: N a r y a n, right?

Me: No. N a r a y a n. There is an ‘a’ between every letter.

Order-taker: Oh! N a r a y a n.

Me: That’s right.

Order-taker: Narayan. That’s a unique name. What kind of name is it?

Me: Indian.

Order-taker: You don’t sound Indian.

Me: I grew up by Chicago.

Order-taker: I know someone in Chicago.



Me: So my last name is Nayar. That’s spelled N a y a r.


Order-taker: OK, how about your last name, though?

Me: That was my last name. N a y a r.

Order-taker: …So your first…

Me: My first name is Narayan. N a r a y a n. My last name is Nayar. N a y a r. Narayan Nayar.

Order-taker: Whoa! Slow down!

Me: Sorry.

Order-taker: Your first name is spelled N a r a y a n.

Me: Yes.

Order-taker: Your last name is spelled … how again?

Me: N a y a r.

Order-taker: OK, what’s your address?

Me: I don’t mean to be a jerk, but could you tell me how you’ve entered my name? I’ve had charges to my card denied before because my name was spelled wrong.

Order-taker: Sure, no problem. I have a first name N a r a y a n. I have a last name N a y r.

Me: No, the last name is spelled N a y a r. There’s also an ‘a’ between every letter.

Order-taker: N a y a r is your last name.

Me: Yes.

Order-taker: Hmmm. Is there an ‘a’ between the ‘n’ at the end of your first name and the ‘n’ at the start of your last name?

Me: No.

Order-taker: OK. Because you said there’s an ‘a’ between every letter.


Order-taker: How do you say your name again?

Me: Narayan Nayar.

Order-taker: Your names are very similar.


Order-taker: I mean, they’re almost identical.

Me: My address is…

This is about the only time I actually find myself wishing all corporate phone operations would be outsourced to India. I called Dell the other day to check up on an order, and the conversation couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

Approaching Saskatoon, Candian Hwy 16 (also known as the Yellowhead) widens to four lanes from two. Imagine, after 12 of so hours of driving, looking to the left and seeing a teenager in the back seat of his parents’ car, holding to his window a piece of paper conainting the simple query:


Something in his eyes conveyed a sense of earnestness to his question, ambiguous as it was. I mouthed, “why what?”

He lowered the piece of paper for a moment then raised it again to the window. The previous message had been altered to read:


Apparently in Saskatchewan, parents don’t complement the “don’t be rowdy in the car” speech with the “don’t initiate written conversation with drivers of other vehicles” speech.

Not having time to mull over a response, I waved an upturned palm at the landscape surrounding us. With the same panache (or a close facsimile thereof) a model on The Price Is Right flaunts, say, a shiny, stainless steel Osterizer, I introduced to my interlocutor the infinitely expansive nothingness of Saskatchewan.

Instead of the oohs and ahhhs garnered by a gameshow hostess, though, my audience thought for a moment, took down his sign again, and offered the following scrawled response:


It may well be the case that since the days of explorers and pioneers there hasn’t been a better reason to traverse the 500 miles of wheat and canola between Winnipeg and Saskatoon than to have a teenager in the back of his parents’ Buick call you a fool–in writing no less–at 120km/hour.

They come in pairs

February 6, 2003 — 4 Comments

Got pulled over by a cop while I was riding my bicycle today. The conversation went as follows:

cop: “Pull over.”

me: “OK”

cop: “You go to school here?”

me: “Yes”

cop: “They teach you how to read at this school?”

me: “No, I learned that a long time ago.”

cop: “Perhaps you can tell me what S.T.O.P. means?”

Let me interrupt this conversation by saying this: I’m a stickler for safety. In the bike world, I guess that means I’m a geek. I wear a bright yellow helmet, a bright yellow and reflective jacket, my bags have reflective tape, I wear gloves, I don’t exceed the speed limit–even on downhills, I put on both front and back lights even if there’s a little sun left in the day.  I generally stop at all intersections, particularly in residential neighborhoods. That I didn’t stop at this one was a lapse in judgement caused by the fact that there were no cars around. Except for the cop, I guess…I have no idea where he was hiding. We return to our regular programming:

me: “It means to cease forward movement.” OK, I didn’t really say this, I kind of mumbled it.

cop: “huh?”

me: “It means to stop.”

cop: “That’s right.”

me: “Look, officer, I’m dressed in yellow, I’m wearing a helmet, I’ve got gloves and lights on my bike…obviously I’m not unconcerned with safety. I signaled to indicate my turn even though there were no cars around.”

cop: “…”

me: “There was a mountain biker in front of me. He didn’t stop either.”

cop: “Yeah–he did the right thing, he jumped the curb and made a right using the dirt path.”

me: “? OK”

cop: “Come to a stop next time.”

me: “I usually do.”

cop: “Thanks for pulling over for me.”

me: “Sure.”

The owner of a bookstore downtown has a book set aside for me.  Coming to this store almost always involves a nice, cordial chat with him, and quite some time has passed since I was there last. As I lock up my bike to the post outside his door, I think I hear shouting in the store. The windows and door are closed, so the sound is muffled, and I write it off as an idiot in the sports bar above the bookstore.  The bookstore sells only academic books.  While they probably have a philosophical text on shouting, it’s about as far from ‘a rowdy joint’ as Dubya is from ‘smart’.

I walk in and David, the owner, looks pretty stressed out. A man who vaguely resembles a portly Rasputin is leaning over the counter, staring at David intently. David utters an exasperated “Hey.”

I say “Hi, David.” I pause, thinking he’ll remember he has a book on hold for me. A few seconds pass. He remembers.

“Ah, yes, Marx. Just a second, it’s in back.” He gets out of his chair.

Rasputin chortles. “Marx! Marx! That’s a laugh!”

I think, “Oh great, he’s a psycho.”

David tells him very calmly, “Get out,” then wanders towards the back half of the store to get the book.

Rasputin starts lumbering towards me. “I love that idea and I love you, man. In fact, I love you so much I want to kiss the bottom of your shoes. In fact I’ll do it right now!”

He really does look like Rasputin.  He’s got those eyes. I say, “No thanks, I’ll pass.” I look towards the back of the store for David.

The next thing I know, Rasputin is on the floor, grabbing my leg tightly at the calf, trying to lift it up. The fucker is serious. He really does love me so much that he wants to kiss the bottom of my shoes. I start losing my balance and I say, with increasing volume, “Let go of my leg. Let go of my leg!…LET GO OF MY LEG, GOD DAMN IT.”

He doesn’t let go. David rushes back to the counter and tries to pull Rasputin off of me.

I’m not a violent person.  I’ve never “kicked anyone’s ass”, though I did fracture some guy’s ribs with a croquet mallet once (it was in third grade, he was a bully, and he had beaten me up many times before that). I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a punch. I’m about as far from ‘violent’ as Dubya is from ‘articulate’.

But I’m hopping on one leg, the other leg in Rasputin’s over-amorous grip, and I’m pretty close to falling over. I see that my shoe is right smack dab in front of his dirty puckered face.

It’s at this moment that I realize I can literally shove my foot down his fucking mouth, and I’m not abusing the term ‘literally’. As Rasputin muscles the sole of my shoe to his lips I visualize–really, I do–my foot retracting from the bloody aftermath of his kicked-in face. The image starts to suck me in, like a daydream, but in his boundless love for me, Rasputin is twisting my leg in ways not conducive to me remaining upright.

David pulls him off by the coat and shoves him out of the store. He apologizes to me for having to deal with it. He says, “The guy’s a psycho and he comes around here all the time. I don’t have the heart to call the cops on him. He doesn’t know what he’s doing most of the time.” I tell him as he rings up my purchase that it wasn’t a big deal, that I just hope the guy doesn’t come in here and cause some real trouble.

I leave the store and as I’m unlocking my bike, the bloody face image comes to mind again. It occurs to me that I think I would have done it, I would have gone mad-stompy on his visage if the scene lasted any longer than it did. I didn’t think I was in danger, really. It wouldn’t have been an act of self-defense.

This thought is a very sombering one. I have to walk my bike down the street to the corner before I feel like riding it.

So after my long-ish bicycle post yesterday, I ride up to campus. Near the base of campus there’s a very short but moderately steep incline.  Up I go, spinning in a lowish gear like I’m supposed to, and I crest the hill and pull over to make sure my bike bag (that green briefcase looking thing) is secured properly (sometimes I forget to push the locking tabs in).

Done.  I get back on my bike and start heading up to central campus and there’s an intense pain in my left knee.  Hunh?

I start walking on it and it hurts…there’s a definite spot right in the center of the kneecap that hurts when pressed.  A bus shows up and I chicken out of the ride, load my bike on the racks in the front of the bus, and take it easy, feeling somewhat odd given the post to the etherblog I made earlier in the morning.

As I’m on the bus, the driver says “hey, that’s a nice bike!  Kind of old, kind of new…” He goes on about the copper rivets on the leather seat and about the hubs and rims of the wheelset…clearly he knows something about bikes and he’s puzzled by the mix of traditional gear and high-tech gear my bike sports.

I say, “yeah, I like it.  It gets me around.”

Fast forward to 4pm. I’m in a hurry to get from a graduate seminar on the west side of campus to a lecture somewhere near the middle of the campus. I bike up the hill.  My knee’s still hurting but not as bad as it did in the morning.  I reach the bike racks near the classroom and start locking my bike up.  A man in his (late?) 40s walks by and stops, saying, “Now I have to get a look at this bike.”

He’s an art lecturer who has been teaching lithography at UCSC for ten years or so.  He gushes about his Bridgestone RB-1 and starts asking me about my bike. He tells me how just a few weeks ago he tried to get his son a “ten-speed”-ish type bike but all every store carries now is mountain bikes. We talk about Bridgestone, Rivendell (the bike company Grant Peterson started after Bridgestone pulled out of the U.S.) and gear that works. He tells me to stop by his office sometime to chat. He says, “It’s really nice to see people are still into this stuff.” Today I sent him an email with a few links to some internet resources for cyclo-sophists.

All things considered, not so bad.  (-1) full ride, (-1) knee for a day or two or three, but (+2) positive comments from total strangers and (+1) invitation to visit a lithographer who rides a Bridgestone.  Eh, that last one should count as (+2).