Archives for category: Friendship

Lifting Of The Fig Leaf

Haresh Shah

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Zahir takes me by the hand.

‘Let me introduce you to some of the people here.’ I am one of the hundred some invited guests at Zahir and Bernadette Kazmi’s annual pre-Ramadan shenanigan at their spacious home in Chicago suburb of Oakbrook. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs and yet it has not deterred any of their friends and the families from showing up in droves. Only damper it has put on the event is that all of his beautiful oriental rugs are covered with large bed sheets and installed outside the house is a tent sized awning, shrouding the open sky.

The first person he introduces me is a tall and lanky Pakistani friend, whose name I promptly forget as soon as it is said.

‘Haresh used to be an editor at Playboy.’ Zahir can’t help but throw in. I think he gets a kick out of watching the reaction on the people’s faces. If not exactly ignoring, I try to slough it off with a hollow laugh.

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Flying Free Like A Hawk

Haresh Shah

ballance
“You’re doing a good job if you manage to piss us off fifty percent of the time, and piss our partners off another fifty.” Our boss Bill Stokkan would often tell his managers, usually during one of his pontification sessions. More true of his international divisional heads who had not only to deal with the products but also with the cultural nuances of the people from several countries. In my case, it also worked to my advantage that I was not an American born American. Especially the people I worked with from the non-European and Asian countries felt that I understood them better just because I was born and grew up in India. That I brought a different sensitivity to our working together. Equally so with my American management, because by then I had spent as many years in the West. As difficult as it could be sometimes, I had developed a close rapport with the people on both ends and had earned their confidence and the respect.

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The Reverse Migration To El Sur

Haresh Shah
fiercelatina

Had she submitted today, a polaroid wearing only a tan and mascara, just to see if I could make the cut, she certainly would have been considered seriously and most probably made it as Playmate of the Month in the U.S. Playboy. In the year 2015, with the dramatically altered demographics and with the both political parties wooing the ever growing Latino population, what could be better than to have a born in Glendale, California of Mexican parents, a natural beauty, raven haired, five feet tall with voluptuous hourglass figure, the dark brown eyes, seductively and invitingly looking back at you? At 24, she is in her prime and has already been a part of a study program at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and has earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Whittier College. A perfect fusion of beauty and the brain – an ideal girl next door.

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Too Good For His Own Good

Haresh Shah

travelagent
I am sitting in the Lufthansa city office in the center of Barcelona across from the petite German blonde staring at her computer screen while leafing through my four-booklets-thick-stapled- together ticket. She is tap taping her keyboard accessing my original itinerary and then checking it against my neatly handwritten used and the remaining ticket coupons. She looks confused and she looks amazed. One thing she doesn’t look is sure of herself. I have been on the road now for almost three weeks and have practically been around the world with my original itinerary that reads: March 25, 1979, Chicago-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney-Bombay-Rome-Zürich-Barcelona-Munich-Düsseldorf-Frankfurt-London-Chicago. April 12, 1979.

I am on the final lag of my journey and am there to re-route my flight back to Chicago via Munich and Frankfurt instead of via Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London. Normally a simple switchover. But that’s not the problem. It’s no restrictions ticket valid for twelve months.

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Always Ready For A New Business

Haresh Shah

 

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Must have been early 1990 when landed on my desk is an impressive corporate brochure of Autraco Holdings based in Vienna, Austria. In the cover letter signed by its CEO Rolf Dolina, he expresses his desire to want to publish Playboy magazine in Czechoslovakia. But we are already in negotiations with Vladimír Tichý of the Gennex Corporation, the publishers of magazines, books, films and video that included the Czech language edition of ComputerWorld. That in itself wouldn’t have stopped me from entertaining another option, especially because the Autraco Holdings boasts of its wide reach in the former eastern European countries that include Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The countries where they are sole distributors of Memorex USA, Honda automobiles and Fuji films. Enclosed with the letter are some issues of the Czech language version of Germany’s Burda Moden, widely distributed and hugely popular women’s magazine – similar to the Simplicity patterns in the United States. The magazine he was publishing with Hana Wagenhofer – his Prague based business partner in several joint ventures. And it is mainly for Hanna that he is so keen on doing Playboy. It would give her a stronger presence on the Czech publishing scene.

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There Is An Endless Story

Haresh Shah

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One of the first times I met with Patrick Magaud is him walking into the offices of the French editor-in-chief Patrick Eynaud at Euredif headquarters located in a highrise in the thick of Paris’ Quartier Chinois. Accompanying him is not only a stunningly beautiful photo model but also a baby tiger on a leash being lead in by Patrick as if this adorable little cub were his pet dog. Not an unusual sight in the French editorial offices to find a dog snoozing under one of the editor’s desks or cats curled up at their feet. But a tiger? Well, because it’s Patrick.

Patrick is an idea man. The man who is perpetually excited about life. A daring one at that. He is known for pulling off stunts – the kind no one else would even dream of. Like the one he would tell me about over a dinner once we got to know each other better. He tells me about how once he rented a mini van, packed it with his photographic gear, an assistant by his side and a couple of gorgeous females, already unrobed, styled and made up and ready to jump in and out of action and proudly and provocatively pose in the front of the Paris streets and the landmark monuments.  Such as walking in the middle of  ChampsÉlysées with Arc de Triumphe in the background, biking topless around Café de Flores with a couple of baguettes sticking out of the career, prancing at the foot of the mighty Eiffel Tower, two of hem flaunting their wares from a Ferris wheel rotating in the Tuileries, jet skiing in the river Seine, frolicking at the curve of the iconic restaurant Fouquet’s.

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The Beginning Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

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Dieter (Stark) is tickled pink. He s standing behind the kitchen island, swinging the stainless steel cocktail shaker back and forth in his hands. Equally as handsome, he looks like Tom Cruise would behind the bar years later in his movie Cocktail. Surveying the scene and the mood of the night. He is feeling absolutely no pain. His face wears a glow of amazement at the mission accomplished as he looks down at all those bottles of booze lined up in front of him like miniature Chicago skyline. Most of them are half gallon bottles of just arrived Kentucky Bourbon, Scotch Whiskeys, Bombay Gin, Bacardi Rum, Absolut Vodka. There are smaller ones of the mixers containing of red and white Martinis, Crème de Menthe, Grenadine, Tonic water. Open cartons of orange juice, some Coke and 7-up bottles stand ready to be poured in whatever cocktail he would end up concocting. He must feel like a kid let loose in the liquid candy store. Innumerable possibilities, the night not long enough!

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Dieter and I worked together as repro photographers for Burda Verlag in Offenburg, Germany. My early days living and working in the town of Offenburg in southern Germany were some of the loneliest. It didn’t help that I spoke no German yet and the little bit that I did, I misunderstood more than did I understand. I must give credit to the people I worked with in doing their best to communicate with me. But by and large, I was lost like a babe in the woods in that provincial south western German town that boasts of being the gateway to the picturesque Black Forest.

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Falling Like Dominos

Haresh Shah

threehearts

The plan is for just the two of us to go out for dinner. Leave the business behind and talk men talk without women tugging at our arms. For me, whenever I am in Munich, it would be Susi as my forever companion. Normally Günter would have brought along his wife Hilda. Our usual double date every visit. For tonight, I am thinking of maybe us two having dinner at my early favorite neighborhood kneipe, Georgen Stuben on Prinz Regentenstrasse and afterwards maybe hit a couple of Schwabing locals like Tangente, Giesela’s and Domicil. Go down the memory lane, re-live the nostalgic days of my not so distant life in Munich.

But first, we’ve got to talk some business. Günter is one of the senior editors at the German Playboy. He has spent time in America as well, so we have got that too in common. We have spent lot of time together and have shared hundreds of silly laughs.

The first McDonald’s in Germany opened in Munich scant ten months before my arrival there in October of 1972. Just in time for Munich’s 1972 Summer Olympics. It must have taken a while for the national Life like illustrated Stern magazine to notice this American invasion, prompting them to run a cover story with the blurb screamingly calling Big Mac der Schmackloss Hackfleish – the tasteless minced meat. Günter and I couldn’t agree more, especially considering the humble German fricadel, a tasty meat ball the shape of a hamburger patty, made of the minced meat, eaten lukewarm with a hard shell brötchen – a bread roll and blob of yellow mustard on side. Lekker.

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Beautiful..Ye High..Ye Wide..

Haresh Shah

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Bonnie and David are a cool couple. They are naturally mellow, but often made mellower by the pot induced blissfulness beaming on their faces. I run into them about a year after I arrived in Goleta at one of those shrouded-in-the-cloud-of-smoke filled parties which seemed to be a norm than an exception.

This is southern California in the mid-1970s. A typical tabloid would be, when you entered the hosts’ home, you would be greeted not only with their warm and welcoming smiles and exuberance, but also a large table overflowing with salad bowl full of fresh marijuana, surrounded by the rolling paper, matches and other pot related paraphernalia. Just like Mark and Ann, Bonnie and David too have adopted me and I often hang out with them. Bonnie is a seamstress and makes most of her own clothes. She also designs funky outfits for other people and is quite in demand with young and pretty surfer chicks. David works in incense filled book shop downtown Santa Barbara, that specializes in the counter-culture, psychedelic, transcendental and alternative pseudo spiritual literature by the East and the Western authors such as Krishnamurthy, Carlos Castaneda, J.J.R. Tolkien, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Herman Hess. Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda are standard fares. The store also sells Indian necklaces and bracelets, silk scarves, patuli and other fragrant oils, beads and a variety of knickknacks that give the subculture its identity.

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The Spanish Civil War Looped Into A Gaze

Haresh Shah

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Sebastian Martinez is my first encounter with Spain. We have never met before, but he seems to have recognized me instantly as I emerge from the customs’ sliding doors of Barcelona’s yet old but functional airport. It’s the summer of 1978, scant two some years after Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s death. The air is still thick with the repressive regime of Franco that lasted for almost forty years. Trampled and suppressed during his ruthless decades, supported full heartedly and under the stringent conservative principals of the Catholic Church, it would have been impossible to even dream of the existence of an edition of the “derelict” Playboy in Spain. But the times they do a change!

By now I speak good Spanish. Sebastian welcomes me with bien venido a España, as much to welcome me as to test my Spanish. I answer with plain gracias. He has been told by Lee (Hall)  that I speak the language fluently. But Sebastian is not the one to take anyone’s word for it. It takes him a couple of days and me speaking in Spanish with the people he introduces me to, does he admit that I indeed do. If with a bit of a soft lilt in the way the Mexicans speak it. I myself have a hard time getting used to Spanish Spanish or the way it’s spoken by the Catalans. I find Mexican Spanish sweeter. Well! Sebastian might question my taste as he does everything. In this case, it would be the way British dismay at the way they demolish their language across the pond in America. He is the most skeptical person I have known. He would never accept anything on its face value.

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The Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

aztecqueen

I met Pepe Morales during a Playmate promotional jaunt in Acapulco. Our publishers have hired Pepe to cover the event – a young Mexican photographer and socialite of some renown . He seems to know everyone we run into and is greeted with the warmest abrazoz and pats on the back, while he bumbles around following the Playmates and documenting the weekend, with me taking additional photos whenever I am able to sneak some shots without neglecting my duties that of the Playboy executive on site.

Pepe and I hit it off right away. When back in Mexico City, we meet one evening for dinner. We have fat juicy steak dinners at Barbas Negras during which we drown three bottles of Los Reyes. Feeling absolutely no pain, Pepe asks:

‘What would you like to do now?’

‘I don’t know. This is your town. Maybe go cunt chasing?’

‘Why not? Let’s just get out of here and together we’ll paint the town red,’ he proclaims.

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Paparazzi In His Own Backyard

Haresh Shah

peepers

It’s only once in a life time that you meet someone like FHG. The initials stand for Franz Hermann Gomfers from the little BIG town of Wachtendonk, tucked away near the Dutch border of Venlo in Germany’s lower Rhine region. He spoke only German in the Niederrhein with frequently punctuating with nicht wahr? And yet his house on Feldstrasse 29 would be bursting with smatterings of languages and the people from all around the globe. His curiosity knew no bounds, which was always topped with his patience with a common friend going back and forth between him and his new acquaintances, translating and interpreting. Something about him was fraulich,  in which he would dig out all the gory and juicy details from the person and would bring him or her to a confessional mode, with the seriousness on his face that would betray earnestness even that of Herr Doktor Freud. Because he is genuinely interested in their lives and what they have to say. And yet, he was a little boy like mischievous prankster to the core. The plotter, the match maker, the eternal flirt, frequently crossing his boundary to the utter dismay of his dear Lizbeth. And then getting away with a coy and guilty but a hearty laugh, just like not so innocent Tom Sawyer.

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Haresh Shah

Happiness Is A Piping Hot Croquette

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Art directors are a breed unto themselves. Crazy as they come. Crazy as in creative crazy, in positive sense. They are normally temperamental, egocentric and a proud clan. Starting with the Godfathers of them all, Art Paul and Tom Staebler of the U.S., Rainer Wörtmann of Germany, to Milan Hlaviček of Czech Republic and Andrzej Pągoski of Poland – these masters of the visual communication  are also the purveyors of good taste, dressed in their own individual style, be it the beat up pair of blue jeans, or wrinkled khakis and equally as wrinkled shirts and jackets. Or the designer suits and long fancy rain coats. The category in which, the first Dutch art director, Dirk de Moei falls.

Always impeccably dressed in his light crème suit and his longish off white trench coat, his trademark tortoise shell red framed glasses with inquisitive and confusing looking set of smoky green eyes peering through tinted lenses, Dirk is flamboyant, no taller that 5’9”(175 cms), his rusty brown hair isn’t too long, nor short, his round face makes him look no different than Mr. middle of the road from the planet earth.  The man of good taste in clothes and food and he carries the most expensive Smythson of Bond Street, thick as a paperback address book, he is the man about town. To the editor-in-chief Jan’s (Heemskerk’s) somber personality, he is the fleshy one of the duo that arrived in my Chicago office in early 1983, to learn the ropes.

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Haresh Shah

Bonding Over Beer And The Blue Eyed Bitch

 

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Life is what happens to you when you’re too busy planning it.

John Lennon

Things happened at the lightening speed. Instead of a three week vacation in California, I am checking in at the Lufthansa counter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for their Frankfurt bound flight on my way to Munich. Everything seems to have fallen in place smoothly. My lifelong dream of working for Playboy has come true. Better yet. I will be working for them in Europe. I am elated.

I won’t bother you with details such as cancelled flights, delays, lost baggage and such. Their significance has long been lost. So is that of the icy reception upon my arrival in what would be my stomping grounds in Munich and Essen, West Germany.  But what is still significant in telling of this tale is that how swiftly my joy of having landed my dream job had vanished at the realization of being dropped off smack dab in the middle of the debris of the hostile war zone. That I was neither wanted nor welcomed in the job they had hired me to do.

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Haresh Shah

If Only I Could See Through The Depth Of Those Eyes

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Not knowing what it is I want for lunch, I walk over to Briennerplatz and my feet automatically take me down the steps to Ristorante Positano. Just a few blocks away from Playboy offices in Munich.  It’s a little before two. The place looks deserted. Thinking perhaps they have already closed for the afternoon, I am about to turn around and leave when I hear some shuffling in back of the wardrobe room. A young woman emerges from the dark.

‘I’ll be just two minutes.’ She says, holding up her hand with three middle fingers raised. While I am mulling over why exactly “two minutes”, I notice her open palm. Didn’t she say two? Confused only for a flash, she turns her palm around, looks at it and slowly retracts one of the fingers.  A self-conscious smile breaks out on her face. From what I can tell, she looks Eurasian, with her narrow fish eyes, her smooth round face, and her silky smooth pitch black hair. I see something mysterious hidden behind the depth of those eyes, further intensified by the ambience of that dark corner of the restaurant. This is the image that has remained with me all these years later.

I stop to talk on my way out.

‘Where are  you from?’ I ask. California.’ She answers. This strikes me a bit odd, as if California were an independent  nation. Might as well have been because I have never been there and all that I have heard about it so far tells me that it must be a place like no other.

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