Archives for category: Playboy

The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru

Haresh Shah

mrspeak_02

I have just swiped my card and entered the sixteenth floor through the glass door. I see Arthur sitting by himself through the glass wall of his office across the atrium – the bank of offices we have come to call the fish tank, overlooking the square. I hurry to my office, remove my outer garments and pick up the phone and dial Arthur’s three digit inter-office number. Might as well get it out of the way before I chicken out. Having to call Arthur is something of an ordeal, because you never know what kind of mood you might catch him in. But there is nothing I can do about it. I am the one who needs him. Most of our telephone conversations would go something like this:

‘Good morning Arthur!’

‘What’s so good about the morning?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’

‘Why do you want to know?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’

‘I know who you are!’

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And Forget Paris – Think Lyon

Haresh Shah

minitel

It’s five minutes before six, the closing time for Lyon’s Place Bellecour tourist office. I am standing across the counter from the friendly blonde – petite and pretty. And sweet. This is the third time since three that afternoon that I have returned to her in the remote hope that maybe, just maybe something would have opened up in the meanwhile and I still would be able to find one of the charming French B & B’s in or near the center of the old town. Based on my one and only overnight stay in Lyon years earlier, I stayed at one of its most charming boutique hotels, Hotel Cour des Loges.  I have a reason to believe that the city had to have similar but smaller and reasonably priced jewels tucked away in one of their obscure alleys.

I have arrived in Lyon by train from Avignon, with a back pack and a small carry on bag on wheels. I am doing south of France by train without any fixed timetable or an itinerary. Other than bit of a difficulty in Toulouse, I am lucky to have found nice places to crash at. Not cheap, neither expensive. My budget is between fifty and a hundred Euros a night. Seems like tonight I may have to settle for a four hundred Euro room at Sheraton. I am not looking forward to it. But what were my options? The closest the tourist office could offer me a room is 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) from the center. Certainly not what I want.

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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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The Pirates of The Intellectual Properties

Haresh Shah

haresh_bunnyworld

Soon, Playboy was no longer just a magazine. There was Playboy Mansion and were Playboy Clubs and Playboy Bunnies and even Playboy theater and Playboy movies and television show Playboy After Dark, hosted by Mr. Playboy Hugh M. Hefner himself. And then there were Playboy products. The first noticeable were air fresheners dangling from the rear view mirrors, mostly of the cabs, auto decals donning black and white image of the by now ubiquitous rabbit head, key chains. Mostly cheap products. Most of them unauthorized and unlicensed. When you have a fertile swath of land, and the year is good and it rains and rains and rains, what happens? Suddenly, you have shrubbery and uncontrollable weeds. Nothing you can do. This was not in the plan. Literally, you see your rabbits multiplying at the pace you never in your wildest dream imagined. No way to stop them fornicating and swelling in population unless a natural disaster the scale of Malthusian theory of population were to strike. You can’t keep your act together to keep it all under control, let alone begin to reign them from growing greater.

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The Dream That Never Died

Haresh Shah


It stands there in the middle of Mexico City, looking wrecked and devastated like the crudely chiseled and ravaged structures in the bombed damaged cities of Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. The walls half built and then left unfinished with their uneven rough edges sticking up, floors smeared with the dried out cement. The bare stairs next to the elevators are exposed with no doors concealing them. The haltingly moving lethargic lifts are pulled up and down by the sinister looking cables behind the barely lit entrance to the building. You need to strain your eyes to see the lone figure of the security guard sitting at his battered desk sprouting a dim desk lamp. The open wires devoid of the fixtures dangle down from the high ceilings like in the Snake Alley of Taipei.

When coming in from the street, you walk the rough dusty grounds of what was probably  intended to be a Plaza to surround the tall structure planned to be the tallest building in the all of the Latin America. You climb the few unplastered scratchy cement steps to the lobby and make your way towards the elevators. You hurry past the guard and barely return his greetings. You wait for the elevator descend ever so slowly and watch the cables that control it in that semi-dark dusk like filtered vision.

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Terrorized By The Righteous Rage

Haresh Shah

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I am impressed by the opulent looks of the agency. They show me around beaming with  pride at the facilities they offered. I, as a senior executive would have my own office, they tell me. Each office is named after the wonders and the major landmarks of  the world. Whenever possible, I would be assigned the Taj Mahal, they promise. I would have my own direct phone line and my personal voice mail.  I would have access to the support staff.

Hanging on almost every wall are expensively framed inspirational quotations by Dale Carnegie, Orison Swett Marden, James Allan, Malcolm Forbes, Lee Iacocca,  Albert Einstein  and such. The tone of the quotations assumes that you are down and out and are in dire need of pick me ups. Unlike clients in other businesses, we are the fired lame duck executives.

I still am not clear about what exactly I am supposed to be doing sitting in one of those little larger than cubicle offices, and more importantly, what it is that they would do for me. So I sit down with the president of Benson and Associates, Bob Benson and his partner Herb Lester, face to face for an initial interview. The interview itself lasts for more than an hour, during which they ask me whether my “separation” from Playboy was voluntary, as if there were such a thing!

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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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My Pied À Terre In Mexico City

Haresh Shah

 

 

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You would think, who in his right mind would get tired of living in Mexico City’s most luxurious and yet most making you feel at home hotel, Camino Real? Especially when the company is paying for it? During the first few months of my back-to-back trips and long sojourns in the city, Camino Real, or as my friends began to call it tu casa amarilla, because of its predominantly yellow façade, has become my permanent home. What’s more, I have fallen in love with the place. As big as it is, it has that warm homey feeling. By now, I know every nook and corner of this huge labyrinth of 720 rooms hotel, have been to each one of the restaurants and bars. The rooms are spacious and I am always welcomed by being placed in a poolside room with balcony. In a few short months, I have spent more romantic days and evenings at Camino Real than all other hotels of the world put together. I am regular at their French restaurant Le Fouquet and their private Le Club. Have splurged into frequent poolside buffets outside Los Azulejos, sat at La Cantina drinking beer and watching the traffic of the beautiful people of the city walking to and from the most-in Lobby Bar – the place where the locals and the hotel guests come together to see and be seen. And have danced the nights away at Cero Cero and then stumbled in for late breakfast at Las Huertas and nursed my hangovers with freshly squeezed tropical juices and very strong Mexican café con leche. Practically every service personnel knows and makes fuss over me. The place I feel at home in the true Mexican spirit of mi casa es su casa. What else can one ask for?

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Reflections On Japan’s Preoccupation With Death

Haresh Shah

gionatnight2
Ray Falk
and Kayo Hayashi are scratching their heads to come up with something to do with Shah-san that evening. But I put their dilemma to rest. It’s my second night being back in Tokyo and we all have had an exhausting day – especially me, being grilled by the Japanese editors about them not getting the rights to Norman Mailer’s Gary Gilmore piece. Kayo drops me off at the hotel around half past five. I spend some time browsing the Imperial Hotel’s little bookstore  and buy a copy of the 1968 Nobel Prize winner in literature, Yasunari Kawabata’s novel, Beauty and Sadness. My intention is to read a bit of it after I have had a light dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants or just take it easy and order a sandwich and a beer from the room service. I don’t get around to doing either. Soon as I enter the room, I stretch out and close my eyes to relax for a while. The next thing I know, it’s past one in the morning.

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It’s Not Enough To Dream

Haresh Shah

warsaw
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Oscar Wilde

It’s not unusual for small but ambitious publishers to be bitten by the idea of adding Playboy to their stable of publications. Bitten even harder are the ones who have had no familiarity with the publishing business. But they have dreams and the desire and some money to spare that drive them to near obsession, do everything in their power to buy the Playboy license. Because in their dreams and the desires what they are thinking is: If only I can get to publish Playboy! At this point they are not thinking what it really takes to undertake such a project. Their psychological business plans have no provision for what if it doesn’t quite work out?

The letter came forwarded from Andreas Odenwald – our editor-in-chief in Germany. Guess, this is for you amigo, said his scribble. It’s an inquiry letter from Poland from the company called Elgaz. Attached to it is a recommendation letter from their German partners, a PVC window manufacturers, vouching for the serious intent and the solid financial standing of this Polish company involved in various businesses, among them the international video distribution.

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I Went Home And Cried

Haresh Shah

bea
Sitting across from me in a small windowless meeting room of the Holiday Inn in Warsaw is stunningly beautiful Beata Milewska. She is dressed in a conservative grey dress with the sharp U shaped neckline, trimmed with black satin ribbon. Underneath the geometric U are black brass buttons that run down to and below her breasts. Blonde, she wears fashionably shorter hair, reaching down just a little above her neck. Her eyes are sparking blue and smiles are amused but slight and measured. I guess her to be in her late twenties or the very early thirties.

Sitting next to her is Tomasz Raczek – supposedly to translate from English, but Beata herself is quite proficient in the language, so other than some whispered consulting, Tomasz is there more as an observer who would eventually be the editor-in-chief of the Polish edition. On my left is our Hungarian Publisher Deszo Futasz and on my right is Rolf Dolina, the man who has gotten us together in hopes that I would be positively impressed by Beata and her ability to gather a qualified team of professionals to create the Polish edition of Playboy.

After landing in still the old and the dilapidated Warsaw-Okecie Airport, as we drive into the city, I witness the remnants still of the city heavily bombed first by the German Luftwaffe in 1939, and then by the Russians in 1944 to quell the Warsaw Uprising. Both sides of the road are lined with the communist era’s drab and dark harsh apartment blocks. Making them further sinister is the shroud of the cold and the cloudy month of January. I cringe at the thought of the lives lived and of deaths and destruction and the dismay that still must permeate the day-to-day lives of its citizens. After all, it’s just little over a year since the fall of the Berlin wall.

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Or How The Airlines Got To Make Us Do Their Work?

Haresh Shah

airlinerage
During my early days at Time, my boss Bob Anderson would emerge out of his office, scratching his head, stop at my desk and go: I think you ought to hop a plane to New York and talk to our friend Arnold (Drapkin). Do some hand holding and get him off our collective backs? And then without waiting for an answer, he would wander back into his office and disappear behind the closed door.

Sitting diagonally opposite from my desk is Pat Murphy – the departmental everything.  She has already pulled out her drawer and is yanking out the round trip flight coupon booklet, she writes in the destinations and stamps them. Takes some money out of the petty cash, puts everything together in an envelope and hands it to me.

‘Have a good trip. I will get onto your hotel reservation.’

And soon I am pulling out of the Time parking lot in my phallic Oldsmobile Cutlass and am on my way to my South Shore Drive apartment. Having thrown together an overnight bag I am already cruising I 90/94 and am on my way to the O’Hare. I park right across the path from the airport and am standing in front of the flipping departure board, checking out the first flight out of there to New York’s LaGuardia. There is almost one every twenty minutes to half an hour. Irrespective of which airline it is, I walk straight to the gate of the first departing flight and within minutes I am on my way to the Big Apple.

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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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A Lesson In The Linguistic Sexism

Haresh Shah

ova2

My first encounter with ová came in early 1991, when we were putting together the first issue of the Czech edition of Playboy. I noticed on the proposed cover, Pamela Anderson having become Pamela Andersonová. First I thought it was a typo, so I brought it up to the attention of then editor-in-chief Jaroslav Matejka. No, apparently it wasn’t an error. That’s how the Czechs called their women and Anderson in its Czech version had to be Andersonová. Even after Jaroslav gave me an elaborate explanation on the Czech language and its grammar, it didn’t quite fit my logic. At that time I didn’t know any Czech at all, even so, I was not swayed. I did not want them to Czechify a person’s name. It would be like calling Paul Pavel and Michelle Michaela. I am particularly sensitive about this – perhaps all my life living in the West, I have had often to fend off people’s attempts at turning Haresh into Harry. The first issue came out with hers and dozens of other featured foreign females with their original names.

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Crushed Under The Brutal Boots Of The Fascist

Haresh Shah

pinochet2
Having launched in Germany, Italy and France, the next natural Western European country for us to explore should have been Spain. But as long as Generalissimo Francisco Franco was alive and ruled the land, there was no way in the hell anyone could even dream of publishing the local edition of Playboy. But almighty Franco had to die sooner or later. After all, he was already eighty years old when we launched in Germany. All we could do was to wait it out. Soon as Franco died in 1975, the wheels began to turn and we were approached by several interested Spanish publishers. Among them Editorial Zeta and Editorial Planeta. We launched the Spanish edition of Playboy with Planeta in November of 1978. Me ending up spending fair amount of time in the most charming city of Barcelona, which almost immediately usurped Munich and Amsterdam as being my two most loved cities on the European continent.

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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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As Long As There Is Hope

Haresh Shah

plantlife2

Up until then it was the coldest winter I had ever experienced. In January 1984, the temperatures in Chicago area dipped as low as -40 to -50 degrees and chilling wind went through your bones like a sharp spear of an arrow. Nasim (Yar Khan) had come to visit from Germany. I had brought for him some extra warm clothes to the airport, because even from the arrival hall to the garage would have him frozen if not wrapped up in some additional layers over his heavy winter clothes from Europe. Even though the furnace was running twenty four hours a day, the heat generated just wasn’t enough to keep our rickety old house comfortably warm.  The windows were all frozen and from the inside looking out, what you saw was your mirror image.  Carolyn and I took turns waking up every few hours through the night and brave the elements – heavily bundled up and ran across the 50 feet (15.2 meters) backyard to the garage and start both of our cars and run them for fifteen to twenty minutes to make sure none of the mechanism cracked and that they would run the next morning.  Even so, there was always a danger of one of them breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in which case, it would have been absolutely devastating trying to escape anywhere.

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From Irish Eyes To The Razzle Dazzle

Haresh Shah
haremgirl_2

The year before, Helga and Fred Baumgärtel (Mr. Playboy of the German edition – retired by then), Gudrun (Thiel) and myself  had gone to the Oyster Festival on a private trip. On the second day or so, Gudrun suggested PLAYBOY-Germany organize an Anzeigen-Meeting for next year’s festival. The participants, so she predicted, would sure be thrilled. I can still see her sitting by the portside, a glass of Guinness in her hand,  warming to the subject, as it were, while developing this wonderful idea. And so it happened.

Reminisces Andreas Odenwald – the editor-in-chief of Playboy Germany at the time. And I happened to be one of the dozen or so to join Germany’s top advertising executives who were invited with their partners to spend a long weekend in Ireland and experience the annual Oyster Festival. I don’t remember having eaten many oysters there, but drinking lot of Guinness to be sure.

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Always Ready For A New Business

Haresh Shah

 

chickenbiz2

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

nudievan2
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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Haresh Shah

My Not So Intimate Encounters With Italy And France

bestfoodwinewomen

The first time I landed in the land of Ciao Bella and O sole mio, they dumped our baggage on the tarmac next to the aircraft, barely said sorry and told us we would have to carry it to the terminal ourselves – that the ground personnel had just decided to go on a strike. A bit different story when I first arrived at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I am met at the airport by Gerrit Huig and the editorial assistant Ann Scharffenberger. They talk me into and I unwittingly agree to drive us through the city in our rented little Citroën. Though I had taken lessons in driving a car with manual transmission, this is my first time trying it out without an instructor sitting next to me. I haven’t yet gotten the knack of synchronizing the gears with the accelerator and the breaks. The car would shudder, stall and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of swirling rush hour traffic. Happens several times on the Arc de Triumph round-about. I get furious faces, obscene yelling  that I don’t understand, French version of the finger and then silly mocking giggles from my two passengers. But I somehow manage to survive both welcomes. Not exactly j’taime.  

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Haresh Shah

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak

train_3

As I roll off the QE II in my Buick from the port of  New York city, my plan is to drive cross-country with the destination of Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely, Mark and Ann’s (Stevens) farm house in Goleta, some twelve miles north of downtown Santa Barbara and a stone’s throw away from the carefree Isla Vista off UCSB campus. Awaiting me is the culture and the people so unlike the America I have known so far. Three years earlier, just before Playboy offered me the job, I had planned a long vacation to explore the California Coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Instead, on the very day I was to fly west, I end up making a sharp hairpin turn to fly east over the Atlantic. I owe it to California to make up for my sudden turn.  But I am not in a hurry. And I am open to any other possibilities that may exist or arise.

Chicago awaits for me with its arms wide open. Lee (Hall) throws a staff lunch for me and am treated like a homecoming war hero. He has even arranged for me to meet with the Photography Director Gary Cole. Lee thinks very highly of me and feels I would make a good photo editor for Gary. Gary is congenial, but not so sure. He has probably agreed to speak with me more out of courtesy than to consider me for a position he didn’t have in the first place. As devastated as Lee is at having to let me go, this is his way of demonstrating that it wasn’t his decision or within his power to keep me.

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My First Taste Of The Feral Passion Of Soccer

Haresh Shah

brazuka2.2

We are in Rio de Janeiro for Playboy International Publishing’s conference, being hosted by our Brazilian publishers, Editora Abril. Other then sweating all day long in the windowless conference room of Rio Sheraton, which is also where we are staying, this is also an opportunity for the local hosts to showcase their country and the culture. Introduce us to the best of everything Brazil and Rio have to offer. Combined with organized and free social outings, we get to eat in various restaurants about town. Among them, Chalet, Churrascaria Carreta, Hippopotamus. But time and time again we end up at the Sheraton’s in-house churrascaria for their cornucopia of grilled meat and fish.

You can’t be in a city like Rio and not hit some night spots. The one we are most impressed by is their world famous Samba House, Oba Oba.  Doused in the blinding flash and sparkle, the show mainly features the most beautiful, built-solid-like-a-brick-shit-house bronze skinned mulatas. An exotic mixture of the African and the Portuguese stocks. Young and pretty with their quivering tight bundas, doing Samba costumed in narrow strips of bling to the Afro drum rhythms is the sight to be in awe of and behold. The speed and the motion glaze their shiny skins with oily slipperiness. To watch the sweat dripping like the rain drops running down the smooth surface of ebony illuminated by swirling spots is spellbinding. And they certainly can dance and move their booties in a way that leave you breathless.

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The (Interim) End Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

 

stork3

The night before the sailing, I have checked  into Hotel du Louvre in Cherbourg, France, right across the street from Gare Maritime – the port from where I would sail away on board the celebrated Queen Elizabeth II. Am I excited? Nah! It’s been hard, having to leave Europe. I would have liked to stick around a little longer, but my residence permit is to expire tomorrow and just the idea of having to deal with the German bureaucracy is painful enough to dissuade me even to attempt an extension. Might as well, because I have accomplished writing an entire book containing of 455 A4 size typewritten pages. It still needs to be edited and revised, something best done after a certain time lapse. Geographical distance wouldn’t hurt either. As for my charmed life at Playboy, to be honest, I am not sure how much longer I would have been able to take it. As abruptly as it has ended, it did on the right note and at the right time before I burned myself out.

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The Beginning Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

bottlecity3

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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A Postcard From London Carrot

Haresh Shah

ginza

Keiko (Shirokawa) of Ray Falk’s office takes me out for what I thought to be the most expensive Chinese dinner. Apparently, what is French cuisine is to us in the West, in Japan, Chinese cuisine is considered a notch above any other kind – exquisite and exclusive.

After dinner, we stop at a cozy little whiskey bar. It reminds me of the Booze & Bits in Chicago, located right in the heart of the hubbub of Rush Street, invisibly tucked away behind an inverted L-shaped narrow passage north of Oak Street. Must have been a storage room turned into a nice little watering hole for the people in the know. A bunch of us at Time Inc. used to hang out there frequently and collectively we all had incredible crush on Sherry – the blonde bombshell of the bartender. No one could ever touch her, but she did well with her smiles, excellent service and bit of a coquetry thrown in.

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The Impossibility Of Being Christie Hefner

Haresh Shah

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‘What do these conferences mean to us?’

It’s a legitimate question. I have gotten to the meeting room earlier as usual to make sure things are set before everyone else begins to stumble-in in another half an hour. Only other person fussing around is Mary (Nastos), and then there is Christie Hefner. The two of us standing in the middle of the conference room on the lower floor of The Pontchartrain Hotel, New Orleans’ old European charm. I have been organizing Playboy International Publishing’s conferences now for years and no one has ever asked me the question. It was something that was handed down to me when I was re-hired by Lee Hall ten years earlier in 1978. I hadn’t given any serious thought to the question Christie posed – now the president of Playboy Enterprises.

‘Well, it’s mainly for all our editions to come together with their counterparts from around the world and discuss the year since they met last and establish some understanding of what lay in the future. From these meetings some international projects of common interest have been born and accomplished. The Soccer World Cup pictorial in 1986, which we produced in the host country Mexico and the Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant, broadcast live in Hong Kong.

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HUGH GRANT IN MY SHOES

Prowling The Streets Of Beverly Hills

Haresh Shah

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The media had field days following Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill star, Hugh Grant’s tryst with Divine Brown, on the night of June 27, 1995. And it wasn’t only the tabloid press but also mainstream media and the network talk shows like Late Night With Jay Leno and Larry King Live couldn’t well ignore their LAPD mug shots splattered all over the printed pages and on the television screens. On his Late Night Show, Jay Leno came right out and asked: what the hell were you thinking?Grant’s answer: I think, you know, in life what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing, and I did a bad thing…and there you have it. His whole body twisting and turning this way and that, the boyish Grant squirmed in his hot seat as if run over by an eighteen wheeler. But he kept his sense of humor and got the roaring applause of approval from Leno’s enthusiastic audience.

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Scattered Gems Of Practical Wisdom

Haresh Shah

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The train pulls up at some unknown station. The peacefulness of the night turns into a little puppet show for those few minutes. The flickering dim gaslights illuminate the platforms, the guard blowing his whistle, the signal man running in front of the locomotive with his red and green flags, the tea and food vendors reciting their sales pitches, “chai garam babuji, chai garam, garam garam bhajia, khalo saab, aisi puri bhaji aage nahin milengi, pani, thanda pani. (hot tea, hot hot fried dumplings, have some, you won’t find them as delicious at the next stop, cooled water)The people getting off the train and running to the water fountains to fill up their water flasks with fresh drinking water, some sipping the piping hot delicious local chai in clay cups, some savoring the spicy puri bhaji. Sudden burst of activity, the train will pull away in a few minutes, the station would doze off once again. If there is another train arriving in an hour or so, they would just sit around puffing on their chillums, and the next puppet show would begin at the sight of another approaching express. It’s amazing to watch all those people moving around in such synchronized harmony, like in a well choreographed musical. Everyone has his own place, his own kind of product to sell, his own price, his own lyrical voice to recite and get his product to his consumer’s ears and eyes who only have seconds to make up their minds. Make a quick sale. And then once again, they disappear, they fall asleep. The train moves on.

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Or How To Raise Quick Cash

Haresh Shah

diningstars

I am between the bookends. My first year of living in Santa Barbara, California. Or more precisely in Goleta, twelve miles (17.2 km) north along the Pacific Coast off the UCSB campus. I am jobless and slumming, actually writing my novel The Lost Identity, and yet surviving with a certain style with four hundred some dollars a month I collect form the unemployment benefits. I kick in an extra hundred from my savings in order not having to struggle too much, almost half of the total goes towards the rent. I have rented a decent apartment because I like the feeling of space. It’s a spacious two bedroom apartment with an ample terrace outside the large glass sliding doors overlooking San Ynez mountain range. I am only a walking distance from the Pacific shore and the ocean front Enchanted Forest.

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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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Sweet, Silky And Slippery

Haresh Shah

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I flash my room registration card at the receptionist who is busy talking to a young man and a sort of pretty, short dark haired young woman in white, both of whom stood on the other side of the counter. ‘Room 416’, I tell him. He hands me my key. I throw a quick glance at the girl, making perfunctory eye contact and walk to the elevator. As I press the floor button, I notice the girl waving at me as if to wish me bon voyage. But the sliding doors have already closed and I am on my way up. I see her smiling face through the transparent glass door and wave back at her.

I am staying at the hip Hotel Americain in Amsterdam. I am not too impressed with the place, but built in 1900, it’s listed as one of Amsterdam’s landmarks with its turn of the century art deco and the roaring twenties atmosphere and because of its proximity to the theatre DeLaMar, it has an illustrious history – something I am often attracted to. And it’s frequented by the actors, directors and other art types of the city.

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