Archives for posts with tag: California

Haresh Shah

All I Want To Do Is To Take A Beak


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.

Of all the people, the person most upset and concerned about my departure from Playboy is the production boss, John Mastro. Even when he hired me away from Time, he had his apprehensions. Not because he had any reservations about the job I would do, but to take me away from what in the industry was considered to be one of the best jobs around. Worrier that he is, it ended up being just what he must have feared in the beginning. What if things with the foreign editions of Playboy didn’t work out the way they had planned and envisioned?

After all, these were uncharted waters. They had not yet figured out the cost-benefit ratio of maintaining a staff abroad. So there were going to be all sorts of uncertainties and the growing pains to deal with. It was not the performance, but the cost cutting that caused my position to be eliminated.

John feels personally responsible for my well being. And he is intent and insistent on finding me a comparable, if not a better job once I returned back to the States. He himself doesn’t have anything to offer, but with his wide spread contacts and the influence within the printing industry, he is sure to find me a desirable position. Totally ignoring my protests and wish to take a little break after the nineteen years of squeezed together hectic life.

I am only thirty five years old, but I have spent nineteen of them going to school. Joined my uncle’s publishing company Wilco soon as I graduated from high school, while enrolling myself for college education. First majoring in Economics and Political Science and then taking a ninety degree turn and joining the printing school. For two years, I served apprenticeship at the Precision Printing – a small printing house to learn the ropes. That was between eight in the morning until the noon. Hurry home and have a lunch on the run and be at my desk at Wilco by one. Dart out of there at five and off to the evening courses at the Government School of Printing, which took me until nine or later. Come home and barf down the lukewarm dinner my mother had shelved – still an hour or two of homework and that day’s diary entry ahead of  me and make it to  bed around mid-night. My mornings would begin around the time when I heard the first clinking of the milk bottles being unloaded at the government owned milk kiosk down the street. My eyes still half closed, I would pick up family’s ration. Perhaps grab another hour’s sleep and be under the cold shower and gulp down a glass of hot milk before running out to start my apprenticeship.

But I never felt stressed. On the contrary. My back-to-back long active days invigorated me. After I graduated from the London School of Printing, I loved every minute of the several odd jobs I had to take on before the three post-school real jobs that stretched into nine years. I am  suddenly tired, exhausted even. I certainly need a break from the routine, and for now, all I want to do is write. I want to get off  the speeding train – side step the rat race and stop to smell the roses. What’s more, I have saved enough to live on for a couple of years, supplemented by the unemployment benefits I am entitled to collect.

But how do I explain this to the man to whom having a job rates on the top of his priorities? And how do I fend his genuine concern for my well being?

‘You have all your life ahead of you to rest and write and do whatever else you want to. But I have just the job for you. Go talk to them. What you’ve got to lose?’

John’s gentle but insistent prodding reminds me of how my mother and auntie Shukla had began to nudge me soon as I had turned barely eighteen. All they thought of was to hook me up with one girl or another at every opportunity they got.

‘Doesn’t cost you anything to see her. I bet you’ll fall in love with her. And she is from a family just like ours. Will fit right in. You’ll never find anyone as pretty and sweet. Longer you wait, the best ones will all be picked clean.’ And auntie Shukla, the poet as she is, would even recite a couplet or two to describe her beauty, as if she were a serious contender herself. Not to mention, how pretty she herself is.

Once it became clear that I was going to go abroad for further studies, they begin in earnest their campaign to convince me to at least get engaged before I left for London. Their crafty underlying logic being, once committed, I would have to come back and not be lost forever to the West as did most others. And the horror or all horrors, what if I were to succumb to the wicked charms of a gori – a white woman? But I was steadfast and so it came to pass. And then when fifteen years later I came home, indeed not only with a gori in tow, but also nine months old Anjuli perched atop my shoulders in a back pack, they couldn’t have been happier.

But John turns out to be more persistent than my mother and the aunt were. So I relent. As much time and energy he has put into finding me another job, I don’t have a heart to tell him with any more emphasis that I really wanted to take bit of a break for some months, give my first passion at least a chance and then decide if I want to go back being the color guy.  Not to mention that long ago, I had decided I didn’t want to work for a printing company in the same position as I would for publishers. Because I would rather be in a position to give shit than having to take it. Never mind, John has arranged an interview for me with the World Color in Louisville, Kentucky. As much to please him as with the thought, what have I got to lose? An airplane ride and bit of a diversion would do me good. Now it’s been six months since I had been on a plane last, something that had become practically a part of my daily routine, so to say. And I am beginning to miss it. It feels good to get on a jet and fly to Louisville.

First I meet with the production boss Grover Plaschke, who sounding serious, talks to me at length about the organizational details of the World Color and how the company is growing by leaps and bounds and how they are proud of their ultra modern equipment and the talented professionals who help them grow. Hopefully I could add to their pool of talents. I can tell I have positively impressed him. He enthusiastically turns me over to his press supervisor Bob Saxer. I like Bob. He is soft spoken and easy going no nonsense kind of a production guy like Ben Wendt  of Regensteiner. My would be boss if I took the job. I get a good feeling about him and I am sure, we would get along well. I spend a whole day walking the huge World Color plant and I am indeed impressed by their streamlined operation, the cleanliness and the efficiency of the plant and the quality of the signatures rolling off web presses. I make appropriate comments and compliment him on how impressed I was with the plant and the people. And doing so, I can see that I have impressed him too without really trying.

‘I am sure we could use someone like you. I am very positively impressed by your resume and your experience of the last few years at Time and Playboy. So is Mr. Plaschke.’ Bob concludes.

To which I thank and tell him how I too would be proud of being a part of his team. But lacking from my voice is the excitement and the enthusiasm that of a man really wanting the job. I am struggling with how best to tell him what I am thinking. But he is more perceptive than I give him credit for. He doesn’t say anything, that is: until late in the afternoon when we are having lunch at a local bar and the grill. He lifts his beer mug, says cheers and while putting down the mug, looks at me point blank: You aren’t really looking for a job, are you?

So I square with him and tell him the truth. The only reason I was there was to please John, that I wanted to take a break first and give my desire to write a chance. At least give it a try, while I am able.

‘Fair enough. But when and if you ever want to come back into the work force, give us a call first.’

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks


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Next Friday, November 14, 2014


A Recent Lufthansa ad goes: Seduced by Paris. Inspired by Rome. Shelves are filled with dozens of books raving about wonderful and romantic experiences of the people who have been to Italy and France. I can’t even count how many times I must have been to Paris and Rome and Milan. And yet!!!

Beautiful..Ye High..Ye Wide..

Haresh Shah


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.

They live in a small house tucked away in the thick of an orange grove. Quite secluded, a long driveway carved out of the shrubbery lead you to the house. It’s like an oasis. A serene little island on land. I have spent many afternoons and breezy evenings sitting out on their front porch drinking beer with David. Often Bonnie would cook one of her what I called a mishmash cuisine kind of dinners. No matter what she throws in together, those meals are always delicious, deserving of a bottle or two of California wines and then David and I would follow them up with equally as good cigars.

Behind their cottage is a green house, almost as large as the cottage, where Bonnie grows seasonal vegetables. But most of the green house is used to grow some unadulterated organic weed. Mostly for their own consumption, but they also generously spread the wealth and share some with close friends, and the rest would be for sale. For Bonnie and David, growing and smoking the pot is not as much an addiction as it’s a spiritual ritual. To get into a certain state of consciousness that is more meditative than merely getting high. They are reverential of their beautiful shiny green marijuana leaves, like most Hindus are of their household Tulsi plants, to which they humbly bow and worship first thing in the morning. The reason they want their good friend Haresh to experience that level of consciousness and would often try to seduce me into joining them in their smoking ritual, which I would politely decline.

Not that I am against it in principal or otherwise, just that it’s one of those things that never turned me on. Having come from India, I am not ignorant of bhang, charas and ganja. In fact once a year, every Janmaashtami – on Lord Krishna’s birthday, my father would have one of our domestic helps put the fresh green leaves of marijuana to a grinding stone, turn it into a little green ball looking like wasabi and drop it into the boiling milk already mixed with sliced pistachios and almonds, saffron and sugar and brew it into a potent potions of bhang – cooled down and served chilled, tasting like a refreshing glass of pistachio almond milkshake. I may have tried it once or twice, but mainly it was meant to be consumed by his grown up male friends, while us kids and women drank thandai, equally as tasty, albeit sans spiked with the little green ball.

I arrived in the US in 1968, at the height of the pot culture, and if not everywhere, it was still around at some of the parties I went to in Pittsburg and Chicago – my first two homes in America. Especially during the years I hung out with Karen (Abbott) watching passively her and others getting high earned me the reputation of being a square. Smoking it put me in a kind of depressive pensive haze, which I didn’t care for. Once I went to a party in Santa Barbara with Bonnie and David and gave it a real go and puffed on the specially prepared chillum by the host, containing little brown crystals of dynamic hash. I left the party with my head feeling light and fogy. While driving my date home that night, what should have been a five minutes’ ride, felt as if I were driving for an hour. Ditto, getting back home after I dropped her off. It scared me to think how one can lose the sense of time so completely. But for everyone else, that was the point, wasn’t it?


Bonnie sounds upset and disconcerted. Devastated even. And above all she sounds angry. She’s not her bubbly self, shamelessly flirting with me and me flirting back with I love you this much to my I love you thiiiis much and her coming back with I love you thiiiiiiiis much. Something we used to do with our arms stretching littler bit farther with I love yous while David would sit there shaking his head.

‘When you kids gonna grow up?’

‘Never!’ We would answer in unison.

But tonight she doesn’t sound like herself at all. I am now living in Chicago and talking to her over the phone.

‘You sound like you’re in a funky mood! Something’s the matter?’

‘Don’t ask me. Ask your friend!’ She snaps, sounding angry.

So I ask to talk with David.

‘He’s not here.’

‘Where is he?’

‘He’s in jail!’


‘Yeah. You heard it right. But you can still talk to him.’

Apparently David has indeed ended up behind the bars. Albeit in a minimum security prison from where he is allowed to check out in the morning and go to his job at the bookstore, and check back in every evening.

I call the Santa Barbara county jail at the number Bonnie has just given me.

‘What the fuck!’ I begin and pause. ‘What are you doing in the slammer?’

‘I got caught.’

‘They can’t put you away for selling bit of a pot in California.’

‘I happened to have a lot! I’m afraid.’


‘Yup. What can I say? I guess I just got greedy and lost my bearings. The bastards just don’t have sense of humor, like they used to.’

I hear a slight snicker in the background and know exactly what he is alluding to. The whole scenario of some years ago rushes through my mind in a fast running video clip.

One beautiful afternoon, having finished my chapter for the day, I climb on my Azuki and at the tail end of my bike ride, I decide to stop by for a beer at Bonnie and David. Soon as I turn the corner and their cottage zooms into the line of my vision, my bike stops in its track. Shocked, I pause to focus on what looks like two fuzzy images, like the ones in a 3D photograph looked at without the special glasses. I see the porch, and artificially imposed upon it an image of David – stretched out helplessly on an outdoor lounge chair.

Closer I get, clearer I see. His face is all bruised and patched up. His lips have turned into squashed raspberries, his eyes sunken inside their sockets and the rim around them all swollen. His arms are bandaged.

‘What the fuck!’ I don’t say it out loud, but David knows what I am thinking.

‘Those fucking mother fucking sons of bitches!!’ I don’t believe the string of expletives coming out of the gentle mouth of David. He is normally not prone to utter such profanities.

‘What happened?’

‘What happened? Just look at what they have done to our little paradise!’

The doors of the greenhouse behind their cottage are ajar, almost yanked off their hinges. Inside, it looks helter-skelter as if hit by a wild tornado. The clay pots are turned upside down, shattered into pieces, the soil pulled out of the ground, fragments of the leaves, the branches and the roots are strewn all over. I get the picture.

‘What kind of fucking brutes you have to be to do that?’ David asks. As livid as he is, he is on the verge of breaking down and cry. All that hard work and the tender loving care both of them had given to nurture their beloved garden of paradise.

‘There were four of them. They rode in on their bikes.’ That answers those wide single tire tracks I had noticed and wondered about on my way in.

One of the neighbors down the main road had seen them leaving with loud roars and the loot they carried away with them. From the descriptions of their bikes, David knew immediately who they could be. Boiling with raging fury, he calls up his brother Randy. They get into Randy’s pick up and catch up with the “fuckers”. Fortunately, Bonnie is still at work.

Their truck coming from the opposite direction blocks the bikers. The four riders jump off their bikes. David and Randy jump out of the cabin of the truck. They go at each other like wild horses let loose. Soon they hear sirens. Cops line them all up.

‘What the fuck’s going on here? You kids gone crazy or something?’

‘They ripped off my pot man!’ David is jumping up and down in his fury.

‘What pot?’

‘From our green house. My wife and I spent so much time in lovingly growing and taking care of them, and these fuckers just yanked them off. Our beautiful, beautiful plants.’

The cops look at the mangled and hastily thrown together bundles on the backs of their bikes.

‘That ain’t nothing. They have no respect for marijuana. What you see is all yanked, pulled and butchered.’

‘Looks like those babies must have been beautiful!’

‘Beautiful? You have no idea.’

‘Yeah? How?’ The cops seem to get into it.

‘Yeah. Green as can be.’ David’s hand gestures seem to be painting a large splash of bright green on a canvas and with his arms wide open and then raised, he goes, ‘ye high and ye wide, man!!’ Momentarily he has even forgotten that how beat up him and Randy and all the four kids are. Badly bruised and dripping blood and in need of some quick first aid.

As interesting and amazing the cops find the situation, one of them goes: ‘You don’t want to report this kids, do you?’ At the question, everyone realizes that irrespective of who’s in the right and who’s not, they all stand to be justifiably arrested and locked up.

But this is southern California.

‘Let’s just get you all to the emergency room and get patched up.’

No such luck this time around.

But ever optimistic, I hear David continue. He tells me how it’s not all that bad, considering they found a shit load of pot in the trunk of his Volvo. Caught red handed just before he was about to unload it. Taking into account his squeaky clean record and the fact that he held a regular job, was respectably married and otherwise was a nice guy, the judge handed out a sentence that was kind and considerate. My call had caught him mopping floors. He still had a few chores left to do. His duties also included cleaning toilets and bathrooms.

David is taking it in his strides. He knows that Bonnie is mighty pissed.

‘What can I say? I guess I fucked up really good time time around!’

© Haresh Shah

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks


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Next Friday, May 16, 2014


However in love or committed you’re to someone special, there are moments when your heart wants to be with someone else. A light hearted look at what the Germans so cleverly call seitensprung – a sideway leap.