The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru
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?’
‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’
‘I know who you are!’
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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.
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Scattered Gems Of Practical Wisdom
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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Taking A Stab At Respectability
When Celia – the young woman who so beautifully interprets and illustrates Playboy Stories week after week, returned the copy of my July 1988 issue of Playboy featuring Cindy Crawford on the cover, she had secured the pages with a little yellow and pink binder-clips. Apparently the pages of the issue had come apart at the perfect bound stiff spine, just like that of the cheap paperbacks from the Fifties. The issue was never before opened and was in mint condition. Quite unsettling for an avid fan and the collector of the magazine.
When the first issue of the perfect bound Playboy dated October 1985 landed on my desk, sometime around the first week of September, with the cover blurb proclaiming: COLLECTOR’S EDITION / THERE IS A BOLD NEW LOOK UNDER OUR COVER, I felt disoriented like never before. Devoid of the staples and lying there flat as the thick Dutch pancake, it felt akin to me returning to the little town of Schutterwald in Germany to visit my old landlady Frau Lipps – fully expecting, as in the past for her to have prepared my favorite Wiener Schnitzel with pommes frites and a small side of butter lettuce salad – instead to find a plate of a salmon filet with boiled potatoes and green beans. It threw me completely off balance.
Even though there were talks in the air for a while to switch to the perfect binding, deep down in my heart I still held out hopes that Hefner would never agree to such a move. But he did and now I was holding in my hands something I had thought would never come to pass.
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The Spookiness Of The Creative Mind
It’s It the Easter Monday in Italy. I am on an over crowded train going back to Milan from Pontremoli. Everybody is returning from the long holiday weekend and as squeezed together as we are, I have managed to find a “comfortable” corner of my own where I get to stand for all three hours of the train ride without being crushed.
This is the first time I am alone face to face with myself since the fateful late Monday night of the week before. I am reading Andy Warhol’s autobiographical excerpts, while the conflicting thoughts rush through my mind, they collide with each other to the rhythm of the oscillating motion of the train piercing through the still night of the Italian country side.
I have just spent a very pleasant and a relaxing weekend with Rainer (Wörtmann) and his wife Renate in their newly acquired old mill in Italian country side. It’s a beauty, standing proudly in a little village called Mulazzo near Pontremoli. It stands forlorn in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a stream and rocks and a cluster of trees. The place is to serve as a retreat from their hectic lives in Munich. It also turns out to be a great and timely escape for me in the aftermath of the week before.
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Every Picture Tells A Story
Its crispy cold December morning. The sun is shining bright outside and I am having my usual Sunday breakfast of Shahmolette – so christened by Jan Heemskerk – our friend and at the time editor-in-chief of Playboy’s Dutch edition. Because in addition to mushrooms and onions, my recipe includes finely chopped, insanely hot Thai peppers and cilantro. Also our Sunday morning feast included freshly baked bagels from Skokie’s famous and the best in the world, Bagels & Bialys, and their home made cream cheese with chives. Carolyn is futzing around the kitchen when the phone rings. I hear her making a perfunctory but pleasant conversation with the caller. Not knowing or caring to know who she might be talking to, I flip the pages of that week’s Time.
‘Sure! He’s right here. Just a minute.’ She covers the mouthpiece of the receiver and mouths ‘Lee Hall.’
Lee Hall? That’s my boss. What is he doing calling me at home on a Sunday morning? It sure couldn’t be good news. I take the receiver and lean against the credenza by the phone.
‘Mr. Shah!’ I hear him say. Once in a while he would call me that endearingly. But still…
‘Sorry to bother you at home on Sunday morning – but as you know I’ve just returned from my far east trip and thought I fill you in on Hong Kong before things get crazy tomorrow morning at the office.’
A sigh of relief! ‘Sure. You want me to come over?’ I offer.
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