Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chapter Five - The weekend and then some

(Chand at the party I mysteriously ended up at...)

I apologize for not writing sooner. The weekend got really crazy, let me just put it that way, and I have been trying to catch my breath since Saturday morning.

To refresh your memory, that's when Chand showed up at our townhouse in Calabasas, at the ass-crack of dawn, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. My roommate Candi and I had been scheduled to go with Chand - a new friend who waits tables at an Indian restaurant in Culver City - sometime that morning. I didn't realize "sometime" meant way early, but you live and learn. Chand, I have since learned, is nothing if not punctual and organized. Rare to find this in a man. Chand is rare in a lot of ways, and it sucks I think this way because I know that Candi digs him.

Let me backtrack a bit. Okay, so there he was, standing like some dude waiting for his prom date, only it was early in the morning (or at least early for a Saturday) and I'm still in pajamas, except that I don't like to wear pajamas, so I was actually in nothing. I sleep nude, which is only a problem when I'm on my period (then, I wear undies, okay?) or when Candi decides to wander into my room to ask me what sex feels like again (she is a virgin, as I have mentioned). I installed a deadbolt on the inside of my bedroom door for this reason.

So I bolted out of bed, rushed through a shower (my room has its own bath, the townhouse has "two master suites" except that mine, of course, is smaller). I picked an outfit I knew would look good but would not seem like I was trying to look good - low-rise jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, Uggs. I did a little blush and mascara, but any more than that might have given Chand the wrong idea.

I packed a back of nicer clothes for the party at my parents' house later that afternoon. Not that much nicer, mind you. But when it's your niece's communion party, you have to at least try to convince your family that you - I don't know - believe in God and the virgin Maria of Guadalupe and all that. I also packed my wench-wear so that I could rush to work if the day got the better of me.

Speaking of virgins...Candi was about as dolled up as she gets, trying very hard and looking like it. She had a belly shirt, low jeans, sparkly lotion on her skin, and too much makeup. She had also put the clip-on extensions in her otherwise shoulder-length hair, giving her a weird shelf of hair all the way around and an unnatural-looking too-blonde horse-tail down to her butt. I did not want to think that she resembled a llama in Vanessa Hudgens' castoffs, but I did. That is exactly what I thought. I also thought Chand was bright enough to know a woman's hair could not miraculously grow 12 inches overnight.

"You like him, don't you?" I asked her.

Candi shrugged because she rarely admits when she actually likes a guy because then she will have to admit to heartbreak when he rejects her advances, which usually happens unless the guy is an actor who hopes to meet her producer dad. The shrugging cased her belly shirt to rise up too high and exposed the lower crescent of her left breast. Candi's breasts were a birthday present from her mom when she was sixteen, and the left one hangs too low. They are orbs that don't move, even when she runs. Candi rarely runs, thankfully. This makes her a little squishy, but at least it saves us from the gravity-defying antics of her silicon.

Poor Chand, standing there for twenty minutes while we got ready. But he should have called first. I told him so as he handed me the flowers, and he said that he didn't think he had to confirm twice. Yes, he looked good. Yes, he smelled good too, like a subtle, expensive men's cologne.

"Twice?" I asked.

"I talked to Candi last night," he said, as I discreetly split the bouquet in two and gave Candi the other half.

"He did?" I asked her. She nodded but did not apologize for forgetting to tell me about our early appointment.

After a bit of debate, we decided it was safe to all pile into Chand's Volvo for the drive to the market in La Mirada. Out of deference to Candi's crush, I offer her the front seat. Chand notices, and gives me a look that tells me he is disappointed, but that my kindness makes him like me even more. This is not good. For once, I'd like the guy to fall for Candi instead.

As Chand drove along the 101, with Candi's admiring eyes blinking their fake lashes at him, he told us the "game plan." He wanted me to pretend to be an Indian-American girl he met at the university, when we got to the market, to see what people would say.

"What university?" I asked.

"USC," he said. "I'm in law school."

"A lawyer," said Candi, all breathless and dreamy.

"I don't know if I can do this," I said.

"You're an actress, dummy," Candi spat.

"I know, but what if they ask me something I can't answer? What if I choke? I like to have time to prepare for a role."

"If they ask you something you don't know, I'll answer for you," said Chand, looking at me in the rearview mirror with a comforting, capable smile. Do not fall for this guy, I told myself.

So, basically, long story short, we had a long drive and listened to a lot of kind of cool yet incomprehensible East Indian hip hop type of music that Chand had programmed into his iPod just for me. I liked this one chick, Alisha Chinai. She reminded me of an Indian Thalia, or Selena. Here's a video so you can see what I mean. Oh, and for what it's worth, Chand told me she was singing in Punjab. I thought I'd have to learn Hindi. He now said I'd have to learn a bit of both, but that he thought the best thing for me would be to pretend to be an acculturated Indian-American, and therefore charm everyone with my ignorance.

Candi made a bit of an ass of herself by snaking her arms around and trying to dance in the passenger seat. Chand was a gentleman and ignored it, even though it was clearly directed right at him.

Okay, so we got to the market, and we went in. Everyone knew Chand, and he started speaking some language I couldn't understand, hugging women in saris and man-hugging guys with sandals. I hovered in the background until he motioned me over to introduce me to the woman who owned the store.

"This is my friend, Ramya," he said. It took me a moment to realize I was Ramya. I smiled and bowed, which was a stupid thing to do, but I guess I was channeling the only Asian thing I could think of at the time.

"Her grandparents are Indian," he said. "But she's pretty much Americanized by now."

The woman frowned all over her forehead and pursed her lips, shook her head, much in the same way of all my older female relatives from Mexico who think it is a shame that I speak such terrible Spanish.

"Ramya is very interested in learning about her culture," said Chand. "So I brought her here to learn from the best."

The woman blushed at this, though her apparent disapproval for me did not end with the flattery. Somewhere in the middle of all this Candi was introduced as the American roommate.

"Can we look around the store?" Chand asked the woman. She put on her eyeglasses and swept her arm toward the aisles, still eyeing me warily. I was sure she knew I was Mexican, but she didn't say anything until we started walking away from her.

"Ramya," she called. "What is your favorite kind of chutney?"

To say I panicked is an understatement. But I conjured the spirit of this still-developing character of Ramya, turned and smiled at her. I looked at the ceiling as though thinking hard about my answer. Then Chand rescued me.

"Deshi," he said. He winked at me now, and said, "She likes it hot."

Candi failed to notice the innuendo, which was good for her sake.

I strolled around the store with Chand, and just looked at everything, soaked it in. The smells, sort of hot and powdery, with a hint of onion somewhere. The sounds of the music and the conversations. We stopped at a magazine section and Chand handed me an entertainment magazine, which I leafed through, noticing that, yes, many of the stars in it looked like people I knew on the eastside.

We spent maybe half an hour there, and Chand filled a small hand basket with jars and bags of things that I pretended to know the uses of. The woman with the sari and the glasses rang up the order and seemed to have decided to direct her derision to Candi now. She scowled at her, and said something to Chand in the language.

As we walked out with our purchases, I asked him what she'd said.

"Nothing," he lied.

"Tell me," I said. "Did she know I was faking it?"

Chand opened the car door for me and laughed. "No, no, that's not it. Is that what you thought?"

I nodded.

"Nah. She just said she knew of some nice girls back in India if I was looking for someone special, that I should know better than to try to find a girl in America."

I was offended by this, naturally. Ramya was, too. After all, wasn't she just as much an Indian woman as these mythical girls back home? I realized that I was starting to think of Ramya as real.

Candi was busy with a package of Indian chewing gum and had not really caught any of the conversation. She said a few things about the market that did not make sense to me or Chand, and then she gushed about how convincing I'd been.

"You even started to move like those women," said Chand, noticing something I had thought would have been too subtle. "You're good."

"She is!" cried Candi.

"You had the posture and the neck motions down by the time we left," he said. "This is promising."

By then, it was past eleven, and I told them that we had to stop off at my parents' house to bring my niece her present. I asked Chand to stop at a Starbucks so that I could change clothes in the bathroom, and get an iced coffee at the same time. He wasn't at all upset to have to go to a thing at my folks' place. In fact, he said he was excited to see a real Mexican party.

"Don't be," I told him. "It's not that interesting. Not like that market, and that music."

Chand shrugged as we walked back out to the car. "It's all a matter of perspective," he said.

"You are a lawyer," I said.

He laughed. "What is that supposed to mean."

"It means you have the moral relativism thing down pat," I said.

Candi was in the car on her cell phone. We got in and she hung up quickly, which bothered me more than it should have. Then, we were off to East LA.

My mom and dad live in the same house they lived in when I was born. It's that old-style, with a pitched roof and shingles. They live on a beautiful tree-lined block where everyone cares for the homes, and you almost think it should be in Pasadena. Mom keeps big pots of bright flowers on the wraparound porch, and you really do expect Ward Cleaver to walk out with the newspaper under his arm.

Chand was impressed, and Candi was already checking out all the guys. She has a thing for dark-skinned men. I don't like to focus on her reasons for it.

We were a few minutes late, and everyone was already in the big back yard - my mom and dad, a dozen aunts and uncles, a million cousins, my grandparents, and a bunch of old people I'm not sure are related to me, but I call them tio and tia anyway. Dad was standing at the massive built-in barbecue grill, proud to be cooking. I never understood why he would not go near anything in the kitchen, but outdoors he turns into Betty Crocker.

My brothers were all there, too, and everyone looked at Chand with great suspicion. I leaned over to him, and asked him to pretend he was Candi's boyfriend.

"Why?" he asked, barely concealing his disgust with the idea.

"So they don't kick your ass, or question you all afternoon about how you plan to take care of me in my old age."

Chand laughed, and I told Candi the plan. Soon, they had their arms around each other and all the men in my family relaxed.

My 11-year-old niece was sitting pretty in her fancy dress, with her gifts and balloons everywhere, certain for the time being that she was right with God. I hugged her and gave her the Miley Cirus handbag set i had gotten for her, wrapped up in a pink box. It was probably way too young for her now, but what the hell do I know about the tastes of young girls?

We stayed long enough to eat a plate of food and make the rounds. I actually did not eat that much, which is super hard for me at these things. My family can cook.

An hour or so later, I excused us, explaining that I had to get to work. My mom was disappointed by this, and took the opportunity to remind me that I would always have a higher-paying job waiting for me at the company, meaning my dad's construction company. He makes a lot of money - not like Candi's dad or anything, but my East LA standards, we're a rich family.

"I'll keep that in mind," I said. I really don't want to ever have to resort to handouts from my folks. I actually plan to make it on my own.

Okay, so here's the rest of the story. I got to work, only to realize that I had my schedule all confused and actually had the day off. I do this a lot. I'm not sure what's wrong with me, but I suppose I should keep my planner on me at all times, or put it on my phone.

Candi was excited, because this meant we could "all" go to a party that night at a friend's house. Chand immediately accepted, and so I felt obligated to go. I went home, and Chand went back to wherever it is that Chand goes when he's not forcing strange women to pretend to be Indian. He came back later, and off we went.

We drank, and partied, and danced, and acted like idiots. Here's me and Candi on the dancefloor.

I tried to get Chand to admit to liking Candi, but when she was in the bathroom at one point, he got in real close and told me that while she was nice, she wasn't his type. I felt the heat of his body next to mine, and got electricity in my spine.

"What type of girl do you like?" I asked, stupidly, like I didn't know the answer.

"You," he said. "Your my type."

This was the exact moment that Todd, beautiful and famous Todd, popped into the room, with his hair a beautiful mess. He smiled at me, and came right over. It was very awkward, introducing these two to each other, and having them get that stiff back that men get when they're ready to fight like elephant seals over a cow.

Todd put his arm around me, called me "sweetie," and kissed me on the cheek. Chand seemed to think it was more serious than it was, and excused himself to get another drink.

"You look amazing," Todd told me. "Is Candi with you?"

Sure enough, she was, and when she returned to the little sofa where I was sitting, I noticed that Todd was really, really nice to her. This was either very good - meaning he was a nice guy; or very bad, meaning he, like every other actor who was ever nice to Candi (other than me) wanted to get to her dad.

When Todd started to grill Candi about her dad's newest projects, I knew it wasn't good. I started to really miss Chand, and tried to find him. Eventually, I saw him talking to some women in the corner. It did not bother me. Really.

"He's not my boyfriend," I told him.

Chand looked at me as if he didn't care. "None of my business," he said. "Look, I'm just in this to help you land an acting gig in India."

I laughed, because this seemed so absurd. Chand did not laugh with me.

"I'm serious," he said. "I have to go to India in a couple weeks, and I am planning on taking you with me."

"What? No. I can't."

"You can," he said.

I don't know why, but in that moment, I believed him.