05.02.2008 - 05.02.2008 94 °F
As I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself… a tiny person ushered us into a doorway, above which a sign read “Chennai Cultural Center.” For me, those words mean absolutely nothing and by that point I had no idea what to expect. It could have been a wax museum or a organ donor clinic, and I would have been equally nonplussed because the day had been that exhausting and strange. I just thank god I decided not to take the $200 malaria pills I brought with me because supposedly they make you hallucinate, and I wouldn’t have been able to handle Chennai on psychedelics.
Back to the story… so the tiny person stays at the door, but D., N. and I tromp up the stairs in that order, meaning that I wind up being the last to behold … a large, dark room full of men. Young men, slightly older men, skinny men, less skinny men – but all of one gender. I also noticed two very large signs that said “Silence Please.” And it was. Very silent. With everyone staring at us. Two women - one Chinese and one African - and a White guy. We sort of stuck out. They stared at us, and we averted our eyes towards the floor. This lasted for about two minutes, then D. said, “Well?” And I said, “Okay, let’s do this.” Since the place was packed, there was only one table that had room for three people, and it was in the center of the room. So we made our way to that spot, with all eyes upon us. We sat down. As soon as we had parked our asses, it was like someone hit a switch. Everyone resumed talking and carousing as they had been before, and nobody paid us any attention from that point onward. The waiter brought us a menu and a drink list. Women aren’t supposed to drink in India and don't really frequent bars, but we ordered a round of beers – “regular” or Kingfisher for Nancy and “strong” or Haywards 5000 for me and D.
Then we sat and debriefed on the events of the day. I think we were each overwhelmed by different things, but we agreed that it had been an adventure. We’d had two rounds and were still patting ourselves on the back when the lights were flashed on and off to signal last round. The waiter returned and took one more drink order from us, and we had time enough just to drink about half a bottle a piece – these were 32 ounce bottles – before the lights came up for good. The place cleared out slowly. I went to use the bathroom. When I returned D. and N. were engaged in conversation with the trio of men with whom we had shared a table. It turned out one of them, Jay, is the owner of the “Chennai Cultural Center.” When I got back to the table he told me I look like Condoleeza Rice. I thought he meant N., who looks more like Condi than I do, even though she’s Asian. Anyway, I took it good naturedly and allowed him to buy Condi and friends another round. Along with new beers came shot after shot after shot of The Royal Challenge, a "premium" Indian whiskey. He went further and order heaping plates of appetizers, so sat and chatted with our new Indian friends for another hour or two. There did come a point where I told Nancy not to let me drink any more, but alas it was too late. I got the hiccups, which is very unbecoming for a senior stateman. The noisy erruptions seemed to signal an end to the night.
They asked how we were getting back to the ship, and we told them about our day with the cabbies. They decided to drive us themselves and told us we should call the police when we got back to the ship. I realized later that we were a car load of drunken soldiers and that none of us should have been in that vehicle, but that wasn’t on my mind at the time because my mind was gone, burned away by a days worth of noise and air pollution, exotic sights and odors, and utter utter chaos. And the whiskey probably had something to do with it too.
D. sat in the front w/ the driver, and N. and I sat in the back with Jay. Now apparently J. kept groping N. most unceremoniously and N. apparently told me over and over that she was getting molested but I was so drunk that I kept laughing and trying to take pictures of me and J. hanging out of the car windows. I say try because my camera is no longer working properly. (It might actually be the memory card). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We careened around for not too long, and then cruised up to the Port of Chennai where we had to comport ourselves more seriously. By this time, N. kept muttering that she hated me, and I kept repeating, “You can’t hate me [insert her full name]” and cackling manically. D. was grinning from ear to ear. N. just looked pissed. We were like Larry, Mo and Curly + Indians.
N., who had had the least to drink, and who had been sobered up by her experience with Mr. Hands in the backseat, had earlier in the day had the presence of mind to photograph the license plate numbers of our cabbies. So we told the entire story to the Port Authority police just as our cabbies came running up to the security checkpoint yelling and screaming that we were crooks and thieves because we hadn’t paid them. And the madness began again. The cabbies were jumping up and down, additional guards came out of the booth and circled us all, D. and N. and our Indian pals were shaking their fists in the air, and I was laughing. I could not stop laughing. I wanted to take picture of it all, and I knew I shouldn’t but it was hysterical. Of all the things I’ve wanted to photograph on this trip, that was the moment, because it was so unabashedly comical. In all my life, I could never have imagined being in the midst of such a ridiculous scene. So even though I was drunk I devised a devious little plan that ultimately failed, but I am still proud of myself for it. I crept back a bit and then pretended that I was rummaging in my bag for something. Then I snapped the photo – which didn’t need a flash because the security point is extremely well lit. But the flash went off anyway, and boy did that piss that guards off. Wow. I thought I was gonna get hustled off to a work camp, but I played dumb. Like really dumb. I kept reiterating that it was an accident, that it went off while I was looking for my ID card in my bag. After a couple minutes they let me go because the other situation was still ongoing. Finally we offered them 1000 rupees total, and that we deemed fair by the Port Authorities. We promised to call Jay and company later in the week, and then we boarded the ship.
Inside, N. repeated that she hated me, and I do remember saying, “Don’t hate me, [full name], because you’re the only person on the ship that I like, and if you’re gone, there’s nobody left. I know it must be a burden for you, but you're strong.” She laughed, and then I apologized for letting her get molested, then I saw box of latex gloves on the table. I picked one up and started trying to slip it onto the banister. I think that’s when she realized how drunk I was, which makes sense since I drank all of her shots except for the first one – so about five – plus the four or five beers. She told me to go to bed.
And thus ends the saga of the midget, who plays only a cameo in this tale, but it was an important cameo because it continues to make things interesting.