[VOID] A Clockwork Rohit

Rohit Khare (rohit@godzilla.ICS.uci.edu)
Sat, 07 Mar 1998 19:24:01 -0800

"Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are
rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven."

TOI on Sunset, 2:00:04 AM, March 7, 1998 -- I'm actually not depressed
about my social life at this moment, but I think that's only because
I'm too damn sober to really feel it. But let's start at the beginning
of this tale, shall we? And then we'll get to why I'm ordering chicken
curry somen, 53 miles from home, alone, in a natty $700 charcoal suit,
$140 rust-colored viscose shirt, and $65 international-safety-orange
silk tie [1]

Perhaps it'll even be funny...

Last Friday night, I was also in the throes of being disproven on the
Rohit's-void theory. It was the UCI Associated Graduate Students party
at the Anthill Pub. Once a term, grad student dues pay off in the form
of free beer, pizza, and pool. A worthy franchise, student government.
At any rate, the ICS crew was out in force, celebrating Dave Hilbert's
successful candidacy exam, too. The party, as you might imagine,
fractionated along exactly the same geopolitical lines as the campus.
9 guys, one chick, east-south-east, ICS, check; 9 gals, one prettyboy,
east-north-east, Social Ecology, check. Never the twain shall meet...
but as I dragged expert-marksman-teammate Peyman Oreizy to defeat at
billiards, I was ogling this cute, brassy, Indian woman at the next
pool table over. Mind you, with all the subtlety that only a decade of
geek training can imbue. Tried saying 'Hi', got a 'no', walked away,
and should have kept walking. But back on the patio, celebrating as
Dave puffed away on his Davidoff, S came by with news that her
roommate M was labmates with said bon-bon D; and that D was hosting a
party for the biologists that very night, and M thought it would be
funny if I crashed it, offering coordinates.

[food arrived. As usual, I'm an optimistic fool, and as if the warning
sign that the very moment I tied it in the bathroom today, the tie got
a water spot wasn't enough, nor the fact my boot laces shredded into
nothingness as bidden by the Critical Need Detector, I looped the tie
over my shoulder while slurping the ramen, only to find that when I
bent at the next to check my shirt, it fell smack into the curry
sauce. Me and virgins, such luck...]

Good sense would be to say no, but... said coordinates indicated that
D lived, well, six feet under. Under me, that is. The very bedroom
below mine. So now I had to chalk it up to interesting fates. The
mockery potential was just too damn high. And as luck would have it,
though I'd never glimpsed my downstairs neighbor in six months, while
I was debating precisely what introduction to invite myself in with,
she knocked on my door... to invite my roommate, who turns out was in
the same bio lab [2]. The party theme, however, was dessert, and
everyone else had been confecting concoctions (or is that concocting
confections?) for weeks. I suggested to H that the only way we two
bachelors were going to contribute anything coda-rific to this
smorgasbord, we'd have to go for a dessert *wine*. So off to Hi-Time
Liquors in Newport Beach and their multi-thousand bottle cellar. One
muscat later, we're are the doorbell.

And that's that. It's about 20 biologists, about evenly distributed
genderwise, mostly quite intriguing, beautiful, and single, quite
surprisingly. However, they all know each other, and I might as well
be an alien. And the hostess isn't going to save my butt, either
:-) Not that I find this unusual or off-putting, just more
introductions and more braincycles furiously (futilely) trying to
remember names. Over the evening I catalog my usual reverse salients
of social development: an inability to measure silences well, an
overemphasis on trivial pursuits, befuddlement at conversational
geometries with more than 2 endpoints, and chronic inability to stand
around without *something* in my hands, hence consuming mass
quantities of cookies, cakes, brittle, chips, beer, wine, and kaluha.

[In the meantime, I piece together that D is an Oxy alum, an excellent
cook and interior decorator (lots of Indian prints), as spunky as I'd
thought, and quite ambitious. The warning signs, in this case, are
also flashing like the Fremont Street Experience.]

By around three AM, the party is well lubricated, and I'm in an overly
serious discussion of Harvard's good offices with an extremely drunk
alum. Nothing quite like a battle over endowments; he's trying to
argue the entire UC system, plus Caltech and Stanford, can barely hold
a candle to Harvard, across the board. Spectators much amused as I
continue to box him by facts, debating with one proprioceptal lobe
behind my back, so to speak. Or at least, I think so: he's getting
violent, and personal, and expounds, "What the fuck do you know about
research grant effectiveness per dollar? I bet you've never even
gotten laid!". I leave the derivation from Congressional line-item to
sexual intercourse as an exercise for the reader :-)

Nevertheless, at some point it's clear I've had quite enough to drink,
it's winding down, and I should just expect to talk to her later. End
of Act One.

Saturday, I zap off a quick note offering to help clean up at her
apartment. The reply subject line is "no thanks!". I decide that the
exclamation point is merely inadvertantly misdirected politeness
rather than indulging the usual paranoid semiotic fantasies I usually
deconstruct email into.

Instead, I go out to the movies with Tim Byars. We meet at the Irvine
Spectrum at eight for the 8:15 _Dark City_. Naturally, as soon as I'm
fourth from the head of the hundred-odd person line, it sells out. We
buy 10:45 tix and, after checking on this Indian chick who usually
works PastaBravo in the food court S introduced me to once, we retire
to Wolfgang Puck's. At the bar, deconstructing S&M mailing lists with
Tim, studying the finer points of flamage ("dude, the correct answer
is, 'I guess I wouldn't; I've never blown our grant money on
hookers!'"), and plastic surgery over Cadillac maragaitas. You can
fill in the scenes yourself, I think. It has the desired effect on our
perky, pert blonde waitress. After grilling L on her tastes in tit
jobs and suspension play (don't ask...) is revealed as a writer, a UCI
English major (a nationally-reknowned dept), and the same age.
Automobiles, editors, travel -- there's a lot of chat time in two
hours of liquor, especially after the manager slips L an order to cut
us off :-)

The movie, by the way, is unspeakably bad. It entirely ruined the
effects of $70 worth of liquor, which pissed me off enough to drag Tim
to Sid's for a pitcher of Bass (and drooling time over a G3-tweaked
PB1400), and on to Harbor House for an omlet, all in penance for
insisting on that art-directed, falsely R-rated (no violence OR nudity
-- what a tragedy!).

The next morning, I dropped L an email, but while I was suiting up for
the gym, D came by to drop off a CD I left at the party (_Star Rise_,
the aforementioned and highly recommended techno/ambient Nusrat Fateh
Ali Khan remix disc). Doh!

So, in the form I'm at least marginally comfortable with, I wrote D a
letter. Also last Friday, I espied a quartet of stunning
Indian undergraduates (and a beautiful Anglo, too) claiming to be the
top management of the Indian Students Club, and would I like to buy a
ticket to the Indian Intercollegiate Banquet next week, only $20 for
dinner and dancing. I don't know any of these people, I'm guaranteed
not to know any of the other UCI'ers (ISC is an undergrad club; the
grad students are mainly 'fresh off the boat' Indians and have
separate institutions, as with the sitar recital and potluck two weeks
ago of the Indian Cultural Association (I suggested renaming it Poor
Indian Graduate Students' Association... :-)) The upshot of which is,
I carefully photocopied the engraved invitation to said banquet and by
way of thanking D and properly introducing myself, I invited her to
the same. Left said letter clipped to the door; should be unambiguous
since she's the only current resident.

And as hope springs eternal, I figure if my social life could be going
well, I might even finish my homework this week. I take my standards
reading pack to South Coast Plaza. I figure it's time to stop and buy
some new pants, now that I've lost all this weight. SCP, for
nonlocals, is a very upscale mall. It has some godawful turnover in
all those hordes of designer boutiques spread across three complexes.
In homage to American democracy, I wandered through Lauren and Armani
and all rest in T-shirt and Tevas. I can afford something nice, and
I'd like to have some nice new clothes for what promises to be an
exciting week. Besides, I hadn't bought any clothes since last July.

But I just couldn't find anything I found even marginally wearable,
except for Jhane Barnes' exquisitely patterned weaves at Nordstrom
(sweaters from $210, shirts from $140. ouch!). On pants, a
salescritter convinced me my official measurements hadn't changed one
iota, which was depressing enough. On shirts, half was visually
ridiculous, the other half requires an impossibly buff build. I guess
that's better than womenswear, which requires both... So there went
three hours of increasingly more frustrating shopping. Not that the
scenery was boring: I really am beginning to appreciate fashion, in
others, and ily hope to meet someone who really is up on and believes
in fashion. What's frustrating is the bundling: a woman with such
tastes probably comes with a host of other class distinctions I
*can't* work with. I don't mind losing my money; I mind losing my
mind. So out with the busloads of nattily enrobed Japanese truffles...

Across the street from SCP is a decidedly downmarket collection of
Best Buy, Linens'n'Things, Barnes & Noble, and other assorted
landmarks of the burbscape. Nestled amongst them is a comparatively
small supermarket-sized Nordstrom Rack, which after much searching
yields a Jhane Barnes (did I ever mention there's a United 767 with
her name on it? She must be a million-miler, since she commutes to
Japan for work and her husband's family) shirt for $24 (which fits
perfectly as an *L*!! my first non-XL purchase in memory!), an
orange-and-black 'plaid' shirt for $20, and the aforementioned tie for
$17 (trust me on the tie: I wanted to buy it last year at $65, it's so
niftily textured). I almost even plunked down $110 for new shoes (hey,
they used to be $280 retail... :-), which makes my troubles with
tonight's melting shoelace (and uppers -- never again with Clark's of
England!) all the more ironic.

Victory! Time to celebrate at the juice bar. Wherein I learn that all
those 'healthy' fruit concoctions I have been downing guilt-free are
at least 500 calories per serving! Jamba Juice, my ass! (actually, not
my entire ass, but at least one pound of pure fat over a year from the
excess above their 'diet' edition). Grr. Time to go home and wait for
an answer...

Two days pass without answer. I'm getting only mildly antsy, which is
a minor miracle compared to where I've been on the obsessive scale. I
let things pass without comment, without calling, or writing, or
spelling out goofy messages on her door with those magnetic poetry
fragments (hey! it's a mess inside this cranium! don't touch!). I'm
still being optimistic, hoping my homework will even get done. That
evening, I drop by the Gypsy Den, a coffeehouse at the LAB, the
archly-alternative 'anti-mall' across the highway from SCP. I plunk
down with my chai (no resemblance whatsoever to Indian chai, but
amusing nonetheless) and my laptop and the X Window System paper and
begin analyzing. The first sign something is amiss is that Burt
Renoylds sidles up to the bar in leather pants. The second is that
sixty or seventy people file into this tiny space, including some very
well-dressed folks like the raven-haired eighteen-year old poetess in
the velvet halter top and crimson lipliner across from me. That's the
clue: I've been surrounded by a Poetry Slam. So inbetween heartfelt
declarations of undying love and harrowing recollections of sexual
abuse, I'm criticizing the X font rendering model, back facing the

About halfway through, a stunning East Asian woman settles in at the
next chair and hearing a ring, asks, 'is that your phone?' More
terrified that she thinks it's some breach of poetry ettiquette than
anything else, I remind her it's in silent mode and return to my
paper. Nothing more is said for half an hour. As the session is
breaking up, though, she asks something that appears to have been on
her mind for a while, breaking a silence I was too timid and oblivious
to notice. She thought I resembled a med school student. I must admit,
back when I weighed 308lbs, no one ever thought I resembled anyone.
"No, I don't think I'm in the Med School, at least, no one's corrected
me so far," but I told her about ICS and discovered J is a housemate
of J', a fellow ICS student. Not only that, but J actually thinks it's
mildly cool to whip out a laptop and start writing anywhere, to rack
up the FF miles, and to have a 7,000 page home site.

So later that night, who could blame for cracking, and saying "Dammit,
I'm Jack Handey, and I'm *somebody*!" I honest-to-goodness invited a
woman to dinner for the express purpose of getting to know here better
(a "date") for the first time in seven years, and I deserve an answer.
Dashed off a one-liner: didja get my note?

"i did receive the letter, i was not sure it was for me at first because my
name was not on it. but i must tell you that i will not be able to make
it to your invitiation. i am really busy this weekend, and will be
probably until my qualifiers in the summer. sorry"

And now you know why it was time to file my quarterly Date Withholding
statement... Luckily, a fifth of tequila and an hour or two on the
phone with Adam and condolences from S helped me keep a happy face on
it all. My capacity for rejection may not (yet) be Jim's friend's (for
asking out his entire high school), but it's getting there.

And besides, the next day comes a missive from out of the blue. Three
Fridays ago, I sat in on Miss Kitty's KUCI show, Molotov Cocktail, and
here I have a winsome note in the ol in-box from B: 'My bags are
packed; when are you picking me up, [TRAVELMAN]?'. The very weekend I
already have the symphony scheduled for Thursday, an ethnic-exclusive
(largely) event for Friday, and an Indian picnic for Sunday, I get an
opening. Jes' peachy. Then J replies, too...

But first, conservation of luck dictates I'm going to get stood up
again. Thursday night, I fail to interest Clover's friend (also B) to
join me at the Symphony, but furthermore, Peyman stiffs me at the last
minute, claiming some silly multi-million-dollar grant proposal takes
priority over the 20-29-yo Classical Raves series. S immediately
declines, also begging off for work. Before trying to call J or B or
L, Jim Whitehead helpfully bobs his head and says, "I'm not doing
anything tonight; but do you think I'll have to put on some socks to
go to this?"

And off we went. Back the anti-mall, this time for the concert
reception. At the first concert, they were demonstrating mehndi,
Indian henna tattoos. The second, we had a national Yo-Yo champion
giving away Yo-Yos and teaching us tricks. This month, the hair salon
sponsored it, so we got to watch a makeover. Needless to say, there
was an overwhelmingly female turnout for the extremely technical
tutorial on 'protein separators' and other Star Trek technology...

The concert itself, with some crack 25-year old Israeli violinist was
probably better than either Jim or I have the taste to appreciate.
I'll just say that you get your money's worth from Shostakovich's
Concerto no. 5 -- no downsizable orchestras here! Afterwards, Jim and
I retired to the Irvine branch of McCormick & Schmick's, an upscale
seafood chain with a decidedly low-budget $2 gourmet late-night happy
hour menu. I used to live off of it in Pasadena, but I hadn't even
known one existed in Irvine. I'm glad to report their usual standards
on waitresses are being, ahem, upheld... J3 was committed to day two
of a new, stress-free life before she made it to our table. Has anyone
ever noticed that I radiate stress?

[4:19 AM. Time to evacuate Toi's. Tonight's fortune is: "You are a
deep thinker witha knack for problem solving." Hah!]

[5:23 AM On a rise overlooking a Pacific sunrise in Malibu -- a
spectacularly clear morning]

Especially when working at flirting. It's hard, stressful work,
goshdarnit. To put it in the politest terms possible, to downshift to
a merely socically tolerable level of geekiness. I was in the middle
of a fine rant that evening with J3 came by to check out our ticket
stubs, a friendly and talkative subject, if up somewhat past her
normal bedtime -- not a regular on the closing shift. Jim started
calculating my mean-time-to-pun, some obscure refernce I'd slip in
which caused her to exhale and suddenly click forward to the next step
of the script, killing the moment. For example, at one point a lemon
dropped on to the floor while clearing the table, and I complimented
her exquisite balance work in holding onto three plates while reaching
for it. She replied, "of course, what else can I do in this skirt?", I
flusteredly pointed out I was worried for the ceramics, not the
skirt-- involving a three step indirection from lemon to balance to
plate to breakage to material, which was enough to roll her eyes all
over again. But she was a great sport: she came back dejected from the
kitchen and swooped straight to her knees to apologize we weren't
getting our free dessert for our concert stubs because she forgot the
kitchen's last call. I, startled by the sight of our waitress' head at
table level, promptly fell under the floor laughing. So she comped me
a shot of Sauza Tres Generaciones tequila as a consolation prize. I'm
going to have to go back there soon, even if it's only for the Bayhawk
chocolate porter, and not J3...

The lesson there is that there's something essentially off-putting
about continuous intensity. (1) 97% of people don't like to think all
the time and (2) even of the 3%, 97% of them don't like it when you're
thinking all the time. It's too damn much work to keep up with me, I'm
told. I can certainly say it's not so easy on my end either, reaching
from stiff hair gel to protein separator to transporter beams to
Scotty impressions in a single bound... Total strangers who have been
exposed to as little as three hours of peripheral RoBits have been
conditioned to ask "Rohit won't be coming along [on our 'relaxing'
evening], right?"

Anyway, I gave Jim the keys, and staggered home. So much for getting
homework done on time this week. But it's for a good cause. I can't
imagine any particular assignment being genuinely time-critical enough
to put off a social event for. I place *that* high a priority on
making new friends or making FoRKpostable memories with old ones.

Adam, by contrast, is putting some silly security talk or other ahead
of coming down here to UCI for a Lisa Loeb/Sarah McLachlan concert
next Wednesday, which I already bought a pair of tickets for. (which
reminds me, doh!, I missed the student pre-sale for Ani DiFranco, July
3rd. Anyone? $26). Mockery being what it is, J wrote back -- so now
instead of 0 people to ask for my second ticket, I had to decide
between 2. In practice, it's not that hard. You have to ask one first

[RK: and one did: congrats to B! She has fine taste...]

And now, finally, we get to last night.

All I can say is, thank heavens I stopped to run home and grab my suit
jacket -- this banquet turned out to be some cross of Homecoming and
the Prom. And I refer to these teenage rites of passage precisely
because that's what I was looking at: 300-odd fully decked out 17-20
yo Indians. Quite a sight -- I've never been to an event like it. And
it certainly wasn't all paired up as dates -- I was right that it
wasn't that sort of high-pressure event. But, it was all broken out by
school cliques. And though there were 40 other (undergrads) from UCI
alone, I had table 5 all to myself, later joined by two guys from
Northridge and, AFAIK, the one other self-employed out-of-the-blue
attendee I saw, just one month younger than me.

So I guess that officially makes me the dirty old ma of the evening,
staring slackjawed at the sheer quantities of babeliness (and,
frankly, studliness) at the country club. There were precisely two
women who wore saris -- dramatically sexy ones at that -- but everyone
else was in state-of-the-art Western wear or over-the-top Indian,
midriff-baring fashion. The guys were all in their best casual suits,
straight outta Details. Charcoal and orange seemed a lot less
ridiculous once I got there.

Unfortunately, I'm too used to being a minority. My brain froze trying
to correlate all these Indian names. I just don't deal with that many
in real life! So there were only a very few lasting impressions. What
few unilateral introductions I could make kept triggering the
professional-acquaintance subroutine: where are you going to school,
what's your thing, did you grow up in SoCal? // I just moved back from
Boston, I'm working on the Web, and yeah, I've studied a bit of
<insert what other person is dedicating life to here>. One fifth-year
(ug) from UCLA just froze the moment in amber for me, though. Said she
was majoring in economics, so I retreated from the computer-geek route
and opened up the game-theory front. Attacked too far forward by
bringing up von Neumann and Morgenstern's _Theory of Games_, 1949; her
sophomore friend, still in braces, said all they'd done was boxes and
points. That managed to confuse the issue of whatever the hell it was
I said I did for a living, and I automatically replied "oh no, I've
always been doing both econ and CS classes, back to Caltech and
Harvard." "Oh, I see, you're some sort of Brain, huh?".

Ouch. Not just a brain, but an arrogant namedropper, too. (and she's
100% right!) Too bad all those pickup lines honed at IETFs for
recruting geeks go over so poorly on a dance floor.

Not that this was on the dancefloor. I'm just not a dancer -- it takes
serious bass and serious alcohol, as Jim can attest -- so all of a
sudden, memories of orbiting the 8th grade dance floor in a racetrack
came flooding back to me. Except the spectator sports were never this
boombastic. I mean, thug life rules this scene: all the best in
hip-hop, old-school, booty-shakin' moves, and MIL-SPEC security
frisking. Very twilight zone for a geek like me, much less a nice
Indian boy :-)

As much as I wanted what I saw on the floor: not just the luscious
young bodies, but also the uncomplicated happiness -- that's not what
I need and not how I'm going to get there from here. I'm OK with not
being stylish, attractive, or physically adept enough to attract
anyone without opening my mouth. And I can't expect the reverse. My
Economist-toting dream date is 97% likely not going to be at one of
these bunny hops, either. Sorry.

What qualities I have, can't be advertised. Call yourself an artist,
and you've labeled it: people might stick around to plumb your
presumably-crazed intellect to see if it's any fun. I haven't found
any ways of conveying the complicated character you see on FoRK in 30
seconds, though. Everything I can say leads to a tar pit: computer
geek, boring business type, snobbish globetrotter, arrogant academic,
and nothing that generally conveys the sense of art and uniqueness I
see in geeks.

And even then, I'd like to know what the secrets are for introducing
yourself to a group of women. Note group: they never leave the pack.
Men, you watch, you pick 'em off one by one. Life would be sooo much
easier if I were gay: I know how to pick up guys!

Eventually, the 3% of over 21s ended up at the club's bowling alley,
more specifically, the bar (& 97% of those guys -- all guys -- were
obnoxiously drunk). There, I ran into one of the guys from Ziba Music,
where I'd blown $75 on Indian dance music on Valentines' Day. The last
two hours were a lot more fun, but they were excellent dancers, and
there's only so much fun to be had spectating... Still, I'm hoping to
see one or two of them again, and we'll see what happens.

Bottom line: I still feel like an outsider, because sometimes it's
true. I really didn't know anybody there, and it turned out to be
fairly difficult to meaningfully meet people. But I've learned not to
let that preclude having a good time: I've passed that point where I
realize self-conciousness is a monster of ego: no one *cares* if
you're standing by the wall. At the same time, I still cling to my
outsider's crutch. I've frankly been pretty pompous about dismissing
the top octile of California's youth as beneath me: I suppose this
actually might be the real pool, and I'm just too stiff.

Enough analysis for today. Tomorrow's the UCI-CSULB Indian students'
picnic :-)

Onward through the Void,

Rohit Khare

6:19AM, Pacific Coast Highway, Five-Mile Canyon. [Time to go to
temple, fwiw]

[1] Adam and I have been writing all of our WWW7/XML papers at TOI in
Hollywood. We're sort of the geeky, 2:30 AM regulars. They're open til
4, so we do actually get work done their, while I admire the notably
Hollywood, exquisitely proportioned, coiffed, and pierced crowd for
both of us. Toi manager: "Duuude, what happened to the T-shirt,
shorts, and sandals?!" And yes, I am typing on a laptop at the Bar. I
just plugged it into the nearest strand of christmas tree lights.
You've really got to see this place... "rock'n'roll Thai food"

[2] "Hey, man, don't look at me. I don't volunteer information. You
never asked if I knew the Indian woman in our building..." Thanks, H.
Really :-)


[A very special bonus round for the, few, the proud, the profoundly
bored, who read all the way to the numbing end:]

Now I know why this message was so long. I was driving along the
canyons, mainly Mulholland, in the early light this morming, and I
played A.R. Rahman's recording of an Indian patriotic anthem, Vande
Mataram, and the moral of this story occurred to me:

There's no escape from cool.

See, being part of a low-N misfit community made it easy to believe
that all Indian-Americans were more or less brains and worked in the
same, unusual, ways -- that my kind of nonconformity was really
conformity to the group ideal.

Wrong. There are nearly a billion Indians, and the same standards of
beauty, wealth, taste, and class apply as everywhere else. It's not
that I'm excluded as an uncool geek only among 'Americans' -- I'm a
geek among Indians, too.

(BTW, if apply the additional premise that I am firmly American,
culturally, what pops out is precisely that my idenity is primarily
bound as 'geek', secondarily ethnic. Can we have a new master race of
Dilberts, the Geek-Americans? (or have Dertouzous and Negroponte beat
us to it? :-))