They tritely say that when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. Well when bad shit happens to me, I figure at least I’ll get a funny tale from it. Heading to Astoria last night to retrieve my lost and found cell phone, I figured I might get an amusing update to yesterday’s post. Perhaps an interesting addendum. But as my magical mystery tour became longer and longer, stranger and stranger, I soon realized I had an entire post.
Before leaving for Queens I told a few friends where I was going, just so they would know where to find my remains. A couple warned me that I was no doubt getting lured back to a pervert’s den to get raped, pillaged, and murdered. But I didn’t think so. The guy on the phone, Maneek, sounded very friendly and gave me too much of his own personal information to be considered shady. Nevertheless, I brought no cash, hid my plastic down my underwear, and discreetly armed myself with a stainless steel pocket knife.
Arriving at 36th Avenue in Astoria, I found Maneek’s supposed apartment building projects-esque, a dice game happening on the stoop and weed smoke wafting thick in the air. I rang B1 and no one answered. Rang again one minute later and still no response. I thought the buzzer was probably broken as it is in most low-income facilities.
I waited for someone to exit and snuck in, trekking past countless hallway-hanger-outers to B1. I rang the doorbell and was greeted by a minuscule Bangladeshi man in a longi skirt.
“Are you Maneek?”
“No. I am Charbak.”
“Does Maneek live here? I’m the guy that lost the cell phone.”
“Ah yes. Please remove your shoes and enter.”
I removed my kicks–embarrassed that I was wearing white socks with black shoes–and was led to a well-kept living room with a massive 50-inch Samsung flatscreen.
“Please sit. I will go to get your phone.”
This was weird, I thought, but I did as I was told.
Charbak left the room and remained absent for several minutes. The apartment was fairly large, certainly bigger than my Manhattan flat, but I had no clue where he could have gone and what was taking him so long. It was getting fairly creepy. I made sure my knife was easily accessed as I watched a Bengali sports highlights show (locals, did you know our Time Warner packages actually have Bangladeshi TV? No shit, check channel 575).
A few minutes later, Charbak returned with my phone and his cousin Maneek, a 6′5″ Bangladeshi also clad in a longi.
I grabbed my phone, finding it in still-flawless condition with 181 missed calls and 22 missed texts. No funny business at all perpetrated on the device amazingly enough. I profusely thanked both Maneek and Charbak and turned to exit. But, Maneek, the far more talkative of the two, refused to accept my thanks and exit. In fact, he continued to apologize to me. “For what?!” I asked.
“For making you come all the way to Queens, sir. Please sit.”
Maneek was super nice but from the corner of the room, Charbak eyed me suspiciously and, I thought, possibly with disdain. An awkward silence. What I was I supposed to do? I decided to get some answers.
“So…uh…where’d you guys find the phone….?”
Maneek looked at Charbak with a “go ahead…” nod.
Charbak claimed that he had been mine and my friends’ cab driver on our drunken Friday night return home from the bars. He hadn’t found the phone til Monday morning’s backseat clean-up because the cell had slipped deep into a seat crevice.
“Do you remember me, Charbak?” I asked, instantly recalling in my head that my friend T is always a big loud, drunken asshole to livery drivers and was no doubt a big loud, drunken asshole to Charbak that night. Later, conferring with another friend that was in the cab, I unfortunately confirmed my suspicions.
“Oh, I remember you,” Charbak knowingly said. But before he could expound with vitriol, the ever-smiling Maneek butted in.
“Would you like some tea, Aaron?”
Actually, I did have a developing sore throat from a weekend of debauchery, but I also had Upper West Side dinner plans at 7. I wondered if it would be an insult not to accept tea. “Would it be an insult not to accept tea?” I asked. Without the smile leaving his face, Maneek replied, “Yes, of course it would.”
“Tea it is then.”
Maneek barked something in Bengali at the younger, milquetoast Charbak who bolted from the room.
Once, Charbak was gone, Maneek looked at me, dead serious.
“Aaron, do you like ‘Iron Man?’”
“I just got it on digital video disc. Let us watch.”
And so as we waited for Charbak to steep the tea, my new Bangladeshi friend and I watched ‘Iron Man’ while discussing such topics as: Maneek’s new American citizenship, the presidential election (Maneek was leaning Obama), the fact that he had first lived in Oklahoma City upon moving to America thirteen years previous, my coincidental childhood in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh, Maneek’s family background (wife and children still in Bangladesh), how Bangladesh is a failed state, and the fact that Robert Downey, Jr. is fucking awesome.
After about fifteen minutes, Charbak returned to the room with a massive silver tray which he placed directly in front of me. It was a monumental spread of oddball homemade Bangladeshi foods I had never seen nor heard of before. Some wet tubular pastries called chomchom, another pile of powdered treats that looked like doughnut holes, some sherbet-orange-colored kesar kheer pudding that had the consistency of lard, and a glowing yellow coleslaw-looking thing full of golden raisins. I have a great poker face but my agog eyes must have betrayed me this time because Maneek tried to reassure my lingering doubts with just one word:
“They are Bangladeshi sweets for you to enjoy, Aaron.”
I was decidedly not hungry enough for such a massive spread, I certainly didn’t want to ruin my dinner which was just an hour away by this point, I somewhat feared the potential for a poisoning as Charbak and Maneek were not digging in too, but I didn’t want to offend and I quickly recalled how just this weekend I had bragged to my friends that I’m not scared to eat anything. So I dug in.
And you know what, the food was actually pretty good. Each item had the strangest consistencies, consistencies no American or Americanized foods ever have, but each dish was not half bad. I particularly enjoyed the coleslaw raisin thing. I ate far more than I wanted to and that was still barely enough to get a quarter of the spread down.
As I ate, I kept giving over-exaggerated, orgasmic mmmmmm’s, continually looking at Maneek to note how tasty the food was. When I could take no more I assured Maneek it wasn’t because I disliked the grub but rather because I was stuffed. Finally, Charbak returned with the tea. Thick and milky, it looked more like a latte. However, it tasted like tea and was absolutely delicious. After a few seconds of sipping, my throat and sinuses were completely clear, I felt healthier and more refreshed than I’d been in days. Nice.
Having barely spoken during the entirety of my stay, Charbak finally began to gab.
“So you go out drinking every single weekend?” he asked me, clearly knowing my type. An overeducated, undercivilized, brash, entitled white asshole that gets drunk every weekend and takes expensive cab rides home courtesy of struggling immigrants like him.
I nervously smiled before categorically denying the charges.
“No, no. Not every weekend. I’m too old for that. In fact, I barely drink at all. Only special occasions.”
He smiled, not buying my bullshit in the least. Maneek chirped up, “So what is your poison?”
“Poison?” Aha! They were finally ready to poison me!!
“Yes. What do you like to drink?”
I didn’t know what to say. Was this a trick question?
“Do you like whiskey?” Maneek asked.
“What kind of whiskey do you like?”
I was to the point where I was answering questions as if I was asking questions in return.
“Ah yes,” said Maneek, “bourbon is good.”
Maneek’s smiley smile became a devious smile for the first time all night and he rushed out of the room, leaving me alone with Charbak again. I had nothing to say to Charbak and he just kept staring at me with a weird look on his face like I was some alien guest. I used my silent time to try and come up with an end-game to get out of there. I tried to down my tea but it was too hot.
Maneek returned with a clear and unlabeled 750 mL bottle full of a brown liquid.
“Let us have some Bengali whiskey.”
Things were getting strange. “I thought drinking was illegal in Bangladesh?” I asked.
As Maneek took two glasses off his shelf, he Cheshire Cat smiled. “Oh, it is.”
He poured us each a glass, totally ignoring Charbak who flipped to “The Daily Show.”
“A toast to new friends!” said Maneek as he threw down the whiskey. I made sure he swallowed it before I did. Again, it wasn’t bad. Smooth and fairly complex, like a Jameson 12 maybe. But it hit the back of my throat hard like firewater. I would guess this Bangladeshi mystery whiskey was somewhere in the 55 to 60% ABV range. I coughed a bit after the shot, but the whiskey too helped my ailing throat.
Was I allowed to leave now?! I excused myself to go to the bathroom. After a quick leak, I thought about making my move, giving these two Bangladeshis an old-fashioned Irish goodbye. I could have easily executed it too as the bathroom was near the front door and leaving it would not involve passing back through the living room. No, I couldn’t play my Bengali boys like that. I returned to the living room.
I finally recalled the reason I was supposed to get to Queens so quickly in the first place: Maneek had told me earlier that he had a Bangladeshi party to attend in Jackson Heights at 6:00. It was already 6:30. “Hey, don’t you guys have a party to attend?”
“Ah, yes. But we are having too much fun here with you, Aaron. Please, take your time.”
I was halfway through my tea.
“Some more whiskey?,” Chabrak asked without glancing at me.
“How ’bout I quickly finish this tea up and then I’ll go?”
“Fair enough, Aaron.” And Maneek again ordered Charbak to do something in Bengali. This time Charbak left the apartment.
When I finally finished the tea a few minutes later, Maneek escorted me out of the building, where Charbak waited with their cab parked in front.
“You took the N train?”
And so Maneek forced me to hop in the backseat and they drove me to the subway station. There, the two men got out of their seats and proceeded to give me ten straight minutes of handshakes and hugs and “good to meetchas” and “thank yous” in the street before ultimately releasing me from their grips. Finally, Maneek handed me a small notebook and a pencil.
“Aaron, that phone of yours we found? Please to write its number down. We are having a Bangladeshi party in two weeks and you are invited.”
Uh…OK. Guess I better go get my longi dry-cleaned.