Wednesday, September 26, 2012

babel


he was the kenyan boyfriend of my german landlady ellen, an ex-colleague at jp morgan on 5th avenue when i was renting a room in hell's kitchen new york. he was also a friend of my roommate gene. he'd visit us after work hours when ellen left for germany after she had quit her job. and that was when babel and i became friends.

i would be fiddling in my room with my les paul and my second hand korg triton synthesizer that i had bought from a canadian guy over at ebay when babel would drop into my room. sometimes we would hang out over a beer or two and a couple of joints with some other friends of gene. he said he wanted to learn how to play the bass guitar and he wanted me to give him some lessons.

he invited me over to his place on a weekend but i never went to people's houses so i was reluctant but he insisted and dragged me to brooklyn to his apartment. he was a baker, by the way, and he baked the tastiest fruit tarts, chocolate croissants, jelly danishes and whatnot, and quite often he'd bring us some leftovers from his work and they all tasted extremely good.

in brooklyn, babel then took me shopping with him saying that he was going to cook something called muffet that was a common dish in his home country kenya. we bought some fish, meat, and vegetables, grabbed a couple of six packs of beer and went home. he started cooking and i started chatting with a girl that he picked up from the subway the day before. he had this talent that he could just talk to any random girl on the street and coax her to be friends with him enough to come visit his apartment that same day.

he then showed me a bass guitar that he collected from somewhere, it was a nice looking guitar but he didn't exactly know how to play it. so i would be playing my les paul and he'd be trying a couple of notes on the base. and we hung out like that quite a few times.

and then one day he asked to borrow my keyboard. i was a bit shocked, actually, i didn't expect anyone to borrow it. i had big plans with it, but the truth is i wasn't playing it much and it was mostly left collecting dust on the side of my room. reluctantly, i let him have it and his face just lit up.

so babel, my other guitarist friend tanveer, and i would hang out from time to time partying around and eating muffet. and this muffet was an interesting thing that we always ate off of a large silver platter. he would put rice in the middle, scatter the vegetables around it, put some fish or meat at the center, and a super hot green jamaican ball pepper at the very top. then we would all go wash our hands and we all sat around and ate together from the platter with our hands. it was a bit uncomfortable at first, but soon we got used to it.

at one point, ellen came back from germany and crashed in our apartment because i told her she could do so whenever she returned. her apartment was practically a library with wall to wall shelves full of books on any subject under the sun you could think of. allen loved philosophy but her dream was to open up her own restaurant where she could teach people how to eat the right food, not the junk that newyorkers typically ate. start with spinoza, she said, if you want to study philosophy. you need a good, simple starting point, if you want to understand philosophy, then you add on from there, she coached me.

later on, she moved to babel's apartment, we became good friends, and at some point she asked me to have dinner with her. so we met at some italian restaurant ordered the food and a big bottle of red wine and struck up a conversation.

maybe it was the wine, our conversation was so sparkly and intense that we asked the waiter for another bottle, and he obliged. soon afterwards we finished our dinner but the wine wasn't even halfway down. so we asked the waiter to pack it for us to go. but he politely declined that there was no provision for him to do so. the bottle must be finished or left there. it could not be carried out.

embarrassing as it was in retrospect, it was at this point i lost my composure and started getting angry at the waiter: what do you mean there's no rule to carry this out? we paid for this bottle, haven't we? customarily, he tried to reason with us, failed, and walked away. and this was when in a true warrior-like fury i poured the contents of the bottle all over the table and couches where we were sitting, to the amazement of the group of  people sitting a few tables over who cursed me out in disgust: what a jackass!

by the time a big burly guy came chasing after us with a white napkin in his hands we were already downstairs and out in the street. we practically ran away from him, to his chagrin, laughing our butts off when we reached a safe distance.

we hung out for a bit longer and ended up at babel's apartment, exuberant and happy from drunkenness. babel wasn't going to be home till the morning and there was only one bed in the apartment. ellen offered me to share the bed with her, but i thought about babel and i told myself that i just couldn't do that to my friend. what would he think when he came back in the morning and saw us sleeping in his bed? so i slept on the carpet in the other room.

it was many years later that i found out from tanveer that the two had broken up, and he and ellen enjoyed a two week long ecstatic jaunt right after this incident in some hotel room nearby before he turned down her offer to go to germany with her and get married.

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