Livinghigh: October 2004
Saturday, October 30, 2004
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A street-cat named Desire?

Restoration project

The idea behind a new blog for all my old stuff has been there for a long time. It just took me ages to implement. It was getting tedious to check out the old website which had all the old stories and articles, and even when I took the pain to do so, it was infinitely clear to me that many of the entries were hopelessly outdated, and in dire need of adjustment. The process began slowly over the past week, when I made some effort to ressurect a couple of the old ladies and applied a bit of rouge on sallow cheeks - distemper them a bit. Call it a restoration project of sorts.

So it was back to the drawing board again, back to Blogskins, and back to making choices (detailed, informed, concise, finicky, naive, clean-cut) on what colours to implement, what cuts to use. After all the diva-doing, I decided on Gabbles. Old tastes are very much in presence here. I simply cannot go for any skin with a lot of black, or any colour that screams out over the top, or any colour that is not blue. ;-)

Obviously, the restoration project will take quite some time yet, and hopefully, it will not be abandoned midway. I'm still hoping those fancy dreams of mine, as you can tell! Reality bites, true, but still not that hard!

Monday, October 25, 2004
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That time of year again

That time of year again, when the Bong in me resurfaces with a dash of colour. Think about all the past puja holidays, what they have meant for me, how I've spent them all with my family and my friends, a few key moments, a few key mementos.

The drawings, for example. My earliest puja memento is this stick-figure rendition of Durga and her entire family, all very ceremoniously arranged around a sprawling mahi-shashur, who is crawling out of his buffalo's body, like some ancient alien creature. That picture still adorns the glass door of my mum's cupboard, and I pause to look at it sometimes, at the amateur brush of gold and silver paint that a ten-year-old had slathered on a sheet of white writing paper in an inspired moment.

I remember walking in an endless queue of people, waiting, waiting, waiting to come up in front of that raised platform in the pandal to see the goddess... those little novelties in a pandal made a world of a difference - whether the pandal was air-conditioned or not (nowadays, of course, most of the hoity-toity pujas in Calcutta are) , whether the ornaments of the gods were of sholaar kaaj (traditionally made with paper and silver thread) or in golden mesh, whether the goddess had the conservative round face with long eyes that stretched on till the sides of her face, or she had the more latter-day goody-goody smiley face... small, simple things that evoked much heated discussion in the car, as we went to the next pandal, hoping to catch yet another spectacular glimpse of Durga in yet another spectacular avatar.

I remember the nava-durgas, specially. This mega-pandal in Garia, a satellite town of Calcutta, which had Durga and her family presented on a huge central pandal, flanked by nine smaller enclosures that depicted the goddess in each of her nine chief avatars... aaaa, the Hindu religion is a fascinating, spellbinding thing. I remember needling my mum and dad to drive us all the way out to Garia to see the puja, and the fights on the way, as my mum grumbled at my dad for his back-seat driving, and my dad complaining that mum had not paid enough attention to parking in her driving classes... and my brother and I naming the two of them Tom and Jerry. Deciding who-was-who was, of course, quite difficult altogether!

Or the time I stood in front of the Park Hotel, one Navami (the night before Dashami-Dussehra), waiting for my friends to show up, before we all went gallivanting late into the night, pandal-hopping and merry-making, and having a story to tell them when they finally did arrive twenty minutes late, of the pimp who kept asking me to sample his 'girls'... I remember that time, when we finished our pandal-hopping into the wee hours of the moring, and walked over to the Ganga, to see the sun rise from the ghats. I remember thinking that this must possibly be the most beautiful sight I had seen.

Scattered fragments, all, and yet many more within me, simply too numerous to ever recount in one single story. This is that time of year, and that's all I can say. Just... that time of year.

To everyone then: shubho bijoya

A short story I wrote ages back in college, ressurected, with little tweaks.

The Eternal Moment

I'm nervous. I've probably never been this nervous before in my life, and but for the type of person I am, I would never (ever!) admit that to anybody but myself. Actually, barely even to myself - I'm sitting here, looking straight ahead, a dazzling smile on my face and nary a bead of perspiration atop my forehead, that isn't lined with a single furrow. So, if you were somewhere other than where you are, if you had anything open before you other than the window to my soul, you'd never be able to tell my nervousness.

She smiles.

My heart stops.

But I keep on smiling, even as my mind spirals back at a pace faster than lightning to that first moment I spied the glitter of that particular diamond underneath the glass. That particular ring in that particular velvet case that she's handling right now before me. I can see that moment clearly as if it had lasted only seconds ago. All that planning and all that fussing. All that debating and wondering as to what she would say or do. And then, I walked out through the glass doors, my pockets weighed down, my head turned this way and that, and a tiny voice, the kind you hear about in fairy tales, squeaking in my head. The kind that I never knew existed before I laid eyes on her. What was that voice - higher karma... conscience... or just plain dumb-stick talking?

This is another defence mechanism, you see, this inane, nonsensical chatter in my mind. Anything at all to take away the feeling of those wildly careening butterflies within my gut. This is not just any old denial involved here, you know - my infallible ego is at stake! I suppose that sounds pretty petty of me - the love songs never talk of paeans to the Self, do they? They're all about eternal devotion and sacrifice and silly things like that, ignoring the really important issues like costs and jitters and sex. Listening to me, you'd be at odds with yourself - I'm hardly the model case you'd expect to come about, with your preconceptions about the Lover About To Stick His Neck Out. But I'm also a person here who's very obviously conscious of the single fact that he's just pushed his neck inside the crocodile's jaws. I'm waiting, waiting and watching, while the reptile yawns, making up her mind whether or not to drop the guillotine.

All of a sudden, I'm very conscious of the fact that I kept her waiting in front of the cafe last Friday for an hour.

She's lifting the rock up to her eyes.

Is that a jeweller's lenses there, held ever so delicately between manicured fingers?

(And to think: the song I was drumming my fingers to last night in the car was 'Love don't cost a thing'.)

Panicking, panicking!

She loves me, yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Just think that, and you'll be all right. She's been hinting for ages, so you're really just following orders here. There's nothing to be afraid of - she'll smile, wear it, and thank you for it. And yes, if she thanks you for it, that means she'll marry you. (There's never been a case in the annals of rejection where the bitch drops you like a hot rock but prefers to keep the ice instead, is there? Fingers crossed here!) Think positive! No panic! No panic! Cool.

I can see her eyes glitter at the ice. She likes it. I may be inept at reading women's minds, but I can tell obvious pleasure when I see it... She likes it.

Her mouth opens slightly to an 'o' and then purses up. She wants to say something.

She's lifting her head up, her eyes are definitely shining! She definitely likes it! Loves...?

She's going to say something now...

Smile, smile, smile... You're not nervous, not nervous, not nervous...

"It's heavenly!... "

Saturday, October 23, 2004
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Body Mass Index

Making a comeback on the weight index, I am afraid. Visions of being fat-boy-around-the-corner dance sometimes before me, and yet, I refuse to go with my brother on his maniacal walks to Carter Road (and beyond), and his perambulations at the altar of the great goddess of fitness therafter. He tempts me, offering me sundaes at Baskin Robbins after the evening's quota of sweating needless bullets is done, but I manage to resist, content to stay at home, play spider solitaire for the umpteenth time on the computer, and feel my belly burgeoning. A mental picture that the world will never forgive me for unleashing upon it.

But I am gaining weight, they say. Poor, misguided Sharon says, it shows around my chin when I smile my zillion-dollar smile, and since I do that about once every forty seconds, I suppose she was trying to be polite when she told me that it's noticeable "at times". Sigh... I will reconcile myself to playing Gloria Gaynor's I will survive on the stereo, while I play my umpteenth (+1) game of spider solitaire. There are those chocolates in the fridge, the pile greatly diminished from the mountain that had been stuffed in there only a week back. The sweets that mum brought over from Calcutta are all finished now - Rajbhog Mukuto rules, I hear those scatterbrains in my nightmares roar. My answer: pray Gaynor sings louder! And every time I hear some blooming analyst on Moneycontrol swear that he is frikkin 'overweight' on some frikkin stock, it unleashes violent images before my eyes.

My kingdom for a gym, my kingdom for a cheap gym, is my eternal prayer.... and yet, the only gym in sight is Rs 1500-per-month Crunch next door, which promises to leave my wallet smoking. Working out remains a distant dream, and everlasting hate for smart-alecky gals in a Sion shoe-box who flaunt their gym-connections is a reality.

Welcome to my mad, bad, overweight world.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004
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faith, sorry, Faith

Grab a piece of the rainbow, the old lady with the gold tooth said, as she shuffled up the stairs to the church. Absurd, of course, as there had been no rain for the last week or so, Nashik was water-starved, and a rainbow was beyond reckoning. But she was adamant, as she got down on her haunches now, and clasped her hands together. She was speaking to the statue of the Infant Jesus at the far end of the church, hoisted up above the altar, a perfect imitation of a miniscule Bal Gopala. This was the heart of Maharashtra, in a town that titles itself the City of Pilgrimage, with a board proclaiming the same pinned on the wall outside the Taj Residency hotel, that in turn announces to all and sundry that they are welcome to the industrial heartland of Maratha-land. Mixed signals, perhaps? But that was altogether beyond me, as I spied the old woman, wrapped in brown, with a scarf the deep dark shade of ebony atop her head, and her spectacle frame glinting a glassy ochre, as she now started moving towards the statue of the Infant Jesus, on her knees.

Maybe I was imagining it, maybe she wasn't really saying 'Praise the Lord' as she moved on her knees, maybe I had imagined her advising onlookers to capture rainbows in mid-flight as well. Maybe it was all part and parcel of the age-old gag about perceptions moulding and deciding how you see (and hear, doubtless) things. Ho hum... Bal Gopala, or Infant Jesus, or Bala Yeusha, as the old Marathi man at the corner put it.

She was moving now, and at a pace incredibly faster than I could have imagined anybody her age doing, but then I could see another man buying candles (a whole dozen of them) at the corner shop, which he was going to set up below the altar, and there I was, myself, hunched up on one of those smooth rosewood benches, sitting forward, watching the old brown woman, the tall candle man, watching the frescoes on the wall that depicted the crucification of Christ, and I remember thinking - wasn't this a bit too gory for a church dedicated to the infant Jesus, all these gory scenes of crucifcation? And I wondered, too, whether it was sacriligeous of me to recall the astonishing charges set forward by Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code, while among the pews of a gleaming church - but shall I ever be able to think of Christianity in the same light again, without thinking of Da Vinci and Dan Brown, and the rest of the rigmarole? But enough said, and not enough done. Isn't it time I got along with my prayer?

So I say my prayer then, and I arise from my rosewood pew, and I walk toward the door. The brown woman is trundling through the pages of the fat bible placed beside the altar, her crawling is over, and I can distinctly hear her say things about where rainbows can be found if you look hard enough for them. The candle man is gone now, but as I leave the church, I can see his dozen candles all set up in a line, twelve equal brothers, flames licking, flickering in the semi-dark below the altar.

Bal Gopala, or Infant Jesus, or Bala Yeusha, as the old Marathi man at the corner put it. Maybe it's all a matter of faith, sorry, Faith.

Monday, October 18, 2004
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Bride song

Sitting home this evening, and listening to songs that a part of me is attracted to. Songs that remind me of love, songs that remind me of friends dancing the night away, of other nights spent in a room over a bar of chocolate doing the rounds as various men, women and bitches of both genders are discussed, happy nights spent snuggling close to someone, days spent mooning about a person and the things you've done with that person, and so on and so forth. There's a beat there, somewhere. Hasn't some wise old/young man/woman in some wise old/young age said something about a song fitting every man, every mood - well, if not, at the risk of sounding pompous and overbearing, let me be that old/young man. That / between 'old' and 'young' remains, because I'm still quite unsure of where I fall. Call it one of the confusions of mental adolescence. Call it what you will.

Then, there is the woman I see sitting hunched everyday, down the street where I live, perennially in her glittering red bride's garb, with a white polythene bag in her hand, her eyes searching the ground for that mystical, mythical seed that will grow into that tree of bounty she is always on the look-out for. I stand and look sometimes, and try hard to be unobtrusive, but don't really think I succeed any time, and try to make out what she's doing there, why she's dressed like that. Spin strange yarns about her. Something in true Bollywood ishtyle - about her being jilted at the ground, about her fleeing the sacrificial fire when she discovered she was being sold away by her family to some toothless old bald man, or some other strange medieval tale. I picture her there, then, watching for some prince charming to emerge from the shadows of the lower middle-class Marathi-dominated neighbourhood I live in, who will perhaps give her something more than her search for the mystical, mythical seed can grant her.

I see her chatting with the shopkeeper, and the taxi driver, and I wonder what she's saying, when I walk back home from work. I think about her red gauze veil, criss-crossed with gold, and cheap mirror work, when I hang up my trousers in my closet. I need a new pair, I tell myself, and I'm wondering now whether she ever says that about her red veil. Her sari she changes, I can see - but they're all like that, in dark red-magenta hues, with brash golden work, that jars in the morning light, and shocks in the dusk as it cloaks Bombay city. And sometimes, sometimes, I even wonder what she owns in that white polythene bag, faded and stained, that bulges softly down the middle.

But I am yet to hear a song that fits her. Some people are like that, too. They do not fit a song, and a song does not fit them. Strange, I mutter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004
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Candid camera

Ever get the feeling that there's more to life than what you're doing right now? Wake up, glance at cell phone alarm, just itching to peal out, turn it off, and then go back to sleep. I don't even panic any more when I wake up 45 minutes late, even though I'm supposed to be the first one in for work, by virtue of the exasperating nearness of my house to my office. I used to grumble about that at one point of time but hell, I've even stopped that.

So I yawn again, and head for the loo, and switch on the radio before that, and step over the prostrate form of sleeping flatmate, bundled up like an Egyptian mummy's least favourite cat, take a glug of chilled water from the fridge, and head for the loo again. The music from the radio does not really filter through the walls of my tiny airplane-loo, and even if it did, it would stand no chance against the crashing, thrashing water sounds, but I guess it's psychological in some way.

Like when I come home to an empty flat, and usually switch on the radio first thing, and then I wonder whether my life is getting to be one of pathetic loneliness, but then again, I reason, how could anyone as supremely egoistic as myself turn out to be lonely in his own company?

This post almost reads like a sad entry, but I swear I'm not.

Knock next door, and tell my neighbour-cum-maid to come right in and wash the clothes. There's my laundry bundle out there, tall and mighty and soft and unpressed, and there she gets to work. She titters a bit at the mummified cat-flatmate, but she has work to do, and I have breakfast to eat. Smear mayonnaise on bread, then some jam, and clamber on the window seat, and take a bite of the mayo. There's still somebody from a bygone era singing about his achy-breaky heart, and a jhatka bhangra song follows on its heels. It's a mad, bad world, I say, and repeat the cliche to myself again, as I turn a page of the Sidney Sheldon paperback I'm reading, taking a bite from the jam now.

Finish a chapter, cock head at the new song on the radio, and recall that special someone I still have not been able to get over in some way, and clamber down from my perch. The sandwiches are gone, the mummified cat has stripped off his coccoon and gone into the loo, and my maid is sweeping the floors at the side.

I'm leaving now, I say, please do wash my clothes, and she nods and smiles, and says she will. Tell the man who irons clothes to come tonight, I remind her, and she nods her head again, saying something in Marathi that makes incomprehensible sense: yes.

I'm leaving now, the picture of domestic bliss.

Saturday, October 09, 2004
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A broken episode

This is an experiment. Thought of a picture and this is what came out of it. I may decide later on to write in continuous prose - but for now, broken lines will suffice.

Beat of drum, shard of trumpet, conch of shell, tremble of bell
Celebration, jubliation, mourning, sorrow, passing
Full circle rarely comes, live your life half
Walk in the night, tread soft, hear jingle-jangle, padding feet
incense smell, misty eyes, blink again
white and orange flowers, wreaths adorned
Shining hair pleated black, faint smell of oil, lavender
ancient words that speak of wisdom/ or is it nothing at all
Walk on, walk on, glitter girl, brave young boy
Carry on carry on, litter man, time over
Meet at the cross roads
exchange glances
An omen?
what say?
Exchange fearful glances, consult astrology books
pray to the stars
what does it mean - your guess is as good as mine
Interrupted by a conch shell
Live life full circle
what goes around comes around
Carry on, litter man, glitter girl, brave young boy
nod heads, wipe eyes, hunch shoulders, carry on
Shards of thunder, torrents at the ghat, rice pot tumbling over
Glitter girl has red feet
litter man has wet feet
could brave young boy have cold feet?

Any guesses what the picture in my mind was?

Friday, October 08, 2004
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Tomorrow, it will be three weeks since I set foot in Bombay. Strange to think of it being so long already. I'm so used to just tossing my head back, and saying nonchalantly, when people ask, 'O, I just moved! Miss Delhi like hell!' But, gawd, a whole three weeks? Seems almost absurd - whose life am I living, anyway?

Another thought bubble: My house has to be in pristine condition by next Tuesday, when mum comes calling. God help me - a biased mum from the start, determined to smoke out stray cobwebs and naked light bulbs and springy mattresses: tough competition for bloodhounds?

(A disclaimer is due here: I love my mum, so you can all go aawwwwwwwwwwwwww now.)

Thursday, October 07, 2004
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I beg your pardon?

This city has taught me how to beg nicely. Startling revelation that struck me today, as I begged my flatmate to repay me the money he owes. And then, of course, I remembered the coying, execessively sugar-coated wheedling I had tried on my next-door maid-cum-neighbour, to coax her in my 'employment' for Rs 400 a month. Please, aai, we are poor boys - first job - big company, but no money we get - understand our situation, aai ... understand...

Or the nonchalant begging whenever I get off a cab or a rickshaw in this city. That is a class act, of course - the trick is to beg without seeming to - look at the cabbie/rickie as if he's an insignificant creature, but still hold out your palm for the small change he owes you - it's your birthright, and you don't even notice that your palm is outsretched.

Whenever I visit my brother's place, I employ a devil-may-care type of a beg posture. Yes, I'm going to eat the imported chocolates you keep in your fridge, so what? Yes, I want you to take me out for dinner - at least I'm being considerate and saying I'm too tired for a 5 star tonight! But the underlying theme is always, always, always: please, please, please, PLEASE don't tell me to get back to my crummy hole in the city! Please, please, please let me come and visit your place and eat the chocolates and have dal-sabzi-rice-roti for dinner!

It's all in the posture. Whoever said beggars can't be choosers obviously never lived in this crappy city.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004
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Comment: I'm getting nutty here

The woman with the flaming hair stood at the head of the cliff and wondered what to do next.

Common mythological sense demanded that she jump, hair radiating out in a dazzling red, and surrounding her aura as she fell. It was straight out of a movie set, actors rushing about her and all, something like those cheesy Hollywood fantasy pieces that were 'inspired' by some anacient Greek legend - aka, Conan the Savage, Hercules the Hothead, Kull the Conquistador, with a little bit of artistic license, anything is possible. She will henceforth be known as Raka the Gleamer.

But of course, no one knows what a Gleamer is. Consider this theory then: once in the seven ages of man, from within the pearly insides of the sea, emerges a firebolt, daughter of the earth beneath, ringed in fire, cradled in chaos, all sting and flutter, and when the fireball dies out, there remains in its place, a maiden of exquisite beauty, but fearful visage to behold, who makes the hearts of men quake before her, and villains tremble in her wake, for she leaves none spared, even as mere mortals can spy the fire-burn of her flaming tresses on the horizon, a tale to tell to future great-grandchildren... for she was... Raka the Gleamer.

So of course, the smooth, free-flowing logic of legend and lore would demand that she jump. Somehow, though, beautiful Raka reminds me of a chestnut mare, and I wonder if chestnut mares jump off cliffs. My miniscule imagination assures me, most definitely, they do not. I do not know what on earth chestnut mares do.

Eat oats, Raka the Gleamer, standing at the edge of a cliff?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004
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Need more coffee here

Met a person who is afraid to be what he is not, the other day. Plan on meeting another person tonight, who is not so sure of his life. Hell, we'll shake hands and make conversation, and laugh at jokes of things we said and did years ago.

Disjoint worlds never seemed so conjoined before - like some strange Siamese phenomenon, connected at the hip, individual bodies and minds yearning to break free, but very much part and parcel of the same deal.

And then I laugh, and sip coffee, and marvel at the intricate details of the book I'm reading, very textbook comic hero narrative, but infused with these little gems of codes, or anagrams, or bits of legend and trivia, that make me keep on turning the pages, even though I cannot stand the schoolboy way of writing.

Sample: What they saw in the rosewood box stunned them. It was not the chalice of Christ, the Holy Grail, by any long shot, but the realisation that it was something far more arresting, far more important, made them even wonder for an instant whether they could believe the evidence of their own eyes.

Everyone's a critic, somebody once said. Hell, I never pretended to be any better.

Monday, October 04, 2004
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Doodling devils

An idle mind is a devil's workshop, or so they say. Sounds like a great status to jot down for your Yahoo Messenger, if you're the kind who likes to attract attention, upraised eyebrows, and comments on hereditary insanity - like I do. Works both ways, really. Works either way.

The other day, a friend I have not seen for ages messages me, and asks me what on earth have I done to myself, with all this devil nonsense. So I smile (cyber-grin), and I hem and I haw (cyber hem-haw), and I draw successive smileys, and answer that I've always been like this. God, it felt great talking to her after such a long time, felt great hearing someone you haven't met in ages telling you that you still sound the same, that you still are funny, and that she still wants to meet you now, despite all the eras that have come and gone while you and she were apart.

And then, you call up somebody else, late-night STD, hoping, hoping, hoping that she will pick up the phone, and you can surprise her with your voice - Hey! It's me! You even have the imagined giggling and quealing down pat - this is how she'll respond, and she'll love the fact that you called up after so long, and she'll adore the fact that a part of you is still in love with a part of her. But the phone keeps on ringing, and you try a second, third, fourth, fifth time, and you tell yourself that BPO activities leave one exhausted at night, and she's had an early night. So you shrug away your mild disappointment, and settle down to have a bland dinner in an office you've been in for the last 14 hours.

But happy endings are like layered wedding cakes - it takes tier by tier to get to the top, and it gets creamier as you get there. She did call me the next day, and she told me I had missed her birthday. So I laughed and I hemmed and hawed (thank god, no cyber hem-haws) and I told her how I missed her so completely. And when she asked me what I was doing with myself in this strange new city, with so many strange people on either side, I laughed with all the memories of holding her hand, and said, Nothing - I'm just idle. And of course, my little devil responded with my own Yahoo Messenger status message.

Friday, October 01, 2004
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More than 12 hours of varnish

Sitting in a squeaky-clean office that somehow reminds me of a Henko commercial, and thinking of - of all things - a midnight with stars overhead, and a crackling smouldering fire ahead, sparks dancing, faery and otherwise, all glow and all sting, as the hoary old Red Indian in his frayed cloak, sitting hunched on the cold ground, tells you the story of his tribe. It's almost as if he brings alive those fights with nature, the ongoing war with life, the harsh hunt, the bear-fights, the joys of sowing grain, and the cool spray of a thousand waterfalls.

Welcome to dreamland, the varnish-tinged brain within my skull says. Welcome to anywhere you want to go, my imagination sighs in content.

See the corporate logo of the office you work for, 9-to-5-or-even-6-7-8-9-today-11, and then think of the rays of the rainbow darting out like some strange... somethings. Lost a train of thought there, as I give in to the harsh drums beating in my ears, courtesy the walkman still thumping on the plyboard desk, in its battery-induced beat. Somethings, somethings, somethings and somethings more.

Welcome to depravity, idiocy, genius, senility, severity, serendipity, sloth. Yes, I think that's it, in the end: welcome to sloth.