Passage to America

Posted: July 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

Pittsburgh, PA. 1993. 6th grade. Mr. Baladucci’s Spelling class.

A skinny Indian boy slouches in the back of the class. That’s me. Tongue out, eyebrows furrowed, meticulously erasing the letter “e” in “resteurant.” I was born in Cleveland, but had spent my entire childhood in this town. Aside from the standard travails of being an immigrant family in a mid-western American suburb, my childhood was good.

Everyone passed their tests to the front and Mr. B collected the papers. He began his lesson for the day.

I sauntered to the front of the class and quietly placed my test atop the paper pile.

“Can’t take that, Ashish-O. It’s late.”

“It’s, like, ten seconds late.”

“No can do, buddy.”

Though punkish, I was a good student. Years later I would experience the letters B, C, D and F, but back then anything lower than an A was unthinkable.

Enraged, I grabbed my test, crumpled it and threw it at Mr. B. The paper bounced off his middle-aged paunch and fell softly at his feet. His face turned as red as the stripes on the crisp American flag behind him. He pointed angrily at me, and then at the door.

“Out in the hall, Ashish-O! You’re in a heap!” he roared.

I had raised the ire of the angry, Italian spelling teacher. I was scared, but these moments provided tremendous cred in 6th grade. I strutted out into the hallway.

Mr. B stormed out behind me and slammed the classroom door. He grabbed me by the shirt and put his face inches away from mine.

“Is that how you act at home, you little shit?”

It wasn’t the first time a teacher or principal had threatened me with physical harm. It’s why children are so vulnerable- how can you know when boundaries are being crossed when you don’t know what the boundaries are?

“No,” I whispered and looked away.

He let go of my shirt and stood up straight.

“Then don’t do it here,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

He gave me the first of the many detentions I would have in my scholastic career. I had earned it.

When I reentered, the class “oooooooohed.”

The pretty girl smiled at me. The cool kid turned around and slapped me five. “Yea, Ashish-O.”

Mr. B was still cooling down. He asked the new foreign exchange student, Eugena, to read from the next lesson. The easiest way to keep my roll going was to make fun of the immigrant kid.

“Eugeeennaa Pupeeeza, the skeeeeza from Romaniaaaa!” I rapped.

The class laughed. Eugena blinked rapidly and looked down, humiliated.

“You’re pushing it, buddy,” Mr. B seethed. “One more peep, and YOU’RE OUTTA HERE!”

Everyone grew silent. I looked down, glancing at Eugena from the corner of my eye. I wanted her to be in on the joke I just made at her expense. She wasn’t.

———————————————–

Not too long after, my family moved to New Jersey. The move shook me. The neighborhood I grew up in. The friends I knew from the beginning of memory. The old, white woman at the deli who called me “tough cookie” and had knitted me a collection of stuffed animals. The pothole full of tar that I accidently ruined my new sneakers in while walking home. The small pond I dug into our gravel driveway that would fill with frogs on spring mornings.

Soon after that, my family moved again. This time it was to India.

————————————————————-

8th Grade English. 1994. Modern School. Lucknow, India.

The assignment was to memorize the poem “Tiger, Tiger,” by William Blake and recite it in front of the class.

My father taught at a university nearby and every evening we sat down for a nice, quiet family dinner at the campus cafeteria. Afterwards, I shouted, screamed and made meticulous lists of reasons for us to go back to America. In 1994, India was still a legitimate 3rd world country, and back then I was only interested in visiting every few summers. Though I loved the country, living there was no sort of an option for the young me, as I rather enjoyed carpeting, hot showers and pizza that wasn’t made from ketchup and imported Cheez-Wiz.

In an attempt to appease my discontent, my parents bought me the dog I had wanted all my life. I’ll never forget the little Pomeranian puppy darting around the house that first evening. Chasing tennis balls, learning how to use the stairs and peeing on my brother’s lap.

I stood in front of the class in a full uniform. My first day of school, I had worn a risqué Pearl Jam shirt and green jean shorts. By now, though, I had been fully acculturated.  My uniform was a crisp, invigorating gray and white. The knot of my clip-on tie dug into my neck and I was still lightheaded from the shoe polish fumes that morning.

“Tiger, tiger, burning bright

in the forests of the night,

what immortal hand or eye

could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

The class laughed.

“Array, boltha kaisa hai! (He talks so strangely)” whispered a girl in pigtails.

“Tie-GER, Tie-GER, BURNing BRIGHT!” said a boy towards the back, speaking in an overly exaggerated American accent.

The class laughed again and the teacher shouted for quiet. I was embarrassed. Like any kid, I was self-conscious. But my manner of speaking English had never been amongst my insecurities.

That evening, I spent hours in front of the mirror practicing an Indian accent and adopting the tonalities of my father. The same accent mocked in 90’s American pop culture would now serve as my armor against alienation.

But the armor is never enough. My math and science scores weren’t up to par with the rest of the students. Boards would be tough to clear. And I was often sick, crippled with unexplainable stomach pains. The local masseuse/herbal doctor came by to investigate.

“Oski naabi uthargayee (his “nabi” slipped off),” he explained as he forcibly pushed and pulled at my stomach.

“Nabi kya hothee hai? (what’s a “nabi?”)” I questioned, to no response.

I assumed it was some type of karmic tunic that had slipped off of my soul.

Then our dear puppy, which had been sick for a few months, passed away. My grandparents and uncle explained that the harsh medicines used to correct his stomach issues proved to be too much for the little guy.

My grandfather convinced my parents that enough damage had been done and it was time for us to go back. And we did.

But I learned my first important lesson in empathy that summer in a hot, humid Indian classroom:

Any one of us can be a stranger.

Militant Chicken 3

Image  —  Posted: April 8, 2013 in Militant Chicken Comic

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Image  —  Posted: March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

Militant Chicken, Issue 1

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Militant Chicken

Check out our first issue of Militant Chicken, a joint venture between Monkey Universe and Equadox.

Militant Chicken, Issue 1Militant Chicken, Issue 1

by: ashish kapoor

On a pleasant, lazy Brooklyn Sunday in late August my wife and I sat on our couch, digesting the delicious french toast she had just made. We had gotten married three months back and had just wrapped up our final wedding related event the weekend before. I took a sip of my coffee and stared into space. After a year of planning, from engagement to reception, we were all done.  No more thank you cards, invitations, decorators, stressful phone calls with parents, arguments, nothing. The dog was at my folks’ place and we had the day in front of us. I felt a flash of excitement. Those moments of untethered freedom that seem to happen less frequently as we get older. The moments when you remember childhood. Freshly cut grass. Mothers calling for their children to come home for supper. BMX bikes. A scrape on the knee. The smell of dirt and tar. Firing your Super Soaker 50 at the annoying girl next door. And Contra.

Contra_poster

What proper American 1980’s boyhood would be complete without Contra? Maddog and Scorpion try to stop the vile Red Falcon from destroying the universe. Machine guns, jungles, explosions, lasers and a fill-in-the-blanks storyline.

“How about we play some Contra?” I asked her. She had seen it growing up, but her Nintendo gameplay was mostly relegated to Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. “Yea, sure!” she laughed, thinking I was joking.

That’s all I needed. I had a Nintendo emulator hooked up to my XBox, so I flipped it on, clicked on Contra, chose two players and hit start.

“B jumps and A is to shoot.”

Within about 2 minutes it was Game Over. Which leads to my first of four lessons that I learned about marriage by playing Contra with my wife.

1. Use the Code (COMPROMISE)

“Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, start.

Just because we use cheats, doesn’t mean we’re not smart.”

- Moldy Peaches “Anyone Else But You”

One of the points of pride of my skinny, bespectacled youth was that I had beat Contra without using “the code” mentioned above. With that code, you got 30 lives instead of 3. And you still get the standard 3 continues, which means you get a total of 90 lives. If you can’t beat Contra with 90 lives, you probably have no friends and no hope in this material world.

I had sworn that I would never use the code. But I was playing Contra with the future mother of my children. Was it more important for me to continue to adhere to some childhood point of pride at the expense of her being able to play? What would it prove, besides making the eight year old version of myself proud? It’s also worth noting that that eight year old was a virgin and had never tasted the malty goodness of a Guinness.

I put in the code, and we were off to Stage 1: Jungle.

2. Don’t Leave Player 2 Behind (PATIENCE)

We shot, flipped, swam and exploded our way to Stage 3: Waterfall. While every level in Contra is horizontal/side scrolling (aside from the pseudo-3D levels Base1 and Base2), Stage 3: Waterfall is the one vertical scrolling level. If one player goes too far ahead, the player being left behind automatically dies. When you see children play Contra, this phenomenon will repeat itself endlessly until the player getting shafted throws his controller or slaps his partner in the mouth. As such, it is the truest test of maturity and patience.

I made the initial mistake of going too fast to kill off impending enemies. My wife’s player died as a result. I got a dirty look, reminding me that it wasn’t 1988 and I wasn’t playing with my younger brother or some shitbag down the street. I re-calibrated my technique, slowly marching up the screen, clearing enemies from her path and at least minimizing the unbelievable number of times her player was getting killed. Slowly but surely, we made our way to the Aliens inspired stage boss and blew his intergalactic head off. His metallic guts exploded and we were, for the moment, victorious.

Contra_(NES_version_screenshot)

3. Give Her the Good Weapons (SELFLESSNESS)

A crucial element of Contra is the weapons. These are power-ups you pick up occasionally. Once you die, you lose the weapon. Here is how I would rank them, from worst to best:

1. Regular pellets: These are single buckshots. Though accurate, the bullets travel slowly and are pretty weak. A skilled player could beat the game with it, but that’s like giving a rich dude money. What’s the point?

2. Fire: By far the cheesiest weapon, it loops around in curly-q’s, slowly meandering its way towards the target. It’s called “Fire?” It should be called “Fire’s Hot Friend that He Has NO Chance with. EVER.”

3. Machine Gun: Solid, All-American weapon. Powerful and precise. Makes badass sound.

4. Laser: Technically speaking, this is probably the best weapon. It is extremely powerful, makes a decent enough “Zzzzzzzzzow!” sound and is difficult to get. But my boyhood heart still beats for….

5. Spread: The bullets fan across the screen, making calming “woooosh” sounds as their waves of destruction spray all over the screen like a vengeful porn star. It may not be as strong as Laser, but its range more than makes up for it.

I shot down a Spread power up and moved to claim it. I looked at my wife’s character, fruitlessly firing the Regular, white bullets haphazardly across the screen.

“Babe, you get it. Take the Spread!”

She grabbed the power-up, joyously shooting bright red bullets all over the stage. Seconds later, her player was dead. Another Spread, lost to the annals of history. But it doesn’t matter.

“The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.” – Pierre Coreille, French Poet and Dramatist considered the creator of French classical tragedy, 1606-1684.

Emboldened and validated by a dead Parisian, we continued our pursuit to the final stage.

4. Give Her the Last Shot at the Heart (LOVE)

Sweating and exhausted, we staggered to Stage 8: Alien’s Lair. We battled aliens, scorpions and angry vaginas (see below).

contra4b

Finally, we arrived at the game’s end boss: a giant beating heart surrounded by little anemones that hurled scorpions at us. I shot out the bottom anemones, cutting the scorpion quotient in half. We then started taking shots at the heart, while I occasionally blasted the predatory arthropods descending from above. The heart became darker and louder. Straining against the barrage of bullets, it beat faster and faster to pump blood into the Mothership.

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A few more shots and the heart would explode, the game ending with victorious 8-bit music and a helicopter, with us in it, fleeing the exploding island. I put my controller down.

“You finish it off, babe,” I said, nodding solemnly.

“Why? You kill it.”

“I want you to have this. I want you to feel this.”

She smiled. A couple more mashes of the button and the heart exploded. The celebratory music played. The helicopter took off. The island exploded.

contra-3

“Congratulations! You’ve destroyed the vile Red Falcon and saved the Universe. Consider yourself a hero!”

Beating a video game never felt so good.

SkyFall

Image  —  Posted: March 4, 2013 in Uncategorized