“So, what did you do over the weekend?” Mike asked, as a matter of fact.
It was one of the top questions from a standard list asked by Americans on a Monday morning in office. It is not asked with a serious intention of really knowing what you did over the weekend. It is just a question asked to make sure it has been asked. I loved such questions. It helps you to have a conversation with someone that you otherwise don’t have much to talk about. You can even ask this to someone you hate!
But this particular question always made me nervous. When you live in California, the weekend question is all about who you are! You are a software programmer at Google. Doesn’t matter. You are the Vice President of a startup that is making millions every week. Doesn’t matter. It was your weekend answer that made you. It couldn’t be made up. That would have been easy. It had to be true and it had to be intense. Surfing in the Bay…Trekking along the Pacific coastline…Skiing on the Sierra Nevada…You get the idea. The most physically intense activities top the charts and bragging rights with colleagues in meetings. Things could be less intense too. Like watching television. But then it had to be a game that you were watching and the local team should better be involved. If you watched at home, it had to be with friends invited over barbecue. If you went to watch a game in a stadium, the entire story had to be told with tailgate activities, game statistics and player strategies all laid out as a series of personal opinions and observations.
As you can see, it wasn’t that difficult to answer that question. It was a nightmare for me though. I never did any of those activities as an adult, forget doing it as a kid. The Bay waters in Northern California are very, very cold. I tried dipping my legs in the waters once. I don’t understand why no one gets it. There are sharks too. Salty water on brown skin mixed with heat from the sun makes for a very sticky experience. Why bathe in it? Good conditions for skiing are possible when everything around you is very, very cold. I watched television though. But, I kind of just watched television, if you will. I didn’t intensely live and breathe it. If players played well in one team, they became my favorite for winning that game.
I began innovating in this department so that I didn’t look like I wasn’t cool over the weekends. I also tried avoiding the question if possible, by going for a stable cop out, “Didn’t do much, was busy with the family? How about you?” That was it! Right back at you! At times, I made a visit to the Hindu temple. But it was like going to church. You just do it. You don’t talk about it. I read books. That turned out to be good up until I realized that folks who also read the same book started asking me a lot of questions about the character, the author, the intent and the message. There, yet again came the uneasy part. I didn’t read books to talk about them.
“So, I went to visit Muir Woods with the family. What about you?” I said it, finally.
“Well, that’s wonderful. Liked the redwood trees? Is this your first time there? I’ve never been there before!” Mike said.
That was it. It worked. For now. Up until the question came up again a week later.
There was a catch though. Doing touristy stuff while being a local wasn’t something you could pull off every week. That night, I lost sleep on a particular thought. Did I never do anything exciting in life so far? Something that had an adrenalin rush? Something that was risky, not safe, but was still fun? Was athletic? I thought long and hard. It went on for a couple of hours. I went back to my childhood where there were no skiing lessons to take, no surfing lessons, no family outings in the woods or any place other than a nearby store to buy groceries. Ah, buying stuff. The thoughts rushed like waves in an ocean.
How about, boarding a running bus that refuses to stop even with you waving hands violently while standing at a bus stop. Well, it requires a lot of coordinated running and a focused ability to pick a small gap to place your foot on the board of the bus while holding on to a small piece of metal at the top or end up pulling someone else’s hair. Miss anything and you accelerate into a vehicle in front of you that you missed watching. Jeez! I had a survivor example of athletic ability.
Then of course, getting down a running bus as the driver expects all young men can just get down no matter what and he doesn’t need to waste energy or the brake oil to come to a complete stop. Getting down with a sideway glance while timing it right so that you don’t get hit by another bus speeding on the other side. Maintaining balance and poise so that whoever is watching, which is usually nobody, end up being amazed by your cool moves. And of course, keeping your feet in motion while touching the ground so that science doesn’t make a fool out of you. Check!
Holding two bucketsful of water instead of one so that you save time and take more volume of water to fill in and refill within a stipulated period of time before it is all gone and you wouldn’t have any water to take a bath for the day. Good muscle coordination, extreme balance and dedication so that the water doesn’t spill and go to waste. Firm footing so that you don’t slip and fall while holding a bucket in your hand. Rookie mistakes avoided. Check!
Standing in queue at a shop, a bank, a bus stop, a movie theatre, a temple and using your hands, shoulder power, legs and a foul mouth to stop every person who breaks a queue from not doing it right in front of you. Avoiding being socially insulted by a lowlife, who may be a rich neighbor, from taking your spot. Sizing up the opponent that you threaten with unfulfilled consequences for violating an unknown law around standing in queues with decorum. Avoiding the big sized women and the drunken men by being alert while spreading your hands to prevent others from taking your place. Wow, tears ran down my cheeks. It was a bit too much to take for me. I was impressive and I didn’t even pat myself on the back or appreciate myself for this in the past! Strong character. Check!
Running after a football in a soccer game. Competing with ten or twenty other friends who also just hope against hope that they get to at least touch the ball with their feet. Doing all this while playing on the street where you get knocked down by a passing vehicle or bit by a street dog. Kicking the ball with the singular motive of hitting it wherever it needs to go and even then, somehow manage to score a goal even if it was a self-goal and in the ensuing commotion you just signed up for the opposite team and hence scored it right. Integrity and dexterity in the face of utmost unwanted commotion for something as trivial as a game. Competitive and competent sportsman. Check!
Study for school examinations in failing light that flickers due to voltage fluctuations that happens due to power pilferage. The tube light, an extended piece of money saving tubular structure, fusing out, following which you keep rotating the hot tube up until it automatically lights up again. Keeping a candle on standby but not wasting it as it has to be used again when it really matters. Keeping the bugs and mosquitoes at bay while studying mathematics. Mental focus, acumen, amateur electrician skills. All check!
Bicycling hard on a road while being chased by street dogs that just want to have fun biting humans. Using wisdom in avoiding streets that have a pack of dogs active with a history of biting. Keeping eyes and ears open to warnings from fellow riders and walkers about what streets to avoid. Keeping away from rowdy elements on the street who get into fist fights just when you are crossing them in your bicycle, potentially getting you mixed up in the fight or have your bicycle taken on a free lease. Locking your bicycle and then keeping the key safe so that it is not lost while always having a corner of the eye watching out for the bicycle so that it is not stolen, since locks are for suckers. Doing cardio exercise on a bike under extreme mental stress and threat of physical harm. Check!
Taking cash to buy items in a shop and remembering the mental calculations to be done on the spot so that you don’t get cheated and your money taken away by a cunning shopkeeper. Keeping the one-rupee coin handy so that the shopkeeper doesn’t shoo you away saying he doesn’t have the exact “change” to give, thereby making me sacrifice round off errors. The elaborate circus of money management in life. Check!
Huh, the thoughts were still racing, but I realized it was quite impressive. I did do a lot. It just happened as a matter of fact that I didn’t bother to recognize it with any value in life. This gave me a great boost to my dwindling ego. I felt a newfound energy in feeling better about not doing much now as I had already done a lot in the past. My body took a lot and I think it was fine to take rest watching a game of curling on television without being judged.
A week passed by and the customary question came up on a Monday morning. I saw Mike walking up to me. This time, I took the initiative. I just joined a gym nearby home and went there for a day. I was confident that I would never skip the gym. I can talk about the workouts I did with the help of an overenthusiastic sales guy who doubled as a trainer, eager to convert my membership to an annual plan.
“Hey Mike! Good Morning! So, what did you do over the weekend?” I asked with enthusiasm in my eyes and preparedness in my mind.
“Didn’t do much, was busy with the family? How about you?” Mike said, casually walking away while still looking at me.
That sounded familiar. I smiled back at him. Was it all in my head after all!?