Meet Cyrus Chutt Chutneywala of Baroda, Gujarat, waiting for a friend in the the Factory Tavern on Andy Warhol Square in Pittsburgh. His friend, Romesh, calls the bar to let Chutt know he’ll be late and the waitress inadvertently hits the speaker phone and public address switch and lets the entire clientele know she has a hard time getting past that name, Chutneywala. Thus begins Clark Blaise’s comic story “Waiting For Romesh” from his brand new collection The Meagre Tarmac, just out from Biblioasis. (See Philip Marchand’s review in the National Post.)
Clark is an old friend (dating back to the early 1980s and dg’s Iowa Writers Workshop experience) who once made the mistake of inviting dg to stay the night. Clark and his wife, Bharati Mukherjee, were sharing an appointment at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs and living in palatial splendour in a huge house on Circular Street with an octagonal carriage house and mistress apartment in back. DG somehow managed to stretch that night into three months (this was in the days of dg’s impoverished apprenticeship, um, actually, he is still an impoverished apprentice), the walking definition of a Horrific Guest. Clark moved away, dg stayed in the house til it was sold. He wrote his story “Dog Attempts to Drown Man in Saskatoon” in the little glassed in conservatory.
Clark Blaise is brilliant story writer and memoirist, intelligent, cosmopolitan, a master of point of view. He has lived multiple lives and written about all of them, from his impoverished childhood in Florida, Pittsburgh and Winnipeg to his extended sojourns in India and his long and eminent teaching career. He is the author of 20 books of fiction and nonfiction. He has taught writing and literature at Emory, Skidmore, Columbia, NYU, Sir George Williams, UC-Berkeley, SUNY-Stony Brook, and the David Thompson University Centre. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2003), and in 2010 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Nowadays, he divides his time between New York and San Francisco, where he lives with his wife, Bharati Mukherjee.
WAITING FOR ROMESH
By Clark Blaise
These are the random thought’s, over a late afternoon and early evening, of a balding man waiting for his friend. What is the evolutionary advantage of thinning hair? Could it be that balding apes sensed heat and rain before their hirsute brethren, knowing to seek shelter, thus having more playtime to pass on their genes?
According to theory, one monkey out of an infinite number working on an infinite bank of typewriters will create a flawless draft of King Lear. It puts a human face on the notion of “infinity.” Two or three might come close, misspelling a word or deleting a comma, which seems somehow even more miraculous, more human, and tragic. It signals a failed intent. Perfection seems just a more refined form of accident.
Higher altitudes are cooler because fewer molecules are available for collision, thus releasing energy. Given infinite time, every molecule in a confined space – even if the molecules represent the world’s population and the confined space is earth itself – makes contact with every other.
All roads lead to Rome. It is said that if one sits long enough at a café on the Via Veneto, everyone he has ever known will eventually pass by. This has not proven to be the case, however, for Cyrus Chutneywala of Baroda, Gujarat, seated this afternoon at The Factory Tavern in Andy Warhol Square, Pittsburgh. Cyrus, called Chutt by his Indian friends and Chuck by his colleagues at the Mellon Bank, has been waiting through a long afternoon, dinnertime and now early evening for his Wharton batch-mate, Romesh Kumar.
“I hope you weren’t offended,” the waitress said half an hour earlier, when she set his third narrow flute of beer – this one on the house – in front of him. She is tall and thin, wearing black jeans and a slack, black cutaway T-shirt. He searches for the proper word: singlet? Camisole? Her dark, krinkly hair is gathered in a ponytail. It was she, standing at the end of the bar, who had received Romesh Kumar’s “please-tell-Mr.-Chutneywala-I’m-late” phone call. She accidentally hit the speakerphone and public address system at the same time, alerting indoor and outdoor customers to a Chutneywala in their presence, and that she thought “Chutneywala” sufficiently amusing to ask for a repeat. Everyone had heard her giggle. They overheard her half of the conversation. “His name is what? Chutneywala? Come on, man. Who shall I say is calling? Everyone also heard “Romesh Kumar.” He had no secrets.