Shobhit and I have been together fifteen years, and his one and only family member I had ever met was his mother, twice, when she stayed with us in the springs of 2006 and 2008.
Until yesterday, when I met his brother. Shobhit is (very much) the middle child of three; Puneet is his older sibling -- the youngest is their sister. I actually did have a somewhat brief phone conversation with Puneet once in the summer of 2016 while I was visiting Shobhit in West Hollywood over Fourth of July weekend, and that was under bizarre circumstances having to do with Shobhit, which are way too complicated -- and personal -- to get into here, except to say that, at the time, Shobhit suffered something close to a psychotic break (that's not hyperbole, I mean it literally). It resulted in Puneet actually calling me over his own concerns about Shobhit, and one of the things Puneet actually said to me during that conversation was "Take care of him." In spite of the extraordinarily stressful circumstances of the time, I found Puneet to be surprisingly friendly and accepting, and it gave me a sense that the wildly rampant homophobia Shobhit has described in Indian culture for years was perhaps not as applicable to everyone as he had led me to believe.
Anyway, Puneet is in town now for a "education conference" at the Washington State Convention Center over two days this week, hosted by Amazon Web Services, whatever that is. He's here as the sole representative from the three schools he works for in and around Delhi -- if I remember right, Shobhit has said that India's conventional usage of "public school" and "private school" as phrases is basically flipped around from how they are used in the U.S., so I would bet he works for what we think of as private schools but what they would call "public schools" -- in any event, the better schools people want their children to get into. I did ask him if there is a lot of competition for students to get into these schools, and he said yes.
He has apparently been to the U.S. many times before -- among several cities he's been to here, he told me Miami was his favorite -- he just never made any trip to Seattle just to see Shobhit. That doesn't seem to be a personal slight or anything; it's just kind of how the guy is. He doesn't seem to be all that much of a "family man," and just as Shobhit predicted when I suggested it the other day, he had no particular interest in getting together with Abhishek and Vinaya (Abhishek being their mom's cousin but who is actually my age). I found this kind of surprising, but, whatever. In any case, work brought him to Seattle for the first time this time, and he accepted Shobhit's offer to let him stay in our guest room the four nights he'll be here.
Yesterday Shobhit picked him up at the Capitol Hill Light Rail station, and they got back literally minutes after Ivan left in the early afternoon -- this being the first time we ever had overnight guests so close together in a row, one leaving and the next arriving on the same day. They spent the afternoon together, and they walked down to Pike Place Market, which apparently Puneet was relatively interested in, but didn't give much of a shit about seeing the first-ever Starbucks coffee shop. (I get the feeling he is even less sentimental a person than Shobhit, and that's saying a lot.) He did decide he wanted to take a ferry ride, though, so he took one across the water to Bainbridge Island, hung out there for about an hour and then took the ferry back, all on his own. Shobhit came back to the condo rather than go with him.
So, Shobhit had a Braeburn Condos board meeting between 6:30 and 8:30, which didn't even last that long, and thus I was the one who made dinner for all of us. Apparently Puneet had said he wanted Italian food, and so I made angel hair pasta, with our usual plethora of added sautéed vegetables. We did go to Trader Joe's before Shobhit's meeting to get some ingredients that we still needed, including a jar of pasta sauce. And other than adding maybe a little too much pepper, I think I did rather well with it.
In any case, there was this persistent chance that Puneet would return while I was cooking, and that would be when we finally meet in person. But, I got the pasta all done and ready to go, and even a lunch packed for myself for today (I made the whole damned thing, I should get some leftover lunches!), and he still wasn't back. Shobhit even returned from his meeting before Puneet got back.
So now I have to take a serious detour for a moment, to report on something that has absolutely nothing to do with Shobhit or Puneet, except that it came to me in a FaceTime call I received while waiting for both Shobhit and Puneet to return. It was Gabriel, telling me I was "the key" to getting an answer to something that somehow to do with his friend Mandy, who was with him at the time.
Now, some brief background. Apparently Gabriel was showing Mandy some of the earliest photos he had of him and me, from the nineties when he and I had been college roommates (which we were, incidentally, for three years -- his first three years of college and my final three years). And they specifically needed to me to find out exactly when this photo, taken of me and another man holding the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus banner as we marched through the Pride Parade that year, was taken. It did not take me long to figure that out, just by searching for "matthew" and "slgc" on my Flickr account: it was 2002.
And that confirmed it, made real what Mandy was finding it so hard to believe after being stunned when she saw the photo. The man holding the banner on the other end of it from me was Mandy's dad.
Wait, what! I was kind of amazed myself. I don't remember that guy at all, just looking at the photo. My first question to Mandy was, "Was your dad queer?" She said, "Yes!" I think now she may have told me before that her dad was gay but I forgot. I can't keep track of the sexuality of every relation of every person I know.
So then I went to look at my full photo album for Pride 2002 (only 21 shots that year), to see if I could find any other shots of her dad, and I did find this one. (There is also this great shot of Barbara, who therefore also marched with Mandy's dad that year.) I sent both shots to her via Facebook Messenger.
I didn't even think to do this until literally while I was writing this: I went to find my LiveJournal post about Pride 2002, and I texted Mandy to ask what her dad's name was, as I wanted to see if by chance I had mentioned him. And guess what? I did! He is the "Stephen H" referred to here:
Once 4 p.m. rolled around, I went to the booth to take my own shift, shortly after which Barbara went home. I shared my shift with Stephen H, who told me a bunch of jokes (the only one I still remember: "What's the difference between a menopausal woman and a pit-bull? Lip gloss").
Later, Stephen said, "Hey look, it's Santa Claus!" I looked up and saw he was looking at George Bakan.
George, incidentally (whose last name was actually pronounced "Bacon"), was the owner and publisher of the Seattle Gay News (and according to their website, he still is), which I worked for from the summer of 1999 to the summer of 2000, and as it happened, actually he did look like Santa Claus. He was also a Grand Marshall in the Seattle Pride Parade in 2009 (I did not take that photo; someone I follow on Flickr did). And I hated that man with a fervent passion, wanted him to drop dead for countless years after I left SGN in the wake of a failed strike I had organized and spearheaded personally, and I even once wrote a poem about him called "When You Finally Drop Dead." I'm still pretty proud of that poem, truthfully. I honestly don't care so much anymore whether the man lives or dies, actually; for all I know, he's a much nicer person now. He was awful at the time. Being perpetually seven weeks behind schedule on payroll (meaning it took that long for me to get my first paycheck from him) and hoarding so many old Mac computers in the office that it was a genuinely hazardous work environment were just the tip of the iceberg. But, so much time has gone by now that I can't much be bothered to think about him anymore. I used to insist I would have a party when he finally died, but I just don't have the emotional investment in it anymore. I'd rather have a party when President Fuckwit drops dead.
I just went off on quite the tangent in the middle of what was already a tangent. Just a few last details about Mandy's dad being in SLGC the same time I was: in 2002, Mandy would have been 20. At that year's Pride, I was 26. Also, weirdly, 2002 and 2019 have the same calendar year, so those Pride photos were on Sunday, June 30 -- the same day and date Pride occurred this year. Mandy told me in texts this morning her dad actually passed away in 2015, of what was probably sudden cardiac arrest. He was 68.
Okay. So, back to Shobhit's brother. Shobhit got back from his meeting about a minute before I got off FaceTime with Gabriel and a truly stunned Mandy. I also figured out the earliest photo ever taken of Gabriel and me together (January 14, 1996, taking photos for the tape cover of the first of two or three "talk tapes" we recorded together) and showed that to them. I told Shobhit all about Mandy and her dad.
Still waiting for Puneet to return from Bainbridge Island, Shobhit and I sat down to watch the second episode of Sex Education on Netflix. We did not get very far before Puneet, who had the spare set of keys with him, came in through the door. Once he was in and had his shoes off, he came to me, shook my hand and introduced himself. "We spoke, once," he said, kind of quietly. Indeed we did: three years ago. "Yep," I said.
Soon thereafter I dished us all our pasta. At Shobhit's suggestion, we all had toasted buttered English muffins as basically a side of bread. Puneet asked me to put about half the pasta I had given him back, as he would not be able to eat that much. This might explain how he is visibly thinner than Shobhit, who can throw food into the back of his throat like a champ. (So can I, if I really want.) Shobhit suggested putting the show back on, "or we can visit," he said. there was some small amount of awkwardness in the air at this point, and honestly I felt like just watching TV literally seconds after first meeting the man would only make it more awkward. I wanted to be able to ask some questions, get to know him a little more.
We all sat around the coffee table to eat. Shobhit pushed it over so Puneet could still sit at the love seat; Shobhit sat on the couch; I sat on the floor as I often do when eating at the coffee table. I asked Puneet if he and Shobhit got along as kids -- apparently, and predictably, they fought a lot. I said, "We still do," gesturing to Shobhit and myself. Puneet said, "It's different with spouses." Of course it is; he's right. It was also nice to hear him referring to Shobhit's and my marriage essentially with the same respect he would anyone's marriage.
In any case, I found Puneet to be perfectly pleasant -- almost self-consciously polite. Honestly, he's kind of the opposite of Shobhit in just about every way imaginable. He doesn't even care for spicy food! Shobhit can eat heat that would kill the unconditioned. I realize his incredibly mild mannered, deferential demeanor would naturally be largely informed by the fact that he was our guest and he was meeting me for the first time. This is still a contrast to Shobhit, who can sometimes waste no time in finding some way to alienate even someone he has just met. Honestly, I'm starting to get the feeling that Shobhit is the outlier in his family in more ways than one, and not just that he's the only gay one, or the only one living in the US. Puneet actually has been living all of two blocks away from their mom in Delhi since 2000, although Shobhit clearly feels he doesn't visit her often enough. I think Shobhit frets over the well being of his mother more than anyone does. Which, honestly, I suppose is kind of sweet on Shobhit's part, even if he can overdo it a bit.
Personality differences aside, the family resemblance is kind of uncanny, and I get a little bit of cognitive dissonance observing someone else who looks so much like Shobhit (even though Shobhit insists he and his brother look more like different parents). It's also interesting how just meeting someone's family member can recontextualize them in a whole new way. An argument can be made for the value of this, just meeting your spouse's family, offering a different view of them. And I never got this sort of thing even from being around their mom in 2006 and 2008, because even though she was technically fluent in English, she could never quite decipher what I was saying through my accent, nor her through hers, at least what little she ever said to me; she really made no great effort to talk to me at all. I will always credit her, though, for being so insistent that I eat whatever she cooked until I was about to burst.
Anyway, not long after we finished eating dinner, we all walked down to Salt & Straw, at Shobhit's suggestion. Shobhit has always been deeply uncomfortable accepting the offer from someone else to pay for him, and apparently Puneet is the same way; they very nearly got in an argument about which one of them would pay for our order. Shobhit won out in the end, probably just because he's one of the most obstinate creatures on the planet. (As we all know, I have no difficulty whatsoever in accepting anyone's unsolicited generosity.)
Puneet and I both got the same flavor: "chocolate gooey brownie." The difference was he got his scoop in a waffle cone and I got mine in a cup and with caramel topping, and holy fuck was it delicious. Shobhit got a two-scoop waffle cone of a coffee whiskey flavor that I didn't even taste because seriously, fuck that noise. We ate our ice cream while walking north up Broadway and then to Volunteer Park, where we all climbed the water tower. This was the first time I was ever up there right at dusk -- by this time quite close to 10 p.m. -- and I had also brought the binoculars at Shobhit's suggestion, so I got some truly very good photos, as you can see in this very post.
Shobhit started to suggest walking to the other end of Volunteer Park before going home, but by this time it was actually just past 10:00, so I said, "It's getting kind of late so I want to get back." Then I added, "You guys can go if you want" -- but then Puneet piped in: "I'm exhausted." So, we walked straight back home, itself yet another mile of walking. We walked easily two and a half miles at least, total.
I set about getting ready for bed as soon as we got home, and so that was it for the day. It looks like we may all be going up the Space Needle today; Puneet was pretty interested in that. Shobhit noted that Puneet doesn't really take pictures of anything -- another aspect of his being totally unsentimental, I guess -- indeed, several months back when he kind of surprised me with a Facebook friend request, I discovered even his user pic is blank. His time line is exclusively posts from other people tagging him; he never even posts anything himself. (Shobhit did once tell me Puneet said to him about me: "He posts a lot." That is both objectively true and quite true compared to him!) I see now, though, that he and I do have two mutual friends on Facebook: Shobhit of course; and Abhishek, the aforementioned cousin.
It was certainly great to finally meet him, anyway. There was one moment I suppose I could have made more awkward had I chosen to, but I specifically opted not to: talking about his daughter, who is 18 and about to start college here in the States this fall. She apparently applied to and got accepted to the University of Washington here in Seattle, but the school she'll be going to is Purdue in Indiana. When I asked why that school, this was where the systemic sexism of Indian culture came through pretty starkly: "That's what I chose," he said. Evidently his daughter had no choice in the matter? Did she even have any choice in her field of study? She'll be studying engineering. I wonder if she has any other interests, or if she even cares whether she's been preordained to be an engineer. It's entirely possible she actually doesn't care.
Because really, this is how they are all raised to be -- is my broad understanding, anyway. There are times when I think even Shobhit is affected by this particular cultural conditioning, where in certain respects he thinks of himself as "the man" and relegates me to more traditionally female roles, and by so doing, perhaps even subconsciously, that makes him assume he can just dictate what I should and should not do, based on no other particular authority. There are times when that is a little crazymaking. The best I can say, I suppose, is Shobhit and I are fare more egalitarian in our relationship than certainly your average relationship, particularly straight ones, in India are. God knows, I tend to push back on any attempts to make it otherwise.
[posted 12:40 pm]