It was one of those dinners that happen way too infrequently nowadays. Fungus was there. The author and the missus. Pastrami completed the four-umvirate even though he was only half the man he is normally. Bags under his eyes. Shoulders slumped in exhaustion. Mouth pursed in that weird way of those who have worked 36 or so straight hours on an investment banking deal that will yield rich dividend in time.
(While I sympathized with him, inside I leapt for joy. The more he worked, the more he made bonus and the more he paid for Long Island Iced Teas at the Hard Rock Café. He rounds his credit card bills to the thousands you see.)
Alas money is not everything. Nothing can buy back sleep once lost. Not even a lucrative buy back option. (Got it? Got it?)
But also it was Pastrami's birthday celebration redux.
Earlier this week he had spent the night of his actual birthday hunched over his laptop at the office doing the things he does on tough deals. Making term sheets, creating spreadsheets, downloading porn, playing Poker on Facebook, hitting on the ladies in HR. They call it ‘the grind'. A party had been out of the question till the deal had been closed and both parties signed on the dotted lines.
Thankfully a couple of days later he emerged from his professional tapasya an exhausted but satisfied man. A quick round of phone calls later we were all at Tamnak Thai. Heinekens were being sipped. Pastrami was awake but looked grim.
Normally, regulars at this blog will know, Pastrami has a tendency to slip into precarious predicaments. There was the infamous time when his family realized he was gay. Also I did poke him in his eye once with my stylus.
But this time we assumed him grimness came from just having worked like a dog all through his birthday.
"Pastrami the usual?"
Thai green curry and steamed rice. The missus, another veggie but one bored of Thai green curry all the time, demanded a change. She ordered a refreshingly different Thai red curry.
These veggies I tell you...
Fungus wasted no time in ordering a herd-killing spread of lamb, pork and chicken. All cooked in the Thai fashion with generous helpings of lemon grass. Also much chilli.
We dug into our food with feverish gusto. (Note: The food would reciprocate fiercely the next morning. We are talking Krakatoa here. Lava. Pompeii. It still hurts. Freaking magma.)
Pastrami continued to be silent. He chewed in slow motion. He was completely quiet except for a brief moment, which gave us hope, when he asked for a diet coke. But he went back into his shell again.
"Dude. Something wrong?"
"Bad day at work...?"
I reached for the Thai Red Curry. The missus dissuaded me with the pointy end of a fork between the third and fourth knuckle.
"Arrey yaar. What is this reticence? Why don't you talk to us? We are your friends no?" I said fighting back tears bravely.
"No I don't want to. It's embarrassing."
Whoa! Embarrassment and Pastrami? A blog post loomed. If only he would open up. And I could type.
Fungus chirped up: "But tell no? Sometimes it's good to share things with friends."
Pastrami took a deep breathe. And then narrated his short but lively tale while we sipped our Heinekens and tried not to think of permanent tendon damage.
Pastrami had been called to attend a meeting with his boss late the previous night. The meeting was at a client's office and it had something to do with Corporate Finance or Slump Selling or some such topic I remember flunking with aplomb.
The whole team, some seven or eight people, stuffed into a small conference room. Once everyone was settled Pastrami's boss flipped open the laptop and began the presentation. Pastrami was expected to note down the client's reactions and questions.
A few moments into the presentation Pastrami notices that the client CEO's laptop screen has quickly moved into screensaver mode. The way they sat in the room, only Pastrami could see it.
The screensaver was a version of a recent Swimsuit Calendar. The CEO had one of those VAIOs with 19-inch screens and vivid life like images on the LCD screen.
Pastrami is only human. He was distracted. In the beginning he pulled his eyes away to the excel sheets and models and Powerpoint on the large projector screen. But in time he began to anticipate each model on the screensaver. The way her hair blew in the wind. The way the sand stuck to her bum. The way her voluptuous...
"Pastrami! What do you think of the slideshow? You've been quite interested in it! Which parts did you like?"
The client CEO boomed with a smile on his face.
"What?" Pastrami frantically clutched at conversational straws.
"What do you think of the slideshow? Anything you liked in particular?"
"Don't be scared of your boss. Give me your honest opinion..."
Pastrami figured this guy was a real stud. Not harm in playing along if it meant the deal would go through.
"Well I really liked Deepika's picture. Sheetal was a little too aggressive if you ask me. That little tigress! Sarah Jane would have rocked. But that's just my opinion. Ha ha ha!"
The room reverberated in deathly silence.
On the drive back Pastrami's boss spoke to him: "He was referring to my..."
"Little Tigress... damn..."
Just as he ended the story the Tamnak Thai people brought in the cake we had ordered for him. There was a candle on it that had already been lit.
And around the candle our message:
"Happy Birthday Pastrami! May 2008 be your year with the LADIES!"
"Happy Birthday Pastrami!"
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