Bombay, Bombay, India
December 31
Icy Highs is the writerly alter ego of Tharun James Jimani, author of 90s pop culture novel, 'Cough Syrup Surrealism' (Fingerprint! Publishing, 2013). He has lived in Chennai, Glasgow, Dusseldorf, London and Singapore over the last twelve years, and is- in Animal Planet parlance- a 'serial immigrant', and averse to nesting. He writes to keep the moss from gathering.


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APRIL 10, 2012 4:28AM

Extremely loud and indelibly close

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It has now been a little less than a month since I upped and left my Old Life, and re-joined the Fam. This is easily the longest I have spent with them since the Summer of Love & Detox, 2005, which was a recuperative stint post-rehab and probably doesn't count. In other words, this is the longest I have spent with my family without compulsion -or a padlock on my door- since I finished school in 2002. That was ten years ago, back when Facebook was still a gritty little chromosome in Satan's ballsack, cheering on Zuckerberg's synchronized swimmers from the stands. 


I left home before my nephew and niece were born, and though we've always been in touch, we have never really spent more than a few hours together in the same room. Which is why I jumped at the chance to take responsibility for their conveyance from their home to that of my parents for their summer break. Summer-at- grandparents' is a family tradition, and plays motif to my favorite childhood memories. My cousins are all grown up and too busy now to spend an entire summer in front of TV or playing cricket under rubber trees like we used to, but growing up together -if every summer- helped create a bond that will only be nourished by age. 


Many summers ago- Wagamon, Kerala with the gang


With my younger sibling soon expecting her first-born, I want to ensure these kids have something similar to look back on when they're fucked up and miserable in their late twenties. It helps. I diligently planned the twelve hour drive, penciling in educational, recreational, nutritional and excremental pit-stops. I loaded universal favorites on the MP3 player - surely, even Noughties kids would appreciate the possibly-racist but undeniably lovable durability of Sweet Home Alabama?  This was going to be our Memory; this was how they would remember their coolest uncle after his promising writing career was stopped short by alcoholism and too much hour-long nookie. Or got run over by a scooter while crossing the road from his security job at the mall. 


Over the Easter weekend, I came to realize that my sister had talked me up over the years into an almost magical figure of superhero-like abilities to entertain kids. My nephew and niece had endured several hours of toilet-training, teeth-pulling, math classes and violin lessons to please their walking fun-fest of an uncle, and were -surprise!- rewarded with bicycles and skateboards and doll houses. Though they were a little disappointed that I arrived and left while they were asleep every time, they were no less thankful- and expectant of more super-fun times.    


Now I'm no expert but children are not terribly reasonable creatures. I was therefore prepared to hit a few rough patches on the way, confident that we would prevail with a little compromise and understanding. What I hadn't steeled myself for was the weight of their expectations. You've never really let someone down till you let down an 8-year old. They're not very adult about this either - they don't swear and punch walls like ex- girlfriends or parents. They just accept it, albeit with a little initial reluctance. When they finally come to grips with the fact that Uncle Cool is in fact quite boring and doesn't really have that many interesting stories to tell, they just go: "oh, well." They shrug it off. They have no time or patience for disappointment.


It drives me mad. I first noticed it around a quarter of the way in. I had just confirmed to my nephew -for the third time- that Uncle Cool could neither fly our Toyota nor grow a crazy beard and populate it with bees like the freak from that program on some channel. Call me petty but this speech was met with such utter disbelief both the previous times that I was almost beginning to believe that I probably could do one of those things if I set my mind to it. I mean how hard can it be to fly a car? I waited for their pleas to try, their chants of "liar, liar!" Nothing. So I look at them in the rearview, and that's when it happens. The elder one-my niece- shrugs. It works like a slow-motion electric current. I watch her indifference move steadily from the tilt of her shoulder to the tip of my nephew's fingers in one steady flow. And suddenly, it's over. They're both staring out the window, content to gaze at cars and people rushing by as I drive them home. 


I'm incensed. Not by how easily they give up the ghost of my legend, but how callously they deal with it's passing. They have just found out the truth about a man who got them through measles and exams and a junior karate championship. They have just found out that he may well have had nowt to do with them, that they may have scaled those peaks on their own. Where's the epiphany, the drama? What kind of robotic beings refute the allure of crushing disappointment, and choose instead to be strong and carry on? Cowards! 


We drive in silence. My musical sensibilities have long since been decreed intolerable. I decide to never have children, constituted as they are of such fickle moral fibre. The kids know too that something is wrong. The mood is tense. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see my nephew wipe a tear from his eye. It could have been a speck of dust, or those dastardly Doritos he's been munching on all day, but adults need their legends too and I'm sticking with mine. A tear it was. We gallop over a speedbump that escaped my attention, and he lets out a smelly, resounding fart. It's potent to the point of suffocation, and we lower the windows before we even laugh. The sounds and the sights and the wind and the sun all rush in, and we're all alright with the world again, extremely loud, and incredibly, indelibly close.  


(My summer song. Here comes the sun, Abbey Road - The Beatles.)  

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family, music, travel, growing up, summer

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It seems the magic of the fart is universal. Is there anyone who can entertain kids for 12 hours straight? You are quite the guy to take that on. Hope the rest of the summer is magical for you and them.
you deserve some kind of special reward for willingly inhabiting a car of kids for 12 hrs. I'd take rehab over that any day.
Another lovely post about your family. I know what you mean about having to uphold that reputation of the magical guy. Looks like the start of a new relationship at the end of the trip, though. Good and funny writing once again.
So true, your line about disappointing an 8-year-old. You are a patient young man.
Thanks for reading + commenting, you guys. I'm miffed and not entirely surprised that I can't manage to make the Beatles video link work, but I hope some of you like the song as much as I do. Would anybody be able to help me set it up?

Phyllis45 - The fart is indeed universal in it's magic. Gotta try it next time a date's going awry.

Hyblaean-Julie: I keep meaning to google 'hyblaean'! And you're quite right; I doubt I'd opt for an hour with the kids if I saw them often.

Whitegirl- Kind words as always; much appreciated. Dýou know what - it was worse in college. I was always the ''funguy'' - responsible for making everything more fun. That's a pretty heavy cross to bear.

Erica K - it's pretty heart-wrenching yeah, that look they give you? Man, I'm glad I'm not a parent.
It's true what you say: you not so much "crushed" as
their wild childhood expectations.
But think of it this way: it is a valuable life lesson for the little ones.
Once the magic of childhood is dissipated in the harsh glare
of impending adulthood, THEN will be your chance...
to be the Fuck-up Uncle, the guy who made a ton of cool mistakes
along the way, yet came out o.k. ... you can give them sensible
advice about doing too many drugs, drinking too much,
being promiscuous,etc...then they will listen..cuz you are cool...
cuz u are a fuck-up! Your chance at being a hero lies in the future...
oh, almost forgot:
this is rather memorable:
"Facebook was still a gritty little chromosome in Satan's ballsack, cheering on Zuckerberg's synchronized swimmers from the stands. "
Éllo Kate - I'd LOVE a prof pulls random shit like that. Kids though - kids don't do irony do they? They'd just insist I wear the damn red nose all the time!

Hi James - All things considered, I think I did come out alright you know? Damn right I'll be the cool uncle; probably roll the little man his first joint! And I'm in total agreement about disappointments being valuable life lessons - nothing sets you up for life like lowered expectations.

I bet if you continue with the self-deprecating jokes and sarcasm with all that sweetness carefully hidden, that you'll be able to maintain your status as the cool uncle.
Kids. You can't kill them and you can't lose them in the mall. So, you deal with what you got and remember, you were them once. (or twice)
Re: the fart. Apparently an extra excremental pit-stop needed to be scheduled.

I don't think I could spend 12 hours in a year with kids that age. Long ago the niece decided I was uncool. Some hope still lies with the nephew because I can talk computer games with him. Unfortunately, he seems to be outgrowing those faster than I.
You're still Uncle Cool, at least until they reach puberty...then later when they're adults and have kids, they'll look back on the memory of ridin with you in the fartmobile with much fondness!
I think you're going about it all wrong. Let your siblings fix the youngsters. In the meantime make up stuff. I started by reading outloud to my nieces and nephews from those little animal books. By the time my siblings got home the little tykes knew their parents couldn't be trusted. I taught them that the tall animal with the long neck and spots is the elephant and the big fat grey one with the nose like a hose is a giraffe.That kind of mirth. Makes it a lot easier later to get them to pay attention when you're spinning tales about dropping out of astronaut training at NASA , and circling the track after your big NASCAR win. They'll appreciate you for who you really are that way.
Sweet Home Alabama... Speed bumps and noxious farts.. here's a link that could add to the surrealistic pillows of your tale : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKD7g56DNN0&list=UUltI64F-FiGgfFnI00x-k3w&index=36&feature=plcp
Great post. It sounds like your own expectations may have even surpassed theirs. Hope you all settled down over the summer and discovered some mutual and more realistic magic. And, oh yeah, don't volunteer for 12 hour car trips with kids ever again.
Kids rule and so do you.
........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥ (ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★(ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★
Hi Diary of....: I get the slightest feeling you find it all a little grating. No? I wouldn't worry about it if I were you - I can't stand myself either!

Scanner - so true, the "ör twice". Sometimes I have to remind myself I'm an adult.

Stim - spot on about the computer games and assorted 21st century gadgetry. I'm a semi-luddite, but I've mugged up some techspeak off Google just to stay in the ring.

ccdarling - The Fartmobile! I'm totally getting my nephew a superhero costume with an F emblazoned on the chest.

Alsoknownas - That sounds like a plan, especially since I mumble half-truths and lies to their oh-so-bloody-many questions about everything under the sun anyway.

JMac - Thank you, that was a great recco.

jlsathre - you're right, I think I may have hyped it up in my head way more than they ever did. I'm happy to report the trip was a success though - all I had to do was bribe them with ice cream five minutes before we reached home.

Algis - cheers!

Hi Kate, thanks its actually my second but you're spot on with the virgin analogy coz much like sex, these things happen so rarely it feels like the first time every time!

As I often say when I work, always trust your instincts. :)

And come on now. You seem to be quite fond of yourself.
This is the first visit I've made to your blog. I fear I must have missed some stellar posts, because this one is outstanding. Your sense of humor jumps in 3-D from the page, thanks to superior sentence structure and word choices. Nice to meet you!

Wow. Your writing is beautiful. Good luck with your novel.
Damn fine writing. Glad i found you. Now I must go read more of your posts to catch up.
The mystery is alive. They still believe you're capable of something DRAMATIC, bad or good. I say, keep 'em hopping! (I just re-read Jennifer Egan's The Keep, and the Danny character reminds me of you in this piece...in the best ways.)
Fine story! As a mom of twin boys, no doubt I have my share of shrugs coming. Right now I'm covered in drool, so shrugs are at least dry!
Once on a car trip with my three kids, my youngest son surreptitiously video taped me driving. At the same time, he purposely would say things to hit my buttons so he could capture my Homer Simpson "Bart!" moment. He got what he wanted. The giggles of his brother and sister in the background are priceless.

He presented me a copy of the film on disk for my birthday a few years ago. At first I was taken aback by just how pissed I got, but then I was grateful I wasn't sitting in prison for infanticide....
This truly made me laugh!! So vivid! Thank you, your patience and your ability to see the bigger familial picture resonates in your narrative!
This truly made me laugh!! So vivid! Thank you, your patience and your ability to see the bigger familial picture resonates in your narrative!