Tuesday, April 20, 2010


When I was in college and just after - you know, wondering what I was going to be when I grew up - I had a couple pretty spicy jobs that provided a lot of life experience, even if they barely paid the bills. Did you know that I once worked for a private investigator, going undercover to scope out counterfeit Rolex watches for sale in Washington, D.C.? Really! I'd go up there on Saturday mornings, dark sunglasses, toting a shopping bag from The Gap or Banana Republic (filled with a change of clothes because i was too POOR to afford to shop at those stores on any regular basis) and do the tourist routine. Usually the sidewalk vendors had a row of fake Rolexes on their tables and sometimes I'd have to ask if they had any - they kept cases of them in the van parked around the corner (just like in the movies!). The vendor would walk me over to the van, open the back door and there would be cases and cases of watches, with hundreds of knockoff Rolexes in the mix. I'd buy one - or not - make a mental note of what I saw and meet the PI on the next street over at a coffee shop. He'd radio in to the U.S. Marshals and - I swear I am not making this up! - they'd swoop in for the catch while we drove by in a Lincoln with blacked-out windows. Man, my heart would be pounding and I was about to pass out from the excitement. But it was so cool! Later I'd help the PI sort the confiscated contraband to be processed as evidence for counterfeiting cases against the distributors and sellers. I remember once when I asked a woman if she had any other Rolexes under the table she looked at my shoes and said, "I don't like your shoes - I think you might be a cop, so I'm not going to sell you any watches- no watches for you!" (think "Soup Nazi") and she shooed me away from her booth. Jeez Louize, it's not like I was wearing gumshoes or anything!

Another job I had with this PI was doing supervised visitations with non-custodial parents. Lately I've reminisced about the case he had of an Indian woman who tried to return to India with her son - without the father's consent. This type of thing is frowned on, you know, and the American father had the airplane detained - literally while it was on the tarmac - and she was prevented from "kidnapping" the child. My job was to sit for 8 (long, excruciating) hours with her and her son on a Sunday to make sure she didn't pull any funny business. It was really an eye-opener as to how custodial parenting works (or doesn't work). There I sat in this oppressive little apartment for EIGHT HOURS watching a spoiled and whiny little boy manipulate his mother who - of course - resented the heck out of me being there. She wouldn't put him down for a nap, which he desperately needed - as even I, a childless 20-something could see for myself (truth is, she probably didn't want to miss a minute of him).

Anyways, according to the PI, they weren't allowed to leave the apartment - a one bedroom walkup somewhere in Northern Virginia. M-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e for me....but the money was good, so I kept at it for 6 months; they went back to court and I never knew what happened. I started working with them in the late winter and as it eased into spring, sometimes it would be so beautiful outside that I couldn't bear to make them stay in. We'd go for a walk around the apartment complex until I started getting sweaty palms that she was going to grab him and hop into a waiting Toyota and spirit him out of the country. We even went and dyed Easter Eggs at a neighbor's house - who spoke Hindi or whatever language the mom spoke - and if I thought the mom resented me, neighbor lady had no use for me whatsoever. I positioned myself close to the door in case anyone tried to make a break for it. (Such stress for a college kid!) Back at the mother's house it always reeked of curry. It hit you like a gust when she opened the door and permeated my hair and my clothes. She must have used it in every dish. She always very matter-of-factly offered me lunch and I'd make up some excuse why I couldn't eat - but one day I ran out of excuses, so I accepted the egg/rice/curry/vegetable bowl she gave me. I wasn't used to "real" ethnic cooking and about fell over because it was so strong. Plus, I wasn't completely sure she wasn't going to slip a little night-night into it so she could snag the boy....

All this does have a point, and not just to take you on a stroll down Memory Lane....

Last Friday I had a wonderful girls' night out with a great friend I'll call Barbara. (Why Barbara? Because I don't see any "Barbaras" on a regular basis and I didn't ask this friend if I could talk about her in cyberspace. Plus she reminds me of my mom's friend Barbara Peters.) Anyways, Barbara treated to a sweet little restaurant over in Lewisburg that reminds me of the restaurants up in Old Town Alexandria and Washington, D.C. And at said restaurant, she recommended the Thai Chicken, which was steeped richly in curry. On the way home (in my car, by myself, with the occasional burp from the curry) I was whisked back to that stuffy little apartment and the visits with that sad little family....and working for the PI....and informing on bad guys in the big city.

All because of a little spice in my life.

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