Je m’appelle…

Hello world! Or hello 825 followers if I’m being more precise! First post in over a month but who’s counting? Are you counting? I hope so.

A lot has happened since we chatted last. Some work. Some home. Mostly TV. More to come on that later.

Today’s post is about my name. Yep. Mi nombre. A few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend (adorable guy), asked if he could interview me about my first generation childhood. He said it’d take an hour and he’d ask me questions about my childhood, adolescence, etc. My answer was yes, of course. An hour to talk about myself as if I was on Oprah (not the new Super Sunday version…the old 4pm talk show version)? Who would say no to this? Not me. Not the gal who literally started a blog thinking people were dying to know crap I did and do and think about. Anyway it was so much fun. He promised to share the final version of it with me and if it’s flattering and makes me out of be some national Indian treasure, I’ll share it with you.

I’m telling you about the interview for two reasons. 1) to show off, obviously 2) because it got me thinking about my childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time talking about how I grew up since…well since I started dating my husband and he grilled me like the FBI. But lately, something has been coming up. For some reason, in the past year, maybe 2 years – I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my name. Specifically…how my name is pronounced. Even more specifically – how I’m letting people mispronounce my name.

My name is Neha.

It’s an old-school Indian name derived from the Sanskrit version (Sneha). It means love and tenderness – which will come as a big surprise to those who usually use other words to describe me. You know who you are. In the proper Indian dialect (choose your favorite), it’s pronounced Neigh-Ha. Neigh…like what horses say, and a very soft ha. Not like a karate chop HA! That’s how my very young, wonderful parents imagined my name being said all over India.

Except my young, wonderful parents didn’t stay in India. They hauled ass to the USA. Jackson Heights, Queens to be exact – in 1979ish. To get the exact date I’d have to call my mother and disclose why I need this info, to which she’d say I’m giving super personal info to strangers on the internet who want to kill me. True story. My mother thinks the internet is out to get me. She’s right of course.

Let me set the stage. Jackson Heights today is not what Jackson Heights of the late 70s/early 80s was. Today, there’s so many Indian immigrants that have settled there, they call parts of it Little India. Back then it was still mostly immigrants, but there was a broader mix – Chinese, African, Puerto Rican, and some Italian and Irish to balance it out. In today’s Jackson Heights – my young self would have had other Nehas to mix and mingle with. My young self would have gone to a school full of other people that looked, talked, lived like me. But that’s not how it was.

My dad was a pharmacist – the reason we came to the US was for his job. My mom was a teacher in India but her certifications weren’t accepted here, so she got some random part-time work. My parents did one thing. They worked. They didn’t socialize. They didn’t have hobbies. They worked. I had a job too. One job. School. That’s all I had to do. My entire focus was school (and TV. Indians love TV. It’s a stereotype I know, but it’s also true). As was the case for most of my elementary and middle school life, I was the only Indian in my classes – and sometimes in the school.

I don’t remember the first time I said my name to someone outside my family. I wish I did. I wish I could remember how and why my name began being pronounced like Leah…as if it was spelled Neah…Knee-ya. It all makes sense. I’m sure I wanted to fit in. I’m sure I wanted to not be different, but I don’t remember making a calculated effort to change how people pronounce my name. But maybe I did. I definitely wanted to assimilate. I wanted to dress like everyone else, eat like everyone else (lost cause), date like everyone else. My idea of a perfect boy was a blonde, blue-eyed dude with a one syllable name. Speaking of names, I would have given up a limb to be called Kelly, Jane or some other really white name, so maybe this was the closest fix. I just wish I could remember that happening. I probably need some deep therapy to remember, but the irony is that I remember other things really well from that time. The Saturday night line-up…. Dance Fever followed by Love Boat and ending with Fantasy Island. I remember the slice of pizza my mom got me every Friday after school – this was early 80s NYC pizza. Big. Flat. Foldable. I remember getting a Rubix’s Cube. It was my parent’s favorite kind of toy. Quiet, cheap, and portable. I remember all kinds of useless info. The moment that changed the way people said my name? Not so much.

I’m going to interrupt this line of thought for a quick moment. One of the things I get asked often when i’m trying to explain why my name is pronounced the way it is, is this question,” well how does your family say your name? Do they use the wrong version too?” No. No they don’t use the “wrong” version. They don’t use any version. My family almost never, and I mean literally almost never, calls me by my given name. For the majority of my childhood I was known by a pet name – a loving moniker – Bittu. And it’s pronounced how it looks. Bit-To. It means “little one” or “little thing” or something like that. That’s what my parents, aunts and uncles called me. Once I had cousins old enough to talk, they called me Didi. Which means “big sister”. I know what you’re thinking…I’m a cousin, so why call me a sister? It gets even better. Now every member of the family calls me Didi, including my parents. Confusing, right? Listen – I can’t explain why all Indians are confusing – I can only explain the ways I’m confusing. Are you still with me? Are you over it? Bored? How many times have you checked your insta? Tell the truth. I just needed you to have some background since I assume you’re making a case in your head about why I’m a psycho.

So after Jackson Heights my parents moved us to the hub of diversity and inclusiveness known as Albany, NY. No offense if it’s gone through some major change and my sarcasm no longer applies. Remember when I said I was the only Indian in the school growing up? Well in Albany I was the only person of color in the entire school! And it was middle school to boot. Good times. Actually they were good times. I have been incredibly lucky in my life and have always met friends who helped me through. In 7th grade something amazing happened. Two Pakistani girls moved to town. Twins. Huma and Asma. We immediately became friends. They were my first ethnic friends! I mean I tried being friends with a girl named Chang back in Queens but she was allowed to hang out less than I was so it didn’t work. I enjoyed my white friends whose parents let them come to my house for hours with no issue. Anyway – back to my first brown friends. They had just moved here from London. Dad was a doctor and divorced (scandal!). They came to the US to be closer to his sister. They all had these amazing accents which somehow cancelled out their “otherness” and made them hugely popular. It didn’t hurt that they were loaded and had a house with a pool (a rare jewel in Albany). Their dad worked crazy hours and the girls were mostly home alone – another bonus. I loved their house. It was the opposite of my house. No one cooked. My house smelled of ginger and garlic all day. Their house smelled of…nothing. Heaven. The twins’ dad was the first person to tell me that I was mispronouncing my name. Lucky for me his daughters were mortified and told him to never to talk to me again and I moved on.

Actually my family moved on. We moved from Albany to Harrisburg, PA. Again, Harrisburg today has a full, lively Indian culture. Back then? Nada.

My dad believed any religion was good religion – so I went to a Catholic High School. It was diverse”ish”….but guess which population there was only one of? That’s right people. Still me representing all Indians. Dot. Not feather.

It wasn’t until I went to college in NYC, where I minored in religion (by mistake) and had to join a club as part of my Religions of the World class, that I met a whole bunch of Indians. I joined The South Asian Club for two long months. They were a nice bunch – most of them had grown-up in Queens, in the exact neighborhood that I’d started out in. Turns out Queens went full-on Indian soon after we moved out. On another side note – by this time I was dating a half Irish/half Ukrainian New Yorker. That’s right people, he’s blonde, blue-eyed and most of the time has a one syllable name. All my dreams really did come true. Anyway this new bunch of friends all tried to educate me on the correct way to say my name. I left soon after. Not just because I didn’t want to be lectured to, in all honesty, I left because they met on Friday mornings at 8am – which didn’t work with my Thursday night at Terminal Bar schedule.

I’ll speed up. The 90s were vapid. No one really cared what the origins of my name were or how to say it correctly. Easy peasy. Even the early 2,000s were a non-issue. It wasn’t really until the last few years when people started getting “woke” that it came up again.

The 20 year old intern who asked me gently if I knew how to correctly pronounce my name. Yes, thank you. Next. The well meaning friends who have other friends who pronounce the same name differently. Yes, I know. I get it. You feel like you’ve been doing me wrong. But you haven’t! I swear. It’s not you. It’s me. Well, technically it’s not me, it’s my name.

You know I even went through a real immersion-into-my-culture phase in high school. We would go to India every year at that time to visit relatives (relatives who also never ever called me by my formal name). I was way into the culture, the movies, the food, the language – all of it. I was a Junior in high school and all I wanted to do was be different. I was thrilled to show-off my funky jewelry and henna’d hand. But even during that time – I never thought about changing the way people say my name. What does that mean? What does that say about me? I dunno. I’m sure there’s a million ways to dissect it. To “help me”. I’ll have to find a therapist and have them give me an answer. Or maybe I’ll Google it.

My point is this…aren’t you glad you made it to the point! Mazel. You’re almost done. My point is that however it started, and whatever reason I did it or maybe someone just started calling me that and I went with it – whatever – it’s how I’d like you to pronounce my name. Yes, the wrong way.

Trust me – it’s a daily struggle. People say my name in all different ways. Correct, incorrect, messed up, etc. I don’t mind any of it. I met a wonderful friend last year through work who is French. We had a long discussion about this. She told me that in French – the direct translation of Je m’appelle isn’t “what is your name?”. The meaning is “what do you want to be called?”. I love that. Je m’appelle Neha (knee-ya).

In conclusion, I’m moving to France. Au revoir.

Liar Liar, Pants on Fyre

Did you watch the documentaries on The Fyre Festival? Hulu and Netflix both have a version of this story. I watched both. If there were 6 versions I would have seen them all. I can’t get enough. I watched the first one twice. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me try to explain…

A young, upstart entrepreneur from NYC decides to partner with Ja Rule to host a music festival on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas (once owned by Pablo Escobar) in 6 months.

Why does he think he can do it? Because he’s been hosting “parties” for a few months in penthouses all over the city. Ja Rule performs at one of those fun parties and decides, “yeah, ok, I’ll partner with you on a multi-million dollar event”.

What happens next is a mash-up of ego, lack of experience, lack of leadership and lack of morality. It’s a hot mess.

Billy McFarland, the young entrepreneur that I mentioned earlier is either a smart dude who let things go out of hand, or a sociopath who let his ego lead every decision he made. Maybe a bit of both.

The documentary tells a month-by-month, day-by-day story of everything leading up to the non-festival. Here’s what they did first. They created a slick, well-produced teaser. They filled it with top models. They went to the island where they wanted to have the festival, stayed on private yachts (not on the island) and partied for a few days while they filmed the promo. Turquoise seas, beautiful women, expensive boats, it had it all. The promo was incredibly well produced. I think you can still watch it somewhere on YouTube. The company they hired to do the teaser gave them an incredible digital and social presence. Their website was super slick and their marketing was off the hook. Really high-end and modern.

They spent the next few months designing an experience. Luxury tents. Luxury villas. Beautiful packages that made you feel like you were going to a music festival in some private piece of heaven. And it had a price tag to match. Each package was thousands of dollars. And they all still sold out, in record time.  Through their social campaign (which was genius), they sold every package they had. All the tents. All the villas. Sold.

Just one problem. There were no luxury villas or tents. All the images were created. Nothing was real.

Turns out the island they originally wanted couldn’t be used. The owner of the island had only one deal-breaker in the contract – don’t mention Escobar – so what did they do? They mentioned it in the first teaser. Game over.

Luckily Great Exuma was near-by. This island, under other circumstances, was a much better place to host a festival. It had infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, etc.

Sadly, by the time they decided to go there – everything was sold out. The only thing they were able to get was some undeveloped real estate on one side of the island by the water. They grabbed it.

The details of what went down are so crazy. Instead of luxury tents – they put up hurricane tents left over from the last season.  There weren’t enough homes on the island to get for private villas, so those who signed-up and paid for one got a tent too. And they didn’t even have enough crappy tents. 380 for 900+ people attending.

Not enough food. Not enough bathrooms. No plan B for rain. The attendees were f**ked. The musicians who agreed to perform weren’t any better. There was barely a stage – let alone multiple stages for a festival. Most of the acts started dropping out. Still, the producers let the event go on.

In the end, it was a nightmare. You can google how much of a nightmare it was.

I can’t tell you how validating it was to see those documentaries. I watched the first one with my husband. The entire time he kept turning to me and going, “ohh babe, can you believe it?”. Even he knew. He knew because he’s been married to an event planner for 20 plus years.

I couldn’t believe it. But I could believe it. It was totally believable. Let’s be honest. People think they can do it. On the surface it’s a job that literally everyone thinks they can do. Oh you planned your sister’s shower? Sure! You can be a planner! You organized the office pot-luck lunch? Sure, you can plan a 1,000 person event. Go for it.

I would re-title those documentaries as, “So You Think You’re An Event Planner?” or “You Are Not A F**king Event Planner”.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I know. You’re a teacher (love teachers), or a nurse (love nurses), or whatever. You are impacting the world. You’re maybe literally saving lives. But here’s what I know for sure. I know that in this world of big picture thinking, one thing is lost. Execution. No one likes to say they execute. Everyone wants to be a “strategist”. Big thinking. Not big doing.

Ok, sure, you had a really great idea. A world-changing idea. Awesome. Good for you. Can you actually execute it? Can you plan the steps it’ll take to get it done and make it happen? Can you think 10 steps ahead to all the problems that might pop up and solve them before they happen? Can you manage the emotional toll it’ll take on people to get them to do what you want them to do for your idea to come to life?  And can you do it without complaining and whining? Better yet, can you work for never-ending hours and days while pretending to be happy and smiling the whole time? Can you be a 20 year professional that’s managing million dollar budgets while still being asked to get someone a tampon in the middle of an event – and do it without question? If the answer is no. Please, for god’s sake, go back to your day job. If the answer is yes, welcome. You are welcome here. In the group of people who immediately start figuring out how to get something done.

When I saw those documentaries I was so moved. In the last few years, a value has been placed on people who can weave a good story in 280 characters. People who can produce slick, marketing ads and pieces that last about a minute or two. They are digital geniuses. They can make an idea viral. Get a million impressions. Which is great. But guess what they can’t do? They can’t execute. They can’t figure out the one million things that need to go down before something happens.

Billy McFarland had no planners working for him. He had digital teams and marketing teams. He had supermodels and rappers. He even had someone called a “producer”. But no planners. To give credit where it’s due – he did have some people with festival experience that he ignored. But those people basically went along with a plan they knew would fail.

One of the things that is the most troublesome about the documentary isn’t the attendees, ok fine, they didn’t get a music festival. Uptown problems. They had to go back to Miami with their miniature dogs and flower halos. Boo hoo. To me, the saddest part was that the island residents were dragged into making this nightmare happen. Hundreds of workers signed up to help Billy and his crew. No one got paid.

So maybe calling Billy an entrepreneur is wrong. He’s a cheat. A fraud. A con man. And I know that’s what this story is really about. But what I got from it was so different. His story validated and brought to life everything I know to be true. You can be a big idea guy or gal. You can be good at tweets and posts and ‘grams. You can get a thousand likes, and a million impressions, but can you bring that vision to life in the real world? A world full of bad weather, cancelled flights, broken technology, and unhappy people? Can you handle it? Maybe. But let’s be honest, probably not.

 

 

 

Dear 2018

Thanks for being you. You weren’t like the best ever or anything – but you were pretty pretty good (in the words of Larry David).  It was the year of the Dog. The year for loyalty, consistency and dependability. But it started off with anything but consistency. It started off with a bang.

Bang….my sister’s married! Bang….I had to go to India for work! Bang….a headhunter called with a big job offer! Bang…my sister was pregnant! In between those things were other big things. A beautiful wedding (Jon and Amy!), a beautiful baby cousin born (Norah!), a bestie turned 50 (April!), and so did the heart of our family (Dennis!) – and it went on and on.

Work took me from India, to Aruba, to Ireland – with a pit stops in-between. Work was good. Sometimes it wasn’t good. As it should be.

My kids kept growing. Doing good. Doing some not good. Doing it all. As it should be.

You threw us some curve balls 2018, I won’t lie.

I got distracted by a shiny offer, thought about it for too long – but decided to stay loyal in the spirit of the Dog. Not loyal to a company – but loyal to the people. My people. Shiny and new can’t compete with solid and true. Who knows what the future holds – but for now, it was the right turn.

It also brought some worries. Some sadness. When loved ones get sick – you get sick too. But then you see family coming together, you see all the love, and somehow it gets better. Even when it’s not actually getting better.

The year ended with a bang too. My sister-in-law got engaged a few days before Christmas!

There were also some breakthroughs. For those of you who don’t know me that well, I have been a vegetarian for my entire life. Like the whole thing. No meat, poultry or fish has ever crossed my lips knowingly. I may or may not have had a month in 2004 of eating Pad Thai without knowing it had fish sauce in it, but that’s it. So now, for the first time ever…hold on to something….I am eating Caesar salad with abandon. Anchovies? Who cares! Salt of the sea I say! We’ve even been to restaurants that I know put actual anchovies on their salad (not paste) and I still eat it. Like a champ. And then, last week, my husband and I went to a diner to have breakfast. I ordered my usual omelet. Egg whites, spinach, onions, peppers and American cheese. Side of rye toast and homefries. As I was eating, from the corner of my eye, I spotted it. It could have been mistaken for a piece of well done potato, but I knew better. I’m no amateur. A little piece of ham was hidden under the homefries. Now if this was 2001, or even 2010 let’s say – I would have freaked out. I would have stopped eating and never gone to that place again. You know what I did in 2018? I carefully lifted it with my finger and put it on a napkin and continued my meal. CONTINUED MY MEAL. With ham. Granted I never touched the homefries again but still…there was no scene at the diner. I’m like a new person.

I don’t know if photos help you when you’re reading a rant like this – but they help me. I’ve always been partial to books with pictures. I included some below.

2018, you are free to go. I was never a dog person anyway. Year of the pig! That’s where it’s at now.

 

 

Remember me?

I wrote my first blog post in 2012. It was called Nosey, Nosey, Nosey. You can still find it on here if you look. My kids were 9 and 14. I was working from home and needed to do something in the day for just myself. I decided the posts would have no rules. Some were super short with just a picture. Some were longer. Once in a while I’d throw in a cooking post (that’s when I cooked almost every night….who was I?). I would write daily, weekly, monthly. No pressure. Just when I felt like it. It was so much fun.

5 years and 486 posts later I stopped. May, 2017. What happened? What went down? Nothing! Not one thing. I mean our lives are different now for sure. Things are hectic – but things were always hectic. I just didn’t feel like writing (if you could even call what I was doing writing!). So I stopped. I didn’t force myself to do it. And I didn’t miss it.

Until now.

Guess what people? I’m going to start writing again. You may not know it, but you’re my public! And I’m going to give you what you haven’t asked for and don’t think you need. You’re welcome! Enough with the New York Times. You need something less meaty. Less thought provoking. You need a mental break. And I’m just the person for the job. The last thing I’m going to get you to do is think. But you knew that.

Ok. Now that we’re on the same page let’s catch up quickly:

  • Wife – yep still married
  • Mother – my babies are 20 and 15
  • Event planner – 23 years and counting

Now you’re caught up! Haven’t you missed reading posts that abuse exclamation mark usage? No need to fret. Even though I’ve gotten older, my writing is still 8th grade level (regular, not honors track).

I’m excited to be with you all again. Or with you 3 again. Anyway I’m excited.

See you tomorrow – or worst case in 2020!

Werk

We had a very fancy event in Palm Beach. Went to beautiful places where even the dogs don’t drink tap water. A place where crazy sports cars are the norm and your morning workout is literally on the ocean. 



But there are other pics that tell another story… like this one. We were playing,”how many boxes can we fit into a sedan with 4 people and a driver?” The answer – all of them.


How about the fact that the majority of time at this fancy place we were in the back. This is my fav pic. Taken by one of the planners on our team. Thanks for the memory Patty.

Or this one which really is how we all feel onsite (girls don’t worry about how you look in this pic. No one reads this blog anyway).

Lots of memories for sure. 

Like when I tried to get a pic of Barron Trump playing soccer with the secret service and was kindly asked by another secret service dude to stop and delete all pics (I followed half his direction).


Or how about our Orthodox chef trying to take a fully blown-up pool flamingo back on the airport shuttle. I don’t know the end of that story.


Or our last night at the event by the ocean when almost every single person was singing and laughing and smiling – including our team. 

This was the view I had all last week


This is my view today. Guess which one I love more? Home is where the heart is. It’s also where my bed, tv and magazines are.


And this guy. 

Zika on the brain

About 7 days ago every single conference I had planned for 2016 and 2017 got cancelled because of Zika. Two were in April. One was for over 1,000 people.

Almost 2 years of work basically out the window. There were tears. There was anger. But at the end of the day, it was the right decision.

We made our calls to let everyone know. We sent our apology emails. Not only did we distrupt the lives of all our attendees, but we also had to face our hotel partners. Yes they would get some of what we would be spending, but not all of it.

But it was done. And now we move on. Like the Bionic Man, we will rebuild. Better. Stronger. And we did. Or are. 

We’ve worked 24/7 to reschedule almost everything we’ve cancelled. It wasn’t/isn’t easy. (Insert your pity here)

These are all uptown problems, I know. No one is sick or dying or even hurt. We derailed vacations, not real life. Things will be fine.

Although I woke-up the other day, in mid-March, with frost on the ground and found this on my wrist. A mosquito bite. Oh universe. You’re so hysterical.

   

 

So you wanna be a corporate planner?

I’ve done corporate events for my entire career. I love what I do. I love my job. Really I do. Even now, in our busy season, when we seem to work 24/7. It makes me happy. I started doing event planning almost right out of school and haven’t looked back since. It’s stressful. It’s creative. It’s fulfilling. In every sense of the word. I adore working with a team, and being with them in the trenches. I like working with the business to figure out how the event can help spread a message or build goodwill. There’s tons of fun to be had too. I’m not going to lie. We laugh a lot. And sometimes we cry. Unlike baseball, there is crying in corporate event planning.

So with all that said, it still isn’t what you think it is.

Here’s the best way to describe it:

Imagine you planned your brother’s wedding or party. You worked for months to help plan the look, the feel, the whole experience. You advised him on if the vows should be long or short – or if the newlyweds should do a first dance or have a cake cutting. You decided that because of budget, his party should probably be only appetizers, not a full meal. You worked with him to invite the right amount of people and were careful to not offend anyone.

Now imagine that after all that – the day of the wedding or party comes and the happy couple exchange vows or the invitees start coming in –  everyone is seemingly happy and content.

Now imagine guests start coming up to you randomly and telling you things like:

  • “Who picked this place? I was really hot in the back”
  • “The party…umm it was ok, but this morning the hotel I’m staying at took really long to bring my breakfast – kinda ruined the day for me”
  • “Why am I not sitting with the groom? He loves me. He told me I’d have really good seats”
  • “I wish we could have done it in June. August is so hard for me”
  • “I really wasn’t crazy about the vows. They were kinda cheesy”
  • “I know you can’t do this for everyone but my kid likes hot, curly fries for dinner. Everyday. Made with organic purple potatoes. Can you get that for us?”
  • “Did you actually pick the food on the buffet?”

And guess what. You do get the organic purple potatoes. And you apologize for the hotel not delivering room service fast enough and picking the wrong time and wrong space. You nod your head instead of saying the groom hates that person and specifically asked not to sit with them. And finally yes, you picked the food. You didn’t know it would suck that day. You should have known. Somehow.

You do all of this not because you’re forced to – but because your job is to make people happy. Not just the bride and groom or one family – your job is to make everyone happy. Which, by the way, never happens. So good luck with that.
Welcome to corporate events. Leave your sanity at the door.
 
 

Previous Older Entries