What Boston Legal taught me about Men and Relationships.

I love Boston Legal. Absolutely.

And of course, the next (only) logical statement is: I absolutely loved James Spader/Alan Shore.

But waitaminute, love’d’?

Well, yes.

I first watched Boston Legal in around 2007-08, when I was in college. I missed out on the initial episodes of season 1 and 2, but I was pretty regular with 3, 4 and 5. It is one of the smartest, wittiest, most engrossing TV series I have ever come across. And of course, there’s Alan Shore.

How can anyone not love Alan Shore. I mean, HOW. Of course, there’s nothing about the show that you cannot love. David E Kelly creates some really compelling characters – each with their own idiosyncrasies and issues. And of course, he gets a ‘just perfect’ actor to play each role. Whether it’s William Shatner portraying  the borderline narcissist, sexually explicit, heart-of-gold bearing, ‘mad-cow’ ridden, legendary attorney Denny Crane; or Christian Clemenson as encyclopedic, introverted, socially awkward, Asperger’s Syndrome ridden lawyer Jerry “Hands” Espenson; or even Rene Auberjonois as the perpetually constipated, about-to-have-a-coronary, totally predictable and annoyingly self-righteous Paul Lewiston – David E Kelly gets them all ‘just perfect’.

The story-telling and scripting are the wittiest I have ever seen in a drama. Kelly seamlessly and effortlessly blends critical and controversial American issues (abortion, religious extremism, gun control, tobacco, sexual harassment, racism, the US war on Iraq, global warming, justice system, homophobia) with humour and satire with such class that you cannot help but chuckle. And underlining all of this – the leitmotif throughout the show is the heart-warming friendship between Denny Crane and Alan Shore, who, opposite as opposites could be, stick together thanks to their common love of whisky, cigars and women.

But oh, the highlight of the show – what made it absolutely irresistible to anyone who watched it – was undeniably Alan Shore. When I watched the series for the first time, it was only and only for Alan Shore. Sexiest man alive, EVER. Period. Alan Shore is the quintessential bad guy, who does good things. Just what women want. He’s astutely intelligent, fears nothing and nobody, gets what he wants, does what is needed to get it, and does it with such charm and panache that you love him even when he is screwing you over. He’s stubborn, lascivious, egotistical and absolutely hates being vulnerable in any way. He chases women incorrigibly and women chase him hopelessly. He’s everything you will want, and when you have him, he’s everything you wish you never had.

And can he talk!! After 5 seasons of orgasm-inducing closing statements, anything else that any man could do with his mouth seems to pale in comparison. Alan Shore’s dialogues, distinct speech and intonation, and badass vocabulary oozes sex appeal. But don’t think he’s all gas and no gumption. Alan Shore fiercely defends the innocent, the betrayed, the victimized and the wronged, particularly when it seems like no one else can or will. But he’s got issues. Commitment-issues, intimacy-issues, mommy-issues. He is, like the channel says, The Bad Good Guy. And I loved him. In fact, I don’t believe any woman who watched the show couldn’t. He’s was The Man. In a Screwed-Up World, the Imperfect Man fits in Perfectly. And that’s what you want.

Then they started a rerun in December 2013. And I was only too excited to watch it all over again. I got the hubby pretty excited too, and no doubt, he too started loving the series. I had stopped watching TV altogether, but I set aside time to watch Alan Shore in action, again. Then, I noticed someone else. Brad Chase.

Brad Chase, played by the very handsome Mark Valley, is the antithesis of Alan Shore. Don’t get me wrong, he’s also very passionate about defending the right and defeating the wrong, but just that Brad Chase takes the boring, right approach. He’s conscientious and respectful, upright and matter-of-fact, professional and brave. He’s an ex-Marine who is passionately patriotic, believes in family, does good by society and does not lie. But makes no bones whacking off a priest’s fingers or impersonating an FBI officer while trying to rescue a 4 year old boy, even though it may land him in jail. And he’s very handsome. Did I mention that?

Takes no time to guess then, that Brad hates Alan Shore. To be honest, I hated Brad, when I watched the series for the first time. I’d snort and turn up my nose at him. Bah, how typical. How predictable. How boring. But this time, it was different. Now I loved him. More than I loved Alan Shore. In fact, for the first time, I actually saw how his character was actually better than Alan Shore.Because you see, Alan Shore, for all his enigma, and aura, and confidence and charm is not someone you can count on. If you were in a relationship with Alan Shore, he’d excite you, intimidate you, overwhelm you and discomfort you and you’d think, “OMG I’ve never felt this way before – this must be love!!!” only to feel nauseated at best or suffocated at worst to be with a man who you can never really figure out or be sure of.

But isn’t that what most women want? The thrill of being chased, the drama of unpredictability, the romance of discomfort. Love is not a comforting arm around you, a warm hug, a gentle kiss and a simple dinner. It’s sleepless nights and amazing sex and screaming fights. That’s passion! That’s excitement! That’s Bullshit. This weird and dysfunctional view of men and romance is the reason why women are consistently unhappy in love and relationships. It’s why I was miserable in love and relationship. Because I was in love with an Alan Shore! And let me tell you -it’s not love. Heck, it’s not even a relationship. Love isn’t discomfort. It isn’t Dangerous. And it’s definitely not Cocky or Witty. Love is Dependable. Love is Polite. Love is Brave. Love is Respectful. Love is Brad Chase.

A man who does the right thing by you. Who says what he means and means what he says. Who is considerate of your feelings and extends himself to make room for them. Who respects things even if he doesn’t agree with them. Who does what is needed, and not what he feels like. Who has wants, not whims. Who is straightforward, not sarcastic. Who’s more practical than passionate. Forthright, not Funny. Who fights hard, but fights fair. Who’ll do the right thing even when he hates it. Who’s good, not grand. Who doesn’t sweep you off your feet, but keeps you grounded.

Brad Chase encourages lawyers to go vote during a meeting. Alan Shore publicly and scathingly despises the government. Brad talks down a suicide bomber from carrying out his threat in open court before knocking him out with a punch. Alan pays a patron to start a bar-room brawl when a man punches him. Brad is disappointed but still graceful when a female co-worker rejects him. Alan mocks his ex-girlfriend and almost drives another one insane. Brad wants to marry Denise and have a family with her when he learns she is pregnant with his child. Alan lives in a hotel so that he can ‘check out on a whim’. Brad helps Alan Shore overcome his fear of clowns, even though he hates him. Alan slights Brad when they don’t see eye-to-eye. And, well, he makes good closing statements.

But Brad’s qualities are not what we want in a man. These qualities are boring. They are not exciting or passionate. They don’t sweep you off your feet. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the social customs as dictated by the media these days, being swept off your feet has become almost mandatory in relationships. It’s all Witty, Smart, Great Sense of Humour, with a Bottle of Champagne in one hand and a Bouquet of Roses in another. That’s the dog-shit criteria we’ve been fed these days. Hard-working, Honest or Polite?? Meh. What’s the fun in that? I want the jokes, bloody! I want the charm! I want the sweeping!! Even Boston Legal, the show that’s otherwise brutally honest, presents Brad Chase as the ‘stupider & simpler’ version of Alan Shore. It’s all, ‘Let’s give viewers the typical male soap-star and poke fun at him’. Every amazing quality Brad possesses  is routinely and categorically paled out to Alan Shore’s closing statements. Whereas, as a friend and another hardcore Boston Legal fan pointed out: If Brad Chase had been given even an fraction of the oratory excellence that was part of Alan Shore’s character, he would’ve made the sexiest man on TV, EVER.

And so we fall in love with Alan Shore. With an Imperfect Man who fits perfectly in our Screwed-Up view of the World. Who is everything we want; but can give us nothing of what we need. But worry not, the best thing about being with an Alan Shore is – sooner or later, you get a closing statement.

Life Glare. Sundays 9:00 PM. Only on Conscience. Don’t miss the first episode!

As she landed on a webpage that reminded her of him, she sighed. It was sad that things had come to where they had. But yet, somewhere in her heart, or mind rather, because that’s where one knows, she knew that this was more or less inevitable. They would have reached this impasse sooner or later. ‘You always had a way of falling for the wrong guy’

 ‘Falling’ she thought. Had she really fallen for him? She didn’t really like the idea. She wasn’t some 16 year old school girl. She was 25. Would turn 26, in a matter of weeks. She was married. To her boyfriend. And happy. Yes, of course, no doubt about that. Her husband and the marriage were one of the best things to have happened to her. The husband, she had fallen for. Hook, line and sinker. No doubt again.

 So what was it exactly with him, that now made her wince and sigh as she thought of him? She had missed him, no doubt (goddamn, she thought, I keep using that phrase, yet doubt seems to be the only thing running through my mind, all the time) in the few days that they had maintained their stoic and stubborn silence. She also knew that this time the silence would be protracted, unlike their previous disagreements, and she would probably have to miss him some more. But she knew she wouldn’t be going back to the same thing either. She had had enough.

 Exactly what had he been? A distraction? A past-time perhaps? A friend? Maybe all three. Maybe none. She thought of all the times they had talked, all their conversations. They had brought her immense joy and laughter and excitement. Yes, that was the word – excitement. He was exciting. Stimulating. Endlessly. Almost addictive-ly. And he made her laugh, and smile, and get upset, and angry and sad. Something was always happening with him. Like with your favourite TV series.  An episode of Lost. Or One Tree Hill. Yes, that is what he was. That is what she had made him into. She smiled wanly and wistfully. It was too sad.

 Why? And How? She felt pathetic. It was pathetic. ‘God, my life must really suck’ she thought. Perhaps she was right. Had there been nothing, in her day-to-day life apart from his conversations to excite her? To give her that sense of rush and satisfaction? To make her feel? She reflected on all the events of the past week, the past month – she couldn’t recall a single memorable activity. 30 days, 4 weeks, god knows how many hours, and she couldn’t recall one, single memorable thing. Except maybe the argument with him. It was beyond pathetic.

 There is really nothing lacking in my life right now. It’s actually pretty awesome. I’ve got money. I’m with the man I love, and he’s with me. I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t have to work an 8-hour job. I don’t have to withstand a harrowing daily commute. It’s actually a breeze! But yet, apparently, nothing in my life excites me or gives me a sense of satisfaction.

 I seriously need help.

I seriously need to help, myself.

This would stop. Right now. Right this minute. She couldn’t go on like this. I cannot let it. The idea that the most memorable moments of her day happened in front of a chat window was too disturbing to excuse or reason with. I would have to do something. The operative word being ‘Do’. And ‘Something’.

‘Something’ that excites me, that gives my day meaning, that reflects my real wants, that is true to my values, that is a conscious choice, and that brings me memorable happiness. Happiness that occurs while I’m doing it, and that lingers on long after I’ve done it. It need not be complicated, or huge or particularly boast-worthy. It need not even take a lot of time. It just needed to be done. The operative word being ‘Needed’.

Otherwise, she would just go back to watching a TV series. On TV or on a chat window. The drama had to come from her own life, her own day, her own actions. Not from persons, real or fictional.

She wished she could apologize to him. Then realized she probably owed a much bigger apology to herself. She smiled. This would be memorable moment number 1. Sitting by herself on a cold, damp Sunday night, typing away at a computer, listening to the rain tap-tapping outside and awakening to a new realization. Yes, the first of many others.

Cat’s Got My Heart

The cat went on a sabbatical recently. A break from his routine of sleeping, eating, grooming itself, occasionally chasing a grasshopper down the garden, meditating and generally screaming for food at the kitchen window. Perhaps he wished to see more, more than what this home and garden would allow him to. Maybe during one of his meditative trances, he had a moment of epiphany (or perhaps it was while being chased or beaten up by other neighbourhood strays) wherein he realized what a comfortable, sheltered little existence he had; and that in order to come into his own, make his mark in the world, he would have to challenge himself, push his limits, face his fears, dare to go beyond, well, the garden.

Or maybe he just lost his way back home from the dustbin.

In any case, my mum woke up one day, and he wasn’t screaming at the door. He didn’t ‘apparate’ when the fish-wala came around either. Nor did he maul the old uncle next door for chips in evening – as he always does when the devout tambram lights his holy lamp at the tulsi vrindavan every evening. Obviously, the family was tensed. Even the uncle next door, who spent majority of the cat’s life despising him and subsequently feeding him chips in the evening, seemed perplexed. This had never happened before.

Let me tell you something about Tyson: He has never gone away. He isn’t a house-cat, but he does treat himself like one. He wandered into our building along with a litter of two others, and I, ecstatically scooped them up and adopted them. My mother begrudgingly so. As they grew up the others went away, probably died too, but Tyson survived (D’Uh, he’s Tyson, after all) at our doorstep. We fed him, played with him and wiped his poop. Well, okay my mom did most of the feeding and the wiping of the poop, but we helped. A bit. So since then he’s always been with us.

He’s quite a cocky cat. And a darned good-looking one at that. I’m yet to see a cat as good-looking as Tyson. He’s like got the perfect face that’s makes him look incredibly cute & vulnerable at all times. The patterns of colours on his fur are distributed symmetrically and optimally to produce an instantly aesthetic appealing visual everytime he sits or sleeps or does just about anything. He’s got the cutest meow. And since he’s been fed by us his whole life he lacks any kind of survival skills whatsoever. To be precise, his only defense strategy is my mom and her broom.

Tyson has spent a large part of his life growling at, and in turn being chased or getting beaten up by our other, older cat – Coco, as well as any other stray in the society. My guess is they’re all jealous, of his obvious good looks and lifestyle. And also because he makes very good entertainment – can’t fight to save his ass, but makes a hell of a racket. He’ll be down on the ground, paws up in the air, growling and screaming for all he’s worth until someone from the family comes and shoos away the molester. I guess the other cats just get a kick out of it.

Obviously then, to find Tyson gone poof one fine morning was worrisome. I mean this is a cat who knows nothing about surviving in the big bad world. The only hunting skills he possesses is screaming in the morning, jumping into the fishwalas basket, mauling our neighbour’s dhoti and at times, climbing the iron grill on our window in a bid to find a way in. He’s never caught a thing in his life and wouldn’t last more than 5 seconds in a street fight. We were quite worried.

And most of all, everyone missed him. Terribly. Even my dad, who’s a self-proclaimed dog-lover and cat-hater. My mom found her mornings uncomfortably quiet, my dad had nothing to complain about and no one to cuss at and my brother had no one to be mean to.   They also honestly believed that he might be dead or injured pretty badly. You see, pesky as he was, he was a part of the family. We knew what he liked, what he didn’t, what he would be doing at any given time and how he would react to a given situation. Just the way we know our family members. Every morning he was there, and every night he was there too. We talked to him, talked about him. We laughed at him, and joked about him. When he made a mess we yelled at him. When he got sick, we got worried. He was, in every way, one of us. And then to suddenly see him gone was a nasty shock – one that no one was prepared for.

Eventually, 5 days later, while standing at the door one morning, my dad saw a cat limp into the society gate at a distance, looking scared and bamboozled. Instantly my dad knew – that’s our cat. So he walked to the edge of our garden and whistled lightly (This is probably Tyson’s only surviving skill – he can recognize our voices anywhere). He looked up, saw my dad and started mewing like his life depended upon it. Obviously, this caused some of the stray dogs in the vicinity to descend upon him (Tyson never really possessed much common sense) and my dad had to show considerable aggression to get rid of them. Eventually my dad, okay – get this, my dad ACTUALLY PICKED HIM UP in his ARMS and brought him home.

Tyson seemed worse for wear. He was thoroughly shaken up. Even had bits of fur missing – probably the result of pulling a very stupid stunt of some sort. (Overconfidence is his biggest flaw). The family was obviously very happy, even the neighbour – I can’t say the same for Coco, however. Yet, Tyson remained disoriented and slightly jumpy throughout the rest of the week. One would have thought that he’d be all relieved and thank his lucky stars for being reunited with us – ‘home, and safe – at last!!!’. But that did not seem to be the case. Far from it, in fact. He’d become terribly thin, and yet, seemed to have lost all his appetite. My mother found it quite upsetting when he didn’t ruin her morning cuppa with his howls. Dad cussed at him for not being gratefully joyous. My brother got irritated because he couldn’t be mean to him when he was looking so pathetic. By and by though, things got better.

Or rather, stranger. Tyson had, well, changed. He was quieter, calmer. Almost sombre. He didn’t mew as much as he used to, nor did he get into unnecessary trouble. He kept to himself. At times, I almost thought he couldn’t recognize us. It saddened me. But everyone was glad he was still there. And to be honest, my mum didn’t really miss the morning ruckus.

He also started going out of the garden a lot more. Not away, but OUT. For the entire day. And return in the evening as if it had been his routine the whole time. I was surprised, to put it mildly. To be honest, I didn’t like it one bit. My cat was becoming wise. And independent. It didn’t suit him. I liked him silly & stupid & vulnerable. This newfound sense of identity was getting right onto my nerves. I mean, if I called him, he’d look at me, and then look AWAY. As if to say, ‘Yeah, whatever. See ya.” Well, HELLOOO!! But that wasn’t even the worst part. The Worst part was – he no longer liked to be petted or played with.

He no longer liked being stroked till he was comatose; he would no longer latch onto your foot if you tickled his underbelly. He would no longer entertain our non-sense. Basically, he just plain ignored us. Like we were some senile family members he had to put up with. I absolutely hated it.

Absolutely. I wanted to smack his cute little face for this insolence. Walking about with his tail in the air, sitting on our stairs with his back to us, looking at us for exactly 2 seconds when we called only to completely ignore us; actually refusing, REFUSING to become a puddle of fur when scratched at the neck and basically pretending like he was better than us. But god forbid we refuse to feed him. He growled like we were offending his very existence. It was just not a very nice time for me. I wanted to throw him to the dogs. Really.

Then one day, I was sitting on the stairs, staring, at well, nothing in particular when Tyson actually decides to get up from where he’s sitting and actually come sit next to me. And get this, he’s sitting so that his underbelly lies along the side of my foot, touching me. As if to say, ‘Here, I won’t let you pet me any longer, but you can have a feel of my underbelly if you want because I’m just feeling so generous & affectionate right now’. Wow. Thank you. And, although I’m not exactly proud to say it, I pretty much lapped up the chance – careful not to move in case he gets irritated and decides to get up and go back to his spot. Sigh. The things one does for those one cares about.

So there we are, sitting foot to belly, in complete & utter silence. I tried to avoid looking at him. But after some time I found myself wondering if he’d stopped breathing because he was SO freakin’ still. So, very silently, with as minimal movement as possible I put out a hand and stroked his head. He purred. (God, I’m so gullible)

I was quite elated (Internally. There’s no way I’m letting this wretched, ungrateful feline know exactly how much this meant to me) So I pretended to absent-mindedly keep stroking him, and I wondered – ‘how did we come to this?’. When did things change? What happened to him – when he went away? I wish I could know. I wished, with all my heart, that he could talk. In English. maybe then he’d tell me – all the amazing, horrifying & wonderful things he’d seen. All the people & cats he’d met. Where he’d slept, what he’d eaten. Who he’d humped, (if he had). What walls or trees he’d climbed. Whether he’d met some other girl or boy, who’d taken him home & fed him. If someone had gushed over his cuteness while he licked his paws. If people had been nice to him, or if he’d just been jaded by life. I wondered if he ever thought of us – or missed us. I wanted to know what made him back. I wanted to know – so much.

But there are things that we will never know, that we can’t. Or rather, things that do not become known to us, in the way we’d like to. I had known this cat all his life, but now, I couldn’t know the very things that I really wanted to about him. I could just guesstimate. And well, accept. That he’d changed. And that he was here. And in that moment, purring and resting his underbelly on my foot, my cat taught me what it meant to ‘be cool with it’.