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NOTE: This represents the first attempt at a new feature on this blog, one that I hope is long running. I will be publishing interviews with friends, hoping to learn a bit more about where they come from, what they believe in, and what is important to them in their professional and personal lives. I hope you enjoy it.

"One Night With Doctor Paul"

Paul K. and I have been friends for about ten years. As I recall, we were first introduced by Andy B. when Andy recruited me to join the Ovalshow sketch comedy group at Stanford University, in the fall of 1997. At the time, to a smart-alecky sophomore, Paul, along with RM, represented the brooding genius of the show – writing and performing sketches that were arch, literary, and absurd. In those days of Nico and Mr. Eddy, he often sported a dark trench coat and a casual disregard for convention, giving Paul as much of an air of danger as could be claimed by a man who studied moral philosophy, the philosophy of science, and later, medicine.

After college, Paul, well, Paul continued to go to college. Our friendship continued and matured, over the years and across continents, as Paul completed a Master's at Stanford, spent a year at Cambridge, and then finally settled on a medical career at Yale. Included in this time were a memorable, if ill-advised, weekend of martinis in New Haven, a week-long tour de force in London, Brussels, and Amsterdam, many evenings of dinner and drinks in New York, and two separate, rum-soaked weeks in the Virgin Islands.

Paul, recently married, and even more recently turned 30, agreed to sit down with me for my first experiment in interviewing. During the most recent of our trips to the Virgin Islands, over wine and then whiskey, on the deck of Purt-Ny-Shee, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, we talked about growing up, our friends, Christianity, becoming a doctor, and anything else that crossed our minds from two until six in the morning.

Name: Paul K.

Age: 30

Occupation: Neurosurgery resident

Hometown: Bronxville, NY and Kingman, AZ

Family: Paul is the middle brother of three. Paul's parents immigrated to the US from India. His father is a cardiologist and his mother took care of the family. Paul is currently married to Lucy G-K.

Kingman Days

Paul spent the first half of his youth in Bronxville, NY, and the second half in Kingman, AZ, two vastly different towns located on opposite sides of the country. In terms of influence, neither town is immediately obvious as heavily molding young Paul, other than his once-ardent support for Senator John McCain, and his continued support for the Phoenix Suns.

RRD: In terms of growing up do you identify more with Bronxville or Kingman or both equally?

PK: I think when I lived in Kingman, I identified more with Bronxville, but after coming to Stanford, and just to clarify, the way I conceptualize these two places Bronxville is very urbane, wealthy, highly educated, Kingman, very poor, no one goes to college, no one graduates high school, it's out in the wilderness, and I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to say, because my career trajectory is very Bronxville-ian, but, in the end, I think I identify more with Kingman.

RRD: So what about Kingman is it that you identify with?

PK: Outdoorsiness, being in the outdoors. I much prefer rural settings to cities. I like the small town, where everyone knows everybody. A little bit of the suburbanite dream where you can go live in this place where its very safe, very nice, but it's more than that because it's in the middle of nowhere. I may never get to do this because the kinds of jobs I am headed towards require a high concentration of technological capital, but my fantasy world, I would just move to Wyoming or Montana, just live in the middle of nowhere and just fix broken legs or whatever.

RRD: So you felt like growing up in Kingman, you, your family was really integrated with the community at large? You felt like you knew people there, you have good relationships now with people there?

PK: No, none of those things. So, why do I identify with Kingman? None of my good friends now are from high school. There are a couple of people I am still in touch with. My family, I wouldn't really say, is part of the community, because the community is totally white. I think we were the first non-white family to move in to the community, or one of the very first. There are no Native Americans. no Mexicans, which is weird, given its location. And so, it was a very racist town, with a mixture of the congenial racism of everyday stuff, with the occasional violent, weird, bad stuff. What do I like about that town?

RRD: What about violent weird stuff? Are there any stories there?

PK: Well, going from the least bad to the worst. I was definitely called nigger. You know, a couple of times a week.

RRD: By people in school, by people in town?

PK: Both, people in school, classmates, weirdly, some of them sort of my friends. Then by more thug-like people, I didn't know. Then I was in one or two fights, I don't know if they were really-raced based…

RRD: Fist fights?

PK: Yeah.

RRD: Closed fist, you punched people?

PK: Did I punch people? No. At that time, I thought you talked your way out of most things, which I quickly learned was not the case. But you can walk your way out of most things. You may take a punch or two. And then the worst thing that ever happened, this happened when we were at Stanford. The Infiniti, the car I drive now, one night, I guess, some people came threw a Molotov cocktail at it, while it was in the front of our house and set it on fire. And so the whole passenger side was melted, crumpled in. They later said they were trying to kill our dog, but they missed and hit the car. But they had committed a series of race-based acts… graffiti, slurs, so on, culminating in the Molotov cocktail.

RRD: So how did that effect your family, were they scared, shaken up?

PK: Absolutely. We now have gates up in front of the house. My dad owns a handgun, which he said he got as a gift from a patient, which is plausible, but the fact that he kept it... We all tried to get him to get rid of it, and I think he just hid it. I still believe it is in the house somewhere.

RRD: So is Kingman still like that now, when you go back for Thanksgiving or whatever?

PK: Kingman is much bigger now, a bit more cosmopolitan. It would hard for it to be less cosmopolitan, You know, another time I was in a scuffle, where I did take a punch, I was out at a bar, singing karaoke, we were out at a saloon, the Long Tail or something like that. Very western-sounding. It was me and this guy Lane and this guy Lee, so we were singing karaoke, it was shocking that it even had karaoke. A bunch of Kingman-type people wearing the black t-shirt with the wolf and the motorcycle and the American eagle and a flag on it. I was singing the James Brown song "Sex machine." At some point the chorus went from "Get on up!" to "Shut on up!"

I thought, things aren't maybe going as awesome as they could be right now, so we sat down at our table, just chatting. These two guys sit down next to us. I no longer remember the details, but [soon] they asked us "What are you doing here?" And we just started lying, and my friend Lane, who is sort of a genius, said "Well we're here at our ten year high school reunion," and then they say, "It's our ten year high school reunion," and then Lane says, instead of giving up the ghost, "Well, we must know each other. Who was your English teacher?" And then they ask where we live now, and I say San Francisco, somehow San Francisco comes up, and of course they are like "What are you fags?"

RRD: So now they're taunting you?

PK: Right. So they say "Who is in the barrel tonight?" Which is some obscure reference to gay sex that I don't understand. Lane thought it had something to do with monks. And then they go, "What are you fags?" And Lane goes "Yeah, all of us. Do you want to have butt sex? It's awesome." And it was a funny moment, they were so taken aback. In Kingman where no one is gay, being gay is sort of like the bogey man, like eat your vegetables or the gay people will get you. So they don't know whether to get up and leave, to walk away or are they going to catch "the gay?" They are totally confused. [They ask] "are you really gay?" And Lee says, "Guys, I'm being totally straight with you, we're totally gay. "

So the bar closes down. And I remember this ridiculous thing where they are literally… they throw their arms around us, to the point where my feet aren't touching the ground, because I'm being carried out of the bar. The bartender says "Have a good night," which is the one thing I'm not going to do right now. And so we go outside and then they say "Wait one second," and even though, body-mass wise, the two of them exceeded our entire body mass, they need a third guy. Otherwise it's not a fair fight.

So I'm like, "Fuck it, we've got to get out of here right now." So we just walk very quickly over to our pickup truck, and I guess Lee manages to get in, I'm about to get in and Lane is on the driver's side, and they surround him. and they are blocking his way. So I say "Fuck it," and I go back around. One of them pushes Lane, and Lane stays pushed, instead of stepping forward to start the fight. So he's now three feet back. So I say, "Look guys, we're not going to fight you, okay. It's been a great night. Let's not do this. We're going to go home. Everything's cool. We're done." And Lane takes that moment to jump into the drivers seat, and I turn around to walk, and one of runs up and kicks me in the butt, but he's wearing really tight cowboy jeans and cowboy boots and tight jeans, so he can't really kick me. So I'm like "What are you doing?" And then I turn to get in the car and I feel a sudden sensation of my head spinning, because I just got clocked across the face. So I get in the car and close the door, and they start punching the window. And so we just drive off, to my house. Lane passes out on in my bathroom, where my Mom finds him the next day.

The next day, and I love this postscript, I go get a haircut. There are three people ahead of me, and I look at one of them, this guy is sitting with his wife, and it's one of the guys from last night.

RRD: Did he acknowledge that you guys had an altercation? Is this like in a Supercuts? Or a John's barbershop?

PK: This is a Jim's Barbershop, where I've gotten my haircut for however many years. Jim knows everybody. So I just sit down, we make eye contact, his eyes get really big, his wife's talking to him, and he just grabs a magazine and pulls it over his face Doesn't say anything. And his wife just stares at him. And it's his turn to go, but he just doesn't get up out of the chair. So Jim's like, Okay. So I get up and go, and Jim's like "So how are you doing? You're back in town?" and I say, "Well, Jim, funny story…"

RRD: So you told him the story?

PK: Yeah, I told him the story. And I had a bruise on the side of my face.

RRD: So this is Kingman?

PK: Yeah, lot of fights. Lot of people doing lots of drugs. It's at the intersection of major highways. Meth and speed. The Oklahoma City bombers are from my high school. Not McVeigh, but Terry Nichols…

Time in the Wilderness

Over the past ten years, Paul has lived in some very urbane communities, surrounded by people who are brilliant in their fields. With a lengthy spell on and around Stanford campus, a year in Cambridge, England, and four in New Haven, and with an imminent return to the Bay Area, I was interested by Paul' desire to live in a more remote place, like Wyoming or Montana. I asked him to talk a little more about his vision of Paul, the Frontier Doctor.

PK: I describe it as being kind of a fantasy. It seems like a concept that, I guess none of us really wrap our heads around it yet, the idea of a real home and a community. Like when I do my political daydreaming, I'd love to live someplace for twenty years and then run for office. I don't know if it'll actually happen, just because of my career.

So my small town fantasy may just be that Define it as an absence of something that is in my life now. But I don't exactly think of it that way, because I really came around to the small town as an ideal, not when I lived in Kingman, because when I lived in Kingman, I hated the place. The essays and stories - the not even thinly veiled autobiographies that I would write – I remember this one image, during my last year in Kingman, I feel like an electron on the edge of something, waiting for the photon to just shoot me off, into space. I couldn't wait to leave Kingman and when I got to Stanford, I was really into the idea of San Francisco. Then going to Sierra Camp,, ohmygod, I love this place. And not because of the people. My first year, I didn't really like that many people at Sierra Camp. But what I loved was being out in nature, the encounter with the sublime, being on the top of a mountain, the quietness of nature, the drama of nature. I was like, Wow, these are the fireworks for me, much more than going to clubs, or whatever, that's where the ideal began to form.

RRD: That's interesting to me, because I don't associate big nature, big sky backpacking as part of the Paul idea.

PK: Most people don't, weirdly enough, If I was a fictional character they would totally pick out Bronxville and Kingman, because they define the two poles of this character's life There is a huge Bronxvillean aspect to my personality, that is in many ways the more dominant. The literariness, the goofy intellectualness. But ultimately, if you ask me would I rather read a good book or go on a good hike, I'd take a hike any day of the week

RRD: Did you hike a lot in Kingman?

PK: Yeah, yeah I did actually, but not because I was in love with nature, but as a way of escaping. I would often go back behind my house, hike out into the red, rocky mountains, I could disappear for hours into the mountains. Also as a way to get to downtown, where this girl I was dating worked, at this coffee shop. I'd do that a lot. But even when I had a car, I would hike down rather than drive over.

RRD: So what are the best places that you've ever hiked? What are the real kind of holy places, that you remember, that you've been inspired by?

PK: The first time I hiked Tallac, the big mountain by Sierra camp, there is this phenomenal thing where you leave at 2 in the morning on a full moon, you hike out by the light of the full moon, you actually don't need a flashlight, and you summit right as the sun is rising, and as the sun rises the sky begins to lighten, and there is a moment where you can see the sun peeking over the horizon, and it's light blue, and it gets slowly darker until directly above you it's pitch black, and you turn around and look behind you and it's still night. The stars are still out, the moon is still out, and you look one way it's pitch black night, and you look the other way and it's day.

The Machu Pichu trip with Robin was fantastic for totally other reasons, Hiking with Jeevan in Chile. That's where the stories come from, because they are sort of ridiculous. Other sublime things: Desolation Wilderness, for a whole host of reasons reasons, out behind Kingman, of course. Now, with Lucy, the White Mountains.

Does A Neurosurgeon Have Uses for A Fake Moustache and A Gorilla Suit?

In college, and really only slowing a little bit in the post-collegiate days, Paul made a reputation for embracing an absurd sort of prankishness, with the joke most often at the expense of convention, rather than anyone in particular. From wearing a fake moustache to a good friend's wedding, to wearing a fake moustache in his medical school ID, to getting drunk in a gorilla suit, these pranks often involved fake moustaches and/or gorilla suits. And they weren't always well received. I wondered how the general undergraduate knack for hijinks would translate to the more serious world of medicine.

RRD: Do you feel like you are maintaining or losing or is there any difference between Paul, guy who wears a fake moustache to Dave's wedding, owns a gorilla suit and Paul, important neurosurgeon?

PK: Yeah, oddly enough right on this deck, three or four years ago, Robin and I were sitting, and Robin said, Paul, at some point you are going to drop this whole medical school thing and do something crazy, because I don't understand why you went to medical school. Because it is a little incongruous, with the way I was. Because a lot of the things I was known for and did are not congruous with being a doctor. As I said to a friend, as we were having drinks last weekend, he said what are you doing, and I said was going to be a neurosurgeon, and he just started to laugh. Everyone I know well that I tell just starts to laugh. So am I going to lose the fake moustache / gorilla suit part of myself? Probably. That ostentatious side of me hasn't been as ostentatious and won't be as ostentatious as it was when I was younger. But I think that's sort of normal. There are serious things that I care about more.

RRD: So how does it work? Do you compartmentalize two parts of what you do? Or do you integrate them and one part diminishes?

PK: You compartmentalize. Even when I was applying to medical school, there was this great moment. I was doing one of my Yale interviews, my interviewer was challenging me, he asked me, are you just going to use your MD to become some kind of philosopher, just to get credibility out of it. What's that all about? Do you really want to be a doctor? After we interviewed, he said come back and have beers with me, which I regret not doing. And then he said, every recommendation letter you have mentions your comedy work not one mentions your sense of humor. Why is that? And I was like fuck, great question. And I had an instant answer. When I'm working, I'm very serious. I'm not Patch Adams. When I'm doing my philosophy, I'm not cracking jokes about Heidegger. With my professional relationships, with people who are going to write letters, I don't have that sort of ease where I can shift into funny mode when we're doing something serious. When we're doing something serious, I'm pretty focused on it. I have pretty radically different gears.

RRD: You kind of wove your way around and got back to doctoring, after four or five years of kicking around. Do you feel like at this point, that being a doctor is a true calling? Do you really see at some point abandoning being a doctor, or is it so fundamental that you could never see you not being a doctor?

PK: Oh not at all. Sometimes I think to myself, if I can't be a neurosurgeon, what would I do, would I be a psychiatrist, would I stay in medicine? And my gut feeling is no. I'd leverage the neurosurgery thing into a position with Medtronic, or even in consulting. Make a total lateral move.

RRD: Do you see it as service?

PK: Yeah, absolutely. The reason that I chose neurosurgery over anything else was the service component. Literally, I dind't say what would Jesus do, but what was important in the world from a moral/religious standpoint. I could be a psychiatrist. Everybody was pushing me to be psychiatrist. Because I'm a good writer, I do good science. And I've been told repeatedly, you're just the sort of guy who needs to come into this field.

But in the end I feel there was a sort of vanity to do that. The people I cared about helping were neurosurgical patients. People whose lives were suddenly and utterly fucked up – whether it was trauma, epilepsy, a brain tumor, something is seriously fucked up and it's fairly sudden and it totally upends a whole family. And what I love about the job is that you are the only person, literally the only person, who can help those people, because there are only about 3000 neurosurgeons in the United States. And I love the seriousness of it and the badass-ness of it, it's really, really hard work. There are harder jobs in America, obviously, but not a lot. I love that I can do it and, I think most people can't do it. But part of what I mean by that is I'm not sure that I can do it. It's so fucking difficult. And I love that challenge.

But really the number one thing was that, these people are suffering so acutely, and so profoundly, than almost anybody else in healthcare, and those are the people I wanted to help. So would I do this until the day that I die? Probably not. Because it's backbreaking work, in two senses, in that you break people's backs, to get to their spinal cords, but also because it's fucking hard work, physically demanding, both in the sense of physical strength, endurance, and it's emotionally demanding, intellectually demanding, demanding on your time as well. So I see doing this for twenty, thirty years, however long, and then I see retiring. I wouldn't die in the OR

And the other thing I should say about it, you are so close to death all the time, death is a real thing. I remember reading a book called Death, and I remember thinking distinctly, at some point, if you can get your head around death, you've really accomplished something intellectually. So being in the company of death, constantly, was something that was attractive to me in medicine. You are really there at the life and death moments, and those, in some sense are the real authentic moments in life. So there's that attraction, as well. So it's definitely a calling. You can't see it as a job, because if it's a job, it's one of the worst fucking jobs there is. So you have to see it as a calling. But at some point I'm doing and I'm writing my weird books. But not for a while.

His Girl Lucy

Last September, in a lovely ceremony on the Connecticut shoreline, Paul married Lucy. Some seven months later, Lucy turned up at the dock in Cruz Bay, expected, but a couple days later than the rest of us, and a couple fruity rum drinks behind. Also a doctor, and having just returned from a doctor's conference in San Diego, one of Lucy's first announcements upon landing was that the eye doctor, who was super cool, had informed her that her eyes were crooked and that explained why she didn't like reading. Which was news to me. I asked Paul to talk a little bit about Lucy.

PK: What I really treasure about Lucy is that her capacity to love is barely finite. Such an empathetic, caring person, it's unbelievable to me most of the time. She gets very freaked out that she can not talk intellectual bullshit, since that's what I do a lot of the time, with my friends. She was like, "Yeah, I don't get any of that. I don't read those books." But fundamentally, on what counts, she has everything. And I really saw that in her almost immediately.

It's silly to believe in love at first sight, but as I as soon as I saw her in medical school, I was like "Oh, shit." Because I was still dating Nat. "This is a girl I can not get to know." Just because of the way she carries herself and interacts with people. I thought, this is a girl I am not going to get to know. And that's going to be fine. Because I had this idea that I'd come to medical school, be very studious, not have many friends, hang out in New York, have a social life there. And that worked pretty well for a few months. Until I went out to a big social event, had a few drinks, made a lot of friends, including Lucy. And after that, Lucy and I were now friends.

I like to pretend that Lucy comes after the breakup but that's not how it really works. Lucy and I went running once, then she came over to a barbeque that I threw, and then we started hanging out a lot. And then she knew that I was going to Barcelona to meet my English girlfriend, and she wrote me an email about Barcelona, all the things to do and see in Barcelona, and some really sweet, personal touches, just because that's who she is and how she is with everybody. Needless to say this did not help.

Nat and I broke up while we were in Barcelona. And a coincidental, funny thing, the Hunger and Homeless auction in November, people put up date boxes, you don't have to be single to do it. So I made one: the Guns and Freaks Date, for the raffle box. Going to Bridgeport, possibly the worst city in the universe. But it also has a Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey freak museum and it has a shooting range. And I was like, this is clearly what I want to do one Saturday. So that was my date.

Mostly dudes entered it, because they were like "This is awesome!" But Lucy put in one ticket. The way she tells it, as she was leaving the auction, she figured, "I'll put in one ticket. Paul's my friend." And within hours after breaking up in Barcelona, I checked my email. I got the email from the coordinators: "Lucy won your date." And I thought, "Well, I guess that's that."

RRD: It's a funny thing, I remember you telling me, I had met Lucy, and I remember asking you, "What do you like?" and you said one thing, which was "Her bookshelf." Which contained all the books that someone who would be really interesting would read. Funny in the light of our conversation of the last couple of days, that Lucy doesn't really like to read.

PK: I remember this conversation because we were in the subway, and I said "These are the sacrifices you make to date someone who was really smart," but I sort of paused, because I was going to say "Hot." And of course I meant both things. But that was one of the funny surprises about Lucy.

RRD: That she doesn't like to read…

PK: Yeah, that she doesn't like to read. She does have a great bookshelf of books she's never read. During the early stages of our relationship I kept buying her books. And I was like "What is your deal? These are great books I'm getting you. But you read a few pages and you're like ÔLet's do something else.'"

RRD: One of Lucy's qualities is a sense of wonder…

PK: Absolutely. Lucy's alive in a way that I fee l like I'm not. That sounds a little more profound than I mean. Maybe not. It's true. She's one of these people who has been able to preserve the childlike fascination with the world while not being a child.

One of my favorite things about Lucy is that she is so present in every moment, in a way I'm not really able to be. For her that distance that doesn't exist. there was this very funny moment. We're studying EKGs, so there's the normal ones and then there is Vtak or Vfib, maybe it was Vtac. One of those. When it happnens, it means you're about to die. I thought, it's just a wavy line on a page. And the first time Lucy saw it she started to cry. Because it meant that somebody was about to die. And I said, you know, you're right. To me that's a bunch of wavy lives on a page, I was sort of analytic about it, but to her, she knows what that is, she knows what that maeans. And I thought, god that's amazing, that you can be that in touch with things. You look at squiggly lines and it brings you to tears.

Walking With Jesus

RRD: Walk me through the Christianity thing

PK: Sure. You want me to give you the biography?

RRD: Well, start with that, if you think it's the best. I guess the thing that I don't get is, you've told me, written, self-identified as a Christian. And personally that means one thing, and politically and culturally it means something. It means one thing to say that I believe in Christian and another thing to say that I am a Christian. That's a distinction that people enforce from outside, but it is a distinction. To my understanding, you've said "I am a Christian."

PK: Sure. Totally.

RRD: But you've created some definition as to what that statement means, right?

PK: Yeah.

RRD: Maybe walk me through that. You wrote something to me about what one of your Professors told you, that he said, "Paul, when you become a doctor, you'll understand that you need to be a Christian."

PK: Well, he said to me, I think we were having some conversation about religion, where I used the term post-theist, that was I was trying to promote - that religion is some ancient, ridiculous thing, it isn't even worth being an atheist, so let's move past that. So I said, you know bill, I'm more into this idea that I call post-theism. What is a world like when religious metaphysics is not a question people engage in.

And he was like, "Never use that term again, because it's absurd."

Then he said, "I hope it's not weird of me to say this, but, Paul , you are already a Christian, you just haven't realized it yet."

And at that time I was like Ok you're my boss. And left it at that.

And I think I know what he means by that now. Sort of.

So I guess the biography of it, if we start there…

RRD: Well, let me start earlier. You were raised Christian?

PK: Oh, yeah. My parents were very religious. We prayed every night, read from the bible, a very nice family thing to do.

RRD: Prayed in what sense?

PK: We sat around on the floor, legs crossed. You were encouraged to pray out loud, but you didn't have to.

RRD: For five minutes every night, or half an hour?

PK: Oh, half an hour, maybe more. We read a Bible story every night, we read a book with bible stories told in normal language, when we were young we would read those. When we were older we'd read chapters from the Bible, from this magazine called The Upper Room, which included stories from the Bible and then commentary on what they meant. Then we'd pray, everyone would go around and pray. "It's your turn to pray it's your turn to pray it's your turn to pray." Most of the time we'd pray silently, and then my dad would say something out loud, and then we'd end with a prayer together. So, a very religious family, and my parents are still very religious.

I think by the time I was fifteen I started to take ownership of religion. It wasn't something I just did because my family did it. I started to think about it criticall, and still coming out on the plus side. I remember talking to Suman, who was in college, and saying that meditating about a problem, thinking about a problem was different than praying about a problem.

RRD: Can you articulate the difference?

PK: Sure, praying about something creates a mental space where an answer will suggest itself more profoundly than just meditating, this will sound mildly psycho, but you sort of hear the voice of God, or Jesus or whoever, in a thought that you are having, a thought that is half yours, but half not yours.

I definitely remember being openly religious at the age of fifteen or sixteen, saying that I understand that people don't believe in God, that there are legitimate reasons to doubt. And then gradually things started to fall to pieces. My church got very crazy, because some of the leaders were fundamentalist. There was this one moment where someone stood up and denounced Mormons as being servants of Satan, and I decided that these people are a little bit crazy. So, OK, the church, a human institution is fallible. That's fine.

And then I read the Bible, as part of my first year in college, and I was like, this book is crazy. Not only is it crazy, it doesn't make any sense. OK, so that's a fairly big problem. So, now, I feel that the church, very fallible, and the Bible, pretty fucking crazy. I'm not totally sure I can sign on to the Bible. Well, so what does that leave me with?

I guess I have some sort of notion of God and Jesus and stuff. But this is getting pretty tenuous. And at this time, I read a book called Satan's Psychotherapy and Cure – which was not a very funny book but should have been very funny – and there is a point in the book where one of the characters makes a statement about how the mind is material. And I was like, holy shit, of course it is! What else is it? The mind is something that the brain does. It's not anything else. And that was kind of a mindfuck. And that started me on the whole neuroscience kick.

So religion was a dead question to me for a while. Then [fast forward] to a year after I finished college, but I was still living in the area, with Ben and Jeff, and working with Bill, and… so the three guys that I spend the most time with, they are Christians in super sophisticated ways, and I don't get what their deal is with religion. And then Bill says, "Ok you're a Christian, you just don't recognize it yet."

So, the thing I wrote about, one time IÔm getting breakfast with Ben, salmon and lox and capers, and I say to Ben, "I'm just so curious, your dad says you're a Christian, are you a Christian?" And he says "Yeah." And I asked him, "Do you believe God exists?" And he pauses and then says, "I don't even know what question means." And I was like, "Fuck, that's a really interesting answer to that question." And that opened a lot of doors.

You can be a Christian and not place a lot of chits on giant white men and robes and beards and that opened a lot of doors for me. So because I found the central values of Christianity so compelling – sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness. There is a big tension in the bible between justice and mercy, between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the New Testament says, you can never be good enough, goodness is the thing and you can never live up to it. The main message of Jesus is that mercy trumps justice every time.

I should say as my freshman year, as a backdrop to this, I was very concerned about moral questions. My goal was to design the perfect moral system. One of the things I got on was good and evil. I don't know how useful those terms are. At least modern life turns on being good, but not quite good enough. So you allow bad things to happen. Then a lot of the inequalities we have is because people settle for good enough, not that they are bad people, but because they are settling morally.

[For me,] the basic message, original sin isn't "Feel guilty all of the time.": It's more that, we all have a notion of what it means to be good and we can't live up to it all the time. That's what the message of the New Testament is. Even if you have a notion as well defined as Leviticus, you can't live that way, it's insane. And even if your notion is more sensible, you still can't do it. That was one of the central points about Christianity for me, that struck me as existentially very, very true. So, well, I was like, I think I buy into Christianity philosophically, but not metaphysically. Beards, resurrection, I have no time for that. But this basic thing makes a lot of sense.

And then, I should say, that like a year ago, two years ago, one Good Friday, I had a more religious religious experience, not philosophical. When approaching the cross during a Good Friday service I had that old school, fifteen year old experience, where Jesus was talking to me, not like I was hearing voices, but Woah!, I was humbled by the cross, that Jesus suffered for us, that this is the right way to think about life, that all of my failures, in one sense is failing to live up to Christ sacrificing himself for our sins, and I really had that sense of forgiveness, and I was like well, I guess that's the last step,.

I remember one conference I was at – midway through this transition – there were years, where I was in the in-between stage. I was walking with Archbishop George Pell [the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia], at this conference we were both attending, and I asked him, "What does it take to be a Christian?" Because I bought into it philosophically. And so I asked "You know the whole resurrection of God question… I don't have a whole lot of use for that. I don't buy into that. Can I still be a Christian?" And there was a pause and then he said, "No. No, you can't." And so, at the time, I decided I'd just be a Christian sympathizer.

And then later, as I said, I had my own sense of the reality of Christ. And now I guess I have all my chips in. That's the religion story.

And without that I wouldn't work in a free clinic nearly every Saturday. And I wouldn't be a neurosurgeon.

The Gossip

RRD: Tell me what you like about Chris.

PK: Sure. In the same way that I configured my life between rotating between Bronxville and Kingman, I have similarly configured my life, on a different spectrum, between Chris and Robin. My younger days were very Chris-oriented, my older days I have become more Robin-esque. The things that I love about Chris are the things thtat I love about Lucy. There is a genuineness, an ever-present-ness, a love of the moment, a sense that there is always a good time to be had, being awake enough to realize it, in a totally non-cynical way. Chris is the sort of guy who would point out how awesome it is…

RRD: To be up at daybreak in the Virgin Islands…

PK: Totally. He'd be psyched. Chris is tied into the immediacy of life, without being cheap. And a real sense that life and experience are things to be treasured and to make treasureable. A very non-passive view of life.

RRD: Tell me what you like about Robin.

PK: His pants.

RRD: Really? That's a surprising answer.

PK: That guy has great pants. I don't know if you've ever looked at his pants. To be honest, I feel like Robin has Chris-ified himself over the years. Become less reserved, , less distant from the moment. I remember there was a time when there was an email that had been sent, we were all faking emails from each other, and Robin sent this email about the cat and the Cavalier. And it wasn't totally nonsensical, and I thought, "Robin wouldn't write that – maybe Jeevan wrote that, maybe I wrote that – not something Robin would do." Robin would write something witty, entrenched in layers of meaning, obviously very funny, very smart, but not just insane, and this was an insane email. Obvioulsy his literary-ness. His sense of the intellectual in everyday stuff. The experience of something in relationship to various traditions – his ability to contextualize anything, again, without being cheap.

RRD: What do you like about staying up to six in the morning? In general. Given that it is done less frequently.

PK: What I like about staying up at six in the morning, hopefully, at our age, your doing it because something good, something worthwhile is happening. Implicit, is the sense of something meaningful, worthwhile. Or just staying up really late drinking. Which is maybe less worthwhile.

RRD:Tell me something that you like about your Mom

PK: My relationship with my parents was ice age when I was young, and has thawed considerably over the last nine years. I've come to think of my Mom in terms of raising us as a phenom. She was on track to being a doctor in India, didn't happen, moved to America with her husband of a few weeks, something ridiculous, and built this crazy life. One of my favorite stories about my mom is that I grew up with her as this domestic housewife, but she never knew how to do anything domestic until she came to this country.

So, when my dad would go out to be a resident, working, and he would tell her that she should finish med school, she would sit at home and figure out how to manage a household. She would sit with a notepad by the television and take notes. The first time she saw a commercial for a mop and cleaning fluid, she was like oh my god, that is so much better than using towels, on your hands and knees to clean the floor. Like you do in India.. She wrote that down in a list of things to know about. It's awesome to me that she took over being a housewife in the most intellectual and deliberate way possible.

And then when we were kids, when we moved out of Bronxville, and chose Kingman, and my mom went and saw the schools and started to cry because they were so bad. So she took it upon herself to transform the school system in Kingman. And she did. It was incredible.

Our relatives, because they are such competitive Indians, refused to tell her what you need to do to go to college. So she figured out, pre-internet, about the ACT, the SAT, what you need to get in to college. And she got herself on the school board, got these programs instituted into our high school – like AP courses, in our high school

RRD: Just to get the three of you into Stanford…

PK: Well, she believed in the education system as well. We had a choice to go to private school, but we refused. So she was like, "OK. I'm going to have to run for office and revamp the whole school system." [My friend] Lee tells me that if it wasn't for my Mom, he would've gone to the military instead of Yale. There's a whole host of people like that in Kingman. It's a phenomenal thing that my mom did, it is unbelievable to me that she had that resilience to say this is what we have to do and got it done. But at the same time she is so humble and so family oriented in that classically Indian way, but not just to family, but to anybody. People were always living at our house, my friends who had trouble, they could come in whenever they wanted to stay. So charitable, just unbelievable.

RRD: What do you like about Jeevan?

PK: It's always hard to articulate what you like about someone that close to you. Jeevan and I didn't really become very good friends until college. Jeevan originally decided not to go to Stanford because I was there. In high school, I was the louder of the two of us. So, all of his teachers called him Paul, on accident. And then, ah, I think this was actually my fault, I didn't save his Yale essay or something, so I sent his Stanford essay to Yale, so he didn't get into Yale. So he went to Stanford.

Then, by luck of the draw we ended up living in the same house the next year, but we really became friends over those years. He's such a great guy, genuine, super smart, really the mediator in the family. I'm definitely the black sheep, the difficult character to deal with. An example of the difference is when we were both atheists, I wouldn't take communion as a point of principle. And I needed people to know. So I wouldn't lie to my parents. Instead I just caused a lot of trouble. But Jeevan lied because it was more respectful. To keep things smooth.

RRD: Tell me what you like about Dad.

PK: My Dad works super hard, unbelievably hard the guy works. To the point that I swore I'd never be a doctor, so I never considered it, when I was an undergraduate. But now getting to know him later in life, he is a phenomenal dude. Takes the notion of Christian charity to the utmost – the notion that you do charity, but don't ever tell anyone you do it. I remember when I was a teenager, he bought a jaguar, I was furious. I was like "What the fuck, how do you spend that much money on the car?" My mom said "Your dad always wanted something like this." I was like "80K could do a lot of good." And then later, a few months later we were in India, and we go to a hospital to see it, and my dad's name and pictures are on the wall. "Why is my dad's name and picture on the wall?" And they said, "Well, your dad has been sending money back for 25 years to build this hospital." Why did nobody tell me this?!

He built this hospital in India, he paid for both his younger and older brothers education, came as a resident making no money, sending money back to India all the time. Got both his brothers here, tried to bribe the medical school to get his younger brother in, re-bribed them the next year, got his brother in.

My dad is phenomenally smart, he is such a good doctor. He gets called to consult on everything. … He is really good with patients. So funny. Never thought of him as funny, but he is so funny with patients. There was this one patient who just had this operation on her heart. My dad was like "Are you hungry? What do you want?" And she was like, "Anything." "How about lobster and steak?" And he picks up the phone and calls the nursing station and says "Patient so and so needs lobster and steak." And then he turns to the patient and says, "It may look sort of like a turkey sandwhich."

If I'm half the doctor my dad is, I would be super-psyched.

My parents told me this story, something I wanted to write about in college. My dad's dad, was a revolutionary writer against the British. His dad, converted to Christianity. Apparently, he was a very wealthy man, but he gave away all his worldly possessions to the poor, set up foundations for the poor and lived in tattered clothes on the street, sent his children to live with his mother. Had a pretty crazy conversion, sort of admirable. And so my dad, yeah he's a Christian, and he meets my mom, and she's Hindu. Both families tell them that they cannot get married, this is totally wrong. My dad's idea is: We want to get married, and if you say you can't get married, we're out of here. We're going to the States, see you later. A week before they go to the states, they have this rapid marriage, her brother comes out and wakes her up and says "You're getting married in half an hour, c'mon." So, it was a totally classic story, the came to the States, my dad had like twenty dollars in his pocket.

RRD: What do you think about this beard?

PK: The beard is more or less Lucy's idea. I was clean cut for interviews. Lucy was like "Why don't you grow a beard?" I just let it grow out. Then I really didn't like it. I really didn't like it. Although, now it's grown on me. But a beard is a lot more work than shaving.

RRD: Are you going to keep it?

PK: No, it's gone. It's gone. My medical school ID, I wore the fake moustache for that. So for the last banquet, I want the real moustache. But clean shaven for residence. Beards are a complete hassle, and would be an extra hassle.