Acorns and Hamsters

I was well on my way to being a crazy rich Asian with my one-stock portfolio on the cusp of hitting $63,000 back in June. I entered the game in February with $51,000 and simply kept moving in and out of safe stocks such as Amazon and Google, playing the swings and staying patient enough to never sell at a loss.

This amounted to a return of more than 23 percent in four months, and I was routinely telling my parents they needed to reach a higher net worth to join my burgeoning hedge fund.

Then I bought 301 shares of Alibaba after a 1-percent drop, planning to sell when it went back up a dollar. But it hasn’t in two months. The “Amazon of China” is acting like a cheap knockoff, and now I’m hovering in the $53K range after dipping near break-even. Over six months, it’s still much better than a savings account and almost certainly will rise again.

 

 

That’s how it goes when playing the market. As a prerequisite, your life should not be affected if you lose 20 percent – or ideally, all of it. Really all you need is a long time horizon and discipline not to panic.

Most people who know what they’re talking about will tell me to stop trying to be Warren Buffett and just put money into low-cost index funds. Warren Buffett would tell me that, too. Contribute consistently and pay no attention to market fluctuations.

So in parallel, I invest virtual spare change into a diversified portfolio through an app called Acorns. If I buy groceries for $27.83, it rounds up to $28 and 17 cents goes into a broad mix of stocks and bonds based on my profile.

I would love a guilt tax feature that “fined” me a dollar for every fast food or beer purchase. Maybe $100 because of the low volume. As someone who once modeled the same shirt as Reggie Bush for an athletic apparel brand in consecutive Instagram posts and defeated him in heart taps, 257-234, I don’t put that garbage in my body very often.

 

 

I don’t know how I beat Reggie Bush. At first glance, the challenge would seem so daunting I wouldn’t know how to begin. That’s the problem with first-time investors trying to make sense of ETFs and IRAs and EPS’s. One step at a time. The key is to just get started.

Acorns works because it reduces barriers to entry and makes complicated things feel effortless. The premise applies to a lot of businesses. We just launched a platform at work that simplifies local social advertising for national brands with scattered franchises. If that’s the kind of thing you like to talk about in the bedroom, you know whom to call.

During my sexy time between the sheets, I like to whisper to my wife about 401(k)s and time value of money. It’s become a bit of a calling for me, to encourage younger people (not that we’re young) to get past the inertia when it comes to saving and investing.

Trying to outwork a bad diet is like being the hamster in the wheel. The same thing goes for trying to outwork a lack of savings. There are only so many hours you have left to work in your life. Your money needs to work for you.

There was a story in The New York Times this month about bankruptcy among senior citizens tripling since the 90s. I’m known as a robot who doesn’t cry at weddings, including my own. But talk to me about old people in poverty, and you can find me locked in the bathroom ugly-crying like my wife would at a wedding between two one-legged dogs.

It’s so sad. Behavioral economists are winning Nobel Prizes trying to figure out why people are so irrational when it comes to saving for retirement.

My wife’s attitude before she met me was basically no f’s given, presumably paycheck to paycheck until the hamster dropped dead. She’s gotten better, and I recently asked her for the first time in our five years together how much she had saved up.

When she told me, I said something like “Oh, that’s nothing” and she burst into tears. I wasn’t trying to be derisive. I meant it more literally, that relative to her age and amount of working years, this was a nominal amount essentially rounding to zero. The second-grade students she used to teach are doing about as well with their piggy banks, when adjusting for differences in disposable income.

Am I a monster? Sometimes I feel like a jerk the way I express logic. I love my wife, and she writes off most of what I say to my being “special needs.” The label doesn’t offend me at all. It actually makes me feel special indeed, even though I’m fully aware of the intent.

I am right about this one, though. We can’t count on social security, pensions or incomes that keep pace with inflation and healthcare costs. Even some mindless investing of spare change right now changes that scary picture. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, hopefully tall enough for hamsters to earn some rest in the shade.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Single and Interchangeable

I hope this doesn’t warrant a #MeToo, but I have a habit of forcing my wife to the edge of the bed so she has to back her body into mine unless she wants to fall several feet to the hard floor and risk concussion.

If she tries to wriggle for some breathing room, I immediately advance into the empty space and she loses even more territory. Inevitably, her myopic escape attempts lead to multiple limbs hanging over the edge, and I retreat just enough to accommodate the compact spooning we should have skipped to in the first place rather than play this tired charade. We end up falling asleep occupying about one-fifth of the bed.

I just can’t get enough of that sensation of a human being consensually pressing against me. It makes me feel loved.

My favorite non-human creature in the universe is a coworker’s dog who visits the office once or twice a week. I figured out if I reach over her body and pet underneath the far hind leg, she’ll press her haunches against me. Again, it’s a feeling that floats near the top of my Maslow hierarchy.

I bring up all this cuddle talk to acknowledge my appreciation for companionship before telling you my wife was gone for 12 straight days this month, and I didn’t really notice much of a difference, let alone miss her.

I’m not trying to be mean or tough, just observant. It’s kind of interesting, right? Twelve days isn’t long, especially with a known end date. But it’s long enough to miss things that don’t have a perfect or close substitute: toothbrush, internet, exercise, car in L.A.

So what substituted for my wife? I abhor strip clubs, and I made it until the last day without so much as a sideways glance at adult material. I didn’t want to cave but felt I had to honor the circumstances, like being given an In-N-Out Double-Double when you’re not really hungry. What are you supposed to do, live with the missed opportunity because you didn’t feel like it at the time?

I suppose some combination of work, family, friends and leisure outlets elevated while my wife was on the other side of the Atlantic. These elements aren’t necessarily neglected because of marriage, but naturally they get more attention in the absence of it. They didn’t substitute for my wife, but they absorbed the extra time and kept my quality of life from dipping.

My life partner undoubtedly adds so much value. However, this value is not immune to opportunity cost. This is what I like to impart when single friends lament their dating struggles.

You should celebrate and enjoy the aspects of being single that you won’t get on the other side. It sounds lame coming from a happily married guy, like a millionaire pontificating about how money isn’t everything. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

I think being single and being married offer the same ceiling of satisfaction. They simply get there in different ways.

If I’m getting 20 units of utility from having someone to talk to at the end of the day, maybe if I were single I would get 5 from FaceTiming my mom more, 5 from more bro time, 5 from reading for pleasure, and 5 from that deep peace of shutting down with no one else around.

If I’m getting 50 units from cuddling, maybe I would get 5 from more REM sleep, 5 from answering to a single alarm schedule, and the balance would be made up over the medium term with the occasional steamy casual hookup.

If I’m getting 100 units from companionship, maybe 20 would be offset by discovery and adventure, 20 by independence, 20 by personal growth without a social crutch, 20 by pouring time into a passion project, and 20 by the drive to meet new people.

It seems to me living a good single life is a more diversified approach to investing in your limited time on Earth. Single friends are distinct in my mind, each with a story and personality. Most of my married friends kind of blend into one heuristic, especially the white ones who go to brunch together. There is a clear regression to a very boring, unremarkable mean shortly after “I do.”

Yet when I talk to single folks in their 30s, I hear a singular fixation on finding a spouse. It makes me worried they will settle for a mediocre relationship rather than a fulfilling single life.

There should be no rush as long as you’re being mindful enough to enjoy the present. Yes the clock is ticking on everyone, which is why you shouldn’t waste it on people not worth the time.

Are you worried about being old, sick and ugly and dying utterly alone? I truly cannot think of a better way to die at that point. I don’t want anyone to see me like that. I like being married while I’m still rocking a six-pack. When it comes time to roll around in my own diarrhea, I actually would rather not have any company.

Two weeks shy of 2 years married, I fully plan on getting to the diarrhea stage with my wife. For whatever reason (and by whatever reason, I mean children), most people gravitate toward marriage. If that’s the goal, I would just encourage the right frame of mind, one that allows you to be happily single until happily married.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Deep in the Heart of North Texans

My dad almost — and “almost” is even a bit of an understatement — died on a Thursday this month. I didn’t find out until the ensuing Monday afternoon after picking up on a curious context clue in a text from my brother:

… in the wake of Dad almost dying the other day…

Fortunately I didn’t need to dwell in suspense and conjecture because I saw the text at the same time as the one that followed 10 minutes later:

 

 

So I called my mom in a bit of a daze, just as she was helping load my dad into the car after checking out of the hospital. This was four-and-a-half days after he flirted so hard with Death they had to use a condom.

He really should have died. Lest you think I’m being a dramatic child of a nuclear family from the suburbs, here’s how close it was:

  • My 64-year-old dad goes on long bike rides in north Texas with a cycling club. He has a ritual of competing against other riders to the top of steep hills. This time, circa mile 42, his vision went brown to black in 2 seconds, and his heart stopped working. Now I know the reason why I feel compelled before softball every Wednesday to announce I’m putting my heart on the line and willing to die for a victory. This was inherited.

  • By some measures, cardiac arrest is the No. 3 killer in America, with an out-of-hospital survival rate of 6 percent. Stats vary of course. The fire chief said his team gets five or six patients who die a week, and about one a month survives. So yeah, right around 6 percent or worse in stretches.

  • An angelic bystander called 911 a minute or two after my dad crashed. Allen Fire Rescue was dispatched in 22 seconds and arrived in 7 minutes flat. This could not have happened earlier, when the cyclists were traversing remote, wooded areas not easily accessible by ambulance.

  • Meanwhile my dad’s heart wasn’t beating, which seems to me a challenging way to go about living life. Without an oxygen supply to the brain, we’re talking minutes before irreversible damage and death. The paramedics would have been too late, except…

  • Two cyclists in the group traded off giving CPR. This was like a Curry-Thompson backcourt. Playing on a Pop-A-Shot. They pumped with such incredible volume and effectiveness, my dad was showing signs of gaining consciousness. This is rare. They’re getting the City of Allen’s Mayor Award.

The heroes gave my dad a fighting chance until the professional heroes got there. One shock from the defibrillator restarted his life and kept my family from having to reboot ours. I am still processing that I really should be burying my dad this month rather than talking to him about the stock market.

If he were going into an operation with a 94-percent chance of dying, I would be googling how to plan a funeral. But I found about it all after the fact and didn’t have a chance to feel or think anything in real time.

My parents didn’t see any utility in telling me what happened right away. I was headed to a bachelor party in New Orleans that Thursday, so why worry me. I couldn’t really help, given I’m not the Asian doctor son they still see in their daydreams. My dad seemed fine in the hospital, and emotional support isn’t really a thing in our household.

Do you see why I am the way I am? Check out how my dad technically broke the news before I stumbled on it.

It was Saturday, two days after near death, and my brother sent a pic of a steak he cooked. His unfortunate face is in there because he knows I hate all pictures without people in them. Who cares? I can google your stupid sunsets and foods and skylines and get better images in less than a second.

Anyway, here’s the text thread:

 

 

I was flirting with my own kind of blackout at this point, on my way to shirtless chest-bumping up and down Bourbon Street while screaming “Let’s Goooo” ad nauseam. Yet my brother was sober and didn’t pick up on it either.

This might be retrofitting vague memory, but I remember brushing off the cardiac arrest text as a reference to the red meat. Plus my mom followed it up with another comment on the steak.

Who cares about the mother effing steak? Are you guys sociopaths? It’s such a bizarre way to communicate. I had no idea what was going on and responded with my own dinner pic. My dad’s phonetic Chinese response roughly translates to “Gerald is being a class clown,” and that was the end of the conversation.

For those who wonder why I seem emotionally detached and robotic at times, this is your glimpse into nature versus nurture. As my dad recovers, I don’t have to cringe at the next phone call potentially bringing news of a relapse. I can rest easy knowing if he dies, I will be notified via email.

Even before this episode, I thought of my 30s as the age to find peace with losing a parent. The actual death happens much earlier or later for many, but I think it’s a good time to mature and mentally if not logistically prepare.

Here was my terrifying, rude, beautiful, sublime wake-up call. My dad is not going to live forever, and he certainly won’t be threatening any longevity records with that heart.

It’s a reality I accept in increments. For now, my heart is overcome with appreciation for nonsensical texts, no overt emotion, English-Mandarin conversations, memories, lessons, security, presence, cyclists who ride or die together, faceless heroes who put their hearts on the line every day, medical technology, and whatever it is that makes strangers go to bat for each other.

You might notice I dance around using names and curse words in this blog, but let me just say I am so fucking grateful for Joe Falkner and Jim Sanders.

Ron Wallach, Jackie Miller and the rest of Fred Badenhop’s ride group. The neighborhood man and his daughter who called 911.

Daniel Williams, Allen Fire Rescue Division Chief. Jonathan Boyd, Allen Fire Department Assistant Chief. Their teams. Texas Health Allen.

All heart.

 

 
 
 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Facebook’s Man-Child-Sized Problem

The fundamental challenge for Facebook is not personalization versus privacy, but the platform’s uncanny ability to either empower annoying people to rise or somehow turn normal people annoying.

That will be the preeminent social network’s downfall should the day ever come. No one cares about data handling. You got 1 million emails last week about privacy policy updates and read zero of them. It’s just not interesting enough to disrupt the comforts of daily routine.

Facebook could have told you it launched a new feature called Cambridge Analytica, and you would object, then forget. Because there’s macro stuff people like to scream about; there’s the micro day-to-day they live in; and often not much of a connection is maintained between the two.

By the way, I know it’s unsettling to think about Facebook being manipulated to influence election results. Zuckerberg should and did take some ownership. But if your vote was decided by the dubious techniques of Cambridge Analytica, then you should consider the rigor with which you consume information and construct your reality and opinions.

The salient question in my mind is not whether Facebook has become too powerful, but the opposite – so boring that it’s moving toward irrelevance.

Here’s the root of the problem, very simple to describe. The people I want to post content rarely do. The people I don’t want to post content range from steady nuisances to horrific power users, like some sort of digital opioid addicts.

Maybe it’s just my news feed, but I doubt it. Facebook saw enough need to create a snooze button. I use it at least once per browsing session in hopes of making the next one slightly better.

But good content scarcely bubbles to the top, only a hodgepodge of no-value-added links, stupid commentary, dull updates and infinite iterations of the same photo. I glanced over some Facebook posting guidelines I wrote 4 years ago and still agree with them for the most part.

Leading the pack are these parents who must not have developed much of a personality or identity before their nondescript children entered their world and thus everybody else’s digital world.

They are relentless with post after post built on the erroneous assumption their kids are special or interesting to others. That would be like using the wrong value for pi. All your output is wrong.

I’ll tell you about one special child, but I have to do it delicately because I don’t want to be mean. Normally I scroll through baby pictures quickly enough to avoid the images registering in my brain.

If you’re one of my baby-posting Facebook friends, know that I couldn’t pick your kid out of a lineup. I’m hitting the Like or heart button because of your name. What’s underneath is a blur of nothingness.

Recently though, a pic of a toddler almost floored me. We talk about thumb-stopping creative at the ad agency I work for, and this eclipsed anything our designers could ever do in Photoshop.

The genderless thing was just so strange-looking. Not hideous or ugly, but deeply unappealing to the point of making the viewer uncomfortable. So yeah, kind of ugly.

I showed my baby-and-puppy-fawning, former schoolteacher wife expecting a reprimand, but instead she asked me to screenshot and send to her. She wanted to pass it on to her sister so they could gawk together at this child with fully grown adult features. A Tyrion Lannister costume for Halloween is a no-brainer for the next 10 years.

Again, I am not trying to be mean. The child’s looks surely will improve over time, provided it has the same condition Benjamin Button did.

And don’t worry, it’s not your baby. The mom and I are the most distant of acquaintances, and it’s a virtual certainty she does not read this blog.

This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about though. The people with interesting things to say and share probably are too thoughtful and self-aware to post a full photobiography of their awkward, unconsenting child.

Meanwhile, the people without anything compelling to offer lack that level of thought and creativity and operate in rapid-fire mode. I tried being super strict and unfollowing anyone mediocre or worse, but then I was left with no content.

Once again, there’s the intrinsic problem. Professionals aside, charismatic and stimulating people use Facebook sparingly.

Here’s my solution. I think it’s such a solid idea for Facebook or a rival new platform, but the few people I told seemed lukewarm about it.

The intent is to coerce more users to participate and contribute, instead of relying on this dreadful cross section to dominate conversation. Creating a little content should be the ante for consuming a lot of it.

Let’s call it a Level 2 news feed. In order to access this feed, you have to post something once every 14 days. If it’s been more than 14 days, you’re locked out until you post.

Does anyone else think this is a sensible concept? Facebook would actually be worth the time spent on it with a diversity of content drowning out the staple annoyances.

Most people think they have nothing good to share. But when forced, they would be surprised. I go through the same process every month with this blog.

There is always something on your mind, and I would like to hear it. This is the connection and community Facebook ostensibly wants to build along with its staggering base of ad revenue.

The money will keep flowing as long as the people don’t leave. Whether that will ever happen really comes down to not what Facebook shares, but what is shared on Facebook.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Bittersweet Grapes of Freedom

In the same week we visited the upscale, safe, affordable, convenient, booming Dallas suburb where I grew up, my wife and I put in an offer on a house in mid-city L.A., in an area I would consider the Hood. Asking price was $849,000 for 1,397 square feet.

Now, this wasn’t our first drive down Rodeo. Our indoctrination in this reality-warping real estate market began more than 2 years ago with experiences like the Kevin Durant house.

Knowing asking prices to be more launchpad than anchor, we went in well over 849 and tossed a bunch of 8’s in the digits to get the attention of the Asian owner. (Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture. But it’s a paradox because if nine is not your favorite digit as a a seller, then you’re not good at math and cannot be Asian.)

Our aggression was rewarded with being in the lucky half of 18 over-asking offers given the privilege of countering. Keep in mind this was for a neighborhood with awful schools, bars on windows and a liquor store on the corner. Chris Tucker rode by on a bicycle talking about knocking someone the F out.

For the final offer, we calculated our max after putting income and expenses into a spreadsheet and backing out the absolute highest we could go on a mortgage payment. We were prepared to drop our standard of living halfway toward the poverty line, so long as we could do it in this house.

A buddy who just closed escrow was convinced the letter he and his fiancée wrote to the owner helped beat out the other top offer. So my wife and I each crafted honest notes that worked beautifully juxtaposed.

We also included a beaming wedding picture Photoshopped in front of the house. It was a little creepy and might have hurt our cause in retrospect:

 

 

Really I just wanted to provide a visual aid to my last name to make sure the seller fully comprehended I’m Asian too. For example, back when my wife was a second-grade teacher, she had to deal with an intense tiger mom who specialized in making life difficult. Partially to build goodwill, my wife subtly mentioned her husband was Asian a few times. The one time she showed a picture, it finally sunk in. The rabid tiger actually grabbed the phone, pinch-and-zoomed on my face, and said something like, “Oh he’s really Asian.”

Alas, in a high-stakes housing market, my yellow glow could not outshine a whole lot of bling. We lost to a $965,000 all-cash offer.

Way to run up the score and leave no doubt, Coach Boone. All cash, really? Does that mean you can write, like, one check? Why does Floyd Mayweather want to live 4 miles east of Culver City?

Whoever it was might have saved us from a mistake though. I know that sounds like sour grapes, so let me concede we would have been ecstatic to win this house.

Losing it, however, got me thinking a little harder about tradeoffs and priorities. Equity is huge, but it is not the only component of wealth.

When I think about people with F-U-level money, they don’t really have physical things I want that I can’t buy for myself right now (except shelter in Los Angeles, of course). The important things they have are freedom, options and the most precious asset of all: time.

My latest idea for a next career is some kind of China-related business that would require me to develop my garbage Mandarin skills. Happy bonuses would include being able to communicate better with my aging parents and force our future ugly biracial children to be bilingual.

Maybe I would have to take a pay cut or hiatus to learn Chinese full-time to make this happen. Maybe I would want to live in Shanghai for a year. Maybe I wouldn’t even look for a job for a while and just blog every day from the beach or write another book.

Maybes are more bountiful without a mortgage. I can do all this stuff right now. I have enough rent saved up to last years. I feel like I can do whatever I want.

When I was tipsy at a company happy hour, I asked our head of production if he wanted to get a sweet two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with me in Hermosa Beach just like I had with my old roommate before we got married to other people.

But this is not a viable dream for the director. He has a house and twin boys. This is what happens when you weigh yourself down. Opportunity costs rise.

My wife and I went so high on our bid that had we won the house, the mortgage would never stray too far out of mind. I couldn’t take a lower-paying position at a company that excites me. Being laid off would start a ticking bomb in my head.

Basically, I would have been a slave to keeping the house, not to mention filling it with crap from West Elm, maintenance, property taxes and insurance. I don’t even have renter’s insurance right now. I don’t care. I don’t have anything, and I’m free.

I also don’t have equity, and what a pot of gold that would be at the end of the 30-year rainbow or whenever we would sell it. The thing is, we envisioned this as our forever home.

So we wouldn’t get that payoff until we’re too old to go on epic benders in Vegas. Odds are we would end up just passing it down to our ungrateful, Meghan Markle-wannabe biracial adult children. (I am experiencing anxieties about reproducing and annoyed because kids defeat the thesis of this blog post.)

All things considered, it was probably too much money for us to sink into one asset. Owning is the dream, as long as you’re not owned in the process.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Fried Green Trucks

Near the peak of my first relationship, my girlfriend and I wanted to start a food truck that sold fries with fun toppings. Our romance then descended to its unceremonious end, as our business would have, although it was an instructive experience for me I reflect on fondly from time to time.

A similar process repeated in my second relationship, except this time the market-disrupting idea was a cookie shop. What a spectacular IPO that would have been, assuming Jeff Bezos didn’t buy us out first.

It’s a small sample size, but half-baked, food-related business plans appear to be harbingers of relationship death for me. So if you overhear my wife and I tossing around a restaurant concept, get ready to choose sides in the divorce.

What annoys me is some of my buddies definitely would pick her, given their frequent unsolicited announcements of how much more they like her than me. Yet I don’t think I could poach any of her friends. I just haven’t made enough of an effort to ingratiate myself to the point where I could drive a wedge between them if it comes to that.

Fortunately for our marriage prospects, these frivolous thoughts of enterprise are dying down in my 30s. If I haven’t even tried to start a business by now, I am probably not the type to do it at all.

The realization is a bit sad, but I do have some thoughts counter to our generation’s fixation with entrepreneurship. We’ve been conditioned to see success as starting your own company, being your own boss, and never having to answer to the Man.

But everyone has to deal with some kind of boss in various situations. If you’re the owner of a company, maybe your boss is the big customer you have to keep to make payroll next month. Or distributors and vendors who need you less than you need them. Or the heavyweight in your ecosystem that can squash your business on a whim.

People have bosses outside of the org chart. I wouldn’t necessarily venture off into entrepreneurship for the sole purpose of being free from a boss. A great deal of autonomy is achievable as an employee of the right company.

I am going to cautiously cite Malcolm Gladwell here. Two of my wife’s friends illuminated what I had already sensed about everyone’s favorite cherry-picking pop social scientist. I read Outliers years ago and liked it enough to not be opposed to reading his other books. I haven’t gotten around to it though. Something doesn’t feel quite right about how he presents information and conclusions, and part of me wants to be a hater.

This sentiment crystallized when my wife’s friends informed me Gladwell seems to be listed on every Tinder profile as favorite author. That is so douchey I can’t take it.

I make a good honest effort to be a bro and intellectually elite at the same time. I appreciate the challenges and try to be better every day. These impostors are spoiling it for me. Gladwell artificially makes C students feel smart, which is nice for them but a disservice to the rest of society.

Tinder Bookworm Bro, I know it feels good to understand scholarly-like concepts and find them mildly interesting. But if you were behind the curve in 8th-grade social studies class, no one should have to listen to you talk about Gladwell. You laddered up beautifully in the evolution chain from tribal tattoos, and this should be commended but not inflated.

Anyway, in Outliers, Gladwell articulates the cleanest explanation for job satisfaction I’ve heard to date. I immediately committed it to memory and can readily recall it years later. He says meaningful work boils down to three things: autonomy, complexity (which I translate into always having something to learn), and connection between effort and reward.

The criteria works pretty well for me. And it explains the allure of entrepreneurship, which essentially maxes out all three attributes.

To get that max contract though, you have to be a max player (unless you’re negotiating with the Knicks). Self-awareness grows with age, and I feel less and less like a max player with each passing day.

Here’s an example of a max player. I was researching the ice cream phenomenon Halo Top for work, and the founder’s story captivated me. A former disillusioned lawyer, he created this low-calorie ice cream brand now reportedly flirting with a $2 billion acquisition price.

It took a double scoop of pint-sized testicles to get there. Here are some financial highlights:

  • The founder started his business still owing $350,000 in law school loans.

  • He and his business partner raised $500,000 from their personal network.

  • At one point, he had to max out five credit cards for $150,000 to keep afloat.

  • At another point, desperate for $35,000, he applied for a predatory loan at 24.9 percent. And got rejected. His business partner took it instead.

Anyone want to spot me a Benji so I can get some cool lights for my fry truck?

This is not me. No thank you. I just spent significant time over multiple days deciding on and executing a move from AT&T to Sprint. I am an expert at hyper-analyzing small decisions and rushing through big ones so I don’t have to think about them, only to second-guess myself to the brink of insanity.

I prefer to offload risk onto my employer rather than absorb escalating amounts. I prefer not to think about health insurance ever. I prefer the ability to clock out on some level, emotionally and task-wise.

There is a noteworthy dichotomy when it comes to days of the week for entrepreneurs versus employees. If you’re an employee, walking out of the office on a Friday at 5 p.m. feels like you just got laid 1000 times. It’s because no matter how hard you work and like your work, you don’t really care about the business.

But sometime around 5 p.m. Sunday, you start dreading Monday morning. It’s because no matter how hard you work and like your work, you don’t really care about the business.

For a budding entrepreneur, I imagine Sunday dread isn’t so low, but Friday elation isn’t so high.

I like my weekends. I like time to be detached from people and work. And Mondays never turn out to be as bad as the anticipation.

If I made $10 million, I would stop. That’s why I will never make $10 million. The people who wonder why anyone would keep working with that much in the bank don’t have the right makeup or motivation to get there in the first place.

Now, I’m not saying the successful entrepreneur has to make eight figures. If you can turn a hobby or passion into a decent living without spoiling the fun, I would say that’s worth more than $10 million.

There are different ways to play the game besides trying to be a max player. There are different ways to win. A little honesty about yourself, what you’re looking for, and the tradeoffs you’re not only willing but happy to accept can help you avoid putting all your chips into a fry truck.

An ice cream truck though… now that could work.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Robin Hood Wears Nautica

I was really hoping to live and die without witnessing the Eagles win a Super Bowl, but in the silver linings playbook was their Meek Mill rap anthem. The players celebrated to it in the locker room, muscular black men bouncing and flexing to a beat. I found the scene platonically arousing and looked up the song.

Since then, I’ve listened to “Dreams and Nightmares” hundreds of times on loop. This is more of an estimation than exaggeration. Something about the crescendoing sound and sporadic words I can decipher helps me focus while banging out tedious emails at work or even a good chunk of this blog.

So I loop it and sink into a productive rhythm. Forty straight minutes of this 4-minute song in my earbuds is not uncommon. One or two sessions a day, call it 10 per week, and that’s 100 loops right there.

It’s a surprising volume of repetition, considering I can’t even rap along to it because almost every line contains the n-word or f-bomb, and I refuse to sully a vocabulary that hasn’t eroded much since its SAT studying peak. Why would I say those words? It’s like I tell my wife when daring her to cheat: Why would you go out for Taco Bell when you have filet mignon at home?

Not so surprisingly, I discovered the album was released 6 years ago. That’s right in line with my average lag time when it comes to pop culture. I got really into the Goo Goo Dolls in my 20s and only started Game of Thrones last year.

I came into work wearing a sick Nautica shirt on a casual Friday and was legitimately bullied over it. People were derisively pondering the last time they saw anyone wearing the brand. Since when did it stop being cool? I always thought of Nautica as preppy but active, elegant but populist, something like the Chipotle of apparel.

Whatever. I have a more interesting and consequential extension of pop culture in mind. Jay-Z recently invested in a stock trading app called Robinhood. It launched in 2013, but I don’t hear peers mention it much.

I feel ahead of the curve on this one. My wife and I played around with the app a while back, although I only downloaded it for myself this month.

My work spouse, a former Deloitte consultant who’s sat next to me for 4 years in three offices, inspired me to take a serious look at Robinhood. The two of us really are married between the hours of 9 and 6. We walked into HR with a question about the company 401(k) and kept finishing each other’s sentences to the point where I felt the need to clarify we have separate accounts.

However, the work spouse seems less than enthused about my hybrid trading-investing thesis with Robinhood. I think he just cares about me and doesn’t want me to lose money. My strategy does sound unusual, I’ll admit:

Sell stocks for more than you paid for them.

I’m fairly confident you will come out ahead doing this, but of course the question is how. I propose picking safe stocks that fluctuate daily while rising in the medium and long term, like Amazon and Google. Go with a Vanguard ETF if you want to be more diversified, although there will be less action.

Set buy and sell limits within a reasonable range, and stay patient enough to catch the bounces. Put in the limit order and then forget about it, so you’re not tempted to panic or chase. I imagine it’s how the volume shooters play Tinder. Make the offer and then assume nothing is going to happen until it does.

This is kind of like day trading but with a flexible time horizon and no leverage. It might be hours or days before my limit orders go through. I don’t care. I lack the time, expertise and interest to react to every swing anyway. As long as I set attainable targets and give them time to be hit, gains will accumulate.

As a scalable proof of concept, I peeled off a five-figure sum from my savings account that currently is masquerading as a down payment fund in a housing market where a million dollars might get you 1200 square feet in need of renovation. After only five trading days, I was up $1500, fully liquid in cash, waiting to buy into Alibaba at a lower entry point.

Now, that $1500 isn’t life-changing and will probably be taxed like Skittles at a fat camp. But had I left the same amount in my savings account, the return would have been half as much over a full year. The bank compensates me with a rounding error while doing who knows what with my life savings, probably starting the next recession with that stunning combination of avarice and incompetence.

What I’m really enamored with, beyond the better use of my principal, is the better principle of Robinhood. The app doesn’t exactly steal from the rich and give to the poor or level the playing field by any stretch of the most fanciful imagination. But it does democratize access a bit.

Although I often lean toward smaller government and taxes, wealth inequality in this country is obscene by any measure. Think about how the rich get richer. They’re not counting down the days to every other Friday for the next paycheck. The gap grows because they own stuff that magically adds value, namely stocks and real estate.

Robinhood lets the little people have a taste. Its salient feature from my perspective is zero-commission trades, rather than taking $5-10 every time you buy and sell.

The platform is significantly more limited than the big brokerages in terms of tools, features, options and information. But all that weight is paralyzing for small-scale investors like me. A dumbed-down version is more practical than an experience too cumbersome to start.

Trading account minimums for a minimalist user interface, Robinhood removes barriers to entry. It might be too simplistic for a power player, but it makes an intimidating thing simple for everyone else.

To some extent, Robinhood demystifies the stock market. I just want to buy and sell, bro. Reminiscent of Uber and PayPal, my new favorite app feels like a power shift to the consumer with its transparency, pricing and frictionless transactions.

I sound like a brochure, but all I really want to advertise is how hip I am with this Jay-Z app about to blow up. Maybe next time you make fun of my Nautica boot cut jeans, I won’t be able to hear you over Meek’s rhymes blaring in my new car:

When I bought the Rolls Royce they thought it was leased
Then I bought that new Ferrari, hater rest in peace

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Ready to Shoot, Jack

People on the outskirts of my life wonder why my wife doesn’t divorce me because of this blog. If she did, I would write the greatest reaction post ever, which would be trivial consolation for losing my soul mate. But it would be such a compelling post, probably my second-best ever behind the deathbed finale.

The thing is, I feel I hold back quite a bit when sharing about our life together. I am strategically vague when necessary, summarize generously, and write around omissions. On a 1-10 scale from shallow to deep-dark inner soul, this blog is really only at about a 5. It’s just that everyone else is so vapid and one-sided on social media, my content seems shocking.

A buddy was disappointed in the Bear post because he wanted me to dig deeper into marital tension. He generally relates to my arguments. Bro, could it be you need me to speak for you because your wife posts the exact same picture of you two on Instagram every time, just with the background switched out?

I hate people. I love humanity, but I hate its constituents. If your real-life memories were blanked and you had to choose new friends based on the posts in your Facebook feed, you would have a lot of trouble filling out a starting five, too.

The least I can do is put something out there a little bit raw and real and personal. It’s therapeutic. I refuse to fundamentally change how I blog.

My wife is a much more private person, and I need to respect that. At the same time, she should respect that I’m a less private person. This blog technically predates her, so she kind of knew what she signed up for. I write selectively honestly about my life and thoughts, and she has become the biggest part of them.

I also knew what I signed up for, in a more consequential matter. My wife has always wanted children, the salient topic at hand as she joins me in the Larry Bird Club (33 years old) in four days.

It has been jointly decided that sometime in 2018, there will be attempts at pregnancy. I am not allowed to divulge when we start. Maybe we already have for all you know. After spending 17 consecutive days apart in December, we had intercourse on New Year’s Eve with Mississippi River Delta-level fluid exchange. Was there a dam? I can neither confirm nor deny. This is private information. You see, we’re only at a 5.

Should we be fortunate or unfortunate enough to conceive, I am not at liberty to tell anyone, even my mom (who has shown little interest anyway), until my wife gives permission. It’s supposed to be our fun secret. I don’t find secrets fun at all, although I am dependable at keeping them thanks to my stubbornness, aversion to social outings, and measured manner of conversing.

A secret is usually a big deal or at least more interesting than average; otherwise no one would care to keep it a secret. I prefer to talk about these things and hear a diversity of opinions rather than milk the dramatic irony around people who don’t even really care. It beats talking about the weather or work.

Alas, I have verbally committed to privacy around this undertaking. If you ask what’s going on in my life 6 months from now, I might talk about my job or diet. And then the following month, surprise! — I may tell you we’re already 3 months pregnant. The timeline of communication seems disingenuous, but I’m just honoring a binding non-disclosure agreement.

For now, I believe I can safely talk about my own thoughts on reproducing. I’ve hated on children and especially their parents for so long. Reconciling this vigorous point of view with baby-making intent is a process far from complete. I still can’t shake the suspicion that having kids is an unimaginative, default, lazy, even cheap way to derive meaning from life.

When I think about young adults I know with kids — personalities before and after, hobbies or lack thereof, what they talk about, the pictures they post… I often think to myself, of course you had to have kids. What else could you do? You are so comprehensively uninteresting to others.

There are exceptions, but a very limited number by definition. If you feel like I’m not talking about you, that I must know a lot of boring people and you’re not one of them… the safer bet is you’re misjudging probabilities and I am talking precisely about you.

Yet I can no longer talk about you behind your back without cognitive dissonance, because now I want to join the baby party. I simply couldn’t figure out how to do better.

It was 9:10 on a recent Saturday night, and I was rubbing lotion on my wife’s feet. I remember the exact time because one tends to pause and reflect on life decisions when rubbing lotion on someone else’s feet. We had spent the afternoon at a 3-year-old’s birthday party talking to grandmas and talking at toddlers.

At home, we were mired in a stupor while still trying to find something half as good as Game of Thrones to hold us over until the final season is released in 2032. Jon Snow was in some HBO historical drama about religious persecution, and we forced ourselves to watch and desperately pretend it was entertaining.

We had no desire to go out on the one night of the week that afforded the elusive combination of sufficient energy and recovery time. Nobody invited us to anything anyway. I was doing my second load of laundry, a staple activity when motivation is low but there is still an inclination for feeling productive.

This was a telling snapshot of being ready for kids. I am done. I have nothing left to fight for. The opportunity cost of raising children, although absolutely staggering, will never get any lower.

Plus I’m beginning to foster a genuine curiosity about being a parent, tinged with a fear of regret. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and I’m more concerned about missing out, with only a slight interest in the actual experience.

During a car ride late last year, I verbalized a simple logic staring us in the face. If we are indeed committed to trying for kids one day, doing so at a younger age is better for fertility and health risks. One day is here. There’s no practical reason to wait based on our current lifestyles and goals.

Somehow during that conversation, I became almost euphoric about the idea of children. I blabbered something unintelligible about how exciting it would be to create a family unit and teach and learn together. The next morning I took it back and felt so embarrassed.

I am at a plateau of acceptance. More like a curve approaching an asymptote of readiness. More like a pendulum, swaying between being thrilled and horrified.

Basically I am as ready as I will ever be. It’s like warming up serves in tennis on a mediocre day. You blast some good ones, shank some bad ones, can’t get into much of a groove, and at a certain point declare it’s not going to get any better and you’re ready to play.

I am ready to take my shot. Of unfettered semen. Kind of. Sometimes. Soon. Never. Now. This year. When GoT comes out. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Unmerry Blackout

I scoffed when I got a mock award at the company holiday party for “Most Likely to Hate Myself After the Party” and then proceeded to black out, miss my flight the next morning, and FaceTime a dozen colleagues while lying on the ground in the Southwest terminal on standby as a method of gauging the severity of my offenses hours earlier.

The award was earned. I am so irritated with myself, burping up tequila and playing this guessing game at 33-and-a-half years old. I almost want to get fired and start over somewhere else.

What concerns me most is sexual harassment. This era of swift comeuppance for douches is great, although my morning oatmeal will never taste the same again without Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning. With it comes a certain amount of introspection.

On a Fourth of July five-ish years ago, I had a girl in bed while blacked out. There might have been a little penetration, but I’m not sure. The one flash of memory I have is her telling me to stop, and I definitely did. We were joking around the next morning in the kitchen while I was fully nude in front of her and still drunk, so I thought we were fine.

But we traded some texts with the gist being she had no idea how she ended up in my bedroom or what happened in there. And she wasn’t happy about it. That’s really scary. I know how physical and aggressive I can get when breaching a threshold of inebriation. I ascend to this manic state of love and can’t seem to get close enough to people, to the point where I literally want to be inside of them.

Ninety-nine percent of the time the antics are directed at dudes and generally written off in good humor. But that 1 percent is a mortifying risk. Sexual tension and impulses are an ever-present element of drinking. There would be no bar culture without that underlying dynamic, the way our inhibitions and libido creep in opposite directions with each mounting drink. Men have primal urges and thoughts too personal to share even on this blog. I don’t trust myself blacked out.

One of my few fragmented memories on the party bus was forcibly wrapping a coworker’s legs around my hips and pumping him like my favorite gas station on Aviation and Manhattan Beach Boulevard. I shudder to conjecture what might have happened had my victim been female. There is a rightful gender asymmetry when it comes to this sort of thing. I routinely address a handsome male colleague with “Hi Beautiful” and accept that I cannot do the same thing with a woman, even though there are lots of beautiful ones at work and I personally think it would be nice to give a compliment in a non-objectifying manner.

Thankfully, I usually keep that presence of mind even when out-of-my-mind drunk and focus my attention on dudes. You can get away with a lot under the guise of bromances. I straight up hit on multiple guys at the party. I was particularly creepy with a programmer I don’t even know, talking about how I was checking out his pictures for the website and admiring the versatile ways he can look good. I mean, you can imagine a predator doing that to a young intern.

I lost count of how many times I brought my wife up to a coworker and prompted her to rave about how good-looking he was. They probably thought they were being propositioned for a threesome, which I would not do, but if we had to for some reason, it wouldn’t be that bad. I also likely got more touchy and handsy as the night progressed, and the thing is people who don’t know me can’t tell when I’m blacked out because I still enunciate with a decent vocabulary.

If just one of these interactions were with a female, it could have been a very bad situation. That’s why I was calling people in the morning, to take away some of that fear of the unknown. Nobody seemed to be even mildly offended, so that provided some reassurance. But it was a small sample size, and when you play with fire too much…

Moderate, social drinking probably would yield more fun or at least certainly more memories of fun. But that’s just not how I enjoy vices. I don’t want one cookie or piece of cake; I need the whole jar or row as fast as possible. Just a taste is nothing more than a tease. I want to consume it until I find it disgusting. I had three double-doubles from the In-N-Out truck at the party and would have put down five had the bar not been so distracting.

I would rather not drink at all than just a little. I can go months without the slightest craving for alcohol, but when it’s time to party, I want to effing rage. This is why I don’t do drugs.

The “everything in moderation” adage is overused and overrated. You wouldn’t lick a turd in moderation. I don’t want to hit the gym in moderation. I want to go all the time, so I can feel sexy when lifting my shirt at these parties. And I don’t really want to drink moderately at them. I just don’t want to black out and make a mistake I will never be able to moderate.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Bear Starts with B

Fully blacked out yet only half-nude at a bachelor party last year, I sidled up to the bachelor and flirtatiously told him I was “Drunky Bear” and he had to take care of me. It was probably a bit unnerving for him to hear without context.

You see, I commonly append the word “Bear” to random words when conversing with my wife. Instead of asking if she’s tired, I’ll ask if she’s Sleepy Bear. There’s also Horny Bear, Sexy Bear, Silly Bear, Poopy Bear, Gassy Bear, Beauty Bear, Playful Bear, Hungry Bear, Dance Bear, Namaste Bear, I Love You Bear, Naughty Bear.

I hate getting called Grumpy Bear, which I amend to Pissed Off Bear. I think of grumpiness as a sign of weakness, an inability to handle the ebb and flow of daily life, and therefore a need to displace trivial stress onto innocents. I would rather be called angry than grumpy any day because it implies having a more legitimate reason.

The goal of course is for neither bear to be needed. I’ve come to realize I can improve the quality of our married life with active work on a sort of psychological issue resembling obsessive-compulsive disorder. My wife has been convinced I’m on the spectrum since we started dating.

Something is going on for sure. When people casually talk about their OCD and how their beds need to be made a certain way, I roll my eyes so hard they face my tortured brain. You don’t have OCD, bro.

That’s like when girls talk about how they eat or drink so much. Stop it. If you met the creature I become during a binge, you would adjust your scale of measurement. On a random Monday at work, I ate 18 servings of cheese, including six before 10 a.m. Eight of them were string cheese, and the other 10 were cheddar rectangles for a total of 1,540 calories.

I am maddeningly compulsive and neurotic, expending energy on irrational rationality in quantities few people seem to understand:

Bowls

Although I was a child prodigy at Tetris, loading a dishwasher in a configuration that maximizes both space and cleaning efficiency takes me asinine amounts of time. My wife has gotten used to alternating stretches of silence (as I stare at the dishes in deep thought) and clinking (as I arrange and rearrange). I usually start forming strategy days in advance because clearly this is an impactful use of human cognitive abilities.

One of the last straws preceding the realization I have a problem was when I became mildly but genuinely annoyed with my wife for using three bowls in a day. Our dishwasher accommodates more plates than bowls. We also have more plates than bowls, meaning usage of the latter often dictates when we have to run a wash cycle. It is therefore indisputably more efficient to use plates for solid food.

But my wife prefers bowls. Even when she uses plates, she also requires these little circular plastic bowls to exclusively hold her ranch dressing or mayonnaise. First of all, I understand people have different tastes, but I simply cannot picture an intelligent person who likes mayonnaise. Second, the condiment does not merit its own dish. Unless she’s eating mayonnaise by itself as a side — in which case we wouldn’t be living together — she should leave those stupid dwarf bowls in the back of the cupboard where I purposely place them to hinder retrieval and maybe spark just a little bit of a deterrent. I hate those bowls so much. The bottoms have ridges that accumulate water in the dishwasher and negate the drying process.

Also, anyone over age 30 has enough life experience to estimate condiment-to-food ratios within a reasonable margin of error. My wife is predisposed to substantially overestimate and leave globs of condiments: steak sauce, ranch, mayonnaise. I don’t want to saturate the sponge with evidence of her inability to extrapolate. I want the leftover condiments to be sparse enough that the water cascading from washing a pot or vegetable above it in the sink will be enough to pre-rinse for the dishwasher, thereby creating a satisfying double-use efficiency. If it’s so hard to guess how much you need, I would suggest a) pouring the condiment on the same plate so you can see its volume juxtaposed with the amount of food or b) pouring the condiment in smaller increments.

She does the same thing with wine and has to either waste what’s left in the glass or force herself to finish it without enjoying the same utility. I don’t understand the irrational fear of letting something run out when the option to refill is within arm’s reach. And I take my rationality to irrational levels that strain our marital interactions. I’m sorry for it.

But just one more thing about the wine. I hate when the glasses are left out with a splash of wine at the bottom. Those need to be soaked with some water. I don’t trust the dishwasher to clean that out completely. Also, it makes no sense to leave those wine-stained glasses on the counter while placing water glasses in the sink. If a glass was used only for water, it can go straight into the dishwasher or on the counter ready to go into the dishwasher. It will not get any cleaner in the sink as things are washed over it. The limited space underneath the faucet should be reserved for the dirtiest dishes.

Breathing

I’m trying my best here to convey there is a real anxiety behind the laughable manifestations of my neurosis. I notice my breath shortening and chest tightening during mad crescendos of trying to solve perceived problems or push them out of my consciousness.

The other day I scooped hair gel onto my index finger while walking out of the bathroom because the mirrors were fogged up. I somehow got paranoid that I dropped some gel and spent an indeterminate amount of time sweeping the kitchen floor with my hand, desperate to find the translucent paste. Every time I thought I had satisfied whatever compulsion this was, I stooped back down and started pressing my hand on the floor again like a kindergartner making handprints. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more stressed about being late to work but couldn’t let it go. I put on some clothes and checked the floor. I got my lunch out of the fridge and checked the floor. I took out my sunglasses from their case and checked the floor.

An equally illustrative example of self-generated tension is when I cooked pasta in a big pot recently. I had it in my mind from the outset not to overcook. When I determined we were in the al dente zone, it was showtime. The pot was too big to be poured with one hand while holding the strainer in the other. I easily could have asked my wife to hold the strainer over the sink while I poured, but I had already set a game plan of scooping the pasta out and depositing in a big bowl.

What I didn’t anticipate was the discomfort I felt grazing the metal-tipped strainer against the pot. I cannot stand when people scratch nonstick surfaces with metal utensils. So I tried my best to take shallow dips with the strainer while avoiding contact with the edges of the pot, but this really slowed the process.

There was so much pasta, and it would only continue to soften in the hot water even though the burner was turned off. Simultaneously worried about exceeding the al dente zone and touching the pot with the strainer, I worked myself into a frantic pace shoveling pasta one small batch at a time. An imaginary shot clock was freaking me out. My heart rate spiked. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was close to a nervous breakdown.

Bags

I have a bizarre relationship with plastic bags from stores and packaging. I physically cannot bring myself to throw them away after their initial single use. It feels so good to reuse them. We don’t even buy garbage bags for our small trashcan. I might use a bag that originally transported dry cleaning, takeout or a J.Crew shirt. To supplement the thickness of the bag, I position smaller ones inside, such as packaging for pistachios or potato chips or grocery produce. It’s like a two-layer Russian doll for garbage. Sometimes I’ll go three layers if one of the bags has perforated holes in it.

The restriction in this system is you can’t throw away stuff mindlessly. You have to choose a spot and place the trash while keeping the bag upright with flaps open. I will admit to rearranging my wife’s trash from time to time.

We use paper bags as recycling bins, which is not uncommon. I don’t, however, know many people who dig into a bag of hodgepodge recyclables and stack containers that fit inside of each other (again, Russian nesting doll) to preserve space in the bag.

Lately I’ve been using a Madewell paper bag to carry my tennis clothes when I play at lunch. I am aware Madewell is a female apparel brand, but have no qualms slinging this bag over my shoulder like Federer would his Nike bag. The reason why I don’t use a proper gym or duffel bag, of which I have plenty, is because I put my dirty shoes and clothes in the bag after tennis. I don’t wash gym bags. It makes more sense to use a paper bag a couple of times, dirty up the inside, retire it as a recyclables bin, and then use a new paper bag.

These are the things I think about rather than focus on being successful in life.

Broccoli

In a different application of the same principle, I can’t waste what comes in the bags either. A disproportionate amount of my existence is spent chopping broccoli. I wish I could just lop off the stalks and proceed with living, but I found out they contain as much nutritional value as the treetops. So I skin the stalks and cut the interior into assorted prisms for consumption. This takes especially long at the branches, as decisions have to made on how small of a segment is too small to be worth shaving.

The dumbest thing I can’t stop myself from doing is turning the plastic bag that carried the broccoli inside out to ensure I got it all. These bags are clear. I can see plain as day there is no more broccoli inside, but for some tormenting reason, I need a mechanical confirmation to supplement the visual. I do the same thing with open-faced packages of chicken breasts. There is clearly nothing left in the container, but I have to sweep my fingers across the slimy plastic edges as if I were blind.

You can imagine how stressful it is for me with opaque vessels, like when I’m trying to squeeze out the final bits of toothpaste or sunscreen. With toothpaste, I’ll flatten the tube repeatedly with a straight edge and then press at the top until my fingers change color. With sunscreen, I’ll jam my pinkie into the opening, swirl it around, dab whatever I get onto my skin, and repeat a frightening amount of times until I am on the verge of going crazy. With a jar of red pepper, I use a butter knife to pry off the plastic top and break up the solidified pepper at the bottom to pour it out.

All of these rituals simply boil down to a lot of effort for imaginary payoff. It’s agonizing because I just want to get rid of the containers and be free, but I can’t do it until I reach an arbitrary state of closure.

Balance

Symmetry, or at least the appearance of it, drives a lot of my compulsion. I brush my teeth with my dominant right hand at night, when a deeper cleaning is needed. Because I only have sugarless oatmeal before brushing again in the morning, I feel OK using my less coordinated left hand. I also rotate which areas I start brushing and flossing first, reasoning that my thoroughness naturally declines during the process so I should try to even it out.

At the gym, I alternate which hand or foot leads in every stretch and exercise, both between sets and weeks. This gets as granular as the foot I step up to the squat bar with, even though they are aligned during the actual exercise. And because I do an odd number of sets, I have to remember to take that inconsequential step with the opposite foot the next week to keep the total even on both sides. This is how I utilize my above-average memory.

Beds

I’m usually late when checking out of a hotel and exacerbate the stress with my routine of combing the room for any items left behind. The bed has become a monstrosity in my warped mind. I check underneath the pillows, in the creases, between the sheets, and of course I always feel compelled to look under it.

I go through similar inspections when leaving any public place, from restaurants to waiting rooms to airports. Before exiting an airplane, I rifle through the contents of the seat pocket in front of me even if I know I didn’t put anything in there. This can be neither sanitary nor sane.

Bills

Another worthless compulsion is reading every bit of text on a page, often multiple times to verify comprehension. This includes bills and statements. I read my own address and the disclaimers. I cross-reference every charge with a stack of receipts and mark the ones with online receipts to pull up in my email afterwards and file in a folder named “Financial”. I track down the receipt even if it’s a recurring monthly charge of the same amount. I do the same thing with the deposits and withdrawals on my checking account statement. There are never any mistakes, but I just can’t stop.

I read junk mail. I even turn the envelopes of junk mail upside down and run my fingers through them to confirm nothing is stuck in there. Magazines strain me because of all the sidebars and pictures and captions. I’m unsure whether to read the main story continuously and jump back for the other stuff, or follow a visual chronology and try to remember the main train of thought.

I read all emails including the worthless ones. To combat the urge to check my Gmail too often, I set a rule that I must delete at least one email every time I open my inbox. If I check too frequently, there won’t be any new emails and I have to read an old one likely shelved because it was too long or boring to read at the time. So that screws me over because all I really wanted was a momentary distraction, and instead I’m stressing myself reading as fast as possible so I can move on with my life.

Brakes

In sunny Los Angeles, on some of the most congested roads in the country, I have set myself up to never be at peace driving. My definition of a good driver is one who hits the brakes minimally. This means you’re timing acceleration, lights, hills, lane changes, spacing and all other components most efficiently for gas mileage and ride smoothness. It also means every other car on the road is an obstacle to your happiness. Every 30 seconds, I am annoyed by something or someone that made me touch the brake pedal.

I also overthink route planning when trying to make multiple stops. The act of retracing even a minor distance hurts my soul to the point where I might just skip the grocery store if it doesn’t line up perfectly en route with the gas station. This is logic taken to irrational and impractical extremes.

This is how I think and live, and it can be painful if not miserable. I have no doubt people take pills for lesser psychological ailments, not that I agree with it. Ejaculation, exercise and sleep (which somehow comes easily, maybe due to exhaustion) are my medications. They do a pretty good job on the symptoms but are far from being a cure.

I’m working on a solution right now by coaching myself with questions like what’s the worst that can happen, why am I living like I’m poor, and is this really worth the stress or effort. A friendly reminder that death is approaching always helps too.

On my own, I could continue to indulge my obsessive behavior. This might be the No. 1 thing I miss about being single, the happiness of creating my own world and shutting everybody else out. Sharing my space and identity with a partner is profoundly difficult for me. It’s not the stupid dishes or condiments or bags; my wife probably accommodates and enables my idiosyncrasies too much.

There is bigger stuff more important to me. Creative outlets. Hobbies. How to spend your time. The content you consume. The crutch of a smartphone crushing any free moment or opportunity or energy to be a real person. Appetite for learning. Lack of habits where there’s inspiration, and lack of inspiration where there’s poor habits. Intellectual rigor. Financial responsibility. Setting goals. Improving. Relationship between wants and effort. Relationship between inputs and production. How to deal with discomfort at work. Self-discipline and motivation. How to treat your body and mind. How to be interesting and not blah.

Five quarters into marriage, I find it loving, comfortable, secure, easy and wholly uninspiring. Most of the time, I bite my tongue and fight off the angst under the guise of Happy Bear. Some of the time, I’m pissed off and Distant Bear. I wish I weren’t this way, and I could just be normal and go-with-the-flow like my wife. Especially when we talk about having children, I think of the heartrending scene in Forrest Gump, when Forrest learns he has a son and asks Jenny through choked-back tears whether the kid is smart or like him.

It’s enough to make me occasionally daydream about going off to live on a mountain with some good books and a pull-up bar. But I won’t. Because I need a Vons, and I love my wife. She’s why the bear is my most-used emoji, even though the elephant remains my favorite animal overall. I still don’t know how the bear thing started, just like I don’t know why I care to load dishes a certain way, or question the way my wife wants to live, or make all the subheadings in this post start with the letter B.

My compulsions are a bear to deal with, and they feel unique to my personality. What doesn’t feel unique is the need to put work into a marriage. I mean an active, purposeful, gritty effort to make it better. I’m trying really hard and have my lapses and malaise. It probably comes much easier or even unwittingly for some couples.

I invoke Denzel here, when he addressed the locker room in Remember the Titans about how the other team didn’t have to deal with race, but they did, implying a stronger bond through struggle. I am a freak of human nature, and my wife is normal. Maybe working through this makes what we have more special or meaningful. I certainly won’t back down from the challenge, and I owe it to my wife. (Wife Bear)

 

 

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