Seven-Year Switch

Had I stayed at my job two more months, just two more months after seven-plus years, I would have been eligible Jan. 1 for a four-week paid sabbatical. This was announced as a new policy to reward four years of service.

So technically — although this almost certainly would not have worked in practice — I could have timed my sabbatical with my eight-year mark and taken two in a row. Bridge in some holidays and stockpiled PTO, and I would be paid to travel for a quarter of 2019.

That’s the dream, right? I don’t know. I was talking about traveling with a friend who recently started his own company, and he had a refreshing counter perspective. Of course it’s fun to see new places and eat and drink, but he gets more out of being productive.

Traveling after winning the lottery is indeed the dream. Traveling when there’s work to do afterwards is not even close to the same. Take for example my five-month employment gap at age 26. I went to China, tried out for a game show, got to be an extra in a Disney pilot because they were looking for ethnic or “ethnically ambiguous” looks, and read a few random books. But for the most part, I hit the gym in the morning and library all afternoon to find my next job.

With a solid savings account buoyed by steady unemployment checks, I could have just chilled at the beach all day. I was relatively young and relatively unattached, with the time to do whatever I wanted. Maybe spending it at the library showed just how dreadfully unimaginative and conservative I am at my core, but it’s what I gravitated toward without any outside pressure or personal resolutions.

It’s just kind of hard for me to relax when there’s something that needs to be done in the near future. This blog post, as another example, added an antsiness to all my fun time during Thanksgiving break because I force myself to write one per month and the clock was ticking.

So yeah, although a sabbatical or two next year would have been amazing on various levels, the notion didn’t appeal to me as much as figuring out my next career move. I had been thinking about exit routes from the ad agency world for a while, and the timetable was about to be involuntarily accelerated after a conversation with my new boss back in May.

It ended up not happening, but determining a new path for me elevated in my mind from nice-to-have to think-about-at-night. I started by simply browsing a wide swath of companies and positions, figuring there are so many out there I’ve never even heard of that could be a great fit.

Not so much. I am comfortable making the sweeping statement that most jobs suck relative to what you could be doing with the free time. This must be why they have to compensate you to show up. I am highly skeptical when people say they would do their job even after winning the lottery.

It does pose a constructive question though. Are there jobs out there so fulfilling, I would do them for free? Follow your passion. Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

Hmmm. I don’t know what that means. I love chicken and broccoli because it’s the surest way to get shredded. But I don’t want to be a farmer or bodybuilder.

I love basketball and tennis. But any league willing to take me will require that I’m the one paying them, which doesn’t seem like a financially viable career. I was a sportswriter for a bit, but chasing quotes wasn’t as fun as chasing balls.

I love sex, but again, I think I would have to pay the people I really want to do it with. Besides my wife of course. And the only people who would pay for our sex tape would be unconditionally supportive family and friends, and we would just give it to them for free anyway.

Maybe going down the list of hobbies and interests isn’t the way to approach it. Maybe the purpose of a job is to enable you to have the life you want, which could mean a tolerable workday 9 to 5 while living in a city you love, supporting the family you love, and doing the things you love 5 to 9.

My mom has worked in sales at the same computer wholesaler for a quarter century. In her words, does she like her job? No. Does she like shoes? Yes. And her job lets her buy shoes.

I get it. However, it’s a little too linear even for my pragmatic mindset. There are lots of ways to buy shoes.

Here’s where I netted out. I’m 34 and have a lot of work hours left ahead of me. It is a finite amount though. And the uneasy yet guiding question for me turned out to be: What do I want to spend my next seven years working on?

Like I said, contenders were hard to come by, especially when I couldn’t really define what I was looking for. My suggestion for anyone in the same boat is to avoid the mental treadmill of trying to figure out a career through analysis and reflection, and just keep looking through what’s actually out there. Instead of seeking answers to nebulous questions about meaning and purpose and making top-down decisions from there, put real work into exploring concrete options and draw your conclusions from the bottom up.

I didn’t know I was looking for fintech and an ability to help everyday people. Econ classes in college made me feel as dumb as IKEA instructions do, and I haven’t volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in five years.

Yet I found a company that I believe will occupy an entirely different tier on my Maslow hierarchy. I told my wife about it and declared I was going to keep pursuing a job there, whether it took weeks or years.

The name of the company is Acorns, such a good name for a micro-investing app. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

 

 

Acorns is best known for rounding up your purchases and putting the spare change into a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds. Ashton Kutcher, who has crushed early-staging investing with a bunch of startups including Airbnb and Uber, was asked by Stephen Colbert what his next hit might be:

 

 

The round-up feature is one small part of the big picture. Acorns just launched a retirement product and sold out preorders of an innovative debit card made of tungsten, the heaviest non-radioactive element. The mission is to build an entire financial wellness system for up-and-coming folks to save and invest.

This is a staggering problem. Seven out of 10 Americans don’t have $1,000 saved up for an emergency, yet their bank will ding them $35 for an overdraft fee. It’s a f___ joke with a sorry punchline.

For those of you lamenting the political times, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink traces the anxiety and polarization around the world directly to a lack of secure retirement prospects and financial tools. In terms of social impact, I don’t know how you can get more fundamental than empowering people to have the future they want. Plus I find personal finance inherently stimulating. I could explain Acorns to a stranger in a bar with genuine energy, which I think is a solid litmus test for job fit.

So that’s what I want to work on for the next seven years. I started this month as director of business development, tasked with brand partnerships.

Brands on our platform reward people for shopping with them by depositing cash forward, instead of cash back, into their Acorns account. This is a unique way to reach new and lapsed customers and build a relationship with a millennial audience adept at tuning out traditional advertising. Acorns charges the brand, and our shared customers get their investment frictionlessly. Everybody wins.

My role at Acorns is comfortingly familiar in some ways and refreshingly new in others. I feel hokey calling it the proverbial dream job, but it does feel like all the experience and work over the last decade led me to this happy opportunity. I can’t think of another company in the world I would rather join.

 

 

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.

Before and After Piper

Sometimes I saunter through the office and announce to no one in particular, “God I love the Pipe.” There is usually no response, not even a lifted eyebrow from HR, because it’s common knowledge what I’m talking about.

The dog’s name is Piper. My coworker brings her into the office twice a week. We have a connection that people find borderline weird. It really doesn’t make much sense at first glance.

Piper is not the type to go out of her way to bond with humans. Most coworkers get the impression she doesn’t like them, and I think they’re probably right. She has this wonderful aloofness about her, tinged with a subtle arrogance. It’s hilarious and endearing and makes me love her even more.

Somehow, she loves me back. Out of all people in this puppy-crazy world, I have to be among the unlikeliest candidates for this reciprocation. Before Piper, I found dog obsession to be a reflection of emotional weakness, underdeveloped social skills, and low standards of stimulation and fulfillment.

When my aunt had to put the longtime family dog to sleep, she told my mom the story of how the poor thing couldn’t let go and close his eyes until my uncle said goodbye. My mom cried hearing it, then cried telling it to her coworker, who in turn started crying.

When I heard the story, I said, “Wait… I thought Buddy’s been dead for like 10 years.”

Dogs just didn’t really register in my consciousness. I didn’t understand the whole pet worship thing, and most owners seemed to fall somewhere between silly and annoying.

Now Piper occupies about 90 percent of my consciousness, or at least my iCloud storage. She’s my best friend. I am obsessed with her.

I don’t know precisely how or when this odd couple thing started. Probably the key contributing factor was that I used to sit across from Piper’s owner. This created a familiarity and association with their loving relationship. (She’s the best dog owner I’ve ever seen.) Piper quickly found a comfort level sprawling her big body out under my desk.

 

 

Other dogs I more or less tuned out, but Piper’s presence was hard to ignore. She doesn’t exactly blend in. She has linebacker size and safety speed at full gallop. With long, flowing, Pantene-soft hair the color of snow, I always think of the white wolves in Game of Thrones. Except trade the snarls for a beauty pageant face.

So I had this near-mythical creature loitering under my desk, yet I didn’t have much experience interacting with even normal canines. My wife once was so embarrassed when I waved to a stranger’s dog.

I guess I just talked to Piper like a human and refrained from invading her personal space. When people treat her like a dumb puppy starving for attention, she generally responds with some combination of haughty indifference, stoic dignity and go f yourself.

I have a habit of asking coworkers how much they love Piper, and usually the response is some version of “She doesn’t give a s___ about me.” It’s not an unfair assessment.

Maybe Piper sensed I was different and felt at ease. Certainly at ease enough to share my leg room.

 

 

And if her interpretation of sharing was not allowing me to pivot, so be it.

 

 

If she felt like napping, the onus was on me to work around her space and schedule.

 

 

People got accustomed to seeing the two of us hanging at my desk and stepping over this beautiful fire hazard of a dog in the aisle.

 

Photo credit: either the Frenchman or the Texan

 

One fine day I was eating a hard-boiled egg, and Piper seemed particularly interested. Her owner enlightened me with the knowledge that eggs are not only OK for dogs, they’re healthy.

So I gave Piper half. And then I started giving her a whole one just about every visit. I can’t remember for sure whether this was when she started following me around everywhere, but that would be a reasonable assumption.

Every time I get up from my chair, Piper bolts to my side and shadows me so closely I can feel her breath on my hand. If I go to the bathroom, she waits by the door and her giant dinosaur head is already poking in as soon as I start to open it.

 

Photo credit: Mr. Newlywed

 

If I go to a conference room or someone’s office, she camps out by the glass and alternates between resting and staring at me intently. One time in Conference Room E, there was a gap between the sliding door and wall that couldn’t have been more than an inch, and Piper kept trying to squeeze her entire face through it.

 

 

If I leave the office before her, I try to sneak out because every goodbye hurts my soul.

 

 

Now that I’ve moved desks around the corner, Piper likes to set up shop equidistant from her owner and me with clean lines of sight. But she still considers my vicinity her territory.

 

 

And seems to take satisfaction in making people step around or over her.

 

 

This dog has both the beauty and the brains. She is highly perceptive and knows she has me wrapped around her pretty little paw. When she strolls over to me with that surly countenance, I don’t know if she’s trying to elicit affection or shake me down for the three bags of treats I keep in the bottom drawer.

 

 

Weird, huh? I always take science over spirituality, but Piper actually makes me think twice about reincarnation. She often just sits there and locks eyes with me, as if we knew each other from a different time and space. We can go on in this staring contest forever until I look away first.

 

 

Her side-eye, by the way, is legendary in the Silicon Beach community.

 

 

We do have a connection, and it makes more sense at second glance. We both hate children and scooters and will celebrate when they are proven to be meaningless fads.

We both love food in a visceral, drug-addict-type way. My wife googled Piper’s breed, aptly named with grandeur — The Great Pyrenees — and learned these types of dogs are known to be more serious than playful.

That is totally my style. This blog is the most playful thing I do. Ask my wife and she’ll tell you I am a pure square who seeks rational routine.

Currently I’m trying to get her to accept the idea of having a written roommate agreement like Sheldon’s in The Big Bang Theory. It’s supposed to be a joke in the show about a social freak’s absurdities, but it seems sensible to me to formalize best practices such as prohibiting cell phones at the dinner table and giving 24-hour notice of visitors so I can mentally prepare.

Piper and I are even converging a bit in our preferences. She goes berserk barking at skateboarders, and rather than reprimand her, I think I hate skateboarders too now. They make so much noise relative to the amount of work being done and distance covered. Sorry bro, JNCO went out of business this year and out of style, like, 2 years ago.

I know about the skateboarding thing because twice Piper has come home with me to Hermosa Beach for the weekend. Six months ago, I would have found it incomprehensible to ever volunteer to dog-sit. Now I make sure the owner knows I’m available 24/7 and encourage her to travel more.

Picking up Piper from her home the first time created a lot of anxiety for me. I was convinced she wouldn’t recognize me outside of the office. But that fear evaporated when she charged at full gallop and greeted me on hind legs. It was breathtaking because she has the aura of a unicorn.

When I transport her in my Honda Pilot, I feel like an Uber driver because again, I talk to her like a human, and she’s as tall as anyone when sitting up straight.

 

 

A moving vehicle also doesn’t disrupt her tendency to get up in my grill. Sometimes when I swivel my head to check my blind spot, I end up nose-to-nose with Piper like a UFC weigh-in.

 

 

The first night she slept over, I checked so many times to make sure she was still breathing. Isn’t that what you do with a newborn baby?

Piper starts each day at our apartment before dawn, standing next to our bed motionless and expressionless. It’s what possessed children in horror movies do, but there is nothing else I would rather see when I first open my eyes. Through my sleepy fog, I ask her, “Are you ready to party?”

She then sits in the same spot to watch me put on my shoes, resembling a gargoyle statue in the dark.

 

 

And then we party so hard. I have a strong aversion to holding any tension on the leash because I want her to feel free. Any time I have to pull her back, I get irritated with everything and everybody in the surrounding area.

Piper chases birds with reckless aggression, and I am willing to risk sprained ankles lunging down narrow steps and jumping over ledges in that pursuit. This video might make you nauseated, but understand the shaking is because I am flailing while trying to keep up with her 4.4 speed.

 

 

You wouldn’t think Piper with her aristocratic mannerisms gets down like that. There are so many layers to her. People are mesmerized by her beautiful white fur, but her rebellious streak dictates she find the most efficient ways to sully it.

 

 

How awesome is Piper, right? Walking side-by-side with her as she collects endless compliments and admiring looks, I haven’t felt this cool in Hermosa Beach since my old roommate was bringing home one out of every four single girls west of PCH.

 

 

At home I like to tell Piper she’s my best friend and then make a lip-smacking sound an inch above her big head. (I don’t actually kiss her because she doesn’t shower every day.)

 

 

Fortunately, Piper and my wife get along like cookies and cream. I think part of it is they each sense how special the other is to me.

 

 

Whenever someone visits, we’ve learned to coordinate the initial meeting with Piper outside. Because if you step into our space, her protective instincts go wild. She growls and barks with startling ferocity, and to be honest we’re not supposed to have pets in our apartment.

This might be wishful interpretation on my part, but I get the feeling Piper does consider me in her inner circle to protect. She was so well-behaved at the barber shop, yet watching me closely the whole time as if to make sure this guy with the scissors wasn’t a threat.

 

 

I am obviously putting words in her drooly mouth and probably displacing my own feelings. I would die for Piper if needed. I’ve pictured various scenarios with a bear, out-of-control car, mass shooter, and I’m comfortable making the sacrifice.

It doesn’t hold much logic given Piper is not even my dog, and the expected value math breaks down with the huge discrepancy in our species’ life spans.

But kind of like I didn’t understand the big deal about marriage until I met my wife, I didn’t understand the big deal about dogs until I met Piper. Feeling loved by this creature brings me so much joy.

I was musing the other day during the lottery craze that if I were offered the $1.5 billion winning ticket with the stipulation of never getting to see Piper again… I would still have to take the ticket. But I would hire a celebrity photographer to put together a sick montage of Piper and watch it every day on my yacht.

Guess what I would name the yacht.

 

 

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.

Crazy Rich Ab-omination

While watching two white buddies on the couch like zoo animals, I was perplexed how a video game could compel men in their 30s to wear headsets and interact through avatars. It was a bit of a racial role reversal, given how seriously some Asians take their gaming.

Role reversal no. 2 came when they gushed about the movie Crazy Rich Asians and were perplexed how I found it to be horrendous. Perhaps the movements and rhetoric and hashtags have created an overcompensatory environment in Hollywood, and people are afraid to speak poorly of a minority-driven movie.

If I need to step up here as an Asian and vocalize what you white devils are thinking, I will be your yellow knight.

Crazy Rich Asians was a fundamentally bad movie. I appreciated it because I got to see people who look like me dominate the screen for once. That only happens in my parents’ living room when they Chromecast Chinese talk shows with set lighting gaudy enough to cause a seizure through the TV.

Certainly I am excited this important film was made and happy about $165 million at the box office. But it was so bad. People talk about it like it’s Shawshank or something. Am I the crazy one here?

Objectively, if it were the same movie but with a white cast — let’s say Eastern European to keep the premise of an overseas culture — everyone would have walked out before the credits.

I know romantic comedies, and this one goes on the bottom shelf. It’s not even in the same library as 10 Things I Hate About You, Serendipity, You’ve Got Mail, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Friends with Benefits, Crazy Stupid Love, Hitch, America’s Sweethearts, Valentine’s Day

Here are my three main complaints in descending order of severity.

Casting (abs). Honestly, abs (casting).

This particular objection admittedly is less about the movie and more about the psyche of Asian men marginalized in American culture. This was our shot to be sexy.

The shirtless scene in any given rom-com essentially functions as the thumbnail in the brain’s vast memory drive. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, we needed to crush this scene for the billion of us around the world and millions swiped left without a fighting chance in favor of nerdy Jewish guys. But when it was finally our turn to introduce to the mainstream a strapping, shirtless Asian male lead… I saw a midsection that resembled a misshapen alien head. We would have been better off with yet another hack small penis joke.

Don’t get me wrong — I liked the guy too. He was charming and handsome, dashing even.

But bro, you have the unenviable task of going up against Gosling, Tatum, Reynolds, Kutcher and the legend himself McConaughey… and you can’t knock out a few planks?

It’s the one thing you can control. Would you show up to a game of 21 with LeBron and Westbrook wearing flip-flops? Why make the impossible even harder? It was like when Sandra Bullock got exasperated with Keanu in Speed after he punctured the gas tank:

What, you thought you needed another challenge or something?

Unless you’re Leo or Johnny Depp, there is a professional obligation to put the requisite work into your body if it’s going to be showcased on a 60-foot screen. Even someone as pretty as Zac Efron went nine zero-carb days eating only organic protein and leafy greens in preparation for Baywatch. And he wasn’t representing an entire gene pool.

It’s not that hard to mess around at the gym for a bit and swallow bland food. I get ridiculed for my stretching-to-lifting ratio and how I seem to reduce weight every session. But I exercise consistently and string together some chicken-and-broccoli meals during the week, so most Saturdays I wake up admiring noticeable definition:

 

 

Plus I work at a desk. You’re a movie star. You can hire a trainer and a chef. You can be one of those mysterious well-dressed creatures somehow going to the gym at 10:30 in the morning. What am I missing here? Why wasn’t more effort made or better yet, Daniel Henney called?

I am still furious.

Dialogue

The script was as thin, flat and cheesy as Cheez-Its and this simile. Everyone knows that discomfort when a stand-up comic is struggling, and you want to laugh but can’t seem to force out even a fake one. I felt that way the whole movie, and I didn’t hear much giggling from the rest of the audience.

Compare that to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Granted, a rom-com doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny to be entertaining. But the words being said have to at least be not annoying.

Half of the movie sounded like Family Matters in terms of corny jokes and awkward heart-to-hearts. When the best man and groom left that rager of a bachelor party and found a little island to talk about their feelings, I was looking around the theater like what is happening.

It was unbearably cheesy. He actually called him his best friend. No guy past elementary school calls another guy his best friend to his face. There are no circumstances when this is necessary.

And it was a bachelor party, my god. After Nashville 2016, I’m not sure a bachelor party even really begins until someone gets a black eye. Before mine, my wife felt the need to reach out to select attendees and specifically instruct them not to mess up my face before the wedding.

This script needed a laugh track and would have killed on TBS in the 90s.

Chemistry

The acting and talent were good, but it was more Minnesota Timberwolves than Golden State Warriors. Solid individual performers didn’t make each other better or the team greater than the sum of the parts.

They played their roles capably but had weak chemistry together — the main couple, the gorgeous cousin and cheating husband, daughter-mom, son-mom. Everything felt stuck in low gear.

I didn’t feel the connection I did while getting misty-eyed three times during Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Sure I was pulling for the all-around happy ending, but if the last scene had turned out to be like the Red Wedding… eh, you can’t win ’em all.

Crazy Rich Asians held attention well but was neither romantic nor comedic. From my racially biased perspective, it was a missed opportunity that hopefully still opened the door for more opportunity.

 

 

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.


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.