Baby as it Relates to Father Time

The baby arrived one year ago. Of Japanese and European descent on his mother’s side, he was predisposed to conquer what came before him and brutally eradicate ways of life he could never understand.

He’s nowhere close to literacy yet, so I want to take advantage of this window to write honestly about what the creature has done to me. It’s possible I will have to delete this eventually, censoring for stability in keeping with my Chinese heritage.

I love my son but am unsure how I feel about being a parent. To be less evasive, I actually hate it. I hate it very much. I feel like it is literally killing me, and you know I’m serious if I use the word literally.

This is a stark reversal from four months ago. If you asked me how I felt about it then and before, my go-to word was awesome.

Parenthood brings out the bipolar in me. I used to mock moodiness in people, the inability to manage discomfort and keep separate things separate.

Now I am pissed off all the time and butt up against some kind of dam holding back a nervous breakdown. I get mad at myself for the mental weakness and spiral further.

What changed in the last four months is not hard to diagnose. When I was working at an office, being a father was all dessert and no vegetables. Snuggle in the morning, make a clean getaway, come home and open the door to big smiles as if I were Chappelle walking out onstage. Hang out for dinner, read a bedtime story, and play the role of fun clown dad on weekends.

I of course always credited my wife and moms everywhere for transforming into superheroes after giving birth, something I didn’t understand until getting the best seat in the house. But you change a few diapers yourself and draw some giggles, and the illusion of being a decent contributing parent is created without the pain. It is indeed a pretty awesome deal.

Now unemployed and sheltering at home, I am living and struggling against the truth I sensed anytime I had to babysit too long. (My wife says it’s not called babysitting when the child is yours, but whatever.)

Spending time with children has a dramatic cliff of diminishing returns. They are so cute and cuddly, and the innocence is heartrending. My baby has a fat face, provoking a visceral urge to press my skin against his and bite him.

But after a few minutes of aggressive canoodling, I am simply ready to move on with my life. It’s why petting zoos charge only a few bucks or carnival tickets. No one is trying to stay there all day.

I do not want to hang out with a baby. I cannot comprehend why anyone would.

The scary part is I have a really easy baby based on my impressions of the average. My boy likes people and dogs, eats well, sleeps well, poops well, and pees outside of the diaper so infrequently I can motorboat his abdomen when changing him without fear of R. Kelly-grade retribution.

We have so many sweet moments together. He went through a phase of giving me a Black Panther salute during every diaper change, and this was months before the rest of America awoke. I am proud to be raising a progressive young man.
 

 

As soon as he could hold himself up, my baby made it a habit to sling his little arm on my shoulder every time I pick him up as if I were carrying him off the battlefields of ’Nam. He thinks we’re buddies.

He makes four grandparents so incredibly happy, which is probably the area of highest ROI in my book. He understands numerous commands in Mandarin from my parents, including an open-mouth Jaws kiss.

The latest trick is beating his own chest while humming gutturally. I taught him this. It’s loosely modeled after Matty Mac’s spectacular scene in The Wolf of Wall Street. My bros and I would start the ritual to rally as a unified team before crushing beers at Stagecoach.

My baby’s version does not make him look like a highly evolved species, especially when he strikes himself in the face and stops temporarily in bewilderment. Yet this is how he greets and calls for me now, and he’ll break into it spontaneously too.

I could go on with the endearing snapshots because they happen every day. But they are specks in a big picture that makes no sense to me.

The benefits of having kids aren’t on the same scale as the opportunity costs. They’re not even visible on the graph. I’m going to continuously challenge my physical, emotional and financial wellness… for a hug? So an underdeveloped human can figure out how to say “Dada”? (I’m actually trying to get him to address me as “foo-ching”, a super formal way of saying “father” in Chinese that befits the tone I want to set with him.)

Lately I’ve developed a sort of tic in conversations with my brother, blurting out “Don’t have kids” regardless of context. I can’t control the urge.

When he tries to laugh it off, my voice takes on an edge as I try to make him understand. If I told him I was going to remove five hours from his day, every day, he would find that insane.

And with the remaining 19 hours, his energy level would be reduced by 30 percent. Sex life would go down by a number with an exponent. Aging would accelerate to the range of meth addict.

It really is irrational. He would need to have a serious conversation about compensation. The reason why children are priceless is because the cost is infinity.

All I want out of my time is to be productive or enjoy not being productive. Live a simple and in many ways minimalist life.

I can’t do this as a parent. Going to the beach used to be strolling four blocks from the front door with the love of my life, maybe carrying a roadie and book.

Now going to the beach is straight-up camping. We’re talking provisions, equipment, project management software.

And at home, I can’t get things done or have fun. Quarantine was timed disastrously with the baby transitioning into mobile exploratory mode.

He is so high-touch that multi-tasking has become an exercise in deluding myself. I feel like I’m in a straitjacket when babysitting, a form of mental torture.

Just enjoy the moment? I already did, about 90 seconds worth, and now he won’t leave me alone for two hours. I find myself looking at the clock and willing time to go faster, which is such a wasteful way to live unless you’re holding a plank or awake during surgery.

Moreover, when nap or bedtime mercifully arrives, I feel like I’m on deadline to live the life I want. It’s stressful to sense the clock ticking, like Cinderella trying to hurry through everything and soak it in at the same time.

I often stay up late even though the 6 a.m. wakeup call only bumps to 6:11 on good days. I just can’t let go. Fatigue is outweighed by the need to feel like myself again. But skimping on sleep doesn’t help my mood the next day while being exhorted by my tyrannical child to sing the same page of nursery rhymes as he intermittently grabs and twists my nipple without warning.

Battle-worn parents say it gets better, but this is precisely the thought that pushes me toward a meltdown. I don’t want to hang out with a 2-year-old either. Or 5-year-old. Or 10-year-old. Or 15-year-old.

In some ways these options seem to get progressively worse. I just don’t like to be around kids. They don’t have anything to offer me outside of unsustainable bursts of oxytocin.

Kids can be lovely in small doses but are surely destructive over time, essentially drugs anchored in obligation rather than addiction.

I can’t say I regret having one now that he exists, which would create a walking therapy bill if there ever were one. Independent of my baby or any other, I would just say being a parent is not awesome. It has an awesome effect on your life, literally.

 
 

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.


My Phone and George

I might have failed my first #woke test in the George Floyd era. Debatable. I don’t feel bad about it but am open to your take.

I was standing on what we opportunistically adopted as our front lawn, a patch of grass at the front of our alley that faces the main street.

Someone was approaching on the sidewalk over my shoulder. I opted not to turn, fearing pleasantries would escalate into conversation and challenge my Covid-reduced tolerance for idle social interaction. (I’ve responded curtly to enough how-are-you-holding-up text messages that this problem appears solved.)

As the pedestrian passed though, I did a little sideways look-look away-look back sequence, the kind you do when willing to risk eye contact but not seeking it.

The 20-something guy must have been trying to catch a glance because he immediately stopped his brisk walk and asked if I had a phone so he could call his mom. Without hesitation, I said sorry I didn’t, and he mumbled or nodded and resumed walking.

My phone was in my pocket. I probably had just checked my stocks. I was wearing my signature faded peach shorts, so translucent, thin and tight that my sister-in-law has trained herself to keep her gaze upward when around me to avoid being startled by a python sighting. The outline of my phone in my pocket was clearly visible, along with additional treats given his upward angle.

Oh, and I also answered his question with effing AirPods sticking out of my ears, the visual equivalent of a buzzing lie detector.

The guy was wearing a backpack, lots of tattoos and dark skin — all accessories that do not define a person. Is it OK to say dark skin? I need to run that by the Twitter zombies, arbiters of truth.

I’m simply trying to describe skin, the largest and most prominent organ, as I would shirt or eye. And it’s material to my story.

I don’t think he was Black. My guess would be Hispanic or mixed. Is it OK to guess someone’s race? I need to run that by the Facebook puppets, guardians of moral high ground.

I wouldn’t care if someone guessed my race, right or wrong. Hey I guessed the guy’s age too, which might be more offensive to some people.

Do me a favor and suspend any thoughts of taking offense, and help me through a more productive thought experiment.

Suppose the pedestrian looked like George Floyd, Black and 6-foot-7. Would I have offered my phone in light of everything that’s happened this month? Would that have been necessary to avoid cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy?

What if the pedestrian were Black, 6-foot-7… and a woman? How about a hot Scandinavian blonde? I feel like the right thing to do would be to help and schedule a Zoom follow-up because social interaction is important during this #allinthistogether time.

Is it racist to make a joke about hitting on a hot blonde and not the 6-foot-7 black woman? What if he were Asian, 5-foot-7… and wearing a Hello Kitty backpack? Honestly that would be the scenario eliciting the most caution if we’re talking about a grown man with a Hello Kitty backpack.

I put this all in question format because I don’t know. I can’t discern what was running through my subconscious when I instinctively lied about not having a phone on me.

The narrative in my conscious was we both weren’t wearing masks, and it felt weird to give him something that spends so much time in my hands and near my face to put in his hands and near his face.

This could be revisionist history though, my brain helping out my conscience. Continuing the thought experiment, had we both been wearing masks, I still likely would say no.

It just felt weird, how he was walking the opposite direction from an intersection a few blocks away with 7-Eleven, Shell, Starbucks, McDonald’s and strip malls where it would have been easier to borrow a phone and get picked up. He also seemed content to pass if I hadn’t looked his way, so it didn’t seem like a pressing need.

A little more context could have altered my response too. Maybe hold up your phone and say it died. Maybe summarize why you need to call your mom.

I don’t know. I just didn’t want to hand him my phone. I wouldn’t be able to chase him down while holding the baby. (I was holding the baby by the way.)

Then again, it’s hard to imagine someone stealing from a baby on the side of a busy road in daylight, let alone my boy and me.

It may be pertinent to mention I was shirtless and hadn’t shaved in five days. With an early-puberty goatee and a strip of my wife’s old shirt tied into my hair to keep bangs out of my eyes, I looked like the bad guy in Bloodsport who always had to play a bad guy.

My giant-head 11-month-old has the countenance of a Chinese real estate scion with close relationships in the triad. In short, we don’t look like two mother effers you want to eff with over an iPhone 8.

I took this selfie minutes after the incident with the phone I didn’t have:
 

 

He surely wouldn’t have tried to pull a fast one on these tag team champions. Does it even matter? Like I said, I answered in a split second so no fair analysis was completed. I made a snap judgment.

Was I racist? I think ageist would be more appropriate because I wouldn’t have turned down an old man or child, but if the same young adult in white skin asked, I would have had the same answer.

How about Asian skin? I could see myself offering the phone, which sounds bad. Here’s an interesting counter though. Shanghai is an overwhelming place to me that makes New York City feel like Plano, Texas.

If I were drowning in that swell of humanity in China, lost and bewildered on some jostling street corner, a Black American would be the most wonderful sight. I would cling to him like my mother — not the people everywhere who looked like me. Country and culture would override race.

Yet in Southern California, I wouldn’t necessarily give him enough benefit of the doubt to borrow my phone. Why didn’t I just put it on speaker and hold it for the guy? Would that have been like following a Black teenager around a store though? Is this even relevant if he wasn’t Black?

In what appeared to be a non-emergency, should the desire to be an antiracist have superseded my gut feeling even if that feeling wasn’t entirely based on race?

Is it annoying to ask question after question on a normally opinionated blog? I’m trying to calibrate.

Two days ago, I was walking my best friend Piper when a young Black man with dreads opened the window from his parked car. He asked with such enthusiasm about Piper, I got the feeling he sensed her special powers. It was one of the high points of an unusually stressful week for me.

And it’s a bit uncomfortable to realize I wouldn’t have let him use my phone.

 
 

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.


George Floyd

I had planned to mail it in this month with a whimsical blog post on mask adoption in Orange County. But I kept thinking about George Floyd while trying to learn Python and couldn’t get through one problem set all day. I went to bed thinking about George Floyd and woke up at 3:33 thinking about George Floyd. I should probably just offload some thoughts about George Floyd. That’s what a blog is for.

My wife brought up the topic as we were steamrolling In-N-Out at the dining room table. She started crying, and I was kind of a jerk about it. In-N-Out fries have a short window of deliciousness, and I did not want to engage in one of those conversations that to me just sound like a lot of noise. I asked her rhetorically how many black friends she has, which was probably unfair.

Eh, more mean than unfair. My wife is the best person I know. I haven’t met anyone as genuinely good as her except maybe her parents. Her empathy registers at an extraordinary level I can’t reach.

Most folks are more enamored with feeling like a good person than aligning thousands of tiny daily actions and ways of life with their lofty ideals. My wife has a heart of gold and lives that way even when no one’s looking.

You can probably sense a “but/however/that said” coming up, and here it is. I like to approach anything important with a certain amount of intellectual rigor and reflection.

I’m not saying you have to keep a tally of black friends to care and stand up for what’s right. But if you’ve spent 35 years in America, and all your friends are white, Asian or a mix of only those two… it feels like we’re just going for a quick swim in your shallow Facebook-Instagram pond of indignation, a kind of emotional masturbation with intense feelings that will fade away by Saturday.

I feel it too. I watched the video. In my highly untrained legal eye, the officer committed something ranging from murder to, best case, manslaughter of the most senseless kind (not sure there’s any other kind). It would be absolutely horrific to treat a dog like that. Hearing a 46-year-old man call out for his dead mama is not something that can ever be unheard.

Moral outrage on the surface is easy, especially from the comforts of a Newport Beach townhouse where I sleep soundly in part because I know there are so many good cops out there. Depth is harder.

A black man’s life was not valued by police. You don’t say? We landed on the moon!

I asked my wife, again rhetorically, if she’s aware American-made bombs kill children in Yemen. Black kids are shot up on Chicago streets like it’s Yemen before they ever get a fair shake in America.

My brother offered an amazing quote, also amazing because I didn’t know he was capable of reading anything besides his autobiography on how to be a loser. The idea is tough to stomach — no less so because it’s attributed to Stalin — but valid.

A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

It’s a maddening part of human nature. My point is this. If you’re galvanized by George Floyd, then you probably know there are a lot of George Floyds out there in some form every day.

So what are you going to do the other 50 weeks of the year when this news cycle passes? Actually, if you’re really passionate about this problem, where were you until now?

I’m not trying to be a troll. Surely there is value in all these social media monologues for racial justice, if only to show support. I do wonder though how much of that support is for black men you don’t care to know personally and how much of that support is for your self-identity as a good person.

What are you suggesting? That bad cops stop killing unarmed black people? Yes, I would like to sign up for that too.

What’s the plan? I see your clean two-step process but am skeptical of its efficacy:

Step 1, get fired up over headlines, clever tweets and eloquent posts starting with some variation of “I will never know what it feels like…”

Step 2, get back to your life.

It’s not much different than watching a sad movie, feeling it in the moment, thinking about it afterwards, and smoothly transitioning back to your reality within 48 hours.

We don’t really care as much as we like to think. The things we really care about — our kids, career, health — cannot be sustained by bursts of emotion and inspiration.

If we truly care about something, we do the work. That work is tedious, less sensational and more behind the scenes. If we really cared about racist police brutality we might:

  • Ease off the Trump tweet porn and focus on politics at the local level, which often has more material effect. I, for one, couldn’t pick my state senators or city councilmen or police chief out of a lineup.
  • Educate ourselves in a meaningful way. That means the ratio of reading Instagram to balanced journalism can’t be so lopsided. That means spending precious leisure time comprehending dense research, policy, law and history. That means talking to people outside your bubble.
  • Come up with ideas. It’s reassuring to hear your heart is filled with love and compassion, but there will be bad actors in any system. What can we test across technology, organizational behavior, protocols to reduce black fatalities in police encounters by x percent every year? Humans launched humans into space today. There has to be some engineer at Google, some professor at Harvard, some scared kid at Compton High with concepts to produce progressively better outcomes.

I don’t do any of these things or anything proactive to help George Floyds. The one puny, reactive, almost certainly trivial thing I will do after watching that video is have a plan in the improbable event I encounter similar circumstances.

If I see a handcuffed human whose right to breathe is being restricted by police, I will immediately begin live streaming on Facebook and announce it loudly. If this doesn’t clear the airway, I will approach with both hands held high and do my best to get to the handcuffed human.

I am willing to risk the handcuffed human pulling an epic Houdini and killing us all. I am slightly more worried how the police would react to my approach. Overall I’m comfortable making this particular commitment, but I have no illusions about a sleepless night and blog post masking what is effectively indifference in the long run.

 
 

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.


Terminator, I Love You

After I was terminated from my job like it was 1984 and Arnold just appeared naked in the parking lot, multiple people told me I took it well.

Agreed. Not bad for my first time. It should get easier with more reps. There was one misstep though that makes me think I was more flustered than I let on.

As I was driving out of the parking lot for the last time, one of the endearing office managers was walking the opposite direction in the same lane. I only had a second or two to process the predicament but realized the only option was to engage. It was a virtual certainty she would see me, and even the illusion of peripheral eye contact would have been too awkward to bear.

Without even thinking really, I rolled down the window and said, “Thank you for everything [first name]! I love you!”

I don’t think I even tapped the brake, so I felt like a schoolboy blurting out his crush and then running away.

I love you? Who says that? Generally when somebody yells something out of a moving vehicle, it’s a hurtful epithet. This was almost as unprofessional. Were they firing me in some kind of time warp because this happened first?

To the office manager’s credit and compassion — and my everlasting gratitude — she rattled off “I love you too” and some other niceties without skipping a beat. We need as many people like her as possible during the Covid-19 era, folks who are kind and can roll with surprises.

My god that was embarrassing though. I drove away more distraught about the “I love you” exchange than losing the ability to provide for my family. I think I will always remember that morning without the images fading much:

  • getting a Slack from my boss in New York three minutes before our one-on-one to go to the Green Room, the only conference room sealed off from the rest of the building by badge access
  • walking in to see an HR person seated and my boss on videoconference and deadpanning, “Well this can’t be good.”
  • the Terminator line being “This will be your last day at Acorns.”
  • what I interpreted as empathetic, maybe even pained expressions from the other parties
  • sensing I would not be allowed back up to my desk but asking anyway. Pondering whether it was really a security protocol thing or just a humane way to spare the freshly unemployed from a gauntlet of blundering goodbyes. I would have forced myself to take a lap on all three floors, which sounds roughly equivalent to a dentist appointment when you’re hung over.
  • my impeccable timing having downloaded 411 baby pictures and videos from my phone onto my work laptop the night before as an inefficient intermediate step to freeing up space. I had to explain these were not backed up anywhere and scrambled to put them in a folder while suggesting solutions to transfer the huge file size before they took the laptop. The HR person, an amiable work friend, saw my distress and promised she would take care of it. Two days later, the other office manager (not the “I love you one” but one I love equally) dropped off the pictures on a flash drive at my home in the pouring rain as the corona office shutdown began.

Overall I feel the company treated me well during my 16 months, including the exit. The details of that morning stick out vividly more because it was a unique experience for me rather than emotional.

Of course it was unpleasant. We are evolved to react viscerally to rejection. You figure the prehistoric chap who was dismissed from the tribe during the days of hunting, foraging and saber-toothed cats usually didn’t last long enough to pass on his genes.

It is not an uplifting feeling when you put your heart and mind into something and are told no thank you. (And then you inexplicably reply I love you.)

So what happened — My position was lodged in the path of the massive Covid wrecking ball? Methinks the pandemic might have been an abrupt accelerator, but this was coming eventually anyway no matter how hard I continued to fight.

Why? Here’s the thing. When you try to answer that question, the natural inclination is to launch into ego protection mode. You got rejected and want to preserve your sense of worth to others and yourself, which are intertwined no matter how independently confident you hope to be.

Now, unless you’re a degenerate and got fired for salacious behavior that would make for a more interesting blog post, there might be some reasons outside of your control and fault. The probability increases if you’re smart, likable and hardworking. And increases further in the wild west of business development at a startup.

That’s about as specific as I should go. It doesn’t feel like my business to write about an active business of which I am no longer a part.

Plus, after about 15 seconds of explanation, it starts to resemble a mash-up of excuses and whining.

No one cares. If you followed sports before they converged recently into one giant flashback to a basketball team that played in the 90s, you know a lot of outcomes could have been different if it weren’t for this injury or that questionable call. No one cares or even remembers in the long run. It’s part of the game, garbage (can) Astros notwithstanding.

In general, complaining without an action plan should be relegated to the dinner table when conversation with significant others is slow. Otherwise you should appreciate all experience as good experience, and don’t waste the pain by not getting better from it.

Gotta bring in my boy Ray-Ray here. Ray Dalio is a billionaire philanthropist who started and ran the most successful hedge fund in history. He wrote a book called Principles to share his framework for life and work.

I indirectly credit the book for helping me get the Acorns job. Offer letters don’t come easily there. I didn’t finish Principles until this month after a long hiatus to focus on baby reading, which was so boring I lost my reverence for the written word.

Somehow I picked up Principles again just before the part about firing people. So you could say Ray-Ray guided me end to end.

The way he approaches removing employees might seem savage to the avocado-toast millennial. Run a business like a machine. People are an input.

It sounds impersonal, but his stated goal is meaningful work and meaningful relationships. His path to get there is anchored in hyper realism. But Ray-Ray also seems to draw upon just the right amount of optimism when expedient.

Page 522:

Don’t get frustrated. If nothing bad is happening to you now, wait a bit and it will. That is just reality. My approach to life is that it is what it is and the important thing is for me to figure out what to do about it and not spend time moaning about how I wish it were different… It makes no sense to get frustrated when there’s so much that you can do, and when life offers so many things to savor.

Everything happens for a reason. People tend to use that notion too liberally, with the implication everything happens for good reason or at least as part of a grand plan. Let me know how those case studies on genocide and child cancer are coming along.

However, you can make some negative things appear to happen for a reason by producing good outcomes afterward and then retrofitting. If Acorns hadn’t let me go, I would have never…

It’s up to me to fill in the blank. I plan on an answer that will allow me in hindsight to embrace Terminator Judgment Day — dare I say, even love.

 
 

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.


Corona Deployment

I got canned on a Tuesday, the same day Forrest Gump lost his mom if you recall. Her box-of-chocolates wisdom applied within roughly 48 hours, as companies across the country including my freshly former started sending employees home in various capacities.

It’s a weird time to be unemployed for the first time in a decade. It’s a weird time for any health insurance qualifying life event: wedding, divorce, birth, funeral.

It’s a weird time to try a diet, jump on Tinder, bring home a pet, be a child, be an adult. It’s just a weird time, period, obviously. Kobe Bryant died this same quarter, and it feels like a hazy afterthought already.

Under normal circumstances, it would be disingenuous to blog this month about anything other than getting fired. I definitely want to unpack the experience for your reading and my reflective pleasure, but Covid-19 is the most prolific postponer we’ve ever seen. Let’s push the job termination debrief to next month.

For now, I want to Corona it up with you. What a novel virus indeed, creating a never-ending stream of things for people to talk about, and, simultaneously, the space on their calendars to do so.

I’m loving daily life right now. I naturally enjoy the seclusion and consciously try to appreciate this incredible experience. This might be the only time like this I’ll ever see, when how we interact with other humans — which is what makes us human — is so different. Not only are we not obligated to be around others, we are obligated not to be around them. It’s fantastic.

Of course I realize people are living nightmares right now, sick and dying and terrified. A disproportionate amount of the millions who scrape by paycheck to paycheck don’t have jobs that can be done and kept from home. I empathize with the anxiety of certain future expenses against uncertain future income, although I’ve built some financial cushion (a beautiful irony given I joined Acorns to help folks with that).

People suffer every day though, pandemic or not, and it doesn’t mean I can’t have an honest perspective on my parcel of reality. I pay my taxes, maintain behavior in the polite-to-kind range, and ultimately will fight alongside you.

I want the whole world to be happy and healthy, but I simply don’t miss social interaction yet. How much I yearn for over 10 people, under 6 feet is close to zero percent right now.

Covid-19 is weeding out the fake introverts. It seemingly becomes trendy as we age to trumpet how we like to stay home Friday nights and be old and boring, similar to how nerdy is considered cool after high school. Then you have all these 3.0-GPA bros wearing prescription-less glasses and quoting Gladwell.

I’ve heard the definition of an introvert as someone who needs to recharge alone. I came up with this alternate: someone who does not get bored alone.

You’re not going to outlast me on this one, hipster introvert. I was built for quarantine. The hours are flying by faster than I want frankly. I can do this all day, every day.

My bravado here may ring hollow because I live with wife and child. I wish there were a way to isolate their contributions because I assure you I would thrive in absolute solitude too.

The wife pointed out I shouldn’t take physical touch for granted, and it’s true this is my love language. When safer-at-home bonding time first began, she was driving up my hormones walking around 24-7 in her lululemons. I was being “rape-y” and “Harvey” according to her inventive verbiage, but really I think it was more of a communication disconnect.

Delivery is important when it comes to sensual subject matter. It’s not what you say but how you say it. I just wanted to be clear about what I wanted, as I always am. I mixed in some curse words because the only time I use them is when talking dirty. It’s never resonated well with her or produced the desired effect because the words probably sound awkward coming from me. Again, it’s all about the delivery.

When you’ve been together seven years and are halfway through your 30s, sexy talk usually stays mired in the innuendo stage anyway without reaching action. Although to be fair, we did run it back to the 1990s Dallas Cowboys in a nice stretch of back-to-back days and three out of four.

Other than that, we generally just try not to annoy each other rather than actively support. In many ways it would be easier or at least more interesting living alone during this incomparable time.

The 8-month-old has not reached an intellectually stimulating age. It, or “he” if you consider babbling and giggling a personality, is intensely adorable. But you can only play with cute things for so long. Ideally the baby would serve as a 10-minute break every 1.5 hours.

I do credit “him” for generating our largest laugh of the coronavirus era, albeit unintentionally of course. I found an old headband and mindlessly tossed it on him, not expecting an adult size with eroded elasticity to fit.

Anyone who’s seen the monster in the flesh knows it has a disproportionately large cranium. The headband held perfectly. I had a moment of initial shock and comprehension, and then went into hysteria. I could not breathe. I was dying laughing.

I knew I needed to carry him upstairs to show my wife, but my high-pitched shrieking rolled in waves with sharp peaks. I kept doubling over every few feet, which was dangerous because his head already made us so top-heavy. I was basically crawling my way to the bedroom, like Rob Stark at his unfortunate wedding.

Typically my wife does not tolerate any ridicule of her child, but even she started dying instantly upon first glance. The headband is not supposed to fit! I was thinking if we were sitting courtside and LeBron wanted to give my kid a souvenir, he could just put it right on his head.
 


 
So I suppose the family helps absorb hours, but what a wasteful way to think of this unique time period. We are presented with a singular opportunity to do the things we think about but never do: learn the intriguing language whether Arabic or JavaScript, read a great American novel, write a great American novel, become a master chef or amateur handyman, meditate, podcast, compost bro, dream up a screenplay or business plan, play an instrument like it’s your job, shred your body free of weights or charge while staving off a Chris Hemsworth-induced boner, build West Elm-replica furniture like my buddy does for us in his garage.

This is a chance to get to know yourself without other people getting in the way. It can be an epic reallocation of time. Or as my beautiful wife put beautifully about losing my job: “This can be an exciting time if you let it be.”

 
 

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Early Baby Bird

Months in advance, my buddy’s wife sent him a Google Calendar invite to start trying for their second baby. This is how I prefer to approach all social interaction, from casual reunions to full intimacy: Plan and execute. Make Coach Belichick proud.

I find spontaneity translates poorly from rom-coms to real life. Pregnancy attempts, of all things, should happen only after rigorous analysis and planning.

My baby was born five days after my 35th birthday and six months before his mother’s. If we go for another — as my wife uncompromisingly wants and I can accept — the window in geriatric territory is sneakily closing. We’re not as young as we think we are just because everything’s so new right now.

We both would love some time to chill the eff out and savor/survive the first one. I don’t know how long that would take to run its course, but I’m guessing at the earliest we’d be pushing our 40s.

It feels like we simply started too late. But I didn’t even meet my wife until age 28, moved in together in two years, proposed five months later, got married within four years of our first sexual contact, and had our first purposely unprotected sexual contact a year and a half after the wedding.

This does not sound like a case of feet-dragging, especially considering marriage and kids were never an explicit goal for me. Some people spend a longer time in college than it took for me to jump onto this no-going-back life track.

Even if we had met earlier, I don’t see us getting anywhere near a procreation mindset before our 30s. It was a lot of fun not having a baby while having what felt like a surplus of disposable time and income. If you think about it, this no-dependent, not-a-dependent phase is the shortest in most people’s lives, a fleeting, formative, memorable burst like an NFL running back’s career.

Aside from the fun, most people benefit from this time to explore and grow up separated from family responsibilities. In the ridiculously privileged state of upper-middle-class America in 2020, we have a paradox of choice when it comes to pursuing fulfillment, from careers and mates to geography and housing to hobbies and causes to investing and travel.

It’s a lot to figure out and makes for a challenging mismatch between modern life and prehistoric biology. We’re not living in caves and dying in our 30s anymore, but our bodies are primed to reproduce before high school graduation.

The optimal times for childbirth from a physical perspective and a self-actualization perspective don’t line up and appear to be stretching further apart. Sorry if it’s annoying I’m painting in broad strokes here and not citing biological facts or anthropology studies. This is a blog post, not a thesis, and my intention for this one is to reflect, not convince.

I think I’m in the vicinity of accurate though. One incredible supporting illustration: A friend who works at Pinterest told me the company pays for egg freezing as a benefit, which I’m guessing has a bigger tab than vision insurance. There is an appreciative and a cynical way to interpret an employer’s reasons for offering this, but either way it’s an acknowledgement that Mother Nature has not accommodated the societal shift in life goals.

But unless they freeze the woman too, it doesn’t solve an interesting conundrum. Every day you wait to have children is one less day you get with them on earth. Now, that’s a Bachelor-level dramatic way to put it, just like you could say every passing day is one less day you have on earth, period.

The thought does become less abstract when the child actually exists. If I had this wonderful tiny creature in my arms at age 25, that’s 10 more years of bro time together on the back end. And what would I have really given up from the latter half of my 20s, a few hook-ups, blackouts and trips to Europe? In the first half of my 30s, I was already settling into a more domesticated routine with less sleeping in, socializing and recreational sex with my soul mate.

Granted, if I had become a 25-year-old father, the bonus decade together would come when my baby was in his 50s or 60s, which isn’t quite the same endearing image. Based on how long it’s taking him to figure out how to crawl, there is a nonzero chance I would still be providing him lunch money at that age. So maybe a late start was OK.

Who knows when the right age is to have kids. Such a tough call for a monster decision. Saying it depends on the person is easy and unhelpful.

The best advice I can give is to take inventory of the opportunity costs — what exactly you would be giving up at this point in your life. And if you’re going to have kids for sure, maybe err on the side of jumping in earlier.

 
 

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.


35 to Infinity

The wifey joins me in the 35 club in three days, and I’m due for another publicly accessible love letter. If not posted on Facebook, it’s kind of like the tree-falling-in-the-forest conundrum and doesn’t really feel genuine.

Once every three years seems like a good interval to refresh. I want this one to focus on death, given she has now exhausted 50 percent of her quality 1:1 years. I would say after age 70, we should regard each ensuing year with a discount rate depending on physical and financial health.

Happy birthday babe!

Hey, she’s the one who brought up the whole mortality thing. It’s taken on a deeper edge after creating a human scheduled to outlive us. Perhaps still managing the hormonal fluctuations, my wife was fighting back tears the other day over the thought of not being there with our 5-month-old for his whole life.

I am always trying to get her to plan further in advance, but this feels extreme. We still have plenty of runway to figure out the back end; perhaps we should start with deciding on a preschool first. But here’s my attempt at making sense of inevitable death.

Well, I can’t really. Coming up with a halfway decent answer would require some serious intellectual horsepower. There are various schools of philosophy and great minds in human history to assist.

The best resource is Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars. In her eulogy for Gus, she points out how there are infinite numbers between zero and 1, just like there are between zero and a million. Some infinities are just bigger than others.

Finding the infinite in what is finite seems like the domain of quantum mechanics or very hard drugs, likely the collaboration of both. I might be sensing another path though, not to bastardize Hazel’s thesis.

This baby has been more fulfilling for my wife than she ever dreamed. She loves the thing so much, she’s lost her mind in the most wonderful way.

I don’t think she really picks up on what an amazing position I get to be in every day. I have a front-row seat to this sweet, lifelong love story unfolding between mother and son.

It’s hard to articulate. The best way I can describe it is… simply the greatest thing I have ever seen.

The way he looks at her, especially that first moment of recognition after it’s been a while, or searching when she leaves the room, makes my heart ache. Maybe it’s the sensation of the heart melting or growing.
 


 
Watching them has a way of helping the noise in my overactive mind bubble down like the foam after a bad pour.

Am I about to get fired? Shouldn’t I have started my own company by now? Was it a mistake not to stick with sportswriting? Would I have been a good lawyer?

I don’t know, but I’m down to ride it out with these two.

We can’t change the number of days much, although I surmise this baby will extend our lives and his grandparents’ lives a bit (because when you have something to fight for, you’ll fight longer). But we’re talking only a marginal increase confined by genes, luck, human shelf life.

Here’s what does feel infinite, or at least off the charts: the difference, the before and after. This baby has brought a depth to our lives, a richness that wanders away from the linear framework.

Something like this:
 
 
The best we can do is add some dots and shift the endpoint a little, but it certainly won’t change to an arrow. Each day along the way, however, now has this singular dimension that redefines the way we experience our time on earth. The difference can’t be measured.

Is it possible I’m on drugs right now without having taken any? Sounds that way, but it’s all I got for an answer. We’re living our infinity every day.

When my wife was pregnant, my boss told me once you have kids you can’t really imagine not having them. I’ve actually retained that ability because of my keen sensitivity to opportunity costs.

But the more time I spend in this new life raising a new life, the less my T-charts and linear thinking suffice to explain what’s going on. This is my wife’s first birthday as a mother and feels like the happiest one yet.
 
 

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New Deal and Goodwill

Jusssst in case you haven’t read the blog before or happen to be in HR… This is written in my standard absurd/armchair satirical/hyperbolic/make-fun-of-everyone-including-myself tone. There’s no bullying going on, more like the opposite being privileged to work with friends. I probably should just limit visibility of this one to said friends but don’t know how.

I work with a nice mix of nice people, but they borderline bully me over my vintage wardrobe choices. The thought of kids being ridiculed at school for wearing old clothes is appalling, yet apparently at some age it becomes OK again.

I’m 35 and on opposite ends of the millennial age bracket from some attractive, fashionable colleagues. One guy has a visceral reaction every time he sees my Express jeans. He either tells me to burn them or asks, in seemingly genuine bewilderment, why I own them.

Although the jeans appear to flare out at the bottom, I checked the tag and confirmed they are not boot cut. Low rise, slim fit, straight leg homey.

Mind you, this guy wears pants tapered so short he should be the one checking the tag to see if they’re actually capris. When a group of us dressed in turtlenecks and gold chains as a gag for the holiday party, we rummaged through five stores at South Coast Plaza — Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, Saks OFF 5th, Old Navy, Macy’s — before finding the mystical turtleneck rack at H&M.
 
 

The capris guy didn’t need to participate in the tool brigade asking store employees whether they had turtlenecks while trying to keep a straight face. He already had not one, but two as serious outfits.

That’s not the kind of person I want to be, too young to remember Jordan and metro AF. I’m not trying to impress these children who interact through Instagram like it’s attached to their vocal cords and use the word “literally” way too liberally.

One of them asked me what kind of music I listen to and then blurted Brian McKnight before I had a chance to answer. I knew she was making fun of me and recognized the blatant ageism, but the song in which B-Mac counts to five started playing in my mind and I lost the wherewithal to defend myself.

She also filmed me for the aforementioned Gram when I was inhumanely Smirnoff Iced on a Monday morning with a 22 ouncer. Instead of commending me for sucking down 71 grams of sugar at 35 years of age, her little Insta friends asked what was up with my shirt.
 
 

I’ll tell you what’s up, ever heard of Brooks Brothers, bro? This isn’t your standard Gap rugby shirt. My best friend and I bought matching ones around 15 years ago at the Allen Premium Outlets in north Texas. I’ve never seen him wear his.

My wife abhors the shirt and calls me Waldo. Yeah I get it, we’re only talking about Brooks Brothers here. It’s not like U.S. Congressmen wear the brand or anything.

On some days when I don’t have meetings, I choose older outfits such as a pair of Eddie Bauer polos purchased in 2006 or a pink striped H&M shirt that a coworker likens to the Ruby’s Diner uniform.
 
 
Typically I weather a steady stream of snide comments at work on these vintage days, bookended by reprimands from my wife in the morning and evening. That’s roughly 16-hour coverage of my supposed fashion missteps.

I simply don’t find clothes to be interesting or a way to express myself on a daily basis. To me, it’s maddeningly obvious what’s underneath the clothes matters more.

And this is not a reference to personality or values. I mean it literally, the way you’re supposed to use the word. I care more about how I look naked than clothes designed to artificially inflate attractiveness.

The problem is I’m sinking into a fat and slovenly period of my life. I can’t control my appetite, and my workouts are getting more and more lackluster.

When I had a solid physique, I didn’t care if people could tell it was there under flowing, boxy Banana Republic shirts. If you think about it, dressing haphazardly is a nice way to manipulate expectations. Then when you strip and unveil a six-pack, it can be an almost overwhelming surprise-and-delight for first encounters or at least a fun reminder for long-term partners of your commitment to providing a superior product.

Because I’m not doing my part on the body front, I am open to finding some middle ground with the clothes. The Insta coworker made me a “vision board” PDF with reasonably priced options. My wife confirmed them as similar to items she already bought for me or suggested.

The main task will be figuring out what goes to Goodwill, two years after the great purge for Hurricane Harvey relief cast away an assortment of classics including button-fly jeans, oversized Joseph Abboud suits, crop-top polos, and my signature yellow Chaps fleece that made me look like an Asian Big Bird.

I proposed a deal with the Insta colleague for 2020. If and when she does not approve of something I wear to work, she will be empowered to banish it to Goodwill.

Of course this could quickly spiral out of control, so I am negotiating some parameters for immunity:

1. Clothing less than 5 years old. She wants to limit to a 1-year grace period, which is absurd.

2. Socks

3. Anything worn on Fridays, when I shoot for a laid-back Jim persona

We’ll see how this goes and makes me feel. Large determinants of my satisfaction with clothes are comfort, ease of cleaning, and fear of stain or damage (closely related to price and age).

I am skeptical this exercise will illuminate new areas of utility for me, but willing to try.
 
 

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.


Nipple Unseen

I came home late Thursday with a bottle of merlot from Chile, rosé all day from Italy (both on precipitous sale at Ralphs), two pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and a bouquet of rustic flowers. There was no box of condoms, as this was an apology package. I didn’t sleep with the nanny, which would have required a minimum of Veuve and Häagen-Dazs.

Here’s what happened. My parents, brother, wife and I are on a text thread. I try my best to keep up a steady stream of baby pictures because a) my mom aggressively requests them, even going as far as stalking my wife on WhatsApp when her SIM card didn’t work overseas and b) I’ve never seen my parents show more outward affection.

On Thursday morning I sent a close-up of the baby’s face, selecting the picture from the tile view in iOS. I had forgotten in the bottom left corner was a perfectly isolated shot of my wife’s nipple, protruding like a Himalayan peak on a clear day. This was taken while the creature had peeled off her breast during feeding.

Immediately I received a FaceTime call from her that ended abruptly in tears. The flowers and ice cream were mandated shortly thereafter via text. I gladly obeyed and accepted full responsibility for the careless mistake.

However, the next night I made a flippant remark to her sister about it not being a big deal, betraying my feeling that we were talking too much about a nipple. This angered my wife, and following the blueprint of some of our largest fights, I got mad at her for getting mad.

Really mad. I could barely get words out, but enough to convey a deep dissatisfaction with how my life got to this state. I wanted to chuck the computer at the wall, but instead I started writing this when she went upstairs. Excellent, productive, cost-efficient choice.

I think that’s a reflection of why I lost my temper in the first place. For better and worse, I see life through opportunity costs. I don’t like to spend dwindling time and energy on things that don’t make sense to me.

At that point in my 35 years, on a Friday night in our rented townhouse in Orange County, dazed from cumulative sleep deprivation, one-quarter of the way through a Stone IPA, 10 minutes after coaxing our bratty 4-month-old to sleep, I just really, really did not want to continue the flagellation over a nipple.

I overreacted. My wife and I made up that same night (not in the way that requires condoms, but more like the three-years-married, one-kid-deep way: Netflix and spooning with no leeway for progression).

My parents were credited with an assist on the reconciliation stat sheet. They FaceTimed during Netflix and put on a dazzling display of awkwardness when asked about the nipple. My mom tried to take the lead, still unsure of where the camera lens is on an iPhone, and started meandering through an explanation of how she can’t get text messages during their vacation in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, my dad was mumbling in the background that come on, we’re family, and she’s his daughter, and not to feel embarrassed. So guys, did you see the picture or not? They weren’t prepared for the quiz.

The net effect though was endearing and made my wife feel better. So we should be in the clear to analyze with clear heads. It might piss her off to read this, but she ought to know by now not to engage in conflict during the last week of the month when I’m in need of a blog topic if privacy is a concern.

There are two basic tiers of empathy. Tier 1 is being able to imagine how you would feel if something happened to you, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. I’m good at this. I have a vivid imagination.

Tier 2 is imagining how that person feels, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and looking through her eyes, personality, preferences, upbringing, etc. This is challenging for me.

I can easily imagine how I would feel if my wife accidentally sent a picture of the crown of my penis to her parents and sister. Outwardly, I would diffuse the non-issue with humor, and inwardly, I would harbor a sense of oh well, you’re effing welcome.

Truly, I would not be fazed in the least if just the tip were unintentionally shared. I’ve sent the whole thing purposefully to people whose last names I didn’t even know. Kristin from Vegas, are you out there? Can we make sure that’s not in the cloud?

Without sexual context, I generally find nudity harmless and hilarious.
 


 
I also did this classic father-son pose with both of us belly-up, but my wife either wouldn’t take the picture, or took it but wouldn’t give it to me. Can’t remember which.

It’s not like I was trying to put that up on my LinkedIn profile. But if it had been accidentally shared with my in-laws… whatever. There is a difference between a fun moment with my infant son and an angry purple hard-on, just like an errant nipple during breastfeeding doesn’t have the same connotations as googling Kate Upton.

I’m not saying my wife didn’t have the right to feel embarrassed. It’s not fair for me to impose my mindset when we’re talking about her body. However, we also can’t completely suspend efforts to objectively judge severity just because everyone is entitled to feelings.

Suppose I cared deeply if my car were scratched, and you couldn’t care less if your car were scratched. If you accidentally scratched my car, of course I would expect an apology and maybe an offer to make amends.

But I would not probe the depth behind your apology and expect you to Tier 2 empathize with how I personally view scratches on cars. When it comes to accidents, in the absence of any ill intent whatsoever, feelings should be tempered by a grand-scheme-of-things assessment of the damage done.

This was a nipple, not Chernobyl. These were my post-Viagra parents and testosterone-bereft brother, not Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly. Janet Jackson had a slightly larger audience, and I’m sure she still invites J.T. over for tea, crumpets and Dance Dance Revolution.

I’m sorry the nipple was seen. But sorry I’m not sorry that I don’t see it the same way.
 
 

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.


New Smile

Out of the blog posts that have upset my wife — we’re probably in the low teens at this point — the one that really set her off was unkind to our engagement pictures, among other concepts. I’ve come a long way in 3.75 years and now think of such staged photo shoots as more lighthearted-silly than aggravating-stupid.

They’re also much more tolerable when an effusive friend is taking them for free without time pressure, versus $700 for two hours. We did our first non-iPhone pictures with the baby at 13 weeks old and exactly two weeks after an expedition to the pumpkin patch, where we ridiculed the young toolbags wearing flannel in 80 degrees so their girlfriends could orchestrate Instagram pics.

And of course, I had to wear flannel. People in Southern California need to acknowledge fall might not start until February, if at all, and stop trying to force it.

Our game plan was communicated to me vaguely, and intentionally so. I was even allowed to nap through the first part at home.

My wife said we were going to start with pics in the nursery and then take some at the park. It sounded casual enough. We live within a few miles of a thousand parks. This is Orange County; there are more parks than black people.

In a savagely deceptive move that only could originate in marriage, my wife fed me Google Maps directions step by step while distracting with conversation. Every time I made a remark about how far it seemed we were going, she denied it.

We went all the way to the 57 and headed north toward the mountains. I thought I was going to Vegas with three chicks and a baby, which would be the dreadfully wrong support system I need there.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park ended up being the destination, about a 50-mile round trip. My wife clearly had discovered this place in Insta-land, as we walked past a mom breastfeeding in tall wild grass for her camera crew and an adult woman dressed like a Frozen princess for her boyfriend photographer who no doubt draws inspiration from Humans of New York.

I was in weak position to judge while gingerly navigating our $1200 stroller through jarring terrain for 20 minutes with my son dressed in a Bill Cosby sweater, fittingly without his consent.
 

 
Gnats or mosquitos or somethings kept buzzing all around my head. Perspiration started to compromise the hold of my Equate styling fiber, Walmart’s generic brand of American Crew that cost only six bucks. My pants were too tight because I’m fat right now due to some eating triggers and enabling circumstances, but I still take responsibility.

Earlier my wife changed the baby’s diaper and breastfed him in the backseat, while I searched for a sink to wash my hands after disposing of said diaper. Every outfit change looked like a pit crew at work. Fading daylight created time pressure after all.

At the end of the day, it was a bit of a circus just to get a few smiling pictures of our nascent family. Six hundred pictures were snapped in pursuit of three simultaneous smiles.
 

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

 
The baby actually smiles all the time, but he can’t do it on command. He doesn’t understand English or Chinese, and like my best friend Piper the dog, he refuses to pander to the camera.

It really did feel like trying to get a dog to smile, a situation in which one wonders which creature looks dumber, the one that can’t understand or the one deploying increasingly desperate antics to make it happen.

Someone had the idea of using a pink rabbit hand puppet as a prop to draw a smile, even though the baby had never interacted with it before. My sister-in-law gamely took on the role of puppeteer behind the camera.

The puppet reminded me of the masks in horror movies and played a garbled sound when the mouth opened. After hearing it about 40 times, the adults started laughing hysterically at the absurdity. The baby unfortunately didn’t perceive the humor, and the puppet had more of a stupefying effect.
 

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

 
We still landed a handful of triple smiles though. These rare shots almost seemed candid because of the low success rate. Typically I only find spontaneous, goofy, real pictures interesting.

But in this case, the buffoonery and effort to make this indifferent baby smile were cause enough for me to smile.
 

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

 
 
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.