Around the World to Texas

On my final afternoon as a California resident, I came up with a mild sex game that no doubt has many independent inventors throughout time. Our 1,500-square-foot townhouse was empty of furniture, and I begged my wife to do it in every room. I named it “Around the World”, sharing the title of the basketball shooting drill I absolutely dominate.

I don’t want to get too detailed out of privacy concerns, but I won’t leave you hanging with the obvious questions either. No, the rules did not require completion in every room. Even just the tip counted.

Frankly I was trying to move quickly anyway, as the transitions were hard for me. Or not hard enough if we want to push those privacy boundaries. The game played out so much better in my mind, particularly the window sill scene that sparked the idea.

I attribute my performance anxiety to multiple distractions:

  • Honestly I can’t remember for sure… but I think I was thinking about this blog post intermittently.
  • My wife declared the dining room and kitchen counted as one because they don’t have a wall between them. I felt uncomfortable with this interpretation, as the spaces have distinct functions and contents.
  • There was time pressure because my wife needed to drive an hour to the grandparents’ to feed the baby. She had told me she wanted to leave in 30 minutes, 15 minutes before we even started. A shot clock for the money shot functioned as a partial cock block.
  • The dryer in the laundry room happened to be running, which according to erotic cinema can only lead to magical, adult Disney-like outcomes. I couldn’t “rise” to the occasion for whatever reason, and this wasted opportunity haunted me the rest of the way.
  • I kept thinking about the next room and childbirth-recovery-friendly sex position, but in terms of logistics and planning rather than adventure and arousal.
  • In the final room, which actually doubled as the first one to somewhat make up for the dining room/kitchen merge, my wife felt the need to merge dirty talk with stand-up comedy. She was saying how my risk aversion turned her on, how sexy it was I avoided danger, etc. I did not appreciate the mockery while trying to concentrate.
  • Again, the deadline pressure. The reason we started 15 minutes late is because I spent too much time wrapping a computer monitor stand for transport. That got me all flustered and hurried — not to be confused with hot and bothered — and damaged my libido.

That last one is worth elaboration because it shows how I torture myself. Moving sucks for everyone, but it sucks more for me. The sturdy monitor stand was going into a car and didn’t need to wrapped at all. Done. Anyone else would have moved on.

But I felt compelled to use the bubble wrap my father-in-law had just bought because my mind fixates on no waste, squeezing the utility out of every resource from Chipotle napkin to 2007 Honda Pilot. To that end, I also wanted to use up the last bit of packing tape on a roll that anyone else would have tossed. This required cutting it with a broken dispenser attached to another roll.

I had to do this at least a dozen times to cover all surface area of the many-edged contraption. A rational actor would have recognized an extra 15 minutes of Around the World would generate far more utility than finishing the monitor stand. When I say fixate, I mean I can’t let stuff go.

My boss is fond of asking is the juice worth the squeeze when evaluating feature requests. In my personal life, I am all squeeze and a trickle of juice.

Many examples of this abounded during packing, which explains why I got only 90 minutes of sleep the night before the movers arrived. I will share one more just because it’s so bizarre.

There was a heavy bag of old statements and documents with marginally sensitive information. Maybe 5 percent of it could have been useful to an identity thief.

There were numerous little bags of ketchup packets left over from takeout orders, along with hot sauce, barbecue and soy sauce, and honey (KFC, let’s go). Maybe 5 percent of them would have survived the move to Texas and actually end up being used in the next year.

So I resolved to wedge the packets at intervals between the papers, figuring they eventually would explode in the dumpster and obscure the text. Of course as a bonus, it felt satisfying to find a use for the condiments rather than send unopened products directly to the landfill.

First I transferred the papers to two bags because I figured the current one with its thickness and handles could serve a better purpose elsewhere. Then I planted the ketchup bombs. A little weird, but not a big time commitment.

This was when things started escalating, or more accurately, spiraling downward into the abyss of my idiosyncrasies. I thought of all the condiments in the refrigerator and removed about 20 expired bottles, mostly weird Asian sauces but also a very American, ginormous bottle of mustard.

(None of them, not even one, was purchased or consumed by me. There is only one other person in the household capable of buying them, and she moonlights as a stand-up comedian during sex. I hate condiments in the refrigerator. Their primary function seems to be to take up space until the end of time and bother those who want to be minimalist and don’t need a crutch to eat meat and vegetables.)

I took the bags and bottles outside the front door, which required multiple trips. The plan was to pour the expired condiments over the papers to supplement the ketchup bombs, and I worried about leakage onto the floor inside. My hands got messy quickly from handling bottle caps.

Not even halfway through, I felt self-conscious about making too much noise with our front door five feet from our neighbor’s. Bottles were occasionally clanking as I piled some of the smaller ones into an old plastic colander to be recycled with them.

So I moved everything again to the front of our garage facing the narrow street of townhouses. Then I got self-conscious about the noise again. It was about 4 in the morning by the way, and I was slightly delirious.

I moved everything to our patio in the back, where I finished the job still self-conscious because of all the windows nearby. Yeah I was probably delirious and definitely stressed because I just wanted to get this stupid thing done and back to packing before the movers showed up in a few hours, followed by a 1,450-mile solo drive.

After waddling with the gross bags about 100 yards to the dumpster, I heard a violent rustling inside before opening the latched door. I knew instantly it was a raccoon and looked up to see another one with wild eyes perched on the wall snarling at me.

I was desperate to finish this craziness and debated whether to toss the bags over the wall. But they weren’t that throwable with all the liquid pooled at the bottom, and I didn’t know if the dumpster was full and the bags might end up overturned on the ground. Oh, and this effing raccoon was ready to pounce.

With sweat beading and my anxiety level at its peak during a really challenging month of Covid and work-from-home with kids, birthday party planning with kids, and a move across two time zones with kids, I lugged the bags back past our place and then another 150 yards down an adjacent street. That dumpster did not have raccoon guardians.

I had persevered around the block and would struggle similarly Around the World days later, but I finished both jobs in a triumphant splash of viscous liquid unique to me.
 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email, and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you.


Diamond in the Meat Loaf

I had our annual birthday conference call last month with my two best childhood friends, born five days apart. One is a millionaire who lives in a high-rise in Manhattan when he’s not traveling the country. The other timed the unhinged housing market flawlessly, doubling his equity in L.A. and parlaying that into a 5,000-square-foot Texas home with no mortgage for the rest of his life.

What about me? Oh we don’t need to talk about me. Let’s talk about you, and we can get to me later.

I’m about to move in with my parents in Plano, Texas, shortly after my 38th birthday. You might picture me screaming at my mother for meat loaf, but they don’t have basements in Texas and the closest outcome in this household would be beef lo mein.

My wife and two young children are coming with me and will support negotiations with our landlords to swap Netflix password for Costco privileges. The numbers don’t quite add up, but I don’t know how you put a value on culture.

Same thing with stock portfolios. Can you really put a dollar amount on being a shareholder in a company? Yes, by definition you can. In an exquisite case of greed, hubris and naivete overriding risk aversion, I dropped $200,000 into individual stocks rather than low-cost index funds. I am currently down 85 grand and available to teach return on investment to any aspiring finance MBAs who want to get a leg up on the competition.

Where did it all go wrong for me? My mom would say it’s when I turned down Brown University and later refused to course correct by becoming a pharmacist. Stay in your lane, landlord.

This is maybe a defense mechanism kicking in, but most people probably agree wallowing in the past and what-ifs yields rapidly diminishing returns if any at all. I saw this quote by The Last Psychiatrist in James Clear’s newsletter that almost floored me by how much it made sense:

“The goal of adulthood is to let go of the other possible existences and to make the best of the one. A successful adult is one who understands that it doesn’t matter which life you ultimately pick, only that you live it well.”

I buy it, I really do. There are infinite ways my life could have diverged from this one: different college or dorm, cities or social circles, spouse and kids, career and income. I did not choose the path that resulted in the most money, and neither did you. I did not marry the person resulting in the wildest sex or make the friends resulting in the biggest laughs or embrace the religion (or lack thereof) resulting in the deepest wisdom — although mine score high and I love them very much.

All the variations aren’t so much different outcomes as they are just different packaging that life comes in. They don’t move the needle on happiness as much as how you live your life, whatever it may be. (I know I need to back up the armchair preaching here and apply it to my struggles with parenthood.)

Take this Depp v. Heard monstrosity. My wife told me not to comment on the verdict because I know nothing about it, and yeah I proudly know next to nothing about the case except the clear conclusion Johnny Depp’s life is not perfect.

Now here’s me sitting on the armchair thinking the movie star life seems pretty close to the pinnacle — banging supermodels, partying around the world, ransacking the Whole Foods salad bar without so much as a glance at the scale. I got a kiss on the lips from an African model while studying abroad in Prague in 2005, and I can tell you that life path has its merits.

But without blaming or absolving Depp for whatever happened, I believe the bigger impact on his quality of life is how he lives his movie star life rather than his choice to be a movie star versus something else. In other words, he could be better off living the accountant life well (which would entail no regrets about forgoing other paths) than living the movie star life poorly. You hear these stories of lottery winners ending up miserable and paraplegics living their best life, and they’re not implausible.

The intention is not to use celebrity misfortunes to prop up my self-esteem. I’m trying to reflect on why I feel good most days, even giddy, for a middle-aged man who soon will be asking his parents to extend curfew and waiting until they fall asleep to make out with his wife of six years. MA! MEAT LOAF!

I guess I feel like I’m living my particular life well. Yes the house will be a circus and nuisances unavoidable. But I also see this as a sort of bonus time with my parents. My dad has been looking so old lately on FaceTime. Asians age better than most for a long time, and then it’s like they catch up overnight.

It doesn’t feel quite right your parents put so much into raising you, and then you graduate college and meet up 2-3 times a year. If I were staying in Southern California, I wonder how many more hangouts I’d get with my dad. Thirty? Forty? That’s not a countdown I care to start.

So now comes an atypical bonus round with my parents in which we’re under the same roof again while they’re still in good health, and I have some maturity and experience, plus their precious daughter-in-law and grandkids. I am picturing unfettered dinner dates with my wife, Blue Bell ice cream for the kids after pool time, tennis with my high school friends, bringing a book on shopping trips with my mom, hazing my dad and brother with Shiner Bock, and supercharged summer and winter breaks with the L.A. grandparents.

Meanwhile, we should be able to rapidly accumulate savings in the absence of rent and California cost of living. Our school commute goes from 80 miles a day to 10, from $6.80 per gallon to $4.80.

It’s definitely a scrappier plan than I would have imagined 10 years ago or even 10 months ago, given the yet-unreconciled dual rises in interest rates and housing prices. And I realize many folks aren’t blindly lucky enough to be able to use a cheat code with supportive parents. This is my one life though, and I intend to live it well.
 
 

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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. You can also reply to that email, and I will reply back, thereby making us pen pals. Thank you.


Stupid Is as Stupid Does Nothing Ever

Dang it school shooting, I was halfway through a solid blog post about a big life move but couldn’t get Uvalde, Texas, out of my mind. Twenty-one murders was too high, and the age group too low for a father on a business trip away from his two kids with a combined age of 3. Had it been, say, four high school deaths, I easily could have kept going.

So I started a new post on everyone’s favorite topic of gun control, then stopped because I didn’t want to bore you, tried to get back to the original one, but just couldn’t pick up steam again. It’s like when you’re erect and ready to shoot, Jack, and then one of the timeless “Dark Knight” movies comes on in the background. You’re distracted persistently enough to warrant a hard stop. And when you decide to get back to it, the mood and focus are just ruined.

I already wrote a scattered memo about guns after the 2017 Vegas massacre. It’s not perfectly coherent, yet sensible enough I could just recycle it every few years. Uvalde was the first mass, mass school shooting since I became a dad though, so it merits some supplementary thoughts.

My proposal is to allow bazookas for sale. That way the children don’t have to be scared before they die. It’s more humane. Sound good, Senators?

I don’t understand why, or at least I don’t want to understand why this needs to instantly turn into red team versus blue team. Offering two flawed political parties and telling me I have to adopt all the opinions of one of them and argue without nuance against logic and productivity seems pretty close to the opposite of freedom.

When it comes to gun regulation there should be less slogans and rhetoric and more scientific method — like those fourth graders were learning before they were executed. We have all these variables that potentially affect the level of gun violence and no perfect solution. We can sit there debating hypotheticals. Or we can test, collect data, learn, iterate, improve.

If Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos had his profits depend on reducing gun deaths, can you imagine the innovation, efficiency and bias to action? Progress would be made by end of day Wednesday, or somebody would get fired.

Can’t we just try something, anything? I’m not opposed to arming teachers if you think it’s practical and scalable to expect our most overworked, underpaid, nurturing professionals to add to their résumé the ability to win shootouts against sociopaths with rifles, body armor and a death wish.

Perhaps focusing a little farther upstream might be easier. Take these assault-style rifles. I have to use that clunky term because gun zealots can’t get past the semantics. They say there’s no such thing as an assault rifle. The ones used in these mass shootings were semi-automatic, one bullet per trigger pull.

Automatic weapons, a.k.a. machine guns, fire bullets continuously or in bursts when holding the trigger down. They have been severely restricted and essentially banned since 1934.

Well shoot, that sounds to me like a proof of concept. The Second Amendment makes no exceptions for machine guns, yet no one is mad about those not being sold at Walmart. Hey if you’re basing the right to bear arms on the need for a “well regulated Militia” to defend against tyranny, I would think machine guns are table stakes. Good luck with your peasant semi-automatics when the tanks and drones come rolling in to your driveway.

But no, that would be insane. It’s quite obvious the right to buy a fully automatic military weapon is outweighed by the risk of one showing up in a school, grocery store, church, movie theater… who knows where will be next. Same with grenades and yes, bazookas.

Obviously it’s not as obvious for everyone when it comes to assault-style rifles. Really we all agree that gun control in some form does and should exist. We just disagree on where to be in the mass-kill-capability spectrum, which maybe ranges from the muskets the Second Amendment was actually referencing to whatever our government is sending to Ukraine.

So all we need to do is calibrate, fine-tune if you will. That doesn’t sound so bad. If you let the loud outliers cancel each other out, I wonder if there is a nice chunk of the American public that isn’t so far apart. I think there are more team players out there than it seems, gun haters like me who are willing to live with them so others feel safe and happy and gun owners who are willing to jump through more hoops to get them so others feel safe and happy.

Ultimately, no matter how constitutionally free the society, we all give up something for the greater good every day, whether it’s observing a speed limit even though you’re capable of driving faster safely or holding in that fart in the elevator even though you feel like it’s rising into your chest.

Suppose we shifted slightly on that mass-kill-capability spectrum and prohibited ammo purchases over a certain amount, unless they’re consumed at the range. Or go bigger and ban assault-style rifles again, this time without lame loopholes. We could then look at gun fatality rates and have a more substantive debate on whether removing these is worth the tradeoff in freedom, utility and costs.

We are currently trending in the wrong direction. The CDC announced guns finally surpassed car accidents as the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents. Woohoo, persistence pays off.

If you just can’t bear to leave those pretty rifles at the range, then let’s test a stringent application process instead. This should be Harvard level if you happen to be an 18-year-old male. I need to see grades, community service, extracurriculars, references bro. There can’t be any doubt you have something and someone to live for. Ideally you’ve gotten laid a few times.

Maybe CIA level is more appropriate. I mean, these guns are so intense. This is sensationalistic to bring up, but I can’t imagine what an AR-15-style rifle does to these poor children’s bodies that their poor parents need to give DNA swabs just to tell them apart.

I can imagine, and so can you. One hundred and forty-two bullets fired by a boy whose balls probably hadn’t dropped all the way yet. That is cray-cray AF. Remember, not an assault rifle, an assault-style rifle. This is an incredibly important distinction because they have very, very different purposes.

An 18-year-old legally purchased two of these, compelled basically an entire police force to stand down for an hour, killed basically an entire classroom, and we can’t look at basic, partial regulations? Perfect need not be the enemy of good enough or slightly better.

Of course we can’t prevent 100 percent of these. Of course the root of the problem is mental illness. No mass shooter is of sound mind.

So let’s tie the two together. Anyone who wants to buy an assault-style rifle has to show mental fitness. You need a doctor’s prescription for certain drugs; you need a psychologist’s evaluation for certain guns.

I know it’s not as easy as tossing oversimplified ideas onto a whiteboard, but it’s also not as hard as it seems either. You just do it.

Australia is often cited as an example:

1) There was a terrible mass shooting.
2) The government passed new laws.
3) No more mass shootings.

The morning after Uvalde, I asked my Australian coworker about this. I expected a longer answer from an Excel wizard business analyst, e.g. depends on how you look at statistical significance, the data model, yada yada. But he just said… Yeah, that’s pretty much how it went down.

Cool, man. Thanks. I don’t feel stupid. There’s nothing stupid about gun deaths being so high in America you can barely see the other countries on a chart to scale.

My nonchalant colleague also told me to look up an Australian comedian who absolutely destroyed the stupidities around how we react to gun control. Savage Aussie, get up off me.

I see your comedian and raise you with our great American legend George Carlin:

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.”

Yes I’m aware of the difference between the mean and median, another thing those kids might have been learning before they were executed.
 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Doughnut Chart

I ate nine Krispy Kreme doughnuts in three hours, ran 22 sprints up the 24th Street hill the next morning, and adopted a reenergized outlook on dad life that is holding up better against the daily onslaught. I refuse to walk anything back from last month’s diatribe because they were all valid points and I have a lot more to add at a later time. But at least some of the time, I can try to inch toward understanding rather than indulge in masturbatory complaining.

First, this is neither here nor there, but you should know those nine doughnuts included only one glazed. Krispy Kreme is best known for its original glazed, which can be consumed in a few bites. A fat child or dog could put down nine. I chose dense, colorful, grossly sweet, filled-and-or-frosted types because I am all man.

I have manly desires and compulsions that can be at odds with rational thought. My wife showed me an email that referred to the decision to have kids as being pre-rational. I really like this description for some reason. I think it makes me feel less crazy or stupid.

Perhaps having kids doesn’t fail the rationality test, but rather the answer is N/A. Based on what I consider to be fairly universal measures of quality of life – disposable time and income, liabilities, freedom, stress, sex life, sleep, etc. – having kids is not a rational decision if the goal is to optimize the numbers here.

But you could say that about decisions everywhere in life. The ultimate man’s man, GOAT Tom Brady, nixed his retirement to start another season in the NFL at age 45. He could probably make more money at this point focusing on his business ventures. He could certainly enjoy a lifestyle with less strain and essentially a blank check to experience anything in the world including his children.

Instead, this middle-aged many-millionaire wants to give up all his free time to be the target of linebackers half his age and one hit away from not being able to chase his kids for a year or longer. That’s not entirely rational depending on the metrics on your list.

Sure, Tommy gets to play a sport he loves. Yet there are plenty of folks in more mundane professions who continue to work even if they don’t need the paycheck. I don’t picture a lawyer’s day-to-day as being outright pleasurable, but I know of lawyers who keep putting in the hours and putting off retirement.

Hobbies too. People don’t make a T-chart of perks and lifestyle and decide to pick up ultramarathoning. I haven’t gotten paid to write since I was 24 and never look forward to forcing out a blog post every month. I just do it because I feel compelled without needing to question why.

Even something as ingrained as marriage might not be a rational decision at face value. Hang on, you want to reduce my freedom and personal space and increase conflict and obligations while consolidating sex life to one source? Come (never) again? Everyone knows the risk in not having a diversified portfolio. Severe downturns can happen. This year Tom Brady likely will rack up more wins than times I get laid, not even including the playoffs.

So maybe last month when I characterized having kids as an oblivious if not reckless “default” decision, I had the wrong frame of reference. It could be thought of more as a calling than a decision, one that can’t be broken down in terms of everyday utility.

We kicked off the Covid-delayed era of classmate birthday parties this month with consecutive Saturdays of small talk with adults and bounce-house-jumping with children while making a conscious effort to avoid giving off pedophile vibes.

This was one of the responsibilities I imagined about family life as a young single lad that always made me retch. Especially in the bubble of Orange County, Calif., I was dreading desperate housewives ambience and mind-numbing conversations about golf, grills, vacations and potty training. I mean, why not just get right to it and vomit into each other’s mouths, right?

It wasn’t bad though. I kind of enjoyed myself. There was Chick-fil-A, Costco pizza and a french fry cart. I consumed moderately and didn’t touch the sweets.

Watching my 2-year-old experience his first parties filled me with a visceral joy. The first one was for his undisputed best friend, a blond girl about 20 percent taller in the same Mandarin immersion program.

They’re not quite advanced enough to play together, so they play in parallel. I can still hear in my mind my boy’s high-pitched squealing and giggling as they frolicked in separate but adjacent universes, and it makes me smile.

I presume posting pictures of children not related to me violates some sort of internet etiquette, so let me just tell you this one is adorable and you’re missing out:
 
 
The besties were heartbreakingly split up two days later when the girl moved up to an older class. Thus the second party ended up being their reunion after a long week apart. I spotted her as soon as she arrived, snuck up behind and dropped my son right in front of her face.

It took a short moment of recognition, and then she swallowed him up in a hug. My son doesn’t really know how to hug and normally just sticks out his chest at a 45-degree angle. This time he actually hugged back with his little arms. I had never seen him do that, and I melted.

In an even more touching moment, the parents put in great effort to corral the children for a group picture. Inexplicably, my son the usual wallflower gravitated toward front and center and popped up his shirt to flash the abs. There had been no prompting, encouragement or contextual relevance, as there never should be for this type of maneuver.
 
 
I hadn’t planned on teaching him the hallowed shirt-pull move until high school. I don’t know if this was a triumph of nature over nurture or he’d been watching his old man’s highlight reels, but I never felt so connected. The insecure peacocking was something I did a lot in my younger confused days, and I have a paternal duty to support him through the phase.
 

March 20, 2022

 
The rest of the weekend sucked. My son crawled out of his crib for the first time right after the party rather than give us a nap and our one opportunity to address a backlog of tasks, thereby kicking off yet another era in which dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning no longer earns me the right to an uninterrupted 35-minute workout that has been the one thing I can control, the linchpin of my sanity.

As I’ve said previously, there are euphoric highs being a parent but the baseline existence is quite low. It doesn’t seem to add up, and the idea that it’s not supposed to could be useful.
 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Nothing to Fear but Everything

I’m calm now, so this won’t be as entertaining. I was furiously unhappy throughout the first half of this month, repeatedly one-downing each new low like my mid-cap-heavy stock portfolio.

If only I could have gotten to a keyboard in those moments and shared with you. It would be like Costco shopping when hungry, which ends in intemperate decisions and regret. I actually wanted to go for it anyway and tried scribbling into a notepad.

But the problem is when I’m mad these days, it’s the exact same situation every time: I have something pressing on my mind or something I want to do, and my young children have taken away the use of my hands or concentration or both. It’s torture for my tortured personality, laden with obsessive and regimented traits. The 2.5-year-old and 2.5-month-old won’t let me take a dump or brush my teeth, let alone sit at a computer alone and think through words.

Now those intense feelings – possibly postpartum depression manifested as anger, as this article from my buddy illuminated for me – have faded. I will try to channel some of them again for reflection.

I hate to pull the nebulous “Studies show…” card and have no idea how you could even set up research like this, but humor me. Studies show people without kids are happier.

This is so interesting and provocative. It’s worth discussing openly because private conversations rarely help anyone else. I don’t hear a lot of people talking about kids until after they have them.

We spend plenty of time choosing the right colleges and careers, partners and pets, houses and cars. Yet no decision affects our waking and sleeping hours more than this one, and people seem to just do it without analysis.

People have kids because that’s what people do. No T-chart needed. It seems to be the default option with an opt-out in tiny print, when really it should be an opt-in decision with a block-letter ARE YOU SURE? confirmation screen. Come on life, hire a UX designer.

Not every human being in modern society should reproduce. We’re pushing 8 billion people on earth, and to think every single one will make the right decision about this is not realistic. There will be broken marriages, effed-up kids and parents, and more commonly, folks who are doing just fine – but would have been better off taking the blue pill (or whatever color birth control is).

I cannot bear to write out the statement that I would be happier or better off without kids now that I’ve met mine. If they didn’t exist though, I would have no trouble putting it in bold, italics, all caps.

I love my kids so much it hurts. I hate parenting so much it hurts. This might sound like cheap semantics to disguise a thinner love that lives in the superficial cuddles-and-giggles layer, like the one favored by extended family members who fawn over pictures but would never give up a Saturday afternoon to babysit.

You can call me out on this, and I will listen. Indeed it doesn’t seem like a very meaningful love if I’m ready to move on to something else after hanging out with my kids for a half hour.

My wife said the reason why parenting is so bad for me is because I’m selfish, and she meant that more thoughtfully than pejoratively. I agreed, but I also don’t want to exalt parenting as some selfless path unless it involves adoption or fostering.

She came to this conclusion after I spent an entire Thursday evening in an absolute meltdown. I couldn’t articulate anything and just kept repeating ad nauseum, “This is awwwwful.” I was irrationally mad at everyone and everything – Russia for invading, coworkers for not being organized, her family for not babysitting, the fact we still haven’t moved to Texas. She listened patiently and waited until her solo drive to Del Taco to cry, brought back some decent burritos, and listened to me some more.

I’d simply had enough. We were both working from our baby-cluttered townhouse, trading off with the shrieking infant, and then the toddler was sent home from school twice in three days with a fever. The school is awesome, but it requires 80 miles of driving per day on the god-forsaken 405 and 5.

This sucks. I wish people would say it more. At the playground, some angel masquerading as a random O.C. white guy struck up a conversation after noticing we also had two boys about two years apart. Without much context or transition, he blurted out that it sucks at this age. I wanted to collapse in his arms like Jordan into Pippen’s during the legendary flu game.
 

Source: NY Daily News

 
It does suck, Scottie. Yes they’re cute. So are most small mammals, but I don’t want to be a zookeeper. Moments of joy don’t outweigh a crappy way to live every day.

While watching the older one for five straight hours, I was in the process of losing my mind when he tried to say “Acapulco” and added like nine syllables. I melted for five minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of anxiety and drudgery.

When I was singing a silly Chinese nursery rhyme about two lions to the infant, he broke into a toothless smile. His brother came up behind me and started singing with me, along with hand motions interpreting the lyrics. I melted for 10 minutes… and then returned to my regularly scheduled programming of suboptimal resource efficiency and no restorative time.

The math doesn’t add up. You touch the sky every once in a while, but live most of the time scrapping on the floor.

Raising children mirrors a hard drug habit in some ways. It takes away from peak performance in all other areas of your life and strains or neglects relationships. You age much faster. You try to convince yourself it’s not so bad and keep dangling hopes it will get better. You get high on short dopamine bursts, but the lows are deep and lingering.

Detailing my daily schedule and grievances would be too boring if I haven’t lost you already with my whining. The short of it is everything — from trivial hobbies like friends, tennis and this blog to the fundamental building blocks that make me happy like exercise, sleep, meal prep, cleanliness and minimalism — are squeezed to the margins if not oblivion. I’ve eaten more Taco Bell and McDonald’s in the last two months than previous 10 years.

Kids aren’t so bad if you don’t have an interest in anything else or mind the feeling of giving 60-80 percent effort across the board.

Let me just briefly document the reason why I started off the month sulking and wrap up with a thought. I started a new job in January and got a late invite for a four-day company retreat in Austin, Texas. Learn all day, party all night, all expenses paid. It was a chance to meet my manager in person for the first time and bond with end users and execs.

This was the kind of environment I thrive in, an opportunity to make lifelong connections at a remote-first, Zoom-heavy company during a formative time in its trajectory. I wanted to show people I have personality, that I can rip shots with the party bros and hold my ground with the brainy engineers, that the square quiet guy in meetings has another side to him.

Plus it was a snapshot in time for a company of 300 people that will either build something big or fail. Without exaggerating, this would have been the memory of a lifetime. I turned it down to support my family, and I don’t have one memory from that week except it sucked.

I should have gone to Austin. I don’t deal well with FOMO, which brings me to my thought. Having children is the risk-averse thing to do. You pretty much know how it’s going to go. You will love them more than anything. They will love you back. Your days will revolve around them.

Choosing not to have children means a lot more uncertainty around what your days will revolve around, how you will find meaning, or more nihilistically, how you will distract yourself until death. If you’re not afraid of that, if you’re not worried about FOMO down the road when everyone else is going to ballgames and recitals and graduations and weddings, if you have the conviction that kids are not right for you and you will never regret not trying, then I envy you. That’s like winning the lottery.

I didn’t have the balls. Everything I hate about parenthood I anticipated long before I met my wife. I think I didn’t resist having children because deep down I was afraid of fear of missing out on having them. That’s a big difference between actually wanting them, and I feel it every day.
 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Year of the Donkey (Kick)

This month I attended what could be my last bachelor party at age 37. We’ll have to see how the bonus round of divorces and remarriages plays out, but I wanted to limp off the court this time knowing there was nothing left to give.

The new dads are apt to go the hardest at these events, which fuel on bravado and peer pressure drafting off each other. Before I even landed at the last one in Arizona, one of the dads had been memorialized in a picture while wedged between the bed and wall, fully nude, at an angle that offered a view deep inside of him. You could see his soul. The other father of young children spent the night sleeping in the bathtub.

It was my turn, as my wonderful wife manned our 2-year-old and six-week-old at home while I escaped to a 72-hour sample of the degenerate life in the Phoenix area. I felt a bit of a primal urge to let loose and certainly had my moments, but ultimately being washed-up probably trumped feeling pent-up.

A compilation of highlights:

The Donkey Kick

There is not an attractive way for a group of near-middle-aged guys to wait in line for a bar that tries to morph into a club after 8 p.m., walk in there and scatter as if we had anywhere to be but the bathroom, wait in line for drinks, and then… drink them. We were losers. We were douches. The male-to-female ratio was staggering, maybe around 7:1, and we were not helping.

So my philosophy in these situations – not that I encounter them often – is you just have to commit and go. You can’t stand there awkwardly trying to nestle into a good time. Everybody else has to disappear in your mind, and it has to be about you and your boys. I think it’s called peacocking in pickup artist lexicon.

The Big Show was a giant WWF wrestler with a signature move of open-hand slapping the chest of an opponent, making a sound that drew involuntary gasps from the crowd.

It didn’t take long for me to unbutton my J.Crew short sleeve all the way down. A fellow WWF historian in our group delivered mammoth slaps on my chest with the requisite wind-up and theatrics. The music was too loud to hear gasping, but I don’t see how people couldn’t have been glued to such a novel scene.

What everybody did notice for sure was the girl in gold pants. She was young, blonde and wiggling her hips by the bar. I don’t know how to describe the pants: extremely blinged-out gold, lots of sequins/texture/frills, and impossibly tight. There was no volume between her skin and the fabric. They looked like showgirl yoga pants, an absolute beacon in the sausage fest.

I promise you no male, female, nonbinary, single or married person didn’t not stare at her butt. She was the alpha in the whole building if not all of Old Town Scottsdale.

Things were hazy for me, but at some point while I was dirty dancing with my homeboys, the gold pants girl started spanking my butt. I felt very lucky. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so there was really no hesitation.

I went for a move unabashedly stolen from my mentors. Resembling a sexy burpee, it entails hopping down on your hands in push-up position, kicking out your feet to prop onto something on either side of the victim, and then gyrating backward toward the target.

Again, things were hazy. I believe my thought process was to kick out and land my feet on the bar or stools or something, but really I just kicked into open space with no idea of relative positioning.

As “luck” would have it, I ended up donkey-kicking the girl in the abdomen. It was shocking to everybody, probably closer to the reaction I was going for with the chest slapping earlier.

Compounding the confusion, my wedding ring flew off during the maneuver and went rolling into the abyss of flashing lights and dancing feet. I prioritized scrambling for it on my hands and knees instead of apologizing to the beautiful temptress who absorbed my crouching tiger, hidden dragon finishing move. (I found the ring and held it up proudly, to the relief of no one.)

Then I vaguely remember waiting forever at the bar with Gold Pants as I insisted on buying her a drink. She eventually gave up, gave me a hug and left. No charges pressed.

Ultimately, despite my kicking strangers, I wasn’t the one who got us kicked out. Someone else in our crew was escorted out because he had taken off his shirt. Later I learned it wasn’t because he took his shirt off; it was because there was no way for him to put it back on. And that was because I had ripped it to the waistline, so we should share blame equally.

I closed my $225 tab for six Bud Lights and seven Adios Mother Effers at 9:15 p.m. I took a picture of a fellow 37-year-old in the bachelor party smiling happily in bed at 11:06, then our young buck passed out by a toilet at 11:21. I was in bed by midnight.

Second-Best Live Sports Moment

The Waste Management Open is basically Happy Gilmore come to life. White bros pack flights in for the weekend. Women dress like they’re walking the runway or streets. People drink heavily, early and often in juxtaposition with world-class golfers concentrating on arguably the most mentally challenging sport.

At the legendary 16th hole, the players step into a mini coliseum with 20,000 jeering and cheering savages treating professional golf like a Big Ten football game. On Saturday, we heard an eruption from there as a hole-in-one prompted an avalanche of aluminum beer bottles thrown onto the course. It was the first ace on 16 in seven years.

On Sunday, we made it into the stands with a good view of the hole. There was a message on the digital screen prohibiting throwing things onto the course, clearly in response to the previous day. Carlos Ortiz teed off from 178 yards. The ball landed with a chance… and rolled in.

Not even half of a breath was taken before the air was filled with beer bottles. At $10 a pop, it was potentially five figures worth of booze in flight like arrows in a “Game of Thrones” battle.

We are the orange blur in the middle section of this video thanks to our fluorescent bachelor party shirts. At that point I was waving mine over my head.

I’m neither a golfer nor physicist and can’t fully appreciate how hard it is to make that shot. But I do have eyes. I saw how far away he was from the hole and how he used a skinny stick to hit a tiny ball that high and straight into a tiny hole. It was incredible and the coolest sports play I had ever witnessed in person until…

Best Live Sports Moment

Harry and Joel are two American golfers on the tour who will never win a major, but they would be awesome to run into at a bar. After sinking his putt, Harry flashed his pasty, doughy chest for the crowd chanting his name.

His buddy Joel removed his shirt entirely and helicoptered it. The airborne beer returned. I don’t know if TV cameras caught it, but Joel actually picked up a bottle and chugged it.

The funniest part was the intensity of the celebration relative to the game situation. Harry’s 10-foot putt was to save par, and he finished tied for 49th. Joel ended up 62nd. This would be like the benchwarmer in the NBA checking in for the final minute of a blowout game, hitting a free throw, and ripping off his jersey.

It should have been unnoteworthy, but I was there the day golf turned into WWF. Harry and Joel reportedly expected to be fined and vowed to never do it again.

Beer Jesus

Like I said, white bros converged from around the country for this peerless golf tournament. I would not peg the clientele as the #woke crowd, but that is me judging unfairly. Our bachelor group was predominantly Mexican, with two white guys who nicknamed their beer pong team Privilege.

My ears were perked for any objectionable comments from the drunken white mass sprawled across the course, but I think those generally came from within our group. Everyone we met was affable and enjoying the party.

The bachelor wore a neon yellow shirt calling for a beer. Someone standing on a rooftop bar tossed one down. Our boy knew his number had been called and what needed to be done. He pounded the beer as the entire roof cheered him on, spiked the empty can to the ground, and thrust his hands in the air with a tacit “Are you not entertained!?”

This caught the attention of a white guy a bit older than us, accompanied by his third wife. He decided it was necessary to buy beers for our whole group. We bonded. We meandered the course together and met up at the 16th the next day. He kept producing beers for us at a professional golf tournament, where menu prices aren’t exactly Tuesday happy hour in a college town.

We named him Beer Jesus and gave him a shirt. There was hospitality at this gentleman’s event.

Covid Evasion

My wife strong-armed me into getting a booster shot for this weekend. It was a nice win not bringing home Covid to my unvaccinated babies.

If you go to Phoenix, or possibly anywhere outside of L.A. for all I know, be prepared for nobody caring about Covid. People were on top of each other at the Waste Management Open, and I noticed exactly one mask among thousands of faces.

I couldn’t talk above a whisper Sunday after screaming for no reason for two days, but overly friendly strangers in the stands wouldn’t be deterred. They kept engaging me in conversation and leaning into my face to hear.

If you got it, I got it, but I’m guessing you already got it, which is why I didn’t get it.

Parlay

Sports betting is legal in Arizona. We signed up for a couple of apps that offered hundreds of dollars in free bets if you placed your first for $10 or 20. Out of principle, most of us used that first bet on a sure thing and made like 50 cents.

With our principal recovered, we then played with house money. I got a five-game $50 NBA parlay right and won $670. Another guy called the winner of the golf tournament and took home a similar payout.

We cashed out and deleted the apps. These casinos make money off entertaining people, which is great. But part of their profit is also tied to addiction and destroying lives, so it was a pleasure to do my part in skewing their customer acquisition cost and lifetime value metrics.

Dry Humping

While obscured by the decadence, bachelor parties are about celebrating and expressing love. My love language is touch. It doesn’t feel right to me if there isn’t dry humping at the Airbnb, even if just in the background while others eat or watch TV.

I thought maybe this time was the exception due to advanced age, maturity and the zeitgeist of political correctness. But then our text thread heated up when everybody got home, and I realized some of my hazy memories were bookended by utter blackout.

Pics were dropped of me plowing the bachelor from behind while he was on his phone, reverse cowgirling the kitchen faucet while perched on the counter (and then drinking out of it), and taking it from an opportunist while I struggled with nausea on the bathroom floor.

These were fairly standard antics that showed retirement isn’t easy, but it’s time.
 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Alien: Redemption

This tastefully graphic slice of life completes an eight-year streak of one blog post per month. Ninety-six in a row.

Out of those 100,000 words or so, I dropped only one f-bomb. The second is about to follow because this story deserves high fidelity.

Shortly before 2 in the morning, I pressed the ignition of our RAV4 Hybrid and asked my wife if she was going to put on her seatbelt. She replied in a spooky-possessed tone, “Just fucking drive.”

I had deep reservations with this idea but complied. Not only was my wife not buckled in, she was on her knees facing the headrest with a death grip. (She later conceded she might have gone through the windshield in an accident, but she would have taken the center console with her.)

There were four contractions during the 8.7-mile drive to Hoag Hospital Irvine. That does not include the one on the garage floor before we left, which I had the presence of mind to ask my mother-in-law to photograph for documentation while I squeezed my wife’s hips to marginally ease the pain. It could have been a spicy intercourse position and place under vastly different circumstances.

 

 
Our barefooted protagonist battled another contraction in the hospital parking lot and another 30 yards from the entrance. We were quite the scene. A squadron of nurses assembled ready to deliver this baby right there on the sidewalk, and later I heard them cackle about how scared the security guard looked.

He and I were on the same page and relieved my wife made it to the room, where we immediately found out she was dilated to the full 10 centimeters.

She made it to 10.

That succinct statement holds special significance after what happened two years ago. My first son came down the chute wrong, a trend he has continued post-social security number, and my wife never could dilate past nine centimeters.

She pushed twice with everything in her soul while suffering unworldly pain, unmedicated, and ended up being rewarded with a C-section. It broke my heart to watch her break as the birth story she wanted unraveled.

We entered this one repeating the midwife’s sage advice to think of this birth separately, not as a way to fix the first. This made perfect sense, but I don’t know how you can stamp out every residual thought of dashed hopes and lingering trauma, second chances and redemption.

In the summer of 2019, we learned not everyone makes it to 10. My wife made it to 10 this time. She did it.

And let’s skip ahead to the happy ending. All the things she wanted and envisioned for a long time – going into labor spontaneously, laboring at home as long as possible, making it through transition and pushing without medication – came to fruition.

It was just about all we could handle, too.

Everything was foreign to us, and we acted like it. When her water broke around 8:40 on a Tuesday night, I was at my computer wearing headphones. Don’t think I’m weird because I don’t do this often, but at that moment I had felt compelled to look up on YouTube the scene from the final “Avengers” movie when a wounded Captain America is ready to take on the entire invading army by himself, and then all of his allies across the universe teleport to his side. Chills just thinking about it! Strange I never got laid in high school.

Through the headphones, I heard what I thought was a knock. I went downstairs and flung open the front door without checking the peephole. No one was there. Then I heard an exasperated call from my wife back upstairs, who had been banging on the bathroom wall, straddling some pink fluid on the floor, and trying to get my attention for who knows how long.

So that was my bad. Her bad was brushing off my suggestion to tell the in-laws to make their way to our place. It’s a 45-minute drive and we needed someone to watch the older one when it was go time.

My wife reasoned, what are they going to do, just sit there? The midwife instructed us to check into the hospital by 8 a.m., so I guess we pegged our expectations around a morning delivery. My wife was actually planning on going to sleep, laughable in hindsight.

Our next bad was ignoring numerous prompts from the contraction-tracking app to go to the hospital. I am unclear why we didn’t take the app seriously. It’s probably a similar reason to why I resisted getting the Covid booster shot. Surely our instincts should trump data. Why would we go to a safe, professional environment when we could just dial up this diffuser that changes colors?

Things escalated both steadily and abruptly, which I know doesn’t make any sense. At some point I was playing old-school Phoenix Suns hoops with an unrelenting shot clock. I would squeeze her hips during a violent contraction, then frantically try to do something productive, and race back before the next one started.

Our doula arrived around 1 o’clock, followed by my mother-in-law. I had to install a car seat so Grandma could drive my son to school in the morning. For the life of me, I could not get the stupid belt to tighten the stupid seat enough. I was beading sweat in the middle of a December night, hunched into a Highlander parked in a fire lane, trying not to panic while picturing what was happening with my wife inside.

It felt like 20 minutes, probably closer to 10 in reality, before I figured out the belt was threaded wrong. My bad. And while we’re keeping a tally, I also forgot to call the midwife. She didn’t know we were at the hospital until we were at the hospital. If this had been during rush hour on the 405…

Empty freeway notwithstanding, labor had started at arguably the worst time of day. My wife was the furthest removed from her last sleep cycle. Just about when her body was used to going to bed, she had to begin potentially the most challenging physical, mental, emotional feat of her life.

Transition is generally known as the most intense phase of labor, the home stretch to full dilation. I can describe only from observation rather than experience, and I am truly not mad about that.

The screaming and moaning were wild. They were the kind of sounds you would expect from a human reduced to a basic state of trying to survive. It’s not easy to watch helplessly without a uterus and frame of reference.

It’s scary. You don’t know what’s normal and what might be wrong. I wanted to FaceTime my old dairy farmer roommate to have him take a look and confirm this is what happens with his cows, but it likely would have ruined the intimacy of the milestone life event.

During recovery the night after, we heard impossibly long-noted shrieking from somewhere in the hospital that I thought for sure came from a baby. The nurse deadpanned, “New patient.” It was clear when the epidural hit because of the swift silence.

My wife didn’t want any intervention, and she will be the very first in line to tell you there is nothing wrong with an epidural or Pitocin or C-section or whatever you choose or have to choose. An unmedicated delivery, as her mom did twice, was a longtime goal she held without any judgment of all the other beautiful birth stories in the world.

I will state the obvious, however, and point out anesthesia means an entirely different experience and pain tolerance. My courageous wife started this hellish transition phase probably right before the car ride. For coping, she had a headrest and an occasional rub from my non-steering hand.

It was incredible what she went through just to earn the privilege to push. This part was even more tense to witness, and not just because of the blood and other goodies coming out. I knew nothing was guaranteed, that this was when the door slammed shut last time with her crumbling against the frame.

There was the unforgettable pulsing effect again, as if all her muscle fibers were failing on the last rep of the last set. And I was just willing, praying, begging for this stupid baby to come out.

His grotesque bulb of a hairy head bobbed into view multiple times before sucking back in like a diabolical version of that arcade game Whac-a-Mole. It was demoralizing each time. I would be over-sanitizing if I didn’t mention my outward calm and pep were belied by dark questions swirling in my mind, which defaults to neurotic even in the absence of stress.

Is something wrong again? There has to be a tipping point when her energy is depleted too much to complete the job – how much time is left? Is this next push her last chance? Is it possible her body is just not built to deliver vaginally? Why couldn’t she have just gotten an epidural like everyone else? Why does she arbitrarily make things harder than they have to be? Isn’t it selfish of her to put me through this? I hate this. I never wanted any of this. This is possibly the worst night of my life. I will never do this again.

So I suppose I had my own dam-breaking flood of relief when the head popped out. My wife said it was like a switch being turned off for her. I snagged the moment on my iPhone if you’re down to come over and double feature with one of the “Alien” movies. If you cover up Sigourney, it will be hard to tell which is which.

I think I’ll always remember the gasp of exhilaration from my wife. There was so much going on physically, not to mention this was a moment she had thought about throughout her life and it finally happened a month before her 37th birthday.

She did it. She did it.

Now, happy doesn’t mean free of charge. The 3:13 a.m. delivery left me with a four-person household, three of them in diapers.

My wife suffered a second-degree tear and multiple lacerations. Her labia was split in half. She had to lie there, legs splayed open in front of a dozen strangers, for an additional not-so-golden hour while the midwife stitched away. My anxiety ticked up again.

She lost a lot of blood. They were using a garbage bag as the third-down receiver, although the midwife later clarified not all of the fluid was blood. I counted 13 soiled cloths on the tray, and that was definitely blood.

Normal hemoglobin range for a woman is about 12-16 grams per deciliter. My wife was at 8.5 and pretty close to needing a transfusion. They had two Hep-Locks in her arms ready to go at the first sign of symptoms. But she got by with iron supplements for a few weeks and a mother’s iron will.

She wouldn’t give in. She kept fighting for this. She found her limits and moved them. I was struck by her beautifully nonlinear scorecard: a miscarriage, cesarean and VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean, which does carry enough added risk to require signing a waiver).

 

 
My wife said she couldn’t have done it without our support. I loved our doula, but it seemed like the extent of our combined contribution was coming up with different ways to say “You’re doing great!”

The hero of this tale was going to leave it all out there regardless of who was in the room. She could have been in the woods alone, and it still would have been the same one-on-one game against herself.

And she would have won. I am so proud of her. I am so happy for her.

She won the first time too, just not how we planned. It didn’t make that one any less special, but I do believe it made this one more special. This spontaneously started, bravely finished December night certainly didn’t replace or fix what happened before, but I like to think they complement each other.

Every birth story is its own, and this was our sequel.

 

 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


My Merry Best

Got one! I was the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime today. Not really, but it was the perfect addendum to my beautiful essay that I still can’t get anyone to read.

I was driving in the 405 carpool lane in Irvine, Calif., at around 73 mph with a speed limit of 65. I saw a car approaching in the rearview mirror and sped up to 77-78 as a small courtesy.

The car started pushing further, and I immediately ended the precedent and held steady. We can flirt a little and make ourselves feel young again, but no means no. I’m a married man. The driver was a woman, hard to tell her age but certainly not elderly, and hard to tell her race but certainly not Black.

I could see her muttering to herself and getting antsy. Here’s where I was maybe less mature than her, and I regret it or at least want to regret it. I waved to her in the mirror with an overly jubilant smile and gave her a thumbs-up.

This seemed to take her from level 4 annoyed to level 10 livid. There was a lot of shouting and a middle finger. She must have been not super smart or just so pissed she lost awareness that we were in separate enclosed cabins, and I couldn’t possibly hear anything. I’m not trying to read lips in the mirror, which would require taking my eyes off one of the most dangerous highways in America for consecutive seconds.

Let me pause here purely for the sake of ego and defend my perspective, even though this is all besides the point:

  • The carpool lane is not the Autobahn. When you get in it, I feel there is an acceptance of risk that the other cars will not be going the exact same speed you want.
  • There were five lanes to our right, and she had the option to switch out of the carpool for most of the stretch — dotted white line for days. There would be more congestion, sure, but enough space to maneuver. I was going faster than most cars and not by any means disrupting the flow of traffic. In fact, I was actually gaining on the car in front of me, and by the time we reached the end of our flirtation, I had to slow down from my preferred speed anyway!
  • OK, ignore the car ahead of us and suppose you want to get your Jeff Gordon on and push triple digits. Going 20 miles an hour faster for the three minutes we were together would put you exactly one mile ahead. At my speed, I was going about a mile every 45 seconds. So… you want me to drive 100 miles an hour with my toddler happily playing with his toy trucks in the car seat to get you to brain surgery 45 seconds earlier.

She did switch out after a few miles and moved a couple of lanes to the right, probably getting ready to exit. I wanted to give her some additional face time, which was humane on my part because otherwise her head might have exploded.

She rolled down the window, let another bird fly, and continued to shout without an understanding of how sound waves work. Then almost as an afterthought, in a move she only could have learned from the least likable franchise in sports, she offered every Asian’s favorite, the slanted-eye pantomime.

I wonder if this woman would have eased the tailgating a few feet if she knew I had a 39-week-and-5-day pregnant wife at home and a 2-year-old in the back on the way to his first ugly sweater party. Five days before Christmas, two days before he was due to be a big brother. Forty-five seconds.

 

 
Now that I’ve made her look sufficiently bad, I want to pivot to an idea I have yet to find a grasp on. It will need to be a future standalone post.

For my three-person book club that I slow down with my elementary reading pace, I gave Dr. Brené Brown’s Rising Strong a whirl. I was blown away by all the insights. One of them was put in the form of a question:

Do you think people are doing the best they can?

It is such a wonderfully profound challenge. Anyone who consumes news must have an instant recoil to the notion that all the bad actors in the world are doing their best.

Dr. Brown at first was indignant this could be the case. She watched an older white woman at a bank flip out on a Black teller about either an error or her misunderstanding regarding some withdrawals. He offered help from his supervisor, also Black, but she refused and wanted a different one.

Afterwards, Dr. Brown asked the teller if he thought people, i.e. the prejudiced customer, are doing the best they can. He deliberated back and forth a bit, and his conclusion was yeah, she’s doing her best. Probably. She’s scared about her money.

The episode wasn’t all that dissimilar from mine. I don’t know the woman was racist at her core. She was furious and running short on ways to communicate and didn’t have much to go on to insult me.

I don’t know what was going on with her life that morning. As my sister-in-law would say, maybe she just really had to s___. (Ironic, because I actually did have to go No. 2 as my son has destroyed my morning routine.)

I also wonder if the woman was legitimately confused. There was nobody in the passenger seat, and it’s hard to imagine a parent rolling down the window to flip the bird, shout obscenities and make a racist gesture with a child in the back seat. Maybe she thought the carpool lane was the left lane. It’s not always clear on the 405. OK it’s quite clear in this section, but we all make mistakes.

More poignantly, what might be going on in your life that someone lightly mocking you would trigger such a reaction? What’s happened to you in the past?

It’s kind of hard to accept, but I like Dr. Brown’s husband’s take: My life is better when I assume people are doing their best.

I’m not there yet, not even close really. I would say 95 percent of the purpose of this post was to put that woman on blast and vent. But thanks to Dr. Brown, middle-ish age, gratitude for my family and other blessings in life, I leave the door ajar for grace.
 
 

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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


Harry Tang

I expected my 1,800-word monologue on racial identity to spark a thought revolution, like a digital version of Gutenberg. I don’t think people read or liked it though. We’re not there yet. I have to revert back to the lowest-common-denominator audience, you intellectual peasants.

Let’s talk Harry Styles. I bought tickets to his “Love on Tour” show at the Forum almost two years ago. Thanks to humanity’s spasmodic disease-and-vaccine concert, we didn’t end up going until last weekend.

A fair amount of life happened in the interim. The tickets were supposed to be a birthday gift that would provoke steamy intercourse. That plan gave way to mechanical intercourse timed to ovulation. Which subsequently transitioned into riveting pregnancy intercourse, a.k.a. honing my ability to ejaculate directly into a toilet. (A strong core and hip flexors help.)

So my wife rolled up to Magic & Kareem’s pad 8 months pregnant and guessed she was the most pregnant person in attendance. I called understatement and crudely replied that half of the girls hadn’t had their periods yet.

The “wholesome” crowd, as my wife put it, was one of the highlights. These shrieking girls carried a buoyant energy that just made us feel good. Especially after what happened in Houston, it was charming to see the rowdiest the mosh pit got was Covid-friendly line dancing.

And even though I hate Halloween and the strain it puts on my marriage, the costumes made me quite happy. There is no situation that someone dressed as a watermelon cannot enhance.
 

 

I spent the bulk of the evening waiting to sing the two words I knew of the one song I knew. Watermelon sugar! I had to hold that in like a five-beers-deep whiz until the penultimate song.

Overall I thought the rest of the performance was entertaining even though it wasn’t my kind of music. They did a great job putting on a show. I hope the purists wouldn’t be offended if I suggested the singing be paired with some Cirque du Soleil action to really round out the sensory experience.

We sat second row from the floor, close enough to make out Harry’s tattoos. Between that vantage point and close-ups of his face on the giant stadium screens, I gotta say I was mesmerized by how attractive this guy is. God should get quarterly thank you cards from Harry Styles.

His face is so beautiful. I knew girls fawned over him, but I always thought of him as a teenager and then suddenly the guy on magazine covers wearing a dress. I’m not trying to get my Chappelle on here, but any kind of high fashion usually obfuscates the natural beauty for me.

Harry’s sex appeal was off the charts wearing a sparkly pant suit he might have borrowed from Madonna or Celine. I would have loved to see him pop open the top. I know he’s shredded under there. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar and don’t waste any crumbs, word?

I also was enthralled by his dancing because of its strong resemblance to my moves. We both use a lot of shoulders and emphasize fluidity. I like to think of my body as water, which is what my tennis nemesis says he’s able to do while absorbing my groundstrokes.

My wife actually agreed Harry and I dance similarly. She did superfluously point out he’s more intentional with his movements and on beat, whereas I let my body take control and am not sure what’s coming next. So basically I dance like a rock star but with more spontaneity.

I’ll take it. Thank you Harry for lighting up the world on this night for my wife, who said it might have been the best concert she’s been to.

The reason why I can’t bring myself to respond to the Forum’s persistent survey emails was parking. We left on time from six miles away and missed the entire opening act. The parking operation was a circus. I would rather try to find a spot for an 18-wheeler in Newport Beach on the Fourth.

There was plenty of staff manning the overflowing intersections, but they did not succeed. If you are going to override traffic lights, you have to be the alpha. You have to be clear and demonstrative.

These folks might as well have been dancing with Harry and me. Raising a hand can mean stop or go depending on what you do with it. I swear they were snapping their fingers. It was so confusing.

At a stressfully stacked left turn, the traffic guy waved a couple of cars ahead of me on a red light and kept his hand up for me with neither a wave nor stop motion. After a moment of indecision, I accelerated to go. I had to brake immediately as a couple of people had already started crossing from the far side, and the traffic guy emphatically told me to stop after the fact.

Thanks for the heads-up bro, should I buy Tesla stock too? He had two colleagues who could have handled the crosswalk.

One of the pedestrians walking away from the stadium — no doubt a liberal with more compassion for ideals than people, and hopefully unsuccessful at scoring a ticket — made an unnecessary “What’s wrong with you” remark to me.

As I was trying to explain to her my side, the light turned green and this time I looked to my traffic guy and resolved he needed to give me a clear signal before I went.

And of course the car behind me honked like a madman before the traffic guy frantically waved me forward as if it should have been obvious. As I passed him trying to point out the broken system, he acknowledged it with “I know, I know” and I forgave him.

So that little episode earned me the privilege to drive past the full parking lots at the Forum and into those at adjacent SoFi Stadium. The cost was $50.

To me, the relationship between price and distance to destination should be inversely proportional and then a precipitous drop outside of a certain range. I mean, at a certain point, if you walk far enough it should be zero.

We paid 50 bucks to park at the wrong stadium.
 

 

And the lot was still full. Cars were circling and exiting. I ended up moving three orange cones to create our own spot, the farthest possible in the upper right corner.

We had to walk a quarter of the perimeter of a modern-day Colosseum just to get within line of sight of the Forum. It’s the purplish glow way in the back of this picture:
 

 

You will need 20/10 vision to spot it in the pic below. Hint: Start at the tree line. Meanwhile, my wife had to walk the well-lit streets of gentrifying South Central like a pregnant hooker.
 

 

If she went into labor, we didn’t see how we couldn’t not name the baby Harry. But consider my generally fun, occasionally unfortunate last name Tang.

Harry Tang. That’s not very nice to do to my second son. Our children already have to deal with climate change, broken supply chains, runaway inflation and unscrupulous tech giants. They don’t need me to dig a hole for them.

Such a name would be almost as challenging as my high school friend Ted Wang, whose brother — I truly kid you not — was named Harry. There is simply no better way to end alphabetical roll call.

When we made it through security, my wife insisted we wait in a dawdling line at a merchandise tent to buy a $45 T-shirt with Harry’s picture on it. I have slapped JPEGs on cotton shirts for bachelor parties and can confirm this was a significant markup.

So I was down a Benji before we even took our seats, only a minute or two before the band came running out right below us. Showtime at the Forum.

 
 

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Thoughts on What Asians Think About

I had a fellow Chinese friend, a strong but gentle giant who hated playing Texas high school football. One of his grievances was the coach nicknamed him Chopsticks.

Now, if you find that funny in 2021… I would say you are absolutely correct. It’s OK if you’re white; set aside that selective guilt and appreciate this gem. Chopsticks is indeed hysterical, especially if you can picture my indignant buddy. Some humor doesn’t age well. Some transcends time and zeitgeist.

Five months ago, I attempted an honest assessment, sort of an anti-anti-Asian-awareness post to balance the latest electronic social awakening. I felt, and still feel, people neglect to take into account their overconsumption of information when constructing their reality. I got baited into a vaccine discussion the other day and came away with the reaffirmation you really can find whatever you want on the internet and build your own universe like a Chipotle burrito. (I don’t hate on vaccine haters, but do you think conspiracy theories might be slightly related to human wiring to tell stories when there’s a lack of certainty, knowledge or experience?)

I repeat, I don’t believe Asians in America are besieged at the moment, and that’s not because the hashtags from this spring worked their magic. I believe things are getting better for us over time, not worse, and it’s not even close. Chopsticks-gate would cancel an entire program in this new decade.

As I promised when sharing that post though, I want to offer my perspective on some things that are different for Asians in this G.O.A.T. country that might not be obvious. Now that the capricious news cycle has moved on to Chappelle v. They/Them and my people got our Marvel movie, it seems like a good time to try for a levelheaded reflection.

Driving is different. When I make a mistake or do something inconsiderate, which is rare, I consider switching lanes to avoid others seeing me. I might turn my head or lean away from the window or even straight up shield my face. This is purely because I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of bad Asian drivers.

Call it shame, insecurity, self-consciousness — I just don’t want to be seen. Even when no one’s at fault, I feel compelled to err on the side of being overly polite. Just this morning when turning onto our main street, I creeped forward and blocked the sidewalk, as is necessary to see past the parked cars.

I was aware of a man with his dog 15 feet away, but made the judgment they were going to leisurely linger. Nonetheless, I desperately tried to make eye contact and waved three times before turning, and then looked in the rearview mirror to see if he did indeed linger or had wanted to cross.

Another time while creeping forward, I could have hit some guy on a bicycle whizzing by in the wrong direction. My hand instinctively shot up with an apologetic wave, as if it were my fault he had a death wish.

Whenever I pass another driver doing something buck wild or an accident on the road, I hope for no Asian representation. I wonder if Black people have a similar, more poignant reaction when a police mug shot flashes on the news. Or if brown people feel the same way when there’s a terrorist attack. Shoot, my lineage from China branched off to Taiwan 70 years ago, yet I am still hoping, begging that Covid didn’t come from a lab in Wuhan.

Our dumpster at the end of the street is often overflowed with trash bags and furniture piled on the ground around it. One time I tossed a small Nijiya grocery bag on top of the pile in the dumpster, and it landed precariously. I took the extraordinary measure of tiptoeing through garbage and reaching into the dumpster to stuff it into a crevice, not wanting it to fall outside. When you see litter on the ground with a Japanese supermarket label, there is a connotation.

These are things not every Asian person thinks about, but certainly no white person thinks about. You can just… drive. And toss a trash bag. And not worry about other white people’s behavior. When you see a Klan rally or mass shooter on TV, there is a comfortable separation, no shame or fear of being thought of in the same bucket.

Heterogeneity is easier to apply to white America, and that goes for me too. If five white drivers cut me off this week, I think, man, five a-hole drivers. If they happen to be five of any other race, there is an additional adjective no matter how hard I try to push it out of my mind.

People categorize people, generally with no ill intention. The brain has to organize information somehow. A former boss once had a Southwest Wanna Get Away moment while trying to get my attention. He must have been distracted and stammered through the names of three or four Asian employees before landing on mine.

He seemed slightly embarrassed, but I compassionately didn’t skip a beat. This was not offensive at all to me. But it was telling. I know how I’m seen in America, subconsciously or otherwise. I know I represent my race in a lot of situations.

When I was in high school, Yao Ming was drafted No. 1 in the NBA. One of my close white friends, still close today, couldn’t fathom why I was ready to cheer for this big stiff no matter what just because he was Asian. He was borderline offended.

And it does sound like a form of racism, to base favoritism solely on race. I can’t completely defend it, but I can say my buddy doesn’t know what it feels like to watch stand-up comedy and brace for the first mock Asian accent or small penis joke. He doesn’t have a childhood memory of excitedly dragging his dad to the theater to watch “Lethal Weapon 4”, only to have to process his disgust with the scenes of Chinese refugees being smuggled in a boat.

He doesn’t know the dilemma when someone tells a weak Asian joke. Fake a laugh to make the group feel more comfortable. Or don’t laugh and appear offended, oversensitive and Communist. There have been probably dozens of times when I served up a self-deprecating Asian comment in certain social situations just to preempt awkwardness.

None of this stuff is a big deal or detriment to my quality of life. I bring it up to contribute to the conversation if the goal really is more understanding versus virtue signaling.

There is an extra layer of thought that comes with being a minority, whether you’re a Black executive walking into a board meeting, woman engineer speaking up in scrum, or gay lineman in Coach Gruden’s locker room.

I don’t know if this falls under the privilege buzzword, but I believe — and am open to disagreement on this — white people have a little less to think about. It’s just a bit simpler to be white.

Let’s break down an example that happened this month. My cousin had a Covid-delayed wedding reception at a brewery in Fort Worth, Texas. As my extended family was walking through the parking lot, a smattering of folks were leaving after the Texas-OU game and probably more than a few beers.

After our groups mostly passed each other, my wife and I heard a high-pitched “Nee-how”, a jab at the Chinese word for “Hello” and likely intended to ridicule the accent.

It was too dumb to be offensive, but we turned and saw only the backs of a few innocent-looking couples. It appeared the culprit had already rounded the corner and wanted no part of a confrontation. I would chalk it up to drunken shenanigans rather than anything mean-spirited.

This kind of stuff, by the way, does not happen much in my bubble. I can’t even recall another time offhand, and it should be noted when we walked through the packed brewery in our wedding clothes to get to the patio reception, the all-white crowd of Fort Worth strangers gave us a spirited ovation.

Suppose, for a little thought experiment, the Nee-how guy said it to my face or in my vicinity. I would be irritated not so much at the comment, but at the burden of reaction. I got my wife holding my 2-year-old son, a bunch of elderly aunts and uncles, younger cousins who grew up with me as their ringleader.

It would be on me to decide how this should go. I mean, bare minimum, I would have to come up with some sharp retort on the spot, and it’s not always easy to say something witty about something stupid. I’ll take Trump over any Nobel laureate in a debate.

Ideally I would be funny and clever, but who am I, Ali Wong? Do I puff out my chest and get aggressive? Do I swing on him if he says more? Do I walk away as the bigger man but feel emasculated in front of my family? But what if I overreact and look like an insecure buffoon?

This predicament of course would not be exclusive to Asian Americans. The guy could just as easily say or do something asinine not related to race. I’m guessing most heckling and harassment fall in that equal-opportunity category.

But if we’re keeping tally, Asians are eligible for both the racial and nonracial taunting — that is, the same amount of potential crap white people deal with, plus a little more. Because if we crossed paths at the brewery and I said “Yee-haw whiteboy”, it just wouldn’t be the same.

So I bring these things up not to join the hand-wringing, sky-is-falling-on-Asians chorus (if it’s still singing, not sure which way the wind is blowing in Wokeland right now). Epithets and attacks dominate headlines and deserve attention. But as I wrote before, I doubt they’re happening more to Asians now than in the 90s, even if it feels like a logical narrative after a few viral videos in the Covid era.

Social media algorithms skip over the vast, silent majority of people across skin colors. These people might say some things on either side of an issue, but at the end of the day they care about their kids, health, careers, bills, getting laid, and other daily wants and inconveniences.

I read somewhere (sorry I couldn’t find where to cite, but I think it’s an idea repeated enough to be public domain) that people aren’t for you or against you. They’re just thinking about themselves.

To me, this is a more interesting if not productive focus for those who want to care about anti-Asian problems, as opposed to sensationalizing every crime or anecdote. Just try to think about the things Asians think about.

 
 
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 until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.