Warmer Pastures and Waffle Fries

Our rent is $2600 for a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse in Newport Beach, Calif. If you live in a flyover state, you might think this place must be next door to the Bryant estate at that price. If you live in Manhattan or the Bay Area, you might feel compelled to start a GoFundMe to get my family of three out of the slums.

The reality is somewhere between, as reality tends to be. It’s a nice home much closer to the highways than any beach, and a world away from the opulent Newport where Kobe lived. Overall I think our month-to-month lease is a pretty good deal relative to Southern California.

Anchoring reality in the Southern California housing market, however, can be more like floating away from reality. I told you three years ago about the dream house in a suspect L.A. neighborhood that inspired us to include a creepy Photoshopped letter with our all-in offer, which got buried. And the Kevin Durant house two years before that.

Now consider the market today, even higher and climbing against low interest rates and inventory. The severe supply and demand imbalance out here is not new. Ever since my risky roommate-for-spouse swap, I have been acutely aware how much further a mortgage goes in my home state of Texas.

Non-native Texans, particularly those who grew up in L.A. like my wife, typically find the idea of living in suburban Dallas to be untenable. I can be empathetic to that. I loved spending my 20s in an epicenter of beach, city, geographic and demographic diversity, entertainment and culture.

I am almost 37 now. My kid is almost 2. (We could have had the same birthday, but he blew it.) My target bedtime on weeknights is 9:30. My target bedtime on weekends is 10. These numbers do not comprise the stat line of someone in his prime.

Even well before Covid, my Google Maps history included no Hollywood comedy clubs, downtown speakeasies, secret surf spots, museums or food truck chases. My pace is more like grocery stores, parks, work, kid’s school and chain takeout. With a toddler and two working parents, even Netflix-and-chill sounds like two separate pipe dreams.

At a certain point, which we passed a long time ago, it no longer makes sense to pay the premium to live here. La La Land can be a paradise for the young, single or rich, but I am none of the above. I am willing to rent instead of own and absorb a higher cost of living – as long as it yields a higher standard of living.

So this isn’t really about market analysis as much as life design. The question I need to answer is what am I doing here that I can’t in Texas, often at lower cost and higher convenience. Keep in mind In-N-Out Burger arrived in the Lone Star State years ago, bringing critical feature parity akin to the camera on the iPhone that made digital cameras obsolete.

Any trip to In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A is a vivid illustration of the gap between infrastructure and population in Southern California. Cars are piled out 360 degrees like an overturned Ferris wheel, and your table-stakes dilemma is to block the right lane of a busy road until you can inch into the parking lot… or come home with Jack in the Box, a greasy participation ribbon dripping with a loogie from the first-place winner.

To bring home the fresh-cut waffle fries, I have to channel my inner Chris Hemsworth in Extraction, an Oscar snub about a hostage rescue that turns into basically two hours of kill-or-be-killed. Hems called it survival mode, and that’s exactly what going to the Chick-fil-A by South Coast Plaza at 6 p.m. entails. My heart rate doesn’t slow to normal until the fries have long gone cold.

This one time at In-N-Out, the guy behind me got out of the car and stood in front of a woman in an SUV trying to merge in front of me. She either innocently or rudely considered it an ancillary merge lane; he thought it was clearly cutting in front of a long line. While he tried to wave me forward, she released the brake against his body. There were f-bombs, picture-taking of a license plate, a call to the police and retort of being married to a sheriff, and a sheepish teenaged employee trying his best to keep up that impeccable In-N-Out cheery service. People can be animals when Animal Style fries are on the line.

It’s just harder out here overall. My wife drives 80 miles a day to shuttle our child to Mandarin immersion school. The highways are so dangerous it’s almost comical. There is such a stupid variance in speeds people choose, and Orange County is the best place to go if you want to practice switching three lanes in 40 yards to make your turn.

Take me back to the suburbs. I am a suburban guy. And although my wife wouldn’t admit it, she’s even more suburban than me – same static group of friends, same orders at Starbucks and McDonald’s, afraid of sand and cold Pacific water at the beach, eight Target trips in seven days.

We do not need to be in L.A. or anywhere near it. It’s like we’re waiting in line and paying cover to get into a club, only to hang out in the lobby. For what, to hear about other people having fun (and to a small degree, subsidize it for them)?

I have routinely dropped probing half-jokes about moving back to Texas over the years to my wife, with only eye rolls in return. A few months ago, I said the desire to relocate had reached a different kind of gear, not urgent but definitely more real. To my shock, she responded with nonchalant agreement.

There are some moving parts to align. I started my new job five months ago. During a chitchat trading life stories, my boss asked if I would ever want to move back to Dallas. I played it off with an “Oh I hadn’t thought about it but sure,” and without skipping a beat, she said “Well you let me know and we’ll wire you in remote.”

It could have been just a flippant remark on a late Friday afternoon, and I would still need another layer of approval. But overall the women in my life are stepping up big to make this happen.

We’re not rushing right now, mainly because our Harry Styles concert from last year was rescheduled to Aug. 27 at the Forum. I didn’t hang in the lobby this long to not at least squeeze in a song.
 
 
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.


Saturday Night Fever

Last week, accountability for deadly police misbehavior notwithstanding, was tough for our little household. My wife and I wanted to dig ourselves a hole as soon as possible with a monster Monday morning fight, the kind in which both parties dip into reserve ammunition from tangentially, even distantly related grievances.

We quarrel so rarely it’s kind of scary when we do, like the person who never farts but when it happens, intensity compensates for hiatus. I feel like our fights always end up with version 2.0, 2.1, etc. of the same resolution: We are fundamentally different if not opposite in some ways, and that’s just the way it is. In a small and surmountable way, it can feel kind of demoralizing.

But we got past it 12 hours later with a fluid discussion on the couch while watching The Voice. There is no situation my Black doppelganger John Legend cannot solve or at least improve.

I can’t go into details about the fight because I’ll end up presenting my side, and the way I write is not conducive to making the other side look logical. Frankly I want to keep both this marriage and the possibility of having intercourse within it.

Let me just say one thing related to the fight. Parenting, we’ve both concluded independently, is harder than we thought it would be — and we thought it would be extremely hard. Neither of us had any illusions about what was coming, yet our expectations for rest and headspace were still too high.

So we put the fight to bed and cuddled that night, the equivalent of makeup sex at our age and energy level. Tuesday was fine until I got a call from our son’s school saying he needed to be picked up due to a fever. This would be the domain of my wife, who handles the lioness’s share of school stuff because she works from home and is the better parent by far.

But I couldn’t reach her for 15 minutes and decided to leave the office without a car seat or defined plan. As I was walking out the door, I found out from my boss the unfinished thing I had been working on was time-sensitive. And of course, almost the instant I merged onto the 55, my wife called ready to head to the school.

I know that was a boring sequence to follow, but it was a telling start to our first foray with a feverish child. We both tried to work from home Wednesday, and it was so challenging I took Thursday off. I can’t recall taking a sick day from school or work in the last 30 years or so. Of course as a gritty young professional, I occasionally napped in my car at lunch when hung over AF. But requesting a sick day because someone else was sick felt foreign.

Our boy’s temperature kept spiking inversely to his appetite, and he’s not exactly an early adopter of language at age 21 months. It sucked.

Covid’s overbearing reach didn’t help. To bring a sick child to the doctor’s office these days, we were instructed to pull into a spot in a dark parking garage and dial a number. This is how I purchased opioids last time. The nurses had a makeshift cart set up, and I wondered why they didn’t use a more pretentious cooler than the exact same red-and-white Coleman we’ve been bringing to campfires and ballgames since the beginning of time.

To enable the scary masked practitioner to check for an ear infection, I essentially had to put my toddler in a half nelson in the trunk of our RAV4 while he frayed an impressive decibel range for an impressive amount of time.

The week just sucked, man. If you’ve been there, you know. If I were a soulless small business owner who cared only about extracting the most output per employee, I would not hire a parent of young children ceteris paribus.

This might infuriate the supermoms out there. You can rightly talk about being great at prioritizing and efficiency and project management, but compare your day to when you didn’t have kids and give me a break. There’s a reason why tech companies pay for employees to freeze their eggs, and why women have left the workforce in disproportionate numbers during the Cove. Giving 100 percent of the same energy reserve to two different things violates the law of conservation of energy.

My wife, selfless as ever even when driven to tears, spotted an opportunity to give me a vacation after our rite-of-passage week. She would take the child to her vaccinated parents’ house well before her sister’s birthday dinner and sleep there Saturday night.

The objective was to give me 24 hours alone. She kept calling it a “vacation,” which I bristled at because it’s so depressing for an introvert to consider this natural liberty a luxury. But wow she was right. I almost get teary-eyed myself thinking about that special Saturday night.

I didn’t even indulge in any adult content. My wife made sure I didn’t need to before leaving, if you catch my drift. Sexy time. I really appreciated both that experience and the bonus of saving me potentially hours out of my vacation.

Good god what an evening. If my long-lost bros had assembled around Southern California and showed up on my doorstep with a few 30-racks of B.L. and jars of natural peanut butter and said let’s turn back the clock… I would have taken the peanut butter, patted a 30-rack on the head, and responded, respectfully, let’s catch up on Zoom in the next few weeks. Then I would shut the door and lock it.

During my vacation, I cleaned the house, caught up on administrative tasks dating back three months, made a six-ingredient salad, and watched a little bit of the Mavs’ win. I won’t keep you in suspense: The six ingredients were kale, lentils, carrots, beets, walnuts and mozzarella cheese. The plan was to add a seventh, baked sweet potato slices, but I elected to save them as a side for a future meal.

Not coincidentally, my abs looked fantastic. I texted this lighting-and-distance-aided shot to my wife just in case she and her sister went out and met some d-bags with better paternal instincts than mine. That wouldn’t be too hard to find, but she’d be thinking of these peaks and valleys while nestling in a doughy dad bod (which doesn’t sound terrible depending on the temperature).
 

 

Feel free to pinch and zoom, especially on mobile – that’s what it’s there for. It is precisely what the product manager intended for the functionality, to give you a closer look at things that merit a closer look.

Flexing abs and reveling in solitude is probably easier when you know a wonderful family is coming back to you soon. That said, I was by no means excited to see them again. Even less so when my wife FaceTimed Sunday morning while I was writing the initial draft of this post. Surprise, they were coming home early and 10 minutes away at the doctor’s parking garage office to check out a rash that turned out to be related to the fever.

My 24 hours was truncated. That’s OK. I love my boy. He is so sweet and cute. He slept on my chest for hours during his fever bout, while I tried to stay in the moment against my wandering mind.

To paraphrase Sam Harris, every little thing we do is finite. There will be a last time I pick him up, feed him, wipe his snot, kiss him on the mouth like the G.O.A.T. Taaaahhmmm Brady even when it might appear curious to outside observers.

In a moment of exhausted bittersweet optimism, my wife thought of this amazing quote. We were trying to pinpoint the source and resolved it to be from a song, until later my brother stepped up and realized it was from Andy Bernard’s endless treasure trove in The Office:

I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.
 
 
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.


Asian Matters

My wifey told me the Stop Asian Hate movement, or whatever you call it, is blowing up, and I should write about it this month. Is it blowing up? Are the woke digital hall monitors swapping black squares for yellow circles, at least until the George Floyd verdict? I check social media so infrequently my reality is different from most.

Facebook should offer a Switch Realities feature on the news feed. Every time you tap the toggle button, instead of languishing in the same echo chamber, all your friends are swapped for random users who opted into the feature as well. The privacy waivers would be messy, but sign me up King Zuck the Omniscient.

All I know is obviously limited to what my brain takes in: super friendly white neighbors and strangers in Orange County, Calif., The New York Times, CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, Netflix, NBA on TNT.

You might find this offensive or betrayal of tribe, but I don’t have a strong opinion yet on the broader significance of the Atlanta spa shootings or reported uptick in anti-Asian racism. Sorry my mind doesn’t work that way. Emotion is meant to be felt. Logic is meant to be applied.

We had a running joke in marketing when trying to show incrementality about what can, in good conscience, be considered “stat sig.” Generally you can find and/or massage the data points needed to back up whatever you want to say, but that doesn’t mean it’s true or statistically significant.

Wide-ranging percentage increases in wrongs committed against Asian Americans are being tossed out like GameStop stock prices. I appreciate the attention for a glibly marginalized minority and a president who can express compassion. But I don’t know what to make of the perceived swell of COVID-related xenophobia yet.

No doubt Wuhan was short on Christmas cards from U.S. zip codes last year. Suppose, however, COVID never happened. I’m not so sure someone capable of ambushing an old lady today wasn’t going to do something heinous anyway, pandemic or Trump or Hillary.

And by the way, more than a few of these subhumans attacking elderly Asians were Black. If the goal is productive discourse about race… Do we want to go there, leftward echo chambers? It’s much less cumbersome to use Trump and white privilege as a catch-all reason and shoehorn something as nuanced as race in America into monolithic narratives. Yeah let’s save the inconvenient stuff for another hashtag.

Marky Mark Wahlberg was beating helpless Vietnamese men with sticks 30 years ago. If we had ubiquitous camera phones and addictive media platforms back then, I surmise there would be plenty of cases similar to the ones going viral now.

This one of a lady my mother’s age should evoke in you the same heartbroken rage the Floyd video did. I could easily work myself into a frenzy, imagining if it were my mom and then realizing it was somebody’s mom.

But you can find something like that every day. In a country this big, even a low baseline of crime will yield some awful stuff. I refuse to model my reality on which videos are fed to me and which emotions and biases they feed.

The guy who attacked this woman was homeless and on parole for stabbing his mother to death. Not to downplay very real anti-Asian racism or homogenize these incidents, but I don’t consider this vile assault a symptom of anything systemic or institutional or widespread.

There are sick and evil people. They are rare if you can pry yourself away from screens and look around (preferably not NYC or SF).

Increased awareness is beneficial for sure, especially for people like me whose empathy muscles are prone to atrophy living year after year in a bubble of privilege. I am just hesitant though to declare a crisis across large swaths of America and join the hand-wringing and chanting slogans. It wouldn’t be honest coming from me at this point.

Overall I believe if you zoom way out on the Twitter timeline — and think in larger time increments than the rabid minute-to-minute electronic hunt for dopamine — being Asian in America was better for me than it was for my parents, and it will be better for my son than it was for me. He’ll have his own challenges, like coming up with retorts to the inevitable coronavirus and Communist China remarks on the playground. But he also will grow up in an America with a ton more Asian representation and inspiration in politics, culture, entrepreneurship, sports, everything.

I had the same kind of anti-knee-jerk reaction to Charlottesville, Va., and don’t want to conveniently abandon the mindset just because we’re talking about my skin color now. Tough-to-watch videos do not signify the end of humanity. Good overwhelmingly outnumbers bad in the world in everything except attention.

Of course race is an ever-present thing. The Atlanta gunman said he acted out of a desire to eliminate temptation for his sex addiction, not racism. OK maybe he wasn’t thinking explicitly I hate Asians, but he doesn’t get to make the call to so neatly extricate race from pain. If he shot up a Black church and said he wasn’t racist, that he just hated religion, no one could accept that.

I am going to botch the correct sociological terminology, but with Asian women there is this sordid fetishization-sexualization-objectivization-submissive-stereotype-military-history-massage-parlor-happy-endings-me-so-horny-love-you-long-time component. Race was a part of what happened in Atlanta.

That said, I don’t know that it was a watershed moment in a crescendo of anti-Asian behavior in our country. I am zero percent scared to walk outside or for my parents in Plano, Texas, where they’ve lived for 32 years. Anyone with the capacity to blame a random Asian individual for a novel virus probably wasn’t too far from being a bigot before March 2020.

It’s not the worst thing for them to reveal themselves now and see what numbers they have. I’ll take the under.
 
 

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.


Baby Steps from the Brink

Even though this blog enlists only readers of the finest character, I sense it resonates the most when negative. It’s an unintentional service provided by the candor.

Take, for example, sharing about my near meltdown as an unhappy parent. If you chose not to have kids, it helps stave off regret or second-guessing. If you have kids and struggle at times, it makes you feel better. If you have kids and never struggle, it makes you feel grateful or capable. If you’re trying to have kids unsuccessfully so far, maybe call it a wash between being annoyed at my whining and soothed by sour grapes.

This isn’t quite a retraction of the meltdown post I wrote to commemorate his first year. It’s more like an I’m-trying-and-evolving reflection. My deep reservations about raising children remain. They crystallized into a tidy acronym, CLOT: Clutter, Liability, Overhead, Tasks.

Clots prevent optimization and efficiency. They can be thought of as slow death. I will elaborate at a future time, maybe for his second birthday.

For this update, I want to revisit how I feel about parenthood. In short, it’s really no different than committing to anything big – career, relationship, geographic move. You give up a lot, and you get a lot.

Where do kids net out? I don’t know, but I want to bring up three positives. Experienced parents told me these were coming, but I just didn’t see how they would apply to me. It’s a bit humbling when you feel like you’re different – “I swear, I’m just wired differently” – and then you end up following the same steps everyone else does.

No Longer Just a Blob

Everyone said it would get better after the pooping paperweight stage, when you start to get some feedback and interaction. But I have zero interest in engaging with a toddler with a canine’s personality or really anyone below college age. I tried making small talk with a high school freshman the other day and felt like a dentist.

It does feel good though when I walk in the door after work, and my boy instantly transforms into a quarter-man pep rally. Even if we’re apart for a short time, his baby Alzheimer’s kicks in. At Sprouts, my wife took him to the car while I waited in the checkout line. He likes to hang out in the trunk with the hatch open.

When my son spotted me approaching with the shopping cart, he lost his mind hooting and hollering and stomping his feet. I felt like J.T. walking into a millennial-age bachelorette party to the beginning melody of God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You.

Can this be true, tell me can this be real…

Had my boy been more aware of his opposable thumbs, he might have stripped off his Hello Bello diaper and helicoptered it around his giant head. My man, I love celebrating the little things too but I just saw you seven minutes ago.

Watching Them Experience Things for the First Time

This one has brought some unexpected joy. It doesn’t make much sense to me why. I feel visceral emotion watching my child process the world around him. I remember his first smile literally took my breath away. His first bite of broccoli made my face feel warm with pride.

He is mesmerized by trucks, planes and just about any moving thing larger than a RAV4. This month we put him in an open-air tour train, and when it started rolling… The shades of wonder, nervousness and happiness on his face were the highlight of my week if not year.
 

 
On Valentine’s Day, we expressed our love for the boy by introducing hallowed In-N-Out. This was a profoundly special moment for me, although I recently decided if I could have only In-N-Out or Chick-fil-A for the rest of my life, the latter would narrowly win due to the variety of sauces.

My boy rose to the occasion in navigating to the proper bun-to-meat ratio:
 

 

Grandparents

Not that I’m a model of selflessness, but I think the most rewarding part of having a kid thus far is the impact on grandparents. My parents both turn 67 this year. It’s not unreasonable to say they’re in the last 15-20 percent of life. An hourglass or pie chart representation of this stage also takes my breath away.
 

Heck, my dad almost died before knowing a grandkid would ever exist. I don’t have a mushy relationship with my parents, but my overriding feelings toward them right now are a) show gratitude and b) soak up remaining time.

Living in different states during COVID has not been conducive to acting on these feelings. But even with only FaceTime and storage-eradicating text threads as the medium, the effect of my child on my parents has been transformative.

They are the ones ironically reduced to a childlike state of wonder when processing their grandchild. They watch every video multiple times, sometimes more than 10, and pinch-and-zoom beyond a pixel’s usefulness.

My brother recently discovered our dad set his phone background to the little boy, and it’s such a surprising, incongruous, heartwarming thought if you know my quirky dad. He does not know how to express sentimentality.

But now he always seems to be within arm’s reach of an assortment of props — squeeze toys, pineapples, bike helmets — to assist his desperate attempts on FaceTime to draw a laugh from the child emperor. One time his buffoonery kept escalating as the emperor appeared to remain indifferent. My father kept working harder and harder, frantic, until my mother informed him she was watching a video, not FaceTiming.

Thank you for listening to that riveting story. It remains a consistent source of uncontrollable laughter for my mom, while my dad insists the narrative is overdone and his antics only lasted a few seconds.

My parents don’t have a lot of hobbies outside of traveling. Even when that becomes available again, they can only go on so many cruises. Their grandson gives them something else. Call it purpose, new energy, even just a diversion with end-of-life planning no longer in the “rainy day” pile.

Perhaps I’m stretching here, but having a kid kind of feels like a way to pay back my parents in a small way. It brings them a joy and vigor that I’ve never seen in them before. I even wonder if this will extend their life along with enriching it.

This isn’t to draw any universal conclusions about how people want to age or filial duty to provide grandchildren. I very hypocritically love how our birth rates are in decline and do not believe everyone should reproduce. I just understand a little better why people do.
 
 

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 Other People’s Republic

Here goes an attempt to paint a geopolitical assessment of China in 900 whimsical words using lazy broad strokes. If you’re an Asian friend, it should hold your attention OK. If you’re not, just stick with me as long as you can. Surely you have Asian friends. Or I’ll bet a few shares of Alibaba stock you have some white friends who love Asian women.

Note I’m putting China and the rest of Asia in the same bucket. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans generally don’t want to sit at the same Benihana table to discuss imperial history. But no one else can tell the difference among us or cares to try. Public service announcement: If some racist hooligans are about to rough you up for starting the kung flu, clarifying you’re Vietnamese isn’t going to elicit an apology and send them on their merry way.

I’m intrigued and slightly nervous about how being Chinese in America will look and feel in the back half of my life. China wants a shot at the title from the back-to-back World War Champions (still the best Fourth of July shirt out there, especially when cut into a midriff).

A brief history of China in my mind would read like this… Beast Mode since basically the beginning of civilization. Absolutely flourishing while thumbing noses at the pagans in the rest of the world.

Then 100 years of humiliating decline starting in the 19th century. Everyone just kept nutting in their rice Chex cereal for a century, like the time I hustled back to defend a two-on-one break in a Riverside rec league and got dunked on with such disrespect I kept imagining the sensation of a ballsack resting on my forehead for weeks afterward.

There is an inferiority complex when that happens and an intensity behind the comeback. China is ready. China is coming. Our back-to-back impeachment champ was right to confront the surging Beast of the Far East if Uncle Sam still wants to play uncle and alpha to the rest of the globe.

China is going to be right up in our face for a long time. It’s hard to care much right now when the folks rampaging through the Capitol don’t look very Chinese. But there will come many times when what that Capitol stands for clearly is being challenged in a superpower standoff.

It was a peculiar and telling episode when NBA general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Chinese government was furious, and the NBA cowered with a lucrative ecosystem of sponsorships on the line. LeBron said Morey was misinformed and not educated on the situation at hand.

Now, LeBron got an education like none other growing up in front of 300 million people waiting to pounce on every misstep. But I doubt he joined the U.S.-Sino relations committee at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Morey went to undergrad at The Northwestern University, 2021 Citrus Bowl Champions, and then business school at MIT, where he made Hong Kong friends.

I’m not overly informed about China either and only as knowledgable as the Western media in my chosen reality. It doesn’t feel like QAnon’ing though when I say China is doing things at scale to the Muslim Uighurs that the most indignant BLM marcher or election protester couldn’t even comprehend happening here.

The Trump administration called it genocide this month, and the Biden crew is backing it up. That’s kind of a big deal. We should probably do something about it. But human rights issues have a way of detaching themselves from economic ones, especially when talking about a market of 1.4 billion people.

We can’t live with them; we can’t live without them. My 36-year-old former roommate appears to have developed an addiction to a social media platform for infants called TikTok, given the volume of content he puts on our group text thread that no one wants to click. If TikTok were shut down as a trade war casualty — which almost happened last year — I don’t see him getting up from that knockout. Better than opioids I suppose.

Things could get really weird at the top of the GDP food chain this decade. China’s No. 2 economy was the only major one to grow in 2020, which sounds awkward when the virus that decimated everybody else’s started on your watch.

Trump certainly wasn’t bashful about straight-up blaming the commies, and only about 74 million Americans voted for him. You figure if even 0.1 percent of them line up with the liberal-drawn caricature of hillbilly racist in camo, that’s a football-stadium army in America who won’t be holding the door for the Asian American walking into Walmart behind them.

Like I said, I’m only slightly nervous. All I see every day in this country is people who live by common decency, no matter what overconsumption of media would lead you to believe. Plus there is a much larger army produced by the aforementioned banana-vanilla love swirl, which really does create ethereal-looking babies.
 
 
But it’s only a matter of time before my son has his first moment feeling conspicuously Chinese in America, whether overt racism or just a little clumsiness in the crossfire of us-against-them. As the last four years have strikingly displayed, we do not excel at absorbing and expressing nuance.

My perspective has evolved a bit after 2020 and that fun first week of January. I still indulge in beautiful American condescension and just don’t see how any place on earth can be as good. However, I am more open to criticism.

I can see how an authoritarian government might deal with a pandemic better. I can see how the freedoms we enjoy might be more difficult to scale in a country with quadruple the population.

We try to slap at the heavy hand of the Chinese government. But given our Capitol was just overrun by — I don’t know what to call it, a mass — imagine if there were four Americas to govern. Maybe some narrower guardrails backed by force would be better than the alternative chaos.

When a U.S. State Department spokesperson crafted a flowery Twitter statement heralding the Hong Kong protests, her counterpart in the Chinese government replied with three poignant words: “I can’t breathe.”

Hey every country and person selectively overlook some degree of double standards, and I would rather take ours over China’s any mother blankin’ day.

I hope they do well though, and they do good. I have national pride, and I have ethnic pride. They are intertwined, just like the fortunes of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.
 
 

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.


Just Beat the Countdown

I had a job interview this morning, New Year’s Eve, and accepted this afternoon. If you’re a friend, you’ll forward this HR-eyebrow-raising blog along with a couple of nudies from my 20s to my new employer. If you’re a true friend, this will be done quicker because the nudies are saved in your Favorites. Given the amount of work I put into my body, I would be offended if it didn’t occupy at least one filled-in heart icon on your iPhone.

It’s a career change from business development to Salesforce administration, roughly speaking sales to IT. Back in 2008, I left sportswriting for startups. Basically anytime a massive recession challenges all that we know in America, I feel it’s the right headwind to spread my wings.

There is a lot to unpack here. The new salary is less than half of the old one. Although to be fair, I was unemployed. Glass half full, this is technically a raise of infinity percent.

I spent an unhealthy amount of time on LinkedIn in 2020. It is the best tool for career discovery, connections and jobs. This stimulating opportunity to completely own a Salesforce instance — and play admin, consultant, architect, developer — seemed to happen by chance when I caught the listing on LinkedIn 38 minutes after it was posted. In reality, I was simply checking at short intervals because the platform offers so much value.

But it’s still social media, and an even more crafted one at that. Scroll too deep on LinkedIn, and your model of America’s workforce falls into a twilight zone where everyone is so proud and humbled to be named to the regional 27 Under 27 list.

Social media feeds always will skew toward what is notable. In this year of record economic upheaval, seemingly every other LinkedIn post was an announcement of losing or getting a job. Neither makes you feel particularly good when unemployed yourself.

What has been nice to hear as a 36-year-old with a 1-year-old perusing entry-level positions… are other stories of nonlinear paths. My old roommate has some big balls, which I saw so many times during our spectacular year living together that they still make cameos in my bittersweet dreams.

He’s walking away from trillion-dollar Microsoft (which owns LinkedIn) and its zero-cost health insurance for his family of four and moving out of their house in Philly to build the largest vacation rental company in Jersey Shore.

In the big ovaries category, my cousin went to Harvard Law — and Macedonia this year to teach English. My old coworker just quit her job at a tech unicorn whose stock price has looked like Covid graphs. She enters the raging tail end of the pandemic with no plan.

I hope she doesn’t mind my linking to the first post of her newsletter, which is just gold. It’s like Tony Romo’s goodbye press conference times 1,000. It also links to some deep and useful thought around work fulfillment.

Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack. Read those fantastic articles. I’d like to write more about this, but only two hours remain in December to finish my monthly post and I want to start a long countdown to the end of the longest year with the best part of my year (wife).

I haven’t written on this tight of a deadline since covering high school football games in ’08. Then and now. I am proud and humbled for the opportunity of 2021.

 
 
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.


Thankful Eve

Although it was my semen, my responsibility, it was the wife who for the most part got us into this mess. She had to be the one to secure the exit route.

I am not allowed to say having a child was her idea in an effort to offload obligation or blame. That is not productive. This is a partnership. However, you could say she was Batman and recruited me as Robin. I will block and tackle, and we can divide and conquer at times, but ultimately this is her show. She needed to be the one to take out the Joker.

She did so, I hope, by getting what sounds like a great job as a virtual curriculum designer at an edtech that owns Montessori schools nationwide. The operative perk is 50 percent off childcare, which creates the fiscal logic needed for an unemployed father to ship the Joker to a Mandarin immersion program deep in the tract-housing wilderness of Orange County.

The Joker’s first day of school is tomorrow. I can’t wait. I feel like I’m being born again. I might put down a dozen Krispy Kremes courtesy of the Mission Viejo drive-thru during the 20-mile trip home in gluttonous celebration.

The Joker is going to cry all day, maybe the rest of the week. His mother might cry all car ride and sporadically through early afternoon. Both of his parents could end up shedding tears, except one set will be sourced from pure joy.

This is so uplifting. I am getting a nice chunk of my life back. I don’t need the whole thing; otherwise I never would have agreed to supply the semen.

I just need to recoup some of that staggering opportunity cost exacted by parenthood, enough to make me feel like at least a shell of who I once was. Being at home with an 8-month-old and staying there the whole time as the creature doubled in age was beautiful in fleeting moments — but sucked so hard overall.

This is going to sound like a dramatic reaction, but I mean it as an objective assessment: It’s been the worst life stage for me so far. Portly elementary school nerd and insecure teenage virgin have nothing on unemployed parent of toddler during pandemic.

My god this child is a battering ram against my mental wellness and serenity. Bro you’re so cute, but can you just exist for a continuous 60 seconds in a way that does not require my attention?

For anyone privileged enough to live in comfortable First World conditions, really the most precious resources are time and attention. Going from zero to one in the offspring department feels like a difference of infinity and makes you painfully aware how finite those resources are.

It wasn’t bad when I spent all day at the office and got to play Daddy Disneyland nights and weekends. This was a more humane cadence for child-rearing. Every random bit of anthropology I come across supports the adage of “It takes a village.” Children are supposed to be raised within a large support system, not by one or two adults who don’t even have renters insurance.

Now we get the help of a professional village for the first time, and I am so excited. Tomorrow will be a good 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 for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


2020 for the Win

In the year of our lord of holy capitalism, 2016, I did not vote. At age 36, I have voted one time in a presidential election. During midterm elections, I was more engaged in comparing Sprouts and Vons weekly ad flyers than candidates.

I’m not proud of discarding a right people die for, but I will express some defensiveness and genuine confusion if you want to kill me for it. Here are the questions I struggle with:

1) Does being a conscientious American, shouldering my civic duty, simply mean voting red or blue down the line without any effortful analysis or original thought?

2) If the first and last time you know the name of your congressman is when you open the ballot, and you don’t understand the difference between state and U.S. senators, how much did your input help optimize outcomes for our country?
 

Photo credit, both idea and blurry execution: Wife

 
If you spent more time figuring out how to post your “I Voted” sticker to social media — in a subtle, clever, cute or tactful way that accomplishes the overriding intention of virtue signaling — than actually looking at policy differences, is democracy better off?

In other words, should there be a requisite level of diligence to earn the right to vote? And if we both didn’t reach that level, yet we both pay our taxes and treat people kindly, do I deserve more ill judgment for skipping rather than guessing?

3) Perhaps the hardest conundrum… Even if I do all the research, what should be my criteria for selecting a candidate? The one who is best for my family, or more total families across the country? Or all of humanity?

Trump generally is good for the stock market. I own a lot of stock relative to total assets. Our hallowed free enterprise system is built largely on a belief that people pursuing their own self-interest is the best way to run the shop.

So if you’re telling me to vote, can I do it for myself? Or should I try to somehow project the number of people who will benefit more on a daily, tangible level under each candidate? With that kind of processing power, I’d also like to take a shot at helping out Einstein with uniting general relativity and quantum mechanics.

If my civic duty is to look out for all of humanity and our children, shouldn’t I more or less be a one-issue voter on climate change? If I want to prioritize Black people getting a fair shake, would it be more principled to write in someone who would actually shake the racial tree rather than settle between 70-something white men who already had their chances?

Just be specific with my objective: What is the subset of people I should be thinking of when I vote? A candidate almost by definition cannot be the best choice for everyone; otherwise there would be no other candidates.

In my liberal echo chamber, all these exhortations to vote really just mean vote against Trump. This is fine, but call it like it is. Don’t scream about the importance of voting rights and democracy when you only want to enable those who agree with you.

I’ll come clean and say I have no interest in urging any potential Trump supporter to vote. I hope tons of them stay home because the margin of victory this year might mean more than it ever has.

While picnicking off one of the marinas in Newport Beach, Calif., last weekend, it was challenging not to stare at a group of children partying aboard a boat with a Trump flag. If not high school, I would say early college. Hello Orange County.

Assume they were 18. I don’t feel they’re obligated to fill out a ballot, not one bit. I don’t want another Trump vote tallied just because it happens to be the name flying over daddy’s boat.

This is extremely prejudiced of me, I know. It’s worth noting there was a house on the marina with a Trump flag, and the people on the porch were friendly and playful with my son.

Perhaps those young boaters were taking AP Government study breaks below deck and care deeply about the democratic process. I doubt it, and I doubt the value of people voting just to vote. I don’t see how no vote is any worse than an uneducated vote if you don’t really care.

I care enough to vote this time because Trump is such an unrelenting assault on intellectual rigor. Listing more reasons would cause an ice cream headache due to volume and severity. Plus I forfeited my right to complain in 2016 when I sat in the stands instead of joining a team.

It really is similar to sports. Actually sports are a little better in that you at least hear impartial broadcasters and stats. Consuming politics is a feast in confirmation bias, like Uncle Rico reading his high school’s booster newsletter for his source of truth. Watching a presidential debate has nothing to do with learning about platforms, just shiny-object entertainment and hoping your side scores more points.

You pick a team, wave the flag or sign, vilify the opponent, cheer unconditionally even if you don’t follow the sport or players until the final stretch. I only started watching the Dodgers this year in the NLCS and don’t know much about baseball.

But I decided I wanted them to win, and that was that. They won; I felt happy; life resumed. Those who get rich off the sport stayed rich. Most everyday people saw no difference in their everyday lives.

It’s just a game, for politicians and us. If it weren’t, if governing were more about statesmanship than gamesmanship, Amy Coney Barrett would not be on the Supreme Court right now.

The Republican-controlled Senate blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland four years ago when Justice Scalia died in February, saying it was too close to November and voters should have a say via the presidential election. (This, by the way, likely got more social conservatives to turn out for Trump.)

By that logic, when Justice Ginsburg a.k.a. the Notorious R.B.G. died this September, We the People should have gotten a say in who filled her seat with our votes this Tuesday. Instead, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put a rush on pushing Barrett through confirmation. These are lifetime appointments.

It’s a pretty strong indicator of hypocrisy when you can argue against McConnell by simply quoting him word for word. But if the Notorious herself could weigh in, presuming some self-awareness and rap game to match the nickname, she might drop:

Don’t hate the player, silly goose, hate the game.

Ginsburg could have retired in 2013 and allowed President Obama and a Democrat-controlled Senate to pick her successor. Even at 80 years old and a survivor of cancer twice, she bristled at any suggestion of retirement. Kobe, Jordan, Brady… you don’t tell them when to leave the game.

Essentially it was a gamble, assuming Ginsburg cared to align the future of the court with her 27 years of liberal work for it. The big, risky bet: When she eventually did leave her seat, Democrats would still be in control.

The Republicans won the Senate, and then the presidency. Ginsburg went for it on fourth down and didn’t make it. Her team threw tantrums on the sideline, but they didn’t have the ball anymore.

That’s how it works. You can’t turn the ball over and then cry about what plays the other team runs.

I’m not saying Ginsburg was wrong in squeezing out seven more years. I’m not even sure timing retirement to play keep-away with her seat before a tenuous election is any better for We the People than expediting a confirmation in the same scenario.

It’s not about what’s good for We the People. It’s just the game. This year I picked my team and hope we win.
 
 

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.


Harry and the Sheep

The Orange County I see every day is very white, very nice, possibly politically conservative (depending on your definition of political and conservative), and not very interested in wearing masks.

It is almost endearing how few f’s are given about masks, like the stately gentleman in Titanic who refused a life vest but ordered another brandy. I saw an old Asian woman being pushed in a wheelchair down my street. She turned and smiled at me, and I had to multi-task with a smile back while trying to process whether this was the oldest breathing creature I’d ever seen. There must have been some tortoise I spotted on a remote vacation that can contend.

This lady had one foot in the afterlife and still wasn’t wearing a mask. I guess when you lived through the Boxer Rebellion and fought off the Spanish flu in your 30s, this pandemic isn’t so scary. No substitute for experience.

I went to the beach in Newport (O.C.) and Santa Monica (L.A.) on consecutive days, and it was like two different civilizations. No one wore masks on the sand, but in L.A. everyone wore masks everywhere else.

Are we missing something down the 405? Is there a nasty cold or something going around?

My wife and child picnic at a park off Back Bay, while I work out with sprints up an adjacent hill. There are full-on pickup basketball games running in the park now. It’s a beautiful diversity of skin colors, especially for this area — white, black, brown, yellow — but they huff on each other without masks and clearly don’t belong to the same household unless Orange County is more progressive than the numbers show.

Meanwhile on the hill, I suffocate in my thick cloth mask under the sun while zigzagging to keep six feet away. No one else cares to deviate from moving in a straight line, let alone wear a mask — including the elderly folks whom I picture protecting when I pull on mine.

A social distancing reminder was placed at the top of the hill. Check out the sweet bumper sticker response:
 

 

Tying patriotism to mask or no mask is an interesting endeavor. The salient event in my lifetime was September 11, when about 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks. We recently passed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths.

If 9-11 happened 66 times in six months, if every three days we woke up to another 9-11… how many nukes would our commander-in-chief have tried to fire by now? He would be launching them on a swivel if Congress let him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but the logic is sound. There was a threat on American soil, and Americans rallied, enlisted, came together, changed rules and fought two wars. There is a threat on American soil, and you don’t even have to be a Marine to be on the front lines. You can just put on a mask and go on with your day, not exactly a hearty Londoner ducking for cover from Nazi air raids in 1940.

The inconvenience is such a tiny cost compared to military service. And it kind of makes me feel those sacrifices are in vain when we won’t look out for each other at home.

Oops, that took kind of a bombastic turn. I’m actually not militant about masks. When I take the baby for quick walks, I only recently started masking up (but have always graciously yielded off the narrow sidewalk to allow for social distancing).

My general approach is to match the comfort level of those around me. If they’re wearing masks and I don’t have mine, I am mortified and can’t concentrate on anything else. If they’re not… well, you don’t care, I don’t care bro. My immune system is almost certainly superior based on my genetics, diet and exercise.

The O.C. bubble doesn’t appear to be any worse off for cavalier interpretations of personal freedoms. Our liberal La La Land neighbors have five times as many Covid-19 deaths with three times the population.

My mother’s native Taiwan is an island nation of 23 million. The Covid-19 death count is seven. Seven. As in under 10, so I have to actually spell out the number according to AP style. The amount is painfully hilarious relative to the norm, reminiscent of when Chris Farley got pulled over in Black Sheep.

Since April, Taiwan has traced only one Covid-19 case to local transmission. The rest were imported. Again, I don’t even know how to comprehend the number “one” when we’re trying to handle outbreaks every day from parties in the U.S.A.

Now, we have 300 million more people here. We’re too big and too free to compare, although Taiwan is a democracy with a female president. But I was struck by the difference in philosophy when listening to my cousin’s experience temporarily moving her family of four from Philly to Taipei to escape cabin fever.

Back in the day, that blue U.S.A. passport was like showing up at the club with a throng of models. Welcome. Now it means a 14-day quarantine monitored by Big Brother.

All meals were delivered to their door at the hotel. When my cousin’s husband didn’t answer a check-in text, he got a call within 15 minutes. My mom’s friend was scolded for going out on the balcony during her quarantine. Either the GPS over there is next level, or Big Brother has some big binoculars.

Once quarantine is over though, you can pretty much party like it’s 2019. Everything is open and packed. A lot of people don’t wear masks anymore, but a lot still do.

With a single-payer health care system that would give Bernie the boner of his life, Taiwan used a massive database of personal information and essentially wartime technology tactics to manage outbreak risks and containment. Even humoring an idea like this in the U.S. of A. would flood every Capitol building with guns.

I’m not saying we should or even can take the Taiwan approach, but it’s provocative to imagine how an aggressive early response by our government — and citizens who buy in — might have looked. We don’t like being told what to do in America, which is a big reason for leading the world (arguably) in innovation and culture. We don’t want to be sheep.

But the sheep in Taiwan just had a 10,000-person indoor concert, while we’re about to have the most depressing Halloween eating candy at home with our diabetes. Concert entry at Taipei Arena required masks, temperature checks and contact-tracing QR codes. Freedom has a price on both sides.

Back in January, I bought baller tickets to Harry Styles at the Forum for my wife’s birthday. This almost certainly would set up steamy intercourse if I managed her pregame rosé intake strategically.

The concert was supposed to be this month, and I remember thinking multiple times earlier this year that of course things will be fine by then.

The new date is Aug. 27, 2021. Of course things will be fine by then.

 
 

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.


Ballin’ Out

I don’t know how many where-were-you moments 2020 feels the need to collect in its prolific career, but we’re not at a saturation point yet. When my wife told me the NBA playoffs shut down due to player boycotts, I initiated my four-step nu-uh, nu-uh, no way, no way sequence. (She had to confirm the news after each tic as if there were any reason for her to make this up.)

In the incredulous tone of Jim Mora… playoffs? This felt momentous to me.

Now in my fourth calendar decade as an NBA fan a la Vince Carter, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s as Twilight Zone as best-of-seven in a Mickey Mouse bubble or Kobe dying in a helicopter crash.

This makes kneeling during the anthem look like a save-the-whales flyer taped to a sidewalk at Berkeley. Yawn. The platitudes plastered on floors and jerseys are nice to see and maybe contribute marginally to morale. In marketing, this would be top-of-the-funnel awareness.

But moving down the funnel to consideration and conversion — the action people want— requires big-boy moves. Baller moves. Especially in our beautiful and terrible capitalist America, I tend to think just about everything simply comes down to money.

If Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk were told their stock prices depended on police reform and then given the keys, they would go buck wild running it like their businesses — customer obsession, ruthless efficiency, data-driven decisions, testing and iteration, bias toward action, unequivocal expectations, perform or get fired. Things would look different in a hurry.

The analogy to the private sector isn’t apples to apples, but my point is to focus more on money. Even with police brutality rightly under a microscope, I have my reservations about where to channel the swelling frustration, anger and resources.

In my opinion, which I am willing to update with more listening and reading, the unprecedented spotlight right now should shine squarely on economic investment in Black communities. Money put in the right places will have more impact than raging against law enforcement every time a video goes viral.

There are lots of cities in the US of A, lots of police, lots of troubled people, lots of 911 calls, lots of guns. There will be more videos no matter which party is in power.

This is uncomfortable to say because it’s something white supremacists bastardize for their agenda, but the reality is the chances of a Black person being killed by a racist cop versus another Black person aren’t even on the same scale. Actual toddlers are dying from routine gun violence, and no one seems to care: no athlete tweets, T-shirts or funeral processions fit for a president.

Obviously it’s different when the shooter wears a badge, and the two problems can be worked on concurrently. But with finite time and public attention and irreversible loss of life, the 80-20 rule comes to mind.

Where can the biggest impact be made? It’s like being caught up on keeping Steve Kerr from getting an open look, while Michael Jeffrey Jordan is torching us every time down the floor.

Even if every last racist or subpar cop were stamped out, even if every last bit of bias were magically removed from every officer’s mind with some kind of Men in Black contraption… there would still be a racial wealth gap, disproportionate crime, and unconscionable disparity in privilege and opportunity. Frankly there would still be police shootings too.

Money for education, housing, jobs and social services changes things at scale. I was inspired and enlightened by Netflix’s pledge to move up to $100 million of its cash holdings to lenders focused on Black communities.

The idea was based on a professor’s book tracing the origins of the segregated economy and undercapitalized Black banks. I’d like to read it but probably won’t given my slow pace.

Coincidentally though, I’ve been bookmarked on page 308 of Sapiens for weeks. It happens to be the chapter on capitalism.

Bank credit is the magical engine that creates wealth. It’s how you make the future pie bigger for everybody rather than fight within a zero-sum game.

It’s how new businesses are created and the economy grows. I presume the other book explains how Black communities have been screwed by limited access to capital, rooted in systemic racism that goes all the way back to the beginning.

Anyway, I think paying more attention to stuff like this — following the money — can be more productive than obsessing over every police shooting. That sounds callous. A better way to put it is if you’re going to obsess over every police shooting, there should be some cognitive dissonance if you’re not obsessing over other Black shootings that happen on a much larger scale.

Netflix by the way also pledged $120 million to support scholarships at historically Black colleges. The NBA created a standalone foundation dedicated to Black economic empowerment and committed $300 million.

These things get me fired up. Some cynics might think checks from corporations or billionaires are more about PR than actually caring. I couldn’t care less about sincerity with that many zeroes. It seems more helpful than changing your company logo to black and white for a month and pumping more rhetoric into the echo chamber.

That’s why I was exhilarated by the player boycott. Nothing matters until there’s money on the table.

Considering TV contracts, advertising spend, player salaries, ticket sales and the live event economy down the road, the expiring collective bargaining agreement… not ballin’ for even just three days was so baller. It was historic, and I didn’t see it coming at all.

I feel like the players of a league I’ve been following since the 90s were heard like never before, and I wanted to be sure to add that to my 2020 scrapbook.

 
 

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.