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.


Tasteless Proposition

I want to continue this streak of writing short and anchoring my newsletter in shirtless pics, which are known less redundantly in my household as just pics. There is a wonderful vanity blossoming within me as I approach middle age, yet refuse to put on the easy weight even though no one’s looking.
 

 
That is an admirable form of narcissism, to compulsively ogle myself in the absence of any kind of encouraging feedback. The pretty ladies at the beach don’t overtly check me out or flirt. My bros mercilessly ridicule me for having a small frame, which is imprecise. I actually have a broad frame and base but neither muscle nor functional strength.

When I ask my wife how shredded I am, she answers the way I do when she asks me do I love her: mechanically, without breaking concentration on the current task, a chore to be disposed of while expending as little energy as possible. I perked up when she said an NFL player on TV had the same frame as mine and then saw it was an effing kicker. He did boot a 66-yarder, but she could have picked a jacked coach like Playboy McVay at least.

So no one cares about my bod, I get it. No one’s impressed. I’m at the age when it should start to seem impressive though. Being 37 with a 2-year-old and usually visible six-pack are numbers that don’t go together for people who make their living at a desk.

I have earned the credibility to lecture on my method. There is one overriding principle more powerful than any diet or workout regimen. It’s so stupidly simple, more of a realization than revelation, yet I don’t believe I know anyone who thinks this way.

Ready? This could be life-changing if you can brush off my self-righteous tone.

Not every bite of food has to taste good.

Every weekday I listen to my coworkers deliberate on where to spend $15 to pump sodium into their bodies. My wife often struggles to figure out what kind of food she’s in the mood for.

How your taste buds tingle need not always be the No. 1 priority. There should be more diversity in the reasons you eat.

Sometimes, if not most of the time, you should eat vegetables because that’s what you bought at the grocery store and they shouldn’t go to waste. Sometimes you should eat for convenience. Sometimes you should finish leftovers. Sometimes you should eat what was planned. Sometimes you should eat because it’s free. Sometimes you should eat for nutrition. Sometimes you should eat to not be hungry. Sometimes you should eat for fuel. Sometimes you should eat to be social.

Taste is not everything. Eating is not always about feeling good, just like life isn’t always about feeling good. That kind of attitude is just begging for a drug habit.

Most folks drink plain water every day. It’s not an orgy in your mouth, but you’re not looking for one in that particular moment of the day. You just drink water because it’s water and then move on with your life.

Why does food have to be a thing always? People think I’m some kind of freak because I eat steamed vegetables and unsalted chicken or lentils for lunch almost every day.

If we compare the ingredients to those in your processed meal, I would argue you’re the freak. Do you live in a test tube?

Vegetables are the most sensible way to regulate weight. They don’t taste bad or good. They taste like nothing because they’re mostly water. If you think water tastes bad, man, biology has some challenges in store for you.

By no means do I dine exclusively in the no-fun zone. I am a formidable binge eater and once tied with a bro at 92 Chicken McNuggets (minimum one per minute) in a spirited contest — yet another reason to add for eating.

I probably enjoy decadent food more than most because my baseline is lower. If I eat lentils all week, the In-N-Out on Friday is even more heavenly. Everyone’s had those stretches of eating gluttonously for meals on end. They start to blend together, and you don’t appreciate the indulgence as much.

You should try to reset the baseline to zero, cleanse the palate if you will, with neutral meals as often as possible. It will make the good ones taste better.
 
 
My Double-Double in the picture is dwarfed by a plate of raw spinach and chunks of red pepper and carrot that I wanted to get rid of. This is a handy corollary/trick/hack for my main principle.

Every fast food or takeout meal is an opportunity to sneak in vegetables. American restaurants put so much salt and stuff into their food that pairing it with a neutral vegetable creates a nice balance, almost like diluting the overstimulation.

Order less and replace the difference with vegetables. Just eat them. Don’t be a child. They won’t kill you. The other stuff might in the long run.

And I want you to increase the quality and longevity of your life, so you’re in a good place to compliment how I’m doing the same with mine.
 
 
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.


Father of All Hangovers

I touched my prime again Saturday, sitting on a curb in L.A. past 1 a.m. drunk, disheveled, alone, stranded and making unanswered FaceTime calls. I had been warned that if you decide to party as a parent of a toddler, the punishment comes the next day in the form of a little human tornado indifferent to how you feel.

This is especially risky for me because in addition to any physical hangover, I have to recover from such a huge delta in emotions. After two and a half IPAs, I feel like Superman and fly on the magic carpet until passing out like a child who doesn’t want Christmas to end.

When I wake up to reality way too early, the self-loathing settles in insidiously with the fatigue. My mind races with discomfort, and I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. I invariably picture a bullet going through my temple, which sounds disturbing but I think can safely be categorized as a weird imagination tic rather than suicide alert.

So Sunday morning should have been absolutely awful with my wife needing to head out for a birthday brunch. (This wasn’t the most Covid-careful weekend for us inconsistent liberals… sorry.) But my 2-year-old was actually like a balm for my emotional comedown. I can’t pinpoint why he had this soothing, almost restorative effect.

Snuggling him against his will made me feel loved, or at least in control. His sincerity with every action and facial expression never gets old. Watching him frolic on the playground — mostly by himself but also with some endearing, unsure interactions with other kids — was just beautiful and nourishing.

I love him so much it’s overwhelming. I want to eat him and hug him and teach him and protect him. He inherited his mother’s sweet temperament and my risk aversion. He says hiiii to every stranger and then outsources the rest of the conversation to me, an introvert, until his arbitrarily timed buh-byeeeeee.

He presses down on my back during push-ups and stoically sits on my shoulders for squats, sensing my need for added resistance during a three-year hiatus from the gym. If it weren’t for Covid and anti-Asian hate, hot chicks would be flocking to us at the park dropping digits and DM’s left and right.
 
 
He took an adult-sized crap on the bathroom floor and then was afraid of it. He refuses to sit upright when playing horsey, preferring to maximize graspable surface area lest he fall two feet.
 
 
And I know this isn’t woke-compliant to say, but I just love how he has his mom’s brown hair and white skin, yet his face is Chinese AF and looks like he just stepped out of a rice paddy and into one of Chairman Mao’s propaganda posters.
 
 
The poor kid was already behind on his language development and now confuses Mandarin and English. When searching for squirrels, he sings “Song-su [squirrel] are you?” It melts my heart.

When he thanked his mother for a toothbrush with “Shih-shih [thank you] mama”, we were both exhilarated to the brink of tears. I am aware there was a time when I would ridicule parents for celebrating their mundane children, but the cognitive development here is miraculous. Who taught him to put together a noun, mama, with the act of thanking? Is my boy the next Steinbeck, yes or no?

I am not shy about expressing good thoughts and bad thoughts about parenthood. I don’t want my shtick to be the grumbling dad who’s always talking smack about his kids to be funny or self-deprecating, but then lives for them behind closed doors.

My frustrations and meltdowns are real. But clearly kids aren’t all that bad if we’re having another one on purpose, due around Christmastime.

On paper, the logistics and lifestyle impact of a second child don’t excite me. It’s going to be good though. That’s kind of the mindset I’m settling into with raising children. I almost put it in the same bucket as exercise. Many if not most days, it’s hard to get up for it. But I do it because I want to, and over the aggregate I reap many benefits.

I think of wellness in four quadrants: physical, mental, emotional and financial. I am fairly disciplined in training for three of them, but only beginning to explore emotional health.

When I was sheltering at home during the first Covid peak, struggling to be productive against the unrelenting tide of a baby waking up to the world, I naturally assumed it was parenthood causing emotional distress. I had never felt this kind before, and it seemed like a pretty linear trail to the source of the problem.

Slightly wiser now with a long, long way to go, I concede maybe all parenthood did was expose previously existing emotional weaknesses. They were trivial or at least ignorable when single and unattached, but I’m better off for working on them now.

So it appears my boy has helped me with one of my enduring passions in life: getting better at stuff. And although I don’t know parenting will ever be a passion in and of itself for me, I sure do treasure my little guy, my hangover balm, key to my tortured or wannabe tortured soul, handy bodyweight workout resistance, icebreaker for conversations I don’t want to have… and soon to be big brother with a big heart. He’s going to be a fantastic sibling when we “double the fun” in December, which my wife says ironically and truthfully.
 

 
 

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.


Plausible Immunity

Vaccines are fun to talk about. I’m still mustering the motivation to educate myself enough to have productive conversations about them. But a lack of knowledge shouldn’t keep me from talking loudly. That would be crazy.

“Follow the science” seems to be the mantra. Roger that, captain. Like, down to the protein level? I haven’t been in a lab since AP Chemistry.

The way I remember school, if it wasn’t your strong subject or you didn’t do the reading, the strategy was to stay quiet in class. No sudden movements or eye contact, lest you get called on and look like you rode the short bus.

It’s the opposite in social media-warped adulthood. Some folks you can just picture as B-minus students in their prime. They haven’t read anything longer than a tweet in 15 years, yet feel comfortable shouting into public discourse like valedictorian debate champs. I wish we could listen to only extremely smart people argue and then form our conclusions.

But I get it. It’s hard not to have an opinion in this environment, regardless of your qualifications. I, for one, am a sheep when it comes to the Cove. I trust the nebulous “They” — faceless experts at the government or official-sounding organizations. Fauci sounds like a vanilla sports commentator to me, emphasizing syllables authoritatively without really saying much. But I presume he represents a strong team.

They tell me I don’t need to wear a mask… good riddance. They change their mind a couple of months later… OK. Making adjustments based on new information or circumstances can be a sign of trustworthiness, putting effort over ego. They’re trying. This is a novel virus. We don’t know what we don’t know.

They told me to get the vaccine, and I put some Pfizer in me. I even waited my turn like a good sheep and didn’t end up with the second shot until May 17. Somehow all of my friends in equally white-collar jobs classified themselves as essential workers.

The truth is I know next to nothing about vaccines, let alone the implications of those pushed into market so miraculously fast. To blindly inject is actually quite contradictory to how I live. I trust my body, diet and exercise. I don’t even take Tylenol and find it bizarre how quick people are to use medication for every ailment or need (for a two-hour flight, really?).

Yet I have no qualms about these shots, even though on paper the concept is absolutely wild. Vaccination trains the immune system to recognize and destroy infected cells. In my supple imagination, that’s one wrong line of code away from a manufactured autoimmune disease that essentially forces your body into suicide.

So I try not to hate on vaccine haters. Probabilities are hard to comprehend; bodies are not public property; and everyone should be entitled to some fears and thoughts scattered along the logic spectrum.

As a matter of self-interest, it would be nice if folks got vaccinated because I have a 2-year-old who takes his sweet time learning all basic functions. We likely won’t figure out how to keep a mask on him until deep into his teens.

But I don’t know that it’s fair for me to tell someone to take a shot I wouldn’t give my son. Even if he were 12, I would have my hesitations based on vague instinct, bias and innuendo. It would just feel uncomfortable to me. It would feel uncomfortable pumping myself with a booster or variant shot every few months for the next five years. Even sheep have limits to tractability.

Our science sometimes borders on science fiction, but we are not god. Again, we don’t know what we don’t know. As much as the sensible majority wants to credit human efforts to end the pandemic, there is a lot of god-like mystery to the ebb and flow of infections.

In my little bubble, I only know of two vaccine skeptics. There have to be more, but I don’t get out much.

One is a dear friend who struggled to come to terms with getting it in late June before a wedding, for which guests were asked to have completed at least one shot. He had vaccine misgivings based on his research and the uncertainty around such a compressed timeline.

I can understand that. It’s kind of like zooming in too far on a stock chart. You’re looking at what appears to be a clear trend, but only a longer time horizon will truly tell how it’s going to go no matter how much testing and prognostication.

In any case, my buddy got his shot. And he did not get Covid despite traveling through the third-world airport that is Newark International and partying for two days at an Indian wedding, which offers the highest concentration of dancing and shared food outside of Utopia.

The other skeptic is also smart, kind and dear to me. I urged her to be careful before a happy hour on a Friday because of the Delta variant headlines. On the ensuing Monday, she left work feeling sick and tested positive for Delta. On the Monday after that, she said she felt like she was dying. She still had a brutal cough on the phone almost two weeks later.

I eventually will ask her, tactfully, if her view on vaccines has evolved. If not… while acknowledging her right to follow her own comfort and risk level — I will do some more talking without a lot of knowing.
 
 
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Uncle Rico’s Mountain Range

I got a nice little raise last week without asking for it. Like intercourse, the unsolicited kind is always more meaningful. It was an appreciated form of validation six months into a new job and career.

Still, my entire salary as a Salesforce admin is probably a healthy year-end bonus for some of my friends and definitely a fraction of the annual stock compensation of those in big tech.

That sounds like jealousy, but it’s not. I would rather my friends be rich than poor. I would rather just about anyone in the world be better off than not, unless you’re orchestrating a genocide or touching a screen that’s not a touchscreen instead of using your words.

My — condition, let’s call it — has always been a pliable imagination. It’s too easy for me to visualize my success in other paths or circumstances. Call it Uncle Rico Syndrome.

When I was the same age as Uncle Rico in his prime, the public education system was structured a certain way: ballpoint pen and paper, Scantron tests, more Dewey Decimal System than World Wide Web. If you were good at writing and multiple-choice tests, the system would make you feel smart.

At one point in junior high, I remember my class rank was 7 out of 777. I ended up in the teens out of a graduating class well over 1,000. At Northwestern, there was some regression to the mean, but I still got two challenging majors and felt above average entering the world outside of syllabi and exams.

Fifteen years later, I’m on my fourth career (fifth if you want to bifurcate journalism into newspaper reporting and television production). I am enjoying the first technical job of my life and being valued for some of the analytical and logical parts of my brain that had been underused while on the clock.

The reality though is I could have gotten a job like this a year or two out of college. It’s hard to start over when you’re 36. Well, not really. You just do it. It’s hard to live in Tigray right now.

My mental hurdle is a heightened awareness of opportunity costs. I’m at the age now when the benefits of sticking within one field, industry and/or company would be compounding into bigger titles and money.

That’s probably the No. 1 career advice I will give my son when he enters the workforce in 20 years to compete against cyborgs. If you want to try different things, I wholeheartedly support that. I’ve met numerous people jaded or underwhelmed with their professions, but they could never find a good time to reset. It’s kind of like the inverse of my path: I haven’t been able to grasp the right rung to start climbing.

I would never tell my son to cling to a five or 10-year plan while batting away what-if questions at night. Based on my experience, however, I would make him aware there are what-ifs on the greener side of the mirage too.

Suppose I spent the first 10 years out of college in corporate communications. Maybe I’m not shaking with excitement every Sunday night, but I build expertise and enjoy my colleagues.

Meanwhile, all sorts of companies that didn’t have a booth at the career fair senior year are launching or catching fire: a search engine freakishly good at answering any curiosity, a media aggregator that brilliantly tasks users with creating all the content for free, a DVD rental shop that suddenly decides to stream shows over the internet, software that transforms people’s houses and cars into hotels and taxis.

These businesses weren’t anywhere near my myopic radar in 2006… but they need corporate communications now. And suppose my linear resume lines up with a job at one of these companies, and doors open like dominoes within that company because the space is so dynamic that roles I never heard of, let alone considered, are invented all the time. These might be the very opportunities I was scared to miss if I stayed in corporate communications.

Whoa there, Uncle Rico. The mountain is farther away than it seems. There are infinite paths to infinite peaks. I’m not trying to tell my son the best or only way to a standing desk at Google is to play in one sandbox, or that Google should even be his goal.

I just feel it’s his old man’s responsibility to make a lesson of himself and offer some perspective. Especially in the find-your-passion-YOLO climate, recognizing the opportunity costs of not making a change is pretty easy. You can see other options.

What might not be as obvious are the opportunity costs of making a change. Some of those options aren’t in plain view yet, just over them mountains.
 
 

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.


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.