Nipple Unseen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


New Smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

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

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

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

 
 
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month for the rest of my life, until you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.


(Sanity) Check Please

Dinner for the two of us cost $332. I need to examine how a single culinary experience could possibly be worth in the vicinity of 17 In-N-Out dates, including Animal Style upgrades.

Toss me in the lower barracks with the rest of the peasants on the Titanic, but for me In-N-Out Burger sets the point of diminishing returns when it comes to fine dining. And once you get to the $50-60 range, discerning any incremental value at all is a challenge.

In my income bracket, anytime you take someone to dinner and end up a third of the way to dropping a G… it merits some reflection. Especially if that someone already knows your income bracket, so there is no opportunity to play smoke and mirrors. Plus there is no incentive anyway, as the chances of getting laid that night are independent of how the date goes.

I saved the itemized receipt and photo documentation to aid with the analysis. Here are five salient points:

Tortilla

When the urbane server set down a plate of four tacos, I should have backhanded them off the table and screamed a variation of the Zoolander line: What are these, tacos for ants?

That would have been so uncomfortably rude though, and a waste of 54 bucks before tax and tip. I wonder what the margins were on that dish. Even without expertise in supply chain, I can confidently assume tortillas aren’t an expensive input.

Sure, what’s inside the taco should dictate the cost, but it helps when the tortilla limits the volume because it’s the size of a Tostitos Scoop:
 


 
If you’re wondering, the contents of the tacos were wagyu and uni according to the receipt. I don’t know what those are, but at that price per ounce they should be laced with high-end cocaine.

If you’re wondering whether the tacos were good, I don’t know. They were so small that my brain had to project the taste over a larger sample size. It would be like giving me one almond and asking me to evaluate. I think they were good.

IPA

Speaking of margins, everyone knows the big markup is in alcohol. My wife got a couple of $12 glasses of rosé, which wasn’t exactly two-for-one at Sharkeez, but acceptable given the venue.

In a happy surprise, the uppity restaurant had a few beers on tap. I chose the $10 Japanese IPA to try something new, even though I knew it would be bad. People don’t go to Japan to drink IPAs, just like they don’t go to Great Britain for dentistry or Syria for tranquility.

Whereas my Honda Pilot will outlast any Ford Explorer, the Japanese shouldn’t be exporting beer quite yet. California is actually a pretty good place to start for IPAs. This was a case where the exotic lost to the familiar.

Rock

People bag on Spirit Airlines for nickel-and-diming, but there is a sensible logic to paying for only the features you use rather than subsidizing other customers for those you don’t.
 


 
This was a rock allocated to the sole function of propping up chopsticks at rest. However much the sourcing and cleaning of these silly stones inflated the menu prices, I would have loved to been able to decline the option and be charged the basic economy/rockless rate.

Towel

In the same category, the paper towels in the bathroom felt cloth-like enough to make me think twice about whether they were disposable. I hate when restaurants feel the need to do this. Maybe if you’re at the Ritz in the 80s, it’s cool.

Luxurious and wasteful do not have to be synonymous. No one in 2019 will object to the brown recycled paper towels. There’s not that much moisture to absorb unless you’re doing something creepy, and few hands are sensitive enough to warrant the spa treatment during a routine bathroom trip. I should have checked the toilet paper out of curiosity.
 


 
As a reminder, I don’t take pictures without people in them. I probably should have selfied here while holding an unfolded paper towel rather than try to get creative with the mirror.

View

We got to look at boats and water while eating sushi and seafood that averaged $15 per bite. I’m not sure how I would price the premium for ambience, being a strong conversationalist who strives to maintain eye contact at a steady but natural cadence.

I don’t need the help. Put me in a booth at McDonald’s between the ball pit and restrooms, and I will still make good things happen.

If the view was just something nice to have in the background, perhaps we could have ordered takeout for a few less Benjis and flipped on the Chromecast screensaver at home. We would lose a dimension but gain variety in imagery.
 

 
When we did go home, I ate leftover lasagna, a bagel with peanut butter, and pita chips with peanut butter. I consumed more calories after dinner than during.

It reminded me of a snooty South Bay steakhouse, where salads had such a lopsided style-to-substance ratio that I could count the number of leaves.

The numbers don’t work out for these types of places in my book, easily outweighed by a Double-Double or certainly 17.
 
 

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 on the Bell Tower

Even with the drinks flowing, the truth-or-dares growing more audacious, it’s hard to get to a place where you can call someone else’s baby ugly. Maybe in the privacy of your own home bantering with your trusted partner, you dance around it with euphemisms like “unique” or “pronounced features” and come to an unspoken understanding. It’s uncomfortable to say outright.

Yet to regard every baby as beautiful is to disregard statistical distribution. I feel with my own baby, I have a precious opportunity to be honest.

Here’s my situation. The five-week-old is going through what we presume, or hope, to be a transition phase. I’ve called him ugly to his face only a few times, instinctive blurts when unflattering lighting caught him just right.

He’s not ugly in the traditional sense, more like… grotesque. The pieces don’t fit together well right now. His two-part cone head resembles either an alien’s or Stephon Marbury’s, which basketball fans know as exactly one and the same.

Frankly the head might be too big for an alien’s. More like the alien’s spaceship. There is so much surface area that seemingly extends to the horizon in every line of sight. I took some side profile shots, and they look like portraits of Soldier Field.

The head shape and size wouldn’t be so striking if he hadn’t started balding already. Generally by the time the hair thins so dramatically, virginity is long gone and the 401(k) humming, so there’s less pressure.

Baby acne also came on pretty aggressively. The poor creature has the hairline of a 55-year-old and the complexion of a 15-year-old. His savage breastfeeding habits have put him on rails to obesity, with hefty cheeks that squeeze his squinty Asian eyes (sometimes cute) and a tiny chin drowning in a second huge chin (never cute).

I’m sorry I failed to pass on my defined jawline to my son, but the least he could do is focus on things in his control. For example, he loves to open one eye only or much wider than the other.

It really is like tiptoeing around a monster in the lair when we want him to sleep, holding our breath in fear of the Cyclops eye shuttering open. And he does this weird ET-go-home motion with all his fingers at once, like trying sign language while drunk and arthritic.

Overall my progeny might be described physically as an unfortunate miniature mash-up of Jackie Chan, Danny DeVito and Jay-Z, with nowhere near their abilities to connect to audiences. I feel compelled to join the celebrity donations to rebuild Notre-Dame, so my son can fulfill his destiny to be the bell-ringer.

I don’t want to show you pictures and make him out to be some kind of circus freak. He’s not old enough to defend himself against trolls with the level of vocabulary readers of this blog have. I took some doozies too, pics that do not make the Christmas card of even the most biased mother. My wife would be pissed if I put them in public domain.

I did a make short video though:
 

 
Apologies if the high-pitched giggling was shrill to your ears. Longtime friends recognize this as when I am laughing my hardest, usually with my legs kicking frantically, and even find it contagious.

You can hear lackluster reprimands in the video from my wife and mother-in-law. They are usually fiercely protective of Oriental Quasimodo against my comments, as if he understood a word. In this case though, I think they were holding back their own laughter.

My baby has generated many delightful moments so far along with the black hole eradicating time as I know it. I have this weird dichotomy, often resenting all the hours he sucks up that could be used productively. But then when I’m at work, the place I go specifically to be productive, I pull up pictures of him 3-10 times a day and can’t wait to get home.

Sometimes I think he’s so cute I want to bite his fat face and chew on those pillowy cheeks. I feel an almost overwhelming affection but can’t figure out how to express it while he’s so fragile. He patented this who-defecated-in-my-oatmeal look that just kills me:
 

 
That video was taken at the hospital three days after birth, so hopefully you didn’t think it was from the Quasimodo phase. If so, I can Snapchat you more recent pictures (if you promise not to screenshot) and bring Halloween early to your family this year.

Five weeks in, life with a baby has been different. I try to remember it goes fast and appreciate the uneven distribution of good, bad and ugly.

 
 
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.


Crybaby Fat Head

The only person in the world who gets me asked if I was traumatized, and I managed a mumble or nod before tears came flowing out at a volume that I didn’t think could be reached at age 35. It was not an ugly cry. Maybe there were a few truncated sobs, but for the most part I was a stoic fountain like Brad Pitt after his conscience-awakening conversation with Priam in Troy.

This happened in the labor delivery room, where my wife and I were watching the window go dark to light again uneasily wondering what was next. The question the previous dawn was whether some form of Plan A could be salvaged; now the hope was to avoid a roundabout form of Plan C.

Because that’s a dramatic way to put it, I should skip ahead and say we ended up with a perfectly healthy mom and baby. In fact, I wrote this sentence one-handed on the pullout chair in the recovery room, using the other hand to keep a 2-day-old’s fat head from rolling off my sternum.
 


 
Not pictured to my left was my wife snoring. No sound in the universe was sweeter to me after what she went through. The fat head resting on my heart caused me a kind of heartache I was nowhere near prepared to handle. It tilted out of position while moving through my wife’s pelvis and wouldn’t align properly no matter how many violent contractions she braved.

This baby was set to take on a world with climate change, income inequality, attack of the robots… yet he couldn’t figure out how to tuck his chin first. Quite the auspicious start, buddy. I guess we can rule out a college diving scholarship. Back to the 529. Bor-ing.

The fat clueless head, combined with my wife’s desire to go unmedicated, made for an agonizing struggle toward vaginal birth. Generally the most intense part of labor is transition, when the cervix dilates the last few centimeters while contractions go nuts. It is mercifully the shortest phase, often less than an hour.

But with the fat head tipped to one side and a crooked downward path, her cervix essentially was getting confused and unable to dilate fully to 10 centimeters. My wife was stuck in transitional hell, all pain and no gain.

She did this with no anesthesia. If you want to empathize through logic, think about how powerful an epidural is, the huge needle near the spinal cord and lethal drugs, and try to project what kind of pain would be proportionate to that kind of treatment.

Plus the fat head was facing the wrong way, no surprise in hindsight given its affinity for doing things the hard way. A posterior position puts an ungodly amount of pressure on the lower back.

My wife fought so hard for the birth she wanted, starting at 6.5 centimeters at 7 a.m. and probably hitting transition around mid-afternoon. Watching her labor went from exciting to inspiring to gut-wrenching to scary.

We were taught in childbirth class to view the pain as purposeful and nature’s way of guiding the process. But at a certain point, no words or ideas mattered. The teacher said labor is 80 percent mental, but it looked awfully, awfully physical to me.

I was filled with dread during the time between contractions, feeling the clock tick in my nerves before the next one. She moaned and screamed through them like a porn star on X. Because of the context, the sounds will haunt my nightmares rather than augment erotic dreams.

Around 5:30 p.m., the midwife thought it was time for pushing to begin. The nurses wheeled in a cart that looked integral to whatever happens when newborns pop out. I put Jurassic Park on the TV, a majestic backdrop for the miracle of life. They later changed it to a spa channel when things weren’t going so well, as the shrieking dinosaurs probably didn’t help ease anxiety.

The pushing stage was hard to watch, ample bloody show and cringeworthy pulsing in her nether region without any sign of a baby. I didn’t know what was normal and what might be terribly wrong and just wanted it be over for her.

She pushed and pushed for over an hour, maybe closer to two. Every trembling, futile effort felt like a turn of a screw in my heart. When she muttered a couple of times “I’m so tired”, I wanted to cry.

The midwife finally called it off, knowing we should have had a baby by now. She did a check and said there was still some cervix left in the way. The plan was to take a break to dilate further before trying again.

Without an epidural though, there could be no rest. The contractions kept raging at peak level, length and frequency. My wife already was teetering along the exhaustion threshold. She had eaten half of a Luna bar and slept only a few hours in the hospital the previous night after check-in finished at 2:30 a.m. and featured four vein punctures from multiple nurses struggling to set up the saline lock.

Now she was basically a full labor deep and channeling every last bit of will to withstand the pain racking her body. The midwife set her up on a peanut ball — fun name for a torture device likely borrowed from the Tickler in GoT — and then left for an hour.

I swallowed a nervous breakdown during that time, which should have been our skin-to-skin golden hour but sounded and looked like my wife’s final hour. I held it together by focusing on what continued to be my most functional contribution. Every time a contraction started building, she cued me to apply fierce counter-pressure on her back.

According to my wife afterwards, this was the only way she survived. During earlier labor, the cue to start pressing on her back was “Ger-Bear”. It progressed through the day from pet name to “Gerald” to “It’s happening” to “Now”.

We weathered contraction after contraction together in this excruciating overtime, her physically and me emotionally. The nurses were gone too, and I felt like we were the only two people in the world. I kept wondering where everybody was and actively managed the urge to panic. It turned out to be the second-longest hour of the day.

The midwife returned and directed labor some more, and even she seemed to be tiring. I was shellshocked at this point but aware enough to feel desperate headed into the second pushing session. My wife clearly had nothing more to give, but she borrowed from somewhere and fought through it again for another hour. It was courageous and makes me emotional thinking about it.

The baby just wouldn’t descend. We had stalled at 9 centimeters. I will always remember my wife tearfully saying through her delirium, “But I tried so hard”, a handy memory to have on file whenever I need to cry on command.

Even though the midwife had been wonderfully supportive of the natural birth intentions, she saw the exhaustion and recommended an epidural. This wasn’t even a decision at this point, about 11 p.m. My wife signed the waiver between unrelenting contractions, and for us both, the prospect of relief vastly outweighed the sadness of surrender.

But the longest hour of the day was about to begin. The anesthesiologist on the night shift had just been called to the OR, and the midwife and nurse left. We were on our own again.

My wife was about to lose her mind, so they had set her up with narcotics through the IV before taking off. This reduced the pain some, but not enough. You figure 80 percent of a lot is still a lot.

Worse, whatever they gave her took away lucidity. So she lost her mind anyway and crossed into a weird drugged-up state that still responded to pain. I didn’t get my wife back until the next morning.

When the anesthesiologist showed up past midnight with his deadly dim sum cart, I had to forcibly remind myself this was a routine procedure. My wife, on the other hand, was beside herself after the extra hour of loopy labor and would have bellyflopped on the needle if given the opportunity.

The awkward medicine man acknowledged she was in immense pain and said he would try not to trouble her with a lot of questions. And then he proceeded to ask a lot of questions. My wife was about to flip out between contractions, while I was about to freak out imagining what could happen if she had a contraction while receiving an injection near her spinal cord.

Then it was a circus getting her in the proper position, navigating around the multiple tubes coming out of her arms. The anesthesiologist directed us to prop her up on one side of the bed; I heard correctly but deferred to the nurse who heard incorrectly; we dragged my wife back and forth while she screamed and cursed in pain and exasperation.

After the concoction started flowing into her, my wife was asked to confirm a warm tingling in her feet. She didn’t feel it and still felt the contractions. The anesthesiologist seemed bewildered and asked again multiple times. I lost years off my life.

Ultimately I believe he made an adjustment to the dosage, but my memory is blurry because I was so scared. The drugs my wife so passionately wanted to avoid compassionately kicked in, and she fell asleep.

The plan once more was to wait for a few hours while the contractions hopefully advanced her to a third attempt at pushing. This time she wouldn’t feel them, but they were important if we were to avoid a cesarean section.

I couldn’t count how many times I got up during the night to watch the contractions monitor. The midwife started a Pitocin drip to help strengthen and accelerate them. We had viewed the drug as an enemy all through pregnancy and even at the beginning of labor because it likely would increase the chances of an epidural and cascading interventions.

Now we hoped it would be our hero. It’s funny how picky you can be with anything in life before all the good options are taken away.

Our devoted midwife returned from a nap at home before dawn and debriefed us. The baby hadn’t responded well to Pitocin, so they stopped it. She said the lack of progress after this long was honestly concerning, which was doubly concerning coming from an unfailingly positive and relaxed presence.

She suspected something “funny” with how the baby was coming down and brought in an OB, who agreed and said the word “C-section” for the first time although we had all been thinking it. As a final shot though, she allowed Pitocin to resume because the baby’s vitals were strong.

Everyone left, and my wife and I got yet another hour alone to cope with uncertainty, this time without the interruption of mammoth contractions. She hadn’t been capable of conversing for a while, and the first thing she said to me with the drug and pain fog lifted was the half-joking, half-knowing question of whether I was traumatized.

I had been thinking that very word throughout the previous day and night. How she read my mind, knew me so well, and as usual worried about others over herself… it was too much. All the stress I had been holding in rushed out in tears.

Roughly an hour and a half and another OB exam later, the tears made an encore as I hovered over my wife at the operating table. They had made me wait in the hall during prep for the C-section and said it would only take a few minutes. Twenty minutes of escalating anxiety passed, and my wife reminded them to get me as they appeared to have forgotten.

By the time I joined her, she was so scared and vulnerable on the table I almost couldn’t bear it. My sole purpose in the room was to comfort her, and I took the unique approach of dripping my own tears into her eyes and all over her face.

I told her the tears weren’t out of fear, but a realization. The more you love someone, the more that person’s goals become your own. Before the pregnancy, I had no opinion on epidurals or Pitocin or C-sections. But my wife sought a natural birth, and that became my mission too.

I wanted her to have the experience she imagined and earned. She did all the right things: prenatal yoga, chiropractor sessions, foods, exercises, classes, books, and of course enough gutsy labor to deliver two babies.

Yet within the set of healthy outcomes, this was pretty close to the opposite of the goal. My wife seemingly got the worst of every option. She suffered the pain of unmedicated birth without the joy of delivering.

She took the epidural but still felt a full labor’s worth of maximum pain and then some. She allowed the drugs to enter her system and the baby’s, but never got to push with their help.

With the C-section, she missed out on the traditional wonders of birth that had always fascinated her. Her experience instead was major surgery and a longer recovery time, and she didn’t even get the usual benefit of scheduling.

We might as well have cut the fat head out of there on time rather than let it take us on a ride to 41 and a half weeks. Plan A was spontaneous labor, no Pitocin, no epidural, my wife touching the fat head as it crowned, me helping catch it (obviously one-handed for fluid transition to the Heisman pose), delayed cord clamping, immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin.

The fat head squashed this plan before it could begin, lounging nine days past the due date. That’s when an ultrasound showed low amniotic fluid, alarming enough that the midwife began induction within 30 minutes. She inserted a Foley bulb to help with dilation and told us to check into the hospital by midnight for monitoring.

So we made the best of it. I asked my wife to pop the Dirk jersey for 41 weeks. The legend delivered in 2011, and he would deliver for us in 2019.
 


 
We declined Pitocin that first night in the hospital and planned to ask for an extension in the morning when they no doubt would press for it because of the low fluid and slow progress. The bulb worked surprisingly well though, as my wife woke up at 6.5 centimeters and her water broke shortly afterwards. A natural birth, minus the bulb, appeared within reach after all.

Every tier of contractions seemed to me like we had finally made it, but they just kept rising. After the first push, I still thought a natural birth would happen. After the second push, I thought an epidural birth would happen. After that stalled, I thought it would happen with the help of Pitocin. Even after the C-section talk, I still held out hope with Pitocin turned back on.

The whole ordeal had so many false starts, uncertain junctures, elevated and dashed hopes. It felt like fighting and clawing with everything we had to get to the top of a mountain only to repeatedly find out it wasn’t the top. But instead of seeing the next peak, we couldn’t see anything. So it was not only demoralizing to not be done, but terrifying because we had no idea where we were going.

Yes, I found our birth experience traumatizing even as a spectator. I cried twice in the same morning, which hasn’t happened since my balls dropped. And no, I felt no such emotion when the fat head was finally pulled out, just concern for my wife on the operating table and responsibility to take pictures for her.

The obvious thing I say and hear is we have a healthy baby and mother, and it’s all that matters. But I’m not sure I can so easily sweep everything under that tidy headline.

Throughout pregnancy, my wife constantly listened to a podcast of women sharing their birth experiences. I didn’t get how there could be so many variations of the same thing and it could be so emotional to talk about after the fact.

I understand better now after the longest day of my life. Everyone has a birth story, and this was ours.
 

 
 

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Four Things I Promise Before Baby

I’ve squeezed out a blog post for 65 consecutive months, and this will be the last one without child. After my long-winded announcement, I purposely avoided writing about it out of principle, in defiance of the idea that having a kid has to dominate who I am.

Things will change. They already have. I was so pissed off earlier this month, purposely working later than I should and not talking much at home. I felt like I was on a treadmill of unremitting tasks, impossible to optimize the way I want, and the tasks were neither for my benefit nor appreciated.

The realization was painfully settling in that there will always be something hanging over my head now. This is the new norm. I hope a switch in my head flips when the additional head pops out of her vagina, because from my current vantage point, I don’t see how the reward can be worth the opportunity cost.

Frankly, I feel like a fraud after consistently ragging on kids and parents for years. And guilty for abandoning those who agreed with me and stood by it. I want to put some safeguards in place to protect my relationships with those who don’t have children. You can screenshot these declarations and call me out if I break them.
 

Photo credit: The Weave

 

#1 Having kids is selfish, not selfless.

People talk about children giving them meaning in life, rooted in caring for someone besides themselves. That’s fine, but don’t overextend the notion. If our motives were truly altruistic, we would adopt from the pool of starving orphans. Think about how much better that would be for the world.

But no, we want to make one that looks like us and provides the feeling of life beyond our own. It’s actually quite self-centered if not the ultimate vanity. People do the most effed-up things for their kids, or at least temporarily suspend manners and rationality.

Making a baby is not a selfless act. Our bodies are designed for this. It’s why I start going crazy if I don’t ejaculate for a while. Raising someone else’s baby is a selfless act. You will never hear me confuse the two and refer to biological parenthood as a noble endeavor.

#2 Separate the remarkable from the normal.

We put headphones on the belly and blasted Mozart a few times in hopes of cultivating genius. Chances are the kid is going to be pretty bland though. He’ll be born in the O.C. after all.

My wife and I are well above average on various attributes, so I’m kind of anticipating some regression to the mean with our son. That’s perfectly OK and will save us money down the road with more limited options for higher education.

In this everyone-gets-a-trophy age, I will not embellish how cute, smart, coordinated or otherwise precocious my son is for doing normal things. They might seem amazing things to me watching the month-to-month transformation, but I will remember they are not special to anyone outside this section of the family tree.

Outside the family home, I will reserve excitement for exciting developments. If he picks up a few Mandarin phrases, great; that puts him in the 50th percentile in Irvine and we can celebrate privately without boring others.

If he’s benching 150 at 18 months… then this might warrant an Instagram story. First of all, I would be jealous. Second, I would want a paternity test. Third, I would want a PED test. Fourth, I would point out I have long arms and try to pause at the bottom and not cheat with momentum. And fifth, this is the type of extraordinary development eligible to be raved about to people with no connection to my child.

#3 Talk about something else.

If I’m conversing with another parent, of course discussing our kids is topical and natural. But I will never, ever start talking about my baby to non-parents unless they ask. It is tedious and irrelevant subject matter to them and disrespectful of their time.

There is too big of a gap in our vested interest level. You wouldn’t go through the details of your new charcoal smoker with a vegetarian.

We should treat the baby like a family death in conversations. It’s probably polite for them to inquire, and I will oblige with the essential information. Then we’ll move on because dwelling on it only creates an awkward cycle of forced Q&A.

#4 Leave the leper at home.

Unless we’re using the baby as a ticket to bro so hard at Chuck E. Cheese, I will not bring it to any social outing with non-parent friends. Those opportunities will be rare enough as it is without diluting their quality with a dependent who adds no value.

I don’t have a high opinion of adults who say they prefer to hang out with children. Best case, dull intellect or sense of humor. Worst case, pedophile. I hate playing with other people’s kids. I feel obligated to put a lot of energy into it and generally succeed in building rapport. But really I can’t get out of there fast enough, yet time appears to stop.

This is why child care is so expensive. You have to compensate any normal adult because it’s unenjoyable work when the kid isn’t yours.

All four of these guardrails amount to the same important self-awareness check. Circa July 10, my disposable time and income will revolve around a new center. It is not everyone else’s center, and I will respect that.

 
 
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Straight Cash, Homey

Buying a car seems a lot like trying to get laid pre-Tinder, although I don’t have a large sample size for either. Everyone has a different style, but in general it’s this terrible dance of posturing, prodding, circling, attempted mind reading, push-pull, perception management. Bottom-line results are a function of time and effort allotted and supply and demand.

At a Toyota dealership this Memorial Day weekend, my closing line featured a visualization of what the guy looked like with his shirt off. It could have worked just as well at the bar with the right setup.

Here’s approximately what I said after the boss of the boss of our salesman introduced himself with an alpha-strong handshake and asked for an assessment of the situation:

Me: You know when you’re at the gym and making gains right…

Him: (nodding, instantly gets it, looks like an undersized big-conference high school linebacker who aged well and maybe tried MMA for a while)

Me: I know you hit the gym.

Him: Nah, I (unassuming mumbling)

Me: No, just looking at you, I know you are shredded underneath that shirt. So you’re making these gains at the gym and then you go to Del Taco (point across the street at Del Taco) and waste it. That’s what’s happening here. We worked very hard to get this discount, and now we’re wasting it with this optional package that we don’t want.

Him: OK I understand, I can remove that for you.

Me: Thank you, I would appreciate that.

Him: So we remove that, we have a deal? (extends hand)

Me: Yes, 100 percent. (shake hand)

I thought it was pretty clever to drum up that analogy on the spot based on his physical appearance and enlist the visual aid of the Del Taco sign. It wouldn’t have worked on a non-bro. My antics either resonated with him, or more likely, he sensed I was a little crazy and it wouldn’t be worth his time to go down the rabbit hole of trying to screw each other like rabbits.

A coworker I call the Professor described the car buying process elegantly when he said that at a certain point, they’re not trying to f*** you anymore and just want to get the deal done. It’s just a matter of getting to that point.

That took work. At various moments, I was unsure which side was being the bigger douche. My wife said she had to look away a few times because it was so uncomfortable.

When the 24-year-old salesman tried to treat me like a drunk girl on Tinder during last call at the bar and get me to fill out a credit application before I saw the price, I didn’t decline too graciously. I said and repeated, “How does that make any sense?”, and in retrospect it might have sounded like I was badgering him to answer a rhetorical question. It was most definitely rhetorical, as evidenced by his lame response, “It’s up to you.”

Still, we worked on the numbers amiably together as I readily referenced a stack of hodgepodge quotes that served as a strategic prop. I kept pumping him up and would later do so in front of his bosses, in theory making an advocate out of him.

When his manager took over, intensity escalated as it tends to do with resolution approaching. The highlight for me was after I overstepped and questioned his integrity, I apologized and reached across the desk and cupped the top of his hand in mine. Twice. Isn’t that what pickup artists do, a derivative of negging and establishing physical contact?

He wasn’t the least bit offended by anything I said or implied because he knew perfectly well he was trying to hustle me. I pulled up the calculator on my phone over and over trying to decipher his cryptic worksheet with numbers an Enron accountant couldn’t make add up. The best was a $457 “copies” fee that apparently was a glitch. It didn’t affect the total though, which is why I say I overstepped.

We went at it for a good half hour. Our salesman later told us this second-level boss is called the “closer” internally. Well I worked the pitch count up on Kenley Jansen and outlasted him. I told him straight up I’m a grinder, and he got the biggest kick out of that.

I just kept going back to the numbers, sometimes trying a new approach, sometimes typing in the same thing and pretending I was trying to find a solution, sometimes acknowledging good parts of the deal, sometimes ignoring them.

At one point he walked away and said “You’re thinking too much,” which you love to hear when making the second-biggest purchase of your life from a commission-based salesman. Just for that, Kenley, why don’t I foul off a few more pitches.

The point of contention was, I’m sure, a common one. We agreed on the sale price, a few grand below MSRP. But surprise, when drawing up the contract, it turned out those three optional features the salesman pointed out earlier were already installed and cost a few grand.

Sir, do you think I am actually retarded? I know I’m not supposed to use the r-word like that, and if you’re a loyal reader and offended, I’ll change it. If you’re a casual reader, we can talk about it. But I was just so exasperated, and I don’t curse. I suppose a biology-based epithet is worse though.

The features that somehow morphed from optional to inextricable in 15 minutes were a GPS hookup, nitrogen-filled tires and some protective coating crap.

He said he would give me one for free. Oh joy, Great Benefactor, how could I be so lucky to stumble on this generous sale. No.

After some more jostling, he offered to charge only for one, $895. No. But in my mind, I knew we were in my target price range based on a month of research.

This is where the time allotted came into play. I didn’t need to present a brilliant argument or logic. He wasn’t negotiating on merit or intrinsic value anyway. I just needed to waste enough of his time that could be spent closing another deal.

Multiple times Kenly went through the benefits of the package and told me I was getting 3-for-1. Multiple times I told him I wanted zero-for-zero. I didn’t even listen to the benefits to avoid the distraction. Everybody knows these contrived packages are how they get you.

Fortunately my wife is the best listener I know and pointed out if the coating required a two-part installation, we should be able to waive the second and pay half. This prompted our salesman (not Kenley) to march over to the big boss, and then came the 60-second Del Taco close.

I had been just about ready to go halfsies on that $895 rather than drag it out with the standard charade of threatening to walk. Instead, we paid none of it and ended up $2600 below sticker price. Plus they matched a wholesale leather quote we got at $1100 when the typical rip-off dealer price we were seeing was over $2000.

 

 

I want to make clear in this picture I was not doing the black frat hand sign made famous by Shaq, which I’m told is offensive for non-members to mimic. In this case, I was going for the Randy Moss touchdown celebration that’s kind of like a breaststroke motion or peering through bushes.

It felt appropriate because when Randy Moss was once asked by a reporter how he planned to pay a fine, he responded, “Straight cash, homey.” That’s how I paid for the car, except I put the maximum $5,000 on credit card to get points and financed a small portion to get a $1250 rebate. I’ll pay off both in the first month so it essentially was straight cash, homey, although I think Randy meant physical cash which is beyond my means.

Ultimately, I think we haggled our way to a solid if not remarkable deal for a 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE Hybrid. This is where supply and demand comes into play. Pursuing a new model with very limited inventory and pent-up interest, we had poor negotiating leverage.

Most dealerships did not even have RAV4 Hybrids in early May. The few that hit the lots sold rapidly. A couple of Orange County dealers would not budge on sticker price and said these models were actually going for more, which was probably a stretch, but some online sources did confirm this.

This was a hard car to get, let alone get a good deal on. Worse, my wife and I have nearly inverse utility curves, and she insisted on black exterior, black interior. There were too many needles in the haystack for her liking, so she figured we should be more specific.

I felt like the schmuck waiting in line for the latest iPhone or trying to outbid some nerds for sneakers. I loathe the idea of being a slave to self-imposed superficial wants. One color is acceptable, really?

I bring this up only partially to rebuke how particular my wife is with aesthetics, but mostly to make the case that we fought for and earned a good price based on the parameters.

Hybrids are incredibly cool to us, given both our cars are pre-Obama and have CD players in the console instead of touchscreens. My wife is obsessed with her new ride and looks great in it.

She says the black-on-black and hybrid engine make it feel like a Batmobile. So that’s pretty awesome, and also pretty awesome we got it without the jokers at the dealerships taking us for a ride.

 

 
 
 

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Cars and Abs

At my previous job, I used to tell my young, fit, attractive female coworker she needed to change her relationship with food. This is not why I am no longer employed there, and I have no pending litigation except a parking ticket at the Marina del Rey library that has nearly tripled while I ponder whether the posted sign offers a loophole.

Those conversations in the kitchen with the coworker were more about camaraderie than judgment. We’re wired similarly. Disciplined enough for exercise. Motivated enough for aspirational diets. Amateur enough to lapse and feel guilty about it.

My OCD drives the healthy highs and unhealthy lows to wild amplitudes, tidal waves instead of your typical ebb and flow of moderate consumption in a first-world country.

So really I was talking at myself, reflecting that I needed to change my relationship with food. The need became more pressing at my new job, which provides lunch twice a week, breakfast every day, and a gas station snack bar within my line of sight. I’ve visited Netflix and Pinterest cafeterias, which are on another level, and wonder if the anticipation of eating can ever fully leave the mind in those buildings.

It would be a severe problem for me. Even with more limited food inventory than IPO startups, here are some James Harden stats I put up on various days when I cared to keep track:

  • five bagels, four with cream cheese
  • nine 190-calorie bags of trail mix and five string cheeses
  • five hot dogs
  • 14 little Jersey Mike’s sandwiches, each 2.5 to 3 inches. So we’re still talking a gangbang’s worth of footlongs. Speaking of gangbangs, In-N-Out was for dinner, and I finished my wife’s fries.
  • 18 string cheeses
  • four bags of pistachios, five bags of cashews and one bag of almonds totaling 2,150 calories
  • four Double-Doubles
  • two donuts, which isn’t crazy but the jelly-to-dough ratio was like nine-to-one. Toward the end I was dipping crumbs into chunks of jelly and felt especially slovenly.

In years past, I balanced out these kinds of binge days with Lexus days. A Lexus day starts with a workout, and every bite of food in the ensuing 24-hour period must be natural, single-ingredient, without salt or sugar.

It’s like eating rocks. There is no joy or even stimulation in meals, just unadulterated sustenance. The Lexus nickname refers to the brand tagline “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.”

And it has to be perfect, or it doesn’t count. I once mindlessly started chewing a honey roasted peanut on a Southwest flight, realized the added sugar, and instinctively ejected the bits out of my mouth with my cheeks puffing out like a blowfish.

The nice thing was I got to use the napkin, which I always feel like is wasted. Then I made my wife finish the nuts, so I could put the napkin inside the bag in a tidy disposal without exposing soiled surface area to the flight attendant.

You want to get on my level of obsessive thinking, bro? I will take you to depths and heights that will make you feel like you’re in a fourth dimension.

Yet I can’t seem to channel this to complete Lexus cycles anymore. It’s such a challenge to block out the siren song of free delicious food in the vicinity, a mental war of attrition similar to what Ben Affleck must have felt as the nanny walked back and forth.

Moreover, nine years of jogging to 24 Hour Fitness in Hermosa Beach created an aversion to driving to the gym. It doesn’t feel right to get in a car before exercise. I can’t do it.

Instead of joining a gym in Orange County, I try to get creative using the small one on our work campus. I stretch and prance following Nike Training Club instructions, move some dumbbells around, and head on home not really sure what was accomplished.

Between pretend workouts and stress or idle eating so savage that I sometimes finish the snack on the way back to my desk and U-turn right back to the kitchen, I don’t feel good about taking my shirt off in front of people anymore.

That’s generally fine, as I don’t go to bars much in this chapter of my life and haven’t built the capital to let loose at the office holiday party. But there still are use cases. Some grade school buddies from Texas are visiting this weekend, and we got a condo in the Santa Barbara area for a dainty bro trip.

Suppose the beds are small and movable; the drinks and nostalgia are flowing; it turns into a Superbed situation at night; and we’re rolling around on each other in our underwear. Am I trying to bring Jell-O or a six-pack to that party? You have to remember to ask yourself often what you want out of life, or you’re never going to get it.

I want to be shredded for my bros, but one Lexus day a month isn’t going to cut it, or the abs. Currently I’m playing with a different approach based on a theory of equilibrium weight. Let me qualify this by saying I think weighing yourself is a waste of time versus looking in the mirror.

For the purposes of quantifying though, let’s take my equilibrium weight of 157. That’s about the point when I feel sexy, and the abs show up depending on strategic lighting. As I eat myself into the 165-170 range, at a certain threshold I feel gross and actually crave vegetables and exercise.

So I start an inspired health streak. But once I dip below 157, I simply get hungrier and less disciplined, craving anything that tastes good until I snap and binge past equilibrium again.

It’s a pendulum or yo-yo diet that makes all efforts seem futile, as I always gravitate toward an equilibrium anchor determined by genetics. What isn’t sustainable by definition regresses.

The further away I am from equilibrium, the harder it is to keep going in that direction (whether getting shredded or obese) because of diminishing returns. Trimming those last few pounds for a six-pack takes so much disproportionate effort that enlisting the 80-20 rule might make more sense. Give up a lot less to have a pretty good bod, but not great.

Instead of Lexus, I’m trying something more like Subaru — getting the job done efficiently without excessive opportunity costs. The Subaru experiment began after I hit a natural rock-bottom endpoint eating an entire loaf of white chocolate bread right before bed. No one can wake up feeling sexy after that.

 

 

I ran hill sprints for punishment and started my Subaru era of consumption. This means some Lexus meals and portion control on all others. For example, I had a burger and beer that first day, but only one of each.

After a week of decent but not exceptional diet and exercise, some decent but not exceptional definition returned to my stomach.

 

 

It was enough to feel good again though. I was “feeling myself” as the young Drake fans say and delayed work to take pics with different lighting and angles. I used my wife’s phone for one because surprise gifts are always sweet.

Here’s another one of me modeling a Target shirt, which I would have posted on the Gram and hashtagged with the “Expect More. Pay Less” slogan, but even my douchey-ness has its limits in public domain.

 

 

Plus I’m not expecting more. The idea is to pay less in terms of Lexus-level deprivation while accepting I won’t get dictionary-level abdominal definition. The Lexus abs are going to be better. I think the pics below are an example, but I might have just been dehydrated.

 

 

The difference doesn’t appear to be worth the incremental effort to me. Under the Subaru system, I stay within striking distance of a six-pack without exhausting my willpower, and then maybe I can rattle off a few Lexus days before important shirtless opportunities.

You might think of me as vain with all the pics and thought about abs. I am not vain. I’m just really into myself and find the outside of people more interesting than the inside.

If you care more to know about how my pregnant wife is doing, she’s great. She braves the discomforts of carrying a growing baby, presumably mine, while patiently listening to me recite a food diary after work every day like a compassionate fat camp counselor.

She has the most important stomach in the world to me, even more than mine. But I’m also not trying to mimic it.

 
 

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.


Daddy Sam

Back when I was making $13 an hour at my first job out of college (not sure about that ROI, Northwestern), I learned conceptually how those W-4 forms work. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed pontificating to anyone who will listen about how getting a tax refund is bad. You should want to owe.

Uncle Sam decided to shut me up this year. Or at least put my money where my mouth is, as the gambling degenerates can’t stop themselves from blaring when I’m just trying to make conversation about sports.

My wife and I owe $8,435 federal, $391 state. There will be an underpayment penalty of a few hundred bucks, the equivalent of Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue after thoroughly mistreating him.
 

 
So that little gesture of disrespect will push our tab into $9G territory. Is this what happened to Al Capone and Wesley Snipes, only in a different tax bracket?

It was an accident. Really. We’ve been getting a refund of four or five grand during the married filing jointly era. I grumble about the interest-free loan to the government, but man, that direct deposit every April is nice to see.

No one should celebrate a tax refund though. All that means is they took too much money out of every paycheck. You were paid less than deserved, so the government will make it up by returning what was yours to begin with.

If you think a big tax refund is great, I can be your new best friend. Give me $10,000 today. I’ll put it in a 12-month CD and pocket $250 of interest. Then I’ll give you a $10,000 refund a year from today. What a deal, right!

A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. Now, I suppose you can use tax refunds as an automatic savings vehicle. But there are much more intelligent ways to go about this. I work for a financial wellness app called Acorns that automatically invests your spare change into a diversified portfolio. (I won’t be compensated if you use this sign-up link, but you’ll get 5 bucks to start.)

But what do I know; my grasp of financial planning netted a $9,000 subtraction from savings that coincided beautifully with a $4,500 credit card bill. We also need to buy a car now with a baby on the way.

It’s great to know I’ll be balancing the rigors of first-time parenthood with first-time drug dealing to afford diapers, while my wife walks the streets. Or vice versa depending on supply and demand. We want to be a progressive home without traditional gender roles.

How did this happen? How did I descend from personal finance superstar to cautionary tale?

Well, I can’t really get around the fact that we just didn’t pay enough taxes during 2018. By a lot. Withholdings were less than half compared to 2017, when we had a higher income but certainly not that much higher.

So how did that happen? I don’t know. I check my grocery receipt with ferocity to make sure those malicious teenagers don’t charge me for broccoli crowns instead of broccoli. But with paychecks… I guess I never gave them much of a sanity check. The take-home amounts varied throughout 2018 with a raise, 401(k) contributions, commissions. I saw the year-to-date totals and deductions but didn’t comprehend them.

I vaguely remember some warning about checking W-4s to prepare for the new tax law. The task made it on my Evernote to-do list, but other things took precedence, e.g. “Read Game of Thrones.”

Apparently two-income, married filing jointly households living in high-state-income-tax California who usually take the itemized deduction needed to check themselves before they wrecked themselves.

An exemption on your W-4 reduces the amount taken out of your paycheck and applied to taxes. The more exemptions you claim, the smaller your refund in April, or the more you owe.

My wife and I are supposed to claim two exemptions total, not two exemptions each, as we had been doing. Somehow it didn’t matter the first couple of years we filed together.

One reason was something called the personal exemption, not to be confused with W-4 exemptions. Personal exemptions lowered taxable income, just like standard deductions. The new tax law killed personal exemptions but almost doubled standard deductions. Some people benefited overall, some didn’t.

It hurt us in terms of taxable income, but I’m not putting this one on Trump. Our overall tax rate was lowered, and I support any efforts to simplify the labyrinth of deductions and exemptions and crap.

There were at least two more amplifiers in our great symphony of fiscal pain. We overpaid state taxes in 2017 by about $2500, the most I can remember, and that refund was counted as taxable income in 2018.

Also in 2018, I decided to get my Wolf of Wall Street on and started playing with $51,000 in the stock market. I was essentially day trading with the rule to never sell at a loss. On June 15, I put all $62K-ish into Alibaba and it dropped. The price still hasn’t come back up, and I’ve been disciplined enough to not panic and sell. (I was down to $39K in December and now back to $55K.)

The problem with my methodology of never selling at a loss is the IRS thinks I never lose. All they saw was that I made 11 grand off investments in 2018, subject to short-term capital gains tax.

Bro, get off me. I am not Warren Buffett. I was actually down 11 grand at the end of the year.

What I should have done is something called tax-loss harvesting. Sell at a loss in December. Buy right back into another stock, so it wouldn’t violate the spirit of my no-panic, ride-out-the-market rule.

Then for tax purposes, I could use the loss to offset the gains in 2018. If the loss was bigger, I could even reduce my taxable income. Again, I would still be in the market and not lose any potential upswings.

Just to be tidy, I should mention the wash sale rule. This doesn’t allow tax-loss harvesting if you purchase the same or “substantially identical” security within 30 days before or after the sale. So I couldn’t have bought back into Alibaba, but Netflix or Square sure would have worked out well in hindsight.

It was all part of a lesson taught by Uncle Sam, more aptly called Daddy this year.

 
 

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.

The Big Short

When people say life is short, I used to think… not really. It’s finite, which might produce the same implications and feelings. But when I considered all that could fit into an hour or day, life did not feel short.

At age 34, it does feel pretty short now. One natural way to frame the passage of time is in four-year increments. High school. College. Presidential terms. Olympics. These have tidy start and end dates and are maybe formative periods or distinct chapters.

Well I’ve been out of college for over three colleges now. I try to picture freshman year, being in a dorm for the first time, learning to drink and making friends who never heard of Plano, Texas. Sophomore year, figuring out majors and career path because clearly that won’t change. Junior year, living by cornfields in Illinois fall semester and castles in Prague spring semester. Senior year, still a virgin until May, which my wife loves to bring up for no reason as if I should be embarrassed about saving myself for the right time to get drunk with the right girl.

Freshman to senior year — I’ve lived that three times since already. And it’s picking up speed. Days or weeks might feel slow here and there, but larger increments are flying. Everyone I talk to agrees. How is it March already?

A big reason for the perceived acceleration is the workweek-weekend pendulum. Toss a few trips on the calendar, and the pages flip like crazy.

Moreover, each passing unit of time is a smaller percentage of your total life span. Kindergarten must have felt like a beast, increasing my life experience 20 percent. This year, that percentage is down to 3.

It makes sense to extend the four-year benchmark as you get older. If I instead measured life in eight-year segments, there’s really not that much left. My parents turn 65 this year; this is the home stretch for them.

I’ve said our 30s are a good age to work on accepting our parents are going to die. More than a few friends recently have needed to stare down this reality during close calls. My own dad statistically should be dead instead of group-texting pictures of him drinking IPAs in his Blink 182 shirt.

Our 50s seem like a solid time to come to terms with our own expiration. It’s really not all that far off for me now. A couple of eight-year flashes, and I’m there. There’s just not that much time to begin with after all.

My closest friend from college and I got to reconnect in Chicago over the weekend and realized we only really knew each other for two years. We flip-flopped study abroad semesters, and he graduated a year early. So two years, then different cities, and we catch each other what, maybe 20 more times? Twenty time-lapse snapshots showing unrelenting age, and that’s a wrap? Life truly is short if you want a decent amount out of it.

We were together this time for the funeral of an amazing person, husband of a dear friend from freshman year. It’s not my story to tell, so I’ll share what’s in public domain along with a light suggestion. Even for someone like me, for whom empathy doesn’t naturally sink in past a few outer layers, it’s not hard to picture yourself in this situation:

https://www.gofundme.com/support-hillary-and-her-future-beautiful-baby

I propose the next time you’re about to go out to eat with your partner, stay in instead and just mindfully enjoy the company. Donate the bill to my friend, whether it would have been Steak ’n Shake or steak and lobster. Maybe make some PB&J’s and wash them down with reflection and appreciation. It might be worth the trade one time.

Because humans are so remarkably adaptable, we can’t sustain that level of gratitude on a daily basis without incredible meditative skills or hard drugs. We will always go back to taking things for granted, so check-ins and resets are fantastic.

The goal doesn’t have to be hug what you have, carpe diem every waking minute. On the bad days, remembering life is short should in theory take the edge off stress or depression. You can find comfort that in the big picture, this stuff isn’t going to last forever or even very long.

I hope that doesn’t come across as morbid. I mean it in a pragmatic, productive, self-therapy-hack kind of way. We’re all in this together and should help each other make sense of the time we have.

 
 

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