Bear Starts with B

Fully blacked out yet only half-nude at a bachelor party last year, I sidled up to the bachelor and flirtatiously told him I was “Drunky Bear” and he had to take care of me. It was probably a bit unnerving for him to hear without context.

You see, I commonly append the word “Bear” to random words when conversing with my wife. Instead of asking if she’s tired, I’ll ask if she’s Sleepy Bear. There’s also Horny Bear, Sexy Bear, Silly Bear, Poopy Bear, Gassy Bear, Beauty Bear, Playful Bear, Hungry Bear, Dance Bear, Namaste Bear, I Love You Bear, Naughty Bear.

I hate getting called Grumpy Bear, which I amend to Pissed Off Bear. I think of grumpiness as a sign of weakness, an inability to handle the ebb and flow of daily life, and therefore a need to displace trivial stress onto innocents. I would rather be called angry than grumpy any day because it implies having a more legitimate reason.

The goal of course is for neither bear to be needed. I’ve come to realize I can improve the quality of our married life with active work on a sort of psychological issue resembling obsessive-compulsive disorder. My wife has been convinced I’m on the spectrum since we started dating.

Something is going on for sure. When people casually talk about their OCD and how their beds need to be made a certain way, I roll my eyes so hard they face my tortured brain. You don’t have OCD, bro.

That’s like when girls talk about how they eat or drink so much. Stop it. If you met the creature I become during a binge, you would adjust your scale of measurement. On a random Monday at work, I ate 18 servings of cheese, including six before 10 a.m. Eight of them were string cheese, and the other 10 were cheddar rectangles for a total of 1,540 calories.

I am maddeningly compulsive and neurotic, expending energy on irrational rationality in quantities few people seem to understand:

Bowls

Although I was a child prodigy at Tetris, loading a dishwasher in a configuration that maximizes both space and cleaning efficiency takes me asinine amounts of time. My wife has gotten used to alternating stretches of silence (as I stare at the dishes in deep thought) and clinking (as I arrange and rearrange). I usually start forming strategy days in advance because clearly this is an impactful use of human cognitive abilities.

One of the last straws preceding the realization I have a problem was when I became mildly but genuinely annoyed with my wife for using three bowls in a day. Our dishwasher accommodates more plates than bowls. We also have more plates than bowls, meaning usage of the latter often dictates when we have to run a wash cycle. It is therefore indisputably more efficient to use plates for solid food.

But my wife prefers bowls. Even when she uses plates, she also requires these little circular plastic bowls to exclusively hold her ranch dressing or mayonnaise. First of all, I understand people have different tastes, but I simply cannot picture an intelligent person who likes mayonnaise. Second, the condiment does not merit its own dish. Unless she’s eating mayonnaise by itself as a side — in which case we wouldn’t be living together — she should leave those stupid dwarf bowls in the back of the cupboard where I purposely place them to hinder retrieval and maybe spark just a little bit of a deterrent. I hate those bowls so much. The bottoms have ridges that accumulate water in the dishwasher and negate the drying process.

Also, anyone over age 30 has enough life experience to estimate condiment-to-food ratios within a reasonable margin of error. My wife is predisposed to substantially overestimate and leave globs of condiments: steak sauce, ranch, mayonnaise. I don’t want to saturate the sponge with evidence of her inability to extrapolate. I want the leftover condiments to be sparse enough that the water cascading from washing a pot or vegetable above it in the sink will be enough to pre-rinse for the dishwasher, thereby creating a satisfying double-use efficiency. If it’s so hard to guess how much you need, I would suggest a) pouring the condiment on the same plate so you can see its volume juxtaposed with the amount of food or b) pouring the condiment in smaller increments.

She does the same thing with wine and has to either waste what’s left in the glass or force herself to finish it without enjoying the same utility. I don’t understand the irrational fear of letting something run out when the option to refill is within arm’s reach. And I take my rationality to irrational levels that strain our marital interactions. I’m sorry for it.

But just one more thing about the wine. I hate when the glasses are left out with a splash of wine at the bottom. Those need to be soaked with some water. I don’t trust the dishwasher to clean that out completely. Also, it makes no sense to leave those wine-stained glasses on the counter while placing water glasses in the sink. If a glass was used only for water, it can go straight into the dishwasher or on the counter ready to go into the dishwasher. It will not get any cleaner in the sink as things are washed over it. The limited space underneath the faucet should be reserved for the dirtiest dishes.

Breathing

I’m trying my best here to convey there is a real anxiety behind the laughable manifestations of my neurosis. I notice my breath shortening and chest tightening during mad crescendos of trying to solve perceived problems or push them out of my consciousness.

The other day I scooped hair gel onto my index finger while walking out of the bathroom because the mirrors were fogged up. I somehow got paranoid that I dropped some gel and spent an indeterminate amount of time sweeping the kitchen floor with my hand, desperate to find the translucent paste. Every time I thought I had satisfied whatever compulsion this was, I stooped back down and started pressing my hand on the floor again like a kindergartner making handprints. Meanwhile, I was getting more and more stressed about being late to work but couldn’t let it go. I put on some clothes and checked the floor. I got my lunch out of the fridge and checked the floor. I took out my sunglasses from their case and checked the floor.

An equally illustrative example of self-generated tension is when I cooked pasta in a big pot recently. I had it in my mind from the outset not to overcook. When I determined we were in the al dente zone, it was showtime. The pot was too big to be poured with one hand while holding the strainer in the other. I easily could have asked my wife to hold the strainer over the sink while I poured, but I had already set a game plan of scooping the pasta out and depositing in a big bowl.

What I didn’t anticipate was the discomfort I felt grazing the metal-tipped strainer against the pot. I cannot stand when people scratch nonstick surfaces with metal utensils. So I tried my best to take shallow dips with the strainer while avoiding contact with the edges of the pot, but this really slowed the process.

There was so much pasta, and it would only continue to soften in the hot water even though the burner was turned off. Simultaneously worried about exceeding the al dente zone and touching the pot with the strainer, I worked myself into a frantic pace shoveling pasta one small batch at a time. An imaginary shot clock was freaking me out. My heart rate spiked. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was close to a nervous breakdown.

Bags

I have a bizarre relationship with plastic bags from stores and packaging. I physically cannot bring myself to throw them away after their initial single use. It feels so good to reuse them. We don’t even buy garbage bags for our small trashcan. I might use a bag that originally transported dry cleaning, takeout or a J.Crew shirt. To supplement the thickness of the bag, I position smaller ones inside, such as packaging for pistachios or potato chips or grocery produce. It’s like a two-layer Russian doll for garbage. Sometimes I’ll go three layers if one of the bags has perforated holes in it.

The restriction in this system is you can’t throw away stuff mindlessly. You have to choose a spot and place the trash while keeping the bag upright with flaps open. I will admit to rearranging my wife’s trash from time to time.

We use paper bags as recycling bins, which is not uncommon. I don’t, however, know many people who dig into a bag of hodgepodge recyclables and stack containers that fit inside of each other (again, Russian nesting doll) to preserve space in the bag.

Lately I’ve been using a Madewell paper bag to carry my tennis clothes when I play at lunch. I am aware Madewell is a female apparel brand, but have no qualms slinging this bag over my shoulder like Federer would his Nike bag. The reason why I don’t use a proper gym or duffel bag, of which I have plenty, is because I put my dirty shoes and clothes in the bag after tennis. I don’t wash gym bags. It makes more sense to use a paper bag a couple of times, dirty up the inside, retire it as a recyclables bin, and then use a new paper bag.

These are the things I think about rather than focus on being successful in life.

Broccoli

In a different application of the same principle, I can’t waste what comes in the bags either. A disproportionate amount of my existence is spent chopping broccoli. I wish I could just lop off the stalks and proceed with living, but I found out they contain as much nutritional value as the treetops. So I skin the stalks and cut the interior into assorted prisms for consumption. This takes especially long at the branches, as decisions have to made on how small of a segment is too small to be worth shaving.

The dumbest thing I can’t stop myself from doing is turning the plastic bag that carried the broccoli inside out to ensure I got it all. These bags are clear. I can see plain as day there is no more broccoli inside, but for some tormenting reason, I need a mechanical confirmation to supplement the visual. I do the same thing with open-faced packages of chicken breasts. There is clearly nothing left in the container, but I have to sweep my fingers across the slimy plastic edges as if I were blind.

You can imagine how stressful it is for me with opaque vessels, like when I’m trying to squeeze out the final bits of toothpaste or sunscreen. With toothpaste, I’ll flatten the tube repeatedly with a straight edge and then press at the top until my fingers change color. With sunscreen, I’ll jam my pinkie into the opening, swirl it around, dab whatever I get onto my skin, and repeat a frightening amount of times until I am on the verge of going crazy. With a jar of red pepper, I use a butter knife to pry off the plastic top and break up the solidified pepper at the bottom to pour it out.

All of these rituals simply boil down to a lot of effort for imaginary payoff. It’s agonizing because I just want to get rid of the containers and be free, but I can’t do it until I reach an arbitrary state of closure.

Balance

Symmetry, or at least the appearance of it, drives a lot of my compulsion. I brush my teeth with my dominant right hand at night, when a deeper cleaning is needed. Because I only have sugarless oatmeal before brushing again in the morning, I feel OK using my less coordinated left hand. I also rotate which areas I start brushing and flossing first, reasoning that my thoroughness naturally declines during the process so I should try to even it out.

At the gym, I alternate which hand or foot leads in every stretch and exercise, both between sets and weeks. This gets as granular as the foot I step up to the squat bar with, even though they are aligned during the actual exercise. And because I do an odd number of sets, I have to remember to take that inconsequential step with the opposite foot the next week to keep the total even on both sides. This is how I utilize my above-average memory.

Beds

I’m usually late when checking out of a hotel and exacerbate the stress with my routine of combing the room for any items left behind. The bed has become a monstrosity in my warped mind. I check underneath the pillows, in the creases, between the sheets, and of course I always feel compelled to look under it.

I go through similar inspections when leaving any public place, from restaurants to waiting rooms to airports. Before exiting an airplane, I rifle through the contents of the seat pocket in front of me even if I know I didn’t put anything in there. This can be neither sanitary nor sane.

Bills

Another worthless compulsion is reading every bit of text on a page, often multiple times to verify comprehension. This includes bills and statements. I read my own address and the disclaimers. I cross-reference every charge with a stack of receipts and mark the ones with online receipts to pull up in my email afterwards and file in a folder named “Financial”. I track down the receipt even if it’s a recurring monthly charge of the same amount. I do the same thing with the deposits and withdrawals on my checking account statement. There are never any mistakes, but I just can’t stop.

I read junk mail. I even turn the envelopes of junk mail upside down and run my fingers through them to confirm nothing is stuck in there. Magazines strain me because of all the sidebars and pictures and captions. I’m unsure whether to read the main story continuously and jump back for the other stuff, or follow a visual chronology and try to remember the main train of thought.

I read all emails including the worthless ones. To combat the urge to check my Gmail too often, I set a rule that I must delete at least one email every time I open my inbox. If I check too frequently, there won’t be any new emails and I have to read an old one likely shelved because it was too long or boring to read at the time. So that screws me over because all I really wanted was a momentary distraction, and instead I’m stressing myself reading as fast as possible so I can move on with my life.

Brakes

In sunny Los Angeles, on some of the most congested roads in the country, I have set myself up to never be at peace driving. My definition of a good driver is one who hits the brakes minimally. This means you’re timing acceleration, lights, hills, lane changes, spacing and all other components most efficiently for gas mileage and ride smoothness. It also means every other car on the road is an obstacle to your happiness. Every 30 seconds, I am annoyed by something or someone that made me touch the brake pedal.

I also overthink route planning when trying to make multiple stops. The act of retracing even a minor distance hurts my soul to the point where I might just skip the grocery store if it doesn’t line up perfectly en route with the gas station. This is logic taken to irrational and impractical extremes.

This is how I think and live, and it can be painful if not miserable. I have no doubt people take pills for lesser psychological ailments, not that I agree with it. Ejaculation, exercise and sleep (which somehow comes easily, maybe due to exhaustion) are my medications. They do a pretty good job on the symptoms but are far from being a cure.

I’m working on a solution right now by coaching myself with questions like what’s the worst that can happen, why am I living like I’m poor, and is this really worth the stress or effort. A friendly reminder that death is approaching always helps too.

On my own, I could continue to indulge my obsessive behavior. This might be the No. 1 thing I miss about being single, the happiness of creating my own world and shutting everybody else out. Sharing my space and identity with a partner is profoundly difficult for me. It’s not the stupid dishes or condiments or bags; my wife probably accommodates and enables my idiosyncrasies too much.

There is bigger stuff more important to me. Creative outlets. Hobbies. How to spend your time. The content you consume. The crutch of a smartphone crushing any free moment or opportunity or energy to be a real person. Appetite for learning. Lack of habits where there’s inspiration, and lack of inspiration where there’s poor habits. Intellectual rigor. Financial responsibility. Setting goals. Improving. Relationship between wants and effort. Relationship between inputs and production. How to deal with discomfort at work. Self-discipline and motivation. How to treat your body and mind. How to be interesting and not blah.

Five quarters into marriage, I find it loving, comfortable, secure, easy and wholly uninspiring. Most of the time, I bite my tongue and fight off the angst under the guise of Happy Bear. Some of the time, I’m pissed off and Distant Bear. I wish I weren’t this way, and I could just be normal and go-with-the-flow like my wife. Especially when we talk about having children, I think of the heartrending scene in Forrest Gump, when Forrest learns he has a son and asks Jenny through choked-back tears whether the kid is smart or like him.

It’s enough to make me occasionally daydream about going off to live on a mountain with some good books and a pull-up bar. But I won’t. Because I need a Vons, and I love my wife. She’s why the bear is my most-used emoji, even though the elephant remains my favorite animal overall. I still don’t know how the bear thing started, just like I don’t know why I care to load dishes a certain way, or question the way my wife wants to live, or make all the subheadings in this post start with the letter B.

My compulsions are a bear to deal with, and they feel unique to my personality. What doesn’t feel unique is the need to put work into a marriage. I mean an active, purposeful, gritty effort to make it better. I’m trying really hard and have my lapses and malaise. It probably comes much easier or even unwittingly for some couples.

I invoke Denzel here, when he addressed the locker room in Remember the Titans about how the other team didn’t have to deal with race, but they did, implying a stronger bond through struggle. I am a freak of human nature, and my wife is normal. Maybe working through this makes what we have more special or meaningful. I certainly won’t back down from the challenge, and I owe it to my wife. (Wife Bear)

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


Question of Sanity

An evolving hobby of mine, rooted in a belief that large governments make a mockery of my cherished conception of efficiency, is to poke at liberals.

I acknowledge anyone can be exposed as a hypocrite on some level, but it seems the louder the liberal, the less deep you have to dig to find that level. Plus they’re just so annoying that even when I agree with them, I fight the urge to pretend otherwise.

Gun control is an exception. It pokes at the liberal in me and stirs somewhat of a visceral reaction. I’m not sure why. No one I know has been shot. Just about any other political issue has a more tangible effect on my day-to-day life.

Yet I kind of lose my mind over gun control. Liberals aren’t even liberal enough for me. The other day I concluded women should be the only ones allowed to buy guns. This might be radically discriminatory and quixotic, but it makes some hypothetical sense.

No living creature on Earth threatens our survival on any meaningful scale except men. Dinosaurs aren’t coming back. If they do, we have Chris Pratt and some of them are friendly if not downright endearing anyway.

It would appear the primary function of guns in 2017 America is to make little boys feel like men. You have this huge set of people who are fit to own guns and do so without consequence or real necessity. You have this huge set of people who are fit to own guns but choose not to. And you have this minuscule set of people who are little boys in some fundamental way and not man enough to navigate life’s challenges without pulling a trigger senselessly.

If my assessment is overly simplistic or unfair, don’t let it obfuscate the equilibrium state of guns in this country. People die on a small scale every day and on a large scale on really bad days.

I say people die nonchalantly, but if you really ruminate about just one human being dying, taking away the rest of someone’s time so artificially and arbitrarily, and the finality of it — the reality is just crazy.

I guess what makes me crazy is this is literally crazy. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In pursuit of knowledge and better outcomes, we tweak variables and evaluate. We cannot possibly figure this out without trying.

There are lots of variables in the equation that determines the rate of gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are not among them. I won’t presume to tell you whether there is or is not a god, but if there is, empirical evidence at this point in human history would strongly suggest God lacks some combination of the desire, ability or jurisdiction to protect the innocent.

So we have to look out for each other. Laws can help. They don’t have to be perfect to be productive.

This doesn’t need to turn into an emotional argument. The simple, rational question to ask is whether we can decrease the current level of gun violence with legislation.

Actually that’s not right, I’ll concede. The question is whether we can be better off overall. There is an opportunity cost to everything. Even if gun control reduces shootings, it will make some people feel less free and safe. Civilian guns save more lives than publicized, as protection and deterrents. Hunting for sport is great too, if you peaked socially or athletically in fifth grade.

Our goal should be to determine the balance that maximizes total utility. But we can’t muster a logical conversation about it without leapfrogging into bombastic debates about liberty and desperate attempts to retrofit “well-regulated militia” into any useful direction (because clearly the most sensible way to manage weapons eclipsing those of 18th-century warfare by orders of magnitude is to examine vague sentences written by a slaveowner who also used his eternally omniscient legal mind to come up with the solution of counting black people as three-fifths human which shows an uncanny grasp of what the world would look like two centuries later).

Again, let’s take the emotion out of it and think in terms of cost-benefit and common sense. This is the point where I lose my facility for argument and am reduced to blabbering exasperated rhetorical questions in no particular order:

  • Are you really worried about the United States government scheming to take your guns so it can impose tyranny? If so, do you think you can hold off the greatest military in the history of the world with a rifle and bump stock? Aren’t you more worried about paranoid schizophrenics among the general public of 300 million like… you?

  • Why is it so objectionable to stringently evaluate those who seek to purchase something designed to take away life?

  • Why do you ever need more than one gun, or so many bullets for one? Is it because you have nightmares about being mugged, and the assailant happens to be Predator?

  • Is it such an absurd hypothesis that less guns will lead to less shootings?

  • Is it such a plausible hypothesis that without civilian guns, people would be robbed and raped and bludgeoned left and right?

  • Do you think the reason why I feel safe walking down the street in America is because of the possibility of an armed civilian nearby? Do you think I would feel safer if all civilians carried guns? Is it reasonable to expect soccer moms to pack heat every time they drive the carpool to practice?

  • Based on volatile tempers, impulses, lapses in judgment and interpersonal friction common to the human condition, do you suppose tossing more guns into that emotional powder keg sets us up for success?

  • What does “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” even mean? I am fully aware firearms are inanimate objects even though you name them like your children, but do you see why we’re trying to take away nuclear weapons from North Korea even though the buttons won’t press themselves? Do you see how laws can standardize common sense to protect people from themselves and each other? Do you honestly think the same logic would dictate we ban cars because of hit-and-runs? That makes sense to you? Did you hear Obama’s masterful parallel about how traffic deaths were much more common earlier in his life, but laws were enacted and the roads got dramatically safer? Why can we have stop signs and speed limits and manufacturer restrictions for cars, an engine of commerce and social interaction, but not the same for guns, an engine of nothing?

  • How is it even halfway coherent to say gun control laws won’t help because bad guys will break them anyway? Shall we go ahead and remove all laws then? Can you try to look beyond the letter of the law and see the spirit of it, the cumulative effect a legal framework has on social climate? Even though laws on drunk driving, opioids, sexual harassment are broken, do you think relaxing them would help or hurt those issues?

  • Aren’t you tired of hearing about Australia after every mass shooting? Without getting bogged down in case studies and statistics, would you agree the rest of the developed world has provided enough of a sample size to indicate more gun control might be worth exploring?

I’ll check myself here, as none of these questions do much in the way of actionable insights or policy recommendations. I am too biased on this one to offer policy. It’s not very ruggedly-individualistic-American of me to say, but if I could wave a magic wand and make all civilian guns illegal, I would.

I guess these questions are more introspective as to why I care. The way we handle guns in America breaks my logical framework and hurts my brain.

Gun deaths happen at a certain rate. We should be able to affect that rate with some experimentation and maybe small personal sacrifices for the greater good. Whatever utility a bump stock brings to daily life, it cannot possibly be worth 58 bodies at a country concert.

Everything really boils down to the question of whether we can do better, which I refuse to pose as a question and will rearrange as a statement:

It doesn’t have to be like this.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


Brazil in Words Without Pictures

I like to commemorate experiences with words rather than pictures. A picture undoubtedly can be worth a thousand words, but what I think gets lost in modern-day Instagram La La Land is a thousand words can also be worth a thousand pictures. I’m aware this violates mathematical symmetry, but the point is, boys and girls, it’s OK to read more than 140 or 280 characters at a time. You might even like it.

That said, we took a ton of pictures during two weeks in Brazil. The best was actually a rapid series of pictures called a video. I’m not talking about the cliché hang gliding footage everybody gets in Rio de Janeiro, which I will watch precisely zero more times the rest of my life.

I’m talking about a spontaneous adult-themed one, filmed our last night in São Paulo. There is a sweet spot of inebriation for a female when aiming for this, slightly past a happy buzz but well before sexual assault territory. My wife reached this frame of mind, unbeknownst to me, after extended drinking at a brewery and samba joint. When she made us go back to the hotel room early, cinematic magic happened.

It was great. We looked great. The iPhone really is a marvel. I probably could have toned down my in-game commentary, and there was a disconcerting moment when she seductively suggested she put the condom on me, only to mischievously chuck it across the room. You’d better believe I retrieved that thing. I wasn’t trying to film a documentary on the miracle of life.

Overall I thought it was a keeper. Something we could wistfully pull from the archives when we’re older and fatter. But after letting me watch it once, she deleted it. And then deleted it from my deleted items.

This I found hurtful. Logically, assuming a comfort with each other and our sexuality, the only reason to delete this was fear of someone else seeing it. The only way that would happen (after transferring to a hard drive) is if our relationship ended and one of us posted it as revenge porn. I don’t think we’re ever going to break up. She apparently has less faith in us.

Let’s see, 10 more things about the trip…

Codes

On vacation, you shatter your body’s circadian rhythms and then proceed to eat unfamiliar foods to excess. You might need to blow up the bathroom at inopportune times — in the middle of a 9-hour tour, at a mom-and-pop restaurant with questionable facilities, during a rocky speedboat ride.

Thus, trading discreet digestive updates with your partner becomes useful while trying to plan out next steps. We quite organically came up with a system:

Code Green — It’s on the radar. I don’t need to go now, but let’s start thinking about a plan.

Code Blue — I have to go now.

Code Red — Emergency. Walk briskly but not so fast that I can’t clench. Have the room key in hand and immediately turn on the television for cover noise.

A few times I tossed out a Code Aqua to add a touch of urgency to a Code Green, but the three-tiered system worked well for the most part. It came in handy for a 24-hour stretch after crazy fruit consumption in Salvador, during which anything that went into my body was sure to exit as a Slurpee within a short time window.

(For the record, this does not contradict my stance on food poisoning. I blame neither the fruit nor the water it was rinsed with. It was just my body being sensitive.)

If I’m willing to share that, I don’t think it’s out of line to let you know about an incident in Salvador when my wife asked me to bring her toiletries and I opened the bathroom door… and almost lost consciousness.

Liquids

I probably overthink the restrictions for carrying on liquids to flights. In Brazilian airports, it’s simple. They don’t give a flying f. An entire can of beer and multiple bottles of water made it through security for our intra-country flights without a second glance. Next time I’m going to lug through a gallon of milk, just to say I did.

Uber

The app worked beautifully in a country that speaks relatively little English and has a reputation for being dangerous to naive tourists. Uber rescued us from continuing to wander in the dark through an area of São Paulo that felt like Gary, Ind. and potentially missing our flight home.

Hate on Uber for being an evil empire all you want, but if the world just waited around for über-nice-people companies to make an impact, we would lose some progress too. Uber’s product has improved quality of life.

Chafing

In the paradise of Morro de São Paulo, there are five beaches. To amortize the cost of getting to this postcard town where wheelbarrows take the place of cars, I made us walk all five beaches. Vacation is not about fun; it’s about squeezing so much fun out of it that it’s not fun anymore.

We frolicked in the refreshing water intermittently throughout the long trek. Walking distances in a wet suit with netting started irritating the skin in my groin area. It soon became an unsustainable mode of transport.

I took off the suit and waded in chest-high water along the shoreline. My wife got tired of plowing through the resistance and hopped on my back, which doubled as sun protection.

At one point, she gave up trying to find my wiener with her foot and reached around and grabbed it with her hand. We both kind of caught our breath at the same time with a dazed Einstein look, as things got real.

She also exercised her underwater camera and snapped a blurry yet still unflattering pic. In all honesty — this is not like saying you have something in your eye when you’re crying — there were seriously very cold patches of the water. It was winter over there, after all. And just from an evolutionary perspective, my frank and beans had no idea what might be swimming around them so naturally they contracted and tensed a bit.

In any case, I requested that photograph be deleted from all memory sticks, clouds and conversations. Of course the wife decided she wanted to keep it, yet apparently it’s not OK to have video evidence of the other side of the story. What a crock.

300

For the first half of the trip, we met up with another couple at an all-inclusive resort in Itaparica that I anticipated would have nothing to do with experiencing Brazil or its culture. However, given the language barrier and pace of big cities, this turned out to be the easiest way to actually talk to Brazilians and make friends.

The staff at Club Meds are basically adult camp counselors who eat, dance, sing, play and party with you. One of them looked like a Brazilian King Leonidas from 300, and when my wife had a mini-orgasm watching him dance samba, I thought I would lose her forever.

But I was the one who got the last laugh. I strategically positioned myself next to him during his water aerobics class and got to massage his back and hold his hand in the floating ring formation. Snooze you lose, wife.

Trapeze

I was ridiculed by peers for failing to execute a basic backflip maneuver on the trapeze. An Egyptian counselor built like Dwight Howard reportedly observed, “He just needs to… relax.”

Well Egyptian Dwight, maybe at age 33 it’s difficult for me to relax while attempting flips in the sky on a swing built for children and midgets. Spoiler alert, this is how Robin’s entire family died in Batman Forever.

Just relax. That’s like when my aristocratic white buddy kept annihilating me in tennis and had the gall to tell me, “I figured it out, dude. You just need to relax and win.”

Brilliant advice bro, but don’t waste your time on me. You should go solve healthcare with that level of analytical ability. I hate people.

Escapade

The resort was expansive and nowhere near capacity during offseason. Naturally we had to take the opportunity to make sweet love in a strange spot.

I am not supposed to talk about it, so I will be intentionally vague here. If you’re envisioning a bridge, basketball court and bats, you’re on the right track.

Soccer

2014 was fun, but now I can definitively say we will never win the World Cup. Everyone plays soccer in Brazil everywhere, from grass to concrete to sand. Instead of volleyball, they kick the ball over the net back and forth. I pulled a hammy just watching.

However, Brazil will never beat us in basketball. The one pickup game I saw featured a young man who unleashed a primal scream every time he missed a shot, which was every time.

I’m not a fan of the charade. If you’re having an off-game, fine. But if you clearly are a bad player, stop reacting as if each miss were an anomaly. You can’t possibly be that mad if it happens every time. I don’t see blind guys throwing a tantrum when they guess wrong in Pictionary.

Jesus

Standing on top of a mountain in Rio, Christ the Redeemer is a giant statue of Jesus offering a hug. Somehow it slipped my mind to drop a Tebow pose that actually made sense for once.

Alas, I redeemed a second chance when an Argentine woman went missing from our tour group. I went back up the elevator with the tour guide to find her, so concerned about her safety that I made him stop and snap a pic of what I captioned on Instagram as the most contextually relevant Tebow kneel ever.

The woman was fine by the way, waiting at the exit already. She basically was the decoy who set up Tebow’s touchdown pass in overtime to beat the Steelers.

Shoot

The wifey got me a neon-yellow, semi-transparent-when-wet, Speedo-ish bathing suit to fit in better on Copacabana Beach. I felt pretty sexy in the glorified underwear, although not as special as I would have wearing it in Hermosa Beach.

But still sexy enough to request a photo shoot in it while draining jumpers on an empty basketball court at the resort. I looked pretty good with the overhead lighting and muscle definition yet to be eroded by the rest of the vacation.

Of course I had to try a few full-nude shots. It’s not every day you get to play your favorite sport naked. You have to ask yourself how much you love the game and how close you want to be to it. If only Leonidas had been there to back me down in the post.

That would have merited a thousand pictures, and a thousand words wouldn’t hurt either.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


The Thing About Race

I spent more time on The Facebook last week than I have in a while, mesmerized by a generally comforting stream of white faces — whom I’ve never seen post a picture with black faces — shouting noble truths and cursing our president. Interspersed were the usual close-up pictures of giant Aryan babies, a peculiar juxtaposition when bookended by posts of white outrage and guilt. I didn’t know whether to scold the parents for being oblivious to social context or admire them for the commitment to normalcy when the world seemed to be ending, like the orchestra playing on the Titanic.

So saddened by the events of Charlottesville, my wife said she wasn’t sure whether to bring kids into this world after all. Part of me wanted to seize this opportunity to secure a binding agreement, but I countered honestly. I think it’s as fine a time as any to live.

Watching Nazis and their stupid chants and torches deposited palpable negative emotions in my gut, which seemed to somehow elude a certain president and father of a Jewish daughter.

However, I don’t think America is being torn apart or at an inflection point. I don’t think our president ushered in the rise of a white nationalist era. I cherry-picked some backup from The Wall Street Journal and hate-crime-fighting SPLC indicating no statistically significant change.

This perception feels about right to me. Things appear to be more or less the same. There are bad days, but it’s not like President Obama presided over a golden age of race relations either.

Zooming out to a bigger timeline, I find it encouraging the civil rights demonstrators being swarmed and harassed by racist counter-protestors 50 years ago have essentially swapped positions.

Because we are so maddeningly tribal within our species, race has always been and continues to be this… thing. It’s interesting, frustrating, wonderfully and terribly complex.

Asians earned the distinction of model minority in America, and we thank you magnanimous white folks for the opportunity to serve within your framework in such high esteem. In my biased opinion though, there is no ethnic group people enjoy making fun of more than Asians.

Consider this masterpiece by Steve Harvey, a comedian I actually like and know can do better.

This is racist, too. The tone differs pleasantly from that of a neo-Nazi rally, and no one got run over by a car which is always a nice bonus. But something about the dismissive comfort in this scene, while talking about a man’s ability to attract a partner, which some might say is fundamental to his soul and identity, with a studio audience quietly laughing along, made it a bit sinister.

Maybe if the jokes were more clever coming from a longtime professional, I could write it off to lowbrow comedy. This was absolute garbage. I’m not sure you could pull that off talking about any other race without more backlash than Harvey got.

Listen Steve, I tried to bang as many white girls in my 20s as I could. Maybe I fell short of Wilt Chamberlain, but I filled out a full roster plus injured reserve. Then I flew too close to the sun and married one, and now I can’t keep up the good fight anymore.

For a 33-year-old with a beautiful wife, the Steve Harvey clip doesn’t cut very deep. But I don’t want some 12-year-old Asian boy getting bullied at school stumbling on it, just like I don’t want some 12-year-old black boy playing in a park in the shadow of a Robert E. Lee statue. (Am I being too black and white when I say Confederate monuments are the kind of thing museums were built for?)

I once stayed out past midnight and drove to Hollywood on a weeknight to support my Indian friend doing standup comedy, and one of her jokes was something about how she didn’t like Asian men because they’re scrawny and just “Eww.”

And then she moved on the next joke! Where was the punchline; what was the point? That was just plain mean. Most aspiring comedians wouldn’t dare put the preference so bluntly about blacks or Mexicans. If they said it about white men, a subtle strain of white privilege would be invoked. It’s so easy to take jokes and be self-deprecating from a position of power, just like it’s so easy to be generous when you’re rich.

I don’t want to get into that. I’m being a baby now and will stop. I only bring all this up to reiterate… race is a thing. It is ever-present in so many forms of varying concern, whether we have a black president or one so narcissistic he would rather appear bigoted than apologetic.

Again, I am confident white supremacism in America is not getting worse if you control for the effects of technology. It is easier to organize, disseminate and become visible. But maybe some overexposure is good, too. If Trump makes White Power feel empowered, I kind of don’t mind knowing who feels that way.

This might be another unfortunate case of my underestimating as I did during the election, but I just can’t shake this condescending mindset. If you’re a Nazi in 2017 America, can you possibly be crushing it in life?

I just can’t see the dude with the hot girlfriend or getting the D1 scholarship or starting the company or building a 401K or with more friends than he can count joining the Klan. I can plainly see that not all white supremacists are tattooed skinheads or hillbilly mouth breathers.

But still, succeeding at life offers three checks against extreme bigotry. 1) You don’t have time or energy to waste on it. 2) You have too much to lose. 3) Your experiences and relationships are too diverse for the construction of such flimsy philosophies.

Thus I subscribe to the opinion that white supremacists, dangerous as they can be, are not good enough at life as a whole for me to worry daily. They seem no more or less of a threat than radical Islamists or renegade black militants hunting down cops.

Our previous president strategically avoided using the term “radical Islamic terrorists,” endeavoring to keep the hate separate from the religion. Maybe our current president doesn’t like the term “white supremacists” for the same reason, but he will never get the benefit of the doubt there or anywhere.

Race is a thing. Pragmatically, the surest way to make it less of a thing is interracial relationships and friendships. We gain those over time, but there is probably an upper limit in the march to a universal race and harmony because humans naturally will find a way to unite and divide.

Race will always be a thing. Just because some things are jarring and get more attention doesn’t mean things are getting worse.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


Product of Slaps and Averages

We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, according to some version of some saying. What a disconcerting thought for a daydreamer like me, who just turned 33 and only have time for another 20 or so years of conjecture before I need to actually start planning to take action.

I should be doing more with my life, and it’s not my fault. The people around me are deadweight. I have to make some cuts and assemble a superstar starting five. All NBA franchise players are thinking the same thing, minus Kyrie.

My wife gets an unquestioned roster spot, which is great because I love her but also kind of hurts because that’s 20 percent of my lineup right there and what if I meet Elon Musk at a party and he introduces me to his four best friends which would never happen because friend groups generally are in clusters of four but what if I also run into Zac Efron at the gym and purposely do hanging leg raises next to him to strike up a conversation about proper form that leads to more discussion and ultimately friendship? Then what will I do?

Let’s not freak out for no imminent reason and focus instead on filling the other spots. I will not reserve any for children. I already joke about getting a vasectomy while blacked out. If I have to commit to an actual child being one of the five people I spend the most time with out of 7.5 billion, then I will get a vasectomy sober right now.

I seek partners with the ability to challenge me, by example. Sure my bros talk a lot of trash and back up some of it, but the subject matter basically comes down to who can drink faster/more, who can lift more weight/often, and who can be more comfortable with nudity/sexuality.

 

 

This grainy picture from five years ago appears to depict one bro holding down another in a full nelson, while another straddles his chest to orally penetrate him or maybe just organ-slap his face in degrading fashion (there is a respectfully playful way to do it), while another massages the rapist’s shoulders. Also, the mattress is missing the fitted sheet. Typical shenanigans in a Vegas hotel room, but I just get the feeling there is more achievement to be had in the real world.

At an alumni event, I met the man I could have been with a bit more gumption and applied intelligence. He is my mirror image when it comes to numerous mannerisms, interests and lines of thinking. But he’s younger and more dynamic. His Mandarin is sharper and travel experiences more expansive.

He started a successful moving company for students during undergrad. He turned down Harvard Business School and went to Stanford. Meanwhile, I was busy jerking off high school football players. (Just to be clear and avoid a dramatic misinterpretation, I mean that as an expression. I was a preps sportswriter after college.)

Here’s how smart they are at Stanford. In my quasi twin’s annual fantasy football league comprised of buddies from his class, everyone votes on an elaborate punishment for the last-place finisher. The year he lost, he had to officially register and take the SATs again.

So he showed up at the testing location deathly hung over after a big gala the previous night. Nervous Asian kids 10 years younger brought backpacks full of snacks, while all my boy wanted to do was not die. And he got a perfect score on the math section. Little wonder that these days he rocks a glamorous-sounding job in finance.

This is the kind of top-five talent I should be courting. I’m not banking on any kind of osmosis, but there has to be a fair amount of truth in the five-people-closest-to-you theory.

I think most folks have fluid enough identities, and high enough social IQs, to adapt to the people who occupy their time and space. After a while, some manners of speech, habits and thinking inevitably converge.

While reviewing material for a job interview, my wife said something that struck me. One of the things she liked about being a teacher for the past decade was being the expert and understanding the material better than the people around her. Way to shoot for the moon, babe, those second-graders set a high standard with their ability to not piss themselves.

I realized this goes to the root of a lot of our fights. I prefer to be the dumbest in a room, with as big a delta as possible without compromising the quality of interaction. Every person whom I voluntarily spend significant time with, including the bros, is smarter than me in multiple ways.

When confronted with the need to process information that suggests my inferiority or shortcoming — or just outright criticism — I interpret it as help, productivity, stimulation, motivation, opportunity for growth.

My wife, on the other hand, lets criticism touch a different part of her brain, as if another human should own your self-esteem. Thus, when I express very strong perspectives on what she could do better, the discussion easily can slip from constructive analysis to nebulous outcries about not being supportive.

The thing is, I am always cognizant of being able to take it if I’m going to dish it. I don’t mind at all being criticized. I welcome it. It’s actually easier to respond to than praise because false modesty requires so much effort and creativity to appear halfway genuine.

And I don’t criticize just anybody. I’m not close enough to people to say the things I really, really, deep down think about their faults. There are only four people in the world I am willing to nitpick as much as I do to myself: wife, brother, parents. Three of them live too far away to be top-five candidates. So I guess I’m left with Elon, Zac, quasi twin or anyone who can slap me in the face in the right way.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


Pity the Food

Due to poor planning and execution, I shuttled leftover chicken and broccoli back and forth between home and work refrigerators for a week. By the time I opened the glass container in the office kitchen on the seventh day, the broccoli had turned a hybrid brown-green color and smelled even worse than it normally does when steamed plain.

I distinctly remember getting a 96 in one, if not both semesters, of Coach Smith’s 10th-grade AP Chemistry class. So don’t take me for an idiot. But I don’t really know how microwaves work and what they do to food during the heating process, except that if you stand too close, Asian parents will yell.

The groundless optimist in me — the same bastard part of my generally rational mind that makes me think I’m going to win the lottery every time I buy a ticket — hoped that zapping the suspect broccoli in the microwave would somehow kill the odor. Instead, I did to that little problem what our ad agency might do to your content: creation, amplification, distribution.

Had I thought of this neat parallel more quickly, I could have positioned my blunder to bewildered coworkers as a metaphorical demonstration. People were legitimately confused why, in a communal space designated for handling food, a smell permeated that almost perfectly matched that of garbage.

I don’t get paid to answer such questions, so I took my embattled lunch and retreated to the sanctuary of my desk. With the spots around me thankfully vacated at the time, I figured no one would notice. But almost as soon as I sat down, murmurs floated from three rows back demanding to know who farted.

When I explained the source, a colleague could not comprehend why I was still going to eat this food. It was not only unappetizing from her perspective, but rotten and dangerous to ingest. She exhorted me to throw it away.

First of all, I take an inordinate amount of pride in my immune system, and discounting its vigor is not the way to break my stubborn streak. Second, this conversation branched off into a broader one about a perceived myth.

Don’t get mad at me, but I don’t believe food poisoning really is a thing. This opinion offended some coworkers who readily could evoke painful experiences. But I don’t see how my belief can be more offensive than adults who confidently deny dinosaurs existed. If they can get away with that and still snag a high school or even college diploma, I should have the same courtesy applied to my convictions.

And I back up my mouth with my esophagus. I choked down that broccoli. It tasted disgusting. Earlier this year, I ate two-week-old chicken with a slimy film on it and on a separate occasion, undercooked chicken that was the wrong color and consistency on the inside. Here’s a selfie of me putting down yogurt with mold in it (not the moldy part, I’m not a barbarian):

In foreign countries, I intentionally seek the most adventurous menu items. I found a street cart on a secluded corner in Thailand and ordered pig ear, “sour fish” and something, I kid you not, called “chicken stomach flu.”

I could go on and on stroking my robust immune system, but I don’t want to give myself a boner. As far as I could tell, no food has ever poisoned my body. There was that one time freshman year when I took 12 shots of Skol vodka before our suitemate’s theatre production, collapsed against the wall of the bathroom in the student center under the supervision of a burly ex-high school middle linebacker, and then proceeded to tell the campus police officer who found us that “I think I have food poisoning or something.”

It seems to me, hypothetically of course, that food poisoning is the most convenient of excuses. You don’t have to show any symptoms before or after the alleged episode, and it can happen with as much or little lead time or as severe or mild effects as fit for your narrative.

Now, people very dear to me have suffered food poisoning, and I don’t want to question their integrity or yours. But I just don’t think it’s fair to blame the food all the time. We throw out so much because of arbitrary expiration dates and shelf lives and time left sitting out at room temperature and cooking methods and packaging and looks and smells. Come on now, just eat it.

What will really make you sick is if you research the amount of water and carbon pollution needed to produce all that wasted food. Just eat it. Prime your immune system, and condition that dainty little stomach. Not everything has to taste good or make you feel good. Sustenance and resource efficiency are worthy goals.

Maybe that’s unfair. Don’t eat if you’re just going to throw it back up. That’s a waste, too. I am a proficient machine when it comes to eradicating everyone’s leftovers, but I draw the line at vomit unless it’s a pretty color and I can blend in unsalted almond butter.

All we’re talking about here is a difference in baselines. The same bite of food can be fine to one person and illness-inducing to another. I just want to balance it out a bit and lighten some of the burden of presumed guilt placed on restaurants, cooks, grocery stores, manufacturers.

Instead of lumping everything into the food poisoning category, we can create another one for food sensitivity.

“Sorry I missed your birthday. I had bad Chinese last night.”

“Sorry I missed your birthday. I had food sensitivity last night.”

They definitely don’t have the same connotations or elicit the same pity, but I tend to think they’re the same thing.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


A Burro and a Thong

I guess you could call it a brief interlude during an otherwise predictably homoerotic bro trip. Our bicurious antics were temporarily quieted by a thong, or more precisely, a butt in a thong, that I imagine belonged to Helen of Troy in another life. I could try to describe the sight but don’t want to turn this into a source of filth and objectifying women. I have plenty of sites for that in my incognito browsing windows.

Thus the only description I will offer is the thong was black, an underwear color that indicates sexual desire according to the classic love story 10 Things I Hate About You (which featured Heath Ledger and JGL as teenagers — How cool is that?) As for the butt, it was fundamentally perfect, no doubt created in the same celestial laboratory as Ray Allen’s jumper.

The four of us encountered this hypnotic asset after sundown at the designated adult pool of a random resort in the desert. This was the last leg of a 700-mile Memorial Day weekend road trip with no itinerary. We had spent the previous night in Lake Havasu City, a land where body mass index and age seemed directly proportional to the raciness of one’s outfit, and the ratio of tattoo ink to skin surface area hovered around even.

I would say the Lake Havasu Bro is a peculiar species resembling an amalgamation of the Huntington Beach Bro, Raider Nation/Inland Empire Bro and Trump Middle America Bro. In a good way, of course.

The ladies there might have been 30-40 percent past their prime and not traditionally invested in fitness anyway, but they also were probably more comfortable in their own skin than the standard-issue L.A. girl. That genuine self-esteem is a really attractive thing if you’re blind.

What I am trying to say, tactfully, is our perceptions likely had been anchored lower after weaving through non-metropolitan pit stops for 48 hours. Then we stumbled upon this thong, an oasis within an oasis.

There were only a handful of people at the pool, so we immediately noticed the thong set up on a lounge chair in an elevated area. We got into the water and promptly moved to a spot conducive to discrete and blatant staring through the soft twilight.

I don’t mean to throw my bros under the bus. We live with significant others ranging from longtime girlfriend to fiancée to wife to mother of child. I promise you though, this thong would have had the same effect on any group of guys. Even the most chivalrous gentlemen valiantly maintaining pretenses and suppressing the urge to be crude would certainly exchange a few oh-my-god-is-this-real glances. It was just too ridiculous to not acknowledge.

We ended up leaving before the thong, so I suppose we weren’t that perverted. We then resumed our flaming activities that included all-male hot tubbing, sneaking onto a golf course to lie in the grass and stargaze, and playing four hours of a board game called Catan while struggling to finish a 12-pack among the four of us washed-up 30-somethings.

Nobody said a word to the owner of the thong or even caught a glimpse of her face. The latter part was due to our relative positions and timing of movements, not because my bros and I were too shallow to look. If anybody was shallow, it was probably her. With a butt like that, she’s had little need to develop personality.

If I sound bitter, this might be a reflection of my conclusion in hindsight that the thong had a net-negative effect on my evening. Consider the opposite situation. On the drive to Lake Havasu, we came upon a roadside sign warning of burros, the Spanish word for donkey.

It was such an unfamiliar concept that I don’t think any of us really expected an actual mother effing donkey to be wandering around in the open. When we spotted the first one lumbering along the shoulder of the road, our SUV shook with pure elation.

We pulled over almost abruptly enough to screech the brakes, backed up right next to the strikingly docile animal, and celebrated wildly in its homely face. A 35-year-old bro who runs nine-figure projects for a defense company shouted “Burro! Burro!” and pointed like an autistic child obsessed with animals visiting the zoo for the first time.

There was a payoff in this scenario. We saw a sign that teased to something, and then we got to experience it.

Contrast that to the thong. We saw something that hijacked our conversation, consciousness, presence of mind. And then what? There was no discernible benefit.

I don’t want to see something so tantalizing that I can’t have. I don’t want to even know something like that is out there. It’s distracting and mildly depressing. Just let me live my life and be gay with my bros. What are you doing out here at a predominantly family resort in Indian Wells, oh incongruous thong?

When I explained my angst to one of my bros, he likened this to the scene in Good Will Hunting when the professor sat defeated on the floor after Matt Damon lit the math solutions on fire. He lamented:

“Most days I wish I never met you because then I could sleep at night, and I wouldn’t have to walk around with the knowledge there was someone like you out there.”

That’s how I felt about the thong, and butt it flaunted, or maybe it was the other way around. The spectacle was haunting and unnecessary and more exploitative of the observer than wearer. I would have been better off staring at the tail of a burro.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


United We Shoulder

Perfectly inline with United’s burgeoning reputation as the most physical airline experience for those of Asian ethnicity, I had to muster the toughness of Emmitt Smith when he rolled the Giants with a separated shoulder during a 3-hour, 35-minute flight from Tampa to Denver.

It was my right shoulder put to the test after I was deposited in aisle seat 38C, no doubt due to my race. From this spot in the very last passenger row, I could reach the handles of both bathroom doors with my abnormally long arms.

I thought nothing of it and fell asleep as usual during takeoff, only to be pulled into a semi-conscious state with repeated bumping against my shoulder. It was a flight attendant passing in and out of the back area, and in retrospect, the heralding of a continuous, incredible, laughable, baffling amount of contact.

Never in the history of aviation have so many passengers gone to the bathroom on a flight. Either I missed a beer bong tailgate at the airport terminal, or first class was passing back lines of cocaine. No other explanation could suffice.

I still can’t believe it. I had my work laptop and a good book, but all I could do from groggy wakeup until merciful descent was analyze why I kept getting bumped with varying degrees of intensity — and how not to go insane over it.

The first factor I noticed was the mountain of a man in the aisle seat across from me. His entire left leg rested in the walkway, effectively turning the 405 into three lanes.

For a short time, I fumed at his apparent lack of effort to fold into his seat like everybody else. Then I happened to glance at my own shoulder, which protruded into the aisle.

This realization caused a pang of sheepishness, a feeling quickly hijacked by the satisfaction of self-acknowledging my broad shoulders. They were so wide I could not sit squarely in the seat without extending into neutral air space.

Broad shoulders create a tapered, athletic look for the torso. I love it when I manage to cut out refined carbs for 4-5 days, and my stomach has more definition than a dictionary. With full-length mirrors in our bedroom, it really takes intercourse to another level when I can stare at myself in admiration. A bit narcissistic, but this line of thinking distracted me from my bumpy plight for at least 15 minutes.

Once those good feelings subsided, the next thing I thought about was why some people chose not to pivot and sidestep between the Mountain and the Shoulder. This seemed to me an obvious solution that humans intuitively if not automatically try when confronted with narrow space.

Perhaps after navigating 20 rows down an aisle, focus unraveled in the last few steps once the bathrooms came into view. Or maybe all the focus went to avoiding the Mountain. Some folks might optimistically underestimate their own size, have poor spatial perception, or simply approach a cramped plane like a concert, with incidental contact being expected and without need for excusal.

My favorite flight attendant usually did sidestep, but this only meant she mashed her derriere into me. In my younger days I might have channeled my inner Bill O’Reilly and strategically propped my chin on my fist to get a face-full each time.

Instead I sat stoically while getting a taste of what it felt like to be backed down by Shaq in the post. She absolutely abused me. This was not brushing against my shoulder. I’m talking bumper-car collisions. Thank goodness the battering ram had some padding, and the impact was distributed over ample surface area. Had the force been applied by say, a fist, I would be typing this in a sling.

Not only was sidestepping ineffective at times, it only contributed to the comedy of errors in some cases. Each person exiting the bathroom had to pass anyone waiting in the aisle for both to get to their destination. This of course is very normal interaction on airplanes, but highly unscalable.

Several times, people just couldn’t wait for an opening any longer and piled into the aisle. Watching them dry-hump and play Twister to grind past each other provided some more diversion for me in the form of vindictive enjoyment.

One behemoth, who looked like he could have been Emmitt’s right tackle, needed to pass a tiny woman and vice versa. They both just laughed, and she quipped, “How is this going to work?” I half-considered suggesting she crawl through his legs.

But I swallowed my voice, fearful that the airline had planted some undercover Chicago P.D. in the economy cabin. The last time an Asian brother expressed an opinion on a crowded United plane, he was dragged out by the arms, a near-martyr in a misdirected war, kind of like when Forrest Gump pulled Lieutenant Dan through the Vietnamese jungle.

So I kept my mouth shut while my mind continued to churn. I just couldn’t grasp how and why so many people had to go to the bathroom.

In my 12-person block comprising the last two rows, I counted only three, including me, who did not go. I tried to project that 75-percent potty rate over 38 rows of six, but was unsure of the layout in first class and whether any row numbers were skipped. There were certainly more than 100 passengers, and 75 bathroom goers seemed like a decent lower-bound guess.

Whatever the number, it was easily high enough to merit accusations of selfishness. A full-capacity domestic flight is not meant to accommodate everyone going to the bathroom. That would be a logistical nightmare given the limited time, facilities and paths to them.

Essentially, people with normal-functioning bladders need to “subsidize” those who legitimately cannot hold it during the flight. It’s kind of like the right lane on eastbound Rosecrans that accesses the on-ramp for 405 North. Honest drivers line up and wait their turn. Some nonlocal folks might be unaware that the northbound entrance ramp is counterintuitively on the right side. So they should be allowed to cut into the line, but if everyone has to do that, the system becomes unsustainable.

Every airline passenger has the responsibility to make a preemptive bathroom trip before boarding. I chugged a water bottle in the security line, so it did not take very complicated cause-and-effect reasoning to decide to whiz beforehand, even though my seat was one of the two closest to the bathrooms.

I did this rather than crowd around the boarding line before my group was called, which is another selfish prisoner’s dilemma. (The most socially efficient outcome is for all passengers to relax until their group is called. However, regardless of what your opponents/fellow passengers choose to do, lining up early is individually the best strategic move if you care about overhead luggage space.)

Such rudimentary game theory and estimates of bathroom visits made the jarring flight go by faster. I will never understand how three-fourths of the plane had to use the restroom in the same condensed window of time. Pit stops for drunk buses have shorter lines.

The incessant rattling of the right side of my body got to the point where I had to use mental tricks to avoid getting annoyed. All happiness comes down to perception. I tried to convince myself that the bumping felt good, massage-like. That worked for a little while.

I also pictured some of my friends whose laid-back nature I envy, and how they would react in this situation. But then I realized one of them is impossibly obese, the size of a baby elephant really, and had he been in seat 38C, some sort of Lion-King-stampede-meets-sumo-death-match would have ensued.

Overall I think I handled the war of attrition well. Getting bumped every minute while trying to sleep is akin to the Chinese water torture technique in which water is repeatedly dripped on the forehead. This is supposed to cause insanity.

But I kept any thoughts of an outburst in check. As we know from current events, when flying Asian on United, it is probably better to be bumped on a flight rather than from a flight.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


2007 No Space Odyssey

I know this isn’t right, but I harbor a distrust of, and distaste for, anyone who was born after 2007. Ninety percent of this is wistful envy. These soulless post-millennials will lose their virginity before me, start contributing to a 401(k) earlier, learn to code while their brains are still pliable. F them.

The other 10 percent of my misgivings have to do with the mobile revolution. That’s how I settled on 2007 as an arbitrary cutoff, the year of the original iPhone launch. If you literally do not know life without the modern cell phone, then you cannot possibly develop into a compelling person.

I say this with full awareness that my employer’s revenue stream depends directly on how much we can keep people on their phones. And even when I’m off the clock, virtually every second of my existence is spent within a 1-mile radius of my iPhone 6. In a way, it’s more like a prison cell than cell phone.

But I have more windows and air quality and perspective in my cell. I navigated my formative years without a phone as an appendage, and I am highly suspicious of anyone who can’t draw on the same framework.

This is because iOS and Android eroded three things core to the human condition:

Boredom

 
The decisive difference between humans and the other living creatures we rule on Earth is what we do when we’re bored. Just watch your dog for a few minutes. A health care solution and self-driving car are not coming out of that brain. Neither are genocide and nuclear war, but the point is we operate on a singular level that no other being in our dimension can touch.

We have progressed to this point over the past few thousand years because of what our species chooses to do with its disposable time. Elon Musk likely does not devote much of his day to absentmindedly scrolling through pseudo celebrity Instagram feeds.

I am not suggesting we all can be Elon Musk. Most people I know (including myself) do not convey the impression of noteworthy potential. However, if you can’t go a day without Facebook, if the first thing you do every morning and the last thing you do every night is scroll through memes and baby pictures and vapid content curated by people no smarter than you, if that’s how you choose to wake to the world and retire to the subconscious, day in and day out, then you’re probably the kind of person who leaves a lot on the table in life.

Two articles for you, both shorter than this blog post. You still won’t read them, which is fine. You already know and agree with the ideas anyway. This one b-slaps social media:

“The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom. Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix.”

While that article highlights the ability to focus, this one celebrates the wandering mind. Phones kill the imagination. They take away the need to think, daydream and create our own stimulation. This, in turn, lowers the ceiling on perhaps the greatest part of the human condition: possibility.

How to Say No

 
At some very recent juncture, ignoring an invitation became the same as saying no. They are not the same. But an entire generation of kids is coming of age with the understanding that if someone texts you to hang out, it’s OK not to respond.

The world is a better place with ease of communication, but technology should not compromise a base level of respect for people you know. When I was growing up, if I wanted to see friends, I had to call or knock on a door. If they were busy or tired, they wouldn’t just hang up the phone or close the door without a word. It was acceptable to say no back then, and it still is.

I surely am not the only one who remembers calling up buddies on their family landlines, with numbers known by heart instead of Siri, and making awkward small talk with parents because we had to actually ring a doorbell and wait inside for a bit. There was something sweet about it in retrospect, character-building. Without the benefit of such experiences, these younger generations will turn out to be absolute savages.

Yet I am the one blasted for being a monster, someone with the nerve to decline an invitation in favor of laundry and errands. If we checked the game film, I probably drag myself off the couch-bench and into the social game as much as any friend of mine. The difference is perception because I have the courtesy to say no thank you when invited to something, while many people don’t bother.

On an unrelated note, I also have the courtesy not to ask who else is going. It doesn’t matter. All I need is you. There are only two appropriate followup questions to an invite:

1. Will there be food?
2. Will there be hot chicks?

Any other answer should be precisely that: an answer.

Connection

 
Back to dogs for a second. The nice ones generally like to lounge in proximity to people, even without much interaction and obviously conversation going on. Some humans are like that. They want to be around others all the time, but their idea of hanging out includes reaching for a phone every few minutes.

If kids are growing up like this, we might as well plug them into the The Matrix now. They will have no ability to sustain presence. Stop it. Just go home then. That’s not hanging out. Try putting away the phone for 20 minutes. If it gets boring, that’s a good sign you don’t really want to hang out at all.

When I’m with somebody, I struggle and labor to make conversation and expect help from the other side too. And when we both run out of things to say, we have to figure something out. Usually alcohol. That is human connection. It’s really hard.

I empathize with wanting to stay home most of the time. Even if you’re up for the challenge, the other people undoubtedly will capitulate to that itchy urge to pull out their phones because it’s just so easy.

This is why convincing me to go to a bar might require a PowerPoint pitch, but I seldom turn down sports invites. When playing a sport, you reach an enviable state in which the only other people that matter in the world at that moment are with you in a defined space. All you care about is how your body moves in relation to their bodies.

Mix in some small talk before and after, tons of endorphins, and what we’re talking about is not a whole lot unlike sex. Anyone want to play tennis Thursday?

Sports, erotic interplay, showers, Sharkeez unless you have AT&T and get reception… the gaps between sanctuaries grow every day. Things are becoming extreme. No fewer than four people dear to my heart are so addicted, they play on their phones while taking a dump.

Come on now. That is so unacceptable and you know it. Be better. Give yourself some space to exist. At the very least, be hyper-cognizant of the order of operations when wiping, washing hands, and touching your phone. God knows that same phone will be by your dinner plate more often than not.

Let’s not make 2007 an odyssey into a world with no space for self and imagination, no room for manners and conversation, no effort for bonding and unfettered listening. We’re only 10 years deep and really have no idea whether there might be some long-term harmful effects already set in motion. I refuse to ignore these things; I would rather say no.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.


The Hangover to End All

February is an annoying month for those who hate Valentine’s Day and could use days 29-31 to come up with something to blog about. Up against the shot clock with no ideas, I woke up Saturday thinking maybe I should instigate a disagreement with my wife or drink really hard to aid in some content creation.

I ended up deep in the latter route and blacked out. Bro so hard, which is a risky proposition when you’re not with your bros but with coworkers. Some lines were blurred when I aggressively recruited two new bros across professional boundaries and suggested we get a sweet hotel room in Oxnard one weekend and “just love on each other.”

Thus my day devolved into the familiar progression of hitting on a lot of people, interrupting a friend of a friend’s date at a nice sushi restaurant ad nauseam, dropping noodles into my mouth with my hand like an arcade claw machine at said nice sushi restaurant, and lying in bed at 3 in the morning thinking about suicide.

That last part is worth examination because it’s been happening more often when I come down from the insane high of binge drinking. I suffer from spectacularly intense emotional hangovers. I don’t know if it’s a manifestation of hating myself underneath a lot of false bravado, or life randomly toggling between being really beautiful and really meaningless, or dealing with the uncertainty of an incomplete memory, or what.

My thoughts in the predawn hours today focused on the act of killing myself rather than weighing the merits. Sometimes I sense this imagined pressure between my temples, and putting a bullet through that space seems like it would somehow release it and feel good. I kept thinking about this and visualizing while periodically rolling over to cuddle my wife.

Is that weird? Am I the only one? Am I over-sharing? It makes me feel better. Dave Eggers dropped this extraordinary line in his book when trying to explain why he talks about deeply personal things. I think it was in italics: Sharing dilutes the suffering.

I was getting these acute emotional pangs that would build to a crescendo. At the peak, just when I couldn’t take it anymore, a 1-second urge to cry blitzed my mind, then thoughts of a bullet entering to relieve. Then I would abruptly snap out of it and down to a lower level of angst, as if I actually did take a bullet. Then it would start building up again. This went on until the sun came up, although I later fell back asleep.

My imagination grazed some other suicide methods, namely hanging myself and having my head crushed with a baseball bat. These were not as thought out as the gun, but assumed to produce the same pressure-releasing tranquility. I wasn’t sure what would serve as the noose or who would be swinging the bat. It might just be the byproduct of watching six and a half seasons of The Walking Dead in three months.

I’m intrigued how this would play out if I owned a gun. I couldn’t possibly hold one while in this bizarre state, right? That would be dangerous because everybody gets tired of deliberating sometimes and just impulsively makes the decision, if only to stop having to think about it.

I wonder if this is why people take prescription drugs, which certainly would be overkill in my case. Unsalted chicken, unseasoned broccoli and unrelenting exercise gradually bring me back to equilibrium. Plus this is very avoidable. Just don’t drink too much.

Perhaps the problem is not the absolute level of depression that alcohol might leave me at, but rather the delta between start and finish. When I drink I feel on top of the world, so even a return to normalcy is a steep drop.

Earlier this month at a destination wedding trip in Mexico, I was boozing moderately at a huge packed nightclub called Coco Bongo. Pretty girls were ushered up a staircase behind the stage to dance on an elevated perch, front and center to thousands of partiers.

The stage manager asked if I would go up to dance to “Gangnam Style.” That was probably slightly racist, but if someone rings my bell, I am generally going to answer it. I didn’t know the signature dance except the lasso part, so I just started gyrating sexily and stripping. People were cheering and wanted it, although my wife later told me she was the one voice screaming NO. The last time I did this on a rock at a pool party in Vegas, I was escorted out by security.

This time the brilliant production staff somehow shut off the lights each time I pulled down my underwear. It turned into this beautifully executed sort of choreography, and they even provided me a wardrobe change with a flashy jacket and glasses after I lost my shirt, or rather, decided it would be best used as a pony and sawing front to back underneath my crotch.

I was a rock star. Women wanted to sleep with me, and men wanted to be me, or maybe vice versa because of the manner in which I was dancing. That is how I feel when I drink, as if Leo himself were holding up my arms on the bow of the Titanic. And then I sink to these incredible depths that I never could have touched during sobriety. I literally want to die.

Overall the manic is not worth the depressive, which is why you usually will find me in the midst of an extended period of zero-sip abstinence. Moderation, of course, is always that elusive silver bullet.

 

 

Writer’s note: If you read or skimmed all the way to the end, you are my friend and I ask that you type your email address in the subscribe box below. I don’t know how else to reach you after you eventually stop checking Facebook. Your feed is terrible these days, right? If you subscribe, the only email you will ever get from me is one post per month for the rest of my life, until you click unsubscribe. Thank you.