Love Letter at 32, on a Napkin

I conceived of this blog post last Saturday while wiping the tile floors of our apartment with Mr. Clean antibacterial multi-purpose solution, summer citrus scent. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing like Cinderella, while my wife marched among hundreds of thousands in downtown L.A. for women’s rights. If you think about it, that juxtaposition was a beautiful and pragmatic indication of my support for the cause. Also, I really did not want to go.

I wrote most of it on that day, to post on this day, my wife’s 32nd birthday. She had gently suggested earlier that I try blogging something nice about her for a change, this being her birth month. Revealing such editorial influence takes away some of the romanticism, but none of the sincerity. Besides, transparency is important these days and I refuse to be her puppet, the Trump to her Putin, as some of her fellow marchers might say.

It is true that this blog’s focus on the absurd — most recently in Christmas cards, politics, wedding planning — leaves little room for nice things about the spouse. And the sum of the relatively brief mentions of her probably paints an unfair portrait for those who don’t know her.

Those who do know her, who really know her, understand what I mean when I say she is the best person I know. It’s not even close. She puts money in the tip jar at restaurant counters without anyone looking. When my dad does it, he waves his hand in a full crescent motion aligned with the cashier’s field of vision and makes a stuffing motion in the jar as if it really were such a strenuous effort to let go of paper in air.

But I don’t want to get into my wife’s character. That’s not why we fall in love. I am not attracted to character. Sure, ante up with a baseline level of moral decency. But once that prerequisite is met, I am inclined to trade some generosity and empathy for more sense of humor and junk in the trunk.

Ultimately we fall in love because of how the other person makes us feel. I feel most comfortable hanging out by myself. I never get the urge to be around other people for socializing. I might seem like the life of the party sometimes, but I’m just drunk or purposefully manipulating the inflection in my voice to sound super excited.

My mind is usually elsewhere if my body has to be present. Without a whole lot of genuine connection, I’m left to wallow in my own world, population 1, and an acute form of neurosis. It takes a heroic kind of person to enter and navigate this world, the kind that would choose to work with children for a living.

From the beginning, my wife has considered me on the autism or special-needs spectrum. Rather than get offended… honestly, it makes me feel special indeed. She treats my idiosyncrasies with her own spectrum of responses, ranging from acceptance to support.

I brush my teeth multiple times as long as the average person. I don’t see how it’s possible to cover both sides of the gumline plus all surface area of the enamel with tiny circles in under 3 minutes.

Often I lose focus and take a break with the toothbrush still in my mouth. Recently I forgot about being in this rest state and tried to nuzzle her, instead stabbing her in the face with the stem. She was understandably shocked at first, then collected herself, gave me that look I’ve come to know well and hold dear, and resumed her life.

She didn’t leave me. Better men with a lot more to offer would never make that toothbrush mistake. I doubt Ryan Gosling ever has, and he gets more leeway for obvious reasons. I don’t look like Ryan Gosling, although my abs are pretty close when abstaining from sugar and flour for 3-4 days.

Speaking of which, I live by a simple rule. Run 20 sprints up the 24th Street hill every time I black out from drinking or binge on sweets or processed foods. Intense cardio intervals help combat the self-loathing a lot better than anything a shrink who had a lower G.P.A. in high school could tell me.

Like anything though, ostensible simplicity fails in implementation. The devil is in the details, the adage goes, and I can’t escape those demons in my warped mind. (The word “warped” was borrowed from a Jan. 14 conversation with a middle-aged woman after my sprints, which she watched from the base of the hill. I write down the date of every sprint session and post on the refrigerator, declaring each to be the final of my life, before having to cross out the date for the next one.)

The problem is I get obsessive-compulsive when defining a blackout, binge or sweet. After any drinking night, I interrogate myself and essentially have to reconstruct a comprehensive chronology of everything that happened or else pay the price. I spend inordinate amounts of time staring at nutrition labels in a trance. I researched throughout an entire night to determine whether raisins should be considered a sweet and still have not decided. I did the same thing with maple sap after demolishing a full jar of fig almond butter and feeling guilty.

Last week I examined the ingredients list of LAY’S Salt & Vinegar potato chips and was pleasantly surprised at how short it was. I made a case to my wife that this snack was natural enough for me to finish the last quarter of the bag. But I paused a few times before the first bite, unsure and stressed out. Then I scarfed the chips and threw away the bag, only to dig it out later to reassess. I also googled it each of the following three days when the bag was too buried in trash to retrieve again.

It can be a futile way to live. At some point I started wrestling with these thoughts out loud with my wife. It kind of feels good, to share and dilute the discomfort with someone who loves me unconditionally.

She dutifully listens in the evening while I rattle off the snacks I ate at work like a kid in trouble at fat camp. She asks her mom if her sweet potato dish contains added sugar. She reassures me that not remembering every detail of a night does not equate to an irresponsible blackout.

More than just a sounding board, she will even go as far as to participate:

I don’t understand why the world wastes so many napkins and paper towels. Millions if not billions are discarded every day without the slightest use. Even if partially soiled, there is more surface area. Resources were expended to create this area for consumption. Anyone who likes to talk about climate change should start with not wasting food, gas, water, electricity or just about anything else except calories. Ever.

So before throwing away a napkin, I use any remaining clean portion to wipe a counter, sink or floor. Sometimes I dry my hands with a paper towel and leave it on the counter for reuse. My wife tolerates this, despite hating clutter the way I hate waste. Occasionally, she even leaves her own napkins for me to utilize to completion.

That is a glimpse into our life together, utterly unremarkable and un-bloggable. The fights and rants are more interesting to write and read about. But in between and even during them are nothing but napkins and moments, a never-ending stream of reminders of what a wonderful life it is to be married to her.

 

 

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Return to Sender

Somewhere deep in the intermingling between vanity and carelessness lies the origin of the Christmas card. Any thought about the concept with any level of depth yields the same conclusion. Christmas cards have little to do with making the recipient feel good. They are more about making you feel good.

A cursory attempt at audience segmentation paints the picture quickly:

• Some people have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant. I’m sure the first thing they want to see during the holidays is a picture of your big healthy baby — just make sure he’s wearing his bib that says “Keep Trying B*%$#”.

• Some people are single and do not want to be. I don’t doubt the capacity of humans to be happy for others, but I absolutely doubt the utility that your wedding pictures bring to a lonely friend.

• Some people are single and want to be. They refuse to be in a relationship just to be in a relationship. They won’t settle, even though some of their friends clearly did. They see right through your smiling pictures of marital bliss. Anyone that genuinely happy cannot possibly have the urge to choreograph, design and disseminate a piece of propaganda.

• Some people just got dumped or ended a relationship painfully. It’s very magnanimous of you to send vacation pictures with your soul mate to give them hope, but a phone call can be encouraging too.

• Some people just lost their job or are struggling financially. They really appreciate your play-by-play summary of the year’s highlights, especially the ski trip and new house. I heard the kids in Aleppo though missed your Snapchat of your family cozying by the fireplace. I think they might be having Wi-Fi issues over there.

I mean, who really wants to get these cards? Your parents and the couples comprising your double-date rotation? Jesus Christmas, it all makes me want to vomit into a gift box and send that instead.

My stomach had an actual physical reaction when I walked into the apartment and saw seven Christmas cards dangling from a gold ribbon, centered on the living room wall. It was like when Brad Pitt lost his mind in Legends of the Fall and made the necklace of scalps.

What it really amounted to was an overt middle finger from my wife. On the subject of Christmas cards, we had navigated multiple discussions with varying levels of tension. I think about things in terms of function and value, and this is not intuitive to her. Maybe even counterintuitive sometimes.

We backed away from a full-fledged fight with the resolution that she would send out cards on our behalf, and I would have nothing to do with it. One of my arguments was my friends are too good of people to send Christmas cards, and we should return the favor.

Turns out, five of the seven cards on the scalp necklace were from my buddies. Five bros close enough to me to be at my bachelor party and therefore close enough to stab me in the heart. They should dress as Judas for their card next year.

I have no real friends. In their stead, I seek solutions. If Christmas cards must exist, they should do so only in productive forms. I struggled to get to 10:

1. Interracial or gay couple. This sends a strong message at a turbulent time for the world. Unless it’s white guy-Asian girl. That’s about as original as giving a candy cane for a Christmas gift — Sure I can’t really hate on it, but couldn’t you think of something else?

2. Weight loss. If you transformed your body in the past year, that is an accomplishment to share. Include before-and-after-shirtless pics to prove the feat, or it never happened.

3. Marital struggles. List the three biggest fights with your spouse this year and how you overcame them. This is worthwhile because people can commiserate and learn.

4. Famous or accomplished person. If LeBron James sends me a Christmas card with the Finals MVP trophy as the centerpiece, I would find that a bit aggressive but still keep it on the refrigerator forever. If the coolest thing you did this year was visit Grandma, perhaps an email will do just fine.

5. Single and interested. It seems only couples and families send Christmas cards. But no one is excited to hear from this subset of the population. I think it would be constructive if a single person sent out a card with an open invitation to meet up for egg nog, and then who knows, maybe one thing leads to another and the natural kind can be made. Tinder and Sharkeez should not be the only entry points into the market.

6. Custom note. If you really cared to connect with the recipient, you wouldn’t send the same message to everyone. At least have a few different templates. If you express love the same way to your mother as your distant cousin as your drinking buddy, you probably stumble at the CAPTCHA step.

7. Nudity. Remember, this is not a postcard, so an outer envelope will conceal your inner parts from the postal service. This is a great opportunity for some shock humor with people you presumably can trust.

8. Donate. When Mark Cuban gets fined by the NBA, he matches the amount with a donation to charity. You might operate under the delusion a Christmas card shows you care, but really it shows you care about stroking your own private parts. For every dime wasted on Christmas cards, you should match it with a dime actually meant to do good. I don’t know how many my wife sent out, but I would estimate the cost per card in the $4-5 range. That adds up quickly, but hey, only the best for our family. At least the children of Minted employees will be able to go to college.

9. Actionable tip. Phrases like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” don’t register after the thousandth time. You can’t keep track of who said them or meant them because it doesn’t matter. It’s like the progression of touring art museums in Europe. The first few make you feel good, and the rest blend together. Why not break through that by offering something immediately useful, such as a recipe, workout or investment tip? If everyone sent one of those, the pile would be somewhat interesting.

10. Magnet. Your out-of-pocket cost would increase, but so would purpose and staying power. Magnets are useful, if only to hold up competing Christmas cards for the polite amount of time before recycling.

Assuming none of these 10 scenarios apply, take a closer look at your Christmas card intentions. If you truly want to spread holiday cheer, then take someone out to dinner, labor through an awkward FaceTime conversation, or send a dick pic with a Santa hat draped over the main event.

I have done or received all three of these this holiday season. They were happy ways to connect. If your way is to send a Christmas card, I reiterate this is not so much about connecting as it is the person on the return address.

 

 

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.


Reconciling my Vote for Trump

I live in a liberal city, work in a liberal industry, and married a liberal tyrant three months ago. Her highly sophisticated, researched and unprejudiced view is that a Republican is either a rich elitist white person or backwards backwoods white person, and there is some combination of loving God and guns and hating women and minorities. Budget and trade deficits and the spectrum of economic effects of complicated anti-regulatory legislation are too boring to look into. Prancing around the kitchen in her Love Trumps Hate shirt suffices for feeling politically engaged. I like how the tailored fit accentuates her rack and wonder if that takes away from the message.

If she saw me physically cast a ballot for Trump, we might be in therapy in November and divorced by December. What a bizarre outcome that would be, to dissolve a deeply personal connection built on so much time and real experience together — all because of differing perceptions of what we read online and watch on television. It would be a hilarious breakup story to tell, and I would tell it openly to elicit sympathy and score a fiscally conservative rebound chick.

Alas, I escaped the domestic wrath because my Trump support was indirect. I am registered to vote in Texas, live in L.A. and missed the deadline for requesting my mail-in ballot. I was too lazy to scrutinize all the candidates and too skeptical that Texas could vote Democratic and the Cubs win the World Series in the span of a week.

I feel bad about not voting and will try to prioritize this civic duty moving forward. But I’m not in the camp that wants to crucify those who don’t. I just think that if you don’t vote, you forfeit the right to complain about the winner. A non-vote means you’re cool with what other people choose.

So I guess deep down I wasn’t opposed to Trump enough to toss in a nominal vote in a red state. I need to be OK with saying that, which is a scary proposition in L.A. I might as well walk down Compton Boulevard with the sign that the bad guy made Bruce Willis wear in Die Hard with a Vengeance.

These liberals out here act like savages with all their good intentions. It is absolutely imperative to absorb their ideas with an open mind, but do not, under any circumstances, voice anything that might dull the luster on their perfect ideals. President Obama is infallible. Secretary Clinton is deserving. Trump is the subject of every sentence ending in -ist.

There is no grey area acknowledged in this cesspool of groupthink, where like-minded people feast on confirmation bias and jerk each other off to see who has more righteous sperm. I can recognize this because I participated.

From the beginning, I set up a narrative of Trump being a stupid caricature. This was my framework to make sense of infinite information. I scrolled through my social news feed and committed to memory any sensational tidbit reinforcing my image of Trump the jerk, bigot, cheat, egomaniac. I neither found any conflicting stories in my liberal cocoon nor sought them. Because that would create dissonance, and I would rather hear what I want to hear. Nuance is a waste of processing power.

Thus in my mind, Trump appealed only to the uneducated and mean, outliers in the big picture. He could never win the most important job in the world, not with that mouth and baggage. He wouldn’t even win the nomination.

When he steamrolled 16 candidates, I chalked it up to the Republican party being a circus. When he debated Clinton, I thought the whole country saw through his tremendously unbelievably great superlatives. When he said this or tweeted that or this video surfaced or that story broke, each time I thought he had finally gone too far and couldn’t recover.

When my wife texted me to come home election night because the race was frighteningly close, I dismissed her panic with a flippant remark about how Clinton just needed to win one of those states. When I saw the numbers, I figured some of the blue districts hadn’t been counted yet.

I stayed in denial past midnight until Donald Trump walked onto the screen, whipped out his allegedly no-problem penis with his allegedly small hands, and slapped me across the face with it. He will be the President of the United States of America. I know nothing.

I watch a little CNN, read a little New York Times, scan a little Facebook and think I know what’s going on in other people’s lives. But I know nothing. More folks need to admit the same. Humility is helpful in political discussion. For every answer you shout, you should ask two questions and really listen.

Take Obamacare for example. I’m tired of pretending whether I know it’s good or bad. I have no clue. I haven’t been to a doctor since a required physical in 2004, excluding a dermatologist visit for my sensitive but masculine skin and an STD check after a regrettable bar night circa 2009.

I have no idea how to balance the poor family in desperate need of health insurance against the small business drowning in the costs of keeping employees. Politics is hard, and the details are tedious. That’s why we elect representatives to trudge in the weeds for us, while we get to argue about fun stuff like the character and temperament of people on TV.

Trump said things that are flat-out embarrassing for America. He resonated with some bad people, and I would have liked to see him take a break from blasting war heroes and Broadway actors to sound off on the Klan a bit.

But look, I’m doing it again. I can cherry-pick headlines to construct whatever narrative I want. My news feed will do it for me. Trump appoints Stephen Bannon, and before I can even look up what a chief White House strategist actually does, I am told in a frenzy that he is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic. Then it’s a race in my liberal bubble to see who can post the most stories of swastikas being spray-painted across the country.

I had never heard of Stephen Bannon or Breitbart, let alone his actual contributions to it and inner beliefs. I would have guessed alt-right was a keyboard shortcut. I don’t think it’s unfair to reserve immediate judgment without fear of being branded as a white power supporter. I’m not even white. I am willing to die to prevent a Holocaust in this country, but I’m not ready to declare a white nationalist revolution because some idiots who were idiots before Trump continue to be idiots while occasionally screaming his name.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is the daughter of immigrants from India. She spearheaded the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol and rebuked Trump for not immediately disavowing the Klan, among other things. Trump appointed her to his cabinet as well. That’s at least interesting and worth weaving into the idea of Donald the vindictive bigot.

Again, it’s important to challenge our pre- and post-conceived notions. Rainbow tears of joy washed the world last week when President Obama presented Ellen with the Medal of Freedom. But Uncle Barry did not run on that platform. America did not choose him to be a champion of gay rights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJhQBZ1La0w

You can believe that Obama “evolved” on this issue as he said. Here’s what I believe: Our president is one of the smartest people around, and his mind was plenty evolved already. But what do I know, maybe his old buddy David Axelrod knows better:

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.

– Zeke Miller, Time Magazine

Hang on, my wires are getting crossed. I want to support black churches as a symbol in the community and bastion of civil rights, but civil rights should include gay rights, yeah? They’re not on the same team? Which march do I join? Does everything not fit into neat little mental buckets for judgment?

Trump grabs women’s genitals. He cannot possibly be trusted with nuclear codes, a hypothetical I brought up in my wedding vows to describe the end of the world.

THROUGHOUT THE MARRIAGE, John always had girls: there were girlfriends and comfort girls; call girls and showgirls; girls on the campaign trail and girls who seemed to materialize out of thin air wherever he was. There was also the occasional wife of a friend, or the aging paramour of his randy pop, for those moments when the fancy ran to mature horseflesh or masculine competition. His penchant for prostitutes demoralized the agents assigned to protect him: “You were on the most elite assignment in the Secret Service,” the former agent Larry Newman told a television interviewer a decade ago, “and you were there watching an elevator door, because the president was inside with two hookers.” Mimi Alford describes a JFK who once asked her to service his friend (and his “baby brother,” Teddy, though she refused), who took her to a sex party and forced drugs on her, and who callously had a functionary line her up with an abortionist when she thought she was pregnant, and yet Janet Maslin can write, accurately, in her New York Times review of Once Upon a Secret, that there’s “not a lot of news” in the book.”

– Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic (a publication that has endorsed three presidential candidates in its 159-year history: Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson and Hillary Clinton)

That’s the same revered Democratic President John F. Kennedy, who took a 19-year-old intern’s virginity on his wife’s private bed, coerced the teenager into blowing his 50-year-old aide while he watched, and navigated the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I’m not trying to crap on J.F.K. or condone Trump’s behavior. I just want to add some angles to my thinking and get smarter because frankly, the election made me feel pretty stupid.

Donald J. Trump turned the system upside down. He pissed off the people candidates generally can’t piss off if they want to win. He beat out card-carrying members of the establishment with more funding, connections, experience, pedigree, polish and certainly knowledge. He broke every rule in an erratic campaign of escalating absurdities.

The fact that Trump won this way is, at a bare minimum, a mandate to challenge assumptions. That is how I reconcile my tacit vote for him. I know nothing, and the price of that ignorance was a president accompanied by perhaps the widest range of uncertainty ever.

 

 

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.


In Between College and Death

I’m musing about a thoroughly satisfying 10-year college reunion and forming a thesis on why it was so satisfying. First, I didn’t realize how special Northwestern was to me until this past weekend. Two memories fundamental to the university experience resurfaced in conversation, and I will never allow them to drift very far from quick retrieval again:

1. Per Dillo Day tradition, a hardcore pornographic film was shown in the tech auditorium senior year. As the male star audibly labored toward ejaculation, students began the often-tried, seldom-perfected technique known as the slow clap and timed the staccato crescendo seamlessly with the money shot. Any way you want to dissect this ends up being funny. There was a creative brilliance to the scene that makes me so proud of my higher education.

2. I reconnected with a great friend from New Orleans nicknamed “Giant” freshman year. Back then he was near the peak of his weightlifting commitment and could really do some damage to a bunch of nerds playing midnight tackle football on Deering Field after the first snowfall. On one play he absolutely steamrolled a poor kid 65 percent his size, leaving him incapacitated on the ground and encircled by concerned players. Meanwhile Giant jogged away shaking his head and saying to no one in particular, “That’s what happens when you get in front a Mack Truck.” How douchey can one person be with one sentence? As someone occasionally accused of the sort, I am so happy to have witnessed this.

I ran into a steady stream of good people during 24 hours at the reunion. They all seem to be doing well, but not so well that I feel bad about myself. Frankly I expected more from some of them. Maybe the ones who truly excelled had something better to do than fly to Chicago for three hours of open bar and shots of Fireball out of Solo cups at 7:30 the next morning to make cheering on teenaged football more compelling.

Still, even if I had interacted with the Zuckerberg of our class, whoever that might be, my satisfaction would remain intact. I think at age 32, I’m coming to a more stable peace with who I am and who I am not.

Probably the most famous commencement speech — with apologies to our articulate speaker in ’06, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) — was delivered by Steve Jobs at Stanford a year earlier. A recording of it has 25 million views on YouTube.

Jobs made an indelible impression in reminding some of the most promising kids in the world that they were going to die not too long from that day. This fact should propel them to seize courage and opportunity, to shed fear and inertia, to follow their heart and live the life they truly want.

Thinking about this will make any reasonably self-aware person feel like a worthless turd. But what if you thought about it the other way? What if the fact that death is inevitable and imminent actually relieved pressure?

Because no matter how much money or impact you make, fame or change you achieve… you’re going to die sooner than you know it. This kind of feels good to me, a reassurance that it’s OK sometimes to just enjoy being comfortable.

Some early fighting in my nascent marriage centered around what I perceived to be a lack of inspiration and willingness to work for great things. And no, having a child is not a great thing. It’s just not. I know it’s the most important thing to most people, but they overlook the low barrier to entry and abundance of those reproducing who should not by any objective measure.

From now until the moment I die, if the greatest thing I have to look forward to is having a child, I would feel sad. To me, working for something great means never being satisfied. Not with your body, your mind, your career, your salary, your ideas, your abilities. It can be an exhausting method of getting up for life, which is why death comes in handy.

I went to journalism school at Northwestern with no journalism experience because I followed my heart and intuition. I wanted to raise a middle finger to 9-to-5. I wanted be a mother effing star, the Asian Bob Costas, I told my AP English teacher Mrs. Stanton. I tacked on an economics degree in case I wanted to pivot into being a corporate tycoon who owned sports teams rather than reported on them.

A decade after graduation, I am nowhere near even the beginning of either route. I work for a digital ad agency and like it. I certainly wouldn’t do it for free. And if I were to peer into the depths of my heart and soul, I wouldn’t find an unquenchable desire for website development and media campaigns.

I like my colleagues and clients and friends. I like my wife. I mean I actually love her as a person on a whole other level, but just as important, I like being around her day-to-day. She takes an already extremely high quality of life to something I’m still learning to comprehend. I am good at appreciating things while concurrently pushing for more, but I also need to let go of this inferiority complex rooted in not doing something great.

The prospect of death helps me relax, even though that was the opposite interpretation Jobs had in mind. And the reunion also had the same effect, even though it was the prototypical setting for possibly the best quote I ever saw posted on Facebook: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

In talking to former classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen since I was getting blacked-out drunk and naked (so anywhere from 2-12 years ago), I felt more camaraderie than comparison. We are all in this together, trying to carve out our little existence the best we can.

A guy I used to play pickup basketball with went to Harvard Business School and started an investment firm in Africa. A guy I used to cover varsity basketball with now teaches journalism to high school students who might want to be the next Bob Costas.

A girl who lived on the floor above me freshman year worked as an organic farmer for five months in Spartan conditions that almost made me spit up my seasonal draft beer. The lovable goons down the hall in the same freshman dorm became the most unpretentious doctors on the East Coast.

The couple whose couch I slept on during the reunion went on their first date weeks after our graduation, married, bought a place downtown, and own two Shih Tzus that proactively cuddled me so hard I acquiesced to my wife’s longstanding request for a dog. (I later took it back but really do treasure the feeling of a human or animal burrowing its body into mine without my having to initiate first.)

Reconnecting with classmates, however brief or superficial the conversation, felt satisfying. Walking around campus and inside buildings felt satisfying. Reminiscing through old pictures that illuminated why I could never get laid felt satisfying.

All this satisfaction was surprising, especially given the delta between my vision as a freshman 14 years ago and my reality today. For someone prone to whiney introspection, I should have felt more angst during my 10-year reunion a.k.a. peer benchmarking. Yet I was able to fend off the feeling with two perspectives that come with age, one that acknowledges even the most special lives have a finite end, and one that celebrates how four years can be special enough to never quite fade away.

 

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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.


Your Anthem as it Relates to Colin

There was this backup quarterback who decided to kneel during the anthem, and I think I might have an opinion on it after all. I decided this while standing awkwardly in a parking garage, probably more awkwardly than anyone has ever stood in that particular spot.

Due to self-diagnosed poor posture and excessive tension over mundane things, my neck often feels stiff. To alleviate discomfort, I bought a pack of colorful exercise bands at Marshall’s and brought a blue one to work. I wrap the band at various angles around my head and then flex my neck against the resistance for three sets of 10. Sometimes the band slips over my eyes and face, but I keep going, and probably resemble an alien trying to break through the skin of Sigourney Weaver’s stomach.

It’s not pretty. I don’t always muster enough self-confidence to do these exercises around my colleagues. On this particular day, I meandered outside to find a private spot and ended up in a quiet parking garage.

It was windy and slightly cold, so I stood in the only area catching slanted sunlight. This, of course, happened to be in an awkward spot. Highly visible, no cars around. Just me loitering there between sets, holding an unidentifiable object at my side.

Someone in a uniform with a badge walked by me without a second look. I don’t know if he was police or private security. Maybe he was a civilian A/B testing a Halloween costume, which would doom the point I’m making.

The point taken in my mind was that an officer paid no apparent attention to a weird, if not suspicious-looking person. Had I been wearing a turban or darker tan, perhaps I would have been asked a question at least.

What struck me at that moment, on that slab of concrete in one of the more affluent zip codes in the world, is the possibility that I got a free pass for looking the way I do. (I have somewhat of an innocent Asian face, which comes in handy when transcending all proprieties while blacked-out drunk.)

I felt a pang of empathy, rare for me. I don’t know what it feels like to be black. I don’t care either. I would be a better person if I did, but the reality that aligns with my actions is that I don’t care enough. Like most people, I’m just kind of thinking about myself and my little bubble on Earth. I don’t really care to go out of my way.

But I do have an opinion, as controversial as this may sound: I don’t like it when people die when they don’t have to. Black lives matter. Obviously. Unfortunately, this needs to be said because it’s not being treated as an obvious truth.

The “All Lives Matter” retort is absolutely asinine. The purpose of saying “Black Lives Matter” is to call attention to a specific problem affecting a specific segment. If I go to the doctor because my hand hurts, I don’t need her to shout at me that my entire body matters. If I go to the mechanic because my brakes don’t work, I don’t need to be reminded the whole car is important. It’s not productive.

Let’s look at the problem in question here. Before we do that, I propose a sort of entrance requirement. Like an ante to play, or minimum SAT score to enroll. If you want to weigh in on any discussion about politics and morality, you should definitively understand the difference between your possessive and you’re contraction.

I don’t mean to inject too much levity here. Actually I think I’m being almost completely serious. I can understand spelling phonetically and slipping up occasionally. Grammar and intellect probably aren’t correlated much. But let’s play the odds. How many people exist out there who can offer a sensible solution to complex problems of the human condition AND have no better than a 50-50 chance of spelling the word your correctly? Am I being unreasonable here?

I can’t even comprehend these outrageous comments on social media from conservatives and liberals alike because their grammar is so distracting. People need to chill out and read a book first. Face-book doesn’t count. Learn and listen and think more. Here is one logical way to process these police shootings:

1. Black people died.
2. Resisting arrest, not resisting arrest, maybe-kind of resisting arrest. PCP-induced paranoia or socioeconomic-based mistrust. Owning a gun or book. Having a criminal record or children or both. Being high or scared. None of these are capital offenses.

If these two statements are true, then something is wrong. Regardless of black-on-black crime statistics, idiot protesters, proper protocol… something is wrong. So we wait for the investigation. But when one investigation can’t even get going before another one needs to be opened, a broader discussion is needed. Pressure has to be applied. This is how humans get things done. We need force to overcome inertia.

Imagine a scale or spectrum, with 1 being the stance that nothing is wrong, that race and police shootings are categorically independent. On the other end, 10, there is a fundamental flaw in our policing system — inextricably tied to race — that is killing people.

No reasonable person can dispute that we are in a range on this scale, let’s say 5 to 10, that demands immediate attention. It’s just common sense. A relatively and terrifyingly short amount of time ago, one race in this country was enslaved. Think about the core values that would enable an entire nation, from sea to shining sea, to classify human beings as property. All that disappears with one war and an amendment? Every vestige of that mindset? No way. It took another 100 years for everybody to drink at the same water fountain. And somehow none of this affected the institution of law enforcement?

I am just trying to use common sense here, being a pragmatist at heart. Of course I would rather pull over in Beverly Hills than South Central to change a flat. I don’t fault police officers for being more tense approaching a black man than they would an old white lady. How about a white man? Depends what he looks like. I would certainly rather go after an old black lady. And I would be terrified pulling over an Asian woman until her engine was turned off, lest she get rattled and make an even crazier left turn than genetically predisposed to do.

No one should ever die trying to be politically correct. If it comes down to a cop’s life or a felon’s, I am fairly confident I could pull the trigger myself. This undoubtedly violates moral code, but again, I choose practicality. I would have failed The Dark Knight test.

I cannot stand artsy movie elitists, who have never played a sport in their lives, praising the cinematography of a “classic” like Taxi Driver while refusing to acknowledge that The Dark Knight is one of the top five films of all time. Try to stop watching it on TBS once you start. Taxi Driver was so bad that I don’t respect anyone who legitimately enjoyed it.

So in The Dark Knight, Joker rigs two ships with bombs. One ship carries everyday commuters, and the other is transporting criminals. Each ship has a detonation device that will blow up the other. The passengers have until midnight to decide whether to kill the other ship first and survive; otherwise both ships will explode.

That sounds like a pretty straightforward zero-sum game to me. I would have supported blasting the criminals (sucks to be you, prison guard). And I would have failed. Because it wasn’t zero sum. No one would press the button on either ship. A criminal actually took the detonator by force and threw it in the water. Meanwhile, Batman put his life on the line and stopped Joker from blowing up both.

Humanity wins here for two very human reasons: respect for life and bravery. Those two things are what’s missing in these shootings. The first is obvious. These people were shot like they were dangerous animals in the wilderness.

The second, courage, is more complex. Cops don’t know if someone has a gun or bomb or Skittles, and life or death happens in a second. This is where we, as a society, have to find agreement. My perspective is that if you want to carry the badge and gun, you have to be braver than everyone else.

Being brave doesn’t always mean shootouts with robbers. Sometimes it means approaching an uncertain situation and ignoring your very natural impulse to panic. Sometimes it means using your head instead of your trigger finger. Sometimes it means protecting troubled people from themselves. No part of these shootings screams “protect and serve” in my mind.

It’s not a job for everyone. Personally I don’t plan on even buying a gun in my lifetime, unless Trump wins and we all need to learn to hunt after the apocalypse.

I shouldn’t say that. It undermines my opinion because I sound like a liberal. I’m not. At least I don’t think I am. What’s the difference again? I am from Texas and prefer smaller government. But not on all things. I don’t know. This is what people should do more. They should think and get more information and question their own beliefs and don’t be afraid to let opinions evolve.

When I first heard Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial injustices, I thought it was cheesy. Dude, you’re a football player. Who isn’t even a starter. On the 49ers. Shut up, respect the flag, and do something real if you care.

Mind you, I didn’t go off shouting in all caps about it. Because I didn’t really have much of an opinion. I didn’t want to join this fake angry conversation everybody and his mother was having.

Let me explain what I mean by fake. Think about all the people screaming in support or hatred of Kaepernick. Put them in a big room while they argue. Anyone who can name your state’s two U.S. senators, keep talking. That will bring the discussion to library-level volume. Now anyone who can name one state senator, or even knows the difference between a U.S. senator and state senator, keep talking.

It would be quiet. Yet impactful change happens at the local and state level. We don’t really care to dig into the nitty-gritty because it’s boring. We prefer to shout about things that touch a nerve.

I hold the national anthem in esteem. My 11th-grade public speaking teacher Miss Potts told the class a personal anecdote that I forget, but the end result was that she always feels compelled to sing along during it. I do the same as long as no one can hear me too well. I stand solemnly facing the flag, hand over chest. Even when I’m watching on TV, I feel an urge to do it.

Of course some people talk and horse around during the anthem. I don’t agree with it, but I’m not going to flip out either. I’m not going to send death threats to someone who has a mother, a father, because he wants to stand up (kneel down) for something he feels. If you are willing to actually end someone’s life for expressing himself, you should think about who is really disrespecting the flag and what it stands for. Maybe the North Korean flag would be a better fit for you.

So I wasn’t rabid about it, but I thought Kaepernick was being corny. If he played for the Cowboys, I would probably like him. Not a strong opinion obviously. Now I’m thinking…

Good job, man. It worked. It really did. Because if Colin Kaepernick donates to a charity or pickets at the state legislature, it barely gets a headline on page 9D of a newspaper that no one reads. He drops one knee, and the whole country pays attention.

There is no way any remotely suspicious police shooting these days won’t be nationally scrutinized. That’s the way it should be. That’s what we need. That’s how we improve. Kaepernick helped. Just because many people including me won’t kneel next to him doesn’t mean we can look down on that.

 

 

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.


Seven Elephants and a Wedding

Expression of this month’s thoughts will require some upfront thought. I think the second-most interesting thing to write about is the elephants during our honeymoon in Thailand. The third-most is our wedding. The most interesting is the fact that my wife and I are already two fights deep, two weeks into marriage. At this rate, we’ll be pushing 20 before our first cheesy Christmas card together.

I should focus on the elephants. The way I would reconstruct and analyze our arguments might be entertaining to you, but unfair to her. But I do have to acknowledge the friction amid the deluge of smiling wedding pictures and sunny social media posts. I can’t write some flowery crap about how perfect the last two weeks have been when we were fighting two days ago.

At the same time, I would be remiss not to salute the delightful wedding. So here’s how I’ll structure this. One vague paragraph on the fights. One on the wedding. And then a few on the elephants.

Fights

When two people share time and space so closely, stuff comes up. Only 90 hours before the wedding, I reached a level of anger never felt before in this relationship or any other. I was daydreaming about calling it off and moving to New York to start over. (Don’t take that at face value. What I daydream and what I seriously consider are not even related. I have been an aggressive daydreamer since I was a child with my imaginary friend Wa-Shee Panda. I daydream about committing suicide or living in solitude or being a superhero or regular hero. I’m 32 years old and visualized myself as Superman fighting ISIS after watching Dawn of Justice on the flight to Thailand. I would retain my current looks, personality and clothes while having super powers.) So that pre-wedding fight was intense. After the honeymoon, I spotted what I perceived to be a double standard related to it and brought up this observation with the honest intention of starting a productive discussion. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out that way. We are still learning how to be with each other, likely a never-ending process. But it will get better. I am neither embarrassed nor worried that we had fights in such close proximity to the wedding and honeymoon. I am supremely confident. Everything we said in our vows, all the happy vibes and beaming affection, were true.

Wedding

I was wrong. Up until the last minute, I expected the wedding to be a frivolous circle-jerk of a performance. But then I saw the people there, and excitement and joy dominated the rest of the way. It was such an incredible time that turned out to be well worth the trouble. I did black out, with my last vestiges of memory floating somewhere between feeding wedding cake to a person (neither my wife nor female) and having my shirt pulled off on the dance floor (neither my idea nor consent). Generally at other people’s weddings, I try to read social cues to determine the appropriate level of drunkenness for me. At my own, I assumed some folks were looking for me to set the pace. I felt a responsibility to make attendees comfortable enough to drink as hard as possible. This meant leading by example and hazing everyone in sight. I don’t know how many shots I took, but it was gruesome in retrospect. I have zero recollection of leaving the venue. It was my way of living in the special day forever.

Elephants

I decided the elephant was my favorite animal long before my wife’s second-grade class introduced me to the children’s book character Gerald the Elephant. I can relate to having a great appetite and memory, and I am conditioned to love all fat things because that’s how Asian parents express love to their children — overfeeding them with the constant fear that they are too skinny.

In one of the few things we have in common, my wife loves elephants too. We resolved not to leave Thailand without encountering them. In researching options, I read through many blogs, sites and comments that urge tourists to avoid riding elephants and thereby perpetuating their abuse.

This was news to me. I am no PETA activist. Those who pontificate about animal rights in one instance probably trample on them in some other. That’s what happens when you are the dominant species on a planet by such a wide margin. I don’t judge anyone who wants to ride an elephant.

That said, you figure something has to happen to this wild animal for it to allow people to sit on its neck for extended periods of time. The unsettling accusation is that these tourism businesses have to essentially break the elephant’s spirit with various degrees of torture — piercing hooks, beatings, deprivation, separation of young.

We decided against patronizing any place that allows elephant riding. Again, I am no tree-hugger. But I do think in terms of costs and benefits. I don’t see much of a payoff worth the potential damage to the animal. If I needed the food, I would slit Dumbo’s throat and enjoy the buffet. Maybe even use his trunk as one of those oscillating workout ropes so as not to be wasteful. But beating the heck out of an elephant just to ride it does not seem commensurate. Your reward is sitting up there like a tool while moving slower than a Disneyland train.

At the sanctuary we chose, both the elephants and people appeared to have more fun than they would riding each other. Feeding these silly beasts was a truly invigorating experience. We were told to hold up the sugar cane or banana and say “Bon!” Then the fatty grabbed it out of our hands with its freakish, snotty, contorting trunk:

 

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Later, when we were skinny-dipping in our private pool in Koh Samui, my wife held up her hand above my penis and said “Bon!” as if to coax an erection. We have adopted this as an inside joke and don’t mind if you copy us because it’s hilarious.

We also got to slap mud all over the elephants and then wash them off in a river with buckets and brushes. These big lugs rolling around and sitting like dogs was positively endearing:

 

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To me, riding these elephants would have added no value to the experience. If you absolutely have to try it, at least go bareback. Those chairs are not good for the elephant’s body and make you look like an even bigger tool.

Of course some discomfort is inherent when humans tame elephants or each other. But that doesn’t mean it can’t end in a kiss:

 

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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.


Bareback Bros

When I land back at LAX 56 hours from now after this bachelor party, I will not have much time left in July to write my monthly blog post (and perhaps neither the health nor memory). I came back from the last one with a black eye, nausea preventing consumption of food until nighttime, and a battered body covered with scratches and bruises. Someone said my torso looked like Passion of the Christ.

I took measured steps to avoid a similar meltdown in Portland this weekend, but I probably should play it safe and get this typing out of the way now even though a post-trip summary might be more interesting. I can’t risk it. I don’t want to jeopardize my streak of 29 consecutive monthly posts — over halfway now to Joe DiMaggio’s hallowed 56 — and certainly not for something as silly as a bachelor party.

These celebrations seem to evolve aggressively with age into bona fide productions. If your buddy got married young, maybe all you did was hit up some local bars and walk into a strip club with no idea how to interact. Wait a few years, and the next bachelor party might have entailed renting out a mansion in Costa Rica and getting into the SUV of an alleged drug dealer who pulled a machete out of the trunk seconds later to beat a man. (It sounds worse than it really was.)

Now at age 32 with a marriage license that officially recognizes I have nothing to lose, you might anticipate a wild weekend is in store for me. But I picked Portland in part for the expectation of a mellow land of breweries and hipsters rather than an environment with a high enough d-bag density to ignite my friends.

I chose small hotel rooms instead of a house to mitigate heavy partying. I preemptively vetoed strip clubs, only to learn later that Portland has among the most per capita in the country. I despise the entire institution of professional stripping. Few minor grievances bother me more than getting ripped off and getting teased. I hate places with poor lighting and loud music. There are precisely two good things about strip clubs, and they are Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL.

If I sound like the hall monitor in the no-fun zone, I won’t dispute that. Contrary to a handful of recycled and embellished stories from my 20s, I really don’t like to party. My birthday finally fell on a Saturday this year, and I celebrated with errands, grocery shopping and the HBO premiere of Straight Outta Compton.

All I want to do in Portland is walk around and drink obscure beers out of a tap at a leisurely pace. I almost elected not to have a bachelor party, but it’s important even for introverts like me to gather enough of these experiences to have something to laugh about when dying one day.

Laughter is predominantly the domain of your bros. That’s why you continue to associate with them. Consider these vignettes:

  • Two of my bros were dancing next to each other at a wedding during the classic “Shout” song. There is a part when the lyrics guide participants to crouch lower and lower to the floor before building back to a crescendo and snapping back upright. With some unfortunate timing, the taller one jumped up while the other was still leaning over and headbutted him in the face.

    Please try to visualize and understand how funny this is. The headbutt recipient already was battling a fever and doing all he could just to make it through the night. Out of all the people at the wedding, it had to happen to him. Every time I think about the gash on his nose, I remember the value of friends in life.

  • At a Nashville bachelor party, we found ourselves in the ultimate dive bar in the form of a double-wide trailer. Of course we still managed to get kicked out for taking off our shirts. Sorry for ruining the elegant ambience in your trailer, Mr. Bar Owner Who Looks Like Alexander Graham Bell, but it was your staff who made the decision to play Ginuwine.

    The funny part came outside when our indomitable New Yorker decided the best way to de-escalate the shouting match with the owner and his people was to yell “[Expletive] Trump voters!!!” at the entire crowd on the patio. If we are going to stereotype anyway, I am pretty sure more than a few folks there had shotguns in their car.

    • Back in the safety of our Airbnb rental the next day, I tried to rally the troops on the rooftop deck with a motivational speech while 100-percent-blacked-out. Video evidence confirmed that my monologue essentially amounted to threatening to ejaculate on each of their backs and then lick it off. Melania Trump likely won’t be looking here for inspiration next time.

      It is not productive to analyze why I declared in granular detail my intention to penetrate each of my male companions. The source of humor was their reactions. Nonconsensual sodomy can be offensive without context, yet here was a guy I had met only once before clapping encouragement like a banjo player during the semen part while my buddy in the background triumphantly raised his crossed arms in a Dez Bryant touchdown celebration. Those are good friends and good sports. When someone is pouring out his heart while drunk, you can be supportive or not.

    I don’t want to be the 40-year-old telling drinking stories to anyone who will listen, but I do want to have them. If you don’t drink, I respect that very much. If you do, you know what I mean.

    A unique bond was created with the people you chose to get drunk with during the various phases of growing up and old: school, study abroad, post-graduation reality, young professional, not-so-young professional, single, attached, single, attached… You might not keep in touch with everyone anymore, but there is always an understanding you had some moments together that count for something.

     

     

    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.


Every Child Left Behind

Even now, with just over a month before the wedding, my mother is still fond of making passive-aggressive comments about how it’s a shame we are not allowing kids to be there. I nod and mumble some sort of innocuous acknowledgement. All she’s doing, though, is giving a gel pack to a marathon runner in the 25th mile.

I am entering the weary stage right now, with my credit card number memorized from entering it so many times and a growing inclination to just go along with what everyone else wants until it’s all mercifully over. But challenges to our every-child-left-behind policy stoke the fire.

The question of why kids should not be at our wedding is improperly framed. Ask instead why they need to be there. Because we love them?

Weddings have very little to do with love. Anything that requires so much pomp and circumstance generally does not have a strong principle behind it. The more ostentatious the wedding, the harder I cheer for that couple to divorce.

Marriage is about love. Not weddings. Weddings are about getting borderline blacked-out drunk to facilitate honest moments with the people closest to you in life, because they soon will be replaced and things will never be the same again.

Where do children fit into that picture? Are they going to pound a whiskey shot and ruminate with you about getting old? Do you want to catch up with them about careers, sports, the housing market, sex life?

Children’s primary function at a wedding is to siphon attention and fun from what’s really important. They wobble around on the dance floor, and it’s supposed to be cute. Never mind they are taking up limited real estate while the J.T. song should be galvanizing people who actually know how to party and don’t have a bedtime of 9 o’clock.

Kids either misbehave and are annoying or behave and are boring. And rather than being confined to their own no-value-added section, they somehow make their parents more annoying and boring as well.

They are a black hole during all social interaction, exerting an insurmountable pull on nearby adults into mindless oblivion. Just when their parents show a glimmer of who they once were, the conversation steers back to treating normal children as if they were remarkable.

And no normal child feels 100-percent comfortable being dressed in a suit and told to sit still and be quiet on a Saturday while grownups play king and queen. No normal adult feels 100-percent comfortable drinking hard around children.

So you see a very binary two-party system here. There are parties with children, and there are parties without children.

Even one tiny, well-mannered kid completely changes the dynamic. The ambience is no longer the same. This isn’t like a vegetarian meal at a barbecue that has no effect on others. It’s more like bringing one STD to an orgy. People can work around it by keeping their distance, but it still kills the overall vibe and is an unnecessary liability.

Now, I do not mean to compare a child to an STD. (Although if you were to make me choose one as an outcome of a poor sexual decision, I would definitely have to think about it and inquire which STD.)

Listen, I have family and best friends with young children. I know people who have gone through hell and back to have kids. I attended two birthday parties for 1-year-olds this year, by myself no less. I spoke Chinese to them to exercise their developing cognitive abilities and set them up for being multilingual.

The point is I care about your kids. But I only love them because they are an extension of you. Otherwise I would hate them or at best, be neutral. This wedding has nothing to do with them anyway. It has everything to do with you and me, before you had kids. I want to celebrate that for a day.

 

 

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.


Bob v. Ocean’s Eleven

It would be boorish of me to reveal specific names. After eight years in L.A., I have no excuse not knowing the play-it-cool protocol when it comes to celebrities. I will say, however, that the client list includes at least one member of Ocean’s Eleven, and I am not talking about the Asian Cirque du Soleil guy here.

I am talking about Asian hair though. There is not much variation from person to person, which partially explains the difficulty in telling us apart. Asian hair is virtually always like Usher: black, straight and fine.

Cutting and styling Asian hair is like a three-on-one fast break. You are going to get a decent result if you just keep it simple. Trying to get fancy with it is like using three similes in a row — overkill. And then you risk ending up with situations like this:

 


Poor Steph Curry wins the first unanimous MVP in history, and he has to go down on a porcupine to play some perimeter defense. It’s disrespectful. Just stick to the game plan, Jeremy Lin.

My game plan might not be flashy — in fact, it’s been the subject of ridicule for the latter half of my adult life — but it works well. I get my hair cut at Fantastic Sams. For some reason, just mentioning the place elicits condescending amusement.

I don’t understand what’s so funny. Do I look ugly? Maybe the average skill level of Fantastic Sams stylists falls somewhere between subpar and serviceable, but I don’t just show up and take the next one available anymore. I found an outlier, a major-league talent crushing Double-A ball.

His name is Bob, although certainly not originally. He is ethnically ambiguous, vaguely resembling a Soviet bloc caricature with all the cacophonous mannerisms. Think 25% Borat, 25% immigrant store owner, 25% Communist-persecuted professor and 25% overzealous border patrolman. Bob might have mentioned he’s from Iran one time, but I’m not buying an explanation that simple.

Every time Bob makes a jarring attempt at conversation, I feel like I’m being interrogated. With the same three questions, too: work, location of work, and residence. Depending on my mood, I sometimes pretend to fall asleep instantaneously upon being seated in a preemptive effort to ward off the awkwardness.

Perhaps Bob made a deal with his Maker to transfer all social dexterity to his fingers. He cuts hair with an artistic efficiency recognized by many more than just me. Every time I sign in at the front desk, the sheet is pretty much “Bob” requests all the way down.

This is no problem because he matches skill with speed. Often the two attributes counteract, but in Bob’s case, they feed off each other in a frenzy. I keep forgetting to time one of my haircuts. Anything over 7 minutes would be a shock to me. Bob once started and finished my haircut while waiting for the foil in a woman’s hair to set or whatever it’s supposed to do.

I decline the shampooing portion, even though it’s included in the $17.95, to keep Bob’s completion time down. I want him to challenge his personal record every time with me. When you’re the best, you can only compete against yourself.

Bob doesn’t know it, but I have surreptitiously put him up against other options in the market. I tried Floyd’s 99 Barbershop up the street, and an attractive female stylist did a commendable job. But lady, your good looks are independent of the task at hand and will not cloud my judgment. Bob was 10 bucks cheaper and 10 minutes faster.

I went to Sport Clips around the corner for the same price, and the massage and ambience didn’t make up for the fact that I walked out of there looking like a Korean pop star pledging the all-Asian frat at UT.

So I upped the monetary and travel ante and went with a colleague to his sacred place in Culver City. Mind you, this guy’s hair is so sublime that I have his headshot saved to my desktop under the file name “perfection.png.”

But it didn’t work for me, not even a little bit. Fifty bucks bought me an odd-looking haircut, long drive home, and comment from my fiancée that it made my head look like a potato. So Bob won by a wide margin and pushed me further toward the conclusion that there is never a compelling reason to pay more than $20 before tip for a haircut.

However, a new contender costing triple as much will take a shot at the title June 21 at 5:30 p.m. I have never needed to schedule a haircut that far in advance with that much specificity. All I do is call Fantastic Sams the day of and ask if Bob is working. Not one time has the answer been no.

On paper, Bob should breeze through this title defense. I have to plan a haircut as if it were a dentist appointment, drive to Venice to a guy who operates out of his house, and pay an amount of money that induces soul-searching questions: Whom am I trying to impress? Am I really that vain? Am I trying to take the attention off my face?

That’s where the Ocean’s Eleven reference comes into play. Again, I’m not talking about the dude who played wide receiver in Varsity Blues, although I do like his hair.

A bona fide Hollywood megastar — with full access to the world’s resources and a livelihood that to some degree depends on how he looks — chooses this haircut guru every time. People fly this guy out to places to teach workshops. Paul Mitchell himself was his mentor.

I don’t roll in these kinds of circles. My other coworker provided the hookup, and she has the credibility with hair that reminds of those luxurious Vidal Sassoon commercials from my childhood.

At the very least I must investigate whether $20 is indeed the point of diminishing returns for haircuts, or if a whole other tier exists that even Bob can’t touch.

This preoccupation with hairstyling might seem incongruous with my ill-fitting wardrobe from the early-to-mid 2000s. The brown slip-on clown shoes I’m rocking these days with white gym socks are from senior year of college and approaching homeless condition. Whoever said “Shoes make the man” either worked for Nike or was stupid.

Hair is so much more important. It’s attached to your head. Shoes are attached to your feet and only for part of the day. Why do people care so much about shoes? What social setting necessitates looking at the other person’s feet to the point where details matter?

A different hairstyle, on the other hand, can entirely transform a person’s look. I once spotted a former NFL star quarterback dining with a fine lady at a bar while watching his alma mater’s football game. At one point, I started excitedly telling everyone that he switched girls at halftime. But my fiancée informed me it was the same girl, only with her hair down.

This is what I want out of the Ocean’s Eleven haircut. Family and friends should be slow to recognize me, in a good way. Strangers should save my Facebook profile pic to their desktops under the caption “want but can’t have.” Otherwise I don’t see the point of going through all the trouble, and you can just leave Bob and me alone.

 

 

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.


My Friend Harry-and-I’s House

Even the tiniest, most innocuous first steps toward buying a house in L.A. will very quickly make you feel like Lloyd and Harry saving up for the worm store. It’s degrading to anyone with a basic awareness of value.

My fiancée and I went to an open house Sunday in Redondo Beach, Calif., although “house” might be a misleading term to use. This was more like one of those childhood forts you built in the living room while engaging in homoerotic behavior with cousins and siblings (or maybe that was just me).

We’re talking 720 square feet without a garage. Kevin Durant could touch all the walls standing in one spot. I can give you the comprehensive tour right now:

– Little nook to the right dishonestly counted as a bedroom
– Living space to the left perfect for furniture if claustrophobia is the desired aesthetic
– One of those small bathrooms I hate, designed for the segment of the population that enjoys showering, brushing teeth, and taking a dump simultaneously
– Food truck kitchen
– Master bedroom similar in size to your college dorm room if you drew a bad lottery number
– Cute backyard ideal for a three-legged dog to roam

Basically it’s our current one-bedroom apartment, except not as close to the beach. An entire second floor would need to be added to raise children there, unless my wife plans on giving birth to gerbils.

No problem, we buy the shack and use leftover liquidity to remodel right? Negative. The asking price is $745,000. That would be $1,035 per square foot. Only San Francisco and heaven charge more. I understand the concept of limited housing inventory, supply and demand, but this is borderline offensive.

I don’t know how I could ever explain this to my mom in Texas. Coming from those houses, she would think I’m on welfare and scold me some more for not going to Brown. Actually Mom, this house you see, which isn’t big enough for you to spend the night, was three quarters of a million dollars.

We tried to go in well under asking price, but were informed this morning of another offer already. We had a few hours to commit to $750,000 as a starting point in a possible bidding war or forget about it.

If the place weren’t so miniscule, there would have been a dozen offers over asking price including some all-cash. We know this firsthand after bidding $750K on a three-bedroom dump up the same street. By the way, I understand talking specific financials can be impolite. But if you’re reading this, I consider you a friend. And even if you don’t feel the same way, it’s educational. Everyone should at least think about buying a house at some point, and sharing information is powerful. Plus you can look up the purchase price of any house online.

Anyway, they wouldn’t even let us counter at $750K. Think about that. Someone wants to pay you more money, and you won’t even hear him out because there is so much demand for a place that won’t be making the cut for MTV Cribs anytime soon. The stairwell and balcony looked like they were shelled by heavy artillery, and the kitchen hadn’t been updated in 60 years.

Folks are desperate to live here, and not just in the beach towns. Anywhere on the West Side. My fiancée grew up in Culver City, which used to be dubbed Culver S**tty. Nowadays a basic three bedroom-two bathroom house there easily exceeds a million dollars. Even if you go east — to neighborhoods that appear to be one mild recession away from Detroit — the ante is in the $600Ks.

That is not a trivial mortgage, and again I should emphasize these houses are neither luxurious nor large. A lot of them are outdated and ugly. You are simply paying for the scarce land.

The quality of life here is high enough to merit a substantial premium, as evidenced by the market. But at a certain price point, that premium should be spent somewhere else on something else. Around that point hits the realization that perhaps people with strong but not extraordinary talent and ambition will never have the means to raise a family in L.A.

So naturally with all this whining out of the way, we went ahead and put in a $750K bid for the shack. We want to be house poor without the effing house, haha. Why do this? I like the lime-green front door and the idea of making payments toward equity rather than a landlord who owns five million-dollar-plus properties.

We’ll see what happens. I’m not sure if I would be happier to win it or more relieved to lose it. Surely there has to be some market correction on the horizon if not a full bubble popping. Yet I am the schmuck willing to jump into it after researching for less time than I do on plane tickets. It’s a long line of schmucks fighting each other and logic for a small piece, and who knows how much this one will cost. You just never know in a housing market that begs the question, who’s dumb and who’s dumber.

 

 

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