I Say High, You Say Low…

… You say why, and I say I don’t know
Oh, no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello, hello
I don’t know why you say goodbye
I say hello

– The Beatles

“It’s an acquired taste.”

For the first fifteen or so years of my life, when I would hear that statement attached to description of food, I would immediately assume it tasted weird or bad. I never even took the time to break down the meaning of the entire sentence. It just entered my mind phonetically–its eyn uh-kwahyurd teyst–then my mind would spit out meaning: don’t bother.

Can you blame me though? Think back to your eight-year-old palate. Now, think about how you felt about beer, asparagus, salmon roe, brussel sprouts, coffee, licorice, and liver. Did you like these foods? Well, I sure didn’t. They were foreign and unpleasant flavors to me, and when grown-ups described how it tasted, they used the word, acquired. Maybe I just assumed it was a word with double meaning like fine, or right.

"No thank y--I mean, thank you!"

In any case, as I got older, I developed a liking for many of the aforementioned foods, and the meaning finally clicked: Ah, you acquire a taste for the food over time. Now, I cannot imagine turning down liver pate or fish eggs of any kind, and asparagus and brussel sprouts are among my favorite vegetables.

Looking back on it now, I think I was jarred by the unknown. I was uncomfortable with the new experience of consuming these unfamiliar flavors, and I immediately cast them aside, categorizing them as other, weird, disconcerting, and ultimately not worthy of my time.

I have come to realize that people, too, can be an acquired taste. A perfect case in point would be one of my good friends, whom I met six years ago, roughly around this time of year.

I was working in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and I was finishing up my last day at work. It was blazing hot, and I was just trying to put in my hours, which were all but pointless, since there was little I could do on my last day. It was explained to me that this particular day also happened to be one of the first days of work for the office’s new summer intern from Maryland, and we were to share an office space for about six hours. Honestly, I did not care. I was heading off to my new job in San Francisco in a few days. It was hot. I was in the office, but not present–just going through the motions while in a bit of a foul mood due to the circumstances.

After getting settled in at my desk, trying hard to move as little as possible so as to avoid sweating further, a tall, thin Black man, with neatly trimmed hair, and a big smile came walking into the office. It was the new intern.

Two things struck me immediately. First, despite the fact that this man seemed to be over six fee tall, he took remarkably quick, tiny, careful strides; it was as if he were literally walking on egg shells. Secondly, along with a snappy polo shirt and matching belt, he was wearing the tiniest shorts I had seen on a man, since the 1980s. His long legs, which had clearly been treated with liberal amounts of body lotion (as the chocolate glossy shine suggested), and deck shoes worn without socks (coordinated with the outfit, of course), actually made the shorts look tinier (if that was possible).

The Intern and the Captain shopped at the same store for shorts.

So here I was, in the midst of a pointless day of work, with sweat dripping down my brow, and I was being greeted by a giant chipper pair of legs from straight out of a recent J.Crew catalog.

He introduced himself with a kind handshake; his giant, cool, dry hands made me even more insecure about my sweaty palms. We exchanged pleasantries, and I began to take notice of his pronounced and intentional Southern twang.

Sitting about six feet away from me, at his desk, the intern engaged me in a bit of small talk. I commented on how hot it was. The intern explained that he was from North Carolina, and it was, “hot as Hades,” back where he grew up. I asked him about going to school in Maryland, and he told me that it had been a challenging transition, but the journey had been rewarding, he was appreciative for the learning he was experiencing, and I am pretty sure he mentioned that God or Jesus put him on this path for a reason. When I asked him how he felt about his new internship, he poured on the praise for the woman who helped him secure this opportunity, and he accentuated his complements with, what sounded like, a bible reference. All the while, the intern did not show a sign of discomfort with the heat. Maybe it was the shorts.

In any case, I pegged him as very Southern, conservative, religious, exceedingly positive, with teeny-tiny shorts. For this Berkeley raised, hippy-influenced, decidedly nonreligious, pragmatic wearer of over-sized shorts that extend below the kneecaps, the intern was very foreign, and completely indigestible. We spent much of the rest of our day in silence. And, while we were both at a gathering that weekend, I pretty much avoided him.

Flash forward one year, and I am coming off of some time away from work. My supervisor tells me that the division has a new hire, and this person in the new position mentioned that he knows me. She mentions his name and nothing clicks. She mentions that he interned at Vermont, and… it clicks.

“Ah,” I say with a smirk, “that guy is… special.”

"I'm sorry, what's not to love here?"

When his first week comes around, I go down to greet him. He is very well dressed, and on this occasion, wearing pants. One thing leads to another, and for some reason, I end up offering to take him to lunch later that week. The day of our lunch comes around, and I take him to pick up Good Luck Dim Sum, one of my favorite bargain bites, down on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Knowing he is from the South, I do my best to pick out the items that are most palatable for the every-day person. We leave with three huge boxes of dim sum–enough to feed a small family. Upon arriving back at work, we find a place to sit down, chat, and eat. He is polite, but eats very little. Apparently he does not have a taste for dim sum. I’m a bit put off, as unadventurous eaters easily annoy me. He does little to change my opinion of him. To me, he still is not quite my cup of tea.

Over time, we continue to find ourselves in each other’s company. By the end of the year, I realize that he is one of the brightest professionals in our division, and I want to work with him whenever I can. By the end of the next year, he ends up being one of the few people from work with whom I feel close enough to invite to my wedding. By the end of the following year he becomes one of the only people in my life with whom I can argue, debate, and/or engage in authentic dialogue. We mainly argue about the compatibility of a conservative agenda, and social justice, and it does get heated, but we stick with it. Now he is one of my closest confidants, and I cannot really imagine my life without him.

My perspective on the “Intern” has clearly shifted over time. I do not think I would describe my friend as weird. Rather, I would say he is quite unique, especially by California standards.

I have adjusted to his cyclical way of speaking, and now recognize that his style is conducive with great storytelling. I find it charming, the way he uses similes to explain everything under the sun. I smile inwardly as I watch him tiptoe around situations in which he is tempted to speak unkindly of another (“Well, his inability to finish his end of the project provided me with an opportunity to explore creative options within a short window of time”). I have begun to repeat many of his favorite sayings, such as: “teamwork makes the dream work,” or, “it takes a village to raise a child.” When my friend references his Christian faith to thank me for something I may have done–“Brother, there is a place in The Kingdom for you”–I take it as one of the highest complements I could possibly receive. I have witnessed him become a more adventurous eater (though he still wouldn’t touch the tuna tartare when we went out to eat the other day). We laugh together often, reenacting the scene with Randy Watson and his band, Sexual Chocolate, from Coming to America. We greet each other every day with another Coming to America reference, asking one another if one’s “soul is aglow,” in honor of the infamous product from the movie. I have even mastered the Southern art of carrying on a conversation with him about one thing; when in reality, we are speaking about something else all together. The two of us can carry on a twenty-minute conversation about coffee, while we are actually talking about his dating life.

Clearly, over time, I have come to acquire a taste for my good friend. I now realize that my previous distaste for him had less to do with how weird or foreign he was to me, and more to do with my own xenophobia and bigotry. I may have thought of myself as open-minded, but in reality, I viewed him through a lens of judgment, bias, and perceived supremacy. I was the one with an unadventurous palate.

Only happenstance brought us back together. Had our interactions been limited to those few hours in Vermont, I would have missed out on developing a relationship with one of the kindest, funniest, most brilliant, and most thoughtful individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths. He has changed me. I am a better person for having known him.

Alas, our time together is now limited. My good friend will be headed back to the South for graduate school in less than a week. He will be missed.

Recently, during a conversation about his upcoming migration to the South, I asked him if he was excited about being closer to home, and around people that were more like him. “Aren’t you excited about blending in? Aren’t you looking forward to being with your people?” I joked.

“Well, Brother,” he exhaled with his Carolina drawl, “I worry about that,” he said, adding a long pause. “I think they may not get me. My ideas might be too liberal for their liking.”

The irony of his statement was not lost on me.

I hope that he finds a home in the South. For as Maya Angelou says so eloquently:

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

My good friend shared that quote with me. He taught me that this understanding of home should guide the way we co-construct community for all. He is very wise.

If I could write a letter to the people of the community for which he will shortly be a part of. I would kindly request that they sooth my good friend’s ache for home. Moreover, I would ask that they give my friend time to grow on them. For in my opinion, a taste for my good friend is well worth acquiring.

Don’t Want to Hear About What Kind of Food You Hate (ooh)…

… You won’t get no dessert ’till you clean off your plate
So eat it…

-Weird Al Yankovic

I love food. More to the point, I love well prepared food. I long for beef that is well seasoned, and not overcooked. I find handmade pasta to be inspiring, and dried pasta, so long as it is not over-saturated in boiling water, to be quite good as well. I despise over-reliance on processed sauces of any kind–Thai sweet chili to chipotle honey glaze. And to me, the chain family restaurants such as TGI Fridays, Applebees, and Outback Steakhouse, are the worst (even more so than fast food restaurants).

I believe food has the capacity to inspire. If one is lucky, a thoughtfully, and/or lovingly prepared plate of food can facilitate an exciting, comforting, jarring, and even an euphoric moment; fleeting as it may be. I have experienced these moments, myself, and I hope others get to have inspiring food experiences due to well prepared food too.

Quite often there is an added cost attached to my qualifier, “well prepared,” and as such, I have been labeled bourgy, elitist, and a bit of a food snob. This may be unfair, or it may be true. If the latter is the case, I think I can accept it as one of my many permanent character flaws.

I have one friend in particular who likes to remind me of my food snobbery. Recently, we ordered takeout from a restaurant called India Clay Oven, rather than

"What can I say? Their chicken tikka masala was just... better."

our usual spot, Star India. After I remarked on, what I believed to be, an obvious difference in quality (Clay Oven proving to be superior), my friend shook his head, and smiled. Food, he explained to me, was food. He could not, for the life of him, differentiate between the quality of the two. All food was good to him. He pointed out that my understanding of quality was socially constructed and subjective. Furthermore, he explained, food was fuel, and he believed we should be appreciative to have food of any quality, as some go without.

I agree that we should be appreciative of the food we are privileged enough to have. I do not, however, believe I should settle for poorly prepared food. I’m not saying we should spit out sub-par food and berate the chef. I do, however, believe in frequenting establishments that prepare things that I like, and foregoing the establishments I do not enjoy as much.

As for my friend’s assertion that my idea of quality preparation is something that develops through socialization… I had to let that one fully sink in a bit.

He is probably right. Is there really an objective and universally accepted set of criteria for a “refined” palate? Some folks find rare meat to be revolting, so who am I to say that their  perspective on meat is wrong. Raw fish was mostly seen as abhorrent (and to some, still is) before sushi became mainstream. And, while one can be taught to notice and appreciate the nuances of an ingredient or food, ultimately all the analytical stuff falls short of answering the most important question one can ask about a dish: Does it taste good?

Taste–in the face of food competitions, food blogs, food critics, and foodies–is

"In all fairness, the title suggests subjectivity."

subjective. I am guilty of being judgmental of the palates of others; secretly waiving them off as picky, unadventurous, underexposed, unimaginative, or just plain wrong. Reader’s choice awards, and “best ofs,” may reflect the populous, or an astute person’s perspective on food, but the fact of the matter is, one can never be wrong about what one likes.

Take one of my favorite meals on earth, burritos, for example. I have observed countless ways people have chosen to use a flour tortilla as a pocket for flavorful ingredients. Clearly, folks have different understandings of what a burrito should be. In San Diego, there are a lot of places that do burritos without beans and cheese. Also in San Diego, I consumed a burrito the size of a small baby, deep fried and topped with sauce (This was not bad, just different… and potentially life-threatening). A friend of mine, who is considering opening up a restaurant of his own, says that in Mexico, the quality of the tortilla is as important as the filling, if not more so.

So in the spirit of acknowledging my friend’s assertion that food quality comes through socialization, here are my personal socialized beliefs when it comes to burritos:

I have been socialized to think of a burritos as flour tortillas filled with rice, beans, cheese, pico de gallo, and meat (guacamole, hot sauce, and sour cream is optional),

There are ways to ruin this beautiful parcel:

  1. Stiff Tortilla/Failure to Heat the Tortilla– During my two-year stint in Burlington, Vermont, I was pumped to see a burrito shop open up near my place of residence. Sadly, the burritos from this eatery turned out to be a disappointment, mostly due to their inability to get the tortilla right. I watched as the woman pulled out the stiff flour disk, laid it upon the cold steel counter, spooned meat rice and beans onto the disk, and folded the disk around the wet contents. The tortilla cracked, thus failing to hold the package together. Moreover, the tortilla was cold, contrasted poorly with the hot ingredients, felt crumbly, and tasted chalky.
  2. Ketchup/Marinara Sauce–I hate to pick on Vermont, but this should really go without saying. Ketchup or Marinara sauce is no substitution for salsa. I should be more understanding, considering my aforementioned adolescent theory that ketchup should replace tomato sauce with pasta, but I’m not. Grown people with a business should not substitute salsa willy-nilly with other tomato-based condiments/sauces. Thanks for teaching me this lesson, Vermont (by the way, this egregious mistake was actually made another “Mexican” restaurant, not the burrito place mentioned above).
  3. Undercooked Beans–I didn’t even know that one could undercook beans until I tried our cafeteria’s version of a burrito. I found the hardness of the beans to be unpleasant among the otherwise palatable ingredients. Similar to the cold tortilla, the beans were chalky.
  4. Lettuce–I am not necessarily a stickler for this one; it is more of a preference. I don’t like lettuce in my burrito. I can, however, take a little. I do believe that too much lettuce, and especially the wrong lettuce–romaine, and especially lettuce cut up–romaine cut like it is being used for a Caesar salad,

    "I know you all are friends and all, but STAY OUT OF MY BURRITO!"

    can really ruin a burrito.

  5. Peas and Carrots–Personally, I’m just not a fan of peas and carrots in my rice.

If a burrito does one or more of the following, there is a good chance it will make my mental list of burrito debacles. On the flip side, is my all time favorite burrito spot, which can do no wrong, Gordo Taqueria, specifically the one on Solono Avenue in Albany, California. Would it be selected as the best, highest quality, and most authentic burrito place of all time? It is debatable; I have seen it on a few lists, but it also has its long list of detractors.

Gordo’s, however, if I am being completely honest with myself, makes the burrito I have been socialized to believe is the epitome of excellence.

When my parents decided that their two pudgy sons should cut down on Burger King and McDonalds, it was the Gordo Taqueria burrito that helped my brother and I ween our way off of trans fats. When my parents were too tired to make dinner, Gordo’s. After long games of pick-up at the elementary school, Gordo’s. After our middle school basketball games, Gordo’s. After our high school basketball games, Gordo’s. When I came home on break from Vermont, the land void of burritos, the first thing I wanted was Gordo’s (Yes, I know it is called Gordo Taqueria, but we call it Gordo’s).

I have come to think of the men at Gordo Taqueria as masters of the burrito-making craft. They effortlessly construct each burrito with blinding speed. The tortilla goes into the steamer with cheese, the lever is pulled, a sound like a small locomotive coming to a stop sounds; the tortilla fused with cheese is tossed on to the counter; rice, choice of beans, choice of meat, “tomatoes?” (pico de gallo), “cream?” (sour cream), “guacamole?” (which I think is actually a combination of sour cream and guacamole), “hot sauce?” (“yes, please”). The master splatters the flour-based canvas with each ingredient like Jackson Pollock. Then, with a few flicks of the wrist, the maestro has the burrito neatly wrapped up. With a silver flash, and a few more flicks and twists of the wrist, the burrito is in tinfoil. A minute later, the burrito is out the door.

I drool a little bit, just thinking about a Gordo burrito. The cheese melts and congeals beautifully with the beans. A chewy tortilla encompasses the meal. Loose, yet not overly seasoned rice acts as a canvas for the rest of the flavors. Simple, juicy, lightly-charred chicken, hot sauce that is actually spicy. The burrito is not overly-soppy with excess salsa or sour cream, which I like, since personally, I want my burrito to be more composed, and less drippy. In the end, this dense torpedo becomes a product I would rank among my favorite comfort foods.

Now I must admit, I was a bit unfaithful when the flashy High Tech Burrito opened a block away (seriously, it was called High Tech). I also believe that Cactus Taqueria, about eight blocks up, might be a better restaurant. Yet after all these years, I still believe Gordo’s serves up the best burrito. Does this really mean anything? I don’t know… since it’s all socially constructed in the end.

Grandma’s Hands…

… Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma’s hands
Picked me up each time I fell
Grandma’s hands
Boy, they really came in handy

-Bill Withers

It was my grandmother’s 90th birthday recently. Our family made a trip down to Los Angeles to surprise her. She was definitely caught off-guard by the unexpected presence of her bobble-headed great grandson… in a good way.

Despite the fact that I tend to downplay my own birthday, I do like how the tradition of birthdays forces me to stop and celebrate the life of people close to me. I enjoy having the opportunity to do things with the people I love; things that make them happy; things that make them smile.

Usually at some point in the celebration, the guest of honor will do something or say something that reminds me of something they did or said in the past–usually a funny story–and I find myself smiling inwardly; wading blissfully in the nostalgia.

In the weeks leading up to my grandmother’s birthday, I found myself reflecting early. Cherry picking stories about her turned out to be more difficult that I expected. For some reason, I had trouble peeling away individual stories, as they have mostly seemed to congeal into a single collage of memories.

I spent the better part of a day feeling guilty about not being able to recall stories about my grandmother. I found myself picking bits and pieces out of my mind; but not just a few, tons of them! They were like an infinite number of  little rice-sized pieces of spaghetti–taking up a lot of space all together, but not the fully intact strand that I could wrap methodically around my fork; not the fully fleshed-out story I was looking for.

The segments of memories of Grandma or memories I associate with Grandma came in flashes:

Grandma calling the dogs back when they came to welcome my brother and me as children, with their somewhat scary jumping and slobbering.

Grandma feeding the golden retrievers cooked vegetables.

Grandma taking me to the museum.

Branch’s strawberry candy in a bowl on the coffee table.

The smell of chlorine-treated water drying on hot concrete by the swimming pool.

Grandma talking about how wonderful Trader Joe’s was when the first one opened up.

Grandma toasting my brother and I egg bagels and serving them up with peanut butter.

Grandma being a very careful driver.

Water wings!

Rye bread.

Picture collages.

Throw pillows.

Lavender scented hand soap in the bathroom.

Vibrant orange and purple birds of paradise.

Matzo ball soup in shallow bowls.

A jar filled with chocolate almond squares in the refrigerator.

Grandma just smelling sweeter than anyone else in the world…

… the list kept going.

After I took a step back and began looking at the memories, not as individual specks, but as a collection, I noticed a reoccurring theme. I tie all of these memories to feelings of nostalgia and comfort.

I have, absolutely no memories involving fear, guilt, anger, or trauma tied to my grandmother. While Grandma was never a push-over, I cannot recall ever thinking she was mean, even in my most immature and self-centered days.

For me, I now realize, Grandma was, and still is, the living embodiment of comfort and kindness. She always did her best to foster a sense of home away from home when we went to visit her.

This ethic of care actually ties to one of the stories of Grandma I eventually unearthed:

Throughout my childhood, probably since the age of four, I wondered why my dad bothered making chunky tomato sauce with spaghetti. I hated big chunks of tomatoes, and I yearned for something with less texture to pair with my pasta.

Eventually, I learned that ketchup, which regularly acted as a dip for the food I deemed the pinnacle of eatable excellence–french fries, was actually a product of tomatoes; the same tomatoes that made up the chunky sauce on my pasta.

I remember regularly asking my mom and dad if I could have pasta with ketchup, since it seemed like a logical enough substitution to me. They would both reply, with scrunched faces, “No,” giving little justification for their resistance; only going to far as to say that the idea was “disgusting.”

"Culinary genius, no?"

Little did I know, Grandma would provide me with an opportunity to experience this ketchup-laced concoction in due time…

When I was about eleven years old, my brother and I came down to Los Angeles during our annual summer visit with the relatives. For some reason, we stayed for one night in a house my grandparents were occupying for the days in between moving out of their old house in the San Fernando Valley, and moving into their new house in Santa Monica.

I do not know why it was only one night, nor do I remember why only my brother and I stayed with my grandparent that night, but I do remember the house being filled with boxes stacked so high that navigating through it all made me feel like I was in a labyrinth.

We got in fairly late, and it was already dark outside. My grandmother knew we had not eaten dinner, so she went to the kitchen to prepare us a meal. About half an hour later, my brother and I sat down at the kitchen table and my grandmother brought out a heaping pile of my culinary theory put into practice–spaghetti mixed with ketchup.

I was excited. The sharp scent of the ketchup’s vinegar still lingered in the air. This, was my moment! This was my opportunity to prove my long-standing culinary hypothesis, which had been thwarted for years by my parents, who clearly lacked the common sense and vision to combine these two ingredients in an effort to facilitate this flavor and textural dynamo.

Eager to confirm that which I already knew to be true–ketchup and pasta would be awesome together–I clumsily spun a large clump of noodles around my fork and slurped it into my mouth. My resulting state: confusion of the senses. How could something that looked like pasta and tomato sauce produce a flavor so distant from this savory dinnertime staple? Slightly tart and almost sugary sweet, even as an eleven-year-old with a palate that was easily satisfied by Skittles and Doritos, I knew the combination of ketchup and pasta had gone completely awry.

My brother and I quietly consumed the rest of the food on our plate, brushed our teeth and went to bed. That night I went to bed… confused.

Now, it would be easy to preserve the story in my mind as a culinary  disaster perpetuated by my grandmother. However, context, and a few details I neglected to mention actually help make Grandma even more endearing to me.

First of all, it was pretty late, maybe eight thirty or nine in the evening when we got in. It was time to go to sleep. She could have sent us to bed without dinner, but she didn’t. Grandma could have quickly taken us to McDonald’s, which was right down the street, but she didn’t. Grandma provided us with a home-cooked meal.

Secondly, how on Earth did she pull that meal together? We were practically staying in a storage space! She pulled that meal out of thin air! Did I mention there was meat in the dish? Now I don’t remember if it was chicken or turkey cold-cuts, but I do remember there was meat in it, and I think she might have sprinkled in a little dried basil too.

My mom later told me that Grandma felt really bad about feeding us that meal. I feel bad that she felt bad. Grandma did the best that she could in the situation she was in with the time that she had.

So I will always remember the night of spaghetti and ketchup, not as the failed meal, and not for the crazy laberynth of boxes. Rather I will always associate the night of spaghetti and ketchup with Grandma’s successful efforts to create a feeling of home within a moment of chaos.

Oh, What are You Thinking of?

… What are you thinking of?
Oh, what are you thinking of?
What are you thinking of?

-Air Supply

What do I know about the thoughts of a baby?

Apparently I think I know a lot, because I catch my self acting as our son’s spokesperson all the time.

My dad caught me the first time about three weeks ago, as I was describing the symptoms of the little one’s illness.

“He has a stuffy nose, and a sore throat.”

“How do you know he has a sore throat?” my dad asked.

“Well, his throat sounds scratchy and irritated when he cries…”

“Hmmm.”

I guess I didn’t really know if his throat was sore, I just assumed it was because of the way it sounded. Yet, I have done this numerous times over: he’s hungry, his stomach hurts, he has gas, he enjoys company…

A few days ago, in an effort to stop our  son from crying, I cranked up some Michael Jackson music, and started dancing around the living room with him in my arms. It worked! In my moment of triumph, I declared that our son loves Michael Jackson, and being held while one dances around to the Beat It, was his new favorite pastime.

"Book 'em, Danno."

After thinking about it a bit, I realized that we could have played type of music, while dancing, and  he would have been fine. This was best exemplified by playing the theme song to The Hawaii 5-O, and moving enthusiastically to the beat as our son stared blankly at my hair. In all likelihood, I probably could have looped some flatulence noises for ten minutes while bouncing up  and down and he probably would have been satisfied.

This desire to know what my son is thinking has me yearning for cartoon technology.

I remember there was a Simpsons episode in which Homer’s estranged brother, Herb, invented a baby translator, which, of course, translated a baby’s various sounds into plain english (voiced by Herb, who was played by Danny DeVito). The first test on Maggie goes like this (quote from http://www.snpp.com/episodes/8F23.html):

Lisa: Maggie? Maggie? [covers her eyes]

Maggie: [babbles]

Translator: [monotone] Where did you go?

Lisa: Peekaboo! [uncovers eyes]

Maggie: [laughs]

Translator: [monotone] Oh, there you are. Very amusing.

Surprisingly, the cries of our child are becoming somewhat translatable; we can sort-of differentiate between the I’m hungry-cry, and the I’ve got gas-cry (So we presume).

This, of course brings me back to, wondering what is going through my child’s head during his silent moments, and his inconsolable moments. In Pixar’s Up, collars are attached to the dogs of Charles Muntz, which translate the thoughts of all dogs into a variety of languages (with one’s choice of accents, too!).

The Cone of Shame

The translations would be very literal and elaborate, as in the case of Dug, the golden retriever, who explains during his introduction, “My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak. Squirrel!  [looks to distance for a few seconds]”

A collar like that would be awesome! However, while I may be underestimating our son, I don’t think he would be thinking anything so complex. The monkey in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, with a similar thought translating headband, probably had thoughts that were more in line with my son’s thoughts. The monkey’s translator would mainly articulate singular thoughts that were most central to its focus. Thoughts like: “Yellow!” or, “Gummi bears!” or, my personal favorite, “Muuuuuustaaaaache?”

"Muuuustaaache?"

Maybe babies think about very complex things. Maybe their thoughts are very primal and elementary.

Recently, my partner and I were watching our child staring around at the room quietly; throwing his limbs around every so often. She posed the question to me–the question that I have been ruminating upon for a while–“What do you think he is thinking?”

“Honestly,” I replied, “I think he is shifting his eyes from shape to shape, object to object, face to face, and thinking, ‘What the eff is that? Wait… what the eff is that? Hold on… what the eff is that?!'”

Again, I may be projecting, especially with the choice of language, but it certainly is fun to think about it.

She Said Don’t I know You From The Cinematographer’s Party?

… I said who am I
To blow against the wind

-Paul Simon

It was like a scene in a movie.

Our family is waiting for a table at Jerry’s Grill in Union City, and a waitress is gathering beverages behind the bar. I walk into her line of view as she is pouring coffee, and she freezes, only to be brought back to reality by scolding hot coffee burning her hand. The mug crashes to the floor. She apologizes profusely.

Eventually she gathers herself together, and realizes, “you are not him.”

Who is “him?”

“You look just like the guy from American Idol,” she tells me, “and I wanted him to win, too.”

Since I haven’t seen a second of a meaningful moment of American Idol in well over a year, and based on her comments, I assume she has poor eye site and thinks I am David Archuleta (can we talk about how nonsensical that sentence is on multiple levels? Meaningful?).

Truthfully, even I know she couldn’t have confused me with David Archuleta; I don’t care how bad her eye sight is. I mean, this is David Archuleta:

And this is me:

There is absolutely no conceivable potential for mistaken identity here.

If left unresolved, I know this case of mistaken identity will gnaw at me for a while.

Serendipitously, that night, I happen upon an online piece on American Idols: Where are they now? I cannot help but laugh out loud when I stumble upon a picture of this guy:

Danny Gokey: apparently, to the waitress at Jerry’s Grill, my celebrity doppleganger. Glorious.

By the way, the fried beef ribs were phenomenal.

Still When I’m a Mess, I Still Put On a Vest…

… With an S on my chest
Oh yes, I’m a super woman

-Alicia Keys

This past Monday marked the day that our son turned one month old. He is gradually getting bigger, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who he looks like. I think his face changes every few days. The good news is, he does not look like a wingless bat anymore. Sadly, as it was to be expected, he does not do to much beyond crying, sleeping, pooping, and eating (in that order… maybe with some extra crying and pooping in between).

During this past month, I have discovered learned a bit about my own limits, which mainly correlates with our son’s sleep patterns. My main realization: women are stronger than men… well, at least my partner is stronger than I am.

How did I discover this? By trying to rock our son to sleep.

Last week, I get home from work, and our son is crying. My partner had been getting tiny fragments of sleep over the previous twenty hours, so I take it upon myself to put him to sleep, thus allowing my partner to grab a bite to eat and maybe a few extra consecutive hours of shuteye.

After swaddling the little one, I whisk him away to the other room, where I assume the relative darkness and silence will quickly put him to sleep. Goodness gracious, I could not be more wrong. The blanket-wrapped infant will not go to sleep. He cries, grunts, then relaxes–staring off at the shadows on the wall, then repeats the cycle again.

I try a variety of repetitive movements to lull him to sleep. First I rock him back and fourth by hinging my arms at my shoulders–the universal movement for rocking a baby to sleep in sing-alongs. Doesn’t work. Next I try twisting back and fourth. Unsuccessful. Next I attempt walking. No dice.

As my frustration grows, I begin reflecting on the considerable lack of exercise I have been able to fit in since his birth. It was at this moment I decided to kill two birds with one stone–I will rock him to sleep while doing a series of yoga moves I have learned from our “Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss” DVD.

Gradually, I begin incorporating lunges and twists into the rocking. Making sure to “breathe deeply in through my nose, and out through my nose,” while “feeling my feet rooted to the earth,” as instructor, Suzanne Deason likes to remind me.

Ten minutes pass; he is staring at my hair like it is the most fascinating entity on the planet–isn’t that cute. Fifteen minutes pass; the little one is nodding off a bit, but can’t seem to commit to sleeping, and my joints are cracking. Twenty minutes pass; our son seems to be fighting the sleep just to spite me. Furthermore, I am attempting, without any success, to

Are you amused by my discomfort derived from the incorrect practice of your teachings, Ms. Deason?

“focus my intentions without hardening my mind,” and wondering what the f#c% Suzanne Deason means when she commands me to do such a thing. Forty minutes pass; he finally seems to be asleep, which is good since my back hurts, and I am barely able to make any discernible rocking movements at this point as I am seriously fatigued.

Upon exiting the room, I pass a mirror. Perspiration is dripping down my sideburns, my cheeks are a bit flushed, and my shirt is sticking to my back and chest due to the sweat I have just worked up. Nevertheless, I am feeling pretty good about “working out.”

Just as I am about to sit down to relax, I hear a cry from behind. Our son is awake again.

I will spare you the details of this particularly epic diaper changing and just sum it up with the following statistics: one swaddling blanket change, two outfit changes, five diapers used, in a seven minute time frame; plus forty more minutes of hushing the little one to sleep.

Once he goes to sleep, what do I do? Take a nap? No. Lay down for a bit? Nope. Zone out on the television? Uhh… negative. I sit, hunched over in a chair, doing useless things on the internet.

Now, in a previous life, this would have been semi-acceptable. I mean, I might sleep in a bit the next day, maybe wake up a bit more fatigued. But on this night, such a simple act turned out to be a major miscalculation. I stay up for the eleven o’clock feeding, do yoga-lite to put him to sleep, and finally hit the hay at midnight.

Three in the morning marks the moment of painful enlightenment for me. Our son cries out for a feeding. I jump out of bed and my lower back locks up into one giant knot. Simultaneously, I am hit with a severe spell of dizziness, and I almost crash to the floor. With my stomach clenched to stabilize my back, and the room reeling a little bit less, I scoop up the little noisemaker, and make my way to the kitchen to prepare a bottle.

Everything hurts–my back, my head, my ankles–and wait, do I need to pee too? Shifting my weight from one foot to another, doing the rhythmic pee dance I have been practicing since I was two years old, I clumsily get a glass of water in the microwave (man, I need to pee). Dropping the small container of breast milk into the warm water, I spin in search of a clean nipple (why won’t you stop crying?). In a state of near-panic I try to unscrew the breast milk container with only one hand as the other side of my body is committed to the task of getting a hungry baby to refrain from waking the entire neighborhood (please don’t spill the milk).

After what seems like an eternity, I make my way back to the couch–baby in one arm, bottle in the other. My partner passes by silently on her way to her scheduled pumping.

“It hurts,” I whine, in a state of borderline delirium. My bladder feels like it is going to explode, and I am somehow, through the fog of relative insanity, weighing the relative merits of: a) rocking back and forth to keep myself from peeing, but disturbing the feeding and evoking the wrath of the back spasms; b) engaging my back muscles to stay still enough to feed, which will certainly be painful, while putting me in risk of peeing in my pants; c) engaging my stomach muscles as I recline, which will place baby in reclined position as well, which usually leads to hiccups and gas, and does nothing to keep me from using the floor in front of me as a urinal.

From behind me in the kitchen, I can hear the rhythmic, almost techno-esque, beat of the breast pump at work. Using the bass line as a distraction from the need to relieve myself, I stabilize myself enough to feed the little one. “It hurts,” I whisper to nobody in particular; referring to no specific pain in particular.

The breast pump, masquerading as an electronic drum machine, goes silent. “I need to pee,” I say, my stomach cramping. Through the darkness I can see my partner giving me a knowing smile. Gracefully, with outstretched arms, she gathers up our child in one fluid motion.

I rush off to the bathroom to take care of one of my numerous pains. Upon my return to the dark room, in between gentle hushes, I hear, “go to sleep.”

Feeling a mixture of relief, defeat, gratitude, and shame, I make my way to bed, and fall asleep. During the few moments between the instant I laid my head upon my pillow, and the second I fell asleep, only one thought repeated in my head, she does this every day; man, is she strong.

Baby You Can Drive My Car…

… Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you
-The Beatles

Sometimes I feel like Samir (of Office Space fame)

Sitting in a car, moving at average to below average highway speeds, making my way to and from work is one of my least favorite things to do. Spending between an hour and a half to two and a half hours staring at the back of various vehicles sometimes makes me consider taking a huge pay cut to open up a lemonade stand in front of our home, just to avoid the ten-plus hours I waste each week scanning radio stations for semi-palatable music in an effort to keep myself moderately sane during my commute.

Lately, I have taken to entertaining myself with anything people have decided to do to decorate the back of their car. This pastime, if nothing else, may make for awkward small talk fodder if I ever find myself in such an undesirable position, and at its best, may make for semi-entertaining storytelling.

There are, of course, numerous fairly clever bumper stickers:

“If this sticker is getting smaller, the light has probably turned green.”

“If you can read this, you are getting too close.”

“Suburbia: Where they cut down trees and names streets after them.”

“I BREAK FOR… Oh, $h!t, no breaks!”

“You! Out of the gene pool!”

“My other car sticker is funny.”

“Republicans for Voldimort”

Yet, bumper stickers are not the only way one can express one’s self through the usage of the back of one’s car as a palate. I haven’t witnessed any incredibly clever uses of this space yet, but I have experienced numerous entertaining moments made possible by my inept interpretation of other drivers’ messages.

This morning I was driving behind a pick-up truck with a hard shell cover for its bed. On the shell’s window was a giant orange decal of a flaming soccer ball speeding towards the iconic bust of Che. I imagine this person was a fan of both Che and soccer, but isn’t it a bid disrespectful to depict a scene where it looks like Che is about to be decapitated by an errant meteoritesque piece of sports equipment?

Two days ago I passed a mini-van that had a giant decal adorning the upper third section of its rear window professing their enthusiasm for underwater hockey! Of course, I thought this was wildly cleaver and ironic, as hockey would be impossible to play underwater. Apparently I was mistaken, and according to youtube, people actually play this wildly exciting and extreme sport.

Yesterday, as I was munching on my second donut of the morning, I got caughtbehind a truck with a a huge sticker  in the window pleading: “CURE DIABETES.”

Well, that was ironic.

However, my favorite misinterpretation of a message came a few weeks ago as I was driving behind a Ford Bronco from the late eighties or early nineties. While stuck in traffic on my way to work, I glanced at the license plate frame, which had a partially obstructed bottom line due to its massive chrome bumper. I read it slowly:

“MY GRANDCHILDREN

ARE OUTER THAN YOURS”

WOW! I thought to myself, That is beautiful. Only in San Francisco would we see a bumper sticker with such affirmation for one’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered grandson. If my son or daughter were to come out, I only hope I can be just as supportive.

I continued to move along at a snails pace, unconcerned with my inevitable tardiness. I was in a state of  euphoric calm, certain that the world was a beautiful place, and secure in the knowledge that all other concerns in my life were trivial. Continuing to peruse the back of the Ford Bronco, my eyes moving from bumper sticker to bumper sticker, I read:

“Proud to be an American,” written in giant white letters over an American flag waving in the wind.

Ummm…  okay. Interesting juxtaposition with the license plate frame, but not unheard of.

“Gun control is a steady hand,” written on one of their bumper stickers.

something doesn’t seem to be adding up, I thought, feeling a bit guilty for stereotyping conservatives, and my accompanying disbelief that patriotism, the NRA, and gay pride could coexist harmoniously in the same space.

I glanced back over at the license plate frame of utopian origins for answers. What am I missing here? How else could I interpret this partially obstructed message?

The answer:

The license plate frame actually read…

“MY GRANDCHILDREN

ARE CUTER THAN YOURS”

With a quiet chuckle to myself, and a couple shakes of my head in disbelief, I slowly made my way to work with slightly less hope than minutes before, but with a little more humor to lighten my day.