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Ghetto in the Suburbs

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On a walk today I was observing people’s various yards, gardens, and decorating styles and I came upon something I had never seen before: a huge umbrella shading an air conditioning unit, *on top* of a house.

Now there’s several things going on here, I thought. 1) For whatever reason the AC unit must not work very well when it gets too hot. 2) Someone thought that some shade would be the best fix for this problem. I tried to imagine the thought process that went behind this, then the implementation. Some guy (or woman) actually climbed up there, hoisted a huge backyard umbrella up, and figured out how to secure it to the roof. I also imagined the argument they had with their partner that might have gone something like this:

“Well, do *you* have a better idea?”
“Yeah, why don’t we have someone fix it the right way?!”
“I’m not going to pay someone else to do something that I can do myself!”
“Strapping an umbrella to the roof is not ‘fixing’ it!”

Then “the fixer” storms out and gets to work, while the other just swears to themselves, not believing they actually married this person. Or something like that. Either way, I know the neighbors gotta love it.

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feh-too-CHEE-nay

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I am brave (behind my computer screen)

I love to observe and “study” human interaction. What’s really interesting is to watch how insecurities affect body language, tone of voice, and behavior, especially in social settings. And since the rise of social networks, I’ve always been curious how others handle potentially awkward situations in these online social spaces. The big difference I see is that online, all of sudden people are brave. People you only sort of know or knew, who would’t even look you in the eye or say “hi” on the street, all of sudden want to be your “friend”, want to know what you’re up to, and actually comment on your life.

I recently got a friend request from someone I knew in junior high and high school, and if memory serves, she annoyed the hell out of me. This led me to not always be very nice to her. I’ll be the first to admit I have the potential to be a total asshole, and when I was a cocky, figuring-the-world-and-relationships-out-teenager, I didn’t have a whole lot of tact or patience at times. Now with this particular girl, I don’t think I ever made her cry, but I know we weren’t friends. We were in band together and we didn’t exactly ignore each other…but maybe it was a mutual annoyance that sometimes flourished into “words”. Anyway, here she is now, 13 years later, sending me a friend request on Facebook. Unlike many people, I usually only have friends on Facebook that are actually my friends, or are people I care about, because I don’t have time for fake relationships anymore. In fact, long before Facebook or even Friendster (remember that one?) came out, I had started weeding people out of my life that were just too much work to keep relationships with.

So I put a post up to my Facebook friends and asked what they’d do. There were basically two approaches that were recommended: ignore the friend request or add her as a friend to a list that doesn’t show any updates (so she would be my “friend”, but she wouldn’t see anything). I followed up asking if sending a note would be an option, asking why she’d want to be “friends” after all these years (and after our not-so-great relationship). No one really liked that idea.

As many of you know, I’m sort of on a quest for an authentic online representation of myself (see Social Censorship). I mean, if we’re expanding our social circles beyond face-to-face, why should our online self be so different from what people get face-to-face? Why mask or mute aspects of ourselves, just because we can? Why not just use social spaces online to amplify our our true selves? Of course, our persona would translate accordingly. We all act a certain way with coworkers (which could be one list in Facebook where you wouldn’t post that Onion article about how many pounds of pubic hair are being shaved this Valentines Day), and we all act a certain way with our close friends (another list in Facebook where that Onion article would be happy to live).

That being said, I don’t feel comfortable just ignoring friend requests. I’m not the type of person that will pretend I didn’t hear you if you say “hi” to me in person. Sure, I’ll avoid you if I see you across the street and I don’t like you, but only if I know you haven’t seen me first. If I know I’ve been spotted, I won’t run away. I’ll probably even be nice now that I’m not an ignorant, cocky, insensitive teenager. Also, for the people I’ve gotten friend requests from that actually were friends that just sort of faded away, but I’m interested in what they’ve been up to, I accept the request but always follow up with a note saying, “Hey, wow, been a while. Good to hear from you. What’s up?!” as a way of saying, “Glad you found me and I care about this relationship we just (re)started, even if it is online”.

I think we sort of owe it to each other as humans to be respectful of one another, even from behind our computer screens. We shouldn’t do or say things online that we wouldn’t do or say face-to-face. Sure, maybe it’s easier to work up the courage to reconnect with people electronically, which I think is fine, but then don’t be afraid to follow it up with a conversation. Don’t just friend someone and let it fall by the wayside with your other 543 “friends”. What’s the point of that? How do we benefit from having hundreds of connections that we either block or hide from? On the other hand, don’t “friend” people you don’t really want to have a relationship with. Save that person the agony from over-thinking it (as I have here).

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Dial 911

I’ve been off the map because almost seven weeks ago my third daughter was born. Her birth wasn’t easy. It never is, but this was about as far from the peaceful homebirth that we had planned as you could get. The birth story is a novella in and of itself, but I’m going to zero in on one slice of it. Handling emergency.

There were some complications and at the drop of a hat, our midwife was yelling, “Luke, get the car ready! No, wait! Call 911!” I had been here before, sort of. With the birth of our first daughter, things were getting rough and we decided to call 911 for a transport, but in that instance, I wasn’t the one calling. We had others there to help and somehow I knew things would be fine. And they were ultimately. She was born at home just as the firemen and paramedics were walking through the door. This was different. I knew this could be life or death and I was filled with fear. My heart was pounding out of my chest, but here’s the weird part: my mind was calm. I was holding my 2.5-year-old and our 5-year-old was looking on, and I knew I couldn’t be the one freaking out. I ran to the back room to grab the phone and dialed. I talked fast, but I got the dispatcher all the info he needed and stayed on the line conveying info from our midwife to the dispatcher. Throughout the entire ordeal (which lasted on through the next week), it was the same. My heart was out of control, physically and emotionally, but my mind was always clear.

We’ve had friends that had to dial 911 and they couldn’t remember their own address or couldn’t convey coherent thoughts which ultimately delayed the response. It’s crazy, but I know it happens all the time. In times of emergency, a lot people freeze up or make poor decisions. I’m very thankful that wasn’t what happened to me. I’m not special, obviously, but I have thought back to that moment, that day, that week, and wondered at how I was able to handle it so calmly. Life experience? Genetically passed on nerves of steel? Faith? Dumb luck? I don’t know. Oh, and just so I don’t leave you hanging, Aliya is fine now and is a perfect, healthy baby.

How have you dealt with emergencies?

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Fix that toilet seat

Damn! It’s almost been a month since my last weighty entry and I have to say, shit has not let up one bit. But we all have a lot of “big things” we’re handling in our lives, right? For instance, I’m a husband, father of soon-to-be three, sole provider for the family at this point, and then there’s the cat. Every day I try to learn more, be better, and just keep it all together, and there are definitely days (sometimes more than I’d like) that I struggle. So how does one cope?

There’s lots of ways to cope with our daily grind: drugs and alcohol, maybe God(s), meditation, work, music, or as my co-worker Shelby likes to say, belief in the Cosmic Muffin. But you know what my latest bit of peace is? Fixing the toilet seat. Then shaving or taking a shower. That’s right. TAKING CARE OF THE LITTLE THINGS. Those little things that we put off, probably because we know they’re easy, or not THE most important thing at the moment. See, we’ve had this loose toilet seat in our master bathroom for like a year now, and it drives us both nuts, and finally one night I just looked under the “hood”, found the loose nut, and tightened it. Two minutes of work, then pure bliss. And I began to realize how important taking care of those little things are for our daily comfort and peace of mind. Spending a few minutes here or there on something concrete, something you can easily conquer, something you like, somehow refreshes you to tackle those bigger things.

I don’t know. This has probably been analyzed or stated in a million books on success (which I will never read), but I have really found it to be true. Take care of the little thing that you know you can knock out in five minutes, and I bet you’ll be as surprised as I was at how good it feels.

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Vulnerable

I have issues with illness and I think I can go so far as to say I have issues with weakness too. I know that’s a pretty broad statement, but we’ve all had moments of being weak in some way in our lives. Whether it’s being the smallest kid on the playground, or too sick to do what others do, or not having the knowledge or mental abilities of others, we’ve all been less than what we want at some point, and I think we can all agree it doesn’t feel good. And somewhere along the way, I’ve come to associate being sick with being weak. Maybe it’s a throwback to something primal. The weak get sick, the sick are easier prey, and nature doesn’t care if that illness is “something common” or “unavoidable”. In the wild, sick animals either die young or become an easy meal for others. Somehow, modern science hasn’t exactly changed this animal attitude in me.


After having kids, I have to say my perspective has changed a little. After all, my kids do get sick and it’s terrible. Even if it’s a basic cold, it breaks your heart to see their worried, watery eyes and their runny noses that they don’t exactly know how to handle. They’re kids, they don’t understand what’s going on or why it’s happening, and of course you have sympathy for them and become willing to do whatever it takes to heal them. Yet I still struggle with that need to do anything and everything to make them feel better, and telling them to “suck it up”. I know it sounds cold and I do struggle with it. This attitude extends to adults as well, the difference is if you’re a kid, I’m more likely to cut you some slack. But if you’re an adult, especially a male, you won’t be getting much, if any, love from me.


As with everything, I guess it goes back to childhood. Being raised by a single mom, there were no sick days because there was usually no one to take care of you. Sure, great grandma would watch us sometimes, but that was no trip to the park. School was a friendlier place and at least that way you got to see your friends and not fall behind in work. Grandma was serious old-school, smoked like a chimney, and watched golf or soaps (read=BORING). She wasn’t neglectful, but she showed little mercy on the sick. And let’s talk about moms. She’s young for a mom of someone my age, 54, but she’s had over 50 surgeries, most of them on her knees, shoulder, and ankle. From the time I can remember I marveled at the scars on her legs—their pearly/purple/pink hue and how they snaked across the area where her knee-cap should have been. Mom showed very little fear or weakness, even though she nearly died on the operating table several times. When she’d go away for surgeries I’d ball my eyes out, worried she wouldn’t come back, yet she trucked on out that door confident (at least on the surface). And of course, grandma never cried and simply told me to stop followed by a, “There’s just no goddamn sense in it!”


Then there was AIDS. On top of all this, my mom was a counselor for AIDS patients, usually in their last 6 months or year of life. This was in the ’80s, the beginning of understanding this disease and I’m putting it mild to say that shit wasn’t easy. My brother and I spent much of our evenings and weekends in the hospital, splitting time between the waiting room and the room of whoever was dying. This began when I was 6 or 7 and my brother was 8 or 9. It was really an amazing experience to be with these people and hear their stories. I can’t begin to explain the impact of being so unabashedly exposed to death, IV drug use, and homosexuality at such an early age.


Being half Japanese in an all-white small town, I had struggled through discrimination. Chris Rock has this hilarious skit where he states, “The black man has to FLY to where the white man can walk” and that’s exactly how I felt. I couldn’t just be a good student, I had to be the BEST student. I couldn’t just play the trumpet, I had to be first chair. I joined the baseball team and it wasn’t okay to just play the game, I competed. All this slowly cut me a place at the table, and I was still made painfully aware of my differences, but at least I could sit at the table, even if it was uncomfortable. But once the other parents and kids found out mom was helping AIDS patients, they wanted us banned. They held a special PTA meeting where my mom had to defend the fact we didn’t have AIDS and weren’t contagious. It wasn’t long before my brother and I were called fags and homos. All this before I reached 5th grade. Despite all this, I really enjoyed my time with these unique people suffering from this terrible disease, and learned a lifetime of lessons from them. Of course the hardest part of knowing people with AIDS was attending their funerals. In my life I’ve been to far more funerals than weddings.


So yeah, after saying all that shit, I’d say it’s pretty clear why I take issue with illness. It’s unacceptable. It’s dangerous—especially if others see it—and you can’t escape from or cure some illnesses. I’m constantly struggling with common sense, scientific fact, and my experience. I tell myself over and over that being sick is natural and everyone deserves compassion when they’re sick, and weakness isn’t something to look down on. Yet, when I do begin to feel sad or “soft”, in the back of mind, there’s a little smoking grandma screaming “there’s just no goddamn sense in it!”


What’s you’re experience?

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Mind Altering

We sought shelter in coffee shops and later in bars. Same idea, different drinks I guess. We had our inner circle but being in public opened up possibilities; connecting with people that weren’t part of the original plan, as if we actually had a plan. It was before text messages, Twitter, My Space, and Facebook, and our social networks were old school. We rolled down windows, shouted out, made eye contact, and used tongues, not finger tips. But I was always eager to move beyond these confined social spaces. I guess I felt our spirits went beyond what was being served. I always craved the open spaces or the ocean and the sand to absorb what we had.

My drug was the night. The inner circle left the coffee shop and drove to the over pass. We parked and walked under, into the open reserve to open skies and stars, cool air, and heightened senses. I didn’t want to dull my senses, I wanted them turned on. I wanted our minds to be stimulated by what we heard and smelled and felt, not just what we saw. We used to tread over grassy hills and under oak trees and our only concern was the night ranger that rarely came. Being outside gave us the opportunity to really hear each other which led us to really talk to each other. It was as if we had to get out in the open to be open. I learned more and shared more on these nights than I did in a year of daytime conversations.

Then the spaces changed. There were house parties, more drugs, and of course bars. And though I enjoyed the social lubricant of alcohol, I was still drawn to something larger. I didn’t want drugs that made me see colors or images that weren’t normally there. I didn’t see why I needed that when there were plenty of naturally occurring mind-fucks like fear and love and people you didn’t understand, and I knew I hadn’t even begun to experience these.

I used to drive around in the early morning hours by myself, listening to The Roots, and when I thought of something that I was afraid of I went to it. I would drive to the beach by myself and walk across the sand, defenseless, with my sight dulled by darkness and my hearing rendered useless by deafening waves. I would walk to the water line and imagine all the scary shit out there, then walk slowly into the freezing water up to my knees. I would stand there, alone, the ocean swirling around me and only the stars to watch over me. I imagined jelly fish and sharks and weird squishy things. I would stand there even though my whole body was screaming for me to run back to the dry sand, up the hill to the safety of the street and my car. But I resisted cause I was high; I was fucked up on fear. I was afraid as shit but I stayed with it and then calmly walked away. Talk about mind altering.

Just about everyone I know has done more drugs than me and I really have no problem with that. We still go to coffee shops and bars, and some of us still do plenty of drugs. I know that has its place. But as I watch my kids grow up I’m constantly reminded of how rich reality is and I’m not ready to let it go or be afraid of it or start living distantly. I want to really be in it, right up to my knees, with the ocean in front of me and only the stars above.

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As I Sat in Bed…

…I was hopeful for so many wonderful things. I was hopeful my eyebrows wouldn’t grow over my forehead, because then I would have to shave or pluck my forehead. You may be interested to know, I do not hope to shave my forehead. I was hopeful someday my cat would turn into a tiger and I could ride him like a pony. I hoped for aliens to visit, but they would be small, pocket-sized in fact, and I could cary them around with me and ask them for advice, tell them jokes, or just talk to them like tiny therapists. And as we walked around I hoped we’d have theme music that everyone could here, that would adjust to whatever mission we were on. It would be country rockabilly on a hot day as we rode my tiger-cat to the grocery store, then banda for our trips to the local taqueria, then obscure funk for our Friday nights after work. I also hoped everyone else could have their own theme music as they passed by so we could know more about them. Then I thought about my now tiger-sized cat trying to eat the alien and what theme music would go to that and things got complicated, so I hoped for something simpler…perhaps just being able to sleep through the night would do. And it did.

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Love Everyone, Even the Stupid Ones

In high school I was a big-time hacky-sacker. Oh yeah, me and my hacking crew were practically pro. Anyway, as you may or may not know, true hackers follow general Rastafarian rules. One love. Don’t self-serve. All are welcome. Most are high. Some are even vegetarian. I have to admit I loved the physical challenge of the sport, and I never self-served, but that was just about it. I didn’t love everyone. I never smoked pot and there was no way in hell I was going to be a vegetarian. Through my acquaintances in the “hack world” I came to know and love reggae music though, and as I listened to the lyrics and felt the proverbial vibe, I really did believe that it would be great to love everyone. I mean, how can you argue with that? In practice though, I loved my shit-talking and clung to my opinions and judgements like a religion.


Back in the day, I used to joke that I was really working on loving everyone, and my friends who knew me best always laughed, because they knew my sharp wit and tongue weren’t on board. And today, I would say I’m much closer to this goal, and my tongue is too, but I still struggle like hell. Maybe you can help me? Here’s a list of people I’m having a hard time loving at the moment:

  • Tea Baggers (a.k.a. Tea Party peoples): What the hell is up with these people? They’re mostly financially stable white people with, as far as I can tell, very closed minds and very short sight. (See Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated) Well, I guess that sums up the Repbulican party (see next)
  • The Republican Party: I truly believe everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but what kind of people don’t believe everyone on earth deserves peace, love, happiness, comfort (physical, financial, emotional, etc.), and an education? No exceptions. Sure these things are almost impossible in some countries, but we can’t call ourselves the greatest country on earth- which these fools shout from the mountain tops every day before they pray over their Wheaties- if we can’t give every person in America a job opportunity, health care, an education, and safety. These people need to READ their bibles, not just throw them.
  • Guys With Super-Jacked up Trucks: C’mon. Seriously? Absolutely no utility and don’t say it’s part of culture. Even cowboy culture- which I believe use trucks quite often- thinks it’s rediculous, trust me. What I love best is that 90% of every douche-bag driving one of these is 5’8″. It might be fine if they didn’t also have chrome balls dangling from their trailor hitch and bumper stickers that say “Gun control means using both hands” and “All fags will burn in hell” right next to their “Jesus is King” sticker. Sad shit.
  • People Who Talk Over Other People: Just plain rude and shows you’re not listening and not interested in actually having a conversation. Might as well just go home, record yourself, and play it back over and over and save the rest of us the frustration.

Okay, I’m done…for now. Even after getting riled up here, I still want to keep working towards that love. I guess the bottom line is I’m open to coversation with anyone who has an open mind, and I know I may have something to learn from you, even if I think you’re stupid (and as long as you don’t talk over me).

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The Day

It’s the kind of day for Miles…maybe some Flamenco Sketches. Or maybe Jets to Brazil, their mellow stuff. Good emo-shit with haunting chords and a raspy voice leaving its heart and guts all over the track.


It’s the kind of day where darkness settles and the sky could open up and drop bullfrogs on you…or…just a mellow drizzle that you can day-dream to, thinking optimistically about the water soaking deep in the soft earth, an underground well pooling for us to all draw strength from, at least once the sun shines…some day.


It’s a day to sit in an auditorium after class, music echoing in your ears, the smell of wet clothes and carpet wafting after all the students have left. Well, almost all the students. Someone could approach and ask, “You okay?” then smile, and you don’t feel sad or anything, actually, now you’re happy.


It’s a day for reading in a coffee shop, alone in public. Your book is amazing but you’re only half-involved cause your fellow humans are just so damn interesting and you don’t have an agenda, so whatever.


It’s a day where a bunch of people might just decide to get naked and run through the rain, screaming and hollering, refusing to be afraid. They certainly would be afraid, but their excitement is so loud they can’t hear anything besides their hearts pounding and their bare feet slapping on the ground.


It’s the kind of day where the kids’ squeals, dialogue, and laughter are constant background noise, their would-be-outside energy bubbling up through their pretend, inside play. It’s a day where you could be crazy-productive in this background banter and kick some serious Job Ass.


Or maybe it’s just a day. Dark, windy, and wet, but just a day. You’re inside looking out and none of it has any affect at all.