Working Hard, or Hardly Working

Sunday is my only day off. As my only day off, I usually just want to sit around and do nothing all day long. But also, as my only day off, it’s the day I need to do laundry and clean and buy groceries and, ideally, cook a fun dinner for my wife.

Sunday is also my best opportunity to catch up on my creative work, something I abandoned because of personal life stresses many years ago, which I’m trying to regain. But when I have to do laundry and clean and shop and cook — and really just want to be laying on the couch napping and watching sitcoms with my cat — it’s difficult to also write and read and play guitar and practice my harmonica. But those are things I need to force myself to do.

To force myself to do them, I’ve set myself some goals. In October, I’m working on two short pieces of creative writing: an essay about running for submission to Runner’s World but most probable publication in some other, more minor outdoors magazine, and a short story about an imaginary acquaintance I used to have back in Napa. (He was a troll; he passed away during the earthquake. I used to pass his home on many of my long runs and bid my respects.) Today I did indeed finish the first draft of the running essay, which came in at just over one thousand words. It requires heavy editing and re-working.

In November I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month. My novel is going to revolve around a career hospitality worker, which is a sort of bizarro-world alternative reality I could easily be living. The protagonist is a composite of myself and several people I’ve worked with over the years. His co-workers are, likewise, fictional of course but will incorporate characteristics of restaurant people I’ve known and loved.

And all of this is going on at the same time as my Super Secret Creative Project (tipping my hand a little, it’s a screenplay), and my budding harmonica skills. Little in this world makes me as happy as working towards improving myself. Even if on some base level I do just want to be laying on the couch with a beer.

Eating for Fuel vs Eating for Fun

I used to have a friend back in New Orleans whose father lived somewhere in the Upper Midwest. I remember him complaining once that his father was coming down for a visit and that, while my friend liked to enjoy his meals while taking advantage of the incredible dining options in New Orleans, his father did not take pleasure in eating. He told me something to the effect of: “My dad’s never eaten a meal for fun. He says food is for fuel.”

My friend’s utilitarian father is not wrong. Nor is my friend, the slightly-more-hedonistic son. Food (and the eating thereof) occupies a unique space in human existence, wherein it is a simple biological need at its most basic, while also being understood across cultures as a source of pleasure and tradition*.

I. Food as Fun

I’ve always loved eating. When I was a kid (and into my early teens) I could eat forever. I could eat six burgers in a sitting. In elementary school I infamously ate large jar of apple sauce at our church minister’s house — one small bowl at a time — which my parents were embarrassed to learn when they picked up my sister and I. After soccer practice my mom and I would sometimes go to Taco Bell and I would order ALL of the tacos. (Always soft tacos, of course.) I could eat an entire tray of lasagna, and I loved every bite of it.

Continue reading

Two (Related) Problems with Soccer

This past Sunday I went to the University of California-Berkeley men’s soccer game, their second home game of the year and the first I’ve gone to in a couple of years. I grew up going with my dad to University of Maryland men’s soccer games regularly — as a kid I supported two teams, the Orioles baseball and Terps soccer — and going to Cal games gives me a little taste of that experience again.

Soccer has been in my blood my entire life. I played CYO soccer (St. Isaac Jogues!) for maybe a season or two when I was really little, before having to stop as my divorced parents’ arguments restricted my activities. At 11 or 12 I returned, playing through my first year of college (Go Battlin’ Bishops!) until I hurt my shoulder and realized I was at a terrible college and imagined greater things for myself. As a kid I was a Manchester United fan because I didn’t know any better. (Man-U and Arsenal were the teams that American soccer fans liked before oil money brought prominence to Chelsea, then Manchester City, and now Paris St-Germain.*)

With the Steroid Era and general futility hurting my interest in baseball, and the general evilness of the NFL and its supporting/feeder organizations making it difficult to stomach football**, I’ve returned to soccer. And with UC Berkley just a short trip away — in breaking down the Bay Area, I refer to my side of the Berkeley and Oakland Hills as the boring side, while Berkeley/Oakland constitute the cool side of the hills — I’m trying to go to as many of their Sunday games as I can.

It’s a nice way to spend my only day off, but my experience yesterday brings to mind two things that I think are very wrong with soccer in America. Continue reading

“Extended Kittenhood” Sounds Great, and Terrifying

I’m a bad sleeper. This morning I woke up at about 4 a.m., after going to bed at 1. As I like to say, I “got a bug in my head,” which means that some anxiety or another entered my brain and I couldn’t shake it. So naturally it was only a matter of time this morning before I found myself laying on the couch reading the Wikipedia entry about domestic cats.

It’s a great read. The photo captioned “A cat that has caught a mouse” is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Here’s a sentence that really struck me: “Ethologically, the human keeper of a cat may function as a sort of surrogate for the cat’s mother, and adult housecats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood.” Extended kittenhood! Is there a more adorable phrase in the English language? Absolutely not.

Think about this for a moment. Kittens are the best. They’re small and adorable and playful and happy and squeaky and wonderful. Evolutionarily speaking, the domestic cat is barely removed from its ancestor, the African wildcat. So we’ve taken this wild creature, and in the process of domesticating it we’ve not just made it comfortable in our homes, we’ve also forced a sort of juvenile dependency on it. Under this understanding of cat ownership, my male cat, Puss, ruthless killer of mice and chaser of shoe strings, thinks of me as his mom. And since I’ll never leave him (never!), he’ll never quite grow up.

Cats are the Peter Pans of pets.

Of course, the flip side of this is that stunted development is scary. Are cats the Peter Pans of pets, or are they the Seth Rogens? The overgrown man-children of the pet world, capable of behaving like grown-ups and fending for themselves, but choosing instead to sit by an empty bowl on my kitchen floor and scream until I feed them?

(Notably, that Wikipedia article also suggests that cats’ high pitched meows are designed to mimic human babies. Which is hilarious and wrong because, you know, my cat has never met a human baby. But maybe that’s an evolutionary thing? Seems doubtful.)

Obviously I’m reading too much into this, and doing it on too little sleep. The relationship between cats and cat owners is a symbiotic one, even more so than between dogs and dog owners as cats are closer to their wild ancestors and less dependent on humans. Of course each cat develops differently than it would if we had never domesticated Felix cattus, but “extended kittenhood” is a little bit of a stretch.

Also, here’s a picture of a cat that has caught a mouse:

From Wikimedia Commons.
From Wikimedia Commons.

“Things Will Never Improve Unless We Improve Them”

Toward a Personal Politics of Equity and Historicity

This website, as I currently use it, has a long and peculiar history. When I was 18 or so, I started a website called The Pamphleteer, which mostly sat unused for a couple of years. I had a Livejournal account (technically still active!) that I did actually use. Then I had the food-and-culture blog Eat Together with my now-wife, the URL for which has since been taken over by foreign pornographers and is effectively dead. Then I had this website, or at least its URL, on Tumblr for several years, occasionally using it to blog thoughtfully, mostly using it to interact with the small but active Tumblr-based community of New Orleans Saints fans. In the years since moving to California, I’ve wanted to re-launch a new food-and-culture blog, once going so far as to settle on a name and begin mocking up logos*.

I also went so far as to begin drafting up a mission statement for that website, a statement that articulated the values that I wished to communicate through the site’s exploration of the food and culture of Northern California in particular, the United States more generally, and the broad spectrum of other cultures most broadly. I wanted the site to reflect and subtly communicate my personal values and so, by necessity, that mission statement also expressed a number of values that (I hope) guide my personal, social, and political activities.

These values had a common theme, a theme that I hoped would be evident on my food-and-culture blog and that I am confident is apparent on this one. That theme is equity. In the food world specifically, a concern for equity must (I believe, though others may thoughtfully disagree) begin with a recognition of the power differentials that define our restaurants and foodways. I’ve discussed the presence of sexism in the food world before — sexism that is, by definition, rooted in the power differential between men and women. Other power differentials to consider in the food world (ones that were to be explicitly stated in my blog’s mission statement) include the differentials between patron and server, between the front of house and the kitchen, and between white Anglo-Americans and racial/cultural/linguistic minorities. Others exist, too, including the often-obscure relationship between farmers and the general public, or between farmers and distributors, or between farmers and pretty much anybody who isn’t a farmer.

In the end**, I didn’t have time or money to  commit to the website about which I was fantasizing — at least not to get it to the polished level I wanted — so I’ve funneled my creative energies into this site, taking it off of Tumblr and devoting real work to it. This is my outlet for communicating my values, inasmuch as I want those values to pervade my discussions of the world around me. Sometimes, though, those values need to be communicated less subtly, more directly.

Continue reading

The Long Con, or: What Not to Do in a Good Relationship

“What about you and Alex?” our friend Tiffany asked Franny just a day or two before we left New York City for good.

“I don’t know,” Franny responded. “I mean, I love him, but I don’t think he’s ever going to propose.”

At least, I’m sure she said something to that effect. That’s how that conversation was related to me by my groomsman John — Tiff’s boyfriend — on the day Franny and I got married nearly two years after moving from New York to California. John and I were around for that conversation, but we both missed it. We were probably talking about something more important, like the New Orleans Saints or the Indiana Pacers or whether or not we should order the three-liter boot of beer again.

The exact words are probably slightly different, because that’s just how memories work. But the idea is the same: yeah, she loved me, but was there a future? She wasn’t so sure.

This was intentional. I was playing a dangerous game. It was the Long Con. Unsurprisingly, it very nearly backfired on me.

Just a day or two after she apparently had that conversation, I proposed. It was, in a very traditional sort of way, a surprise to her*. This, too, was intentional.

The only way I knew I could ensure that it would be a surprise would be to make her think it was never going to happen. Franny’s desires, needs, and hopes were clear. We would have very open and honest conversations about marriage and proposing and how she wanted it to happen. I knew she didn’t want to wait forever to get married, but  that she also wanted a longer engagement**. I believed she wanted it with me.

When we had these conversations, or similar conversations about having children, I would be honest as well. But then I would always add — because I’m sort of an asshole this way — that I wanted to wait five to eight years. Or four to six. It always changed, but it was always a long time. Always in the future. Never imminent. Never real.

Those claims weren’t far-fetched, and sometimes I really meant them. After all, I’m divorced, after a very short and ill-advised marriage in my early 20s. (Something so short and so far in my past that approximately half of my friends today don’t even know about it.) I’m more than a little unstable, too, having moved at least once a year since I graduated high school. In the last 11 years I’ve lived in 12 different apartments in five different cities and four different states. People like me are hard to pin down.

But deep down inside, I believed we were together for the long haul. I wanted to get married, and I wanted to propose. I talked about this with John several times over the course of that spring.

Meanwhile, we were having our roughest year personally and professionally. I was unhappy and underpaid at the fancy New York media job that we left New Orleans for. Franny was unhappy at her fancy New York corporate job — until she was laid off and, absent other options, returned to her job as hostess at an East Village restaurant. (Admittedly, an amazing restaurant — now closed — that was at the time among New York’s coolest restaurants.) I, more than Franny, was sinking. I had very quickly gone from a person she considered to have unlimited upside, boundless potential, the brightest future, to somebody who basically just walked around grumbling the F-word under my breath constantly. In New Orleans we knew all the scoops before they were public, and we were invited to all the cool industry events. We — not just me, but we — were cool. Now, I had a cool, fancy New York media job, but I was a wreck.

Not only was I no longer full of potential and exciting prospects, but also, I was kind of an asshole. I’ve always had that streak in me, where a little bit of discomfort can make me lash out at good people. (This was also an issue early in our relationship, when I would get entirely too drunk and say nasty things about people we were with. Not because I didn’t like her friends, but because I felt uncomfortable with the fact that I didn’t have my own***, and that her scene was different from what I was used to.) But now, in New York, I was turning into a bad partner.

Of course, nobody ever sees this in themselves. When you’re deeply unhappy, you also lose all self-awareness. Your actions — and their effects on the people around you — seem normal to you, while everything happening around you is the worst, and everyone is such a jerk, and this city smells like trash and everything’s terrible.

So this is the context in which I was playing my dangerous game. Is it any wonder that at the same time I was thinking about proposing, she was honestly and frankly assessing whether or not she should continue to allow me to hitch my wagon to her star?

In the end we stayed together, we made plans to move together****, and when I proposed she said yes. That last sentence suggests something very important: that things were not nearly as bad as the preceding 850 words made them seem. But that’s a better story, I think.

The real point, then, is simple. Last weekend I married the best person, and I’m deeply grateful that she’s continued to roll her dice on this bizarre unit we call “us.”

*There are important things to say about these tropes, and the way the proposal-engagement-wedding-marriage processes explicitly and implicitly negate women’s agency. In the proposal process, the man is the capacious agent, the woman is a passive recipient of his plans. It’s problematic for sure, and while my wife and I like how we did things, one must recognize how deeply it’s rooted in patriarchy and (let’s be real) sexism.

**In the end, we were engaged for just under two years. I proposed at the beginning of August 2013, in Baltimore, as we stayed there with my parents for a few days before moving west. We were married last week, in mid-June 2015. As we got to the end, we both agreed that maybe a shorter engagement would have been nice. It’s a funny, slightly awkward middle ground. It is, by definition, a transitory phase. And we sat in that transitory phase for quite a while.

*** Not having my own friends in New Orleans, and not really being allowed to, was a big reason my first marriage was so short-lived.

**** Our second cross-country move together, in as many years.