Friday, February 16, 2018

Top 10 Songs to Play at My Wake

I’d like to start this post by noting that I think it’s remarkable that it has taken me this long to come up with this list. Throughout my adult life, well before my body ever developed a blood cancer, I have thought of death. I have long been cognizant that this ride will end. For most of my life I think I have thought of my own death because there has always been a part of my spirit that yearns for it. I know this is going to sound dramatic, but, I think there is a part of me that longs for a reprieve from this life that inevitably manufactures suffering. But now that Maria and I have a son, I think I am far less welcoming of death because it would tear me to be away from our Miguelito. Other than losing my mother, I don’t think there’s anything that tears me more than imagining our son growing up without either one of us.

Although my desire to stay alive has probably never been more palpable and urgent, it’s still easy for me to think about my death. I know most Americans would think that’s dark, but I don’t care about that. For myself, it’s been abundantly useful to be mindful of the fact that I will be dead someday because it has helped me to be grateful for what I do have. In terms of death, I think the darkest line of thought my mind has conjured is a mental list of odds of how I’m probably going to die.

But anyway, over the years, I have periodically thought about what music I would want to be played at my wake. In terms of art forms, music will always be my deepest love. (Hypothetically speaking, if I had to lose either my eyesight or hearing, I’m unsure which I would rather keep. I’d probably rather keep my vision, but I’d have to mull it over.) The music I listen to has always been the clearest reflection of how I feel in the present, and—by extension—how I feel about our world. In other words, the music I surround myself with has always been the closest reflection of my spirit.

And so, if I had but ten songs to choose to best express my spirit to those I would be leaving, I would choose to reflect what I think is the gentlest, most beautiful facet of myself. (For the record, I felt really weird writing that last sentence.) This list is simply a reflection of that at this juncture of my life. So, although I listen to these genres a ton during my 38th revolution around the sun, there is no metal here whatsoever. No classic rock. No Motown. No 1960s – 1980s R & B. No surf rock (which has been my latest musical obsession). No Latin or West Coast jazz. And no blues. Instead, these are just some of the most exquisite and perfect songs I have been blessed to stumble upon this long, strange trip.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Shit I’ve Learned in Our First 9 Months as Parental Units

-what a bassinet is (and it’s not a musical instrument!)
-that car seats for babies are rear-facing
-that babies should sleep on their backs
-that newborn babies are voracious eaters
-that baby formula is expensive and, thus, often locked up at supermarkets
-that getting a baby to latch onto a mother’s nipple is not easy
-that women’s’ breasts can get infections from having clogged-up milk (Exhibit A that God is indeed a man. Or a hater. Or both.)
-what “colic” is
-that having a newborn baby poop about 6-7 times a day is not normal
-that it is so not normal when your poor baby has a loose, projectile shit
-that postpartum depression is fairly common (or so it seems)
-that your single, childless friends will largely check out from your life
-that you will suddenly become far more interested in friends and family members who have kids
-that our baby has some strong-ass lungs
-that our baby’s shrills (or what I would consider a 9 or 10 on the volume level of his crying or screaming), if I was in its direct path, could rattle and crackle my eardrums, and it was an absolutely horrendous sensation
-that onesies and baby clothes sold in Amerikkka tend to have some really fucking vapid or obnoxious proclamations:

-that I can function at work at a modest level with 4 – 4.5 hours of pieced-together sleep on a regular basis
-that my short-term memory got noticeably worse those first 3 months of Miguelito’s life on Planet Earth
-that cow's milk protein allergy exists
-that all regular baby formulas have cow’s milk protein
-that many babies have a hard time digesting soy milk
-that it is an awful feeling to have to take your wife and baby to the ER
-that Elecare formula is a goddamn life saver for babies with an allergy to cow's milk protein
-that a shitty pediatrician can have a dramatic negative effect on your baby’s life
-that a competent pediatrician can make a world of a difference for your baby (and subsequently your life)
-that it really sucks to take your baby in for their immunizations (especially for their first shots when they turn three-months old)
-that Mari will instinctively wince and cry when the big syringe is pricked quick and deep into our baby’s thigh, and I am well adept at holding and consoling him while this happens (though it still breaks my heart to remember Miguelito’s face as he winced)
-that a Nose Frida snotsucker is fucking brilliant

-that there is something incredibly adorable about newborn socks, shoes and mittens because they are so unbelievably small
-that at two months of age babies typically begin to coo and smile back at you
-that I began to really love my son once he began to smile at us (I know that’s fickle, but it’s honest)
-that it is not a good idea to purchase your first house and move when your baby is less than two months old
-that strangers tend to be nicer to you when you have a baby
-that most new mothers lose their hair a few months after giving birth due to a sharp drop in estrogen
-that many new mothers develop muscle or ligament strains in their primary arm from carrying their babies (and daddies, such as me, too)
-that “winning the baby lottery” means you have a baby that largely sleeps through the night—and at adult hours
-that babies do not like having a case of the hiccups (but who does?)
-that babies have a thing for crinkly toys or items
-that peepee teepees are not effective whatsoever
-that Mari is the type of parent who will sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to Miguelito in English and Spanish, and I am the type of parent who will hold our fussy son and sing and hum along to Soundgarden’s “Head Down” or “Fell on Black Days” to chill him out—and both musical approaches worked
-that Miguelito likes the color red
-that our son likes to sit out on our porch to watch cars and folks pass by
-that babies do get really, really fussy when their first teeth start to grow out of their gums
-that your baby will get uncomfortable and very fussy if they ever get constipated (No shit, Sherlock!)
-that there are few medications you are supposed to give to babies
-that pumping your baby’s legs back and forth as if they’re riding a bicycle and massaging their stomach can do the trick in getting your kid to poop
-that a baby’s eyes tend to tear up when they’re taking a poop
-that most public restrooms do not have a changing station
-that holding your baby up to sniff his/her butt to check for poop becomes a routine and practical thing to do

-that I have newfound profound respect for my mom and mother-in-law since they somehow or another raised us and made the time to clean our cloth diapers (oof!)
-that babies have a difficult time acclimating their temperature (which means they will fare worse in higher- or lower-than-usual temperatures)
-that having an old house with no insulation or air conditioning is straight up fucking hellish when you have a baby and the outside temperatures are in the upper 80s or higher
-that shopping malls with air conditioning are a certifiable refuge for cheap-skate parents like us on hot-ass summer days
-that you’re supposed to keep babies out of the sun for the first 6 months of their life
-that babies can begin to eat solids when they are 6 months old—and this is a huge marker for parents since babies will typically need more time to sleep at night in order to digest solid foods
-that you’re not supposed to expose kids to TV or videos for the first two years of their lives because it can negatively affect the development of their brain
-that the day can really drag out and get horrendously boring when you’re taking care of your baby by yourself
-that the first 3 months are definitely the roughest
-that baby’s start to show their innate personality when they turn 2-3 months
-that there’s nothing worse than having a sick baby
-that humidifiers are absolutely worth every dollar since they can help your sick, congested baby breath and sleep at night
-that it can be a drag to try to give your newborn liquid Tylenol
-that our baby loves to be out in public to watch other folks, especially kids
-that carrying a stuffed animal around in public—let alone making it talk—is perfectly acceptable if you have a kid around
-that shopping for our daily necessities has become one of our favorite activities since Miguelito is so chill about it
-that Once Upon a Child has a hokey, stupid name (in my humble opinion) but they fucking rule
-that our baby loves to be outside and will get whiny if he is cooped up inside for too long
-that it’s hilarious to watch a baby’s assortment of faces when they are trying out new foods for the first time
-that if I need to entertain or calm or perplex Miguelito for a minute or two I can simply hold him in front of me while I eat crunchy chips, or gurgle a mouthful of water
-this may be just me, but peek-a-boo never gets stale as long as you have a baby that will grin and laugh in return
-that hand puppets are terrific guest readers for story time at night!

-that babies can sleep through an astounding assortment of loud noises
-that continuous car rides or rides on BART have a magical sleep-inducing power over our baby
-that one of my favorite feelings in this world is when I put our son to sleep and gently place him in his crib
-that it’s absolutely adorable when your baby learns to wave goodbye
-that hats on babies can be ridiculously cute (and I’ve never been into hats)
-that babies will lean or lunge toward an object or person they want to be with
-that a Baby Bjorn is a fucking fantastic invention and worth every penny
-what an ExerSaucer is (I prefer to call them Miguelito’s “command center”):
-that we suspect our son is relatively fearless
-that I will not cross the street when I am pushing Miguelito in his stroller and a man with his leashed pitbull is walking toward us
-that pushing our son around in a stroller in public often makes me feel humble and vulnerable in a similar way when I am traveling by myself in a foreign land
-that it is CRUCIAL not to fuck with your baby’s regular naptimes or bedtime because there are few things worse in life than a tired, grumpy baby (especially when you are fucking gassed)
-that I will never ever get tired of coming home and seeing our baby smile at me
-that Mari, Miguelito and I are incredibly fortunate to have our parents around

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Classics Revisited: Eraserhead

I was twenty-one and a half-assed film student when I first watched David Lynch’s cult classic. It was 2001. Back then, Eraserhead—Lynch’s first feature-length film—was so difficult to find in the East Bay suburbs that the only copy I could get my hands on was a LaserDisc from the library at San Francisco State, which is where I watched it between classes. I remember it being an exceedingly bizarre movie, as expected, but I wasn’t swept up by it like I had hoped. Or much disturbed by it.

Seventeen years later, I decided it was high time to re-watch it. I am a far different person now than I was when I first watched it. The obvious difference is that I’m much older now—grizzled even—and seen a lot. And I’m now also fortunate to be the father of a nine-month-old boy. Over the summer, while holding my sleeping son against my chest, I had watched Lynch’s first two seasons of Twin Peaks for the first time. I also re-watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch’s most ghastly, atrocious work that I’ve ever seen) and his terrific unsung film, The Straight Story. Altogether, that was the experience, the new life lens I brought into re-watching Eraserhead late into the night while my wife and our son slept in our bedroom.

Throughout the nearly two-hour-long film, I was continually delighted, surprised and astounded by how much of Lynch’s cinematic language from his latter films was already on full display in his first feature. On one level, that alone deeply entertained me. And as I got swept up in the film, which is basically a surrealist horror film about the fear of fatherhood, I couldn’t help but see how the cinematic elements in Eraserhead would ultimately resurface again and again in Lynch’s latter works. Just look at all the Lynchian elements I spotted in the film’s first hour and six minutes:

Monday, October 16, 2017

2017-2018 NBA season predictions

Well, that was, by far, the most eventful offseason in recent NBA history. First, the Celtics traded the top pick in the 2017 NBA draft to the Sixers. Then D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s ridiculous contract were traded to the Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft. (This trade was particularly significant since it opened the way for the Lakers to draft Lonzo Ball, aaaaaaaaannnnnd, to offload Mozgov’s contract for next year’s free agency season, when a certain King of Passive Aggression from Akron, OH will become a free agent.) Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves. And then Chris Paul, Paul George and Avery Bradley were traded. But the whopper of them all was Kyrie Irving’s polite request for a trade after going to three straight NBA Finals with LeBron and the Cavs. The 2017 NBA Finals concluded in Oakland (yeah!) on June 12th, and I was absolutely rapt by the NBA’s offseason until late August when Kyrie was traded to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, some chump and the Celtics coveted unprotected 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. Goddamn, man. The NBA won the offseason!

But sweet baby Jesus, we’re finally here. The 2017-2018 NBA regular season kicks off with the juiciest opener I can remember: Kyrie returning to Cleveland with his new team. If it were a pay-per-view event, I would fork over good money to see Irving square off against LeBron and his former teammates. Man, I can’t wait.

For once, I wanted to put down some of my predictions for this coming season. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the playoff teams in each conference:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Warriors vs. Cavs: Part Three (La Venganza?)

Since these two superteams are meeting in the Finals for a third straight year, I think the best place to start with this rambling post is to revisit last year’s Finals, which was something I was reluctant to do for a long, long time.

Last year, as you know (if you’re reading this), the Cavs improbably came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title in Oracle Arena. As a long-time Oakland sports fan, I’m no stranger to crushing losses. The 2002 Super Bowl (a.k.a. the Tijuana Bowl) immediately comes to mind, but it wasn’t nearly as devastating as last year’s loss. Part of me is embarrassed to share this because I know, in the end, sports is just sports, but I had a horrific night of non-sleep after our Game 7 loss last year. I probably slept three hours, tops; I awoke a few times and stared off in the dark and couldn’t go back to sleep because I couldn’t stop from thinking of every single goddamn thing that had to go wrong in order for the Warriors to collapse like they did at the end of that series: Curry slipping on a wet spot in Houston in the opening round and injuring his knee; Draymond’s accidental (I think) kick to Steven Adams royal jewels in the Western Conference Finals, which was basically the equivalent of a yellow card, contributing to his subsequent suspension in the pivotal Game 5 of the Finals; our epic, grueling seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder; Bogut’s injury in the 4th quarter of Game 5 in the Finals; and the Warriors season-long chase for the regular season record for wins, a grind which finally caught up to the Warriors at the end of the Finals. That sleepless night, after seeing Kyrie Irving hit a dagger three-pointer in the closing minutes I couldn’t help but think that if even one of those acts had not happened we would have won a second straight title. The day after Game 7, like one of our then-summer interns—a born-and-bred Cleveland Cavaliers fan—I was still in disbelief that the Cavs actually fucking won (let alone beat us three times in a row).

A few weeks ago, I finally mustered the will to watch the replay of Kyrie’s game-winning shot over Steph Curry in Game 7.

Now I can’t fucking wait until tip-off tomorrow.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Farewell, Oakland

When I first moved to Oakland back in June 2011, I was still navigating through a perilous juncture in my life. I was a newborn cancer survivor. I had just finished a first (and super-duper-crappy) draft of my memoir and still dealing with everything that had happened to me. David, a sweet, beautiful man I had befriended while undergoing radiation treatment had just died a few weeks before. And so, I was still acutely aware of how temporary life is. I was still wounded, still brittle, but I was beginning to heal thanks to my writing and a six-week artist residency that winter in Taos, New Mexico. Getting away from San Francisco—the city where a few of my blood cells jumped the rails and went rogue—was nourishing for me. All that solitude was especially good for my spirit; living completely on my own for the first time in my life was freeing for me.

So when I settled back to my typical everyday life in San Pancho, I knew, in my heart, I couldn’t continue to live with roommates; not after I had basked in a more quiet, inward life on my own. At that point in my life—a life that felt incredibly uncertain—my overriding, urgent and borderline desperate need was to establish a rhythm, a way of living that would allow me to be as content and happy as possible. I earnestly felt like my well-being depended on it. (I still do.) Nothing frightened me more than the prospect of relapsing.

And so, I decided to leave the home I had shared with my three roommates. I decided to leave the Mission District, the vibrant, ever-transforming neighborhood where I had lived for nearly seven years. At the time, I worked about thirty hours every week to allow more time to devote to writing, which was a constant tonic. Since I wasn’t raking in piles of money, I couldn’t afford a single-bedroom apartment in the city so I migrated to Oakland, back to the sunny eastside of the bay where I had been raised.

I still remember my first few weeks living right by the eastern side of Lake Merritt. Summer had begun, and I remember how instantaneously at home I felt in my new surroundings just by simply wearing a t-shirt and shorts just about everywhere (except San Francisco when I migrated back for work). I remember how great it felt to come home and kick off my socks and leave them laying in the living room if I wanted. Moving to Oakland was also coupled with a newfound kindling love since I had begun to date my sweetheart, Maria; I remember how at home I felt when we first strolled around the lake on a sun-filled afternoon. Throughout that summer, I remember how proud and at peace I felt when I would stare with quiet awe at Oakland’s minute skyline as I cycled around the lake. I never grew tired of that vista whether if I was immersed within a sea of sunlight or twilight. And when I breathed in that modest but delightful view, I felt like I was exactly where I should be—and I have found that such moments in life are often much too fleeting.

Before long, a year passed. A third Cancerversary was celebrated. With time, I healed. Then Maria and I moved in together, synthesizing our earthly belongings into one home that was truly ours. The years continued to pass. We got married twice in Oakland—legally at the county’s Clerk-Recorder’s office and ritually entwined in front of our loved ones in a forest of redwoods. And then my book was published. That year—probably the sweetest of my life—my heart felt full. My spirit felt at peace (but fleetingly, of course). Then, Maria became pregnant, but she lost the embryo. And then she became pregnant again and lost the second one. Together we weathered that sorrow. Our third one held, and she eventually gave birth to our hijito. All of this happened in Oakland. And then, a few weeks ago, we lifted our roots and moved south to the foothills of Hayward to be closer to our families.

Although I still work in Oakland, it still tore me up at first to not wake within this city that I have loved like no other. In a short, short amount of time, Oakland had become my town. My beat. My haven. My home. I doubt I will ever find another hometown that I identify with so strongly. In its totality, its 78,000 square miles of land, sky and water, Oakland is a diverse, pulsing medley of beauty and fucked-up-ness that I always felt like an extension of.

It would be easy to tick off the places in Oakland I miss and remain fond of, but I’ll refrain. Oaktown is far more than just a list of places I happen to like. The future may not exist, but now that our trinity is here in our new home in Hayward it’s hard not to daydream of Maria and I returning to Oakland to show Miguelito our old haunts (The Grand Lake Theatre! The Rose Garden! Dracena Park! Joaquin Miller Park!), the town where he was forged, and to discover some new places together.

with Maria, eight months pregnant, at Lake Temescal

Friday, April 14, 2017

2016-2017 NBA Playoff Opening Round Predictions!

Fuck yeah! The 2016-2017 NBA Playoffs are finally ready to begin!

I am an unabashed Warriors fan, but I must say, the beginning of these playoffs feels like déjà vu of the 2014 NBA Playoffs when it felt destined that they would culminate with a Finals rematch between the Heat and Spurs. This year, of course, it feels like the Warriors and Cavs will square off again for the championship. And like the Spurs, it feels inevitable that the Warriors will avenge their collapse in last year’s Finals.

At the onset of last year's playoffs, gave the Warriors a 42% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs were given a 9% chance. We know how that turned out. (FiveThirtyEight also predicted an easy Clinton victory in the election—and we know how that turned out…)

For what it’s worth, this year FiveThirtyEight’s playoff forecast believes the Warriors, with their robust +11.6 point differential have a 59% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs and their putrid defense come in with just a 2% chance of winning, less than the other top three seeds in the East. Yeeouch:

Just after they traded for Kyle Korver, I couldn’t fathom anyone in the Eastern Conference knocking off the Cavs. Conversely, before KD’s knee injury, I couldn’t imagine anyone in the West defeating a healthy Warriors squad in a seven-game series. Shit has changed a bit since, but now I feel far more confident that the Dubs will make it to the Finals whereas I am much more uncertain about the Cavs. As ESPN’s Marc Stein pointed out, the 2016-2017 Cavs are 22nd in defensive efficiency and will attempt to be the first team outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency to win it all since the 2000-01 Lakers. And speaking of the Lakers, in March the only team with a worse defensive efficiency than the Cavaliers were the Lakers—who were trying to fucking tank for the draft! LeQueen may talk all he wants about not caring what playoff seeding his teams finish with, but wrapping up the last full month of the regular season with the second worst defensive rating is not a tried and true route to winning a championship. (Did I mention the Cavs finished with a worst road record (3-9) against Western Conference teams than the mighty Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic?)

Okay, enough about the Cavs, who will be a lottery team in two seasons. Here’s some random (and bold!) playoff predictions before I put down my predictions for each opening round matchup: