Category Archives: things i worry about

On my knees. An open letter to Santa Fe.


O Santa Fe.
you can build adobe yoga rooms
paint your ceiling beams brown

you can move firewood via burro
scratch the chins of the howling coyotes
and dangle chiles in every doorway

go ahead and dip Indian bread in mugs
of broth where “mild” is the new “hot”

i’ll even let you redefine the Frito Pie
or put vibram soles on moccasins
call every blue stone by the same name
and allow Amazon’s elite guests to geocache in the Plaza

but DO NOT—seriously—DO NOT FUCK with the panda bear.


Take “shelfies” not “selfies”

My mother does not want a photo taken of her. Not now, not even ten years ago. She doesn’t even want me to know her age, which I think is around 75 plus minus two or three. Either she’s gotten to the age or I’ve gotten to the age where my friends and I reserve entire evenings to discuss MOM stories.

I’ve always thought it was a better choice to make art than write stories, because when all else fails you can always give your art to your mom. The problem with this is that when she’s trying to sell her house and clean up and toss shit out she won’t let you throw the art out. Yes, Mom I drew that, but come on, it’s got to go.


My mom doesn’t make it easy to visit her, even though she still does nice things like leave the hall light on for me if I go out at night, or places a clean cup under the coffee maker for me to use in the morning. The problem with Mom is, well, it’s not entirely clear what the problem is.

When I visit her in New Mexico I can stay home, keep her inside, jump up and down with her when exciting points are made on the tennis channel, and re-watch the entire collection of Thin Man movies. But things get confusing because she keeps root vegetable chips inside of a sea salt potato chip bag (and maintains it that way), she has two pepper grinders, one she puts ground pepper in and the other whole peppercorns, refuses to give me the code to the house alarm, and leaves half apples, half bananas, half peaches, and I swear half blueberries everywhere, nested inside a half paper towel.

The alternative is to take Mom out into public. There she’ll clip her nails at the restaurant while gawking at the man who walks in with a prosthetic leg. She’ll refuse to use the pepper grinder the restaurant has placed on each table, choosing instead to sit there and not eat, constantly making a pepper grinding motion and saying “I’ll wait for them to bring out the fresh pepper.” She’ll go to the Apple store in Albuquerque with me, and after she decides to buy the iPad and before she hands over her credit card, she will cozy up to the 18 year old genius and point at me suspiciously, asking him to double verify what I told her, that she will indeed be able to use the iPad in Santa Fe.


At Mom’s house there’s always a barometer. There was a barometer in our house when my parents were married too. One friend who had been to both my dad’s and my mom’s house remarked how interesting it was that my parents were both into barometers. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it was really all Mom. She bought the one at the old house, didn’t take it with her when she left my dad, and bought herself a new one after moving into her new home.

Mom and Dad were scientists but it’s always funny for me to say it was my mom who designed explosives. She had something to do with the explosive that is set off when a car’s air bag is released. I always toss that one out when people get that look on their face after hearing that I grew up in Los Alamos.

Going to help Mom this past week, I feared the closet full of coffee makers, the eternal bag of bags, the bamboo baskets of matches. But she’s done a lot of work, “clearing the junks” as she likes to say, and only a few things made me pause to think they survived the purge. A framed jigsaw puzzle of an autumn pumpkin harvest, all my old art, a horrific carved ivory piece which I have never seen during my childhood and a jar of Carmex from way back in the past when I used to be addicted to Carmex, or at least said shit like that.


She doesn’t have many books, once you take away my brother’s sci-fi paperbacks and my random books from college and my Beatles phase. Looking at her “shelfie” is a little like looking at her through her Oakley sunglasses. She’s lost one of the nose pieces so she just replaced it with one that’s a different height. Doesn’t bother her though.

In no particular order:

What and How of Chinese Painting
America’s Hidden Corners
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Monet’s Years at Giverny
The Practical Encyclopedia of Feng Shui
Cooking with Rosemary
Zen To Go
The Complete Illustrated Guide to Medical Self Care (take care of yourself)
The Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair
The Complete Guide to Antiques
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare
Intermediate Readings in Chemical German
Italian for Travelers
French for Beginners
Explosives, third edition

Awakening the inner chile

The world outside New Mexico has finally discovered Hatch Chiles. Not that they’ll stop spelling “chile” as “chili” but at least they’ll stop using those damn Ortega’s.
Like ice cream being the new cupcake or paleo being the new Zone diet, there is nothing hotter than being in the know about Hatch chiles in August. Used to be I’d have to pack them in a cooler for the 16-hour drive from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, or stash them frozen in my luggage for the flight. Friends that knew I was packing the green stuff prepared for my arrival by buying posole, orange cheese, Negro Modelo and cubed pork butt. The short harvest season (six weeks) makes timing super important.


Now it seems globalization has hit Hatch. 18-wheelers that have driven all night from New Mexico to California set up in school parking lots filled with burlap bags of chile, and if you’re really in the know you will ask for “Chavez” to roast your stash. Now that Bristol Farms has fully embraced this “the roast is on” fad, in the cake and cookie department the signs say “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”

In the cheese department, “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”
In the meat department, where at least there you can get tenderloin marinated with HATCH CHILES! or sausage made with HATCH CHILES!, but yes, by the pickles and the beers: “It’s now or next year! Hatch chiles are here!”


So I bought some. Why not? They’ve come all this way, and they smelled, even un-roasted, incredible.
I made my way to the checkout aisle, where a lady wearing a t-shirt with a green man-chile and the phrase “Ask me about Hatch Chiles” on it asked me if I found everything I needed. I nodded. She scanned my groceries quickly, slowing down only to count the snack bars that I buy by the box because Bristol Farms is the only place that carries them. But then she got to my bag of chiles. She frowned. I looked up, just about to swipe my card. She turned one of the chiles over and then slid the bag on the scale, pressing with both hands to keep the chiles from falling out of the plastic bag. She looked up at her monitor and then she pulled out the book to look up the code for… what ARE these?”


PS. The one sign that didn’t mention Hatch said “Now serving coffee in our café.”

Space time continuum at the Velodrome

At my second lesson to get certified riding the track at the Velodrome things got weird. Not like some law of physics failed to keep me from sliding down from the balustrade, which I did manage to claw my way up to, for around four laps, but weird like one of us (there were four of us riding together) fell into a space time warp.


We started riding happy as can be (a “warm up” is 40 laps!) in proper order, white, black, red (that’s me), and teal. All the way to lap 32 teal was right behind me, but then he must have taken a turn into the pit of nylon teeth because as we rounded the turn all of sudden there he was, in front of us.


Teal swears he never stopped riding, and the three of us riding in front know he never passed us. He came out of nowhere. He blipped. Maybe the three of us were going so close to the speed of light we were tossed into a space-time warp. Maybe if I stop worrying about whether I’m going fast enough, and why the tires against the wooden boards sound like fingernails on a chalkboard I might be able to pay attention to where the other riders are. All I know is that if all you’ve ever done on a bike is road cycling, having someone that you know is behind you end up in front of you without them ever passing you is a sign you need to pull over and eat something.

There’s a story Sam Spade tells in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon often called the Flitcraft parable. It’s about a man who almost dies from a falling beam and completely walks away from his life, only to pick up a few months later in a different city with a different wife, doing the same thing he was doing before the beam fell. The last sentence in Spade’s telling of the story is: “I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”




I’m not interested in whether Jonathan Franzen hates Twitter, or bashes Oprah and Rushdie, and I could do without knowing about his blue-balled boner and coin-tossing rage, and financial status:
news but nearly fifty years after Marshall McLuhan wrote “the medium is the message,” after who knows how many gazillion downloads of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement speech,

“…It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…”

I confess to feeling some version of disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Jonathan Franzen, unabashedly, unironically gives his “Freedom” away. To what? To an ad campaign.

“…And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being…”

Franzen sees himself as the target of the campaign, but he allows his reaction to the ad to dictate what computer he buys. He’s trying to see reason in the ad, he’s even given the characters personalities. Hello! It’s a bloody ad. (OK, he tries to distance himself by naming the actors who play the Mac and the PC rather than just calling them The Mac and The PC, but he ends up looking like the computer geek that grows a ponytail so that he doesn’t look like…ahem…a computer geek.)

Ads are not meant to have smugness or desires, ads are meant to elicit from the viewer the emotion that ads can and should have smugness and desires, and someone who dares to say “But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control” should understand the power of the global corporate system of control that is advertising:

From a profile of Naomi Klein written by Larissa Macfarquhar in the New Yorker and a permanent snippet I keep by my bed:

But students in 1996 weren’t interested in identity; what they talked about was economics. At the time, corporations were starting to make inroads into schools: soft-drink companies were negotiating exclusive deals; advertisements were appearing in bathrooms. There was a feeling in the air that corporations were getting too powerful—more powerful than governments, but not accountable to anyone except their shareholders. And, at the same time that big corporations were withdrawing physically from the United States and opening factories overseas, visually, even spiritually, they were everywhere, insinuating their logos into what had once been public space. Young activists found this especially objectionable, perhaps because one of the places into which corporations insinuated themselves most effectively was youth and activism, folding mutiny into advertising so deftly that resistance seemed futile.

Or…from something I wrote, (tldr):

At the roofline, spread across the width of the building, is the name of the company in steel letters so large the average human cannot take in the entire word in one glance; there just isn’t enough space to back up far enough. In the world.

In the hallways there are ads. Mock ads, historical ads, ads to throw darts at, ads to move you, and ads worth further study. Underneath the ads are long benches made of perforated metal. Inter-agency it’s a well-known fact the benches are hell to sit on, the backrests are too low, and the surface leaves a circular pattern on clothing. The only people who find this a positive thing are the junior coordinators, as it’s a foolproof way to keep track of who’s the client and who’s on the account team.

Lounge chairs and side tables with surfaces too small for laptops are clustered underneath orbs of designer lighting; these “landing pads” unify the long channels of work cubbies. The cubbies themselves are drenched in individualized tidbits — baby pictures, snapshots of sports stars, carpal-tunnel-preventing squeezy toys, wind-up toys that dance and fart and say hello in a foreign language, contraptions that spit out sticky notes in the shape of toast, and the occasional bag of herbal tea. The only uniform item on every desk in various shades of wear and tear is a single computer key, bright red with the word PANIC in white capital letters.

They, make ads. They have Creatives who sit on beanbag chairs and C-level executives who meet with the Creatives in Cones of Silence. They allow dogs, ferrets, and fish in the building. They next-day-air printers and laptops and ergonomic chairs so the traveling executives do not have to carry them on a plane. They have statistics centers, war rooms, brainstorm pods, tool kits, media resource libraries, Consumer Configurators, Personal Game Plans, “Negative-Free” zones, punch bowls filled with imported Italian mints, glass shelving stacked with abstractly shaped awards, huge microwaves, and an employee recreation area the size of a half basketball court. They have the smallest network server room and IT staff-to-employee ratio of any company their size and the largest plasma television screen technically possible hanging in the commons room 24/7-ing their ads. They are “Breakthrough.” They are “Integrated.” They are “Brand-centric.” They have no dress code.

My brain/bike on drugs


I’ve always dreamed of being able to straddle a bike and not rack my nough-nuts. No standing on tip-toes, no one foot up the curb. I also hate everything behind “girl” bikes, from the idea of “shrinking everything proportionally until she fits – she won’t miss/need/understand the power, control and comfort,” to changing the name of a bike from Roubaix (the finish in the famous Paris-Roubaix road race) to Ruby (?) to give it a more “je ne sais quoi WTF ‘Ruby’ means.” And let’s not talk about just slapping on some purple paint. Have you seen what purple looks like when it’s going really fast?


Getting a new bike is like trying to photograph a trout by holding down one part of the fish. It flops like a mother, and flips this way and that. Hold the top tube steady and the seat tube flies backward. Hold the head tube still and the handling goes out the window. In addition, smaller sized bike frames have this funny thing called Toe Overlap, where the foot in its most frontward position will hit the wheel if the wheel is turned far to one side.


Turns out I am 1/4″ taller than what some people say the cut-off height is for people to ride regular sized wheels without getting litigious with Toe Overlap. This 1/4″ is huge, it allows me to ride certain roller coaster rides, and I am able to get my bike on the car rack (yes tip-toes involved, plus I have to smash myself against the side of the car, but no curb necessary), but it won’t get me anywhere close to being able to straddle a bike. That’s because proportionally I am 50:50 torso:legs. I fold like a book. I wear 30-30 jeans. I’m cuboidal.

Here it is: my toe clearance, coming in at 7mm. Makes me want to keep my toenails trimmed.


You can’t always get what you want.

My bike-fit guy looks at the numbers and sees a bike. What I get is a bunch of numbers that don’t make any sense, only I think “They’re numbers! My buddies!” and if I stare at them long enough the mathematics will present themselves in some equation of a bike, only my vision comes with lunch.


on slowness: old spies in a hurry

The holiday season slows everything down, and it’s mostly a good thing, with or without family, the hours seem to crawl.
Time is like bad weather, it only matters when there’s nothing you can do about it.

The rain makes introspection easy, and if you have proper gear, and lashings of coffee and scones waiting for you, then there’s nothing better, after reaching the flood in the road,

than taking your whisky into its natural environment, softening the dram with rain and accentuating the peat with some wet dog on the nose.

Drinking scotch in lush green landscapes reminds me of the scene in the BBC’s production of Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, where George Smiley takes a bottle to Connie Sachs amid a gigantic rainstorm to “go over some very old ground.”

But beware of too much holiday idleness. You only have a limited amount of time farting around before the chicken claw mafia comes and tells you enough is enough.


In memory of my father’s passing I created a website where friends and colleagues could post photos and remembrances. One letter, from an old Chinese friend of my dad who apparently knew him at a young age (speaking about my dad, he wrote: “A lot of childhood stuff starting to pop into my head: mischief, the way he walks, talks, playing silly in front of girls, his lovely parents and grandma”), contained a rather peculiar sentence which went unnoticed for several months. Not “unnoticed” like I didn’t read it and think it was weird, but rather “un-taken seriously.” At the time I figured the entire letter had been put through Google translation and, like the way most Chinese vegetables get presented as “lettuce,” some nickname or term of endearment which the friend used must have gotten twisted into the word “stepfather.”
Mr. Dai wrote: “Most importantly, he is a wonderful son ( I know for fact, he loves his father (stepfather) dearly until his pass-away).

When my father’s wife threatened to sue my brother and I (not sure over what), and then in a follow-up email forwarded a powerpoint presentation of the concept of a mathematical magic square with the eerie command “Enjoy it,” we decided that sleuthing out the grandfather-as-stepfather rumor was a brilliant way to avoid dealing with crazy people.

Mr. Dai told my brother that he had heard our father’s biological father died as a pilot in the Chinese Air Force, which prompted a search in all the old photos for anyone that was Chinese, wearing aviator glasses, and short. (my *ahem* grandfather was very tall, a “clue,” seeing as how short my father and my brother and I are, when you really take the ridiculousness of all this into account)

We asked some old family friends, who all said they knew nothing, but offered similar stories from their own family, of non-biological parents kept secret for generations, of a father who said to his family “I had a wife and family back in China, and they’re coming over… today.”

Then we asked the husband of my grandfather’s cousin, who had taken good care of my father’s family before they moved to Taiwan in 1949, who said he knew nothing of the matter, and even seemed a little sad that we would doubt the bloodline between his family and ours. Then we debated whether to get DNA tested with the daughter of that cousin, to really settle matters.

Then we asked my mom, who said she didn’t know, but always suspected it (whatever that means). My mom of course sent us on another wild goose chase, recalling an incident around thirteen years ago when my father was shocked to find out he was unable to donate blood to my grandfather due to blood type. My mother couldn’t remember the details but it revolved around something like if you were A type, then both your parents had to be A, and clearly my dad was an A, and his father wasn’t. Of course, this isn’t entirely true, and the Internet sez it’s quite common for children not to be able to donate blood to their parents, and keep in mind my mother—in the same breath—insisted that my brother and I had “Type Q” blood. If you put “Type Q” blood into Google translation you find out it means you carry the trait of being able to slurp oysters with grace, something shared between my brother’s children, myself and MO. The smurf hand I inherited from my mother’s side.

China in the 1930’s was invaded by Japan, then entered WW2, then began its own civil war. There was no shortage of widows, abandoned children and dead fathers. My father had always said there was debate as to the year he was born, one reason being that many Chinese kids were considered to be one year old when they emerged into the world (the 9 months in the womb providing the experience of one year on the outside), and we don’t have any specifics like my grandparent’s marriage certificate or anything, so we have no idea whether my grandfather met my grandmother while she was pregnant, or whether she already had her kid. We don’t even know if she was married to the pilot guy. We even tossed around the idea that maybe my grandmother was a rape victim of the Japanese, in which case I’d be quarter Japanese (am I allowed to buy a Prius now?).

What we do know (and this is where it gets weird) is that my father’s name (a rather unique name) is the exact same name as my grandfather’s first son. Say WHAT?

My grandfather left behind a wife and son in Cixian during the westward retreat of his university due to the Japanese invasion, and this wife and son (both long dead) was kept a secret from my dad for nearly fifty years, until the eve of my grandparents’ first trip home to China after an exile of nearly as many years. My father in turn kept it a secret from me, and he had it pretty buttoned up—like he had shoved the largest cork in the world into his ass not even a Cixain crowbar could bust loose—as nothing came out other than “beware the lying aunt” and “seems like a bad connection” on the MORNING that David and I were to visit my grandfather’s old home, not knowing who we were about to meet, not knowing what the f**k “lying aunt” meant, and as I stood there surrounded by (so called) relatives, half of them screaming on the cellphones to get other relatives to come ASAP, David asking “What are they saying? What are they saying? And which one is the lying aunt?” and I couldn’t understand shit until one wrinkled lady changed her dialect to mandarin, and said very slowly, “Your grandfather is my father.” Chinese being a language with specific words for describing exactly how a person is related to one another, it took another several minutes to get it clear that what she meant to say was that she married my grandfather’s son. Needless to say the next words out of my mouth were “Holy Shit.”

After David and I returned to the states we had to sit my father down and accuse him of sending us into battle without a helmet. He hummed and hawed and gave super uncomfortable eh’s and ah’s as he explained stuff about the “lying aunt” that I promise to get to in the future. The point is, at that moment, sitting there uncomfortable as hell, my father could’ve told me about my grandfather not being his real father, and all that old home myth wasn’t really his real old home. But he didn’t. I don’t think it’s strange that my grandfather was not my real grandfather but I do want to know why it was such a guarded secret. By this time, both my grandparents had passed away, and yet the cork didn’t budge. My dad’s second chance to reveal the secret came when he was about to go into the hospital for his heart surgery, and his third chance was anytime after surviving his surgery and subsequent complications.

So, maybe my grandfather renamed my father in the memory of the son he left behind. Maybe he had to rename my father for obtuse Chinese and/or legal reasons. Maybe he just really really liked that name.

But maybe it wasn’t true? Maybe Mr. Dai had my father confused with another childhood friend? No one else seemed to be able to confirm this so my brother, being semi-masochistic or something, asked my father’s wife whether she knew anything about this. She told him (in between her claims that my father promised her this and that), that she knew about my grandfather from a secret source which she wasn’t revealing, and that my dad didn’t know that she knew. Great. So we called up another old friend of my dad’s whom we think could be the secret source, since he lived close by to my dad, and Holy Blistering Barnacles the guy has not returned our call. Which, with all due respect, seems pretty strange.

Stay tuned.

Even though all this grandfather business is more of a curiosity than anything else, genetics do come in handy in some ways.

But be careful when breeding happy faces to happy faces,

you might get a double merle.