valentine’s day 2018

I thought Valentine’s Day evening would be a good time for people watching, so I parked my butt inside my favorite hometown café: Big Mug Coffee. They’re true to their name and serve espresso drinks inside giant cups that are fun to look at and hold with two hands.

No first dates as far as I can see. (Then again, isn’t that a lot of pressure to have a first date during a manufactured holiday?) The cuddly couples I imagined are replaced by a sea of open laptops and notebooks. And pink and red heart-shaped balloons.

the recipe for community building (or: “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”)

(From Season 1, Episode 10 — “New Year’s Eve Noodles, Again”) 

After the last of the New Year’s revelers have left the midnight diner– stomachs full with buckwheat noodles and beer–the Master gets a visit from someone in his past. Her name is a mystery to the viewer.

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories – S1:E10 “New Year’s Eve Noodles, Again”

“Master, you are a lucky man. You have so many great customers.”

“You’re right.”

“You attract them.”

“No. I just open the diner at the same time every day, make whatever they want, and close the diner at the same time every day. That’s all.”

“Sounds like a great diner.”


That’s my favorite piece of dialogue.

Resilience and consistency are good neighbors when it comes to creating anything enduring, whether it’s a midnight diner, a tea time tradition, or a friendship. Serve warm food and people will find their way to you. Kind of like how the Waffle House restaurants in the United States can still open during a category-5 hurricane. So long as the business is running, there’s still life and hope.

One of the odder things with consistency and trust is that once people mark you as dependable they start projecting all sorts of other values and virtues onto you. Customers come to him with woes and celebrations as though he’s a therapist. But all he does is stand, give a knowing glance, and return to cooking food. The other customers jump in with their own gossip. Maybe just being there is therapy enough.


Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories is a charming show. It has heart. No big plot lines, just a bunch of oddballs and everyday people meeting over beer and homestyle meals. Each episode stands on its own and is grounded on some delicious-looking Japanese dish. After a few episodes, you’ll start to recognize the regulars and see how their lives are connected.

Oh wait, that’s just like real life.


Cheers to all the people who work and stay open late for those who don’t want to go home just yet in the evening.

the top shelf

I was at the grocery store when I saw two kids standing in the milk section. They were both three feet tall. Their prize–a liter of goat’s milk–was six feet up on the top shelf. “Maybe I should go piggyback you,” said one. “Okay,” said the other.

But instead of piggybacking they just gave each other the Heimlich. That gave a couple more inches of reach. I thought it was adorable.

Intervening and handing them the milk immediately would have been the nicest thing to do, but it wouldn’t be the kindest. No, the kindest response would be to let them sort it out a little longer. Let them learn under a watchful eye.

peace out 2017

2017 was a year of accidental second chances. And by that I mean I’d be on a brink of some disaster, only to be saved by the kindness of some outside force, family, or friend. Maybe grace is the right word to describe that.

At the end of January I moved in with someone who turned out to be a classic white supremacist. At 11 PM he tried to fight me after arguing for concentration camps. Lucky for me, he had a broken back and all I had to do was sidestep him. I drove away and slept on a beanbag in the design lab, thinking I could just hide out there or crash on friends’ couches until the research project ran out of funding.

Then Colleen’s family stepped in. “You can’t sleep in the lab”, she said. So off I went to live with her mom and daughter for the week, where I got spoiled with love and home cooked meals. And ice cream. I went from feeling like 0 to 100 in less than 24 hours. Then when the week was over I slept over at Jake’s couch like old times.

My last days in San Diego were spent at Colleen’s, where again, I got spoiled with love and home cooked meals. And alcohol. (Don’t worry, I made sure to refill her wine supply). What did I do to deserve any of this? I remember feeling like the luckiest bastard in town. I still do.


During the spring I got rejected by all the Ph.D. programs I applied to. That’s not the end of the world, but it does stink when you have no immediate job to return to and support yourself. I moved back home to San José feeling silly. I was 22 (now 23), and had this impression in my head I would be out in the world carving my path, not hanging out and feeling lonely in the same suburb I grew up in. Ah, if only.

Then again, it’s also given me the time to hang out and understand my family as an adult, which is an opportunity that gets rarer and rarer the older everyone gets. In San José, I am spoiled again with love and home cooked meals. Dad doesn’t drink, and my brother isn’t old enough (har har), so I usually just drink wine or beer with mom.

I also have the flexibility to drive and meet people with fascinating lives and perspectives for lunch or coffee — people who just days earlier I only knew from emails or their LinkedIn profile.


I’m floundering a bit professionally, but maybe it’s a sign I should be focusing on growth outside of research. I ran the San Francisco marathon with an old friend from elementary school, learned how to be a proper barista at Peet’s (latte art included–at least the hearts), and took up speedskating again. I kept a 183-day writing streak on, and then broke it for a reason I don’t remember. Today will be my 21st day in a row.


I’ll leave this here for now; there’s a New Year’s Eve party with family friends to tend to!

returning to the ice

Behind the glass wall.

Yesterday I went speedskating for the first time in over four years, this time with the Northern California Speedskating Association. I wore my long-track skates with huge ankle supports (the mark of a noob) and fell on my knees twice within two minutes. I forgot how sore the lower back gets after several laps, and I forgot how to turn left without tripping over myself when crossing my legs. At least I can still go straight.

My plan was to keep a low profile and fail privately, but Margaret skates up to me and says, “Hey, you’re new here!!”

Call it an exercise in humility: getting schooled by kids less than half my age. There wasn’t much hiding I could do inside a borrowed ice hockey rink anyway.


Speedskating is still considered a bit of a fringe sport in the United States. Will it ever reach the mainstream in my lifetime? I’d be thrilled if it did.

I’m the only person in their early 20s at practice for now. Odd, because I thought going fast on ice would be a great outlet for all the other anxious twenty-somethings in the Bay Area. Most of the club members present are either half my age or 50 years and older — and still trying to beat the national and state records for their age group.

(and they have a good shot at it, too)

D.G. Wills & Montaigne

Shortly before leaving San Diego, I decided to have a “treat yo self” kind of afternoon. That meant:

  1. having a cappuccino at the Pannikin in downtown La Jolla with all the cute umbrellas hanging around, and then
  2. walking next door to the D.G. Wills bookstore.

Inside the D.G. Wills bookstore. I’m looking out from the literature section.

The owner is D.G. Wills (or Dennis if you’re on a first name basis). The first time I met him he was watching a football game on an old analog TV with an antenna. I forget who played who, but it must have been important. He has something to say for just about any book I decide to get, which makes me wonder about how much reading he’s done over his lifetime. This time it was The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald Frame.

“Thirty-seven years ago I challenged myself to read an essay from Montaigne each day. Then the phone rang.”

He didn’t challenge me to read an essay from Montaigne a day, but I’m going to pretend he did. 107 essays total sounds like a lot, but with titles like “Of Friendship”, “Of Smells”, and “Let Business Wait Till Tomorrow”, what’s not to look forward to?


All I know about Montaigne is that he's a French nobleman who fell off his horse during the 1500s, nearly died, and then took on a more irreverent approach to philosophy, writing, and life. He's been dead for centuries, *and* his thoughts on everyday matters are fun to read.

Can the same be said for this blog? uhhh maybe if I have grandkids or something.


the neighborhood fruit stand

I was on my way to Colleen’s and speaking with my brother on the phone when I passed by Liliane’s fruit stand. She was selling fruit from her family garden outside the garage. “We’ve got a sweet deal — six pieces of fruit for one dollar!” How could I say no to her big toothy grin? I told her I’d be back after my phone call, but she still followed me on her scooter for several hundred feet.

I kept my word and bought two persimmons, three tangerines, and one lemon. That included Thomas the Tangerine, and Tommy the Lemon. (“Sorry they’re kinda green, my brother colored them”)

Tommy the Lemon. Thomas The tangerine has a similar expression.


Just before Thanksgiving some other kids opened a snow cone stand, even though winter is approaching. Colleen and I went in anyway.

She says she tries to stop by these kinds of makeshift stands whenever she can. Lemonade, fruit, snow cones, anything. It’s a fun way to support the neighborhood children, and they’re generally excited to have any patron.

I think that’s a good principle to live by, so I’m going to adopt it, too.