Why Women Hate Sports

All women hate sports.

OK, this is not entirely true.  “All” women do not hate sports, just as “all” men do not love sports, just as “All That” was not all that “all that” (in fact, it was mediocre programming at best).  But, as a writer, I must make sweeping generalizations to stir up fake controversy and drive enraged traffic to this site.1 So, I stand by my claim: ALL WOMEN HATE SPORTS…with a few clarifying points:

  • When I say “all women”, I’m referring mostly to the following female groups: those who get bedazzled manicures, those who know how to bake a pie, and those who own more than two cats.  These groups are mutually exclusive.2
  • When I say “sports”, I’m referring to the three professional sports that the average American male watches most: Baseball, football, and basketball.  Hockey doesn’t count, because it is ruled by Canadians and all women have a soft spot for Canadians because of Bryan Adams.
  • When I say “hate”, I really mean it, guys.  Women do not tolerate sports.  They actively hate sports with an overwhelming rage equivalent to missing a sample sale.  It’s that serious.

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it: Why do women hate sports?  Is it a feminist repudiation against a misogynistic society that unfairly celebrates a jock culture?  No.  It’s actually far simpler than that.  There are  four clear-cut reasons why women hate sports.  If we understand these reasons, then perhaps we can save sports for women.

Jealousy. This is not where I say that women hate sports because they’d rather be spending time with their man.  Don’t flatter yourself, guys.  Women don’t want to spend more time with men. Instead, the thing women are most envious about is how much men actually care about sports.  If Cavs fans in Cleveland were asked to choose between keeping their wives or bringing LeBron James back, how many guys would leave their wives?  ALL OF THEM.  Men can rattle off facts about the Cowboys’ winning percentage on the road, but they can’t remember the date of their anniversary.  They can tell you the name of the Cubs’ fifth starter, but they can’t recall the name of their middle child.  To women, it often seems like men are programmed to cry only at a funeral, a birth of a child, or the aftermath of Game 7 (oh, and Toy Story 3, unless they are robots).  Men care about sports in ways that defy logic: They will develop a routine (the Red Sox will win if I sit on the left side of the couch, but not the right side).  They will chant in unison.  They will scream at the television.  And they will grow a playoff beard.  (And it’s always a disgusting one.)

Obesity. How do you watch a sporting event?  Sometimes sitting down.  Sometimes standing up.  Either way, you’re getting fat.  Yes, it’s ironic that sport inspires men to gouge themselves on beer and nachos, thus turning them into flabby masses that do not resemble the heroes they so admire on the field (unless they are a fan of CC Sabathia).  If we didn’t have sports, would men actually stress-eat a bucket of chicken wings every Sunday?  Hopefully not.  Our sports-watching culture has led to a corpulent male population chock-full of beer-bellied dudes and Type 2 diabetes.  Women, at least, have a good excuse for getting fat (We carry your children, dammit! Let us have our whoopee pies!).  Men have no such excuse.  The reason men are fat is because of sports.  And women hate them for it.

Cheaters. It’s hard for women to like professional athletes because 99% of pro athletes are adulterous cheaters.  Well, that might be an exaggeration… 98% of pro athletes are cheaters, and women hate men who are unfaithful.  Women classify cheaters in the same category of “shitty man” that includes murderers, rapists, and wife-beaters.  On the other hand, male fans have the moral fortitude of a perforated sponge.  Men will forgive their fellow shitty man as long as he delivers in the clutch, but women will never, ever, ever forget that the guy cheated on his pregnant wife.  Sorry, Tiger.  Unfortunately, our sports heroes of today (Kobe, Favre, A-Rod) are all veritable, no-good, douchebag cheaters.  Throw in a Rape-lisberger and a heartbroken Eva Longoria, and women will turn their backs on pro athletes.  All it takes is one bad apple taking pictures of his junk with a cameraphone, and no women will root for this lot of shitty men.

Crotch Grabbers. There is only one thing that women hate more than cheaters, and this is watching men grab their own crotches.  In an average baseball game, crotchshots are shown almost as often as something interesting happening (finally… a single…).  Come on.  Does an extra mini-appendage really need that much maintenance?  Players — we know that you are a man.  You don’t have to prove it to us. And since you have millions of dollars, perhaps you could invest in some medication for your below-the-belt ailments.  Athletes should only be playing with one ball, thank you very much, and that ball should be made of leather.

So, to Roger Goodell, Bud Selig, David Stern, and all men out there, if you want to convince women to like sports, please take the following advice: (1) Players: Soap.  Use it down there.  (2) Owners: Discourage your players from marriage.  Women will put up with philanderers (this is why women still love George Clooney), but they will not put up with cheaters.  (3) Fans: Lay off the dip.  You’re getting fat.  And even though it sounds terrible now, just consider two words: veggie platter. (4) Boyfriends, Husbands, and Fathers: Care about your women as if they were on your fantasy team.  And if that doesn’t work, well, then just trade us. Please.

1. This crappy, “gotcha” headline is an ode to other articles that make ridiculous sweeping generalizations of entire peoples: “Why You’re Not Married” or “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“.

2. I estimate that these three groups make up close to 60% of all women.  But “60% of women hate sports” is not a good headline.

NB: I love sports.  But I do hate crotch grabs.

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The Only Thing We Have to Fear… is Everything

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address1

I’m always amused by parents who keep their children on a leash.  I used to think that treating a child like a German shepherd was only appropriate in crowded, pedophile-rich places (subway stations, Times Square, Montana2), where one could easily lose a kid in the throng.  But just the other day, I saw a father calmly walking his toddler son in Target. Target! (It wasn’t even a busy Target.)  The kid kept trying to run off to the toy section, only to be bungee-boomeranged back to his dad.  It was actually rather funny to watch a guy play paddle ball with his son… except it was with his son.  However, when I mentioned the absurdity of the scene to my mom on the phone, she immediately leapt to the father’s defense: “If parents don’t keep an eye on their children nowadays, the child will get kidnapped.”  She went on to list several examples from Dateline in which un-leashed children were snatched away from their negligent parents.

(Thankfully, I never had to suffer the indignity of a leash.  I merely have memories of my parents telling me to stay close unless I wanted to be abducted and sold to a Nike shoe factory.  When I got older and questioned the likelihood of this ever happening, my mom was adamant. “They want Asian children because of your tiny fingers.  For the laces.”)

My parents were great at manipulating fear as a weapon.  After all, fear is entirely a product of nurture.3 I grew up fearing almost everything: snakes, spiders, roller coasters, big dogs, strangers, light poles, peas, the deep end of the pool, my own closet… I feared it all.  If you asked my parents, this was a good thing.  They would say it’s better to be fearful than cavalier.  Fear makes you more cautious, and caution makes you less likely to end up dead or with a venereal disease.  If it were up to them, they would encourage all parents to subliminally inculcate fears in their children like this:

Age 6: “Yes, the boogie man is real, and he chops off children’s heads.  The good thing is, he’ll only chop off your head if you don’t eat your vegetables.”

Age 13: “Yes, ninjas are real, and they will attack you in your sleep.  The good thing is, they’ll only attack you if you’ve been drinking or smoking.”

Age 16: “Yes, there really is a serial killer running around town.  And he will kill us unless you take out the trash. So do it already!”

Thankfully I managed to avoid permanent scarring, outgrowing most of my fears as I got older.  But the funny thing is, my parents kept theirs.  Even now, my mom always offers warnings about grave dangers that are immediate threats to my life.  Her long list of “Things to avoid” includes: the beach (tsunamis), the sun (cancer), left turns (inevitable car accidents), men with tattoos (you will get attacked and go into a coma), baseball games (you will get attacked and go into a coma), and drinking bottled water that’s been left in the car (you will die).

Since now I’m living 3,000 miles away in California, her worries have intensified: I’m almost certainly going to encounter a life-threatening earthquake, wildfire, mudslide, or errant Botox injection.  Scumbag LA agents and managers will eat me up and spit me out.  The Hollywood sign will tumble down and leave me trapped in my apartment, forcing me to eat my own arm to survive.  The only thing that could possibly keep me safe out here is marriage. Marriage (and grandchildren) will save me from all such ills.

My mom maintains that her concerns are just the normal fears of all parents.  And I suppose she’s justified, in some way.  After all, parenthood is cruel: having a child is like planting a seed and watching it grow for 18 years into a big, tall tree… and then having the tree ripped out and hurled across the country, fending off wood chippers and paper plants along the way.  So I can understand the anxieties of those parents who put leashes on their kids and who hound you about getting a first aid kit with flares for your car… at least you know they care.

And truth be told, there is a value to keeping a healthy dose of fear alive, reminding us of our own mortality, encouraging us to optimize the time we have on this earth, pushing us to live life to the fullest… because, like my mom4 says, we’re all just hanging on by a thread… a thread that may be contaminated with leftover radiation from Japan.

___

1. With apologies to Frankie D, WHAT WERE YOU TALKING ABOUT?  Sure, your speech went a long way in lifting post-Depression spirits, but if we really think about it, you essentially said the equivalent of: “The only thing we have to celebrate is celebration itself,” or “The only thing we have to eat is food itself.”  Okaa-ay. Worst famous quote ever.

2. Montana is the state with the highest number of registered sex offenders per capita, according to the sex offender registry. Go Montana!

3. Actually, let me rephrase that: surplus fear is entirely a product of nurture. Naturally, all human beings are predisposed to certain baseline fears that threaten our survival, like hurricanes, sharks, and other things that we name professional sports teams after. It’s nurture that separates the notoriously fearful (like Chicken Little) from the notoriously fearless (like Chuck Norris).

4. And Nostradamus. And the Mayans. 2012, baby!… I am terrified.

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Growing Up Asian

“Do you… speeaaaak… English?” – Pizza Hut waitress, 1990

It was in kindergarten when I first learned I was Asian.  Sure, there had always been signs–I was nearsighted, loved rice, and caused an unfortunate tricycle accident at age 3–but I’d always just assumed it was typical of American families to speak two languages at home and get insulted by employees at Pizza Hut.

It all changed when I arrived at KinderCare, a veritable child’s paradise full of apple sauce, alphabet books, and… other kids.  While I had certainly seen other children before, I’d never seen so many in the same place, all looking somewhat different.  One intrepid boy finally gathered the courage to welcome the new alien in their midst, coming up to me and saying, quite eloquently, “Ching chang ching chong choo.”  Ever the clever linguist, I responded by smacking him on the head with a Tonka truck.  I had to sit in time-out for the rest of the day.

Despite my crude introduction to ethnicity, I never thought much about being Chinese… mostly because there weren’t any other Chinese people around.  Growing up, there was only one other Asian girl in our elementary school, Lisa. The fact that we had rhyming names made it a lot easier to mix us up, even though she was Vietnamese and stood a foot taller than me.   When her family moved to California in the fifth grade, my mother celebrated – now that we were the only Asians left in the school, she didn’t have to introduce herself at parent-teacher conferences anymore. Everyone knew she was Teresa’s mom.

Of course, assimilating into American culture wasn’t always easy.  When our Pizza Hut waitress found out we did speak English, she proceeded to ask if we celebrated Christmas too.  But the cultural learning went both ways. When I was twelve, I accompanied a friend to Mass.  I had never been inside a church before, so I had no idea what to expect.  “Don’t worry,” my friend whispered. “Just do everything I do.”  So I bowed, I prayed, and I followed her up to the altar where I proceeded to grab the cookie out of the priest’s hand.  It was not very good.  Only later did I find out that I had just spit out the body of Christ.  Suffice to say, that was the first and only time I’ve taken Communion.

WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?” followed by, “No, where are you really from?”  I usually say I’m from Boston, but I’m really from Indiana, where I was born.  And even though I look like I could regale you with stories of Confucius, I’m probably better equipped to tell tales of my adventures to Dairy Queen.  Of course, no one asks me about that.

There are certain expectations that come with being Asian.  We are good at math.  We are socially awkward.  We know kung fu.  We are terrible drivers.  All these stereotypes are interrelated–We are good at math mostly because our Tiger Mothers read calculus textbooks to us instead of Goodnight Moon.  This, in turn, ensures that we are poorly socialized and ostracized by our classmates, so we do kung fu (usually in a cave) to cope with our loneliness.  After honing our kung fu skills to master gravity, flying from rooftop to rooftop, we recognize the banality of on-the-ground transportation. Thus, we never properly learn how to drive.

Obviously, these are mostly harmless stereotypes.  But the uglier stereotypes of Asians–that we are cheap, bigoted, and cold-hearted–are not necessarily true either.

This winter, our family took a trip to Taiwan to visit my grandparents.  In Taiwan, the first thing we did was go to Costco, to buy a gift for a family friend’s engagement party… which is being cost-effective, not cheap.  In Costco, we passed by a huge display of Black Man’s Toothpaste, the best-selling brand in Taiwan… which is reverential, not racist.  When we arrived at the hotel for the engagement party, we were greeted by a beautiful ice sculpture, which prompted my dad to say, confused, “What does L-O-V-E mean?” …which means that Asians have daddy issues too, just like everyone else.

FINDING MAURY

For some reason, men love Asian women.  All types of men… but mostly white guys.  As an Asian woman, I often wonder why. Perhaps it’s the allure of an exotic beauty. Or the promise of attractive, half-Asian children. Or it’s the fact that our feet are the size of normal people’s hands.

Today, it’s no longer just white guys who do the picking.  Asian women actively pursue non-Asian men too.  Every woman wants to find a Maury Povich to their Connie Chung.  This leaves me feeling bad for Asian men, who are often left with just their engineering prowess and no one to wrap their skinny arms around.

At the same time, it’s not all roses for Asian women either.  We have to deal with the freaks, the pervs, the tools, and the fetishists.  We have to answer questions like “Where are you really from?” which inevitably just makes the guy sound like he’s marking countries off a map.  And we also have to appease our parents and grandparents, because if we’re not married with kids by 30, our eggs will shrivel up and the bloodline will die with us.

I’m just glad that I have a brother.

TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION

Even with all the stereotypes, the William Hung references, and the occasional ignorant Pizza Hut employee, there are advantages to being Asian in America.  Since people can’t tell Asians apart, we can sneak into bars with other Asians’ IDs, find a stunt double to sit in for us at work, and get away with murder (good luck picking the perp in that all-Asian lineup).  Asian kids rarely get kidnapped (high-profile, baby kidnapping is mainly a Caucasian sport), and we don’t have to worry that much about identity theft–Unless another Asian has jacked our credit cards, the cashier would probably find something suspicious: “But you don’t look like the type who’d have three consecutive vowels in your last name…”  Thus, being Asian affords us peace of mind.

Of course, the one downside to being Asian is that it gets tiring to keep up the peace signs/bunny ears for every photograph we take.  But in spite of that, Asians in America have come a long way, and we haven’t peaked yet.  So watch out for us, because we’re taking over. After all, with our squinty eyes, straight hair, and aversion to sunlight, we’re pretty similar to vampires… and vampires are really “in” now.

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So, What’s Harvard Like?

I’ve stolen from several of my previous postings in an attempt to answer a question that I’m often asked about…

SO, WHAT’S HARVARD LIKE?

A Crap Factory

Back in 2003, a college interviewer asked me what my favorite movie was. In any other circumstance, the answer would have been easy: Miss Congeniality, a story about an undercover cop-turned beauty queen who saves Miss Rhode Island from exploding onstage as William Shatner  serenades the crowd. A true classic, in my opinion. However, in that moment, I reckoned that Miss Congeniality would be about as well-received as an outbreak of genital herpes.  A Beautiful Mind, I decided, was a safer bet. It’s my favorite movie, I told the interviewer, because it depicts how Nash overcame the psychological struggle within himself to bring about one of the most important mathematical theorems of our time.

And on that load of crap, I got myself into Harvard.

Defusing The H-Bomb

One of my mom’s favorite Asian soap operas is called “Love Story in Harvard.”  I watched the first episode with her, which featured two graduate students arriving in Cambridge.  They find that Harvard is every bit the torture chamber that they expected.  The students don’t sleep.  They don’t eat.  They spend all their waking hours poring over their thousand-page textbooks.  Upon the eve of a big test, one student starts crying and screaming bloody murder. 

That’s the outside perception of what Harvard students are like.  We’re essentially sleep-deprived, bookworm zombies with limited social skills and poor hygiene habits.  (Some of that is not far from the truth.)

Because of this, alumni like to talk about the best way to “drop the H-bomb,” which is telling people that you went to Harvard (eg. was part of the zombie clan).  The H-bomb is referred to as such because of its cataclysmic result, no matter the initial intention.  When you tell people that you went to Harvard, you get one of three reactions: awe, indifference, or “fight me.”

1.      Awe: “Wow! What was it like?  Do you really have Quidditch matches on Sundays?  You’re like a genius, aren’t you?”

2.      Indifference: “I heard they have good popcorn chicken.”

3.      Fight Me: “So what did you get on your SATs?  That’s not that impressive.  I heard there’s a lot of grade inflation there.  Did your parents go there?  Are they super rich?  Your grandfather donated a statue, didn’t he?  Whatever, I make more money than you.”

When I first arrived at Harvard in 2003, I was squarely in the first camp.  I was in awe of the place.  Save for the severely narcissistic, many Harvard freshmen come in believing that they were the admissions mistake.  I certainly felt like one.  I wasn’t the high school valedictorian, I didn’t have a perfect score on my SATs, and I had no unique talents, like playing the obokano.  The only reason I felt somewhat legit was that my grandparents hadn’t donated a statue.  At least I couldn’t be accused of being a legacy admit.

For some students, the question of “How did they get in?” was immediately answered.  One of my freshman roommates, Bella*, could speak five languages and was from Albania.  Don was a junior Olympian skier.   And Vinny won $25,000 on Jeopardy in high school and could recite the capitals of all the countries in the world.  But for the rest of us who could barely point out Albania on a map, we were mired in our admissions-mistake insecurity.

The night we threw burning boxes into the Charles

However, after a few weeks on campus, I began to see Harvard differently.  Yes, it was a place of high-achieving, intelligent people… but there were exceptions. There were people who were IQ-smart, but socially incapable of talking about anything but quantum physics.  There were people who received terrific grades, but did so as a result of studying all day and night.  And then there were people who were so clearly admissions mistakes that they simply gave up trying to prove otherwise, and spent most of their time doing coke at the Fly and ice-luging goldfish.

To be in awe of Harvard, the institution, was understandable… but as for us humble members of the student body?  The overachievers, the bookworms, the “How did they get in?” mysteries?  Well, we were just plain lucky (and good at lying about movies).

When asked to describe my experience at Harvard, there is one incident that always comes to mind.  A few weeks into my first semester, I was having dinner in the freshman dining hall when I overheard someone earnestly describing a night out with some prudent strippers: “They let us get real close, but we couldn’t touch them… it’s like they were asymptotes.”

I’m not even being hyperbolic.  True story.

Korean Soap Operas Had Nothing on Us

There were certainly moments of my Harvard experience that rivaled the drama of the Korean soap.  One night, I awoke to a loud, bloodcurdling scream from my multilingual roommate, Bella.  Something we quickly learned about Bella was that not only did she have a talent for languages, but she had a particular affinity for four-letter words.

“FUCK,” she screamed, “FUCK-FUCK-FUCK-FUCK-FUCK!”

“Bella, what happened?”  I peeked out of my bedroom.  It was 2 in the morning, but Bella and Kendra, my other roommate, were still studying at their desks in the common room.

“Oh my God,” Bella exclaimed, “I’m FUCKED.  I’m so fucked.  Oh my God…”  She started crying.

“Bella, what’s wrong?”  I was genuinely concerned: did a scholarship get revoked?  Did a payment not go through?  What would elicit such a strong reaction?

“I got lotteried out of a class!”  Bella sobbed, “I’m so SCREWED.”

Street performer with a fire hat in Harvard Square

Some background: when I was at Harvard, we had to fulfill “CORE” requirements in areas outside of our concentration.  So for example, English majors would have to take a Quantitative Reasoning (QR) CORE course, to fulfill their math requirement.  CORE courses were typically a joke: one QR course was called “Counting People.” Another was called, “The Magic of Numbers.” Naturally, these CORE courses were always oversubscribed, mostly because they were so ridiculously easy (at least for anyone who could count).  Thus, some CORE classes were lottery-only; juniors and seniors received preference, while freshmen were frequently lotteried out.  But even if you were lotteried out of a course, you could always take it in a later semester.  You only needed to fulfill your CORE requirements before graduation.

“Seriously, Bella?”  It was 2 AM, and I was now pissed that I had been woken up because of this.

“What am I going to do?  I was planning on taking ‘The Magic of Numbers’ this semester!  Oh my God, my entire schedule is ruined!”  Bella was still sobbing, unaware that Kendra and I were completely unsympathetic.

“Uh, how about take a separate class, and then take Magic Numbers next semester?”

“I can’t take another class!  I haven’t sat in on any other classes!  Oh my God, I am so FUCKED!”

It took another hour to calm Bella down, and to convince her that she was not seriously fucked if she just took a different class.

Nights like these were rare, but they did happen at Harvard.

Another time, Bella and Kendra got into a huge argument about a class that they were taking together.  The professor had assigned a paper, and apparently they had discussed what they would write about with each other.  Somehow, each had gotten the impression that the other had stolen their original idea.  They both came to me, crying, and accusing the other of “stealing their thesis.”  Never mind that this was an assignment where all two hundred students probably had the same “thesis” for this paper… But Bella and Kendra didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the semester.

At most colleges, people fight over stealing boyfriends.  At Harvard, the ultimate sin is stealing theses.  These are dramas fitting for soap operas like “Love Story in Harvard.”

Crème de la Crème

At Harvard, there was never a dearth of stimulating conversation.  Even though there was a distinct liberal, do-good slant at Harvard, we were all undeniably snooty.  In a place where jocks complained about asymptotic strippers, we reveled in our seemingly superior intellectuality.  Just by virtue of being at Harvard, we convinced ourselves that we were the smartest, most accomplished, and best-looking scholars and future leaders of America… the crème de la crème.

This was not considered “classy”

There were all types of snooty, from grunge snooty to Upper East Side snooty.  There were artists who flocked together in their rebellion and harangued the world of conformists and sellouts. There were well-heeled suits and pearl-wearing debutantes-to-be who hosted chardonnay parties and talked about dollar cost averaging. Beat poetry coexisted with popped collars; debates about Burma with tirades about taxes.

Snootiness was commonplace, whether it was intentional or not.  One friend used to speak in only grammatically correct sentences, leading her to use phrases like, “Flo-Rida, whom I love…”  Another friend enjoyed abusing telephone operators when asked to spell out letters over the phone: “It’s ‘M’ as in Mary, ‘A’ as in Apple, and ‘P’ as in Pterodactyl.”

But at the same time, the intellectualism of the institution overwhelmed us.  After all, we were living in a world where Harvard had drawn the line between “high” culture and “low” culture.   We were supposed to value the New Yorker over Us Weekly, Italian wines over Franzia, and opera over Oprah.  Classical music and Jane Austen were culturally superior to Justin Timberlake and Agatha Christie.  There were entire departments dedicated to the study of Greek and Roman civilizations, and only a few sociology classes focused on modern culture.  Pop culture was considered so foreign and extraneous that it was relegated to the field of anthropological studies: along with Zulu tribesmen, Charlie Sheen is simply a curious human phenomenon.

It was quasi-sacrilegious to admit that one enjoyed reading undeep, unanalytical, unintellectual publications like InTouch Weekly, filled with uncompoundable compound words.  At Harvard, you could get away with being a Marxist, but it was something else to admit that you were an avid O-Town fan.  Miss Congeniality was not the same as A Beautiful Mind.

It’s no surprise, then, that GQ named Harvard the fourth-douchiest American university.  We were only beaten by Princeton, Duke, and Brown, which was first.  Of course, as this link circulated around our Harvard circle like wildfire, someone had to make the snooty, douchy comment: “I suppose this is the only list on which Brown will be #1 ahead of Harvard.”

Where My $150,000 Went

During my senior year of college, a relative asked me: “So now that you’re almost graduating, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from Harvard?”

The yard

It seemed like an innocuous question, but I knew that there was an already-implied $150,000 answer, thanks to Good Will Hunting (”You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library”). The best response to this kind of inquiry would involve something uber-academic and arcane, like “vector spaces” or the neurobiology of whales, with some Plato thrown in for good measure. Given my studies in Economics, Psychology, and Government, I tried to recall the most exotic facets of the social sciences. But at that moment, just a few months away from graduation, I could barely remember what I learned about convergence theorems, double-blind studies, or legal proceedings in the United States. I may have read Plato in my “Issues in Ethics” class freshman year, but I’d forgotten all of his issues. And I certainly couldn’t talk about whale brains.

I dutifully recited some boring tenets of basic economic theory, and my relatives seemed satisfied.

Two years after graduation, I went back to Harvard for a visit. Just walking around the Yard brought back memories from the streets of the Cambridge. As a freshman, I once walked into the Crate and Barrel on Mass Ave and asked for directions… to Mass Ave. On Saturday, as an elderly alum, I expertly weaved through the crowds and reminisced about the days when the campus was mine, when the memories were happening. And now that I’m a few years older, ostensibly wiser, and wholly entrenched in the “real world”, I can finally admit to what I learned (and retained) at Harvard:

I learned that Harvard students are the best and the brightest in the world at avoiding solicitors outside the Science Center. I learned how to make the perfect spiral on my fro-yo cone after years of trial-and-error (and a couple spills). I learned to dodge tourists like a running back, and not to rub the foot of the John Harvard statue.

With my $150,000 education, I know now that a naked run in the brisk midnight air is the key to surviving ensuing exams. I know that one shouldn’t venture into the Sanskrit section of Widener unless she want to see that same nudeness in full light. I know that it’s “ec”, not “econ,” and “gov,” not “political science.” I know that if you remove the “i” from “assistance” you have the labels on our blue light emergency phone stations.  Because even at Harvard, a pole that says “Ass stance” is funny.

So, what’s the most interesting thing I’ve learned from Harvard? It’s that these insights came far more rapidly than my recall of the Solow model. It’s that these learnings have taken priority in the annals of my tiny whale brain. It’s that these memories–from the dorms, from the tailgates, from the Kong–have replaced Adam Smith. It may not sound like the typical Harvard admissions pitch, but it’s definitely something you can’t get for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.

* All names changed to protect me from getting sued when these people become big shots and I’m still starving as a struggling writer.

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On Writers

Writers are special people. Except for the fortunate few who can afford to live on a farm in the Netherlands and write 19th century pastoral poetry, most writers aim to please. That is, we write to sell. And writing to sell means being commercial. And being commercial means selling out. And selling out means not being a “real” writer who composes lovely haikus on milking Holsteins, but being a craphole writer who turns to Wikipedia to research Dutch cows and who seeks external validation in the form of dollar bills. Preferably big dollar bills. If we’re lucky, Hamiltons.

As writers, this is the source of all our issues.

The brain of a writer contains a huge tropical storm of garbage, sprinkled with a few tiny nuggets of treasure. Not unlike high-functioning schizophrenics, writers spend countless hours mining their own psyche for bits of inspiration. Sometimes the writer’s mind can yield great things. Most times, however, it’s just a repository for shameless self-indulgence. For example, a sampling of my random thoughts from today: “I just don’t get eyebrows. It’s like an island of hair on my face.” / “Stop staring at the fridge: you just ate two steaks an hour ago.” / “How much do egg donations go for these days? How many months of rent is that?” / “Why can’t human beings have three separate holes, two for waste and one solely for reproduction?” / “Who will ever love me???” / “Fine, go treat yourself to some ice cream.”

Some might think I’m crazy, but I ain’t.  I’m just a writer. And most writers are a little crazy. A little eccentric. A little smelly.  We fancy ourselves to be high-minded, beret-wearing hipsters who create Art & Culture, complete with a showy vocabulary and a penchant for the Ironic (and unnecessary capitals).  But really, we’re just hiding from the truth. And the truth is, most of the time, we believe that we are terrible writers. We believe that we create literary fecal matter that would be better served lining horse stalls than being read or performed by anyone other than our immediate family puppets. Writers are nothing if not neurotic. We’re flighty, we’re flaky, we’re strange, and we enjoy wallowing in our many insecurities.

Writers always worry about whether we’re being smart enough/profound enough/funny enough for an audience that will never be wholly satisfied. We slave over word choice and act breaks and storylines that may seem insignificant to everyone else but which causes us devastating internal turmoil and despair. We edit and re-edit.  We second-guess our second guesses. We frequently pull avada kedavras on our computers in stylistically-imbalanced fits of rage. CTRL-A-Delete. CTRL-A-Delete. CTRL-A-Delete.  And in addition to churning out daily doses of horsewallpaper, writers find numerous ways to procrastinate.  Whether it be cigarettes, alcohol, armed robbery, or gummy vitamins (my personal preference), all writers must find a vice upon which to blame all their troubles if things do go awry.

But then one day, amidst the haze of smoke, drugs, guns, and folic acid, something amazing happens. The cloud of mediocrity floats away, taking with it the banal dialogue and the unnecessary plot twists. The sky opens up. The story becomes strangely clear.  Suddenly we’re left with something that, despite all its previously-ulcer-inducing pockmarks, actually seems… good. And we truly believe, that after all this time, after all we’ve been through, we’ve finally managed to produce something that could be considered great — nay, brilliant.

And then we wake up the next morning, and we think that it’s crap again. CTRL-A-Delete.

Such is the life of a writer.

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More Punctuation, Please!

I admit: I like excessive punctuation. I am often quite liberal with my use of commas, parentheses (just to be a jerk), ellipses… and all other forms of fancy–and oftentimes unnecessary–word decoration.

However, despite my adulation for spare emoticon parts, I don’t think the Punctuation founders went far enough. How can anyone justify having only two possible endings for declarative statements? You can either choose the staid, buttoned-up period… or you can choose the doowop-dancing, likely-high-as-a-kite exclamation mark.

The difference between the two is huge. Let’s say you run into an old friend, Molly, at a rally to save the organic farming industry.  You exchange email addresses. You get a message from Molly the next day: Hey, it’s Molly, blah blah blah, weren’t those organic, hand-shucked corn chips fantastic, and then:

Herein lies the problem: #1 is boring and matter-of-fact, while #2 is almost overly friendly. Perhaps it’s just me, but when strangers use an abundance of exclamation marks in emails, I immediately picture them as trippy cartoon characters: Hello! You’re great! Let’s meet up! I’m free at noon! See you then! I’m going to stick my head in the oven first! Toodles!

Can’t we have a punctuation mark which implies greater enthusiasm than the period, yet less enthusiasm than the gung ho! exclamation mark? Perhaps… the midget exclamation mark? Then, we can easily decode the following:

(But I’ll probably never see you again.)

(I think you’re the bestest and I want to be with you forever and ever and say things like “Hehe” even though it’s completely unnatural, but it’s okay because I love you.)

(I genuinely enjoyed my time with you. And I’m not crazy.)

Unfortunately, given our limited punctuation inventory, we still don’t have a mini-exclamation mark that can quell the burn of the period/exclamation. So, until someone figures out how to put a mini-exclamation on their keyboard (Bill Gates, are you listening?), I’m just going to stick with what I always do… mask my true feelings with never-ending sentences:

(And now I’m going to introduce a banal topic to continue this sentence so that I don’t have to let you know how I actually feel about seeing you.)

Honestly, I love the dash–

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Half-Price Holidays

When you’re sixteen, getting your driver’s license is a joyous occasion, one which marks your journey towards relative freedom and adulthood.  In my case, the road to freedom was unfortunately pockmarked by a 1993 Toyota Corolla… or, to be more specific, a 1993 pink Toyota Corolla, which my dad had bought eight years earlier because it was the cheapest car on the lot.

The Corolla was an abominable car.  Its body was pinkish-grey, which made it look like a giant tongue on wheels (a tongue from the mouth of a lifetime smoker with severe halitosis).  A black rubber line ran across its midsection, as if having a ghetto racing stripe would somehow make a pink Toyota Corolla more stylish.  Even though my dad admitted that the car looked like Pepto-induced-vomit, he argued that the ugliness of its exterior didn’t matter as long as it could still do its job. Like Dirk Nowitzki.  So I ended up driving the Pepto monstrosity to school every day, all while trying to convince myself that having a car that looked like a blackened lung was marginally better than having no car at all.

The common stereotype is that Asians are cheap, and this is true of my family.  My parents have always been bargain shoppers.  My mom’s proudest moments include the birth of her two kids, followed by finding a $120 dress on sale for $19.  My dad has a similar philosophy, which results in him typically looking like the clearance rack at a TJ Maxx.  And even though my brother and I try to avoid the quasi-homeless look that constitutes my dad’s fashion sense, we’ve both become allergic to buying anything full-price.  I bought a full-price shirt from Banana Republic once — I stared at it in my closet for two hours before going to return it the next day.

Unlike other Scrooges though, my family is only cheap to one another. My parents never tip less than 20% when we go to restaurants, and they make it a point to give gifts with no obvious clearance tags.  Still, our in-family cheapness has become almost laughable. This year, my dad splurged on a Christmas gift for my mom: a pair of oven mitts from Marshalls.  In turn, my mom went all out for my dad: a six-pack of Hanes black socks.  Certainly the economy has turned around if my dad is getting six pairs of socks and my mom is getting two oven mitts.

In the few weeks since I’ve been home, we’ve gone to Costco 8 times. Seriously. Eight times in fifteen days.  If I were the manager at Costco, I’d think we were casing the joint.  We now have enough toilet paper and vitamins to last us through the next decade.  Discount-diving has become a chronic family addiction.

So today, when I went off to buy a gift for a friend’s newborn, I vowed to keep an open mind about buying in-season, non-sale items.  I pulled into Babies R Us, looking fly in my dad’s “new” minivan: a 2001 Honda Odyssey which has 120,000 miles on it and a heating unit that only works if you crank it up to 85 degrees.  Once inside the store, I immediately found an adorable outfit with trains and a cute pair of conductor mittens… at a whopping $28.  Fine.  This gift is in celebration of new life, and there’s no way to quantify that.  But then, suddenly, unwittingly, my sale-seeking eye caught another outfit with a bright red clearance tag: a furry onesie with bear booties, 50% off. Less cute, but it wasn’t all that bad. He’d outgrow it all in a few months anyway, right?  I thought it over for a while before I finally made my decision:

If I can drive around for four years in a pink car, then this baby can wear a half-price onesie with booties.  You’re welcome, kid.

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