Hypocrites

Like all Dunkin’ Donuts, the location at Reagan National airport has a napkin dispenser. But at this particular location that dispenser is in danger of being emptied by one woman.

“You have to pay for napkins,” the Dunkin’ employee tells her.

“What? Really?”

The customer looks at the two dozen napkins in her hand.

“Paying for napkins – in America?”

The Dunkin’ employee flashes a sly smile.

“I’m joking,” the Dunkin’ employee says.

“Oh! You know, in some places they make you pay for grocery bags. Can you imagine that?”

Hearing my cue, I chime in.

“Yes, that’s what we do in California, unless we bring our own.”

“Pay for bags,” the woman says, a horrified look on her face. “Why on Earth would you do that?”

“Because we live on Earth.”

The woman shakes her head and offers a one-word response before walking away – “California.”

I could feel smug, but I’m quickly humbled. The Dunkin’ employee hands me my coffee in a styrofoam cup, and I head to my gate, where I will board a plane with a carbon footprint that surely exceeds all the paper napkins that woman will ever waste.

Almost famous

I am not a celebrity, but the guy who jams his camera in my face to snap some unflattering photos of me eating pizza sees it differently.

“Excuse me. Why did you just take my photo?”

“I’m a paparazzi! I work for Access Hollywood.”

“Good for you, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I’m a paparazzi,” he says again, as if his job is the only explanation required.

“So you don’t ask for permission?”

He shrugs.

“It’s rude not to ask,” I say. “I really don’t appreciate you taking my photo and I’d like you to delete it.”

“I’m not rude. You’re being rude with this attitude. I shot Howie Mandel. I’m blessed.”

“Howie Mandel,” I sputter. “What’s he got to do with this?”

“He’s a lot more famous than you,” the paparazzi says. “He was so cool and you’re an asshole, but I got you stuffing a pizza into your fat face, so there.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re the asshole,” I say.

“No, I’m blessed. I’m a famous paparazzi.”

“Paparazzi aren’t famous,” I say. “They’re notorious.”

“No. I’m a famous paparazzi.”

“What’s your name?”

“Tony Moss.”

“Never heard of you,” I say. “But tell me something, Tony.”

“What’s that?”

“Who do you think I am?”

“Are you kidding? You’re the guy from Jurassic Park.”

I burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“What’s funny is how much you suck at your job.”

Don’t mess with the Lyft driver

The Lyft driver says he has done more than 8,500 rides on the platform.

“No way,” I say.

“No joke, bro.”

“Well, I guess you would have the data to back it up.”

“Oh, I have the data.”

“You must have some crazy stories.”

“Like you would not believe.”

“Try me.”

“The thing is, 99 percent of the people are good people, nice people. You understand? They want a safe ride and a good chat, so we are in business, as they say.”

He explains how he came to America six years ago from India, how he enjoys learning about his new country from the people he drives, and how he’s never once experienced any kind of hatred because he’s an immigrant.

“Not once, bro,” he insists. “But there are some people, a very small group, who… they are entitled, ok. With them, it is like I don’t exist because I am their servant. I am nothing to them, bro.”

He tells me about a drunk woman who passed out in his car.

“She could not walk, so I had to get her inside. I carried her.”

“You carried her?”

“Up three flights of stairs, bro. Then she got inside her apartment and she went right to the floor. I couldn’t leave her there, so I carried her to the couch.”

“Wow.”

“Then I took photos of where I had been in her apartment, of her purse where I left it, and of her on the couch, sleeping safely.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I have to protect myself. A criminal does not photograph a crime scene and send it to the authorities. I took the photos and sent them to Lyft immediately so they would have a record.”

His logic is good and I’m impressed he had the presence of mind to document the situation, so I ask how he knew to do that.

“It’s a common thing, bro. I’ve carried a lot of drunk passengers to their doors or inside. It’s happened to all the drivers I know, so we have an unofficial procedure, understand?”

“Wow. That’s nuts.”

“If they are drinking too much, that is like a warning there could be a problem.”

“Like the drunk Taco Bell executive who punched a driver.”

“Yes! You have seen this video?”

“Yes. That guy was an asshole.”

“Yes! An asshole. That is why I have the dashboard camera. A police officer told me, anyone starts acting rude, turn it on just to be safe.”

“But you’ve never had anyone get violent?”

“Oh yes I have. You will laugh at the reason. He wanted me to drive him to Jack N The Box, go to the drive-thru, and pay for him because he did not have cash.”

“And that got violent?”

“Yes. Because I refused so he began hitting me. I got out of the car and opened his door to get him out, but he kept hitting me.”

“What did you do?”

“I said, sir, you must stop this.”

“Did he stop?”

“No, so I punched him. I knocked him out.”

“One punch?”

“I am an amateur boxer,” he says, pointing to a pair of miniature boxing gloves hanging from the mirror.”

“Wow.”

“Yes, my coach gave me the gloves, like a deterrent, but I do not think he saw them because he did not really see me, you understand?”

“I understand. What happened with the guy?”

“Oh bro, it’s a sick joke. I took him to the hospital because he was knocked out. I called the police to be safe. They said, it’s not your fault, basically he is a drunk asshole. But I don’t want to press charges; live and let live, that’s how it goes.”

“I feel a but coming on.”

“Yes, a but. Here is the but. He sues Uber and they ban me from the platform, so now I only drive Lyft. 8,500 rides, 4.9 star average.”

“Wow, you really do have the data.”

“I have the data, bro.”

Why we protest

I joined about a dozen friends and friends of friends at the protest downtown. One recurring question among the group was this: why are we marching today?

Primarily, I went because hate is wrong. Those who act in hate, speak in hate, or ratify hate are wrong. We all have a choice: we can acquiesce, or we can bear witness.

But I also had another reason in mind.

I went because I figured a lot of people I know wouldn’t go. I don’t mean that as a guilt trip; it’s been 15 years since I’ve exercised my right to peaceful assembly, which is why I feel guilty. But if you didn’t go, what would you think of the people who did go?

It’s so easy to dismiss a fellow human as the other, as a figure on our screens, or an avatar on our feeds. We’ve always been good at dehumanizing each other, and with recent technology advances, we can do it in realtime, at scale, and without consciousness.

One way to disrupt that trend is to leave the bubble and talk to people. One way to scale that disruption and accelerate change is to share those experiences with people you know.

Nearly all of you know me. We are friends. We’ve worked together. Gone to school together. I went because I wanted you to see me there, to see that the people who were there are a lot like you.

My zayda, citizen soldier

The man with the really big smile on his face in this photo is my zayda. Why he felt the need to tag himself with a red pen, I’ll never know. But I do know that my zayda was, for a time, a citizen soldier.

Like millions of men and women, Joe Stern answered his country’s call during World War II. He had language skills that would’ve been useful in Europe, so the army sent him to the Pacific. He had a wry sense of humor, which may explain the smile during an incredibly difficult couple of years of island hopping, as well as the fact that he had a knack for making friends who came from all walks of life back home.

Officially, sergeant Stern was in charge of a motor pool unit that was responsible for keeping the army’s trucks and jeeps running. In truth, zayda wasn’t so hot with the mechanical stuff (when my father joined the family, zayda put him in charge of changing lightbulbs and other “technical” stuff). But zayda was a damn good photographer. His personal photos, the ones he was able to preserve from the heat and humidity of the jungle, are among my most cherished possessions. The other photos he worked with, the ones we’ll never see, were part of his real job, which had something to do with military intelligence, and which he never talked about, even after the war.

Zayda was proud of his military service, and we are all proud of him. But in honoring my zayda on Veteran’s Day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share something about the history of this day. My zayda, after all, was a student of history and he passed that passion on to me. So here it goes, zayda.

Veteran’s Day used be known as Armistice Day. We mark the occasion on November 11, which was the official end of hostilities on the Western front during World War I. That war, of course, wasn’t called World War I at the time because nobody thought there would be a second one. In fact, one name for the conflict that killed tens of millions of people was The War To End All Wars. Obviously, that name turned out to be wrong and it ended up becoming a footnote to history.

That brings me back to zayda. He was born three years before World War I. When he shipped off to the Pacific, he was 32 years old. He left family, friends, and a career behind. He put his life on hold because it was the right thing to do. But the defining aspect of Joe Stern’s life certainly wasn’t his contribution to making war; it was his commitment to living in peace.

I love our veterans. I thank them for their service. And one of these days, I hope we figure out a way to reward them with peace and the opportunity to live for their country. We owe them that, and a whole lot more.

Please don’t talk about secession

I became a Civil War buff when I was 14, thanks to a summer spent nursing a broken ankle and a well-stocked public library. Over the next decade of my life, I went deep on this time in American history, from the ante bellum period, to the war itself, to the reconstruction period. I read all the books I could find, and that quest took me into esoteric territory like how the war played out in my home state of California, which contributed a lot of gold and more soldiers than you probably realize to the Union war effort, despite anecdotal examples of secessionists taking to the hills around Los Angeles, not far from where I live today.

I mention this because there’s a lot of talk about California seceding from the Union, or as some have taken to calling it #Calexit. I know this is just talk. And I know that this is how some people choose to vent their frustration at the results of the 2016 election. But this election proves that words matter, and so there really is no such thing as “just talk.”

For those posting about seceding, I have a question. Why model the behavior of violent slaveholders who thought their right to own people was more important than our commitment to form a more perfect union?

I think there’s a much better way. States are the laboratories of democracy. California’s lab is looking really good these days, not just because we continue to move toward more progressive policies, but because we’ve achieved what is most lacking at the federal level and elsewhere in our nation, namely a functional government and an electorate that is capable of delivering meaningful input on dozens of complicated issues. Put simply, California has a lot of good things to share with America. If you believe in those things and you want to make them a reality for everyone, you don’t secede in California; you succeed in California.

Cord cutting is political (at least, it can be)

I had always said that as long as you needed cable to watch Dodgers baseball I would subscribe. But I cut the cord earlier this year for some convoluted reasons.

First, baseball was long gone by the summer of 2016, at least for me. A greedy media deal and my grudge against Time Warner and their lousy service made me want to quit. Then a pointless price hike from my provider made me think about a world without cable. Except The Walking Dead was coming back, so I decided to stay, because AMC knows its stuff. Only… the season left me wondering what the hell was going on (more so than usual), and the finale just made me feel used. So I did it. I cut the cord.

And that’s when I began to feel happier. Ok, it actually wasn’t right away, and it helped that I’ve been working on some personal goals, but life without cable had a real advantage during this awful election – I received a minimal dose of cable news.

I stayed informed. I continued to subscribe to newspapers and a few magazines and I discovered the PBS app on my television. My wife and I made it a habit to watch NewsHour and discuss the show.

Interestingly, my wife’s first reaction to what has become our evening routine was to say, “holy shit, this is like a real news show.”

It was as if we had come off a decade’s long junk food binge and tasted real food once again. An hour of news with reports and interviews is a shock to the system that has been sucking down a diet of spin and infotainment.

I mention this because I’ve seen a lot of people blame the media. I’ve also heard a lot of people do some soul searching and ask what they can do?

One choice is to cut the cord. If you think cable news is toxic crap that contributes to the problem, you shouldn’t watch it. But remember, your subscription dollars still help fund cable news because you buy the bundle.

Is it a sacrifice? Sort of. A little. But not really. With the money you save, you can buy your entertainment and news direct from the source. That’s usually the best way to make sure you get what you’re paying for.

The hateful bias inside us all

Sometimes people tell me I look like I’m from New York. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough that the comment is worth decoding.

What does a New Yorker look like? There’s no one answer, but that’s the point. What the people who say this really mean is that I look Jewish.

I was talking about this with my friend over lunch today. We were discussing the election and how, at the very least, the results embolden those who traffic in hate and validate those who reject the moral imperative to examine their own biases.

We finished our lunch on a positive note and walked to our cars. We hugged goodbye, but before we could part ways, a stranger stopped us.

“Tough day,” he said.

“Yeah,” my friend said.

“Do you have a job?” the stranger asked, adding quickly that he posed this question because my friend was wearing jeans.

At this point, I need to pause the story to give you some relevant details.

The stranger was a white man.

My friend is a black man.

My friend and I were both wearing jeans. But let’s be clear: he looked sharp, as always. I looked kind of grungy, as usual.

What you wear is a poor proxy for employment, especially in Los Angeles. But here’s the thing, the stranger asked my friend if he had a job; he didn’t ask me.

And let’s put a spotlight on the language of the stranger’s question. Does it strike you as forward, or rude, or inappropriate to ask someone you don’t even know if they have a job? A job. As in, are you employed? Not, how do you make a living, or what do you do? Not, what is your vocation? The stranger’s question assumed that my friend, the black guy who just happened to be wearing jeans, might be unemployed.

So how did my friend respond?

He told the stranger that he owns a tech support company.

“Oh, ok,” the stranger said.

Then the stranger walked away without saying goodbye.

“I’m glad you witnessed that,” my friend said.

Witness is the right word, not because I needed to see it with my own eyes to believe it, but because I have a moral obligation to bear witness.

“Can I share this on Facebook?” I asked.

“Fuck yes, and please do.”

A Lyft to go watch the 2016 election

My Lyft driver last night was Armenian.

His English was limited, so we talked about the weather and where to get the best Armenian food in Glendale. Then somehow or another we got onto the topic of Armenia, a country he’s never seen because he grew up in Iran, a country where Christians like him are in the minority.

“What’s it like living there?” I asked.

“Good country, bad regime,” he said. “You understand the difference?”

Tinder Wisdom

They’re young, they’re headed to Los Angeles for vacation, and they’re all over Tinder. I pick up the following tips:

  1. Dudes shouldn’t wear pink, not in their profile photos. Pink says they don’t know how to have a good time.
  2. Doctors are great, but if they don’t put their specialty in their profile it’s a missed opportunity.
  3. They roll their eyes whenever a guy writes that he’s looking for a “fun, adventurous” woman.
  4. You always swipe right when the profile says “international businessman.” Always.
  5. Any guy who promises to take you to Rome on the first date is cool, as long as it’s Rome, Italy, not Romania, “which is like not even really in Europe.”