JN129: How to increase your chances of getting a plaque

May 2, 2011

Dear everyone,

It feels really good to not have to worry about planning a reception. Especially since people have been looking at our pictures and making comments like, “Jameelah looks like a princess! She was glowing! And…you…you looked…well, your suit totally matched her dress …” Still, life is good. Our indoor basil is doing well, the Farmer’s market will open soon, I have thirty pounds of chocolate left over from our candy bar, and except for the thousands of tiny ants that are infesting all the units at our condo, and our dishwasher being broken, things are swell. I even feel like I’m starting to get my sense of humor back. “Knock knock…who’s there…The Tea Party sucks.” See?

Anyway, on a different topic, in two weeks, the International Examiner, the newspaper for which I write, will be hosting our annual dinner to recognize unsung local heroes. If you are like me, you dream about standing up there on stage, sharply dressed, holding a tasteful shiny asymmetrical crystal trophy or plaque with your name on it. Months of lobbying my boss, the Editor in Chief, however, have been futile, and if a Groupon voucher for a 60-minute massage does not convince her that I deserve a plaque for being an unsung hero, I don’t know what will. Apparently it’s going to someone named Mary Nguyen. Allegedly she has been a labor community organizer who is also working to counter human trafficking. And what, does the Tea Party just make fun of itself? Of course not; we humor writers provide an important service and should be recognized.

After Googling the past plaque winnders, however, I realize there are distinct patterns to their rise to glory. I present them here, so that you too can be a local hero and get a plaque.

First, join a crapload of committees. The average person spends about 3 years of their lives in the bathroom. Well, community heroes spend approximately 12 years just in meetings alone and only 6 months in the bathroom. These meetings are very important, but most of the time they last forever and there are usually not even any snacks. And yet, these heroes tirelessly join these committees to help solve society’s problems, sometimes dealing with all manners of idiots. So the more committees you join, the higher your chances are of being considered a local hero.

Second, “follow-through.” It’s when you say you would do something, and then, instead of taking a nap or watching reruns of The Mentalist, you actually do it!

Third, local heroes tend to have a paradoxically depressing yet hopeful vision for an ideal world, and, unlike for the rest of us, it doesn’t include robots. When asked why they do the things they do, they say stuff about how it’s all of us working together, and not robots, who will solve global problems like climate change, educational disparities, M. Night Shyamalan movies, etc.

Fourth, have or feign humility. When cornered with an award, local heroes deflect onto others, assigning credit to their mentors, their family, teachers, luck, the mailman, etc. So try to be humble. When given credit, let’s say for organizing a neighborhood cleanup day, say something like, “Oh no, I am a total idiot. I hate myself. Sometimes I try to build a time machine to go back to the past and prevent my own birth.” That sort of humility will certainly be appreciated.

I also noticed that local heroes are usually dirt poor, working in high-stress jobs that pay little: teachers, social workers, DJ’s. They tend to drive crappy, beat-up cars and shop at outlet stores where they can buy clothing by the pound. In their spare time, they watch movies and read stuff that most of us don’t know or would just rather not think about, such as “2010 Report on Global Access to Clean Drinking Water.” To increase your chance of getting a plaque, say something like, “I read in Time magazine that some absorbent mushrooms may be the solution to oil spills.” Then, when asked to elaborate, just say, “Oh no, I don’t want to dominate the conversation. How is your day going?” Now you seem both knowledgeable and humble.

There you go, just follow the above tips, and within two years, someone will give you a plaque. You are more than welcome. Remember to mention me when you’re making a speech.

JN128: The wedding reception is over! We have our lives back!

April 21, 2011

For the past several months, Jameelah and have been trapped in a profound vortex of darkness, a bottomless well of agony and despair. i.e., we were planning our wedding reception. If you have never planned a wedding reception before, I recommend that you never get married, because a wedding reception is about as much fun as wrapping yourself in bubble wrap and throwing yourself down a set of stairs repeatedly. Sure, that sounds great at first, but after four months, all your bubbles have been popped, and you’re left bruised and begging for it all to end. I think the concept of the wedding reception was invented to prevent couples from getting divorced, because no one ever wants to go through the process of planning one again.

Four months before the event, we chose a date and a location, which involved running around looking for the perfect place, realizing the perfect place was unaffortable, arguing with each other, then settling on a place that’s less perfect but more affordable. We also created an invitation list, which involved brainstorming everyone we wanted to invite, arguing with each other over who should be invited, then settling on a list.

For the next month and a half, we ignored everything and played Dragon Quest VI, which was a billion times more fun than negotiating with the caterer over what kind of glasses we want or figure out the program schedule. Two months before the event, we started freaking out and having nightmares, waking up drenched in sweat. Desperate and scared, we begged a friend to be our wedding planner, which did not help, since she made us pay attention to stuff, which was highly upsetting. We went through all the stages of wedding planning emotions: depression, anger, arguing, desire to cancel the whole thing, more arguing, weeping, denial, overeating, apathy, resilience, watching reruns of Bones on Hulu, and finally, resignation.

As if things weren’t complicated enough, I started feeling more and more guilty for ignoring all my Vietnamese cultural traditions. This was the first wedding in our generation, and my father, who had all these hopes for a big celebration, had to reconcile that his crazy son would have an American wedding. With glowsticks. I handed him the invitation card, and he flipped it over, puzzled. “Where’s my name?” he asked. In Vietnamese culture, and probably others, the parents’ names would appear, inviting you to their son or daughter’s wedding. Ours was a 5×7 card, and it said, “Huy and Jameelah are having their wedding reception!”

“In Vietnam,” said my father, “I would refuse to attend your reception. In fact, I would throw fish heads onto your house, so that the village may know by the stench of rotting carp the shame you have brought upon your ancestors. But this is the US, and if this makes you happy, fine.” To appease our elders, we had Vietnamese food and karaoke. Dad invited a handful of his Vietnamese friends, who were all just as confused as he was. “Yes, Dad,” I said, “it’s customary for the wedding party and parents to enter the reception hall to Jagged Edge’s ‘Let’s Get Married.’ And for the bride and groom to walk out to the theme song of Dragon Quest.”

The fathers welcomed everyone and lit a candle symbolizing the coming together of two families. They were so nervous that, combined, their speech was literally 15 seconds long. Then we drank and ate and danced and broke out the glowsticks. The Vietnamese elders, sitting on the side, bewildered by a spontaneous performance of the Cupid Shuffle, had no idea what to do. At one point, two of them gave in, dancing along to an assortment of music, including an energetic West African circle dance. They still had no idea why the food was all vegan and why there was no roast pig. They probably thought the live rabbit was a nice touch, until they realized we weren’t going to replace the roast pig with the rabbit.

People drank and danced and sang karaoke, and Jameelah and I felt like stars: everyone wanted to talk to and take pictures with us. There was more dancing and drinking. At midnight, the party ended, and the after-party lasted until 3am with a few stragglers. And then four months of aggravation came to a halt. I think everyone had a great time. If I could do it over, there would be several things I would change, such as having the censored version of “Back that Ass Up” (instead of the original version, which was extremely vulgar and terrified the rabbit), and having someone videotape all the fun, so that years from now, we could show our kids and grandkids and prove to them that we were once young and cool.

But all in all, it was good, we were happy, surrounded by our friends and family, and we can now slowly regain our sanity. And now that we are married, we can look forward to the next chapter of our lives: Opening our gifts and find out what people got us!

JN126: Let’s stop treating our teachers like crap!

April 6, 2011

Every day, my wife, a fourth-grade teacher, comes home exhausted. She then stays up late grading papers and preparing for the next day. Lying in bed waiting for her to go to sleep, I become concerned. Mainly that she would discover my secret stash of Trader Joe’s Pound-Plus dark chocolate with almonds, which I take great pains to hide.

But I also become concerned about her health and sanity. Which is why I am frustrated and disappointed with the attacks on teachers of late. What the heck is going on with our country? Reading comments on message boards about the showdown in Wisconsin and the general issues about unions has been eye-opening: “Teachers only work 7 hours a day, and 9 months year,” “Yeah, and they get the day off for every holiday known to man!” “My cousin talked to a teacher once, and the next day, he was diagnosed with cancer!”

Growing up in Vietnam, I was incepted with a reverence for teachers. Few professions are as well respected. Every November 20th is Teacher Day, and children bring gifts and take their teachers out to show their appreciation. It’s as big as Mother’s Day is over here. Stories are sung about chalk dust falling from old Teacher’s beard as he slaves away, ruining his eyesight to impart knowledge to his young students, who vow to grow up to be good people who will never forget their teachers’ sacrifices. In Vietnam, there is a saying: “King, Teacher, Father,” which is the traditional hierarchy of power. If you’re a teacher, even your students’ parents address you as Teacher and tremble in fear as they gaze upon your terrifying visage.

Sure, with so much deference, there are instances of abuse of power (“I said FRESH-SQUEEZED orange juice!”), but overall it works. Teachers still get paid crap, but at least they are held in high esteem as they stock up on ramen.

What do we have over here? The ridiculous saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Even worse are songs like “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen and “I Love You Period” by Dan Baird, which reduce the archetype of the Teacher into an empty object for romantic obsession, which is just creepy for everyone.

Teachers are put more and more on the defensive, becoming increasingly discouraged and demoralized, and this will have severe consequences on the future of this country. This movement of “teacher accountability” and “teacher effectiveness” has perpetuated a cycle of blaming teachers for kids’ poor performance. Every day, Jameelah comes home with some sort of horrible story about what her kids are going through: “Today, a kid fainted because she was malnourished.” “Today, a kid was absent because his dad got arrested.” “Today, a kid’s parents joined the Tea Party.” How are teachers supposed to deal with stuff like that?

Considering all the extra time they put to prepare lessons, grade homework and tests, and do other stuff outside the classroom, teachers work more hours per year than anyone. Then they spend a whole lot of their own money for school supplies; I know because everywhere we go, Jameelah is constantly looking for stuff for her class: “Ooh, these little Japanese erasers will make perfect prizes for the class Treasure Box!”

To have idiots on message boards saying negative things about teachers is pretty asinine. If these attacks don’t let up, teachers might just get fed up and become apathetic, which would hurt the economy. The markers and small-colorful-sticker industries would tank, for example, driving up unemployment. Worse, they might move to other professions. Then there would be no one left to teach our kids. They’d grow up to be clueless and backward. They’d probably become politicians.

JN122: The US needs more Tiger Mothers!

February 11, 2011

There is a huge debate raging right now over Amy Chua and her “Tiger Mother” parenting methods, a strict form of discipline that the US government has adopted to train Navy SEALS. It includes, among other things, forcing your child to get nothing less than straight A’s in school, perfect classic pieces on the piano and violin, not participate in school plays or sports, and never ever engage in the orgy of sin and depravity that is the “sleepover.”

Well, you know what, I wholeheartedly agree with Amy Chua. The US has become a festering pit of feel-good nonsense that imbues kids with high self-esteem and little competence at anything but eating hot Cheetos. All these wussified people who support the “balanced” approach of combining Chua’s methods with creativity and social interactions should stop straddling the fence. Either you’re a Tiger parent, or you’re a wuss who will ruin your kids’ lives and have them end up joining gangs, doing menial labor, or worse, becoming social workers or community organizers.

“So how do I become a Tiger parent,” you may be wondering. After reading Chua’s article and the synopsis of her book on Amazon, I can say that I’ve become somewhat of an expert on this topic. I want to share with you some tips I’ve learned that will help you become better parents.

First and foremost, the Tiger parent does not mince words. Insults and name-calling are effective means to motivate children to change. Make sure it’s personal, though. For example, if your kid is slightly overweight, calling them Tubby, Fatty, Lard-breath, Chunk-Bottom, or preferably a combination of the above is a good way to drive home the message. If they’re a little slow in the thinking department, speed them up with encouraging monikers like Moron, Idiot, Stupid, or John Mayer.  

Second, demand perfection from your kids. “Hey, Craterface,” you might want to say, “get off your lazy butt and do these extra math problems. Do you really think you’ll get this A- into an A+ by sitting in the corner rocking and staring into space like that?” It’s good to combine that with other helpful remarks:  “And while you’re at it, Shamu, jog in place so you can shed a few. I’ve never seen a six-year-old with so much cellulite.”

Third, make sure they master the piano, violin, and chess. To master anything, according to Malcolm Gladwell, you need 10,000 hours of practice. The only thing Westernized kids master is watching TV and posting stuff on Facebook. Your child will be regarded as vastly superior and more sophisticated if they can master the piano, violin, and chess. At 4 hours of practice for each of those things per day, it would only take about 7 years for your kid to become an expert. If you start them at the age of 3, they’ll be ready for the symphony or world chess tournament by the time they’re 10.

Of course, it might not be easy to get kids to practice anything for hours each day. So fourth, learn effective means to coerce your children. Every kid has a weakness. If they like certain toys, threaten to give them away or destroy them. Dangling a lit lighter underneath their favorite stuffed animals is a good way to move any four-to-nine-year olds: “You’ve only practiced violin for five hours today, and you still sound like dying lemmings. You continue practicing right now or Funshine Bear gets it!”

Finally, shield your kids from negative influences that might distract her. Sleepovers are complete no-no’s, as are school plays, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Limit sunshine and fresh air, as those things only increase the release of endorphins, which might create a false or exaggerated sense of accomplishment that actually impedes real mastery.

Sure, following Chua’s advice might not make you the most popular person with your kids or other parents, but China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Our kids won’t be able to compete if we continue the Western way of parenting. We certainly don’t want American kids to end up as quitters, like that Mubarak guy.

JN121: Women, let’s stop the mind-games for Valentine’s Day!

February 8, 2011

My friends,

Valentine’s Day is coming up. Every year, around this time, we guys get jittery. It’s not that we don’t like Valentine’s Day. It’s just that we hate it. Most of us would rather throw live piranhas down our pants than deal with this day. That’s because most of us are inept gift buyers, and our women are always expecting something amazing, as if a cordless power drill is not good enough for them.

Around this time, I start stressing out. “I’d like you to get me something,” says my wife, Jameelah, “and make it special and thoughtful.” She learned to be direct after one Valentine’s Day, when she said, “Don’t worry about getting me a gift, sweets,” and I got her nothing. (Was I wrong? Vote now).

Unfortunately, she is not direct enough. That’s the problem. Women always want you to be “thoughtful.” This is our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, and I was hoping that by now, she would just spell out everything. If you ask us guys what we want, we’d tell you. “This year,” I said, “I want Dragon Quest VI on the DS. And I want you to make peanut butter cookies.” I went ahead and pre-ordered Dragon Quest VI using her credit card. That’s how thoughtful I am.

I wish she would just say something like, “Get me the peridot ring circled on page 48 of this catalog, and make reservation for us at the Tamarind Tree. When we get home, open a bottle of wine and wait for further instructions.” See? Would that be too hard? But no, it is never that easy. That’s because for women, Valentine’s Day is not about romance. It is not about love. If it were about love, we would not stress each other out on this day. Why would you stress out someone you love by making them run around to get the perfect gift?

No, Valentine’s Day is a test to see how well men listen and observe, a test that may have resulted from evolution, where men who are most observant are most likely to survive and pass on their genes. However, it is a test that men fail miserably each year, and women always get upset. This only decreases the chance that we, both men and women, pass on our genes in fun ways.

So this year, let’s knock it off with all the gift-buying mind-reading games. Let us communicate and not waste time. Women, please tell your men exactly what it is you want this year. Trust me, we’ll be so happy that we might even do something extra. Like buy you a power saw.

JN104: How to shove the elderly, and other tips for Black Friday shopping

November 11, 2010

Every year, around this time, we give thanks for the things that we often take for granted. Things like family and friendship and commu—OMG, a 16-gig flash drive for $4.99! Where was I? Oh yes, community. Once a year, we reflect on how fortunate we are to have food and shel—WTF, first 10 quad core laptops only $250?!!!!

All right, fine, even as I prepare my annual list of things for which I am thankful, I am plotting out the most effective strategy for Black Friday shopping. As many of you know, this is the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, when stores pull all-out sales. Across the country, thousands of people camp out all night at the mall entrance or wake up at 3am in order to get the best bargains. In case you didn’t know, Black Friday comes from ancient Gaelic words bhleg, which means “50% off” and “frīgedæg,” which means “before 6am.”

As a veteran of many a bhleg frīgedæg, I have learned a thing or two, and I want to share these tips with you today if you plan to shop on this day:

  1. Start by doing some research, mainly by scanning your apartment or house to determine what you already have, so that we you see better versions of those things at 60% off, you can feel like crap.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and by that, I mean sports bra and/or cup, shin guards, and soccer cleats. Hundreds of people are injured annually by being shoved into metal shelving or lacerated by shopping carts. Hundreds more are injured by soccer cleats.
  3. Before you rush out, sit down and make two lists. Call one list “Items That Will Probably Be on Sale Again Later but I Don’t Want to Wait” and the other “Items that Might Make Good Gifts for Someone for Christmas but I Don’t Know Who and So I’ll Probably Keep in My Closet Until I Move and then I’ll Donate to Goodwill.”
  4. Stay up before Black Friday. If you fall asleep, you might not be able to wake up at 3am. Then, you’ll hate yourself the rest of the year, especially after your friends tell you how they got a 60-inch flat-panel TV for only $400.
  5. Carry the right tools. This includes snacks, a first-aid kit, a cattle prod, and an empty Snapple bottle. After four hours of waiting in line in front Best Buy for it to open, you will know what the empty Snapple bottle is for.
  6. Do not accept anyone’s offer for free “lemon tea” Snapple.
  7. Shopping with your romantic partner is slightly less painful than eating your own arms. You will inevitably hear stuff like “Are we done yet? It’s been an hour and I’m tired and I want to go home,” or “Why didn’t you take that parking spot? Great, now it’s gone and we’ll have to walk a mile, just great,” or “I can’t believe you dragged me out of bed for this. I hope you’re happy. While we’re waiting here at this God-forsaken hour, I have something I want to discuss with you. Do you think we’re communicating effectively? Lately, I feel like you’re not listening to me. I read this book, and it says…” Remember, these lines move about one foot per hour, and your arm will start looking more and more delicious as your partner continues to talk.
  8. Buy two of everything. That way, later on you can host a Black Friday party and trade stuff with your friends.
  9. Try to avoid rebate deals, because you’re going to forget to turn in the billion forms in time, and even if you do remember, every year, hundreds of people fatally injured by rebate-related papercuts.

10.  Above all, Black Friday is not a time to be nice. It is a battle field, with you against everyone else. I’ve seen a guy shove an old lady for the last digital photo frame at Office Max. Shoving is frowned upon, along with scratching and tickling, but people will look away on Black Friday. If you must shove the elderly, however, do it gently and make sure there are some mattresses on sale or an obese person behind them, just in case they fall.

I hope those tips are helpful. Now, I have to go write an apology letter to Edna, whom I met at Office Max last year.

JN101: Politicians, stop ruining my commercial breaks!

October 17, 2010

Every day I come home exhausted after a grueling three or four hours of work, and there is one thing I look forward to. Flo, the Progressive Insurance commercial lady. She’s hilarious. “Unicorn and Glitter?” That gets me every time. Recently, however, our commercials have been hijacked by political ads, especially by Patty Murray and Dino Rossi, both running for the Senate representing Washington. These ads are aggravating. What sort of a world do we live in when politicians have fee reign to sling mud at each other during Law and Order Los Angeles, during the two-minute breaks when most of us would like to grab a snack and be entertained by the E*Trade babies?

I am getting very tired of the yuckiness of our political campaign tactics. Day after day these past weeks, it has been “Patty Murray: She says she’s working for Washington. Question is, which one?” and “Suzan DelBene: She wants more government, higher taxes and think the healthcare takeover didn’t go far enough” and “Dino Rossi: Really? Come on! I mean, seriously, Dino Rossi? No, for real? You’re kidding, right?” (OK, I came up with that last one, and apparently Patty Murray’s campaign team didn’t want to use it; that’s the last time I give a politician pro-bono advice.)

These politicians must think we’re idiots. Their ads appeal to the lowest common denominator, eliciting visceral reactions and superficial anger. They pick the most unflattering pictures of their opponents, usually with the person having her jaw slacked and eyes glazed over and some spinach stuck between the teeth. Well, I’m offended. If they respected our intelligence, they would talk about their strengths and how they would serve us Washingtonians and what they would do about the outrageous soy latte prices and the toxic infestation of hipsters and other issues that we actually care about.

What has our world come to when those we elect have so much time to be engaged in political battles? Don’t they have a job to do, such as vote for stuff and say stuff and sign stuff and tell their aides to schedule meetings? When the economy is this bad, when people are losing their jobs, when Lonestar got canceled after only two episodes on Fox, how can they afford the time to make attack ads and coordinate rallies?

And then to air those ads during TV shows is inexcusable. Sure, once a while, fine, but constantly? If they are trying to help the economy, they should move their ads aside so that we can watch regular commercials that will encourage us to go out and spend money. The economy will only get better if people buy more makeup and Axe deodorant products.

I am not sure if this adversarial debate format of political campaigning has actually led to very good leaders. With all of the corruption and debauchery discovered among the pool of elected officials every year, can we really say that the current system works? Maybe we need a new system. Here, I’ve thought of a few methods that might work better in these days and age. Rock Paper Scissors. Two out of three wins. It’s fast; it’s universally understandable so candidates of all backgrounds can compete.  Or, “Hell’s Lobby,” a reality TV show where mean celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay cusses out candidates as they try to get a bill passed. At the end of every episode, Ramsay dismisses the most inept candidate until one candidate finally remains. Along that line of thought, we can have a show called “The Man,” kind of like “Big Brother,” where all the candidates are forced to live with each other in one giant house. We’ll be able to quickly assess everyone’s personality and leadership style that way, because, let’s face it, who wants to vote someone for Senator who leaves their dishes in the sink for a week or who never takes out the trash?

The point is, until politicians become more entertaining, they need to stay out of my TV.


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