Noodle Note

When you grow to my age, you don’t remember much about elementary school. You remember the names of your teachers and some of the names of your classmates. You remember making edible dirt with crushed brownies and gummi worms. You remember playing with a parachute in gym class and being sent to the principal’s office for making prank Valentine’s cards for classmates with crude names that you borrowed from that old PC game Scorch (well, I remember that last part).

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I seem to remember worksheets that asked me what my favorite color was (don’t know), who my personal hero was (Raphael from TMNT), and what I wanted to be when I grew up (inventor/President of the United States).  I didn’t know it then, but there was only one question with an answer that has not changed. What is my favorite food? My favorite food always has been and always will be beef noodle soup, 紅燒牛肉麵.

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I grew up in Queens County, the most diverse county in the entire world (Google it). P.S. 163 and P.S. 173 were no different. People from every tribe, nation and tongue gathered a stone’s throw away from Manhattan to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They still do. But when you’re in grade school and you write beef noodle soup in a box on a worksheet, people don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. They think of chunky beef and vegetable soup. They think of beef stew with carrots and potatoes.

But they’re wrong. Beef noodle soup isn’t American. It isn’t Irish or English. Beef noodle soup is Taiwanese. Fatty beef shank, braised and slow cooked with bones for a deep, rich flavor. Soy sauce, rock sugar and star anise. Dough, delicious dough, hand pulled or knife cut into thick, chewy noodles that soak up the flavor without falling apart. Beef noodle soup is God’s gift to mankind, and it came by way of a little island formerly known as Formosa.

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Main Street looked different when we were kids. When I was growing up, before there was Flushing Library, before there was Big Bowl or Starbucks, there was that wicked place Mega Academy and a string of excellent restaurants and supermarkets. On Main Street, in between 41st and 42nd ave., there was a Taiwanese Restaurant that made the best damn beef noodle soup in the city. Right smack on that street was a place that sold us 紅燒牛肉麵. I remember the sound of the bell against the door and the way the cashier had a booth before you got to the seating area. I remember the waitress with the hoarse voice, and the pulled back ponytail and a mole above her lip like Cindy Crawford. I remember the anticipation as we drove back home with it, burning hot even through the plastic container that I would hold to make sure it wouldn’t topple. Back then, I didn’t eat the meat or drink the soup, I just ate the noodles, and then I ate the extra noodles my mom would order for me and then I would eat my brother’s noodles that he didn’t finish, because beef noodle soup was my favorite food. 

***

When I was 21, I had essentially dropped out of college and moved to California (sorry mom). Then I decided to tag along with my dad and stepmom as they explored some business opportunities in China and Taiwan. It’s the longest stretch of time I can remember spending with my dad. I celebrated my twenty second birthday in a two bedroom condo in Taoyuan. It was during this time that my stepmom began to see some of the odd freakish similarities between father and son. Not the least of these similarities was the fact that we found an amazing beef noodle soup place on ZhongHua Rd. and without her intervention, my dad and I would have eaten there for every meal.

My dad, too, has always loved beef noodle soup and much of the mythology of my dad involves it. My mom used to tell me a story about my dad when he was growing up. My dad left home to go to high school in Taipei, so my grandma would give her beloved son enough money for two bowls of noodles. Two bowls, because beef noodle soup was his favorite food. A classmate of my father’s lost his parents when he was young and didn’t have the means to eat out, so for three years, my dad bought two bowls a day, one for himself and gave one to his friend. We now know that friend as uncle Liang.

Later, in college, uncle Liang introduced my dad to a precocious young lady from Chiayi. That lady was and is my mom.  

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And thus, my parents fell in love (and out of love too, but that’s another story). When they were dating, my dad would take my mom all over Taiwan on his motorcycle. They rode through mountains and by the ocean, and when the engine would overheat, my dad would pull over to the side of the road and pee on it to cool it down. Dad would take off his belt and wrap it around the both of them as they cruised through the countryside day and night. My mom would fall asleep with her cheek pressed up against his back.

But they didn’t just travel around, they had their regular spots too. One of them was none other than a beef noodle soup shop. In certain restaurants, they will differentiate between 牛肉麵 (literally beef noodle), and 牛肉湯麵 (beef soup noodle). There were two differences between the two. First, the fact that the latter had no meat and second, the price. Since my parents were broke and in love, they split a beef soup noodle and the kind shopowner would give them a free tea egg.

After many shared bowls and after many long years of courtship, they decided to get married. The problem is, my grandparents didn’t support the marriage. They didn’t think my mom was good enough for their cherished son, so they didn’t show up for the wedding. When they did, guess who acted as a father for my own father when he married my mother. That’s right. The man who ran the noodle shop.

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My grandparents would get furious because my dad would spend his holidays with the owner of the noodle shop.

 

***

Usually, Stephy reads these things when everyone else does. I catch her on the bed or couch scrolling on her phone. If I’m lucky, she’s moved by something she read and accepts my kisses. With this post, I read it to her in different phases as I wrote it. She asked me where I was going with it. I think this is where. 

Stephy likes beef noodle soup too. And so does her family. When we were in Taiwan, her dad brought us a really damn good one from somewhere deeper in the city. We ate it together—  myself, Stephy, her dad, aunt, niece, nephew, grandma and NaiNai the dog. We also ate beef noodle soup in a famous shop in YongKang Street, and at another place with my mom and brother and a couple of instant ones from 7-11. All told, I ate at least one bowl per day during our two week trip in Taiwan last year. What was I saying?

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Stephy makes a hell of a beef noodle soup. 

Anyway, sometimes when she has the time, Stephy’ll make it at home. She makes it in the instant pot which spouts the smell of stewed beef all up in the air and when I walk through the door, I feel like I could cry. I feel at home. Maybe Shelby will feel that way too. Maybe it will be her favorite food, and she’ll think of good memories from growing up. Maybe she’ll think of the places she can count on, or her ethnic identity, or maybe she’ll think of people who love her. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll have a different favorite food. Maybe it’ll be pastrami. I love Pastrami.

Thoughts You Might Have If You Binge Watch The West Wing While Social Distancing

When I finally got to the cashier at Trader Joe’s, I asked, “do you think I should’ve bought more stuff?” She looked down at my purchase, three bundles of flowers and a small bag of lemons. “Umm, probably,” she chuckled, then asked “Was it worth it?”

I had just waited for about half an hour in a line that was one among many lines that stretched through the aisles and went all the way to the back of the store. People filled their carts with foods, non perishables, and whatever supplies they felt would help them as they prepared to hunker down for the next who-knows-when. I was just there to pick up some daisies, baby’s breath and lemons for the wee baby Shelby’s 100 day shindig. Yellow daisies and baby’s breath were gonna match the balloons and the lemons were for the ice water in the glass dispenser.

I stood in line with these items in one hand and with my other hand caught Pokemon and worked on the New York Times crossword. It took some time, enough to catch ‘em all, but not enough to finish the crossword. By the time I got to the cashier, my eyes were a bit fuzzy and my hands were a little sore, so it wasn’t unusual for the cashier to ask me if I thought the wait was worth it.
“Yeah.” I said, and I meant it.

That was last Friday. Later that day, Orange County schools would announce that they’d be shutting down. A few days later, the county would announce a prohibition on gatherings and businesses involved in non-essential activities. The lock-down had begun.

***


It’s been a lovely time working from home. Stephy has a set up with the big monitor up in the loft, and I’ve put together a two-laptop battle station on the dining table. We eat all of our meals together and perhaps most importantly, we spend lots of time with the wee baby. Well, mostly, the baby hangs out and falls asleep and poops and cries and smiles at us, God, we love her so much.

When I’ve taken out the trash, or retrieved things from the garage, I gotten a chance to look around outside. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much, but it feels different. This week, I see more parents walking or playing with their children. I hear more laughter from through our windows coming from the other homes in the complex.

This morning, I left our self-imposed quarantine to run a couple of errands. One of my tires is underinflated, so naturally I’ve ignored the warning light for the past two weeks. Stephy gently reminded me this morning to take care of it, so I promptly went to our local gas station and failed to reinflate it. Afterwards, I ventured to go see what Sprout’s looked like. I kind of expected what I’ve been seeing on the news, empty shelves, a line around the block and fist fights over Charmin Ultra. What I saw were families shopping contentedly for supplies, dutiful workers stocking shelves, and a relatively normal looking store.

It wasn’t mayhem. It was… normal. And maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching the West Wing (Sorkin Seasons only), which is basically patriotism-porn, but as I left the store and walked through the parking lot, I felt an immense sense of pride in my countrymen. We are indeed a resilient people.

***


Later, we took the family out for a little drive. The baby likes to nap in the car seat, and Stephy wanted to see firsthand if I might be able to reinflate the tire with a second try (I was not). Everywhere we went, we saw families walking around in parks and while the restaurants and stores were empty, life continued to flourish despite our circumstances.

You can say that America was ill-prepared and naive to the gravity of the situation, but there is something admirable about the aura of invincibility with which we walk. You can call it hubris (and you ought to) but it’s lined with a confidence that comes from a long history of leadership and heroism. You can call those spring breakers idiots (and you ought to) but Americans are trained with an ethic where we don’t let circumstances dictate how and where we’d like to exercise our freedoms. 

***

I read a passage once that, like all great pieces of writing, latched itself deeply, irrevocably onto some part of my soul. Steinbeck wrote that “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” He writes so in response to his family who, upon discovering about his ailing health, discourages him from getting into his RV and driving around the country with his poodle, Charley. He won’t allow fear to stop him from what he wants to do. 

I grew up in New York, where every bit of logic told us to fear large gatherings, avoid public transportation, and I don’t know, build smaller buildings. But we didn’t do that, we said “**** the people who would have us crawl in our holes in fear” and we built the tallest building in the western hemisphere, designed it like a middle finger and named it The Freedom Tower.

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Our country is not composed and classy like other ones. We don’t sing opera from our balconies, or organize group dinners across an apartment complex. We sort of hoard toilet paper and beat up Asians. We’re a young country, but we’re full of heroes like the cashiers at the grocery stores, like the nurses and doctors, like the government workers, mailmen, restaurateurs and delivery guys.

And we also like the little things, like insisting on having a good time for spring break. We also laugh in the face of danger, like going for walks with our family because of course it would take an unprecedented worldwide health crisis to get us out of the house. We like to do what we like to do, even if it’s unwise, like buying flowers for your baby even when she doesn’t understand what they are and there’s a pandemic to be hoarding for. 

What Would Kobe Do?

I’m not sure how these things are supposed to go. I’ve been slow to write this because I don’t know my end point. Part of me feels like I want Kobe to know what he meant to me. Another part wants everyone else to know. Then again, I think part of me just wants to remind myself. Something inside of me needs to know with certainty, that I am truly a fan. It’s important that this is true of myself. I am a Kobe Bryant fan.

Like everyone in this city, I have Kobe merch. I have tees, a couple hundred dollars worth of his signature shoes and for different phases of my life I’ve worn a custom-made bracelet on my wrist that reads “What Would Kobe Do?” My first real basketball shoes were the white Kobe IV’s that I wore until my foot would touch the floor through the hole in the bottom. For years, I made it a point to be the last person to leave the court because the shots I took while people were resting meant I was out-working them. I challenged anyone better than me to one-on-ones after games because I wanted to figure out weaknesses for the next game. Kobe has been one of my great sports role models. He’s shaped my approach towards challenges both on and off the court. Even still, it feels like I took him for granted. 

 

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May 2012

 

Some people are asking why? Why is there so much mourning over just a basketball player? I think part of why it’s so crushing is that, more than anyone in the NBA, people were most excited for the next chapter of Kobe’s life. Kobe’s post retirement saw him as an Oscar-winner, a coach, a philosopher and a mentor to the young superstars of the NBA. Kobe’s nod of approval is what the young bucks looked for. He became a statesman and a patriarch, not just for basketball but for all realms of life. Calling Kobe Bryant just a basketball player is like calling Bruce Lee just a kung-fu movie actor. 

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Mamba Mentality
For so many, the connection with Kobe goes so much deeper than basketball. For anyone feeling helpless on or off the court, the Mamba Mentality instilled a great power. You could be a killer, a warrior, a winner through sheer force of will. You see, Kobe wasn’t the most gifted or talented. He didn’t have the build like Jordan or Lebron. He didn’t have the giant hands or the indestructibility. He just worked harder than anyone in the league.

There are legendary stories of Kobe practicing for hours before teammates even get into the gym.

Then, just as many stories of Kobe playing through injuries because an ailing body could not get in the way of a man and his mission.

Then there are just legendary Kobe-isms:

The Matt Barnes inbound play.

“Job’s Not Finished” press conference.

Kobe and Chris Rock

The Kobe System

For scrubs on and off the court (like myself), Kobe’s career was a portrait of something truly special. It was special but attainable, because to be a Mamba was a mindset, not a set of God-given tools.

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As I wade in the collective sadness, it kind of feels like Kobe is inspiring the masses towards something else. Maybe it has to do with the tragic nature of the crash and the fact that Gianna was involved, but it feels like Kobe’s teaching us to be better fathers, to do more to elevate women. Elle Duncan shared a beautiful story about Kobe that seems to be resonating deeply with people, including myself as a recently christened girldad. While he always supported women athletes, it seems that his role as a father, not a player, is making the biggest impact. 

It used to be, when I thought about Shelby grown up, I felt a sense of loss, because I can’t transfer my love of sports, camping, and violence to a daughter. Now, I’m convinced that it’s even more essential to instill that strength and confidence in Shelby. It’s what Kobe would do. It’s what he did with Gianna and all the girls.

There are a lot of things that I can say about Kobe Bryant. His impact on my life is dawning on me more and more as the world mourns together. I could talk about my approach towards basketball, my bastardized version of the elbow fadeaway, how I pin an opponents hand against their hip. I could talk about staying at the park late and shooting jumpshots in the dark.

But as I think about his legacy, I wonder if the best I can do is to make sure he impacts what he cared about most: family. Maybe the best I can do is to make sure Kobe leaves a mark, not just on my game, but on my daughter. As I’ve been wearing my “What Would Kobe Do?” bracelet in the past few days, it feels like it’s taken on a different meaning. Sometimes, I look at it when I hear Shelby cry and I decide to run over instead of waiting for Stephy to handle it. Sometimes, I look at it when I’m dying inside at work and I think about what my job means for my family. Other times, I look at it and it makes me think about a brighter future with better GirlDads and more representation and compensation for women. I think about a world filled with more people like Gianna and Kobe Bryant in this world.

 

Danger Was Almost My Middle Name

This all started because I’m wearing a mask at work. When your job is to work with dozens of Chinese students and their day is spent going to school with other Chinese students and one of the first domestic cases of the Wuhan CoronaVirus was confirmed in your city, you might be concerned about managing the risk of infection. The thing is, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have cared at all.

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You see, in my teens and twenties (I resent needing to phrase it this way), I took every adventure available to me. If there was a cliff, I’d find a way to climb it and jump off it. If there was a distant land, I’d find a way to travel to it whether by train, plane or automobile. In Mama Liu’s Rav4, I drove half the distance to the moon (five times the circumference of the Earth), making my way to every state in the contiguous United States, staying in shady motels, camping out in the back of my car, or better yet, spending the night in a frosty bivouac sac. I got a handful of speeding tickets and a boatload of parking tickets. I drank all the coffee and ate all the slow-smoked barbecue I could find in this great country. I almost legally changed my name to make Danger my middle name. While I didn’t go on drug-induced benders or get into low-level violent crime, I lived my life as hard as I could, or as far as commitment to my faith afforded me (plus some extra-curricular, extra-biblical activity on top).

I’m the blip in the middle.

When people would question me, discourage me or otherwise rein me in, they used the threat of danger. “Don’t do that, that’s dangerous.” “Don’t eat that, you’ll get cancer.” “Don’t go there, it’s not safe.” My response was always the same; live longer? For what? Live longer? At what cost? In the words of the great George Strait “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.” I wasn’t looking to extend my time at the expense of how I spent it. Greasy food tastes better, driving fast is more fun, the road less traveled makes a better story.

Existentialroot
At the bottom of all that, there was the fact that I didn’t want to live long, regardless. Like my sad existentialist heroes, I was weary. I was weary of life. The point wasn’t that I was willing to pay the price for a lifestyle that I wanted. The point was that I wanted a lifestyle that cost me more life. In other words, burning the candle at both ends wasn’t a means to an end, it was the goal. I was tired, and on a lot of days since those times, I’ve been tired.

Something always resonated with me in Ecclesiastes. From the moment I stumbled across it in my teens, it’s been my favorite part of scripture. Ecclesiastes echoes a meaninglessness that burrows deep into the marrow of your bones and saps joy from so much of life. There is a fleeting quality to this world that doesn’t make it ephemeral and beautiful, but cheap like a disposable napkin. 

The one solace was that we have a chance to make a difference in something eternal. The one solace was that somewhere, there was a way to have a legacy.

We shine most brightly when we can reflect the good graces of God. We leave a mark by dipping our toes into the eternal. But even still, there is a longing for the other side of life. The apostle Paul says as much in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He knows that the things of this world pale in comparison to just a sliver of the goodness of God. What we experience here is but a shadow of what is to come. He stays to possibly do some good. But in his heart, he longs for the other side of the veil.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t eat my vegetables.

Just kidding. I like vegetables, actually. But Paul encapsulates a big portion of my approach towards life and particularly my own safety. When I took the 16PF at Talbot, my three highest factors were High Threat Immunity, Thrill Seeking Behavior and Low Energy Depression. If you’ve known me for some amount of time, you look at those three phrases and you recognize all of it immediately in how I live. I never saw the need to shield myself from the dangers of this world. What’s the worst that could happen? My untimely demise? Perfect, I could use the rest. Let’s roll the dice.

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If this all sounds awfully morbid, rest assured. I’m not embarking on drug-fueled benders or living my best hedonistic life. I spend my days in a two bedroom condo in one of the safest suburbs in the world. I go to and fro from my safe job in a sensible mid-size SUV with lots of airbags and even a dashcam. I lock my doors now. Take a snapshot of my life these past few years and I venture to guess that it’s largely indistinguishable from the safety-seeking people I pass on the freeway.

And today, I’m wearing a goofy facemask at work.

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I’ve never been known to be the most cautious one in the room.

In 2002, When SARS broke out in eastern Asia and around the world, I was a teenager. Like any teenager convinced of his own immortality, SARS was a just punch-line and a means for taking self-deprecating racist pot-shots at my own people. My only responsibility on a day to day basis was reading Fitzgerald novels and getting Kennedy Fried Chicken from the corner of Fulton and Fort Greene. The closest thing I had to a bank account was a new paperback novel and a receipt from Barnes and Noble.

Now, in 2020, I’ve got a job, a mortgage, a wife (total babe) and most recently, a tiny baby to take care of. I can’t afford to joke around. I can’t afford to be cavalier about my own life because the outcome of other lives depends on it. If I get hurt, if I get hurt, it’s not me that pays the price, it’s these other two. And it’s a heavy weight to carry.

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You know, I thought that I would resent this weight. All of the married characters in my writing resented their families for it. I thought I would be bogged down by the responsibility of caring for a family. I’d spend my days in a cubicle, rotting away under fluorescent lights instead of under the stars somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. But now, now that I’m on the other side, I think that I imagined it wrong. 


No, I don’t love the suburbs. I don’t love the safety. I don’t love having a mortgage, and furniture and a life that I can’t pack up and leave on a moments notice. I love my family, and the other things are necessary costs to that end. I do enjoy a home, and I suspect that they do too. Instead of looking to speed through life, I’m trying to slow it down. I’m trying to stretch it out because my family doesn’t need a martyr, they need a father. They need a rock, an anchor, not a rolling stone.

I know I’m not always going to have to sacrifice things. When Shelby isn’t a tiny bitty baby, she will come along on adventures. She will sit in that center seat between me and her mom while we explore the world together. I’ll do dumb things to try to impress her. But even now, with my quiet day to day, I am at peace. I realize that what I do with these two ladies will be the greatest adventure I embark on, and how I do it will be my greatest legacy.

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How I’m Doing

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging more lately. This is mostly because we’ve organically settled into a rhythm where I take the first night shift. Stephy tries to sleep at around 10pm after the baby is fed and changed. Then, I usually I wind down and write until the baby wakes at around 1AM to impatiently demandsfood. After feeding and changing, I sleep too. Stephy takes care of things in the awful hours of night until around seven or so. Then, I take over so she can get some rest before I head to work.

Close Call: This child just peed AND pooped moments after I swapped diapers.

This irregular schedule has given me lots of time to compile goofy lists and think about things. It’s also given me more time to work on the novel (coming up on 50k words). I’ve been stuck plot-wise for a few weeks now, but steadily grinding on the passages that I know will happen. It seems to be moving away from detective novel into thriller territory. This is fine with me.

Anyway, one thing that I haven’t really written about is my current stage of life. This makes sense because it’s in flux. Not only am I trying to figure out what is happening, I’m also trying to figure out how I feel about it.

The first thing I want to communicate is that I miss ministry. I miss pouring my time and energy into the service of people, their understanding of God and His role in their lives. I loved every minute of study, preparation, even all the cleaning up. Most of all, I miss the kids. The role I was allowed to play in their lives was one that I never took for granted and the void left from stepping down from that responsibility has been the hardest part of this process.

It’s weird to go from having an important role in so many lives to kinda not. The past few months of “secular” work has been a mixed bag. I manage teachers, prepare curriculum, and help students apply to schools. For the most part, I’m not doing the things I’m best at. The work can be challenging and interesting at times, but there are always the parts of it that reek of the mundane. I think often about Jesus making tables or Paul and his tents. I wonder how they did it when they knew that the fields were ripe with harvest.

On the flipside, I have been able to commit more of my time and energy into my little burgeoning family. You see, for the past few years, I have to admit that there’s been a tension. When I was in ministry and with family (even pre-baby), I had to make compromises. It was hard to go full speed into ministry because I had new financial obligations, a wife to be present for, and a new set of affairs to be concerned about (1 Corinthians 8:33-34). Paul describes the married man as a man whose interests are divided, and that was an apt description for me. At the same time, it was hard to be fully present for my family. I had to give up most evenings and weekends, I missed birthdays and anniversaries.

More importantly, my attention would be divided. I took a look at my inbox today, and for the month of January, I have (as of writing this on January 21st) less than five emails in my primary inbox. As a minister, I’d routinely have hundreds of emails, let alone calls and messages. These were not nuisances, but they could be taxing. While a big part of me desperately wants to get back to doing the work of ministry, I can feel how this time has given me rest and an ability to focus on my family.

It was important to me to be there for Stephy and the wee baby Shelby, and although I’m occasionally too immersed in a TV show, I like to think that I’ve been a good father so far. I didn’t want Stephy to ever feel like there was something competing for my attention and affection and I didn’t want to feel like I had to choose. 

I feel like it sounds like I’m complaining. I don’t mean for it to sound that way. I just wanted to say that it’s been hard. I miss the youth, and I worry that every day I’m spending apart from them in this season is another step towards a day where they no longer see me as someone they can go to for help. I worry all the time that the day has already passed. 

But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve gained. First, you have to understand that for me, home was an unstable thing growing up. For parts of my life, my church family was the most nurturing family I had. I could count on those people to love and accept me. It’s why I committed my life to building the church. Growing up, I always had this home away from home. But now, I have a home at home.

I don’t know exactly how to express what it feels like to come home from work every day to my family waiting for me. Every morning, I don my necktie, brew my coffee in my travel mug, pack my lunch and mosey on over to the same office in a lifestyle that would make 20 year old Sunroot cry (I still want to cry sometimes). But then, I speed through regions of Irvine and Tustin to get home to these two women that I would do anything for. I come home to my family. After I park the car, I look up and see the lights on through the windows and my heart swells with a weird sensation. For the first time in my life, I feel completely at home.

At the end of the day, yes, of course I want to get back into ministry. A few times a week, I’m looking for jobs at non-profits where I can serve again. My thoughts and feelings are still jumbled. I’m still figuring it all out and I’m trying to know the right thing to do is. But as I write this on my laptop in the dark, my wife and my daughter are sleeping peacefully next to me and I know, without guilt or shame, that I’m doing my best to give my best to them. And that thought helps me sleep peacefully too.

The Return of McGregor: Why You Don’t Need To Be Perfect To Be King

I’m a casual UFC fan at best. I mostly watch boxing now. This is probably due to the fact that I saw my UFC hero Anderson Silva shatter his leg against the shin of Chris Weidman in UFC 168. I watched a living legend turn his leg into a snap bracelet, so you’ll forgive me if my appetite for that shade of combat sports is diminished. I popped back in when McGregor and Rousey were in their heyday (I even watched the Ultimate Fighter 17), and that’s why I couldn’t ignore the allure of the Notorious One returning. I’ve even followed his Instagram in the past few weeks to watch his training sessions (while enduring his incessant whiskey ads). I was excited for his comeback and I figured that this was as good a time as any to get back into it.

Image result for conor mcgregor and son cage

My favorite posts were of Conor and his son, Conor Jr.

This Saturday night, I watched the bulk of UFC 246 on my phone via sketchy streaming sites where the video would pause and restart every half minute or so. Fights played on while I went through my nightly chores: wash the dishes, sterilize the baby bottles, refill the formula maker and bottle warmer, top off the water boiler and coffee maker. Around the time I finished up, the main promos were starting. I sat down, pulled up the bootleg feed on my laptop and got ready to watch McGregor return to the Octagon after 15 long months.

Then, as McGregor strut out to the ring, my feed died. My internet was fine, but someone told the pirate-fighting powers-that-be and my feed when kaput. A minute later, I was able to refresh and video finally came back. Except now, Conor McGregor was sitting on top of the Octagon with the flag of Ireland draped across his shoulders. The fight was over.

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McGregor, visibly emotional after his win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone

I just missed the details of it. A couple of seconds later, I watched it on the replays and the details began to emerge. Conor McGregor broke Cowboy’s nose and cut him above the eye with his shoulder. You read that right, his shoulder. In an early clinch, McGregor whipped his shoulder around so fast and so hard that he broke the UFC legend’s nose and opened up his eye. Then McGregor quickly finished off the fight with a leg kick to the head and a flurry of punches on a dazed Cerrone. What a way to win a fight. What a way to make a comeback.

I could only laugh. It was Jose Aldo all over again. Two years ago, Conor McGregor caught lightning in a bottle and won a fight in speedy spectacular fashion. Then on Saturday night, he did it again.  Admittedly, “Cowboy” Cerrone isn’t on the same level of competition as Jose Aldo, but you can argue that the stakes were just as high, even without a belt on the line. McGregor has a lot to prove if he wants to stay on top of the UFC and potentially tens of millions of dollars in career earnings hinged upon this fight.

My thoughts after the bout were the same after the Jose Aldo fight. “That was very impressive, but I don’t know what it means.” The unusual nature of the fight leaves my questions about McGregor unanswered. Is his conditioning enough to go the distance? Can he hold his own if he has to grapple at an elite level? Can he beat Khabib?

McGregor landing a clean shot against Jose Aldo in a historically short (13 second) title fight for UFC

As I started to run through the scenarios in my head, I realized that this is the appeal of McGregor. I remembered why I loved watching him fight. First, he is an incredible fighter. His striking is elite and thrilling to watch. Every now and then, you can see flashes of Jeet Kune Do and the Karate stance is a nice break from the Muay Thai/MMA style.

His skill isn’t unusual, lots of fighters are great. What sets McGregor apart is the feeling that he’s getting so big, he’ll pop. His hubris sets him up for a mighty fall and everyone in their schadenfreude wants to witness a mighty fall. McGregor takes a page out of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. playbook and builds up a persona that you either want to cheer for, or jeer against. Either way, no one is ambivalent about him. Mayweather Jr. built a career around building haters, but never losing. He made over a billion dollars in his career by walking the tight-rope of an ego-maniac that backed it up.

The difference here is that McGregor has some losses on his record but you somehow don’t care. You’re just glad he’s back in the mix. McGregor has accomplished much of what Mayweather Jr. has for marketability and he’s done it without the perfect record. But I suspect that in order to continue generating interest, he can’t rack up losses against sub-elite opponents. Two things sell an MMA Pay-Per-View: A loaded card, and a big star. This card was anything but loaded (although Maycee Barber showed an insane amount of heart against Roxanne Modafferi in the prelims by fighting on a torn ACL). The draw here was the star: Conor, the Notorious One.

Saturday was just a reminder of the power of a star. It’s rare that a non-title fight gets the Pay-Per-View treatment, and McGregor already has been the headliner for 5 out of the top 6 Pay-Per-View UFC fights of all time. Time will tell for the numbers on this past fight, but I suspect it was no slouch either. Dana White estimates over a million (which would make it top 15 all time)

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All-time top Pay-Per-View buys for the UFC

Personally, I like seeing McGregor succeed. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” is an adage that I think can be applied here for all of combat sports (yes, including boxing). I want to see him fight Khabib again. I want to see him fight Masvidal as a welterweight. I want to see a McGregor v. Diaz 10. Conor, he’s not a perfect fighter. He’s not like Floyd. But this weekend should be proof that he doesn’t need to be. He’s thrilling to watch, win, lose or draw.

My Favorite Stand Up Specials From the 2010’s

If you’re familiar with my unhealthy media consumption habits, then you know how much I love stand-up comedy. On a normal week with access to at least one of the major streaming services, I might average around 10 hours of stand-up a week. Currently, I’m without Netflix, and with baby, so that number has gone down. Although, with Spotify, late night feedings, and an impetus to research for this piece, I think I’m making up for lost time.

There’s something pure about the form that (for the most part) is just a person standing in front of an audience and making them laugh. One person committed to the entertainment of a crowd with nothing but a means of amplification. Stand-up is evolving past “airline food is bad” and the specials are becoming more immersive, more contemplative, more socially charged. If it means I get more specials like 3 Mics, Homecoming King and Make Happy, I’m all for that change.

I just wanted to take some time and take note of some of my favorite comedians and stand-up specials with a list of my favorites from the past decade. When I was pre-writing for this, I realized that I would have to leave out literally dozens of comedians that I wish I could pay homage to, but my list is already too inflated. Without further ado, here are some of my favorites.

21. Gary Gulman – In This Economy? (2011)Image result for gary gulman in this economy
Gary Gulman is kind of a throwback to what drew everyone to stand up in the 80’s. He’s insightful, witty and his subject matter is innocuous and delightful. Watching one of his specials (with the exception of The Great Depresh [2019]) is like watching a Disney movie; it might not might make you think that deeply, but it is enjoyable throughout. In This Economy is a good example of well constructed, classic stand-up.

20. Katherine Ryan – In Trouble (2017)Image result for katherine ryan in trouble
It should come as high praise that Katherine Ryan is occasionally described as the next Joan Rivers. She is unapologetically herself, or at least the version of herself that she projects on stage. She can be vain, self-deprecating and blunt, but throughout, she is charming, upbeat and fun. She carries herself with a great deal of confidence and that confidence helps her deliver catty and irreverent jokes without seeming cruel or mean-spirited.

19. Kevin Hart – Laugh At My Pain (2011)Image result for kevin hart laugh at my pain
If there were to crown a comedian of the decade for the 2010’s, it would be Kevin Hart. From smaller stand up specials to sold out arenas, no rise was as meteoric as Hart’s. While he never got the critical acclaim of Louie (until Louie’s fall from the public eye), he might be the most publicly recognized stand-up comedian of this era. I’m pretty sure everyone had a group of dudes in their friend circle that constantly snickered “you gonna learn today,” and “alright, alright, alright.” No? Just me? Laugh At My Pain is a great representation of that infectious, fun energy that Kevin Hart brings.

18. Jimmy Carr – Funny Business (2016)Related image
Jimmy Carr’s humor is polished, refined and unmistakably dark. In Funny Businnes, Carr spits out perfectly crafted and executed jokes. His one liners are delivered with precision and you feel comfortable in the hands of a practiced technician. Then, you see his wit and dry humor shine during the crowd-work sections of this special. Carr joins a number of comedians who relish in the shocking and politically incorrect and he does it with a lovely dry, English style. Plus, his laugh is disgusting.

17. Mike Birbiglia – My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (2013)Image result for birbiglia girlfriends boyfriend
Mike Birbiglia is sensitive and thoughtful in a way that makes me think about how weird it is that he shares a profession with guys like Anthony Jeselnik and Daniel Tosh. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is vulnerable in a way that draws you in, like listening to a good friend share about a tough time. Birbiglia is self-deprecating (as comedians are wont to be), but there is an inner strength that helps you to laugh with him and root for him at the same time. He won’t make you laugh so hard your guts hurt, but you’ll finish the special feeling somehow lighter and more optimistic.

16. John Mulaney – The Comeback Kid (2015)Related image
In the vacuum created by Louis CK’s fall from grace, John Mulaney has risen as the critical darling and the golden boy of stand up comedy. This is rightfully so. In this decade, he’s been nominated for dozens of Emmy’s and WGA Awards for SNL and Documentary Now!, including wins for SNL and one for his 2018 special, Kid Gorgeous at Radio City. He also co-created the broadway show Oh, Hello and the Netflix show Big Mouth with Nick Kroll. The Comeback Kid is a good encapsulation of what we love about John Mulaney, his self-deprecating humor, delivered with energy and charm.

15. Aziz Ansari – Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening (2010)Image result for ansari intimate moments
Before Aziz Ansari was winning Emmys and Golden Globes for Master of None, he was living it up as Tom Haverford and making incredible stand-up comedy. Like many other comedians on this list, he was following the mold of Louis CK by taking a year to hone a full hour’s worth of material, recording it, and then burning it to start all over again. In short succession, Aziz came out with several excellent hour-long specials (Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening 2010, Dangerously Delicious 2011, Buried Alive 2013, Live at Madison Square Garden 2015). I chose this one as my favorite of them because it begins a great tradition of Aziz R&B bits. 

14. Tom Segura – Mostly Stories (2016)Image result for segura mostly stories
Tom Segura is a classic comedian in that his jokes will often revolve around certain comedy tropes; sex, poop, idiotic people. That being said, I really enjoy his stuff. Maybe it appeals to my more base instincts, but I have to admit I like when a comedian is doing what he can to shock and gross out his audience. There are so many fat, gross comedians that I love, and Tom Segura right up there with the best of them.

13. Hannibal Buress – Live From Chicago (2014)Image result for hannibal buress live chicago
The Kobe Bryant bit. I love most of Buress’ stuff, but the Kobe Bryant bit made me pick this special out from the pack. Buress has some of my favorite jokes “related to personal stories, current events, the streets and even food” (inside joke), but it’s his delivery and cadence that really make his jokes special. He has a way of starting a joke slow, and compounding it as he speeds up that is a testament to how hard he works on each bit. His meta jokes about stand up comedy provide an extra layer of enjoyment for the die-hards. 

12. Daniel Tosh – Happy Thoughts (2011)Image result for tosh happy thoughts
This list should make it clear that I love the unapologetic elitism that Daniel Tosh uses in his stand-up. He is critical of the pretenses that people use in the name of political correctness, and goes out of his way to assault them. What makes him special is that he does so in a way that self-aware and dare I say, thoughtful. In Happy Thoughts, Tosh’s persona helps to hold an unflattering mirror up to some of the things that make America, ‘Murica. 

11. Lil Rel’  – Kevin Hart Presents: Lil Rel’ – RELevent (2015)Image result for lil rel relevent
Lil Rel’s style is a pure kind of comedy that is just joyful. Watching him is like watching the funniest guy you know, but capture all of that fun into a package with hilarious delivery and put it on a professional stage. Laughs are had at nobody’s expense, so everyone is in on the joke. There is nothing overtly political or deep, but I want to put his stuff on my list because it legitimately makes me laugh out loud. RELevent is like birthday cake, festive and fun all throughout.

10. Hannah Gadsby – Nanette (2018)Image result for gadsby nanette
We’re cracking the top 10 on my list and this is where a lot of the entries start to get heavy— none of them heavier than Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. Gadsby recounts her own journey of discovery, abuse and triumph. She does this while examining art, including comedy, as an imperfect narrators, insufficient for conveying the depth and truth of a person’s experience. In a way, Nanette is a subversion of comedy, and the laughs are turned into tension, tension that she doesn’t let go of. It’s a beautiful and gripping special, worthy of watching, for laughter and severity.

9. Michael Che – Michael Che Matters (2016)Image result for michael che matters
I haven’t liked SNL for a long time, but I love Michael Che (I’m too jealous of Colin Jost to appreciate him even a little), and I really enjoy Michael Che Matters. Che is able to speak on social issues without being too preachy or myopic. In a way, he reminds me of Chris Rock in his heyday (you’ll notice I didn’t put Tambourine on this list) in the way he can. His insights are witty, sharp and memorable. The sign of a good satirist is the ability to turn a phrase in a way that makes you rethink an issue. Think of Chris Rock’s “bullet control” and “black people vs. n-’s”. Michael Che gives us terrifying white women and “All Buildings Matter”.

8. Anthony Jeselnik – Thoughts and Prayers (2015)Related image
Anthony Jeselnik has made a living on provoking a response through the most inappropriate jokes possible. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “________ is nothing to joke about,” Jeselnik has taken that topic, written it on an index card, and made it his mission to make a joke out of it. This audaciousness is not a virtue in and of itself, but his execution and delivery is just so wonderful. This special is a good blend of his toolkit, stories, short set-up/punchline jokes and personal thoughts. Whereas Fire in the Maternity Ward (2019) can be predictable and repetitive, Thoughts and Prayers is fresh and exciting from start to finish.

7. Bill Burr – Let It Go (2010)Image result for burr let it go
Bill Burr is another guy on this list where I could’ve put any of his specials and would’ve had multiple entries if it weren’t for wanting to be nice. Burr is what they call a comedian’s comedian, who, in the same vein as Aziz and Louie, is working on new material and touring constantly, refining his craft and steadily making quality material. He is profane and abrasive, but thoughtful so his rants come off like tough love, not malicious berating. I chose let it go because “what are you, a fag?” is an insightful bit that captures when Burr is at his best; reflective and hilarious.  

6. Marc Maron – Thinky Pain (2013)Related image
Marc Maron’s comedy resonates with the basest parts of myself: addiction, neuroticism, and depression. For those who enjoy the now legendary WTF? podcast, his specials feel like a polished version of our group therapy sessions. His stories don’t always end in triumph, but you feel like you’ve bonded by the end and accepted hard things together. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a comedian so raw, honest and unfiltered. 

5. Dave Chappelle – The Bird Revelation (2018)… but really, all of themImage result for chappelle bird revelation
The feeling I get when watching Dave Chappelle’s new sets is what it must have been like for Drake and Beyonce fans when they were hit by great surprise albums. Dave Chappelle came back from semi-retirement to fanfare and a comedy god status. When you watch the new specials, you can see why. There are sections where he is just riffing, making people laugh while just musing on whatever’s on his mind. Then there are times where he is presenting perfectly crafted bits, built up over the course of the set and drawn to an epic conclusion. Chappelle breaks a traditional paradigm for what comedy touring and specials should be with an absolutely virtuosic command of the craft. In one special, he jokes about how it’s too easy, and how he could just pull punchlines out of a fishbowl and destroy crowds. Then he does it when you know it’s coming. I picked Bird Revelation, because like all of my favorite stand-ups, it challenged me in my perspectives about a current issue (#metoo) and gave me the vocabulary to voice some ideas around it.

4. Hasan Minhaj – Homecoming King (2017)Related image
Homecoming King is about an Asian-American immigrant who grew up in an urban environment in the 90’s. Hasan Minhaj was custom-made to hit my cultural touchstones: hip-hop, sports and withholding parents. What makes Homecoming King so special is Minhaj’s thoughtful approach to discussing what it means to be a son of immigrants in America. He is open and reflective and honest in a way that makes you feel what he feels. You experience his struggles with him and you want to cheer in your seat with his triumphs. All in all, Homecoming King does what all my favorite stand up specials do. It makes you think, feel and laugh.

3. Neal Brennan – 3 Mics (2017)Related image
Neal Brennan will always joke about riding on the coat-tails of Dave Chappelle and the success of Chappelle’s Show, but in this special, you see how he has grown as a stand-up in his own right. He has a distinctive vision and style that makes 3 Mics a powerfully moving and hilarious time. Brennan takes an unorthodox approach of switching between three types of jokes, or one could argue, three different personas. The effect of the format is that it brings extra attention to each time he changes mics. It makes you want more of one or less of another, and all of these machinations cause you to think more deeply through the content. 

2.Bo Burnham – Make Happy (2016)
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Make Happy is a special that is filled with meta-commentary on the stand-up form and ends in an existentially reflective rant in the style of Kanye West. This is a man after my own heart. Bo Burham examines what it means to be happy and what it means to be in the public eye. He does it by disorienting and delighting his audience with catchy songs, non-sequiturs and deeply thoughtful ruminations. 

1. Louis CK – Hilarious (2010), Live at the Beacon Theater (2011), Oh My God (2013), Live at the Comedy Store (2015), 2017 (2017)
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It’s hard to talk about Louis CK without mentioning his recent fall from grace. When I’m looking at different lists that people have compiled of their favorite stand-up comics and specials from the last decade, his name is very noticeably absent. I can understand why people are wary of including him or perhaps their own personal convictions make it impossible to continue honoring him. There’s also the reality that many of the jokes he made land differently in light of what we’ve learned about him. But at the end of the day (or decade), Louis CK was my favorite comedian of the 2010s.

Each of his specials taught me different ways to look at complex issues. His TV show made me a better person and, I think, a better father. The more recent specials challenged me to be a more thoughtful pastor and educator. I mean, admittedly, there are swaths of filthy content littered throughout all of these specials (not a bad thing). There are tons of inane (yet hilarious) stories and anecdotes. But when Louis CK talks about heavy issues like language, race and even abortion (what a way to open a special [2017]), he does so with such nuance and thoughtfulness. Louie has a way of reframing arguments that we take for granted and turning them into a mirror at something ugly inside of us. Those mirrors are crucial to evaluate what makes us think the way we do. I believe we’re a better populace for having watched specials, better equipped to listen and see from other perspectives, less expedient to judge and condemn without looking first at ourselves. 

On top of all that, Louis CK has done the most to make the other comedians on this list better. In this decade, he became the elder statesman in stand-up and set the tone for everyone else for what it means to be a professional. His commitment to creating new, relevant material through constantly working the clubs and touring was an example that has improved the quality AND quantity of good stand-up that we get on a regular basis. For those reasons, and the simple reason that he’s funny, he tops my list here.

My Favorite Movie Of Each Year in the Past Decade… almost

This list wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I was supposed to make a simple list of my favorite movies from 2010-2019. It was gonna be one of those peppy top 10 lists that gets me a click or two. These lists ought to be equal parts pretentious and provocative. But somehow, the list grew and grew. There are too many movies that deserve mention and praise– not because of their objective greatness, but because of what they’ve meant to me.

There are great, important movies that are left off this list. They are omitted for various reasons, not the least of which would be that I haven’t seen them (sorry 2019). Other reasons may simply be that the movie I ended up choosing just had too much of an effect on my.

For those who know me, you know that I love movies, TV, novels, comics, pretty much anything with a narrative. I love stories because life’s most huge important truths are captured in an instant. The stories of all humanity can be told in the story of one human. I enjoy movies as entertainment, yes, but also as guides, road-maps and parables. As I reflect on this very formative decade in my life, I can’t help but see how these wonderful films shape my own narrative, my own arcs, my own character.

As I compiled the list, it began to swell. It also became hard to order them in any sensible way besides chronological, so the format I’ve ended up with is a list of my favorite movies of each year, with honorable mentions. This is by no means a definitive list of what is best (research exposed to me how many noteworthy movies I’ve failed to watch). I hope the reader can enjoy these selections through my own eyes and perhaps if you’ve been itching to take the plunge with one of these beauties, you’ll take my word for it and jump.

2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay by: Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin

It’s rare to find a piece of art that you feel speaks so specifically and directly into your life and experience. While I haven’t wielded a flaming sword against enemy exes, this movie touches on the deeply nostalgic video game culture I grew up in. It brings me back to lazy afternoons on the couch with Sun-Jet and a Nintendo Power Walkthrough on my lap collecting Skulltulas. Scott Pilgrim also perfectly captures a period of my life where I was wondering what I should do with it. Scott’s journey was my journey. To this day, I will often make to-do lists with the heading “SR Gets It Together.”  Edgar Wright is a master at visual comedy and the soundtrack is hypnotic and perfect, from 8-bit Easter Eggs to the sleepy dream ballads.

Honorable Mentions

Inception
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Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

The Fighter
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Director: David O’Russell
Screenplay by: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

True Grit
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Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Screenplay by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Charles Portis
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailie Steinfield

2011 – Attack the Block
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Director: Joe Cornish
Screenplay by: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail

John Boyega a.k.a Finn a.k.a. FN-2187 wields a samurai sword and leads a gang of South London hood rats against a horde of glowing alien invaders.  There’s so much more to say, but it shouldn’t be necessary to say it. The movie gives representation to a culture that is so often under-represented in genre flicks and answers a question that we never knew we needed the answer for: “What would happen if aliens tried to invade the ghetto?”

Honorable Mentions

Rango
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Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by: John Logan
Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant

Moneyball
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Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin, Michael Lewis
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill

Drive
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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay by: Hossein Amini, James Sallis
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

2012 – Skyfall
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Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris

There’s a moment when James Bond adjusts his cuffs after jumping into a moving train through a hole he carved with a crane that was also on the aforementioned train. Scenes like that will always make me feel like a little kid watching someone who is quintessentially cool. Skyfall takes the typical Bond tropes and adds in complex themes about duty and the fall of empire (for a deeper dive, check out the Rewatchables). In Skyfall, you follow an older broken Bond who can’t rest because the mission isn’t over. He does many un-cool things (gets shot, dies, collapses during a physical, etc.) but he is so damn cool. M quoting Tennyson over a montage of Bond running still gives me goosebumps.

Honorable Mentions

Safety Not Guaranteed
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Director: Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay by: Derek Connolly
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson

Django Unchained
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Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Seven Psychopaths
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Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken

2013- Kings of Summer
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Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay by: Chris Galleta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias

The Kings of Summer is easily one of my favorite movies, period. It captures something deep inside of me, a boyish yearning for adventure and independence. It reminds me of hiking through the backwoods of Kissena Park, or driving for days around the country, sleeping  outside or in the trunk of the Rav4. There’s something important that this movie teaches about what it means to be a man. Or at the very least, it emphasizes the importance of embarking on a quest to become one.

Honorable Mentions

Warm Bodies
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Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay by: Jonathan Levine, Isaac Marion
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Inside Llewyn Davis
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Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Screenplay by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
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Director: Ben Stiller
Screenplay by: Steve Conrad
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly

2014- Whiplash

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Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Damian Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist

There’s something about a story of obsession and greatness that will always speak to me. Whiplash is often described as a sports movie, something akin to a boxing movie because of the relentless dedication of the hero to become great. It is also the first in a string of movies by Damian Chazzelle about needing to abandon the women in your life to pursue your dreams. This movie is laser focused and lean without an ounce of fat and the result is a gripping story about someone who refuses to be a no one, no matter the cost. The soundtrackis no slouch either.

Honorable Mentions

Interstellar
Image result for interstellar last scene
Director: Jonathan Levine
Screenplay by: Jonathan Levine, Isaac Marion
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich

Hector and the Search for Happiness
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Director: Peter Chelsom
Screenplay by: Maria von Heland, Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay, Francois Lelord
Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Tracy Ann Oberman

John Wick
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Director: Chad Stahelski
Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen

2015- Mr. Right

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Director: Paco Cabezas
Screenplay by: Max Landis
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Sam Rockwell, Tim Roth

There is such a thing as a perfect romantic comedy action movie. This is it. It’s perfectly cast, acted and filmed.  Sam Rockwell is your sweet everyman with a freakish gift. Anna Kendrick is our dream girl who not only accepts Sam Rockwell’s murderous occupation, but participates too. It’s a tragedy that more people haven’t seen this great movie. It’s a joy to watch from beginning to end.

Honorable Mentions

我的少女时代 (Our Times)
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Director: Yu Shan Chen
Screenplay by: Yung-Ting Tseng
Starring: Vivian Sung, Talu Wang, Dino Lee

Mad Max: Fury Road
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Director: George Miller
Screenplay by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

The Martian
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Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay by: Drew Goddard, Andy Weir
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig

2016- The Nice Guys

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Director: Shane Black
Screenplay by: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice

The Nice Guys is like an unintentional sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, another subversive sleuthing movie that I love. It manages to be warm and sweet in the cold, bitter world of LA in the 70s. Every scene in this movie is hilarious. It’ll make you hungry for more detective stories and more Shane Black. It ought to.

Honorable Mentions

La La Land
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Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk

Kubo and the Two Strings
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Director: Travis Knight
Screenplay by: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey

2017- Molly’s Game

Image result for mollys game its my name
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin, Molly Bloom
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner

Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino are by far my favorite screenwriters of all time. If I can just listen to a movie with my headphones in without watching and still be riveted, then I know that the screenplay is packing a punch. That said, Molly’s game incorporates some of my favorite things, poker, the criminal underworld and Sorkin dialogue. You watch the rise and fall and rise of an American entrepreneur/criminal.


Honorable Mentions

Get Out
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Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford

The Big Sick
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Director: Michael Showalter
Screenplay by: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter

Dunkirk
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Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

2018- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramset
Screenplay by: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld

It is distinctly satisfying to watch a comic book movie executed perfectly. Into the Spider-Verse simultaneously dipped into an expansive multiverse while telling the story of a single boy’s journey to becoming a hero. The visuals are endlessly entertaining and full of easter eggs and details for comic book lovers. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is about what Spider-Man was always supposed to be about, a boy, taking on the weight of responsibility for a whole city because, in short, he has to.


Honorable Mentions

Isle of Dogs
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Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, George Clooney

Black Panther
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Director: Michael Showalter
Screenplay by: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter

Den of Thieves
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Director: Christian Gudegast
Screenplay by: Christian Gudegast
Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr.

2019- ???

I don’t think I could write about 2019 in good conscience. I haven’t seen most of the movies, including the ones that I know I will love, including Parasite, 1917, Marriage Story, The Farewell, Jojo Rabbit, Ford v Ferrari, Booksmart, Ad Astra, Joker to name a few. So many of those are right up in my wheelhouse so it’d be impossible to make this list without them.

At the end of this list, I feel like I’ve given a good representation of the films I like, and I hope you come to like them too. I’m looking forward to a roaring 20’s where new streaming platforms and distribution formats will give rise to all kinds of new storytelling. I can’t wait to see movies get more epic and cinematic to compete with streaming services and multi-episode miniseries’. Stay tuned or subscribe to this blog, if you care about the stuff I’m into as I’ll be posting up my favorite TV shows, music and stand-up specials of the last decade up on my blog in the coming weeks.

on the shore

Today, I am too tired to keep unpacking. My hands are sore, calloused and raw from working on things around the house. In the past few days since we’ve moved in, I’ve unpacked about half our things (my half), converted our shower doors, upgraded some bathroom hardware, fixed/broke a toiled and assembled some new furniture to name a few of the things. Right now, I’m sitting at the top of the loft, on my writing desk, typing. I can hear my wife sleeping quietly in the living room, curled up with a blanket on top of a body pillow.

Earlier, I rummaged through my books, because I’m looking for something specific. I am looking for Kafka on the Shore. You have to understand that for readers, we have important relationships with our books, relationships that evolve and change as time goes by and we either re-read and build nuance, or we allow our memories to sweeten, yet dilute with distance. Every reader has a few seminal books that anchor them. These are the words that have formed who we are and who we’ve committed to never being. We need these books to inform us and teach us the lessons we knew when we were young, lessons we vowed to live out as we got older. I wish I were not in such need of a reminder today, but I find myself straying from those truths that I once saw so clearly. I don’t mean doctrines, I mean those blurry truths that we hold loosely in our hands like sand or ocean foam.

In the past week, I’ve delighted in the work of my hands. I’ve demolished, built, and rebuilt various items with these hands and the physical work in conjunction with tangible results are a welcome break from a job where I can nary see the fruit of my labor on this side of heaven. I’ve worked on the framework of the home that will surround and raise my coming child, and I’ve found great satisfaction in one of the few ways I can prepare for fatherhood while my wife contributes more to the baby in her nap than I could in all my waking hours. Yet, I’m back at my desk and reminded of the responsibility to leave behind a legacy of words and beautiful ideas; the very things that shaped me more than the walls of my small bedroom in Flushing ever could.

So, I’m diving back into Murakami’s world of falling fish and heavy stones. Maybe I will find something there that reminds me of who I’m supposed to be. Maybe I will find something there worth bringing back home.

me too, but not what you think

The past couple of weeks has been intense. It began with revelations about Harvey Weinstein and snowballed into a veritable explosion of information in all different realms, not just Hollywood, and there’s no end in sight. I am still trying to figure out what I make of all of it. Where’s my voice in this? What do I want to communicate? Every podcast and thought-piece I’ve listened to or read describe our social landscape irreversibly changed. It should go without saying that it’s for the best. Transparency is necessary and the systems of oppressive boys’ clubs and abuses of power should be exposed and torn down.

I love Miramax movies, but Harvey Weinstein was a predator and overtly used his power to prey on young actresses. Kevin Spacey is an amazing actor, but he always had a reputation for being a cruel man. These men are easy to vilify, to demonize. Then, last week a Times article chronicled an encounter with Louis C.K. and two other female comedians and he joined the list of these evil men.

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Louie. Not Louie. Louie was and maybe still is one of my heroes. In the midst of a culture intolerance and division, Louie’s voice championed nuance and understanding. His commitment to his craft inspired many shows I love (yes, even Horace and Pete). His methods in creating Louie on FX changed what was possible for a singular comedic voice to drive a show as he directed, acted, and even edited his own content without network intervention. There’s no Atlanta, no Master of None, no Better Things, without him.He became the Carlin/Pryor role model for a generation of comedians (Aziz Ansari, Kevin Hart, Trevor Noah, etc.) showing them what it takes to stay relevant: work the clubs, build an hour, film a special, burn it all, repeat.

Then, this week, I listened to Marc Maron and Bill Burr address what has happened with their friend. Burr’s was very Burr-like. He described when he gets assaulted by aging, wine-breathed cougars. He defends his manager Dave Becky, who has been caught up in this by association.

But Maron, Maron really opened up. He shared times where he used his power influence inappropriately. He told a story of when he was hurt by a person he trusted and the powerful, lingering effect it had on him. And when he talked emotionally about CK, I almost cried.

“And look, I hope this doesn’t come off as any sort of apology for anything. You know, I’m disappointed in my friend. He did some gross s***, some damaging s***, and people are like ‘how are you gonna be friends with that guy. He’s my friend! And you know, he f***ed up. And he’s in big f***ing trouble. So, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna be his friend. What do you want me to do? I mean, it’s probably the best time to be his friend, when he needs to make changes in his life. I can learn from it. He can learn from it, I hope.” – WTF Podcast 11/13/2017

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Louis C.K. and Marc Maron, 1989

It doesn’t feel right to lump Louie in with the others. The others were evil, but Louie was good. I see a portrait of a man who is haunted by his sexuality and he’s afraid and ashamed and apologetic for what it has done to the people around him. Then I realized why it was so hard. Not just because he’s a hero, but I think when I saw Louie, ashamed at the demon inside him that has taken control and wrought havoc in the world around him, I saw it. I saw myself. This week, I finally found my voice in all of this controversy.

I knew when the dialogue began that I wasn’t one of the victims. I wanted to be an ally, but there was a part of my conscience that held me back. When I saw the hashtag #metoo, I wanted to say #metoo, but specifically me too, I’m guilty. I’m guilty of treating women inappropriately. I’ve touched them inappropriately. I’ve pushed girlfriends further physically than they wanted to go. I’ve entertained thoughts about women that haunt me and would turn the stomachs of anyone who could step inside my mind. When I look down at this situation, I’m not standing amongst the victims, I’m not standing with the allies. I stand with the perpetrators, not in their defense, but sharing in their guilt.

I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to say. I think I want to come out and say me too, but not in the way that you were hoping. Me too, I’m guilty. Mostly, I think, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.