Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why Go to NFL Training Camp?


It has almost never occurred to me to attend an NFL training camp practice. I've been a 49er fan for as long as I can remember. I really like football. I've been the commissioner of the same fantasy football league for 14 years. I like going to games. I spend most Sundays watching football. Still, the idea of going out to a practice facility that isn't really designed to accommodate crowds to sit in the heat and pay $7 for water has never appealed to me. I mean, what's the point of watching practice? Sounds boring and inconvenient right?

That's what I thought too. So when the 49ers sent out tweets, emails, and Facebook invites to their open practice this summer my answer was, "Yeah right. Never." Not three hours later my friend Daniel sent me a text:
"I just won tickets to 49ers practice on Saturday, want to go?"
I think I took all of thirty seconds to think about it. "Yes!" I replied. I did still wonder if it was going to be fun. I didn't even know where it was.  After finding out it wasn't in Napa (that's where the Raiders practice, duh) I was happy to hear it was at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara and not at the practice facility. I was even happier to read that the food would be free.

Seriously, bro. Free food.

OK, let's go.

Daniel is awesome and suggested I bring Buddy with us. I was excited to see a new stadium, and Buddy had been wanting to go to an NFL game. I can't afford that right now, so this was good chance to get him an NFL experience on the cheap, and for a duration (it was a 4 hour event) that he can handle.

The only problem we encountered is that the parking and traffic flow around the stadium were terrible. They had traffic cops out to help, but it seem like a planning issue that just wasn't addressed well. Other than that, it was actually pretty cool.

Why should you consider attending an NFL training camp practice? Read on for my unsorted, semi-chronological list.

1. It's not crowded if it's at the stadium:


YMMV but it's unlikely 50,000 people are going to show up for practice. The concourse isn't crowded, there are plenty of bathrooms, there's shade. Also, the Kid Zone games don't have long lines.

2. Free Food:


Maybe only terrible teams like the 49ers are doing this, but it was very cool. And it wasn't just the cheapo/terrible stuff. The sausages were legit. They also had nachos, pizza, soft drinks, bottled water and a bunch more available. The line moved quickly. You could buy beer/wine (of course wine, it's the 49ers) for $14 if you wanted.

3. Open Seating:


Again, a more popular or recently successful team may have their event fill up, not so in Santa Clara. We watched part of practice from seats we could certainly never afford. Buddy liked watching the 11-on-11 drills from up close. It was almost like watching a game. If you're in my tax bracket this is as close as you're likely to get. You get a good sense of the speed and power of the players when you're this close. Also, dude, look how cushy these chairs are.

4. Nerding out:



I actually enjoyed watching the punt coverage and 1:1 passing drills more than I thought I would. I was reminded that I like watching practice because you can get a sense of how each part of a play is broken down into smaller group or individual responsibilities. It's also great because you can really see differences in technique by each player. They run through the same drill over and over, which allows you to suss out what players do well, and what they're working on. If you're football nerd there's a lot to see.

5. There are chances to get closer:



A lot of fans were able to go down on the field to watch the end of practice. I'm not sure how other people got their passes, but we got ours because my friend complained about the parking situation on Twitter. Not sure why that worked, but his guess was, "It could be because I have a verified account." By hook or by crook, we ended up down on the field during the two-minute drill. That was very cool. The offense was driving towards us and viewing everything from that vantage point allowed us to get a sense for the size and speed of the players. At one point Jeremy Kerley ran an out-route, made a great catch, and his momentum took him right into our knot of spectators. A few plays later Brian Hoyer threw a touchdown while standing just a few yards away from us.

6. They're good to kids:



For this event kids under six got in free. The adult fans were happy to let Buddy stand in front of them, right at the rope that cordoned off our viewing area, so he could see. The security guards held their gruff security guard demeanor with the adults, but one of them was genuinely playful and kind to Buddy. He even made it on the Jumbotron again, making it his fourth time in four different stadiums. But the highlight was the players, who were polite at worst, and jubilantly interactive at their best. Wide receivers Marquise Goodwin and Jeremey Kerley were very accommodating to fan requests and stopped to chat with Buddy briefly while signing his jersey. Punter, Brad Pinion chuckled when I told him he was my favorite player. He doesn't know about my abiding love for kickers and special teamers. Most of the players were able to see through the throng of adults shoving hats and posters at them, picking out the kids and going to them first.

Buddy with the Niners top 3 WRs: Garcon, Kerley and Goodwin
Buddy being able to meet players and get autographs was a special moment for me too. When I was five-years-old my mom took me to some 49ers banquet she had been invited to by a co-worker. I have no idea who I met that night, but I know they were players, and they were really nice to me. I specifically remember one spending a long time playing with my stuffed bunny with me. I left with a bunch of signed swag, all of which was lost to time over various moves and the fact that my mom didn't value it and I was little. Still, I was hooked on the Niners from then on.

So if you've ever thought about going to an NFL training camp I suggest looking to see if your team is doing an event day. That's likely going to be the best organized day. If you don't live near your team, the practice environment can be fun. I wasn't excited about the idea of attending training camp, but I gave it a shot, and it was fun for everyone. I definitely recommend a trip for football fans who may not have considered it.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

On City Dads Again!


I forgot to post this here, though I did share it on social media. I wrote this for City Dads Group and it published earlier this year. This time it's about my complete and utter failure to raise my kids bilingually.

Please give it a look. Thanks.

Raising Children to be Bilingual in Baby (Sign) Steps on City Dads.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

#SAHDkitchen Healthy Taco Meat

Last year I was still as SAHD. I tried my hand at doing a cooking show on Facebook Live. During the filming my kids ran into the kitchen, which was fine. It was part of the whole schtick right? I'm at home with my kids, we expect them to be there. The problem was, Buddy was naked and it went out live. Oops! Here's the edited version with no waist down nudity.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Black Lives Matter Needs to be More than a Slogan


I struggle. Not like people "in the struggle" struggle, I struggle with how to turn my ideals into action. I have a Black Lives Mater sign in my yard. I have one in my office. I have a BLM t-shirt. I've been to some rallies and marches. I offered to help them with ASL interpreting.

I believe that Black Lives Matter.

But how do I show it? How do I live it? What do I show my kids?

It can feel overwhelming at times. I feel helpless. I can't stop the police from shooting people. I try to observe police actions to the extent possible, but I don't know what I'd do if something went south. I hope that I would film it and verbally protest. I worry that I would try to intervene and get hurt.

That's an extreme and unlikely scenario. How can I show that Black Lives Matter to me on a day-to-day basis? Because I believe that an important aspect of change is how we carry it through on an individual, person-to-person basis. Yes, history remembers the big moments, the grand gestures, but the impact of those history book moments is in how we behave towards each other on a personal level.

This is where this gets hard to write because I don't want to seem self aggrandizing. Coming up next are two acts of common decency that should be unremarkable. I am writing about them because they were difficult for me, not in the doing, but in wanting to do them. Let's be clear, this isn't, "I'm a hero." This is, "Why was this unusual?"

"What the hell are you talking about Berto?"

I'm, getting there, but first, a slight detour.

There's an episode of Mad Men called, The Hobo Code. (No, I am not comparing African Americans to hobos. Please bear with me.) In the episode, Don Draper remembers a hobo coming to his house when he was kid during The Depression. The guy stays for a day or so and teaches young Don to decipher symbols hobos use to communicate information about their surroundings. Don's adoptive father cheats the hobo, who carves the symbol for "dishonest man" in their fence post before he leaves.

A few months ago there was a knock at the door. We get a fair number of young solicitors, usually young men selling newspaper subscriptions to raise money for college. My long standing habit has been to say, "no." Then a young man came by who told me he was a Berkeley High student. He was planning on going to Berkeley City College. He was Latino. He was me. I bought 20 weeks of the Sunday Chronicle, though I wasn't sure it would actually come. It did.

A few weeks later there was again, a knock at the door. Outside were two young African American men. They told me they were from out of state, part of program selling magazine subscriptions for a young entrepreneur's program. The shorter one talked about his dream of opening a BBQ joint. We talked for a long time about their future goals. They asked me about my path through education and career. The thing that struck me was that they thanked me for opening the door and talking to them. I offhandedly referred to the BLM sign in my yard. "Yeah," they remarked, "a lot of folks around here got those signs, but they won't open the door when they see us." I was shocked, then I wasn't. "But this is Berkeley" I thought, until I didn't. I was sad that my wonderful, progressive, mostly white neighbors had refused to talk to these young men. I bought two years of Family Handyman.

It never came.

I don't know if it was scam, or if they were just young guys who forgot to file the paper work. According to The Atlantic, if it was a scam, it may not be their fault. I do feel a little stupid for buying the magazine. The next time someone came with a similar story and a similar pitch, I turned them away. I felt bad about doing that, but I don't have the money to be able to trust everyone. Still, when I look back the thing I remember most was that whatever their intent, these two young men noticed that not everyone with a BLM sign was willing to open their door to talk to an actual live Black person. Whatever the outcome, I'm glad I at least did that.

I have been stopped on the street and asked for assistance hundreds of times in my life. Most of the time I am genuinely too busy to stop. Sometimes my Spidey-Sense tingles and I make up an excuse. Sometimes I try to help. In the third case it ends up being a scam just often enough to make me wary of helping people. My default is, "no."

I was arriving home from a rugby tournament last weekend, I stopped on the sidewalk to chat with my next door neighbor, when a man pulled up on a bike. He was African American, he looked working class, or even below working class. Like a guy who struggles to hold a job that pays enough to cover rent and food. You might read that and think I'm a dick for making that snap judgement, but I know that look because he reminded me instantly, of my dad.

"Hey man, do you live here?" My front door was open, blocked by a dog gate, because the summer breeze is the reason we never needed A/C. "Can you help me? I just got off work and I need to heat these up." He held out two frozen chimichangas, that clearly hadn't been frozen in some time. He saw my hesitation, and my neighbor turned away. "Please man, I just worked a double shift and I haven't eaten. The microwave in the break room busted."

"Maybe you should try 7-11." I offered with a smile.

"I tried man, they won't let me because they say I'm not buying anything." He could see me trying to turn all this over in my mind. He never mentioned it, but he was stopped right in front of my BLM yard sign. "I won't come in, I just need these cooked. Please."

"What do I want carved on my fence post?"

That was the thought that finally tipped the scales for me. I took the food and headed inside. My kids were happy to see me. I said my hellos as I made a bee-line for the microwave. "What'cha making?" asked Buddy. I explained to him what I was doing and he scampered to the door. He came back. He asked me again what I was doing, and why. "We have to help people, Bud. It can backfire on you sometimes, but you have to do your best to assess a situation and see if you can help. I can help with this, so I'm doing it."

I was uncomfortable. I didn't want to go to deep into it. I was worried that he'd get the wrong idea and end up trusting too much. But I also wanted them to see, needed them to see, that we are duty bound to help the people we can help. Even when it takes us out of our comfort zone, even if we perceive some risk, we need to be able to assess the situation for what it is, rather than what we fear it might be. That's what we're asking of law enforcement. That's what we have to demonstrate to our children so that they can grow up with less prejudice.

The microwave beeped. I flashed back to the Star Wars Canteen bit, "You'll need a tray because the food is hot." I grabbed a paper plate, then a napkin, then a plastic fork. I brought it all out to the man on the bike. "Thanks man." he said, and then quickly rode away. I felt guilty about how satisfied I was to have helped.

Again, I'm not a hero. I'm not doing anything beyond what we should all be doing for each other. What makes this interaction in any way remarkable is that we're not doing these things for each other. At least, not enough. It's a sad statement that these small acts of decency, things that should be commonplace, stick out to me. I know it's a hard world. I know we're used to being wary, and we've earned that. Still, maybe you'll read this and take the risk to be just a little more kind, a little more helpful. Not just to African Americans, to everyone, of course.

But maybe a little more to African Americans who, as a society we clearly hold an irrational fear towards.  Maybe a little more because we can recognize and adjust for our inherent and unexamined bias. Maybe a little more because making sure Black Lives Matter on a small scale doesn't mean other lives don't matter, but it acknowledges whose lives are most at risk right now.









Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independent of Independence Day



I'm usually a big Fourth of July guy. I love the weird baseball uniforms, the BBQs, and shows of patriotism. I've long been the guy who organizes a cook out and dons red, white and blue and runs around with sparklers. I was always a patriot, even when it was unpopular growing up in the Reagan 80s in Berkeley. In high school I was a guest on a local radio show about patriotism. I was chosen as the "pro" side. I was pretty well savaged by the callers. Still, through Reagan and Bush I and Bush II my love of country never wavered. I looked at all the good we'd done in the world, while openly examining and admitting our many many many faults. I always stood for the anthem. I was proud of my family's military service. I saw progress.

This year is different. I'm not feeling it.

That's me in a 1987
MLB All-Star game jersey
and 1984 Olympics cap.
Last night we went to the A's game for the fireworks. I usually wear my Eric Chavez era red, white and blue A's jersey and cap. This year I couldn't do it. I wore black. When they performed God Bless America I didn't stand. I couldn't. Instead, I raised a fist. I was relieved that no on seemed to notice. Today, instead of my usual garb, I'm rocking a Colin Kaepernick jersey.

It's a complex time for me. I'm fighting myself every day. I know that our current administration is an abomination. The president and the jellyfish supporting him in congress are doing everything they can to make our greatest fears from the 1980s into a reality. So I'm disenchanted. I can't muster the energy to celebrate this year as I watch my country get stripped and sold for parts. The administration is compiling a list of dissidents under the guise of investigating voter fraud. My fellow Japanese-Americans see the specter of internment in each new executive order. Every other day I consider whether I'll go quietly to the camps, or refuse to be taken alive.

There's nothing original in noting that the most popular musical and cultural phenomenon in the country right now is a musical about revolution. I had been mostly ignoring Hamilton because I didn't think I'd ever have a chance to see it. I didn't want to torture myself by getting into a show that was inaccessible to me. The times I listened to parts of it I couldn't distinguish the characters enough to get a feel for it. Then a generous friend secured tickets, first for my wife, and then last week for Buddy and I. You can easily find reviews that will tell you all the wonderful aspects of the show. It's everything you've heard, and more. What hit me, and honestly scared me, is that it all sounded like a good idea. I could see the parallels between the political atmosphere then and now. It makes me intensely uncomfortable. When Hamilton exclaims, "Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is" I thought "YES!" and then was immediately ashamed because I wasn't thinking about history.

Buddy discussing revolution with
like minds in Williamsburg
I'm a Civil War history buff. The very idea of secession used to get my hackles up. I despise the Confederate Battle Flag and I have long considered those who fly to be seditionists. I seethed when right wing nuts talked about rebellion under Obama's presidency. I never, ever thought I'd have similar thoughts. I still don't. I don't want to see armed conflict between citizens and the government. I wouldn't advocate for secession or revolution. But for the first time I can envision a conflict being forced upon us. Even in the darkest days of W I always felt like we'd be able to fix things over time. I don't feel that way now. I worry that we are at the brink of the end of the United States that has been. Whatever we become, whatever happens next feels like it's going to be something bigger than any change we've seen during my lifetime. Godwin's law not withstanding, I keep wondering if this is what it felt like to live in Germany in the 1930s. You keep trying to live the same life. You keep thinking that everything will be OK and will right itself. You keep telling everyone that "they won't possibly let this continue" without a real clear idea of who "they" are supposed to be.

For some reason this feels like a dangerous thing to write, to express to the world. I don't want revolution. I don't want to own a gun. I don't want to fight anyone, ever. But for the first time in my life I don't believe that it could never happen.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Standing with my Son's Weird Hair Choices

Poor Buddy has dealt with a lot of criticism of his fashion choices in his short life. Sometimes it's been because he's dressed appropriately for a dance class, but some dumb kids and an ignorant teacher don't think he should be taking dance. Sometimes it's been because he likes to try out non-traditional styles, like nail polish or wearing a skirt. One time it was because of me.

When Buddy was in pre-school he had long hair about half the time. Even when it wasn't "long" it was still often longer than other boys at his day care. When he was three and four years old he liked hair ties and barrettes. One of his favorite looks for a time was to do a top ponytail. He looked like a cross between a samurai and a 1980s valley girl. The first time he decided to wear this style to school I was torn between wanting to let him do it, and fearing for what the other kids would say to him. I thought about what to say as my wife drove me to my campus, before taking her and the kids to the base where she worked. As I was getting out of the car, I tried to prep him without telling him not to do it.

"Hey Bud, I think your hair looks great. But there's a chance some other kids won't get it, and they might say something mean. I just want you to be ready for that."

It was a total failure. I could see his face fall as I got out of the car. I knew I'd said the wrong thing. My wife called later to tell me that Buddy had taken the hair tie out as soon as they had started driving. He never wore a ponytail again. I had ruined it.

Luckily, I hadn't ruined him entirely. Over the rest of his pre-school years, he went through phases of wearing skirts off and on, wearing nail polish on all ten digits, and acquiring his own set of barrettes so that he could confidently say, "No. I am not wearing my sister's barrettes."

After entering kindergarten his clothing choices became more typical for a boy his age. He does sometimes lament that he can't wear skirts because he doesn't want to have to answer the questions. Since that day in the car, we have always let him do what he wants with his hair. There are times he has to remind me that he wants a haircut because I'm so comfortable with (possibly preferential to) his California boy surfer look when his hair gets long. This year he brought home a letter from school about possible lice exposure in the classroom. The letter suggested that parents check for lice daily for the next two weeks. Buddy wasn't having it. "Dad, can we just shave my head now so I don't have to do all that checking?"  Sure bud, whatever you want. A few days later I rocked a blonde mohawk in support of the Puerto Rican national baseball team's run to the World Baseball Classic championship game. Then I shaved my head to match Buddy. That was in March.

This week is the first week of summer vacation. The kids are home with me since we're all on academic schedules and we're still paying for our move. Camp Dad was the least expensive option and it gives me a chance to relive my SAHD days. We are all very excited. Yesterday I asked Buddy if he wanted a haircut. He asked for three stripes shaved on the top and sides. That was it. I did my best to not bat an eye, though I did pretend to not fully understand so that he'd explain it a few times and confirm that this is really what he wanted. I swallowed my instinctual "They're all going to laugh at you," and went ahead with it, doing my best to at least keep it even.

Later, we went to the playground and the results were predictable. It took about five minutes before a group of older kids (older enough that they should have known better) started in on him. He ran over to me in tears asking to leave. The adult who was in charge of these kids, who were part of some kind of camp at the attached community center, had them come over to apologize. That was good, but I could still hear other kids around a picnic table making comments to each other and looking over at us. I gave them my most stern, disappointed parent look and if you read about me being bullied at computer camp, you can guess that it had absolutely no effect.

As we walked off to a different park I probed Buddy about what he was thinking and feeling. We talked about why kids tease. We drew a comparison to his own behavior with his siblings, and how shutting people down just to feel powerful wasn't the way to live life. We talked about the difference between laughing with and laughing at and agreed that Lou's giggles when she saw him were the fun kind. I asked him if he wanted me to warn him when I thought he was going to make a decision that could result in him being teased. I told him the ponytail story and explained why I was hesitant to offer that kind of advice. He agreed that he didn't want me to offer that kind of warning.

I asked him what he wanted to do. To me the question was about what he wanted to do with his hair. Did he want to shave the rest and have it all evened out. He took the question in a direction I wasn't expecting.
"What do you want to do Buddy?"
"I want to be better about the teasing next time. I want to be able to just say that this is how I wanted it and then ignore them. I really just want to be me, and do the things I enjoy."
Yeah. That was a way better answer than if he'd answered the question I'd thought I'd asked. I was super proud of him in that moment. He has good teachers. He's finally at a school where he can come to that kind of insight. And I suppose we're not hurting as parents. I was inspired.

Later that night I decided that if he wanted to, we were going to back to that playground together and face those kids again. Together. I went into the bathroom and fired up the clippers.

I'm with you Buddy. Always.



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We Bereave: Why this Warriors Championship Carries Personal Meaning


The Warriors just won another NBA championship, but you may have already heard about that. If you follow me on social media, you know I'm a big Warriors fan. I'm standing in my kitchen this morning in an old Chris Mullin jersey. I'm a little sleepy, and a little hung over, and very happy.

I recently did a guest spot on a podcast with my brother, "Uncle Nacho." He's launching a new weekly sports podcast called, Nacho Average Sports Podcast. We recorded it in the kitchen of the house we grew up in, a house we now own because our mother passed away ten years ago. During the conversation we talked about this recent run of success by the Dubs, and thought back to the days when they were terrible, and we could actually get tickets.

Back in those days the crowd cheered more for the prospect of a free chalupa than for a chance to win a game. After all, what's one win in a 60 loss season? A chalupa, given away when the Warriors scored 100 points or more, was like money in your pocket. Those were the days when our next door neighbor would offer us his season tickets and we'd have to seriously consider whether it was worth the $20. We went to a few games a year, mostly losses, and just had a good time hanging out with each other. It was usually some combination of me, my brother, my step dad, and my friend Daniel.

Mom got sick ten years ago. Her cancer was already advanced, and progressed quickly. She died on April 7th, 2007. Ten days later the men of the family took in a welcome distraction, going to watch the Warriors take on the Mavericks in the last home game of the season. Dallas had already secured the best record in the league and the number one seed in the playoffs. The Warriors were fighting for a chance at the postseason, where if they made it they'd have to face these same Mavericks. That night was the last home game for noted Warriors albatross Adonal Foyle. Foyle had become a symbol of everything wrong with the Warriors of that era. He had a huge contract coupled with performances that got him glued to the bench. But at this last game, he took a moment to acknowledge the fans and he got a standing ovation. It's one of the great things about Warriors fans, and sports fandom in general. A guy we couldn't wait to see leave town, got a standing ovation.

If you follow sports at all you know that this was the We Believe team. Over the next couple weeks they became the first team in NBA history to go into the playoffs as the number eight seed, and defeat the top seed in a seven game series. It was sublime. It was incredible. It caused the otherwise composed Mavericks star, Dirk Nowitzki to hurl a garbage can at a wall, causing a hole that the Warriors never repaired. Instead, they left it as a tribute to what that team accomplished.

"Dirk Nowitzki created this hole in wall at Oracle Arena by throwing garbage can after playoff upset. pic.twitter.com/7q2Leh4Qbm
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) March 8, 2015"
That playoff run, which ended in the second round, did something else for our family, and for me. It helped us cope with losing our mother. It gave us something to do together for a couple hours other than grieve. It gave me an opportunity to pull out of my role as executor, and all the legal maneuvering that entails. I was flying back and forth from D.C. to take care of things and that playoff run helped keep me connected to my home town and community. It was the early, cumbersome, expensive, days of texting. But we fired texts back and forth. Friends called me at 1:00am my time, scream out "WAAAAARRRRIOOOOOORRRSSS!!!!!" and hang up, just to share the moment. That team helped us through that time.

Sports is family.

Look at the Warriors over the last three years. Steph Curry with his daughter on his lap throughout his 2015 championship press conferences. Draymond Green holding his sleeping infant as the confetti fell last night. Kevin Durant dancing with his mom on the floor, and then thanking her at his presser. Shaun Livingston talking about his daughter on the local postgame show. Steph's parents at every game.

I've written about how sports was the one thing I shared with my otherwise absent father. Sports is how I found a common interest with my step dad. Sports was how I found time to hang out with my little brother. Now, ten years after mom died there we were in the kitchen talking about sports, and the Warriors, and the 2007 team. Last night my kids got to stay up later than usual, and see their first championship. Last year I wrote about how watching the Warriors lose last year with my son helped make me a better sport. I've learned so much about sportsmanship just by having to think about how I act in front of my kids. Now I got a chance to think about how to celebrate in front of them. We talked about why KD was hugging his opponents. We talked about how once the game ends, you respect your opponents. We shared a moment of joy, and a chance to learn something about the world.

She drapes herself in Maryland 
Kevin Durant gave a shout out to his home area of Prince George's County, Maryland. It was big moment for my daughter, who spent the first five years of her life in PG, and has a deep and abiding love for Maryland. She's a big KD fan now. She insisted that we send this pic to KD on Twitter.

My mom never met these kids who are living in her house. She isn't here to see another generation sleeping in the room that once was mine, and later my brother's. We're here because she's gone. People sometimes say we're lucky to have inherited a house in Berkeley without really thinking through what that means. But here we are, and I think about her every day. I think about her as I cook in her kitchen and sleep each night in her room. I think of her as I watch Matt Barnes, the prodigal son and only current Warriors player from that 2007 We Believe team, win a championship a decade after the Warriors helped us through the worst month of my life.

I was there
People ask why we watch. People ask what sports fandom is about. How can we care so much about something we're not involved in? It's because fandom isn't about wins and losses. It's not about civic pride, though it can be at times. Fandom is about connection. It's about getting on a crowded train and knowing you're at home with all the other fans. It's about welcoming visiting fans and talking about the game with them, showing them the best of our city. It's about having touchstones that help you mark the occasions in your life, or being able to say, "I was there."

It's 2017, Chris Mullin wore #17, that '07 game against Dallas was on the 17th. Smirk if you will, but that means something to me.

Sports is family.



UPDATE: I met Matt Barnes, and he signed my We Believe t-shirt. It was a cool moment.





Check out Uncle Nacho's podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/uncle-nacho/nacho-average-sportscast-ep-1

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What's in a Name? Everything.

Photo totally stolen from the Dad 2.0 Facebook page without permission
I just got back from the Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference for dad bloggers. Like last year I met a bunch of great people, networked with other dads/writers, met with brands, and tried to sell myself as a freelancer. The conference covered everything from the touchy-feely discussions on involved fatherhood, to the technical aspects of influencer marketing and podcasting. There were keynotes and breakouts on topics ranging from managing blended families, to how to pitch to brands. There was a panel on implicit bias that affected me in ways I'm still trying to process. But of all the insights I came away with, the one that stuck is this: no one knows how to pronounce anyone's name.

Sure, there's the easy ones like Brian Craig, but this is a conference populated by bloggers, people we know almost exclusively online. So when you bump into Aaron Gouveia or Michael Moebes it can be a little awkward trying to introduce them to people. Then there's the names you feel like people should get. For example, people calling the very funny Dave Lesser, "Lester" all weekend had me in stitches. Then there's me, I always get called "Robert." That's not my name. It's especially funny to me because when I'm at a conference I'm generally wearing a name tag. It doesn't matter.

I've always been particular about my name. I've never liked being called Robert. Part of it is that it's a slippery slope. People get comfortable calling you Robert, and the pretty soon you're Bob. Then Bobby. Then Bobbo.

I am not "Bobbo."

The other thing I've always disliked about being called "Robert" is that it robs me of part of my identity. Not just the part that wants to be called by his proper name. It robs me of my identity as a Latino man. It improperly Anglicizes me in a world where I don't believe I will ever be fully accepted by Los Anglos. It's weird to think that so much of who I am is wrapped up in that one little letter 'o'. But it's there. All of it. That 'o' represents who I am. It represents my family. It represents coming from a heritage that is simultaneously overlooked, and misrepresented.

Me c.1985. The shirt says,
"Interracial-Intercultural"
Puerto Rico was won for the US in the Spanish-American War. Its people are natural born US citizens, but have no representation and no electoral college vote. Most mainland Americans don't understand Puerto Rico's status. This include people like me, who grew up as Boricua in California. I know way more about Chicano history than I do about my own people. So when folks have yelled at me to go back to my own country, it's kind of a complicated response. The one constant is that I have always been the "other." I'm too brown to be accepted by mainstream white society, but not brown enough to have been accepted in my predominantly Black and Chicano Oakland schools. It was weird going from being bullied for being a "white boy" in 5th and 6th grade, to being considered too "ghetto" at the private school I attended in 7th. And that doesn't even touch on the systemic and institutional racism endured in a variety of California public schools, racism I was only vaguely aware of as a child, but that stung my mother more than I understood until decades later. All of that, the colonial history, the personal history, having West Side Story as my favorite movie, album, and play as a kid, all of it is wrapped up in that little 'o.' So it kills me to be lumped into a homogeny I've never been accepted in by being called something as common as "Robert."

But that's only half the story.

(Sorry)

I'm also half Japanese.

My Great-Grandparents
Well, sort of. The biological fact of the matter is that I'm one-quarter Japanese and one-quarter-mostly-White. The thing is, my Japanese grandma Yo was grandpa Kelly's 3rd wife, out of 8. By the time I was born he wasn't much of a factor in our family's lives. I don't know any of the white people I'm related to by blood. I hung out with my cousin George a few times in high school, but rumor is he later moved to Germany and joined a neo-Nazi group. So yeah. Culturally, I'm half Japanese. I also carry the psychological and emotional burden that many Sansei and Yonsei people carry, of having had family in internment camps, but also having them hesitant to talk about those times. It's a weird experience to grow up with people who lived through an important time in American history, but to have to learn about it at school because they don't talk about it much. The dozen or so times my grandmother opened up about life in the camps is considered downright candid by the standards of many Nisei led families.

My grandmother got out of the camps by enrolling at the University of Utah. One of my great uncles was already enlisted on December 7th, 1941. Another joined the 442nd all Japanese American regiment soon afterward.

I can't type the numbers 4-4-2 without tearing up.

The rest of my family rode out the war years in the Arizona desert, all except my great grandfather. He died before the war, and the story my grandmother tells is that it's better he did. She claimed being put in the camps would have killed him. At this point it's hard for me to separate fact from legend when it comes to my great grandfather. There are books and secondary sources available, my family is, or was, well known in Japanese American circles (there are books by them, and about them, which is also a weird thing to grow up with) but I think I've avoided them in part because I am so in love with the legend. I grew up with the tale that my great grandfather was a samurai, who was disenfranchised with the end of feudalism in Japan. Because he was not the first born son he stood to inherit nothing, so he came to America. Over the years he worked as a bicycle repairman, and helped to organize farm workers in California, like an under the radar Japanese Cesar Chavez. One story I've never verified is that he refused to touch money because it was beneath him. The point is that he was proud. He was regal. He could not, would not, have borne the indignity of being imprisoned under false pretense. He was warrior.

That history, as convoluted and embellished as it might be was central to my identity as a young person.

Photo: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend S1:E09
My kids are even less Japanese than I am. My wife, T is mostly of Irish descent. Buddy, Lou and Yo look like anime characters. They have Asian eyes, but Buddy and Yo also have light hair and Anglo features. Lou looks like my mom. I've written about some of this before, but knowing that they would be more white than anything else, it was important to us to give them something to connect them to their other heritage. Each of them have a Japanese, or family first name (we found out that Lou's first name is actually Arabic, but that's for another post), an Anglo middle name, and a Spanish last name. Honestly, as much as the Anglo middle names were ostensibly a nod to their UK roots, they were really a hedge in case the kids wanted to assimilate at some point. It was a well known rubric in my family. My mother and her siblings each had a Japanese name and an Anglo-ish name. Interestingly, the two girls went by their Japanese names, while my uncles went by their Anglo names. (I have no idea what that means, if anything.)

So where is this going? Buddy's first name is my middle name. My middle name is my great grandfather's name. It's an important name. It means a lot to me. A few weeks ago my son told me he wanted to change his name. He wanted to go by his middle name, the white name. It was a painful moment for me. His reason was that some kids at school had found
out what his name means, and they were teasingly calling him by the English translation of his Japanese name. (I'm sorry, it might be frustrating that I'm being circumspect, but I'm trying to protect the kids from future Google searches.) The translation isn't a bad thing. It's something that was always a point of pride for me, but he didn't like the tone. He wanted to go by Michael.

I was crushed, but I tried to hide it. "OK, Buddy." I said. "I will call you whatever you prefer. And I'll tell your teachers to respect your choice. But I want you to know that your name carries meaning, it was chosen with purpose. Sleep on it. You don't have to decide tonight, but when you do decide, I'll be with you 100%."

The cast of "Naruto: The Next Generation"
Fast forward a couple weeks and I'm taking a day to unpack and organize boxes from our recent move. While I work I'm watching American Pastime. As is often the case, I can't tell if this is a good movie, or if I just like it because it's in my wheel house. The film is a saccharine-sweet story about the internment experience of a Japanese American family. It's also about baseball. As I'm watching and unpacking, Buddy wanders in and out of the room. He eventually settles in and watches the last half with me. It's only an hour and forty-five minutes long, but it takes us near double that to get through because we keep pausing to discuss what's happening and to answer Buddy's questions.

Even though we've been to museum exhibits about internment, and talked about it together he's still a little confused about why the JA characters are being treated so poorly. So we talk about racism and fear and xenophobia. We also talk about his ancestors and the No-No Boys and the 442. We talk about what's happening now, and how Japanese Americans see the markers of history repeating itself. The ending of the movie is predictable. I don't care, I cry anyway.

The crying surprises Buddy. He's not used to it, which is funny because I feel like I cry a lot. Maybe it's that I tend to do it alone, keeping a brave and stoic face in front of the kids as my Japanese heritage supposedly instructs. Whatever the reason, he tries to console me. "Hey dad, it's OK. Do you want to sit down big guy?" That's right, my seven-year-old just dropped a "big guy" on me. I assure him I'm OK, and I hold him close. He persists, "I not used to seeing you like this, dad."

"I know Bud." I tell him. "It's just that, this, all of this. This is why your name is so important. This is what your name means to me, and what I hope it can mean for you too. Your name carries all of this with it. It's the immigration story, the Asiatic Barred Zone and internment. It's the Navy stealing your grandmother's house, and denying it for fifty years. It's the 442 and the Lost Battalion. It's the 1965 Immigration Act, when Japanese immigrants were finally able to become citizens. It's Grandma Yo living in a converted funeral home and sleeping on the lawn at University of Utah during the war. It's having everything taken away, and building up a family legacy of artists and writers and academics. Your family overcame a lot, and you are a part of that. That's why your name is so important."

I felt guilty laying that on him. "But look, Bud. If you want to go by your middle name, that's OK too." I added. Of course by that time the damage, or inspiration, was done. "No dad. I get it now. I want to keep my name."

I still feel guilty. As much as I want him to understand and internalize his Japanese heritage, I don't want to emotionally brow beat him into it. I don't know if he'll ever feel accepted by his peers, but at least I know he's in good company among the men whose names no one knows how to pronounce.

Great-Grandfather, Me, Buddy. We all share the same name.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Would You Rather Move Forward, or Would You Rather be "Right?" by Sheila Coleman-Castells



This guest post is written by Sheila Coleman-Castells. Sheila is bay area by birth, and West Virginia choice. She is a "Washington Insider" who, in this post shares her views on how we move forward under Trump. This post originally appeared as a Facebook status and is reposted with permission.

I am a child of the Civil Rights Movement, and I was born in Berkeley, CA. My grandfather was one of MLK's sidemen in CA, raising money from Hollywood and rich Californians and working on social projects such as the Peralta Colleges. He taught us some important things, but he paved the way for us to be insiders. Why? Because while ya'll protest and throw rocks and pebbles (so helpful, and we appreciate it), some of us have to put on that uncomfortable-ass power suit (complete with spanx), and walk the halls of the legislatures and the governor's mansions and Congress and negotiate with these criminals so that we can get actual legislation passed so that you can have the rights that you think you protested for. In reality, you didn't get shit. Real movements work because there are people working inside AND outside to make thing come to pass. On Friday, people went to airports and protested. Great...excellent. But THAT NIGHT, the ACLU left their kids' basketball games, or came out of the garden, took off their jeans, took a shower, put on that suit and went to work in the courts.

Insiders.

So, I so appreciate the pipe dreams, but protests and sit-ins alone don't do shit. It takes lawyers, lobbyists (like me) and other "insiders" to bail your ass out of jail and actually write the briefs and the legislation and all that you want. Activists are great. Feel good all you want. But legal action and laws are better. That's what me, and people like me do.



There have been a lot of protests since Ferguson, has anything really changed? -ed. 
Interestingly enough, I get beat up all the time for not being "progressive" enough. 

Yes, Me. Madame Blue. I eat blue, sleep blue, bleed blue, but because I am pragmatic and feel that we must work with what we have, I am a "traitor" to some (mostly those who are "armchair politicians" who have never, ever worked in politics in their lives). I had a battle with one of these progressive partisans (hint: He was a disaffected Bernie supporter) just yesterday. There are people who believe that what they WANT should be what IS. Well, I WANT a beach house in Martinique, but I ain't got one, and standing out in the 14 inches of snow in my yard with a bikini is going to make me REAL damn blue, not to mention a candidate for a one-way trip to the funny farm.

Well, some of us work in the real world of "realpolitik", and know that we need to start where we are, not where we "ought" to be or where we "want" to be. One of the first things we need to do is to understand those we've left behind. There isn't a Whole Foods within 150 miles of me, and not one in the whole state of West Virginia. That ought to tell you something about West Virginia, and it is not that people cannot afford that food. We have a Range Rover dealer in Morgantown where a Whole Foods might just do nicely, so such a market exists. What does not exist is the type of elite foodism that comes with a Whole Foods, not to mention that this chain wouldn't stoop to open a store here because there is no "cachet" to being in West Virginia for them.

And there is the rub. West Virginians voted for Trump in droves for many reasons, some overlapping, others not. But here is the one that they ALL would say: The Democratic Party doesn't speak for, or to them anymore. The Democratic Party isn't the party of the working man and woman. The Democratic Party isn't the party of the person of faith. The Democratic Party isn't the party of families and traditional American values. The Democratic Party doesn't care about THEM.

And listening to my Blue Brothers and Sisters, I might see where they are coming from, although I would disagree that we can't speak to them.

I cannot tell you how many Dems I know who have never gotten their hands dirty in a job, or stood on their feet all day to make a dollar. These are the same folks that decry me working for a nationally prominent, mostly Republican, trade association (although my principal job is to fight for Energy Efficiency, a very Blue ideal) where the men and women swing hammers and breathe in sawdust each day. My favorite group are the Dems who hate religion (Bill Maher is their patron saint), and think that anyone who believes in God is an idiot (but who will protest to save Muslims, like last week). So, how can you think that Christians are stupid but Muslims need saving? People of faith are one and the same, and most just want to practice that faith in peace. Yes, there are both Christofascists and Radical Islamists, and both are a tiny majority of the whole. But many of my Democratic friends dislike religion and religious people, and sing that hater hymn loud and clear; then they scratch their heads and tell me that they don't understand why the "fly-over states" (hint: I live in one) go Republican when the GOP could hardly care less about them? Well, the GOP sings from their hymnbook (whether they actually believe and practice it or not), and we ain't on the same page.

My dears, perception is reality, and reality is in short supply with many of us Democrats. I can't tell the GOP what it should be, nor do I care. But I have to tell the Dems what THEY need to be. They need to move back toward the center-left, and leave the margins for the shouters and the fanatics if they want to win in 2018 and beyond. Progressive values are great, as long as they include tolerance for all perspectives and all orientations. We have forgotten the working man and woman, and we have nothing to say to them. How do you get your child to college when you, yourself haven't been? Why is it bad to work with your hands and your back? We educators have had to tackle that beast for years, and we have experience in empowering parents to help their kids where they are, not just held up a lofty goal that was unattainable. You walk before you run. Where feeling disempowered about influencing their children's future is concerned, I have seen more similarity with inner city minority parents and rural majority parents. Both groups feel powerless. So let us help them where they are, not berate them for being where they are.

People of faith, many faiths, do wonderful things. Some do horrible things, but you would not dare judge all Black or Gay people by their least common denominator. Why do we Blue folks often do that with religion? Leave your own personal baggage with church or temple at the door, and see the big picture. Stop demonizing people who choose to believe in a god. That is a sure way to alienate people every day if the week. Look at the bigger picture: There are people who are fed, clothed, housed, soothed, sobered up, and educated by communities of faith every day of the year. Not everything about faith is bad, and if you don't choose it, fine. Most of us aren't trying to get you to join our congregation or our parish. But for those who do, it is NOT because we are intellectually inferior or doubt science. "Religious" is not a synonym for "stupid". If I hear that crap one more time, some of you might be meeting a God you don't believe in right quick. Bigotry is bigotry...why is racial bigotry worse that religious bigotry? After this weekend, many have said that it is not. So why say or do this on the regular?

Read this article, then rethink. I was told something very important when I was young that has stuck with me for many years: Would you rather move forward with you goals, or would you rather be "right?" Sometimes, it is better to work together and form consensus with those with whom you have things in common rather than be in that lofty tower of righteousness and all alone. Trump exists because we pushed anyone who didn't believe in our candidate in a corner and failed to speak to them (as well the fact that the GOP were more effective in getting their message to not only their base, but those on the fence). Not all Trump voters are racist idiots. Many are scared and desperate for what they perceive to be stability. Can we reclaim them? Can we reclaim the fence?

We can, but only if we start embracing ALL of us. People like me who love being a Mom and a part of a family, who are somewhat traditional, who believe that my faith makes me much of whom I am, who appreciate all levels of education and have both common sense and empirical knowledge. Us who have no issue with Boy Scouts don't think that is corny or old-fashioned, and actually do want to know how we are going to pay for stuff in our society. Us who embrace work and a leg up for the poor and downtrodden, and want equality for all people. Why can't I have that, and why is that not "progressive?"

Let's win in 2018. Let us reclaim the center and stop being idiots. The Tea Party were a bunch of jerks. Are we becoming the HERBAL Tea Party? If so, jerks apply within.