It is becoming habitual for me to write about things I have no clue. Or to quote what David Letterman says of Dr Phil: “Here’s more advice” and thoughts, if I may add,  “I pulled our of my ass”.

Couple of stories regarding women’s issues dominated the news cycle here in the United States in the past few weeks. First, and one that has largely petered out is Serena’s outburst at the US Open final and her crusade ,if you were to believe her supporters, against sexism. Before any women reading this take umbrage to my condescending use of the word crusade; as someone who contends that white folk don’t get to decide what is and isn’t racist, I fully agree that men don’t get to decide what is and isn’t sexist.  It also goes without saying that those who say sexism in the work place doesn’t exist are just as full of shit as those that say there is no racism in our society.

A lot of overt acts of sexism in the workplace are probably rare these days, especially in the West, but they weren’t until a few years ago. Or to quote Jay Leno, since I’m apparently in the mood to quote comedians today; and this goes to everyone out there that laments the “PC culture”: “If it weren’t for political correctness we would still be throwing cat whistles” and slapping them on their rear ends, if I may add, ” at women in the workplace”. Are there instances of political correctness run amok? Absolutely. What with disinvited commencement speakers and such. But that doesn’t mean that the concept overall is to be lamented but that’s besides the point of this post.

I personally don’t think that Serena is some crusader against sexism in sports but I can definitely understand her being judged by different standards than those men are judged by. Several compilations of men throwing temper tantrums on the tennis courts with far less severe consequences have been making the rounds on my social media feeds so I’ll spare the reader that. Regardless of what one thinks of her crusade, to overuse that word, there is no doubt in my opinion that she was justified in taking exception to the harsh penalty imposed of one whole game.

Here are some of the overt and not so overt instances of sexism I have seen in the workplace:

Every time and I mean every single time I have had a woman boss, a male coworker has asked me “Is she hot?”. There are several things wrong with that but I’ll just say that no one has ever asked me whether my male boss was hot, but then I don’t have any gay friends, so take that for what its worth.

Referring to another coworker: “God she’s a bitch. I pity the poor sonofabitch that’s married to her.

or worse

“God she’s bein’ a bitch today. Time of the month again?”

Oftentimes when a woman gets promoted to a senior or an executive role:
“I’m sure she was fully qualified for the job and it has nothing to do with our diversity and inclusion policy”.
Never mind that despite making up half the population less than 20% of women make up the industry I work in, so even if I were to grant that the diversion and inclusion policy was at work somehow, there’s a long way to go for equality in the workplace. And what if it were indeed the diversity and inclusion policy at work? Isn’t that the whole point of diversity and inclusion?

“I don’t know how you can walk in those heels”

Well guess what you would’ve said if she did show up in say comfortable shoes?

“I can’t believe she showed up dressed like that.”

Enough about others, some of what follows are some times and situations I find myself suppressing my sexist instincts, and honest to goodness those happen subconsciously until I take a moment to realize what I’m doing. So here goes:

Whenever that shirt smells like it’s been left in the dryer in a half dry – half damp state for too long. My first instinct is to get irritated (and not at myself) as if it was somehow not my fault that the clothes were left in the dryer loo long in that state. It takes a split second to turn that blame around on myself.

That feeling of having accomplished something good the day I load the dishwasher and vacuum the house, half ass as the cleaning may be by most standards of cleanliness, and cook lunch and fold the laundry. To be clear, I don’t get that feeling of accomplishment when I do those individually or on separate days. I do when I do all in one day and I have to remind myself that my wife does that on most days. Or when I expect gratitude for having done all of that.  As if I’m going above and beyond what is expected of me.

Taking “days off” from parenting. I have too much going on these past few days and I just want to relax. Guess what? She doesn’t get any days off from parenting. There’s only one other person to pick up my slack and that’s her. And guess who picks up her slack? No one.

Now these may just be me and my upbringing in a highly patriarchal and sexist society in India, or my general assholery but I do wonder how many men actually have these reactions or feelings. Among other things, why do I have to remind myself that I live in this house too and its supposed to be a shared responsibility?

I won’t even go into the other more overt acts of sexism or double standards by which women are judged when, for example, they break down or cry (“Oh here come the tears”), or women, working or otherwise, having to take the brunt of the responsibility at home. When a man does the former its him showing his vulnerability and that’s oh so commendable.

If you’re a woman reading this and have had to suppress the urge to pound that keyboard at my incredibly ignorant and prejudiced point of view, I apologize. And to everyone who read this, whether you pounded the keyboard or not, thank you.

Your garden variety sonofabitch.
09/23/2018, Prosper, TX

P.S.: 1. The oxford comma gets a bad rap these days, but I’m a fan, as you can see.
2. I’m still learning the proper use of the semicolon and colon so bear with me.

**Update: A reader pointed out that I started off being condescending to Serena and her crusade but never explained why I was condescending. The reason is that over the years I’ve seen a lot of these tantrums from her and I believe it was just that. A tantrum. The media is so penchant on turning everything into a cycle that will be discussed for days not minutes that it results in stuff like this. Making a crusade out of a tamper tantrum.

The Problem of Plenty

Or plenitude if you will. I am trying to follow Orwell’s six rules of writing, one of which is “never use a long word when a short one will do” with some success. I wrote this post about perspectives a few weeks ago. And out of that grew what I have written now. Some more pondering on the issue and I realized that personally I suffer from not quite affluenza but whatever the word is for “has been given too much in life for too little effort”. Something in between affluenza and poverty, skewed toward the former. Before it comes across as more of my self deprecation shtick, hear me out. Also, honest to goodness though, its not a shtick. I really am that low on self confidence and belief in my own abilities. Everyone suffers that to some degree I suppose but moving on…
Outside of struggles in my own head and some personal trauma as a late teen/young adult, I really can’t think of many other hardships I have faced. Things one day I may be able to write about but not today.

I had what would be considered an upper middle class upbringing back in India, an Army brat with privileges most common folk in India could only dream of. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t grow up wealthy or nothin’ but didn’t lack for anything. I mean I was spanked as a kid but who hadn’t ? I don’t know of a single Indian person of my generation that hadn’t and that’s how they raised kids back then in India. Even now probably some do. Was given chance after chance after chance by my poor (figuratively speaking) parents even after multiple disappointments. I wasn’t a particularly good student. In fact my grades used to be abysmal. The only subjects I ever enjoyed in school ever were English and Hindi. Granted we weren’t exactly reading James Joyce or anything but I realize now that at forty two I’ve finally figured out what I want to be:

An aspiring struggling writer of marginal but slightly noticeable ability like a friend says sarcastically.

In spite of not having decent grades to get into Engineering school my father spent most of his life savings to get me into a private college so I can have a better shot at life, even given my own failings and lack of effort. Speaking of my father, one thing I can think of and it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a hardship per se but I lost my father when I was 29. Just around the time when I started seeking out his advice on several things. I always felt shortchanged by that because I could have used a few more years of his wisdom. Because, like Mark Twain said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

But my father had an almost fatal heart attack when I was barely thirteen so it could have been much worse and he went on to live another sixteen years. Do I have regret about not taking him to a golf major that one time he was able to visit my sister and I in 2003? Absolutely. My reason was that I didn’t have the money at the time to afford flight tickets and tickets to a PGA tournament let alone a major. If I’d known thats the only opportunity he would have to visit the United States I would have begged borrowed or stolen to make that happen. That’s one regret I’ll take to my grave but even so I can take solace in the fact that I was able to, in what turned out to be his last few years, help him have some of the material things he would have loved to have but didn’t because he spent all his money educating me. And trust me, he liked the good life.

I have other dedicated several past and future posts for my angel of a mother and my sister, my moral compass, who always knows good from bad, so I’ll leave out of this post the two other women that are responsible for making me the man I am.

Of the hardships I have faced the one that comes first to mind is being stuck in a dead end job from 2002-2004 in spite of having a Masters degree making $25,000 a year. This after racking up several thousands of dollars in credit card debts due to my own reckless spending for the most part and some tuition fees etc. So it was tough going for a couple of years. Even then there was a redeeming factor to that. I could look forward to spending all my free time with a woman, that somehow against better judgement and advice decided to take a chance on me.
Speaking of the woman that has shown questionable judgement in picking a partner, another hardship if one can even call it that was, some mild resistance from some of her family and friends, completely legitimate. I mean when a dude that looks like he just fell off the turnip truck walks into your loved ones life who asks such trivial questions like

“What exactly does he do?”

What is his family background?”

How can he support a family with what he makes?

Are you sure you haven’t rushed into this? After all you’ve only known him for about a couple of years.

And in all honesty he doesn’t really strike us as the go getting ambitious kind.”

The last sentence they didn’t say but should have. It would have been completely justified. I don’t know what she saw but she persisted and I haven’t been prouder of any of my “accomplishments” than having landed her as a partner. And to clarify, in case it comes as resentful , if I had a daughter I wouldn’t let her pick someone that’s like me for a partner. In fact, more like  I’ll have that Remington 870 Express Synthetic 7- Round shotgun — Google says that’s the most popular handgun according to some sites, so it must be true —  at the ready. I know as much about guns as I do about the works of Milton or Byron so take it for what that’s worth.

My wife and I never really had any real trouble when we were trying to start a family. I mean, I joke that it was almost too easy if you ask me. Almost like well let’s try making a baby, and boom! the pregnancy test comes back positive. About thirty two months later we went well, if  we’re going to have another one lets do it now so they aren’t too far apart and boom! there was another positive test. Thanks to a lot of good luck and no doubt the way my wife took care of herself there were no miscarriages, no complications either time and we had two healthy handsome intelligent young boys. I know a lot of couples that haven’t had that privilege. So there was that.

Ever since 2004 I have been gainfully employed at one of the best most iconic companies of not just our times but perhaps in history. We’ve been financially sound as a family, been able to save some for the kids’ college, drive nice cars, live in a neighborhood with great schools and a house that probably ninety percent of the world’s population of 7 billion would love to live in.

The same friend that thinks I have marginal but noticeable ability as a writer says that if the biggest problem I have is someone being a dick at a gathering or wherever then I have no leg to stand on and complain.

Thank for hearing me out. Apparently I was on a roll yesterday.

Lakshman Hariharan
09/16/18 Prosper, TX

P.S.: My mother has this superstition about bad people seeing her kids’ prosperity and somehow will cast an evil eye, so I’ll say that I understand I’m only 42 and there’s plenty that life can throw at me. I’ve been advised that when my boys are teenagers I would wish I had the problems then that I have now.

Is Code For

PSA: Some of what follows is rated R for profanity. If profanity bothers you, you have been forewarned.

The Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu has this joke about when people ask him where he is from. He usually replies “Queens, NY”. And he will sometimes get the question: “No. I mean where are you really from?” He jokes that that’s just code for “Why aren’t you white?”
One of the comments on a web article about this and other “white” jokes the comedian makes literally said: “How dare you bite the hand that feeds you?”. Granted that the comments section of an internet article, the dredges of the internet if you will, or as my favorite TV writer says of Twitter, where “shitsquib, basement-dwelling minions” thrive (read the original brilliance of David Simon here ) isn’t exactly the kind of place one should go looking for meaningful and thought provoking conversation. Also granted that I won’t even begin to pretend to know where I should start with whats wrong with that comment. Yet here I am discussing it because I have a broader point.

One more anecdote and I’ll get to the broader point.

Once I got into a Facebook argument with some random native (American) born friend of a Facebook friend. Over the course of the “conversation” things got heated and he said something about how he hated the visa (H1-B) program many of us Indian immigrants used to get our toehold in the United States. Along the lines of “you should be grateful to us for letting you in” without saying the actual words. Some of us first generation immigrants to America (and I am guilty as charged) tend to have a certain snobbery about being first generation immigrants . Something that is akin to and can come across as looking down upon native born Americans. You know, like saying:
“I worked my ass off to get my American citizenship and earned the privilege to live here. What exactly did your ass do to deserve this privilege? Other than wining the fucking lottery and being born in the wealthiest nation on earth?”.
But in my defense I do that only to those fuckmooks, to use another insult my favorite TV writer coined, that question my loyalty and my right to live here in my adopted country.

I learned two lessons from that incident. One, don’t get into an argument with anyone on social media. Regardless of Facebook friend or  Facebook friend of Facebook friend or not. Two, this is the internet and social media specifically. There is no room for cogent arguments, only mouth foaming and spit spewing. In my defense, this was my early foray into social media and I didn’t know any better.

Ok, I lied. One more anecdote and I’ll get to the broader point. In my earlier days as a new immigrant, before I got my citizenship I used to, naively make the argument of
“I’m a decent law abiding citizen that pays his taxes and overall adds to, not detracts from America. Why do you resent me?”
I remember it was around the time when that great champion of the poor, the upholder of liberty, the senior senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley was taking some anti immigrant stand. A stand which probably, in hindsight, given the current administration makes ol’ Chuck look like St Peter welcoming the chosen ones entering the pearly gates. It was pointed out to me by an American friend in pretty much as many words:
“Listen, some of these people don’t want you here period. They don’t want you living here, working here, taking their jobs. They don’t like how you look or how your food smells. They don’t really care about what kind of model citizen you and your ilk claim to be. So as far as they’re concerned, you can take your taxes and model citizenry and stick them where the sun don’t shine. And while you’re at it, go back to where you came from.”

Now to the broader point. What bigoted or racist hidden meaning do some people have when they say something?

“Such and such suburb of Dallas is getting too crowded”
Is code for: There are too many people moving in to this suburb that don’t look like me or talk like me. Too many people that smell like curry and have an accent.

“I don’t care what you do in your bedroom, whether you fuck a chicken or a goat or another man.”
Is code for: I’m really a homophobe and a bigot who is equating gay sex to bestiality but I want to maintain the veneer of being progressive or “with the times”.”

“I believe in the market economy.”, when uttered by someone with as much knowledge as I have about, say, astrophysics.
Is code for: “I have employer provided healthcare. Those don’t have a job that provides healthcare can, how shall we say, go fuck themselves.”

“I have no problems with immigrants like you.”
Is code for: Until you don’t threaten my authority and stop accepting the fact that I’m your better. When you do I’ll treat you and talk about you (just like you and I did now) in just the same way I treat that Mexican construction worker who doesn’t have papers.

“You’re English is so good.”
Especially when said to a Spanish speaking person
Is code for: I didn’t expect your Hispanic ass to be this articulate in English. Why don’t you go back to speaking in that accent so I can feel better about myself for having accepted a boat person?

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”
Is code for: “Poor black folk choose to be poor because they don’t want to work and want to suck on the teet of this great land of ours for as long as they can without doing anything in return.”
Never mind that the biggest teet suckers in the history of modern civilization were likely your ancestors.

“Lincoln freed the slaves over a hundred and fifty years ago.”
Is code for: Black folk are just plain lazy and don’t want to help themselves using slavery as an excuse.”
Never mind that this “excuse” is the greatest injustice ever perpetrated for centuries by man against fellow man.

As is my wont, the prologue and sometimes the postscripts take longer than the actual point I want to make. So thanks for sticking with me.

Lakshman Hariharan,
09/15/18, Prosper, TX.

A couple of postscripts:
1. I realize not every person that says you’re English is so good or asks where are you from originally is being racist or bigoted. Most genuinely want to know about you and your background so they can better understand you but I’m just using hyperbole as a tool.

2. There are certain Indian Americans like that descendant of Pierre T Beauregard — or at least he wishes he were — Bobby Jindal that take umbrage to the very phrase Indian American but guess what Piyush? You can go…

Make America What Again?

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is that one week could find me in Anchorage, AK, the next in Los Angeles, CA and the week following that in deep Dixie. Places so diverse that they may well be on different continents. That is the greatness of this land where one can meet, enjoy cultural experiences and have conversations with people of so many cultures and countries. The next best thing to experiencing the cultures and having conversation in those places themselves. “A continent masquerading as a country” was the phrase used by my favorite publication to describe the country of my birth India. It is quite an apt description for my adopted country as well. Another, more interesting aspect is the people I get to meet. Now, I am not a very social person in my private life. Quite the opposite actually. As an example, consider this: My seven year old got so tired of my recluse of an existence that he took it upon himself to make friends in the neighborhood we live; because he probably (and rightly) figured that left to my own devices he would have no friends. When I introduced myself to one of my neighbors she said: “Oh yeah. We know who you are. You’re Arjun’s dad. He’s a great kid. He came over and played with our kids last week.”

I relate that anecdote only because it is odd then, that the interaction with people of different ethnicities is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I am not a particularly gifted observer or conversation maker but I do like people watching. And when I meet someone new I try to find a common thread we can discuss. Something I know  a little bit of but want to know more about. Say, discussing perestroika with someone of relatively recent Russian origin. Or discussing with someone from Iraq ancient Mesopotamia and the part the Euphrates and the Tigris played in bringing about the cradle of modern civilization; or Muqtada al-Sadr’s party winning a lot of seats in the the just concluded elections. Or asking a former Marine how it was visiting all those places and meeting all those different people when he was on active duty. He replied, and I found it funny, because I really enjoy dark humor : “Oh it was a lot of fun meeting new people….. And shooting  them.” In all these conversations I broach something I think could be of common interest, never for once assuming I can completely understand their circumstances. Empathize? Yes Try to understand? Possibly. To know what exactly it was like? No. Because I may read about a certain topic and a certain place but it is no substitute for having been there and lived those experiences.

My experiences interacting with, or talking to people with diverse ethnicities are hardly unique and nor do I have any special ability to get people to tell their stories. Which means such interesting stories are everywhere waiting to be uncovered. Sometimes just showing that I am interested goes a long way in learning about people and cultures, which consequently enriches my life. It also gives me ammunition for the arguments against the bigots. So consider some of the other people that have, over the years, in no particular order as they are presented here, enriched my life and broadened my horizons:

Two Iraqi gentlemen who made their way to America by way of a special visa program, for which they were eligible in 2015 (or 2016) after working as IT technicians for the US Embassy in Baghdad for twelve years after the 2003 invasion.

A gentleman of Laotian descent who was brought here as a child by his parents fleeing the civil war in that country. I asked him, how of all places he ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas? He replied that his father, when asked by the US authorities where he would like to live in the States requested to live in a place that had all four seasons. So Little Rock is where they ended up.

A gentleman of Russian descent who arrived here around the same time as me, just around the time Boris Yeltsin, whose alcoholism was taking a toll, was getting ready to hand power over to Vladimir Putin who has ruled Russia since. This gentleman was a young adult during Gorbachev’s perestroika. He thought the topic dominating the news cycle; the Russian meddling in the 2016 elections was a “circus” and “two faced”. By the latter I presume he meant the United States’ foreign policy which has left  untouched no continent in the world by installing dictators and gross human rights violators as long as they are our “allies”. As FDR said of Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua: “He may be a sonofabitch but he is our sonofabitch.”
A quote that is attributed, likely apocryphally, sometimes to Kissinger, advising Nixon what to make of another other notorious abuser of human rights: Yahya Khan of Pakistan.

A Yonsei man whose Issei great grandfather had been interned in one of Roosevelt’s infamous camps during World War II; at the very time his Nisei grandfather had been fighting the Italian Fascists as part of the legendary 442nd Infantry Regiment.

A gentleman of Chinese origin in his late fifties who recalled what it was like to be a teenager during the terrible times of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and a young boy during the misery of the Great Leap Forward.

A German colleague who remembered, as a little boy, being told to be very quiet one night as his father and mother bundled him and his siblings into a car in the middle of the night to flee Communist Czechoslovakia.

A Jewish gentleman of Russian descent whose father had been a holocaust survivor and who, according to his own telling, on the very day of the coup against Gorbachev, at the very minute tanks were pointing their guns at the White House (the newer, less famous one in Moscow), was presenting his case to the visa official in the US Embassy in Moscow for asylum in the United States. He said that the visa official at the embassy took one look at his father’s application, commented on the tanks rolling in and said that there need be no explanation and that his visa was approved.

An African American gentleman who, like me, was an Army brat and spent most of his childhood in West Germany during the cold war.

A gentleman of Swiss origin whose girlfriend was from Dresden in former East Germany and bore some resentment about the reunification. He said she felt she was looked down upon by those from former West Germany and sometimes pined for the simplicity of those days, despite the conditions. She must be one of a very small minority of Germans that felt that way I would imagine.

Compared to all these stories, the humiliation of queuing up at the US consulate standing hours at a time in the muggy oppressive heat of Chennai (then Madras) for a student visa to be approved or rejected at the whim of someone likely with no more than a GED or high school diploma seems trivial. I realize that the part about no more than a GED or high school diploma comes across as incredibly demeaning to those that may not have had the same privileges and opportunities to get an education that I had when growing up, and I’m sorry for that. But that is exactly how I felt at the time. It is also the story of hundreds of thousands of other Indian immigrants who got here on a non-immigrant visa and decided to stay on to become green card holders and eventually citizens.

Why one may wonder I bring up these people and stories? Most of these people and stories have one thing in common: war, strife or turmoil in the mother country that led people to leave those countries in search for better opportunities for themselves and in some cases their families. There is also another common thread in all but two stories (of the German coworker and Swiss gentleman). After one of my work trips, sitting in an airplane going over the trip mentally, I chuckled to myself recalling the events of the week. I recalled that earlier in the week I was one of four people cooped up in a conference room over the better part of a week discussing cyber security strategies for a large hospital in the nation’s capital and none of us was American born. The others being the aforementioned Iraqi gentlemen and the gentleman of Russian origin. In other words, exactly the kind of people the current occupant of the White House and many of his supporters don’t want here.Exactly the kind of people to keep America as great as she already is. What exactly are we trying to make great again? And why? It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that it is code for Make America White Again. Even if with his “understanding of a fifth or sixth grader” intellect of a brain — a quote attributed to his former Secretary of Defense — managed to figure out what exactly Make America Great Again means, he can take his plan and stick it up his you know what. We don’t need the current occupant of the White House’s permission nor direction to keep America great. We’re doing it as we speak and have been at it for several years. Speaking of codes, I have another post, the content of which I originally included in this one but this is getting way too windy. So I decided to do a separate post on just what I have learned is code when someone wants to say something bigoted or racist but can’t overtly. That is to to follow at some future date  and time.

Thanks again for indulging me if you made it this far.

Lakshman Hariharan
09/15/18, Prosper, TX.

P.S.: There is another common thread. The conspicuous absence of any women or people of Hispanic origin and only one African American in these conversations. Unfortunately, that is quite representative of the industry I work in. It is mostly male dominated, white and Asian at that, where women and other ethnicities are woefully underrepresented.