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a disappointing salsa

1 Jun

It comes with the territory. When you are part of a “special” group you will be asked to represent the entire group one day. A race, a career, a frequenter of ice cream shops, you will be called on to speak for everyone else in that box. Most of the time it’s fine and harmless. Sometimes, it can be very awkward. This is about me and the latter at a dance class.

I recently got a Groupon for a 4-week salsa course. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for some time, mainly because my girlfriend is a gifted dancer who I am pretty sure is tired of dancing with just-born-Bambi over here at dance clubs. So I bit the bullet and bought the Groupon.

(An aside on salsa: it’s a masochistic dance, really. I grew up dancing to cumbia and merengue, dances that are mostly about moving to the beat rather than following “rules.” Throughout college I followed the same “function follows fun” rule by embracing the license to be silly you get at clubs. But salsa doesn’t allow any of this. It’s rhythmic, but also very structured. It’s flashy, but in a contained way–you pretty much can’t drunk dance your way into salsa stardom. Most importantly, at salsa clubs you feel judged because, well, you are: it’s competitive. This is hard for someone like me who would much rather make up my own moves and have fun. But I love my girlfriend and love conquers all and yada yada)

The class was well-attended, with an even mix of men and women. Almost everyone, save for two, myself included, were Anglo. The other Latino, who I will introduce shortly, and I stood out like two Latinos at a salsa dance class. You get where this is going.

This ragtag group of stiffs spending their Monday evenings envisioning a future of loose hips and eternally half-open silky-shiny shirts were ready for salsa. Oh, we got salsa, with a big side of awkward beans (me, I’m one of the beans).

The instructor, a cherubim who picked the tightest thing in her closet, started by teaching us the rhythm: quick quick slow, quick quick slow. Easy. She then asked us to follow the rhythm, and go front-to-back. OK. Then she wanted us to go side-to-side, then diagonally, then follow the music, and then the instructor would yell “No! Front-to-back!”, then she would make us move around the room and change orientations, and by the time she asked us to pair up I had the bewildered look of cat who got caught in the laundry and spent half an hour tumbling in the dryer.

The words ‘pair up’ were still floating in the air, dancing around with better skill than most of us in the room. Pair up. It was like prom all over again; the cool kids went with the cool kids, while the weirdos were on the sideline picking their noses. I was calculating the odds of being one of the guys forced to dance with another guy when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Before I could turn around I had the only other Latino in front of me, who without much hesitation came up close and assumed the position. It’s hard not to take a hint when someone has their left hand cupping your lower back: you two are gonna dance. At this point I figured I should at least get the name of the man who would be showing me a good night. “Omar.” “I’m Jaime,” I said with a unnecessary giggle. That’s all he said, and he just went back to chewing his gum and smelling very fresh (we were that close).

The funny thing about Omar is that while I had all these calibrating processes going on in my brain (don’t look him in the eye–but don’t NOT look him in the eye the entire time, that’s even weirder; make small talk: “Nice night, huh?”, nevermind, shut up!), he looked totally at ease. He didn’t give a single damn, and that was kind of inspiring.

“Switch!” Thank god. I thought it was going to be uphill from there. Funny how that never happens.

Each new partner was no Omar, and that was unfortunate. They were nervous and sweaty and, for whatever reason, afraid of me. I couldn’t understand why until someone said amidst the small talk I was supplying (and improving on), “It must be so easy for you.”

They all thought I could actually dance! They saw I could follow the beat and figured, “This Mexican guy with great hair and fabulous eyes that sparkle with wonder must be so good at dancing, because don’t all Latinos love to eat tortilla-based foods and dance the entire day.” They soon found out that only one of those assumptions was correct.
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give it a second–it’s going into space!

1 Mar

We are an app-happy country. These apps, more or less, represent shortcuts. Show me something and I will find an app that lets me do that right now. But eventually, we find the shortcut’s shortcomings. The satisfaction we get from using our apps is short-lived (nice use of ‘short’, eh?). We don’t really stick with any of them for too long because we end up considering them useless. Siri will soon lose its mojo; instagram will quietly fade away. They, like their tiny icons, provide us droplets of glee, which soon melt away. But that will not end our craving them. There’s such a plethora of new options to choose from that these shiny pretty things will be around for a long time.

Is that it? Apps only represent the few hours of lifetime we spend installing and using them? I don’t think so; these creatures taking up megabytes of space in our electronics and in our days are about our addiction to technology. Continue reading

tebowing everyday

17 Jan

Tebow is not an amazing quarterback. I’d say he’s barely in the top half of the league when it comes to dry-as-bones statistics. His QB rating is disturbingly volatile, and his throwing motion is well below the NFL elite. But he wins. It may be sheer determination, or optimism, or something otherworldy, like a God that tunes in to the playoffs. Whatever it is it was (see last Par.) working and with great panache.

It also made him a lighting rod of criticism that ranged from the legitimate (his QB abilities are unreliable) to the personal (he needs to shut his proselytizing mouth). He continues to draw passionate defenses and rebuttals. What he stands for is what irks people the most. Mediocre, yet successful, professional athletes have existed for as long as fantastic, yet failing or self-destructive, athletes have. But Tebow Hate is not about that, at least not the most unrelenting form of it isn’t. It’s about a successful someone’s belief in and attribution of success to a Higher Being. It’s about faith. Continue reading

quirky mexican

5 Jan

It really is hard to leave anything. Things, people, and places travel with you forever, no matter how long ago or in what way you interacted with them. The more you live the more you live out your influences.

I flew to Mexico City with my mom and dad over the holidays. The build-up to this trip was pretty severe: my parents are aging and their mortality is constantly flashing whenever I see them in motion (how quickly and unkindly does time pass), so my mom, originally from the City itself, kept using “one last time” every time we planned something for said trip. Bless her heart. Let it be clear that my mother and father are in good health; yes, they are old, but compared to almost every other person their age I and they have met, they are in stellar condition. In case you don’t know this already, Latino moms love to sensationalize. They have every disease the local news mentions and every Christmas will be their last. All old wives are true and the Virgen of Guadalupe might’ve appear on a tortilla. So there’s that.

But the trip, excusing the undue weight my mother put on it, was important. If nothing else, it helped remind me why Mexico is Mexico. Continue reading

nooks, books, and kindles

18 May

I stumbled upon this list of lovely bookstores on Salon, and couldn’t help but be in awe. These bookstores aren’t just edifices built on brick and wood, but symbols of something longer lasting. They have history, personality, panache, and cult followings.

 

People talk about how printed books are relics from an unsophisticated past. To be honest, the recent e-book/e-reader craze has yet to win me over: I don’t get it.

 

I love reading, but I also love books (not the same thing, to all Zodiac fans out there). It might just be my inner child, wanting to touch and feel my way around the world, but the physical presence of a book is quite unique.

 

The bookstore combines all those books and their inherent “bookiness,” and then adds another layer of personality atop.  A bookstore and its structure say a lot, not only about the owner, but about the neighborhood, the country, and the culture. Going through the slideshow you can’t help to think, “Yeah, that’s totally a French bookstore”/”Of course the Egyptian one would look like that.”

 

A book also carries with it a measure of time. Unlike e-books where one feels the same as 20 in your hand, the touch of a book communicates how much time you have or will invest in it. The books on your shelf symbolize months upon months of your lifetime. Do you get that feeling with a Kindle?

 

My main concern with e-readers is that they are yet another vehicle to speed up our days. Even if we make some “sit down and read” time with our Nooks/Kindles, we feel this background pang that might eventually lead us to check our email, online shop, or look up a word right then and there. E-books add to the frenzy.

 

Research shows that this generation’s teenagers (Generation Z?) are the most connected people around…yet the rate of depression among that group is alarmingly high. They have hundreds of friends online, and send/receive thousands of texts, but their face-to-face time with friendly faces is slim. They are connected, but not at all.

 

Milling about in a bookstore, thumbing through a potentially good read, is not unsophisticated, or antiquated. It just is. And sometimes, that offers plenty of value.

 

new curiosity

17 May

I’ve used this platform to write about various topics, but mostly politics and the tangled topics therein, for over 2 years now. I am prouder of some posts than others…and quite ashamed of a handful (I wrote that?). But overall, this space has let me write it all out, vent a bit, and think through keyboard taps. To be honest, it’s even been therapeutic.

 
That’s why I’ll keep writing, on a more consistent basis, and keep this space alive. But…

 

I’ve come to find a new curiosity/passion/obsession. You know something else is spinning your pistons when your reading selection is to brim about it. Over the last few months, I’ve become engrossed by this question:

 

How can we like work?

 

The corollary question would be: why is job satisfaction so important, yet so elusive?

 

It’s become a sort of unquestioned truth. Because work sucks, that’s why. Not true. Some people have jobs that make them happy. Research shows that most of us are happiest when AT work. Most moments of “bliss” happen during work hours. Our job satisfaction rate is the lowest ever since we began recording these numbers. Technology and innovation have given us a plethora of job/career choices, yet our misery at work continues to rise.

 

Why?

 

What is this reality leading us to?

 

What can we do to like our professional lives?

 

I’ve begun digging into the topic, and have essentially honed in my energy on this crucial, yet often overlooked question mark. This is not just about work, but about our psyches, society, communication, motivation, self-improvement, legacies, families, wealth, happiness, and history.

 

  • There are 8,700 hours in a year; if fully-employed, we spend at least a fourth of that time at work.
  • The people we spend the most time with a week are our co-workers.
  • Our bliss or lack thereof at work follows us to our families and friends.
  • Growing old also means looking back at our professional legacies.
  • Our dreams and talents grow or fade with the work we dive into.
  • Great work is done by great people, but sometimes great people never know what work will reach greatness.

 

So from today on, this blog will change focus. I may still write about politics here and there (and believe me, my passion for that will never fade), but this space will be dedicated to starting a discussion on being happy in your professional life.

 

I hope you will still tag along and contribute. Unless you are Jim Gaffigan or Ricky Gervais, monologues suck, so please stir the pot/add your two cents/any other cliche that’s in style

 

Here we go…

 

 

No more customer service (please)

4 May

You know when companies are doing something right. But you don’t realize it at the time. It hits you at a guttural level. Like beauty, you know when it’s there, and when it’s gone.

I was checking-in to my Southwest flight this morning, expecting the typical flight experience. “Pleasant” customer service, a dull in-flight environment, and the overall transactional feel flying nowadays conveys.

“Do you know the real name of Big Sexy?” the Southwest check-in lady asks me. I didn’t. “I think he’s from Phoenix.” She was having a conversation with both me and the other check-in gal. “Anyway, he is friends with my cousin. He also knows The Rock. How about that?” She said all of this while she checked my bags (bags fly free! remember?) and printing my boarding pass.

Next up, the in-flight safety procedure demonstrations…with jokes. The flight attendant sang some of the instructions, and sprinkled some good humor all about. “Remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then on your child. And yes, we mean your husband.”

I even got “Plane Crackers” as my snacks.

The idea of customer service has become so sterilized that people sometimes dread being exposed to it, like the fluorescent light above our cubicles. But what Southwest, and other innovative companies (Virgin, for one) are doing now is customer engagement. The customer is not just that, but a part of the club. They are not a cog in the profit-making process. Customers are treated like friends, and who better to tell others about how great you are than your friends.

I write this as I am on the flight. I am sure this is just Southwest’s brain-washing ops in action, but the seats feel nicer, the plane cleaner, and for some odd reason, I expect to arrive early. Tell me this wont influence my next purchase?

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