Book Review – No Land’s Man by Aasif Mandvi

I’ve signed on to do book reviews for the New York Journal of Books.  Here is my first!  It’s on Aasif Mandvi’s essay collection, No Land’s Man

Perhaps you know Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show.  I didn’t, however. Because I rarely watch The Daily Show.  I know I shouldn’t admit that.  It make me unhip.  I always intend to watch it, but then I forget.  Anyway, I had never heard of this guy before.  Which is probably good because that made me unbiased, right?

Let me know what you think.  By the way, writing in the third person is hard, it turns out.

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http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/no-lands-man

No Land’s Man by Aasif Mandvi

If you are looking for behind-the-scenes dish about The Daily Show, you won’t find it in Aasif Mandvi’s collection of essays, No Land’s Man. But what you’ll find instead are fascinating and funny tales about Mandvi’s childhood, South Asian family, and acting career—all told with rich description and an engaging, self-deprecating humor.

Mandvi, the “Senior Muslim Correspondent” for The Daily Show, begins his story with the realization that even though he had just completed a one-man show, “Sakina’s Restaurant,” about being an immigrant in America, the experience left him with a greater desire for more self-exploration.

In the stories that follow, Mandvi looks back at the events that framed his life, from growing up in an Indian immigrant family in working class England where he regularly encountered classism and racism, to his teenage years as an immigrant when he and his family moved to Florida, and again battling stereotypes while trying to break into show business.

In his essay, “The Ledge,” Mandvi reaches back to early childhood where he endured racist taunts and hazing at the hands of his classmates in an English boarding school, including being forced out on a ledge of his dormitory by upperclassmen while wearing only his pajamas on a typically cold English night.

Yet instead of bitterness, Mandvi amazingly finds humor in the situation and empathy for the aggressors, “We were all the same under the moonlight:  just a bunch of abandoned children in a world where only the strongest and most vicious survived, with no idea how to return home.”

During his teenaged years Mandvi’s father decides to move the family to America, apparently for the express purpose of being able to gorge himself regularly at brunch. A transplant once more, Mandvi struggles to make friends at a typical suburban American high school, where he again faces racism and finds himself an outcast.

After failing to make friends with the only other South Asian boy in the school, Mandvi humorously describes what likely propelled him on his career path, “I found myself without an ally or a group that I could call my own in this new American petri dish. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before I got involved with the wrong crowd: The Actors.”

In later years, when Mandvi pursues acting in New York, he discovers that the demand for South Asian actors is decidedly bleak. After much time pursuing and playing endless stereotypes, the path that leads him to interview with Jon Stewart for a correspondent job on The Daily Show is actually remarkable, but mostly because it’s unremarkable.

Mandvi goes on to describe his unusual position of being cast as the lone voice of Muslim America, and the responsibility that went along with the fame. It’s a fascinating and interesting read: the idea of a man going from relative obscurity to suddenly having people on the street reaching out to him, thanking him for representing all Muslims in America.

While the stories about his exploits at school and behind-the-scenes tales of his career are entertaining, Mandvi is at his best when writing about his family. Even though he makes light of his parents and extended family, the stories are told with warmth and fondness.

Though Mandvi’s background and stories are certainly unique, the stories about his family, and the themes of acceptance are universal. His tone is often reflective, and it is clear that he has dealt with the hardships in his life by finding the humor in the situation.

Though Mandvi’s humor is not laugh out loud funny, it is smart and enjoyable. While the voyeur in us might yearn for him to delve more into serious romances instead of just focusing on superficial dalliances, you can’t blame a writer for keeping some things private.

When comparing his time in England to life in America, Mandvi praises Americans for being so accepting, but notes that perhaps because there are so many immigrants in America, people are less inclined to be curious about other cultures.

For Mandvi’s sake, hopefully he’s wrong about this notion. While his storytelling is entertaining, it’s the uniqueness of his immigrant story and his interesting background that prove fascinating.

 

- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/no-lands-man#sthash.7AGxjs6w.dpuf

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Bulky Trash – I Love You

Iimgres-2t’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Is it time for the holidays already? No. It’s Bulky Item Trash Pick-up week!

I can hardly contain my excitement whenever I receive the postcard from the rubbish company announcing that we can put our oversized trash items at the curb and they will magically be picked up. No questions asked. No extra fee. What a wonderful thing!

It’s so satisfying getting rid of old stuff. I find it truly liberating whenever I purge these unwanted items from my home. I like to put on my gardening gloves and drag to the curb those miscellaneous pieces of lumber, errant cement blocks, and rusted pieces of patio furniture that have been stacked up next to the trash cans. And something about them being labeled as “Bulky Trash” makes them even more repellent.

Go away bulky trash! I banish you from our home!

I look forward to this week for another reason too. I am, apparently, a bit of a scavenger. Okay, some might call me a dumpster diver. Whatever. Guilty as charged.

I love driving from street to street, scouring the neighborhood to see if there is something wonderful out there, some gem of a castoff that I might be able to use in my home. The kids will yell at me to keep the car moving. They’re going to be late to school or some such nonsense. But surely some of these items just need a fresh coat of paint, a few new screws, a bit of T.L.C. and then they’ll be the subject of bragging rights to my friends, “Yes. That is Naugahyde on that recliner. Those people on Lemon Street were just going to throw it away! Can you believe it?”

I once felt great joy when I found a sandbox in the shape of a turtle or dinosaur, never quite sure. I quickly loaded it into the minivan before the homeowner could see me. A bit of scouring (with bleach, of course) and the sandbox was ready for use. My children got a few good months of fun out of that sandbox until one blustery day when the lid blew off and then all the neighborhood cats decided it would make an excellent giant litter box. So the next time there was a Bulky Item Trash Week that sandbox was, you guessed it, out on my own curb, ready for pickup.

Sometimes I rationalize that my scavenging of the neighbor’s trash comes from my background in Anthropology. I had at least a half a dozen classes in college and I’m sure that qualifies me as an expert. It’s fascinating to see what type of items my presumably more well off neighbors are discarding. Apparently, there’s a good deal of turnover in mattresses, BBQ’s, and baby items. I see a lot of toilets as well – a surprising amount of toilets, really.

I’ll admit I get a bit judgmental when I see some quality items being thrown out. Are the homeowners too lazy to take them to Goodwill? Couldn’t they just call the Veterans groups and ask for a pickup? Then I think, well, perhaps that baby swing was “recalled” and could very well send little Abigail soaring into the atmosphere. Maybe that perfectly good-looking couch is really infested with fleas? How do I know? Who am I to judge my neighbor?

Why, I often wonder, does the trash collection company offer this generous service? Did the city mandate it as a way of encouraging us residents to keep our couches off the front porch? I don’t know. But, as I often tell my children when they ask about Santa, don’t question the holiday magic – just enjoy it!

It is indeed the happ- happ–happiest season of all!

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Filed under comedy, holidays, Home, humor

Laundry and College in 7 Easy Steps

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Dear Chloe,

Your dad called me at work and said that you said I forgot to teach you how to do laundry. Perhaps you think it was some sort of parental failing on my part, but actually it was intentional. I washed your clothes for the past eighteen years so you could spend your time on more important things like studying, resume building, and improving your social ranking on the Kardashian app.

But since you are leaving for the dorms tomorrow, it’s time to learn. Here is a simple set of instructions.

1. First, check the label of anything expensive or fancy to see if it needs to be dry-cleaned. Set garment aside. On second thought, forget that. You can’t afford dry-cleaning. Why did we even buy something that’s dry-clean only? Let’s donate it and take the tax write off. We need the money to pay for that college.

2. Next, separate DARKS from WHITES. Okay, go ahead and say it, I’ll just wait. “That’s so racist!” Hah! That never gets old. You kids are so clever. Now back to it. Blues, greys, blacks, purples go in one dark pile. Reds, oranges, and pinks go in another. That’s your RED pile. White’s go in a separate pile – a separate but unequal pile. Why are they unequal? Because they need bleach. But we’ll get to that later.

3. Now you’re ready to wash. Can you feel the excitement? Start by taking the darks and throwing them in the machine. Set dial to cold water. Set other dial to permanent press or 8 or 10 or 12 minutes. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter. Pour in a cap full of soap (or less, because detergent is really expensive and you rarely exercise so your clothes don’t get that stinky). Turn machine on by pulling knob or pushing something or by inserting some sort of monetary offering.

4. When it’s done (the machine stops shaking and making noise), it’s time to separate them again. All those shorty short shorts you have – good Lord we don’t want them to get any shorter so pull them out. Same goes for all those cheaply made blouses, skirts, and shirts. Hang dry these items in your room using anything: hooks, closet doors, chairs, or bunk beds, but be sure not to encroach too much on your two roommates. Hah, two roommates. I still can’t believe there’s going to be three of you in that tiny little room. What a nightmare! But you’ll be fine, really. I’m sure. Just always be considerate of your roommates. Don’t be messy and don’t leave food bits in the room because that will attracts ants or worse. And you don’t want worse. Then again, don’t be a pushover either. If they do something annoying, you gotta say something. Like if they’re bringing dudes home every night, don’t put a pillow over your head and pretend not to notice, tell them to knock that S%& off!

5. Okay, for the RED load repeat steps 3 & 4. Now if (and only if) your reds are really old and there aren’t enough machines available, then just throw them in with the dark load. But frankly, with the money we’re paying for that place, there damn well better be enough machines available. Speaking of which, don’t forget you are a paying customer at that school. If you’re not getting the classes you need, you have to raise a stink. Don’t get enrolled in “Finnish Folk Art and Technology” or “The Films of Jean-Claude Van Damme” cause then you’ll end up taking five years to graduate and we can’t afford that! Also, you need to suck up to your professors (figuratively of course) and don’t worry about being labeled a teacher’s pet. This isn’t high school. You need professors to be on your side to get the most out of this place. Did I mention the cost?

6. Now let’s do WHITES. Simply turn the water temperature to hot. Repeat step 3 & 4, but add a little bit of bleach, like a half a cup or so in that little doohickey near the top. Speaking of hot water, your first job there is to get an education. Remember that. Study first, and then have fun. School. Work. Fun. That is the order of priorities. Remember, moderation is key. If you are going to ignore our advice and the laws of the land, at least don’t be the drunkest, druggiest girl at the party. Watch your glass and please, please, please, avoid designer drugs with cutesy names like Smiles or Spice or Special K. That stuff will kill you. Seriously. Just stick with good old-fashioned weed, and only a hit or two is all you need. It’s stronger than it used to be. Or so I’ve heard.

7. It’s time to DRY! Those few remaining items that don’t need to hang-dry can be combined into one economical dryer load. Set the dial to medium or low (never dry hot or you’ll think the Freshman 15 has already happened), and then push the button. Easy, huh?

Let’s see, did I forget anything . . . oh, wash your towels every few days, sheets once every week or two, but don’t let it go three or that’s just gross. Maybe buy some dryer sheets, always use protection, and as any working adult will tell you, have a blast because for the rest of your life you’ll wish you could go back.

Love, Mom.

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Why Moms Hate Summer Vacation

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7A – Wake and have breakfast with bleary-eyed Kid #1 who has not seen this hour, or any time close to it, since school ended two weeks earlier.

8A – Drop Kid #1 at Girl Scout sponsored nature park clean up.  Speed off in car leaving behind giant cloud of dust and pretend that I don’t hear other mom’s last minute request for “extra hands.”

8:30A – Return home and get breakfast for Kid #2 and Kid #3, dog and cat.

9:20A – Drop DVD rentals at video store including dreadful one kids insisted upon starring a fangless, yet still sullen, Robert Pattinson.  Regret wasting $5.00 yet delight in “I told you so” afterglow.

9:30A – Pack Kid #2 and Kid #3 in car again and pick up remarkably unsoiled Kid #1. Return home and make mid-morning snack for Kids #1, #2 and #3.

10:30A – Go to grocery store for more supplies.

12:00N – Make lunch for Kids #1, #2 and #3.

1:00P – Take Kid #1 to fashion design sketching class.  Fantasize about her upcoming career as famous fashion designer, including guest judge appearance on Project Runway.  Acknowledge that Kid #1 will likely live at home for a very long time.

1:30P – Take Kid #3 to swim-date at friend’s house.  During drive get instructed by Kid #3 that I shouldn’t get out of the car when we get there, for fear I will engage in a long conversation with her friend’s mom, thus ruining the whole experience.

2:00P – Return home and learn that Kid #2 hijacked my cell phone to text an invitation to friend for swim-date at our house.

2:30P – Welcome Kid #2A and immediately prepare snacks for Kid #2 and Kid #2A.

3:00P – Abandon plans to do laundry or anything really because must now supervise swim-date.

4:00P – Pick up Kid #1 from sketch class.  Make futile attempts to glean information about content of said class.

5:30P – Feed dinner to Kid #2 and Kid #2A.  Pour self a heart-healthy glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Realize may not drink heart-healthy Cabernet Sauvignon as still need to take Kid #2 and #2A to #2A’s recently separated father’s new apartment to “check it out” and watch a movie.

6:00P – Take Kid #1 to coed birthday party for now 14-year-old friend.  (Read laughably tiny font at bottom of invitation indicating that there will be parental supervision.)

6:15P – Take Kid #2 and #2A to the dad’s pad.  Take note of ne’r-do-well teens hanging out on balconies of neighboring apartments.  Silently wish that 11-year-old Kid #2 and her friend, Kid 2A did not already look like leggy teens.

6:30P – Drop Kid #3’s overnight bag at her friend’s house in order to accommodate impromptu sleepover invitation.  Sadly decline offer of libation, due to aforementioned driving duties.

7:00P – Return to find husband home from work.  Detect goofy grin on husband’s face.  Listen as husband points out that the kids are all gone, heh, heh, and you know what that could mean.  Offer up, “Umm, we have control of the remote?”

8:00P – Phone rings.  Kid #3 wants to cancel sleepover date.  Pick up Kid #3 and reassure her on drive home that her friend’s house does not have ghosts.  The white blur in the hallway likely just the pasty daddy legs of her friend’s father

9:30P – Pick up Kid #2 from the bachelor pad apartment.  Inquire as to the rating of already watched movie.  Convince self that she meant to say she saw The Squeakquel and not The Saw sequel.

10:00P – Pick up Kid #1 from the birthday party.  Conduct inconspicuous sniffing in entryway to smell for booze and cigarettes.  Thankfully detect none.  Note that birthday girl’s parents look a good ten years older than at party’s start, four hours earlier.

10:30P – Return home and cajole kids into their beds.  Finally reach for glass of Cabernet, but decide it is too late to drink alcohol unless desire that awful morning headache.  Opt for butterscotch brownie and calcium-rich milk instead.

11:00P – Go online and research sleep-away camp availability for remainder of summer.  Send email inquiring if there is room for just one more.  Also ask if they take adults.

 

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Trendy, Trendy Culver City

Kristen Hansen Brakeman:

Check out Forrest Brakeman’s blog! (yes, my husband)

“Trendy Trendy Culver City”
You don’t need to have ever been there to understand.

Originally posted on Forrest Brakeman:

imgres One current jewel of the great Southern California Basin is trendy, trendy Culver City, located near the Eastern border checkpoints blocking the way into the desirable West Side.

If you bypass Checkpoint Charlie, and sneak in through the still active oil fields of Baldwin Hills, you can find this hip and in-demand town firmly nestled in the armpit of the Santa Monica Freeway and the San Diego Freeway, two of the most heavily travelled roads in the country, making it impossible to get to or from trendy, trendy Culver City.

Originally occupied by the Tongva-Gabrielino originals for over 8,000 years, the area was taken by the people who deserved it more, and developed by Harry Culver, who coined the phrase “All Roads Lead To Culver City,” which in fact was not even close to true at the time – it was in the middle of nowhere.

But before long, the…

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THE CHOPPER SAGA: PART THREE (In Which His Reign of Terror Comes to an End)


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Almost two years had passed since I’d begrudgingly welcomed a dragon breath, mangy furred, one-eyed shaky little mutt into our home.

We inherited Chopper from my in-laws who, in a final display of their wicked sense of humor, left us their smelly, obese, geriatric dog instead of a palatial estate.

I didn’t really want him.  After all, I had already welcomed three kids, a cat, and my devoted German shepherd mix, Buddy, into my heart and home.   There was no room for more.

But the little dog needed a place to live, and given his age and poor health, I figured it would only be for a few months anyway, so I agreed. Continue reading

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A Stranger’s Hands . . . Touching Me?

17_fashion_spa_stock_photo_170415My friends and I were pretty stressed out from overseeing the whole college application thing and needed a boozy night to decompress.

So one of my good friends offered to host a small cocktail party where we could share information, compare notes, and let’s be honest, complain about our kids.  After inserting a drink into my hand , our lovely host told me that she had hired a masseuse friend of hers to provide free mini-massages to help relieve our stress.

“Oh that’s, fantastic!” I said, lying through my teeth.

In truth, just the idea of getting a massage made me even more stressed out and instantly uptight. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never enjoyed getting massages from strangers.  I guess I just can’t relax, and any pleasure I feel is offset by my overwhelming angst.
Continue reading

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I’ve Been Translated!

Hey, I’m big in Germany !

My 10 Parenting Tips The Experts Won’t Tell You column was on Huffington Post Parents and then got translated for the German version of Huffington Post.  For some reason I find this thrilling!

Check it out here -

And the English version here

Also – I wrote a piece for LitFactor  – about trying to get published.  It’s called “Writers Write and Other Lies”  Check it out here!

After this post, I promise not to jaw on about writing anymore and actually do some.

 

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Writers’ Roundtable

I was asked to participate in a Q and A about writing by the good people at WordPress.

Check it out here!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/freelance-writing/

Thanks!

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10 Parenting Tips You Won’t Hear From Experts

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I’m not a psychologist, pediatrician, or child development expert, but I do have three kids, one of whom is almost an adult. Over the years I’ve read a ton of parenting books, often desperate for insight or answers. But what I found is that most parenting advice is just trite hooey.  I mean, if we could all magically just nod off and “sleep when our baby sleeps” or “find ways to make time for ourselves,” then we wouldn’t be seeking advice in the first place.

I’ve made my own discoveries along the way.  Here are a few practical pieces of advice, things experts won’t tell you.

1) You don’t need to videotape every second.

Sometimes it’s nice to simply enjoy a school performance, soccer game, or birthday party without the burden of videotaping.  Besides, it’s better to videotape every day moments like your kids playing dress-up, building a fort, or having a conversation with their grandparents. They’ll mean a lot more to you in twenty years than some barely watchable clip of your kid standing behind 100 other kids singing, “Wacky Weather.”  Oh, and don’t bother getting cutaways and insert shots thinking you’re going to edit the video later. Trust me, it ain’t gonna happen.

2) Don’t volunteer during hectic months.

Arrive early at back-to-school night so you can have your choice of party signups. Pick the lesser holiday parties, like Valentines Day, Columbus Day, or even Arbor Day.  Don’t be stupid and sign up for the “Winter Holiday” party, because when December 18th rolls around and you haven’t started your “Winter Holiday” shopping, and your older daughter has a “Winter Holiday” choral performance that night, and your son needs help studying for his semester finals, the last thing you need is to suddenly remember that you signed up to bake twenty-five cupcakes for the fourth grade “Winter Holiday” Party. Continue reading

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