Source: A brief tour of the places I've stayed during quarantine.
If you tilt your head to the left, it looks vaguely like a poorly drawn dog.
Yes, I do have too much time on my hands.

For most folks, the past few months have likely looked a lot different than usual. Humans are creatures of habit, and spending 99% of your time stuck at home represents a pretty thorough disruption of those habits for many. As a person who was used to spending more like 0.02% of my waking hours at "home", things have certainly looked different for me. It feels like an eternity ago that I was gearing up for a life without the truck, gathering my few possessions up and picking places to stay.

The Stars Truck Folk: Where are they now?

Well, it's been three months (or maybe four?),* and in that time I've attempted to self-isolate in six or so separate spots around the Bay, each successive stay being longer as quarantine carried on. Having spent four and a half years living in a truck, I expected some growing pains. All things considered though, adjusting to the various changes in my day-to-day was surprisingly easy.

But then again, I guess my lifestyle is pretty conducive to self-isolating when I think about it; my favorite pastimes (reading/writing**, programming, exercising, etc) require zero human interaction. This isn't entirely by design, but it isn't exactly by chance either. Through that lens, not much has changed and my smooth transition to normal-apartment-living-human makes sense. As a Normal Apartment-Living Human™ (NAH, for short), I've gone on plenty of hikes, sampled a few Napa wines, and broken a few personal records on some recent bike rides.

While not particularly impressive, I think this is the biggest biking climb I've ever done.
Picture courtesy of Ride With GPS and OpenStreetMap



Oh, and I bought another house.



Far from my most flattering picture, and I'm really not one for selfies, but I couldn't resist.

I don't want to get into the nitty gritties this time around, but it's a similar arrangement as the first one, still in the Boston area, and quite lovely. Pandemics and geography naturally introduced some logistical challenges, but in the end, T's were dotted, I's were crossed, and things were generally squared away.

What's the game plan?

First graph from Reddit, second graph from the same author, also on Reddit
Underlying data from The New York Times

For better or worse (and the graphs/data tend to suggest 'worse'), it looks like my life might return to some level of normalcy in the near future. "For better" because I'm not a huge fan of Airbnb-hopping, as nice as exploring various parks and hikes around the Bay has been, and I miss my truck. "For worse" because it seems batshit insane that anyone should be trying to return to some level of normalcy, given the effect that appears to be having.

And yet, that's the direction things are trending. I got an email from Santa Clara County (summarized here) a few days ago that said, among other things, gyms are going to be allowed to re-open shortly. That's great for yours truly, who's been shedding weight and strength in the absence of things to pick up and put down, but I would expect gyms to be literally the last thing to open. I can't think of a single place where more sweaty humans take turns touching the same set of objects, aside from perhaps a McDonald's PlayPlace.

Back in the Saddle?

PlayPlace-related digressions aside: my repeated change of scenery hasn't been lost on my eagle-eyed co-workers, who seem to immediately pick up on the changes in lighting and the rotating backdrops of windows, paintings, and other riffraff on my video feed. My excuse has been that I'm hopping around because I don't feel productive working from my primary residence. This is more or less true…if you squint a little bit…and take a fairly liberal definition of 'primary residence'. One of those conversational half-truths I'm so fond of.

And speaking of work: my employer is starting to (slowly) phase people back into the office. Priority is for the scientists and hardware engineers, who need access to special, usually expensive, and usually immobile machinery, labs, and doodads, then the software engineers. I fall into the latter category, and appear to be slotted in the first wave of pixel-pushers heading back into the office. This seems to be at least in part because I've mentioned my reluctance to work from my actual home.

And on this, I am conflicted (though clearly not enough to actually do anything about it). Am I taking that spot in the 'first wave' from someone who legitimately has trouble working from home, perhaps for reasons other than the self-imposed and truckly ones that I have? Or have most tech folk settled into a rhythm at home and are happy to avoid the commute?

And further, is it even remotely reasonable of me to be going back to a (public or employer-provided) gym? Even if I'm taking sensible precautions, am I not participating in the same kind of needlessly (and decidedly not-sensible) social behavior that's been causing the latest (and frankly, massive) spike in cases? Between wearing a mask, wiping down equipment before and after I use it, monitoring my own health, and generally not licking other gym-goers, I'm likely not all that much of a risk, but it still feels decidedly meh.

Who knows though, if cases continue trending in the same direction, companies and counties might slow down their re-opening efforts. If so, I'll continue my circuitous shuffling around the Bay (and my strength training-deficient workout routine).

What have I learned?

All in all, the experience has been an interesting one. "Interesting" is one of those words that doesn't actually mean anything without context though, so allow me to elaborate on that. I've long talked about how I don't plan on living in the truck forever, so I think this was a good reset to see how I feel about the truck. And after a few months of easy access to bathrooms and electricity, I think I've found my answer: I want more truck time.

Don't get me wrong, living in real abodes has been quite nice. I've re-discovered my love (not to be confused with knack) for cooking, where cooking is just a fancy way of saying "dousing vegetables in garlic-scented avocado oil and setting them on fire, then adding eggs". I've re-learned how to live with other humans, which is always a useful skill to have. And nobody has tried to watch me sleep either (as far as I know), which is always a plus.

But the experience has also reminded me of some of the reasons I liked the truck so much to begin with. The truck added a level of regimentation to my schedule that I've struggled to replicate with willpower alone. The frequency and duration of my exercise hasn't been nearly on par without the strong motivator of being forced to travel to a gym to shower. Also, cleaning the truck was always an absolute breeze. I'd throw on some music and get to sweeping. Barely a song would pass before I was all done. Real homes just have, I don't know…crevices. Everywhere. There's just always another thing to clean.

Anyway, that's all I got for now. I've got a bunch of half-finished (and hopefully shorter) posts I'd like to publish at some point in the near future, but you know how these things go. Stay safe, and stay home.***

*Hard to keep track, since time doesn't appear to be real anymore.

**Though I clearly haven't been doing much writing as of late.

***Unless you're in a place that has its act together and virus spread is no longer an issue, in which case do whatever you want.


Source: Get it? It's a pand—okay fine I'll stop.

Note: I stole the title from an email I received, thanks Kevin!

Disclosures and Disclaimers

I'm not usually one to comment on "current events".

That said, when "current events" are "modern society is looking a little rough around the edges", it's kind of hard not to comment. Of course, I'm talking about limited-edition Shrek Crocs the COVID-19 pandemic. Now I've never aspired to be a source of information or disinformation, and I'd like to keep it that way, so: get up-to-date information from WHO, the CDC, or your local Department of Public Health, not your friendly neighborhood truck man.

With that out of the way, I've been getting a lot of questions about how I'm handling the current happenings, so I'll talk a little bit about what I've been up to, and then more generally about tangential topics, like having good routines, stock market crashes, and how I handle sickness. In retrospect, those should probably all be their own posts, oh well.

It all started…

…a few weeks ago, when my employer instituted a voluntary "work from home" policy. It seemed a bit premature to me at the time: there were only a handful of cases in the entire US, but of course I had never heard of the concept of "flattening the curve" and I wasn't aware of the severity of situations in Wuhan or Italy, so it didn't make a ton of sense to me. In any case, I continued to go into work, because working from "home" isn't really something I have a desire to do. I've told my co-workers I live in a place near campus (true), with a few roommates (not true), and have generally described my home as a place I don't like to spend my time (very true). As such, my desire to continue working from the office didn't seem all that unreasonable or suspicious.

Days passed and the situation changed quickly. Voluntary work from home became recommended work from home, which promptly became strongly recommended work from home, a recommendation I dutifully continued to ignore. I was one of maybe three people in my office; it was lovely and I got a lot of stuff done. With the transition to strongly recommended work from home, the office cafeterias stopped serving breakfast and dinner, which I remedied by biking to my favorite cafes in the morning, making more meal replacement shakes, and leaning a little more heavily on the office kitchen snacks. I ate a lot of Rice Krispies that week.

I had plans to go to Aspen with my girlfriend (who lives in Colorado) and some co-workers. I found out those plans were cancelled…when I landed in Denver. So instead, I spent a few days ambling around a mid-sized Coloradan city, which wasn't altogether unpleasant. I was scheduled to leave Monday night, but then we got the Bay Area shelter-in-place order.

In light of the order, my employer strengthened their language to mandatory work from home. To show how Super Serious they were, they also closed down most of the offices. This sounded like a bad time to be living in a truck, so I moved my flight out a few days to assess the situation, and to play house with my girlfriend in her 400 sq ft apartment. After a week of the two of us working from home mere feet apart and me driving her halfway up a wallkiddinghopefully, I headed back to the Bay. That was three days ago, so where does that put me now?

An exclusive sneak peak at United's new Basic Economy Private Jet Class.
Seriously though, there were like 5 people on my DEN -> SJC flight, which is cool, but also stupendously wasteful.

The Digs

I'm not going to keep you in suspense: I'm at an Airbnb in Oakland. I had originally planned to try and rough it from the truck, but then I realized the gyms on campus were closed (and all gyms in a 50 mile radius for that matter, I checked). This made things difficult for me. You see, the campus gym is my lifeblood: it's got things to pick up and showers, the sum total of which keeps me sane and mostly smell-free.

Now, when I say the gyms were closed, the buildings were technically still accessible; my work badge still opened them. But all of the following conspired against my conscience to keep me out of them:

  • Explicit instructions to not use them - Now I'm all for living at the margins of rules and laws, it's basically my pastime. But outright ignoring an explicit instruction from my employer, an instruction with the explicit purpose of keeping people safe and healthy, that didn't seem like the right move.
  • Security roaming around at a much higher frequency - I'm not trying to make the security folks' lives any harder (by making them deal with me). I also just don't want to have to explain myself.
  • Two fun Covid-19 facts - When combined, these facts make me a liability to the gym (and vice versa):
    1. Healthy people can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus - Meaning I could COVID-up the gym and not even know it.
    2. It can live on surfaces for 72 hours - Meaning anyone who used the gym three days before me could get me sick, and similarly, I could accidentally get any other rule-breaking gym-goers sick up to three days later.
  • I think I could have made the truck work, but it wouldn't have been particularly fun: the constant eating out or deluge of meal replacement shakes would have been either expensive or extraordinarily boring and I'm not about to break my "No Food in the Truck" Rule. And with the aforementioned gyms being closed, there weren't a whole lot of reasons to stay put, all of the resources I normally have were gone. So I bit the bullet and got an Airbnb. As someone who owns very little and travels a decent amount, this effectively amounted to moving. I loaded up my car with my work and personal computers, a monitor I stole borrowed from work, my bike, a few books, five days worth of clothes, and a yoga mat (we'll discuss that later). All together, it looks something like thing:

    Left/Top: I'd never actually had to disassemble my bike before, I learned a thing or two about the brake assembly and the anti-theft wheel lock system, the unfortunately named WheelNutz.

    Center: My new office for the next week. I always keep a water bottle at my desk, gotta stay hydrated in these trying times. Screens feature me working on this post, for maximum meta-ness.

    Right/Bottom: My re-assembled bike and pretty much everything else I own. I borrowed the GameCube controller from the office so my co-workers and I can attempt to play games online together.

    I'll be working from here this week and leaving on Saturday, at which point I'll evaluate the situation and likely get another Airbnb somewhere else, perhaps even farther away. Now, here's a potpourri of tangentially related things that should probably be their own posts.

    Keeping Consistent

    Routine is very important to me. There's lots of research to show that having a solid routine and building good habits has lots of positive ripple effects through the rest of your life. Obviously, working from home for weeks on end or, like me, packing up everything you own and going elsewhere, will necessitate some routine changes. Here's the new routine that I've carved out for myself, effective tomorrow.


    4:45 - 5:25 am Wake up. I'm going to try and keep my existing sleep schedule, though it may be harder to leave my cozy new digs than it usually is.

    5:30 - 7:30 am (ish) Bike ride. I went through quite a bit to drag my bike here, and I intend to use it. In the absence of strength training equipment, long, scenic bike rides seemed like a decent alternative. It's one of the reasons I picked a place so far away. I've already picked and downloaded my route for Monday morning. From my Airbnb, it's a ~30 mile jaunt around the shorelines of Oakland and Alameda. Since the ride coincides with sunrise, I'm expecting it to be quite pretty.

    7:30 - 8:00 am Breakfast. For the first time in a long time, I went grocery shopping for myself. I'm going to attempt to prepare meals without injuring myself or the kitchen.

    8:00 am - 4:00 pm Work. Tippy-tapping on keyboards, Important Business Meetings™, all the standard fare, but with more video calling and "I think your microphone is muted" than usual. Food will also be cooked and consumed in this interval.

    4:00 - 5:00 pm Yoga. I wanted a clear signal to myself that says "you are now done doing work for the day", and I figured an hour of chill yoga would serve that purpose nicely. It's especially important to me now that my "doing work" and "personal shenanigans" computer areas are the same place. I've done yoga on and off for years, I think it's great for mental health and, for me personally, flexibility, which is key for not injuring yourself when strength training. I lost a bet with a friend a while ago, the net result being that I eventually had to write a post about doing yoga in the truck (titled Troga…eesh). I came very near to doing Troga on Saturday when the gym was closed, but thought better of it and went for a walk instead. This is likely as close as I'll ever get to writing that post.

    5:00 - 9:00 pm Assorted debauchery. Errands, books, games, blog posts, and projects.oh my!

    9:00 pm - 5:00 am Sleep. Rinse and repeat.


    I don't expect to stick to that routine exactly, but I'm going to use it as a strong guideline. Without the normal structure of work, it's easy to either work way too much or way too little, so some gentle bumpers will help here.

    Stocks, Stocks, Stocks

    I've been told that the global economic system is presently in free fall. In all likelihood, I've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in monopoly money. Since I'm not retiring for at least the next few years, this doesn't really matter to me. I'm going to continue to do what I've done for the past five years: buy more stock at every opportunity I get.

    In fact, stock is on sale right now, so I'm going to get more than usual, which sounds pretty good to me. If you aren't planning on retiring in the near future, you probably shouldn't be panic-selling all your stock, especially if it's in a 401k or similar fund that penalizes early withdrawals.

    That's a Generally Bad Idea™.

    In Sickness

    A while ago, in a Q&A post, I got a question about what I'd do if I got a "debilitating case of viral gastroenteritis", which in retrospect is suspiciously specific. Anyway, I answered thusly:

    My primary plan is to rely on my good health, nutrition, exercise, and sleep schedule to prevent debilitating cases of viral gastroenteritis in the first place. But if I were to find myself involuntarily returning the contents of my stomach with regular frequency, I'd probably take off work and grab a hotel room for a few days to sleep it off. Luckily, I get sick pretty infrequently and haven't had to resort to the suite life just yet. Fingers crossed.

    And that's pretty much my all-around "getting sick" strategy: hunker down somewhere and ride it out. I'm fortunate in that I rarely get sick (less than once a year), and when I do get sick, it's usually over in a day, and not completely miserable at that. We'll see what COVID-19 has in store.


Source: I couldn't really think of a good title picture for this post. I didn't want to take a picture of the condensation, because that's gross. You could view this one two ways: the bucket is either supposed to be a desiccant full of the water it sucked up, or it's nature dumping water all over the truck.

Continuing my new trend of discussing Californian curiosities,* let's talk about water. Speaking with only the slightest bit of hyperbole, it doesn't rain in the Bay Area from May through September, but it gets decently damp from October onward. And I'm not just talking about rain; some mornings bring with them a thick layer of condensation, which I've addressed before, a long, long time ago.

Back then, I thought the condensation was, in large part, just me breathing in the boxa lot, which seems kinda silly (and gross) in retrospect. I've since learned exhalation only accounts for a small amount of it: less than a cup per night. The majority just condenses out of the air. Normal folks call this 'humidity', but apparently the word escaped me when I wrote that last post.

One thing that continues to perplex me though is how physics decides which surfaces get covered in condensation. The Wikipedia article on Dew, which is riveting stuff, explains it as:

[Dew] forms most easily on surfaces that are not warmed by conducted heat from deep ground, such as grass, leaves, railings, car roofs, and bridges

…which seems pretty straightforward, but my experience has still been kinda confusing. Here's a brief, informal survey of the various damp and dry surfaces of my truck.

Occasionally Damp Things

  • Soft fuzzy blanket
  • Metal ceiling
  • Glass sunroof

Generally Dry Things

  • Other blanket/comforter
  • Metal storage cabinet
  • EPS foam insulation

I vaguely understand it has to do with heat conduction, but, for example, I'd expect the storage cabinet and the roof to conduct heat similarly, both being metal. And yet, on especially moist mornings, the cabinet will be bone dry even when there are literal droplets condensing and falling from the ceiling.

Writing that out, it sounds kinda bad, things being damp and drippy and all. You'd think everything would get moldy and gross and generally problematic, but in the nearly five years I've been doing this, it's been totally fine (well, now that the leaks are fixed). I think that's in large part due to the ventilation provided by the sunroof, me occasionally toweling down the offending surfaces, and, of course, my liberal use of desiccants.

I've faithfully made the trek to Home Depot every October like a weird, damp pilgrimage, purchasing that mystical cat litter in an increasing variety of form factors. I've got the standard tub under the bed, hanging ones for my clothes rack, and little boxy ones for inside my storage cabinet. The desiccants are definitely doing something, because after a rainy season, they're all full of water that they've pulled out of the truck.

The Splash

One other weird winter weather phenomenon I've encountered is, for reasons I might never truly understand, a deluge of water will just pour through the sunroof. It has happened four or five times, and only ever in the middle of the night. I'll be sleeping, and then I'll hear a sound akin to a lot of water hitting the floor, loud enough to wake me up. I get up and sure enough, there's a lot of water on the floor, probably a few cups worth. I usually towel it off, barely conscious and acting purely mechanically, then hop back into bed.

Because of the ungodly hour this happens, my memories are hazy and incomplete. The sunroof is always open, but I don't think it's ever raining, because I try not to open it on nights there's a chance of rain. Plus, rain in the truck is loud and memorable. My best guess is that the open sunroof is good at collecting moisture, which then drops onto the fine mesh I use to keep out leaves and bugs. Once there's a critical mass of water, surface tension (or something?) breaks and the puddle quickly filters through the net and to the ground.

It's either that, or someone is standing on the roof and pouring water into the truck to mess with me. It's more likely than you might think.

*To say nothing of my other trend: writing posts about wildly mundane things.


Source: I didn't realize it until after I finished goofing off in Photoshop, but if you think of the headlights as eyes and the grill being a mouth, this picture is especially fitting because the truck looks deeply, deeply unhappy at being jounced around.

Truckquake is the poor portmanteau (poortmanteau?) I'm going to use to describe earthquakes that I experience when I'm in the truck.

Earthquakes are a relatively common phenomenon in California. According to the California Department of Conservation, there are ~200 "potentially hazardous" faults in the state, and they generate an average of "two or three" quakes per year registering 5.5 or higher on the Richter scale, which is enough to cause "moderate [structural] damage". Fun, lighthearted stuff.

With earthquakes being common and all, earthquake stories similarly abound: A friend who awoke in the dead of night to their bed swaying; pets howling in confusion. A coworker who was driving when—suddenly—their car takes on a life of its own, veering this way and that, with the rest of traffic following suit. A neighbor who just swears there was a little one last night, even if nobody else felt it.

I'm now going to regale you with my own truckquake tale.

They always happen at night, because that's the only time I'm in the truck. I'm awakened by a sensation like someone shaking the truck back and forth. My first thought: "Is someone jumping on the tailgate?", which isn't as ridiculous a question as it should be, given that it's actually happened to me a few times. But we'll save those stories for another time.

Anyway, back to the sensation: it's akin to being in a car that a group of rabid frat bros are trying to flip over, conceivably because their sports team of choice has lost. Except it's much gentler—think small frat bros. Or maybe it's more like the sensation when another car passes yours at close range and your car kind of shudders in the wake, but on loop.

I'm realizing these descriptions don't sound nice, but the experience isn't altogether unpleasant. In fact, the quake normally rocks me back to sleep as quickly as it woke me, the whole experience being over within 45 seconds or so. One time, I vaguely remember thinking I was being abducted by aliens, which meant I had weirder than usual dreams for the rest of the night. But most of the time, I don't even recognize what happened until the next morning, when I have more of my faculties about me (or a co-worker mentions the quake).

Uhh…is any of that safe?

I've always been curious about how I'd fare during a truly terrible earthquake like, for example, the Big One. Specifically, am I better or worse off in the truck than an actual, honest-to-God building? I figured my biggest concern was the whole truck entering freefall as the ground disappears below it, but after doing the slightest bit of research*, Los Angeles Magazine set me straight:

What if…

[...]

…The earth opens up and swallows me whole? Luckily, these kinds of earthquakes only happen in cartoons and the Bible. What you’re probably thinking of is a sinkhole, which is caused by underground erosion, not by an earthquake.

So I guess I have nothing to worry about on that front.

More realistically, my main adversary would be trees falling on the truck. But, for no reason in particular, my bed is on the driver's side of the truck, which means it's closer to the road. That's awfully convenient, because if there are any nearby trees, they'd likely be on the passenger side. And hopefully, as they ripped viciously through the truck in a din of rending metal, some part of the frame would slow them down (and ideally stop them) before they reached my vulnerable, slumbering body, like a scene in a Final Destination movie.

All of the other "Driving in an Earthquake" resources I looked at just suggest pulling over and waiting it out. So if I'm fast asleep in the back, it seems like I'm already doing the best I can do. Plus, it seems like the suspension on the truck smooths out the ebbs and flows of the quake, so I should just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show throe.

*I literally just Googled "earthquake in a car", which isn't even a good way to phrase what I was looking for.


Oh Christmastime, what can I say about you that hasn't already been said?

Literally nothing, so let's just skip the whole "waxing poetic about Christmas" business.

My personal relationship with Christmas is, well, slightly complicated and always changing. I was raised Jewish (as I've mentioned before), but I fell off the Judaism-bandwagon pretty much immediately after my Bar Mitzvah. Not to say that my family were particularly good Jews to begin with — we faithfully celebrated Christmas every year, and occasionally lit our Menorah candles and said our blessings.* But with the advent of my truckliness, my thoughts on Christmas, and specifically, on giving and receiving gifts, have changed pretty handily.

As a kid, I loved Christmas. I loved waking up at an ungodly hour each Christmas morning (much to the chagrin of my half-asleep parents) to see what Santa** had dutifully left behind. My Swiss cheese brain hasn't retained many memories from my childhood, but I do vividly remember seeing that new boombox or Playstation 2, then sitting around and drinking hot cocoa while I set it all up.

Nowadays, I live 3,000 miles away from most of the people I celebrate Christmas with, which has changed the Rules of Gift Engagement™ quite a bit.

The Rules of Gift Engagement

Over the past five Christmases, I've learned little tips and tricks for navigating the holidays with my hometown family and friends, and adjusted my gifting policies accordingly.

Gift Giving

My gift giving policy is simple: I'll give people whatever they damn well want, with a gentle preference for things that are practical and hopefully not too self-destructive. Obviously the amount I spend on a gift correlates with how much I like the person, or at least how much I'd like them not to be mad at me. I'll usually have all the gifts delivered directly to Boston well ahead of time, where they'll stay under the watchful eye of my sister until the time arrives.

For family, my gift giving strategy is to asking them what they want/need, and then I'll just get that. If they say "don't get me anything", you can bet I'm not getting them anything. For my friends, at least for the past decade or so, I've rounded them all up in a room lousy with alcohol and made them compete in a variety of online mini-games for cash, prizes, fame, and intoxication glory. As I've mentioned before, past years' festivities have included online twists on Card Against Humanity, Texas Hold 'Em, Bomberman, Tetris, and Bananagrams, which I usually begin working on each August or September.

Gift Receiving

My gift receiving policy is even simpler. If I had to sum it up in a picture, it'd look something like:

Jim Carrey's Grinch Me at Christmas time.

Image stolen with love from Screen Rant.

I'm a total Grinch when it comes to Christmas, and I can oft be heard repeating my favorite Christmastime mantra, "I don't want any gifts, don't give me anything." You would think this would be an easy request. After all, what's easier than doing nothing? But alas, giving gifts is how some people show their affection, so I've really had to put my foot down in recent years. I've come up with a whole list*** of bulletproof reasons why you shouldn't get me a gift:

  • I can't bring it on the plane - This is my go-to excuse. It's short, it's practical, and it doesn't require a discussion about trucks or my own personal beliefs around conspicuous consumption. Are you really going to give me a five-foot-tall stuffed animal knowing full well I'm going to have to shove it into the non-existent space under my Basic Economy seat on my overbooked flight back to San Francisco?
  • I don't have room for it - I have roughly 128 ft2 of living space. Shockingly, most of it is open and unused, but that's because I'm a curmudgeon-y stickler about things like this. As an added bonus, mentioning the square footage of my abode doesn't necessitate mentioning the truck; people can be left to speculate about whatever squalid and cramped Bay Area housing conditions I must live in to have turned down their well intentioned Game of Thrones chess board.
  • I literally don't have electricity - This is my go-to excuse for smaller gifts, where I can't hide behind my travel or living space constraints. If it has batteries or requires an outlet, it's a logistically difficult gift for me to work with. Sure, I could charge it or use it at work, but I'm not going to plug an Instant Pot in at my work desk, Aunt Karen.

All the above excuses work well because they also don't shift the blame to the gift-giver, who, after all, is just trying to do a nice thing and spread some holiday cheer. These excuses are simply explanations for my own personal failings. But if someone still insists on getting me a gift after the above explanations ("oh it'll just be something small", "trust me, you'll love it", etc, etc), I bring out the big guns:

I don't need anything.

I usually accompany this claim with some variant of the following rant.

The Rant

I've got a pretty neatly-defined process for introducing new things into my life. It works well for me: I've figured out the bare minimum I need to get by (with appropriately comfort-zone-expanding levels of discomfort), plus the set of creature comforts I want (usually in pursuit of my few varied hobbies). It is having that exact combination of things that makes me very, very happy.

Short of funds to build a house and start my early retirement now, I have everything I want or need. If I truly need something, I buy it, plain and simple. I don't write a list or wait for a holiday, I just go and get it. And if I don't need it, I very likely don't want it. Following this to its (il)logical conclusion: come Christmas, I've internalized a steadfast belief that any physical gift will only make my life worse, by taking up space or going to waste or getting in the way or something grumble grumble. Like I said, very Grinch-like.

It's a pretty dramatic departure from childhood Brandon and his foaming at the mouth over the mere suggestion of a new iPod, but my ideas around happiness have changed in the intervening decade or two. Plus, I'm rich now, at least by every possible definition except the most American of them. This excerpt from Doing Good Better sums it up nicely:

If you earn more than $52,000 per year, then, speaking globally, you are the 1 percent. If you earn at least $28,000—that's the typical income for working individuals in the United States—you're in the richest 5 percent of the world's population. Even someone living below the US poverty line, earning just $11,000 per year, is still richer than 85 percent of the people in the world.

If you're reading this blog, a blog chiefly about living cheaply in Silicon Valley, you likely fall into that richest 15% category, if not the 1%. But anyway, that relative richness means that, if I pare down my wants and needs a bit, I can easily have everything I desire to desire, with plenty to spare.

But I'm getting a bit sidetracked, so let's turn the discussion back to gifts and the transfer thereof: what if someone still insists on getting you a gift even after your anti-consumption tirade ruins a perfectly decent Thanksgiving dinner? Or maybe you're on the opposite end: what do you get for the Brandons in your own life without offending their radical sensibilities? I'm glad you asked, here are some ideas, plucked primarily from suggestions I've given my own well-meaning mother:

  • Donation to a charity - This one works well because everyone gets to feel warm and fuzzy. Personally, I'll also offer up a list of suggestions, usually plucked straight from GiveWell.
  • Tickets to an event - Events are great because you don't have to own them for the rest of your life. It's one and done. The recipient might even enjoy it. Personally, I don't even care what the event is—I'm always looking to expand my horizons. You got me tickets to Hungarian throat singing in San Francisco? Hell yeah! I'm about to experience something novel and exciting, and I might even get to drag one of my beleaguered friends along for a unique night out.
  • Passes to some other sort of experience - Give someone a Groupon to cooking or dancing or knife-juggling lessons near them. Or maybe a massage/spa day pass. Or maybe an escape room. Sky's the limit (except in the case of skydiving, which is also an option). Personally, I'll try anything most things at least once (but sometimes exactly once, looking at you Gilroy Garlic Festival).
  • Cash & Gift Cards - The more generic, the better. Let the recipient decide what, if anything, they want or need. Personally, If you hand me some cash, I'm more than happy to donate it myself, or treat myself to a few shares of VTSAX. Worried I'll spend it on drugs? Give me an Amazon gift card and I'll pick up a few eBooks.

A Christmas Kiss Miracle

I'm happy to report that this Christmas, for the first time ever, nobody got me any things. It's been a long road to get here, full of ill-fitting clothes and awkward gift rejections, but we made it. This year, I got a donation in my name, some cash, a few scratch tickets, a handful of protein bars (which I ate well before I left), and I was treated to a play. I know it took a Herculean feat of restraint for certain members of my family (looking at you Mom), so I took pains to express just how much it meant to me. With gifts not taking center-stage, it was that much easier to enjoy some quality time with those I hold most dear.

Happy (belated) Holidays!

*Let the record show that my mother gave up on trying to find the Menorah this year after approximately 30 seconds of searching for it.

**There was no Hanukkah Harry in our household, and I had my suspicions about who Santa actually was, but I can't recall when he stopped being the mastermind behind my yearly One Big Christmas Gift™.

***Just to be clear, any and all gifts and relatives mentioned in this list are purely hypothetical. I've never been gifted a giant teddy bear, Game of Thrones chess set (though I'm sure it exists), or Instant Pot. I also don't have an Aunt Karen.



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