Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Wrappings

     Just a few afterthoughts, after Christmas. A friend of mine sent me this joke:

     Mom visits her son, who shares an apartment with a female. The son insists that the young woman is just a roommate, nothing more, but Mom senses that something else is going on. They have dinner and as the evening progresses, Mom's suspicions grow. But reading her thoughts, the son tells her, “I know what you're thinking, but I assure you, we share an apartment to save money, that's it."

     A few days later, his roommate mentions that their silver plate has gone missing, ever since his mother came to visit. "You don't suppose she took it, do you?" she asks.
 

 
     "I doubt it," he replies. "But I'll email her, just to be sure." He sits down and writes:  Dear Mom, I'm not saying you ‘did' take the silver plate from my house. I'm not saying you ‘did not' take the silver plate. But the fact remains that it has been missing ever since you were here for dinner. Love, your son.

     He receives an email back: Dear Son, I'm not saying you ‘do' sleep with your roommate, and I'm not saying you ‘do not' sleep with her. But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her OWN bed, she would have found the silver plate by now, under her pillow… Love, Mom


     And then there's this:


     And, finally, I hope you gave at least one book for Christmas, to a friend or family member ... and maybe received one too. Then we can all become a little more expert in our chosen fields ... and have fun too!



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

She's Having an Affair

     I'm pretty sure B is having an affair. What else could it be?

     We get calls in the late hours of the evening, and early in the morning too. She always rushes to the phone, making sure to get there before I do so she can pick it up herself. She speaks in a low voice, usually taking the phone and oh-so-casually ambling over to her computer while she's chatting. She sits down and talks on the phone and types into her computer. What are they sharing?

     All I know is that she talks for hours, in very intense conversations. Every once in a while she gives out an exclamation ... "Oh!" or "Aaah!"

     After she gets off the phone she's usually mumbling something to herself -- sweet endearments for her new paramour? -- and then she appears flushed, red in the face, as if she's experiencing some strong emotion.

     Yesterday, while she was at work, the phone rang. I answered reflexively, not stopping to check caller i.d. on the telephone. It was a man. He asked if B was there. "No," I replied. "She's at work."

     "Oh," he said in a deep voice. I could tell he was disappointed.

     He had a slight accent. Leave it to B to have an affair with some exotic man, a world traveler, someone who hails from parts unknown. A member of European royalty? No, the accent didn't sound right for that. Maybe a rich Arab oil sheik? Or an Indian maharaja?

     "My name is Devon," the man went on. "She asked me to call her this morning." I thought he was being rather brazen about this. Who the hell did he think I was? And I wasn't buying this business about Devon being his real name. With an accent like that?

     "She's not here," I said curtly.

     "I'm sorry I missed her. I can call back later." He was being very polite. Too polite. I didn't like it. But he told me he'd try again tomorrow morning, then he hung up.

     Later, after B got home, I told her she's gotten a call. From Devon.

     "Oh yes, thanks," she said. Her eyes were downcast. She had a look on her face ... of what? Disappointment. Regret?

     "Do you want to tell me what this is about?" I queried.

     "Oh, I really don't want to bother you," she said in a clipped voice. Then she turned abruptly and went upstairs.

     The issue came to a head this morning. The phone rang at 8:15 a.m. I rushed to the kitchen, beating B to the phone. I picked up the handset, this time peering at the caller i.d. I knew the name.

     "Hello, Devon," I challenged. "Are you looking for B?"

     "Yes, sir," he replied. "Is she there? We have to discuss our exchange."

     "An exchange?" I asked. And I wondered:  Is that what they call it where he comes from?

     "Yes," he said. "I finally got authorization to exchange her old machine for a new one."

     I handed over the phone to B. She talked for a minute, nodding approvingly. Finally she smiled. "Yes, that would be good." Then she hung up and turned to me. "Finally," she said. "I get some satisfaction."

     "Satisfaction?"

     "You know the computer I bought last month?"

     I remembered -- because I'd advised her against it. And now I knew why the name on the caller i.d. looked familiar. I'd had one of those computers once. It was a nightmare. I'd told her all about my trials and tribulations trying to get any kind of customer service. I slipped a disk in my neck after cradling the phone all those hours waiting on hold.

     But this was just the computer she'd been looking for -- an all-in-one-unit desktop with a touch screen and wi-fi, so she could put it wherever she wanted in the house. And the salesman at Best Buy had told her he'd help her set it up. She'd bought it sometime in October, but I'd forgotten about it because she never uses it.

     "I told you about five times," B continued, "the wi-fi doesn't work. I've been on the phone with four different people. They could never figure out how to fix it. So eventually I got Devon, and he's giving me a new computer. He says it will be either the same as the one I've got, or else a better one."

      I paused. "Huh," I said. "So where is this guy from?"

     "India. All the service people are from India. But they're pretty good about calling back, either in the morning or at night, when I'm not at work."

     "Yes, you're right," I said. I knew that her secret late-night conversations were not with a paramour named Devon Dell, but with the customer service department of Dell computer. Finally I replied, "Well, I hope they don't give you the same one. I hope they give you a better one!"

        

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Theory of Time

     This is a short post because it's Christmas, and the kids are coming to visit, and I just don't have the time.

     Which got me thinking about the relativity time. I had dinner with some old friends the other night, and we started reminiscing about some old colleagues, some old music, some old events, and nobody could recall exactly when anything happened.

     At which point my friend Bill offered up his Theory of Time:

     If you think something happened five years ago, it actually happened eight years ago. If you think it was ten years ago, it was actually 15 years ago. And if you think something occurred 20 years ago, it really happened 30 years ago.

     And that brings up Tom's Corollary:

     The corollary covers the age of your children. When your son or daughter is two years old, you think they are two years old. When they're five, you think they are five. But by the time they turn ten, the slippage of time begins to kick in:  When they're ten, you think they are eight. Then when they're 15, you think of them as 12. When they turn 20, you think they're 15.

     When they're 25, you think they're still 17. When they're 30, you still think they're 17.

     Maybe it changes when you get grandchildren. I don't know. I don't have grandchildren. But I do have a 30-year-old daughter. And if you ask me, I would swear ... she's 17.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Culture with a Capital C

     One of the benefits of living in the New York area is being able to board a train and go into the city for an invigorating dose of culture. B and I did up culture big yesterday ...

     We ate an early dinner at a vegan restaurant called Candle 79. I am not a vegan, or even a vegetarian (although I rarely eat red meat, preferring chicken, fish and pasta). But we found this place on the Internet; it was convenient to where we were going; and it sounded pretty good.

     B and I had to go early, and while waiting at the door for the place to open we met a couple from Schenectady, NY, down for the day for a doctor's appointment, a meal at their favorite restaurant, and then a stop over at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree, before taking the late train back up to Albany.

     B and I ate upstairs. We started by sharing a Tri-Color Beet Salad that was very tasty. The woman we'd met outside on the sidewalk recommended the Seitan Piccata, and so that's what I ordered. I liked the piccata part; didn't go for the seitan quite so much.

     B ordered Moroccan Spiced Chickpea Cake. She thought it was pretty good. She gave me a bite, and all I tasted was the curry. I don't mind curry; but as a spice I find it's a bit overwhelming. Anyway, the restaurant fulfilled my requirement for what makes a good New York eatery -- the kind of restaurant you don't find anywhere around home.

     The guy we'd met outside claimed he'd lost 40 pounds since turning vegan last August. I cannot vouch for that, but I have no reason to doubt him either. This restaurant made the best out of a vegan menu. And if I ate vegan, I'd probably drop a few pounds as well.

     Before we went to dinner we'd gone to an exhibition at the Frick Museum on 70th St. and Fifth Ave. The draw? An exhibition of Dutch masters on loan from the Mauritshuis Museum in Amsterdam, featuring several paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Vermeer and Frans Hals. The star of the show was the "Girl with a Pearl Earring," Vermeer's luminous painting of the mysterious Dutch girl who inspired the popular Tracy Chevalier novel, a book that was later made into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson.

     While at the Frick, we learned a little bit about the founding of The Netherlands, after 80 years of war between the Protestants and the Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries; we watched a short film covering the life and times of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919); and we also perused the permanent collection which includes plenty of paintings by other masters, as well as a collection of clocks and watches and ornamental sculptures, and a smattering of works by the Impressionists.

     If you're ever in New York, I would heartily recommend a visit to the Frick. It was well worth the trip, even for someone like me, who can only claim to be a tepid museum fan.

     After dinner we walked up to 84th St. and Park Ave., where we entered the halls of our true destination: the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, where B had purchased preferred seating for a Christmas concert called "A Child Is Born."

     The 20-some-strong orchestra featured an organ, a harp, and a first-violinist who's a true star. When they got together with the church choir and the children's choir and launched into Handel's Messiah, you knew that Christmas had arrived.

     Like I said, Culture with a capital C. And so ... peace on Earth, good will to men, and happy holidays to all!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Best of Boomers, at Home

     I remember when my ex-wife and I used to go to Florida to visit her mother for Christmas. This was before we had kids. My wife's twin brother, who was not married at the time, would meet us there. We'd all stay in the mother's apartment for three or four days, make breakfast and dinner together, go to the beach and the mall. It was a chance for my wife and her brother and their mother to reconnect as a family.

     For me, it was a chance to see my wife interact in this environment that was familiar to her, but new to me. And I witnessed a remarkable transformation in her, as she reverted to her role as a kid in that family. She became a different person while we were there -- bickering with her brother, being smothered by her mother, but also enjoying this interlude when she was essentially going back in time.

     This edition of the Best of Boomer Blogs takes on the topic of some of the things we want out of life. It addresses the issue of where we are going to live as we retire, and the mortgage we may take out to finance our dream retirement home. It asks the question of where we're going to live when we get older and more infirm and how we're going to accomplish that. And it explores the phenomenon of how, over time, the relationship with our families changes as our role in the family dynamic evolves.

     So . . . this week on Modern Senior, Amy takes a look at a new trend in aging in place. By some estimates, nearly 90% of all 911 calls are non-emergencies. Many of those calls come from seniors who are isolated and use 911 to get help when they have a minor health problem. These unnecessary calls tie up resources and drive up the cost of health care. But now some communities have started paramedicine programs that help seniors age in place, without burdening emergency services. Click on What is Paramedicine? to learn more.
   
     Laura Lee Carter, the Midlife Crisis Queen, in Do I Have the Courage to Live My Dream? says that living the dream in midlife can be quite challenging, even when you know what you want . . . and for her that involves a move to a smaller town in a different, more rural part of the state.

     In The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, reports on how the Countrywide division of Bank of America was found guilty of defrauding the government by running a mortgage scam in 2007 - 2009 called the "Hustle." Now in Good News for Consumers she writes about two new sets of government rules: one to stop banks from placing bets that could threaten the financial system, the other to make the mortgage business more transparent by, for example, producing forms that are easier to read and making it easier for borrowers to get help.

     Then, with the holiday season in full swing, Karen at The Generation Above Me considers how we adopt particular roles during extended family gatherings. In her post Ossified Roles, Shifting Roles she explains the role she played as a child, and the much different role she represents now that she's an adult.

     And finally, as we think about the roles we've played over the years, how can that not bring up the role that nostalgia plays in our lives as we get older? Well, it can't, at least not according to our latest recruit to the BBB, a man named Martin Rice, who produces a site called Fifty 2 Ninety -- which, I guess, tries to encapsulate the same idea as Sightings Over Sixty -- that these are some of the best years of our lives, and we are here to record them, share them and celebrate them.

     In his post Old Age, Nostalgia and Me Rice offers his evolving take on the subject, bringing us along on a little trip down memory lane, back to the days when he first got married, drove an old Mercedes ... and looked a little bit like a young Sean Connery. Don't you think?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Match for the Ages

      I have one more item that touches just tangentially on the subject of race. But this story is really about a sports match-up.

     I've lived my life in mostly segregated circumstances -- not by design, but because I live in the suburbs. I had a few black acquaintances in college and in the workplace. But these days when I go into town, or to the nearby mall, I rarely see people of color. Even when I travel to New York City, it seems the crowds on the train, in midtown and in the theater district, are primarily white.

     But I myself have come into contact with a more diverse group in the past year, through two completely unrelated activities. One has been volunteering as a tutor at our community college. The other, the one I speak about now, was joining a table tennis club.

     My club is located in the mostly white suburbs where I live; yet the membership is very diverse. It's the one place I go where people of my skin color are in the minority – and many of the people who do share my skin color speak with accents. Yet in this environment, skin color and speech characteristics are irrelevant. What matters is not the color of your skin, but the content of your table tennis game. There's a ladder; and there are teams. The teams are mixed by age, color and gender (although we could use a few more female players); and people play one another based on competence alone.

     Or, pretty much so. There's one fellow, I must admit, who bothers me a little bit. He is black. He's in his 40s, probably about 20 years younger than I am. He is also a decidedly better player than I am – although he's not completely out of my league. He's about eight or ten spots above me on the ladder.

     The problem? He will not play with me. Oh, he doesn't actually say that. He just tries to avoid me. Several times I've seen him around and asked him to play; and he's begged off almost every time. He's tired; he has another match to play; he's getting ready to leave. The few times I've gotten him to play -- he'll practice with me, but never play a game -- he always acts like he's doing me a favor.

     If I were black, and he was white, I might think he was avoiding me because of my race, that he is a racist. (He could be avoiding me because I'm white; there certainly are some black racists -- except I've seen him play with plenty of other guys who aren't black).

     Sometimes I think he might be avoiding me because I'm too old, that he is an ageist. But here's what I really think: He's avoiding me because he's afraid I might beat him, and he'd be embarrassed by losing to an inferior player. By losing to an old white guy.

     Well, last week there was a league competition at the club, and the way things worked out, he and I were matched up. So he had to play me.

     He's a quiet guy; doesn't say much. And so he just gave me a nod and a rolling chuckle, and we started to warm up. He was hitting them past me quite a bit, as both he and I expected, and I figured he was going to school me. I thought there's no point in delaying the inevitable, so when he asked, "Are you ready?" I nodded, and we started playing.

     A ping pong match is the best of five games; each game goes to 11 points; but you have to win by two.

     He won the first game pretty easily. But in the second game I somehow jumped out to a 4-0 lead. It happened fast; I don't even recall how I got those points. Then he won a couple of points, before I got a lucky shot, and he went on to make a couple of mistakes. And so the second game went to me.

     He laughed; I laughed; in acknowledgment that sometimes the inferior player wins a game. But that doesn't change the dynamics of the match. He and I both still fully expected him to win.

     However, by this time there were a couple of fellow players who had caught what was going on, and they stopped to watch our match.

     The third game started, and he served up a couple of weirdly spinning shots that I couldn't handle. Then I tried to hit a winner and missed. I made a few points, but he won he game handily.

     He was ready to finish off the match, I could tell. He took the lead in the next game; but then he tried to show off by hitting a couple of spectacular winners – which missed the table. Then I had a couple of lucky shots. Suddenly it was 10-10. I won the next point. My advantage. Then I missed hitting a winner. Back to deuce. Then he missed a serve. My ad again. And he made a mistake on the next point. I won the game, and suddenly the match was tied at 2 games to 2.

     The players watching from the side of the court were now very interested. Was an upset in the making? One game left would decide the match.

     Again my opponent took the lead, 2-0. Then it was 3-1. Then 5-3. I made a couple of good shots and evened up the game at 7-7. He took the next point. I took the one after that.

     Then the last few points went true to form. And he finally beat me 11-9.

     He was very gracious. He smiled, and we shook hands, and I made a joke about how I at least made him break a sweat. But I know one thing – he's not going to want to play this old guy again anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Here We Are: Pre-Postracial

     I don't believe that I accomplished what I wanted with my last post. My intention was not particularly to point a finger at my friend, but to increase awareness in myself and others that despite whatever progress we've made in our lifetimes, many of us still have racial stereotypes -- partly because we're still largely a segregated society, and many of us deal with it by simply ignoring the issue. When we are segregated, we can lead our lives in the comfort of believing we're not racist, even as we have nothing to do with other races.

     At the same time, it's easy to attribute everything to racism, and then be done with it, as though that explains everything, when it doesn't.

     For example, I surely believe that racism plays a part in some people's criticism of President Obama. But as Douglas and Dianne suggest, you can't then generalize that the criticism and disrespect and vitriol shown to our president is based on race. After all, there were just as many liberals who disrespected George W. Bush as there are conservatives who disrespect Barack Obama. And there were plenty of Clinton haters, Reagan haters, etc. -- and none of that was ever based on race. So as Truman (who had plenty of his own critics) once said, If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

     Also, there's a question of semantics. A racist is someone who takes the behavior or characteristics of a few people -- usually negative ones -- and then generalizes those qualities to an entire race. My friend would be a racist if he concluded that because a few black workers were underperforming complainers, then all blacks must be underperforming complainers. He wasn't actually doing that.

     It's more likely that he is prejudiced – meaning he had a preconception of what these employees would be like based on the color of their skin, and that preconception influenced his opinion of them. But here to me is a more difficult question: What if his description of those women is reasonably accurate? He wasn't on a rant by any means, just telling about a few particular workers in his office. What if they really were lousy secretaries? That is possible. Then you're just proving his point – that as a white male he can't criticize a black woman, no matter what.

     I'm not defending this guy. He's a lawyer, and lawyers often believe the worst in people. But what I'm trying to point out is exactly what a couple of people have said -- that racism, or prejudice, exists in our midst, even among the "nicest" people, and it often is so deeply embedded in our psyches that, as DJan pointed out, we don't even realize it.

     I certainly agree we still have racism in our society. I see it in the lily white suburbs many of us live in, and the lily white schools we send our children to. I saw it the other day, not at any sort of "southern pride" parade, but when I went to an "artsy" theater production in New York – the audience full of "artsy" white people, but not one single person of color. And I saw it the other day on TV – the players on the college football field were largely black, the fans in the stands were almost exclusively white.

     I think a lot of people are scared to talk about race. I confess I hesitated before posting my last item (and this one too), for fear that people would come down on me like a ton of bricks ... or come down on my friend like a ton of bricks. It is certainly safer and more comfortable to just ignore the issue. It's also easy to be an armchair anti-racist – to decry racism in others when in your own day-to-day life you rarely even see a person of another color.

     Like Barb, I think that those of us who are older have certain attitudes that are deeply ingrained. For the most part we Boomers are more tolerant, more accepting, more open to people of other colors and ethnicities than our parents were, much less our grandparents before them. I remember my grandmother, an ethnic Czech who'd immigrated from Austria, didn't think much of blacks, but the people she really hated were Poles. I don't know why, but she thought they were the worst, and you could not tell her any different.

     Anyway, the point is, we are not color blind. But I don't think my friend is a whole lot different from the rest of us; rather, I think he serves as an example of what a lot of well-meaning whites are like.

     I'm just saying, we still have a long way to go. And the proof of that? We can see it every day because we live in a largely segregated society. Go to many of our American cities -- sure, there are a few mixed neighborhoods, but by and large there are white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods, and never the twain do meet. Or, to make it more personal:  If you are white, when was the last time you had a black person over to your house for dinner? Or if you're black, when was the last time a white person was breaking bread with you in your home?

     Here's another uncomfortable question:  Is racism tied up inexorably with class and income? Most people don't think twice when they walk into a medical office, for example, and see professionals of all different colors. But those same people might not feel safe walking through North Philadelphia after dark.

     Anyway, I do see more progress ahead. I think perhaps the next step toward racial equality will be taken by our children. One of my daughter's best friends in high school was a girl from India. One of her best friends in college was half black, half Asian. One of my son's best friends was born in Korea; he was adopted and raised by an Italian-American Catholic family and he just married a black woman who is Muslim.

     We Baby Boomers inaugurated the first black president. Maybe the next generation will inaugurate a truly post-racial America.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two problems

     I had breakfast with a few of my buddies the other day, and after listening to them discuss a number of issues -- from old TV shows to local restaurants to Florida vacation condos -- I came away with questions about two particular issues.

     The first one is race. One of my friends is a lawyer for a public employee union (one of the few of us who's still working). He's white, middle class, lives in the suburbs. He professes to be liberal. He belongs to a Unitarian church, volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, voted for Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012.

     Somehow we got talking about cellphones, and that led to discussing Blackberrys, and because they have keyboards, that in turn led us to reflect on whether any of us had taken typing in school. (I myself took typing in summer school, after 11th grade.) The lawyer said he signed up for typing, went to one class, and dropped out.

     Then the lawyer started talking about the secretaries he once had in his office and how well they typed. He was particularly impressed with one woman who he said could type 80 words per minute. "That's really fast," he pointed out. "She didn't make any mistakes either. She was a great secretary." But she left work at some point -- he didn't explain why -- and suddenly he was talking about how they then had several black women who were secretaries for the firm, in the 1990s.

     "They could type, maybe 35 words per minute," he scoffed.

     "Actually, that's not too bad," one of the guys offered, "if they're accurate. I used to earn money typing papers for kids in college, and that's about what I did."

     The lawyer acknowledged that, but according to him these secretaries were just not as good. "And all they did was complain," he went on to say, not in a rant, but just telling his anecdote. "But of course, we couldn't do anything about it, because they were black women, and we were white men."

     And so here's the question: How do we ever get over the race issue as long as guys like this -- older white guys who profess to be liberal, who vote Democratic -- report this kind of personal experience about people they work with?

     And I wonder how much he reported to us was accurate. Did those secretaries really type only 35 wpm -- less than half the speed on their white counterpart? Did the black secretaries really complain, like he said they did? And was he being forthright when he said they couldn't do anything because the lawyers were white, and the secretaries were black?

     Was this fellow offering a moment of honesty about what we sometimes think of as affirmative action? Or was he being a racist? I know what my black friend at our community college would say: Racist all the way! Yet, all of the older white guys at the table, all of whom think of themselves as enlightened and non-racist, seemed to take the story as matter of fact.

     Then there's the other issue. Fast forward to 2013. The lawyer said his firm doesn't have secretaries anymore. Nobody does. They have paralegals. Everyone does their own typing, not onto a typewriter but into a computer.

     The firm replaced (I'm estimating now) roughly eight secretaries, making a decent wage, with five paralegals, who are more highly skilled, and more highly paid. But because there are only five of them instead of eight of them, they actually cost the firm less money.

     Doesn't this kind of explain, in a microcosm, the unemployment problem we have today? The lawyers are doing just fine. The firm is doing well. The more highly skilled workers are making money. But the lower skilled personnel, the old secretaries . . . those jobs have been eliminated.

     See the problem?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How They Try to Scare Retirees

      I'm not saying that those of us who are retired, or near retirement, shouldn't be financially prudent, live sensible lives, and exercise and eat our vegetables. But sometimes we have to stand back, get some perspective, and ignore all the anxious advice we get about retirement, often from people trying to push a political agenda or sell us a financial product.

     Here are some of the ways, it seems to me, that people in the media (and some bloggers too) try to scare retirees.

     They shout fire in a crowded theater about Social Security. It's a big Ponzi scheme! It's running out of money! Baby Boomers will topple the system!

     Well, the facts are that Social Security has the resources to pay full benefits until the year 2033. That gives politicians 20 years to make adjustments. Some relatively simple changes, such as extending the retirement age or lifting the cap on the payroll tax, could easily solve the problem. And even in the event that nothing changes, Social Security will still be able to pay 75% of its obligations. Now, nobody wants to take a 25% pay cut. But it's not the same as going broke.

     Also, consider that when our parents took their first Social Security check, circa 1980, the average monthly benefit for a retired worker was $321. Accounting for inflation, that $321 would be worth about $900 in today's dollars. But the Social Security Administration says the average benefit for today's retired worker is $1,272. That's a lot better than what our parents got. Even if we had to take a 25% pay cutnot something I'm recommendingwe'd be better off than our parents.

     Also, everyone shakes a finger at the hapless American middle class, telling us we're not saving enough to retire. Fidelity Investments just released a study headlined: "More than half of Americans are at risk of not covering essential expenses in retirement." A report from the National Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says 50% of households will not be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

     The Employee Benefit Research Institute, a Washington-based think tank, puts a finer point on it, saying just 56% of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are saving enough for retirement.

     But let's stop for a moment and look at that figure. It means 44% are not saving enough. But does that mean 44% of Americans are destined for a life of poverty in their old age? No. Many of the 44-percenters have built up some nest eggmaybe not enough for a comfortable retirement, but enough (along with Social Security) to keep them out of poverty and stave off starvation, especially if they're willing to move to an area with a lower cost of living, or share some expenses with family or friends. Furthermore, it's younger Gen Xers who are more likely to be behind on their savings. And those Gen Xerspeople in the 40shave time to catch up.

     A current report from a group of three financial associations says average pre-retirees, age 60 - 64, have $360,000 in their retirement accounts -- which doesn't include assets people have outside their retirement accounts. Now, I'm not saying there aren't some people in need, for clearly there are. But most of us are doing okay, and even if we're not, we should just start being more assiduous about our finances -- we shouldn't have a heart attack about it.

     And speaking of heart problems, as if we're not already scared enough, everyone tells us that our medical bills will bankrupt us in retirement. Fidelity published a report saying the average 65-year-old couple will spend about $230,000 on health care. But remember ... that's an average, including all the plastic surgery and Botox injections for the 1-percenters.

     It's true that Medicare does not pay for all our medical expenses. That's why it's important to purchase a supplemental insurance planat a fraction of the cost of regular health insurance. It's also true that if we become incapacitated and are forced into a nursing home, the expense can be astronomical. That's why we all should consider long-term care insurance, especially if we have assets to protect.

     Then we hear from some Cassandras that there's a war on seniors. Ben Bernanke has allegedly declared war on seniors by keeping interest rates low. President Obama has supposedly declared war on seniors by raiding Medicare to pay for his health plan. And the Republicans want to balance the federal budget on the backs of the elderlyprivatizing Medicare and getting rid of Social Security entirely.

     But remember 2005? A re-elected President Bush went on a tear with his idea to replace a part of Social Security with individual retirement accounts. He got nowhere fast. Of course, seniors should be watchful of politicians trying to target retirees for major cuts in benefits. But the idea that there is an organized war on seniors is the product of politics and paranoia.

     Finally, everyone tells us: Don't kid yourself, you will not spend less in retirement. You need 80% of your pre-retirement income, or even 100% of your pre-retirment income, to live a comfortable life. Well, from my experience, I can confirm that's true . . . if you have a Bucket List that includes extensive European vacations and shopping excursions to Rodeo Drive. But most of us will have lower expenses, and we also have a lot of control over our expenses.

     Remember, as retirees with lower earned income, and some investment income, we pay lower taxes. We also pay no Social Security tax. Our housing costs should go downmaybe the mortgage is paid off, and the local government likely offers a senior discount on real-estate taxes. And then we can exercise some control -- we can downsize to live in a smaller, less expensive place with lower real-estate taxes and lower utility bills. We don't have to support our kids. And we no longer have to set aside 5% to 10% of our income to save for retirement!

     Again, I'm not saying we should ignore reality. We should plan out our retirement and live within our means. But after that . . . hey, don't worry, be happy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Remember Him?

     He was born in Texas in the middle of the Depression. His father was an unemployed oil well driller and car mechanic. His mother was an unemployed nurse. Later on, he described his hometown as, "Football, oil fields, oil, grease and sand."

     It's hard to believe that he died 25 years ago, on Dec. 6, 1988, at the age of 52. You know what else is hard to believe? He actually was a natural blonde -- and if you look at the real old pictures, you can tell. But he suffered from poor eyesight from an early age and wore thick glasses, and as a result he was self-conscious about his appearance. So in an attempt to look strong and cool and more mature, he dyed his hair jet black.

     Nevertheless, as a boy he was shy and self-effacing, and despite his hardtack roots, he was brought up to be polite and obliging. For his sixth birthday he asked for a harmonica. Instead, his father gave him a guitar. The young boy learned how to play from his dad and his uncles, and he stayed up at night to sing and play with them. He later recalled that by age seven, "I was finished, you know, for anything else."

     Living in Texas, he heard a lot of country music. He went to high school in Wink, Texas, and formed a band with some friends called The Wink Westerners. They played country songs and Glenn Miller covers, and appeared on a local radio station. They got paid for playing at dances and other functions, and he began to think he could make a living playing music.

     Nevertheless, he enrolled in North Texas State College where he planned to study geology -- so he could get work in the oil fields if the music career didn't work out. His band reformulated themselves as The Teen Kings, and he played and sang with them nights and weekends, while working in the oil fields and studying during the day.

     And then one of his fellow schoolmates at North Texas State, a young man by the name of Pat Boone, secured a record contract. This hardened his determination to make his mark in music. He later met Johnny Cash at a radio station, who told him he recorded at Sun Records and suggested the younger singer contact Sam Phillips, head of the studio. Phillips at first brushed him off, but he eventually listened to a recording of a song called Ooby Dooby, and in 1956 Phillips signed The Teen Kings to a contract.

     The band traveled to Memphis where Sun re-recorded Ooby Dooby, which became a modest hit in 1957. The band went on tour with Johnny Cash, then, back in Memphis, wrote and recorded more music. They met with little success, however, and ultimately the band broke up.

     Nevertheless, the singer ended up staying in Sam Phillips's home for a while, doing some writing and recording, and spending some time hanging out with Elvis Presley. But he became frustrated, and went back to Texas to marry his girlfriend and play in various venues around the Lone Star State.

     Eventually he caught the ear of a producer at Monument Records and moved to Nashville where he helped popularize the Nashville Sound, a more polished country sound using string instruments instead of fiddles. His breakthrough record came in 1960, a song written by him and songwriter friend Joe Melman. They pitched the tune to Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers, and when they turned it down the singer/songwriter, Roy Orbison, recorded the number himself. Only the Lonely shot to number 2 on the Billboard list, and number 1 in the U.K.

     Roy Orbison, who was sometimes known as The Big O (at a time before the Big O became shorthand for something else), became an instant celebrity, appearing on American Bandstand and touring with Patsy Cline. Johnny Cash and others. Since he didn't feel he had the natural good looks of Elvis -- much less his old college mate Pat Boone -- he developed his dark and brooding persona, dressed in black and hiding behind his prescription sunglasses.

     The Big O reached the climax of his career in the early 1960s, with Running Scared, Crying, Dream Baby, Oh Pretty Woman, and a Christmas song, written by Willie Nelson, that came out at end of 1963 called Pretty Paper.

     In 1963, Orbison toured in the U.K. with The Beatles. But ironically, his career stalled when the British sound invaded America. At the same time, he suffered some personal tragedies. He found out his wife was having an affair, and he divorced her in 1964. Then while touring England again in 1965 he fell off a motorcycle and broke his foot. His ex-wife came to help him out. They reconciled and ended up remarrying. A year later, they were riding motorcycles in Tennessee. She was hit by a truck and died instantly. Then in 1968 his Tennessee home burned down, with two of his three sons inside. The two sons were killed in the fire.

     Orbison remarried in 1969 and had two more sons. He continued to record into the 1970s, but his albums sold poorly. His health deteriorated as well. In 1978 he underwent triple heart bypass surgery. By then he was largely forgotten by the mass audience in America, though he still had a following in Europe, and also among his fellow rock musicians.

     Don McClean recorded a version of Crying, as did k. d. lang. Linda Ronstadt had a hit with her take on his song Blue Bayou. And Van Halen produced a rock version of Oh Pretty Woman. Bruce Springsteen was also a fan, and he was the one who in 1987 inducted Roy Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

     Orbison paired up with Springsteen and others to film a concert at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Los Angeles, released on video and later on DVD as Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night. Soon after, he collaborated with George Harrison, Tom Petty and others to produce his album Traveling Wilburys, which won several awards.

     Unfortunately, just as he was making a comeback, Roy Orbison's life was cut short. He was in Tennessee, scheduled to fly out to do a tour in Europe, when he suffered a heart attack and died.

     Though Orbison was acknowledged as a pioneer of rock and roll, and was especially influential among his fellow musicians, he defied the histrionics of the typical rock and roll band. He went his own way, followed his own muse. As Bruce Springsteen said, "No one sings like Roy Orbison."