Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Part II: What If You Don't Like Your Daughter's Boyfriend?

     A little while ago I asked What If You Don't Like Your Son's Fiancee? A woman who's a friend of mine was planning to visit her son, who lives several hundred miles away. She'd made plans to go for a long weekend and was looking forward to the visit. But then the son's fiancee chimed in that they were too busy -- they're both working; they're getting ready to move; and the fiancee is taking some classes at night -- and suggested that maybe the mother shouldn't make the visit.

     The preponderance of advice I got here was that the mother shouldn't go, that she'd be interfering in the young couple's lives and should leave her son and his fiancee alone. Or if the mother did go, some suggested, she should not stay with the couple, but book into a hotel and not expect to spend too much time with her son and his bride.

     I found out the other day that my friend did go visit her son. She flew down, rented her own car and stayed in motel (as opposed to staying in the couple's apartment.) The visit was a success, at least according to the mother.

     My friend was there for three days, and she got to see her son for the first time since before Christmas. The son had one day off from work; and then they spent time together in the evenings. The mother had to kill several hours hanging out at her hotel, and shopping at a mall, but she was basically okay with that. She even spent a little quality time with the fiancee, and now feels a little better about that relationship.

     The lesson to be learned? I don't know if there is one. But from the perspective of the older generation, I'd say to mothers: don't let your children's spouses, or girlfriends or boyfriends, push you around -- you have a right to maintain a relationship with with your child!

     But that was only Part I of the series. Part II asks: What if you don't like your daughter's boyfriend?

     In this case, another friend of mine has a daughter in her late 20s. The young woman met her boyfriend in dental school in New York. He was a year ahead of her. He graduated and went home to Ohio to work with his father. He's a small-town boy; his family is well-established in the town; and he wants to take over his father's practice.

     The problem? My friend's daughter is from New York. She went to school in New York, and is currently doing a dental internship in Boston. She's used to East coast sophistication. She knows nothing about Ohio, has never been to Ohio; has no desire to live in Ohio. And yet at the end of her internship, in June, the daughter is planning to move to Ohio to be with her boyfriend.

     The young woman has been sending her resume to a number of dental clinics in Ohio, and so far she's only found one job opening -- in a high-volume clinic where she would work odd hours and only part time. There just aren't many opportunities around her boyfriend's hometown, especially for young women.

     In other words, at least according to my friend, his daughter would be compromising her career -- or, in his mind, giving up her career -- to follow her boyfriend. My friend thinks his daughter is nuts. He had one conversation with her, questioning the wisdom of moving to Ohio. But she wants to go; and he didn't want to push the issue for fear of damaging his relationship with his daughter.

     My friend said that he has met the boyfriend and he acknowledges that the young man is polite and personable. But my friend thinks the boyfriend is being selfish by not offering to be more flexible about his own future plans in order to accommodate his daughter. Basically (my friend feels) the young man is giving an ultimatum to his daughter:  I'm staying in my hometown. If you want to be with me, you follow me here, even though there's nothing much for you to do.

     And my friend wonders: Is this true love?

     His daughter will be home for a week after she graduates from dental school in mid-May. He wants to sit her down and have a talk . . . about her future, her career, her feelings for this young man.

       So what do you say: Is my friend being unrealistic? Should he try to encourage his daughter to follow her dreams for a career, rather than follow her boyfriend to Ohio? Should he remind her of all the sacrifices women have made so she could have an opportunity to be a dentist, of all the hard work she did to graduate from dental school, of all the expense of her education that she might be throwing away? Or . . . should he butt out, and let the daughter make up her own mind?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Triple Threat


     Reading some other blogs lately has got me wondering how much we should talk about the personal stuff in our lives, at the risk of going on and on about things that are important to us but not at all interesting to anyone else, like the boring guy at the party who buttonholes you in the corner and won't let you get away.

     So I don't want to bore everyone by telling you how I've cleaned out my basement recently, partly because I haven't cleaned out my basement recently, or by showing you what a wonderful place my garden is, partly because my garden is choked with weeds and ravaged by the raccoons, deer, rabbits and groundhogs that really own this place. (But I do, strangely, get vicarious pleasure out of seeing photos of other people's lush, beautiful gardens, because the only green I get over here is green with envy.)

     But . . . I do want to boast (in all modesty) that:  I am a triple threat.

     A triple threat, as defined by Merriam Webster, is:  "1) a football player adept at running, kicking, and passing; or 2) a person adept in three different fields of activity."

     I do not play football. I tried a bit when I was around 14; and it didn't work out. But I am adept in three different fields of activity:

     1) I play golf. I learned as a kid. I didn't play much for 20 or 30 years while I was working and had kids to raise; but now as a retiree I've taken up the sport again. It's a great way to spend some time outdoors . . . while someone else mows the grass, trims the bushes and cuts down the dead trees.

     As I told DJan, the intrepid hiker from the Northwest, yesterday in response to her post To the Boardwalk and Pine Lake: "I also took a walk today. Across a beautiful green carpet above the Hudson River on a sunny day in the high 50s, chasing a little white ball through the budding trees. Yes, you guessed it: golf!"

     2) I play table tennis. Again, it was an activity I took up during my misspent youth. From about age 10 to 13, I played every day after school in my friend's basement, bashing a ball back and forth behind his dad's workbench, among the pipes and power equipment stored there. Later, as an adult, I always wanted a Ping Pong table in my basement, and finally, when I moved in with B in 2007, we got one.

     I played with our kids until they moved out. Then I joined a table tennis club owned and run by -- this might surprise you -- a fellow named Will Shortz, who is also the crossword puzzle editor for the New York Times. (By the way, in addition to being a crossword impresario, Shortz is also an excellent table tennis player, and an all around nice guy.) A bit of trivia: Do not call it Ping Pong. It's called table tennis. You do not use a paddle. It's called a bat. And the person who plays -- he's called a ponger.

     3) I dance. I remember, when I first met B, I warned her that I like to play golf on weekends and so I probably wouldn't be hanging around with her on Sundays. "Oh, that's okay," she replied with a visible sigh of relief. "I have plenty of things to do for myself on Sundays."

     But she did insist that we do something together, and that something is ballroom dancing. As I told Bob Lowry, in response to his post I Am About to Turn 65: Am I Age Appropriate? "When I was a kid, my mother forced me to go to dancing school. I hated it. I was self-conscious, shy around girls, awkward and sweaty. Then, in my 60s, my wife forced me to take up dancing lessons. And now I love it! Why? Because it's age-appropriate -- while I'm still plenty awkward, I am no longer self-conscious and therefore not too sweaty or shy. Also, it's good exercise; makes for a fun evening; and you meet some great people. The only thing . . . dancing can sometimes be hard on aging knees."

     So there you have it. I'm a triple threat. Just don't ask me to tend your garden, because for whatever inexplicable reason, when I start digging around in the dirt the flowers wither and the weeds take over.
    

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Love Maps

     I have a GPS in my car. I use it occasionally. Once or twice it has saved me when I was completely lost. But it has also given me bad advice, like the time I was somewhere in New Jersey, and the GPS insisted I was in The Bronx; and the time I was driving through Pennsylvania, and the GPS insisted I was in New Jersey.

     But I love maps (as you can see from the background graphic on my blog). I know, right away that marks me as an old fogey. Most Millennials wouldn't be caught dead with a paper map in their hands. They rely solely and completely on the GPS.

     But what a GPS doesn't give you is context. And the problem with Millennials is that they don't know where they're going ... or what they're doing.

     I remember when I began to teach my daughter how to drive. She was 16 years old, and we had lived in the same house for her entire life. I had her drive around our neighborhood a few times; then I decided she was ready to venture into town, less than two miles away. So my daughter navigated the car out to the intersection with the main road, and then she stopped at the stop sign. We sat there in the car for a minute.

     "It's okay," I told her. "You can go now."

     She looked to the right, and looked to the left. I thought she was checking for traffic. But there was no traffic.

     "You can go now," I said again.

     Then she looked at me. "Which way do I turn?"

     "Right!" I said. "Turn right!"

     She made the turn, and we got to town, at which point I asked her: "Really, you didn't know which way to turn? You've been living here for 16 years, and you don't know how to get to town?"

     "Well," she said defensively. "Why should I? Someone else has always been driving. I've never had to pay attention."

     A couple of years later, as a senior in high school, she got her senior license which meant she could drive after dark, so she could start driving herself to the aquatic center where her team practiced. Now, I admit, this was a more challenging voyage than getting to town. The pool was about 15 miles away and involved making as many as a dozen turns.

     But again, she had no idea how to drive there, even though by that time she'd been there probably 200 times. I gave her detailed, explicit directions, and she did make the trip successfully. Afterward, I asked her how she visualized driving to the swimming pool. "Do you kind of see a map in your mind, and follow the map?" I said. "Or do you think in terms of written directions -- turn right here, then left there?"

     And she said, "I don't see a map. I memorize the directions."

     Later I asked one of her friends on the team. The friend saw what I see -- a map in her head. She could picture where she was going, and so she never got lost.

      So, I hope you understand why it's better to have a map -- a hard copy in front of you, and a visual copy in your head. Then you know where you are. You can see the context. You can picture where you're going. And if you do get lost, you know where you are in relation to the rest of the world, and you can find your way back on track.

     But these kids, with their GPS, they just don't have to know anything. All they need is an address; they enter the street number; and the GPS takes them there. But in the meantime, they have no idea where they are, and no idea where they're going.

     It all started with cellphones ... which is a kind of GPS for time instead of distance. Why do you need to make plans when you have a cellphone? You want to meet someone? You just go wherever you're going, whenever you want, and if you decide to meet someone you just give them a call. Or a text. Oh, don't get me started on texting!

     Now, I know a lot of you use a GPS. And of course we all use cellphones and many of us text (I text because it's the only way I can communicate with my children). But come on, help me out here. Someone has to keep up standards!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Boomer Problems and Politics


     This round of the Best of Boomer Blogs ranges from the personal to the professorial.

     Karen Austin of The Generation Above Me points out that as we age our bones become weaker, but we can work to strengthen them through diet, exercise and supplements. Karen herself has Osteopenia, so she has been learning about Calcium Carbonate, found in many anti-acids (as well as the White Cliffs of Dover). She also notes how absorption of calcium can be a problem, but that taking too much calcium has its risks, too.

The White Cliffs of Calcium Carbonate. Photo by: HBarrison
     Meanwhile, if you're dreaming of that retirement home, and thinking of selling your house, you must make a move over to The Midlife Crisis Queen. Her life is turning upside down lately . . . literally, as she relates to us in The Process of Selling Your Home These Days . . . (or why I threw myself down the stairs this week!)

    But what I'd like to know is: How come, when you're selling your house, the real-estate agent comes in and makes you dispose of half your furniture, and all of your personal items, and then recommends spending untold amounts of hard-earned cash on various improvements that you just know the new owners are going to rip out even before they move in. But when you're going to look at houses to buy, the paint is peeling off the side of the house, a dog is barking at you from the garage, the bathroom sink is stopped up, and the kitchen looks like it was last renovated in 1963 . . . by someone with extemely bad taste?

     Oops, do I sound like a curmudgeon? Maybe it's because I'm getting older and more conservative. Or, at least that's what Rita  R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes in her post Baby Boomers Becoming More Conservative as They Age. On the other hand, Millennials age 18 to 33 are more liberal. Although half of Millennials identify as political independents, in recent elections they have voted heavily Democratic and they favor liberal views on many political and social issues, such as support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization

     Do you even agree with the premise that boomers are getting more conservative? I'm not sure I do. If supporting more money for Social Security beneficiaries is considered a liberal cause, then Baby Boomers are becoming more liberal, not more conservative. But I'm pretty sure that's not the whole story.

     Anyway, I'm not not even sure what we think of as liberal and conservative applies to our current situation. For example, unions are usually considered liberal; but more often than not they are arguing forcefully to keep the status quo . . . which is more like a conservative thing to do, isn't it? Meanwhile, conservatives are opposed to many measures designed to protect the environment . . . and yet, look at the word "conservation." It's got the word conservative right in it! So go figure.

     Anyway, check out Rita's post which refers to a poll by the Pew Research Center, which gives all sorts of insights to how people believe and behave. Just don't blame me if you don't believe what the pollsters say you're supposed believe. 


Friday, April 18, 2014

A Case of Mistaken Identity

     My son has decided to get back to playing tennis this summer. He played in high school, and for a while in college, but then cut way back on tennis to focus on finishing his degree, getting a job, and starting his career.

     I had dinner with him last night, and he told me he'd bought a season pass for his local public tennis courts. He has one friend he can play with, but my son works late hours, and his friend works early hours, so they can only meet on weekends. He was looking for more partners, so he turned to Craig's List. He found a couple of players, and arranged to meet one of them at a nearby tennis court. They were scheduled to play yesterday at 9 a.m.

     So yesterday, at 8:15 a.m., he gets a text from his new friend:  Confirming 9 a.m. Got any tennis balls?

     My son looked around his apartment, in his closet, through his tennis bag. No balls. So he texts back: Nope. Do you?

     The other fellow said no, so my son volunteered to buy some tennis balls on his way over to the park. The problem: the only sports store anywhere near his apartment doesn't open until 9 a.m.

     He stopped at a drug store, thinking they might carry tennis balls. He didn't see any, so he asked the clerk. Apparently they do carry tennis balls, but it's a seasonal item. They only have them from May through September.

     He tried a local supermarket. No luck. He tried a convenience store. No way.

     Then he saw a dollar store. Well, maybe . . . he thought.

     He went in the dollar store. Walked up and down a couple of aisles. And then, on the end of one shelf, he saw them -- a package of bright yellow tennis balls!

     Only, the package had two balls. That's funny, he thought. They usually come in a can of three. He went over and hefted the package. Sure . . . they were tennis balls. He picked one out, just to test it. He dropped it on the floor. But instead of bouncing, it went thud.

     What?!?

     He eyed the package again. They were not tennis balls. They were the balls that look like tennis balls . . . the ones that older people snap onto the bottom of their walkers!

       P.S. He finally got tennis balls at the sports store, and arrived at the court 20 minutes late. His new partner had waited for him, and they got to play. And my son is planning a match over the weekend with his usual partner.
    

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Are You Losing Your . . .

     I just found out I passed my test for long-term care insurance, the one that includes the memory test to make sure I'm not on the verge of falling into the miasmic haze of Alzheimer's. That's a relief!

     (They also made sure that I wasn't HIV positive; and they gave me a drug test, too. These guys don't take anything for granted.)

     But I must admit, as I relayed on Are You Getting Alzheimer's? I was a little worried about the memory test. I never had a great memory to start with, and it hasn't gotten any better in recent years. How many times have I misplaced my wallet? How many times do I misremember the name of a store in town? How often have I pushed everything aside, looking for my glasses . . .  only to realize that they were propped up on top of my head?!? How much time have I lost wandering around the house looking for the remote control, or my coffee cup, or the book I'm reading?

     Anyway, I only got six out of ten questions right on the memory test. But apparently, that's enough to pass. So while my memory may not be the best, apparently it's not so bad as to disqualify me for insurance.

     I guess it's a good thing B signed up for her long-term-care insurance a few years ago. I honestly don't know if she'd pass the test today.

     Last week she called me from work. As soon as she'd walked in the door that morning, she told me, she'd gotten involved with some colleagues in an ongoing problem -- even before she'd had a chance to put down her purse and get settled into her desk. Then, at the end of the day, she got ready to go home. She reached into her purse, and her car keys were not there.

     Had she put them down somewhere when she arrived at work in the morning? She couldn't remember. She looked around her desk. She emptied her purse onto her desk and scoured through everything. She looked on the shelves in her room, and out in the lobby; at the copy machine and in the ladies room. She could not find her keys.

     So she'd had to call me to come and pick her up from work. Not a super big problem. She had an extra set of keys. We keep all our extra keys in a bowl by the front door. Only, when she got home, she went to look in the bowl . . . and her car keys were not there!

     We looked everyplace. The kitchen; the basement; the garage. She called her son, just in case he had the extra key. Nope. I drove her to work the next morning, and we both searched her car to see if either key was in the glove compartment or under a seat or in the trunk. No luck.

     Finally, B had her car towed up to the Ford dealer (fortunately, we have AAA so the tow was free), where they replaced her key. That was not at all free. There was the patch key, and the regular key, and an extra charge for the remote opener. I don't know how much she spent to replace her key -- she wouldn't tell me! -- but it was several hundred dollars.

     What could we do? We laughed about the whole ridiculous situation. We joked that her keys would no doubt surface the moment she got home with her new keys. But they didn't. We still haven't found those keys.

     But that's nothing. I play cards with a bunch of buddies once a month. Last Friday we all got together, and one of my friends told me how stupid he sometimes feels . . . sometimes, because this has happened more than once.

     He has an iPhone and a holder for it that attaches to his belt. So he's at work, walking down the hall, or coming out of the building, talking to his wife, or an associate on his iPhone. He looks down and suddenly realizes that his holder is empty. Oh crap, he says to himself. Where's my phone? Did I leave it behind on my desk? A few more swear words, kicking himself for losing his phone. When he suddenly realizes, the phone is in his hand! He's talking on the $#*#$*$ phone!

     Surely, you've never done anything as embarrassing as that, have you? But I still say, it's not because we're getting old. It's because life has become too complicated, and there's just too much stuff to keep track of!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Mustard and Ketchup Fight


      Some people have asked me about the mustard and ketchup fight I mentioned recently in Betting on the Minimum Wage. Here's the story.

     It was the summer of 1966. I was in high school and went looking for a summer job. I honestly don't remember how I found out that our local amusement park was hiring -- maybe I read it in the local paper; or my dad might have made the suggestion; just possibly I figured out for myself that an amusement park might need kids to work there in the summer.

     Anyway, I was hired for the minimum wage at the time of $1.25 an hour. I started working in a food stand in the park, selling fountain drinks, ice-cream bars, cotton candy. I was only working there for a few days when the manager -- did he recognize my innate talent, my executive potential, my high-class upbringing? -- asked me if I wanted to move into the main snack bar. It was considered a more favorable place to work (for one thing, no evening hours), and so I said yes, sir -- although there was no pay raise that went with the new job. I guess, these days, you'd call it a lateral move.

     The main snack bar was a big place out by the picnic tables. It opened early so park employees could stop off and get coffee and a bite to eat before the park opened. A lot of the employees came over to us for lunch as well, since we offered an expanded menu of hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and fries.

     Also, since we were near the picnic tables, groups like a busload of kids from the city or a school class trip, would come over for their main meal.

     I learned a lot that summer. I learned how to make coffee in a big urn -- and it was pretty good coffee, too -- and I learned how to make hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches (the hot dogs were okay, the grilled cheese sandwiches were pretty awful). I learned how to stack inventory, a skill I use to this day in our kitchen at home.

Ready for action!
     I learned a lot about making change. It wasn't long before I didn't even need to count the money. I just knew if the charge was 60 cents, and I got a dollar, I pulled out a quarter, a dime and a nickel for change. If the charge was $1.20, I automatically handed back three quarters and a nickel as change for two dollars. Nobody ever gave me a $5 bill. That was big money in those days.

     However, I also got my first introduction to the unintended consequences of government regulation. The snack bar was open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Employees worked 9 hours, with one hour for lunch. But I was under 18, and so according to State of New York child labor laws, I was not allowed to work more than 8 hours. But instead of being able to come in an hour late, or leave an hour early, I got two hours for lunch. It wasn't enough time to go do anything, to leave the park and come back (besides, I rarely had my own car). So all I did was sit around for two hours and not get paid.

     The amusement park was about ten miles from where I lived, about a 20 minute drive. My family had two cars. My dad took a train to work. My mother had one car, and I had to vie with my two older sisters for use of the second car. So I didn't get to take it for the day very often. Instead, I usually carpooled with a fellow named Billy who lived near me. He was older, maybe 22 or 23, and going to college part time.

     The summer of '66 was a hot one. I remember being happy working out by the picnic tables, under the trees, where it was cooler, instead of in the middle of the park. I got to know kids who ran the rides, and I rode the big roller coaster a couple of dozen times. Then I got bored, and when I wasn't working I sat around the picnic tables and read books or magazines.

     About halfway through the summer I was asked to help out with the ice-cream truck. That was a lot of fun. The truck delivered ice-cream pops to the stands around the park. I got to ride on the front bumper of the truck. It stopped at each stand, while I jumped off, ran around to the back, and pulled out the ice-cream order for the day.

     There were six or eight kids who worked at my stand. Joe was the boss. He was a distinguished-looking older man -- tall and thin with graying hair, and he took the job seriously and ran the stand by the book. His assistant, Walter, was even older, and he was a fellow we could pretty much ignore.

     One August afternoon, we were all looking forward to getting back to school, back to our real lives. Business was slow. Joe was off doing something else in the park, leaving Walter in charge. I was sitting at the cash register, when Billy tumbled out of the back of the stand. He was laughing. A second later I saw a shot of red go flying over his shoulder. Then another kid came through the door. He was armed with a ketchup squeeze bottle in one hand, and a mustard squeeze bottle in the other.

     The kid squirted the mustard bottle. One line hit Billy in the shoulder; another missed him and landed on my pants. Billy grabbed a mustard container from the counter, turned, and fired back at his assailant. Then he shouted to me. "Come on, Tom. I need reinforcements!"

     Just then, another kid came out of the back, shooting with both hands, ropes of ketchup and mustard flying through the air. I grabbed a mustard and a ketchup, and joined Billy, fighting off the other two kids.

     Within seconds, four or five kids were running through the stand splashing mustard and ketchup all over one another, and also getting it on the counter, the floor, and a couple of customers. Walter was yelling, "Stop it! Stop it!" But, like I said, nobody paid attention to Walter.

     I remember running through the back of the stand, over to the other side, when Billy came up behind me. He vaulted over the counter and started shooting at someone. Just then, Joe walked into the snack stand.

     He put a stop to everything, real quick. Billy was fired. He was gone in less than an hour. So were a couple of the other combatants.

     I was not fired, I got away with a reprimand. Maybe it was because I was the youngest kid there, or maybe because Joe knew I hadn't started it. But I was demoted. I was taken off the morning ice-cream route, and put to work cleaning and scouring shelves.

     The incident occurred toward the end of August. I worked through Labor Day, then the park closed. I do remember, at the time I'd been hired, there'd been some mention of an end-of-season bonus if I stayed for the entire summer. I didn't get the bonus. That's another lesson I learned -- if you want your bonus, behave yourself. But at least I can say, I was never fired.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Should I Buy a Suit?

     For over 30 years, I wore a suit and tie to work every day. Get up in the morning, button the top button of my shirt, cinch the tie, struggle into the jacket, lace up the tight shoes.

     One of the great joys of retiring was the freedom to wear what I want, when I want -- in my case, chinos and a polo shirt in the summer; chinos and a sweater in the winter. And then either sneakers, or my clunky brown Rockport shoes, or very often, for most of the day, my comfortable sheepskin slippers from LL Bean.

My entire tie collection, circa 2014
     Actually, for the last few years of my career, my company went "corporate casual" in the summertime, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But even then, when September rolled around, it was back again to the suit and cinched-up tie.

     I bought my last suit in 1998. I was let go in 2002. I have not worn a suit since. A couple of years ago I gave that last suit to the Salvation Army, hoping someone else could put it to better use than I did by hanging in the closet to gather dust. Along the way, I pared down my tie collection to a total of three ties -- two Christmas ties and an elephant tie my daughter gave me when she got back from her internship in Africa.

     But now B wants me to go buy a new suit. Why? We have a wedding to go to in October. And B's son is getting married next spring. She thinks I would look much better in a suit -- or to put it more bluntly, she wants to be seen with a guy in a suit, not some schlumpy guy in chinos and a golf shirt.

     But I say, you might as well ask a federal prisoner, after he's paid his dues to society, to wear his striped uniform again, ten years after he got out of prison. And to add insult to injury, I'd have to shell out $300 or $400 of my own money to purchase this uniform.

     To be honest, I do still wear a tie occasionally. I have two Christmas ties. There are always a couple of holiday parties that seem to call for me wearing a tie. And once or twice a year I wear my elephant tie. But for the most part, I figure I'm retired and should have the freedom to dress the way I want.

     Now I know women like men in a suit, a lot better than they like men in jeans or a rumpled polo shirt, or even a jacket and tie. But I also know that women like to be comfortable as well. When B comes home from work, the first thing she does is head upstairs into the bedroom and slip on softer, more comfortable clothes.

     So what do you say? Do I have to buy a suit?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Betting on a New Minimum Wage

     I must admit, when I heard the proposal to raise the Federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, my first thought was: Wow, that's a 40% raise! I never got a 40% raise! My second thought was: Hey, why don't they increase Social Security benefits by 40% next year!

     But then, I admit that I'm selfish. I think of myself first. And it's been a long time since I worked for minimum wage -- the summer of 1966, in fact, when I made $1.25 an hour slinging hamburgers at an amusement park. (According to BLS inflation figures that $1.25 is equivalent to $9.02 today.)

     I remember that summer during high school. We had a great time, me and my buddies, until a bunch of us got fired for having a mustard and ketchup fight. (You can see, we didn't take our jobs too seriously.)

     People advocating raising the minimum wage point out that you cannot support yourself, much less a family, on the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They get no argument from me on that.

     Some people point out today's minimum wage, when you account for inflation, is less than it was in 1968. What they neglect to tell you is that 1968 marked the highest minimum wage in history. And in 1968 there was a booming economy, followed by the malaise of the 1970s when people felt lucky just to have a job.

     Supporters of raising the minimum wage also cite studies saying that it will have a negligible impact on employment. Very few people will get fired, they say, and it will raise everyone else out of poverty.

     But those studies come from liberals and are not to be trusted by objective measures (any more than studies coming from conservatives can be trusted). Basic economics says that if you make something more expensive, you will get less of it. If you make employing low-wage people 40% more expensive, you can bet there will be less demand for low-wage labor -- meaning some people will get fired; and a lot more people will simply not get hired (which is harder to measure).

     As you might have guessed by now, I'm skeptical of the idea of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour (although President Obama hasn't exactly asked for my advice). It will help some people, for sure. But it will hurt many others -- the few who get fired, and the many who don't get hired. And it's entirely possible that those hurt the most will be uneducated workers washing dishes, and not the sons and daughters of the middle class who take on summer jobs.

     And yet, I share the sympathies of those who want to raise the minimum wage. I have a couple of acquaintances trying to supplement their Social Security with minimum wage jobs, and they don't get very far. And I certainly agree it's a miserable life for people working full-time at minimum wage, in menial jobs, trying to support themselves let alone a family.

     So do I have a better idea? Yes!

     Instead of raising the minimum wage, the Federal government should exempt the first $10,000 a person earns from the payroll tax. This would give everyone an immediate raise of some 14% on their first $10,000 of income. (The government would need to make sure employers give their portion of the payroll tax to employees, rather than keep it themselves.)

     How do we make up the lost taxes that go to Social Security and Medicare? We eliminate the salary cap on the payroll tax. So we treat everyone equally. Everyone gets the same exemption. The person making $1 million a year gets his first $10,000 of income exempt from the payroll tax. And so does the person making $10,000 a year. (This would also eliminate the silliness of a retired person receiving Social Security with one hand, while paying Social Security tax on their supplemental job.)

     Then, in addition, the  government can introduce a higher minimum wage on less drastic and more gradual basis, which would avoid any kind of shock to the economy -- and the unintended consequences such as higher unemployment, higher wage inflation, and the economic distortions that come with wage and price controls. So instead of ratcheting up the minimum wage by 40%, the Federal government could raise the minimum wage by, say, 5% this year, and another 5% next year, and another 5% a couple of years after that. And then we're back toward the levels of 1968 -- without killing any businesses and without hurting the very people we're trying to help.

     Meanwhile, it's entirely reasonable for certain jurisdictions, where the cost of living is high, to institute their own, higher minimum wage. In fact, most states already set their own minimum wage, and many have higher rates than the Federal government. After all, it makes little sense for Connecticut and California, with a high cost of living, to have the same minimum wage as Alabama and Arkansas, where the cost of living is much less.

     So you tell me. How does this not make sense? 

Bottom line shows actual minimum wage since 1938. Top line shows equivalent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Remember Him?

     He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. He had a famous army. He made his last major charge 50 years ago this month. But he's not in the military.

     Can you guess who he is?

     When he was growing up, one of his schoolmates was Fred Rogers, who was a year older and who went on to host "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," the children's TV program that ran from 1968 to 2001.

     He attended Wake Forest University on a scholarship, but left before his senior year to enlist in the U. S. Coast Guard. He learned to fly and became an avid pilot. Flying became a crucial part of his job; and he eventually owned several planes, including a Cessna Citation X. Today, an airport is named after him in his hometown, near Pittsburgh.

A Cessna Citation X
     Younger people today know him more for a popular drink than for the sport that made him famous. He had long been in the habit of drinking a mixture of iced tea and lemonade. One day, the story goes, he was in a grill room in Colorado (or it may have been California; reports differ) and asked the bartender to mix up his special drink. A woman sitting nearby was intrigued and told the bartender that she'd have was he was having. Soon iced tea and lemonade was a popular drink among his sporting friends. He eventually hooked up with a juice company which began selling the drink, and it is now widely distributed by the Arizona Beverage Company.

     But it's neither flying nor iced tea that made him famous. Instead, he was the one who made his sport famous, often cited as the first superstar of the sport's television age. Since he came from a relatively humble background, and he was personable and plain spoken, he changed people's perception of his sport from an elite, upper-class pastime to a more democratic activity accessible to the middle and working classes.

     He played in several amateur tournaments in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and after he won the U. S. Amateur in Detroit in 1954 he decided he could make a living as a professional. He won his first professional event in 1955; he won another in 1956; and then he went on to victory in four tournaments in 1957. But it was his win at the prestigious Master's championship in April 1958 that cemented his position as a star.

     By now you probably realize that the army he had was Arnie's Army, and the charge he typically made was on the battlefield of the golf course. Arnold Palmer played golf with a flair like few others. His good looks, his modest background, his affability and the way he took risks and wore his emotions on his sleeve brought him legions of fans, who often cheered him on as he charged down the last few holes to win a championship.

     Palmer won dozens of golf tournaments, including seven of the so-called Majors  -- a record behind only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the modern era -- and in the process he made the sport of golf a mainstay for weekend television. He also brought the game into the mainstream of American life, and if you or anyone you know plays golf today, it's likely because they idolized Arnold Palmer as a kid. In a national Associated Press poll, Arnold Palmer was named "Athlete of the Decade" for the 1960s.

     Fifty years ago, in April 1964, he won his last major, the Master's, in Augusta, Ga., generally considered the top tournament on the professional circuit. Yet he remained a crowd favorite for years, and went on to win many more championships, including ten wins on the Senior Tour in the 1980s.

     Palmer designed and built a number of golf courses, and he continued to pilot his own plane. He helped found the golf channel on cable TV, and he hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament on the PGA Tour held each March at the Bay Hill Club near Orlando, Florida. 

     Palmer lost his first wife, Winnie, to cancer in 1999, and he is now remarried and living in Orlando, Fla. Palmer himself is a survivor of prostate cancer, and he has supported numerous charitable causes, including the Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando and the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center in California.

     This year the first round of the Master's tees off on Thursday, April 10. Arnold Palmer, 84, no longer competes, but he will be there to lend his support and his star power. Tiger Woods will not be playing either, due to recent surgery. But defending champion Adam Scott will be playing, along with fellow Australian Jason Day, former champion Phil Mickelson, the young Irishman Rory McIlroy, and an elite crowd of almost a hundred of the world's best golfers.

     So let the azaleas bloom, and let the tournament begin.
     

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prostitution Legalized in New Jersey

     Sometimes we retired folks are faulted for always thinking that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But sometimes it's just the plain truth.

     I hate to report to my friends in the rest of the country -- and I apologize in advance if anyone is offended -- but something is going on here in the east that is disturbing to a number of people. Yesterday, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law legalizing prostitution in the state of New Jersey.

     The move was hailed by the Business Association of Greater Atlantic City. "Finally, we can offer a full-service entertainment package," said Tommy Manicotti, executive manager of the Boardwalk Hotel & Casino. "We will now have a hat trick -- gambling, alcohol and prostitution -- and we'll be able to compete head-to-head with the entertainment industry in Nevada. It's about time New Jersey entered the 21st century."

     The measure was opposed by several women's groups including the New Jersey chapters of NOW, Planned Parenthood and MADD. "It's an outrage," said Alice Meadows, executive director of Women in Business in Camden, NJ. "Prostitution is unsafe, unsound, and unsavory. And no matter what the governor or anyone else in Trenton says, prostitution exploits women and leaves them exposed to dangers too numerous to count."

     But the new law, called "The Women's Right to Control Their Own Bodies," did find some support among women in Atlantic City. Said Trixie Norton, manager of One Trick Pony Bar and Grill on Ventor Ave., "This will double my business. And I bet it will bring down the unemployment rate, too."

     Walt Stone, of Gay Pride Princeton, objected to the naming of the bill, pointing out that men can be prostitutes as well, although he went on to say that his organization supports gay sex in the context of a long-term, mutually respectful monogamous relationship.

     Some Democratic critics charge that Christie, a Republican, is trying to distract people from the Bridgegate scandal, although he did garner considerable backing for the bill from Democrats in the New Jersey state legislature. There was some support from out of state as well. Said former New York Governor Eliott Spitzer, "It makes perfect sense, because it will cut down the crime rate, free up police for more pressing activities, and mitigate overcrowding in New Jersey prisons."

     Former Congressman Anthony Weiner could not be reached for comment, but he is rumored to have tweeted: "My bad, you bad, we all bad," in a message that was taken to lend support for the new law.

     However, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement opposing the bill. It said in part: "There is a well-established link between prostitution and smoking, and as such I cannot in good conscience support such a measure. In addition, I have already expressed my full-throated opposition to the Big Gulp."

     New Jersey state officials estimate that the law will bring in approximately $4 billion per year in direct expenditures, plus additional dollars for ancillary businesses such as bars and casinos. Since prostitution will be subject to the hospitality tax of 11%, instead of the normal sales tax of 7%, officials also estimate that legalizing prostitution will bring in over $400 million to state coffers, largely from out-of-state tourists. The money is targeted to improve health care and to help New Jersey schools fulfill common core requirements in sex education.

    John Fillbine, creator of the "I Love New York" campaign of the 1980s, who now lives in the tony suburb of Chatham, NJ, commented, "Let's get real. This is a long-overdue step away from hypocrisy, and toward giving New Jersey a much-needed leg up in the tourist business. After all, you can go to Colorado to get high. But now you can come to New Jersey to get laid."