"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Comfort

     What's your favorite dessert? What a wonderful question to consider!

     I don't mean to offend anyone, but I'm not a chocolate fan. (I know to some chocoholics, them there's fightin' words.) I love pie -- blueberry, peach, coconut custard. I also like cake. The cake you get in a restaurant usually looks better than it tastes, and often disappoints, but homemade cake, even cake made with a mix . . . ah, a beautiful thing.

     But it's summer. How can we seriously turn our attention to anything but ice cream? I hate to seem boring, but my favorite flavor is vanilla. And I'm not alone. Vanilla outsells chocolate, the second-most-popular flavor, by more than two-to-one. I'm sure the words a la mode have something to do with that.

     But, to me, vanilla is not bland, as some people charge. It has a subtle taste. It's evocative. It hints at the tropics where the vanilla beans grow, but doesn't overwhelm your senses like chocolate does.

     I don't mean to denigrate chocolate. It's not my favorite. But chocolate is supposed to be good for you. (That explains why I don't like it as much -- I never like anything that's good for me!) And . . . chocolate is an aphrodisiac, isn't it?

     There are plenty of other more exotic flavors of ice cream -- which is one of its charms. You can make it taste like anything you want. My mother's favorite was coffee. And she liked pistachio. My dad didn't like ice cream, didn't eat dessert at all, which explains why he was thin. But he was also kind of a stuffed shirt.

     As for me, I'm a modern man. I like cookie dough ice cream.

     The Dairy Reporter says your flavor preference reveals a lot about your personality. Vanilla lovers are supposed to be "impulsive, easily suggestible and idealistic" (which doesn't describe me at all). People who like cookie dough are ambitious, competitive and visionary. I'm not sure I agree. I'm afraid people who like cookie dough ice cream are just fat.

     Regardless, ice cream is a deep and ever-swirling topic for discussion. Remember the ice-cream truck that came around the neighborhood when we were kids? The Good Humor man rang his bell up and down the streets of my youth. You can still find an ice-cream truck here and there. But they're not part of the culture as they were when we were kids.

     Then there's soft ice cream. For the most part, I prefer regular ice cream. But there's an ice-cream stand in my town, called King Kone, that serves a particularly tasty kind of soft ice cream. I don't know how they do it. But it's flavorful and creamy -- and the place is the hottest spot in town every night from June through September.

     King Kone offers a panoply of toppings -- which is a whole other subject. Some people are purests and would never pollute their ice cream with nuts or sprinkles or dips. In general, I support their fundamentalist spirit. But King Kone has the best rainbow sprinkles, which turn a beautiful ice cream cone into a sparkling tower of perfection. Although . . . B prefers the chocolate dip.

      What about ice-cream cake? I say it's a poor use of both cake and ice cream. But there's an exception to every rule. And the exception to this rule is: birthday cake.

     Speaking of bastardizations, what about frozen yogurt? I went through a period some years ago of substituting frozen yogurt -- now known as froyo -- for ice cream. I thought it was healthier. But now I realize that froyo is to ice cream what artificial flowers are to real flowers. So I stick with the real thing.

     Finally, I must warn you, when you go to the store to buy ice cream, be careful not to pick up a carton of "frozen dairy dessert" by mistake. Yes, some companies try to pass off this mysterious mix as real ice cream. Doesn't make the grade in my book.

     So stick with Haagen Dazs or Ben & Jerry's. They're not my favorites, but they are the real thing. Or Dreyer's or Edy's. But my go-to brand is Turkey Hill. I'm not sure if it's even available outside the Northeast, but it's really good.

     And since I'm always open to suggestions, on the lookout for new ice-cream experiences, what's your favorite?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Augustus Blogus Optimus

     This is the August edition of the Best of Boomer Blogs. That's what the title means -- at least to me. My Latin is pretty rusty, and last I checked there was no Latin word for Baby Boomer. I took Latin in 7th, 8th and 9th grades, and poor Mrs. Coates is probably rolling over in her sepulchrum right about now.

     Anyway, August was named after the Roman Emperor Augustus in 8 BC to commemorate several triumphs which took place in August, including the conquest of Egypt.

     And we Boomers, the classics of our time, commemorate the month of August by offering some consilium bonus on these following important topics.

     Finance:  John Agno at So Baby Boomer says that market trends, space programs and rogue waves are not linear. But he's not the first person to point out the nonlinear path of financial trends. In The Sun Also Rises Hemingway's character Bill Gorton asks the once-affluent Mike Campbell, "How did you go bankrupt?" Mike replies: "Two ways, gradually and then suddenly."

     But now in a new post Agno, a certified executive and business coach, shows how linear projections will often take us down the wrong path, and he warns us that nonlinear events can occur when you least expect them.

     Personal Power:  Meanwhile, Laura Lee Carter over at the Midlife Crisis Queen blog has lately been thinking about something else:  personal liberation. It is never too late, she says, to free yourself through the power of your own mind.

     Health and Aging:  Karen from The Generation Above Me laments that aging means experiencing odd physical changes. Read more in her recent post Weird Things on My Skin. One note of caution (or is it a teaser?): the post involves the word decolletage, which is not Latin, of course, but French for . . . well, you go read her blog post.

     History:  On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes about how to organize your photos. After a four-day marathon organizing photos that she found in her garage from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, she has a method using archival plastic pages with pockets of different sizes. Robison also has some advice for organizing more recent digital photos, including this:  Make sure to have a system to back them up!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Would You Do?

     I played golf the other day (don't ask how I did), and because of road construction I drove home a different way than usual. I exited the highway and came into the town of Carmel, a couple of towns over from where I live, on a back road that was unfamiliar to me. I needed gas and saw a station with medium grade at $3.99 a gallon (which, believe it or not, is cheap around here). So I decided to stop and fill up.

     I got out of my car, opened the gas cap, swiped my credit card and pulled out the hose. Just as I was inserting the nozzle into my car, I heard a voice.

     ". . . you give me . . . services . . . "

     It was a woman. I didn't catch what she was saying. I looked up and saw a middle-age woman in obviously old clothes -- a tattered jacket and a skirt that looked like it came from the Salvation Army. She had long, unruly brown hair, and blotched reddish skin.

     I stared at her for a moment. My guard was up. Who approaches you at a self-service gas station?

    "I'm sorry to bother you, sir," she said apologetically. "Could you please give me a ride to Social Services?"

     I didn't say anything. What was going on? Finally it registered. She was asking me for a ride. My immediate reaction -- as a former city dweller who got accosted on the street on a regular basis -- was to brush her off and give her a curt no, saying I'm sorry but I'm in a hurry, or late for an appointment, or something like that.

     Then I noticed her eyes. They looked genuine; they looked pleading; they looked sad.

     "Um . . . er . . ." I looked around. Was this a scam? Is she setting me up for something? Is she accompanied by some big guy with tattoos who's going to jump in the car with her, making some vaguely threatening excuse?

     I didn't see anybody.

     "I just need a ride to Social Services, here in town," she said, now with some urgency in her voice. "It's not far away."

     I looked at her again. I wasn't in a hurry. I had no appointment. I was just minding my own business -- filling up my gas tank, then going home. "Okay," I finally said. "But I don't know where it is. Can you give me directions?"

     "Yes, I can show you the way," she replied. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

     I looked back down and started pumping the gas. The woman stood quietly on the other side of my car. I looked around again. I didn't see anyone except a well-dressed woman filling up on the next island, with a young child in her car.

     I looked at the woman standing there. "So what's your name?" She mumbled something. I didn't hear her. "Sorry," I said. "What is it again?"

     "Nancy," she repeated, a little louder.

      "Hi. My name is Tom," I said with a friendly shrug of the shoulders. "My sister's name is Nancy."

     The woman gave me a nod, but didn't smile or react.

     I continued to fill up my tank. Finally the gas shut off. I put the nozzle back and tore off my receipt. I looked across my car again. The woman was still standing there. "So . . .  hop in," I said as I opened my door.

     The woman opened the door, crouched down and slowly slid onto the front passenger seat. She put a large canvas bag on the floor and said thank you again.

     "Just turn right here and go down through town?" I asked as I pulled away from the gas island.

     "Yes," she said. Then she explained she had a blister on her foot, and reassured me that Social Services wasn't far away, and she said thank you once more.

     She led me through town, then instructed me to turn left at a light. No, not that light. The next one, at the main road. We started heading out of town again. Where were we going? I wondered. I thought she said Social Services was in town. I noticed an odor coming from the woman -- a kind of musty smell you'd find in an attic or a basement. "So it's here in town?" I asked, looking for confirmation. "Not someplace else?"

     "Yes," she said.

     I drove through two more lights, past a strip mall on the left. Finally, she said, "Turn right up at that next light."

     I saw a sign for a county office, in back of a muffler shop. I realized I'd driven by this intersection a hundred times and never noticed the county sign. Why would I? I don't use Social Services.

     I turned into the driveway and pulled up to the front door. The woman thanked me yet again. She opened the car door, picked up her bag and slowly hauled herself out of the car. She closed the door, didn't look back, and stood there for a moment in front of the building, getting her bearings.

     I put my car in gear and drove off, opening my windows to air out the car. I exhaled a small sigh of relief. The woman hadn't attacked me, hadn't had any kind of emotional outburst, didn't bleed or throw up in my car. Was I stupid to worry about these things? I guess I was; but you never know when you pick up a total stranger.

     For a moment, I felt good about myself. I'd done my good deed for the day. Then as I drove home I began to feel sorry for the woman, and began to feel guilty. How could I have even hesitated to help this poor women? I should have slipped her a $20 bill.

     Then I wondered, what if the person who'd asked me for a ride at the gas station was a man. I almost said no to this poor woman. Would I have said no if it was an equally desperate man? What if the person asking me for a ride was a black man. What would I have said then?

     I don't know. I just hope the woman is okay, and that her blister is better.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Maps of the World

     You probably wouldn't be surprised to find out (maybe you already know) that the geographic center of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, is figured to be at 44.58 degrees N, 103.46 degrees W, which is in the tiny city of Belle Fourche in far western South Dakota.

     But do you know where the geographic center of Europe is? I would have guessed somewhere in France or Switzerland. But the fact is . . . well, these are Europeans, remember, so they argue about it. Various calculations have put it in Poland, in Slovakia, in the Ukraine. But the latest, most authoritative estimate places it in a little town called Purnuskes, a few miles north of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (the red dot farthest to the northeast).

     Go figure. I guess there's more Russia in Europe than first meets the eye. (Please excuse the map bleeding into the right column, but I thought you'd want the map large enough so you could see it.)

     There are a few other interesting maps I found on website called Twisted Sifter, through a friend on Facebook. For example, here is a map showing, in white, the countries that have never been invaded by England.

     How about a map that shows, in red, the countries where bribery is most common, where it is an expected way to do business and deal with the government. Nigeria, the reddest country, is riddled with the most bribery. But I'm surprised at Canada. I thought they were clean, honest people. Apparently, not quite so much.

     Then there's a map of countries in the world with the most researchers. The deeper the purple, the more researchers. So if researchers earn their keep, the U. S. and Canada should be able to compete with Europe and Japan for the medical, scientific and technological advances of the future.

     But that doesn't mean we Americans necessarily have our priorities straight. Here's a map of the U. S. showing the highest paid public employees in each state. For the most part, they are not researchers.

     I hope this gives you a little different perspective on the world. If you want to see more maps check out 40 Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World at Twisted Sifter.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Maybe You're Smarter Than You Think

     I recently came across a quotation attributed to Elbert Hubbard (1856-1925), an American writer who also founded the Roycroft arts-and-crafts community near Buffalo, NY:

     "One machine," he said, "can do the work of fifty ordinary men. But no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” 

     And then a friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and it made me wonder if this is an example of the flexibility and adaptability of the human mind.

     Try it out and see what you think.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where Am I Now?

     Maybe you're tired of guessing where I've been on vacation:  Cape Cod, Savannah, Philadelphia, and before that Phoenix and San Diego. But, come on, this is an historic place . . .

     I spent a long weekend in a city that was once the capital of the United States, for all of one day. During the American revolution the Continental Congress fled Philadelphia, which had been captured by the British, and on Sept. 27, 1777, the delegates met in this city, before heading farther west, and then in the summer of 1778, moving back to Philadelphia.

     The city was home to James Buchanan, 15th president of the United States (1857-61) and the only president in U. S. history who was a bachelor. He was a northern Democrat with southern sympathies, and won the presidency in a three-man race against John C. Fremont (the controversial colonel from California) and ex-president Millard Fillmore (trying to make a political comeback).

     In his inaugural speech Buchanan promised not to run again, and his impact in office was so tenuous that nobody tried to get him to change his mind. Even today he is generally considered one of the worst presidents in U. S. history. The Civil War began just a couple of months after he left office (succeeded by Abraham Lincoln), but despite his southern leanings, he supported the Union effort and finally did speak out against slavery.

President Buchanan's home is called Wheatland

     But all that is history. What about now? The city is home to one of those small private liberal arts colleges that pride themselves in sending their students on to graduate schools and good jobs in Washington and New York.

The name of this building on campus? I'm guessing:  Old Main

     The city saw its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and features many elegant old buildings erected by the city's prosperous industrialists of the time.

A now-restored Victorian home built in the late 1800s

     But there is also inner city housing that once served the working class and now provides downtown living with high "walkability" ratings.

     Along with some "gentrified" areas that used to house manufacturing plants and railroad yards . . .

     And regardless of whatever history the city can boast, the area has now become a mecca for retired people. The city is relatively close to the New York-Washington population axis, but just far enough away to offer much lower prices; plus, it has a culture of caring for people that goes along with a long-established religious tradition. There are several large medical complexes in and around the city, and a number of facilities for people seeking Independent Living, Assisted Living and Nursing Home Care.

One of the Independent Living facilities in the area

     But the city is surrounded by extremely productive farmland, which means that even doctors and teachers and businessmen boast flourishing gardens, and no parcel of land is left untilled or bare of a vegetable garden or cornfield.

One of the more ambitious vegetable gardens

     And it's the farmland that attracted its most famous residents, the so-called Plain People who abjure most modern conveniences and practice their religion and their way of life, just the way they've been doing it for 300 years.

     The Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish. But they are not Dutch -- they originally emigrated from Germany in the 1700s. And now they attract visitors to the area from all over the country, as tourists come to shop in the farmers' markets, scour the craft shops, buy hand-made furniture, sample Shoofly pie* and other local dishes -- and gawk at the men and women and boys and girls who ride the roads in their black horse-drawn buggies.

     Surely, you've guessed by now. I spent the weekend in Lancaster, Pa., a place that in some ways time has forgotten. But the area is well worth visiting, to remind us where we've come from and inspire us to hold onto what's important in our lives.

* P.S. I tried the Shoofly pie -- it's an "acquired taste" as they say.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Waking Up from the American Dream

     We Baby Boomers have been around for a while. We've experienced the post-war boom of the 1950s and 60s, the malaise of the 1970s, the prosperity of the 1980s and '90s, and then ... whatever we've had since 2000. I'd like to get your reaction to a recent line of thinking, one that theorizes that the American Century, the era of American exceptionalism, the entire American Dream, is over and done with.

     The most recent article I saw on the subject was "The Blip" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in last week's New York Magazine.

     Here's the theory.

     For most of human history, up until the industrial revolution in the 1700s, life for the vast majority of people in the world hadn't changed. The lifestyle for most of humankind in the mid-1700s was not much different from their lifestyle in Roman times.

     With industrialization -- the introduction of plows and mills and roads and canals -- economic growth sped up, improving life for many people, at least in Europe and America. Then just as the industrial revolution was reaching its limits, a second industrial revolution came along in the form of steam engines, electricity, and the mass production that brought us cars and airplanes and TVs and all the comforts of home.

     But at some point around 1970 the effects of the second industrial revolution began to taper off -- at least in that frontier of well-being called America. Ever since, we have begun to revert back to the stagnation that preceded the industrial revolution, as evidenced by the average after-inflation wages of the typical American worker, which have gone nowhere in the last 40 years.

     Yes, so the theory goes, the computer and the internet have brought more advances to civilization, perhaps even a third revolution. But this information revolution is not on the order of the telephone or the railroad, and the economic effects have been nowhere near as great or as long lasting.

     What if the economic difficulties of recent decades are not the result of an energy crisis or a bursting housing bubble or the aging of the Baby Boomers, what if they are a harbinger a much more "normal" path of human progress, the one that existed for most of human history prior to 1750? What if the industrial revolution was not the wave of the future, but an aberration, a "blip" in the arc of history?

     Robert Gordon of Northwestern University is one who professes this view. He set out his ideas in a 2012 paper Is U. S. Economic Growth Over? asserting that our greatest innovations are behind us, and predicting a dark future of "epochal decline in growth from the U. S. record of the last 150 years."

     Some of his ideas have been seconded by other academics, from M.I.T. and elsewhere, agreeing that Gordon's economic evidence is "quite reasonable" and that people should begin to realize that the innovations of today will probably not transform the world to the extent that previous innovations have. In other words, we have nothing to look forward to but lower economic growth, fewer opportunities for our children, and a more spartan existence for all of us.

     From my own perspective, it's hard to argue with Gordon's theory. When you look at the Baby Boomers who have been laid off in their 50s, with little or no chance for another job; when you look at the employment opportunities available to our college graduates -- many of them taking jobs for which no college degree is required -- and when you look at ... well, just look at Detroit, and a bunch of other hollowed-out industrial cities.

     Yet many of these same academics don't go quite as far as Gordon. They point out that it's impossible to foresee what innovations will come along in the future. Who in 1970 imagined cell phones and laptop computers? So how can we imagine what will lead us forward in 2030 or 2040?

     Many futurists see progress being made on the energy front, as we invent new technologies that will allow us to power our future without destroying our environment. Others see opportunity in the medical field, as we develop cures for cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and map out our genetic codes.

     We have gone through uncertain days in our past. And it seems one of the great things about our current form of democratic capitalism is that it tends to be self-correcting. When energy becomes scarce, for example, people go to work developing new sources of power, from windmills to fracking, and they invent electric cars -- and the internet which allows people to communicate without getting into their cars at all.

     Then look at the problems brought about by globalization and the resulting decline of American manufacturing. It's not a pretty sight. But, taking the long view, how much resentment can you really feel for the workers in Asia who have taken our jobs -- and thereby avoided starvation and climbed out of abject poverty? At least to some extent, our pain is their gain. We make less money, and find it more difficult to buy SUVs and make our mortgage payments. But they are finally able to move out of their mud huts and buy food for their children.

     Obviously, this is an overgeneralization. But it is a trend. And yet, on a day to day basis, it's hard to see the silver lining behind the clouds. The current reality is that for the majority of people today, the American Dream has become an illusion. The U.S today places among countries with the highest inequity and lowest social mobility in the developed world. And even college graduates have trouble finding a decent job.

     I don't know. Maybe it's just like my mother said. Despite all the academic mumbo jumbo, it really just depends on which side of the bed you get out of in the morning.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Remember Him?

      He was born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1929, the second child to a Baptist minister. As a teenager, however, he became skeptical of Christianity and expressed many doubts about the Bible.

     He was a smart kid, skipping 9th grade, and then forgoing 12th grade to go straight to college. He graduated with a BA degree in 1948 at the age of 20.

     The southerner moved north to attend divinity school in Pennsylvania, receiving a B Div. degree in 1951. At school he was influenced by thinkers ranging from Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy to Reinhold Neibuhr and Paul Tillich.

     He moved back to Atlanta where he got married (and eventually had four children), and then in 1954 -- at the tender age of 25 -- he was appointed pastor of a Baptist church in Alabama. Meantime, he was studying for a Ph.D. degree in theology out of Boston University.

     He believed strongly in the Biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, and made this a central theme in both his preaching and his activities. He took seriously the notion of turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, praying for your oppressors.

     In 1958 he wrote his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, offering his version of events in Montgomery, Alabama. In September, while signing copies of the book in a New York City department store, he narrowly escaped death when a woman stabbed him with a letter opener.

     In 1959, with the help of a group of Quakers, he made a trip to India where he was influenced by the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi (who'd been assassinated in 1948). As he left India he made a radio address, saying, "Since being in India I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity."

     Throughout the 1950s he was involved in the struggle for civil rights. In 1959 he was one of several leaders who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization designed to help black churches conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights. He led the SCLC until his death in 1968.

     And by now you must remember him as Martin Luther King, the pre-eminent civil rights leader who organized a series of protest marches throughout the south to support desegregation as well as voting rights, labor rights and other civil rights. He relied on the Christian principle of nonviolent protest, sometimes criticized by more radical members of his own community, sometimes subjected to violence by the targets of his protests.

     His most famous march took place 50 years ago, in August 1963. As head of SCLC he was one of several black leaders -- along with Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, James Farmer -- to organize the great March on Washington to dramatize the condition of blacks in the South and denounce the federal government for not protecting civil rights and securing the safety of blacks and civil rights workers.

     The Kennedy administration ultimately supported the march, looking to bolster the civil rights bill it was trying to push through Congress. As a result, the march took on a less confrontational tone than originally envisioned, while inviting criticism from more radical black leaders like Malcolm X who ridiculed it as the "farce on Washington."

     Nonetheless, by all accounts the march was a resounding success. It brought an estimated quarter million people to the National Mall, the largest protest march ever seen in Washington up to that time, and it commanded national attention as it dominated the news.

     The march itself, on August 28, 1963, started at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial, where black leaders, labor leaders and religious luminaries gave speeches, while Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, and Odetta, as well as Marion Anderson and Mahalia Jackson performed several songs.

     The most memorable moment of the march came as Martin Luther King, who spoke last, gave his "I Have a Dream Speech" which was carried live on TV and later judged one of the most important speeches in American history:

     I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

     I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'

     I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

     I have a dream that ... my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    I have a dream that one day ... right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

     I have a dream today ...

     Of course, we all know what happened to Martin Luther King. He went on to lead more protest events, including the infamous 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. He set up a freedom movement in Chicago to oppose racial profiling in housing; he vigorously opposed the Vietnam War; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was also subjected to surveillance and wiretapping by the FBI which suspected him (falsely) of being a communist and (accurately) of carrying on extramarital affairs.

     And on April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, where he was supporting striking garbage workers, he was assassinated.

     Just days after King's assassination, the U. S. Congress fulfilled one Martin Luther King dream by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which among other things prohibited discrimination in housing.

     But you can judge for yourself now, 50 years later, if or how well any of the other King dreams have come true.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Money Advice for My Son

My 20-something son recently came into an inheritance from a relative. It's not a huge amount -- about $30K or so. Enough to buy a car, not any more than that. But he’s lucky, it's a lot more than most kids start out with.
When he came home for a weekend earlier in July, he seemed a little daunted by the responsibility. "What am I going to do with this money?" he asked me. "I don't want to just squander it."
As his father, I liked his initial reaction, because I know what a lot of young people would do -- squander it by going to buy a Ford Mustang or a Jet ski, or taking a week-long trip to Las Vegas. At first I didn't know how to answer his question. The only lump sum I ever got was from my 401K plan when I left work, and the answer for that was pretty clear: Transfer it directly into my IRA account.
But when you’re in your 20s, should you be worrying about your retirement account? I don’t think so. A 20-something has more important things to consider, such as how he’s going to live his life. So I finally said: What should you do with the money? Invest it in yourself. Here are the ideas I came up with, though if you've got others, I'd love to hear them and maybe pass them along.
Invest in education. You have a college degree, I told him, but these days a college degree by itself is not a ticket to success. For a lot of careers, you need a master’s or more. So, are you interested in going back to school? Either for a master’s degree, or maybe just to enhance your skills?
You’re in the music business. It’s a tough way to make a living. If you want to pursue the business end of things, you might use this windfall to pay tuition for an MBA. Or maybe you have some computer skills you want to learn, and you could take evening classes. Or if you want to pick up the sax again, or improve your guitar technique, take some music lessons. But a word of caution: Don’t go back to school just to go to school. Know what you want to learn, and what you will do with the new knowledge.
Invest in a business. If you don’t want to go back to school, do you have the urge to start your own business? If you do, here’s your start-up money. But I’m not pushing it. I think you either have that inner drive to start your own business, to run your own show, or you don’t. It’s an “all in” proposition. If you don’t have that “fire in the belly” then you should work for someone else and take a paycheck.
Buy a house. If you’re confident in your career track, you could instead use the money as a down payment on a house or condo. I know, I know, no 20-somethings are buying real estate these days. And you’re a little young to take this step anyway. But I bought my first house when I was 29, and it was the best investment I ever made.

         It might actually be a good time to buy, now that prices are down 30 percent from a few years ago, and may even be poised to start rising again. If you’re pretty sure you’re going to stay where you are for the next few years, it might be the smart thing to do. It will put you on track to own something in this world, rather than rent your entire life from someone else.
Just save it. If you don’t have the desire to do any of the above, then don’t do anything. For now. Put the money aside. Deposit it in a low-cost investment account, invest in a mix of cash and mutual funds, and wait until you are ready to make your move.
But I hope you eventually do get the urge to do something. You have a great opportunity here, so don’t be afraid to use it. The worst thing is you’ll lose the money. But is that so bad? You’d just be back where you started. It would be more disappointing to see that money still sitting around 40 years from now when you retire. That would mean you never took a chance.