Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Broken Promise

     "I never throw up," I bragged to B on one of our first dates. This was sometime in 2003. At the time I was working on a no-throw-up record of almost 30 years.

     B was pretty; she was smart; she had a great personality. I liked her. So I thought this was a good selling point for myself. I mean, who likes someone who throws up a lot? But I guess what I was doing, with my lame attempt at humor, was making a kind of promise. I would stay healthy for her. She was not signing on to be my nursemaid. No throwing up.

     The last time I'd thrown up was in 1974 or 1975 when I'd had a terrible bout of the flu. And, well, stuff happens. Soon after, I fainted and cracked my chin on the bathroom sink as I went down. My wife (my first wife) panicked when she saw me crumpled on the floor with blood running down my face. She called 911. The first thing I knew, I woke up with my wife hovering over me and two male faces murmuring some mildly reassuring words.

     That's how bad it has to be when I throw up.

     But last weekend . . .

     We had just gotten home from our trip down south. Our grandson had had a bout of stomach flu. So did someone else in the family. But I kept my distance, washed my hands. And anyway, that was four or five days earlier.

     The morning we got home we went out to breakfast at a diner. We had never been there before, but it was crowded. Must be good.

     I ordered eggs, pancakes and a side of fruit.

     The portions were huge. But the fruit looked good. I dug in. As usual, B forked a few pieces for herself. But I was the one who gobbled up most of it. 

     Later that afternoon I just felt tired. I don't know why. I'd slept well. I hadn't really done anything vigorous or taxing. But we'd been traveling. That creates more stress than you think. Maybe it made sense that I was tired.

     At dinner the food, to me, looked intimidating. I ate a bite or two of chicken. It was too rich, too spicy. The asparagus seemed stringy and hard to chew. I left most of the meal on my plate.

     I did the dishes, as usual, then went upstairs to my desk. I tootled around on the computer for a bit, then B came in. We had an engagement the next day. She wanted to discuss what time we should leave and other details of the outing. I looked at her and said, "I hate to say this, but I don't feel so good."

     She looked disappointed, but understanding. "Well, let's see how you feel in the morning."

     It was about five minutes later when for some reason the thought crept into into my mind: I'd better get to the bathroom.

     I'll spare you the details. But it's a good thing I did. Because my now more-than-40-year throw-up record was over. In spades.

     Luckily, B decided to sleep at the other end of the house. I got more exercise than sleep that night. But finally around 5 a.m. I settled down and slept till about 10. I heard the phone ring a couple of times but didn't pay attention.

     I got up for an hour or two and found that B was still there. She had canceled our engagement. Then I went back to sleep. I got up again around 2 p.m. B asked me if I wanted anything to eat. I said no. She asked about dinner later on. Some toast? Chicken soup? No. No. Then I saw a potato on the counter. "How about mashed potatoes?" I asked.

     I took another nap from about 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Got up. Ate a few mashed potatoes. I was worrying that I would lie awake all night since I had slept most of the day. But no. I fell asleep listening to a podcast and stayed asleep until 8 a.m. the next morning.

     I got up. I don't know if it had been the flu or the food, but now I felt fine. Well, mostly fine. I felt like I had been through a fight, and was now recovering, like the guy in the movies who is sitting there half-dazed with a bandaged face and an arm in a sling.

     A day later I was back on my feet. I went to my class, played table tennis that night. I had met the enemy and had won. And the silver lining -- I'd lost about five pounds. But it took two days out of my life. And I had broken the promise I'd made to B, all those years ago.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Too Much to Do?

     I woke up this morning to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus" on the clock radio. B insists on setting the alarm for 6:10 a.m. because twice a week she wakes up early to get to her 7 a.m. yoga class.

     Most of the time I don't hear the radio in the morning. I'm a good sleeper. But how can you resist the gentle, mellifluous voice of Gene Autry from so long ago? I love the old Christmas songs, the ones that herald in the holiday season. Yes, the holidays are upon us, and our Baby Boomer bloggers are preparing for the season.

     To kick things off, Meryl Baer at Six Decades and Counting tackles the subject on many of our minds. Shopping. In Small Business Saturday and More she recounts all the special shopping opportunities we have these days, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. But she ends, appropriately for the season, on a different note, reminding us about Giving Tuesday.

      Rita Robison of The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers some holiday advice from her perspective as a consumer and finance journalist. She suggests that we make a budget, compare prices, avoid impulse items, keep receipts. But there's more, so check out her post Tips for Shopping before you hit the stores, virtual, brick or otherwise.

     Rebecca Olkowski of BabyBoomers.com reminds us that the season is really all about gratitude and counting our blessings. It's sometimes hard to do, she admits, when times are tough, but making the effort to feel and express gratitude can actually help us get through our challenges. In A Time to Be Grateful she reflects on her own life, which includes dogs, family, home, cancer, and the world we live in.

     Jennifer from Unfold and Begin is also grateful for the year that is drawing to a close. As she tells us in Be Thankful for What You Have she left Connecticut in 2019 to find a new life in central Florida. Now the blogger shares her first-hand experience about moving so far away from home . . . and how she now eagerly awaits "what's next."

     Carol Cassara of Heart, Mind, Soul has been thinking along the same lines as Jennifer Kolsak. Except she lives in California, not Connecticut. And she hasn't actually changed her life; she's only thinking about it. She's beginning to realize, she says, that as we age we tend to lose patience with nuisances, inconveniences and everyday problems. Things we might have done as a matter of course when we were younger become "too much trouble." So in her post Is My Love Affair with California Over? she examines life today in the Golden State . . . and if, for her, the love affair has run its course, or if, like any other love affair, it just has its ups and downs.

     Finally, Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles, asks us: Do you feel the holiday pressure starting to kick in? Do you feel the need to get everything done on time . . . on a budget . . . with a smile? As she watched her to-do list grow ever longer -- trees, wreathes, cards, decorations, stockings, holly, cookies, gifts -- her inner Scrooge started to well up. But then, like me, she heard a song. It was an unmistakable voice, one we all remember, one that for her would Save Christmas.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

What Are We Doing?

     Sometimes I wonder: what are we doing? Everybody, it seems, is worried about climate change and global warming, the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the general level of pollution in our water and air. But nobody seems to do anything about it.

     People blame the California fires on the electric company and global warming. But still they keep building more houses in sensitive and threatened areas. Politicians propose a green new deal -- but, it seems, only to make a point, not to seriously address the issue. But meanwhile . . .

     I just drove 150 miles down I95. I spied a few Toyota Priuses and other hybrids. There were some economy cars -- the smaller Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets -- that might average better than 30 mpg. But by far the majority of vehicles on the road were trucks and SUVs -- vehicles like the Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, and the Jeeps and big Mercedes that burn up fuel and spit out exhaust at a rate of 15 mpg. It's hard to believe these people are interested in saving the planet.
   
     And then, do they drive at 55 mph, when the car is at its most efficient? Or even 60 or 65 mph, when it's not much less efficient? No, they speed at 70 or 75, or many of them do, when gas efficiency starts to deteriorate significantly. I guess people want to save the environment . . . unless they're in a hurry.

     Then I get to my airbnb, a condo complex on the coastline of Florida. There are 24 units in my building, and there are a dozen buildings -- for 288 units. I checked in with the manager. She handed me a copy of the rules and pointed out where the trash bins are. She didn't mentioned recycling, so I asked.

     "No, we don't recycle," she said. She gave me a guilty look. "We used to. But too many of the guests just didn't bother, and it was costing us money. So we stopped. Everything goes in the trash now."

     Again, it seems people want to save the planet. But not if it's too much trouble, or if it costs a few extra dollars.

     And when I went to the beach, guess what I saw. The sand was peppered with little pieces of plastic, in amongst the seaweed. Should we be surprised?

Can you see the little bits of green and blue plastic on the Florida beach?
   
     I'm certainly not setting myself up as holier than thou. I drive a car (but not an SUV). I usually recycle my paper and plastics. But on occasion I've thrown a bottle in the regular trash, especially since I've read that there's so much plastic they can't recycle it all and some of it ends up in the landfills anyway.

     We have to live in our world. But it's easy to blame PG&E or Big Oil. But who buys the oil? Who uses all the plastic? Who's responsible for our ever-increasing use of electricity? What's the old saying? We have met the enemy, and it is us.

     I remember when I was a kid. My aunt lived out in the country. She'd burn her trash and throw what wouldn't burn into the woods behind her house. This was a common practice in those days. But eventually there was just too much trash. So now even the rural residents put their garbage in the proper receptacles to be hauled away to proper disposal stations.

     We really should stop throwing paper and plastic into the ocean, and stop spewing carbons into the air. Like the people in my aunt's old neighborhood, we have to become a little more advanced in our ways. Even if we don't care about it for ourselves, we should do it for the grandchildren.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

November By Any Other Place

     So the other day I left the Northeast and traveled almost a thousand miles, just to get out of the cold. Well, lo and behold, it turns out that Florida has winter, too!


     It rained the day I got here.

   
     The cloud cover broke up a little bit. But still, the beach is gray and wind-swept. Maybe, no matter where you go, you can't escape November.

   
     Nevertheless, there's a different feel. The coast is windswept, but not cold. Damp but not frozen. Lonely, but not bitter.


     And, a surprise for me anyway, the dunes were dotted with flowers, brightening up the gloom of the darkening skies.
 


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Shelter in Place!

     This happened just the other day. It was late afternoon, starting to get dark. I was home alone. My wife was out running errands. I noticed a cop car parked across the street, lights flashing. At first I didn't think anything of it. We occasionally have cop cars parked at our corner because it's a school crossing and the cops like to keep an eye on things.

     Then I thought, uh oh, maybe it's the woman across the street. She's elderly, pushing 90, and maybe something happened to her. But the next time I looked out the window I saw her walk onto her front porch, look around for a few seconds, then go back inside.

     A few minutes later the phone rang. I looked at caller ID (because I don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number), and it was B. "I can't get home," she said. "The street is blocked off."

     There was a cop blocking the street, she reported. And the other entrance into our neighborhood was closed down as well.

     As we spoke on the phone I got up from my desk and peered out the window, then went around to the guest bedroom and spied out the other way. I saw cop cars, lights flashing, lined all the way down the street, starting at my house and going out toward the main road.

     "Oh, boy, something's going on," I said to her. "Maybe it's an accident? Or a medical emergency?"

     It was obvious this would take a while. We decided B would turn around and go over to Panera's and have a cup of tea.

     I hung up the phone, and about five minutes later it rang again. Caller ID said it was from the township. So I picked up the phone. And that's when I heard the recorded announcement: Due to police activity in my area, I was warned to shelter in place.

     So I called B back. She was in Panera's, and she'd had an opportunity to check in with the neighborhood women's group. The texts were flying. There was a shooter. A number of people had reported shots fired in the neighborhood. No one knew anymore than that, except my next-door neighbor was panicking because she had six neighborhood kids in her basement. They could see the lights of the cop cars out the basement windows, and knew there was a shooter on the loose.

      I checked our local news website. There were reports of gunfire coming from a house -- a house just around the corner from us. No injuries were reported. There was a young man involved. The news story claimed the incident was confined to one house.

     Next I surveyed the street as best I could, peering out from window to window. I saw a man in what looked like full combat gear sneaking around the house across the street in back of us. Down the street I saw a van with three -- no, four -- people crouched behind it for protection.

     A few minutes later an armored truck slowly rumbled down the street. It stopped. Then it started up again and moved down to the corner. The back of the truck opened and four or five fully armed men hurried out the back. They gathered on the corner, conversed with one another, checked on their radios.

     After a few minutes the men climbed back into the truck, and the truck turned the corner and continued down the street.

     I saw several other cops walking up ad down the street. A few were in combat gear, others wore blue uniforms with bullet-proof vests. The van stayed where it was, with the cops huddled behind it, surveying the area, keeping watch.

     I called B again. She'd been busy texting with her neighborhood friends. There was a young man, hyped up on drugs, who'd been shooting out the window of his house. Apparently the situation was now under control. She'd call me back as soon as she heard more.

     Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw a few of the cop cars turn and head out. B called me back. She was coming home. More cop cars left, until the street was dark. That's when I noticed that none of the houses along the street had turned on their lights. Everybody, it seems, was lying low.

     A little later a line of headlights appeared on the street. People coming home from work. They were now allowed in.

     B showed up and settled in. We had dinner. Her church activity scheduled for that evening had been canceled, due to the police activity. The school on the next block also canceled its evening program, a concert by the kids. We later read that while school had been let out before the incident occurred, there was a group of kids in an after-school program that were subject to the shelter-in-place order. The school went on lock-down.

     The news the next day summarized:  "No injuries were reported in conjunction with the incident, which unfolded just after 3:45 p.m. The police responded after reports of continuous gunfire in the area. When officers arrived a standoff situation ensued and 'numerous' shots were fired from inside the house, police said. The standoff ended just after 5:30 p.m. A 21-year-old man who lives at the home surrendered and was taken into custody."

     We don't know the young man, or the family that lives in the house. I guess we'll never know the details of the situation. But the basic problem is obvious. There was some mixture of drugs, mental illness and ready access to a gun that precipitated the crisis.

     We're always surprised when something like this happens. But we shouldn't be. We have more drugs, more mental illness and more guns than we've ever had. Shouldn't we do something about it?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Night to Remember

     This happened to me a couple of years ago. It was sometime in November, which maybe explains why it haunts me to this day.

     It was a cloudy, overcast morning before Thanksgiving. I was still groggy from sleep, and as I drank my coffee I recalled how I had just seen my old friend Phil.

     I'd been sitting in my office at work, behind my desk, looking out through the glass wall. Someone had pasted a notice on the outside of the glass, so I stood up to see what it was. As I circled around my desk, Phil appeared at my doorway -- tall and thin with bushy black hair and a big smile. He came in as though nothing had happened. He was walking a little funny, but gave me his usual throaty laugh.

     "Phil!" I said in astonishment. "You're here!"

     "Yeah, I was just down the hall," he said, pointing outside my door. "Thought I'd come by and say hello."

     He had some papers tucked under one arm, and set them down on the corner of my desk. And that's when I noticed he was using crutches. They were metal, the kind that go halfway up your forearms.

     He caught me looking at the crutches. Then he looked me straight on, with a sly grin on his face. "Yeah, I recovered," he said, acknowledging what I knew. "I'm okay, all except my legs. They don't work too well so I have to use these crutches."

     "Wow," was all I managed to say.

     "It's not too bad," he said reassuringly.

     I still couldn't believe he was here. But his laugh was real, for sure. I looked down at the papers he had dropped on my desk. They were written in some kind of Chinese characters. "That's great, Phil," I said, trying to regain my composure, trying to be cool about it . "So what are these papers?"

     "Oh, yeah, I've got to hand these out to some people," he said. Then, seeing I was puzzled by the strange lettering, he explained, "I've been doing a lot of traveling."

     "That's good," I replied. "Where to?"

     "Well, I've got to get going," Phil said, ignoring my question. Then as he turned to leave, he dropped one of his crutches, but he kept right on going, walking out the door leaning on one crutch and turning the corner. I bent over and picked up the crutch. It was cold in my hand. Then Phil peeked back around the corner. "Oops, forgot my crutch," he chuckled.

     I took a step over toward the door and handed him the crutch. He reached out and took it, then slipped it onto his arm. He turned and hobbled out. "Good to see you," he called over his shoulder as he disappeared down the hallway.

     So what really happened? It took place about ten years ago. Phil came over to the office. He was going to treat me to lunch. He was a few years older than I was and had taken an early retirement package from the company. But he lived nearby and often came by to see old colleagues. He'd told me he'd pick me up; he'd be happy to drive. My office was right by the front door, so that day he pulled up in his Corvette and honked. I saw him out my window, and he waved to me.

     I threw on my jacket, rushed out the door and jumped into the passenger seat. It was an old Corvette. He'd bought it for his wife on her 40th birthday. But by this time she'd gotten a new car, and he was driving the Corvette . . . for sentimental reasons, I think.

     As we headed over to the restaurant we talked about our friends and joked around about various things going on at the office. But I noticed, as he drove, that he handled the steering wheel kind of funny. Was something wrong? I wondered. I didn't say anything. He was talking like the same old Phil. How could anything be wrong?

     Again at lunch, it seemed as though he was awkward -- was there something the matter with his hands? I wasn't sure, and decided he should be the one to bring it up if he wanted to, so I kept my mouth shut. Still, I searched his eyes for some kind of recognition, trying to offer a non-verbal signal that it was okay to tell me if something was wrong. But he didn't pick up on it. His conversation, his attitude, his demeanor all said that everything was fine.

     We finished lunch and Phil dropped me back off at work, laughing and joking and promising to meet up again soon. "So long," I called to him as I closed the car door.

     "Bye bye," he waved.

     It was the next day when I heard the news. Phil was dead. He had committed suicide. He had written a note to his wife and daughter, gulped down a bottle of pills, lay down in bed and died.

     Why? What happened? Everyone wanted to know.

     Phil had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Nobody knew about it except his family. He'd been hiding it. It's a progressive, fatal disease. No cure. No way out. We could only guess what went through his mind -- that he didn't want to be the object of sympathy from his friends, that he didn't want to become a burden to his family, didn't want to subject himself to the indignities of the inevitable heartbreaking decline.

     So he'd ended it on his own terms.

     Phil, I don't know if you did the right thing. Who am I to judge? But, damn, you had a lot of courage. It's been over ten years and I still miss you. But thanks . . . thanks for coming to visit me in the night in my dreams.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ghosts Along the Delaware

     We drove over to Lambertville, NJ, across the Delaware river, because we heard that one of the neighborhoods puts on a pretty spectacular Halloween display. And since we, personally, invest more time, money and interest in the candy side of Halloween than we do in the decorations, we thought we should go see how the other half does it.


     First we took a drive up to Goat Hill and walked up to the lookout over the Delaware. We didn't see any goats, but we got a nice view looking north, and back west across the river to New Hope, PA. We felt the presence of a few ghosts from the distant past -- during the Revolutionary War both the British and the Americans used this vantage point to scout out enemy positions along the river.


     Then we headed into town and did some scouting of our own. One house featured a panoply of ghosts and goblins and witches in the front yard.


    A witch beckoned us down an alley to find more scary creatures.


     Yikes, two of them!


     One household was getting a little help with the yard work.


     Another offered a bit of glamour.


     Don't ask me what this is, but it's spooky enough, don't you think?.


     However, I do know a ghost when I see one. Anyway, may you be happy and safe for Halloween ... and get lots of candy.
   

Saturday, October 26, 2019

May We Never Go There Again

     When people say to me, "America is more polarized and divided than it has ever been," I say to them, remember the 1960s and Vietnam, or the 1950s and McCarthyism and desegregation. Think about the 1930s and the Depression and the police shooting union strikers in the street. And think about the Civil War.

     We've been divided before. And sometimes we need reminding: We don't want to become that divided again.

     B and I made a trip to Gettysburg last weekend. B told me she'd been there as a child, but didn't remember anything about it except a pleasant memory of her father leading her around by the hand. I had never been there before at all. But now I can tell you: It's a sobering experience.

A painting of the battle

     We went on an overcast day in October, so it wasn't too crowded. It was hot and humid for those three days in July 1863, when the battle took place, but somehow when we were there it seemed appropriate that the skies were cloudy and the air hung heavy with mist.

     We were told by friends to take the personalized tour. A guide gets in your car and drives you around the battlefield. You will learn a lot more than you will going on the bus tour, they said, and it will be a lot less confusing than the self-guided tour.

     The guide took us around the battlefield, which surrounds the town of Gettysburg, roughly following the chronology of the battle.

Looking down on the town of Gettysburg from the west

     On July 1, 1963, the Confederate army, commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee, arrived from the west. They had advanced up the Shenandoah Valley, essentially hiding from the Feds behind the mountains, and then cut northeast into Pennsylvania. Some units made it as far as the Susquehannah River. The Southerners hoped that an invasion of the North would demoralize the already war-weary Union, and perhaps persuade President Lincoln to come to the negotiating table and agree to a peace treaty that would leave the Confederacy intact.

     The North's Army of the Potomac, under General George Meade, rushed up from Washington, DC, to meet the challenge. The Confederates had numerical advantage that first day and pushed the Federal troops back, chasing them through the streets of town.

     By July 2, more Federal troops had arrived, and they formed a line along the high ground that ran east and south of town, called Cemetery Ridge. The ridge was anchored on the south by a small hill called Round Top, and an even smaller hill called Little Round Top.

Round Top on the right, Little Round Top on the left

     General Lee attacked, using a flanking maneuver. One group hit the Union right side. Another moved on the Union left, trying to take Little Round Top. During intense fighting, with both sides suffering terrible losses, a contingent of Confederates got caught in Devil's Den, below Little Round Top. Hundreds were mowed down by the Union forces above them.

Looking down on Devil's Den from Little Round Top

     Confederates took refuge on Seminary Hill, opposite the Union forces on Cemetery Hill. On July 3, Lee tried a flanking attack once again. When that was beaten back, he decided to risk everything on a frontal attack, right into the middle of Union lines. The Confederates spent several hours bombarding Union forces with canons, Then some 12,000 rebels advanced across the mile-wide open fields. At the center was a division led by Maj. Gen. George Picket. In an attack later known as Pickett's charge, one brigade breached Union lines. Soldiers fought with rifles and bayonets. For some it came down to hand-to-hand combat. But finally the rebels were beaten back. The Union had won.

First the Confederates used the canons, then they attacked across this field

     The next morning, July 4, Lee retreated south. General Meade followed, but failed to press the advantage, and so the Confederates were able to cross the Potomac River and head back to Virginia. The South was finished, but they didn't know it, as they still held out hopes for a peace treaty. The Civil War lasted almost two more years before General Ulysses S. Grant, who'd replaced Meade, took Richmond and forced Lee to surrender at Appomattox, on April 9, 1865.

A few of the graves in the nearby National Cemetery

     Of course, we know Lincoln was assassinated just a few days later, arguably the last victim of a war that killed more than 600,000 American volunteer soldiers -- including as many as 30,000 men who died from those three days at Gettysburg.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Guns Don't Kill People . . .

 . . . people kill people.

     But you can't shoot someone without a gun. And it's a lot harder to kill someone if you don't have a gun.

     I don't know how gun control is an issue that's of interest particularly to people in their 60s and 70s -- any more than it is for any other age group -- except, maybe, possibly, because of our experience and wisdom we can take a more mature and considered look at the issue.

     Occasionally a politician or conservative think tank will cite studies showing that in places where more people have guns, there are actually fewer murders. The idea, I suppose, is that if a criminal fears that a store owner is hiding a pistol behind the counter, the criminal is less likely to rob the store. This may actually be true; the issue has been argued both ways.

     A friend of mine, who's a typical moderate liberal suburbanite, carries a handgun in his car. Why? Because he once was held up at gunpoint by the side of the road. He was in fear for his life and felt completely helpless, and he vowed never to be put into that position again.

     He feels safer with a gun in the car. Is he actually any safer? That's debatable.

     But the point is, it doesn't matter. It has no bearing on the issue of gun control. No one is arguing that Americans should be stripped of their guns (are they?). Even Beto O'Rourke who said, "Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15s," doesn't say he wants to take away all guns. Kamela Harris owns a gun; Elizabeth Warren says her brother owns a gun; both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have explicitly defended the right of citizens to bear arms.

     Some say gun control should be left up to state or local authorities. New York has a gun control law. Plenty of other places do too. But, for one thing, it's too easy to purchase a gun in one location and carry it to another location where it might be illegal -- but where there's no way the local law can possibly be enforced. Also, when people start shooting federally elected officials, like U. S. Representatives Gabrielle Giffords and Steve Scalise, it only seems logical that federal laws should apply in the matter.

     So what could possibly be wrong with treating guns like another dangerous but useful tool -- the automobile. No one complains that people are denied the right to own an automobile. Almost every American has one, or uses one. Lots of people have two or three.

     But there are laws regulating the use and ownership of an automobile. You have to get a minimal amount of training, then pass a test and get a license, before you can drive. You register your car, so authorities can keep track of all these automobiles, in case a crime is committed or someone is hurt. And you're also required to have auto insurance, so if someone does get hurt by this dangerous machine, they can get reimbursed for their medical bills and maybe receive some sort of payment as recompense for their pain and suffering.

     And nobody pickets Congress saying, If cars are outlawed, only outlaws will have cars!

     So what's wrong with the federal government requiring people to get some training, pass a test, and then get a license before they're allowed to shoot a gun? (Or the states could set these requirements under federal guidelines.) A gun is just as dangerous as a car, perhaps more so. And so it only seems logical that shooters, just like drivers, should be able to demonstrate that they're competent to use one. (Kids in some areas could take Shooter's Ed in school -- why not?) Since it's a dangerous as well as a useful tool -- again, just like a car -- people should have to prove that they're responsible enough to own one. And for that the gun would have to be registered, and insured, just like a car, to ensure a level of sanity to the situation.

     Sure, it would cost gun owners a bit of money -- but a lot less than it costs to keep a car. Hunters could still hunt. Store owners could still keep a gun to defend themselves from violent criminals. Hobbyists could still collect their rifles and guns. And my friend can keep his gun in his glove compartment.

     I just don't see why this wouldn't work. A lot of people like their guns. They find them useful. That's fine. Nobody's trying to take away the guns. But guns are dangerous. They are scary. At least as scary as a car.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

How to Give Money to Your Children

     B and I recently redid our wills, and this got us thinking about how -- and how much -- money to leave for our children and grandchildren. Then we realized we are not alone. Over the next couple of decades by some estimates Baby Boomers will leave around $30 trillion to their Gen-X and Millennial children.

     Of course the answer to how much we give away is: whatever is leftover after we die, minus a few minor bequests to a couple of favorite charities. But of course the issue is more complicated than that. For example, should we give some money to our kids now, while they're still young and could really use it to buy a house, pay for day care, or start a college fund for the kids?

     For some clear and sensible advice I turned to my financial guru, Jeremy Kisner, Director of Financial Planning & Senior Wealth Adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ. He has covered various aspects of the issue in his blog, Clear and Concise Financial Advice, and so with his permission I've cribbed some of his counsel.

     Can you afford it? The first thing to consider is: Can you afford to give away assets now without concern that you may run out later in life? The last thing you want to do is give away money, then become a burden to your children in a few years when they themselves are pressed for money to send kids to college or save for a retirement of their own. You can give money more confidently if you have long-term-care insurance to handle future medical expenses and you have guaranteed income sources such as Social Security and pensions that cover all or most of your living expenses.

     Will an inheritance affect the recipient's motivation? Many clients who have substantial assets earned them on their own. In fact, 80% of millionaire households did not inherit their money or enjoy any kind of windfall. These people are generally proud of the struggles they went through and the prudent financial decisions they made. Ironically, they then often want to make life easy for their children and grandchildren. Paving an easy path for children can deny them the pride-inducing sacrifices that make life's journey meaningful. This is less true if you are gifting to children who are older (in their 50s or 60s), and also less true for gifts that provide experiences, such as sponsoring  family vacations or reunions, or subsidizing educational expenses.

     Will you give equally? There is almost nothing you can do to create more hurt feelings and dysfunction in your family than gifting unequally among a group of children or grandchildren. It may seem reasonable to support one child or grandchild more than others, either because one child needs more help, or one child wants to start a business or go back to school. Just be careful. You don't want to be perceived as playing favorites.

     But does equal always mean fair? My advice is to leave equal bequests to your children and grandchildren, unless there is a clear and persuasive reason for the inequity. You should always communicate why you are making an unequal distribution, either while you are alive or else by leaving a letter with your estate-planning documents. This can be uncomfortable to do, but your children will likely come up with their own explanation (e.g. my parents had a favorite child, and it wasn't me!) if you don't communicate why you made the decisions you made.

     What about giving to charity? I also recommend a conversation or letter explaining why/if you're taking some of "their" inheritance and giving it to a charity. It may seem as though you shouldn't need to explain what you do with your money, but better to err on the side of oversharing, because hurt feelings can last a lifetime and overshadow all the good times you had together.

     What are the tax ramifications? To the IRS it makes little difference whether you make your bequests during your lifetime or after your death. In 2019 you can transfer up to $11.4 million  without the gift being subject to federal gift or estate taxes. (Some people think this amount is too large, contributing to inequality, but as things stand it will slowly get larger since the amount is indexed to inflation.) You are also free to give up to $15,000 annually to as many people as you like without owing any federal gift tax, or using up any of the $11.4 million lifetime exemption. You can gift more than $15,000 in a year, but you must file IRS Form 709 to let the IRS know that you are using part of your lifetime exemption. All these amounts can be doubled if you and your spouse each make a gift.

     Is it better to give cash or appreciated assets? Parents usually give their children cash, because it's the easiest thing to do. However, when assets such as stocks or real estate are passed with your estate the recipient steps up the cost basis to the time of your death rather than using your original cost. In the event you have substantial assets, or assets that have appreciated in value, it's probably a good idea to discuss your strategy with a financial adviser.

     How do we talk about this? It's important for people to have open, honest communication about money with family members before they inherit assets. This does not mean the kids need to see copies of your financial statements. You just want your beneficiaries to know what to expect -- and you can use these discussions to pass on your values along with the money. One way to do this is to tell personal stories  -- some of them may even be humorous -- about the risks you have have taken and the sacrifices you've made in order to build a successful business or career. Gifts that are shared without purpose or intention can feel like welfare. Beneficiaries tend to have a greater sense of ownership and responsibility when they are included in family discussions about bequests, however generous or modest they may be.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Cold Chills

     This week we're getting cold chills . . . not because of the weather, not because Halloween is looming on the horizon, but because of a few things on the minds of Baby Boomers.

     Laurie Stone of Musing, Rants & Scribbles gets a cold chill whenever she hears certain fateful words. Her pulse increases, her stomach tightens, she starts feeling lightheaded. Did she hear that right? Maybe she got it wrong? But yes, her husband just uttered that fright-filled sentence "I'm Going Food Shopping." So go trick-or-treat over at Laurie's blog, if you dare.

     Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomer.com wonders if you've ever gotten a weird rash and don't know what it is, or what caused it. Rebecca is itching to tell you about hers in Dealing with a Rash: or Fun with Aging. I think we can all relate as she asks: Is it an allergic reaction? Can it be a touch of eczema? It is due to stress? Check out her post to see how she's dealing with it -- and for a reminder about how to keep up to speed with your routine preventive care.

     Meryl Baer admits to spending too much time surfing the net -- and if surfing the net doesn't give you the chills, I don't know what does. (See Carol Cassara's post below). Anyway, Baer reports that sometimes she uncovers interesting but completely useless information on the internet, such as . . . well, see what she found this week in her post Three Blind Mice and Another One.

     At Unfold and Begin, Jennifer is wondering why the media drum it into our heads that "failure is not an option." The phrase gives her the chills, since she feels the only place it really rings true is in a life-or-death situation. Instead, she sees failure as a great learning tool and a necessary step in learning new things. So if you yourself have ever felt a fear of failure, don't fail to find out why Jennifer says Failure Is an Option. -- and see what the likes of Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill and Robert Kennedy thought about failure.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide Rita Robison got chills about a study that said advice to eat less red meat for better health is unscientific. The report is critical of existing nutritional studies that rely on self-reported information that is necessarily flawed. However, Robison also points out the holes in the new report. For a full serving of why you really shouldn't consume too much meat belly up to her post at Researchers Who Say Red Meat Isn't That Harmful Are Wrong.

     And finally, it's the incivility of life today that gives Carol Cassara the chills. Over at A Healing Spirit she asks, "Are we humans? Or animals? Or savages?" And in her post How Did We Become Lord of the Fliesshe draws eerie parallels between our lives today and the classic novel by William Golding.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

In Defense of Old White Males

     Someone recently commented on one of my posts that Old White Men have left us "a country crippled by debt and covered in unbreathable air and undrinkable water."

     I get the point. Old White Men have basically been in control of things for the last, oh, eight or ten thousand years, and so they are the ones responsible for all the bad things happening in our world today, from inequality to global warming to wars in the Middle East. I not only get the point, I can't even disagree with it.

     However, I happen to be an old white man myself, so I feel like I have to come to the defense of my own kind. And while I admit to some bias, I just don't believe old white males are as bad as they are sometimes made out to be. In fact, any statement blaming old white males for every problem under the sun hits the trifecta of discrimination: it is ageist, racist and sexist!

     So first of all, all the bad things can't possibly be entirely the fault of men in power, because there are, and have been, plenty of women in positions of power, ever since Cleopatra. So for example, we have had three recent female Secretaries of State: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. There are plenty of corporate ceos, such as Ginni Rometty at IBM, Mary Barra at GM and Indra Nooyi at Pepsi. Plus there are 25 women U. S. Senators and 102 female U. S. Representatives, as well as crowds of prominent women in the media (Oprah Winfrey), literature (Toni Morrison) and academia (Amy Gutmann, who as pres. of Univ. of Pennsylvania makes $3 million a year . . . hello income inequality, hello college debt!)

     So has the female record been any better than the male record? I dunno. In most cases, it's hard to tell. How do you compare, say, comedian Stephen Colbert with comedian Chelsea Handler? They're both funny in their own way.

     But what we can say is that women don't always do better than men. Carly Fiorina didn't do too well at Hewlett Packard. When she was named ceo in 1999 Fortune magazine gushed, "she didn't just break the glass ceiling, she obliterated it." Then she went on to lay off some 30,000 employees (yes, 30,000!), and was finally forced out in 2005.

     Or look at Marissa Meyer, who was supposed to save Yahoo. But instead, according to Business Insider, she generated "slowing growth, internal dissent, plummeting employee morale and calls for her resignation," before finally selling the company to Verizon for a fraction of what it was once worth.

     Or think about Indra Nooyi at Pepsi. She's considered a success for increasing profits and developing new products. But Pepsi basically makes its money selling sugar, salt and high fructose corn syrup to the masses. In short, she's done just what a successful man would do!

     Anyway, if you blame men for all the bad things in the world, you also have to give credit to men for all the good things as well, including all the great art, music and literature -- plus the modern conveniences in the home that save us from a life of drudgery, the modern transportation system that, for whatever its faults, allows us to visit our relatives and go on those wonderful vacations; the modern health-care system that, again for all its faults, has allowed us to live healthier, more active and much longer lives.

     Let's face it. If it weren't for old white men, most of us would be dead by now.

     Maybe if women had been in charge there would have been fewer wars. Maybe society would be more equal. Who knows? But one thing's for sure. Women will get their chance. Today, women earn 57% of bachelor degrees, 60% of master's degrees, and 52% of doctorates. And you can bet, that's where the leaders of tomorrow will come from.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What's Our Responsibility?

     I just read a book called The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. It chronicles the history of the southern high plains -- how they were taken over from the Native Americans, plowed up by settlers, and then scraped dry by the drought of the 1930s.

     What struck me about the story is how the EuroAmerican farmers, encouraged by the government and supported by a good economy, tore up the native grasses, grew wheat and other grains and made lots of money in the process. But then came the Depression, and crop prices went down.

     To cover their debts and still make a profit, farmers plowed up yet more grasslands and planted more crops. Then a dry period arrived. The native grasses could survive the dry periods, but the grains could not. The crops withered and died. The dry dirt blew away in the wind. The farmers grew increasingly desperate. Many of them were foreclosed; many of them left. Some of those who stayed behind died of lung diseases or starvation.

     In other words, maybe through no fault of their own, but through their ignorance of the climate, their lack of foresight, their eagerness to make more money -- and urged on by the government -- they brought this crisis on themselves.

     Sound familiar?

     Most of us care about the environment, whether we believe global warming is an immediate  threat -- like Al Gore or this young climate activist from Sweden Greta Thunberg -- or simply regard it as a long-term concern. Or even if you think global warming is a hoax, you still probably want to breathe clean air, and don't want to be sucking exhaust out of the tailpipe of a ten-year-old pickup truck or live within spitting distance of a coal-fired electric plant.

     Of course we all want the government and the big corporations to do something about it. But what is our responsibility?

     Do we blame the oil companies for digging up the oil? Or do we blame the auto companies for producing gas-guzzling SUVs, or ourselves for buying and driving those gas-guzzling SUVs? (Trucks and SUVs now account for roughly 65% of new vehicle sales, and according to the EPA, the Jeep Wrangler averages 18 mpg, the Mercedes standard SUV gets 16 mpg and the Dodge RAM pickup limps in at 14 mpg.)

     Still, we have to live in our world, and we need to get around. And there are plenty of good reasons why we retirees like to drive father than to the corner store. We like to travel. We travel to meet up with family and to bring our friends closer together. We travel to broaden our horizons, to see how other people live, appreciate other cultures and better understand our world.

     And then there's the kind of travel that B calls "expensive entertainment." That's when you go to Disneyworld or a resort in the Caribbean or pretty much anything you do in Las Vegas.

     But when we travel there is a cost to the environment. That four-hour drive down the interstate in your SUV, at 70 mph, burns up about 12 gallons of gasoline, spewing those hydrocarbons into the air. The coast-to-coast airline flight burns about 15,000 gallons of fuel (or roughly 40 gallons per passenger). When you consider that every day there are about 100,000 commercial flights in our skies, plus another 30,000 non-commercial flights -- that's a lot of hydrocarbons!

     So what do we do? Just continue to blame big government and big business? Or can we modify our behavior enough to make a difference?

     Personally, I try to stay off airplanes anyway, because I don't like to fly. But maybe we should be more intentional about hopping on a plane just because the airline is advertising a cheap rate to some entertaining destination.

     Maybe we should try to go by train, if possible. (Kudos to the 200 - 300 retirees, per day, who make their trip to Florida on the Autotrain.) Or perhaps we can carpool.

     My golf group of mostly retired teachers travels around to different golf courses, often bypassing perfectly good courses to travel 30 miles to a place with slightly cheaper rates. But the guys do make an effort to carpool. Sometimes it's a pain in the neck, turning a 30-minute drive into a 45-minute drive by the time you go out of your way to get to a meeting point, then wait for other people to arrive, and then all pile in and get going again. Does it make any difference?

      But as far as our own travel goes, maybe we can focus our trips closer to home. How many New Yorkers jet off to France to see the Eiffel tower, but never bother to take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty? There often are plenty of interesting places close to home that are just as enriching, just as entertaining as the place a thousand miles away.

     I remember when I was a kid, my mother urged us to batch our car trips. Why make three car trips when you can get everything done in one trip, and save a little on gas, she'd challenge us. And this was before the energy crisis, when gas cost 35 cents a gallon!

     I don't have all the answers. Honestly, as far as global warming goes, I think if anything saves us from ourselves, it will be technology. But it can't be electric cars. Where do you think we get the electricity to power electric cars? From burning coal and oil and natural gas.

     But I'm guessing they'll come up with some new form of energy that will be cleaner than petroleum and more powerful than wind or solar (but that will probably pose some other problem to challenge our grandchildren). In the meantime, maybe we should help out, at least where we can . . . before everything turns to dust and blows away in the wind.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Playing by Different Rules

     B and I are having a dinner party next week. Well, it's not exactly a party. Three of my old friends are coming to visit. We're going to play golf together. Then they're coming over to our house for dinner and a round of poker. They're staying overnight in a local motel, and we're playing golf again the next morning before they go home.

     These guys are part of my old crowd of about eight or nine of us who used to play golf and poker together. When we played poker we took turns hosting -- the host would provide the house, the dining room table, some poker chips -- and when we first started out the host would also supply pizza and beer and a couple of family size bags of potato chips.

     We played together for 25 years before people started retiring and moving away, and finally the group kind of broke up -- although I know a few of the guys still get together occasionally to play golf. Anyway, slowly, over time, people started to up the ante on the evening's cuisine. One of the wives decided that pizza was too low class, and she made it her job to broil up a platter of chicken legs and wings and mix a green salad.

My idea
     Then one of our original players dropped out of the game, and we replaced him with another friend who turned out to be a vegetarian. His wife prepared a sophisticated vegetarian stew, preceded by appetizers featuring various cheeses, flavored hummus and  European-style crackers. She also put out a bottle of wine -- for the more refined palates.

     Meantime, while this gradual improvement in our culinary routine was going on, I was getting divorced, moving into a condo, and sticking resolutely to the routine of pizza, chips and beer. When I got together with B, and she found out about the poker game, she immediately decided that pizza wouldn't do. She wanted to cook. I discouraged her, not wanting to prevail upon her good nature to feed my friends. We reached an impasse. She did cook for my crowd a few times. Other times, especially if she was busy with her own activities, she bowed out, and I just followed my old routine of pizza and chips.

     But of course, that was then. And this is now.

     When she caught wind of my plans to have the guys over, she went into overdrive in planning a menu that would impress the Queen of England.

     I tried to discourage her. "Really," I told her, "you slaving over a hot stove for this group of guys is not what I was thinking about then we made these plans. You don't have to do that."

     "Oh, yes I do," she responded. "And I don't mind. I like to cook."

     "Yeah, but I don't want to be the one causing you to have to do a whole lot of extra work."

     "It's no big deal," she assured me. "I enjoy doing it. I'll cook up some pasta primavera, make a salad. I'll bake a pumpkin pie. I'm just wondering what I should serve for hors d'oeuvres."

     "No, that's too much," I protested. "It's too much work."

     "No, not really," she insisted. "I've got plenty of time to get ready."

     "Okay . . . I guess," I said. Then, trying to compromise, I offered, "But we don't need dessert and we surely don't need hors d'oeuvres. These guys expect pizza and potato chips, nothing else.You're already exceeding expectations."

     I was thinking about people's expectations and their judgments, and . . . what's good enough. In my mind, these guys were expecting to have a good time playing golf and cards and joking around. They were most certainly not expecting a gourmet meal.

Her idea
     But B plays with a different rule book. She looked at me and said, "It's okay for you to serve pizza. It's not okay for me to serve pizza."

     "Why not?" I asked innocently.

     "Because, like it or not, we live in a society that still judges women differently from men. You can serve pizza. I can't serve pizza."

     "But they're not bringing their wives. You don't have to impress the women. It's just the guys."

     She said nothing. She just gave me a look . . . you know the look, the look that says I'm clueless but she loves me anyway.

     "Well, at least let's try to keep it simple," I finally said, giving up, "so you don't have to do too much extra work."

     "You're not making me do extra work. I want to do this. Now, I'm thinking about the hors d'oeuvres."

     "Ah," I said, brightening. "So at least let me take care of the hors d'oeuvres. I've got them covered. I'll get a family size potato chips . . . and maybe some dip too."

     "Yeah, okay, get some chips," she smiled indulgently. "Now let's see," she murmured to herself, "maybe I can drive over to Altamonte's and pick up one of their special cheese plates."

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Does Anyone Know What's Next?

     B and I have been busy lately. But we've also been wondering: What's the point? Are we doing anything meaningful? Are we making any difference?

     To be honest, B worries about this more than I do. Still, I look at my calendar for the week. I see that it's full of activity. But at the end of the week I wonder: Have I accomplished anything?

     B is busy volunteering at her church and doing yoga at the YMCA and visiting with her new friends. I keep busy doing my blog, playing weekly golf with a group of retired guys, going to table tennis at a local club.

     Fortunately, neither one of us has to spend too much time on doctor appointments. She had her cataract surgery. I go to the orthopedist now and then for a checkup on my back and my knees. We joke about how as we get older, it takes more time just to take care of our daily routines -- stretching and doing our exercises, making an effort to eat right and take our vitamins,. and ... er ... it seems we spend a lot of time looking for reading glasses, searching for car keys, and fiddling with something that's gone wrong on the computer or the phone.

     Now both of us have started in on our new semester at the Center for Learning in Retirement, held at our local college. I'm taking a history course on the Civil War and a literature course on James Joyce's Ulysses. Also, B and I for the first time are leading our local chapter of the Socrates Cafe. We hope that will be interesting, and not too challenging.

     But still, maybe because it's September, and even though I've been out of school for decades, there's still that feeling that we should be starting something new. That somehow we should be moving up to a new school or at least a new grade. Or maybe starting a new job.

     One reason for this feeling -- this low level of floating anxiety -- may be that we've spent the last four years finding our place in retirement, relocating our home and establishing new lives. That has been a big project, and through it all we knew there was an overarching goal to our efforts.

     First we spent a year decluttering our old house, fixing it up and putting it on the market. Then we spent a year living in a one-bedroom condo and traveling around four or five states looking for the place we wanted to resettle. Then, after we finally bought a new house, it's taken us two years to fix it up and to find new friends and new activities.

     But now most of that has been accomplished. We're done with the house. We're settled in. We'll still be meeting new people, trying out new activities -- I'm thinking about joining our local photography club, for example -- but the major items have been accomplished. So what's next?

     B is leaving in a few days to go babysit her two grandchildren in Charleston, SC, while the kids go away for a few days. She's looking forward to that. Then we're planning our November trip to see my daughter who's expecting my first grandchild.

     We'll be going back to see my daughter in February, after the baby comes. We don't know how long we'll be staying at that point. We don't know how much she'll need us, or want us. But then it will be on to Charleston again. Even though our grandchildren live hundreds of miles away, we want them to know who we are, and that means we have to visit for more than a few days once or twice a year.

     We have used Facetime to talk to our oldest grandson, who's 2 1/2. He's old enough now to recognize us on screen, and to interact with us to a small degree. Anyway, he's happy to see us, if his laughter and his antics are any way to judge.

     I wonder: Just as we have settled here, with our focus on our new house and our new community, is our focus now going to turn once again . . . to our grandchildren and what they will mean for our future lives? I don't know. But I guess I'm coming to realize, once again, that we do our best, we try to make some impact, and then life moves on.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

More Clichés for the Candidates

     As I mentioned in my last two posts, we sometimes have time to do things in retirement that got squeezed out of our lives when we were working and raising a family. Polo, for example. Or tennis. Or politics . . . .

     The "proof of the pudding" as it were:  In the 2016 election, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, some 71% of Americans over age 65 voted, compared to just 46% among 18-to-29 year olds.

     Now we have another Democratic presidential debate coming up on Thursday, Sept. 12. In the last debate Joe Biden famously called one of his opponent's medical plans "a bunch of malarkey." The reaction by people and pundits alike had nothing to do with the merits of the medical plan. It had more to do with how using that very phrase demonstrates that Biden at age 76 is a relic of the past, since no one has heard that term in probably 40 years.

     As one wag said, "Millennials are all googling what 'malarkey' means."

     In case you don't know, according to the dictionary malarkey means "speech or writing designed to obscure, mislead or impress."

     Kind of like "a bunch of baloney." Or something that's "for the birds." (Of course, Biden calling anything an opponent says a bunch of malarkey is like "the pot calling the kettle black," since Biden has offered up plenty of malarkey himself.)

     But aside from that, remember when Ronald Reagan became the oldest president in history? He was 69 when he was elected. Today, all of our leading presidential candidates have already hit the 70 mark! The three top Democrats are Bernie Sanders, at age 77, Joe Biden at 76, and Elizabeth Warren at 70. And then there's the Republican candidate. He is 73.

     I guess we're living in a gerontocracy. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not if they would act their age!

     I take part in discussion groups with my fellow senior citizens at our local college. Most of them are intelligent, creative, reasonable people with a deep well of experience. So I don't necessarily see a problem electing a president from among a group of 70-year-olds.

     So there is nothing wrong, necessarily, with the kind of person who uses an old-fashioned word like "malarkey." It used to be that our elders were venerated. Tradition carried some weight. Older people were revered for their wisdom, judgment, experience and perspective -- although now, at least in some quarters, older people are considered hopelessly irrelevant, totally out-of-date.

     Nevertheless, it seems we don't want some new and fresh "whippersnapper" in 2020. Instead, we're looking for a more seasoned presence who exhibits wisdom, judgment, experience and perspective.

     In the last go-round, in 2016, the country ended up with someone who . . . well, he wasn't young. But like the know-it-all teenager, he was brash and bold. He knew what he wanted, he was itching to take the country in a new direction, and he has stood firm in the face of criticism.

     So what did we get? Someone who when it comes to global warming "fiddles while Rome burns." He has his fellow countrymen "fighting like cats and dogs." And perhaps as my mother liked to say (consider Hurricane Dorian), he's left us "up the creek without a paddle."

     It made me think that just maybe we need a president who remembers the lessons that their mom and dad told them, and who knows and practices some of the old verities, including a sense of humility -- the knowledge that the person doesn't always have all the answers, the wisdom to listen to other people, the presence-of-mind not to be seduced by his or her own self-righteousness.

     As Mark Twain told us, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

     Perhaps we need someone who doesn't claim to know all the answers, who won't let foreign leaders "pull the wool over their eyes," who can "keep their shirt on" in the midst of a crisis, who realizes that "a stitch in time saves nine" when it comes to global warming, who knows "money doesn't grow on trees" when it comes to the national debt. In other words, someone who won't fall for a "bunch of malarkey."

     Maybe the best adage for any president should be: "First, do no harm."

Friday, September 6, 2019

How You Know You're Retired -- Second Set

     As I mentioned in my last post, and as everyone knows, one of the benefits of retirement is that you have time to do things you might not otherwise do. If it sounds like it might be fun, then go ahead and do it!

     Have you done anything recently that's a little out of the ordinary? Not the big things like a trip to Europe or Hawaii, but the little things that are fun or unusual -- that you never did when you were working or raising kids.

     Anyway, last week we went to a polo match. Why? Because we could. And it was a blast.

     This week I took a New Jersey Transit train up to New York City to spend a day at the U. S Open, a signature New York event that takes place out in Flushing Meadows, Queens, at the end of summer.

     We all know about tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But there's a lot more to the Open than the stars.

I saw this ad for the Open, featuring Roger Federer, at a New Jersey train station, 

     For example, there is a junior division where dozens of promising young tennis players from around the world meet to compete for a chance to test their mettle, hone their competitive skills, and perhaps get noticed by coaches or sponsors.

Young players practice on the side courts

   
     Tens of thousands of fans descend on the tennis center every day during the two-week tournament -- and security is tight. Nobody wants a problem, and the police presence is both robust and obvious.

Police are out in force

      So my jaunt over to the polo match with B was spontaneous. But the trip to Flushing Meadows is a planned event. In fact, I've been going with my son for a number of years -- it's a way for us to get together and spend some quality time together.

Heading for the matches

     We met at the tennis center, and first stopped off to watch a juniors match, where we saw a young Belgian edge out a Canadian 2 sets to 1. I like watching the boys, because first of all you can sit right next to the court and get a close-up view of the play. And also, these kids are good, but they're not like Roger Federer or Raphael Nadal -- they make mistakes, they feel the pressure. In short, they seem more human.

     Then we walked over to Arthur Ashe Stadium and viewed a women's quarterfinals match between Elina Svitolina of Ukraine and Johanna Konta of Great Britain. Svitolina was more confident, more consistent, and won the match 6-4, 6-4. But (we found out later) Svitolina in turn bowed to our own Serena Williams in the semi-finals, played last night. Williams will meet Bianca Andreescu of Canada for the women's finals tomorrow, Saturday, at 4 p.m. It will be on TV if you're interested.

Wawrinka makes a serve

     The next match we saw brought up the new bad boy of tennis, Daniil Medvedev from Russia, playing against former champion (in 2016) Stanley Wawrinka from Switzerland. Medvedev had made a "name" for himself in a previous match by rudely grabbing a towel from the ball person, then throwing his racket and later giving the finger to the crowd that booed him.

     So the fans were definitely on Wawrinka's side for the quarter finals. But it didn't matter. Medvedev behaved himself and won 3 sets to 1, and earned a place in the semi-finals against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who upset Roger Federer to get through to the second-to-last round. That match is played later today, Friday. The winner meets the winner of the other semi-final -- most likely Raphael Nadal -- for the championship on Sunday afternoon, Sept 8.

Medvedev up on the screen

     But for us, who wins is not so important. We love watching a day's worth of top-notch professional tennis. We love the crowds, the spectacle, the excitement, the international flavor -- and the chance to witness a small part of this historic sports event.

View across the grounds to the iconic Unisphere from the 1964 NY World's Fair