MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE: Five Changes You Must Make

When I was a young lawyer, one of my aged partners suggested that our firm should be like the “Athenian youth” and strive to leave the world a better place for our having been here. That is certainly a laudable goal. Who among us doesn’t want to make a difference? Too often, we while away our time on personal, even selfish, pursuits. I hold to the belief that each of us in our own small way can make a positive difference in the world.

You make think it unrealistic to expect to impact the world as whole. You may be right about that. After all, many of us have limited skills and even more limited work ethics. If our efforts require much in the way of ability or effort we likely will fall short. Do not despair. There ways–simple ways, in fact– each of us can make the world a better place. If we can have a positive impact on just one person, we will have made a difference.

The person with whom we should start is me. That’s right. I deserve a better life as much as anyone, maybe more. If you can do even one thing to make my life easier, you will not have lived in vain. You will have helped me. I can think of nothing more commendable.

Here are five things you can do, starting today, to improve my lot in life. Let’s get started

  1. DON’T DRIVE A CAR

The environmental damage from automobiles is well-known. Even electric cars require all manner of minerals for their construction, the mining of which is always controversial. If, like me, this doesn’t persuade you in the slightest to give up your car, consider the effect of your car on me.

Maybe you’re one of those people who always drive 10-15 mph below the speed limit. You’re annoying me. When you look in your rear view mirror and see the line of traffic, just assume I’m in that line. Why inconvenience me? I have to be somewhere–and soon. Besides, the way your drive, you’re close to walking anyway. Just go ahead and hit the pavement.

Even if you drive at normal speeds, you still need to park that car. Traffic stresses me out. I have places to go, things to do. Put bluntly, you’re in my way. Public transportation is perfect for you. Better yet, stay at home. What is so horrible in your home that you are compelled to leave it? Stay there and address your disturbing domestic problems.

Speaking of parking, if you drive you will eventually park somewhere. I need that parking spot.

Of course, some of you drive for your livelihood. By all means, continue to do so. You may be delivering something I need. Plus, someone must provide transportation to those who no longer drive. It certainly won’t be me. I’m busy trying to get somewhere.

2. DON’T PLAY THE LOTTERY

All over our great country, there are outlets available to buy lottery tickets.  PowerBalls, MegaMillions  and other variations beckon. The dizzying selection of scratch off games sit spooled like toilet paper waiting to be ripped loose by cholera-ravaged unfortunates. Riches await. Our nation’s vast network of convenience stores are the prime culprits in separating you from your money.

We all know that the odds winning big in the lottery are astronomical, on par with getting a chance to walk on the moon. Every day, untold thousands of people waste their hard-earned money on these games of chance which amount to nothing so much as a regressive taxation system. (Honestly, I have no problem with a regressive tax. The progressive tax system has never done me any favors. That rant will have to wait for another day.)

These are compelling reasons to avoid the lottery. The most important reason, though, may be less obvious. The next time you are purchasing your tickets turn at look behind you. That is me standing in line. I have patronized this convenience store for–you guessed it–the convenience of it. I know that prices are higher than at the grocery store, often considerably so. I have selected this store for the speed and, again, the convenience of it.

You, guided only by your avarice, have robbed me of the one commodity I value at that moment–convenience (are you sensing the pattern yet?). In fact, there is nothing more inconvenient than to stand in line with a cup of coffee while you negotiate a transaction only slightly less complex than currency arbitrage.

The odds of your winning the lottery are remote, at best. The odds of royally ticking me off, though, are virtually certain. Please, move along.

3. SPREAD THE WORD–SOMEWHERE ELSE

I have no problem with your religion, unless you use it do great harm to others. Even then, my problem is likely to be with how you practice it, not the faith itself. Regardless, I don’t want to hear about it. This comes from someone who has always been fascinated by religion. I’ve studied religion from various perspectives, both the faithful and skeptical. If I’m curious, I’ll get the information.

When you want to tell me about your religion, I’m very likely to be somewhere between disinterested and down right hostile. This is true even if I agree with your views. Why am I so obtuse? Religion (or spirituality, if you prefer) is a matter of faith, not argument or persuasion. Nagging or yammering at someone won’t bring him around to your views. When that someone is me, it may cause the person to adopt contrary beliefs simply to frustrate your efforts.

You might assume that I am directing this solely at Christians. You’re wrong. If, like me, you are an American, you probably live in America where most people claim to be Christian. Naturally, most of our contact is with Christians. Regardless, I implore people of all religions to follow this lead. For example, if you are Hindu do not concern me with your views of Vishnu or Shiva. I know a Buddhist, and I sincerely hope that he does not tell me of the proper path to the Middle Way. I’m comfortable with where I am, leaning much more toward indulgence than asceticism.

Nor are you atheists excluded. As a matter of fact, you’re especially not excluded. I  know you’re proud to be an atheist. Consider me to be on a “need to know” basis. I have no need to know. Here’s idea: Find a vegetarian and you two can “one up” each other on the solid, empirical grounding of your views.

At this point, some readers are preparing comments to enlighten me on why they will not be silent. You’re really missing the point, which is simply to make things easier for me. Your comments won’t do that. Plus, I’m not asking you to be silent. Just be silent around me, and assume that I am always around.

4. VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE–QUIETLY

Everything I abhor about hearing about your religious views applies with even more force to your politics. Unlike religion which is driven (mostly) by genuine belief, political drivel is often impelled by the desire to be in the know and perhaps a bit smarter than others. These are repellent characteristics. More importantly, they annoy me and can diminish my enjoyment of such important pursuits as surfing the Internet and mindlessly watching television.

I’m well aware that there is only so much I can expect here. Politicians and talking heads are inescapable. But, ask yourself: “With all this political discourse, what could I possibly add to the conversation, given my obvious limitations?” I’m sure you’ll agree that you run a much greater risk of annoying me than contributing anything meaningful.

If you are truly committed to improving my life, you will take this to heart. That door you knock on with a fist full of campaign literature could be mine. It could be me who reads one of your wrong-headed screeds on social media. It’s not that I don’t respect your views (which I may not, of course). It’s just that I don’t care. Isn’t it unfair and more than a tad selfish to inundate me with tripe that only you and others care about it? You’re better than that–or at least you should be.

You’re angry about the state of the world. I get it. If I were you, I’d be angry, too. But I’m not you. I’m me. It does no good to have two of us angry.

5. RAISE YOUR OWN FOOD

Modern agriculture has changed the world. We feed far more people than was thought possible even a generation ago. Our grocery stores brim with foods of all kinds. Sadly, the price we pay is high one.

Additives, preservatives, chemicals and the like endanger our food supply. Our farm animals are fed steroids. Genetic modifications have made many foodstuffs risky. Most important in our daily struggle is the cold, hard fact that I frequently go to the grocery store to buy this stuff.

I like my food chock full of preservatives. I want it preserved as long as possible. Chemicals don’t bother me. I like huge, mutated chickens pumped full of steroids. I want my beef dyed red. I want my fruits and vegetables sprayed down with insecticides. I don’t want to eat bugs. In short, the modern grocery store is exactly what I want. You, on the other hand, need to make changes. Why?

You’re the person with 11 items when the sign plainly limits the checkout lane to TEN FREAKING ITEMS! You position your cart in the aisle where I can’t get by on either side. You pay with checks, like some troglodyte who just emerged from his subterranean lair. Why not see if they’ll take pelts? You use coupons. Think about this: If you need to use all those coupons, isn’t it just possible that you can’t really afford to buy food in a store?

Grow your own food. Raise chickens. Buy a cow. Even a modest quarter acre lot will accommodate at least a couple of cows. Get a hog. Grow something. Your ancestors foraged for their food. Get off your high horse (you can eat those, too, by the way) and quit acting like you’re better than your kinfolk.

Since you won’t be driving a car, raising your own food makes perfect sense. It will be convenient for you and, critically, ME. The world will be a better place–at least for me. 

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2016

The New Year at the Gym: Here We Go Again…

The new year is upon us, 2016 to be exact. As always, many folks have resolved that this is the year they will lose those unwanted pounds and get in top shape. How do I know? I’ve belonged to a gym for many years, and I see these folks every January. Today is January 1, and I saw them at the gym. Oh, they weren’t working out (after all, it’s a holiday). They were getting tours of the gym, meeting with trainers and signing contracts. Soon though, they will descend upon the gym like New Years Eve revelers.

I used to rail against the Resolvers, scoffing at their half-hearted efforts knowing that they would fall by the wayside within a few weeks. I’ve changed. I welcome them. Everyone should exercise. I am 53 and in quite good condition, especially compared to my peers. I feel good, both physically and mentally. Why should I begrudge that to others just because they get in my way for a few weeks?

Rather than resent the Resolvers, I want to help them. Understand that I am not an athletic trainer. I am not an athlete. I do, however, go the gym quite often–6 or 7 days week. If I’m on the road, I find hotels with gyms. If I can’t find one, I find a local gym that will let me workout for a small fee. I’ve been to gyms all over the country, from New York City to Hawaii. I know the rules, both written and unwritten. If you’re a Resolver, please read on. It will save us all some grief.

BE REASONABLE 

If you haven’t worked out in a while, act like it. “In a while” also means “ever.” Most people in the gym have been there before. They have workout routines that reflect their experience. You, on the other hand, need a routine that reflects your years of sloth. That may sound harsh, but it’s true.

You’ll see people who look like you want to look, with trim waists and rippling muscles. It is tempting to watch what they do and copy it. Stop. These people are working out like trim-waisted, rippling-muscled people. You need to work out like a flabby, doughy person. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. Your ideal may be doing 30 pound curls. You might need to do 5 pound curls. Do them.

You also must squash your ego. This is especially true for men. We want to throw around weights like they’re pie pans. We can’t, of course. Don’t worry about how much you bench press. Sure, it’s a tad deflating to realize you can only bench 50 pounds. Hey, 50 pounds is better than nothing. People aren’t watching you. The people who can really lift are concerned only with themselves. They don’t care what you lift. Note how often they look in the mirror. Trust me–they (we?) aren’t trying to catch a glimpse of you.

A good way to learn reasonableness is with a trainer. Trainers vary in skill. Some aren’t very good, but all of them know how to get a new person started on an exercise regimen. Maybe you have a friend who works out regularly. He or she can help you. Start slow. Workout warriors weren’t born that way. Neither were you.

LEARN BEFORE THE BURN

Gyms are full of equipment. A lot of it is strange looking and not easily understood. This doesn’t stop the novice from climbing aboard and fumbling about. Usually, there will be an illustration on the equipment demonstrating proper use. If that doesn’t work, ask a gym employee. Again, a trainer can help.

If you don’t use a trainer, educate yourself on how to exercise. Weightlifting, in particular, requires certain routines for maximum results. You might work different muscles on different days. Rest is important. Strength training is different than toning or even muscle building. You have to know the differences.

Several years ago, I made the acquaintance of a former NFL player who also spent some time in prison. He described what he called a “jailhouse workout.” By that, he meant lifting with no program–a few curls, a few reps on the bench, a few random leg exercises. He said prisoners don’t have enough equipment or time to do it right. Hey, if you’re jail, do what you can. Otherwise, get a plan.

If you’re grossly overweight, you really must learn first. I know–it’s not good to say that people are overweight or “fat.” Come on, we know that’s the case. Losing weight is a process, not an event. You have to attack it a pound at a time. Becoming a crunch beast won’t help much if your six pack is buried under a foot of fat. Talk to a doctor. Get a trainer. Just get to work.

ETIQUETTE

Your new gym will have an array of rules about attire, use of equipment and sundry courtesies. These are all good, but most gym etiquette is just common sense. Here are the big rules:

Clean Up: If you use free weights, re-rack them. It’s simple. Put them back where you got them. They’ll be on racks in ascending order from lowest to highest weight. An idiot can do it, but you’ll be surprised at how many idiots don’t. If you can help it, don’t be an idiot.

Seriously, Clean Up: No one wants to use equipment drenched in your sweat. There’s just no debate here. Wipe down the equipment.

Look But Within Reason: I direct this to my fellow men. Most gyms today are co-ed. Every gym has attractive women wearing attire not normally seen in public. It’s pretty cool. You can look. To some extent, it’s expected perhaps even welcome. Don’t go full-on perv. If you follow a woman around so that you can maintain a good view, it will be noticed. Much as it might surprise you, they aren’t looking back at you.

Silence Is Golden: I’ve been going to the same gym for years. I’ve gotten to know some of the regulars. We’ll occasionally talk, but it’s always brief. Regulars are there to work out, not chat. You should do the same. Most gym regulars are glad to share pointers or answer questions, but we aren’t there to socialize.

Cover It Up: By “it,” I mean everything. No one is comfortable around naked people, even in a gym locker room. There’s no need to be naked for any extended period. Don’t strike up a conversation while you’re naked. Don’t get naked and then start rooting around in your locker. There should be absolutely no bending over. Don’t get naked and stand and watch TV. It’s just weird, and people hate it. Those who parade about naked are also men who shouldn’t do so anywhere. They are usually old guys with a variety of obvious physical flaws which are wholly unappealing.

Of course, I speak only of the men’s locker. Like all men, I imagine the women’s locker room populated by super models who wear skimpy towels when they aren’t showering together. An objective look at most women in the gym reveals that they may have the same unsightly issues as the men.

Dress The Part: Even being clothed can be done wrong. Jeans, khakis, work boots and other fashion failures must be avoided. Look the part. A t-shirt and shorts will work. Sweat pants are perfect. A middle-aged man in a wrestling singlet is not welome anywhere. Bicycle shorts, short-shorts and skin-tight apparrel must all be evaluated with an eye toward aesthetics. What is athletic–even alluring–on one person is vile and revolting on another. In these politically correct times, I realize that it is frowned upon to say that any one person is more attractive than another. Some people look better than others. Get a full-length mirror and judge for yourself.

STICK WITH IT

I believe that no one stays with exercise if he or she doesn’t like it. Experiment with different routines. Maybe you prefer cardio work to weights. That’s okay. Better to do cardio alone, than nothing at all.

Nothing ends an exercise program as quickly as an injury. Injuries are different than some pain. If you haven’t worked out in years, you’re going to have some aches and pains. When you get to my age-53 at this writing–you’re going to have some aches. If you over do it–lifting too much weight, for example–you will get injured. An injury will shut you down. That’s the quickest path to quitting. Even if you get injured, there’ll be other exercises you can do. Do those.

So, there you have it. I welcome you to my world. Now, get out of the way, and let me work out. Good luck.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2016

How To Win a Fight…or Die Trying.

I don’t fight people, at least not physically. As I write this, I’m 52 years old, and that’s just too old to fight. Truthfully, I never was much of fighter. Nevertheless, I’ve been in a few fights. I grew in Harlan County, Kentucky, deep in the mountains of Appalachia where people have a reputation of being rough and tough. I enjoyed no such reputation and for good reason. I am neither rough nor tough; however, these deficiencies give me great insight into the world of street fighting.

I haven’t been in fight in about 30 years or so. Even that fight was not impressive, as I was forced to fight a girl. You can read about that here. How, you might ask, would a man of such limited prowess ever even get in a fight? In my youth, I possessed two traits which made the occasional dust up unavoidable–a big mouth and small body. Pour strong drink into that mix, and you get in fights. The more I drank, the more I ran mouth. The more my mouth ran, the more people wanted to shut it. They would then size me up and determine that giving me a beating would be fairly easy.

I’m not offering any advice on how to start a fight. Starting one is easy. Mouth off, look funny at the wrong person, throw a punch and other offensive behavior will do the trick. I want you to know how to survive a fight. Here are the things you need to know:

PUNCHING IS OVERRATED

You know how in movies a guy will knock someone out with one punch?  That doesn’t happen in real fights, except by accident. Hitting someone in the face is difficult. Unless you are battling Mr. Potato Head or the Elephant Man, the human head is a small target. Hitting it with one punch is almost impossible, especially if the person is trying NOT to get hit. The exception to this is the Sucker Punch (discussed below). The other problem is that punching a head only works if you hit the face. The rest of the head is very hard as it consists of a thin layer of flesh and a really hard human skull. Punching a skull hurts.

Punching someone can hurt the puncher more than the punchee. I suspect this is because hands are made for such things as holding pencils and tying shoes. They aren’t made for beating things, hence the invention of the hammer. If you punch someone two or three times in the face, your hands are going to be pretty banged up. That hurts.

If you must punch, know your targets. The nose is great because it hurts and bleeds like hell. You will at the very least stun your opponent, if only momentarily. The throat is great, too, but almost impossible to hit. Under the armpit or directly under the rib cage are great, too; however, if you miss even a little, you won’t do any damage.

Real life punching is also goofy looking. You won’t look like Floyd Mayweather throwing a punch. Your punch will more like a close-fisted slap. You also are likely to be throwing the punch off the wrong foot, destroying any leverage you might have had. You likely have the wrong kind of hands for punching, just like me. I have bony hands with sharp, protruding knuckles. I know that sounds good, but it isn’t. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve determined that human knuckles are made of some kind of styrofoam-like material that crushes easily. Hit something two or three times and your knuckles will swell up and be useless.

Note your author's bony, protruding knuckles. These are ill-suited for a fist fight.

Note your author’s bony, protruding knuckles. These are ill-suited for a fist fight.

The best kind of fist for punching is a big, fat one that doesn’t even look like a fist. It looks like meat mallet. If you have those at the ends of your arms, use them.

KICKING IS UNDERRATED

Just as the punch gets way too much credit, the kick is virtually ignored. No, I’m not talking about some fancy karate-like spinning back kick. If you can do that, you should be out fighting all the time just to show off. I mean a kick like trying to kick someone in the testicles or the face.

The kick has several advantages. One, it doesn’t hurt like a punch. Two, it can create valuable space between you and your assailant (or victim, as the case may be). This space can be used for such tactics as running or head down bull rush. Third, if properly executed the kick delivers more force than a punch. The kick best applied when your opponent is on the ground. Despite what you’ve heard, kicking a man when he’s down is perfectly acceptable in a fight. In fact, it’s often necessary.

I must here mention the martial arts. I greatly respect any person who has mastered one of these ancient forms of self-defense. These people need no advice from the likes of me. Mastery is the key. As I once heard, martial arts teach you one of two things: (1) how to kill someone with your bare hands; or (2) just enough to get your ass kicked.

FIGHT DIRTY

This caption is deceptive. There isn’t any dirty fighting. If you want rules, become a boxer. Regular fights don’t have rules. Here are some moves to consider:

  • Sucker Punch: This is hitting a person when he doesn’t see if coming. This is the mark of coward, but it could win a fight for you before it starts.
  • Eye Gouging: This is an underutilized tactic. There are plenty of badasses who will dare you to punch them. None of them will dare you to gouge their eyes.
  • Groin Smash: If you’re male, I need say no more. If you’re female, well…I just don’t know what to tell you.
  • Clawing: I’m not talking about scratching (unless that’s necessary, of course). Clawing is similar to the gouge, except you can apply it anywhere (see Groin Smash above).
  • Rabbit Punch: This is a punch in the back of the head. This isn’t recommended because of the relative strength of the back of the human skull; however, you might want to just take a shot if you are running away.

These are just a few tactics you can use. During the heat of battle, you may think of many more. Try them all.

RUNNING

Running gets a bad rap. Many times, it is your last, best defense. The shame of running is no worse than the shame of getting a thorough beating and hurts it less. No one call tell you when to run. You must judge when the tide has turned. Profuse bleeding is usually a good sign. Unfortunately, many of us wait one punch or kick too late to utilize this move. For instance, I was once kicked in the stomach while on my hands and knees. At that moment, I thought “I need to run.” That thought was followed by another kick. Too late to run. Use your judgment.

AVOID WEAPONRY

I can’t emphasize this one enough. It’s bad enough to get in a fight. It’s even worse when you get killed. Weapons are good for that. For example, you might think hitting someone with a chair is a good move. You’ve seen movies and know that chairs splinter when they contact a human form. They don’t. They just hurt like hell (This all assumes you are strong enough to swing a chair like a club). You hit someone with a chair, beer mug, nunchucks, etc., and you better hope he doesn’t have access to something more deadly. You might find yourself at a gun fight armed with a chair.

CHOOSE YOUR OPPONENT

You don’t have to fight everyone with whom you have a conflict. If your potential opponent is a large, dangerous-looking man (or woman), you might want to think twice. You can save face by saying something like “Hey, dude, I don’t want any trouble.” That’s not cowardly. It has air of a man who has seen his share of trouble and wants to find a better way. If that doesn’t work, see RUNNING above.

Bear in mind, too, that there are people who actually like to fight. These people are deranged and will kill you. Avoid them. Sadly, usually we only discover this during the fight.

AVOID OLD MEN

I offer this for the young people. When you’re a young man, you feel indestructible to some extent. You are at your physical peak and look with pity at the middle-aged or older man, with his wife, kids, job and mortgage. This false sense of superiority often causes a young man to be mouthy or threatening. I know, for I was once young. Here’s some advice: Leave the old guys alone. Here’s why:

  • Old Man Strong: I don’t why–and science can’t explain it–but old guys are strong. They don’t look like it with their beer bellies and flabby arms, but they are. Even skinny old guys are strong. You will underestimate this, and he will beat your ass.
  • Old Man Don’t Care: Unlike a young fellow, an old guy isn’t concerned about losing a tooth or getting a black eye. He has no bright future ahead of him. He’ll wade right into you. It will catch off guard. Then you’re trouble.
  • Old Man Courage: Old guys don’t scare easily. Maybe it’s because they’ve  seen a lot or maybe they just don’t give a damn. Fights are scary. They get your adrenalin pumping. Old guys don’t get rattled. They just wail away.
  • Old Man Mystery: Let’s say you’re a college age man and you get in a fight over something you said in a bar. Chances are that your opponent is about like you–college guy, drunk, mouthy, etc. You know what you’re dealing with. Now, add 30 years to that guy. For all you know, he got out of prison yesterday after 20 years for skinning some guy just like you. It’s best not to find out.
  • Old Man Army: He could also be Marines, Navy, Air Force or even Coast Guard. If you fight an old fellow, you just might be locking horns with a military veteran. Bad, bad move. These guys are just waiting for someone like you. It’s better to apologize and buy him a drink.

Just as boxers should stay in their weight class, you should stay in your age class. If you are an old guy, at some point, some young guy will mouth off to you. Have at it.

Those are my tips. Of course, none of this applies if you are a large, dangerous person or just psychotically violent. If so, you need no pointers me. I’m certainly not trying to tell you what to do or suggesting that you can’t handle yourself quite well. Take no offense. I’m not looking for any trouble.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2015

Oh, Dear Me

It’s become quite popular for folks to write letters to themselves. Seriously, it has.  Sometimes, they’ll write to their young selves and offer advice.  Maybe you’ve written a letter to your future self full positive affirmations and whatnot.  There are even websites offering tips on writing to yourself, where in the future or the past .

I’ve never done this, mostly because I’ve written very few letters in my life (with the notable exception of business letters of which I’ve written thousands).   I once had a therapist suggest that I write a letter to myself.  Like most suggestions, I ignored it.

Today is my birthday.  I am 52 years old.  I spend little time thinking about the past.  There’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well move on. My birthday is the only time I wax nostalgic.  I’m not sure why, but I do.

Current Me has no advice for Young Me.  Young Me wouldn’t take advice anyway.  Plus, if I write Young Me and tell him all the things that will happen over the years, he might be terrified.  Young Me was quite prone to worry.  No need to make him fret.

I’m also not interested in writing Future Me.  I have no idea how old Future Me will be.  Future Me already knows everything that Current Me and Young Me know, plus a bunch of other stuff.   Who am I to annoy him with my advice?  Maybe he should write Current Me a letter.  That might actually be helpful.  At least I’d read it.

The letter I’d really like to see would one from Young Me to Current Me.  I don’t remember much about that dude.  It might be to nice get his take on my current situation.  Perhaps I’ll write him a letter which will compel him to respond.  It would read something like this:

Dear Me:

Thanks for your recent letter.  I appreciate all the advice, but I’ll be fine doing things my way.

I’m doing okay, I guess.  I’m in college and planning to go to law school.  I guess you know all that.  Sounds like I end up doing alright.  To be honest, I can’t imagine how it worked out like that.  I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.

I’m glad to see that things have gone well for you (us?).  I’m quite surprised that you’ve been married for over 25 years.  I can’t keep a girlfriend for more than a few months. Now, you tell me that I’ll be married in just a few years. Is sour wife really ugly?  I’ve always worried that I’ll have to settle for some homely chick.  Next time, send me a picture of her.  Then again, maybe it’s best I don’t know.

You have three kids?  And none of them are psychopaths or grievously mentally ill?  I’m barely able to care for myself.  I’ve messed myself up in a lot of ways.  I can’t imagine what I would do to kids. 

It’s a relief to know that you made it through law school and actually got a job.  I appreciate your suggestion that I pay more attention in school, but you forget that there’s a lot going on in my world.  When I’m not brooding, I try to have a good time.  School isn’t my idea of a good time. 

I’ll admit that I’m a bit sad to know that you aren’t super-rich or famous or anything like that. I hoped I’d make a bunch of money doing something and then not have to actually work.  Oh, well.

Hey, you didn’t have to tell me about Mom and Dad dying.  Obviously, they will at some point, but it’s better to leave that a mystery.  I’m pretty much completely dependent on them right now. I suppose I really will have to fend for myself at some point.

I was intrigued by your observation that Mom and Dad are actually right about almost everything they’ve told me.  Your memory might be failing you.  I still think I know better than they do. 

I was pleased to find out you’re 52 YEARS OLD!  I never expected to last that long.  That’s great.  As I write this, Dad is in his early 60’s.  I can’t imagine being that old.  Good work.  Hopefully, I won’t do anything to mess that up.  Of course, I guess I won’t, since you were able to write me. 

Thanks for the picture. You didn’t get real fat or bald, but I see you got Dad’s white hair.  I’ve always expected that to happen.  You still kind of look like me but not really.  I’m not sure I would recognize you if we passed on the street.  You really are starting to look like Dad, which I never expected.

Did you become a pompous know-it-all like most people your age that I know?  I hope notPlease don’t go around telling everyone else how to live their lives.  Be especially sure to take it easy on the lecturing.  Honestly, no one wants to hear it.

Here’s another thing to remember:  Let your sons be themselves.  They’re going to do that anyway, so you might as well help them.  I know, because I’m living through that right now.  Yes, they’ll disappoint you sometimes, but they don’t mean to do it.  It happens.  Be sure they know you love them regardless. 

Don’t hammer your kids too much when they make mistakes.  Believe or not, they usually know.  I’m not saying to ignore the problems–you know Dad never did!  Just take it easy.

I must take exception to some of your counsel.  How do you know that I’ve never been in love?  Again, your memory fails you.  You’re falling prey to one of the worst mistakes people your age make–you forgot what’s like to be young. 

While we’re on that subject, being young isn’t a barrel of laughs all the time.  I worry about my future and occasionally do hideously stupid things.  You might remember it as nothing but a bunch of good times, but there are plenty of bad ones, too.  Don’t waste any of your time wanting to be me.

I always figured I’d contract some horrible disease or die young in a stupid accident of some sort.  Future Me must have done something right along the way.  I can’t fathom that I will do all that you described in your letter. 

To you, I’m sure it seems that I did all I could to stand in your way and make life difficult.  Mostly, I did the best I knew to do at the time.  Even when it wasn’t the best I could do, I still did something. Instead of telling me what you think I need to know, you should perhaps forgive me for some of the mistakes I made.  I’m sure you’d do the same for your sons.  

As an aside, nice try with the “smart phone” nonsense. There’s no way that everyone carries a phone with them all the time. Do you really expect me to believe that your telephone has more computing power than any computer in my time?  You send written messages to people with it?  Listen to music?  Read newspapers on it?  C’mon.  I know you’re in the future, but you’re not on Star Trek. 

In closing, thanks again for the letter.  Take care of yourself.  We should try to hang around as long as possible.  After all, we don’t want to get a letter from Future You telling us how we’ve screwed up his old age.

Your friend,

Me

 

Come Retire With Me!

I’m in my 50’s now, rolling toward my Golden Years.  At my age, we think about retirement.  We read about it, too.  Mostly, we think and read about how we can’t retire because we don’t have enough money.  To that, I say “Balderdash!”  (I say that because I like the word “balderdash” but rarely get the chance to use it).  I read somewhere that 20-30% of Americans think winning a lottery is their best chance to pay for retirement.  I don’t recommend that plan. If that many American win the lottery, the pay outs will be so low, you won’t get hardly anything.

If you have a generous pension plan or trust fund or guaranteed inheritance, you may want to stop reading at this point.  Little of this will apply to you.  You have a safety net in place to assure your comfortable retirement.  For the rest of us, it takes some planning.

We can, in fact, retire if we know what to do. First, we must understand what retirement  is not.

Retirement is not unemployment.  Unemployment is the drunk brother-in-law of retirement.  The only thing it has in common with retirement is the lack of gainful employment.  It’s very easy to be unemployed.  AARP doesn’t publish articles on how best to become unemployed.  We all know many tried and true methods:  incompetence, sloth, thievery, amateur pornography, insubordination, felonious behavior, economic downturns, job outsourcing, bad luck and many, many others.

Retirement is not disability.  You might be disabled and thus unable to work.  That sucks, unless you are really a malingerer in which case you’re okay with it.  Regardless, you’re not retired.   You just can’t work.  There’s no retiring from disability, unless death counts.

Retirement is not wealth.  Perhaps you are incredibly wealthy and haven’t really ever worked.  Whether you attained this status through  dumb luck or the largesse of your ancestors, you aren’t retired.   You are a ne’er-do-well or man about town or socialite or some other such fortunate soul.  You can’t retire from those “jobs.”

So what exactly is retirement?  Retirement is where one works his or her ass off for years until the point that he or she can no longer stand it and quits.  Unlike unemployment, the retiree has sufficient income or assets upon which to live some modicum of a decent existence.  Pensions, savings, Social Security, inheritance and the like all qualify.

Now that we know what we’re dealing with, what can we do to be prepared? If you’re my age or older and you haven’t thought about that yet, here’s the plan:  Work until you die. You’ve waited way too long.   Maybe you’ll get lucky and get disabled at some point.  For everyone else, there are few things you can do–or not do, as the case may be.

1. Work.  This one is simple enough.  You can’t retire from doing nothing. Get a job.  Pay your taxes.  Set up an IRA.  Contribute to a 401K if you can.  Every little bit helps.  Better yet, get one of those jobs that pays scads of money, like movie star or hedge fund manager.

2. Live Within Your Means.  We’ve all heard this but spend much of our time either totally ignoring it or looking for loopholes.  Anyone can understand that you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have or incur bills you can’t pay.  That’s pretty basic stuff.  If you don’t understand that, there’s really no hope for you.  Even if you do understand, you aren’t out of the woods.  Read on.

3. Spend Your Own Money. Do you still have your parents around?  If so, good for you.  If they are good people, call and visit them often.  Be helpful to them.  Pay them back for the many years they cared for you.  Don’t mooch off them.  Maybe your parents are generous sorts and willingly give you money and things.  Here’s the deal:  If the only reason you go on vacation or have a car or a house is because your parents still provide for you, you don’t live within your means.  You live within their means.

Of course, many young people depend upon family to help them get started in life.   That’s fine.  If you’re 40 years old, you’re not a young person.  If you haven’t gotten your start yet, it ain’t happening.   Learn to support yourself.

You may be counting on your parents to actually fund your retirement.  That plan may well work.  Unfortunately, unless you mooch off them, it requires their deaths.  That’s a high price to pay to retire.  But, if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, just look forward to the reading of the will.

It is equally wrong to plan to sponge off your children.  This is particularly true if you have already bled your parents dry.  Your children will be counting on you to support them forever, too.  A cataclysmic clash of cultures awaits sure to tear your family asunder for generations to come or, at the very least, leave you all pondering which unfortunate relatives upon which you can descend.

Another sure sign of not living within your means is borrowing money.  I’m not talking about loans for houses, cars or business reasons.  These are, to a great extent, unavoidable in today’s world.  Have you ever borrowed money to go on vacation?  Here’s a thought–STAY HOME.  How about a “pay day” loan where you can cash your paycheck before you get it?  Here’s word for you to learn:  USURY.

It is axiomatic that drug and gambling debts are red flags.  In fact, all debts are red flags.  If you can’t afford your lifestyle while you’re working, what are the chances you can afford it when you don’t work?

4. Require Others to Live Within Their Means. Nothing good can be said about loaning money to people for personal reasons.  Perhaps you are a business person and you do so as an investment.  Assuming you’ve done your due diligence, that’s a business decision.  Loaning money to people who just need money is like paying someone for doing nothing for you.  Naturally, it can be difficult to refuse a close friend or family member during hard times.  Here are a few responses which can gently dissuade such requests:

  • BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
  • “What do I look like–a bank?”
  • “What do I look like–an idiot?”
  • “I’m just going to pretend that you never said anything.”

5. Save First, Spend Second.  This is a basic concept.  Save money, then spend–not vice versa. Why? Because we Americans tend to spend all our money.  We like to own things–or at the very least make payments on things.  Famed motorcycle daredevil and spendthrift Evel Knievel once said:

The country singer Garth Brooks once said that he’s made more money than he could ever spend.  Write me a check Garth – I’ll show you how to spend it in 24 hours.

That’s the American way.  It’s also the way to guarantee that you die at work.  Don’t die at work.

It’s Retirement, Stupid.  With these few guidelines, we can all retire if we have reasonable expectations.  You shouldn’t need as much money when you’re retired as you did when you worked.  This is especially true if you have children–that is, assuming they heed the no-mooching rule and get the hell out of your house at some point.

Do you plan to travel the world when you retire?  Good for you, but that takes money–a lot of money.  You can retire without living the lifestyle of a Kardashian.  Excuse my language, but if you can’t afford shit like that NOW, you probably can’t when you retire.  That’s okay, you can still retire.

Here’s what you do.  Work and save money and you should be okay.  Then again, maybe not.  There’s always the lottery.

 ©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

ATTENTION YOUNG PEOPLE: THINGS THEY WON’T TELL YOU

During this graduation season, I always have the urge to offer my unsolicited advice to young people.  Why?  Because that’s how I am.  I’m middle-aged and think I know everything. Of course, I don’t, but I do know more than most young people.  Young folks are bombarded with advice from parents, friends and even strangers.  Most of that advice is ignored.  That’s not necessarily bad.  Take a look at who’s offering the advice.  Could be that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about it.

On the other, maybe they know a lot of stuff, but just pass on the same poor advice they received in their youth.  Strictly speaking, I’m not offering advice here, as much as I’m critiquing advice.  You’re going to be told things that either just aren’t true or are too simplistic.  Who tells you things?  They do, of course.  They know a lot and are anxious to tell you about it.  Watch them, though.  They may not be as smart as they think they are.

Here are five of those things they’ll tell you–and what they won’t say:

1.  HARD WORK PAYS OFF

Hey, I’ve got nothing against hard work.  In fact, if I were giving advice, I’d advise you to work hard.  It’s difficult to accomplish much unless you make some effort.  Here’s what they won’t tell you:  Just because you work hard doesn’t mean it will pay off.  Let’s say that you really aren’t very good at something, but you work hard.  Chances are that the more you work, the more mistakes you’ll make.  You’ll make a bad situation worse.

Another problem is that hard work simply doesn’t always pay off.  You know who works hard?  Farmers.  A lot of farmers barely get by.  Their hard work can get ruined by weather, insects, the economy or plain old bad luck. A lot of jobs are like that.  Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’ll be the CEO or that your lazy boss will even care.  Sorry, but that’s true.

So, work hard, but work smart.  If your hard work gets you nowhere, then go somewhere else or do something else.

2.  YOU HAVE A SOUL MATE

Well-meaning people will tell you that you have a soul mate, that person that God or fate has selected for you.  This person, among all the people you meet, is The One.  Find this person, and you will live happily ever after.

Think about this.  There are 7 billion people on Earth–half male, half female. That’s 3.5 billion for you.  I’ll concede that some of those will be too young under societal taboos.  Let’s say there are a billion or two available to you.  So, somewhere among those billion or so people is one for you.  Only one.  Assuming you can actually cross paths with this one person, you’ll have to know it.  Then you’ll have to do something about it.  Complicating matters is that this person must also recognize his or her good fortune. If you’re bisexual, the odds getting even greater or maybe they’re better–I can’t figure it out.  Regardless, good luck with all of that.

Half of all marriages end in divorce.  This means we are woefully incompetent at finding our soul mates.  Our soul mates are also incompetent, because they should have found us, too.  It also means that God has a twisted sense of humor.  He made us a soul mate, yet made it damn near impossible to find that person.

3.  MONEY ISN’T IMPORTANT

They’ll tell you that happiness is better than money.  Of course, it is, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t important.  I’ve had times that I lived paycheck to paycheck and times I didn’t.  The times I didn’t were better.

The old saw tells us that money can’t buy happiness.  This is true, but it can buy comfort.  Comfort isn’t necessarily happiness but it sure helps.  It  can even make unhappiness a tad easier.  I say everyone should be happy.  But, if you can’t be happy, at least be comfortable.

All of this is much different from believing that money will actually make you unhappy.  Hey, I’ve known quite a few poor people, and they haven’t cornered the market on happiness, either.

There is a limit to the need for money.  Ponzi schemes, thievery and various forms of graft should be avoided, if for no other reason to avoid prison.  Prison will make you unhappy.

4. THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE

You’re a young adult.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  The world is your oyster.  This is the best time of your life.  Boy, I sure hope not.

What are you–18, 20 years old?  You should have 60+ more years left.  If this is the best time of your life, then you have a long slog to the grave ahead of you, assuming you even care to try.

By the way, you are an adult.  If you can vote, marry, sign contracts and join the military, that’s all for adults.  You also may not have a good job or be doing poorly in school or living in your parents’ basement.  If these are the best times for you, life is going to be tough.

I have to qualify this.  When is the best time of your life?  How should I know?  Actually, now should be, but now changes.  Now is the best time of my life, but I’m in my 50’s.  I intend for my 60’s to be the best, too.  Now matters.  I used to 18, but that was then.  So, maybe now is the best time of your life, but later should be too–except not right now.  Don’t peak at 18 years old.  There’s too much ground left to cover.

Is that confusing?  You bet it is.  Life is confusing.  When you’re my age, you’ll understand.

5. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING

This is the most dangerous advice you can receive, because it simply is not true.  You can’t or, at the very least, shouldn’t.  Oh, you can try.  (See Item No. 1 above).  You are likely to fail at certain things.  Most of us do.  Failure is temporary, unless you continue trying the same thing.  As you continue trying, at some point you become insane and then you really can’t do anything.

Have you ever heard this?  Failure is not an option.  Oh, how wrong that is.  Failure is always an option.

You may dream of being a professional athlete.  If you can’t do it, at some point you must stop trying.  The same applies to intellectual endeavors.  Maybe you’re not smart enough.  That’s not a sin.  It’s just a fact.

Bad luck is another stumbling block.  You might not get the opportunity to do whatever you want.  Paying bills, eating, living indoors and the like often take priority.

Here’s something that could happen.  You could end up with someone who is not your soul mate.  This person could be a mill stone around your neck keeping you from doing anything you want.  It happens.

You also might have really crappy judgment.  The things you want to do may be terrible ideas.  Mobile meth labs, amateur pornography and random death threats are examples.  Yes, you may well be able to do these things, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.

CONCLUSION

So, what’s my point?  I don’t really have one.  That’s one luxury of getting old.  You can talk and talk and make no sense, but people feel like they need to listen.  Now, go out there and work hard, find your soul mate, ignore money and do anything you want to do.  This is the best time of your life or so they say.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

 

MY PERFECT POKE SALLET RECIPE

Spring is just around the corner. Soon, the daffodils and cherry blossoms will bloom and young men’s thoughts will turn to love. Some, though, will think of poke.  I’m one not of them, but I’m sure some people are ready to pick poke or whatever it is you do to harvest it.

Some of you ask: What the cuss is he talking about it? What is poke? I’ve written about it before. Read this. It will tell you all you need to know.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky–the very heart of Appalachia. We like poke so much that we have an annual festival in its honor.

When I originally wrote about poke, I drew some mild rebukes for my perceived criticism. Well-meaning folks told me that I was misguided. It has caused me to reconsider my views.

My mother was a home economics teacher, and she taught me more than a little bit about cooking. I have now applied these skills to the issue of poke. Rather than dismiss this weed as foul and unpalatable, perhaps I should find a way to create my own culinary masterpiece. Thus, I present the perfect poke recipe.

First, you’ll need a mess of poke. How much is a mess? One pokeful should be sufficient. You’ll also need a pot of water, a raw onion and vinegar.  A double sink would also be helpful.

Thoroughly wash poke in cold water-or don’t. It doesn’t really matter.

Much like marijuana, remove all stems. In fact, smoking some of it while you cook may not be a bad idea.

Bring water to boil.

Place poke in boiling water.  You may also place poke in which poke is gathered into boiling water for added flavor.

Boil poke.

When poke reaches a consistency somewhere between algae and human baby excrement, it may be done. The smell should also approximate algae and/or fecal matter.

Drain poke in colander.

Look at poke.  Vomit in poke-tainted side of sink (This is where the double sink is important.  You do not want poke vomit in part of sink where dishes may be placed).

CAUTION:  DO NOT LEAVE PREPARED POKE WITHIN REACH OF CHILDREN OR PETS, LEST ACCIDENTAL INGESTION TAKE PLACE.  IN THAT EVENT, NATURAL GAG REFLEX SHOULD INDUCE IMMEDIATE VOMITING.  IF NOT, FEED VICTIM MORE POKE.

Open window and throw poke water into yard.  WARNING:  Poke water may contaminate ground water supplies or result in the actual growing of poke.  The author disclaims any responsibility for roaming hill jacks picking poke in your yard.  

Place prepared poke in toilet.  Flush repeatedly until all contents are expelled.  In cooking, this is known as “eliminating the middle man.”  In this case, the “middle man” is your digestive system.

Eat raw onion washed down with tall glass of vinegar in effort to erase memory of poke cooking.

So, there you have it. Bon apetit!

©www.thetrivialtroll.com