No Problems, Only Opportunities

What Millennials Can Learn From Gen X’s Money Mistakes

You can consider me a sucker for any article on generational warfare, especially one that involves mine.  So when an article immediately says I’m making mistakes with my money, I’m doubly interested.

I feel I’ve made this clear in other posts, but I really do feel sorry for generations after mine.  While the generation preceding me couldn’t care much about anything other than itself, I am embarrassed at what has been left for the younger ones to clean up, fix, or just try to survive through.  My whole generation is too small to have made any political impression or enact any meaningful change, but I’ve been waiting for the next major cohort to flex its muscle, and I expect we see things the same way.

Anyway…

This article says its a collection of advice from financial experts who want Gen Y to do things differently from Gen X – "Break the chains of financial norms that were enshrined as gospel in the last century."  Here’s the truth that overshadows the entire article: The financial norms are not norms anymore because the entire economy and financial markets got fucked.  But that’s not a problem.  Don’t focus on that problem.  Don’t bother trying to solve the problem (as if you could anyway).

The term "gaslight" is used way too frequently and usually inappropriately.  I’m not going to use it here, but it feels some would.  This article is more of the more traditional, "blowing smoke up your ass" flavor.

Point 1: Gen Y should focus on Roth accounts instead of traditional retirement accounts.  I’m not going to argue particulars, this advice can go either way.  I just want to point out that Roth IRA’s were created in 1997.  It’s not like there was a lot of information on the benefits of a Roth at the time.  And now, given time, experience, and income growth, I now contribute 100% to post-tax retirement accounts.  Because Gen X makes all the financial mistakes.

Point 2: Gen Y should give up on whatever used to be the idea of financial success.  Let me get that exact quote.

"…millennials need to reconsider the entire concept of wealth, success and financial freedom – particularly as it applies to standards that were set in a different time"

It shouldn’t take much cynicism to deduce that "a different time" means "a better time".  What example of change was provided?

"Are we sure we want a 30-year mortgage on the largest house we can possibly secure financing for to go along with our student loan debt and auto loan? … Maybe a used RV and a WiFi hotspot are more appealing than a 2,000-square-foot ranch."

And now I want to really punch someone.  I’ll give you this much.  Buying the biggest house you can get financing for is a financial mistake, worthy of the title of the article.  But to suggest that Gen Y should just literally give up on the concept of owning a house to live in a depreciating asset and have them consider that move financially savvy?  That is an even bigger financial mistake.  One that a future article will use comparing Gen Y and Gen Z.

And there’s a real trigger: "student loan debt".  Something my generation didn’t have to worry about, at least not to enslavement levels of debt like today.  Maybe a used RV is not so much "more appealing" as it is "the only option".  I’m not saying lower your expectations, I’m just saying to refine them.

Point 3: Accept that shit sucks.  Deal with it.  I would really have to copy the whole text of the two paragraphs to do justice to what is being bullshitted.  Remember, the problem the article is hiding is that the economy absolutely sucks.  Gen Y started a revolution by creating "the gig economy".  You know what the gig economy has done?  It has resulted in workers being exploited and cheapened, with no redeeming benefits.  And no benefits at all.  For every success story on a gig worker, you have a thousand who are working themselves to the bone just to get by. 

The Gen X life story? "Get a college degree. Land a job. Buy a house. Invest for retirement someday."  Their take on these universal desires?  "It’s a flawed model."  IT’S A FUCKING FLAWED MODEL.  I got my job with a Associates degree in an unrelated field.  Gen Y (and Z now) have to have Bachelors degrees to get entry level jobs.  They can’t get any job paying well enough to buy a house or to invest for retirement someday.  WHOSE MODEL IS FUCKING FLAWED HERE?

So the explanation for being flawed is that it doesn’t align with Gen Y’s priorities: "experiences over possessions, and prioritizing purpose, innovation, and flexibility".  And I’m going to say again, these priorities are due to the fact the world is garbage.  They are compensation for having nothing else.  When your world is so dead that you simply want to experience as much happiness as possible as soon as possible because you don’t expect things to be getting better in your lifetime, that’s a problem.  When you demand flexibility because you know you can’t trust any institution for stability, that’s a problem.  As far as purpose and innovation, Gen X had that as well, only it wasn’t something we had to demand, it was simply allowed.  That’s a problem.

This romanticizing of renting for life and RVing and being mobile and nomadic, that’s a symptom of the times.  It’s a necessity to survival.  You really don’t think that if circumstances were the same now as they were 20 years ago that a whole generation would behave so differently?  If anything the nomadic lifestyle would be taken up for pleasure.  If the promise of technology had not been stolen by a few obscenely rich, powerful people, we’d all be living a utopian life.

For the boomers who were flower children until the end and look around with sadness at what they were unable to sustain, I will be a nerd who will die lamenting how the Internet was supposed to bring enlightenment and knowledge and was reduced to conspiracies and trolls.  Gen Y, ponder well what legacy you wish to leave unfulfilled to the world.

Post Travel Review

It’s been a week or so since I got back from my road trip through a few states.  I got to spend some time in a couple and just passed through another, but still, during death plague, travelling is a luxury, or at least it should be.

Anyway, a lot of my time was spent in TX.  I was in a somewhat smaller town surrounded by other smaller towns, but I did take one day to drive to Dallas.  My overall impressions of the state?  I don’t really like it.  It seemed more expensive, for one.  Sales tax was higher and the cost of things in general seemed higher as well.  Gas was cheaper, but not cheaper than other states I went through.

On dining.  It’s nothing I can really fault them for, but there was less for me to eat in TX.  I don’t eat Mexican, and well, TX has a lot of Mexican food for whatever reason.  I lot of the brands I enjoy also weren’t there (at least in the smaller towns I was in).  One other thing is that every restaurant was jam packed.  Actually that was a theme my entire trip.  I regularly found myself eating at my third or less favorite choice just because I couldn’t get in anywhere else.

On shopping.  I had plenty of time to hit all the stores I wanted.  I hit thrift stores, which were generally disappointing, pawn shops, which were universally, exceptionally depressing, and used CD stores, which were generally positive.

On driving.  I was warned beforehand that TX drivers drive fast.  This is true, but despite that, they are still courteous.  I’ll save my ranting for the end, but I will say, Dallas rush-hour traffic is heaps better than normal FL traffic.  For one, drivers choose a lane and stick with it.  They allow you to have a safety buffer in front of your vehicle without having an irrational need to fill that space.  TX drivers don’t ride in the passing lane (of course there are exceptions).  When you only have 2-lane highways, maybe this is more normal.  The one notable exception I recall is someone who rode the passing lane and varied his speed between 65 and 85.  He wouldn’t pass me, nor would he fall behind me.  He was building up a line of cars behind him.  So in an open stretch, I chose to accelerate to over 100 to build a gap between me and him so that the cars he blocked could pass him on the right and get around him.  As far as I know, he’s still driving in the left lane today.

Oddball observation: There are a lot of redheads in TX.

The next state I spent the most time in was LA, an hour away from where I was staying.  My general impression: a poor, sad state.  I hit some thrift shops, which had nothing of any value, some pawn shops, which also had nothing of value, and a record store.  I saw a dead dog in the street and no one seemed to be concerned by it.

When I was coming through LA into TX, I didn’t get a very good vibe from the state.  I mentioned this to my host who commented that her impression of LA people is that they were "crooked".  I thought that was sort of a unique observation, not one you usually make on a group of people.  Then I went to the used record store in LA and I learned.  I’ve heard about stores like this before, but this was the first one I’d experienced. 

When I got there, the building was sketchy as fuck.  There were no windows – none.  The signage was uninviting.  When I went in, the place was like a maze of boxes and rooms.  The first person I saw asked what I was looking for, then had to lead me through the maze to where the CDs were.  I’m not adverse to mess, after all, I shop at thrift and pawn shops and flea markets.  As I looked over every CD they had, there wasn’t anything of real interest, only mild interest.  The couple I did pull out to inspect closer, I noticed there were no price tags on them.  This gave me an uneasy feeling.  Like I said, I’ve heard of this before.  Against my expectations, I hoped they just had a flat price for CDs.

On my way from one section to another, a person I assume was the owner asked me if I was finding everything I was looking for.  I asked what the prices were for CDs and he confirmed my worries.  He said would look up the prices at checkout.  Uh huh.  I pretty much knew I wouldn’t be buying anything here.  But I still looked at everything.  In the end, the only thing in the entire shop that caught my eye was a gold Pink Floyd CD.  Knowing the store’s pricing policy, I looked up the price online.  It sells for an average of $75.  I mentally set my max price for $50.  I took it back to the owner and he saw it and said, "Oh that’s going to be an expensive one.  If you’re interested, I can look up the price, but I can tell you it’s going to be at least $60."  I replied, "Not if it’s going to be $60."  And he left the CD on the table and dismissed me.  So I left.  Crooked?  Maybe, but definitely not someone I want to do business with. 

So anyway, after a couple weeks away, I return to FL.  Immediately, as soon as I cross the state line, I mean, right then, traffic started acting differently.  The highway opened up to three lanes and it became a free for all.  Drivers switching lanes constantly, people weaving through traffic, driving 20 miles faster than the flow, just total insanity.  Then, later on, the density just grew and grew.  Three lanes fully packed with cars, which obviously left no room for passing, making those that wanted to speed and pass even more dangerous, swiping the small gaps between cars left and right to push themselves further ahead.  It was absolutely infuriating.

In the time since, I’ve been very critical of the driving in FL.  Although I haven’t been to CA yet to experience that driving environment, I can say FL has the worst driving of any state I’ve been in, and that does include MA, specifically, Boston.  My experience in Boston was that yes, it’s hectic and rude, but it’s not at 80 mph.  All that jostling happens in city environments at slower speeds.  Driving in FL is like a real-life Grand Theft Auto game.

On a positive note, I did get a lot of CDs.  It’s taking me days and days to give each a full listen.  I did have a great find of over a dozen new SACDs in a thrift store.  I bought them all for $1 each.  SACDs will sell for $40+ easily.  Because I am not of the LA mindset, I did sell off all the extra copies I had, but for $10 each including shipping.  Maybe I made $50 profit total.  But I kept a copy for myself, so my collection is $40 richer, too.  And the buyers (who were as knowledgeable as I) were understandably appreciative of the good price.  That gratitude is worth more than the money.

While I was gone, I had a sitter for the cats.  Unfortunately, Spock never warmed up to her and hid every time she was in the house.  Sky, on the other hand, developed a new language to talk to the sitter.  Sky tried using all her new words on me when I got home and I had no idea what she wanted.  Spock took a few days to get over his pain of abandonment.  My first night back in bed, he crawled up on my chest, which is something he’s never done before.  He’s back to his usual asshole self now.

Currently, I’m waiting and hoping for my turn for the COVID vaccine, so I can have more road trips like this on weekends.  As fun as that was, I’m sort of dreading it as well, because there are a lot of people travelling.  Right now, they shouldn’t be, but when we get safer, I’m afraid it’s just going to be madness on the roads and hotels.  The hotel I booked was sold out both times I was there.  Is it going to be like my dining options, having to go to my third best option for lodging?

Decisions

As mentioned in previous posts, yes, I’m re-exploring music.  I have purchased and set up my recording PC and now I have to focus on the devices.  This had led me to a difficult decision.

I have a keyboard that has been with me for over 20 years – the Roland RD-600.  It’s been an excellent device and I am very familiar with playing it.  However, over the years the keyboard has worn out.  Some keys will break, or more specifically, the hammers on the keys will break.  I’ve dealt with this for many years, replacing hammers one by one as they break.  It’s an annoyance for sure.  I even have a small cache of spare hammers that I purchased from the manufacturer when this first became a problem.

And it’s still a problem.  On day two of having my rig set back up,  I broke a hammer.  I took the RD-600 off the stand, flipped the board over, and undid all the screws to open the case.  Replaced the hammer and flipped it back over to resecure the case.  Put it back on the stand and another hammer had broken during the repair of the first.  I give up.  I put the kb back in its road case and brought out the other keyboard.

Now this other board is an Alesis QS8.  I bought it at a thrift shop for $100.  It had issues right out of the gate with being out of tune.  I was loathe to throw it away though and figured now I could do some tests on it.  I determined that the MIDI functions still worked (that they were sending the right notes), which is what I primarily needed for recording.  I also found the setting where I could retune the device, and things were looking a lot better now.  However, further testing showed that the pitch problems would randomly reappear, requiring another manual retune.  And as far as the MIDI was concerned, there was some random data being spewed out from a wheel controller that I had previously physically disconnected.  So, this device is not suitable for recording either.

I have two bum devices.  My choices are, replace or repair.  Buying a new device of the caliber of the RD-600 or QS8 is a $1600-$2700 purchase.  Along with that purchase comes a new keyboard action, which I may hate.  Obviously there’s going to be more modern features and technology involved which is a distinct positive, if I wasn’t planning on using virtual instruments anyway.

I investigated replacing the hammers in the RD-600.  I can’t recall how much the initial batch cost way back then, but on eBay, each hammer is currently about $10 plus shipping.  It’s probably looking like about $1000 to replace all the hammers in my 20-yr old keyboard.  I contacted Roland directly to order the parts and they simply refused to sell any replacement parts to me and told me to take to an authorized repair center.  Bastards.

So now the question is, spend $1000 or $2000?  To complicate the matter, if I do refurbish the RD-600, I’ll never get that money back.  Street value of an RD-600 has to be well south of $500.  Hell, I only paid $650 for it twenty years ago.  I would spend more on refurbishment than I did when I bought it used.  But, this is a board I am intimately familiar with, and if it lasted 20 years once, it will last again until I’m long gone.  The alternative?  I can buy a new keyboard with new technology (maybe more durable, maybe not), may have better action, maybe not, may be a lot of things and may not.  If I don’t like it, I can sell it.  Sell it for what, 80% of its purchase price?  75%?  Less?  Will I lose more than I would pay for the RD-600 hammers?

And it’s shit like this that keeps me from going anywhere.  Weighing the pros and cons and never making a decision.

Oh, what about the other kb, the Alesis?  Well, I have an open inquiry to a repair shop to see what it will cost for repair.  I’m sure I’ll have to pay a bench fee, but that’s reasonable to know whether the kb should be repaired or checked.  The problem isn’t mechanical like the Roland, but it is electronic.  That could be better or worse.  But it won’t be $10 88 times over.

But I made a decision anyway.  The Roland is going to get refurbished.  I think it deserves a second life and I’ll be comfortable using it for recording.  My decision was made on a few different points.  First, Roland makes no mention of the RD-600 in their support pages, so I don’t think the hammers will be available for too much longer.  Second, I found an eBay seller selling one octave of hammers (7 white/5 black) for $120 with free shipping.  With 7.2 octaves in a piano, I would be pretty safe buying 7 of these, for a total of $840.  That’s not $1000 and it’s not $2000, and it’s not $2500, which is the price of the new keyboard I tried that had a hammer action I liked.

The seller was unwilling to discount his price for a purchase of seven octaves, because he knew what he had.  He knew the part was either discontinued or was soon going to be discontinued and told me as much.  I paid his price.  And I still will pursue repairing the Alesis, for the right price.  There’s a small part of me that wants to rebuild a whole studio with racks of 80’s and 90’s physical keyboards, but holy shit is that an expensive idea.  Obviously, a lot of those sounds are coming back into vogue with new music, so prices have been soaring.  Pawn shops used to be used device gold mines, but I can’t imagine any shop not doing their EBay research and finding out the value of what they have.  So virtual devices will still be the way, with a solid controller.

All Good Things Must

be made more difficult.

To be honest, T-Mobile has been an excellent company for me.  I’ve always had decent service and they’ve never really let me down.  Some of their promotional offers have been really interesting as well.  It was a long time ago that they offered one share of T-Mobile stock for free to all subscribers.  I regret not taking the time to claim that offer now.  "Free is free" and I didn’t take it.  Shame on me.

One of their other excellent offers was a checking account with 4% interest.  Absolutely unheard of when it came out and is still unbelievable today.  Granted, it’s only 4% on the first $3k in the account and 1% on everything over that.  But even so, 1%?  How sad is it that their base rate is still higher than everyone else?  When I signed up, I had no idea how they could afford to do it and all these years later, I still don’t know how they can keep it up.

Well, that time has come.  I’m sure there are a lot of money-wise people out there that are stocking $3k in that account and nothing more.  In order to qualify for that 4% max rate, you have to have a $200 deposit every month into the account.  Of course, people are going to people, so you can be absolutely assured that lots of people keep $3k in the account, then have an automated $200 deposit in each month and a corresponding $200 withdrawal every month as well.  Totally worth it for 4% interest on $3k, I’m sure.

A bank isn’t going to make any money that way, I understand that.  And so, it’s come to this.  A new change in the way you qualify for the max interest rate.  Again, I get it.  The alternative is they just stop the offer altogether and then it’s just another nice thing ruined by people.

So anyway, what’s the change?  Instead of having the $200/mo required deposit, you now have to make 10 purchases with the check card each month.  This is logical as the bank would get a transaction fee for each purchase and those fees would pay for the bonus interest.  Makes sense to me.  The thing I don’t like is the way they are selling it to their customers.  They say:

We understand making a monthly deposit may be tough and we want T‑Mobile MONEY to work for you. So, eligible customers will soon earn 4.00% APY* by using your T‑Mobile MONEY card for daily purchases like groceries, gas, or shopping online.

They understand making a monthly deposit may be tough.  But it’s easier to make 10 transactions in a month.  If you’re making 10 transactions in a month and not making any deposits, now that’s tough.  But that’s where we’re at, I guess.  Also, it’s a little irksome that to qualify for a higher interest rate, you have to lower your balance with 10 purchases.  But, it’s their game and their rules. 

I just wish they would have been honest with the reasons.  I thought TMo used to have a slogan, "Straight talk", but it seems that’s another company.  Why can’t they just explain it in reality and not need to spin it?

So that’s that.  Now, what does this change cost the users?  Here’s my plan.  I normally get a drink from RaceTrac when I get takeout from certain restaurants.  It’s $1.07 each time.  So, RaceTrac now gets my TMo transactions.  It’ll cost me a little over $10 to earn… wait, what?  $18 in interest?  Well, it’s not like that, exactly.  I would be spending the $10 on another card regardless, so the math actually comes out that I would be losing interest on that $10, or 10 cents.  Ugh, wait, not 10 cents.  It’s 1%/12 months, so actually .0833%… 0.8 cents a month.  I fucking hate math.

Now, if you were below the $3k balance and earning 4% on your whole balance, the numbers are a little worse.  So to maximize your money here, you need to keep $3k in your account, plus whatever monthly fluctuations you have to keep you over that threshold.  And for the people who automated $200 in and $200 out, now it would be a modification of maybe $20 in and $20 out via purchases each month.  Same game, new rules.

One More Time Before I Go

A little more information on something I hinted at in a previous post… I’m still quite reluctant to say much about it because I’ve done this time and time again with no success or completion.  Hopefully, without having any expectations, I can meet my expectations.  The "news" is that I have pulled my music gear out of storage and set it up again, with tentative plans to do some recording.

There were multiple reasons I came to this.  I had some inspiration listening to some albums and wanted to see if I could still compose.  I wanted to do some justice to older pieces by re-recording them properly.  My hands and fingers are getting old and weak and I thought maybe playing would return some strength to them.

The last recording I had done was in 2008, when I wrote a bunch of heavy guitar songs for an album.  My voice was unable to perform well enough to do the vocal tracks and the audio was marred with recording glitches like audio bleed from other tracks.  But, the point is, I haven’t done music in over a decade.  Obviously things have changed since then, but I will still be doing things the way I have always known.

Step one was to see if I could even still play anymore.  I pulled out the keyboards and set them up in my music room.  With some headphones plugged in, I tried playing some familiar songs.  To my surprise, the muscle memory was still there.  I remembered most of my old songs, with some stops and pauses to refigure out bits here and there.  The playing was sloppy as I expected and my stamina was greatly reduced, as I also expected.  I only spent about 30 minutes or so that first day to get familiar with the keys again.  The next day I spent another half hour or more with other songs and my stamina had jumped surprisingly just in that one day.  Now, here on day three, the joints in my left hand are sore AF, so maybe I overdid it.  But, the future is somewhat promising.

If I’m going to do this, I’ll need a new computer for recording.  The second computer I had laying around was converted into a web and email server a while ago, so I need to make another purchase.  Here’s the thing.  Technology has advanced SO far since I was last doing this (13 years!), I don’t need to buy a 4-figure computer.  I don’t even have to buy a full-size computer.  I bought a refurbished mini computer for $300 that exceeds the power of any computer back then.  And of course, I needed a new monitor and keyboard.  This time, what I am doing is buying a floor stand for the monitor and a bracket to mount the mini PC behind the monitor.  I’ll place the stand behind my keyboards or mixer and can move it as needed.  New technology is really cool.

Without any real goals or timelines, I’m going to relax and get familiar with the software again.  That has always been an issue with me – the process of recording gets in the way of recording.  There’s a universal image of artists working in a home studio, laying down tracks and fiddling with effects and editing and whatnot, but the notion to me of having an engineer handling and managing all the recording process where the musician can focus on actually playing and making music – that’s the real thing.  And sadly, the evisceration of the recording industry has made that concept a rarity.  Still, I am a one-person team, so I have to do what I can.  In the past, I have rushed all my projects because I have had to wear multiple hats and if I spend too much time wearing one, the others suffer.  In the end it all suffers.

So, It was 2000 when I did my last keyboard album, 2006 when I finished my last Sequence album, 2008 when I finished my hard rock guitar album, and I’ve been wanting to start the loop over again for a long time.  Looking back in the journal, it seems like I had recording aspirations in 2014, but I had other interests going on at the time.  It seems the only time I can really compose and record is when I’m single.  So, now’s the time!  Still, no promises.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Lots of ground to cover here, so be forewarned, and a lot of it is in the no-fucks-to-be-given-anymore realm, so be doubly forewarned.

To begin, all of this now is uncharted territory for me.  Recently I broke 50 years of age and maybe a couple years ago, you could not have convinced me otherwise I would be alive right now.  That plan had been in the works for many years prior and it was actually coming to fruition, meaning I was beginning my plans to hold down the power button on my life.  For whatever reason, I told my doctor about it and after the assistance of some significant pharmaceuticals, I remain.

You might think this is the ideal opportunity to completely reinvent myself, since these days were never planned for, they have no expectations.  But that is silly talk.  This is no "second wind".  That was maybe 15 years ago and I squeezed all the life out of it I had, after all, I had a plan for the finish line.  This is "coasting to the finish line."  This is more a period of reflection and maintenance and existence.  And some of that has been done recently and because it has no repercussions to me in this new uncharted, unplanned life, I have the willingness to jot all of it down.

Whether coincidental to my milestone birthday or not, I received an unsolicited package on my doorstep from my estranged brother.  Within were documents and photos of me and my family from the past.  Very likely, it was everything from my parents house before it was sold off, all of it crammed and scattered in a plastic tub.  Incredibly, of the picture frames loosely placed in the tub, two wooden and one metal frame were broken, and yet, no glass was broken.  The whole package carried a sentiment of "This is now out of my house and is your problem now."  So it is.

Sometimes, actually probably most times, when a new problem is thrust on me, it is pushed to the top of the stack instead of the end of the queue.  This new problem was no different.  So I right away took all the photos and documents out and sorted them on the floor.  I arranged them by photo size and put them into a new box for processing.  The processing I rather wanted to do was throw it all away.  However, my archivist instincts forced me to to evaluate the potential loss of this information, useful to only a few people, really, and of that, only of curiosity.  Since that evaluation result was greater than zero, I had to concede that at least a modicum of effort must be made to preserve it.  So, I chose to scan everything before disposal.

The next two days were spent swapping photos and pages in a flatbed scanner, hours on end, to capture everything in 300dpi.  Thinking back to my early computing days, this would be unfathomable.  The storage required for 300dpi scans of hundreds of photos would be an astronomical cost.  Each picture over 1MB in size?  Back then, things were huge if they were 300kb in size.  So, time and technology were on my side for this effort.  And personal time is also available as I don’t have much going on.  I am able to do another hobby concurrently with this task, however this did take precedence over a future pending project (maybe to be announced).

So, hundreds of photos from my past, many I’ve never seen before, suddenly fall in my lap.  How does an experience like that make you feel?  Well, it sort of forces you to reconcile your past with your present, and for me that wasn’t all that pleasant.

I did not have an unpleasant childhood.  I was extremely privileged.  I was spoiled.  However, I was also very solitary.  I never really had more than one or two friends at a time.  In ignorance of my affluence and despite the lack of socialization, I was a very fun-loving, happy child.  My parents liked taking pictures of me and while I wasn’t exactly a ham in front of the camera, I was willing and I behaved in an a non-self-conscience way that is polar opposite of the person I later became.

I’ve already hit upon one small personal demon so far, and I promised lots of ground to cover, so here’s a personal story tangent.

I’ve not done any real research on this, but I can be confident that in Psych circles there must be a topic of "survivor’s guilt" of success.  I carry that guilt.  In the current age, I feel horrible for younger generations who will never know how good things used to be.  I feel guilty that I grew up in more prosperous times, despite being through two financial crises, I’m more than holding my own.  I happened to fall into technology just as it was blooming and it has sustained me all my life.  I’m just starting to get into the age of discrimination where if I were to lose my job, I might have a more difficult time replacing it.  But still, I don’t think my time will be harder than someone just getting started who needs a BS or Masters degree for an entry-level job.

Seeing my childhood pictures reinforced all my feeling of having an unfair advantage in life.  I’m sure a therapist would say that’s not something that can be changed and I can’t feel guilt for something I had no control over, but discarding that self-awareness isn’t the ticket either.  Look at all the selfish, unreflective, unaware individuals polluting social media and the news today.  The world could use a little more humility and self-reflection.  And that was the crushing emotion of scanning my early childhood photos.  And then we continue on to later photos…

You can sort of see the change in my demeanor as I grew older, ending in the "sullen teenager" photos.  Why this happened, I can’t be entirely sure.  There are plenty of things that could contribute to it: my social isolation starting to bear fruit, my parents getting along less and starting to live independent lives, or maybe it was my brother.  I don’t want to pin all my misery in life on my brother, although we haven’t spoken in years and I have no desire to reconcile.  But to see childhood pictures of the two of us happy, then ending with me scowling at him in a picture with my prom date as he takes the pictures (compared to me beaming in pictures at my GF’s house as her dad took pictures), well, I don’t get along with his personality.  I have enough problem in my life without needing that too.

Then we get to photos after I’ve left home and am living on my own.  This should be peak life right here, young and healthy with no responsibilities, right?  But it wasn’t as good as I wanted.  I recall reading a confession by a famous person who said she wished she had a lot more sex when she was young.  And you know, that really resonates with me.  I’ve recently had some general observations that apply to me specifically, and again, at this point in my life, there’s no real shits to give about the me 30 years ago.

To sum it all up, my problem when I was in my teens and 20’s was that I was a "romantic".  That bullshit should be trotted out in your 40’s.  When you are young, sex is the thing, not love.  Growing up in a tiny, conservative town sort of limits your opportunities, but looking back, I surely could have made more happen.  While I was trying to woo girls with sincere displays of affection, they were being snatched up by more aggressive guys.  I promised stability, they promised fun.  As a 20-something, I had it all fucking wrong.  I was a 40 year old in a 20’s body.  Such a shame.  But thank god there was no social media back then.  If there was, I would publicly and ruthlessly labelled as "cringe", as the modern terminology goes.  "Cringe" has a lot of meaning, but the one I feel applies best here is, "you’re doing it really wrong and you don’t realize it."  It’s embarrassing.

The cringe factor is something that really digs at me when I think of my past.  Consider me and my competition.  For my part, I do the love letters, the poems, the flowers, all the romantic stuff.  The other guy just strikes up a conversation, gets friendly, then either pushes hard or builds a rapport until he gets laid.  His work is simple and risk free, mine requires lots of effort.  Again, this is complete bullshit when you’re young.  And when the guy has had enough of sex from her, he dumps her – no big deal whatsoever.  You might think that’s shitty behavior, but you know what, it doesn’t matter.  He’ll be remembered as "an asshole, but we had fun and he made me feel good," whereas I would be remembered as "that weird guy.  ew."  No contest.

While that’s really in the realm of MGTOW sentiment, I want to stress that if you’re pulling that 20’s shit in you’re 40’s, you are an unredeemable asshole and you deserve to die alone.  There is a time to act like you’re young and a time to act like an adult.  Unfortunately, I never had my time of acting young.

So that sums up my reflections on life from 600+ photos dropped on my doorstep, as well as my reflections on life past 50 that I never intended to have.  Life is good and it can always be worse in hindsight.

Fiction Never More Real

One of my guilty pleasures is comic strips.  I like quite a few, from the daily ones, to the political ones, to the ones that are multi-page in scope.  But, oddly, I don’t like comic books (or graphic novels as they prefer to be called).  Anyway, I have some comics that I follow pretty regularly.  The political ones bring me down and the others lift me back up, so I maintain equilibrium. 

One of the comics that I follow, though, has somewhat become like a stone in my shoe.  It just bugs me.  The strip is Adam @ Home and is about a work-at-home dad and his family.  When I came into the strip, the topic was primarily about Adam’s issues with technology.  But lately, the strips are really focused on his kids.  It’s probably obvious those two topics are the two polar extremes of my entertainment.  And while that irked me, I know that themes can come and go in a long-running strip.  When I go back to earlier strips, there are runs of other topics that take over as well.  I can deal.

But one day, I found out that the entirety of the series was online.  Highly interested, I went and started reading from the beginning.  And you know, considering themes and topics and changes and all, it was a totally different comic strip in the beginning.  It was a strip about a husband and wife and their (then smaller) family.  While Adam was still working at home, it had a lot of Mr. Mom kind of things in it as well as a lot of honest friction where Adam’s wife would come home from work exhausted and Adam didn’t do any housework.  It was turning the whole "stay-at-home mom’s don’t do anything" on the guys.  To be honest, Adam was really being a selfish asshole.  And there was more than a few mentions of his wife being too tired for sex.  Despite that, there was a strip where his wife left work early to get back home and have sex while the kids were at school.  What the fuck?  Is this the same comic strip?

I actually stopped reading the historical strips shortly after the mid-day sex strip because I couldn’t reconcile was then and what was now.  In the present, there is zero, and I mean zero affection between Adam and his wife.  They are never shown embracing or even interacting beyond discussing random, neutral topics, or their kids.  It’s almost always Adam talking to his kids or sometimes the wife talking to the kids.  If I had to read all the strips between then and now, knowing what they would become, it would be more depressing than the political strips I read on occasion.  What the hell happened to this couple?

What actually spurred me to write this post was something so outrageous it just infuriated me.  So, Adam works at home, right.  In the present, he’s a freelance writer taking small jobs here and there.  When not on a job, he’s trying to write something.  A novel, a play, a screenplay, anything.  He’s consistently unsuccessful.  His wife works at a bookstore, but I don’t exactly know what’s been going on during the pandemic, whether the store has been open or not.  I have to assume they have some steady income somehow.

So, the other day, the wife and Adam have a rare conversation together.  The wife wants to confess something to Adam and is unsure how he’ll take it.  What’s the bombshell?  She says she’s written a novel.  So, you know, Adam, being a writer by trade, and yet very unsuccessful at writing, reacts as you would expect.

My reaction is completely different.  This is your fucking wife, your life partner, and you had no idea she was writing a novel?  Do you even communicate?  Do you even pay attention to her?  From participating in NaNoWriMo myself, I was able to crank out a 50k word story in a month, but that was multiple hours night after night doing nothing but writing.  And that’s after many years of blogging and writing in general, so I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch.  One of my friends is a real writer, like published and shit.  Writing is her full-time job.  For Adam’s wife to write a novel from nothing is not exactly trivial.  I’m not saying that can’t be done, I’m saying it should not have gone unnoticed by her husband and her kids.  And if it did go unnoticed, what a fucking sad sack of a family that is.

But it’s just another devastating blow to a fictional family.  You know, as a writer, of words or comics, your goal is to get people invested in the characters.  And it’s painful when your emotional investment in them is discarded for cheap.  Oh, Dilbert of old, where have you gone?  (Off to the land of Narcissism, you cuck!!)  But anyway, to wrap it up, I’m just a little hurt that a comic that started out trying to discuss real relationship issues between a working mom and stay at home dad, and the dad’s continuing difficulties in adapting, has turned into an emotionless cast of characters just moving from one day to the next with no continuity or persistence.

The More You Know

Knowledge and experience are a couple of things that unfortunately are in ever decreasing supply these days.  With so many people taking pride in their lack of intelligence and their non-willingness to seek out new information and experiences, it seems humanity is destined to be doomed.  My little story is of little to no importance, but is just one tiny example of how reading and experimenting helps put pieces of a puzzle together and displays a larger canvas than you had formally seen before.

This is about music and my music collection.  I’ve mentioned in past posts that I’ve been trying to listen to artists that are outside of my normal choices, and especially so if they are considered groundbreaking or significant artists in their time.  That isn’t a new radical concept for me.  You know at one time, I had never really listened to classical music (except for what was on cartoons).  I think I started because classical CDs were cheap and I wanted something to listen to on my new CD player.

With the exposure to classical music, you immediately understand a lot of cultural references.  You hear a snippet of a piece in a commercial or a movie and you know how the whole song goes.  You’re suddenly in the "in crowd", in a way.  And the more music you can expose yourself to, the more in-crowds you can get into.  And when you grow broad as well as deep, you start to see and understand the interconnectedness of it all.

This particular revelation came last night listening to a new album I picked up.  But the start of the revelation was quite a while ago when I picked up an album by a different band I had heard much about, but never heard their music = Kraftwerk.  I had a general idea of what they probably sounded like and it was a pretty close guess.  After listening to some of their music, I wasn’t really sold on it, but I could listen to it all the way through, if for nothing more than appreciation of what they were accomplishing in the era they were doing it.  Kraftwerk is one of those groups that is touted as a grandfather of multiple future genres.  If not the entire creator of the genre, at least heavily influential in them.  So, I’ve established that I have an appreciation of electronic music.  I find a lot of it to be very repetitive and therefore boring, but I can understand there are certain times you might want a monotonous soundtrack to your activities and it’s a good fit for that.

0n the topic of genres, there’s a fairly common sentiment people use to express their musical tastes: "I listen to anything but rap and country".  I would probably say the same thing, but it’s strange how the more you experience different music, the more restricted those qualifiers become.  "Rap" for me does not include what I believe is termed "Hip Hop", which was more dominant in the 80’s.  And "Country" does not include pre-90’s country music, which was actually closer to pop music.  Or maybe it was just that country singers began doing more pop music.

The point of all that is that I don’t listen to Rap, but I do have some Hip Hop artists in my collection, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince for one example.  And I had just purchased Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam.  When I listened to it for the first time last night, I found the Technotronic album had elements that I had heard in other places in much newer albums, like those by William Orbit.  But getting past the pop-styled singles, the Technotronic album was much closer to a Kraftwerk album than a hip hop album.

And that was sort of a missing link album for me, bridging the Kraftwerk of the 70’s and early 80’s to the William Orbit of the 00’s, while also keeping the good parts from the hip hop of the 80’s.  And to be fair, it has the things that I don’t like, such as the monotony of Kraftwerk and more of the bravado and offensiveness of later rapping.  But overall it’s just more proof that music is a never-ending tapestry of styles and colors constantly backreferencing and pushing forward.  There’s always something old in something new.

Log On

Is there anything in the world that holds as much promise as a brand-new, unspoiled writing journal?  Conversely, is there anything sadder than a stack of journals with a few pages written in them, unable to be reused as much for their lack of virginity as for their obvious lack of positive energy, the evidence of their quality displayed (or rather not displayed) in the massive number of empty pages within.

I had a $5 free money coupon from Staples that I needed to spend (I never turn down free money), and initially I was going to buy some boxes so I could continue selling some of my excess CDs.  The Staples near my work didn’t have any boxes in the size I wanted, so I had some extra time to think.  During that thinking time, I had a idea for a log book and was unable to find any suitable journals in my house to accommodate the info.  Putting my idea and free money together, I purchased a new book today.  With coupon, it was essentially half-off.

And it’s a really nice journal.  I am really a sucker for clever journal designs.  I was initially considering a simple lined journal, where I would make dated entries in a linear format, nothing fancy.  But this journal had a neat calendar type design in the top margin to indicate the date, and well, that’s really all it took.  It also came with a plastic bookmark with stencils in it for drawing shapes, stored in its own pocket in the back cover.  Not only that, but the book also has ribbon bookmarks in the spine.  And not just one ribbon, but three – in two colors.  Talk about overachieving!

So I have this awesome new journal, full of potential.  What will be its duty?  Old-world scrobbling.  Scrobbling is a modern term for software that logs/records your music playing activity.  When you are listening to music in a non-networked fashion, as I do now, you use a log book.  I had once read online about people who keep a listening log book in their music room and faithfully record what they have listened to each day.  I found it interesting, but interesting for them, not for me.  Now at the time I had read these stories, I didn’t have a dedicated listening environment, not even really a stereo to speak of.  That might have been part of the missed connection. 

What brought me around to thinking I needed to do this?  There are a few reasons actually.

The first reason is that I have a lot of CDs, closing in on 2,000.  I don’t want to end up being one of those guys that listens to the same 10 albums all the time.  I need a reference log to see if I’ve listened to a particular album recently.

When I listen to an album, or when I want to relisten to an album, or when I want to choose an album, it would be helpful to have some listeners notes.  Descriptions of the sound quality, of things I noticed for the first time in the songs.  If I get a new version of a CD, does it sound better or different than my existing version?  That’s useful to me and to others that may want to hear something in particular.  I will have a reference of good or great sounding albums.

Another reason for having a log is the permanence of the log itself.  Sometimes I find that listening to music is almost a pointless activity.  It shouldn’t be.  Pointless is a bad choice of words.  It’s passive.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy listening to music, but it’s like meditation, maybe?  You’re either in the zone or not and those two worlds don’t really intersect.  By keeping a log, it’s sort of reaffirming, "yes, this happened" or "this night was not wasted".  I don’t think I’m explaining this part well enough, but the point is, there is a record of an activity so that the enjoyment of the activity is not lost or forgotten.

I had planned on beginning the log at the beginning of 2021.  Like a new year’s resolution or something like it.  But resolutions are really a dumb idea.  The best time to begin a new task is today.  Right now.  If this log ends up on the top of my unfilled journals in two months, it won’t matter which month that final entry is made.

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

This is long.  This is a rant about my workplace.  While the story is specific to my employer, it’s actually more of a rant about rampant capitalism, of which my employer is highly adherent to.  It is sort of a difficult post for me to write.  I’ve been wrestling with myself for the last couple of days on the topic because I’ve felt I have no right to complain.  After all, I have a job, I’m paid quite well, the work is easy and in a field I enjoy.  There are people who do not have all, some, or even any of those.  Why should I complain?

Let’s just cut to the situation, then break it apart from there.  Friday morning we got an announcement that because of the pandemic and the resulting slowdown in business at the company, there were going to be some changes implemented.  So far, this sounds like every other company dealing with COVID fallout.  The changes include: pay cuts (15% for managers and up, 10% for everyone else), discontinuation of 401k matching, discontinuing anniversary bonuses, and discontinuation of PTO cashouts.  Earlier in the year, when COVID began, the company announced a wage freeze, so no more raises until things turn around.

How did this affect me personally?  I am considered maxed out on salary, so my raises have been trivial for the last few years.  A wage freeze doesn’t hurt me too bad.  However, a 10% pay cut, wiped out 6 years worth of raises for me.  You can also take out 4% of my salary from the loss of the 401k match.  The anniversary bonus is something nice to look forward to, and since my anniversary is in a couple of weeks, this stings a little more than usual.

I say again, why should I complain?  It’s just money and even with the changes, I’m still probably in the top 10 highest paid people in the company.  My finances are very stable.  But to not complain is to accept and encourage that mentality that is choking and killing America – I got mine. Fuck you.

This is a family-owned company, and a couple of the family members/owners "work" there.  Over the years, their involvement has dwindled as their age has also progressed.  They are all very, very wealthy and surely want to spend their lives and their money in other ways.

As spokespeople for the company, the owners have always stressed how the employees are like extended family.  However, when we have our annual layoffs, the remaining people are reassured that the company is financially strong.  I get it.  A company is not supposed to lose money; it wouldn’t survive like that.  However, when times are lean and there is a choice to reduce profit or reduce headcount, the same decision is always made.

I say again, I get it.  Money can come from a business in three ways: a salary, year-end profits, and the intrinsic value of the company itself.  I would be on board if the decision to preserve profit was because the owners only income was the corporate profit.  But it’s not.  The owners have the intrinsic value, they have the annual profit, and they also all pull a salary from the company.  They are triple-dipping and hoarding all the profits for themselves.  They sacrifice others for their own gain.

Now, here’s the straw that broke my back with this last announcement.  Two things actually.  First was the mention of layoffs.  The announcement rationalized that when volume was down, the company would lay people off.  And why not?  They’ve done it every year for at least four years.  While they didn’t explicitly say we should be happy they didn’t resort to layoffs, mentioning it at all means it was considered.

So why wasn’t that the decision?  Thanks to freedom-loving patriots out there (who I’m sure had to fight valiantly against the current administration), it is in public information that I was able to find out that our company received a PPP loan from the government in the amount of somewhere between 2 and 5 million dollars.  A provision of taking that loan is that you do not lay off any workers.  So layoffs weren’t an option, although it was still considered.  However, there’s no restriction against cutting salary or benefits (research shows that this not uncommon).

If you know the PPP loan program, you know it’s not a loan.  It’s forgivable as long as you abide by its rules.  So, it’s free government money (it’s not socialism when it’s capitalism, right!).  Our company got over 2 million dollars for free to pay for our salaries and our company instead cuts salaries.  That improves the company’s profit, which goes to… the owners, exclusively.  Hypothetically, lets say our business was down enough that we made no profit this year, we just broke even.  With the PPP loan, payroll expenses drop by $2M+, profit becomes $2M+.  And that is not enough for the owners.  Fuck you, I’m getting mine.

I know business.  I know how it can be used to fuck people.  I saw it at my last job and I see it here.  In my last job, there was a "final con" to fuck the employees and enrich the owner on his way out.  While I’m not sure my previous employer actually got to execute his plan before I left, if my prediction for this company’s "final con" is correct, it’s already a done deal.

The owners are old and not involved in the business anymore.  They want out.  Business is down and has been down for quite some time.  That is bad for the owners.  When someone wants to buy a business, they want to see what return on investment they will get from it.  If the company isn’t turning good profits, its value (the sale price) decreases.  While anyone pitching the company is going to point out the glory years as what the company is capable of and will also hype the potential of the business when COVID ends, they still need to prove short-term viability and profit.

I’ve already told you the secret a few paragraphs ago.  Reduce expenses, profit goes up.  By cutting everyone’s salary and the 401k benefits and anniversary bonuses and the cash value of PTO, the company immediately looks better financially to a buyer.  The buyer has no obligation to restore any of those things.  For all they know, it’s always been that way.  Maybe they would see in a prior year financial statement that expenses were much higher, but why should they care?  The current and future financials say they’ll make good money.

Pause for a moment and absorb all that.  Now, because I have to explicitly say this, if the company looks like it will be more profitable to a buyer, the company can be sold for more money.  That money goes to… the owners, exclusively.  The salary and benefit cuts remain.

Now, in closing.  I do get it.  This is business.  Do not ever feel like your employer give one single shit about you or your life.  Are there exceptions to this?  Sure.  But America is greed and selfishness personified.  It’s going to take generations to turn this around if it even can be turned around.  It’s not going to happen in my lifetime for sure.  I really do empathize with the younger generations and what they are facing.