Wednesday, May 4, 2016


I have noticed that since I retired more than five years ago, that we eat a lot more pickles.  Despite my wife’s insistence that she married me for better or for worse, but not for lunch, we eat a lot more lunches together, at home, with pickles.  I never took a pickle in my lunch at the office or in the field, it was too messy and it would just be weird.  Now I have one almost every day now when I eat at home, mostly with grilled cheese or tomato and avocado sandwiches, with potato chips too and a cold glass of milk.

So it dawned on me that I should invest in pickle companies since that as the bulbous demographic of the baby boomers starts to retire they will eat a lot more pickles.  I have always thought that if I tailored my investment strategy to follow and meet the needs of the baby boomers and their families, I would be a rich man.  From Diapers to Depends, Preschools to Assisted Care Living, Silly Putty to Slinkys, computers to cell phones, trophy homes to trophy wives, Harleys to Winnebagos, this generation has been a prolific consumer of everything, incurring national and personal debt imagined by previous generations.  This is a bad thing but an ongoing opportunity for me.  I’m investing in pickles.

Moreover, there is an ongoing and obsessive interest in sending our kids to trophy colleges.  We spend $50-75,000 a year for their entitled privilege of attending a prestigious university. Then we get that status-symbol decal to put on the back of our cars so that people can judge our chosen academic institutions by the skill, or lack thereof, with which we operate our vehicles. That’s a half a million dollars spent for higher education, per kid, including graduate school and the obligatory summers and semesters abroad in Europe, China and Guatemala.  The kids are too busy kibitzing around to work to help fund this or pay for their debt so it translates, for us, to another mortgage or another ten years working to pay for it.  Then, after graduation, they move back in with us while they find themselves, their passion or something to do.  We might as well buy them a Papa Murphy’s franchise that will guarantee equity and income forever, instead of paying for expensive schools.  They can Google anything they need to know anyhow.
Choosing an appropriate school is a tough decision for a 17 year old, even if they do not consider the financial implications.  It is analogous to buying a car.  If they want to go top shelf or Ivy League, it’s like buying a Mercedes and if they want a small exclusive private school it is like buying a BMW.  If they want to go to a name brand, sassy or sport-o school it is like buying a Porsche and if they go to school abroad it is like driving a foreign car, like a Citroen.  If they pick a State University it is like buying a Ford or Chevy and if they go to local college it is like buying a Volkswagen.    If they live at home it is like driving your parent’s car - a station wagon or a minivan and if they choose a Community College it is like getting a motorcycle or moped.  You are what you drive. 

The current higher education model is to start at a local school, then transfer and graduate from the state university and go to the trophy schools for the masters and the name diploma.  It’s like learning to drive with a moped, eventually getting a VW and finishing with a Mercedes.  Makes sense to me.  But in the end it is just transportation, a way and the means to get from point A to B.  Is a Mercedes 10 times as good as a VW.  Maybe.  I went to a trophy school and learned a lot and met a lot of great people but that can happen at any school, if you put your mind to it and your back into it.  I sent my step daughters to State Universities for less than $1000 a semester for tuition and they turned out well.  In the mean time I paid off my bills, cars and mortgage and retired at 53. 

In high school I raced my old 59’ VW against a friend in his brand new, super charged, muscle car.  He blew me away at the start but then he hit a red light.  As he sat there waiting for the light and me, I cunningly timed the green light perfectly, passed him on the shoulder at full speed and beat him to the finish line, by a nose.  So in a sense it is not what you drive but how you drive it.  It’s not where you learn but how you learn and how you live.  Be more, appear less. 
 No matter where they go or what they drive, encourage and enable your kids to just find a need and a niche and fill it well, with joy, style and character.  Sell pickles.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ol Blue Eyes

I didn’t notice it until I was 40 or so, but my dad had the bluest eyes I had ever seen.  My folks were passing through the local airport, on their way to my sisters, and I went to join them for lunch on their layover, back when you could do that kind of thing.  Dad had had some sort of eye treatment or operation and was not wearing his glasses for once.  He had been wearing glasses nonstop for 60 years since sometime between the depression and the war they discovered he couldn’t see the board and he was hopelessly behind in his studies.  He came out of the jet way and I did not recognize him at first, but I remember thinking, ‘man that guy has blue eyes’.   Then he stuck out his hand to shake, before he got used to hugging, and said as he always did ‘hello Matthew’. I was so surprised.  You think you know a guy….

A few years later dad was on his deathbed gently succumbing to COPD and lung cancer at a Hospice Care unit near my sister’s home.  As his time drew near and we were all gathered around his bed, he sat up out of morphine stupor, opened his bright, baby blue eyes and looked around the room and at all of us one more time.  Then he fell back into his bed and slowly passed away, allowing, relenting and permitting death to take him.  His pulse in my hand receding from a frantic 200 beats a minute to nothing at all, in a matter of minutes.  I remember strangely thinking again, ‘man that guy has blue eyes’.

They were kind eyes, humorous eyes, serious eyes, encouraging eyes. Empathetic eyes that could see the adult in every child and the child in every adult.  Knowing eyes that saw the value of hard work and honesty, eyes that showed respect for everyone and saw that everyone had their own form of intelligence and integrity, perspective and point of view.  Stern, strict eyes that help you know when you are wrong, that build discipline and character.  Gritty eyes that looked up to the heavens for inspiration and down at the ground with perspiration, head down in determination, taking each task one step at a time, doing what he had to do to get it done.  Loyal eyes that stuck with you, thru thick and thin, like the family and friends and the sports teams he adored.  Irish eyes, between a smile and a tear.

Tired eyes that surrendered in his last years to a philosophy of ‘whatever’ and ‘what are you going to do’ when he lost interest in the politics and the pettiness of the world.  Resolved eyes that teared up and winked at me the last time I saw him while he gave me the thumbs up, saying that he was OK, and to my relief, that I was OK.  Non-judgmental eyes of acceptance and approval, respect and recognition, strength and surrender.  The clear blue eyes of a simple, good man and my everyday hero.

I have seen it in your eyes
You had those bright eyed baby blues.
But there is one thing more,
I was hoping you might do.
Take your hand and lead me,
To the hole in the garden wall,
And pull me thru.