Friday, June 28, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Friday was my last day as a regular employee at my job.  I’ve been there 28 years. Prior to that, I worked at a company for 15 years. Those were the only two jobs I ever had.  I’ve been working since I was 18 years old, and now -- I’m not.  They call it "retirement," but it feels more like I am being laid-off with benefits.  Those benefits include health care, and a small lump-sum of money that is just enough to make me feel like I would have been better-off staying. You get the point.

It’s a strange feeling. I have taken extended vacation time, but I always knew I was coming back to work. This time, the extended vacation is permanent.  I guess I should feel better about it, but I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t tell people how to feel, and well - I don’t feel great about it.
I’ll turn 62 in October, and I don’t have enough money saved to put my feet up and relax.  I feel like it’s too early to file for Social Security, and my pension isn’t enough to do anything but pay most of my bills.  There is probably some regret involved, in that I never earned enough money to be able to save enough money - if that makes any sense to you.

I never made any decision in my life for money.  I never took a job or turned one down based on how much it paid.  Maybe that was a mistake, or maybe it made me happier?  I'll never know.  What I do know is that I did the best with what I had.  I went to college at 40, graduated at the top of my class, and what it got me was a lower-management job that paid me enough to think about how much more I could have earned if I had learned to play golf and kiss ass.

They say, on your deathbed, you never wish you spent more time at the office. But I will. Gotta be a lot better than a deathbed. I actually don't understand deathbeds. I mean, who would buy that?
- Michael Scott


I saved what I could, while allowing for "living my life" stuff, paying bills, and surviving day-to-day.  Along the way, I encountered some financial difficulties, not the least of which was a DUI violation in 2001 which wound up costing me about $13,000. I’m still paying for that.  Along the way, my wife and I divorced. That threw a monkey wrench (I always felt that a useful tool like a monkey wrench got a bad rep, but that is another story) into my plans.  I should be putting my feet up while my wife works another year or two, and then we could both be touring the country in an RV - but that is spilled milk. (Spilled milk gets exactly the reputation it deserves)

So, here I am, technically unemployed and frankly, tired of working for a living. Unfortunately, I am probably going to have to continue working for a living, at least for 3 or 4 more years.  There is some savings and retirement money, but I am only 61.  My deepest fear (other than dying alone, which seems likely) is running out of money, so I do not want to touch the savings until it is absolutely necessary - whenever that is.

One saving grace is that I am eligible for unemployment benefits. I paid-into it for 45 years, so I suppose I am entitled to get at least some of that back. I feel like I gave the state an interest-free loan and am just now collecting on it. It is a surprisingly generous sum of money, but as it is with all good things, it is temporary.  

Perhaps this feeling of worthlessness is temporary? Who knows? I suppose, if I had more to do I would feel better about not working for a living anymore. As it is, I have state-funded weekly earnings and the hope that nothing goes so completely wrong that I need money in a big hurry.  What in life is not temporary?  Marriage. Job. Health. Things. They all die and we have to either learn to live without them or find something to replace them

On my way out the door, some people told me that they were "jealous" of me.  I told them that I wouldn't be jealous of any aspect of my life or anything in my life.  What they need to do is make their own way and create their own path.  It's not about me or anyone else. It is about you.  Decide what you want and where you want to go.

It is all temporary.  There will be nobody to look after you other than you.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Another Slice of (my) Life

Let’s see if I can properly describe this. (Stream of consciousness posting)

From the beginning, over the last year I became friends with a woman in my exercise classes. I always suspected that she was married, and after asking a few people, it turned out I was correct.  However, that didn’t deter me from continuing to be her friend, as it should not have.  She is loud, profane, fun, and smart  - and she is petite and muscular, which I find amazingly sexy. I like everything about her.

Over the past several months, I found out that she was going through a lengthly divorce, and had hired a forensic accountant to examine his books, since he was stashing money away in separate accounts. “It could take a year,” she told me.  OK then, whatever, Where am I going?

Last week, she invited me to go out after work with some other friends from our gym. It’s kind of a private group, and inviting me was entirely on her end. It’s kind of like a third-party invite - but I accepted it anyway.  I like her, and I want to stay in her peripheral vision until such time that I can ask her out on a real date - and not a date with a bunch of other people.

I knew that not everyone in the group would want me to attend. It may come as a shock to you, but I am not universally well-liked.  Some people can’t stand the sight of me, and while they tolerate me in the “gym setting,” when it comes to social interaction, they would probably rather have electrodes attached to their private parts than to see me out in public. Nevertheless.

I arrived earlier than I should, and walked into the bar and took a look around.  I saw two people at a table who I would describe as in the last paragraph, so I retreated to my car.  I waited for my “girl” to walk in, and serriptously entered and took a seat at the bar.  I sat there for about a minute, and she came over and tapped me on the shoulder and invited me over to their table. “Perfect,” I thought.  “I don’t have to look like a schmuck who walked in and invited himself.” Instead, I could make it appear as though she asked me over and I just sat down - which is exactly what happened.  For once, I did something right. Battle won.

There were six people at the table. Two of which I didn’t know (so that means they had no opinion of me) one who knew me, and I’m assuming was happy to see me, and the other two who probably would rather have their vulvas removed than to see me in public.  They barely made eye contact with me.

We sat for a while, chatting and ordering drinks and food. I’m pretty sure I behaved myself, although seeing her in regular street clothes and not schmatta gym wear was quite a shock to my system.  Although, a couple of things gnawed at me afterward:

ONE:  Among the conversation at the table, there was a lot of gossip about other people at our gym and what was going on in their personal lives, and some speculation.  I couldn’t help but wonder if me and my “girl” would be part of that gossip later, since she asked me over and we shared a bar/food tab. We certainly looked like a couple.

TWO:  The two people who dislike me were amazingly dismissive of my presence, and said “good night” to everyone at the table but me. I hope my being there would not deter them from inviting my friend to future events, since she asks me to join her.

THREE:  I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I have often regretted not saying things that I thought I should have said.  During our evening together, I told her “the more time I spend with you, the more I like you.” And, when we parted company afterward, I told her “you’re terrific,” which I guess sounds odd, but I really like her, and I don’t want to allow an opportunity to elude me while I have a chance to tell her how I feel.

I don’t know where any of this is going. My gut is telling me that I am making too much of her interest in me.  Although, I can’t imagine that she would invite me to these things if she didn’t have some feelings, too.

I hope I’m not setting myself up for another major disappointment.



Thursday, May 23, 2019

I’m Thinking it Over (Scenes From a Marriage Part Seven)

Robber: “Your money or your life.”
[pause]
Robber: “Well?”
[pause]
Jack Benny:  “I’m thinking it over!”

That’s an old joke about being frugal. Sometimes, we are faced with that exact question, in other terms, and we have to come up with a logical answer.  Chances are, the pause will be longer than it was in the joke.

The real joke is that, at some point, your money is your life. The problem with it is that you don’t always know when it will come to fruition.  My advice to young people would be, “assume that the time is tomorrow.”

Generally, we go through life thinking that we will live forever and that we can continue to live the way we always have.  It’s difficult to see into the future and imagine a time when we will have to get by from week to week with nothing but what we have saved and what little the federal government will be giving us.

I remember (back to my marriage again) sitting in our living room, making out checks for our bills, and writing one for $50 to American Century to contribute to my IRA. The wife sees it and says, "What's that for?"
When I told her, she replied, "What do you need that for?"
You wouldn't think it would be difficult to explain, but it was for a 30-something who was overly concerned that he wouldn't have enough saved for his retirement and thought that an extra fifty bucks here and there could actually amount to something.
For the record, the S&P 500 was at 420 in 1992. It sits at around 2,800 today - so you tell me.

It was discouraging, so say the least, that I thought enough about my (and her) future to dare invest money in such a scam as the stock market.  She worked for the state, and had some 503[something] state-funded retirement plan to lean on.  My counter-argument was "well, don't depend on the state government to take care of you in your retirement."  Hate to tell you, but I was right.  The state is having difficulty funding its retirement plan and is in the process of cutting it.  Nevertheless.

In a year or two, I found that she had taken a life insurance policy out on herself.  Fine, I thought.  Good thinking - in case you accidentally fall down a flight of stairs or that gun misfires into your face for some odd reason.
When I asked, "Who is the beneficiary?" I thought it would be a rhetorical question:  "Why, you dear, of course," was my mythical in my head answer.

Instead, what I found out was that her sister was the beneficiary.  OK, then.
When I asked, "Why?" [a reasonable question] I was told that "you don't believe in life insurance."  I never reconciled that answer, and told her that she was not only the beneficiary of my insurance policy through my job, but also the beneficiary of my retirement plan at work AND the IRA that I had opened - as noted earlier.

The moral of this little tale is:  Look out for yourself, because you're all you have.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Returning to the Mundane for a Minute

I've been following the stock market and investing for decades.  As they say, I've seen them come and go.  Rarely have I seen an IPO that has angered and incited opinion like the one of Beyond Meat (BYND) that took place last month.

I don't know if it's the product, the idea that it's a "millennial" thing, or that the value of the stock has skyrocketed since its IPO, but something has set-off the ire of the investing community.

I'm reading comments about how horrible the product is for our health, how it will be a flash in the pan (pun), and how it isn't any better than eating meat.  At least two of those things are fallacy.

I've been eating these burgers for about a year.  Not every day, of course.  They're kind of expensive ($6 for two in the freezer section) so I generally buy a package every two weeks or so.  I enjoy the taste, and I feel good about eating something that isn't either clogging my arteries or my intestines.  Win-win.

Some of the derogatory comments I have seen focus on the idea that it's a "processed food."  OK, it's a veggie burger, and as such, it has to be processed.  Burgers don't grow on trees.  Next.

Some say, "I can't pronounce the ingredients, so I'm not eating it."  Well (above) there is a list of the ingredients.  If you can't pronounce them, I blame the education system.  
Big companies like (my favorite) DelTaco have been using their product in their meatless tacos, and other fast-food joints have embraced it as an alternative for health-conscious diners.

Investments aside, there is something about eating healthy that angers people.  I'm not sure what it is, but I've experienced it first-hand.  It's a kind of resentment that we aren't mainstream - buying take-out food, eating giant plates of who-knows-what -- I hear it. "Oh, you eat healthy," as though it is some sort of anti-social behavior.  "Come on, join us in poisoning yourself."  No, thank you.  
Hey, I know pizza tastes good, and I love a fast-food burger every now and then (had one two weeks ago and hated myself for the past two weeks) so, it isn't beyond me (pun) to enjoy so-called "bad for me" food.  I choose not to make a habit out of it.

Frankly, I'm glad that the stuff tastes good to me.  I've heard it referred to as "eating cardboard," "tree bark" or something worse that makes me want to go off and eat somewhere else.  Like John Candy's Uncle Buck character who admitted, "There's something about this hat - it angers people," my food angers people, and I don't know why.

I'm not asking you to eat it - I'm just asking you to allow me to eat it.  Is that too much to ask?  Maybe.
I'm not asking you to invest in BYND - quite the contrary.  It's way up since its IPO and headed back to earth.  There might be a point at which it's a value, but it will have little to do with the product itself and mostly to do with the public's acceptance of it.  That's kind of sad, since alcohol, tobacco, and recently, pot stocks have garnered a lot of attention and continue to trade lustfully on the market.

Why isn't there room for something that might actually be good for you?


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Scenes from a Marriage - Part Six

Try as I might to conjure up some positives for this series, the images fail me greatly. Perhaps because, in the moment, they seemed positive, but in hindsight - not so much.  I don't know.

Shortly after we were married, we adopted a cat.  I think I was the primary impetus for that, but I'll share the credit, since the cat clung to her immediately, and to me eventually.

In March, after six months of marriage and seemingly devoid of adding a human child to the fold, we decided to go to the local Animal Shelter to find a cat to make our lives complete.

I focused on a 7-year-old who had attracted my attention. Meanwhile, a tiny black kitten had clung himself to her sweater, refusing to give-in.  "OK, I guess we'll take him."
"Well - what about this guy?" I asked as I peered into his furtive glance.
"No. Just one."
I had to say goodbye to the old man who had won my heart.  It wasn't the first time that I had to give-in to something that had won my heart - and it wouldn't be the last.

So, OK - we now have an 8-week-old kitten running around the place.  As with many things, it became my job to take him to the vet for his first visit.  Being non-committal parents, we hadn't decided on a name, and didn't figure we needed one.  When the vet asked for his name for their records, I sputtered out "K.C."  We had been calling him "Kitty Cat," and I didn't want to look like a total jackass, so I came up with initials to make him seem like more of an outlaw than a Gen-X cat.

K.C. would become a vital part of our household.  We shared feeding and playing duties, although she was more of the player and I was more of the feeder - whatever.  The cat was happy.
We allowed him to go outdoors, which is usually verboten.  All he would do was go downstairs and sit under a bush waiting for squirrels or birds to spy on.  He was always inside for the evenings.

When she left, KC hung by the front door. "She's not coming back," I told him - but he persisted. Eventually, he became my cat because - well - cats are like that.  We bonded because, well, it was his home and he had no choice - and I loved him and took care of him until his last day.

We never had any children, and never discussed having children.  We discussed adopting a cat for weeks on end, but never a child.  That's odd, eh?
A bit odd as well that two people could be married for six years and not have any children. It was due to both diligence and negligence.  You see, she dutifully took her birth control pills for the first four years or so.  Once the sex appeal left our marriage, so did the diligence of the pills.  I used to check the medicine cabinet and saw that she had missed several days each week.  I never asked why, but since she was not interested in me sexually, I knew that the point was moot.

As it turned out, KC would outlive our marriage by several years.  I've written about him many times here, and the links can be found easily.  

Cats and dogs are loyal to a fault.  We come home in various moods and stages of discontent or happiness, and their response is always the same. Happy to see us.  There's a lesson someplace, although many fail to see it.  It isn't the person that changes - it's their circumstances.  The circumstances don't matter as much as the person, but the person loses out.

Times get tough, and people bail.  The cat stays. He stays because he knows where his home is. It wasn't chosen for him, but he stays because it is home.
Our opposable thumbs give us the opportunity to turn doorknobs and leave something that challenges us.  It also gives us the opportunity to lock ourselves into something and try to make it work, because it is home.  

Perhaps it depends on who is buying the food?  I don't know, but I wish that people were more like cats.

Cats appreciate me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Scenes from a Marriage - Part Five

Oh - let's see - what else?  There were good times, too I guess.  As the song goes, "too few to mention."
We had that natural "honeymoon period," even though there was never an actual honeymoon.  That's right.  We planned as minimalist a wedding as one could plan - on mostly our own dime - and afterward, retired to our new home to collapse in two heaps.

I suppose, in retrospect, I could have annulled the marriage early on under the guise of it being non-consummated?  But then, I was never one to demand sex - or anything else, for that matter.

I proposed to her on her birthday.  Not a bit clever, I suppose, but then - what else?  I took her to a nice dinner at The Riverview in Carney's Point (luxurious for New Jersey) and even got down on one knee after dinner to spring my big-time $300 diamond engagement ring on her.  She figured something was up.  We had been dating for about a year-and-a-half, and I guess we both figured, "it's now or never." (another song)

We were married on October 13, 1990 - and for you superstitious types - it was a Saturday.  As I recall, the hottest October 13 on record, which should have clued me in that this was perhaps a marriage made in Hell.
The church was not air-conditioned, and several in the gathering suspected that I was having some sort of heat stroke.

The reception was held in a fire hall (New Jersey) because that was the best we could afford.  A local delicatessen provided the catering.  We hired a DJ.  Her family paid for the photographer.  We paid for everything else.  I remember having $5,000 saved between the time I proposed and we had to pay for all this junk.  Pretty much every paycheck was going toward this soiree.  Money (not) well spent.

The wedding was pretty standard.  Do you? yes. Do you, too? yes. OK, then - you're married.  The real shenanigans happened during the reception.
One of her neighbors provided the "limo" (a big Lincoln of some sort) to the reception, and I remember the both of us being sort of non-plussed with the whole affair.  In hindsight, we should have gone to the Justice of the Peace and saved about $5,000.

We did all the standard DJ reception junk - the dances, smashing the cake in our faces, and all that.  We did the going from table-to-table bit to say 'hello' and collect our gifts.  We got as far as a table with some of her co-workers who broke-out a bottle of Jack Daniel's and well - that was that.  We never got to the last few tables with some of my relatives and some of hers.

When we received all of our gifts, we found that one of my uncles had re-opened his envelope, tore-up the check that he had written and replaced it with a smaller one because we had failed to reach his table.
Another one of her relatives reportedly had some gift of shares of stock to give us, which he rescinded when we missed their table.  The Jack was pretty good, though.

I don't remember if we even talked about taking a honeymoon.  I thought about surprising her with a trip, but I was out of money by the time we were done with everything.  Prior to the wedding, I had been spending days and nights at our new condo, painting and waiting for furniture deliveries.  

It's almost thirty years later, and the paint is still on the walls, the carpeting is still on the floor,  and most of the furniture is still working.
I don't remember how much money we got.  I remember getting a microwave oven, which just recently was replaced by me.  We got some bric-a-brac which still sits in my basement waiting for that yard sale.  I have no idea where the photos are - she probably took them.  I wouldn't want to see them anyway.  I wore glasses, looked like a refugee from the 1980s, and still had my horrible original teeth.  Not that it's that much better now - but those were all preventable issues.

The sad part in all of it is that I felt like it was "do or die" as far as finding a wife was concerned.  That's a horrible reason to marry someone, but there you go.  Here we are some 30 years later and I feel like I was right - it was do or die.  I haven't met anyone since that I would have wanted to marry...

... and perhaps I never will?

At this point in my life I wonder if I will ever truly find someone to love me - and for me to love.  

Time is running low.



Sunday, April 7, 2019

Scenes from a Marriage - Part Four

I think I mentioned that I was tempted along the way.  Yeah, I'm certain I did, and I'm certain I was. Once before and once after.  One I wish I had gone with and one I am happy that I did not.

The One Before:
I do not remember when exactly it was during my time with my future ex-wife that it happened.  It was certainly after she left the company that we had both worked for, and in one of those periods where I felt like maybe - we weren't meant to be together.

My company hired a woman - Gisele - and I could tell you her surname if I remembered how to spell it.  Geisele, if memory serves.  Anyway, I thought  Gisele was a beautiful name, and she differed.  "Call me GG," she demanded, and so I did, although I would occasionally throw-in a Gisele, because I liked the way it sounded.  And, I liked the way she looked and the way she paid attention to me and laughed at my stupid jokes.  Generally, I liked her.
We struck-up a friendship and, in the absence of my future ex-wife, we came to be closer, sharing lunch times together and talking about stuff in our lives.

At some point in the relationship, I asked that her and I become a couple, and she refused.  I do not remember (or choose not to remember) if my future ex and I were engaged at the time or merely seriously dating, but much to Gisele's credit, she declined my offer, not wishing to be the dividing stick between us.  I thought I saw something in us (me and Gisele) that I didn't see in me and my future ex, and ... well ... perhaps I was correct?  I'll never know, since she left the company and my company before either of us could find out for real.

It is one of the two huge regrets of my life - the other may come in a later missive - and while I admire Gisele's deference to someone she never met, I also regretted the idea that we never had the opportunity to explore our relationship and find out if we were indeed meant for each other.

It did not occur to me at the time - only that I felt that I was torn between two women - that it was possible that I had made the wrong turn - or that she had encouraged me to make the wrong turn.  Gisele and I had a brief discussion at one point where she explained that she explained that I was in love with my future ex-wife, and it would never work out between us.  I thought differently, but lacked the necessary logic to make my point.

I have forever regretted that mistake in judgement.

Although, I will never know if I was right or wrong - only that my fate was wrong.

I have tried to look up Gisele on this Internet, but the attempts have failed.  I'm not sure what I expected to accomplish, only that a lonely man in regret could somehow find closure in a relationship that he wishes he had pursued in hindsight.

But ... hindsight is always correct, so I guess I shouldn't second-guess second-guessing?