“Do you have homes like this this in America?” Menguez asked. Our guide was showing us his town, including the base of the cinder block home he was building for his family. Inside, it would be smaller than my room at the hotel, but it would fulfill a life dream for Menguez. Unlike most people in his village, he would soon be a homeowner.
Of course, I said yes, we have many homes like this in America, although I didn’t mention that the American homes usually have electricity and running water that his home might lack at first. He wasn’t looking for examples of the chasm between my life and his, though. He lived in that gap every day as a guide for traveling Westerners. Rather, he wanted someone to share his pride as he moved up in his world.
I’ve been thinking about Menguez lately as I work on a family genealogy project, retracing my grandparents’ first foothold in this country and the momentum they created for their children and, ultimately, me. They were tougher than I am, survivors, willing and able to live on nothing until they could put a few bucks together to rent an apartment within a mile of the immigrants’ market on Maxwell Street in Chicago. According to the ship manifest, each of them presented the legendary $5 at immigration when they got off the boat and they found a way to get from Ellis Island to the West Side of Chicago.
Our family history in the United States is nothing special, really. Morris and Anna had children who grew up and got married and had their own children who grew up and continued the line. We’ve all accomplished a few things, failed at others, and we’ve woven our stories into the national fabric. Being “nothing special” is very special in this country, though. In the day-to-day, it’s easy to forget how far ahead we begin this race.
Easy to forget, but then you spot a photo of Menguez and his future home, and it all comes back. Our lives are graded on a curve, but the curves are not the same in every country, in every time. Each of us tries to ride up our own curve unless, like my grandparents, they get desperate enough to make the leap to a new world and a new curve. Yes, they were looking for better opportunities beyond the golden door, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t giving up something in the bargain.
How desperate do you have to be to release your grip on everything you know, almost every person you know, for a new start? How rough does life need to be before the dice are worth rolling? For my grandparents, it seems, the tradeoff made sense. For Menguez, maybe not. He was on an upward arc at home, building for his future. His ambition might lead him to come here—maybe he has already made that leap—but his hard work was paying well for him without crossing an ocean.
That wasn’t the case for my grandparents, although their exit from Tsarist Russia might have been driven more by politics than economics. Whatever the reason, they were desperate enough to jettison the only lives they knew and set the foundation for all of us who followed.
Sometimes, it turns out, desperation is a good thing.
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Shortsighted business strategies, really confusing political calculations, and the decisions we’ve already made are high on my list of unfavorite things this week.
*So it turns out that Stalin might not have made this observation, but we haven’t completed our research to identify the true author of the quote. Subscribers will learn the source as soon as we find it, which is a great reason to click here to subscribe.
I was at the restaurant when some guy bumped into my arm. I grabbed my arm and wailed like a baby and jumped up and down and otherwise acted like I was in terrible pain. Pretty soon, everyone in the cafe was staring at me and a few people started backing away.
Oh, sorry, I was telling that wrong. It was my grandchild who bumped into me and she couldn’t stop laughing as I grabbed my arm and wailed like a baby and jumped up and down and otherwise acted like I was in terrible pain. We attracted attention, but nobody felt the need to grab their own kids and retreat.
Add this to the long list of things that make children the best kind of people. Not only do they find everything fun and interesting and entertaining, they give grown-ups a license to do the same. Seriously, being an adult can be stressful and challenging and boring and absolutely the antithesis of fun. But being a kid can be all kinds of fun, and the price of admission for adults is simply to play along.
“Acting like an adult,” is not a sign of maturity; it’s really a punishment.
Silly is great. Silly songs, silly faces and silly noises will relieve the stress and add just a bit of energy to our days. When we grow up, though, we’re supposed to relinquish our right to be silly, to give up the simple joy of not being serious all the time.
The world would be a happier place if we all burst into song once in a while, and not real songs, either. When you’re singing a real song, you have to be on key. When you make it up as you go, off key is part of the fun. Children understand this instinctively, but we get that idea knocked out of us long before we’re old enough to have our own kids.
Children also have much more patience than adults, even though it’s not obvious to most of us. That’s because we don’t really have patience as adults. We have endurance. We put up with things, which isn’t quite the same as being patient. Kids, meanwhile, will play the same game over and over without losing interest and without demanding that we “grow up” and stop being silly. That, my friends, is true patience.
Maybe it’s time for all of us adults to reclaim the joy we once experienced from simply having fun, making faces at each other and being silly as hell. Maybe we’d have more patience at the DMV if we were all singing made-up songs to each other. Maybe we’d find the wait at the doctor’s office more enjoyable if we all made funny noises. Maybe we could all benefit from a kid-size dollop of silliness.
Really, what do we have to lose? It would really be a hoot if we followed the mandates from the Ministry of Silly Walks. We’d all have more fun and we’d add just a bit of hilarity to the lives of those around us, even the adults.
Next family dinner, next business meeting, next first date, give it a try. What could possibly go wrong?
One of these days, maybe, we'll do a video post of our favorite funny noises, but you might miss it if you don't click here to become a subscriber. And that would be a serious problem, don't you think?
Someone broke into my car the other day and I’m feeling a lot more insulted than violated.
Saturday night, we went to Chinatown and I dropped Jill off to wait for a table while I looked for a parking space. I’m a city boy, so the hunt for a free space on a side street is one of my constant adventures. Also, being a city boy, I always lock the car when I leave; except for this time, apparently.
After dinner, I went to retrieve the car and discovered a ton of stuff on the shotgun seat. The center console was open, as was the sunglass holder, and the car was a mess. Clearly, someone had been looking for valuables to steal.
And here is where I got really, really offended. My invader didn’t find anything worth taking. Apparently, my shades weren’t hip enough and Jill’s spare glasses were the wrong magnification and even our taste in granola bars wasn’t up to the foodie standards of this ne’er do well.
So I started thinking that I’ve gotta up my game here. Yeah, I need to lock the car door next time, but I also need to buy cooler stuff and have the kind of car that thieves really want to break into and the kind of treasure they’ll really want to steal and…
Wait a minute.
Am I so insecure that I care what this guy thinks about me? Am I so needy that I crave the approval of a petty thief? Apparently, the answer is ‘yes.’
Even worse, it was the second time this happened. Several winters ago, some guy stole our car so he could drive to his halfway house—really—where he dumped it. Again, nothing in our car was good enough for him to steal, other than the car, of course. C’mon, man, I had cassettes from Neil Diamond and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and a top-quality plastic windshield scraper. No interest? Dang.
We all react like that at some point or another, giving someone else the power to judge us and convincing ourselves that we deserve their scorn. We succumb to our need for acceptance from someone who isn’t important to us, someone we don’t respect, possibly someone we’ve never met. And yet, for some reason, we fall into the trap of needing their approval, their support, their acceptance.
For all of us, there is a “they” with more influence than they deserve in our lives. It could be a person who owned us in high school, an ex, a co-worker, or a Tik Tok star. It could be a group of people who are hipper or smarter or richer or prettier than we are, at least on the surface. Whatever defines “they” for us, we tend to give them a ton of deference.
For me, this time, it was a petty thief. When you think about it, though, it’s always a thief of some sort. It’s always a person who finds a way inside our heads, messes up our minds, and leaves us to deal with the damage. And they always steal something from us, often at our silent invitation.
Going forward, I’ve got to be more vigilant about keeping the wrong people out of my car. More important, I’ll be working to keep the wrong people from claiming a place in my head.
Of course, we always care what our subscribers think about us, so you can own a condo in our cranium just by clicking here to sign up.
My annual performance review continues, and it’s a grueling, 10-day process. Even more challenging, I won’t know how I did until this time next year.
I’ve never been the most observant member of my faith, but one aspect I take very, very seriously is the Ten Days of Awe, when every Jew is called upon to account for himself as the High Holidays begin on Rosh Hashanah and close at the end of the Yom Kippur fast.
Our goal, of course, is to conclude the Days of Awe with a promise that we’ll still be here next Rosh Hashanah. It’s either incredibly poetic, or impossibly devious, that we won’t know if we’ve made the cut until we’re back in the next performance review, asking for one more shot at getting it right. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
As I cycle through the Days of Awe each year, I recognize the absolutely unassailable value of an annual performance review; not a review of my activities or my possessions, but of my value as a human being. I'm not being measured by any standard standards; instead, I'm rated on a table of Cosmic Benchmarks.
Most of the year, I forgive myself for all sorts of trespasses, but I’m more demanding about my Cosmic Benchmarks, both because the issue is life or death and I am not the One delivering Judgment. Yes, I realize there might not be a God and there might not be a Book of Life and this whole process might not have any relationship to the year ahead. Still, there’s something to be gained from considering all of it to be literally, brutally, eternally True.
Every year…so far…I’ve gained new perspectives, new insights, as a result of my performance review. Even if I’m really talking to myself, I emerge from the Days of Awe with a renewed sense of mission, a revived spirit, and a bit of added momentum. I’m more appreciative of the time I’ve been given and more aware of the time to come. I don’t know what is coming next, but I am more intent on being worthy of each new day, each new breath.
We all tell people there’s more to life than money or possessions or careers, but we tend to focus on those transitory artifacts much more than we emphasize the overarching purpose of Life. I’m grateful for the yearly reminder of what’s important, why I’m here and the work I still must do…assuming my annual review goes as hoped.
Wish me luck, and follow my progress, by clicking here to subscribe to our weekly updates at Dad Writes.
Seriously, is there any holiday more depressing than Labor Day?
It goes without saying that our last summer holiday comes much too early, but this year we have the special bonus of leaders who are furious with the lazy, shiftless, unproductive, ungrateful, useless mopes who make up the American workforce.
Most years, politicians will issue proclamations about U.S. workers, the bedrock of our nation, pursuing the American Dream, yadda yadda bull bull bull. Not in 2021, though. This year, they're all screaming just one question: Why doesn’t anybody want to work anymore?
It's a legitimate question, since millions of people, from bartenders to rocket scientists, are taking extra time to return to the workforce. From entry-level serfs to highly-sought techies, the hesitation is broad-based and troubling.
Still, let's be honest about the whole thing. All the politicians and pundits aren't asking about the people who decided to retire last year, a number that apparently doubled to more than 3 million. And they aren’t asking about the people who are earning enough to thrive on one income instead of two.
No, the vitriol is reserved for the poor, semi-poor, nearly poor and the millions who are just getting by in the land of plenty. Entire industries, from restaurants to ride shares to daycare, depend on people working for low pay and, often, zero benefits. Pretty much every industry in the country is facing staffing shortages, but we’re only angry at the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid.
Fun Fact: None of us wants their jobs, either. Really, when was the last time you woke up and said…
“Gee, I wish I could wash dishes for the next ten hours,” or
“Wouldn’t it be fun to spend the day cleaning an airport bathroom,” or
“I love taking calls all day from people with problems I am not authorized to resolve.”
Anyone who wants one of those jobs can get one, because millions of people have moved on to greener pastures. Any takers?
Of course, this is how capitalism works. Supply and demand drive prices, free markets create new opportunities and every resource seeks its maximum returns. Most of the time, those resources are steel or oil or rail cars, but this year the scarce resource is people. Real wages for most workers have actually declined over the past 40 years, but it looks like 2021 is the year that everyone is getting a raise, including the dishwashers.
Personally, I think it’s worth the tradeoff. I’ll end up paying an extra dime for my coffee and a dollar for my pizza, but maybe we’ll be seeing fewer homeless encampments under the expressway. Maybe fast-food workers will finally be able to buy some of the food they make. Maybe working moms will still have a few bucks left over after they pay someone to watch their kids for ten hours a day.
Now, if only we could stop being so furious at the people who are getting a chance to move up a rung on the ladder, Labor Day could be just a bit less depressing for everyone.
Our labors would be much more rewarding in the coming year if you just click here to subscribe, and it won’t even require a minimum wage increase.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.