Dad would have been 95 today, and so...
My dad owned a small business, which meant he worked 12 days a week. Every so often, he’d take me downtown with him on a Saturday morning and I’d get to play with the T-squares and the copy machine and, best of all, the electric erasers.
One such morning, we’re walking past the library (now the Cultural Center) on the way to breakfast when a beggar comes up and asks for money for food. My dad declines to give him any cash, but he says we’re going for breakfast and the beggar is welcome to join us. And so, our party of three parks at the counter of a diner near the IC station under Michigan and Randolph.
The waitress takes a look at our guest and declines the opportunity to serve him, but my dad insists and notes that he is going to pay the bill for our new friend. Then, dad sits between me and the beggar and talks with the guy during breakfast. I have no recollection of the conversation, but the amazing part to me was that they had a conversation at all.
Dad was a patron of the art of panhandling, adjusting his largesse for the originality and personality of the donee. It was a good bet that the people who asked for money had made some big mistakes along the way, but it was an equally good bet that my dad, like almost all of us, could have made a comparably bad move that landed him on the street.
After we parted from our new friend, dad said he preferred to buy food instead of handing over cash, because the recipients might just buy booze if left to their own devices. Once, he said, the guy asking for money simply admitted he was a drunk and would spend it on hooch. Dad gave him extra points for honesty and financed his next round.
(Modern note: Doesn’t it seem very patronizing and patriarchal for him to have forced his judgment on the beggars regarding how they spent their money? Wasn’t that a blatant assertion of colonial power, cultural appropriation and severely infantilizing? In hindsight, now that I am superduperly woke, I am mortified that he bought them food. What a privileged bastard he was.)
Fast forward to a family vacation in New York, when we’re walking with our daughters on 42nd Street near Grand Central Station and a man comes up to ask for some change and I decide to buy him a meal. It costs more than spare change, of course, but it does more good, even if I am paternalistically imposing my choices of nutrition on an otherwise sentient soul. After I make sure my new friend is served, I relate my childhood story to my daughters, and they remember.
Fast further forward, my girls are grown now, with children of their own, and I received a note from one of them about buying lunch for a beggar. Maybe, one day, their children will do the same.
Some heirlooms are well worth passing down.
What story do you tell from your childhood, and what story do you want your kids to tell about you? Please share your memories in the comments section and subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
More than forty (yikes!) years ago, I wrote a presentation about the dangers of becoming too reliant on technology. The technology of the time was the pocket calculator, and my concern was focused on the tendency of garbage in to become garbage out.
I was writing for high-school students and my point was that we need to know the basics in order to catch our keyboarding errors. Type 5 times 7 into the calculator and your answer should be 35. (Really, I checked this.) But enter the information incorrectly and you might get 28 or 40 or some other error that you wouldn’t recognize if you didn’t spend so many hours memorizing multiplication tables.
It was a brilliant argument and, of course, every student who heard it threw away their calculators and bought a gross of #2 pencils. JK. Instead, they all assumed they would be company presidents and their minions would do all the heavy lifting, and addition.
Fast forward four decades and I find I must sound the alarm again, this time in response to a more insidious danger of technology that comes in the form of masters who look like servants. Yes, I’m talking about you, Siri, and your co-conspirator, Alexa, and whatever Google calls its viper at your breast.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone is going nuts about Siri taking notes when your kids sing that baby shark song, but that's just a head fake. Our internet gods will announce the end of eavesdropping and we'll lower our guard once again. That's when they'll pounce or, more accurately, devour our paychecks from ambush.
That's because you might have paid to have Siri live with you, but Siri doesn’t work for you. Siri works for the companies who buy advertising and positioning opportunities from Apple. Alexa serves the highest-margin clients of Amazon. They reply to your commands, but their hearts belong to someone else.
In-home assistants are the avant garde of the robot revolution, the takeover of our lives by artificial intelligences that smile and smile while being villains. These devices are undermining the consumer’s advantage online, and eliminating the race to the bottom that is the design flaw—and consumer edge—of the internet.
Search engines enable us to find exactly what we want at the lowest total cost. We can see which offers are promotions paid for by advertisers and we can check the reviews of the low-cost offers to find out if anyone actually received the products they bought. We can take the offer that’s highest on the page, knowing somebody paid Google for the placement, or we can take a few minutes to refine our search and determine the best overall value for ourselves.
Delegate those decisions to Alexa and you might as well declare that money is no object. There is no simple way to ensure that she or Siri or the Google thing will get the best deal for us. We own the device, but we are absolutely not the customer.
When we buy a house, we don’t confide our maximum offer to the real estate agent because the agent works for the seller. We engage the agent, but the seller pays her, so her duty is to them, not us. We apply similar skepticism with insurance agents, stock brokers, lawyers and doctors, because we know they get paid more for certain advice and less for other recommendations.
We’re inclined to lower our guard, though, when the same servant that’s making our buying decisions is also playing our songs and ordering our pizza. She sounds so friendly and servile and efficient. How could you not trust her to get you a deal on humidifier filters?
The more we rely on counter-top assistants to handle our day-to-day activities, the more we’re likely to pay for everything we buy. Trust me on this. I was right on target with my prediction 40 years ago and I am overdue to be right again.
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Am I the only guy who decided to change his birthday?
I’ve always hated my birthday, and for good reason. My chronological bday is May 13 (Uh, oh, did I just give too much info to the dark websters?), which means that my birthday will be within spitting distance of Mother’s Day five years out of seven. By spitting distance, I mean the weekend we would recognize my birthday would also be the weekend we recognize mom.
First, there was mom and grandmom; later, mom and grandmom and wife; then mom and wife and daughter-moms and, oh, yes, I think Michael has a birthday this week, too.
I don’t suffer particularly from fear of the number 13, but you run into all kinds of paraskevidekatriaphobics who want to rain on your parade.
“Your birthday’s this Friday? The thirteenth? I hope a black cat doesn’t cross your path, Ha Ha Ha. Hah. Snort. Chuckle.”
Where was I? Oh, changing my birthday. When the girls got into high school, they joined (insert jazz hands) SHOW CHOIR (insert jazz hands) and their big show, appropriately titled Big Show, was…wait for it…Mother’s Day weekend. So, for six years, I spent most of my birthday weeks in the dark, videotaping the rehearsals and the shows, followed by dinners with other parents or the moms in the family.
At some point, it occurred to me that I could follow the example of America’s Presidents, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, and Jimmy Thanksgiving by “observing” my birthday on a date when I absolutely was not born.
Picking the right date, though, is a tough job. As far as I know, there is no Idiot’s Guide for Changing Your Birthday, although this is clearly an untapped market with huge potential. First, I had to find a date that didn’t put me into the cross-hairs of another holiday, so anything too close to Father’s Day or the Fourth of July or Arbor Day was off the table.
Likewise for dates that might conflict with major Jewish holidays, since I would hate to be unable to have birthday cake due to Passover or any food at all on Yom Kippur. It couldn’t be a date that was within a week or so of someone else’s birthday or anniversary, either.
And, being a Druid at heart, I wanted a date before the summer solstice, so my birthday would come during the time of year when the daylight is growing. That pretty much narrowed the opportunities to a month between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, plus a few weeks in the winter.
I’d put the quest on the back burner and then….drumroll…fate stepped in to solve the problem. The day we sold our house in the suburbs, planning to move into the city, all the tension and adrenaline of the process drained from my system. Unfortunately, I was driving downtown on the Kennedy Expressway at the time. As the arms of Morpheus enveloped me, I rammed two other cars. Luckily, nobody was injured, including me, and I found the date that would become my new celebration of birth.
So Facebook announces my birthday each year and I get the perfunctory good wishes from many of my "friends," but insiders know the real date to send me a note. It's almost like being president of a secret club, without the initiation fees or the felt hats.
Am I the only person who has done this? I’m okay with being the only one, since that would make me unique and clever, but surely someone else has taken this road before.
One great way to say happy birthday to me is by joining the billions of other subscribers to this incredible weekly ramble. Subscribers get all kinds of free stuff, including access to each of our posts and, well, that’s pretty much it. Anyway, click here to subscribe and maybe we’ll be writing about your birthday in the future.
Panic time starts this month as a million young adults feel the sting of being ejected into the real world. Yes, we’re entering graduation season and 99.9% of the post-millennials who shake hands with the principal/dean have no idea what happens next.
It’s a failure of parenting, if you ask me. The time to prepare your kids for the future is when they’re in diapers. Even if you bribed the dean to get your kid into school, or went the old-fashioned route of endowing a chair at your selected institution, and even if you hired dopplegangers to sit in on their classes and take all their tests, you’re still a failure if you didn’t begin paving the way for them in utero.
Proper parenting requires optimal curation of the music that’s piped into the womb, detailed consideration of the best native language for their nannies and precise dietary choices. Most important, success-driven parenting must focus on the ultimate prize: the best possible job for our scions. Beware, though, because predictions about the best jobs are often wildly off target.
Every so often, I’ll read an article about preparing our kids for the jobs of the future, and precisely as often, I get a good laugh. Coding is the rage right now, with special coding camps and toys that teach preschoolers the basics of writing ifXthenY and ifJdoK.
There’s no harm to it, of course, but the future has a tendency to turn out differently than we planned. The earlier we set our direction, the more off course we’ll be ten years from now. When I was in high school, we learned Fortran, which, as everyone knows, is the dominant software language today.
Absolutely nothing could move Fortran from the top of the list. Ditto for the punch cards we used to enter data into our computer. Such a great tool, absolutely irreplaceable.
Similarly, we were encouraged to plan for careers in space travel and we would have levitating cars and trains to ride in. Also, as predicted, we’ve been moving around for the past 40 years on jet packs strapped to our backs.
Ah, good times.
When our girls were younger, we were encouraged to teach them Japanese, since Japan’s economy was ascending and Japanese businesses were obliterating American industries. I never got around to enrolling the girls in Japanese studies, but it didn’t make a difference in the end. It turns out they should have been learning Mandarin.
Yogi Berra said it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, and that is a very wise bit of wisdom. One thing we can assume about almost every prediction is that it will not come to pass, and the odds of failure increase with the length of the timeline.
Still, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t err on the side of hubris, so I have identified with 110% accuracy the top five jobs of the future. Train your children now, and you can thank me later.
Remember to thank me when your children have grown up and can afford to move out, thanks to these incredibly surefire job predictions. And, as a bonus, here is one more career that is certain to be a winner decades from now: Job of the Future Predictor. It’s a no-brainer.
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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.