Catching up with old strangers
Suddenly, I’m having intimate conversations with (nearly) total strangers and I’m learning new things about myself in the process. Or, maybe, I am learning things about myself that they recognized a long, long time ago and never mentioned to me.
Plus or minus a few years and a couple of Covid delays, I’m marking the 50th anniversaries of high school and college, which seem like yesterday and forever ago in the same flashback.
One of my high-school classmates puts together a reunion lunch every month so we can compare our “memories” and I’ve traveled down to the University of Illinois twice in the past eight months to share “memories” with old friends from The Daily Illini. I’m putting “memories” in quotes here because I remember almost none of the things they talk about.
Well, there are a few snippets here and there, more from college than from high school, but I begin to wonder if I actually went to the same school as they did or, maybe, this is a diabolical gaslighting plot to convince me I once had a life. What if they’re just telling me all these things to convince me I was there and merely forgot all about it? When will they reveal the trap in this impossibly long con?
To be fair, this is five decades ago and a lot of stuff has happened since then. Grade school friends are supplanted by high school friends, college friends, whoever our friends are at whatever job we have at the moment, the parents of our children’s friends, the group at the synagogue, neighbors, new neighbors and, ultimately, all the people at the assisted living center.
We stay connected to few dozen people for a decade or two and maybe hold onto a handful for a lifetime. With most people, though, we’re sharing a moment. That moment might be measured in years, but it’s still a potted plant without permanent roots. We move on to new soil, as do they, and the relationships begin anew.
It’s a totally natural progression. Every relationship is built on some foundation and, when the foundation shifts, the relationship needs a new anchor. Maybe we end up in the bowling league with our kids’ friends’ parents and we stay connected through our love of rented shoes. Perhaps we end up in a movie group with a few co-workers and that cohort survives after the latest round of “rightsizing.” More commonly, the relationship disappears as its foundational supports are removed.
In a very real sense, all the people I’m reconnecting with are strangers. We knew each other once, then fell out of touch, and we spend a lot of time asking each other, essentially, who we are, or were, way back when. There’s a dead spot in my brain where I should be remembering more about other people or more about the times we shared, so I need a ton of reminders.
Meanwhile, as disconcerting as it is to realize how much I’ve forgotten, and how much I missed while I was with these people a half century ago, there is something truly glorious in these gatherings.
Even for those of us who have become strangers over the ensuing years, we come to the table as friends, as people who’ve shared a formative experience and recognize our common history. There is an assumption of good will and shared values that creates a foundation for our conversation. We don’t share all the same views, of course, but we walk in with an openness to hear what the other has to say and to treat them with kindness. We want to hear about their lives and their stories more than we want to drone on about our own.
Of course, we could do the same thing with any stranger we meet. We aren’t going to have the same views or priorities, but there is undoubtedly some formative experience we have in common, some starting point to launch a friendly and respectful conversation. What if we walked in with an openness to hear what those strangers have to say and we treated them with kindness? What if we wanted to hear about their lives and their stories more than we wanted to drone on about our own?
And what if we didn’t let another 50 years go by before we chose to approach all our strangers that way?
Before you head out to start up a conversation with someone you’ve never met, be sure to click here to subscribe to Dad Writes. Don’t be a stranger.
Would he really blow my head off?
A guy rolled up on my right in traffic and yelled, “I will blow your *%^&!## head off,” if I didn’t let him cut in front of me. In the old days, I would have dismissed that as a slight exaggeration and kept going. Those days are gone, though, so I made space for him and lived to drive another day.
Fortunately, I haven’t met many people who would even think of killing someone as a merging technique, but I do know a ton of people who appear to be closing in on that benchmark. They live in a state of constant agitation, on guard and aggrieved by all kinds of things that, to be honest, have nothing to do with them.
They are infuriated by something that is being done/ignored by/to/with/without the approval/participation/absence of somebody they never met, will never meet, and whose life is none of their *%^&!## business. The more remote the connection, the more agitated they are, or so it appears.
Even some of the most docile creatures in my IRL community are ready to gird their loins and do battle with the enemy that’s making their lives harder, if only they could figure out who it is. My contacts can’t identify the source of the mischief, but “they” are plotting 24/7 to make matters worse.
Mostly, my contacts complain about challenges that are truly mundane, the stuff of long lines or late mail or canceled deliveries. We used to absorb all these slings and arrows without flinching, just rolling with the punches that life throws at us every day. Now, though, the obstacles are more personal, more intentional, more infuriating, and we need someone to blame.
Politicians and talk show hosts make $millions encouraging our anger, raking in ad revenues or campaign contributions or book deals by telling us how “they” are out to get us. When it's an officially recognized sector of the economy, Anger will be the largest industry in the United States. If we weren’t angry all the time, cable news, talk radio, most of the internet and half of Big Pharma would collapse.
And, maybe, that could be a good thing. If we weren’t angry all the time, we could solve some of the problems that cannot be addressed in echo chambers filled with land mines. If we weren’t angry all the time, we could live happier lives. We might even live longer, or at least enjoy our lives more.
The craziest thing about our chronic aggrievement is that we control most of it. We had just one day of sunshine in six weeks in Chicago this spring, but I didn’t even notice. I got soaked when the skies opened up on my walk back to the car the other night, but I laughed it off because, well, it’s only water.
That’s me on a good day. Put me in a car with a destination, though, and I will get offended by everyone who is going too slowly or too quickly or failing to signal or sitting for more than 0.002 nanoseconds after coming to a stop at a stop sign. Traffic is always a mess and I should expect the same thing every day, but somehow I get so caught up in the personal affronts that I actually thought about challenging a guy who threatened to, “Blow your *%^&!## head off.”
Clearly, he needs to calm down just a bit. So do I.
We’re not even going to ask you to click here to subscribe this week, because we might take it personally if you ignore our plea and we don’t want to go on a rampage over the whole thing.
Grunk was oh, so right
Sometimes, I am simply mesmerized when I’m sitting at a bar and there’s a hundred bottles of not-beer on the wall, a dizzying assortment of gins and whiskies and vodkas and tequilas and aperitifs and digestives and fancy hooch in magical bottles that Aladdin would covet.
And I marvel at all the delivery systems on display for one active ingredient.
Alcohol is one of the most intriguing substances on earth, beginning with its beginnings. We can only imagine the excitement as Caveman Grunk ran to his friends and announced, “Look. That bird just ate those rotten berries and he fell on the ground and a snake ate him. We should eat those berries, too.”
Being an early humanoid required constant vigilance and anything that reduced your ability to focus could be pretty deadly, but that didn’t stop our fearless forebears from finding new ways to make and guzzle hooch. Since our earliest pre-history, alcohol consumption has been a driving force of—and against—civilization.
Through the millennia, moms have cautioned their children not to let food go to waste, while the truly visionary alchemists let the food rot until it turned into something much more interesting. Whether they focused on honey or rice or wheat or barley or grapes, they found a way to build the buzz around their buzz.
Wine makes the most sense, I suspect, since it is basically the archetype of rotten berries and it has enough sugar in it to taste okay. And once those wily monks of the Middle Ages found a way to insert wine into their religious rituals…Ka-Ching!…all of us were hooked. “Yes, we make the wine and, yes, you will burn in hell if you don’t drink it as we instruct. Was there a question?”
Outside of religious practices, wine has evolved into a religion of its own, with all kinds of rules and rituals and taboos and hierarchies. And, to be frank, a lot of it is both pretentious and weird. I would never bite into a piece of chalk or oak bark or peat, and I definitely don’t chew tobacco, but I’m supposed to taste all of that in my wine and go, “Yummmmm?” If you close your eyes, you can hear Dom Perignon chuckling in his grave.
While wine is usually tolerable for almost everyone, most other kinds of alcohol are what we call, um, an “acquired taste,” the stuff that makes you wanna holler hi-de-ho. I drink bourbon, and scotch, and an occasional Slivovitz, but I promise I am not doing it for the taste.
No, I’m doing it for the sophistication. If I drink enough bourbon and I can tell the difference between Swampmash, Swampmash Barrel Strength, Swampmash Reserve and Swampmash 62, I will have a “sophisticated palate.” And, outside of curing cancer and inventing sliced bread, there’s nothing more admirable than having a sophisticated palate.
So I have been trying, almost every day, sometimes three or four or fourteen times a day, striving to discern the difference between Malbec and Malpeque, between Pinot Grigio and Topo Gigio, maybe even between Claret and Claritin. Perhaps, one day, I will look at the magic wall behind the bar and I’ll know whether to order my martini shaken or stirred.
In the meantime, I will silently envy the sophisticates who can find the perfect wine for veal Prince Orloff or the best beer to match with beef jerky. Someday, somehow, I will win my seat at their table.
It’s likely to be a long time before I am a true sophisticate, but it takes no time to become a subscriber just by clicking here.
How to make a Killing on inflation
After so many people made a fortune by following my investment advice a few weeks ago, I’ve been getting all kinds of inquiries about how to deal with inflation.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. I waited in line to get a 12% mortgage back in 1985, and I once had a CD that paid 16% interest, so I am absolutely the guy to teach everyone how to deal with rising prices. Unlike all those so-called “experts” with their fancy “degrees” and years of “experience” in financial markets, I am a self-taught genius who does my own research. So, what do you want to know?
What’s the real cause of all this inflation?
What? How could Covid vaccines cause inflation?
Just look at the facts here and it’s obvious. We were all dealing with Covid in 2020 and inflation was low, sometimes negative. Then, we started getting all those “free” vaccines in 2021 and, BAM!!! Suddenly, the CPI jumped 4% in March, 6% in May, 7% in July. The more people got vaccinated, the more inflation soared. Coincidence? I think not.
Wait, what if it was a simple matter of people getting out more and spending more and overloading the supply chain?
Hah! You’re one of those people who still believes in supply and demand? Where do you guys come from? In fact, there were a ton of shortages in 2020, but the only one we noticed was toilet paper. Nobody cared that the shelves were empty until they took the vaccines and, then, it was like Wile E. Coyote suddenly looked down. Shortages didn't cause inflation until they started forcing us to get vaccinated.
Well, maybe, but didn't all those $trillion budget deficits play a part in creating too much demand?
Absolutely not. Yes, the federal government has spent $6 trillion more than they took in since the pandemic began, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that swollen pustule of largesse had anything whatsoever to do with raising demand and prices for anything whatsoever. Whatsoever.
On the other hand, I heard from a friend of a friend that it’s all Joe Biden’s fault.
Your friend is 100% right. Donald Trump pushed for Operation Warp Speed to create the vaccines, but he was smart enough not to create a distribution plan for them once they were developed. Then Biden got in and ruined the whole thing by distributing vaccines and causing huge inflation.
No, I meant I heard it was his fault because oil prices are higher.
Well, oil prices are higher across the world because people are getting out more, driving more, flying more, and buying more fuel. But that would never have happened without those dagnabbed vaccines, which are absolutely Biden’s fault.
So when will all this inflation subside?
Not for a long while, because we’ve added several new problems to the list. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting global food prices and there’s a new avian flu that’s killing millions of chickens, and we can expect more supply chain problems because China is closing half the country due to a new Covid outbreak…so don’t expect lower prices for food or any of the crap you buy on Amazon.
Oh, and you should know that OPEC and major oil companies have decided to keep supplies low so they can maximize their prices, so don’t expect a ton of relief at the pump either. Basically, consumers are screwed.
But what about investors? Maybe I could make some money off all this economic turmoil by buying some stocks.
Absolutely not! When inflation goes up, the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to slow demand, which is bad for business and causes stocks to go down. Sell, sell, sell.
Okay, I will sell all my stocks.
Absolutely not! When the Fed overshoots and causes a recession, Congress will pump an extra $trillion or two into the economy to boost demand and stock prices will soar. Hold on to all your shares and buy more, more, more.
Will do! Should I also buy bonds to take advantage of higher interest rates?
Are you crazy??? When the Fed raises interest rates, bond prices go down and you’ll lose money.
So I should sell my bonds?
Are you crazy??? When the Fed overshoots and causes a recession, interest rates will plunge and the price of your bonds will skyrocket. Hold on to all your bonds and buy more, more, more.
All of this is getting way too confusing. Isn’t there some simple way for me to make a killing right now?
Did I mention that I’m selling NFTs of my kids’ old art projects? Absolutely guaranteed to be worth ten times as much in 2023 as they're worth today and I guarantee you will never owe capital gains tax when you sell them. Even better, you can buy as many as you want, since quantities aren’t limited at all. Just send me your cash and I’ll handle all the details.
I only think I’m supposed to mention that your results may vary and that you should ask for a prospectus before investing, but I definitely know to tell you that you should click here to subscribe.
So this is mom’s life, reduced to a dozen boxes on the garage floor, remnants and relics from a 93-year journey that touched eleven decades and, somehow, ended prematurely.
Not everything in the boxes was even hers, really. At least a few containers hold the photos and memories she inherited from those who preceded her, keepsakes for her to preserve and, ultimately, relinquish to another generation.
I keep thinking there should be more, although it’s not likely that any added possessions would fill the empty space. In the end, it’s just stuff. Even the stuff that seems important, the stuff I’d want to hold onto, only has meaning in the context of memories. Like the photos on my wall and the resale-shop rejects on my desk, they remind me of a story that I like to retell, even if it’s only to myself.
There’s the owl figurine from my old partner, the clock from my grandmother’s apartment, the binoculars dad brought back from the war…and now, a porcelain monstrosity from mom’s collection of giraffe figurines. This one is truly hideous, but she liked it and it reminds me of her fixation with the original vegans.
That’s the thing about possessions. They have function, most of the time, but they don’t have any meaning until they tell a story, spark a memory, or preserve a connection between people or lands or eras. I’m beginning to appreciate my kids’ view of all this, resistant to my offers of all the incredibly valuable, heirloom-quality stuff that has no emotion, no blood, for them.
I felt that way, as well, when we went through the curio cabinet, wondering why she chose some of the stuff that made it to the display while other items served their solitary confinement in the back of a drawer. Why are these Match Box cars in here, and what’s the deal with that clown figurine? Why is this vase so special, but not that one over there in the kitchen cabinet? Without that insight, there is no connection.
That’s why he most important thing you can make in life isn’t money. It’s memories. Family dinner, vacation trips, visits to the zoo, or pretty much any other shared time will do the trick. Time is the greatest gift and some of the best stories begin, “Do you remember when…?”
In the end, it’s all about the memories, the experiences, the images that set us off on a journey to a long-ago time. This isn’t a drafting table; it’s a visit to my dad’s office. This isn’t an owl figurine; it’s my friend, Ron. This isn’t a mechanical toy; it’s my brother, David.
And now there’s a really, really, really weird looking giraffe.
Hi, mom. Say, do you remember when...?
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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.