Sunday, October 4, 2009

In memorium-Angela Roque

I would like to say a few words about the passing of our friend, Angela Roque, who passed away on September 24. Angela, who is pictured here with her kids, Bobby and Stevie, when they were little, was a wonderful friend of ours for many years.

She was a warrior who battled a particular nasty type of cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, for over fifteen years. When she first told us that she had cancer, she did not show any fear or resentment about being struck with a such catastrophic disease at the young age of 37. She simply faced up to all of the frustrations and pain of having to deal with this disease with courage and dignity at all times, whether it was having to deal with chemotherapy, radiation, and a Pandora's box of drugs, therapy, doctor's office visits, and hospital stays.

In her mind, there was never a question of if she would beat cancer, it was just a question of when she would be done with it. Her doctors told her that her case was hopeless years ago, but she would time after time, shrug off their negative feedback, keep her chin up, and fight the disease. Her situation was particularly cruel because she was told many times that the disease was in "remission," but although many of us might equate "remission" with defeating the disease, it would just come back one more time, over and over and over. And Angela's reaction would, of course, be to just shrug her shoulders, and tough it out once again.

Angela raised her two kids on her own, managed to earn a good enough living to always send her kids to good schools, and live in good neighborhoods. Her kids have grown up into being handsome and intelligent young men, who are both earning a good living, and building families of their own.

When we heard that Angela had once again entered the hospital, in Phoenix, about six weeks ago, we had learned to subscribe to her way of thinking, which was that, of course, she would just beat this thing one more time. Only after she had been there for a month did we realize that this, finally, would be a battle that Angela, for the first time, might not win.

When she passed away last Thursday, she again showed strength and dignity. In fact, when my wife, Vicki, who considers Angela one of her closest friends, arrived at the hospital in Phoenix, at about 7 pm, after flying there from San Diego, Angela finally succumbed, at the young age of 51, a mere twenty minutes later. Everyone in Angela's family who was there told Vicki that Angela hung on to life until she got there, and I truly believe that this is what happened.

Angela's strength and courage are what marked her life, and made her a role model for all of us. She was a true warrior, and we will all miss her greatly. She will truly be a hard act for any of us to follow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy birthday, Zook!

Sugar Magnolia, by the Grateful Dead

Sugar magnolia, blossoms blooming, heads all empty and I don't care,
Saw my baby down by the river, knew she'd have to come up soon for air.

Sweet blossom come on, under the willow, we can have high times if you'll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside.

She's got everything delightful, she's got everything I need,
Takes the wheel when I'm seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed

She comes skimmin' through rays of violet, she can wade in a drop of dew,
She don't come and I don't follow, waits backstage while I sing to you.

Well, she can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a willys in four wheel drive.
She's a summer love for spring, fall and winter. She can make happy any man alive.

Sugar magnolia, ringing that bluebell, caught up in sunlight, come on out singing
I'll walk you in the sunshine, come on honey, come along with me.

She's got everything delightful, she's got everything I need,
A breeze in the pines and the sun and bright moonlight, lazing in the sunshine yes

Sometimes when the cuckoo's crying, when the moon is half way down,
Sometimes when the night is dying, I take me out and I wander around, I wander

Sunshine, daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely,
Ride our singin', I'll walk you in the morning sunshine. Sunshine, daydream. Sunshine,
daydream. Walking in the sunshine.

Zook! Long time, no talk. You've been gone since March 27, but it's still hard to imagine a world without you in it. I just wanted to say hello, and wish you Happy Birthday!

I know that in my case, the thought of death is depressing, because I have always been concerned that the day after I die, a lot of great things are going to happen, which, due to circumstances beyond my control, I will have to miss. I have wondered what if the day after I die, the following things happen:
  • The entire world becomes Jewish, and Hebrew becomes the official language of the universe.
  • Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Joe Wilson will together be put into a kind of limbo/hell where they each can fight each other and act obnoxious, collectively, forever
  • Infomercials become extinct.
  • The San Diego Padres and San Diego Chargers go undefeated this year, next year, and forever.
  • Stupid people are banned forever; (see you later, Sarah, Rush and Joe).
Anyway, Zook, here is a quick summary of what's happened since your departure:
  • Joe Wilson? Just as stupid as the other stupid conservatives that were around six months ago.
  • Everyone is going nuts about health insurance. The notion that the government may offer health insurance is causing the nut cases to come out of the woodwork, and accuse everyone who is for "the public option" of being a crazed Commie. Also, people are now convinced that the government will create "death panels" (thanks a lot Sarah) who will put Grandma and Grandpa to death, for no reason whatsover. I guess that health insurance companies are our friends now, and the big bad US government is our enemy. I know what you would say to that: Yeah, right. I now that I have had lots of experience with health insurance companies, and I find that all of them have one thing in common with all other insurance companies: minimize payments out, and maximize payments in. I have personal experience with a situation where Medicare paid for my wife's surgery, and my wonderful lovable health insurance company Hmmm...who sounds more like a "death panel" now: the insurance company or the government?
  • The San Diego teams? Same as before. The Padres are in last (or close to being in last), and the Chargers will probably, as you used to say, "choke" before they reach the promised land.
  • Your family? Everyone looks like they are doing well. Your wife and daughter have spent some great quality time with your sister, and your Mom and Dad? They're like the Everready battery..they just take a lickin' and keep on tickin'..At last count, they have outlived Edward Kennedy, Dominic Dunne, and Michael Jackson.You might be surprised that MJ bit the dust, at age 50? Hey, the guy was injesting 40 Xanax a night, so now it would make sense to you.
  • Rudeness--Everybody is getting more and more rude, Zook, but I guess you wouldn't be surprised about that. I'm sure you saw plenty of rudeness in your life, working as an insurance adjuster.
  • The economy--It's probably gotten worse, since you were here, with unemployment up to 12.2% in California. We are all hoping it will get better, and at least, it looks like we are not going to be in a full-blown Depression, but finding jobs now looks really difficult, and should be for some time.
Anyway, Zook, I just wanted you to know that we are all thinking of you, and we all miss you.


Your older brother

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where America Shops--Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart may already have my soul. It's probably my second favorite place to shop (after the immortal Costco, subject of my last blog).

What is impressive about Wal-Mart is that the prices are incredibly low and you don't have to purchase "big box" quantities of everything to get a good price. But there are a few things that stand out about Wal-Mart, both in "good" and "bad" ways, which are:

  • So many overweight people love to shop at Wal-Mart--I can't think of anywhere else I have shopped where there are so many people with weights in the high 200 pound and up range. One would almost think that there is a weight requirement to walk into a Wal-Mart. (Take that, you skinny b___s, few of whom I have ever seen in a Wal-Mart). Men with their bellies hanging out under their T-shirts, and women with gigantic arms and bubbling behinds in their tucked-in purple stretch pants provide a truly startling visual vibe. You would think that consuming about five donuts or more is a requirement for walking into a Wal-Mart. Anyway, if you ever feel the ground shaking the next time you visit a Wal-Mart in California, don't worry about an earthquake: it's just the floor boards creaking under the cumulative weight of all of the oversize Wal-Mart customers.

  • So many Wal-Mart shoppers have tattoos--When you visit one of these fine establishments, it's hard to not find somebody who has tattoos: old people, teenagers, young women, middle-aged women, people in the military, college kids, everywhere you look, you see tattoos. I am probably biased against tattoos based on my age and religion (Jews are not supposed to wear tattoos, although exceptions have been made for Holocaust survivors, since, unlike the rest of tattoo wearers, they can truly say that getting their skin used like a portable etch-a-sketch machine was not their idea.) Tattoos for men? Even though I don't like them, I do get the macho factor, that getting a tattoo shows that you survived Iraq, Afghanistan, working for George Bush, being a teacher in the public school system, etc, etc. But for women, I have the visceral yecch factor. Too often as I see an attractive young woman walk by, I am thinking about how great she looks and then.....there goes the rose tattoo strategically placed just above her rear. Or, there is the little red star on the back of her otherwise dainty-looking neck. And then......drum roll....the award for the multiple ugly turn-off factor goes to....women who have gigantic snake tattoos on their arms or legs. Somewhere in America I can just picture the guy who has taken a woman home on a date, he thinks he is going to "go all the way," he takes her upstairs and then, before the magic moment, he sees two gigantic snakes with gigantic red fangs on her thighs...Then, after failure hits, she says, "OK, that's alright honey, maybe you're just tired tonight," and he says, "I just don't get it. I don't know what has gotten into me tonight." (What he should say is, "How do you expect me to perform when those two gigantic snarling cobras on your legs are waiting to dig their shiny teeth into my ____________and strangle my b___s until they look like raisins!)

  • Is it good to love such a "bad" company?--We have all heard about all of the terrible things Wal-Mart does to a large collection of people: Sweatshop labor--People work overseas in sweatshops to make clothes sold by Wal-Mart for the same amount of money per day that we Americans leave as a tip in a cheap restaurant. Unions:fuhgedaboutit, Norma Rae, take a hike, Sally Field, no, we don't really like you. Medical plans for Wal-Mart employees: I hate to even think about it. They probably either have to put with no medical care at all, or a PPO plan where the deductible is equal to your first child, or an HMO plan where they get doctors who went to medical school in Guatamela and are being paid about $10 a day for the right to let you rot in their office for hours waiting for them to take a look at you. And so on...And yet, look how well Wal-Marts do, even in our crummy economy. They get loads of shoppers, especially people who look like they are not exactly high-earning Yuppie scum. They employ tons of people around the world. A Wal-Mart comes to your local shopping center and boom, what a difference. There is a mall in my area which used to be moribund, until the Wal-Mart showed up. Now, the mall parking lots are usually full, even far away from the Wal-Mart, as shoppers come out of nowhere to spend their money, and keep the other stores, next to the Wal-Mart, doing well in their businesses. As we know, including those of us who never suffered through an economics course, once consumers spend money, it enables other consumers to be employed, which in turn leads to more consumers spending money, and so on.

Maybe, as the character Gordon Gecko said in the movie, Wall Street: "Greed is good." At least as far as Wal-Mart goes. And for all of the bad things that Wal-Mart does, its customers are buying "stuff," as Thomas Friedman says in his columns, not just risky ideas, such as reverse credit swaps, derivatives, and similar products that brought America, and the entire world economic system, to its knees.

Somebody out there is planning the next Wal-Mart right now, a gigantic institution which will make "stuff", and thus employ thousands of people, or sell "stuff" to the millions of consumers of American products around the world, to help accentuate the economic recovery we are all craving. Whoever it is, go for it. America needs you!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where America Shops--Costco

I'd like to say a few words about shopping at Costco, one of my favorite places to visit (and where I regularly spend a high percentage of my income). Outside of having such a great selection of products at great prices (provided you are willing to fill your residence top to bottom with huge quantities of toilet paper, paper plates, plastic trash bags, et al.), it is hard to match the excitement that is offered by this fine establishment.

Excitement? What can be exciting about going to Costco? Plenty, as follows:

  • Can you successfully wheel your cart away from the store and into the parking lot, to where your car is located? Not always an easy task, based on my personal experience. One day I was leaving the Costco, which in my area, requires navigating past the teeming hordes snacking at the covered picnic tables and around the starving folks waiting in line for Hebrew National hot dogs (which, as we know, are God's personal favorites, although they are not kosher). Anyway, I was just entering the parking lot area, when I saw a white Cadillac, driven by an old white guy, heading rapidly in my direction. I glanced in the driver's eyes, and saw, unfortunately, a blank stare, signifying that he did not see me. I was already in his path, and, he was, literally, a few feet away, so I pushed myself away from the cart, and, he (barely) missed hitting me, and collided with my cart. The eggs that I had piled on top of the cart fell to the ground and broke. The driver then stopped and asked me if I was OK, and I signified that I was, and he offered to pay for any destroyed items, which fortunately, was limited to the $2.00 eggs that were broken. Then, incredibly, a couple of bystanders ignored me, even though I was clearly freaked about the whole thing, since I just missed serious injury, and they asked the old codger if he was OK. Unbelievable. Anyway, the moral of the story is when you enter a parking lot near a Costco and you see a car moving in your direction, pretend that you are in New York City, not Southern California; in other words, they are not going to stop for you, so assume that they are going to hit you.

  • Avoiding collisions in the bumper car derby in the parking lot--Costco, like most successful American businesses, does its best to maximize customer access to its stores, so all of the Costcos that I have visited have the parking lot rows placed with only minimal space between them. So, the result is there are countless near misses in the parking lot nearly every time I visit a Costco. Today was typical: I waited while an SUV in front of me was stationary, waiting for somebody to leave his parking space next to the store entrance. The SUV blotted out my sight lines and I could not really tell who its occupants were waiting for. I saw one car on the left back up, then go forward again, then back up again, then go forward again, and then...nothing. I guess that they were just perfecting their parking technique. Then, I saw a car in the front row on the right start backing up, to the left. Then on the left side, I saw a car in the third row on the left start backing up, at the same time. And then, to my surprise, I saw a car in front of me, on the right, start backing up out of his parking place. I honked at him to stop, but he did not hear me, and then he missed hitting a few feet. The ending was happy, since everyone was able to either get out of their parking place, or get into a parking place, without any collisions or injuries. Yes, life is a game of inches.

  • Lining up to get free samples--This is perhaps the most rewarding sporting event at Costco, since, as my late brother David put it, if you do things right, you can have an entire meal at Costco by trying out the samples. The way that people do everything short of jousting for position gives the impression that those who are lining up have not eaten for a week. However, judging by the ample waistlines of those I see in line, most people that line up for samples probably have not eaten for five minutes, or less. It can also be quite suspenseful as people lick their lips in anticipation, watching as the food server first cooks the food in a microwave oven, then takes out the food, cuts it into acceptable portions, and then puts it out for the starving hordes to enjoy. I have frequently have been in the position of being second in line, for about four portions, with only one person in front of me, and then, as I get ready to reach for my sumptuous burrito slice, defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, as the person in front of me grabs four portions, hands two to his obese six year old, one to their rather well-fed wife, and grabs the last one for themselves, leaving me to merely salivate and dream of the one that got away. Just like reaching for the American dream: oh so close but ever so far away.... No problem though: the solution is to walk up to another counter, where something that the masses don't covet, like strawberry sorbet, is being offered, and take one for oneself, and then, just to get even with Mr. Greedy who took four pieces for himself a few moments ago, you come back and go for seconds. (Oliver Twist is dead, so you don't even have to say, "Please Sir, may I have some more?")The best part of all this is that the hapless Costco employee will start on their spiel about how this fatty cholesterol-laden product is good for you , and, they will continue on their dissertation long after you have walked away, and end up talking to the air about a product that probably few people would ever eat...unless someone offered it to them for free.
You've got to love it. Shop 'til you drop!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Having fun with IOUs in California

To the left you can see a registered warrant that happens to be an IOU, in the state of California. You might ask yourself, isn't a warrant something that a court will issue for your arrest for some type of crime? Yes it is, but for those of you new to the wonderful world of California world of finance, a "registered warrant" is actually what most of us would think of as a "check," something which, normally, you could deposit in a bank.

However, if you look carefully at the picture to the left, you might notice that there are several words that differentiate this registered warrant from a check, due to the following words: "This Registered Warrant will be honored on or or after 10/2/09." Aha, that is what separates this warrant from a check, because this means that this check cannot be deposited in a bank account until 10/2/09, unless, of course, you are one of the lucky ones who has a bank that will actually take this things as payment. After July 10, a number of these elite institutions, which exist to protect and serve us all, as I discussed in my previous blog, have said that they will no longer accept such "instruments" as payment. So, one might ask, if I have been paid one of these glorious-looking pieces of paper by the state, what can I do?

Do not fret, my fellow Californians, the IOU Stressbuster is here. (I was thinking of analogizing this to "Ghostbusters," which came out in 1984, but since many of my potential readers are too young to remember this, I will not dwell on this point). So, here are some of my IOU Stressbuster solutions:

1. You may be one of the fortunate ones whose banks might opt to accept one of these sharp-looking pieces of paper as payment anyway. Le chayim! (which means to life in Hebrew). Life is good, so fret no longer.

2. The state of California has indicated that those who wish to pay their bills to the State of California may be able to take an IOU, and, voila, send it back to the State to pay their bills. The thought of doing this is delicious. Just imagine if the State of California owed you some money, and sent you, say, $30,000. What if, for example, you were a tax cheat and you owed the state of California, say, $500,000. If you were exceptionally shrewd, you could turn around and send them some of this "funny money" that you had recently received from the state back to the state in payment of your debt. But, you might ask, how can you get away with paying the state "funny money" for 30K and thus shorting the state by 470K? The answer is that with the state laying off tons of workers, and "furloughing" other workers for two or three days a month (i.e giving them unpaid leave so they can spend quality time with their families, while they are scrounging for leftover food in dumpsters since they will have virtually no money on which to live), the state audit division is probably low on employees, so, if you are really lucky, they won't notice. If they do notice, and you end up in with an immense amount of fines and penalties, you can at least be satisfied that you did your best to "take one for the team."

3. The "secondary market" option--This means that there may be people that actually want to buy and sell these warrants/IOUs. So, in other words, somebody might buy your warrant for a discount, and then sell it for a markup later on. Or, if you want to try out a different kind of "secondary market" a try, you might want to consider using an illegal poker game as a market, especially if you have lots of rich friends who have lots of money to "burn," just as many of us feel "burned" since we have to put up with this nonsense. Let's say that you enter a high-stakes poker game, and you decide to go for it, by putting up an IOU for your bet. If somebody is stupid enough to take your bet, and you lose the bet, voila! Just hand them the piece of paper, and tell them that it is a warrant, from the state of California. Remember, per our economics lesson above, all items that look like checks from the state of California actually are called warrants. However, as we know, in regards to IOUS, in this case, just because it "walks like a duck," and, in this case, it definitely smells like a duck, it may not be a duck at all, because warrants that are IOUs are not treated by banks like checks unless, you are lucky enough to have a bank that does treat the warrants which are IOUS as checks, even though they are not really checks.. Are you confused yet? I know that I am, as well as probably most people in the Great State of California. Anyway, this betting strategy is worth a try, but, just in case the people you are playing are the impatient, unfriendly, possibly violent kind, make sure that you bring your best running shoes with you to the poker game, so that you can make a timely escape if that is what the situation requires.

4. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who are stuck with many warrants/IOUS, you might consider using the warrants to construct a model of a house, since you may be among these who have found that they cannot afford the house that they are living in, meaning that such a paper IOU/warrant house is the fanciest house you will ever be able to afford. Be careful when you build your IOU/warrant house that you do not unduly damage the IOU/warrants too much, so you don't have excess damage to your house of cards/IOUS/warrants/checks when it tumbles to the ground, just as the economy of our state has being doing lately.

5. Another possibility is neatly stacking your warrants/IOUS in a vertical manner, such that the warrant/IOUS can be used as the modern equivalent of a domino rally, where the warrants can be neatly aligned all over your living room, so that as soon as you knock over one warrant/IOU, all rest of the fall over in a properly synchronized fashion. If you are really clever, you can set up your warrant/IOUS all over your residence, so that, once you have perfected your techniques, you can have the pleasure of watching the warrant/IOUS/checks (maybe) beautifully undulating everywhere you look.

6. Having IOU/warrants can be of great assistance in maintaining a clean and healthy lifestyle. You can use the IOUs to clean your shaver, and, if you cannot afford a vacuum cleaner, and perhaps, even a broom, you can use the warrants to scoop up any refuse and carefully empty it into any nearby trash bags. Remember, however, to keep the IOU/warrant in a clean and sanitary condition, in the event that you intend to have an alternative use of the IOU/warrant in the future.

7. Finally, an IOU/warrant is a fine idea for a gift. Imagine what pleasure you can give to your aunt in Wisconsin, if, in the event that you cannot afford a gift for her this year, since you have no money, you can just take the warrant, put it an envelope, and send it to her. Or, when Christmas or Hanukah rolls around, in December, since the economic situation in California may still be unresolved at this time, an IOU/warrant is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Happy IOU Stressbusting!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Surviving in the land of IOUS

It is not easy living in California these days. Everyone is depressed and nervous for good reason. Would you accept this thing as payment?

But, let's try to look at the bright side of all of this. I am trying to do my best to make people that I meet feel good about themselves. It's not easy, but it's worth a try.

A couple of days ago, I walked into my bank, currently known as Chase Manhattan, previously known as Washington Mutual, known before that as Great American Federal, and before that, who knows? I have only lived in San Diego for twelve years, so I would have to turn to the old-timers, who might remember the beginnings of this fine institution. Anyway, I walked up to the teller to make my deposit, and I observed that this woman, probably about age 50 or so, looked quite depressed. That is hardly a surprise based on her employer's emergence from the ashes of the previous incarnations of this financial, ex-high flyer, which has lived to enjoy another day thanks to the devoted attention of we, the loving taxpayers. Unlike our financial institutions, the only stimulus packages that we have, are......I don't want to lose my G rating, so I will stop there.

This teller was quite down, perhaps because, as one Chase Home employee confided in me, her employer was trying to maximize their return on investment by several astute moves, including, first of all, taking away some of the earned vacation of some of their employees. I think that was a clever move. After all, why should we, the taxpayers, pay for time given to their employees, who are overjoyed to have this job, when they are, gasp, not working hard enough to keep us, the customers, happy?

Another brilliant move, from what I was told, is that their employees were asked to no longer have water bottles at their desks. After all, if I have come to the bank to deposit my hard-earned paycheck, watching an employee drink from a water bottle could get me so upset that I might walk away from this bank and take my multi-dollar accounts to other elite institutions across the street. Another reason for this move could be that a customer might surmise that perhaps the employees might fill their water bottle with hard liquor, and then take the liberty of swigging it while we, the customers, would watch in horror.

Finally, back in the good old days, when this bank was known as Washington Mutual, the bank decided to take away all of the safe deposit boxes of their customers in most locations. Again, a truly outstanding move. Apparently, the reason for this move was to maximize the business potential in every square inch of every branch. All that newly gained space may have contributed to the fact that the geniuses running this bank invested millions of dollars in either loans that people could barely afford, or, perhaps, placing bets, known as "reverse credit swaps," (with the entire civilized and uncivilized world's economy as collateral), that these people taking on these loans would (would not?) be able to pay their mortgages. Thanks to this move, I was forced to either take my multidollar contents of my safe deposit box and put them under my mattress, or, take my safe deposit box elsewhere. I opted for option number number two, where I got the pleasure of paying a fee for the privilege of using of another elite institution's safe deposit box.

I do feel bad picking on this institution, because it is probably no worse than the other ones, and I do appreciate that they have stuck with me for all of these years, but there are a couple of other interesting moves they have made. On the one hand, one of my accounts went below their minimum, and hence I was charged a fee for something like "inadequate balance maintained." . However, I was using another account to fund this account, and I made such transfers so often that my other account I was charged an "excess activity fee." I was told that to avoid such fees, I could make such transfers either with the teller doing the transaction , or by using an ATM machine. I suppose that this move was to prevent me from trying to do an online transaction and then suffer the indignity of being unable to access my bank account in the event some catastrophe stopping the Internet from functioning, such as the recent passing of Michael Jackson. I feel good though; I am just doing my little part to help this bank be successful in such a difficult time.

Anyway, the woman teller was wearing a very sharp looking Chase Manhattan shirt, blue with a couple of buttons and a nice collar. I complemented her and told her, "Hey, things can't be that bad. After all, you are wearing a nice shirt with Chase Manhattan insignia." Alas, she told me that her nice new shirt was actually torn in a couple of spots, and that one of the buttons was coming off, which lead me to thinking, how many times a week do these employees have to wear these shirts? Do the employees get a new shirt to wear every day, or do they have go home every night, to wash the one shirt that they have been issued, and then repeat this ritual every day to the point where their shirts start falling apart and become shabby-looking? I am afraid to inquire more into this, so I have let this one go.

Anyway, as you probably can guess, the morale of this story is : Accentuate the positive. Do your best to cheer up everyone you meet, even bank employees. You might try to do your best Michael Jackson dance moves in the bank lobby, by doing some spins, standing on your tip toes and doing some Moonwalking. You will definitely put on the smile of everyone in the bank (except for, perhaps the security guards, who might, unfortunately, deduce that you are a threat to the bank in light of your behavior, and arrest you, or even shoot you. ) But, do not fear. America will survive this economic meltdown, as long as we and all consumers keep a smile on our faces, and, as the old saying goes, "Don't let'em see you sweat."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Getting older

When I'm Sixty Four (64)
~ The Beatles

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

You'll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck & Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four.

I just turned fifty-six, and my kids all had their birthdays in May and June, so I have had a lot of opportunities to consider the implications of getting older. I used to hate birthdays because they would simply be another reminder that I am getting older, with all of the negatives one thinks of when one thinks about being older: including, but not limited to, being less able, being physically ravaged, being easily tired, being burned out, leading a boring existence, having less energy, and so on. My brother's death four months ago, at age 43, changed all of that. Now I look at each birthday as a blessing, and I find myself caring less that I am getting "older."

For one thing, having three "kids," ages 25, 23, and 21, living in my house, keeps me young. As a parent, this is a great time, because my kids can hang out together, play basketball together, and, all in all, get along with each other about as well as they ever have. When they were little, my wife and I, like perhaps all parents with several kids close in age, dreamed that they would be life-long friends with each other. Then, as they got older, there were periods where such a long-term relationship seemed to be a silly dream of inexperienced parents. Now, that they are turning out to be handsome young men who conduct themselves well with most people and in most situations, I am just pleased that they are interacting with each other, for the most part, in a calm, mature and meaningful manner.

Also, interacting with my brother and sister feels a lot different now. Neither has said explicitly said anything about this, but I think that each one of us probably has a new identity: survivor. For one thing, we never dreamed that our brother would pass away at age 43 of "natural causes," although dying of congestive heart failure at such a young age hardly seems natural at all. Also, as our parents have turned 81 and 83 this year, we all realize that it is only a matter of time before we will again be thinking of ourselves as survivors; the survivors of the White family, which will eventually shrink from an original total of four siblings and two parents, by half, to only three surviving siblings. I think no one in our family thought that death would visit us so quickly; perhaps we thought it might have happened by now to our parents, who appear to be in excellent health, but are nevertheless at an advanced age where death can make a quick and unexpected appearance. This experience has had a sobering effect upon all of us.

Another aspect of getting older is the physical changes that this is supposed to bring. My deceased brother, at 43, looked quite youthful, and could have been easily mistaken for being in his 30's. My surviving brother and sister have also been blessed by the fountain of youth. I have joked for years with my sister that every year, when I see photos of her entering a riding contest, it is difficult to tell the difference between her and the teenagers who are riding their horses.

As for me, I have looked middle aged for years, as I started losing my hair in droves when I was only 22. My wife insists that I look the same year after year. I like to think that she is flattering me, but when I see photos of myself from ten or fifteen years ago, it is hard to see the difference.

Getting older thus can have a varied impact based on the individual. Some people in their 30's could pass for being in their 50's or 60's; on the other hand, we saw a guest on the Bill Maher Show last weekend who said that he was 42, and I thought that he could have easily passed for 22.

The other thing about age that stands out in my mind is how different "old" people look, to us, depending on our own age. I remember, when I was 18, how I thought that people who were 30 were old, and people of my own age, 56, were REALLY old (in fact, they might as well be dead).

What did I think that I would be doing at age 56? Of course, I would be retired (fat chance of that ever happening), and I would look OLD and BORING, just like the old fishing guy in the picture above. So how does the old fishing guy look to me know that I am old?

For one thing, he has a heckuva lot more hair than I do. At age 18, I would have told you that the guy's hair looked terrible. Now, I look at that a lot differently, since I have no hair on top of my head (although my hair has a nasty habit of appearing on the back of my head, where I can't easily see it)

More important, do I feel "old," like the old fishing guy looks to me? No, in fact I know that I am much more knowledgeable, mature and wordly than I was at the age of 18. I am not sure who said the following powerful adage: Youth is wasted on the young. How true!

As I have said to my kids, I don't really believe that one gets wiser just because one gets older. I think it is more than that. Instead, I believe as one gets older, one has so many experiences that one starts to learn from experience, by spotting the same situations happening over and over.

Another thing that strikes me is that I have outlived a lot of people who were much younger than me, most notably, Michael Jackson. When he died recently, that was an incredible moment, which felt much like the death of JFK felt to me, as a nine year old, many years ago. I found out later on that the Internet was hit by massive shutdowns as a result of his death, which is hardly surprising. Although I was hardly a fan of MJ, and I am not one of the 1.6M people who applied for tickets to his funeral ceremony at Staples Center, I was, like everyone else, shocked and saddened by his death.

MJ's is truly a sad story: a person who was probably a genius at his craft, and was blessed by amazing talent, but also had a very sad life. He said that he never had a childhood, since his dad beat him into being a star at a young age, and it appears that this factor lead to his later abuse of drugs, and abuse of young boys. To me, the saddest thing of all is that, like Elvis, he is going to be doing much better financially now that he is dead, since, in life, he had massive debts, and limited income in recent years, but now, his estate will be the beneficiary of increased sales and interest in his legacy for many years to come.

It seems that in our country, we like to drag people down in life, and then have them ascend to sainthood in their death. I can accept that as talented as he was, he was, at a minimum, eccentric and a drug addict, and, at worst, abusive of other people in a variety of ways, including sexual abuse of children. It was said that for his childlike ways, he had his father's hard-nosed business sense, which led him to fire and rehire countless business associates over and over. Perhaps the worst abuse he engaged in was of himself, apparently dying as an emaciated, miserable figure that would take stimulants to motivate himself to continue to give great performances on stage, as he did in the nights before his death, and then take an overwhelming amount of narcotics to ease his physical and emotional pain. In summary, it appears that just as some people engage in suicide by cop, he engaged in the pathetic practice of suicide by rock star, following in the footsteps of other self-abusing musical giants such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin.

As tough as it is now to be living in an era of terrible unemployment and misery around the world, I feel fortunate to be here, and I am grateful for what I have. However, I must admit that I am sad that I have three kids that are living in a world of diminishing resources. Just as we have made tremendous strides in technology, with fantastic inventions such as the Internet and the Ipod, which have changed our life so much, we are seemingly going backwards in the necessities of life, as millions of people are unemployed. My hope is that, from the ashes of the present state of the economy, highlighted by a state, California, which is presently unable find a workable budget, the fortunes of people in America, and around the world, will rise once again as a new generation of brilliant innovators finds a way to create value out of the present void.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The King of Pain

King Of Pain lyrics, by Sting

There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday
There's a black hat caught in a high tree top
There's a flag-pole rag and the wind won't stop

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

There's a little black spot on the sun today
That's my soul up there
It's the same old thing as yesterday
That's my soul up there
There's a black hat caught in a high tree top
That's my soul up there
There's a flag-pole rag and the wind won't stop
That's my soul up there

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall
That's my soul up there
There's a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall
That's my soul up there
There's a blue whale beached by a springtime's ebb
That's my soul up there
There's a butterfly trapped in a spider's web
That's my soul up there

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

There's a king on a throne with his eyes torn out
There's a blind man looking for a shadow of doubt
There's a rich man sleeping on a golden bed
There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread

King of pain

There's a red fox torn by a huntsman's pack
That's my soul up there
There's a black-winged gull with a broken back
That's my soul up there
There's a little black spot on the sun today
It's the same old thing as yesterday

I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

King of pain
King of pain
King of pain
I'll always be king of pain
I'll always be king of pain
I'll always be king of pain
I'll always be king of pain

I was just reading some comments to my previous blog, and I was fascinated by the comment that behind great humor there is always a great sadness. That provided me a strong connection to my late brother David's blogs, since his blogs could be hilarious, but also at the same time could be cruel, depressing, or infuriating.

I think of the song by Don McLean, "American Pie," where he speaks of "the day that the music died." When David died, in many ways, it felt like "the day that the blog died." I think of Jim Rome on his sports shows, where he always admonishes the listener,"to have a take and don't suck!" David always had a take, and his takes never sucked, since they were always honest, perhaps almost too honest, although they could be gross, dark, and relentless in their impact.

In our family, we all "tuned in" to David's blog, almost as if it was a weekly or semi-monthly TV show. David's TV show has been suddenly yanked off the air, and all of us former viewers have been suddenly left feeling a great void.

David's blog was many things, but dull was not one of them. My first reaction to his latest installment could, on the one hand, be as if someone had poured a hot cup of coffee in my lap, as his comments could be cruel and shocking. Alternatively, his blog could be like an extended cold shower, with a chilling dose of the sad reality that he felt was his life.

David was truly alive when he was blogging, playing his guitar, and recording his You Tube videos. David's mantra was that he was "the king of pain," and that he felt like "a butterfly trapped in a spider's web; That's my soul up there."

I recently watched a documentary about the film director, Sam Peckinpah, in which one of the commentators spoke of the sadness about how Peckinpah died at a relatively young age, due to his drug usage and alcohol abuse. The commentator spoke of how society values great artists because "they spend their lives dancing on the edge of a cliff," but when artists like Peckinpah fall off the cliff, like many artists do, they find that difficult to accept.

David, too, was an artist and he clearly relished the opportunity to dance on the edge of a cliff, throughout much of his life. Remembering the intensity of David's dramatic dances, and the emotional impact of those dances upon all of us who watched, makes it easier to accept that we will be deprived of the opportunity to see any more of his performances.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Academy Awards Ceremony

Circle of Life” lyrics
Music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Elton John

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give

In the Circle of Life
It's the wheel of fortune
It's the leap of faith
It's the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle, the Circle of Life

Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps the great and small on the endless round

(Chorus repeats)

On the path unwinding
In the Circle, the Circle of Life.

I would like to take this opportunity to have my own Academy Awards ceremony, in honor of my appointment at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, on Friday, April 10, for my first echocardiogram. Envelope please.

And now, the lifetime achievement award for: Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best supporting actor, Best Set design, Best Direction, Best Animation, Best Performance in a comic role, and Best Performance in a dramatic role, goes to:

My aorta and my heart. The room erupts in applause. The acceptance speech: “You like me, you really like me. (Sally Fields, for either Norma Rae or Places in the Heart, I can’t remember which).

I must admit that I have never really paid much attention to your years of hard work, your devotion to my survival, your tolerance of my good moods and my bad moods, as well as the stress I put you through in my athletic endeavors: my years in Little League (probably the highlight of my athletic career), my years of playing tennis (and endlessly annoying my parents in all of my misplaced shots bouncing off their heads and arms), my walking, running, sitting, sleeping, and all of the many activities I have engaged in where you, never, pardon the pun, “missed a beat.”

As I lay on the table, on my side, I had the pleasure of watching my heart on the monitor in glorious three-dimensional color, top view, side view, and other views, as I looked at the four chambers in thumping, head-pounding sound blasting through the speakers. I have heard hearts before, but only the baby hearts of my kids. To hear my old heart still pounding away was quite surprising and amazing. It certainly was nothing that I took for granted, after my brother’s tragic passing two weeks ago from congestive heart failure.

I also greatly enjoyed the instructions from the technician. He became frustrated at my taking in deep breaths and exhaling in big breaths. His choice was to tell me to take in half a breath, and then exhale half a breath. I work in accounting, so I tried to visualize what he was saying in numeric terms: each breath in would be equal to .5 times breaths (B), or, in algebra, .5B. Similarly, each breath out would be equal to -.5B, so, for each round of this excitement, the calculation would be .5B-.5B, or zero. Therefore, my entire session probably came out to be something like (30) (.5)(B)-(30)(.5)(B), or, put simply, zero. (Dad, I hope you are reading this, because I remember how you taught me algebra for Mrs. Champion’s class in 7th grade at Malaga Cove Intermediate School, and your asking what it would take for me to think in algebraic terms).

The most puzzling request from the technician was the one where he said “don’t breathe.” He said this repeatedly, after my engaging in the half breath in and the half breath out routine several times, in order to get a clear reading on the screen. I seriously pondered his request, and although I deciphered his true intention ("please breathe more quietly"), I thought about what it would take for me to truly quit breathing. I could try holding my breath, although I am not sure how long I could do that (one minute or two at most, although probably Michael Phelps could hold his breath a lot longer, not counting, of course, when he commits that great sin of using a bong). I also thought about getting one of those large plastic bags in the office and pulling it down around my head, just like you see in the gangster movies, where they cover up a bad guy’s head, pull down on the bag, and he dies seconds later). I decided that was not practical either, because I would have to unhook myself from the echocardiogram machine, which would really annoy the already irritated technician.

By the time I was through pondering these existential issues, the technician was relieved to tell me that the procedure was over. I pumped him for information, without success, but he finally relented and admitted that he was not wheeling me into the emergency room nor bringing in the cardiologist for an emergency consultation, so I am presuming that meant that the results were, at least, decent.

Seriously, 2009 has been a year of incredible highs and lows for me. In my personal life, in March, I have been up and down with one brother’s wife giving birth to a beautiful baby girl on March 9, and then, about two weeks later, my other brother tragically and unexpectedly dying. At work, in one week, one of my coworkers lost her husband and another one lost her mother-in-law. Two of my co-workers have been operated on for cancer, and suffered through chemotherapy and radiation since then. And yet, on the other hand, this week, two of my male coworkers were given showers for the upcoming births of their baby sons.

As Elton John says, we experience a "circle of life," as we suffer through illnesses, death, world starvation, war, et al, and yet we also get to experience the many joys of life, such as being with family and friends, and the many wonders of life, such as the births of beautiful children. (As any parent will tell you, there is nothing more beautiful than a newborn baby.)

Today, as I get to experience another day, I have an attitude of gratitude that my body allows me to be here. Suffering the shock of a loss of a family member has made me even more thankful for what I have. I will do my best to "accept the good," as was said in the movie, "Things we Lost in the Fire," with Halle Berry, and try not to dwell on the inevitable sadnesses that we all suffer though in our lives.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My eulogy for David ("Zook") , my brother, 9/19/65-3/27/09

We got the call from Rich at 2:49 AM that David had passed. I fell back to sleep after that and I dreamed that we had gone to Nevada for the funeral. We were looking for David’s house and I was not sure where it was until we found a big purple house: purple lawn, purple trees, purple lawn, and purple mailbox. We parked in the driveway and there was David, doing the laundry in his purple garage, with his purple washing machine and purple dryer. I walked up to David, and said, “David, I drove up here to go to your funeral. You are supposed to be dead. What is going on, you died at the hospital.” Then David, with that typical smirk on his face, turned to me, laughed and said, “Well, guess what. You heard wrong, I’m alive so, get over it!” And after that, David walked away, picked up his purple guitar, got out his purple video camera, and started recording a new song called, “My Brother Phil is an idiot. He thinks I’m dead, but I am alive.” David put out this song on You Tube, got 100,000 hits, and then made the cover of Rolling Stone. As usual David, had told me the truth, whether I wanted to hear it or not.

Randy Pausch, in his book, The Last Lecture, said, “Tell the truth all the time.” That is how David lived; he always told everyone the truth, whether they liked it or not. It started at a young age, when we were living in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, DC. A diplomat, from Canada, was visiting the house, and Dad was holding David in his arms, when David was about four. The diplomat said hello to David, and David’s response was: “You have yellow teeth.” I am sure that the diplomat was overjoyed that David had given him such valuable dental feedback.

David always told the truth, whether in a face to face conversation, in a letter, in a blog, or in a song. Or, put another way, as Jimi Hendrix said in his song, “IF 6 was nine,” “I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.” That flag was always flying high, even though there were times where it would have been easier to see it at half mast, because the truths David told were not always pretty, and could be difficult to hear.

David, in his blogs, used some incredible passages to talk about his spirituality, his life, his dreams, and his regrets. His truths that were told are things that were intimate, personal, perhaps embarrassing, and often unpleasant. But telling the truth takes courage, and David always had courage to do what he thought was right. Like the 12th juror in the film, “12 Angry Men,” David would hold fast to his beliefs, no matter what anyone else thought.

He recorded many original songs and put them on You Tube. Some were pleasant, some were hilarious, some were unpleasant, and some were controversial, such as ones he did on religion, which inspired some spirited responses from my kids, who have all been to Israel and who attend an orthodox synagogue.

Even though my kids had not spoken to David since last summer, they communicated with him on a regular basis about music, politics and videos, just as they do with their own friends. In fact, my kids have told me that they intend to carry on David’s legacy by performing their music on You Tube and writing their own blogs.

David was a pioneer in many ways:

  1. He was the first person in our family to go to UCSD, a science and math-oriented school, where he ended up majoring in economics, and graduated, despite some formidable hurdles he overcame.
  2. He was the first person I knew who moved to San Diego. We visited him several times in San Diego, while we were in LA, and I was impressed with how San Diego was such a nice, small town compared to gigantic LA. The impression I got of San Diego from David was one of the reasons we ended up moving to San Diego.
  3. He somehow found out about a career in insurance claims adjusting, switched into that, went to get trained in Atlanta, and then stayed with the same company for over twenty years.
  4. While in San Diego, he got married, and had a daughter. As much as he loved raising his family in San Diego, he was offered a great opportunity in Nevada, and he had the courage to move out there, and start over once again.
  5. In Nevada, he again took on new challenges, by purchasing a single family home, and providing a middle class existence for his family.
  6. Once again, David had the courage to take on new challenges, and he moved to another company, which required that he travel all over the country. He recently was on the road over 75% of the time, and working 80 hour weeks.

Point made: David always had the courage to go into uncharted territory, and he did it again and again, with great results.

Music: another key part of David’s life. He mastered the guitar, played many original songs, and used music as an important creative outlet, in addition to his writing. He saw the Grateful Dead a gazillion times, around the country, and seemed to love every minute. In many ways, he was a 60’s child, always willing to hang out with people, and explore the mysteries of life. He recently passed onto to my kids an old Doors chord book, which my kids are enjoying. In fact, just as David enjoyed the Doors and Hendrix, my kids still listen to that type of music all the time.

David sent me countless cassettes when he was in San Diego of music ranging from the Dead and the Doors to Jaco Pastorious jazz music and other esoteric types of music. I played these cassettes over and over until they quit working.

Sports: David was a true sports fan, starting, at a young age, when I took him to many UCLA football games, as my sport buddy, just as my father had taken me to college football games, years before that. In San Diego, courtesy of the San Diego legal profession, he went to many Padre games, including the year they went to the World Series, 1998.

David turned that background in football into a love of San Diego Chargers football, and he started going to the Charger games in the 90’s. He had some great seats close to the field. In fact, his daughter was born on the day of a Charger game in December 1998 during the Ryan Leaf era when they were destroyed by Seattle. David by then had stopped going to the games because, as he correctly pointed out, “the Chargers really sucked.”

David stories: Where do I start? I remember so many of them, which still make me laugh:

  1. Once David’s car had been wrecked, while he was going to UCSD, my car was getting old, and I had gotten one of Dad’s cars that was off lease. After getting our car, David called up and said: The car is OK, but I love what is in that envelope. It turns out that a big reefer had been left in an envelope (I have no idea by whom), and David gave it some very positive reviews.
  2. One day, when I was visiting from college, we got an envelope sent to the house. It was for a Terry Bradshaw $1 rebate, and I had filled it out very quickly in my crummy handwriting. It came to the house addressed to, not 2129 Via Estudillo, but “2129 Via Futville.” David laughed and laughed about that. He was right, my handwriting sucks.
  3. My son Josh still remembers how David and a friend visited us in Torrance, after seeing the movie, “Interview with a Vampire,” apparently in an altered state. David and his friend had said they were both so unimpressed with the movie that they ended up vomiting in their hats.

Dylan Thomas said:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


David was always tough, up to the end. He even sent out a blog on the way to the hospital, where he said he had refused an ambulance, and instead was driving to the hospital…with an oxygen tank attached to him. David never gave up, and he never gave in, no matter what. David always did what he thought was right, and that is what we all can learn from his life.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In memorium, David G. White, 9/19/65 - 3/27/09

This is my first blog, and, fittingly, it is in honor of my brother, David (Zook), who put out so many amazing blogs throughout this decade. Zook was passionate about life, and loved exploring the mysteries of the universe, in songs, poems, and many insightful blogs, sometimes with humor, sometimes with darkness, sometimes in pain, but always with dignity and a zest for life.

His last You Tube Video was recorded, with him singing and playing guitar, the night before he died, on Friday, March 27. He knew that he was ill, with pneumonia, and that he was scheduled to have surgery to repair his aorta, which was abnormally large, within a few days. In seeing his video, it is evident that although he was quite ill, he was determined to let all of us know that that he had accepted that his life could end and that he was ready for it. He pushed himself to the limit in order that he could leave us with such a beautiful song, I am Going to Fly, even though his body was rapidly failing him.

His courage and dignity in the face of such pain and suffering is an inspiration to us all. In fact, he comforted all of us in knowing that although we will never be able to speak to him again, we will always have the pleasure of viewing his many videos and reading his many blogs.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, Zook, it is as if we can always be with you. Zook, we miss you and love you, rest in peace.