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Sunday, September 26, 2021

May 14, 2027

There are 2057 days between now (September 26, 2027) and May 14, 2027.  By another measure, that's 5 years, 7 months, and 19 days.  All well and good, but why is that date even worth mentioning?  Well, that's mostly because, all things being held equal, I will be retiring on (or about) that date.  Kind of strange, huh?  Well from my perspective it is, as...

  • I don't see myself as being "old" (although my body reminds me of that reality, even as I type this)
  • Amount of time prior to above I have actually spent thinking retirement?  That would be... 
  • I have kind of had this baseline assumption from childhood that I would be working forever
The alchemy used to come up with the date of May 14, 2027, is pretty straightforward and includes when our current mortgage will be paid off (not bad for having bought the place in December 2013) and my estimate of when it makes sense to begin tapping into my retiree medical saving account.  

Underlying all of this is irony associated with the fact that I am a retiree already, technically speaking, from a former employer.

May 14, 2027, seems like a long time off, but in reality, it's not.  In fact, it's about a year longer than the distance from when I was "retired" (see above) until now.  That's practically a blink of the existential eye.

I guess I could continue with the one or two-sentence quips, but that's boring.  Well, a lot of this stuff is technically boring, but I have never offered any warranties for being interesting, engaging, or even relevant when it comes to this blog.  Since 2008 mind you.

Anyway, I think that the distance between now and then is needed, as I need time to prepare.  That would be prepare from a practical perspective (i.e. being mortgage-free) as well as from the perspective of "just what the heck will I do with myself?".  I'm sure that many who are already retired could testify to the fact that the latter point will take care of itself.  However, I'm the guy who has to think about everything, all too often.

I also know that so very, very much of my life has centered around what I do for a living.  Actually, I've been told that too much of my life has centered around my professional identity, a notion that I learned the hard way, as what can be given by an employer can be taken by an employer.  That's easy to write, but pretty darn difficult to experience.  It's also very cruel in a way:  Employers want employees to commit to their organization, but yet they also want to be able to sever that commitment on their own terms, at any time, for any reason.  Maybe it's that kind of realization that ultimately signals the ending plays of a professional career.  

Looking forward, literally, I think I have 2057 days to further figure out my life and identify outside of the day job.  I still have a lot to learn, for the record.

Monday, September 20, 2021

An AC Post Script

Early Morning

As I was laying in bed this morning at about 5:50am, the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Wasted on the Way" was playing in my head.  I don't actually like the song, but I do appreciate the lyrics and underlying sentiment.

Look around me
I can see my life before me
Running rings around the way
It used to be
I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
But I wish that I had started
Long before I did

I'm not sure what that actually means in the context of the last few days or even this morning.  More "spiritually in-tuned" folks probably have an answer for that sort of thing, but since I've claimed no such power(s) myself, I'll just have to be left wondering.  Note that it's entirely possible that we all have what seem like "deep" experiences for absolutely no real reason.  Some things just are.

Back to the world of the firmly grounded in reality, I do think it's important to spend a little bit of time thinking about the lessons that life continually tries to teach us, even from a trip to a beach town in despair.  That's not "spiritual" or "new age", but in my mind infinitely practical.  Since I also love lists, here we go:

  1. I don't take enough time off.  Granted that part of this is beyond my control.  A dirty little fact about corporate layoffs:  Each time you start a new job you end up starting at the bottom of the vacation time ladder.  When you are 30 that's okay.  When you are in your 50's?  It's terrible.
  2. It feels as if I waste too much time.  Wait, was that why "Wasted on the Way" was pinging around in my head this morning?  When I take a step back, well the "step back" afforded by typing at 7am in a hotel, I wonder if I don't spend enough time actually doing and creating things that bring me some enjoyment.  Like this, for example.
  3. It's kind of amazing the amount of stress I put myself under, and how that impacts me physically.  My physical body was actually acting differently (in a better way) over the past few days.
  4. Societal dispair.  I saw far too many instances of folks...both young and old...literally passed out in the broad daylight over the past few days.  I know that comes across as rather naive, but for the most part, as we go about our busy lives, it's easy to forget that some folks are barely hanging on with the smallest of threads.  Our system in this country for helping those with mental health and substance abuse needs is horrible.

I don't know what I can change...what I can do differently about these things...but despite what we see in the movies, these kinds of things are seldom about grand changes in life anyway.  More realistically, I do think that life gives us things we can use to make small, but ultimately meaningful, changes in our lives.  In the time of this pandemic, the analogy is pretty clear:  Our advanced civilization can be dramatically changed by the smallest (of living) things.  Maybe that works for experiences as well.



The trip home was swift, including a Rivers family visit along the way, laundry has been washed, and a few chores have been completed.  I even posted some pictures to the Facebooks.  Left yet to do is write a few reviews and possibly let the State of New Jersey know what I think about their marijuana legalization law.  It is now time for the inevitable crawl back to reality, all be it may be a tad bit wiser and entertained.  For the record, I'm going to avoid 7-11's for the foreseeable future.

Next up?  That would be Florida (or, as they say in Long Island, "Florider") in November.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Late Summer in Town Decay, Part 3

Early Morning

The good news?  The addition of another pillow + general exhaustion meant that I actually slept reasonably well last night.  The getting up at 6am part isn't all that unusual for me, as all it takes is the slightest mental spark in my head and immediately my thoughts turn into blazing fires of ideas.  That's more of a curse than a blessing, but it is who I am.

In the "something I forgot to mention yesterday" department:  The Weed Fan.  We discovered that the smell of weed coming from other places in the hotel is made worse when the bathroom fan is off.  This was a discovery backed by an actual experiment, mind you, which is a lot more than most anti-vaxers can say.  Apparently, the smoking floor of this hotel (yes, such a thing still exists, at least here) is right above us, and I suspect that the bathroom exhaust fans of said rooms carry the stench into the ventilation system.  With the fan off in our room, the smell enters.  With the fan on, the negative air pressure in our bathroom helps prevents the smell from entering.  To quote Thomas Dolby, "Science!".

For the record, our observations about Atlantic City were predicted earlier in the year:

The punchline, of sorts?  New Jersey apparently has the worst marijuana legalization law in the country.

On a more serious note, as if the above isn't serious enough, I think that this is my/our last trip to Atlantic City.  While both Ms. Rivers and I have enjoyed the nostalgia of coming back to a place that represented a few happy moments in my childhood (the Atlantic City of pre-gambling days) and in hers (coming back from the Dominican Republic and staying in Ventnor as a child), the reality is no amount of memories can mask the general despair we have seen in just a short period of time.  This is not a good place.  To be brutally honest, this was never a good place, but it was an interesting place.  However, there comes a time when "interesting" is easily overwhelmed by despair and that threshold has been crossed in AC circa 2021.

There is a much, much larger tragedy in this place over and above the rambling of some 57-year-old man hungry for the nostalgia of his childhood.  The bigger story here is of a place where, in 1977, hope was dangled in front of a community in the form of State-sanctioned gambling.  The money would be flowing in and would trickle down into every corner of society.  That failed.  Miserably, I will add.  While failing to tacitly admit that mistake, the government continues to poke at the concept like some kid prodding a dead raccoon with a stick, waiting for some magical life to return.  Those pokes have recently included sports betting and legalized marijuana use.  The former doesn't seem like it has helped, and the latter has just made it worse.  It makes one think that this was never actually about creating a better community for an old Jersey Shore town.

The above reminds me of one very basic fact when it comes to legalized gambling:  The only winner is the house.  Not the gambler.  And certainly not the residents of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

On a less contemplative note, today's activities include some time on a boat, some photography, and perhaps dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I'm planning on avoiding 7-11's this time around.



It's all fun and games until the dolphins show up.

The highlight of this afternoon was some dolphin-watching.  For the record, taking photographs of fast-moving dolphins from a moving boat isn't the easiest thing in the world.  Nevertheless, it was fun.

(heading out to troll for quahogs)

It was also relaxing to tool about the back-bay of Atlantic City.

The other highlight was dinner at the Hard Rock Casino, which strikes one as being this kind of self-contained city, not all that dissimilar from a really big cruise ship.  We also spent some time after dinner with our typical "let's waste $20 each on the slot machines".

We suck at gambling...especially me.  It literally took about 5 minutes to blow through $40.  Wonder how a company can basically afford to build a self-contained city?  That would be from folks like us.  All well and good, as gambling in a casino is as much a study in sociology as it is anything else.

With dinner, 5 minutes of slot play, and a stroll completed, it's time for the AC2021 trek to come to an end.  I can say, looking back on just our little bit of time here, that it has been interesting.  As I noted this morning, I doubt we will come back.  AC doesn't need us, by the way, and at some point, the novelty of re-treading childhood steps grows old, especially among the clouds of ever-present second-hand marijuana smoke.  

One of the things we were wondering about was how COVID impacted the situation in Atlantic City, especially given it struggling pre-pandemic.  My best analogy?  "Atlantic City now is a bit like a Diabetic AIDS patient who then catches COVID".  

Tomorrow we head back to the real world.  

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Late Summer in Town Decay, Part 2

Early Morning

I told Ms. Rivers that, with 1000% honesty, I can count on one hand the number of times I have woken up in the morning and felt completely refreshed from a wonderful night's sleep.  That number hasn't increased after last night.  In fact, saying that I didn't sleep well last night is a bit like saying "the Yugo may have had some quality problems" in a bit of an understatement.  Cultural reference noted directly below.

(I actually love this guy's car reviews, and that's not just because he said nice things about the Toyota C-HR.  Check out his channel if you are into cars.)

Anyway, today promises to be an interesting day, if for no other reason than the fact that I don't think I got more than an hour at a time of uninterrupted sleep.  Maybe that's AC's partial karmic repayment for yesterday's blog posting.  Maybe that's because the hotel bed feels like it was stuffed with recycled plastic soda bottles.  Actually, it's probably because of the quantity and quality of pillows available at the hotel we are staying at this time around.  To that latter point, well, I'll have to work on it.

Speaking of hotels, the last few times I have been in AC, the accommodations have been at one of the casinos or casino-affiliated properties.  This time around we decided to try something different.  This wasn't, by the way, a question of price, but more of just general interest and trying to find somewhere that had decent reviews.  I'm not going to mention any names, but so far it seems like the reviews for this current location may have been written by the hotel management.  

One of the things Ms. Rivers and I wanted to do over the weekend was catch up on some leisure reading.  For her, that entails "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens.  Me?  I have a book about the history of the Ginko tree that I want to finish.  These two choices can tell you a lot about our personalities, namely that Ms. Rivers seeks to escape into a highly-rated literary masterpiece.  Me?  I just want to learn why a tree that existed with the dinosaurs roamed the Earth can be found growing on Mulberry Street in Scranton.

I am going to acquire and plant a Ginko tree.  Mark my words.

On that note, it's time to begin a day of sorts.  



By the time we had gotten back to the hotel this evening, there had been about 16,000 steps logged and my right big toe joint was significantly larger than its left foot compatriot (I have arthritis in my right big toe).  The space in between was interesting.

Point of Interest:  Breakfast.  Ms. Rivers told me after eating breakfast that, as I was consuming my morning feast, a man outside the restaurant (I was sitting with my back to the front window) put out a "joint" on the window sill, placed it in his bag, and headed into our mutual establishment.  

Point of Interest:  Shopping.  After breakfast, we headed over to the Tanger outlets in AC.  It was refreshingly scarce when it came to the shopping population.  Maybe that was because it was 10am.  Maybe that was because there is a pandemic.  Maybe we were just lucky.  Anyway, Ms. Rivers found sunglasses and we found a Bass Pro Shop Store.  That's not so interesting except for the following point...while AC itself is a very diverse community, the inside of the Bass Pro Shop, which had more shoppers than the other stores we visited, looked like a greenhouse full of lilies (as in it was very in Lilly White).  As to why that was the case, well, that may be a bit above my pay grade.  

Point of Interest:  Brigantine.  In the afternoon we headed over to Brigantine, ostensibly to find a gift shop, but ended up instead going to the public beach.  The gift shop was closed you see.  Anyway, we were actually really impressed.  So impressed that, maybe one day, we will go back there for a real vacation.  This trek included Nathan's hotdogs and ice cream for a mid-afternoon meal.

(On the beach, Brigantine NJ)

Point of Interest:  The Boardwalk.  Late afternoon and evening were spent on the Boardwalk, where we marched a few miles, grabbed a bite to eat, and just generally enjoyed the sights and sounds.  Well, "enjoyed" isn't a great descriptive term, as there is some Grade A sad stuff going on in this town.  Between the already many-times-mentioned rampant consumption of marijuana in public, visibly intoxicated folks drinking out of open containers of liquor, and the truly mentally troubled/substance abuse inflicted individuals, I wasn't necessarily well-served by my habit of noticing almost everything.  In many respects, this is truly a sad place.  

Point of Interest:  The 7-11.  No busy day in AC is complete without at least one solicitation.  More specifically, later this evening, Ms. Rivers was looking for a snack, so I dutifully volunteered to march to the local 7-11 to pick up a few supplies.  Was I frightened to go out and walk a few blocks at night?  No.  Being my size, I'm not exactly what someone would call an "easy target".  Anyway, as I was getting ready to leave the store, I noticed what I thought to be a young(er) lady smiling and waving at me from outside.  I did my best to not react.  As I was actually leaving the aforementioned 7-11, she held the door open for me and said in a somewhat sweet voice "Sir, can I kiss you?".  I declined the offer and headed back to the hotel.

It has been a busy day.

More to come tomorrow.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Late Summer in Town Decay, Part 1

So long ago, wasn't it a dream?  Was it just a dream?

As I have noted here on a few separate occasions in the past, I have a special connection to Atlantic City (New Jersey), as does Ms. Rivers.  See HERE.  We've come here a few times over the years, and this year just happened to be the right time to make the trek back.  In fact, so far this year, this is as close as I have gotten to a vacation.  See switching jobs (but so I digress).  Anyway, we are spending a long weekend here in this place that has seen probably one too many deaths, resurrections, and deaths over the years.

Some might call that last sentence offensive to Atlantic City (AC), a point which I understand.  There is, however, a certain charm to this place, no doubt imbued by memories of a childhood past, at least for me.  I view it now as a kind of anti-matter Disney, but for the gambling sect.  That last analogy might be another reason why I just find AC so fascinating.

Anyway, a few observations over the next few days of the sight, sounds, and smells of AC are in order.

I'll tackle that last point first.  Smell.  Specifically, the smell of marijuana, which seems to attack the nostrils here on frequent occasions...a point made all the more relevant by the fact that, as I write this, I've also actually been here for a bit over 3 hours.   Now personally I don't really care for or about marijuana, which is something I have noted a few times over the years.  While the argument can be (successfully) made that it (weed) isn't worse than booze, a simple fact remains:  I don't have to smell someone's booze as I walk by them.  By way of back-story, see THIS article.  As other States march towards inevitable decriminalization, I think this is something of a forgotten issue.  Granted that my sense of smell is probably my best functioning of the normal 5 (it sure as heck isn't sight...), but someone with half a functioning nose could detect the not-so-fragrant order of burning weed.  

Am I over-reacting?  Maybe.  But just as it's someone's choice to indulge in this particular drug, it should be my choice not to be exposed to it in public.  Old man rant concluded.

As for the rest of the long weekend, we have no fixed plans, other than walking, eating, and, in my case, photography.  AC is a fascinating place to take pictures.  Its old beach town bones are still showing in places, complimented and often replaced by the gaudy nature of the modern-day casino business.  Oh, and it has an ocean.  As I said, fascinating.

On that note, more to come.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the United States, and while I don't typically promote causes in this corner of the Internet, I'll make an exception in this case.

It's very, very hard to describe what it's like when someone close to you either attempts or succeeds in taking their own life.  In fact, I would say "hard" isn't a good enough word, but I'm at a loss to come up with anything more potent at the moment.  It is something that bites you to your very core, something that stays with you for the rest of your life.  It's also something that forces you to ponder questions that simply can't be answered, including "...could I have prevented this?".

There's also what happens afterward, in the days, weeks, months, and years that pass.  This is the notion that the burden of those feelings we carry as survivors, while ever so terrible, pales in comparison to how our loved one was feeling when they made their decision to end a life.  I can not imagine that level of pain.  All I am personally left with is this hole in my life that simply can not be filled, and the possible idea that there is some kind of after-life where all of this will be reconciled.

That last phrase ("...some kind of after-life..."), above, is a tough one for me to write and even tougher for me to put any faith into, as "the next world" is a bit above my philosophical paygrade.  Faith, it seems, is an easy concept to define, but a very difficult one to practice sometimes.  Especially when one is left with many "why did this have to happen in the first place" kinds of questions.

I can't really write much more on this topic without talking about some details that are best left off of the Internet.  That's a sign that it's time to stop.  Stopping a posting though is a heck of a lot easier than stopping grief (which can not be stopped...only...maybe...reconciled in some fashion; see above).  So, what I'll leave in terms of commentary is this:  Please take your own mental health, and that of your family and loved ones, seriously.

Additional information on suicide prevention can be found at:

Sunday, September 5, 2021

We Were Just Never Well Trained

(Brace's Orchard, Dallas, PA)

Towards the end of my second year of college, as I was trying to figure out just what I wanted to do with my life, one of my engineering instructors attempted to provide his students with some helpful life guidance.  This was in the form of a short, written piece that talked about how the educational system "taught people how to pick apples".  That's about 80% of what I remember.  The other 20% was something along the lines of how education fails to teach us what is actually important, i.e., why we should pick apples and why apples are good for us.  

I wish I would have read that piece, but at the time, it just didn't leave that much of an impression on me.  I think that proved the point the article was trying to make, by the way.  Ironically though, as I grew older, I began to appreciate Professor Joe Burinsky's attempt at enlightening his students.

I was thinking about that point this past week as I was talking and listening to stories about how many of us were programmed with this directive in mind.  It was important to pick more apples than anyone else.  If you weren't the chief apple-picker then you were doing something wrong.  Those last two points make a lot of sense if you are the person that owns the apple trees to be picked.  For the apple pickers themselves?  Not so much.  Now at first blush, this is a bit of a stretch of the original idea behind what I thought was the whole apple-picking narrative, as that had to do with education.  After I thought about it some more though, it really is the same thing.

Our education system, it seems, is basically just designed to create good apple pickers.

Now we do need apple-pickers, both figuratively and in reality.  But we are painfully poor when it comes to equipping individuals to deal with the truly weighty aspects of life.  I'm not suggesting that formal education is the solution to teaching young people how to deal with real-life questions of substance, but I am suggesting that it at least needs to make an effort.

Yes, by the way, some teachers, such as my oldest daughter Katrina (proud father moment), do teach more than just the formal curriculum (i.e., apple-picking).  But that comes from her desire to expose her students to things they aren't going to experience otherwise.  Shakespeare isn't normally resident in Brooklyn, except of course if you are in her English class.

Where is the effort though systemically to teach young adults how to make good personal relationship decisions?  Where is the effort to teach real financial literacy?  Where is the effort to teach them about what working in the real world is all about, specifically the importance of cultivating and having working relationships?

Again, at the risk of repeating myself, I know that these things are not owned by the formal educational system.  Much of this belongs to parents, other family members, and friends.  But the older I get, the more convinced I become that what we learn in school is to compete...for grades, for attention, for lots of things.  Good for the tree owners who need apples picked.  Bad for the people picking apples who are ultimately just executing some pre-loaded mental code.

I'll also note that some of us (myself included) were not really taught any of these non-apple picking skills as kids.  It was just expected that I would work hard and get good grades (i.e., learn how to pick apples well).  What I do know outside of apple-picking has been acquired in adulthood through a lot of trials and errors.  At age 57 that continues.

Bringing the conversation back to finish this post, I was talking to a former co-worker earlier this week.  We shared our two stories of life in the corporate apple-picking world, of working hard and trying to do our best, but ultimately being the victims of apple tree owners.  Sometimes picking apples well just isn't good enough.  That's a good lesson to learn by the way. although it would help to learn a bit earlier.