My wife (Nita) and I recently celebrated a milestone anniversary—our silver 25th. I know that many of my fellow boomers have long passed this signpost of life, but that doesn’t detract from spending a quarter of a century with Nita. More appropriately, I should submit she’s put up with me for this long!

When you live with someone for so many years, you tend to reflect on how much you learned about this person, and, more importantly, from this person. I’d like to share a few of these items with you. Speaking from the male point of view, I’m sure many of my male counterparts will affirm these random musings.

1. I always knew that women had “that look,” the one where you know you stand zero chance of changing their mind—twenty-five years of marriage have slightly amended my definition of “the look.”  What is really means is: We’re going to do this, so “JUST DO IT…NOW!”

2. Many men think they’re capable partners in keeping a home clean.  Guys, forget this notion—you may be neat, but a woman is the true arbiter of “clean.” I have a habit of always letting Nita know what I’ve done that day in the housekeeping arena, so she knows I’m trying to share in the chores. I’ll always receive a “thanks hon” for my efforts, but they barely scratch the surface of my wife’s cleaning energy.

3. When many women go through menopause, their bodies begin to change—in their view , not for the better. This is the marital stage when guys begin to hear weekly utterances from their spouse that they are beginning to look like their mother. My mother-in-law, recently deceased, was one tough cookie—so I’ve learned the best response for when Nita complains about how much she’s now looking like her mother: “Honey, as long as you share you mother’s looks, but not her attitude, I’m a happy camper.”

4. A bylaw of this “change of life” chapter is the proportionate increase in the amount of times husbands are asked: “Does this dress make me look fat.”  Guys, you’re on your own here, but the first word out of your mouth better be “no.”

5. We’ve been fortunate enough to have paid-off our mortgage (about thirteen months ago)—I always thought this would be a moment of joy—wrong again; it’s actually just the beginning of wives’ laundry list of home improvements that basically constitute re-doing your entire home. Can’t we guys have a respite of peace over no more mortgage payments instead of thinking about home equity loans?

6. There have been myriad instances that have taught me that most wives have memories like an elephant; most husbands have memories like a sieve.

7. I’ve come to the gradual realization that when Nita is out of town on business, I have no trouble going to bed alone…it’s waking-up alone that’s hell. This is a moment that defines the difference between “alone” and “lonely.” Twenty-five years of sharing my wife’s bed has never been boring.

8. Finally, and most notably, is the absolute truth that women actually have another “that look.” It’s that soft doe-eyed turn-of-the-head look that can make an iceberg melt—the one that professes “I love you more now than ever”—after twenty-five years it can still get me teary-eyed, and that’s when I realize that silver is actually golden.

-Neal

Back in 2009, I composed a post in my blog, The 50 Plus Male, detailing some of the reasons it was so difficult for the “little guy” to manage his investments, particularly in the stock market. An overriding theme was that Wall Street is largely controlled by the major brokerage firms, large institutional investors, and hedge funds…i.e. the insiders club. The average man on the street, being bombarded on a daily basis by various financial pundits, is told the equity markets are a fundamental part of any investing portfolio if you want to beat inflation. Yet, control of this portion of your investments is bequeathed to the “big boys.” I, for one, distinctly do not like feeling like I have no control over any part of my savings.

The post, entitled “Risky Business” was written at the end of the recent financial markets/housing market collapse so many of us suffered through. Although it has been previously published, I’m including it immediately following this paragraph. I thought it responsible to re-visit the article, as it remains very pertinent in today’s financial climate in which the stock market has been climbing. I’ll provide supporting comments afterwards.


In the wake of the recent collapse of the financial marketplace, many of us have naturally become more skittish about how to handle our investments. This is especially true for the 50 plus male, as the market downturns have made our upcoming retirement years uncertain, and in many cases simply vanish. Never before has the general investing public been made to feel as if they are being “gamed” by the big boys on Wall Street and suffering the resultant consequences of financial transactions made by the few causing irreparable harm to the masses.

In the past eighteen months, a new area of concern has been getting increasing attention from the  financial pundits. While I’m sure quite a few 50 plus males are aware of this technological innovation that has encroached upon the financial markets, many of you may not be as cognizant. I am not presenting myself as a financial expert or sounding any alarms; I’m just providing some exposure to an activity that until fairly recently stayed hidden from most of us.

I speak of “high-frequency trading,” a practice defined as making trades in microseconds (think of this as the ability to transact buy and sell orders thousands of times a second) through the use of supercomputers and highly sophisticated algorithms. This trading can include not just stocks, but commodities and currencies as well.  Why has this garnered so much attention lately? The answer is straightforward considering we’re addressing the financial marketplace…ever increasing profits, even in the midst of the recent market collapse, coupled with what is becoming an outsized share of daily trading volume (recent estimates have this at more than half of U.S. stock-trading volume).

High-frequency trading isn’t just practiced by the remaining Wall Street behemoths or better-known hedge funds. Newer firms specializing in this trading as market makers have become major players. Without getting overly specific, high-frequency trading involves utilizing spreads of fractions of a penny per share in many thousands of trades a day while simultaneously restraining how much capital is being risked. The concern centers on whether this activity helps or hinders the market’s efficiencies (such as liquidity, spreads, etc.) and whether the average guy is getting the best pricing when buying and selling. Adding to this confusion are by-products of high-frequency trading such as flash orders, which is another high-speed type of trading where certain exchanges let traders quickly expose (no more than half a second) their orders to other players in the market.  This has raised red-flags of “front-running,” whereby the big boys get better pricing than you or I by trading ahead of the general public.

Many of us have a sizable proportion of our savings in mutual funds. Many of these funds are now using “dark pools,” yet another outgrowth of high-frequency trading to combat the marketplaces that cater to high-frequency traders. Dark pools are places where a fund’s managers can buy and sell large blocks of stocks ‘anonymously” so as to avert letting the market know about these big moves and hence altering prices.

There are many articles you can search for on the internet dealing with this subject matter. I have referenced “What’s Behind High-Frequency Trading” by Scott Patterson and Geoffrey Rogow in the Wall Street Journal. “Wall Street’s New Masters,” written by Liz Moyer and Emily Lambert in Forbes has provided another excellent information resource.

In sum, while all of this market activity has raised the antennae of the SEC and various politicians, the jury is still out on high-frequency trading activities. Once again, the rule of the day is “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) when determining how to handle the equity portion of your portfolio. I just pray we are not getting the short end of the stick.


OK, now let’s flash to today. You’ve been enjoying the recent upward ride in the markets and are feeling a bit better than you did back in 2008-2011. Alas, we might want to put the brakes on this euphoria. Bill McNabb, the CEO and Chairman of Vanguard, recently wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal strongly stating that “policy uncertainty is the economic issue of our generation.” Mr. McNabb firmly believes the “lack of a clear long-term solution for the U.S. debt situation has hampered U.S. economic growth.” He goes on to state that “until this issue is resolved, all market gains (and losses) are built on an unstable foundation of promises that cannot be kept.” The result of all of this—yep, you guessed it—investor anxiety

Another well-respected financial writer, Anthony Mirhaydari of MSN Money, just published an article supporting Mr. McNabb’s thoughts. He points to recent indications that Wall Street’s “smart money,” (i.e. the insiders mentioned at the beginning of my piece) are starting to sell out of the market due to risky fundamentals, continuing to remain (at least) one-step ahead of the rest of us. Mr. Mirhaydari has long been a proponent of the hidden dangers of cheap money from the central banks, what is generally known as the “quantitative easing” program currently being exercised by the Federal Reserve. He states that this is creating a false intoxication among average investors, and is basically creating another market bubble.

So, I remain as perplexed today as I did when I wrote my original article, coupled with a great deal of apprehension over not knowing which direction to turn. It’s kind of a “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” scenario…very unsettling for this average investor.

-Neal

The game of life places many responsibilities on everyone’s shoulders; how well you bear this weight can largely determine to what degree you’re able to follow Plato’s dictum: “The purpose of life isn’t to survive, it’s to thrive.”

Like many of you, I’ve made the huge mistake of not fully taking advantage of vacation time due me throughout my working years. I can list various reasons—fear of falling behind in my work, saving  money for  “more important” necessities–but the truth can simply be summed-up as “sheer stupidity.” The world outside our normal daily boundaries is so vast, yet we are given so precious little time to experience it’s riches.

My wife’s recent good fortune finally provided the good swift kick-in-the-pants I needed to snap out of my woeful lack-of-travel mindset and finally “stop and smell the roses.” Nita participated in a year-long webinar training program sponsored by one of her firm’s largest vendors. This included passing an exam on each training module, thereby winning points awarded to participants for successfully completing each stage of the program. Last July, Nita received an email from the vendor announcing she won that year’s grand prize, a $5000.00 vacation voucher, to be entirely spent on one trip. As we had not truly vacationed in a number of years, we quickly agreed the ideal trip would be to “chill” on a beach, drink the local libations, and watch the palm trees sway in the breeze—in other words, time to visit my inner Jimmy Buffet while my wife could escape her winter weather doldrums.

Flash to January 26th of this year; we’ve just landed in Punta Cana (in the Dominican Republic) with two couples who are our best friends—they had asked if they could join us on our vacation, and we were thrilled they came—I’ve lost count of how many times in the past they travelled as a foursome, because Nita and I always had some excuse (though some were legitimate) as to why we could not accompany them. Stepping off the plane, I’m baked in sunshine and those swaying palm trees—I’m already a happy camper and we haven’t even gotten to the resort!

Punta Cana Jan. 2013We had a magical week—wonderful weather, a vast clean white strip of beach, and water as turquoise as a shimmering jewel. The resort’s staff was incredibly accommodating, and we met people from around the world, including an ex-pat Norwegian who was now the proprietor of a beach-front cigar establishment a mere ten minute walk from our strip of beach. I’m not a cigar smoker, but his friendliness and knowledge were the perfect accompaniment to enjoying the Dominican’s #1 export. We also left the resort’s confines one day and travelled to Cap Cana for a day-long catamaran/snorkeling excursion, led by a female German captain and her  local Dominican sailing and entertainment staff—our jaws hurt from laughing so long and hard the entire day—what a wonderful group of people.  Yeah, you guessed it folks, I remained a happy camper for the duration of the trip.

Here’s the overriding point: I was being the me I always want to be, if only for the  week. I had long ago let that “me” become dormant—sheer stupidity resulting from my daily responsibilities unduly constraining the real me.

It’s now March 27th and I’m composing this piece at half-speed; my typing skills diminished as a result of a recent accident at work that literally crushed my left-index finger. Sudden, serious jolts to our health wake us up to how much we take for granted on a daily basis—full mobility, functioning at work, etc. In short, no restrictions, no pain, and the ability to fend for oneself in matters as rudimentary as eating and personal hygiene. It may be a different color rose I’m smelling now, but you get the point. Cherishing (and maintaining) good health is, and should be, the #1 goal of boomers and seniors—do not take it for granted.

I am currently on Workmen’s Comp (a first in my life), with a good deal of therapy ahead of me. No need for your empathy, however; I’m now able to reflect that “Punta Cana” state-of-mind whenever needed…it’s a signal to my system that hey, I woke-up this morning, so it’s already a good day!

Your happy camper,

-Neal

“Never trust anyone over thirty.” Remember that popular refrain from your teen years? Well folks, The 50 Plus Male recently hit another milestone…60 years of age! Does that make me particularly prone to mistrust by my younger brethren? I think not, especially based on recent surprisingly humorous experiences.

We’ll discuss them in a few moments. First, let’s take an introspective look at my perceived changes in thinking and attitude over the past ten years:

-The oft-repeated utterance for my generation is “sixty is the new fifty.” Um, no it’s not…sixty is sixty.

-I have much less tolerance for fluff when having a conversation, I have grown a predilection for people speaking to me in what I refer to as “net-net” terms, i.e. more of a bullet-point format. This gets one to the point quickly. A mea culpa here—I’ve been taken to task a few times for unnecessarily rushing discourse with my friends, particularly when I’m on the phone.

-I’ve avoided facial hair for the past few years for one reason—my beard is salt-and-pepper in color and let’s be truthful, a clean-shaven face does look younger. Well, Father Time seems to be adding more and more salt as the days pass, but no matter; I’m now sporting some facial hair, much to my wife’s chagrin. My mother’s feelings toward my new look? Don’t even ask—she wants to know why her good-looking son disappeared.

-Contrary to popular belief, the onset of my soon-to-be golden years has yet to make me irascible; I’m still a slow-burner when it comes to my temper (note: my wife is currently yelling “are you kidding?” in my direction).Paul Simon

-My belief that much of the world’s ills could be cured if people acted with an increased sense of maturity coupled with a decreased display of ego continues to grow stronger.

-My love for  music is as acute as it’s ever been. I recently signed-up with Pandora and have radio channels that include Dance-cardio, Trance, Electronica, Ozzy Osbourne, Flo-Rida, and Paul Oakenfold. Pretty eclectic/funky mix for a sixty-year old, wouldn’t you agree? I’m listening to a club version of “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap! as I compose this piece.

-I may love music, but I still can’t “bust a move” as well as I’d like; I’ll have to keep that promise I made to my wife to take a Latin-dance class.

I alluded to enjoying humorous experiences of late; oddly enough, these have occurred at work. A bit of brief background here—my current position as  post-production manager at a large screen-printing concern finds me exerting myself both physically and mentally. The jury is still out as to whether the physical dimension of my job is breaking down my body or getting me into extremely good shape for my age. I also find myself “one of the old men” in a company with an employee population largely comprised of energetic, hard-working, outrageously hilarious individuals between 22 and 36 years-of-age.

I originally had some trepidation of not being accepted by them, and even more anxiety of not being able to “grind” as hard as my younger co-workers in terms of daily work output. God bless them, they nimbly put both of those concerns to rest in my first week.

A lot of their manner and humor harkens me back to my college years…there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Granted, the testosterone level is as high as you’d expect in a shop environment, but the exhibition of courtesy towards co-workers and constant tendency to lend a helping hand when needed is simply astounding! If I had a nickel for every “thank-you” I hear each day, I’d be a rich man. I also like to think I’m quite capable of keeping abreast of the latest technology on my own, but “da boys” have been a big help in this area too.

It’s a revelation for me to see them experience much of the same joy and sorrow I did at their age. I carefully choose my spots to offer advice, and they know my concern is genuine. In time, I earned the somewhat self-imposed moniker of “Uncle Neal”…and make no mistake, this respect is mutual. While much of their humor can be frat-house in nature (as mine was at their age), it never comes at anyone’s personal expense.

It’s said that a restaurant waiter is only as good as his kitchen—this adage applies to me at work. I have been able to keep pace (the aforementioned “grind”) with the guys, however, if I’m experiencing a hiccup, help is readily at hand. This too is mutual—we simply do not allow anyone to get “hurt.”

Here I am employed in an extremely physically-demanding workplace at sixty, yet I can honestly say that each day is like a vitamin shot, filled with constant laughter and wonderment accompanied by communal support for one another…not too shabby.

Oh well, enough of this, it will soon be time to get back to the grind…a place where I can justifiably state “real men work here.”

-Neal

P.S. Post title prompted by song of the same name by Paul Simon

Universal_remote_controlRemember the simple days of watching television? You clicked the power button on your remote control, and with the exception of using the volume up/down or channel up/down buttons, that was pretty much all that was required for an enjoyable evening viewing your favorite shows. Cable TV then became the first revolutionizing volley that forced a change in our viewing habits, accompanied by television product enhancements like flat-screens and picture-in-picture technology. These changes brought with them what has become the bane of many consumers, especially boomers who recall the simpler days: remote controls that require an advanced degree in mechanical engineering to operate.

OK, so some of you are still saying “simple enough,” right? Well I’m here to tell you that I’ve always considered myself fairly technologically proficient, but now I’m not so sure. One of my two best friends has a television system that I cannot operate; I mean I can’t even turn the damn TV set on!

Let me attempt to describe it for you. The TV screen is boring without content so we first encounter his set-top box from Verizon. Now that we have channels to watch, we have to deal with the fact that his HD picture technology falls flat with the TV’s built-in sound system. So he added a few speakers; ah, that would be seven to be precise: 1 center, 2 front, 2 side 2 rear. Now add the subwoofer to really power the bass sound behind all the action scenes. All of this (of course) needs to be driven by an audio receiver with Dolby Digital THX processing, and that might as well handle the video too…HDMI in/HDMI out. Hang in there friends, we’re far from done…What about the pictures, like home videos, movies from Netflix or Amazon? Let’s add in his PC. It runs Windows Media Center, plays music, connects to his shared hard drive with all the family pictures and videos, and (wait for it) provides access to the internet. Another HDMI in/HDMI out, set-up the WiFi, add a keyboard and mouse. Of course, being the early adopter, my buddy immediately jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon. Now we’ve got a second remote control. That’s two too many, so lets’ throw in a Harmony universal remote and program it to control the TV, receiver, the Blu-ray player, and the PC (i.e power, channels, volume, etc.). Now we’re done.

Oh wait, I forgot to mention the choice of over 400 channels. By the time you’re finished scrolling through all of the choices to see what program you’d like to watch, it’s time to go to bed. This action can only be accomplished (getting back to where I started) if you know how to turn the “confalootin” TV system on…how am I ever going to learn this unless Scotty beams up from The Starship Enterprise and teaches me how to use the universal remote, which easily has over 40 controls?

At this point you may be wondering “where does it go from here?” Vinod Khosla, a well-respected investor and founder of Khosla Ventures provides an indication in his recent article for TechCrunch:

TV 2.0 (Miso, Flingo, Maker Studios, both first and second screen apps as well as content production & sourcing): “TV as an interactive and social experience both on the primary and the second screen.” Most U.S. Internet users, I am told now, have a second screen in front of them when watching TV. Whether it is true or not, it soon will be, and the interaction that is possible will allow for all kinds of creativity and user engagement shows/applications/techniques. More importantly, program production, be it video for TV, audio for radio, or text for next-generation news formats (tomorrow’s “newspapers”?) could be crowdsourced or gamified. This allows for new personal brands to emerge (much like the Drudge Report or Politico or some YouTube channels that are emerging now). Better experiences for users, better targeting for advertisers, more access for programmers and the creative types are all likely. Your proxy or agent prioritizing your viewing or reading queue will be an adjunct area. The big guys and the small guys meanwhile will battle for newer first screen experiences and applications.

You’ll have to excuse me for a second; I need to gulp some Dramamine to alleviate my seasickness.

Folks, the last thing I mean to imply is that we boomers are falling behind the times; truth be told, just the opposite is happening. According to Brent Green, a nationally-known marketing consultant and author of Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers: Perceptions, Principles, Practices, Predictions,  “Boomers are today’s built-in recession cure. They constitute a market force largely unabated by economic recession or the aging process. Boomers are the future of many product categories, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, anti-aging therapies, retirement housing, continuing education, luxury and educational travel, online social networking, consumer and aging-in-place technologies, financial services, consumer packaged goods, many categories of durable goods, purchases for grandchildren, home renovations, and so forth.”

Green goes on to explain that just because boomers are getting closer to retirement, that doesn’t automatically equate with being calm and peaceful as we move ahead. Behavioral data suggests we’ll continue to remain active consumers for many, many years. Even with today’s financial retirement woes, we’re still going to be more affluent, hence prevailing as an important market segment for a long time.

Always feels good to know you’re still relevant; I just never figured it would require graduate study in television operation…

-Neal

(Note: Special thanks to my friend’s son, Josh, for his apt description of his dad’s TV system, which Josh [a technical marvel] helped design. Josh authors the Spirited Cocktails blog—a link can be found in my Blogroll)

The New Year holiday period has just ended, typically signaling a time for a fresh outlook on life;   making minor tweaks and/or major adjustments to our daily rituals. In the 2 1/2 years I’ve been composing The 50 Plus Male blog, I’ve always skipped to fresh subject matter with each posting. So, to slightly “shake the tree,” and do something a bit different, this month’s dialogue will tie-in with our most recent article, “Sense and Sensibilities.”

While that article delved into my harsh feelings toward the blatant commercialization of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, you also got a glimpse into how much I truly treasure the meaning behind the day. A number of years ago, I noticed that my family had fallen into a pattern whereby a given holiday was annually hosted by the same person. I made a pronouncement that we had unwittingly started a “tradition,” with this unintended scheduling, so why not make it permanent? We have done so and my wife and I have always served as Thanksgiving hosts in the ensuing years. Quite frankly, a pair of pliers on steroids couldn’t pry away celebrating this holiday at our home, as my reverence for Thanksgiving far exceeds that of any other holiday.

In my younger days, I didn’t feel this way; one holiday morphed into the next without giving any special thought to its underlying purpose. As I’ve aged, however, my perceptions have naturally changed (for the better), and without “cutting things too thin” with my vernacular, the difference between doing something out of habit, versus the desire to do so due to tradition has illuminated. I think I’ve figured out why this has happened with me: the aging process is continually increasing my respect for personal emotions…

Let me provide two examples for you. In December 2010, I told Ed, my best friend of over 40 years, that my wife and I would not be joining “the gang” for our traditional (there’s that word again) New Year’s Eve dinner at a local French restaurant, an establishment with exceptional fare cooked by a world-renowned chef many of us have befriended. The reason was simple; we just didn’t want to spend the money, given how tight our finances were at the time. The next day, we had an unannounced visit from Ed and it didn’t take “an Einstein” to determine his reasoning. He literally pleaded with us to change our minds; the tradition of our crowd celebrating the New Year together was unbroken for all these many years; and his eyes literally began to fill-up with tears when he underscored how much this meant to him. If ever the delineation between “habit” versus “tradition” needed clarifying, it had just occurred. Needless to say, my wife and I immediately relented and once again joined our friends for our yearly celebration.

The second example just happened two weeks ago on Christmas Day. My wife and I have grown to appreciate the simple things when it comes to gifts from one another. Over the many years of our marriage, habit has evolved into tradition when I buy her stocking-stuffer gifts. They are always either a Christmas tree ornament and/or a holiday ornament for our fireplace hearth. Sound too mundane for you? Look into my wife’s eyes as she opens these gifts; I’m choking-up now with visions of her appreciative expression and gratitude…this seemingly innocuous tradition holds that much meaning for both of us.

Don’t sit there thinking I’m getting soft in my old age; as someone with a somewhat too-steely inner resolve, it’s a comfort knowing traditions are gradually melting away my edges.

-Neal

Today is Cyber Monday and the stock market appears to be temporarily shunning aside the ineptitude of Congress to deal with our deficit woes, along with (for the moment at least) discounting the continuing saga of Europe’s financial crisis. An annual phenomenon is the reason for this unlikely reprieve, and my eyes have an incredulous glaze each time I watch the television news accounts detailing this disturbing trend.

I refer to Black Friday, the official exclamation point on a new addition to our lexicon, “Christmas creep.” The retail industry, in what I grudgingly admit is an incredible marketing ploy, has enticed the public to begin their holiday shopping season even earlier than past years. Opening around 6 AM on Black Friday eventually gave way to 4 AM, and then the stroke of midnight immediately after Thanksgiving Day soon became the new norm. This year, retailers have decided our shopping lust needs to be satiated at an even earlier hour and stores have begun opening by 9 PM Thanksgiving Day.

Now I’ll admit they have succeeded with this tactic, as Thanksgiving weekend has set new shopping records, fueling today’s sweeping stock market upside swing. However, I could care less and feel the need to make a stand, so I ask the following question: who has the right to make Thanksgiving a half-day holiday, as opposed to a full day of spending time with our families and friends, in appreciation of  all the good in our lives? I don’t want retailers continually encroaching on my time on this blessed day.

I’ll quote Dr. Stephen Hoch, a Wharton School marketing professor, speaking to the early start for the Black Friday madness: “This is, I think, kind of pathetic, this sort of ‘Open earlier, earlier, earlier’ deal…Clearly it’s kind of like an arms race.” He’s absolutely right; it’s as if we’re witnessing the evolution of the next Olympic sport—competitive shopping!

The crowd size of expectant shoppers lining-up outside the doors of many of our largest retail chains is unfortunately exceeded in many instances by the level of unruliness. Never has this point be better illustrated than by this past weekend’s pepper-spray incident. Who among us hasn’t watched  recent nightly newscasts of multiple arrests being made in cities across the country while hordes wait to descend on stores opening their doors, followed by mad sprees to secure the “specials” serving as sales leaders to attract these crowds in the first place? Listen, it’s not that I don’t entirely understand…42” flat-screen LED televisions for $200.00 sound enticing, even when you know they won’t have the latest/greatest technology.

But here’s a few clues for all of us:

1. The real reason stores provide these deals is to get you there to spend money on all the other items.

2. The same discounts and even deeper ones are often provided by retailers as the holiday shopping season marches towards Chanukah and Christmas.

3. The window between Thanksgiving and the holidays generally is upwards of four weeks in duration, not just one or two days. So what’s the rush, there’s plenty of time to fulfill your Chanukah/Christmas shopping needs.

Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, states that “…young adults are the ones who really come out in full force on Thanksgiving Day. they may have three hours free after dinner, and they want to get some shopping done and be home by midnight.” This isn’t to say I’m absolving my 50 plus year-old brethren; some of us are willing participants in this annual mania. I’d like to think we have enough common sense to exercise better judgment, but…

By now, you may have deduced Thanksgiving holds particular importance for me; indeed, it is my favorite holiday. In a year that has not been singularly “bountiful” in financial terms for my family, I still remain appreciative of the many truly important facets of life we enjoy…good health and strong family bonds heading the list. Can I respectfully suggest we all stop. take a deep breath, and enjoy Thanksgiving for the full day; brick-and-mortar shopping and its online counterpart will still be there tomorrow.

-Neal

Nothing against Zsa Zsa Gabor, but she is single-handedly bringing down Medicare.”~Oct. 11th tweet from Albert Einstein

No folks, this isn’t a misprint, just a recent missive from famed comedian, actor, filmmaker, and author Albert Brooks (nee Albert Einstein). It’s also a rather prescient remark that could have been included in his recent book, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, which I just finished reading.

2030 bookMany of Brooks’s fans would aptly describe him as the consummate worrywart, and that perception is evident throughout the book’s narrative. In 2030, however, his concerns are frighteningly plausible, albeit mixed with his trademark quirky sense of humor. The storyline  follows an America where the population of “olds” (those over 70) is continually increasing due to major medical breakthroughs—cancer has been cured, cosmetic rejuvenation drugs have exploded in both their level of efficacy and use, exciting new discoveries are made in the treatment of bone deterioration—much to the dismay of young people, who see their chances at the good life dissipating because of growing resentment at how their elders are reaping these benefits, and other entitlements at the expense of sapping America’s resources. Out of this resentment, gangs form and  violence against the “olds” escalates, much to the dismay of the current President, who while empathetic, knows he’ll risk getting re-elected by exhibiting any outward support; most significantly by incurring the wrath of the political will of the AARP (whose power is exponential compared to today’s real-world organization).

The story unfolds additional, albeit equally crucial plotlines involving our country’s massive debt (making our current levels seem paltry), strikingly detailed by the problems resulting from a massive earthquake in Los Angeles. A by-product of this dilemma is a relationship with the Chinese that (without wanting to reveal too much detail for those of you who haven’t read the book) will seem untenable yet possibly all-too-real.

As the “olds” versus the younger generation issues provide the book’s foundation, the logicalAlbert Brooks extension of Brook’s musings really hit home. The solvency of our social security program has been under intense scrutiny and Gen X and Gen Y are fearful of what the future holds for them. They wonder how to achieve the “American dream” of home ownership, now that most credit windows have been shuttered amidst the recent Wall Street crisis, combined with more stringent mortgage-applicability requirements.  

Boomers (and seniors) meanwhile  face their own hurdles. If you’re 50 plus years-of-age and have been recently laid-off, prepare to encounter bias in hiring due to perceived notions of being too expensive and not technologically proficient. In addition, boomers represent a proportion of our country’s wealth and consumer spending that dwarfs the amount of marketing expenditures geared towards us—just look at television and movies, where the magic demographic is 18-34 year olds. Such nonsense make you think that Brooks may want to re-define the “olds” as anyone over 50…boy is that ever a chilling thought!    

Growing older sometimes seems as if it’s an anathema, as opposed to being viewed as a well-earned right and privilege (the book addresses this debate). Who among us has the right to impose a ceiling on when we’re no longer allowed to thrive? Boomers, in the opinion of many (including me), are not going to allow ourselves to be ignored; we’re simply too vital for this to happen…

-Neal 

Talk about a dour week for our country! We’ve slipped to fifth place in the annual ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, our President’s job approval ratings have hit an all-time low, Congress continues to bicker with one another, and most poignantly, we’re four days away from the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.

This is the perfect time for someone to step up to the plate and yell “snap out of it,” and, thankfully, it just happened to me. A moment ago, I finished reading an article and viewing the accompanying video for the Today Show’s “American Story” segment airing each day this week in remembrance of 9/11. Today’s installment, on the Alonso family of Stony Point, NY, dealt with the untimely death of a mother of two children (one with Down syndrome) and how a father’s love and devotion has kept the family whole. I was particularly moved by a lesson the father has taught his two children in light of the fate befallen them by their 9/11 experience: treat every moment like an unopened gift.

Game of LifeThis powerful point is applicable in myriad ways and sometimes, admittedly, I have to force myself to heed the advice. Lately, I’ve felt apprehensive about the lack of control “the average guy” (including yours truly) has in dealing with our current economic milieu. We now live in a world where a banker in the U.S. sneezes and a banker in Switzerland is the one saying “gesundheit.” Any given country’s economy can now have a rippling effect on the rest of the world and the markets get roiled. Many American corporations are awash in cash reserves, yet won’t boost their hiring efforts. The stock market’s daily activity is severely impacted by super-computer trading that kicks in at a moment’s notice (this was addressed in an earlier post entitled “Risky Business”). Even attempting to follow the many avenues of advice we hear about building a defensive position in your portfolios seems akin to selling ice to an eskimo. Guess what, I’ve learned I can only control so much and not to unduly fret over what I can’t control.

Here’s another example in my life where this sage advice hits home–I’ve learned to navigate what was once regarded as a hurdle and now treat as an opportunity. In the midst of an impending career change, I’m faced with a fairly steep learning curve. Like many of my 50 plus male counterparts, I always felt I’d be an expert in my chosen field at this stage of my life, and that my days of learning were basically over…I would now be the teacher. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, however, and I once again have become the student. Instead of resenting these circumstances, I’m excited about studying new subjects like social media marketing (through books, white papers, webinars), and cannot wait to get rolling in my new career! Expanding my business knowledge, while utilizing all that I’ve learned to this point as a solid foundation, truly has been like receiving an unopened gift.

Finally, the third and most salient reason to accede to Mr. Alonso’s advice: life itself. Two weeks ago, I lost a dear friend from my junior high/high school days, resulting from a tragic auto accident. He was an absolute sweetheart of a guy—warm, caring, with a perpetual smile painted on his face. Everyone he knew thought highly of him and his untimely death is still registering shock waves amongst family and friends. The lesson here is obvious folks—it can all disappear in an instant. Savor every moment of every day; each morning we wake up is indeed another gift…

-Neal

No More Tears

on July 1, 2011 in Family | 2 Comments »

Hi folks! You’ll find quite a difference in the overall tone of this post compared to what you’re used to reading in The 50 Plus Male. I’ll go as far as stating I’m aware this journey goes against conventional wisdom in many ways: subject matter, my thoughts and actions, and perhaps most importantly, I ask a lot of questions instead of providing streams of thought that help you answer a particular problem…so with great humility, I kindly ask you at the outset to accept my mea culpa.

Father and sonLike many of you, it’s been quite a few years since my father passed away. It happened suddenly on a Saturday night while my parents were out with another couple. My father had a heart attack while in the car (thankfully he was not the driver), and died at the too young age of 40. I was 15 at this time; my poor brother was only the tender age of 11. My mother, bravely ministering to the events of the evening that forever changed our lives, had (unbeknownst to me) immediately called my older cousin and her husband to come to our house and let me know an “accident” had occurred. It was just past the midnight hour, and I was engrossed in watching Double Chiller Theater (a local Saturday night TV staple) while my younger brother slept. Given the lateness of the hour, along with the fact that my cousin and her spouse rarely visited us, I immediately semi-froze  upon opening the door and seeing the two of them standing there solemn-faced.

It’s funny how the mind reacts to unforeseen situations; in this case, without a beat, I asked “mom or dad?” I instinctively knew one of them had died and cut right to the heart, literally and figuratively. The remainder of the evening was a blur, and there’s no need for additional detail. So many of us have experienced the passing of one or both of our parents; it’s best to let personal thoughts remain private…

Cut to the present; June 13th was my dad’s birthday and he would have been 84 this year. June 19th was Father’s Day, so it’s a reasonable assumption that week is annually the most painful part of the calendar for us. Sometime during the week, my mother, brother and I visit my dad’s grave…oddly enough, this is generally done on an individual basis and this year was no different.

When making this pilgrimage, I bring some landscaping tools so I can tend to my father’s gravesite by ridding it of weeds, tilling the small, mostly bare patch of soil fronting the gravestone, applying a bit of mulch, and trimming the one shrub planted there. We pay to have the site cared for by the cemetery staff, but as many of you have doubtless encountered, this service is woefully lacking.

Here’s a pronouncement of something I don’t do…cry. I cannot explain this phenomenon, but find it deeply disturbing. Is it because so many years have gone by since this tragedy took place? Is it due to rapidly approaching my 59th birthday and grown men just don’t cry as easily as they did during their formative years? Maybe my dad is silently communicating he doesn’t want any tears shed; just remember the happy times? After all, how many instances have you heard “it’s the amount of life in the years that matter, not the amount of years in the life?”

Bewilderment and no small amount of shame are the by-products of this distinct lack of tears. Like constant, unwanted companions, they attach themselves to my soul and remain there for weeks after my gravesite vigil. How about you, my 50 plus male brethren…are similar circumstances presenting themselves during your trips to the cemetery? Do you know why? I welcome your comments (just click on the “Leave a Comment” link below the title).

(I’ll end this discourse on a somewhat amusing note:  the title “No More Tears,” while certainly apropos, oddly comes from my favorite Ozzy Osbourne song, which describes “the dark one” leaving his current female paramour. I told you I’m perplexed by my feelings; thinking of Ozzy at a time like this merely underscores my jumbled gravesite demeanor).

-Neal