Life & Money Lessons out of Asphalt – The Parking Lot IS the Paradise.

Who watch is that?”

This dude is askin’ for trouble.

He came out of nowhere. Kept asking me about my wrist watch. Where I got it. Who made it. Too much focus on the watch.I knew what was coming. Why were criminals compelled to ask a bunch of questions before they violated your  already-diminished faith in humanity?

I guess it was sort of nice how muggers tried to warm you up for the kill back in the 70’s. At least that was my experience.

Today? No small talk. It’s right to eating your face. Everyone is under a time crunch. I mean everyone. At least another person was taking an interest even if he wanted to kill me.

I always wondered if this questioning technique was effective. I guess it did indeed work as I was ready to turn over a watch I knew I should have never worn to high school even before I recognized a six-inch stiletto blade ready for action.

It was my late grandfather’s gold watch, too. It was the first time I  wore it. I had enough sense to keep it home all this time but  sorrow got the best of me. Gramps died six months earlier and I was missing him.

I was late to class this particular day and to save time I cut through a paved parking lot (now more littered with broken glass, used condoms and tall weeds that eminated a foul odor).

He rose from behind the stink. The hurry in my step took my defenses down, my blinders were off and this time, the one time, it was a big mistake.

“Who make watch?”

Oh I don’t know. I think it was Timex, really. Most important was the person who wanted to make sure I owned the damn timepiece when he was gone. Now it was almost on to new ownership by a toothless bastard who badly needed a heroin fix.

Even I could tell and I never took a damn drug. Good for him. Wait until he tried to sell this thing. He thought he was twitching in the parking lot. Wait until shaky mugger was told by Mr. PawnBroker that it was worth $8 bucks. Maybe.

Yet to me, it was priceless. The days granddad came over after slaving hours stocking shelves in a grocery store. He reached out to hug me with that arm. That hand.  He was left handed (like me). The watch. I noticed. The fresh italian bread he cut, buttered and handed to me. The watch was on that arm. I noticed. When he took my hand to cross the street for ice cream with that hand. The watch. I noticed.

I did. Should have worn the button over the watch? Stupid.

This wasn’t my first criminal rodeo. When it came to muggings this was seemingly going to be my fifth go round.However. This time was different because I was going to adjust the outcome. I was going to see how this ended before it ended.

I was going to take control. In a parking lot loaded with more semen than I had in my little scrotum (and it was very little).

The parking lot became a “high-noon,” moment.

I asked Mr. Shaky with shaky knife: “Are you planning to take my watch?”

His face changed. The toothy grin was gone. The change was frightening actually. There was a demon in front of me. Even the shaky bakey stopped.

“Hands it over.”

Mr Knife made an appearance. Surprisingly pointed. No jitters.

“I have a hard time getting it off,” I said. All the time staring at him in the face-blood shot eyes.

He grabbed at it. Dropped the knife. I raised my arm, my right hand as steady as it can be (I was again, a leftie, so it wasn’t easy) and uppercut him with my bookbag. He fell.

On his back. He was shaky again. I got on top of him. I took an old condom and shoved it in his mouth. I took dog shit and shoved it in his mouth. I closed his jaw and then pushed his teeth together with my palm. Right until I saw (felt) him swallow the mix.

Now his blinders were down.

I took the knife. Thought about what I was going to do next. I was ready for anything. Someone was going to pay for the others who were able to mug me before. Before this. Before I possessed the will to fight for what was important. I held it to his throat and began to press. Now I was shaking.

                                                           Grandpa can you see me?

Some of your best lessons will occur in places you least expect.

Random Thoughts:

1). Learn anywhere. There are lessons in the rhythm of the world. Everywhere you go. Can you see them? Every day as I drive the toll road I pass a huge parking lot. It’s a place where automobiles are stored before they’re spidered out to car dealers. In late 2007, during the early stage of the financial crisis, this huge lot was EMPTY. It was then I realized the world had changed. The entire world stopped buying cars. I helped clients take action to protect. I watch that lot every day. It’s 25% empty now. I’m concerned.  Is your financial advisor truly watching what’s going on? Ask him or her. Ask for an opinion. Not the opinion of the firm they work for either.

2). Fight for what you believe in. The people you believe in. I will do what I can to promote my friends and mentors. I don’t care for anything in return yet I get everything in return. I will fight to keep the people I love even when they don’t love me and they try to stay away.  What or who will you fight for today?

3). Don’t let the status quo take your watch. When I reported my incident to NY’s Finest they advised me that I should have never worn the watch to school. I also should have never gone through that parking lot. Thanks. How helpful.  Who is stealing what you cherish today?

4). Don’t be afraid to move to ground level to survive. When you fight for what you believe in and it comes down to a good old gutter fight, I’m willing to pick up used condoms and dog crap with my bare hands. How will you get your hands dirty for what you believe in today?

In 1970, the legendary Joni Mitchell wrote and performed a song titled “Big Yellow Taxi.” It was one of my favorites growing up. I don’t know. It was full of whimsy. I don’t give a shit about the message about hugging the environment or whatever.

From Wikipedia. Where would we be without Wikipedia I mean really.

Mitchell got the idea for the song during a visit to Hawaii. She looked out of her hotel window at the spectacular Pacific mountain scenery, and then down to a parking lot.

Joni said this about writing the song to journalist Alan McDougall in the early 1970s:

I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.

A well-known line from the song: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” For me, the parking lot was (is) the paradise.

I tossed the knife. As far as I could. I was out of energy. I did the best I could. The cheap watch was toast. Busted. The mugger was wide-eyed and still. Not blinking. I took what was left of Grandpa’s legacy and stuffed it in his shirt.

I got up. Went to class.

I realized the most valuable possession wasn’t the watch. I just didn’t realize it until I was late for school. On the day I cut through a parking lot.

I learned a valuable lesson, Joni. I’m sorry.

The world needs more parking lots.

I’m convinced.

Mental Images you Live and Die For.

The natural light, prismatic through stained glass was the strongest I can recall. But then I hadn’t stepped foot in a church in such a very long time. Perhaps it was just me that Saturday morning-inspired, taken, soulful, as I watched early morning sun embrace the face of  big wooden Jesus up on a cross behind the pulpit.

I stood 20 feet from an angel. She was standing center aisle, close to a row of seats nearest the front. It was a graduation morning. Garbled tones rose and carried from a thousand voices blended as one. The acoustics were amazing. I heard nothing as soon as I spotted her.

The floor was a sea of people. Most dressed in black and white at least from my point of view.  She stood there. Talking. Shaking hands. In red. Straight. Her erect posture noticeable. It never failed as long as I’ve known her. It was her way of standing up to the pain and kicking the ass out of the shit she endured in life. Her above-the-knee length designer dress color was bright, yet as deep as blood. The diffused light captured her big smile. Dimples still intact. Check.

At one point she stared. Dead center towards me. Yet, I could tell deep inside-she was looking directly through me. No connection. Even though there was a very strong bond a few short years earlier. I felt the most invisible I ever had in my entire life because indeed, I truly was invisible. I was in a house of God and he told me so.

Perhaps she didn’t notice me. Felt better to tell myself that.  Maybe her memory had blended me into the gray stream of the past where people’s faces customarily blur and dissolve.

I felt myself dissolve into a pew.

I remembered the funny things we did. How she laughed at my jokes and shook her head at my awkward gestures. All good. I walked toward her personal space. The closer I got the darker the red became. I felt sick to my stomach. There was much heat now. My face felt flush. I was dizzy. She was sitting now. Close to end of the aisle.

I can see clearer her other children there to witness the graduation of the eldest daughter, sister from high school.

Directly next to her was the fiance. I made my presence known. Quick. I wanted to get this over with.  I reached over the new guy. I didn’t introduce myself. He knew who I was I’m sure.  He was sort of thuggish in appearance. Chewing gum in a manner I found disrespectful for a church. Until that moment I had no idea what the hell that meant. The thought just popped into my head. A more well-mannered way of comparing penis size I guess (I would have lost for sure).

“I’m so glad to be here for ________ graduation. _________ invited me,”  I said because I believed I needed a valid excuse, possibly a notarized certificate of some sort, to be in attendance. The graduate did indeed invite me.

But it was strange. Afterall,  I was sludge from the past puncturing through the purity of her present and in a house of worship no less.

“Thank you for coming,” she now smiled. Right through me too. Close up. Shook my hand. Thank you for your patronage. All the while, gum chewer was watching me. I said nothing. I noticed the velocity of his chewing picked up. Loud now, or at the least-noticeable. I sort of liked that I shook up his cadence. I revel in small victories as I age!

I walked backwards away. Gone for good now. Fade to black or something darker.  I sat in the back of the church and experienced an incredible young lady graduate. Actually, I watched much youth overly excited about life. New adventures. Gave me faith.

I experienced the slight twinge of God again. Deep inside. Like a spirit sparked to life. I coughed because the feeling startled me. Was that wonderful spark now attempting to leave? Not sure. Not yet. Not here.

Random Thoughts:

1). Daily you die. Understand this now. Maybe it’s some asshole who cut you off in traffic or somebody left your life. You thought he/she cared but never really did. You feel like a jerk. Don’t know maybe you got the runs from a late-night drive through a Taco Bell. Whatever it is remember death to some degree is going to happen. You will stop breathing today. Face it. Recognize when the life light goes out. There’s going to be a setback. Some may shatter you, others provide a mere inconvenience. I’m not here to judge your obstacles. They’re all serious to us.

2). Light the spark as soon as humanly possible. If you go months, years, decades, before moving on it’s going to take much longer to ignite the positive spirit inside. I know. My spark has gone out many times. Hell, my pilot light has been obliterated a few times too. Try like hell to light up utilizing positive actions. What nurtures you? How can you work today towards re-building the warmth, the fire again? Is there one small step inside you?

You must nurture your spirit or it will exit. Permanently.

3). Be attentive to your relationship with money. If you overspend, only live for today, take on too much debt, you are killing yourself financially. Perhaps it’s a money imprint. You watched your parents make stupid decisions, you were never taught the basics.Maybe your parents were incredibly frugal and you’ve been fighting subconsciously  to detach from their habits (even if their good). Believe me I’ve seen this behavior many times.

Ask yourself: What is your money habitude? What type of money decisions, good or bad do you make over and over again?

Check out and order Syble Solomon’s Money Habitudes Cards. A modest expense. No, I don’t work for Syble nor am I rewarded financially by your purchase. I’ve used the cards. I complete this exercise with people on a regular basis.

From the website:

Although it’s fun and feels like a game, Money Habitudes tackles serious business: helping people talk about money, understand financial psychology and explain their money personality type. As a result, the innovative, hands-on tool  is used in a variety of ways:

Start great conversations about money and finances. Money is one of the most difficult subjects for people to discuss. As a fun and engaging conversation starter, Money Habitudes makes talking about money easy and approachable.

Provide AHA! insights regarding finances, relationships, career and lifestyle choices. Often, we don’t know why we do what we do with our personal finances. Money is the number one reason why couples fight and is frequently the reason people stay in dead-end jobs. The financial personality quiz aspect of the tool provides important insights about money issues.

A versatile tool. They can be used as a quick ice breaker or conversation starter, a standalone activity or as a class module in a class, workshop, or seminar. They are used by individuals and couples on their own, but are also trusted by financial, relationship and career professionals such as financial educators, financial planners, therapists and career coaches. And because the cards do not require deep financial knowledge and use broadly applicable statements, they are used across the age, income, and education spectrum.

Ok, that’s enough. You get it. Live again through smarter money decisions.

I smiled when I realized: I had died and lived again. All in a morning. In a church. Although I believed I didn’t belong. Out of place. It happened.

I left the graduation ceremony before it ended. I didn’t belong to that special moment when this girl now a grad, was ready and eager to embrace a new world. That was space reserved exclusively for celebration with current family and family-to-be. Not me. And I always knew (know) my place. It was ok.

I halted at the first step outside. Looked back. Winced up at the steeple. I thanked God for the moment. A mental image to live and die for.

I was convinced the day was going to end better than it started.

And that was a true blessing.

You’re Gonna Die Today. 10 Ways to Avoid a Certain Kill.

I felt a slight breeze. I thought I was dreaming.

Then warmth. (Oh I must have been dreaming.)

Heavy breathing heard. Stale liquor odor permeated my nostrils.

Oh where was I? Not dreaming. Just harsh reality.

I turned my head away from the strange. Cat like. Fast.

Surprised at how alert I was so quick. Even though I wasn’t fully connecting the dots.

Eyes wide open. Senses not ready to connect fully to my brain.

I was sound asleep-a primal sliver of me was wide awake.

Was it a nightmare?

I immediately recognized the brown, worn, wooden (or facsimile) handle.

I remembered my mother telling me the knife was a wedding present from Uncle Sal. That was November, 1959.

This was September, 1977. 2:15AM. And there was my parent’s wedding gift deep in my pillow, up to the handle. Right where my ear and the rest of my face was a split moment earlier.

And split was the correct word to use. If I didn’t move away as quick as I did, the knife nana used to cut tomatoes for Sunday pasta sauce would have been deep in my head.

Knives are scary. Little people with knives. Scarier.

What would nana do? She would react! Punch out!

And that’s what I did. Straight up hard enough to knock mom’s new drunken boytoy right off the bed.

I ran. I kept running. I thanked up to divine vapors I couldn’t see nor understand.

Thank you for the burst of stamina I needed to survive.

I realized.

I could have died today. Killed today. Just like that. Shit-and I needed to get to school!

Don’t kid yourself. Most are out to gut you.

Every day someone is out to kill you. Even you.

No, I’m not referring to some psycho ex with a kitchen knife although for some of you I believe that’s coming. Mentally. Financially.

The entire world is wonderfully designed to slap you down and take your money for junk you’ll never use.

I mean do I really need this? I do want one (and I don’t fish.)

Sold millions..Millions!!! Really?

Daily, from the time you wake and turn on the radio or television there’s some fucker out to murder your spirit. It happens today more than ever.

Or I’m getting older and as my prostate grows I get angrier. Either way, I know it’s happening!

So what the hell can you do?? Random thoughts:

1). Find a compliment for someone today. Swallow your bile and do it. And be sincere. Set your tone for the day. Tell someone you love them even though they ignore you when you say it. Do it for you. Don’t expect shit in return.

2). Go one friggen day and don’t buy a damn thing. Not even gum. Buy nothing for one day. Ignore all the temptation to part with money. If you need gas stay home. Take a sick day. You’re sick of spending. And if you must – USE CASH. Yes, cash.

Much “Cash” is king.

3). Ignore negative people. If you feel like you lost a tailwind after talking to a person, remove that person from your life. Today.

4). Increase your retirement plan or 401(k) contribution by 1 percent. Get online or call your retirement plan customer service and do it. Do it now. You won’t even miss it.

5). Write down everything that/everyone who makes your life better. I carry a Moleskine notebook with me everywhere and write daily.

6). Move around. I bought a headset so I can make phone calls while walking around.

7). Cancel a credit card. Cancel your most recent card. You perhaps need two max. All the rest need to go. Cancel the one with the least credit history (I don’t want to murder your credit score) and the most in interest charges.

8). Take control. Of something. I don’t care if it’s arranging your pantry or balancing your checkbook. Accomplish something you feel good about. Something that gets your life in control. In better order. There’s a beauty to order. Hot messes only go so far.

9). Give (get) a foot massage (from) to a willing participant. Personally, I’m not doing this. I may do neck. There are  2 people in the world I’d touch below the ankles. They know who they are. Enough said. And nobody is touching me. Thanks though.

10). Breathe. Go deep.

You’re not dead yet.

You have more to do.

Hold the bastards off. Breathe deep!