Doors you Open. Doors you Close – Four Ways to Know the Dangers.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

At 4:45am. Every day. Even Sundays. She smelled like cherries. Sourced from somewhere. Her hair. Her skin. Her moving silhouette near a window, a small lamp reflecting on a sheer, white nightgown. I can see from the doorway. I can feel her spirit.

Not real cherries. Well, they were from nature. Once. Before the sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride polluted them. Transformed them into a syrupy, cherry-like Frankenstein concoction called Maraschino. That was the scent I detected. It hung heavy in the hall. In the mornings. Every morning. Seventh floor of a majestic, tall apartment complex.Ocean Parkway. Brooklyn. 1975.

Maraschino Sexy

I exited the elevator below her. Always. Floor 6. Nerves. Excitement. Fright. Anticipation – Mrs. Antolini’s donut breakfast. Strategically tucked. In a corner. Where the welcome mat joined the bottom of the front door. A brown paper bag. Inside a glazed beauty – carefully (lovingly) wrapped in wax paper. Precious…

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10 Shots At A Life Worth Living From The Rifleman.

“Guns don’t make you strong, they make you hesitate and respect the value of human life.”

Lucas McCain

With a foundation in New York, now a life (or mid-life), in Texas, I’m sensitive to the frenzied disparate bombardment of opinions.

About everything.

On social media it’s North meets South, again.

Gun control, border walls, homegrown terrorists. Workplace violence.

Kim Kardashian.

Donald Trump.

Rhetoric, vitriol.

Electronic bullets.

People blown to bits in 140 characters or less.

Makes me realize.

People are shooting off their mouths indiscriminately.

The world needs The Rifleman more than ever.

Let’s return to September 1958, shall we?

Turn the clunky black dial flush to a rich, mahogany console. Fire up the RCA Victor, boys and girls.

TV tubes resonate a low hum. They sound like the wings of a thousand agitated bees until a black & white moving picture emerges. Out of nowhere from behind thick glass.

 

RCA 1958

No matter how clear the picture, a perpetual cinematic room for a clearer clear exists. You toil endlessly with dual rabbit-ear antenna rods.

Feverishly you orchestrate two straw-thin antennas, stare at the screen. Stop. Work again. An awkward tango with thin aluminum arms. You’re expecting magic. Only you know when it’s found.

Battling rabbit ears is lost to the annals of American household pop culture. The endless search for medieval high-def is history. Dead.

Warmth seeps in on air waves. Vacuum tubes that resemble bulbous laboratory vials glow yellow. Heat rises. Conjures a musty, heady aroma from a warm brown felt grid stapled to the back of the set.

Cozy up to a screen of the thick glass. Watch your arm hair come alive, tingle to attention from static electricity.

You feel good all over.

And then.

Mom bellows from the kitchen because of course, she knows everything.

“Don’t sit too close, you’ll ruin your eyes!”

The Rifleman, a half-hour western drama, ran for five seasons: 1958-1963. Prime time on ABC.

Chuck Connors portrayed chisel-jawed Civil War veteran Lucas McCain. A widower raising a young son Mark McCain, alone. Building a life, a ranch, in the fictional town of North Fork.

I feel the ladies fading fast.

“I don’t like westerns.”

OK, The Rifleman is officially a western. You got me. However, life lessons roll larger than thunder arteries blistering the clouds in Oklahoma skies. The  guns, bullets, dust, horses, and saloon brawls are set dressings for stories of challenge and perseverance. True grit.

Now, let’s get those ladies corralled into readin’.

A 6’6″ Lucas McCain holds a rigid stance against the searing heat of nature. Overworked boots. Heels in dry dirt. His broad shoulders glisten wet under the blistering New Mexico summer. The straight-line high blue gushes the same color as his eyes. Jaw clenched in determination, he removes his hat, the felt brim dark with sweat.

The salty sting in his eyes feels good. He’s alive. One with the land. His land.

Cotton is wet-heavy. A blast furnace against his skin.

Soaked with the fire of his toil.

He pauses to toss his shirt. Abruptly, it lands with a thick thud and soaks the parched earth underneath. A seldom breeze lands cool on his back. At 37, Lucas is fit, perhaps more so than a decade earlier.

His bare torso is lean. Working the earth, relishing the ‘sodbuster’ way of life has made him hard in body, sharper in mind. His farming a cleansing of where he came from, buried under black-pitch soil mixture of the present. Hopeful yet guarded for the future.

For him.

For Mark McCain. His boy.

Lucas reaches for a nearby bucket. Drinks deep from it. The sweet liquid from the ladle is lukewarm but invigorating. He carefully pours the precious liquid over his upper body. Drops embrace and crawl down his tired muscles.

The anterior of his right shoulder is tight but pliable. It had to do. Only a short time for a breather. There are more chores before sunset.

Lucas returns to his regimen. The thick spade handle grips small in large, callused hands. It comes alive. Ironically, his hands could kill yet it was easier to save a life. Grow it, too.

rifleman one

Whew, the ladies have returned.

Lucas McCain. A man of determination and wisdom formed by serving as Union lieutenant in the Civil War. Behind steeled eyes that witnessed the worst of the human condition, Lucas McCain became a master of placing himself in another’s veins. He knew when to strike and when, as a man of wisdom, back down.

Yea, there’s much one can learn from watching, no observing, The Rifleman.

rifleman three

Random Thoughts:

Shot #1: How much pain will it take to release the truth inside? 

The emergence of your internal compass, a definition of truth as it breaks away from the fence lines of long roads traveled. How does this happen?

An uncompromising life philosophy.

What I call “Rifleman’s Awareness” is not born of happy or pretty.

It’s not of sunshine.

The source is internalized writhing maggots. Thick layers of spilled blood that attach to every cell. A tight-wedged coagulation of unhealed festering wounds that slither from unresolved torment under relentless pressure. A billion lifetimes in the making.  The rot of past trials go back that far.

Sharp enemies of the past, the ones that carry and cut with rusted blades, never die. They continue to pierce until an injured limb goes numb and severed. At that point, you’ve won against fear and pain.

The opportunity has arrived for you to crush hideous demons into beautiful diamonds.

Nothing can hurt you. The higher plain is no longer fallowed grounds but an endless bounty.

You must learn to train these devils to do your bidding or allow their disease to stick to you. Consume who you are. Who you can be. Until you’re dead.

The Rifleman corralled and controlled internal torment. He could aim and fire the perfect dose of justice every time. His skills with a rifle were legendary. Known for miles. His words were delivered with similar velocity as bullets.

It’s safe to assume from binge watching  what moves Lucas forward is life earned (and learned) –  a bloody war, the loss of a spouse, a vigilance over his only child.

It can take years, decades (perhaps never) to develop a personal truth, an internal guide that motivates daily actions. The release of wisdom from a greater guide than self is an exhausting, ongoing process.

Beliefs that seed in the soul can break away to help you conquer the renegades in black hats. The gatekeepers. The enemies. When forced to protect everything you hold dear, those seeds will grow to mighty oaks.

Your personal rule book will be lived only after you’ve tamed the beast of fear. That mastery comes from confronting and melting the freeze that is born of it.

But first, you’re going to need to understand who makes the rules and why.

If you feel sick going into work every day, ostracized for disagreeing with your boss, shunned by co-workers, well then you sort of know already.

You’re walking the path of The Rifleman.

Recently, my friend and greatest teacher James Altucher wrote about personal rules on Facebook.

You see, he appears to be a nerd. However, he’s a self-aware rifleman (armed with pen and a waiter’s pad):

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES?

The government has rules.
Schools have rules.
Society has rules.
Parents and then family have rules.
Relationships have rules.

I tried to follow all the rules. I was a good boy.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. The rule book is too big.

And then I got the phone calls. Why didn’t you follow that rule?

I don’t know. It didn’t make me feel good.

Well, if the only thing that is important to you is feeling good you would just kill and steal and lie to people all the time.

Why would any of that make me feel good?

Well, what does make you feel good?

Talking to you on the phone makes me feel good.

Aside from that.

Walking outside and looking at people. Feeling the last remnants of sun on my cheek before the winter comes.

Being kind to someone when they least expect it. Surprise makes me feel good.

Knowing that every now and then I can still make my teenage children laugh.

I gave a talk a few months ago and I heard my youngest laugh. That is the best feeling I’ve ever had. She laughed right after I said something that felt like it was breaking the rules (I forget the statement: I was describing either lying or stealing or saying something about my mom).

Seeing the smile of a woman up close after a first kiss. That makes me feel good.

Being with friends who love me and I love. Anybody else…and I don’t feel so good. I feel sick.

Feeling like I’m improving at something I love. Because that grounds me and let’s me enjoy the company of others with the same passions.

Feeling like I need less than I thought I needed. Because needing less allows me to float into the sky without feeling scared, without feeling burdened to the ground.

Feeling always like I’m exploring.

Writing something really really awful. Because who gives a fuck.

Like this.

—-

So many times I hear from people who say: I have to follow the career (or marry the person), my parents want.

Or someone says: I have to go to college or nobody will give me a job.

Or someone tells me: you should be around these people. They can help you succeed. (But I don’t like them so what should I do?).

Or someone says: I want to have ten million dollars to relax. And own a big home so I can feel roots.

Or someone says: You have to vote in order to have your voice heard in society.

Or someone says: I feel stuck because I can’t quit my job because I have all of my family responsibilities.

I built a prison for myself also. It had triple locks. It had lots of guards. It had solitary confinement when I was bad. I didn’t much like my fellow prisoners but they were in here with me so I figured I would be with them.

I felt ashamed when I broke the rules of the prison. When I went broke. When I didn’t take the career I was supposed to.

When I didn’t return the calls or network with the right people or when I quit without warning the job I didn’t like or lost the homes I could no longer pay for.

Or when I was thrown out of school or when I didn’t pay the IRS or when I didn’t love enough the people I was supposed to love. Or the things I have done when I was so scared about money I thought I would go broke and die.

Or when I tried to live in a homeless shelter just to meet women or when I demanded love back from the women who didn’t love me or when I cried because I was scared that my life would disappear and nothing would be left behind.

This was solitary confinement. And it was lonely and I was afraid.

And one day I walked out.

And nobody ever saw me again.

That is some Lucas McCain kind of shit.

Lucas McCain Shooting

Lucas’ motives are consistently noble. No. Perfectly noble. Even when he’s left little choice but to use his modified Winchester Model 1892 to take out villains, he is delivering  justice. His guide is a higher calling. A shiny key to living a life in the rough.

When you do a Lucas on who or what threatens you (and you will; rifle not required), be noble in your intentions. Standing for something you believe in is important to not only you, but to others.

Half-assed nobility is better than none.

I worked for (was enslaved by) Charles Schwab. Plainly speaking, my perception, my code, defines them as bad guys in white hats. Difficult to detect a rotted underbelly unless you’re homesteading within their bowels for a spell (cowboy lingo).

They hide behind edicts created by terrifying gatekeepers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vigilante attorneys to intimidate and in many cases, destroy others. They’ll lie in cold-blood to slaughter the warm blooded.

They live to frame you for horse stealing or cattle rustlin’ and immediately call for your neck in a noose and a swing until you’re dead.

Underneath their so-called ‘code’ rolls an insidious dark residue of unethical dissonance. I know their employees work in fear. At least 100 of them have contacted me. They reach out from the shadows. Punch smartphone keys from hidden places. They ask me questions about how to break free. I’m happy to provide information.

It’s part of who I am. Help others. Don’t ask or seek anything in return.

I cut the wire fence. I spoke out. I did a Lucas McCain.They tried for years to wipe me out. High-noon style. I was willing to go broke exposing them. Ultimately, they were exposed for who they truly are. I’m still damaged. It’s fine. I learned. I won.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Every noble effort requires spilled blood. Your own or others. Not literally, silly. Well, perhaps, but let’s not go there. Could be money, an internal organ, a relationship.

Be prepared to lose something close or dear to you.

However I now live according to my own definitions. Rifleman-style.

Most likely, aggressively staking out villains is not for you. I don’t recommend it. Like The Rifleman, know when to take pressure off the trigger.

Those with personal codes think clear. Even under tremendous stress. They’re in control. Admittedly, I’ve made mistakes. Lucas rarely outed the rogues or took violent action unless those he loved or he, was in danger.

Recall what James wrote: Walk. Never be seen again. Fleeing from a cancerous environment can prevent well, cancer. Or worse. A long meaningless life within an unhealthy, suffocating environment.

“There’s dark corners in everybody’s lives. Sometimes it’s doesn’t pay to poke around in them.”

Lucas McCain

Like Lucas McCain did on several occasions, retreat from the gatekeepers. But walk with your front to them. Don’t take your steeled glance off them.

Don’t blink.

Never trust the fuckers.

Heed The Rifleman: Sometimes it pays to stay out of dark corners.

Be at peace. Take your ego out of it and understand you cannot change those who harm others even if they do it unintentionally. However, you have a choice. They can’t fathom a choice. In their minds, their worlds, there are no other roads.

Hey, you can move to another town (North Fork is coming along).

Perhaps you require more time, life experience, sorrow, regret, before you act. That’s OK, too.

Your time will come. No need to exhaust all your ammo right now. I’m not saying you won’t need to fire multiple shots. I’m saying it’s not required for every situation.

You’ll choose what’s right. Live to die. Or die to live. Codes don’t need to be complicated. Simple and powerful will get the chores done every time.

Go ahead: Get ready to fire your first shot. Tap into the diamond of your greatest powers. What are your personal beliefs? The ones the gatekeepers seduce you to believe cause grief for them and great obstacles for you.

The ones that scare the rule makers out of town.

“The rules tell me I can shoot. My own rules tell me that I hate gunfightin’ and will avoid it until I can’t.”

Lucas McCain.

Shot #2: Be Lucas McCain for only an hour a day. What you tell your brain, it will believe. It’s that simple. For an hour a day be – The Rifleman. Embrace his spirit of uncomfortable wisdom. Navigate a tough, admirable road you’ve been afraid to travel.

Like my friend Tanya. She’s battling a bully. She’s relentless to seek justice against a predator and helping other victims to speak up. The episode has affected her health. However, she’s steadfast and has a deep passion for justice.

The Rifleman lives in Tanya.

Like her, take one uncomfortable action that will draw you closer to understanding why you were put on the planet. One heroic act before you go.

Never be afraid to question your personal code. Lucas did. He was willing to listen when people he trusted advised him of a misconception. He kept an open mind. He was seasoned enough to adjust his thinking. Humble enough to apologize (and mean it).

 

badlands one

People tell me The Rifleman isn’t real.

I call those renegades out at high-noon to face their bullshit.

Perhaps I’m immersed. Too deep in writing for television. Regardless, fiction and fact are cut from two sides of a blade. One man’s reality is another man’s fiction. Fiction and fact co-exist and shoot from the same barrel.

One hour a day to heed a higher calling, an enriched life.

Not much to ask.

See those eyes? Lucas McCain is watching (I advise against resistance).

rifleman steel eye

Shot #3: Don’t let bad guys off the hook until (unless) they have proven change. Lucas’ history collided with his present, often.  He knew he couldn’t escape (for long) the bad inflicted on people or the horrific marks others have left.

In many episodes, the karma coach rolls into town. Like a wagon wheel across the mid-section. Straight out of the Oklahoma territory.

Lucas’ dark place.

Ironically, the beasts entered North Fork frequently (drama folks, is good television). At times, he overreacted to their presence. He relived what they did to him. Like it was yesterday, he recalled their evil behavior.

Those who had proven redemption were forgiven. The others? Well, a dead-eye trigger finger took care of them. Lucas believed everyone could change, even the vilest of characters. If not, western justice was served.

You’ve lived long enough to be fooled by the bad guys. I bet they outnumber your good souls 2 to 1. Most of them can’t change. Too far gone. You can’t shoot them. I wouldn’t advise it.

Unless ‘The Purge’ becomes a thing, then go for it. I keep my ‘purge’ list fresh.

Hey, you never know.

The purge two

Nah, you don’t need to resort to anything ugly. As a matter of fact, even under the intensity blasts of an August New Mexico sun, beauty will eventually appear out of the dirt for a patient sodbuster.

The strength in beauty bursts from heat. Cold is death.

Heat is life.

So don’t forgive the bad ones. Whatever you do. Don’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness just for the sake of it, for nothing, is death by ice. A soul in deep freeze. It signals you’ve given the bad ones a free pass. It’s you crawling belly down through the tundra, all the way cutting your gut open, dragging entrails.

Forgiving those who never seek redemption is a crime against your own heart.

Forgiveness foolishly exposes your hand, weakness. The seasoned poker players of North Fork would shoot you dead before you back away from the table. Embrace the anger. Let it take you. Allow it to scorch a personal path to victory.

The anger furnace will fuse your internal organs into barbed wire. Every cell grows sharp and deadly. You’ll become a master at detecting the presence of those who put your mental health at risk and seek to drain precious internal resources.

Because if you don’t learn, it’ll keep happening. Until the darkness saddles up alongside you and sticks to you forever like the spiny wings of Canadian thistle.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

One early Saturday morning, Marshal Micah Torrance found out some disturbing news.

Micah

A woeful cloud recently rolled into town.

And he needed to think fast.

Or a friend’s life held in the balance.

Behind heavy-iron lattice of a lawman’s office office, Micah appears to require Lucas’ assistance with reinforcing a shelf to the deep interior of the middle jail cell.

For 62, the silver-haired lawman is surprisingly swift in gait. With Lucas holding the shelf against the wall, ready for the marshal to secure it, Micah makes his move.

Backwards exit.

On quiet footfalls. Steady. Micah clears the heavy cell door, shuts it quickly with a loud clank. Lucas at first believes his old friend is reciprocating a prank that embarrassed Micah the night before.

Far from it.

Micah was protecting Lucas from himself.

Reef Johnson was back.

Reef Johnson.

Once Lucas’ best friend.

Until.

He shot him in the back.

Until.

He left him to die.

Until.

He attempted to steal Lucas’ wife.

Ten years had gone by. For Lucas, it was a minute.

It was said that Lucas and Reef could pass for brothers back then.

A decade later, Lucas cared only about one thing.

To find this man. Track him. Destroy him.

No pass go. No collect $200. Just a death wish fulfilled.

Locked behind the cell door, the rage in Lucas’ eyes turned bars into molten steel.

“Micah, let me out of here. NOW!”

Tough lives roll the travails of revenge road.

Both parties lose a piece of themselves in the gravel. Their souls forever connected in a demon’s gambol. They spin and grind worn under the passage of time, or death.

Or confrontation.

From behind stark-black lines of shadows. Into dust-frizzed daylight that slivers through wooden slats of an old barn wall, a man emerges from a distant corner.

Tired of running.

As the enemy moves into half/dark half/light, Lucas full of anger, gun sharp and raised. He is a thick step closer to get a better look at the fire, his invidious focus.

As slit light slashes across Reef’s face you can’t stare. You can’t look away.

His hair matted, disheveled.

Deep lines across his cheeks, facial skin as sallow as worn leather.

“I’m here, Lucas. I can’t run any longer. Kill me! Get it over with!”

This man. What’s left of this man. A man who once resembled Lucas McCain, smooth of youth, clear of eye was nothing but a shell. He looked 77, not 37.

Lucas lowered his rifle. Revenge no longer held captive the ready grip on the trigger.

“Lucas! You can’t leave me like this! Please!”

As The Rifleman created distance between himself and that barn. That place where his anger ceased. The place he left in silence, yet heard the screams for miles…

He realized.

What he felt was pity.

The heave in Lucas’ chest was sorrow.

This wasn’t forgiveness. Release wasn’t forgiveness.

Never forgive those who shoot you in the back and leave you to die.

Time and the universe will take care of those villains in the proper manner.

In due time.

Sit back. Tend to your fields. Nurture the ground.

Be patient.

rifleman four

Shot #4: Forge strong financial boundaries around you and yours.

The financial landscape post-Great Recession is enemy territory.

Oklahoma badlands.

Your money isn’t safe.

There’s not enough barbed wire to protect the homestead.

And the soil. Underneath the dirt, a bounty in stocks for 6 years or so, is over. Frankly, many retail investors didn’t participate in the 159% total return of the S&P 500 off the March 2009 bottom, anyway. They’re still trying to recover from the 2000 tech wreck and a flat-lined market from 2000-2013.

It’s still a whirlwind ribbon of dust.

Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist revealed his truth, discovered his rifleman years ago through his thorough, no-spin analysis of the stock market and the economy.

Refreshing. Rare.

The accounting magic used to prop up earnings, the foolish optimism of estimated earnings, profit-margin reversion.  It’s all here, folks.  You want fiery shots of wisdom in your gut? Read it.

And people call The Rifleman fiction and the stock market reality.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

pensive

Lucas is not amused by this information.

You shouldn’t be either.

Shot #5:  Always teach and always expect nothing in return.

One of the greatest rewards in life is teaching others and expecting zero.  It’s a positive rate of return to the world, the universe. It makes the stars shine brighter above a blue-black New Mexico sky.

The Rifleman shares memorable words, bits of shotgun-wisdom with his son Mark. He never holds back. Even when Mark doesn’t quite get it.

Doesn’t matter.  Eventually Lucas’ invaluable guidance kicks in. On occasion, it saves Lucas’ hide.

 

“How can a man be so good with animals and so mean to people?

Lucas McCain: That’s a sign you’re growing up.

Mark McCain: What do you mean, Pa?

Lucas McCain: The older you get, the more questions there are without answers. ”

lucas and mark

Today, I teach young investors how to not get killed by the buy-and-hold investment mantra and how true diversification includes investment in personal education and health.

I guide gifted financial services pros away from big box financial retailers and direct them to havens that have fiduciary intent. It’s a part of what I do. They’re my Mark McCains. My kids. I set them forth with noble intentions and a different world view.

How will you teach today? Who will you inspire?

Will you seek nothing in return except the stare at the stars in the sky?

Shot #6: now the difference between dumb fear and smart fear. Those who are reckless with your heart, your money, your emotions. Predators who dig beneath your vulnerability and then rip you apart from the inside, should be feared and avoided.

Individuals who have a track record of apathetic and non-empathetic behavior should never be allowed on the ranch.  You’ll know them. You’ll be sickened by what you’re feeling. You’ll ignore what your intuition is telling you.

That’s plain dumb fear. And that will eventually leave you out in the desert with no water.

Vultures circling. Dead meat. You’ll crawl to safety but some part of you will be gone forever.

However, smart fear will keep you alive.

How do you develop smart fear?

Unfortunately, smart fear only comes with experience and knowledge.

You’ll require a construct. Questions are a solid foundation for said construct.

Create a simple framework to identify, fortify your defenses against enemies.

Start small. Big results.

All you need are three questions to get to the heart of anything.

My humble opinion.

Here’s a trio I use for dating (based on personal experience – yours will indeed, differ).

Let your inquiry flow naturally. You’ll become The Rifleman at separating friend from foe, now from forever, life from death.

How would you describe your long-term relationships with friends and family?

Big one. If she doesn’t have any close ties, or they’re full of weird sexual or resentful experiences I’m dodging a bullet.

Have you ever broken off an engagement? 

Sure, nobody’s perfect: I’m just looking for an inability to commit, serial monogamy. Murder. “He fell from the upper deck on a Carnival cruise.”

How many times have you accused others of something you’re guilty of yourself?

Somewhat inflammatory. Granted. On purpose. We’re all guilty. I’m seeking to get a handle on frequency, accusations, assumptions. “Never” is not a good answer either.

Three questions.

For everything.

To create a personal SFDS – Smart Fear Detection System.

“It’s the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it’s manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

 

Remember – SMART FEAR SAVES A LIFE. YOURS.

Shot #7: Get in or cause trouble for the right reasons.

My favorite bullet. Hits me in the heart every time.

There’s a point in your life where you don’t give a shit any longer about what others think. You’ve been living your code. Those who fit in stay. Those who don’t, go. Life gets simpler. You begin to figure shit out, you begin to help others figure shit out.

The ranch is humming along, the crops are bountiful, the soil is the right composite, the enemies are at bay.

Then there are times when the trouble in your life resembles weather systems. When the turbulence begins, you also know it will pass. Makes it easier to deal with the aftermath, the cleanup. Healing.

And you can create your own weather. Spark your own thunder as the needs arise. For the right reasons.

Shot #8: Don’t be afraid to confront a person with their truth.

Lucas will place himself in precarious situations. Smack in the middle of the rough.Tip toe on the blade.

He’ll go out of his way to wake people up. Help them understand their truth. Most of us live in a state of denial. We hurt others, we lie, we make promises, we kill, we have little empathy and yet we want to be perceived as ‘good’ people.

Frankly, most people are assholes. They use you for what you can provide and then move on. That’s fine.

But make sure to tell them they’re assholes and deal with the consequences.

Perhaps you’ll enlighten. Regardless, you gave them some shit to chew on whether they like it or not.

Shoot the asshole a verbal bullet. Then walk.

You know how to eat shit, right?

Best not to nibble.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Because if you deliver, you’ll eat it, too.

Comes with the territory.

Shot #9: Learn when somebody confronts you with yours.

If you dare to shoot, you must be willing to be shot. You can’t protect yourself from a gunfight. The key is for bullets to graze, but not kill.

You must respect your opponent, however. That’s the key.

Hey, if you’re going to learn a tough lesson best to get it from a person you respect for whatever reason. Doesn’t need to be a grandiose reason. There’s just something about this individual you admire.

When Lucas shoots his mouth off and Micah gives it to him straight, Lucas doesn’t like it but he listens because he respects the marshal.

“Lucas, I think you’re wrong about this one.”

If someone provides constructive criticism, it’s acceptable, normal, to hate it at first. It’s fine to feel the sting of the words like bullets, and bleed out.

Right there on Main Street, North Fork.

Just as long as you step back, dig out the fragment. Feel the pain. Examine it. Ponder why you were shot. Was it one of the best shots of your life?

Learn from the bullets that hit and take you off balance.

Just as long as you respect the shooter.

Otherwise it’s an enemy and you need to return the blast.

Rifleman-style.

Shot #10: Stick your neck out for those you love. Place your neck in the noose if it means someone you love remains happy, moves on, sticks around.

What else you got?

Sacrificing a part of yourself for someone you cherish isn’t a bad thing. It’s walking like McCain.

I did it for clients and a fiduciary right to care for them.

You’ve done it for children. Parents. Friends. Animals.

Recognize, remember, reward yourself for sticking your neck out for those you love.

Heck, you’ll be called horrible things. I know.

You think everybody loved Lucas?

Why do you really think he needed that rifle?

lucas rifle

The thing in this life is to stay alive. Ride easy.

Like in the old west.

Lucas McCain never spoke the words at the start of this blog post.

As I write dialogue for television I place words in mouths of fictional characters. The commentary would have been delivered perfectly however. I can hear the deep-baritone voice of The Rifleman resonating right now.

You don’t get endless shots at this stuff because eventually you’re in adult diapers and drooling into a liquefied breakfast.

Give yourself a number. I chose four.

Four bullets in my rifle.

I believe Lucas suffered from overwhelming, lasting grief that he channeled into something bigger than himself.

Last, I learned from Lucas that death isn’t frightening.

Bad memories?

Ghosts from the past?

Now they’re frightening.

They haunt, relentlessly.

Yet there’s something good that arises.

When the demons dance.

They create.

Riflemen.

Dedicated to radio host,  veteran broadcaster, all-around good guy and most important: Hard-core “The Rifleman” fan – Gary McNamara. 

Special mention to dear friend Tanya Bilisoly, Austin realtor extraordinaire who is taking on a bully, living her “Rifleman moment,” right now.

 

 

4 Reasons To Embrace An Imperfect Retirement Plan.

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A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch.

The recent downturn in the stock market has placed an important decision on the back burner.

It’s not strange to change direction through a storm of uncertainty. Through a volatile period it’s not unusual to move a retirement date out, continue to collect a paycheck, bolster savings and reduce debts.

I hear it often – “I’ll work just one more year.”

The working dead

On the surface, it feels right to wait.

I call it ‘failure to launch.’

There’s never an opportune time to retire, regardless of the preparation and the formal financial planning undertaken to ensure lift-off. Frankly, even when the stock market is on solid footing people tend to find reasons to delay the next step.

It’s perfectly understandable. It’s human to feel vulnerable at the crossroad of a life-changing moment especially when the moment has arrived.

The financial planning process can inadvertently exacerbate “launch dysfunction.” It’s also in a planner’s nature to be conservative and advocate a decision to wait for a better time (whenever that is).

I’ve discovered after hundreds of retirement discussions and volumes of plans delivered, that the decision to wait is rooted in an overdependence on the successful outcomes of formal retirement plans designed to predict the survivability of assets to meet lifestyle expenses for three decades or longer.

But is that practical?

No.

Before you decide to undergo retirement planning, you must make peace with the fact that the entire process is extraordinarily imperfect, like you and me.

Retirement plans are 20% science and 80% forecast (or art).

Unfortunately, there are elements you will never be able to predict with complete accuracy. You may not live to 95 even though you believe it to be true.  Future market returns are an educated guess at best.

Instead of waiting for every financial star to align before retirement, consider the following random thoughts:

You’re better off with formal retirement planning, than not. People who begin formal planning early on, five to ten years before retirement, increase the odds of a successful launch date compared to those who begin late or not at all.

A plan which includes a complete inventory of assets, liabilities and future goals coupled with assumptions for inflation and realistic future investment return simulations helps you gain invaluable intelligence early that can be used to create an ongoing action plan to validate positive financial habits and minimize the impact of weaknesses.

A plan is not right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful. It’s not a threat, or a reason to be chastised for poor fiscal behavior. The first iteration is the start of a long-term educational process, an awareness and ongoing tuning of financial strengths that apex at a launch point I call ‘escape velocity.’

Consider escape velocity a financial trajectory that launches a retiree successfully through the first decade of expenses and withdrawals with minimal negative impact to investment assets. Academic studies outline how the first ten years of asset drawdowns is crucial to the survival of a portfolio over the next twenty.

Within a plan, your financial life is run through a simulation to determine probabilities of success which comes down to your money lasting as long as you do (or longer if you wish to leave assets behind for others).

You’ll see, how in the face of withdrawals and changing market returns, your asset values ebb and flow. Through great bull markets (best case), bear markets (worst case hope not) and somewhere in between.

If your assets can make it through the first ten years successfully. And I mean at a 75% or greater probability of success, you are ready to launch into imperfect retirement mode as long as expenses are monitored annually and changes are made to reduce lifestyle expenses.

I’m not saying it’ll be clear sailing. Or you won’t need to adjust mid-flight: Work part-time, cut costs, downsize.

Most likely, you will.

I’m saying there’s a delicate balance at stake. A point of no return to consider.

Either retire early enough to enjoy the experience, forsake a perfect planning outcome, take a leap of faith, or wait until your probabilities of success through the worst market cycle is 95% or greater. By then it may be too late due to health issues and aging. The retirement you hoped for may be one you regret.

You see, this is the art part. When you’re planning to travel a path three decades long, science fades into the dark pitch of road and creativity and faith take over, more often than not.

Mentally, you must let go of perfection and consider multiple detours to navigate the imperfect.

Be overly (insanely) cautious the first five years.  Academic work by financial planner, speaker and educator Michael Kitces and Professor Wade Pfau outlines how your asset allocation should be conservative in the early stages of retirement, especially in the face of lofty stock valuations.

Generally, I have retirees reduce equity exposure by 20% at the beginning of retirement and I’m not opposed to holding 2-5 years’ worth of cash or cash equivalents for withdrawals and to eventually purchase stocks at lower prices.

You’re thinking cash doesn’t earn anything. Well, it doesn’t lose anything, either. You can make up losses due to inflation. Principal erosion due to market losses is an entirely different story.

What most investors do not realize currently is that they could hold cash today and in five years will likely be better off. However, since making such a suggestion is strictly “taboo” because one might “miss some upside,” it becomes extremely important for measures to be put into place to protect investment capital from downturns.

Friend and business partner Lance Roberts provides the following chart which outlines the inflation adjusted return of $100 invested in the S&P 500 (using data provided by Dr. Robert Shiller).

The chart also shows Dr. Shiller’s CAPE ratio. We capped the CAPE ratio at 23x earnings which has historically been the peak of secular bull markets in the past. Lastly, we calculated a simple cash/stock switching model which buys stocks at a CAPE ratio of 6x or less and moves to cash at a ratio of 23x.

The value of holding cash has been adjusted for the annual inflation rate which is why during the sharp rise in inflation in the 1970’s there is a downward slope in the value of cash.

However, while the value of cash is adjusted for purchasing power in terms of acquiring goods or services in the future, the impact of inflation on cash as an asset with respect to reinvestment may be different since asset prices are negatively impacted by spiking inflation. In such an event, cash gains purchasing power parity in the future if assets prices fall more than inflation rises.

The importance of “cash” as an asset class is revealed.

While the cash did lose relative purchasing power, due to inflation, the benefits of having capital to invest at low valuations produced substantial outperformance over waiting for previously destroyed investment capital to recover.

While we can debate over methodologies, allocations, etc., the point here is that “time frames” are crucial in the discussion of cash as an asset class. If an individual is “literally” burying cash in their backyard, then the discussion of loss of purchasing power is appropriate. However, if the holding of cash is a “tactical” holding to avoid short-term destruction of capital, then the protection afforded outweighs the loss of purchasing power in the distant future.

Cash is not exciting. However, the excitement at the beginning of retirement should be about the memories you build, not the money you can potentially lose in stocks.

Real value of cash

Cover as much fixed expenses as possible with income you can’t outlive. Maximizing Social Security payouts and minimizing taxes on those payments by coordinating benefits received with withdrawals from investment assets, can add thousands to your household cash flow over a lifetime.

Social Security is an income stream you can’t outlive and should not be discounted in your retirement analysis. It needs to be a crucial element of your written plan.

Creating a pension through the use of deferred income or single-premium annuities can supplement social security and bolster your income for life.

Investors fear annuities. Financial pundits on the radio and in print advise how annuities “are bad.” If you’re purchasing annuities, you’re most likely taking money away from them as advisors. Understand the motives behind negative blanket statements about annuities.

Not all annuities are the same.

Consider the word annuity means “a fixed sum of money paid to someone each year, typically for life.”

Social Security is an annuity, right?

The combination of Social Security plus income annuities can be employed to cover expenses you must pay – think rent, food and insurance. Leaving your variable assets like stocks as supplements to your income requirements.

Avoid variable annuities. They are unnecessary and expensive. When you think negatively about annuities, it’s the variable ones you’re most likely referencing.

Decrease cash outflow throughout retirement.  The first two years of retirement is a soul-searching expedition. It’s also a period where I witness retirees highly sensitive to stress and anguish from having too much ‘stuff,’ large homes and big overhead.

Reducing financial pressure by going smaller generates great emotional benefits. Monetary bandwidth can be built into your budget. If you’re prepared to reduce portfolio withdrawal rates through rough market periods without seriously inhibiting your lifestyle, then an imperfect retirement mindset can work.

An imperfect retirement strategy is not “set it and forget it.”

Throughout, you must be willing to regularly meet with your financial partner to analyze withdrawals market cycles and adjust accordingly. In addition, you need to be receptive to change and flexibility. Even be open to part-time employment to increase household income.

Because waiting for perfection is not practical or realistic.

And a life is at stake.

Yours.

imperfect striving

From Accumulation to Distribution: A Retirement Crossroad.

In retirement, follow again what makes you human. Re-discover what you lost before you were a slave to the clock.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

As originally appeared in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

What’s been my greatest advice to people once they seriously consider retirement?

No it’s not create a budget.

It’s watch the movie “Castaway.”

Castaway one

Take notes. Life is about to get bumpy.

Money is at the bottom of the life list for surprises. There are enough academic studies that prove how people with formal retirement planning are more successful than those who don’t plan.

No, there’s another storm front to weather.

In the 2000 film Tom Hanks portrays a frenetic FedEx systems employee obsessed with time and productivity. During a Christmas evening flight to Malaysia, his delivery plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. He is violently tossed and cast to a remote island where he remains trapped and surrounded by cascading ocean currents. Over four years, while loved ones consider him lost (they had a funeral), and the love of his life marries and…

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A Houston Lesson – Be “One” & “Someone” To A Happy Retirement.

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A version of this writing appeared on MarketWatch.

There’s a controversy brewing in Houston.

The conflict between the “one” and the “someone,” is highly visible, to thousands of commuters to see.

Painted on the side of an overpass, for as long as I can remember, at least 17 years, those heading south on a bustling freeway have grown accustomed to the weather-worn message.

“Be Someone.”

Be Someone

Between ominous rusted-steel teeth at the mouth to downtown, I find myself looking for it, expecting the usual sight of what has become a faded element of the urban landscape.

I laugh to myself every time I pass. Why do I care? Is it tradition? Beacon? Wisdom? No idea. I think -Who shall I be today? Can my identity stand the elements and test of time? Will my integrity allow me to remain or be someone?

Until.

An unidentified culprit painted over, messed with the message.  A word that completely changed the tone was gone.

The day “BE SOMEONE” became “BE ONE.”

Be One

No longer was I someone. A vandal’s vandalism of vandalism merged me into life’s traffic? Houston’s road congestion is bad enough, now this, too.

I wasn’t the only one disrupted by the alteration.

There was local news coverage. Television, radio, print.

Then, as quickly as media attention emerged, an urban hero yet to be named, wronged a graffiti right.

In fresh paint, “BE SOMEONE” was back.

The message in the infrastructure had returned.

Throughout retirement, you will travel the roads, switch lanes between “BE ONE” and “BE SOMEONE.”

The best way to avoid surprises and maximize life in retirement, is to hit the gas.

Embrace both.

A “BE SOMEONE” mindset is you as you stand apart from others.

A “BE ONE” frame of reference arises as you stand together as a share of a greater whole.

Random Thoughts:

Be Someone: Retirement is the opportunity to re-awaken your true identity, rekindle inner passions. Relish the time to march to your own beat, again.

I consult with retirees who are forging a road to awareness and re-connection to what was important to them in the past. I call it a “re-acquaintance list.”

This is no bucket exercise. A bucket list is compiled of grandiose experiences, at least in my opinion. A re-acquaintance list is small in comparison yet ongoing. Like a support bridge underfoot that hasn’t been traveled completely – It’s what makes/made “you” well, “you.” It’s a return to simple passions that lead to greatness which I define as joy and richness of soul.

The relevance of career goals fade.

Greatness is achieved through less monumental actions which occupy slow whispers of time. It’s when the greatness of “be someone” is realized. For retirees, it’s a return to desires they needed to place on the backburner to earn a living, like reading or painting.

Also, they’re seeking educational and lifestyle enrichment by selecting retirement residences that exist on college campuses. For example, The Forest at Duke University offers apartments and single-family homes in a 40,000 square-foot independent wellness community. There is access to private primary care or skilled nursing in a lush, tranquil setting.

What retirees find most attractive about these communities is the chance to fully embark on the “be someone” concept. The Forest offers lifelong learning through regular in-house programs like lectures and resources by local scholars. In addition, the initiative to nourish the mind, body and spirit is appealing with access to performing arts, ballet, yoga and guided mediation. Residences may be apartments or single-family homes for an entry payment and a monthly service fee which is inclusive of all living expenses including meals.

Be One: To “be one” is to be a participant in something bigger. Here, your identity is at its best when part of a greater mission. People who remain engaged with former co-workers, provide deep experience into current projects, and participate in weekly or monthly rituals with friends or those in their communities appear most fulfilled through retirement.

An engineer who retired in 1996 still meets his high school buddies for dinner once a month on Thursdays. The members of this group have never missed a date. Unfortunately, several have passed.  However, that hasn’t stopped the ritual.

In 2010, a project manager known for her skills to assemble an effective team accepted a severance package from a large pharmaceutical company. She still mentors and continues friendships with those she hired throughout a 24-year tenure.

Active retirees are involved in coffee groups. Regular meetings of people who bond over hot coffee and highly-caffeinated morning conversation. From Perry, Iowa to Hartwick, New York, these gatherings have been in existence close to a decade and contribute to mental acuity through community, support, active listening and verbal engagement. There’s no room for technology like smartphones or tablets, either.

Be Someone:  March to your own drummer, walk the path that brokerage firms purposely choose to ignore and your portfolio will last as long as you do.

In a recent edition of the Journal of Financial Planning, Wade Pfau, professor at The American College re-visited the Trinity Study which appeared in the February 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Association of Individual Investors.

One of the blackest holes at brokerage firms is their continued reluctance to review, update, and contradict any study that was valid during the greatest bull market in history which was an outlier, not a common occurrence.

After all, it’s in the industry’s best interest to perpetuate the myth that stocks are a panacea regardless of cycles. Academics like Wade Pfau are leaders of the “be someone” movement and his work is crucial to your financial success in retirement.

The Trinity Study was published in 1998. The focus of the analysis was to determine the probability of portfolio success upon withdrawing 4% annually (adjusted for inflation), with a mix of long-term corporate bonds and the S&P 500 stock index. With a 50/50 asset allocation, the portfolio survived in 95% of historical rolling 30-year periods.

Per Wade Pfau, who updated the study in the August 2015 edition of the Journal of Financial Planning, today’s markets matter more to the sustainability of portfolio survival than historical outcomes.

Based on the current low interest rate environment and high stock market valuations, a sustainable 4% withdrawal rate will require a drawdown of principal. Income generated will not be enough. For new retirees this is especially dangerous as the first 10 years of portfolio withdrawals can alter permanently future portfolio longevity. If a retiree faces sequence of return risk whereby asset returns are below historical averages in the face of withdrawals that reduce principal, then portfolio success rates must be revised downward.

The outcome of the study is sobering: Wade Pfau’s simulations conclude that a portfolio with a 50% stock allocation now has a 64% probability of success with a 4% withdrawal rate, down from 95%. Success is reduced to 37% at a 5% rate.

Retirees must stay vigilant and examine portfolio withdrawals to be a step ahead of sequence-of-return risk. If portfolio distributions exceed income and appreciation for two consecutive years, withdrawal rates should be reduced for the upcoming period. It’s an exercise that should be conducted once a full year’s worth of liquidations are completed.

Be One: Retirees experience happiness when giving back to their communities. Schedule a couple of hours a week to explore a charitable passion. Serving others provides great reward for all involved. For greater fulfillment, a donation of time over money is healthier.

A list of non-profits seeking volunteers can be found in your area at www.greatnonprofits.org. You may filter by issues from “Animals” to “Women.”

From there, you can gather a deep understanding of how your non-profits of interest, operate. Written reviews by those who have donated and others who sought aid, are there to assist volunteers make informed charitable decisions.

I don’t know how the Houston “battle of the graffiti” will conclude.

Regardless, there are many ways to be “one” and “someone” in retirement. They can co-exist. Form a synergy.

In retrospect, “be both,” works.

Try it.

How a Daughter Goes From Killer to Savior at 30,000 Feet.

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“I hate God!”

ten year screamng

I was less than an inch from my mother’s face. I could feel her breath. I spit in her eye by mistake. She was kneeling. Stare down at urban sunrise #1,201. This one? This one crossed boundaries.

Fleshy, fatty boundaries.

fat boy

The tiny, crucifix attached to my underwear every morning to “keep me under God’s care,” was a four-pointed golden thorn in my side. A ritual I had grown to dread. Years of passive-aggressive defiance went ignored. I had no say in this tradition passed on from God-knows-who.

It was a worthless exercise. At least to me.

Mom never missed a day. It was her thing.

The power of an undergarment idol was fleeting. I was hesitant to bring up the topic.

Perhaps it couldn’t get good reception or a signal from the heavens buried under three layers of clothing. The thickest corduroy Korvette’s carried. Like the rabbit ears on our old black & white Panasonic television, I didn’t trust “the cross” to do the job.

Religious “underpinnings” failed to protect from constant bullying (about my husky-sized everything). A huge miss.

Although, I come to believe that “God’s care” may have spared me the fate of the yearbook’s chubby road-bump of the year when Mr. K the third-grade gym teacher, speeding in his Pontiac, just missed turning my gut into the consistency of overcooked pasta.

To this day I believe he was intentionally seeking to run me down. I was never able to prove it. But I KNOW. The best news I heard last year was that he died two years ago.

Perhaps all that pinning finally kicked in. Nah.

Who am I kidding?

From diaper to big boy briefs, this small crucifix was a huge part of my childhood. A religious layer under layers. The safety pin increased in size, too – powerful and sharp enough to pierce undershirts and thick waistbands of white Fruit Of The Looms. It was the size of a small pocket knife. Against my skin it felt heavy, like an anchor. It was my personal spear.

Until that morning in October. I remember Mom’s delicate touch was uncharacteristically heavy. Her technique was sloppy. Like her eyes were closed. She had been fighting with dad all night. Non-stop since he staggered in from Delmonico’s after midnight. Her finesse now a fumbled mess of tangled fingers. I didn’t trust her to pin me with the usual grace. I kept looking down. Sweating. I tightened against what I believed was coming.

The pin penetrated like a hot blade. Deep through fat. Blood rolled down in a series of thick, bulbous drops and pooled at my feet now sweating and sticking to a heavily varnished wood floor.

All my exaggerated fears about this moment had come true.

What’s up Jesus? A nail in a cross. Now a pin in the abdomen? What gives?

Frustration and pain compelled me to unleash frustration in mom’s face. I was possessed. Perhaps she observed my father’s anger in me as I bellowed, cried at the top of my lungs.

“I hate God! No, I hate you, too!”

I knew I was dead. Disrespecting your mother in an Italian family doesn’t happen without dire consequences. It’s a no-win for a child. The repercussions are as close to fatal as you can get within the law. Not even police got in the middle of an Italian mother and her kid in the heat of a scolding.

The next move startled me. Her strike was a lightening bolt. Then a loud click between my ears. I felt warmth release from my nose and liquid down my throat. Since mom was lean, mostly bone, it was like getting slammed by a human sledgehammer.

The stab was nothing compared to the slap. The blood released immediately as my bleached-white crew neck t-shirt saturated red. To black.

I was petrified then.

And I am now.

Another female seeks blood. Terrific.

This time it’s my 17 year-old, 85 pound daughter.

Don’t let her petite frame fool you.

She’s a killer.

Hell.

All of us die a little each day as our children grow. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

killer daughter

I study her profile. Separated by an aisle on a flight from New York.

The salt of blood overwhelms my nose. I can taste it. I’m pinned to the aluminum skin of the aircraft.

I’m claustrophobic. I’m now the insane guy you read about who opens an EXIT door miles above the earth and gets sucked into the afterlife.

I’m sweating. Underneath my skin is ice.

It’s panic. Out of nowhere. My right hand is firm around one of the plastic handles on the door. The word EXIT is taunting, telling me that things will be better if I just listen.

One pull and I’m free.

Crazy thoughts bounce inside my head. They are loud enough to drown out the sound of engines.

I ring for the attendant. I need a Bloody Mary.

All I think about is how small I am. Insignificant. As a parent I hold little if any control over her. Or me.

I’m driving blind. I’m scared.  So is she. The thought escalates scare to hardcore terror. What roads will she travel? Alone. Together with another. With whom? I encourage her to consider a lesbian lifestyle. I tell her men don’t know how to wipe their asses good enough. Anything that gets her to switch teams. It’s not working. Yet. I give her advice that I know she can’t use. I’m not stupid enough to have a handle on most of what effects her. She’s her own person now. What did I miss? I know I missed something. What’s her greatest fear? I’m afraid to ask. Because I think it’s mine, too.

I’m headed for the handle on the EXIT door again. My grip is firm enough to white my knuckles.

I see my mother at 16. I study her delicate features. The cabin goes sepia. In her face and what’s beneath. In dark eyes. Pools of challenges thrive and collide. Nothing clear. Replete with angst.

From aisle seat to aisle seat I stare across and realize my mother has returned. The same edge separated by generations and together on this plane. Teetering between hope and hopelessness. A cutting blade. Back and forth inside me. The bleed I never wanted to experience again. A woman who shouldn’t have had children is alive again. Cast thee from my daughter, woman!

At times I’m hesitant to love her. It’s uncomfortable to be around her sometimes. I never closed the circle with the doppelganger. She’s a flesh mirror to the past. I see right through her and it’s my childhood, not hers. She clarifies and muddies everything.

I’m smashed in the nose thinking about the day in 2000 when my mother died on the other end of the phone while I was at work. I tried to give her peace, I did really. From my cubicle during a stock market crash. I cared more about what Intel stock was doing than stopping to comprehend that my mother would be dead before Ma Bell (she was a thing then), disconnected us.

I told her that grandpa was waiting. I heard her say she was sorry and then a man’s voice boomed in the receiver – “She’s gone.” I said nothing. Hung up. Went back to warm calling sales leads. Watching Intel. I didn’t leave work early. Didn’t think about it.

Until I finished the fake, expensive cocktail.

My daughter is frail. I see it. I accept and accommodate. Well, I accommodate. She’s delicate as a fine china plate with a crack in the middle. Her constitution sometimes strong, other times as light as tissue. I’m responsible. Well, my DNA is. It’s faulty. It carries the insanity gene. I was always scared of this. Now the ailments that took down a parent arise. The depression, especially. Today at least there’s medication. In the 70’s, psycho-doctors believed hooking your brain to electrodes and sending electricity through the head was a viable remedy.

I’m a marginal father at best. I’m not certain I’m wired for this parenting thing. I observe the actions of who I consider excellent dads and try to mirror them. I fail miserably. I hold back. Oh,on the surface I’m engaged but underneath I’m so nervous I can’t remain in the present long enough to enjoy the father/daughter moments.

I’m constantly slipping back 40 or so years to the time when I loved a woman so much yet she betrayed me by skipping out when I was a teen.

Maybe I’m not ready or mature enough to heal.

Until that return trip. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen.

I realized that life-shifting changes do not need to arise from adversity. Sure, hardship ignites awareness. It happened for me in dramatic fashion on several occasions. However, I’ve learned that big decisions to alter course can be subtle. Uneventful. There’s a click in the head (I think) and a decision is made to change and never look back. And you don’t.

So I decide. Just like that.

She’s a savior. Not a killer.

Because that’s how easy it is.

To decide.

Random Thoughts:

I begin with gratefulness. My daughter is a connection to my past. I have been given another chance to heal by understanding through her, what my mother must have gone through at a time when depression and anxiety were ignored or denied. I know now mom must have suffered in silence. Little Italian girls were supposed to be perfect. No matter what. The impossible devil of perfection drilled into them daily. Now I get it. Finally.

All I do is try to be a better father every moment. In turn, my actions allow me to empathize and forgive a parent who battled but succumbed to the flames of inner demons.

I watched her burn. Did nothing to stop it.

I take that back.

I was ten years old. My mind was on Mad Magazine and masturbation. Not a 31 year old female with ignored mental illness in the midst of a seminal breakdown. I tried my best to understand and interpret adult situations.

I delivered cheerleader speeches. I’d stand on her bed pontificating like a midget politician  – “Mom, it’s you and me against the world – We can do it! We can get through this!”

Lots of tears. They did nothing. The drugs, the men, the alcohol, the fears, the electroshock treatments, drowned out my constant pleading for a short semblance of normalcy. Topless and drunk in the courtyard of our Brooklyn apartment building on a school morning was enough to seal my fate as the freak of the neighborhood. And still I tried.

Now I know there was nothing she could do.

woman burning

Through my daughter I forgive my mother for what I lost. A childhood.  I came to understand how the illnesses, the fears were too much to fight. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her that internal demons are scarier than hell. I wish I could say I understand why she had pinned that stupid cross to me every day without fail.

“Please God, don’t let him inherit my weaknesses. Protect him.”

female depression

It hit me. Sitting in the exit row. Finally.

Now I know. The ritual worked.

Big changes can happen without fanfare. Just decide. Don’t make it a big deal. Stay casual. Calm. Today I’ll save more. I’ll say no to lending money to others. I’ll find another job that pays more for what I’m worth. I’ll get up and go to the gym. The less you think about it and do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Like me.

When I decided. Released my grip on the exit.

And re-entered.

Accepted the truth.

I look down and read:

“We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”

Self Reliance – Essays First Series 1895 Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I have that cross. It’s a tarnished symbol after so many years.

Its power is gone.

Or is it?

As the plane landed, I couldn’t decide for sure.

I’m certain I never will.

And I’m at peace with that.

Jurassic Money: 5 Financial Dinosaurs to Avoid.

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Jurassic One

In the 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” Jeff Goldblum’s character argues with the scientists who have assured him that their cloned dinosaurs cannot reproduce. “Life finds a way,” Goldblum says.

Extinct for millions of years, dinosaurs survive on the big screen. They frighten and thrill us out of our cash and generate big box-office bucks. (Their latest romp, “Jurassic World,” has grossed more than $600 million this summer.)

Dinosaurs exist in the real world, too — financial dinosaurs that stomp on your goals and chew up your money.

Don’t feel bad: These prehistoric remnants often thrive in the portfolios or financial activities of even the most astute investors. For massive creatures, they are mysteriously stealth-like when it comes to devouring cash from wallets. Life, you could say, finds a way.

Can you detect the beasts that smash portfolio performance and endanger overall financial progress? Consider these five fossils that require burial deep within the archives of financial services history.

Random Thoughts:

1. Load mutual funds

These ancient beasts roaming the asset classes of your portfolio have long since reached their life expectancy. With more than 16,000 no-load managed or index funds available, paying sales loads on mutual funds is akin to taking a big bite out of your investment returns before they have a chance to run.

Whether it’s the A-share price of admission of 3%-5.75% upfront or the creative B- and C-share classes, where load charges are supposedly deferred (but not really), the total expenses of these investments are a challenge to justify. Stay away from this Jurassic world. It will only lead to financial chaos. If you own loaded funds, monitor them regularly with a watchful eye for exit. Move into more affordable options as soon as their performance lags their benchmarks for two quarters.

no load funds

2. Variable annuities

This blend of mutual funds and insurance busted out of containment long ago and has wreaked financial havoc on thousands of investors. As with the Indominus rex of “Jurassic World” — the product of combining the DNA of multiple creatures into a terrifying monster that would sell more theme park tickets — the financial services industry created these hybrids to benefit themselves through lofty commissions and high fees.

If you own a variable annuity, you’d get better acquainted with what makes this creature tick. Don’t be surprised to learn that annual expenses can be 4% or higher. That means every year a significant portion of your return gets devoured by the ravenous VariableAnnuitus rex. Pay attention to surrender or “exit” penalties that can range from 1%-10% and decrease over a period of years. These charges are designed to hold you captive in the cage with these costly beasts for as long as possible.

Work with a financial or insurance professional to devise a strategy to transfer variable annuity proceeds to less expensive alternatives. To defer taxes, an advisor, if properly licensed, can initiate a process called a 1035 exchange.

Take heart: Not all annuities are prehistoric relics. Deferred-income or single-premium income annuities are becoming more popular as ways to supplement Social Security and generate an income you cannot outlive.

3. Payday and title loans.

These types of loans for quick cash are growing in popularity. Like the velociraptors of “Jurassic World,” they don’t seem too dangerous until the sharp teeth of interest charges and other fees dig deep into your wallet. With interest rates that can easily top 300% APR, rarely are they a smart choice. Several states have passed legislation to help consumers understand how these loans work. Fast-cash lenders cater to people in a liquidity crunch, usually lower-income groups with poor credit opportunities.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is gaining a better understanding of the nature and magnitude of payday, title and other installment-type loans. It’s customary for a borrower to “roll over” these loans and continue to pay fees and interest charges, thus creating a debt trap that’s tough to escape. If you must use these loans out of necessity, realize that the federal government is actively forming a framework to harness these financial beasts and determine how people can seek credit relief in an affordable manner.

lose money fast

4. Emotion-based investing

Our brains are primal. They’re built to keep us alive, not necessarily to maximize our investment returns.

Dalbar recently released its latest “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” study. This 21-year analysis consistently shows how poorly mutual fund investors have performed compared with market benchmarks. For example, in 2014, the average equity mutual fund investor underperformed the S&P 500 by more than 8.19%. In fact, the return from the broader market was more than double that of the average equity mutual fund investor: 13.69% vs. 5.50%.

One of the more prominent investor pitfalls is called “anchoring.” An anchor can sit heavy on net worth — like a brontosaurus on the chest. Investors who anchor are focused solely on the price they paid for an investment. If the investment turns out to be a loser, anchoring prevents the investor from selling regardless of whether conditions warrant a sale. They strive to “get even.” Anchoring results in opportunity costs or even bigger losses as additional money is put into underperforming investments. To battle this primal enemy, create a buy and sell rule for every investment or work with a professional to guide you.

lizard brain

5. Brick-and-mortar banks

For higher yields, exit the Jurassic period. Virtual banks can link easily to brick-and-mortar options and are FDIC-insured. Even if not for day-to-day banking, online choices are perfect for savings, especially emergency reserves which ideally should hold six to nine months’ worth of household living expenses. NerdWallet offers a comprehensive hub with savings account basics, tips to find higher savings accounts rates and a list of the best online savings accounts.

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There’s no place in household balance sheets for colossal animals, especially those that have a ravenous appetite for cash. Keep the dinosaurs limited to movie choices, and financial success will be more reality than fantasy.

Jurassic World

This post first appeared on Nasdaq.