Seeds: How A Millennial Farms a Retirement Portfolio.

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A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch.

“You’re a farmer now. Will you be a proficient one?”

“Rich, you do realize I work for a startup tech company in Austin.”

“Yes, as I said. You’re a farmer.

Farmer

What are you planning to grow in your new fields? How will you tend to them? How many can you manage?”

Ely recently earned more seeds than he’s ever held. A six-figure bonus. For this Millennial, a bounty received. Smart enough to seek objective guidance and lay the groundwork for a strategy before the windfall is spread. Not to be cast to the wind. Conditions needed to be perfect for what he was seeking to grow.

“I don’t have fields. I’m from New York City, remember?”

“A seed is an organism. The shell encases life and vigor that will break out and grow strong if tended to as it should be. It works the same for money. Now that you possess financial seeds, you must consider planting them in multiple fields to reap rewards that will sustain you over a lifetime. Picture this…”

Plentiful tracts. Spider webs of rich soil. All different. Tilled with a specific mix of nutrients and attention. Fortified by a plan and philosophy designed to produce opportunities diversified enough to endure changing climates.

Investing for retirement is a robust, varied harvest that may be reaped for decades.

Here’s how an industrious Millennial became a financial farmer.

It starts with a refreshingly different philosophy about life and money. A young farmer’s mindset has the potential to send chills up the spine of every financial services organization that believe stocks are the only crops in town. Wise stewards of money understand that true diversification and investing is more than stocks.

Ely and I call it “holistic diversification.”

Stocks are not ignored; however they represent one field among four deserving attention.

According to Investopedia, diversification is “a risk management technique that mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio. Diversification strives to smooth out unsystematic (business) risk events in a portfolio so that the positive performance of some investments will neutralize the negative performance of others. Therefore, the benefits of diversification will hold only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated.”

The information then goes on to outline how to diversify with stock investments. If diversification is truly risk management and is a technique that “mixes a wide variety of investments within a portfolio,” why is a portfolio defined solely as a mix of “domestic and international securities?” Is this the “wide variety” that controls or contains risk?

I’m sorry, this definition is not accurate. Farmers shake their heads in disbelief.

Over the years, especially since the financial crisis, stocks have become more positively correlated. In other words, in times of crisis, defensive industries like food and beverage and cyclical growth sectors like industrials have moved increasingly in the same direction: Down. The majority of stocks follow the general trend of the market, especially during bear cycles.  So, when diversification among stocks is needed the most, it disappoints the most.

Holistic diversification is grander way to think and invest.

It breaks down mental barriers around money, inspires self-discovery, fosters creativity and generates a thought process where opportunities can seed, plant and prosper in a beautiful lifetime patchwork. Each field requires different levels or types of care.

That’s diversification the way it should be.

Ely (with my encouragement and his self-assessment) re-defined diversification with the wisdom of an investor three times his age (I had him write his philosophy and send to me.)

“I will seed 4 fields with my bonus to increase diversification and wealth: Personal growth (maximize the return on me), my stock and bond portfolio allocation, private investment (perhaps rental real estate or a few startups I’m interested in), and a long-term annuity to help supplement my social security and portfolio income at retirement.”

As you ponder a philosophy that blends life and money in soil where the nutrients are a unique blend of your personal needs and desires, remember to go beyond traditional thinking to cultivate multiple streams of future retirement income.

Cultivate the ROL or “Return-On-Life.” An astute farmer enriches the soil of life by nurturing mental and physical growth. A quarter of Ely’s bonus will seed recreation. A beach vacation, a personal trainer, wine flights, fine dining and a creative writing class.

Return-On-Life isn’t a mathematical calculation. The farmer’s formula is personal. Results are calculated by the health of the bounty from all the fields.  A guilt-free plan that blossoms or hones a marketable skill, creates an experience, relieves stress. It’s the spending which provides the farmer a clearer head, endurance and energy to work the other fields to yield maximum output.

healthy male

Add nutrients to a stock allocation but set realistic expectations. Traditional asset allocation plans deserve attention however farmers have been advised by financial media and popular publications that stocks, bonds, hedge funds and other liquid investments make up the centerpiece of the farm. I was able to help Ely question this guidance: Help him broaden his perspective about planting landscapes and think smaller about the future riches sowed from this area. I needed to set expectations. A likely scenario over the next decade is the returns from this field may reap less return, perhaps close to zero.

Using a formula from money manager Dr. John Hussman of the Hussman Funds to mathematically determine what stock market returns may look like over the next decade, the following result is calculated.

Assume GDP averages a consistent, recession-free 4% annualized growth rate, the current market cap/GDP remains at 1.25 and the current S&P 500 dividend yield of approximately 2% doesn’t change for ten years, forward stock market returns do not appear to aid a formidable bumper crop:

                                                  (1.04)*(.8/1.25)^(1/10)-1+.02 = 1.5%

Assumptions are just that: Obviously, change is the only realistic constant. These long-term estimates are based on decade-long rolling periods therefore they are highly inconsistent when it comes to short-term market cycles. Regardless, it allows a farmer to plan and diversify accordingly. The potential of this field is consistently on the radar as resources are directed most often to this space through regular contributions to a retirement plan and a taxable brokerage account.

Plant seeds in unfamiliar terrain with the richest soil for growth. The diversified farmer understands that investing in non-publicly traded ventures is risky, requires patience, yet can reap great personal and financial rewards if the landscape is properly understood and receives the correct balance of nutrients, attention and ongoing provision of resources. Tilling a private field takes passion and focus above and beyond what’s required to sustain consistent pastures. It’s a direction that requires guts to pursue. After all, that part of the farm can go busy, is fragile. A young farmer with vision handles the responsibilities with alacrity and maturity.

Ely set seeds aside for rental real estate to generate passive income and will diversify his farm more effectively than publicly-traded real estate investment trusts that correlate higher small company stocks. He’s also seeking to purchase units of a limited partnership in a wine-tasting venue opening in downtown Austin, Texas.

I’ve experienced a willingness by pre-retirees and recent retirees to invest 5-15% of their net worth in private ventures and small business franchise opportunities as a way to diversify from traditional stock and bond portfolios. It’s a growing trend as investors know they’re not getting the full story on how diversification works. They’re “reading around” Wall Street. Flanking the field, venturing out to undiscovered, fertile ground.  I greatly encourage them to take the chance as long as a team we understand the impact of a formidable loss on their retirement strategy.

Grow a pension and supplement Social Security. Safe is a field. It produces the steady, ongoing sustenance a farmer can never outlive. It’s the poster child of proper diversification. An annuity that will provide reliable income to bolster Social Security. The use of insurance to transfer risk in case something goes wrong that sets our farmer back financially in the future, is a smart addition of acreage to the farm. Nothing fancy. Nothing variable: A simple deferred-income option or a single-premium immediate annuity where the farmer knows exactly the bounty to be received on a periodic basis as part of long-term retirement income planning. There’s nothing variable here. No storm fronts that can create loss and vulnerable conditions. Ely believed that this field balanced and fit perfectly into the farm he’s working.

“So you see Ely, you’re a financial farmer. You’re working at a startup in Austin. For the seeds.”

I met with silence at the other end of the phone. Ten seconds max. Felt like 60.

“You know Richard, I understand now. I’m seeking to maximize the fruit of my labor and enrich the other non-financial riches that will blossom.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well done, farmer Ely.

farmed field

Well done.

The Zombie Way: 7 Life Lessons From The Living Dead.

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Zombies have been taking over your city whether you realize it or not.

It’s been happening for decades.

zombie city

Good enough reason to keep your doors locked, people! Not that locked doors help for long. After all, a mere few zombies can turn over cars so bolted doors and measly plywood over windows buys you just enough time to say goodbye to the loved ones.

night barrage

Sooner or later you’re on the menu.

Zombies are so white-red hot right now; these decaying, staggering masses or the deadest of “us,” easily steal attention away from popular (yet horrific) headlines from the likes of a very living Kim Kardashian stripping down or Lindsay Lohan losing her top at a nightclub. Who wants to see a naked zombie exposing her breasts (except out of macabre curiosity?)

Well, I do! But that’s just me.

zombie butt

The living dead have risen in prominence. Taken their rightful place. Gnawed their way to the top.

For decades their popularity has ebbed and flowed yet their presence has never truly decayed. And now they’re everywhere you turn. It’s the zombie time to shine! Albeit they’ve lost a healthy glow shared by their breathing cousins but it doesn’t matter.

I don’t see zombie popularity diminishing in the near future.

As economic conditions remain strained and public unrest persists, the fascination with these rotted maggot shells lives on. Several investigations exist to prove my case. I won’t bore you with them.

I’ll share my own rationale behind zombie fever. Also why I’m scared of them and admire them at the same time.

First, think about this:

They don’t fret over paying electric bills, meeting mortgage payments or college tuition
costs. The days of anguish over the daily money monkeyshines of the living are gone! Surviving takes on a totally different perspective.

How we relish those with reckless abandon who can just chase and bite, stagger and gnash like rabid animals.

The Government has even been known to send dead people unemployment and social
security checks but they have no need to cash them. I’m jealous. The mortal coil
of everyday fiscal obligations is broken. We are envious of the financial freedom. Who
wouldn’t be?

Zombies are brazenly wasteful and they don’t care!

It gets me frustrated. If the living dead are so ravenous why do they take no more than two bites of prey and move on? There isn’t an endless supply of warm bodies to nosh on.

nom nom nom

The undead need to do better with food handling. What about all those starving zombies in China? Even when they decide to dig hard and tear deep through a victim zombies don’t appear to be eating. They play with their food (in this case elbow deep in intestines, organs and other nondescript red slimy entrails). If I enjoyed my food this much as a kid I would have been in enormous trouble with the parents.

zombie with intestines

Perhaps I’m missing the point.

Maybe zombies don’t require sustenance. Now that I ponder, why would an animated rotting corpse need nutrition? Could it be they bite primarily to propagate the undead population?

They don’t appear to be very friendly to each other. I don’t witness any bonding among zombie hoards that convinces me they derive any benefits from increasing the undead population through procreation. I witness no hand holding or team work. They don’t even trip over each other.

Zombie French kissing seems wrong, too. Some don’t have tongues.

zombie tongue

In the AMC hit television series “The Walking Dead,” a believable explanation for the
genesis of said program title emerges.

At least it allays some of my frustrations over the deliberate waste of the fresh walking food supply.

In the Season One finale “TS-19,” the sole remaining doctor at the Center for Disease
Control (gingerly insane although very sage from a lethal combination of: Isolation, shooting his wife known as test-subject 19, and acceding to the awful truth
that there is no cure for the afflicted), outlines findings as a zombie zealot, I find plausible.

Dr. Jennings explains:

“The disease invades the brain like meningitis (ok I heard that’s bad).

The brain stem is restarted. Gets them up and moving (makes sense to me).

Most of the brain is dark: Dark, lifeless, dead. The frontal lobe, the “you,” the human part
is gone (it does appear that way).”

I’ve concluded (I think), animated dead folk are indeed ravenous.

They don’t possess the human or humanity (what’s left is a tiny spark of light at the base of the brain) to make the most of preserving the food source.

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a psychiatrist, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book “The Zombie Autopsies,” would agree with Dr. Jenner’s conclusions and sizes up zombie appetites in a further professional manner perhaps because he never lost a loved one to a zombie nibble:

“The ventromedial hypothalamus (in the brain), which tells humans whether they’ve had enough to eat, is likely to be on the fritz in zombies, who have an insatiable appetite.”

I sort of admire how “walkers” (what zombies are called on “The Walking Dead,”) can be wasteful (and eat whomever they want) without any repercussions. No weight gain.

Damn them. Damn them all even more than they’re already damned. Jealous.

Zombies don’t need to exercise and it’s inevitable they’re going to lose weight without
much effort. I so hate them for this. As a matter of fact even though Hollywood never
seems to get it, if survivors can wait long enough, hunker down. The dead are literally going to rot.

It’s not like they’re embalmed or preserved. They’re sauntering about through
the harshest of elements. Eventually they’ll be dragging around close to the ground. Clumps of harmless, fermented flesh if you’re patient enough. You can then brazenly walk up and do a step and squash on what’s left of a head. Simple.

My boots are ready!

Zombies don’t poop. They’re no longer human, therefore they can’t blow up the economy, housing, stocks, banks,the currency, gold, or whatever else financially related. It would be a relief not to be bothered with reading all the financial publications that consume me.

Since zombies don’t experience fear, avarice, lust and all other very human vices I can’t foresee how they could fuck up the economy any worse than we can. My belief is corporate America is ingenious enough to eventually replace living employees with the undead at a moment’s notice.

They don’t require wages, benefits, time with family or friends.

Can you see the writing on the wall here?

Zombies no longer feel torment, guilt, revenge, passion, regret. They don’t hold baggage from parents who messed with their heads.

No cheating spouses or backstabbing friends to fret over. No Viagra (they’re stiff enough). No looking to slice up the boss (unless it’s for the purposes of eating.) Bliss!

Zombies can’t run no matter how some movies mess this up. I have a major issue with this one and I’ve studied zombies since I was ten years-old. This is purely an exploitation move created by film makers to make audiences feel more vulnerable and scared. No thank you. I’m scared enough by the staggering, original kind.

zombie running

Dr. Schlozman would back me up big time here. The good doctor in his book takes his
zombies seriously. As a matter of fact, when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives, survivors must find a way to the doc. His extensive study will be invaluable.
These primal hollows of our living selves just cannot run. Done.

From Doc Schlozman’s “The Zombie Autopsies,” the wisdom flows freely like blood from a gaping bite wound:

“Slower degenerative processes in the cerebellum explain the initially intact gait of the
infected, even though they all become increasingly unbalanced with time.

That’s why they hold their arms out in front of their bodies: for balance and increased coordination.

They just want to remain upright, on their feet. But the process continues, the cerebellum degrades, liquefies. Virtually all late-stage ANSD humanoids ambulate via crawling.”

AH-HA!

See? Running zombies are an abomination! Listen up movie-makers! I prefer my zombies slow, staggering and overwhelmingly off kilter. I’m a purist.

FYI – ANSD stands for: Ataxie Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome. The
internationally accepted diagnostic term for zombiism. Thanks again Dr. S.

Zombies should stink to high heaven so why don’t victims smell them coming from at least
half a mile away?

I once went an entire week without bathing in 1989.

That’s after sex with two different women, eating several boxes of Entenmann’s orange-swirled chocolate Halloween cupcakes, ten Big Macs and washing it all down with large cups of coffee laced with heavy cream.

entenmans cupcakes two

I recall plenty of female nose crinkling and waves of disgust. Good thing I didn’t leave the house.

You rarely see disgusted looks on the faces of the living. I never heard once in a zombie movie.

“I can’t handle the smell of these walking maggot bags.”

“My eyes are watering from the stench of these fuckers.”

“I’m going to vomit from the ungodly odors these dead things throw off.”

Well, to pay homage to the terrific writers of “The Walking Dead,” like Nichole Beattie (who also has great hair that frames a perfect brain) there have been various references to puke, puking and zombie dead-body odor peppered throughout episodes.They’re passionate about authenticity unlike most who cater to us zombie zealots.

I salute them.

I passionately believe my teachers and friends – The Altuchers (James, Claudia), Kamal Ravikant, Srini Rao, prosper from personal tribulation and help alleviate the suffering of others.

I wondered: Can these sages learn from the behavior of the undead? I believe so.

The dead providing life lessons sounds strange, but I’ve been humbled by the dead. Their teachings sit deep in my frontal lobe.

In many ways, those who have passed are by my side more than ever. They might as well be walking alongside me in following dark shadows.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson over the last two years as I’ve studied zombies:

Hey asshole: Get out of the grave you’re still alive!!

grave hand

What caused me to living die? What causes you to living-die every day?

Working for corporate America (I affectionately call “Corpse America”) was a living death. Every day the corporate overseers would concoct creative ways to squash my spirit. I was under the cancerous thumb of a bloated financial services firm that lost its ethics and I was rotting away. Fast.

zombie suit

There was less time being productive and more mental resources wasted on complying with draconian-like rules and impossible sales goals that were progressively getting worse.

I felt powerless, sick, listless, diseased. I was passively allowing my brain to go dark.

I was able to fight off the corporate infection for years. Then I couldn’t battle any longer.

My immunity for bullshit broke down. I gave zombie-ism permission to wash (bleed) over me. Limbs went limp. The stamina and passion for my business was draining fast like black blood from a gaping neck wound.

I loved the clients and co-workers but felt truly powerless over my destiny. I was bleeding respect for myself and for the first time in years, the confidence in my skills was drained. I was frightened all the time and the dead were closing in on my space.

No matter how much wood I nailed over the windows they just. Kept. Coming.

Was I the only one who felt like this? I don’t know. I could see the light fade
from the eyes around me. Others were going to allow their souls to flee the mortal cavity.
There were the kids, or the mortgage, the car payment or the necessary financial
support for the stay-at-home spouse. Everyone was overextended.

Surrender felt like the only option. It was like exposing your most important parts willingly to a nasty zombie bite.

Ongoing bad health habits sooner or later, are a coffin filler.

In 2006, my idea of diet rarely strayed from a cheeseburger with a side order of donuts followed by another cheeseburger and six more donuts.

That was 50 pounds ago. I managed to do enough damage to my organs in one year to end up with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol level approaching 280.

I was so out of shape even a zombie-like stagger would have put me out of breath. Having diabetes scared the zombie out of me. The thought of going blind or losing a limb was more than I could live with. Dead man walking (on one leg) was not going to happen!

I changed  overnight. Oh I’m not perfect, but the disease was a blessing in disguise. I needed something frightening to jump start me.

It worked.

Think about it: What will jump start you to take your health seriously before it’s too late?

Big debt is a flesh biter. Excessive debt levels are a lethal weight on your shoulders and will suck the living life (and death) from you. Whether it’s your household or a government, too much debt is a brain drainer. Oh, you’ll still be able to walk around but dead inside you will be.

It’s worse for your situation than for most governments since you can’t create your
own money (well legally anyway). Too much debt in any form will have you unbalanced
and rotting in no time.

Media overindulgence, especially television, zombifies the frontal lobe. I hate to feel this
way since I know so many terrific media people. It’s just that television especially pseudoreality (not real reality because who wants to watch that?) campy talent and political drivel all eventually erodes the stuff that makes you “you.”

Just monitor and limit your intake.

Writing and reading for at least an hour a day keeps my frontal lobe in a less gelatinous
state. Find what works for you. Even playing a board game might help. Not
Sudoku. I’m convinced zombies created that game. Sudoku players fill out every Sudoku puzzle in every magazine at every doctor and dentist office. It spreads like
chicken pox. Stay away!

Syble Solomon, creator of Money Habitudes™ writes about how the television virus
attacks and tempts you to spend money:

“More subtle are the images of what is
“normal” that are created in most television
shows and movies. Usually people
are well dressed, have great accessories,
drive nice cars and live in up-scale comfortable
housing with expensive furniture and beautiful kitchens. You rarely see anyone
paying for anything on TV or in the movies.”

 

You ever see that fancy apartment on the TV show “Friends?” How did those losers afford it? You begin to believe that’s normal! It’s NOT. Unless the women were high-end call girls working overtime. Then it’s a possibility.

What knowledge you can gain from the walking dead. See? There’s so much.

You’re not the shuffling soulless yet. Be thankful for that. The zombie inside captures
your glance in mirrors. It so desires to permanently deprive you of all the colors
that make you warm and human. It will win if you let it. It works to tempt you.
Even though it feels like you’re dead sometimes, of course you’re not. The nice thing is there’s a cure for your zombie transformation. You can come back.

I know how some of the stuff I wrote about earlier can fry you from deep inside – the
job, the bills, the spouse, the boss, the debt.

Then there’s the receding hairline, the erectile dysfunction. How do you handle this?

Discover ways to restore faith and revive the soul. Search out, step back and document the humans, actions, things that keep you alive and grounded.

It’s healthy to be wasteful once in a while. Put the zombies to shame.

I’m not alluding to tossing crisp, new $20 bills from the sunroof of a moving car (I
tossed a Shania Twain CD from a moving vehicle once). I’m not even referring to
willfully taking a teasing bite out of a filet and discarding the rest just for kicks.

I allocate one day a week (usually a Saturday because I’m a horrible creature of habit,)
to partake in completely wasteful (occasionally disgusting) activities and lovingly
simmer in my own juices.

I take my time closely examining the latest edition of Maxim Magazine, an occasional Playboy, Men’s Health. I eat Chinese take-out in my underwear, indulge in endless Three Stooges episodes on DVD. I strive for a zombie-like state of non-awareness. Is that a word? You get the picture (I’m sorry).

Decompression is a good thing. My theory is that naked zombies really comprehend this chilling out thing. I admire free spirits (living or living dead). Unfortunately, there’s a real scarcity of nude zombies in movies and television. It’s blatantly pitiful (NB, can you work on that?).

The undead have been stalking society long before they became mainstream. They’re
equal opportunity, infiltrate all races and cut a bloody swath across political lines.

They gain attention when economic conditions deteriorate or improvement is anemic.
They pop up during times of social unrest. Since the last recession, the most severe in
decades, zombies have been downright frenzied.

When things are good, we’re making money or generally less turmoil exists in the world, zombies are pushed aside, beaten down. Mocked. Contained.

As much as I love them because I enjoy scary thrills, I long for the days when zombies are disrespected again.

I don’t recall zombies so relevant and overwhelmingly popular as they are today; I’ve been keeping track of their ebb and flow since I first bug-eyed watched the black and white cult classic film “Night of the Living Dead,” by zombie Master Muse George A. Romero, on a crappy plastic encased thirteen-inch black and white TV. 1973.

romero Romero: The Zombie KING.

In 1968, the year “Night” was released, the Vietnam War was released, the Vietnam War was raging, civil rights protests were grabbing headlines and Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The film cost a grandiose $114,000 to make which even then for a movie was a pittance of a budget. It has grossed over $30 million worldwide. What a return on investment!

Romero created a controversial stir by featuring a black man, unknown stage
actor Duane Jones, as the brave and resourceful hero while most of the men (white) in
the cast were blowhard, wishy-washy or backwoods white folk.

Romero also plays up the contemporary theme of government distrust as dead
body brains are “activated” (allegedly) by radiation expelled from the explosion
of a space satellite, the “Venus Probe.”

Throughout the film, there are shots of military officials (actors) fleeing from television news cameras all the while denying the connection between the radiation and the returning dead who make a meal out of the living.

The bitter irony of the movie is how Ben (Duane Jones) solely survives the night of ghoul attacks by locking himself in the basement of an abandoned farm house only to be shot in the head the next morning by a white member of a sheriff’s posse as he’s mistaken for one of the remaining zombies roaming the countryside.

I remember watching. Scared to death, frozen. Shocked. I recall muttering the words:
“This really sucks.” I hated the ending but I understood the point Romero was trying to make. Well, I think I do. Back then, I interpreted the messages through my warped mental screen. I still believe my interpretation holds up.

First, why bother to survive a zombie hoard if you’re going to be shot in the head by
your own people (the living kind) anyway? What a waste.

Second, make more noise and scream actual words like the living (not guttural grunts like the dead) if you see a posse out a window! Ben, Ben, Ben. You were too quiet. I understand you just went through hell and you’re bit dazed but if it’s me I’m screaming like a sissy living, defecating human who just soiled his Fruit of the Looms!

Third, based on the social turmoil of the 60’s, I think Romero sought to use the film to
convey messages about the futility of the Vietnam War (conflict) and the tragic assassination of MLK, Jr. Go ahead fight the good fight, be honorable, stick to your convictions, but understand there is still a great risk. The hero can indeed fail or die. I hated how Romero killed off Ben at the end (I know I mentioned that, already).

Fourth, an interracial couple holed up in a farm house (even when the female is young,
blonde and completely unresponsive) doesn’t mean sex is definitely gonna happen. Huh?

Not when Ben is around! I was wondering when he was going to rip off Barbara’s (played by a very blonde actress named Judith O’Dea), clothes but all he did was comfort and protect her. Well, he did knock her out with a hit in the face but it was perfectly understandable. She was unhinged after watching her brother become zombie brunch. Like the opening of a porn flick, yet BEN stays out of trouble. 

Even after she clawed at her scarf saying “it’s hot in here, hot.” NOTHING. Ben,
you helped me understand what being a gentleman really means. Can you imagine
if Romero had Ben have his way with Barbara?

gentleman

Talk about controversy in 1968!

And…

Like their walking brethren, the financial decayed are here to stay!

Banks – With many banks domestic and global, systemically risk averse and making
thinner profits they seek to bleed you but instead of teeth you’re getting bitten by fees – higher checking account fees, debit card usage fees, fees to talk to a person, wire transfer fees, monthly maintenance charges.

Forget that. Fight living death by fees!

Consider switching to an online bank as long as you’re comfortable with lack of a branch location to walk into. I haven’t used a brick & mortar bank in years.Good riddance.

Check out the best online banks and checking accounts at www.nerdwallet.com.

Make sure the bank you choose is covered by FDIC and you don’t breach the coverage limit which is $250,000 per depositor.

Also, banks currently are not required to play by the rules – due to suspension of accounting rules whereby assets on the books are not priced to what the market would actually pay for them, there are banks that most likely are insolvent (or dead) yet still alive!

Plainly, if it wasn’t for the suspension of this rule called “mark to market,” poor performing banks with liabilities exceeding what assets are worth, would have been truly dead a long time ago and not still occupying a location near you.

When I was ten, mom would leave me home alone on Friday and Saturday nights until she found out my babysitter and her girlfriends were dancing naked in front of me during late-night TV’s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

What did I know? I was pre-occupied with covert G.I. Joe missions. I never minded the
nude dancing. I’d glance over once in a while. It looked fun and free. I was scared to be
alone on occasion but mom needed her boy time I guess.

I owned the most extensive G.I. Joe collection in the neighborhood until my mother
made them disappear one by one. She was like a sniper/kidnapper the way she picked them off along with my other toys.

Especially cool were the Joes with fuzzy hair and beards. I never really embraced the Kung-Fu Grip line of brave soldiers for some reason.

gi joe hair

We recently moved to a second floor apartment adjacent to a stairwell. The halls on weekend nights were lively, especially after midnight. Kids making out, the occasional marital fight spilling out, enriched with curse words bouncing off hallway walls, outright screaming.

I can still remember the first time I watched “Night of the Living Dead” on an ABC Saturday evening late show. The idea of zombies was sort of goofy to me before then. I believe I watched Scooby Doo trip one up on morning television. To me they were clunky cartoon relief. In black and white, late at night and thirsty for blood, zombies gained more of my respect. Scooby Doo was either brave or just a dumb ass.

It was that  damn, dead woman at the top of the stairs. The devoured face. That eyeball staring at me, piercing me through an old RCA Television screen.

top of stairs

My perception of zombies had changed. Forever. They haunted me from that moment.
If I would have known how popular they were to become, I would have given up on this
money management business a long time ago. There was a fortune still yet to be made exploiting the undead.

According to the blog “24/7 Wall Street”, zombies are worth over $5 billion to the economy. Costumes, movies, novels, comic books, video games, television shows. All serious business.

From cult following to popular mainstream, the dead overpower the compensation of any cadre of top U.S. corporate CEOs who now make 400x what you do.

Oh no, I’m convinced. Zombies are here to say. Let’s review the lessons.

Random Thoughts:

1). Zombies represent our human weaknesses and loss of control over our environment. During periods of economic distress, their popularity festers. Fear of loss, lack of confidence, subpar gainful employment are prevalent today and will be as we slowly emerge from a housing, financial, credit, banking crisis atomic blast.

2). The living dead represent the vulnerability that lives deep inside our guts. It’s the human condition pushed to extremes. It’s the threat of loss. The loss of our ability to be human. A test under severe pressure. Up against the wall, you find out who you truly are.  At this time, many of us feel vulnerable in our jobs, with our incomes, our relationships. In these times, zombies demand our full attention.

3). Understand what rots you. Stuck in a cubicle overseen by mindless middle management bosses, abrupt changes to your income, excessive debt, negative people, bad health choices. Hell, you think zombies are scary? Try to have an intelligent conversation with your boss. See if he or she can think independently from the infection swallowed daily from the corporate “stink” tank.

4). Political turmoil stirs the zombie hoards. Didn’t George A. Romero effectively teach us this lesson? There exists less faith in our leaders regardless of political party. Uncertainty allows the walking dead to herd, gain strength in numbers. In certain states, they may be allowed to vote. I’m not sure.

5). The economic system is still rotted and dragging dead feet. Five years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the economy is still shuffling slow like a zombie in the August Texas sun. Below average economic growth, structural underemployment, first-time homebuyer malaise, below-average or non-existent employee wage growth, real median household income off 7% from 2008. This isn’t a healthy state of affairs, everyone. Actually, it’s fucking disappointing.

6). Corporations are now zombie factories. Especially the publicly-traded ones. Hey, as a money manager I love how corporate leaders hoard labor, work current employees to exhaustion, utilize financial alchemy like purchase back stock shares to boost earnings-per-share and stock prices. As an employee herding in a work force where labor is plentiful, where an individual can be replaced at any time by someone willing to accept half the pay, I would fight like hell to get out before the zombie infection takes me and I’m gnawing on an arm by moonlight.

arm gnaw

7). It’s acceptable to go brain dead on a schedule. We’re an overworked society; people don’t take vacation anymore. Americans fear for their jobs when they take time away from their technology to be with their family. Set aside a few hours every week to indulge in a guilty pleasure. Hell, eat a pizza in your underwear. Drip salsa on your shirt and suck it off. Whatever.

1:00AM: The hall outside my apartment was especially loud. During commercials I checked the peephole but saw nothing. Then, from out of nowhere, it sounded like a sledgehammer at the front door:

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

I couldn’t breathe. I was paralyzed. I hit the red shag face down. I sought to go deep believing if I was part of the carpet, I couldn’t be discovered.

I belly crawled to the kitchen to knock the red Bell Telephone Trimline off the hook.

Thank god for extra-long pigtail phone cords. One tug and the receiver would be mine.
Stay calm. Hit the neat little lighted buttons for 911. Brooklyn’s Finest would arrive quickly to save me from the zombie with a weapon.

red trimline

Then it stopped. As fast as it started the pounding stopped. The banging went dead. On
my television I saw hero Ben lighting a corpse on fire using a makeshift torch. Was I going to need to take notes? I could use a G.I. Joe as a torch. I bet that fuzzy hair would go up quick.

I was hesitant to call the police now. I was upright. I walked slowly back to the sofa facing the television. It was eerily quiet outside.

I crawled to the front of the apartment and looked underneath through lit-sliver between door and floor. Nobody. Nothing. No sound except for a heart pounding in my ears. I stayed pinned down. Not blinking.

And Ben died. Shot through the head. Just like that.

The next day I discovered there was an arrest close by. The ex-babysitter’s boyfriend had broken into several apartments. Items were stolen. Supposedly he was looking for a place to hide and thought he could take refuge in my apartment. He thought the babysitter still had a standing appointment with me.

That was the first and last time I was glad a young woman wasn’t around dancing naked in front of me.

That was the first and last time I was glad about a decision my mother made.

Fire the babysitter.

bad babysitter

 

 

The Condition of Chronic or – How to Survive When a Piece of you is Dying.

“This appears chronic.”

chronic kidney

Chronic. What’s that? Sounds like a newspaper. Like the Houston Chronic.

“Well, your kidney doesn’t have much meat.”

Hmm.

“Doc – Are you sure they didn’t scan my groin instead of a kidney?”

Laughter.

Curtain close.

thats all folks

Besides the ongoing, nagging throb coming from the right flank, like there’s a little alien dude in there clawing its way to freedom, I’m reminded my kidney is dying every day.

The doctor’s visit brought memories of a word from long ago. Thrashing. When my father was dying. He was in hospice care. The woman (saint) who helped us make him comfortable, advised me: He’s going to fight the death process by “thrashing.” Limbs will convulse. Expect sudden bursts of muscle movement. It’s a body’s last gasp before going under permanently.

And he fought. Boy, did dad thrash.

Yea. The kidney feels like sometimes it’s in a death throe, or playing ping pong with a marble. And I’m sad. Because I’ve become very attached to my internal organs. I’m sensitive to the pain because my right kidney and I have become very close. We sort of grew up together.

It’s weird when a piece of you thrashes.

And then.

Random Thoughts:

1). I’d rather lose three-dimensional over multi-dimensional any day. If I needed to make a choice, I’d lose a kidney over the ability to possess knowledge, maintain a sharp mind, stretch my imagination. Well, I’d rather have my cake and kidney too, but I’ve learned, especially as of late, you can’t keep everything.  Parts of you will eventually die. While you’re still alive. Dreams will require burial. The challenge is to keep as much of yourself as alive as possible before the entire system you’ve grown to depend on, folds up like the banking industry in 2008. This also includes your spirit to continue pursuing your dreams.

2). What dies first? You will go off the deep end. Your brain will die from panic if you try to control the outcome of a physical challenge. All you can control are your actions in the face of it. Focusing on the present and not trying to make the problem bigger than it is (or worrying about a worst-case scenario which may not occur) will only cause your sanity to die first.

Kamal Ravikant writes in his new book “Live Your Truth” that you must live in the moment and suffering occurs when we resist the moment. We are far stronger than our pain. It can come in waves, move through us, spice up our lives (yay) but suffering, that happens when we fight it, shut the doors and hold off, shouting – “No you should not be here..”

Don’t “thrash” or fight shit you can’t control; you’ll only expend  precious energy – end up nowhere. One the obstacle rolls over you, once you surrender, there’s an eerie calm and clarity to your thought process. I know. I’ve been there. Kidney, you listening? Now roll over.

3). A  greater piece of your net worth potential dies daily. If you’re not aware or just plain ignore the pitfalls of your saving and investment behaviors, every day your financial situation is gonna die. Progress can only come through acceptance of bad money habits and no longer making excuses. Ease also comes from living in the moment from a money perspective.

Take out five bucks (yes, actual paper money).Pass your finger tips slowly over the fibers in the currency. Look at the bill up close. Smell it if you dare. Then take out a pen and paper – write down what having money means to you. Write down short list of quick sentences. Focus on small actions you can take right now to save more, reduce debt or invest smarter (even if it means you require professional guidance getting it done).

4). Stress will kill. The more friction you create by trying to control outcomes in your life, the more kidneys you will lose (and you’re usually blessed with two, only). The real power you possess is focus. Focus on your efforts. Now, are your odds of success more favorable if your efforts are true? Sure. Are your efforts guaranteed to lead to the outcomes you seek? No. When you learn to be responsible for the actions taken and truly understand deep inside, how the outcomes can be far from what you expect, (or predict), the inner peace experienced will reduce your stress. The odds of maintaining those lovely organs you’re attached to, will increase. And that’s a good thing. You’ll laugh more in the face of adversity. You’ll crack funny jokes like I did (take my kidney, please).

Chronic is not death.

It’s the universe shaking you. Making you aware of a problem.

Chronic doesn’t regret to inform you that you need to do a better job.

Or your entire life will turn to shit.

What part of you will die today?

Which piece of you will live?

You decide.

fail kidney