Rock

Welcome to the personal blog of writer SG Young. My blog has three features:

ROCK posts deal with things I’m doing. Real life. Things that happen.

PAPER posts are the things I’m thinking about, like fitness or kryptonite.

BONFIRE is the imagination.

Rock. Paper. Bonfire. Every day is different.

Featured post

Part II: The Dow that can be told

Getting back to investment mistakes, I’ve made my fair share of the classic ones: not starting sooner–not putting enough in each pay period–not choosing the best individual fund choices of the many offered. But I’ve also avoided a few of the bonehead plays such as pulling the money out prematurely or buying into a banana plantation in the tropics. Retired, I figured I’d have sufficient time to either do a better job managing things, or get myself into more trouble. So I started watching one of the business channels on cable in an effort to learn more.

At first I wanted to understand more of the investment lingo, especially those acronyms like IPO, S&P, and ASAP. The business channel of course is geared to people in . . . business, instead of retired folk, so they frequently interview CEOs and CFOs, and I kept waiting for a CGO because it seemed like they were going in alphabetical order, but No. Through watching multiple shows on a near daily basis over several years I did learn a few key investment insights: everybody else knows more than you do, BUT the more you know the less it helps.

Ignorance isn’t exactly bliss, but it does save you time. I could watch endless iterations of the “business cycle” without figuring out which companies are actually worth plunging into. Did I catch NETFLIX before its valuation multiplied tenfold? No. Did I snatch up APPLE shares when they were practically handing them out on street corners? Not really. Did I open my own day trading account and turn hundreds into thousands and thousands into millions? Never got started on that one.

My investment strategy can be summed up as: Daily Investing That Happens Easily- Really! I use the acronym DITHER! You just watch a lot of investing stuff on TV. Even though the business channel reports stock prices in real time and they really like that bell at the New York Stock Exchange, I soon realized that I was behind the times. To be really up-to-date you also have to watch investment stuff on the Internet. I adapted DITHER! so it could be easily used incorporated onto my smart phone.

Now that I realize how many important decisions that affect our daily lives are made by the giant multinationals such as Disney (to open or not open? should we release that movie that no one liked this year or next year? what do we show on ESPN now that sports no longer exist?) and Coca-Cola (now that people are willing to pay for water, can we get them to buy air?)– does it really make any difference whether you actually finish a sentence that started way back at the beginning of the paragraph?

Let’s get back to Ava Gardner. She became a famous actress in 1946 in a film version of a Hemingway short story titled THE KILLERS. She was the beautiful femme fatale (film lingo for a female bad guy). A femme fatale lures you in and then turns on you when you least expect it.

It’s a lot like the Dow.

 

The Dow that can be told is not . . .

The Dow that can be told is not the eternal Dow.

That means I have no idea what I’m doing, as far as investing is concerned anyway–probably as far as a lot of things are concerned. But this is about mistakes in investing.

When I was young I read a good book about mathematical things in life. (I’m going to use the powers of the Internet to try to figure out what that book was, but I don’t want to interrupt my train of thought–okay, my caboose of thought–to look it up right now, but I intend to get back to it and then you’ll see how it relates.)

I was probably in about seventh grade, and I still remember several points made by the author– elephants cannot jump at all whereas fleas can propel themselves many times their own height (the Jordan of fleas would measure his vertical jump not in inches but in multiples of his own body size)– a chess board is the key to investing, because its sixty-four squares were used in a famous ancient parable to teach that doubling really makes numbers get BIG– and if you don’t use graphs correctly you can really mess with people. I think that last one was probably from a different book.

Here’s the chessboard story as I remember it. The wise number-cruncher was being rewarded by his king (a ruler of immense wealth), so the king promised him anything he desired as a reward. Just name it. (I think the excellent service consisted of inventing the game of chess which the king was enjoying immensely). The humble number-cruncher said his reward was merely to be of service, but the king insisted that he pick something even if it was something humble and symbolic, so he requested a single grain of rice be placed on the first square of the board. The next day the king saw the reward and objected that this was too meager a reward. So then he requested that the second square receive two grains. The king quickly proclaimed that his reward would be to have each square covered with double the rice of the previous day’s square until the entire board was covered in rice grains.

Mathematically, of course, this was equivalent to 2 to the Power 64 with the last square buried under 2^63 grains and the other squares all added up to make a total of 2^64 grains of rice. It turns out, my seventh-grade brain learned, that this is a LOT of rice. More rice than the kingdom could supply. More rice than the entire earth could supply. More rice than has ever grown in the history of earth.You get the idea: be careful when stuff starts growing by doubling.

In this book the story of the chessboard served as the introduction to the concept of exponential growth. I learned that elephants cannot jump because the mass of any creature grows as the CUBE of its size whereas the strength and power of the creature grows as the SQUARE of its size, due to the cross-section of muscle being the determining factor in strength. So a creature 100 times bigger might be 10,000 times stronger (100 x 100 = 10,000) but the weight of that creature would then be 1,000,000 times heavier (100 x 100 x 100 = 1,000,000).

I still remember these examples fifty years later. And I think about them when I think about investing. Because the idea of investing is to grow your money, right? How long does it take to double your money if you invest it in various ways?

If you invest in the stock market the long-term growth has averaged out to over 10% per year if you average over long periods of time. In the shorter term all hell breaks loose, but long-term the average is over 10% growth. Now, I know that 10% growth produces a doubling in about seven years time. So when I retired I knew that I would have to wait a long time but eventually my retirement account would start doubling. Since I retired at age 56 I could anticipate maybe . . . (being optimistic here) . . .  doubling five times! Okay that would take 35 years which would make me 56+35= 91 years old. Would I still be able to do mental math at age 91? Not sure, but then Clint Eastwood is still making movies and he’s turning 90 this year!

I planned to be the Clint Eastwood of retirement. Not in the sense of beating people up, or fathering children with multiple partners, but just in staying mentally and physically alert enough to know how much money I have from all the doubling. And care.

So, say someone like me started with $100,00 and let it double every seven years:

Age 56  $100,000

Age 63  $200,000

Age 70  $400,00

Age 77  $800,000

Age 84 $1,600,000

Age 91 $3,200,000

What would someone 91 years old do with three million dollars? I didn’t know, but I decided to try to let my money grow, as long as I didn’t need to tap into it early of course. And, yes, I did realize that inflation might eat away at the value of that three million such that it was then barely enough to buy an ordinary house.

I actually had my investment in the form of an annuity account with a life insurance company, and my only decisions amounted to selecting funds of differing names and then letting the “investment professionals” make the day-to-day decisions about how many shares of Coca-Cola or Netflix to purchase, sell or hold.

I’m going to pause and come back in the next post– how’s it actually going? Am I on track to be Clint Eastwood? Or am I more of a Mickey Rooney? Rooney was born ten years earlier, DOB Sept. 23, 1920, and he lived to 93, passing away April 6, 2014– but was famously always broke despite Hollywood earnings going back to his childhood. As a teen, Rooney was the biggest box office draw in the world, but never invested effectively. On the other hand at one point he got Ava Gardner to marry him.

What is Bar-B-Q?

Bar-B-Cue means different things to different people.

In one of my personal favorite old movies the wandering Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) shows up at a southwestern roadhouse and bumps into waitress Gabby (Bette Davis). Turns out, he’s a failed literati looking for a lost cause, and she’s the cause he’s looking for.

Alan (eyeing the menu): “What is . . . “Bar” . . . “Be”. . .”Cue?”

Gabby (brightening): “Well, here it’s a grilled hamburger and vegetables.”

First, he has the soup course. Alan sees everything in Gabrielle’s eyes (he refuses to call her Gabby), but eventually destiny intervenes in the shape of killer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and Alan has to decide if he wants to give up his life for a girl he just met.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028096/mediaviewer/rm2354446336

Bar-B-Q really shouldn’t be that serious. It should be more of a thing you enjoy, something to look forward to. I like sampling barbecue while traveling because it can be so regional. And everywhere in the world has some form of barbecue, because it’s one of the original ways to eat cooked food, i.e. throw it on a fire. That, and soup, i.e. throw it in boiling water.

If you want to find decent barbecue in the western suburbs I recommend Russell’s Barbecue on Thatcher Ave. in Elmwood Park. It’s right around the corner from Oak Park, the Chicago suburb where Hemingway grew up and went to school. In fact Russell’s is two miles from Hemingway’s birthplace and boyhood home. Those are two different houses a few blocks apart, the boyhood one on Kenilworth and the other on Oak Park Ave.

What is barbecue at Russell’s on Thatcher? We had ribs, slow-cooked pork, and a nice half-chicken which you can get with or without sauce. Most everything comes with fries and coleslaw. (Theirs is the vinegar style not the cream style slaw, good not great.) But the pork sandwich is always delicious and comes without sauce which you add yourself. I like to think Hemingway ate at Russell’s. It opened in 1930. So maybe he made it back to Oak Park and tried it.

Hemingway has a bit of a connection to the Leslie Howard movie, because Howard’s character Alan is a failed member of the Lost Generation, the Paris ex-pats hanging in Paris and elsewhere after the end of WWI, i.e. during the 1920s. Hemingway meanwhile was a successful member of the Lost Generation, if you consider that someone who sells a lot of books, catches a lot of deep-sea fish, wins a Nobel Prize, and kills himself with his own shotgun successful. He was 61.

I don’t want to give away the ending of the story of Alan and Gabby, but I will add one of the nicest parts about it.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028096/mediaviewer/rm488754944

Bogart honored Leslie Howard for the rest of his life (Howard died a hero, June 1, 1943), even naming his daughter Leslie after him. This was because Howard was key to making Bogart a film star, revitalizing his career in California. When The Petrified Forest was in the planning stages Howard was in Britain and got word that the film producers were thinking of dropping Bogart from the cast. They’d done the play together in New York, Bogart had rave reviews as the killer and Howard sent the Hollywood guys a four-word telegram, “NO BOGART NO HOWARD.” Bogart’s film role as Duke Mantee got him a lot of Hollywood attention. It wasn’t until his casting in HIGH SIERRA (1941), twenty-nine movies later that Bogart headlined a film, but he was always in the mix after doing The Petrified Forest. In 1941 he headlined THE MALTESE FALCON and then CASABLANCA (1942), and the rest is history. All because of barbecue. Sort of.

Chase & Sadie Smith married on . . . To be continued

Poetry Meeting

I’d found a poem in a recipe.

Earlier this year, before the pandemic, I went to a poetry meeting. Almost everyone else were women of a certain age, all poetry fans and some– good poets. (There were two other guys though one was the husband of a member and had just decided to stay rather than drive home and then back again.) I’d brought the recipe poem, typed up and printed on paper, to pass to the group. Everyone had their own poem to share.

There was also a young woman from the bookstore who glued the group together by being sweet and by saying things that brought the group back. Most of the members had known each other a longish time and could wander.This was in Florida.

I sat with my poem copies and I jotted down names around the circle, so I might remember them. It was decided to start with the lady on my right and then move around the circle in that direction, effectively making me last. This made me nervous. The poems had to be about “Housework.” This was a startling topic for me when I’d decided to try the poetry group. Why housework? Well, they had brainstormed possible topics two years ago and this month got around to that one. I had just happened to pick the Housework meeting. That’s why I brought in the recipe. It was what I could come up with.

All the poems selected were read aloud in turn and briefly discussed. Most were quite good, one was a Nikki Giovanni, the one where she wants her lover to cook for her. That was the only other one that had to do specifically with cooking.

When it came to my turn I read first William Carlos Williams’s short poem about eating the plums. This was an example of a found poem, because I know that not everyone interested in writing knows what a found poem means, basically something that you didn’t write yourself but discovered or created out of someone else’s writing. I like finding them in prose or anywhere. I read aloud the William Carlos Williams, and they all knew what I was getting at. Then I read aloud Syrup of Violets (an actual recipe from the 1600s).

SYRUP OF VIOLETS

Take the deepest and best coloured Violets,

And make some Spring water boyling hot,

And put the flowers into a silver Tankard

Or into a new Pipkin with a cover,

Then put in the water upon the flowers,

Till it be as thick as you can well stir it about,

And then set it upon hot Embers,

To keep it hot six hours,

But be sure it do not boyl,

And set it by until It is cold,

And then squeeze out the Flowers

And to every pint of this Liquor

Put two pound and a half right Brazil Sugar

And set it upon the Fire,

And when it is scalding hot,

And when the scum does rise,

Take it off and scum it and set it by.

 

And when cold,

Bottle it and stop it close,

And keep it for your use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the feeling of unity

We’re all in this together.

I’m appreciating the inspiring video from George W, Bush about our country getting through the coronavirus crises by pulling together in a spirit of national service, each person doing what we can to help family, friends, neighbors, and community. It was released on May 2. He particularly warns against, “An outbreak of fear and loneliness.”

Bush mentions a few groups especially vulnerable: the unemployed, the elderly, the ill.

Starting from that I’m suggesting two more subgroups of society in order to round out the list and create a mnomiac- a monomaniac- a menomineec- one of those lists that are easy to remember:

A = ANXIOUS (pre-existing conditions, hard-hit zip codes, meat-plant workers, etc.)

E = ELDERLY (anyone older than me is technically “elderly”)

I = ILL (anyone testing positive or already compromised by illness)

O = ON THE FRONT LINES ( health-care workers, first responders, essential workers)

U = UNEMPLOYED (laid off or bankrupted or furloughed)

Here is a youtube link to the 3-min. clip:

 

Seriously, on a roll

One thing I’ve learned

One thing I’ve learned-

When we were younger and the kids were small

We had zero money, but saved a bit,

Bought a piece of furniture-

An entertainment center in cherry-

With bright burnished finish

Quite nice.

And it was damaged

“Must have been one of the kids”

Just a small nick appeared marring the newness,

No problem really, but we’d accused the wrong child

And everyone felt quite bad-

No one came forward.

 

It was forgotten

But not really

Then years later we found out

It was the youngest-

Who’d never been accused but had been worried to speak up,

So kept quiet-

But years later it came out, talking, so

We laughed at how seriously we’d all taken it.

 

Now

We’re all older, many years,

It’s the one thing about that furniture I recall,

The only thing that has any real meaning,

A shallow nick about the height of a small child.

Now it’s the one thing special about an old piece of furniture.

 

It’s one of the things I’ve learned-

About life.

It may be the only thing I’ve learned.

She Arrived Unspoken

SHE ARRIVED UNSPOKEN

     by SG Young

         

She arrived unspoken.

She came first to the gone part of town

To that part that wasn’t really there anymore

The part that perhaps had never been there

The part where bombardments had hit hard

And often.

 

Where shops had been blown

Charges set

Things thrown

That should not have been thrown.

She arrived unspoken

The little girl.

 

Yet within hours

Somehow it was known.

Somehow it came to be known.

The little girl is that baby

The little girl is our Anushka.

Sonya’s Anushka.

Alfonso’s Anushka.

That little girl.

Yes that little girl there Who is walking

Through the blown part of town with someone.

 

And every street had someone who knew

Who knew Everything

Who told Everything

Who said Give this to her for me.

I shall not see her.

Please give this for me

Please take her these

From me.

 

For:             Potlatch by Claudia Selene

Potlatch is a portrait done in oil paint on wood. Claudia Selene is from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Her painting won the Bowles Award for Portrait Excellence at the 2020 National Art Exhibition sponsored by the Visual Arts Center, Punta Gorda, Florida.    http://www.visualartcenter.org

Navigate to p.14 to view Potlatch: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1797/9015/files/2020_NAE_Awards_Program_2.13.20_FINAL.pdf?718

 

 

Darya Applebaum

E97979EB-02D9-4186-B7D2-76B4BCEF78B9(Note: A  short story written for a contest, limited to 1500 words)

DARYA APPLEBAUM

By SG Young                                                      1454 words

 

Darya looked up through her bangs. “Mom . . .”

Her mother stood at the induction cook top, stirring with one hand while scrolling her phone with the other. She breathed heavily.

“Mom, . . . mom . . .”

Dr. Applebaum’s eyes glanced. “Darya?” She said it as if she were calling on an astrophysics student.

“Mom. Finally. Are you making fudge?”

“No, honeydew, I’m making supper. I’m making pasta. With your favorite sauce.”

“Fudge is my favorite sauce.”

“Fudge doesn’t go with pasta.”

“Fudge goes with EVERYTHING.”

“You go with everything. Give me a big hug.” Dr. Applebaum picked up her four-year-old daughter and sat her on the kitchen barstool. Then she hugged her tight in her arms, maybe even a little too tight, and brushed ashen hair from her daughter’s eyes. “I should cut these bangs.”

“I like my bangs. I like peeking.” Darya pulled her head away just enough so that she could see her mother’s smile through the bangs, but not the worry lines that wrinkled her forehead.

“Mom, did you used to be pretty?”

“Thank you very much! That’s a nice compliment to hear at the end of a long day.”

“But did you?”

“Yes, honeydew. If I’m being brutally honest, yes, I used to be pretty.”

“What’s brutally?”

“Brutally . . .” Dr. Applebaum breathed heavily again. “Brutally is when something is true, but you really wish it wasn’t.”

“So, no fudge. That’s brutally?”

“Yes, I suppose it is. Can you hop down and wash your hands, please? With soap.”

“Scoot me?”

“To the sink?”

“Please . . .”

“Okay, hang on. Tight.”

Darya smiled a huge smile, gripped her hands hard to the edge of the barstool so she wouldn’t lose her balance, and waited for her mother to make the flight announcement.

“Darya for clearance to the sink . . . Darya for clearance to the sink . . . ready for acceleration phase . . . “ Darya started giggling. “Okay, you have clearance.” Dr. Applebaum gripped one hand onto the rim of the barstool and pulled it in a wide arcing semicircle to bring her daughter toward the sink. She announced, “Deceleration phase,” and the barstool came to a halt just close enough for Darya to reach her hand to the faucet handle.

Darya washed her hands using actual soap. “What is soap?”

“Soap is what makes your hands clean.”

“I know what it does. I want to know what it is.”

“Ooh, you little physicist.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Yes, honeydew, that’s good. That’s so good.”

Dr. Applebaum spooned tomato sauce onto her daughter’s pasta, and warned, “It’s hot. You can blow on it.”

“Hard or soft?”

“Just soft, dear. We aren’t blowing houses down.”

“Do you think wolves could really blow houses down? I don’t think so.”

“I don’t think so,” her mother agreed.

“I don’t think so either.” Darya smiled at her mother until Dr. Applebaum smiled back.

After Darya was safe in bed, and had heard her favorite stories, Dr. Applebaum stood at her mirror staring at the lines on her forehead. She could practically name the projects that had given rise to each one. The Close-Approach Project, nearest her eyebrows. Then the Orbital Project. And the Contact Project, etched nearer her hairline. Each project’s timeline apogee-linked to the orbital period of the Lunar Lump. When the Lump had originally broken off of the moon she’d been a grad student herself, and now almost twenty years later she felt as if the Lunar Lump had taken over her life.

That eerie green image, the one that went viral with those hands on the glass, had been the end result of going against her advice. The President. He’d wanted a manned mission.

Dr. Applebaum’s pregnancy had coincided with so many others that the entire batch of babies had been nicknamed Lunar Boomers. No one knew how much time the earth had left. Why NOT get pregnant? She’d picked an attractive and brilliant former student. And hadn’t even told him.

Dr. Appelbaum fell asleep remembering Aurelio, the smell of him. He used a lot of turmeric. Sleep was blissful.

“Mom, mom, is this the day the earth gets destroyed?”

Dr. Applebaum blinked her eyes open and glanced at her clock. 6:05. “Why are you asking me that?”

“You said you’d make the fudge on the last day. We could just eat it and eat it. Fudge all day. Is today the fudge?”

“No, honeydew, today is not the fudge. It’s just a day. And it’s early.”

“That’s brutally.” Darya climbed onto her mother’s covers. “On the last day can I do whatever I want?”

“Yes, I suppose. It’ll be the biggest snow day in the history of creation. Nobody has to do anything for tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes.”

“What are you going to do, Mom?”

“I suppose I’ll hug you like crazy. And drink margaritas. And think about turmeric.”

“Can I drink margaritas?”

“Well, I suppose you could, now that I think of it. But I don’t think you’d like them.”

“I’d like them if they had fudge.”

“Fudge margaritas? Actually, might be worth a try.” She looked at her daughter’s bangs and said, “These really need cutting. Today. But today is a school day for you. You need your school outfit. Can you put that on?”

“Okay.” Darya popped off of the bed and ran back to her closet hooks. There were two school outfits and she liked both of them, so she usually just picked the one that she hadn’t worn last time. She liked to be fair to both of them.

At the lab that afternoon Dr. Applebaum knew she had her conference call that would include the President and both of his chief science consultants. They all knew that she had the most accurate projections of the Lunar Lump’s trajectory changes. She was going to tell them today that all of the indications were such that Destruction Day would be the closest of the several scenarios. There was less than a week left.

Then they would have to decide what to tell the public. The truth? Probably not. The truth was going to be that earth would never survive, and that the deepest shelters, even the salt caves, were not going to be of any help. If they asked her advice she planned to tell them that they shouldn’t make any announcement at all. There had already been vague declarations that this year would be an ideal time to catch up on any religious obligations. What else could the population actually prepare for?

But she knew that the President might favor being brutally honest. That everyone ought to know the date and time to the nearest accuracy possible.

Dr. Applebaum thought about going philosophical on him. Just saying, “Now.” That the event would happen, Now.

“Why now?” The President would surely ask.

“Because everything happens now. It’s the only time that really exists, the only time that anything can ever happen is . . . now!”

The reality would be that any kind of realistic announcement would be met with the same predictable reactions. Some would accuse the President of grandstanding for political reasons. Many would continue life as normal. Maybe—saying a few more prayers? And some would go absolute bat-dung crazy and start killing and destroying. The biggest looting spree in the history of the world.

Why risk that?

Dr. Applebaum suddenly decided that she would lie.

She would say that there’s been a tiny error. The projections were a slight bit off. They had another year. Maybe even another two years. No more than that. After the President’s term was up anyway.

Somebody else’s problem.

She had the conference call. She lied. They all believed her. At heart they wanted to believe her. They trusted her, because they knew she wouldn’t risk her science reputation by being anything less than accurate. So she must be telling the truth.

Dr. Applebaum felt a rush of enormous relief, and left the lab after the call was completed. It was a bit on the early side. But she wanted to stop on the way home. She wanted plenty of fresh limes and this certain tequila she’d been waiting to try. A certain reposado. She’d been waiting for a special event.

And then she stopped for Belgian chocolate. She liked Belgian even better than the Swiss. She messaged her neighbor who watched Darya after school.

Darya met her at the door. She peeked into the bags right away. “Is this for making fudge?”

Dr. Applebaum nodded and smiled. “Yes, honeydew.”

“Yayyy!” Darya screamed it through the house, climbed onto her barstool, and said, “I better wash my hands.”

(Note: Darya won $75.00 in the story contest, and she plans to spend it entirely on fudge.)

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑