Shh! (Tandem Kayak & Alligator Nest)

Shh! (Tandem Kayak & Alligator Nest) 


Paddling, searching for birds in the sky—glancing down, see first just one liquid eye.

Backward can save us—that’s what paddles are for—this Mommy looks like a dinosaur.

          Puncturating dentition needs just a little shove,

          Hacksaws forensic odontologists could love.

          Mechanized propulsion, like a barge-and-tow,

          Baking death rolls for breakfast. Setting on Low.

Mommy alligator’s look-alike is a log—her alligator-snack looks a bit like our dog.

Any creature fooled, that day is his last—Mommy alligator’s amazing surprise is, she’s fast.

          Her antediluvian corrugated luggage skin,

          Mouth frozen in Joker’s despair-filled grin,

          Low-flexed limbs unsuitable for huggage,

          Appendged onto her submarine tuggage.

Dinosaur descendents turned out quick & feathery—alligator does eggs in traditional leathery.

If you see glaring teeth & your fear never fades—the place to avoid is the Everglades.

          She guards seventy eggs for sixty-five days

          Oxidation incubates at eighty-six degrees.

          Miniature gators will hatch one-by-one,

          When a few survive, evolution has won.

Floating & boating, adventuring forth—to feel safe and serene, Let’s try paddling up North!

Keep in mind her favorite direction is South–trust me, you’ll remember the alligator’s mouth.

           Deep inside the vegetative decomposing nest

            Her leather-smooth eggs gestate best.

            Within a brain reptilian, like some servo-drive

            On autopilot, rumbles something like her Love.

     Painting: Lurking   by Wendell Graham


Let’s do lunch



Continuing on to further travails of Investing, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made turns out to be: eating lunch.

I recently read a pretty good investment article (see link below) about how much money it’ll actually cost if you eat lunch out every day. The author’s tab for $14.50 (at Panera) is only the beginning. Because it turns out that by the time you figure in taxes and lost investment growth caused by not putting that $14.50 into your retirement account the total runs to . . . over $1,200,000 in lost savings!

Of course, I didn’t know this during my career and stupidly ate lunch–day after day.

I didn’t exactly waste money on my lunches- some days I ate a PBJ especially early in my career when we didn’t have much money. I usually brown-bagged a sandwich from home, but sometimes I purchased something from the cafeteria. Rarely did I go out for lunch.

However I also wasn’t throwing the maximum into my retirement savings either.

The article’s main idea is similar to the better-known concept usually called the Latte Factor–named for the coffee drink which wastes enough money to allow most struggling wage-slaves to retire like millionaires if only they rein in their spending and direct the savings into their Roth.

The main idea is sound: spend less on stuff that you don’t really need.


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 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 retirement with $100,00 and then 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 a condo.

I actually hold 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 actually more of a Mickey Rooney? Rooney was born ten years earlier than Eastwood (DOB Sept. 23, 1920), and he lived to 93, passing away April 6, 2014– but Mickey Rooney was famously always broke despite Hollywood earnings (and later Broadway earnings) going back to his early childhood and continuing into his eighties. As a teen in the late Thirties, Rooney was the biggest box office draw in the world, but he never invested effectively.

On the other hand, he was Ava Gardner’s first husband.

Below: Ava posing in character for a publicity shot for THE KILLERS (1946). She’s 23 here and already divorced from Rooney.

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.

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.

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).


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.



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.

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