4 Sweet Money Lessons – Straight From The Toaster.

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As featured at http://www.nerdwallet.com. 

Pop Tarts almost killed me.

pop tart gun

The foundation of Mom’s parenting philosophy was the use of food to pacify me. Pop Tarts, either hot from the toaster or “raw,” as I called them, straight out of the box, were my favorite. My reward for good behavior was delectable, grape and occasionally iced.

Three boxes a week for seven years. Do the math. No wonder I have a permanent roll of fat around my belly.

The iconic Kellogg’s toaster happiness is turning 51 with no signs that its 32-year streak of increasing annual sales is in danger. And my ability to discover money messages in unusual places continues as well.

Money lessons arise like the fruity-sweet smoke of a hot toaster with a pastry left in just a little too long.

Here are four random thoughts that will help you add a healthy balance (pun intended) to your financial health.

1. Finances don’t need to be so serious all the time

It’s OK when money is sweet and replete with empty calories — in moderation. For example, I buy a scratch-off lottery ticket on occasion just for fun. The odds of winning are not a factor in my decision. The thrill and anticipation of the remote chance of winning is worth $2. The ROF (return on fantasy) is a bargain. Pop Tarts and other sweet foods were considered a staple in my childhood household. That’s not a good idea. It’s OK to splurge; I encourage it as long as spending limits are established and monitored.

2. Patience has rewards

Did you know Kellogg’s was sued for damages after a Pop Tart caught fire in a toaster? Boxes now carry a warning about fire risk in a toaster. Those things can get hot. As a kid, most of the time I wouldn’t wait and forged right ahead — I’d take a piping-hot mouthful of fruit filling without worrying about the repercussions.

The length of time people hold onto stocks has been falling rapidly since the 1960s and now stands at roughly six months. Investing, especially in stocks, is a long-term discipline. If your holding period is three years or less, then you’re not investing, you’re gambling. Prepare to be burned. Work with a professional to understand your underlying motivations for investing and try to match your life goals or benchmarks with the appropriate financial vehicles. You’re more apt to enjoy the cool sweetness of being a successful — or at least a levelheaded — steward of money.

3. Variety isn’t diversification

Pop Tarts come in 25 flavors. Over the years, Kellogg’s has experimented with different shapes, offbeat themes (like Ice-Cream Shoppe flavors), even a Pop Tart variety that was split down the middle with two separate flavors in one pastry. Most of those variations lasted only a couple of years. The original flavors like grape, strawberry and brown sugar-cinnamon have endured.

The financial services industry is, for the most part, a “popped-up” marketing machine, full of air and seeking to create products that promise diversification but often fail to do so. Costly hedge funds, and inverse products that promise protection in down markets, are not necessary to achieve diversification or enhanced returns. If you’re seeking true diversification from stocks, consider guaranteed investments like U.S. Treasury securities and cash, which are part of a lean and levelheaded diversified portfolio.

4. Icing is fun, but it’s not everything

The first frosted Pop Tarts debuted in 1967 when Kellogg’s discovered that icing could withstand the heat of a toaster. The foundational concept of this legendary confection remains basic: sweet filling surrounded by a plain, pre-baked, flaky pastry crust. Yet the simple brilliance of a Pop Tart has endured for decades.

When managing finances, the least complicated rules are still worth following. Saving at least 10% of your income annually, monitoring spending, keeping credit card and other unsecured debt levels to a minimum, establishing an emergency cash reserve and investing to reach longer-term goals — these never go out of style or lose appeal.

Sure, it’s fine to add a sweet kick to money basics. For example, taking calculated risks like investing a portion of your assets in emerging-markets stocks and bonds, placing money in sectors or asset classes that have recently underperformed, and investing in learning new skills to increase your value in the workplace can top your basics off nicely.

As with Pop Tarts or any sweet treats, moderation is important. It’s the same with your money behavior. You shouldn’t pursue either extreme deprivation or all-out splurging.

Wealth is built in moderation.

I blacked out from eating three boxes of Pop Tarts during a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon block. I’m not proud of that experience, but I am wiser for it.

groovy ghoulies

Just like the advertising campaign claims they’re “crazy good,” so can you be by following the lessons straight from a beloved toaster pastry.

Going “Double-Zero” – Five Steps To Greater Happiness & Wealth.

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I remember her.

How she looked then.

this is 1972

Funny.

It took me almost as long to write this blog post; the lingering sorrow of inner-circle loss is torpor for the soul. I never get used to it no matter how many times people depart on their own or I’m motivated to head out of Dodge.

Writing about this topic resurrects mourning and at the same time, casts a different light on tenebrous memories. Surrounded by the spirits of those who are gone steels my judgment, sharpens my perspective and allows me to effectively face my own weaknesses and all-too humanity.

Human losses define my Phase 2; the new, improved and clear headed iteration of me. Sharp edges cut clean to acceptance. Free of shackles.

All human connections good or bad, add richness to life. Although the bad ones fill volumes of lesson books with razor-bladed pages. Bleed and turn, bleed more.

Healthy relationships that turn black are worse.

cancer cells

Unfortunately, life suspended in a cancerous relationship soup, sucks away enough energy to prevent the spirit from moving on, growing. Self-worth fades to the grated pallor of steel. Perspective flash freezes like moisture in a high mid-winter sky.

You’re heavy, stuck and falling.

But there’s only so much pain a person can take. Everybody has a trigger, a breaking point. Something happens that jolts an awakening. Could be as subtle as a recurring, inner whisper. A word. An action. Or as dramatic as a crash and burn (I’m Italian; we add drama to our rigatoni).

By the time that happens, healing has begun. Before you know it the circle will begin again. A new connection, a stronger chain, a weaker link. The leaded steamroller of life moves forward – flesh, blood and emotions in its wake.

I look up to the clouds often. I breathe in the vast universe to revitalize my small world. Let’s say I focus higher to stay closer to the ground, especially when I lose those I care about.

In the past, blinded by my ego and overtaken by the egos of others, the sky meant nothing. Looking back, I’m not sure what happened to replenish my appreciation of simple things. It’s all a big blur. Ironically, I’m grateful how I mistakenly granted admittance to my inner circle to the wrong people, organizations and feelings because they all lead me to where I am today.

The friendship that began in 1972, between T and me, has created several of my deepest pauses of reflection. Months, years, years beyond years do that.

She was my dearest crush in fourth grade. I awkwardly stumbled through many juvenile affairs of the heart then – most of them hidden behind painful shyness, a lack of self-confidence driven by sappy daydreams of holding hands walking home from school.

On Friday nights, I pounded away – creating love notes on a baby-blue & white typewriter to school girls who would never care to read them. I barely recall their names but I never forget hers.

Rosso typewriter

She filtered simple, daily life experiences through a happiness prism which I found interesting at such a young age. I was an eternal fatalist. I saw the worst in everything first. I went directly to the worst-case scenario.

T was diplomatic to a fault. I was jealous of her consistently positive (occasionally cloying) perceptions of the world around her. Even when diagnosed with advanced breast cancer that upbeat perspective rarely waned. I waned. When she told me, all I had for her was silence.

“Hey, I’m not dead, yet.”

I admired her nature. She was restive, I was restless. She was a healthy distraction from my parent’s invidious marriage. Everybody wanted to be her friend.

I wouldn’t call T a frequent gambler although she had a strange passion for roulette. That’s it. Roulette. When I was 14 my parents bought me a roulette set (made by Kenner Toys, I think) for Christmas. We spun the silver disc inside that black, plastic wheel for hours. The thrill of hitting chosen numbers or black or red captured our attention.

The excitement was greater for T as she consistently played zero or double-zero. It was the deep green color that stood out in a sea of dark on a felt “table.” It felt different for her. She basked in the beauty of rare moments (like hitting the zeroes). Every time she hit it, which seemed often, I would get pissed off.

Personally, I rarely played the green zone. I think the odds of hitting zero or double-zero are like a bazillion to ten. I sought stronger probabilities.

Not T.

“I like the feeling I get when I hit double-zero.”

I so wanted a to feel like that look on T’s face when that little silver ball hit 00. Or when she beat breast cancer the first time in 1994. That smile. Post-brace face. Unforgettable. A grin born from the positive attitude which defined every part of her.

I asked her why and how she believed the impossible was possible.

She said – “because I make room for it.”

That was it.

She made room: In other words, there was a place in T’s mind and heart that created space for the impossible to be possible.

Her life was defined by double-zero.

double zero wheel

Making room.

So in honor of T’s life and eternal life, I made it my mission to make room.

Go double-zero.

I started finding and cutting away my definition of cancer: Connections with people who drained my energy, fed off anger and frankly no longer fit into the positive life I was finally beginning to cultivate.

It’s not that they were bad; just bad for me.

I began to understand what she had been trying to tell me for decades.

And now, so should you.

Random Thoughts:

1). Double-zero creates space to breathe. It redefines the sky you’ve ignored. It allows you to fill your present with positive people and increased productivity as mental fatigue diminishes.

2). With double-zero you land less on black. There’s white space created for activities that fill in the hole. Great room to undertake those projects which fulfill you. The more you hit on 00, the faster your spin lands on inner peace. And it happens more often than it could in Roulette.

3). Double-zero is a clean slate. You’re open to new lessons; it’s a creator of second chances. The rebirth of a stronger inner circle.

4). Double-zero is not just a burning bridge. It’s using the intense light and heat from the fire to blind you from who and what you removed. It’s scorched earth. It’s the adult version of “you’re dead to me.” It’s cutting out, going cold turkey on cancerous people, situations, subjects, so you can live. No. Thrive. Never go back. Once you hit 00, take your sanity and cash out.

Double-zero isn’t forgiveness. Oh no. It’s inflamed forbearance. An internal act of defiance that transmits a clear, outward message to those who are unethical, untrustworthy and unwilling to to exhibit loyalties to love, silence, commitment and grace.

5). Someone is about to 00 you. Be ready. We have all been and will continue to be double-zeroed by others. It’s OK. Time to self-reflect. Most likely, you initiated 00, motivated the spin. Own it, burn it, move on.

Naturally, T would say I’m perceiving double-zero all wrong.

Damn my negativity.

negativity

Here are additional random thoughts T would place a stamp of approval on if she could.

 A). Double-zero is making that call you’re hesitant to make. The one that makes you a target, open to hurt. Vulnerable. It’s also the one that may positively change your life forever.

B). Double-zero is a complete awareness of who you are. And the great value you bring to the table. It’s destroying what society tells you is success and re-defining it outside the cubicle, middle management and others who “just don’t get you.”

C). Double-zero fuels you to fight another day. Positive energy is contagious. You’ll attract light, warmth and peace. Over time, you’ll be addicted to 00. Odds will be in your favor.

D). Double-zero is making radical changes to your finances. It’s shrinking to grow. It’s working on taking more in and having less go out. It’s freedom from debilitating debts to pursue what you love, not what you do to pay a big mortgage.

E). Double-zero is taking a stand. Recognizing and believing in the possibilities which can come from saying no more often, pursuing interests that fulfill your soul and again, cutting deep and away from all who choke off positive flow. You’ll look up at the sky more often.

Teresa, if your energy is still here, if your afterburn is around me – I feel it.

Thank you.

Rest well.

In your death, I found a secret of a life.

And I think others will, too.

 

 

 

Five Money Lessons Straight from the Frown of Grumpy Cat.

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Oh c’mon – You know Grumpy Cat.

You live in a hole? GOOD. Stay there.

That’s just something Grumpy would lament.

grumpy cat - floating

The “lovably hate-able” feline with the permanent scowl on her face due to a physical shortcoming, an underbite, has been an internet smash and much, much more.

Grumpy aka “Tardar Sauce” became a meme a couple of years ago and gained worldwide popularity by well, being grumpy and commenting  a straightforward “NO” to everything (and I mean everything), in sight.

Grumpy Cat isn’t just famous worldwide; she’s also a money maker.

Grumpy Cat Saving Money

 

Grumpy has brought in an astounding $100 million in revenue from merchandise (Grumpy has her own coffee – Grumppuccino), appearances, television shows.

Why is she so popular?

Perhaps Grumpy says no to all the things we wish we could. We like her spirit – she’s got spunk!

Yes, she’s cute too.

grumpy cat - so cute disgusting

I began to think about how Grumpy can help us improve our finances.

Can we learn from this irascible cat?

I think so.

Random Thoughts (Oh, this crap again?)

1). Understand your true money personality. Grumpy is finest when telling it “like it is.” The people who are good with money work with professionals to understand and minimize their money weaknesses and expand on their strengths. If you’re an over spender, admit it.  Make small changes that can lead to big results.

2). Debt can be irritating. If total monthly debt (including mortgage) exceeds 32% of your monthly gross income, then 2015 is a good time to knock 2% off. One improvement you can make right away is to cut your holiday gift budget by 10%. The last week of December total how much you spent for gifts this year and work to come in 10% less next year. Less debt means less grumpy. Use your debit card and cash more than credit, next year.

3). Saying “no” more often can lead to wealth. We all know Grumpy’s favorite answer to everything is always a resounding “NO.” Identify the ways saying “YES” hurt you, financially. For example, say “NO” to lending money to friends and family. As the economy improves, 2015 is the year to say “YES” to a new job. How do you know what your skills command in an improving marketplace? Get your resume together; keep your eyes open for opportunities to expand your paycheck.

4). Get unimpressed with things that can separate you from your cash. It takes quite a bit to impress Grumpy Cat. She’s always seeking to be unimpressed with well, everything. Do you really need to spend on the latest technology or smartphone or can it wait? If you’re looking to make a large purchase don’t be swayed by savvy sales pitches. Wait two weeks before you buy any item that costs more than $50. See if you can live without it. You may be surprised to discover that you’re unimpressed too and don’t need to spend the cash.

5). It’s ok not to care about what your neighbor is buying. I can picture Grumpy Cat staring out the front window of her home, saying no to new cars, new furniture and other stuff she doesn’t need because one thing we know about Grumpy: She just doesn’t care. Perhaps you care too much about impressing others and it’s costing you in the form of excessive credit card interest rate fees by spending more than you earn.

So, we all can’t be worth millions like Grumpy Cat.

That’s fine.

However, the characteristics that make her appealing are contagious.

Having a little Grumpy Cat inside can make us smarter with money decisions.

And that’s a “YES,” any day.

Aren’t you glad?

Grumpy Cat - happy I don't care

 

 

7 Smart Money Habits For College Freshmen.

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As featured in Nerdwallet & CS Monitor.

There’s a lot of financial temptation surrounding college students: credit card offers, the availability of student loans, the excitement of being on your own and in control of your spending money.

college freshmen

Freshman year can be a whirlwind of activity. But make some time for one more lesson: Form smart money habits. If you give it a little thought now, you can jumpstart a successful long-term relationship with money—and not end up crushed under a mountain of student loan or credit card debt.

The positive habits you set this year will remain with you long after you’ve earned your cap and gown. I’ve coached many students on how to be savvy with their money and maximize the financial potential of the college years. Here are seven of the most successful ideas.

Random Thoughts:

1. Assume one year’s worth of student loan debt and no more. No matter what.

The average student loan is now $33,000, which makes the class of 2014 the most indebted class in history. Do what you can to stick to one year’s worth of debt, even if it means attending a community college first or working for two years before beginning classes.

It’s radical thinking for some; you may believe this suggestion too austere. But the last thing you want is to be saddled with heavy debt burdens. The college graduate unemployment rate is currently 8.5% and the underemployment rate (new grads who are jobless, hunting for employment or working part-time) stands at 16.8%, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

2. Begin a social media strategy.

And I don’t mean Instagram. Using a social media outlet such as LinkedIn, where you can connect to thought leaders, managers and prospective employers, can pay off down the road when you’re job hunting. Post articles daily—three sentences of poignant commentary reflecting your thoughts and a passion to share knowledge. Set a goal of acquiring 600 LinkedIn contacts by the time you graduate.

Drunk on toilet Not a good pic for social media.

Also use your first year as an opportunity to “clean up” personal social media accounts like Facebook, which is increasingly under scrutiny by human resources departments.

3. Watch your credit.

Take out no more than one credit card to obtain and strengthen a credit score. When I was in college, credit card providers were everywhere. I signed up for two cards and needed to work a couple of jobs to pay off the debt. Don’t do it. Based on recent legislation, credit card vendors are no longer omnipresent on campuses.

There are many attractive cards available to college students. Most likely, you’ll need a co-signer, as you won’t have full-time income. There should be a limit placed on the card, anywhere from a $500 to $1,000 maximum. The lender will most likely place strict limits on your available credit without you asking for it, but inquire anyway.

4. Consider a Roth IRA.

Believe it or not, it’s not too early to begin saving for retirement; think of all the time you have to benefit from investment appreciation. It’s OK to start small; remember, you’re trying to create a lifelong savings habit. Earnings from a part-time job are perfect for funding a Roth IRA.

For 2014, the contribution limit is $5,500, and at retirement, the money is available tax-free. Also, contributions (which are made with after-tax dollars) can be withdrawn at any time before retirement, without penalty.

5. Don’t get carried away with school spirit.

In college, I needed to own every T-shirt, sweatshirt, pen, mug—you name it, all emblazoned with the school logo. I spent hundreds of dollars on stuff I didn’t need due to my out-of-control school spirit. Limit your enthusiasm to two wearable items a year.

6. Begin a budgeting behavior.

Heck, not even an actual budget; I know how busy you’re going to be. A budget mindset is enough. Be aware of your spending habits. Understand once you run out of cash, you’re out. Do not go to the credit card for relief.

And keep a conversation going with your folks. The most successful students have parents who jointly review spending with their kids on a monthly basis. It takes less than 10 minutes to discover the expenditures with the greatest impact on cash flow.

7. Study one money tip each day or week.

It’s not that difficult. Pick any financial topic. Read one article in the business section of a local newspaper daily before you hit the books. One graduate I know read about one basic investing topic weekly at www.investor.gov. She developed a great intuitive sense about stocks, bonds, money markets—enough to ask smart questions that allowed her to maximize her 401(k) savings when she landed a job.

There’s a lot to learn as a freshman; enjoying your college experience to the fullest is important.

Just keep your money in mind, and think about how the actions you take today can either set you on the path to financial success or leave you lost in the woods.

Have Kids? 4 Ways to Save Money: 4 Ways Dave Ramsey gets it Wrong.

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“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

I’ll never forget the March day in 1973 when the birthday gift from my parents – a new lime-green Schwinn 10-speed with a prism-like banana seat (complete with black double-stripe down the middle) was stolen from outside the Brooklyn neighborhood toy store – Cheap Charlie’s.

green schwinn

I believed I did all the right things to ensure my prized possession was secured tightly to a small tree.  It was in my line of sight; no matter where I was, even checking out stacks of Hasbro Colorforms’ boxes at the back of my favorite five and dime, I could glance out the large plate glass windows and observe some part of the bike’s beautiful, clean lines.

Padlock checked twice. Pulled on the lock again, just to be sure I wasn’t fooling myself that the bike was secure.

It wasn’t enough to keep this new birthday purchase from disappearing.

Looked up from the new GI Joe Adventure Team play sets and in less than two minutes the bike was history. I bolted out the front door, looked around, up and down Avenue U as fast as my head could turn and eyes would dart.

mummy tomb My favorite!!

Nothing.  How did the bastard get away so quickly? Oh yeah, he was on wheels.

How do I now tell my parents the expensive gift that surprised me three hours earlier was now history?

Recently, Dave Ramsey or his people (he’s big time, he has people), wrote an article that rubbed me the wrong way. Usually, I agree with the information that Dave provides however, this piece (link below) inspired the line about money linked to memory.

10 Ways We Waste Money On Our Kids.

The Ramsey article was the catalyst to re-live a painful life episode from over forty years ago.

What happened after the incident was memorable, too.  In a good way.

And I’ll never forget.

Back to Dave’s article: Used bikes, no hamsters as pets – Made me grateful to not be a kid or grandchild under the Ramsey roof.

Is there a balanced approach here so rodents can still scurry through colorful Habittrail tubes in happy homes?

I think so.

habitrail I bet Dave would hate Habittrail (too expensive).

Let’s break it down.

Here are 4 ways to save and 4 areas where Dave Ramsey is way off the mark.

 Random Thoughts:

1). Go used or reused. I don’t believe our money has achieved the maximum return on thrift stores or consignment shops.

Thankfully, the stigma of shopping at a Salvation Army is dying; perhaps it’s the disappointing economic recovery where much of the middle class feels like the Great Recession never ended. Recently, my daughter and I went shopping for a winter week-long trip to New York City and found some astounding cold weather wear deals at a neighborhood place that sells gently-used teen clothing. Check out www.thethriftshopper.com for a national thrift store directory and a shoppers’ forum where all topics thrift are discussed.

2). Arts and crafts fun not boring. Crafting dollars still go a long way and what a method to engage your child in a family creative endeavor. I know it sounds old school, however some of the best returns on memory I have with my daughter is the Halloween and autumn-related crafts we did at home. We finished multiple joint projects including fall wreaths and small sentiments for family and it was short on cost, long on satisfaction. Sign up for Pinterest and investigate fall craft ideas. I was floored by the number of inexpensive DIY Halloween projects.

3). Get tricky. When I was a kid I drove my mother crazy because I was only interested in popular name brands of food. I was a sucker for television advertising. For example, I would only eat the bacon with the Indian head profile complete with full headdress, on the front of the package – can’t recall the name now. Of course, it was the most expensive and as a single parent household, mom was on a tight budget. I still remember catching her placing a less popular bacon in an old package of the brand I liked.  Come to think of it, I think she did this often. I recall on occasion my Lucky Charms not having as many marshmallows. Oh the shame! She was attempting to trick me. As I age I realize I’m fine with tricking children. Buy the Frosted Flakes, keep the box and replace with the generic brand to save money. Today, less expensive brands are tough to tell apart from the premium ones. Try it.

4). Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Visit local venues first. This time of year many autumn fairs pop up at farms, places of worship and even retail parking lots. Peruse the local fair festival guides in community impact newspapers and take inexpensive journeys.  It’s a great time to have children select and prepare fresh vegetables and fruits available from local vendors.

The stuff Dave Ramsey is saying is a waste may not be to you because money is not just a medium of exchange, it purchases long-term lessons and memories of places and people long gone.

So, despite what the Ramsey group says:

1). Get, or if you can, adopt a pet. The hamster or whatever suits your family. My hamster Benjy lived five years. Yes, five years! And he taught me great responsibility and love. He brought happiness and accomplishment to my life as a nine-year old. I thought he’d live forever. I taught him tricks. He chased my mother around our tiny Brooklyn walk-up (an added bonus). Dave says no Benjy. I’m sorry, this advice is wrong.

2). Say yes to movie tickets. Ok, you don’t want your six-year old to see The Equalizer, I get it. Although my father took me to The Godfather when it first hit theatres and Sonny getting converted into human Swiss cheese at the tollbooth affected me for years, there is a bonding experience between parents and children at the movies. So, you sit through Little Fluffy Bunny Finds a Carrot or whatever kids’ flick is playing. Take your children to the movies. Splurge on the overpriced candy and popcorn.

3). Yes to electronic games, too. My friend Jordan Shapiro, professor, teacher, author, contributor to Forbes and modern-day Socrates would advise you that electronic games can teach children much about life and ignite cognitive development. There are many ways to save here – plenty of gaming systems available used and in great condition, especially at pawn shops. I spent hours with my Batman coloring books; I agree crayons have a place in kids’ rooms, however, I don’t see how electronic games are a waste of money.

4). Buy the kid a new bike for gosh sakes. There’s nothing like the thrill of a new bike for a kid. All the adventures ahead – the feelings of freedom. Nothing but priceless. My head is reeling thinking about the places I went on two wheels.

Ah, so you’re wondering how I had so many great adventures when my bike was stolen the same day I got it.

Well, when I called my father from the kitchen Trimline phone crying hysterically, he immediately left work in the middle of the day (which only happened twice during my childhood),  and drove me to Frank’s Schwinn Shop on East 6th Street and bought me an identical replacement.

He said it wasn’t my fault.

On his deathbed, while he lapsed in and out of a coma, I whispered in my dad’s ear, reminded him about how I was grateful for him. And that damn bike episode. How it changed my life. He was there for me through a traumatic event.

It’s unfortunate when financial types become so successful they forget what money is truly all about. It’s “eat your vegetables, don’t have fun.”

No it isn’t.

“Money is more than money, sometimes it’s memory.”

So screw that advice.

remember moments

Serpents: Six Ways To Tame The Snakes In Your Head.

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“Serpents, snakes. They’re here with me.”

He resembled Precious except for the frantic flop-mop of black hair,shiny from oil; parted in the middle like demon Alfalfa. He had a mouth full of broken teeth, too. His parents never bothered to fix them. Maybe they did and gave up.

What a special human (I think) gift to Brooklyn.

His eyes bulged like snakes were pushing them, trying to pop them and escape from behind the sockets.

precious

He loved to take big shits in a graveyard of broken glass and construction debris somewhere under the elevated subway line cordoned by shaky fencing in one of the gray-shaded lots between Coney Island and home.

Never failed. He’d beckon me over in a frenzy, pointing feverishly at a steaming pile of fresh Raymains as I called them.

I looked. Every time.

Oddly, I admired him; I never had the guts to crap in public. Literally, my bowels would freeze up. I attempted it once. My white Fruit Of The Looms paid the price.

I poked hot and steamy with a shard of glass. Once.Twice. Hell, I lost count.

He giggled every time. Must have been my face. Disgust, curiosity. More pokes, more high-pitched giggles from deep in the throat. I must have tickled a snake into a slither.

Raymond always did odd things, some actions bordered on frightening.

I was afraid to be his friend, more afraid of not.

Out of nowhere, a July afternoon, he dangled his penis in daylight at a 1975 Ford Maverick -stop sign. Avenue S. He just decided to whip it out. I witnessed the incident.

The guy behind the wheel didn’t appreciate the gesture and quickly bolted from the driver’s seat, his orange and white-trimmed Ford slow rolled into the busy intersection. Passenger girlfriend still in shock from floppy private parts at high noon.

The burly dude was faster than I imagined, like his beer belly was fuel storage. Must have been the adrenaline rush.

He stayed on Raymond’s heels all the way through an empty public schoolyard. Public School 215, to be specific. The stumpy guy was quick, but petered out (no pun intended) as Raymond picked up the pace and sprinted like a ghoulish gazelle on feet too big for his wiry frame.

As I observed the drama unfold and Raymond run erratically around the yard like a frightened rat in a cage, I could hear his vocal screech ebb and flow as the husky driver eventually slowed, stopped and fell over from exhaustion. Maybe it was that freak-ass loud laugh that sucked the energy from Mr. Maverick.

“Serpents! Snakes in basement, snakes on the roof!” Raymond bellowed.

He would regularly blurt a whisper of choppy words and sentences, observations about how snakes and serpents good or bad, guided his motivations. Based on how much he masturbated in public, I wondered if the basement reptile was his man parts.

People in the neighborhood said he was crazy. I thought maybe, just maybe, he was the sane one.

Perhaps there is something to these snakes that slide in-between thoughts and push us to enlightenment or frighten us to conform. If there are too many, they can make you insane enough to defecate in abandoned city spaces.

If I closed my eyes in stillness, I heard the snakes in my own head.

I think about you often, Raymond.

This is for you.

My long lost creature teacher.

snake and apple

Random Thoughts:

1). How many snakes will drive you to insanity? In my gut I felt Raymond wrestled with (or not) at least ten. What is the “right” number? How many can a person handle? Love, genius, passion, apathy, lunacy? The paths created by society’s handlers and the actions that push you to test and ostensibly thrive outside rules others have set for you feel like at first, demon snakes. But they’re not. They live to scare you out of complacency. They live to set you free from the cage; you resist until one attacks, causes enough pain. I guess if I must slither in and out of what life is and not what I want it to be, several serpents will be sacrificed to the mental altar of mediocrity. If I remain aware of the deceptive snakes of status quo, reptiles are welcomed as long as they play nice, submit. I’m extremely sensitive to trimming the herd.

2). Learn to detect and handle your own breed of serpents. Lose control for long and you’re shitting in inappropriate places. Definitely a snake gone awry. Tame what frightens you. Are your fears real or imagined? Decide which snake you’re going to breed – fear or fact. You must work at it every day. Thin the herd. You kill or they feed. Your decision. Some people believe they must scare themselves out of great lives, great loves and great thinking. Don’t be one of them. Everything changes, like the path of a snake. Learn to detect important crossroads and intersects.

3). Non-poisonous snakes are dangerous, too. The snakes of the gatekeepers act like they’re looking out for you but they are expert deceivers. Although there is protection – as long as you follow their instructions, swallow their lies, promote their false stories, the non-poisonous can turn lethal real quick. I experienced it. I’m ashamed and angered about how much poisonous corporate culture I ingested, what I lost personally, due to forked tongues. Where are the non-poisonous snakes that can turn on you once you understand their true motivations?

4). Have faith that the good serpents will protect you. I’ve done a good job with my good serpent/lethal serpent ratio. When I’m feeling insecure, fearful, I galvanize the most powerful of them; they prey on the weaker brethren when I instruct them now. Understand the difference between the good and bad ones. Serpents that compel you to shit outside or on the toilet (and wipe efficiently) look the same. Eventually, after a few bites, you’ll just know the difference.

5). Treat debt like prey. You can make a snake pit full of money and still be broke. Excessive debt is like the fat rat in a den of Ball Pythons. Eventually, you’re surrounded, overwhelmed and swallowed. Ultimate empowerment comes from inflow greater than your outflow. Then when evil serpents pay a visit, you have enough surplus to exterminate them. You’ll also have enough money to provide the good snakes what they feed on – positive change, self improvement, travel. Hell, or do what my friend Kelly did – Pick up and pursue your dream in a new environment.

6). Let your serpents roam. The rodents live among us: They thrive on narcissism and negative energy.They are the takers. Allow your serpents to feast brazenly on them. Only then will you prosper. No longer will your view be blocked. The serpents of love, discovery, unbridled passion will breed and flourish.

So will you. Carried along for the best journey of your life.

scary serpent

I wonder what happened to Raymond.

He swallowed “Good and Plenty’s” like they were pills. Never chewed.

good and plenty two

“Snake medicine!”

I hope he’s become a master snake handler.

I pray he’s stopped shitting in the summer humidity.

And keeps his balls in his pants at intersections.

I truly believe he’s not trapped by what society says he should be.

He makes his own rules.

Him and the serpents.

Now it’s your turn to release the best of them.

And kill the rest.

Your happiness depends on it.

 

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

Featured

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