When I grow up

FREIGHT TRAIN

You know you’re getting older when you find your birthdays barreling down on you like an out of control freight train….and you can’t get off the tracks.

When I was a kid, I loved birthdays.  It felt like a national holiday just for me.  Lots of presents, maybe your name would be mentioned on the P.A. system at school, and you had amnesty from your parents for those things that would get you in trouble on any other day of the year.

Pretty sweet!  You just had to avoid the ‘Patty-Whacks’…that part sucked!

Overall, I still like birthdays, but the amnesty thing doesn’t work so well anymore, and you NEVER want your name called out on any P.A. system.  Flying under the radar is the key to birthdays when you’re old enough to remember life before microwave ovens and computers.

The trouble is, now I spend more time thinking of what I dreamed of as a kid and just how far from that path I wandered.  That sounds more morose than it is….I wanted to be either Spider-man or Bat Man.  I probably would have ended up as some sort of mutant 8-legged bat super hero thingy.

I don’t think that would have worked out very well.

I do spend time thinking of what I really want to be when I grow up, though.  I know, it sounds stupid coming from a guy past the curve of his working life.  I guess I just never really gave it a lot of thought.

I always envied those people who just knew what they wanted and went after it.  It didn’t even matter if that’s not what they ended up doing – just the drive towards something they could see down the road always left me in awe.

My plan was probably a lot like a fugitives – stay one step ahead of trouble.  If I could do that, I’d be doin’ all right!  It also meant that I’d probably never reach any sort of destination.  Not sure if that’s good or bad.

But I think I finally got it down.  I think, that after 40 50 something years, I can say with some conviction that what I really want to be when I grow up is….rich.

That sounds pretty shallow I’ll admit, but honestly, I think I’d be really good at it!  I’m a fun-loving guy, and I’m generous, at times, to a fault.  I’d totally share in my riches….tithe, volunteer, help my fellow man and all that – even throw pool parties and invite people over, or have huge barbecues and feed the whole neighbourhood.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking Warren Buffet rich.  That’s too much pressure.  In fact, I’m not even talking ‘personal jet’ rich.  Just rich enough so that I don’t have to worry about prioritizing work over play. Doesn’t that sound great??

I don’t want to have to go to the grocery store in disguise, though.  I will – I just don’t want to have to.

bad disguise

Frankly, I don’t know why everyone else hasn’t thought of that as a goal for life.  I guess that’s what happens when you have enough time to contemplate your options, and have worked long enough to know what you NEVER WANT TO DO AGAIN.

Now that I have that figured out, all I need to do is get rich.

Who wants to help me?

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It’s all my fault

cropsI have a confession to make – I’m to blame for everything.

You see, when I shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, I want only the best, ripest, and freshest produce for my family.  Because I only pick the best, freshest and ripest, the rest of the fruit gets left behind and is eventually thrown out by the store.  I don’t want it, and I won’t pay for it, so they have to get rid of it.

Because this is how I shop, the store owners tell their suppliers not to give them any old, bruised, marked, or otherwise ‘unattractive’ product.  The suppliers comply.  It’s about me.  I’m paying, so they have to do what I want.

Now, the supplier is going to go back to the farmer.  He’s going to tell the farmer not to pick anything that has a mark on it, is bruised, or has signs of insects or other natural diseases.  The farmer has to comply, since the supplier won’t buy it from him otherwise.

The farmer, faced with fields of growing crops, needs to yield as much perfect produce as he can, or he’ll go broke.  I won’t buy anything sub-par for my family, so the grocery store won’t buy anything sub-par from the supplier, who won’t buy anything sub-par from the farmer….you get the idea.

Standing out in an open field, exposed to the elements, the farmer has few choices, since his crops are what feeds his family.  He needs to ensure that everything he grows can be sold, otherwise he’s growing nothing but debt.

With few options, the farmer employs the help of chemical sprays to ensure his crops look perfect.  It’s my fault.  I’m the guy standing at the road-side stands, checking each cob of corn for worms.  I’m not bringing those nasty bugs home to my family, so I guess I’m willing to have the corn sprayed, even if that’s not a conscious decision at the time.

McDonalds is my fault too.  Sorry.  Sometimes I’m in a hurry, or just too lazy to cook.  I asked for quickly prepared food – so quick in fact, that I can drive up to a window and have it handed to me, hot and salty within a minute.  I told McDonalds that this is how I want my food, so they complied.  I know it’s not healthy, but sometimes I just need to scarf down some grub while I’m on the run – and if pushed I’d say that I sometimes really crave the taste of a Big Mac.

The big-box stores?  You know it – me again.  I needed variety, long hours and cheap prices for all those toaster ovens, back massagers and iPhones. Sure, there were little stores that had them, but what a pain in the butt, having to drive from store to store.  And I didn’t know when they were open or if they had good prices.

I know, I should have supported the local business owner, but heck, who has time for that?  When I need a left-handed spindle crank, I can’t risk going to a store that doesn’t have it in stock and in 3 colours.  Nope – big box is the way to go.  I don’t know why that strip mall near my house looks so deserted though.  Must be the economy.

Although I’m not a photographer, I’m also responsible for the paparazzi attacks on celebrities.  I just can’t get enough of those tabloid magazines while standing in line at the grocery store.  A 3-headed baby that sings like Elvis?  Are you kidding?  Who’s got the latest ‘baby bump’, and who looks worse in a bathing suit? I crave this stuff.  Because I do, the photographers will do almost anything to get the picture that will entice me buy their magazine.

I was probably the one responsible for Princess Diana’s tragic death.  Can’t get enough of the Royals – I sent those photographers on motorcycles to capture an image of Lady Diana stepping out with her new beau.

See, the thing is, I would love to blame the farmers, or the fast-food places or the big box stores for how they’ve poisoned and cheapened our planet – they’re an easy target.  In the end though, it was me, the consumer, who decided to exercise the greatest power I had.  I gave them my business.  My money.  I told them, through my humble purchasing decisions what I wanted, and they complied.

So, I want to confess.  It’s my fault these things are the way they are.  I was the one making decisions that landed us where we are today.  I hope you can all forgive me.

Anything you’d like to get off your chest?

The Bank Note

Have you ever really looked at your bank statement?  Charges for service, convenience, withdrawals, writing cheques, paying bills, etc.  This is our money, and we’re being charged to get it, use it, or move it around.  Great gig if you can get it!

I was looking mine over a while back, and found a bunch of vague fees and charges for various things that I didn’t understand.  So, I called up my bank with a few questions.

Thank you for calling ‘Monolith Bank’. This is Patty.  How can I help you?”

Hi, Patty.  I was just looking at my latest bank statement, and saw that there are were bunch of miscellaneous charges on it, adding up to over $25.”

“…Yes..?

Well, since I don’t write more than one cheque per month, don’t use my overdraft protection, or really do anything other than have money come in and go out, I don’t know what these charges are for.”

What is it you’re not sure about with these charges?”  Patty asked, showing early signs of frustration.

Since you feel that you need to take this money from my account without my approval, I should at least know why, right?  I want you to explain each one of these charges to me”.

We can’t do that”, she explained.

Well, if you can’t tell me what these are, I’m not paying them”, I tried to say as evenly tempered as I could.

We can’t explain them all.  It would take too long.  I’ll go ahead and reverse the charges on your latest statement”.

Really? Thanks! I’ll call you again next month.  Thanks, Patty.” Then I hung up quickly.

Maybe I won that little battle, but I know I’m losing the war.  You can’t beat the banks.

During a radio segment on business earlier this week, the announcer noted that a major Canadian bank posted it’s quarterly earnings (profit).  This bank made over $1 billion dollars in a 3 month period.  Wow!  Many countries don’t have this kind of GDP.  That’s an astounding number, and makes you wonder just how fat the bank is.

In the same sentence, the radio expert noted that since the earnings were slightly less than they expected, the bank announced that they would immediately lay off over 1,000 employees.

Huh?  Did I miss something?  A bank makes over a billion dollars in 3 months, but because they didn’t make as much as they thought, they’d send 1,000 families into financial crisis.

Here’s another thing that doesn’t seem to make sense either; loans.  If you need money, you probably don’t have it, or you wouldn’t need it in the first place, but to get a loan, you need to show that you don’t need it, or they won’t give it to you.

Then, if the bank gods look favourably on you and decide to allow you to borrow, the poorest will pay the most for that loan.  Again, if you’re better off, the loan costs less, but if you’re on hard times, they’ll charge you more.

Now, I’m no fan of the ‘occupy movement’, and I certainly don’t subscribe to a socialist view on the world, mostly because it’s not realistic or attainable.  As long as there are people, some will always rise to greatness and some will always fall to destitution.  It’s as sure to happen as the sun coming up tomorrow.

But at some point, you have to wonder what it would take for these financial giants to stop the ludicrous blood-letting that it puts its customers through.

Over the next few months, a bunch of my former coworkers will discover their employment fate as my old company winds down operations in Canada.

This has become a common tale lately, as other companies announce downsizing and layoffs just ahead of the Christmas Holiday season.  We’ll likely see more announcements in the new year after the holiday seasons’ tallies are completed.

When a company loses money consistently for a period of time and there’s no immediate rebound on the horizon, you end up in this predicament.  It’s just economics.  And it sucks!

I hope that business leaders faced with these decisions, really dive into the real cost of downsizing, and it’s impact not only on the emotions and finances of its employees, but also the larger effect of what happens as a cascade effect on the economy as a whole.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that he would start paying his employees a princely sum of $5 per day, pretty much doubling the average wage of the day.  This accomplished 2 things for Mr. Ford:

  1. It reduced attrition.  Losing skilled workers was very expensive from a retraining standpoint, and it slowed production
  2. It meant that once the other manufacturing sectors caught on, people could afford to buy his cars

This thinking revolutionized the manufacturing sector, and gave birth to the American middle class.

I’m not suggesting that companies like Sears suddenly decide that if they double the wages of their workers, things will get better for them.  The concept of maintaining a working class, however, becomes a fundamental necessity in order to provide a source of income for itself.  It’s a bit selfish, I guess, but if people are out of work, they’ll stop buying from you.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  There are other jobs out there, and when you get thrown into the ocean from a burning ship, you might be surprised at how good it feels.  Most will get picked up by a passing boat.  With any luck, it’ll be a luxury liner, and not a garbage scow.

As I said earlier, I’m no economist, and I’m certainly not a captain of industry – minds greater than mine are in control.  That doesn’t mean though, that I don’t have a voice or options.

Patty can expect a call again soon, I can move my money to a fee-free financial institution, and when I’m out shopping later today, I might even check my lottery ticket.

Fingers crossed!