A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

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The columns and totals never really see a piece of paper, but they are nonetheless very real.

In the assets column:
That term life insurance that has five more years before it expires and has no value: $250,000.00; Cash in the bank: $50,000.00; That 401(k) I started too late; $30,000.00; Stocks and bonds I randomly bought; $35,000.00; House equity, assuming it can actually be sold in this economy: $100,000.00… and on through the value of furniture, cars and power tools in the garage.

In the liabilities column:
I just got fired, so my unemployment is only $481.00 a week but bills with mortgage and food is $2,100 a month, losing $200.00 a month… I’ll soon lose my health insurance and COBRA is a $900.00 set back per month making that $1,100.00 a month just standing still… if I am unemployed for more than six months, that will be about $10,000.00 gone from the bank account, making the past couple years of savings a waste of time… chances are, I will be unemployed for the rest of my life in this economy, so that will just stretch on, losing my family $20,000.00 a year with me being alive. I will lose my health coverage in less than a year and a half… That is a lot of cash, and that life insurance policy just inched its way to being one year less valuable with no employment in sight…

I just got diagnosed with a pretty serious health condition that will make it difficult for me to work. I will soon be out of a job as my employer will get tired of me calling in sick all the time… I will lose my health care coverage.. if I go into the hospital, that will cost about $8,000.00 a day, depleting my cash in about a week… the mortgage is due in a week… the last tuition bill is due in a couple months… and on and on down to how much dog food is left and how much that will cost to replenish…

If I die today, my family will be ok. If I die in a year or two, my family will be bankrupt, penniless and possibly homeless.

Sure, the kids will say that I am worth more to them alive than dead, regardless of how much money I have. Yeah, “I love you even if you are broke,” “you bring joy to others around you” and “life is not always about money” are things I expect to hear from friends and family.

But I know they are not true. Not really.

Our culture rewards those who are healthy and able to work and shuns those who have fallen on hard times. It guts the sick, dying and unemployed quickly in order to salvage what it can before the corpse begins to rot. It knows the time value of money.

Men know it too. We have made those calculations in our head at every turn throughout our lives. When we buy a house, we calculate how long we’ll have to be employed at this job to pay the mortgage in full. When we have kids, we calculate what we’ll have to earn and sock away to pay for the birthday parties, soccer practice, bicycles, cars and college tuition even as we watch them laugh and dance as if they haven’t a care in the world; even as we laugh and dance with them. We worry our backs and minds will give out before we are able to deliver them into adulthood and breath a sigh of relief when we no longer have to be concerned they won’t have enough to eat.

When we get to about fifty, we eventually make the ultimate calculation. We arrive at a break-even, whether anyone wants us to or not; whether we admit it or not.

The only thing we fear more than getting it wrong is losing the ability to execute if we ever needed to.

*With the exception of highly-paid politicians or the super-rich who never have to worry about health care. For clarification, this isn’t me. I’m fine and gainfully employed at my own company despite my best efforts at getting my boss to fire me 🙂 This is a persona of a 50+ year old man who had a “good job” for most of his life.

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Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.

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We should be careful about filling people with ambition

I had a pretty lively discussion with someone on the twitter this morning who had some strong opinions about how everyone should be self-employed and that we should quit relying on “The Man” for a job. I expressed some concern that before cheering them to jump off the ledge, we should perhaps maybe encourage people to first assess the risks, that they should jump with eyes wide open.

Twitter being what it is — by the end of the discussion — I was accused of scaring people, looking for more ways to fail than to succeed and killed fifty people on the highway with a load of wood.

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Fannie and her big blue car

Windmill Cookie

Windmill Cookie

We had just moved into the big house on Van Buren Ave. in St. Paul in 1968. There were only four of us kids then, my two younger sisters were still babies. My mom didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood except Fannie, a rather plump, proper lady who lived straight across the alley from us facing Blair Ave. I’m not quite sure how they met, but I think it was at the laundromat that used to be on the corner of Blair and Dale, the one with the 5¢ Coke machine that dispensed glass bottles.

When Fannie walked, her girdle and underthings swished beneath her dress. She always wore a pastel-colored dress, even in the winter. She had white hair that was cut short and gold-framed glasses. I don’t remember her ever smiling, but her face was friendly and pleasant to look at. It was the face of a calming, comfortable grandma.

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What frying pans and grammar have in common

Saute Pan

Saute Pan

Thanks to Sister Mary Clarentia (who we adoringly called Sister Tarantula or The Tranch for short) in seventh grade, I fell in love with the usage rules of the English language. When I went on to high school, Sister Ursula, (Sister Rubber Lips, sorry. † self) my Latin teacher, showed how language had even stricter rules. In my senior year, Ms. M-P (the first person I knew who had a hyphenated last name.. she still scolds me that she doesn’t want me to use her real name in my blog) showed me that these rules can be manipulated to create all ranges of emotion and bend people to your will based on your words alone.

Wow, that was real power, I thought, I wanted more of this seductive drug.

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Living in the land of plenty

Donut - Land of Plenty

I remember growing up in St. Paul, there was a donut shop on University and Dale that made the best raised donuts in the world. They were big and my favorite was a chocolate with crushed peanuts on top. We would take a special trip there every few months and only get one donut for each of us. The donut would take forever to eat.

We had the same relationship with the Dairy Queen on Rice St. We would visit the DQ on the Sundays our family drove down by the Mississippi to watch the barge traffic. We didn’t go for those drives often and we would always only get a small cone per kid. No matter how hot it was, that ice cream would last for a long time.

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Don Draper was a poser and so can you. The myth of graphic design

Mad Men

My editor wrote this little thing this morning. Since I’m also a Mad Men fan, I asked him if I could repost it here for you. He reluctantly agreed, but only if I give him full credit. He is such a stickler for the rules. Here is his post as it appears on his blog.

There is a current narrative going on within the creative community lamenting the demise of professional graphic artists. One such narrative appears on my favorite design blog, Before&After Magazine.

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Je ne parle pas français

I’ve only met my maternal grandmother twice in my life. The second time was when we visited them in Maine for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. She died two days later. My grandfather died less than a year after that.

This is the story of the first time I met her. Her name was Leda Boutot Pelletier.

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People want to eat but they won’t join the hunt

Hunting Dog

Most people wear your web site, twitter feed or facebook page like they wear a jacket or drive their car. When they want to use it, they do. When they don’t, it is out of sight and out of mind.

People who work in the online space are in a very rarefied space. They live and breathe online all day long and delude themselves into thinking this is reality. When they go outside their front door, life dilutes the online world by about 1:10,000,000,000,000 parts per billion.

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Turning my back on time

Turn Back Time

Turn Back Time

If I could turn back time, I would turn it back before last Monday when I suggested to my editor that he float the theme “If you could turn back time” to the Lets BlogOff editorial staff.

When I first starting writing this blog seven years or so ago, nobody cared what I had to say. As I kept writing, I picked up readers. Part of the problem with writing in an autobiographical style where I am the protagonist is some parts start straying a bit from the absolute truth to an amalgamation of the truth to something that starts becoming story. As Virginia Woolf said in A Room of One’s Own

Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.

If Virginia Woolf thought it ok to make stuff up for the sake of a story, who am I to argue? Nonetheless, I find I can’t really write to the theme as I would have to fly too close to the sun for the story to flow. It would only lead to an endless game of regret and what-if. My life moves in one direction — forward.

Hence, (yeah, I said hence) my post is this short: I wish I could turn back time to before last Monday.

For no particular reason, in no particular order, my two favorite turn back time-themed songs of my youth.

Tanya Tucker-What’s your mama’s name

George Jones and Tammy Wynette- Golden Ring (Embedding disabled, but worth the click.

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This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, If you could turn back time? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Anxious or excited?

Charlie and Sallie at the vet

Yesterday, I took both Charlie and Sallie to the vet for some routine check up stuff, including getting their license, a shot each and heart worm testing. Charlie is the German Shepherd and Sallie is the lab mix. While they are two large dogs (75 and 110 pounds) they are generally easy to handle together — except when they go to the vet.

Sallie gets all excited about meeting new people and exploring new rooms she has never been in. She sees the visit to the vet as an opportunity to expand her world and maybe get a new treat, make a new friend, etc. Her ears dance and she quite literally smiles.

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I became an artist because I hate math

CMYK

During my stint at the Dayton Daily News, I used to do career day at local schools. I think everyone at the paper just wanted a day off from me which is why they always nominated me to go. That’s ok; give me an open mic and a stage and I’m all over it!

So I showed up at a Dayton elementary school to speak to a classroom full of fourth-graders. There was the usual collection of policemen with their uniforms and shiny badges and fireman in hats — with firetrucks parked out in front for the kids to climb on later — lined up ready to speak.

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I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker… but mostly I’m a welder who writes haiku and works as a janitor on the weekends

264 tailor New York

When I was young, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up; EVERYTHING.

I wanted to be on the receiving end of a firehose of experience that was exciting and revelrous and peaceful and satisfying all at once. Almost a lifetime (well, so far!) of living and I’m still looking for the perfect experience that stands still in time as well as moves the human race forward by a leap.

This morning, I wanted 5:00 am to last forever, with a hot cup of coffee, the New York Times and a large dog with his head in my lap. But I also wanted to write that perfect book chapter that was swirling in my head. 5:00 am turned into 6:39 am too soon and 6:39 am turned into 11:00 am and I had not stopped the clock nor had I moved humanity forward by a leap.

Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Water pressure

I spent a huge chunk of my 20s and 30s traveling around the country for my corporate employer who no longer graces the list of the Fortune 500. I have stayed in thousands of hotel rooms and all of them had one thing in common; terrible, miserable, horrible water pressure.

But that might be a tad unfair of me. Let me back up a bit.

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Crowdsourcing bridges

In the past week, I’ve stumbled onto two major brands that launched crowdsourcing design projects they probably should not have. The first is the Barack Obama Reelection Campaign (MY poster submission is posted to the right) and the other is Moleskine. For obvious conflicting reasons, Obama should be giving young designers paying gigs instead of trying to steal ideas from the most vulnerably unemployable during this recession, but more unforgivable is Moleskine for poking their core audience in the eye with a disrespectful rusty finger. (You figure out the euphemism.. you’re all smart people)

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