Waxingandwayneing’s Weblog

July 10, 2012

Pick a Card…..Any Card (but mine!)

Filed under: Food,The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 9:03 pm
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Maybe it’s my age.  I saw something this weekend in San Francisco I have never seen before.  We had breakfast at Plow in Potrero Hill and I was waiting to use the men’s room.  There was a four-top near the bathroom seated with two couples who were obvious friends.  They were just wrapping up their meal as the check arrived.

Each of the men pulled out their wallets and placed a credit card on the check tray.  I assumed they were just going to split the bill.  When the waitress arrived, one of the men said to her, “Take both of these cards and then close your eyes and pick one.  The card you choose pays the bill.”  What is this, Visa Roulette?”  I figured they were just joking.

A few minutes later, the waitress returns with with both cards and just one receipt.  The guy who gave the instructions to the waitress looks at the receipt, breathes a sign of relief, and says to his friend, “Thanks for breakfast!”

Have you ever seen this before?

September 25, 2008

Standing on Their Shoulders

Filed under: The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 10:44 pm

We spent the last eights days travelling around New England, seeing so many great spots in Portland, Maine, central Vermont and New Hampshire, Boston, Nantucket, Providence/Newport, Rhode Island, and southern Connecticut, on our way down for week of insanity in New York City. We met a lot of very nice people, ate too many meals of fresh and seasonal foods, and saw a plethora of extraordinarily beautiful nature. The leaves are changing (actually, they are returning to their true colors as they lose their chlorophyll) and the air is starting to feel like fall. If this trip was just for the people, food, and beauty, it would have been enough. But there was so much more.

As we drove and peddled through the various towns and hamlets along the way, it was impossible to miss the history oozing from this area. We saw Plymouth Rock, Lexington, the Touro Synagogue, the mansions in Newport, quaint colonial settlements, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Brown, and the Starbuck homes of Nantucket. We rode on the same paths travelled by the very people who created America, the brave pioneers who left the comfort of their homes in foreign countries to build new lives in a strange land. We particularly were moved as we walked through a number of very old cemeteries to read the various tombstones, memorializing the lives of generations of families, consumed by war, accidents, or sickness.

To see fresh flowers on grave markers of people who died in the early 1800’s or to visit towns with their welcome signs indicating their beginnings, marker s, e.g., “Founded in 1737”, you start to feel so small, so minor when measured with the perspective of all those years. Living in Southern California, where a house built in the 1950’s is considered old, allows us to feel our lives are really important. Travelling through New England, you realize how many generations came before us and contributed so much to enable us to enjoy the lives we live today.

I felt this deep sense of respect for all those people—not just the famous ones—who devoted their lives to building this country. Certainly we have strong feelings for the Founding Fathers who decided that a united group of states was worth struggling to create. But what about the ordinary men and women who came here to begin anew and build better realities? The ones who plowed farms, built bridges and roads, and opened general stores did so without any recognition or fame. Had these people behaved insularly, without any regard for the future, our country would not have flourished.

This trip has reminded me so deeply that we are all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We so seamlessly cash in on the dividends earned from the efforts of people we will never know.

One of my college roommates recently contacted me after he read a few of my blog entries. He pointed out the relevance of “Why Are We Here”, an examination of how bereft of importance our lives have become, as we live from day to day, week to week, year to year without regard for meaningful contributions. So consumed with consumption, so focused on the “here and now”, we rarely stop to think about what we are leaving as our legacies, what role we will play in making our world a bit better than when we inherited it.

So travelling around in New England has given me a nice gift. I have a new appreciation for yesterday’s heroes who lived their lives with a conscious feeling for the future, with the knowledge that the positive impact they made in their communities far outweighed any recognition of their efforts. Better lives for their children more than justified their personal sacrifices.

Perhaps we can start to live our lives with these principles in mind. Let us work to define who we are by how we improve the lives of those around us, by the deeds we do to build a better tomorrow. Let us find ways to live more simply—consume less of everything—and leave more for those not here yet. And let us be ever conscious that those yet unborn will one day need to stand on our shoulders. How strong and broad will those shoulders be?

August 13, 2008

Why are We Here?

Filed under: The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 10:17 pm

We drove up to Carmel this past Sunday. What a great drive—even if part of it was on Interstate 5. The beauty of driving, instead of flying, is the opportunity to see so much nature, as well as avoid all of the artificial influence of flying. I find that driving provides me with a therapeutic chance to unwind and mentally explore whatever issues might be clogging up my head.

The summertime landscape on I-5 is mostly brown, but in a very soothing way. Probably because brown comes in so many shades. The glorious hillsides covered in light brown grass portray the majesty of a sleeping lion awaiting the cooler evening. Rich, tilled soil in other areas gives hope to next season’s bounty. Where crops are exploding—and that occurs many places along our route—we are treated to a wide array of mostly greens, from the plentiful vineyards to the ever present lettuces, intermixed with the deep ruby-colored leaves providing an explosive contrast only nature can display.

So, amidst all this natural beauty—oh, did I forget to mention the incredible fog-shrouded coast and hillside of Carmel?—I am drawn deeply to measure my life against time. Not just my time here, but against my time over a larger scale. I cannot help but wonder, “Why are we here?” What does it all matter? Long before I was here and certainly long after I am gone, those hills will be brown, the soil will be rich, lettuces will burst out of the ground, and fog will roll in. These events will happen without my seeing them occur and without my playing any active role in making them happen.

My commitment to my Microsoft Outlook (especially my Tasks and Calendar), my Blackberry (I just love my Blackberry), balancing my checkbook, changing the furnace filter (every 3 months, thank you), my job, family, etc. are so important to me. At times, these matters are all consuming. But, to what end? Do these things really matter? What’s it all about, Alfie?

I turned 50 this year. Perhaps that is driving this contemplation. Milestones are markers that permit us to examine where we are, where we want to be. What probably consumes me most these days is what mark I will leave. Why am I here? At many levels, I feel very good. I have been married for 26 years, have 3 great daughters, live in a beautiful home, have been very successful in my career (could be more successful), have mentored many people, am a leader in my community, make people laugh (most of the time), and care about the world in which I exist. Any yet, I do not feel successful. There is so much more I can do.

So, why am I here? One thing I do know is that I am not content just occupying space like so many other people I observe. Going shopping, taking that trip, or attending that party is all about consumption—activities most people seem so content in which to partake and for which to live. But what do you really have to show for a life based primarily on consumption? How have you improved the world? How will you be remembered?

Shouldn’t we be focused on leaving a lasting mark, on guiding others to improve, on making this world better than it is now? I want to believe that is why we are here. Do you?

June 10, 2008

Hungry No More

Filed under: The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 9:14 pm

When I am really hungry, it is difficult to concentrate on anything else. My stomach growls, my head hurts, and almost anything sounds appetizing. I seem to only be able to focus on finding food, on satiating my hunger. I am truly on a single mission to find something to eat.

Besides the hunger caused by not eating, when is the last time you were truly hungry for something? When you were driven by a strong, single force to do something? When you were driven to accomplish something where nothing else mattered?

If you are like most of us, you have probably never experienced that type of hunger. Never driven to focus on one single goal at the expense of everything else. To be truly hungry for something.

I know that people used to be more hungry. Not just in the food sense, but in other things, such as building towns, plowing fields, discovering new lands, inventing useful items, struggling for a noble cause, fighting against what they truly felt to be wrong.

These days, we are consumed with such superficial activities because we are hungry no more. You can look around and easily conclude that we do not need to be hungry for anything. Everything we seem to need (or, more correctly, think we need) is right in front of us: Theaters with 36 screens, cars that park themselves, airplanes that let us actually sleep, medications that sooth and sometimes cure problems, digital-high density television with almost a million channels, cellphones that truly untether us, shopping centers that sell virtually anything, an Internet that virtually offers anything. It is so easy to just sit back and consume. To be consumed by all of it.

As a society, we truly are hungry no more. We are complacent, lazy, ordinary, and fat. Yes, fat. The presence of so many comforts, the readily-available existence of all these things has enabled us to not just be hungry no more, but to also become an obese society.

According to the Obesity Action Coalition,

  • In the United States, it is estimated that 93 million Americans are obese.
  • Almost 112,000 annual deaths are attributable to obesity.
  • In the United States, 40 percent of adults do not participate in any leisure-time physical activity.

So, in a country of about 304 million total people, nearly 31% are considered obese. The CDC defines “obese” as anyone having a Body Mass Index (“BMI”) of 30 or higher. The BMI figure takes into account height and weight, and correlates to body fat. To calculate your BMI, click on this link AFTER YOU FINISH READING AND POSITIVELY COMMENTING ON THIS BLOG ENTRY: http://www.cdc.gov/NCCdphp/dnpa/bmi/index.htm.

I know there are some people who are obese due to medical conditions. But I am guessing that most obese people are fat because they are undisciplined about what they eat, how much they eat, and when they eat, as well as because they don’t exercise. (See the stat above that 40% of adults don’t have any leisure-time physical activity.) As a society, this problem is the responsibility of everyone. With no sign in sight that the trend of obesity will abate, we will face increasing health care costs for the many medical issues caused directly and indirectly to being fat. If for no other reason, we need to trim down to use less fuel!

Let’s stop accepting the fact that so many of us are fat and that’s just how it is. Let’s stop thinking it’s OK to be fat. It’s not. Screw being politically correct and so accepting of so many overweight people who just choose to be supersized. Enough is enough. Put the turkey leg down and nobody will get hurt! Perhaps if the 40% of Americans who get no leisure time activity got off their butts and exercised (walking to the refrigerator doesn’t count), they would have an interest (and maybe the energy to “get hungry” about a good cause.

Please don’t assume that I am saying that only obese people are lazy. Plenty of normal sized people lack the hunger also. We all need to fight this complacency in society and start to get more hungry.

Certainly it would be wrong to state that everyone lacks this drives to achieve something special. There are those people who are not satiated, who are driven by the hunger of a cause. Everyday, people invent new things, do great things. Unfortunately, most of us are not those kind of people. And you may ask, “How many of us can truly do great things?” A lot of us can. You don’t have to invent a computer that performs 1,000 trillion instructions per second (oh shit, IBM just did that: http://www.crn.com/hardware/208403186) to make a difference.

What I am really trying to suggest is that we get hungry about something important. Not about a new sale at Nordstrom, or a new video game, or new BMW M6. I am talking about getting up off your ass and asking yourself, “What difference am I making in this world? What will it matter when I am gone? Will anyone truly miss me?”

What also concerns me about this lack of hunger is that it is causing a shift of world economies. Where America once was a country of citizens who were hungry to better themselves, we are now watching other, more hungry countries, innovate and create at a faster pace, shifting resources and wealth away from America. Our complacency has enabled these countries to excel. I am not suggesting that these countries have no right to shine..they do. But, it’s important to be aware of this shift and realize that it will have consequences. Perhaps one day, we will really be hungry again.

April 20, 2008

Put it Down….You’ve Had Enough

Filed under: The Meaning of Life — waxingandwayneing @ 11:36 pm

When I was kid, my mother used to tell me my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I would regularly be unable to finish what was on my plate.  Wasting food was not good, she would tell me.  People are starving around the world.  Of course, she was right.

Today, we are faced with an economic crisis caused mainly by excessive consumption and greed.  For the past several years, Americans have been consuming well beyond what they really need, or, for that matter, beyond what they could really afford.

Propped up by artificial real estate prices and  baseless lending practices, consumers were presented with liquidity they did not deserve.  Shouldn’t we all have been a bit suspicious with advertisements for home loans at 100% of appraised value (leaving no cushion for error), or the 125% home equity loans promotions.  Why didn’t we demand  scrutiny when lenders were willing to do loans with no income verification or sign loan documents to borrowers that the lenderS knew did not understand what a rate reset would really mean.

This liquidity fuel artificially propped up the economy enabling most economists and legislators to believe we were in a healthy growth mode.  Once the pipeline of play money stopped last year, the engine started to sputter and the economy  faltered.  It seems to me that what is happening now is an economic slowdown that will caused a marked job loss and the need to evaluate what drivers really exist.  WE ARE IN A RECESSION.  Let’s just grow up and admit it.  This is not voodoo.  Saying the dreaded R word will not make us slipped further into this malaise; we are in it, so let’s now figure out what we have to do to get out of it.

One thing I feel we must do is tame our consumption.  We have been buying like a drunk sailor at a bar for so many years that we finally have to sober up and stop.  The time has come for someone to finally say, enough is enough.  Or, to steal a phrase from the Passover seder, Dayeinu!

As with any situation, the media loves to find a victim.  The poor borrower, lured into a loan he never should have signed.  Let’s bail him out.  Nonsense!  It’s wrong to bail people out of mistakes like this.  Certainly if any lenders violated lending laws, then that should be dealt with.  But for the government to bail out borrowers in loan foreclosures would set a bad precedence.  On top of that, we don’t have the money.  (We are pissing it away in Iraq!)

We also should not be providing any assistance to the lenders or equity holders of these loans.  Banks have never been able to assess risk properly.  Charging a couple of hundred basis points for a riskier borrower is the wrong way to compensate for higher risk.  Those extra percentage points hardly compensate the lender when the loan goes into default.  Yet, banks continue to price risk based on interest rates.  If we are going to throw any money at them, send them back to school to learn how to properly structure loans.

This recession should give all those affected a chance to evaluate what got us into this mess.  Years of greedy consumption paid for by resources we didn’t even own fueled our economy and allowed us to falsely believe everything was fine.  It’s now time to stop and evaluate what we truly have and what we can actually afford.  If you are making $50,000 a year, you cannot afford a $2,000 a month mortgage and the house that goes a long with it.  Do you really need that RV or to go on that 2 week vacation for $20,000 (financed by your home equity loan)?  NO!  Start to live within your true means and not in a “wanna be” world.

Like my mother used to say, “Put it down……you’ve had enough.”

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