Roads not taken on the way to earning a living

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia ponders her father’s career. In an earlier draft, she noted:

At the least, he might take a position on a magazine or major metropolitan daily, based on the portfolio he’s amassed.

Even so, about the time he moves in with her family:

He replies honestly. He’s living hand-to-mouth as it is, thanks to his full-time professional calling.


I’ve known more than a few people with great talent and great potential. Somewhere, though, they failed to leap the gap. I could point to big changes in society that increased the distance, but even so, I mourn that we’ve lost much.

Step back and look at your situation now. In the movie version, where would you find glamour? And what would come across as funky? Give it a title, if you will, as part of your pitch. Let’s live fully, where we are!


Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!

Police staffing rates in various big cities

  • Baltimore: 40.6 officers for every 10,000 residents / 48.2 total personnel
  • Boston: 31.5 / 39.7
  • Chicago: 43.9 / 48.2
  • Dallas: 24.8 / 29.0
  • Miami Beach: 26.7 / 34.7
  • New York: 42.3 / 60.0
  • Philadelphia: 40.2 / 50.9
  • Los Angeles: 24.6 / 31.7
  • Seattle: 19.8 / 27.8
  • Washington, D.C.: 55.1 / 63.9

In contrast, Dover, New Hampshire, where I live, the figures are 16.1 and 23.5.

(Based on 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data)

Matters of real value

In my novel What’s Left, she has every reason to wonder about what she’s going to do when she grows up. Unlike many of us, Cassia could continue in her family’s business — there’s some security there — but she looks beyond that and sees … well, this is one view I cut from the final version of the novel:

Yet, when we look around, we see everybody doing the exact opposite: most people can’t wait to get away from their office or factory or showroom or classroom. American society these days exalts its leisure and scorns people who aren’t making the big bucks. That’s backward!


One of the lessons I learned as a cub reporter was the importance of respecting secretaries and janitors. They could give you some of your best story tips, if you listened. Most of them knew far more about the operation than the managers at the top.

Who do you know who’s not highly paid but makes a huge difference for those around her? (Or him.)



Waking up to political reality

While the upcoming national election campaigns appear to be hold, or at least on simmer, a political firestorm is nevertheless brewing.

For starters, many of us are not pleased that the choice for chief executive is coming down to two white males in their 70s, but the differences between them are vast. As in HUGE. (I’ll save that rant for later, if necessary.)

We weren’t happy that the other remaining alternative was also a white male in his 70s, but the scarier part was the rabid stance of some of his followers that if he’s not on the ballot, they won’t bother voting. They say they’ll vote only for the Revolution, and some even say that it will rise from the ruins of what’s falling around us. I wish they’d see it’s not that simple or natural. When Rome fell, it was gone.

Another revolution has been taking root in the past four years, one that’s not yet completed but definitely threatening everything the Founding Fathers established. Not all revolutions end on a positive note, after all. Look at history and you’ll see how many have ended in dictatorships and/or social destruction.


So our political quandary is not all about Covid-19, either, or at least not directly, though the epidemic has been exposing some longstanding stress points in society.

Health care is one, though it still has a long way to go to work efficiently and equitably. Covid-19 is exposing many of its weaknesses and heroic strengths.

Education and student loan debt is another frontier, going back to the shortcomings of No Child Left Behind and a comprehensive understanding of just what education means, especially when we’re dealing with children born with a laptop or smartphone in their fingers. Those kids face the world in a whole new way. What on earth can play even mean for them? And a public school system designed to train them to work in factories that have long since left the USA is another obstacle. Is anybody talking about this in the public arena?

And then there’s the broader economy, beginning with the disconnect between investors and labor. More crucially, the disturbing awakening some conservative analysts are seeing between the gains of digital advances and the devastating losses of lowest level labor. This is going to be HUGE when the bills start amassing.

This shouldn’t be an arcane discussion.

Still, let’s look at the more pressing aspect. The biggest depression in a century? Combined with the makeshift payout, with one with the Donald’s signature on the checks.

Who’s paying for all this? Yes, we had to go back to get his unauthorized fricking egotistical name of the bills we’re paying.

Look, we’re lending free money to big banks, which in turn charge HUGE usury rates on their credit cards. WTF? No wonder we’re getting next to zero on our return on any savings. Real conservatives used to advocate personal savings. Far from that any more. The faux/Fox pseudo-conservatives are on that public-treasury gravy train. Besides, many if not all HUGE corporations aren’t paying federal taxes. Ditto for many of the super-rich who benefited from the so-called trickle-down tax reforms starting in the Ronald Reagan posturing.

Let us all eat cake, then. Does anyone else remember where that led? (Whack! Whack! Whack!)

By the way, whatever happened to antitrust actions? I ponder that every time I get my online server bill, which inches by dollars up every month. Not that this corporations has any real competition. This household is about to bolt to the only other alternative and swallow the quality difference.

As the supply chain breaks down

First, it’s chicken, as we discovered trying to reserve thighs for the local soup kitchen. Our usual supermarket can’t guarantee us it can have them for Thursday.

(Let’s not start a run on the stores, though. They should be smart enough to be limiting purchases to one per customer or so by now.)

Next will be pork, apparently, followed by beef.

Blame the Covid-19 outbreaks out in the big-producer lands. Workers too sick too work.

I’m wondering about eggs, though many of those are grown locally. I hope.

What do you suppose those protesters out in Michigan are going to do about this?

How are your out-of-pocket expenses going during Covid-19?

Back at the beginning of February, my wife and I each began using little notebooks to record all of our out-of-pocket spending, a practice I’ve discussed on the Talking Money series at my Chicken Farmer I Still Love You blog.

While both of us had a good grasp of where these little expenditures were going, by sitting down together once a week to compare them, we had a clearer of idea of what the other was up to as well as how some of our own impulse purchases were adding up. Or, more accurately, subtracting from our resources. I hate to admit I was probably stricter on my own indulgeances when I knew I was being watched. Ahem.

Well, we did well for most of the month and then slid on the data sharing as out schedules got out of kilter when it came to finding time of the comparisons.

Flash forward two months from that start, and I’m looking at what’s left of my notebook as well as at my wallet and coin change pile.

Quite simply, during the self-isolation of Covid-19, I’m spending very little beyond the usual checks for utilities and the like. I’m not going much of anywhere, so gasoline usage, car maintenance, and highway tolls spending are way down. My wife’s working largely from home, so her commuting costs are down, too. We can’t dine out and we’re not ordering takeout, apart from one mushroom-and-sausage pizza several weeks ago. I’m not dashing out on small grocery runs, and we are being more focused in the usual supermarket shopping, trying to keep it to once a week. Instead, we’re trying to work down through our pantry and big freezer, as far as food goes.

In addition, this is Great Lent, so we’re off wine, beer, and gin, not that we can blame that on the virus, but the savings there are significant, even as the ennui of quarantine does raise the temptation level. Admittedly, I do miss my evening ‘tini.

With many stores open reduced hours, the major shopping temptation is online. Gotta be careful there, as I see from all the Amazon and UPS and FedEx trucks popping down the street. I’m grateful every time one goes past without stopping here.

We are realizing that our charitable donations will be more important than ever.

And looking ahead, I am wondering about this year’s yard sales and how they’ll be affected.

How is the Covid-19 impacting the money in your life?

Ten things ‘What’s Left’ and ‘Nearly Canaan’ have in common

Considering that they were drafted 30 years apart, I thought these two novels would have nothing in common.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here are ten overlaps.


  1. American Midwest. Southern Indiana for Cassia. The Great Plains or somewhere similar for Jaya and Joshua.
  2. Asian spiritual practice. Tibetan Buddhism for Cassia’s father. Hindu-influenced yoga for Jaya.
  3. Relationship and family focus. Five generations for Cassia, including her close cousins known as the Squad. Three same-age couples for Jaya, plus her in-laws and landlords out west.
  4. Livelihood. Family-owned restaurant and real estate for Cassia’s clan. Nonprofit public services for Jaya.
  5. Women in business. Cassia’s whole family, from her great-grandmothers down to herself. Jaya in nonprofits management.
  6. Career uncertainty. Cassia’s cousins have difficult decisions to make about whether to stay with the family business or find other livelihoods. Three of the spouses in Nearly Canaan struggle in their search for suitable employment, while the other three are caught up in their professions.
  7. Far West. As a young adult, Cassia works with clients across the western half of America, while Jaya and Joshua eventually relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
  8. Death and loss. They’re central to both books.
  9. Food. Cassia has all of that Greek heritage. Jaya and Joshua move to a land of orchards and fresh seafood.
  10. Restaurants. Cassia’s family owns a landmark café. Jaya is introduced to Joshua where he’s a flippant waiter.


Any of this appeal to you?

Colleges closed down 50 years ago this spring

With all of the college students furloughed home to study online, it’s hard to believe the last time American campuses shut down was springtime a half century ago. Make that the ONLY time.

It was different, though, in several key ways.

The kids weren’t told to pack up and go home. No, we stayed together rather than scattered.

The strikes came from the students and then faculty as a protest against administrators and national events, rather than orders from the top-down.

They were triggered by the slayings of unarmed students at Jackson State in Mississippi and Kent State in Ohio by police and national guardsmen. (Sorry about the pun.)

There were other factors as well.

For those who are interested, my novel Daffodil Uprising covers much of that experience.


What’s happening today reflects a much different generational divide.

We shared a dream, and our career options appeared wide-open, though they chilled greatly in an economic downturn later that spring. We felt a hippie kinship across much of the nation. And we were angry.

By the way, we weren’t burdened by tuition debt, much less one we’d likely never be able to pay off over our working lifetime.


At the moment, the generational divide I’m watching is an attitude many have that Covid-19 is just for old folks (like me) or those with preexisting conditions (like some younger people I’m worrying about). Some of them think they’re immune or won’t get truly sick. As one I overheard saying, “I’d take a coronavirus for the team.” Oh, dear.

Let’s get real. I’ll go back to that report from France, where half of the intensive care beds were occupied by people under 30.

Still, there’s much more in this generational divide that’s simply festering. We ignore it at our own peril. What’s your take?

Now for the real estate hit

A few months back, I was reading an analysis by one business columnist who argued that in the upcoming recession, which at the time looked about a year away, real estate prices would be little impacted.

Hah! Despite his numbers and the curves on his charts, I thought he was badly mistaken. I felt – and still do – that he was leaving an important factor out of his calculations. So much of what I saw in the 1990 real estate collapse was a consequence of households where one of the two working adults had been laid off. With housing prices as high as they were, one income was dedicated solely for the mortgage payment while the other was left to cover the remaining living expenses. Nonexistent savings weren’t going to be part of that calculus.

An old rule-of-thumb was that the purchase price of the home should be no more than 2½ times the annual household income Looking around here, I’ve been puzzled that anyone can afford a home at all, especially considering the declining wages we’ve been seeing across the board or the difficulty of younger workers trying to land full-time jobs with benefits.

Quite simply, we couldn’t afford to buy our own house if we were in the market again. And many of the people we talk to admit the same thing, nodding their heads in sad agreement.

As for single-adult households? The odds are even worse.

Flash to the present, with its record layoffs already. History sometimes does repeat itself.


In the past week, two stories have pushed the developing Covid-19 situation along these lines.

One noted that real estate transactions have essentially gone dormant. Nobody’s out looking to buy and move up, forget an open house, and sellers are reluctant to have strangers traipsing through their dwelling and touching their stuff. We’re all more or less hunkered down.

And now we’re hearing dire warnings that the mortgage industry is on the verge of collapse or meltdown as homeowners (and presumably many businesses as well) are already falling behind in their payments.

Let’s see how the stock market reacts when it wakes up to these turns.

There’s a lot more to the economy than Wall Street, for sure.


By the way, the U.S. is now the epicenter of the pandemic, and the numbers are just beginning to soar. Nate Silver, the statistics guru at FiveThirtyEight, reports that the cases and fatalities are rising faster in the Trump-leaning red states than in the blue states, where more of the testing has occurred. Within a month, he says, the per capital rate of new coronavirus cases in Trump country should outstrip those in the rest of the nation.

Let’s see what that does to public discourse and opinion.