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Monday, February 28, 2011

Ramble On

I meant to write a variation of this rambling for some time now but just have not had the time or inspiration necessary to sit down at the keyboard for what was sure to be a long ramble. Fueled with new thoughts and periods of demented musings it will now be an even longer one. Now that I am back from Key West and ahead of the day on Monday I will endeavor to get all this down in as coherent a fashion as I am capable of doing. As I have not written in this space in a bit I will eventually get to important stuff like baseball and markets but for now let’s tell the story that has been in the back of the brain for a few weeks now.

It all starts in the kitchen with a glass of wine. That’s where almost all my stories that don’t start at Red Eyes begin so that not unusual. I was cleaning up after one of our family dinner gatherings and talking with the sister in law while my wife put the little one to bed. I forget what the subject matter was but at one point I commented that I just did to worry about this kind of thing. She paused for a moment and said “I get the impression you do not worry about much.” I thought about that for a second and realized that I really do not. Worrying is a waste of time in my opinion. I am all too well aware that bad shit can happen but to sit awake at night or waste one minute of one day stressing over it is a waste of life and time.

To those who know me only as an investor that may seem to be a contradiction. I enter every investment by asking what can go wrong? Once I have the answer to that I begin to calculate the upside potential. If I like both answers only then do I enter into the proposition or security. This allows me to sleep at night and hopefully earn enough profit to keep chugging along. I approach a lot of life like that as well. What can go wrong? Can I handle that? What’s the upside? I think it is the second question that screws most people up. They badly underestimate what they can handle in my opinion.

I think fear keeps many of us from being who we could be and living the life we should. I know people who sit awake worrying about shit that may or may not happen and crap that probably will never happen. Bad shit can happen I know that. You could lose your job; your business could go under. If it does the sun will rise the next morning and it will be time to start over. It might not be the most fun you ever had but you can do it. I know far too many of trader friends who went bust, drank it off and went back to raising a stake or rebuilding their bankroll. It has happened to me before in the aftermath of a divorce and a market collapse. I could barely afford my bar bill. It was not a hell of a lot of fun but I rebuilt, survived and thrived. It did not kill me, make me uglier or shorter and I moved on. Bring broke did not make music, books, sunsets friends or anything of the other things that make life so spectacular go away. They were still there.

There is all sorts of stuff to worry about if you choose to do so. The economy still sucks and job growth is so anemic it makes a snail look like Richard Petty in the backstretch at Daytona. The Middle East is in full revolt and we may get a democracy or two but that’s not the way to bet it. It started out that way but there’s a whole bunch of well-armed nuts over there so the outcome is very much in doubt. Gas prices are rising. We have mortgaged our future and it seems to me that we have done so for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong ways. Our two major political parties strike me as institutionalized insanity at this point. The tax code is absofuckinglutlely ridiculous and unfair to anyone with an ounce of ambition or thrift. The list goes on and on into an infinity of worries. You can work yourself into a right good frenzy of worry if you so choose just on geopolitical and big picture stuff if you want.

Then there’s the personal stuff. Things did not go so well at work today ,this week, this month this year. Business is slow and my customers are not buying what I sell. My son/daughter/cat/fish is not behaving the way I want. I owe too much money (um..this one’s easy. Quit fucking borrowing money). My parents/siblings are crazy .I need a new transmission. I hate my job. My pinky toe hurts. My 401k is down. I weigh too much. I weigh too little. I have a pimple. My kids might not get into the college I want them to attend. My house is worth less than I paid. All of these may be legitimate concerns but they are not worth worry or stress. Nothing that does not involve the imminent death of a loved one or yourself is worth worry in my opinion.

Stress kills. It kills faster than anything else on earth. Faster than drinking, smoking or any other of a host of bad habits. I think you can literally worry yourself to death. The very worst part is that you can worry yourself to death years before your body has the common sense to join you in death. Worry and stress can take every last millisecond of enjoyment out of life and that my friends is a tragedy. There is far too much beautiful and wonderful about life to ruin it with destructive worry and soul sapping stress.

Here is how to handle sorry and stress. Look at the situation that is a worry. What can you do to change it? Go do that. Is there any way to protect myself and the ones I love from this? Go do that. Can I profit from it in some way? If there is a way, Go do that. Once you have taken the steps that you can take relax. Go put some Coltrane on the stereo, pour a libation, read a book, play with your kids, kiss your wife. Live your life. What happens happens but you have done what needs to be done and you can handle the consequences.

The other best method for eliminating stress is to eliminate the ridiculous comparisons. Sam made more money than me. So what? Are your bills paid and do you have what you need? Jill has a nicer car. Who cares? She probably has a bigger car payment as well. I was not the best trader/salesman/mime this month or year. Again so what? Are your customers and clients happy? If not apply the questions above and make them happy. As any gunfighter or gambler can tell you there is always somebody better. Be as good as you can be and that’s more than enough.

None of this should be taken to mean that bad shit will not happen. You will stumble bumble and fall. You will make some mistakes that in hindsight will be stunningly stupid. You will lose money at some point. You will get your heart broken. All that and more will happen to us along the way. That danger of loss is more than offset by the good stuff that can happen. You can fall in love and find forever. You can find that dream job. The good stuff far outweighs the bad in this twisted little journey of life. Keep in mind that no one gets out of here alive. This is a one way trip to the best of our knowledge. Experience it all, live it all, love it all. Quit worrying, buy the ticket and take the ride.

My friend James Altucher recently wrote a nice piece on stress and reduction that I enjoyed (by the way if you are not reading his blog, Altucher Confidential, you should be. Entertaining useful and funny.) In one area we disagree. He suggested no alcohol to reduce stress. I disgagree.100% of all experts named Tim Melvin agree than wine reduces stress. Orange crushes at sunset reduce stress. Fruity rum drinks on the beach reduce stress. Cold beers with a two run lead in the seventh reduce stress. You can look it up.

I find myself in agreement with Baudelaire on this one. Be drunk. Be drunk on wine, virtue, poetry, love, sunshine, laughter. Be drunk on anything and everything. Drink deeply and sloppily of life, deep thirsty draughts of your children, your partner your friends, music, books, starlight, thunderstorms, fast boats, slow kisses, rainy mornings and sun drenched afternoons. Quit worrying and start drinking of life.

Now on to recent travels and adventures. We recently took a delayed honeymoon voyage to the Keys. We flew into Miami ,rented a car and drove down the Overseas Highway. If you have never done it, book the trip now. It is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful drives in the country. You can feel the tropics seep into your soul with each passing of a mile marker. If you get a chance stay overnight in one of the little resorts (no hotels o motels in the Keys, just resorts) in the Upper Keys. We stayed at the Drop Anchor in Islamorada one night and loved the place. The door opened right onto the beach and the ocean. Just a spectacular little place to spend a night or a lifetime. Furthermore if you can stay stressed strolling down Front Street with a drink in your hand and the sun in your eyes you need an extended stay in the Maynard G. Krebs Reality Rehab and Finishing School.

My next observation is that Jimmy Buffett should be horsewhipped. Don’t get me wrong. I like his music and used to organize bus trips to his shows in my younger days. He has some great tunes and I love the lifestyle he espouses. But the corporatization of the whole things he has done is just distasteful. We were on Duvall Street watching the upper middle aged sunburned set standing in line to get into Margaritaville with overpriced cheeseburgers and other standard Mid America fare. Two doors away Jakes was almost empty and we dined on conch ceviche and shrimp that was wonderful at an almost empty bar (note to Key West and the rest of the south. Quit boiling the damn shrimp. Buy a steamer). The whole concept of Parrot head clubs who think they are pirates for drinking three coronas while wearing loud shirts at Harrys Caribbean bar in Milwaukee is silly. There is no such thing as an organized casual lifestyle. Hippies, pirates, roustabouts, layabouts, dreamers, outlaws and drinkers of rum do not have an elected board of directors or a federal tax ID number. While we are on the subject if you insist on having such a club quit giving money to Jimmy charities and spend a little money and effort in your own backyard. I am pretty sure there are hungry or illiterate people in your little town that need the money far more than whatever corporate cause Jimmy advocates these days. Jimmy has lots of money to give his causes. Find your own and give deeply and often. Also Listen to some different music. Buffett’s okay but check out some Solomon Burke, Jerry Jeff Walker, Lyle Lovett, the Drifters and such.

Of course books will make an appearance in these ramblings .I stumbled across a book call Life Lessons of a Legend by Brad Manard and Captain Tony Tarracino. First I will say I liked it and you should buy it. Furthermore you should buy it at Voltaire Books on the corner of Simonton and Eaton in Key West. It is a great little book store whose owners went out of their way to be helpful when my wife was looking for a particular book to bring home to the small blonde child. Having said that the author is a member of a Midwestern Parrotheads Club and also looks at Tony through glasses of a deep rose color totally ignoring what Tony himself called his inner bastard. It is understandable I suppose. The last Brad from the Midwest we run across in culture was last seen wrapped up in a sexual embrace with a transsexual transvestite in a fright wig and fishnets. Manard spent some time with Captain Tony in the last years of the legendary Key West icons life and he came away with some pretty good stuff that makes for a good read.

One thing that is mentioned frequently in the book is Captain Tonys advice to look for the jewel within. Translated this means to look for the good in all. This is great advice for reducing stress. I have a lot of friends many others think are asshats, assclowns or simply assholes of the highest nature. I myself am frequently told I am like whiskey, an acquired taste. A lot of people have wrappers that have nothing to do with who they really are. Insecurities fear, and a whole host of other entirely human factors lead them to put a shell that is not entirely pleasant. If you see through the bullshit there is usually a pretty good person within. While it is true that there some folks who fit in the WOS (waste of Sperm) classification most people I meet are actually pretty decent humans just trying to figure it all out. Look for the jewel within is pretty damn good advice and the concept is pretty well presented in the book.

The other lesson Brad from Iowa gets from the gambler, hustler and saloon keeper is that compassion is the most important word in the dictionary. This is something that those of us who call ourselves libertarians fuck up beyond belief. While I deeply believe that government redistribution of wealth, uneven taxation and handouts is wrong this does not mean that there should be no compassion. Believing in myself and taking responsibility does not excuse me from giving a shit about those with whom I share the planet. I should not have an obligation to give my money to anyone I do not want to. However I should want to help some of those who have struggled along the way. If life has smiled on you why not help those who feel frowned upon right now.

Why not give money to help spread literacy? We have far too many people in our own country who never learned to read. What contribution might they make to the world or their own life if we open that door for them? Is giving the mentally handicapped the chance for a job or the ability to take some measure of direction over their life a handout or a hand up? Do you know what horrible circumstances led that mother and child to be homeless? Are you so perfect you get to judge? The five bucks you give her might go to the crack pipe, that’s true. It might go to feed the child for a day. Since you tip more than that for an overcooked burger and a beer at the Parrothead meeting why do you give a shit? The chance she feeds the baby is worth taking the risk in my feeble mind. You are right. I do not owe it to anyone to help them. I owe it to myself.

I have one last observation from Key West. This is one of the more diverse little towns you will ever find. You will not hear the word diversity there very much. No one seems togives a shit if you are red, black white yellow or any other shade. No one asks which flavor of groin you favor or what religion you choose to practice. The real question is did you show up for your shift on time and do your job? You do what you want and be who you and be sure to tip your waiters and waitresses. I will do the same. I love that attitude. Let’s do away with societies and association to advance fill in the blank people. Let’s start to new one called the Society for the Advancement of People. As long as we still use the word diversity or request special treatment based on skin color, religion, groin preference or some other feature or habit racism and discrimination will survive. You be you, I’ll be me and none of the rest really matters all that much.

Cleary I lied. Baseball and markets will have to wait for another day