I’m Back in the Saddle Again… What’d I miss? Nothing, unfortunately.
Most of my regular readers know that I tend to take off for a couple of months each year… usually one is in the Spring and the other in late summer. In past years I’ve known that it’s time for a break in the action because three things occurred: 1. I started writing articles and by the end of my third or fourth sentence I was typing, “blah, blah, blah.” 2. My ankles became swollen from sitting in my desk chair for far too long. 3. My wife politely threatened to leave me if I didn’t stop and take a break.
Anyway, this last hiatus began normally enough… it was time for Spring Training in Arizona and I like to go watch baseball in small venues and drink Bloody Marys in the morning. This time, however, things didn’t work out as I planned and since I know many have been wondering where I’ve been for the last two months from the slew of emails I’ve received, I thought I’d explain what I didn’t want to explain at the time… and let everyone know that not only am I back, but I plan to be back with a vengeance… and a few other improvements.
Where have I been?
Well, as they say, life happens and these last couple of months were certainly proof of that for me. First of all, as winter was ending my father passed away unexpectedly… he was almost 82 years old and although I realize 82 isn’t 52… it still seems a young age at which to go, these days. He died quietly in his chair after asking for a glass of water. He wasn’t sick in any specific way, he just sat down and passed away in minutes. My friend who is a physician explained it to me by telling me what the first symptom of a heart attack often is… sudden death.
My father was a brilliant man and a wonderful father in many ways. and we had many wonderful years together. We also had years that were difficult for both of us, and I’m sure that’s true for many sons of the men from my father’s generation. We were very different people that came from very different times, and while we were the same in some ways, there were many things we couldn’t understand about each other.
My father, Julian, earned his AB in biochemical sciences from Harvard in 1952 and his PhD in physical chemistry from Polytechnic University of New York in 1960. In 1961, the year I was born, by the way… he joined Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City… today’s Bell Labs would be better known as Lucent Technologies. Bell Labs, which was created in 1925 as the R&D company for the Bell System, accumulated over 31,000 patents including such simplistic things as the discovery of the measurement of sound and the LED.
As a member of the technical staff at Bell Labs, my father worked on the development of the batteries that were used in Telstar, the communications satellite launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral, Florida in July of 1962. Before Telstar, live broadcasts from around the world were impossible… television networks had to wait for tapes to be flown over the Atlantic before events could be broadcast. Telstar was the first satellite to send television signals between North America and Europe.
In 1963, my father was offered a position as assistant professor of water chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1967, he rose to associate professor and in 1973, he became a full professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health… before retiring emeritus professor in 1995. In 1984, he also became associate director at the Center for Environmental Epidemiology and that same year he received a secondary appointment as professor in the School of Engineering’s civil engineering department. And throughout his career, he was also a visiting lecturer at Harvard, and a visiting faculty member at University College London.
My father conducted extensive research in areas that included the hazards of wastewater, drinking water, air pollution and building interiors for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Park Service. He was also a committee member for the Second International Congress on Environmental Information and Communication in Bayreuth, Germany, the International Society for Exposure Analysis and he served on the EPA’s committees on research, peer review and ground water recharge.
He presented his research lecturing at numerous academic institutions all over the world and most recently, his research was published in Science of the Total Environment, Environmental Epidemiology, Water Research, APCA (Air Pollution Control Association) Journal, Atmospheric Environment, Environmental Science and Technology, and the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology. And he was the lead editor of the book “Health Effects from Hazardous Waste Sites,” published in 1987. (You should probably wait for the movie… I know I am… LOL.)
One of his more recently published books… one that he autographed for me and that I still have around my study somewhere… was titled, “Ground Water Re-charge Using Waters of Impaired Quality,” and when he asked me what I thought of it, I admitted that I couldn’t get past the Table of Contents.
I thought he would chuckle at that response, but he didn’t. In fact, I’m sure it disappointed him… which was indicative of why he and I also had some difficult times that unfortunately stretched into years more than once.
Although he never actually stopped working, continuing his research and consulting all over the world, he did retire from teaching in 1995, and I flew home for the occasion. At his retirement party I learned something I had never known or even imagined about his career… he had taught at the graduate school level for 34 years and never missed a single class… not even one class missed or re-scheduled in 34 years. It’s an example of how different my generation is… I had people that worked for my firm that couldn’t even get through a month without calling in sick or needing a personal day at least once.
To commemorate his retiring from teaching I even edited together a video that he proudly showed at the party, that included old pictures that I had digitized, and featured footage I’d taken over more than a decade as my wife and I traveled on various vacations with my parents, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
It often wasn’t easy for my wife and I to get away on those vacations with my parents, but I felt it was important that we take advantage of the opportunity and so we made it happen no matter what was in the way… and I couldn’t be happier that we were able to do so. It’s easy to let those types of opportunities pass by, and I’ve always tried not to let that happen.
The year of my father’s retirement, my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary. My wife and I went back to Pittsburgh to throw my parents a surprise anniversary party. It was held in a ballroom atop the William Penn Hotel, the city’s most prestigious address. We had a large band playing music by Benny Goodman and others from days gone by, and with help from my younger sister and others, we managed to get over 100 of their closest friends to attend.
It was truly a memorable evening for everyone, and I was happy and proud that I was able to make it happen. Plus, we actually surprised my father… no easy task… and my wife and I watched the grown-ups dance cheek to cheek until the wee hours of the night.
I suppose it’s at least somewhat normal, but the truth is that along with the wonderful memories of my father, there were also those that weren’t anywhere close to wonderful and there were years when we never even spoke as a result. You see, my father was a Harvard man, and it is said that you can tell a Harvard man… but you can’t tell him much.
Once when I asked him to help me with my geometry homework, he spent three lined pages and at least an hour explaining to me how to arrive at Pi, which in case you don’t recall off hand is 3.14. It’s called “THE GIVEN,” in every high school geometry problem ever written, meaning you don’t have to figure it out… they GIVE it to you. By the time he was ready to help me with an actual problem, I was ready to strangle him to death right there in his study.
He told me that when he was at Harvard, he figured out Pi to 100,000 decimal points… using a slide rule. I remember thinking at the time… how nerdy must my father have been back then to have sat in his dorm room at Harvard figuring out Pi to 100,000 decimal points with a slide rule… couldn’t he have gotten a date or gone to a party or anything but what he had done? I was aghast at the thought.
In truth, what my father had in brains, he lacked in emotions. And he could be very rigid in his thinking, especially when it came to me… unquestionably, he was much more flexible with my younger sisters. I remember when I was 17, and my girlfriend since eighth grade had gone to England with her parents for a month. I missed her terribly and called her a couple of times while she was there. The bill was $44, and you might have thought it was $44,000 by the way my father reacted to it.
Some fathers would have made me work it off, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out the basement or whatever, but not my father. His answer was to place a lock on the phones in the house, forbidding me from using them from that moment on without his advance permission and supervision. And to a 17 year-old boy with a social life, that’s a sentence worse than death.
He also told me a story about when his own father had passed away, before I was born. He said that when his father died, he was in Germany at the time, and he had only spent $6 on the call home. And I remember thinking at the time… was in weirder that he remembered how much that call was, or that he had only spent $6 calling his mother upon the news of his father’s… her husband’s death?
I’m sure he wanted me to attend Harvard, something I was just not cut out to do when I was 18 anyway. Some people know what they want to do at that age, but I didn’t. So instead, I dropped in and out of college, and then at 19 joined the U.S. Air Force.
Now, in case you’re not aware, while some families would have no problem with this, joining the military is something that liberal, intellectual, East Coast Jews simply don’t see their children ever doing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’d have been better off becoming a pot dealer or whatever, as long as I stayed in college, as far as my parents were concerned.
When I told my father I had landed a job as a copywriter at an ad agency, he considered what I had said for a minute and then replied, “Advertising… so, you make… hmmm… billboards?”
That was as close as he could come to getting his arms around what I had said… billboards. He’d seen billboards before, although he might not have been able to recall where or when at that moment. I had never had anything to do with a billboard in my life, but I knew there was no way I was going to be able to explain what an ad agency did to a man who only watched public television and listened to classical music, so I just said, “Right, like that sort of thing.”
When my father met my wife for the first time, we were engaged to be married and he had flown out to California to serve on some committee, so we all met for dinner.
As his martini arrived at the table he asked my wife, “So, Stacey… where did you go to school?” My wife, who comes from a blue collar family that lived in inner city Chicago, replied with some pride, “Illinois State.” To which my father said as he sipped his cocktail, “Oh… a state school.” And we were off to the races. To my father’s way of thinking, there was Harvard… and other schools.
My father was a very competitive person who was used to winning… but so was I. And that’s not the healthiest kind of relationship to have between a father and son.
I started playing tennis when I was six years old and I remember he and I playing together when I was young… until I could beat him without any trouble. After that, if I hit the ball anywhere but right to him he’d just stare at me in disgust and we stopped playing after that. We used to ski together too… until I was a better skier and that was the end of that as well.
I remember when it would be raining and I’d ask for a ride to school, one mile away from our home. He’d always say, “No. I’m going the other direction.” What he didn’t mention was that he was about to drive two miles away to his office, but to go even a mile out of his way to keep me out of the rain was unthinkable to him.
When my daughter was born, I asked him what he thought he had sacrificed having raised three children and after considering my question he replied, “Nothing.” And I knew he was telling the truth about that… he hadn’t sacrificed anything… he always did what he wanted to do and his family, meaning me as my sisters were in my mother’s jurisdiction, went along… period. If I didn’t want to do whatever he had decided we were doing, then he’d just go do it alone. The idea of compromising with his son was entirely foreign to him.
I think it’s a generational thing because I’m nothing like that with my daughter. I knew when she was born that I wanted to sacrifice things for her… I like doing things that make her happy. My father would never listen to music I liked while in the car, but I wouldn’t think of torturing my daughter like that. When my daughter wants a certain pair of jeans, I like getting them for her… I know those things are important to kids. My father wouldn’t have understood that sort of thinking at all.
I’m not trying to say that any of these things alone matter one way or the other, but collectively, they made for a relationship that could find itself strained unless it went his way.
His death was a shock and it took me almost a month before I was ready to share the news with others, mostly because I wasn’t ready to get flooded with the condolences calls and emails from friends, which is also why I haven’t written about it until now… I just wasn’t ready to talk about it… certainly not with a thousand or more people, if you know what I mean.
In some ways I wish we could have been closer, I would have liked to know more about why he was the way he was… more about his father who I never knew. But I also know that he was who he was and that sort of closeness was just not something he could do.
After hearing the news of my father’s death, and while traveling back east, I managed to come down with the worst flu I’ve had… I think since I was maybe eight years old. I got so sick so fast that I was actually stranded in a hotel unable to move, let alone get myself to the airport to fly home. My fever one night was 103.9 and I’m sure it went even higher than that for a few days. I was coughing terribly and sweating through my bedding every few hours. It was absolutely hell and all I could do was send text messages to my wife instructing her to contact my hotel and extend my stay and do the same with my car rental.
I literally could not get out of bed for four days, but finally I dragged myself to the airport and after missing one flight, I managed to make the next and I landed in Los Angeles at after midnight. My wife picked me up and I went home where I remained in bed for another week or maybe even longer… I can’t really remember exactly, that’s how bad it was.
And right after that nightmare illness, my neck and shoulder… and then my entire right arm became so painful that I can’t even tell you. I wanted to get back to my blog, but I couldn’t even sit in a chair without being in terrible pain, and typing was out of the question. First I tried the chiropractor, and then the orthopedist who said I had a pinched nerve and tendonitis… and maybe a bone spur and possibly arthritis… this doctor threw the kitchen sink at me diagnosis-wise. I tried the pills, the wraps, the ointments and the physical therapy, but nothing was helping and I was spending my days and nights in bed with my arm raised to rest on a pillow. All I can say is thank the Lord for Netflix, or I would have gone insane.
After a couple of weeks of that, with my neck, shoulder and arm still hurting badly, we got some incredible news… our daughter was accepted at the University of California at Berkeley… or “Cal” for short. Berkeley is rated as the #1 public university in the country, and depending on which list you look at, it’s right around #8 in the world. They admit about 4,000 of the 60,000 students that apply, and I was… and am… about as proud of my daughter as a father can be.
So, pain or no pain, and with Spring Break just ahead, we now had to head up to the San Francisco/Oakland area to tour the campus and attend orientation… that sort of thing.
While in the Bay Area, a friend of mine that lives in San Fran suggested that I try his acupuncturist and while I might have been skeptical until then, my shoulder and arm were killing me and I was ready to try amputation if it would stop the constant pain. And wonders of wonders it started to help… slowly, mind you, but at least there was progress, which was infinitely better than the weeks of pain I’d endured to-date.
It still hurts today as I sit here typing this post, but it’s improving and that’s what matters. I’ve missed writing and am anxious to get back to exposing the misinformation and straightening out the convoluted crap we’re being fed by the mainstream media on a non-stop basis these days.
- The foreclosure crisis is almost over and foreclosures are way down… NONSENSE. Foreclosures may be down in some states, but not because things are getting better.
- The real estate market is on fire with home prices rising by some accounts faster than they did during the bubble… NONSENSE. The only part of the housing market that’s going up is the bottom segment, which is the result of there being so few homes for sale and investors bidding up the few that are for sale.
- The mortgage market is on the mend… NONSENSE. Our mortgage market is still nothing more than government guaranteed loans, like Fannie and Freddie… and FHA… VA… and that’s about it. Jumbo loans are around if you have 40 percent or more down, an 800 credit score, and the appraisal by the bank comes in low enough. Otherwise, the loans are falling out of the sale faster than fall leaves on trees in New England.
- The stock market is flying so the economy is recovering… NONSENSE. Bernanke and his QE-Infinity crap is continuing to lift stocks and nothing else. GDP hasn’t been affected at all, and as of March of this year, unemployment is up in roughly half the states in the country, and unchanged in 17 others. QE has failed, unless the Fed’s mandate has changed from unemployment and inflation to elevating the DOW and the S&P 500.
- The bond market is still doing fine… NONSENSE. The bond bubble that has resulted from Bernanke’s artificially low interest rates cannot last, and when interest rates rise, even slightly, look out below for bond funds.
- The problems in the EU have past… NONSENSE. Not even close, we’re just watching the same artificial propping up of insolvent countries that’s been going on since 2009. It can’t last and there’s no growth coming behind it.
- The fact is… absolutely nothing has changed for the better, at least nothing that matters… nothing that affects you or me for sure. Bernanke’s plan to prop up the markets in order to increase household wealth and therefore spending as it lowers unemployment hasn’t done squat beyond inflating the DOW… and as we all know… what goes up… must come down.
And there’s much more that I could add, but the point is… I’m typing again. And that means I’m back to work, but this time it also means some changes are coming to Mandelman Matters. We have to do more to make things better for America’s middle class and particularly those fighting foreclosure and trying to save homes through loan modifications… and I plan to do more to help make things better… so stay tuned and find out how to “TAKE YOUR POWER BACK.”
I’m also launching a new section on Mandelman Matters called “Retirement Matters,” and it’s going to cover the topic that no one wants to think about… how do we start saving again so we can be more secure without market risk? Look for articles and podcasts on the subject offering the information that Wall Street never mentions.
One More Thing…
Before I wrap up, however, I do want to say a few words about traveling to the East Coast in winter… good Lord, was it ever cold and miserable. It’s no wonder I got so sick. I grew up back there and I honestly don’t know how I or anyone else survives past the age of four or five. I was staying at a hotel in Hoboken, New Jersey where I could park only thirty or forty feet or so from the lobby’s automatic door, and still to get from the car to the lobby was almost certainly life threatening.
I’d forgotten that it was even possible, but it was raining, snowing, sleeting and occasionally hailing simultaneously and from all directions. It meant that on the way to my car, first I could soak my shoes stepping in a puddle of ice water and then watch them freeze solid walking through the snow. It was so cold that it was even cold inside the car with the heater on high… the rental car was brand new but it seemed that I could feel the wind come right through the windshield and up through floorboards.
I decided that if a cop pulled me over for whatever reason and came to my window, I’d simply motion for him to come around to the other side and sit in the passenger seat in order to write me the ticket. And if he didn’t like that option then he would be welcome to just shoot me in the head. Either way, I’d understand… and be grateful.
Luckily, I suppose, I didn’t get pulled over… I didn’t drive extra carefully or anything… I’m sure it was simply because no cops wanted to write tickets with the wind chill factor making it feel something near thirty below. If I were a cop in that part of the country, for me to pull you over you’d have to commit… at the very least… manslaughter. Anything less serious than that would just have to wait until Spring.
I don’t know why or how anyone lives there or anywhere near there. In case it’s the result of people lacking knowledge, let me be the first to fill you in… there are much warmer places you can live that are still part of this country. It’s like people in Russia who live in Siberia… unless they’re sentenced there, don’t you wonder why they live there?
Here’s the deal… if you live in weather that’s colder than the temperature inside the penguin and polar bear exhibit at the zoo… unless you’re an Eskimo… or your parents were penguins… you should consider making a move. What are you waiting for… global warming?
Frankly, I’m surprised there isn’t more violent crime in places that cold because if I’m outside in that sort of weather and you’re being a jerk, my mind figures I might as well kill you… just to stay warm. No one has much patience after being soaked by the rain, covered in snow and pelted by sleet and hail. I think about my daughter all the time… except then. In weather like that all I think about is how bad my decision making skills must be to have landed me where I am.
Look, I love the outdoors. In fact, that’s where you’ll find me whenever I’m not indoors. But, there’s no reason to live where weather can be fatal to human life. For sure our government should be moved to a warmer climate immediately. How can we expect the idiots in congress to be able to make decisions in such weather. I mean, many of them would still be entirely inept in Palm Springs, I realize, but at least some might have a fighting chance if they didn’t live in the equivalent of a meat freezer half the year.
And just last week, I was in Cleveland in the pouring rain… the sort of rain that requires your windshield wipers to be set on that annoyingly stressful high speed. I drove through the downtown area and it looked like I was in a movie filmed in 1975 at the latest. I think part of Cleveland is actually built in black and white. Fewer than 400,000 now live in Cleveland, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that the city’s population has dropped over 17 percent since 2000. What the other 83 percent are waiting for is beyond me.
Not to be insulting to the folks living there because it’s certainly not their fault, but… I really don’t think we actually need Cleveland… I mean, at all… as a nation. It’s a city that’s obviously broken and I see no reason to try fixing it… I think we could just let it go… maybe lease the whole thing out to Disney… or to the casino operators in Las Vegas… or who knows… maybe Canada would be interested in making some kind of offer. If not, I think we could just fence it off, delete its zip codes and forget it’s there.
To give you an idea of how bad things are in Cleveland, the median household income in Cleveland is right around $25,000 a year… basically it’s a city living at or near the poverty level. In Ohio as a whole… let’s face it, a state that doesn’t exactly inspire thoughts of “economic prosperity,” the annual median household income is north of $45,000. It’s crazy to even consider it, but if you can’t make it in Youngstown… you can always move to Cleveland. It must be like living in a third world country… but with Medicare and a Major League Baseball team.
I haven’t been to Detroit as yet, but from what I’ve read, I’m thinking it could be the only place outside Haiti that makes Cleveland look desirable. But as I said, I’ll have to get back to you on that.