You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.R. Buckminister Fuler
Later that evening, after we had cooked dinner together and washed dishes and Hope was asleep, Cristi and I sat on our balcony and I told her about Danny. She laughed when I did about the bricks, and she joked, “So is that your part in history? A war hero who shits bricks?”
We chuckled for a few wonderful moments, then I said her it could be a lead in to a bigger story about my grandfather, and then she saw it.
I’m drawn to patterns and coincidences, and Edward Partin had been dubbed an All American Hero in the media, and I coincidentally served in the 82nd, The All Americans, named because, before they were formed in WWI, before parachutes had been invented, and had been the 82nd Infantry and were the first time in United States history that one unit had members of all states, and the AA on the 82nd’s shoulder patch stood for “All Americans.” At the time, America was still healing from the civil war – it wasn’t that long ago, if you think about it – and naming a force to fight an external enemy The All Americans had significance that many people today don’t realize. The 82nd is also called America’s Guard of Honor, and we were on call by the president to respond anywhere in the world by air force lifts and, if necessary, parachuting in. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1989, President Bush sent America’s Guard of Honor and The All Americans landed half way around the world 18 hours later and drew a line in the sand, facing off against the largest tank force in the history of the world, and began Desert Shield, which eventually became Desert Storm and was one of the world’s most decisive and well planned wars, and the first time in American military history that we lost fewer soldiers to the enemy than to fratricide, another fact few people realized: we kill ourselves more than enemies do. I had been a part in that, though I rarely discuss it.
We’re All Americans, I said, if you ignore arbitrary border lines and birth places; what’s really crazy is to put faith in things we create in our heads, like the guy who wrote Sapiens said something like, ‘we choose to believe in different boders and gods, and in money, and all three are created by people’s minds and we believe them and fight over them instead of focusing on what’s real.’ I mentioned Buckminister Fueller, and his factual statement, that we’re all humans on Spaceship Earth, hurling through space with limited resources and a growing population and threats to our shared ship, like asteroids and diseases and natural disasters and more. If a group of diverse people from all states, races, religions, and genders could believe that we’re All Americans; perhaps 7.6 Billion people – now 8 Billion and growing – could believe that we’re All Humans sharing Earth, and everything’s gonig to be just fine as soon as we stop believing in things that aren’t tangible or useful to our health and happiness, or the health and happiness of our children’s children and their neighbors.
Cristi said, “What about Desert Storm, and that thing the people at the VA have? Could you teach statistics through that?”
I sipped my beer and pondered that a while. It’s hard to change your way of thinking once you start down a path.
I had taken a sabbatical and was drafting a book on how to retire early, and had become too attached to that idea to change quickly. I was teaching investing and statistics and probability by sharing facts, but sharing those facts in a series of conversations with Granny, like a literary memoir from a boys perspective growing up listening to two single mothers, my mother and her mother, my Granny, give me advice. But it had evolved into nothing more than a bunch dry and facts about IRA’s that were accurate then, but could change and therefore negate the entire point of the book I was calling, simply, “Joyce.”
But Danny had been right, that didn’t sound funny.
But it was important to me, and contained facts that I would like Hope to have one day, in case I’m not around to help her. t that time, the Roth IRA was relatively new, and the differences between it and Granny’s choices confused people. I had presented a few examples from Granny and my mom, told over a few years as their investments grew, and shown that, for them, their choices led them to retire early, and boiled down to whether or not you wanted taxes taken out sooner with a Roth or later with a traditional. It was a choice based on your unique situation.
Granny had chosen to live in the same house and drive the same car and splurge on Scotch and Kents and books, and so she retired early, like my mom. Uncle Bob had lived lavishly, and Auntie Lo couldn’t afford her bills before she died. I had told their stories, and recreated what we know now and put it into context for their situation, with the added hindsight of me knowing their investment choices then and being able to pull up the current stocks and graph decades of splits, mergers, and dividend payments. I had created graphs of different scenarios with a few assumptions, hoping to show bigger picture patterns rather than focusing too much on a Roth vs Traditional IRA. And I was intentionally writing acerbicly, hoping people would see between the lines rather than offering my opinion; I had always been frustrated that with either a Roth or a traditional IRA a single mom doing odd jobs, like cleaning homes or delivering phone books or landscaping, could only contribute $5,000 per year to their own retirement, $5,500 if they were already over 50. I taught the math that proved that unless someone got very lucky and won the lottery or inherited money, a minimum wage singe mother would never be able to retire, even if tehy somehow put aside $5,000 per year; and we know how hard that can be. I hoped a few people would see that perhaps our laws weren’t in our benefit, and there was an incentive for people to work for a boss or company like Exxon or CoPolymer rather than pursue their dreams, especially when at the end of the day they still had a full time job as a parent.
And of course the news that year had been full of doomsday predictions about social security running out, and that by our children’s time there will be too many long-living retirees and not enough workers to sustain the current system. Voters demanded that someone do something! But some people have always known that. It’s never been a secret. And though Granny had thought that was bullshit – her word – she also knew that if she contributed the maximum amount before buying her good bottles of Scotch, it would grow quickly enough, be free from bankruptcy claims, and could be borrowed against in case of a hospital emergency. She said that, like a Roth or Traditional IRA, everything was a choice. She had chosen to live moderately, at least financially, and I had hoped some people would read between the lines and see that a bit more moderation in bottles of Scotch, not in price but in quantity, would have been even better for Granny, from my perspective at least. I would have liked to have had more time with her, too.
I would like to add personal information, I had asked Cristi. We had lost our home in the 2009 housing crisis that hit just as I was two years into a lean startup company. We short sold and lost our savings and destroyed our credit; but our IRA had been protected, and I was able to borrow from it for her hospital emergency that wasn’t covered by the VA because we weren’t married then, and the IRA had saved us. That IRA, combined with my free VA healthcare, allowed me freedom to take another calculated risk, and that had led us to where we were.
But I had nothing more to add than the few brief chapters I had written and already summarized to you, and Cristi hadn’t laughed at the end; so it’s likely that Danny had, in fact, been right. I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Cristi swirled the ale in her tulip as I poured another Sculpin IPA into my pint glass. She had heard the Midway pun already, as soon as I had read it, and may have heard it once or twice more since then.
I sipped then said, “Funny,” I said, “No one remembers how Carter allowed homebrewing to lead to all of this. Especially because he’s so Christian. What did he say? If you say you’re a Christian and you’re not helping the poor, you’re lying, and that’s a sin. Or something like that? Most people just remember the oil crisis and the hostages and the failed Delta Force rescue.
Not taking the bait, she said, “What about what Hope said today?”
She had asked about the Book of Joy. It had been forever! she had protested. She wanted to see it. I told her it wasn’t very funny, and she asked why. Your funny! she said; but you know she’s biased. I said she was funny… looking! And I made a face and she laughed and asked me again to see the Book of Joy. She doesn’t forget, and seems to hear and repeat what I say.
I said it wasn’t what I wanted to write, that it had been a prototype – a first draft – and that I wasn’t having fun and it wasn’t funny and I didn’t know how to tell a complex story yet.
She, in the infinite wisdom of a little girl, said, “Why don’t you tell them what you to do, and then start from the beginning.”
Cristi was right. None of us had forgotten the things I had said the night I returned from my mom’s funeral, and Hope usually helps keep me focused on what’s important. And I liked the puns of our names. Maybe she had a point.
I’d miss the Book of Joy, but I didn’t have much more to say about it, anyway.