Stop Trying to Make It Easy

hard work ethic
My hard working, never say stop Grandmother with one of her favorite tools – the meat slicer

Back in the summer months of 2014, I decided to break one of my financial commandments – no spending money on a gym membership. I started to be bored working out at home, in the very sparse and dungeon-like confines of the basement, where I keep my heavy bag, jump rope, and a variety of weights. No longer inspired to exercise by myself, I needed a change of scenery.

Although it was hard to commit to the monthly payment at first (my frugal grandmother would have thought this a very frivolous expense), I jumped in and was quickly happy with the decision. My gym is clean, the staff is friendly, and there is more than enough variety of equipment to get in any type of workout that you choose. And the fact that it is extremely close to my house makes it all the more appealing.

On the surface, total win.

The only issue so far? The months of January and February. After the New Years cocktails are a fleeting memory to most people, stampeding crowds of fitness wannabees descend on gyms and fitness centers, with dreams of getting in better shape, taking every parking spot in the lot and leaving not a treadmill open.

It’s enough to make me look forward to the “dungeon” again.

The sad part, or perhaps not so sad, is that by mid March at the latest, the massive crowds will have fizzled out. Hopes and dreams for the quick fix will have been dashed. The monthly payments will be still taken from their bank accounts, even if they never show up again.

In time, I’ll be able to park anywhere I want, and every dumbbell and elliptical will be there for the taking.

New Year’s resolutions will be abandoned, and there will be clear sailing for the rest of us until next January.

Quitting is the easiest option when you realize the quick fix and the short cut will not work. They will never work. Leaves me wondering why everybody wants it so easy.

Stop trying to make it easy.

The image for this post is a favorite of mine. I have plenty of pictures of my grandparents that remind me of how they got where they needed to be. By working their asses off. By continually grinding.

Once they had their minds set on becoming responsible, productive American citizens who would eventually employ fellow citizens, they became unstoppable.

They never looked for the easy way to do anything. With my grandparents, the very thought of “the easy way out” or less than maximum effort would have been laughable.

I don’t even need to bring to detail their early years, the years of the factory jobs and building their own businesses from practically nothing. I can just use an example of when they were in their 70s and 80s, working every day. Rosina, in a restaurant kitchen for half of her day, then in her private kitchen for the other half. Twelve hours. Without consideration of “making things easy.”

I had prime role models growing up.

With their help and guidance, it’s now easy for me to get through the months of January and February at the gym, sailing right through the spring. It’s easy to feel privileged and blessed with abundance when money is tight for some, because of the way they taught me to spend and save.

In car crazy America, I have no problem driving less because they never drove at all. I’m inspired to keep my small mortgage instead of “moving up”, as they never needed a bank to give them one in the first place.

My route to the gym passes on the road to the cemetery where my grandparents are now. Done purposefully or not, I don’t know. I do know I can’t pass by without a signal that the hard work is about to commence.

As I drive by, I remind myself to try and embody the lifestyle that they embraced. Go hard. Be fast. Don’t stop.

And for Heaven’s sake, stop trying to make it easy.

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Promise And Pain: The Year Of The Unforgettable

Image - Wikipedia
Image – Wikipedia

When John F. Kennedy made his now iconic address to the nation concerning the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two young boys sat side by side, taking it all in. It was dramatic prime time viewing, in which nervous Americans were informed of missile sites primed to attack our shores just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

My cousin (Little) Anthony along with my uncle (Big) Anthony watched transfixed as the President told them of “a clear and present danger”, and then spoke of initiated steps for the defense of our security from the Russian and Cuban threat.

My uncle’s response to the telecast?

“Well, there goes Christmas!”

My uncle was just a boy, knowing nothing of political strife, or wars between countries, or the madness of men seeking to rule the world.

He cared about his family, and about how this new situation with the President would ruin the holidays.

Their paths would converge again, in 1963, as darkness would fall and the world, and its history, would change in a profound way.

Nothing But The Pain

I was born in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm in March of that year, a new member of a family that was growing and becoming more prosperous. My parents hadn’t been married a year yet, and here I was already making my appearance.

The first child and grandson, I was new royalty, and these were happy times. The American Dream was being formed right in our household. An occasion to celebrate.

It was a time of celebration that was short lived. My uncle passed away only months after I was born, leaving a gaping hole in our family, and my grandparents wracked with grief and despair.

They had nothing now but the pain, and their adopted country soon followed suit. The year got no easier with America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, escalation of racial tension in the south, and the final blow – the assassination of the President.

In the working class neighborhood where my family lived, the same shock was felt everywhere when hearing of the nature of Kennedy’s death. They had heard it on radio, read it in a special afternoon edition of the hometown newspaper.

If you were able to afford a television, you watched as Walter Cronkite gave you the timeline of events, wiping his eyes because he knew a promising young life had been cut short. The axis of history had been moved.

The Promise

Today, fifty years later, I find it hard to believe that my grandparents gave the President’s killing more than a brief thought. A life they held close, their Anthony, had already been cut short. There was no grief left to offer the Kennedys, or our country. They couldn’t have cared.

As my cousin said to me in a phone conversation, “It took them a really long time to get over it”. If they did at all.

1963 was my year, my beginning.

The year that began with much promise on a winter’s night took a turn down a wrong highway and could not turn back.

Our nation, with that promise of hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, became a bleak and bitter landscape. In Washington. In Dallas. On the edge of my town, in a house on a corner lot where my grandparents lived, there was sadness.

Fifty years later, there is remembrance. Our country was changed, our lives were altered. The promise was taken away, and we can never know what might have been.

We can only remember.

Blowing Up The Fallacy Of The “American Dream” – Old School Style

Our nation has a happiness fetish…much of economic misery we see today is due to the unbridled pursuit of bigger houses, fancier cars, and more exorbitant trips. The lure of consumer culture and an obsession with more is precisely what keeps so many from contentment – Alexander Green, Beyond Wealth.

In the last post, I spent time imploring my kids to cut their own path. To not mindlessly follow the siren song of excessive consumerism – which is an advanced skill for many Americans. But how, you may say. How do we go without the necessities of life?

Well, you can start with the realization that they’re really not necessities at all. Just part of this overly comfy, cozy world that you’ve grown accustomed to.

I stated that my grandparents’ generation had it far tougher than we do presently, and they “made do”. Our country is far richer and loaded with more opportunity now than in their day. That statement proved to be a lightning rod, prompting one commenter to label my post propaganda and a “total load of crap”.

Here’s the real propaganda: Marketing geniuses are at work 24/7 to separate you from ALL of your money, to convince you that happiness is found with things, and not with people or shared experience.

I will, no doubt, be taken to task for comparing the sophisticated modern American to Depression era immigrants in taste and consumption. That’s the way it goes. I grew up observing these amazing people as happy and satisfied, and not deprived. I figure if they can do it, we can to.

Don't they look happy? My grandparents at our wedding, with my Uncle Mario (standing). Exemplified success without needless luxury.
Don’t they look happy? My grandparents at our wedding, with my Uncle Mario (standing). Exemplified success without needless luxury.

So, kids, if I haven’t lost you yet, put down the iPod, and read along. I have a list for you (it’s the format web readers like the most) that you will enjoy looking at.

Disclaimer: First and foremost, nobody’s perfect. We’re human. I can still be tempted by the latest and greatest, just like everybody else. And I am not deprived by any definition. In my house there is an opulent new (albeit small) kitchen. I like expensive beer/wine, typically spend summer weekends in a boat on a lake, and I’ve grown enamored with the heated leather seats in my wife’s VW. Yes, I’m a little fancy.

With that said, here’s a few things that your average neighbor deems absolutely necessary, but your great grandparents’ generation would see as frivolous and pointless:

1. Oversized House / Oversized Mortgage – This may not be much of an issue, as it seems more and more people are smartening up and realizing they don’t need a 4000 square foot house with 2 fireplaces and a hot tub. And you have the great experience of growing up in 1,200 square feet and being creative with your space. You also spent time growing up in your great grandparents’ house, a modest brick ranch that they built and (gasp!) paid cash for. While it’s not entirely possible to pay cash for a house these days, you can still do yourself a favor by thinking “small house/big down payment”. You’ll thank yourself when you’re sending a tiny payment to the bank each month, instead of taking out a loan to pay down your loan.

2. Luxury Car. Or A Massive Car Payment – My grandparents were immigrants with little education. But they never drove or owned a car, preferring to take public transportation or, believe this, actually WALKING to get to where they had to go. I know, crazy right? But think of the thousands of dollars they saved never paying for gas, insurance, maintenance, or a ridiculous monthly obligation to the bank. Looking smart now, aren’t they?

In this life, massive car payments are NOT a requirement, despite what you’ll hear. At 18, I bought my first car with $1,000 cash, and although I’ve done the payment thing since then, the trick is to keep it small and then keep driving your car without the payment.

And those BMWs and Mercedes that everyone is fooled into thinking are the best cars? Mostly bought on credit by people that can’t afford them. Trust your Dad on this one. The Chevy, Honda or Ford does most of the same things. Cars = transportation (not status). Period. Point A to Point B.

3. Gigantic TV with 10,000 Premium Cable Channels – One of the advantages to owning a small house is the lack of room to squeeze a 92 inch television screen. Which to me, is a good thing. Do I really need any more incentive to sit on my lazy ass?

Again, this is American over consumption at its finest. Kids, its totally unnecessary to own a TV that can crush and kill you if it tips over at an inopportune time. Don’t bother. And that $200 monthly to the cable company for the privilege of watching multiple channels filled with garbage? If you must have cable, at the very least don’t subscribe to 300 channels and become a couch crashing sloth. The “premium” service is a premium rip-off.

4. All The Latest Gadgets – Yup, I know you love your iPods and the laptop (both of which are becoming old-school themselves). But when the iPad 10 comes out and dopes are standing in line at midnight to get one, I know you won’t be one of them, because you will have read this. The new will be obsolete in no time at all. Repeat after me: The latest and greatest is a scam. I can be perfectly happy paying much less money for last year’s model.

There. That felt good, didn’t it?

5. Restaurant Take Out – Here’s another disclaimer: I love restaurants. My grandparents’ owned two, and I grew up and worked in one for decades. I like going to restaurants now. But what I can’t fathom is getting lunch at a restaurant every day. That’s at least a couple thousand dollars out of your pocket at year’s end. Sweet!

At my office, I garnered the nickname “Joey Leftovers”. You probably know why. Because I was bringing my lunch from home. Every. Single. Day. Will I occasionally take a trip to my favorite import store to grab a nice Italian American lunch? Absolutely! However, it’s a treat. Not a daily requirement.

Starbucks_Logo
Give me all your money

6. Fancy Coffee – This one could fall under restaurant take-out, but I feel it deserves its own category. Again, I like fancy coffee. My grandmother always made it. But she would have keeled over if she ever had to go to Starbucks and pay $7 a cup for it! I highlight this just to show you how ridiculous that price looks. Starbucks has great product. It’s not that good.

You can make great coffee at home for pennies a cup. You don’t need a mortgage to support your caffeine habit. Baristas should be lonely once in a while. Make your coffee at home!!!!

7. Outrageous Vacations – After sending my daughter on a school trip to Italy, I had second thoughts on including this one. However, that trip was a deal (and an opportunity) that could not be passed up. In the age of Facebook, it certainly seems that we are all trying to “one up” each other when it comes to our luxury vacations. That’s where things get dangerous. The keeping up with the Joneses mentality.

Kids, I think you should travel. See as much of the world as you can. And keep going to your favorite beaches long after your parents prefer to stay home in the rocking chair.

But here’s something to think about. Nonna and Pop went back to Italy – once. As far as I know, it may have been their only vacation in 60 years. And I don’t think the lack of vacations really mattered to them. Do travel, but know it is a luxury and a privilege when you do so.

8. Convenience – There are many other facets of luxury that your great grandparents had no or little use for. They worked their asses off, so a gym membership wasn’t required. Nonna used the clothes dryer more as an end table than a dryer (she preferred drying racks). And there was no recreational shopping. Unless it was at the aforementioned import store and she decided to splurge on cheese.

There were a myriad of ways they shunned convenience, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Making a practice of that will save you money, keep things simple, and make you happy. Advancements are cool in terms of medicine and technology, but don’t make your life so convenient that you never have to actually move to change a channel or turn off a light.

They did many things the hard way. Once upon a time, that’s what the American dream was all about.

OK, fire away. I know I’ve pushed some buttons here, especially if you’re what I like to call a “new-schooler”. Am I right? Have we become too fancy and accustomed to luxury? Or am I stuck in the Dark Ages, with not the sharpest torch in the shed? Start a conversation in the comments section.

Chasing Your Version Of “The American Dream”

American Dream this wayThe American Dream is dead.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. You know the culprits – High fuel prices. A “can’t shake it” unemployment percentage. (And in a 2017 update) The impending automation of just about all of our jobs.

The dream is dead.

Do you disagree with that? I sure do. The time is here where you should try to capture your own slice of this attainable Dream, and the easiest way to do it is go old-school.

Are you ready for old-school? It’s the place where luxuries are luxuries (and not “needs”), and that the ultimate goal of convenience is looked at with a jaded eye.

It’s that crazy place where if the word entitlement even crosses your mind, it’s how you feel entitled to this: the opportunity to grab a job (sometimes two) or start a company and then proceed to scratch, claw, and earn everything that you have.

It’s the school where our previous generations roamed, survived, and subsequently kicked some ass.

As a responsible parent of two kids, I feel it is my duty to inform them of the advantages of old-school thinking and philosophy.

I believe I’m a good parent, but self doubt can creep in, leaving me wondering, “Am I doing enough?”

You can think of this post, if you want, as a letter of love and advice to my children. It is. But, I’ve no doubt that 90% of adults, myself included, can be helped by it as well. For me to do my job as a Dad, the American Dream needs to be outlined in a certain manner: the way it used to be.

You see, kids, back when my grandparents (your great grandparents) were around, they were the embodiment of the American Dream. Emigrating from Italy, they got off a crappy boat to walk our shores and make their lives here, in your city. There were mighty struggles back then, but they made a true success story as entrepreneurs, homeowners, and generally fantastic people.

Here’s where things get interesting for me. While modern Americans decry the Dream as dead, with their own struggles to make ends meet, I’m certain your ancestors would have thrived in an environment that we have today. This is the richest country around, with boat loads of opportunity to do well.

Yes, we had a Recession… but it was far from the Great Depression they lived through. And while this country is involved in wars currently, its arguably not the magnitude of World War II. I’m gonna say they had it a little bit tougher.

Nowadays, life is moving pretty quickly.  The future is beckoning. Everyone wants to know what you’re going to do with your life. Peer pressure will ebb and flow, and the most well meaning people will tell you what you should do, what you should buy – and what you need to do to get it.

Dad Advice – I know it’s unsolicited, but here it is: Get your own version of the American Dream. Be different. Non-conformist. Don’t follow the herd. See the latest version of the Dream as it really is: a sham, a lie perpetrated to us by marketing execs with PhDs, determined to coerce you to part with all of your money – and lead you into a stressful life.

My grandparents did not have much education, but they had wisdom and common sense, in spades. As far as finances and economics, they were brutally smart on what to leave alone. Kids, I have to admire the fact that as I watch you grow up, you look like you will be treading the same path. You care about the environment like Nonna did (for Pete’s sake, she recycled potato chip bags), and you make purchases thoughtfully like she did. Buying things when she needed to.

You’re on the right track. Without a doubt. You want to hear how Nonna and Pop really blew it up? Most of the stuff that you grew up with, that people will tell you are life’s necessities, are in fact the very definition of luxuries. Nonna and Pop did without most of these luxuries – and wound up happy and successful anyway.

Next post: For the kids, and any adults that care to listen, I’ll detail all the stuff – cool, stupid, or completely unnecessary – that my super smart grandparents avoided on the way to forging their version of the Dream in the country they loved. Until then, feel free to liberally use the sharing buttons below to make your friends aware of this wonderful content!