Just My Luck-Chapter 13-2: Enough vs. Never Enough
When did we lose our satisfaction and happiness with enough? When did unsatisfiable greed replace happiness as the primary motivation of life?
When Doris and I returned from eight years in Maine, we left the roughly 3,000 square-foot, brand new house we had mortgaged in 2007. In 2015 we returned to Fairfield County CT and purchased a 1,350 square-foot condominium to call home. Do the math.
A Dream Realized
From the moment we first saw it, we loved the house in Maine. It was for me the realization of a dream I’d harbored on every commuter train ride back and forth to Manhattan for nearly 30 years. It was quiet and secluded. The back deck overlooked our 250 feet of waterfront on Long Cove on Orr’s Island. I was able to fulfill the simple wish that articulated my dream, to be able to have my morning cup of coffee while looking at the water every day.
We saw seals, egrets, blue heron, lots of fish and several kinds of ducks. In our first week there, standing on the deck I used a pair of binoculars to follow an osprey that dove straight into the middle of the cove 100 feet in front of me. When the bird surfaced it didn’t return to the sky, it used its wings like oars to row to the other side of the cove. I was worried it had been hurt in its dramatic dive, but when it got the opposite shore, it emerged dragging a fish twice its size in its talons. Wow! Too big to carry in flight, the osprey and its mate feasted on the fish on the rocky shore.
This was but the first, though most dramatic, of many successful osprey fishing expeditions we witnessed. Nearly every time I took to the cove in my kayak the osprey would circle above me and call out their distinctive whistle. I tried to mimic their signal in reply but could only master a poor imitation. Nonetheless, they usually kept up their end of the conversation anyway. Sometimes they would successfully dive bomb the cove with empty talons then surface and take flight with a fish in their grasp. When they fished while I was there they always flew directly over me, showing me their prize.
One osprey couple returned to its nest atop a tall pine tree on our property every year. They announced their arrival by circling 100 feet over our house and scolding us not to disturb their family.
I loved those birds.
Before our puppy, Charley, was big enough to be a threat, the neighborhood flock of 10 to 12 wild turkeys would strut around our property gobbling up the cracked corn I put out for them and the ticks the families of deer provided. Sometimes they would sleep high in the tall evergreens that lined our driveway. If you’ve never seen or heard a wild turkey take flight, you’ve missed something special. They are the jumbo jets of the local aviary population on Orrs Island. Once Charley was big enough to be reckoned with, we seldom saw the wild turkey spectacle. He loved chasing them and they hated it. Charley wouldn’t have a clue what to do with one if he caught one, but they didn’t know that.
A young friend in the final few hundred miles of a cross country auto trek stopped by to spend a few days with us. He became very excited when we told him we had an American bald eagle in the neighborhood. He told us he’d seen all the wildlife he’d hoped to on his trip, with the lone exception that he had never in his life seen an American eagle in the wild.
Later that very same day, he and I were swimming in the cove when I saw two osprey circling above us.
“Hey Bob,” I called pointing to the sky, “see the osprey circling? Watch this.”
Not quite on cue but shortly thereafter, the first feathered dive-bomber splashed into the cove maybe 40 yards from us. It came up empty and returned to the sky. A few moments later the second bird, its mate, made a stab at the same fish, but failed.
As the birds took up new circles over their prey, suddenly from left field came the bald eagle flying low and fast a few feet above the water’s surface. Looking as if it was just sent from Central Casting to audition for a National Geographic special, he glided in low, raised his talons and neatly plucked the osprey-coveted fish from the water. He then grabbed some altitude, and banked left for the tree line on the shore.
Bob and I cheered as it flew over us with two osprey in hot pursuit.
The following Thanksgiving at his parents’ home, I gave Bob a statue of an American Bald Eagle to commemorate his first and only siting.
That place was just the paradise I needed to help me heal.
One Big Empty Nest
The thing is, this was the largest house we had ever owned and, as empty-nesters we were the smallest family we’d ever been. This wasn’t just more than enough house for us, it was far too big for us. Why did we buy it? It was nearly everything we ever wanted in a home. But a great deal of what we wanted was tied to the full nest we once had. We had bought for the want, not for the need.
When we returned to Connecticut, we weren’t the first of our acquaintances and friends to “downsize,” but we had to shed an amazing amount of stuff we’d acquired in four decades of marriage and for a too-big house, before we could fit into our new digs.
We are surprisingly comfortable and truly very happy in our 1,350 square feet. We still have more than enough to be happy, but it was really good to drop a lot of the dead weight we had been essentially storing in plain sight .
There is no question that we still have more than enough. But at least we now have a better idea about what enough is.
John C. Bogle, Founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group wrote a small book on that very topic. Published in 2009, in the wake of the greed-incited debacle on Wall Street, his roughly 250-page book Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, told of values and life lessons that were the antithesis of the fraudulent financial feeding frenzy that ruined so many lives across America.
With no appreciation for the concept of Enough, many of the greedy creators of the debacle were ultimately given golden handshakes and forced into luxurious retirement. (So sad)
Petty crime doesn’t pay. Huge crimes of the wealthy fleecing the rest of us? – Priceless.
Vladimir would have enjoyed Mr. Bogle’s book. In fact, he’d probably have sent it to a few folks. In his opening chapter, Mr. Bogle reveals that he and his twin brother were born on May 8, 1929. [5+8+1929= 1942= 16= 7th life of his soul] Vlad would not have been surprised at that.
I read Mr. Bogle’s book while licking my wounds in the initial years of my time as a healing hermit in Maine. Ironically, our move to Maine coincidentally happened a month before Lehman Brothers’ downfall knocked over the next domino in line and the ugly mortgage laden financial world collapsed before our eyes.
I never anticipated that my 401k would deflate so low so fast just as I began my retirement. My plan to take some time for myself to heal from the still painful 9/11 experience was undermined somewhat by a new worry about how I was going to remain retired. Like millions of others, I was among the victims of miserable, despicable, lecherous, insidious, money-grubbing, greedy, and ultimately valueless people.
To any and all greedy bankers, investment bankers, mortgage brokers, derivative creators, and other vermin who knowingly and purposely were complicit in the defrauding of investors and ultimately the fleecing of hard working American tax payers, I sincerely hope that you will ultimately get what you deserve. You may have bought your way out of justice here, but though I’d be pleased to escort you to it, I wouldn’t want to be on your deathbed.
Finding Mr. Bogel’s book was a tonic for me. His perspective and his experience-earned wisdom were in stark contrast to the unscrupulous financiers who poisoned the well. He described a time when few sharks swam in the financial services waters, where the lifeblood of the economy was protected by the integrity of the professionals who took responsibility as stewards of other people’s financial interests. This was followed by a chronicle of how greed insinuated its self, its hideous spirit, into the fabric of finance, corrupting it to its core.
The book’s Table of Contents is in itself a synopsis of Mr. Bogle’s excellent observations. Here are the 10 Chapter Titles of the three core segments of the book:
Chapter 1 Too Much Cost / Not Enough Value
Chapter 2 Too Much Speculation / Not Enough Investment
Chapter 3 Too Much Complexity / Not Enough Simplicity
Chapter 4 Too Much Counting / Not Enough Trust
Chapter 5 Too Much Business Conduct / Not Enough Professional Conduct
Chapter 6 Too Much Salesmanship / Not Enough Stewardship
Chapter 7 Too Much Management / Not Enough Leadership
Chapter 8 Too Much Focus on Things / Not Enough Focus on Commitment
Chapter 9 Too Many 21st Century Values / Not Enough 18th Century Values
Chapter 10 Too Much “Success” / Not Enough Character
If you haven’t read Enough, I highly recommend it.
As the volatile and hungry trading in mortgage clusters with bogus ratings was taking place, I would guess nearly every time the word “enough” was used on Wall Street it was paired with the word “never.” I don’t believe the notion of enough has gained even a tiny foothold in the canyons of the Financial District in lower Manhattan and beyond since then.
Those who are unfamiliar with the concept of enough are missing something very important to their own selves/souls. If we always strive for more money and possessions, there’s never enough. When there is no end achieved, where does satisfaction come in? What is important, the process or the objective?
Greed, the love of money, can never be satisfied. Greed’s voracious appetite, like a hungry shark, can turn back on itself and consume itself until there is nothing left of genuine value in the person afflicted with the disease.
Self-Regulation of Financial Institutions (and Other Fairy Tales)
It is because of greed/never-enough/and the absence of integrity that financial institutions today cannot be trusted to self-regulate. End of story.
Effective self-regulation was the safeguard that Reaganomics depended on to keep the economy fair for all. It was to be the protector of the faucet that was to trickle down economic largess to everybody! Poor Ronnie. He was a genuine idealist. He made one mistake, albeit a really big one. He expected there’d always be integrity. In other words, he trusted the bastards.
Maybe in a Disney cartoon sharks can make an effort to deny their very nature [“Fish are not food”], but the expectation that Wall Street sharks would ever self-regulate to keep things fair proved, not at all surprisingly, to be absolutely ludicrous. Real self-regulation that champions fairness, responsibility, and enforcement requires huge amounts of a terribly scarce commodity in today’s financial community: Integrity.
Integrity in the financial markets is just a bad joke, laughed at by malignant narcissists who care nothing about anyone but themselves.
An entirely different commodity, Cash, funds finance regulations and regulators that turn a blind eye to deceit, opportunism, and god-damn greed.
Sorry to say, the legislators – the pilot fish for the sharks – have the concentrated gall in the wake of this last disaster to continue to oppose the most common sense controls on the sharks’ feeding habits.
I wonder ,why? Is someone else being fed at the same time? Naaaaaaah. In America? Naaaaaah.
Take a look on-line at rate of increase in net worth of legislators in Washington who are the true power brokers.
Some brought their money with them but others made most of their fortunes on Capital Hill, in the White House, and I suspect even on the Supreme Court. What are their salaries as public servants? How much were they worth when they first arrived in Washington? How does one account for the huge divide between then and now?
A Nasty Shameful Greedy Perversion of Justice
Insider trading? Sure that’s some of it. Congress made it legal for Congressmen, their aides, members of the administrative branch and others to do what any other American citizen would do some hard prison time for doing. Insider information is confidential information about companies that, if known by the general public, would inflate or deflate that company’s stock prices. It is illegal for anyone, except the self-serving politicians who cooked up and passed their law, to buy or sell stock in a company if they have insider information, until after that information has been made public. Trading on insider information is like having the ability to read tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal’s stock price listings today. It is a not so sophisticated way to steal money from investors who do not have the advantage of knowing what will happen tomorrow. Making it legal for themselves gave these public servants the license to steal that money from investors without any punishment at all.
Isn’t it cute? Can you imagine how embarrassing it must have been when law makers were exposed for making insider trading legal just for themselves. They were caught with their hands in the cookie jar. So they proceeded to make a big splash about righting this heinous wrong. They quickly passed legislation rescinding this insult to the integrity of Congress. There were some great photos of the president signing that bill. End of story. Right?
Not so fast. After enough time passed that the bombshell was defused, this same self-righteous Congress proceeded to very quietly de-fund the only data system that could track this complex nefarious activity.
So they stealthily gave themselves the right to steal, they boldly and loudly showed righteous indignation and revoked the right to steal, and then they stealthily hid all evidence of their stealing where no one could find it. Will 60 Minutes please, please follow up on their story that first made the American Public aware of the criminals we call legislators?
Is it conceivable that some of these pillars of government are for all intents and purposes owned by big money? Or are these legislators immune to temptation? Not when they’re immune to the laws they pass.
My, My. How Neatly The System’s Been Rigged.
Sometimes all one needs to do is stand next to our flag to be able to get away with almost anything. All it takes is a great propaganda campaign guided by slick PR wonks, a stable of sugar-daddy-donors, and greed. But the flags these politicians wrap themselves in have a strong scent of excrement when they take them off.
Let’s get back to basics:
Does money feed the soul/ self? Or does the continual growth of one’s pile of money feed on one’s self? Greed is a disease that attacks the soul. At its worst, it’s heroin, crack cocaine, oxyconten, valium, and Johnny Walker Double Black all packed into one overdose.
Beware of this affliction.
The sign over the gate to Auschwitz the Nazi extermination camp during World War II read “Work Will Make You Free.” I would not be surprised to learn that the sign over the gate to one of Hell’s most populated neighborhoods says:
©2016 James Ash