Hot Dogs

Humor is how we deal with the horrific.

We went to see the traveling Pompeii exhibit which made its way to the Cincinnati Union Terminal museum. I had seen many of the statues before in magazines and documentaries, but it was certainly more powerful to experience firsthand. Some of the victims had definitely died under varying degrees of agony. Baked and suffocated. Doesn’t sound pleasant. I didn’t find it appropriate to take photos.

But I did still take one of the dog.

And then I thought: this looks an awful lot like a whippet. And whippets are perpetually cold. My own whippet in fact recently cooked herself in front of the fireplace until patches of fur fell out. That’s some desperation.

So if there’s one shred of happiness from this tragic event, it’s that a whippet finally managed to get warm enough. It’s how Poppy would have chosen to go.

–Simon

Bottoming Out

As I approach 40, I’m very much aware of my physical decline. But what I didn’t expect was the Internet’s warnings that my overall happiness will apparently be taking a dive soon too. Self-reported subjective measurements make for a lousy scientific statement, so it’s more one of those correlation-only type observations. As to the actual reasoning, that’s up for debate. Common theories include:

  • Innocence lost with the realization that your achievement peak has passed and life didn’t turn out that good (insert Pink Floyd song here).
  • 40 isn’t quite the point where maximum earning potential is reached, and workload appears imbalanced with quality of life.
  • Some form of the above as a midlife crisis.

The full graph indicates happiness begins to decline at 18, bottoms out in the 40s, and steadily increases starting at 50. Something like this (this was drawn freehand, so disregard the scaling issues):

So I decided to compare this timeline with my own life, and see if this is an applicable expectation, using life events as reference:

  • 0-7: Limited frame of reference/too young to care. I remember school being okay until we moved.
  • 8-11: New school. Kids were jerks. Wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Low happiness.
  • 11-12: Junior high started and I really enjoyed the first year.
  • 13-15: Struggled with grades. Wasn’t good at extracurriculars. Bad friends. No luck with girls. Low happiness.
  • 15-17: Moved across the country. Few friends. Bad grades. No girls. Overbearing parents prevented any kind of social life. No car in a town of rich kids. Bad clothes. Bad hair. No happiness.
  • 17-19: Started college. Greater freedom. Discovered interests. Found friends. Increased happiness.
  • 19-21: Own apartment. Girlfriends. Finished college. Even more happiness.
  • 21-31: Bad grad school experience. Tired of apartments. Horrible jobs and limited opportunities. Wife, car and daughter kept some stability, but overall a period of lower happiness.
  • 31-39: Better jobs. More money. Bought a house. Reasonably happy.
  • 39-present: Even better jobs and more money. Good life prospects. Happy.

If I try to graph the above, I end up with something like this:

And if I superimpose the two:

It would appear that I’m at the complete opposite level of happiness than where I should be.

Hopefully this means I’m early to the old age happiness party, rather than late to the middle age unhappiness one. Or maybe my life has been atypical in general. Who knows? But what I do know is that right now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

–Simon

Overcoming

I’ll begin with an oft-repeated nugget of bullshit wisdom: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

And I’ll say that’s true, except no money also can’t buy happiness. The phrase isn’t that money can’t buy happiness, but that it doesn’t necessarily. So I think that a better version would be: “Money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, but it’s a prerequisite.”


I began tracking my annual income in relation to yearly inflation and the American median per capita income a few years back, using my historical W-2s. Alas I didn’t save them all, and employer data retention limits their own historical records, but I can go back as far as 2011, and prior to that I can infer some pretty measly wages. So, after a 16+ year career (when I began working full time), this is what I discovered:

The Median

First off, the median per capita is, by definition, the income that most people have. It is therefore the income at which point you can survive with proper budgeting, since most people do so. It is also not something that happens with entry level jobs, and requires years of experience and some promotions to achieve. In my case, it was 7 years of working full time to achieve this median.

Inflation

Failure to increase wages will return a net loss as inflation chips away at real income value, so if your annual raises do not outpace inflation, you will lose actual worth. This drags out the process.

Transition

For the next 4-5 years following this introductory period, the promotions with job changes were decent but not enough to significantly alter my station. I’ll call this the transition stage: the point at which sufficient skills are acquired to warrant higher pay, but the opportunity has to present itself. It was the most competitive period of my career.

Overcoming

The following 5-6 years have since seen me significant compensation growth, I think because at this point I have acquired a very broad skillset but with pointed areas of expertise, which are in demand. Individually I broke into the 20%er bracket during this timeframe, which was the point at which I began to notice my purchasing power had significantly changed in relation to my younger self and the world around me.

Conclusion

In the spirit of this site’s ethos, these are my observations and interpretations of being an elder Millennial, by age:

  • 0-21: No job in this age range will return a livable wage due to lack of knowledge, experience, education, and an employment system that greatly restricts job availability.
  • 21-28: Any job in this age range will be limited in both responsibilities and salary.
  • 28-33: A job in this age range will begin to see greater salary returns, probably due to experience gained while in the prior age range.
  • 33+: A job in this age range can encompass a wide range of pay scales and opportunities.

Sooooo, anything before turning 30 is a wash. It’s the period of life that requires working hard for low pay while building skills and experience needed to compete for the higher-paying jobs. This pretty closely checks out with published salary by age reports, although I can’t personally confirm the next stages. Supposedly salary caps out in the 45-54 age range, so hopefully I have that to look forward to.

I admit, it’d be kind of depressing as a young person, and appears constant across developed nations. The postwar Baby Boomer period was anomalous, with its influx of unskilled high pay industrial jobs, followed by unsustainable financial policies to unsuccessfully maintain that growth. But a generation that lacked financial burden also proved to lack compassion and character, so there’s an upside to the struggle, for those who make it that long. (Also, money.)

–Simon

Pander to Me

While I consider myself to be inter-generational, my year of birth does place me into the Millennial bracket, technically. Consequently, I’m no stranger to the accusations of snowflake-dom by the older crowd. It gets a little irksome, considering the now well-studied economic disparity between the age ranges. To be labeled as sensitive and possessing an intangible need to be acknowledged for my individuality as compensation for a presumed overly-comfortable upbringing and fragile ego shows a very limited viewpoint. Also perpetuated is the false notion that Millennials are poor because we lack motivation, which is of course the result of these stereotypes. If I worked harder and didn’t whine so much then I would have money I guess.

And yet – call a Boomer out on any argumentative fallacies and all too often the backlash is exactly what would be expected of one with such a fragile ego themselves. Even my father, who’s in comparison not overly Boomer-y and seemingly rather self-reflective, throws down awfully quick if poked too hard in generational jesting. As a whole, they do love to cast the gauntlet, but respond in outrage if someone picks it up, as if they never expected anyone younger to defend their own honor. I would hazard to guess this is because they’re used to being customers to a Millennial-staffed service world who weren’t allowed to defend themselves on threat of losing their already meager financial situation.

But just as Boomers couldn’t fathom a world in which Millennials could stand up for themselves, I, who for his adult lifetime has been part of this marginalized age-based demographic, couldn’t fathom what the counterattack represented: the power dynamic had shifted – where significant financial assets were now in the possession of a younger generation – a world that began to pander to me. When did that happen?

I think it began a long time ago, but with subtle change: with Apple’s iTunes store and Netflix’s video streaming service. With music albums and bundled cable packages being cost-prohibitive to the financially disadvantaged, Apple saw an opportunity for an a la carte option, and Netflix for what was essentially an on-demand bulk movie rental service. There was a market opening for cheaper ad-free curated media devoid of time slots, built for a customer base that couldn’t commit to penalty-laden contracts, daily prime time TV-watching availability, and with an unwillingness to buy more than what was wanted. The industry in its raw Capitalism indirectly gave power to those it sought to exploit – by giving them what they wanted. Intentional or not, they acknowledged Millennials.

And then things got even better once Millennials acquired money and property – another change that Boomers couldn’t mentally digest. I’ve noticed a trending alignment between what I want and what the world around me wants, and I can only assume that this means that the people in control have an increasing motivation to give me and my generation what we want (again, because we have money now). Some things are more observational than measurable, so this is far from scientific. But the general feeling is there. Here’s some recent local developments:

  • Increasing closure rate of local big box chain stores.
  • Increased pressure to improve city aesthetics.
  • Influx of independent restaurants and bars.
  • City veto to approve a new gas station builds.
  • Failed passing of state amendment increasing majority vote to 60%.
  • Successful passing of state amendment protecting right to abortion.
  • Passing of municipal park levy.
  • Marijuana regulation and decriminalization.
  • …And a sidewalk was installed in my neighborhood.

These items correspond exactly to my last cast ballot, but they also demonstrate a significant shift away from the world I knew just 20 years ago. Back then, the ethos was more big business, more cars, bigger roads, and being tough on crime. Not to mention the constant excuses to budget cut anything in the public sector. Boomers love budget cuts.

Now it would appear that we’re moving away from a philosophy of authoritarianism, uncontrolled growth, and monetary pursuit; and into a world that’s more aligned with improving the general quality of life for everyone, rather than fetishizing Reagan-ism and Gekko-ism.

The shift itself has increased Boomer hostility, and it’s not that younger generations are being sensitive. It represents what they can’t accept – impending Boomer obsolescence, and Millennials finally getting a say in shaping the future. It’s a power dynamic that Boomers are losing, and few have ever been eager to relinquish that power willingly, least of all the Boomers.

But at long last, I can sit silently and smugly watch the inevitable.

“You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

–Simon

Squirrel Hunting, Kid Edition

I’ve often joked that hunting is a hobby with a tough selling point to those who weren’t exposed to it in their youth. The pitch starts to sound a little psychotic not far in, for how would one try to convince an associate to join them in uncomfortable environmental conditions with the end goal of killing wildlife? But I’ve also argued that a lack of violent release is part of the problem behind mass shootings. Human physiology hasn’t changed much since the time that we needed to be ruthless for survival, and it won’t just go away simply because we don’t need it. Were that the case, I would have disabled my libido in high school, too. But we can’t so we need to cope.

And it’s also important that anyone who eats meat understands its source and the cost in terms of animal suffering. Life’s a bitch and nature doesn’t favor us any more than the rest of Earth’s creatures. But we should feel a little guilty.

Guilt and violence. Ailments of the human condition.

So I took the kid hunting for these lessons. To my surprise, she didn’t have too big a problem with it. She isn’t old enough herself to kill, so that’s part of it, but she also wasn’t under any delusions and was genuinely curious about the process. Go figure. Dad was right (as in, me-the dad).

The unusual hunting party now consisted of Joe, my dad, and the Kid.

Joe and the kid trying to flush out rabbits without success
An old man contemplating something
Squirrel 1
Squirrel 2

Alas I was the only killer that day.

I can’t find the exact quote, but my overwhelming success reminded me of A River Runs Through It, when the dad compliments his sons’ fish catches and mentions that God had truly blessed them…before laying down his own much bigger fish and commenting that God blesses some more than others.

I win.

Pan-seared. Still the best way I’ve found to cook squirrel.

And the kid wants to go hunting again. Double win.

–Simon