Archive for January, 2016

THE RELUCTANT BILLIONAIRE

Nine days ago, three Americans won the Powerball lottery drawing. They’ll split $1.6 billion. Assuming they all take a lump sum amount, each winner will come away with a post-tax fortune of about $285 million. Anyone would consider that fantastic. Not me.

Look, I can think of lots of things to do with $285 million. Most winners say they’ll give to their churches—don’t Jews, Muslims and Hindus ever cash in?—buy houses for their family members and possibly friends, and do other good things. My agenda would be similar. But thank God I don’t have to think about it.

While I haven’t done extensive research, I have a strong feeling that most people who play the lottery are not among America’s top one percent. They’re dreamers from among the lower middle-class and poor. Others are middle-middle struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck. It would be a rare winner who’s ever managed a large sum of money and the challenges that go with that task. And from what I’ve read, some winners find that the money goes quickly.

The challenges of winning the lottery represent real headaches. Once people know you have millions of dollars—even a million or half that—they all want a piece. I’ve read stories about athletes signing their first professional contract and finding people crawling out of the woodwork to board the gravy train and threatening violence if they’re denied. What makes lottery winners different? Nothing. And the worst part? The people closest to you, the people who love you, can be the biggest problems because they believe that’s what yours is theirs.

So what if I ever win? Actually, that would be impossible. I don’t play. But if I did, and I beat those 1-in-100-million or 200-million or 300-million odds, I’d be prepared to a point. I have a financial advisor, an attorney and a CPA. They’re all smart and all trustworthy. But I’d still be scared as hell.

The first thing I’d do is put a security consultant on my team. I’d want my house made safer. I’d want advice about keeping a low profile to not be noticed in public. Maybe I’d need a cheaper car to disguise myself. (I couldn’t wear less noticeable clothes, but that’s another story). I’d want to safeguard my kids, too. Because winning $285 million after-tax dollars and being put in the “celebrity” spotlight by a carnivorous media machine that gives little thought to the results of its coverage could leave a great big target on my back. And theirs.

There’s an old saying: Be careful what you wish for; you might get it. I can’t help feeling that your average big-time lottery winner might come to regret that magical ticket. Few people are prepared to deal with both the temptations and the dangers that accompany sudden wealth.

A story I read years ago sums it up. A star athlete met with his new agent. The athlete, who came from a humble background—nothing new here—had burned through his considerable earnings. The agent took him to task. The athlete was offended. “You’ve never been poor,” he offered. The agent, who had his work cut out for him, set his client straight. “And you’ve never been rich.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

The blog will take a week off and return on February 5.

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LOYALTY AND BETRAYAL

Something ordinary drew my attention during President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The ordinary being rather sense numbing, most Americans undoubtedly noticed but had no particular response. We should all be concerned.

If you saw the speech on TV, you know that Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, responded quite differently. Mr. Biden smiled, applauded almost every remark made by the President and rose often to his feet. Mr. Ryan looked pained. He stood only when Mr. Obama mentioned the military and applauded Mr. Obama’s goal of tackling poverty. Yet in the context of American politics, Mr. Ryan was not acting up.

When Republican presidents have addressed Congress with a Republican VP and a Democratic Speaker behind him, the results have been the same. So there’s no good party and bad party here. What we have is a crisis of loyalty overriding the general welfare.

Yes, we all have our loyalties. They begin with our family, extend to our friends, houses of worship, clubs, political parties certainly, cities and states. If you’re an ethnic, you have a certain loyalty to your country of ethnic, or in my case religious, origin. But at what point do the positives of loyalty—assisting others, advocating for fairness and justice, and making sacrifices—become betrayal?

Three incidents struck me in this regard. Two took place hours before the State of the Union. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces commandeered two American Navy boats and their crews—ten sailors in all—near an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf. When CNN host Wolf Blitzer interviewed Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Blitzer mentioned the White House saying that the incident didn’t seem to be hostile. Mr. Cotton nearly went ballistic: President Obama was not only clueless but actually defending Iran. What would you expect? That’s the Republican Party line. Less than 24 hours later, Iran released the boats and their crews.

The second matter struck me during the CBS Evening News. White House correspondent Major Garrett reported that Senator John McCain (R–Arizona) had considerable differences with Donald Trump but would support Trump if he were nominated for the presidency and won that office. The inference: Loyalty to party takes precedence, even if it includes accepting a distasteful candidate.

Finally, when President Obama mentioned the military, almost all Republicans stood. That was the only time they did so. Surely the President offered a few thoughts worthy of praise. But party loyalty demands that Republicans recognize Democratic ideas at their own risk. The Republican base along with billionaire donors to Political Action Committees (PACs) can oust incumbents in primaries not because they can’t win but because they won’t repeat the far-right mantra.

In 1816 Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779–1820) offered an after-dinner toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” At what point does demonstrating uncompromising loyalty betray the ideals we profess, in effect throwing the nation under the bus?

In 1872, U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (1829–1906) took a different approach. “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz got it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

PASSION

Long ago, a client asked me a difficult question: “What’s your passion?” His was the piano. The question stunned me. I loved spending time with my family, and my work kept me busy and fulfilled, but I had no answer. Things have changed.

I’m proud that my family is filled with passion. Carolyn loves acting, takes classes and auditions for film, TV and commercials in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She loves singing, too, and takes lessons. She has a lovely voice and really knows how to sell a song. I know. I hear her in the house every day.

My oldest, Seth, is passionate for science fiction in movies and on TV. He also loves video games. Seth is an incredible Star Wars aficionado. That’s why Carolyn and I, with Aaron and his husband Jeremy, flew to Los Angeles for a traditional Jewish Christmas Eve. We joined Seth to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Sharing Seth’s excitement and observations—about the story and the technology—made the event special.

My middle son, Yosi, loves music. You expect that from the fiddler for the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. (They play Carnegie Hall on January 29.) A percussionist at San Francisco’s School of the Arts, Yosi taught himself to play violin then followed up with lessons by outstanding professionals—lessons he still takes when he has time. You know the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.” Passion can make things happen.

My youngest, Aaron, developed a passion for modern dance at Humboldt State. He took a dance course as a freshman theater tech major wanting to better understand how to light dancers on stage. Everything changed. He majored in dance and became an accomplished professional, touring all over the United States as well as Europe and Southeast Asia. He holds a B.A. in dance from St. Mary’s College.

Me? I started writing fiction over forty years ago. That “after hours” career went nowhere. With a young family and a growing business, I stopped. Yet I wrote a nonfiction book about the business side of freelancing, Solo Success, which Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, published in 1998. Then I discovered a passion for the Hebrew Bible and independently published God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible in 2009.

A decade later, transitioning to retirement, I returned to fiction on a whim. That produced Slick! Passion grew. I love telling stories. Just as important, fiction helps me make sense of the world. Of course, when a reader tells me he or she enjoyed one of my books, I’m thrilled.

What’s new? Reed, the literary/arts annual of San Jose State University, recently accepted my short story “Beautiful!” about a retired astronaut on his eightieth birthday. It will appear in May. And I completed my second—but hardly the last—draft of a new novel. I have more novels—and stories—waiting in the wings.

What your passion is doesn’t matter. Cats? Running? Baking? Sailing? Fixing old toasters? The Warriors? Carpentry? Knitting? Collecting souvenir spoons? They’re all good. To be passionate about something is to be fully human. Today, I’m passionate about being passionate.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.