The Number

Hi Jeanne & Brock!

Question for you & Brock to think about, perhaps deeply.  And congrats on your new baby, John Paul!

 

After teaching Personal Finance for a while, and meeting several multi-millionaires and hearing their story, I’ve decided I really need to revamp the class, and help people play for Financial Independence.

 

I love Dave Ramsey, and he will teach people to get rich slowly. People like my parents who do it his way retire with a net worth of $1 to $3 million.  Dave Ramsey learned a ton from Dr. Thomas Stanley, a millionaire and university professor who taught marketing and other classes.  Stanley wrote several books.  The Millionaire Next Door profiled and surveyed 1,500 cops, firefighters, plumbers, teachers, accountants, librarians, and others who started off poor or middle-class and retired with $1 to $3.

 

But his next book, The Millionaire Mind, was about America’s top 10%. They are very different than the other 90% of millionaires.  For example, they mostly stay away from stocks and mutual funds; their key investments are:

* Their own business;

* Real estate;

* Index Funds (like from Vanguard);

* Their relationships;

* Their minds.  Your brain is your most valuable asset.

 

And lately, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts from the FI Community (Financial Independence Community).  And I have questions for you–and me.

 

The key thing is: if you want to be financially independent, you have to calculate your Number. For example, mine is $400,000 (although I’d like it to be higher, of course).  What’s a Number?

 

It’s when your investments grow enough every year that you can live off of what they produce without touching the original amount.

 

In my case, I can live on $3,000 a month with total ease.  That pays every last expense and gives me plenty left over for taxes, entertainment, etc.

 

So, the question becomes, how much do I need to make $3,000 a month?  Well, $400,000 in index funds has historically grown 9.5% since 1895.  (Maybe since 1776.)  Thus, $400,000 can create over $36,000 per year, which is enough.

 

Granted, if the market goes down five years in a row, my plan won’t work, so maybe I need $800,000.  Then I can get $72,000 a year, have $6,000 a month, live on half of that, and save/invest the rest for the long-term.

 

The point is: when you are FI, you can do what you want.  You can a) keep working; b) retire; c) become a missionary in Thailand; d) maybe have more kids; e) travel frugally; f) volunteer; g to z) you decide.

 

To get to FI, a person could do all of the above listed (start a business; invest only in index funds; invest in yourself by developing your skills; etc.) but he or she must also look at expenses.

 

The typical Dave Ramsey (or middle-class, slow millionaire approach like my parents) basically advocates that we:

* Budget;

* Clean up our relationships so that others work with us and don’t wreck our plans;

* Follow the 7 Baby Steps (Google these if necessary) and develop an emergency fund and pay off all of our debts;

* Learn how to negotiate; and

* Give 10% to charity.

 

Dave will get people to be thrifty and stop wasting money.  He’ll urge people who have never done a budget and owe $40,000 on consumer debt to pay off their debts with the “Debt Snowball.” He’ll get us to work harder and sacrifice more.

 

I agree with all of that, but it’s only a starting point.

 

Because here’s what I did, and maybe you did it, too.  I budgeted, cleaned up my relationships (as far as I know), followed the 7 Baby Steps, developed The Four Keys of Negotiation (which I teach my teens with a role-playing Negotiation Boot Camp), and I give.

 

But here’s the problem: What are my largest four expenses?  They are probably yours, too:

 

  • Taxes
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Food.

 

Dave Ramsey basically gets a person to sacrifice.  You don’t go anywhere or do anything, and you take on 80 hours a week of work to get out of debt.  Fine.  Except what you quickly learn is: taxes, housing, and transportation often don’t get touched–and they are 50-60% of what you earn!

 

That means people do their best to squeeze the 40% that’s left over. They stop buying anything. They monitor everything. They figure out how many years they need to go.

 

In the meantime, the government takes federal, state, city, property, and sales tax.  That probably totals about 30-40% for most middle class people.  I bought a coffee at Panera last week for $1.89, which is already high priced compared to the organic, blended, chocolate, cinnamon, mint coffee I make at home.  It’s an inferior product for a lot more money.  And then the government added 10+% tax; my total was 21 cents higher.  So, you can see what happens when you buy groceries (or anything).

 

A few years back, I realized fast that I couldn’t just sell frugality and thrift to 50 personal finance teenagers every week.  It’s already tough for them to develop the habits of budgeting.  So, I came up with “Fun vs. Happiness.” This is where I have them list every item on their budget, and then they must come up with something that is: a) cheaper or free; and b) more fun.  If it isn’t both, I count it wrong.

 

For example, instead of going to see Avengers or I Feel Pretty–and pay $7 for tickets and $8 for treats–what if you threw a movie party and invited ten friends?  Now you’re the social epicenter, and you only spent $1.64 at RedBox–and you know the movie is good because your friends already vetted it for you.  You saved about 90% and had a lot more fun.

 

My recent encounters with the FI Community (like https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/, or the podcasts Bigger Pockets, Choose FI, or Financial Independence) made me realize: we all need Fun vs. Happiness for Adults.  

 

So, here are my questions:

 

  1. What’s your number?

 

  1. Can you give me three or four ideas for either making taxes, housing, transportation, and food either: free, or much cheaper?

What you suggest also needs to be more fun.  

 

  1. a) Taxes.

I personally contributed $18,000 to my 401K last year.  That gave me somewhere between $2,000 and $4,500 off of taxes immediately.

 

  1. b) Housing.

I know several people who bought a house at age 21, and 24.  What they did was: take on three or four renters, who paid about $400 each.  Their monthly expenses (mortgage, escrow, insurance, repairs) were about $900.  So, 4 * $400 = $1,600 in revenue.  Take away $900 in expenses.  Suddenly, they are making $700 a month on housing instead of spending 30% of their paycheck on it.  Repeat this for 12 months and you make $7,200.  More importantly, you don’t waste any money on mortgages, rents, property taxes, insurance, or repairs.  GENIUS!!

I could also move back into my parents’ basement.

 

  1. c) Transportation.
  2.    i) I know a man who sold his car because of Mr. Money Mustache.  He bicycled for a year. He was already in great condition, but he got even stronger and faster.  And he saved at least $400 a year in car tax; $1,200 to $2,400 in gas; unknown $ in wear-and-tear and having to replace a car; and much more.

He was already known as a cool guy, but now everyone reveres him. It helps that he’s really smart and generous.

  1.    ii) And mechanically-minded people sometimes keep cars for 15 to 20 years.  Wow!
    iii) And the Dave Ramsey method of paying no interest ever–just pay for the whole car in full at the beginning–is what I do.  But it still means I shell out $18,000+ every decade. How about you?

 

  1. d) Food

I would garden if I didn’t have four gigantic trees in my backyard.  This would make me happier.  I’m already 99% Paleo.

 

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I get that most Americans haven’t considered any of these ideas. When times are hard for a lot of people, they just: move back home, drive ancient cars like I did, eat other people’s provided food, and mooch.

Or they buckle down and do it Dave Ramsey style.  I admire the second group’s hard work a lot.

 

But the more you listen to FI podcasts, or read Mr. Money Mustache, the more you realize: these people see it all as a game.  And they are very happy.  Even the podcasters who in the early episodes admit that they aren’t there yet; they are just getting started.

 

I think this beats the rat race, and I think my class needs to change enormously.  I need to teach people to play this game, to minimize their taxes, pay zero for mortgages or rents, and cut their car expenses way down.

 

I would like your help.

 

In the meantime, here is a fun calculator.  It takes takes 90 seconds to play with.  Try it!!
https://www.daveramsey.com/smartvestor/investment-calculator/#/entry_form

 

Blessings,

Michael

No more posts for awhile; I’m writing a novel.

Soap Making, with a Horribly Personal Digression

In my continuing effort to have a life outside of work—which is very satisfying, probably too satisfying—I made soap for the first time with a colleague.

Jack Bauer (I changed his name) is an astonishing guy.  Only 25, he’s completed fasted without food for five days, completed half-Ironmans, speaks multiple languages, and sold his car without replacing it just to see if he can do it.

A poor school teacher, he graduated without debt and made an extra $11,000 last year with extra duty pay.  He’s willing to coach any sport, supervise any activity, and drive any bus.   And now he’s started his own business!  Refreshing organic soap.

So I joined him on MLK, Jr., Day to help.  Here are the steps we followed:

  1. Measure water to mix with lye.
  2. Add lye.
  3. Take the mix outside. Even though it’s 15 degrees Fahreinheit, it will heat up all on its own.
  4. Add 8 ounces of Olive Oil.
  5. Add 4 ounces of Avocado Oil.

These organic oils aren’t just delicious and keto-approved, they give your skin health and a lustrous sheen.

  1. If the mix isn’t 100% liquid, melt it with low heat.
  2. The add lye when it’s 120.
  3. Mix in coconut.

Between the olive and avocado oil, and now this, I am noticing a healthy, natural, ketogenic trend to these oils.  You want to toss all of your lotion bottles in the trash and never waste money on artificial chemicals again?  Even if you’re 94 and just spent two hours in the bathtub, your skin will feel soft as a baby’s bottom if you use these three oils.

  1. Stir
  2. This time, between saving America from terrorists, Jack added 1.7 ounces of lavender to give it an incredible scent.
  3. Pour out 300 mL.
  4. Add 1 TBSP of charcoal. Not mandatory! This is for effect.

After that, Jack did some hocus pocus.  Maybe he chilled it.  Maybe he cooked it.  I don’t know because that was all we could do, other than chill or cook it, and wait.

Three days later, he gave me several bars of soap.  And I agreed to tell all my friends!  So I did.

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How do I feel about all of this?

Pretty cool for knowing Jack, actually.  When I was 25, I had an M.A., a triple B.A., and I was teaching at UMKC.  And making about $15,000 a year.  (That’s $26,400 in 2018 dollars.)  I was teaching five college classes per semester for $1,440 each.  Full-time professors were teaching one or two and making $60,000 to $80,000.  Of course, they had Ph.D.s and were doing important research.  They might write an essay on nineteenth century poets that thirteen other professors just like them might read across the United States.  The university was dependent upon adjunct faculty members to do 85% of the teaching, to make 90% of their money, and pay out 95% of their salaries.  (Statistics approximate.)  I loved this work, but it was a monetary and career dead end.

Jack found a better way to teach much earlier.  With no debts, he works for two-thirds as much money as a public school teacher, but he also has ambitions to donate $5,000,000 in his lifetime.

How can he do this?! Is he delusional?!

Before I tell you, let me just contrast Jack and myself:

Jack is young, cool, articulate, sincere.  I am older, nerdy, imprecise sometimes, and a blend of sincerity and irony.

Jack is making the most of things.  In my twenties, I was a walking contradictory mess: working too hard, making no money, and thinking the party scene might work for me.  It never worked for me.  Jack has a better idea: let’s call it skill set funSkill set fun is when you play sports, learn to dance, and go on cool adventures, like to Peru or when you climb cliffs and swim in the Amazon.

In contrast, I had passive fun.  That’s when you watch movies with friends who drink too much.  You lift weights and run, but it doesn’t mix with drunks.  You can’t build yourself up half the time and take a wrecking ball to your life the rest of them time.

Back to Jack:

How can he donate $5,000,000 in his lifetime?! Is he delusional?!

Well, no.  There are two ways to donate $5,000,000 that he’s hit upon:

1) Create a soap company.  His goal for this year is to make $11,000.  He already has more customers than soap.

            2) Set up a trust fund.  Did you know if you contribute just $413,280 over 42 years—that’s $820 per month—it will grow to $5,016,123.  But you have to put it in an index fund that tracks the American stock market.  Anything else is financial suicide.  (Just google “Warren Buffett index fund advice”) or read this essay, “The Myth of Mutual Funds,” by the incomparable Heath Brothers:

https://www.fastcompany.com/966229/made-stick-myth-mutual-funds

You can do the math for yourself at

https://www.daveramsey.com/smartvestor/investment-calculator/#/entry_form

Look, you don’t have to donate a nickel.  I’d love to establish a trust fund myself, but my friend Jack Bauer wants to donate $5,000,000.  He also wants to live life like a Tim Ferriss experiment.  That’s why he sold his car, makes soap, and is planning new and exciting adventures.

Home soap making is actually a booming industry, as you can imagine.  Just as organic food got to $9,000,000 by 2007 with no advertising whatsoever, it appears that many people are preferring things that are organic and/or locally sourced.  (Buzzwords.  Sigh.  How do I avoid them?!)

In the meantime, I helped Jack make soap.  And I felt better about my life.  My tiny little life that is all about teaching, home, and the grocery store.

And when we finished, he kept terrorists from hijacking the White House.

Next post: February 5, 2018.  Possibly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hypnosis Is for Crazy People

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Send your money to me….

Ever since I saw “Jim Wand,” a college performance hypnotist who made freshmen pretend to be shaved apes and got girls to speak to each other in “Martian” (“Bee bee bee beep!” said one.  “Boop!” replied the other), I’ve wanted to try this.

And yet as I waited for Dr. Catherine L. (name changed) to arrive, I felt myself growing afraid.  Maybe I’m a lunatic, I thought.

Hypnosis.  Reaching into the 99.999% of the mind that is submerged.  “Our logic is .001% of what we are,” Dr. Catherine told me over the phone.  She had a soothing voice.  When I listened to her, I thought about demanding proof, but I felt lulled…

…soothed…

…at such peace…

Hell, she was hypnotizing me over the phone.

“How much?” I asked.

“$150,” she said.

I snapped out of my trance.  “Any discounts available?” I asked.

“That is the discount,” she replied.

Well, I was going to negotiate that.  “What can hypnosis do for me?”

“Weight loss?”

“I’m good.”

“Stop smoking?”

“I don’t smoke.”

She rattled off five more things.  I finally settled on: relationships.  I’d like to be more honest, open, and loving.  More generous.  And more creative, if there was time.

IMG_5341

That was two days ago.  Now, fretting in her office, I felt fear.

What if my family found out?  What if my friends knew?  Would my colleagues make fun of me?

Pretty soon, we were inside her private office.  With its cloth couch, leather recliner, full bookshelf, desk, and elegant paintings, it looked like where a dentist might finish her paperwork.

In her early thirties, Dr. Catherine is slender, dark-haired, and pretty.  She has an open, honest face.  She used to work for a church.  Then she went to the Hypnotherapy Academy of America for 300 hours’ worth of coursework, and now she helps people relaaaaaaax…breeeeeeeth…go deeeeeeeep….

In theory, hypnosis should work, right?  You overeat and you’d like to stop.  Part of you wants to overeat and part of you wants to be fit.  The idea is to strengthen the part that wants to be fit.

And it’s safe.  In theory, hypnosis can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.  It can’t make you steal or kill, for example.

Well, I stretched out on the couch and pulled a blanket over myself.  I closed my eyes—

And she took me into the world I already live in.

Like an anesthesiologist, she had me count backward from ten.  When I reached one, she had me envision an idyllic natural scene.  I pictured a green meadow with a shimmering lake on a Hawaiian island.

And told me, “Your arms are too heavy to lift.”

Horse crap, I thought.  I could raise my arm.  But I don’t want to.

“And your eyelids are glued shut.”  Her voice rose and fell.  She spoke in ululating waves.  Was this a cartoon? I asked myself.  Open your eyes.  Sit up.
But I felt so good laying there.

You’re doing this to yourself, I thought.

But that’s how it’s supposed to work.  I’d read that it’s actually easier to hypnotize a smart person, not someone who is below average.  Well, that’s flattering, I thought.  Who would ever read that and think: “Well, I have an I.Q. like a basement apartment number, so apparently hypnosis isn’t for me”?

And then she took me into my relationships.

Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this.  In fact, I won’t say very much.

Dr. Catherine asked how my body felt.  “I have a pain in my side,” I said.  “I used to get stomach aches when I was a kid.”  That was decades ago.

“Can you pick it up and look at it?”

In my mind, I plucked a tarnished sharp-pointed star away from where it tormented me now—six inches below my heart.

“Does it have a name?”

“Alice,” I said.  (That’s not the lady’s whose name I actually said.)

One mental image led to the next, and eventually I was casting this star with its dagger-sharp points into the Pacific Ocean.  Except in my mind, the Pacific Ocean was now a golden ocean of love.

I told the star goodbye, and it became a tiny, fragile starfish.  Even so, I banished it to the Atlantic Ocean.

And within half-an-hour, Dr. Catherine was guiding me up and out.  I had originally climbed ten stairs to enter my imagined world.  Now, I climbed another ten.  “When I say ten, you will wake up,” she told me.

No, I don’t think so, I thought, feeling like a teenager wanting to sleep just ten more minutes.

“Nine,” she said.

You can’t pry me out of bed.

“Ten.”

My eyes were open.  I was awake.  I looked at her elegant bookshelf, and her painting of the woods.  I looked at Dr. Catherine.  She was smiling radiantly.

“How was it?” she asked.

And we talked.

Kanuhura_beaches__9__1599x1066_300_RGB

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And now I don’t know what to think, but I did sign up for three more sessions.

Random thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. I hoped for help with relationships. We’ll see if I become more wide open. Because who doesn’t want to be known?  And loved?
  2. Is it a scam? Did I talk myself into thinking I was hypnotized?
  3. Well, that’s alternative medicine for you, I thought. Who knows what the $%#@! is going on?!
  4. I loved her technique. She would ask me easy questions like, “What do you see?” I would detail something like a meadow by a gorgeous lake. There’s a dock nearby.  I am reaching for the sky, and she would probe for details.

And then she would repeat back to me everything I said, in reverse order.  You are reaching for the sky, she would start.  Perhaps the goal was to root me in this imaginary world I’d created.

  1. And her voice. Her melodic, ululating voice…like waves lapping the beach…like the relaxed breath of a sleeping person…in her soothing suburban office….

And I left wondering about her.  Had she left her religion to do this?  Or, like many Christians, did she believe that God made science, and all of the hidden wonders of the mind?

I left feeling happy, but I was happy when I arrived.

I ate a little too much junk food that night.  Perhaps I should have asked for bulletproof self-discipline.

And yet, the next morning, I added over 3,000 words to a novel I’m writing.  Average is about 1,250 words per day.  Am I more creative now?

Or am I just talking myself into this?

Or is it both?

And if that’s the case, then what are truly our human limits?  Can I talk myself into making gifts so wonderful for others that I make a permanent impact?  For example, I’d like to create an endowment fund for my school and thus give them $100,000,000.  Benjamin Franklin set aside money for 200 years for his two favorite cities (Boston and Philadelphia).  What could I do that would be an incredible act of love, either monetary or not?

What could you do?

Is hypnosis real?  If it is, why don’t more people ask to date a rock star and have ten million dollars?

Does it matter?

I can’t wait to go back.

(But I still fear that I’m crazy.)

 

January 22, 2018.  Next post on January 29, 2018 (maybe).

 

 

Liquid Diet for Two and Two-Thirds Days.

carb
Insidious Weight Gain
beer
Or are fermented foods good for you?

Liquid diet for two and two-thirds days.

It should have been beer.  Instead, it was: Coffee.  Water.  Coffee with whole milk.  More coffee.

I am getting desperate.  This try-something-new-every-week thing is hard.

Earlier this week, I went swing dancing, which I’ve done before.  I researched foot massage, asked a co-worker if I could help him make soap, and looked into hypnosis.

H-Y-P-No-Sis.  Hip-Knowwwwww-sisssssss.  Hip……feeling sleepy……

The hypnotist appeals to me because I read Scott Adams’s book, Win Bigly, which is about how Donald Trump—“the greatest persuader in my lifetime,” Adams says—won the 2016 election.  Despite everything against him, from the good economy to running against a woman candidate (Britain elected Margaret Thatcher in 1979) to, well, Donald Trump’s shocking mouth.

I am looking forward to hypnosis.  I really want to know about the human mind…what makes us tick…what makes you tick…what makes women tick…what makes me tick.  I am a teacher.  I’d like to know what makes my students tick so that I can profoundly benefit them.

And I’d like trouble with my stumbling blocks in life.  Especially the ones that I am not going to mention here.  (Hint: Wanting to be more creative.  And: Relationships.)

But because I couldn’t make an appointment to have someone who appears trustworthy—on Facebook, we share six friends, and we share the same religion, and everything about her radiates honest, ethical, and kind—until Monday, I needed something for this week. You’d think with a list of 252 items (https://52things52weeks.com/the-to-do-list/), I could simply go kayaking or tickle an alligator.

So, by Thursday, I was desperate.  And I realized, I hadn’t eaten for 12 hours, and wasn’t hungry. And from reading at least a dozen books, viewing 24 documentaries, and listening to at least 200 podcasts on nutrition, I knew that fasting had medical benefits.  You kill your weak mitochondria.  You wipe out the bad cells in your body.  It’s anti-cancer; cancer is cell mutation.  So, why not keep going?

At nine p.m., I’ve been in the bad habit of eating raw nuts.  Delicious, and high fat.  Even if you’re on a ketogenic diet, you still have to burn more calories than you take in.  Eating late at night is weight suicide.

So, at nine—habit formed—I was hungry.

I drank water.

Did I feel filled?  Maybe.  I drank a little more and watched a show.  (I sleep at 10:20 and get up at 5:40 to write a novel.  That’s where I hope my very best writing exists.  When I die, I hope every blog disappears, and all that is left is the fiction I’ve left behind.)

Night came and morning followed.  Day two.

5:40 a.m.  Prayers, coffee, writing.  Weight lifting.

Shockingly, I’ve been making gains!  A better bench press.  More chin ups.  Without food.  Without protein within the 30-hour window (which is more controversial than you might think).  Then I walked for an hour while reading.

No hunger.  Night came.  Morning followed.  The third day.

A repeat of day two because my life is boring.  That’s why I’m hoping to do 52 Things in 52 Weeks like my heroine of this blog: https://52things52weeks.com/.  Prayers, lifting, running.

At 3:30 p.m, I thought, “I could eat.”

So I shattered my fast.  I’d love to make it five, six, or seven days.  Maybe eight.

You say it’s unhealthy.  But if you do your research, you’ll find that Gandhi went two months without eating.  How?!  Because he was in ketosis.

He had to be.  There are only three macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbs—and when you are burning carbs, you burn through them all within about three hours and that’s why you’re hungry again.  99.5% of all Americans are probably carb-burners.

To lose weight, you have to burn fat.  But that means first you have to burn every carb, not be hungry, and start burning fat.  That’s feels basically impossible to most people.  That’s why people can’t lose those last ten pounds.  (Or get started on those first twenty pounds.)  Because most people’s bodies don’t know how to burn fat.

It’s a long story.  I recommend you read The Primal Blueprint or The Keto Reset Diet by Mark Sisson.  Or 1,000 other books that are out there.  In short, our ancestors didn’t have ready access to food, so as a result, they might not eat for three days.  That meant that their bodies fueled themselves from their own fat cells.

And how many fat cells do we have?

Gandhi had enough to not eat for over two months.

Marathoners are using their fat storage to set new records.  It’s because they have so many fat cells—if you’re a man with 4% body fat, you might have 21,000 calories you can access—that they never get hungry, which means they never “hit the wall.”  As a man who ran 51 marathons and 500 half marathons, I wish I had known this, because I always faded by about thirty seconds per mile around Mile 21.

Weight lifters are using it to make incredible gains.

All across the world, people are doing what their ancestors did: using keto to lose weight and get super-fit.

So, I knew I could do it.  And it was great.

And yet—I felt that on Week 2, like Week 1 where I was “Determined to Have Fun in the Toxic Waste Part of Town,” I had blown it.  This really wasn’t too exciting.  (https://experimentswithmichael.com/2018/01/07/determined-to-have-fun-in-the-toxic-waste-part-of-town/)

I wasn’t deeply pushing my boundaries.

I wasn’t learning more about myself, or human nature.

I wasn’t connecting more with other people.

And in the end, that’s what 52 Things in 52 Weeks should be all about: not me.  Other people.  It should be about what I can give to the world.

Wish me better luck this upcoming week.

January 14, 2018.

 

Photo on 10-1-17 at 11.26 AM
My beloved weight room.

 

 

 

Determined to Have Fun in the Toxic Waste Part of Town

Friday night.  The man who works all the time is determined to have fun.  New fun.

Michael looked at Emma’s blog list at https://52things52weeks.com/the-to-do-list/ to see what he could actually.  Wingwalk?  Hypnosis?  Cordless bungee jumping?

As the week rolled along, Michael grew jittery.  So many options!  And yet on closer examination, he’d have to find a location, sign up, bring the right clothes, and pay money.

            And options began to fall apart.  In theory, yes, you could drink absinthe (dangerous liquor) while doing self-acupuncture with a bed of nails.  But where to get the 148 proof green liquor?  And how long would it take to build a bed with 1,000 nails?

Chagrined, Michael settled for a “festival” at the West Bottoms in Kansas City, Kansas.

It promised to be EPIC.

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             Facebook described the “West Bottoms First Festival Weekend” as an event that 12,000 people were “interested” in.   Once upon a time, the West Bottoms collected cattle for slaughter, housed a steel corporation in WWII that helped build ships to kill the Nazis, but in recent decades, prone to flooding, all of its industries died and the West Bottoms became a slum.

Located in a huge valley, what looked like abandoned buildings perhaps burnt by Sherman in his March to the Sea in 1865 (portrayed in Gone with the Wind) hulked.  Brick by brick, red and white, they look like they are falling apart. Due to a busy day—and procrastinating—Michael Connor drove to the Festival in the dark, at 6:30 p.m.

His plan?  Wander the streets.

Because the West Bottoms now supposedly has “22 warehouses in a six block area with approximately 600 vendors and more than 25 stores and restaurants.”  And 12,000 people were “interested” in the event.

When Michael arrived at 7 p.m., however, it was a ghost town.

A scary ghost town.  Michael once spent a summer volunteering at a homeless shelter.  He’s given drifters rides because it felt like the compassionate thing to do.  And he’s seen Fight Club.  The West Bottoms looked like F- industrial disease: blasted buildings, deserted streets, and plenty of signs that said ROAD CLOSED.

He drove all around.  Where were the 12,000 people?

Finally, he thought to visit “Blade and Timber: Unleash Your Inner Lumberjack,” a thrilling business he loved where they throw axes at bullseyes.  Blade & Timber was hopping!  Lots going on!

But it was late.  And the point of “Experiments with Michael” was to do something brand new.  He’d already been to Blade & Timber (and scored a bullseye).

Tired from a week back at work—Christmas vacation was over—he went home.  After all, Michael will soon have 140+ students to attend to.  He has three new sections to prep, and every morning, he works on a novel.

Several things he would love to know:

  1. How many runaways and rootless people sleep in abandoned buildings in the West Bottoms? And are they safe?  Because from his homeless shelter days, Michael knows that when violent criminals get released from prison, they sometimes end up on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.  Sometimes, they end up in shelters—but in other cases, they sleep under bridges and in crumbling 19th century gargantuan architecture.
  2. Where were the 12,000 people?
  3. And most importantly, has he already failed in his quest to do 52 Things in 52 Weeks, like the girl in the blog he so admires?

This is hard, he realized.  A lot harder than he thought it would be.

January 5, 2018