Brain Farts

Let me vent my head, here, by sharing a few FI/ER-related thoughts.

What do you when it’s slack at work…assuming it ever is?

One of my co-workers one time had to get rid of an old dishwasher so we concocted the following plan: line the inside of the beast with sandpaper, affix long grill-type matches to the sprayer arms in such a way as so the match-heads would make contact with the sandpaper, pour enough gasoline into the dishwasher to rise above the level of the pump, close the door tightly, roll a hundred-yard extension cord out to it, plug the far end of the cord to the machine and turn on the switch, retreat to the house, plug the near end of the cord into wall current, crack beers, and enjoy the show.

How much of your job involves meaningless chit-chat?

Eleven years after I retired, in the spring of 2016, I went on a two-week self-supported bicycle tour—which is when you pack camping gear onto your bike and head out on the road—to the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in central Kentucky.

The monks at Gethsemani obey the Rule of St. Benedict, which requires them to show hospitality to travelers, as well as to practice a vow of silence. So there are signs all over the retreat house say, “Silence Spoken Here.”

During my stay there were maybe fifty other retreatants besides me. None of us spoke to each other. Even at meals.

And I realized something.

Strangers don’t have intimate conversations. You make chit-chat. What’s your name? What do you do? Where are you from?

In these introductory conversations you’re trying to create a good impression of yourself by hiding behind a mask; a false self. A superficial, idealized reflection of who you really are that you’ve designed to evoke external validation of you as a person, while hiding your inner vulnerability.

But in silence; in the absence of superficial conversation, you don’t have to hide your true self behind words. You don’t have to wear a mask.

Which is tremendously liberating.

On the subject of strangers and chit-chat:

It drives me nuts how we introduce each other by occupation. Compare these two snippets of dialogue.

Snippet one:

Me: “Hey, Pablo…I’d like you to meet my friend Jerry. Jerry’s an accountant. Jerry, Pablo’s a building contractor and works part-time mowing lawns.”

Pablo: “Oh, hi, Jerry. An accountant, eh? Um…how was tax-time.”

Jerry [probing for client lead]: “Busy. You own your own businesses? Got anybody keeping your books?”

Pablo: “Yeah, my wife. What about you…anybody cutting your grass?”

Jerry: “My son.”

All three of us: “Zzzzzzzz.”

Snippet two:

Me: “Hey, Pablo…I’d like you to meet my friend Jerry. Jerry does the coolest card tricks.”

Pablo: “Oh wow, man…can I see one?”

Jerry [chuckling]: “Sure. I take cards everywhere.” [Produces a deck and a pen; fans the cards out.]

[Jerry produces a deck of cards and a pen; fans out the cards.]

Jerry: “OK, now, I want you to pick any card and then sign it.”

Amanda [coming over]: “You guys doing card tricks? Mind if I watch?”

Jerry: “Sure!”

Amanda: “Hey Madeline…check this out!”

Etc., etc. Which conversation had you rather be part of?

I find that the “bang for the buck rule” helps me discern between “worthwhile” purchases and those that aren’t.

You know how for a week-long cruise you pay something like $2.5K up front? What you’re essentially doing is paying the cruise line $15 an hour to house, feed, and entertain you. So if you sit on the lido deck drinking $6 mai tais and playing solitaire–or God forbid, in front of a slot machine–the cruise line wins big-time.

So hypothetically: that $1.5K flatscreen TV might sound like a big-ticket item up front, but if you’re going to get five years of use out of it at, say, 15 hours of gaming/watching/music/etc. a week, you’re paying roughly forty cents an hour for it (yes, yes…ignoring the costs of Netflix and internet service and so forth.) Maybe you think that’s worth the up-front and maybe you don’t, but still, it’s a method of evaluation that can be helpful.

Classic example: this is why I splurge on good tools. Better, I think, to brown-bag lunch for a week and buy a decent $35 digital multi-meter that’ll pay for itself across many years, than to spend $8.50 for the analog discount-store special with the brittle plastic housing that’ll split and crack the first time you drop it.

So think about it: the, let’s call it “price utility,” of lunch out isn’t that high, whereas the price utility of retiring at 35 is enormous. On two different scales, certainly, but when you’re brown-bagging you’re still getting a small percentage of the FI/ER satisfaction.

One time my boss sent me to one of those junket-type conferences in Vegas. I stayed at the MGM Grand, and at 8 AM on Monday I rode the elevator down from my room and got a cup of coffee at the bar and crossed the casino floor and pushed my way through the big brass doors that led out onto the Strip, and there, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, was a grown man with his face buried in his hands, sobbing.

Right? It saddens me too: I could’ve made that coffee MYSELF from the mini-machine in my room, saved the three bucks I spent at the bar, watched that money compound for a hundred years at 6.5%, and wound up with $1,609.00.

Shockingly wasteful, except that in a hundred years a cup of mediocre casino bar coffee will probably cost exactly $1,609.00.

Ha-ha. Sorry; had to do it.

That’s it for the moment. Plenty more where these come from.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit or email

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