A friend asked me to write about my predictions for the coming year. Anyone who says they know what the future holds is either lying or delusional. But I do make decisions about my personal affairs based on reasonable medium term trajectories. I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, a word from our sponsors here at Granola Shotgun: Human Nature and External Reality.
I’m in Denver visiting the in-laws. Lovely people. I have no idea why or how they tolerate me. Mom’s Nebraska Danish and a Calvinist by nature. Dad’s an American born Japanese with a patient Shinto disposition. You could perform surgery on their kitchen floor with no risk of infection. My Jersey Sicilian lapsed-Catholic-with-a-hint-of-Jewish sensibilities are off the charts weird in this context. But they remain ever gracious toward me.
The water at the house stopped running twice this week. A little investigation revealed the whole subdivision was dry. A city water main had ruptured along the arterial road. I asked where they kept their emergency water. They looked at me like I had two heads. Why would anyone keep water in the house? That’s just paranoid and crazy.
My brother-in-law was sent off to the supermarket to fetch bottled water. The supply had been picked over, but there were still a few jugs left on the shelves. By morning the city water was back on, a bit cloudy, but flowing. And that was the end of that.
They’ve lived here for forty years and the city water supply had only ever failed once before – earlier this year. I mulled this over. The house was built in 1963 along with the rest of this part of the city. The pipes are getting old and beginning to fail. There are three trajectories moving forward. 1) The pipes will break incrementally over the years and the city will play whack-a-mole with the patches. 2) The city, state, and/or feds will provide a multi-million dollar grant to rip up all the pipes and give the neighborhood another sixty years of service. 3) The funds will not be forthcoming and the pipes will simply fail incrementally along with property values. All three will ultimately happen, just at different times and in different locations. But “ultimately” is a very long time.
My mother-in-law’s people live forever. Her grandfather died at 99. The women are immortal. She’s been to the hospital a few times this year for various ailments. None of them were necessarily life threatening, but they indicate a slow inevitable trajectory. She’s always been very clear that she’ll never leave her home until she’s carried out feet first. It’s a big comfortable place on three floors with lots of stairs. It would take almost no effort to add a barrier free shower to the main floor powder room and convert the library to a bedroom to keep everything on the ground floor. We’ve talked about this. Her grown children live on opposite ends of the continent. There are no other family members in Colorado. Why not make small preparations to gradually age in place ahead of the curve? But she’s not having any of it. Instead she’ll do what most people do. At a certain point she’ll break a hip or take a bad turn and other people will begin to make decisions for her. (It won’t be me.) The Japanese live even longer than the Danes.
At dinner my brother-in-law reminded me of a conversation we had a few years earlier when we were at the far end of Cape Cod in New England. (He lives in Boston.) An older couple were describing the dream home they were hoping to retire to. I advised them to consider a more central location instead. The nearest medical center is way off in Hyannis an hour or more away on a narrow county road. That road is bumper-to-bumper during the summer tourist season. The Cape is susceptible to winter storms. The older we all get the more dependent we become on external services. Do you really want to be 85 living that far from civilization?
I was informed that it’s inappropriate to mention such things since it implies we grow old and become frail. Let people enjoy their dream. In other words, lighten the f#*% up.
In response I reminded my brother-in-law that later that same night on the Cape he woke us up at 2AM in obvious pain. We called emergency medical services and waited nervously for half an hour for an ambulance to arrive. They diagnosed his kidney stones and recommended he seek care in Hyannis. We drove him the entire length of the Cape as he squirmed. Once sedated at the hospital the stones passed and he recovered. He could have had a more serious medical event with a different outcome. Just sayin’.
I was back in Jersey in October near where I grew up just as the Oyster Creek nuclear plant – the oldest civilian reactor in the country – was shutting down. What was once a money maker for the parent corporation, a major employer, and a big tax generator instantly became a multi-billion dollar black hole. All the spent fuel rods that were ever used since 1969 are still sitting in a big swimming pool behind a fence next to the reactor. Multiply this by all the similar plants that will be retiring across the country in the coming years. We’ll eventually deal with these things one way or another. But it’s going to be messy and expensive – one broken hip at a time.
Where am I going with all this? Human Nature. External Reality.
Back to my friend’s request for New Year prognostications. We’re going to see more of the same. A whole collection of obvious problems are out there waiting for us in plain sight. We don’t want to think about any of them. But they’re coming anyway. So society will simply muddle through. It isn’t the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s the relentless accumulation of ordinary entirely predictable events that will steadily compound and bounce off each other. And we’ll suck it up.
Here’s one little prediction. We’re going to solve our problems (individually and collectively) with money we don’t actually have. Debt. And we’ll pay back that debt with more money we don’t really have. That’s what we’ve been doing for decades already. Kicking the can down the road. Extend and pretend. At a certain point money itself will lose its legitimacy. Big fun. But not this year. So long as there’s still more road left…