The Futility of Addiction


Released from the obligation to work, many retired people find themselves to be unsuspected addicts. With plenty of time on their hands, they are free to finally ruin their lives through addiction. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex…almost any activity can be ruinous if taken to an extreme.

Addicts usually spend a great amount of time rationalizing their addiction before daring to confront it. It’s not that bad yet…You’d do this too if…I only do this because she doesn’t…I’m just letting off steam…besides, what else is there to do in this stupid place?

Addicts often wishfully conclude that if only they take their addictive behavior to an extreme, they’ll somehow “break through to the other side” and prove to themselves that this way lies folly. They’ll tire of the game. They’ll have finally had enough. By “maxxing out,” they’ll find freedom from the compulsion.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

An addict is like a man digging a hole so deep he can’t climb out of it, but he’s convinced himself that if he digs faster or harder or more efficiently, he’ll finally find a way up and out. He can’t face the fact that he won’t be able to take any action to climb out of the hole until he first stops digging.

To use another metaphor: if you’re walking down the wrong path, walking faster won’t get you where you want to go. Imagining your goal around the next corner won’t help. You’ll simply have to realize that you’ve taken the wrong path, stop, turn around and painful as it may be, retrace your steps until you get back to the place where you made a wrong turn. You’ll have to chalk up all the time and energy you spent going the wrong way as loss. There is no other way around it.



Tito and Amanda Watts were arrested over the weekend for selling “golden tickets to heaven” to hundreds of people. The couple, who sold the tickets on the street for $99.99 per ticket, told buyers the tickets were made from solid gold and each ticket reserved the buyer a spot in heaven — simply present the ticket at the pearly gates and you’re in.


“People can sell tickets to heaven,” a Jacksonville police spokesman said. “But the Watts misrepresented their product. The tickets were just wood spray painted gold with ‘Ticket To Heaven – Admit One’ written in marker. You can’t sell something as gold when it’s not. That’s where the Watts crossed the line into doing something illegal.”

Tito Watts said in his police statement:

I don’t care what the police say. The tickets are solid gold… it ain’t cut up two by fours I spray painted gold. And it was Jesus who give them to me behind the KFC and said to sell them so I could get me some money to go to outer space. I met an alien named Stevie who said if I got the cash together he’d take me and my wife on his flying saucer to his planet that’s made entirely of crack cocaine. You can smoke all the crack cocaine there you want… totally free. So, try to send an innocent man to jail and see what happens. You should arrest Jesus because he’s the one that gave me the golden tickets and said to sell them. I’m willing to wear a wire and set Jesus up…

Amanda Watts said in her police statement:

We just wanted to leave earth and go to space and smoke rock cocaine. I didn’t do nothing. Tito sold the golden tickets to heaven. I just watched.

Police said they confiscated over $10,000 in cash, five crack pipes and a baby alligator.

This story has made its rounds on the Internet and produced a chuckle and much head-shaking from readers who enjoy laughing at the antics of the stupid and deranged.  But apart from their lack of sophistication, crack addiction and poverty, how are their delusions fundamentally different from those of wealthy super-church pastors?  And now does one get to this point, anyway?

One step at a time.  Most people lose their way in increments.  Smoking cocaine will get you where you want to go faster, but it’s still a process of one bad decision following another.  You get an idea, you entertain that idea until you forget that it was once just an idea you had and not a fact, and then you start making erroneous assumptions, some of which seem to pan out.  If you’re lost in the woods and you find that the path you’ve been walking down for the last few hours was the wrong one, there in only one way to remedy that situation.  You have to admit that this is the wrong path, retrace your steps and start over again. Sometimes that choice seems too difficult to entertain, so you apply almost the same amount of energy to convincing yourself that this is the right path despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

If you accept one preposterous assumption, it’s much easier to embrace the next one.  If you live next to the dumpster behind the KFC, and talk to people who hang out in that neighborhood, you’ve pre-selected the people who might be able to give you an objective overview of your universe. And if you all smoke crack together, then anything is possible.

But if you work on Wall Street and sell derivatives, is that a whole lot different than selling tickets to heaven?  Remember, the derivative market in 2008 was responsible for the greatest “legal” transfer of the wealth in the history of the world. People all over  he world are still paying the price for that one.

Even though in our most liberal moments we  might like to believe that all ideas have some validity, it’s simply not the case.  Some notions are more grounded in reality than others.  Delusion has a cost, and followed to its logical end, it ends up costing everything.  The concepts of truth and falsehood are only interchangeable in the short run.






It used to take more get up and go to move across the planet, but ever since jet travel it’s been pretty painless.  Now there’s no major discincentive to discourage the indolent from finding their way to places where they can simply hang out the way teenagers hang out at the mall. Old guys don’t stare at their phones as often as teenagers do, but like their younger counterparts, the expression on their faces is usually a mask of boredom.

If you didn’t have any ambition where you came from, you’re not going to suddenly catch on fire in a new place. The challenge of learning a new language, of developing a hobby or mastering a musical instrument doesn’t appeal to everyone.  In fact, most people are content to watch paint dry as long as they’re not actively in distress.  If you classify girl-watching as a profession, then you’ll find a myriad of tropical countries where that could become a full-time job. The fact is, most of us get what we’re looking for.  If all you want is the absence of something you don’t want, then you’ll end up the proud owner of nothing much.

I know guys here who fill their days by watching sports from the United States on satellite TV. They have to set an alarm to see their favorite games, because they often air at four in the morning. I could see doing that every once in a while, but as a major time-filler it lacks depth.

I write, but as anyone who has followed the ups and downs of the publishing industry lately, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to publish or pay for my writing. Content is free, nowadays. If someone at a cocktail party asks me what I do, I can always say I’m a writer, but that lacks the cachet it once had. If my unfortunate cocktail party companion further inquired have I had anything published, I could nod gravely, without adding that it was thirty years ago. Yes, I once showed promise. So what am I working on now? Hmm, a memoir. The Life and Times of Yours Truly. Soon to be a major motion picture, starring Montgomery Clift as James Dean, and me as Hedda Hopper.

If anyone asks me what I’m doing in Southeast Asia, I can pretend to be a spy, or a professional do-gooder of some kind. I work for an NGO. You’ve never heard of it. We help rescue retirees with dementia from an uncertain fate. But no one asks. There are no cocktail parties. Just fat old men leering at Asian women.


And then there’s me, typing away on my laptop, thinking I’m special.





Retirement Isn’t For Wimps

Retirement isn’t for wimps. It takes real integrity and fortitude to live without structure, to feel good about yourself despite the total absence of any outward encouragement. No promotions  or awards at work, no big financial deal coming down the pike…nothing but you trapped inside your own head, day  and night. You’re not even as cute as you once were, so people especially young people, tend to look past you, as if you were a utility pole.

Say in the past you had hidden a shopping addiction that you hid from yourself by occasionally earning unexpected sums of money. This monetary gravy allowed you to use money as a drug to change your mood. Not anymore. If you live in an emerging economy, then your pension from back home is enough to sustain you in a moderate way, provided you don’t do anything impulsive or foolish. Now if you have a shopping addiction, you’re keenly aware of it. In fact, unchecked it will soon become the major factor in your life. We could go so far as to say that anything you have used money, status, looks, or cleverness to avoid facing will soon become obvious to everyone, even you. That’s both the good and the bad news.




In your travels, or just by moving someplace and watching travelers come through town, you’ll meet a lot of people who are chasing smoke…running from something or running towards something illusory. Those whose race is greased by money or good looks are the most unfortunate of all. Everything happens faster for them, but in this case, faster isn’t better.

The fact is, most of us don’t really need anything more in order to be happy. But trying telling that to someone hot in pursuit of desire and you’ll get an impatient sputter in response, at best.

I once met a man who bragged that his only relationships with women were with prostitutes, and the cheapest and best value for the dollar were located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He never paid more than fifteen dollars, and that included a dollar tip. I didn’t know what to say in response, so I muttered something like, “That’s amazing.” and that seemed to satisfy him. From listening to his story, he drifted from country to country, leaving and arriving about every six weeks. He’d been all over the world.

He also only lived in hotel rooms, and I think those were the cheapest available, as well. He actually seemed quite pleased with himself, and I thought of that old adage, “Watch what you pray for, you just might get it.” 


What This All About, Anyway?


I’m not trying to get you to do anything specific, nor am I trying to sell you anything. I found a wonderful, very affordable place to live in retirement, and I’m gung-ho on urging other people in my position to take small risks and do the same.

The hardest part was giving up on what I thought was some shred of security. Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, had this to say about security. “The reason nobody has ever experienced security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” And this came from a woman who started out with some significant disadvantages that most of us, including me, have not had to share. So if she could feel that way, I can, too.

It turns out that there’s a delightful, affordable, safe world out there that has little to do with the way we live in America. There are many places where a growing number of expatriates from English speaking countries mingle with the local populace. Places where those of us on even a small pension can live well.

For many of the people I know, living in America is like harboring a gambling addiction. You know it’s bad for you, but you want to hang on a little bit longer, in case you hit the jackpot. Besides, what if you quit now, just before the big payoff, why you’d never forgive yourself. True, most of the people you know are gradually sinking, but there are some success stories you can point to, people who lucked out on the timing of the real estate crash, or bought stocks just before they rebounded. It happens.

I used to know a lot of people who had moved to LA when they were young, hoping to make it in show business. One by one, they finally admitted to themselves that it just wasn’t going to happen for them. So they stopped waiting for the phone to ring and got real jobs. Some stayed in LA, some moved to easier places to live. After thirty years or so, only a fraction of them still live in LA, and only a fraction of that fraction still are waiting for their big break. As one guy who’d waited for most of his adult life for things to break in his favor to me “this is a town where encouragement can kill you. Every time you make up your mind to leave, a friend assures you that if you wait just a little bit longer, it’s gonna come together. People are talking about you. Don’t give up just before the miracle.”

For me, LA is the ultimate American city. But I spent most of my life not living there, but in Iowa, a state that has the image of a place that still offers a good quality of life for anyone willing to work and live a temperate life. I have news for you, that might have been the case in the past, and it still may be the case for some Iowans, but most of the ones I know are struggling just to get by. And it’s not getting any easier, as time goes by.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone, least of all myself, but I do know that things weren’t getting any better for me in Iowa. And I don’t blame Iowa. Heck, I don’t even blame the US. But there comes a time when you can see the handwriting on the wall.

I’m not interested in proving anybody or anyplace wrong. I just want to have an exciting life and enjoy myself as much as possible. I bet you do, too, or you wouldn’t have read this far.