Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Head Above Water

Excerpted from the mystery novel Head Above Water.

You get used to things going bump in the night when you live aboard a boat. A fender works itself loose or the tide slaps an empty plastic bottle against the hull, and then you have to decide if it’s going to keep you up all night, or whether a pillow over your head might block out the noise. On this particular night, I knew that I was too keyed up to listen to any noise for very long. I was in a rearward cabin and from the sound of it, whatever was banging against the hull was right alongside the stern, just inches from my head. I pulled on my heavy terrycloth robe and well-worn boat shoes, and made my way up on deck. Grabbing a flashlight that I kept at the helm, I went out the port side door on to the walk-around deck, carefully moving to the foredeck where I kept a gaff pole to fish out the source of the noise. Moving back toward the stern I made a quick check of my portside fender lines, which were all intact. I aimed the beam of light toward the water line on the starboard side. If you’re expecting an old soft drink bottle or an empty plastic oil container, you don’t quite know what to make of a smooth round shape. It was like nothing that I had ever seen floating in a marina, and believe me, you see an extraordinary variety of disgusting objects floating on the water where there are boats and people. Holding the gaff pole in my right hand, I aimed the flashlight with my left hand and leaned over the teak capped railing, trying to get a better look at what was keeping me awake. I pulled upward with the gaff and rotated the orb until I realized that whatever it was, it was looking back at me.

“Jesus H. Christ,” I shouted to no one as I backed up with a start. The gaff pole hung up on the railing and the flashlight went skittering down the narrow deckway. My heart was fibrillating at an alarming rate as I realized that the thing banging against my hull was someone’s head bobbing just above the waterline. A very dead person, who nonetheless had stared back at me as though I could save him. And in a way, I would.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mine. No – It’s Mine

There’s this sense that millennials and baby boomers are at odds with each other, but I’m not sure how real that is. Are baby boomers really standing in the way of millennials? In the workplace we may be hanging on to our jobs but millennials seem to be doing quite well when it comes to taking the reins in management positions and it’s hard to ignore their growing dominance in the worker hierarchy.

When it comes to seeking shelter, however, millennials and boomers are competing for the same kind of housing for vastly different reasons. And the situation is exacerbated by the historically low housing inventory that is typical throughout the country right now. Until the residential construction industry ramps up the inventory of 2,000 square foot and under homes, millennials and baby boomers will be jousting for the same properties.

Millennials are looking for 1,800 square foot starter homes and baby boomers are looking for 1,950 square foot downsized homes, so essentially they want the same house. Millennials seek affordability while boomers want a more compact lifestyle. Millennials make up 42% of all homebuyers and the median age millennial (33 years old) makes up 56% of this country’s first-time homebuyers. They may dominate the market by their sheer numbers, but the baby boomer has the cash from the sale of their large home, so they can often bid up the price beyond the millennial’s budget.

Out of frustration with this imbalance, millennials are either deciding to rent or looking at larger, less affordable homes where they won’t be in competition with boomers. If they are thinking of starting a family, the larger home also eliminates the need to trade up after 5 years in the starter home.

If this competition for housing seems disturbing to anyone, particularly baby boomers, let’s not forget that millennials younger than the median age of 33 are still quite likely to still be living under their parents roof because they cannot yet afford even to rent their own place. When you look at it that way, some baby boomers are just as locked out of the smaller house market as their offspring. So who is house blocking who?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sushi Samurai

It was a dimly lit sushi restaurant. There were little candles on each table, but except for the candles it was dark. The sushi chef stood at attention behind the bar, flanked by one short waitress, one tall waiter, and an perpetually smiling host.

We were literally outnumbered as there were only two of us and four of them. Maybe five if there was a dishwasher in the back room. Not good odds. I eyed the door discretely, measuring how many steps it would take to make a run for it. I knew I could make it but I wasn’t sure about my companion.

Calm down. Forget about it. Enjoy the moment, right? Think positive thoughts. We came here for a good meal so why not relax and study the menu. Have some hot sake, loosen up. There was a long list of familiar sushi dishes…sashimi, nigiri, California roll, caterpillar roll. There was a nice selection of noodles, soba, udon and ramen, plus some tempting tempura and teriyaki dishes. And potsticker appetizers…everyone likes those. It all looked good. Things were turning around here.

Then my eyes drifted down to the bottom of the menu. What’s this? In large capital letters that one could not miss. It was an unmistakable warning that filled me with foreboding thoughts. NO SEPARATE CHECKS

What does that mean? Why the harsh tone? What had happened that was so dreadful that management felt the need to boldly print this admonition at the bottom of the menu? Had there been a separate check massacre? A table of six ordered 15 different dishes and then insisted on separate checks for each of them. Business was so good you could turn away customers because they insisted on having a separate check. There were only two of us in the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. What would happen if we insisted on separate checks? I had visions of sushi samurai warriors with very sharp knives coming out from behind the bar. Maybe on horseback, although I would say that would be most improbable given how small the restaurant was and how close together the tables were. Difficult to maneuver on a horse, but not impossible.

Where was I? Right, the separate checks. I decided the best course was to play along, order our food and then when the check came – not going to happen. I was not going to fight the system. The threat of samurai warriors was too great.

I wonder how they are going to react when we ask them to split the bill on 2 credit cards. There was no warning about that.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Loneliness. It’s a killer. Really. An AARP research study found that 17% of adults age 65 and older are isolated. They are facing a 26% increased risk of death due to these subjective feelings of loneliness. Of those over age 75, 51% are living alone. It’s a very safe bet that you and I know someone in this category.

Chronic loneliness is already posing a disturbing mental health threat and it’s growing. We live in a society where offspring leave the nest and relocate in far-off places with little connection to their parents beyond telephone calls, texts and emails. Many aging boomers are hanging on to larger homes rather than downsizing to more collective living options such as assisted living facilities or even apartment complexes where they would have more social contact. Downsizing may be a loss of square footage but that’s outweighed by the expanded social contact that can be gained.

Exploring options to participate in fitness programs or continuing education courses is another avenue that lonely boomers are going to need to consider if they are really motivated to reduce their isolation. Libraries and religious facilities are also logical places to seek out social connection.

The most obvious solution is for boomers to actively support each other. If you know someone living alone, you can be a link to the outside world for them. You’re helping them feel less lonely and you’re helping yourself. The baby boomer generation can act as a giant buddy system which would go a long way to combatting this potential mental health crisis.

You might be thinking that this loneliness problem is something far off in your life. Ask someone who has lost a spouse about the one thing that has changed most about their life and you will see that loneliness tops the possible answers you will get. Yes, this should be the time to do great things with our lives but it does not take much to throw those plans out the window. Illness, death or disability can change your social dynamic irrevocably overnight.

Final words of advice to baby boomers. Unite! Be there for each other. It’s that simple and it will prove that boomers are not as self-centered as some think we are. So there’s that.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Lucky 13

I’m not exactly sure when I knew I was meant to be a writer. It must have been when I was very young. It could have been when I realized words were important because whenever I asked my mother how to spell a word she made me look it up in the dictionary. So words are collected and put in books. Maybe that was the start.

By the time I was in high school, I was typing up short stories that I was sure the New Yorker magazine would be delighted to publish. In college I was bored with the standard curriculum but enthralled to be taking creative writing classes. My mentoring professor told me I had writing talent and I believed her.

Once established in my public relations career, I was writing speeches, congressional testimony, news releases, and articles for publications. I was getting paid to write – I was a professional.

I had enjoyed mystery novels for quite some time but it finally occurred to me that perhaps I could write one. I was living in Annapolis when I got serious about the possibility. The mystery subgenre that interested me most was the accidental detective. A crime is committed and with no experience for detecting, the main character attempts to solve the mystery. It’s even more interesting if it imparts some knowledge about people and places that are outside your own experience. Annapolis and the boating scene on the Chesapeake Bay offered just such an opportunity. And that’s how my mystery novel entitled Head Above Water came to be. I wrote the kind of mystery novel that I liked to read. That was a long time ago.

For years I would not let anyone read it. But then one friend was allowed to see it, and then another, and another and another. All were enthusiastic and encouraging. By then self-publishing had emerged as a real avenue for aspiring writers, so after 13 years, Head Above Water is finally available on Amazon and Kindle. I’m no longer a pre-published author as it used to read in my byline. I should savor the moment but it has freed me up to work on the new mystery featuring an aerial photography pilot in New Mexico. No time to waste because I am not waiting 13 years for this next one to get published.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, Head Above Water which can be purchased on Amazon here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Down at the Factory Things Are Looking Up

For boomers anyway. Manufacturers in the U.S. depend on baby boomer labor and they are doing whatever it takes to keep us on the job. Around 27 percent of manufacturing workers are over the age of 65.

What’s so great about baby boomers in the factory? For starters, they have experience and knowledge that younger works don’t have. They are loyal. And the best part is they need/want to work.

As enticements to stay on the job, manufacturers are offering flexible schedules, reduced work weeks, and job sharing, along with mentoring and consulting opportunities. Even the ergonomics of the shop floor are being retrofitted to reduce the physical wear and tear on older workers who want to avoid knee and back issues.

The scary aspect of this looming labor shortage for manufacturers is that it’s not just happening in factories. Think about where the next generation of plumbers and electricians are coming from. Or auto mechanics. If you think that plumbing, car engines and the household electrical systems can be engineered to be so simple that expert repair personnel is no longer needed, you are dreaming. If anything, some of these systems are going to get even more complicated as the technology behind them gets more sophisticated. That faucet that comes on automatically when the infrared sensor detects motion? It still can leak under the sink or the sensor can go on the fritz. Millennials don’t even know the meaning of “on the fritz” never mind how to replace a worn out faucet washer.

You might be thinking that robots can pick up the slack but I don’t think that’s the solution. Robots can only intuit so much and a simple short caused by worn wires in a light switch may be beyond their capability.

The solution is to keep boomers on the job and start a serious program for knowledge transfer. Not every millennial wants to be a computer programmer or app inventor. It’s time to give tradespersons the status they deserve, along with better compensation. When a plumber can make as much as a doctor, with a lot less stress, the problem may solve itself. Until then, stay on good terms with your trades people and hope that they keep on keeping on.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Freud to Avoid

I ran into Sigmund Freud the other day (I told you once but I’ll tell you again. It’s my fiction so I can meet up with anyone I like).

We were in front of a smokeshop and he was just coming out the door.

Sig, long time no see. Are you still smoking?

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

I know, but the research? I mean you must know smoking is bad for you.

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

Hey, I’m really glad I’ve run into you because I had this dream a few nights ago that —

“The madman is a dreamer awake”

Okay, but this dream was really weird and I can’t figure out what it means.

“If you can’t do it, give up!”

That’s it? What happened to the whole dreams as wish fulfillments and dealing with the unconscious? You’re the man when it comes to understanding repressed thoughts.

“The ego is not master in its own house.”

Boy oh boy, today you’re handing out these bromides like they’re lollypops.

“When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”

Sig, you know I respect you and the whole thing with the Oedipus complex and the libido, I mean it’s brilliant. You’re brilliant. But sometimes you can be really dense.

“We are what we are because we have been what we have been.”

That explains it. That explains everything. How about a little help here. My dreams make no sense to me and I’m really trying to get to the truth.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

For a guy who’s explored the human mind for a living you can be little flippant about my problem. I’m looking for answers.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”

That’s what I’m talking about. You talk to me like I’m a hopeless case. Can’t you tell me some universal truth, something that will forever improve my psychic condition?

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.