Why I'm an optimist

I’m telling you right now to pull the plug on me and let me die. Whatever reader who is reading this that is closest to the plug, please unplug it and just let me die. There’s an ipod in my heart and it just needs charging in order for me to keep going, living a minimal existence of no moving, semi-breathing, barely thinking. Maybe there’s a plug, or a bunch of tubes, or some equipment I can’t even imagine. Just do me a favor. If we get to that intimate moment where I’m lying in there and you’re standing out there, with the decision in your power, just pull the plug.

In 2003 my dad had a stroke. The doctor said it was over, just unplug him. Down the hall there was an orthodox woman who had been in a car accident with her daughter. The daughter was walking around with a cast on her broken arm. The woman was in a coma but the orthodox Jews couldn’t unplug her because that was their religion. They were all huddled in the room. The daughter who had been in the accident just sat outside in the hallway looking at her cast. It only took a few days anyway and the mother’s life dribbled away.

Two years later my dad was still alive, never once having uttered a word or made a concrete motion after having that stroke. His eyes were open. He’d blink. Sometimes it would seem as if he were looking at something. Sometimes they would drop him when moving him from room to room. Other times he’d get a bed sore from not being turned around enough. A bed sore happens when your skin erodes a way right to the bone. One time I took a chess position and blew it up to be three feet by three feet and pasted it to the ceiling so he could look at it since he was lying on his back all day, unable to move. But the hospital he was staying at lost his glasses and he probably couldn’t see anything anyway.

(White to move and win)

My sister said to me, “you must have mixed feelings. Because you guys were in a fight before his stroke.” Its true. I hadn’t talked to him for the six months before his stroke. He sent me an email once, saying I had a good TV appearance. But I didn’t respond. But you don’t get mixed feelings at those points. I was pretty sure what my feelings were.

People get angry at me sometimes for being an optimist. Look at the message board of any article I write. The latest article I wrote has over 100 comments (across two different sites), most of them like mini-hatemails to me. Here is a sample:” James put down the meth pipe… Really you need to be placed upon the firing line…nothing but a propogandist…stop spewing lies, it makes you look stupid…”

I’m not an optimist at all. When I look at you (and you and you and you) all I see is a stroke victim waiting to happen. I see you lying there, your head shaved, mouth slightly open – breathing, being fed, defecating all through tubes. People dropping you on the floor on your head. Innovations in technology keeping you alive as long your family wants to do be. “Don’t worry,” someone is saying about you to a nearby family member, “he has no idea what’s going on. His brain is not there.” The day after he died I wrote two articles for thestreet.com about Internet stocks and one article for The Financial Times about Warren Buffett. I didn’t care. He had been dead for two years as far as I was concerned. I didn’t even want to go to the funeral, standing there in the mud and rain waiting for nothing to happen to someone who hadn’t been there for years.

HE was the optimist. Convincing me in 2002 that stocks were cheap right when I was most discouraged. Encouraging me in 1991, in my first job, to ask for $90 an hour as a consultant. They sort of laughed and said, “Well, we were thinking more like $12.50 an hour.” And of course I said yes. He wanted to be a salesman for my first company, calling Fortune 500 CEOs cold and asking them if they needed websites. He told me once that every chess move he would start looking first at how he could sacrifice his queen, the most valuable piece on the board. He was always optimistic he could start an attack somewhere, never realizing when his attacks were long spent and his position, once so happy and grand, had begun to slip into a fragility that called for strident defense. I was the one always on the ropes, always defending as he unleashed attack after attack, never giving up or slowing down, always convinced the winning move was right around the corner. All I learned was defense.

When I was 15 I had a paper route. I came home one day and was bragging to him, “some guy accidentally

tipped me an extra $5.” He immediately drove me over to the guy’s house and made me return the money. When I was 9 and he heard that I called the third grade teacher “an old crow” it was the first and only time he ever hit me, he was so upset. When he insisted I learn basic economics he gave me Jude Wanniski’s book, “The Way The World Works”. But when I was ten and really trying to learn how the world works I would sneak off with “Candy” by Terry Southern or “Boys & Girls Together” by William Goldman from his bookshelf.

At some point we cross a line. Where once we were fresh and figuring out how to conquer the world there comes a small insignificant moment when you have to decide, “if it happens to me, I would want the plug to be pulled.” It’s a dotted line in the sand. But once you cross it you can’t really say you’re young anymore.


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