At The Far End Of The Comparative Pain Scale

If you’ve ever had any kind of painful injury, a doctor probably asked you to assess the extent of your pain using a smiley face scale like the one shown above. Often, quantifying pain is difficult, and you may have mulled over whether your condition came in at a four or a five on the scale.

Sometimes, though, the pain scale assessment is easy. For example, right now pretty much everyone involved in the investment world is at 10–suffering through the worst possible pain with the reddest, most anguished non-smiley face. In fact, if there were an 11 on the pain scale, like the speakers on This Is Spinal Tap, the current market conditions would qualify.

Words don’t adequately describe just how awful the investment markets are right now. Across the board, every form of investment is getting creamed. The S&P 500 has fallen more than 20 percent since January, moving into “bear market” territory, and bond prices have “tanked.” Cryptocurrencies have gotten crushed. Even good old cash in the bank isn’t safe, as inflation rates continue to climb–and the New York Times reports that the May inflation results suggest that the inflation rate may be “accelerating.”

If it is any consolation, everyone is getting pulverized. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index shows that the world’s 500 richest people have lost $1.4 trillion this year. It may make you feel better to know that Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos have all reportedly lost more than $60 billion this year. Of course, even those staggering losses leave them plenty of money to fall back on–which isn’t the case for most of the people who are investors.

If you are a retiree or someone who is getting close to retirement who sees the value of the portfolio and savings that you are counting on to fund your retirement years falling every day, you wonder what to do. There doesn’t appear to be any safe harbor in any of the standard, or even not-so-standard, investment options. With no viable options, most of us will just try to ride out this intensely painful period, avoid making decisions that lock in the impact of the current downturn, try not to constantly check the market indices, and hope that the needle on the pain scale starts to move in a more favorable direction.

Noisy Jobs

The TV show Dirty Jobs features host Mike Rowe checking out jobs that involve difficult, hazardous, and frequently disgusting conditions — like working in a sewage processing facility.  The jobs featured on that show would be a tough way to earn a living, but I’m wondering whether having a job that exposes you to noises all day wouldn’t be worse — for me, at least.

spinaltap_128pyxurzWe’re having some work done to the exterior of our house, and the crew that’s doing the job is using an assortment of tools that make a wide variety of different loud noises.  There’s the humming drone of the air compressor.  There’s the sharp, staccato bark of the nail gun.  And then there are devices that make grinding noises, devices that make sawing noises, and devices that make incredibly high-pitched whines.  It’s like being in a This Is Spinal Tap dentist’s office from hell, with the volume on the amplifier turned up to 11.

For a while every day, when the crew begins their work, I think I can screen out the noise.  And for a while it works.  But ultimately the different sounds, occurring in different combinations, break through the mental barrier.  And once that happens, all I can think about is when the nail gun is going to be sounding off again, and I’ve got to get out and go somewhere where I can find peace and quiet.

The guys who are on the crew are a good group.  They work hard, know what they’re doing, and seem to enjoy having jobs where they get to work outside on sunny days and sing along to the songs on the radio while they saw and grind and nail.  The noises don’t seem to bother them.

My hat’s off to them, but I couldn’t do what they’re doing.  I’ve realized I really need a quiet place to work.