I wear my AirPods during my commute to work every day. My wife says I’m being rude to people on the train. I’m not being rude. I think it’s sending a message of “leave me alone.” I simply want my privacy, but some people still insist on talking to me even when I have headphones on. If anyone is being rude, I think they are the ones. Who is correct here? Personally, when I’m on a plane or train, I want to work or read or watch a movie. I don’t want to have small talk. Years ago, I thought I could act my way through this process if I somehow gave off “hostile vibes,” looking as if I would not be fun to sit beside. That must’ve worked because many times I had an empty seat next to me—and I didn’t even have to resort to raw onions or garlic. Maybe it runs in the family. When my sister was in the fourth or fifth grade, my mother was called in to meet with the principal of the school. He told my mother, “Your daughter gives her teachers a nasty look, eyes narrowed, staring…defiant.” I suppose I’d better check out 23andMe to find out where that gene comes from. You’re entitled to your privacy, headphones or not. I don’t think it’s rude at all. In fact, these days, it may be self-preservation.

As a widower, I’m at an age where suddenly my grown kids seem to be trying to take over. They tell me that I’m eating poorly, that I’m not using “green solutions” to clean my house and that I shouldn’t light wood fires in my fireplace. I don’t like this feeling of losing control. Do you have any ideas, short of showing my anger? It’s complicated. I studied Shakespeare in college and I’ve always remembered the story of King Lear. He gave up his kingdom to his three daughters and everything went downhill from there. (At least that’s the CliffsNotes version). Lear ended up in madness, wandering on the heath. I have a friend in the same position who told me: “My kids now feel that—because they lead their own households—they have the answers for me. I told them, ‘Hey, slow down.’ I know they can’t wait to say to me, ‘Careful, dad. Don’t trip on the stairs leading to the nursing home.’ ” He adds: “I fought the rebels with a little over-the-top humor. And I said, ‘At the end of the day, it’s my house and my rules.’ That seemed to nip it in the bud.” Maybe it’s a losing battle. Years ago, if my kids had a serious boyfriend or girlfriend, they’d have to stay in separate rooms in our house. I’ve given up on that one. And maybe I’ll give up on a lot of other things. But my advice to others is: Unless you’re losing your marbles, don’t go gently into the night.

I hate insurance companies. I don’t understand why you have to have most insurance
anyway. I guess I understand car insurance (mandatory) and even home or apartment insurance (although I still think it’s a rip-off). But what about life insurance? I’m 37 years old, in good health, with no dependents. Why the hell should I buy life insurance? And then there’s medical insurance for my dog, which I think is an unnecessary expense. When I bought my condo, I had to take out flood insurance, even though I live on the fourth floor. What’s your take on this?
Buying insurance is a rite of passage, like making your own dentist appointments. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Insurance is part of anyone’s adult life. You need homeowners’ protection. Pet insurance? People tell me that medical costs for pets are right up there with costs for humans. If you want to save money on pets, buy a couple of turtles. Or hamsters. One of my kids had a boa constrictor, and I prayed someone would steal it. No insurance needed there.

As to you living on the fourth floor and not wanting flood coverage—hello: What if the lower half of the building floods and you cannot get back in? Well, perhaps you can kiss your building goodbye—along with all of your possessions.

Your life insurance point is well-taken. My father thought it was a huge waste of money, and he passed that perspective down to me. If you have a family, it may change your outlook. I have group life insurance with my company. It’s cheap. Life insurance is a head game. Check your psyche on this. But buy the other kinds. You’ll be glad you did. ◆

John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to thedance@improper.com.

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