Friday, October 12, 2018

Give me a break lady—a little bit of steam never hurt anybody!

Fly my prettys, get those Democrats!

Growing up, before we moved to the farmhouse in 1970, before we even moved to Cumberland Street in the fall of ‘68, we lived on East Franklin Street in Waynesburg.  We were the first house on the block.  

Directly behind our long row of older but neat houses was a steep hillside that led up to High Street, the main drag in town.  It could be a real shortcut too.  You didn’t have to climb up that hill, a row of wooden & concrete steps took you straight up or down.  Go up, turn right and you were on your way to Main Street; turn left and you were steps from Huffman’s Cleaners, McCracken’s Pharmacy, Henderson’s Barber Shop & East Franklin Elementary.  There was only one obstacle in your way… and according to my big brother, it was deadly.

When you neared the top of these steps, up against the side of Huffman’s Dry Cleaners, was a wide metal pipe jutting from the wall and some sort of exhaust pipe that pointed downwards, directly over your head.

huffman_steampipe[2]At regular intervals, there’d be a loud WHOOOSH! like the sound of a steam locomotive, and a heavy white cloud would be expelled. 

This pipe just intrigued the heck out of me.  I remember one time my Dad coming home from work covered with dust (he worked in coal shaft construction) and someone (Dad or Mom) joked he should go up and stand under that giant steampipe.  I was around 7 at the time, and it made perfect sense to me.  When I asked my brother Duke if standing under that pipe would really ‘steam-clean’ your clothes, he said “DON’T EVER STAND UNDER THAT PIPE!” 

Why??  To this day I don’t know if Duke was trying to scare the crap out of me, or if he actually believed what he was saying, but he said “That steam is deadly!  It’s a thousand degrees and full of toxic chemicals, it will melt the skin right off your bones!”    

I was shocked; how many times had I come so close to death?  I should’ve just asked Mom or Dad if Duke was giving me the business, I guess I assumed it had to be true as I knew how smart Duke was.  But I think there was a warped side of me that WANTED to believe it too.  “Death-Steam”??  Could the owner of Huffman’s Cleaners be a maniac, hoping to melt some poor kid caught under his steampipe’s deadly plumes?  I still used those steps pretty regularly, but I’d go three quarters up--wait on the landing for the next WHOOSH--then barrel up the rest of the way.  Ah, made it!  I’d live to see another day.

The Visible Man model kit

This was a popular model kit in the late 1960s, every time I saw it on display at GC Murphy’s I thought “That’s how I’ll look if I get caught in Huffman’s steambath”

The terror continued for some time, until a classmate got me over my fear of that pipe.  (More on that later.)

The reason I’m sharing this story is because on Thursday as I was heading into my apartment building, I passed Jack sitting in the lobby reading his newspaper.  (Jack is 79 years old and a giant, he looks twice my size.  Long retired from the military, I think he was a tank in the Korean War.)  Jack said “HEY CHIEF”  and I waved in his direction as I headed towards the mailboxes.  He said “YOU MISSED ALL THE COMMOTION CHIEF.”  What’d I miss?  “I GOT RID OF A COUPLE OUTSIDE, THEY WANTED TO PUT SIGNS OUT FRONT.” 

The front of the TiffanyThe front of our apartment building, we usually have an American flag up that flagpole

He explained they were political campaign signs for Keith Rothfus for Congress (the GOP candidate running in the 17th District, a sure loser) and Jack didn’t think it’d be fair as we have 100 residents here. 

I told Jack, GOOD!  He nodded his head and said “Mary over there didn’t have a problem with them.”  (A woman by the mailboxes glanced in our direction then went back to sorting her mail.)  Jack said “So you’re not voting for Rothfus, Chief?”  I said “HELL NO!  Rothfus is a Trump toad!”  (Well, he is!)  He laughed and said “I take it you’re not a fan of Donald Trump?”  I said “I think anyone who supports Donald Trump is out of their fucking mind.”  Jack roared with laughter and I immediately regretted saying it.  Oh well.  “Mary” was now gone and I told Jack I’d see him later.

As I headed towards the elevator, I noticed it’s doors were open.  I looked inside and saw Mary and her mail, with her finger pressing the DOORS OPEN button.  She said “Going up?”  I said “Were you holding that for me?  Thank you!  Hey, um.. I’m sorry if you overheard me and Jack, I got a little riled up back there.”  She said “Didn’t bother me.  But you should look around next time you decide to go flapping your gums about our president.”   


I said “Yep, you’re right.”   She said “I’m not saying I’m right or you’re wrong, but you sound like these Democrats out there, they like to make things up so they can vent steam about our President.”  

I said “I’m not making things up or going around venting steam, but I AM a Democrat.”  She said “You Democrats are getting more dangerous everyday.  I hear it all the time.”   Lady, what the hell!  She was right about the dangerous part though, because I wanted to knock her on her ass.  I said  “Sorry again about my choice of words.  Listen, I don’t want to hear anymore.”   She said “That’s fine I said what I had to say.” 

Glad to hear it, you deluded witch.

Getting back to 1968 and my ‘Steam Pipe of Death’, one Saturday morning my grandma (for awhile she was living in a cluster of mobile homes across from us) sent me ‘up the steps’ to McCracken’s to pick up her perscription.  While waiting for her pills, a girl from my class (Robin C.) entered the drugstore.  I asked her if she wanted a Turkish Taffy (they were only a nickel each) and I felt like she agreed to marry me when she said yes.  She was the only black student in our class, but she was one of the nicest girls in there too.

Anyway, we were standing outside eating our Turkish Taffys and Robin asked me where I lived.  I told her on East Franklin, “right over there, down the steps by Huffman’s Cleaners” and she said to show her.

steps by Huffman's Cleaners

Now a ‘Treasure Shop’, this was taken when it was a shuttered Huffman’s Cleaners.  If you look closely in the lower right corner you’ll see those steps leading down.  Notice the big pipe on the wall?


We walked over to the concrete steps and I pointed at the L-shaped death-pipe below and told her what my brother told me.  I think Robin thought I was teasing HER.  She went down the steps.  WHOOOOSH!!  She got blasted by a cloud of steam!  She came back up and I DO remember her smelling a little like bleach, but that was it.  I felt like such a dope! 

(For the record, I did try out the steambath a couple times myself, it was just a warm blast of wet air.  But it still made me uneasy!)

So is there a moral to this blog?  Nope, I just like to reminisce and I needed to vent about Mary—you know us Democrats, always shooting off steam!  I suppose I could say it pays to be nice to people as Robin ended my fears about being melted alive.  To this day, when I visit Waynesburg and drive past there I think of that pipe—and Robin.

As for Mary… what can I say, she’s all wet.  I hope she melts.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Let’s get down to business: meet my spiffy Retirement Manager

Me, in June

It’s hard to believe, but in 3 months I’ll have finished my fourth year of this “early retirement” experiment.  (Yep, I’m still calling it an experiment—too reliant on the stock market, too young to collect social security.)  But recent health crisises aside, I feel I’ve been pretty lucky… well, in the finance dept at least. 

My first year of retirement I didn’t even touch my investments.  I lived solely from my checking & savings, and watched as things took a tumble in my stock portfolio.  That was not a good sign!

A year later, my careful budget was flung out the window when I got sick and left the city to be closer to family. 

I wound up spending thousands from my emergency savings on medical stuff, new furniture and moving (twice) just to get back to my old life in Pittsburgh. 

At least I’m in a better neighborhood now.  Smile

But the market has been chugging along in spite of everything, and I feel like I still have a good chance.

Back in July 2016, I set up a pretty rudimentary spreadsheet to track my withdrawals and wrote about it here:  The bows & arrows of not so outrageous fortunes.  It was based on my plan to “withdraw 4% of my portfolio every year or 95% of the previous year’s withdrawal, whichever was greater” and that’s still the idea, more or less. 

But I was still scribbling reminders, due dates & lots of numbers down on paper and needed to come up with something better.  So I set up this “Retirement Manager”, a 3 tab excel file to keep me on track with spending, income and a Roth ladder (for parking IRA withdrawals penalty-free until I’m old enough to get my grubby hands on ‘em).  So let’s take a look.

ApacheDug’s Retirement Manager



When do I update it?   Once a year, in January.

What do I update on it?  My portfolio’s value the first week of January in Col B, then my annual withdrawal in Col F.

Everything else is automatically calculated:  after I enter the amount of my portfolio, Col C shows me 95% of last year’s “recommended withdrawal”, Col D calcs 4% of this year’s portfolio.  Col E compares Cols C & D and gives me this year’s “Recommended Withdrawal Amount”.

(It’s not required I take the recommended withdrawal, I took zero dollars the first year & went over the amount the next 3 years, but it still keeps me relatively on point.)

Cols G-H show my age at the start of the year & end, Cols I-L calcs the percentage of my actual withdrawal, what the amount would be if I chose to withdraw 4.5 or 5% and a running percent average of my withdrawals to date.  I really need to keep Col L under 4.5%!

Tab 2


What is this?  INCOME

When do I update it?  Every December, or I can update it quarterly when I get dividends from my taxable (non-retirement) investments. 

What do I update on it?  The profit/loss incurred from the sale of stocks (Col B), quarterly dividends from my taxable investments (Cols C-F), interest from my savings account (Col G), any job earnings that year (Col H).

Col I is a running total for the year—my MAGI.  (I need a MAGI of at least 138% of the Federal Poverty Income to buy ACA Health Insurance.)  Col J shows the current FPI, Col K calculates 138% of said amount, and Col L reports the minimum amount I still need to convert from my IRA to my Roth to ‘up’ my MAGI & meet ACA’s minimum income rule.  Did ya get all that?

Tab 3


What is this?  ROTH LADDER

When do I update it?  The last week of December.

What do I update on it?  The sale (transfer) of stocks from my IRA to my Roth (Col B).  I do this to create taxable income without incurring early-withdrawal penalties for being below retirement age. 

It MUST be equal or greater than the amount ahown for the same year in Col L from my INCOME table (Tab 2).  It’s only to have the income required by Obamacare.   Once I hit 59 1/2 years old, I can just withdraw from my IRA without doing these Roth conversions, or I can keep converting.

BTW, as long as I’m under 59.5, I have to pay Federal –and- state taxes on these converted anounts.  But come 2021, just Federal.  (There is no state tax on IRA withdrawals or Roth conversions for people 59.5 or older in Pennsylvania.)  Woo-hoo!

The one negative about these conversions is, every time I do one, that year’s amount cannot be touched for 5 years

(But the year you do it in counts as an entire year.  My first conversion was Dec 23, 2015; I get to include 2015 in my 5 year count.  2015,16,17,18,19.  I can withdraw that first years conversion in January 2020.  2016’s converted amount can be taken in January 2021, etc.)   

The PLUS about having a Roth account is that any gains from investments aren’t taxed.  For example, from 2015-17 I converted $31,000 to my Roth—but its current market value is $38,700.  I’ll pay no taxes on those gains (provided they’re still there) when I choose to sell. 

And there you have it, my Retirement Manager.  Isn’t it swell?  It does most of the work so I don’t have to.  And it should, because I’m retired—I think!  now what

Friday, September 28, 2018

Ford vs. Kavanaugh: I can’t believe I watched that whole thing


I went to bed sick to my stomach Thursday night.  It was my own fault.  The day before I ran & did errands, bought groceries, answered some emails, cleaned my apartment—all to ensure I had nothing on my schedule so I could park myself in front of the tv Thursday morning, and listen to Christine Ford’s sexual assault testimony & Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s response.

I thought it’d run for 2-3 hours, not 9!

It was both what I was expecting & wasn’t; I thought Doctor Ford was a credible witness, but at the same time she sounded almost purposely timid.  Then again, what do I know?  I’ve never had to sit in front of a roomful of senators and answer questions with a television camera on me.

But at the same time, she DID sound honest, civilized, sincere.  I thought her Republican “hosts” were gracious enough, and the Democrat senators who lined up to tell her what a hero she was were all too obvious in their grandstanding.  Still, it was a civil affair.

What soured my stomach was 6 hours into this “television event” when Judge Kavanaugh took his seat at the table.  He comes out looking miffed (can’t blame him), lines up those papers on the table in front of him, adjusts the “Honorable Judge Kavanugh” placard over & over again, making everything just so.

And then he opened his goddamned mouth.

Here’s what I thought, after all was said and done.  Regardless of the sexual assault allegations, the man is GUILTY OF BEING AN ENTITLED, CONSPIRACY-NUTJOB JERK.    

He was belligerent, disrespectful & a lazy liar.  Ugh, lazy liars are the worst!  

I sat here, incredulous that this whackjob was even a judge in the first place, let alone a Supreme Court nominee.  What were we witnessing here?  Someone only a couple years younger than myself, with the mindset of a privileged 16 year old.  I wish I’d turned it off after his opening rant, a 20 minute temper tantrum.

I’m sure it sucks to be in your fifties and have to explain or defend who you were as an 18 year old—but he sure didn’t seem to mind.  As he prattled on about his preppy school days more than anyone cared to listen, he knew damn well what those childish yearbook references (“boofing”, “Devil’s Triangle”) meant.  No one was accusing you of boofing, Brett—but it would’ve been simpler to say “I don’t remember” then to try and attach G-rated definitions to them and expect people to just take you at your word. 

To watch him do this over and over with that bored look of contempt… it made me nauseated.  If it’s that easy to sit there & conjure up phony things to make his younger self not look so bad, how simple is it for him to lie about bigger things in the present?


Blubbering, shouting, sneering—at least we didn’t have to see him boofing

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be accused of something and be forced to defend myself in a courtroom or courtroom-like setting. But I’ve seen enough real-life defendants—later found guilty or innocent—that showed a LOT more restraint than this spoiled, immature character.  

And to think he’s THISCLOSE to being a judge on the US Supreme Court.. sickening.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Slow down, you move too fast… you got to make your childhood last

Sophia Aug2018

This is my 13 (soon to be 14) year old niece Sophia.  The picture was taken on August 27, 2018, her first day of school.  It was also the day before her mom’s birthday (my sister Shawn) and the day after my visit with them.  They had a small cookout to celebrate the last day of summer vacation, and I used the occasion to surprise my sister with a birthday cake.

I know I’m not being impartial here, but isn’t this kid beautiful?  She looks like she’d fit right in on one of those beauty or teen fashion magazine covers.

Anyway, it had been awhile since my last visit so kidding around, I said “Hello Sophia, I’m your mother’s brother.. your Uncle Doug.”  

Without missing a beat, she said “Yes I know, my mom’s told me all about you.”  

Next we did the “Look How Tall Your Niece Has Grown Since Your Last Visit” while Sophia stood next to me looking a smidgen taller than her uncle (ulp) and my sister confirming said fact.  Then Sophia said “Mom, wait!  I’m in my bare feet, Uncle Doug still has his shoes on!”  Shawn replied  “Alright, we’ll measure again after he takes his shoes off!”    Thinking smile

smshwncake (2)

The birthday cake I brought for my sister, she always goes out of her way to get everybody a cake on their birthdays so this one was long overdue

I then went on a tour of the estate to check out all the home improvements (a new back porch & curved walkway, Sophia’s playroom converted into a college girl’s dorm room—her words, not mine) and when I asked “So what’s next on your Home Improvements list?”  my sister replied “Nothing!  We’re all done” and Sophia said “WHAT??” 

That poor kid!  She was born in the middle of a bathroom renovation, reared on HGTV and weekly trips to IKEA or Lowe’s to check out what’s trending in lighting & kitchen backsplashes, she doesn’t know any different!

Sophia has turned out to be a remarkable young woman though—she’s always made straight A’s, a star athlete in soccer, softball & basketball, active in her church & community, a real ballet dancer to boot.  She also has this thing for amassing wealth, when I brought some odds n’ ends for my sister to pick over (a sofa pillow from Wayfair, some scatter rugs from IKEA, a pack of undersized t-shirts, a too-small wristwatch from Amazon, etc.)  Shawn said “Alright, we’ll see what we can use” and Sophia said “Why can’t we just sell all of it!” 

Haha!  This kid’s going to make her first million before she’s 30.

backporchTheir new back porch with Shawn’s newly painted rockers & reconstructed steps—these guys don’t fool around

Later on, while Shawn & Jim grilled hamburgers, hot dogs & vegetable shish-kabobs (note to self, eat more veggie shish-kabobs) I watched as my niece played in her backyard with some goofy twins who live next door, a pair of toothy girls a year or so Sophia’s junior.  

It killed me, I felt like I was watching a gazelle cavort with a pair of chipmunks.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it; like I said earlier, it’s been awhile since my last visit (mostly due to the long drive and some medical issues which I’m sure I’ll be sharing in the near future, who doesn’t want to read about someone’s health woes, right?) but it was a great day and I’m glad I finally got to see my favorite Cover-Girl again.  Smile Red heart

cover girl

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