Friday, June 28, 2013

Shawn and Uriel--you’ve been served! (oh I couldn’t resist sharing this)


(This began as an email to my sister Shawn, but given how I see everything that happens in my apartment building as newsworthy, coupled with the irony of said events, I couldn’t resist sharing it here.)

When I got home from work tonight, I’m not inside SIXTY SECONDS when there’s a loud knock on my door—it’s Uriel!  (If you aren’t familiar with my terse Russian neighbor gal, click here.)   She said “Hello I am interrupting you.”   I said “No—I mean that’s okay—I mean—“  She ignored me and said “Can you please explain” and thrust out a piece of paper.  I noticed it had a scrap of tape on the top, I guess she found it taped to her front door.

It’s from Building Management. It says “It has come to our attention that you have defaced property at the address of 527 Monroe.  You have THIRTY (30) days to: 1) restore door to original condition 2) replace door 3) pay charges for us to replace door, including any labor.  Your lease states that you can paint walls and ceilings only. Please contact Manny at this phone number.”

I said “Well Uriel, it says you defaced your front door?”  She said “No.  I did not.”  I said “I don’t see anything wrong with it… maybe this was meant for someone else?  You need to call ‘em”.  Uriel frowned at me like I was talking a foreign language (cough) and said “thank you” and opened her door.  I saw it right away—the inside of her front door was painted what what appears to be 5 coats of white paint, with entwined roses around the peephole.  I wouldn’t say it looks Russian, but it sure looks girly.  

She said “I paint door when I move in. No one said anything.  Why this now.”  I said “Maybe they just found out about it... has someone been in here recently?”  She said “Yes, they send someone here at start of week to fix air ‘ditioner.”  I said that must be it, he probably reported it.  She went inside and slammed her door shut.  I stood there for a minute, feeling a little dumbfounded then heard her (on the phone). She was screaming bloody hell at someone.  I wonder who… oh I think she’s yelling at an answering machine.  That can’t be good, she sounds like a maniac.

Anyway, it made me think of this little conversation a couple of Saturdays ago (when my sister visited & we went to see Superman).  I was showing Shawn a couple walls I wanted to paint, and was looking for an ‘accent wall color’ for the one behind my tv & bookcases as well.

DOUG:  So I want to paint this one wall by the front door & that back wall in the bedroom a soft tan…

SHAWN:  I wouldn’t, but I wish you’d paint that piece of paneling and those cupboards.

The paneled wall that separates my livingroom from the kitchen—I like it, it’s brown

I said “Shawn, I’m not allowed—it says so in the lease.”  She said “Oh brother!  Yeah, right.”  I said “Well anyway, I like it.”  (She was fine with that.)

Shawn I love you very much, and I know you think I couldn’t possibly get into trouble for ‘improving the premises’, but you’ve never had a slumlord—I’ve lived in my share of apartments and that lease is the law of the land; ask poor Uriel!



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Strange visitor from another planet: They come in all shapes and sizes

Yesterday, my sister Shawn & I (in keeping with our long tradition of seeing all the Superman movies together) went to see ‘Man of Steel’ (we gave it a big thumbs up, by the way).  I asked her if she would be okay with us dining at Long John Silver’s first, and she said sure, she was fine with that.  So off we went for dinner and a movie.

After we arrived in little Washington (and decided which Long Johns to go to), we entered said establishment & stood there for a moment, pondering the variety of fried fishery on their giant wall-menu.  I glanced towards the front registers, and saw a young woman talking to the cashier.  I heard her say “you forgot my drink order, I esk fer 8 waters and a Dokker Pepper!” 

Wha?  I looked back into the restaurant, and aside from a crusty looking fisherman-type at one table and a baby in a carseat at another, no one else was there.  I turned to my sister and said  “Shawn, that woman up there just ordered 9 drinks for her and her baby--but that’s not the strangest part, she looks like she just fell out of a Lil’ Abner strip.” 

Shawn wasn’t listening.  She said “Hmm.. I think I’m going with Platter #3—it comes with 2 fish, 3 shrimp & one chicken plank.  Yep, that’s what I want.”

I looked again at that woman, now returning to her baby.  She had the face of a 14 year old hillbilly-girl, the voice of a 45 year old hillbilly-woman and the head of a crazy cat lady.  I’m serious, it’s like she bought a cheap wig, slept on it, got another wig, repeated the process and glued both hair-pieces together.  I whispered “Shawn… please check this out”  but now my sister was giving the cashier her order and omigod, the girl behind the counter was a hillbilly too.  I shrugged my shoulders & asked for the same (but onion rings instead of fries).

We took our seats, and yet ANOTHER hillbilly-woman came out with 2 heaping platters of orange-fried goodness.  I was all ready to chow down when Shawn said “Excuse me… my brother ordered onion rings, not fries.”  Mammy Yokum said “Heck!”  I told her it was alright, but she said “I’ll fetch ‘em!”  Shawn & I glanced down at our plates—where’d all this chicken come from?  Then the woman returned carrying a food basket with 2 onion rings—welded to more chicken planks.  We were only supposed to get one each, we now have 10!

Of course Shawn said “We were supposed to get shrimp, not all these chicken strips.  You can take them back.”   Yokum said “Keep ‘em!  Goin’ fetchin’!” 

She huffed back to our table carrying a basket of shrimp & plopped ‘em down.  “We want our cuss’mers happy! Things sazzfackery?”  We now had dinner for 4 spread before us.  Yes, sazzfackery. 

 It’s around this time that I start to ask Shawn once more about the hillbilly girl at the table in the back.  Suddenly Hilly’s at the condiments counter, pumping tartar sauce & ketchup into those little paper cups but not paying attention to what she’s doing, because she’s staring over AT ME. 

I whisper “Shawn I keep trying to get another peek at that hillbilly woman’s head, but I can’t look up cause she’s staring at me instead!”  Shawn says “Haha!  Okay I just got that Lil’ Abner reference, please shut up long enough to let me swallow this food without choking.” 

I guess Shawn was listening after all, but Hilly’s gone now, taken her sauces back to her table.  My sister & I resume talking about non-hillbilly things. 

Here comes the best part:  after we finish eating, Shawn gets up with her garbage and walks over to the trash-bin.  It’s precisely at this moment that the hillbilly jumps up from her table with her baby, comes over and stands in front of me.  She kisses the baby on it’s head with a loud smack--“MMM…SMACK!” and then looks down at me with a big toothy grin.  What the--yes dear, I see you!  Shawn for godssakes read my thoughts and turn around!!

No such luck, my sister still has her back to us.  When Shawn finally does turn, Hilly scurries away with her baby into the ladies room.  WHERE THE HELL AM I!!

After my sister sat back down, I said “Y’know, it’s killing ME that that woman isn’t killing YOU.”  Shawn said “Doug you have to remember, this is where I’m from—I’m used to it.”  

Hello, where do you think I’m from?  Krypton?!  

Yes, you’re right—I wish.  Smile

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What have you got against slavery? Just another Saturday at the barbershop


Every third or fourth Saturday morning, say around 11am or so, you won’t find me here.  Well, for a couple hours at least.  I’d suggest you look up the street at the Lincoln Barbershop, you’ll probably see me sitting on a long bench with a group of other tired looking men, arms crossed and blinking the sleep from our eyes.  (Sometimes there’s the random young dude tapping one foot up and down while staring down at his iphone.)  The Lincoln Barbershop is run by three excellent barbers—Rose, Aaron & Angie—but they don’t take appointments, and when you work or go to school during the week like a lot of us do, Saturday is your only option. 

So today was one of those Saturdays—I was looking like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo so after a couple cups of coffee I headed up the street.  Ah, just as I predicted—looks like a 2 hour wait.  I see my neighbor Jim is there too, but that’s no surprise.  Jim is sort of the shop’s mascot—he’s 62 but retired 25 years ago and has a lot of time on his hands.  He waves me over.

JIM:  Dougggggg!!!  Sit down over here, it’s going to be awhile.  So how’s things?  How’s your gay neighbors, they still making a lot of noise?  You guys come to any compromises?

ME:  Hi Jim… uh, yeah we did.  I agreed to call the cops the next time their music knocks a picture off my wall, and they agreed I’m King of the Bitches. 

(A couple patrons chuckled and laid down their newspapers to listen)

JIM:  Hahaha!  Aaron, you hearing this??  Well Doug, they’re young—they won’t be around forever!  Hey, did you hear about that bug-eyed woman you hate down on 2?  She’s moving into some place for seniors—WITH ISSUES.

ME:  Jim, who are you talking about?  My gosh, I don’t hate anybody.

JIM:  Sure you do!  The one with the bug eyes!  The one who yells at people to get out when she’s in the laundry room!  The one who screamed she was going to call the cops that time she saw you in the lobby on a pair of crutches!   

ME:  Oh, her!  Okay I do sorta hate her.  Sorry guys…

AARON (cutting hair):  No worries, Doug!  Keep going Jim…

JIM:  So Doug where do you work downtown?  Mellon?

(Modern day slavery in downtown Pittsburgh is usually done at Mellon or PNC Bank, Highmark or UPMC Healthcare.)

ME:  No, UPMC.  Hey I’ve been meaning to ask you, is it true you’ve been retired for 25 years?  I need to know how you did that…

JIM:  Well, I was an accountant for Gulf Oil—we merged with Chevron in ‘84, they offered everybody a 20 thousand dollar buyout.  Everyone took the money, but I took it in stocks.  Those stocks split, and then split again, and again… let’s say they left me comfortable enough to live on… well, so far!

AARON (cutting hair):  Yeah just look at his lavish lifestyle!  Fast food everyday and spends most of his time here!

JIM:  Hahaha!  Hey it’s for me!  Doug, you’ve got things pretty good, why do you want to give that up?  You probably work in a nice looking office, I bet you eat out a lot too.  Are you hourly or salary?

ME:  Slavery.  Er… I mean salary.  Same thing.

JIM:  Aw Doug, things aren’t that bad!  You’re not out there digging ditches!

AARON (cutting hair):  Jim, Doug’s still a slave for the man.  Can’t you remember back that far?

ME:  I know others are out there slaving for the man worse than me… I wouldn’t want to work on a chain gang.  Waitaminute, don’t those striped pants they wear come with a drawstring? 

(This gets a couple laughs, one guys says “that’d be nice!”) 

JIM:  Haha!  Okay Doug, your time will come!  Have you thought about what you’re going to do when you retire?  You can’t sit around and watch tv all day, you know!

ME:  Well, I can always hang out every day in the barbershop—unless that job is taken…  (Jim laughs and says there’s room for one more.  No thanks!)

Aaron waves me to the chair.  Oh good, I’m up.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Well, if it takes a moustache to get me where I wanna be…so be it!

Have you ever seen or read something and found yourself nodding your head in agreement, it just made that much sense?  (It doesn’t happen that often for me—at 51 years of age, I’ve learned to doubt everything.)  But several weeks ago, while exploring various financial advice websites, looking for ideas on what to do with my life savings (which was sitting idly in the bank and gathering dust) I stumbled across the writings of ‘Mister Money Moustache’. 

Have you heard of this guy?  In his late thirties, he was an engineer who retired from the workforce after following a few simple principles.  In a nutshell, here’s what they are:

1.  STOP BEING A CONSUMER.  That new car, iphone or purse is not going to bring you happiness in the long run.

2.  PAY OFF ALL YOUR DEBT.   If you use a credit card, pay it off every month—and no more car loans!

3.  SAVE 25 TIMES YOUR ANNUAL SPENDING (not what you earn in a year, but what you actually spend) & stick it in the stock market, in low cost index funds.

4.  YOU CAN NOW QUIT YOUR JOB, YOU’RE COVERED.  (Really?  He says yes, based on your portfolio reinvesting dividends, and you withdrawing 4% annually.)

I seriously love this dude; he thumbs his nose at financial experts like Suze Orman, like here:  “So this woman calls Suze Orman & says ‘Hi Suze, I’m 57 years old, single, I’ve saved 1.5 million dollars and carry no debt, I want to retire, should I do it?’  Suze tells her ‘Sorry girlfriend, work for 10 more years and build that 1.5 million to 2.5 million!’  Are you EFFING INSANE Suze?  She has 1.5 million dollars, let the woman retire!!”

If you’re curious enough to check him out, here’s 2 of his more popular posts.  I’ve read them both several times, in fact.


Click on first picture to read “From Zero to Hero in One Blog Post” and on second pic for “The 4% Rule: How Much do I need for Retirement?”

He’s actually written around 300 money-related articles, and aside from his belief that you need to give up cable television (gasp!)  he just makes good, practical sense.  I decided to take his advice.

2012 Expenses

I began with tracking my spending for the last two years.  I couldn’t believe these numbers were correct—Mister Money even says that good savers will be surprised at how low their total spending actually is—but when I totaled my paychecks for 2012, then looked at what I’d been saving, everything added up.  (Funny, I don’t feel I’m living that frugally, but the numbers don’t lie & I’ve got the savings to prove it.)

Still, if I use Mr.Money’s formula of 20-25 times my spending in investments—525K seems doable. (But I plan on having around 10% of that allocated in cash.)

A short while back, I took the plunge and moved the bulk of my life savings into several stock mutual funds.  (And then this past week, there was a “bond-bubble” burst and a 23% stock crash.   Hard to see such a big chunk of money vanish from those new accounts.)

I can’t look at it that way though.  I’ve got the same number of shares, the same stocks.  They’ve just lost some value & as long as I don’t panic & sell, I should get that money back and then some.  

So this is my goal: including my 401K from work (which is already a mix of Wall Street funny money) and my new personal portfolio, which I plan to add to when I save some more, I’m beginning to delude myself into thinking I can retire when I’m 57, maybe even sooner!

Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to do once I get there…  Hot smile