Sunday, October 28, 2018

My solitary confinement is showing… just doing some thinking out loud

alone in here

I’ve been on my own for a long time.  I lived with my family until 1980, bounced around and went to college, then my sister Shawn & I shared our grandmother’s old house from 1982-1986. 

From 1987-88 I lived with my former best friend Dan and his wife Jean, a girl named Fay, and a roommate named Bill after I moved to Pittsburgh. 

Bill married his girlfriend Shelly & moved out in August 1988, a couple months shy of my 27th birthday.  So this past summer marks my 30th anniversary of living alone.  I read recently that while 48% of Americans are single, only 1 out of 4 households are single households.   So there’s a big difference between being single & being on your own.

I suppose I should feel lucky this isn’t the 1920s (where only 5% of people lived alone) or the 1950s when 3 out of 4 people shared the same roof.  Would I have been married in 1925 or the town oddball?  In the 1950s I might’ve been branded a closet homosexual or communist spy for being single or having my own space; I’m not handsome, suave or urbane enough to be a confirmed bachelor.   

What have I got against marriage?  Nothing, honest. 

Anyway, I’m glad I came along when I did, allowing me to just be “Doug”.  And being middle aged, I’m long past caring what anyone thinks and I’m long past anyone caring what my story is.      

(Unless you’re reading my blog, and you’ve been here before.)  Smile 

For the most part, I’ve been generally okay with my solitary confinement.  In the 1990s I dated quite a bit, and my sister Shawn would often come up for the weekend—we’d see a movie, go out to dinner (or I’d cook) and sit up late and talk.  The only part I didn’t like was Sunday afternoon, after she left—my “aloneness” would suddenly come crashing down all around me, and I wouldn’t be able to shake it off until the next day, when I’d go to work at my noisy office and see my friends. 

In the 2000s, my dating life had slowed down considerably (and my sister’s weekends were now busy with her new husband) but by then I was more set in my ways, and appreciative of my alone time.  There were times here & there when I’d hear about a married friend’s weekend or vacation or wedding anniversary, and I’d suddenly feel alone and wistful, and wonder what led me down my own narrow path.  But I always shrugged it off.

And then yesterday morning I’m sitting on my couch sipping coffee, hear the loud booms of drums, look outside—it’s my neighborhood’s annual Halloween parade, with a couple of marching bands and a hundred kids wearing costumes, rain be damned.  I put on some long pants and shoes and grabbed my windbreaker, and hurried downstairs to watch.  A couple beside me was waving at the kids (I’m guessing one of them was theirs) and the man asked the woman if she wanted to go to breakfast after.  And without looking at him she said “you’re not getting out of cooking today” and I had to smile & wished I was cooking for someone today too.

I come back upstairs, and my tv (which I left on) is reporting on the “just now” shooting of people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, 10-11 miles from here.  8 men, 3 women dead.  6 wounded.  I sit here and digest this madness alone, and hear the muffled conversation between Ronnie and his girlfriend next door, and wonder if they’re watching this too, and talking about it.

A couple hours later, damn—the return of those mysterious stomach pains I had a couple days ago.  Hot & severe, I sit here and take shallow breaths for 90 minutes, waiting for the pain to calm.  Aside from sipping water, I’m afraid to eat anything for the rest of the day.  My (normally hungry) stomach doesn’t seem to mind.  I wonder if I was married or living with someone, would they be saying “Okay buster, turn off the tv—we’re going to the hospital”.  I’d probably say the pain has let up, let’s wait until it’s a real emergency.  Besides, UPMC Mercy must be dealing with a lot of very real tragedies right now.  

But I live alone, the few people in my life are busy with their own lives and weekends, so I sit here and wonder what is wrong with people like this killer filled with hate, and with me.  

Sometimes it can be pretty difficult being alone.  Shalom.Star of David

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Am I George? I hope I’m not George (at least there wasn’t a bite taken out of anything)

George and the eclair

Do you remember the episode of ‘Seinfeld’ where George is at his girlfriend’s mother’s house, shows some chivalry and carries the dirty dinner dishes into the kitchen?  

He opens the kitchen wastebasket with his foot, sees a chocolate eclair with a bite taken out of it in there, takes it out and eats it—just as his girlfriend’s mom walks in. 

I can still remember the first time I saw this, I laughed so hard I was choking—and when I called my mom to see if she was watching, she couldn’t talk--she was choking too!

A little bit ago (around 11:30pm)  I was writing an email to my sister Shawn when it occurred to me I hadn’t gone downstairs to get my mail today.  (I had a terrible stomach ache earlier in the day, not sure why.  All I had to eat was a slice of wheat toast, a hard boiled egg and some cherry tomatoes for breakfast.  I’ve had nothing since and I’m still not hungry.)    

ANYWAY—I take the elevator downstairs to the lobby, retrieve my mail, take a quick look in the package room (behind the mailboxes) to see if my coffee pods from Amazon had arrived yet, and saw a styrofoam container on the “give away” table.  You know the type of container I’m talking about, square with rounded corners and a lid, for take-home from restaurants.  I look behind me to make sure I’m alone, then take a peek inside… wow, 3 desserts!  A slice of cheesecake, and what I believe to be a slice of chocolate cheesecake and a pretty steep hunk of tiramisu.

When I bent down to smell them, I could tell they were pretty cold—whoever left them there had to have done it minutes before I found them.  

Did someone leave these here because it’s the give-away table?   Or were they picking up a package and put it down and forgot?  I’ve seen paperback books, costume jewelry, old sunglasses, even a string of xmas lights and a small box of golf balls left on that give-away table; but never a fresh container of restaurant desserts!

I thought “Well, I’ve got a sore stomach—plus a chocolate cupcake upstairs I bought myself yesterday and haven’t gotten around to eating yet...”

And even if I DID want this, I don’t know where they came from!  And what if I ran into the person who was coming back to get them on the elevator? 

So… I used the stairs instead.  Yes I took those desserts!  I’m a guy—it’s my birthday next week—and I’m George!  Good night!


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Halloween 1975: Yep, I think I’d like to go back to being short again

Halloween 1975--I'm 14 years old

My niece Sophia recently celebrated her 14th birthday (it was a real gala from what I heard, the social event of the season) and I couldn’t help but remember my own 14th birthday, a literal lifetime ago.

It was in 1975, Halloween Day to be exact.  It was a more modest celebration, but I certainly wouldn’t say it was a less happier one.  Here’s a couple things I remember most from that time:

1)  My mom got it in her head that I should go trick-or-treating with the other kids “one last time”.  I insisted I was too old and besides, I didn’t go the year before on my 13th birthday either!

She said “Honey if you wear a mask no one’s going to know you’re a teenager.”  Haha, that was the LAST thing I wanted to hear.  I said no, and she still got me a Batman mask in case I changed my mind.  

What I didn’t tell Mom (or anyone else), I was in the second month of my “prayer-thon”, a personal plea to the Big Man Upstairs to make me a couple inches taller.  At the start of the school year, our Phys-Ed teacher remarked how tall many of the guys had gotten over the summer.  He looked at me and joked that I went from third shortest in the class to second.  I was never self-conscious about my height until then!  (It took awhile, but in a couple years I’d become the towering figure of 5’8” I am today.)

2)  Also at the start of that school year, a foster-girl named Penny had moved in with the Davises, our neighbors up the red-dog road from our house.  She was short, curvy and a year younger than me.  I was in love with her the first time I laid eyes on her at our bus stop, and the day after these pics were taken…. well, you’ll see.

Doug, Courtney, Donda Lin

Holding my baby sister Courtney, and that’s my sister Donda Lin wearing our brother Steve’s Evel Knievel Halloween costume. 

Notice the Batman mask hanging on the fruit bowl? 

Getting back to my birthday, I remember asking my mom for a ‘homemade’ birthday cake that year, like the one she baked for my Dad that summer.

I wanted a german chocolate cake; I’d never had one before, but my brother Duke was taking German lessons after school (with a paid tutor—WHY) and verdammt, I was going to have something German too!

But what I wanted more than anything was a REMCO STAR TREK PHASER.  It had just hit the store shelves and was more than some toy, it was ‘transistorized’.  This sucker was the very first ‘Star Trek’ item with lights & sound, and from the commercials on tv, it definitely looked regulation size and then some.  (It also included a secret compartment with ‘light-discs’ of various spacecraft you could beam on a blank wall, a ‘Trekkie lightshow’.)  

I was at the age where I was pretty much done with toys, but if I was getting out, I was going out with a bang—or a phaser burst!  I had to have this in the worst way.

Remco Star Trek Phaser

My mom came through of course, and I was blown away; it was bigger and even better than expected.  (It’s considered a real collector’s item today and verdammt, what happened to mine??)  Along with this gorgeous gat I got a pack of artist notebooks & pens (I went thru a LOT of drawing paper back then) and an awesome set of ‘monster candles’—a ghost (which she plunked on top of my cake), a bleeding skull, a witch & vampire. 

Along with that weird chocolate cake, it was a good haul.  Smile 

The day after my birthday (a Saturday), I was sitting on the stoop in front of our house with my new phaser, marveling at the size and… heft of the thing (and wondering if I was too old to pretend I was Captaiin Kirk in my back yard) when I heard:

“What is that?”

I look up— Penny!!  The new foster-girl from up the red dog road, she was on her way to get the mail (our rural mailboxes sat together on the main road). 

I said “It’s um… a replica of a weapon from a science fiction show...”  I thought for sure she’d laugh and say I was too old to be playing with toys, but she didn’t.  She asked where I got it, and when I told her it was a birthday gift from the day before, she said “You were really born on Halloween?  That’s the weirdest thing I ever heard!”

 In love  Heh!

She asked if the phaser did anything, so I played her some of its annoying sound effects and explained it could also shine various spaceships on the wall, too bad we didn’t have a dark space to bounce images off of.  I tagged along with her to our mailboxes, and after retrieving her mail, she left her box’s lid open and said “Hey, shine your gun in there!”   I nervously fumbled the first light-disc into its slot and narrowed the beam.   

We both peered inside.  U.S.S. Enterprise, Klingon ship, UFO….  our heads were so close together our cheeks were almost touching.  If I thought I loved this girl before today…  I swear to God if I had a ring handy (especially a diamond one) I would’ve got down on one knee & proposed to her right there.

The following Monday morning at our bus stop, I secretly handed her this note:

Penny, will you be my girlfriend?   Signed, the Halloween Boy

That same day after school on the bus ride home, Penny handed me a note:  it said “Dear Halloween Boy, yes I will be your girlfriend.  Love, Penny”   JOY!  RAPTURE!

A week later we began sitting on the bus together, a week after that we began holding hands, and the weekend after THAT I went on my first hay-ride with Penny & her church group.   Oh, there’s a lot more to tell but I’ll save it for another time.  Until then…

Happy Halloween!


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, before we even moved to Cumberland Street in the late ‘60s, 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 ‘uptown’, or 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 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. 

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 kitThis 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 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 Tiffany
The 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 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 “No way.  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?  Hey, 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, 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 “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 keester.  I said  “Sorry again about my choice of words.  Listen, I really am done talking.”  She said “That’s fine I said what I had to say.” 


Getting back to 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.  She was the only black student in our class, but she was one of the smartest and nicest girls too.

Anyway, 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 CleanersNow 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 running down 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 and just stood there.  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!

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.  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!

But the market recovered, 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 stocks every year or 95% of the previous year’s withdrawal, whichever was greater” and that’s still the idea, more or less. 

(Since then, I’ve modified my portfolio to include all liquid assets.)

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, hopefully in January.

What do I update on it?  My portfolio’s value (when I’m ready to make a withdrawal) 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”.

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 savings (Col G), job earnings or IRA withdrawals (Col H).

Col I is a running subtotal for the year. 

Col J shows the current Fed Poverty Level.  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.  (I need a MAGI of at least 138% of the Federal Poverty Income to buy ACA Health Insurance.)

Col M is the actual amount I converted to Roth (if any)—and COL N reports the final total, my MAGI.  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