Saturday, March 16, 2019

Angry God, vengeful God! Yes, I think I know what you’re up to

This is a strange but true story.  (It’s pathetic alright, but true!)  One night in January of 1974, my mom said “Doug, will you do me a favor honey?  Would you go downstairs to the Old Room and make sure your Dad got all the toys out of there?”

In the basement of our farmhouse, at the bottom of the cellar steps was a crooked door that led into a musty room.  Two of its walls were lined with shelves of ancient wood planks and it was not a pretty sight.  Shortly after we moved to the farmhouse in 1970, us kids were told to never go in there.    

We didn’t need convincing or told twice—basements were scary enough but this room had a particularly creepy vibe to it.  (And even if we did want in there, Dad usually kept a padlock on it’s creaky latch.)

A couple weeks prior to my mom’s request, it was Christmas Eve and all us kids were sent to bed.  Normally I’d be the first to high-tail it upstairs, but I had started 7th grade at Jefferson Morgan Jr-Sr High School that fall & turned 12 on Halloween.  So I asked if I could stay up a bit longer to watch a tv-movie.  Around 11pm, my mom said “Don, you better get started...”  and my dad went down the basement steps, clopping back up with an armful of toys.  Mom said “Doug, you don’t want your Christmas ruined, so go to bed.”
I said “Where did he get all those?”  Mom said “We hide all the unwrapped Christmas presents in the Old Room.  That’s our secret, okay?”  What the—of course!  The padlock, the warnings to stay out of there… it all made sense now.

Getting back to Mom’s request 2-3 weeks later, she gave me the key to it’s padlock and I headed down there.  As I’m inserting the key, my little sister Donda comes down the steps and asks what I’m doing.

Okay, this is where things go oh-so-wrong.  I said “I snuck this key off of Dad’s keychain, I just gotta go in this room!”  Donda’s eyes widened and she asked why.  I said “The Gordons (our elderly neighbors) told me the original owner of this house went mad after going into the Old Room and shutting the door; I want to see if it’s true!”
WHY DOUG—WHY.  I went inside, shut the door—waited a minute then yelled “It’s happening, it’s happening!” and began laughing like a crazy person.  I heard my little sister shriek and run up the steps, and I knew right away:  This is not good.

I waited a few minutes for the drama to subside, then (with my head hanging low) went up the steps.  My Mom was standing there.  “Give me the damn key.”  Then she said “Go to your room.”   I said “Um… can you tell me for how long?  Because tonight’s the premiere of that new show Happy Days, and you know I’ve been waiting weeks to see it.”

Mom said “Get your ass upstairs and go to bed!”   WHAAAAT??!!  I know I probably scarred my sister Donda for life, but the entire country was excited for the premiere of this show!

January 1974 TV Guide

As I sat upstairs glowering, I could hear my mom downstairs:  “See that girl’s dress with the doggy embroidered on it?  That was called a poodle skirt and all us girls wore one!”

Aargh!  This was too much.  I went to my bedroom window and slid it open, and a blast of icy air hit my face.  I thought “I hope I get ammonia, when I’m in the hospital I’ll tell my mom I couldn’t shut the window but wasn’t allowed to come downstair—"

The window (which we kept propped open with a ruler in the summer) slammed down on my right hand.  Blinding pain!  I knew what just happened—God heard my angry, crazy-ass thoughts and He let me have it.

When I was a kid, and believed everything I was told (as in Noah building that ark and Charlton Heston parting that sea), I always saw Jesus as a kind, warm n’ glowy figure with chestnut brown hair & baby blue eyes, lots of cool powers and the patience of a saint—unlike his dad, who had white hair and wore a beard and a frown, and showed no mercy.

I used to pray to Jesus, not God—“Jesus, if you’re listening… I’m sorry for lying to my mom about eating her Ayds chocolate diet candy, but if I tell her the truth I will surely die.”

I’d then imagine Jesus saying “Doug, I know you are sorry and I believe you about your mom.  But I have to tell my Father, so I can’t promise anything.”

Sure enough, in the day or so that followed I’d bang my knee or step on a tack or run into a wall—“God’s doing!”   Just a little punishment to let me know He’d heard my latest and wasn’t pleased.
I’m remembering all this crazy talk now, because here I am, a 57 year old man and starting to wonder if God is punishing me for having these awful thoughts again… because every time I see that corrupt, lying PIECE OF CRAP Donald Trump or one of his godforsaken toadies--Mike “Pinocchio” Pence, Mitch McConnell or that oaf Sarah Huckabee Sanders on tv—and now these “Fox News” cretins like Sean Hannity & Tucker Carlson—I grit my teeth and wish the absolute worst things on them.  

Then I take a deep breath and microwave the gel-packs for my face wrap, because this awful TMJ (or TMD) which returned in November is still with me, God knows why.

God knows why… yep!  I bet He does.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Fun with Numbers: My 2019 Financial Report

fun_numbersEverytime I post a blog like this, I hear from the same three people:

My friend Sandra (from my working days at GNCorp) will write “Douglas… you shouldn’t be sharing personal information, you are asking for trouble.”

My sister Shawn takes a more dramatic route:  “Okay… I DID read your blog.  And it made no sense to me!  Are these calculations for the next rocket to the moon?  Did I tell you I saw ‘Hidden Figures’, that movie about the women who worked for NASA in the 1960s?  Wasn’t that a great movie??”

My friend Danielle is a little more blunt:  “Number blogs are boring!  Everyone hates your numbers blogs!”

  I can’t help it.  I like numbers… especially when they’re mine!  But I like other people’s numbers too, like when I read FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) blogs.  They share stuff like their monthly expenditures, right down to the last penny!  Here’s MY monthly expenditures:

  • RENT:  750.00
  • ELECTRIC:  50.00
  • GROCERIES:   200.00-250.00
  • TOTAL:  $1850.00

 And now, my 2019 Financial Report:  “Fear Ruled the Roost”

2019_RMGR1 - Copy

At the start of January, while many retirees prepared to sell stocks / make their annual withdrawals, I had two years spending safely squirreled away and was sitting pretty.  I had no real plans to sell stocks anytime soon.

Besides, my New Year 2019 portfolio was down 15% from last year’s value.  It was no surprise, December 2018 had just gone down in history as the worst December on record for investors.  Still, I visited a couple early retirement sites to see what others were doing—most were damning the numbers, full speed ahead (selling at a loss).  Some were waiting, others were only selling a couple months worth for expenses. 

I should’ve walked away, focused on other things; instead I watched the markets every day and on January 22 when my own portfolio was at 96% value of the year before, I updated my Retirement Manager (above) and sold $20,000 of stocks.

And the next day, I regretted it.

  1. The market was still continuing to climb in value.
  2. Just because it was January didn’t mean I needed that money now.
  3. My 70-20-10 target allocation was now skewed, too heavy in short-term reserves.

portfolio allocation

My homegrown Retirement Manager may have ‘approved’ me withdrawing 20K (it actually approved $21,770.36) but I was already good.  What was I thinking?  Get it before it’s gone again.  That was a panic sell on my part, darn it. 

At least my withdrawal rate is still (on average) at 4%.

So right now, I’m debating whether to keep that withdrawal in short-term reserves, or put some back if the market takes a swan-dive and I can buy those stocks back cheap.  

As I recently wrote in my ‘Bucket List’ blog, I like the idea of having a couple years worth of safe assets, it helps me to sleep at night.  But anything more than that feels excessive and is hindering portfolio earnings.    

On the other hand, a lot of so-called “experts” are predicting a full blown recession next year, a sure thing by 2021.  (I won’t be ‘buying on the cheap’, I won’t be selling either.)  Warren Buffet says that when the markets are good, investors look down on holding cash… but when the markets tank, cash is king.   We’ll see!papyrus

Monday, March 4, 2019

A metal bed, a four-poster bed and probably why I’m still single & sleeping alone in one

my bed

This is my bed.  I love my bed, it’s probably my second favorite thing in this apartment.  It’s modern yet minimalist, but surprisingly sturdy.  This may sound a little cuckoo, but it makes me feel younger just sleeping in it.  It’s like I’m thumbing my nose at middle age:  “Take that, 3 piece bedroom set, I‘m a hipster!”   Well, I sleep like one.

I can just hear the snorts & chuckles coming from my Stearns & Foster mattress-- hope you find it funny next year when I replace you with one of those YouTube mattresses like Casper or Purple!

In March 2017, as I made plans to move back to Pittsburgh, my sister said “you’ve been living with this walnut bedroom suite since the 80’s!  Why don’t you let Joe Wilson (my soon to be ex-slumlord) take it off your hands?  There’s a long red dresser at IKEA I think you’d like.”   So off we went, saw the red dresser, loved it, bought it.  She said “We should take a look around, they have lots of beds too... like this modern metal one right here.”

I said “Okay, I’ll buy it.”  Shawn said “No I didn’t mean for you to buy the first thing you looked at, I was just saying--”   I said “Shawn, you can stop with the hard sell!  You convinced me!”  

Some things you just know.   Smile 

mattress topperMy mattress is low to the ground (as it sits on wooden slats instead of box springs) so I bought this lofty mattress topper which worked out even better than I’d expected

It (and my neighbor Angela, I’ll get to her in a moment) reminded me of an earlier ‘bed shopping’ experience from 2002, when I realized I might wind up single for a long time.  At the time, I’d been seeing someone for almost a year.  We both worked downtown, often had lunch together and one day I accompanied her to Kaufmann’s, where her & her mom had recently bought a new recliner for her grandmother.

While she was giving delivery instructions to the salesman, I was wandering the furniture aisles & happened upon a Scandinavian bedroom set.  It was very clean, very maple & looked like it came straight from the set of Frasier Crane’s apartment.  Man, I just loved it.  My girlfriend found me and when I asked what she thought of it, she wrinkled her nose and shook her head no.  She said “You want to see my dream bed?  C’mon over here.”

I followed her across the floor to the “Dark Side”, where big, lumbering traditional things lay in wait.  She stopped in front of a gargantuan four poster bed—a dark mahogany monstrosity with 4 posts that must’ve went 8 feet high, each one covered in ornate scallops & curliques.  She turned around and said “Well?”

I thought she was pulling my leg.  I said “It looks like something that belonged to the Tsar of Russia… you could hang a sign above the headboard, ‘Rasputin Slept Here’.”   Her face got red and she said “What!!!”  

evil bedThe Evil Bed looked something like this, but larger and more menacing

It was right then that her salesman came over and asked if we were shopping for a bedroom suite (we weren’t).  But she told him “I like traditional things, I love this bed.  He likes the stuff you see in mobile homes!” 

I said “That litle boy Damien, in The Omen?  I think he was conceived in this bed.”  

The salesman was laughing now, nudged her and said “maybe you should tell him who REALLY decides what furniture goes in the house.”  Her mood lightened then and she said “That’s right but you’re supposed to keep that a secret!”  and they both laughed.   I looked at the bed again and trembled at it’s madness.

Later that afternoon, after we’d returned to our respective offices, she sent me an email. “I’m really bothered you didn’t like that bed.  The husband isn’t supposed to even care, he just lets the wife choose.”  I replied “If the time ever comes, I’m sure we could find a compromise.”   She answered “I’ve been married before, I’m through compromising.”  

Good to know.  A few months later, we’d be through too.

Back to the present, today is Laundry Day—well, for me at least.  Every floor in my building has a laundry room, with a weekly schedule on the wall and each day broken into three 4 hour shifts.  (My time for the washer & dryer is Mondays, 12-4pm.  The block before mine, 8am-12 noon hasn’t been claimed so it’s a ‘free for all’.)  

When I took my laundry down today, I found a pair of women’s black undies in the dryer and a laundry card in the dryer’s slot.  (You pay to use the machines with a refillable ‘debit card’.)  That card & underwear could’ve belonged to anybody, but I had a feeling it belonged to Angela, who lives here with her husband Mark and often tries to get a load done before I come down at noon.  (If she goes over 12 noon by even a minute, she tacks a post-it on the washer with a smiley-face and “Sorry” written underneath.)   So I took both items down to her apartment & asked if they were hers.  

She said “Omigod, thank you!  I love how friendly & honest everyone here is!”   Taking a peek over her shoulder, I said “We’re nosy too—can I ask what that colorful object is on your wall?”   She said “Oh sure, come in and take a look!  It’s an African mosaic, it belonged to my grandmother.”  As I looked about, I said “Wow this place is so cool.  You have great taste.” 

Angela said “Thank you!  But if you saw our bedroom—here, look.”  She opened her door and I saw a stack of boxes in one corner, clothes piled on top and a mattress & box spring in the center.   She said “We haven’t decided on our bedroom furniture yet.  I found something I want on Wayfair, but Mark doesn’t like it… yet.” 

Good luck you two. Smile 

native american cover