Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

April 23, 2017
by funny
3 Comments

Peace in the War Zone(?)

Aw, c’mon…We live in Arizona. 80 degrees leaves a guy shivering!

So some guy was shot dead just around the corner last night — over by the freeway, but still within walking distance of the Funny Farm. That would explain the excited burst of cop sirens along about 9 p.m.

Blasts of alarm have become so commonplace I no longer pay much attention to them. If the cop helicopters take up residence directly over my block, yeah…I’ll get up and lock the doors. Otherwise…please, dudes: make my day.

Occasionally (well, we could say more like about once every three days), I reflect that it’s probably past time for me to look for housing in some quieter part of town. Or of the state. I suspect that one reason my (former) mother-in-law has lived to 103 is that she dwells in peace: Grand Junction is about as quiet and laid-back as it gets. She hasn’t been subjected to a lot of environmental stress from traffic noise, cop and ambulance sirens, endless copter fly-overs, car alarms, house alarms, barking watchdogs…or, presumably, from daily newspaper reports of mayhem.

That kind of background stress has got to take a toll.

If you’re going to live in Arizona, the answer is to move away from Phoenix. The city, except for a few enclaves and the gentrification-engineering of the downtown district, has largely deteriorated into a gigantic slum. Areas that once were modest middle-class/working-class areas are now mostly working poor or not-working-at-all. To give you an idea: teacher pay (these areas were places where public school teachers would live) is now so low here that the state cannot hire or retain teachers at all. Some districts have no senior staff; most teachers leave the trade after three or four years.

The result of right-to-work-for-nothing laws is that you end up with large segments of your society living in poverty. And poverty, alas, brings with it drugs, alcohol, psychological suffering, and crime. Hence: a neighborhood shopping center where you dare not carry your purse across the parking lot, or where the residents drive miles away from home to buy their groceries at safer venues; people getting shot dead on the street corners; and criminals moving into your neighborhood.

The other day the dogs and I were walking over in Richistan when abruptly we came face-to-face with two of the scariest dudes I’ve seen in a long time. One of them…well…you know how some men get a certain “look” about them after they’ve been in prison for awhile? They put on weight because of the bad food (which they’d probably eat on the street anyway), but they also put on muscle because they pass the time working out; they also take on a kind of self-defensive aggressive demeanor that can be distinctive. One might even say…heh!…arresting.

Well, one of them looked like that: the biggest, baddest dude in town! 🙂

The other was a smaller, fairly slender punk riding a bike that was too small for him — i.e., it no doubt had been lifted out of someone’s yard. It was 80+ degrees and he had on a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head, hiding his face. Uh huh…a man has to keep warm, eh?

They had a big old bloodhound with them. It wanted to go after the corgis, but the big bruiser kept it under control. He was polite and well-mannered — his companion was reclusive, but the tank came across like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. It was painfully obvious that they were casing the neighborhood, looking for the best houses to burgle.

There’s a Humane Society shelter just up the road. These guys go to the shelter, “adopt” a dog, and use it as a ruse: they’re “walking the dog” while they’re checking out your house to rip off. So: no question that was what was going on.

The problem with moving out of Phoenix to someplace quieter and ostensibly safer is…well, there are two problems:

a) The suburbs, home of white flight, are now ALL homeowner’s associations. Developers build their tracts as HOAs, and they stay HOAs. I do not want to live in an HOA. I have enough layers of government to deal with, thank you very much; I don’t need another bunch of busybodies bossing me around.

Nor, just between you and me and the lamp-post, do I especially want to live in a lily-white ghetto. Weirdly enough, I happen to like a little diversity in my surroundings.

b) They are halfway to California. They’re so far away from anything that, like my friend KJG, you find yourself driving until you’re blue in the face any time you want to shop or meet your friends or go to any events. I don’t want to live on the road to Mandalay, thank you.

Smaller towns here are poorly provided with infrastructure. Medical care in Arizona, by and large, isn’t great to start with. In a place like, say, Yarnell or Patagonia, it’s nonexistent. You live there at your risk…especially as you get to the heart attack age. And most small towns in Arizona are pretty grody: you want to see poverty here, you visit the rural areas.

Arizona’s closest approximation of MiL’s home town, Grand Junction — the largest town on Colorado’s Western Slope — is Prescott. And it surely is a nice little burg. A little touristy, but not excessively so: it also has a Costco and grocery stores that serve real people who really live there. It has a few decent restaurants, and it has a cultural life of sorts.

But it’s not cheap to live there. Housing prices are fairly high, and the cost of gasoline and groceries is significantly higher than in the big city. And there, too: although the county medical center is one of the three best in the state, that actually ain’t sayin’ much. It’s hot in the summer — cooler than here, but still warm enough to need air conditioning — and cold enough in the winter that it sometimes snows, meaning you couldn’t get away with leaving the heat off all winter long, the way I do here. And there’s a chronic water shortage. So utility bills would be significantly higher.

Plus of course the cost of moving house takes your breath away.

So I dunno…I probably don’t want to move away. But if my son didn’t live here…if I didn’t have the church choir…I surely would.

Image: DepositPhotos © Xalanx

April 22, 2017
by funny
2 Comments

Work: Business, Yard, Dogs, House

Business Work

Another large job shipped off to the client in China. Huzzah! Subjected the thing to one last, fast read-through this morning and found still more glitches to fix…some of them induced by moi. I think it’s pretty clean now. It had better be, because by now it will have winged its way across the planet and alighted in Beijing.

I’m not charging anywhere near enough for this project, given the amount of time it took — that’s because (by way of saving a few yuan) he asked me not to edit the references section. That’s redeemed the fact that it’s really a pretty interesting project. And evidently a cornerstone of these folks’ careers: they’ve been gathering data for a number of years.

Today another big project is supposed to come in from yet another client on a ball-busting deadline. So far, no sign of it, so that gives a few minutes to waste on, oh, say…blogging.

Yard Work

Ruby and Cassie and (yes) Charley are going batshit in the living room, yapping at Luis, who’s engaged in one of his monumental tree clean-up projects. This house is like a forest, what with all the shrubbery. Come springtime the paloverde and the palo brea and the Texas ebony and the surviving devilpod tree and the desert willow and the yellow oleander and the olive trees and the mountain laurel and the vitex need to be gently, knowledgeably thinned so that the monster summer winds won’t break off limbs and toss them onto the house. Or onto the neighbor’s house.

Luis is an artist. He never wields a power tool. He climbs up on ladders or into the trees and prunes out the wild stuff by hand. The trees look gorgeous by the time he’s done, and they retain plenty of foliage to shade their branches and trunks from the searing midsummer sun.

And he is, thank God, back. When I called a few weeks ago, I reached a woman who said he was in Mexico.

Uh oh.

Paloverde & mesquite are all wildly in bloom now

Naturally, I figured he’d been deported in the latest wave of jingoism, and that would be the last we’d see of a very wonderful man. And he is a good man. Having enjoyed more than my share of men, I recognize a good one when I see him. This is one of ’em.

But no! The other day, there he was on the phone. So…either he’s legal, or he knows a dependable way to get back across the border. He said he’d had to go into Mexico because his father, in his 80s, developed pneumonia and they didn’t know whether the old man would make it.

So hallelujah brothers and sisters! He showed up at 6 a.m. Three and a half hours later, he’s still wrestling with the jungle in the front yard. He hasn’t even gotten around to the back yard.

Gerardo, another at-risk artisan IMHO, is supposed to come by this afternoon. He called last night and announced he intended to show up this morning. I try to hide Luis from Gerardo, because I know Gerardo considers my yard to be part of his domain and doesn’t like it much that I hire someone else to do the trees. But Gerardo is a yard dude; an arborist, he ain’t. In the course of putting him off, I ended up having to fess ‘up that the trees were getting trimmed this morning. He said he’d come by around 1:00, which translates freely to about 3:00 p.m. I’ll have to give him something extra — money for sure; a gift of some kind if I can dream one up — to assuage his feelings.

Cleaned the pool again this morning. I believe the water is now warm enough to get into, which I will do later today after all the men are out of my hair.

For reasons that aren’t altogether clear, the infestation of mustard algae seems to have died off. Speculation: that particular efflorescence must have effloresced when I got out of the habit of brushing the walls and steps several times a week, in the aftermath of the year of annoying surgeries. It doesn’t really have to be brushed every day…but it does need some attention more than, say, once a month. Or so. This winter I did feel well enough to bestir myself to attend to the pool now again, and as it’s warmed up, I’ve been brushing it down almost daily. It looks incredibly good…especially considering the aged plaster job.

So, I may be able to put off the plastering job to another year. Hope so, because according to my calculations, I will end my personal 2016-17 fiscal year with $706 in the bank… Less than that, no doubt, since Luis will charge $500 or $600 for spending his entire day swinging from tree limbs. Or at least, he surely should.

Pray for more editorial work. A lot more editorial work…

Dog Work, Etc.

Complicating matters, Charley the Golden Retriever is here, my son — his human — having hit the road for Colorado, there to visit his grandmother for her 103rd birthday.

A hundred and three. Can you imagine?

Well, I suppose having one grandmother survive into her advanced dotage makes up for having the other one die before he was born. Oh well. Of the two, I’d far prefer to have had my own mother lurking in the background for him…but that’s probably just daughter-in-law bitchiness.

At any rate, it’s nice to have Charley here. I like having a dog that’s tall enough to pet without bending over. Also, the deep roaring bark that comes out only (uhm…mostly) when there’s actually something to bark at has its advantages over endless midget-dog yapping. Sometimes you just want a dog who sounds like he means business. When he means business.

House Work

So now I’ve got to get the appliance repairman over here. If it’s not one damnfool thing it’s another. The dishwasher has taken to making an ominous noise. Said noise gets louder and louder, rising from a growl to a near roar — especially when the machine first comes on.

The repairman that B&B Appliances put me on to — that would be the guy who refrained from ripping me off for another $500 by cluing me that the problem with the damned wall oven was not the circuit board but loose wiring — has the unbelievable chutzpah to knock off on Saturday. So I’ll have to call him on Monday.

Finally got around to tucking some of the newly made compost in around the calla lily…and by the way, trimming off the dead stuff. I’m hopelessly lazy, no question of that.

Tomorrow and Monday I must remember to drive down to my son’s house and water his plants. With the temps in the 100s, anything in a pot has to be watered every day to keep it from frying.

Speaking of frying, look what I found at Fry’s!

Ever since I broke the last of the large German shepherd bowls, I’ve been needing a dog bowl large enough to accommodate a golden retriever. In 100-degree weather, the two smaller bowls that suffice for Cassie and Ruby run dry when Charley is around.

Fry’s had them on a two-for-one sale (i.e., these things are worth about a third of what we’re asking, so take two of them off our hands — please!). So I grabbed two: one to hold enough water for him and one for his food. They’re huge and they’re heavy and they could NOT be better for dogs. 🙂

And So, Away…

Cox once again is dragging. Fiddling with the wireless connection is pissing me off intolerably, and so I am going to knock off. Soon, I may knock off Cox, too: learned from both my friends yesterday that they, in their respective widely separated parts of town, also have annoying connectivity problems…as well as bills that get bigger and bigger for lesser and lesser service.

There’s an outfit in Scottsdale that caters to small businesses. I’m thinking I may find out how much they charge. If it’s not a lot more than Cox, I may just make the switch. Better to pay a little more for better service than to be constantly aggravated and frustrated with wireless that just…doesn’t…work.

 

April 20, 2017
by funny
4 Comments

More Money than Taste…Adventures in Scottsdale

Taste: New Business Club Venue

So this morning it was off to a Denny’s for the weekly meeting of the Scottsdale Business Association. This greasy spoon locates itself in Darkest Scottsdale, just off the 101 on Indian Bend, almost adjacent to the Pima Reservation.

For years, we met at The Good Egg at Hilton Village, a formerly upscale strip shopping center now trending to (for Scottsdale) down-at-the-heels. All the serious Richerati have moved north, leaving their formerly fancy digs to aging middle class types who favor joints like Trader Joe’s and My Sister’s Closet.

The Good Egg was an OK place for our get-togethers: it had the advantages of a central location and a veteran waitress whom we all loved. And it had a little alcove where we could sit around a long table (cobbled together with little restaurant tables) in relative privacy. It wasn’t great — the food was mediocre and the coffee was dreadful — but it sufficed.

However, after the Egg was purchased by First Watch, things took a sharp southerly turn. They changed the menu choices, in some ways for the better, but the cooks seem not to have enjoyed any additional training. They replaced the plates with these big square (ostensibly stylish) things that take up so much room on the table it makes eating pretty clumsy, and they cheapied down the amount of food they put on the plates. The coffee went from the Egg’s “bad” to “even worse,” something that can only be described as an amazing achievement in reverse customer satisfaction. They redecorated and in doing so covered one of the walls with stupid-looking fake antique tin ceiling tiles, which not only look horrible but bounce decibels and jack up the noise level. And they honed the staff’s customer disservice skills. The manager quit and went to another restaurant. Our beloved waitress stayed but seemed to grow unhappy and distant.

We began looking for another place to meet. We tried several restaurants, one of which had wonderful food (a real rarity in an American coffee-shop type eatery) but whose seating left much to be desired.

Others seemed to offer no improvement or simply cost too much — one place wanted to gouge us extra unless everyone ordered an expensive breakfast entrée. Since two of us don’t eat much at breakfast and since none of us wanted to pay upwards of 12 bucks for a few pancakes whipped up from a mix, that outfit lost.

I personally haven’t been in a Denny’s in years, not after they served up a cup of coffee in a mug bearing some woman’s bright red lipstick. When I asked for a clean cup, the idiot waitress refused to replace it! So that was it for me, where Denny’s was concerned.

But everyone else in the group liked the place; so it was go there or quit the club. Besides, it’s in Scottsdale, not in grody mid-town Phoenix.

To my surprise, the joint is much improved over the old Denny’s on Camelback, which was pretty much a true greasy spoon. And the service was excellent: the waitress was running her feet off. The booth where they put us, not realizing we intended to descend on them en masse, was comfortable, and the ambient noise level was low enough that all 12 of us could hear ourselves talk.

And amazingly, the food was not too toxic. The coffee was OK (one helluva lot more than you can say for First Watch), and the food seemed more than adequate — and abundant. My friend Steve sat next to me; he ordered his usual bacon and scrambled egg combo: the bacon was crisp but not overcooked (last week at First Watch I noticed they served him several strips of black stuff) and neither were the eggs.

So we’ll be going back there. We now have a standing reservation for the back room.

Taste: Furniture

The Pavilions, where the Denny’s in question is housed, is a sprawling shopping center that climbs over a couple of main drags. There is a lot of commerce around there. As we were standing around after breakfast chatting, I noticed a Front Gate Outlet.

Front Gate is an upscale furniture retailer. They sell a lot through a catalogue, and the prices are in the “if you have to ask” range. But…hm? An “outlet”?

So after we broke up, I went over there to check it out.

Really. Some people really do have more money than taste. And Scottsdale is the home of the more monied than tasteful.

You never saw such ugleeee furniture in your life: big, clunky, dark, looming stuff, and not a stick of it inviting to sit down in or to eat off of or to store your tchochkes in. Uglee outdoor furniture. Uglee indoor furniture. Uglee area rugs. Uglee bedding sets. Uglee everything!

Sat down in one curious-looking chair and found it so uncomfortable I couldn’t imagine why anyone would buy it.

And the prices? Take your breath away. $3500 for a nothing-special leather sofa that you could get at Macy’s for $1800.

Tastes: Grocery stores

Well, one advantage of schlepping that far across the city is that the easiest way to get there is across Shea Boulevard. Though the trip will burn a lot of gas, ultimately it may save gas, because it takes me right by all the stores I usually shop at.

There’s a Home Depot in the Pavilions — you could walk there from the Denny’s. There’s also a Target in that shopping center.

And at Tatum and Shea there’s an Albertson’s, a Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, a Penzey’s, and a gigantic Fry’s mega-supermarket.

So, in theory, if one were to assiduously maintain one’s shopping lists, one could do all of one’s shopping on the way home from this weekly meeting.

That would go a very long way toward keeping me out of Costco, and it also would mean I wouldn’t have to drive from pillar to post to get all the food and household items I favor. Hell, I’d already be at pillar and post.

Images:
Denny’s in Texas:
Billy Hathorn CC BY-SA 3.0
Armchair: Deposit photos: © AnatolyM

April 19, 2017
by funny
0 comments

For the Love of Chinese Scholars

Chinese Scholarship in a Worldwide Context

It’s a lovely day today, warming up enough that soon the pool will be eminently swimmable. I’ve finished my scheduled allotment of Chinese-to-English edits and read about a third of an Iraqi woman’s memoir that I’d agreed to “beta-read” some time back. And now I’m thinking I’d like a beer but don’t want to have a beer without dinner and feel too lazy to fix a dinner and so probably will refrain from the beer.

“Beta-read”: That means read it (usually for free) and critique it without editing it. Both of these works are extremely interesting.

The current team of Chinese economists did an elaborate study of the inner workings that create stress in successful multinational corporations when they attempt to list themselves on international stock exchanges. These stresses are significant and, from what I can grasp, may even go so far as to threaten the company’s existence.

They stem from cultural ideas about money, about business, and about government that differ radically between East and West. In China, the government itself — or the Party — has what amounts to a stakeholder’s interest in certain kinds of major corporations. The upshot of this is that any time, some part of the corporation’s board of directors will be government functionaries.

These folks will be there to help insure that the corporation’s ethos stays focused on the culture’s accepted view of a company’s raison d’etre. In the West, a business — particularly an incorporated one — exists to make money and to enrich its stockholders. In China, well…yeah, that’s all well and good. Obviously a company exists to succeed and thereby will make money; but it also has a duty to support the mores and the progress of the country (i.e., the government) itself. Part of that involves taking care of the employees; there are other implications, too.

That alone would be regarded as a conflict of interest in most Western countries (at least, those that don’t have Donald Trump at the helm… 😉 ). You can imagine the potential for corruption, as you can imagine the frowning-upon by a stock exchange such as NYSE.

So what ensues when a company gets listed on an international stock exchange such as the NYSE is an intense conflict of values brought to bear on the firm’s management and leadership. The outcome of that can, in theory, be poor decisions, paralysis of decision-making, getting crosswise with the government or public opinion, and on and on. In some respects this conflict may weaken the company, in the same way that having to deal with excessive bureaucratic bullshit can weaken a business in the US. It certainly does nothing to make life easy for the company’s management.

They interviewed a number of upper-level executives in various departments of their subject corporations. The remarks these guys make on the subject are very interesting.

Speaking of Business

This paper and a second one coming in this weekend, plus a little income from the blog, will just about make this month’s revenue goal for The Copyeditor’s Desk. If this continues through December, there will be enough to distribute a little dividend.

And that, I hope, can be put toward shoring up the shack. Now not only does the pool need to be replastered, but the back wall is starting to lean. It will need to be (expensively) repaired.

Thanks to the rolling box of computers new car, instead of $2,000 to $4,000 left at the end of this fiscal year, I figure about $700 will remain from this year’s RMD. That, alas, is not good.

It’s way too close a margin for survival, and it doesn’t come anywhere near leaving enough to cover the growing number of fix-up jobs the house needs.

So that makes Chinese scholarship look even more interesting!

April 17, 2017
by funny
3 Comments

It Lives!

As if Dr. Frankenstein plugged in the electric cord… Or maybe whatever parasites were making me sick fell over dead in their legions, like the ailing Martians in War of the Worlds. Suddenly today I felt well enough and had enough energy to confront and conquer a slew tasks that have gone undone for the past six weeks, sitting there and slowly expanding in the manner of mold at the back of the fridge.

Yes. Done today:

Walk the dogs
Clean and backwash the pool
Repair the runners on the outdoor rocking chairs (again)
Glue busted things on said chairs and the metal chairs in front
Write a blog post
Do battle trying to post a link on annoying Facebook
Do battle with Cox, whose $150 modem-router-in-one does nothing to improve the connectivity issue; get them to agree to send another guy to try to fix whatever the problem is
Trim mesquite tree, Luis having fled to Mexico
Cut back the shrubbery around the pool so as to make it possible to clean the pool
Haul pile of debris to alley
Clean out the refrigerator(!!)
Drag plastic trashcan full of garbage to the alley
Clean out the freezer (one of them)
Drag another mountain of trash to garbage
Run emptied containers through the dishwasher
Launder clothes; hang up to dry
Wash fancy Ziploc plastic bags; hang up to dry
Enter data from bank in Excel
Negotiate with potential new client: 12,000 words of Chinglish in 5 days??? Seriously?
Iron clothes
Find lost document, re-send to client
Even write a few words on the proposed new novel

It’s weird. Because every day for the past six weeks or so, along about two in the afternoon I’ve submerged beneath a wave of fatigue: abruptly, as if at a signal, so tired all I could do was crawl into the sack. Today I’ve been flying like a Roman candle since I got up at 5:30.

Oh well. Enough’s enough.

April 17, 2017
by funny
0 comments

Amazing Easter

So I hope you had a Happy Easter this spring, if that celebration happens to be applicable to you. This spring, I have to tellya: our church’s choir director, professional singers, and clergy outdid themselves. What an amazing performance on Easter Eve and then again on Easter morning.

The Easter Eve service is always more or less the same — a strange, wonderful, and dramatic series of traditions that involves lighting an elaborate candle with the flame from a blessed bonfire, a procession and lengthy chanting in the dark, lighting of parishioner’s candles, a Litany of the Saints (also in the dark, with the choir marching around by candlelight), recitation of a sermon by St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407), a communion — oh, and by the way, a couple of baptisms. All of this conducted by clergy decked out in gold-embroidered crimson robes.

The effect of the Easter Eve service was just jaw-dropping. At one point I could not refrain from saying aloud, “What an astonishing religion!” My friend who sits next to me (we’re still in the choir loft at this point) is herself an ordained minister. She also looked astonished. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “I’ve been with the church for a long time, and I’ve never seen anything as amazing as this.”

On Good Friday, after the Stations of the Cross, we sang Paul Mealor’s Stabat Mater, a pretty amazing piece of music. Yesterday — Easter — we sang Rutter’s Gloria, even more amazing and, to my mind, very challenging. Our director recruited a group of brass players (!) to accompany the full choir — that would be the professional chamber choir plus us of the sing-along set, and he also arranged a string section to accompany the chamber choir, which sang at the early service.

The Chamber Choir sang Pawel Lukaszewski’s Responsoria Tenebrae, an astonishingly complex work, a kind of choral tapestry.

All in all, it was an awe-inspiring accomplishment on the part of our choir director and clergy.

If you love classical music and vocal performance of ecclesiastical music and you’re in the Phoenix area, you need to visit All Saints Episcopal Church during its music season, which runs from fall through spring. Don’t miss it!

6300 North Central Avenue
Just south of Maryland on Central