Funny about Money

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

June 7, 2018
by funny
7 Comments

Losing the Visa Card but Keeping Costco

You may recall that when Costco dropped American Express and switched all its customers over to Citibank’s Visa card, I demurred — having enjoyed Citibank’s customer disservice in the past and had a bellyful. Instead, I decided to opt the wondrous benefits that attach to the Costco Visa card (which, it must be allowed, are considerable) and stick with a Visa card issued through my credit union.

This has worked OK. The CU’s Visa card even offers a few kickbacks, though of course nothing as generous as the Costco card provides.

But there have been a few problems. The biggest one has been getting the bills paid on time.

Item: When you use the credit union’s online bill-pay service — which should be transferring the payment electronically — the CU in fact pays Visa with a freaking paper check sent by snail-mail!!

This means it takes some ten days to arrive in Visa’s precincts. And then it takes another day or two for the check(!) to clear Visa’s bank. So if, say, the due date is April 10 and the check arrives there on April 10, payment is considered late!

The envelopes in which the CU-branded bills arrive are so discreet as to be practically incognito. It’s not obvious at first glance that a Visa statement (or any financial document) is inside. So it’s possible to simply miss an incoming statement, if you’re not paying attention.

I have paper statements sent as signals that it’s time to pony up some cash. This I favor over electronic statements, because a) my incoming email is a freaking NONSTOP tsunami, and sooner or later an electronic blat will get lost; and b) things computer make me tear my hair out. I do not want to deal with any more than I’ve already got, thank you.

So, if a statement doesn’t get here, chances are I will miss a payment.

This happened last month. The May statement seems to have been lost in the mail, and I never noticed that it hadn’t come and so hadn’t been paid.

This week, in comes a snarling wallop upside the head from Visa, saying they not only are gouging me $25 as a late payment penalty, they also are reporting me to all three credit bureaus as delinquent.

This morning I call and ask to get this reversed, which you usually can do if you don’t try it very often. WonderAccountant says most credit-card vendors will forgive one lapse a year.

Not so this outfit. The guy I reached, who sounded like a sweet enough young fella, said there was not a thing he could do about it. He pretended to absent himself long enough to make it look like he was talking to a boss, then came back on the line and said there was nothing they could do to reverse or undo the black blot with the credit bureau.

So I had to get in the car, traipse across the city to the credit union, and talk with the manager in person.

Forthwith, she got the late charge reversed and arranged to pay the bill in full. I said I wanted to close the account. She suggested not doing that. And yeah, I do know you really shouldn’t close a credit card account, because just closing it — whether or not a dispute is involved — will ding your credit rating. She did say that the credit ding was not slated to go through until the 22nd, and since we’re a long way from that date, there should be no report to the damned credit bureaus.

Okay. Well, that’s fine: I still have an active card. But there’s no way they can make me use it. It’s now in a file folder, hidden in a drawer.

In passing, I considered opening a Citibank Costco card, which after all would provide some rich kickbacks. But that is going to be a major hassle, with all the freezes on the three credit bureaus. When I talked with Citibank over the phone yesterday, their rep said they could not know which of the three credit bureaus they would use — apparently their software rotates among them  at random. So this would mean I would have to apply; then sit by the phone till I got a call from Citibank; then call the specified credit bureau; then demand a temporary lift of the freeze.

Yeah. Right.

Well, to start with, I have only one phone number that reaches a human (or did, the last time I called), and that’s with Experian. Trying to get through to those people is a headache of migraine intensity; as for the others…don’t even ask.

So. That leaves me with a Visa debit card, which I decidedly do not want to use at Costco’s gas pumps (or anyone else’s) and would prefer not to use at all.

Hm.

I spend way too much money at Costco, AKA “Impulse Buy Hell.” Matter of fact, over the past six months, I’ve averaged $332 a month in store purchases and $36 a month in gasoline.

Really, that’s not all that terrible when you realize I buy most of my clothing there, most of my food (I don’t eat out, so this is significantly less than $10/day), ingredients for the dog’s spectacularly expensive DIY food, all my personal products, and most of my household goods. And a fair amount of the S-corp’s office supplies.

Still. I suspect that if I weren’t packing a credit card every time I shop there, I could cut the spending. A lot.

Sure don’t want to write checks, and I sure don’t want to have that much cash around.

So. I think what I’m going to do is this:

Figure out what would be a reasonable monthly budget for all those necessaries, absent the impulse buys. Let’s say about $275, maybe $300 at the outside. Add on enough to cover gasoline — around $40 just now, but rising fast. Then go into the store at the start of the month and buy a Costco cash card in the amount of, say, $340.

Be more careful about purchases…knowing there’s a palpable upper limit will help a lot with that. Use it till it’s gone, and then stop buying there until the next month. Or if push comes to shove, pay for any serious necessaries with the debit card.

I refuse to put a debit card into a gas pump, nor will I use one at a restaurant — there just aren’t enough consumer protections against theft. But the occasional restaurants I visit always accept AMEX, and if the tank runs dry after I run out of dollars on the cash card, I’ll just pay a couple bucks more to buy at a gas station that takes AMEX.

It’s really not that much hassle. If memory serves, the last time I bought a cash card I was able to get it at the regular checkout register, rather than having to stand in a different line. But even if you do have to buy from the customer service desk, so what? It’s not that big a deal.

I guess…

June 7, 2018
by funny
0 comments

Facebook: How’s Life without It?

Better, much better. No question: Life is better without Facebook.

Tuesday — day before yesterday — a ton of work got done in the absence of the FB distraction. Instead of getting sucked in at the crack of dawn, the dogs and I were out the door before 6 a.m. (And today, by 5 a.m.) Tuesday I finished chapter 20 of Ella’s Story and yesterday wrote chapter 21. Tuesday, too, provided time to drill holes in the ground around the paloverde tree and dose the monster tree-eating paloverde beetles’ grubs with insecticide.

Facebook pesters you with endless “notifications” of every hiccup emitted by any and all “friends.” These come in by email, which I was diverting into Apple Mail’s “Trash” so as to keep the flood of trivia from distracting from more important messages. In just a few days, well over 200 messages had accrued. These I deleted in mass today, since I surely didn’t have time to read them and, even if I did, FB won’t let me respond to them anyway. Fortunately, before the last one was disappeared I spotted the sub-microscopic “unsubscribe” link, which I hope will stem the flood.

Yet another report from Reuters describes Congress’s alarm at Facebook’s generous habits of sharing your personal data with whoever has a dime to pay — this time with a huge Chinese social media company, among others. “Chinese telecommunications companies,” the news agency observes, “have come under scrutiny from U.S. intelligence officials who argue they provide an opportunity for foreign espionage and threaten critical U.S. infrastructure…”

Ugh! Truly, I regret ever having signed up for the platform. What sleaze!

The issues are that Facebook invades its users’ privacy, shares personal data ad lib, exploits your curiosity and your desire to stay in touch with friends, and engages in practices antithetical to U.S. security — to say nothing of the individual user’s security. On a more local level: it expands to fill all corners in your life, occupying undue amounts of time.

To say life is better without it is to understate.

June 6, 2018
by funny
7 Comments

Back to the Future…Again

Yes. If you can recall a 1950s standard of living, you will sense that thataway does appear to be the way we’re headed: back to what was once the future. Wonders of the Internet aside — the glories of turning on your air-conditioning with your Dick Tracy Two Way Wrist Radio while you’re navigating your way home from the office with your car’s GPS (like you can’t remember how to get home?), the awesome Ring-enabled joys of watching a porch pirate steal your Amazon package off your doorstep — all those marvels notwithstanding, our real standard of living is slipping. We are skateboarding not toward Hell, my friends, but toward the Third World.

Can you, for example, compare Donald Trump with Dwight Eisenhower? Not a chance. God help us, even Ronald Reagan looks First-World by comparison. Neither Eisenhower nor Reagan tried to be anything other than a president; nor would they ever have aspired to the rank of wannabe Balkan dictator.

But we digress. National and international predicaments aside, IMHO our personal standard of living is slipping. None of the shiny baubles can change some fundamental facts:

You can’t afford health insurance unless you earn about 15 times more than your father earned. Inflation-adjusted.

Your washing machine doesn’t work. It pretends to work, but it doesn’t get your clothes clean and it delivers them, complete with rips and tears, in a knotted wad.

Your car is over-gadgeted and underpowered, unless you paid through the schnozzola for a six-banger, and even then…well… Ever seen a plasticized car with the heft of a Styrofoam cup go airborne?

Your kids’ education is a joke.

Quite possibly the university-level education that you are still paying for(!) is a joke.

You can’t buy an appliance, a piece of plumbing, or a set of daily-wear clothing that wasn’t made in China or Bangladesh or some other sub-minimum wage waypoint.

And consequently you or your semi-delinquent kid whose head hurts when he’s made to sit in a classroom or stare at computer code for hours on end cannot get a factory job that will support even one person, to say nothing of a family.

Your kids have a rubber-stamp education from a public school staffed by underpaid teachers because both of you have to work to keep a roof over your head, meaning no parent is home to oversee the kids’ learning and recreational activities.

Drug abuse and untreated mental illness and poverty are so rampant in this country that you can’t go anywhere without being accosted by beggars. Not even Upper Richistan is free of panhandlers on every corner.

Reactionary forces now working to eliminate Social Security and Medicare will have accomplished their goals by the time your kids have grown up. This will mean that in their old age the kids will have to fend for themselves, likely through dire poverty, just as their great-great grandparents did. They themselves may end up begging on the corner.

Yea verily, if you’re not balancing on the edge of the grave just now, your adult kids will likely have to help support you in your old age as programs that kept your parents and grandparents out of old-age poverty go away. Well. Assuming the kids can get a job, that is. Could go the other way around: you may have to help them through your old age, and only God can help them if you use up your savings before you can pass it along to them.

Whence this rant?

The dishwasher, that’s whence. Once again we are presented, as we contemplate replacing it, with an array of household appliances that don’t work and that are engineered to crap out in about five to seven years.

When I moved into this house, 14 years ago, I replaced the previous owners’ leaking Kenmore with a Bosch. I could afford it: I had a job. Remember those?

It has been an excellent machine. Despite one minor annoyance — European dishwashers don’t automatically run a “dry” cycle, so anything that’s not placed at an angle on a rack will come out dripping water — it’s every bit as quiet as advertised, it has run reliably with minimal need for repairs, and it cleans the dishes well without requiring you to prewash everything.

Lately it has developed a weird and increasingly LOUD noise. We — i.e., the guys down at B&B Appliance and I — are hoping the problem is “just” (heh) the water pump, in which case it can be repaired and probably will run a few more months or maybe even years. But if it’s the motor’s bearings, then, oh joy, I’ll have to buy a new dishwasher.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

During the past few dishwasher-deprived days, I’ve (naturally) been washing dishes by hand. This morning it took something under three minutes to wash the breakfast dishes.

You know…that machine takes something like two hours to wash a load of dishes.

Yeah, it probably gets them cleaner than I do. But it’s easy enough to sanitize a rack-full of handwashed dishes: bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it over them.

That’s what my mother used to do.

I hate washing dishes. When I was a kid in the late 1950s, girls were expected to spend their lives as “home-makers”: taking care of a man, keeping his house clean, raising his kids, and tending to the suburban flower gardens. Indeed, girls were required to take home-making classes: I was made, by law, to take a year of home ec in junior high school and another semester of it in high school. So when I wanted to be studying physics and calculus, I was learning how buy groceries and plan healthy meals and clean carpets and sew a blouse and manage a budget.

That’s the way life was then.

Will we go back to that dichotomy between “men’s work” and “women’s work”? It’s hard to imagine. Yet somebody has to do these chores. If we throw out all the “illegal” immigrants (whose forebears lived in this part of the country long before white folks came along), then someone has to do them. What do you bet it won’t be the guys?

But again we digress.

The point here is that not only were the schools geared to train you up to be a good wife and mother, but your mother was expected to home-school you in these skills. And since mine also hated to wash dishes and clean house, as soon as I was old enough to pick up a dishrag she impressed me into duty has her de facto cleaning lady.

This was a good thing: I do know how to run a household. And interestingly, I know how to wash dishes. Very efficiently.

More efficiently than a dishwasher can do the job, come to think of it.

So…what I’m figuring is that if the B&B guy can get the Bosch working this morning, I will do the same thing I’ve done with the wall ovens: turn it off. Retire it, so that if and when I go to sell this house, it will appear to be operable to a home inspector.

Then I will not have to go out and buy another dishwasher.

How can I count the ways that I do not want to pony up $500 to $2,000 for yet another appliance that doesn’t work?

The dudes down at B&B, who are given to a certain alarming honesty, will tell you flat out that the new politically correct, environmentally correct rules have had the same effect on new dishwashers as they’ve had on the ludicrous “efficient” clothes washers: the damn things don’t work.

They recommend only one washer — a GE — as still competent to wash whatever you put in the top rack. And it lacks sound insulation, so of course you can’t turn it on when you want to watch TV or go to bed. Lovely.

Their repairman still likes Bosch. But those start at around $1,000. And we’ve seen with the hateful Samsung washer that money does not buy a working household appliance these days.

Even if it did, without a job I no longer can afford to pay that kind of money to replace an appliance. Or much of anything else.

With the oven likely to burn out any time you run the broiler or even turn it to 400 degrees, I have turned it off and left it off. And y’know what? I don’t miss it. The covered propane grill and a modestly priced countertop oven do every “oven” task I need to do, with no problem. I can even bake bread in these devices…without bringing on a repairman’s bill.

The last time I paid to have the oven fixed, I flipped its breaker switch to “off” and converted the thing to storage cabinets. Those two ovens (expensively combined in one unit) now hold cutting boards, large pots and pans, and the pizza pans that came with the new countertop oven.

Now, if you look at that dishwasher just right, what you see is the biggest dish-drying rack this side of the Park Sheraton. (Ah yes…another icon of the 1950s. We used to stay there when we came back to the US for my father’s long leaves…)

I don’t cook that much anymore. Most of the cooking I do takes place on the backyard grill — meaning I rarely gum up a pan, except to cook the dogs’ food every two or three weeks. So the truth is, washing the dishes is absurdly easy. And if you fill a sink or plastic bucket with some soapy water and drop the dishes into it as you go, you’re not exactly having to “wash” them, in the sense of “scrub.” Basically once you soak them clean all you have to do is wipe, rinse, and drain. Seriously: it’s not an exaggeration to say this morning’s breakfast dishes were done in under three minutes.

So. I’m thinking that if this machine needs to be replaced but can be fixed so as to limp along for a few more months, then I won’t replace it. Instead, same as the oven: repurpose it. The oven becomes new kitchen cabinetry; the dishwasher becomes a handy-dandy dish-drying rack.

And I revive my 1950s Happy Homemaker skills…

* * *

Exeunt the appliance repair dude…  Welp, the repair guy arrived bright and early. I must have been his first call this morning. That’s nice: now I can do some running around before it gets crushingly hot today.

Mercifully, the only thing wrong with the thing seems to have been clogged squirters on the top and bottom arms. He cleaned them out, using an amazing piece of high-tech gear: a short length of copper wire with the insulation scraped off one end. (Note to self: buy copper wire at HD.)

And away he went. The cost of a service call saved me from having to buy a new machine, or junk the one I’ve got and forget it.

Before this came up, I’d bought a bottle of one of those dishwasher cleaners that you put in the dinnerware rack, where the heat of the running washer melts a wax plug and then dispenses whatever gawdawful poisonous stuff they’ve sold you. These products do seem to clean the washer well. So…it’s running that stuff through a cycle right now, which will be the last cycle it’ll be asked to run for awhile.

My plan now is to wash the dishes by hand most of the time, but run the washer on the shortest cycle I can contrive (Bosch instructions are nigh unto inscrutable…) about once a week. Normally I only use it about once every two or three days. That’s why it’s lasted 14 years, virtually trouble-free. If I reduce its usage by about 50%, that presumably also will extend its life.

As long as its functional, I guess it should be run now and again. We’re told (elsewhere…and no, I’m not lookin’ it up right this minute 🙂 ) that the rubber gaskets in the bottom of a dishwasher shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.

That notwithstanding, SDXB uses his dishwasher as little as possible, and he doesn’t seem to have any gasket problem. He has a moral objection to dishwashers and refuses to use them, except after a large dinner party. He used to refuse to let me use mine, when he lived with me. That’s why he doesn’t anymore. Live with me, that is.

😉

June 4, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

A Balmy Day in Arizona

A chilly 107 degrees here today. When will we be able to put away the sweaters?

🙂

Actually, that’s about normal for lovely uptown Phoenix: a little warmer than it used to be at this time of year, but pretty much on target here where we’ve paved paradise and put up a whole lot of parking lots. Speaking of balmy.

Had a fairly balmy episode this morning — balmy as in wacksh!t. On the way out of the house to walk the dogs, a little after dawn, what should I see on the sidewalk outside the side gate to the courtyard but this, chalked on the sidewalk:

Hmmm…

X6 S0Φ9

???

Calculus?

Alien message to incoming fellow invaders?

Well, just a few days ago we were (again) told by some of the most flamboyant “journalists” on the planet — makers of Britain’s favorite tabloids — that burglars like to mark houses that they’ve targeted with hobo-style symbols, for the benefit of their accomplices. Don’t ask why any halfway bright burglar ring would do this when they all have cell phones. But whatEVER.

Anything’s believable when you’re being dragged up the street by two dwarf sheepdogs at five in the morning.

Suspicions were confirmed a bit later, when we ran into two BoB’s: burglars on bikes. This pair rides around on a couple of hot-looking bicycles — we use the word “hot” advisedly — conspicuously casing the locals’ homes. The two are so bold they don’t even try to be subtle about it. Undoubtedly they’ve placed the Funny Farm on their list.

😀

In the suspicions confirmed department: it is indeed impossible to get out of Costco for less than $200. That, after all, is a conservative estimate.

It was time for the monthly Costco Junket with my friends, ever a great adventure. The cupboards were about bare…the only shelves still furnished held toilet paper and paper towels. Steak, fish, chicken; veggies frozen, veggies fresh; fruit and berries fresh; nuts, bagged; maple syrup, packed in plastic fake jug; and…of course…one set of sheets.

Hey! How can you turn down a set of battleship-gray 100% cotton Kirkland sheets? Battleship gray, the height of style. Right up there with eye-searing white.

$300, all told.

😮

Meanwhile, speaking of phenomenal amounts of cash, the dishwasher has started making a weird noise when its water valve comes on. Dropped by B&B Appliances and learned that, yea verily, there are effectively no dishwashers being made anymore that actually get your dishes clean. With, that is, the possible exception of Bosch. Replacing the one I have will cost around $1,000. Not counting tax. Not counting installation.

When I bought the thing 14 years ago, I had a job and could afford these indulgences. Not so much, these days.

So it’s beginning to look like the future holds another Great Step Backward into our grandparents’ lifestyle: the dishwasher is about to become the most expensive dish draining rack in North America.

Oh well.

:-/

Various friends’ efforts to come up with schemes to get me reinstated in Facebook have proven fruitless. That comes under the heading of “no great loss.”

Absent Facebook, a great deal more productive work gets done. For a person who didn’t want to sign up for the thing to start with, I certainly got sucked in to diddling away a phenomenal amount of time.

Two of the three books I’ve been posting at Plain & Simple Press were already complete at the time the idea took form. But the third, Ella’s Story, was (and is) very much a work in progress.

By the time of the Great Exit, I’d posted most of the copy and was barely keeping up with the weekly “publication” scheme. But now I’m already two chapters ahead. And even managed, finally, to get Ella into the sack with her…friend.

At this rate I may actually finish the thing.

Well. If I ever figure out where it’s going.

June 4, 2018
by funny
0 comments

Ella’s Story…next chapter

Chapter 19 of Ella’s story is now online.

She looked up into Lohkeh’s deep blue eyes, so dark as to appear black most of the time. The garnet in his ear sparkled like a sly wink. And she realized she was hungry for something more than food from home.

{chortle!} The way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach…

Don’t miss it. And please plug it on Facebook, Twitter, and waypoints! 🙂

 

June 3, 2018
by funny
2 Comments

The Ah Hah! Moment: Claritin and Liver Toxicity

Ever have one of those moments when you wake out of a sound sleep thinking, “Ah Hah! Why didn’t I think of that before?” This morning I enjoyed just such a moment, when along about 4:30 I woke up with one single, crisp thought in mind: I wonder if there’s a connection between all that Claritin I’ve been taking and the elevated liver enzymes?

An hour later, I stumble out of the sack, let the dogs out, trot into the office, turn on the computer, and run a little search: loratidine and liver. And hallelujah, brothers and sisters…wouldn’cha know it?

Loratadine and desloratadine use are associated with a low rate of liver enzyme elevations which are usually asymptomatic, mild and self-limited even without modification of the dose.  In addition, rare instances of clinically apparent liver injury attributed to loratadine and desloratadine use have been reported as isolated case reports….

The mild and asymptomatic elevations in serum aminotransferase that have been observed during loratadine and desloratadine therapy are usually transient and may resolve even without dose modification.  Clinically apparent liver injury due to these second generation antihistamines, however, generally calls for prompt withdrawal of the agent.  Severe injury is uncommon and most cases resolve promptly upon withdrawal. 

Thus saith the National Institutes of Health, hardly a source of woo-woo.

Well…Helle’s Belles. You may recall that the fancy doc at the Mayo decided it would be safe for me to double the normal dose of loratadine. We soon discovered that emptying my head of allergic stuffiness caused the light-headedness and heart palpitations to disappear. Completely. Gone. That is even though tachycardia and palpitations are among the drug’s common side effects. Unscientifically, we both concluded that the presyncope-like phenomenon likely was affected or even caused by inner-ear congestion. So, we calculated, it would be good to keep on taking the stuff.

Which I’ve done. I did stop taking two a day, at least on a regular basis. But some days I forget whether I’ve dropped one in the morning and so will take one — very probably another one — before bed. And sometimes when the wind has been whipping up the allergens, I’ll take two during the course of a day just to fend off the usual miseries.

Hm. So brought on a new misery. How interesting.

Y’know…if a drug has a rare, weird side effect that appears in 1 in 10,000 people, I am invariably No. 10,000. It never, ever fails.

Given this discovery — why didn’t I think of it before??? — now I feel a lot less neurotic about passing on the liver scan. God help us.