Funny about Money

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

September 23, 2017
by funny

How to Kill a Costco?

So yesterday I finally did make up my hot little mind to journey easterly and northerly to the Costco at Paradise Valley Mall. As predicted, after Thursday afternoon’s endless journey to the Mayo Clinic — followed by having to go to two pharmacies to get the recommended very ordinary OTC drugs — I was too tired to take on a Costco junket, too.

So I figured that Friday I’d go to the much more conveniently located slum Costco, which occupies a moribund shopping center called Chris-Town.

LOL! When the City and the owners tried to do a half-baked revival, they rechristened it “Spectrum Mall.” The resulting nick-name, “Spectral Mall,” must have been more than its tenants could take: after a few years of that, they brought back the historic name.

Fountains and indoor gardens: lost and gone forever

Chris-Town was once a lovely mall: the second built in the Valley. It was pretty upscale, because it catered to the uspscale North Central district. It had a Bullock’s, a Diamond’s (which became Dillard’s), a Penney’s (the only downscale store at the site), several decent restaurants, and two nice theaters. Over time, though, the districts to the south and the west deteriorated — one of my friends was murdered in an apartment complex directly to the south.  The mall changed hands as the middle-class stores moved out, and the new owners turned it into a discount shopping center. Hence the Walmart and the Costco and a bunch of other lower-end palaces. Really: the Costco is the most upscale store in that shopping center now.

Let us bear in mind that the City, while relieving us of extra tax moneys to fund their white elephant, assured us that the wonderful light rail would jack up property values and bring fine new upscale development all along the line.

That has proven true in areas of the city already populated by young urbanites, who live close enough to work to make commuting on a trolley practical. The exact opposite has happened in further-flung stretches of the line: anyplace north of Camelback and west of Central Avenue, what the light rail does is import drug-addicted transients, making every shopping area and every residential area exponentially less pleasant and more dangerous for the rest of us.

So it has been with Chris-Town. And hence my remark, the other day, about the impulse to pack heat while strolling between the car and the store entrance… The shopping center has been down-at-the-heels for decades, and now it’s at the center of about the highest crime activity in the city. If you follow the route of the lightrail on either of the linked maps, you see that crime rates — especially violent crime rates, which would include mugging and fist-fights — are high all along the thing, from downtown up to Chris-Town and now up to my neighborhood.

Yesterday, though, I had to go to a Costco to pick up something for today’s potluck, plus I needed a bunch of other things. But having set my sights on the Paradise Valley Costco last Thursday, I decided I couldn’t stomach a visit to Chez Pits and made up my mind to drive way to heck and gone up to Tatum and Cactus.

Only my laziness makes that feel like a long way. In reality, the drive took about 20 minutes. Drove into the parking lot and immediately joined the line to top off the gas tank: price was only $2.25, two cents a gallon less than I’d paid at the Chris-Town store.

Inside? Well, let me say: shopping in the Chris-Town store vs. shopping in the Paradise Valley store is as the night the day.

On a fundamental level, the two outlets carry the same basic goods. But…they don’t. The stores in the more upscale parts of town carry the basic goods, all right: and a lot more.

LOL! For example, I came across a seller hawking $1300 bicycles. Yes: that is thirteen hundred dollars (!!!).

Our Costco has two of those wooden bin stands for showing off the store’s proudest selections of wines. The PV Costco has a half dozen!

The meat counter at the PV Costco offers only prime beef steaks. You have to search for the more affordable choice cuts in another cooler, a long way from the meat counter.

The central feature of my daily uniform — Gloria Vanderbilt jeans — is severely limited at the Chris-Town Costco. At Paradise Mall, they come in gay abandon: two counters full of them, in all colors AND in sizes for normal people. At Chris-Town you’ll find lots of weird sizes but hardly any 10s or 12s. When you find Glorias in white, they’re size 18. I ask you: who in her right mind would wear SIZE 18 JEANS in WHITE???????

So naturally I had to buy a pair of these really kewl sort of blue-teal-blue jeans. And how could I turn down a nifty pull-over to go with them?

And naturally I ended up grabbing a lot more stuff — a LOT more — than just the potluck cake. Suddenly everything I looked at was something I needed. Right.

Interestingly, it seems that a more pleasant environment, one in which you do not feel at risk when entering the store and in which the culture is such that people don’t run into you, cut you off in the aisle and then stop, invade your personal space, and steal your cart when your back is turned, predisposes you to impulse buying.

Except for the jeans and the shirt, I can’t say I bought anything that I didn’t need. Well. Except for the lifetime supply of espresso beans. But I was tempted. Ohhhhh the magical electronic doorbell with camera and wireless connection! Ahhhhh the collection of six adorable puck lights with different colored lenses! How can anyone live without these objects?

So there I am, checking out, and I happen to mention to the check-out clerk that her store is SOOO much better than the one near my house.

“Which store is it?” says she.

“The one on Montebello.”

“Oh, yeah! There is a big difference, isn’t there? You know, we’ve been told Costco is not going to renew its lease at Chris-Town.”

Holy shit. “Hm. I’m not surprised. It’s not a very pleasant shopping center.”

“I used to work there. It’s so much better here.”

“It does feel safer in the parking lot.”

“Oh, let me tell you. NEVER go to that store after dark!”

So there you go: how to kill a Costco? Crush the shopping center with trainloads of vagrant drug addicts. While you’re at it, make sure mental health care is as difficult to acquire as possible for the indigent…as mentally ill folks are apt to be. Make shopping at the Costco a chore instead of a recreational event.

Drive out the middle class , and you drive out the middle-class commercial tax base. Drive out the middle-class residential and commercial tax base, and you trash the schools, insuring that the younger generation of middle-class workers will never move back into the area.

Do cities do this on purpose? It’s hard to escape it. The only other explanation would be that city leaders, here and across the nation, are by and large blithering idiots.

I don’t think that’s the case at all.

I think it’s a purposeful strategy to push modestly affluent people into the suburbs, so that the parties who own the city leaders — mostly developers and real estate speculators — can make more money packing the refugees into ticky-tacky houses placed elbow-to-elbow on postage-stamp lots. Car dealers sell more cars that way. Oil companies sell more gas. Tire manufacturers sell more tires. Insurance companies get higher rates. And developers get rich.

Who remains in the city? Only the middling wealthy (the ones who can afford the $2400/month rental rates in the new track-side housing here, or who can afford 3,000 square feet on half an acre within ten minutes of the law offices and hospitals where they work) and the very poor.

And so it goes.


September 21, 2017
by funny

Convenience Cost?

Is there such a thing as a “convenience cost,” or did I just make that term up? By it, I mean the minor cost of avoiding a minor hassle. Or, I suppose, a middling-large hassle.

Here’s a practical question attached to this fine philosophical matter:

Are you willing to spend a few cents a gallon more to avoid trudging several miles to get a better price at a different gas station in a different neighborhood? Do you do that regularly, or only when circumstances make you feel more reluctant than usual to have to drive around to get the best price?

This afternoon I have to traipse to the Mayo Clinic. At that time of day, it will be an hour’s drive each way: Two hours of doing battle on the cutthroat streets of Phoenix for the privilege of spending 15 minutes with my doctor in hopes that she can send me to the right specialist.

My car doesn’t have enough gas to get out to the far side of Scottsdale. And if you think prices at the local QT are exorbitant, you ain’t seen nuttin’ till you see how much a ritzy-titzy market like Scottsdale will bear. So I need to buy gas before heading out there.

Rationality suggests that I should drive down to the slum Costco that I normally habituate, because — given the emptiness of its customers’ pockets — that Costco sells the cheapest gas in town. While there, I could pick up the several items I need from that honored store.

This of course would require me not only to drive several miles in the opposite direction from the Mayo but also to get out of the car and walk across the parking lot, something I’m not fond of doing in that sketchy shopping center. The fewer trips I have to make there, the better: both because staying out of Costco means keeping more money in my own pocket and because it really isn’t the best of all possible shopping experiences.

Between here and the Mayo, only slightly out of my way, resides another Costco: a much more upscale Costco. They have more goods of the sort I covet, and one feels no need to pack heat while strolling from the car to the door. And… I have to get something for this weekend’s potluck. Lately I’ve found the Costco closest to me — the downscale Costco — rarely has anything very appealing. The last time I was there, they didn’t even have the standard Costco quinoa salad, to say nothing of decent bakery. Chances are good — very good, I’ll bet — that the Paradise Valley Costco will have a much better selection of bakery.

To be safe, I need to buy gas now; not drive all the way to the Mayo, halfway back, and another ten miles up to the fancy Costco and back.

There is a QT right around the corner. They extort stupefying amounts of money from their customers, because the station is on the only road that passes through the Dreamy Draw, carrying commuters from Moon Valley and points north down to their jobs in central and downtown Phoenix.

The Costco at Paradise Valley Mall also charges more for gas, because it’s conveniently close to Tatum Blvd, which bears commuters from North Phoenix and Scottsdale. But by the end of the day — around 5 p.m. — the lines will be out to the main drag, I will be tired and unhappy, and I surely will not feel like standing in line and pumping gas. And it’s questionable whether I can get all the way out to the Mayo and then up to that Costco on a quarter-tank of gas.

I’m thinking it may be worth the cost (four to eight cents a gallon) to fill up — or maybe partially fill up — at the nearby QT, so that I don’t have to drive down south to get gas now, nor take a chance that the amount in the tank will take me halfway to Payson and back with enough left over to get down to the cheaper Costco.

That way, I would have the option of not going to the nicer Costco on the way home from the doctor’s office (should one not happen to feel like shopping for anything by then), and I could be certain that the car wouldn’t run out of gas. And I wouldn’t have to pump gas late in the afternoon, when I will hate it even more than I normally hate it. Which is a lot.

So we have two choices:

  1. Drive to the dumpy Costco now, some miles south of the ‘hood and get gas for as much as eight cents a gallon less than it costs anywhere else.
  2. Whip around the corner to the overpriced QT, eat the gouge, and acquire at least enough gas to get to east Scottsdale and back…for a whole lot more than a fair price

I’m leaning toward the QT. The savings in time and aggravation would be worth paying a couple dollars more.

And that would be “convenience cost.”

September 20, 2017
by funny

Fall Is Springing in Arizona

Lhudly sing huzzah! It’s 8:30 in the morning and around 80 degrees out here on the deck. The worst of the summer is gone, thank God.

But…of course there’s no rest for the wicked.

The watering system crapped out a few days ago. That means everything on almost a quarter-acre has to be watered by hand. That is a whole lotta watering, since most of my posies live in pots. By 5 p.m., it’s still a hundred degrees out here. Potted plants will die in one day — flat — when temps reach 100.

Gerardo knows how to fix the thing — I think the control panel needs to be replaced. He does understand irrigation systems. But he’s busy. And I doubt if he realizes that if somethig is in a pot, it has to be watered every day.

On the other hand…how much, really, does it harm me to get off my duff every few minutes for an hour or two to move hoses around? It’s actually probably good for me.

The handyman recommended by the Home Depot lady for the job of re-installing the fiberglass cover over the shade structure wants nine hundred bucks.

Well. I don’t know if that’s reasonable or not. But you may be sure I am not paying $900 to some guy who says he’ll be here at 9 a.m. and shows up at 11.

Gerardo doesn’t want to do the job. He says he will if I can’t get anyone else, but clearly he hopes I can.

I’d called the guy who built it, Richard, a week or so ago and got no answer. He’s the one who fell off the roof and busted up his back in a dozen places. So I figured he probably had retired from the slamming-around business.

Called the handyman: no response.

So this morning I was going to post a query on NextDoor, which is like tossing bread crumbs in a duck pond. But first decided to call Richard one more time, since I know he knows how to do the job — his first effort lasted 14 years.

And lo! His wife picked up the phone…just as it went dead. She called right back. She said their office had flooded a week ago, ruining their almost-new computer and butching up all things electrical and electronic. They’re just getting back in gear.

So she’s going to have him call to make an appointment. That’s good. If I have to pay $900 to get that thing fixed, I’d rather give it to Richard than just about anybody else. He can fix the watering system, too, I suppose.

Meanwhile there are a jillion other things I need to do, now that the weather’s cooling. First on the list: repaint the outdoor chairs. The cans of spray paint have been sitting in the back room since I bought them last spring, imagining that I’d get around to doing the job before it got hot. I underestimate my own laziness…

Then I would like to plant some vegetables…probably in pots, because I’d just as soon not dig up the landscaping.

Meanwhile, today I’ve gotta finish the current elaborate business management study from China. It’s almost 10,000 editable words, which I expected to require a lot more time than it has. But in fact, yesterday, with relatively few interruptions hammering at me, I managed to get through most of it. All that remains are the discussion and the conclusion, which I should be able to power through fairly quickly.

After that, it’ll be time to finish preparing another week’s worth of dog food — the pork is already cooked and cooling, preparatory to grinding it and mixing it with veggies & starch.

And so, away…

September 19, 2017
by funny

The Miracles of Connectivity

So I’ve figured out why it appeared I was ostracized from the current Churchly function’s planning activities.

The folks who were sending out notices had my business gmail address. That thing is set to forward to my address.

Apple does not have a “spam” function. Instead it presents you with three folders: an inbox, a “trash” folder, and a “junk” folder. What exactly is the point of TWO folders for unwelcome mail? That escapes logic of any kind.

WhatEVER. Apparently there’s a difference between “trash” and “junk,” but I don’t know what it is. I use the “rules” function to derail incoming that I don’t want to look at right this minute or that I wish never to see into “trash.”

During the most recent rash of MacHeadaches, one of the telephone techs noted that when you see incoming that’s obviously an ad, you don’t even have to open it: all you have to do is highlight and click “junk”…and forevermore, every incoming from that address is disappeared into the “junk” file.

Okay. So some piece of advertising garbage comes in, and that’s what I do.

BUT…apparently this piece of advertising garbage had been sent to the business address and forwarded from there. So MacMail picks up the CE Desk address and derails EVERY PIECE OF INCOMING that is addressed to that gmail account!!!!!!!

AND…that explains where all the business went this summer… It did seem odd that not ONE current or prospective client got in touch.

It’s taken almost two hours to undo that mess.

At least I’m not suicidally depressed anymore. Now I’m just mad as a cat.

September 17, 2017
by funny

Do you ever get over…

…childhood abuse?

And if you’re not fully human, do you ever learn to pass?

Ah well. I guess if you haven’t learned to cope by the time you’re 72, you’re not going to.

DepositPhoto; Rainy Weather © dnaumoid

September 15, 2017
by funny


Rain under the roof…

Waiting around for a handyman to show up: Ruben. Learned about him from a woman who works in the trades and has an encyclopedic address book. She thinks he would be the man to re-lay the fiberglass sheets that form the light-filtering “roof” over the back porch shade structure.

Given the amazing mess Gerardo’s underlings made when they tore it off for the painter (chunks of plastic and bolts in the pool!), I think I’d rather not have them try to put it back on. Not only do they give nary a damn how much junk they throw around (a bolt picked up by Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner would mean a hefty repair bill, if not $350 to replace him…), but his enthusiasm for the job is predictably underwhelming.

The new guy is supposed to show up between 9 and 10 this morning. It’s almost 9:30, so it looks like our boy runs on mañana time. Which is OK. We do, after all, live in Mañanaland.

Today is the first since last spring that a person could sit outside in comfort at 9:30 in the morning. We’re having a cold snap: weather’s in the 80s this morning.

That’s lovely in one way – yay! the backyard is usable again! – and the pits in another: dang! say good-bye to swimming. Oh well. Trade-offs.

The yard needs some serious maintenance.

Luz damaged the lime tree when he hacked out a large branch, misunderstanding what I was saying when I asked him to clear enough for me to walk back and forth. Then Gerardo’s boys probably administered the coup de grâce when they cut back the growth over the roof (!!) and trimmed enough away for the painter to get at the eaves.

Citrus does not like pruning. It’s actually not a tree: it’s a shrub. That’s why people paint the trunks white when they cut the things up to look like trees: otherwise the trunks will sunburn. Well, that branch Luz chopped out was on the tree’s west side, so he stripped away the natural shade and cooling for three major branches…just as the summer was coming in! I tried to protect the tree by wrapping shade cloth around the exposed branches, but it hasn’t worked. The tree was visibly stressed by the time Gerardo cut the stuff away from the roof…and as soon as he did that, it dropped all its fruit. It looks pretty sick…my guess is it won’t live another year.

That lime tree is an important part of the westside landscaping: it provides about a third of the shade that makes the side deck liveable, and it shades about half the west wall of the house. So if it dies, it’s going to have an effect…and it ain’t gonna be good.

I’m thinking I could replace it with a desert willow, which doesn’t require a lot of water and which grows into a truly beautiful shade tree.

But it takes a long time for one of those things to get big enough to provide shade. Plus taking the lime tree out will be a vast hassle: there’s a major irrigation pipe under there, which of course will break when we try to pull out the tree and its roots. {sigh}

So that will be an expensive headache. A future one, I hope…

One ringie-dingie…two ringie-dingies…hello?

Yes, it’s Ruben: “I’m at the Home Depot picking up some things for a customer’s job I’m working on, and I’m running late…”

Oh, that’s good! Yes. So much better than the standard “my truck broke down on the freeway.” Credible, and lots less drama.

It’ll be interesting to see if this guy can do the job. When Richard built the thing – lo, some 14 years ago! – he had his crew up there. But Richard, before he started his landscaping company, was a journeyman carpenter. He knew how to build this sort of stuff. It remains to be seen whether just any handyman can do it. I’ll have to ask him if he’s ever used it.

Let’s hope he doesn’t charge too much. It’s actually a fairly small job: just nail down a set of strips and then bolt the fiberglass sheets to those. It shouldn’t take longer than about half a day, not counting the schlep to and from Home Depot…and, if he can be talked into it, a schlep to the city dump to get rid of the old stuff.

I’ve entertained the possibility of not recovering the shade structure with corrugated plastic sheets. It does look mighty WT.

From outside the yard, that is. From inside the yard, the top of the roofing isn’t really visible, so it looks just fine. If you’re down the road a quarter-block or standing on the sidewalk across the street, what you see looks pretty Appalachian.

But…so what? The ’hood isn’t an HOA, thank God. What do I care how it looks to passers-by?

Without a covering, pollen (wads of it, just now) and dust float in and cover everything. And even a light rain is going to make an unholy mess out there. A monsoon? Don’t even wanna think about it!

I use that space. Every day. Hauling the chairs’ seat cushions in and out of the garage so they don’t get dirty and won’t get soaked if it rains is for the birds. So is having to clean up the debris every time I want to sit out there with a cup of coffee.

So the decision is made: Back to my Texas WT roots.

And more immediately: back to work…