Coffee heat rising

Looney Toons in the Brave New World

Wow! I don’t know whether it’s me –– have I lost my marbles? am I getting too old to keep up with change? am I skateboarding toward senility Hell? — or maybe it’s just Our Changing World…one whose changes are about 40% for the worse. But I sweartagawd, some days I think Life in the Los-Angelized Valley is just not worth keeping up with.

What a day! And not very different from yesterday’s what-a-day.

Yesterday the high point was driving home through the gawdawful unholy traffic, watching a column of black smoke apparently hanging right over the ‘Hood. In fact, one could hypothesize that it was towering directly over my house.

The traffic in this city has become monstrous, whatever the time of day. But by then we were in the early part of the rush hour, so pushing through the mobs and mobs and mobs of vehicles was a b*tch. Took a good half-hour or 40 minutes to make a drive that should have been doable in 10 to 15 minutes.

And no, the fire wasn’t in the’Hood. It was quite a ways to the north.

Yesterday I was down at the T-Mobile store at 20th Street and Camelback, where the service is infinitely better than what is offered at the store down at the corner of Conduit of Blight and Main Drag South. This morning I had a question, and since I needed to go to the grocery store vaguely in that direction, decided to swing a bit out of my way to visit them again.

Possibly Saturday was not the best choice of days for this little safari.

The traffic — mid-morning (not lunch hour, not rush hour, not anything special) — was just unholy. Mobs and mobs of cars…and of course, wouldn’tcha know it, road construction. Endless traffic jams as people got stuck, stuck, and re-stuck in stretches of torn-up asphalt behind barriers of red-and-white sawhorses. Even though  I do know my way around this city and I surely do know every short-cut and dodge there is to be had, it took for-f**king-EVER to get to the shopping center in question, much of that EVER occupied by dodging accidents, sliding around traffic jams, sneaking into short-cuts and figuring out how to get back out of them.

Struggled and struggled and struggled. Got to the T-Mobile store. Explained my objection to giving their bot my Social Security number, as demanded by an email their company sent. T-Mobile lady said oh, no no no…you don’t HAVE to give them your SS number.

I don’t? Sure as Hell looks like they’re saying I do, if I want the service.

Dinna worry about it, sez she: just ignore it.

Ohhhhhkayyyyyyyyy…..

I plow my way home through deep, dark thickets of traffic, gawdawful traffic, flocks and flurries of fruitcakes and fanatics. Stumble into the house. Bang around. Throw a second load of laundry in the washer. Then sit down to engage in a little computerized correspondence.

And…

and…

and…

WTF?

CANNOT FIND MY LAPTOP!

I took it with me. Did I leave it at the store?

Surely not. It was right in front of me and in front of the T-Mobile guy — if I’d started to walk off without it(???????) he would have hollered.

I search from pillar to post and back again. Search the car. Search the house again. Search the car again.

By now I’m freaking out. Where the Hell could i have left my computer??? and WHY the Hell would i have left it?????

After what feels like endless banging and thrashing, I finally do find it, right where I left it. In a perfectly reasonable spot to have left it. No, not on the floor of the car. No, not in the back compartment of the car. No, not on the back seat of the car.

In the house. Just not in the usual spot

Criminey.

I must have looked right at it at least three times without seeing it!

At this point I realize this is probably another unholy Senior Moment. I already had one of those this morning, when I lost the keys.

Why did I lose the house and car keys? Because I didn’t put then in my pocket and I didn’t stick them in the office door’s deadbolt (where they usually reside).

Although I do have informal spots where I habitually set down stuff I drag into and out of the house, I’m now thinking I need to designate specific, formally identified places to set things down when I come into the shack. Possibly put boxes or bowls out for stuff to be set into.

But the problem with that theory is that yes, I do have just a couple of places where I put things like that down. And no, when I found the computer and its wad of paperwork, it was not in any exotic or strange or out-of-the-way spot. I must have looked right at it and not seen it.

If that ain’t senility, I’d like to know what it is.

All told, I probably killed a good half-hour or 45 minutes thrashing around the house searching for those things.

Do hafta say: I suspect at least part of the problem has to do with the interminable, brain-banging drives through truly unholy Southern California-style traffic.

This damn place gets more and more like Anaheim and Long Beach every day. And I can assure you: I did NOT enjoy living in those parts and do not want to stay here if what we have now is their clone.

Real Estate: California Territory

So SDXB and I went over to the hillside neighborhood I “discovered” below the hiking trails at North Mountain. The trails themselves have become counterproductive for exercise walks, partly because they’re so damn crowded — especially with morons charging past you huffing and puffing their germs into your face — and partly because it’s just not that safe to take Ruby the Corgi up there. Same reason: morons (they bring their own out-of-control dogs), plus rattlesnakes, cactus thorns, and sharp rocks.

“Discover” isn’t exactly the term for it, because we both have had friends who lived in that neighborhood, over the years. But the two things I found of interest were a) the paved (!!) sidewalks and roads that curve up and down and around and b) the houses that look like they were constructed by the same builder who installed the houses here in the ’Hood. SDXB agreed that they were alarmingly like our places…and also that the relative quiet of the neighborhood was striking, as was the absence of derelicts and other sketchy types.

Basically, the houses are much the same as the ones here, only in a safer, quieter area. With nice gentle grades to walk Ruby (and me) on. And of course a steep mountain trail out back, for the purpose of getting some serious exercise.

So when I got back I googled real estate in that zip code. HOLY maquerel! In the first place, nothing’s for sale in there just now., In the second place, Zestimated prices for houses similar to ours are breathtaking! Here’s a shack for sale just to the west of the neighborhood, certainly not a better area and arguably not as desirable:  YIPES!

Okay okay, 5 bedrooms IS a little much.

But almost 700 grand for a tract house that faces on Thunderbird Road, one of the Valley’s mainest of main drags and a major commuter road???  Give…me…a…BREAK!  (aaanndd…btw, how happy ARE you that you don’t have to clean those shiny marble floors?) And the pool where passing golfers can peer at you as you’re splashing around or enjoying a cocktail at poolside — no skinny-dipping for the likes of you!

So I go to look up prices here in the ’Hood…could I make an even trade, more or less?

Zillow thinks my house is worth a measly $565,600 grand. Redfin puts it at $606,699. Either estimate is a far cry from the $235,000 I paid for this place in 2004, or the $100,000 for the identical model I first bought here, about three houses in from the horrible Conduit of Blight Blvd.

We have arrived in California territory, price-wise. How on earth do young people ever get in the door of a real house (not an apartment, not a condo)? One semester I had a student who, with her husband and two small kids, lived a ways to the west of that North Mountain tract. Their tract was what I’d call working-class construction — I had occasion to see it when we had a major storm that blew the roof off the house, and the young people needed some help until such time as one or the other set of parents could get into town. Just the most standard, cheaply built stucco-and-styrofoam stuff — their place was largely trashed by the storm, and some of the other houses there were even worse off. The prices over there are now similar: $600,000+++ for tiny little tract houses! I can’t even imagine how a young couple would come up with that kind of money, even with both of them working full-time.

Soooo…. It looks like we bought my son’s house more or less in the nick of time. If, as he prefers, I live in this house until I croak over, he’ll inherit a paid-off shack that right now is worth 600 grand but in another ten to fifteen years will presumably be pushing a million bucks. His house is worth about $500,000 now (sez Redfin). If he inherits this paid-off house, he could…well…think about it! He could…

  • Move here and sell his house, netting around a half-million dollars
  • Move here and rent his house, providing a moderately steady second income
  • Stay in his place and sell my place, netting around 600 or 700 grand, put the money in his retirement fund, and knock off working early
  • Stay in his place and rent this place for some truly outrageous amount of money
  • Sell both houses and move to rural southeastern Utah or southwestern Colorado, one of his daydreams
  • Sell them both and move overseas, where (depending on his choice) he could live like a king and never work again
  • Or of course just keep on keepin’ on, holding his job and collecting a decent salary until he reaches retirement age and then moving to the South of France on the proceeds of both houses, his retirement fund, and my retirement fund. 😀

Financially, it would give him a lot of choices.

Probably the most advantageous strategy for him (and maybe for me, too), would be for me to stay in this house until they carry me out feet-first. It’s a nice neighborhood with pleasant neighbors…its only drawbacks are the startling crime and vagrancy rates and the noise from the main drags and the constant cop helicopter buzz-overs. But both of those come under the heading of Life in the Big City.

What’s a Dollar Worth, Anyhow?

The other day I was reminiscing about my father and his times.

Born in 1909 in Fort Worth, Texas, he was a change-of-life baby. His mother apparently was in her late 40s, and, having raised two sons to adulthood, his father decidedly did not want to bring up another child. He walked out, ran off to the Chisolm Trail and waypoints. After some time (how much time, I do not know), he was found by the side of a road, a bullet in his head and a pistol in his hand: presumed suicide.

The mother, however, prevailed. She had inherited what was then a handsome fortune from her father, who’d struck it rich freighting buffalo hides out of Oklahoma into Texas, there to be shipped to the East Coast. By the time her husband ran off, she not only had that substantial chunk of dough, she owned a gas station (in 1909 that must have been a novelty!) and a large home. Fort Worth was a wide spot in the road, where the family presumably enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle.

My father’s two brothers were adults by the time he came along. One was a cowboy who eventually became a ranch manager, and one went to work for Metzger’s Dairy, where over time he became a mid-level manager or executive.

In her husband’s absence, the mother fell prey to any number of opportunists and con artists. She got into spiritualism, which was quite the rage in the early 20th century. Adherents to this nouveau-religion believe the soul persists after death, and that it is therefore possible to communicate with your deceased loved ones. This activity drew the woman right in: my father described séances conducted by supposed mediums…who really acted not as a medium to chat with the dead but to funnel the credulous client’s money into their own bank accounts.

Then she got taken in by some building contractors, whom she had hired to make a few improvements on the family manse. Next thing anyone knew, she was paying them to construct grand additions to the house.

By the time the absent father was found, kaput, she had diddled away all of the money she had inherited from her father, including the gas station (which she sold to help fund her spiritual advisors and her construction crews). My father was still a teenager, but his two older brothers fell to blaming each other for not keeping an eye on her. This led to a permanent alienation between the two men. At 16, my father dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and joined the Navy.

Naval service started him on a decently-paying career in the Merchant Marine. By then he had formed a lifelong ambition: to earn back the entire amount his mother had squandered, and, once he reached that goal, to retire and live the life of Riley for as long as he had left to inhabit this earth.

That amount was $100,000, and that was his target. He worked, he scrimped, he saved, and he invested every spare penny.

By 1962, he had stashed away that amount: the cache he figured he could retire on.

So the other day I was contemplating the absurd rise in housing prices that has taken place recently — a house just down the street from my first house here in the ‘Hood, for which I paid $100,000, is on the market for $640,000. Same model as mine, a block closer to Conduit of Blight and its crazy-making noise. For a middle-class tract house, apparently it was underpriced: it sold in a few days. Six and a half times what it was worth when I moved into the neighborhood!!!

This led me to wonder how much that $100,000 of his would be worth today.

To live in the style to which that amount would have supported my father — just about in my present rather modest middle-class style — you would need $923,185.43…almost a million dollars!

And how much would he have needed to replace the buying power of his mother’s hundred grand in the year he retired, 1962? $173,563.22 when he bought their little house in Sun City.

He wasn’t so far off: only $23,563 short.

What it means is that in the time since he retired — 60 years — inflation has vastly devalued the dollar’s buying power — much more so than during the time he worked: 37 years.

So what does it mean to us, here in the first third of the 21st Century?

My guess is that if you’re a young adult today, you would need to calculate how much you need to earn now and how much you need to save to retire comfortably in middle- to old age, and then multiply that figure by a factor of two to ten. Depending on the style to which you hope to remain accustomed…

You can’t rely on today’s dollar to support you tomorrow.

The Planless Plan…

Okay. Go ahead. Imagine you’re gonna fix a nice meal. S’ppose, for example, you toss a lovely piece of steak on the grill. While you’re at it, toss on a handful of lovely fresh asparagus drenched in fine garlicky olive oil. Maybe place upon the plate half a gorgeous ripe avocado and a couple of sweet, scrumptious Campari tomatoes.

R-i-i-g-h-h-t…

Then consider the facts that your belly is still full from the munificent breakfast you turned out…that the bottle 0f red wine on the shelf is reserved for your son, for Christmas dinner…that any day you’d rather loaf with the dog and the birds on the side deck than bang around the kitchen…that it’s two o’clock in the afternoon: too late for lunch, too early for dinner…that there’s half a bottle of white wine, already open, in the fridge…that… Okay, that you’re too damned lazy to fix a whole meal.

…Right?

Luckily, we have the fixin’s for lunch, in the form of that refrigerated white wine. Heh heh heh… And some marvelous crunchy cheese cracker things that AJ’s serves up. They can’t be good for you. But surely they can’t be THAT bad for you, either.

Right?

Hanging out with my neighbor Marge, on the way home from a protracted doggy-walk. Her lovely husband Ward passed away, picked off by the covid virus while he was being treated for a recurrence of some old meningiomas. Just awful: they are (were) the BEST couple, mellow, kindly, friendly…the kind of people you would pay to have next door.  How dare he die, dammit, and leave her here to fend for herself?

Having recovered from the extended trauma of Ward’s demise (she went back to the Midwest to be with lifelong friends, then spent some time at their cabin in the north country…now is down here updating and spiffifying the city manse), Marge has installed new cabinets in the kitchen. Very handsome! She thinks, as I do, on how to stay out of a Rabbit Warren for Old Folks.

We must plan. We must plan carefully, with foresight aplenty.

We think. We think, Marge and I do, on the circumstances of J&L’s decision (J’s, actually: L was having none of it) to move into the horrifying Beatitudes, a rabbit warren for old folks.

Marge has met Margie, the 90-something pistol who is fending off old-folks’ prison from her house up near Gangbanger’s way. She knows something about her, but nothing like as much as I do.

I relay to her the report (from the horse’s mouth) that Margie took out a home equity loan and is using it to pay underlings to come in and care for her. Basically, she’s spending as much as it would cost to move into the Prison for Old Folks, but she’s in charge. She’s in her own home, with her own stuff and her own space and her own funny little dog and her own neighbors and her own lawn dude and her own…everything else. She hires people to take care of the yard, to take care of the house, and to take care of her.

This, of course, is not cheap. Both her husband and her only offspring having predeceased her, though, she has a way to finance it: a home equity loan. She has borrowed a sh!tload of money against the vastly inflated value of her pleasant North Central-style home, and she is using it to pay for the services, in that home, that she’d get at the Beatitudes if she sold the house and forked over all the proceeds to that outfit.

I am convinced that this is possible, if you think it through NOW, before you need it and not later, as the icy fingers of Death reach out toward you.

I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled…

Why?

Uhm…because T.S. Eliot told me so?

Ah: no. Who the hell did he think he was, anyway?

It only stands to reason:

You own assets worth something.
Some of us own assets worth a whole lot.
You know what you need.
You know what you want.
You know what you don’t want.

With those factoids in hand, it ought to be possible to anticipate a strategy for how to accommodate your future.

I hope.

Another Fine Day in Solitary Confinement

Ever wonder what on earth you thought you were doing? And why on earth you forgot you were doing anything, whatever TF it was?

This afternoon I stumble out into the front patio and find, perched atop the wall, my brand-new 2022 calendar. Apparently several days ago I must have carried it out there (why??? when????) and then carelessly left it sitting out in the weather.

And weather we had: two days of intermittent rain. The thing is drenched and dried, all wrinkled up, the entries I’d inked in melted.

Not to repeat my idiot self, but why?  Why did I do this and when did I do it and why did I wander off and leave the damn thing sitting out there?? A-a-a-n-d…how did I forget it for several days? It’s been two days since it stopped raining.

Come to think of it…did I take that latest load of clothes out of the washer??

***

Yes.

Hm…imagine that!

***

Out this evening with Ruby the Corgi, for a half-mile stroll a-eyeballing the Christmas decorations.  The young people who have moved into the ’Hood have run AMOK with the Christmas lights, and it is a hoot!  Almost every house is cascading in lights.

Mine isn’t, alas. I’d love to decorate the house, but there is no way in Hell (or in some manger, either) that I’m gonna climb up around the eaves and the roof and the tree branches…not once but twice, first to get the stuff up and then to haul it down and put it away. But that Scroogification doesn’t stop me from enjoying the fruits of other folks’ labor.

Ruby, being a dog, loves a doggywalk. And like her larger cousins the German shepherds, she’s interested in clearing the land of other dogs. 😀

Dog-lovers just do NOT get it when you tell them to keep their pooches away from your cannibalistic canine. Godlmighty, but people are stupid.

This afternoon we were walking in the park and came upon some nut case who had a squeaky toy, with which she was trying to lure Ruby over to the park bench where she and her dog had taken up residence. I had to make a long detour around that nitwit…she saw me trying to avoid her, which of course led her to squeak squeak squeak all the more vociferously.

Ruby, like Anna the German shepherd, is inclined to bite other people’s unrestrained dogs. Anna truly desired to kill them. What Ruby has in mind, deep in the depths of her canine soul, remains unclear. And I don’t wanna find out. The thing is, people are so effing STUPID about their dogs — and about your dog — that you just can NOT convince to keep their animal under control. When you ask them to call their loose dog or keep a grip on a leash, they’ll simper and coo “ohh don’t worry, they just wanna plaaayyy!”

Right. If removing your dog’s head is play, no doubt that’s so…

l think this murderous streak is characteristic of herding dogs. Though a corgi is little and fluffy and cute and looks a whole lot like a stuffed animal, the fact is they are bred to herd livestock and kill rats and foxes. And another fact is, they regard their humans as sheep, which must be protected and guarded. In that respect, they behave very much like German shepherds.

Later this afternoon a lady walked by on the other side of the street with a little white dog on a lead and a funny little black dog following her. Turns out the li’l black dog had been wandering loose and decided to adopt the woman. When Ruby tried to catch it, I realized it belonged to the neighbors cattycorner across the the street. When Joel (dad neighbor) heard the commotion, he came over and retrieved his funny-looking pooch. Very silly.

DepositPhoto; Rainy Weather © dnaumoidSoooo many things the decrepit brain spins its gears on, though! The rain-soaked calendar is the most egregious…of today, that is. This morning I realized I’m going to have to make a whiteboard list of all the things that need to be done, every day. Because…I can NOT remember them!

Today I noticed I hadn’t paid the Cox bill and one of the other recurring nuisances. Most of the utility bills are set up to auto-pay, but Cox is…welll…not what one would want to trust to get things right. So I feel a need to SEE that worthy corporation’s bills before letting go of the cash to pay them.

This, of course, requires…well…actually LOOKING at the bills. Which I failed to do this month.

Got that straightened out. But meanwhile the credit union has fancified its sign-in procedure, adding yet another layer of difficulty to hassle with. So that was frustrating and annoying. I may be reduced to having to pay recurring bills with checks again. Which is NOT a good thing, IMHO.

Then we had another Old-Lady Fret-Fest over the need to make at least one grocery run between now and the Christmas shopping frenzy. I’d figured I’ll go over to AJ’s on Friday afternoon.

All day today I’ve been thinking this is Thursday afternoon.

Right. That’s even though I spend every Thursday afternoon twiddling my thumbs in the church office!!!!  Why on earth could I possibly imagine today is Thursday and so I shouldn’t have to charge out into the traffic?

Wishful thinking, no doubt…

Along about two o’clock I tumbled to this little fact of life…just as I was about to fix the decent meal of the day. Dayum!!!! Drop everything, jump in the car, trudge through the traffic to the store, fight the crowds, trudge back…arrrhhhggghhh! 

But wait, wait!

Just as I’m scouting up the car keys, it dawns on me: Hey, stupid! You can send Instacart to do that! 

See what I mean? It takes me a half-hour or forty minutes to figure THAT out?????????

So tomorrow morning I’ll send an underling out to buy what I need to last the 10 days or so until the Christmas shindig. That will relieve me of a great deal of Christmas-Rush Hassle… But the question is, why on earth would I forget all about Instacart, when I was using them about once every week or ten days for a couple or three months? Mothballs in the brain?

I suspect this abrupt influx of senility reflects a combination of advancing age, chronic low-level pain, and the endless isolation brought on by the accursed plague. Ever since the disease descended on us — what, two years ago, now? — I have had almost ZERO social interaction. With anyone. Choir shut down. So did the church, more or less. WonderAccountant and I stopped going to concerts. My son is locked in his house, telecommuting. And of course you couldn’t get me into a classroom on a bet. Or on a lightrail train. Or just about anywhere else. Almost all my human interactions have taken place in doctor’s offices, dentist’s offices, and (occasionally) grocery stores.

No wonder I’m going nuts!

Scott, our beloved and retired choir director, is guest-conducting this week. We’re supposed to meet tomorrow morning for rehearsal. But alas…I would not risk my life to sing in a church, not on a BET. Choral singing is about the most dangerous thing you can do during a contagion. And given my amazing susceptibility to respiratory infections, you may be sure that if I catch this thing, it’ll be the end of me.

They’re saying the Pfizer shots are about the most effective vaccine we’ve got…but truth to tell, that’s not very effective. Apparently the omicron strain has found its way around all three vaccines, though the Moderna version was evidently pretty useless from the git-go. I’ve had three shots from Pfizer…but still…do I really want to tempt fate so I can sing a few hymns in a church choir?

Mebbe not so much…

What? A Poem of What…

Shot off in the purple haze emanating from the bottom of a bottle of wine…

************

“You fell,” he said.
“I’m not leaving my home,” she said.
Her home, where she had brought up the man in front of her from the age of about nine.

“You can’t stay here alone,” he said.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
Unconvincing.
Unconvinced.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“We must put you somewhere else.
A home where someone is there
All the time
24/7
To look after you.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Can you not imagine, my son,
How you might love your home
More than life?

No.

Can you not imagine, my son,
That some things matter more than life?

No.
“I am afraid for you.”

No. No, my son: you are afraid for yourself.
For your guilt. For your conscience.
Most of all,
For your impotence.
For the impotence that is human.

“We will sell the house.”

“No.”

“We can use the money to pay
For your care.”

No. No, my son. You will use the money
To pay for your guilt.
To pay for your impotence.

“Put her in this bed,” he said.
“And let her sleep.”

Let us sleep.

All of us.

*************

This afternoon I stopped at a house for sale in the neighborhood just to the east of mine. The houses are about 20 years older than the ones in my tract (which came into being in the early 1970s) and also about half again as pricey. Needed work, the place did. As I’m about to clilmb into my car, along comes a middle-aged man, who pulls into the driveway and climbs out of his SUV.

“Tryin’ to sell the place, are ya?” I ask.

“We have an offer,” he says. “Looks like it’s gonna go through.”

We chat.

His mother has lived there for lo! these many years. They moved in when he was nine years old, and that’s where he grew up. From his point of view, it’s the family homestead.

They have her in a “care home.”

I sense what this means: one of those fly-by-night outfits run under the radar by Tony the Romanian Landlord and his ilk, the one who has peppered the ’Hood with a half-dozen “nursing homes.”

He thinks it’s grand. It’s not, after all, the Beatitudes or the Terraces. That would be why I sit here getting shit-faced on the dregs of a bottle of Bogle.

Holy fuck, what a people we have become!

But meanwhile, beside it all and beneath at all: what do we do with our parents when they can no longer care for themselves?

What do we do with people that we, deep in our hearts and unmentionable souls, do not want to care for ourselves? Or cannot care for, wives and sisters and daughters having to go into the marketplace to help keep the roofs over our heads and the food on our restaurant tables and the SUVs in our driveways?

What?