Coffee heat rising

Today’s the Day…

Yup: Today’s the day they chop off my nose.

Guess it’s better than chopping off my head.But…I wonder.

A lovely friend from church is going to schlep me out to the westside dermatologist’s office.It’s an hour’s drive out there, especially at this time of day: the far side of the rush hour. We will be trudging across the city until the cows come home… WAIT! It might be faster to harness Old Bossie to the wagon and ride out there behind her!

The traffic in this city is just gawdawful.Phoenix is L.A. redux, and I do not mean that in a flattering way.Everything you so love about the L.A. basin: dirty air, mobs and mobs of people, spaghetti tangles of freeways bumper to bumper with homicidal drivers, acre on acre on acre of ticky-tacky housing developments — much of those instant slums. Holee mackerel, what a place!

If my son didn’t live here, I would be SO gone by now.

To frost the cookies, something’s wrong with the valve in the center bathroom’s tub, so I couldn’t take a shower in there. This meant I had to use the shower in the back bathroom, which Satan — the house’s previous owner — lined with very handsome travertine tiles. Satan’s parting remark to me — in the last five seconds of the final walk-through — was “Oh! And by the way: this travertine has to be resealed every six months.”

Right. In a room smaller than the bedroom’s closet that has no ventilation.

So, I very rarely use that shower — turn the water on briefly now and again to keep the plumbing functional, but otherwise, as far as I’m concerned this houses has one (count it: 1) bathtub/shower….in the other bathroom.

But finding that one busted, now I was forced to shower in the travertine cave and then scrub the damn thing dry with microfiber rags from ceiling to floor and polish the effing clear glass sliding doors he put on there.

What the F*** possesses people???????

I was up at 3 a.m., and that despite having dropped a CBD gummie. VickyC swears the stuff keeps her asleep until dawn.I ain’t found that to be necessarily so… It’s better than being awake at 1 a.m., I guess.

Hmmm…. Those guys who bought the house across the street have got some new contractor in there…earlier this morning they were hauling big sections of ductwork in through the carport door. These are the new owners who had an insulation truck parked out there for three days pumping stuff, nonstop, into the house or its attic. It takes about four hours to blow insulation into the attic of one of these houses. So…wha?

I think they’re turning that house into a commercial property. It looks like they’re setting it up as a shop of some sort. And apparently no one is giving them any argument.

Of course, this tract is zoned residential. But since we’re close to the westside slums, our City Parents no doubt figure it doesn’t much matter how this neighborhood is trashed. I ought to call the city and suggest they send an inspector around…  But it’s not illegal to pour insulation into your attic and it’s not illegal to install new AC ductwork…though between you’n’me whatever that stuff is, it’s not built for air conditioning.

But…if they destroy the house by turning it into some kind of machine shop before the city finds out about it, it may be totally impractical to return it to residential use. Especially if whatever products they use in their business could leave toxic waste. That would make the place effectively unsaleable. According to Zillow, they paid $515,000 for it. How that compares to shop space in a commercial district, I do not know…but whaddaya bet it’s a lot less?

SHE’S B-A-A-A-C-K!!!!!

And noooo…the procedure did NOT take six or eight hours, as advertised by those who do not know what they’re talking about. It did not even take four hours. It took just about an hour, beginning to end.

Those people over there are BEYOND amazing!

Now I have a fantastic Scar-Face Al incision…my plan is to go into the CU and say “gimme all the cash in the tills or you’ll look just like me!”  😀

Seriously: their team was just incredibly great. They figure it’ll heal up in about three weeks or so. NONE of the horror shows that our friends have promised occurred. And yes, I could have driven home…not only, contrary to Margie’s experience, did they NOT enough pile giant wads of gauze & crap over the nose to so’s you couldn’t wear your glasses, they didn’t pile any bandages on at all. There’s a terrifying set of stitches (can’t wait to go to the park and scare small children!)…they said it would be swollen for a few days, but the only thing I need to do to care for it is dab some Vaseline on.

Well, they sent several pages of instructions home, but I think the gist of that was “please don’t do stupid stuff” and “keep the damn thing dry.”

I should go over to the Safeway to pick up the RX they supposedly sent. But knowing pharmacies in our part, it probably won’t be there. And I SURE don’t feel like driving around right now.


Apartment House Dreamin’?

Of late… I grow more and more intrigued by the possibility of trading the Funny Farm in on a swanky apartment in the mid-town area. These are now proliferating with gay abandon, all over downtown and midtown Phoenix. Many of these places look very nice, indeed.

My agèd friend J., in insisting on moving herself and her husband L. into the prison for old folks that is the Beatitudes, was right in thinking that trying to live independently as you progress deeper and deeper into the Land of Old Age gets riskier and riskier with the passing the months and years. Now, she and L. were in their 90s when she insisted that they up and move into an institution. AND, more to the point, they had a dangerous lunatic living next door, who threatened not only them but other members of the HOA — one of whom was on the freaking City Council. Apparently nothing could be done about this nut case until she actually assaulted or murdered someone…and since the wretched woman had become quite a nuisance, it was reasonable to say “Let’s get away from this.”

And given their age, it was reasonable to decide the best “away” was into an old-folkerie.

But…ugh!! What a way to live! In a dormitory for old folks.

It seems to me that if you lived in a high-rise apartment whose building was well maintained and centrally located, you could replicate most or all of the services offered by the Beatitudes. Videlicet:

  • Meals can now be ordered and delivered right to your door — easily and at reasonable cost.
  • People in our economic class have cleaning ladies: J. & L. already did. She (imho) didn’t do a great job, but neither L. nor J. could see well enough to detect the places this woman failed to dust. But if you had a competent and caring lady, like the wonderful Luz, she would keep your place as clean as it needs to be.
  • Exercise classes? Phoenix College has them! For one heckuva lot less than it costs to live at the Beatitudes. PC is a five-minute drive from North Central.
  • Entertainment and mental stimulation? Midtown Phoenix is the home of a little theater troupe, a library, two major museums, a busy arts center in a refurbished shopping mall, parades, movies, a major community college with classes coming out the wazoo…. All of those strike me as a lot more entertaining than patronizing amusements put on for inmates.
  • Emergency and routine heathcare? Once you’re in mid-town, you’re right next door to not one but two major medical centers: St. Joseph’s & Good Sam. True, if you had a heart attack or stroke, you’d have to get an ambulance to take you there…but there are ways to simplify that chore.
  • Meals? Central Avenue is literally lined with restaurants. The inimitable AJ’s is within walking distance of some of the new apartment buildings; at any rate, the lightrail goes right up to AJ’s front door. Also along the way is a Safeway. Plus Instacart will deliver any groceries your little heart desires, from just about any vendor.
  • Uber is all over that part of town. Anywhere you wanted to go — to a store, to a theater, to a sporting event, or to the interminable visits with doctors and dentists — you could  be chauffeured.
  • You could hire a practical nurse to come in once a week — maybe even more often than that — to check on your health and be sure you’re safe. Possibly you could hire such a person to show up once a day…or recruit volunteers from your church to check on you.
  • The “Communicate America” emergency alarm service — where you push a button hanging around your neck to call an EMT — would serve just about the same purpose as living at the Beatitudes or its competition, the Terraces, in terms of assurance that you could get help in an emergency. Their device has a number of minor annoyances, and the service is pricey; an Apple Watch will do the same thing, as will an iPhone.

Those steps would provide the same services and goods that an old-folkerie would: food, regular check-ins, emergency services. Uber could take you to church, plays, movies, restaurants, grocery stores, sporting events,  and whatever else you pleased to do. For that matter, if you lived on Central Avenue, public transit would take you to most of those places. In other words…if you thought it through, you could replicate the services and advantages of an old-folkerie, without the depressing disadvantages. And being in one of those centrally located apartments would facilitate that scheme.

I’m thinking that given my age, even though I’m still pretty spry, maybe I should think about how I can get myself into one of those places and make it work as a haven for the pending decrepitude. A lot of those strategies could be replicated right here in my own house…EXCEPT…

  • The house is not as centrally located
  • You’d have to oversee yard and pool help as well as cleaning-lady and LPN help
  • The nearest hospital is John C. Lincoln, which IMHO is about as second-rate as you can get
  • On the other hand, the house is paid for, so the amount you’d have to pay in HOA fees for one of those apartment buildings would cover the cost of hired help..

This is something that bears thinking upon…

Epistle from the Church’s Reception Desk: You Know You’ve Been Stuck in a Rut Too Long When….

…driving through your city’s downtown is like visiting some other planet! 


Our city council likes to describe lovely Phoenix as a collection of “villages,” a metaphor whose purpose always sorta escaped me. But today it occurred to me…they could be right.

This morning before hitting the volunteer desk down at the Church, I had first to drive ALLLLLLLL the way to the far West Valley to pick up my lab report from the eager-to-operate dermatologist over there.

Then drive home, copy her report and write a note to MayoDoc explaining what OrthodontistDude said (viz.: don’t let any mere dermatologist slice up your face…get a plastic surgeon to do it) and expressing, as subtly but also as obviously as possible, the possibility that she might refer me to such a creature. Then get back in the car and drive and drive and drive and drive to the far East Valley to deliver this message. Then drive and drive and drive and drive to get back to the church, for whose activities I was (as announced to my coworker) running late.

It was the most extraordinary experience, driving from west side’s acres of former cotton and corn fields, now sprouting houses, CLEAR ACROSS THE CITY to the farthest eastern reaches of Richlandia! Because…I had to drive through downtown Phoenix, a garden spot I haven’t visited in a good 20 years. Or more. Then, once on the far side of those precincts, up Scottsdale Road through the fields of the now much updated and re-commercialized tourist traps.

The city of Px has changed SOOOO much as to be — seriously: no exaggeration — unrecognizable.

I used to work downtown, for a law firm that occupied three floors of a high rise. And DXH and I lived for about 15 years within walking distance of that small-town business district, in a much-gentrified antique central neighborhood. So, I knew the downtown area well.

Today the freeway was up-gescrewed, so I got off just to the west of the downtown commercial district and elected to cross the city on a main drag called Van Buren Street. This was my old stomping grounds: the Firm was located two blocks to the north, and this also was the route I used to take driving  across the city from our classic antique house to the university in Tempe. So I know it well. Or…so I thought.

What I found was not my mother’s route to Tempe…that’s for sure!! 😀 The entire downtown area has been SO MASSIVELY TRANSFORMED as to be unrecognizable!

Old bars and whorehouses are gone. So are most of the old office buildings and many of the old high-rises. These have been replaced by huge, shiny new high-rises, And the old SROs and dives? Mile after square mile of brand-new, very fancy mid-rise apartment buildings. A vast athletic arena covers blocks. The scary slums around the mental hospital: gone! Replaced by more apartments.

This goes on for blocks and blocks and blocks. Parts of it look like San Francisco; some of it reminds you of the higher-tax regions of L.A. What a thing to see!

Seriously: except that the roads follow the same routes, it was like driving through some other city.

driving driving driving…eventually I come to Scottsdale Road and turn north for the miles-long journey toward Shea Blvd. Out of the light-industrial low-rent area, northward into touristy downtown Scottsdale. And my gosh! Same story! It’s like the whole damn place has been demolished and rebuilt! Only a few of the buildings look familiar. Most of them are newer, snazzier, and ritzier!

driving driving driving driving…finally hit Shea Blvd. All of the formerly upscale housing developments along that route are now…MORE upscale! Walled, gated “communities,” not mere housing tracts. Holee moleee!

It’s a positive development…I guess. Goes a way toward explaining why property values are exploding in the’Hood. Any place that’s centrally located and middle- or upper-middle-class is going to inflate wildly in price, with all that fancy architecture and expensive real estate surrounding us.

But y’know what? When I got home to the ’Hood nestled between Conduit of Blight Blvd and Gangbanger’s Way, it struck me that our neighborhood has also gentrified madly…to the point where it is MUCH nicer and much more pleasant than snooty Scottsdale!!

 Those overpriced stick-and-styrofoam tract houses with their orange cement tile roofs do not hold up well to the passage of time: surely not as well as slump block and shake shingles. Our houses look soooooo much better and our irrigated yards with their towering green trees look sooo much prettier than those desert-landscaped McMansions…it rather defies belief!

And herein lies the point: When you live in your own “village,” an enclave of a vast urban jungle, you have your own aesthetic, your have your own ethic, you have your own shopping venues, social resources, churches, cops, veterinians, yard dudes, dogs, cats, and funny-looking neighbors. You have, in short, everything you need within arm’s reach. You don’t even notice the change going on in nearby “villages..”

No wonder the fix-and-flippers are having frenzies grabbing up our houses and selling them for three times what they’re worth… Who’d’ve thunk it?

A Quick Guide to Taxes for Self-Employed American Expats

Susan-B.-Anthony-DollarThe United States is only one of two countries that have adopted a citizenship-based taxation system, the other being Eritrea in Northeast Africa. This means that all U.S. citizens and permanent residents (also known as Green Card holders) are required to file a return and pay tax on their worldwide income, even if they are based in a foreign country.

For self-employed expats who are thinking of starting a business abroad, this could mean an additional layer of complexity to an already complicated system of tax filing and reporting. But just because the U.S. tax system works against expat taxpayers doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals.

Here’s a quick guide to filing taxes as a self-employed expat.

What is self-employment?

People who work for themselves are considered self-employed. While the term is generally associated with small side hustles, working as an independent contractor or opening a business also counts as self-employment.

According to the IRS, a person can be considered self-employed if:

  • They carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor
  • They are a member of a business or trade partnership
  • They are otherwise in business for themselves (including a part-time business)

It’s important to note that a person can be both self-employed and also work as a salaried employee. Many expats have started businesses on the side while holding down a full-time job.

Self-employed expat taxes

Self-employed expats often deal with heavier tax responsibilities compared to their salaried counterparts.

For starters, self-employed taxpayers have to withhold taxes from their income themselves, which results in extra paperwork and research. They also have to pay self-employment tax (for Social Security and Medicare) on top of their income tax.

Self-employed taxpayers may also have to pay estimated taxes quarterly. Ask a tax professional to clarify your tax situation to avoid a hefty penalty at the end of the year.

What is the threshold for self-employed tax

The reporting threshold for self-employed individuals is substantially lower than what most taxpayers are accustomed to. Self-employed expats who earn more than $400 in a year are required to file a tax return.

Is foreign income subject to self-employment tax

All income from self-employment, even from foreign sources, is subject to U.S. taxation. Self-employed individuals are required to pay a 15.3% self-employment tax: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare.

However, you may claim an exemption from paying U.S. Social Security tax if the United States has signed a totalization treaty with your country of residence.

Self-employed tax deductions

The IRS allows self-employed individuals to deduct business expenses from their taxable income, reducing their tax bills. Make sure to take advantage of all the benefits available to you to minimize your tax liability.

Some business expenses you can deduct include:

  • Legal and professional services
  • Business-related travel
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Marketing
  • Utility bills
  • Insurance
  • Business meals and entertainment

Just make sure to keep your records updated in the event of an IRS inquiry. Every deduction must be supported by documentation such as a receipt to justify the claim.

Self-employed tax exemptions

Self-employed expats who already pay income tax to their host countries can take advantage of tax exemptions to minimize their U.S. tax liability on the same income.

For instance, the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion allows you to exclude up to $108,700 (for tax year 2021) of foreign-earned income from U.S. tax if you are based in a foreign country.

You may also take a Foreign Tax Credit for foreign income taxes imposed on the same income. Self-employed expat taxpayers may claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on income tax paid to the host country’s tax service. This means you can use your foreign income tax bill to offset your U.S. taxes.

What if I’ve never filed self-employed taxes?

Self-employed American expats who haven’t filed a U.S. tax return may use the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures program to report foreign-earned income and pay back taxes without facing penalties.

Tax planning for self-employed expats

Filing taxes as a self-employed expat can be confusing and time-consuming. You are expected to stay on top of your tax obligations while running a business abroad. You also risk incurring heavy penalties if you make a mistake on your tax return. If you want to make sure your taxes are done correctly, your best option is to work with a professional tax service .

A Raft Made of Palm Fronds

Where we lived in Saudi Arabia — I grew up in an oil camp full of American expats on the shore of the Persian Gulf — the fences between our houses were made of sticks derived from stripping the leaves off the center spines of palm-tree fronds. Date palms, oleanders, a kind of jasmine shrub, and a tree-like affair that looked a great deal like a paloverde were the only things that grew out there, where the soil was mostly sand and salt. A sort of bermuda-grass would grow, in a sickly and lumpy way. But otherwise that was about it.

I had a plan, when I was a little girl.

It was to run away.

Not just to run away, but to sail away — because obviously, even to the mind of a young child, the only plausible means of escape were by air (impossible for a kid without her parents) or by sea.

The latter would be exquisitely dangerous. Even the ten-year-old I recognized that. But it was reasonable to reflect that to be dead would be better than to continue living in that place.

I was an unpopular little kid — a weird one. School was an unhappy place for me. And home wasn’t a whole lot better when I wasn’t sequestered in my room,  terrified of my father and  miserable in general with life.

So I hatched a Plan.

The Plan was to build a raft, equipped with a sail made from a sheet, and set to sea off the coast of the Rub al Khali, one of the most barren deserts on the planet. The body of this raft would be made of palm ribs, readily available from the fences the Arabs built to delineate the lots that held the Americans’ company houses. These I would lash together with rope and wire.

Once fully equipped, I would sail down the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, then make my way up coast of Asia. Cross the Bering Strait and make landfall in Alaska. From there I would walk and hitch-hike down into California. And once home: take up the lifestyle of Little Orphan Annie.

Great idea, ain’t it?

This evening I was led to reflect on my father’s life, blighted as it was from the beginning by circumstance, and how he managed to overcome most of that. Yet…how any extended happiness contrived to elude him.

My father was a change-of-life baby, an unfortunate surprise for his parents. His youngest brother was 18 years older than he was.

His father did not want to raise another child, starting out in middle age. So he ran off, leaving the infant and the 40-plus mother in Texas to fend for themselves. She had inherited a substantial amount of money from her own father, who had made a fortune freighting buffalo hides out of Oklahoma into Kansas. Some time later, the unwilling dad was found by the side of a remote East Texas road, allegedly a suicide.

That, I think, is dubious. Given that during his careers as a prison guard and as a cowboy he had plenty of opportunities to make the occasional mortal enemy, I suspect it’s just as possible that he was murdered. But that, interesting as it may be, is neither here nor there.

My grandmother diddled away her late father’s wealth (equivalent of about $2.75 million in today’s money), swindled by dubious building contractors offering to fancify her home and by spiritualists who promised to contact the dead in séances from the living room. When the two older brothers learned their expected inheritance had been looted — way too late! — they turned on each other. My father dropped out of high school, lied about his age, and joined the Navy.

Hence, a career as a deck officer: Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. It was this seafaring work experience that bought him a handsomely paid, all-expenses-covered job as a harbor pilot in Arabia, steering supertankers in and out of the port at Ras Tanura.

He led an interesting life full of interesting (but also often tedious) adventures. He worked hard. He set himself the goal of earning and putting into savings the amount of the fortune his mother squandered. Today, that’s no great pile of dough — to buy my little tract house would cost five times that many dollars. But he wasn’t an educated man and he didn’t understand about inflation. And besides, by the time he retired, the dollar hadn’t lost so much value that he and my mother couldn’t live a modest middle-class lifestyle on what he’d saved. They paid for everything in cash: cars, the house in Sun City, their daily necessities. If they couldn’t afford to buy it in cash, they didn’t buy it. And they lived pretty well.

That cash-only lifestyle — and its obvious benefits when good times turn to hard times — was what taught me never to buy anything that you can’t afford to pay for out of pocket. That includes a house: if you don’t have $500,000 in savings (and then some), don’t buy a $500,000 house. Buy a $100,000 house and pay for it in cash dollah.

[Unless, of course, your investments are returning more than the amount of interest you would have to pay on a mortgage loan. That concept was above my father’s head, but it’s worked OK for me.]

I think he never had a very happy life. Or if he did, it was only for short stretches. He went to sea most of his adult life: hard, tedious work. As for the ten-year stretch in Arabia? Who knows what he really thought about it: he wasn’t a complainer. I doubt if he thought much about it one way or the other: he took things as they lay.

My mother used my (supposed…) infection with mononucleosis in the 6th grade as an excuse to demand that we come back to the States. He reluctantly agreed. We moved to California, where for a few years he shipped out of Rodeo (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and then for a few more years out of Long Beach. By nature he was a homebody — he loved to putter, and he would cheerfully do things like scrub the kitchen floor for my mother. But now “home” was a cabin on an oil tanker.

He retired in the late 1960s…just in time for a wild inflationary period. Shortly, the value of his life savings shrunken, he had to go back to sea: he was on a boat when I graduated from college, and he was stuck in a storm off Alaska when I got married.

Finally he retired again, once and for all, and came “home” to Sun City.

I believe he and my mother were happy enough there, for awhile. But it wasn’t long before she smoked herself to death. Not surprisingly, given that she was smoking six packs a day by the time she died, she lasted only another six or seven years after they moved to Arizona. Then he had to care for her while she died hideously over a four- or five-month period.

Devastated by her death and the horror show that accompanied it, he sold the Sun City house, moved to a life-care community, and married a woman he met there. This was not an especially happy match. But because he was afraid that if he divorced her she would get all his money (Arizona is a community-property state), he stayed miserably in the union. By way of survival, he snuck off and rented a studio at another old-folkerie…he would tell the wifeling that he was taking the car to the repair shop, and then he would repair, all right: to the other apartment and sit in front of the TV all day.

LOL! You shoulda seen the Vigoro fly when she found out about that! 😀

When you come right down to it, life is a raft made of palm fronds, isn’t it?

The State of the…Whatever-We’ve-Got-Here…

Today’s Quora post:

What are your thoughts on Dr. Fauci telling reporters that America might still be battling smallpox and polio if today’s kind of misinformation existed back then?