A Father’s Day Anvil

We weighed the anvil on the bathroom scale to find out that it weighed 195 pounds. We thought that 1-2-27 stamped on the side was the date it was made, but that turns out to be the weight in hundredweight notation. Inputting the numbers into an Internet calculator confirmed that the anvil was 195 pounds. More research suggested that this was a “London-patterned” anvil made by Peter Wright between the 1860s and 1920s, often used as ballast in sailing ships when being delivered to the United States. Dad found it in a blacksmith shop on an old farm in Boise, Idaho, in the late 1950s.  It’s at least 100 years old since it was on the farm for 50 years and he had it for 50 years after that. An anvil collector would pay anywhere from $400 USD to $1,000 USD.

When I was a little child, I sat on the anvil one night to watch Dad work around the garage. I was rocking back and forth when I fell off backwards. The back of my head stuck the lawnmower blade, leaving an inch-long scar that I didn’t know about until I got a crew cut as teenager, and I blacked out. The next thing I remembered was waking up in the truck with my parents as  pulled up to the hospital. Then I blacked out for good when I was put on the operating table and a gas mask was put over my face. I woke up in a recovery room that had six tables. The only other patient was a Hell’s Angels biker with a broken arm and stitches for multiple knife wounds who was handcuffed to the table. That was the beginning of a very interesting childhood for me.

Ever since then I wanted to have that anvil, which was customary handed down from father to son through the ages. Dad knows I want the anvil but he haven’t given it to me yet and keeps mentioning that he wants to sell it. I think he fears that I’ll stop visiting him if I took the anvil home. Not true but I’m not pressing him for it. I did made it very clear that the anvil was the only possession that I wanted from him if he kicks the bucket. My brother can have everything else. Knowing my luck, I’ll have to pry the anvil out of his dead hands when the time comes.


The Bank’s Free Movie Ticket Promotion

Which is why some merchants are encouraging consumers to use debit instead of credit if they are given a choice.  The transaction fee for debit is less than what it is for credit.  Banks, on the other hand, would love to get consumers to use credit for every debit purchase since they earn more money that way.  That’s how the interchange system works.  Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that.  When a bank dangles a free movie ticket in your face, it’s really about the bank enriching themselves at the expense of the merchant while pretending to offer you a nice freebie.

If you look at the entire financial system over the last few years, it’s all about the different ways to charge fees for everything underneath the sun.  If you bought a cup of plain black coffee at Starbucks that causes your checking account to be overdrawn, the bank will charge you an overdraft fee for each and every item that comes.  If you use a foreign ATM to withdraw money, you will get hit with a fee by the ATM owner and the bank.  If you don’t keep a minimum balance in your savings account, you will pay a monthly maintenance fee.  (Never mind the five percent interest spread that the banks make from paying out on savings and earning from loans.)  The financial system is no longer in the business of creating new wealth that benefits society as a whole.

These fees will soon change this summer.  The bank will lose a significant source of easy profits by no longer being allowed to charge overdraft fees if you don’t opt in to their overdraft programs, and the interchange fee will be reduced for merchants.  No doubt that the banks will find new fees to make up difference, like eliminating “free” checking accounts by charging a high monthly maintenance fee.  The fee list will continue to grow until consumers cries out again and politician finds it in their self-interest to bring the banks under heel.

I have no intention of switching from debit to credit to score a free movie ticket.  The only ethical way I could do that was to make purchases at a merchant that does credit transactions by default.  That would be my local gas station.  However, I only buy gas once or twice a month, and don’t drive enough miles to buy gas 30 times in two months.  Unless, of course, I buy a gallon of gas at a time.  That’s not ethical because that’s gaming the system.  Then again, the banks are already gaming the system.  Not that I would try to do that at my local gas station.  The fat Indian guy might come out of his booth with a baseball bat to swing at my head if I’m messing around with his pumps.  He yelled at me once for using an American Express card—before they cancelled it—that he doesn’t take.

The U.S. Mint found itself in a similar situation last year when they offered free shipping for gold coin purchases made by credit card. Some people were repeatedly buying gold coins on their credit cards, depositing the gold coins at the bank to pay off the credit card balance, and earning frequent air miles to score free airline tickets.  They weren’t doing anything illegal except gaming the system as they found it.  The U.S. Mint put in safeguards to prevent abuses of this nature.  Gold coins are for collectors, not speculators.  Never mind that the frothy gold market today.

I sent off an email to Wells Fargo Bank customer service to ask them if I could get a free movie ticket if I did buy a gallon of gas 30 times in two months.  Not surprisingly, they didn’t know about this promotion and told me to check in with the local branch office.  That I didn’t do.  Every time I go in to make a cash deposit inside (those envelope-less ATMs don’t think my cash is good enough for them), the tellers remind me that I don’t have a savings account and no overdraft protection. They’re never happy to hear that I havemy savings account at a different bank that charges no monthly fee and pays one percent more in interest, and I’m really careful about managing the money in my checking account.  People like me who manage their finances responsibly are the kind people that banks don’t like since they can’t charge extraneous fees.  No wonder they’re going broke.


Why I Hate Tea Baggers

One fellow wrote several long paragraphs comparing me to Rob Reiner and calling me a “meat head,” the slang term that Archie Bunker used for his son-in-law in “All in The Family” TV series.  I pretended I didn’t understand him.  I’m sure that many younger readers didn’t understand his reference to a TV series that’s been off the air for a generation.  I challenged him to take a class in English.  Another insult since that’s what the tea baggers hurl at anyone who has an accent, looks foreign or refuses to assimilate into the white-as-slice-bread melting pot.

His reply was swift: “You’re a loser.”

My reply was swifter: “Of course, I’m a loser. I’m a moderate conservative.”

How many intellectual brownie points did we score with that exchange?  Not much, if any.  Not that I was keeping track or even care about that.  You will find many windbags on WSJ who try to demonstrate their intellectual superiority in a barrage of words that mean nothing.  A politician’s stump speech would be more interesting in comparison, even if you heard 30 times or more during the course of the campaign.  As a fiction writer I keep my verbiage to a minimum to best communicate the human stupidity that I witness in all its forms

Poke, poke.  See how they growl, hiss and snarl.

I hate tea baggers.  If you listen to what they’re actually saying rather than accept the “sanitized” version presented by the Republican Party (the Rand Paul episode is a fine example), you soon realize these people have an agenda that would—in my opinion—tea bag America (i.e., in the sexual position).  For example, tea baggers want to return to the original U.S. Constitution without all those pesky amendments that outlawed slavery, allowed women and colored people the right to vote, electing senators directly by popular vote, limited presidents to two terms in office, and prohibited the non-payment of poll taxes to deny people the right to vote.  All the amendments that made modern America so great over the last 200 years is what the tea baggers don’t want.

I loved Non Sequitur’s take on this.  The heads of tea baggers should explode when they find out that their version of America is unwanted by anyone who can think for themselves and for society as a whole.  America needs to move forward into the future and not backward into the past.

Tow, Baby, Tow

You would think after six weeks of notices taped to the apartment doors and a final warning taped to the poles around the parking lot, some people would take a hint.  Nope.  Ain’t going to happen, baby.  Some of my neighbors wouldn’t even take down the notices from their doors, leaving them up there like political posters posted over the old posters left over from the last election on telephone poles.  (For the younger generation, there used to be telephone poles on every street before the utility companies started burying the cables underground, and campaign posters gave way to become websites and viral videos on to the Internet.)  An apartment door covered with paper becomes an eyesore in a hurry.  Half the doors on my section of the floor was like that.

Why do some people leave their cars parked in their old unassigned parking spots without the new permits to be towed away?

Maybe they were on vacation.  A guy at a different apartment complex returned home from India after a six week-vacation to find that his car was towed away for not being moved from its designated parking spot every 72 hours, impounded for 30 days, and crushed as scrape metal to pay the towing fees.  Since he didn’t notified the leasing office that he was going on vacation and they weren’t able to contact him, his vehicle was presumed to be abandoned and towed away.  Tsk, tsk, you’re so out of luck, they told him.  Police told him the same thing.  He told the San Jose Mercury News and everyone in Silicon Valley knew he was out of luck.  This happens all the time in San Francisco without making the papers.

Or maybe they weren’t on the lease.  All you need is one legimate person to sign the lease, who turns around to sublease the apartment out to friends or strangers who aren’t legal and/or credit worthy to be on the lease.  Needless to say, these unofficial tenants aren’t going into the leasing office with their vehicle registration to pick up the new permit.  Changing the parking permits and reassigning parking spots is a good way to flush out these apartments, as well as legitimate tenants who own three or four cars.  Street parking is non-existent around here with students trying to avoid paid parking at San Jose City College, extra cars from the other apartment complexes, permits required for street parking on the residential street, and the nearest public parking lot is a mile away.  If you ever tried driving around a crowded neighborhood to look for a parking spot when visiting a friend, it’s a more frustrating experience for someone who lives there.

I once shared an apartment with three Filipino guys when rent prices were crazy in Silicon Valley before the dot com bust blew the rental market to Kingdom Come.  We were all on the lease.  They shared the large room and I was in the smaller room.  The brother who recently arrived from the Phillipines suggested that the big bedroom had enough space for another 20 Filipino guys.  Uh, no.  One, that wouldn’t fly with the leasing office. Two, having once slept overnight with 20 guys—some of whom had dinner at Taco Bell—in a small hotel room for a campus ministry retreat in Berkeley, I wasn’t going to relive that experience. Three, they never did pony up that Filipino wife that they promised me (probably because I didn’t eat the balut).  After so many misadventures with roommates over the years, I’m happy to be living by myself.

Or maybe they were stupid.  A roommate and I had shared an apartment at a complex that had strict parking rules.  He had the only car but we had two assigned parking spots.  One day for lunch he parked his car in the uncovered spot because it was closer to the apartment.  The permit sticker on his car was for the covered spot.  When he got done with lunch, he found out that his car was towed away for being in the wrong spot and it cost him $350 to get his car back.  We also found out that the complex got $150 for every car that was towed away, which would explain why a tow truck came through the complex at 9AM, 12PM and 3PM every day of the week.  On average, two cars a day got towed.

My apartment complex has some 300 odd apartments and 600 odd parking spots.  After the new parking regime went into effect, about 200 parking spots opened up.  The former “visitor” parking spots were mostly empty at night during the week.  Cars without the new permits started showing up over the weekend.  I haven’t seen any tow trucks cruising through the complex yet.  That might change once everyone gets used to the new parking regime and the parking spots start filling up again.  I’m not taking any risks.  I had my friend parked at the post office and picked him up to hang out over at my place.  Neither of us can afford to have his car towed.

Although I gave up a parking spot that I had for nearly five years, I liked the new one.  It’s further back than the other one, on the end and out of the traffic flow.  Also out of the crossfire of dueling pine trees when they dump pollen during spring.  It’s further away from the dumpsters and mailbox.  Multitasking multiple errands requires more walking.  Not that I mind walking.  I saw one person driving their car with one hand out the window to hold the trash bags to drive over to the dumpster.  Now that’s plain stupid.