Saturday, December 20, 2014

Graduating Class Wealth

I received my yearly request for donations from the little college I had attended for two years, before transferring to a Mega-University on an athletic scholarship, back in the early 1980's and, naturally, I still couldn't make any meaningful monetary contribution, due to various bad career decisions and countless other economic obstacles through the years.

I did find it interesting however, to compare the top five contributing classes and their rank, assuming this was a reflection on their relative financial success since graduation, as compared to other graduating years in the continuum.

Here are the current rankings:

First place was class of '68. No surprise here. They've had a lot of time to earn the big bucks and saw great benefits from the industrial boom era.

Second place was the class of '78. 1978 was the best year ever actually, according to this article: 

Third place was the class of '73. Very good.

In fourth was the class of 1988, just in time for the economic recovery from the recession of the early 1980's.

Fifth place was my class, 1983, which does not surprise me. I know of very few in my class who went anywhere, really. We came after the industrial and baby booms and before the tech boom. A lost generation.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Don't Trust Dick's

I made a fairly large Xmas purchase at Dick's Sporting Goods recently and let the cashier talk me into applying for a Dick's credit card in exchange for a $25.00 discount, on the spot.

Now I'm old enough to know that credit cards can quickly build up interest charges and late payment penalties, if you forget about them for any length of time. So, I made a mental note to pay that thing off as soon as the physical card came in, which I did.

So what do I get in return for being a responsible consumer and paying my bills on time? A $25.00 charge on my next statement. So the $25.00 discount is a big, fat lie. And I suspect that this is the scam at every big retailer, when they make this offer, so, unless you need another credit card, say no at the register, because you will pay, one way or another, for any favors they may offer you.

Keep an eye on these banks and credit card companies. They are designed to rob you blind. Put that money under the mattress.


The best cure for credit card fees

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winterizing my window air conditioner

My stupid central heating and air conditioning system quit on me back in March of 2014, just in time for the stinkin' hot Tennessee summer. This was a new townhouse five years ago. The builder apparently gave me "half a ventilation system, to save money and make more profit on the project", according to one anonymous AC pro I consulted with on the system's shitty performance very often over the last five years. This after they removed all the trees from the back of the property soon after I signed on the dotted line. If you get the urge to purchase a new property from "Creative Homes", run, don't walk away. Expect paper-thin walls and half a ventilation system, to start. 

In a prime example, here's the latest announcement from the original developers, a change from residential to commercial zoning right behind the property, so it will be constant construction for the foreseeable future:

Greedy Developers in Action

Getting back to my particular unit, So the system ran constantly and the upstairs still remained too hot or too cold, compared to the downstairs, until eventually it wore out prematurely, due to doing the work of two separate units. Plus, utility bills were huge, in the half my time I spent actually living here, in this Godforsaken backwater I accidentally got stuck in for way too long, due to a crappy real estate market back in 2009. I guess I really got screwed on my first-ever home purchase. I always learn the hard way, which means I am too soon old and too late smart. (See builder website link, Creative Homes).

Anyways, I had to eventually install a massive Frigidaire A/C window unit, due to the hot summer season, and it did a great job keeping at least the downstairs bearable through the warm summer. Problem is that it's now Winter and the A/C is letting in the cold air, so I "winterized" it.

I don't have any experience with such things, never having had a wall AC unit before in my past living spaces, so I did what made sense to me and applied sealing and insulation around the outside window. Here is how I did it:

Step One - Put wide duct tape around the edges.
I used epoxy tape from my radon mitigation days for securing the plastic liner, but before sticking this to the wall, you will want to lay some tape down, so you will be able to remove the whole contraption in the Spring. Epoxy tape itself is fairly permanent, so you don't want to stick it directly to the building.

Be sure and tape fully around the unit.

Next measure out enough plastic sheeting to attach to the perimeter.

Next, you want to cut enough plastic sheeting to cover the tape around the perimeter. I used vapor barrier from my radon mitigation and crawlspace-sealing days. This particular brand is 6 mil thick. Here is a link to a 6 mil, 20x25 ft. sheet: Warp Bros 6 mil.

After you cut your sheet of plastic, keep it at the ready.

Cut the Eternabond with quick, short strokes with a box-cutter

Be careful to peel the two-sided tape sticky side to the wall first.

Next, peel the plastic off the outer side of the Eternabond.

Next, carefully stick the plastic to the sticky side of the entire perimeter.

Smooth around the edges to make sure the plastic has an airtight seal. Then wrap insulation around the plastic cover, using small strips of Eternabond tape to secure the insulation. Then wrap duct tape around the insulation to hold it in place.

Lastly, wrap another layer of plastic around the whole thing, sticking it to what's left exposed of the Eternabond on the edges, to ensure that no water leaks in and soaks your insulation layer.

Not pretty, but effective.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Uber Over

I do believe my time driving for Uber is over, for the most part. First, they started charging me $10.00 a week for my phone, which they had already charged me $100 for, I believe was the figure, when I started some months ago. Keep in mind the software in this special iPhone was Uber dedicated, meaning it was no good for my personal use.

Everything was fine though, as it stood then. I was eking out a living with that setup. Then, for some reason, Uber saw fit to start charging the extra $40/month. That made it generally a non-profitable venture. So I sent the phone back, in the envelope they sent me, with the promise to get my own iPhone and resume employment.

Shopping for iPhones it soon became apparent that this is a whole other racket unto itself, the whole smartphone biz, with the two year contracts, fuzzy fine print on thick packets of forms requiring my signature, signing God-knows what, and early cancellation penalties approaching five to six hundred dollars in some cases.

With the iPhone, the only phone that works with the Uber driver app, you can either buy the phone, around $500, depending on the age of the model desired, or pay for it over a two year period, which is added to your monthly phone bill, at around an extra $22.00/month. So you have this two year financing deal and a two year contract, on a phone that will be obsolete in two years, where the whole cycle will then be repeated.

Dear Uber and iPhone providers, feel free to take a hike.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Uber Saturday

I changed my previous strategy from last Saturday - yes I'm down to driving for Uber one day per week because any day but a Saturday is pretty much a waste of my precious time - to that of starting in the wealthier suburbs and then staying put where that next ride took me, which in this case was from one spot in beautiful Franklin to another spot in Franklin, TN to start. Last Saturday I was dropping people in town and then driving back to the suburbs, which resulted in similar earnings, but put an ungodly amount of miles on the car.

Anyway, my time in Franklin didn't last long and the next ride was a long one into the heart of downtown Nashville, where I spent the next six hours in a constant state of ride-sharing. In fact, last night was one of my best blocks of drive-time ever driving for Uber, as far as mileage-to earnings ratio is concerned. I grossed about $160 for seven hours in the car, an average of $22.86/hour. After deducting Uber's 20% and some gas money, about 160 miles/25 mpg=6.4 gallons x $3.16 per gallon of premium gas equals approximately $20 in gas. So, subtract $52.00 for a net income of $108.00/$15.42/hour, and that's the best I have done with Uber.

I don't think I'm going to top that. Wait, I take that back. Earnings were somewhat dampened by a pro hockey game downtown, which tied up traffic before the start and after the end of the game. I did manage to take one hockey fan to the game, so it wasn't a total loss. Also, I tend to avoid answering most requests from the Vanderbilt college campus, as these kids tend to be snooty entitled brats, in my experience, that I tend to gladly avoid, at least lately. So, I'm avoiding one sixth or so of the city and still staying plenty busy, but earnings could be even higher.

For example, I was passing through the Vandy campus last night on the way to my favorite coffee shop and I did accept one ride request, figuring, what the hell, why not? So four seemingly drunk college guys pile in for a short trip and the one in the back seat says to the other, "my Suburban shit one of these the other day", cutting on my midsize car like it's small or something. That was my last ride out of that neighborhood, for sure.

Dear children of the rich pricks of America..........

I really hate you guys. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Uber Blues

I did not make a profit in September in my Uber gig... 

Of course it was no help that I worked only half the month, due to another part-time job out-of-state involving farm work, from which driving for Uber is a major break. I just had very bad luck with my low profile Continental brand tires, which are not very tough, and I would highly not recommend for city driving. 

First, I dropped off a couple of gay guys, who flew in from the West Coast, in front of an apparently very popular gay bar here in Nashville, judging from the line to get in, composed of both boys and girls. So, in my attempt to drop them off as close as possible to the front door, I ran up on the curb a little bit and what happens? The frigging right front tire blows out through the sidewall and goes flat.

So I manage to drive the car to the empty lot across the street and ended up paying a homeless guy $25 to help me change it, providing entertainment for the night-clubbing crowd. This guy was actually a God-send, as he really knew cars and prevented me from jacking up the car in the wrong spot on the plastic trim. His name was "Terrel" if I recall correctly.

Luckily the tire was covered under warranty from Discount Tire, but of course I had to buy two tires to balance out the car, so that one new tire hit me for around $200 after sales tax.

Finally getting back to driving for Uber the next Thursday night and I run over something - I don't even know what - and the next morning I notice the right front tire has a deep slice in it.

Amazing it didn't go flat.......

Luckily this is part of the other two tires left, not the new pair on the rear of the car. Back to Discount Tire again and it's covered under warranty-awesome-and I have to buy another pair of tires, $200 for the one new one to make another pair, so I'm getting killed so far in the profits department.

The reality is, as appealing as it is to make my own schedule and get paid to drive around in the car, the income to expense ratio is just not going to allow me to continue working for Uber that much longer. Though my Uber career will probably be short-lived, I will definitely continue to use the service as a passenger. It's a great deal for riders. For the drivers, not so much.

Back out tonight to try again on the busiest and craziest night of the week.......

Update - Sunday, October 5....

Saturday was busy from my start at 2 p.m. through my quit time around 1 a.m., when an apparently very drunk teen girl barfed in my car, into a barf bag luckily. I managed a gross earnings of around $180, after slapping another 220 miles on my unfortunate vehicle, but I managed to earn almost one of my damaged tires back in one night, so a good night, for this business anyway. Met young people from all over the country, so the young-generation migration continues.....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Uber Damsels in Distress...

So I went to drive for Uber Saturday night, normally the best night of the week for earnings. I started around 6 p.m. and I got pinged right away by a couple of Welshmen who needed a ride from their Air Bnb rental house to the downtown area. It never ceases to amaze me, the people who visit here from all over the world.

Anyway, from the minute I went online, it was a fairly constant flow of rides, mostly medium and long rides, only because I made a point of staying at least 20 minutes from the center of town, where people were steadily grabbing rides back into town, until about 11:30 p.m. Then I changed my strategy, to lingering close to the downtown bar areas, where people were starting to head back to the outskirts.

I cruised by one popular and crowded spot, where I noticed a gorgeous young woman in white, attempting to hail a cab with her obviously drunk boyfriend, with no apparent luck. The problem with Uber is that I could not actually offer them a ride. I would have to wait for them to click on the app on their smartphone, if they had actually already signed up for Uber, and hope I was the closest driver.

So I made a right with the line of slow-moving traffic, to go around the block and maybe park close by, when my phone lit up with a ride request. Amazingly, it was right back in the same area where I had just seen the girl. I clicked to accept the request and proceeded to turn around.

When I finally got back there, I waited for "Stephanie" to find me parked in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, the only empty curb-space available, information which I had texted to her. After about a five minute wait, guess who opens the passenger door and hops in next to me, but this same girl in white!

She thanked me profusely and asked me to take her to a club on the other side of town. Remembering her partner, I asked if there was anyone else on the way and she said "no", she was the only one. During the trip, she called someone and seemed to be arguing with them about treating her badly and how she had no time for such treatment.

She hung up and informed me that I was a lifesaver for giving her a ride, because her boyfriend had got drunk and become quite abusive and she had been unable to find an available cab to get away from him and go hang with her friends instead. Then she had requested Uber and I had shown up in "under two minutes" and how great that was, to be able to just call a "personal driver" to escape the situation. This was actually the third time I can remember, that I picked up a woman that was in an abusive situation and whisked her away.

So, I may not be getting rich from Uber, but this part is pretty cool.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Uber Update Sept. 10, 2014

Was offline from Uber for about three weeks after picking up a farm labor job out of state. This job was so tough and it was so stinking hot (Central Florida) that I was glad to get back to Nashville and my air conditioned vehicle Wednesday evening from 5 to 9 p.m.

Uber had sent me an email threatening to deactivate my account if I didn't put some hours in, so I rushed right out and fired up the app. After about an hour or so, I picked up my first rider in Franklin, TN and took them all the way to the Ryman in Nashville, for a $28.00 fare. Then I hung out in Nashville for another hour before I picked up four young business hotshots from Los Angeles who needed a ride from the West End to a local hotel, for around $5.00 fare.

Then I hung around for another 45 minutes, but no more rides and I called it a night.

Mileage: Approx. 110 miles
Gross Earnings: $33.00
Gas: $11.00
Uber's take: 20%

So, let me see, .2 multiplied by 33 = Uber takes $6.60. So 33 - 11 - 6.60 = $15.40 net income

15.40/4 hours = $3.85/hour income.

I assume Uber will charge me $10.00 this week for the use of their software, so $15.40 - $10.00 = $5.40 net income/4 hours = net income $1.35/hour.

There are the numbers so far, day one.



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Uber Update July 26

Again I had what I thought was a stellar night driving for Uber (Friday night), picking up a steady flow of riders, starting at the airport to pick up a handsome young couple, who brought me straight downtown, where the action was already in full swing around 7 p.m.

The best part of the job is definitely meeting all kinds of people, if only for a few minutes, including a few bachelorette party groups of gorgeous young college-age girls, never to be seen again, which ultimately serves strictly as an extraordinary type of torture for me in my middle age.

Looking at the hard numbers this morning, I was again struck by the disappointingly low net income, which means that the pressure is on to find something else, before my car blows up, from all this driving. Here are the numbers:

Mileage: 155.9 To be fair, I do have to drive 34 miles just to get to Uber territory, near the "big city", so that's 72 miles out the window from the start. If you're going to do this, make sure you live closer to town.

Including my 72 mile handicap, with gas at $3.26 this week, and my car that gets 23.5 mpg/city, that works out to 6.63 gallons to go 155.9 miles, or $21.62 in gas. Without the 72 miles, that would be 155.9-72=83.9 miles if I was already living in town. 83.9/23.5=3.57 gallons of gas, equals $11.63 in gas.

Ten trips at $98.19 in fares, less Uber's 20% equals $78.55 net earnings. Less $21.62 in gas equals $56.93 total net income for 7 hours in the car, which comes out to $8.13/hour, so welcome to minimum wage! It just makes me feel really good about all the time, energy and sacrifice I put into earning those two college degrees of mine. What a joke. I do know who's laughing all the way to the bank here and it begins with a big "U" and probably an "F" in there somewhere too.

To make things more depressing, I heard a rumor that the U is going to start charging drivers $10.00 a month to lease their Uber-phones, whether you drive or not, so deduct another $520/year in expenses.

Despite being quite depressed over these numbers, I managed to up my spirits enough to get back out there Saturday night, normally the best night of the week for Uber earnings, and banged out another 7pm to 2am shift in the city, shuttling young people around from bar to bar and from the bar and back home again. The numbers for Saturday night were as follows:

Mileage: 148.5
Gas: 6.32 Gallons @ 23.5 mpg x $3.34/gallon = $21.10
Trips: 12
Hours: 7
Gross Earnings: $137.49
Uber's Take: 20% x 137.49 = $27.50
My income: $109.99 - gas @ $21.10 = $88.89 = $12.70/hour
Average Income per-mile over the last four day period: $2.28/mile(before expenses)

I managed to up my average hourly net income from min. wage to $12.70/hour and that's the best night of the week. So, theoretically if every day was like Saturday and I drove for 7 hours a day 7 days a week and I put 54,020 miles on the car (148 miles x 365 days a year), the absolute best income I could manage over an entire year is just a hair over $32,000 dollars. So there it is.

More realistically, if I just stick with driving Friday and Saturday nights, most of the year, I can bring in an extra $110 + $57 = an extra $170/week multiplied by about 40 weeks a year comes to an extra $6,800/year in earnings, although you would add some major mileage on your vehicle.

In conclusion: Uber, a great part-time gig on your own schedule, one or two weekend nights a week. Not a full-time job, unless your car is invincible, runs on electricity and never needs maintenance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

CNN Sucks!

Classless CNN's Fredricka Whitfield gets bitch-slapped by 80 year-old Joan Rivers in this priceless interview:

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Central Air vs. Wall Unit

My central heating and air unit conked out around April this year, just in time for the stinkin' hot Spring and Summer season in the Middle Tennessee Valley. So I call in my A/C guys from Hiller and they were just power-selling me on getting a new central air unit, sending in three guys at once to grill me at the kitchen table, one salesman and two tech guys it seems. Just a hair over $8,000 they told me. When I balked at the price, they happily told me I could get a loan for this. An $8,000 loan? Oh boy, where do I sign up? These guys must think I'm as dumb as my biceps are big.

Well, I bought my first house to make money, not to end up in the poorhouse, so I told them thanks, but no-thanks and promptly went out to Lowes and picked up the second biggest wall air conditioning unit that Frigidaire makes, for around $430.00. I then installed it into the downstairs window, hidden behind the squat rack.

Frigidaire Model #FFRE15l3Q1  
 Well let me tell you, after a month, I could not be happier with this unit. Blowing gales of cool, dry air, it cools the entire downstairs, around 850 square feet with 9ft high ceilings and even cools the upstairs a little bit, although I have to help things along with a few floor and ceiling fans.

Better yet, utility bills are about 1/4 of what they were, despite it being way hotter and humid outside than back in March, and the unit runs half the day, at least, with the rest of the time on "Eco" setting.....

Huge electric bill, March 2014

June's tiny electric bill, minus that cash cow scam- central air

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Uber - Week One

So far, so good, although my nightly earnings have come as a disappointment. I usually log-in and check my stats the morning after a six to eight-hour night on the clock downtown. Last night for example, my latest, busiest weekend night driving in downtown Nashville, I had a steady flow of passengers from around 6 p.m. through 2:30 a.m. Big bucks, right?

 So I wake up and look at my take and it's $170-something, which is great, but this is no $60,000/year business. Something else that perplexes me is the sometimes whole point drop in ratings after what seems like a night of great interaction with my passengers.

I never get a clue that anything is less than perfect from my people. The car is a clean and air-conditioned, late model Volvo. These kids are young-in their twenties mostly and seemingly well-off for the most part, so maybe they're basically rich and hard to please. That's my guess.

Listen you little brats! Consider yourself lucky to even have an affordable, air conditioned private ride show up in 5 minutes, instead of calling an over-priced taxi from a pay-phone, which may or may not show up in an hour, which was the only way to get anywhere when I was your age and poor as shit, back in the eighties!

So it's good work for a little pocket-change, but eventually your car's gonna' blow up. This ain't new car income and you're gonna' be calling Uber yourself, for a ride too. Basically, you're sucking the value out of your car and transferring it to your bank account.

My favorite ride was the two hookers I picked up and dropped off downtown, where the one did a little dance for me in the street before they walked off and I did notice everybody present who was close by on the street on 5th avenue just stopped and stared at me for a moment, slack-jawed, even the local cop.

I'm going to change my strategy from accepting every ride request, to just taking the rides that are within a ten-minute drive of where I'm at. I did that Thursday and it was a high income, low mileage night. When the ride request comes through on the iPhone, it gives the estimated minutes of drive time that passenger is from your location. Uber has been pressuring us to accept every ride, even those that are 15-20 minutes or more away for pickup.

I followed that strategy last night and it was a lot of miles on the car. Plus I think the one girl I picked up a distance west of town must have gave me a low rating, because she was very short with me, after I got a bit lost trying to find her house, which did not come up on my GPS unit. So this is the thanks I get, for driving 20 minutes to pick up this kid.

Regardless, I'm going to enjoy the steady work, while it lasts. Seems like Uber's days are numbered and everyone is trying to sue them or regulate them out of business anyway, as is the custom in this country when anything good is happening.

First time Uber riders, get $20 off!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Driving for Uber

Having been chronically underemployed during the year 2014, due to my trying to escape my previously ill-advised involvement in the chiropractic personal-injury racket, I am always searching for ways to make money, as it seems I am unemployable in my old age for anything other than "self employment", which means I'm on Craigslist a lot, searching in desperation for any opportunity to earn a buck.

Regardless, I spied this ad for Uber drivers on my local Craigslist, so, naturally, I applied. To my surprise, I actually got "hired" after a lengthy month-long background check and they promptly sent me an iPhone programmed for the Uber share a ride system. This is where you take your vehicle to your local city where Uber is operating and hang out until some stranger, who is already signed up for the Uber system, requests a ride through your Uber-issued iPhone.

Then you have 15 seconds to tap the phone screen and accept the ride. Punch the requested address into your GPS (purchased with your own funds) and, hopefully, it directs you to the waiting fare. There, you pull over, greet the customer and get the destination address, which you also punch into your GPS, unless you already know your city really well. Proceed from point A to point B, after touching the go button on your Uber-phone and it records the time and mileage and computes a fare, after you touch the stop button on your phone at the end of the trip, of which Uber takes 20%. The rest is deposited a few times per week directly into your bank account.

Sounds like the perfect job, right? No day is the same. Meet lots of interesting, tech-savvy people. Set your own hours, get immediate feedback on what you earned on any ride given, work in any major city.

My experience after three nights? Here are my numbers after being available from 4 through 8 p.m. two nights and 4 p.m. through 2:37 a.m Friday night:

  • Total Miles: 493.2. So I put about 165 miles on my car per working night. To be fair, I drive 34 miles just to get to the city before turning on my Uber-phone, although I did turn it on immediately Friday night and actually scored a rider halfway to town. So I am spotting myself 68 miles every day that I work, regardless.
  • Total Rides: 34. So I'm averaging just under 12 rides per session.
  • Hours: Weeknights, I work 4 to 8 p.m. Friday night I worked 4 p.m. to almost 3 a.m. 8 + 11 is 19 hours on the clock.
  • Earnings: After three days, my stats show total earnings of $371.82. So, let's see. The reward for totally killing my car for three nights is 371.82 - gas at about 23 mpg comes to about 22 gallons of gas at an average price of $3.45/gallon currently for regular = around $76.00. 371.82 - 76 = $295.82 net income. I forgot to mention that my GPS cost $200, so I have netted only about $95.00 so far. So it looks like about $100/night profit.
  • Keep in mind that commercial insurance is recommended if you ever want your car to be repaired by your insurance company if you get in an accident. Research shows that insurance runs around $1,000/month,which of course, I don't have, although Uber does cover your passengers at one million dollars each, so if I'm in an accident, I'm out of a vehicle.
In conclusion, I see ride-sharing services as a nice novelty and the software system is ingenious, but I think it's a fad whose time is limited, especially by the time these drivers have an accident, or have to buy a replacement vehicle for their beat-up Uber-wagon and realize how they've actually been run over by the costs involved. It looks like the passengers and the company are making out great, but, ultimately the driver is getting totally screwed.

In summary; It looks like a good strategy to make some quick cash, if you have a good vehicle and a clean driving record and are somewhat tech-savvy, but it's no full-time job.

The End

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hiking Shoe Review

Picked up some new Patagonia "Nomad" hikers. These bad boys are about to get a three year torture test. Check back for long-term results.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Anthony Robbins

I chanced upon an audio book from the 1990's by Anthony Robbins, "Unlimited Power", in which he lectures on the principles of success. I never had the patience to sit down and read it back then, so I've been listening to bits and pieces and taking notes on key points. Here's a summary of the lesson so far:

You have three decisions,

  • What to FOCUS on?
  • What does it MEAN to you?
  • What should I DO NOW?
Then, we have four steps,
  • Clearly decide what you want.
  • Take action.
  • Note what is working and what is not working.
  • When things aren't working, change your approach continually until it does work.
That's what I got so far, but it took a lot if listening to grab these key points. To be continued.....

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Another Birthday

"Instead of whining and bitching about my lot in life, I find that just writing about it makes me feel better and I can be at peace with things such as they are, as long as I put it out there, the way things really happened...."-Kurt Anderson, Starving Writer

A lifetime wasted....

Okay, so I'm turning 54 soon and I can't be more depressed about it. I mean, I don't feel 54. I feel about 34 and I think that's accurate, considering how much life I've actually lived in this life.

Our parents of the Depression era generation, they actually were 54 when they reached 54. They had raised children, built fortunes, bought and sold a couple of houses and had grandchildren by the time they were 54. I know this because many were in the habit of reminding me of this on a regular basis for the last twenty years.

Now that's a happy birthday.

I don't know what happened when it came to be my turn. I never left the gate. I never left the barn. I'm still shell-shocked by the lack of opportunity after college graduation. I don't know if it was the era, or what? Maybe affirmative action. I don't know. College. That was the worst decision my parents made for me. I had interests, but nobody took them seriously. Magic tricks? Martial Arts? "Forget about those silly hobbies and go to college". At that time, everybody who wasn't going to school for technical skills was going to college.

After I graduated, I watched the new plumbers and carpenters enjoy steady employment, while the business graduates moved back in with Mom and Dad. College isn't for everybody, but for some reason I had to go regardless. It was the thing to do. Taking business courses never made much sense to me. You learn about business by running a business.

The most successful people I know learned a business niche by working for someone already established in that business for maybe, five years and then starting their own companies in that specialty. I've seen this simple formula work over and over. One very successful individual I know in the steel fabrication industry had only a formal education through the eighth grade, as he was formerly of the Amish sect. Starting work at age 14 for the local steel industry, by the time he was twenty years old, he had started his own steel company, at an age when the majority of college kids had years ahead of them before they had any hope of starting anything. He proceeded to raise four children. Today they all have their own farms and travel all over the world and he's alive to enjoy their success.

Did he feel the need to stay in school another ten years getting a degree in this or that specialty? No! If he needed an engineer, he hired one. If he needed a manager, he hired one. I think people unwittingly shoehorn themselves into mediocrity with all this education until they're 30. The real key to getting wealthy is to gain a position of control and then delegate the tasks you aren't educated in. Start the company, then hire a team!

Back to my shitty experience: There's no worse start in life than pissing away five years of precious time on a degree that led to not one job interview within the first two years after graduation. Just like that, seven years out the window. College pays off for some people, but honestly, I think it just hurt me.

Looking back, everything was going great until I went off to college. I remember I was banking $800 a week in my moped rental business, and this was in the early 1980's during a so-called recession. I was young. I had no debt. It was mostly profit. College just killed my momentum. It was a poison pill. I never even came close to recovering......ever. Human nature being what it is, the majority of people were only too happy to enjoy watching me fuck up.

Losing money is bad enough. Money comes and goes. Time just goes. I was doing great and I had four or five decades ahead of me, just a yawning valley of endless time, deep and wide, where the possibilities were endless. I put an end to it by dropping everything and running off to college because my parents insisted it was the right move. I assumed they were right. I was eighteen. What did I know? The future died with the deafening sound of the door of opportunity slamming shut. I dutifully followed the masses of sheep and went to college. I was doomed.

My classmates who knew what they wanted to do early on, they did the best financially and career-wise. They did not let themselves become distracted by their parents, or get taken way off track like I did. Perhaps the successful ones are the only classmates who made themselves more visible post-graduation, just to brag, giving me a overblown perception of the success of my peers? Of course nothing is heard from the less than successful among us after graduation.

Regardless, having a clear plan early in the game is a huge advantage, which only gets bigger as the passage of time magnifies mistakes and good decisions alike. Sometimes a few former classmates are good enough to let me drive their Porches or enjoy their pools on their multi-acre estates, in the rare times I actually show my face in their upscale neighborhoods. Of course it will be discouraging, to only hear back from the ones who have achieved great success.....I think the modern term is, "Facebook Syndrome".

In trusting my own family for career advice, I did not realize that they were closet psychotics with bad intentions. If I wanted to make sure I would get absolutely nowhere for the first decade after college graduation, I couldn't have picked a better crowd to hang around. It's tough enough dealing with outsiders in the quest for success, but when it's your own family, forget it. They were real pros at keeping me jobless and unmarried, which are very complementary by the way. Next thing you know, I was 30.

Unfortunately, I was surrounded by adults whose incompetence was only matched by their indifference to the less than stellar results incurred when it came to my following their extremely bad career advice. They thought they were smart, but I think maybe they were just lucky, being born into the early stages of the strongest economic upturn in human history, really.

I don't think there's a better era in human history than the 1950's through the 1970's economically speaking, in America. The royal screwing of the middle class by Corporate America didn't begin until just about in time for my generation's high school graduation and boy, have we been screwed! It's no accident that employee incomes have remained relatively unchanged for decades, while CEO income has risen thirty to fifty times or more. If you want to read about what these rich corporate Wall Street sleazeballs started doing to the American middle class and the general population of hopeful college grads after around the mid 1970's or so, here's a link to an excellent book on that subject: Who Stole the American Dream?

Regardless of the era, never listen to career advice from your parents. Never. As a result of being involved with these geniuses, I have been led on a series of wild goose chases that have all dead-ended, sapping my years and leaving me exhausted. I'm not sure why they were so thrilled to have a hand in this failure to launch. I certainly wouldn't want my kids hanging around in the yard after college graduation and going nowhere, that's fer' sure. But, like I said, it was probably the era, but the luckiest generations before us would never admit such a thing, because they were unaware at best. They tended to blame us, with ass-holic statements like, "get a job", and "you just don't want to work". That's right Ma. I'd rather be out here with you, in cow-country being aggravated, than starting my life.

I think if I had simply returned to what I was doing before going off to college, I could have gotten back on track, but I had been brainwashed to land a job in corporate America. I had watched too many TV shows. I had this unrealistic vision of myself after college, like some kind of superstar executive, with the fancy office.

This was not reality of course. The market had been flooded by college graduates and the ones who had the advantage simply had the right connections, bigger tits, or both. That's the cold reality.

Then there was the decision finally to go to work for Dad's company after college in 1983, where I kind of hung out for another seven years while I watched my Dad get rich and I about starved to death. I never did figure out what my purpose was for being there. I don't remember if he invited me or I invited myself. It was all very vague. The plan was, there was no plan. I had acquaintances who were working for their Dads and they were all doing very well and made damned sure I knew about it.

My experience was not the same, unfortunately. My Dad was different. He didn't like being around successful people. He wanted to be the only big shot. He liked to show me how much he had, lead me on to believe I could have it too, and then give it all to an outsider. When I voiced that I was unhappy with my salary, he just fired me, and hired an outsider and paid them triple or more for the same position. If someone happened to not like me, he would eventually be their best buddy. If I got in trouble, he'd back the other side and say that I was in the wrong. There was no loyalty, whatsoever. This was my reward for trusting family and staying in the family business as long as I did, unexplained animosity. It's not like I was a bad guy. I was a straight-shooter. The deck was stacked against me from day one. If someone had just informed me of this insanity in the beginning, I could have just gone my own way.

The best example I can think of was when they adopted a child when I was 13 years old.  All they had to do was wait a few years and I would've given them all the grandchildren they could have wanted. It's not like I had a shortage of girlfriends. Instead they warned me to, "not get a girl pregnant or boy, you'll know real poverty!" They would scare me to death, so I dutifully practiced safe sex and produced no illegitimate children that I am aware of. When I did bring girlfriends home, it just seemed to piss off my parents. No punch in the arm and a wink from my Dad, that's for sure. It was an unusual way for parents to act, or so I thought at the time. It was frustrating. So what did they do after all these warnings? They went out and adopted a child.

Only in America could two teenagers go out and fuck like rabbits, birth a kid, put it up for adoption and immediately have some rich guy adopt it and raise it for you for free, on a farm and shit on his existing kid in the process. Free pass!

After suffering through the lean years, I watched as they heaped rewards upon the new kid. They even bought a farm to raise him on and rubbed my nose in the fact that they later bought him a house. It was kind of shocking, the blatant favoritism they showed for the "new kid". Since he got away with everything, where I used to get my ass beat, I nicknamed him, "Freepass". I'm not sure what I was being punished for, but it was relentless. At the same time, this was probably the luckiest guy I'd ever met. I don't think he would have gone back to his "real" parents if they had showed up in person, begging to take him back.

I'm not sure why the new kid was so unfriendly with me. I suppose it was a combination of the age gap, and more likely, my Dad's appearance of wealth. It's probably a good thing the situation was not reversed and I had been the new guy. I'm sure he would have drowned me and made it look like an accident, to keep from splitting any future inheritance, real or imagined.

Over and over through the years, up through middle age, while basically living out of my car, I would go visit my parents mansion on their 80 acres. I would see my adopted brother working on the property and getting paid for just being there, the little shit. Then my Mom would happily bring me up to see his large home and be confused when I wasn't thrilled by the whole thing. God, she could be such a bitch. I'm glad you're so thrilled Mom. Now fuck off.

This was the result of my being the product of a first marriage and being too young at the time to leave soon after my Mother got a new husband. I was naive enough to think everything would just go back to normal. If this happens to your parents, make sure you figure out a way to leave home as soon as the new guy moves in, or else you're really fucked. Trust me, I lived it.

"Dad" enjoyed keeping me broke. Of course I did not know this in my youth. It's always years later with me. He went out of his way to make sure my experience working for his insurance company was negative and discouraging. The first year, he sent me to the worst neighborhoods in West Philly, much of the time with a few old insurance leads that were all but burned already by somebody else. I swear he was trying to get me killed that first year. Or else he would have me drive around Pennsylvania, handing out brochures. Anything to keep me busy getting nowhere.

I think maybe he hired me to keep my Mother happy. I was merely a token hire. I had been conned. I finally got a clue and left in 1990. Bang! Seven more years gone. Time-cost of my college education now stood at a fourteen year investment! Of course, nobody gave a damn. This is the legacy of that depression era generation, I suppose. I don't know what the WWII generation did to these guys, but they definitely had the biggest bug up their ass, and I will be glad to see them all eventually disappear.....

Another problem was, at that time, people - actual employees that worked for my Father - apparently thought I was making the big bucks, probably just because I was working in the family business, and they treated me with a lot of contempt, as I remember it. Maybe that was just a normal part of working for my Dad, I don't know.

So instead of it being a fun work situation with a team feeling and a lot of camaraderie, like in my wrestling team days, co-workers were strangely quiet and resentful, so the experience sucked all around. Marvelous. If I'm getting treated like the "rich lucky guy", it would have been nice to at least been actually making that kind of cash, but this certainly was not the case. Plus, God only knows what my parents were telling everyone, behind my back. They must have been making up the worst stories about me. I could tell by the way people treated me. There was no reason for it. It's no fun being the lone poor guy in a rich neighborhood, that's for sure. I had to watch everyone else' brats live high on the hog while I didn't have a pot to piss in.

Instead of signing up for the pencil-pusher gig, the best career path I could have chosen, had I known what my Dad was up to on the side, which was getting into the horse racing and breeding business, was to have gone right into farrier school after high school, the guys that cruise around to different farms and race tracks and shoe the horses. There's a school in Colorado that has a six month program. Last I heard, these individuals make $90.00 per horse that they service.

That way I could have lived out in horse country, without depending on my Dad for employment and actually had been able to make a pretty good living while I was still young. I say this because I met a few farriers along the way and they all were self-employed, had growing families, newer model trucks, lived in the country and took a lot of vacations. Instead, there I was, in the office all day with the secretaries, earning squat.

Now don't get me wrong. I have peers that have had fulfilling careers with the college degree, to great effect. But they had supportive friends and family and never left the same familiar small town where they knew everybody, and I think that's been the key. Networking is huge, in business. It's not like you can go back to a place you once called home after a certain amount of time has passed. You can never go back. Believe me, I tried it, twice. People grow up. They change. They have kids. They're married with kids, or divorced with kids, and that's about when I used to show up, not even started yet, late to the party.

It would have been interesting, while growing up, to have stayed in one spot, at least until I made a little money, bought the house and then maybe, picked a wife. In every one of those towns that I lived in briefly during my youth before eventually moving far away, the young woman that fate had picked for me is now, living with my replacement, raising, or having raised his children. This is what goes through my mind whenever I chance to pass through one of my old neighborhoods and I see the kids playing in the yards.

My parents moved a few times when I was growing up, then again while I was in college, and then I have moved at least ten times after that, never fitting in anywhere since. I attempted to return to the Philly suburbs back in 2000, but I just couldn't afford the housing and the business start-up. The time to start investing in this area was back in the 1970's, not three decades later.

Plus, my family, or at least, my parents, were very big on negative reinforcement, meaning they loved to tell me how much I was going to fail, and then when I did fail, they relished the confirmation. My Mom would often tell me, in my early teen years, "Kurt, you look stupid and you act stupid." I'm not sure what was up with this generation, with the insults. This was supposed to motivate me? The new kid, of course, received the opposite treatment and was treated like some kind of royalty.

I still remember the smirk on my mother's face whenever I made the mistake of complaining about my misfortunes in business, or more like lack of business, especially after I left the family business. They seemed to think it was cute, that I couldn't get my life started. I guess it was because they were already so wealthy and had been comfortable financially for so long, relatively speaking, that it didn't really matter much, what I did. This is the dark side of having successful parents. It really wasn't a family business anyway, but my Father's business alone. That was my big mistake in the beginning, assuming it was a family business, like it was the TV show Dallas or something.

My biggest regret is letting them get away with all this treatment, this lack of respect. I didn't go out later and gain any modicum of success in my career. I didn't live a particularly interesting or rewarding life in my later years. My only consolation is that when I pass my family picture on the mantle, yes I still keep a picture up, I don't miss my family like normal people do. I just say, "fuck you, fuck you and fuck you too", and it feels good. I don't think this is something to be proud of.

I finally got up the courage to leave Dad's company, around middle 1990. This also meant that I would be homeless. I had about $2,500 to my name, so yes, it was scary. I remember, my Mom actually asked me to stay, which would have been an impossibility without the job, because I really was horrible at earning a living. I had no marketable skills. I had no connections. I don't know what was going on between my parents, but looking back, I believe my Mother was actually a very lonely woman. I remember feeling bad at her funeral in 2011, about leaving home in 1990, even though I was 30 by that time.

It's not like things improved much after my leaving Dad's company either. My degree was now eight years old. New graduates received preference now for the few good jobs around - this was pre-internet, remember - it was just landline phone calls and snail-mailing my resume out to promising want ads from the local newspaper, never to be heard from again.

I was too colorblind to enroll in one of the hero occupations, like the police or the military. I remember flunking the vision test for the Navy pretty badly. I eventually landed a lot of temporary jobs, through Manpower (Pittsburgh).

I also got pretty good at cruising around wealthy neighborhoods with my chainsaw and begging locals for highly-paid tree-work (San Mateo, CA), posing as a contractor coming from a missed appointment. "Excuse me ma'am, my appointment for work fell through. Do you have any tree-work available before I head back to San Leandro?". I even had a fake magnetic sign on my truck, "Atlas Contracting". Hilarious! Some days I would make five to seven hundred dollars. Eventually, I got busted by the cops. Regardless, I was pretty screwed, career-wise. Plus, the recession of 1990 was no picnic. I'm talking about starting slow and then easing off, career-wise. What an unmitigated disaster.....

Family support was lacking, to say the least. I didn't know of any other parents who didn't want their children to be at least as financially successful as themselves, but looking back on it, my parents really had it in for me. They took it as an insult, that I had any ambition whatsoever. I'm not sure why there had been such pressure years earlier to go to college. I think my Dad eventually turned the rest of the family against me, including distant relatives. Of course that's the way it worked. He had all the money.

Regarding my Mother, she was such a flaming asshole the last ten years that she had to be suffering from dementia, looking back on it. She had a complete personality change. She turned mean as a snake. She thought I was her ex-husband. I don't know who that was who died back August of 2011, but it sure as hell wasn't my Mother. She died years ago. Outsiders didn't assume that she had dementia. They just thought I was the bad guy and that she was perfectly sane. I never had anyone take my side.

My biggest downfall was being unaware of it for so long, that both my parents were sabotaging me. Well into my 40's, I had no idea my parents were often applauding my setbacks in life. It probably had something to do with my being a product of Mom's first marriage. I was like the guy that gets left behind enemy lines during war-time, a life-long P.O.W. Whoever my blood-Dad was, my Mother never forgave that fucking guy and never forgave me for being a part of him.

Other notables, in my half-century of time:
  • It's amazing how few true friends I have to show for the trip.
Oh I have plenty of Facebook friends, that's for sure,but very few friends that actually enjoy seeing good things happen to me. More often than not, they are jealous of my rare good fortune.
  • I'm not "successful" by now and I go out of my way to avoid my financially successful "friends". I wish it did not have to be this way, but they really rub it in when I have been stupid enough to accept an invitation to their social events.
Don't get me wrong. My "friends" who have become wealthy and successful still invite me to their homes, but the few times I have been unfortunate enough to get tricked into one of these visits, I got the feeling that they were subtly making fun of me.
  • My tastes in women have stayed the same.
I'm starting to get spammed from those "dating over 50" singles sites. I'm not sure why someone would sign up for a site which excludes two thirds of the female population. Leave me alone! 
  • Don't do student loans. I can't repeat this enough. If it's a real opportunity, they'll give you a scholarship.
Speaking of student loans, now is when those early life decisions and missed opportunities have really come back to haunt me, especially late at night while in the throes of endless insomnia, staring into the dark: Turning down that wrestling scholarship to Drexel, breaking up with my favorite girlfriend in 1977, leaving the Beach Patrol, not sticking with things I was good at, the late-in-life chiropractic career-choice fiasco, selling that moped rental business too early, giving away all my lawn care clients. I hate birthdays........

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wasted Time?

Time-consuming hobbies, endeavors and diversions that, surprisingly, led nowhere.......

Photography: Since 1978, I have indulged in photography, taking thousands of pictures of wildlife, travel shots, landscapes, party shots and portraits, and it never paid a dime. I even pushed wedding photography for a couple of years, buying a state of the art SLR camera, expensive lenses, a website and all, but never elicited any interest from a clientele. I think this is a business where location is crucial, and I've always been stuck out in some poverty-stricken backwater, where everyone is related, excluding Your's Truly and perfectly happy with pictures taken by drunk Uncle Ned with a disposable camera he got for twelve bucks at Walgreens, or more recently, with their own smartphone cameras. Regardless, not a waste because I would do it for free, and I have!

Destin, FL Sunrise

The Internet: Since 2000. Interesting with plenty of information at my fingertips, in fact, information overload, but what a colossal waste of time.

College: Closed down my lucrative lawn business and bike rental business at the beach and went off to college. Graduated. Business degree. Wait a sec, don't you learn business by being in business? Oh that's right, I was doing that already before college and doing fine. Starving ever since. College. An amazing waste of precious time, especially if you don't have a plan.

Sports: Twelve seasons of wrestling up through college. Unless you wanted to be a wrestling coach, complete dead-end. None of those guys ever became millionaires, or even wealthy. I take that back. I do know of one consistent millionaire, but that was after another four years of school for a professional degree. Leave it to the MMA guys to finally show everybody how to make that hard work pay off in dollars and cents for the investment of time and energy.