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rosabarba [userpic]

Do not as I do

December 29th, 2008 (09:59 am)

Okay, so this seeming Asperger's case (late teens or early twenties, staying with his folks ... he interrogated me for five minutes last night on the protocol for tsunami alerts in an insistent monotone) is driving me a little nuts as his group gets ready to go. He has spent the last 20 minutes pacing by himself in slow circles in front of the office, looking at the ground and noiselessly talking to himself.

The fact that I, too, and something of a pacer, and that I, too, am growing a red beard (and I have to admit, he has the upper hand on that score) tends to *increase* my desire to hit him with the tranq gun and bundle him into the back of the family SUV until his family is ready to ride. You're harshing my morning mellow, my introverted friend.

rosabarba [userpic]

Current Accounts

December 25th, 2008 (08:37 pm)


In the journalism game, year's end is the time for lists ("Top 10 Movies of the Year," "The Year's Best Celebrity Crotch Shots," etc.). Lists are great, because they don't require any fresh reporting, they're easy to write, they're as fitting a way as any to mark the end of the year, and they fill space that would have to otherwise be filled by reporters and editors who'd rather be tying one on with everybody else.

I really don't have the proper fodder for a Top 10 or a 10 Worst, so I thought I'd borrow a device from P.G. Wodehouse and refresh my blogging muscles with a Credit/Debit List. If I were feeling industrious, I'd format it in side-by-side columns or in a spreadsheet, but fuck it, it's Christmas.

Credit: I've made it another year out here without descending into alcoholism.

Debit: There's still time.

Credit: I have my health.

Debit: There's still time for that, too, and Brother Slimbo's recent cholesterol fetish would have me think I'm dancing with the Reaper every time I want fries with that. Total buzzkill. Plus I'm taking fish pills (maybe that's a credit?).

Credit: This year's Christmas netted a rich haul, including an iPod Nano (thanks, brothers), a cashmere scarf (thanks, sainted mother) and a Nordstrom's gift card (thanks, ditto), among other items of worth.

Debit: This year's Christmas was spent minding this place, for the second year in a row. One way or another, that won't happen a third year in a row.

Credit: Smelt Sands Stay-overs, on balance, had a fine year. Adjusted for two lost weekends (Parseghian family reunion, broken water main), this was probably the best year of business since the Parseghians and I took over.

Debit: Picked up a business section lately? It would take a bigger Pollyanna than myself to expect people to throw around a bunch of discretionary income when they're losing their jobs, their homes have no equity and the value of their stock portfolios have halved. There are a few ominous signs that the recession is starting to bite down. New Year's Eve, always booked up and out weeks ahead of time, is less than half-full as of this writing. We will also soon get a few leading indicators for how the crucial summer season will go. January and February are when the far-thinking families start to make their summer reservations. We'll see what the inquiry traffic is like, as well as the actual bookings. I'm not sanguine. Next, we'll have Spring Break at the end of March. Spring Break is huge for this place, a guaranteed sell-out, just like New Year's. If we get the same tepid response for that holiday, I'll be even less sanguine.

Credit:
I recently found a licensed massage therapist a short drive away. From her profession to her first name (Zeora Sage ... really!) to her state of origin, you could say she's a Californian of laboratory purity. She's also a singer. Blonde and hourglass-shaped (to say nothing of strong-fingered), if she were about a foot taller she would easily find a spot wearing a breastplate and winged helmet, belting out the Ring cycle. She's extremely nice and gives the perfect massage for the lazy french fry eater who slouches when he sits at the computer.

Debit: Female contact of that sort  throws my single status into a rather painful light. The loneliness of my situation has been particularly sharp since the middle of the year.

Credit:
By panicking ahead of the crowd, I managed to pull out almost all of my nest-egg from the stock market before it cracked. I was even considerably in the green for a stretch, until hubris and indiscipline infected my portfolio management and brought me back to par. All things considered, I'm thankful for par.

Debit:
I spend too much time messing around with the stock market. Hubris and indiscipline are not the chicken pox. You can easily catch them again. Also, financial apocalypse makes one leery of ditching a job, even it if it is a lonely, low-paying, dead-end job. Thank God for the still-intact nest egg.

Credit: Mr. Crunchers is also in good health and continues to be as good a companion as a cat can be.

Debit:
Mr. Crunchers is not a woman, and even if he were, I'd probably have to pay him $50/hour to touch me, with the best bits off-limits, and then go home right after. Feh.

Credit: My brother is getting better after ending up in the ICU, and outcome that sounded dangerously optimistic when I went to NYC to see him after his seizure.

Debit:
He could have picked a better time to have a seizure. I was supposed to be in Mexico, goddammit!!!

Credit: Now that gas is less than $2/gallon, I feel less the jackass for driving a vehicle that can't be bothered to crack 20 miles per gallon.

Debit:
For months uncountable, my windshield has a huge crack in it. I've been too lazy to have it fixed when I visit Seattle, and there's no convenient place to take care of it here. It's driving me crabcakes, I tells ya.

Credit: The Celtics won it all this year, and they appear more than mighty enough to win it all next year.

Debit: The Pats lost Brady, the Sox let Teixeira go to the Yanks, and the Lakers won the Christmas Finals rematch, the swines.

Credit: The Bruins have the second-best record in the NHL.

Debit: I don't give a tinker's crap for hockey.

Credit: Blogging can be fun!

Debit: Blogging is mostly navel-gazing.

Credit: The Drift Inn is open after more than two weeks down for yearly maintenance and staff holidays. Finally, a man can again drink a pint in company or slaughter his LDL count with all the onion rings in Christendom whenever the mood strikes.

Debit: The folks who run Green Salmon take their vacation from Jan. 1-12. The thought of spending two weeks without their ambrosia every morning makes me want to punch something and/or cry and/or hang myself in the mower shed.

Credit: Obama won last month.

Debit: Obama is not a magician. He's better than the current sad sack by a country mile, but we got problems, people.

Credit: I have, for the first time in my life and finally in keeping with my nom de blog, started to grow a complete red beard.

Debit:
I barely have the testosterone to risk embarrassment during my massage, let alone grow out a full, thick, non-patchy beard. The early results are not the stuff of Civil War portraiture.

So, that's the current ledger. Add it up, and Smelt Corp. appears to have had a middling go of it. Could have been worse, could have been better, but I promise you, the taxpayer, that I will not seek to make up any future shortfall by begging for a bailout from the government. Indeed, now that my old college roommate is a congressman, I won't have to beg at all. One phone call, and my problems become your problems. That's how this game is played.

Happy New Year's, everybody, and here's wishing you all stay in the black.

rosabarba [userpic]

Great and Terrible

November 6th, 2008 (06:07 pm)


Nice to see my account is still current, what with the neglect of late. There's been a great deal going on lately, but very little of it has involved me directly.

For the past few weeks, I've been spending a lot of online time with a fast-money stock-market crowd at Slope of Hope, run by a swashbuckling trader extraordinaire name of Tim Knight. It is largely through the work of his blog and the active posters in the comments section that I have found the discipline and trading ideas to bring my portfolio back to levels not enjoyed since 2007, Before the Fall. It has been exciting, gratifying and profitable, and I hope I don't fuck it up now that I've made it back to par.

The news of the week in which I did not play a part was hopeful and tragic.

There are the great things that require no introduction: A repudiation of eight years of national misrule was a nice, if tardy, development. My correspondent in Kenya, the fatherland of the father of the man of the hour, tells me its all going over well there, too.

There is also the elevation of my old college roommate, Martin Heinrich, to Congress. On his first try, no less. Simply amazing. Bravo, Martin! (You should also thank the Slope of Hope crowd for making me liquid enough to help fund your campaign.)

All of this would have been for a week for the ages if it had not been for a singularly, unfathomably awful event that arrived without warning.

Close friends, parents of two, lost their seven-year-old daughter to a massive stroke, brought on by a condition known as arteriovenous malformation within her brain. There are no symptoms. Jon and Jodi kissed and sent off a perfectly happy, healthy-seeming little girl to school one morning. She had a seizure in the middle of the day, was rushed into surgery, and came out with no signal. Seven years old.

They live in Malaysia and will have a service for her out there, then return to Massachusetts to be with their families soon after.

It's an awful cloud over what had been an otherwise hopeful and wonderful week. My thoughts and love and condolences and indignation are with Jon, Jodi, and Katie's little brother, Jake.

rosabarba [userpic]

Transitions

October 20th, 2008 (04:50 pm)


And so we shift from summer crowds to the weekend pop-overs, from weeks of sunshine to weeks of rain, from baseball (moment of silence for a Red Sox team that went perhaps further than they should) to football (moment of silence for that Pats, who suck without Brady). Whatever the consequences to the Parseghians' cash flow, I'm looking forward to a nice dull stretch.

We will also have to transition to a new cleaning gal. Mary VII is no longer with us, and Mary VIII has always been happier as the second option. We have been spoiled, to a degree, having the same cleaning crew for more than a year. Hopefully the classifieds will dredge up another useful body before long.

I have another trip to look forward to, this time with brother Slimbo and some of his cronies, spending a week in Mazatlan for Thanksgiving. I'll be ready as soon as the good people at DuPont find a way to get another 10-15 on the SPF scale. Maybe I'll just use cake frosting while they work it out.

I also want to make a link to a new blog (a "travelblogue" as she so wittily coined it) by Jen Martin, and old friend from journalism school who migrated to the film business after she moved to Los Angeles.  She has decided, after 10 years or so, to chuck it all for the time being and start an open-ended road trip around the world. It's a project after my own heart, augmented by photos shot with a professional eye (she was a photog at MU). Very cool.

What's everybody else doing these days?

rosabarba [userpic]

I'd Trade Some Anxiety for Some Austerity Right Now

October 9th, 2008 (06:35 pm)

Ya know, I've been brooding over this slow-motion crash in our economy for more than a year. I feel I'm as well prepped as I can be. I have a tiny balance on a car loan, no other debt, a reasonably Spartan lifestyle, and the foresight and cowardice to have moved most of my little all out of the market months ago.

It turns out those things don't do anything to forestall the nausea that came with the upgrade from slow-motion to high-speed crash two weeks ago. I mean, seriously: There's never been a point in my life when the sight of the Japanese stock market vomiting up more than 10 percent of its body weight  would have been anything other than random news of passing interest. Tonight, it made my jaw drop.

I'd assume that in the '30s, as things reached their lowest point (i.e., right before they started to improve but before anybody realized it), the abyss seemed real and approaching. The thought (the hope!) is that the unforeseeable turn, even a short-term turn, is at hand.

I don't mind tightening the belt. I gotta say, though, I mind not knowing where this thrill ride is headed. It's clear that the tunnel is no longer avoidable: We'll just have to go through it and hope it ends at a decent place. Things tend to revert to the mean, so if the bubble had to pop, the oncoming recession will also smooth out.

Of course, that bubble took years to inflate.

If Barack is elected, I won't envy the job he'll face.

If McCain is elected, I won't envy the rest of us. His time has passed, and the thought of Palin taking the reins gets more appalling by the day (and that bar started out pretty high).

I need you all to promise that if next year is the first of the McCain administration, we all ride him hard to take his meds, lay off the fat, and get to bed on time.

rosabarba [userpic]

From the Motelier's Desk

September 20th, 2008 (09:26 am)



More precisely, on the motelier's desk, I have a thank-you card that sets the standard against which all future thank-you cards shall be judged.

It's from the young Eugene couple who held their wedding here this past July. They've now been upgraded from "some of the [sic] favorite people I've met in this job" to "some of my favorite people, period, end paragraph."

First they gave me a bottle of Cote du Rhone, simply for doing my none-to-strenuous job. Then they sounded truly disappointed when they learned I, of all people, wouldn't be able to attend their wedding. Now this, a card that not only carries a sweet sentiment ("Smelt Sands will always hold a special place in our hearts") but bears a picture of them from their wedding, on the beach and still in their wedding clothes. They are standing behind four-foot letters they have dug in the sand that spell "THANK YOU!"

That's how we do gratitude in Oregon, people. Choke on our dust!

When I die, I hope to be reincarnated as one of their grandchildren.

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rosabarba [userpic]

Heckuva Job Greenie, Grammie, Coxie, Bennie, Hankie ...

September 19th, 2008 (10:18 am)



When it comes to investing, it sucks being both right and poor.

Your humble correspondent has spent the last year and half despairing over the economic news and positioning his portfolio accordingly. Sticking with dividend-paying bedrock consumer and heathcare companies, dumping financial stocks, and upping the ante with put options and inverse ETFs for banks and real estate. Real fancy, I know. The broad analysis has been pretty good, for the most part, though that's cold comfort now that the Atlas of government (and by extension, the US taxpayer) last night decided to put the economic weight of the world on its shoulders.

I should have seen it coming, since the script has been in rehearsal all year. The market starts to tank, the feds step in (emergency rate cuts, Bear Stearns, the first naked short ban, Fannie and Freddie, AIG, etc.), the market skyrockets, economic reality starts to set in again, the market starts to tank. Rinse, lather, repeat.

So now the feds are going to buy hundreds of billions of crap nobody wants and ban selling short financial companies for at least two weeks, maybe more.  (As an aside: Japan and China have never allowed short selling, and that has not prevented their markets from tanking this year.)

It didn't catch me completely unawares, but pretty close. I'm worth a lot less today than I was at about noon yesterday.

Any brothers or mothers of Sam reading this need not worry: I didn't bet the farm on a short roll of the dice, and I won't need to move into your garage, though all of a sudden I'm keen to get that great mac 'n' cheese recipe.

I even have a plan of sorts to make the best of the latest meshugas. It's time for this battered "bear" to fly.

It's terrifying to invest on fundamentals in the face of a shattered banking system, rising unemployment, cratering home values, a staggeringly unpredictable federal government, skyrocketing foreclosures, swelling budget deficits, two wars and counting. The stock market seems more over-valued every quarter.

For decades, we have consumed more than we have produced, and the credit supporting that imbalance is drying up. We have no choice but to consume less, and our economy derives 70% of its worth from consumption.

Not a great backdrop for investing. Indeed, there is a credible concern that a suspension of short selling will create an "air pocket" under the stock market that could spark a more spectacular crash than the one arrested yesterday.

That said, it's terrifying to short or hedge to protect yourself from a decline, because the government is pulling out every stop to prop up sagging asset prices. It's hard to predict when or how they will give the markets another shot of crank, only that it will happen and leave you rolling on the floor, clutching your bruised gonads.

If you can't go long and you can't go short, all you can do is go flat. Cash is king to Sam Smelt for the rest of this year, barring a truly thunderous crash (a possibility whose likelihood seems to grow with each passing month), in which case it would make sense to start buying the strongest survivors.

Here's my plan in black and white for easy mocking, should a financial golden age dawn in the next six months:

The market is on a screaming federal rally today, and might continue to rally into next week, perhaps into next month. As that is happening, I will be selling, Mortimer. Most of my remaining little stack of stock and funds will be melted down and held in cash. I'll hang on to the Procter & Gamble and some of the heathcare companies, and I still like the inverse ETFs like the SKF and the SRS, but bye-bye stock funds, bye-bye bond funds, bye-bye oil, bye-bye everything else.

Buy-buy nothing. If the past six months have proved anything, it is that I am not a great trader, so I don't intend to chase the goose back into the burning second storey.

Who knows what the feds will try if this latest assumption of massive taxpayer risk fails to work. They might even close the exchanges when the next whirlpool forms, since you can't trade down if you can't trade.

An interesting time to be alive.

There are tons of interesting takes on the current mess in the blogosphere. Two of the more cautionary can be found here and here. FWIW.

rosabarba [userpic]

One Step Closer to Austerity

September 6th, 2008 (03:48 pm)



So it looks like you and I are now on the hook for $5 trillion in mortgages. It's not a surprise, but it sure is depressing.

Also, banks are unsurprisingly and depressingly starting to fail, and the FDIC's fund for insured deposits is not exactly flush. Once those premiums (which the banks pay) run out, the taxpayer covers the rest.

We also have to cough up if Morgan loses money on the Bear Stearns purchase.

McCain and Obama are nuts if they really think they're going to cut taxes when they ascend to high office. Whatever cutting there is to be done will have to be done on the other side of the ledger.

Good old austerity.

rosabarba [userpic]

The Lady of Chelan

September 2nd, 2008 (08:24 pm)

Oh, what I wouldn't give for a hidden office microphone, or, failing that, decent recall.

If there were any way for me to reliably and faithfully remember a block of speech, y'all would be in for a bloggy treat. For about 10 minutes this evening, I was audience to a nonstop monologue of such weirdness that it could have roused David Lynch from his hand-shaped easy chair made of rusted children's toys.

It started with the arrival of a couple, perhaps in their sixties, looking for a place for one night. They both had less-than-reasonable dye jobs, her's in a bun, his in a pompadour. He was keen to see the cheapest offering, which he then spent five minutes inspecting as if he were about to buy it. He asked me three different times if we provided free coffee (we sometimes do, but we're out right now). They finally decided to take it.

That's usually where the business ends. Sometimes they come back for restaurant recommendations, sometimes they swing by for some brochures before they leave, but usually the unreserved one-nighters do their stay, leave the next day, and that's it.

They took the key and then left for an hour or so.

It didn't seem so strange when the woman came back to ask for brochures, though she asked in a strange way. I gave her one, and she asked for another. I gave her another, and she asked for another. I gave her three more, and that seemed to do it.

But she didn't leave. In an even voice but without pause, she began to talk about Lake Chelan, the Washington state getaway in the Cascades. She described how to get there, the boat you take across the lake, where you can eat, how long the ride takes, the dry part, the rainy part, and so on. She kind of floated about, talking nonstop the way a gabby spinster would in a beauty parlor.

Lake Chelan soon gave way to the most matter-of-fact summation of the highlights of her life. She's a widow, traveling with her second husband. Her first husband and son were killed in a plane crash. Her current husband is rich but cheap (and quite controlling, it soon became clear), a cattle rancher she said. She oversaw the construction of her own house, or what became her own house after it's 88-year-old occupant died of kidney failure (she is/was a nurse). The cheap husband bought milk and cereal for their dinner and was watching election coverage (or as she put it, "He's watching the Republicans"), she didn't want to watch television and would have preferred it if the cottage didn't have one.

This went on for 10-15 minutes, or so it seemed. I would occasionally nod or grunt in a sympathetic way, though she didn't need any encouragement.

It all ended in a crescendo of strangeness. Drifting back toward the door, she recalled another woman checking in the same time they filled out their registration form.

"What was that woman's name?" she asked.

I couldn't follow.

She then explained that the cheap husband is a jealous husband, so she couldn't be seen talking to me for any length of time (it explained the streaming nature of her delivery), and she wanted to tell him that the other woman staying here had been in the office with us.

As if it were mattered, and in a fog after this outpouring, I actually got up to check the book and relay the actual name. Who knows, maybe he'd actually check that sort of thing.

I feel sorry for her, but I kinda hope they don't come back.

rosabarba [userpic]

This Election Just Got Interesting

August 30th, 2008 (02:16 pm)



A local Alaska politics blog has some fun local color for y'all on Palin and Wasilla, her executive post previous to the governor's seat. You really have to visit the town (as I have, a few times) to enjoy fully the notion of it as a springboard to world power.

Luckily, the blog includes a picture of Wasilla's bustling commercial district.

If McCain wins in November, it will be impossible to get the immortal line from "Cheers" out of my head, the one in which a despondent Fraiser reflects on unintentionally managing to get Woody elected to the city council.

"What started out as a small joke has become an enormous one."

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