money


When it comes to finding things in the backyard sometimes I don’t even have to try. Such was the case of this penny, found on the ground  near the hammock while raking leaves in the backyard this morning.

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The top two thumbnails (all clickable) are the “before” shots of the front and back and the bottom two are after I cleaned them up a bit. The coin was corroded enough not to be able to make out with any certainy the third digit of the date: 19 6.” Could it be a 1906 penny, which was the year the land was originally deeded? Could it be a 1916, a year or so after the house was built? It was only from scrubbing it with some cleaners that I was shown it to be a 1946 S wheatback penny.

How long it’s been in the ground is anyone’s guess but given its worn condition I’d hazard the full 62 years or not much less.

So the great Silver Lake Reservoir draining is finally complete and the big water bowl is empty… until they get around to refilling it. All of its potentially toxic water has been flushed away through a series of subterranean tubes connecting to the Ballona Creek which pours onward into the Santa Monica Bay where the carcinogenic parts per million of all that bromate-tainted water will be diluted into inert nothingness, or an unexpected complex chemical reaction with the saltwater and the bacteria and the styrofoam and the plastic bags and the shopping carts and the gull shit and the hypodermics will ultimately create the monster for the three-quel to the coming sequel of “Cloverfield” who will then go on a rampage across the city. Could happen.

As the reservoir’s level has slowly lowered over the last 60 days, people have been either hopeful or apprehensive as to what might be revealed rusting and rotting away down there on the bottom, but there hasn’t been anything noted as of yet. Personally I know of one 27-year-old relic that’s down there somewheres, if it didn’t get swept down a pipe at some point in such a long interim. It’s a set of keys on a ring, one which I heaved over the fence into its southeastern waters one very early morning back in 1981.

The keys were to the Swensen’s Ice Cream Shoppe that used to be on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, across the street from and in between what used to be Fiorucci’s and RJ’s restaurant. I had worked at Swensen’s for a while during my first and second year at Beverly Hills High School, promoted to night manager before I was fired by the owner’s daughter — Desiree or Dell-something; who badly managed the place for her dad — for not being willing to hold some marijuana for her.

I turned in my keys, cleaned out my locker and collected my final paycheck. I stayed pissed off for awhile not just because I was out of a job, but also because Swensen’s had been the center of my social universe. To have both yanked away so unfairly was a good lesson to learn early but nonetheless a hard one.

A few months later I ended up getting a stockclerk job at the long-gone Hunters Books on Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica (they’re calling it Santa Monica South nowadays), but in that unemployed interim I helped my mom, by then a distributor for the Herald Examiner whose territory included Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz and Franklin Hills. On weekends I’d get up with her at 2 a.m., and together we’d go pick up all the papers at the Herald Examiner plant downtown, then deliver whatever routes were open or down and we’d get home around sunrise. During the week I’d often have to go across town after school on my little Yamaha Champ scooter and help with collections or customer complaints. Sometimes I’d drive the old 1965 Ford Mustang and cover paper routes solo, especially those in the steeper areas of Silver Lake and Echo Park, where paperboys never lasted.

I don’t remember how long it was after I was fired from Swensen’s that I found the spare “just in case” set of Swensen’s keys I’d had made on my own at some point after I’d been promoted to night manager. Maybe it was a couple days later or a couple weeks. However long it was, when I discovered them I immediately saw dollar signs and started plotting a little payback heist. Ultimately I decided to hit the place in the morning on my way to school. Come up Wilshire to the alley between Beverly and Rodeo at something like 7 a.m., enter through the back — it would be easy pickings. There was no alarm and no surveillance system. And knowing exactly where the money was kept after closing, I could be in and out without turning on a light in a minute, tops, and a couple hundred bucks richer. Maybe a little more if sales had been exceptionally good.

(more…)


Holy Moly! My company’s “Driving Traffic 2007” contest concluded and I finished in third place for the month of December ($100), second place for the fourth quarter ($150), and second place for the year to date ($500).

I’d like to claim it’s because of the strength of my online knowledge sauce but the simple truth is the little blog I produced for my first trade show back in October is what gave my magazine’s site the boost in visitors and page views and subsequently my bank account to the tune of 750 surprise dollars! WOOOOOOT!

Alternate commuting pays — literally! I didn’t even know I was entered into the complex’s rideshare drawing, but I found out today in the form of a $25 check delivered to my desk!

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Cha-ching!

I joined the downtown YMCA back in 2003 primarily because as healthclubs go, it’s really one of the best — not just because of its variety of programs or state-of-the-art equipment, but also because being in the heart of downtown it attracts a much more no-nonsense clientele. It isn’t some posing parlor meatmarket like most Bally’s and 24-Hour gyms. The people who came there had meetings to get to and deadlines to meet and so there was little mixing fitness with pleasure. It was get-in, workout, get on with your life. I liked that.

The few times I actually went.

In 2005 I tacked on an additional $12 per month to my monthly dues so that I could make use of the rooftop tennis facilities situated nearby atop the World Trade Center complex just north of the Bonaventure Hotel. Those courts held a distinct nostalgia as I frequented them on occasion in my early teens when they were the independently operated Los Angeles Tennis Club with my volunteer big brother Lloyd who was a member.

For most of that spring and summer I got my money’s worth out of that additional outlay, participating in instructional sessions and tournaments… even winning a couple. But after that with the exception of a brief return in the spring of 2006 I haven’t stayed in the swing of things, instead content to let the YMCA deduct close to $60 a month out of my checking account.  Sure, the little voice inside my head wondered why I should pay something for nothing and suggested I just take the money and burn it, but I didn’t listen. Even at my most cash-strapped earlier this year I stopped short of canceling in part because my Y membership was something of a last vestige of my life before it got turned upside down in November 2005. In the most telling irony, when I shed 52 pounds in the first half of 2005, did the Y play any part? Nope. Proper eating, walking and my bicycling did.

Yet still I did nothing.

Until today, when in the comment thread that strung out from a funny fitness-related Blogging.la post today by Jason Burns, Militant Angeleno finally talked some sense into me simply by restating with the aid of some ALLCAPS and exclamation points that healthclubs are a scam.

So I emailed the Y’s membership coordinator advising of my desire to cancel and I had to laugh when I got the reply telling me that the easiest way would be to physically come in and complete a “cancellation request form” because one of Militant’s points was how difficult these organizations make it to say goodbye.

I wrote back telling the person that might be an easy way for the Y, but in this day and age of the internet and or the United States Postal Service, there ought to be a more convenient way for me.

Funny. I haven’t heard back yet.

If I don’t I’ll just bike the long way home one of these days and suffer through any attempt to retain me and get it taken care of. Finally.

I’ve had checking and Visa accounts with BofA going back to 2000 or 2001. I’ve heard horror stories about how horrible such a huge banking institution can foul up, but with me I’ve had no complaints. I’ve had to utilize my overdraft protection on occasion, but I’ve never been late with a credit card payment. So it was with some surprise when I cracked open this month’s statement that came in today’s mail and read:

“We did not receive your payment by the payment due date. As a result the promotional rate will no longer be in effect after the closing date shown on this statement.”

Funny. I know I mailed the payment a few days before the due date of November 30 and sure enough the payment was shown on the statement as having been posted December 1. Making me one whole day late. Or rather the slower holiday mails made me one whole day late. In addition, the statement shows me getting dinged a $39 late fee.

But late is late, so BofA has every right to claim my $39 and up my interest rate to a ridiculous 18.24%, and sure enough in not quite that language that’s what the customer service representative chapter-and-versed me when I called. To which I pointed out that in the five or so previous years I’ve had their Visa card I’ve never been late before, so howsabout BofA show some love to good customer, eh?

To which she essentially said “nope.” But she didn’t really mean it, because when I sat up straight and cleared my throat and explained in an all-italics tone how unfair it was to be so penalized for the USPS not getting my payment to BofA on time — a payment they now had — and that I wouldn’t hesitate to contact any of the several other eager credit cards I have and immediately transfer the balance at whatever comparable promotional rate they offered, she relented and waived the late fee and returned my interest rate back down to earth.

Then she had the gall to lecture me about sending in my payment with plenty of time to make sure this doesn’t happen again, because if it does BofA wouldn’t be able to give me another pass. To which I told her that first off, I did send my payment with plenty of time to make sure this doesn’t happen but that if it does, trust me, I won’t be calling and fighting for one. I’ll just pick a card any card and transfer my balance to a institution that hopefully isn’t sitting in some sort of vacuum thinking they’re only game in town.

Damn if last night I hadn’t made a list of all the shit I needed to do today. Nothing earth shattering, but it was a plan — a plan! Groceries, dishes, laundry a bike ride, dusting, vacuuming, a stogie, blah blah blah. Then at 7:30 a.m. Susan hears a strange hissing sound coming from the basement and we go down to investigate and one of the two water heaters is spilling its contents all over the concrete.

Thus begins the odyssey of getting a new water heater, which supplants all of the other stuff I had agendized. First we call our regular plumbers but get nothing but answering machine. So we call a plumbing/heating/electrical company that we’d used last year for a fuse box emergency and the good news is they get a guy out by 11 a.m. The bad news is he says the second, still-functioning water heater, which is the same age as the one that broke, could go at any time. The worse news is that he comes back with an estimate of $1,715 to replace the broken one and if we opt to do the second one as well he can give us a discount of $1,638. For a total of $3,400 dollars. He tells me this with a straight face.

I pitch it to Susan at work whose not very anxious to spend a weekend without hot water. Neither am I, but neither of us are all copacetic on coughing up three large for the luxury either. So I suggest just doing the one broken heater and praying that the other one holds (that second one serves the tenant upstairs) on for a while longer. Susan agrees and away this guy goes to pick up our $1,700 unit.

After he leaves I just can’t shake the feeling that $1,700 is just an off-the-chart rip. So I google “water heaters” and I find Home Depot offers a free telephone consultation. So I call up and I get this nice guy Brian somewhere in Tampa, Fla., who takes all my information and comes back with a much more realistic figure of $860. In fact to do both heaters through Home Depot would cost basically the same as the $1,700 one that was probably on its way back from the warehouse at that very moment. He even volunteers to conference call Susan into the discussion where we fill her in. She’s pleased. I’m pleased. Brian’s pleased. I ask her to rush a call to the rip-off plumbers to head them off at the pass while I finish up with Brian.

From there it’s just a waiting game of hearing from whoever the installation contractor is, so I revert to my list. I boil some water and do the dishes, then I dust and clean, then I sweep and vacuum and get all the trash out. At some point the original rip-off plumber sheepishly shows up to collect his $57 “service call charge.” And I neener-neener him with much money I won’t be spending today with him thanks to Home Depot. He shrugs and leaves. After that the phone rings and its the Home Depot installer’s offic. First she tells me that there will be an additional $43 charge for a second permit since each water heater needs its own permit (what the hell?). Then she says ohandbytheway… we can’t install them today, which was totally contrary to what Home Depot had promised.

Oh yes you can, I tell her. Actually I said a lot more than that and much more emphatically, to which she responded by asking me to hold for eternity before coming back and saying, all right they’ll be there somewhere between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. I almost burst into tears in relief.

Around 2:30 in mid-vacuum of the livingroom and entry there’s a knock on the door and it’s a guy from the contractor. “That was fast!” I say. The vibe I get from him is “not so fast.” Turns out he’s just the lead guy here to scope out the job site and find every which way to tack on what he calls “additionals.”

But before we even get to that we get down to the basement and encounter the first obstacle. Surveying the clearance and the current venting he chirps back and forth with his super on his Nextel phone and the conclusion is that the new heaters are too tall and there isn’t enough clearance so it just won’t work and the only option is to relocate the heaters outside somewhere.

I digest this as best I can and ask for clarification. “You’re saying because the new heaters are two lousy inches taller than the old ones that somehow is fucking everything up and now we’ve gotta move everything into the northside garden?”

I swear he said “Cha-ching!”

My shoulders droop, crestfalllen. Then a lightbulb goes off.

“Well what if we used smaller water heaters?”

Now it was his shoulders that drooped as the dollar signs evaporated from the estimate he was fantasizing about.

“Uh, that would work. Instead of a ’12-Year 40-gallon’ you could go with a ‘9-Year 40-gallon Short’ and that would even be cheaper.” Then he brightened. “But there’s a $50 equipment-change fee!” I sighed and nodded that would be acceptable and he went to work building his “additionals” estimate which came to somewhere around $700 — including that additional $43 for the second permit.

Good to go, right? Heeeellllllll nah. A few minutes go by and I hear his super instructing him via the Nextel that for a basement install the water’s gotta be totally off — not even a trickle. Trouble is, the guy can’t find the water shut-off valve at the street. He found the one for the house to the south and shut that one off thinking that was ours until the neighbor came out and said what the fuck so he turned it back on. Then he finds the one for the house to the north and he shuts that off with the same results. So I call Susan at work and I ask her where it might be and she tells me it’s under the steps up to the tenant’s place. I retreat there with the guy and we find a green knob that we keep turning and turning clockwise but the water’s not slowing down in the slightest.

Dude shakes his head, which is contractor for “you are soooo screwed” and proceeds to detail how those are the worst types of valves because they fail so easily and the only way to repair it is to cut the pipe and solder on a new better valve but without being able to shut the water off from the street it’ll be gushing everwhere and there’s no way to solder on the new pipe. He shakes his head again and I want to tell him there’s no need to repeat myself: I’m screwed.

“You’re sure there’s no shut off at the street,” I ask… my last grasp at hope that new water heaters are in my near future.

“Not that I could find.”

I go inside and call Susan to tell her the problem with the valve and that the outlook is bleak. Then I tell her to keep her chin up and get off the phone opting to look for the phantom valve myself. I go down to the curb and I’m peering into and under layers of ivy that haven’t seen the light of day for years. I even scuff across some bare dirt across the sidwalk from the front steps in the last ditch effort to unearth the telltale cover.

Nothing. But something tells me it’s gotta be here. If the house to the south has one and the house to the north has one, then we’ve gotta have one, and so I drift to the cover of the easily visible cover to the valve for the house to the south. Then I look just to the left and there she is in the form of the hole to lift the small steel trapdoor. It’s well-camouflaged by a decent layer of dirt and partially covered by the creeping edge of an ivy patch but it’s there and I have to quell the urge to call the contractor dude an idiot who came this close to depriving hot water to me, my wife, and my daughter because he couldn’t find our shutoff if it had jumped up and bit him. Instead I ask him if I could get some sort of finder’s discount. He laughs and tells me that’s a good one. I tell him I’m not kidding. He starts to shake his head and I tell him to stop it. I come back inside and call Susan to tell her the good news and that I hope I don’t have to talk to her again until she gets home

That was about a 45 minutes ago. As I’ve been writing this the pair of “9-Year 40-Gallon” shorties have arrived and there has been much banging as the installation progresses. With every chirp of the Nextel from somewhere underneath the house and its muffled reply from the dude, I cringe and await the next layer of bad news, the next undiscovered valve or the next unconquerable obstacle that will prevent the heaters’ installation from being completed without throwing another gob of money at it.

And I could use a shower.

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