Sunday, April 14, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

If I were more prescient, I would have seen the storm on my personal horizon based upon the comments from other folks on social media about how they came out under the new tax code.  Most of these folks are my age and I'm guessing in my tax bracket.  And they all reported that they took a hit.  Actually, they used words that were graphic than that.  But this is a family friendly space so I won't go there.

I was expecting some tax liability on my part.  After all, I actually made a little money practicing law last year.  And I had to liquidate some investments to fix up my house for sale, buy furniture for the new house, pay for this, pay for that, et cetera et cetera.  So I expected to pay some additional taxes as my taxable income went up.

I did not expect to get clobbered.    

But I damn near passed out when I got the email from my accountant yesterday afternoon giving me the news.  And the other person that lives here has been happier too, although if I got clobbered she only took a glancing blow, albeit one she didn't anticipate.

Now I am not a stupid man.  I realized that the decrease in taxes would result in an increase of taxable income based on my monthly check.  And I realized that my dipping into the IRA was a taxable event.  I also can do without a tax refund.  Indeed, I haven't had a refund from the State of Arkansas since I left the government and some years I don't get one from Uncle or have to pay a little. So, unlike many Americans I don't count on it one way or another.  But I wasn't prepared for this.

And I gather from the tenor of the remarks on Facebook alone that many other people weren't either.  

I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that taxes are the price we pay for civilization.  I'm pretty sure he said it but I'm too lazy to look it up.  And I get that.

But for the first time since I became a taxpayer, I feel that the system, always rigged for the wealthy, has become unfair.  The Donald Trumps of the world (I suspect) pay no taxes.  Amazon paid no taxes.  TurboTax beat back a proposal in Congress that would let folks file electronically with the IRS FOR FREE.  

It is manifestly unfair if the burden of paying taxes disproportionally falls on those that do not have access to the myriad of deductions and shelters available to the very wealthy.  As a buddy of mine that plays the market pretty hard said to me the other day,"It makes absolutely no sense that some of these trades I make are not taxed.  It makes no sense."

And my buddy is no wild-eyed commie.  

I was grateful to have the funds available to buy a house, move a family from Conway to here, and do all the other stuff that you have to do when you move and to do a 360 with your life.  Because of this I was able to do all of this without going into debt other then the mortgage on the new house.  Well, that's not true, I took out a bridge loan to use for a down payment on this house secured by the equity in the old house.  But that got paid off when the old house sold.  Worked like a charm.

And I had money set aside for what I thought I might have to render unto Caesar this year.  But I wasn't even close.  

Thank God I have money once again and can handle this.  But that means I'm going to think long and hard about buying stuff I don't need for awhile.  And if I'm thinking like this what about the folks who actually depend on their refunds to make ends meet?  I'm guessing that a lot of discretionary spending or non-spending will keep dollars from going into the economy.  Which brings with it its own set of problems from an economic perspective.

So will this be the wakeup call alerting the trumpers that they have been had?  Probably not.  As long as their leader keeps on about "building a wall" and how the Mueller report supposedly exonerates him that is sufficient red meat for them to keep them in the fold.  

What will happen after Monday when the bill comes due?  We shall see what we shall see.

As for us, my accountant says that next year we should "break even."

I'll take it.  It ain't fair.  But I'll take it.














Sunday, April 07, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

A gas station in Tallulah, Louisiana is pretty much the last place I would expect to get panhandled.  Now I almost got my ass kicked at a truck stop there back when I was in law school when some local rednecks took umbrage at the DEVO tee shirt I was sporting.  But that didn't seem odd to me at the time given the close proximity to Monroe (Correctly pronounced "MUN-roh," As in "Rut-roh.") which was then, and is now, the epicenter of toxic rednecktitude. But getting hit up for money in otherwise bucolic Tallulah genuinely surprised me.

"Excuse me Sir," said the voice behind me.

I turned around to see a tall, heavy set black man wearing a chef's smock.

"I'm not trying to scare you.  So don't be afraid,"he said.

"Do I look afraid?" I said.

"No, and that's good.  I just need some help. As you can see, I'm an executive chef," he said.

"I can see you are dressed like one, I suppose." I replied.

"Oh, I am, Sir," he said.  "My car broke down and I need to get to work.  We don't have cabs here but we have jitneys that will carry you where you need to go.  But they charge $22 and I only got 15.  You think you could help me out?"

I just stood there and looked at him.

"Look around here.  All these black guys won't help me.  My own race has turned me down. So I'm humbling myself to ask for money from a white man."

At this point the bullshit detector in my head- and I have a good one- was banging the red zone. 

"I see," I said.  

I looked at the bay next to me.  The young black guy filling up his truck looked at me.  He rolled his eyes heavenward and back down while shaking his head.

"I'm sorry.  I don't carry cash," I said. Which is my standard reply if I am required to interact with a panhandler.

The Chef turned and walked away.

I didn't feel badly.  I never give money to panhandlers.  Ask anybody in law enforcement and they will tell you that 90% of the time a donation to a panhandler will get smoked up or drank up.  That and the old "my car broke down" or "I ran outta gas" appeals for money are almost always false.  

I didn't feel badly.  But I felt a pang of ambivalence about taking my usual hard line approach.  I am married to a woman of the cloth.  She is involved in a United Methodist mission to the homeless downtown called CANVAS where she spends her Wednesday and Sunday nights. 

Walking around the French Quarter last week, we were routinely hit on as anybody who has ever visited there has been.  She routinely and freely gave any spare change she had to some of them.  I guess her eye is better than mine and she can cull out the needy from the con artists.  That and she is a better person than I am.  

Not that I'm so bad.  I refuse to get hit up for money not merely because I am heartless or believe all begging is a con. Although a good 75% is.  I don't give money to panhandlers because it is inefficient.  CANVAS can take two bucks and stretch it a lot further and serve more people.  So I donate to them and and other homeless and hunger organizations.  And I accept referrals from Legal Services.  Giving back in this fashion is a more efficient use of finite resources because a community is involved.  

But I refuse to give to panhandlers just like I tend to give the heave-ho to most salespeople that show up on my front porch unbidden by me.  I will at least be polite to the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.  I'm not completely heartless.  

After I was through gassing up, I went inside and bought some bad gas station coffee with a dollar fifty that I had lied to the Chef about not having.

I pulled out of the station and pointed my car back to Arkansas and home.

I hadn't gone too far when I saw him walking north up US 65, umbrella in hand.  I figured back at the station that his "broken down" car was around the corner somewhere.  But there he was hoofing it.

And the thought occurred to me.

"What if he was telling the truth?"

Melissa might have pulled over to give him a few bucks.  I kept going. I felt a pang of something like guilt but I kept going.  After all, just because he left the station on foot didn't mean that his story wasn't complete bullshit.  After all, 90% of the time it, and similar stories,  are.

But then again, Melissa and all of the people that deal with the homeless and the dispossessed are better people than me.  

Way better.  

















Sunday, March 31, 2019

Rain check

Between grading papers and getting ready to blow town for a couple of days, there's no time for this foolishness.

Will catch you later.


Sunday, March 24, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

My buddy Phil looked beaten unto death.  I was standing in his kitchen as he poured me a glass of amber liquid.  All around us was the detritus of what used to be an orderly home.  He raised his weary eyes to mine as he held out his glass to offer a toast.

"Here's to getting this move over," he muttered.

Clink.

"And to never moving again."

God how I can relate.  It seems amazing to me now, but this time last year the Deacon and I were looking at houses.  We closed on this, the house in the sky, in May.  She and the kids moved in the last weekend in May and I followed a few months later once our union had been solemnized according to the laws of God, or at least the Formerly United Methodist version of same, and the State of Arkansas.  

Someone once told me that the short moves are the worst.  I didn't really believe that until I moved a couple of miles from the F Street Sports Bar to this house.  Between May and August every day I carried carloads of crap either to the new house or to the Goodwill store.  Some of the crap I hauled over here was rejected by the Deacon and so back to Goodwill I would limp.  

It was simply just about the worst summer I can remember.

Phil and Karen are making a short move to a development on the river in North Little Rock.    They are not content merely with the sheer awfulness that is moving.  They are building their new house.  They have to be out of their old house by the first of the month.  If they play their cards right their home might be ready to move in by then.  The progress reports from their contractor tend to differ on this score, at least to my ears, on a daily basis.  This would drive me crazy.  As flat out horrible as the buying and selling real estate and moving processes were, I at least knew where I was going to land once it was over.

And now that I have landed, nothing short of a goddamn court order or my eventual demise, whichever comes first, will cause me to ever leave.  

I wouldn't have left the F Street Sports Bar if I had not entered into matrimony and acquired 3 people in the transaction.  I don't know why Phil and Karen are moving except that Karen has always had bees in her britches for some reason.  For as long as they have lived up on Rosewood Circle she has had her eye out for real estate.  

There was absolutely nothing wrong with their house except that it is situated on a hill which is impassable during snow and ice storms.  Phil offered to sell it to me and this was one of the reasons I didn't want it.  

So I went and bought a house east of him on the same hill which will be equally impassable in the inevitable event of an ice storm.  Shrewd huh?

I mainly wasn't interested in his house because in my mind it would always be his house.  Perhaps that's why the Deacon wanted a new house.  The other one would always be my house and associated always with the bad juju that had built up there over the years.  Juju being in the eye of the beholder of course.  I think I managed to impart some pretty good if not hilarious juju there.  But I get her larger point.  And I know how to pick my shots.

Still, in retrospect, I don't know why people would willingly enter in to the soul crushing experience of dealing in real estate and moving unless they did so in contemplation of old age or downsizing   Or because of a goddamn court order.  

So I don't much understand why my friends are putting themselves through this misery.  Then again, it ain't none of my bidness.  And while I am no model for right living, I do tend to mind my own bidness.  

As for me, I am content to stay put.  I am happy to be down to one real estate mortgage and to have no debt except my house and my car again.  Solvency is a good thing.  

And I look forward to seeing their new house.  I just hope they are able to occupy it after they hand over the keys to the old place.

At least I managed to get that part right.




Saturday, March 16, 2019

My Sunday-Posting On Saturday Because Blogger Is About to Crash- Feeling

We lost one of the all time great ones a week or so ago.  Dan Jenkins, the Bard of Fort Worth, died March 7, having attained the age of 90 despite consuming a diet, that to hear his daughter Sally Jenkins tell it, consisted mostly of red meat, Winstons, coffee and scotch.  

Jenkins was nothing if not prolific.  Not only did he crank it out about football and golf, he wrote novels and screenplays.  Indeed, in the wonderful tribute to him in the current issue of Golf Digest, it was revealed that he and friend and collaborator Bud Shrake got fired from screenwriting duties on the Eddie Murphy vehicle "Beverly Hills Cop II" because they were too funny.  When Dan pointed out to the producer that he thought that was kind of the point of the enterprise he was told,"You don't have to be funny.  Eddie be funny."

"For the next 20 years," the piece said. "The co-conspirators looked across the room at each other, pronounced "Eddie be funny" and howled."

Jenkins was at his best skewering pomposity, the PGA tour and Tiger Woods.  Regarding the latter, Woods kept ducking him for interviews.  Undaunted Jenkins wrote his own fake interview with Tiger.  Check it out.  It is beyond hilarious.  

On the other hand, he could be borderline racist and sexist.  I reviewed "The Franchise Babe" , a novel about the LPGA, for the local paper.  I panned it.  As I said at the time if you're gonna go blue you better be funny.  And "Franchise Babe" wasn't funny.  

But if he was losing his touch with the novel form, he regained it on Twitter of all places.  His tweets as he followed the events unfolding during major golf tournaments were masterpieces of brevity and wit.  Unlike the usual dispatches from the White House.

He died too soon.  Can you imagine what Dan Jenkins would have made of the recent scandal involving those rich folks bribing their kids' way into certain elite institutions?  And USC too?  After all, this is just a sports story.  

As I understand it, the parents hired an application facilitator to help guide the kids through the process.  Which is completely legal.  What wasn't legal is that this guy was the conduit through which applications with faked up athletic accomplishments were passed along leavened in most instances by bribes to college administrators.  

I teach at a local two year school.  We talked about this in class.  Many of my students are of the non-traditional variety.  Many of them hold down jobs.  They don't play intercollegiate sports at our school.  Every one of the ones in my classes got in on their own merit.  At least I am relatively certain none of my kids could come up with bribe money even if they were so inclined.  

The consensus?  It ain't fair.

And that's right.  It isn't fair.  Especially when you consider that some of the ones that got admitted are airheads who couldn't pass the entrance exam during a fair fight and/or could give two hoots in Hell about an education.  

This story has it all.  Social media superstars, bribery, hubris, crooked athletic coaches and administrators.

Ah Dan you died too soon.  You could have hit this one dead solid perfect.  

As for me, I'm taking up Winstons and Scotch.  








Sunday, March 10, 2019

OBE

No blogging today.  I'm OBE. Overtaken by events.

Namely the realization that I no longer own two houses.  I'm taking it easy seeing as how I don't think I've actually felt relaxed since last May.  

I shall return.  

Sunday, March 03, 2019

My Sunday Feeling

I'm not ordinarily given to nostalgia.  Or at least not overly much.  But I seem to be finding myself succumbing to it more frequently nowadays despite my best intentions not to.  Then again, as my friend and former colleague Danny said, "You've lived a lot of life lately."

He was in the passenger's seat as we headed to Ft. Smith the beautiful last Friday for a retirement ceremony in honor of another one of our mutual colleagues.  Debbie was hanging it up after 35 years.  Which seemed surreal to me when I pondered that I had been around for @ 30 of them.

I was a prodigy, you see.  That's the ticket.  

And I was down the hall from Danny for the same amount of time.  We hadn't really spent that much time together in recent days what with me living life and him working and being a single dad.  So our trip to the Fort was the first time in years we had really spent any time together.  

So we caught up on old news.  Did some reminiscing about those we loved and those we despised.  And we also spent a good bit of time with the fallback topics of most old guys: money, property and cars.  In our younger days we used to talk about women.  We know as much about them now as we did back in the day.  I guess the clock is ticking faster on the both of us now.  And we don't have the time to waste on issues we understand imperfectly.

The ceremony was in Judge Holmes' ceremonial courtroom.  A good number of our old friends from the Justice Department were there.  Some are still working.  Some aren't. There was much hugging, back slapping and leaning backwards while talking the better to check each other out while wearing bifocals.  

The honoree was positively radiant.  Much to our mutual surprise she acknowledged our presence during her remarks.  Any of a number of the speakers that preceded her pointed out that Debbie didn't have an enemy in the profession.  Which is pretty remarkable given the fact of what we do.  I know I've got them.  And I earned them. 

Speaking of money and property, the sale on my old house is set for next week.  And so I spent a good bit of time yesterday removing boxes and other stuff from the shed.  A couple  of the boxes contained a bunch of stuff from my old office. The one down the hall from Danny.  I hadn't looked at any of it since I left.  I guess I put the boxes of my life in the shed so I wouldn't have to remember some of what went on back in those days.  

After I filled my car up with the last load, I took a final walk around my old house.  Empty as it is now I heard my footsteps echo as I turned on the taps in anticipation of the upcoming freeze.  So the pipes won't blow up for the new owners.  They never blew up for me.  But you never know. 

I looked out the back kitchen window to the deck and cabana in the yard.  All the parties. All the Razorback games.  Back when the Razorbacks actually played down the street at War Memorial. I sat for the last time in the swing where I gave Abigail Straessle her bottle.  

I tossed the keys on the kitchen cabinet.  

"Good bye little house."

Danny's daughter is with him now.  He likes having her around more than he thought he would.  He likes having kids in the house.

I have a daughter now.  We Bowens don't produce girls. I like having Sarah around when she is home from school.  Her brother is still at Hendrix as far as I am made to understand.  That's cool.  I don't get much information. I hear from other Dads that this is not unusual.

I have a beautiful wife who tolerates me.  And you can see the Arkansas River from the front porch on our new house.  All is well.  All is better than I deserve.  I've lived a lot of life the past year.

Danny was momentarily alarmed when we wound up in Oklahoma briefly en route to I-40.  Once we got on the Interstate back around Dora (I actually knew what I was doing) he calmed down.

"Hey," he said. "Ya know?  We did damn good work you and me."

Yeah we did. 

It's enough to make one damn near nostalgic.  Maybe I will open those boxes from my old office one of these days.