Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Personal Investment Adviser

Back in 2006 I consolidated all my ragtag investments under the Fidelity umbrella. I had IRA’s with both GM and Delphi that I had to keep separate while I was working. Now that I am retired and Fidelity was handling my pension, I was allowed to merge everything together. The past few years have not been pretty by any means investment wise, but I like to think I weathered out the mess fairly well.

Fidelity has been pestering me to take advantage of this new “personalized” brokerage service they are offering. I really don’t pay enough attention to how my accounts are doing. I’m not planning on having to access any of these accounts for a long time. I’m not one to constantly switch money around between accounts… I pretty much “buy and hold”.

I spoke with a very pleasant representative this morning. She took my pertinent information to transfer to the “experts” the next level up who I was assured would look over my account and make recommendations. Basically, I’m too heavy into large cap funds. I was told that I really should get more invested into more mid and small caps.

I was told to expect an e-mail from the experts later on in the day. Please, I’m not that stupid; I know they will just feed my information into a computer.

When I got home from working out at the “Y” sure enough there was the E-mail with my information. I was anxious to see what funds I was recommended. To my shock, they had my portfolio doing a total turn around. Researching this more I found they were taking me out of my best performing funds with 4 and 5 star ratings from Morningstar. They had me instead going into funds with only two and three stars.

Back in the spring of 1997 my life was in turmoil. It makes my “tits itch” to just think about all I went through. I let this investment consultant who did workshops at a retirement clinic at work do some moves with my investments. When I realized what happened I never had such blind trust again concerning my money. He was the only one to profit from the deal on the hefty commissions he got.

The same warning bells went off the more I investigated this “personalized service”. Hidden away was “Your estimated net annual advisory fee: 0.88%.” My math skills have never been stellar, but calculators make finding percentages easy. Multiplying the investment amount by .88 and then dividing by 100 gave me a figure with too many zeros! I don’t need to be spending that kind of money to just have somebody hold my hand.

This representative was very personable, but she has to be to lure people like me into parting with money. It did not work this time… this boy aint signing up for NOTHING!

Something good did come out of this though, it forced me to take a look at my portfolio and give me ideas to rebalance it some. That I can do on my own without running up big fees!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Is Heating Up

It was another oppressively hot day today. Summer is here with a vengeance. There was a couple at the “Y” this morning bitching about how hot the work out area was. “We should all take our memberships and move them someplace else. They’d fix the air then.” They griped. Going into “Little Mary Sunshine” mode I replied, “I think how I hated it when it was so cold here in the winter when the heat was not working. It all evens out!” They just glared at me!

I think back to how my mother just hated the summer heat. We grew up without air conditioning. As kids we never knew the difference. When things got too bad mom would move a lawn chair to the basement and she would try to relax in the damp, clammy cellar.

The first time I experienced sleeping in an air conditioned room was when we attended the New York Worlds Fair in 1964. My sister Laurie, mom and I stayed at my Aunt Fran’s place in Queens. As children we imagined Aunt Fran as leading such a glamorous life in New York City, living in an apartment just off Queens BLVD. She had an air conditioner. My mom thought she was in heaven being able to sleep in the cool bedroom.

Aunt Fran (waving) and Mom at the Long Island Railroad exhibit: Worlds Fair 1964.

While we were at the fair, my dad was doing house renovation work. He bought a window air conditioner unit for their bedroom, and box window fans from Noah’s Ark (the main “auto store” on Main St in Lockport) for Laurie and me.

Mom was so thrilled. To her dying day we always made sure she had a working air conditioner! Long after I had grown up and moved out of the house mom told me about the hard time she got from her co-workers at the hospital over that first air conditioner. Apparently they were trying to lay a guilt trip on mom for having an air conditioned bedroom while her children didn’t.

Mom was a trooper who didn’t mince words. She replied, “Piss on them! Those kids are young: they can handle the heat. I can’t!” Don’t mess with a WWII Army nurse!

In all honesty it never crossed my mind to feel deprived over the situation. It was no big deal: we kids did not mind the heat, just like mom said! That box fan from 1964 is still in use here in Alabama. I oil the bearings every year, and every couple years I dismantle the thing to give it a real good cleaning. How many nights have I fallen to sleep listening to the “white noise” from that fan?

At home I really dislike running the central air. My old house was designed with a center hallway and opposing windows for good air circulation. Keeping things closed up during the day, and opening the windows after sunset for the cool night air to flow through is good enough for me.

The windows let in the cicada calls and other night sounds. In the morning I can hear the first birdsong. The cats sleep on the window side of the bed to catch the breezes.

During the day Stumpy will move to different spots in the shade under his favourite shrubs. I usually keep one of the ceiling fans going on the porch so he always has so air flow in his rocking chair. Daggy is like my mom. She will scream at the basement door till I open it. Then she waddles to her space in the North West corner under the cement porch. She has a hollowed out spot in the dirt where she has a view of the side yard through an iron grate. She is happy to spend the entire day there.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Recapping the Road Trip

The weather has been “summery” with temperatures in the upper 90° range. How I hate hearing the air conditioner cycle! Yesterday, I finally got to work trimming the overgrown shrubs on the north side of the property. The huge holly hedges are going to need to be trimmed by a professional. There I no way I can access the tops. The last time I attempted to cut them back I had the 10ft ladder in the bed of the truck and used a pole trimmer. I’m afraid it is going to need a “bucket” to do the job right….

A thunderstorm just passed through cooling things off nicely. The doors and windows are open letting the cool air flow through the house. Let me get the last road trip chronicled…

Saturday the 12th at 10:00 a.m. was the official opening for the show. The dealer admission was at 9:00 so we did not have to rush out early. Mercifully coffee was still available along with some donuts for us dealers.

One of the dealers I talked with last year had a present for me. He has friends in the Brick Collectors Club. Collecting bricks rubbed off on him! In his car he had five Ohio pavers for me! You meet the most interesting people at these shows.

The dealing was slow. The economy I’m afraid has really put a damper on things. The highlight of the morning was this young boy who was soaking everything in. He was so knowledgeable in identifying the different machines. His mom, dad and little brother were following him around. He was describing (quite correctly too!) the different types and styles of machines.

His parents explained how they were from Oklahoma, and this was their vacation trip. It gave me goose bumps to see such support form this boys family. I was talking with Jerry who was in the next booth about this young man. Jerry was also very impressed. He told me how this boy told him he got most of his information off the internet as books cost too much. I had a light go off in my head….. I had brought out two books to unload. One was a duplicate Edison biography I picked up at a thrift store for $2.00. The other was a water damaged volume from a set of Edison dealer publications I had been able to replace.

I was able to track the family down. I took mom aside and gave her the books and explained I wanted her son to have them. I had antique dealers helping me out in my early days, I felt good to be able to do the same….

One of the big buyers of the show was this businessman from South Korea. He had a family member as an interpreter as his English was very bad. He was very blunt and abrupt as rich buyers can be in this field. The dealers have to suck up to these big spenders. I demonstrated this crank paper organ to him.

It was marked $4,500. I knew Bill wanted to move it out. “Best price, best price” this man blurted to me. “I can do $4,000. But, check with Bill, this is his stuff; he is the man to deal with.” I tried to tell him.

Billy returned just in time and they went back and forth. This buyer has a fascinating story behind his life and collecting. He put together a “vanity book” which he showed to Billy. He presented Billy a copy of this book and then attempted to take a “G” automatic piano roll in return! Apparently it is a Korean custom to present a gift and then expect one in return!

It is a long story but Bill has a hoard of recordings done in three volumes of automatic music machines that was done for a now defunct museum back in the mid 1970’s. He gave this man a set of these recordings…..dealing is such a game…. I’m glad I have a chance to observe from the sidelines and not be dependent upon it for a living.

View from Billy's booth:

Billy and I not fashion plates when it comes to clothes. With the hefting and moving we have to do, getting dressed into the latest fashion is not us at these shows. There seemed to be an abundance of Columbia shirts with the “vented backs”. To me this is the ultimate “yuppie” accessory. Billy and I had the running joke this style shirt was designed to act as a parachute in case you start to fall……some of the people wearing this style really fit the bill!!

Saturday night was the open house at Jasper Sanfilippios. The visit to this home is worth the drive from Alabama.

On the way to the open house we stopped for dinner at Port Edward. We were assured this place was only a little bit upscale. Boy, did those boys ever lie to us! The rowdy fun spot we stopped at last year for cheeseburgers was closed and deserted.

Port Edward http://portedward.com/ was a linen napkin, heavy silverware type of place. I think they put one of the busboys in training on our table. I feel very uncomfortable when my water glass gets refilled nearly every time I take a sip from it. The place was not busy so we got a lot of unwanted attention.

I ordered Rib Eye & Shrimp De Jonghe which came with a salad. When the empty salad plate was cleared I was asked if I wanted to keep my fork. As I had a dinner fork on the left, this seemed an odd question. Then my meal was brought out and I was asked if I wanted another beer. My beer glass was ¾’s full! I thought I was on the Twilight Zone. The food was very good, but I’m just not comfortable in that kind of environment.

We arrived on time to the Sanfilippo mansion.

This link pretty much explains the magic of this collection. http://www.placedelamusique.org/ It has to be seen to be believed. It is such a labour of love and money to keep a collection of this magnitude in working order.

We took a ride on the Eden carousel. This is a European Carousel which differs from their American counterparts in that the horses pitch back and forth in addition to going up and down. There is no pole to hang onto.

We explored the real steam engine and passenger car parked in the covered railroad station. The neighbors complained too much so Jasper can’t take the engine out as often as he used to! I feel so privileged to able to share and enjoy nights like this.

The back roads were dark and not marked out very well. The GPS paid for itself in getting us safely and easily back to Elgin and the Holiday Inn.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Summer of 1970: Looking Back 40 Years Ago

This time of year always has me looking back to that magic summer of 1970 which started for me in late June. That summer forged and shaped my life as I’ve lived it since then.

My part time job in High School was working at the Burger Chef, a now defunct fast food chain. We workers nicknamed it “the grease pit” as our clothes absorbed the smell of the hot grease from the deep fat fryers. I used to hide my black work pants in the store room and change in to them before the start of my shift. After a few days they would really get ripe.

I was always following a different drummer. It seemed that most of my classmates who were also working spent their wages on cars and fancy dates. My wages were put into an account which would fund a trip through Europe. Mom and dad always said I could do whatever I wanted as long as I paid the bills.

My best friend Keith also worked at the Burger Chef and had a similar trip planned. Keith’s mom took us to a Cooks Travel promotion for their European tours in the winter of 1970. I can still remember the hokey production showing this happy couple touring the continent disembarking from all modes of transportation. The comic relief was the narrator’s comments on this one ladies hat which she wore constantly!

Then they did the sales pitches. Always a stickler about costs and money I said to Keith and his mom how expensive one aspect of the promoted tour was. This guy sitting ahead of us turned around exasperated and said, “Jesus, to go any cheaper you would have to ride a bicycle!” We all laughed as that was to be my mode of transportation through Europe that summer, my trusty bicycle!

I had my bicycle boxed up and I flew from Buffalo, to JFK. My travel agent assured me there would be storage facilities at the airport where I could store my bicycle till the departure of the charter flight on Capitol Airlines for the American Youth Hostels tours going overseas.

Naturally, there were no “storage facilities” at JFK. It was a rude awakening to the real world when I realized I was alone with the problem of how to stash a bicycle for a few days. I was able to work out an arrangement with a transfer agency to store the bike and then have them deliver it to where the collection point was to be for the Youth Hostel’s tour at New York University. Although I stayed with my Aunt Fran in Queens, NY, I was on my own for the departure and collecting the bicycle. She could not take time off work and I did not expect her to. It was just as well my mom and dad did not know what I was contending with!

It seems inconceivable in today’s world how cut off I was from my family for those two months. Tissue thin aerogrammes were the only means of communication I had. Phone calls were out of the question. The internet had not been invented yet!

That summer taught me self reliance and basically how to make it on my own. I love to tell the story to Europeans as to how I was always the lead and pretty much biked on my own to our destinations. They can’t believe what I did. I kept a journal on that trip. It was July the 8th 1970 I had my experience that looking back now puts the fear of God into my bones!

Let me just quote from my trip diary:

Awoke to a very nice morning. At around 8:30 or so we started on to Darmstadt. After fixing a loose gear cable on my bike I soon got ahead of everyone else. I ate lunch in Mainz at 12:00. Around 12:30 I continued on to Darmstadt. I got on the Autobahn which is some sort of super highway.

(Talk about being a “babe in the woods”. I had NO idea what the Autobahn was. I rode my packed down bicycle on the far shoulder of the road, waving to the cars that flashed their lights at me as they passed. I thought they were just being friendly!)

I must have gone some 40 KM before some men working on the side of the road in a field told me (in VERY forceful German) bicycles were not allowed on the road. He then showed me how to turn off for Darmstadt, all in German!

Europeans just shake their heads when I relate this story to them. They tell me how lucky I was not to be arrested and to be alive today!!

That summer demonstrated to me what life had the potential to be. It was that trip that taught me how I wanted to live: self reliant and independent.

Picture of my loaded down bicycle in Switzerland, 1970:

The isolation from my family and childhood friends helped to mold me into an adult and taught me to stand on my own. With as much as I embrace technology, it is sad kids today are in constant contact with family and don’t have the opportunity to grow on their own.

Monday night at Pannera Bread two students were having a terrible go of it. I could not help but overhear their drama. One student had a paper due no later than 11:59 p.m on the 22nd. This college student could not ascertain if this was a minute before midnight or noon. She had to call her father.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Home From the Road: On the River Again

Home from the road and time to get my journal caught up. I am so hopelessly behind. Let be begin with the return from the Illinois.

Monday June the 14th Billy and I headed out from the Motel 6 in Lafayette, IN about 8:00 a.m. Our route is pretty much a straight shot down I- 65 to I 59-20 west and finally my house.

We did a lunch stop in Elizabethtown, KY at one of my favourite places in the world to eat…. WhiteCastle! Three sliders, onion rings and a chocolate milkshake made for a perfect lunch.

I was in the lead through Nashville. The easiest way through is not the GPS way….40 west to 440 east and then back on 65 south.

We arrived at my house a little after 5:00 p.m. I opened the door to two cats who were in serious need of loves and hugs. Stumpy had to run outside first thing, while Daggy screamed at me for rubs.

After two weeks on the road it was heaven to be home again. The temperatures had been in the mid to upper 90° range. The central air had been running as per my instructions to keep the cats comfortable. This is a far cry from last year when I was able to hold back turning the central air till into July.

I planned on Billy sleeping in my bedroom and me taking the settle in the study. It makes so much more sense this way than to try and cool off the upstairs where the guest bedroom is. I had to be up early to attend the sculling camp. I missed the first day being on the road. By having Billy in my room he would not be disturbed when my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. However it was double hard on the cats being locked out of their bedroom and having company staying over.

Sculling camp was pretty intense. The temperatures and humidity meant we were soaked to the skin by the time we finished up the practices. There are enough differences between sculling and rowing sweep to make things interesting but confusing at the same time.

The last day of classes I was in the bow seat of the quad. The responsibility of steering the boat and coxing fell on me. You maneuver the boat by varying the pressure your rowers exert on the port or starboard oars. I was a wreck by the time we docked. There was a ton of debris to steer around, not to mention all the barges and other boats sharing the river. Coxing from the bow is so different from coxing from the stern. In the stern you can see where you are going; coxing from the bow seat means you have to keep looking over both shoulders being sure not to look at the "catch" as that is when the boat is most unstable.

In spite of the frustration, I really liked sculling and am investigating purchasing a single shell so I can get out to row anytime I want.

Mom’s first cousin Criss passed away at 101 years old last summer. Criss and I were always in touch with each other. I was very surprised to receive a check from her estate. I was not expecting anything. My first inclination was to add that money to my CD the next time it matured. Then I thought, “Screw it… get something you want and will enjoy.” I’m now investigating and researching purchasing a single shell with the money. I figure I can name the boat “Christina MacKay” in honour of cousin Criss.

Friday night we had enough people sign up to take out the four. It had been so long since being on the water rowing sweep. Dianne coxed and I rowed 2 seat on the port side. It was sheer bliss being on the river rowing sweep/port again.

It was still hot and humid when we docked at 7:45. Originally I planned on just heating up frozen chicken wings when I got home. I was famished and needed something a bit more substantial. I made a detour to Publix to procure a steak for supper. The workers there are used to seeing me now showing up after rowing practices in my sweat soaked spandex and do-rag. I had the check out lady laughing explaining how I had to fix up a real meal over chicken wings! I devoured that delicious meal of steak smothered in onions and drenched in butter. I never eat a steak that I don’t think of my dad as that was his favourite food. The apple does not fall far from the tree in that aspect!


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.