My snow rake

The Portland area gets very little snow. In many winters it will get none, or perhaps a couple of slushy mornings. When this area gets cold enough, we are more likely to see ice–and when Portland ices up, it does the job right. Air saturated with moisture will see its water freeze onto any surface that is below freezing temperature. The roads can develop a quarter inch of solid ice. Forget driving, even if the roads weren’t full of terrified morons. Walking is problematic enough.

To want a snow rake in Portland, one would first need to come from a place where the question of rooftop snow accumulation has been an issue. Wisconsinites, Montanans, Alaskans, Coloradoans, Michiganders…you get the picture. One must then be enormously weather-paranoid, having heard stories of six inches of snow some years back. One must then figure out how it is Portland is supposed to get enough snow that it could endanger a sloped roof (such accumulations would be measured in feet, not inches).

Or one must live in the shade of fourteen mature lodgepole pines.

I love the lodgepoles. I love to sit in my wide-but-shallow backyard, indifferent to the peering of the paranoid nutbag on the other side of the fence, smoking my cigar and watching the squirrels do their Looney Tunes re-enactments. We have plentiful birds, and like the squirrels, they have learned I mean them no harm. When I sit outside, I feel close to the land, even though I’m in the Dullest White Suburb of All Time. (It’s not entirely white. On my walks, I sometimes see Indian children playing with toy cricket bats. While we have a somewhat substantial Hispanic population, we keep up appearances by having mediocre Mexican restaurants. However, this is Oregon. Nearly every place is mostly white.)

Problem: my lodgepoles drop enormous amounts of needles. On my back yard’s ground, I can deal with it; a lawn is impractical, and they help trap the moisture in summer. On my roof, it’s a problem. Needle accumulations allow moss to begin, and hold moisture against the roof.

So why not just get on the roof and use a push broom a few times a year, you may ask? Because I’m scared as hell. I’m not afraid to climb a ladder, but the transition to the roof takes me ten minutes. The transition off the roof is even worse. I can only force myself to do the first by condemning myself to a diagnosis of cowardice if I refuse. The second only happens because I’d rather not stay on the roof forever, and I’m not of an age where jumping is a good idea. Another consideration is that I have a repaired Achilles tendon. The ankle angle required to stand upright on a roof facing upslope is a serious strain on a tendon that is still just a tad shorter than the one that never popped. Wouldn’t it be fun to be up on a roof with a re-ruptured Achilles tendon?

If I must get on a roof, I will. If I need not, I will be happier.

Thus, the snow rake with a broom attachment. It is obvious that I can’t leave a lot of needles up there, or the roof will moss up. (I cut a toilet bowl cleaner bottle just so that I could use it to fling Ridmoss all the way to the roof’s apex.) The moss problem is bad enough in Portland and I’d just as soon not make my version of the problem worse. The paranoid wacko neighbor’s roof would appear bright green from the air, so bad is the moss on the shade side. In Portland, the sensible homeowner simply doesn’t play games with roofing.

The snow rake isn’t a panacea. It comes in segments, and I need all 21′ of them. Its length causes its aluminum to flex enough that I have to be gentle with it, lest it break. The broom gets the bulk of the needles, but not all. I have to move a heavy folding ladder several times in order to pull the highest needles down where I can reach them with a normal plastic rake. While I am at it, I always have to clean the eave-troughs because some of the needles will surely land there. Going up and down the ladder makes my knees feel like they contain broken glass. I get to chuck armloads of muddy needles off a ladder into the yard waste bin.

Still beats hell out of getting on the roof, like I did today. There is an eave-trough higher up, it fills up, and it has to be cleaned now and then; the snow rake can’t help me with that one. After that, I decided that I merited a cigar to settle my nerves. If it hadn’t been about 10:30 AM, I might have added a slug of rum to that indulgence. I suppose my neighbors enjoyed watching my ginger hesitancy. If they found it amusing, I can’t blame them.

But if we ever do get that 3′ deep blizzard, we’ll just see who’s laughing then.

I wish you could watch me change the hot tub water in late fall/early winter

Why? Because you’d laugh the whole time.

If one is going to have a hot tub, and enjoy spar treatments (q.v.), one must commit to maintenance. Once a week that means dunking a test strip, reading the results, dumping some chemicals in, and forgetting about it. But every four months, or sooner if it gets sudsy (or one has gross people over), a full water change is needed.

It’s enough of a pain in the ass in summer, when it’s nice and the trees aren’t dropping a steady hail of pine needles and other tree crap into the uncovered tub. It’s comically tortuous in winter, when someone looking like Gimli the Dwarf in a feed-store hat and swim trunks is doing it. I should have done this last week, when the temp was sunny and sixties, but I couldn’t get off my lazy butt. And just to help remind myself why I should not get slothful, let’s take you through the schadenfreude show you’d have gotten today. Imagine yourself sitting in my adirondack with your choice of drinking and smoking materials, with me performing this for your amusement.

First off: outside in flipflops and trunks. It’s not cold unless you get wet, which; hello, that’s a given. Throw the breaker; hot tub engine minus circulating water equals no good. Pull off the cover.

Now comes the fun and joy. Get out the extension cord (which looks like a mutated Flying Spaghetti Monster and there is that one cord around which everything is hung up, if only you could pull it out, but you have to pull out every other cord first in order to reach it), sump pump, and the most badass addition of my own: a rollable industrial drainage hose that screws onto the sump pump via a fitting. I also had the nearby downspout fitted with a place to stick the hose end. No siphons for me, and no dumping the whole salted-up hundreds of gallonage direction into the water table.

Of course, all the patio furniture is in my way, including you as you sit with your quiet pleasures enjoying my mild but not uncreative blasphemies. Of course, it is impossible to get the sump pump to stay in one place, and its tethered float is designed to become entangled in the electrical cord no matter how one orients it. Then comes rigging the drainage hose, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. When full of water, this hose bends rather than flexes, and we do not want a solid kink, so it must be dragged out to a sort of broad arc before feeding the business end into the downspout. Even then, that end will spasm ba-thump ba-thump as bursts of water surge through it. The only solution with the current hose would require violation of the laws of physics. I am unwilling to become a fugitive from the physics police, so I put up with ba-thumping. Which now begins, as I plug the pump in, walk along the hose troubleshooting kinks and grousing, and prepare for the worst part. At least when I fumble the end of it and soak my legs, it’s with warm tub water.

After I get the old filter and silver nitrate stick out, it’s time for the turkey baster. While the tub still has most of the water, I walk around it using the baster to suck up the sand and grit and crud that I can reach. No matter how hard we try to keep the tub free of dirt, some gets in. Not all of it goes straight to the bottom center. The stuff in the seats, I can get now, so I circulate while sucking up as much of the dirt as possible. As the water level drops, and the clouds begin to threaten, I climb into the tub and start getting all the dirt I couldn’t reach before. My back hurts, and now and then I jostle the sump pump. This creates some minor misalignment that I must remedy before the thing burns up. So there I am, chilled and wet and not having any fun, slurping up grit and squirting it out of the tub. I’m obsessive enough to do a reasonably good job, though my demeanor suggests to you that I am not at peace with the universe. The ba-thumping suggests to me that at least the hose hasn’t come out and drained it all in my yard instead; quiet joys.

Finally, at last, the damn float falls far enough to stop the pump. I shift it around to get as much as the pump will process, then hunker down to get as much of the remaining grit as I can. I remind myself that I like this tub for four months as a result of this activity. Hoist out the pump and hose, picking up the new bits of tree flotsam that have fallen in the past half hour. Close the damn lid; no need for another hour of that stuff. Lift it enough to replace the filter, watching in fascinated disgust at the milky drippage from the old one. No, I’m not throwing it away. I clean these. If you priced them, versus the cost of the horrible cleaning solution, you would clean yours too. But there you sit, smoking something, drinking something, bemused to know that this isn’t close to over yet.

That’s okay. You are not out of smokings or drinkings. Whoever owns the problem must deal with the problem, and I own this problem. I am not by nature a begrudger, nor am I generally envious. You just sit there and enjoy this. I’m managing my First World Suburban Problem.

Now, we’re going to refill the thing. Uncover the faucet (which is wearing its winter cover). Connect the garden hose. Turn it on and first use that water to wash it off, so we don’t do like we did that one time, when we cheerfully stuck the hose covered with ground filth right into our nice fresh clean tub water. Mishandle the hose so that it shoots water all over me, nice and chilly. Say a naughty thing. Shove the hose into the filter, then put a prop in so that the lid can be closed to tree flotsam.

It is now time to start putting most of this crap away. Roll up the drainage hose. Coil the extension cord. The tub will take an hour to fill, so I’m going to take a load off and enjoy a brief interlude of smokings and drinkings with you. I can’t start to treat the tub until the temp reaches 85º F, and I can’t throw the breaker to turn it back on until it is full. Not partly full; fully full. As you tell me about the sillier parts, and I look up at the darkening skies, we hear noises like a horse having bad gas underwater, pressure squeezing air bubbles out of the tub’s circulation system as it should.

One more obsessive check and el tub es el full, as my Spanish-speaking wife might say. Hose out, prop out, throw the breaker upward. Not long after, I hear the startup cycle beginning. Go us. Now comes the gross, hazardous part.

I mentioned the old filter? First I have to hose it out. I set it on the cheap black plastic table, fit the nozzle to the hose, and start blasting it. Four months of accumulated milky residue, at least part of it dead skin, drain away as I hose the filter down. Point-blank range, taking some back-splash. The filter is about the width of a two-liter soda bottle, but longer and cylindrical. I try to hose out each pleat. It appalls me to see just how much crud this thing has caught.

When I can coax out no more residue, now comes the hazardous part. The filter cleaner bottle is covered with warnings: CONTAINS SULFURIC AND HYDROCHLORIC ACID! MIX WITH 4 GAL. WATER AND SOAK FILTER OVERNIGHT. ALWAYS ADD FILTER CLEAN TO WATER, NEVER ADD WATER TO FILTER CLEAN! I remember that from high school chemistry. Since I can frankly do without getting spattered with a couple of different acids, I follow these directions with care; this filter cleaner is evil. I somehow manage to do this without spilling any on myself, remembering to put the bucket where it will live before filling it up, so I don’t have to walk around with acid sloshing out of it.

Hose off the table (calm down; it sits out in the rain all winter, it will be non-gross by spring), cover up the bucket, and it’s a good thing you are running out of smokings and drinkings because I can tell it’s going to start raining in ten minutes max. Thank you for sitting out here to laugh at me.

Later on I’ll come back, run a test strip, dump in some calcium stuff and sanitizers and get a start on lifting the pH, then keep that up until we’re all nice and balanced.

If I’d waited another week, and had to do it in 44º weather with steady rain, it would have been progressively funnier for you (neatly tucked under the house eave with your bad habits) and far, far uglier for me.

We get to do this again in March. In the meantime, spar treatments.

What looks sillier than me trying to buy Hello Kitty stock?

Not much, I suppose.

There isn’t actually a Hello Kitty stock, of course; the character is a property (doesn’t that sound so cold?) of Sanrio, a company in Japan. Seems HK is an even bigger deal over there, definitely Sanrio’s cash cow. The little mink is worth seven bill a year. I am looking into this for a simple reason: all of my wife’s stock recommendations, except those where I help pick the stock, do well. Since she had thought about this before I did, just hadn’t gotten around to asking me, this makes it a Deb-Approved Security that should do well.

If it does well, I don’t give a damn how silly a security looks. (Or how odious. I don’t believe in ethical investing. I believe in activism, and in investing for gain, but I do not believe in confusing the two.)

I’m not sure how easy it is to trade the shares on the Tokyo exchange, but it has US-traded shares as SNROF. Did you know that, that in most cases you can buy major foreign companies on the US markets? Generally you can. However, you can face a number of issues. You will certainly pay foreign tax, and in some cases ADR (American Depositary [spelling is correct] Receipt) fees. And yes, this means if you get a dividend, you will have to check ‘yes’ on your tax return when it asks “Did you have any foreign income?” In case you’re interested, a five-letter ticker ending in F is a foreign stock. A five-letter ticker ending in Y is typical an ADR (the distinction is not tremendously important). Some foreign stocks do not have five-letter tickers, like Toyota (TM).

Thus, this has me researching a way to buy shares of a foreign company whose main revenue generator is the image of a cartoon cat. Why would I be all right with this? In addition to the noteworthy fact that it’s Deb-approved, it’s near a long-term low. It does not look to have much downside, and based on its price history, has potential for a four-bag upside. I’m enamored of stocks my wife likes that are cheap at the price. I’m also enamored of 4% dividend yields, especially when payout seems on the upswing.

I’m greedy on dividends. I am not a fan of annual report proclamations (authored by management) of how great management is, how we’re all going to roll in money, and so on. I think: “Screw you. Pay up. If I’m going to hold this, I expect compensation now and frequently. That’s money you can’t take back later. If you bomb financially, and you don’t pay up, no problem. I was just in it for the money and I’ll be going then.”

I’m less enamored of low liquidity. One has to watch for that with foreign shares, and with quite a few investments. During Friday’s trading day, according to my research, only 100 shares of SNROF traded. That’s it. What if someone had wanted to buy 200? Might not have gotten them, especially at a limit price. People need to remember that you don’t automatically get to sell stock and ETF shares; they are not sold into a void. They are sold to someone else who wants to own them. If you want to sell, and there isn’t enough buying interest, maybe you can’t sell at all. By the same token, if no one wants to sell you any shares, you can’t buy them. Oh, someone will always cough them up–but not always at a limit price.

Foreign investing is kind of wild-west stuff for reasons like these. The governing laws are different. The style of annual report bullshit is different. (That’s not to say it’s less bullshitty, just that different cultures present bullshit in different ways.) It is generally more speculative in part because it’s harder to say how a company is doing in another country. I mean, if you’re in the US and you hear that Ford Motor Co. has turned in a crappy year and is laying off workers, well, that wasn’t hard. But if Nissan was boning the beagle financially, you might not see that splattered all over the US financial news. You’d have to make extra effort to keep tabs.

Most times, I think it’s easier and safer to just buy an ETF or CEF (types of mutual funds you can trade on exchanges) to focus on a given sector of foreign investing, but not all my ETF or CEF picks work out well. All of Deb’s do. Thus, if she is feeling it on Hello Kitty, I’ll start watching Sanrio, feeling a little silly for doing so.

Hello, kitty.

Why you don’t lie to your editor

Are you surprised to find that some writers lie to the person they hire to help them succeed? Don’t be.

The reading public, which I love nonetheless, at times lacks a clear picture of the author/editor dynamic. In most people’s perceptions, the editor/author relationship is a battle between conflicting views of “what’s best for the book.” I do not operate according to that model. If the client thinks s/he knows better than I do what’s best for his or her book, and began this relationship simply to fight with me, I have better things to do than play the game. Maybe that person just wants to win an argument for ego’s sake, or is simply disagreeable.

(For confirmation: if you go to any message board meant for writers, you’ll see enough ego on display to last you weeks. Let it be known that you’re an editor, and you can begin the countdown to your first typo, and a smug callout from a small mind who considers that s/he has just taken a scalp. They are rarely worth one’s time.)

Perhaps some editors do work in such an adversarial way. I prefer a discussion/consensus model, and I find that the better the writer, the better that works. The best writers crave feedback and specifics, and they will beat both out of me–exactly as they should, if by some lapse I fail to volunteer them. I cannot get away with a terse statement to them like “that’s incorrect.” They want to know my whole reasoning. This in turn makes me a better editor, because I had better not propose anything I’m not willing to defend. And if I don’t also have the solution to offer, I’m in trouble. What good am I if I can’t tell my client how to improve? Better writers make me a better editor. With them, the consensus model works best because the better writers have more grounds for valid counterpoints, which means we can put our heads together for the best outcome. Viewed another way, when someone can’t write and can’t storytell, the person doesn’t have much to defend. I can and will help that person, but he or she doesn’t usually have the ability to debate how things should be.

By now, not much surprises me, but some things disappoint me. I have had clients accept a lot of developmental feedback, then stiff me. My fault, really, for allowing the situation to get to that point. In one case, though, I was deceived from start to beyond the finish. It involved an Alan Smithee, and I think the story can now be told.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept, Alan Smithee is a pseudonym sometimes seen in cinema credits. It replaces the name of a person who did not want name credit. I use a similar method when I do not want to attach my name to a book, which can be for many reasons. The most common reason is that my client won’t listen to me, and stands firm in believing that s/he knows better, deciding to override my guidance.

Some time back, I heard from a writer with an incredible story to tell. This client, who went by an obvious pseudonym, told me that s/he had met a renegade who supposedly performed blatantly illegal activities at the behest of legally sanctioned individuals, had had a change of heart about those activities, and decided to tell the story. My client was expecting any moment to suffer great retaliation for talking about it (the renegade supposedly being either dead or beyond reach of retaliatory acts). I read the ms. There were minimal specifics about the illegal activities, but lots of sociopolitical rants, and over half the book told the tale of an abusive relationship that had no bearing on the book’s billing. Why did this renegade open up to my client? The answers were vague, where any were forthcoming at all.

I gave my frank impressions: the story’s billing was deceptive, the logic was flawed, the rants were illogical and alienating, the tone was self-serving, and the book wasn’t going to be very good. I wanted much more about the cloak-and-dagger stuff, less about a bad childhood, and much less about a very bad relationship.

My client rejected most of my guidance. S/he was often very coy, the sort of person who won’t just come out and say something, but will drop enough hints to enable one to Google. I was able to verify some of the renegade’s story, though in many cases there seemed to be two sides to that story. The client claimed to have promised the renegade to leave certain parts in; naturally, they were the very worst parts. I did trim out a lot of the fat, and I obtained the addition of a minimal segment of cloak and dagger, but in the end my client only acted on about 15% of my guidance. This client therefore wasted about 85% of the money spent, and I could do nothing about it.

I came to realize that when my copy arrived. (I do not negotiate a complimentary copy, so this was at my instigation. I take pride in being one of the first customers to buy a copy at retail. Seriously, when someone pays you thousands of dollars, the very least you can do is buy your own damn copy from your client.) I shook my head in disappointment. Early reception and sales confirmed my expectations, with those few reviewers calling out the book’s deceptive nature. The positive reviewers were obvious sock puppets. It was all rather sad.

Not long after, my client contacted me: retaliation was coming, might catch me in the target area, and s/he would no longer be able to connect with me by normal means. In so doing, this client dropped enough information to confirm what I had considered 90% certain from the start: the client was also the renegade. All the stuff about getting the renegade to tell his story was twaddle. All the stuff about material the writer had promised the renegade not to alter? Baloney. How challenging it must have been to keep up the whole charade, with the author wondering if I were just playing along, or whether I could possibly be that dumb. Maybe that’s why the client ignored so much of my guidance: going along with the pretense made me look stupid, and thus not to be heeded.

Now, of course, I had much better reason to doubt most aspects of the tale, including its fundamentals. It was not all lies; I had verified a few of the less controversial parts. The renegade was a real person. The illegal activities? I came to believe they were all inventions, and that I didn’t get specifics because the renegade/client didn’t want to author any more fiction. The author’s naive belief was that people would buy a book purportedly full of Shocking Revelations, and not mind when it turned out to be mostly a story of bad childhood and bad relationships, combined with the renegade’s desire to spin the entire story to his/her own glory and the detriment of the renegade’s enemies. Somehow, the client believed that the buyer would not feel scammed.

If the few purchasers felt taken in, I understand that. So do I. If someone isn’t honest with me, it will limit my ability to help that client. In this case, throughout my editing work, I’d had to operate as though accepting the cover story. In reality, I hadn’t been talking to a person who had made an arrangement with a renegade just before that person planned to disappear, and who thus was not a direct participant with no ax to grind. I was talking to the ax-grinder in person, and the ax-grinder had had to supplement lies with more lies.

That simply piles atrocious upon bad and flawed.

Why do that? In the end, I think that the better writer believes that the relationship is about quality, and the worse writer believes that it is about control. The better writer wants to discuss, to hear justification, to brainstorm, to learn, and to produce ever-improving literary product. The worse writer fears a loss of control, and in service of control, may keep secrets. Or tell lies. Or defend the illogical. Or bicker without need. In the end, the worse writer knows his or her work is worse, and that the fundamentals boil down to:

“Well, my client, the bad news is that neither the story nor the writing are very good, but we could fix those.”

“But that’s my style, Mr. Editor! That’s my story!”

“Well, if you insist, then your style and story are bad.”

“I cannot accept that answer. I will keep looking until I find someone who believes in my work.”

“Very good. Best of success to you.”

Allowing major change, the thinking goes, would lose the battle for control. I do not consider that so. Allowing major change would teach the writer to be a much better writer with a more evolved perspective on his or her products, better able to defend decisions and less likely to need to do so.

But if they lie to me, it is fair to say that the percentage of the truth I am told sets an upper ceiling on the percentage of the available good I can do them. And once I learn of the lie in mid-book, while I will finish what I started, there won’t be a second project. I don’t care much for being deceived. I find that most people who live mostly by lies are not offended when caught lying. It’s not the first time, and won’t be the last. They do not expect a consequence if they continue lying; all debunked lies are now water under the bridge. Lie too often, for too long, and it becomes more addictive than an opiate. It becomes reflex, habit, first nature. Before deciding how to answer, the person ceases to ask him or herself ‘what is the actual true answer?’ and asks only ‘what answer would best suit my needs?’

Now, if someone came to me with an explosive tale of intelligence work that would shock the nation to its core, here is the first thing I would say: “Let us have one understanding. What truths you do not wish to tell me, tell me honestly that you will not tell me those, and I will not press you. But do not, even once, tell me a lie. The moment I believe you have is the moment I reserve the right to drop the job like a live grenade. If you cannot live by that agreement, let’s go our separate ways here and now.”

Like anyone else, editors live and learn.

Fun with our old credit union

Because I like our old credit union, I’m not going to name the guy by last name. He is probably embarrassed enough. In short, we left ICCU behind when we left Idaho, but only since they are not set up to do banking or mortgage business in Oregon. If we had disliked ICCU, this letter might have been more sarcastic, but we did like them and enjoyed dealing with them. They are probably the most worthwhile consumer financial institution in Boise. In fact, I liked my banker there well enough to copy him on my reply.

Here are the email and my reply, with some redactions for privacy:

From: J.K. Kelley [mailto:[redacted]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 7:37 AM
To: Chris; Mitch
Subject: Re: ICCU Refinance Opportunity

Hello, Chris, (Mitch, also thought you’d get a laugh out of this; hope you’re doing well, and I miss our conversations–good luck to Harsin and the Broncos; offensive line is the core of the sport)

===

On 10/6/2016 2:49 PM, Chris wrote:

At Idaho Central Credit Union we are looking after your daily balance.

That’s thoughtful of you! If this is true, then you understand that my daily, weekly, monthly, and annual balance at ICCU is zero, and you must have access to my balance at another mortgage bank in a different state, which I find fascinating.

That’s why I have identified you as a potential refinance candidate.

Have you? That’s a surprise! I didn’t know you were in the Portland market.

If you are at all interested in potentially refinancing your current property while interest rates are at all-time lows, please give me a call or shoot me an email to discuss how I can save you money on your monthly mortgage.

I have to respect your persistence, since we closed our ICCU accounts about eighteen months ago. Not with pleasure; simply that we’d moved away and sold the house. We liked ICCU, good outfit, good guys like Mitch. If we still lived in Boise our mortgage and savings would still be at ICCU.

Please answer the following questions and I’ll get right back to you with an estimate on your possible refinance:

  1. What do you roughly owe and what do you think your home is worth?

We owe $$$$K on a house I think would sell for $$$$K. Of course, the drag is that the house is in Beaverton, Oregon. Housing shortage here. We have homeless camps. People like us are making bank renting out a guest room.

2. What type of property do you own and what is the property address?

Residential. It is at Number SW Street, Beaverton. However, before driving over, please call first. It would be very sad-making for you to drive seven hours and find that we are out eating granola or something. [Afterthought. If he is so familiar with our mortgage, how come he doesn’t know the property address?]

3. Are you looking to stick with a 30yr term to keep payments lower or something shorter like a 20yr or 15yr to try and get this paid off quicker?

Now, please think about what you just said. If I wanted to make greater payments on my thirty-year mortgage, I could be doing that. In what universe would I lock myself into that?

4. If you had to guess what do you pay for in home owners insurance per month?

I don’t have to guess. Through the reserve, divided out, I fork over about $$$ per month. I cough up another $$$ per month for earthquake coverage that isn’t worth a damn. You didn’t ask about the property taxes, but they suck. Roughly triple what we paid in Boise.

5. Any idea on where your credit scores stand?

If anything, they have improved since you lent us money before, so I suggest you check your records. It was only three years ago. Should still be xxx+. Please don’t run it again, though, unless we’re looking at a 2% drop in our mortgage rate (that would put us around 1.75%). If you have that in mind, my number is xxx-xxx-xxxx; let’s talk.

I Look forward to working with you,

Chris

Idaho Central Credit Union

[title and other signature data redacted]

Well, that’s good to know.

[misc links, we-love-us, and guidance redacted]

Notice: This e-mail and/or the attachments accompanying it may contain confidential information belonging to Idaho Central Credit Union. The information contained is for the use of the intended recipient. If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the e-mail and any attachments.

I’m not sure if I received it in error or not. Perhaps you can tell me?

-j

===

My former banker actually replied first, with a laugh. I suspect Chris will be a little red in the face, but no harm done except to his pride.

Narrow gauge, open mind, numb nuts

There haven’t been any posts for a couple of weeks because Deb and I went on vacation. We drove to Colorado via Utah, then back to Oregon via Wyoming and the Teton Valley (Idaho). Part of it was to celebrate our anniversary, part just that we needed a getaway and one can rely upon Colorado for natural beauty.

One thing we did, which I had never done, was take the narrow gauge train from Durango (Colorado) to Silverton and back. One would never do this for practical means: it costs about $90/each round trip in economy, and it’s three and a half hours to go about 45 miles each way. But for those of you who have heard of this excursion, and wondered what it was like, I can now tell you.

We could have paid double for what presumably would have been a more comfortable ride. Our rather spartan coach car had padded seats, but they weren’t very pleasant for three hours of sitting. In fact, to my alarm, I lost all sensation down below. It took a couple of days for it to return, which is not something I had envisioned. If you are riding in coach, my advice is to bring some pads.

The train pokes along at about the speed a cyclist might ride, so there is lots of time for photography. If your seats are on one side headed for Silverton, they will be on the other during the return to Durango, so you will get both sides’ views. You will also be treated to a few steam expulsions, because the coal-fueled train has to stop and blow off steam to both sides. I hope there are never any animals over there to get scalded. The train also stops at a zipline adventure place and a couple of other locations, in addition to three watering stops from pipes rigged up to stream-fed catchbasins. While its public presentation is as a pure tourist line, the train serves communities along its length for some freight and milk-run passenger service.

The coal smell isn’t as strong as I expected. I wouldn’t want it all the time, but for a finite period I found it immersive. A brakeman gave us instructions (mainly, don’t stand on the platforms between rail cars) and warnings about cinders. The combustion kicks off small cinders that tend to get into riders’ eyes. He assured us he carried eyewash materials. I got a couple cinders, but nothing serious. They weren’t hot.

By late September, Silverton (never a thrill a minute at the best of times) isn’t a very big attraction. It’s mostly tourist traps and dirt roads (no pavement), and there’s nothing there you couldn’t get just as easily in Durango, plus half the shops are closed up for the season. The purpose of this trip is not to obtain two hours in Silverton; the purpose is to ride an old school train through the mountains. We had a nice time, except for the wasp moment. As our car sat in Silverton half-boarded, with all the windows open, a wasp entered the car and buzzed Deb. She is not allergic, but is highly apiphobic. As the wasp headed for the car’s rear, she ran for its front, commanding me to slay the creature. I am not apiphobic, but I hate being the center of a bunch of strangers’ attention. Didn’t matter; what mattered was my wife expected me do courageous battle against the marauding insect. I radiated resignation and ennui as I heaved my numbed regions out of the seat and followed the wasp to the back of the train; one swat with my Thor Gasket cap and it was on the floor, one smoosh of a sneaker and it was no longer among the living.

Upon my return Deb questioned whether I had truly slain the beast. She finally accepted my insistence that I had observed its smashed body. In hindsight, I should have offered to go get the corpus delicti and show it to her, as that would have made her cease to question me.

Overall impression: it’s a beautiful if very lengthy and uncomfortable ride, and in late September the aspen are in full fall color mode. Just remember that it’s a seven-hour round trip sitting on a train, and be sure that you want to spend seven hours on a train. And that you brought cushions to sit on.

Deb got hundreds of great photos, and we both appreciated the novelty of the trip (me especially when sensation returned to all suitable parts of my body). On top of it, when we got back to Durango, we had a great dinner at the Strater Hotel in spite of the fact that some nincompoop had just ruptured the gas main to the entire Durango area. How could this be?

How it could be was that we knew the Strater from our anniversary dinner the night before. It had been phenomenal, as near to dining perfection as one is ever likely to experience, but we wouldn’t normally go back to the same place the next night. We did not have much choice. When the gas is out, most of the restaurants have no real choice but to close down. Not the Strater, which is made of sterner stuff. They reviewed their menu, came up with an abbreviated version, set up a grill behind the establishment, and the show went on. And it was just as good as the night before. If you’re ever in Durango, and you don’t hit the Strater at least once, you should have stayed in Ouray (pronounced your-EH). I admired the way the restaurant combined business opportunism (thinking of a way to be open for a whole townful of tourists with dinner money to spend and very few places to spend it) and a high standard of food and service. And no, they didn’t raise the prices of those menu items. The Strater would be a success in downtown Portland. In Durango, I doubt it has an equal.

Shareholder revolts

I love closed-end fund shareholder revolts, when you get two different ballots, and one of them is all about how management sucks. Such a refreshing change from ballots issued by management, which typically say that management is wonderful and that we should therefore vote as management desires.

(If you do not know, a closed-end fund is a form of mutual fund. Most trade in bonds. The biggest difference between CEFs and conventional funds, the kind most people think of when they hear the term ‘mutual fund,’ is that conventional funds are open-ended. All their trading is between the investor and the fund. Thus, when you buy shares, they are created; when you sell (redeem) them, they are annihilated. In a closed-end fund, shares are not created or annihilated. They are traded between buyer and seller, neither of which is the fund. I have given lengthy criticisms of conventional funds in the past, and probably will do so again, just because they need frequent slappage.)

What I love even more is when the rebels’ complaint is that the fund is going to be kept around two years before liquidation, and should be instead liquidated immediately. I guess I should have bothered to read their semi-annual reports, or perhaps this liquidation is a more recent development. In any case, it’s good to see something other than the standard blind endorsement of management. Usually the most revolutionary thing on the ballot is some proposal put forth by an environmental group or something, demanding greater accountability or constraints on executive pay. Management always votes against all such proposals, claiming that they are already doing more than what the proposal would require. You can believe them if you like; I don’t.

So. What to do?

In my case, first I go vote for the revolt. If I were keeping the shares, I might stick around to care who wins. However, if the fund is going to be liquidated, I don’t wait to be paid out. I slap trailing stop sell orders on my shares. Whatever drama they’re going to have, they can have it without my money. I can surely find a better job for my money than a fund that is being managed toward a liquidation date.

This one (KMM) was fun. It was one of my lowest yielding CEFs, and I had a capital gain to boot. Yes, please.

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