Back in Paradise – Some Thoughts

I am grateful and happy to be back on Oahu, back in Hawai’i, and back in paradise. I have a few observations that I’d like to share… First of all -n the value of a good credit rating. I could not have done this if I hadn’t of made a concentrated effort to improve my … Continue reading “Back in Paradise – Some Thoughts”

I am grateful and happy to be back on Oahu, back in Hawai’i, and back in paradise. I have a few observations that I’d like to share…

First of all -n the value of a good credit rating. I could not have done this if I hadn’t of made a concentrated effort to improve my credit rating and learn how to rock my credit score. I take that back…I could have done it, but the credit makes it much easier.

Second – I still love Kalama Beach Park – but Kailua seems to have had its soul ripped out. I am grateful that we landed in Salt Lake. It’s a whole different world. Kailua really seems to have become a sort of cartoon reality. It makes me sad. It’s a strange Haole sub-culture of money and privelige – yes, it has some very definite charms of its own, but it’s not what I’m looking for – at least not right now.

Third – Lines of tourism. Our first night here – my wife and daughter’s first night in Hawai’i – I wanted them to experience being a tourist – so we stayed at the most touristic hotel of them all – Hilton Hawaiian Village. It was cool. We had a top floor room with a complete ocean view and thanks to my creidt card points/rewards strategy we didn’t have to wait in the 1-hour-long or more check in lines. Yes – money and privelige – if they think you have money, you get the privelige. Joining the awards programs gave us free internet, a free checked bag on Hawaiian Air, and for some reason got us a free upgrade on our room. But, back to lines – our first meal in Hawai’i as a family was another touristic thing I’d never done – The Cheesecake Factory in Waikiki – huge lines, decent food, ridiculous prices, and bad service. The girls loved it – I was not impressed except that the cheesecake was actually the best cheesecake I’ve ever had…which definitely counts for something. We couldn’t get around that line and I noticed something – parties of two got seated almost immediately and the staff tended to seat parties of five or more with preference – as a party of three we were in a sort of limbo until I complained that larger and smaller parties that came in after us were being seated – and then we were seated immediately – 3 and 4 parties are the lowest price point at bigger tables. And, when we were seated – our table was still dirty. A lame line experience. Yesterday, on the 4th of July, I took the girls on my old circle island tour in our new car (not brand new, but thanks to credit strategy just two years old, no money down, no payments for 90 days and financed for 60 months) – in the old days, I did this tour hundreds, maybe even thousands of times – so I have a perspective on the change – the lines at the Kuhuku Shrimp Trucks are complete insanity…people at Romy’s and Giovanni’s are waiting up to two-and-a-half hours to eat garlic or spicy shrimp. We skipped that line when we realized we hadn’t brought cash – Hanane was amazed that anywhere in the US could be cash only – we went to an ATM and then stopped at the Korean shrimp truck – which used to be pretty good but which yesterday gave us big shrimp drowned in melted butter/oil/fat. The line was short for a reason. It was the fourth so there were lines of cars going to the North Shore, massive lines for Dole whip at the Dole plantation, and then when we went to Kailua for the fireworks – lines of cars looking for parking everywhere – we ended up going to a little known beach access in Aikahi and enjoying poke and rice on the beach with a small crowd and a perfect view of the fireworks. A quick drive on the H-3 and we were back home in time to watch the fireworks from the mighty Missouri from the catwalk of our apartment. Ah, I just thought of another couple of crazy lines – Costco. On the 3rd we went to Costco to get a few housewares and dinner…I’ve never seen anything like it. A constant sea of carts four wide and never stopping flowing from the registers to the parking lot and then lines 20-30 deep for food and drinks. Insanity.

Finally – fourth. In Reedsport we furnished our home almost entirely from garage and estate sales. So I haven’t bought things like shower curtains, silverware, dishes, blankets and the like since 2005 or so…as such, and as an antique dealer and estate buyer – I was out of touch with the prices of such things. Now, I’m amazed that anyone ever bought any of the household shit we sold at our sales…yesterday at Ross we bought a set of dishes for $18 – new. We bought a set of silverware for $15 – again new. We not only paid more for used stuff at garage sales and estate sales but we sold this same kind of stuff for more at the sales we ran – used. Beds on the other hand – holy cow. You can pay as much for a bed as you pay for a car – Hanane stepped up and bought our bed or else I was going to find a used one. As it was, we managed to buy a floor model that had been discontinued with a new frame for about 1/3 of the retail cost. Which still was $600 more than I paid for my old jeep cherokee and $400 more than I sold it for.

Our apartment is empty at the moment. Except for our suitcases and the few essentials we have bought. I’m glad I’m not in the retail business any longer. If I were, I would probably focus on beds and furniture – new or ‘certified’ used.

Homeownerlessness

Thus far, in my life, I have never owned my own home except when I’ve lived in VW vans. It’s my own fault – mortgages were easy to come by several times in my life and I chose not to invest. This will sound funny, but the prices always seemed too high. In the early-1990s – a Staff Seargent in my Marine Corps unit suggested that a bunch of enlisted guys pool our money and start buying real estate. It was a good suggestion and none of us took it. In the mid to late 1990s, I was struggling to find my calling – if, while I had worked in radio, I had applied for a mortgage using my VA Loan – I could have bought a modest house in what is now the booming real estate market of Bellingham, Washington. In the early 2000s – I had the opportunity to purchase a small studio apartment in Honolulu for $100,000 – the price seemed pretty extreme to me and I passed. And then, the housing boom came and I was sure that the economy was heading over a cliff but mortgages were incredibly easy to come by – I chose not to seek a home loan. That was it for me – those were my opportunities. We all know what happened in 2007 with the economy and housing – as a result of that – the requirements for getting a home loan became much more stringent – in fact – in 2016 when I talked to several banks about getting a loan – they told me that my VA Guarantee was no longer worth much and that as a self-employed business owner that my reported income was too low to qualify for a home loan – both bankers suggested that I ‘find a way’ to report a higher income. Yes, I could have lied on my taxes this year. I could have taken less deductions. I could have paid more tax…but the truth is that this year with the long grey winter and the bizarre politics of 2016 – my business wasn’t sufficient to do that. We needed those deductions.

Now, the housing market is again red hot. Things like AirBnB have made housing prices soar in desirable locations. I am in the midst of closing or with any luck selling my business (I do not own the building that houses it). For the present time, my VA Home Loan Guarantee sits in a folder – worthless and unusable. I console myself by imagining that the housing market will again have a massive crash and perhaps I will be able to buy something afterwards – but I don’t really believe it. I tell myself that the banks own most of the houses that people live in – and the mortgages are simply another form of rent and home ownership is by and large an illusion anyway. We have been served an eviction notice in the house we’ve rented for the past four years because the owner wants to sell it. I am thankful that we had already been making plans to move before we got the notice, but can’t help asking myself “What if we had not?”

We currently exist in a 60 day limbo in which lies a form of homelessness that terrifies me. The landlord was apologetic and felt bad about serving the eviction because we have been great tenants – but right now is the time to sell. I don’t blame her a bit. I would have done the same thing in her position. We are 60 days away from involuntary family homelessness.

Yes, we have been making plans. Yes, I am sure we will find something. I’d be foolish, however, not to be concerned. AirBnB and the red hot housing market have driven rents sky high.

I am a person – actually, we are a family, that if you want to send a birthday card to my 5-year-old daughter, a letter to my wife, or even a bill to me – more than 60 days from now to us – we have no forwarding address.

So, once again, here I am. This time, I was ready to seize opportunity – and this time it was denied me. I am rooting for the collapse of the economy. I am rooting for the collapse of the housing bubble. I am rooting for the collapse of AirBnB and more. I would rather be cheering for the economy and housing – but this Gen-x USMC veteran has been left behind by it. I have been left out of it. I accept my responsibility in this process – but no matter how hard I try – it just doesn’t make sense that this is all my fault. And so – here we are. Here I am. Here we go.

My Last Oregon Garage Sale – God Willing

I used to love having garage sales. It was fun to let stuff go and meet who was taking it while making a little money at the same time. I think all of that changed when we moved to a small Oregon town with a depressed economy. Here, and probably in many other parts of the United States, there are a large number of people who rely on garage sales to survive – they are pensioners, unemployed, housewives, and thrift shop owners, flea marketers, ebayers, antique dealers, and still, once in a while – someone just looking for something that will make them smile that they prefer not to pay full price for. That level of necessity changes the intensity of a sale. There is a dog-eat-dog competitiveness which in some cases determines whether someone will eat or at the very least – whether their food is quality or off the McDonalds $1 menu (which is no longer a $1 menu but a $1.69 or $2 menu).

Then there are the people who shop with their phones – comparing prices on Ebay and Amazon with my prices. Things just aren’t worth very much when just about anything can be had for $20 and shipping. We are in the process of getting rid of virtually everything – and not surprisingly – it’s hard. After two days of a garage sale with decent but not great stuff – I filled our utility trailer to overflow for a dump run and have ten boxes that will go to charity. That’s stage one. Next stage is to do a total estate liquidation sale and of course to empty our shop. This last weekend was the citywide sale here in our town – there was a lot of competition to get stuff in people’s hands. After two days, my wife and I were done – we packed it all in. Unfortunately, the little town we are in makes having a sale incredibly difficult. You can’t be on commercial or industrial or dual zoned land – which we are. You can’t be a person who makes a living selling second hand goods, which I do. You have to get a permit – which due to the previous two conditions, I am unable to get for our house. And then there is the rain. This is the Oregon Coast. Everything got rained on yesterday despite a forecast of clear and sunny. Yuck.

Anyway, that was step one. It was hopefully, the last garage sale I will have in Oregon. Our next sales will be store liquidation and then total estate liquidation – these tend to be better because they are indoors and you can command higher prices and sell a better quality of items. This weekend’s sale was enough to pay off a credit card bill – and we got rid of a lot of crap we didn’t need – so it was a success. Thank God.

Ramadan Mubarak & Ramadan Kareem & Random Musings

The world is filled with kind, peaceful, struggling-with-life-just-like-everyone Muslim people. From the bottom of my heart, I wish them Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem. The month of Ramadan is much better understood in my country, the United States of America, than it has ever been before but still – the mistrust, misunderstanding, fear, and hatred towards everyday Muslims and Islam continues. The currently appointed Secretary of State has broken with tradition and turned down an offer to host a Eid-al-Fatr breaking of the fast in late June. Here in the state we currently live in – a white supremacist spewed a hate-filled rant at two teenage girls because one of them was wearing a hijab on a Portland Train – and when several bystanders attempted to get him to simmer down and defended the young women – he killed two of them with a knife – this was on Friday, the first day of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan…an awful thing at any time – and yet, a hopeful thing as strangers stood up to defend the rights of strangers. One can hope that their deaths do not push others to remain quiet while such things happen in the future – which they surely will.

Ramadan – for those who are not certain – is a lunar month in which all adult, healthy Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. No food, no water, no sex, no smoking and during this time the faithful contemplate God, life, the world, and use the hunger and thirst to overcome their baser selves. This is a form of what is known as Greater Jihad. Jihad is holy war – everyone knows that now it seems – but this is Greater Jihad – the war against our own desires and corruptions – the war to make ourselves better than we currently are – to strive for the perfection we were created to attain. The Lessor Jihad – that is the war against the external elements which seek to deceive us and force us away from God. The Greater Jihad is the important battle – the Lessor Jihad would be unimportant if we were focused on the Greater Jihad. This is what the idiot militants do not understand – change comes from within. They are like people who choose to eradicate food in the world so that they can successfully fast…the true challenge is to eliminate the desire for the food – or better yet- to overcome the food. Change comes from within.

I read the news often – I probably shouldn’t, but I do. Certain things jump out at me – things like a part of the President’s budget calls for the largest increase in jails and detention centers in the history of the United States – this is couched in terms that make it look like an immigration issue – and maybe it is – but it is troubling in any way you look at it. Seeing the ongoing silent war between the son-in-law and the neo-nazi news editor is also troubling – because it seems to me the narrative went like this – moderate-Jewish-son-in-law gains influence and neo-nazi-editor fades into the background – which seemed hopeful but now the Jewish son-in-law is at the center of a growing scandal and the neo-nazi-editor is reshaping the inner circle of the president and not being talked about while he does it – he is bringing the hardest right advisers and pushing out the ones who hold the most moderate views. I believe this is reason to be alarmed – but no one is talking about it. The media has been reined in and the libel laws are changed just by the act of talking about changing them. If you doubt this – look at the stabbing murders I mentioned above. These happened Friday and most of the media did not cover the events until late on Saturday – these hate crimes should have been front page within minutes but they were not – it is not subtle if you are paying attention.

I still believe that this country is in very deep trouble. We have become used to it. The constant jokes have made us less alarmed at what is happening but it is still happening. Wealth is shifting at the fastest rate in human history and it is shifting from the bottom to the top – the bottom never disappears, it simply grows to include more. Not long ago the poor earned $20,000 or less – now it is just as difficult to survive if you make $60,000. Inflation is being vastly under-reported. The devaluation of currency while banks produce thousands of trillions of dollars in digital currency is not imaginary. Control mechanisms are being perfected. This is an alarming time-period which seems to largely be invisible.

Change comes from within. Perhaps it is time to have a societal Ramadan fast. A Greater Jihad within the limits of the cancerous capitalist system which is eating us. I have no idea how such a thing would begin – but perhaps it is much more simple than I am thinking about – maybe all it really takes is mastering the self and refusing to participate, refusing to allow food or drink to pass our lips from sunrise to sunset for a month. Ramadan kareem. Ramadan Mubarak.

The World Is Not Ending unless I’m a Kastanza

So much of my life has been built on the suggestions of others. Not the least of which (actually, almost the greatest of which) was that the world as we know it was going to come crashing down. I’m naive and gullible. I believe it when people I love or respect say things – even when I should know better. Things like the big California earthquake is going to destroy us all (1975-1979) nuclear war is going to destroy us all (1980-1988) AIDS/HIV is going to kill everyone (1984-1994) there is going to be a huge race war (1976-1988) the Russians are going to invade like Red Dawn (1984-1988) Saddam Hussein is going to use chemical weapons and WMDs and destroy the world starting with the Middle East (1990-2003) Al Queda/ISIS is going to destroy America (2001-present), Y2k is going to destroy the world economy and create chaos (2000) Ebola (1994 &2011) Zika (2016), the Mayan Prophecy is going to destroy the world (2012) Obama is going to get assassinated by right wing hate-holes and a race war will rip apart the USA (2008-2012) and now Donald Trump is going to turn the USA into Nazi Germany or start a nuclear war with North Korea. I realize I’m late getting to the party, but I’ve finally reached the conclusion that the world is not going to end in my lifetime or any time soon. So I’m sharing it with you.

The problem is that in my naïveté, I was so sure that the world was going to end that I didn’t bother making preparations in case the world didn’t come to an end. I’ve lived my life in such a way that I could feel good about making the most of the time I have been alive and not worry about what will happen when I become old and unable to take care of myself. Oops.

Of course, I might just be a George Kastanza in which case now that I am preparing for a world that won’t end – it might just.