Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Everyone Loves That Wacky Uncle

For a while my uncle concerned himself with nuclear holocaust, so he grew an impenetrable beard, purchased two rifles, and hunkered into an upstate New York trailer park. An obvious solution to Cold War malaise. If Leonid Brezhnev or, dare I say, the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung came knocking on his door one afternoon in those heady days, colossal hydrogen bomb pointed two feet from the kitchen window and threatening to blow his whole damn double-wide into the Andromeda Galaxy, Uncle Conspiracy Theory would’ve channeled the spirit of Berserker and forced his way out like John Rambo punching the heads off unruly Cong. This Unabomber-like preparedness occurred before dear uncle welcomed our Lord & Savior back into his undeserving arms, but after his mini-career administering inkblot tests to loony tune mental patients.

And God love him, but beard or no beard the man boasts an uncanny resemblance to Orville Redenbacher, he of the ubiquitous red bowtie, buffoonish grin, and popping corn empire. Mercifully no other relation embodies these traits, but the fear of recessive inheritance, the silent killer which turned an otherwise good man into a paranoid sociopath with a fixation on truck stop cuisine and lumberjack couture, prowls in the murky underbelly of each holiday reunion. It’s the strangling vine around my family tree, pulling down whole fucking limbs. In other words, genetics has a funny way of blindsiding the most confident among us.

But everyone loves that wacky uncle. The guy yanking dimes out of your ear, pretending to steal your nose, and dutifully tossing out off-kilter knee slappers like bad jokes were going out of style; the avuncular jackass breaking a change roll in his mouth to vomit a dollar’s worth of pennies on your meatloaf, letting his dental emergency of loose “fillings” wreck dinner (again). You like this stuff? Well it's a good thing our families didn’t live across the street, because my uncle was more given to quoting occasional scripture with extraordinary relevance and precision. That said, if you maintained a peculiar interest in how the Pentagon was implanting microchips into the brains of ordinary citizens or poisoning our food supply to fatten the drug companies, you might be regaled for hours. He’s still coming to terms with receiving social security via direct deposit because, remember, government control of bank accounts is a half-skip away from government control of minds. And don’t expect a new Etch-A-Sketch on Christmas morning either when you’re more apt to find “Jesus H. Christ Is Your Supreme God, Volume 542” crammed into the stocking. At least he wrapped.

Nonetheless, if one steered clear of politics or religion (or direct deposit), he could be genuinely funny; quick witted and sharp in the most surprising of circumstances. Rarely a stirring conversationalist, he would lend you his ear for hours, to listen fairly but seldom impose. When each of my grandparents fell ill, he provided the needed care, ceaselessly giving of time and strength. And his penchant for calm mixed with delicate optimism was a blessing to my mother when my father passed on and the world all at once seemed to stop. The old adage about choosing your friends could never be more true, but family is family like it or not, and the bond of blood runs deep when tested.

But still, what a crazy bastard.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bees, Blogs, And Mobile Commodes

The wheels are off the bus in my marriage, folks.

While battling a scratchy throat I gulped down two delicious tablespoons of Billy Bee honey, drizzled from the lobotomized hole in poor Billy’s head. My wife, tending oatmeal with the concentration of Einstein, refused an incentive to lick the nectar from my lips leaving me in emasculated denial. Refused after multiple desperate invitations, mind you. It’s not like every vagabond I pass gets that offer either.

But apparently oatmeal requires a compulsive stir, the perfect foil against flakes burning to the pot bottom. And since we don’t keep a trained monkey to help with the banalities of food prep, honey stays glued to my lips and my wife stays glued to the cereal cauldron. And around and around we go. Yes friends, the wheels are off the bus.
* * * * *

Since I began this assault on the oxidized underbelly of my mind, similar queries recur time and again. Namely, the generic: “Oh, so you’re blogging about finance?” the customary blue-collar dismissal: “So you write about bonds and that kind of shit?” and the always well intentioned: “I can put you in touch with a few hedge fund bloggers,” occasionally followed by “some of those guys are edgy.”

Um, no sweetheart, I’m not blogging about finance. As most sane cops won’t transcribe the finer points of pistol whippings, racial profiling, or donut shop holdups, I’m loath to expound on, say, Pound Sterling in freefall, the stinking detritus of our banking system, or John Thain’s decorating sensibilities. And look, I respect a mobile commode as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t mean I should categorically focus on it like a raging Asperger’s
patient. I prefer to decompress on evenings and weekends, to gratifyingly step away from the hustle of ticker tapes and CNBC pundits. A complete power-down of my Blackberry at 6pm was more rule than exception (well, before it was “surrendered” to the firing squad along with my dignity), for better or for worse. And unlike the throngs of my MBA brethren, suffering in the windowless classrooms of the Henry Kaufman Management Center on West Fourth and preparing for, what, windowless careers in diminutive cubicles, I’m miles from gleefully jacking off to The Economist on Saturday afternoons. In fact, life is just as comfortable, thank you, unwinding with the latest issue of Rolling Stone, or The New Yorker, or Juggs if we’re going down that route.

So yes, Virginia, there are finance blogs, and occasionally The Bastard itself may dip its bloodied toe into issues of economic interest (read “
Biff Destroys The Economy” from Jan 20); but if you see greek letters in your alphabet soup and can’t stop fantasizing about volatility regressions at your kid’s softball game, please stay the hell away from me. And stay away from my family too. It’s exhausting and there are other things on my mind, especially today. Today is my birthday, dear reader, and I’m currently donning one of those dunce-shaped party hats with elastic chin strap (and nothing else) as I plug away at this keyboard, especially for you. Truth be told, I’m also ten deep into a Meister Brau 30-pack, it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, and there’s a stack of Juggs back issues just dying to be cracked open.

I’m so busy being unemployed that it’s easy to fall behind on those … behind on the articles, but you knew what I meant.

Friday, January 23, 2009

S.O.S. To The World

The 2009 Golden Globes marked the disquieting re-appearance of Sting – master of pretention, occasional jazz bullshitter, and reluctant Police vocalist (yes, money talks) – modeling an uncomfortable beard. Uncomfortable for his audience, it should be clarified. And in fairness, I’m not making comparisons to the questionable panache of Rutherford B. Hayes, who sported a gnarled bird’s nest on his face while proudly serving in the Oval Office, mouth buried beneath years of knotty twine, happily wearing the sandwich crumbs of a decade; but for those who know Mr. Sumner as a fair-haired musician famous for his ode to prostitution, not to mention as an epic sexual deity to be feared by mortals and porn stars, this new adventure down the hirsute highway seemed to raise more than a few eyebrows in the Beverly Hilton.

Bizarrely, the new carpet was dyed a powerful black, along with the rest of his thinning mane. And when I say black, understand that I mean black as fuck, matte finish. As in Just For Men Black As Fuck, or Grecian Formula Machine Shop Blend. You know, the one that requires a haz-mat license at point of purchase (ask for it behind the spray paint cage). Squint hard, and it looks like a tantric fungus is devouring our favorite egotistical bassist’s head. Sweep history aside, and it’s too easy to assume that the Coast Guard found him lying beneath the Exxon Valdez, bottle smashed, message lost.

Fortunately most children were asleep as the network waited until nine before airing the feed, smartly avoiding FCC ire. Now I don’t have kids, but I’d imagine the sight of a wolfen man who looked like he just gargled tar could scare the bejesus out of most kindergartners. Be afraid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shame: Packaged In 60 Minute Intervals

Me: Funny, you rarely see Asian men with white girls.
Wife: That’s because they don’t treat their women properly.
Me: (chuckling) Now there’s an interesting cultural theory.
Wife: (quick retort) It’s true.
Me: (long pause) I think you need your own blog.

Cutie that she is, my wife has a vigorous jones for C-grade horror flicks looped incessantly on the SciFi network. Yes, the SciFi network, bastion of giant attacking tomatoes, mutated rodents, extra-terrestrial viruses, and reruns of Stargate SG-1 (starring a tidily mullet-less MacGyver). And while microwaving an oil tanker’s worth of Orville Redenbacher Ultimate Butter for the special encore of “Re-Animator” isn’t on my bucket list, I’ll concede to some guilty pleasures on the tube. Rain or shine, I crave heaps of VH1’s “I Love The…” decade-by-decade orgasm of music and fads, illustrated by a cast of unfunny hacks and some truly amusing comics. The music documentary, regardless of artist, is the crack pipe squirreled beneath my boxer shorts, the weasel dust hidden in the sock drawer. Somehow I know I should refuse, should Just Say No; but more often than not my discipline explodes, brains running onto the floor as cultural pundits expound on the David Lee Roth scissor-kick. Admittedly, VH1 rides a different brainwave from National Geographic or BBC America, but at least I’m not cruising the Thirty Mile Zone nightly, or absorbing paternity tests on Maury, fist buried in a bag of pork rinds. If Viacom thugs insist on senseless paeans to Simon LeBon, I’ll swallow that pill preparing for another descent down the manhole of synth-laden debauchery. Hard and happy. Big dumb grin on my face.

Shamefully, I’m the guy glued to a Bay City Rollers biopic like a catatonic savant while half the world bakes on the beach. And you, when you’re finally dragging in that surfboard and rolling up the blanket – freshly bronzed skin, hearty complexion, lazy feeling of contentment soaking into every pore – I’m burying my face in the pillow, choking back tears as I tremble. Because I hate the Bay City Rollers. Everyone does.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Biff Destroys The Economy (But He's Hardly To Blame)

Your blogmaster penned the following article for The Daily Del Franco. It can be found there, and for the dunderheaded few who peruse this site, below:

If I tried to sell you a steaming pile of shit, would you pay me? A filthy, hulking, noxious lump of dung; in a paper bag for ease of transport. You’d appreciate that I bagged it, wouldn’t you? I mean, I could’ve just left it on your stoop, per our hypothetical agreement, letting you rummage through twenty years of garage surplus to pull out that rusty wheelbarrow, or hand truck, or pitchfork, all while fighting the swarm of flies now festering on my extraordinary gift. I’ll bet with a firm handshake and solid eye contact, you’d take this off my ass, excuse the pun. Look at me, for goodness sake; I’m not wearing a red and green checkered suit like that shifty maniac at the used car lot, or the vagrant that’s been making eyes at your wife from behind the gas pump. And you know what, because I like you, I’ll wrap this log in cellophane and place it in a gift basket with a few colorful party favors and a sack of tasty nuts. My nuts score the highest marks in the ratings, you know. Consistently. Hell, everyone loves my nuts. Your wife loves my nuts. OK, now you’re sold.

Sound crazy? It’s a near mirror analogy to this Wall Street housing debacle cum economic implosion. When your buddy took out his 5-year option ARM interest-only embarrassment of a home loan, or when you locked in that 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 5.75%, there’s a very good change the lending institution sold the loan to be packaged into a pool of mortgages with similar terms. In the glory days of housing flips, these loan packages were peddled on Wall Street as investment securities. Much like stocks and bonds change hands over the course of daily trading, pools of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) were bought and sold like any other financial instrument. The interest payments distributed to investors were collateralized by the underlying mortgages. So long as homeowners continued making regular monthly payments to their banks, the securities could make regular interest payments to their holders. This worked great, until eventually, it didn’t.

Throughout the past decade, Uncle Sam relaxed mortgage lending rules tremendously. For a while this was constructive, as it dropped the American Dream into the laps of countless, hardworking individuals. When combined with low interest rates (housing bubble, anyone?), your boy Biff at the car wash could qualify for home loans at an obscene multiple of his yearly after-tax income. To the disbelief of more educated brethren, income documentation was nary a requirement, or so it went in the more duplicitous corners of the mortgage brokering world. Of course, the terms of Biff’s mortgage weren’t quite so stellar once you read the fine print. But Biff doesn’t read because he was too busy crushing skulls before he dropped out of high school and failed his GED. To add insult to injury, Biff’s loan was packaged into a mortgage pool as well. True, it was a lower quality product, as anyone with half a brain could see, but perhaps there was a way to jam these low-rent loans under the same umbrella as the nobler ones. Surely some MBA pencil-neck could structure that complex monstrosity to afford it the highest score from the bond rating companies, namely “AAA.” Especially if those fellas from Moodys and S&P (the aforementioned raters) were treated to a nice steak dinner on the house's dime, followed by a wink and nod. For years, these polished triple-A securities were held by the billions, on the balance sheets of staid (and no longer so staid) institutions from Goldman Sachs to (*cough*) Lehman Brothers.

Well, eventually Biff realized that his insanely low teaser rate was going to balloon like an unloved housewife. Refinancing would be difficult because his credit score was an abomination. Likewise, income requirements were more stringent now, as the recession bit hard and transparency was all the rage. So Biff defaulted, and the bank foreclosed on his expansive home in South Beach, or Scottsdale, or Riverside, or some other overbuilt sunbelt tract lacking character. In fact, a tidal wave of foreclosures swept across the country, decimating neighborhoods while bankrupting some of the largest holders of MBS. And suddenly that triple-A security has plummeted in price. Because it’s toxic, and because no one will touch it. The next morning, the AAA is a B, steak dinner be damned. How long can a bank weather these losses before having to commit enormous write-downs on its books? How long can a firm survive when its peers on the Street have pulled their credit lines and shuttered their reciprocal trading activities, for fear that said firm is burning through cash faster than Charlie Sheen in a whorehouse. Ask Dick Fuld of Lehman, or Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns (assuming he wasn’t toking up with his geriatric Bridge club when you caught his ear). They know the answer. And so do the hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their jobs in the midst of this fallout. Economists call this a negative feedback loop: Crippled banks institute layoffs. Layoffs curb spending and propagate defaults. Lower spending kills retailers. Retailers close stores. Defaults weaken banks. The stock market tumbles. Banks lose more money and institute further lay-offs. Suddenly your next Christmas is straight out of a Dickens novel, the bad chapters. And so on and so on.

What? You think this doesn’t affect you because you work at your old man’s tire shop in downtown fucking Des Moines? Vote against the bailout plan, right? Those money hungry crooks on Wall Street don’t deserve billions after they defrauded and defrocked the masses, then escaped with the spoils of guerilla ambush! And you got nothing! Well, relax for a second, cowboy. Do you have a retirement plan? A 401(k)? Have you checked your statement recently? Have you checked the Dow Jones average? Think you’ll make back that 30% shortfall if, say, Morgan Stanley blows up tomorrow? So the next time I come knocking on your door with my blistering bundle of crap, maybe you shouldn’t be so eager to open that wallet, even if I’ve got a few Tupperware containers to mask the smell and nuts to sweeten the deal.

Either that or take a ride to Sleepy’s, buy a big mattress, and start saving for the future. You’re still young. Right?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sedentary Office Fool (or, Beware The UPS Loading Dock)

Buried on page 6 of a redundant and harrowing job description (for a financial position, mind you):

“Factor 8 – Physical Demands
The work is mainly sedentary in nature. Typically, the employee may sit and do the work, but there will be some walking, standing, bending, reaching, or carrying light items.”

OK, let’s take a step or two backward, shall we? No one assumed this was touting the opportunity of a lifetime to kick boxes around on a UPS loading dock – ill-fitting brown shorts in tow and lit cigarette dangling – while smacking the random ass of hardy female colleagues. Said differently, the posting refers to a risk management position, not a UFC contender slot. Really, if anyone other than Stephen Hawking applies for this job and gets hives at the mere notion of reaching for pens and trucking a few sticky notes from cube to cube, they probably need a psychiatric evaluation and a proper flogging. Or a new metal helmet. Or a punch across the face (sorry, is that harsh?). On a plus note, and in all probability, “Factor 8” implies that I have the luxury of performing said office duties on a chair (or stool), as opposed to, say, standing on my head or on my manager’s head, or at the top of a fucking flagpole.

And anyway, if I’m up against Hawking, I’m probably trolling the wrong job board … in the wrong universe. Or my metal helmet is screwed on too tight.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

American Gigolo

"Who's that gigolo on the street
With his hands in his pockets and his crocodile feet
Hanging off the curb, looking all disturbed"

–Neneh Cherry (what the hell ever happened to her?)

This blog earns me no money. No dough, no quid, no cabbage. It is, perhaps, a means toward income as a disjointed showcase of asinine observations, subversive tone notwithstanding; but it does not afford me the life of a jackass baller “drinkin’ ‘tron on ice poppin’ bottles all night.” Gone is the tumultuous profitability of global interest rate sales, the halcyon days where Masters of the Universe banged heads over penny mark-ups and lined their pockets with the ignorance of unsophisticated clients. In its place lies a vacuous cesspool of instant espresso, Campbell’s Chunky soup, and the mind numbing task of claiming weekly unemployment benefits online.

Gigolo work could offer depraved fun for a second or two, but I hold no metrics as to advisable junk size, bone structure, or conventional pricing for services rendered. And you can’t exactly find that stuff on Career Builder. Should I decide to blaze the trail of sin – sipping gin and tonics with elderly socialites at The Palace Hotel, clad smartly in chaps and a blazer, and making sweet love to Engelbert Humperdinck records – I’ve been promised “meds and routine STD screenings” from a friend in the infectious disease circuit. Being that his federal supervisor is the program consultant to the adult film industry, I’ve also been pledged a helping hand in making a “transition from the street.” Thank you sir, but Van Nuys is a long drive from this man cave, and I am not, nor do I aspire to be, the next Hedgehog of gonzo cinema.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two-Season Automobile

Breakfast of champions: Lean Cuisine Chicken Marsala with a side of … nothing. Followed by several handfuls of Lays Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips, a touch of self-loathing, and some hard reflections on this ruinous diet. Most importantly, no coffee, as the gut rot from banging down two nacho platters and a sensible variety of alcohol the night before was maddening. Ah, the slippery slope. Some might consider a glad-handed visit to the local brewery after an evening laced with shenanigans to be idiocy. Not boastful, drooling, horn-dog idiocy of the kind I witnessed on the 1:53am rolling drunk tank from Grand Central, but a serious lapse of judgment nonetheless. And as much as I appreciate a well crafted Smoked Porter (as much as the next guy, I suppose), the drive to the house of hops is forever seared in my memory.

You see, my friend’s car is, at best, a two-season automobile. The vehicle comes unequipped with functional heat or air conditioning, a hallmark of the sub-economy option. The squeal of the brakes, another low-cost feature for the man looking to careen wildly into intersections and tanker trucks, would give any passenger “Deliverance” type fears (or flashbacks, in the worst cases). Thankfully, the good folks at General Motors offered him windows, doors, and AM radio inclusive of the sticker price. Correct me if I’m wrong, and I don’t mean to sound elitist, but the cheapest Toyota Yaris assumes its target customers expect some degree of basic climate control as a standard option (along with the FM band and a steering wheel). In any case, I’m sure the car runs like a dream in late May, but in eleven degree weather you can feel the brain start to become unglued, as tinges of madness ricochet happily from synapse to synapse.

Remarkably, the back seat doubles as a yawning graveyard for 20 ounce Diet Pepsi bottles, tossed haphazardly from the captain’s chair without warning or logic. Empty, full, leaking, there is NO discretion when bridging the divide between sanity and filth, separated meagerly by the always awkward center console. Imagine a six-pack of this poison drained ferociously on each hourly work commute, 120 ounces coating the stomach like caffeine cancer. A surly trucker might snort through a brick of cocaine while smacking the crap out of a hooker in a Travel Center of America restroom to achieve a similar degree of mental acuity. For me, a medium dark coffee is all it takes to clear the sleep from my head. I don’t need to run through concrete each morning to know I’m alive.

As for the recycling factor, it’s “drive at your own risk” when entering my hometown without blacked-out windows. After all, the “can man,” residing king of the dumpster dive, would snap necks for that kind of jackpot on four wheels. My buddy might as well be cruising around with the Hope Diamond dangling off his rear-view mirror and a ROBME vanity plate.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Environmental Love Hole

Today I woke up, took a shit, and slugged down a gallon of unleaded coffee; Tasters Choice instant blend, for those taking notes. I know I promised not to bastardize this forum with full-throttle diary entries, but I also feel responsible for allowing a certain transparency into my daily routine, lifting the proverbial curtain on occasion. To the detriment of some, no webcams will be installed in this manse, or wrapped around my head. This is the fortress of unemployed solitude, not a funhouse where I do handstands for blog hits and ad revenue.

On a brighter note, I’m happy to have received positive feedback on my bottle recycling plans. The gentleman who so greatly approves of my intention to bank coin while saving this polluted earthly hellhole is a Connecticut-based hapkido warrior / accountant with a bad back. The man is addicted to bottle recycling. He wants to make love to bottle recycling. It’s an illness – worse than my autodidactic tendencies to catalog music or play air drums – as sadly, it disrupts his social calendar on an excessive basis. He is a married man, but his true mistress is the can machine, haphazardly tucked away in the nether reaches of your local supermarket, often marred by broken glass and engulfed in an avalanche of garbage; sloppy, boorish, and in this particular case, emblazoned with a big neon “Fuck Me” sign above the input hole. Those who approach this abomination do so with a lustful twinkle. They are either (a) white trash, (b) geriatrics, or (c) shaggy-haired Greenpeace activists with IMPEACH BUSH bumper stickers on their shitbox Volkswagens. Dating the can machine is the equivalent of dating a paraplegic. She ain’t pretty, but she ain’t going anywhere, and she might even pay to play. Yes, bottle recycling is my friend’s dirty laundry, his wicked bitch. Well, that and his inclination to disrespect a Norelco beard trimmer by using it on his lower person. Poor Norelco beard trimmer, forced to lacerate a snarled Vietnam jungle twice weekly without the advantage of Agent Orange.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Christmas In January

So really, who needs a job when I’ve just begun cataloging my Christmas music collection like a raging autodidact; clad in pajama pants and a white terrycloth robe, playing the role of a man who detests the very notion of financial security. Hell, not only am I cataloging, but I’m removing the hiss from older recordings via audio-editing software, locating original 45rpm cover artwork for reasons unknown, and hunting for year of release. In aggregate, this gives me clearance for OCD bragging rights in the most severe support circles. For whatever it’s worth, my wildest act of "Damn The Man" rebellion has been a carefully groomed goatee, cultivated with a Norelco #3 blade setting, precision trimmer, and beard scissor. When coupled with the robe and checked pants, I’m a 'Pulp Fiction'-era Eric Stoltz, minus the crackwhore girlfriend. “Use the opportunity,” people have encouraged me. “Don’t just sit around. Take a vacation. Take a broadcasting class. Start painting.” If not for concerns regarding my mortgage payment and electric bill, perhaps a weekend in Fiji might clear my head, thanks for the suggestion.

Of course, I’m more inclined to begin a strict bottle recycling plan. Growing up, the “can man,” presumably by some divine act of the Lord, put his kid through college by combing the trash bins of Main Street on a quest for aluminum booty. His weekly take, the perfect thumb in the eye for the hacks at the IRS. In retrospect, I suppose that kid of his got a massive financial aid handout, and thirteen years of bottle deposits scored a new toaster. For the record, guess who’s unemployed, who’s got a job, and who’s still busting his ass for nickels. The poor guy'll be dead before he ever gets that espresso machine. But he's banking coin. I'm not. Game over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No Money, No Problems

Being unemployed over the past month and a half has been one phenomenal ride in the suburban ghetto, thanks for asking. In fact, I couldn’t be happier to have lost my job in global interest rate sales, working the equivalent of half-days for a competitively generous salary and equally astonishing year-end bonus. Really, who needs that? The 5:23am train was becoming a nuisance, perhaps even more than my mandated bedtime which guaranteed the exclusion of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” reruns. Sure, the commuter rail was comfortable enough for the bleary-eyed briefcase mafia, but the ratio of pant-sagging construction heroes (happiest guys in the world) to iniquitous white collar pencil-pushers (sad-sack cogs in the wheel of economic virility) was stacked in favor of the former.

Moreover, who knew that the same wackbags from the Department of Motor Vehicles hung out at the county labor office? Translation: normal people don’t drive, and they clearly don’t collect unemployment. Except me, I do both. Thankfully, my wife has a decent gig in graphic design, which helps to offset the glacial drop in income. In fact, to save some change I’ve begun shoveling and mowing in defiance of the Green Card Cavalry (aka the Immigrant Alliance aka The Rio Grande Rangers), blazing across yards while scowling at the cojones of the last white man to clumsily wield an electric hedge trimmer.