Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's A Racket, I Tell Ya

One of my life's little philosophies has been that the more money you have, the harder people will try to take it away from you.

Not that I have a lot. Of money, that is. But in my campaign to retire before I expire, I've been frugal to a fault stashing away the extra dollar. And it hasn't been easy.

Our local car dealership sent us a flyer with a coupon that advertised for a discount oil change. Also included was a coupon that advertised ten per cent off any major service. Since we just had our oil changed, we didn't need that done, but I decided to replace the ball joints on the front end. Expensive at over $400, but I'd get $40 off with the coupon.

Except that when I dropped our car off in the early morning at the dealership with the note and the coupon, I didn't see that my wife had given me the wrong coupon--for the oil change instead of the ten per cent discount. Since I wasn't wearing my reading glasses, I didn't notice. It could have been a pizza coupon I attached to my note and car key and I would have been none the wiser.

The dealership obviously knew I didn't mean for them to do another oil change since I just had one done. So they didn't. Do you think they would have given us ten per cent off knowing we must have made a mistake and given them the wrong coupon? Not a chance. No discount on our bill. Argggghhhh!

Fast forward to another oil change for our second car which came with a free 27-point inspection from the dealership. We also asked for them to rotate the tires, which would cost us an extra $25. I received a phone call from them while they were working on the car. They said we needed two new tires and an all-wheel alignment. OK, I said, I would take it to a tire place. Cheaper than having the dealership do it, I figured.

After I hung up, I thought to myself, now they're not going to rotate the tires knowing that I'm going to replace two of them anyway, right? Wrong. They did and charged me for it. I argued with them at the dealership to no avail.

Another of my philosophies is that everything's a racket nowadays. My first electric razor lasted years and years. Now my new one had been grinding to a halt, despite my regularly emptying the whisker deposits. Probably need to replace the rotary heads, I thought. So I went shopping. It costs $30 to replace the three rotary heads that hold the razors! NEARLY HALF AS MUCH AS A WHOLE NEW RAZOR COSTS! What a racket. Now I know why so many older men are bewhiskered. They can't afford to shave!

Taking matters into my own hand, I sprayed my razor with WD-40 lubricant, figuring that would loosen and free whatever was gumming up the heads. Uhhhh, no. Seemed to make it worse, in fact.

But then I managed to pry off the old rotary razor heads and found a stiff brush with which I meticulously cleaned each one. It took me a while and was messy as heck. But it worked. My razor is good as new. Not only that, but now I save on cologne as well since my clean shaven face also carries the manly aroma of WD-40 oil. What woman can resist that.

One tiny step closer to retirement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I've Got The Look--Cheap

A fashion maven I'm not. But I know how to shop. I walk right past the bright and colorful displays filled with the latest designer styles. Just show me to the final markdown clearance rack.

So it was last Saturday when I had several hours to kill before attending a sporting event at The Palace in Auburn Hills. Nearby is the Great Lakes Crossing mega-mall with several fine clothing stores (I may be cheap but I demand quality).

First, I hit a clearance outlet for Neiman Marcus--aka "needless mark-up." There I found a $155 Italian shirt for a little over $30. Still too pricy for me. Later I browsed a sale at Eddie Bauer's. They had flannel shirts on sale for 70 per cent off, with an additional 20 per cent off. Wow! Now we're talking.

I located one--the only one--in my size. Normally, it would have sold for $44 but I figured with 90 per cent off, I should get it for less than five dollars. I figured wrong. It was closer to $11. Boy, these places like to prey on us math challenged folk. Still, I liked the shirt so I bought it.

The next day I wore it since my wife Wendy and I were going up to Bay City to check out the St. Patrick's Day activities AND my shirt coincidentally was green for the holiday. Met up with my family who lives in Bay City. My sister immediately noticed my new flannel shirt. "Boy, that's bright," she said.

Since we all were wearing some green that day, my sister evaluated the shades. Somebody was wearing army green, Wendy had on a lime green jacket. My shirt, they agreed, was fluorescent green.

Fluorescent green!?? Not the look I was trying to achieve here.

But later my sister was more approving. "It's kinda like in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. When that thing falls off his nose, at first his nose seems really bright. But after a while you get used to it. It's not so bad."

She finally declared that my shirt was "cute."

Cute!?? Again, not the look I was trying to achieve here. Cute is baby's clothes. Cute is the way women describe a new blouse their best girfriend has just bought. Cute is an elderly man in a mock turtleneck outfit. Cute is not the macho look I seek.

Oh, well. I guess it's the price you pay when you don't pay full price.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Go, Muse, Go

I don’t have a particular blog topic this week so I’m going to indulge in a little stream of consciousness. Let my writing muse take wing.

Now I did have a blog topic all set to go. Some weeks ago I signed up for a retirement class being offered by the local community college. I planned to go last Thursday to learn about elder law, investing, long-term care and other relevant topics, gleaning little pearls of wisdom which I was going to share here. But the class was canceled DUE TO LACK OF INTEREST!

C’mon fellow Boomers. Am I the only one planning to retire here? Don’t the rest of you want to learn the pitfalls of reverse mortgages and variable annuities?

I’m listening right now to an album I bought used for 50 cents. It’s The Chenille Sisters, a local women’s trio that has been singing three-part harmony in these parts for about 20 years. They have a blog too. I left a comment there reporting my find and the sisters replied that they hoped I got “50 cents of pleasure” listening to their songs. And they said they hope to meet me some day, though they called me “Kevin.” Guess Big Dave didn’t leave much of an impression with them.

There’s a guy at work who has an Ann Arbor internet radio program. He hosts two two-hour segments weekly, which he figures draws about 20 listeners, of which I'm one. Anyway, this DJ said if I had a song request to let him know. Talk about tough choices. Of course, I don’t want to hear just any old song you can hear every day on FM. So I asked him if he could play something from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, a fav from my college days. “It’s got to be somebody I’ve heard of,” he responded.

Aren’t DJs supposed to know pretty much every song that was ever made in the last 40 years? So I then requested something from Mundy. Certainly he had heard of Mundy, probably most famous for a hit song from the soundtrack of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio. “I’ve heard of Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. Another no go. So I’ve yet to make my song request.

Today marks the beginning of March madness. For my extended family who have our NCAA basketball tournament brackets on-line at ESPN, it probably means another round of smack talk. Last fall, the family smack talk in our fantasy football league became so poisonous that my father wondered if the season should be canceled lest it end in fisticuffs at our Christmas party.

I’m not sure our on-line dart-throwing will let up this time either. My brother Gary (who comments here as “the enforcer") somehow put up two separate brackets in our league, which immediately drew the scorn of other family members.

My son Scott posted a message that argued, "Hey Gary, you don't get to put as many entries in as you'd like. I understand you're gonna need all the help you can get, but let's keep the brackets to one a person."

The enforcer claimed it was an accident, but said his toy Yorkie puppy Francesco would claim the extra bracket as his.

A dog having his own bracket in our family group? No way! That drew an angry response as well.

"The Bullsh*t already starts!!! I vote that the commish (league commissioner) gets fired immediately and Francesco gets neutered," demanded a message posted by the enforcer's eldest son. Last I looked, the enforcer pulled Francesco’s bracket from our tournament. And to REALLY keep things civil, my father has joined our group with his own bracket.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Woe Is My Liver

For those of us who live in the northern continental U.S., spring can never come soon enough. Today here in Ann Arbor it's currently 11 degrees with wind chills below zero. Last week I told my doctor that once the weather warmed, I would be able to resume my diet and exercise program. Can't ride a bike in the snow or jog on ice after all.

Promising wasn't good enough though, so now I have a new prescription to take. Since he's my new primary care doctor, I thought I should at least try it. Checking the side effects when I got home, I saw it was associated with heart failure and liver failure. Gee, the risks I take to please a new doc.

Have you ever noticed in those TV ads for various prescriptions that almost all of them warn, "Don't take this medicine if you have ever experienced liver problems. Tell your doctor if you have any of these conditions." Shouldn't my doctor know already? In fact, he's more likely to know than I am since he's got my chart with the lab reports right there in his office.

In fact, at my first visit with my new doc, he told me, "Did you know your last liver function tests were elevated?" He said it in a way that seem to demand an explanation. What did he expect me to say? My other doctor didn't tell me because he didn't want to turn me into a worrywart?

Actually, my last doctor was a pretty focused guy. If he called me to set up an appointment to talk about my latest cholesterol tests, I could walk into his office with an extra head growing out of my neck and he wouldn't notice. The discussion would still be about my cholesterol.

Now I wonder if my new doc remembered my elevated liver function tests when he prescribed this new drug. I did repeat the tests. And he didn't have anything to say afterwards. So I assume all is well.

All these health issues are enough to drive you to drink sometimes. Wonder if that'd be bad for my liver.