Thursday, March 30, 2006

Captain Tony Morgan the Soul Patch Realtor

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So I've been messing around on one of those internet real estate sites. It has good listing information and is frequently updated. When I signed up, I had to give a real email address to verify the account, but naturally I didn't give my actual phone number because -god forbid- that would mean I would actually have to speak to a live person and pretend that I'm interested in working with them to buy or sell a home when really I'm just using their resource for free and would really appreciate it if they would let me leach off their resource for free. I mean, that's the whole point of the Internet, right?

So this web site assigns a realtor to you when you sign up, and they have a few different strategies to make you eventually cave and initiate live contact. First thing they do is post a picture of your realtor-designate on the upper left corner of every single page of their site. You cannot get rid of the pic. Lucky me, I got this guy named Tony G.

Now if you've ever web-shopped for a house (no I do not actually go look at the places in person- I am much too lazy for that), you know that it's easy to spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at listings. Most of this wasted time is spent clicking on the reload button, hoping that with the next screen refresh the typo that must be in the price column will be corrected, because that crappy two bedroom shack simply cannot be worth half a million of your hard-earned dollars.

So as if the process of house shopping were not frustrating enough, Tony G's mug keeps showing up on every page, smiling at me as if he were mocking me: "HA HA you are too poor for this little shack, you pathetic lee-tuhl pair-sohn..." (Tony G now speaks like the French knight in Monty Python). So as you can see, after hours of surfing the site and having delusional fantasies about earthquakes and market crashes, Tony's headshot can really start to grate on you (what is it with realtors and headshots anyway? Are they all aspiring actors or something?). If I knew even an inkling of web programming, I would seriously devise a bit of JS code to force my browser to cancel Tony G's picture before it loads, sparing him from being the focal point of my real estate market-induced rage.

But of course this is me we're talking about. I am incapable of doing anything remotely productive, let alone learn Javascript (funny how I have loads of time to waste by posting on this blog- I guess my only skill is knowing how to touch type). So a simpler solution to my desire to inflict some sort of twisted revenge would be to dunk Tony G in a cyanide solution (ok, maybe just the picture and not his actual face...that would be mean). But I don't have any spare cyanide lying around, so I am forced to resort to digitally do what sixth graders do to yearbook photos of girls who won't go to the spring dance with them. Because even though I suck at pretty much anything productive, I somehow managed to clumse my way through photo editing software (is that even a word? clumse??? I'm pretty sure I just made it up right now...but I betcha know what it means! ha!). So, how about a little Captain Morgan Mustache and a Tony Almeida soul-patch (Tony Almeida and Tony G share the same first name, after all).

OK, I added the devil horns too. But no tail or trident for those of you who are appalled at my mean sense of humor (or plain mean non-funny humor-attempt, as it may be).

Now, as I mentioned before, I gave my actual email address to register (well, I used my secondary email, reserved sites that I know will spam me...other sites in this category start with a p, end with an n and rhyme with "corn"). However, I did not give my actual phone number. So one day I wanted to see what a house down the street was worth, so I pretended to want to sell it because that was the only way to get a list of comparable properties that sold.

So now Tony's all pumped up. He thinks I'm selling a house. That's like a guaranteed commission for him if he can just land me as a customer. Never mind it's not even my house I put into the system. So he sends me an email. It was something cordial like "Hey! I tried calling but I think I may have the wrong number. Anyway, I'm all ready to help you sell your house! How can I reach you?". I delete it. (what else would I do, respond???). Then he sends me another email. And another. And another. Each with an increasing amount of frustration in his tone. His commission is going to go to another broker. Heaven forbid. Last email is something like "Dude, just email me back you dimkus. I did a whole workup for you made up 99% of flashy looking, irrelavent boilerplate material and one page of crappy info my high school intern assistant put together." OK, he didn't call me a dimkus (what's a dimkus...I use that a lot but I don't actually know what it means...also what's a nifkin? I'll save "nifkin" for another blog entry because what I think it means will gross you out and you need to be prepared with the proper three paragraph setup). But Tony G was clearly frustrated. To the point that the tone of his last email was certainly going to repel me rather than sway me in any way to call him or even reply to one of his emails. So in the end I cancel the sell entry and he hasn't contacted me since. I think he gave up on me. Why o why Tony would you give up on me now??? Just kidding.

I am glad Tony doesn't have my actual address. I can just picture it now. Lazy Saturday. I'm watching tv as usual, lying like a sack of potatoes on the couch, probably developing a pressure sore on my tailbone. The doorbell rings. And on my front porch is *gasp* Tony G. Maybe he'll simply smile and introduce himself. Or maybe he'll work in construction on the side (Iiiiii dunno....his last name *could* be Italian....and two Sopranos I know from HBO are named Tony), and force me into his car and dump me in the East River (o wait, I live in SoCal...make that "dump me in my swimming pool").

OK enough grief to Tony G. He doesn't deserve any of it. He's just doing his job. He and his company have provided a fine resource for all of us house hunting fools. I am just venting the frustration we all share about the current state of the SoCal real estate market. Maybe I'll give Tony G a call tomorrow to discuss my real estate hunting needs with him. Or not. For fear of being thrown into the East River.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Life Lessons from Family & Friends - Jason A

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We are the sum of our experiences, and those we know and love are the ones who teach us the most about life and happiness. Everyone in my life has contributed to making me a better person, and i am compelled to share with others what I have gained from each of them, out of gratitude and as a testament to them, and perhaps with a small hope that their examples will contribute constructively to others' lives. This is the first installment.

Jason and i have known each other since 7th grade. Back then he wore a black Member's Only jacket and had thicker hair. We became excellent friends in high school, where we co-founded the informal Camel Club, which was comprised entirely of two members, no more and no less, kind of like the sith lords from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. we are currently considering an exception to the two member rule- the induction of a third member, one Radley A, Jason's 1 year old son. The camel club was devoted to doing nothing but sitting around and laughing at stupid jokes. The only "official" activity was the official camel club song, which comprised of the smurf and hawaii 5-0 themes, sung simultaneously. little radley will have to learn at least the melody of one of the songs to qualify for induction. or we can just give him a can of blue food coloring and a jar of cotton balls. he'll mess around in it and inadvertently make himself into a baby papa smurf in no time.

Jason is definitely much smarter than me (not hard to do, yhheeeeppp). He has a very high iq and an innate curiosity about how things work. my love for physically taking stuff apart and deconstructing concepts (which often gets me in deep doo doo!) was mostly picked up from jason over decades of inevitable osmosis. He is a very deep thinker of the most genuine kind- he actually cares about understanding the things that occupy his brain without much thought to declaring them to others with an intention to impress. he's taught me about proper swimming form, electrical wiring, physics, philosophy, and countless other things (yes, we're nerdy). in addition to all of these things, jason taught me perhaps the most important lesson of all (if it's not the most important, i would say that it is the most pervasive, as it influences my thoughts and actions every day).

While others may buy baby bjorns to snugly attach their babies to themselves, jason concocted one from an airplane blanket. he would much rather understand how something fundamentally works and implement it himself than buy some whiz-bang gizmo that's supposed to do the same thing at 10 times the price but breaks after two uses with no way of fixing it. in high school, at the peak of my own unchecked materialism, i once picked up jason at the airport. i asked him if he had a backpack full of diversions for the plane ride, and he simply pulled a wrinkled paperback out of his hoodie pouch and said that it was his in-air entertainment. it was as if a light bulb had literally blinked on inside my head. i thought about the all-manner-of-gizmos i'd have had on my own person had i been on that flight. and how convincing myself that i had to have all of that stuff to survive the boredom of an airplane flight was -partially at least- simply a way to fill a hole in my own soul; to validate my own ill-defined self worth.

in an era of excess and blatant consumerism, it's easy to get caught up and forget what the true sources of one's happiness are. like many people, i've read and heard a lot of stuff from countless brilliant philosophers, poets, pundits, screenwriters, gurus, know-it-alls and blowhards about materialism and how it affects society and the human condition. i'm even buddhist, having been born into a buddhist family. but buddhists have their own share of blatant materialists who pray for bmw's. but i never truly understood what true detachment and freedom from material things meant until jason demonstrated it to me in that single moment at the airport, and in countless other similar moments and conversations.

there is a zen-inspired poetry as well to jasonism. there is beauty in simplicity, and fulfillment in understanding, having and doing exactly what's needed; no more and no less. i'm a sailboat guy, not a speedboat guy (actually, i'm not nautical at all but you get the picture). i prefer a swiss army knife to a giant toolbox. books and magazines are much more practical for a plane or train ride than a walkman, laptop, dvd player or anything else that's battery operated. disposable containers and wrappers are better than empty boxes and cases that you have to lug back home even after you've consumed the contents. a lexus gives you dual zone air conditioning, but a honda gives you the freedom to park in a tight spot without caring about getting a ding on your door. sometimes more is more, but it's almost always more burdensome.

it's been many years since high school, and today i like most adults have many financial responsibilities. but pat and i are fortunate- we live comfortably, spend modestly, don't worry too much about money, and travel to see far-off friends and family when we can. but everything that i own was purchased for its utility, and not for my gratification, to seek validation from others, or to otherwise inflate my ego. i drive a honda, not a mercedes benz or bmw. i use a cheap charcoal grill instead of a fancy built-in gas number, and i enjoy the ritual of stacking and lighting the coals. i buy computers that are a few generations behind the cutting edge. same for my digital camera, cell phone, and every other electronic doo-dad i have. i wear wal-mart sandals and not birkenstocks. i'll only buy the birkenstocks if the wal-mart or target ones don't fit my overly wide feet. i invest in low cost index funds and not high fee hedge funds. my floating pool recliner is a single thick sheet of flexible foam that is way more comfortable than the fancy doohickeys that cost twice as much. i buy nothing from the sharper image.

yes, i own these things. but they do not own me.

i am defined by my actions. not by my possessions.

for these life-changing insights, i owe jason a debt i can never fully repay.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

favorite l.a. restaurants.

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Pat and i eat out a lot these days, because l.a. has lots of excellent places to eat. These are our favorites. They are not necessarily places everyone else raves about, and some of them when you go don't seem super special in any way. But the two things they have in common are that 1) we have favorite dishes that we order at each, and 2) we go back to them as much as possible whenever we're in the general vicinity- i guess places we vote for with our feet are the real winners, even if they are not always the toast of the town's critics and gourmands. On that note, i must tell everyone to stop going to all the places i like, because i really don't like waiting in line. haha. Thanks to all the friends and family who introduced us to many of these fine establishments.

mayflower (chinatown). house special lobster or crab

yai
(hollywood blvd near 101 junction). excellent thai food.

triumphal palace
(main st, between atlantic & garfield, alhambra). excellent dim sum.

jiraffe
(santa monica blvd, santa monica). very good. pricey though.

mario's
(vine & melrose). excellent peruvian.

zankou chicken
(several locations in l.a.).

thai nakorn
(garden grove). thai.

fu rai bo
(on sawtelle, also another one in gardena). get their house special chicken wings.

manna
(koreatown). all you can eat for like $15 a head.

lee's garden
(atlantic and valley, in the del taco shopping center). taiwanese. excellent pork chops w/ rice, and a few other tasty dishes.

din tai fung
(baldwin between 210 and 10 fwys, north of live oak, arcadia). dumplings made from scratch. very good, but long wait.

sanamluang cafe
(hollywood blvd east of western in hollywood, sherman way west of 170 fwy north hollywood, also one in claremont). authentic and varied thai menu.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Who's Beard Papa?

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So a little while ago our friend Sharon introduced us to this place called "Beard Papa". It's a pretty popular spot is what I heard. which explains why i hadn't ever heard about it until a month ago- some people are uncool. i'm like anticool. not to say that i am personally against cool things. more like the cool force of the universe evidently doesn't want to have anything to do with me. anyway, it's a japanese company that serves cream puffs, of all things. the parent company's name is muginoho USA (even though they don't have a franchise in noho they still have it as part of their name...well, north hollywood for those who bought homes there 10-20 years ago at $100,000 - $300,000, and noho for those who moved in recently at well over $500,000). so these things are huge. and they come with 3 filling types: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. there's a little vat of each filling at the counter, and a big ol' pile of hollow cream puffs (these are much larger than the regular cream puffs you find at the grocery or the chinese bakery). when you order, they inject the filling into each cream puff for you. kinda like a freshly made sort of thing.

so who is beard papa? the only time i've been there, i asked the lady behind the counter, but she could not provide an answer. does he smoke his pipe when he's cooking up the cream puffs? that would not be very sanitary. and why does he look pretty caucasian even though it's a japanese company? and what's with the nose? can that thing be any wider? it must be some medical condition. is there a beard mama? she must be the brains behind the operation. and sharon said it would be more logical if they called it "papa beard", but since it's japanese it's called "beard papa", reminiscent of those random t-shirts and pencil boxes from asia with randomly stitched together words forming incomprehensible phrases, like "duck pond lily love freshness". or "sucky blog spring rain ever fly." ok i made those up. they're not as funny as the real thing.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Budgeting calculator spreadsheet

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Source: Alchemic Spot

Quite a few friends are looking to purchase a first home or upgrade to a larger home sometime in the next year or so. Helpful friend that I am, I put together a quick spreadsheet that people can use to see what their fixed cost budgets may look like.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • The cells in blue are the assumption cells. These are the only ones that should be modified. The cells in black are all calculations based off the blue input cells.
  • The spreadsheet is focused primarily on cash flow, not income or savings. Again, it's to help you budget approximately how much cash you have coming in, and how much you have left over (if any) after you've paid all your fixed expenses. I would suggest using some of that leftover discretionary cash to contribute to Jack's Totally Awesome and Earnest But Underfunded Savings Fund (that's the technical name for my personal charity, whose primary mission is to enrich my personal savings account, and whose secondary mission is to buy me $12 movie tickets- it's expensive living in L.A.).
  • This spreadsheet is only meant to be a quick snapshot to see if a certain house payment load is a "no brainer" decision in either direction (easily can afford/definitely cannot afford), or if it looks like the budget will be tight. It won't be accurate to the dollar. If you are one of my investment banker, private equity, finance, accounting friends, etc. before you email me about how i need to add several excel sheets, modules, and data tables to the file: I have not been a financial analyst with my butt parked in an aeron and my face parked in front of excel for about a decade now. i don't care if this thing doesn't reflect every little detail and nuance of an individual's personal finances. my sense of self-worth is not in any way affected by the complexity or exacting accuracy -or lack thereof- of this quick-and-dirty estimator. take off your $20,000 watch, your hermes tie, and crackberry and put them in your drawer, leave the office, get in your m3 convertible, and get some fresh air. then go to yoshinoya for a beef bowl (my treat). just kidding. you guys are still cool.
  • the annual mortgage interest deduction formula assumes that the loan's principal has not been paid down. should be fairly accurate for the first few years- after several years, you'll have paid down some of the mortgage principal so this deduction amount will be higher than the actual figure.
  • I have the bottom section in monthly form because most people think about their budgets that way. However, certain tax deductions and expenses are large sums that occur only once or twice a year. The actual cash flow every month may vary widely from what the spreadsheet says, depending on how much you withhold from your monthly paycheck, what items and how much you deduct at the end of the year, when large bills come due, etc. But it should be a pretty decent gauge of the total cash in and out for the year, presented in monthly format for your analyzing pleasure.
  • This spreadsheet assumes that you are itemizing your tax deductions and are not subject to AMT or take the standard deduction. Also a lot of the current assumptions and maybe some of the formulas are based on living and working in California. I have no idea what property and state income tax rates are in other states.

If you use it and have questions, or need me to modify it for your specific situation, please feel free to email or call. i'm always happy to help. but only if you are a friend, relative, a friend's friend, a family friend, or a friend's family member (say that 10 times fast and you get a special prize. i won't say what it is but it comes w/ batteries) - if you don't personally know me or any of my family & friends, definitely don't email me about this spreadsheet!!! haha. well, haha but I mean it. If you have suggestions on how to enhance it or catch errors in the formulas, please let me know.

I am constantly revising the spreadsheet when I think of new things to add to it or new ways to enhance it. So when you need to use it, check back to this page to see the date and time of the latest update to be sure you are using the latest version. This is especially important because if I discover an error, I won't be emailing everybody- I'll just correct it and post the new version here.

Latest version of this file saved on:
26 March 2006, 9:00PM


To download the latest version, click here
(Microsoft Excel xls file)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Bad boys and ex wives

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OK I never really gave this much thought previously (being a guy and all), but lately I've been hearing a lot of talk about how women perceive guys. I guess a lot of ladies like to date cool, irresponsible bad-boy types for boyfriends, and then when they are ready to settle down they go for husband types, who are not so "exciting", not always the best looking, but very responsible and have actual careers. none of this "i'm a screenwriter, but i've never been paid to write scripts so i wait tables on the side...you know, to make ends meet." yep- i bet you'll be "makin' ends meet" till you're old and wrinkled pal (ok my secret is revealed, now you all know which camp i identify with as if that were ever in doubt haha).

so i won't go on some tirade about how i'm not into shallow girls who perpetuate this whole pattern of behavior and make life for us nerdy guys even more miserable than it would have to be until we turn 30. because for a lot of women, the tables get turned later in life. because the inverse (REverse? some math guy help me out here) of [boyfriend type > husband type] is [first wife type > second wife type]. always funny how second wife type is often the same age as first wife type when first wife first got married.

of course those of you who know me know that i was fortunate enough to skip all of this, b/c pat stuck w/ me when i was young (but never cool...poor pat) and through all the years that i got older and even more bad looking (because unlike paul lu, i can't admit i'm a pretty good looking guy!!! hahah! see favorite quotes). since she skipped the whole [boyfriend type] phase, it's only fair that i stick to the [first wife] phase even after midlife (maybe i'll just go buy a sports car instead when i get to that point).

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

mah-KHIEM-khalem!

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(it's pronounced "muh - khhai - um - khha - lhhem!!!!"). It's when the arab guy (played by a very funny but definitely not arab eugene *levy*) tells his wife to be quiet in father of the bride 2. hahaha funniest scene ever. I try to use it on pat every once in a while but she just gets angry and punches me.

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Pho-king awesome restaurant names

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For the uninitiated, "Pho" rhymes with "duh". Or so I've been told, but not by anyone vietnamese because we used to have two vietnamese friends in socal but one moved to boston and the other must think we smell b/c for some reason he won't hang out with us except once every 6 months (not for lack of trying on our part- ok i'll stop my bitching and get on with the lame joke now haha). here are some gems:

What the Pho - West L.A.
Pho King - Rosemead
Absolutely Phobulous - Hollywood
Pho Kym - Monterey Park

This is not limited to Pho places though:
- when i was growing up near monterey park (80's! baby!) the two best places for chinese porridge were luk yue and fu yue. i always wondered what the name would be changed to if they merged.
- In Portland there is a Chinese restaurant called "Hung Far Low". It's actually spelled that way too.



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Monday, March 13, 2006

Identity

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So in a recent article of newsweek or time, this guy (let's presume he was adopted b/c i don't remember that part of the article) grew up thinking that he was at least partially african-american. he spent time re-connecting with that part of his identity. then he took a dna test and found out that he's part native american, part cambodian, and not even partially african american.

an old college friend was told by his parents -in his late 20s- that he was adopted, and that his birth parents are actually his aunt and uncle. talk about events that can shatter your whole world.

there may be a lot of things that we don't know as inidividuals, but one thing you think you can count on is knowing who you are. so your whole life you think that knowing oneself is probably the only thing you can be completely sure of. it doesn't take any faith. it's completely empirical. and you've had verification of it with every waking breath you take.

so what happens when that perception gets shattered after having been defined so concretely over so many decades? does it make you question *everything* about yourself? does it change the way you behave? does it change the people you let into your life, and how you interact with them? does it change the way they interact with you? so does newsmag guy spend the remainder of his life connecting with a whole new set of lost roots? does he foresake the connections and sense of identity he developed when he thought he was partially african american? is who we are defined by the genes that are embedded in our cells when we are conceived, or is it mostly the result of the sum of our experiences?

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