Tax Time! - 2019 Edition It seems that every year I make a post about doing taxes. So I figured I would keep up the tradition. This year's edition will be much more calmer than in previous years. Things were pretty much straight forward and I went back to doing them on my own. Last year I used TurboTax which turned into a shitshow. I also wrote about my brilliant strategy of claiming more exemptions to maximize my take home pay and reduce any refund amount. I would rather owe the government money than be at their mercy waiting for a refund. But my plan backfired because I forgot to think about dividend income which doesn't have taxes taken out. So I ended up owing a bunch. I also think TurboTax didn't calculate something correctly which added to the frustration. So this year I decided to go back to good old pencil and paper. The result was that it wasn't all that difficult. I sold some stock, but it was almost a wash since a sold a winner and a loser which amounted to almost nothing. There were no funky cash disbursements only dividends. The dividends were the only pain in the ass because you have to fill out a large worksheet to figure out your taxes. But since that meant a lower tax rate, I was happy to go through the motions. I have been hearing horror stories about people owing huge amounts this year do to the tax changes. Nope. Not on my end. In fact I'll be getting a small refund for the first time in a few years. I'm glad I changed my exemptions back to the way they were. Everything worked out just right.
Snow Day I woke up at about 4 in the morning to hear my phone "brrringing" which means the motion sensor on the driveway camera was going off. It kept up for quite a long time which made me believe that the snow that had been forecast had arrived. Sure enough there was a couple inches of fluffy powder on the Furmobile. The commute turned out to be a total shitshow. I understand that you need to be more careful, but people were doing 15 in a 40 zone. And they kept braking! There's careful and then there's stupid careful. What was amazing was that the roads were totally horrendous at one point, but 3 miles to the south the pavement was perfectly clear.
2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Live Action I must say that this was one of the worst set of films we have seen. It's not that they were bad films, but rather the subject matter was some of the darkest I have ever experienced. All 5 nominees were depressing and 4 involved children. Of the 4 about children, 3 dealt with children in peril. Here is my grim synopsis.
"Madre (Mother)" - Spain - I would give this movie the award because it creates a real and true sense of horror with only 2 actresses in an apartment. A mother receives a phone call from her 6-year old son who has been abandoned by his father on a beach. The boy doesn't know where he is, somewhere near the Spain/France border, it's getting dark, there is no one around, and the phone battery is dying. The mother frantically tries to get information and report it to the police, but they are no help. Finally the boy says a man is approaching him and the phone goes dead. I'm going to be on the lookout for Rodrigo Sorogoyen because he has a sense for suspense on par with Hitchcock.
"Fauve" - Canada - 2 boys go have a day of mischief when they find themselves in a quarry and encounter a deep pit of sticky mud. Very bad things happen from there.
"Marguerite" = Canada - This was the only "uplifting" movie in the bunch and even it was sad. An old dying woman is being taken care of by a young assistant. It comes to light that the assistant is a lesbian. The old woman then recollects that she too had a female lover many years ago, but she could not reveal her love because it was taboo at the time. It's implied that she always carried that love in her heart and wonders about how things might have been. Her assistant provides her with some loving comfort. This might win since it was the least depressing of the bunch.
"Detainment" - Ireland - And we're back to children in peril. The most disturbing thing about this film was that it was based on a true life case of 2 10-year old boys who brutally murder a 2-year old boy for no apparent reason. I looked it up. It happened in 1993 and shocked the UK. The film is highly controversial. People started walking out on this one.
"Skin" - US - We had all had enough of dying children at this point, and there was a collective groan as the still picture used to introduce the film was of a young boy holding a shotgun. It's the happy tale of a white supremacist who teaches his young son all of the pleasures in life like drinking beer, shooting guns, and hating black people. The father and his buddies beat the hell out of a black man in front of his wife and kids. That caused more people to leave the theater. The black man gets revenge with the help of his homies in a most unusual way. Let's just say that the skinhead could run for office in Virginia. And then there is a violent surprise ending.
When the lights came on there was a collective sigh and laughter as we all seemed to have the same thought of "what the hell did we just experience?!?" We also noted that what was an almost full theater at the start was now just about half full. That many people had walked out. Fortunately Kitty and I had planned on walking down the street to an Irish pub for dinner. We both needed a drink.
"Rent" It was another date night to see a Broadway musical and I guess it was a bit of a culture shock for me in a good way. Of course I have heard about this musical, but I have never seen it in its entirety. I know it was performed live on network television just a few weeks ago. I tuned in for a few minutes, but since I had no context, I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. And judging from the reviews I read by critics and fans alike, I'm glad I didn't watch it because the consensus seems to be that it was a shitshow. I have seen a bit of the movie (and we even own it on DVD thanks to Kitty), but once again I have never watched the entire thing. So it was the first time I have ever experience it in its full stage glory and I must say that I was impressed. I was not prepared for all of the Rent junkies in the audience, but I guess that's a thing. There were many of teh gheys in the audience because I guess the embracing of drag queens and confronting the AIDS epidemic back in 1999 was such a breakthrough moment. There is a bit of local pride because one of the themes in the musical was leaving New York City behind and finding freedom in Santa Fe. I said it was a culture shock because most of the musicals we have seen were pretty much mainstream ("Wicked") or rehashed oldies ("Sound of Music") so it was great to see what could be considered a modern masterpiece. I only knew the one hit song "Seasons of Love" which is truly a showstopper (even though it leads off Act 2 as opposed to happening in the middle of an act). So I'm very happy to have had the opportunity to see the show on the stage and performed by professionals.
I should also mention a bit of "drama" that happened before the show started. We were sitting in our seats when a woman came up to us and said we were in her seats. I whipped out my tickets and we just happened to have someone from the ticketing department in the row right in front of us. I panicked when the seats were identical. But the ticket person immediately focused on something else. She said, "Ma'am those were for the matinee this afternoon." The woman looked at her tickets and muttered, "Oh, shit." I hope she was able to see the show because the house was packed.
2019 Oscar-nominated Shorts - Documentary We had an early Valentine's Day date night and took in the documentaries with dinner at a nice ramen noodle house afterwards. The documentary shorts can be a real endurance test. I think they can be up to 40 minutes each, so if you have 5 of that length...5x40=200 minutes = 3 hours and 20 minutes! It was close one year. This year it clocked in at around 2 and a half hours. It was such a romantic date! 4 of the movies were total downers dealing with death or racism or fascism. So here's the breakdown:
"Black Sheep" - I totally hated this one. A black teen in England moves to a predominantly white area and is beaten by the local "chavs" which causes him to be estranged from his father. He eventually joins the gang to fit in. The movie was totally race baiting but the underlying message was that people will do whatever it takes to feel wanted and accepted. Duh. That's why gangs exist.
"End Game" - If you have Netflix and are in a good mood, put this movie on to totally destroy any happy feelings. It's the story of several people with terminal illness and the choices they make as they approach death. Spoiler alert! Everyone who is interviewed dies. Kitty was in tears by the end. It was very well made, but we have seen documentaries like this before.
"Lifeboat" - A very well made documentary about the people who rescue refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Once again we have seen this before in recently nominated documentaries. It still is staggering to see the number of people fleeing Africa to Europe. It has this underlying anxiety of a dystopian future. A possible winner.
"A Night at the Garden" - The entire movie can be found on YouTube.. It's not really a documentary at all. It's simply archival footage of a Nazi rally in NYC in 1939 just 7 months before the start of WWII. I think this was nominated because if you put red caps on the 20,000 people that attended, it would look hauntingly familiar. There is no curation. There is no explanation. There is no narration. How this classifies as a "documentary," I don't know.
"Period. End of Sentence" - My pick for winner simply because it was the only uplifting story which was told very well. In India, women have to deal with their periods in whatever way they can. There is a lack of sex education and there is still lots of myth and mysticism behind "that time of the month." A cottage industry pops up where women in rural areas can make their own pads and even sell them to retailers. I think this movie will really resonate now especially with the whole #MeToo movement since it deals with confronting patriarchy.
The Capitol Steps I need to go to my LJ Archive to find out when the last time we saw the political comedy troupe "The Capitol Steps", but we both kinda remember that it was during the time of Shrubya, so more than 10 years?!? Perhaps it's just due to the shift in media, but I recalled that they were a lot more "popular" or well-known back then. The one thing that hasn't changed is their biting satirical wit that lampooned all things Washington. Of course they could have done an entire show about Trump since that in itself is a comedy shitshow. But to maintain political neutrality they also lampooned Hillary, Obama, Warren, and Sanders. They also took on current issues such as device addiction and The Wall. Only a couple of us got the "Deliverance" reference when they said Michael Cohen was squealing louder than Ned Beatty. This was one of the few non-Broadway shows that Kitty and I will be seeing.
EDIT: Finally got into the old LJ archive and it was indeed more than 10 years ago since we saw them last. It was February of 2007.
2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animated I had to check my archives to see when I first started going to our local art house theater to see the short film nominations. It looks like 2011. So I have been making these posts annually for the past 8 years. Wow. So expect 2 more posts over the next week as we go to see the live-action and documentary shorts. This year's crop of animated nominations was pretty disappointing. Normally there is one standout, but this year we both agreed that all were pretty "meh." 3 of the 5 had an Asian element. I don't know if there are more Asians making animations or if there are just a lot of weeaboos. Most of the films had pretty depressing elements in the plots e.g. death, divorce, old age. It will be hard to pick a winner.
"Bao" was the Disney/Pixar entry that I guess was shown at the beginning of "The Incredibles 2." Of course the quality was outstanding because, well, Disney/Pixar. But I just did not like the story about an anthropomorphic dumpling. Yes, I get that the mother misses her son, but it was just weird. Pass.
"Late Afternoon" This one has a shot of winning since it probably had the best plot about an old woman with Alzheimer's who relives moments from her life and finally realizes that the young woman bringing her tea and biscuits is her daughter. The animation was very basic. It reminded me of "Doug."
"One Small Step" - A young girl has a dream of becoming an astronaut and struggles to finally reach for it after the death of her father. May win for its uplifting message.
"Weekends" - A pretty depressing film about a boy with divorced parents who floats between their 2 worlds as they try to get their lives back in order. Pretty depressing.
There were also 2 honorable mentions.
"The Wishing Box" - A pirate finds a treasure chest that is empty except it grants wishes to his monkey pal. Of course the monkey only wishes for food.
"Tweet Tweet" - This was a weird Russian film about a bird who follows the life of a young girl to an old woman. Why does the bird care? Why is everyone on a tightrope? How does the bird live for 70 years? I guess it's supposed to be a metaphor for something.
Supa Bo LIII All I have to say about the festivities yesterday was thank doG for 16 furs who showed up to enjoy the shitshow with me. I served up wings and a nacho bar while Kitty's friend made an enchilada casserole. There was also fruit, beer, and cookies. Those that wanted to watch the game could do that while others socialized in the kitchen or on the patio. We're finally getting some seasonable temps again (Yay!). Everything was just so "meh." The game sucked. Everyone is sick of the Patriots. I'm too old for the halftime show because I had no idea who pretty much anyone was. A young gal at the party was singing along with one of the songs while I was saying, "what the fuck is this shit?!?" And the whole Spongebob appearance just made me want to cock my head to the side like a dog and go "Aroo?!?" Even the commercials were a disappointment. The only one that got a laugh out of me was the Bud Light/Game of Thrones crossover. That, I thought, was brilliant. Next on the Fur Central schedule...St Patty's Day!
2018 Investing I just received a couple of information sheets that showed how 2018 was in terms of investing. Let's just say that it was a shithouse year. Thanks, Trump! My financial adviser sends out a matrix with 10 different asset classes. It covers various sectors of the stock market as well as other investments like gold and real estate. In 2018 the "winner" was corporate bonds which returned 0%. Wheee! The worst performer was the energy sector which was down 18%. My retirement account essentially made nothing over the entire year. Even if I had invested in the super-safe government bond fund I would have barely kept up with inflation. This would also hold true if I had put my money in super safe bank cd's. You don't make money when you earn 1% in interest but inflation is 2%. The good news is that last month was one of the best months for the stock market. I don't have the numbers yet, but it looks like stock funds will be up 6-7% just for January alone. That's why you don't panic. People who threw in the towel at the end of December would have missed the bounce back. Now I'm only set back 6 months.
It Was 20 Years Ago Today No. Sgt. Pepper didn't tell the band to play. I believe it was on this date in 1999 that I rolled into ABQ to begin my life here. Any place would have been an improvement over Yuma. I lived in an apartment temporarily while I looked for a house. My agent did a great job in sorting through the listings to find the perfect house which was to become Fur Central. I'm almost to the point where this will become the place where I have lived the longest. I fully left Illinois behind when I was 25, so it's getting close. Man! All of the changes I have witnessed over this time. And the west side just keeps expanding and growing. And my house is slowly becoming 100% mine with all of the remodels I have done over the years. I'm also still waiting for ABQ to be "discovered" as a cheaper alternative to the Bay Area, Seattle, or Austin as a hip place to live. Then again, I think we already have our own "scene" which makes the place affordable and fun. Kitty and I have been talking about good places to retire. I usually end up going full circle and ending up here. Let's see what the next 20 years brings.
Office Space In the movie "Office Space" (which celebrates its 20th year this year) there is a gag about a balky fax machine which then gets destroyed when the company lays off a bunch of employees. I have my own version of the fax machine in my office, only it's a water fountain. Every morning I get a large cup of water to start my day. I'm usually one of the first people in the office, so I'm the first to use the drinking fountain. There must be some sort of power/water saving feature built in because it takes over a minute after pushing the button before water starts to flow. I have complained to our office manager but to no avail. Other workers have experienced the same frustration when they beat me to it. A person who usually follows right in back of me complained that I was on vacation last week so he had to deal with it. Yes, on a few mornings when I have been in a grumpy mood I have resorted to violence. ("PC load letter?!? What the fuck does that mean?!?") I'm just 3 years from retirement. Maybe as a going away gift I'll be able to take a baseball bat to it. Oh...and if you have absolutely no idea what the hell I'm talking about...
The Hills Are Alive Sounds like a horror movie post! *lol* Actually it's about Kitty and I seeing "The Sound of Music" on stage. I must say that I enjoyed it better than the movie version. This was the first performance where we had our "premium" seats of 12th row dead center. We both decided that even though we had seen many of the plays/musicals before in some way or another, just the act of going to the theater on a date night is totally worth it.
FC 2019 Post I'm back at the office after my little FC vacation. I left the con on Monday and hoped to reach Williams, AZ like I have in the past. Alas I was delayed almost an hour by a head-on crash just to the west of Barstow. I decided to stop in Kingman instead. Meh. 6 of one, half dozen of another. It was beautiful to see Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky in the clear desert air. We had seen it the day before in San Jose, but the clouds and light noise diminished the grandeur. It was also kinda cool to listen to a Navajo-language station from Peach Springs playing traditional songs while the Sun rose on the Arizona landscape. Ah! Road trip joys!
The con itself was pretty unremarkable. Many people have asked me how it was and I always hesitate to answer. Did I have a good time? Yes. Was it an awesome furry experience? Meh. It was great to see folks again, but it seems there is never enough time to really talk and reconnect. It was great to see c_eagle in suit, but I never got a chance to really talk with him. I got to hang out a bit with my "adopted son" ari_foxy, but it was all too brief. About the only one I had any sort of conversation with was procyonid, and even then he was off to handle or bounce around as a puppy. I kept myself sane by keeping with my "con my way" philosophy. I never let myself get pressured into feeling I HAD to stay up all night or HAD to fursuit the entire con. As it was I only suited for about 3 hours on Saturday which was a complete blast. I wore Herp Derp Husky so people had no idea who I was. The volleyball girls loved him and I had a great time interacting with them. I also did a radio interview in suit which was cool since this character talks (in a German accent like Ahnold). I actually didn't do the parade because I was tired and didn't feel like standing around for almost an hour. I bought a few pieces of art. I didn't buy anything in the Dealers' Den. I attended a bit of the Variety Show and remembered why I stopped going and helping out years ago. On Sunday I spent hours in my room watching the Playoffs and drinking beer. Hey! Con my way! I did get nice and shitfaced on Saturday night so I did let my fur down a little. And of course the con was made great by hanging out with Al and Dex as well as attending parties in Scritch's room. We hit our usual food places like Flames, but also discovered a nice cheap Chinese place not far from the hotel. And then there was the Safeway with the "Welcome Furries" sign in the window. So I guess to answer the question "How was the con?" I have to say I had a good time. Will I go back? Yeah, probably. This was the 21st FC and I have attended 14 of them. We noticed that the attendance has pretty much plateaued, which is fine with us. I don't know if I could survive being among 10,000 furries.
Oh! That's L.A.! I'm still hanging out here at The Domain. Al and I have been just chilling out at home while Dex has gone to work. It has rained almost constantly since I arrived here on Saturday. It has given me a chance to do a lot of binge watching. I got through both seasons of "Norsemen" which is a very funny series that is a combination of "Vikings" and "The Office." It is very Monty Python-esque. Besides that, we have just been chillin'. That's OK. This is my vacation so chillin' is allowed. More rain predicted tomorrow and the next day. Yay.
On the Road to FC I'm typing this from The Domain where I arrived yesterday. I had originally planned to spend a night somewhere between here and ABQ since I decided to take my time on the drive. I had significantly overestimated the time it would take to drive, however, and found myself in Needles at 12:30 local time where I was supposed to stop. Traffic was light and I was feeling good, so I pressed on. I knew I was making good time when I got to Seligman, AZ which is just about the halfway point, and it had only taken me 5.5 hours to get there. The drive across the Mojave was pretty interesting because while traffic was light, there was quite a lot of rain. Before I knew it I was in Barstow and heading south on the 15. I always hate this stretch of the trip because the traffic is crazy, and this time I had to deal with rain. But soon I was descending Cajon Pass heading towards San Bernadino. Traffic on the 210 was heavy but moving at speed. I pulled into the Domain driveway at 5:30, 11.5 hours after leaving ABQ.
OK! Here. albear. Here's your friggin' paragraph! *lol* And if you don't think I should be driving because of my condition, suck my muthahfuckin' dick. And now back to the playoffs and more brewskis with my homies.
More Heart News I went to get a second opinion about my condition (and actually a third) and the consensus is that I should get a pacemaker. I got the results of my ultrasound and the structure and plumbing are fine. It's just the darned electrical system that's messed up. And that's the bad news. It's not anything that can be fixed with diet, exercise, or pills. I trust all of these smart people telling me this, but as a scientist myself, I still have a lot of doubts. I tried using an analogy with one of the docs using the New Madrid Fault. It produced one the country's largest earthquakes in the US back in 1811. It was only until the mid 20th century before geologists realized how dangerous it was. They studied it extensively and warned that it could produce another massive quake at any time. Well...200 years later and there still hasn't been a "big one." So do you evacuate everyone between St Louis and Memphis? No. You take some precautions and go on with your life. The doc didn't like that analogy. I guess a pacemaker would be considered retrofitting up to earthquake codes. I also tried to use statistics. I have been alive for over 19,000 days and only on 1 of those days have I been impacted by this. The big concern is not that I will just keel over and die. The big concern is that I will black out again, possibly behind the wheel. Once again, I have only blacked out once. I'm behind the wheel 4% of my day. As Homer Simpson would say, "I like those odds!" Of course all of this is being dumped on me a few days before I get behind the wheel for hours on my drive to FC. So I have come to the conclusion that I will continue to roll the dice. If I have another episode, I will get the pacemaker. Until then, I will just keep on living the way I have been and just be aware of the signs and signals if another event seems imminent.
New Moon on Monday Nope. Not a Duran Duran post. Last Friday I was getting ready to drive to work when I noticed the morning sky. The sky was crystal clear with Jupiter and Venus dominating the sky with most of the other stars washed out by the impending sunrise. And off toward the horizon I spotted the slender crescent of the Moon. It was so lovely! Just a sliver of light and the faint outline of the rest of the disk. I checked my calendar when I got home later and saw that the new moon was on Saturday. I actually thought about getting up and seeing if I could spot it just before sunrise since it was also almost in occultation with Saturn. Alas, a warm bed on a weekend won out. Yesterday I was on walkies just after sunset. The skies were once again fairly clear with just some high whispy clouds. And there to the west following just behind the setting sun was my old friend the Moon again, once again just a sliver of light and the barely-lit disk. I know I had read or heard years ago that this is a whole "thing" for people, trying to spot the moon as soon before or as soon after the true new moon. *shrugs* To me it's just a delight to behold.
Documentaries The Oscar nominations aren't out yet, but I'm going to make a prediction for 2 movies that might be nominated in the "Best Documentary Feature" category. My prediction is for "RBG" and "Won't You Be My Neighbor" to be nominated. "RBG" is the documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I found it to be a most wonderful film and a strong contender to win. "Won't You Be My Neighbor" is the biography of Mr Rogers. I had high expectations for this film but ended up feeling totally disgusted by the end. There are probably lots of folks out there who grew up with his show and loved it. Even as a child of 6 or 8 I found it childish. No, I never watched it regularly and preferred shows like "Zoom" and "The Electric Company." That's where the movie totally lost it for me when they started bad mouthing other kids shows because they were not as wholesome and Christian like "Mr Rogers." Meh. I guess I can't stand folks who are so self-righteous and goody goody. I don't know if it would be eligible for an Oscar, but the HBO show "Vice" put out a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis which was also superb.
Dreaming of a White New Year A Happy Nude Deer to all of my furry friends. Yes, I did that specifically to annoy whitetail who just posted an adorable picture in regards to that (while mentioning his distaste for that phrase). We rang in the new year at a local fur's den since he wanted to host a meet. I was good and stuck to beer during the evening with the exception of a champagne toast during the 3 new years' we experienced in the eastern, central, and mountain time zones. We left the party early and were in bed when the west coast entered 2019. The big news was that we finally got some significant snow. It started out very light, but we had a couple of inches by the time I went for walkies in the afternoon. It was so pleasant and peaceful to walk in the snow. It's something I haven't been able to do over the past few years. By nightfall another couple of inches had fallen. Fortunately it was a light and fluffy snow easily removed with a broom. The good news is that I still have a couple of days of vacation left, so I won't have to deal with the commute tomorrow.