Sunday, June 22, 2008

S&P 500 not a great place for short-term investments

And by short term investments, I mean 10 years or less.

Take it from me: I've learned a lesson the hard way. I've been investing monthly in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund (VFINX) for nine years, as a means to save up for a down payment on a home.

And now that the time has arrived for me to withdraw my funds, the market is in a horrible state. The S&P blew through the key support point of 1350 and finished out the week at 1317. It's dropping like a stone. Thankfully, I withdrew my funds on Tuesday before it fell below 1350, but I'm very disappointed that my assiduous saving hasn't had much payoff. (A good tip: apparently, you should never sell stocks on a Monday since statistics show that's the worst day of the week to sell).

As it turns out, VFINX has only managed a meager 3.5% return for the past 10 years. I suppose I should be grateful that it didn't have a negative return, but talk about a lousy place to stash cash for a major purchase. I could have done as well with a savings account at Emigrant Direct (which is a really good idea, btw, and they tend to have some of the highest rates going. Also check out ING).

I remember meeting with a financial planner in 1999, and he asked me to think about my long-term life goals. My most immediate goal, for the next 10 years, was to own a home. He suggested, since I was a new investor, that I go with regular monthly contributions to an index fund, such as the S&P 500. And so I did, now much to my disappointment. Of course, any savings at all is better than none, but there have to be better ways to weather the horrible economy that we've had for the past 10 years. Sadly, I don't know of anything that's much of a safe or reliable bet other than Treasury Bills and Internet savings accounts.

I'm still clinging to the belief that index funds are a good way to go over the long term, so if you have an S&P fund in your 401k portfolio, I'd say leave it there and ride out this economic downturn (which from what I'm reading and from a symposium I went to, will most likely be a U-shaped recovery that will take at least two more years).

In the meantime, what can you do? I highly recommend the simple exercise of thinking about your future and planning for possible expenses now. Do you want to own a home? Get married? Have a large wedding? Elope? Have children? Adopt children? Remain childless? Travel? What does your retirement life look like to you? Will you own a home in Florida? Will you rent? What is your life going to look like when you're 65? 70? 80+?

Even if you're single, you can still imagine the expenses attached to the life you want to lead, and start to save accordingly. We can't predict how our lives will turn out, but no matter what happens, wouldn't it be nice to have a little stash of cash saved up for that moment when we get to wherever it is we're going?

But for the short term, stay away from the S&P.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sex sounds

Last night I overheard the copious moaning of my downstairs neighbor having sex. It's an amusing part of apartment living--the squeaking bed frame and the real (or faked) orgasms (who can tell?).

I'm by no means dissing sex sounds--they can certainly be hot, particularly when it's you yourself getting it on. But it strikes me as curious that given the many times over the years I've overheard straight couples having sex, it's almost always the woman who is the one gasping out, "oh, oh, oh god, oh, oh, oh, OH, OH, OH!!!" I can only think of one time when I've overheard a heard a guy loudly call out, grunt, and moan as he climaxed.

And that strikes me as odd.

Could it be that women are culturally programmed to behave a certain way sexually, and that both they and their partners have an expectation that the ladies will give a vocal performance as a part of sex? Why aren't men also expected to vocalize their pleasure? Is this part and parcel of the objectification of women in our culture, that women themselves actively embrace? (Taking on the role of being "seen" as opposed to expecting a certain performance from a man?)

Is this how we've all learned to behave via porn?

Is this a sign that the sex act may not be as genuine as what the person might actually be feeling?

Are these women just acting?

I want to believe that there are a lot of people out there having great sex, but considering that what I've overheard over many years almost always sounds exactly the same, I'd have to say that the vast majority of sex I've been exposed to through my walls sounds very, very vanilla.

And who in their heart of hearts is really just vanilla? My wish is that these couples will have the trust and courage to expose their emotional vulnerabilities to each other along with their kinks and connect in a very real way that will result in messy, complicated, loving, animalistic sex that breaks the boilerplate and boils.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they're all really happy and are having the best sex ever. But somehow I doubt it. It takes a lot of courage to be yourself, especially when you're naked in front of someone else. Still, I'd love to hear something more creatively unfettered, and less scripted, or at least a screamed out, "Fuck me HARDER!"

Come on, people!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Human kindness

I'm going to break my general rule about talking too specifically about myself, but I had a traumatic event this week that I wanted to share.

On Wednesday, I had lunch from Whole Foods hot bar--salmon, spinach and rice with vegetables (this was the Whole Foods at 2nd Ave). I was fine until about 3 p.m. when I mentioned to a coworker that I wasn't feeling too spectacular. By 4 p.m., I felt a lot worse and told my boss I was feeling very sick. She suggested I get a cab and go home, but I didn't feel like I was going to be able to leave because I knew I was about to become really ill. Shortly thereafter, I found myself vomiting in the bathroom.

I started sweating profusely alternating with chills, and I was dearly wishing someone would have been around. I got scared because I was suddenly in so much pain. I knew I had to get myself out of there and get help. I started seeing stars and was about to faint. I managed to get out the bathroom door and the six feet across the hall to the nearest coworker. I shouted out, "Jim! Help me!" And then I collapsed.

Two guys grabbed me and put me in a chair, but I couldn't sit due to the abdominal pain, so one of them picked me up and carried me in his arms to the the couch in the front room of the office. A bunch of coworkers gathered around to talk to me and see how I was, and someone called 911. Four people sat and talked to me, and one stroked my hair and put a cold compress on my neck. Another coworker gathered up my things and my jacket and brought them to me.

The pain came in waves where I could barely speak during the peak pain, but then it would remit, and I was able to regain my sense of humor and chat. The paramedics arrived and strapped me into a chair with wheels and took me down to the ambulance. My boss was kind enough to come along for the ride. It was my first time in an ambulance, and I can't say it was all that exciting. They basically strap you onto the gurney. They handed me a barf bucket, and I was proud to not hurl despite the exceedingly bumpy ride.

I was given two bags of IV fluids, which helped enormously. My sister arrived, so my boss was free to go, but before leaving, she bought me a wide assortment of the best trash magazines to read as I recovered.

The next day, my coworkers sent me flowers.

I'm still sick and at home recovering, two days later. This is by far the worst food poisoning I've ever had. But, I just wanted to say how grateful I am to those who came to my aid during a terrible moment of illness, and how touched I am by the kindness and compassion exhibited by my coworkers in a time of personal crisis. Thank you all. I'll never forget it.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gotham Girls Roller Derby

The Bronx Gridlock crushed the Brooklyn Bombshells last night with a sore of 120 something to 45 something. I can't remember exactly. But roller derby is damn good!

If you're local, check out the Gotham Girls Roller Derby. Next match is June 28 Brooklyn versus Queens.

Of course, my favorite part are the names. Beatrix Slaughter wins my vote, but I also give props to Auntie Christ, Luna Impact, SheRAW, Raggedy Animal and Beyonslay.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Anyone still bothering to read this?

Damn, I wish that was my kitchen.

Sorry for my absence. If you're someone who's actually still making an attempt to read my blog, thank you. I've been grossly distracted by the hunt for real estate. I have the feeling it might be nearly as all-engrossing as preparing for the arrival of a baby. It has turned Major Generalist into Johnny One Note. I make my friends and family endure blow-by-blow descriptions of what I'm seeing. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about apartments. Floorplans dance in my head. Suddenly, my brain feels a lot smaller, and I don't care for it, despite my understanding that I need to soldier on in my search. I'm going to make an attempt to broaden my perspectives again and keep writing while I'm out in the world putting most of my efforts towards house-hunting. (Current count: 8 apartments viewed, none acceptable)

In today's New York Times, there's an article called Start in Neutral about renovating your home in basic colors (white! white! white!) if you have any thoughts of future resale value. Yes! Please take this to heart. I'm fascinated by the "personal touches" I'm seeing in the places I'm looking at. Nothing seems sadder than walking into a fabulous apartment that has been carefully renovated only to open the bathroom door and see brand-new baby blue and purple tiling with an abstract butterfly motif. Visions of me on the weekends with a hammer and chisel in hand to remove the monstrosity override my interest in the place. It's one thing to buy a pre-war apartment for its charm and update its flagging fixtures, but another thing entirely to wholesale destroy newly done work because it's aesthetically unacceptable. I could never live with pastel butterflies in my bathroom, so it would have to go, but it seems a grave shame to have to undo what some aesthetically-challenged owner hath wrought.

And may I complain about bathtubs with sliding doors? Who chooses these things? They're impossible to clean and I whack my head off them all the time as I'm stepping out. (I've had one now for five years, and it's one of my least favorite things on Earth.) I'm seeing so many places with this kind of updated "bath." Are these inexpensive to install or something? And if you rip them out, you have to replace the tub and some of the tiling because it's drilled into the walls and affixed to the tub. I would think that nothing is cheaper than a spring-loaded shower curtain rod. What's the appeal of a shower with doors? Please explain!

OK, I have to get out of here and go look at more places. I'll try to have other things to share very soon. Thank you for reading.