Monday, October 31, 2016

Betting on the Ponies

He said, "It will cost thirty euros a year."

I was examining the documentation I had printed off the internet while in a friend's kitchen. "That's without BTW. The actual price is 36 Euros a year."

My friend sighed. "When investment funds come knocking, it means they need money."

"So," I began to calculate, "If I deposited 650 Euros into a fund account, that is supposed to make a return of 5.42 % in a year, their mega dream publicity, then I will supposedly just maybe make most of the 35 Euros to cover the annual charge to manage the funds, and okay I realize that calculating the acruement of the money is more complex than what I simply defacto added up for a 12 month period. I mean I'd need to throw in a r and an n and a plus plus and some parentheses, a line and an x take it to the 2.  Back to basics: I can take money out or deposit money in and it will cost me 0.20% or is that 20 cents on the euro? So in fact to deposit 650 Euros I will have to actually deposit more likely 780 and then 36 Euros charge to manage my money? A deposit of 650 Euro will most likely cost me 816 Euro for the potential to earn 5.42% on 650, then watch it sink and float around the ocean of hypotheticharts? Do people sign on the line in astonishment after a weak cup of coffee and a near two hour waste of their time in a cell used by the banking investment specialists, for all the good intentions of the deficient in a few areas investors?"

My friend sighed, "Why are you considering this?"

"I am not considering this, I am merely curious about this phenomena." I went back to my calculations, after all the bank employee had suggested it, like I knew he would, when I specifically asked about another pension plan.

He said, "You can withdraw money anytime, but it will take two days to clear."

Ah, but he did not say I would not get 100% of the withdrawal, no, I was perhaps reading that I would get 80 cents per euro. "This is how they chip away at deposits. It seems to me that one is guaranteed to lose money."  I said to my friend. She shrugged as she stirred the pan on the stove. The man had indicated to me that a loss on 10,000 Euros, since I had asked about the challenge of financial devastation, would render the deposit to something like oh say 9,860 and then so on down the line, a slow bleed, so when do you want to take your money out, 80 cents on the euro, a quarter more or less of 36 Euros, and make a run for the hills?

My friend sighed. "Buy a lottery ticket."

Ponies. I had a friend once who regularly bet on the ponies.  I asked her if I gave her 20 dollars, would she place a bet for me?  She eyed me suspiciously.  We eyed each other suspiciously. I mean who was being honest?  She could place the bet on any pony and tell me I'd either won or lost.  She might pocket my money, all the winnings, she might be on the straight, she didn't want the responsibility of me gambling, losing or winning, she might want a percentage for the work.  She said I should come with her one day and place my own bet, which was the best answer.  I never did, too chicken, but a bank has the back up of well designed folders with diagrams, and small print about liability.

He said, "For 400 Euro, we will examine and select the best portfolio mix for you."

Instantly I imagined what that would be: A short look at my bank account statements and then the subsequent printing out of package 6D forms for the single middle aged lady. I mean, who are they kidding?  Something special for me? I looked over the information from the internet. It looked graphy, pie-y and official, it had the name of the investment manager on it, real personal.

Last year I followed some classes on Coursera on investments and it was plainly stated by the nice professor at Harvard that the only people who really do well with investments are institutions with big budgets and plenty, a mountain range, of dimes to spare. What next?  Well, next week I'll go back to the bank to look at mortgages their way. This should be most entertaining.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

All You Need to Know About Dialysis

Ah, the bank! I was waiting, I stood, for someone to come and collect me from downstairs and propel me upstairs to talk about Matters. An elderly gentleman with thin ankles, and a crooked face sat on the sleek grey couch. The couch faced a television screen that explained the name of the bank on the flat surface. The couch faced away from the view of the Dam, a place tourists pay money to visit.  Outside a mechanical organ chirped, boomed and clacked out popular songs.  The staff of the bank hid, whispering, in a corner away from the windows.

“I have a bad back,” said the old man in a shapeless beige jacket. “I just have to sit down.” He said this to virtually no-one.  His not shaven in two days chin looked up and around for someone to address.

Exactly, such a company policy of making the bank feel a second home should invite lonely senior citizens to come in and have a cup of coffee and a chat.

The old man was served a cup of coffee.  Milk and sugar, please.  The slender bank employee was accosted by stories of what the doctor said, and what ailments were under treatment.

Exactly, no potential customer would be turned away. Come on in and have a hot drink, and specifically a conversation about medical advice and complications and there you go, away you go from the bank feeling so much better.

Later I was led upstairs in airless cubical.  I came out none the wiser, come back in a few days.  I began to sense that perhaps I should have come for an oracle reading.

I keep thinking, by next week I will be put together: getting a haircut, this support hose comes off my left leg, a facial, the rest of my moustache permanently removed, excel sheets filled out, banking issues tackled, bills paid….You know the race after the falling apartness of ageing, and maintaining some level of attractiveness so that the nurses at the old folks home will want to peel me an apple because I don’t have goat hair growing on my chin.

While I was waiting for a soothsayer, I noticed that the bank was promoting the sale of a bed. There was certainly enough space to display a double bed, staff had been significantly reduced and reduced some more, counters to take business no longer existed, three computers meant for emergency internet banking faced the touristic view with no one behind them.  I examined the bed, half hearing the drone about dialysis next to me, it could be anyone’s bed for around 2,100 Euros.  Had the bank taken over this particular brand of exclusive sleeping facilities?  I wondered who wandered into a bank to buy a bed.

But then seriously, as there was nothing else to buy, I began to consider purchasing a bed. Not for me, I don’t need a bed, but for some space that needed a bed. Say, a room, someplace. I began to imagine the people who would sleep in such a bed and the mess they would make throwing their clothes around the bank floor and over needless chairs placed here and there for effect.  The headboard, an upholstered rectangle, was sold as “Dublin.” I began to imagine the designer assigned the task of inventing headboards to go with various European cities.  The headboard looked the color of “oatmeal” which is the name used to sell expensive and unexciting carpet. Why was Oatmeal “Dublin”? It could be anything, I decided firmly and went through my banking list again in my brain, remember three things I slowly inhaled: Transfusion, New Hips, and an Eye Exam.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Minus the Contempt

I  really couldn’t blame them, the housing market is booming in Amsterdam. They put the apartment up for sale, people went crazy for it, bid after bid, they upped the price 20% and launched it on the market for the second time.

“You know how it works now, don’t you?” a player in the field asked me, as if after two years I wasn’t clued in.

Normally you need to bid 20% above the asking price, sort of sneaky on the sly and act as if you’ve gotten away with something. The couple had merely short circuited the whole affair, jacked the price up, and said, “This is it. You pay it, you got it.”

No, really I couldn’t blame them. I stood on the parquet floor. It looked nice. “We really don’t need to sell.” They said, “We get a great rental price, what with our mortgage.”

“I really am in no rush to buy,” I said.  “I won’t come under my rent when I buy, with all the costs added up.”

We stood on the parquet floor.  It looked very nice.  The building was solid and built in 1912, with a grand entrance.  No doubt about it, I liked it. Two good radiators I noted, the old fashioned kind.

As I had been wandering around the Ex Pat Fair early this month, I stopped asked about a mortgage at one of the stands manned by a bank. The young man looked at me with contempt.  “When you’ve gotten so far,” he sneered, “we can make an appointment.”

I looked at the couple selling the apartment.  If it had been a better price, I would have bought it. The bathroom would need to be redone within five years and so would have the kitchen but I really didn’t blame them for really being, well, honest and then not honest.  I mean I could read the euro signs in their eyes, but not the contempt of the mortgage man.

What I would like most is to have a non-slimy conversation with someone about a mortgage, I mean I don’t expect to be friends, but just a decent conversation with the object of buying 35 square meters. It seems the whole affair is one louche, grubby exercise to get away with something as if a roof over one’s head is a type of extramarital affair.

I wondered about the matter for a few days after visiting the apartment. Who do I know, I mused, who owns property in the center of Amsterdam and needs to take a loss on an investment for the benefit of their tax return?

“What happens if you win?” A friend asked me, as I relayed my doubts.

I had no idea, I had never bought a lottery ticket before in my life. But I was thinking about buying the postcode lottery.

“I paid in every week, fifteen smackers, sometimes I won thirty, hundred.” Playing the numbers.  I didn’t feel like paying out for my lucky numbers on a weekly basis.

“If my husband hears me coming through the front door making a lot of noise, he always gets suspicious.” She explained, “He calls out, what have you picked up now? Emphasis on now, of course.” That would be on the nights before the weekly garbage pick-up.

“Have you heard about TofVuil?” A different friend asked, “It’s when you spot a great item on the street, take it home, give it a brush over and show the before and after shots on FB.”  Yeah well, that one is a no brainer. The question is: where to put it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Obligatory Leopard Print

For those of you who have pets, you will understand what I am talking about. You’re standing in front of a display of pet beds at the pet store, and the fabric choices are horrendous or you are contemplating some diverting object which is insanely lumpy and dopy looking.  This doesn’t bother your four footed friend, he or she takes to the paw print bed like a fish to water and is instantly intrigued by the feathered wobbly snake with the zebra pattern.  It’s as if they know, once you bring the object home, it’s for them.  It’s perfectly marketed.  I sometimes wonder how the product people know this and how they test their products and with what assortment of animal testers, perhaps “Boomer,” “Socrates” and “Little Timmie.”  I honestly believe my cat, Brunhilde, would take just as easily to a bed made of warm fleece fabric which is not leopard print, but say, a demure lilac print, think Liberty Print or a wine colored William Morris concoction that would blend in with my living room furnishings, as she takes to paw print.  Maybe Liberty can develop a lovely pet bed, warm and state of the art fabrics that is also a wash or wipe down item for those unhappy cleansing of digestive track in bed moments.  Your snoozing pets would become honest, incorporated furnishings. Your friends would walk into your home and think, “What a lovely décor, the peach and sage on beige theme is soft and comforting, and the orange tabby looks just perfect on his tame tangerine, gold and black twisted piped laminated cat bedding on the radiator.”  By the way Liberty print dog beds do exist, but they don't look liquid-proof.

At times bicycle racks make me feel like a domesticated pet.  It’s as if the bike rack says, “Here I am, useful and perfect to hold your bicycle.  You have no choice, I am it.  Apply me immediately.” Bicycle racks are generally very unattractive and not very practical, I mean really; it’s hard to scoot you and your bike under a two tiered rack, and I am short, and it’s impossible to set the bike on the upper rack, because I am too short.  Then there are the ones that barely have any space to squeeze in a set your bike in the row, even if you didn’t have a basket on the front. I was contemplating bike racks again while in the metro this week. In the metro hooks are available to stabilize a bike.  Why can’t people just set up these hooks in public places instead of the dysfunctional bike racks?  A lovely statue of something, abstract or dictator, with hooks in diverse spots for bikes. An art hub for bikes.

We are all conditioned to accept certain realities, but what if reality is altered?  Last month I tried to sign in for a social event in Amsterdam, and found out I was too late. I was informed of the next opportunity by the organization. Normally I would not have been very taken with the idea, and, to be honest, it was the location of the event that caught my attention. I had been in the building once on Open Monument Day and few possibilities existed that would welcome me back through the front doors.  To whit, the building is just a block or two away from me and I pass it often. I inspected the invitation, a bit pricey, but it included dinner and a speech.  I decided, come hell or high water, I wanted to dine in the illustrious building and be a fly on the wall. I found myself seated at a table with a high level corporate in charge.  On the paper explaining who was present I was listed as “soprano” and therefore made up the artistic section of the entire event. I was the odd woman out, the event was for female business professionals, and I was not entirely pleased to be listed as “soprano” but never mind, it was an ice-breaker type of introduction to all the other activities I undertake.

I liked the corporate woman in charge of leading our table, she was the hardnosed and driven type who didn’t desire begging artists next to her at a dining table. I was sitting next to her (note: I had purposely loitered across the room waiting for my table to fill and took the last seat) and when she talked to me her eyelids fluttered nervously. I surreptitiously took over her job of leading the table discussion, just to make her relax a little.  I enjoy the corporate world, I work part time in it, and I find it a comfortable fit. Who would have known?  After all I was raised in, and for the most part of my life rotated around a world very far from global or multinational concerns.  A week later, after mulling it over, I made a decision to join this league of women, perhaps I am warming up to the high necked leopard print that comes with the territory.