Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Bad Economic News

I have been attempting to refrain from reading stories about our failing economy. I look at the headlines and that is as far as I go. I’ve been doing fairly well in just sticking with reading the sport page, the comics and doing the puzzles.

Now I am being attacked on another front; my email. Last week I received 3 emails (plus their follow up RE: messages) concerning the economic downturn.

The first came from a friend that lives in the Washington D.C. area. It consisted of several links to news articles about our economy. I thanked him and replied “Just what I needed to read”. I’m sure that he detected my sarcasm.

The second was from an old Army buddy that resides in Florida. It was about foreclosures and that they are up 121% (more than double) from a year ago. He did a bit research and found that Lee County (Fort Myers – Cape Coral) led the pack in Florida foreclosures with one out of 79 properties going into foreclosure during the past year. His source was

I did a little research of my own and found that there were more than 150 properties in the greater Fort Myers area for sale between $75, 000 and $100,000. Many of them were short sale (read about Short Sales here) properties subject to the lenders approval. There were also many pending foreclosures that will hopefully be avoided if President Bush signs the Housing bill passed by the House and Senate earlier this week.

Last, but not lease, was an email from a former co-worker. It concerned restaurant closings in Florida, particularly in the Tampa Bay area. We had been talking about this subject, on the phone, just three weeks ago when he told me that business was substantially down at my former place of employment. In 2000 we had more sales on Friday and Saturday nights alone than it now does for the entire week.

Many small restaurant businesses that have been marginal for the past few years are closing. Plus, now some of the chains are closing down their less profitable units. More unemployment for people that work in the service industry is on the horizon.

As I have said in the past, the hospitality industry contributes more to the economy than it is given credit. This is bad news for all of us.

The Beach Bum

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This Bud's For You

When I was a teen I knew a lot of guys named Edward. Most of them went by the diminutive name Eddie. In my coterie of friends in High School there were three Eddies. Sometimes this was confusing because when we were talking about one of them some one would invariably ask “which Eddie”.

Therefore we gave them all nicknames. First there was “Fast” Eddie. Fast Eddie got his nickname not because he hustled pool but because he was a sprinter on the High School track team. He was fast.

Then there was “Easy Eddie” who got his nickname because of his gullibility, you could tell him just about anything and he would believe you. He always believed that we gave him that nickname because he was laid back.

Finally there was “Slow Eddie”. At first we called him “Fat Eddie” because he was 5’10” and weight 225 pounds. I think that we later changed it from Fat to Slow out of respect for Eddie. Or maybe it was because he threatened to sit on us if we didn’t change it.

Slow Eddie was indeed a character that I will never forget. He was a star offensive lineman on our football team. He could have been a great running back (because he was hard to tackle and take down), but he was too slow. I never saw him eating a lot, so one day I asked him how he put on so much weight. He said that he drank three malted milk shakes per night and chased them down with three quarts of Budweiser. This was at age 16.

In 1994 I was sitting in my favorite bar in Berwyn, Illinois, when in walks this big guy that resembled Bluto from the Popeye cartoons. He sits next to me, orders a Budweiser draft and asks me if I remember him. My mind goes blank, but I say, yeah you look familiar. He sez, “I’m Slow, Slow Eddie from High School”. Wow, he had gained a few more inches, grew a beard and added another 100 pounds.

He asked me if I lived in Berwyn and I told him no; that I was just visiting my sister as I do every year. We rehashed our life stories from the past 30 years. Slow then told me that he was a construction electrician and a union shop steward. He made more than $40 per hour stringing wire through conduit in new buildings and there was plenty of overtime available.

Every year since that chance meeting, we meet in a bar when I come to Chicago to visit my family and friends. I usually call him the week before I arrive and set up a date for our annual reunion. Since I was not going this year, I didn’t make the call.

Last week, Slow Eddie called me. “When the Hell are you comin’ out”? We talked about my health problems for a while and then he dropped the big one on me. After more than 45 years, he quit drinking Budweiser. I queried, why? He told me that it was no longer an American Beer. Busch sold out to some European conglomerate. Being in a Union for all of his adult life, Eddie only buys goods that are made in the United States from Companies owned by Americans. Sometimes this is a hard thing to do.

I promised to call more often and told him “good luck and stick to your guns”. John Wayne would be proud of “Slow Eddie”.

The Beach Bum

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eating Out in Greece

One of my old Army buddies returned from a trip to Europe last week. During the past three years he has made several 6 to 8 week trips to Asia. This is the first time that I can recall him going to Europe.

In his email he said that the trip was OK but not a great trip. He writes “Europe is kind of expensive to start with, but with the dollar down so much against the euro it gets almost ridiculous at times. There's like a 60% tax on everything just because you're American. Greece was particularly bad. Now this morning I see U.S. prices are up by the largest amount in 26 years.”

I have been to Greece twice. One time for 1 day and the second time for two days. Both were layovers on my flights to and from Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea, Ethiopia.
On my first trip I did all of the normal tourist things that you could do in one day. I visited the Acropolis, bought souvenirs for my family, took two rolls of slides and ate in a restaurant across from Constitution Square (The food that I had eaten at the Greek Islands Restaurant on Halsted St. in Chicago was better and a lot less expensive).

On my return trip I had the good fortune to be seated next to a gentleman who was attached to the Diplomatic Corps at the US Embassy in Athens. He had just spent three weeks at the American Consulate in Asmara. He spoke several languages including Greek. Being that I was in the Army Intelligence Service (AIS not MI), I knew better than to ask him what he was doing in Asmara.

He asked where I would be staying and I told him the Niki Hotel on Nikis Street in Athens. He told me that he knew where it was and that it was a nice small hotel. He asked me if I wanted to partake in some Athens nightlife and I said sure. He said he would meet me in the Hotel Lobby at 1930 hours.

The Hotel Niki was just a few blocks away from Constitution Square and not far from the Acropolis. They had put me in the penthouse. The bathroom was larger than the entire room that I had been in the last time that I was in Athens. Plus I had a private stairwell leading to a rooftop patio.

When my new friend arrived, I told him that I needed to eat and suggested that we walk to one of the nearby restaurants across from the Square. He asked me if I was crazy. First, he said, those restaurants carry menus in several different languages with varying prices according to language. The French was the most expensive, followed by the English and the least expensive was the Greek. But better yet, he would take me to a local Taverna.

The Taverna was less than a mile away, so we walked. He told me several interesting facts about Athens and Greece. When we arrived at the Taverna it was virtually deserted, we seated ourselves and were given small cardboard menus (in Greek). My friend asked me what kind of food was I interested in eating. I said anything local. He suggested the mixed grill. I said OK.

The mixed grill was a combination of raw organ meats and lamb chunks. It was served with a fondue pot full of hot olive oil and several skewers. It was very tasty. It came with broasted seasoned potatoes and a bowl of lemon chicken soup.

By the time we were finished eating, the Taverna started to fill up with locals. We decided to move on to a bar which we had passed along the way to the Taverna. The entire bill for two dinners was just slightly more than what I paid for my dinner on my previous trip to Athens.

The bar we went to had an outdoor patio. Inside there was a three piece string band playing Greek music, we sat outside. We both ordered Fix Beer and a small bottle (I think 300ml) of Ouzo. By midnight we had had about 5 beers each and were sharing a second bottle of Ouzo. Men were outside, on the patio, dancing to the music, in a circle with arms on one another’s shoulders. One of the men spoke English and asked me if I would care to try to dance. Egged on by my friend, I reluctantly joined in. It was a lot of fun.

Since my friend had paid for dinner, I insisted on paying the Bar Bill. It was less than US$12 (in 1968). The next day I paid dearly with one of the worse hangovers that I had ever encountered.

Several years later I ran into my friend again, this time in the Executive Dining Room at No Such Agency. He was a Major in the Air Force. I thanked him again for showing me such a great time in Athens.

The Beach Bum

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good News Weekly

For 25 years of my life I lived in a community (actually it was a City) 9 miles southwest of Annapolis, Maryland. When I first moved there in 1973 the population was about 5,000 (it is now over 20,000). The main community was build around a championship Golf Course and Country Club. Across the street from the Country Club was the Village Green. The Green had a Bank, a Barber Shop, a Doctor’s Office, a Deli, several offices, several small shops and a Restaurant, Bar and Liquor Store combination.

One of the Village Green offices housed the local Newspaper. It was a weekly that came out on Thursday and was delivered for free to all residents. The paper was mostly advertisements but there was a good amount of community news and listings of local area events in nearby towns and cities.

The greatest thing about this newspaper is that it was all good news. No stories about the gas crunch of 1973-74, no national or state news (unless it had a direct bearing on the community) and no political bullshit. The publisher knew that we could get all that news from the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun or Evening Capitol (Annapolis).

I’m sure that there are thousands of local newspapers throughout the United States that use this same format. Most of them print only the good news.

Yesterday I started thinking (which is a dangerous thing for me to do), why don’t we have a Weekly National Newspaper that prints only “good news”. They could call it the Good News Weekly.

I sure that there are many people, like me, that are tired of reading all the bad and depressing news that appears in our daily newspapers. If there is a “good news” story, it is sandwiched between Ads and tucked away on page 18 before you get to the OP/ED section. Worse than that, it appears on the Obit Page (here’s the good news before you read the bad news).

And as Forrest Gump would say; “That’s all I have to say about that”.

The Beach Bum


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Baseball Tonight

Usually at this time of year (for many years) I am in the Chicago area visiting with family and friends. Unfortunately, because of health problems, I am still here in Florida.

If I were there, tonight I would be sitting in a neighborhood Sports Bar with a bunch of friends. We would be watching the Major League Baseball All-Star game as we have for many years.

Actually, in the past, we had hardly watched the game. We spent most of our time shooting the bull and reminiscing about our glory days. We’d glance up at one of the many televisions that were tuned into the game to see what was happening, especially if one of our favorite hitters was up to bat. The All-Star Game (although we are all baseball/Cubs fans) was not the reason that we were there at the bar. We were primarily there to renew friendships and get pleasantly intoxicated.

However this year it is a different ball of wax. More eyes will be focused on the TV screens than ever before. Why? Probably because I will not be there, but more than likely because there are 8 Chicago Cubs on the All-Star team this year. Eight years ago the Cubs only All-Star was Joe Girardi, who is currently the manager of the New York Yankees.

The other reason that this game is important is that the winner decides home field advantage for the World Series. In past years this wasn’t too important to Cubs fans, there was no way that they were going to the “Big Show”. But this year is a different story because the Cubs stand a good chance of going to the series this year. The way that the Cubs have been playing at Wrigley Field (37-12 .755) this year, the home field advantage would give them a great shot at winning their first World Series in 100 years.

I’ll be watching the game at home tonight, getting pleasantly intoxicated and cheering for the National League.

The Beach Bum

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Private Dancers

Last week there was an article in the Tampa Tribune about people tightening their belts in the wake of the slumping economy and rising gas prices. What a revelation! It seems that there are more and more stories about gas prices and our ailing economy. I guess that it is for real and not just my imagination.

The interesting thing about this article was that it covered a sector of the local Tampa economy that is usually not written about in the sense that it is an integral part of the local economy. Yes, they were writing about the Adult Entertainment Industry. In particular, the Strip Clubs in Tampa.

The staff writer interviewed several dancers and club managers. The bottom line is that business is worse than it has ever been. The businessmen (suits) rarely come in to the clubs during the afternoons as they had in the past. These were the best spenders and tippers. Night-time business has also dropped off significantly. The Clubs are still making money but the dancers who work for free (or even kick back to the Club) are no longer making the money that they did a year ago.

Two of the dancers that were interviewed (surprisingly they allowed the paper to print their full names – dancers usually work under an alias) both said the same thing; it’s not like the good old days when they were making more than $2000 per week. They both are now dancing more hours for less money.

The one dancer had just returned to the business after taking a few years off to attend school (in hopes of getting out of the business and getting a Real Job – “you can’t dance forever”). She found that even with the bad times she was making more money than she would be making working a 40 hour a week job. She couldn’t live off of what a Real Job paid.

This is a form of becoming institutionalized.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I had several servers and bartenders that were still attending college. They worked 3 to 4 night per week during the school year and up to 5 nights a week during the summer break. When they graduated I would throw a farewell party for them. However most of them returned after a few months out in the Real World. Some decided to go back to college to seek an advanced degree and once again became 3 to 4 nights a week employees. Others just worked on the weekends to supplement their income.

At one point in 1983 or 1984 the average education level of my servers was 14.7 years and bartenders were higher than that (my weekend service bartender had his Masters Degree and was teaching High School).

The most classic institutionalization story that I tell is about a girl that I will call Laurie (because that is her name). She was a Legacy! Both her older brother and sister had worked for me in the past.

Laurie began working for me when she was 16 years old as a bus person (we called them busboys and busgirls back then). When she was 17 years old she went off to college but still worked for me on the weekends. At 18 she became a server; one of my best. At 19 she began working 4 nights per week and was still making the Dean’s List at the University of Maryland.

By the time she was twenty she had a new car and was living off campus with a roommate. She graduated at 21 and started to look for a job, most entry level positions were paying a lot less than she was making working 26-28 hours a week waiting tables. She now had a car payment plus rent and couldn’t afford to take that deep of a cut in net income.

Laurie wanted to become a bartender and she asked me if I would teach her how to bartend. I agree but told her that I did not foresee a bar tending position opening in the near future. After I thought that she was sufficiently trained, I call a friend who was the head bartender at a College bar within waking distance of the University of Maryland. He told me to send her in and he would see what he could do. She started work 3 days later. This was in the summer and the tips were not as good as she was making as a server, but she made enough to get by.

When she was 22 years old she went back to school part-time and at 26 she had her Masters Degree. She again tested the job market and found that the disparity in net income was even greater than before. That same year she married, my friend, the Bar Manager. They had a net combined weekly income nearing $2500 (1986). Two years later they bought a bar not far from where they had worked.

After four years of just squeaking by they sold the bar. Her husband went to work in a Southwest D.C. restaurant and nightclub making close to $2000 in tips for three days of work. Laurie applied to Law school and was accepted. She passed the Bar Exam on her first attempt. She was now 36 years old and after 20 years she finally got out of the business and took a Real Job.

The Beach Bum

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Apple Pie Vs Boobs

Many years ago my High School Civics teacher wrote a quote on the chalkboard. He told us to write it in our notebooks and to never forget it. He attributed the quote to Francois Marie Arouet. Arouet was a French writer, essayist and philosopher better know by his pen name Voltaire.

The quote is “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Voltaire strongly believed in civil liberties and is often quoted on this subject. At a college level you will find that Voltaire never wrote this exact quote, but other quotes that were similar.

The framers of the United States Constitution must have had this quote in mind when they wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution. As they were, I too am a firm believer in our First Amendment rights.

There is a Law Firm here in Florida that specializes in Freedom of Speech cases: Weston, Garrou, Walters and Mooney.

Lawrence Walters is currently working on a case concerning internet pornography. The operator of the pornographic Web Site is being charged with obscenity.

There are probably many other such cases on this subject currently in our court systems. What makes this case unique is Attorney Walters’ approach to the defense of his client. He is using “Google Trends” as part of his defense. Walters is arguing that "the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm."

He is using the Google Trends search terms surfing, apple pie, orgy and boobs. Boobs are a clear cut winner except during the Holiday season when Apple Pie soars above Boobs. I went to check it out but instead of boobs and orgy, I use tits and pussy. The results show a greater disparity between the wholesome and obscene searches. Pussy even beat out Apple Pie during the Holiday Season. I guess that more men are searching for pussy because their wives or girlfriends are busy baking apple pies.

This morning I did a little research on this Blog using my Stat Counter. The two most popular entry pages to The Beach Bum Report are one (from December 2006) that is titled Haulover Beach and a Blog that I wrote this past January titled Velvet Underground.

The search terms used to reach the Haulover Beach Blog vary but they all have the words Haulover Beach in them. On the other hand all of the visitors that go to the VU Blog come from a Google image search for hookers (I posted a picture on that Blog titled hookers.jpg).

Perhaps I should write a Blog about Surfing and Apple Pie just to see how popular they are to people that search on Google.

In the meantime, a tip of my hat goes out to Lawrence Walters; who may not approve of what I say, but he will defend my right to say it.

The Beach Bum

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Roll Out The Barrel (of Oil)

Senator John Warner (R-VA) suggested last Thursday that Congress might want to consider re-imposing a national speed limit to save gasoline and possibly ease fuel prices. He cites studies from the 1974 lowering of the national speed limit to 55 MPH.

Wake up Senator Warner, or are you still daydreaming about being married to Elizabeth Taylor. Or perhaps you are falling asleep during your briefings, as Ronald Reagan did during Cabinet Meetings.

It’s not that I think that lowering the speed limit back down to 55 MPH is a bad idea; it’s a great idea that would probably save many lives per year. But Senator Warner’s reasoning is askew. Less gas usage will not bring lower prices at the pump. Yes, it will save most consumers money, but it will not lower prices.

Let’s look at the Gas Crisis of 1973-74.

It started when the Arab oil producing countries decided not to sell their oil to any country that supported Israel. Pure and simple extortion!

At that time, US Petroleum Company’s were buying a good portion of the oil that they refined from the Arabs and stockpiling the oil that was produced nationally. The Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the stockpiled oil could not be sold at a price higher than what it was worth at the time the crisis began. Only newly drilled oil could be sold at a higher price.

Here’s what happened.

Our Oil Companies caused an artificial shortage, by withholding their stockpiles, to make more profits, subsequently lowering the Supply to fall under the Demand. Therefore prices rose as supplies fell and caused long lines at gas stations.

This time (2006-2008) it is not a Supply and Demand issue. You can save the wasting of Gas all you want, but these prices are not going down because of oil conservation. I am not saying that conservation is a bad idea; I believe that we should all conserve our finite resources and leave some for our grandchildren.

Is there a solution? The G-8 is meeting in Japan to decide what steps to take to curb the rising cost of oil, among other things. I read that they had a great dinner last night (they are 11 hours ahead of EDT). I wonder what they will have for breakfast in a few hours.

The solution should be simple. Except for oil the Arabs have very few natural resources and very little agricultural products. All the countries that supply them with imports should raise the prices on these items by a factor of ten and promise to lower them down to a more reasonable rate when the price of oil drops. If that doesn’t work raise the prices again. Pure and simple counter-extortion!

The Beach Bum

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

On The Dark Side

In the early 1980’s, a friend in Chicago told me that I had a Gary Larson sense of humor. I asked if Larson was a new comedian and she replied “No, he’s a cartoonist”. I asked the name of the strip and she told me “The Far Side”. I had never heard of the strip because I was a reader of the other Chicago daily newspaper.

I soon became an avid fan of the “Far Side”. Larson’s humor was on the “Dark Side” (Black Comedy). When I moved back to Maryland a year later, I was overjoyed to find that the Washington Post carried "The Far Side” on their comics’ page. I would clip them out and post them on the bulletin board at work. Occasional other employees would ask me if I understood what Larson was saying. And most of the time I did.

The other day a friend sent a link to an on-line Sense of Humor Quiz. I usually don’t go to these sites because they require you to put in an email address for your results and afterwards you get bombarded with a flurry of spam. This site was different. It only asked 10 multiple choice questions and was a very quick quiz to take. After you finish your results are there immediately.

I answered all of the questions honestly as they have no way of knowing who I am. The results which follow didn’t surprise me one bit.

Who says Goths don't have a sense of humor? Goth or not, you certainly seem to appreciate the dark side of life, and it shows in your sense of humor. You might like dark (or black) comedy, because it pokes fun at our fears and anxieties. Life can be scary, and a lot of people try to avoid thinking about things like violence, death and disease. But not you. You look fear in the face and laugh. This can be a little disturbing to people who don't find the macabre very funny, but cracking jokes can be a harmless way to deal with harmful things. So, turn off the lights, put on that creepy Tim Burton movie and enjoy.

The Beach Bum


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bad News - Good News

This morning I read a good article, written by Bob Willis, about the Economy, on

Once you get past the Mumbo Jumbo that the quoted “economic experts” were saying, it is a very informative, but frightening, article. You have to read between the lines with most economists (notable exceptions were Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson).

The article’s headline read: U.S. Loses 62,000 Jobs (in June), Jobless Rate Holds at 5.5%.

Bad news and then Good news! But is it really true?

The gains in employment mainly came from returning UAW Strikers and the Federal Government hiring practices. This does not take away from the fact that 62,000 people that had jobs, no longer have them.

And now a word from the Federal Reserve Bank:

“Tight credit conditions, the ongoing housing contraction, and the rise in energy prices are likely to weigh on economic growth over the next few quarters, Fed policy makers said last week, when they kept their benchmark rate at 2 percent. Central bankers had also signaled that inflation was an increased risk.”

What is inflation? Basically, it is the rise in the cost of goods and services without the increase of wages. Some economist believe that a rise in the money supply will also cause inflation (they cite Nazi Germany in the 1940’s where one had to carry a wheelbarrow full of money to go shopping for non-existent goods), but I do not adhere to this theory.

Our current inflation is being caused by two things. One is the price of oil and two the outrageous government expenditures on the War in Iraq (Middle East). And Congress just voted for greater expenditures to fight Bush’s “War on Terrorism”.

But as I have said before we are in a recession and heading into a depression. All the indicators are there. A recession is basically a slow down in consumer spending coupled with a high unemployment rate. It is all based on disposal income. When you barely have enough money to pay your bills, the logical thing to do is to not spend it on extras. With gas prices being the way that they are currently or rising, I don’t see things getting any better.

What does $4 per gallon of Gas mean to the average working stiff? It means at least $150 per month less in their disposable income. Plus they are now paying more for the food that they buy at the Grocery store. At this point they are digging into their savings, if any, just to keep afloat and to pay their bills. No extras.

Is there a solution? Not as I see it. But I have always looked at the glass as being half full.

The Beach Bum

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