Please Leave Me Alone Unicef

How do I write this blog without coming off as a complete jerk?  This is basically a rant about donor fatigue.  I hadn’t realized June was hit-up-everyone-on-earth month for starving children, uneducated children, children needing Bible studies, mother’s against drunk drivers, mother’s against pedophiles, mother’s against pedophilic drunk drivers, people with cancer, people with MS, people with diabetes, 15 people with an incredibly rare disorder that no one can pronounce,  a foundation that gives free books to poor people, a foundation that gives free shelter to poor people, a foundation that gives free food to poor people, a foundation that gives free manicures and pedicures to poor people.  This month I’ve had four fundraising drives come to my door, three robocalls, not to mention the cashier at the Safeway, the Co-op and Old Navy that asked in front of the attentive ears of people lined up behind me if I wanted to donate.  I felt like an asshole every time I said no.   At this point, I’ve begrudgingly accepted my fate as the lady-who-won’t-donate-to-save-poor-orphans-in-a-country-no-one-has-heard-of-until-it-hit-the-news-last-month.

I do donate.  Not the hearty 10% of our income stipulated by tithe.  We opted to insert money into the kids’ RESP (registered education savings plan) because we don’t want our kids to be a charity case when a Bachelor’s degree costs $1,000,000 in the future.  Also, I bought a really comfy swinging basket chair that someone in India weaved together.  We send a few thousand a year to whatever charity tugs our heart strings or to the fundraising page of one of our family, friends or coworkers that could totally afford to donate their fundraising goal but are blackmailing themselves into running, walking or biking to their ideal weight.   I, infrequently volunteer in my community or for an organization whenever I am called to do so but I volunteer full time raising my children.  Yes, I volunteer.  No one is forced into being a parent – just ask deadbeat moms and dads.  My priorities don’t play well on social media.  LinkedIn tells me future employers more readily hire people who list their volunteerism or ’causes.’  Polishing your brand entails a sheen of non-profit or at least a few stretched contributions in that direction.  Hell, I can play that game too.  I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity for one whole day painting a play house they were auctioning off back in 2002.  I guess that means I now volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  Who’s going to check attendance?

I’m tired of the barrage.  I can’t approach a street corner without some idealistic twenty year old giving me their most toothy grin and expounding on the virtues of goats or water wells or microloans in third world countries.  I can’t go to the grocery store without the cashier plugging for the corporation’s charity of the month.  Even purchasing a $20 soccer ball I am asked by the cashier to fund youth sports for the disadvantaged. Do I give 10% of my purchase price?  20%?  That would be  a lame $4.  Or do I give them $20 because that seems like a half decent donation amount.  That means my soccer ball just cost me $40.  If I keep this up, I won’t be able to afford the new swimsuit I so desperately need.  Should I forget swimming altogether (cause saggy swimsuits with no elastic support are so not cool – you know who you are) so I can give some poor disadvantaged youth the $80 instead?  I’ll get fat and unhealthy but at least I’ll have given some kid the chance to run around in a shiny new jersey instead of running around in a cotton shirt.   Hell, I can’t even get drunk anymore without a guilt trip.  All the outings with friends seem to involve charity balls or a fundraising event that someone scored free tickets.  No one scores free tickets to a fundraiser.  They are handed out like candy and you arrive to not dinner but hors d’oeuvres that run out in the first ten minutes and then you’re paying $15 for a glass of boxed red.  They get everyone liquored up on empty stomachs and suddenly you’re bidding $500 on a Fitbit.  The next morning you feel dirty and used except you didn’t get laid just f**ked.

Having school age children opens up a whole universe of fundraising activities.  They send leaflet after leaflet asking to please sign up for  meat orders, chocolate orders, Christmas plant orders, spring plant orders, coupon books (which I forget to use), book orders, frozen cookie dough orders and any other business scheme that relies entirely on school fundraisers to turn a profit.  I would happily write the school a check that would be equitable to all the money I spend on fundraisers our family is socially pressured to commit.  We’d unfortunately cut out the middle man economy which I suspect employs thousands of people.  When I lost my job and I was attending career transition meetings with similarly forlorn people, the coaches kept telling us uplifting stories of people who had found their true calling in the non profit sector.  I kept thinking it was strange there was a large employment sector for non-profits.  I’m still trying to find a job in the pillage-the-earth for-profit oil and gas industry so I guess I’m the fool.

Now what?  Well, if you’d kindly donate to my blog I can sustain myself on Oreo cookies and Cheetos so I can continue to write these pithy and astute essays.  You can feel oh so good knowing you helped support a starving writer or at least a writer starving for unhealthy snacks.  Or, I can just forego the snacks.  It’s up to you.






What Monopoly Taught Me About Credit Default Swaps

I’m going to admit to a serious character flaw right now.  I am a giant asshole when I play Monopoly.  This devilish alter ego has been the bane of my family, friends and of my husband.   Anyone who has ever played with me has refused to ever play with me again.  Nice people, people who never fly off into dangerous rages, will fly off into dangerous rages while they are playing Monopoly with me.  I have had my hand gouged by fingernails.  My husband has warned people away to whom I have casually suggested a friendly game.   My mother has barely withheld hateful contempt, just short of filicide when she played with me as a tween.

What happens during these delightful games that should draw out the ire of normal, well-adjusted people?  It can only be explained by incomprehensible twists in fortune that foment frustration and unpalatable bitterness in those foolhardy enough to believe real estate, finance, or Monopoly is played by fixed rules.  I do not play by the rules.  The rules are boring.  But, the board with all its lovely little placeholders like Marvin Gardens, St. James Place and the coveted Boardwalk, is an intoxicating tribute to possibilities.  When player A holds the most lucrative triads of colour coded neighbourhoods, and that player is not me, one gets creative to turn the tides in one’s favour.  I go about this in many different ways, but essentially it comes down to wheeling and dealing.  I seek out the weakest player, the poor schmuck that thought utilities and railroads were the best payoff.   And they usually are, for the first 30 minutes in the game, and then the railroad baron realizes he has to mortgage off his railroads to pay his exorbitant lease on Park Avenue that just keeps riding higher with the development boom.  He’s at his wits end, forking over the cash to player A, watching his newly accrued wealth dwindle away.  Then I step in, offer favourable terms to relinquish him of his languishing properties and voila, I suddenly have some very valuable properties onto which I build my real estate empire.  This is all happening under the extreme protestations of player A and there is usually some emphatic gesturing towards the rules written on the back of the box but never underestimate desperation.   Desperation causes the weak to forgo common sense and reasoning.  Desperation is the commodity in which all schemes trade.

Two years ago, my sister and her son were visiting us from Australia.   At the time my son was 6 years old and his cousin was 8 years old.  I had been out, enjoying a walk while my sister was spending quality time with the kids.  Unbeknownst to me, they had started a game of Monopoly.  Upon my return, I walked into the midst of their game.  Immediately, my hackles went up.  A quick scan of the board immediately told me that my son has been ‘helped’ into purchasing the ill fated utilities and railroads.  My nephew was holding a considerable stake in several high end properties and my sister had a respectable holding of mid range properties.  My immediate response was, “NO SON OF MINE LOSES AT MONOPOLY!!!”  Notice the exclamation marks.  This is serious stuff.  I proceeded to sit down, explain the inner mechanisms of mergers to my son and nephew.  Player A protested loudly and mentioned something about teaching children to cheat.  I calmly explained to the children that they could play by the rules OR learn how the real world works by forming an uber powerful real estate/utilities/railroad conglomerate, crush their competition (my sister) and live out the rest of their board game in relative luxury.  My sister was broke and despondent within half an hour of my arrival.  That is how you play Monopoly.

Now, if you spoke with my sister or any of the other people who ever played Monopoly against me, they would argue Monopoly and my creative solutions to winning are not reflected in reality.  I would disagree in three words: credit default swaps.  I won’t go into too much detail here because most of it is elegantly explained in the recent movie release of The Big Short.  And, if you have back issues of Vanity Fair, they covered off most of the characters and concepts for approximately three years following the financial meltdown in 2008.  But, I will break it down to this:  banks were offering mortgages to people who did not understand they were only paying the interest + teeny tiny amounts on the principal (or none at all on the principal) on mortgages with teaser rates that would go up, up, up once the initial contracts came up for renewal. This meant lots of people who didn’t understand percentile math defaulted on mortgages.  The shit mortgages were bundled up, given triple A ratings, i.e. these are great investments! and sold to other banks.  Which meant one day, when all the frenzy in real estate died down and the first wave of mortgage defaults arrived, the value of the bundles would dive.  Some smart people wanted to short the value of the bundles.  Shorting is when you bet the value of something will go down.  But, there wasn’t a mechanism in place to short the shitty bundles of mortgages.  So someone who played a lot of Monopoly as a child decided to create credit default swaps.  They conceived it and made it and the world came to their knees.  That is how you play.