Black Coffee: Up-and-Coming Undertakers and Ungrateful Takers

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

The West is on fire this weekend, especially in my neck of the woods. Depending on where you live in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, the temperatures range from 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) along the coast to 113 inland.

Down by the Colorado River, in Needles, California, it’s even hotter; the weatherman is promising that the mercury will top out at 123 degrees today.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s forecast for Death Valley is 129. Whew!

Yes, it’s a dry heat. Thank God.

Oh, and in case   you’re wondering, Death Valley holds the record for the hottest recorded temperature on Earth: 134 degrees on July 10, 1913.

Hey, summer is just getting started. That dubious record still has a good chance of falling this year.

OK, on we go …

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From April 2011:

It Could be Worse: 9 Everyday Items More Expensive than Gasoline – Why do people complain about fuel prices? Heck, if Starbucks priced their caramel macchiatos like Exxon prices gasoline, they’d cost $24.799 per gallon.

And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy

MonevatorWorking for a Living: You Don’t Have to Go Nuclear

Darwin’s Money5 Foolish Things Americans Believe About Money and Investing

Free from Broke College Savings or Retirement Savings — Which Should I Save for First?

Oblivious InvestorIs Your Allocation a Good Fit for Your Risk Tolerance?

Wealth PilgrimTake Advantage of Low Interest Rates with a Charitable Lead Trust

Special Note: Google Reader Is Being Discontinued

On July 1st, Google Reader will be officially discontinued — so if you use it as your RSS feed, you’ll have to switch over to another service, such as Feedly.

Credits and Debits

Debit: Despite Friday’s upswing, gold, silver and copper prices plunged this quarter. Especially troubling is copper’s continued divergence from stocks and, now, increasing general market volatility. All of these indicators are warning us that an ill-wind blows. Is something big coming our way? I think so, but only time will tell.

Credit: Did you see this? A Virginia funeral home is now offering a drive-thru viewing window. I know. One clever commenter suggested that the new service be called “Grieve and Go.” Heh.

Credit: Virginia isn’t the first state to have a drive-through funeral parlor; California has had one for awhile now. The viewing window at the California mortuary happens to be bullet proof, although I’m not sure why. You only die once.

Credit: The Virginia mortician might have copied his idea for the drive-thru window, but he has a few cutting-edge funeral products of his own. For example, he offers mourning family members rings, pendants and other jewelry that feature the fingerprints of their expired loved ones.

Credit: Whether or not you believe those new products are tasteful, I think everyone can agree that innovation in the funeral industry is far from, well … dead.

Debit: Speaking of the dead, it may be four years since the Great Recession came to a merciful end, but the US economy still barely fogs a mirror. The government revised its first-quarter GDP growth rate from a paltry 2.4% to an even more anemic 1.8% — and that’s following barely-breathing growth of just 0.4% during the last quarter of 2012.

Debit: The drop was due to lower personal consumption expenditures than initially forecast — and that may end up being just the excuse the Fed is looking for to continue their money printing campaign that’s responsible for the latest stock market bubble.

Debit: Meanwhile, a recent survey found that 76% of all Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck. Of those, slightly more than one in four have no savings at all. Wow.

Debit: Ironically, those poor people without any savings at all are essentially earning the same amount of interest as the 50% of Americans who have squirreled away at least three month’s of emergency expenses in a savings account.

Debit: Unlike savings rates, mortgage interest rates are skyrocketing, which can’t be good news for the housing market. The 30-year fixed rate on Zillow’s Mortgage Marketplace climbed a half-percent last week to 4.38%; that’s the highest rate since June 2011.

Debit: Needless to say, the current interest rate environment is frustrating a lot of people — especially savers. One disaffected fellow is facing 13 years in prison for vandalism after scribbling anti-bank messages — in water-soluble chalk — on three Bank of America sidewalks. Thirteen years. Really?

Debit: Apparently, the defendant claims that one of the banks where he scrawled his diatribes said they spent $6,000 to clean up the chalk messages. Six-thousand dollars. Really?

Credit: Who knows; maybe Bank of America uses bottles of Aqua Fina to wash their sidewalks down.

Credit: I guess it could be worse. The bank could have used Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani; a 1.25 milliliter bottle of the stuff supposedly sold awhile back for $60,000. Really?

Debit: Even if it did cost $6000 to clean their sidewalk, you’d think Bank of America would, um, chalk it up as a cost of doing business and write-off the loss. After all, this is the same company that received $45 billion in interest-free loans from taxpayers a few years ago. Yes, really.

The Question of the Week

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Last Week’s Poll Results

Do you think there will be a stock or bond market crash by the end of the year?

  • Yes (42%)
  • No (35%)
  • I’m not sure (23%)

By the Numbers

Some disturbing facts on America’s mounting National Debt and unfunded liabilities:

41 Percentage of the National Debt the US government owes to itself.

$7092 As of last year, the amount each American would have to shell out of their own pocket just to pay back the money currently owed to China and Japan.

$151 billion Amount currently owed to Russia.

$90 billion Debt Americans owe to Canada and Mexico.

$16.9 trillion America’s “official” National Debt.

$123 trillion Amount of additional debt that the US owes in the form of unfunded liabilities, for things like Social Security, Medicare, National Healthcare, and federal employee retirement benefits.

$400,000 The approximate unfunded-liability bill currently owed by each American.

Source: Face the Facts USA; Red State

Last Week’s Contest Winner

Congratulations to Deb, who won a $20 Starbucks gift card! She was one of five people who correctly guessed one of the only three Top 10 movies of 2004 that I haven’t seen (and probably never will). Those movies were: The Polar Express, The Day After Tomorrow, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Deb’s name was pulled in a random draw among all of the correct guessers.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I’ll have another contest soon.

Other Useless News – My New York Times Op-Ed Piece

In case you missed it, this week I was honored to have an op-ed piece in the New York Times on tipping at restaurants. I know. Check out my libertarian position, if you dare. Then read some of the comments left by some of the Times’ more liberal readers who disagreed with me.

Hey, folks … Whether you enjoy what you’re reading — or not — please be sure to:

1. Click that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at:

Ray Spears wasn’t too happy with my article highlighting the drawbacks of waterbeds:

I have read a lot of bullshit that has been written about waterbeds, but your comments beat them all. Moron.”

I bet you wouldn’t be so cranky, Ray, if you slept on a traditional mattress.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 1


    Geez those are some HOT temperatures. Still, being near NYC with its humidity is pretty bad at lower temperatures.

    Thanks for the mention too (heading over to read your op-ed now)!

  2. 2

    Barbara says

    Funerals are not the somber, respectful scenes that I recall. I have seen shorts and flip flops worn as if it were casual Friday.
    Also, a staff member we spoke with by phone to arrange my mother’s cremation said she hoped we did not need a memorial service as they were “booked to the hilt”.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      Happy Canada Day, Jane.

      Hang in there — you’re determined, so I know you’ll eventually get to a place where you’ll be able to get a bit of financial breathing room.

  3. 6

    Karen says

    Dear Len, As a person who had a second job as a waitress for 17 years, and enjoyed the work very much, this is why restaurants ad an automatic gratuity for large parties. You make more money waiting on 4 four tops, over a table of 16 if there is no added gratuity tacked on the large check. The large check arrives for the party, cheap Uncle Louie who never eats out decides to play the hero and grabs the check, the amount of which shocks him. He chases everyone out before him, pays the check and leave a $20. bill on the table for the tip, as well as the floors a mess from the toddlers who have thrown their food all over the place and that food has been ground into the carpet by the now absent diners, all of which the waitress has to clean before resetting the table. The other waiter who has given equally good service to the 4 four tops has gotten $20. EACH from them, and has less clean up to do. Most people tip well, and appreciate good service. I must say (don’t scream sexism at me, this is how it is, and speaking the truth is not sexism, on the whole men tip much better than women) that I was happiest working at a dark, shabby steakhouse which served large steaks, a salad and baked potato as the bulk of the meals. There was literally no vegetable available if a person wanted one. The customers were 80% men, and they were regulars, and working there was more like hostessing my own party every week day at lunch. I memorized the names of all the customers, and their favorite drinks. I’d be happy to see them, and I would say, “Mr. Graham, I enjoy having you and your men at my table for lunch, please ask for me in the future because I like waiting on you.” They got a kick out of not having to put in a drink order and having their favorite drink arrive as if by magic, and they enjoyed having their names and their meal preferences remembered. The tips were great, the atmosphere happy for all concerned. For me, being a waitress was a profession, not something I felt was demeaning. Even at this place, large parties had the gratuity added. The men would often leave an additional tip besides what was required, because they were happy with the service.

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