Archive for March, 2012

I’m horrible at remembering anniversaries (as well as birthdays, weddings and funerals) – I’ve just realized that I missed the 6-month anniversary of my move to Vegas. Well, it’s been six months and five days, and let’s just say my first impression of this strange city was a bit off…

Yes, there’s eye candy. However, it stays indoors during the winter. This has been my first winter without any snow whatsoever (which is amazing, by the way), but it turns out Vegas isn’t hot 24/7/365. That’s something they don’t show on all those TV shows – this city gets a little chilly sometimes. I may be getting a bit spoiled here, but damn it, I thought Vegas always had the perfect sunny weather. Dust storms are pretty fun, though – the wind gets so strong that trucks flip over and entire trees get uprooted and fly around. Fun stuff.

The city itself is pretty huge… I never realized how good I had it in Reno, where almost everything was only five miles away (if that). Here you have to drive for ~20 minutes to get anywhere at all. The roads are great, but the drivers are terrible. Maybe they’re even more spoiled than I am by the very nearly perfect weather, but every time there’s any wind or even the slightest hint of rain, everybody slows down to 35mph, even if the speed limit is 50.

The real estate is still ridiculously cheap, but there’s an interesting caveat: it turns out that the only way to buy those dirt-cheap tiny $25,000 condos is if you have $25K in cash on you. Apparently, banks don’t like to issue mortgage loans for anything less than $50,000. Who knows, maybe I’ll take them up on that offer…

The people in Vegas (Vegasites? Vegans?) seem pretty average, but my data sample is relatively small. I find it interesting that the city that’s notorious for its risque shows and “anything goes” attitude is actually pretty conservative when you get past the Strip and Fremont Street. That’s not something you notice right away, but there are little signs here and there… I’ve got a great story to explain what I mean by that, but that would put this blog well into NC-17 category, and I want to keep it PG. At least for the time being…

A couple of weeks ago I was struck with a rare desire to organize my financial accounts. After spending an hour trying to recall the password to my 401k account with Vanguard and find my way through Schwab’s passive-aggressively counter-intuitive navigation menu, I ended up staring at all the pretty round numbers in my accounts, opting out of receiving paper statements from Schwab and spending 20 minutes on the phone with Vanguard and trying to prove that I am, in fact, me.

I thought that was the end of it, but that would have been way too easy, wouldn’t it? The other day I was feeling particularly adventurous and decided to venture out of my beloved apartment, risk the exposure to dust storms, bravely fight my way through 20 yards of urban Las Vegas and explore the quantum uncertainty that is my mailbox. (I don’t get out much…) Lo and behold – right next to the usual junk mail (death threats from creditors, love letters from stalkers, that kind of stuff) were three letters from Schwab and Vanguard. The white, crisp, official-looking envelopes bore a wide variety of stamped messages ranging from mildly cool (“Personal and Confidential”) to downright mysterious (“D/S Reading PA auth 2E-785”). My pupils dilated. My heart started racing. (Speaking of which, 120 beats per minute is about average, right?) My palms got sweaty. Excited, intrigued and horrified by mysteries the three letters may contain, I tore them open right there and then.

I read their contents. I re-read them. I sniffed them. I stopped just short of licking them because the only thing worse than getting a paper-cut on your tongue is getting an ice-cube-cut. (Don’t ask.) I shook the envelopes to see if the letters were merely a decoy cleverly designed to distract me from some secret object glued to the inside of the envelopes. They weren’t. I was left with no other option than to take the letters’ content seriously. Here is what they said:

“Dear Valued Client: Thank you for choosing Schwab eStatements. We received your request to stop paper delivery for your account,” said the letter from Schwab. Two of them, actually. Completely identical and printed on paper, thanking me for opting out of paper-based notifications. Smooth, Schwab. Very, very smooth. With my luck, the paper that was wasted on these letters probably came from a tropical rainforest tree that was cut down in its prime for the very purpose of thanking me for refusing to use paper – a tree that may have been vital to its tiny tropical rainforest biosphere and whose subsequent destruction may have set off a domino effect that will destroy South America’s economy, trigger World War III and leave the scant remnants of hitherto great civilizations wandering the radioactive landscape and asking their gods what they did to deserve such a fate. Great job, Schwab. I hope you’re happy, you genocidal paper fetishists.

The letter from Vanguard was only a little bit less likely to cause irreversible brain damage. A laconic tale of suspense and mystery, it described in stern, dry tone the saga of my unsuccessful attempts to guess the account password, their locking the account and subsequently restoring my access to the aforementioned account a few hours later. One could view this letter as a completely pointless and unnecessary waste of ink and paper which merely stated the obvious, but I like to think of it as the world’s shortest three-act play composed by Vanguard’s valiant Participant Services, whoever they may be. The titillating summary of those events was sent to me not by email, nor by fax, nor even voicemail, but by that most efficient of all communication media – snail mail.

But wait! That humble piece of paper has even more entertainment value to offer to the discerning reader. On the back side of the letter, the unsung heroes of Vanguard’s Participant Services created a piece of truly mind-bending, koan-worthy abstract post-modernist art. In the top left corner, there was Vanguard’s logo. Slightly to the right of it was the date the letter was printed. (For reasons that remain unknown, it hadn’t been mailed until two days later.) In the top right corner, “Page 2 of 2” insulted my AP-style sensibilities but appealed to my OCD nature. At the bottom of the page, the string of mysterious symbols read “017210 2- 2 8508 WEBL D1 1 X.” And at the very center of the page was the message whose existentially mind-boggling self-imposed contradiction rivaled those offered by the finest works of postmodern art. It resembled a Zen koan. It reminded me of the riddles and no-win scenarios we once discussed in my Bioethics class (which, incidentally, is the only college course I ever failed). In terms of absurdity, it was much like the set of instructions on a bag of toothpicks that drove one of the characters of Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish insane. I’m sure that by this point you’re either at the edge of your seat, trembling with excitement, or waiting for the end of this tale of adventure, danger and 21st century’s bureaucracy, having come too far and wasted too much of your time to quit reading now. Well, wait no longer! The message that was printed in black size-12 Times New Roman font right in the middle of the otherwise mostly empty page read, “This page was intentionally left blank.”

And that, my friends, is the greatest piece of abstract art I have ever had the pleasure to see, let alone own. In fact, I’m probably going to frame it and hang it in my living room. Thank you, Vanguard Participant Services, for making my week! (And yes, I really am easily amused.)