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July 1, 2011
Summer was certainly a pleasant couple of days this year, before turning cold and very soggy last week. I had one of those super-cell thunderstorms at my house on Wednesday night. The lightning was very close, the thunder shook the house, and the rain pounded down. I thought maybe Harold Camping had adjusted the date for the Apocalypse again without telling anybody.
My big dog, Lizzy, was sure the end was near. She cried and trembled and drooled all over the house. It kept up into Thursday, when, despite moral compunctions, I turned the furnace on when the house couldn’t seem to warm up above a humid 60 degrees on its own.
The most amazing thing about the storm is that the power stayed on. The power goes out at my house if it gets cloudy. Three starlings perch on the power line and the whole neighborhood plunges into darkness. But it stayed on through a couple of hours of microburst winds, lightning, and pounding rain. Not even a flicker. Which can only mean that it will be off for most of August.
But the forecast for the Fourth of July Parade doesn’t include snow, so I guess things will get back to normal here in a day or two. Whatever normal weather is. Most years, by the first of July, I’m beginning to get some pressure to reduce my water use on the farm. This year, I’m still worried about flooding. The high runoff seems to have happened without anything worse than some fences ripped out of the ground. But things are too wet to absorb an inch of rain in a half hour.
In the absence of anything very interesting happening locally, I followed a couple of news stories from beyond our little patch of alpine bliss. The first was from California, where a 1963 VW bus sold at auction for $217,800. It was a fully restored "mouse gray" 23-window Transporter model. The auction write up on it said that it had "original latches" and handles. As somebody who has driven Volkswagens since the 1970s, I have to say that a 1963 model that still has the original door latches working is a rare find, and probably worth $217,800 for that reason alone. They made 20 million Beetles and still couldn’t make a window crank or door handle that didn’t break off in your hand the day after the warranty expired.
Most people would look at a 48-year-old, 36-horsepower, unheated car and wonder if it was worth restoring at all, let alone paying $200,000 for it. But for those of us who love our VWs, flimsy door latches and all, it seems like a bargain.
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And speaking of those with a little too much money, there was a story from East Hampton, N.Y., that I found rather heartwarming. A customer of a Capital One Bank branch on Newton Lane used the ATM to withdraw $400 in cash. He left the receipt behind. Another customer picked it up and noticed that the receipt showed the prior customer had an available balance of $99,864,731.94 in his savings account. In the Hamptons, I suspect that is not unheard of, though it is a pretty substantial nut to leave in a savings account that pays less than 1 percent interest.
The news article said that sources had identified the customer with the $100 million savings account as David Tepper, a Wall Street hedge-fund manager. Tepper denied that it was his receipt, denied that he was in the Hamptons that day, and was insulted by the suggestion that he would actually handle $400 in cash. He also said it would be stupid to leave $100 million in a savings account at today’s interest rates when he could, instead, be buying credit default swaps on Greek bonds, or working some kind of leverage to destroy the world economy.
Tepper is reported to have "earned" $4 billion in 2009, and paid $43.5 million in cash for a mansion in the neighborhood. Relatively speaking, $100 million in a savings account is just walking-around money for a guy like that. He’s probably got enough spare change under the sofa cushions to buy that VW bus, and still have money left over to upgrade the AM radio to an 8-track tape player.
I could go all populist and rant about how Temper’s $4 billion was probably taxed at a preferential rate of 15 percent instead of the ordinary income tax rate (plus FICA) that you or I would be paying. But in the end, what matters is that he had to pay the ATM fee of $2.75, just like everybody else. If that doesn’t make you feel better, I don’t know what would.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.