Archive for March, 2009

I’m A Big Zero

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I can remember the moment I first incurred debt crystal clearly. It was in the old The Broadway store in Sherman Oaks Fashion Square. It was April. It was 1985. I was 20 years old. It was a pair of sunglasses I didn’t need, but the lenses featured the latest in “blue blocker” technology that was aaaaaaall the rage back in that ancient day. Plus the arms had these flexing springs on them, which was cool. They cost $23.99.

In my bright red vinyl DayRunner organizer were the first two credit cards I’d ever posessed. An American Express card and one from  Broadway. How and why I was deemed worthy of them I do not really know. On an earlier lark I filled out an American Express card application. At the time I lived with my mom and my stepfather in their house on Sherman Oaks. I think I made $13,000 in wages that past year. I didn’t even have my own phone. I was working as a courier shuttling visa applications to the various consulates around town for clients. On the Amex app I wrote that my title was Senior Consulate Liaison. I blatantly lied about my salary. I mailed it in. I did the same thing with the department store’s card.

Though I harbored fantasies of my applications somehow being moved down the line unvetted, deep inside I knew better. And when the rejection letter arrived from American Express I was a bit crestfallen, but realistic.

Then, literally the next day, a credit card in my name from The Broadway arrived. It had a $400 limit. I was dumbfounded. And thrilled. I felt as if I’d been given a key to a kingdom I’d never thought’d available to me.

And that’s when the really weird thing happened. About a week later another letter comes from American Express. Inside is their trademark green card with my name on it and a letter telling me something about “after a review of your application we have reversed our decision and now welcome you as an American Express cardmember.”

Doooooood! How? I didn’t care! All I knew was that I had fucking arrived and membership had its privileges! Remember, this wasn’t far beyond the crest of the yuppie craze, which I did my best to emulate — even going so far as to wear suits and ties to classes at LA Valley College. An Amex card was the perfect accessory to that faux lifestyle.

And so there I was a short while later in The Broadway coveting this silly pair of sunglasses and debating whether to just pay cash or put them on one of my various and newly established lines of credit. Of course I did the latter, and when I handed over my Broadway card to the cashier (after ripping open the Velcro closure of my bright red-vinyl DayRunner organizer and pulling the card from its slot, of course) I did so with a little trepidation expected her to slide it and then confiscate it with a “Did you think we would seriously give YOU a card? ”

But instead she just handed me the receipt for my signature and bagged my purchase and that’s the very first moment I went into debt. Oh sure, I may have paid that amount off the moment I got the bill — and I was smart and responsible with my American Express card as well — but then came the other cards. The gas cards and from other stores and Visa and Mastercard and Radio Shack and… well, you know the drill. It may take money to get money, but it doesn’t take much to get credit, and thus it didn’t take long to become burdened by a pretty heavy debt load that I carried around in silent shame like a bad tooth. And it kept getting badder.

Six years ago I owed roughly $17,000 spread out over various Visas and such. At that same time I took the big important step of putting the credit cards away and operated almost exclusively with my debit card. If I didn’t have cash in the bank to pay for something, I didn’t get the something. Amazing how much that helps.

Stopping the credit card usage was a good beginning, but in the two years forward from that, I hadn’t made much of a dent in the overall balance. By 2006 I still owed something like $15,000.

That’s when I got serious and a plan developed and amounts were consolidated and moved via various low-interest balance transfers. But paying that single amount down hit a huge roadblock when I began my  22-month period of unemployment beginning in November 2005  (broken up sporadically with bits of freelancing). A lot of those ridiculouly ineffective minimum payments were made through that stretch, with Susan blessedly coming in to help with several payments during the leanest of those lean times. Then in September of 2007 with the amount down to $13,000 and me starting to work full time, over the past year and a half since I’ve devoted pretty substantial portions of paycheck to paying the pest down.

Better that than my fouled up bottomless pit of a 401K.

Towards the end of 2008 I realized with much astonishment that I could be credit card debt-free by my 45th birthday in May — the first time since that figurative day in April of 1985.

Yesterday the statement from Chase arrived and today I ended things early and ahead of schedule, writing a check that got rid of the last $1,000 of it:

debtfree

I almost wrote a check for $976.01 so that my final check next month could be the symbolic $23.99 I spent almost 24 years ago. But I said to hell with symbolism. Let’s be rid of this monster once and for all.

A Sphinx, Methinx

Monday, March 30th, 2009

For the past week or so, I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of it. Always on the move and quickly so, the hardworking white-lined sphinx moth is in its seasonal moment, and this one seems to find the flowers around our yard to be a good source of nectar. During the day the sphinx moth wastes little time and rarely stops, so unless you either happen to have teh skills or a fancy high-speed camera pointed at it (or both!)  in those few moments it hovers hummingbird-like over a bloom from which it’s about to sip, there ain’t much than a fuzzy blur you’re going to record.

So instead, if you’re like me, you keep your eyes pealed around the night light sources, where they usually hang out in between feeding sessions.

Last night I looked up in one of the backyard lanterns and saw the large silhouette and nearly shouted eureka! before jogging past Susan in the kitchen through the house to the camera on my desk and back out again.

Of course, grabbing a snap through a small cobwebby lantern hole of a moth on the inside of the swaying paper thing suspended about eight feet off the deck required some cantilevering  and thus there’s no artistry or framing or good angle in the following picture, but I got the beautiful sunofagun (click to enlarge):

sphinx

And yeah, that’s its right eye glowering at me.

Oh The Cleverness Of Me!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

One of my favorite diversionary iPhone apps is a little number called Bloom from Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers that allows users to generate ambient musical compositions by tapping out notes on the iPhone’s screen that then get replayed in a slowly fading loop that you can add on to pretty much for infinity.

In times of stress or angst I’ve turned to it  and plinked out a random melody and it has a wonderful calming effect not only in the soothing music and colors it produces, but also in getting me to focus — if even but for a few moments — away from whatever’s frustrating me at that time.

Of course true to the ephemeral nature of its on-the-fly creations, Bloom offers no way of saving and exporting whatever you’d done from the iPhone. Until now: I just figured out a way. Because I’m a bottom-rung genius like that.

The trick is it involves additional equipment:

1) Some sort of digital audio recording device — preferably one that can capture in stereo (I use a Sony Recorder – Model No. ICD-UX70)

2) A jack-to-jack wire that can connect from the headphone output of the iPhone to the mic input of the recorder.

Then it’s just a simple matter of hitting the record button on my Sony and tapping out a tune in Bloom. After that I plug the recorder into a USB port on my computer, open up the MP3 file in Quicktime and either save it in iTunes or export it as a WAV audio file, like this minute-long snippet.

Granted, it’s just a whole buncha not much, but I’m pretty pleased that I figured a work-around and for better or worse, you might be hearing some of these ditties attached to the occasional future bike commute timelapse vid.

Turn Out The Lights Sweet Darling

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

In geeky honor of last night’s sheduled Earth Hour event, Susan and I went overboard. We didn’t just turn out the lights sweet darling, we went all the way in flipping all the fuses and enjoying a self-imposed black out for an hour Saturday night.

It was a terrifically serene scenario that of course made me dust off the long-neglected didgeridoo.

Prime Time

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Turns out having someone using my debit card fraudulently ended up saving me some money! In my inbox yesterday is an email with the subject line of “Amazon Prime Renewal Alert” and I open it to find Amazon telling me that they’re having trouble charging my renewal fee to the payment card on file — one I’d had to cancel after discovering $500 worth of iTunes charges made on it. Amazon dutifully provided instructions on how I could resolve that membership issue.

Trouble is I was totally blanking on what an Amazon Prime Membership is or that I had even signed up for it. Or that it was costing me money! So I logged on and sure enough I discovered that I’ve been a prime member since 2007, paying $79 a year for the privilege of getting free 2-day shipping and reduced overnight shipping on “millions of items!”

That would be megasuper awesome if I were buying “millions of items,” but looking back at my order histories over these last couple years (19 total)  I’m an occasional  Amazonian at best. I’m not going to do the math, but it’s highly doubtful if my membership paid for itself — or even broke even.

So  I’m left primarily wondering what possessed me to sign up for this program. Certainly I know an under-the-radar “auto renewal” kept it alive in 2008 — and would have done so this year had some bastards not hijacked my account a couple months ago, forcing its untimely demise.

So I guess I have them to thank because otherwise it wouldn’t have been brought to my attention that I was paying Amazon something for nothing.

Hole In The Wall, Gang

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Progress. This photo’s already outdated because the contractor and his crew have taken out the space heater and framed out the landing for the staircase that will reconnect the first floor with the second inside the house for the first time in more than 58 years.

We’re bringing it down into what was our bedroom (we’re presently sleeping in the diningroom during this phase). Originally the staircase came down through the opposite side into the front of the house but when it was turned into a multi-unit dwelling in 1950 they put in a door and built an exterior staircase and added a bathroom in the old stairs’ place for what became one of the studio/bachelor apartments (now our study). Rather than remove that existing asset, we decided to find a new if unconventional path for the stairs. Thus the bedroom will become a large sitting room that we may pretentiously refer to as the “conservatory” should we opt to move my mother’s piano out of the livingroom and into there. We’ll see.

A Blessed Workaround

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Since getting my iPhone last summer and abandoning the despised 323-prefaced digits foisted upon me by Verizon for a rightful and coveted old-school 213 number available through AT&T, I’ve had the occasional fun of getting wrong number calls at really crappy hours. From the same person. Like yesterday at 5:37 a.m., or again this morning at 4:29. The incoming number originates in the 606 area code, which I learned is somewhere in eastern Kentucky.

I will refrain as best I can from casting regional stereotypical dispersions and judgments about who this buttbisquit of an inbred backwoods bluegrass chewing banjo plucker might be. Starting now.

No, it’s not a telemarketer. It’s not some spammer. It’s just this lady who can’t punch her phone’s keypad for shit and chronically misdials my number. Or area code. Or both. Who’s to say? And I mean c-h-r-o-n-i-c-a-l-l-y. As of this morning I’ve enjoyed one shy of a score of calls from her — and all of them at the aforementioned hours and most of them on the weekends, when it might be perfectly daylight and normal in her end of the country, but so not over here on my end.

The first time she called I answered the phone with a proper if bleary and hoarse “Hello?” but she hung up without so much as a sorry and then about a minute later called back, to which I answered with “Do you have any goddam idea what the fuck time it is?”

Hung up again she did.

So back I called her.

“Hello?”

“I asked you if you knew what the fu –?”

Click.

Between that auspicious meeting and up until yesterday my iPhone has logged an additional 16 calls from this person who I’ve unaffectionately dubbed a variation of Kentucky in which I replace the “t” with an “f.” Most of her  dream interruptors have gone blessedly unheard and into voicemail, but some of them have raised me out of a dead sleep whereupon I’d hiss out some rhetorical question along the lines of “Could you be any more stupid?” before she’d hang up.

In fairness there haven’t been any calls from her for awhile. Then came yesterday’s No. 18 and today’s No. 19, back-to-back bullshit that dashed my hopes she had been concerting extra effort and attention. Or at least given up drunk dialing.

This morning I immediately called her back but instead of berating her I just listened as she asked “Hello?” a half-dozen times — each one a little more insistent — while I just listened trying to decipher who this queen of the imbeciles might be.

No clue.

So instead throughout the remainder of the night’s march to the  morning I aimed to work the solution instead of the problem. I googled “How the hell do I block some Kentucky idiot from calling me on my iPhone?”

Apparently I’m not alone in this inquiry and there are two solutions. One is to $ubscribe to $ome $ervice with my provider that allows me to block a $et amount of number$ for a fee which rhymes with AT&T, but I’ll be damned if this nuisance is gonna cost me cash.

The second option isn’t perfect, but it’ll do and involved me downloading a free “silent” ringtone, loading it onto my phone and then connecting the 606 number to it. Of course, I also had to turn off the phone’s vibration function as well as the new voicemail alert, but  the next time she calls — and there will be a next time — I won’t hear a thing.