Sunday, May 10, 2009

Well, April has come and gone, and with it the great experiment on "Zero Spending." After crunching the numbers, I found that I managed to save a grand total of...$20. Now, this doesn't mean that the experiment was a failure; on the contrary, I consider it to be a qualified success.

Not spending any money on books, movies, music, magazines, etc etc turned out to be incredibly easy. I simply spent more time making use of what I already have. I played Xbox games I hadn't gotten out in over a year, and remembered how much fun they are--Especially Shadowrun, which is both infuriating and exhilarating at the same time.

Not paying to eat out was trickier, though ultimately doable. According to the records my bank is kind enough to keep for me, my grocery spending in April was $287.70, while my average monthly grocery bill for the last twelve months was $281.26 (which may be a little high, I bought some furniture at Walmart when we moved and that shows up under grocery spending). With some better planning, that should be easy to cut down.

My average restaurant spending over the last 12 months was $135.93; for April, that amount was $10.79, though again, that number is slightly inaccurate because while I made the purchase late on March 31, it didn't go through until April 1. Technically, I spent no money at all at restaurants in April.

12 month average spending for retail stores: $114.01. April's total: $0.00. Gasoline, Entertainment, and ATM withdrawals all saw decreases of 50% or more from March to April, and the only category that appears in April to be significantly higher in April compared to the 12 month average was "Checks Written." Again, though, a first glance is misleading, because prior to February, I was not writing checks for rent or utilities, so the 12 month average will not be a reliable number for some time to come. In all, my total cash outflow for April was slightly less than $250 less than the average over the last year.

So given all of this, why wasn't I able to save more? I cut down on all my expenses as I intended, so what happened? Unfortunately, late March through--well, last week, really--have been poor times at work, and my income was not as good as I'd hoped for a while. So while I was ultimately not able to save a significant amount, and the donation I'd hoped to make to charity fell through, I was able to pay all of my bills, and even make an extra-large payment on my student loans.

Frankly, that's enough for me. There was a time a few years ago when I would have spent whatever the hell I wanted on hamburgers and DVD's, and worried about my true obligations later, if at all. To have been able to comfortably pay all of my bills, on time, without worrying, is a huge step, and felt great.

So I think I'm going to try it again. Maybe for a longer period, too. August and September. And I don't feel the daily desire to hit McD's or the Greek restaurant, so while I didn't meet my stated goal, I did make some important changes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I'm Not Dating (At the Moment)

One can only bang one's head against a wall so many times before the headache gets to be too much to bear. It's taken me longer than I care to admit to learn that lesson, but I finally have. The following is highly confessional and doesn't always paint me in the best light, but I think there's some humor there, too. And some damned important lessons.

So, a list of my ex-girlfriends, and a wall of text explaining why I'm not currently putting much effort in to dating.

First was D--. My first real date, my first girlfriend, my first kiss (which was pretty embarrassing itself, but is a story for another time). I "went out" with her for several months, before I really knew what "going out" meant. Then we broke up, went to the following year's homecoming as neither one of us could find a better date, and fell out of touch. Didn't really seem like a big deal, even to a sophomore in high school, and EVERYTHING'S a big deal then. Then she started dating one of my friends, and a miscommunication between him and myself lead her to tell me "I always knew you where an asshole when we were dating, but this just proves it." Funny, she never said anything to me about it before then. (Aside: the friend dated her all through high school, then sometime in college I heard he dumped her and came out of the closet.)

About this time I discovered Magic: The Gathering, which was a lot like took all my money out of the bank and I stopped caring about anything else for roughly a year. Then I met L-- I can't say with 100% certainty that I remember her name, but really have blocked a lot of things about her from my memory.

L-- was the first of the "psycho hose beasts, " and I'm ashamed of how long it took me to realize that. In my own defense, I was still pretty new to dating in general, and being in the throes of puberty, I didn't always think clearly. Nevertheless, the note reading "I hope are [sic] kids look like us and they're [sic] names resemble are [sic, again] names!" was the last straw. Notice that the last straw wasn't the note telling me she'd get the condoms at prom if I got the motel room and the champagne (and even as hormone-addled as I was I thought that was a pretty lousy deal), it was the one talking about having kids. Also, she liked making out, and chewing cinnamon gum, and trying to put her gum in my mouth while we were making out. Ever wondered why the smell of cinnamon gum makes me wretch? There's your answer.

So I bolted. Into the arms of a co-worker, A--. I'll be honest, I wasn't really interested in A-- as a person, I only asked her out because she'd tell me stories about getting caught in compromising positions with her boyfriend, and I thought, "here's a sure thing." Not proud of it, but I was a horny kid still trying to figure things out. So I feigned interest for a while, then hit her up with "if things were different, if you weren't dating him, would you go out with me?" She dumped him the next day. We went on our first date several days later, and that's when the cracks started to show. During dinner she kept talking about her ex, except when she was telling me she was in therapy due to being sexually abused by her father.

Now look, I don't condone his actions in any way, and at least she was getting help, but even at 16 I knew this wasn't the kind of thing you bring up on a first date. Fourth date maybe, if things are going well (and I mean REALLY well, Jim-and-Pam well), but not the first.

But being a believer in second chances, and really wanting to try compromising positions with her, I hung in there. Then she started to hang out across the street from my house, just watching. And when we went out for my birthday, she offered to go down on me in the theater (to this day, I shudder when I hear that song, and not just because it's an awful song). I would have been fine in more private circumstances, but it was a sold out showing of Braveheart. Allow me to repeat with greater emphasis: IT WAS A SOLD OUT SHOWING OF BRAVEHEART. Then she started wanting to fool around in her driveway, with her mother inside the house, or while we were in the park. And hanging out across from my house more. And getting in my car during school and moving things around.

Finally, after a particularly hellish weekend (involving a hillbilly cousin's wedding and a flood at my hermit grandmother's house, which would also make a great story some other time) she called wanting to go out, but I was too tired, and told her so. She then quite literally told her mommy, who then called my parents (who were already in bed having borne the brunt of cleaning the flood) to ask why I didn't seem to want to go out with her daughter when she called. I decided to break up with her at that time, and had planned to do it face-to-face (even then I knew to do it any other way was weak at best) but when she called the next day asking again to go out, I lost it, and dumped her on the phone.

I though that was the end, but I didn't consider that we still worked together.

So we got in a fight after closing time one night at work. I was sick of it all at this point, and pissed too, so I told her to go away, I was too mad to even look at her. She then took the makeup mirror out of her purse, broke it, and proceeded to cut herself. So the manager of the restaurant had to do paperwork, which I felt bad about, and A-- disappeared while that was going on, so I got to call her mom and tell her what was up. To this day, that's the one call I hated making the most, and that includes both times I had to tell my parents about not graduating from college.

Last I'd heard of A--, she had gotten pregnant in high school and dropped out to marry the babydaddy.

Then I met C--. C-- was a great girl, but she had a little bit of a rough time with her stepmother, and ended up living in a group home. None of which was her fault, and in fact I feel guilty about the way I treated her, because she didn't deserve it. I'm finally mature enough to see that, and to wish I could apologize to her.

Because when C-- couldn't go to a dance, I took S--. This was on Saturday. On Monday, I dumped C-- and started dating S--.

I went out with S-- all through my senior year of high school and fell out of touch after graduation, which is what usually happens. Then a few years in to college, she contacted me, and we started dating again. She came to spend a couple of weekends with me once I moved off campus, and though we never did have sex we did fool around a little.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure I really loved her, but I convinced myself that I did, to the point where I began shopping for diamonds. Around this time, my parents had their 25th anniversary. I invited S--, because it was getting serious, and seemed like a good chance to see her. But she was strangely distant.

Then some mutual friends of ours started having marital problems, and S-- started going to him with little problems, needing things fixed, stuff like that. I got jealous, and suspicious, and after a long walk one night in the rain, I decided to call her and ask what was up. When she answered, she told me she was just leaving to go out. With him.

Then came The Email. The day after the rain-walk-call, I got a long email, telling me she was dumping me, I was a distraction, she had stomach problems and an eating disorder....and oh yeah, the reason she was distant at my parents' party? She thought she might be pregnant.

This was all news to me. Never mind that she was dumping me in an email, I wanted to discuss this other stuff, like why the hell didn't she tell me she thought she was pregnant (even though we never had sex, and what we did do...well, certain things have to happen for babies to occur, and they never happened for me). I'd told her time and again that she could talk to me about anything, any concerns she had about our relationship, but that didn't seem to mean anything, even though we were seriously discussing getting married.

Anyway, I tried to call her, but she wouldn't talk. I think the friend's husband may have been there, but I have no proof. I took that to mean she'd said it all in The Email, and didn't try again. I was still so mad that a couple of months later, when she started emailing (and she had to get a new account to do it, because I'd blocked all of the others she had) I told her not to bother, that if she didn't want to talk at the time, she didn't have anything to say that I was willing to hear later.

I framed The Email, and kept it for a number of years. Partly because it made for a good conversation piece, partly because she fucked me up so bad I didn't even try dating for something like eight years. When she got married, I considered wrapping up the email as a present and leaving it for them to open in front of the families...oh how I would have loved to hear her try to explain it to her mom, and her new husband. I didn't though, so there's one good choice I made. I did finally burn The Email in a symbolic act shortly after I went on a date with E--.

E-- is someone I knew a little in college, but when we coincidentally met again years later at our place of employment, we hit it off. We talked, flirted a little, then I called her. Sure, I was nervous, my brother sent me a really dirty text message during the conversation, and I said one exceedingly stupid thing ("Well, you need clean clothes.") but we went out and--I thought--had a pretty good time. I tried to call her again, but she didn't return my calls. I thought her schedule might be getting in the way, so one day I asked her to call me. She never did, and she quit talking to me at work. After some months of this, she was apparently out with a small group, which included one of my friends, who heard E-- making some kind of comment. Details are sketchy--the friend is either unable or unwilling to tell me exactly what was said, and I respect that she's in a sticky position--but the friend described her reaction as "defending [my] honor." Seems like it can't be any good.

So that's it. A bunch of crazy liars, one real regret, and no payoff that's anything close to the effort I've put forth. And this doesn't even count the times I've been told "I want to be friends" or "I think of you like a brother", or the women I've been interested in who have told me they're lesbians before I could work up the courage to ask them out (a surprising number of that last group, actually, but I don't feel like looking too much into that right now). I'm not going to pass up opportunities that come along, but I'm done bending all my will to finding "the one" right now. I'd rather work towards finally paying off my student loans. because there's no way that could end up breaking my heart.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A while back, I read about a movement (probably apocryphal, at least at the time) called "zero spending," wherein people spend no money--other than that required to pay bills--for a period of time, usually a couple of months. This means no movies, no CD's (or iTunes downloads), no eating out. These people take the money that they save, and either donate it to charity or use it to pay down debt.

For the month of April, I'm doing it. No April Fools, I'm serious.

I've eaten my last McDonald's (and boy was it good), I've downloaded my last mp3, and I've taken my last "just browsing" trip to Barnes and Noble. I've spent all my Microsoft points downloaded the last map pack, and I'm taking the plunge. (Full disclosure, I'm keeping cable, Internet, and Gamefly, as I consider them to be among my basic bills, though I did toy with eliminating all three.)

It's going to take a LOT of willpower on my part, but I think it'll be worth it. At the end of the month, I'm going to split what I've saved, with half going to charity, and half being added to my student loan payment (I'd be lying if I tried to act like I didn't have at least a slightly selfish motive.)

What I need from you, dear readers, are two things. I need suggestions for free entertainments, especially on weekends. Free concerts? Good free podcasts worth checking out? Please, post them in the comments below. In addition, I need good suggestions for a charity. I'm partial to the Humane Society, but there a plenty of people who need help too. Again, if there's one you like, post it in the comments. Sure, it probably won't be a lot of money, but it's the right thing to do, and your help is appreciated.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Things I like, part the first.

(Warning. This post contains mild adult content. If this were a movie, I'd say it'd be rated about PG-13. In addition, I'm having a YouTube fail, and can't figure out why it's there twice. It's the same thing, so you're not missing anything by only watching one.)

Two things I cannot get enough of: Bettie Page, and music by The Cramps.

I don't know how old I was when I discovered Bettie Page, but it was some time prior to high school. The attraction was instantaneous, and a little puzzling; I didn't know for sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do it with her. (Thanks for the line, Mike!) As I've grown, and learned more about the woman in the photos, prurient interest turned more to respect. Here's a woman who was dealt an absolutely horrendous hand in life--she was molested by her father, sexually assaulted several times, and a victim of spousal abuse--who took what God gave her and carved out a niche where she was not only successful, but happy as well. And when she was at the zenith of her modeling and acting career, she walked away, turning to God, and has lived completely on her own terms ever since. To this day, she refuses to be photographed, stating that she'd rather be remembered by her fans as she was. By all accounts she remains humble about her amazing popularity. Here she is in her own words:

I don't know what they mean by an icon. I never thought of myself as being that. It seems strange to me. I was just modeling, thinking of as many different poses as possible. I made more money modeling than being a secretary. I had a lot of free time. You could go back to work after an absence of a few months. I couldn't do that as a secretary.

Keep in mind that this is a woman who by at least one estimate is the most photographed in history, and continues to have a profound influence on popular culture.

Honestly, it's hard for me to state how much respect I have for this woman. I think we could do worse than enjoying our work and being happy with where we are in life, despite the bumps in the road. It's something I've tried to emulate.

If you're interested in learning more, or just looking at more pictures of one of history's most beautiful women (and really, who can blame you) I have three suggestions:

1. Bettie's official website,

2. The most excellent book, Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend by James L. Swanson and Karen Essex. It's currently out of print, but a little searching on Amazon can find used copies for a decent price, most of the time. The single greatest resource for everything Bettie.

3. The movie The Notorious Bettie Page starring Gretchen Mol. Currently available on DVD, it's a well made film that tells Bettie's story without sugarcoating, and features one of my favorite happy endings in film history, as well as the best (and only) scene I've found where a woman in bondage talks about her faith.

I'd like to close with another quotation from Bettie herself (like the one above, this is taken from her official website.):

It makes me feel wonderful that people still care for me... that I have so many fans among young people, who write to me and tell me I have been an inspiration.

Indeed she is.

Bettie, thank you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

(Author’s Note: I struggled with whether I should post this or not, it being somewhat faddish the last few years to write pieces of this nature, but I ultimately decided that the subject matter was such a large part of my personality, and the realization so important, that I’d be doing myself a disservice not to post it.)

Star Wars, for the one or two people I haven’t told already, is the first movie my parents ever took me to see. I was an infant, and don’t remember seeing it at the drive-in that first time, but I’ve seen it hundreds of times since. I do, though, remember seeing both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in theaters, the first time they came out. I played with toys, read the books, slept in the sheets, dried with the towels, read along with the record in my book, colored, washed with Darth Vader shampoo, etc etc etc. I was Darth Vader for Halloween, and I had both Yoda and X-Wing pilot Underoos. I ate Taco Bell twice a day leading up to Phantom Menace because they had tie-ins. In other words, Star Wars was very much like a good friend. Which makes my recent realization even more painful.

It seems I’ve outgrown Star Wars.

I didn’t want it to be so, but I can’t deny it any longer. While I didn’t think Phantom Menace or the other prequels were quite as bad as many thought, they did not sit well with me. I shrugged it off, because it was Star Wars, and I’d been a fan literally as long as I could remember. I got heavily into video games about this time, and there were some great games set in this universe. (Both Knights of the Old Republic and Lego Star Wars are excellent, and worth checking out if you’re at all interested. I‘d recommend renting, rather than buying though, for reasons you‘re about to see.)

Then I heard that George Lucas was releasing the first episodes of (one of) the Clone Wars TV series in theaters, and this, finally, was the last straw. I’ve spent more money than I care to think of on Star Wars over the years, and no doubt my family has spent a small-to-moderate fortune buying me gifts for birthday, Christmas, graduation and so on. Now Lucas wants to take a story that has been told before on TV (Genndy Tartakovsky’s excellent Clone Wars shorts on Cartoon Network) and will be told again on TV (the current CGI series) and charge people to see it in theaters. In other words, Lucas thinks he doesn’t have enough of my money, and I’ve reached the point in my life when I don’t care to give it to him anymore.

Look, I’m not going to claim that “George Lucas raped my childhood.” But I’m not going to pretend he’s seduced my childhood with champagne and strawberries, either. It’s more like he picked up my childhood in a roadhouse, took it out to the backseat of his car where he slapped it around some and basically treated it really badly before leaving it tearful, bruised and half-naked in the gravel with a five dollar bill, far too little compensation for the rough treatment it was surprised with, and the lack of respect shown to it.

And that’s what gets me, finally. George Lucas has no respect for me, or any of the other fans who ultimately got him where he is. He sees us as literally a fountain of money, idiots that will pay through the nose for any piece of crap with a lightsaber sound. I admit my complicity through all these years, but finally at thirty I’ve either grown old enough or cynical enough to realize just how greedy he really is.

So that’s it. George Lucas has enough of my money. I’m not going to pay for any more of his movies, toys, books, video games, and so on ad infinitum. I’m sure as heck not paying for another re-release of movies I bought two or more times already. I will continue to remember the good times I had with Star Wars, talking with friends and remembering how it used to be, sort of like I remember the good times I had with college friends I don’t speak with anymore. But just like I don’t moon people or try to light my farts any longer, neither am I going to keep giving George Lucas my money, only to have him repeatedly show his contempt for my love. Frankly, I’m tired of crying behind the roadhouse.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I haven't posted in too long, but to make up for it, here's a video that's about 9000 kinds of awesome:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Damn You Weather! You've Inconvenienced Me For the Last Time!

So there's been some bad weather around here lately, which doesn't surprise me; this is summer in Nebraska, after all. A few weeks ago a tornado touched down the-square-root-of-two-miles from here (yes, I crunched the numbers AND used the Pythagorean theorem. Thanks Mrs. Hiykel) but nothing happened at my house. Later, another tornado in Iowa, and though they made us take dubious cover at work, nothing happened there, either. Today, though....

81 mph winds, and no power at work--where I was, again. Since power wasn't expected to be on for several hours, once the storm passed they sent everyone home. Sweet, free night off, right? Yes, it was sweet, until I got in my car. Then I saw what had really happened:

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That's a frikkin' tree, in my frikkin' way! It took me two whole minutes to get around it!

This state sucks. I'm moving somewhere where things like this never happen. I hear California's got a really nice climate...