March 31, 2003

Credit Cards and Randomness

I've never been in debt. Okay, that's not entirely true. Yes, I've been in the kind of debt where I had to make car payments, and I'm currently in the kind of debt that says I have to make house payments.

I've never been in credit card debt, however. Truth be told, I've never even owned a credit card. I don't trust them. I've been conditioned not to trust them thanks to many years of living with college roommates.

Most of my college roommates had this weird outlook on credit cards. Basically, they thought credit cards were magical pieces of plastic that just magically paid for things and that they were somehow immune from the the ensuing debt that came about due to excessive credit card spending.

I'll admit it: I was sort of jealous of my roommates and their magical credit cards. After all, they always seemed to have money and, if they didn't, they just whipped out their credit cards. Books? Put them on the credit card. Food? Put it on the credit card. Night out at a strip club? credit card.

And yet there I was writing checks and budgeting like a fool. I remember thinking that I was doing everything all wrong. I mean, there I would sit, meticulously lording over my finances, while my roommates went waltzing all over town swiping their credit cards with the careless glee of a six-year-old with a loaded pistol.

Then, one year, I was a roommate with a guy named Chad. Chad was actually a former high school classmate of mine. He was, and is, a tech-head. He's one of those guys who was born to know technology. Way back in elementary school, he taught me how to write simple programs for the Apple IIc, and he always just seemed to know everything about computers.

But he didn't know shit about personal finances. He whipped out any one of his many credit cards with the swiftness and ease of a Old West gunslinger. By the time we became roommates, he had already accrued over $10,000 in credit card debt.

I remember thinking what an incredibly large amount of money that seemed to be, especially when I factored in the understanding that he also received financial aid, and that he also worked. Granted, he worked at the local Brach's candy factory on the Gummi Bear line, which paid about as well as you might imagine, but it was still money, so I came to the conclusion that old Chad was a pretty carefree spender.

Well, one day, I popped into Chad's outrageously messy room where I noticed, tucked between two huge bags of pilfered defective Gummi Bears, a credit card notice that was slugged "Urgent!" and another that was slugged "Immediate Payment Required" and still another that read "We Break Fingers And Toes."

Then the calls started coming in, usually two or three a day. "Is Mr. Haugen available? We really need to speak with him." No, he's not here. "Are you sure you're not really Mr. Haugen?" Yes, I'm sure. "Well, when he comes in, have him call Mike at Discover immediately." *sound of shotgun cocking* Will do.

Chad was masterful when it came to avoiding creditors. He always seemed to leave the apartment just two or three minutes before a creditor called. It was like he had some sort of sixth sense. Which was all fine and dandy, except that I ended up being the intermediary between Chad and the creditors, so I got to absorb all the impatient anger and suspicion of basically every credit card company on the planet.

It was the day a creditor appeared, in person, at our doorstep that I realized Chad's debt situation was probably more dire than Chad cared to admit. There was a knock at the door, I answered, and a gentleman in a suit that looked both impressive and threatening stood before me. He asked to see a Mr. Chad Haugen, at which point I heard a little scuffling emanating from Chad's room as Chad scurried out the back entrance which, conveniently, was located at the far end of his bedroom.

We chatted together, the ominous creditor and me, for about an hour, waiting for Chad to get home, even though, of course, there was no way in holy hell Chad was going to make an appearance while that guy was in our apartment. I even had to produce my ID, so the creditor was satisfied that I wasn't, in fact, Chad Haugen.

After that, I believe, Chad ended up getting a loan from his parents, or somebody, so he could pay off his credit card debt at least enough to keep the creditors at bay. He eventually got a job working at IBM, which was a long-assed commute from Winona to Rochester, but paid a whole lot more than the Gummi Bear line.

As for me, Chad's experience with credit cards pretty much scared me away from plastic for good.

Ramdomized Randomness

Did anyone see my weekend? If you happen to find my weekend, please return it to me immediately.

I've travelled between Rochester and St. Paul so much over the past few months, they've changed the signs to read "Once again, welcome to St. Paul, Ryan." I guess I don't actually mind the drive that much, but it would be nice to see a change of scenery like, oh, I don't know, LEAVES, or something else green-like in appearance. Hell, I'd be okay with the occasional splotch of green vomit on the side of the road. It's spring. Let's see some green.

I saw Melissa's new apartment for the first time on Friday. It's pretty nice, but anything is an improvement over the dilapidated shack she used to live in. She now lives in a nice but weird collection of apartments that look like they were built in the early 70s, and, as with most apartment complexes, they have not been asthetically updated since they were built. We're talking electric blue carpet with electric green design swirls that look like something from a John Travolta disco movie. Thankfully, that carpet is only found in the hallways, not in the apartments themselves.

The apartment complex is divided into two buildings and, as luck would have it, one is inhabited primarily by younger folks my age, and the other is apparently a manor for older folks. By some strange mix up in the paperwork, or so I like to believe, Mel is housed in the old folks building. How old are these people? Well, to give you an idea, the caretaker, who lives in Mel's building, is 80 years old. And she's snoopier than Charlie Brown's dog Snoopy, which is pretty damned snoopy when you think about it. I put together a K-Mart wine rack on Friday night and, come Saturday, Ms. Snoopy was knocking at Mel's door complaining about all the pounding from the night before. For the record, I may have cussed and compained and bitched while I put together that maddening wine rack, but I did very little pounding. I think the pounding was just an excuse, because she kept trying to nuzzle her way into the apartment, but Mel stood firm in front of the door, preventing entry and keeping the caretaker from discovering the meth lab I was cooking up in the bathtub. Okay, there was no meth lab, but I was taking a bath, so that was not entirely untrue.

On Saturday night, I met Mel's sister and brother-in-law, and I was unimpressed by both. The brother-in-law is an ex-marine who decided to fully adopt and maintain an arrogant attitude that makes me look meek by comparison. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner and drinks and they practically had to enlarge the door frame to make room for that guy's ego. Mel's sister, by comparison, is a submissive, soft-spoken waif who is a younger version of Mel's mother. It was a study in contrasting personalities that was more suited to candid camera than marriage. Also seated at the table was my friend, Marc, and Mel's other sister, the youngest, forgotten sibling who has all the people skills of a dead, dried out lady bug.

It's strange, really, because Mel is so totally different from her sisters. She's a take-charge, opinionated, fiery little vixen, while her sisters are everything but, especially the youngest, who is quick with a laugh but very, very rarely speaks unless she happens to be sitting in a bear trap and needs to voice her discomfort. Then again, I guess I really have no way of understanding how a family like theirs grows, what with a divorce and the father's homosexuality thrown into the mix, to say nothing of the ultra-religious mother who battled severe depression for most of the children's lives. Any one of those issues is tough to come to terms with alone, but combined we're talking years of consecutive therapy spanning into infinity. When we were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Colorado, and I got sick of talking, I just steered Mel into a conversation about her family history and let her go on conversational auto-pilot. I never get sick of hearing about her atypical family, so I can only imagine what people must be thinking when they first hear about them.

Early Sunday morning, I drove Mel to her father's house so she could load up the last of her stored furniture. Her dad is probably one of the last men on the planet you would suspect of being gay. He's a swaggering, masculine force to reckon with, and he let fly more expletives while loading the pickup than most sailors emit in a lifetime. Then, just as I was on the verge of forgetting he was is even at all gay, he started talking about how his male lover was breaking up with him. Let's just say that Mel's family would not be a good subject for a Normal Rockwell painting.

Well, anyway, that was my weekend. How was yours'?

Posted by Ryan at March 31, 2003 12:06 PM
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