January 30, 2003

Credit Cards and Fuzzy Bathrooms

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.

A Nice, Soft, Fuzzy Bathroom

Before I moved into my current house/basement apartment with Amy, I lived in a Rochester complex called Candlewood Apartments. It was a pretty nice place, I mean overall. For my roommate, Mark, and me, it was right up our alley. It wasn't a cheap dump hole, but neither was it very expensive. In short, it was a decent place for a couple of friends, fresh out of college, to establish a base of operations for our assault on the real world.

We lived there for about two years, and over that time we witnessed an encroachment of bad elements. For example, when I first moved in, security was at least noticeable: a guard driving through occasionally. Eventually, however, security visits became less frequent, and shitbags began a fairly routine ransacking of automobiles. Thankfully, I drove an absolute crapmobile, an '89 Cavalier sporting more rust than the surface of Mars. I didn't lock the doors, because I didn't want to pay for a new window in case a car mouse decided to rummage through my automobile, and someone would rummage through my car on practically a nightly online.com/images/nataliacruze/indoorpool/-267-01-lg.jpg">basis.

In addition to the increased nocturnal activity of car mice, the relatively low rent of the complex enticed a lot of lower income lessees, which would have been fine, but the newcomers insisted on throwing parties every day of the week. In my college days, I was all for such revelry, but in the real world I wanted to just fucking sleep. So, my roommate and I were starting to get plenty tired of Candlewood Apartments.

And then our bathroom started growing mold. Only, it wasn't our fault. Mark and I were pretty damned clean, and we tried to fight the strange encroaching mold that seemed to be seeping through the ceiling. We tried Scrubbing Bubbles, we tried soap and water, and we tried everything. We even had maintenance come in to look at the problem, but their solution was to paint over the mold. The mold, of course, simply crept down over the new paint.

It went on like this for over a month, a losing battle against mold. In addition, our once reliable hot water now became not-so-reliable. I was getting pissed, and so was Mark. What the hell was going on with this place? A moldy ceiling. Infrequent hot water. Our place had become a shithole, and it wasn't our fault. We both wanted to know what the hell was going on, but neither of us were prepared for the explanation.

Finally, one day, as Mark was going out to his car on his way to work, he met the maintenance worker who had applied the coat of paint over our mold. The worker had located the source of all our misery.

It turns out that there was an immigrant woman living upstairs in the apartment directly above ours. I think she had a husband, but he wasn't around very much, so she spent day after day just squirreled away in her little apartment, afraid of the American world outside her door. Well, one day, just over a month prior, she had gone into the bathroom to take a shower, only to have the hot water control break off in her hand, prompting the shower to shoot forth a jet of scalding water. Her solution? Close the bathroom door and pretend it didn't happen.

That's right. For over a month, the little immigrant woman lived in an apartment where the shower was running, on high hot, in perpetuity. She was scared that, if she were to seek help, she would be evicted. In the meantime, her bathroom became a 24/7 steam room, an absolute haven for all things moldy. According to the maintenance worker, he had never seen anything like it. The bathroom was coated, absolutely coated, in a thick mat of black mold. toilet seat? Coated. Sink? Coated. Floor? Coated. Walls? Crumbling and coated. The only spot that didn't have mold was where the shower had been spraying into the tub.

No fucking wonder we had mold creeping into our bathroom and our hot water wasn't behaving: there was a huge penicillin operation being conducted just a few feet over our heads. The bathroom above us, obviously, was a complete loss, and as far as I know the immigant woman was evicted.

I'm so much happier where I'm at now, with Nigella Lawson nude at my side.

Posted by Ryan at January 30, 2003 05:16 PM
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