August 29, 2002

Credit Cards and Life's Lessons

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.

It's Simply a Matter of Seeing Things My Way. Dumbass.

"Ryan, can I see you in this office for a bit. We need to talk," she said, and I distinctly felt my eyes roll painfully deep into my head.

I stood up from my computer and turned to face Jenifer, although it couldn't technically be considered facing her, seeing as how I stood just over six feet and she's about seven inches shy of that mark. I briefly observed her face, that stern and prissy countenance I had grown to loathe over the past year and a half. The situation was made worse because she was a strangely attractive female specimen, so my dealings with her were usually filled with seething hatred, interspersed with the occasional desire to engage in mindless sex.

She closed the door and motioned for me to sit down. I did so, feeling very much as if I was back in elementary school about to get a warning for spitting my gum in someone's hair.

"Listen, I know you don't like me," Jenifer began correctly. "But we have to get by that so we can find some continuity in our editing. Overall, your editing is fine, but I get the feeling you're ignoring some of the rules I set down."

"That's because your rules keep changing," I explained. "To say nothing of the fact that most of your rules are idiotic."

"What do you find idiotic?"

"You're just so pedantic. Who really cares if we use "that" instead of "which? I mean, come on. If readers are picking up the manual, chances are they don't care if they read "we" instead of "you."

An uncomfortable amount of time passed, with both of us locking eyes in total distaste for one another. If she had it in her power to fire me and kick me in the ass right then and there, she would have, without hesitation.

"You have to understand," she said, breaking the icy silence. "These books are translated into other languages, so we have to be consistent in our editing."

"How come I've never seen one of these books in another language? I'd like to see a French version, or maybe a good German one. What do you say?"

"That not important," she said, blinking in her rapid fashion that indicated a severe lack of humor. "I know you like to think of this as a big game, but this work is really important. I think your dislike for me is what makes you play these games. Am I right?"



"I think an Arabic book would be interesting to see. Actually, Latin would be really cool, too. Or one written especially for Amy Reid."

"You're really not helping yourself at all. Maybe I should ask why you are so determined to cross me."

"Well, since you asked," I started, relishing the impending carthartic release presented to me. "You've taken this job and sucked every last bit of enjoyment out of it. I hate coming in to work. I hate being at work. I hate doing this work. I hate walking by your office and smelling your perfume wafting out. I. Hate. This. Job. And I hate this job almost entirely because of you. You're a bad manager, but more than that, you're a bad human being. I feel worse for the human species knowing that you walk among us."

Jenifer got up and walked out of the office, slamming the door behind her.

I was laid off a few weeks later.

Posted by Ryan at August 29, 2002 10:49 AM
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