July 29, 2004

Credit Card Wisdom and Political Fun

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.

Feds Raid Democratic Convention in Error

Presence of Obama mistaken for presence of Osama

BOSTON (Rhodes Media Services) -- Federal agents today, in a large scale raid, descended on the Democratic National Convention after numerous reports indicated Osama bin Laden was somewhere on the premises.

Following a lightning-swift raid that included a meticulous frisking of Theresa Heinz Kerry, embarrassed investigators had to conclude, however, that the reports had confused the al Queda figurehead with Illinois state senator Barack Obama.

"Osama. . . Obama. It's an understandable mistake, if you think about it," said FBI Director Robert Mueller. "You can't really hold this one over my head, can you? Seriously, we had reports that Osama bin Laden was present at the Democratic National Convention; how could we not act on that?"

Obama himself was shaken up by the whole ordeal, having been handcuffed and whisked into a van parked outside. He had been injected with sodium pentathol twice before federal officers realized their error.

"Well. . . that was. . . unfortunate," said a dazed Obama. "All I can say is. . . I really don't envy. . . that Osama fucker when they really do get him."

Posted by Ryan at July 29, 2004 12:43 PM

The MeFi post about Obama's speech had a title of "Obama been lauded".

I about fell out of my chair.

Don't know if you've seen him speak or read anything about him but the guy's got some pretty serious street cred. And he speaks like he believes what he's saying, unlike many other politicians.

If he gets elected to the US Senate, he'll be just the third man of color elected since Reconstruction (is that post Civil War Reconstruction, I don't know) and I can't imagine there were very many black men in the Senate before Reconstruction.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at July 29, 2004 04:19 PM

Barack Obama will be the best thing that ever happened to America! A father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, isn't that a GREAT story? He's what this country is all about! Obama is on the fast track to becoming the first black president of the United States!! And the greatest one too! Better than Lincoln, Kennedy, Clinton and FDR rolled into one!! Obama is the Tiger Woods of politics!!! He was prez of the Harvard Law Review, baybee!!!!! He is the second coming of Jesus! And also the third and fourth comings of Jesus!! And when I say "coming" I sure do mean it: Jesus creams his robe just thinking about Obama and dammit, so do I!!! (cream my shorts, that is!)

Posted by: Bluestate Bob at July 30, 2004 07:12 AM

Bluestate Bob's hysterical hyperbole notwithstanding, Johnny, here's something to consider:

If he weren't black, would he be receiving such outstanding accolades? I mean, I watched his speech and all, and it was good. Quite good. Not Clinton good, mind you, but good. I guess it comes down to the same reason I think Affirmative Action is a load of crap: it sets the bar lower so people can cheer louder for the average guy. Just doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by: Ryan at July 30, 2004 10:14 AM

So since he wasn't Clinton good, was Obama George W Bush mediocre (speaking of setting the bar lower...)

Posted by: amelia at July 30, 2004 01:07 PM

W is a masterfully awful speaker. That's beside my point. My point is that Obama gets these strange extra points because he's black. Politically-speaking, he's a non-entity, a newbie, but the Dems trotted him out to speak. . . why? Because he's black, or half black, or whatever. Which is fine. If they want to appeal to the black community by trotting out an as-of-yet-to-proven-but-at-least-he's-black politician, that's their thing. But they shouldn't hoist him up as some sort of political god-send, as Bluestate Bob so aptly parodied.

Posted by: Ryan at July 30, 2004 01:20 PM

Speaking of minority figures whose public accolades far transcend the significance of their accomplishments... how about George Washington Carver or Garrett Morgan.

Anyhoo, the Dems' selection of someone who is promising but relatively obscure makes sense, considering that such a person would have the most to gain from the massive exposure (which did provide a big boost to Obama's Senate campaign). Plus, the man is legitimately charismatic and intelligent, "race points" notwithstanding. I'm not sure who else would have been a better choice to keynote the convention.

Posted by: Xavier at August 2, 2004 07:32 AM

Yes, yes, very good, Xavier. *patting on head*

Because, you know, America hasn't moved forward as a nation since George Washington Carver and Garret Morgan. But nevermind your ridiculously dated counter-argument.

Look, oh leader of the X-Men, it's like this: if the Dems OR the Repubs decide to hoist a minority figure up to boost their national image, fine. Wonderful. The point is, a man or woman, of equal charisma and intelligence and political ambition, who just happens to be, oh, I don't know, white, would not get the same "street cred" as a Barack Obama. I'm all for equality, Xavier. Yay, equality. I just have a problem with the concept that, in order to achieve equality, some people have to be treated more equally than others.

Posted by: Ryan at August 2, 2004 08:49 AM

What was that all about? I cited Carver and Morgan because I was agreeing with you that minorities can be "puffed up" for reasons that have little to do with their actual accomplishments. Didn't you read the articles I linked to? Here's an excerpt from the first one:

Most of the acclaim and honors granted Carver were ostensibly for his accomplishments in agricultural science. But his real accomplishments were unspectacular, and even in their inflated state they would not have attracted such widespread public attention for their own sake. As Richard Bardolph has observed, "...no white scientist with precisely the same achievements would have been called a 'wizard' or 'the greatest industrial chemist in the world.'"

Then I opined on why Barack was a good choice for keynote speaker, without denying that he gets "extra points" for his skin color. So I'm rather puzzled at your defensive response.

Posted by: Xavier at August 2, 2004 09:47 AM

Sorry, Xavier, I automatically went into my Monday morning surly mode, which makes me read everything in a cynical light, which was also further fueled because I had just come from Odin Soli's "Plain Layne" page and saw that the guy took down the comments to his FAQ site, so I was entirely pissed off. My apologies. I need some caffeine so I can be more pleasant.

Posted by: Ryan at August 2, 2004 09:58 AM
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