Live in a major city and you will be forced to confront homelessness and poverty. On a daily basis you will be asked for money, either directly or through plaintive cardboard signs, by some of the most pitiable people you will ever see. Depending on the type of person you are, your reaction will range from sympathy to annoyance, concern to anger, frustration to apathy. Your general attitude will likely vary over time and even from day-to-day.
When I was 18-years-old in Washington, D.C., I met a homeless man named Piotr Lekki who became, really, one of my only friends in that town. I would buy his drawings, take him for coffee, practice my German with him, and mostly lend an ear to his insane and delusional stories about being a doctor, a king, and the Pope himself. As lonely and broke as I was, I empathized with this man and with his desperation and isolation.
When I moved to New York City, I actually had friends and a life, though I was even more broke. The upturn in my social life and my inability to give away any money at all, combined with the sheer overwhelming size of an even more desperate homeless population, fostered an apologetic "sorry, man" response that persisted for a decade. What's the point in sparing my few precious coins when it won't even make the barest dent in an obviously unsolvable problem?
Then I moved to Portland, without question a kinder city, which attracts and fosters a general populace that is friendlier and more considerate. The amount of people on the street asking for money were far less than in New York City, and most of them were of the silent, cardboard sign variety. My income was also more substantial and I started being more willing to give out a dollar here and there. I frequently bought copies of Street Roots, the local paper advocating for (and usually sold by) the homeless population. I started donating to the local mission and asked others to do so as well.
But... with time, as the monotony of the homeless presence persisted and even increased, and after several incidents of being deceived and disappointed, my acceptance and empathy began to wither. If I saw someone sitting on a corner with a sign, I avoided that corner. I started saying "sorry, man" to the Street Roots vendors. I looked the other way, but all the while I kept wrestling with my guilt.
After our aborted attempt to buy a house back in 2009, Dollface and I settled very comfortably back into enjoying our fabulous apartment. Spacious, stylish, comfortable and centrally located in one of the coolest sections of Portland, there was very little not to love about the place. However, after several years of rent increases, I was becoming increasingly aware that renting builds no equity and is essentially throwing money away. Additionally we were fed up with having a landlord and upstairs/downstairs neighbors to consider. It was time to start searching again.
Turns out that on our first and only day of touring various available houses, after about ten unsuitable locations we happened to find a house that felt about as close to perfect as we were going to get. To make a long story short, in a whirlwind 2 months we negotiated, inspected, repaired, bought the place, painted and moved in. It's now six weeks later and, having finally resolved all the top home-making priorities and settled in, I feel I can now break my blogging and social media silence to reflect on the whole experience.
I'm trying to finish my will. I'm not dying or anything, I just figured it would be a smart and easy thing to get out of the way. The basics are simple: cremate me, and all my money and possessions go to my wife, Heather. The unexpected difficulty I'm running into is the whole "if my wife does not survive me" part. We're blissfully childless, and I'm not especially close to my family. Who gets my money and stuff?
I tried thinking over my friends and relatives to see if there was someone who I felt most deserving of a sudden influx of cash, but nobody stuck out. I'm not even sure what criteria I should use. Someone who needs it the most, presumably because their situation in life is unfairly more costly than their means? Or whomever I like the most? Whoever is youngest and therefore has "their whole life ahead of them"? It all seems so arbitrary.
Just what is a reasonable amount of money to spend on collectibles? It's a question that I imagine most every collector must ponder at some point or another, and it's a difficult one for me to answer. By their very nature, collectibles are not necessary items. Whoever recently bought Action Comics #1 for $1,500,000 did not need to do so any more so than the collector who drops $10 at Walmart for the latest Star Wars figure. Toys seem to be considered important, if not essential, for children -- "play" is an important part of development -- but while that impulse transitions for most adults into sports or video games or fishing, some of us never outgrow our love of childish things. But even that explanation is too simplistic, since few adult collectors "play" with their collections; I don't know any adult Transformers fans that spend hours rolling cars and jets around making "vroom! vroom!" and "ptchoo! ptchoo!" noises. No, there are other psychological factors in play, like perhaps hoarding, or reclaiming lost childhood. Who can say? Everyone is different. But whatever reason compels a grown man (or woman) to continue buying toys (or stamps or coins or Elvis memorabilia), there remains for each one the simple question: How much money am I willing to spend on this?
Is there such a thing as a "reasonable" amount? If so, how do you calculate that? A percentage of one's income? Speculation on resale value (assuming one ever actually plans on selling one's collection)? How "in control" are you as a collector? The truth is I don't think that any collector can answer these questions completely, and the motivations behind toy collecting are especially nebulous. The reasonability of a superfluous purchase does seem to scale up or down based on one's amount of disposable cash, but that's a no-brainer: the more money you make, the more frivolous expenditures that you (and those who observe you) can justify.
When you drop a penny, do you pick it up?
For many Americans today, the penny is practically beneath notice. It is literally near-worthless. Many consider it a "nuisance" coin and there are efforts to eliminate it. For all but the most penniless among us, one cent spotted on the sidewalk is simply not worth the fleeting time and effort it would take to scoop it up into one's pocket. There also exists the notion that stooping to grab a penny up off the ground is a sign of excessive poverty or greed, neither of which are admirable qualities. After all, only beggars and children scoop pennies out of the dirt and grime, right?
But is the same pride that one displays by ignoring littered change at odds with the respect that we are all supposed to have for money? After all, it's a virtue to "understand the value of a dollar." Ostentatious luxury is often derided, as is overly careless or extravagant spending (though most secretly envy the wealthy and would be just as careless and extravagant if given the chance). In truth, most people's attitude toward money is strongly dependent on how much money they actually have at their current stage in life; the more money one makes, the larger the sum that can be allowed for trivial indulgences.
As you may have discerned from the dispassionate tone in my earlier posts regarding buying a home, I was never in love with the house we had found. It fit all the necessary criteria, to be sure, but it just didn't resonate with me. Nonetheless, I was fully committed to securing the place and spending at least the next few years there. But none of that matters anymore, because after inspections and sewer scopes and soil samples and a multitude of addendums, we ended up withdrawing our offer on the house. But let me tell you why.
The fault lies primarily with Bank of America's mortgage lending department, which is completely fucked-up, disorganized and unreliable.
I have learned a lot of things in the past few days. For example, I have learned that when you tell people you have found a house that you intend to buy, you shouldn't be surprised if the homeowners in the group begin to glow with excitement, asking you tons of detailed questions about the place, offering various nuggets of home-buying wisdom, and generally acting very similar to how parents do when they meet some nice couple that is pregnant with their first child. They gush. It caught me by surprise, not because I'm childless, but because I have been, by comparison, much more cavalier about the whole process. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Today, after an extended search of a whopping two weeks, we put in an offer on a house we toured yesterday. Toward the end of the day we were informed that the sellers had accepted our offer. Very soon, Dollface and I will officially be homeowners.
I own every Michael Jackson album. I think he was an absolutely amazing talent. I have also long been extremely fascinated by his fabulous eccentricity. Many people dismissed him as a pedophile and a freak, but that oversimplification does him an injustice. The man was phenomenally talented as a singer, songwriter and dancer. He had an unimaginable childhood of isolation, fame, abuse, and most likely sexual confusion. Then, upon reaching young adulthood, as if to drive the experiment further, he became one of the most famous people in the entire world.
Fabulously wealthy, he was given free reign to indulge every unusual whim, many of which were an attempt to reclaim the childhood he felt he lost. He built a zoo and an amusement park to entertain children at his Neverland Valley Ranch. He hideously reconstructed his face in an attempt to erase the perceived ugliness his father cruelly teased him for. Worsening things, he developed the skin-discoloration disease vitiligo, which further eroded his self-image; in the ultimate attempt to hide it, he took drugs which removed all his pigment, effectively whitening one of the most famous black men in America. He then became addicted to the post-operative pain-killers, an addiction that blossomed and stayed with him all of his life.
Yesterday, as we were leaving Burgerville, I spotted a wallet on the ground in the parking lot. Without thinking, Heather and I immediately set about trying to find its owner. Heather tried looking for anyone in the fast food joint or parking lot that resembled the photo in the driver's license, then left a note with the Burgerville staff in case the guy returned. I started rummaging through the wallet looking for any information that might help me track the guy down.
Right away I noticed at least one $100 bill.
You're at a rock show in a basement dive bar in the East Village of Manhattan. The band playing, Brompton's Cocktail, plays a strange rock style where every song sounds stylistically different, but they all sound kinda Beatles-meets-Sabbath. They're dressed up as doctors and surgeons. Halfway through the show, the singer/guitarist puts down his axe, the band starts playing a cheerful vamp reminiscent of Sesame Street, and two whorish surgical assistants bring over a small white-table-clothed table, a baby doll, a bucket, and a big knife.