Friday, March 16, 2012

More or Less for Your Money

I have never been genuinely poor. There has always been enough money for me and my family to have everything we need (food, shelter, clothing) and many of the things we simply want (books, electronics, and in my case, hats). On the other hand, I have never been genuinely rich. I have always had to watch how money is spent and only in the last few years have I been able to buy things like furniture at a store which only sold furniture and didn’t also offer t-shirts, shampoo and car batteries (all too often I was forced to go to the store which shall not be named, Volde-Mart).

Because of this fact of life I pay attention to the value I get when I spend money. I know full well buying the cheapest often means I get the least. The dirt cheap breakfast cereal may mean eating the box would be more pleasurable. The cheapest generic brand of tissue may be akin to using those brown paper towels from schools (one abrasion level below sandpaper) on your poor allergy-ridden nose. The cheapest bath towel may only be pleasant to touch in the store and then oddly share more characteristics with plywood than with cottony goodness after it absorbs the first bit of moisture from your just-out-of-the-shower body. Those are choices which make the occasionally splurge moments (breakfast cereal with the picture of an anthropomorphic tiger, tissue with moisturizer added and a bath towel with enough fluffy to make a chinchilla jealous) all that much more hedonistic.

Then there are the times spending less money gets your more. Case in point: hotels. There have been a couple times I stayed in a high dollar fancy hotel and I have to say I prefer the middle of the road ones. (Full disclosure: I have also stayed in motels where the sidewalks are intentionally angled to make it easier to hose off the unfortunate bodily fluids left behind by certain “guests”.) The chain motels offer extra stuff with no extra charge. I want to stay at a place which has breakfast in the lobby, wi-fi in the room and a mini-fridge with nothing in it. The last time I stayed at a true hotel I was forced to walk down the street to the fast food joint for breakfast rather than spend the price of airfare to Orlando for a glass of orange juice. I had to use my debit card in the business center to pay the per minute charge for internet access in order to transfer money from my savings account to the debit account to pay for the weak moment of having a soda from the mini-bar which, judging from the price, must have both powdered diamonds and essence of unicorn as ingredients.

The two entities currently sucking up the most money in my life are also the two entities that could not care less about me.

I spend, what to me is, an obscene amount of money each month for health insurance. Does this corporation (which according to the Supreme Court is a person and therefore must have empathy and concern for its fellow man) promptly pay each expense submitted to it by the health care professionals and cover each and every health concern we might come across? Not so much. I have to fill out new forms over and over swearing on a stack of holy books in addition to my original pinkie swear that I do not have any supplementary insurance each time a family member sees a doctor. The only time I could meet my deductible would be if I had a baby and I do mean if I, not my wife, physically birthed a child.

The other money sucking, debt producing entity in my financial life is the university my eldest daughter is attending. Ah, college life. Where else can one explore the mysteries of the world, gain the wisdom of the ages and be shoehorned into a residence which makes your average sardine in a can living arrangements seem downright palatial? Also, where else can you give somebody thousands of dollars and they get to tell you what to do and how to do it? The “I pay you so you work for me” dynamic is all screwed up here. If some Goldman Sachs guy gave me that much money he’d think he could make me get his dry cleaning (from Bangladesh on foot), wash his car (with my tongue) and make his coffee (growing the beans in my living room). He might be right.

Christopher Pyle simply wants to be rich enough to “call the guy” anytime something breaks. He can be contacted at

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Stroll Down the Primrose Pathology

We all have our own little pathologies, those character flaws which define us as much as our talents do. If I were to name one of mine (and trust me, I am well aware I possess more than one) I would have to say I care an inordinate amount about having people like me. Not just the people in my family or circle of close friends or co-workers I also mean the guy who rolled up to the four way stop just a hair after I did but I still wave on ahead of me because it is very important that a person I have never laid eyes on in my life and very well may never see again and all I know about him is he, for reasons passing understanding, decided it was a good idea to buy a car which is roughly the size of a small apartment building and a color not found in nature, unless you count a Las Vegas casino as nature, thinks I am truly swell. Yep, that makes my life better.

I don’t really have any idea why I am compelled this way. It could be a birth order problem, a nurture (I was raised that way) problem, a nature (I was born that way, in reference to DNA hard-wiring not in reference to a Lady Gaga song) problem, or a none of the above problem.

Kindness is one of the things I value most in others and I strive to be kind in all of my interactions, even when a phone sales person calls and will not take the first “no, thank you” as a definitive answer but quickly chimes in saying there is another payment plan that might better fit my budget and simply looks upon the second “no, thank you” as a very pale “yes” and continues to explain how important it is that my money becomes their money. It is possible the “thank you” part of the “no, thank you” is perceived as a sign of weakness marking me as the sick gazelle ripe for the marketing lion to catch and empty its checking account. The metaphor got muddled at the end there, but you get what I mean. Even though it is commendable to be kind it is possible I take it a tad further than is necessary.

I think it was Plato who said, “Be kind and rewind”, no, wait, that was something I learned from my days working at Popingo Video (remember Popingo Video before it became Popinwent Out of Business). Plato said “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That is a philosophy I take to heart. It is important to me that I do what I can to avoid making other people’s lives harder. I am not always successful, just ask people I work with, but I try. At least I try when it doesn’t come into direct conflict with another of my chief pathologies, a weapons grade level of procrastina
tion. See, I even put off typing the end of the word itself. That is pretty horrible.

A lot of my personal heroes are people from the world of comedy. I have read lots of interviews with comedians and comedy writers, listened to dozens and dozens of talk shows on television and via podcasts with people who make their living doing funny things and one thing shared by a vast majority of them is a insatiable need to be liked. Some of them come from homes where there was heartache and pain making them reach out to strangers for positive emotion. That is not me. But others are like me in that they cannot really tell you why they crave acceptance from everyone. Laughter at something I do is ambrosia for my psyche if I meant it to be funny.

This brings me to my next personal pathology. I have an intense, irrational, incontinent (whoops, one “i” word too far, sometimes assonance can make an, oh nevermind) aversion to embarrassment. This is another trait shared by many comics. I may be misattributing this quote (darn, another opportunity for embarrassment) but I think it was Harry Shearer who said comedians do funny things in order to control how and why they are laughed at. If I can do something or say something funny on purpose that gets you to laugh I can avoid having you laugh at me for reasons I do not control. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me while at the same time sounding perfectly sad with just a soupcon of pathetic thrown in.

Christopher Pyle appreciates this opportunity to work through some issues. It is much cheaper than real therapy. You can diagnose him via