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Spring Cleaning
(15 February 2009)

With Spring just around the corner, I decided the first thing I'd clean would be my wallet. Nearly two inches thick, my billfold has become just too unwieldy for my back pocket. While this isn't a problem at home, commuting can be a pain in the...you know what I mean.

The first thing to go was the month's worth of debit card receipts accumulated from the local grocery stores. It's not often I carry cash other than bus fare, and who needs to when the local grocers don't add a surcharge for the purchases one makes? Of course there may be a minimum purchase price to qualify for this "free" service, but the 50 cents stores are charged is their price to pay to keep customers happy.

Some merchants have experimented with this service: one month all charges are free, the next only purchases under a certain amount are surcharged. The quality of service also varies, with some locals displaying a sign — typically scotch taped to the cash register — announcing the surcharge while others automatically tack it on without so much as a mere mention of this hidden tax.

I must admit I'm not as vigilant about verifying my receipts as I should be — cross-checking each and every one of them against my bank statements, for example — but the primary grocer I use is a wonderful small family business that treats me extremely well, catering to my specific needs as best they can.

Credit card receipts are another matter. I file those separately in my wallet and keep them around for comparison against my monthly statements. As I rarely use them for anything other than specific recurring Internet bills (and the occasional meal or two), I was confused but relieved to discover my card frozen when just after using it for a cab fare, someone attempted to make a several hundred dollar electronics purchase on it to no avail.

I should probably check my credit score now, but since nothing I've done has really changed since receiving a nearly perfect 836 out of 900 a few years back, I'm not too concerned. Plus, I'm not too thrilled at the idea of providing the information to any of these ads that promise free credit checks. Websites report the average score is closer to 690 so I was fairly shocked by mine especially after having been forced on several occasions in the past to use one card to pay off another when I was unable to cover my bills and ended up having to forfeit all of them in the end.

As for my compromised credit card number, the lender's fraud department instructed me to destroy the card, but when I was recently asked to provide a vendor digits from that card to confirm my account information, it was simpler to dig it out of my fire box than search through the stack of old bills. Besides, I miss having been 007 according to that credit card company.

Now the funny thing about the actual receipts themselves is that the heat activated ink many machines use often renders them unreadable after an amount of time leaving one with a collection of otherwise blank strips of paper. But even in the case of these wayward scraps, I feel it still best to feed them to my shredder if not file them away in a safe place at home. I chuckle (and cringe) when I think of an IRS tax auditor demanding those receipts as proof of purchase.

The next wave of Spring Cleaning my wallet received was to weed out some of the numerous cards that have been accumulating over the years. It's amazing just how much unnecessary stuff piles up: from video rental store cards from old neighborhoods, to those from coffee and sandwich shops I'll probably never return to; even cards with a Social Security number are often unnecessary (and dangerous) to carry around at all times. Case in point: I got mugged for my wallet and keys some years back, but thank God(s) I was able to guilt trip the duo into returning them. Chalk that one up to yet another of my numerous amazing animal experiences for which a friend said I must be the reincarnation of Saint Francis of Assisi.

I even discovered some duplicate cards with differing phone numbers for an insurance company I no longer use. Another number I needed to call was for a pair of ancient free coupons to a comedy club, and after leaving a message, received a phone call back to notify me that they're still valid but more restrictive to the specific day of week they can be used. As for the stack of people's business cards I carry, do I really need them all on me when I don't own a cell phone? Some people even carry around charge cards they'd never use anywhere but at their computer or a once in a blue moon vacation.

Last but not least were all the tidbits of paper containing names and numbers of friends and appointments I've had. It's kind of unsettling to think that I still had phone numbers that have been out of service for years as well as lists of people I haven't spoken to in just as long. The worst find was an address of a long deceased relative.

At this point my wallet was bare as I don't carry around pictures of loved ones, but I found myself sitting among piles of this, that and the other thing still wondering what should stay and what should go where. I had really hoped to rid myself of more, but I can't bring myself to part with some of them like my Greenpeace World Associate card. Others I fed greedily into the shredder. My billfold is still thick as a brick, but at least now I have a better idea of what it contains.

Next project: unread email.

(16 February 2009)

It's said a suit makes the man, but I have to argue that the man makes the suit. Suits are considered the professional attire of businessmen, but I beg to differ that they're the uniform of conformists. Sure they may look good when suited to a specific region and time, but in all actuality they are just overpriced if not dangerous clothing.

It doesn't seem that long ago that the cut of the jib (so to speak) varied greatly than what is considered sheik today, and even contemporary suits from different countries may look out of place elsewhere. A Frenchman, for example, who guest lectured at my college looked antiquated in his stylish French-cut wardrobe as the Italian style seems more palatable to American tastes.

But what's a suit without a tie? Often a bolt of silk is noosed around one's neck all day cutting off the circulation to the brain all in the hope that that modern day codpiece substitute looking good might mean a big promotion down the line regardless of any actual performance. It's all who you know, right? And first impressions are the only ones that matter?

I long to see Hollywood actually show what a power tie can do when a thug grabs hold of it throwing the man with tons of money to the ground and stealing his overpriced billfold and other accoutrements. It'd even be fun to see the suit's finger get lopped off for that two ounce gold ring studded with diamonds that won't move past his knuckle.

So men wearing suits are supposed to be professional? It was shortly after I started college that I happened upon the biggest stoner from my old high school decked out in a suit and tie and couldn't help but bust a gut in laughter at how oxymoronic he appeared. But that's nothing compared to what I've seen of other men in suits.

One day during the heyday of my career among many of my lifts home from another underrated employee from our job, I wish I hadn't seen a suit in an expensive car along side us pick his nose and eat the bugger. That image burned deeply into my brain as suits are supposed to be better than the rest of us, no? I tried to convince myself back then that it must be just an anomaly, but when every suit I passed in the washroom while working at Microsoft never rinsed their hands after using the lavatory, I couldn't help but think that these are the men who make shaking hands a duly part of their daily habits.

Again I say it's the man that makes the suit and not the other way around. That corporations will require a suit and tie as the stock uniform for all employees when it's the creative types loathing that construct who actually produce the bottom line, I feel a serious rethinking of the so-called status quo needs to be called to order.

Hot and Cold Running Water
(18 February 2009)

The shower in my apartment has got me thinking about people; specifically what seems to be many women's all or nothing attitude towards the one's they love to hate, or is it hate to love?

My bathtub combo works into this in a number of ways. To begin with, the hot water is not very convenient to my abode as it is piped in from a boiler located a full block away rather than a heater in the next room. Like a long distance relationship, it may be quite a while before the hot water gets to me, and even then, even longer before it reaches full steam; but all the while, the anticipation of feeling once again that lovely hot water is always there and hopefully well worth the wait.

That so many resources are poured into just having warm water, a steamy hot shower is a luxury I don't often enjoy. All that cold water down the drain reminds me of much of the wastefulness that goes into maintaining a distant relationship. In modern times before the Internet, friendships across continents meant writing letters on dead trees and then using dead dinosaurs to propel those letters across the vast distances. It takes days before snail mail reaches the person and just as long if not longer to receive a response. Telephones vastly improved upon communications, but the price tag to hear a familiar voice is often too costly in terms of accessibility and windows of opportunity. The logistics of a half day time zone differential can be quite tricky, and an automated voice mail response inherently loses the human touch.

I'm reminded of a high school sweetheart I was forced to part with because of a move from my hometown in the New World to across the pond in the Old. Through no fault of my own or her's we had to break up, and while I tried to write letters and call, their frequency diminished as the heat between us faded. I did eventually return to my hometown only to discover that the relationship was ice cold. When I ventured to call her to wish her a happy birthday she ended up attacking me insisting that I never contact her again. (I recently learned she was heartbroken when I moved away as was I, so receiving such a cold shoulder upon my return hurts more now than ever.)

My shower's just like that too. Once the hot water finally starts coming, I'm forced to add cold water to find the comfort level. The problem with my shower is that the slightest nudge in either direction changes it from too hot to too cold without the utmost care taken in its adjustment. It's often an unbearably grueling process to find a temperature that's just right.

While it seems human nature to jump from one extreme to the other — an all or nothing give or take — others strive to maintain a delicate sense of balance that would be lifelong friendship. As a note circulating the Internet describes: while a pair of eyes never meet, like good friends they're usually pointed in the same direction. Unfortunately, in the real world, conditions such as so-called lazy eye may develop requiring drastic measures as a patch to block the view of the good eye in the hopes that the errant one heals. Sometimes the loss of an eye altogether must be accepted as the result of our frail animal origins.

The next time I start to run the water to begin what I hope to be a long, hot shower, I can't help but dread to realize that in this modern day of instant access some people enjoy if not demand, the fluids I'll eventually be bathing in is also contaminated by all the crap other people have pissed down the drain.

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