Making other people rich…

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One of the advantages of creeping ever so mildly up the corporate ladder, as I have, is the ability to increase the wealth of others.  Or at least the opportunity to attempt to do so.

The leaves are changing and it is getting cooler in New England.  And it is rating/ranking/review season at my company.  Also the end of the fiscal year.  So it is a perfect time to apply for last minute achievement awards!

I am really amazed that after 5.5 short years at my company, I have gone from complete peon to a person who has earned achievement awards… to a technical lead who actually nominates teams of other people for such awards!  I tell you it feels awesome.

At the beginning of this year, I was placed in the most daunting role of all my time here: sent to a newly merged business unit to lead a small program for my functional division (new role), and to lead all related proposals for new business in this area (new role as of 2013).  This business unit did not even have support from my engineering division previously, and predictably did not want us around.  It has been an incredibly challenging time.  Right from the start I figured “well regardless of how it goes, everyone up the ladder must realize this is a totally ridiculous situation.”  I thought that I, as well as the people enlisted to work with and under me, were thrown in here as fodder.

But for all the good, bad, and ugly, 2014 blossomed into a decently good (or at least minimally bogus) year in this new area.  There were some confrontations.  There was some BO, I’m not going to lie.  But I also got surprising kudos here and there and took them back to the old headquarters.  Nearing the end of the year, I realize it’s gone well enough that it’s time for a party!  The corporate version of a party anyway.  Money.

So I put in for a team achievement award for the 6 folks who were technically assigned to work under me in various capacities.  These awards are not always selected and awarded, and I got mine in 2 days past the deadline.  But I am getting ready to pester the award people with all the perspiration with which I do everything else around here, to make sure it goes through.  If it works, not only is it a nice little financial reward in time for the many holidays coming up, but it is also a great accomplishment for everyone to add to their annual review paperwork – a great security in a time of economic uncertainty.  Finally, there is a residual benefit to me that the higher-ups can see that I am generous and value the others around me.  But the copious chicken eggs I bring to work already demonstrate that :)

I am totally jazzed that this might work, and further that I might be able to present these awards myself to each person.  This is gonna rule!

Ladies’ shoes: a crapshoot

It is inevitable that some money gets wasted because you don’t use whatever it is you bought.  Perishable food that goes bad.  Gym memberships.  Downloaded Kanye West albums.  But probably the absolute worst thing for me is shoes.  Because many ladies’ shoes are absolute garbage and you have little way to know until it is too late!

No matter how old and practical I get, I always get screwed with shoes about half the time.  In fact, it’s not even like I really like the other half.  The other half are smelly, or make my feet sweat, or are just kind of meh.  But at least they fit, and do not give me blisters or injure me.

But the really bad half.. well ladies, you know what I am talking about.  You pop on the new shoes, admire yourself in the mirror in a variety of silly poses, and walk out of the house… then within 45 minutes you feel like you have been dropped into that Bear Gryllis show and are wondering how bad a blister would have to be before it gets infected.  You hunt around for bandaids, even bothering your cube neighbors if necessary.  You scold yourself for not leaving a reliable pair of shoes around your desk.  But you wouldn’t be able to put those on anyway!  And so you contemplate whether you could just walk around barefoot for the next 8.5 hours through your large defense engineering complex.  Or fashion fake shoes out of stapled together paper, a la Chapman’s sanitary pad slippers in Orange is the New Black.

That is way too much crazy to endure before the first cup of work coffee.  This happened to me recently, about 5 minutes into a 2-hour presentation I gave to the military.  There was no desk under which to kick the horrible shoes and put up my feet.  Just me on a stage, standing ever so imperceptibly on my tippy-toes.  And at the end, per the site protocol, I had to escort the visitors back through our Deathstar-sized building.  With my shoes on of course.  Also on tippy-toes.

I wanted to throw those shoes directly into a trash compactor just from the trauma. Or a vat of Dip from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  I was so sure about these in the store.  And I did not wear them immediately, so I do not remember what I did with the receipt.  Oh, and I wore them outdoors so the DSW people probably would not like that either.

You really have to carefully follow every step of the Shoe Algorithm in order not to get cheated in the shoe game.

  1. Buy the shoes and save the receipt and box
  2. Walk around in the shoes for a really really long time in the house
  3. If you still want the shoes, wear them AT work (not TO work, on the street); pack the new shoes in your bag so as not to get street scuffs
  4. Keep the shoes (yay – discard receipt and box) or return them (boo – fall into a sartorial fit of despair, consider buying more expensive shoes to solve the problem)
  5. Do not buy more expensive shoes – they are junk too

I basically broke every rule here, so I am not surprised it ended with Goodies 0 Junk Shoes 1.  And you really need to be prepared to ultimately make a return, even if by mail, even if it requires turning your house upside down for the receipt or begging and crying to the DSW clerk if you could not find it.  This is about where I lose interest these days.  But I will need to confront or improve the process if I want to improve my shoe budget retention rate.  Because about half the shoes I buy are totally unacceptable.

Let me take a tally to see how shameful it is, from most recent:

  1. Caterpillar work boots, $168.  Too tight despite the dimensions noted online.  Returned.
  2. Wing-tipped heels (to replace other similar $50 heels), $40.  Need to exchange these by mail for larger size.
  3. Crap shoes described above (to expand my look), $30.  Donated.
  4. Fancy boots (to replace other fancy boots after 7 years), $70.  A little painful at first but a win over all.
  5. Patent leather T-strap heels (to expand my look), $30.  Blister city.  Donated.
  6. Little black heels, same make and model as the only other reliable pair of shoes I can recall in 5 years.  $43.  Meh but worth every penny.

My recent metrics would indicate that I am horrible at buying shoes, with about a 50% success rate.  Am I worse than average you think?

The time I saved myself $29,000.

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A.k.a. I avoid getting pwned for once!  I almost went and bought a house.  But that would have been a big mistake.

For the one or two of you out there who read this blog semi-regularly, it has been hibernating.  That’s all I can really say.  I was quietly saving money with the intention of starting into real estate investment.  But I wasn’t sure about it, and wasn’t juiced up to write about anything else.

Then one day, for a variety of reasons, I decided I had found a great investment: a cute little ranch in awesome shape, in an award-winning school district not too far away.  I put an offer on that ranch with a 10% down payment.  And it was actually accepted.

With 10 days on the clock I started thinking about it.  This investment would wipe out everything I have.  I would have no emergency fund left.  I would have to rebuild that – still, I figured, my sweet rental income would boost my savings rate.  

But I also still have $6000 of student loan debt that I had quit paying in favor of going into investments.  I know – my whole life purpose has been to pay off the loans.  But I have a strange habit of saving the last of things (even bad things) rather than moving on.  And this investment would ensure that I hang onto that nagging balance for a long time.

The kicker was that I would have no other money left to pursue other investments if I wanted.  Cash placed in a Vanguard account earns you interest, and can also be withdrawn any time to use as an emergency fund or to seed another investment or self-employment.  I can’t believe I had not thought of that before.  Real estate returns can be much more exciting but your investment money is really illiquid.  Unless you want to take out a line of credit, which on a rental is total insanity.

The thing that really settled things is that I started asking around about real estate with 4 days left on the clock.  And I heard really bad things, all from people who had been in real estate before.  At first I made excuses to myself about why this or that person had a bad time and how I would do better.  But then I realized I can’t do better than all these different friends.  I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask people before.

So I backed out of the house and went and got a haircut.  First pro haircut in over a year!  Maybe this is a better speed for re-entry into the dollar-spending world.

I already saved $2 today… have you?

Good morning!  I bring you this post from work.  (Shush, don’t tell anyone!  Actually I have half the day off due to our flex work schedule.  So I will start the clock in a few minutes.)

Yes, I already saved $2 today, and it wasn’t from skipping the fancy latte, because I already do that anyway.  (If you must know, I drank homemade iced espresso which I brewed last night.)  No, I saved $2 today by biking to work.

It is August once again, which seems to be the time of year when I am most juiced up about biking.  This year, however, I went ahead and bought myself a pretty snazzy bike.  And I love it.  I fly on it, and feel infallible.  It is worth all $470.  It is amazing how the right equipment will take you from struggling and trying to maintain interest in something to dominating and feeling kinda legit.

So far I have only taken my new ride, which I have named She-Ra, on leisure rides.  And while weekend fun is priceless, I thought She-Ra and I could go on some healthful, cost-saving adventures.

Some time ago (when gas prices were probably similar to now – I have not seen them budge significantly in ages) I estimated that my car costs $0.15/mile in gas.  My driving commute to work is 6.5 miles, so it costs me $1.95 per day to drive to work.  Bam!  $2 saved.  

What about wear and tear though?  I am glad you asked.  Because summertime seems to be when every possible road is under construction.  So the bumps, combined with extra road-rage-induced traffic, result in unacceptable wear and tear in my opinion.  There are two logical driving paths to work: a) the winding, quiet neighborhood streets and b) the more direct thoroughfare full of lights and cars.  By default I always choose A.  But summer road work led to cops directing you while you wait and watch caterpillars moving earth around.  That is a bit too much for me.  So around July I switched to route B, which as it turns out is being resurfaced.  Read: exposed manhole covers and other protrusions waiting for you to drop your car all over them.  No thank you.

By comparison, there are actually delightful biking routes that are neither available to nor practical for cars.  Today I rode 3.5 miles down the bike bath, then cut through the neighborhoods, and arrived at work after 8 miles and 40 minutes riding.  300 calories burned rather than $2 of gas.

So with respect to offsetting the cost of the bike, I guess I would need to commute to work 234 more times in order for She-Ra to completely earn her way.  But I think the benefits of joy, fitness, mental health, and giving Subie a rest make up the difference :)

Another good reason to swipe less

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My bank recently deactivated my debit card and issued a new one (including new 16-digit #) because I may have been involved in a questionable transaction.

I assume the bank means well. There would be no other reason to do something so disruptive.  It seems a little extreme though.  Or, to put it another way, it is a sad state of affairs in which there’s so much identity theft that we go cut up our cards even when there is a chance a theft happened – and despite how much there is, the bank does not seem to know if it has happened or not.  It’s a frightening world out there, or at the very least, a headache.

This reminds me of an old Seinfeld stand-up bit where he says the bank tried to talk him into some investment to make his money “work for you.”  And he goes “I think my money has worked enough already” and goes on about how the money made its way through the world to him, and shouldn’t have to have a job now.  Same way I am feeling about my debit card.  Every time I take it out of the wallet and send it out into the world, there is a real risk involved.  Maybe I should give my card more of a break.

If you wrote down all the times you make a credit card transaction in a week, taking into consideration the possibility of surveillance and fraud, it would be sobering.  I guess that is also why neither of my parents have ever been keen on using debit cards too much.  My dad operated entirely on cash withdrawn from the bank once in a while, and wrote checks for his bills.  And he was a corporate leader, well versed in modern technologies both industry and consumer.  He chose to conduct his finances offline, something worth considering.

I don’t mean to be all “money in a shoe box under the bed” but the many other results of debit card usage can be annoying when you get to thinking about them.  You are tracked by your purchases; your expenditures and location become data points that can be shared and bought.  And then you can be electronically robbed.  A gas station owner tried to rob me once via wrong amount of money charged to my debit card ($65.20 rather than $6.52).  I had to chase that down in an investigation with my bank.

So unfortunately, more swipes more problems.  This is just another thing I try to minimize in my minimalist lifestyle.  I have noticed that weekly grocery shopping over eating out daily, filling up the gas tank once from empty (rather than filling halfway and always looking for better rates), and staying out of the coffee shop altogether minimize debit transactions and opportunities for all these problems.  Do you make any effort to limit plastic transactions, or am I being paranoid?

Ms. Goodies Gets Schooled in Real Estate

For anyone interested in real estate investment income, my lessons learned should be of interest.  The price is right anyway!

I’ve been looking at multi-unit rental income properties with my real estate agent, who owns multiple properties herself and therefore seems very savvy.  She has given me the following tips, which help you narrow down from broad to specific.

  1. Buy in good school districts.  Yeah, you generally hear that.  But in buying big multi-unit places, you get tempted to look for the cheapest deal possible or in a town near you for convenience.  But these things really do not matter if they are not in a school district, because you will have a hard time finding reliable, long-term tenants (like education-minded parents) to keep your units rented.
  2. Buy 3-4 unit places rather than 2-units.  Five or more units is considered commercial real estate and has all different (and more restrictive and expensive) lending and insurance rules.  But in the up-to-4 unit world, you want to be at the upper end, even as a newbie.  Basic investment diversification: if you own a 2-unit place and one tenant bails, you’ll probably be dropping money just to make the bills.  With a 4-unit in that scenario, you will at least not be in the red probably.  “Enough units and low enough costs that you could keep one unit empty at all times” is the way my agent likes to put it.  And the thought of one always-available unit seems useful in other ways…
  3. Kids, kids, kids.  More emphasis on kids.  Which makes sense, because the root of all the advice is to try to rent to stable families.  Don’t buy units with just a stall shower (bad for babies).  Any place on a busy street or situated close to the street needs ample/boundaried backyard for a safe place for kids to play.  House can’t be in front of a gun dealer, no matter how low-profile.  You know the problems when you see them, and these are the ones we have seen so far.

So I keep these things in mind.  This weekend we went to see a property I was very excited about, which seemed to meet all these criteria.  A 4-unit place in a famous local school district; situated on an acre but right in the cute, historic center of town.  They are asking $360K, which seems reasonable compared to all the multi-units around.  And the house is in great shape and has long-term tenants in place.  But it kind of fell apart as we looked…

  1. There is just one heating system, and the owner pays heating.  The owner said they just charge the tenants $100/month more than they would otherwise, to offset.  But the oil heater also requires 2x/year maintenance, which sounds annoying and expensive.  The owner and my agent agreed that splitting out the heating with propane would cost about $25K.
  2. Sewerage betterment.  Apparently when old towns decide to improve the sewerage system, they charge each associated house proportionately.  And they charge multi-unit properties per unit.  So this house got hit with a $58K amortized bill, which still has about $30K debt.  This would be transferred to the new owner, so in effect these owners are asking $390K for this house rather than $360.
  3. The current owners are only making $150/month over the bills(!!!)  Much less than I would have guessed.  I have yet to look into the bills they are disclosing, and determine whether they tacked on any improvements onto their mortgage.  My agent did some quick math and determined that at the asking price price, with the current rent values and mortgage interest rates (but without sewer bill), I would make about $600/month over the bills.  But that is still not enough cushion in my opinion to cover inevitable maintenance costs for 4 units.

Before I heard about the $30K sewerage bill, I considered making an offer of $335K, citing that I would need to update and split out the heating.  But given the current owners’ margins, I have no appetite for inheriting the plumbing bill.  They would need to pay it off, which I doubt they would agree to.

Well, that’s a shame.  Back to the drawing board.

The Chiropractic Experiment

After a long time of pretty bare bones frugality, I am going to try to honestly document an experiment in what some might consider a highly extravagant luxury: comprehensive, ongoing chiropractic care.  At the same time, this will be a journey in discovering how my new Health Savings Account (HSA) “defined contribution” type insurance plan works.  I have not figured out yet whether the plan officially considers chiropractic care to be part of its covered preventative services.  So here we go.

Some background: I just feel lousy lately.  I have had a series of cumulative pains and troubles that have restricted and impaired my life lately.  First, starting a few months ago I started feeling all-over achy and weak when it would come time to go running; I would cut off jogs at 3 miles rather than hit 4 or 5 like I used to.  Then about a month ago, I started having pretty intense neck pain and stiffness, which has resulted in compromised driving posture and sub-par soccer performance.  More recently, I find I have no extra energy at the end of the work day and must immediately take a small catnap before doing anything else.  I don’t even make it out to run on most days.  Obviously this is getting worse and has to stop.

The other effect is that the chronic pain and fatigue have made me cranky at work and distracted with friends.  These are also deal-breaking behaviors.  I can’t afford to be cranky at work – being cheerful is one of my best workplace qualities, and a real differentiator at an engineering firm!

And I already tried to address my problems in simpler ways.  I offloaded some of my tasks at work to de-stress, got more sleep, drank more water, and even went for a back massage.  But none of this has helped.

So I had my first visit at a holistic health-type chiropractor today.  The consultation cost $45.  The doctor noted that health insurance companies do not usually cover the consultation.  So I guess $45 isn’t so bad for the full price of an up-front consult?

Apparently my back is in such poor shape that the doctor offered an adjustment today, in advance of reviewing my file with me (which happens at the 2nd visit and is usually the pre-cursor to chiropractic adjustment).  So I happily went for the adjustment, which cost $45 as well.  Huh?  That seemed a little extreme.  But the level of pain I feel in my body lately cannot be over-emphasized.  I was glad just for the opportunity.

So I dropped $90 today, and have not yet looked into whether my insurance covers this.  Since I have an HSA, it is basically some cash provided by my company along with some more cash I contributed, which can be accessed with an HSA credit card to pay medical bills.  I just used my personal debit card today. I am not sure this service is covered anyway, though in theory you should use the money in the account for services (whether covered or not) to help get you to the deductible amount.

Going forward, I am not sure how much these visits cost when covered by insurance – whether $45 is reduced to some other value.  But worst case scenario is that it costs the full $45 for every visit, and the doctor’s office suggests that I return once a week for the next few months.  That would come to $180/month.  It’s almost as much as I spend on food per month, but I suppose I would pay that for a few months in exchange for pain relief.

While this may be a “rip-off” I think results would be worth it.  What do you think?  What is the absence of pain worth?

Employer-sponsored health insurance: going the way of the perm?

 

Anybody spending any time getting upset about the implications of the Hobby Lobby ruling is getting it all wrong.  Employer-sponsored health insurance probably won’t be around much longer.

This isn’t even one of my zany theories.  I just started Googling “employer sponsored health insurance” to learn more about it, and many of the results for that benign search term were about how Obamacare spells the end of employer-sponsored health insurance.  The articles imply that crushing employer insurance was not one of the goals of the ACA, but the reality is that all the new rules place an untenable financial burden on employers.

It makes sense.  Employer-sponsored insurance was already kludgy as hell prior to the Hobby Lobby determination.  And the Hobby Lobby case just underscores how antiquated and ill-fitting this system is now.

Employer insurance started largely during WWII as a fringe benefit to counteract wage freezes, buoyed by a tax advantage for employers enacted around that time.  It peaked in the 60s and 70s, an expansionary time in US history for both socialized services and medical patronage.  A hundred years ago, people went several years without seeing a doctor; now health services and products are a large part of our lives.

The scale has tipped, and at this point insurance plans are expected to subsidize a slew of what might arguably be only somewhat medical items and services, such as face lifts, mood elevators, and Viagra.  Which I understand is expensive for the insurer (not to mention the insured).  I read in one of these articles that employer insurance coverage and participation both decreased through the ’90s and ’00s – marking the beginning of a period of natural contraction in this “semi-socialized” type of insurance.

So this is just my observation, but it seems like just prior to ACA, our relationship to health insurance was like that classic rock song “Stuck in the Middle with You” (or more specifically, the Hanes commercial with all the thongs on the laundry line set to this song).  A giant proverbial wedgie.  We all want health insurance, and everyone seems to know that private insurance is way too expensive.  So you need your job to provide cheap group insurance.  But as long as there is some coverage, it probably does not impact your decision on where to work.  And then inevitably you are dissatisfied with it.

At the same time, it sounds like employers have been coming to resent insurance for the non-value-added cost that it is.  They could never get rid of it altogether, but they could chip away at it and prospective employees wouldn’t know until it’s too late.  The insurance at one of my jobs did not even cover annual Well Woman exam.  What’s up with that?  But I continued to work there and just paid for these services.  Then at my current job the insurance seems a little too expensive.  But I just pay for it.  In neither of these cases was I going to leave my job over it.

So there has been a tension, at least in the plans I have seen.  Your company usually only offers 2-3 plans tops, so you really don’t have much of a choice. And your company had latitude to change up the whole insurance arrangement without any employee buy-in, as illustrated so brilliantly in the Dwight clip above.  The Office really nailed it on that one.

Enter ACA.  Obamacare was ostensibly supposed to make everything better and more comprehensive, but what it did is push a teetering system to the brink.  Employers did not like paying for the optional insurance plans before, and now they are legally required to provide bigger plans than they ever had.  I don’t think corporations will have much of a chance to engage in ethical medical conflicts.  The added costs of the ACA laws will compel employers to push the costs onto the employees through the back end, or consider taking the fee instead of continuing to cover employees.

I would be more worried about what happens next.  It would be nice to think that we might all enter the private market, and a competitive environment would develop in an attempt to earn all of our business.  But the insurance industry is far too regulated to welcome competitors and a free market.  And the same Federal Government that expanded its powers enough to enact a national health tax could also take over the administration of the system that redistributes the tax money.  Especially now that the group insurance environment is sufficiently distasteful that employers might voluntarily exit the market.

DC wants to help with your loans: What are you gonna do about it?

Last week was a big week for student loans, but I was too busy to hear much about it.  Barack Obama was doing something; Elizabeth Warren was doing something.  Being a Massachusetts resident, I am familiar with Elizabeth Warren’s student loan cause.  But I was surprised this topic came up twice.

Say what you will, I think this Wall Street Journal summary was amusing:

Student debt in the U.S. now tops $1.2 trillion, spread among 37 million borrowers, 5.4 million of whom have already defaulted. Washington took notice this week, rolling out the usual non-solutions: On Monday, President Obama expanded a federal program that allows students to repay debt based on what they earn, eventually forgiving the balance. Taxpayers pay the rest. On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s idea to tax millionaires to pay for broad student-loan refinancing stalled in the Senate.

Well here is my unsolicited opinion about those plans:

Pay As You Earn

This is the program that Obama is expanding to include older borrowers who took out loans prior to 2007, which he estimates to be about 5 million potential applicants.  Problem is that only 1.6 million are enrolled now, due to poor word of mouth and loan servicer resistance.  So 5 million more might be a little optimistic.

Here’s my more fundamental problem with this plan: you reduce your payments to 10% of your discretionary income (however they figure that out), and you go along like that for 20 years until your remaining balance is forgiven.  20 years.  Since interest is piling up on the back end, it would probably never make sense to try to pay off the debt even if you are older and earning more.  You’d just be paying off mountains of interest you allowed to accrue.  So this plan turns your schooling costs into an additional 10% income tax that follows you around for the better portion of your working years.  And as depressing as that sounds, the inevitable balance of interest that is due to the Federal Government becomes the tax payers’ problem.

So let’s see: the Federal Government provides the student loans with some sort of tax-related income, and came up with a plan to allow borrowers to not pay the full amount back.  The tax payers make up the difference – but wait, didn’t the original seed money come from the tax payers?  This doesn’t seem like a good investment…

Warren Plan: Take from the “rich” to give to the poor

I give Elizabeth Warren an A+ for compassion for students, but she has this bizarre fixation on punishing the rich.  For me it is just a turn-off.  Moreover: her oversimplified logic about wealth re-distribution begs for critique.  Of course, you could do many amazing humanitarian things with the Kardashians’ fortune.  But their fortune is not up to us, is it?  Nor should it be.  This is America, where our wealth is supposed to be protected… no matter how brazenly acquired or spent.

Her plan is to lower student loan interest rates with money she found from a handy loophole that she can close in the tax law for rich tax payers.  (In engineering, looking to other peoples’ areas for cost-cutting so that you can fund something of your own is called not cool.)  What I am saying is that she probably doesn’t have the cooperation of the tax law stakeholders.  And I find it hard to believe that her team contains genius loophole-discoverers having revelations heretofore unseen on Capitol Hill.  Even if they are, getting things done in the real world doesn’t usually involve charmless headlines about uncovering other people’s errors.

But here’s my real problem with this plan: even if peoples’ loan interest rates reduced, I do not honestly believe that most people would take the opportunity to pay down faster.  No matter what interest rate you are at, you almost always have the opportunity to pay down faster than the minimum.  But most people don’t take it.

And by the way, “millionaires” aren’t the Scrooge McDucks anymore.  That would be billionaires.  A million currently is considered a modest retirement egg for a 60 year old after 35 hard years of work.  Wait a minute, Elizabeth Warren wants to take money away from retired school teachers?!

So I had to chuckle at the WSJ’s characterization of these plans as “non-solutions” because I too am left with the question: what’re you gonna do about it?  The only real cure for loans (once you have them) is to buckle down and pay them off.  I am against digging into any class of tax payer more to “help” student loan borrowers.  College is a vacation; working life is hard, and should not be bitten any more.

Unmitigated junk.

For maybe the first time ever, last week I found myself on an airplane without any sort of reading material.  No book, no magazine.  I don’t own a tablet.  And my work computer certainly did not have anything good to read – anything saved to my local hard drive anyway.  Poor planning.

So after I was done sleeping with my mouth open in front of total strangers, I moved onto the airplane magazines.  The informational one had interesting articles about Minnesota… Then it was down to the smaller magazine selling crap.  It’s really crap!  A shawl you can wear around your torso to improve your posture.  A floating toy you can put in your pool to make it look like a guy is driving a gondola around in there.  A mesh platform with a shade cover for dogs to sit on outside.  How ridiculous!  You know that any dog lucky enough to get outdoors to a nice yard just wants to rub her neck in the nearest poop or plain old lay around in the full sun.  Not sit on the dog equivalent of a trampoline under an umbrella.  Dogs can get all their requisite kicks for free.

Even if you came to the conclusion that you have bad posture – which is not really a problem – you could solve this non-problem by thinking to yourself “I shall sit straighter from now on!”  And before you know it, either your non-problem is solved, or you feel like you solved it and are pretty pleased with yourself.  Which in reality is about the same outcome.

Same with the pool gondola guy.  I just don’t see how someone gets to the point of thinking “gee, my pool is so empty when I’m not in it splashing around and enjoying myself!”  Personally, I would like to look out the window and see a sparkling, crystal clear pool free of cartoonish interruptions.  But maybe this is a white-person-with-pool problem.  I wouldn’t understand.

The magazine went on for at least 50 pages with this nonsense.  It made me wonder what the implied characteristic of the total population of the flying public is.  That because we are sitting in Economy seats on a flight from Boston to Detroit, we have too much money to know what to do with?  Or has the stale, fart-laden air in planes been proven in studies to reduce cognitive abilities and decision-making faculties?  Your phone is in airplane mode on the plane anyway, so you can’t make any immediate poor decisions.

This was like a strange glimpse into another world for me.  I have always avoided push-marketing of unnecessary stuff.  I don’t watch QVC ever (don’t even have cable anymore), and don’t have catalogs of any kind of goods that come to my house.  I like to think that all my stuff is purposeful and essential.  So the overload of pointless junk was overwhelming.  Next time (and all following times) I will bring a book.