Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July: Monthly Totals

I just got my last purchase of the month in—a $2.31 Magnum 40 to help kill this caffeine buzz (don’t read as: pain) that I suddenly have—at 11:33pm, 07/31/2007, and here’s how the monthly totals for July look:

Bills: $422.00
As stated at the beginning of the month, this included rent, utilities, phone, student loans and a minimum payment on my credit card. This probably won’t fluctuate all that much, at least not until winter when we have to actually use heat, though for the next three months we have to pay a portion of our last month rent that I guess we didn’t pay before. But even that divided by four is only $60 or so more.

Alcohol: $139.90
This includes two shows at the Mohawk Place, one free show at Thursday at the Square, at least one night out per weekend and a surprisingly low one trip to La Luna for its open bar on Wednesday. Averaged out this amounts to about $35 a week, which sounds pretty standard to me even though this total also includes a bachelor’s party and a graduation party that I don’t envision being in my regular monthly expenditures. However, I’m bound to take up a couple more Thursday at the Squares than I did last month and spend another night or two out on the weekends to keep this in about the same range.

Sub-total, Free Beers: 47
Like I said, you can’t put a price on good friends. Or free beers for that matter either.

Food: $107.97
As outlined in an earlier post, my diet consisted of nothing different should I have been spending five times more money: there’s only so much I know how to make and, of that, so much that I want to eat. Between the staples of my diet I managed to mix and combine them enough to last an entire month without getting sick of any of them. Nope, not even the 5am goulash that I made last Saturday night.

Dine-in/Take-out: $32.59
Separate from the food bill because of its unnecessary (except late at night) nature, almost guilty pleasure status and its, well as the kids would call it, “being a treat,” this mostly includes small trips to McDonald’s, though it also includes two great breakfasts—one at Nick’s Place and one at its cousin restaurant, Sophia’s—and, when including my credit purchases, two trips to SteakOut. Generally, I’m surprised I behaved myself so well in limiting myself to only this many meals out of the house, especially considering the regularity of being out late. Maybe I do, deep down, possess some form of temperance after all, though hopefully not so much. Like grace, you don’t want too much temperance or else you won’t be able to stand.

Miscellaneous Expenses: $34.62
This includes laundry and cover charges for the shows I went to over the month, though I also charged some purchases on a wrist brace ($18?) and $21 on gas ($21 more dollars on gas than I thought I’d spend). Thought I realize this is the category that can make or break my goal—no health insurance and a propensity to go out and ride my bike home, not to mention my already possibly broken or severely sprained wrist—I don’t see this being all that much higher: by getting rid of my car I had hoped to eliminate such expenses as much as possible. Though I know how, like nature abhorring a vacuum, life has a way of despising idealistic ventures, so I can’t say I would be surprised if I am wrong about this hunch.

Purchases on Credit: $123.17
To prevent double counting these purchases in a later month’s bill payments, I will keep this as a separate category though not figuring it into the monthly total. In all criticism of myself, I certainly do not intend to ever again crack the $100 credit mark and hope to eliminate the use of credit—surely I am un-American to say such a thing!—completely if at all possible.

TOTAL: $737.08
Total with Credit purchases (minus the payment made for previous credit purchases): $840.25

General outlook: the month wasn’t much different than what I envisioned, even if I have been slightly more of a hermit than I had hoped to be. Hopefully that will change in the next month. Still, I managed to go to two shows at the Mohawk, one at the Square, ate breakfast out twice, made a couple SteakOut visits, and, on the free side, constantly hang out with my friends (even had a great two hours of laughing and sitting on the porch with two of my roommates tonight), play Bid Pitch on a bi-weekly schedule, took multiple bike rides, enjoyed the garage sales resulting from the Garden Walk this past weekend, read under a tree at Bidwell Park and even found the time to finish reading (only) a couple of books.

Even if counting the credit purchases, which will obviously catch up with me and be accounted for (if I was to only pay the minimum over the course of the year and finish the year with credit card debt, I would then (obviously, I hope) include those purchases in my final yearly expenditure total), this would put me on pace to spend $10,083 over the course of the year.

This may not sound all that far below my allotted goal, but trying to spend $160 more a month, consistently, would be far more difficult for me than even Brewster (think Richard Pryor, not the Punky kind) would think. I’d have to buy new shoes and shirts to get that lavish.

Though that purchasing instinct of mine has been telling me to buy some new(er) shoes. Still, as the saying goes, I’m not buying. Right now I’m just hoping that medicine I bought tonight will help kill that caffeine buzz so I can sleep in this humid room.

As always, one night at a time.

The Eight Hour Fallacy

All last week I road my bike 40 minutes (9 miles) each way just to get to work. Just in order to work. And even though I loved the biking (that’s my mind speaking, not my thigh muscles), and even though I appreciated the fact that it didn’t cost me money in getting there (unless one wants to take it to the extreme of counting the food to fuel my body in order to ride that far), it did cost me time. And in doing so, it reminded me of the fallacy of the eight hour work day.

By uttering “eight hour work day” one only means the time you are paid for (ie: the amount of time you are required not to fall asleep and are required to look busy). But most full-time jobs give you an unpaid half hour for lunch that must be accounted for during the work day. With the average one-way commute (and that right there is just poor, or lazy, linguistics) nationally being just over 26 minutes [1]—which, doubled to account for the round trip, is 52 minutes or more than 5/6ths (83%) of an hour—between just getting to work and eating lunch one has accounted for nearly 9½ hours of their day. Further figuring that one will probably take the time to shower and groom themselves beforehand, one is probably looking at at least thirty minutes (or somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half hours for females as near as I would guess) more dedicated to the work day itself, the total is now approaching ten hours. If one makes a lunch to take to work as I do, or has to wash their clothes for the next day, there’s even more time lost to a work day total now nearing even closer to a ten and a half, or maybe even an eleven, hour work day.

And if you’re anything resembling a normal human being (and Life help you for it), you’re probably tired out by the time you finally make it home and feel the need to unwind with a drink, a nap, or some television. If you only take an hour to do these activities there are now nearly twelve hours—half the day—lost to the day all in relation to the supposedly necessary act of work.

Add on the more than likely seven hours you’re going to sleep to make sure you’re not sleeping on the clock and we are now more than 3/4ths the day through while spending time only dedicated to the act of work.

This isn’t even to mention the money one spends on just getting to work. If, in a rough calculation, one spent on average $.48/mile in getting to work ($.48/mile being the national reimbursement rate [2]) for the average 32 miles one commutes (16 miles each way, [1]), one would spend $15.36 a day, round trip, just in getting to and from work. Over the course of the week that comes to $76.80. If one made $10 an hour—middle ground to the minimum wage and higher paying jobs on the other end of the spectrum—this would mean that 7.68 hours (nearly an entire day of work every week) were spent working just to be able to get to work. Thus, immediately, no matter what one might lack or possess otherwise in the way of bills to pay, one’s paycheck would be worth only slightly more than 32 hours of work.

I wouldn’t so much mind—well, maybe not—the eight hour work day if it was only an eight hour work day. But instead the eight hour day is nothing more than a terrible fallacy. If one were paid for all the hours and money spent in preparation for and in getting to work in an average day, over the course of an average week one would be paid for 67 hours.

But in being paid only 40 hours pay for 67 hours work, one begins to see the deal the check writers are getting in the so-called eight hour work day. And too maybe makes my preference to work less a little more reasonable.

Eight hour work day? We should only wish it was.

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Traffic/story?id=485098
[2] http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/contentView.do?contentId=9646&contentType=GSA_BASIC

Monday, July 30, 2007

Traffic Lights

All these years driving in Buffalo and hitting, seemingly, every goddamned light red, I finally realized what the lights were timed for: 12mph bikes. I hit 22 out of 30 lights without having to stop on my last bike ride. On my most recent car drive I probably came to the same number of lights and there was no way I hit more than a 1/3rd of them green. Who says cars are always quicker?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Short Open Letter: to the Sunoco at the Corner

Dear Sunoco at the Corner:

You are a convenient store and this isn’t fucking Portland. You can stay open past 9pm. I am now blacklisting you for good.

(Can we still use the word “blacklist,” or has the been buried too? )

Either way: For Good.


(P.S.—and I usually am against “p.s.’s”—In reading this, please disregard the previous post that had something of an anti-convenience slant. I am a self-admitted and self-accepted hypocrite. Though I only admit this when it is convenient for me and to do so now would be inconvenient, thus please ignore the previous sentence as well. [One which makes me an even further hypocrite, but to which I no longer care to defend myself.] Thanks.)

(P.S.S.—and I know, I’m being a hypocrite on my anti-p.s.’ing—what would the P.C. form of blacklisting be? Any ideas? Get back to me. I know you can do so quickly because you don’t stay open past 9:00 and so probably have some free time at night.)

Bummin' a Ride; or, Decidedly Inconvenient

Twice now in the last five days I have accepted an offer to borrow a car. While driving I was reminded both of a car’s convenience and just how much I enjoy the act of driving (or at least in a non-existent bubble where there would be no bad drivers). And, admittedly, over the last couple of weeks I’ve even a few times considered the possibility of buying a cheap clunker in order to open up my job options.

I would love to say that I never even think of buying a motorized vehicle, that I am one-hundred percent bound to the idea that I do not want a car. But I can never fully overcome reverting to the ingrained instincts of convenience that I have acquired my whole life—to suggest that I could fully overcome them is to suggest that I am not human (and a stinking good one of those I happen to be).

But ultimately I know that I won’t buy a car because I don’t need one; because of the very fact that not having a car is decidedly inconvenient and too much of our way of life is based on convenience. Too often we describe luxuries as necessities—the necessities, at their furthest reduction, being only food, water and toilet paper (especially toilet paper). From the conveniences of technology we can now be reached anywhere at anytime, barely lift a finger to cook (or nearly any act for that matter), and can be entertained the entire day without ever having to attend to our annoying little minds (to cut a very long list offensively short). But from these inconveniences we have grown impatient at the slightest delays, ushered in the 24 hour/7 day work week, 52 weeks a year in the customer service industry and are unable to entertain ourselves for the slightest moment should we be deprived one of these pieces of technology for the slightest moment (repeating the offense of the previous statement). Even quitting a demeaning job is commonly avoided should it prove to be even the slightest bit inconvenient for the short interval of time of the near future.

(For me, late night infomercials act as the comedic epitome for the vast library of the products on the market that are offered—for a fee—that one may “need” a convenient and specific tool that serve nothing more than an absurdly minute and infrequent moment. And rather than improvising a solution on their own with tools they might already have, some people actually buy these products. The humor!)

But in committing acts of inconvenience one can often times find unknown benefits. I don’t own a car because the slowness of the bike gives me access to the outdoors cars don’t; I don’t go back to school to get more education to make more money because I can learn everyday on my own if I am so inclined (and trust that I am able to learn on my own); hell, I don’t even try to make more money because of the benefits of free time and being able to go more at my own pace. I understand exactly why cars were invented and became, and remain, overwhelmingly popular: the convenience of the acquired mobility from them. And in occasionally using cars, for instance (by continuously using cars as an example does not mean to imply a condemnation of them and those who use them), I recognize those conveniences. It’s just that, in a collective mindset so obsessed with convenience, it is thought nearly impossible that the scales can be balanced away from such conveniences so constantly and instinctively. It would not be my wish that everyone share the exact same definition of such balance, but only that people would be more willing to approach the so-called inconvenient a little more freely, a little more frequently. Should a man require to be like water and always find the easiest way to the sea he will only find himself a meaningless drop washed along by a torrid current he is unable to steer.

[bad idea] Bum In a Lane

If bike riders were to get bike lanes for equal access to the streets (and they have), it would stand to reason that the only natural reasonable progression of unprejudiced access of the road for all would be to next begin lining the streets with lanes reserved for shopping carts being pushed by bums. The "bum lane" we could call it (I'm sure I'll even use it one day). I’ve had to pass enough bums and carts—not always both at the same time oddly enough—in the last few days to recognize this fact. Perhaps Buffalo could even be the leader in such progressive thinking. It’d be the first such instance for the city since electricity, but they’re somewhat comparable achievements. And definitely equally worthy of admiration and pride.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Nights

After a pretty awesome day of hanging out with a bunch of friends at Delaware Park (the food was $5, the hanging out on the soccer field was free), and now getting ready to work tomorrow, the dreaded feeling of Sunday Night is already settling itself in again.

The worse part of the work week isn’t Monday morning but the night before. Sunday Night. The night when one needn’t have any worries for it’s the night when any and all worries show themselves. The work week looming, the weekend lost, and play time over. To make matters worse, everything is closed, dead, empty, vacant, silent, uninviting and lonely. There’s never anything good on TV to distract your mind and, even though Sunday Night’s the best of all nights to drink, there’s never enough people out at the bars to create a crowd to get lost in. Instead it’s just you and whatever decides to ail you.

I hate Sunday Night more than any time of the work week.

The work week. Already infiltrating my thoughts and I’ve only worked 3.5 hours over the last three months.

Work Tomorrow

It looks all but certain now that I’ve found a little work that will help with the bills and it starts in less than eight hours from the moment I write this. As if it wasn’t going to be hard enough falling asleep at a reasonable time tonight after being up until past 6:00am the last two nights, now I have to do it thinking how I need to fall asleep for work. Already back to the structure of time and work days! I’m forcing myself not to begin number crunching on the amount of sleep I’ll have when I awake and so far it hasn’t been that bad.

This work happens to be out near the airport, which is about nine miles from my house. Because Buffalo is only a real city in theory but not in practice, there isn’t any light rail connecting downtown (near where I live) and the airport (near where I will be doing this work). But why would anyone want to get downtown from the airport? (Or just get a car hippie?) And so instead of taking maybe a 45 minute light rail ride that would especially help during the colder months—if don’t decide to quit before then—I plan on making the trek via bike, even going through the dreaded [sic] East Side of Buffalo to get there. It shouldn’t take much more than 45 minutes and, even though this will add 90 or more minutes to each work day, it’s a way of forcing me to use my bike, be outside during the summer weather and perhaps even get in a little better shape.

If I can find the silver lining in work, I just might be able to find it in nearly anything.

Where Credit's Due

Just last year I managed to finally rid myself of my credit card debt. It was a great feeling to finally do it. It kind of reminded me of the Simpsons episode when Homer was finally out of debt and was able to become a pin monkey. (Some dream of being a pin monkey, others dream of not working at all.) I never had much debt to begin with, but I did allow it to build up to around $1200 of debt by the end of my road trip last summer. After a few months of what would have otherwise been savings (and thus perhaps allowed me a few more months of not working at the present time), I managed to pay it off and keep it down to a reasonable level each month so as to not allow it to begin growing again.

The theory of credit cards is one based on convenience—then again, isn’t the entire economy and every one of its products sold?—and it’s a convenience I have grown to despise. In presenting the illusion of offering the American Dream (which is, has been and always will be the dream of something for nothing), credit cards have seen the total American consumer debt reach $2.2 trillion in 2005 [1]. Incredibly humorous when one considers how collectively eager our nation is to describe itself as free and yet finds itself so enslaved to debt; terribly sad when one realizes our biggest, most firmly defended and easily the most widely practiced freedom is the freedom to buy whatever we wish. Perhaps less debt and more freedom from it?

Rent is always the first bill I make sure to pay each month. What would the point of paying my phone bill be if I had no roof to use it under? And, as of now, I have enough to pay rent for next month.

But still not knowing what my status is as far as having an income any time in the immediate future has lead me to crack and begin, reluctantly, using my credit card lately. The possibility of going hungry has a way of weakening the stubborn foundations of theories and beliefs. (But only in humans. Other animals have the wisdom to just make sure they're not hungry, period.) And so it is only in times like these my disdain grows to a tolerable level in the name of just getting by.

Thus, over the last week I’ve mismanaged to spend $60.69 on my credit card. Other than the 40 chicken nuggets I bought at McDonald’s with the hope of showing that one can eat 40 in one sitting (I failed miserably, but even entertainment, if done cautiously, must sometimes be paid for) and the Jim’s Steak Out I knew I’d inevitably buy that was purchased Friday night, my purchases have been for food, laundry detergent, and my first gas purchase of the year for being able to borrow my cousin’s car. Added to the $130 that was already on my card for the bike I bought a couple of months ago, I am now looking at $180 of credit card debt. It’s more than I had planned on having, but still not so much that I can’t plan on immediately paying it off just as soon as the work starts coming in.

And then I can reestablish my disdain for credit cards. But for now, at least I’m still eating.


Friday, July 20, 2007

The Diet

We are not bums. We just recycle.

Just got back from Wegman’s where we recycled approximately six months’ worth of cans. All told, $41.25 back.

I spent less than that on my food for the entire week when I went to Wegman’s just a few days earlier.

I never realized how many cans—Blue, Blue Light, Genny, Natural, Natural Light, Stroh's (“shorts” backwards), Milwaukee’s Best/Light/Ice, and the occasional Pepsi can that was in there—have a cool, soothing metallic blue color to them until I went through an entire shopping cart worth of those cans.

So yeah, I eat a lot of pasta.

Thankfully we only heard one college joke/reference the entire time we were unloading the cans and returning them.

But I ate a lot of pasta even before I was coming close to having no money left whatsoever. It’s easy to make and can be dressed up in all sorts of ways. So every week I usually buy a couple of tomatoes, a pepper and an onion and use them for pasta and/or tacos.

Tacos. Definitely tacos twice a week. Sometimes my late night replacement for Steak Out.

My breakfast has been a mix of the basic breakfasts: corn flakes, eggs and potatoes, toast, bagels or frozen waffles (the only frozen food I eat) with either coffee, tea or water.

And yeah, I eat quite a few potatoes too.

My lunches consist mostly of sandwiches. I usually buy a half pound of two different cold cuts and they last me for a week. I’ll use a tomato, onion and lettuce on most sandwiches, unless I’m making fried bologna (the best of all “oni’s”) which I’ll load up with peppers and onions and smother in mustard.

Taste of Buffalo in my own home.

And a lot of bread. Usually with garlic on it if it’s not holding a sandwich.

Then for dinner I usually go back and forth between a pasta and bread, some form of tacos, and a larger meal like chicken, potatoes and broccoli or green beans.

Rice and beans are always options too.

Or are they burritos?

It’s somewhat funny to me when I think about how much more healthy I’m eating now that I have to watch the spending. Suddenly the $2.99 (or 2/$5) bag of chips becomes a bit pricey and in figuring that the $.99 on the king size candy bar at the check out counter is equal to 2 lbs of pasta one begins to gain a sense of the wastefulness of those products.

Crackers and peanut butter are as close as I get to snacks.

It also makes me think about all the money spent on diet books and pills and gym fees and exercise videos (etc, et al) in this country. One could simply burn the money until they can only afford to buy the right foods and be just as well off.

Nothing makes one quite so healthy as being unable to afford junk food.

And a few pieces of fruit to hold me over in between.

I am as utilitarian when it comes to eating as I am when it comes to living. So this isn’t a simplified life of eating for me, just another way I don’t spend money.

Need to find beer money somewhere.

Or they could just work less rather than burning the money.

All in all, it is still a wider variety of food than when I had the money to go out and grab a burger and beer after a day of work.

I didn’t really have a true sense of how much people go out to eat until I delivered to such restaurants for the past year. Going out to eat is one of the most obvious and easiest ways to cut back on spending and, to me, too much of a convenient waste of money. That said, and even though I hate being served and I hate creating work for other people, I can’t say that I don’t miss eating out at least a few places nearby such as the occasional Jim’s Steak Out, Avenue sub or, most of all, breakfast at Nick’s Place. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the very first $8 I spent after I began counting my spending was spent on the most consistently rewarding breakfast skillet and coffee in the city. Goddamn that’s good eating. And one of the places I missed most while gone.

Still, even on such a limited budget, I probably eat better than our armed forces.

Right now, I don't know who that's saying what about.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

[aside] Teenage Millionaires

While in line at Wegman’s today I decided against buying the magazine that would have clued me in on the who the world’s richest teenagers are.

But only on the agreement that I could go to La Luna tonight for the open bar and possibly forget that such a magazine even exists.


Job Replacements

As I slowly approach employment—two possibilities fell through yesterday though two more came up at the end of the day—I have been debating as to whether or not to ever here specifically mention what it is that I will be doing to pay my bills once I find a job.

On the one hand, as most of us have somewhere inherited the belief that anyone who is underemployed should immediately feel ashamed of their job, I would either feel the need to specifically mention my job to dispel such an unnecessary absurd notion or for no other reason than to prove that I have nothing to shamefully or regretfully hide. Yet, on the other hand is the great fallacy whereby we define ourselves by jobs and thus to never mention it directly would be a direct assault upon this, yet another, absurd notion.

It is not in knowing full well I will more than likely either find a $7/hour job at a store or restaurant or an office job that might pay slightly more that I do not feel compelled in any way to specifically mention my future job. For even if I were to find a job as a Scientist or [insert some other widely respected profession here] I would not specifically mention it for, as I have said here before, I see no difference between one job and another: they are all annoying, yet still necessary, interruptions. Besides the only two truly necessary occupations in the world (Bartenders and Doctors, though, besides the vast difference in required education, there is little difference between the two) everything else, Lawyers and Politicians more than all else combined, are simply unnecessary roles we have agreed to become; to play for pay upon this stage. To even recognize my job in my attempt to work as little as possible is a contradiction I am not willing to take up here, doubters that I am ashamed of something be damned.

Still, if one is still stubbornly holding onto the idea that our job is a defining quality to what we are, one needs look no further than all the factories, mills and vacant shops now closed in Buffalo, NY. (Perhaps it the abundance of such reminders of the temporal aspects of jobs that Buffalo has that brought me so willingly back?) The moment those jobs no longer produced profit was the moment those jobs were no longer in existence and the men and women who had put in more than half of their lives into that factory or the shopkeeper who lost his savings were suddenly turned away and the very thing that they allowed themselves to be defined by was suddenly taken from and deprived of them. Again, nothing personal, it was just business.

I often think just how replaceable we each are to our jobs, just as the factory workers of previous generations were to their jobs, and worry just how soon the office and service jobs that people are defining themselves by in our current job market might be gone as well. Because it still is, after all, nothing personal, just business. Those rules will never change.

So while I continue to look for a job I keep these things in mind while remembering to never allow a job to be any more irreplaceable than I am to that job.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

[aside] What Not to Wear

While flipping through some TV listings today I noticed a show on TLC called “What Not to Wear.” I felt very reassured that learning what not to wear was what The Learning Channel deemed fit for learning.

This coming from someone who once amazed a co-worker for being able to do simple math in his head.

But I bet she at least possessed the knowledge of what not to wear.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

Since the age of 16 I have been working. And for the most part, since then I’ve been described as a good worker. 80% of being a good worker in this country—just as 80% of being a good tenant is simply paying rent on time—is showing up on time. Another 10% is just showing up regularly. Yet, from the very moment I began working, I have despised and grown tired of it. The many co-workers I have had the—well, not pleasure nor opportunity so, how about?—situation to talk to in that time have rarely disagreed. Worse, it has been an consistent increase in seeing its purposelessness that has followed me since that day I first joined the work force. Work has always been a good time interrupted; a curtain covering my personal relationship with the world around me; a putridly pointless obtrusion to an lifelong weekend; a suitor to hangovers and an end to an otherwise endless night; an abrupt interruption to a good night’s sleep; a demeaning panderer; an unnecessary overbearing intrusion upon what would otherwise be, and still is, my own personal time: my life.

As it has been for so long, the thinking still goes that one puts in a good forty or fifty years of labor and then they can fairly enjoy the fruits of their labor; they are then free to see the world, to pursue the hobbies they never had time to pursue; to reconnect with friends and family; to read, write, and enjoy the days in and of themselves. The Golden Years.

After forty years.

Or more accurately play Bridge and Golf and go shopping for the rest of their days.

Assuming of course one makes it that far. And, if they do, that their bodies will hopefully be in good enough shape to be able to perform those delayed daydreams. But with an increasing number of people without health insurance, and thus proper medical attention (because, after all, basic medical attention is a luxury, not a basic necessity to be shared by all), it would stand to reason that there will continue to be a number of people too work-wearied to enjoy that retirement. Life expectancy may be increasing in years, but what good is quantity without the slightest hint of quality? Why should I now gamble that I will be amongst the lucky ones?

Maybe even fifty years.

Assuming too that there will be a social security that will support them, or that they were lucky enough to have had money invested for them that was not ultimately corrupted by the greed of a company’s executive.

Fifty years. And keeping in mind that the male’s average lifespan is only 72 years.

Additionally, it is a popularly accepted belief, held onto especially strongly by the educated class, that what one does for pay is the defining quality of what a person is.

I’m no university accredited mathematician, but near as I can figure it, if one goes to college, graduates at twenty-two and works until he is 65, that right there is 59.72% of our 72 years spent working.

“What are you?” is equal to “What do you do?” And so, even though one was required to receive training (be it via college degree or a simple day’s instruction from a manager) in order to be, or in actuality, to become (as we all remember being asked “what are you going to become when you grow up?” and never thinking “what’s wrong with being what I am?”) whatever we are being paid to be, a lawyer is nevertheless inherently a lawyer, a salesman a salesman, and by definition, a janitor a janitor and a garbage man a garbage man. Never mind their hobbies or what they do in their free time, only the paid time matters. There is no middle ground.

Not to mention the 17 years (from five until twenty-two) we were being educated only in order to get that job. Combined, that’s 83.33% of our years spent obsessed with working.

But whatever jobs we now hold, we will only hold so long as they are profitable to the companies that we are working for (and if we are amongst the so-called lucky working for ourselves, until we can no longer pay our bills, at which point we would then be forced to go in search of employment). An employer may help us pay our bills by employing us, but we help them pay theirs in being employed by them. Nothing more. As soon as the job is no longer profitable to them to employ us, our positions will be terminated under the guise of a thankfulness for the service, an apologetic remorse for not being able to continue the job and the universally impersonal justification that, “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

83.33% of our lives with the only goal being to make more money. Not necessarily do good unto others or to the world. Simply, make more money.

We are told to our face that work is nothing personal and yet are required to accept the idea that what we do for money is somehow an extension of what we each individually and inherently are? The wonderful humor of such an absurd contradiction that we base our lives upon!

Having now only a few hundred dollars left in the bank and very few other valuables I might be able to raise some money from their sale; possessing no rich relative that long ago had the foresight to put money into a bank account that I can fall back upon; having no prospects of an unknown inheritance; and having no interest in donating to the lottery, I foresee myself amongst the idle rich at no point in my future. So if were to accept these terms as the only model of good living, of success and being part of society, I would be all but fucked.

If you do make it to retirement, the said company may make it all worth it by splurging and buying you a plaque. Or maybe even a watch.

Or “shit out of luck,” as I've heard many a good worker say before.

Even though, now retired, you would no longer be in need of knowing the time.

Well, only 83.33% of my life would be fucked or shit out of luck, technically. But, with 6.944% of that 16.66% having already passed—from birth to the age of five—however, I would only be left with an abundant 9.722% that I should certainly be grateful to be able to claim for myself. Nearly 40 years from now.

I remember—I am pretty sure it was on Dave Letterman, but even if it wasn’t, who cares, all that counts is that it was said—Warren Zevon, when asked in his dying days what advice he would have for somebody, said to “enjoy every sandwich.” Such simple brilliance from the dying is all too frequently discarded by the living.

Look, I am not adverse to working hard. I have a track record to prove otherwise. Whenever my basic survival depends upon it I have performed as necessary. But I do not wish to wait another thirty years to do what I can already do today; to do what I could do today without the burden of age and with the still thickly flickering flame of youth. I defiantly, idealistically, perhaps foolishly, believe that I am not fucked and these are not the only terms of successfully enjoying one’s life and that, as I have long suspected in the secret, all too long denied innermost chambers of myself—and it is here that I will spend two cents on a nickel’s worth of free advice—that free time is better than pay time.

Not Sweating It

My previous post did not mean to say that I immediately and instinctively turn to the simple pleasures in enjoying my days. It is still, sadly, my first instinct to think of ways to “do something” with my time.

It’s quite funny—not quite “ha-ha” funny, but funny nevertheless—how many (so-called?) constructive manners I had planned on using my free time while not working. I saw myself reading, riding my bike, taking pictures of Buffalo upon my return, and maybe even taking up drawing again, just to name a few plans. There was so much that I was going to do that there wasn’t even going to be enough free time to do it all in, even without having to work.

While I have done each of these things to a certain extent, there is within each day a countless amount of time devoted to eating, cleaning, resting and general preparation in just getting ready for each that it is a wonder we have any time left to simply pass away at all, let alone the energy to do more.

To efficiently use my free time in manners such as reading or drawing takes a possessed determination that I do not possess. I am far more likely to be distracted and willingly talked into sitting on my front porch just talking with friends in the evening sun or playing cards with others than I am to find the self-determination to, say, read on my own. It’s not to say that I haven’t been reading, or what have you, at all. But, as rewarding as the intellectual pursuits that I have been taught are the epitome of the human existence can at times be, I have always shown a preference for the idle times of laughter and company.

These activities—as well as cooking and cleaning and sleeping—can, thanks to that part of our upbringing that always told us to do something with ourselves, leave an immense feeling of having accomplished nothing with one’s day or, in my current case, one’s unemployment time. But in the last few days alone I have ridden my bike, hung out with friends as we drank before going to our friends’ Cd release party at Mohawk Place on Saturday night, walked all the way home from the show, gone to the beach, met a friend for coffee, met up with others for some pitchers at Merlin’s, played hours of cards, and took a few unfortunate naps in between these activities. Combined, all of these took enough time to nearly fill my days and, while they prevented me from reading or any other such thing, in their being full of a constant festive laughter and levity were still nevertheless no less rewarding than any sort of intellectual pursuit. To despise these acts would be to despise my entire day. And what day has been given to us to find only misery in?

The monomania that compels one to create an art of any form is a subject, I admit, that I have a slight monomania about. The lengths some go to finishing such pursuits is a subject growing more and more foreign to me and yet I still am constantly finding myself having to justify to myself having “nothing” to show for my day. I am still in the process of making nothing, rather than something, my instinct. Until I fully accomplish this however, I do not care nor worry about this obvious contradiction (nor for that matter the obvious contradictions of writing about doing nothing; nor the fact that I am paying for the use of the Internet in order to write here about spending as little money as possible)—I don’t take life seriously enough to demand foolish consistencies (where would we find humor if we found only unbreakable, consistencies in the world?)—because at the end of the day I always remember that it is an undeniable truth that next to life art is nothing. Likewise, all the work we have grown to believe is doing something with our lives and selves is nothing next to life. The true art of doing nothing is simply enjoying the complete insignificance and frivolity of life—to believe in any more meaning in life is a burden I am unwilling to take up—best exemplified not in one’s work but rather in one's play. Like my friend Daren has said (http://thisisjoaquinsdollar.blogspot.com/), “nothing is important enough to break a sweat doing it.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bidwell Parkway

They shake their heads and they look at me as if I lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry I’m just sitting here doing time
-John Lennon, Watching the Wheels

Over the last two days I spent no money between the milk I bought at Lexington General Store around 1pm on Wednesday and the Steel Reserve I bought just around midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning. More than likely because of the looming work I will have to do to pay rent, and even the likelihood that I will then have a few dollars to spend freely [sic], I almost intuitively turned to the simple pleasures over the last 48-60 hours. Without the slightest self-imposed guilt for not using my time “more constructively,” I have taken a few bikes rides, I have sat on my porch in the sun and eaten lunch and dinner saying “hello” to my passing by neighbors, I watched some TV, generally done nothing but hang out and converse with my friends (about nothing in particular) and even managed to make it back to my favorite place in my known world to read: Bidwell Parkway at the Elmwood Avenue intersection.

In getting there about 4:00pm in July puts one under just enough shade to read without sweating but with enough sunlight to not be made cold by the stiff breeze that was blowing the day I was there. This perfect mix allows me to enjoy the experience even more, for there is no better place in such circumstances to feel at ease in the city. If the Mississippi got Huck wherever he needed, Elmwood does the same for me in Buffalo—all I lack is a pipe and a comrade desiring his freedom as much as I—and Bidwell is the perfect spot to sit on the banks of the river and watch the wheels go by. The breeze; the sun; the foot, pet and car traffic; the sounds of them all in unison—one is equally at ease in the center of things and just far enough outside it to observe it and not feel an overwhelming attachment to whatever the outcome of it all might be.

Over the same time span I’ve spent no money, I’ve also talked to a few people that might be able to help me in my job search. Some have part time labor jobs and one even has an full-time office job that I might be able to get. Not wanting to worry over such an unnecessary stress as finding a job and the process in doing so is what took me to finally, for only the second time since I’ve returned, get back to Bidwell. It is there that I am able to forget about whatever it is that is supposed to be ailing and turning me in every direction except the calm and enjoyable I wish to be turned to.

I know that over the next few days or—Life help me—weeks, I’ll be faced with a decision about office work versus labor jobs. (Well, hopefully, for that means I will at least have found two different jobs.) But until those decisions must absolutely be met, I at least have my Bidwell Parks to alleviate the annoyance and distract me from all the distractions that so easily clutter our days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Job Hunt Begins

For the obvious affordability of being able to go out and still get drunk, on Wednesday nights such as these, at least when having some money to spend, I usually go down to Chippewa St. to La Luna for their $5 cover charge to drink at their open bar from 11-1am. Since the bartenders are amongst the best I’ve encountered, and on this night swamped with work, I usually walk out having spent around $10 total after tips. Win, win? As far as I can see it (which isn’t always so far by 1:00).

However, I’ve come to the point now, financially, that I pretty much cannot afford to go out, even for practically free booze, and find myself home instead tonight. When faced with the predicament of not working but not being able to go out, or working but being able to go out, I’m sure a man testing a theory of not working would stand by his guns and be resigned to not go out.

But let the record show—and I can’t stress this enough—I am no man. (And if all goes accordingly to plan I never will be.) Obviously I would prefer to be able to drink and not work but sometime ago, not knowing precisely how long, it was decided—collectively?—that we should not enjoy ourselves all that much and should instead spend our precious time working. For what I don’t know, but it is inarguable. So instead, I’m now left living with the compromise that I would rather work and drink than not drink at all.

(I could still be drinking but it is my desire for both beer and home that separates me from being a bum—and that may be all, which I am fine with.)

And so, foreseeing this forthcoming event, I began the all too depressing idea of searching for a job today. I did it quickly on my first day, like ripping off a band-aid, and hope something will come of it soon and simply end the search as quickly as possible. At this point, I see no difference between one job or the other no matter what the pay or what the job—they are all simply jobs. I will almost guarantee that I will take the first possible job that comes my way (though, it will be interesting to see just how much stubborn pride I harbor that might effect just how much I truly believe that).

To forget that I was even out looking for a job today though, I immediately took up my housemate Daren’s offer to go on a bike ride right after I got home. He too just moved back to Buffalo after a three year hiatus under the same circumstances as me: he just wanted to come back because he missed the feeling of it, saved some money to do so, and will also possibly be looking for a job soon enough (though another friend, Todd, might have lined him up for one already—one I was more than willing to concede to Daren for the simple reason that it was full-time).

Armed with similar enthusiasm to see the city again anew, we road down to the water with no particular end in mind and cameras in hand. For a city that rightfully dreams constantly of a more developed waterfront, I have been surprised to find just what there already is in the way of access to the Niagara River and Lake Erie. In the last two weeks alone I’ve found bike paths going onto Squaw Island at two different locations, and the bike path that goes under the Peace Bridge, down along the lakefront through LaSalle Park, all the way to HSBC Arena.

There are always things to do and places to do them. It’s only a mindset. Just as much as people are willing to believe that the only way to move back to Buffalo is by having a good job lined up, if people are willing to believe that there is nothing to entertain them at all on the waterfront, they will not even bother to test otherwise and accept this as a truth. But it doesn’t always take a proverbial Columbus to prove the world isn’t flat. For the exceptions who have personally gone down to the Squaw Island and LaSalle Park bike paths they have found one of the many pointlessly unknown reserves of the city that I can now proudly say I know of too.

Along these paths we stopped several times to take pictures. Both Seinfeld fans, Daren and I, we also realized that we now have an area where we can go down and contemplate a possible engagement and even began thinking of how we could recreate those moments from the show, even using the seagulls down by the water.

From the viewpoint in LaSalle Park we got a good look at the new windmills—how dare they build those on land that has historically been vacant and useless: it’s historical land!—that were recently put up and decided to try to bike our way down there. But, not knowing that the Sky Way—we can’t knock that down, it’s a historical eyesore; a part of our history!—is the only way over both the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal, thus cutting us off from the shoreline temporarily, we rode around a little, got to take in the work along the excavated parts of the Erie Canal—how dare they excavate historically unexcavated lands!—and then decided upon just riding back up through downtown.

We probably spent another half an hour riding around downtown taking a few more pictures including a really cool alley view of the back of a building and its old fire escapes near Washington and Lafayette Square that Daren found while [ticketable action deleted] at Thursday in the Square last week.

All told we road around about two hours. We were able to take in and appreciate a number of places and views that we hadn’t bothered to find before and swore we would upon our return. And, perhaps more importantly, I realized that, as we sat on our front porch to cool off on a much more endurable summer evening, I even forgot about the impending doom of the job hunt.

The medicinal powers of a body in motion.

As for next time, we plan on riding all the way out to see the new windmills up close.

I'd Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me...

If food and bills will be my biggest expenses, then alcohol will fill out the top three. If there’s any honest reason why I have no desire to completely remove myself from society and “go live in the woods” it would have to be because where there are people there is alcohol (and where there is alcohol there are people) and, certainly, where there aren’t, there isn’t (and where there isn’t, there often aren’t; at least not the type of people I enjoy being around). And both foolishly I know, but I like them both. I just can't help myself.

Not that I couldn’t make my own (booze) I suppose. Hell, I’m already back on the Steel Reserve diet—at least until someone back West, probably a bum, sends me some damn Camos—and no matter how bad homemade booze is it really couldn’t be that much worse could—Yes, actually, yes it could. Because Steel Reserves aren’t really that bad. Honestly. And I’m not just saying that as a person on a budget who stubbornly believes that a “young at heart” mindset is worth keeping always. Really.

So far this month, due in large part to a bachelor’s party that I had to attend—holidays, birthdays, etc will surely come up again and be dealt with in more detail—and last Thursday In the Square’s Sam Roberts show and the resulting night of going from the square to some of Buffalo’s finest bars like Mohawk Place, The Golden Swan, Founding Father’s Pub, Gabriel’s Gate and then The Pink, I’ve spent more on alcohol so far this month, $67.74, than I have on food, $54.71. Sparing one the exuberant list of quotations in support of alcohol ranging from Benjamin Franklin, to Tom Waits, to Homer Simpson, I will simply but firmly state that I have no intentions of changing this habit any time soon, if at all or ever, and feel no further need to justify myself.

(I’d be willing to bet, even if unwilling to do the research myself to support the claim, that far more people—even respectable people!—do the same than the general public would initially guess or maybe even like to think.)

In going out one will almost always find himself, when amongst good company (and I’ve always managed to find myself lucky enough to be around some of the best), on the beneficiary end of a free drink or shot. When discussing this project to spend as little as possible with my friend Pat, we discussed the grey area free meals, drinks and the likes create and how one in my position should include the benefits of hospitality.

We both agreed that I should at the very least keep as accurate a count as possible—and anyone who has drank in Buffalo knows exactly how inaccurate that count will immediately be—of the free drinks given to me. The argument going that I could go without those drinks being bought for me so they will not count against my spending; I did not ask nor beg for them, they were given to me. At the same time, since I am receiving something for nothing, it would be nice to at least note that someone, having previously done some work themselves, did something for me while I was attempting to do nothing myself. Quite obvious really.

The current count of free drinks that I have been given, not counting the abundant amount at the wedding, is 16, which, at this point, is working out to more than one a day.

But, for example, in the instances of my friend Fuzz’ wedding last week or my cousin Jake’s grad party the next day, it is a social agreement that, in showing up, one will eat and drink on someone else’s bill. Still, in bringing the all but expected gift—or in the case of the wedding, using the custom to have a year to present a present, much to my present disadvantage’s advantage—an exchange is nevertheless made that would otherwise not have been made. Therefore, those drinks or meals will not count against my spending, but what I spend on the gifts will. Just as well, any rounds of drinks that I would buy for my friends I will count towards my own spending.

Though, as one might imagine, such spending is currently at $0.00. And since none of the good company I am surrounded by has ostracized me for this fact, I’d have to say I’ve at the very least proved myself no liar in previously saying that I have always been lucky enough to always be surrounded by some of the best company.

Still no surprise to me as to why it was I came back to Buffalo really.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Heat and Humility

The nearly unbearable heat and humidity that last couples of days has basically prevented me from doing just about anything other than irritably and immaturely overreacting to the constant sticky feeling that I’ve had for the last three days. When I’ve ridden my bike that breeze is only a temporary relief to the full body sweat that is awaiting me as soon as I stop, so I haven't ridden that much. It’s been so hard for me to concentrate to even so much read that I watched a movie yesterday, something I rarely do, and the entire baseball All-Star Game tonight, something I probably haven’t done since I was twelve (just a couple of years ago if you ask the right person), just to take my mind off of the heat. And I swear that the next fucking bug that lands on my monitor (I write this in the late night dark, undried from a shower just to be able to sit still long enough to hopefully finish it) just might land a perfectly justifiable punch that will more than likely break my hand rather than the monitor. And yet I’m still not convinced that I won’t do it.

Still, I was able to get my weekly food shopping in this morning. When your house is on the eastern end of a duplex and facing south (or north for that matter), there isn’t much in the way of what is popularly known as “air movement” brought on by wind blowing into your house unless you have a fan or two (we only have one and it’s on the opposite side of the house from my room). This lack of movement creates a somewhat—that is: somewhat insufferable—warm, uncomfortable, and still air that sits smugly in the house all night and day. If you manage to get any sleep, it’s not even that good of a sleep and makes you wish you didn’t even bother wasting your time.

So when one finally steps out of the house from this sort of setting, it seems a lot cooler than it is. So as my roommate and I walked out to ride our bikes to Wegman’s, we thought it was far cooler than it was. Only after getting to Wegman’s and leaving did we finally realize otherwise.

(A bug came by again and I tried to smack the shit out of it—I went with more of a slap—but I goddamned missed him. It won’t happen again.)

After unloading those groceries we then went to my new favorite place for food, and where I now do the majority of my grocery shopping, Guercio and Son’s market over on Grant St. By no means a well-kept secret, as evident by the lines always accompanying the deli and the checkouts, I nevertheless had never gone there until just a couple weeks ago. It is now a weekly stop if not more frequent.

For a store that has an old-time feel in the face of the overabundance of a Wegman’s and the impersonal convenience of convenient store, it offers exactly all I need in the manner of both abundance and convenience. Half the bike ride that it is for me to Wegman’s and, by all noted calculations, cheaper or on par with most of the items that I buy there, it’s an obvious preference for me

(And why in the hell does my left hand smell like a goddamned flower/weed all of a sudden?)

Combined between the two stores I spent just over $24 for the week. Other than the half gallons of milk that I’ve been buying at the Lexington General Store just across the street for $.99 (better even than a gallon deal at Wegman’s), that will pretty much be the entirety of my spending for food this week. In fact, it is just under half of the $52.23 I’ve spent thus far for at least two weeks’ worth of food, putting me right in the $100-$125 per month on food, which I will be tallying as a separate field and figure that it will either be the second or third biggest expense each month.

This is more than affordable enough, especially considering that today I found out that we haven’t paid our deposit in full and we’ll have to pay a little extra over the next few months in rent to even that out, thus giving me my first unexpected expenditure of the year. This normally wouldn’t be a big problem except that normally people have a job to pay such bills. To make matters a little more irritating I finally did my federal tax return today (filed for an extension in April due to a long overdue W-2) and am getting $100 less that I originally thought and planned for. This of course means that I have to step up my job search immediately.

And by step up I mean begin. And that might be the most irritating idea of the entire irritating few days.

(You never really know just how much you have to look at the keyboard for characters like ‘$’ or parenthesis until you try typing in the dark, which you’re only doing in hopes to spare yourself of the one more degree the light would add to the room.)

I hear that it isn’t supposed to be more than 80 degrees for the next week and I certainly hope this is true. Because my room still feels like 95 degrees, I haven’t got a decent night’s sleep in three days and probably won’t again tonight, bugs keep coming out of nowhere and in different shapes (just had to kill a spider spinning down from the ceiling that went right in front of my face), the beads of water that I didn’t dry from my body now feel like bugs so that they very water I meant to cool and calm me is now further irritating me, and I think my right hand now smells like that weed or flower as well.

(And now my computer, with propitious timing, is acting obnoxiously slow.)

If it’s the little things in life that make it enjoyable then it’s certainly true that it’s the little things that make it sometimes insanely irritable.

At least I have food and a place I like to get it.

One Bike, No Car

Of my few monthly expenditures one may immediately notice my lack of a car payment. A little over a year ago now I decided to give up owning a car. I had more than enough of the monthly payments just to keep it, the insurance payments, the rising costs of gasoline, the parking tickets one is more than likely to get in a city, and, more than anything, the random unforeseen repair expenses of having a used car.

So now, other than the occasional ride I take from a friend going to the same place, I use my bike. I ride to the grocery store, to my friends’ houses, to the bars—just about anywhere not in walking distance. Economically speaking—and I’d say that’s the biggest reason I do not want a car anymore—I figure it saves me $2000 alone on gas and insurance alone over the course of a year, and that’s an amount based on having to pay lower insurance rates for a used car and only accounting for $20 a week in gas. Not to mention, as another example, that a bike, for all the people spending money to join gyms, is free daily exercise for me.

Best yet, bike time is slow time, allowing a man to think about nearly anything without the stress of hoping to hit each light green or of having to slow down due to traffic. No matter how fast I ride I won’t really make up any time, so I plan my time much more accordingly on a bike (though, not currently having a job, I rarely have to be anywhere by a certain time). The streets and people are more personally accessible and all the surroundings of a city within reach. The breeze more noticeable, the heat and cold more personable.

A common assumption generally made is that in hearing an endorsement of one thing, one can then assume the opposite to be something the endorser is against. But this is based on the one-dimensional thinking that we have been trained to think within—left or right; blue or red; black or white; wrong or right, never a third option or another possibility. But my personal endorsement in my own particular way of living, such as abandoning a car for a bike, should not be viewed as a complete rejection of its opposite. It is such a frustrating and seemingly natural instinct amongst the human species to assume that one is either for us or against us when the overwhelming truth may just be that one is completely disinterested in, but unthreatening to, us—or anything for that matter—because they have their own personal ways of thinking, unalterable by others no matter how convincing or convenient.

I have friends who make far more money than me, have far more traditionally secure jobs and others who drive cars. And yet at the end of the day they are my friends, not enemies. I do not expect them to think exactly as I do. If we are to surround ourselves only by those who are exactly like us we seclude ourselves from our own weaknesses, our own inevitable narrow mindedness.

So in living in this manner, I am simply seeking to set an example and show how it is possible to live in this manner and endorse it, and all the details that come from it, for my own self and no further. I do not find it necessarily any better or worse than any other way except in the way it directly relates to my life and my experience. Perhaps it’s stubborn mistake but I trust that everyone is the one best capable of deciding what’s best for themselves so long as it does not directly harm others. I am no different and will not encroach on one’s own ability to think for themselves so long as they grant me the same.

That said, this past Sunday I met up with a group that meets at midnight for a late night ride to somewhere and anywhere in Buffalo. Other than the Forty I bought, the ride was free. I’d say the group this week, my first time on the ride, had at least 80 people along for the ride, maybe more. We met just off of Richmond, headed down to Allen and then back up Elmwood before ultimately heading towards the river. I found new bike routes, traveled through the cool Sunday night Buffalo air—an air I remembered and missed since the moment I originally left it—and also got to meet a few new people who, refreshingly sharing in our common interest of riding our bikes, might have different views on other ways of living and thinking.

And I hopefully will never get tired of hearing and finding new ones of those.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bills Due, Bills Paid

I originally started counting my expenditures on July 1st for the simple reason that it’s the day bills are due. At least where I come from they are.

With four of us living in a large upper apartment in the heart of Elmwood Village, rent and utilities will be split into an easily digestible portion for each of us. And while many my age have tired of roommates, I still gladly take the cheaper cost of living and the inspiring energy that comes from living with three of your best friends. As an added bonus to my own personal history, we are paying less now for a four bedroom, two living room place in Buffalo than a I did last year living in a comfortable three bedroom house in Portland, OR.

All told, bills and utilities came to $272 apiece this month. The only other bills I have to regularly account each month are my phone, my student loans (which just went up $7 this month), and my credit card (which just last year was approaching $1000 but that I now have down to only slightly more than a $100 and that is only because of the bike I recently purchased). With each of those bills respectively costing $55.96, $69.04 and $20.00, added to the aforementioned $272, my bills for this month, and which can comfortably be budgeted for a similar amount each month, came to an even $417.

If I was to spend in full the allotted $1000, this would leave between $500-$600 a month to spend. Far more than enough for me to have fun.

Also far more than I probably will spend in any of the next twelve months.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Returning to Buffalo

In coming to decide upon living as such—which isn’t that much of a change in lifestyle to be quite honest—and requiring a city of a considerable enough size to live in, I consciously decided, after a year of traveling about the paved portions of the country, to return to my hometown of Buffalo, NY to test these theories. Buffalo offers many advantages to one who consciously decides to live like this: cheaper rent, lower cost of living, and less distractions of the biggest cities of the nation, such as New York, that would constantly drain one’s pockets. All of these are signs of a struggling economy perhaps, I know. But I am not attempting to appeal to one who is merely looking for a job but one who is truly dedicated to living where they love and looking to work less all in the hopes of living more.

(This is not to mislead one into thinking I will be only here for the next year. Even on such a limited budget as I have allotted myself, I still plan on being able to sporadically travel from time to time. But I will eagerly be using Buffalo as my central base and will be paying rent here year round.)

While away, for whatever conceivable reasons—reasonable or irrational—Buffalo never escaped my mind. Most people who have left know exactly what I mean. It was always an empty, unsatisfied feeling that only returning could cure and beyond that I can say no more. The feelings that are strongest are the hardest ones to put in words. And one should tread very cautiously in trying to find those words. I suppose my actions for the next year will show my love for the city far more than any mere words in this context would be able to indicate.

I have heard many people say they would gladly come back to Buffalo only to add “if only” to the end of their statement, always feeling that there is some nearly irreconcilable condition that prevents them from returning. All too quickly and eager we seem to be to make things appear impossible when simply doing them is as simple as we make them! I didn’t return on the basis of finding a great job; I didn’t return only for the summer ready to jump ship at the first sign of winter; and I certainly didn’t return based upon an even more arbitrary notion such as thinking the city would be worthy of returning to only so long as the Sabres won the Cup. No city is merely what jobs it has to offer or the success of its sports teams—it’s in the feel, the sights, the seasons, the people (the thing Buffalo has over every city in the world is that it houses the majority of my friends and family), the scars and all and so much more—and to reduce it to nothing more than those particular conditions is to eliminate the wonderfully enormous brevity that truly attracts one back to a place. What better way to show the riches of a city—or anything, for that matter—than from the viewpoint of the poor?

I however had no conditions other than simply wanting to return and so I just did. I took a few weeks to travel in returning, have not worked since the end of April, and have used my free time—the best of all times—to reacquaint myself with the city all the more.

To paraphrase Arthur Miller, I have willingly returned home to Buffalo with little money, no job, no prospects—I’m the happiest man in the city.

Post 2, Further Introduction

Simplicity is for simpletons!
-Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Simple living is usually viewed as living close to nature with romantic visions of splitting wood, raising one’s home by hand and growing one’s own food. And while that may sound like living to some, if not a direct arrogant assault upon our ancestors who welcomed the technologies to ease those burdens, it does not, to me, sound simple in any connotation.

On the other hand, the simplest-minded form of living to pursue is the life which the majority collectively pursues wherein, in our current age, one is able to buy so many nice and convenient comforts as a benefit of the work they have performed. But I don’t care to buy comfort. The time (the closest thing we can collectively call a possession) spent and lost in earning the money to spend on ultimately unnecessary luxuries will always be more valuable than those luxuries, and we will thus be in the red to begin with. And while pursuing such a career is simple, it in no way, from what I’ve seen and experienced of it, sounds or ever felt like living to me.

There are examples littered throughout history of people who willingly accepted the hardships, and sometimes dangers, in daring to attempt to take up a different way of living to satisfy just such a feeling.

The Pilgrims had their New World.

Many of which seemed to try to live outside of civilization and find a return to nature. As humans, we treat the forests, fields, plains, and deserts of both the equator and poles as separate essences we are invading and imposing upon. There is us and there is nature, two separate entities competing against each other for survival. Is there a more commercialized way to define the planet? Must all things be viewed in terms of competition even in such as competitive economized world as this?

Actually, couldn’t we argue that every civilization up until at least Rome had a "new world"—even in the old world—that they could have found uninhabited?

As has long been obvious to thinkers throughout history, having come from that very same beginning, the same source of atoms and energy, we—humans, trees, animals, bacteria, climates, everything—are all a part of one nature. All beings are natural.

You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson; Self-Reliance

If we are separated from nature in any way, it is not in being thoughtful beings amongst animals, or mobile creatures amongst the plants or any other sort of arbitrary differences we wish to use to separate ourselves from our environmental companions, but rather in secluding our lives from our natural place in the world with such unnatural obstructions as clocks, used to get us to work on time, that are in tune only with themselves and calendars based upon our place in space with no relation to all else that exists within that same space.

But, unlike some historical figures who took to the woods to find an escape from these unnatural limitations, I find no desire to remove myself wholly from society. The sounds of the city are no more unnatural to me than the birds singing or the wind blowing; the finely built architectural gem no less natural than a bird’s nest or beehive; our ability to create (or discover) technology no different than a lizard changing color or the HIV virus’ ability to change its DNA rapidly in the name of its own survival; the city itself an ant hill amplified. For, in the eye of evolution—as well as creation, for there were days before the trees and land animals in each theory—was there not a time when the wind blew but was not interrupted by the leaves? Should the flowers then find a tree as unnatural as we claim ourselves to be because they were here first? And was there not a time when the frog was not here to croak, the cricket not here to chirp? Or even a time when the rain did not fall and moisten the ground? Are we then to view all these things equally unnatural as we supposedly suddenly are?

I will not deprive myself of the natural brilliance and inventiveness of the great number of things that technology, through a natural human intellectual evolution, has granted us simply because there was a time—usually only time within mind—when it was unknown to us. And as much as we tend to glorify a pastoral and simplified past, I have no interest in splitting wood, sewing fields, milking cows, warming by fire and whatever else one would require for simple survival to only the next day or so. Maybe that makes me lazy, American, civilized, or a consumer of convenience. But if civilization does in fact advance—even, evolve—as we collectively tend to believe, then it would be arrogant and disingenuous to discount the accepted basics to the survival of human life that we have received through the years and attempt to rebuild the foundation of necessities ourselves; it would suggest that all previous experiment and experience in discovering these basic tenets were wasteful and useless. While I am likely to distrust the collective intentions of a human’s need to survive in relation to my own, I do trust this historically collective work. I trust the woodchopper eventually accepted the chainsaw as a welcomed relief to the burden of chopping wood; ventilated heat more comfortable and considerably cleaner than the fireplace; houses of wood and plaster a safer haven than the log cabin; and mechanical farm equipment more efficient than each of us working our own mule and plow. To disregard and discard these basic advances of human survival would amount to little more than a vaudeville stage show of a previous and extinct time, falling upon unimpressed and inattentive eyes and ears. Specialization has its advantages and I am willing to accept many of them in exchange for whatever specializations I have been paid or ask to perform.

Thoreau had his Walden.

Additionally, just as Homer (Simpson, this is) once suggested that alcohol is the cause and solution to all of life’s problems, I like to think the same of people. For, if proverbial evolution has failed to make a mistake, and the best things in life are indeed free—a statement I will be sure to continuously test—then what more bountiful product can one enjoy for nothing other than people?

Hell, there’s only six and a half billion of us.

Besides my fascination, and disgust with; my trust, and distrust of; my pride, and disappointment, in people, they also entertain and love me to no end, and so I am in no need—no immediate need—of distancing myself from them in order to remove myself from the cycle of work we have been placed into.

All being beings of nature, each of us is our own individual and unique interpretation of that ongoing force that has carried on for billions of years, each contributing an unique trait to the total combination of what is now called human consciousness.

At our best, we must simply discover what it is that is inherently within us and pursue it to whatever ends it may attain. The only unnatural act is to deny that. To elaborate on a previous statement, if there is anything unnatural about the world it is the money that we have put before us, and the time it takes to earn that money, to distract us from that which is naturally within us, that which developed in the womb before we were ever exposed to the physical environment. For me it is an inherent distaste for unnecessary work.

Hawthorne and company their Brook Farm.

How then can I go about trying to satisfy my disdain for work while not wholly removing myself from society? Is that even possible? For no matter how much one wishes otherwise, to live in the world one needs money. It cannot be gotten around. Even if one wishes to try to live off the fat of the land, these days they would still be required to pay for that plot and the monopoly of the landowners is nearly complete the world over, leaving only the inhospitable—for the time anyways—free to those who wish to occupy it.

Ishmael his sea.

Is it then impossible for one to reap the benefits of civilization while still openly denying it’s accepted ideas about work, pay and success? Has the American experiment truly halted? Did it really finally give into the “we told you so” attitude of Old Europe? Did it suffocate itself with cynicism already? By Lincoln, Whitman, Melville, Emerson, Twain and the host of others I don’t have the personal familiarity with to list here but wish not to exclude wholly, I will not give into that notion. Our time is no bigger a Big Brother situation than the Middle Ages—read Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for an argument on how it has been humans’ weakness in not thinking for themselves to allow for such a situation to have always been true, but also for the dream that there have always been enough self-taught or natural thinkers to prevent it from fully happening—and still we have enough examples of thoughts and individuals from those times as well to not wholly discourage one attempting to think for themselves.

Or his desert. Depending on which book you’re reading.

It is with this traditional stubborn individuality that I will test my theories and beliefs with the full consciousness that they may in fact fail. But if that pessimism didn’t prevent the creation of this nation, why then should they stop my attempt at personalizing my own inconsequential life? Besides, what good are theories or beliefs if they cannot be practiced amongst the multitudes?

Christopher McCandless had his Alaskan wilderness.

And so, I simply plan to distance myself from certain attitudes and mindsets through a continual process of testing, questioning and, simply, simplified living that will ultimately show over the course of the next year just how easy—and just how hard as well—and possible simplified living, while still being a functioning member of society, still is in our modern day.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Post 1, Introduction

This will not be an experiment in simple living but simply an experiment in a simplified form of living.

Having seen and heard far too many horror stories of people suffocated in debt caused by an ingrained instinct to constantly consume and as many stories of hyper stressful jobs and unfulfilling careers; having long grown tired of work being the central activity in my life; now long past the realization that the more money I have made the more unhappy I have been; as well as due to an ever increasing list of additional reasons that will be further discussed in an ongoing manner here in the future, I will here chronicle the process in which I hope to find it possible to live on as little money as possible, while also working as little as possible, over the course of the next year. I look to keep a running tab of how much I have worked, how much I have spent to date— extensively listing the things I have purchased—while also outlining the philosophies behind consciously deciding on living this way of life.

This is not a change of lifestyle so as to take up this particular way of living. In fact, this is exactly how I hope to live for a long time coming, if not altogether for the rest of my life. A continuous exercise in living richly while being poor.

But I not only hope to show how it is financially possible to live as such, but am also out to find the plethora of ways in which one is capable of spending their free time, as opposed to their money, that are often overlooked. I not only hope to work as little as possible, so as to maximize my free time, but I also hope to hang out with my friends as much as possible; I hope to find a great many things that cost little or nothing and can still be enjoyed without the ever-presence of money. I hope to go outside often; I hope to make all sorts of food that I’ve never made; I hope to further my education in the privacy of my own home; I hope to expand the boundaries of my own personal individualism—one I possess no greater than any other—and to show that, through a determined dedication to minimizing work, one is able to do so much in “doing nothing” over the coarse of an hour, a day, a month and ultimately a year.

And it will be a year that I will chronicle this manner of living (I began counting on July 1, 2007 and will do so through an entire year). I have begun with the goal of spending no more than $1,000 a month—$12,000 over the course of a year for those instinctively reaching for a calculator as opposed to instinctively turning to their own intelligence—even though that will more than likely prove high. As for work, I have no particular goal in the number of hours that I will work other than to keep it as far below the standard 2000 hours full-time workers work in a year.

This may not succeed. I suspect that it will, and will do what I must to make sure that it does. Regardless of the outcome, I will chronicle the ups and downs; the successes and failures; the worries and joys; the ways in which we are conditioned from youth in thinking that we need more money and the ways in which one can, hopefully, overcome those teachings.

Again, this will not be an experiment in simple living but simply an experiment in a simplified form of living.