Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Does the left hand know...?

A few posts ago, I wrote about this offer Bank of America telemarketed at me. Definitely a symptom of this whole financial credit crisis thing. BofA had already been targeted to receive at least $20 billion (certainly enough to make even Carl Sagan flinch) in relief funds, and after its government "stress test" is required to raise $34 billion in capital. No wonder they're offering safety net plans with monthly fees -- they need the income.

But I have to wonder just what organizational apparatus is operating -- or failing to -- inside BofA. Yes, I'm carrying a balance on my BofA card, but it's not that much (a little over $1,000 at this point) and I typically pay more than the minimum payment each month (sometimes only a little more) towards getting rid of that balance. I may well have had a late payment or two, owing to my general disorganization regarding all things not theatre during tech weeks, but I don't think I've been late enough to have "missed" a payment. So I can see -- sort of -- where they're coming from in offering me that paranoid protection plan: I'm carrying a low balance and definitely not doing any extravagant spending (indeed, though I've had it for something like twenty years, I use this card hardly at all anymore, as I don't like the experience of dealing with BofA, and I expect the root of the balance I am still carrying probably dates back to before BofA swallowed MBNA); I have a history making relatively steady payments, so I wouldn't appear immanently likely to use this protection plan; those payments are evidently cautious ones, however, though if you consider my income they make perfect sense.

And I have to think that BofA has, finally, considered my income, because as I was going through my post-tech backlog of accumulated mail I found evidence of another symptom of BofA's health: they've reduced my credit line.

Okay, to be honest, it was a ridiculous credit line to begin with. That wasn't wholly BofA's fault, either; MBNA had been given to awarding me unsolicited increases in my credit limit, ostensibly as rewards for my solid credit management, although I think we all know that this practice of upping credit limits was motivated by a desire to encourage more substantial purchasing with the card. Once they absorbed MBNA and took over (a fact of which I received no direct notification that I can recall; I discovered it only when my monthly statement suddenly changed -- I almost threw out the first statement before I registered that it was my MBNA card number), BofA continued the practice. They were also very fond of sending me "cheques" for my credit card account, a thoroughly transparent enticement to spend more and, in my case, a total waste of paper and postage. Still, so long as I felt there was no risk of my falling for it, I saw no reason to argue with their attempts to draw me into owing them more money.

And as for that ridiculous credit line? As of last month, it was $42,700. Yes, that's more than I make in a year. (Yes, I make that little. I work in the arts.) I pretty much treated it as a joke -- such ludicrous examples of our screwed-up economy were funny a year ago. Now... well, I can't help wondering how many people received the same sort of treatment I'd received from BofA, but fell for it. There's a far wider "they" than only the financial institutions themselves in the "What were they thinking?" that's hung in the air these past months.

So, when was going through my pile of mail, I opened a letter from BofA informing me that my credit line had been "adjusted." No mention of the direction in which it had been adjusted. Sure enough, when I opened the statement for April the credit line figure at the top of the page had changed to $21,500. They'd adjusted my credit line to slightly more than half of what it had been.

That's still a pretty large credit line, yes. And it's still true that when you put that together with my CitiBank and American Express cards, and individual accounts like Home Depot, I have plastic credit exceeding my annual income. And, yes, I am carrying balances on Citi and AmEx, a fact which has begun to bother me more in recent months than it has in years. There was a time when I was assiduous about paying off my credit cards as quickly as possible. Over the years, though, as unplanned necessity expenses like automotive repairs would suddenly shoot my credit card balance up by large increments, I grew accustomed to never writing a cheque for the entire balance. And, with the exception of AmEx, the statements changed format in such a way that the actual dollar amount of the finance charge for that month was no longer obvious or, for that matter, always easy to find. I made payments, almost always more than the minimum, and must confess that I sometimes didn't know whether I'd put more onto a card in a given month than I'd taken off. From the fact that I'm still carrying balances on several cards, I'd say there were more than a few months when I put on more than I took off.

Lately, I've taken to using my bank card more often. Unless the purchase is so large that there's a chance the bi-monthly low ebb in my chequing might not cover it, I'll swipe that PNC card rather than Citi, AmEx or [shudder] BofA. I'm paying more attention to which payments are due when, and trying to orchestrate scheduling such that I pay the most I can manage on things with minimum payments. A year ago, something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would have been an impulse buy as soon as I saw it on Amazon; now I'm being realistic -- okay, honest -- about the fact that I'm not likely to read it immediately, and I'll just add it to my wish list as a reminder (although I cannot imagine how, short of early-onset Alzheimer's, I could forget something that combines Jane Austen and the walking dead). My godparents gave me a pair of $25 Sunoco gift cards in my Christmas card this year, and I'm still carrying one in the truck against the day the need to fill up coincides with the low dip in my chequing, just as a way to avoid putting so mundane as a tank of gas on a credit card. I'm changing the date on one of my CDs so that it'll mature around the same time next year's school taxes are due, just in case I'm not able to consistently maintain my self-imposed "tax rent" payments into savings. The ongoing foolishness of Dan Didio (whom I've come to think of as the "W." of comics editors) isn't the only reason I'm re-evaluating the comics I buy every month.

Oh, yeah. One more thing -- Bank of America sent me more of those "cheques" this month.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is that a promise?

I just stumbled across the following tidbit, and had to share.

From Jesse Ventura, former Governor, former professional wrestler, and former Navy Seal (who says he endured waterboarding as part of his training) --

"Water-boarding is torture... It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way: you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

Can I take that as an offer?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It only took a little nudge to get me to check in on this morning. It's almost always entertaining to some degree, and today I found a tidbit worth sharing. This is probably even more entertaining to my video-game-playing friends, but it made me smile. I liked this take, and this is wonderfully wacky, but I think the one I enjoy most is this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

And in other news...

I found a comment from an unfamiliar source on my last post. Since the people who actually follow my blog can probably be counted on one hand (maybe two, but those would be three-fingered cartoon character hands), whenever a comment pops up from a newbie I usually check it out.

What's interesting here is that when I clicked on Mkcoy to find out more about this fellow with the oddly-spelled name and the strange ideas about punctuation I got sent here.

Interesting trick. I wonder how it works. I mean, it says "" in the URL, so I got curious. Something like this had happened a little while ago with a comment on another post, but that jump-link hadn't had anything blogspot or Blogger in it. I have today off, yet I still woke up early, and hunting for information on this seemed like a good way to procrastinate on doing the dishes.

Well, I never did find out quite what's going on with the whole Mkcoy business specifically, but I did manage to blow off dishwashing for more than an hour-and-a-half and in the process learn a few things about which I'd known little or nothing before. For example, you can have ads in your blog and ostensibly make money whenever people click on them. So that's what that Monetize tab is all about. And here I was thinking it let you format your blog in the style of French impressionist Claude Monet. Silly me. Although you must admit, that version of "Monet-ize" would be cool...

Anyway, I don't think any of this means I could set up my own information link to send people here or, say, here. [sigh]

Along the way, however, I did stumble upon a couple of cool blogs that have naught to do with my original curiosity. I can't explain how my path led here or here, although I'm amused by the former and am likely to keep checking in on the latter; that's just the way amateur interweb searches like mine work; it's like the odd juxtapositions you'd run across searching or browsing a card catalog (remember those?), and that's the beauty of it.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

News from New Delhi

So, I got a telemarketing call this morning "from" Bank of America. The caller ID tagged it as Ontario (which was why I picked it up, since I'm still untangling and tying the last of the Canadian threads in Mom's estate), but the call was pretty obviously coming from India.

I have a credit card with BofA; got it back when it was MBNA. I'm carrying a balance on it (stupid need-to-pass-inspection truck repairs), but not a huge balance. Between them, over the years, MBNA and BofA raised my credit limit to a ridiculously high figure. Given my actual income and correspondingly starving-artist lifestyle, I could live for a year on that credit card alone. I never asked for this, obviously. It's just one of the things these places do. Or, rather, did. I've heard a lot of news reporting that Citi and other credit card companies have been rolling back people's credit lines.

Yes, things have changed. I was late on a CitiBank payment a few months back, and they were quick to call and ask whether I'm working. Yikes! 

And these banks are now needing to come up with funds in order to qualify for government aid. BofA just took a shot with me. They're offered me this sweet security deal: if I sign up for this service -- at a $19 monthly fee -- BofA will toss me $3,000 if I find myself unvoluntarily out of work. (Yes, I know it's "involuntarily." Even with her accent, I'm pretty sure she said "unvoluntarily.") This wouldn't be a loan or a cash advance. She was really clear on this point. I wouldn't have to pay it back. They'd just give it to me. 

Moreover, if I get married, have a kid, move or any of several other things she tried to list, they'd give me $500. I didn't ask if this applied whether I was marrying or having the kid unvoluntarily or not. I just wanted to establish that there was a monthly fee involved so I could give her a definitive no and get off the phone.

After I'd hung up, it really hit me. BofA had just offered me -- okay, asked me to sign up for -- a service that involved the possibility of their giving me money. Giving me money. Let's think about that for a moment. Obviously, they're playing the odds. They're counting on getting that twenty bucks from me every month and never having to give me any money back. And somewhere in their math, they must've concluded that those odds are in their favor. They need to create some sort of additional income, and on paper the funds coming in from enrollment fees each month must balance the potential pay-outs.  Still, it feels a bit of a gamble to me. The $3,000 isn't that big a risk, granted. But that $500... My co-worker Will and his wife are trying to get pregnant. My friends Kathryn and Rusty are expecting. If I were either of them, I might well do my own math and sign up on the simple idea that over nine months I'd only pay in $180 but would get $500 when I had the kid. Sounds like a scheme -- er... bargain -- to me.

Yeah, I know there are probably a bunch of things in the fine print that would protect BofA against someone's using the service that way. Enrollment date versus birth date would be the simplest and most obvious. The whole idea is predicated on my personal feelings of financial uncertainty. Is the nugget of peace-of-mind they're offering worth twenty bucks a month to me? Having just had a generally positive, at times glowing, review at work, I'm inclined to say no. I'm counting on my own odds: on the odds of PLTC's wanting to keep me in my job, and on the odds of PLTC's own financial viability.

Not to say that I don't place some sort of dollar value on peace of mind. I still maintain the disability insurance policy I took out with State Farm years ago to assure that I'd be able to keep making my payments on my truck for a few months if my income were disrupted for some reason. I paid off the truck six years ago, but I've kept up that policy. That particular nugget feels worth $37.98 a year.

Actually, now that I think about it, that might well be the intentioned destiny of my loose change jar from now on...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

English Major Trivia

Today's Robert Browning's birthday. Although I was never all that big on Browning, he's inextricably wedged in my pile of English major knowledge. For one thing, I think every poetry survey touches on "My Last Duchess" or one of his other character/narrator poems. I can easily see why -- their conceit of speaking in the first-person is conveniently accessible to rudimentary explication. For another, there's "Porphyria's Lover," one of those poems with a somewhat sensational interpretation to be teased out an decoded; any suggestion of necrophilia, in a "serious" poem, is understandably appealing to adolescent sensibilities. 

As I read more of his work later in my academic years, I found that I preferred some of the poems that have no elaborate conceits or literary references. Simpler stuff like Now!

 Out of your whole life give but a moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, -- so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present, condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection's endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense,
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me --
Me, sure that, despite of time future, time past,
This tick of life-time's one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet,
The moment eternal -- just that and no more --
When ecstasy's utmost we clutch at the core,
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut, and lips meet! 

Friday, May 01, 2009


Since Rob posted some of his lifetime pass artists, I thought I'd weigh in. I agree with Rob on the Cohens (I'm a film behind on them, too, at the moment). Alan Moore, too. Steve Martin has moved into a phase of his career in which I take him a la carte -- I'll pass on things like Cheaper By The Dozen. But if it's, say, something Martin himself wrote, I'll check it out.

And I'll toss out a few of my own:

Steve Forbert.  A new album is an automatic no-brainer purchase. Hell, even a live recording is an auto-buy, regardless of the venue or the vintage. I'm at a loss to explain why this folk-rock singer-songwriter from Meridian, Mississippi, should connect so readily and so deeply for me, but I don't question it. "It's often said that life is strange, but, hey, compared to what?"

Clint Eastwood.  I've not been on top of Eastwood's recent films, which is a shame. He's one of the few Hollywood folks whose work I almost whole heartedly trust. That's certainly the case with Eastwood as a director. Even when the film is just straight-up entertainment, his even-handed mastery of the craft of cinema narrative assures that I will be entertained. Eastwood learned his craft through long observation and experience with some talented folks, and perhaps that's why his films just feel good to me. His directorial style is very no-style transparent, utterly unaffected and un-effected by the jumbley short-attention-span visual trends of recent years. I'll miss him when he's gone.

Jackie Chan.  Okay, there's the Hollywood pap like The Tuxedo. Hollywood's never known quite what to do with Jackie. But even in those wrong-headed vehicles, he's fun. And when Jackie's able to be Jackie, well, there's nothing like him. I wish someone would get ahold of his older films and give them a proper treatment and release on DVD. You can never have too much Jackie Chan.

J.D. Salinger.  I know it's a bit weird to say, since he hasn't published any new work in my lifetime. But what there is, I like. And there is this urban myth that he's been writing the whole time he's been holed up in Cornish, New Hampshire, and that we may see more Salinger after he dies. That last bit is probably optimistically apocryphal. While it's likely enough that he may have continued to write after he stopped publishing, I think it's less likely he's lining things up to be released after his death. Still...  If it shows up, I'll read it.

I'm sure a few more candidates would present themselves if I looked over my shelves.