Nobody Cares What You Like

This is purely an old person “get off my lawn” discussion, but I am fascinated when I see kids get asked what they want to eat for dinner and then get cooked separate meals from everybody else at the table.

You know what we ate for dinner when I was a kid?  Whatever my mother was making that night.  If you had a dissenting opinion, you could feel free to either go hungry or arrange to eat at a friend’s house that night.

For instance, I don’t like ham.  Never have.  I think it tastes and has the texture of what I imagine human flesh carved up and served on a plate would taste like.  If I have to eat it, I will gag.  I will involuntarily heave.  I literally cannot force it down.  Growing up, one of my friends didn’t like ham, either.  So what did we do?  She and I drafted the following reciprocal agreement in order to address our shared issue:

If my mother was making ham, I would eat dinner at her house that night.  If her mother was making ham, she would eat dinner at my house that night.

I believe they call that “learning priceless problem-solving skills” and charge like $1,500 nowadays for a workshop to learn them.

Granted, we did have that one night where both of our mothers were coincidentally making ham, but that was the night we learned that sometimes life is just out to kick you in the taco and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Yet another life lesson!

I can tell you for damn sure what none of the mothers in my neighborhood were doing.  They weren’t cooking four different meals to suit everyone’s tastes each night.

I can’t even imagine how hard my mother would have laughed if I’d said, “Oh, hey.  I know you’ve been at work all day at your crappy, low pay, high stress job that you hate, and I know that you’re making sloppy joes for everyone else, standing in front of the stove still wearing your work clothes, but can you make me chicken fingers instead?  You know, just for me?”

You would still hear that laughter today, echoing through eternity, bending space and time in its wake.  I would have never lived that down.  That would be a story that was passed down to all future generations:

“Can you believe she thought I would make an entirely separate meal just for her?  Why stop there?  Why not ask for your own castle and unicorn?!  Her own dinner!  Sure thing, Jackie O!  I’ll get right on that!”

Same goes for stopping at multiple fast food places.  If I’d said to my mother, “I know everyone else is getting Burger King, but can you make an extra stop so I can get some Wendy’s?” she would have just lost control of the car and driven into a lake, she would have become so delirious with laughter.

You knew better than to complain about your lack of fast food choices.  You were lucky when you got fast food at all, and not the frozen cube steaks and sauerkraut Mom forgot to take out to thaw that morning.  You’re gonna get picky about the fast food?  Oh, that’s rich.  Why not get picky about free candy on Halloween while you’re at it?  Get picky about the denomination of bills in a birthday card!  But I wanted fives!!!

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It wasn’t because my mother was a harsh parent – far from it.  It’s because dinner was an event that was grounded in facts.  Dinner = whatever Mom was making that night.  That was a fact.  The idea that children might have been permitted to have an opinion on the matter was totally unheard of.  It never even crossed my mind.  Did I have an opinion on whether she should pay the property taxes quarterly or once a year?  Nope!  Because my opinion wasn’t relevant to the matter.

The same way that your opinion is irrelevant as to whether the sky is blue or the sun rises in the east.  If you have issues with these things, you better find a way to deal with them, because the sun ain’t rising in the west just for you, babycakes.  You’re not entitled to have the world skitter around your likes and dislikes because, I can assure you, absolutely nobody is as concerned about your likes and dislikes as you are.

If you care 100%, then the rest of the world cares negative 500,000,000%.

Nobody cares what you like – and we all need to come to terms with that.

Like Mom used to tell me, “You are so special…” and then she’d pause and say “…juuuust like everybody else.”

That’s not only accurate, but will sure as hell keep you humble, too.

Sometimes you have to eat something for dinner that you’re not crazy about.  What can I tell you?  Life is hard, kid.  It’s one meal.  Either force it down or load up on side dishes that night.

Now get off my lawn.

The Rotten Mango Smell of Spite

I’ll never forget the day that I gripped that phone and said, “Oh yeah? Well, then you’re never gonna see another dime from me again. Ever.”

Imaginary TV camera zooms in on my mouth, “Evvveeeerrrrr.”

That, dear friends, was the day I ruined my credit purely out of spite.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that spite isn’t an addictive and dangerous drug. When I think back on the things I’ve done purely out of spite over the years, I get a noticeable rush of dopamine in my brain. It’s like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time, but it’s me remembering that time I rubbed rotten mango all over that skank’s car windows under the dark cover of Florida night after she called me a “drunk trailer trash slut”.  I didn’t even live in a trailer!

I was drunk, though, so that part was probably fair.  And also a slut.

It took days to get the smell of rotten mango off my hands.

Worth it!

I grew up in a household that didn’t have access to credit. This meant that any time an unexpected bill, say from an emergency room visit, was overdue and they threatened to turn the account over to a collection agency, the stock answer to them was, “Throw it on the pile!” and then you hung up the phone.

That was how I learned to manage unplanned debt, anyway. Tell them to throw it on the pile.

When I was a kid, all the adults I knew lived without credit cards, drove junkers and didn’t have car loans, and already had mortgages, so what the hell were the bill collectors going to do to them? Nobody checked credit for job applications or anything like that. So screw it. Take that bill that you can’t afford to pay, and tell the collection agency to chuck it onto the pile with all the other bills you can’t pay. What are they going to do? Throw you in debtor’s prison?

This resulted in many attempted deliveries of certified letters to my house when I was growing up, as you may have previously read about in my piece Proof of Deliverance in The New Southern Fugitives earlier this year. That was a fun one to write, and I chuckled my way pretty much through the whole thing when I was writing it.

That being said, it’s a crappy, stressful way to live, dodging bill collectors. When I became an adult and finally managed to get somebody to give me a credit card, I decided that I was going to be really, really good with it.

I was going to break the family cycle of: No Money? No Credit? All problems!

I had a $300 limit and somewhere around 24% interest rate with that first card. A rate that high should be illegal, and it’s basically setting poor people up to fail, by the way.  I used my card responsibly and paid my bill every month on-time for years. They raised my little $300 limit a couple times each year, higher and higher, and my credit score was improving every month. My interest rate stayed at 24%.

Then, years later, it happened. The phone call.

I was sitting at work when my phone rang. It was a customer service rep at my credit card company telling me that I had missed that month’s payment. I knew this was impossible, seeing as I paid it well before it was due every month. I made it my personal policy to pay it the day after I received the bill, even though it wasn’t due for weeks after that.

I told her the date I paid it and the check number. I went online to see if the check had cleared through my bank.

It had not.

I told her I had never made a late payment, not in the eight years that I’d had the card at that point, and it must have gotten lost in the mail. I was a solid customer! I begged her to waive the late fee, waive the now over-the-limit fee, and not jack-up my already insane interest rate.

No dice. She wouldn’t budge. Not only would I have to pay a small fortune in penalties, but now my interest rate would be permanently somewhere around one trillion percent.

I was so angry. Angry that I had worked so hard to keep good credit and to pay my bill on time, and that one single lost payment somehow was going to derail everything.

So I…let’s call it…

…regressed?

All the way back to childhood. Like a cornered, dirty possum.

I gripped the phone and said, “Oh yeah? Well, then you’re never gonna see another dime from me again. Ever. Evvveeerrrr.”

And they never did, either.

I spent the next seven years dodging their calls, refusing to sign for their certified letters, and watching the amount that I owed them multiply over and over with interest and penalties every time they sold it off to another collection agency. I had originally owed them a total of just under $1,500 for everything. Now they claimed I owed them more than $13,000.  I eventually told them I would be willing to pay the damn $1,500 if they would close the case and leave me alone.  Nope!  The lowest amount they would settle for was TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.

What did I do? I waited them out. This is not good financial advice, for the record.

As a fully regressed dirtbag kid, I knew my debt was small potatoes compared to a lot of folks at the time. This was peak recession. It would be extremely unlikely that they would spend the money to come after me in court for it. I also knew that in my state if they hadn’t filed a lawsuit against me after five years, then they would forfeit their ability to do so. I celebrated that day when I passed the five-year mark with a can of Miller High Life the size of my head.

I also knew it could only stay on my credit for seven years and so long as I didn’t send them even $10, that BS $13,000 debt was going to expire whether they liked it or not. (If you make even the tiniest little payment on a debt like that, it starts the clock over from that date, and then it’s a brand new five- and seven-year deal. That’s why bill collectors try to get you to even send them $10.  It resets the clock.  If you want to know everything about debt collection laws in your state, talk to the poorest person you know.)

I was fortunate that, at the time, I already had a car, was renting my house from my mother, and had the same job. What the hell did I need good credit for? You know what they said in my household growing up! Throw it on the pile!

Little did I know that exactly one month after it finally fell off my credit report, at age 35, I would unexpectedly need to rent an apartment for the first time, apply for a new job a month after that, and six months after that, finance a new car. All of which required a credit check. If my life circumstances had changed even a month or two earlier than they did, I would have been completely screwed. I would have been homeless, jobless, and car-less over one stupid credit card.

It would be easy to say that dodging that debt all worked out in the end, but I lived in a house of cards for seven years waiting it out. It was constantly hanging over my head – and lord knows, they called me every single day. They sent letters several times a week. They still call me all these years later and threaten me with legal action at least once a month, even though the debt is legally non-collectable. I figure that even if I live to be 150 years old, my last words will be to some damn collection agency over that damn credit card.

I rebuilt my credit over the last eight years, and now, finally, I have good credit again.  I pay off both of my cards every month and make sure my payment clears every time.

The biggest lesson I learned? If one of my credit card companies calls me to tell me that my payment is late, I’ll either fight my way up the chain until I can make someone fix it, or suck it up and pay the initial penalties, even though it’s total bullshit.

But, oh, the spite opportunities. When I think of the spite, I can almost smell the rotten mango on my hands.  Capital One’s car windows would be SO jacked up right now.

That Time I Had Asthma for 30 Years

The first time I started coughing and couldn’t stop was in the fifth grade.  I was sitting in class when the first cough came.  Then the second.  Then the twentieth.  Then I had to leave class and be taken to the nurse’s office, my face purple, tears and snot running like a fountain.  I literally could not stop coughing and I could barely get any air.

I stopped coughing a few minutes later, and everything returned to normal.  I went back to class.  Nobody thought much of it now that I was fine, and also because it was the 80s and kid ailments were mostly treated by adults with, “It’s probably nothing.  Let me know if you die in the middle of the night, because if I have to miss even thirty minutes of work to take you to a doctor, they’ll dock my pay.”  Then everybody in the house would light up cigarettes, pop on a Revenge of The Nerds movie, and call it a night.

I had these coughing attacks four or five times every year for the next thirty-some-odd years.

That same year as my first coughing attack, we had a P.E. teacher who taught us how to take our heart rates by taking our pulses while she timed it with a stopwatch.  At the end of class, after we’d been running around for thirty minutes, she’d say, “Okay, show of hands, whose heart rate is over 100?”

Almost all the hands would go up.

Then she’d say, “Whose heart rate is over 125?”

Half the hands would go down.

“Whose heart rate is over 150?”

A few hands stayed up.

“Over 175?”

Just me and that kid who always had that white crud at the corners of his mouth.

“Over 200?”

My hand was the only one still up.

She said, “Sweetie, I think you’re probably just not calculating it right.  What’s your heart rate?”

I said, “220.” (Also, don’t ever, ever, ever call me Sweetie.)

She told me I was definitely calculating it wrong because that number was impossible, and then that was the end of the discussion about it.  Because 1980s.

I felt so embarrassed that she had basically called me an idiot who didn’t know how to count – in front of the whole class, no less – I never mentioned my crazy high heart rate again.  For the rest of the year after that, I just put my hand down when she said, “Anyone over 150?” even though my heart rate was sometimes as high as 240.

I wasn’t calculating it wrong.  Every time I checked it after even mild cardio activity, it was well over 200.  Put a FitBit on me today and have me jog for even fifty feet.  You’ll get a big, fat 220+ heart rate staring back at you, along with an extremely pale face and a sheen of cold sweat.

For as long as I can remember, walking up a single flight of stairs has always caused me to get woozy and see stars, my heart pounding out of my chest.  I’d always been told that we just have rapid heartbeats and shitty endurance in our family, and that was just the way it was.

I started having one of my coughing attacks at work last year, and a coworker said, “I didn’t realize you had asthma.  I have it, too!”

I shook my head no at her, and when I finally stopped coughing and tearing and snotting and my face returned to a normal shade of not-purple two minutes later, I told her I didn’t have asthma.

“I just get these coughing attacks sometimes,” I told her, wiping off all the mascara and eyeliner that had run completely down my face.

She raised an eyebrow at me, “Your coughing sounds exactly like me when I’m having an asthma attack.  You’re coughing because your airway is constricted.  Have you asked your doctor about this?”

I know it seems silly, but I only really thought about these coughing attacks while I was in the midst of one.  After one was over, it immediately left my mind.  I would have had to have one while standing in my doctor’s office to have thought to mention it to him.

So I went to the doctor and he ran some tests.

While waiting for the results, he asked me to describe my coughing attacks and when I had first started experiencing them.  I gave him all the details and told him that I was ten years old when they’d started.

He said, “Right.  Those are asthma attacks.  This has gone untreated for thirty years?”

I left his office with a prescription for a rescue inhaler, but I still had my doubts for some reason?  It just seemed impossible that all this time, I’d actually had asthma.

I’d seen actors on television pretending to have an asthma attack, and they just politely gasped for air, put one hand on their chest and pointed towards their bag so that their friend would get them their inhaler.  There was never any coughing!  And as for my rapid heartbeat and terrible endurance, well, that was a family trait!  Especially with, you know, the fact that everybody who walked through our front door lit a cigarette before they even put their keys down, and then lit their next cigarette off of that one.

The next time I had a coughing attack, I took a hit from the inhaler to debunk this alleged asthma myth.

It stopped the coughing instantly.

Well, shit.  Coughing attack = asthma attack.  I guess my doctor wasn’t playing the trickery that I thought he was.  I had imagined he’d gone home the night that he diagnosed me and told his wife, “I told this idiot she had asthma and she totally just has coughing attacks!  I love being both a doctor AND a trickster!”

A couple months later, I was walking up a long, steep walkway on vacation in Vermont, when I started to get woozy and see stars.  I was panting so hard that I had to keep taking breaks to catch my breath, and my heart was beating so fast that it felt like a horse race was happening in my chest.  Nothing new, basically.

Bobby said I should really think about using my inhaler.  I told him I just needed to catch my breath.  I always got really short of breath when I had to walk up an incline.

He persisted.  Then I thought, “Meh, what the hell,” and took a hit off the inhaler.

I stopped panting immediately, stopped feeling woozy, stopped seeing stars, and my heart rate returned to a normal human heart rate.  I felt FINE.

It all sounds so, so dumb, I know.  How could I have had asthma for over thirty years and not known it?  What am I, a moron?

I blame television’s wildly inaccurate portrayal of asthma attacks for this particular oversight in my life.  They couldn’t devote one single episode of The Facts of Life to someone having a realistic asthma attack?  Hell, they had that whole episode of Punky Brewster devoted to one kid suffocating in an empty refrigerator while playing hide-and-seek and how often does that actually happen?  To, like, two kids a year?  They couldn’t do ONE asthma episode?

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Thanks for nothing, asshole!

I’m sorry, television.  I didn’t mean it.  I’ll never say another unkind word about you again.