This Is Not a Blog

I remember growing up and hearing my parents complain about bills. Whenever the mail came I would ask what had come and my mom would say;

Ohhhh bills, more bills.

I didn’t understand why we got so many bills. As a child, you don’t get bills. You don’t really get anything. But even by the time I was old enough to get bills of my own (hooray) I could pay some of them online so the arrival of a bill wasn’t really climactic.

Today as an adult I pay nearly all of my bills online so I get hardly any in the mail but there are still some things still come in the mail. They are mostly bills for things that are not recurring, a service rendered or a doctor’s visit. And it is these bills that confuse me.

I was doing my yearly checkups not too long ago; Doctor tests, Dermatologist tests, etc. I’m not a really good patient. I don’t mean I scream and kick and bite, I mean I don’t ask a lot of questions.

Some of my friends question their doctor, asking him or her why they are doing what they are doing, referencing research and studies etc.

I’m not that… bright?

When the doctor tells me he has to do a test, remove something, or stab me with a sharp stick, I pretty much just go along with it because he’s a doctor and I, well… I’m a writer.

Plus doctors don’t really tend to ask you what you want them to do, they just tell you what they want to do. They also don’t tell you the price of things.

Rich I’d like to run this echo cardiogram… and it’s going to cost you 900 dollars.

No. They just do it, bill your insurance, and you don’t find out it actually had a cost until 4 weeks later when you play Russian Insurance Roulette to find out whether or not you’re covered for the life saving preventive test you didn’t even know you needed.

But sometimes you don’t even get a bill, you just get, well… something else.

A couple of weeks after my appointments I got a letter from my insurance referencing some diagnostic lab that apparently processed or did my tests. I didn’t understand the piece of paper except for the bold line at the top that said:

THIS IS NOT A BILL

Now that might not have bothered me if it weren’t for the lines underneath it that said:

Amount Billed:
Discount:
What Insurance Paid:
What I Owe:
You Saved:

OK so let me just get this clear. This is NOT a bill, but you are telling me how much my bill would be if this were a bill (which it’s not) as well as how much my insurance would pay on this hypothetical bill and how much I owe on this non-bill and how much I saved on the non-bill that I don’t have to pay yet.

Oh yea that’s really clear.

Why the hell am I getting a discount? I don’t recall walking into the doctor with a coupon for half off a blood pressure reading. I really resent my insurance company trying to make it seem like they are giving me a deal.

So I just put the piece of paper down (it was 3 pages of non-billdom) and just waited for the actual bill to come.

But it never came.

Instead I got another letter from my insurance that all said in bold letters at the top:

THIS IS NOT A BILL.

Damn it!

What is so hard about sending me a bill? When I go to dinner and it comes time to pay, the waiter doesn’t drop a piece of paper on my table that says "This is not a bill, but if it was, your dinner would cost." No, they just give me a bill and I pay it, and that’s it. End of transaction.

It’s like insurance is a clingy ex girlfriend that refuses to let you move on with your life. She is going to carry on this relationship until you are both so miserable with each other that the mere mention of her makes me scream like a karaoke banshee.

So I continued to wait for the bill. And of course it never came.

I got another non bill. And another. And another. Until I had received 7 different pieces of paper from my insurance, all 3 pages long. That’s 21 pages of non bills all for different things, all for different amounts owed to doctors I had never heard of!

How do I know this Doctor? Why cant I pay the doctor I know? At least he has seen me in my underwear. How can I trust a doctor who hasn’t seen me in my underwear?

And how come the insurance doesn’t know how much they will cover? It’s not like I have fancy blood or magic urine. It’s the same tests you are running on all of your other clients. Come up with a number, and stick to it.

I can appreciate the insurance companies’ desire to communicate what might happen, but at a certain point it just becomes confusing. Just send me a check, tell me how much I owe, and I will pay that amount.

Or maybe I won’t.

Maybe the next time my insurance company sends me something with “NOT A BILL” written on it, I will take out a small rectangular piece of paper and write in the amount I owe. Then, before I put it in the envelope to mail it, I will write at the top in big block letters.

THIS IS NOT A CHECK

Change I Don't Believe In

I'm not a big fan of coins. I mean I like money as much as the next guy, but coins in general are a bit cumbersome. And for someone like me who likes to travel with as few items as possible, heavy metallic change is kind of the enemy.

But I have found myself paying a lot closer attention to my change lately. Perhaps I'm becoming more frugal, or maybe it's my fear of a complete economic collapse, either way, I'm not forsaking my coins any more for their dollared brethren. I am taking care of them, nurturing them, and using them. And it's making me realize certain things.

The first thing I've realized is that using change makes me feel like a child. I'm not sure if this is an insecurity of my own creation as much as it is imposed on me by society.

I keep all of my change either in my desk at work, or at home in an empty Gatorade bottle. When that bottle gets full I take it over to my bank and dump that change into the automatic coin counter.

It is a large machine with a touch screen and a tray that sorts and counts your coins. It then prints out a receipt which you can take up to the counter and exchange for paper money, which is my favorite.

You get some pretty interesting characters waiting in line at that machine. Characters including the creepiest looking people in the world with mugs, jugs, and dirty socks full of coins. So many coins that they often break the machine making us all wait a half our for the manager to fix it.

But it's not the machine itself that makes me feel like a child. It is the instructions. These are given loudly by audio in the voice of an 8 year old girl.

Why?

Well I guess they assume, like I do, that the only people trying to buy anything with change must still be in elementary school. They also apparently think I can't read so i have to listen to another smarter elementary school kid tell me what to do.

So as I am shaking my Gatorade bottle full of nickels into the sorting panel, this cartoon brown noser on the screen is shouting to the whole bank;

"DO YOU WANT TO GUESS HOW MUCH YOU HAVE?"

No I don't want to guess how much I have. How about this guess... Not enough!

And when I finish emptying, and she finishes sorting, she shouts with mock excitement;

"WOW YOU SURE SAVED A LOT OF MONEY!"

Shut up you little snot! I know things are different in cartoon world, but in mine $23.86 is not a lot of money. That's not even half my grocery bill. So stop patronizing me. I don't need you telling me I don't have enough money. What do you know?

About 15 years ago, maybe I would have thought a bit differently. Back when I was a kid the only things I bought were baseball cards and candy. And I always used change, piling my silver on the counter of the corner store like I was a pirate and I had just dug up me plunder.

But at my current point in life, piling change on a counter does not make me feel like a pirate. It makes me feel like an incompetent moron. Like when my drawer at work gets too full of change, I take it downstairs to the hole in the wall coffee shop to buy a breakfast sandwich. And even thought the sandwich only costs 2 bucks, I still feel kind of uncomfortable paying for it with 6 quarters, 2 dimes, and a nickel.

I wonder what the guy behind the counter is thinking.

"Oh great. Here comes the man-child with no real money."

Does he wonder if I am extremely cheap? Broke? Maybe I operate a tollbooth on the weekends and I'm skimming the profits?

Perhaps, because I can put myself in his shoes.

I bartend on the weekends at a place that gets pretty busy. Many people pay by credit card but most people pay by cash. Things usually go pretty smoothly, but there is one situation that always trips me up.

When somebody's bill comes to something like $19.95 and they give me a twenty dollar bill and stand there waiting for the nickel while I go and make change, for some reason it leaves me in disbelief. I pause for a moment and then scream, "Do you really need this you cheapskate?"

And then I fling the nickel at their face.

Maybe not.

But when the tables are turned and I am the customer, I don't really know what to do. For instance, if I give someone a twenty for something that costs $19.95, while I stand there waiting for my change I have a small panic attack.

What does the person behind the counter think about me while I stand there waiting for my nickel.

Do they think I am some scrooge hunting after every last cent? Like I wouldn't dare let any of my tremendous net worth out of my sight. So then I contemplate letting them keep the change.

But what am I supposed to say?

"Hey there friend, buy yourself a nice piece of Bazooka Joe."

How does that make me look? Oh yea I'm so wealthy that you can keep that nickel. Or do they think that I think that I am doing them a favor? I don't know! I think the best thing to do is just walk off like I didn't even notice a nickel was involved. That way we both win.

And maybe as I walk off I can add;

"WOW YOU SURE SAVED A LOT OF MONEY!"

Or maybe not.

Death by Taxes

I’m going to jail.

Well maybe not jail, but I’m definitely going to get audited.

There is almost no doubt in my mind that 2009 will not only be the first year I did my taxes by myself, but also, the last.

If I think about my life since college, I pinpoint one major benefit of not having to go to class. And that is not having to do homework.

Not that I was any sort of prolific homework doer in college. But when it needed to get done, I done did it. Even if it was an easy homework, the stress and foreboding of this lurking cloud of obligation that must be done every night or every week, really cramped my style.

This is a perk I enjoy as an adult. Aside from the occasional trip to Bed Bath and Beyond or the Dry Cleaners, there really isn’t too much in the way of homework dragging me down these days.

But I moved into my very own apartment last year and since I am living on my own, working full time, and on my way into my late 20s, it is time for me to not just tell people I am a grown up, but to pretend I am one as well.

I have been given my first homework assignment as an adult, to do my taxes. And this, my friends, is why it is almost a guarantee, that I will be audited.

I would like to clear the air by first saying that I am great at counting. I can count from 1 to 10 no problem. Hell, I can even do it 3 languages. Where I struggle the most is with calculating.

That would probably explain why I couldn’t pass calculus in college. Calculus seems to be the root of calculating.

The first time I failed calculus I really didn’t have a chance. I was consistently the first one to finish tests. It wasn’t because I was brilliant; it was because I had run out of questions I could make up an answer for.

That mentality carried over to my adult homework of doing my taxes. In addition to being borderline incompetent I am also extremely lazy. So I downloaded Turbo Tax, the software met all the requirements I had for tax software.

Speedy Adjective in the title – Check
The title mentions “tax” – Check

I started doing my taxes and realized I did not have the attention span for this. The program does all of the math for you, but it asks you look at forms and pull numbers and get the information from your 1098 and 1099 forms.

What the hell happened to the first 1,097 forms? Shouldn’t I have to fill those out?

That’s like going to an empty airport but still having to fly out of Gate 27. What is wrong with all these other gates?

What kind of society do we live in that the government had to make 1097 versions of something before they got it right?

So I commenced using the software and filled in numbers, consulted my forms, and answered Turbo Tax’s questions about things that might be deductible.

Things like, Was I hit by a natural disaster in 2008?

Like did my house blow away? If so I think I shouldn’t have to be doing taxes thank you very much. It even gives you a drop down list to choose from states that were affected by government approved natural disasters.

I still clicked on the drop down menu.

I was curious.

New York wasn’t even listed. As it turns out Turbo Tax wouldn’t even let me pretend I was hit by a natural disaster in 2008. Maybe I wouldn’t be going to jail after all.

I even did my tax homework the way I did the rest of my homework in college

I tried to do it by myself for about 9 minutes while watching Seinfeld, then gave up and called my friend who had already done his tax homework to ask for help.

All the while hoping that my five million questions would get so annoying he would just give up and tell me to copy it before class…I mean work , the next morning.

The only real difference I have been able to delineate so far between college homework and this tax homework is that college homework I never really got any reward for. They’d give me a grade.

Oh a grade. Whoopee.

However tax homework, if I do it right, I get like… hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. So I might be a bit more motivated.

But on the flipside, I never had the risk of going to jail if I didn’t do my college homework.

So I finally finished my taxes, or Turbo Tax finished them for me. Of course I gave it to my best friend who is an account to look at. He did and faxed it back to me at my office.

Though when he faxed it back to me, by the time I got to the copy machine the only thing there of the 24 page document was the cover sheet. The rest of my taxes were missing.

My taxes which contain my personal information, social security number, my bank accounts, my salary, and more.

This means that not only am I about to be audited and go to jail, but my identity will be stolen while I’m in there.

Awesome.

Screw this. Next year, I’m not paying taxes

And the Pretty Shall Inherity the Earth

The apocalypse is coming. The talking heads are discussing the failing/failed economy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The planet needs a bailout. Companies, states, and even entire governments (Iceland…who knew?) are failing. It’s affecting the middle class, the working class, and everybody in between. But I have news for you America. It isn’t who you are or what you do that will determine how you survive this recession. No, the only thing that matters is what you look like. The people who are in most danger are the unattractive. Ugly people, you are on notice. This crisis will affect you worst of all.

Consumers are cutting back spending and employees are being laid off. There is a bit of palpable hysteria in the air. It’s kind of like the worst thing ever. People are worrying about what would happen to them if they lost their jobs, myself included.

So I thought about what I would do if I got laid off. I can’t imagine the frustration of looking for a job while the unemployment rate is rising. I considered all the jobs I’d had in the past. And while it is quite an impressive portfolio of random jobs, most of them are pretty impractical or just not possible. (Being a summer camp bus driver doesn’t really translate into a full time job)

I honestly believe if I got laid off tomorrow I would just look for a full time bartending job until the insanity died down. I remember when I first started bartending all of the jobs required that applicants have at least 3 years experience. It was kind of frustrating at the time. But that was almost 4 years ago, and I am now properly experienced to get a prime bartending job.

So I went on Craigslist to see if there were any jobs available. There were tons! I came across this posting. This is real.

-3+ Years NYC Experience
-Smart and Intelligent
-Fairly attractive
-Witty and Charming (for the customers)

The hilarity of the posting speaks for itself.
Fairly attractive? How does one go about figuring that aspect out? It’s kind of like how I refer to myself as “relatively good looking.” To me, “Fairly Attractive” is what you say about somebody who is NOT attractive. Imagine a conversation where that description would be used.

Mike: Hey Rich I know this girl you’d like.
Rich: Oh really? Is she cute?
Mike: Well… she’s fairly attractive.
Rich: Does she also have a GREAT personality?

Fairly attractive is what you say about someone who cannot get away with just being called “attractive.” On a scale of 1 to 10 I have to imagine fairly attractive is like a 6 at best.

I suppose its better than unfairly attractive. People like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are unfairly attractive. They are the kind of good looking that pisses people off. Unfairly attractive doesn’t pay for drinks, gets out of speeding tickets, and gets gift baskets for just showing up at places. I would love to be unfairly attractive. Unfortunately I am just Theoretically Handsome.

I am very happy that this bar is an equal opportunity employer that doesn’t very much care what its employees look like as long as they are friendly, but that is cancelled out by this establishment’s next requirement.

Witty and Charming (for the customers). Only for the customers? Yea good point, forget everybody you work with. Be a complete and total a-hole to your boss and coworkers. Curse, swears, and be inappropriate as much as you like. As long as you’re Witty and Charming for the customers, all is well.

That posting was a little silly, but the more posts I looked at the more I realized a trend. Looks are extremely important for bartenders. All the posts wanted people to send a picture or apply in person; if you didn’t do either or both they were very clear you were not welcome to apply. It makes sense that good looking employees would probably sell more drinks, but these bars weren’t even being subtle about it.

“Resume sent via email must have picture.”
“Resumes with PHOTO will be answered first.”
“Italian restaurant looking for a good-looking waiter.”

But what if you are not good looking? What are my people supposed to do if we can’t pass the test of non-ugliness? Will I not be able to bartend to support my livelihood?

Not necessarily. There are still some options for bartenders; however they do require some other more… obscure skills.

OYSTER SHUCKER/BARTENDER
BIKINI DANCERS/BIKINI BARTENDERS (FEMALES) NO EXP NEC

I became a bartender to make money and meet people, not so I could get stinky and meet shellfish. I imagine the amount of Oyster Shucker/Bartenders in the city are quite limited. Its kind of a niche market.
And as for a being a no experience bikini bartender, well, I’m kind of confused this post did not require a photo. But then again, I suppose if you look good in a bikini, it doesn’t really matter what your face looks like. Lucky for me I look great in a bikini

So I will continue to do my best at my current job while still keeping an eye on the craigslist postings for “Goofy looking individuals with extreme ADHD who bear a striking resemblance to Guy Smiley.” That job I know I could get.