Friday, June 27, 2014

Mantal Health update: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Salvation

Andy Dufresne, who crawled through
a river of shit and came out clean
on the other side. Andy Dufresne,
headed for the Pacific.

I hope people recognize my Shawshank reference.  Otherwise, the whole thing will sound silly.  Keep reading, though.  It's still good.

A couple years ago, I begrudgingly entered back into the online dating world after a long hiatus. This time, I promised myself, would be different. I would not be the desperate hunter that I had been. I would not contact every woman whom the website gurus had said was "checking me out!" I would not contact every woman they told me was a match just because we lived in the same city and both liked pizza.  My initial plan, in fact, was not to contact anyone at all, and just see if I received any messages.  I ended up breaking that vow, of course, because I was very weak, but much more discerning.
One message I did receive was so short and weird that originally thought it was spam. Something like, "I like your profile. We should get a drink." I looked her up and she indeed seemed like a real person, and she even said she was a writer, which I found even stranger because you would think a writer would be able to come up with a better email than that. Still, she was brewing beer in one of her photos, so I responded, but weeks went by and we kept missing each other (partly because my heart was not in it.)
Meanwhile, one day, my friend, Heidi,  told me, "I may have a girl for you."  I instantly told her to shut up, that I was done with women, and that I was "retired." a joke made even funnier when my friend John remarked, "Yeah, you've had a pretty bad run, so I guess it's a good time to hang it up."
I was told that this girl and I had a lot in common, and that she would be at my friend's sister's upcoming wedding, and all I had to do was introduce myself.  So, the wedding day came, and I did indeed introduce myself, and even chatted with this girl some more at the post-reception beer-fest.  However, I still left thinking simply, "Nice girl," and that was pretty much it.  I was staying retired.  I did send her a facebook friend request, and even commented on a few posts, just to stay on the radar.  Turns out we did have some common interests, so at the very least, I thought, we could be pals.  Then, one day, she asked me out for a couple drinks, and we met up and had fun.  Although I was still unconvinced.
While all this was going on, the online girl was still messaging me, so I finally gave in and gave her my number and said to call or text when she would be around and I would try to be there. Naturally, the next day, she texted me and said she was at a bar downtown with her friends and I should meet them. I thought this was weird, but she assured me I shouldn't worry because her friends were cool. I figured that she was maybe just nervous about meeting a new person and wanted her friends there in case I walked in carrying a meathook.
I finally arrived (for the record, it took about 45 minutes by train to get to the bar where she was) and was introduced to her and her friends. Mere seconds after meeting her, this girl says, "I hope you don't mind, but I just smoked some paahhht." She was also obviously very drunk, and it was only 5:00 on a Saturday. I was sure I was in a horrible situation, but I've been in them before, so I knew how to make the most of them.  I ordered a beer and chatted a little.

After telling me several times that she worked at "Hahhvid" and that I was getting major points for coming out and hanging out with her and her friends (even though, let's face it, I wasn't the one who needed points here.), my confidence started to wane. She even went to the restroom for several minutes and when she came back she told me that she had just smoked some more.  I was at the end of my rope, so I went to the men's room and texted some friends for advice. Christine asked if I wanted her to come get me.  Heidi was even more direct, saying "Get the Hell out of there!"  So much for sisterhood.

I returned to the table and contemplated my next move.  because I'm a man, I basically had two devils on my shoulders, as opposed to a devil and an angel.  Devil #1 was saying that this was "a sure thing," that this chick who is bombed out of her skull could not possibly resist my charms, silly as they are.  Devil #2 was pondering Heidi's advice.  Meanwhile, one of the friends asked why I was in the men's room so long ("Did you poop?" was in fact her exact phrasing.) When my "date" went to the ladies room, probably to blaze up again, I snaked towards the bar, which happened to be close to the door.

"Can I do this?" I wondered.
Putting all rational thoughts out of my mind, I walked casually towards the door.  As i felt the open air on my face, I took two more steps, and bolted.  Like Andy in Shawshank Redemption, I ran and ran as fast as I could until I was sure I was free (Some of her friends were male, and big, and I had horrible visions of them chasing me down and dragging me back to the bar.)  After losing myself on the streets of Boston, I texted Heidi again to tell her that I had indeed run, and asked her what do i say to this boozie, pot-addled girl.  Heidi gave me a very political answer about her friends being there, blah, blah and I didn't feel comfortable.  And then she said to get to her sister's house, where there was strength in numbers.

(Side note: Boozie returned my text saying, "No problem.  Do you want to reschedule?"  Has she no dignity?)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Man of Mystery

The other day I subbed in at my pseudo-former part-time job at Harvard Media & Technology Services for one night.  Technically, I have never actually left that job, although I like to take semester-long breaks on occasion.  And yes, I actually started working there in 1998, and in my current incarnation, I have been working there off-and-on since 2006.  Any way you slice it, I'm a veteran.

The reason for my most-recent hiatus was the evening supervisor in the office I was working out of had started to grate on me a little.  His name is Jenci (pronounced "yen-see"), and although he is very smart in general and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to audio-visual equipment, he is undoubtedly one of the strangest people I ever met.  However, a funny thing happened the other night: upon my triumphant return: I found out Jenci was gone, having moved back to his hometown in Ohio, and the thought struck me that I would probably never see him again.

The quick backstory on Jenci is that he was recruited by Harvard University's football program in the 80's as an undergrad because he was a good high school athlete and also had the grades to excel at their prestigious institution.  Jenci got a work-study job at then-Harvard Audio-Visual Services.  Upon graduating with a degree in one of the sciences, although he was always very mysterious about what it was, he was offered a full-time job at Harvard AV, and there he stayed until just a couple months ago.  On my first day in 1998, he trained me (and several other newbies) on the ins-and-outs of A/V equipment.  I still vividly remember him teaching us about a fictitious numbering system he came up with for measuring audio output, which he affectionately called "Jenci Units."

In the years I knew Jenci, I found him to be a pretty laid back and even kind fellow.  I heard him on more than one occasion offer students money if they needed to buy lunch, or even offer some of his own food (A large man, Jenci and food were never far apart.) He was always helpful when you had any kind of question, with life or audio-visual equipment. He even invited me to his home several times to drink his good craft beer, knowing my affinity for it. I never took him up on it, because I often wondered if he genuinely wanted the pleasure of my company, or simply just anyone's company would do. Looking back now, considering I had known him for over a decade by that point, perhaps he did just want to hang out. 

Still, elements of the bizarre were always at the forefront of his personality.  I remember the evening not very long ago when Jenci patted me on my bald spot, as if pointing out something that I was not aware of (I always find it amazing that the more obese a man is, the more hair he seems to have on his head.).  Jenci himself told me, in great detail, how he would euthanize himself once he got to a point where he could no longer work and was no longer useful. It was this conversation that lead me to believe that he would one day be found in a Men's room at Harvard somewhere, a plastic bag over his head.  It's also why I was so shocked that he would leave a job he had been a mainstay at for decades.

This conversation was also the reason that Jenci disturbed me so.  Not the obviously maudlin How-I-Plan-To-Kill-Myself reason, but because it made me afraid that I could one day become him.  Jenci was a nice guy, like I said, and always good for a story, but a part of me saw myself one day becoming a childless 50-something man who had been working at a university for far too long and who made creepy conversation with young female students far too often.  This, combined with his fastidious office behavior (He would often stay at his desk hours after his shift ended, and not because he was so dedicated, but because he really had nowhere else to go) and his bizarre eating habits, lead me to take my latest break from Harvard.  I even feared going in for that one night, because I would have to make small talk with Jenci.  Still, when I learned of his departure, I was a little sad.

That's the mystery here; Jenci was not someone I would have ever chosen to hang out with, or would have invited over my house for dinner, and yet, when you think about it, he was actually a mentor to me.  Not just because of he taught me about Jenci Units, but also in the way you deal with ornery professors or students, which I do at my full-time job at B.U., which in turn helps me deal with people in general.  And yes, even in that negative reinforcement way, where I dreaded one day becoming him.  Of course, it doesn't take a Psychology degree to see that is probably why I disliked him at all, because really, despite the occasional weirdness, there was inherently nothing wrong with him.  I will definitely miss him a little, and despite all my grumbling, if I ever do see him again, I will be sure to thank him for the memories and the mentoring.    

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Best Revenge

Jerry Seinfeld had a stand-up bit about the saying, "The best revenge is living well."  I don't remember how it went, but it had something to do with having a nice house doesn't really mean you have vanquished your foe. I wish I could find it, because it was funny, although obviously not that memorable.

Anyway, sometimes living well is the best revenge, when actual revenge isn't an option.  For example, me! Ten years ago today, I signed a lease for a new apartment after I had broken up with my live-in girlfriend.  I remember the date because it was her birthday, and I felt a little bad about that.  But things had gotten pretty awful between us, and by "awful," I mean totally the worst break-up I know of.  Like, Henry VIII bad. Over the previous four years, she had attempted to fight off depression with purchases, and because I was a nice guy, I often let her use my credit card, since she was younger and didn't have any credit.  Probably still doesn't.  But I digress.

Anyway, I've written about her enough on here over the years, but I wanted to bring it up because I was recently shredding some of my old credit card statements, and came across a few that gave me pause.  Like this one:

The prices aren't on here, but trust me, they were all three digits.  This statement had arrived after we had broken up, and I was going to get her to pay me back for the highlighted purchases.  The not highlighted ones were somehow negotiated out of the payback price, like they were stuff we bought for the apartment.  They definitely weren't mine.  I don't do a lot of shopping at Fashion Bug or Delia's.  Just Victoria's Secret.
I don't think I got back all of the money, but over the next few years, the balance on this card continued to rise, even with Keri out of my life, the balance topped out at about $11,000.  The minimum payment at one point was over $400, and the interest rate: 29.99%  That's about when I sought serious help.
In 2008, I entered into a program with Community Credit Counseling Corporation, a company that negotiates with your creditors in order to help you pay off your debt.  One large sum is taken out of your checking account every month and distributed to the various creditors in the program.  I put four cards into the program that year, and two of them have now been paid off, and the other two, including the one pictured, will be paid off by next week.  I'm almost in the clear.
I'm not going to say it was an easy road, because every month for the last five years I had to make sure the lump sum was in my account, and those credit cards were closed, so no more borrowing.  But it was definitely the smartest thing I could have possibly done.  Having that weight over my head for the last decade was unbelievably stressful, and I never felt like I had Keri fully off my back until I paid off her debt.  Now, it is done.
The point to all this, other than proof that I dated a girl who paid a lot of money for crappy clothes, is change.  Not only was I flabbergasted by some of the purchases she had made on my cards, but some of the purchases I made.  And seeing that I was paying over $400 a month, and the balance was never going down is quite sobering.  And finally, the big question: Where is all that stuff?  All the stuff we bought for the apartment is gone (we only lived there for about three months).  All her clothes are probably long gone.  Even the girl is gone, in a way.  All that money wasted on stuff I thought was really important at the time, and now none of it exists.
Ten years later, nearly out of debt, I can say that I am wiser, happier, and living well.