Reading the Classics

A few months ago, I purchased a set of the Harvard Classics, also known at as the five-foot reading list. When the books are stacked, they are five feet tall. So far I have read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and the Dialogues of Plato. There are 50 books all together but well over a hundred titles that fill the volumes.
There are two books that cause me to cringe when I think about reading them. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and The Origin of Species by Darwin are some of the longest titles in the series and could be some of the dullest reading I will ever experience. Did Adam Smith consider how to make economics fun when he wrote his book, I doubt it. Stuck on a boat in the Pacific Ocean would be the best place for someone like Darwin to write about some birds out of boredom and accidently write a classic.
I always hated required reading when I was in school but I will point out that having high school students reading old English isn’t the best way to introduce the classics or good literature for that matter. I could not stand The Scarlett Letter and As I Lay Dying was only readable to those who were familiar with southern white trash. I met some of these characters later in life and had moments where I thought “oh I get it now.” I remember thinking to myself that no one could be that dumb and then life proved me wrong. As for the Scarlett Letter I saw more than my fair share of affairs over the years and the only thing missing was the culture of shame that didn’t exist. This kind of behavior had become a new normal in certain work environments.
In order for a great book to have staying power it has to be written in a way that it will hold up a hundred years after it was written. I often think about Gatsby for an example of this, having known men to fake their lifestyles in order to attract women who were not really into them. Since the Harvard Classics were printed in 1909 Gatsby is not on the list along with all the other classics written during the 20th century. I’m sure I can find a list for those later on.
Some of the classics I am having a difficult time with include poetry and plays, something I always considered separate from literature. I can think of a handful of writers who were successful play writes during their lives, A.A. Milne, Tennessee Williams, and Oscar Wilde all paid their bills by writing plays and having them be a success in the local theaters. For most of these men their fame was later remembered from other literary works like The Picture of Dorian Gray and the Winnie the Pooh series.
When I recently read The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter, I learned how Tolkien and Lewis used poetry as a mental exercise for writing. Publishing such works was still common and people could make a living at it if they had talent. These days the readers don’t exist and writing such things is viewed at the intellectual version of writing rap lyrics in the ghetto, except less successful. While I say all of these horrible things about poetry I will admit there is an advantage to those who do it. It will expand vocabulary as you search for the right word for a line. There is a sense of rhythm that is missing from todays books and the only writers who still have this skill are slowly dying off. The symbolism and descriptions used in poetry is something that is missing from todays books. When a person writes a line such as “that morning he was dehydrated and his pee was the same color it would be an hour after taking a multivitamin” they could use a course or two of poetry.
I will eventually read The Wealth of Nations but I will always have in the back of my mind knowing that Smith lived with his mother, without a job, and was catered daily by her as he wrote. He was living the life of royalty with a serf caring for his needs while writing about capitalism. It would be like Ron Jeremy writing a book about celibacy and having it become a huge hit. The most interesting thing about Adam Smith’s book is that it is regarded as the standard for economics, and it would appear he was very bad at it and this was the only beacon of success he had in his life. I’m sure at some point an adult man still living with their parents, playing World of Warcraft or Minecraft, could write the next big book on relationships or personal responsibility. It could happen, I suppose.

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Notes from St. Patrick’s Day

I was surprised to find that St. Patrick’s Day had come early this year. My first encounter with someone celebrating the holiday was on a Wednesday, five days before the actual event. I was on my lunch break, lunting through downtown with my pipe and spotted a man with a green cowboy hat sporting flashing lights along the rim. I could have assumed that this was the man’s usual attire but it was safe to say with the drunken smirk on his face as he stepped into his car, that he was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, in the middle of the week.
This wasn’t the last early spotting of St. Patrick’s Day debauchery. Let’s remind ourselves what St. Patrick’s Day is all about. This catholic priest comes to the island of Ireland and converts the locals after performing the miracle of running the snakes away. Years later historians would translate the use of snakes to mean prostitutes. Who knows what is true or why this person has their own day? From what I’m told the day isn’t celebrated in Ireland, and if it is, they don’t do it anyway close to how we celebrate it. I was walking to my car on Thursday night and in a completely lit alley between a shitty dive bar and the local State Theater I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. I thought for a moment that maybe a bum was being attacked or someone was hurt, but no, instead it was a couple who was in the middle of a full-blown fuck fest. The alley was lit up with LED lights and there wasn’t a dumpster or corner to hide behind. They were out in the open and from what I could tell in those few seconds they had no inhibitions of what they were doing. As I walked by and tried to ignore what was happening the young man looked over at me, he wasn’t mortified or ashamed of what was happening, instead he smiled a creepy smirk of satisfaction that said “oh ya,” and continued on as if he didn’t have a care in the world. That was Thursday night.
Friday night was the official start for St. Patrick’s Day for some local bars and clubs and it brought out the lowest of the low from all around town. Kalamazoo isn’t a large city and while we have some good things going for us, we are in no way in short supply of our own degenerates and retards. Unable to move my car earlier that night I found myself walking the same path where I spotted the couple the night before and found the streets were busy. The local brewery that I work at on the side was filled and the front of Harvey’s on the Mall was packed with local smokers enjoying their cancer sticks. The alley was being used to unload the band Tab Benoit who had just performed a show that night.
On the corner of the Blue Dolphin I noticed several people lingering outside and flashing lights protruding into the streets. The restaurant had been turned into a nightclub/ rave and the nearby parking lots were packed with cars. In the lot where I park my car, the same spot I pay for every month, I found myself surrounded by cars who failed the parking portion of their driving course and didn’t give a shit about the other people around them. Then there was the guy that was pretending to be on his cell phone. How did I know he was pretending, because he never shut up. He was having a conversation with himself and never let the other person speak, but was responding as if they had given him a full paragraph sized answer to reply to. Not to mention he was looking into the window of a car that he immediately walked away from and weaved in and out of the cars as if he was lost. He kept working his way closer to me and I waited to see if I would have to use my windshield scraper on his face as I cleaned off the inch layer of snow. More people arrived and the man moved towards the back of the lot and disappeared. I own a small car and having said that I expect to not have problems pulling out of parking spots but of course I had to do some insane defensive driving through the clusterfuck of handicapped parkers I was surrounded by. It’s not the handicapped drivers I have a problem with, it’s the people who haven’t figured out over the years what the damn lines are for.
Saturday had us visiting the local brewery and enjoying a pint or two while watching the slew of pretend Irish people stumble through the streets and almost fall on their faces as they climbed down the stairs to the restrooms. People wore beads and the only one I thought might have earned them was the girl from Wednesday night. I saw some Connor McGregor shirts, kiss me I’m Irish, green shirt referring to Irish pot leaves, Fuck me I’m Irish, I’m only Irish for the day, and Soccer jerseys with the Irish flag. Groups of people crossed streets without reading the sign causing cars to screech to a halt and almost run them over. Vomit covered the toilet in the basement with chunks of Lucky Charms stuck to the rim of the bowl. The menu special of the day was a corned beef and sour kraut pizza with thousand island dressing.
I found out three years ago that I am part Irish although the percentage is in debate. Even before I learned this, I never had an inkling to pretend to be Irish or prove how much of a badass I could be by drinking myself into a vomiting fit. St. Patrick’s Day is the one day where responsibility is thrown out the window along with the baby and the bathwater and nobody gives a fuck about anything. They might as well change the name to Irish Mardi Gras. We had our two beers and went home practically sober. My wife who is 100% German could likely drink half of these Irish wannabes under the table. As for myself I have had my share of hung-over mornings and have nothing to prove to anyone. On the way home we stopped at another brewery called Brite Eyes and ended the evening with a night cap in an empty bar. The location might have been the problem for the people who were crawling around downtown. Across the street is the main police station in full view of the windows. Not the place to become fucked up even during a holiday.
We woke up Sunday morning and while it really was St. Patrick’s Day, we had no ambition to go out and have another drink. Instead we worked on the house, make lunch for the rest for the rest of the week, did some shopping, and later I took my daughter for a walk. I walked by Brite Eyes to find the bar dead, completely empty, there wasn’t a single soul in the place except for the bartender. I heard the same thing on YouTube from Chicago. The city was dead, likely all the assholes who partied on Saturday were too hung over to have another go of it. The river was green. People would be shitting green for a week from the crappy green colored beer they ingested all day. Restaurants and bars were over staffed and people were sent home breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to attend to drunk assholes who wouldn’t tip them. I have no links to my Irish roots. I don’t know who in my family was Irish or when they came here. After trying a handful of different single malt whiskeys, I have to say that while I’m not opposed to the drink and think it taste “okay” it really isn’t for me. I don’t enjoy soccer and I can’t watch Irish movies due to not understand a single person in those damn things. I have never been attracted to red heads and Connor McGregor is a great showman but not a good fighter. I don’t care who will be offended by this. The only day that the Irish are celebrated in this country is the same day that everyone acts like an asshole stereotype and make the Irish look like a bunch of degenerate fucks. Maybe if you want to celebrate your Irish roots you should sit down and read Ulysses or drink a real Irish beverage like whiskey instead of green shitty beer. Don’t want to be insulted than don’t be an ass. If your feelings are hurt than find a copy of the Crying Game and have a few shots, cut out the middle man of fake fun and drinking and move on to being depressed, isn’t that what being Irish is all about?

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The Usual Suspects

2020 is coming, too soon if you ask me. It’s not the year itself I have a problem with, it’s the barrage of political B.S. we will have to put up with by people running for office. Before I stopped watching/ listening to the news I noticed there were almost twenty people fighting to be the person to run against Trump. Out of everyone there was only one that I could see having a chance and he is not the guy that the media is pushing. This post isn’t about Andrew Yang, instead it’s about our weird marriage between news media and politics.
The Berning question you might have, see what I did there, is why not support Bernie? He was the guy that would have beat Trump back in 2016, the guy that should have received the nomination over Hillary Clinton but was bent over and plowed by his own party. Why can’t I back Bernie? He didn’t have the balls to stand up to his own party. His loyalty is in the wrong place and while loyalty can be a great trait to possess, to continue to engage in a relationship with a group that stabs you in the back, bends you over, and humiliates you in front of the world, if you are unable to learn what the true nature of a group is after experiencing such a betrayal then how the hell are you going to stand up against another party or another country? Bernie was my guy but he bitched out in the end.
When I heard Kamala Harris was running I rolled my eyes and shook my head. A professional liar, I mean lawyer, was the last thing we needed. She has changed her position on policies more than the number of people she sexually harassed while working as prosecuting attorney in the state of California. You don’t pay out 3 million in settlements when you are innocent.
Cory Booker is running and the only thing I know about him is that he is having sex with Rosario Dawson. Dude, I think you have better things to do than run for president. Enjoy your life.
Elizabeth Warren is an embaressment to herself. She took a DNA test to prove that she is part Native American and fail that test. When Trump became president she was formidable with his appointments to his cabinet but in the end she approved unqualified people and played along with his perverted agenda. Another betrayal.
Surfer babe, Tulsi Gabbard has not impressed anyone with a poorly stated message and coming off as “too chill” in my book. Tulsi is the stereotypical hot babe who is easy to look at but hard to listen to. A veteran of the middle east wars I have respect for her when it comes to serving the country but I have to say maybe it should stop there.
The rest of the group is a bunch of white men and women who already have weird scandals that I’m m starting to believe were fabricated to bring attention to their dying campaigns. The whole thing is a joke.
I found my guy early on and people love pointing out that it is the longest of long shots and I am fine with that. When I point out that Obama came out of nowhere, I receive weird rebuttals that border on racist without crossing the line. From one white person to another, I know what you’re really saying.
This time around I’m going to follow my guy, Andrew Yang and enjoy the ride as long as it last. If he gets a shot at the white house I’ll tune in and see what happens. When he is out of the race, so am I. I want something different, I want to have something real in this country. While we still have ancient turtles like Bitch McConnell keeping the country in a constant spiral down a toilet poop chute I have little hope of any change in this country. We need a plague and it can have the initial outbreak in the capital building. Nature may abhor a vacuum but an artist cannot create a masterpiece without a blank canvas.
I want to be excited. I want to wake up and hear what new breakthrough has happened. What has changed for the better. Instead, what we get is a flaccid, stagnant, impotent government that is too lazy to do anything but jerk each other off. The weather outside today is how the last couple of years have been, a dark dreary cool wet day with a lack of sunlight to have things grow and too cold to enjoy and one has no ambition to venture outside because of the dogshit on the lawn. We are all stuck in a bubble of our own making and until we build up the courage to go outside and face the fake boogiemen of our days that we will never end up having a better place to live.

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This is the only time we get

While listing to the latest podcast by Joe Rogan I felt like I was listening to myself and friends discussing the life of Hunter S Thompson. Like many things in my life I was late to discovering Thompson and other members of his generation. Growing up in a blue-collar house I wasn’t exposed to the hippie movement and was far from understanding the peace and love movement. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the Beatles when I was growing up because they were ‘Satanic.” To this day I still don’t enjoy the Beatles but I will admit they made a huge contribution to music, boybands.
A new book about Thompson is coming out called Freak Kingdom and covers Thompson’s career as a journalist before he was known as a drunken Wildman. For full disclosure, I have read most of Hunter’s works and this includes his collected letters, huge volumes of letters compiled in a way to jump from a letter to the president to complaining about NRA membership fees and seeing nothing for it. most amusing was his book club fees and how he begged them to come after him because he was poor.
There was a time for people like Hunter and luckily for Hunter he knew his place during those years. Most of us drift through our lives looking at the small things that drive us, paying bills, getting laid, or where to eat next. The great generation stepped up to something greater than themselves. The Hippies and counter culture, well they… I don’t know what the hell they were doing but at least they did it. for the last thirty years I haven’t seen anyone doing much of anything. People protest like they did in the 60s but in far fewer numbers. Less than 1% of the US population fought in the Iraq or Afghan wars. Women’s lib movement has turned into destroying a man’s life because she really didn’t want to give that blowjob and he should have known by reading her mind. There are no heroes these days. We don’t have a Mohammed Ali to say “no” to the big problems in our society. Journalist no longer ask the hard questions going after Cheeto von Fuckstick, Nixon’s non-aborted result of anal sex. The public doesn’t help in this regard preferring to read 3rd grade level click bate or look at the latest pictures of Kim Kardashian’s ass.
It’s not just this generation that will be judged as a waste of space to humankind. The previous few, generation X to the present hasn’t produced a human being worth talking about in the years to come. The life of a writer used to be as big as the tales they told. Actors and directors once had talent and the ability to make due with what they had. Music was more than just a beat and shitty lyrics.
Times are different compared to when Hunter was alive. Newspapers were still around. The internet did not exist yet. People cared about what was going on in the world. People read books. Things were happening and people were participating. People were divided back then but they also talked to one another. The types of conversations Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley had on national television are regarded as hate speech now on YouTube. This system is breaking down and there is no one to stop it.
I enjoy learning about these men of their times because I think there is still something to learn from them. If you planted any of them into our current situation odds are they would have died unknown and broke. They were the men of their times and to try and place the anywhere else is pointless. That isn’t to say that we don’t need a Hunter s Thompson or a Gore Vidal for our own time. I hope that these people will emerge and that the world will embrace them for what they are. An example of how we can better ourselves and in doing so make the world a better place, even if its only a little bit.
We can’t go back to the previous times that we though were more wonderful than they really were. I once heard a person say they wished they could have gone back to Studio 54 and experience what it was like. Of course, they skipped the part were most of the bartenders and the owner died later on from AIDs because of the party lifestyle that was Studio 54. As a culture we like to romanticize the highlights of certain times while ignoring the repercussions of those events. I don’t mind talking about the past, learning from what people have to offer, but it is foolish to wish that you could have been there. It is even more foolish to think that somehow, in some way, you are going to recreate that feeling, the mood of the time and transport yourself into a place you had never been and weren’t meant to experience.
All we have is what is before us. The world is forever changing and it is for us to exist in it, engage it, and participate in a way that you are seen and remembered. Make your mark in your own way and perhaps if you are lucky you can leave the world a better place than how you found it. those are the people who are remembered later, the ones they build the mausoleum dicks for. The others, the people who eat, sleep, and fuck their way through life not giving a shit about anyone but themselves, those are the future worm food that time will forget. The coal chugging mouth breathers that history will remember for one thing, destroying the world. The world is filled with knuckle draggers and when there are many few will stand apart. That isn’t to say we don’t have the mouth breathing elite, also known as white trash with money, they are money and it proves something that I have always said, having money doesn’t prove you are smart.
There is a line I am waiting to hear, one that will project someone out of the crowd with this social justice bullshit and the slew of simple-minded motherfuckers that the world is infested with. I don’t want to hear an apology, I don’t want a list of excuses, I want someone to look these losers in the face and tell them to “fuck off.” We have life really good these days. I have more information on my phone than all the libraries in the world from a hundred years ago combined. We have less wars, less poverty, less crime, and for some reason people are now making up things to be pissed about like pronouns.
The times of Hunter, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolf, Ginsburg, Kerouac, etc. are gone. We have to accept that and when we do we may finally acknowledge that it is up to us to be the heroes of our time. The most common phrase a man says after accomplishing something great is “who else was going to do it?”

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Losing my voice and finding it again

Last week I came down with a cold, that turned into a sinus infection, that turned into a throat infection, and as of Sunday I lost my voice. My daughter who is turning two I May has run of the house now with a dad chasing behind her trying to say “no” but only managing a funny squeak that she ignores. When I returned to work yesterday most of my conversations were managed with shoulder shrugs and head nods. Communication with the world has become difficult but at the same time the burden of trying to express myself is gone leaving me to walk around and observe without interfering.
Last week I was almost half way through recording an audiobook version of Hobbit Baby until I became sick. I diverted my time towards things I could still work on, this blog and the rewrite of After the Day. Schedules have shifted and with my voice still gone I have no idea when I will be able to start recording again. I haven’t posted a YouTube video in about a week and I am starting to wonder if someone is trying to tell me something or if I just want to view this as a mandatory break from the usual chaos that is my life.
With being sick family time over the weekend was limited to a few things and had me napping along with the kiddo while my wife tried to do things around the house. One thing that I miss and look forward to trying again for the first time is smoking my pipe. At an antique outside of town, I came across a 14 oz tin of George Washington pipe tobacco that hasn’t been in production since 1974. The tine was sealed, it was heavy, and when I snuck into a booth and pried open the top, I discovered it was still filled with the original contents never before touched. It was the one thing I bought at the shop and I have since stashed it away to try one day when I’m not feeling like a walking pile of crap.
To make matters worse I found out on Friday that my father had a heart attack and went to visit him in the hospital. It wasn’t until I went to see him, I found out he had been there since Tuesday and I hadn’t learned about it until one of my aunts called me. I don’t know why these life lessons always hit me hard in the face like a huge flashing billboard but it could tone things down a bit. Talk less, listen more, okay I think I got it. Take better care of yourself before YOU have a heart attack, that one I can check off the list. Work will still function if you are not there, I’m still learning this one. I think most people use work to feel important in their lives. Find better ways to talk to your kid, when you can’t say “no” what can you do? If you weren’t doing your usual time-wasting shit what would you be concentrating on?
As I continue on and try to navigate the world without a voice, I start to think more about the things I am write and working on. What is the best way to say this or that? Is this really three sentences or one? Is this character truly that much of an asshole?
My choice of entertainment has changed a bit, listening to audiobooks instead of the usual podcast that I have since unsubscribed to. I’m almost finished with Marcus Aurelius The Meditations and last week I finished Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. I’m slowly working my way through the Harvard Classics, a set of books I picked up for $40 at the used bookstore. Mark Twain once said that classics are something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. As I go through these books, many of which are no longer discussed or printed to the point where audiobooks are not available, I wonder where society is going. I have met people who will only read the latest of a certain field, arguing that it is the best up to date information about a topic. When I throw away books that had been donated to the library, I find the old up to date books that have gone the way of the dodo. Nobody reads Dr. Spock anymore. Authors that were once at the peak for literature are now tossed into the recycling bin. Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer are names never discussed these days. The Great generation is now becoming the forgotten generation. I have heard people say that Socrates and Plato are hokey Greek fags that need to be forgotten, while the democracy these people enjoy was modeled on the civilization those fags lived in. People are converting to Flat Earth theory because of YouTube videos while a guy where silk robes in ancient Greece was able to predict the size of the earth by measuring shadows at the same time of day and he was not far off from the actual number.
As the world goes on, science takes us further expanding our lives it is also making things so easy we’re are becoming dumber by the minute. The classics were talked about in school but it was never required reading. I read the Great Gatsby a few years ago for the first time, and found myself thinking about it weeks later, pissed off at Daisy, wanting to smack Gatsby for being a fool, and in the end realizing that is why it is such a great book. And yet, even when it was first released, it was never read. Copies sat in warehouses and never saw the light of day. People have replaced bed time books with toilet tweets and we wonder why things have gone to shit.
Daylight is burning, for the first time in weeks the sun is out and it is warm enough to take the little one out for a walk. I don’t want to have a heart attack and I don’t want to look back thinking I should have spent more time with her. She knows about ten words now and the last thing she needs is me repeating one of them all the time. The best thing I can do today is take her for a walk and listen while she explores the world.

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Liar, Liar, pants on F.I.R.E.

If you are one of the people who are surfing the internet looking for information on how to retire early then you have found articles and websites dedicated to the F.I.R.E. movement, Financially Independent Retire Early. Most of these stories feature people who saved a good portion of their income and had enough after a certain period of time to leave their jobs and tour the world or live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere while typing their financial manifestoes.
The biggest lie these websites love to pass along is that anyone can do this. This is the same mentality that had Mitt Romney telling reporters that he thought middle class started at $250,000. The people who have accomplished this goal are in the upper middle class and those who do something similar under that threshold are referred to as bums, no debt but living in poverty.
The other aspect of these stories that people tend to overlook is the obvious advantage that these people have over the majority of the population, inherited wealth, no student loan debt, six figure salaries, or households with two six figure incomes. The message is always the same afterwards, anyone can do this. Not everyone is like you.
I fall into the category of people who make around $35,000 a year. I have good benefits and no debt except for a laptop and a house. The laptop will be paid off in a few months. I am on schedule to pay off the house in 5-6 years, but when it comes to savings there is about $10,000 in various accounts and other assets far from what would be needed to retire early. On my income, the odds of having enough to retire even at 65 is about 1 in a bazillion. The sad reality is that 52% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to pay an unexpected $500 bill and only 62% of the population that can work does work. That means 38% of working age individuals are either retired, disabled, unemployed, or choose not to work. Translate the numbers into what it really means and most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with no future in sight.
Is early retirement truly feasible for the average American, no. to say otherwise is to feed hope to those that are already seeking answers to a better life. Does this mean that Americans shouldn’t try to better their situations and live a more meaningful life, no. There are resources available to live a financially secure life even on a lower income. It takes some work, but if one really tries hard enough, they can get out of debt and take control of their lives where others have failed. Dave Ramsey has his famous book Total Money Makeover that is very effective if one follows the principles in it.
Stressed caused by finances can cause people to make bad choices and spiral further into debt instead of climbing out. So, making changes to better one’s situation or finding a solution to that feeling of hopelessness is important. This article isn’t saying there isn’t something to learn from these people that retired early, good for them. What I am saying is that here and there we can find things to take from their experiences to make our lives better. For example, Mr. Money Mustache was able to retire early, at the age of 30. While this is impossible for most of us, what we can learn is how he is able to live on only $25,000 a year with a household of 4. He rides a bike to work and other places around town. His house is paid off, something most of us neglect doing because payments are “low.” He eats at home most days and the wife and him rarely go out for drinks or dinner.
While it may appear appropriate to blame others for our situation, there is one thing we all can take away from these stories, the responsibility of our personal situations comes down to us and how we handle it. We should, under no circumstances, wait for some financial messiah to come save us. We are the masters of our own choices and when we eat out, buy some luxury item we can’t afford or buy a house that is out of our price range we are the ones who put ourselves in that situation. We can’t blame the realtor for telling us we can afford it, or the car salesman for telling us that a seven-year payment plan is really good for an automobile. We are the ones who should know better. Let’s face it, if we really wanted to stick it to the man we would live frugally and watch as the stock market took a big dump in everyone’s portfolios and laugh as people in three pieces suits applied for part time jobs at the local Starbucks and asked if they have benefits for new employees.

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