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I’ve mentioned before that I dabble in the world of secret shopping occasionally.  It’s not a bad gig, but oftentimes the amount of money they’re willing to pay me to, for example, drive to Warwick (20 minutes) and pretend to be interested in a buying a motorcycle, just isn’t worth it.  So it’s not a steady source of income, but occasionally something lands in my inbox that I’m actually willing to do

A few months ago, it was secret shopping the University of Phoenix.

As a librarian, I have a rather large beef  with the University of Phoenix.  Since all the classes are online, there is no physical school and no physical library.  This, however, does not stop University of Phoenix students from needing a library, and they often come to me, the public librarian, and expect me to have materials to support their specific curriculum.  They usually become unpleasant when I tell them that we do not have medical coding books, and do not seem to care when I explain that buying those books doesn’t really fall within the purview of the public library.

As a secret shopper, I was all too willing to evaluate their level of customer service, particularly since their online nature meant I could do it from home in my jammies.   So I filled out the online request for more information stating that I have no college education (the secret shopping company said I had to lie about that), and was interested in a B.S. in psychology.  I used to want to be a psychologist when I was an angsty pre-teen, so I figured this was kind of a way to live the dream.  After filling out the form, U of P was supposed to call me and we would further discuss how they could meet my needs.

They never called.

They were supposed to call me within an hour, but it didn’t happen.  I sat there in bed awkwardly wondering what I should do with myself since I didn’t want to get involved with a project or book that I might have to abandon if they called.  I was also a bit anxious about flubbing the script, so I re-read the guidelines for the secret shop about ten times, and waited by the phone which is a truly unpleasant experience.

Finally after an hour and a half, I abandoned my waiting and went for a run expecting to come home to a voicemail–still nothing.

So I washed my hands of them, and decided to fill out the online questionnaire with my secret shopping company stating that the U of P did not call me back, then wait for my check to arrive.  Sadly, it was not so easy.  I needed some kind of code that I could only get from the counselor I was supposed to speak to (presumably to keep secret shoppers from going “oops, they didn’t call me, gimme cash”), and after three days of not submitting my secret shopping report, I got an email from the secret shopping company asking, “what the hell?” and concluding with, “you call them if you want to get paid.”

So I spoke to a very nice man named Jason about my career goals and what the U of P could do for me.

“What has your life been like with no college education?” he asked in a thoughtful and somewhat velvety tone.

“Hard.” I told him, “Really hard.”  There was a long pause where he seemed to be waiting for me to expand on that, so I threw in a “paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by.”

“And how do you think a degree in psychology will help you out?”

To this question, I had no answer.  All I know about the field of psychology is that it requires further education beyond a bachelor’s degree.  I imagine most people with a BS in psychology work in an unrelated field where they’ve been able to parlay their understanding of the human brain into some kind of asset, but this is all speculation.  Finally I just told Jason, “I don’t know, I hope to figure that out once I’m in the program.”

The secret shopping company had not warned me that this counselor would probably ask questions about my (fake) life, so I was very ill-prepared, but I think I pulled it off.

Then Jason called back.

This phone call happened four months after the initial one, and he was just following up (in a very concerned voice) to see why I hadn’t enrolled and started down the road to education and life improvement.  As I’d already been paid, I really didn’t want to spend anymore time mulling over my fake life with Jason, but as I am far too nice, I told him that I’d gotten a new, better-paying job, and would consider college again in the future.

“What are you doing these days?” he asked.

There was a long pause where I tried to remember what I had already told him.  What if he’d taken notes?  Should I just say “I’m a secret shopper, congratulations, I gave you a good review.”

“I have another call I have to take.” I told him and quickly hung up.

Nowhere in my secret shopper agreement and terms does it say that I have to continue to play along four months after the initial transaction, but my Midwestern niceness dooms me to, well, niceness.

I hope he doesn’t call back.

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I’m a sucker for a good deal, I mean, isn’t everybody?  It’s logical that if you can get something for cheaper than you’re supposed to, it makes you feel both very happy, and also smart.  I remember my mother, when I was growing up, coming home with something like ten tins of SPAM because it was “such a good deal!”  Then she would struggle to find recipes using SPAM that didn’t sound totally disgusting, eventually churning out a cold noodle salad or something, and bringing it to church/homemakers club/insert other activity that requires you bring food.

I’ve always been the type of person who buys in bulk, for several reasons:

  1. I grew up in a very small town where if you wanted a variety of products you had to drive an hour and a half, so you don’t want to run out.
  2. Most of the stuff you can buy when it’s on sale doesn’t really go bad, so why not just buy a bunch on sale?  I’m talking things like body wash, face wash, shampoo etc.  Yes, you look a bit crazy when you leave Target with 12 bottles of shampoo, but if it’s your favorite brand that never goes on sale and now it’s $1 each–why not?
  3. I hate shopping, more specifically, I hate shopping for necessities.  What is less fun than buying toilet paper?  Maybe going to the doctor, but I don’t really do that either. Why not buy toilet paper once  every six months, and save the dread of knowing that this week, you have to buy toilet paper–again.
  4. I always have, or make a lot of storage space.  Every apartment I’ve had, I’ve been very lucky in this regard.  My current apartment has the smallest bathroom I’ve ever had, but I’ve created storage space because of the reasons listed above.

This summer, my summer of underemployment, I decided to use this deluge of free time to become a savvier shopper, and start using coupons.  To that end, I also discovered a whole host of frugality blogs that give people like me the low-down on upcoming deals, printable coupons, etc.  What I also found, was that a lot of what the women who write these blogs (and it is ALL women) spend what little money they do spend, on basically garbage that I don’t really want.  Yes, it’s impressive when they take pictures of a whole kitchen table full of food and tell you that the original total was $176, but after double or triple coupons and other deals, they paid only $23 (and earned the wrath of store employees and managers), but I still don’t see anything on that table that I would actually eat.  Is it really a deal if you save 90% on Go-Gurt, but never really wanted it?

One of the bloggers actually addressed this issue by saying that often she re-sells things she buys but doesn’t want, or she barters them for other goods and services, or she gives them away.  This all sounds suspiciously like my mother spending hours looking for a SPAM recipe, and you have to wonder, at what point are you not really saving anything?  What is your time worth?

This summer, when I had a lot of time, it seemed worth spending it on saving–simple cost/benefit analysis.  Except, I spent a lot more money and time this summer finding deals, clipping coupons, and going to the grocery store three times a week.  Looking at my budget for the summer, I may have acquired more food, etc, but I also spent a damn lot of money, ate a lot, and made my friends listen to me talk about couponing and saving.  I have to say– not worth it.

I still look through the Sunday circular and clip coupons for things I actually want, but I’m passing on that 10/$10 PastaRoni deal because I already have a cupboard full of it, and eating it gives me a tummyache–not worth it.

I’ve been poor for quite a while.  I mean, technically, I’ve been a poor student (undergrad and graduate) for about ten years now–so I should be used to it.  Now, there’s a difference.  I’m not student poor–scraping by until my next loan is disbursed.  I’m real-world poor, and they’re actually expecting me to pay those loans back, except I barely make enough money to pay for rent, food, and gas.  It’s a bit depressing, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

This all hit me the other day when I realized that it was Thursday and I had only worked eight hours that week.  This fall, when I got my job, I also got re-hired at an old job that had laid me off over the summer (I am queen of the layoffs).  So, from September through the present, I’ve been working what amounts to a full-time job. Now I’m back down to one 19-hour a week gig, and am really wondering how I can keep myself sane for not much money.  I’m good at taking care of myself, but I’m not good at socializing on the cheap.

The thing that I hadn’t anticipated is the way that some of my friendships seems to have taken a bit of a hit.  My friends aren’t rich, but can afford to go out to dinner every now and then–I really cannot.  When I do go out to dinner, I get caught up, spend too much, drink too much, and then spent the next day almost regretting the good time I had.  This makes me dread going out to eat, even though I know if I just exercised a little more self-control, it might be less of an issue.  I’m also trying to eat healthier, cook more at home more, and I work two night shifts a week.

I certainly can’t blame anyone else. If someone keeps turning down invitations, you eventually stop extending them, and I’m almost grateful to not be included because I hate turning things down, but then I feel a bit sad nonetheless.  It’s a hard thing to reconcile because I feel as if I’m turning into a lame grown-up.  I’ve always kept an eye on my money, budgeted, and tried to save, but now that I’m just breaking even, it’s really hard to get excited about any endeavor that costs–no matter how fun.

I wonder if the situation would be any different if I had a full-time job.  I’d probably be sending any extra money straight to direct loans instead of going out and blowing it on wine and cheese.  I’d probably still be training for races and needing to eat a less-rich diet; and I’d probably still be interested in becoming a better cook.  It’s easy to assign all these changes to my poverty, but this may just be how my life as a grown-up is.

I genuinely enjoy hanging out at home making hummus in the kitchen while listening to NPR, I’m excited to have more time for writing, and I like that I can roll out of bed at 7:30 and spend an hour and half running without having to dart off to work immediately after.

I never really thought of how I would live post-grad school, because I assumed that I’d keep going to grad school forever… so this is real life, eh?

When I was in high school, in home ec class (though by that time the name has been changed to the more PC Family and Consumer Sciences), we had lessons in hair, nails, and make-up.  Clearly, the name of the class was the only thing that had changed, the spirit remained firmly stuck in the 1950s.  Because I did not care for make-up, and hate having a fuss made of me, my friends thought it was hilarious to volunteer me to be the “model” for both the make-up day, and the hair day.  In order to prepare for the make-up demonstration, I had to go to the local Mary Kay lady’s house, and sit through two hours of learning how to put on make-up “the Mary Kay way,” then I had to repeat the whole process in front of the class, and spend the remainder of the day feeling like I was wearing a mask and worrying that I was touching my face too much.

This town’s Mary Kay lady was no-nonsense.  She was savvy, all business, and wore a blazer that was decorated with all kinds of epaulets like a military jacket.  She also managed to lobby to have putting on make-up, and doing your nails turned into a two-day lesson for our class–the hair lady only got one.  Since that time, I’ve been forced to go to a dozen Mary Kay parties where a bunch of girls sit around a long table, wash their faces, put on make-up, and then marvel at how shiny our nails are, or how amazing this concealer is.  I half get swept up in the fervor too, but have never actually bought anything.

In college, Baby-Having Best Friend duped me into going to a Mary Kay party with the promise of a free meal and drinks afterward (really a surefire way to get me to do something unpleasant).  She had been guilted into going by the woman who would soon become her sister-in-law, and she wanted moral support.  What neither of us realized was that this was more of a recruitment session than it was a typical Mary Kay party.  Sure, we’d all be putting on make-up together, and gawking at the “new holiday colors,” but after that, we’d all be forced to sit through a lecture about how amazing Mary Kay is, and how much money we can make, and how we’d be foolish not to take this opportunity.  I looked around the room, and listened to the figures that these women were quoting as to how much product each of us would have to move in order to get the good life this presenter was assuring us we could all have, and it just didn’t add up, there aren’t enough consumers to make this scheme into the get-a-pink-cadillac-retire-early-in-the-Caymans life we were promised.

Despite the hard sell, and the groupthink, I did not become a Mary Kay lady that day, but I did write a satirical screenplay about the experience, so it wasn’t a total loss.  I’ve managed to avoid parties of this kind almost successfully since this one (except the Pampered Chef party that the same friend suckered me into going to, again, promising free food), but now it seems even by avoiding these parties, I’m still not able to avoid the stuff.

My mother’s sister used to have some job, I don’t really know the name of her position, but she worked in a clinic in Philadelphia doing brain scans on kids.  She got laid off, unfortunately, but rebounded with a new job as a Creative Memories salesperson!  This meant that my graduation present was a big blank book to put photos in, a bunch of funky stickers, a pair of wacky scissors, and her brochure for when I needed new supplies.  It also meant that at every family event, she would put together a picture college decorated  with funky stickers, and pictures cut in cool shapes with wacky scissors!  I was not happy.

I’ve been invited to Lia Sophia jewelry parties, Party Light candle parties (I’m sorry, what the hell do you do at a candle party?), numerous Pampered Chef parties; and when I refuse invitations to every single one, catalogs still magically appear, and get passed around at work.  Even at stupid Pepsi, when they expressly told us in our week-long training that they do not allow people to solicit on work property (the only thing I heard during training that made me happy), I still got the hard sell from more than one eager woman.

Currently, at my work, there is a whole setup in the staff room from someone (no idea who) selling Wildtree Natural Foods.  There are brochures, samples, a giant crock pot that had I-don’t-know-what in it, and the promise of a party on Saturday!  I understand that people need to make money, I get that, but when you start selling stuff like this, I can’t help but feel like you’re just begging your friends, family, and co-workers for money in exchange for something that no one really wants or needs.  Also, soliciting co-workers, and having parties and your place of employment is just tacky and inappropriate.  I don’t like feeling like a cheap or mean person when I refuse this stuff, but I always do.  I’m trying to get over it.

JobSearchNewspaper_bannerAs I’ve mentioned often, I’ve had a lot of jobs.  Because I’ve also had a variety of positions, I always note how people react when I tell them what I do.  I have this on my mind after coming off a weekend where I met a lot of people, and they asked what I do, and I asked what they do, but it’s something I’ve always noticed and found interesting.  There is always some variance from person to person based on their own perceptions and experiences, but there is a most common reaction for each job.

  • Barnes & Noble, the most common reaction was, “Fun! Wow, so you read a lot?  That must be a great job.” This is usually followed by a small sigh of envy.  This was when I was in my early twenties, so I wonder if the reaction would be different if I still worked there.  My friend and co-worker, The Ausausin, and I used to loathe this reaction and do everything we could to convince the person otherwise.  By this point, we were both quite bitter with our circumstances and the job’s luster had been worn away by horrible management, ridiculous customer demands, and crazy, stalking, and just creepy customers.
  • Tv station, the most common reaction was a wide-eyed, “Really?  That is so cool.  How did you get that job?”  Then there would be a pause where the person would study my face to see if I looked familiar to which I would reply, “I work in production.”  People were fascinated with that job even though it paid the worst and had the worst hours of any position I’ve ever held.  I did enjoy telling people that I worked there, though, because no one had any idea what the job was.  If I was at Barnes & Noble, people could come in and see me working–no mystique there.  With tv station, no one had any idea, and if I did bring them to work, they’d just see a lot of scary-looking equipment and minor, local celebrities.
  • Stupid pepsi–admittedly, when I tell people about this job, I usually say something along the lines of  “I used to work in a call center selling Pepsi products over the phone.” This prompts people to say, “Who doesn’t know about Pepsi that you would have to sell them on it?” Then I explain the situation and how it actually worked, and watch their eyes glaze over.
  • Librarian–this is one that I’m still exploring, obviously.  I read yesterday in one of my library blogs that a woman told a used-car salesman that she was a librarian, and the man laughed out loud, then mumbled something about a dying profession (clearly, she did not buy a car from him).   Thankfully, I haven’t had that reaction yet, but I have encountered a certain amount of skepticism, in particular, when I was in grad school for library science.  I was in the Virgin Islands over the weekend, and I got to chatting with a couple guys on the local bus.  One lived in Puerto Rico, and the other on some other small island, and were the kind of people who talk about buying boats as investments and how great it is to live on a small island in the Caribbean.  When they asked what I did for a living, and I said librarian, the more chatty one said, “Good for you!”  That, or something like that, is the reaction that I get most often.  It’s kind of like if I said that I feed the homeless, or rescue animals or something.  It’s not quite what I expected, but I don’t mind either.

Because this is something I’m intrigued with, I asked The Ausausin, who is now a nurse, how people react when she tells then her job.  “If I just say that I’m a nurse, then they usually seem to feel sorry for me, ‘just a nurse, huh?’ kind of thing.  If I tell them what kind of nurse I am, or what my work actually involves, then people think it’s pretty impressive.”  When my friend the Lutheran minister meets people in social settings, she almost always has to reassure them that she’s not there to judge their choices, just to hang out.

heavy_downpour_banner…but it pours, is not only an appropriate cliche for my current situation, but a good way to describe Rhode Island weather. I’m going to now take this metaphor one step too far.  All summer I have been languishing in the desert of underemployment, thirsty for relevance in my field, and choking on the dust of money woes.

Then I got am email from my boss at my old job telling me that there may be shifts available to me in October. Then I had a couple interviews that I didn’t feel too good about.  I honestly do not know the feeling of a good interview anymore.  There have been times where I really thought it went well, then I didn’t get the job.  I just don’t know anymore.

I think back to all two of the job interviews I had in high school– I had no idea why they hired me. I just sat there like a lump until they offered me the job.  Then when I went to college, I lost out on a job painting houses because I didn’t come off as friendly enough.  A friend who did get this job told me that the boss told her I wasn’t hired because I didn’t smile when I shook his hand. “I don’t like to smile,” I reminded her.

“You have to smile.” she told me.

I understand the point of interviewing, I really do, but when it comes down to smiling just that right amount that they want–not too much–just enough, it seems impossible.  My other interviews for all five of the jobs I’ve had in Rhode Island where more of a “sit down and chat” which I’m amazing at, this most recent batch were more of a “ten prepared questions, each person takes one turn, then you’re in the hot seat” type, which are really hit or miss for me.  When you hire me, you’re going to get me.  I’m not going to go in and pretend I’m anything I’m not because I shouldn’t have to. I am good enough, actually.  Bonus, people think I’m funny.

Someone finally agreed with me and offered me a job, and in keeping with the way I operate, it was completely unexpected.  I got the phone call en route to Niagara Falls, accepted the position from a travel plaza parking lot on the NY state Thruway, then then two hours later got a call from my old job hinting at, but not directly stating that they wanted me back.

At least I got all of that “hanging out” out of my system over the summer, so now I’m seriously ready to work.  I’m just really starting to wonder if I will ever have just one job.  It doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.  So if you total up all of the freelancing writing and editing, that counts as one job; then two more libraries (good thing this state has so many libraries because I will have worked in four now) I’m back up to three jobs.

Back to normal.

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Since this summer has been a bit of a drag workwise, I’ve actively stopped calling my parents.  Calling them is something that wears me out in the best of times, but when I can’t tell them anything they want to hear, it’s that much more taxing.  Last Monday was my birthday, and they called me Sunday night and left a voicemail, then Wednesday it was my mom’s birthday, so I made the call.

Naturally, the conversation eventually settled on my job prospects and she asked what it is that I’ve been doing all summer. “Well, I’m writing for a magazine, and doing that text-message answering thing, and I taught that screenwriting workshop, I did a medical study, secret shopping–basically anything that makes me a little money.”  She sat there for a minute taking it all in, then burst out, “So you freelance!”

“Yes, that is what I do,” I told her.

She seemed so relieved to put a name to it, I almost felt validated.  My parents like labels, they like to compartmentalize things, so even the fact that in the same conversation we also talked about them buying me emergency-only health insurance (just in case my appendix goes) she seemed relieved.

Later that afternoon, I was coming home from the grocery store and ran into my upstairs neighbor.  He’s a nice, older man– friendly, quiet, etc., but he also has a tendency to do what a lot of people do when they find out that I’m trying to find a full-time job–give me a lot of career advice that I already know. When he first found out that I was looking for work, his immediate response was, “The Rockefeller Library, that’s just down the street, why don’t you work there?  The Providence Athenaeum, that’s pretty close too.”

I listened politely, and chose not to remind him that just knowing where libraries are isn’t enough to get me working there–they have to want me as well, and have money to pay me.

This time when I saw him has asked, “How have you been? Where have you been?”  I haven’t bumped into him on the stairs in a while, but I haven’t been in hiding either.

“I’ve been in my office, mostly.” I told him, “I’m doing some freelancing.”

“Did you get a job yet?” he asked.

As thrilled as my mother is with me having this “job”, things that I’ve read about the perception of people who freelance, are becoming all the more true.  See, since I have the time, and no idea how long I’m going to have to shine this on (plus I figure I can keep it up once I’m actually working and pay those loans down that much sooner) I wanted to do it right.  So I did a bit of research.  A lot of people who get enough work freelancing that they’ve been able to quit their “real jobs” report that most people just don’t understand that what they do is a viable job.  People either think your schedule is completely flexible you can certainly avail yourself to them for anything, that you must not take what you do very seriously, or that you really don’t work at all.

I’m fine with it, even if my neighbor is not.  The fact that my mother accepts it is just the icing on the cake.

work_for_myself_bannerA while ago, a friend of mine did a radio piece about crappy jobs.  I helped out and told her some stories about my more colorful experiences. Once it was all edited, a group of people met  in the basement of a restaurant to listen it the finished product.  It was interesting, hilarious at times, but I found myself annoyed on more than one occasion with the attitude of the some people interviewed.

At least two people described hateful work experiences, and then said “it was then that I decided to work for myself.”  The tone used to say that was a sort of smug “I can’t be penned in by others’ expectations and rules,” and it just grated on me.  It sounded spoiled, obnoxious, and immature.  Isn’t working for yourself the dream of many people that they never quite get to realize, or have to work very hard for years to achieve?  Somehow these 20-something hipsters have one lousy experience and then decide to shrug off the yoke of oppression, and answer to no one. Of course these are all assumptions about the people who said that–I don’t know who they are, but I picture someone who still receives a healthy allowance from his or her parents, and earns little-to-no-money making eco-friendly shoes or being an urban farmer.

Around the time I heard this radio piece, I read a short article about entrepreneurs who have manage to successfully work for themselves because they simply did not have the temperament to work for other people.  One example was Penelope Trunk, whose blog I actually read because despite her rampant narcissism, she makes some good points.  She recounted how she was fired from an ice cream shop for refusing to scoop flavors she disliked (something like that, anyway). To that I say: what the hell is wrong with you?  Did you not expect that that would become an issue before even applying for the position?

This may be my Midwestern work ethic is showing, but I’ve always had the attitude– do your job.  The article was praising people who refuse to fall in line, or who are too creative to work for “the man.”  I’m pretty creative, but I also live in the real world, and know I need to get paid.  I’ve had terrible jobs, jobs that I hated more than I even believed I was capable of; jobs that sent me into a depression and made me question everything in addition to being low-paying and soulless— but I had to do them, because I had pay rent and eat.

Maybe I don’t understand all of this because I’ve never had a full-time job.  There’s a chance that going to a hateful 9-5 would make something snap in my brain that drives me to create a career where I work for myself, but more than likely I would starve and be homeless before getting that career going.  In my first interview for a library job, they asked me why I wasn’t pursuing writing.  I said that I was, but I’m also realistic enough to know that while I’ll always be a writer, I may never make a liveable wage doing it.

I’ve been working for myself (in a way) all summer, and I’ve never been so bored.  The reason I’m bored, is that I’m learning very little and I never leave the house.  Everything I need to accomplish can be done from my laptop, and so I sit in my chair all day.  I love being able to roll out of bed, work in my pjs drinking my coffee, and still accomplish things; but making my home into a workspace makes me feel like I’m always working or should be working, and also gives me license to take many, many breaks.

I need interaction to feel creative; I need pressure from outside sources; I need to actually make enough money so I can play a little bit as well as work.  Everyone (or maybe just Oprah) says follow your passion, and I’m fine with that, but what I’m passionate about (and I suspect that I’m not alone in this) is not a real job.  Librarianship is something I care about very much, and I’m passionate about certain aspects of it, but when you ask someone “what’s your passion?” it makes the ordeal of figuring out what you want to do with your life that much more difficult. My cat gets to follow his passion, because he will be taken care of no matter what, but that’s not how people should live.  In return for his care, I expect him to pay attention to me when I want him to, and wait to be fed until I feel like getting up–he has no control.  You should have to deal with something unpleasant to get to the good–otherwise how do you do tell the difference?

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs said something similar, a lot more articulately at a TED conference recently–you should watch the video, he’s pretty dreamy and has a great voice.

home loans_bannerI signed up with a couple of secret shopping agencies a few months ago, but haven’t really pursued it at all.  It’s funny, when I was working in retail, I was always the victim of the secret shop and came to loathe these people–now, I have become what I hate (little melodramatic).  Most of the shops that came into my inbox were very unappealing–going to a motorcycle shop in Warwick (hate Warwick), going to a cell phone kiosk in Cranston (hate cell phone kiosks); plus the pay seemed really low for the time and travel they would take.

Then one of the companies that is a subsidiary of another one I signed up with started calling me.  Turns out all it takes is being a bit courted to make me jump at the chance to help out.  For a decent amount of money, I agreed to go to a local bank and inquire about a home loan.  This is all rather hilarious to me because it seems like anyone who would be doing secret shopping, would probably not be earning enough money to afford any kind of mortgage, but I guess I don’t know for sure.

Certainly I’m not earning enough money to take on that, or any, financial responsibility, and I half expected the banker to laugh me out of the building when I told him “I freelance.” I’ve been freelancing for about two months, have lived in my current residence since July 1, and kind of shrugged when he asked where I get my money, I thought that he’d tell me to get back to him when things had picked up.  My credit score is stellar, but on paper I look like a total flake.

“We’ll just use last year’s tax return.” he told me.

I can’t help but feel like it’s this kind of thinking that created our current state of economic crisis.

As the daughter of a woman who handles big money real estate loans, I may know a little more than the average bear about this kind of thing.  The reason the banks occasionally do take risks on somewhat unattractive loan candidates is that if the person defaults, the bank gets a house that they can resell, plus any money that was paid back toward the principal of the loan.  The bank doesn’t really lose, because it retains a way to make its money back–that’s how it used to be.

Now, as everyone knows, the market is flooded with cheap property and the system is tilted heavily in favor of the buyer.  The bank could take your house away, but they probably couldn’t resell it quickly or without loss–so why do they want to take a chance on me?

I’m baffled, and a little afraid, but I will discuss my options with the mortage broker and see what else he has to tell me.  Hopefully, they won’t find a way to offer me an obscene amount of money, so I can rest easily knowing that they won’t be doing the same to someone else who is inquiring legitimately.

lab rat_bannerNote: This blog is unedited for authenticity’s sake

I had a friend, when I was an undergrad, who made his living doing scientific studies.  There was an institution in town that tested name-brand medications versus prescription, and they were always looking for willing volunteers.  He made a lot of money doing this, and was apparently beloved since I moved into his apartment after he moved and fielded call after call from the place until I finally said that he had moved to California and I wasn’t sure if he’d be back.  The woman I told this to sounded devastated.

Aldous Huxley has an extra essay following his work The Doors of Perception, where he takes a lot of mescaline and stares into a strobe light.  Apparently, the reason that strobe lights give a lot of people seizures, is because you can still see colors even if you look at one with your eyes closed.  He was trying to determine what decides the colors, and the effect of mood-altering drugs on that.

I also tried to do the medical experiments that my friend made a living at, but my vegetarianism, and the fact that my veins are so small and ladylike I can barely fill a vial made me an unsuitable candidate.  What I can do is get drunk for science.  I’m currently testing a medical device that reads blood alcohol level through the skin.  For this, I must get drunk at 9am after having fasted since midnight the night before.  I drank a horrifying concoction of cranberry juice and some super alcohol, the level of which was determined by my height, weight, and waist size; and now I am drunk, in an exam room, at 10:18am.

It’s bizarre, but that goes without saying.

After this, I had to record every single bit of alcohol that passes my lips and hand that in after seven days.  While I do not necessarily agree with the implications of what this device may be used for, I am happy to help.  It’s just very bizarre to get drunk in the morning, after dinking something that I would never happily consume, and then have to hang out in a 6×12 room with a broken clock on the wall for seven hours.

They come in to take breathalyzer readings every ten minutes, and I can’t leave until I’ve been at 0.00 for one hour—I’m currently at .086.

I have to say, as freaked out as I am about my career goals and financial future—I’m rather enjoying this summer.  I don’t love that I have to hustle for every dollar, but I do like coming up with schemes.  I feel like it keeps me more creative.  I’m currently doing things I never thought I’d do, and feeling a bit more like a writer again for the first time in a long time.

My worry was that in my underemployment, I’d lack for wacky adventures to write about, and I feel I have a bit, but I’m starting to find some, and getting a feel for the adventure.

10:30—breathalyzer .0802, going down, and I’m fascinated by how pretty the undersides of my shoes are.  This room is where people come expecting to spend 6-8 hours, and all they have is a small stack of magazines (People January 19, 2009, Redbook August, 2008 etc.), and 10 VHS tapes with hand-written labels—A Chorus Line, A New Life, except for Dying Young (starring Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott—not exactly the most appropriate movie for a hospital, I feel).

11:00—I’m dropping fast.  I’m already at .0643, which is kind of cool.  I used to talk with friends about how interesting it would be to drink and then take continuous breathalyzers just to see how if feels to become increasingly intoxicated.  Now I’m kind of doing it in reverse.

11:45—I actually get take-out for lunch instead of the cold cafeteria sandwich I was expecting.  I will be having a cheese sandwich, coke, and salad. My back hurts.

11:53– .044

12:55– .028 There’s a rather large spider in the room making the rounds.  It was initially on the table with the TV and magazines, now it’s been lapping the floor since morning. I probably won’t kill it, but it’s funny to find a pest in a hospital.  I’ve moved from the exam table to the chair, which is significantly more comfortable.  I wonder what other people in this same study are like when they get drunk.  I was asked a lot of questions about whether I get violent, but not much else.  Do some people just fall asleep, do they get really chatty?  Do they get do into watching A Chorus Line that they get annoyed with the breathalyzers every ten minutes?

2:13—0.00