Friday, October 24, 2008

A Little Hors D'oeuvre for the Party, Why Facebook Bothers Me, A Selfless Act (Friday Roundup)

Today Is Not Really Oct. 6 ... But I wrote this chunk of copy on that date and never did anything with it. But I think it makes an acceptable contribution to the Poverty Party and perhaps an OK component to the Friday Roundup, which has become my end-of-week trash heap of Blogs That Never Materialized. So here it goes ... Today is Oct. 6. My maternal grandmother's birthday. My paternal grandmother's date of death. My friend Greg's birthday. The anniversary of the death of Anwar Sadat. And the reason I know that it's Anwar Sadat's death anniversary is because when Greg told me almost 20 years ago that his birthday is Oct. 6 and I said, "Hey! That's my grandmother's birthday!," he said, "Hey! It's also the date that Anwar Sadat died!"
So it's a pretty big day. But we'll not cloud this day of anniversaries with musings of Egyptian leaders, great as they may have been. Instead, I'd like to tell you a little about my paternal grandmother and what she would have to say about today's economic worries and what you should do with the money you have: HIDE IT. HIDE ALL YOU CAN. Not that anybody knew she was doing this all those years. It wasn't until her death 14 years ago that we learned just how saving-savvy she was. We found stacks of 20s stuffed between pouches of muffin mixes that were concealed in gallon-size ZipLoc bags. We found small bundles of 5s and 10s tucked in drawers. Safe deposit boxes were homes to stacks of 100s banded together with sticky notes on top -- the total amount of the stack, where the money came from, etc. Many of these stacks were found by way of a treasure map of sorts that she had left behind. The others were found purely by accident, like by rummaging through the pantry in search of a muffin mix. "How in the world, Amy, did she manage to stash away so much cash? Was she a millionaire?" I will tell you how: She didn't spend. She worked hard, bought only what she needed, made what she could and watched every penny. And therefore, she was debt-free.

If Insecurity Has a Website ... it's Facebook. "I'm eating breakfast." "I'm bored." "I'm leaving for school." "My boyfriend has a paper due." "I just spent five minutes in the bathroom."
What's that loud sucking noise? It's the time being wasted on Facebook. And boy, are my eyes tired.

Months ago, I toyed with the idea of creating a Facebook account -- even went so far as to register a password. My reasoning was that it would allow me to monitor the young people. But I realized, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm the adult around here, so give me YOUR password." And they did, and that's how I navigate my way through Facebook. And I have to say, I hate it. Ninety percent of the site is bogus, and the other 10 percent is boring.

In Facebook, kids sometimes claim they are "married," which I don't understand at all. It might say that a girl is "married" to, say, her best friend, Ashley. So I asked my teenagers, "Why do kids say they're married?"

"To keep the pedophiles away."

"Wait a minute, you believe that a 16-year-old who wears braces, boldly posts her full name, school name, practically her entire CLASS SCHEDULE and a photo album of 32 different shots of herself doing herkies and standing atop a human pyramid is concerned about a pedophile thinking she's single? Do you honestly believe that a pedophile will gloss over this teenager's Facebook page and say, 'darn, she's married'? Here, let me pull you out from under that rock that seems to have rendered you naive."

"Well, maybe 'married' means 'in a serious relationship'."

"Yes, that is exactly what 'married' means, but not when you're in high school and doing herkies."

"Gosh, Mama, what's your problem?"

"Facebook. Facebook is my problem. If ever there were a case against the internet, this is it. This is the most narcissistic thing I've ever seen."

"But this is how kids talk to each other now. Through Facebook, texting ..."

"Let me make something clear to you: That's not TALKING. That's LAZY. And WRONG. And INSECURE. Why are kids scared to look friends in the face and have conversations? To pick up the phone and hear each others' voices?"

You would have thought I was performing a one-night show at the Improv. They laughed until they nearly wet themselves.

And Finally, a Little Genealogy ... Because nothing is better than hearing about somebody else's family tree. If I were speaking to you personally, I'm sure you would want to gouge your ear with an ice pick, but because you're reading from a screen, I'll never know if you said, "Ugh" and clicked over to Facebook, or turned off your computer, or decided to take a nap instead. And that is why I am saving this story in its entirety for The Book, whenever it may be written. But I'll provide a teaser: After I wrote this post, I received an e-mail requesting more information about my grandfather, who may or may not have an airplane on exhibit at The Smithsonian. I found nothing. But because his son (my uncle) shared his name and was a Junior, I stumbled across some incredible information about him and his tour in Vietnam, where he died at only 23 years old. (I barely remember him -- I was 3 when he died. But I do have some cool pictures of us together.) And in that research, I formed a friendship with one of his college friends, Buck Hartley. (If I were a soap opera writer, I would work that name into the script: "Buck Hartley, thoracic surgeon, renowned philanthropist and crime solver," or something.) So Buck-Who-Has-The-Greatest-Name-Ever has generously shared his memories of my uncle with me and even went to the trouble of e-mailing this photo from his recent visit to the Vietnam War Moving Memorial Wall, which stopped in his hometown earlier this week. (See Travis B. Lee Jr.)

Our family has several etchings we have made at the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., but this digital image holds more meaning, as it was taken by one of my uncle's good friends -- someone I've never met who took the time to visit the Moving Wall in Tifton, Ga., take this photo and e-mail it to me. Truly, a selfless act. Thank you.

It's the WEEKEND. Try not to spend too much money, stay off Facebook at all costs, and do something nice for somebody.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Short List of Things I've Stolen From Other People's Garbage

This installment of Poverty Party Tips (see widget to the left) is less of a tutorial, more of a spark to ignite your creativity. I hope it will encourage you to swallow your pride and get out there and find yourselves some pieces for that hard-to-furnish living space, facilitate some of your electronics in a user-friendly arrangement, or light that dark corner in your living room. And all for the bargain-basement price of a little travel time and maybe some spray paint. Times are hard. Cruising for treasures the night before trash day is easy.

When you have an empty space on your upstairs landing and your neighbors throw out a perfectly good pair of wicker chairs and leave them on the curb, then you do what you have to do. You go to the back yard and tell your husband, "Hey, get your SUV down the street and get me some chairs."

What you might not count on, though, is that at the very minute he is parked at the bottom of their very steep and winding driveway, loading two discarded chairs into the back of his car and cussing like a sailor under his breath about how cheap and tacky his wife is, the neighbor and his family of four coast down that driveway and look at your husband like, "That is so sad." Then they look the other way, saying to each other, "Pretend you didn't see that, kids."

This is a take on the classic before-and-after shot. You will see that the chair on the left sports an unfortunate Aztec-style pattern with a hint of pale blue and pink. The chair on the right showcases the difference one coat of mahogany spray paint can make. That amount of paint was eventually multiplied by three. The way I see it, I was saving some other dumpster diver from perpetuating bad taste and using the uncomfortable and worn Aztec chairs AS IS. It was my way of making the world a more beautiful place. A win-win.

Yes, well. My good fortune was well worth his embarrassment, as I sprayed and sprayed paint until I was rendered illiterate. And then I went to Pier 1, where I spent $38 on cushions, which were on sale. (Pier 1 is proud of its cushions.)

One man's trash is another man's sitting area.

Until I saw this picture, I didn't realize how many extension cords she has in her room for her phones, stereo, lamps, chargers, etc. Oh, and the keyboard she plays like she's Laurie Partridge.

This metal phone table in my teenager's room is a lovely blue and white, just like two of the colors on her multi-colored walls. Coincidence? Hardly. This was once the most rickety piece of crap you have ever seen ... until I applied about $2 worth of spray paint to it and transformed it into a functional and aesthetic piece of furniture for my dear child. "But Amy, where in the world did you FIND such a treasure? On the side of the road?"

No, I found it in an abandoned home about six years ago. The bank apparently didn't believe that locks were necessary, as someone had already ripped out the major appliances. All that remained was a distasteful array of colored tile throughout the home. And this table. And a goat tied to a tree in the back yard. On one of my trips to this house (yes, I visited often), the goat untied himself and followed me home. Every few days, I would look outside to see the goat wandering throughout our yard, minding his own business and eating grass. More than once, neighbors would see me in my yard or at my mailbox, roll down their windows and ask, "Hey, is that your goat wandering through the neighborhood?"

Like I'm the sort of person who would have a goat.

Timing, as they say, is everything. If I had arrived on the scene an hour later, this would have been in a landfill. It would have been TOO LATE. It's these little things that will save the planet.

Years ago, I dropped off my son at a friend's house, but another of his friends was still in my car as we drove down the street. I can't remember why. But I saw this black lamp sitting by the trash at the curb, put the car in reverse and said, "Chandler, hop out and get me that lamp." Strangely enough, at 8 years old, he never questioned me. He opened the door, wedged the lamp into the back seat and rode home in silence, looking out the window, holding most of the lamp in his lap. When I brought it into the house, I was delighted to find that not only did it work, it already had a bulb. I tightened the bolt on the base, and we had ourselves a new floor lamp. Which is good, because I didn't want to have to drive back across town and return it to a stranger's trash heap. That would be tacky.