February 26, 2008


Some time ago, I started reading grown-up man magazines like GQ and Esquire. I don't buy a subscription, I scavenge them from book store shelves and from libraries that are edgy enough to carry edgy grown-up man magazines.

At the heart of it, the man-magazine is just like a women's magazine. They really are just men's fashion magazines. They're man-Vogue. They're man-Cosmo. The similarities abound: They sell themselves by putting skinny chicks on the cover; They offer tips on fashion; They fill pages with dumb quizzes. The man's mag just gets away with content that is considerably just as inconsequential as that of a women's magazine, but somehow well-suited to the man.

Mixed in with all the man-tailored Cosmo-content there's actually some good writing. That's why I pick them up: I read the articles. And while I'm at it, I try to take a look at what is and is not cool in men's fashion. I am one of the last people on the earth to go to for advice on what to wear. I feel stupid just using the word "fashion."

When I was in Junior high, I showed up to school one day with my oversized stretched-neck Taz t-shirt tucked into my jorts (jeans + shorts = jorts.) I went up to a table of friends and Greg Borst called me out on my miscue: "Dude. Untuck your shirt, that is not cool." So I untucked my shirt and told him I was well aware that it wasn't cool. Then I probably changed the subject. But that day, I took a tiny step forward in dressing well.

Sadly, that was the last step forward I ever took. I have been style-ly stagnant ever since. My style from then until college graduation was the t-shirt with the jeans. And that's a big part of who I am: I don't like to stand out. I just want to blend in.

Unfortunately, when you start to interview for jobs and eventually join the working-class, you can't blend in. You have to woo employers by looking like you care how you look (I actually have to shave more than once a week now, and might occasionally wear a tie) and dressing in appropriate correspondence to the ever-vague "business casual" (or, as those of us not in-the-know say, "biz-cazsh".) Hence, my increasing interest in not looking like a buffoon.

I've turned to the man-mag for help because I recently concluded that I have the following things going against me: lack of practice in looking "nice" for two-plus decades (save for pre-church motherly spit-bath and approval), color-blindness, and general apathy. I'm content with jeans and free t-shirts from Team Building Exercise 1999, and employers want dudes who aren't content with jeans and free t-shirts from Team Building Exercise 1999.

Except, I've found it really hard to accept what the man-mag promotes as fashionable. They usually get a couple of male models, probably skinny chain-smokers, who would probably look okay in an over-sized, stretched-neck Taz t-shirt and jorts. (In fact, I might have seen that in Esquire once.) They get a bunch of free clothes from designers who sell t-shirts for $80 and jeans for $350, and match it with some other designer's $250 sweater (which, altogether probably cost more than I've spent on clothes since my big shirt-untuck in Junior high.) and stick them on the skinny chain-smokers. Also, they get a bunch of stuff that normal people just do not wear - poofy shirts, aviator jackets, other stuff I've never seen before and can't categorize. They take pictures of them looking like Zoolander frolicking in some park somewhere.

My thoughts: Fashion is moot if you're a model. If you're professionally good-looking, then you probably aren't the one to convince me that this shirt will make me look good. You want to sell me a sweater? Put it on an ugly dude (some portly, unshaven, and dissheveled oaf - not unlike myself - would work) and show me that it makes him presentable. Then, maybe I'll buy it.

But not for $250.

February 18, 2008

Naivejim, taxpayer

I pay taxes.

I just don't pay very many of them.

It goes something like this: I deliver pizzas, the government visits my paycheck before I do and makes a few withdrawals to buy $500 hammers and medicine for old people, I deliver more pizzas. Then, once a year, the government decides to test everyone and see if they paid more or less than they should have. You file your 1040s, then they cut you a check or ask you to cut one for them. Everyone's happy. Except people who have to give the government more money.

Since I am a lowly pizza man, I get away with not paying much for income taxes, (except those that go to the state of Michigan. For some reason, they don't like to give money back. Usually, because our economy blows, I end up giving them more money.)

Naturally, each year I wonder "If I'm not paying taxes, who is?" Don't you worry, someone is. But I know why I don't pay much income tax: I'm in the bottom half of the tax bracket. Do you know how the percentages break down? I'll spare you any big, long, complicated numbers, (because I don't understand or have them) and give you the gist of it:

Percentile of wage earners (Bottom income of respective percentile) : Percentage of Federal income tax paid by that percentile: (source: IRS)

Top 1% ($364,657) : 39.38%
Top 5% ($145, 283) : 59.67%
Top 10% ($103,912) : 70.30%
Top 50% ($30,881) : 96.93%

In other words, nearly 40% of all federal taxes are taken from the top 1% of the population, and 97% of the income tax is paid by half the population. So, if you're doing the math:

Bottom 50% (<$30,881) : 3.07%

The bottom half pays just 3% of the federal income tax. I'm in this bracket, and that's why I get a check back every year. Apparently, Michigan has not gotten the memo that, being a relatively poor pizza man, they should let me keep more money.

Who does most of the investing in this picture? I'd venture it's the people in the top ten percent who bear 70% of the tax burden. These are the people who own businesses and start new ones.

Say you're in that segment, and you have an extra $100,000 lying around, and you see that there's an unserved part of the population needing an astronaut-themed ethiopian restaurant. So you think to yourself, "Self, I'd like to open an astronaut-themed Ethiopian restaurant." So you take your $100,000 and open an astronaut-themed Ethiopian restaurant. You rent a space in the local strip mall, buy some supplies, meet some suppliers, start buying food and hiring staff. Soon, you're serving a payroll of $400,000 and doing $1,000,000 in business each year. You give poor Jim, an astronaut-loving trained ethiopian chef, a job when his pizza delivery gig falls through. All because you had an extra $100,000 lying around.

Now imagine that someone got elected and, in the name of equality, decided it was a bad idea for some people to have a lot of money when others have so little. They say, "Well, let's just make a few adaptations to those tax laws, and take a little more from the rich folks and help the po' folks out a bit." And everyone says, "Yeah, that's a great idea. The rich folks can spare it." So you, wishing to take a risk and open an ethiopian astronaut-themed restaurant, get bumped up into a new tax bracket and no longer have your $100,000 lying around. Jim, having had his pizza delivery gig fall through, gets no job. Good news, though: He gets government-commissioned dentistry, provided he fills out the proper forms and waits the 6-8 weeks for approval. In 7-10 years, he'll be cavity-free.

More dumbed-down economics for us simple folks: Barstool Economics.

February 14, 2008

Life Without Medical Insurance

Well, now that I'm out of quarantine, I can write again.

I spent last weekend in Houston, Texas, visiting my friend Ryan with another friend Ryan (no relation). The weather was gorgeous - sunny and dry in the 70s the whole time we were there. Nothing beats getting on a plane in beautiful sunshine and coming home to find it's 3 degrees.

(Travel anecdote: When we went through security in Grand Rapids, they took my toothpaste away. Clearly, a dissheveled college grad with a tube of toothpaste poses a threat to national security. I offered to dump half of it to get it under the 3.5 ounce limit, but they shot me down. My Colgate presumably went to some impoverished airport security person's kid that night. A few days later, we went through airport security in Houston. To my horror, the guard there plucked my bag from the x-ray machine and pulled out a pair of scissors. Not tiny scissors - big, sharp orange Fiskars scissors. Good scissors. Scissors which I had no idea were in there. After my initial shock and worry of ending up in Guantanamo Bay, I nervously admitted I had no idea how the scissors got there. They took them and, presumably, they went to some impoverished airport security person's kid that night. I have no doubt they were in there the whole time, and I soon recalled that the Grand Rapids security person had made a joke about the scissors, which I met with a confused laugh because I was completely unaware I had them. He saw the scissors and left them, but took my toothpaste. Moral of the story: Toothpaste is more dangerous than scissors.)

Anyway, not long after I returned to the Michigan Winter, I came down with a nasty cold. My nose ran all day, non-stop on Monday, and something was wrong in my chestal-region. Wheezing, coughing, hacking, thick-multi-colored stuff coming out, I was pretty convinced it was my annual bout with Bronchitis. Mom encouraged me to visit a doctor. Since I hadn't been to one in a year, and since I had an upcoming job interview, and since this might be something serious, I told myself I'd cut my losses and visit the doc. Mom told me to go the Spectrum Pavillion because, she and I assumed, it would be a similar price to the clinic up the road and there wouldn't be a wait.

So I drove on icy roads in a drugged stupor to the Spectrum Palace of Medicine. I put in my name, was given one of those hospital shirt-smock-gown things, and was placed in a room. It wasn't busy, but they still managed to make me wait. I think they forgot about me, because the attendant told me it would be just one minute and it turned into twenty. I fell asleep, and they woke me up and moved me across the hall.

Finally, the doctor saw me and, after a little banter, informed me that I was suffering from what they call "The common cold," just a considerably vicious strain of it. Since the cold is a virus, antibiotics wouldn't do me any good. He told me I'd be fine in a few days, and said I should pick up some Claritin D. A nurse came around and gave me a thick packet of information that I'll never read, detailing my common cold. I went to check out, and awaited the price tag. I wondered if it would be $75, or at most $100. The nurse behind the counter looked it up in a little book, and gave me the total: $135. I asked her if she was serious (I'm normally very polite, but when I'm ill, I get downright belligerent). She told me she was, and I begrudgingly handed over cash to pay for it all.

As I walked out, I realized this: I paid $135, or ten hours of wages, to be told I had a cold, nothing more.

And my question is, how is that economical? I have a financial cushion. I live with my parents. I'm not paying rent or a mortgage. I can make it work, but not everybody can. As attractive as socialized medicine may be, I don't think that's the answer. The government isn't going to make things better for everyone in the system. I need only to think about how long I have to sit at the secretary of state's office to renew my driver's license, or about how it costs the government $300 for a hammer, or how we still can't find Osama Bin Laden, to realize the government needs a lesson in stewardship before we hand over our health care system.

February 4, 2008

How Sarcasm Can Be Life-Threatening:

(or how I learned to stop worrying and love my safety.)

So it's come to this.

It was virtually a dead sports weekend, and nothing political is happening this week. So I guess I have to tell you about my life.

Lately, I haven't been writing much on here. Trust me, I would love to write more, but I just haven't had anything to say. I can only do so much with a pizza-man's life. And I have to have something to say, otherwise you're not going to want to read this. You don't want me to get on here and be all xanga-ish, do you? Didn't think so.

Lately, we have taken up pool.

I never saw myself getting into billiards, but it turns out I'm very good at beating Josh Usadel at it. And since pool is a relatively easy way to kill time, be social, and not spend tons of money, we have taken up pool.

I used to have a pool table in my basement. When I was in elementary school, I taught myself to play. But my parents, thinking pool was an unchristian thing with which to occupy myself, decided to get rid of the table. They gave it to the church.

But lately, all of the skills I garnered as a youth have been reawakened. Now, I'm not very good. But if you play me and you're not an avid pool player, I have a pretty good shot at probably coming close to just barely edging you a little more than half the time. If the conditions are right. In other words, I'm a force to reckon with.

So we play pool at the Break Room on Plainfield, and people mostly leave us alone because they see us dropping cue sticks, launching the cue ball off the table, and otherwise making ourselves out to be overly-obvious (but secretly not very good at all) pool sharks. Saturday night, we were playing pool, minding our own business, when a drunk guy and his goon friend came over. Drunk guy could have done very well as a salesmen, starting conversation and being overly-cordial and apologizing for his friends overall gooniness.

Anyway, I'm minding my own business, virtually destroing Josh in pool, when I hear drunk guy ask if Michigan State won. I tell him no, they got beat by Penn State. (And it tears me up inside.)

Goonie pipes up: "Michigan State sucks."

And I, being of sound mind and body, question his statement. I say, "What's that?"
He repeats himself: "Michigan State sucks." An obvious Michigan fan, one unlikely to ever be a Michigan student or give birth to one.
Now, I am well aware of Michigan State's gridiron suckery. But in basketball, they have a solid program. Arguing the point that a 19-3 basketball team sucks is hard to do. I ask him, "in Basketball?" and he nods.
The sarcasm switch, the one that up to this point in my life has usually just been used to chide friends and generally hasn't yet caused me any physical harm, turns on. I go, "You know, basketball is the one where they put the orange ball through the hoop."

And the goon stands up. It's at this point, where my brain stops recording what he's saying. Something about say that again to my face, and I know what it is, and something else about removing part of me, and something about my physical appearance. I remember that I thought I was going to have to run away. I turn around and miss a nervous pool shot, acting like nothing ever happened, and wonder why he took my comment so personally.

Paul quotes Anchorman. He says, "That really escalated quickly."

Always-cordial drunk guy, still wanting to con us out of some money on the pool table, apologizes on behalf of his friend. "I apologize on behalf of my friend," he says. I don't make eye contact with either of them. Somehow, goon sits down and the fire goes out. They play us in three-ball, and drunk guy takes our money ($1 from three of us - We're losers, but we're conservative losers) and buys a drink with it. They talk to us - guess our respective religious dispensations - and try to get us to play more. We say no, and a few minutes later we make for the door. I leave with my bones intact, with an important lesson learned on using sarcasm on goons.