An angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other

We received a Costco coupon book in the mail today. Costco — a membership warehouse store — has very low prices and generally does not take coupons. A few times a year, though, they send out flyers with special discounts.

Kris flipped through the book first, clipping coupons for kleenex, cat litter, and ziploc bags. When she was finished, I picked it up to look for things she'd missed.

  • On the first page, I nearly tore out a coupon for $6 off a ten-pack of toothbrushes.
  • On the next page, I was drawn to a coupon for four pounds of jelly beans.
  • Later in the book, I was tempted by a stainless steel slow cooker. ("We already have a slow cooker!" Kris muttered in exasperation when she edited this entry.)

"I've got to stop looking at this," I said, tossing the coupon book aside.

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“Simplify, simplify!” — In the footsteps of Thoreau

In my twentieth year I packed a large cardboard box with belongings and headed east by train to begin my artistic life in Massachusetts, 3,000 miles from California, where I'd been born and raised. I wanted to live near Walden Pond and commune daily, in nearby Concord, with the wise ghosts of Thoreau and Emerson. The closest I could get was the city of Lowell, birthplace of the American industrial revolution—a ramshackle town cluttered with eerie decommissioned factories and mills. But from Lowell I could get to Concord by train as often as I liked.

I set up my new life in a 300 square-foot studio apartment fourteen miles from Walden Pond as the crow flies. My sole furnishings were an inflatable mattress, a plastic patio chair, a small lamp, a pile of books, and a radio/cassette player. In the cardboard box, I had packed the essential kitchen wares: a can opener, a spatula, two plates, two cups, two forks, two knives, two spoons, and a frying pan. More importantly, I had packed a word processor and a ream of paper.

I was determined to begin my writerly life in the spirit of Thoreau's proclamation in Walden: “Give me that poverty that knows true wealth.”

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Missing money: Finding unclaimed property

On Monday, I received a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to my father, but sent to my home. My father has been dead for twelve years, and he never saw the house we live in now. The letter purports to be a settlement of some sort of $400 annuity. (I'm unclear on the details and don't have it with me right now.)

Though I'm deeply skeptical that this is anything but a scam, I do intend to follow up in case it's legitimate. I've heard stories of people who have "found" money of this sort. In fact, there's an entire industry devoted to lost and unclaimed money of all kinds.

In the U.S., the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is a non-profit organization that assists in "reuniting owners with their property". NAUPA sponsors a free site called Missing Money, which allows users to search unclaimed property records from participating states. In this context, "property" simply means "stuff" — it doesn't refer to real estate. Common types of unclaimed property include: Continue reading...

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Turning the tables on telemarketers

It's been an annoying day here at the box factory. November 15th must be some sort of telemarketing celebration day. I've been handling three or four calls an hour from these bozos all day long. It drives me nuts.

I have little patience for spammers of any sort. Telemarketers are the worst. I have filters that can handle most of the e-mail and blog spam I receive. But there's no way to filter the telemarketers. I have to answer each and every call, have to listen to a few seconds of the lousy accents before I'm able to determine whether the call is worth taking or not.

In general, I have one (and only one) technique for dealing with these people: I hang up on them. They're not worth my time. Yes, I know that I ought to ask them to remove my name from their calling list. I try that with the worst offenders, but you know what? Nothing ever changes. I still get calls from Paper Printing and Converting nearly every day despite having asked to be removed from their list a dozen times.

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