That’s a pun, get it? Anybody? Ok, I’ll explain. There are two things that keep showing up in my life and this blog: debt and Texas. I’ve lived at least briefly in almost every major city in America (except Chicago and Miami, but I’m not fully convinced Chicago exists and Miami has too many alligators/Floridians). Somehow I always end up in Texas. My flightplan of life so far has been Texas > Oklahoma > Texas > Jersey > Texas > Michigan > Texas > California > New York > Oklahoma > Texas. Noticing a pattern? I can’t escape this state. Maybe I don’t need to. Austin and Houston are honestly some of my favorite cities in the U.S. I’m in no hurry to leave anymore, and if my track record is any indication, I wouldn’t be gone long before the big T-dash-X snares me again.
On a more frustrating note, the other constant in this adventure is Debt. Did you know the German word for debt is “schuld”, which means “guilt”? Debt is supposed to be a shameful thing. The only reason it isn’t is because everybody has it here in the States (also Greece, but that’s another story). Whoever owns your debt owns your future. I never realized this when I was a teenager, just like I never realized that parking a car with wheels turned sideways is a chump move. My parents never prepared me for the concept of money. As per their religious, I never was allowed to buy anything or even leave the farm to swing by a corner store. My first experience with money was debt, in the form of a sudden fistful of hundreds arriving in the form of my first student loan. As stupid as it seems now, I didn’t think I had to pay that back. I assumed it just arrived, got spent, and disappeared until I was an “adult”.
I didn’t have a job in college, except for some actually-decent income from making celebrity news videos on Youtube. I didn’t know how much jobs paid people without high school diplomas or previous experience. I didn’t know about interest rates, or how high they could be for people with no credit. I didn’t know that, once the loans stopped coming, there might be periods without enough money to pay rent or buy food. I was wholly, entirely , inexcusably ignorant, and so afraid, because I knew deep in my melon heart that someday the chickens were coming to roost.
The most painful words come from those you love, and these came from someone very close: “You squandered all the money you had.” I can’t think of anything that ever hurt as bad as that, but now I realize that those words weren’t even half true. Squandering is what happens in Katy Perry songs. I didn’t live lavishly, even while I dug myself into this debt. I never went to clubs. I ate ramen and popcorn like it was a New Years Resolution. I drove a 2002 Ford Taurus in 2010, until it caught on fire. But nonetheless the money was always gone. I didn’t squander it, but I sure as hell wasted it, and when the debt came, I came back to Texas.
For the last few years, I’ve existed in a constant state of lockjaw anxiety that only Americans with haunting credit scores can know. I didn’t know, or want to know, how much I owed. My previous tactic for survival was to open new debit cards in moments of panic, and overdraft them almost immediately to buy food. Then I’d abandon the account and go someplace else. Even after cleaning the harmful chemicals from my life, I still carried that teenage recklessness everywhere. I was stupid enough to brag that if I kept moving around “they’ll never find me”. Allow me to emphasize: that was bullshit. Bullshit of the sort that rednecks cultivate for explosive methane gas. Not only did “they” find me, they never even had to look for me.
Oh, here’s some more words that stung. During a brief stint cleaning pus-thick macaroni slime at a dying buffet, I joked to a coworker that I had made a career of spending money I didn’t own. She replied: “And this is where it got you?”
Every debt eventually has to be paid, and my student loans came to their inevitable crash-landing last year. In an astounding stroke of luck, two months before D-Day, I landed the best job I’ve ever had. I could finally start payments and get them out of default. All I had to do was work an extra 10 hours a week (on top of full time), and the $900 monthly student loan payments were covered. Small victories, right? Well it turns out that once word gets out that you can pay some debts, every other debt wants your attention. And until they’re fat and happy again, you can’t make any progress in your financial life.
In the past month, I’ve compiled a list of all the banks, gyms and hospitals who want my money. A few hundred here, a few thousand here, maybe one or two negotiation blowjobs and then (boom!) I’m a free man. Well mostly. The student loans are going to follow me until I’m in the ground, unless the exciting cloning experiment Obamatimus Prime gets elected and makes that debt disappear faster than the oxycontin in Rush Limbaugh’s cookie jar. (Help me, Obami-Wan, you’re my only hope!)
Researching your own debt is like getting punched in the chest repeatedly, and then billed for the service, but what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. Knowledge is power. I no longer have a shadowy cloud hovering at throat-height, and I feel… free. Which is funny because now I realize exactly just how much of a slave I am until these get paid.
New tactic: instead of just paying my debts, I’m shelling out money for other people to fight those debts. This might be the most American thing I’ve ever done.
Here’s a bit of adderall-fueled advice for anybody younger than me: college loan and credit card debt does not disappear on its own. It actually gets worse. It’s so easy to sign on the dotted line, shake hands and hit the ATM, but unless that money is being immediately applied to create more money, you are digging a big hole that gets bigger and bigger each year. Four years after taking out my last college loan, I’ve finally gotten past paying the interest and onto actually paying the principle. Debt is not something you have to just worry about years down the road. It smacks you in the face real, real quick.