Thursday, December 31, 2009

Find You, Find Love

Image by Robert Proksa

For some, 2009 brought love. For others, that connection with a special somebody remains elusive trudging into 2010.

Whether you're in love, still searching, or fed up with the whole thing altogether, it's imperative that we all take a little inventory.

“It is crucial for you to figure out who you are before you go shopping for somebody with whom you want to live the rest of your life,” says founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren in Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons: How to Find Your Soul Mate.

We're so consumed with scrutinizing potential partners that we usually don't examine our own issues and how they relate to the opposite sex.

Dr. Warren has developed twenty questions to help us in this quest. “By the time you carefully answer all twenty questions, you will be amazed at what a clear picture you will have of yourself,” he says.

I'm a huge fan of introspection; the Delect Connect is a testament to that. I think we'd be better people if we invested more energy into our own minds and being real with ourselves.

After first look at Dr. Warren's questions, I was surprised by how many of them I couldn't answer off the top of my head. But as I answer them, I'll post my responses here.

As you embark on the new year, resolve not only to lose weight and save money, but also to get to know yourself better. A little soul searching can help you keep—or find—your soul mate.

  1.  Who is the most important person in your life and why?
  2.  What is the one dream for your life you most look forward to achieving?
  3. Who has the capacity to make you angrier than anyone else in your life, and what in particular does he or she do to make you angry?
  4. Who has the capacity to make you feel loved more than anybody else in your life, and what in particular does he or she do to cause you to feel so lovable?
  5. What is it like being you?  More precisely, how do you feel about yourself--physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?
  6. When do you feel inspired?  Who or what contributes to your sense of inspiration?  How does it feel when you are inspired?
  7. What is the most important thing in the world to you?
  8. If you had one day to live, how would you want to spend it?
  9. When do you feel most afraid?
  10. If you could accomplish only one thing during the rest of your life, what would it be?
  11. What bores you?  What always bores you?  And what never bores you?
  12. How important is money to you?  How much time do you spend thinking about it?  What income level do you aspire to?
  13. What is the role of God in your life?  Do you believe there is a God?  And if so, what is God like in relation to you?
  14. In order, what are your three strongest interests?
  15. Who is your biggest enemy?  And precisely how and why did this person become your biggest enemy?
  16. How important is food to you?  Do you think of it very often?  And do you feel disciplined in your management of food intake?
  17. Does the idea of being married to the same person for the rest of your life sound appealing to you or not so appealing?  What is it about it that you especially like or not like?
  18. Do you think of yourself as an emotionally healthy person?  In what ways are you especially healthy and in what ways can you use improvement?
  19. What is the role of conflict in your life?  Do you argue or fight very much with the people closest to you?  How does it usually turn out?
  20. What specifically would you like your closest friends to say about you at your funeral?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry...Christmas in New Orleans

What's Happenin' in New Orleans?

I got this question a lot.  Folks wanted to know what festival or event was going on the weekend before Christmas for me to want to be in the city.

First thing you have to understand is that I've been a Christmas geek since I was a wee little jit.  Blame it on my mom; the holidays around my house were like a ghetto Thomas Kinkade Christmas scene complete with mismatched ornaments, greeting cards planted inside picture frames, and Luther Vandross' and the Temptations Christmas albums in heavy rotation.

Unlike other kids, it wasn't all about gifts for me.  I was around nine years old when I asked for the Time Life cassettes from the informercial.  I begged for a Christmas carol book that I saw in Winn Dixie. To this day, I still love the warm and fuzzies you get during this most wonderful time of the year.

As for New Orleans, sigh.  Our love affair began with my first visit in 2007 during the Essence festival. I have a somewhat respectable travel log--Los Angeles, Vegas, New York, and the Bahamas to name a few.  Yet I've never been so fascinated by a city.  The music, the food, the history, the mystery, the architecture--oh the balconies!!  I'm whipped.

And so, you put two of my favorite things together--Christmas and New Orleans--and you get two flights booked (my homegirl Candice and I), hotel reservations, and anticipation for all kinds of holiday feel goodness.

The Cutest Lil' Hotel You Ever Did See

I tend to go for the biggest, baddest, sky scrapingest hotel I can afford.  In previous trips to New Orleans it was the gargantuan Hilton Riverside on Poydras and the Astor Crown Plaza on Canal.  You know, baller.

This time around I wanted to trade in the extravagant chain hotel for one of the many unique and historic hotels in the Vieux Carre.  And since I have an obsession with balconies, we had to get one of those too.  After much research, we settled on the Hotel St. Marie on Touloose.

The hotel (along with most buildings in the Quarter) is probably at least 100 years old.  We got actual keys to the room.  Keys. Not electronic wait-for-the-green light room cards (Me to Candice:  Man, when's the last time you saw one of these?).  The room was clean, comfortable, and cozy.  Regular TV (i.e., no flat screen).  The bathroom door had a gold handle to shut it, but no lock.  The paint on the balcony doors chipped on the outside.  Each detail added to the hotel's character.  I was sold.  No more chain hotels in the Big Easy for me.

Holiday Homes

"Savor the holiday spirit as Patio Planters presents beautiful French Quarter residences dressed for the season. Features include interesting architectural styles and home furnishings, as well as a variety of collections of Christmas decorations."
-Patio Planters Web site

Since I don't know anybody in the Quarter, I've only had one chance to see the inside of one of the homes (it was a rental).  So I was really excited about the holiday home tour.  We were provided a map to hit up the homes in whatever order we pleased.  Fortunately, everything in the Quarter is in walking distance.  Each home boasted holiday decor that could grace the pages of Southern Living.

I was surprised by the extensiveness of the shotgun style homes; they look so small and narrow from the outside.  But after you walk in, you just keep going back, back, back.  Rooms are one behind the other with no hallways.  

"You can go on to the back to see the slave quarters," a volunteer directed us at one home.  The slave quarters were about 10 feet from the house.  And of course, it's an entertainment room now.  

I really enjoyed seeing what different people do with their living spaces, particularly during the holidays.

Fa La La La La...

We arrived in Jackson Square after the home tour expecting to be sung to,  but to my delight, we were handed candles and songbooks.  A festive stage was built in front of the famous statue of Andrew Jackson on the horse.   The candlelight was shared from person to person until all 500+ carolers had a little light.

Some folks onstage stood at microphones and a keyboardist was ready with the melody.  It was time to get down to the business of singing. From "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" to "Feliz Navidad" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," we joined hundreds of locals and out-of-towners in the ultimate holiday ritual.  We even sang a couple extras--one for love of country ("America the Beautiful," I think) and one for love of city ("When the Saints Go Marching In"...with a "Who Dat" remix).  Before the last carol, the priest prayed, "...and Lord, please lift up the Saints in a Super Bowl..."  Amen!

So we're down to the 20th, and last jam, "Silent Night."  Candice and I are swaying like Whos in Whoville.  Folks are feeling jolly.  The night sky is clear, cool, and crisp. I'm focused on the unfamiliar lyrics of the third verse of the song when I feel a sting on my left thumb.  I look away from the song book to see that the little paper surrounding my candle stub had caught fire.

"Whew!"  I didn't know whether to drop the candle and possibly burn down Jackson Square or attempt to blow out the growing flame.  A thousand horrible and embarassing thoughts raced through my mind. I took a chance and a deep breath and blew.  The inferno fizzled and died.  I was relieved.

Meanwhile, my wonderful buddy Candice did what any of my good friends would do--she laughed.  She laughed so hard that she doubled over.  She laughed so hard she doubled over and she cried. Her guffaw could be heard from the top of St. Louis Cathedral all the way to the bayou.  Thank goodness the caroling was over and people were leaving.  But Candice couldn't walk.

Me:  I could've been hurt, man...
Candice:  (choke, howl, cry, laugh)
Me:  You couldn't even be like, dang let me help you out.  Offer some advice.
Candice:  (laugh, cry, howl louder)

Candice was so bent over with laughter that one woman stopped to inquire.  I told the woman the whole wretched tale of how my little candle paper was ablaze and I heroically saved myself and the city as my tiny friend looked on.

Friends. How many of us have them.

The Person Upstairs

The time had come for our last supper in N.O.  We strolled down Touloose to the highly recommended Ralph & Kacoo's.  It didn't open until 4 pm, at which time we'd be at Louis Armstrong International airport.  Candice and I about-faced, with no particular lunch destination in mind.  Thing about New Orleans is that bad food is hard to come by, so it really didn't matter where we went.

We turned the corner heading up Chartres and stumbled upon the Alpine Seafood Bar...witih courtyard dining.  We had yet to eat in a courtyard, so it was on.

The elegance of the courtyard was in its eccentricities.  Banana trees were painted on the walls alongside large potted plants.  The paint peeled.  Statues of two black cats peeked at us from the stairs and foliage.

A thin woman with blonde and gray bushy hair descended the stairs and disappeared into the kitchen.  Must be the owner.  She soon reappeared with coffee and a cigarette and sat at the table next to us.  "So where are you all from?"  she asked, taking a slow drag from her cigarette.  "Florida,"  I responded.  "Is this your place?"

"Oh no. I'm the artist in residence."

Artist in residence?  Do I really need more reasons to love this city?

Gwendolyn Siniard had only been living above The Alpine for a few months but she had been leaving her mark on the walls for over a decade.  (She painted the banana trees gracing the courtyard in the 90s.)  "Miss Gwen" (as the chef called her) escorted us inside to see other works she created, including a wall-length mural of jazz greats.  "The owner said he wanted something tropical so I did this real quick," she said, pointing to a cruise ship sailing a colorful sea.    "This is supposed to be a candy bowl." she said, sticking her hand into the mouth of a goofy pelican.    

Miss Gwen showed us a 3-ft shark made of paper mache and covered with nylon.  "Does he have a name?"  I asked.  "No, he doesn't have a name...would you like to name him?" Madam Siniard asked. The artist is asking if I want to name her piece.  Wow.  A moment went by.  I could only think of corny names like "Sharkey."  Then it came to me.  Louie--twice.  Louie Louie.  And you have to sing it like the song, "Ah Louie Louie...(oh babe, we gotta go, ay ay ay ay....)."  It was official.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

After caroling and touring and enjoying festive balconies, it felt like...December 26th, but in a good way.  We were so consumed by the Christmas spirit that we could take it back to Florida with us (along with a few extra orders of beignets).

Peace Y'all!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Debt and Redemption...Revisited

I open the First Premier envelope as I've done for the past few months, poised to write my $6 check. Yes, it's silly to pay $6 a month “finance charge” on a credit card with no balance, but I want to milk the benefits to my credit score.

I'm about to tear off the payment portion when bold print catches my eye:


“Is this $48 fee in addition to the $6 I already pay every month?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Okay. I'd like to close this account.”

Chances are this isn't the first time First Premier has assessed an annual fee, but it's the first time that I care. I've made some significant changes in my budget, by creating one that I actually maintain. I even moved, thus downsizing my rent by over $300 a month. I rearranged my priorities to gain better financial positioning. And now, I care. Before, a fee was the furthest thing from my mind. When you're keeping your head above water, making a way when you can, you don't spend a lot of energy analyzing fees. After all, you probably caused them. Call the company for what?

“Why would you like to close your account today ma'am?”

(pause, gag, cough) “Because I'm paying over a hundred dollars in fees on this card!”

“I can waive $40 of the annual fee...”

Wow, this is different. I'm not begging for an extension or a waiver or telling off another bill collector this time. The creditor is finally in a position where it has to win me back. And I'm finally in a position where I can tell First Premier exactly what to do with their $120 in debauchery.

“I'll close the account.”

My motto has always been carpe diem, make memories, enjoy all costs. Life is too short to cry over bills. And while I still embody that attitude, I'm really diggin' the power that comes with this newfound financial freedom. Options. Leverage. Not settling for dummy deals.

So this is what it feels like to hold the cards.

Pun intended.

Image by Faakhir Rizvi

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Theater Connect: The Color Purple

It's the only non-gospel, non-Tyler Perry play that black folks flock to en masse -- The Color Purple.

I attended opening night of the Orlando run last week; it was my second time seeing the show. The first time was on Broadway in December 2007 during one of Fantasia's last performances as Celie. My aunt and I stuffed ourselves into pint-sized balcony seats with 4 millimeters of leg room and nowhere to place our coats and purses. Needless to say, I was able to focus better on the musical from orchestra seats in Orlando than cramped attic seats on Broadway.

[Delect Inject: Lesson for life--Sometimes it's worth it to just pony up the extra money to truly enjoy an experience.]

On this tour, Kenita R. Miller does an awesome job as Celie, the unfortunate and often-called-ugly main character. Fantasia's Broadway version of young Celie had the advantage of Fantasia's childlike voice. However this aspect also weakened her performance when she wasn't enunciating. Soft words with no distinction sound like baby murmur (at least from the sky seats).

Angela Robinson as Suge Avery performing "Push Da Button."

My favorite character in the show is the fiery nightclub singer Suge Avery, played by Angela Robinson. Robinson brings so much panache to the role that I'm inspired to name my alter ego Suge Avery (move over Sasha Fierce!). Let me clarify, I was taken by Ms. Avery, but not the way Celie is in the story. Audience members unfamiliar with the book are often surprised by the turn Celie and Suge's relationship takes during Act II. Let's just say a rather bizarre moment occurs when Celie and Mister reminisce about how Suge left both of them.

Favorite character honorable mention goes to Sofia, played by Felicia P. Fields. Sofia is big in size and in personality. After “You told Harpo to beat me,” Sofia and her sisters perform one of the funniest numbers in the show, simply entitled, "Hell No!”

Although two of Suge's memorable songs from the movie (the one that goes, "Sistah, you been on my miiiind..." and "God is Trying to Tell You Something") are not featured in the play, there are plenty more songs to get your foot tappin'. Nineteen to be exact, including a reprise. And while I'm driving down this street...sigh. Musicals are a gift and a curse. You get a concert and a story all in one. But in the first act of The Color Purple, the numbers ran back to back to back. By the time any significant amount of dialogue was introduced, I was all sung out. Also, so much of the story is expressed through song that it's easy to miss some of the details. Eh, such is the nature of the beast, I suppose.

Nonetheless, The Color Purple is a phenomenal show with an impressive, ever-changing set, imaginative choreography, intriguing story, and soul. The show tours through February 2010, with Fantasia rejoining the cast during its last stop, in Los Angeles.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Film Connect:  Citizen Kane

Yeah, I took it back.

Way back.

To 1941.

That's so far back the term "old school" sounds too new to describe how far back it is. I borrowed Citizen Kane from the library this weekend not entirely on accident. I've wanted to learn more about the classics--books and movies--for a while now. Consider it part of my campaign to become a little less ignorant every day.

In brief, the movie is about the character Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Welles (also the director) and his quick and unearned rise as publisher of a newspaper empire. He begins his career with good intentions, then power and money do what they do best (strip a man of all moral character), and he dies lonely in a giant estate (think Neverland times 50 with a castle and man-made mountain) called Xanadu.

Well, I haven't sat through a black and white movie since ...ummm...actually, I don't know if I've ever watched an entire black and white film (does Schindler's List count? Or that Prince flick, Under the Cherry Moon?). I'm ashamed to say I was surprised by how relatable the language and storyline are in Citizen Kane to a Generation Yer. Not sure what I expected. Elizabethan English? The dialogue and the problems are no different than those of today.

I immediately recognized the cinematography to be well thought out, an attribute that is often lost in film making. The lighting and depth of every shot in every scene has a purpose. Citizen Kane has been heavily lauded over the years for its groundbreaking cinematography.

The story kept my interest, if for nothing else than to find out the meaning of "rosebud." The makeup used to age the actors over decades is impressive, even compared to the "Benjamin Button" type effects of today.

Lingering Thoughts

Well, the lesson is nothing new--money can't buy happiness. The lesson for me is to not sell short the OGs of film. In the age of remixes and remakes, it's easy to fill ourselves with the newest model, the latest edition. But the cliche marketing adage of "new and improved" is often not the case.

Even though the American Film Institute and others rate Citizen Kane as one of the greatest movies of all time, I won't go out of my way to watch it again. It's a decent film, I just feel it strengths lie more in the technical arena than in the story. Any student of film and/or pop culture should study Citizen Kane and take notes.

Next up, Casablanca.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Men Don’t Have These Kinds of Problems

"A while ago a friend and I were conversing about kids and what we would name them. So I reluctantly shared and she shared as well. This person is now pregnant and has stolen my baby name. Should I be offended?”

- My homegirl “Jayla”

I remember the look of horror on Charlotte’s face in Sex and the City when she discovered her friend had stolen Charlotte’s made up baby name.

It’s one of those situations that can seem petty on its face, like being mad at the chick in the party wearing the same dress. But if the chick went shopping with you to buy your dress, then what was once a petty situation has turned into downright deception.

And so, the baby name conundrum. Dreaming up baby names is as certain for women as imagining our wedding day. Every woman, childfree or not, has a baby name or two in the back of her mind--for a boy and a girl.

So I understand Jayla’s resentment. After all, she can’t go naming her future child the same name, particularly if it’s a unique name. The other woman’s baby would be first and people would think my friend stole the name. Then the friendship is all strained because my friend surely doesn’t want to be cooing and goo goo ga ga-ing at Baby ____, when ______ is the name she envisioned for her own child.

Some might say, “What’s the big deal, pick another name.” Well, names are no small matter. A name is a person’s first stamp of identity. Yet, if the friend does keep the name, then someday Jayla will have to either choose the same name or pick another. She may even discover one she likes more than the original.

But the principal of the matter is that Jayla’s trust was betrayed. Ripping off a baby’s name is no different than using privileged information to steal clients. While both are legal and non-life threatening, it’s shady business.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Unconditional love. We're more apt to give and receive this kind of love when it involves our children or our pets rather than our spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends. Which I find both intriguing and a little sad.

This is me performing one of my original poems, "Unconditional" (referenced in Focus on the Flaws). Since I finally got this recording uploaded, I thought I'd share it with you.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paradise Minus the Packing: Your Staycation Awaits

Photo by Susan Tito

A gasping economy does little to curb the craving for a little R&R. If anything, recession stress and daily bad news create even more of a need to take one’s mind off it all. What’s a guy or gal to do with anorexic funds and a three-day weekend?

Enter the “staycation,” a jazzy new word for what frugal folks have been doing forever—vacationing at home. I enjoyed my first official staycation this Fourth of July weekend, which the Boo came over to spend with me. I discovered that a successful vacay in your own city requires more effort than most people probably imagine.

Here’s what I learned along the way:

Believe the Hype

“I can’t wait for our Ultimate July 4th Weekend!” I said repeatedly during the week leading up to our staycation. Build anticipation. Hype works, hence the multibillion dollar marketing industry.

Put Down the Feather Duster!

You have to do things out of the norm to distinguish your staycation from the typical weekend spent running errands and folding laundry. Speaking of laundry, don’t do it. Any chores outside of basic maintenance (i.e. washing dishes, taking out rank garbage) should be considered off limits.

My mom used to make a big deal about cleaning up before traveling. “Nobody wants to come home to a dirty house,” she’d say. And so, in preparation for the Ultimate July 4th Weekend, I spit-shined my one-bedroom apartment as if I was jet setting elsewhere for three days (thereby also increasing the hype).

Don’t Disturb This Groove

When you’re actually out of town, all you have to say to people is, “I’m out of town.” The statement carries an automatic proclamation of unavailability.

To achieve that same “do not disturb” effect when you’re in town, it’s best to let friends and family know the weekend is locked down ahead of time. “It’s a good idea to give the staycation a start and end date and devote as much of the time in between to relaxing, having fun, and breaking out of a rut,” said Matt Wixon, author of The Great American Staycation.

Take care of any obligations beforehand. For me it meant loaning my sister the car for the weekend and ensuring my elderly aunt had been to the grocery store. It also means making sure bills, emails, banking, and any other pertinent business is taken care of.

Unfortunately, not one hour into the staycation, my dedication to the plan faltered. My fashionista friend Michelle called to announce she had cleaned out her closet and wanted to drop off some clothes for me. “Sure!” I agreed without one lick of hesitation. In minutes, Mrs. Claus arrived, brandishing a sack of slacks, tops, and a cute fuchsia dress. I gushed over my new-to-me gear, lifting each shirt out of the bag and pressing it to my chest.

“Tell all your friends you’ll be unavailable this weekend…” I heard in a mocking voice after shutting the door behind Michelle. I frantically raked my mind for a valid protest. But there was none; I had broken my own rule.

Switch It Up

There was a period in my childhood when my mom, my brother, and I all slept in the same bed (in our six-bedroom house). Not sure why…maybe it was because Mom’s room had cable. Anyway, occasionally we’d all go spend the night in another room and call it vacation. Similarly, The Dude and I dragged my mattress from the bedroom, slid the coffee table over, and slept in the middle of the living room. It was like renting a trendy studio for the weekend.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Locals rarely frequent their city’s tourist spots. New Yorkers don’t spend weekends climbing up the Statue of Liberty, D.C. residents don’t take field trips to tour the White House. But being a tourist for the weekend adds instant out-of-towness to any staycation.

Living in Orlando provided the Boo and I more than enough options, but we settled on WonderWorks, an interactive science-based exhibition housed in a three-story upside down building. We played the afternoon away with robots and giant bubbles; we rode on a create-your-own roller coaster simulator and even hung out in a hurricane wind tunnel.

Could have done without…

- …watching DVDs. Movie night is cool but way to “regular” for the staycation weekend. Fireworks popped outside my apartment as I struggled to understand the weirdness that is Southland Tales. We could’ve been out doing some of the other things on this list!

-Work. Somehow I let this intruder slide by me on the Ultimate 4th of July weekend, even suggesting we spend an afternoon at Panera with our laptops. Fortunately we didn't get a chance to do this.


Overall, we committed to the Ultimate 4th of July Weekend with as much gusto as if we had plane tickets and hotel reservations.

By Sunday evening, I felt like I'd been somewhere other than my old stompin’ grounds. It was a good time but required planning, an open mind, and a few ground rules.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King Has Left the Building

In theory, I understand the laws of physics, anatomy, and other well-studied sciences. I know that cells form and multiply. I know, as humans, we metamorphose through biological phases that build and eventually break down. I know that to everything there is a season. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But I never expected Michael Jackson to die.

Blame it on Neverland. Or maybe it was the childlike behavior that endeared many and struck others as odd. Maybe it was his borderline obsessive love for children to the point of controversy. No matter the case, I’m struggling to grasp his death.

Being that I was born not long before Thriller came out, my generation is probably the last to really “connect” with Michael Jackson. Kids coming up after me can’t relate to the anticipation of a Michael Jackson video primetime premier that would have the school abuzz the next day. They don’t know about witnessing pop culture history during Motown 25. And the groundbreaking interview with Oprah at the ranch in 1992? I’ve got in on tape right now. Michael Jackson is more than court cases and plastic surgery.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Moonwalker. We owned Moonwalker, along with at least two MJ documentaries, on VHS. I’m not a music historian or anything, but how many artists built full-length movies around their own music? (Okay, besides Prince.) My brother and I watched Moonwalker so much that my eyelids instinctively knew to close one second before the mounds of Joe Pesci’s tarantulas showed up onscreen. We practiced leaaaaaning like Michael during “Smooth Criminal.”

Over the years, I’ve been saddened by the news surrounding Michael (then buoyed when he emerged, spry and fly as ever, on somebody’s award show). He reminded me of a trembling puppy in a corner as the media and paparazzi surrounded him. The man seemed truly puzzled when questioned about the appropriateness of his relationships with young children. Maybe Mike could’ve used some counseling, I don’t know. I just remember when he gleefully climbed a tree while being interviewed by Martin Bashir in 2003, I thought, “My goodness, this is real for him. He really thinks he’s a kid.”

Jheri-curled, light-skinned, dark-skinned, or ghoulish, Michael Jackson was sexy, but eccentric and contradictory—all the makings of a musical genius. He exuded a passion onstage that didn't translate to his quiet manner offstage. His real life showed no signs of the suggestive nature of his dancing and some of his lyrics.

For Michael, a legendary career starting in youth was not without a price. He often lamented the loss of his childhood and appeared to spend much of his life trying to recreate it. What saddens many of us today is wondering if he succeeded in that feat; did he ever find happiness?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Debt and Redemption: A Pseudo-Rant About Credit Cards

Today I mailed a check for the remaining balance of my First Premier credit card. Apparently I wasn't the only one with credit on my mind; the Senate passed the Credit Card Reform Act today as well.

These two actions are related not just because they deal with credit cards, but because they deal with BAD credit cards.

My First Premier Visa card has never had a zero balance. I repeat: it has never had a zero balance. Ever. It arrived in my mailbox four years ago loaded with $179 in fees...on a $250 credit limit. The card charges a $6 monthly finance fee on top of 22 percent interest. I always mailed my payment because there is a $5 monthly fee to login online and a $14 fee to pay over the phone.

Therefore, you can imagine the victory I feel right now. You can also imagine my elation when I discovered a couple months ago that a bill was making its way through Congress to do something about the downright gouging that many creditors impose on consumers. The Credit Card Reform Act outlaws various fees and practices, including issuing credit cards to jobless college students, which is how I ended up with the low-life credit card that I did.

I enrolled in a college course my senior year of high school, which sent out smoke signals that I was a college student. I had four credit cards by the time I was 19. By the time I was 21, I had defaulted on all of them. After using financial aid to pay the cards off, I needed a fresh start to rebuild my credit. The First Premier card, with all its funk and fees, was the only one I could get.
"Debt is the slavery of the

-Publilius Syrus (Roman author, 1st
century B.C.)
For its credit (pun intended), having that card and making timely payments did open the door for better cards (I have two others in good standing). Yet, there were times when the storm of fees seemed nothing less than criminal. Payment is one day late and the account is assessed a late fee, which then puts the card over the limit, thus incurring an over limit fee, which now makes the minimum payment three times the usual. I used to toss the billing statements in rage thinking, "How is this helping anybody? If I'm drowning in fees, they're not gonna get paid, and nobody wins."

Of course there are those who ask, Where does personal responsibility come in? Nobody forced you to accept a really whack credit card. That's like asking a guy living in the desert surrounded by burger joints, why he's fat. The man had to eat and there was nothing else available.

"Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt. "

-Benjamin Franklin

I could never understand why the highest interest rates and lowest favor were assessed to those who could least afford it. Edward Yingling, president and CEO, American Bankers Association, explains it like this, "It is a fundamental rule of lending that an increase in risk means that less credit will be available and that the credit that is available will often have a higher interest rate."

First of all, When I look around at the present economy, I don't have a whole lot of faith in banks' "fundamental rules." I'm all for businesses making a profit, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Jane's a credit risk; you give her a higher interest rate, fine. But a $14 make a payment? Thirty-five dollar late fee? A card that comes with $179 balance already on it? C'mon now, Mr. Yingling. If these aren't examples of extortion, I don't know what is.


extortion, n. An excessive or exorbitant charge.

exorbitant, adjective. Exceeding the bounds of custom, propriety, or reason, esp. in amount or extent; highly excessive.


Banks can no longer operate in a bubble as they have for years. You can't just rip people a new one, then step over them on your way to record profits (Banks generate billions of dollars annually in late fees alone). If this is done to enough people, a domino effect will result that will impact the entire country, and ultimately, the world (Again, just look around). Gross overcharging and bad deals don't help the consumer, the lender, or the economy.

I'm a single, childfree, college-educated woman, and I'm just now getting a handle on credit (thank God). But what about the millions of Americans with way more obligations than I have who are struggling to hold things down? Most of these folks aren't irresponsible beggars burdened with victim mentalities (as some conservatives would have you believe). They're hardworking people that deserve a fair and decent deal. Maybe the Credit Card Reform Act can help with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Focus on the Flaws...Revisited

Image by Christa Richert

Sometimes I reread the throwbacks here on the Connect and discover fresh relevance in the research and theories I explored at the time. At the moment, I’m enjoying the giddiness of new boodom, and “Focus on the Flaws: An Alternative Approach to Dating” is speaking to me louder than ever.

In “Focus on the Flaws,” I investigate the reasons we hook up and the reasons we break up. The theory is that if you can’t stomach a person’s issues, it doesn’t matter what you like about him/her. It’s a twist on the old “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” adage.

There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and issues. I’ve learned not to get too comfortable with anything before I’m aware of the issues. The perfect job is only perfect until you realize that your boss is insecure and bitter. The perfect house is only perfect until you realize you have rowdy neighbors. The perfect car (i.e. my Altima!) is only perfect until you have to buy unexpectedly expensive tires. The perfect baby boy is only perfect until he hits adolescence and develops a drug problem.

And the perfect girlfriend/boyfriend is only perfect until you find out about (fill in the blank). At that point, you must evaluate this/these issue(s) and your ability to deal with them.

When I talk about flaws, it’s not just about the other person; I can’t be comfortable in a relationship until the guy is aware and accepting of the flaws that come with me. While my ego loves to hear that I’m beautiful and smart and funny, these compliments are taken with a grain of salt. That is, until the person has had a chance to glimpse all of me--the lovely and the terrible, the comic and the tragic.

“Love me not just for the best of me, but the rest of me.

Not just the good in me, but the hood in me.

Not just the flyness in me, but the ‘Dang, girl WHY? ness in me.”

-Delect “Unconditional”

I’ve been in a rather blissful relationship for the past few months, but we’re just now getting to the part where, as they say on MTV’s The Real World, “People stop being polite, and start getting real.” While this phase has its moments of uncertainty (You did, umm, what in college?) and terror (You did, ummm, WHAT in college??!!!), I’m finding it invigorating. Uncomfortable, but invigorating nonetheless.

This is the part where we peel away the frosting and examine the crust. It’s through these times, when things ain’t cute, that friendships and relationships gain credibility. With each hurdle successfully crossed, I relax a little more. After all, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when a guy thinks I’m awesome after the first date. But if he still thinks I’m awesome after peeking in my proverbial closet, we’re on to something.

The main point of “Focus on the Flaws” is to deal with the mess early and get it out of the way. We hesitate to share our feelings and experiences because we don’t want to run the other person away. Yet we don’t take into account that the issue will surface eventually, and if the person is going to run off, it’s better he/she leave after four months rather than four years.

"Love me or leave me

But please don't deceive me

And say you

Love me how I am."

-Esperanza Spalding “Precious”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Solitude (Thank God for My Own Apartment)

National Poetry Month is almost over. Had to get one of mine in...

Solitude (Thank God for My Own Apartment)

no bra wearin’
wild hair rockin’
wigglin’ ashy toes

a lil’ bit of TV
a lil’ bit of jazz
a lil bit of silence
a whole lotta me


Copyright FCM 2008

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Too Neat to Be Neat

Image by Roma Flowers

"Baby we've got to get you organized," my boyfriend mumbled as he rummaged beneath my bathroom sink among flat irons, tampons, shampoo bottles, toilet cleaner, and synthetic hair.

It was one of those days in which everything I tried to straighten out refused to untwist--a botched Internet installation bill, health insurance confusion, an erroneous credit report. I had even sustained an injury--a two-inch slit in my hand. But of all the day's disappointments, his offhand statement stung the most.

I felt exposed. The clutter in my closet, the unreturned calls and emails, the funk of my finances. My boyfriend's simple comment wasn't meant to be condemning, yet it seemed to unknowingly hint at the root of my ills.

Disorganization is a woe I've wrestled for years. In grade school, I begged for a Caboodle, the pretty case that could hold all my bows, bracelets, and earrings in different compartments. It was an intriguing little contraption. Before long though, bows wound up in the polish compartment and combs and gel were tossed on the dresser; I soon stopped using it all together.

It wasn't until I left home for college that I became self-conscious about my mess. I resided with different groups of roommates during my tenure; one or two of which were Neatness Nazis. I nearly gave myself anxiety attacks wondering if their favorite pastime was discussing my shoe prints on the tile or my wayward hair strands decorating the bathroom floor.

These untidy tendencies were contrary to everything my mom exhibited as I was growing up; after all, she was a maid. I often tagged along with her to waterside homes with marble countertops, which my mother wiped to illumination. I helped her shine windows at the Honda dealership owned by one of her clients. She was forever dusting, scrubbing, and washing, even at home. Unfortunately, most of her pristine habits swept right over me.

“Ask any right-brainer about getting organized and we typically laugh—out loud. This is usually NOT our greatest strength.”

- Lee Silber, Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain

Don’t get me wrong; I’m far from qualifying for one of those talk shows about folks that haven't seen their carpet since Hammer was hot. There's no rotting pizza stuck to the coffee table and I don’t have large rodents as roommates. I’m actually swell at cleaning up, I'm just subpar with the whole…maintenance part.

Now that I live alone, a refrigerator magnet proclaims a bold statement: Dull women have immaculate houses. It justifies the pile of clean clothes, the mail-strewn coffee table, and the brushes and bottles loitering on the bathroom sink. Mess is the vice of creative and interesting people, just as lack of privacy is the price of fame. It cannot be helped. Take me as I am, world!

However, money guru Suze Orman names clutter as a primary detriment to a happy life. "Decluttering your home is the first step toward living your ideal life," she writes in her book, Women & Money.

"I am here to tell you that if this quality is not up front and center and if you do not adhere to it, there is no way you will ever own the power to control your destiny,” Orman says. "Wealth will elude you, and you will be left with the mess you created."

So there's a direct correlation between the panties on the floor and the pennies in my bank account? It's a theory I've never heard, yet can make sense of on some level. If for nothing else, when the crib is clean, I'm not worried about cleaning it, thus freeing up mental energy to focus on conquering the world.

Orman may also be alluding to the notion, "The way you do anything is the way you do everything." In other words, people with chaotic homes probably lead chaotic lives.

I don’t need an epiphany to admit that most of my business is handled haphazardly. I live a "walk-in" type of life--no appointments necessary. I make lists, then forget where I put them. Returning a call within a week is pretty darn good. And I wonder if I'll ever master the art of estimating time ("I'll be there in ten minutes," "Call you back in five").
Some of this chaos can truly be attributed to brain wiring. It's a proven fact that creative types are not the super organized of the world! But then again, creative types are also known as starving artists. Hmmm…okay. Maybe Orman is on to something.

[Delect Inject: Results of my right brain vs left brain test...]

You Are 25% Left Brained, 75% Right Brained

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility. Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way. If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art. Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports. Are You Right or Left Brained?

I want to avoid a life destined for poverty, without becoming an uptight, file-happy, spreadsheet sportin’, dust dictating, lord of the laundry. “Some overly organized people insist that organizing is everything,” says Lee Silber, author of Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain. “They’ll spend a sunny Saturday color-coding their sock drawer while the rest of us are out living life.” Tragic! I refuse to hang up my carefree spirit with my blouses and tees.

Yet, disorganization, no matter how much I defend it as an artsy fartsy hang-up, has had its price. I've paid hundreds of dollars in late fees over the years not because I didn't have the money, but because I had no clue when the bill was due. Opportunities have come and gone and deadlines have passed because I neglected to follow up.

I'll never be a clean fiend nor is it my goal. A spotless house is not on my list of top ten things to achieve in life. But it’s necessary to make those changes that will save time, stress, and money, while leaving the rest alone.

And as soon as I'm able, I'll hire somebody as good as my mom to help keep things in order.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ain't Nothin' Goin' on but the Rent

Delectables are bite-sized musings to mull over while marinating on the full-course columns posted here on the Delect Connect.

"There's more to life than being strapped to a 30-year mortgage," the message board commenter posted today.

The Huffington Post reader gave shape to a notion that has long loitered in my consciousness without proper analysis.

Owning a home is the undisputed bedrock of the American dream. It just is. Yet, its' position on my priority list is right down by getting the spider veins removed from the inside of my left thigh. The only reason home ownership even makes the list is because, well, it's supposed to. To say or desire otherwise is taboo, even a little silly. Who doesn’t want a house? Get a mortgage or die trying.

I've often said, even on this site, that I'd rather live in a condo high rise than a crib with a driveway. I didn't realize until today that that was the nonconformist in me, wrestling to find a compromise with this American ideal. Owning a condo doesn't require all of the responsibility of owning a home; and maybe to me that takes away some of the permanence of owning a house.

Permanence. I understand the financial benefits that come with home ownership, and having space and adding on and painting and planting trees. I get it; I grew up in a house with all of the above. But a 30-year mortgage? Of course, many people don't stay in the same home for the life of the loan, but for those who want or need to relocate, they can't give a house away in today's market. People are turning down opportunities, jobs, and happier lives because they're stuck in their mortgages. That's horrible. It's economic slavery.

There's more to buying a home than equity and refinancing. Buying a home means settling down. At this stage in my life, I don't even know where I want to live. I'm in love with New Orleans, but how can I set up shop without exploring Charlotte, Raleigh, Houston, and Chicago? I don't want to commit to something just because society or the Joneses or my birthday is telling me it's a buyer's market. I'm okay with taking my time; I'll know my "soulplace" when I get there.

And so, I'll continue to throw away thousands of dollars in rent for the time being, but at least I can pack and move in 30 days. No strings, no paperwork, no red tape.

Tis the price of freedom.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Delect Connect Goes to Washington (Part III): January 20, 2009

Our view from behind the Washington Monument (in reference to the Capitol).

Inauguration Day

It’s standing room only in the subway car. Someone’s elbow is close to my face and my butt is probably in somebody else’s. The train rocks side to side beneath the streets of DC. I look around. There’s something strange about being amongst a group of unhushed people and everyone’s quiet. There is muted chatter here and there, but mostly folks are swaying with the train, staring at their own thoughts.

I hear the drone of helicopters several seconds before rising from the cool dimness of the Metro station at Judiciary Square. My heart beats faster in anticipation. My sister and I climb from underground into the icy welcome of DC in January. It's about 9:30. We are here.

And so are two million other people.

I pause outside the station, looking for…something. Swarms of people walk to the left, to the right, and past us. They are a mass of dark winter coats and cotton hats of many colors, some with glittery "Obama" emblems or displays of "Change."

We shuffle to the side to get out of the path of those exiting the station behind us. I'm still looking for something, listening for…something. Alas, is that it?

“Obama T-shirts, ten dollars! Get your T-shirts here!”

No, that's not it. Something's missing. I'm expecting something, but I just can't put my finger on it---ah! Help. That's what I’m expecting. Guidance. Direction. A sign pointing us in the way we should go.

Blame it on my being a woman or a spoiled tourist, but I thought someone would be outside the station to guide us along, just like they were outside the station yesterday for the We Are One concert.

"Let's just follow the crowd," Hope suggests.

"Which crowd? They're all going in different directions," I say.

I fished out my ill-folded DC map in a valiant effort to navigate our way to the National Mall.

“Okay let’s head up this way,” I say. “There should be a Hyatt Regency on our left.”

After two blocks “this way,” there is no Hyatt Regency on our left.

“Hand warmers! Toe warmers! Two for five!”

DC is simple to navigate. So I don’t know if it's excitement or the presence of thousands of history watchers whooshing around me, but I cannot get it together and my sister is too engrossed in people watching to assist. I stop to study the map again. “Excuse me,” a gentleman says after almost running into me when I halted.

I study another map and decide on a different route. After a couple blocks, we come across several hundred people flowing into a tunnel. We get in behind them.

"Ummm…Hope, do you really want to take the tunnel?"

"No," she says, reading my mind. We turn around and find a square of pavement to regroup.

This feeling is peculiar, and surely shared by everyone around me. We are millions strong; yet, we're on our own. It’s like being home alone except we have an entire city to ourselves, in a weird 28 Days/I Am Legend kind of way. Fatigue-clad special police and armored vehicles command every corner, but we'd soon discover that these guys were brought in from other states and knew DC as scantily as we did. Their function is security, and security alone.

After aimlessly circling a couple of blocks, I yank my map out with new purpose. Change is the theme of the day and if we are ever going to make it to the National Mall in time for the inauguration, that’s what we need. And hope too.

I peer at the map for a moment and announce, “The numbers must go up!”

My sister and I march west down the middle of E Street as the cross streets’ numbers increase: 5th Street, 6th Street, 7th Street. We’ve finally found our way, and with each block, it appears that the amoeba-like multitude has found its way too. We're all going in the same direction, parallel to the National Mall. Our game plan is to infiltrate the Mall at the point of least resistance.

So yeah, just happened to be walking by when an SUV arrives with Sarah Obama, the president's paternal grandmother.

I buy a chicken kabob two blocks from the White House. Orangey brown sauce seeps into the fabric of my new white sneakers.

“I’ve never been around so many people in my life,” a woman behind us says to the woman walking next to her. “And polite people, too.”

Yeah it’s corny, but true. Folks are friendly. The only shouting we hear comes from street hustlers peddling Obamawear. Other than that, it's strangely quiet, except for the occasional blaring ambulance or police vehicle toting dignitaries. We're roaming the streets of DC on foot and no one's being rude. And we're everywhere. It's the Running of the Bulls without the running. And well, the bulls.

One nation under a groove. Gettin' down just for the funk of it. One nation we're on the move, nothing can stop us now!

I'll try my best to convey this other, new, lovely feeling. If you've ever been to, oh let's say, a conference or a convention, you know how neat it feels to walk through the convention center or the hotel and everyone you encounter is in your organization, or your fraternity, or likes Star Wars. You're among people that like what you like, dig what you dig. But when you step outside the confines of that building or hotel, everybody else is going about their business.

This pretzel company sponsored a U-Haul truck full of free pretzels for inaugural attendees.

Now imagine that the people that like what you like, dig what you dig are everywhere. They're in the lobbies, they're behind the counters, they're driving the taxis, they're riding the buses, they're marching through the streets shoulder to shoulder with you.

This dude has been waiting a long time to rock this coat...

It is the type of saturation only possible by sheer numbers. While others balked at the projected attendee numbers leading up to the inauguration, I was intoxicated with the idea of sharing a common purpose with so many people in one place. How often are you in a situation where virtually everyone within at least a 5-mile radius believes what you believe?

Guantanamo Bay demonstrators. Eerie.

We are one.

Evidence of a cold early morning.

Cold but determined.

These are the folks behind me watching the jumbotron from the World War II Memorial. You can see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.

People walking across the partially frozen lake. As a Floridian, I have never seen something like this in-person in my life.

Post-inauguration movement was way more stagnant than pre-inauguration movement. Walls of humans. Walls.

Had this many people been anywhere for anything else, it would've been a riot. But collectively, we wanted to show the world that we could congregate en masse in support of Barack Obama with no problems.

Menu in Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. "Pear-fect President." I can dig it.