The Glitch in the Game

lilo and stitch

I started writing this yesterday, and I’m reshaping it a bit as we go because the world feels a little bit different today, so bear with me.

You feel the tension, right? I’ve been thinking about it often, as we race towards the end of the year and the holidays: the idea that you’re walking down the street and suddenly there’s an entire chunk of pixels missing, or like you’re in the first level of Super Mario Bros World 1.1 and the walkthrough said there’d be a 1UP hidden right above you, and you jump and jump and nothing happens.

(When we used to play Super Mario Bros as kids, every once in a while we’d jump and jump and that 1UP wouldn’t be there. I don’t know why.)

Because the holidays are tradition, every time they come around again you get this tightness inside of you, the Grinch not realizing his heart could shrink, and you look around and all you see are glitches.

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The Cost of Buying a Washer/Dryer from Sears Outlet When Six (then Seven) Months Pregnant

washer dryer

My husband and I are expecting our first child next February. To mark this rite of passage, as well as the white hot second when we considered cloth diapers, we decided to order our very first washer and dryer. Since every conversation around raising a child in New York City ends with nervous laughter about financial ruin, I went online to SearsOutlet.com. There, if you don’t mind a few dings on a former floor model, or a returned Maytag Maxima XL, they’ll offer “20%-75% off regular retail prices on appliances and more!”

Theoretically.

My online research yielded two things:

1. The belief that there are two types of people in this world: The type who write online reviews for appliances like: “The inclusion of color on the cycle select indicator and the unusual control panel layout adds some flair and pizzazz to an otherwise average-looking appliance” and the rest of us.
2. Two energy-efficient and seemingly sturdy washer/dryer sets at around $1,000.

So on October 11 it began. READ MORE

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CVS Health: Making Health More Affordable and Accessible

Brought to you by CVS Health

More people are getting coverage…but there’s a shortage of doctors. So CVS Health is making health more affordable and accessible. With over 900 MinuteClinic locations for walk-in medical care, open nights and weekends.

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A Whole Foods Grows In Detroit

boondocks grocery shoppingSlate recently published a fascinating #longread about a Whole Foods opening in the Midtown neighborhood of Detroit and aiming to serve the entire city. The store didn’t expect to make a profit. It expected sales to be “dismal.” It got a deal from the city that put its rent at $6 — SIX BUCKS — a square foot so that it could open anyway.

Where Robb went to Detroit to bridge the gap in food access between rich and poor, Detroit’s city planners saw Whole Foods as a way to not only serve its longstanding middle class, but to expand it. In short, they wanted the store to serve as a catalyst for gentrification. Whole Foods was more than a potential employer for the 15 percent of Detroiters who were unemployed (and the 46 percent who’d stopped looking for work entirely); and it was more than a new option for the Detroiters spending $200 million a year on groceries outside the city. It was, in the words of the city’s economic development head, a potential “game-changer” for the city. 

The store reached out to the community, offering classes on how to shop. The reviews were … mixed.

Little of the advice she offered would surprise anyone who already watches their budget. On a post-class tour, she counseled her students to buy whole pineapples for $2.99 each rather than pay $3.29 for a pint of pre-cut chunks; to ignore the attractive, full-price cheddar displayed next to apples that were on sale; to compare prices per ounce rather than per package in the grocery aisle. But she also frequently reminded her students that Whole Foods wasn’t just about deals, but value. At the meat counter, where boneless chicken breasts were priced $4.99 a pound, she said “it’s unfair to talk about price … if we’re not talking about quality.” When a student exclaimed at the $2.99 price for a dozen 365-brand eggs, Musilli observed that the chickens had never been in cages.

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Gift Ideas

harold and kumar christmasGift guides are always fun, but some gift guides are even more hilarious than others. And then, like the svelte, non-denominational, vaguely sanctimonious figurine perched atop your Holiday Tree, there’s GOOP.

This is the time of year when everyone publishes holiday gift guides with super practical items like a $345,000 Celebrity Robot Avatar from Hammacher Schlemmer to a $150, 15-pound loaf of bread from Oprah’s Favorite Things. Gwyneth Paltrow, actress, queen of condescension and creator of GOOP—”an eminent lifestyle publication”—got in on the act with her own GOOP Gift Guide for 2014. I realize that I might not be the target audience, seeing as I save 20 minutes on my beauty routine by not having a beauty routine, but I am in the publication’s demographic.

Ha! I too save twenty minutes a day by not having a beauty routine. This person is my soulmate. Here is GOOP’s original guide for 2014, featuring a gold leather passport holder ($65), a $1000 man’s watch, an $80 tote bag, a $1000 cashmere throw blanket (!!), and so on; and here is the same guide improved by commentary.

Of course, if you do feel like splurging, there are some legitimately adorable or impressive things on the GOOP list, like the Penny Skateboard ($74) and the Light + Ladder Air Plant holders ($150). Can’t argue with poems by Mary Oliver, either ($17).

If you need an anti-consumerist palate cleanser, here’s an entirely different Shailene Woodley-inspired gift guide by the satire mag Reductress. “Dads can be hard to please, but I’ve learned there’s one gift every father likes – the raw intensity and hedonistic power of a live fire. Your Dad will love to stare into his intense fire and meditate on how his little girl is growing up so fast.” Priceless.

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My First Love Was a City: Victoria, British Columbia

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When I was 23 years old, I moved from Ontario to British Columbia to get my Master’s degree in English Literature, and I fell in love with Victoria. I fell in love with its big trees and ocean smell; I fell in love with its cerebral-hippy vibe, its health food stores and bookshops and friendly pubs. It wasn’t my first move but it was my first love, the first place where I built a home that was properly mine.

Although I had worked since I was 16, this was the first time in my life that I was supporting myself completely on my own, through a combination of savings and scholarships and research and teaching assistantships. I had just enough money to get by, but I got to read all day, I was living in one of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen, and most importantly, I had Friends.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had wanted Friends. Not just friends—I had those all my life—but F.R.I.E.N.D.S. A tight-knit, mixed-gender gang of merry pals with a host of in-group references and perfectly-timed jokes. And finally, with my bookish, ragtag band of MAs, I had found that. We had a palpable, crackling group chemistry, even when doing the most mundane things: we watched terrible movies, had passionate debates about books, and danced and drank wine and gossiped. Some of us (including me) fell in love with each other. For two years, I was supremely, joyfully, buoyantly happy. My happiness was a hum in my heartstrings, vibrating at a pitch I never thought was unsustainable.

And then I completed my degree.

A month or so before I finished, I started applying for jobs. I applied as the scholarships payments stopped, as did my assistant positions. I applied as I finished my Master’s Essay. I applied as I graduated. I applied as my boyfriend, one year ahead, got hired by a sketchy online university’s physical campus, and then got fired months later when the campus went belly-up. I applied ever more desperately as my meagre savings dwindled. Eventually, it became clear that I was knocking on a door that wouldn’t open. It was time to go. READ MORE

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Beating a Student Loan Lender at Their Own Game

Sallie Mae

So, with no income and my private student loan payments, interest and fees, I was headed for default.

Sallie Mae’s collectors called me up to 10 times per day, even on weekends and holidays. I begged their representatives (and recorded the conversation on camera, as shown inthe CNN documentary Ivory Tower) to make my payments affordable so that I could begin to pay them back rather than default. They refused.

The only option Sallie Mae offered me to avoid default and subsequent financial ruin was to pay a $150 fee every three months to put my loans in “forbearance”. But interest – more than $1,100 per month on my $36,000 in loans – would still have continued to accrue and that $150 wouldn’t be applied to either the interest or the growing balance. It was mind-boggling.

It’s rare to hear stories about college students taking out private student loans from a lender like Sallie Mae and then beating them in court after being hounded and sued for money after defaulting on the loans. I was able to lock-in low interest rates on the private student loans I took out, but Stefanie Gray wasn’t able to get a cosigner on her loans (both her parents passed away when she was younger) and was given “credit card-like interest rates.” That was the beginning of Gray’s troubles, but this story has a happy ending.

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#Ferguson

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My voice isn’t adequate for this conversation.

But I can’t ignore it.

So here’s what I’ve got for you today.

 

“It’s tough to believe in anything other than the present when you’re forced to fight for every inch of ground you’ve got; it’s harder still when you’ve got to question most of your interpersonal interactions. Is this why I didn’t get the job? Is this why my lease application was denied? Is this why I got into college? Is this why this person keeps following me around the grocery store? And when you ask, you’re looked at like you’re crazy, met with denial — because it’s always plausible, deniable.” 

—Bijan Stephen, The Talk: How Black Parents Prepare Their Young Sons for Life in America

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In College and in Search of Free Food

free pizza

The only place that has more free food than Costco is college. I’m not kidding—if you know where to look, you can get at least one meal a day at no cost. Since I’m now on a serious, serious budget, I’m taking full advantage of this phenomenon and mooching as much as possible.

The first place I start is always the online page for school events. For example, next week there’s an info session for a one-year economics grad program—with pizza. I’m totally willing to show up to the meeting and listen to their spiel in exchange for a couple slices of pie. Last Saturday I attended the on-campus CultureFest, where I learned about Spanish, Native American, and Asian cultures—and scooped up enchiladas, corn on the cob, and kimchi. And I’m really looking forward to Soup & Substance, a social justice discussion with complementary soup.

Since I live in an on-campus apartment, I also benefit from a host of housing-sponsored events. However, these are pretty popular, and if I want to be fed, I have to act strategically. Every week there’s Cooking in the Canyon (we live in a canyon), where our community advisors give us a recipe and ingredients and “show” us how to prepare a meal (really, everyone just stands around and watches them cook). Then we grab the finished product and run. I always show up 10 minutes early so I can secure a space in the front of the line; this was especially wise on the Chili Cheeseburgers and Fries Night, as they only had 50 patties for around 150 hungry college kids, and I definitely got one of those 50 patties. I may have been a pacifist before, but a budget really changes a girl. READ MORE

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Renting in a Megacity Is a New Lifestyle Phase

Once we worked from about the time we could walk until we fell down and died. Now our lives are cordoned off into various segments, some of them more or less “protected”: Childhood and Adolescence, during which society does not expect to profit from us; our Contributing to Capitalism / Childbearing years; and Retirement. The tumblr csen makes the argument that there’s a new segment for many of us, post-adolescence and pre-childbearing (though it overlaps with Contributing to Capitalism): Renting in Megacities.

there’s become a new phase of life that impacts increasing number of Americans. The megacity renting years. At the moment it impacts mostly elite college graduates, though over time as we saw with college education in the latter half of the 20th century it will likely broaden its reach.

It’s a time for building personal and professional relationships, for hopping between different employers, for building skills and for having access to a large dating pool. It’s hard to know why exactly this has come together — the increasing demands of a global labor marketplace, because technology and cities combine to make being young and single in the city far more attractive than it was 30 years ago, because homeownership isn’t seen as the stable investment it used to be, or because for whatever reason Americans have put off family life.

Luxury, transit-accessible apartments are the new luxury dorms. Food trucks and pop-up restaurants and coffee shops are the new dining halls. Coworking spaces and startup accelerators are the new classrooms. Uber, Lyft, and bike lanes are the new campus skateboards and trolley. Friendsgiving is the new dorm social.

It’s an interesting idea, though of course it’s inapplicable to the many people too penny-wise to live in megacities at all. Also, as the author points out, when is graduation day? When do you move on from megacity renting into Real Life?  READ MORE

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How To Get Our Belongings of Questionable Worth Across The Country

moving and making it work

We are moving to Portland in less than a month pretty much because we fell in love with a sublet on Craigslist, emailed them late one night on a whim, and then the owners were so nice and the place was so nice and well, I asked Logan what she thought and she wrote in all caps that we should do it. If you ever need help justifying something like this, I recommend asking Logan.

I’m so excited about it I can’t tell you.

Anyway this is about how to actually get your things across the country. Or how we will get ours. If you would have asked me how much this would cost before I looked into it, I would have guessed probably $1,000. I would have thought one of us (guess who) would drive a U-Haul of our stuff and the other of us and the kid would meet him there after hanging out with family in Florida over the new year.

You can’t take a baby in a U-Haul. I can’t, or won’t, will not take a baby on a week-long road trip, much as I love the idea of a transformative cross-country road trip.

Also as it turns out, renting a U-Haul and dropping it off elsewhere is somewhere (far) north of $3,000. Plus gas. Plus lodging and food for the week it would take driving out there (42 hours of driving at the minimum). READ MORE

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