The truth is a big deal to me. Honesty is something I care a great deal about. This isn’t for your sake, or theirs; it’s for me. Even knowing that lying can be an effective tool I can’t bring myself to do it very often. I do have a conscience, and I suspect it is louder than most.
However, being honest with myself has been a challenge at times. It’s kind of like how I am better at giving advice to others than using it on myself: I have always and will always be better at spending other people’s money. If I don’t have anything riding on the outcome, or the consequence, then my mind is as clear as it can possibly be.
I was running late for work a couple Saturdays ago. The freeway onramp nearest where I lived was closed, so I had to reroute about 10 minutes. I powered from first gear to second to third and hit a red light. Every second I waited felt like a month. Then I powered again from first gear to second to third and hit another red light. This went on about five times, like a goddamn conspiracy. I was going mad on city streets in Riverside, California.
When I finally made it to the freeway the math was simple. It was already 9:55 a.m. and I was a shade over an hour away from my work destination in Rancho Mirage. My clock-in time was 10:53, and I hadn’t even gotten dressed yet. (It’s only a white long-sleeve with a mandarin collar, a vest, and a black waistcoat, but the two minutes it takes can be critical if I’m behind on time.)
Needless to say, to make it to work in time to clock in I not only needed light traffic, but I also needed to shave solid chunks of minutes off the drive. The traffic that day was breezy, so driving 90-plus was well within my means. By the time I made it to Beaumont — which is the halfway point, of sorts — it was 10:20. At the rate I was going, making it to work would not have been a problem.
I was speeding eastbound on the 10 Freeway, near Casino Morongo, when I happened to look down at the temperature gauge. I drive a 2004 Subaru STi, and the way the gauge looks is how it appears on most that aren’t digital. There’s a top bar (which means the engine is very hot), there’s a middle-high (which is still hot), there’s a middle-middle (where the needle is supposed to fall a tad beneath), a low-middle, and a low.
The needle was just above middle-high, and it gradually rose as I continued driving.
Out of the sheer surprise of seeing it so hot, I panicked, quickly got over to the shoulder of the freeway and shut off my car. It was warm outside, about 95 degrees, and the wind was going nuts. Out of my hoodscoop poured a seemingly endless supply of smoke. That was the first sign that told me I was in trouble: my engine was fucking cooking.
So I got out and did what any typical jackoff would do. I popped the hood, thinking the car might cool down faster that way. There was a growing puddle of green antifreeze oozing out below the vehicle, which was the second sign that I knew I was fucked. I called my shift manager and told him my car was overheating. He told me to do what I could and try to make it in to work around 11:30. After 10 or so minutes I gave it the old college try, tried to get back on the freeway. That was pretty dumb I guess, because the same thing happened again 15 seconds later. So I pulled over for a second time.
I called my shift manager back and told him it wasn’t going to happen, that I wouldn’t make it in, and then I called a tow truck and waited a couple hours to drive 45 minutes in the direction I came from to drop it off at the shop.
It took a few days, but they diagnosed and fixed the problem I gave. I said there was a coolant issue, and so they fixed the coolant issue. In my mind I thought anything under a thousand dollars would be a win. It turned out to be $250, so I figured the universe was doing me a solid.
Problem was, whatever was wrong with my car was deeper than that. The next day I went to work, the car lost total power on the ride home. It was weird. One minute I was going 80 and not thinking about shit, the next I was steadily dipping, from 70… to 60… to 50… and then I got off on the shoulder and shut the damn thing off. When I tried to restart, it failed. It said the battery was dead.
So, again, I called AAA and got it towed to the shop. It was already well past closing time at this point, so I had to leave it overnight and return the morning after to let them know something else was wrong. The guys over there were super cool; I knew they wanted to help. And it’s the things I know the least about — in this case, cars — that always make me so grateful and appreciative to the people who do know what the fuck is going on.
Nonetheless, my car was there for a few days and they said they couldn’t fix it. Something about the car’s computer not being able to communicate with the turbo. Like I said, I know fuck all about cars. But something like that.
I worked Tuesday through Thursday and had a lone off day on Friday, so after getting my hair cut I called a tow truck and got it moved from the shop in Riverside to a Subaru dealership roughly 10 minutes away. That is where my car is right now, and I have still yet to hear the problem. Assuming it gets fixed, which is a fairly large assumption at this juncture in the game, my plan is to trade it in the day of for something else.
I bought this car back in October, 2014, just three months after I totaled the first STi I bought. In less than three years, driving back and forth from various cities of the Inland Empire to Rancho Mirage, I have put over 70,000 miles on it. This is about as counterproductive a way to utilize a performance car as there is, but I did it because I just happen to love it. There is a better chance than not that this is what inevitably did me in — putting extreme stress on a vehicle that wasn’t made to consistently drive through 110-plus degree heat four months out of every year.
If there is any sort of lesson that is to be learned from this, it is best for theory rather than practice. I am not all of a sudden going to get some economy car that is cheaper and gets better gas milage. I don’t see a scenario where I could bring myself something that I wouldn’t feel good about getting out of when I’m at the gas station, or wherever. Even with my socialist leanings I still see a materialistic person when I look at myself in the mirror. It is not a complicated position to be both of those things.
Yet, it’s moments like these when you tend to see things the most clear. I occasionally lament that the times I am most happy, or most financially secure, or both, are when I am most blind. Like I’ll just blow a thousand dollars at the casino playing blackjack or craps, or I’ll dump $300 or $400 at a strip club for no reason. Just to give myself some instant, fleeting high.
On the other side of that: it’s when I have nothing, or am feeling a little depressed, that I see everything with clarity. Instead of wasting my time and resources on temporary bullshit, I break it down to the very foundation. I seek long-term solutions, things I can build on that will move me up my own internal ladder.
It’s this mindset that has basically carried me from being a punk 19 year-old to a slightly-less-punk 27 year-old. Even though everyone (including me) wants the quick fix, the free ride, the easy way out, et. al, the only way I got into as decent a position I am in right now is from playing the long game. Like everybody else, I had to start somewhere. Some call it rock bottom, or whatever, but if it’s not there then it’s somewhere in the same zip code.
And from there, you kind of just take it one thing at a time… as cliche as that sounds. Maybe first you go to school. Then you get a job. You just move, basically. And from there you think, okay, this is where I am right now. So how can I do just a little bit better? Then you get a better job, something that pays more than the place before. And again you think, all right, this is where I am right now. So how can I do just a little bit better, still?
The world now does not seem as massive, or feel as drastic, as it did when I was 19. But in eight years I gradually picked myself up and executed a commitment, which doesn’t sound like much until you understand that I have spent much of my life coasting off lazy skill and possessing the attention span of a 15 year-old. I jump around all the time, from people to places to things. Being at the same job for three consecutive years, or talking to the same woman for three consecutive months, is generally surprising if not a small miracle altogether.
Being without my car — which was my dream car as a teenager — has sort of delivered me to one of those places where I need to reevaluate my entire situation. I can’t say it has made me unhappy, per se, and whether it costs $500 or $3,000, it isn’t going to break me. But if I can see things so clearly when I am broke or depressed, what is stopping me from seeing them now?
* * * * *
So, I’ve been borrowing my older brother’s car for the last week. On my way to work last Tuesday — which was my first work day without my own car — I realized he had Brand New’s Deja Entendu in his CD player. The first song that came on was “Play Crack The Sky,” the last on the album.
Like drugs, I was generally a hater of Brand New before I ever gave them a try. I remember the first reason I didn’t like them was for the simple fact that my older brother loved them when we were teenagers, and I couldn’t possibly live in a world where he and I listened to the same music. The second reason I didn’t like them, compounded on that, was because it was the favorite band of a girl I used to date. Usually you would think this would make me like them, or at least listen to them, but with me it had the opposite effect. Why? Because I am either the dumbest smart person, or the smartest dumb person, that you know or ever will know.
When I was 19 or so, back from a year going to school in Virginia, my older brother asked if he could play me a song one night. We had made amends by that point, so I agreed, and he put on Brand New’s “Limousine”. And from there I gave the band that I never wanted to give a shot, a shot.
There are certain bands and certain songs you hear that have a way of waking up the echoes of the past. I go through bouts every year where I listen to albums on Spotify, sort of welcoming this nostalgia. It’s like the only way to get it back into my system so I can then release it again, if that makes sense. It feels like spending time with old friends, except I can leave and return whenever I want.
Back to point of this block of text: this is about transitions. Right now I am at the conclusion of the long game process I started when I was 19, which is really only the beginning of an even longer process that will last for the remainder of my life. If you could connect the dots over these last eight years, my progression makes a lot of sense. The mystery is where the dots go from here, as a 27 year-old, to where I want to end up.
My most recent obsession is the stock market, a more adult form of what has been proven to be a love of mine: gambling. If blackjack and craps are the ultimate quick fix adrenaline rush, then the stock market is the long game version.
I did some minor research, and spoke to a handful of 40- and 50-somethings that I work with, and they all more or less told me the same thing. That at my age it makes the most sense to open a Roth IRA — basically a retirement savings account. Shit is pretty cool, and I recommend you check it out.
The main bullet points of how it works is a lot like a traditional IRA or 401K: the idea is you contribute money and it grows over time. So the earlier you start, the more cash you have in the pot when you retire.
What’s special about Roth IRA’s is the money you put in is pre-taxed, so you don’t have to pay taxes on it again when you take it out. The only taxes you pay are on your capital gains, the money you earn through interest or buying and trading stocks. And for a young person, the most aggressive way to grow your money is through the stock market.
There is obviously more risk involved going that route, but how does anyone ever get ahead without assuming some risk? The younger you are, the more shots you can take. The more shit you can throw against the wall to see what sticks. Maybe if I’m 35 and have a wife and two kids, I start thinking about the futures of others and go safer — buying bonds and letting my money sit and grow at a low interest rate.
But I’m here, now, and like I said before: I would love to take the easy way out. When I was 22 I found the table games industry at Southern California casinos — the only area of the country where dealers get to keep their own tips — to be the market inefficiency. Where else can you get paid $35 or $40 an hour with little more than a high school diploma and a few months of training?
As an aside, I have told probably three dozen people over the last few years to go to school and do what I do. Because it’s easy. Some of them work in a warehouse for Amazon, some are waiters at restaurants, many are from other departments at the casinos I have worked at. And no one has taken me up on it. Not even one. I try to tell people how easy it is, and how worth it it is, but it’s like they are comfortable with where they are. I still don’t understand it.
A couple weeks ago Trey and I drove home from a night playing basketball at a 24 Hour Fitness. I think we were talking about cars originally, but it turned into a conversation of who we are as people. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but the main point is that the grass is always greener on the other side. That we appreciate what we have now, but we expect so much more from ourselves.
I think I used the car as a metaphor, because Trey goes through a lot of cars. He buys one, gets bored with it, and buys another one. That process repeats itself.
What I said was how we want all these things, but that we’ve always wanted these things. Trey and I were having the same conversations — about where we are vs. where we expect to be — when we were 15 years old. It has been one giant conversation about money and expectations, and no matter where we’ve been it hasn’t been nearly close enough to where we want to be.
And the person we have always tried impress was never out in the audience. It was inside us, our internal critic. The guy who has been telling me it wasn’t good enough ever since I was old enough to remember my internal dialogue, who all the while pats me on the back after every joke that lands and every step up the ladder I have taken.
This is the person I have always been chasing, and trying to gain approval from. When I was 22 my giant leap was into dealing. At 27 I am looking in different directions. Maybe it turns out the stock market was my calling all along; perhaps Trey and I get into real estate and make it big from flipping houses; maybe it’s something none of us have thought of just yet.
This is the probably the least treacherous crossroads I’ve ever faced, but it’s still a crossroads. It’s still something I have put a lot of thought into lately. I need distractions, and few and far between are there distractions more interesting that money.
So perhaps I am lost in the grand scheme of things, the contradiction of a person who believes in social and economic equality in the same vein as he believes he will one day be a member the top one percent. And when I get there I will be more than happy to continue writing these blogs about how socialism is the future.
The demise of my STi is only a symbol of this transformation from here onward, just as it was once a transformation from working at a smaller casino and driving a Ford Ranger to working at a better paying casino. I fully expect this process to repeat itself another twenty or thirty times before it’s all said and done. But I’m here now. And I’m fine with my starting point.