I was sitting in the designated signing seat, giving the blue ink pen a workout. Across the table sat the people who were selling my house to me. The woman was talkative and friendly, classy and obviously wealthy. She was too old for her red hair to be natural, but she pulled it off. She chatted easily with the realtor about houses and how they were driving to Florida for their grandchild's christening.

The man was quiet. You might call him gruff if you weren't used to soft-spoken southern men. He had gray hair, a dark handlebar mustache, and was wearing a flannel work shirt. He introduced himself as "Buck," though that wasn't what he was signing with his blue ink pen. He must have been wealthy, too, though he didn't give off that air the way his wife did. He was just Buck.

During a lull in all the signing, he passed a ring of three shiny silver keys across the table to me and smiled. I was shy to take them. I'd given away a check for a huge sum, signed my name a billion times, and filled out a change of address form, but it was the moment that a quiet gentleman slid three keys across the table when it struck me: holy crap, I just bought a house.


not the biggest dork.

We were having a brief development meeting, discussing the status of our latest candidate for release. We had apparently covered all the important stuff, and the meeting was starting to dissolve into a sort of group chit chat. Someone asked what the device was sticking out of the socket in the wall; it was a battery charger. However, it was a space age looking battery charger. If I ever decide to make a crappy sci-fi movie, I would want to borrow it for use as a model for a space ship.

"You can tell it's futuristic, because it's asymmetric. In the future, people will hate symmetry," someone quips.

"Yeah, it's like the Millennium Falcon. You've got this great design, but let's put the cockpit over here to the extreme right," jokes another guy.

I know what the Millennium Falcon is. I know what it looks like and I could probably recognize it if I saw it out of context. But I haven't got the foggiest idea where the cockpit of it is. It's amazing how being a software engineer can make you feel less dorky, even almost cool by comparison. Because, yes, I make math jokes and I know a lot of trivia about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but at least I haven't memorized the blueprints of the Millennium Falcon.


permission slip.

I was the only kid in my family that got a car when she turned sixteen. Before you start thinking that I was spoiled, let me tell you that it was a seven-year-old station wagon that had 170,000 miles on it. Two weeks prior to my birthday, my dad had been driving it when someone pulled out in front of him, and he swerved and took out a row of mailboxes. As a result of this, if you opened the back passenger side door, it would sort of hang at an angle off its hinge, and you would have to lift it to close it back. My parents saw no reason to get that fixed. My siblings would still call me spoiled.

The first day I drove to school on my own, I felt like I was about to accept the Nobel Prize, maybe in the category of Living to Be Sixteen and Getting Wheels. I cannot say for sure what I look like when I swagger, but I'm pretty sure that I was doing it as I walked from my very own parking space to the entrance. But I wanted to be cool about it, so I didn't gush to anyone about how that totally bitchin' station wagon in the parking lot was mine.

I had been in the building for about five minutes when my name was called over the intercom, announcing that I had left my lights on. That put an end to my swaggering.

That station wagon is long gone now, but I was thinking of that day this week when I was on the phone with the guy who was handling the loan for my new house. I had already sent him tons of paperwork - W-2s, paystubs, a copy of my drivers license, bank statements. But he called me up to ask me about the extra name attached to my bank account. I explained that it was my mom. I have had those accounts since I was about nine, and the bank does not let nine-year-olds swagger on up to the counter and open up an account; they have to have their parent's name on there, too. The loan guy said that he figured it was something like that, and that was perfectly okay, but could he possibly get a letter from my mom that said I had access to these accounts?

So just in case I was thinking of doing any swaggering as I walked into the door of my new house next week, I'll just remember that I had to have a note from my mom to buy it.



I did not mean to buy the first house I saw. I will admit to a inner desire for more spontanaeity in myself. I envy people who successfully fly through life never thinking more than a few hours ahead. Those people seem very happy and carefree. But when I want that in myself, that means that I want to be able drop everything and go to the beach for a day. I want to be spontaneous while still keeping a good credit score.

I decided to buy a house on Thanksgiving of last year. Then I postponed doing anything about it until after the holidays so that I could devote my full attention to the process. When the new year came around, I started looking at realty web sites. I even went through a copy of The Real Estate Book, something I might have done once when I was 17 and really bored. I made an inquiry about one promising looking house, but then found out that it was on a teeny lot and had window unit air conditioning. I looked at lots and lots of web listings and realized that while I could never get tired of ranch dressing, the same did not apply for ranch style homes.

I had a vague idea of what I wanted. Something a little older sitting on a half-acre or more. Reasonably close to Raleigh, though I would be willing to trade convenience for more land. A neighborhood that wasn't too manicured so I didn't feel too suburban. A house that didn't look too much like its neighbors.

I struggled with the purpose of my buying a house. This would be my first home, so it didn't have to be perfect. I found myself being attracted to the listings that were sitting on 10 acres out in the boonies. One of them had a chicken coop, and the offer of a couple of starter chickens - CHICKENS! It also had an hour commute to my office. Too bad I couldn't get the chickens to fly me to work. At some point, I want to move back to the boonies. But it didn't have to be with this house.

Once I'd made that concession, I started wondering how much of my ideal home I should have to sacrifice. This was just a temporary home, even if temporary meant twenty years. It was no problem finding a home on a reasonable lot. Nor was it a problem to find a home that was cut from a different mold or a home that had a short commute or one within sight of a tree. It was finding all of these things in one home that was the problem. If I could find a house with 75% of what I wanted, would that be enough? What about 50%?

That's what I thought about while I looked at listings and repeatedly ruled out a house for some reason or another. I marked a couple, but without much enthusiasm. Looking back at the same homes I'd bookmarked earlier, I would wonder what had appealed to me about them. There was exactly one that really looked promising. I didn't figure anything would come of it, but I scheduled an appointment to view the house, thinking that I might as well start looking at places in person instead of on the internet.

I don't know how the house felt about me after that first visit, but I was pretty sure I was in love with it. This house was the building equivalent of a laid-back skinny musician who grew up in the country and liked puns. I loved the house, I loved the neighborhood. Ten minutes from work, the view from the front porch looked like a quiet mountain neighborhood. There was a lake and so many trees you can't see the actual house from satellite pictures. Inside was a big stone wood-burning fireplace, with pine floors and skylights all over the place. The kitchen was big and open. It wasn't perfect, but as a temporary house, it was wonderful.

The house had character. I know that's a real estate word for weird, but to me it's a necessity. I want to live in a place with personality. All houses have personalities, I suppose, but some of them are really boring. Most people don't care about that sort of thing, even people who themselves are not boring. That's fine for them, and I'm glad those people are out there to buy up the houses that I don't want. It takes all kinds, right?

Josh was very ho-hum about the wonderful, glorious house. He liked the floors and the fireplace, but thought it was too far away from downtown and too expensive. I thought he was a sour puss.

I left that house feeling very sad. Here was this wonderful house, and someone else was going to buy it before I felt comfortable making an offer. I'd been looking at online listings for two weeks, and this had been my first viewing. I couldn't just buy the first house I saw. That was the kind of thing that a person with a bad credit score would do. I felt certain that someone else would buy it soon, and I thought about how happy they would be there.

During the next week, I continued to look at listings, but now they were all tainted. I could barely even bring myself to consider a ranch home at this point. The realtor sent me some more listings and I sent some more back, and we agreed to go on a general house-viewing tour the next Sunday. The houses she sent me were very nice, and I managed to get myself excited about some of the bells and whistles. One had a finished basement, another a dual HVAC system. As the week wore on, I managed to accept that I would not be getting the other house and started turning my attention to appreciating these new houses up for my inspection.

The first house was very nice. And so was the second one. As was the third one and the fourth one and so on and so on. Each time I would walk around the house, pointing out things that I liked (brick fireplaces, really luxurious thick carpeting, bathroom tiling) and things that impressed me less (shower stalls in the master bath - are you freaking kidding me?, cave-like kitchens, so much hideous wallpaper). And then I would get to the end of the tour and shrug. It was fine. If I visited someone living there, I would be sure and tell them how much I liked the fireplace, and I would absolutely mean it. They were all nice houses...for other people. After two of these reactions, my mother, who was along for the ride that day, remarked that I was an "individual." That's a non-realtor way of saying weird.

My realtor, sensing that I was never to be satisfied, remarked that a lot of a house's feel came from the furnishings. I know this is true, because I live in a pretty beige apartment. Between the mirror shaped like a ship's helm and the globe of the moon, I manage to weird it up a bit. But I hate to do all the work. The house should at least meet me halfway.

After the fourth house, I asked if it would be too much trouble to swing by the house I'd seen the week before so that Mama could see it. I'm not sure what I was thinking here. I would not have admitted to myself that I still had hope of getting that house. It seemed very much out of the question. But I must have had that small hope glimmering inside me. Had I been truly resigned to the fate of someone else living there, I would not have asked to go.

This time, I gave the tour. I pointed out all the wonderful characteristics of this house to Mama, pointing out the real hardwood floors, the skylights (I hadn't noticed the one in the bathroom before - awesome), the view, where I could put my new freezer. I'm sure the realtor was off snickering somewhere.

We saw one more house after that. It was also a contemporary style, though most of its character came from the furnishings. These people had fantastic taste. Of the new houses I had seen, this one was promising. I could see myself here. I'd want to tear down the wall separating the kitchen and the dining room at some point and the wallpaper would have to go, but this house had potential. I could tell that it had personality, but that maybe it was a little shy and needed a confidence boost. At the same time, it sort of felt like an impersonator of the first house. An impersonator that was on a smaller lot, had fewer trees, and was right next to a busy road. And cost $25,000 more.

I got home from the excursion feeling really bummed. We had seen lovely houses of different styles in nice neighborhoods and nothing had spoken to me. My realtor was perfectly willing to keep going at it, pulling listings and visiting them, but I had my doubts that it would be much different from today. The houses we'd viewed today only served to remind me how much more I liked the first one. If only I could just buy that one.

Josh and I discussed the day's house-hunting. He had done a complete one-eighty on his opinion of the first house. He was downright enthusiastic about it. Seeing all the other ones convinced him that it was really a fantastic and unusual house...and cheaper, too. Maybe I should have made him look at all the listings of ranch homes beforehand. While we were talking about it, I realized that I could very easily regret not buying that house. I could look for months until I ended up settling for something that was less than what I wanted. I could also find something equally awesome later, when I felt more ready. But I couldn't see myself regretting jumping on this house while I could (unless a dinosaur stepped on it later or something, and I could just get insurance for that).

So why didn't I just buy it? It was exactly what I wanted, in my price range, and likely to go up in value. The only thing keeping me back was the fact that I'd been looking at houses for all of two weeks and had seen in person a total of six. It seemed hasty. But maybe it wasn't hasty at all - it was bold!

So that's how, ten days after viewing the first house in my first foray into home ownership, I signed a contract saying that I would buy it. It was scary, but even after I signed the paper and wrote a check for $1000 earnest money, I felt good about the decision. I felt bold.



"Erloardgh?" The phone woke me up. The clock said that it was 3 AM, and I was inclined to believe it.

"Hey." He sounded down and tired. Usually putting on a show exhilarates him, but maybe Alabama was getting him down. He had called earlier in the evening and had sounded positively ecstatic that there was a tornado watch and the show was across the street from a trailer park. Maybe he was just happy to be out of the van after a ten hour drive.

"I'm sorry I woke you. But I said that I would call after the show."

"No, I'm glad you called. How was the show?"

"The first set was pretty good. The second set was a meltdown."

"A meltdown? What does that mean?" I was picturing all sorts of crazy situations. Like maybe the crowd had thrown rotten vegetables or the guitarist had swung the guitar at the drummer's head.

"Oh, you know, we were all off at some point or another." Oh, they had played badly. I gotcha.

"Well, I doubt the people who had never heard you before could tell."

"I guess." I keep forgetting that he doesn't respond to logic as a form of consolation.

"How was the other band?"

"They were okay. They played a lot of covers."

"Ugh. Well, what kind of covers? Good ones at least?"

"Yeah, they were good covers. It's just...discouraging." Audiences respond to cover bands because they'd rather hear a song they already know than original material, no matter how good it is. So you can work hard to write a great song, but it won't even matter because people don't listen to it.

"I know. It's what people like, though."

"Yeah, that's why they do it."

"Where are you sleeping tonight?" To save money, they were planning on crashing at people's houses when they could. And when they couldn't, well, the van had two free benches and two captain's chairs.

"In the van."

"Will you be warm enough?"

"Yeah, it's pretty warm here."

"I'm sorry you have to sleep in the van, baby."

"It's okay. We'll get up early and go to the beach."

"I miss you. I wish I was - well, no, I don't want to sleep in the van."

We talked a bit more before making our mushy goodbyes and hanging up. I rolled over in my soft, warm bed and felt sorry for my baby, 600 miles away. It looks easy to be a rock star, but it seems pretty hard to get there in the first place.


individually-wrapped apologies.

You tell me: can a bag of homemade granola bars make up for being a crappy girlfriend?

I guess the smart answer is to ask how crappy the girlfriend was and how good the granola bars are. Well, the bars were pretty good. I'd never made them before, but it was all from scratch, using honey from my dad's bees and whole wheat flour that my sister-in-law had milled. Does that make it better? I don't know, but I feel like these would make good bullet points on the granola bars' resume. And I used golden raisins, because they're nature's candy. And also chocolate. And love and support.

So how crappy was the girlfriend? Pretty crappy, I'm afraid. Not like, cheating-on-him-with-his-piano-teacher crappy, but more of a general whiny and selfish kind of crappy.

Here's the setup: Josh's band is on tour. You might not think this is a big deal, because Nickelback goes on tour all the time. Small local bands don't go on tour all the time. It takes a lot of work convincing bar owners in other states that they should pay some unknown band from Raleigh to come play. They'll be taking their band van, which still has the name of the church they bought it from on the side, and driving it all over the south and midwest. They left Wednesday morning, and will be back in about a month.

Here's where the crappy girlfriend part comes in. Rather than be excited for Josh, I fell into a glum mood every time it came up. I didn't really complain out loud all that much, other than to nag him ferociously about taking his phone charger. In my head, I worried about how he was going to be gone a long time and would be driving in an old van and there would be drinking and late nights and did you know that there are GIRLS in the south and midwest? But out loud, it was all about the phone charger. "Make sure you take your phone charger, do you need to borrow the one I use in the car, are you going to have a place to plug it in?" You see, kids, this is how to have an adult relationship. Rather than actually discuss what's bothering you, make sure and harp on a minor, only slightly related issue.

I'm sure he found the sudden importance of the phone charger pretty confusing. See, I'm going to be worried every single second that he's gone. But as long as I can call him to verify that he's still breathing, then everything is okay. I can function normally. But if his phone were dead, then that might as well mean that he, too, is dead. Or that he has R-U-N-N-O-F-T with some Alabaman floosy. Because men who like Alabama floosies never charge their phones.

About two days ago, it really started to sink in to me that he was going to be leaving on this trip. I also realized that I had been a total bitch about it. He was really excited and had been looking forward to it for a long time. But he couldn't share that anticipation with me, because I'd turned into an icy phone charger enthusiast every time the subject came up.

So the night before they left, I made granola bars. I put lots of chocolate in them and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap. I wished that I had time to make more travel snacks, and also that I hadn't been such a crappy girlfriend. I debated putting gushy love notes in the wrappers, but thought that might embarrass him in front of the other guys.

He ate one that night and raved about it. Maybe he could taste the love and support that I put it into it. I really had a lot of support lying around, seeing as how I had been withholding it for months. I don't know if he knew they were individually-wrapped chocolate-rich apologies or not. I told him that I was sorry about my behavior, but he sort of waved it away and helped himself to another granola bar.

I hugged him goodbye in the rain before he left. He loaded up his car with his bags, one of them containing a plastic bag full of relationship-healing granola bars and another containing his phone charger.


web thief.

Someone picked my PayPal pocket last week. How annoying.

I'm not that mad, nor am I surprised. I had a massive viral infection on my laptop last month, and so the fact that someone ended up breaking into one of my accounts is almost expected. It's a weird sort of world where someone can steal $400 from me and I think it's my fault. Seems like my sister has someone using her credit card every year to buy tickets to Singapore, so it was really about time for it to be my turn.

PayPal emailed me to tell me that something was fishy about a recent transaction. I'd like to know how they decided it was fishy. Did someone sign on to my account from Mongolia? Did the guy have a webcam on at the time and look really shifty? Did he put "Stolen" in the comments of the transaction? In any case, kudos to PayPal for recognizing something was amiss.

They immediately put restrictions on my account, forcing me to change my passwords and security questions. I submitted up a "Fraudulent Transaction" report to tell them that I had not sent $400 to that dude, so gimme it back. They promised to look into the situation. They updated the status of the case, where I could check every day to see what was going on. It wasn't very exciting. I was hoping it would be like an episode of COPS. They would post a video of the PayPal police (who kind of look like the Geek Squad) busting into someone's trailer, where a brand new $400 lawn mower was parked out front. There might be a chase involving the lawn mower later, which would end in its being flipped into the ditch. Not only did they have to pay up my $400, but they can't even take the lawn mower back! Take that, web thief!

But not, the status report was just a little chart that said PayPal had sent emails to me and the other dude. They sent one that day, and then again three days later. Finally, a week after this whole thing started, they sent me an email saying that I could have my money back.

And that was that. The thing is, I wasn't even all that worried. PayPal seems to be a company that has its ducks in a row. Their job is not easy, because they have to deal with both malicious intent and pure idiocy. They have to protect their users from other users and also from themselves.

Good job, PayPal. I'm sorry that I let the virus on my computer and left myself so vulnerable. Thank you for saving me from the web thief and his lawn mower dreams.


vintage tastes, retail expectations.

I went to a vintage store in Durham last weekend. I've been to stores like that before. There was a shop in Boone that was mostly clothes, like a consignment shop specializing in tacky stuff that regular consignment stores wouldn't sell. I had a certain respect for that store, as I have respect for all those who try to give new life to old stuff. But I didn't shop there much, because most of the stuff was general thrift store fare at consignment store prices. I could buy that Foreigner shirt from the tour of '83 for $15, or I could just find a Journey shirt from the '85 tour at a thrift store for a buck. To buy something at the vintage store, it would have to be special enough that I could overcome the nagging feeling that I would find something just as good at a yard sale the next week.

This Durham store was a lot like that. There was a ton of really cool crap, and another ton of less cool crap. There were clothes and tacky souvenirs, a whole room full of holographic Jesus pictures, jewelry made from old toys and bottle caps. There was a small rug featuring the likeness of John F. Kennedy and a Pee Wee Herman pull-string doll. But it was all overpriced.

There were several boxes of vintage stationery, and you know how much I love vintage stationery. They were boxed cards, like the type your grandmother might buy once a year to have enough to send to each of her grandchildren. One box was really sweet, with animals in 1970s colors. Inside, there was some sort of cutting and coloring craft project that you could do with the card. The box was $12. Are you kidding me? I would pay $1 for that. Secondhand shopping being what it is, I will probably never find those exact cards at a thrift store. But I'll find some that will please me just as much. Buying used has already acquainted me with the idea that I may not find the exact thing (the perfect size, the perfect color, etc.), but I will usually find something good enough, with the low price making up the difference.

Vintage stores make promises that they can't keep. They promise me that they are like a thrift store, except everything is cool. They promise to be like the ultimate yard sale. But they let me down by disregarding some of the very reasons that I like secondhand stuff in the first place. To me, there are four reasons to buy used.
  1. Cheaper.
  2. Treasure hunting fun.
  3. Sense of history in the items.
  4. Very green, because you're reusing or recycling or reducing, whichever one it is.

Stores like that take away two out of the four reasons. It's not really cheaper than buying retail, and it's many times more expensive than buying used at a thrift store or a yard sale. And there is no treasure hunting to it at all. If you find something at a vintage store, it's not a "find." That's like calling something at the jewelry counter at Macy's a find. You didn't find it, it was put there on display. Going to a bunch of thrift stores and finding a sweet pair of earrings under a bunch of stuff that used to be at the jewelry counter at Macy's is a find. Maybe I subscribe too much to the belief that something should be hard to get to be valuable.

Basically, you're paying for someone else to do the hard work of rounding up this stuff. Frankly, I'd rather save the money and do it myself. Vintage stores are for people with vintage tastes, but retail expectations. Vintage stores are for wimps. There. I said it.


a penny saved is a jukebox earned.

I have always been a saver. I've had a savings account since I was about nine, and since then any money that I came across went straight into the bank. That's not to say that I don't spend, too. Obviously, I do. But I've always earned more than I spent, even without being particularly careful about it. I live pretty cheaply because I like to buy used and cook my own food. I splurge sometimes, but I don't worry about that, either, because I've saved enough that I can afford to do that. My savings has been a nice cushion, the pillowtop on the mattress of my life. It wasn't necessary, but it helped me sleep better at night.

I've pretty much been saving my money for nothing. Well, I've been saving it with no particular goal in mind. If you asked me what I was saving up for, I probably would have said, "The future" (unless you asked me when I was about eleven, when I would have said "A jukebox!"). I really had no ideas more concrete than that. About a year ago, I looked at my bank balances and started thinking about investing it in something. Having the money in the bank felt about one step up from it being actually in my mattress. Sure, I made interest off of it, but that didn't feel like much.

I asked my mom about investing, and she recommended Dave Ramsey and his Endorsed Local Providers. These are regular brokers and financial dudes that have passed some sort of application process and received the Dave Ramsey seal of approval. So I filled out the online form to be put in contact with my Endorsed Local Provider. A week later, I received a survey from Dave Ramsey's group, asking if I had been satisfied with my ELP. I irritably replied that I had received no further contact from the guy, despite even sending an email in addition to the one generated by the web site.

After being kinda left in the lurch over investing, I forgot about the idea for a while. Maybe it seemed like a bad omen, when I was already a little hesitant about using my precious savings. It was only last week that I realized that had I invested my money over the summer, I would have lost most of it in the fall. Perhaps I should write Dave Ramsey and tell him to thank that dude for being so negligent.

Though I had shelved the investing idea, I did start thinking about a house. I've been renting since my sophomore year of college, and I'd started to hate writing those checks every month. I realize that it's a necessary evil when you're not sure how long you're going to be in a place. I liked the freedom it gave me, knowing that if I needed to move suddenly, I could just pack up and do it. I'm not sure why I liked that idea, because frankly, that sort of spontaneity just isn't in me. But I've been living in Raleigh for almost two years now, and I love my job. It's an incredible market for buyers and mortgage rates are deliciously low. So maybe it's time for a house. Turns out I'd been saving for a house all those years, and I didn't even know it. Maybe I could get one with room for a jukebox.

Once I spend all my money on the down payment (how irritating to spend your life savings and still owe more), I wonder if I will feel insecure without my green cushion. Okay, I'm not spending every single penny of it, but I am spending enough of it that I'm thinking more about how much I spend on groceries these days. My new, much smaller cushion is not so much for dinners out as for the eventuality that my car will die on me. So far, my impression of budgeting is that it kinda sucks.

But once I get the house, I hope to feel that all that saving paid off. I've been saving for the sake of saving for so long, it might be nice to see that there is a point to it. And I'll be writing a check to go into the house every month instead of to my landlord's pocket. It'll be an investment, a piggy bank big enough to live in. My savings will be in my walls, my floors, and my roof, not just my mattress. It's a brand new era of saving in my life.

And once the house is paid off, I may just get that jukebox.



As we drove up to the sale itself, I could tell we would be there awhile. There were some kids clothes, but it appeared to be 95% books. There was a tall, wide bookshelf and then another six packing boxes on the ground. Books take a little longer to poke through than most things. Also, Josh likes to be very thorough when looking through them. Since I've been taking him to yard sales, most of what he's bought has been books.

As I poked through the titles, I looked for a common thread. You can get a glimpse into someone's personality by the books they read. These were all over the place. There were cookbooks, a couple of classics, some recent Oprah book club novels, some popular thrillers, a pair of weight loss books, some religious and anti-religious texts, and a few really old ones. I wondered if these people had owned a book shop at one point.

"Did you guys own a shop or something?" I asked the man as I pulled out a stack of books from a box.

"No," he laughed. "My wife is just a bibliophile. We probably could open a shop just with what she has."

I finished looking before Josh did and stood in the sunshine. There aren't a lot of yard sales in February, but the weather was so nice out that we had decided to see what we might find. I'd already spent $3.75 at a pair of previous sales and had a quarter left in my pocket, though Josh said he had some cash. My big find of the day was a homemade xylophone that I was thinking would look great hung up on the wall somewhere. I'd also bought a 1987 NC State sweatshirt, a deck of French playing cards for my brother, a bad sci-fi movie, a box of mismatched old greeting cards, a large silver picture frame, and a pair of earrings.

"Do you guys go to yard sales often?" the man asked as his wife worked at taking some of the boxed books and putting them on the shelves.

"Every Saturday when it's warm," I answered.

"Do you look for anything in particular?"

"Not really," I shrugged. "I have friends and family members who will tell me to be on the lookout for some stuff, but mostly we're just looking around."

He nodded in understanding. "Yeah, we used to go every week, too. We try not to buy anything retail. If we can avoid it."

I was pleasantly surprised. Most people that I meet find my hobby odd. To meet some hard core secondhanders out in the wild was something new. I felt a warm kinship between us. I realized that they had a ton of books because when books cost under a buck apiece, it's hard not to grab every thing that might interest you. A lot of those books were probably bought at other yard sales and now they were being sold the same way. It was like a yard sale catch-and-release program. These people understood that the lifetimes of things did not end when you were done with them.

We picked out five books, four hardbacks and a paperback. According to the prices quoted to us when we arrived, that should have put us back $4.50. But she asked for $1.50, which we happily paid, using up my last quarter. I knew we were getting the secondhanders discount. I got back into the car with my $4 yard sale budget completely gone, but I was happy. The sun was out, I had a homemade xylophone, and there were other people in the world who thought there was no better way to spend a Saturday morning than looking through other people's crap.



My office smells like paint fumes right now. I've had to deal with office construction several times, and I find that as a general rule, it sucks. It's loud and in the way. And sometimes it smells. They've been tearing apart our building for about three weeks now, and I've actually been impressed at their quick progress. Several times I've considered working from home to get away from the noise, but then I put my headphones on and power on through. Less distracting than the noise is the guy in the cube next to me saying, "Woooo! Yeah, don't hold back!" every time there's a racket.

But the paint fumes are something else. I hear smell is the sense most powerfully associated with memory, and paint fumes are the key to a very powerful memory from the summer before my senior year of college.

My first apartment was a crappy basement with lots of character. We loved it, because the location was fantastic, the rent was dirt cheap, and we were the types that could handle odd things like sloping kitchen floors. When we were moving out, we had to paint the whole place antique white, because we had painted it a variety of bright colors that were not really allowed in the lease. Before we used the actual paint, we had to apply a layer of Kilz, a hardcore primer meant to kill all the mold that we'd been breathing in for two years.

Being in the basement, there were two windows in the whole place and no other kind of ventilation whatsoever. Kilz is already a very pungent product, and the lack of odor escape route made the fumes headache-inducing. I should tell those kids that huff paint to get high to invest in some Kilz. That stuff messed with my head. Aside from making it ache something awful, I had a really hard time focusing on what I was doing. I remember sitting in the corner of my room, painting the wall. I would do that for maybe thirty seconds before I would stop and sit there for a couple of minutes, not doing anything. Then I would remember what I was supposed to be doing and I would start painting again, only to stop and stare into space again a few seconds later.

Later that evening, I watched TV with my roommates, who had also been painting with Kilz that day. Despite my throbbing head, whatever was on TV was extraordinarily funny. We were all literally rolling on the floor with laughter. But then again, I had been pretty entertained actually watching paint dry earlier. I can only assume that when kids stick their faces in some paint to get high, that they then watch TV instead of try to finish any sort of task. I would like to further say to those kids that they shouldn't be doing that at all, or they might end up like this guy.

The Kilz incident came screaming back to me this morning as I sat in my smelly cube. Thinking about the kind of code I might write when under the influence of Kilz, I emailed my coworkers that I would be working from home for the rest of the day.