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Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Cluttered Life

One of the nice (ahem) things about being unemployed is the ability to do things you never had time for before, like cleaning out the clutter in your house. Or, in my case, sorting through rafts and rafts of old bills and stuffing them into folders and files. Niles is making me do this.

As I've said somewhere before, I have the tendency to keep everything, and here's the proof. I found the pay stub from the first real pay check I ever earned, back in 1980 -- $259.60. That was a week's pay, and I thought it good money. I was an engineering co-op student for four years, which is how I put myself through college (with, of course, the help of the company I worked for). That $260/week---for ten or eleven weeks---had to pay for my living expenses for about eight months, in addition to paying for school.

I also found the receipt for the school fees I had to pay with that paycheck. Are you parents sitting down? $502.75 No, there are no zeros missing. That's how much a semester's worth of fees at my university cost in 1980. Since I was an in-state student, I didn't have to pay tuition of any sort, although there were of course books and living expenses (and living expenses during the semesters I worked). I believe nine months' worth of room and board in the dorms was $1500. Contrast and compare with today. Fees are over $2800 per semester, room and board relatively affordable at $2600 per semester. I seem to remember that books were supposed to cost about $100 and "personal needs" $350, so that altogether a semester's worth of college added up to $1700; this means the cost of university at this college has increased fourfold in the past 22 years.

I'm a little surprised to my reaction to finding all this stuff. Every piece of paper I turn over puts a knot in my gut. Here are large bills that took forever to pay off. Where am I going to get the money? Oh, that's right, they're all paid now. There's the big stack of repair bills for my old car. How come I didn't get rid of that thing? (I know the answer). Ha ha! It was a lot of fun when the steering wheel fell off while I was driving! Now here's something you'd think I'd be mildly pleased to see---my acceptance letter into grad school. But no; it only brings back unpleasant memories of financial and emotional woes (even though I look back on my grad school years with great fondness---funny, that).

I also keep things I find amusing or interesting. I have scrapbooks waiting to be filled with them. For example, there are the takeaway menus from the restaurants near my apartment in Sydney. The pizza places, especially, have elaborate and often bizarre combinations ("Santorini: Marinated baby octopus in chilli [sic] sauce, avocado, crispy potato and garnished with fresh oregano").

It remains to be see how long I'll keep collecting these charming old scraps. I keep having to haul them around with me, after all, cross-country and around the world. Hey, maybe I should get a permanent job! And a house! Now there's an idea...