Tag Archive | money

Things I Can And Cannot Afford

Today I mailed the check to pay the rent for the apartment. My bank account is now $650 lighter. For half of that, I can have an apartment in the Philippines.

I can get a call center job in the Philippines. The job will pay less than I’m getting paid now, but I’ll be getting paid more than the minimum wage of the Philippines, which means I won’t be too poor.

So if I save up my dollars and convert them to the Philippine Pesos, I can actually live comfortably. If I go to Japan, I’d be on a tight budget until I got settled in, and then hopefully I’d be living comfortably.

It sounds like the best thing for me, right? Go where I’ll never have to worry about snow, live where my American dollars will take me further while I have them to spend, I’ll probably find a job easier in the Philippines because they don’t have Japan’s mindset about overweight people (or so it seems)… It’s not Japan, but Japan is right-f***ing-there, so maybe I can still visit.

And then it dawned on me…

If I have to leave, America is going to be expensive to start over.

My family and friends live here, where it’s cold, and climate change is only making things colder in the winter. So not only will I have to deal with sleeping on couches again, but bundling up for an Arctic expedition just to step outside the door is going to be the death of me. I can tell you now, I would miss having the tropical climate of the Philippines.

But I wouldn’t just have some kind of nest egg when I come back, and if I did, I would need a lot saved up just to live in economical conditions. My best bet would probably be to not return to New York, but seeing as how I’d probably have some possessions still stored in this area, I would have no choice but to start here. Remember that my one month of rent can go for two months in the Philippines? I would have to flip it and save two months of Filipino rent, then hope I can find a cheap apartment once I got back here.

I had to go back to the site where I met him and… check something. I’ve only been talking to the Filipino guy for a little over two weeks now, and despite not having all my financial ducks in a row just yet, I’m checking flight costs, career boards, and apartment finder websites.

It’s too soon.

I know it’s too soon. Didn’t I learn anything from last year, with Libra? Ah, but I wasn’t asking to move in with him, he wanted me to move in. And he was an hour away from everything, not halfway around the world. Still, if I’ve learned anything, anything at all, it’s that I can’t be too quick when it comes to deciding whether or not to move in with another person, or even move closer to be with them.

Even if I move to the Philippines for me, not for him, I have to be certain that I want to be that far away from everything. On my own, it won’t be easy coming back. And if I need to ask for money, it’s probably best if I’ve been in frequent communication with anyone I’d want to ask.

But… what if this is the relationship I’ve been waiting for? Or, what if I’ve become the person I needed to be, to both recognize the kind of relationship and person I needed, as well as having become the person being sought after by another? Yeah, moving halfway around the world is a huge gamble to take, just to find out if that person is “the one.” But there is that part of me that wonders if I’m just destined to be by myself for the rest of my life, and if that’s the case, shouldn’t I just find a place that makes me happy to be there… and stay there?

Southeast Asia might just be my happy place. Bonus points if I can share that happiness with a male of my own species, not just the cat.

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That, Too, Did Pass

“Tire is shot,” he told me. “Worn almost to the belt.”

Thankfully it wasn’t my car, and it wasn’t a mechanic telling me that. My car, which I’ve had nearly 9 years now, is running smoothly. I suppose an oil change will be needed soon, though.

At this time, I can’t afford new tires for my car, nor can I afford new brakes and rotors, all of which seem to need to be replaced about every year and a half or so.

I have nothing in savings. I had money in savings, but it’s gone now.

I planned to get my passport this month. But when all is said and done, I’m going to have $60 left in the bank, and I still need to buy groceries. I don’t have money for fun things right now, not unless I want to eat instant noodles, or worse, starve.

I remember back in 2017, when I was buying candy from a local religious fundraiser outside of a grocery store where I bought food on food stamps. One of the ladies, noticing that I was paying with spare change from a coin bank, said she was going to mention this scene in the weekend’s sermon. It was something about me having kept the change until it was nearly all I had left, or not knowing when you might need it, or something.

I hit rock bottom. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch. I had food stamps. I was having issues finding work, to make money, to pay my bills, so I wouldn’t lose the phone I needed to get a job or all the possessions I had in storage.

Finally, I got a job that lasted longer than a month. And before she threw me out, I got off my friend’s couch and out of her life… I mean house, I got out of her house.

I moved in with J and paid rent. Half of one biweekly paycheck went to J, and half of the other paycheck went to the storage unit rent. I had my phone bill to pay, and car insurance as well.

I managed to scrape up $500 to replace my brakes and rotors in early 2018, only to find out that I needed to replace my tires as well. When I tried to take out the credit card at the shop, I was denied based on my credit report. I had to hold off on the tires until I had more money put aside.

Once my car issues were resolved, and my income taxes resulted in a refund, I splurged and got a newer phone.

Little by little, I managed to put more money into savings, taking out as needed. At one point, I had $1000 back in savings! But after moving two counties away and then moving back, some of my savings went into the cost of moving.

I’ve been living on J’s couch for two months now, paying the same amount for rent as before. Since I haven’t been able to have the cat here at this time, he’s been at a friend’s house, with a two-month limit for his stay.

I had to find a place that would be within my budget, or I had to hope things would change here. Well, I had to go outside of what I wanted to budget, but I found an apartment that met my needs!

And then… They asked for a security deposit. There went my savings, what was left of it anyway.

And I need a bed. It’s a long story that makes me bitter.

When I looked at all my bills, and did the math, I realized I could afford the bed, plus my bills, plus the first month’s rent, on the paycheck I just received.

And that’s why I have $60 to my name, and still need to buy groceries.

But holy mother of who-knows-what… I couldn’t get an apartment last year, and definitely not the year before, because I didn’t have the means to do so. Now I’m going to have my own place, and the cat.

And when I panicked about how much more I’m paying in rent, and wondered if I could afford it, I remembered that the difference in rent between staying at J’s and living in my new apartment is equal to the storage rent in New Jersey. Since I don’t have that storage unit anymore, I can easily afford the higher rent and all the perks of living alone… with the cat.

I’ve come a long way. To think back on it all and realize I’m in a better situation now, it feels amazing!

I mean, I’m back to being broke, which sucks, but it’s temporary.

And maybe I can still apply for my passport this month, with any luck. It puts me one step closer to Japan, otherwise it gives me an excuse to drive to Canada for lunch on a whim, if I have my passport.

I made it this far, so let’s keep going!

The Dystopian Alternate Universes Often Go Unmentioned

There are some who believe in multiple universes, who envision the world with a slight change and suggest that the world exists in some way. The difference can be something as major as a different world leader in office, or something as seemingly insignificant as answering a phone call when you’re trying to get out the door to be someplace else. Maybe the South won the Civil War, maybe the Nazis took over or maybe Hitler never rose to power. Maybe Americans willingly sacrificed their rights to own guns because it was widely believed they weren’t needed, or maybe the gun-toting Americans rose up and fought to bring about a rebirth of their country. There are literally infinite possibilities for alternate worlds.

I’ve noticed one thing about the mention of alternate worlds. It’s always one pivotal event that changes everything, but nothing is ever discussed about how that world got to that pivotal moment or even what happened after that. Mind you, the end result is usually utopian in nature, because it seems as if no one really wants to think of how we could wind up in a dystopian society. And yes, it seems as if the alternate world centers around something large-scale, instead of assuming that there is an alternate world where everything is the same except that moment when you decided to hold the elevator for someone that you never saw again anyway.

With that said, imagine yourself in a world where you had a crush on a person, but instead of the real ending where it wasn’t to be, imagine you had a chance to date that person, and you did. Now ask yourself, if things hadn’t ended like they actually ended, but you actually got to date and become this person’s significant other, would your life be any better today or would it be worse off?

This entry has been in my head for a week or so, and it’s been anticipated by at least one reader. Fans of schadenfreude, rejoice! I hope I don’t disappoint!

The downside of letting entries occupy space in my head for extended periods of time means I don’t have the best recollection of conversations that are necessary to include, as a means of detailing how I acquired information in my life. But there was a conversation with J, which shouldn’t be a surprise because I occupy space in his house and pay him rent. And this was a wonderful conversation I had while crying, though I don’t remember why I was crying, I just remember it was leading up to or during that special time of the month that made me a bit more emotional than just having Pisces as my ascendant sign (yes, I am astrologically blessed, it is in the stars that I am to be an emotional wreck in life). So it was during this tear-soaked conversation that J said the words, “I had considered dating you.”

For those of you in the back who just snuck in, I was into J back in 2011 when I first started hanging out with him, over two years since we had worked together before I left that job. But I was angry about events in life that he was linked to (not directly, but more like six degrees of separation, where he was only separated by two degrees), and I kinda slapped his face, though not hard, just enough to get his attention. He asked that I leave his house immediately, and I did and thought I’d never look back. And now, of course, I live with him because that’s where life has taken me.

So of course I’ve been dwelling on all of that. He considered dating me, before I had slapped him. Why did I not care about slapping him, if I had a crush on him? Because I thought he just wanted to fool around, but I wanted to be in a relationship with someone again.

Had I known he wanted to date me, would I have still hit him? This feels like the major question to ask myself, and yet when I do, it feels like I’m weighing greed against my own guilt. Would I have still robbed the bank if I knew I was going to win the lottery? Well damn, who would have guessed it? Maybe you see the third outcome, which would have been to walk away and not hit him, and while it doesn’t guarantee absolute success, it comes with far less remorse. But sure, if I thought I could have had what I wanted, I would have refrained. I don’t quite remember what I felt back then, but it was as if I didn’t care what the outcome was, I didn’t think he was going to date me and so I no longer cared what he thought of me. I wanted to get away from the situation I was in, that he was linked to. Now I don’t even remember if it felt liberating or if it hurt to leave him behind like that.

After parting ways, I became closer friends with an acquaintance I made a few months prior. I trusted this person with details about my life at that time, and they seemed to care about me and hold me in high esteem. After my ex fiancé ended our relationship and I was scrambling to figure out what my next move was to be, I trusted this friend when I was told there was a rent-free trailer home in the near future that I could live in. The trailer home existed, but it needed a lot of work which wasn’t being done in a timely fashion. Worst of all, my brand new furniture and mattress, along with some heirloom furniture, were all left out in the elements to get ruined during this time. So I think to myself, if J and I started dating back then, I wouldn’t have trusted this person with my life or with other things that I couldn’t easily replace.

It was with my time spent with the untrustworthy friend that I went to a convention in New Jersey and met Pete. Okay, Pete is cool, I have nothing against Pete. We didn’t exactly date, we weren’t exactly in a relationship so to speak, but I can’t say more than that because there are things I haven’t explained about myself. But Pete and I had a bad day together, which came after I was building up frustration towards him because my concerns hadn’t been addressed and taken care of. But it was because of that bad day that I ended up meeting my ex fiancé. So, sure, if J and I started dating, I wouldn’t have met Pete, but Pete is one thing I actually don’t regret.

However, my time with the untrustworthy friend caused me to meet Pete, which in turn caused me to meet my now ex fiancé. And I think to myself, if I had nipped that bud, I would have never left for New Jersey, I might have stayed in Syracuse this whole time, and I’d probably have more of my inheritance left. I might still be working for Wegmans, though I might have quit working after I reached my five-year anniversary and pursued something with a higher pay elsewhere. Who knows, I might have just taken a couple of weeks off to go to Japan, since I would have had the money and a stable living space in Syracuse (assuming, of course, that my Mom’s passing forced me to move in with J if I wasn’t already living with him).

That’s assuming, of course, that J and I had a relationship that lasted up to my Mom’s passing. I’d like to think that a year or two with him would have been enough, that if it all ended, I could say that it happened, that a chance was taken. After that, if he dated anyone else, I probably wouldn’t mind so much. At that point, I’d know I really wasn’t the right one.

That’s not to say that we would definitely part ways amicably. Maybe he would emotionally wound me to the point where I stopped talking about it, only to resent him more strongly as time passed. Perhaps I would be the toxic, abusive partner, possibly just making myself seem like a victim to coerce him into always feeling like I need his kindness. It’s actually something I fear, becoming the toxic partner, so I’m rather quick to add that my feelings are my own and they’re my responsibility to deal with them. I abhor the feeling that I’m ruining a good mood when I can’t share in that good mood, because I’d rather not bring people down. But who knows, maybe my inability to always be chipper and cheerful would be the reason why things ended, because I had stopped being fun and felt it necessary to be serious for a moment.

But in an alternate universe, I didn’t hit him, and we dated, and the things that are affecting me now had never happened because circumstances prevented them from happening. The things that mean so much now are the result of the smallest events from back then. I was a foolish 26-year-old, now I’m a 33-year-old who sees one event, one seemingly insignificant choice as being the moment that I lost something I’ve been wanting for so long.

Pardon my self-loathing, but I am responsible for all the things I wish had never happened to me, I caused myself to not get what I wanted, and I have to live with the remorse.

In an alternate world, well, maybe it would all be different somehow.

Where Is There A Towel When You Want To Throw It In?

I started a new job almost two weeks ago, and let me tell you, a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Granted, I’m one paycheck down and my bank account is still in the red, but the next paycheck will put me back in the black. It’s just a matter of time, but things are looking positive just the same.

I’m a relay operator at a call center, so blogging is a bit of typing practice for me even though I have to drop punctuation and type everything as I hear it being said to me. It’s a fairly simple task.

Training went well. The first day or two, it had been said that training was the hardest part of the entire job. What seemed to be the hardest thing for me was the fact that there were countless macros, keyboard shortcuts that would automatically enter text to the deaf or hard-of-hearing caller to tell them what was going on with the call, and other macros that affected the call itself or the interface we use to relay calls. However, we had cheat sheets listing the macros and how they were used, which made things easy.

I suppose another difficult thing about the job is that there is a certain flow to each call, a certain procedure which needs to be followed. Press this button to start the timer, because that’s how we get paid for outgoing calls. Use this macro so the caller knows the person speaking is a male or a female. Record the recordings so you can relay them to the caller and they know everything being said. Yeah, I guess it’s not a hard job at all.

This past Wednesday, we went from practicing the call flow in the training room, to being on the call center floor taking actual calls. It started out easily enough, as there were four of us in the training group and we were paired up, one person taking calls and the other person listening in and being there to assist the other person if need be. For the first hour, I was on the listening end. It didn’t seem too bad, and I think I was either bored or maybe distracted, because I kept glancing around the room and taking in my surroundings. There was a window nearby, and I looked out at the businesses below and the rooftops of houses in the distance. The weather was typical for Syracuse, as it altered between being sunny and cloudy.

We went back into the training room for a bit, and asked questions if we had any. Then we took a lunch break, and came back after that to the training room. We spent some time in the training room before going back to the call center floor. When we went back, it was my turn to take phone calls.

I didn’t feel nervous or anxious, but I did feel like I needed to take a breath and level off. I needed a bout of confidence, I needed to relax, I needed… something. Most of all, I needed to tell myself I’d be fine, but with hardly anything to go on, I really didn’t know if I’d do well or if I’d screw up completely. I did my thing, logged into the system and started taking calls, and I let everything sort itself out.

I was terrible! Maybe I wasn’t completely terrible, but I forgot to assign genders, I forgot macros, I didn’t record the recordings to relay them accurately,… ugh. I had a call where I was going through automated prompts, and had to wait for the hard-of-hearing caller to give me the necessary response I needed for the prompt. By the time I got that info, the automated call would try to transfer to a live representative, but there was a half-hour-long wait if the caller wanted to wait that long. I was getting stressed, I felt like I wasn’t serving this person as well as I should have been, I felt like they were getting mad at me, and I hoped I wouldn’t be taking calls for much longer after that.

We went to break after that period on the phones. I took out my cell phone and went to YouTube, searching for a 5-minute meditation to somehow relax and calm down.

What was going on with me? The last time I can remember getting that overwhelmed from being on the phones, it was the second project of my first job when I wasn’t making any sales. I remember being on the verge of tears as I went to my supervisor and asked to quit that day. I didn’t give a two-week notice, but I just remember him seeming a bit disappointed that I didn’t try to stay on yet understanding that I realized it wasn’t a job for me, at least not at that point in my life if at all. Years later, he came through my line while I was a cashier at a grocery store, and he remembered me and was friendly to me and asked how things were. It was a step down, career-wise, but I was also working for a really great grocery store, and I think maybe he could tell I wasn’t the same person and was just doing what I needed to do.

But was I ready to quit this new job? I was thinking, at that point, that maybe it wasn’t the job for me. Maybe I can’t do relay services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. It’s too much work, and the bosses are going to complain that I’m not doing things properly. And, I just had anxiety, even if it wasn’t a full-blown panic attack, even if I was still able to function at life. Do I want to have anxiety, day in and day out? I had anxiety after one hour on the phones, so what am I going to do when I have to spend 8 hours on the phones?

The meditation helped, but I still wondered if I could do the job. Somewhat thankfully, I had to stay late to make up for time I lost while trying to get temporary living assistance. My after-hours time was spent just shadowing another person on the call center floor. The woman and I talked for a bit, and she told me that the supervisors expect new recruits to make mistakes for the first few weeks or so. Yeah, that made sense, but I also wanted to be less obvious that I was a new person when people called in. I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know how to do my job. The woman told me to give it a few weeks before giving up on it. I knew it was good advice, and I knew I wasn’t in a good enough position to give up my job so soon. I needed the money, and I didn’t have any other offers lined up. I had to stick with it, for better or worse.

The next day, there was another hour on the call center floor. I still wasn’t amazing at this job I considered keeping, but I didn’t need the 5-minute meditation afterwards. Maybe I had better calls, who knows. I can’t really say what the difference was, but it seemed like it was just another day.

Friday, we spent at least 7 of our 8 hours on the call center floor. I was half-awake and a bit hungry as I had skipped breakfast. The first call that dropped onto my screen was a teletypewriter user who typed, “HURRY” and the number for me to call. As I was dialing, they told me they wanted me to press the button during the automated prompts to connect them to a certain department. My trainer listened in on the call to help me speed up the process, because she recognized the caller. My trainer told me that I had a difficult caller and that it would be a challenging call. A few expletives later, which surprisingly didn’t come from me in this instance, I was speaking to a different representative for one of the calls I had to make for the teletypewriter user. I had to make a few calls for this person, and some of the representatives just weren’t good enough for them. When the call ended, I wasn’t even exhausted. I was entertained, if anything.

The few calls I had that weren’t wrong numbers or hang-ups, I had a mix of rude people and sweethearts. I was feeling far more capable of doing this job after four hours than I had felt after the first hour of being live on the phones.

Towards the end of the work day, I ran into the woman I had shadowed on Wednesday. She asked me how things were going, and when I told her I was feeling pretty good, she basically said, “I told you so!” I explained that I didn’t know if it would be a few weeks before I felt more confident, and that I was surprised that I was starting to get comfortable with the job. She was glad to hear that I wasn’t giving up, not that I really talked like I was on the verge of throwing in the towel, just that I wasn’t confident in my ability to do the job until Friday.

Friday night, I got a text message. “You’re working with meeeeeee!” It was from a friend of mine who I met when I worked at Media Play back in late 2005, who I later worked with at another call center by pure coincidence. She saw my picture on the board of “New Graduates” and asked which section I worked in. She does CapTel, which is a captioning service for phone calls. I’m not sure how different it is from my relay calls, other than different software or equipment being used perhaps. All the same, it’s nice to know I’m working with someone I know even if we’re not working together.

I know I still have some performance issues to work out, and that a number of things will get easier in time (such as memorizing those macros). But I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to take job skills I already had and use them in a new way. So far, I’ve been challenged, but so far it’s also been rewarding. Learning Japanese won’t help me advance with this job, but it does give me the ability to work towards my dream of going to Japan. Hey, I’m not giving up on that dream, and I’m not giving up my job too easily. Both are a challenge, but both can be attained by stepping up and facing that challenge head-on.

Let’s do it!

Bootstraps

It was a quarter to 10 on Thursday morning. I knew my parking meter allotment was just running out as I checked the time.

If I left to feed the meter, I might have been called forth. If I stayed, it’s possible that a meter maid might not have been checking my car by the time I was done. I did get the parking ticket, as luck would have it, but I don’t think it could have been helped.

All the while, I was losing time at work. I sat there hoping I wasn’t going to lose my job as  a result of this absence, despite letting the instructor know the day before that I had things I needed to take care of.

All I could think was, I shouldn’t even be here.

I was sitting in the county’s government building, waiting for a response to the application I had submitted for temporary public assistance. It was your standard bureaucratic waiting room: uncomfortable plastic and metal chairs, posters with phone numbers to call for other services offered by the same or similar departments, tile flooring, fluorescent lighting, and miserable people.

I was playing on my iPhone 6S that I bought when I had more money. I was wearing a shirt and jeans from Lane Bryant, clothes that are never inexpensive even when they’re on sale. I wore my $300 ankle-high boots from the renaissance faire because they make me feel like a rock star, plus they looked better for wearing to work than my sneakers would have been.

For a little while, a guy was sitting in front of me who was wearing a Taco Bell uniform t-shirt. In another section of chairs, I saw a guy get up when called, and he looked like your traditional bearded Harley-Davidson-riding kind of dude. I saw a woman wearing pants that were open on the side but held together by a ribbon of fabric that zigzagged down the length of her leg, and all I could think was that those pants would be better off in a night club than any kind of bureaucratic office. I wondered what reasons the other people had for being there, but I was certain that their needs were greater than mine.

I knew I would have to speak to a case worker or someone, and while it’s been scheduled for next week, the fact remains that it’s a part of the process. So what do I say? Three years ago, I had about $100,000 to my name. After paying off a couple of loans, I had a little less than that. I basically went through about $40,000 a year, for two years, and barely worked during that time. I haven’t yet landed a job that will pay that much. So, at what point do I say that I’m apparently bad with money and shouldn’t be given hand-outs?

But that’s just the thing. Now, I need the hand-outs to get back on track.

I needed the $100,000, which was an inheritance. No, I didn’t need it in the sense that I had $100,000 worth of debt or any other such needs. I needed it as a test of myself and others. If given that much money, would I choose fun over responsibility? Having that much, would I have friends because I’m a nice person who buys things they ask for, or would I have friends because I’m a nice person who they respect and care about?

After losing the money, I lost the fiancé. While it became obvious that we were two different people, the fact remains that he ended our relationship after our eviction from the apartment was definite. However, I had just started a job that hadn’t started paying; if he had any faith or patience, he could have stayed “for richer or poorer.” I think about those words, “for richer or poorer,” in regards to the end of our relationship, and it reminds me that he left before he had to make that vow in front of God and our families. If he had stayed, I could have received homelessness prevention services easier since his name was on the lease for the apartment as well. It’s quite possible that I could have turned myself around months ago.

Of course, I wouldn’t have burned through so much money if the ex fiancé wasn’t so willing to spend it on me. He kept talking to his friends, and he was the one saying that I could buy a condo, or that I’d be fine living in a luxury apartment where the rent was $2200 a month. Well, it was a roof over my head that allowed me to have a cat, but I had never priced apartments before and I just assumed that the higher price was because it was New Jersey and so close to NYC.

I probably should have ended our relationship sooner, but I didn’t see any problems at that time. It was only 6 months into our relationship at that time as well, so I wasn’t thinking logically and nothing was sending up red flags. If anything, it was nice to not be alone after losing my Mom, and I think that mattered more to me than making sure I wasn’t getting screwed out of money.

But living with a friend I’ve known for over 10 years, I thought things were going to be different. I’ve done things for her, like teaching her how to drive, and I’ve bought things she needed when she asked for them. Looking back, I bought things that some of her other friends would have paid for just the same, and she didn’t really need them to survive but I did want her to be happy just the same. Within the past month, I’ve been “reminded” that she didn’t have to let me stay here, something that was told to me by some of her friends who she has no problem complaining to when I’ve done something she hasn’t liked, but she never seems to defend me or express gratitude towards me while I’m here. And I feel like everything I did for her was just to make her happy, so now I regret doing it at all. I feel used, as if I did nothing for her throughout the years, and I just feel like I’ve been taken in so there’s one more person to serve her and take her verbal abuse.

If I think about it all, I do need the government assistance right now. I need to get out of this house and live alone again. I need to pick up overtime shifts, not so I can keep an apartment and have food, but to pay off the debts I’ve racked up. And if I don’t live here, I can work overtime and not worry about missing dinner, or even feeling like I’m taking food out of other people’s mouths. So while it hurts a tiny bit to read the words “Notice To Vacate” on the letter that my friend gave me, it also is the kick I need to leave here and live a bit more comfortably.

Comfort is relative. I’ll be sleeping on the floor, getting government assistance. It’s not the life I want. It’s not a life I deserve, though I can’t decide if I deserve to have things be worse or if I deserve a bit more luxury. There are other people who are more deserving, harder-working, who had a rougher life growing up, who have to struggle more because of prejudices against their race or sexuality, people who have more mouths to feed and can’t make a more substantial income. I have been blessed and rather fortunate in life, which makes me wonder if it’s caused me to delude myself into believing I’m more capable of bouncing back without assistance than I really am capable of doing.

Perhaps appearances really are deceiving. Anyone in that room could have had less of a need than I do for housing assistance or food stamps, or any of the programs I didn’t sign up for. They might have other family members pushing money towards them to help out, just to make things easier for them. Me? I know people who can’t help me out because they have so much going on in their own lives, and those I haven’t asked would probably give me the same answer. But that’s just how things appear, which might not be how they really are.

I’ve learned a lot from this whole experience. I learned what it’s like to have to go on government assistance. I’ve learned that people can do things for you and not have any compassion, and those who are compassionate aren’t always able to do what you need. I’ve learned that holding money makes you nothing more than a wallet to someone else, and you serve no purpose if you’re empty. I learned who to trust.

And I learned I’m not as humble as I feel, that I have too much pride that I need to swallow. No matter what, government assistance is a need for me at this point. I have to get over myself and just accept that fact, and my life will begin to get easier.

Well, a lot of things will make my life easier, At least now I know what I can handle, and it’s not a windfall.

The Long And Short Of Why I Want To Travel Far And Wide

There are some things in this world that I shouldn’t have to explain.

Maybe I should rephrase that. There are things in this world that can go without an explanation.

No, that’s still not quite right. What about, once a person has made a few mistakes in life, they start to learn from them and can probably make better-informed decisions later on?

Well, I’ve made enough mistakes with this introduction. I guess all that’s left is to explain a few things. It seems counterproductive compared to the intro I was going for. Or, did I do everything as I wanted to do, and it’s now exactly what I was thinking?

Plotting and scheming aside, the point I’m trying to make is that I sometimes feel criticized for wanting to go to Japan. While it hasn’t been said in so few words, the statements come down to things like, “you should give up on going, I can’t understand why you would want to go to Japan, you will be disappointed when you get there.” I usually hear, “do you have to go now? Can you wait 10, 15, 20 years?” Why should I wait? I’m not getting any younger, my body isn’t becoming any more capable. I already have to wait until I get enough money put aside, and that wait will be long enough. But when I hear people ask why I can’t put off the dream of going, I feel like they’re really asking why I can’t give up on going altogether.

Clearly, I need new friends. Or I’m overthinking things.

The short answer is, Japan makes me happy. I feel like people who care about me should want me to be happy.

Why does Japan make me happy? It just does. I can’t really explain it, and I know if I try to explain it, I might lose the magic. But of course, I apparently need to explain the whole thing.

It didn’t start with Wakkanai.

My Dad was stationed in Wakkanai while he was in the Air Force. I don’t remember if there were slides. For you kiddies out there, slides are basically physical photos that you can shine light through, and you put a tray of them on a special projector to help a room full of people fall asleep quickly. Anyway, that’s not important right now. He was in the Air Force as a Russian linguist. For you kiddies, the United States had a grudge against Russia for a number of years, and it was called the Cold War. My Dad basically translated radio transmissions.

When his time had ended over there, he brought home some stereo equipment that probably still works to this day. I was raised with the knowledge that Japanese electronics were superiorly made in comparison to American electronics. I watched the movie Gung Ho, and admired the Japanese work ethic. I think I watched Big Bird Goes To Japan as a child. But, I barely knew anything about Japan, I barely had an interest in Japan.

I had an interest in the Moon.

By the time I became a teenager, I loved looking up at the moon and stars. Astrology interested me, and I learned that my sign, Aries, was a fire sign. And then I was flipping through the channels on TV one afternoon and saw a cartoon with these girls who defended Earth in the name of the name of the moon or one of the planets. I saw a bit of myself in the title character, Sailor Moon, but my favorite character soon became the one who’s a fellow Aries, Sailor Mars. When they weren’t saving the day, they were living their lives in and around Tokyo.

I started watching Tenchi Muyo as well, and even a bit of Yu Yu Hakusho. Eventually I watched Fullmetal Alchemist.

One time, I was near the comic and gaming store and decided to drop in. I found manga, and bought one book as that was all I could afford at the time. But after I started working and driving, one volume of manga turned into over one hundred. I was a bit addicted.

When I was still in college, though, I started getting into L’arc en Ciel. I remember looking up song lyrics and translations in the computer rooms while I was between classes or after I had finished up whatever I was working on. After I graduated, I bought an iPod while working at my first job, and I had some Sowelu and Utada Hikaru songs along with some L’arc on there.

It wasn’t an interest in Japan, just in Japanese media, but I was happy. Life seemed to be going well for me, I had both of my parents, I had started working and had a car to get around.

And then I met a guy.

When I first met him, he kind of had a significant other. She didn’t really want him, and had ended things with him by the time I saw him again. They were both at a party that one of my friends was hosting, and I was there as well for no reason other than I was invited to a party. He was there because his now-ex was going to be there, but he felt a need to heal his wounds by getting drunk and crying on the sofa. I had knelt down next to the sofa, the armrest being all that separated me from his feet. I wanted to help, I wanted to be supportive. He ended up calling one of his friends who drove over and picked him up to bring him home.

This guy’s life was a bit of a wreck. Someone broke into his station wagon and stole things from him. He was driving a station wagon because that’s all he could afford at the time, and it was already falling apart. He was also living with his brother, who looked Korean. He actually looked Japanese to me, but was apparently half Irish and half Korean. His brother had a different father and was full Korean, if memory serves me correctly.

Not that it mattered what he was, because to me he looked pretty good. I really didn’t feel worthy of being around him. Oh, I should mention that after checking up on him the next day, one thing led to another and I started going over to his place nearly every day. I thought things were going somewhere, but I had never had a boyfriend before and I had nothing to base my experiences on.

One day, he started talking about looking at newer cars, and had his heart set on one at a local dealership. Knowing his struggles, I did what any foolish girl would do. Well, because I felt a bit guilty for enjoying Japanese stuff while I had an interest in an Asian guy, I sold the manga and gave him the money to put towards the car.

After about a month, he didn’t want to see me anymore. I learned a lot in that one month, more than I really care to explain. But I lost my interest in manga, and my interest in everything else waned as well.

The second time wasn’t as good.

Eventually, I bought more manga, though my collection wasn’t as impressive as it originally had been. I didn’t read the volumes as often or as quickly. But I met a guy at work who became a bit of a friend, nothing more. To some degree, he got me back into anime, but I wasn’t as interested as before.

I went to an anime convention with him, my second ever anime convention. I remember feeling like I had outgrown anime. I was surrounded by people cosplaying characters that I didn’t recognize. There were anime titles I had never heard of. The finest moment was meeting Vic Mignogna, voice actor extraordinaire (seriously, look him up on IMDB or something, he’s in nearly every English-dubbed anime you can think of). Aside from that, the day was a bit of a waste.

Eventually, I was rescued…  by food.

While working at a well-known grocery store, I bought The Manga Cookbook. Unfortunately my ingredients were limited, and I could barely make anything in the book despite the grocery store having an Asian food section with imported goods. I did try my hand at making udon noodles, though, which turned out alright.

While working that job, I lost my Mom, which caused me to move to New Jersey. Okay, a lot of things caused me to move to New Jersey, most of which were bad decisions. While I was living in New Jersey, my boyfriend at the time introduced me to Mitsuwa Marketplace. At first I was interested in going, but after going I was in ecstasy! All the ingredients I couldn’t find before, I could find at Mitsuwa! And there was a bookstore nearby where I could buy manga in the original Japanese! And I spent more money than I should have, but it was necessary.

I returned a few more times after that. I always made sure that I ate something from the food court, because there was no way I’d be able to make anything that tasted quite like it should. I loved the feeling I had while I was there. I came home after my first visit, and realized that I didn’t have any L’arc songs in iTunes, just a couple of Hyde’s songs. I started tracking down all of L’arc’s albums on Amazon and eBay, which gave me a bit of an endorphin rush when I bought another album and when it finally arrived.

I had forgotten how happy I once was to listen to Japanese rock and pop music. I listened to Horizon, and it reminded me of a dream I once had. But the food also made me happy, because everything was new, and everything I tried was amazing.

Japan was where I needed to be.

The search for a job can make anyone go a bit insane. The thought eventually popped into my head that I could move to and work in Japan, so that became the plan before I even knew what I was getting myself into. But a plan like that is good to have when you think of all the angles, and in my case I realized that my then-fiance and I were two entirely different people. Ignoring what I had to consider for myself, I realized I couldn’t have my fiancé travel with me to Japan because the flight would be too lengthy for him to deal with his disability, and then he probably wouldn’t want to go out and do anything with me once we were there. Not only that, but leaving him behind meant that we were back to having a long-distance relationship.

I like to think that the entirety of that discussion was one of the many factors why we broke up. Our relationship left me broke, but it also left me with the freedom to go and do what I want to do once I’m not poor. Since I put more thought into going to Japan, I know what I need to do to go, and I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t go.

So what else?

I’d like to think I’ll eventually meet someone while I’m in Japan, and maybe I’ll give in and have children, thereby helping out their birth rate and keep it from declining further.

If I’m in Japan before the Olympics, maybe I can get into hospitality and be of some use when the place is mobbed by tourists who speak more English than Japanese. Otherwise, I could always just assist in teaching the language.

My interest in Japan isn’t anime and manga. I might go to a concert, if time and finances allow. I might do some video gaming-related things. Or I might decide to be boring and check out as many temples and shrines as I can. If I lose interest in Japan, I could go elsewhere.

I’ll have to go over on a student visa and go to a language school, then work part time to make a living. I can’t get on a work visa because I don’t have the right credentials, and it would be cheaper to get my bachelors degree in Japan. But it is possible for me to go to Japan, I just need to get my finances in order before I can go.

Tomorrow, I think I’m going to make a PowerPoint presentation of this entry, then save it onto my phone so I can make the argument at a moment’s notice. Basically, the Japanese stuff makes me happy, and so I’d like to go to Japan and live there for a while. I know what I need to do to get there, and unless you’ve travelled abroad, you can’t say that I don’t know what I’m doing. But there are things I can’t plan for just yet, because airline tickets change prices, tuition costs increase, rent goes up, so those things will have to wait until I’m at a point where I have to consider such things.

This is what I want. This makes me happy.

I’ve spent enough time trying to make others happy. Now I want to do something for myself.

Japanese Food Is Expensive In The States?

I have, on numerous occasions, had people advise me not to shop at the Asian food stores that I might visit once a month. This advice comes after I’ve been to the Asian food stores and have picked up a few things for myself.

Their reasoning is simple. My friends don’t want me spending more money on food than what’s necessary. They’re not wrong, there are some things that are on the pricier side in regards to imported food. However, I manage to keep my shopping trips under $50 by buying food items that I’ll make last longer than a week.

And yet, lately it’s like I’ve been eating Japanese food for about half of my meals.

I’ve been making the same three things in rotation: okonomiyaki, omuraisu (omelette rice), and curry. That’s not to say I’ve eaten the same three things all the time, or that there aren’t variations to keep things interesting. Besides, the ingredients for each can be used for other recipes, and some ingredients are probably in most kitchens already.

Your basic shopping list will look like:

  • flour
  • eggs
  • sugar
  • baking powder
  • cabbage
  • cooking oil (extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, your choice)
  • ketchup
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • rice
  • carrots
  • green onions/scallions
  • cooking onions
  • potatoes
  • chicken
  • bacon
  • mayonaise (in a squeeze container)
  • Japanese curry mix (I’ve seen Walmart and Wegmans carry Golden Curry in their Asian food section, so it is possible to buy it at a regular grocery store)
  • instant ramen, any flavor (the brick form, not cup, and you won’t be using the flavor packet anyway)

If you want to get fancy, and by fancy I mean you have an Asian market near where you live, then look for these items:

  • okonomiyaki flour (you won’t need the flour, baking powder, and sugar from the above list if you choose to get okonomiyaki flour instead)
  • okonomi sauce (you won’t need Worcestershire sauce)
  • straight ramen noodles
  • udon noodles
  • Japanese mayonaise
  • yakisoba sauce
  • nori sheets (yes, dried seaweed sheets used for sushi and such)

Chances are, you probably have many of these things already, making a run to the store even less expensive.

If you already have rice, eggs, ketchup, cooking onions, and chicken, you can make omelette rice! That’s probably the simplest recipe I could pass along, not to mention that it might be the only one where you already have everything you need. Start by making a lot of rice, maybe about 2 or 3 cups of cooked rice. Honestly you could make 10 cups of cooked rice for all I care, but unless you’re making a lot of omuraisu, you won’t be using it all right now and can save it for some of the other recipes. Once you have some cooked rice, even if you just cooked it or it was left over from another recipe or last night’s Chinese takeout, set it aside. Chop about half of an onion, more if you’d like, less if you don’t like onion. Cut a chicken breast into small pieces, then cook the chicken with the chopped onion in a pan with a tablespoon or two of cooking oil until the chicken is cooked. Add about two cups of rice, and maybe about two or three tablespoons of ketchup, in with the chicken and rice and stir it all together. Add more ketchup until it’s light pink, but not too much because you want it to hold together. If you add too much ketchup and the mix won’t hold together, add the other cup of rice if you reserved any. Put this mix aside and get out a skillet. Grease the skillet with butter, cooking oil, or nonstick cooking spray, your choice. In a small bowl, beat two eggs until scrambled. Fry the eggs in the skillet, though I personally recommend only cooking the eggs halfway and leaving a tiny bit of runny egg. The next part, you can do this as you’re supposed to or you can do my lazy technique. You’re supposed to press the rice mixture into a bowl so it takes on that shape, then flip the bowl onto a plate, and then put the omelette on top of the now-shaped rice. Trying to cut down on dishes, or maybe I’m boxing it up for work, I just press the rice mixture into a bowl and then put the egg on top of the bowl (runny side down, so the egg mixes in with the rice a bit). With some extra ketchup, you can draw on top of the omelette, or just add a little bit as a topping.

That’s the most basic way to make omuraisu. You can also add peppers or other vegetables to your liking, or you can use spicy ketchup instead of regular ketchup. There’s also a bacon omuraisu recipe on the internet, which I’ve tried and approve of (at that point, you’re eating breakfast because you’ve got bacon and eggs). You did buy bacon for the okonomiyaki, right?

One head of regular green cabbage will make about 6 to 8 cabbage pancakes, or okonomiyaki. It’s not difficult to find the recipe, either: if you bought the okonomiyaki flour, the recipe is on the package. If you bought the okonomi sauce, the recipe is on the package. If you bought an okonomiyaki kit, the recipe is on the package and your portions are measured out. But there’s so many recipes out there, depending on how you want to make okonomiyaki, and this is one I haven’t done completely from scratch before. Start by chopping your cabbage into short, narrow strips. To that, add okonomiyaki flour, water, eggs, and scallions, and mix everything together. Grease a skillet or griddle, then put some of the cabbage mix onto the heated skillet, press it down until it’s about an inch thick and top with bacon. After a few minutes, flip the okonomiyaki and let the bacon get cooked. Serve it bacon-side-up after topping with mayo and okonomi sauce.

Hiroshima-yaki is okonomiyaki cooked in layers. Instead of mixing everything together, you make a circle of pancake batter and put the shredded cabbage on top of that, and then other toppings including your bacon, then put some of the batter on top so it holds everything together when you flip everything. Don’t make Hiroshima-yaki if you’re trying to impress someone, at least not until you’ve made it a few times without making a mess of your stove.

Modan-yaki is easy to make and is quite good. Start with the regular Osaka-style okonomiyaki, but before you throw down your bacon, cook some noodles (ramen, udon, soba, whatever you have) and then mix those noodles with either some okonomi sauce or even yakisoba sauce. Put that noodle mixture on top of the cabbage mix in the skillet and spread it out to cover the cabbage, and then put the bacon on top of that. Once everything has cooked and you put it on a plate, fry an egg or two (scrambled, over-easy, I personally don’t care. It’s supposed to be over-easy, I believe) and then put the egg on top of the bacon and noodles. Finish by drizzling the mayo and okonomi sauce over the top of everything.

Since we’ve been neglecting the rest of the rice you made, because you insisted on making 10 cups earlier, we’ll serve it with the curry. Mild Japanese curry is really mild, so if you’re worried about spiciness, I can assure you that you will enjoy it. But first, chop an entire onion. One onion is supposedly not enough based on the directions, but my friends keep telling me it’s too much onion because you can smell it across the house. Anyway, one diced onion is enough unless you want more onion, I’m not going to stop you. Cut a chicken breast into small pieces, or you can use beef or seafood instead. Cook the onion with the meat until browned, at the very least. Next, chop up some potatoes, carrots, and any other vegetables you want to add. Pour in the recommended amount of water, although I suggest adding a bit more than that because my curry always seems to be between a stew and barbecue pulled pork. Cook everything together until your potatoes are tender, and then add in the curry seasoning and remove from heat. Once the curry seasoning has dissolved and everything is mixed together, it’s ready to serve alongside rice or udon.

Do you still have rice? Make onigiri, or rice balls. Basic onigiri is rice that’s shaped into a triangular ball, and a rectangle of nori is wrapped around the bottom. You can also fill the rice balls with chicken or seafood, you can mix seasonings into the rice, and you can make the balls as large or as small as you want.

Do you still have cabbage, noodles, carrots, and some yakisoba or okonomi sauce? Make yakisoba! It’s like Chinese lo mein, but the flavor is a bit different. Also, if you’re starting with okonomi sauce, add more soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce or it might taste too sweet.

And now you’re making Japanese food! And unless you bought ingredients from a specialty store, you made Japanese food for cheap!

Okay, I’ll admit I kept the necessary ingredients to a minimum. To make some of these things so they’re closer in taste to what’s in Japan, there are some harder-to-find ingredients involved, and your costs will also go up. Also, if you substitute ingredients because of allergies or dietary restrictions, it will change the cost of the ingredients as well. But if you stick with what I’ve listed, then you can make simple Japanese food without spending too much money.

Do you already cook Japanese food? Leave a comment with any other simple recipes you wish to share, because I’d like to make a few more things but don’t know where to begin. And if you do shop at Asian grocery stores, leave a comment about what you like to buy most often that you can’t seem to get just anywhere.