Friday was also pay day at work, and that's always a good thing. There's nothing like receiving a $1,300 infusion into your checking account (three cheers for direct deposit, hip-hip-hooray!) to put a positive spin on your day. Of course a good portion of that amount went right back out of my pocket again since I owed Roho a check for rent and utilities. I gave up further cash by taking about $500 of this paycheck and transferring it to my savings account. This transfer puts me at over $12,500 in savings, which is a nice round figure that I like to see each time I log in to the credit union's web page. I'd be sitting even higher if I hadn't loaned Poe that $500, but he needed a boost and I was more than willing to lend a helping hand to a friend in need. I know that Poe's good for the money so I'm not terribly worried about it either, I'll get repaid one way or another in due time.
The cool thing about my savings account is that I am now $3,000 or so over the $9,000 minimum I need to put 5% down on a $180,000 house... but I'm not going to go out shopping quite yet. I'm going to take a few more months to save up and see if I can't reach 10% down payment. In all truth I'd like to go above and beyond that 10% in savings so that I can have a few thousand dollars in spare cash to buy the necessities that always go along with a house -- new appliances, a washer and dryer, paint, stuff like that. I'm not terribly worried about mortgage rates right now since the Fed slashed the interest rate another quarter of a point on the 25th. While it's true that thirty-year mortgage rates are creeping slowly higher they're not increasing by leaps and bounds. Even if I were to wait six months to apply for a mortgage I would still get a rate that's significantly lower than those seen in the last fifteen years. Will it be the absolute lowest it could have been? No, of course not... but that's okay. I'd rather wait a few more months, get a mortgage with a 5.3% rate instead of one with a 5.2% rate and know that I've got extra cash to fall back on for the inevitable emergencies and initial purchases that it will take to make my house my home. Another benefit of waiting until winter to go house shopping is that the prices in the market traditionally go down since nobody sane wants to move into a house in the winter! A house that might go for $180,000 in June often can be found for $172,000 or so in the winter months because the market isn't as good and the owners gradually become desperate to attract buyers. Oh yes, I can definitely leverage this to my advantage.
So yeah, I moved a significant amount of money around via the world-wide-web on Friday, leaving me with only $400 or so in my checking account for the next two weeks. Normally this would unnerve me, I like to keep over $1,300 in there just in case of emergency. I do need to take one small thing into account, though: I've got plenty of spare cash in my wallet from the fiasco with the passport application (I had pulled $100 in cash only to discover that they wanted checks, not cash), which means I won't be drawing too heavily from my checking account until that cash is gone. My next paycheck is on the eleventh of July, and when I get that I'll be sitting quite nicely when it comes time make the bill payments the week after.
It's kind of funny when you think about it, I get paid via direct-deposit. I do almost all of my banking on web-based services... I schedule all my payments to my credit cards online, I make the payments for my cell phones online, I pay for all my gasoline purchases and the like with my debit card. I very rarely touch actual hard currency anymore. We really are living in a virtual society when we don't actually care about the money anymore... we really just care about the 1s and 0s that represent our money off in cyberspace. Maybe Fight Club wasn't wrong... maybe all it would take to throw the world into chaos would be to blow up a few computer systems and reset the credit and debt records back to zero. Cash is such a thing of the past I don't think today's yuppie or teenager would really know what to do with it, and the banks are heavily automated through electronics these days. Intriguing thought, isn't it?
Lunch was had at the Kopper Kitchen, the joint that DP, RW and I seem to be frequenting more and more often again these days. There was a time when we were there three times a week but we're trying to save a little money so we cut back on that. We actually stopped going out to eat entirely for a while, but lately the office politics have been frustrating us enough that we feel compelled to leave the office for lunch so we can get a little sanity injected into our workday. I had a bacon omelette while I was there with a side of sliced tomatoes and really enjoyed it. The restaurant seems to have a passion for eggs because anything they make involving them always comes out perfect. Omelettes are also remarkably cheap, and that makes them all the more attractive. They're good for me, they're good for my diet, and they're minimal in cost -- what more could a guy ask for?
Of course, as I've mentioned earlier, I'm on the swing shift this week because I'm the designated On-Call Engineer. This means I had to stay at the office until 7:30, which was maddening in the last 45 minutes or so. I had a sudden deluge of tickets come in, many of which were trifling things that really weren't that important but had to be dealt with anyway because of the almighty "Procedures" we're told we should follow. It's funny, nobody else in the department has nebulous, unwritten procedures that they have to follow... they all have clear-cut job descriptions. Ah well, such is the life of an "IT Professional." Sometimes I think I'm more of an IT Garbageman, to tell you the truth. I clean up other people's messes and trash. Maybe that makes me an IT Janitor, not an IT Garbageman....
So eventually 1930 hours rolled around and I was able to skate out the door. I drove home in my incredibly loud truck, pulled into the apartment and collected Roho and Kestral. We jumped into his Saab and zipped over to Bumpers for our traditional weekly outing. Unfortunately we got there after 2000 hours so we had to pay the $5 per head cover charge. It's a small price, but it is still annoying and we do everything in our power to avoid it otherwise. We played pool for an hour, and none of us were doing terribly good. I was better than last week, mostly because I think my mood was vastly improved, but I didn't do a remarkable job shooting by any means. After we finished our hour on table seven we turned in our cue and balls, then went up to the bar to say good night to James. We've gotten to know him over the last few months and really enjoy his company. Not only does the man know how to tend a bar, he's a geek and has a great sense of humor as well. We were a bit surprised and saddened to discover that this Friday was his last night as a bartender at Bumpers, he's going to be moving on to bigger and better things. We got the details of the new pub that he's going to be working for and have already started planning how we will shift our weekly routine to follow him. It sounds like from now on we'll be doing dinner and drinks at his establishment on Fridays and then will shoot pool at Bumpers on Sunday evenings. This is a plan I'm happy to take part in!
We celebrated his last night by buying him a shot, and we all got a round as well so we could have a proper toast. While we were finishing up our drinks James amused us by telling us a little anecdote about the new restaurant he's working in; it seems the new staff decided the bar needed a name, and they weren't sure what to call it. James suggested "Satan's Whiskers," and everyone else seemed to like it. The in-joke here is that Roho is the one who introduced James to Satan's Whiskers, a drink he's been ordering at the pool hall for the last month or so. So there you have it, in a small way we shifted the course of history and to some extent got a bar named after us. Cheers!
Saturday was a good day. I woke up earlier than I expected, sometime around 0745. I ate breakfast, skimmed LiveJournal and logged into the IRC. I spent a good portion of my morning idling online while I jockeyed one CD after another into and out of my computer's CD ROM. Since I recently purchased that 60 gigabyte hard drive I've been wanting to go through and convert every CD I own to high-bit-rate (around 320kbps at 44kHz) MP3. I really wanted to encode the songs directly to Ogg since that seems to be the latest and greatest way to fly, but there's the small problem that it took my encoder fifteen minutes to rip one CD to .ogg, while I can do a rip of the same CD to MP3 in about three minutes. What the hell is that all about?
Deciding that expedience was the better part of valor I went back to faithful old MusicMatch Jukebox, set my encoder to 320kbps and got to work. As soon as one CD was done I took it out of the drive, tucked it back into my massive CD case (flipped about so that I could tell it was "done") and then dropped another one in. Throughout the course of the day I encoded over 86 CDs. I got done sometime around 10pm since I took a break for lunch and a break for a shopping trip with Roho. For those of you who are curious, my efforts left me with a high-bit-rate library that encompasses 1,572 songs and spans more than fifty-five hours of continuous music. Almost every genre I can think of is represented in my CD collection and thus is contained in my MP3 library. I have metal, classic rock, 80s, love ballads, original sound tracks, rap, blue grass, instrumental, new-age, vocal, country (the "pop" 90s kind), country-western (the classic "I lost my wife, I lost my truck, I lost my dog" type), world music and even a few kinds that defy description.
It was a long and boring (painfully boring) process, but it was well worth it. I now have all my music backed up and readily accessible, so I don't need to worry quite so much about having the CDs kept safe and available (although I'm keeping them as proof I own the music, since the Nazis over at the RIAA will undoubtedly get legislation pushed through for the right to knock on my door and audit my computer).
My shopping trip with Roho in the early afternoon lead us to Bed, Bath & Beyond in search of a number of items. Since we had twenty-percent discount coupons from them we figured now would be a good time to buy some necessary supplies. Roho was looking for a new torchierre lamp since the one in his bedroom is broken in some annoying way or another. I was looking to pick up a desk/reading lamp for myself as the current solution in my bedroom is absolutely unacceptable and has been doing more to damage my eyes than help them. Roho found what he was looking for, and so did I -- unfortunately I also found so very much more. For whatever reason I was attracted to this little gadget from the creative people over at Homedics. I found myself thinking how nice it would be to have something like that sitting on my dresser and after a few minutes of internal debate I ended up buying one. I also bought a toothbrush case (hey, it was ninety-nine cents!) and a tub of cleaning supplies for the apartment. I've been wanting to give OxiClean a try for some time because a few of my coworkers swear by it. I also got some of the OrangeClean cleanser. Hopefully this wasn't a complete waste of money. I'll be giving it a test in the bathroom later today, and will report back on if I meet with any success at all.
Another nice thing that happened on Saturday afternoon was completely unexpected. Friday night I had given my old friend DJ Stefanich a call, and unsurprisingly enough he didn't answer his cell phone. Saturday around 1700 hours I got a call back from him on my cell and we talked for like fourty minutes. He told me what's new in his life, the plans he's making and the things he's hoping to accomplish. I gave him a brief update on my life as well and then traded e-mail addresses with him since we've sort of fallen out of touch over the last two years. What was really fun for me was when we spent ten or fifteen minutes reminiscing over our days at 1503 Maple, his old house in Lisle. We really did have some wild times there and while it feels a little surreal in my memory... it also seems to me that was probably at the same time one of the most utterly real periods in my life. From the burnouts and carwork in the garage to the nights grilling beer brats in the front yard, to the Fourth of July celebrations in his driveway to drinking gin and tonics at 4 in the morning, from the time spent sitting around in the hot-tub top the time spent tearing the transmission out of my Camaro those are the memories that really stick with me from 1997 to 2001. I really do miss those days because Don in motion was an amazing thing to behold -- there was nothing he couldn't do, no obstacle to great for him to attempt to overcome. I'm wishing him the utmost success with his endeavors in Vegas.. and maybe if he does make the big time he'll stop by Chicago some time and say "Hi" to his old friends. I like to think so.
Saturday night we received a sudden downpour of rain that seemed to come from nowhere. It only lasted about twenty minutes but it was breathtaking to watch and listen to, and when it was done the sun came out again as if there hadn't been a cloud in the sky. Roho, Kes and I stood outside for a few minutes to watch the water soak into the grass and we all could smell that wonderful fresh aroma that only seems to appear after a brief, spontaneous summer rainshower. I could have stood there for hours and just listened to the water dripping from the leaves but we decided that dinner was the best course of action to take at this point. So again we all got into the Saab and drove a few miles down the road to the nearest Chipotle. I ordered a Burrito Bol again and, remembering Tuesday's incident, was very pleased that it was prepared exactly as I specified: No rice, with lettuce, tomato, tomatillo green sauce, cheese, chicken, peppers and onions. We brought our food back home and I pulled out two of the lo-carb tortillas that I have, dividing the bowl between them and chowing down. The bowl by itself was remarkably tasty, but having it wrapped in a tortilla shell really does help complete the taste. I was blissing out after dinner and spent a good twenty minutes afterwards just sitting on the porch, enjoying the weather and talking idly with my roommates while we sipped our beverages.
I love the fact we get to do things like this; the opportunity to indulge in quiet conversation is one that rarely if ever presented itself with my old roommates. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to just talk with people in a casual atmosphere. Thank you, Roho and Kestral, for giving me back a chance to partake in a small but important pleasure.
Today has been quiet and I'm enjoying it. I've sorted through my MP3 collection a little more, fed myself and Ra, showered and partaken in breakfast. I'm waiting until Kestral gets home and then we'll head up to BD's for our weekly dose of tasty Mongolian stir-fry. Once we've eaten we need to stop by Sam's Club because I desperately need water and cheddar cheese, and we'll probably stop by the pet store so I can get some supplies for Ra. Lately I've been thinking that he could stand some time outdoors, so I would like to get him a harness and a small lead rope so that I can go outside with him, tie him to one of the posts on our patio and let him get up close and personal with nature. It'll be good for him and it'll be good for me because I can keep an eye on him and not worry about him running away.
On a completely unrelated note, I find myself curious about ShowTime's new series "Dead Like Me," which looks to be an interesting dark comedy. I think I'll try to catch the omnibus that's showing on July 12th.
It's something hard to find.