Prior to 46 BC, no one in Rome knew what day it was. The calendar was tightly controlled by the priest class. They based it on cycles of the moon, and some years would have fifteen months, others would have eleven. Sometimes different priests would tell you it was a different day depending on how it might serve them. The first of the month would roll around a little more often for landlord priests, and priests in the senate always seemed to meet their deadlines.
The Federal Housing Act of 1949 allowed, finally, for the eradication of tenement slums. Until then, generations of underprivileged Americans would memorize the annual date and time of the sun's only brief appearance in their cramped, basement homes. Children would stay home from school to see it, and watch as the family pet stretched in the yearly rectangle of brilliance on their broken, chipped floors. Leaky tin roofs, dark passageways and rampant garbage-born illness had melted even the most conservative congressional hearts into legislating a chance for a new post-war life for the poorest Americans.
As these tenements were torn down, the wooden windowsills would often be found with two smooth depressions which had come from generations of women's elbows leaning out to enjoy the passing street life, exchange gossip across the way, and mete out verbal justice to the children below.
Now, federal money created the opportunity for new forms of urban housing that would bring prosperity to all levels of society.
Enter the Congrès Internationale d'Architecture Moderne.
Architecture, they knew, was a living, social art form, which had a profound effect on human life and the potential to solve the world's ills. The fourth CIAM Congress had taken place in 1933 on the SS Patris en route to Athens. Aboard, they analyzed thirty-four cities to determine solutions to the world's most pressing urban problems. The resulting "Athens Charter" committed CIAM members to push for "functional cities" with citizens housed in high, widely spaced apartment blocs.
This was their chance to use architecture to get society out in front of an overwhelming century of industrial and military progress.
Minoru Yamasaki was a 42-year-old unknown when he won the bid to design the Pruitt Igoe homes in St. Louis, Missouri—one of the first massive projects funded by this federal legislation. As a devout follower of the CIAM and its philosophies, he resolved to vindicate the Athens Charter with tall, spaced out, beautifully functional residence blocs.
The sun would pour into homes in these striking if somewhat brutalist high rises, and Pruitt Igoe residents would have better views than the wealthiest of St. Louis.
The city fathers were convinced they had solved their low cost housing needs.
But there was a fatal flaw in the design.
Pruitt-Igoe was to be mixed income and a beacon of economic integration, which to this day remains a crucial ingredient in a thriving city. But the same Federal Housing Act of 1949 that funded the homes, also subsidized mortgages for first time home buyers, and was a key component in the insidious epidemic of white flight to the suburbs in the 1950s. So Pruitt Igoe was subjected to 50% vacancies, and the money for maintenance and upkeep, that was to come from the rents, was always a shortfall.
Elevators broke and were never fixed. When roughhousing teens in the hallways smashed the lights, cages were installed around the bulbs to make them unbreakable, a challenge then accepted by the roughhousing teens, who would do everything they could to re-break them. Dark hallways, vicious poverty cycles, and callous government leadership led inevitably to rampant crime.
The brutalist nature of the high rises required functionality to be seen as beautiful. Without it, they became a monster.
Finally, on July 15, 1972, Pruitt Igoe was destroyed.
This iconic photograph of the homes coming down with the Arch of St. Louis in the background appeared above the fold in newspapers across the country and led to this moment being declared by many to be the death of Modern Architecture.
Minoru Yamasaki and the CIAM had tried to solve the world's ills but wound up making them worse. Yamasaki had attempted to simulate prosperity for the poor, hoping it would take and then domino through the rest of society's woes. But it didn't work. It pressed down on the bruise.
But wait, there's more irony.
One year after the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe, Yamasaki was overseeing the finishing touches on his crowning achievement: the World Trade Center in New York City.
At the dedication, he proclaimed, “the world trade center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace... it should become a symbol of man’s belief in humanity...”
This poor bastard.
This time he was attempting to honor prosperity as an inspiration to humankind, that we all might be galvanized to achieve. But the twin towers were perceived by some as monoliths of imperial oppression and the west’s self-centered optimism, and they sustained, as we know, a horrifying, tragic end.
How do you solve a problem like poverty?
The answer, in the 21st century, is scare quotes.
The question is in fact: how do you "solve" a "problem" like "poverty?"
In the 21st century, if you are a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
You can no longer solve a problem by solving it.
That's what the Modernists attempted, but they were just too far downstream.
These days, you need a lot more imagination.
Artist Jenny Holzer installed a large electronic billboard in Times Square in 1982 and used crude LEDs to flash provocative messages to the tourists below. One of these messages has lingered with me for the 17 years since I first saw it. "Private property created crime." Four simple words that detonate the fabric of American society. If the Modernists were too far downstream on economic disparity, then the invention of private property is the headwaters of the issue. Jenny Holzer knew where to begin.
The ballad of Minoru Yamasaki teaches us that unless you're standing at the headwaters of an issue, merely to "solve" a problem is to risk exacerbating it with your inevitable blindspots.
In the 21st century, we must view issues from orbit, locating them in their rightful place along vast rivers of time.
Otherwise, if you are a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart were determined to have family, with a daughter named Maria and a son named Johann.
It took them seven tries.
Johann Leopold was born in August of 1748 and lived almost six months. Maria Cordula was born the following June but lived less than a week. Maria Nepomucena was born the next May, and lived two-and-a-half months. One year later Maria Anna was born, became known as Nannerl, and emerged from the biological gauntlet of 18th century childhood to live to 78 years old. A son, Johann Karl, and a daughter named Maria Crescentia followed, but neither would live beyond three months. Their seventh child and final child was born on January 27, 1756 and they named him Johann Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He would live 35 years.
Leopold and Maria determined themselves to push past the world's most unimaginable pain five times to finish the family they started. The Mozarts were finishers. The Mozarts could close the deal.
Maria was irrepressible and funny. She encouraged little Johann Chrysostomus's love of scatological humor. So much so that when he composed his 1788 canon Difficile Lectu in F Major, he included the quasi-Latin lyric "lectu mihi mars," which, when perceived phonetically in German, became "Leck du mich im Arsch," or lick my ass.
Leopold was phlegmatic and unemotional and cried in front of Johann Chrysostomus only once.
Johann was sitting at his father's desk, composing his first concerto. Being five years old, he repeatedly mashed the pen into the bottom of the inkwell, thus dripping globs of ink onto the page as he attempted to write. Undeterred, he smeared them with his palm and continued to scribble his notes on top, so that the page at first glance was just a big blue-grey circle of ink. When his father came home with his friend herr Schachtner, little Wolfgang showed him the composition, and the men laughed at the sopping gallimaufry of ink.
But then Leopold examined the smears and the smudges, and he realized the chords his son had scribbled on them were perfect, they were in key with one another, and the music was complex and beautiful. In a time when, to Leopold's great chagrin, the notion of miracles was generally ridiculed, here he had one living in his house. His son, the survivor, the boy who lived, was a prodigy. And he burst into tears at the glory of it.
Thereafter, to Johann Chrysostomus, life was incomplete without music.
When he and his sister Nannerl would carry toys from room to room in their house, he demanded that they accompany themselves with a march on the fiddle. When his father brought him around Europe, demonstrating his prodigious skills to wealthy merchants and princes, Johann demanded to play exclusively for music experts.
And somewhere in his childhood, perhaps when he got a taste for eliciting emotion from his otherwise stoic father, he realized the opposite was also true.
Music was incomplete without life.
At night, after dinner, Johann would practice concertos both he and his father knew. Leopold was an early-to-bedder and liked to drift off listening to Johann's ever more miraculous ivory tickling. But Johann, knowing how his fastidious father ticked, and perhaps encouraged by Anna Maria's love of a good joke, would build to a crescendo at the end of a piece, deploy a dramatic ritardando to stick the landing... and then leave off the last note, close the lid, and go to bed.
And reliably, Leopold, tortured by this, indecent in nightcap and gown, would stalk down the stairs, slam open the lid and pound the last chord.
The Mozarts were finishers. The Mozarts could close the deal.
But Johann Chrysostomus learned in childhood, that there is a difference between when something is finished and when something is complete.
He learned to forcibly crash space into Leopold's listening experience and in so doing, impel him to participate. Emotion, he realized, was teased out in the negative space, in the spaces between notes that only became complete when heard by a human.
Years later, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as Johann Chrysostomus became known to the world, deployed this technique as he wrote what many believe to be the greatest human document, The Marriage of Figaro. The count and the countess are larger than life aristocrats, always accompanied by a melodramatic scraping of bows. The count brings whole bass notes into every scene he enters. But Figaro and Susanna, the servants we're all meant to fall in love with, glide and float over roomy and plucked staccato. He seemed to use pizzicato, the muted, deadened plucking of violin strings, to indicate the notes that our hearts should play.
In De Vieni, Susanna's fourth act aria, we know that Susannah knows that Figaro is watching her wait for the count, but we also know that Figaro doesn’t know that she knows, and it’s all a touching rouse to win his love back. And the pizzicato notes below her voice work the tumblers in the locks around our hearts, and they crack open to help her.
The Pizzicato Effect occurs when an artist deploys sudden negative space, a muted note at the most surprising moment possible, to yank us in by the hearts. Right when they have earned the right to cash in, they instead blast a hole in their work and yank the audience in by the short and curly hairs of their souls. Wolfgang learned early that to merely finish a work was nothing when compared to allow for its completion only when it was witnessed. The best artists aren't saying "I matter," they are saying "you matter." Johann's nightly concertos were incomplete without his father flying down the stairs to play the final note, accompanied sweetly by the giggles of Anna Maria.
The Mozarts were finishers. The Mozarts closed the deal.
On our honeymoon in Oaxaca, Emily and I rode the bus with an Australian pharmacist. She told us of a shellshocked young couple that came to her shop early one Saturday asking for a morning after pill. The dosage required two different pills to be taken at the same time. "Take both of these right now," she told them. They nodded, looked at each other... and each took one. Concatenation is the order in which we experience events through linear time. Simultaneity is the relationship between events that we perceive are happening at the same time. Our anal retentive left brains organize time in a linear fashion to fit it through the keyhole of our consciousness. Our tripping balls hippie right brains, meanwhile, seem to know that every event in history is still happening right now, somewhere in the universe. I can't say for sure that I wouldn't have done the same thing as the stricken couple in the Australian pharmacy. Two pills. Take 'em now. Divide them up. Down the hatch. The past: erased. When I've watched a glass spill, my brain has revved to 5,000 frames a second, watching the teeter the tip and the splash of every drop I had planned to enjoy. And I have felt, in the same moment, the sudden funeral for my next ten minutes that now will be spent cleaning it up. It's as if the more you don't want something to be true, the less you perceive the concatenation of time. Or perhaps the more emotional you are, the more simultaneous life feels. Great movies whizz by. Funerals and burials are a rich mind cocktail of an un-had future and a bygone past, and go by in kind of a blur. A morning at the DMV takes weeks. Breathing hard, desperate for a solution to last night's youthful indiscretion, relieved at the clear instructions of an authoritative pharmacist, I think I too would have taken that pill. Down the hatch. The past: erased.
The massacre and death that so marked World War Two
Left Americans racked with bad shell shock and sorrow.
But progress in the sciences and especially in flight
Led all of them to believe in a much brighter tomorrow.
The problem was that airplanes just could not break Mach One,
Or the invisible barrier known as the speed of sound.
The Aircrafts combusted the closer they got
And put pilot upon pilot in a burial mound.
The PhDs warned of an infinite drag
As molecules stacked up in front of the plane
And test pilots would faint as G-force moved their blood,
So to approach the sound barrier was deemed flat-out insane.
But one captain among the brand new air force ranks
Beheld not a wall, just a steep hill to climb.
If bullwhips and bullets could pass through the drag
Then for man and machine it was a matter of time.
He knew with jet engines, if a man could hold on
And climbed super steady, he could slowly ease through it,
But would need a young pilot with no wife or child
‘Cause no sensible human would say they would do it.
Along comes Chuck Yeager who’s hand-eye was legend
Through violent shaking and blackouts and red-outs.
He’d clutch fast the yolk no matter how the plane shook
His only thought being to get the damn lead out.
October fourteen, nineteen forty-seven,
Chuck turned up to fly with a hairline cracked rib.
He fell off a horse on a ride with his wife
But for fear of a grounding decided to fib.
The PhDs on the ground thought he would die
And hugged him too hard as he boarded the plane
Which was bolted to the belly of a B-twenty nine
And climbing in caused his rib all sorts of pain.
The Bell-X1 nose was shaped just like a bullet,
Liquid oxygen sloshing and frosting the rear,
Not built for control nor outfitted with chutes,
Just two minutes of jet fuel to get through the fear.
Only forty-four years after Kitty Hawk’s test,
Yeager dropped from the bomb bay and opened the throttle
His head snapping back with gargantuan torque
Just like riding the cork of a popped champagne bottle.
But at point nine six Mach, only four shy of sound,
His instruments started to spin and crap out.
His blood was now gathered in back of his body,
It was all he could do not to puke and pass out.
But something inside him knew he now had a choice,
A steady climb upward would no longer work,
He could either now quit, and just glide back to safety,
Or slam down the gas and give the yolk a big jerk.
Thirty seconds of gas now remained in the tank,
Not quite enough really to blast through the wall,
But a voice, deep inside him, at that point said “Fuck it,
If I die now, at least I’ll be having a ball.”
A far less well known instance of a man who said fuck it
Happened in the forlorn late career of a man
Who’s post-impressionist paintings eventually rocked the Paris arts scene
But almost killed him in the process – his name? Paul Gauguin.
And before I get too far in let me say very quickly
That despite being breastfed, I went to state school for college.
So when people at nice parties name their favorite post-impressionist
I say “ahhh of course” but I’m just feigning the knowledge.
So on behalf of any readers in the crowd from UMass Boston,
I have Bing'ed post-impressionism so we could all up our game,
And in order to use it well at a fancy cocktail party
One must understand its origins or risk appearing lame.
First Freud said that humans were a product of our mothers
Influenced by environments, less nature more nurture.
And the Realists began to look for clues in our surroundings
Every simple noun now fodder for a would-be soul searcher.
Then the Symbolists felt this was completely on the nose
And rather they preferred to lift and highlight certain things,
A vase in a painting made emotionally radioactive.
For THIS was the way for us to tug on heart strings.
The Impressionists were like that shit is juvenile drama.
We aren’t who we are because of cups and wheel spokes.
WE’LL paint stacks of hay and watch behavior of light
And we’re only going to use tiny, visible brush strokes.
And then the post-impressionists said “oh, aren’t you so honest?”
We’re going to make skin blue because FUCK YOU...
And that’s where our man Paul Gauguin would finally land.
“Art is either plagiarism or revolution” he famously said.
He was the patron saint of egomaniac artists who die penniless,
But turn out to have been right about the talents in their head.
His greatest enemy of all was the Paris arts scene,
which taunted him for mediocre work and endless hustling,
“I’m a great artist” he once said to his wife, who couldn’t stand him,
“It’s because I am that I have had to endure so much suffering.”
Routinely, he’d depict himself as Jesus in his paintings,
To signal to the world that he was basically doomed
To suffer at the hands of philistines who didn’t get him,
Because of his specialness ... And ruin loomed.
He longed desperately for a time before his own,
Before colonization polluted paradise to the palm frond,
And he knew his chance was here with the world expo in Paris,
perhaps otherwise known as "l’exposition du monde."
He built a stall next to the entrance the way an uninvited rockband
Would play the foyer of a Quizno’s at South-by-Southwest,
He made enough Francs to set sail for Tahiti
Leaving everything behind that made him feel so oppressed.
Everything was great for a couple of solid years
But by the end of eighteen ninety-seven his body began to fail.
His hand would often jerk as he stood and tried to paint
He’d cough up blood onto the canvas, and if he stood too long, grow pale.
And finally... riddled with debt, and abandoned by his friends,
Swindled by art dealers and extorted by his wife,
A broken ankle would not heal, and syphilis run amock,
Gauguin brought arsenic up the mountain to take his life.
But it didn’t work, the next morning he woke up in a daze
Under a palm tree with the worst hangover in the world,
He stood up slow and dragged his sorry ass back down the mountain,
To his studio where he flopped into a chair, and then hurled.
The mail had come, a book, sent by his frenemy Van Gogh
Sat on the table, maybe it contained some inspiration,
Clutching his gut he heaved himself across the room to grab it,
and opened it but found some horrifying information.
It was by the now forgotten English poet Gerald Massey,
Played here by Christian Bale, it was about Egyption gods,
And One of them, named Horus, had uncanny similarities
To Jesus but eight hundred years earlier which was odd.
His father was a carpenter, his mother was a virgin,
Angels foretold his birth and he was born in a manger,
Three distant kings followed a star to see this little NICU
And the Horus story as a grown-up only gets stranger.
He healed the deaf, the blind and lepers, taught in parable,
He loved the poor and prostitutes, and even led a chorus
Was crucified, between two thieves, then rose from the dead,
And on the third day entered Egyptian heaven... HORUS!
And the whole December twenty-fifth birthday thing was total garbage
Made up by Constantine in A.D. three twenty-five
Who wanted to draw box office away from Pagan Solstice
To insure his brand new Christian faith would survive.
And Gauguin, when he read this, about lost his damn mind
He’d been a good French Catholic since the day that he was born,
This messiah he disguised himself as in his paintings was a reboot,
Jesus. Wasn’t even. A Capricorn.
He sat in his hut, catatonic, not moving.
The empty bottle of arsenic still sat on the table
Even in suicide he was a mediocre failure
And now this book had made his whole existence unstable.
But then out of nowhere, a childhood memory returned,
His schooling was parochial, his parents were religious,
A lecture on existence by the famous French arch bishop
Felippe Antoine Filiberre D’upan-loup, played here by Lloyd Bridges.
A religion, he had taught, must answer three basic questions,
Answer them and feel free to start your own one too
Where do we come from, why are we here, what happens when we die?
“If you can tackle those conundrums you are free,” said Dupanloup.
Gauguin was decimated by the book Van Gogh had sent him,
Losing his religion left him morbidly bereft,
But now this memory made something feel so incomplete,
He realized that maybe he had one last painting left.
It would be called “D’ou Venons Nous, Que Sommes Nous, Ou Allons Nous”
He’d paint the answers to these questions, his suicide prolong,
and with a sudden surge of energy he put the brush to canvas,
And recklessly it led him to a glorious swansong.
In those days painters would spend months preparing for a work,
Color wheels, perspective studies, essays and tableau.
But Eschewing a sketch, Gauguin just blast his wet brush to canvas
Rather than his usual careful plan to zing Van Gogh.
The unanimous notion of his own mediocrity
Had been his constant enemy in the Paris arts scene
But now he let that go and howled to the moon “fuck it”
Blast through his self-mythology and emerged completely clean
It was the sum total of everything he’d ever done,
And when he finally finished got a lump in his frail throat.
He felt its magnitude could be compared to the gospels.
He rolled it up and made off on two canes to meet the mail boat.
As he watched it float away taking his masterpiece to Europe
He realized he was no more a man who must rely
On others to answer for him life’s most important questions
Where do we come from, why are we here, what happens when we die.
And in that moment on the dock, his body a broken shell,
Gauguin the redeemed man decided not to kill himself.
He’d said the words and shed his ego, painting from the truth...
Back in his hut he put the Massey book up on the shelf.
Parisian critics had the sense this painting was a triumph
But accolades from Paris were simply now no longer needed.
He had his mojo back because he and Chuck Yeager knew
When you are down, and say this phrase, you cannot be defeated.
The PhDs on the tarmac, they all heard together
The giant boom they all figured meant Chuck Yeager’s end
But the funny thing is, when you decide to say "fuck it,"
The universe turns out to be your best friend.
The TV show Right This Minute featured my video about shaving your Adam’s Apple!
And here’s the original video…
The frozen tundra of 21st-century artistic possibilities stretches before us. Madness lies in every direction. We know directing is the only option for an intrepid, citizen-philosopher, bon vivant like ourselves (or so we like to think)… but directing what?
To whom must we communicate? What message? Over what production elements are we compelled to bear influence? Can we ever start a family? Hopefully this handy chart will help.
Click to enlarge. Download the PDF here.
Directing is a trust fund baby’s game. Are you a trust fund baby? If so, good for you. Couldn’t happen to a better person. Seriously. Furthermore, go fuck yourself. While you yourself may be talented and friendly, your kind, with its consequence-free paradigm, dilutes the talent pool in the entertainment industry and has an undue influence on the American narrative — which is why, in the 1970’s, movies were about urban, interesting looking, colorful people, and today, they’re about suburban, dead-souled superheroes. And thanks to “unpaid internships,” your ilk will maintain its stranglehold on the industry for generations to come.
I am not so fortunate. I had three strikes against me as I embarked on this profession. Number one, I am publicly educated. Number two, I am Irish Catholic by heritage, meaning one look at me and every person thinks, “I’m going to colonize and oppress the living shamrock out of that people-pleasing leprechaun, just for the hell of it.” Number three, I am interested in the happiness of others. Numbers two and three are related, baked into my motherboard, and problems I’ll contend with for life.
Number one, on the other hand, could have gone another way.
My high school was extremely traditional. How traditional? It was founded in 1635. Six years of Latin. A strict adherence to 17th century educational principals of discipline, rigor and gratuitous suffering. If you raised your hand, you had better have the right answer or you get the hose again. In the hall? Where’s your lavatory pass (that’s right, lavatory)? Hard work was king. Colorful complexity, as a desirable trait, was, in the eyes of my instructors, a notch below rabies. Lunch break was 19 minutes long. Lollygag time did not exist.
And here’s the lesson one takes away from this. If you speak, spit out the right answer fast and get out of the line of fire. Go along. Do not be noticeable for fear of a misdemeanor mark. This is, obviously, fantastic training for the bottom of any number of executive food chains.
My wife, on the other hand, went to a private boarding high school only 25 miles, yet several centuries, north of my own. At her school, probing complexity was the name of the game. An interesting and deep answer was prized higher than a correct one. Students probably rode around in golf carts or were carried on sedan chairs by lower classmen. All enjoying the overwhelming message: I am a complex person and my complexity has value.
At dinner parties, when you find yourself bored to tears by a person’s long-winded answer to “how are you?” chances are they went to private school. That other guest, who got everyone else talking but left without divulging so much as their last name? Public. And it bears mentioning, the one who snuck off to go to the bathroom but really was doing all the dishes? Parochial. God bless those poor bastards.
To be a director, in this industry that is now overrun by Thad Claddingtons the Thirds, who only feel comfortable hiring their own, we must learn to pass. All the blonde, white-slacked, yacht-treading villains from 1980’s John Cusack sex comedies grew up to become agents and development executives and we, the John Cusacks of the world, only too excited to be granted the right to work, have been tossed outside the gates.
Luckily there is a way back in. A secret body language taught to and understood by only the privileged. And here I am to blow the whistle on it. I humbly present: Six Ways to Pass as Privately Educated, or… Six Secrets to High Status Body Language, or… Six Methods to Put Peasants in Their Heads…
Dear future son, During your first week of college, you'll have chosen your courses and will have to go to the college bookstore, if such a place still exists. Mostly it will be sweatshirts and stuffed mascots, but perhaps some craggy old fart will force you to buy an actual biology textbook made out of tree. You will find it on the shelf, and you will gawk at the price. $600. Or Units. Or whatever currency is now, point being, it will be more than you thought. I, your old man, will have been pretty stingy with you growing up, so you already know you'd sooner get blood from a stone than that kind of scratch from me. Dejected, and angry at the concept of core curriculums at state schools, you'll leave, fists frustratedly shoved into sweatshirt, looking at ground. You don't have any friends here yet, so you're all alone with no one to entertain your grousing. But then you look up, and a beautiful girl sitting behind a table sustains eye contact with you... and smiles. You are lonely in this moment, as I already mentioned. You are in a new place, and are basing way too much of your self-worth on the facial expressions of strangers. You have the unfortunate arrogance of a teenager, so you don't even realize how vulnerable you really are right now. But son, when this happens, and it will exactly as I described it... run. Do not, under any circumstances let her engage you. Doing so will create a mess you could still be cleaning up 20 years later, when you are 38, as I am while writing this, with an APR of 20%. Son, she works for a credit card company. She has been carefully selected based on personality and magnetism and placed precisely into the eye line of dejected young boys like yourself, stalking out of the college bookstore, furious at how broke you are. She is there to offer you the illusion of free money, just for being you. Just for having a name and a social security number. You're walking toward her, as the waves of egotastic tingling come over you, and she continues to hold your gaze, but think carefully about this: if you had a credit card, borrowed a tiny bit here and there, and always paid it off right away, then they wouldn't make any money off of you, right? It would be a horrible business model. They only make money when they get you to borrow money you can't pay back. The juice starts flowing. They get their tentacles on you. They are loan sharks. Or, loan squids. Before you know it—seriously, you see two movies, splurge a little on a date, finally buy that iBrain and you are FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS IN DEBT (please adjust this for inflation from 1992 to 2031). And you're still as broke as you were walking out of that bookstore. But now you owe them, every month, an amount of money that you can barely afford. And that amount you owe them never goes down, no matter how many payments you make. Then they've wrapped their tendrils around you and pulled you to the bottom of the sea to feed on you slowly. Then you miss just one little payment because February has 28 days, then your credit score plummets, then all of their friends can also make ridiculous money off of you and you'll have severely limited your ability to ever have any free time or to backpack through Eurochina with you buddies this summer, because you have to scramble every month to pay back these faceless tall buildings. Don't do it, son. Don't get a credit card. Or better yet, get one, buy one thing for ten dollars, pay it off, and put it in a drawer forever. Twelve financially wretched years after your idiot father destroyed his credit by talking to that girl behind the table, I finally figured out how to start gradually climbing out of the hole: by jerry-rigging my online bank account to pay these jackals weekly instead of monthly, so it hurt a little less. I was paying the same amount, ultimately, but didn't carry the psychological wound the monthly payment did (and now I never forgot because it was automatic). I could get my head around parting with $35 a week much easier than $140 a month. Then the balance finally started to creep down. Then I'd inch up the weekly payments, and get more confident. Then I used the online banking to pay all my bills this way. Then there was only one number I had to keep track of. Then, after five, or Christ it might have been ten years, I finally paid it all off. I haven't missed a payment on anything in five years. But my APR has only gone down to 20% from 29%. It's a game, son. And the rules are: be suspicious of tall buildings, watch and learn how they rig the game, then beat them at it. Set up your credit card to automatically pay a small utility bill every month, then set up your bank to automatically pay your credit card, and zero out without even keeping track. Then watch the good credit history grow. Living cash-in-cash-out can suck when your friends are out galavanting on plastic. But you should avoid buying on credit at all costs. And never, EVER buy future sewage on credit. Buying something on credit is paying triple. Buying something on credit is giving future you the middle finger. But future you is older than you, and deserves respect. Instead, get the coins out of your couch, buy an onion, make soup and have an evening in with a library book. You'll be smarter, less poor, and you won't get a beer gut, which will be the subject of my next letter. We are very proud peasants in this family, kid. Restaurants are for millionaires. Love, Your future dad