I Can’t Afford to Own a Home. Thank God

"Did you hear that, honey? The value of our new home just went down 24% and we haven't even unpacked."

I want to own a home. Not now, but soon, and preferably in the Twin Cities, not the ‘burbs.

The other day, I went to Wells Fargo to run a credit report and get my latest score. I made some inadvisable decisions involving a credit card during the early part of college, turning a $1,000 Apple iBook G4 into a $2,700 ass-kicking by collections. I squared away all of my debts before graduating and over the past few years I’ve shown model behavior with my credit.

“It’s probably not as high as you want it to be, but you would easily qualify for a home loan,” the Wells Fargo personal banker said.

II took this woman at her word, but I laughed her off. I haven’t yet entertained the idea o buying a home.  but after I left, I started a mental renting vs. owning cost analysis. I’ve been renting apartments for seven years now, some more expensive than others. At a modest $350 per month average, I’ve spent nearly $30,000 on rent.

What do I have to show for it? Nothing.

The upside is I’ve never had to worry about being stuck somewhere or losing my ass in a sale. According to the Star Tribune, homes in the Twin Cities metro area lost 12 percent of their value in 2010. Ouch.

I guess I’d like a little, old place with character, and a big Southern-style covered porch. I want a two-car garage, a flat driveway and a basketball hoop. I want a fenced-in backyard for our dog to run around in, but I want my front yard to be open and inviting. I want to live in a cool neighborhood with little eateries, coffee shops and dive bars. I want to know I’m not paying for someone else’s mortgage on a rental property.

But, I also don’t want to panic with each tornado watch or pay hundreds of dollars to heat my home each winter month. I don’t want to worry about ice dams and shingles and watering the lawn or water in the basement. I want home ownership without the responsibility. Then again, who doesn’t?

The personal banker was right — my credit score isn’t where I want it to be. I could get a home loan, but I’d be facing higher rates. So, in a way, I’m relieved my credit score isn’t prime for a home loan. The last thing I need right now is to start thumbing through classifieds and checking out open houses, setting myself up to make an impulse decision I’m not ready for, not unlike that fateful iBook.

I Haven’t Seen Skins, But I Did Go To High School

I understand there’s been quite some furor over a new teen drama on MTV called Skins. Apparently the show depicts teens engaging in sexual activity, as well as drug and alcohol abuse — you know, teen stuff. Numerous sponsors, including Taco Bell, Subway and L’Oreal, have dropped their sponsorship while there’s been roaring debate whether the show features child porn.

(If the show featured child porn, I don’t think it would require debate. That’s a pretty specific feature.)

I haven’t seen Skins or any MTV show in years. I grew up on MTV and always felt a little too young to watch it, but as I grew older, the network seemed to shift its programming toward younger audiences. That said, I’m always a little saddened to hear peers talking about Jersey Shore or Teen Mom or whatever nonsense reality series that’s airing. I can’t help but think, “Really? MTV? At your age? Shame on you.”

I give MTV credit for pioneering the reality series (as we know it) with The Real World. In its first few seasons, the seven strangers picked to live together had to maintain jobs, income, relationships, a sense of order. It was all quite fascinating for a white kid growing up in Middle America. It was like my first chance to intimately know people of different races, religions, sexual orientation and views. The Real World was, dare I say, educational?

Around season five — I refuse to go back and fact check — the cast members were pre-assigned jobs and that’s about when the deviancy started kicking in. The Real World was no longer a microcosm of the lower-case real world, but rather a group of over-muscled, over-tanned, over-sexed, over-boozed twits polluting a posh living space.

When that formula started to fizzle, MTV started skewing toward the kids with shows like Laguna Beach, The Hills and The City. Now, here we are — I presume — with Skins. I haven’t seen an episode, but reading a synopsis, I thought, “Yeah, that sounds like high school,” and I started high school over a decade ago.

The season premier of Skins was seen by 3.3 million viewers. The second episode? Just 1.6 million. Why would this popular infamous series geared toward teens lose half its viewing audience in just one week? Because teens have already seen every episode. They live Skins.

So, what’s worse: The fact MTV’s airing a show with teens having sex, drinking alcohol and taking drugs, or the fact Skins might just be an dead-on depiction of high school in 2011?

Could ‘Fountain Lady’ Put an End to Viral Videos?

Once every few weeks, I write a blog post for Idea Peepshow, which is the official blog of Fast Horse Inc., the consumer marketing agency where I’m currently an associate. Today, I wrote about a woman who’s threatening a lawsuit after a security tape showing her falling into a fountain was posted on YouTube:

Woman walks through a mall. Woman receives a text message. Woman responds to the text message. Woman, distracted, trips and falls into a fountain.

Woman – shocked, embarrassed, drenched – exits the fountain, and exits the television screen if you’re watching the security tape that captured the whole event. Mall security watches the tape. Someone with mall security decides to post a video of the video – an important distinction – onto YouTube.

Within a week, the original clip is viewed more than 1.8 million times.

Continue Reading

Jason DeRusha — The Rare Broadcast Journalist Who Gets It

Good journalism is hard to find, especially on television.

A career in broadcast journalism usually equates bouncing from market to market every few years, so by the time a reporter finally gets a grasp of the community they’re serving, it’s on to the next city. It’s a tough gig to be sure, and few do it well.

Jason DeRusha does it well. Really well.

I’ve settled on DeRusha and WCCO-TV as my go-to TV news source in the Twin Cities. He’s been in the local market since 2003, acting more as a concerned citizen than the know-it-all news guy. DeRusha’s bursting with curiosity — an essential trait for any journalist — and that’s most apparent during his Good Question segment, which seeks to answer viewer submitted queries that run the gammut.

Last night, DeRusha took on a tough one — “Why have so many Somalis chosen to come here?” Most journalists would avoid the question in the name of cultural sensitivity, but DeRusha went for the jugular:

It is perhaps the least likely place to find tens of thousands of African refugees: the cold, snowy, middle of America. So why are there so many Somalis in Minnesota? … The Somalis are here as legal refugees, largely. The Somalis Minnesota story tracks to 1991, when civil war broke out in Somalia. Millions fled to refugee camps, many in Kenya. Two years later, the first wave of Somali refugees were sent to Minnesota.

Is it a sensational story? Is it riddled in scandal, sex, crime, blood — the accoutrement we expect to make the 10 p.m. news? No. But it’s answering a matter of public curiosity with facts and research — you know, actual journalism.

Kudos to DeRusha and WCCO-TV for winning this viewer over. Why can’t we get more broadcast journalists like him?

Good question.

A Deconstruction of P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass”

For some reason, I had pop artist P!nk pegged for a 40-year-old. It seems like she’s been in the public conscience for a long time – too long – and now she has a greatest hits album, aptly titled Greatest Hits… So Far!!!

(Now would be a good time to pause and explain to Ms. P!nk exactly what an exclamation point means. Her younger clone, Ke$ha, could use a similar lesson.)

P!nk’s latest single “Raise Your Glass” is charting at No. 19 on iTunes. It’s a pathetic party anthem riddled with cliches and the kind of disconnect you’d expect from an aging pop star. But she’s 30! Not 40! It’s closer to a new theme song for ABC’s Cougar Town than the high school anthem she’s going for. It’s as if the “cool” mom who buys all the upperclassmen booze went and made a single.

If you haven’t read the lyrics, you’re missing out. The track acts as an audio scrapbook of all the lame-ass things we said back in the ’00s. (The early ’00s, at that.) It’s even worse when you picture P!nk as I did — a washed-up hag making one last harrowing attempt to reclaim her 2001 form.

Have a listen as you read through this muck. Profundities and cliches have been bolded for your convenience:

 

Right right, turn off the lights
We gonna lose our minds tonight
What’s the dealio?

I love when it’s all too much
5AM turn the radio up
Where’s the rock and roll?

Party crasher, penny snatcher
Call me up if you are gangster
Don’t be fancy
Just get dancey
Why so serious?

So raise your glass if you are wrong
In all the right ways
All my underdogs, we will never be, never be
Anything but loud
And nitty gritty dirty little freaks
Won’t you come on, and come on, and
Raise your glass
Just come on and come and
Raise your glass

Slam, slam, oh hot damn
What part of party don’t you understand?
Wish you’d just freak out (freak out already)
Can’t stop coming in hot
I should be locked up right on the spot
It’s so on right now (so f_ckin’ on right now)

[Chorus]

Oh shit my glass is empty…
That sucks!

So, if you’re too school for cool
And you’re treated like a fool (treated like a fool)
You could choose to let it go
We can always, we can always
party on our own…

[Chorus]

There’s no such thing as adult onset ADHD, but if there was, “Raise Your Glass” is what it would sound like.

The changing of a decade generally ushers in a new wave of talent and sound, leaving behind many artists, albums and singles we’d rather store away in a box to be labeled “Bad ’00s music.” The current Top 10 on iTunes includes Britney Spears (No. 1), Avril Lavigne (No. 3) and Enrique Iglesias (No. 6) — artists whose careers never should’ve taken off, no less survived into this decade. What in the hell is going on here. I don’t know whether to be mad at P!nk for making new music or the music industry for not replacing her with new talent.

Then again, maybe I’m just too school for cool.

New Year’s Eve — Down for the Cause

New Year’s Eve generally splits people into two camps: those who love it and those who hate it. I find myself somewhere in between.

I love the idea of New Year’s Eve — the opportunity for renewal, the impetus to grow and improve, a chance to find closure. That’s all fine and good. It’s more the commercialized aspects that drives me bonkers.

Adults treat NYE like prom, minus the braces and acne. You can choose to make it a big production and spend hundreds of dollars on a party that’s guaranteed to plateau at midnight or stay home, watch the ball drop, and get a good night’s rest. (Mmm, sleep.) I can’t say one outcome is better than the other.

See, I worked at a bar several NYE celebrations in a row, and I was content with that. I wasn’t forced to pay ridiculous cover charges, didn’t need to buy new clothes or get a haircut or anything like that. Few people have it better than bartenders on NYE.

My girlfriend and I found something away from our living room, but it’s a good cause. We will be joining several friends to see Brother Ali perform at the Marriott City Center. I’ll let Ali explain:

I Got The Job

Today seems like a fitting day to announce I’ve accepted a job offer at Fast Horse. Effective mid-January once my internshipexpires, I’ll be hopping on full time as an Associate.

I waited until today to break the news — I found out last Friday — because it’s Lose the Laptop Day at Fast Horse, which is ironic considering laptops had everything to do with me earning my internship and eventual employment. The reason I’m so excited about this job opportunity is for the fact I work at an agency that stays on the cutting edge, but not without challenging itself to get better. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the whole staff is working away from their computers. That’s like an auto repair shop saying, “All right guys, no drills today.”

But as with mechanics and their power tools, marketing and public relations existed long before the Internet. It’s a relationship industry, after all, and while social media makes it easier to maintain contact, Lose the Laptop Day forces us to go out and engage, to meet people, to re-hash friendships, to learn the world we’re selling to, to be a consumer, to be inspired. We’re channeling our inner Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons, as my boss writes.

This isn’t a stunt or a drill. This is an exercise about checks and balances, well-roundedness, self-awareness, moxie and avoiding complacency when it’s just so damn cozy. Forget an arbitrary seminar, workshop or motivational speaker — we’re living the lesson today.

So, thank you, again, to everyone who voted in the Intern Search back in June. Every week, I seem to meet a new person who voted in the contest. Recently, the conversations would end with me saying, “Now I just I hope I get the job,” and I would walk away a bit sullen, fearful of the reality things might not shake out the way I’d hoped.

But, I got the job. Holy shit, I got the job. Thanks again!

[Powers laptop down.]

Mayor R.T. Rybak Sticks It To Greedy Tow-truck Terrorists

I’ve been towed exactly seven times in my life. Each time, it’s been a kick in the pants, because you never want to be in a position where a) someone has taken your vehicle without asking and b) they want a lot of money before they return it. That’s a ransom where I come from.

Approximately 400 vehicles were towed in Minneapolis over the weekend. A total of 17.1 inches of snow fell on the city, leaving many vehicles stuck during the snow emergency. The good news is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak offered amnesty to anyone who was towed over the weekend, citing in many cases that vehicles couldn’t be moved because the streets simply wouldn’t allow it; stuck not by negligence but by Mother Nature.

So, high-five, Mayor. Thanks for preventing the tow-truck terrorists from fleecing helpless citizens.

No one’s ever happy to call a towing company and I can’t imagine a more miserable job than receptionist at a towing company. It’s a business of doom and gloom, legalized robbery, a damn racket. What never ceases to amaze me are the names these towing companies go by. In the Twin Cities, we have:

  • Always Available Towing — Seems like more of a threat than an assurance.
  • Cheap Towing — Define “cheap.”
  • Yeah Buddy Towing RecoveryTowing like a big shot?
  • A+ Towing Inc. Not a lot of A+’s in the towing industry, you know?
  • Gopher Towing — If the name was literal, I’d pay double to see that.

We’re blessed to have an off-the-street parking so we don’t have to park on the odd-numbered side of even-numbered streets running North or Northwest during the waning crescent if it’s a Tuesday in the second week of the month in an odd-number year if you’re a Libra and you live in a zip code with a square root between 245 and 247. Sure, MnDOT’s gone gangbusters on the social media front to help inform the general public of snow emergencies and dangerous travel conditions, but snow emergency parking procedure reads like an algorithm, and I can’t handle that math.

I’m just an English grad.

The Final 48: Enjoying the Last Days Before Dog Ownership

Again, another stock image of a goldendoodle. We're not getting this one. But, hopefully you can see why we're doing this.

In just over 48 hours, life will never be the same. Not for the next decade or so, anyway.

My girlfriend and I are going to pick up our goldendoodle from Peever, S.D. on Saturday. Meanwhile, the planner I am, I’ve been thinking through every last preparation necessary before we bring this dog into our home — dog-proofing, if you will. I’m up at night thinking about cords and expensive rugs and where to put shoes and how to quit leaving all of my clothes on the bedroom floor. I realize I’m going to miss something. Probably a lot of things.

We found ourselves at O’Donovan’s Sunday night, sitting around a table with two other couples who happened to be dog owners. We heard stories about cuddling, new tricks and adorable behaviors. We were stories about pee, poop and vomit. We talked grooming, food and expensive visits to the veterinarian. There we were, listening like young parents-to-be, warned over and over that our lives were about to change, but assured that it’s worth it.

I can’t wait.

One of my co-workers, whose Boston terrier recently took a tumble down some stairs and needed a $3,500 surgery to repair a broken leg, just the other day asked, plainly, why now? Why do you want a dog?

I told him I was ready to invest in something that would give back; something a little more engaging than new shoes or a new Apple product. I wanted something that required work and dedication — like a hobby — but also, something that relied on me, and something I could care for.

There’s no way around the fact this dog is going to change our lifestyle. The next few days, I really want to savor the things one can have or do when one doesn’t own a dog. The problem is I don’t know what those things are. I realize travel becomes a seriously complex equation with a dog in the mix. And I realize there’s going to be expenses along the way that I could never imagine. Uninterrupted sleep? Does that become a thing of the past?

Whatever. We’re ready for it. Ready as anyone can be, anyway. Last night, I spent two hours watching goldendoodle videos on YouTube. So, yeah.  All I know is whenever I imagine our dog-to-be, I hear this song:

(Note: Clearly, as evidenced by the past few weeks on The Miller Times, I’m excited to write about the pitfalls and payoffs of dog ownership. I imagine Olive/Cooper — we haven’t decided a gender yet — will take on a starring role here, so forgive me in advance.)

I Didn’t Almost Die in the Portland Terror Plot. Neither Did You

Captain Jonathan Sassman, of the Corvallis Police Department, examines fire damage at the mosque where Mohamed Osman Mohamud worshipped while a student at Oregon State.

Over the weekend, I had this urge to write about the foiled terrorist plot in Portland, Ore. In case you’ve been stuck in a five-day tryptophan-induced coma, the FBI arrested Mohamed Osman Mohamud on Friday after he attempted to detonate a car bomb nearby Pioneer Courthouse Square, where a mass had gathered for the annual Christmas tree lighting.

The catch: Mohamud’s explosives were fake. They were supplied by the FBI as part of an undercover operation dating back to August 2009. Feds swooped in to make the arrest after Mohamud dialed a cell number to detonate the explosives.

My first impulse was similar to anyone who lived and worked near Ground Zero on 9/11 or anyone who regularly used the 35-W bridge in Minneapolis prior to its collapse. I wanted to write about the what-ifs.

What if I had never moved and Beth and I had stayed in Portland over Thanksgiving and decided to se the Christmas tree lit? What if I had been on the MAX, passing by Pioneer Courthouse Square just as Mohamud’s car bomb exploded? What if I had friends and co-workers who were there? What if?

None of that matters. We can’t let it. The moment we start to ponder the hypothetical and let it affect our lifestyle, the terrorists have won.

All that matters is what did happen. Mohamud had been on the FBI’s radar for over a year, under careful surveillance, and no one in Portland was ever truly in danger, especially on Friday. Mohamud provided the smoking gun when he attempted to detonate the explosives, and and unless Mohamud’s public defender can successfully argue entrapment, I’m sure we’ll see a speedy trial resulting in a lifetime prison sentence.

Here’s something that absolutely did happen. On Sunday, there was an actual terrorist attack. An arsonist set fire to the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, which is 80 miles south of Portland. Mohamud occasionally attended the mosque while a student at Oregon State University. The fire was discovered in time to save the mosque, but an administrative office was severely damaged.

That’s what the War on Terror has brought us to, apparently — burning places of worship. Again, we’re letting the terrorists win.

I’m so sick of arguing with anyone who unequivocally paints all Muslims as terrorists. There are nearly 1.57 billion people on this planet who are Muslims. Not only is it stupid and unjustifiable to claim nearly 23 percent of the world’s population partakes in terrorist activity — it’s irresponsible.

And we need to quit thinking about all the times we almost died, when, as with any car accident or house fire or natural disaster, time and place dictated otherwise. It simply didn’t happen.

Maybe we had been in Lower Manhattan an hour before 9/11 or we had taken the 35-W bridge to work that day. Maybe we sold a car that was involved in a wreck the next day or we’d been in a hotel that caught fire right after we checked out or we just returned from a vacation in the Cayman Islands before a Category 4 hurricane came barreling through. It’s so plainly human to latch onto our mortality whenever it comes into question. (Read: My post from yesterday.)

Ultimately, two things matter: What happened and what didn’t. The almosts aren’t even worth entertaining.