Paying the gas bill

Haven’t posted in forever. Funny what pushes my buttons.

I’m paying the bills. For a few years now, I’ve paid any bill that allows it online through my bank’s bill payment system. But my old bank got rapacious enough with its fees that I switched to a new one, even though switching banks is a huge pain in the ass. Gotta set up your automatic deposit again. Gotta remember what accounts you had on auto-pay and get them all switched over. Gotta set up every account you want to pay online on the new bank’s bill payment system. It’s a nuisance.

I thought I’d set up all the accounts when I made the switch a few weeks back, but I just opened my gas bill and remembered that I couldn’t find that one at the time, so I didn’t have the info to get it in the system. Suppose I could just do that now, but I’m kinda busy, don’t really feel like it. So I’m getting ready to just write them a check when I see there’s an 800 number I can call to make a payment. Saves me a stamp, so I ring it up.

Ah, but there’s a catch.

So let me get this straight, Nicor Gas (an AGL resources company). If I call up to pay my bill by phone through your automated system, you get the money sooner because it is immediately transferred from my checking account and you save the expense of having to process a hard-copy mailed payment. For this, you charge me a $3.50 “convenience fee.” If I write a check and mail it to you, it costs me less than $0.50 in postage, you have to process the mail and the paper check, and you don’t get use of the money for the couple of days it takes the mail to reach you, for however long it takes you to process the payment, and for however long it takes the check to clear.

In other words, I can pay you more money to get my payment to you sooner and in a way that is less expensive for you to process, or I can save money by sending it to you in a way that costs you use of that money for at least a few days and that is more expensive for you to process. *Ponders this.* No brainer for me. My bill payment ain’t gonna be late either way, so I’ll save the $3.50 and mail the check. I suppose I could take the time right now to set you up in my online bill payment thingee, but I don’t feel like it right now. I feel like mailing you the check. In fact, I might feel like mailing you the check for a while. I’ve got plenty of stamps.

*Ponders again* This seems stupid to me. Why would a major corporation incent its customers to cost it money? I have to assume Nicor has the usual cadre of bright, over-paid MBAs sitting around thinking of ways the company can rack up profits big enough to pay its C-level execs their obscene salaries while still keeping its shareholders in Gucci loafers, so I have to wonder if maybe there’s some other motivation for this system. So I thought about the business model, about what circumstances might push someone to choose to pay $3.50. Gee, could it be this? There are some people who have a hard time affording their utility bills and so they have to pay them at the last minute, maybe after they’ve gotten a disconnection notice, just the sorts of people who maybe don’t have access to online banking options. Therefore, they have no choice but to pay the “convenience fee” as just one more of the myriad insults that the poor suffer at the hands of the rich?

Couldn’t be that, could it?

Lucky bastard

Woke up before 5am today. Too much to do, too much on my mind, so going back to sleep was out of the question. Figured I might was well get up, get a jump on things, maybe back my to-do list far enough into its corner that I’ll sleep better tonight.

Hungry, though, and it’s one of those cold, almost-winter mornings that had me aching for something more than just the usual bowel of Cheerios. So I pawed through the pantry and saw the box of Malt-O-Meal. Made me smile. What my mom used to make sometimes on cold mornings like this. So I whipped up a bowl of that, put the brown sugar in it like she used to, maybe a little more than mom would have approved of.

Mom’s been dead since just before the millennium turned over. Yet in that weird Billy Pilgrim way life sometimes has, she was with me for breakfast. Dad’s been gone five years now, too. But that sense of him being here, too.

And I guess he was, I guess they were. My mind often ain’t right. Tends toward melancholy, always has, and I can’t really say why. I grew up with every advantage. Material, sure. Nice houses, nice clothes, good schools. But also always knowing I was loved. Always. There was nothing complicated about that, nothing conflicted, no sense of sacrifice being lorded over me. Just loved. Not in that dutiful parental way that sometimes implies, but like they were honestly glad I was around. Like they didn’t just love me, they liked me.

Been a rough few years for me. Not going to get into that. There’s stuff that just ain’t your business. Stuff some of you know, some of you don’t. But the last month or so, also the sense that maybe there are second chances.

So the melancholy thing, I’ll live with it. We all have our natures. But it wouldn’t resonate the way it does if it didn’t have this deep well of contentment to play off of, the memories I have of my childhood, the memories of being loved in an uncomplicated way that wanted nothing from me but my company, nothing for me but my happiness.

Saw on Facebook today where a guy I barely know lost his father yesterday. From his posts, my guess is he felt about his dad more of less the way I felt about mine. My first impulse was to say I’m sorry – it’s what we say. But sorry for what? Fathers die, mothers die. Or at least they do if life works out the way it should. If we’re lucky it’s hard to lose them. If we’re really lucky, then it’s really hard.

Takes a little distance, I guess, before you realize what a lucky bastard you are. Maybe I’ve finally got enough.

GREED is good

Greed-300dpiIt’s official peeps, book number two has a cover. And it’s another beauty. I thought the Exhibit A folk had caught lightning in a bottle with PENANCE, but the cover for GREED is even better. Seriously, if there is a publisher out there consistently coming up with better cover art than the Angry Robot family, I’d like to know who they are. Have you seen the cover of Chuck Wendig’s BLACKBIRDS? Or Chris Holm’s Collector series? Or any of the titles by my fellow Exhibit A authors?

For my devoted followers (yes, all three of you, and we’ll be having the annual appreciation dinner in the corner booth at Denny’s soon, watch for your invites), GREED may throw you. You saw the book go through its first draft live on the blog as THE GRAVITY OF MAMMON, which was actually a shorter version of my first working title, THE INEXORABLE GRAVITY OF MAMMON. After we’d settled on PENANCE as the title of my debut, though, the title was cut down to MAMMON – the thinking being we’d brand the series with one-word, biblical sounding titles. Ran into some concern that too many readers may be unfamiliar with the word mammon, though, so we’ve settled on GREED. And those who raised that concern may have a point. When I ran this post through spell check, it kept lighting up mammon. For the record, Matthew 6:24 from the King James Bible:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Be that as it may, GREED works just fine. Still one word, still biblical – one of the seven deadlies, after all. After you’ve read the book, I’m betting you’ll agree.

You may recall my excitement at the PENANCE cover because of its connection to Chicago’s history. And that was fitting because the city’s history played a major role in that novel. I’m excited about the cover of GREED for another reason. When I saw Marina Towers (the round building for you non-Chicagoans) I couldn’t help but think of the climatic scene from Steve McQueen’s last movie, The Hunter. If it’s good enough for Steve McQueen, it’s good enough for me.

Watch for GREED right after Christmas, when you’re looking to cash out all those bookstore gift cards you asked for.

To celebrate my new cover, I’m giving away an autographed copy of PENANCE. Just leave a comment on this post. In a week or so, I’ll drop all the names in an empty highball glass and pick a winner.

So I don’t blog for a couple of months, then, when I finally decide to break radio silence, it’s about Obamacare? Sure, why not. Go ahead and alienate at least half the population no matter what I say.

Anyway, here’s the thing. The premium numbers are in – first year numbers anyway. All along, a big part of the Republican narrative has been that premiums under Obamacare would be far too expensive. But the national average comes in at $328 a month. I’ve got pretty good health insurance through my employer, and I pay $314.28 a month – and that’s after what my employer chips in. Not to mention that, under Obamacare, health insurers are required to cover a wide range of preventative care items that insurers are not required to cover currently and they also can’t disqualify people because of pre-existing conditions. All in, it looks like a fair deal.

Here’s another thing. With Obamacare in place, I don’t have to base my employment decisions on health insurance anymore. And I’ve had to do that for the last twenty-some years. I’ve got kids, two of whom have disabilities. You add up drugs, therapy, doctor’s visits, those disabilities get real damn expensive. Drop out of an employer plan, and those disabilities turn into pre-existing conditions. That happens, not only would I end up paying at least twice what I pay now in premiums just to have coverage, the coverage I get wouldn’t include the bulk of the medical expenses I rack up.

The employment thing is a two-way street. Another scare tactic that the right has been throwing around is that employers are going to stop offering coverage (never mind that the legislation actually will force more of them to offer coverage or else pay a penalty). But suppose they do? If you can buy coverage on your own for more or less what you’d pay if you were buying it through your employer, then what difference does it make?

Let me make one thing real clear here. I’m not bashing employers. The way the healthcare system has evolved in this country has put too many of them in a real trick bag. For a variety of very complex reasons, health care in the US costs way more than it does in other countries, and that cost keeps going up faster than the rate of inflation. So the cost of providing insurance as an employee benefit keeps going up, too. To stay competitive in the talent market, employers have to figure out a way to afford that. I don’t blame them for wondering how your health care became their problem. If, eventually, Obamacare ends up weaning employees off the employer tit, if it ends up making your health care decisions independent of your employment decisions, I say that’s a good thing. Good for you and good for your employer.

And here’s another thing. If, in the long run, Obamacare ends up defragmenting the heath care market in the US, if it ends up providing an overarching structure that will finally allow market forces to force some rationality and consistency on to health care pricing, then our ridiculously expensive and Byzantine health care industry might get less expensive simply because it will get less Byzantine.

Yet another thing – the name. See, it’s really called The Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party types dubbed it Obamacare in the mistaken belief that their reflexive antipathy to every action taken by the black guy with the funny name was universally held and that, by tying the plan directly to the man they could insure its defeat. Didn’t work out that way. Ironic, really. The basic design of Obamacare was the product of the Heritage Foundation – a right-wing think tank. It was famously instituted in a very similar form in Massachusetts by a republican governor, Mitt Romney. And why not? The inexorably intertwined issues of health care coverage for all Americans and our irrationally expensive health care system have been begging for an effective policy response for decades. If Obamacare works, and the early signs are that it just might, it will go down in history as one of the most important public policy initiatives in the post-war era. It could have been a policy that the right claimed as its own, or at least one of bipartisan lineage. Instead, the far right has given full credit to the man they hate the most.

One final thing. Like it or not, Obamacare is the law. It was passed by the house and the senate. It was signed by the president. It was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. The right doesn’t like it. Everybody understands that. The Tea Party wing that has hijacked the Republican party has attempted over and over to repeal the law without success. They did their best to make the last presidential election a referendum on Obamacare. They lost. Unable to scuttle Obamacare through the democratic process, they are now threatening to shut down the government and even default on our nation’s obligations – every penny of which Congress had to vote to incur – in an effort to try to stop Obamacare. They are willing to risk tipping a still-fragile economic recovery back into recession because they can’t get their way at the ballot box. They are holding an economic gun to your head.

We have a name for people who try to frighten populations into complying with the will of the minority by threatening their well being.

We used to call them terrorists. Now, I guess, we can start calling them republicans.

Reading to the Book Mouse crowd in my tough-guy pink shirt

Reading to the Book Mouse crowd in my tough-guy pink shirt

One of the first things I remember crime uber agent Stacia Decker telling me was to make friends with indie book stores – how they were the ones who were going to hand-sell your books and could really make a difference in attracting new readers. Last night was a perfect example of that.

Just before my book launched, I got an email from The Book Mouse, an indie in Ottawa, IL. Ottawa’s a town of 18,000 or so about a hundred miles southwest of Chicago, located on the banks of the Illinois River (the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate for you history fans out there). They asked if I’d be willing to come down for one of their author dinners. For these, they sell tickets. The ticket gets you a copy of the book and dinner with the author at a local restaurant. You eat, socialize, and after dinner do a reading and answer questions. I said I’d love to, but I was wondering how much luck they’d have selling tickets for a debut author nobody’s heard of.

The dinner was last night. Turns out they do pretty well.

The dinner was at a place called Hank’s Farm, a charming, rustic joint in a converted barn on Illinois 71. I was a little unsure on travel times and erred on the side of caution, so I got there a little early, just as Greg, the host from the bookshop, was setting up in a private dining room. The u-shaped table looked like it was set for about 30. I had visions of sitting in this expanse of plates and glasses with maybe four or five people.

But, by 5:00, the place had filled up. I had a delightful dinner talking with the people seated near me. I wish I’d been able to visit more with some of the other guests. Some of them had already read PENANCE, some of them were just picking up their copy that night. I learned a lot about Ottawa and environs – and now I really need to read up on these murdered nurses at the local state park. After the meal and a gracious introduction from Greg, I got up to do my reading.

I was a little worried. The chapter I usually use at my readings is pretty raw. The first sentence reads “Jesus Stosh, I knew you’d stick your dick in a light socket if you thought you’d get away with it, but this is fucking nuts.” The thing is, the crowd tended a little older and a little female. I warned them that I was going to use some bad language and that there would be blood. I had visions of a mass exodus of disgusted solid citizens filing out after stopping to see Greg to demand refunds.

But they were great. They seemed to enjoy the reading and they asked some pretty insightful questions for probably half an hour. I had a wonderful time and, unless they were just exceedingly polite, it seems the folks who turned out did, too.

Talked with Greg a little before I left. The Book Mouse had sold 30 copies of PENANCE as part of the dinner and, he thought at least 15 or 20 copies independent of that. Sold them largely, I think, because Greg liked the book and had been pushing it. He had a pile of stock for me to sign before I left, so it looks like he’s planning on selling more. But, so far, maybe 50 copies out of a small indie in a town of 18,000 in rural Illinois.

Forget pimps, it’s tough out there for a writer these days. We need all the friends we can get. I have to count The Book Mouse as a very good friend indeed.

Today’s my daughter’s birthday. She’s 23. She’s bright, she’s tough, she’s compassionate and she makes me proud everyday.

Today is also day three of Chuck Wendig’s sermon on misogyny, rape culture, and the disgusting tribe of jackass dickweeds who think that the girls getting into their gaming clubhouse is going to get menses all over everything and ruin their fun.

I’m old enough that I missed the whole video-gaming thing. The more I hear about these freaks, the happier I am about that. But it makes me sad. See, I work in the real, grown-up world with people who, by and large, realize that men and women are all individuals with their own issues and problems; that testosterone and estrogen are just hormones – hormones that each of us have in varying amounts by the way – not toxins; a world where the kind of laughable woman-hating crap these freaks are throwing around would get you laughed at. And then fired.

Now I find that my daughter still has to live with this bullshit – and that her own generation is leading the charge.

There have always been terrified little men hiding in basements who could never quite make their way in the world and who settled on women as the reason why. Women were busting their balls. Women were making them want to do unspeakable things and then not responding to their awkward advances in the way they hoped. Women inflamed their weird little pathologies, so women MUST have caused them. Why, if it weren’t for women, they’d be out of the basement and having a life just like everyone else.

Thing is, those guys used to be alone or, if not alone, maybe they had this one friend, one other guy who stayed stuck in the girls-have-cooties stage with them, one other guy who couldn’t get a date and didn’t understand why, and the two of them would play Risk alone in the basement and talk about how women ruined their lives, hell, how women ruined everything. And then they’d yell up the stairs at their mothers every few hours about how they were out of root beer and cheese puffs.

But they knew they were alone. They knew they weren’t normal. They knew that everybody else managed somehow. If they were smart, they got help. If they weren’t they stayed in that basement and got older and weirder and did it alone.

Then the Internet came along. They could google “women ruin everything” and find crap like this. Suddenly, these psychologically stunted untermensch didn’t feel alone. They had a community. They validated each other. They imagined that, instead of being maladjusted dweebs blaming their own failures on the mysterious power of women, they were generals in some underground game-nerd army fighting a guerilla war against the estrogen toxin, especially when it tried to worm its way into to their secret tech lairs.

And not just poor little boys permanently stuck in an imaginary pre-adolescent gender war either. Skinheads found their racist ilk. Religious nutjobs of every stripe could band together in their often misogynistic little tribes. Every hateful mental pathology found its own twisted echo chamber where its members could convince each other that they weren’t fuck ups, they were RIGHT.

Sometimes I miss the old days.

Chuck’s point today is that we have to speak out, all of us, even the men. That doesn’t make us heroes or anything any more than saying gravity makes us stick to the ground would make us Isaac Newton. But there has to be noise in the system, enough of it so that these stunted twits realize that, while they might have found a few hundred or a few thousand like-mined losers in the vastness of cyberspace, there are hundreds of thousands, even millions of people out there to remind them they are still wrong, they are still maladjusted and lost little boys hiding in basements. They might have found a few more silly little friends, but they are still what they always were. Frightened children who never managed to grow up.

Penance-144dpiMy debut novel is finally out. You can pick up PENANCE at bookstores, well, not everywhere exactly, but it’s at a lot of them, or through the usual online suspects like Indiebound, Barnes & Noble or Amazon, or, if you’re the ebook type, you can get it direct from Exhibit A. So run out and get a copy. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back already? Purty, ain’t it?

Chicago’s dubious political history figures prominently in PENANCE, so, to celebrate, I thought I’d commemorate Illinois’s delightful political heritage with an election of my own. What political heritage you ask? Well, a University of Illinois study found more than 1,000 politicians and businesspeople convicted of public corruption in Illinois since 1970. And name another state whose last two governors have spent time in the clink.

So here’s the deal. I’m running a contest to find THE MOST CORRUPT POLITICIAN OF ALL TIME! That’s right, the granddaddy of political malfeasance, the capitain of clout, the ayatollah of pay-ola, the… aw hell, you get the idea.

And ya’ll are gonna help.

Send me a one-paragraph nomination for your political scumbag of choice. It can be anyone from anywhere at anytime in history. I’ll pick the four that amuse me most and then we’ll have us an election. Nominators for each of the Final Four will get to hijack my blog for a day to make their nominating speech, then everybody will get to vote for their favorite.

Remember, this is a Chicago election. Dirty tricks and bribes are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. Vote early, vote often and use any means necessary to curry my favor. You wanna mail me bacon? Cool. Wanna pose au natural with your copy of PENANCE? Who am I to stifle your political creativity. Go ahead, have some fun.

Nominations are due by June 1. June will be convention month. I’ll pick the Final Four and assign guest blog dates. Polls open on July 1 with the winner announced on July 11, to mark a really fun date in Chicago history (more on that later).

The winner gets a signed copy of PENANCE along with a copy of my short fiction collection OLD SCHOOL.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! The good folks at Exhibit A are throwing in a one-year ebook subscription that’s worth fifty-two entire British Pounds. I don’t know what that comes to in real American money, but c’mon, what a haul.

STILL NOT ENOUGH? The winner will also be my guest for either burgers at Kuma’s or deep dish pizza at Gulliver’s. (I’ll mail you the books and you get the ebook thingee through the magic of the Interwebs, but you gotta get your own ass to Chicago to collect on the grub.)

So get your nominations in now and start smearing your competitors and sending in your bribes.

May the worst man win.


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