Signs you’re renting from a slum lord

I’m exaggerating. A little. But these are details that indicate a lack of care from the landlord. Be sure to look out for them before entering into your next rental agreement.

Things don’t work

This door leads to the patio. It is impossible to open it from inside the apartment because the wood was not properly treated to be exposed to rain. It has bloated stuck and grown mold. Before you rent, test everything: drawers, doors, switches, cabinets — everything.

Unfinished or strange structural features

What is that box? Why is there a gap between wall and ceiling? Why is there molding in parts and not others? What is the cut out square in the top left? I have no idea. But all of these indicate shoddy workmanship and shortcuts taken in construction. If this is how the property owner chooses to do construction, chances are they won’t be providing quality maintenance of your unit either.

Worn fixtures

How much does it really cost to replace light switch covers between tenants? Especially when they’re worn like this?

Unprofessional paint jobs

I’m not saying you need to pay to have a professional-looking paint job. You just have to know what you’re doing. In particular, moldings shouldn’t be painted the same color. Paint also shouldn’t be slathered on so thickly its drips harden into permanence.

Deteriorating flooring

Linoleum is the bane of my existence. Linoleum that is peeling is even worse. I hate to think of the horrors that live under there. Flooring that is damaged should be replaced before renting to a new tenant. Keeping it like this is a slumlord move.

Uneven floors or ceilings

The landlord/owner didn’t even want to splurge on an actual architect. How much do you think they’ll spend on your maintenance issues?

Leaking plumbing

The plumbing is fine, but it’s clear to me that this rotten portion between the sinks should not have been made of wood. Water pools there — obviously it will rot through and leak under the sink. The landlord’s solution? Paint over this part in beige! When we toured the apartment, the mold was completely painted over so we didn’t notice.

Duct tape fixes

This should be the biggest red flag. Who thinks duct tape is an appropriate fix? A slumlord.

Random holes and stains on walls

Units should at least be re-painted between tenants. Holes should be caulked. Random wires should be removed.

Individually, these issues may be small or even quirky, but taken together, they indicate a level of neglect that could mean you will have problems getting your landlord to adequately address any maintenance requests. Or worse — you could be moving in to a place with vermin problems. Aren’t you glad I didn’t post a picture of the mouse friend I’ve seen running around on the patio?

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La Maison des Cariatides

Or, my first Michelin starred restaurant experience.

I had a long debate with myself about whether it would be worthwhile to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. For me, it was always going to be about the food and nothing else, as long as the “else” wasn’t so atrocious as to be a distraction (think of the decor or service at the average authentic Chinese restaurant run by average authentic Chinese people). In the end I let it boil down to a simple test which you can try at home. Blindfolded, can you tell what color gummy bear you’re eating? If not, the experience probably won’t be worthwhile for you because your palate can’t tell anyway. If you’d be just as happy at KFC, why bother paying extra?

Here are some pictures from my experience at La Maison des Cariatides. It’s housed in what looks to be a centuries old building with statues at the second floor and carved bust detailing in the window arches.

This appetizer was not on the menu. Deep fried cheese with a sweet and sour sauce.

The 4 unopened eggs were not for eating. N asked. This one tasted like a creamy bacon mousse.

The sauce on this scallop was made from roasted hay. It enhanced the flavor of the scallop without overpowering.

Neither of us knew beforehand what “Ris de veau” was. The texture reminded me of brain, but it turns out to be glands. I don’t think I’ve had glands before. It seems the grilled part extends deeper than just the surface, and of course, the grilled part is my favorite part.

This might not look like much, and it might not be fancy, but these are the best creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes I have had in my life. They’re probably 50% butter by volume.

See this nice waitress offering us a cheese course? I had some of every cheese. If you do that in France they consider you a glutton. Whatever. Worth it.

The first time I recall enjoying anise flavor. The dust is an anise powder on a white chocolate wafer. Which the grapefruit sorbet wore like a little hat. The refreshing fantasy of every summertime beachgoer.

The presentation on second dessert seemed haphazard to me, but I was just so pleased no one was trying to get me to eat flowers or foam that I didn’t mind so much. The cigar looking bit had this smoked flavor.

This wasn’t on the menu either: a bonus 3rd dessert of Paris-Brest.

Overall, an amazing first experience at a Michelin starred restaurant. I thought it would be more formal and stuffy than it was. I didn’t notice anyone wearing anything dressy. The atmosphere was upscale but comfortable. Perhaps because this was in France, not the U.S. — but other patrons seemed to be there just as a regular meal: not a special celebration or event. I’m told that it’s not nearly as common for the average French person to indulge in a sit-down restaurant meal as it is here: that if they do, it’s going to be seriously about the food and not about getting full fast. So in that vein, that probably means there are not as many “mid-range” restaurants between quick kabob type places and places like this.

I loved that there was serious care and consideration put into every dish, but no push to challenge or over-decorate. The dishes were whimsical, but no one expected me to eat ants from a skull.

Would I do it again? Sure, in a heartbeat. This experience has also inspired me to avoid mediocre dining experiences, if only to save up for places like this instead.

Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.

Dear Donald

Dear Donald Trump,

Congratulations on winning the election! It must be such a relief. Now that it’s over you don’t have to pretend you’re pro-life or religious or that you give a damn about building a wall at the Mexican border.

Maybe you can get the religious Republicans who voted for you to be pro-choice too! Here’s how. You tell them that when abortions are illegal, more unwanted children get born. And unwanted children end up being costly to the taxpayer. Most of the time, their parents can’t afford them. They’re a burden on welfare, food stamps, the school system. Then by the time they’re old enough to be productive members of society, they’re more likely than wanted children to be committing crimes instead. That means they’re costing the taxpayer in cop salaries, court time, prison accommodations. None of your base likes to pay for welfare, food stamps, schools, public housing or prison. All of that is costlier than just offering free and widely available contraception / abortion services.

It goes against their morality? Well, you tell them that these folks don’t live by the same set of moral standards they do anyway. Why would they want their tax dollars to go towards services for these people to continue reproducing? Why fund their immorality?

Speaking of religious convictions, you’re secretly an atheist, aren’t you? Oh, all right. You’re not. I’ve known people like you. You don’t even think about all of that spiritual, metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Waste of your time. Maybe that’s something you can spread to your voter base too! Here’s how. Show them all your glorious business winnings. Your apartment in NYC, your piles of money, your illustrious orange.. err.. I mean… golden hotels soaring skyward. You’re a winner. Everyone wants to be a winner like you. They want to be just like you and guess what? You’re too smart to believe in god. You have better things to do. You got this far without a god — maybe they could get where they want to go too if they’d ditch that dead weight. What a waste of time, religion. Right?

Because once you’ve gotten them to let go of their Christian god, you know what? You can be their god. I’ll say it again. You, dear Donald, can be their GOD. It’s one thing to be a winner. That’s cool and that’s great, but lots of people are winners. How many people are gods? Just think of the glory. You’ll be the bigliest, winningest winner of them all.

Oh, but if you’re they’re god then you have to take care of them. They’re like your little children. And I know you love children, you have so many and they’re great. I heard that you liked some parts of Obamacare: that’s a great start! Also, did you know that the United States government currently pays 2nd most per capita in the entire world for health care? That’s not including what companies pay for their employees or out of pocket costs for individuals. Just government spending. That’s a terrible deal. We are getting a terrible deal on health care. It’s because we aren’t bargaining with drug manufacturers, care providers, hospitals. But when you’re the god of all your voters and you want to take care of them and make sure they’re in good health, you can change all that. You can do all the negotiating and make sure our government doesn’t get ripped off. You’ll make the best deal. We’ll get health care like Sweden has for a fraction of the cost. Everyone will have health care. I have faith in you.

Okay, that’s enough talking, you’ve done a good job reading all this. Have you a nice Big Mac now. And remember: you’re gonna be these people’s god. You have to take care of them.

The emperor’s naked

Or, “This is why I’m cheap.”

There are many factors that go into the price of a consumer product. The only one I willingly spend more on is marginal cost of production. That is, how much it costs to make one more unit of the item. This factor includes things like cost of materials, labor, electricity to run the factory, etc. In most cases (i.e., besides in the case of inefficiently produced goods), marginal cost of production is directly correlated with quality.

Wine is a good example of this. Did you know that even wine experts can’t tell expensive from cheap wine? Or that people report wine tasting better just because they’re told it’s expensive? They aren’t lying: the increased pleasure shows in their brain scans. Here’s the solution to the wine problem: have your friends bring you cheap wine and tell you it’s expensive. Do the same for your friends.

Here’s another great example:

3431_a2_eames_hang-it-all_coatrack

The MSRP on this designer (Eames Hang-it-all) coat rack is $199. But on Amazon, you can find one that looks similar for about $35. It’s even lower on Alibaba. We can assume the marginal cost of production is less than $30. Why does the original cost 6x as much? If there is really a noticeable quality difference, that would be fine, but for me, that would justify a price difference of 2x at most. Is it that the designer gets a royalty? Again, that would be fine, if most of the markup went into the designer’s pocket. However, I don’t think that happens. So why the price difference?

Here are things I won’t pay extra for: advertising, exclusivity, gimmicks, company bloat. I especially won’t pay for what I’m guessing is the most common reason things are overpriced for what they are: no reason at all. Simply to line the pockets of whoever is selling the overpriced things.

I wish the price tag of each item included MCP (marginal cost of production), so we could all be informed consumers and know what percent of our purchase price is pure bullshit.

What’s in my purse

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I remember reading articles in magazines where famous women would empty out their purses for magazines and talk about the contents. They probably got paid to pimp certain brands and products. I understand that I’m not famous and no one cares what’s in my purse, but I thought it’d be fun to write a post about it anyway.

  1. Phone. Okay, not really my phone. But how to take pictures of your phone with your phone? I haven’t gotten to that level of ninja yet. iPhone 6s, if you’re curious. I don’t like that the 7 has a nub camera that sticks out. Or that I have to drill my own headphone jack.
  2. Wallet. It’s not big enough for all the cards I want with me so that leads us to…
  3. Wallet addition. This holds my slightly-less-commonly used cards.
  4. Shopping sac. Yeah, the black rectangle with reindeer and trees. It’s from Monoprix and self-declares as the best shopping sac in the world.
  5. Floss. Worst feeling ever: something stuck between your teeth that you keep trying to dislodge with your tongue. But it won’t budge.
  6. Keys. The boat keychain lets me hang my keys near the door.
  7. Chapstick. Actually, I haven’t needed this in a while. Maybe I should remove it. I’m told this chapstick makes me look like I’ve been feasting on fatty pork. Attractive!
  8. Pen. I can only remember to do things if I write them on my hand. I don’t have the habit of checking notes or productivity apps, but my hand is pretty much always in plain view. Otherwise I have bigger problems.
  9. Comb. I shed like a Persian cat in summer. If I combed my hair inside the apartment my boyfriend would probably evict me.

Before you ask, I don’t have any makeup in my purse because I don’t know anything about it. I sometimes participate in studies where they pay me to apply makeup to my face and report back if I develop a rash, so I’ve decided I only wear makeup if I’m getting paid to do so. Plus, makeup doesn’t make me look cute. It makes me look like Donald Trump.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.