Tag: cliffhanger

Fortune Favors the Old


I mostly take it for granted now that I’m a bitter, bitter old man, but being younger wasn’t easy. For those of you who’ve never been young, in fact, I can tell you that it made almost everything harder. And…wait. What?

How is that even possible? How were some of you not young? I feel like this is a far more interesting story than the one I’m about to tell.


All that aside, it’s only in hindsight that I sort of see the benefits of going to college later on in life. Of course, it wouldn’t be all that useful since it wouldn’t help you get a good job. And if you go late enough you’re the old person in class that people whisper about finishing a degree as part of your bucket list. Not to mention that waiting fifty years to go to college probably means paying about four to five thousand percent of what you would have right out of high school…

You know what? I take it back. College isn’t easy for anyone of any age.

But I’ve never been an old person at college. (Though I was starting to get close by the time my fifth year rolled around.) So let’s focus on what I’m familiar with – how hard it was for young people to do almost anything.

Everything from setting up a back account to getting a first job to avoiding credit card scams is a learning process. Luckily, I’m sure you learned all about that in hypothetical fantasy senior year in high school. You know, the one where you actually learned how to find work or do taxes instead of learning the math where they ran out of numbers and letters so they just started using made-up symbols.

“Couldn’t you just look online?” you ask, about ten years too late to be helpful. “Wasn’t there a YouTube video on it or something? Maybe a Facebook discussion group to ask for advice?”

It would be about there that I’d cut you off in the middle of your list of things that didn’t exist in 2002 by saying that, well, those things didn’t exist in 2002. The Internet in general wasn’t nearly as helpful as it is today. (Though there were a lot fewer advertisements.) For the most part it was just random blogs and personal pages where people complained about not having a unified social media platform where their complaints could reach all their family and friends at once.

But, as I do so often it may as well be the title of this story, I digress…

I at least had the foresight to have a bank account set up in advance. Unfortunately, the bank I’d been using since I was a teenager was located about a mile and a half off campus. Since walking that far even to be handed money was out of the question, this meant finding one on the main street where – and I wish there were more context to this story – a man in a clown costume ushered me into a PNC Bank.

Say what you will about their pitch, but that account had no fees and no minimum balance. Plus it came with a free savings account. I’m still using that account to this day. And in the case of the savings account, I even have money to put in it now.

A lot of other students weren’t so lucky.

I want to give people a little more credit. I really do. But far too many conversations began by someone pointing out they’d just gotten a free shirt. This was generally followed by a sly grin and a comment along the lines of, “All I had to do was sign up for a credit card for three years!”

Yeah. Score.

The talk would generally trend downhill from there when they explained the terms of the agreement. “Well, all I have to do is make purchases with it once a month. The rate is 11.97%. APB? APR? I think they said something about APR. Is that bad?”

I didn’t fall for the college credit card scam. In fact, I’ve never had one. Why? Because they somehow prey on the assumption that your poverty is a situation temporary enough that it’ll probably end in the next 30 days so you can pay off the balance interest-free. But not so temporary that you shouldn’t just wait to make the purchase with real, actual money that belongs to you.

I only learned sometime later that, yes, “APR” is bad. APR is the financial equivalent of writing “jk” after a text. “Your interest rate is 0%! Just kidding. It’s actually 17.99%.”

Or, in the case of “variable APR,” “Jk and sometimes I’m jk-ing more than others.”

And sure, it’s easy to judge those students. (I certainly did.) But how were they to know any better? Like your older relative who just can’t grasp that they need to stop opening e-mails from senders they don’t know to avoid viruses, this was entirely new information to them.

You could argue that anyone should have the common sense to stay away from questionable people giving away free shirts in exchange for signing financial agreements. Then again, if I hadn’t taken financial advice from an actual clown – who I can only assume worked for the bank in some capacity – I’d have been walking a mile and a half every time I wanted to deposit a check.

Okay. I’m rereading it again now. And part of me thinks that maybe there is something more to that clown story.

But it’ll have to wait, since my last point segues nicely into the last hard part of being young. Well, not the last point. The last non-clown point…you know what I mean. I speak, of course, of getting your first job.

Which, now that I think about it, is a topic so large I couldn’t possibly cover it in a separate section about being young only tangentially related to it.


Story Time – The Long and the Short of It


Disclaimer: About a decade of having Crohn’s Disease has given me an issue of “terminal oversharing” when it comes to my insides (or the contents therein). When doctors are asking you on a daily basis how often you’re going to the bathroom, how long you’re spending each time and vivid descriptions of anything that comes out of you, you either get over your embarrassment or people start misdiagnosing you.

I realize that this is understandably unpleasant for most people to read about. But I should make clear that my chronic illness is more of a framing device for this story. I don’t plan to get into the messy particulars. I only mention it because otherwise you’d have no clue why your handsome protagonist was in the hospital and why he was so indifferent to what would be a fairly worrisome procedure otherwise.

End Disclaimer.

It’d been about two years and some change since my surgery. The upside of having your intestine removed for Crohn’s Disease is that it’s actually a decent “nuclear option” – very effective but with some unintended consequences. The only trouble is that, like a lingering zombie threat, it can often regrow if even the slightest bit is left. Did I mention we were fighting zombies in that analogy? In hindsight, mentioning that seems sort of important.

My specialist at the time of surgery had been letting me handle my recovery mostly on my own. Probably because he retired. I assume, if stereotypes are to be believed, to somewhere warm with plentiful golf courses.

(Though, since he confided to me in our last office visit that he stayed on an extra three months just to see my treatment through to the end, I can’t help but say he deserves a nice retirement by virtue of being such a decent human being alone.)

His replacement didn’t last long. She was, and I’m trying to be kind here, fixated on my anus. “Do you know what an anal fistula is?” “Did you ever have an anal fistula?” “Have you ever been checked for an anal fistula?” “Do you mind if I check your anus right now?”

“Hello,” I said, reaching out my hand to shake hers. “My name is Matt. What’s yours, person who literally started asking about my anus before she introduced herself?”

Luckily, she turned out to be a doctor, but still.

Thing went predictably downhill from there. She seemed fairly disinterested in the wealth of paperwork available on problems and surgeries I actually did have. She ordered a bevy of tests aimed at finding some mythical anal fistula that never was. I don’t know why she wanted to find that thing so much. Perhaps, like some even more horrible Captain Ahab, this was her brown whale.

Long story short (or at least medium), I requested another doctor.

“Bad news on that,” I was told by my General Practitioner. “The doctor you’re leaving and our other gastroenterologist are sort of…an item. They’re…involved. Romantically. They sort of met here and hit it off…”

“I get it,” I said, stopping him before I heard something I probably wouldn’t want to know about two people who considered gastroenterology a perfect backdrop for romance. “What’s that got to do with anything? They’re doctors, right? Can’t they keep their personal and professional stuff separate?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. No?” At least he was honest. So I got sent to a different practice in a weird part of town. You know, the part where your Main Street goes all the way from North to South Main and suddenly you’re driving on East Main Street.

(To say nothing of my confusion when I turned onto East South Street. What the hell, city planners?)

My new specialist was competent enough – a good mix of action and knowing when inaction was the better option. He told me that doctors tend to just throw Humira at people with Crohn’s Disease nowadays. (I assume he meant metaphorically.) But studies showed it only helped bringing the disease into remission. It wouldn’t do anything to make remission last longer. So, instead, he poisoned me.

Okay. Sorry. Jumping ahead in the story a bit. Let me ease us into that part.

He prescribed a medicine that was effective in keeping my disease at bay. The downside was that not everyone tolerated it well. And those who didn’t, well, they tended not to tolerate it spectacularly.

Still, I gave it a try. And three weeks later, as I projectile vomited the instant I swallowed it for the third night in the row, my pattern recognition made note of it. In short, I tried it one more time, just to be sure. More projectile vomiting.

“Ugh. I’m not doing that again.” I talked to my doctor. He said to try it again. The outcome was more or less as projectile vomit-y as before, though by that point I was at least used to it enough that I tried to mix in some “Exorcist” quotes to make it funnier.

(For the record, I’ve now been poisoned, stabbed, hung and disemboweled. I’m just three steps away from completing the “Vigo the Carpathian Challenge” from “Ghostbusters II.”)

From there, my specialist nodded his head sagely and said, “Well, why don’t we do some tests? Have you ever drank barium?” I had – oftentimes even for medical reasons. “Good. And how do you feel about undergoing a medical test that is, in some ways, less pleasant than projectile vomiting but has the benefit of taking much, much longer?” he asked. Okay. He didn’t ask that. But he should have.

Alas, this is getting too long and I haven’t even got to the story yet, so that, dear friends, will have to be a tale for another day. Or later today? Tomorrow? Stay tuned.