A Letter to A Friend With Money

My dear, dear Girlfriend,

You have been my good friend for eleven years. Time flies, doesn’t it? You are turning forty today. Happy Birthday!

Do you realize how much you have achieved? You have money. You have no debt. You have a big house, and you have a good and stable job. You can afford to go to exotic countries for your vacations. You are raising two kids all by yourself, and you are doing a great job.

I am very proud of you because not every woman could have achieved what you had. Remember last year you bought a new car and paid cash? It was such a huge achievement, didn’t you think so? At least in my eyes! A single mother of two pays cash for everything! I, on the other hand, can only dream about it.

We have been good friends for years, but somehow it feels that we live on two different planets. Sometimes I feel like you don’t know me at all. Especially when it comes to your birthdays.

Let me take this letter as an opportunity to try and reach out to you because it seems that spoken words don’t have enough power anymore.  I should have written this letter a long time ago. Actually, I have been trying to reach out to you for years. But you never listened. 

I am always dreading your birthdays because I know that I am expected to keep up with your expectations. You don’t take into account that Beaker and I have debt to battle. You don’t ask me if I can actually afford to celebrate your birthdays the style you want. For years I have tried really hard. I have even put quite a few your birthday expenses on a credit card just to prove to you that I was a good friend.

This year I am refusing to overspend in order to be a good friend. The point is that the friendship should matter, not the amount of money I spend on your birthdays. Right? RIGHT?

You are turning forty, and you want a big expensive celebration with close friends. You want great celebrations every year.  I won’t mention the past. This year I totally understand it. We turn forty once in a lifetime, and some of us want to make it a special occasion, something to remember forever.

If you want your close friends around during your special day, don’t you want to consider your friends’ financial situation? Just for a short second? Just once in eleven years? 

You suggested an upscale five star restaurant where entrees are served a la carte and cost about $50 and up.

Have you ever listened to me telling you that there are bills, there is debt in my life? Have you ever understood that Beaker and I don’t have a good emergency fund, and we live on a borrowed time before something happens?

Don’t make me regret telling you that we paid $13,000 off of our debt last year, because it seems to me that you want me to put your birthday bill on my credit card.

Now… I realize I have gained some weight over the years. But it doesn’t give you the right to tell me that Beaker and I should eat less when I tell you that we cannot afford to go to your birthday where we have to pay $50 per plate. Of course we can come and order a couple of salads (hopefully they will give us some bread), bring a bottle of wine, and watch you enjoy your day. Would you like us to do this?

I am trying to understand what matters to you the most: spending time with your close friends celebrating your special day OR have an upscale dinner just because you can? If it is the latter, you are on your own this time.

Hopefully the day will come when you read this letter. Maybe you will get mad that I put it on my blog. Maybe it will ruin our friendship. I do hope, however, that this letter will make you think a little bit more about me and a little bit less about yourself.

I love you, and I always will be your friend!

Happy Birthday, my dear!

How Not To Retire By 40 – Part II: An Ode To Emergency Fund

This post was included in Carnival of Personal Finance #299: The March Break Edition as one of  the Editor’s Picks!

Family History

I was raised by my mother and my grandmother. An emergency fund was non-existent in our family. I don’t think that growing up I even understood what it means. Neither my grandmother nor my mother discussed family financial matters with me. Even when I graduated from the University and got my first job, no one ever told me: save up Aloysa, spend less than you make, think about retirement.

Our family never had savings, and in case of an emergency my mother or grandmother would ask friends to loan them badly needed money. Somehow their friends always would have money to loan… till the payday.

My mother and grandmother were teachers. Teachers were not paid very well in the Soviet Union, and it was not easy to run a household full of women. In fact, I am not sure anyone was paid well back then unless they belonged to the communist party, KGB or worked in the defense ministry. However, there were always people (like friends of my mother’s) who always managed to have savings.

Historical Background

Ironically, it was considered shameful to be rich in the USSR (the rule never was applied to the communist party members.) People who were better off were frowned upon and could easily become a subject of KGB investigations. Those people had to hide their wealth and money. Sometimes I wonder if habits of hiding money in socks, pots, books and under mattress came from that time.

The Revolution of 1917 that eventually led to the creation of the Soviet Union was built on the hatred  (as so many other revolutions in the world) of rich and powerful. I know it is a pretty simplistic and unsophisticated way to look at it (there was so much more to the causes of the Revolution than that), but I don’t want to go into a detailed history lesson. This post is not about that.


We lived from paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes we wouldn’t manage even that. Thankfully, there was no credit system in the Soviet Union. It scares me to think what would happen to the majority of people if there would have been one. Friends who were a little richer, a little better off were our lifelines. We could not build any emergency fund because there was nothing to build it from.

It was one of my friends here, in the US, who told me once that it was always important to have some savings build up because “you never know what life will throw in your way.” She was also the one who introduced me to the notion of “spending less than you make.” She was very frugal. Sometimes to the point of being plainly cheap. But there was a  good reason for that. She was building her savings account because she was preparing to run away from her abusive husband. She was a powerful saver who managed to put away enough money to get herself out of the marriage by simply cleaning houses twice a week. 


It took me years to realize how important an emergency fund is in one’s life. Without it, you sink deeper and deeper into debt. Without it, you are not a free person to live your life. You are a slave to circumstances. I’ve been one for years and believe me, it is not a pretty picture.

Credit cards, personal loans, banks let you down, but emergency fund never does. Emergency fund is stronger than anything you can ever accumulate. It is stronger than time (depending where you keep it.)

Its strength holds you together when nothing else can.

Talk It Out: Run and Don’t Look Back

Welcome to Talk It Out. It finally arrived!

One of my readers wrote me a while ago, as soon as I introduced the Talk It Out column. I followed up with her to see if the situation she found herself in remained unchanged. Unfortunately for my reader nothing has changed. Fortunately for me, I can feature her in my first Talk It Out.

She chose to remain anonymous, so I had to change her name. I did put some of my remarks in italics. I just couldn’t help but say something before I even got a chance to discuss it!

Background: Lisa has been living with a guy, I’ll call him Bob, for the last 3 years. He is in his early thirties. She is in her late twenties. Lisa thinks that Bob is “a good man, caring, loving, fun.” But Bob is really bad with money. In spite of this flaw, Lisa was considering to marry him until… well… until this tax season.

How Bob manages money: he doesn’t own a credit card because in the past, according to Bob, he had a really bad experience with a student loan that screwed up his credit score. Bob has no savings and lives paycheck to paycheck but somehow always finds money to buy video games.

He refuses to come up with a budget. He doesn’t allow Lisa to pull his credit report and “barks” at her if she brings it up. He has an outstanding dentist bill that he doesn’t pay because, according to Bob, his dentist screwed it up (Really Bob? Your life seems so “unfair.” It is never your fault, isn‘t it?) Finally, he owes $2,000 in back taxes.

Lisa and Bob keep their money in separate accounts (Thank God! I am a joint account proponent but in this situation who would think differently? Anyone?)

Situation: Lisa has done her taxes and found out that she is getting $2,000 back. Then she proceeded to do Bob’s taxes, and it appeared that Bob owes $500 (ouch). She researched what could have possibly caused it, and found out that Bob never changed his federal and state exemptions from 3 to 0. She asked him to do it last year when he also ended up owing taxes. He never did!

Bob doesn’t have money to pay the taxes he owes.

Lisa got sick and tired (finally!) of Bob’s unwillingness to change his attitude towards finances, and told Bob that if he doesn’t change by the end of this year, she will leave him. Meanwhile she is wondering if she was too tough on him, and if she should pay his outstanding back taxes from her tax refund and savings.

Aloysa’s Talking It Out: Let me make it clear:

– the guy refuses to make a budget,

– he doesn’t let you to pull his credit report,

– he has no savings,

– he doesn’t pay bills because he thinks he doesn’t need to,

AND (as I see it,)

– he refuses to change


you are going to stay with him till the end of the year?

What is wrong with you, Lisa? Love can be blind but to what extend?

Don’t pay his bills, please don’t. His bills are his responsibilities (and he doesn’t like to take upon any of them.) By paying his bills you are not helping him to achieve anything or start from a clean page. You are helping him to pay for more video games!

You have been living together for three years, and he has not change anything for you. What makes you believe that he will change within the next ten months? He is in early thirties (seriously, he is not 12 and clueless) and, let me tell you, people usually know pretty well what they want by this age.

I don’t think Bob loves and respects you, Lisa. I am really sorry to say that but he doesn’t plan your future together. It sounds awful, I know. I believe that when you love your partner, you will sit down and find a comprise that works for both of you.

By the way, if you know his social security number, and you should know it if from doing his taxes, pull his free credit report and, I can bet, you will see there things that you have not imagined.

But enough of my opinions already. AKS readers always have a lot of  insightful opinions, magnificent advice and a lot of support to offer.

Let’s talk it out with my readers!

How Not To Retire By 40 Part I: Things That Undo Us

The series of the following posts was inspired by one of my good friends and a great blogger Joe, the creator of Retireby40 , where he is chronicling his journey to retirement. Joe wrote a post How To Retire By 40 where he outlined and mapped his journey to an early retirement.

It is a very stimulating post and an exciting journey for those who stayed on track, who have mapped, saved, invested, planned from the early age. Those people already can visualize a nice bungalow somewhere warm and exotic. They close their eyes and see themselves raising their grandchildren. They stock up on travel books because they know they will travel the world. In other words, those people see the light at the end of the tunnel by age 35 or 40.

But then there are those, who are not staying on their retirement track for a variety of reasons. They close their eyes and see bills. They stock up on travel books because that’s the only way they can travel the world. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, they are not even sure where this tunnel can be found. I am one of those people.

Pick The Right Partner

The right partner means common goals and mutual understanding. It means partnership. It means working together towards common future. Beaker and I are definitely right for each other in spite of the fact that I am a spender and he is a saver. In spite of the fact that I look at money as something to be spend on travel, books, furniture, and clothes, and Beaker looks at money as a means to an end that provide security and stability.

What can I say? We complete each other.

Get Rid Of Consumer Debt

I came to the U.S. with no debt. Then over a few years living in a consumerist paradise I accumulated quite a bit of it. I told my story about that time in my life here. I took out some student loans to get myself through the school. The result of my few years in the US: piles of credit card debt, student loans and a car loan.

Beaker had one student loan when he met me. A few years and one European honeymoon later, we increased our debt by a few thousands and enthusiastically added a mortgage on a top of it.

Looking back I am not sure what triggered the bitter awakening, but something definitely did. Maybe it was the realization that debt sets us back in our life achievements. We finally saw that in order for us to do what we want to do, to live the life we want to live, we need to get rid of our debt. As fast as we can.

Last year we were able to pay off $13,000 on our debt. It feels great. But we still have a long way to go. But at least by now, we know where that mysterious tunnel, we were searching for sometime now, is located.

Spend Less Than You Make

This is a very simple truth, isn’t it? Wrong! It surely sounds simple. But try living according to it and you will see that there is nothing simple about it.

Some of us don’t follow the notion of spending less than we make not because it is difficult to do, but because so many of us are oriented towards immediate results and instant gratification.

The devil of consumerism appears at your elbow full of sympathy, suggestions and possibilities. Humans are weak (at least those if us who came from the former Soviet Union) and we give in to the devil’s temptation. Yes, I served the devil of consumerism for years. Budgets and savings love us in the long run. But it requires time, effort and discipline. The devil of spending (or consumerism) takes an interest in us and provides an immediate gratification we humans crave. By the time you realize it, it’s too late and the damage is done.

There is only one financial thing I fear now – debt. For I have seen it, felt it and lived it. In fact, I am still living it.

I know now that it is debt and reckless spending that undo us.

To be continued.

P.S. By the way, Joe just had a baby, and if you didn’t say “Congratulations” yet, head over to his site immediately and do so!

Not A Classy Exit Followed By A Better (Hopefully) Return

January was a rough month for Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink. So was the beginning of February. Hopefully from this moment forward it will be smoother sailing. One can only hope for it, right?

A lot of you asked me what happened, why I pulled the plug so unpredictably. A few of you asked me to come back! I do owe you some answers. At least, I feel that I do.

What happened

I don’t have a thrilling story to tell about Lithuanian mob requesting at gun point to pull the website down because of my post How We Did Business The Mob Style. FBI did not put Beaker and me into the witness protection program, and did not send us to some remote farm in Ohio.

No broken hearted women wrote me hate letters because they felt that I portrayed them in A Good Gym Is Difficult To Find. Just Like A Good Man. Maybe one day I will get hate mail from at least one of these women. It would make a great blog post, wouldn’t it?

My story is pretty trivial. I simply burned out. Don’t you feel it sometimes? When the pressure at work is building up at a hectic pace, and you start to wonder if you are going to have a mental breakdown? When you come home and feel completely drained, and not a single coherent thought crosses your mind? That was me. It didn’t happen in one day. In fact, it was weighing me down for weeks.

I shamelessly gave up on my blog because it seemed to be the easiest way out.

Why I Pulled the Plug

I like closures. I don’t like to abandon anything and let it float in time and space unattended. Is it compulsive obsessive? I don’t know. Perhaps. But don’t get me wrong. It was not the happiest moment in my blogging career. The feeling of closure, the finality of it was painful. It felt irrevocable and complete. Or so I thought.

One great thing emerged from this as I call it “not so classy exit” debacle. Your support, emails and forum discussions made me think really hard. In fact, you made me reconsider a lot of things about blogging and myself as a blogger.

You made me feel as if I was still on the blogging ride, my mind caught in some tremendous gravitational force that pulled me back in, right where I was before I thought I left it all behind.

You probably don’t realize it but you also taught me some valuable lessons:

No one is alone in the blogging world. There is a lot of support, understanding and care.

Expectations should be reasonable. No one is expected to be perfect.

If you need help, ask for it. That’s what friends and guest posts are for.

If you need a break then take a break, have some rest, get away from it all. Financial Samurai said it the best “If you can speak forever, you can blog forever.”  Ditto!

What Future Holds

Even though I am still sorting things out, I am ready for a comeback. I wrote this post with a lot of hope and a feeling of endless possibilities.

Talk It Out: Money and Relationships column will be back, and I hope for its first appearance next Monday. Beaker is excited to continue his series Beaker’s World. There is still a lot to discuss about our trip to China. I missed some great blog swaps and, even though, I cannot promise to make up for it, I will come up with something to compensate for missing all of this.

I cannot promise to post three times a week. But I can promise that I am back to blogging.

Are you in?

Using Technology to Cope With Emergencies

This post comes from the NerdWallet.com team of financial bloggers and experts in helping users compare rewards credit cards.

Life doesn’t always follow the simple plans you create, so in case life’s unforeseen circumstances emerge it’s always a good idea to have the right tools to help you deal with them. The following are some chaos scenarios, and corresponding fail-safes you can use to face each one.

Delays in Your Flights
No one likes having flights delayed, and let alone spending umpteen hours in a crap executive lounge, sleeping on a floor. But life throws situations like this at us, so we just have to be prepared. Since getting sleep and eating will be your main worry during these scenarios, you should try to deal with airlines that offer to pay for lodging and meals when their flights have been delayed or cancelled. Not many do, but some travel credit cards can help. Users of the Discover Escape card can get up to $150 reimbursed daily (for up to three days), for lodging, meals and any other expenses you’ll incur with delays and cancellations that strand you for a long time. There are certain restrictions, of course, which include a minimum six-hour delay. You can take a look at Discover’s coverage to get the most recent info for your next trip.

Another option is to purchase trip insurance in advance, which you can do with American Express Travel Delay protection. The costs for this insurance can be around $9.95 per person and trip. If you are enrolled, it is billed to your card automatically when you travel. In their policy, you will be given $250 daily for up to 2 days, but if there isn’t any alternative transportation before 9 pm that day, you will receive $200 daily plus $50 if your flight is delayed for at least 3 hours.

Luggage Issues
Another unbearable scenario is having your precious luggage lost or delayed. With the Visa Signature cards, you will be covered for up $3,000 per trip if your bags are stolen or lost. Then with the high-end World MasterCards, like the HSBC Premier and Citi Gold Advantage card, you can get similar coverage. Both types of cards generally offer free concierge services, which is otherwise a pretty penny.

Another card offering similar coverage is Amex, costing only $9.95. This protection gives you premium baggage protection that will cover your lost or stolen luggage for up to $2,000 (even if it was stolen from your hotel room). You will also get up to $500 in replacement items if your baggage is delayed for more than three hours.

Affordable Mobile Internet
Up until recently, there was no such thing as pay-as-you-go mobile broadband internet. Now, you can find them at Virgin Mobile (which uses the 3G Sprint network) and ClearWire (a 4G network). With these two options, you can receive unlimited Web without being tied to a contract, and they both cost less than $50 monthly. The ClearWire plan doesn’t technically give you unlimited Web if you have to use the 3G backup network, but a clerk at the ClearWire store said that the access isn’t often limited in practice.

Fender Benders
Have you been in an accident that you wished could be claimed on-site, instead of waiting to get home and fight with all the paperwork? If so, you’ll be happy to know that there is an app for this. It is State Farm’s free pocket agent app, which gives you the ability to submit and provide details about your accident right from your smart phone. The app will also help you to find repair shops on the road, and local tow trucks to get you there.

Even with all of this advice and tips, you’re still going to find these scenarios to be quite a hassle. But armed with the right credit card and a little technology, you can get through your ordeals faster and more efficiently.

Lesson From Bungy Jumping

This is a somewhat scary guest post for those who are afraid of height (like me!) by one of my favorite bloggers,Joe, from RetireBy40. He is a very brave man! Read on and find out why… If you ever thought about an early retirement, you must head over to Joe’s website where he is chronicling his journey to retirement by… 40.

See Joe jump here!

In 2006, I flew to New Zealand to meet up with my parents. We planned to caravan around the North Island for 10 days before going to visit my Aunt in Melbourne. I guess it might sound strange for a 32 year-old guy to be going on vacation with his parents, but I haven’t seen them for a few years and I wanted to drive them around and show them a good time. The Mrs. was still in college at the time and she went to Oaxaca for a class at the same time so we had separate vacations that year.

New Zealand was just awesome. The country side was lush, green, and beautiful, it really reminded me of hobbit country. The people were very friendly and relaxed, this was my kind of place. Auckland felt like any city, but outside of that many places had that small town feel. Anyway, I had always wanted to try bungy jumping and what better place to do it than the home of bungy – New Zealand. I researched before I left and found a good spot at Taupo bungy. This jump is off the cliff above the beautiful emerald Waikato River and you have the option to touch the water!

One of our stops was Lake Taupo, but my mom really didn’t want me to bungy. I guess I could see it from her point of view, who would want to see their kid jump off a 150 foot tall cliff? So I thought to myself, I’ll do it another day when the parental unit is not around. We checked out the gypsy/carnival caravan, explored the town, hung out near the lake, and had a relaxing time in general. On our way out of town, I figured – let’s stop and see what the jump looks like.

We got there and it didn’t look that scary from the parking lot. The viewing area was level with the cantilever jumping platform so you only saw people jumping off and not how high the drop was. Then I saw a couple of girls doing a tandem jump and I thought to myself, “COME ON, girls are doing this!” So I told my mom, hey look everybody is fine, no problem!

That’s how I found myself at the plank looking down 150 feet to the river. Oh yeah! I elected to touch the water. They told me to be stiff and fall forward like a board. But I tell ya, when you’re looking down that far, your body won’t edge forward like that. I only hesitated a second and then bent my knee and down I went. I saw the platform falling away and it was a perfect ZEN moment for me. My mind went completely blank and it was a great feeling.

So what did I learn from this experience other than bungy jumping is awesome? I learned that if you want something, just keep moving toward it. Even if you don’t get it right away, keep edging that way and someday you’ll get there. Once you’re at the edge, just do it and don’t put it off. Tenuous? Maybe, but I’m sticking with it.

Introducing Talk It Out and Aloysa’s Reading Picks

Please make sure to check out my staff writer post at Beating Broke, What Our Chinese Guides Taught Us About Pragmatic Consumerism.

I came up with an idea for a new series TALK IT OUT: Money and Relationships. This series will be all about money, relationships and our lives.

Money can bless a relationship or curse it. Am I wrong? Let’s put it this way: money does affect relationships. Anyone disagrees? Is she a compulsive spender? Is he a frugal saver but she is a gold digger? I am sure you have plenty to say, so let’s talk it out!

If you like discussing money and relationships, if you have something to say or to ask, if you have a personal story to share, a personal experience to talk about, if  you want to be heard and if you want to see what others have to say then email me.

How It Works:

1. You tell me your story through email. If you decide to stay anonymous, let me know. If you don’t care, so be it.

2. I will read what you have to say, and let you know when your story, experience or a question will be heard, shared and answered.

3. If you want to ask Aloysa a question about Beaker, our relationship with each other and our not so simple relationship with money, please do so! We promise to respond.

4. Twice a month my readers and I will discuss, brainstorm and share our own experiences with you. Payroll Tax Holiday: Why Most People Will Get A Raise In 2011 @

What You Get Out Of It:

1. You vent, you confess, you rant, you rave, you share, you cry, you laugh. You spill it all.

2. Your opinions will be respected. Your questions will be answered. Your experiences will be appreciated.

3.  If you decide NOT to stay anonymous, I will gladly promote your blog.


You get to know my readers and me, Aloysa!


Moving on to Aloysa’s Reading Picks (as usual in no particular order):

Who wants  a free iPad? I do! Win An iPad, Amazon Gift Cards, And A Starbucks Gift Card!! @Buy Like Buffet;

What do you think about plastic bottles? Check out Sustainability Tip #21 Steel vs Plastic @Sustainable Personal Finance;

Did you think the guy in my “gym affair” article was creepy? How about this creepy guy in How I Overcame The Worst Ever Health Club Membership@TransFormX;

Men vs Women in offices, what are your thoughts? Find out reading I’m Not That Kind Of Girl, But I Should Be@Yes, I Am Cheap;

I usually don’t read book reviews that much but this one caught my eye. Book  Review: Your Money or Your Life@Retire By 40;

Do you prefer a hustle and bustle of the city life or tranquility of suburbs? Young Professionals in the City: Will the Allure of the City Break the Bank?@Brokeprofessionals

Ever wondered what it is like to work at a hotel? Heard horror stories and wondered if they are true? Find out readingFaulty Towers vs Reality @I Am The Working Poor;

What are your financial milestones? 20 Financial Milestones for your 20s @Budgeting In The Fun Stuff;

Someone just got a place together! Huge step! Our First Home Together @Invest It Wisely;

I discovered something new while reading The Beardstown Ladies @Money Cone;

Express your opinion about gender equality after reading Gender Equality and Opportunities for Girls Today @Squirrelers;

What if one of you would have to stay home and raise children? When Two Incomes Become One @MomVesting;

Did you think you got an unexpected pay raise when you saw you paycheck in January? Payroll Tax Holiday: Why Most People Will Get A Raise In 2011 @Faithful With A Few;

Saving for the first home but life gets in a way? What are your priorities? First time Home Buyer – Saving for a down payment @Wealth Informatics.

How We Did Business The Mob Style

He screamed a lot if you made a mistake. He swore like a sailor. He threw things such as his cell phone at men (never at women, although I was sure he wanted to) when he thought they were stupid beyond his reasonable expectations. Over the years I learned how to duck quite vigorously to avoid flying cell phones, pens, staplers and such. He didn’t care what people thought about him. He knew that some of us were deadly afraid of him, and said to me once that fear, in his opinion, equals respect.

We were afraid of his tantrums. We were scared for our lives to make a mistake, and always checked our work at least three times before submitting it to him. We spoke in whispers so that he could not hear us if we were not sure what numbers to use, how many tires to order or how to calculate a sales price.

In 1995 I graduated from the University with a Master’s degree in Library Science. Lithuania was bankrupt and a lot of people were poor. But the environment for business development was not too bad, the economy was weakly but steadily kicking, and even the purchasing power of the population was increasing slowly. New privately owned businesses were emerging all over the country.

My first language was Russian, but in 1990s the Russian language wouldn’t do you any good. Fortunately for me, at the university, I studied in Lithuanian, and learned the language so well that when I spoke it no one could determine that I was Russian.

It served me good until I started looking for a job. Then I found out very quickly that no one would hire me because of my Russian name. An interview would go pretty well until someone would clarify my first name with a question “Your name is Russian, isn’t it?” After my confirmation, all I got was a polite and cold smile followed by “We’ll call you.” Of course, I never heard from them again.

He didn’t care that I was Russian. All he cared was that I had a university diploma, spoke Lithuanian, could type and was willing to work long hours. I became an Office Assistant who used a typewriter (yes, in 1995!), answered phones very quickly, served coffee to the clients, filled out customs paperwork and lied to my boss’ wife about his suspicious whereabouts.

It didn’t take me too long to notice that when a certain two men wearing sport suits came in to talk to my boss, he would always close the door behind them and never would ask me to bring coffee.

One day, however, my boss had an appointment at a bank that he could not miss. He decided that I could handle the meeting with the two sport suits. That morning he came to my desk, dropped a Wal-Mart style plastic bag in front of me, and said that his two good friends would be coming in to pick it up. My job was to make sure they got the bag.

The bag was wide open, and I froze when I saw that it was filled with very valuable currency, US dollars. Right now I would say “hell no,” or ask how much was there, and if I should recount, and maybe if we should seal the bag. Back then, I took the bag and put it in my desk.

The two sports suits came in the office a couple hours later. It was an odd experience because neither of us said a word. We looked at each other and nodded like good old acquaintances. I pulled out the plastic bag from my desk drawer and handed it to them. They looked inside, then at me, and that’s when I got really scared. A wild thought crossed my mind “What if they think I stole money from this bag?”

In those days, no matter if you were in the business of recycling aluminum cans, having a barber shop or selling tires, as a business owner you had to pay what we called “ a roof fee” (a security fee) to the mob in order to avoid any physical or economic harm. Mostly physical.

A few months later my boss stopped paying the “roof fee“. I didn’t know it until one day some man brought a car into our auto service that was located in a small garage. According to this man there was something wrong with the engine. Two of our mechanics took the car in, and luckily for both of them, they decided to take a smoke break outside of the garage. Meanwhile, whatever was in the car exploded, and the garage burned down to ashes.

The firm survived in spite of the big loss. However, we had to move to a different location, to the outskirts of town, because the mob did not allow my boss to do business in town anymore.

A Good Gym is Difficult to Find. Just Like a Good Man.

Please make sure to check out my staff writer post (it is going live this afternoon) at Beating Broke, Don’t Take Abuse. Know Your Rights.

I like to observe people in restaurants, movie theaters, malls and gyms. After some careful and, hopefully, not nosy staring at people at my gym, I figured that people go to work out for several reasons:

– some want to lose weight;
– some want to stay healthy and live longer;
– some want to find a date.

It seems to me that gyms are becoming a new hot spot. Maybe they already are, and I am just a little bit late with my conclusions. While pounding endless miles on a treadmill, I watch people work out and interact with each other. What else is there to do besides listening to music and hoping that time and miles fly away?

I would never dare to even attempt to hit on a guy at the gym because I don’t think that being sweaty is really a “now” moment to introduce yourself to someone. Have you ever noticed that there are women and guys who do not look sweaty at all? Because they like me don’t think that sweaty is a “now” moment too! The only difference is that I go to the gym to sweat. They… for a whole different reason.

I saw it all: men who pump iron and look at their muscles with adoration; women with full make up and made up hair strolling between treadmills and elliptical in hopes of being noticed by those men who pump iron and adore their muscles; guys slowly walking the  gym’s perimeter with a subtle romantic smile and not looking at anyone in particular.

Then there are tanned, buffed up guys checking out every single woman in the gym. I noticed him a while ago. In fact, I think all girls at the gym noticed him – buffed up, tanned, short work out shorts, huge muscles, strong thighs and with a constant smile on his face. He circled the machines, choosing to work out on those that were close to women.

He loved budgeting his time and form time to time he would ask a girl to switch off turns on the machine. I guess it was a conversation starter. Sometimes he picked up a dropped towel, offered his turn by the drinking fountain… you know… random acts of kindness that looked so thoughtful.

Then she came into the gym. I swear I saw her wearing a wedding ring the first time she was there. A few days later the ring was gone, and she was chatting away with him by the drinking fountain. I ran into them in a juice bar couple of times. After a while, they started to work out together. Later, I noticed they would come in together, leave together. Once I saw them kissing in the parking lot. (A disclaimer: I was not stalking them, I just observed.)

As a fiction writer I immediately made up a story of a married woman falling in love with someone very strong and attractive… and well… beautiful. That core of inner strength that she presumably always could locate before she met him was gone. She probably even thought he was created for her: tall, strong, powerfully muscled and charming. Maybe she even believed that he knew what she felt, thought, wanted. I also think she grew restless, expectant and maybe even demanding because, suddenly, they started coming to the gym separately.

It was sad to see that he started checking out other girls at the gym while still working out with her. It didn’t take too long for her to stop coming to the gym. He is still there, back to his old routine of smiling, switching off turns on the machine with someone else, picking up a dropped towel, offering his turn by the drinking fountain.

There is no morale to this story. At least, everyone should think for himself/herself and get out of this story whatever you think appropriate. The only thing I want to say, use your left or right brain and treat a gym as your office or your home. Don’t have love affairs at your office, your gym or with your neighbor. Otherwise… you might end up changing a lot in your life. good gym is difficult to find. Just like a good man.