Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
Now Available on Smashwords for Kindle and other ebook readers!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More from the fest of Merle

After hanging with Tony, Peter and Tish on the Austin Stage, we meandered around and got some food. I picked up a decent pork tenderloin sammich because the lines were shorter, and then we hung out while Donna the Buffalo played the main stage. I love seeing them at festivals, because the hour or 90 minute set is about the perfect amount of Donna the Buffalo for me. They're a little more jam band than a lot of the acts, and they don't really light my fire the way some of the other Merlefest regulars do. But for an hour set, I think they're great.

After Donna was done, it was Sammy Time. Now as you may know if you've read here often, my sister is a little bit of a Sam Bush stalker, so I've seen a lot of Sam in my time. And I had a great time this time, the band was tight, the set was rockin'. I hooked up with my friends Douglas and Gillian right before the set started, so I spent a lot of the set talking rather than watching the band, but that was okay, too. Adding Scott Vestal on banjo has done wonders for their live sound. The banjo was definitely the missing link in their sound for the past few years. They were jamming, and brought out Peter Rowan for the requisite reggae number, and it was cool as always.

The Avett Brothers closed out the main stage on Friday night, and that was a definite departure. The Avetts are a couple of guys from just north of Charlotte who have developed a rabid following over the past few years. I find their albums to be tepid, but their live shows are great. I think if they could ever manage to translate their live shows onto their cds, they'd blowup huge. On their albums, they just sound like yah-yah guys singing kinda old-timey stuff, but live they are a kickin' blend of bluegrass and punk rock, with plenty of screaming. So much so that I worry for the longevity of the singer's voice, but it ain't my voice, so what do I care. They put on a really fun set, and it was obvious that a good chunk of the remaining crowd was there just for the Avetts, and it got a little rowdy towards the end, with folks tearing down one of the crowd barricades to get close to the stage. I hope that they'll be asked back, but their crowd by and large wasn't quite into the Merlefest vibe.

Lemme expound on that a little. I know a bunch of you have gone to some big music festivals, some of you have gone to festivals much bigger than this one. But if you haven't been to Merlefest, you haven't been to the coolest festival on the planet. It's one of those places where everyone is just kinda hanging out being cool for days on end. They run 80,000+ people through the campus of this little community college without any real incident over the course of 4 days. I've gone to many Merlefests in my time, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone get hauled out of the festival in handcuffs. Now compare that stat to the average rock concert.

The lines for everything are short or nonexistent, and you can usually get right up to the stage to see the acts. There is reserved seating at the main stage, but before 5PM those seats are open to anyone until the owner of the seat comes back. So if there's something in the afternoon you wanna get down front for, go ahead, no worries. A great example of the vibe is that we set up our chairs down at the main stage early each day, and leave our stuff. Now I've usually got a backpack full of clothes, and sometimes have a camera or other essential equipment in that bag, and I've never had anyone mess with it. I even left a hat and shades laying on a table in the food tent for about 45 minutes on Saturday before I wandered back to it, and nobody touched a brand new Merlefest cap. That kinda thing doesn't happen at most festivals. That's one of the things that keeps me going back.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Merlefest trip report, kinda

So this year we decided to try something different, like actually getting to Merlefest (relatively) early on Friday. So my sister Bonnie came up and crashed at my place Thursday night and we got up earlier than normal (which is not to say particularly early) and cruised up to the festival on Friday morning.

First off we caught a few minutes of the Infamous Stringdusters on the Americana stage, and they were pretty smokin'. My buddy Rob caught up with us there and we hung out for a bit and then meandered down to the Watson (main) stage to see a few minutes of The Waifs, a kick-ass couple of chicks from Australia that I saw a few years ago and became big fans of. Rob and I wandered through the Austin Stage to catch the finals of the Chris Austin songwriting contest. A few folks you might have heard of have been winners of the contest in past years, including David Via, Gillian Welch and Tift Merritt. I thought most of this year's finalists sounded great, but it probably says a lot about the commercial viability of the music I prefer that my pick for the winner of the country category came in third out of three. I leaned over to Rob and said "I'd buy that song on iTunes now." So of course it didn't win.
After a few minutes of that, we went over to see a little bit of Blue Highway on the Hillside Stage, then I made my way back to the Austin Stage to see Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band. I'd bought a few of their songs on iTunes last year, and was really excited to see them live. Bonnie summed it up after their set when she went up to Ryan and said "I've been coming to this festival for 14 years and I've never seen anybody have that much fun on stage." That bunch of crackers absolutely threw down, blending pop harmonies with fantastic musicianship and killer songwriting. It also didn't hurt that they tossed in an Ozzy cover and the MC Hammer dance into their set. I felt like they got some great exposure this year, scheduled as they were immediately prior to Sam Bush, Peter Rowan and Tish Hinojosa.

I had scored a seat on the benches down front for Ryan Shupe, and Bonnie almost peed herself when she saw where I had locked up a spot down front for her. She's a bit of a Sam Bush and Peter Rowan stalker, so getting to sit ten feet away from them playing together was like a dream come true for her. We'd seen Sam and Peter play separately, and gotten great seats before, but never anything like this for them together. It was everything you would expect, and if you're not a Peter Rowan and/or a Sam Bush fan, just ask me next time I see you and you can borrow my ipod. You will be after that.

All that was before 6PM on Friday night, and we still had the Sam Bush Band and the Avett Brothers to come. I'll give you the rundown on that later, along with Saturday, which rained "like pouring piss out of a boot" to use Bonnie's words.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wish you were here...

And if you recognize the guys in this picture sharing the stage with Tish Hinojosa yesterday, then you wish you were here, too. If you live anywhere close (and you know who you are), you should just drive up for the day. Bring the kids, it's a kid-friendly zone. My cell phone is on if you make it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Still alive

Haven't been posting much because I've been getting ready to go here. I know, I'd be jealous too. I promise to take lots of pictures for those of you less fortunate than me this weekend. Which is pretty much everybody who isn't jamming to Sam Bush, Doc Watson, The Avetts and Peter Rowan this weekend.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I went shoe shopping yesterday.

Not the most expensive pair of shoes I've ever bought, but the most expensive pair of shoes I've ever bought that weren't elephant-hide cowboy boots. Took most of yesterday to break them in, but damn, they feel good. I trusted the recommendation of two friends and bought a grown-up pair of dress shoes.

Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

WPBT Summer Debauchery 2008 - the non-event event

So here's the current plan for "scheduled" activities at the WPBT Summer Gathering.

Thursday June 5- Drink at the Geisha Bar at the Imperial Palace. The IP has become a good central gathering place due to low-stakes Pai Gow, terrible poker players and cheap rooms. I'll be staying there, and I get in Thursday afternoon. The drinking will commence around 8ish, or whenever several people get there.

Friday June 6 - Drink at the MGM Grand and play poker. I'll try to get some mixed game things going, but I'll be in the Sports Book Bar drinking most of the time.

Saturday June 7 - Drink a lot. The folks at the Venetian haven't gotten back to me with a time for a private tourney, so that looks like a no-go. I plan to go play the $150 Shootout at the Binion's Poker Classic. The Venetian Deep Stacks is also going on, as well as that thing over at the Rio. So there's plenty of poker to be played. I think invading the lunch buffet at the Wynn may be in order.

Sunday June 8 - Brunch - somebody tell me where we should eat. Sunday night - last chance to drink like college kids.

Monday June 9 - Fly home.

There has been some interest expressed by some folks who want to buy our bar tab or do something else nice for the bloggers, so I'm putting this "schedule" out there in order to help plan our time a little more and maybe get us some free drinks. I am in no way responsible for your good time, and I promise not to hold you responsible for my good time.

My goals for the trip -

1) Have StB buy me a nice lunch in accordance with our wager on the Davidson/Wisconsin game.
2) Drink with my friends.
3) Tilt at least three people by my atrocious play at a 2/4 limit table.
4) Drink with my friends.
5) Take a certain member of my home game entourage to a certain adult establishment and get him a lap dance.
6) Drink with my friends.
7) Buy Pauly, Otis, Change100 and all the other poor saps who will be killing themselves at the WSOP a drink.

I'm gonna chill out and have a good time. Organizing tournaments for 100+ people is stressful, so this time 'round, I'm just gonna have as good a time as I can without ending up in a wheelchair.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Invasion of the Bracelet

So the Falstaff home game had some distinguished guests this week, leading to a bigger game that normal for the Charlotte contingent. The Bracelet was in town, crashing at my place while he looked around for places for he and his lovely to consider cohabitating. And since he was in town, the master of metal drove up from G-Vegas to reclaim some of the money that Jim and I took out of the SC economy the week before.

The game was $.25/.50 no limit, with me, Suzy, Jim (I'll link you again when you post twice in any given month, buddy!), Special K, DB, T and lil' Nick in attendance. I had a decent run early, building up a decent stack, but nothing like Bad Blood, who got called both times he picked up Aces, avoided crackage, and stacked his opponent both times. Note to the rest of my home game - Blood doesn't bluff for his entire stack, and if he asks you politely to reraise him preflop, you should probably decline. My aces were less fortunate, but that may come from the fact that I didn't look at my hand (the first time) until the straight was pretty obvious on the turn. It may also be related to the fact that I have -50% fold equity. Can't imagine why.

The pot of the night came down after we had switched to PLO8 and the stacks had gotten deep. I raised pot with A356 and got called in at least three places. I was somewhat pleased when the flop came down A-2-4, with 2 clubs. So with wheel in hand, I decided to hammer every street and hope for no more clubs and for the board not to pair. So I bet pot and got called in 3-4 places.

The turn brought a second deuce, and I was concerned about the boat, because Special K was still in the hand, and both he and Jim were perfectly capable of filling up at that point. But when they both checked to me, I fired again, this time only finding 3 callers. I don't remember the river, but it didn't make the flush, so when it check around to me again I put in the last of my stack, which was not enough for a pot-sized bet, but had committed almost all of my last $100 rebuy into this pot. My logic there was the even if I'm quartered, with 4 of us seeing the river, my chances of profiting on the pot were pretty good. Same set of callers, and I tabled my wheel, which was good to Special K's trip deuces, Nate's pile of nothing, and Jim's 2nd-nut low. So for the second time in two home games, I dragged a monster pot in O8 after thinking I was, at best, going to get half of it. It ended up being nearly a $400 pot, good enough to put me back to profitable for the night.

The other hand of the night was me showing DB the true power of the hammer by sucking out trips to crack his overpair after we got all his chips in the middle on the 9-high flop. Deuce on the flop, deuce on the turn, and the Hammer prevails yet again. That makes 5 winning sessions in a row, but I balance the karma of talking about my hot streak by posting at least as many losing sessions in a row online, where I once again gifted the donks at Full Tilt with my dollars last night.

Calculating Pot Odds in Omaha Hi/Lo

This is quite likely an elementary concept to a lot you reading here. In fact, some of you are going to read this and think "Jebus! Can this idiot please come play with me every day?" But I've been bouncing around playing some O8 on and off for several years now, and I just had an epiphany Saturday night.

We had switched our game from NLHE to PLO8 at midnight, and the stacks were deep. The blinds were constant at $.25/.50, but there were several stacks over $300 around the table. I limped in with Kd-Jd-10x-x, because this was a limp-friendly game preflop. Flop comes down with two low cards and two diamonds, so I'm on a high-only draw with the 2nd nut flush. There's a pot-sized bet of $3.50, and several of us called because the guy who fired had been betting out pot on almost every flop, and didn't really know what he was doing. He was catching everything under the sun, but I felt like if I hit my flush, I'd be good, so I called. The table at that point was composed of four solid players, one solid players who was on a bad run, one aggro-donk and one uber-calling station. Three of the solid players folded, leaving me (I'm calling myself the 4th solid player, and it's my blog, so I get to call myself that), the calling station, the decent player on a bad run (rough night, Jim) and the aggro-donk.

Turn brings a non-diamond 5, which paired the board. If any of the other three players I considered solid were still in, I would have been worried about the boat. But when the Aggro bet pot again, I didn't really care, and when Jim just called, I didn't put him on a boat, because he's not going to flat-call $30 in a four-way pot with me still to act behind him if he's made the boat. So there's a bet and two calls in front of me, and I'm getting exactly 4:1 on my money to make the call for a 2nd nut flush that I'm certain will get me the high hand if I hit.

Now in NLHE, that's an insta-call. And as I flashed my hand to the player next to me, I said "How bad would this call be?" He replied "8.75" and I said "Yeah, but what's the scale?" as I made the call. At the time, I thought that the math made it a good call, but upon further review (i.e. after the vodka wore off) I realized that it was actually an amazingly BAD call.

Here's the deal. With a high-only hand, and two low cards on the board, I had to have a diamond bigger than 8 to make my hand. So that goes from 9 outs down to 6 right there. But wait, the Ace doesn't count, because it goes low and makes me not scoop. So that's 5 outs.

But wait, I have the King and the Jack. So that's three outs. And the 10d was on the board, so I only had two outs to make my hand good for the whole pot, which is what I was thinking when I made the call based on 4-1 odds. I did indeed have 9 outs to get half the pot, but to make that a mathematically correct call I would have to be getting 8-1 on my money, which I most certainly was not. So I did not hit my 2-outer, and that was a fine example of throwing good money after bad. By the way, my read was right, and I would have gotten the high half if any diamond had come, as the high hand was a rivered straight.

Now I'm not posting this to say that I would have seen that had I been sober. I wouldn't have. This was a real epiphany for me in O8, and it probably comes hundreds of dollars later for me than for many of you. Fortunately for me, I play low stakes Omaha, so I've only thrown away hundreds of dollars with this miscalculation rather than thousands, but it's an important consideration nonetheless.

So in essence what I've saying is this - when you have a hand that is only going for half the pot on your best day, you need double the pot odds to make a call in O8 that you need in Hold 'Em, since you're only going to get half the money. So if you are like me, drunk and stupid and calling off on a flush draw thinking 4-1 is good odds, you actually need 8-1, because the low cuts the pot in half. Just something to think about in a rare and exceedingly elementary strategy post from the Falstaff homegame.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

G-Vegas has been berry, berry good to me

Here's my formula for winning a poker tournament in G-Vegas.

1) Show up. Cause you can't win it if you ain't in it.

2) Get hit in the face with the deck for five hours, including picking up pocket Aces four times over the course of the tournament.

3) Get to the final table with roughly half the chips in play.

4) Suck out on Otis to bust him in 3rd.

5) Make a bad read on Jim the Knife but suck out on him to knock him out less than 10 hands into heads-up play.

I felt like once we got down to about 6 players that if I didn't win that event it was going to be one of the finest displays of donkery in the history of poker. After all, how do you come to the final table with 50% of the chips in the whole tournament, still have low blinds (because Blood always has a great structure at his events), and then knock out the other big stack and still LOSE? I figured I'd find a way, but I managed to avoid imploding to take down the win, and my largest tournament win ever.

But I can't credit anything to my good play. I thought I played okay, but I was running so ridiculously hot that by the time I got to the cash game (I played the "kiddie table" with TeamScottSmith, Mrs. Blood, Mrs. All-In and T rather than giving the sharks in the kitchen a shot at my newfound bankroll. Yes, Virginia, I am a chickenshit. Or a master of game selection, you pick.) I didn't even look at my cards most of the time and still managed to make a few dollars playing quarter poker!

It was really the sickest run of cards I've ever been on. On two occasions at my first table I accidentally exposed one of Teddy Ballgame's cards while dealing, then dealt myself the nuts when the same card came on the turn! Once I made trip sixes when the case six came on the turn after I exposed Teddy's 6. Then I exposed a King that was going to him and put a King out on the turn to make my straight. But the real sickness came when I called Chip's preflop raise with 10-9 off suit (it wasn't that big a raise and I had the button, so it's not that completely donkerrific a move. Okay, it was, but I was running hot, so I made more bad calls than usual. When you're hitting everything in sight, you gotta go with it.) Flop came down K-Q-J and I held the 2nd nuts. I bet into him, he raised me, I went over the top and he pushed all in. I quickly called and he tabled KK for top set. He was a little disappointed to hit what he thought was the perfect flop and still be drawing thin. My straight held up and HGHN.

I took out Mrs. Blood not long after when I checked my option with 6-4 diamonds after she limped in and the SB completed. The flop came down all diamonds and I check-called the flop and turn. Mrs. Blood was pretty committed after her turn bet, so when the river left only three diamonds out there I figured her for top pair with one diamond, so I led for enough to put her all in. She called with two pair and one diamond, and I busted the host's wife. She was pretty happy that the kids were away, so she could drop her own F-bomb at getting busted relatively early.

The second time I picked up Aces Random101 picked up Jacks, Rick picked up pocket sixes, and we all saw a flop full of baby cards. I fired, Random went all in over the top, and Rick had to think for a long moment before folding. I called, the board ran out that would have given Rick a straight, and Random was done. I sucked out a Broadway straight on Rick a little later, but he still had chips to get to the final table.

I don't remember too many of the hands at the final table, but there was a period of time when we saw three players go out on three successive hands. I think I took out the first two, including Rankster to burst the bubble, then Jim took out Mrs. All In to leave me, Otis and Jim as the three finalists. I had doubled Jim up to where he and Otis were pretty even, and I had a commanding lead. It was just a few hands into 3-handed play when Otis raised preflop with 9-7 clubs, and I looked down at AK off suit, about the 3rd time I'd held that hand since we got to the final table. I re-raised, he shoved, I called, and he hit a 9 on the flop. But, since that's how I had been running, I hit my King on the river and Otis headed to the cash game. It was my turn to take him out, since he busted me from our event at the Venetian in December, but we both kinda wanted a shot at each other heads-up.

So that left the two Charlotte boys heads-up for the title, and oddly enough, with all the hands of poker we've played, Jim and I have never been heads-up in a tournament before. Frank the Tank was dealing for us and he asked if we wanted to talk about a chop. I declined mostly because I didn't want to figure out the math of my chip lead, and because I wanted to play Jim heads-up. Also, I'd been running so hot all day I would have felt like I shortchanged myself a little if I didn't see if I could close it out. I figured we'd got 10 hands or so and see how we felt about it.

It didn't take that long. We jockeyed back and forth for a few hands, Jim giving me a walk in my big blind a couple times, him taking down a couple hands preflop with big raises, and me taking down one or two post-flop. Then came the final hand, for all the marbles. I held the button, and completed with Q-3. Jim checked his option, and we saw a flop of 10-6-3 rainbow. Jim fired a decent bet, a little more than the pot, and I made the call. Our stacks were ridiculously deep, so we could both afford to splash around. Blinds were still only 300/600 and I had somewhere nea 50K in chips. Jim had around 25K, so we were able to play as much as we wanted. My strategy for heads-up was to play a little small ball and try to trap when I could hit a monster. Jim's full-bore style didn't really change any, so I had sacrificed a few limps to his big raises. I wasn't interested in playing any big hands until I had a big hand, a made big hand.

So I peel off a loose call with bottom pair, thinking Jim has a couple of overs or maybe a 10. Turn comes a Queen and I check my top and bottom pair. Jim fires a slightly bigger bet, and I raise him about 2.5x his bet. He goes all in over the top, and at that point I think he was on two overs and one of them was a Queen. So I think all I have to do is fade his kicker and I call almost instantly. He turns over 10-6 for top two pair on the flop, and I have once again sucked out on the turn. River is an inconsequential Ace, and I've taken down my second tourney at the House of Blood, and my second cash of the year in G-Vegas. And Jim has logged back-to-back cashes in his first two trips to G-Vegas. And once again, I forgot to create a Charlotte last-longer bet, but TheMark ran a last-longer pool that I also took down, because I jumped in that with all the other degenerates.

This was my first live tournament win since early in 2007, and my biggest tourney payday ever, and I probably won't see another pair of pocket Aces until the December blogger gathering. I do admit that it became somewhat uncomfortable to sit in the chair with that horseshoe lodged up my ass, but somehow we persevere through these trials of life. Everybody had a great time, and we all chipped in to freeroll Blood into the tourney for his birthday, so it was, as usual, a blast in G-Vegas.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

But for the Grace Part II - Digging out of the whole

So I painted the picture - I was broke. Suzy and I had no savings, had more money going out than coming in, and still kept on spending.

Yep - that was kinda the key - we kept spending. I was making money writing to supplement my income, but instead of considering that part of my household income, I was considering that "play money" or "extra money." So I'd go to Vegas and play, or go to underground poker games and throw away money, and not even pay attention to what I could have been doing with that money, because it was my "extra money."

Sounds stupid, huh? I agree. It sounds stupid because it was stupid. I wasn't being respectful of my money, and it wasn't doing anything for me, other than buying me more stuff, and I had a house and three storage building full of stuff, so that was the last thing I needed.

So at some point last year, I saw a television ad for an HSBC online savings account that had a 6% interest rate. That was pretty exciting, because I had started a savings account at Wachovia (my regular bank) to serve as overdraft protection, but it certainly wasn't earning me any interest. So I took a chunk of one month's writing money and stuck it in a high-interest savings account. Then, once that started to earn interest, I became intrigued with this concept of my money making money by just sitting there, so I started to ship off a small amount of each week's paycheck into that savings account to try and build up a little cushion.

That's all I was looking for at that time, just a little cushion. We no longer had the theatre, and the truck had been paid off a couple year ago, so our bills were starting to come in line. I signed up for a weekly autodraft from my bank account to my mortgage company which allowed me to pay 1/4 of my mortgage each week instead of trying to save up and pay the whole thing at once, which was getting hard to do since we weren't controlling our spending.

Are you hearing a theme here? Because the underlying cause was never that I wasn't making enough money. The root issue was that I never took the time to get a handle on our spending. If a credit card wasn't maxed out, then we must still have money, right?


So after I stuck a little money in a savings account, I looked at what we were spending, and was absolutely sickened to see what we spent in a month on food. Close to $800 in one month on food, because we ate out for every. single. meal. This was along about the time I decided to try and lose weight, so working on controlling my caloric intake went a long way towards controlling my fiscal outlay as well. Frozen dinners are great for controlling portion size and calories, and they're a shitload cheaper than a prepared meal, too. So I cut a couple hundred dollars out of our monthly food bill by bringing lunch to work and by eating in the house for almost all of my meals.

Late last year I became pretty motivated to get rid of our credit card debt. We had accumulated about $6,000 in credit card debt after getting through debt consolidation and taking out a loan against my 401(k) to pay off all our credit cards. Yeah, I rock. I borrowed from my future to pay off my credit card debt, then just ran up more credit card debt.

But last year I started trying to pay it all off, but I wasn't getting any real traction. So I started looking around the intertubes for financial advice and found a guy named Dave Ramsey. Dave wrote this book called the Total Money Makeover, and it tells his story of getting rich, going bankrupt, and then getting rich again without accruing any debt along the way. So I started reading Dave's book, and following his Baby Steps, and looking at my life along the way. Before you start Baby Step #1, you have to get current with all your bills. Then proceed -

Baby Step #1 - Start a baby emergency fund of $1,000 in savings. This isn't a "rainy day fund," this is an "OHMYFUCKINGGODWHATDOIDONOW fund." It's designed to help you not get further into debt in case something bad happens. Like a car repair or appliance blowing up. Like the time I paid off my credit card only to have the fridge die the same day. I don't think $1,000 is enough to actually cover an emergency, so I squirreled away $2,000 in my emergency fund, which will cover most short-term emergencies.

Baby Step #2 - Start your Debt Snowball. Dave suggests listing your debts from smallest to largest and attacking them in that order. Make minimum payments on all debts but your smallest, and throw everything you have at the smallest debt until it's gone. This gains momentum in your debt reduction plan, and allows you to see successes quickly, thus motivating you to continue. I like this idea. We went at this pretty hard over the past few months, and erased $6K in credit card debt, $2,500 in back taxes and about $1,000 in other assorted debt.

But the only way to do this is to live on a budget. You can't attack debt without controlling spending, and that was the hardest thing for me to do. Working hard and working extra jobs to make more money was never the problem. It was not throwing the money at the first shiny object that came along that was tough.

Now I've said before that I haven't totally drank the Dave Ramsey Kool-Aid, and I'm not quite willing to give up all vacations and eating out and going to the movies. But we have cut way back on those things in an effort to reduce our debt, and right now we've eliminated everything except our mortgage, Suzy's new car, and my student loan. My student loan is ridiculous now because I never made payments on it until this year (I graduated in 1995), but we're now making the payment every month and we're attacking the debt on Suzy's new car. If I'd read Dave's book before Christmas I quite likely would not have bought Suzy a new car this year, but she really needed a car, so I don't feel too bad about taking on $17K in car debt.

I also think I can pay it off in 30 months or less by being aggressive with attacking the principal, so that will help as well. Hopefully I can pay off everything but the house within 5 years, which would put me debt free (except for house) by age 40. Then pay off the house within the next 10 years to be completely debt free by age 50, and thus able to focus my energies on being able to retire while I'm still young enough to enjoy retirement.

On top of that I took advantage of the Fed cutting interest rates and managed to refi my house from a ridiculous 11.49% rate down to a 6.7% rate, which cut $350 each month out of our payment. Still not as good a rate as I could have potentially ended up with had I shopped a little harder, but it was a significant savings and left me with some cash to put central heat and air in our 40-year-old home, so I'm pretty stoked about that.

So right now I think we're out of the hole. We've got $2K in savings, plus a little in my Wachovia savings for months when my writing income is leaner (like the next few months before the WSOP kicks off). But it's meant a lot of sacrifices for us in the recent past and near future. We're not going to Boston for my niece's commencement and I'm not going to Vegas this month for BadBlood's birthday bash. I'm still going out in June, but I'm listing things for sale on Ebay to pay for it, and working to win more money so that trip can be funded completely out of bankroll. I refuse to put anything on a credit card for this trip, so that's what has to happen. We haven't cut up our credit cards yet, but I have put them away in a box on a high shelf so they're not easy to get to. I gave Suzy her card back last month for her to shop for Anne Frank with, because the theatre is cutting her a reimbursement check for all of that, but in the future we'll just pay for that with either cash or out of our bank account.

So we're not rich. And we're not completely debt-free, but we're in a great place right now and I think we're in a good place to get the rest of this debt knocked out. But I know what it's like to have bill collectors calling on every phone, and I know what it feels like to sign for certified letters from the IRS telling you they're gonna garnish your wages if you don't pay them. It sucks. And there's no easy way to get out of that hole.

But the first step is admitting that you have a problem. And as Americans, we are as addicted to debt as we are to anything else. We have allowed ourselves to become a gluttonous society addicted to immediate gratification, and that's what caused a lot of this current economic slowdown - too many people bought too much shit that they couldn't pay for, and now the bills are due. I've been there. I've stood on my front porch in the rain with my power shut off and a final disconnect notice from the water company asking my sister to loan me money to cover the check I was about to write to the power company. It's a terrible feeling, and I don't ever want that feeling again. And I don't want any of you to have to have that feeling, so if my story can help you avoid the pain I've felt from my own financial stupidity, then it's worth it.

Because as much as it sucked to live through it, I wouldn't change a thing. I made it through, and I'm proud of that. I got myself into a mess, and I got myself out of it. There was no Fed bailout, and no help available from Mommy & Daddy, either. I'm a better person for it, but I'd love it if you didn't have to follow that particular path to enlightenment.

If you're in trouble and wanna talk, you know how to find me. I can only tell you what I've done, and maybe point you to a book or two that helped me, but I'm happy to listen.