Saturday, September 15, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment VIII

Tonight's selection is a song called "Common People", recorded originally by Pulp in the 80s. It enjoyed a revival a few years back with a cover by William Shatner, backed with vocals from Late Night Listening alum Joe Jackson.

Shatner's delivery isn't as good in this live performance as he is in the studio recording, but Jackson does not disappoint. I think that the angrier, more frantic arrangement conveys the spirit of the song much better than Pulp.

Money has been on my mind a lot lately. The insurance premium increase I mentioned earlier this week went into effect on Friday's paycheck. And then there is the whole collapsing marriage narrative, which will certainly create hardship for the future.

Of the two founders and two employees at my startup, I was the hardest hit. The CTO founder gets his health coverage through his wife's job. The CEO founder is on our health plan, but has individual coverage because she has no children and her husband already has a cushy health plan at his own job. The other employee is single and is living at his old frat buddie's house with nominal rent. I'm the only one who is using the family coverage. Taxes and insurance now consume 37.5 % of my gross pay.

This rollback forced me to revisit our financial obligations. So I did a survey of our liabilities, which have increased now that dance class and preschool have resumed. To her credit, my wife has managed to get some discounts from the dance school by working at the school's supply store and fundraising activities.

The one line item that has grown, much to my anger, is my wife's credit card balance. The last time I had talked to her about the card in January, she said that it was about $6,000. A check on the balance revealed two very disturbing things. First, the balance was $7,877.61. Second, she had missed payments so that the interest rate had increased to over 20 % APR.

When I brought this up with her on Tuesday, she was unrepentant, saying that she hadn't charged anything frivilous and then asserting that if she had to choose between going into debt and not buying diapers, she had to choose the former. But there's been a lot of things besides diapers that she's spent money on since then, so her diaper defense is all wet. Her willful refusal to manage finances or even communicate that she's having problems just solidifies that I need to cut loose and let her sink.

I let her know that because of the strain on the budget, I would be cutting the cable bill to the minimal service (read: no more DVR for her). I would also be switching the cable internet service to the cheapest DSL plan, and I would be cancelling my XM radio subscription.

She was very grumpy with me earlier this week, expressing resentment at my decision to interview for very distant positions. She said she couldn't imagine why I'd be doing this, other than to get my ego stroked. She also added that if I was willing to move so far away from the kids, so that I wouldn't see them more than four times a year, I certainly wasn't the man she thought she married.

Another point of contention was my travel schedule for an upcoming meeting. As I've mentioned before, my boss has been involved with a prominent standards organization, but he hasn't been diligent in keeping his commitments. He was supposed to be charing the process of creating documents for a standard that is in its very early stages.

He started offloading some things on me in the spring so that he'd have things ready for the organization's quarterly meeting in March. And at the end of July, he said he'd need my help on something for another deadline in August.

So, most of my work the past month and a half has been trying to learn how things are done in the standards body and getting participants to contribute. He's basically abandoned the role so that he can jet back and forth between here and La-La Land, racking up billable hours doing consulting work for the angel investor's friend.

On Monday, he said that he wanted me to go to the conference by myself. I will be charged with giving an update presentation on the process to a task force committee and a special interest group meeting. I will be surrounded by people who have been doing this stuff for years, steeped in both domain and procedural knowledge. I will be an empty suit by comparison. I'm not happy with the situation, but given that's the only thing they have for me to do right now, it's not like I can bail on it.

The meeting itself lasts for five days. My two presentations are on days two and three of the conference. The CTO said that there might be one other meeting he wants me to attend down there, but he hasn't been able to articulate why or when that meeting is, yet he wants me to scope out travel itineraries for the meeting.

So my wife has been angry because she doesn't like me traveling, period. She's been pressuring me to limit the number of days I'm at that meeting to the days that I have to be there. The inability for me to get that pinned down has just thrown fuel on the fire.

On Wednesday evening, over dinner, she complained that I still didn't have an itinerary for the trip. I told her that I knew that I had to be there at least for Tuesday and Wednesday. She then said I was sugarcoating things, and that it was getting in the way of her earning more money for us.

According to her, she had already made plans to watch her best friend's autistic daughter a few nights that week, and that would earn about $200 because she gets paid by a state agency for providing that care. She said that the meeting was interfering with those plans.

I said that the truth of the matter was, no combination of days that I would have chosen would have made her happy. In order for me to keep this job, I had to do this standards work because they had nothing else for me to do right now. I then said that my salary, which at an hourly rate is triple what she earns for watching the friend's daughter, should trump that.

She was so mad at me afterwards that she took off after dinner and said she wouldn't be home until after the kids were in bed. She didn't say where she was going. She came home after 11 p.m. and offered no explanation.

On Thursday, we were all invited over to her best friend's house for a cookout to celebrate the friend's youngest daughter's second birthday. She and the friend had made a large volume of a mixed drink called a Junebug, and they had been imbibing. She said she was too tipsy to drive, so I wound up taking home the kids and putting them to bed while she stayed there to sober up.

On Friday morning, we talked about how the bills would be payed. I offered up a different strategy that put an emphasis on getting all the obligations up-to-date rather than paying things every other month, which seemed to be what she was doing. She said my plan didn't take into account some things, so I gave in and said she could do things her way.

Then she got belligerent and said that I was just doing that so that "I wouldn't get into trouble." I told her that I was trying to compromise and that I didn't understand what she meant by getting into trouble. She then made some remark about how we didn't have enough money to live on.

By the time I rolled into work on Friday, I was thinking that once I got a better idea of where I was headed job-wise, I would be less inclined to ease her into self sufficiency. I just want to let loose that attorney on her and let her work those two jobs she said she would work back in July.

One thing I have factored into my divorce calculation is the fact that I am being payed well below the market value for my skills, even in the metropolitan area where I live. One of the draws of working in a more tech heavy place like the Silicon Valley or the Emerald City is that the pay scale for my line of work is a lot higher.

If I was able to live austerely for a year or two, I thought, I would be able to whittle down the debts so that I could live somewhat well on my income and still afford to pay child support. A recently published article from the AP on rental markets made me pause to wonder if my calculation was flawed. Chances are, if I do move to a more thriving job market, I will have to live with a roommate during those austere times.

It's tough to be patient nowadays. I want some clarity so that I can move on. This state of limbo is sapping my motivation, and it is only worsening the tension between my wife and me.
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