Wednesday, August 23, 2006

“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.” – Dylan Thomas

I like bars. Bars like me. We have either a symbiotic or a co-dependent relationship, depending on who you ask. After I’ve sat at home every night for three weeks with no human contact whatsoever, I like to go out and sit in a bar by myself and have a beer when I can. So sue me.

The other night a friend loaned me US$20 for gas, which I desperately needed. I put $5 of gas in my car, bought a pack of cigarettes and a (used to be) pound of store coffee, and had enough money left over for a beer. This is the kind of careful planning that eventually becomes second nature for a very poor person, by the way. So I went to a local watering hole. While I was there, looking at real living human beings with sort of a stunned expression on my face, I was thinking about why I enjoy going out to a bar (besides the beer[1]). I came up with two answers: people watching. This really is two answers, because the two kinds of people I like to watch are beautiful women of all sorts and butfors[2]. Beautiful women should be self-explanatory. Butfors are people about whom I say, “There, but for the grace of God, goes Hulles.[3] As an example, on the night in question I saw a large middle-aged man with a hideous comb-over, which consisted of two strands of hair about as big around as your pinkie finger plastered forlornly to his otherwise naked scalp. The scene screamed pathos. In other words, the guy was a classic butfor. Now, I say this with more humility and less derision than it might seem. This really could be me in a week, or a month, or a year. I myself am middle-aged and balding. I, however, currently keep my hair short in what used to be called a “butch” before Lesbians stole the name. And I’m not “large” – I’ve been starving, remember?

I even suspect that I may be someone else’s butfor. “Damn!” thinks the person, “Look at that guy! There, but for the grace of God, goes me!” Note that the bastard who just thought that got the quotation wrong. I’m going to explain it to him, right before I punch his lights out. Call me a butfor, will he? We’ll see about that.

- Hulles

[1] Stella Artois, if you’re curious. 5 Hulles Luxuriance Stars for Stella Artois.

[2] No, the joke isn’t “What’s a butfor?” You have to wait for a couple of sentences.

[3] The original quote is by John Bradford, a Brit who said “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He uttered this upon seeing some criminals shuffling off to their execution. It was said of Orson Welles, “There, but for the grace of God, goes God.”

This entry is about dating as an extremely poor person. It’ll be really short. You don’t. You are concerned about survival, real survival, like whether or not you are going to continue living, that sort of survival. This limits your dating options, as you might imagine.
This is not to say that you are no longer interested in the opposite sex (or the same sex, or your neighbor’s German Shepherd), just that you don’t have the energy to spend on a relationship at this point in your life. It just doesn’t seem relevant. You have nothing to give someone else, because you are fighting a battle alone that most people never even see.
Here’s a graphic example: let’s say I wanted to date someone new. Somehow I meet her without leaving my house, call her on the phone that’s turned off, pick her up in the car that has no gas, take her to see Cats (okay, now I am joking), go for cocktails at… You get the idea. Even if your fairy godmother somehow gets you to the ball, what are you going to talk about with the Prince? Jessica Simpson? You’ll probably babble on about butfors, or about how you’re writing a blog about being poor and depressed. Many potential partners consider this a turn-off, I’ve found. The upside to all this is, if through some miracle you do find somebody that likes you anyway, keep them forever.
What I can offer you, in lieu of dating advice, is a good attitude. I strongly recommend Hulles’ Fishing Theory. This theory was developed by me – hence the name – because I like to fish, but I never catch anything. Who cares, I just enjoy fishing. But someone always asks you what you’re trying to catch. I always tell them I’m going to not catch Northerns[1]. The point is this: if you’re not going to catch anything anyway, you might as well not catch Northerns.
The same rule applies to dating, as far as I’m concerned. In fact, lately I’ve decided I’m going to not be dating Angelina Jolie. This is a new thing -- until recently I wasn’t dating Gwyneth Paltrow (although she’d still make a fine back-up date for the prom). I don’t think the tabloids have gotten wind of this, yet, so keep it under your hat. And if you’re curious, my best non-relationship ever was when I was not dating Margo Timmins, lead singer of the Cowboy Junkies. I’m still madly in love with her. In fact, we’re still not seeing each other occasionally, even though we’ve both moved on.
If you’re not going to date anyone, you might as well not date the best.
- Hulles

[1] Northerns are Northern Pike, if you’re not from Minnesota. They’re worth catching.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I am a person with a monkey on his back. Granted, it’s a really thin, pathetic looking monkey, an extremely poor little monkey, but a monkey all the same. I’m addicted to tobacco.

Interestingly enough, this can be used to distinguish a desperately impoverished person from someone who’s just poor: the former doesn’t have enough money to support his or her addiction. Believe me, when I get money, the very first thing I buy is not food or gasoline or coffee, it’s a pack of Camel Straights. Sorry, Mom, I didn’t really buy new underwear with the birthday check you sent…. That must be why they call it an addiction.

Since the aforementioned little monkey doesn’t seem to care that I’m broke, however, I must find alternative methods to placate it. In the beginning of Extreme Poverty, when I ran out of cigarettes and couldn’t afford them, I used to smoke butts with a roach clip, or re-roll the butt tobacco into handmade cigarettes when I could afford cigarette papers.

These days, however, I’ve perfected a better nicotine delivery system – I break open old cigarette butts and put the resulting tobacco into a container, which I then smoke with a pipe. I have three old but serviceable pipes from a previous incarnation when I thought I wanted to project a professorial image, and I rotate through these regularly. The advantage of this system is that no tobacco is wasted as it is in cigarette buttage, store-bought or otherwise.

The really weird thing is that at this point in my bleak life I take this whole process for granted, and don’t even think twice about breaking up butts and smoking them in a pipe. I used to think this was really pathetic, and it would sadden me greatly and make me angry with myself whenever I had to resort to this. Things have changed, however. I’ve kept cigarette butts for some time now, and have two (what used to be) 2-pound coffee cans full of old butts (and ash and paper bits and…). While breaking apart the butts can be a tedious job, I usually do it while watching some mindless TV show or listening to the radio (if the electricity is on, of course). I find I have become an accomplished butt-breaker, for whatever that’s worth. Be forewarned, however, that butt-breaking is a very dirty business. No joke. Okay, a little joke, but it is still -- and I can’t even rephrase this like I should -- a dirty business.

- Hulles

Tapioca gets its own little blog entry. This is because tapioca frightens me. Other people are afraid of heights, clowns or commitment; I’m afraid of tapioca. I’ve never eaten it. I’ve seen it prepared, and that was as close to consumption as I care to get. It’s not that I’m a squeamish kind of guy, generally speaking -- I routinely prepare things to eat that would make strong men faint outright. It’s just that tapioca looks so damn bad. I once had a girlfriend who gave me a box of tapioca to keep in my pantry “so I would always have some food”. The joke’s on her: I don’t consider it food at all, so I threw it out almost immediately. There must be some use for it, however. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know what I can do with a box of tapioca (assuming I can summon the courage to buy a box). And, no, I won’t stick it up my ass: I want to use it, not store it. Can you use tapioca to repair auto bodies? Make a nice valentine for your sweetie? Create igloos for sock puppets? Let me know.

In passing, I find myself wondering if there are Tapiocans. Where do they live? What is their ethnicity? What else do they eat? Do they get along with Artesians? So much to learn about the world we live in....

- Hulles

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Recently, on an “I Have $20, I’m The King of the Fucking World” day, I went to sit in a bar and have a beer and chat with the bartender, a good friend of mine. While she was busy serving customers, I was thinking strangely and humming the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro”[1] under my breath. If you’re not familiar with the aria (and you probably are, if not by name), it is sung by a soprano, and has a very strong high note in one of the first lines. Now, it happens that my vocal range is about one octave, located somewhere in a land between bass and baritone that music forgot, but I hum away as best I can. It is a beautiful aria, at least as Sarah Brightman sings it.

At any rate, as I was so engaged, I caught a woman sitting near to me at the bar glancing my way several times with a sort of half-smile on her face. “Of course she’s thinking about flirting with me, who could resist?” I thought. “I am, after all, the KFW.” Suddenly I realized that, as I was humming the aria to myself, every time I valiantly reached for the strong high note in the first line I had been making this eerie, strangled, quavering noise in my throat out loud. From the woman’s point of view, here was some middle-aged guy sitting in a bar, staring into space and making periodic bleating noises. No wonder she was looking at me; it’s a wonder she didn’t call the yeast cops. Maybe she thought I had downloaded a ringer for my cell phone called “Rat Terriers Being Neutered” and that I was getting lots of calls.

Incidentally, I recently went online to look up the lyrics of the aforementioned aria. In the process, I ran across a web page that was a reproduction of the score for “O Mio Babbino Caro”, arranged for solo tuba or euphonium. I decided then and there that I want to date a woman who thinks that this web page is hilariously funny. I am, however, not expecting the woman at the bar to be applying for the position any time soon. I’m sure she’s still waiting for the yeast cops to show up.

- Hulles

[1] From the opera “Gianni Schicchi” by Giacomo Puccini. The title of the aria translates roughly as “My Dear Daddy”.


Dough rises because gas bubbles from the leavening agent are trapped by gluten in the flour, creating little pockets in the dough. I’ll discuss gluten and leavening agents separately.

Gluten is a protein in wheat flour that becomes elastic when the flour is mixed with water and kneaded. Generally, the more you knead dough, the more elasticity you add to it. That is why, incidentally, that some recipes like biscuits instruct you to “quickly mix wet and dry ingredients”: in these recipes, you want the biscuits to turn out flaky, not bread-like, so you try to minimize the gluten’s elasticity by not overly mixing the dough.

Leavening dough can be accomplished by fermentation (with yeast or starter), chemical agents (baking soda or baking powder), or by a process (whipping egg whites). Of the ways to leaven baked goods, however, fermentation is by far the most interesting.

Yeast breads, prior to cooking, are really living colonies of tiny organisms that eat carbohydrates (flour and sugar) and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products. This process is called fermentation, and the results should be familiar to any beer drinker. In fact, bread is a lot like beer, except that with bread, you are more interested in the carbon dioxide gas resulting from the fermentation than you are with the alcohol. Consequently, I consider bread and beer cousins, if not brothers – certainly part of the same beloved family, anyway.

Yeast can be purchased either in packets or in a jar. If you can, buy the jar. It’s a better deal, has less packaging, and is more likely to be in your refrigerator when you need it than those pesky packets. (Yeast, at least jars of yeast, should be refrigerated after opening.) Also, yeast as purchased always has an expiration date on the label – check this before you buy it. I never remember to do this, and probably 3 times out of 4 I come home with expired yeast. Apparently the yeast cops are out having doughnuts, instead of diligently checking grocery store shelves like they should be. It would serve them right if they got flat doughnuts. You can still use expired yeast, though, it just sometimes takes more pampering to get the colony organized and flourishing.

Thinking of the dough as a living creature is a useful paradigm: the yeast colony needs some care to survive and prosper. Yeast likes warmth; it grows more quickly at room temperature than in the refrigerator, as you might expect. A little warmer than room temperature is usually ideal. Do keep the little guys and girls out of drafts. It is annoying to listen to the dough sneeze and hack because it caught a cold due to your leaving the bowl next to the window in January. Don’t let it get too warm, though, or you’ll kill them. Yeast genocide is not something you want on your conscience, at least until you bake the loaf. At that point you can claim you were only following orders. Seriously, though, don’t raise dough in the oven with the oven on at any temperature. If you are in hurry, you can turn the oven on to its lowest setting for a couple minutes, then turn it off and put the dough in the oven to rise. If the rack is too hot to touch[1], it’s probably too hot for the dough.

As with any other pet, you need to get rid of your dough’s waste products. Luckily, with dough this task is much more pleasant than cleaning your cat’s litter box. The yeast needs you to knead it (and wants you to want it, and…). Besides working the gluten, kneading the dough pops the bubbles of carbon dioxide in the dough and allows the gas to escape, thus allowing the yeast colony to live long and prosper. The alcohol that the yeast produces just gets mixed back into the dough, and you can’t really get rid of it. Who would want to, anyway? It’s alcohol. Punching the dough down with your fist while the dough is rising in a bowl accomplishes the same thing, by the way. The “punching down” step isn’t included in recipes just to allow you to take out your frustrations on critters smaller than you. We bake them for that.

- Hulles

1 You don’t actually have to touch the rack. You can hold your hand above it. And the coffee at McDonalds is hot.

Every poor person should be a baker. Hell, so should you. There is something therapeutic about the process of creating baked goods -- especially bread -- that is good for the soul. It also gives you something to do when you’re home alone[1] on the weekend and all your friends are out socializing, the rat bastards, we never liked them anyway.

In order to successfully bake stuff with make-do ingredients, you really need to know how baking works. At its most basic, a baked product consists of flour, water and (usually) a leavening agent. Leavening, by the way, is what makes baked goods “rise”, by trapping air pockets in the flour.

Baking With Flour and Other Grains

There are many different kinds of flour: wheat flour, rice flour, etc., etc., but to an impoverished pseron, there are really only two kinds that are readily available: whole wheat flour and white enriched flour. Ideally, your pantry contains both. Also ideally, you are rich as Croesus[2] and don’t need any of the advice that follows.

Whole wheat flour is milled from the entire wheat grain, hence the name. A grain of wheat consists of bran, which is the outer covering; the endosperm, the “middle part”; and the germ, which is the very nutritional heart of the grain. The bran and germ give whole wheat flour its characteristic brown color. Whole wheat flour is nutritionally more complete than white flour, and is therefore the Hulles-recommended choice in every baking project. If you are buying groceries, buy whole wheat flour if you have to make a choice.

White enriched flour is very similar to white rice. Basically, the bran and germ of the wheat are removed when the flour is milled, and then the miller puts some nutrients back into the flour to make up for what was lost in the process. It used to be in Western society that greater value was put on white-colored flour than brown flour, because it was seen as being “purer”, but hopefully we’re beyond that now. I will admit that some recipes are better with white flour than with whole wheat flour, but you won’t find any of those recipes in this blog. For some reason, however, one sees white enriched flour much more often in smaller stores and food shelves, so by all means use it if you have it.

Other grains that you can use in baking are oatmeal, corn meal, rice flour, buckwheat, rye flour, and even cooked rice. Most of these grains do not contain as much gluten as wheat flour, however, so you should consider these as flavor or texture additions to baked products, rather than as the primary flour. As a general rule of thumb for bread, don’t substitute much more than 1 cup of the above grains for wheat flour.

Oatmeal gets special mention because it is a good addition to almost every baking recipe and is commonly found in food shelves. I have no idea why this is; maybe nobody else wants it. Fine. I’ll use it. At any rate, if you have it, use “normal” oatmeal like Old-Fashioned Quaker Oats® in baking, not the instant variety. Prepare the instant variety as directed then just eat it; leave it out of your bread. Incidentally, nearly all varieties of oatmeal are technically called “rolled oats”, but one occasionally sees “steelcut oats”. This method of milling produces a thicker grain than rolling. Steelcut oats need more cooking than rolled oats, but are very good to eat; they are more succulent than rolled oats. You can also successfully use steelcut oats in bread.

You can also add stuff like raisins, nuts and herbs to many baking recipes if you have them. Some things go particularly well together, like caraway and rye flour. If you're poor like me, however, remember that you are creating food that you’ll need to eat until it’s gone: caraway rye bread doesn’t make such good peanut butter sandwiches, in my opinion.

- Hulles

[1] Bread in captivity, I call it.

[2] Croesus was the last king of Lydia (now part of Turkey), and lived around 550 B.C. He is remembered in the saying because he amassed great wealth through various military conquests. Another way of putting this is that he is known for his large booty.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Recently I was home alone, imagine that, but was feeling festive for some reason. It so happened that I had a (used to be) pint bottle of something called Ginseng Ron, ron being Spanish for rum. This bottle had been given to me by a friend who had recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic. It was in his hotel room, so, being the sort of thoughtful friend that every really poor person wants and needs, he brought it back just for me. In other words, he wouldn’t drink it on a bet, but he knew I’d drink it. I had already tasted it and decided that I’d save it for a special occasion, like when I need to set my cat on fire to make coffee but don’t have any gasoline.

This being the only liquor in the house, however, I had an inspiration: I had a jar of liquid from a can of pears in the refrigerator; I could use the Ginseng Ron and make a cocktail! It would be something like rum punch, I thought. Well, I made the cocktail[1]. I actually poured the rum with a flourish[2], if you can picture it. Unfortunately, the drink tasted foul, sort of like kerosene syrup. I of course drank it anyway. I have to admit, though, that the glee I had from efficiently using up the damn pear can juice far outweighed the nasty taste of the cocktail. Plus, as we poor folk say, any cocktail is better than no cocktail at all. Plus, my cat was pretty happy that I used up the Ginseng Ron. All in all, it was a festive occasion.

- Hulles

[1] 1 large dollop of GR to however much juice is in a can of pears, if you want the recipe.

[2] A flourish is not a special kind of pitcher that you pour rum from; it is a dramatic arm gesture that gay men (and I) make.

I invented hot water coffee when my electricity was shut off. If that’s ever happened to you, you quickly learn what “quiet” is. Obviously, your TV and stereo don’t work, etc. etc. No microwave. No refrigerator. And if you have an electric stove and oven, they don’t work either. So you wake up in the morning somehow with no alarm clock, stretch, stumble into the living room, and think, “What the… How the hell am I supposed to make coffee?” Dude, the answer is hot water coffee. Now, this works only if you have a gas hot water heater and your gas is still on. You let the hot water in your kitchen sink run until it steams, and then you brew your coffee with the hot tap water. Hopefully, you have store coffee, not specialty coffee, because the result sucks. Guess what it’s better than, though.

It actually took me a day or two of no coffee to think of this method. Before this, I was envisioning using a Sterno stove to heat the water (no Sterno, I drank it[1]); somehow making solar coffee by sticking a jar of coffee in the window (hah - I live in Minnesota); even lighting the cat on fire and holding a sauce pan over her to brew the coffee (couldn’t make her hold still long enough). Consequently I was pretty happy and proud to come up with this method to actually extract something like coffee from the materials at hand. It’s just too bad that the end result tasted like shit. Even using fresh store coffee, it still tasted like recycled grounds coffee. Why this should be true remains a mystery to me to this day. I guess I should have paid more attention in Chemistry class[2].

- Hulles

[1] Joking, just joking….

[2] If I had paid more attention, maybe I could have set up a meth lab and be filthy rich now instead of being extremely poor and depressed. (Or dead. Or in jail.)

Coffee is one of the things I am passionate about. Actually, it seems this blog is becoming full of things that I’m passionate about[1]. Coffee has to be in the top 5, though.

I sometimes think of individual days as having a Suck Factor. A day with a Suck Factor of 10, for instance, means the day sucks the absolute worst, and a day with a Suck Factor of 0 is any day you get laid. I think that not having any coffee on a given day automatically adds +2 to the day’s Suck Factor (unless, of course, you get laid that day).

So you get the idea: I like coffee. I would say that I’m addicted to coffee, except that I have real addictions, and coffee ain’t one of them. I do get caffeine withdrawal symptoms if I go without it (horrible headaches, if you’ve never done it), and I do obsess about coffee if I don’t have it, but it certainly doesn’t rule my life. I am passionate about it, however, so I’m going to be discussing coffee from a depressed and impoverished person’s point of view.

Kinds of Coffee

I’m going to try to not go overboard here and make this a connoisseur’s treatise, but I do want to talk a little about types of coffee. Store coffee is what I call the commonly available brands of coffee in the U.S. These include Folgers, Maxwell House, and other brands whose names escape me because they don’t spend bazillions of money in advertising. Now, I have two seemingly contradictory things to say about American store coffee: one is that “American coffee” is an oxymoron, and the other is that it’s wonderful to have store coffee if you don’t have good coffee. I would kill for some Folgers Classic Roast right now. Speaking of which, a recent trend in store coffee has been to offer various types and blends of coffee under the parent brand name. Folgers, for instance, currently offers Breakfast Blend, Classic Roast, Special Roast, 100% Columbian, French Roast, Gourmet Supreme, and some decaf and flavored varieties whose names I will not utter here. This is good news for us coffee snobs. I recommend the “100% Columbian” brand, by the way; it’s fuller-bodied than the “Classic Roast” blend[2].

Specialty coffee is one of the names I have for the coffee you can find in coffee shops. This category includes both the single-bean coffees and the blends. If you’re a malt whiskey drinker, the single-bean coffees correspond exactly to single-malt scotches, and the blends to blended Scotch. I prefer single-bean coffees, and here are the best, in my opinion:

3 Best Coffees

  1. Kenya AA (floral and delicate; don’t get it roasted too dark)
  2. Tanzania Peaberry (another African coffee, less delicate than the Kenya)
  3. Costa Rica (a good all-around coffee if it’s roasted dark[3] enough)

I shudder to mention the following two items, but I will anyway. To me, drinking decaffeinated coffee is like kissing your sister: the “what” is fine, but you need to change the “who”. Drink it if you must. And as for flavored coffees, I won’t even discuss them except to say that if you drink them, you’re excused only if you’re female and you’re cute. I hate hazelnut coffee. Stop serving it to me when I come over. Buy real coffee.

Coffee-Like Substances

If you don’t have coffee, coffee-like substances are a poor substitute, but much better than nothing. These items include tea, instant coffee, and desperation coffee.

Instant coffee is at the top of the CLS list. It tastes like real coffee in the same way that instant non-fat dry milk tastes like real milk: not very damn much. However, it tastes a lot better when you’re broke and out of real coffee. I never buy it, because I always buy good coffee instead, but I always wish I had it on Day One of no coffee.

If you’re a devoted tea drinker, you probably know lots more about it than I do. If you’re not, and you’re just out of coffee and want caffeine, then read on. Black tea is the tea of choice for impoverished coffee drinkers, because it has caffeine and can be made strong enough to resemble weak coffee. Other kinds of tea have the benefit of being hot beverages, but beyond that, it’s purely a matter of taste – you like it or you don’t. I’m here to tell you, however, that even if you have the world’s worst-tasting herbal tea in your pantry, if you’re poor you’ll end up drinking it at some point in your life, usually on the second or third day without real coffee. As I said, it’s hot. It sort of ends up being a coffee placebo, and may make you feel a little better.

I have discovered two kinds of desperation coffee: recycled grounds coffee and hot water coffee. Recycled grounds coffee is pretty much self-descriptive; the only suggestion I have is to remember not to wash your coffeepot after you use up the last of your coffee. And don’t bother trying to recycle the grounds a second time: you might as well just drink hot water and save yourself the trouble. It still strikes me as odd how little recycled grounds coffee resembles real coffee. You’d think it would just be like normal coffee except a lot weaker, but nope, it has a taste all its own. It tastes like desperation.

Hot water coffee gets its own blog entry.

Storing and Preparing Coffee

Whole bean or ground? By all means, buy whole bean coffee if you have a grinder and the money and are a coffee snob like me. Otherwise, ground coffee is just fine. If you buy specialty coffee, however, don’t store the coffee in the bag it came in once you open it. Have a separate jar or bowl with a tight-fitting lid to store your coffee. And don’t store it in the refrigerator or freezer. People disagree about this, but chilling coffee can produce condensation that makes the flavor go off more quickly. Just store it on a shelf or in the pantry, and it’ll be just fine.

- Hulles

[1] I’m also passionate about many things that aren’t in this blog. Girls, you know who you are….

[2] Although, recently I completed a questionnaire on the Folgers website when I was supposed to be working, and after answering 9 inane questions, the magic coffee oracle told me I would really like Gourmet Supreme. Hunh. I haven’t had it, so I can’t make fun of the choice – yet.

[3] I stumble over reading this every time. It probably should be “roasted darkly enough”, but the mental image of some evil coffee roaster cackling over his latest batch of Satanic coffee prohibits me from using the correct grammar.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Guys, don’t throw those panty hose away just because they have runs! Here are a couple tips for reusing and recycling old panty hose:

· Cut the control tops off of the panty hose (yes, you do too need control tops) and use the resulting industrial-strength loops for neck tourniquets when you cut yourself shaving.

· Cut the good leg off the panty hose and stick those little bits of leftover soap you accumulate into the foot. In no time at all, you’ll be able to swing it around your head and use it to beat the shit out of your upstairs neighbor for playing his music too loud, without leaving telltale marks.

· Take the old pair of panty hose and throw it over the shower rod the next time you have a poker party at your house. All your friends will think you’re straight and actually had a woman over recently.[1]

· Cut a foot off the panty hose and place it over the end of your vacuum cleaner hose. Use this to vacuum your bathroom floor. All the pubic hair will be trapped on the surface of the nylon. You can then use this hair to make little wigs for your sock puppets. (Bonus Hint! Rubber cement works best to glue the hair on.)

See? You can save big money by taking a few minutes to reuse those household items you would otherwise just throw out.

- Hulles

[1] As if you had parties. As if you had friends.

At the beginning of the day I’m writing about (some months ago) I had about five bucks to my name: two one-dollar bills and about 3 bucks in change. Now, understand that I could have used this money for anything: food, cigarettes, gas, you name it. It’s a heady feeling of power to have money in your pocket. I thought it might be instructive to hear where it went.

I drove to the place where I am occasionally employed and wrangled a free parking pass, otherwise that would have shot three bucks right there. While I was there, I began to get really hungry because I hadn’t eaten anything, so I spent 50 cents to buy a packet of crackers with a cheese-like substance between them out of a vending machine. This item was chosen with some care, because I wanted to maximize the nutritional value of whatever I bought, and this item was the best of a very bad lot. Not so yummy, but then that wasn’t the point.

After I left work, I drove to a coffee shop to meet an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for quite a while. This appointment had been on my social calendar for quite a while (the only thing, unfortunately), and part of the reason I had five bucks at all was because I had hoarded it to be able to buy myself a cup of coffee on this occasion. I spent $2.40 (with tax) on a small latte, which I felt was a bargain, and my friend and I sat and gabbed for an hour and a half or so. Just in passing, when I bought the latte I paid the guy at the counter in coins, which he thanked me for, as he needed the change. “Good,” I thought to myself. I still want to have two dollar bills in my wallet when I leave here.”

After I left the coffee shop, I made a beeline to McDonalds and bought a double cheeseburger for $1.08 (with tax) from their dollar menu. This was my dinner, and I was feeling damn lucky to have it. I was pretty sick of rice and beans at that point. So I had about a buck left, and that was excellent. If I needed to, I could use that to buy a small amount of gas, but I had a quarter of a tank, so I was okay without it.

The thing is, it was a good day: I had enough coffee left at home to make half a pot the following morning; the cat had enough food for the day; I was able to get out briefly and meet a friend; I even had store-bought cigarettes. I caught myself thinking, “Yeah, live it up today, sucker, because tomorrow is really going to suck.” The reason I thought this is because tomorrow the cat would have no food, I would be eating the last of the rice and beans, and the coffee would have run out.

But I also know that tomorrow, I’d be grateful that I still had some cigarettes, and a quarter tank of gas, and a car that still ran, and a phone that was working, and electricity that was still on. The day after that, well, we’ll see.

I’m writing this, not because I’m trying to make out like I’m some sort of saint who’s constantly thankful for little things, but because I believe that anyone in my position would feel the same level of gratitude. When you’re in survival mode, these things aren’t little things, they’re huge things. And besides, I still had a buck left. Call me Bill Gates.

- Hulles

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The other morning I detected a minuscule perturbation of the æther[1] – okay, a small disturbance in the Force, for you Star Wars™ fans – and I checked the mousetrap in my cutlery drawer. Sure enough, I had a victim. Being very poor, I of course considered making Mousetrap Soup, recipe below, but it was morning and I didn’t have an onion. So I actually threw out protein, which is a mortal sin in my ethos. I recommend (what used to be) a 1-pound coffee can for proper interment of mouse and mousetrap, by the way.
Bonus Hint: a solution of battery acid, C4[2] and cheap vodka is useful for cleaning the spattered mouse brains off of your knives, forks and spoons.
I set the trap in my cutlery drawer because the mice like to hang out there. I can tell because of the little tiny cigarette butts and beer cans they leave behind. I was curious what they were finding to eat in my cutlery drawer, and finally figured out that they were dining off the tiny bits of flour that had clung to my wooden rolling pin. Because it is made of wood, I generally hadn’t washed it after use, and had just brushed the dough bits and flour from it and returned it to the drawer. Now, of course, that particular operating procedure has been altered, but I was really kind of impressed at the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the mice to find and utilize the tiny amount of food that was present. The irony is not lost on me, of course: these guys are the original extreme poverty crew, and could no doubt write a better blog than this if they had tiny little laptops and a wireless connection.
While I was baiting the mousetrap, prior to the bloody but satisfying denouement described above, I first considered using cheese, which is rodent profiling and definitely not politically correct these days. I realized, however, that if I had a piece of cheese, even one that small, I’d eat it. At that point, it came to me that I’m in competition for food with mice. This actually made me feel sort of macho: I weigh 2784 times what you do, you little fuckers, and you’re going down.
To bait the trap, I ended up moistening some cookie crumbs and molding the dough mass over the trigger of the mousetrap. You do this before you set the trap, by the way.


1 wooden mousetrap with mouse
2 cups water
1 medium onion
1. Throw the mousetrap with the mouse into the CrockPot™, cover with 2 inches of water, and cook on Hi for 3 hours or Lo for 5 or 6 hours.
2. Discard the above mixture.
3. Eat the onion.
Do not use this recipe if you use the sticky mouse traps that leave the mouse alive and writhing in agony. If you do, their pitiful little screams as they cook can lessen your enjoyment of Family Ties reruns and will certainly drive your cat crazy. Try the Microwave Mousetrap Surprise recipe instead.

- Hulles

[1] Aether: an archaic spelling of ether. It was formerly thought that the universe was filled with an invisible substance called ether, which propagated electromagnetic waves (and the death throes of rodents) through space.
[2] C4: an acronym for Composition 4, a plastic explosive. Don’t really use this to clean your silverware; save it for remodeling your upstairs neighbor’s living room.
[3] This is not a real recipe. Well, it sort of is; you can eat the onion. And by the way, the coffee they serve at McDonald’s™ is hot.

Hi. I'm Hulles (~ pronounced "hull ace") . Hulles is a nickname given me by either my ex-wife Carmen or my kid Cristina, I don't recall. As it says in my profile, I'm an old white guy who lives with a cat. (Actually, I'm not so old, early 50's, but that's 350 years old in blog years!) I have been profoundly depressed for a number of years, and am extremely poor because of it. Poor, like: My electricity is shut off for nonpayment. My cell phone, which is my only phone and which I use for business, has been shut off also. I’m a cigarette smoker, and I’m out of cigarettes, so I’m smoking tobacco from saved butts in a briar pipe. I have $0.35 in change, and that’s all the money I have.

However, this blog is not about “poor me”. I believe I’m one of the luckiest people I know, and I want this to be the “feel-good movie of the year”, except it’s a blog, of course, otherwise you’d be in a dark theater and you couldn’t read this. Plus, I’m not much of a looker, and am much more charming and engaging in HTML than I would be on the silver screen. Trust me.

My intent is to share some of my stories with you, and hopefully get you to laugh both with me and at me as I regale you with tales of how the impecunious among us survive. Besides, recently a friend said to me, “Hulles, those stories you just regaled us with are the same stories you galed us with last week.” So I apparently need a new audience: you.

I also hope that this blog will be enlightening to some of you. Some people live like I do. Some have less, even, right here in America, land of Xtreme Sports on ESPN2. As an example, a couple of months ago I was talking about nearly starving, and being very serious about it. I was appalled to hear the friend I to whom I was speaking say, “Oh, don’t be dramatic, Hulles. People don’t starve in America; that only happens in Third World countries, not here.” No shit, Norman. You need to get out more. Many people in the Third World are starving, but they haven’t managed to corner the market on poverty (which is an interesting metaphor, if you think about it). People do starve here. I nearly did. That’s part of what this blog is about. Believe it. Do something about it, even.

Not only is this book about raw, grim, visceral survival, but it’s also about a disease called depression. This disease, at least as I am acquainted with it, is very unfortunately misnamed. There is a mood called depression, which does not resemble the disease in many ways at all. When you’re depressed, the mood, your friends tell you to snap out of it and try to cheer you up. When you’re depressed, the disease, your friends don’t tell you shit because you don’t leave the house to see them, you don’t call them, and your car doesn’t have any gas and your phone doesn’t work so you can’t see or call them anyway even if you wanted, because you have no money because you can’t work. That, from my perspective, is the difference between depression the mood and depression the disease. I’ll talk more about the disease in this blog, and I hope it will help some of you understand it better, and perhaps encourage some of you with the same disease to get help.

Finally, this blog is about hope. Hope is why poor people buy lottery tickets. I have hope. I can’t buy cigarettes with it, but by damn I’m glad I have it. I think a lot of this shit is funny, in a weird, sort of detached way. I believe that being in survival mode is only temporary, although I do have to say it’s been an awfully long temporary already. And even if it’s not temporary, I’m prepared to continue to survive, and to continue to feel good about the good things in my life. There are many good things. And I ain’t giving up.

And finally finally, this blog is a how-to manual and a survival guide. I have written much of this as advice for a person in exactly the same situation as I am (but somehow younger and more naïve, and desperately in need of the precious wisdom that only I can provide). Of course, it’s very unlikely that you, the actual reader, are in anything like my situation. In fact, I don’t know of anyone else in my situation. But at the very least, if you know someone who is, you’ll know what to get them for Christmas. And who knows – you might be in my situation tomorrow. If so, let me know and I’ll teach you the Poor Depressed People's Secret Handshake. And don’t you give up, either.

- Hulles