Dear 2013: Be OVER already!

My year has gotten off to a rotten start. Now I could be an optimist and tell myself that there’s nowhere to go but up… but hey, I’m on prozac – that should be indication enough that I’m not an optimist. So, on Day 9 of the year, here’s where I stand:

PLAGUE – On January 1, I came down with something. I think it’s the flu, but I’m waiting for blood results to rule out anything exotic from my trips to Africa. This is Day 9 and I’m wheezing like an asthmatic smoker who just climbed a hill after washing five dishes. Five.

INCOME – The cough has made my throat weak and I’m slightly nasal. I sell my voice, so this means I’m down about $1000 in income. I haven’t been able to do any behind-the-scenes work because I’ve been taking Tamiflu, which pretty much knocked me out for 5 days.

HOME – I found out yesterday that the building doesn’t allow the moving of furniture in or out on MLK Day. It’s bad enough they only allow it M-F 9am-5pm, but now I can’t even get it on the one day my friends can actually deliver it during the week. This could mean throwing out a couch I love and a bed I only used for a year.

But this stuff is small potatoes compare to the biggie….


Suddenly I’m *hoping* for an audit. It turns out my CPA, who hasn’t responded to any of my 10-12 emails/texts/calls since Nov 30, never contacted the IRS about my audit. He had me complete a power of attorney form for him to fax them, so he could handle it as my representative. He told me he was waiting for a case number to be assigned because of that. Then he said they were waiting for my 2011 tax returns to be filed to see if they wanted to throw them into the audit. ALL LIES. There was no fax, no phone call, nothing. When I called the IRS today about my Notice of Deficiency, it was the first they’d heard from *anyone* about my case. In fact, I was listed as a no-show for an audit that was scheduled like 6 months ago! Turns out they mailed that notice to an old address and it got returned, but that didn’t stop it from going down on my record as a no-show. That’s right folks, I’m getting screwed from all directions.

Although I’m insufficiently medicated for my brain cloud issues and thus easily overwhelmed, I’m now doing my own audit. I’m filing a petition with the tax court to have the assessment redone, and someone will contact me about the nuts and bolts in a few months. But I am doing it myself. I can’t trust anyone and I’m not paying for incompetence when I can be semi-competent for free.

Rant: Credit Score stupidity

First – why do I have to subscribe to a service to get my FICO score? Sure I can cancel within the trial period and pay nothing, but I’m naturally averse to promotions that are betting on you to screw up. I’m sure my realism cost me a few points.

Second – the credit reporting agencies threw a hissy fit with Fair Isaac and came up with some kind of new scoring system amongst themselves since I last checked. WTF??

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, I just blew $10 on my TransUnion credit score after getting my free report. Know what I found  out? My 837 puts me in the 65th percentile. Apparently credit scores and SAT scores have a lot in common – you get several hundred points for putting your name on the paper.

According to the apartment complex I’m trying to get into in Colorado, I need to be in the 75th percentile or better. There is nothing bad in that report – just a bunch of credit cards that I closed 8-10 years ago and my two current ones showing a debt ratio of about 12% (I let my mom use one of them to part-pay for my little sister’s wedding).

Is the lack of variety in my types of debt really worth 1/3 of my credit score?

How about giving me 50 points for living in NYC for 10 years and always paying my hideous 4-figure rent on time every month? After all, if I need a credit score to get the roof over my head, certainly my ability to pay for it should count!

How about giving me another 50 for financing all education since my BA (master’s degree, teaching certificate and now the Rolf Institute) out of my savings? And I got through undergrad at a private college with no parental contribution and no GSL/Stafford/Sallie Mae or whatever the kids are calling in these days. Just a Perkins – $6200 – paid it off 2 years early. 

So I’m too old for a student loan. I don’t have a mortgage and rent doesn’t count. I live in Manhattan and don’t want or need a car, so no car payments. The most expensive things I lust after are a plane ticket to Nairobi and an LCD TV, both of which I am capable of charging and paying off immediately. Even if I didn’t pay them off immediately, it’s still “only” credit card debt.

Correct me if I’m wrong folks…
If I buy anything that involves a payment plan, it boosts my score.
However, they do a credit check – which knocks points off my score.
Sounds like a zero-sum game to me, and yet I’m at 65%.

So I’m stewing in the juices of injustice (yes I’m getting melodramatic). I suppose I should expect this from a system that invented the concept of “good debt”.

5pm UPDATE:  Caved and did the free trial at – at least they promise to warn you of the expiration of the free trial 3 days in advance. And the news was much prettier – a score of 797 out of 850. I’m in the 88th percentile. I still think I belong at 100% though. Hmph!

Most underpriced massage gig ever

I got a call from a massage therapist in NJ who had accepted a job through an agency for a 6-hour stint at Madison Square Garden this week, providing massages for the crew and members of a rock band. The deal is worthless to anyone who isn’t a big fan of the rock group. I’ve heard of him, he was the front man at one point for a major rock group that’s been going for 30+ years. In fact, if we were still together, my ex-husband would give up crossdressing for a year just to carry my table in and out.

Crappy Terms on Offer

I don’t know if the arrangement on offer is the agency’s standard one, or one requested by the concert manager, but it’s truly pathetic. Even strapped-for-cash dance companies and off-Broadway theater productions wouldn’t attempt to lowball this low.

  • $1 per minute. In NYC, that’s what untrained Chinese slave spas charge.
  • You have to hardsell – there is nothing lined up or guaranteed.
  • Bring your own table ($20 for cab fares + too much carrying).
  • And my personal favorite: Pay the agency $50 for the privilege.

What “6 hours of massage” realistically looks like

So I’d be there for 360 minutes but let’s get real for a moment – finishing at 8pm, concert kick-off time, who’s going to be in the mood for a massage in that last hour before performing, as things get more – not less – energetic? So now we’re down to, at best, 320 potential minutes. The earnings from the first 70 just get you to break even. And don’t give me “but they tip!” I’ve worked on unfamous band members and back-up guys for big names – and not only do they not tip, they make it clear that they expect a discount. With just one very noteworthy exception circa 2005, they behaved abominably – pushing nonstop for freebies/bargains, sexual servitude and fawning admiration (yeah, good luck). I much prefer my Broadway stagehand guys whose back and legs are such a mess that it doesn’t cross their minds to step out of line.

Let’s run the numbers

The woman on the phone says the events are usually good for $200-300 and some make $500 (no doubt the smart ones who avidly pursue the actual stars and their close entourage). Now, every massage given will require a few minutes in between to wash hands, change linens or Fantastik the table, and then hustle for the next client. So by my calculations, out of 360 minutes realistically reduced to 320 minutes, minus gaps of 3-5 mins to clean, prepare and hawk your wares, you’ve got maybe 260 viable massage minutes at best if they’re lining up … maximum gross income of $260 – $70 in expenses = $190 net profit for 6 hours. “Plus tips”. So based on her relatively sunnier pre-expenses guidelines, my assessment of how this job would go down are bang-on. Reality check: I make $200 for a 90-minute outcall after 9pm *without* that godawful 35-lb table.

In summary, the average self-employed female no-hanky-panky massage therapist in Manhattan charges $90-$130/hr for incalls and $150-200/hr for outcalls. We are not going to pay $50 + expenses for the possibility – not even a guarantee! – of making $40/hr or if we schmooze our asses off, as much as $80/hr. Screw that, say we.

Dear Dumbass Agency

This is Manhattan. This is 2010. Put that rate at no less than $7 per 5 minutes minimum. Better yet, $22 for 15 minutes and then $7 for each additional 5 mins, leaving a convenient $3 of wiggle room for those who might be feeling generous. Then that 260 viable minutes could yield 17 mini-massages for $380 gross instead of $260. If that price is beyond the means of the client(s), then they can make a different arrangement or not engage the service. I suggest no fee to the therapist (honestly, wtf?? that’s a strip club practice!) plus $20-$30/hr subsidy at tour management level to offer it for $1 per minute. Then you have a shot at generating more than a smidgen of interest from a professional.

Dear NJ Transit: You get an F in Math

I’m a little bit pissed – no, a lot pissed – at NJ Transit for their recent fare hikes. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they increased their standard peak adult fares by 25%, they eliminated the off-peak fares entirely. My $20 ticket RT ticket to visit my mother on the weekend has now leapt to $30. That’s fifty-freaking-percent! And I’m talking about commuter routes, not intercity Amtrak-type stuff, which prices itself to balance between bus fares and airfares.

Let me tell you how this has affected me personally… My mother’s 60th birthday is next week, and I suggested a slumber party for 6 at my place as a Plan B if the Hershey Park idea (hers, not ours!) doesn’t pan out for whatever reason. She said, “that’s $150 in train fares for us to come in, that seems kind of stupid.” She’s totally right.

If NJ Transit was looking for a justification for cutting off-peak services, then this was a really smart move – the natural atrophy of their customer base. However, if they were thinking “if they pay $20, they’ll pay $30”, well, I doubt my little family unit is the only one changing their mass transit habits.

Tell me if I’m wrong … I always thought of public transportation as being economical, efficient, ecological, and really damn practical. In fact, I enjoy learning my way around the systems in other countries, even ones with alphabets I don’t know. It’s supposed to cost less and take less time than driving. Now, to drive round-trip from where my mom is in NJ ($14 gas), pay for the tunnel ($8 toll), and cough up for 8-12 hours in a parking garage ($22)… that’s $34. To take the train and the subway is… $34. That math also applies to commuters. A zero sum game like that is going to completely defeat the purpose of having a mass transit system.

So, NJ Transit, you fail some pretty basic math. And you also fail in serving the purpose for your existence.

Rant over.

Will Healthcare “Reform” Go the Same Route as Credit Card “Reform”?

It bugs the hell out of me that a law was just passed that won’t take effect for years. The government just gave private corporations a four-year window to do whatever they can get away with. When they gave credit card companies a 1-2 year warning, look what they did to us – limits are halved, interest rates have been doubled, some folks had their monthly balance repayment % increase by 150% with 30 days’ notice, new fees are being created out of thin air, annual fees for responsible cardholders are set to make a return, fixed rate cards have been unilaterally turned into variable rate ones which will allow CC companies to continue some of their mercenary antics, and I’m sure there’s plenty of other sneaky-bastard manoeuvring that I’ve missed.

So I’m wondering, what can health insurance companies do to us over the next four years? I can think of the obvious (increasing rates, limiting coverage, etc), but hey, those credit card companies got diabolically inventive. You know that insurance companies are even more capable of – and unapologetic about – an inhuman yet somehow legal lack of ethics and fairness.

Care to share any predictions?

ABC TV – Your Greed Is Showing

I watch a fair bit of lunchtime programming on ABC (Channel 7 in NYC), and all week they’ve been doing these heartfelt ads about how Cablevision has refused to make a reasonable $ offer for their programming. The ads beseech Cablevision customers to let their feelings be known to customer service, and also suggesting that they change cable providers asap if they don’t want to risk missing the Oscars this Sunday night.

Cablevision is not my provider, so it’s easy to say that I’m on their side because I’ll still get my daily dose of The View (the only thing I would miss on ABC). Um, if I didn’t have cable TV, I would get ABC – along with CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, PBS and MyNine – for free. So why should the cable company, and ultimately their customers, pay for content that is otherwise FREE? And really, you’d think ABC was being financially crippled by the current status quo. With 20 minutes of ads cluttering up every hour of viewing, I find their appeal less than genuine. In fact, I find it just plain GREEDY.

Citibank is up to MORE shenanigans

Last week I got a notification that the interest rate on my credit card was about to change to 23.99% unless I did a balance transfer of no less than $3000 by December 10th, triggering that 3% fee ($90). Then I’d qualify for a 9.99% rate for a year on all balances before reverting to 23.99% – on all balances, including any portion of the transfer I failed to pay off in that time. In other words, 9.99% is some kind of introductory offer but for an existing customer with a FICO score over 800. What an unbelievable load of CRAP.

I don’t really care what they do with the rate because I pay it off in full every month and only failed to do so once in the last 5 years, which is when I discovered that you pay interest on the entire month’s balance $1800) and not just the portion you didn’t pay off ($300).  Never again. Anyway, if this is what I have to put up with to keep from paying an annual fee, fine. But as soon as my mom finishes paying off her balance on my Bank of America Visa, I may reclaim that card for daily use – it’s my oldest, and Bank of America has, to the best of my knowledge, not put the screws to their customers in the nasty ways that Chase and Citibank have. My card is still at an awesome interest rate of Prime + 1% on the transferred balance, and I just checked the purchase rate – 7.9%. I was really surprised they hadn’t messed with that, given what the other troubled banks have been pulling on their customers.

So I just dropped Bank of America customer service a thank-you note for not following in the mercenary footsteps of Chase and Citibank just because they could. I’m not really aware of anything they’ve done except cutting people’s credit limits, but I gave them props in my email for doing that – it was a mutually beneficial move and had a minimal effect on the customers they did that to.

Sorry for my Inconsistency

I really want my blog to be directed towards personal finance, but I’m not doing a whole lot of weighty stuff because it’s a little hard to focus when my work patterns have disappeared and taken massive chunks of my income with them. I’m a little freaked out that we’re a year into the financial meltdown, with the news spouting crap about the recession being over and the Dow flirting with 5 figures again – and for the first time ever in my life, I will probably have to hit my savings to meet my expenses this month. It’s also painfully disheartening that over 3/4 of new business inquiries are men looking for some minor prostitution activities – it makes me wonder what I’m really selling here, e.g. a jumped-up lapdance?

So if you’re wondering why most of my posts are about coupon games and donating the stuff I accumulate, just know it’s a $10-a-week hobby that gets me out of the house, connects me with people who think I’m good for something other than fantasy material (I’m old and chubby, wtf!), and distracts me – perhaps to my detriment – from dwelling on the insults and uncertainty. Besides, everyone else is writing about The Latte Factor, credit card grievances, and debt-busting – it’s not like I’ve got anything new to add. Hence my sporadic posting…sorry 😦

Welcome, MSN MoneyCentral readers … Family, Go away!!

Someone over at MoneyCentral, who thinks it’s unfair of me to call my sister “Bridezilla”(!), thought my post on some of the unusual things she’s doing for her wedding were worth a larger audience. Thanks, MSN! And welcome to everyone who has clicked through for a poke around my blog…


Some of the details in my piece were unmistakeable to those who know about the wedding. I’m not sure who stumbled across it first on MoneyCentral, but I suspect it was you, Aunt Lolly (aka Bridezilla’s godmother). Don’t take it personally that I blocked you on Twitter – I only talk to strangers there about some of my silly money-related shenanigans. I’d reject my mother if she tried! Now do everyone a favor and forget you ever found me here. Go on now, go. All of you. Shoo!

Kicked out of the massage community

Or perhaps a better title would be “I am incapable of communicating with women”. Thank god I’m heterosexual or I’d really be up a creek, but that’s beside the point of these juicy stories…


First I was registered. Then I was rejected for not meeting a prerequisite. Then yesterday afternoon, the instructor (who rolfed me back to health 4 months ago) asked me to be the class demo model as a backdoor solution to my dilemma and his (odd number of participants). We arrive at the school, the owner throws a hissy fit and won’t allow me through the door. I was rejected for rudeness, cloaked in a “stricter admissions policy”.

February-March, I tried to contact the school on a weekly basis via email and voicemail. No one ever replied, no on ever answered the phone or returned my calls. This went on for 6 weeks. At the halfway point, my exasperation started to show, culminating in my last voicemail communication that earned me a fairly useless email reply: “Hi, it’s MMK. Again. My number is still XXX. I’ve been trying to get information about your structural integration course for the past six weeks, and no one responds to my emails or messages. Does your school even exist?”  It was a fair question. Their website hadn’t been updated in a year, but last year’s course started in late spring, so I figured this year’s would too and it was important to get the ball rolling. Now, had I not known the instructor, I would have given up at about the point where I got stroppy because I’d have concluded they were out of business. I also let my frustration show because I thought I was dealing with a lazy administrator. I was – but she was also the owner of the school, and a real prima donna as it turns out. Since she’s not interested in the thousands in fees that I’d be paying, I can only guess that she does her own admin because she’s a control freak rather than a cheapskate. Anyway, the “info@” email address is hers, she’s the one who deals with the phones – and therefore she took my rudeness personally and banned me from the premises. Kinda like the way the Bossy Mommy Brigade did when I used a $2-off-$10 coupon on a $9.99 item.

I did not know all this, but the instructor and the student-assistant who rode in the car with us did. I got an inkling of what was in store from the extreme nervousness of the student, who kept saying “I’m staying out of this, I’m staying out of this”. So I began mental preparations for sucking back my usual response to dealing with an inflated ego and its face-saving expectations and rehearsing an apology with a reasonable shot at sounding sincere. We got to the school, the instructor went in to speak with the owner (with whom he used to be in a 3-way partnership, but he and the other guy quit because she was awful to work with), and I could hear her shouting escalate through the door. The instructor came out and said, “She is only becoming more irrational by the minute, so it looks like you won’t be allowed in.” He then took me to the nearest train station to make my way home.

BLUEJAY (Fellow massage therapist / new friend)

Bluejay was contacted by the owner of a gym/wellness center last week about providing Thai massage services. The owner was looking for a few practitioners with 5+ years’ experience. There are only maybe a dozen of us who meet that criteria in the city, so she gives him my contact info. He tells her about a potential client the next day and says he’ll get back to her when he sorts it out. The following morning, he calls me and arranges to meet at my place for an intro and a 15-minute demonstration of my skills because he understandably can’t send someone to his client’s home without making sure they’re on the up-and-up. I pass muster, he gives me the details, and I realize it’s the same client he had told Bluejay about. I started talking her up as the better option, because it’s just not right that she gave him my name and thereby loses out. The client was described as having a huge apartment full of buddha statues, a fan of authentic Thai massage work, and I have to leave out the additional details that make him a lot like Bluejay at the risk of making him too identifiable to anyone who might know him. I actually said, “Bluejay might be a better match because she sticks closer to the way it’s taught and even includes some of the more traditional meditative and calming techniques.” It would appear that he interpreted that as “she doesn’t do deep work and meditates with the client”, which is definitely not the case – the girl can really put you to the pain! But I swear, I really was trying to talk her up and felt that personality-wise they’d be a better match. Gym Guy didn’t buy it.

How do I know all this? Because she was supposed to interview with him on Friday, but called to cancel because she didn’t want to deal with someone who operated like that. Gym Guy called her to see what was up, explained he felt I was a better match for the client. Since he’d never met her, he was going by my assessment of her style, and I think he told her that. I know all this because he told me about the call on Friday. I had texted her earlier to remind her to register for free M&Ms (a Friday freebie deal), no response but then none was necessary. Then I shot off a quick text about the odd conversation with Gym Guy, expressing my worries about our friendship. It’s been 48 hours, still no word from her.

The truth of the matter is that he decided before we met which one of us he wanted to try out on his client first. After all, he could have met with her even more easily than he met with me on Wednesday – I made him travel to my place, she was willing to go to his gym. I think I have two important things that tipped the balance in my favor:  I actually trained in Thailand, and I live 1.5 miles due north of the client’s apartment – 30 min walk or 8 min subway ride. She has “only” trained here in the States and lives at least 1 connection, probably two from the client’s location, which poses a lot of potential for delays.

In the past 7 days, she has been responsible for $550 of my income, turning a couple of “just made my expenses” weeks into solid earnings. All I did was lend her my massage supplies for an appointment and help her unpack a couple of lousy boxes at her new apartment. She took me to a Memorial Day barbecue, invited me to join her book club, gave me a little bag of fun make-uppy things for the teen shelter. I introduced her to CVSing. I definitely got way more out of our brief friendship than I’ll ever have a chance to give back, and that really bothers me. I’ve been taken advantage of an awful lot in the last 10 years, and I just wouldn’t deliberately visit that feeling on anyone else.


Craigslist has decided to treat the Therapeutic Services board like the Erotic Services board and charge $10 per post, coming down to $5 if we repost the same ad unchanged. This involves an approval process, though after looking at what gets approved as Therapeutic, I’d say it’s a pretty useless one. I haven’t put up an ad since they instituted this fee, waiting to see how it all shakes out. It looks like the posting rate is about 200 ads (2 pages) per day, and if you filter for Manhattan only, it’s about half that. If that doesn’t change too much, then it’s worth putting an ad up 3x a week.


Rolfing:  The instructor said he’d contact me about exchanging bodywork again and teach me a few myofascial techniques (the basis of rolfing). Then he gave me the name of someone in Boston who runs structural integration programs. Less convenient than New Jersey, but way more doable than Colorado. I’ve yet to google it up.

Bluejay:  I can only come up with one way to redress the imbalance, though I hold out little hope that the friendship can be salvaged. I think it would be perceived as an insult if I sent her a check to thank her for the referrals, but…well, you know all those donations I make? I could start collecting a few receipts and have her name put on them, then mail a bundle of $500-$1000 worth. She had mentioned claiming it as a tax deduction when we talked about CVSing for charity, so I can’t imagine she’d throw it out. From one angle, that looks cheap because it costs me nothing. From another angle, it’s face-saving because it’s not cold hard cash (well, it is, but indirectly).

Advertising:  I’ve been putting my ad in the Beauty Services section along with a bunch of shady massage parlors while I figure this out. I actually got a new client that way, much to my surprise. This week I’ll be taking up a client’s offer to do some search engine optimization stuff for my website. And I really should look into how Google advertising works.

This week has been weird in all directions, but I mostly mean that every day, something very out-of-the-ordinary and even bizarre happened. Like the truck driver did his “paid sleepover” thing again. And I took the tramway to Roosevelt Island for the first time and felt like a wet-behind-the-ears tourist. And I met my brother’s new boyfriend, with whom I have an inexplicable number of life experiences in common even though he’s all of 22 years old. And a few of my readers have contacted me about helping Ayten the Working Poor Mom in ways that suit their giving style and their resources (you all rock!!! – I’d mention your names, but most have expressed an interest in some degree of anonymity). And the only reason I’m going to a friend’s Tony Awards party tonight is that he lives near all three drug stores, and it’s Sunday – the day of New Stuff For Free. What can I say, I live in the theater district but I don’t like the theater…