I was going to post a comment in response to this post on a personal finance blog that I had never read before coming across a link to said post, but then I decided I shouldn’t hijack that person’s comment section, I should instead just write my own post. BECAUSE THAT’S WHY I HAVE MY OWN BLOG.

Also this feels appropriate because July 1 (when I started writing this post) would have been my father’s 78th birthday, and I think that my father would have been proud of me for being able to write this post. He was a CPA who was very patient in letting me ask him dumb questions over and over again until things finally made sense. (We had probably 15 conversations about depreciation before I got it.) He also would never just give me an answer, he would send me the Rev. Notice or whatever his answer was based on and have me read it for myself.

This was his approach my whole adult life.

Like for instance in 1992 when I found myself with $3000 that I needed to figure out what to do with. (Despite making around $18,000 a year at my first job in Princeton, NJ, I managed to end up with that amount in a savings account that I needed to close following my relocation to DC/Virginia.) I asked my dad what I should do with it and he told me that before he would tell me what to do, I needed to learn about the stock market. He gave me a list of books to read, one of which (the only one I remember) was The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. Once I’d read that, he told me, we could talk about it and I could tell him what I thought I should do and he would tell me what he thought I should do.

So I read The Intelligent Investor and it helped me understand the stock market and not be afraid of it. I closed my savings account and with a third of the money I bought a new bike (which I still have, and still ride) and the remaining $2000 I invested in a couple of different mutual funds. Once I started doing my own taxes a few years later, I realized that the Vanguard fund I invested in was far better than the others, the returns were better and the taxes were lower, so I stopped putting new money into the others and instead put all of my monthly transfer into Vanguard.

By the time I bought my house in 1999, I had more than $30,000 in those investment accounts. I bought my house for around $100,000 so I only needed $20,000 for the 20% down payment, and the rest I left in Vanguard for later use. It’s been really great to have that money. I’ve been able to dip into it as needed — for work on my house, to pay off my student loans from grad school, and (in the past few years), to help prop up the nonprofit I work for to avoid fiscal crisis — as well as to have it as “just in case” money that keeps me from worrying about not having any money.

I thank my father every time I look at my Vanguard statement. He didn’t give me any money to put into it, but he gave me something much more important — the education and knowledge I needed to take care of things myself and to make good decisions about money.

Thanks, Dad.

*****

Okay, here’s the post I started to write, which is probably of interest to no one. But I am posting it anyway. Because this blog is not for you, Dear Readers, it is for ME. You’re just along for the ride.

Here goes.

Dear My Money Wizard,

Your post on earning tax-free income was interesting, but it seems to be missing some context. And since you work in finance, I’m assuming you know all of this, but I’m going to lay it out here anyway since I know there are lots of other people out there who don’t.

Here are a few things I noted and wanted to comment on.

1. A dividend is not a “thank you” from a company for buying its stock. You’re not doing a company a favor when you buy stock; you’re providing the company with capital, in exchange for which you are receiving an ownership interest in the company. (Whether you do this by buying an individual company stock or through a mutual fund makes no difference; the concept is the same.)

The company takes the money it earns from the sale of stock and uses that money to make more money. The reason people become owners of a company is to make money; that’s the whole point of investing.

The ownership interest you purchase when you buy stock gives you the right to have a say in how the company is run and the right to a portion of the company’s future profits (should there be any). If the company makes money, you as an owner make money. If the company loses money, you as an owner may lose money. (The amount you stand to lose is generally limited to the amount you invested.)

There are two ways to generate income from investing in a company.

One way is when the value of the company’s stock increases during the time you own it. This allows you to sell the stock for more than you paid for it. The difference between what you bought the stock for and what you sell it for is the amount of gain you make on your capital (i.e., your capital gain). This is what is taxed at the capital gains rate.

Capital gains can be short-term (property held for less than a year) or long-term (property held for more than a year). (Stock is a form of property.)

Through the workings of our elected officials, We the People have decided that taxes should be lower for gains someone had to wait more than a year for than for gains someone got by buying and selling in less than a year. This means that long-term capital gains are taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains.

Stock prices can also go down.

If you sell a stock for less than you paid for it, you lost capital. For tax purposes, capital losses can be used to offset capital gains. But that would be another very long and very boring post so we’re going to skip that discussion. For now, let’s just assume that you can only make money in the stock market, not lose it. (Yippee!)

The second way that people generate a return on their investment by owning stock is by receiving a distribution of a portion of the company’s annual profit. This is called a dividend. The amount of profit to be distributed is divided by the number of shares outstanding resulting in a per-share amount (e.g., $3 per share). So if you own 100 shares in a company that has a $3 per share dividend, you would get $300.

As noted in your post, “qualified dividends” are dividends that meet certain criteria set by Congress. Again, We the People working through our elected officials agreed that most but not all dividends should get lower rates; others are taxed at the same rate as the rest of your income. (For federal income tax, that is. They are not subject to Social Security or Medicare tax. DIFFERENT POST.)

Got that?

To recap: Capital gains are the income you earn when you sell your stock for more than you paid for it. Dividends are a distribution of income you receive as an owner. These are the two ways that equity investors (owners) make money.

You can also be a debt investor (lender), loaning money to a company by buying bonds. But again, not going to go into that here. Too long, too boring. DIFFERENT POST. This is why the CPA exam consists of four separate 3-hour tests, each of which has multiple testlets (yes, that is an actual word). It just goes on and on.

Okay. Now into the weeds on dividend income.

Let’s say a company has 80 shares outstanding, it has two stockholders who each own 40 shares, and its total income tax rate (federal plus state and local) is 20%.

Further, let’s say that the company’s net profit for the year, after all of the expenses are paid — wages and rent and utilities and the costs to buy/make/develop the products or services it sells and to advertise and sell the products/services and to buy snacks for the staff break room and whatever else the company spent its money on during the year — is $100. With a 20% tax rate, it pays $20 in taxes, leaving $80 in net earnings. The company earnings are $1 per share ($80 divided by 80 shares outstanding = $1/share).

The company can take that $80 and do something with it that it thinks will allow it to generate more income next year — buy new equipment or hire more staff or upgrade the chocolate in the break room from Hershey’s to Callebaut — or it can distribute that money to the owners in the form of a dividend.

In this case, with two owners each having 40 shares, if it distributes all of its earnings as dividends, each owner would receive a $40 dividend.

Typically newer companies keep the money they make to invest and try to increase growth, while mature companies distribute profits to their owners. Retirees and people who are in search of steady income tend to prefer dividend-paying stocks.

Bottom line: Dividends are a return on investment, it’s why people invest, they are not a thank you for buying stock.

Phew.

Okay on to the rest, which is slightly simpler.

2. Some people argue that investment income shouldn’t be taxed at all when distributed to owners, because owners paid tax on that income when the company paid taxes on its earnings. By taxing the income both when it is earned and again when it is distributed, the same money is being taxed twice. (You can read lots and lots on this if you search for information on “corporate double taxation.”)

This argument assumes that the corporation and its owners are a single entity, and that the corporate entity is being taxed both when the money is earned and when the money is distributed. This argument doesn’t quite work for me, because it seems to me that the corporate entity is one thing and the individual owners are a different thing. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around any other interpretation.

But your post seems to go even further by seeing no connection at all between the company and the owner/investor, considering the reduced taxes on investment income as some kind of crazy loophole.

But basically the reduced rates — with lower-income individuals being taxed at a 0% rate — is a compromise between the people who think investment income shouldn’t be taxed at all (because it was already taxed when it was earned) and the people who think investment income should be taxed a lot because it is mostly earned by rich people who can afford the higher taxes and who cares where it came from in the first place or what happened to it before the rich people got it.

3. Your “earn income tax-free” argument doesn’t completely make sense, because in order to execute your plan, you need to make as much money as possible, and that money is taxed when you earn it. (And taxed more if you earn enough to bump yourself into a higher tax bracket.) [Unless you are doing the 401(k)/Roth conversion thing, which I admit I do not understand the details of because I’m not about to do it and it depends on tax laws that may change by the time I ever need to actually know about it so I just skim over anything involving a Roth conversion.] Then you are using this after-tax income to earn more by becoming the owner of a company, and the company you own is paying taxes, thus reducing the amount they have available to distribute to you. So the money isn’t really tax-free — you pay taxes when you make the money you use to invest and then again when the company you have invested in makes money. It’s just that the taxes are indirect, they come out before you see the money instead of being something you pay on your own tax return. But nonetheless they are taxes.

If you really want to earn money tax-free you need to talk to Paul Manafort. You get paid cash for your work and park it offshore then use a shell company to buy a house with the offshore cash then take out a mortgage on the house to get cash in the U.S.. Voila! Cash! No taxes!

Except oops, you can’t talk to Paul Manafort because he’s in jail.

4. Regarding Publication 550 being the most boring IRS publication ever produced, I need to say that as someone who survived getting a master’s degree in accounting at age 48 (which involved, among other things, a class in partnership tax and a class in international tax), and who spent the past two summers studying for and passing all four CPA exams, I find it extremely amusing when PF bloggers read some IRS publication and declare it the most boring or most confusing thing ever produced by the IRS.

I am here to tell you that you have no earthly idea how confusing and/or boring information produced by the IRS can be.

Trust me on that.

****

Okay that’s it.

Congratulations to everyone who made it to the end!

I promise that I will not be producing a tax series. And if you are actually interested in understanding investing, you should go read The Intelligent Investor. It will change your life.

I saw my friend Muriel the other day, she stopped by The Scrap Exchange with her sister and I was talking to her and she mentioned that it was her birthday AT THE EXACT SAME MOMENT that a Facebook alert popped up on my computer screen telling me that it was Muriel’s birthday. Which was very weird. Especially since I do not have a Facebook account. (I was on someone else’s computer who is Facebook friends with Muriel.)

It was a strange meta Facebook reality convergence moment.

We discussed turning 50 and I shared with her the story of my 50th birthday lunch last year, at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, at which a friend who is 60 told us that the past decade has been the best 10 years of her life. The rest of my friends who were with me at lunch — all of whom were my age or younger — found that statement inspiring.

This morning I was reading through things on my computer and came across a quote I pulled recently when I re-read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, which is a book I saw on every bookshelf in the world when I was growing up and which I assumed was schlocky, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book I hated so much it made me angry that I had spent time reading it, but which is actually a great book, beautifully written and insightful and poetic.

Here is the quote:

For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? It is true that society in general does not help one accept this interpretation of the second half of life. And therefore this period of expanding is often tragically misunderstood. Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence — discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing — are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space — that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.

But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away; one escapes — into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, love affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation.

Angels of annunciation of what? Of a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, of worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent; free at last for spiritual growth; free of the clamping sunrise shell. Beautiful as it was, it was still a closed world one had to outgrow.

So this is for Muriel, and for everyone else who is about to turn 50, or has recently turned 50, or who is dreading turning 50.

May the next 10 years be the best years of your life.

Things Can Always Get Worse

Friday, May 4, 2018

 

I feel like this should be my motto: Things Can Always Get Worse. (It pairs well with the Currie Rule.)

The place I worked throughout most of the 1990s and a little bit of the 2000s was run by a person who was very good at a few parts of his job but very bad at all the rest. He resembled in many key aspects Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss.

His second-in-command was a woman who was, for lack of a better term, Insane. She lied and manipulated information. She told people she was a CIA agent. (Which may have been true, who knows.) She spoke with a British accent which made her sound very authoritative. She had stout legs and wore low heels and you could hear her coming from across the office, clicking her way through the tiled mail room. Click, click, click. She wore scarves and chunky necklaces. When she said, “Many people have said….”, you knew she was lying. The “many people” was a dead giveaway. (Hmm… who does that sound like?)

Eventually she did something so over the top that she got herself canned. I don’t remember exactly what it was, or maybe I never knew for sure. I have a vague recollection of it involving her trying to get someone else fired, but doing such a bad job lying that it was too much even for the Pointy-Haired Boss.

She was fired during the work week and escorted from the building. She was allowed back on Saturday to clear out her office, along with an escort. I was there that Saturday, working, and I think maybe they were supposed to have been there earlier, or to come in on Sunday, but changed plans but I wasn’t notified. I don’t think I would have gone in on purpose when they were there. I remember it being very tense and wishing I wasn’t there.

There was much rejoicing at our place of work after Insane Person was fired. Ding, dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead, the witch is dead. (She actually had a witch’s hat in her office. I ended up with it. It lives on a hat rack in my garage/studio/office. A friend came to my office once, saw the hat and said, “I always knew you were a witch.”)

We were all thrilled after this turn of events, the source of so much turmoil and so many of our problems was gone. Gone!

They hired someone new to replace her. And the new person was very nice, not evil at all. But she also appeared to be not at all qualified to do her job. Even after months and months to get up to speed, she seemed to have very little grasp of what was important or how things worked. She barely participated in meetings and rarely provided anything of value when it came to analysis or decision-making.

At one point I found myself saying, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually miss Insane Person. At least she knew what was going on.”

This was a great and lasting lesson for me.

I learned that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse. You may solve one problem, and it may even be your biggest problem, but that doesn’t mean all of your problems are gone. You may just end up with a bunch of new problems that you never even thought about before.

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

But instead of focusing on the bad things that might happen, I will end on a positive note, with a link to my ’80s friend Howard Jones who tells us that the opposite is true: Things can only get better.

If you say so, Howard. If you say so.

A Story from the Past

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I wrote a post a little over a year ago that involved several side stories about my friend Sue. I got one private response that said, “More Sue stories please!”

This is for you, you know who you are.

=====

I listen to Fresh Air while I do my work bookkeeping and I was catching up on some work on Sunday and listened to a show that had a review of the recent Tonya Harding movie (I, Tonya). This piece reminded me of one of my favorite Sue stories.

I am confident that this event actually happened, however at this point I can’t figure out the timing. It was definitely around the time of the Olympics, but it was obviously before the kneecapping incident had been exposed. I searched but was not able to find any corroborating video.

Here is the story.

I was at a bar in DC, possibly Sign of the Whale on M Street, waiting for my friend Sue to meet me for a beer. As noted, this was around the time of the 1994 Olympics; figure staking was on TV and the commentator talking heads were discussing the upcoming competition. For inexplicable reasons, they were talking to Jeff Gillooly about his insight. I’m watching this and being confused by the whole thing. Why are they talking to Jeff Gillooly? Why does anyone care what Jeff Gillooly thinks?

Sue shows up and I express my bafflement.

I say they’re talking to Jeff Gillooly about the figure skating. Sue says, “Jeff Gillooly? Why are they talking to Jeff Gillooly??”

Then she gives one of my favorite Sue one-liners of all time.

She says, “Who died and made him Dick Button?”

I do not know why I thought (and continue to think) that was so funny but I did. And I have no idea if anyone else will think this is funny, but every now and then something will make me think of that story and that line continues to crack me up, even now, lo these many years later.

Who died and made him Dick Button.

A Scrap Exchange Story

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I’m writing this story for my friend Ann, because work is hard right now, our Yelp reviews of our life (a new feature of my life I started last year when I was sick and had to go into work to fix Ann’s computer — “This place sucks! They make you come in to work when you’re sick as a dog! Who wants to work at a place like that?”) all start with “This place sucks!”

So this is a story that has everything I love about The Scrap Exchange in it. To make me remember that The Scrap Exchange is unique and beloved Durham institution, and is also a magical place.

Or at least it used to be. And maybe it sometimes still is.

Here is the story.

In June 2016 I signed up to work at an event in Fairfax, Virginia, to which we were hired to bring our Events by the Truckload program. Every now and then we get hired to do an event in the DC area, and I usually work those, partly because I can sometimes catch up with friends while I’m up there but also because I know that the roads can be very confusing and the traffic can be very terrible and you might make one wrong turn and be stuck for two hours trying to get back to where you were supposed to go. It seems better to have me drive because I am (a) less likely to make a wrong turn in the first place and (b) more likely to be able to recover from it if I do.

This particular event had some evening hours on Friday and we were supposed to get there before 5 p.m. but I know enough about DC traffic to know that you should not aim for 5 p.m. because you will be playing Friday afternoon Beltway traffic roulette and who knows when you will actually get there. You should try to get there by 3 p.m., which should get you there before the mayhem. So that was the plan but I got a bit off schedule in the morning. We were still in the right range but running a bit behind. But we needed to keep it moving.

So we have all of our stuff together and Chellie, the outreach manager, walks to the rented box truck with me, pulls up the rear door and shows me what we have in the truck for the weekend. I quickly look through it to make sure nothing is missing. Barrels of stuff, bags of extra stuff, scissors, tape, postcards, flyers. Looks good.

I load in my cooler, Dana and I settle ourselves into our respective seats, and we drive off to our big adventure.

I drive up the hill to go out the side parking lot driveway, out on to Chapel Hill Road, take a right on Morehead, left on Duke Street. We are stopped at a red light at Duke Street and Chapel Hill Street, by the main police station, about two miles from The Scrap Exchange, and the car next to us rolls down his window and points and says, “Hey, do you know that your back door is open?”

And I’m like Oh, No. We didn’t close the door after we looked to make sure we had everything.

So I pull over and look in back and I’m like yup, stuff fell out. It’s one of the bins with tape, which we need for the weekend, and also my cooler, and probably some other stuff too. We need to go back.

So we retrace our route and I’m expecting to see a trail of detritus strewn along the roads but I don’t see anything at all until we get to the driveway to the parking lot and then I see Scrap Exchange postcards blowing all over the place. I’m like okay well here’s where it happened. But I don’t see bins or my cooler or anything other than the postcards.

I drive down to the parking lot, don’t see anything there. Drive back up, pull over and start picking up postcards and looking for where the bins could have fallen. I can’t figure out what happened, where is our stuff? Obviously this is where the stuff fell out because there are postcards everywhere but there’s nothing else here. What is going on?

As I’m standing there looking perplexed, two guys in a car drive up and say, “We took your stuff back down to the store, we saw it come out of the truck and we picked it up for you and took it inside.”

And I’m like Oh! Okay, thanks!

So we drive down and I walk inside, the outreach manager and our greeter staff person are just finishing up repacking the bins and putting everything back together. They are laughing — Oops! Forgot to close the back door!

Paola says, “That was one of our community service volunteers who brought the bin in, he lives in the neighborhood.” She recognized him from volunteering.

So now I’m now laughing too. This is so Scrap Exchange. Our little neighborhood of helpers. Of course one of our neighbors would see this happen and of course he would know The Scrap Exchange from volunteering and of course he would take the time to pick the stuff up for us and bring it back.

But I’m starting to really worry about timing, we need to get on the road. But I feel bad about all of the postcards blowing all over the street so I tell Chellie and Paola to tell Robert to go clean up the postcards. (Robert is a neighborhood friend who picks up trash and helps us keep our parking lot clean.) They say they’ll have someone take care of it.

So we load the stuff back into the truck, we CLOSE THE ROLL UP DOOR, and drive off.

The rest of the weekend more or less unfolds as planned. We make it to Fairfax, we do the event, people make fun stuff, Sunday night we drive back to Durham. Monday I take the day off to recover.

On Tuesday, I’m in our weekly senior staff meeting and I notice that Ann has a necklace I haven’t seen before. She makes jewelry from all kinds of things you might not think of as jewelry-making material — bottlecaps, rusted metal, etc. She lives on a busy road with a lot of automobile accidents and for a while she had a car crash series of jewelry, she would pull stuff out of the side of the road and turn it into a necklace or earrings. Tail lights, reflectors, pieces of bumper. Stuff like that.

So I see her necklace and I tell her I like it. She reaches up and puts her hand across it like a QVC commercial and says, “Oh, thanks. It made it from stuff I pulled out of the street when I was picking up the postcards that fell out of the back of the truck.”

And I’m like okay now this truly a classic Scrap story:

—Stuff falls out of truck.
—Someone who knows us sees it fall out, picks it up, and brings it back to the store.
—Someone tells me the door is open before I get on the highway and drive off into oblivion.
—The guy who brought the stuff back to the store sees me looking for it and tells me where my stuff is.
—Ann cleans up the street and makes a necklace out of the trash she picks up.

The end.

All that, as my friend Ann likes to say.

All that.

Giving Thanks

Friday, November 24, 2017

Here are some things I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017.

I am thankful for Roger the auto mechanic & tow truck driver at Brown’s Towing and Auto Repair in South Hill, Virginia.

I am thankful that I remembered to pick up my phone before leaving on my trip this morning.

I am thankful that my phone eventually connected to a wireless network in the I-85 rest stop in Warfield, Virginia.

I am thankful that I had sufficent Airvoice minutes on my phone to call/text/google everyone that I needed to call/text /google from the I-85 rest stop in Warfield, Virginia.

I am thankful for my friend Sara who said sure I can drive to South Hill, Virginia and pick you up.

I am thankful that my phoneless friend Sara’s friend that she works for gave her an iPad that she carries with her all the time now so when I send an email from I-85 asking if anyone is up for a Thanksgiving adventure, she gets the email even though she is out and about doing things.

I am thankful for my neighbor Avonia who heaped mountains of food on me and my friend Sara after we returned from our South Hill adventure.

And last but not least…

I am thankful that my thumb that I slammed in the car door while standing on the flatbed truck with my soon-to-be-towed car eventually stopped bleeding.

I hope that everyone is well and happy. And that your Thanksgiving thanks this year are less wide ranging than mine.

Bye Miss Kitty

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

So for a while I’ve been joking with friends about how my life feels like a TV show. I had been saying it was like a sitcom — there were two sets (The Scrap Exchange and Duke Gardens) and everyone on the show had to be somehow related to everyone else. Lately there’s been more drama so I’ve moved on to saying it’s more of a telenovela. I send updates to my friends entitled “Don’t Miss This Week’s Exciting Episode!”

Of course most of the drama has been coming from work. I know that many people might question my decision to spend $35,000+ on a graduate degree and then take a part-time job making less than $25,000 a year, but I get to sleep late (my work schedule starts at 1 p.m.) and, for better or worse, there is never a dull moment.

We have a weekly executive committee meeting where the admin folks can touch base on whatever important things have come up. This meeting happens at 1 o’clock on Tuesdays.

The Tuesday before last (5/16) I walked in to a discussion of the current employee drama which we had been dealing with for a few weeks. We have an employee who has been suffering through a series of seriously terrible life complications, the latest of which involved her losing her apartment. That day’s development was that she had secured a place to stay but her cat couldn’t stay there. She was upset. The cat was upstairs. We discussed options, one of which was for the cat to live at The Scrap Exchange. (Executive Director: “No.”) The next was for someone to take the cat. Deputy Director lives in very small house and already has cats. Operations Manager has two kids, including a 6-month-old baby, and is allergic to cats. Retail Manager and Executive Director both have multiple pets. Apparently all other possibilities that have been considered have pets or allergies — it turns out that I am the only person at The Scrap Exchange with neither.

I say, “Okay, that’s fine. I can take the cat.”

Have I ever had a cat? No, I have not. But I have lots of friends with cats and it doesn’t seem that complicated. I feel confident that I can handle this.

Now the cat that I was thinking the employee had was a cat that kept sneaking in to The Scrap Exchange and hanging out; on multiple occasions it was found in the Hall of Affordable Art (everyone’s favorite location at The Scrap Exchange). The employee now dealing with serial crises fell in love with the cat and took it home with her. This was a few months ago, pre-crises. It was a pretty sweet cat, and seemed chill, so it seemed like it would be fine for me to take it for a bit until the housing situation shook out.

After the meeting, Deputy Director tells Employee that I will take the cat, so they come down to the office with the cat and it turns out it is not the cat I was thinking of, a grown, chill, fully functioning cat. It is a little bitty kitten. Employee is like, “Thank you so much! Here she is,” and hands over the kitten. She tells me its name is Erica, named after her brother who was killed exactly a month before the kitten came into her life. In my head, I am thinking (a) man, that is a lot to put on a tiny little kitten, naming it after your dead brother and (b) I am not calling this kitten Erica.

[Side note: Somewhat unclear what happened to the other cat, its disappearance seemingly connected to recent breakup with boyfriend, I decided to not ask too many questions. The new cat apparently came in with a donation — details also unclear and I decided to not ask too many questions. Welcome to The Scrap Exchange. And welcome to my world where you go to work and come home with a kitten. This is definitely a sitcom episode.]

We got a box for the kitten to hang out in. We attached a string to the side of the box so we could distract her as needed while I tried to finish the work day. She slept for a while in the box, then realized she could climb out of the box, so she was able to explore the wide world of the office, then she curled up on the chair next to the desk I was working at and slept some more.

When it was time to go home I got her back in the box and took the box out to my car and was faced with the first challenge of figuring out how to get a box with a kitten in it into my car. I have a Miata. This was not a trivial task. But the box did fit once I angled it properly and I started to drive home and the kitten pretty much immediately figured out how to get out of the box. But there isn’t really anywhere to go in a Miata and she wasn’t freaking out or anything so I just let her wander around. Seemed safer than trying to figure out how to get her to stay in the box while I was driving.

We got home and I probably should have gone to get her food but I didn’t want to go out again and I’d cooked a chicken that weekend so I fed her some of that and she seemed to be okay so I decided that would be good enough for now. I also didn’t have a litter box and I had no idea how that was going to work, but she was so little that I figured if she did make a mess somewhere, it wouldn’t be that much of a mess, and I would just deal with it then.

She explored the house while I sat at the dining room table eating dinner and reading the paper. She liked jumping up on the somewhat unstable bookshelf I have attached to the wall, and at first I tried to get her to stop but I realized that wasn’t going to work so I took the books off. I could just imagine myself telling Employee that her kitten was crushed to death in tragic cookbook accident. Death by Julia Child. Not pretty.

I wasn’t paying all that much attention and she seemed to be staying out of trouble. Eventually I notice that behind me I am hearing paper rustling noises. I figure this is the cat checking out the pile of newspaper on the floor and the paper bag with papers ready to go to the recycle bin. But the paper rustling noises go on and on. Finally I turn around to see what’s going on and the kitten is working on making a little indentation in the bag, like a little nest. She finishes with that and curls up in it and goes to sleep. And I’m like okay that does not look comfortable. Is that really the best my house has to offer? Sliding off the side of a paper bag with newspaper in it?

cat sleeping on bag

Paper Bed

But whatever. To each his own. I let her be.

After I finished eating, I moved over to the armchair that lives in the corner of the dining room, where I often work with my computer on my lap. Miss Kitty wakes up and starts running around again. She likes to make a circuit around the room — up the chair, across the empty bookshelf, over to the papers, up the shelf, back to me and around the room again. This would be fine if the circuit didn’t involve running directly across my keyboard. Sometimes she would stop to hang out.

cat in front of computer

Lots of CTRL-Z action that night.

She eventually stopped the circuit and slept for a while on the shelf, then moved on to the back of the chair where she slept with her paw on my shoulder.

I got up to go to bed and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with her, I didn’t have a kitty bed or anything set up. I also wasn’t sure what she was expecting since I had no idea what she had been doing previously. Or even what you’re supposed to do with a kitten. Where do kittens spend the night? I guess I would find out.

She followed me into the bedroom and I got in bed and turned off the light and after about a minute I heard a little “Meow? …. Meow?” Which even I, a feline neophyte, could translate: “Where are you?”

I picked her up and put her on the bed. She curled up next to me and we went to sleep.

She pretty much left me alone the first night. She thought it was time to get up when it got  light out but I was like no we’ve only been in bed a few hours, it’s not time to get up yet. She went back to sleep.

I got up a little before my usual time and I played with her a little bit then tried to finish the editing work I’d been doing the night before. I called the office and said I’d be in late, I was trying to finish my edits, and I knew I would never get to them once I got to the office. Some things are just impossible to do there.

I went in around 2 p.m. and hoped for the best with Kitty by herself in the house.

I talked to Ann about trying to figure out what I needed for litter box. Fortunately we work in the Land of Abundance, so we went in to the retail store and Ann found a container that would work and gave me some tips on where to put it, etc. Total cost: $2.35.

I left work a little earlier than usual and came home to see how she did. Everything seemed fine.

I fed her some more of the chicken and she did the same thing she’d done the night before. She’d snatch a piece out of my hand and run across the room and huddle in a corner, eating it before anyone could come and take it away from her. She’d come back when she was finished and get another piece and run back to the corner. After the first few pieces she was calmer when getting more, but she still kept going across the room to eat it.

I took  her out on the porch to see if she wanted to explore, and she was happy to check out the porch but was not interested in the wider world.

I talked a friend who has cats into going to the grocery store with me. She came over and we went off and did battle with the pet aisle. Talk about paradox of choice, holy cow. But we picked out food and kitty litter and went home and got the litter box set up.

My friend was like okay now you put her in it. So we put her in the litter box and she stands completely still for about 5 seconds then starts scratching and puts out this HUGE poop. I was like man I wonder how long she was holding that for. Poor thing.

So now we had food and a litter box. We were set.

I was prepared to have her for a few days, maybe a week. On Thursday 5/18, I talked to Employee who said she should be able to take her back between June 1 and June 19. I was like “Oh! Okay.”

That is more than a week. I had to change my mindset a bit.

I quickly learned that kitties like to play. A lot. Her favorite activity was playing with a string (the one we taped to the box at work) or a shoelace. Endlessly fascinating! I would dangle it; she would attack. My favorite part was when she’d flip herself over trying to jump up and grab it.

She liked to play hide and seek, and to have me chase her. When I’d walk into my bedroom, she’d run ahead of me and run under the bed, then stick her head out from behind the blanket chest that sits at the foot of the bed. She’d sit at the corner of the bed, in the nook made by the chest, and wait for me to walk past, then run to the other side of the room, then back under the bed. Like playing peek-a-boo.

When I’d walk toward the bathroom, Miss Kitty would come with me. She’d wait for me in the hall, crouching against the wall just outside the door, and when I walked out she’d pounce at my feet, then run in front of me down the hallway.

All of it reminded me of my niece when she was little; she loved it when I would pretend to be a monster and chase her around the house. I’m going to get you! I’m going to get you! As she ran and squealed, looking over her shoulder at me clomping behind her.

My nights of extended sleep didn’t go so well after the first few nights. Kitty figured out that she could jump up on the bed on her own — it was like someone scaling a cliff in the movies, she’d get the edge of her claws over the top and … unhh unhh …  pull herself the rest of the way up.

If I lay very still,  she would give up quickly after I turned out the light, but in the mornings that strategy didn’t work. She was like okay time to play! Sometimes I could get her to stop by covering up everything and not reacting at all as she poked and prodded me. But in a few minutes she’d try again, tapping my cheek with her little kitty paw. Kitty was sweet, but I don’t give up my sleep for anything. Once I realized she wasn’t going to let it go, I’d pick her up and put her out in the hallway and close the door. Zzzzzz.

The first few nights she played a little bit rough, she scratched up my legs and bit my hands and arms. I worked on behavior modification and it got better, but I feel like she couldn’t quite get what the problem was. She stopped putting out her claws when she played. She would gently grab my arm before she sunk her pointy little teeth into it. I would say NO! STOP! NO BITE! And she would look so confused: Why person no want play? Hm. Will try again.

She just couldn’t get what she was doing wrong.

I did manage to get her to stop jumping up on the dining room table with the help of a spray bottle filled with water. She jumped on the table, I squirted her. She shook her head, turned around, jumped back down on to the chair. A few minutes later, she jumped up again. I squirted, she fled. She tried again a few minutes later. I reached for the bottle and she hightailed it off of there.

FACT: Kitties do not like being sprayed with water.

Our basic routine was that I would chase her and play with her after I got up, while I took care of house things and ate breakfast and read the paper, and then again at night after I got home from work. She would hang out in the dining room with me while I ate or worked or studied. Then after I went to bed, she’d spend most of the night in my room; I’d put her out in the morning so I could get a few extra hours of sleep.

On Thursday 5/25 I took a day trip to High Point. I’d been planning on taking the train — I love the train — but then the power went out at work on Wednesday so I had many unfinished work items to take care of, and at the last minute I decided I should drive so I could come home earlier. I didn’t want to be gone all day and then work all night, leaving Miss Kitty home by herself for 18 hours.

I left around 7:15 a.m. and got home around 5 p.m. I played with kitty for a few minutes then took a nap. Kitty let me sleep but got up on the bed once I was awake and wanted to play. I  got up and ate and played with her for a few more minutes then headed to my office.

I worked for a few hours to try to get caught up from the power outage and the day out of town. I finished late, and came inside and went straight to bed. I was tired. Kitty was not sympathetic. Kitty was like I’m sorry but you have not met Kitty Play Quota today. You cannot sleep until Kitty Play Quota has been met!

I put the pillow over my head. She snuck under and around it, whiskers on my face. She would not take no for an answer. I removed her to the hallway. She figured out that the door didn’t latch and she could just push it open. Back on to the bed. Play! Play! Play! I put her out in to the hallway and put a pile of books in front of the door. Checkmate. Zzzzzz.

Phone rang at 10:30 a.m. No message. Rang again. No message. Rang again, I got up to answer. Opened the door and Kitty sitting there. Did she sit there all night, in the same spot in front of the door?

Phone was kitty mom saying she got a place to stay and she could take her baby back. I made arrangements to meet her at 1 o’clock, before I went to work.

Got back into bed to wake up and let kitty try to play with me, launching herself across the bed at my head.

Did my morning stuff — shower, newspaper, breakfast — then got kitty things together and put it all in the car. Put kitty in banker’s box, which fit better in my car than the box I brought her home in, but which she also did not want to stay in once I started driving. Met up with kitty mom.  Kitty was okay for most of it but got nervous when I tried to hand her over. I put her back in the box and we did the transfer that way.

After thinking I’d have her for a few days or a week, and then trying to prepare myself for a month, it turned out to be 10 days after all. Kittens are cute. It’s hard not to get attached.

And I know there’s plenty more where she came from, but I’m not sure if I liked the experience enough to want to go through it willingly (as opposed to having it foisted upon me). I think I might like to sleep too much to have a pet.

But anyway this is my tribute to Miss (Erica) Kitty. May she live long and prosper.