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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Sunday, May 07, 2000

LA Unconfidential #5

L.A. Unconfidential
Number 5
May 7, 2000

These stream-of-consciousness rants may start to clench their gluteus cheeks. One of the folks receiving them is a cool woman I met in my last six months at McKinsey. She’s the editor of the Australian Financial Review’s management magazine, Boss. She mentioned, before I left, that I oughta write something for the magazine about what it’s like leaving the comfy, cozy world of McKinsey and throwing myself to the uncertain winds of a startup. Don’t know why she chose me; there are plenty of folks in my shoes, as the Wall Street Journal observed rather pointedly a couple weeks back. But I was flattered, so I started thinking about what I’d write. In the meantime, I put her on the mailing list of the Unconfidential. The more the merrier, hey?

Well, guess what got published? While I was meditating about the insightful new-economy management mini-tome I would write for her, she sent me a note after the first Unconfidential saying, “Thanks for the article. It’ll be in the next issue.” Am I happy? Sure. But now I’m also cursed with forethought, dammit. Thanks, Helen.

The standout events of recent days aren’t about the business, however. They’re about credit and arrogance, about tables and cars.

Since I arrived, I knew I’d need to make two major purchases once I found a place to live: a car and a table. As long as the six-week relocation period lasted, I could rely on the company-funded rental car. And, as long as I was in a hotel, I would have a place to eat, write, and use as a horizontal filing cabinet. Those times have passed.

So, last week, I set out to buy a car and a table almost simultaneously. Perhaps there’s some valuable character diagnosis in the fact that I went to buy a used car on the Internet (iMotors—thanks, Nikki), but was unwilling to choose a table without touching it first. Anybody who’s into cars will consider this crazy. Anybody who’s into tables just voted me sane despite contradictory evidence. Anybody who isn’t into tables or cars will wonder why these items are milestones for me.

Both purchase decisions were dead easy. I don’t care about cars, so image is unimportant and reliability and value are essential: 3 year-old Honda Civic. I do care about tables, so they’ve gotta be sturdy and big enough to seat eight for dinner parties. On the other hand, I can’t stand sinking big money into objects other than cameras, so the table I chose was inexpensive: Ikea.

So, items chosen, I got on the phone. To cut to the chase, Ikea won’t take my credit card and iMotors won’t finance my car. Why? I don’t exist, apparently. For the last ten years, I’ve lived in Australia. In they eyes of American creditors, that means I’m a ghost. That’s what one of them actually said: “You’re a ghost, Mr Spencer.”

As it turns out, two things are true that I hadn’t imagined plausible. First: a clean, inactive credit history is the same as having bad credit. It’s kind of like being born into Christianity. Even though you’ve just arrived on the planet, you’re already a sinner. Second: the United States considers other country’s banking system credible enough to establish an individual’s credit-worthiness. Been paying a mortgage in Australia, carrying credit cards in Hong Kong and single-handedly funding the debt of Botswanaland? U.S. banks will politely point out that, “Unfortunately, you have no credit history, sir.” It is with a straight face that Americans incredulously tell you they don’t understand why the rest of the world thinks them arrogant.

The upshot: at 32 years old, making comfortably more than the American average and with zero debt, I’ve gotta get my father to co-sign on my car loan.

By the way, my washing machine arrived yesterday. And I haven’t a clue how to drive it.

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