Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Common Cold Weather Dilemma

Ah, fall. Isn’t just lovely? The trees explode in kaleidoscope colors. People pass by each other in their warm sweaters. Children dive with reckless, daredevil abandon headlong through mounds of leaves. The bite in the air invigorates, leaving rosy cheeks and noses…not to mention cold, cold apartments for the starving artist. And this is just the beginning. Winter is on its way, bringing with it sickeningly high utility bills which threaten to destroy your friendly neighborhood starving artist. Faced with the heating crunch, many starving artist are forced to take extreme measures: fire barrels, electric blankets, running back to mom’s house, and – most frightening of all – getting real jobs.

Unless, you are one of the lucky few who manage not to pay for utilities, you are most likely racking your frigid, artistic brain for ways to get warm and not pay for it. Well, I don’t have hard answers for you. Remember, this site offers nothing more than my observations as they occur. Hopefully later I can report my successes and failures. Until that time, I can offer nothing more than the untested strategies for defending yourself against the two headed hydra of cold and costs of heat.

1. Your Body Is A furnace
Your body produces heat. Really. It’s a veritable blast furnace. The only problem is your body is constantly radiating heat outward like a sucker, instead of hording that sweet, sweet warmth all for itself. The solution to this is simple: Insulation. Do you like sweaters? Do you like layers? How do you feel about wearing multiple pairs of socks at a time? It doesn’t matter how you feel about them, because you better get used to it. If you want to savor the body’s bounteous warmth, you will do it. I’m talking layers here, layers atop of layers with an extra layer thrown in for good measure. You may not be able to flex your arms, but you will be warm…relatively speaking. The same thing goes for your bed. Whatever blankets, comforters, sleeping bags, pets, and small children you have on hand goes on the bed on top of you. I’ve recently been sleeping under such an unwieldy mass of blankets, I can scarce roll over. To do so requires Herculean feats of desire and effort. Of course, I’ve simply adjusted to not rolling over.

2. Don’t Spend Time in Your Apartment
No use heating a place you’re not even present in. You’re time will be better spent out and about in warmer locals such as stores, malls, coffee shops, bars, friends places, and work. I don’t like my day job, but at least they heat the joint. That’s a good eight hours of avoiding hypothermia a day. Now all I need to do is find someplace else to spend the remaining time in the day: say going out or working on projects with friends. If everything goes well, the only time I spend in my apartment is ensconced under a mountain of comforters as I sleep. If I’m really lucky, friends will take pity on me and suggest, nay insists, I spend the night in their better heated homes. Remember, pity can be the starving artists most useful tool. Don’t be shy about using it. Just remember, you’re not just poor. You’re poor because you made a decision to dedicate yourself to your art. It’s more romantic and people occasionally want to be part of such romance. No matter how ridiculous this seems, it does work.

3. Migrate
If all else fails. Move to a warmer climate for the winter, like geese. Go somewhere where it does not matter if you can afford heat, because heat is free from Mother Nature. Even if you live on the street in Miami, it’s warmer than living in an unheated apartment in Pittsburgh. As a matter of fact, I think starving artist should migrate en masse annually. That way people will say, “There goes a group of pretentious underachieving think-rimmed bespectacled college graduates walking south, winter must be on its way.” The return of the twenty something to the studio apartment will then become the traditional sign of spring's approach.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Strike A Pose

My last few post have dealt primarily with the starving side of the starving artist paradigm. These I hope have been fun and informative for my legions of readers, although I know many people may feel that the artist side of my project has not been receiving the attention it so duly deserves. Please, dear reader, have no fear. In the interest of the prospective full, well-rounded starving artist, I am here today for the sole purpose of sharing a few words of advice for the cultivation of the artistic side of your starving artist persona.

The first thing to consider when choosing your artistic persona is what kind of artist you are going to pose as. As a general rule, go with what you know the most about. I was an English major and am still an avid reader, so my pose is as a writer. I can discuss books and writing knowledgeably. I can throw out some of the key phrases and names of writers and seem like I know exactly what I am talking about. Now, if I were to pretend to be, say, some sort of musician, I would be screwed. I like music. I listen to music, but I’m not really knowledgeable on the subject. I can’t play any instruments. I can’t sing. As a matter of fact, I think I may be tone deaf. Obviously, my posing as a musician would be an unmitigated failure. People would see right through me, and I would never be able to pass with any credibility. So, remember, when choosing what exact pose to take, go with something you at least know a little something about.

Here it may also be handy to pick something that is not performance based. If you do it is only a matter of time until someone wants to see you perform. At this point, you either must be competent enough in your faux field to perform something, or you are exposed. If you claim to be a guitar player in a band, you better have at least some small repertoire of songs you can play very well. If you claim to be a singer, you’re voice must at least be a little above passable. I have avoided this problem by claiming to be a writer. Writers never have to worry about demand performances. This conversation has never occurred with a writer:

Jerk: So, you’re a writer?
Starving Artist: Yeah.
Jerk: Then write something.
SA: What? Right now? I don’t have my typewriter on me?
Jerk: Here. Use mine.

A writer never faces this dilemma. No one wants to see a writer write. Few people really want to read what you write. They’ll say they do, but they never really follow through with it. But if you say you’re a guitar player. People want to hear you play, and they want to hear it now. Because you chose a pose which demands and often provides instant satisfaction, you need to have something ready at hand. (Just as a side note, I do have some short stories ready on hand in case someone really, really wants to read something I’ve written and will not be denied.)

Also, be sure not to strike a pose too high up on the cultural ladder. It comes with too much baggage and is way to high maintenance. If you claim to be writing an opera, good luck living the starving artist life style. You can’t stock your cupboards with generic noodles and not have nice things in this case. People expect the full package from you if you aim too high. It’s not enough for you to claim to know about opera and sing a few bars. People expect you to drink expensive wines, wear expensive clothes, and eat at fine restaurants. They expect a well rounded personality which you may not be able to provide. So, aim for a more proletariat pose. You’re an artist of the common man. At a bar you’re just as likely to be drinking Miller Light as a fine Chianti. You wear jeans and sweatshirts. It’s a hard balance to strike. You are an artist and can appreciate the finer – read expensive things – but you are also a common man, one of the guys, and don’t want to be treated any different. Once again writer works out for me. People don’t really know what a writer should look or act like, so you have some freedom. Plus, half of what I write is comedy, which automatically drops people’s expectations up to fifty percent.

Finally, have fun with the pose. Use it when it is useful – with the ladies – and drop it when it is not. This pose is you’re creation. Do what you want with it. Make up facts about your life – this works as long as you’re not with at least some people who know you well. Get crazy, but not too crazy. You want people to actually believe you. The starving artist pose may or may not actually help you eat, but, remember, it’s more fun to be a starving artist, than to be just plain starving.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

When's a deal not a deal?

Around the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I found myself in the uncommon – for me – situation of having a girlfriend. At the same time I found myself in the very common – for me – situation of having a crappy job. So, of course, I could hardly afford to take my special lady out, even though I wanted to. I found a viable solution to my dilemma when I bought – at a discount – an entertainment book. The entertainment book, for those unfamiliar, is a coupon book filled with coupons for various local restaurants, stores, and the like. The Entertainment Book is fantastic for dating. There are a vast number of buy one get one free deals from nice restaurants. It helped me take out my girl when I otherwise could not. Of course, my luck being what it is, this girl dumped me by the end of January. One of the reasons sighted in the break-up was my being cheap.

So, I’ve been pretty much stuck with this Entertainment Book for the better part of a year. I’ve hardly used it in this time. It’s spent most of the past year laying impotent on the back sit of my car. People have called me out on this, asking me why I don’t use it more. The truth is the book is no longer worth it for me to use. Its deals have effectively stopped being deals.

Once again, I can practically hear objections coming back at me. “How do deals stop being deals?” “You’re saving money, aren’t you?” Well, I wouldn’t really be saving money. If I used the book as much as people suggest, I would actually be losing money.

Deals can stop being deals. Deals can cost you more money than you save. These are true statements. You can go broke taking advantage only of deals. Remember, no matter what, it is always cheaper not to spend any money than to buy something. Even if you are getting a fantastic ‘deal’, it will cost you money. Not spending anything at all will cost you nothing.

Deals are only deals if they are on things you would buy anyway or you really want but can’t get unless it is at a reduced price. Otherwise, deals are ciphers. They force you to part with your money – even if it is only a little bit at a time. Imagine someone is trying to sell you a pair of pants for ten dollars. You don’t want the pants. They’re absolutely hideous, a completely unnatural shade of a green, out of fashion cut, and they make your ass look just awful. There is not a chance in hell you will wear these pants, let alone pay ten dollars for them. Then, the salesman slashes the price to five dollars. “Come on,” he says, lupine grin spreading across his face, “Fifty percent off. That’s a great deal.” Oh, no. He’s appealing to your cheapness. It IS a great deal. Fifty percent off, you can’t beat that. You buy the pants. Congratulations, you just pissed five dollars away. Go ahead and brag to your friends what a great deal you got. You may even be able to convince some of them, but the truth of the matter is that you lost five dollars – five dollars you can never get back – and your ass looks horrible.

It is always a better deal to keep your money in your wallet. If you don’t need or really, really want the item the deal is offered on, don’t buy it. Save the money for a better use, maybe for a true deal. True deals do exist, although they’re relative. A true deal to me may be a false deal to you. Remember it is only a deal if it is on something you would have bought anyway. If you really need a pair of hideous green pants – say, for work – then getting them fifty percent off is great. But if you buy something just because it is on sale, then you have lost.

This brings me back to the Entertainment Book. It was a deal for me when I was dating because I would have been taking my girlfriend out regardless. At least, I really wanted to take her out. But now that I’m single – not to mention bitter and lonely – the book doesn’t really offer as much to me. I still use it on small stuff – oil changes or splurging of pizza or chalupas – but I’m not using to go to nice restaurants. I’m not using it a lot. I have already gotten the value out of the book. I have no desire to go to nice restaurants – at least no pressing desire. If I were to use it just to use it, I would end up losing money. Right now, this starving artist can scarce afford to lose money just because I think I’m saving.


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Exploitation: Not Just For Sweat Shops Anymore

As a starving artist, you should, of course, constantly be on the look out for deals. You’re eyes should remain attentive scanning the horizon and your ears forever locked to the ground. You’re nose on the other hand should never, under any circumstances, be pressed to the grindstone. You’re an artist, and artists don’t really work. Occasionally, if you are extremely fortunate, you will find a deal so incredibly good that you will scant believe it to be true. It’s like you found some loophole in a company’s policy and they can’t do anything to stop you from saving. These are deals so good, you will feel almost guilty taking advantage of them. Don’t. Save your guilt for severe crimes and black blemishes on your soul. If you insist upon feeling guilty about saving, then you might as well stop reading this very instant. What I am going to say next could send you’re enfeebled soul to confession.

For those stout hearted starving artist who remain, let it be said: When you discover a loophole, exploit it. Don’t screw around. Don’t say you’ll only take advantage of it occasionally. Keep going back to the loophole store and keep using the loophole. Get as much as humanly possible out of this loophole. Go every day. Go multiple times a day. Don’t stop going when someone tells you to stop. Keep going until every person in that store has said to you, “Look you cheap bastard, you can’t keep doing this.” And then go back some more. Don’t stop exploiting the loophole until you are shown in writing a change in company policy and are issued some form of restraining order from the store.

Allow me to illustrate with an example from my own starvingly artistic life. In my area there opened a video rental store – part of a chain whose size I am uncertain of – which offers great deals. Even without taking advantage of the loophole I am going elaborate on you can easily walk out of the store with two movies – at least one being a new release – for two to three dollars. However, I know how to consistently walk out of said store with the same number of videos for free.

Getting multiple free rentals in one visit is, of course, a multiple step process. First this store – which shall remain nameless – offers a free dollar rental – on older DVD’s – with the rental of a new release. So, first you must find a new release and an older release and you already are getting one of them for free. Now comes the most important step, getting the new release for free. This particular store has a simple plastic canister on the counter with a sign which reads: “Free rental when you tear up a competitor’s card.” Jackpot! Now, all you need to do is produce a competitor’s card. Since the older release is already free, the new release becomes free. So, in essence, you end up getting a free rental – the older release – for renting another movie – the new release – which also ends up being free by exploiting the loophole.

Now, I can practically hear the grumbling coming back across the information super highway. “Sure, it works… once.” “They’re must be a cap on the number of times you can do this.” “You’ll eventually run out of competitor’s cards.” Excuse me a second while I chuckle condescendingly to myself. All these objections are wrong. First, it works every time, all the time. Trust me. The key here, as with all loopholes, is to just keep doing it. If you try it a second time and they call you on it, then that’s it. It was a one shot deal. Let it go. Otherwise, pump that well until it goes dry. If this involves making sure you go when different clerks are working, so be it. There is no cap on the number of times a loophole can be exploited. A loophole can be exploited until the loophole no longer exists or the store bars you from premise.

Now, I could conceivably run out of competitors cards. It could happen, but it hasn’t yet. This brings me to another bit of general advice: Exploiting a loophole may involve some legwork. In this instance, I must be sure to always be in possession of rental cards. I accomplish this through two simple means. First, I am always conveniently ‘losing’ my cards from other stores. These stores – being dedicated to customer service – are more than willing to replace said cards. Some will even give you multiple cards so you have back-ups or so you can let others rent on your account. They might as well be handing me cash. Second, I get a membership to every rental place I encounter within a twenty mile radius. Now, I don’t rent at these locations, but I do use their card. (Another great feature of this loophole store is that they don’t care where the card is from. I found a rental card I had in college – a good hour and a half away – used as a bookmark and this place did not care. As a matter of fact, I think they were impressed.)

There are other loopholes out there. They’re around. Keep your eyes open and you will find them. Here are a few things to keep in mind once you do. First, do not become combative with the clerks unless you absolutely must. It is much better to remain friendly and chipper while exploiting someone. Remember, it’s not even the clerks you’re exploiting; it’s their employer. Many clerks and lower level workers might even appreciate this sort of this. Second, don’t be too vocal about the loophole. You don’t want the loophole to be used too much – unless, of course, it’s by you. If too many people start using the loophole someone higher up in the store hierarchy will notice and change the rule and you’re done. Third, enjoy the ride while it lasts. Everything must come to an end. Don’t become bitter about all the exploitation you will be missing. Instead, cherish the exploitation you actually did. Plus, remember, there are other loopholes out there just begging to be taken advantage of.

Also, just as a general rule for life, don’t let other people rent on your video rental account. This can only lead to late fees on a terrible British gangster film which no one liked – or even finished watching. Even if you have roommates, they should not be trusted…ever.


Saturday, October 8, 2005

Getting Down To Brass Tacks

The last few post have – I hope – been informative general interest information for my fellow starving artist, although the have been admittedly stop gap measures to cover my lack of a home internet connection. I’m sure many readers are wondering about the specifics of my particular situation. So, here I offer my first state of experiment update.

The move went smoothly for the most part. I was able to claim some furniture – including a couch – from my roommates who were both running back to the protective confines of parents’ homes. I had no access to a truck of any sort, and of course I had no desire to pony up the money to rent a U-Haul. You’d be surprised how much furniture can be strapped on top of a car. The only major hitch was getting the couch into my second story apartment. Since it proved to bulky to go through the narrow stairway, we were forced to hoist the couch onto a lower porch roof and then through a handy door which leads from my apartment to roof. I like to think any neighbors who looked out their windows at 11 that evening were sufficiently confused. Of course, this wouldn’t have been accomplished without my friends Ben and Joe, so let me say my official thanks right here.

Once in my apartment, my major hurdle has been trying to eradicate the quite offensive odor left over from previous tenets and resides in the carpets. The carpets have been cleaned twice. Both cleanings have lessened the odor, but it still persists. After the second cleaning, the technician informed me that some of the stains on the floor were from urine – although he used much more colorful language – and as such the stain and its corresponding odor will never be completely eradicated. This was, to say the least, disheartening. I’ve been combating the situation through scented candles, air fresheners, open windows, and simply not spending too much time at home. I am also strongly considering tearing out my carpets.

I have not yet really met any of my neighbors. Even though I believe that making friends could prove invaluable in free food and other assistance, my timid nature and busy schedule work against me. I guess there is time. Although to be perfectly honest I can see myself talking a good game in this space but ultimately failing to deliver. I’ll work on being more sociable, since I owe it to myself and to this experiment.

As to the college campus, I can say it remains an unknown quantity to this experiment. I have discovered that I can blend in on campus with ease. I’ve walked through and spent time reading and the like in various campus locations. I have not been called out or noticed any questioning looks. Luckily Geneva, while still a small school, is large enough for my purposes and I am young enough to pass as a student. Still, when it comes to the college students I often feel like an anthropologist studying a native culture. I sit around the periphery making observations, but haven’t interacted. “Here I find a small group of humans in their early twenties engaged in a social situation. They male and females are doing something the locals call flirting. After 30 days I still haven’t been able to make contact. I am waiting to be noticed by the herd and invited in. I have attempted adopting their basic clothing and mannerisms, but they insist on ignoring my best efforts to be noticed. I am hesitant to force myself into the tribe for fear of sabotaging my entire endeavor.” It’s pretty sad really. Once again my basic timidity in new social situations is working against me. The experiment would be much more successful if I can get some college kids on my side. Plus, I would have a mush more exciting social life.

Of course, the bottom line of this experiment comes down to whether or not I can survive in my current situation. I have paid one month’s rent and it looks like I should be able to do the same next month. I have been eating well, or at least well enough given the situation. Peanut butter sandwiches have proven to be my go to food. I’ve had more than my fair share over the past month. I have also been able to utilize my grandmother for several meals and my food service connection for more – thanks again Ben. I haven’t starved – although someone’s been stealing my lunches at work occasionally, which makes me irate. Thus far I would say the experiment has been a qualified success. I am yet to explore all aspects and opportunities of my situations. The experiment is far from finished. There is much left ahead of me. Wish me luck.


Thursday, October 6, 2005

So, You Actually Have Some Cash

Wow, money. And it’s not just any old money. It’s folding money. Touch it. Feel it. Rub it between your thumb and forefinger. Luxuriate in the texture of the bills. It’s nice. I know. It’s such a rare treat for the starving artist to find himself with a little spending cash. Take a second and enjoy it. Just hang out with your money. Walk the streets with the confidence of a man who actually has a little extra money in his wallet.

Do you have that out of your system? Good. You can enjoy having money, but eventually you’re going to want to spend it. Now, if you are a true starving artist, you don’t have a lot of money to spend and would like to make the meager amount you have travel as far as possible. It’s difficult, I know. We live in a consumer culture and the there is an over whelming number of choices for spending your cash. Where should you go? What’s the best way to stretch that dollar practically to the breaking point? I do not pretend to know the exact answer to these questions. I have, however, spent countless hours looking for the answer. In this time I have found a few tips which I can share.

1. Get to know the Dollar Store
It’s full of generic food and items which have failed in mainstream market place – there are probably Dollar Stores out there selling Crystal Pepsi. It’s cluttered and the people who work there are always a little dirty looking. Still, everything there is a dollar. Let me put this into perspective. If you have five dollars, you can buy five things at the dollar store. If you have ten dollars, that’s ten items. Don’t be afraid of the dollar store, embrace the dollar store. Become familiar with the dollar store’s strange layout. Get to know the products. This isn’t something you can do overnight. Think of it more as an ongoing experiment. Find the dollar store products which are actually of decent quality - in my experience these include cookies, chips, snacks, dish soap, and utensils to name a few - and buy them. Find the items of terrible quality – non-stick pans, peanut butter, generic Barbie dolls – and avoid them. It’s also important to remember that…

2. The Dollar Store is not always the best value
I know this may sound like sacrilege, but sometimes a dollar is too much to spend for generic spaghetti-O’s. Sometimes you can find the same or a similar item somewhere else cheaper. Try other bargain outlets like Big Lots or Save-a-Lots. True these places may be even scarier than the dollar store – which has gone a little mainstream – but if you’re a real cheap starving artist you’ll go there. You’ll wade through barrels of plain white cans marked simply “MEAT” to find that bargain you came for. As in the dollar store, you’ll need to go through a lot of crap before you find the pearls among the crap. There are a lot of bargain stores out there. A lot of them are on the seedy side. You just need to get the guts to go in and check them out. Of course, there is one place you can go which routinely has low prices….

3. Never admit to Wal-mart
Wal-mart has cheap stuff. Their prices are often the best around, but there is a catch. It is not cool to shop at Wal-mart, especially for someone claiming to be an artist. It’s much cooler for an artist to hate Wal-mart. Remember Wal-mart ruins communities, mistreats employees, hates the poor, causes global warming, and makes the baby Jesus cry. But still Wal-mart is cheap. Now I’m not going to judge you either way whether or not you choose to shop at Wal-mart, but I will offer this word of advice: Don’t cop to shopping at Wal-mart. Don’t talk about it. Don’t let anyone see the bags. Don’t buy the Sam’s Choice products. Go there in the dead of night. Maintain the image of a Wal-mart hater. It’s important for your artistic image.

4. Second hand store, First rate fun
I love thrift stores. Seriously I adore them. Not only are the deals excellent, but they’re fun. Can anyone honestly say they don’t have fun at thrift stores? Every trip’s like a treasure hunt. You have no idea what to expect. You can find a gold mine. A friend of mine once found a great condition brooks brothers’ suit in his size. Half the shirts I own have spent some time on the racks at the Salvation Army or Goodwill. It’s always better to buy an actual old T-shirt at Salvation Army for a buck, than to buy a faux old shirt at American Eagle for thirty dollars. Thrift stores are even great places to bring dates. It sounds odd, but consider it a kind of litmus test. If she has fun, you’re set. Not only is she cool and easy going, she accepts you’re thrifty nature. If she hates it, it was never meant to be.

5. Small pleasures make a huge difference
I hate my day job. It is mind numbing and absolutely annoying. It’s important to have some little thing that helps keep you sane. If you are an actual starving artist, it’s probably your artistic work. I personally find writing very soothing. Even then there might be some little expenditure which gives you peace of mind. I personally like going to small coffee shops and reading. If I can I’ll be there for hours. I just find it soothing. I found a place with good atmosphere, friendly staff, and – best of all – cheap, but delicious coffee. For a mere dollar I can get a bottomless cup of top quality coffee. So, I can sit, read, and drink coffee for as long as I like for a buck. It’s splurging on myself but not splurging a lot. You need to splurge on yourself occasionally.

Once again, these are just a few suggestions. Not all of them are ground breaking. A lot of them are common sense. And as always these are only meant to encourage you to go out and find rules of your own. It’s your money spend it however you like. If you want to go see a movie, be my guest. Just remember it’s going to cost you eight bucks, where renting a movie may only cost you three and finding a bargain theater may cost as little as a dollar (plus, many video rental places have discounts for joining. Make a point of joining all the ones in the area but not all at once. Eventually you’ll find the cheapest one. I found one which allows customers to get free rentals for tearing up a competitor’s card. I keep getting free rentals, while getting new cards to replace the ones I mysteriously ‘lost’). The moral of the story is once your money’s gone it’s gone for good. So, you better be happy with what you got for it.


Monday, October 3, 2005

Product Report: Top? Choice?

I had a friend in college who had the odd habit of eating his Ramen noodles dry. He would pull out the dry noodle cube, sprinkle on the flavoring, and munch away on the brick as though it were a Hershey's bar. To this day the image of him in his bathrobe crunching on a Ramen coaster remains the quintessence of Collegiate thrift and sloth: Too cheap to buy better food and too lazy to bother preparing it correctly.

We all know Ramen as the ultimate cheapskate food. At about fifteen cents a pack - although it can be found cheaper - it remains arguably the least expensive meal you can buy. Almost everyone has some stock pile of Ramen lying about somewhere. I was even able to find a small trove of the trusty noodle tucked away in the kitchen of my Uncle's multi-million dollar house (Why isn't he giving me money?). Being the starving artist that I am I consider myself to be something of a connoisseur of the Ramen - although I honestly can't say if I've been spelling it correctly. Over my years of Ramen consumption I have compiled a few tips to maximize you're noodle enjoyment. Remember these are purely subjective as they are based on my own taste. Everyone has some Ramen experience and their own preferences.

1. It can be a soup or a noodle dish
This may seem like a simple truth but many people don't realize this. Most people simply make the noodles and add the flavor to the water and sip on it. I like draining most of the water and eating the noodles. It's worth mentioning that if you do this, you may not want to use the entire flavor packet. Without the water to dissipate the flavor, it can get mighty powerful. Plus, the flavor already has more sodium than a human being should consume in a week. This may be a good piece of advice no matter.

2. Avoid 'fancy' flavors
As shown by my use of quotation marks, I use the term fancy loosely here. Ramen makes flavors such as creamy chicken and roast beef. Avoid these. First, they can cost up to five cents more a packet. Second, you can't taste the difference. Creamy chicken taste like chicken with cloudier water. Roast beef tastes like beef with more little green flecks in it which is probably meant to be basil or something of the like, but is more likely to pencil shavings. Stick to the basics: chicken, beef, and oriental (I personally never trusted the shrimp). Even these taste pretty much alike. In general Ramen all taste like your grandfather: salty. Don't bother paying even a little bit more for what amounts to the same thing.

3. Ramen can be a side dish or make a casserole
I know. I know. This flies in the face of cheapskate convention. Ramen is a meal unto itself dammit. While this is true, if, by some fluke of luck, you find yourself with a little extra food on hand and want to attempt a meal proper, Ramen can be a good side. If you have a little chicken or beef on hand - fat chance, but you never know - try it with the corresponding Ramen flavor. Try dressing up your Ramen by throwing in some cheap vegetables or breaking up lunch meat into it. It becomes a casserole - a casserole which will never pass muster at any respectable cover dish dinner, but a casserole none the less.

4. If you drink ramen from a mug, clean it before you drink tea out of the same mug
In college - which is how most Ramen related stories begin - a friend of mine almost threw up in a religion course because of this. He ended up rolling on the ground and gagging. We tried to convince the prof he was speaking in tongues, but he was a strict Calvinist and would have none of it. It's a good idea to have a reserved Ramen bowl or mug since that flavor can be stubborn and refuse to get out despite numerous cleanings.

5. Never serve Ramen on a date
Trust me on this one. Just don't. Not even as a side. Splurge and buy a generic bag of preseasoned minute rice. It might cost you seventy cents more, but it will be beneficial in the long run.

That's just a short list. Remember, there are no rules to Ramen. You can eat it however you want. It's your fifteen cents, don't let convention tell you what to do. Even if you want to eat it dry, that's between you and your dentist.


(P.S. Sorry for the long delay between posts. Since my move I've been without internet at my humble abode. My attempts to connect to neighborhood wireless networks have proved fruitless. I may need to bite the bullet and pay for a connection. Until then I can only get on line at libraries and various hotspots. I will try to write more, I promise.)