Tag Archive for Mangan’s memoirs

Confessions of a debt hater

There might be a $200 balance on my MasterCard. It gets paid automatically every month. My car is 18 months old and paid off.

I don’t have a mortgage because the payment on condos as nice as my apartment is almost double what I pay in rent — and it’s somebody else’s job to mend the roof, replace the carpet and repair the fridge. Strikes me as pretty good deal.

I used to think my dad was a skin-flint because when we were kids, getting money out of him for toys, ice cream and candy was like pulling teeth. One time when I was in my 30s I told him I thought he was penny pincher.

He got a little hurt at the accusation, but said, “Well, I don’t spend money I don’t have. If that makes me a penny-pincher, so be it.”

Later I realized he wasn’t being tight with a buck so much as he was trying to teach us rugrats an important life lesson: if you ask for money you haven’t worked for, one of the most likely replies is “no.” This was good preparation for growing up in a world where asking for money can bring a “yes,” but you have to pay it all back and reward the giver with a bunch more because he has it and you don’t.

I also read something else later in life that stuck with me: Rich people earn compound interest; poor people pay it. I’d rather be an earner than a payer.

It’s strange being out of debt in a society so thoroughly greased by it. I read the other day that because the United States imports more than it exports, it’s in a perpetual state of debt. All those foreigner-bashing Republicans probably would just as soon not admit that China and Saudi Arabia are paid-up partners in the American Experiment. (Interestingly, this actually makes them much friendlier to us, because their fortunes are riding on our continuing to keep borrowing to pay for stuff we don’t need and can’t really afford. See, it’s always good to have partners).

I think the main reason I avoid debt is that it’s just one more complication. I pay what I owe every month and the issue’s settled. I don’t have to worry about my neighborhood going to hell, I don’t have to worry if my roof needs to be replaced, I don’t have to worry about getting fired, getting foreclosed on and having terrible credit the rest of my life.

It’s also nice to have a good rating for all that credit I’ll probably never use.

Great headlines we have known

Those of us who write headlines for a living share a special reverence for one that topped the New York Post of April 15, 1983:


A headline so good you don’t need to read the story, but will because you can’t help yourself. Among the coolest five words ever to appear in large black type on cheap newsprint.

A little-known runner-up for coolest-words-in-black honors appeared in the Peoria Journal Star when I worked there in the late 1990s. It was written in small type atop a crime brief tucked somewhere deep in the local news section on a Sunday morning following a slow Saturday. One of the young wags on the Saturday night crew successfully sneaked this treasure into the paper:

Police find crack
in man’s underpants

I almost coughed up a lung laughing when I saw it in the paper that morning.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a back-page feature called The Lower Case, samplings of heads gone wrong that were best summarized in a small paperback book called “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge” (another shining example: “Here’s how to lick your doberman’s leg sores!”). News of this feature’s humor potential apparently made its way to the writing staff of Jay Leno, whose headline hightlights became a comic staple.

One of our goals in life as Serious Purveyors of Important News is to keep our headlines out of The Lower Case and off the Leno highlights reel. But I remember the guy who wrote the “crack” headline: couple years out of college, known to read his poetry in public, given to dark thoughts and evil impulses. In retrospect it occurs to me he probably wrote it deliberately to see if he could get it on the Leno show. I seem to recall that he succeeded. An irony pioneer if there ever was one. Back then I thought he was foolish, reckless and devoid of standards of propriety. Today I wish I could say I’d written that headline.

I had one that came close, again at the Journal Star, where pretty much everything had a fighting chance of showing up in print if it didn’t have the F-word in it. I was doing Page One for Sunday’s paper, and my story for the top of the page was a lamentation on the seedy, lurid scandal that got Bill Clinton impeached. My headline:

Impeachment left fabric of Washington indelibly stained”

I just thought it sounded good and nothing more, till a colleague reminded me about Monica’s dress and its famous DNA evidence of presidential shenanigans. My first instinct was to rewrite it — it’s bad form to make cute, clever allusions on Serious Page One News (particularly when alluding to the messy consequences of oral sex) — but everybody else liked the head and talked me into going with it. My Mercury News colleagues were appalled to learn I’d gotten away with such a transgression, but I assured them I had learned the error of my ways and vowed to never sin again. (Today I’m kind of proud of that headline).

Lately I’ve been thinking that if I ever wanted to write a memoir about my life in the news biz, “Police Find Crack in Man’s Underpants” would be the title. Whether I get around to the memoir is anybody’s guess. But the memory of that headline always makes me smile, so that’s reason enough to memorialize it here.