I haven’t kept a journal or a diary since about 1981 (and that one only lasted about four months), but my obsessive record-keeping sometimes fulfills the same function. I recently came across some “expense accounts” I kept in the 80s when I first went away to college. What they are is item-by-item lists of everything I bought while at school that I was hoping my dad would reimburse me for.
When I say everything, I mean it, from the $1.19 measuring cup (9/6/86) to Dr. Scholl’s $1.30 shoe inserts (9/13) to $11 for Gray’s Anatomy (10/4). (Now there’s a book I never got into. As a young cartoonist, everyone always told me to “study anatomy.” I never could do it. That’s probably the #1 reason I never became a superhero artist.)
Anyway, the deal was I would show this list to my dad during school breaks and he would mark each item he deemed worthy of reimbursement with a red dot. (You can see where I get certain tendencies from.) Turns out he refused to support my movie and comics fixes. Oh well. I was poor in college. I needed all the help I could get.
What’s interesting about looking back at these lists is how little I remember of it all. I mean I mostly remember Oberlin for the friends I hung out with, the great classes and teachers, and all the girls I lusted after that completely ignored me. But it turns out I saw a shitload of movies!
For instance, in September 1986 (my sophomore year), I saw Yellow Submarine (9/6), Manhattan (9/10), Clue (9/11), The Big Chill (9/14), Bring On The Night (9/17), 28 Up (9/18), and Notorious (9/22). And I never paid more than a dollar each time. Remember, this was before the era of the VCR, or at least having one at college. Nowadays it seems like every college kid has his own hi-def entertainment system in his dorm room. Back then it was the campus film series, which was was packed and cheap.
That month I also bought Roger Zelazny’s Roadmarks (9/6) and the 1986 San Francisco Giants Yearbook (9/16). I guess you have a lot of free time on your hands when you don’t do drugs and aren’t getting any sex.
March of 1987 was a busy month. Thanks to my list, I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw The Wall (3/3), Night and Fog (3/4), and A Shot In The Dark (3/6) (light movie month — I think part of it was Spring Break at my buddy Jake’s house in Atlanta, GA); but I bought Woodward & Bernstein’s All The President’s Men and Richard Adams’ Plague Dogs (both 3/6), and a bunch of Prince-related music, the single “Sign ‘O’ The Times” (3/13), and the album of the same name (3/31), as well as the bizarre jazz/funk fusion album Madhouse 8 (also 3/31). Oh, and that month I also bought baseball cleats, envelopes, batteries, an umbrella, some audio tapes, a “folder”, made tons of photocopies of some comics project I was working on at the time, and I renewed my high school alumni and Columbia Record Club memberships.
Thanks to my records, I can tell you I saw Albert King in concert (10/11), an Oberlin production of Steven Bognar’s The Water Engine (10/18), the “Chinese Magic Revue” (11/7), went to a Cleveland Cavaliers game (1/29/87), and went to a Stanley Jordan concert (2/6), in addition to many trips to the campus “disco.”
I’m starting to depress myself now. I mean, is this the content of a life? All the crap we accumulate and consume? Looking back on it, it all seems incredibly silly. Sure, my tastes have changed (somewhat!), but I still go to movies or watch them at home, buy & read books, make copies… I mean I even use Quicken to keep track of my finances. Not that different than these “expense accounts.” After all, I collect my receipts so that the government will in effect reimburse me for my essential expenses.
I guess I should thank my father. He prepared me well for the “freelance” life.