Expense Account

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI 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.

About Josh Neufeld
Brooklyn-based cartoonist specializing in nonfiction comics about topics like Hurricane Katrina, the media, travel, and finance.

15 Responses to Expense Account

  1. thamesrhodes says:

    I have all my ticket stubs going back to 1976. It’s a very interesting box to pick through.
    Years ago I worked on the Biography of the Rockefellers. I had to go up to their estate in Pocantico and rifle through Old John D’s ledgers. It was very much the same thing. One entry read: Gift from Father- 1 Cent.

    • 4_eyez says:

      One entry read: Gift from Father- 1 Cent.
      ouch! i guess that’s how you accumulate a fortune. see, i was much too generous, spending $3 on Wayne’s birthday gift.
      i remember once talking to you about your collection of ticket stubs. you reminded me that there’s always some institution or something that could potentially find shit like that is useful. i think you told me once about some guy who collected restaurant menus? and how great a resource that was for some historian of old New York City?

      • thamesrhodes says:

        Yes. That was for the same project. We needed an antique menu that had Oysters Rockefeller on it. Some guy had obsessively saved menus for 25 years and when he died he donated them to the New York Historical Society. It was an invaluable resource.

  2. digitante says:

    You only spent $3 on Wayne’s birthday present? Cheap bastard.

  3. “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.”
    Isn’t it a scrapbook of sorts? Sure it’s anal and obsessive, but looking back now, doesn’t that time period come back to you? There’s really only one time in my life, senior year of college, when I kept a datebook (Filofax!) because I had so many classes/job hunt/extracurricular things going on. When I dug it out not too long ago, it was reliving that period of my life. I was astonished at just how much I packed in – studies, a job, and (somehow) an active social life. It’s kind of fun to look back and say, “oh, there’s the econometrics test I failed because I was at Allen Iverson’s first Georgetown game the night before” and “there’s the day I took my Foreign Service exam and went straight to a tailgate for an NCAA soccer match, from there to a keg party, and then to another basketball game.” That sort of thing. I think it’s fun.
    Doesn’t your list do the same for you?

    • 4_eyez says:

      it DOES perform some sort of nostalgic function, for what that’s worth. the thing is i tend towards sentimentality as it is, which i’ve found is a detriment to (a) living fully in the present, and (b) making art. so i’m wary.

      • The funny thing is, though, those of us that tend toward nostalgia (I think we’re alike in that respect) will find nostalgia about the past no matter what. It’s amazing that sometimes I find myself looking back fondly on, say, this spring or whatever, when the process of actually living through this spring at the time didn’t seem particularly noteworthy. What I do find is that I manage, in retrospect, to pull little treasures even out of experiences that seemed mundane at the time. While it would be a mistake to get too wrapped up in this sort of thing (therefore not living fully in the present), there’s certainly things that can be “mined” from this type of recollection for use in creative pursuits.

      • 4_eyez says:

        you’re right, of course, which is why i’ve been posting these little reminiscences. i’m hoping to fine-tune them for inclusion in a new comic book/text project i’ve putting together. eventually.

  4. wjcohen says:

    Where is that stuff now?
    don’t forget – spring 2006 stoop sale! That oberlin detrius could make big $$!

    • 4_eyez says:

      Re: Where is that stuff now?
      i long ago mined through all my oberlin stuff for possible stoop-saleage. the only thing i came up with was an extra copy of my 1989 yearbook, which featured a color photo of (then-unknown) liz phair. the yearbook fetched a pretty penny on eBay, lemme tell ya!

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