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Life in the USA after 1 year 7 months

For those who don’t know – I returned to the USA in April of 2013 after 4.5 years of living abroad. I was pretty much gone for the first term of Obama and a part of his second term. I came back with a wife who had never been here and a 1 1/2 year old daughter who was born in my wife’s native Morocco and conceived in Turkey where we had both lived and taught school, worked with hotels, etc.

We arrived in the USA without very much. Two suitcases each and about $6k. I thought I had a plan, but it quickly went awry. My plan had been for us to stay in San Francisco but I quickly discovered that no one wanted to pay me enough money that we could stay there any longer than we had. I’d thought that running my own small international business and becoming a self trained expert in social media and online travel would have opened doors, but I found instead that I was ‘overqualified’ for the positions I was considered for. A 40-something guy with a family and no fortune 500 experience. So, running out of money and options I scoured the pacific coast for a town where I could support my family on the small income I was still earning from online work.

We arrived in Reedsport in August of 2013 with enough money to last for a couple of months at best and as I have written before, my online work drying up. The thing I had noticed since arriving in the USA was the huge glut of stuff here and the amount of valuable items that were sold at garage sales, thrift shops, and estate sales for far less than resale value. I was buying as much as I could and selling it online and at garage sales – but our new town had a limit on the number of g-sales you could have per year – just three.

Ebay by itself wasn’t sustainable. I found an ad online for a job selling life insurance and bit – after an expenseive course of study and a couple of months which burned through our savings – I became a licensed life insurance agent – and quickly realized that the business I had jumped into was a bad match for me – particularly with the scammy heavy handed sales practices my new company required me to use. Uh oh.

I had more valuables accumulated than I could sell on Ebay – not enough for a shop – but a good bit. So we signed on with an antique mall in Florence and rented a space. I learned a lot from the experience – in particular that the only people who earn a living from antique malls are the owners. We survived by a couple of garage sales, selling online, and making a modest amount from the antique mall. But here was the catch with that – we paid $200 per month rent for our space plus a 15% commission – so if we sold $1000 worth of goods – the owner of the mall got $350 and we got $650. A fair amount of our antiques were a consignment from friends who had lost their parents and grandparents and found themselves with an overwhelming amount of stuff – that was a 50/50 split – mind you – that was before the antique mall owner took his cut – so that meant they got $500, the mall owner got $350, and we got $150 out of $1000 (which, by the way, was a number we never reached in the mall). Of course, if we sold our own product the amount we got was more – but you get the point, I think. It wasn’t a sustainable way to do business.

So, I scraped together as much as I could and in June of 2014 – we opened our own shop Reedsport Antiques. There were bigger spaces available but I found a space that had a very modest rent of $300 per month – with utilities and insurance we pay about $500 per month total. Since that time, I’ve been supporting my little family with the combination of Ebay, a little bit of online work, and mostly – our little antique shop. The good news is – it’s working. Even now as winter slows the tourist traffic to nothing and we are left with only the very poor residents of this place and some bit of driveby traffic on Hwy 101, it is supporting us. The bad news is that it is only just barely doing so – and only because I’ve managed to once again defer my student loan payments of $500 per month for another year…

Here is the summary of our life in the USA – we made it here, we found a place we could afford to live, and we’ve started a little business that is sustaining us. The town is dying and devoid of cultural activities – but it is cheap. We are not sinking in quicksand of debt but mainly because we don’t have any credit and I’ve managed to defer my student debt.

Most importantly, we are making it. It’s a constant battle, but worth it to see my family happy and healthy. Is the USA a land of opportunity? Yes it is – but – the truth is – I found far more opportunity in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, and Europe – because I’m American. Here in the USA, I’m just another 40-something guy with a useless B.A. – at least when it comes to employers. In other countries, being an American meant something and gave me value.

I’m not sure that we will stay in the USA for the long term – but while we are here – I will keep busting my balls and building this and other business. I don’t know if I will be a model of American success – I don’t know how likely it is that we will become even middle class – let alone upper middle class or wealthy. I have my own defintions. Middle class folks have a car less than five years old, own (or are making payments on a house), and have enough savings to survive several months with no income and take a two week vacation each year. We are not close to that yet – my car is nearly 20 years old, we rent, and if I stop working for even a week – it becomes questionable if we can pay our bills the next month. There is virtually no safety net. I don’t want to say we are lower class or poor – but maybe it’s safe to say that we are in the worrying class. This life is filled with worries and there is almost no time to relax and breathe. Not yet, anyway.

I think we will start to do our Jefferson’s move on up in 2015. That is my plan. And that is the state of our world.

**I should also note that without the generosity of our friends this move to the USA would have been much much more difficult. We had friends that hosted us for months when we arrived and friends who trusted us with their family treasures. We had friends who welcomed us and offered advice and emotional support. Without friends, this would have been a much harder year and seven months.

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Black is the new Christmas

Of course the biggest problem with the American holiday season which has spread out worldwide was pointed out by my wife last night. For those folks who don’t have the money to go out and buy a gazillion lights, a ton of brand new expensive gifts, and to have big holiday parties with family and friends – the non stop advertising serves one purpose – it points out how miserable a life they are living and how much everyone else has.

It’s all rather disgusting and while we are fortunate to be able to have gifts and a tree and nice food and even some decorations if we want to – the non-stop commercialization of Christmas isn’t pleasant. We could just change the name of the holiday to ‘Black Season’ – or start saying ‘Black is the new Christmas’ instead of saying Merry Christmas we could all say “Mary Black” and somewhere, that lady I met one time named Mary Black would feel her ears tingling constantly for four months.

I saw the first Christmas commercial this year about a week before Halloween.

Let’s pause for a moment. I don’t give a shit about the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas. Jesus was cool and all but I’m not a Christian. Besides, his birthday wasn’t even in December anyway – that was a smooth move pulled by Justinian who wanted to have the Romans celebrate his new religion on their old holiday – the winter solstice – usually around December 21-23 – Justinian sat in old Byzantium’s Constantinople (which later became Istanbul) and do you really think there is a coincidence that St. Nicholas was Turkish (because he was) – I don’t. So when people start spouting the true meaning of Christmas as some Christian worship thing, I bite my tongue. It’s never been about Christ.

But here, in the United States – since the early 1800s – it has been about family and love and home and keeping warm when it’s fucking cold outside. A lump of coal was a nice present indeed if you were freezing your ass off or had no way to make your morning coffee. Go read the Little House on the Prarie books – trust me.

So, back to the black holidays – like the black arts, they are all about greed, selfishness, envy, and nasty business. Black Friday – it gets more press than Thanksgiving – which, let’s face it, has a pretty horrible PR campaign going right now – i.e. Europeans come to the America’s, almost starve, but are saved by the indigenous people who they reward by stealing their land and massacring them…again – a holiday about family and having food to eat at the harvest time..but now about trampling strangers to save $5 at a sale so you don’t go fucking broke buying black holiday presents for spoiled selfish and greedy shits who don’t deserve any better than the indigenous people who were wiped out (and probably worse).

We save one Turkey by Presidential decree and then we stuff our fat asses with beer, turkey, and tacos. What do you think Bill Cosby will be doing this year? Probably having a better time than most people with those damn spanish flies.

Oh man, I’m on a roll. I just realized I dissed Halloween not long ago…yeah – fuck all the holidays. I’m celebrating them but not like the PR firms want me to -and by the way – my shop will be open on Black Friday and I’ll be having a big sale – come buy a bunch of shit, will ya?

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The Death of Vago Damitio VagoDamitio dot com

For the past couple of years, I’ve been running several blogs – which has been profitable, but sometimes confusing – for me and for others. Here’s the deal – in 2009 I sold this site for a reasonable profit – I wanted a domain with my name though – so I made VagoDamitio.com my go to blog since Vago is the nickname I have often used online and in writing. It made sense. I built the VagoDamitio site because my main domain Vagobond.com was dedicated to travel and it didn’t make sense to have all this other stuff on it –

Then in 2012, I bought this site (chrisdamitio.com) back from the guy I had sold it to. Hooray! I owned my name again! But actually, now it became confused further because I had chrisdamitio.com, vagodamitio.com, vagobond.com for travel – plus about 50 other sites for travel writing and selling ads and promotional campaigns on – so I bought VagobondTravelMedia.com and tried to tie everything together. All of this worked for about a year – but I wish I would have done it all in 2009 when there was still big easy money to be made from blogging and links. C’est la vie.

Now, because I was trying to do good SEO so I could have better pagerank and search rankings, I had five different hosting accounts on five different IP addresses and I had all those sites I was juggling and earning from (and the earning was really good up until mid 2012 when Google killed an entire independent industry by cahnging their algorhythms and effectively killing pagerank as an indicator of page strength. What this means is my earnings fell by the wayside and I had to figure out a different way to support my family – but I still had (and have) all of those sites and held on in the hope that they would become earners again – plus I had effectively split my personality into chrisdamitio.com and vagodamitio.com with each having social media accounts and different topics etc. As you can tell, it was confusing as hell. But I held on –

Until three weeks ago when the hosting account I had vagodamitio.com and ten other sites on – hostpapa – found a bad line of code in a comment on one small site called travelblogging101.com and rather than telling me to delete the comment – they deleted my entire hosting account with no notice or chance for me to fix things – I had a wordpress backup which I’ve imported here of vagodamitio.com but I lost vagobonding.com, travelblogging101.com, and all the rest – which is sad because there was a lot of work in those sites but which ulitmately doesn’t matter because they had earned about all they could – I’m still trying to recover them, but I’ve decided to let VagoDamitio.com merge with this site – which, strangely is a rather hard decision.

I think though – it is close to becoming time to let Vago Damitio die – if you call me Vago, you still can, if you call me Chris you still can, but when I introduce myself these days, I introduce myself as Christopher, which after all is really my name.

So, here I am – Christopher Damitio aka Vago – an antiques dealer in a small Oregon town. My wife is Moroccan and we’ve been to a few places. We have chickens and a 3-year-old. I like art – I mean I really really like art. I paint, I buy, I appreciate. As far as writing – I don’t think I’ve done my best work yet – but perhaps, sometime in the not too distant future – I will find the time and peace to write something that really sings.