My friend Benji recently mailed me a DVD for my birthday, Million Dollar Mystery, a “madcap” race-for-the-money flick in the vein of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I thought perhaps he had given it to me because the case referenced It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and I saw that movie when I was a kid and loved it. I saw it again last year and didn’t, eh, think it was so hot anymore, and similarly, Million Dollar Mystery pretty much sucked too. There were a few good lines, my favorite being when this family crashes their car into a toxic waste pond and, upon turning around to see the car melting, the dad puts his hands on top of his head and yells “My Volvo!”. I wrote to Benji thanking him for the gift and mentioned that there was a specific moment towards the end that made me realize I’d seen the movie, or at least the end, somewhere before. He informed me that we’d seen the movie together as kids more than once, and that I’d thought it was great. I found it unusual that I’d forgotten about the movie entirely, but wasn’t too surprised that I was really into the movie as a kid since I’ve been pretty obsessed with money as long as I can remember.
I remember that one of the most profound tragedies of my youth was when my Great Uncle Stanley, who had made a small fortune for himself in, I believe, vacuum cleaners, visited and gave me a hundred dollar bill, which my parents made me give back. I never had an allowance growing up in New Hampshire, and discretionary spending money was scarce. Nearly once a week I would ask my parents if there were any extra chores I could do for cash, and this practice continued well into my teens even though the scene generally ended with me being given additional chores with no corresponding financial benefit. While of course I wanted toys and candy just as much as any kid, my primary lust was for baseball cards, and I spent hours shuffling through my existing collection and dreaming of the cash that would expand it. A devastating blow was struck when the price of baseball cards at the local gas station went up a nickel to fifty-five cents, meaning that I could no longer get two packs for a dollar. In any case, an elemental tightness with money was instilled in me from early on.
Throughout my teenage years, after my baseball card obsession waned, I was incredibly reluctant to spend any of the money I earned. Within a year of getting my first job as a busboy, I was able to buy my first electric guitar and amp, and my first car, a ‘59 Studebaker Lark, and I saved pretty much everything else. This miserliness served me well after I was fired from that job shortly before my junior prom, as the savings I’d accumulated allowed me to explain to my parents that I had some money saved and wanted to enjoy the summer. I entered college with some money in the bank, and thanks to a soul-crushing sixty-hours-a-week job during the summer between my first and second years of college, I still had a couple grand in the bank when I graduated. One of the best instances of my obsession with thrift from the college era came when I blew up at my roommate because I felt I’d been unfairly burdened by paying for the stamps we used to pay our phone bill. I felt he owed me a dollar twenty-eight.
Everything changed the summer after I graduated, when I made it a point to blow all of my savings, a goal made all the easier by virtue of turning 21 a few months before. It felt great. For the first time, I’d consider going out to eat just for the hell of it, and when I got fast food, I’d spring for a soda. When I lost forty bucks in Vegas at the beginning of the summer, don’t get me wrong, it hurt, but it felt good finally spending the money that I’d earned instead of focusing on just having it for indistinct future purposes. Two grand of the last 2500 bucks I had in the bank went to a ‘93 Mercury Topaz that I drove home to start an internship with the City of Brentwood planning department, and living at home again, with all my old friends either in school or working full-time, saving was pretty easy once again. I had money in the bank again when I moved back to Arcata after the internship ended, but being back in Arcata with all the free time in the world, it was easy to run through that in a couple of months. May 2003 became the first month I didn’t pay off the entire balance of my credit card, and a few weeks after finally getting a job later that summer, I bought a new amp for six hundred and fifty bucks, establishing a new set of spending habits that has continued ever since.
Money has been more or less a worry ever since, and it fucking blows. During the year I was doing pizza delivery, I was constantly preoccupied with having a good variety of small bills in my wallet for change, and when I found that it was actually affecting how I spent my money, it really got under my skin. Last month I had a moment of clarity where I was smoking a cig in the shelter of the back alcove of my apartment while it was raining and I realized DAMN, I am fucking poor. I threw my hat down, and it was pretty funny at the time, but most of the time, it’s not so funny. I’m certainly well aware that my particular state of poor isn’t as grim as it is for a lot of people, but it still blows. I found fifty cents on the floor after my birthday party a few weeks ago, and that qualified as the highlight of the evening. Committing to some sort of “career” type job would certainly go a long way towards alleviating my money worries, but I’m entirely unwilling to do that, it just doesn’t suit me. For the meantime, I’ll just keep working fifteen hours a week, leaving me all the time in the world to worry about getting by and getting down on myself for not spending as much time writing as I do thinking about what I’d do if ten grand fell into my lap.