Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Archive for March, 2009

Forty-nine

Posted by ilbebe on March 25, 2009

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.

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Forty-eight

Posted by ilbebe on March 6, 2009

During a period at my old house in Oakland where I lived with nine roommates, some new blood, as new blood was wont to do, got fervent about cleaning up the backyard. Specifically, they wanted to move one or both of one of my roommates’ hulking dead vans out to somewhere more appropriate, such as a David Lynch movie. After trying the more direct and polite tactic of asking him nicely several times, they pulled the sneaky, backhanded move of calling the city property inspection division to come out and sticker them as “nuisances”. An unintended consequence of this was getting my car tagged as well, since my registration was expired. I’d been living at the house for about nine months at this point and working at the law office for a year, and was about to throw in the towel on both situations. A weekend out of town to clear my head was in order, and I decided to kill two birds by selecting the weekend that my dad’s girlfriend’s mother was visiting. I really had no interest in meeting an eighty year-old New Yorker who I was certain would ask me when I was going to start a real career and settle down with a nice Jewish girl.

Whitney and I left on a Saturday morning bound for Monterey, where her best friend Marie was living. We stopped at the DMV on the way out of town to take care of my registration problem and I smoked a celebratory bowl in the parking lot afterwards. It was late June, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the drive to Monterey took less time than I thought it would. We got to town around two and found Marie at the downtown coffee shop where she worked. She advised us to check out the “Blues” festival happening at the town plaza, so we secured a pint of whiskey and some soda and made our way over. The first band was a cover group that Marie had told us about, and I was surprised to find that she wasn’t exaggerating when she had told me they played an equal mix of classic rock, salsa, and Green Day. Also delightful was seeing that Marie’s impression of the keyboard player was spot-on; she was this petite woman in her fifties that stood as far back from the instrument as possible and extended her arms straight out while bobbing her head in a robotic and unceasing side-to-side pattern. Fucking bizarre.

We soaked that all in for a little bit and then took a pleasant walk down a pier where Whitney shared some amusing tales of getting stoned in Danville and decided that sea otters were lazy jerks, possibly worse than the fucking sea cows that hand out near Pier 39. Stopping back by the Marie’s café, we encountered this really suave guy in his seventies who had always flirted with Whitney in the past and seemed decidedly unenthused by my presence. While killing more time walking around drinking a quart of Natural Ice and waiting for Marie to get off of work, I took a call from my Dad and admitted that I’d gone out of town. The call was brief but uncomfortable, and marks a very clear point in the day where the mood began to shift. This was also when I began to acknowledge that I was pretty drunk-coincidence?

Marie got off, and the three of us cruised back her apartment, drank some wine with her roommate, and then set out again to go to Marie’s favorite bar, the British Bulldog. Whitney said she was going to take a short nap in the back of the car, so it was just me that Marie introduced to her friend Roger when we got to the bar. Roger was a British guy in his fifties, and quite a character, he was fond of brushing his hand back across his hair to accentuate his big earring and proclaiming how handsome he was. He regaled me with tales of being beaten up in jail in his youth and his travels with the British army in the sixties, and was not shy about describing specific things he wished to do to Marie when she “realized she wasn’t into the lasses”.

After a few hours Whitney staggered in and said that getting something to eat was a strong priority, so I asked for my tab. I disagreed with it, explaining to the bartender that I’d paid cash for my first beer, and initially this was met with no qualms. However, after saying goodbye to the folks I’d talked to, the bartender reemerged and angrily demanded another five dollars. I insisted that I’d already paid it, and was met with the stolid rebuke “No, you didn’t”. Quickly I grew upset, realizing that this was an argument that couldn’t be won, but stayed my ground. After a tense minute, some random guy walked up and put five bucks on the bar, saying he didn’t want to see any violence, but I still left the bar steamed. I knocked over a potted tree on the sidewalk outside and displayed some drunken bravado by throwing five bucks on the ground when Whitney said You’re This Upset Over Five Bucks? Fuck Five Bucks was my retort, but when she picked it up and handed it back to me I took it.

The rest of the night was a mess. Marie was having going-away party at her place and a bunch of teenage friends she’d made from the coffee shop showed up and made me feel old. I left at point to take a walk and fell asleep underneath a huge pine tree for a while. When I got back to the party, people were looking for someone to go on a beer run and I volunteered because I didn’t want to be there. The fog had rolled in dramatically, and the girl who went with me stole a watermelon. This guy at the party told me some interesting stories about driving a cab, and the watermelon proved to be a genius acquisition. Whitney and I went to sleep still mad at each other.

Back in New York, my Dad’s girlfriend’s mother is dying, and I wish I had taken the opportunity to meet her.

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