When I was in my late twenties, as is the case now, I lived hand to mouth. Every dollar I earned was spoken for, generally weeks if not years in advance. This did not adjust my personality in any way. I was not frugal nor was I particularly responsible, my attention to detail was over matched by my shiny bauble affliction making my monetary bookkeeping a metaphor for words like random, suspect, bedazzling. But it was not for lack of trying that my fiscal house spent most of its time needing to be doused by various fire departments. And this is but one example.
It was a well deserved vacation I’d planned, and one
that screamed adventure. We would fly into San Diego, and after a few
days exploration would drive a rental sports car to Phoenix by way of
the London Bridge with short photo opportunities in the Imperial Valley
and Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. (figuring two Imperial visits
and passing the bridge of a Monarchy would surely lend some “Majesty” to
our exploit) Add in a jaunt to Montezuma’s Castle and a peek at the
Grand Canyon before winging home, and I believed we had the perfect week
of mind blow to put our wild eyed wonder back into working order.
week before, I’d been paid for a job that had encompassed 21 straight
days on the road in towns with names like Omaha, Independence, Champaign
and Paducah. I’d made a lot of money for my troubles, and had cashed
the check rather than banked it. The idea was to force myself to keep a
close eye on my budget by having actual bills in my jeans; bills that
would, without adult supervision, find themselves in someone else’s
clutch were I not careful. It was a brilliant strategy really, or might
have been were I not, well, me.
Before we left, to make sure I
would not come home penniless, I decided to stash a bit of cash in the
house. And as any creative minded individual might, I spent some quality
time in discussing with myself what the best hiding place might be for
such a precious commodity. I had nearly gone hoarse arguing with my muse
when suddenly I found myself doing what all men do when they’re
thinking important things and need a special view with which they might
be inspired. I’d stepped to the refrigerator and opened the door,
scanning the interior horizon yet not focusing on any single item. I’m
not sure why it is my brothers and I do this. I tend to believe it’s
something about the little light that, like the sun, emits some vitamin
that only it can provide, and that substance helps make us what we are
in the 21st century… whatever that might be.
Whatever it is… it
worked! After a moment I turned my inattention to the freezer
compartment where amazingly, a box near jumped out and bit me once I’d
set my face within reach! A Gorton’s Fish Sticks box! One with only a
few surely freezer burned chopped fish and cereal food product spars
stuck to its frozen grease laden cardboard insides! Do you know what
Man! What a perfect place to hide some money!
into the box went a little plastic baggie with 5 crisp hundred dollar
bills (Benjamins to you street people) and into the freezer went my anti
poverty insurance policy.
The vacation was nearly perfect, save
the skipping of all the aforementioned sightseeing spots. As it turned
out my relatively new wife of the moment (WOM) wasn’t an adventuress at
all, contrary to the face she showed while “in the woo”. She was a poser
really, a poolside vitamin D soaker upper with a side of pretentious
social mountaineer. We would not be dancing on shale cliffs together
after all, nor struggling knee deep in sugar sand raceways. Rather, we
spent a week in hobnob mode, when I wasn’t busy devouring CNN hoping the
news of the world’s problems would overwhelm my newly discovered issues
with the game of bait and switch.
And then, it was over, far too soon for my money even though I’d spent every penny I’d carried along.
had plenty to think about as we jetted across the Colorado peaks. First
on my list was “perhaps my companion’s attitude was not that of her
true self. Discuss.” In hindsight it may have been my downfall. One
should never attempt an internal dissection of female psyche,
particularly while the she in question is sitting right next to you
chattering on about tan lines and recently purchased jewel loveliness.
we were deplaned and safe in our own home I casted about for something
with which to occupy my time, something productive, something I could
concentrate on that would keep me from the black hole I’d nearly fallen
into on the flight. I decided to tidy up a bit. We were gone for a week
after all, there were dust bunnies to contend with, not to mention a
week’s worth of leftovers molding in the refrigerator.
struck a bell! I should go grocery shopping, I thought. Well heck yea,
that would be the perfect dodge to conversation about how wonderful our
trip had been, what with the suntanning and everything.
cleaned out the fridge, the cupboards and finally the freezer of all the
old and nasty foodstuffs that had been “a-moldering in the grave” (as
John Brown’s Body might explain it), tossed them into the trash barrel
in my lovely driveway and hightailed it to the grocery where I went to
purchase a couple weeks worth of food… until it dawned on me I had no
money on my person, which made it dawn on me that I once had money
waiting for me when I got home, which made it dawn on me that I had 500
big ones stored in a Gorton’s Fish Sticks box… that I had just thrown in
The atmosphere within my truck on the
drive home could be described as peppered expletive. While I was
accustomed to death by self inflicted verbal abuse, this 20 minutes was
more a dungeon torture than a simple hanging. Were I to remember each
colorful phrase I conjured in 160 decibel surround sound I could add
them here, padding my word count by thousands and making even the Hell
spawned sailors in my audience blush. But as it is, I tore some rift in
my time space continuum that day, and can’t remember diddly but for one
important fact. The garbage man had beaten me to my drive, the freezer
burned fishesque food things were gone, along with their larded
container, and my five hundred smakeroos.
I circled the block. No
truck. I widened my pattern, squealing around each turn as if I were
once again 16, at the wheel of a 1965 GTO and lusting after Demaris
Hentch who would surely get naked with me if only I could prove to her I
could drive like a freaking maniac. Still, no truck. I’d have wept were
I not at that moment floating in a testosterone sensory deprivation
Home again; sure, I thought about it. “Hello? Mister
Garbage Man Dump site Supervisor? Say, I seem to have left 500 bucks in
an almost empty frozen fish container and then, duh, threw them out,
yea, isn’t that just the dumbest thing, I’m such a putz… so could you
tell me where I might start digging through the gooey landfill trash
pile on my hands and knees so I can regain what tiny sliver of pride I
had still draping my existence?” And then I thought instead to clomp
into the basement where my Commodore 64 awaited me, where I could safely
play “Perfect General” and blow stuff up and make artificially
intelligent people cry and burn their whole villages, and forget all
about the fact that it would take me a long time to recoup that pound of
flesh I’d just offered up to the gods of heaped squander.
a few hours of solitude punctuated by moments of electronic
Götterdämmerung, I reconciled myself to a month of kiting checks and
creative macaroni chefery. I would live through the tragedy, but I would
first need to memorize the hard lesson I’d been slapped with, a lesson I
only wish my father had vocalized when I was just a wee lad. Never
leave your money in the company of dead fish.