Where money took me…
My first memories of money take place at my cousins’ house. All four were older than me, but Mara was only older by three years.
In my eyes, Mara was the coolest of cool.
When my Aunt Joan offered to pay us to clean the kitchen, we agreed. She explained that because of the age difference, I would get $1/hour and Mara would get $1.50/hour.
I had no knowledge of wage disparity, so I didn’t fight for equity.
Three hours later…
Mara got an extra piece of paper and two coins more than me!
I could have worked half as hard to get paid less for the same amount of time. I could have struck a deal with Mara that we’d split the total wages if I had let her chill for a half hour while I cleaned. All lessons learned.
I’ve since made sure I’m whole when it comes to money & time.
But the real topper was one Passover when Mara and I both found the Afikomen hidden in my Uncle Aron’s piano bench.
We presented the napkin-wrapped matzoh to our great uncle “Make way for a player” Sol who ripped a $20 bill and handed us each half for our efforts.
Which brings me to the slippery power of plastic money…
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I was always about the cash.
I started working at Berger’s Bakery at fourteen so I could buy a bike. I didn’t want to have to ask to buy a bike. I wanted the cash in hand to buy it myself.
When I wanted to travel, I worked to buy my plane tickets. Mind you, this was when a lovely company called AirHitch was still in business.
Basically hitchhiking on airlines to Western Europe with a $150 voucher you sent in the mail and no idea if you’d land in Amsterdam, Paris, or Dusseldorf.
My mom was very cool and let me go by myself.
“Only to be used in an emergency,” she said when she handed me an American Express card in my name.
The original Amex Green was not a credit card. She made this quite clear. I could not charge a bunch of stuff to pay off over time.
Amex Green must be paid off every month.
The only time I used it was when I made the mistake of going to Barcelona for Easter. I didn’t know Catholic countries shut down for Catholic holidays.
I thought there’d be a big party. I couldn’t change my Travelers Checks into pesetas on a Sunday, and I was really out of my depth by that point in my trip.
So I charged a ticket to return to Paris and fly home…
When I returned, I worked to pay my mom back for the plane ticket.
The false “emergency” charged on the Amex Green.
1997, NYC. My 26th birthday. I was in the middle of an identity crisis.
Freshly back from living in a Berlin squat for 2-years where I had shaved my head - not bald - but close.
I already felt very “out of body” and wanted to change. So I booked a hair braiding session at a Jamaican salon.
I thought hair extensions would be a welcome distraction.
After seven hours in the chair, scalp tingling from the tugging required to weave hair extensions, I charged the $300 to the Amex Green card.
As I walked away from the salon, a girl from the neighborhood said:
“Cleopatra, your shit ain’t real.”
No one could look at me without staring at my weaved in wig and short bangs. Those braids itched my head so badly, I ripped them out a month later.
And this time, after paying off the card, I cut it up.
YOUR TURN: They say, “Money changes everything.” They say, “Money, share it fairly, but don't take a slice of my pie.” They say, “Every night before I rest my head. I see those dollar bills go swirling 'round my bed.”
Where does MONEY take you?
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When I started out that Friday morning, Valentine's Day 2020, the truck registered under half a tank. The six-hour round trip to see my mother for lunch at the care facility took a full tank, and thus I needed to buy gas on the way there. Of course, I preferred to gas up in the afternoon so I could scope out prices in the morning. But that day I had to rely on past experience of which stations had the lowest prices within my under-half-a-tank range. Driving 29 south in Virginia toward North Carolina, I noted prices for regular gas, starting with a high of $2.39 per gallon dropping to $2.29, $2.25, $2.22 (better), $2.05 (much better), $2.02 and $1.99 in Chatham (much, much better). I could have pulled into that station but hoped even more pennies might stay in my pocket. Money, money, money. The previous week, the BP station in Danville had posted $1.95, and that station was still within range. Maybe I’d get lucky again. Problem was, BP Danville was the last gas station along my route south for a good while. If I didn’t fill up there, I’d have to exit, burning both gas and time, and accept whatever price. I rounded the corner and looked down the highway at the BP posted price. $2.26. I groaned. And that wasn’t the end of my comeuppance. On the way home, the BP posted price was $2.05! I laughed, thinking maybe I was “paying” for my greed. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day trip was the last time I saw my mother. She died early Sunday morning, February 16, 2020. I still play the gas price game wherever I go and don’t always win. But losing gives me a chance to laugh at my penny-wise, pound-foolishness. And for me, laugher is worth a lot of pennies, even a dollar fifty. My penny-wise mother would have agreed.
The plan was set in motion. Pack up the Montreal apartment and drive 2,850 miles west to Los Angeles with a pitstop in Iowa. Two years of brutal Quebec winters and I had had enough. It was time to live in perfect weather, sunny southern California. With a backpack full of saved-up cash, I bought into a flooring franchise that specialized in decorative concrete coating for pools and patios. I was ready to make my fortune.
We arrived at the Best Western Hollywood on Vermont & Beverly. We’d stay at the hotel until permanent arrangements were found. No sooner had I walked into the lobby when I glanced down to find a crisp hundred-dollar bill under my shoe. “Money on the floor. A good luck sign of things to come,” I said.
From that day on, my original LA plans fell apart. The business failed before it started, the relationship ended, and I found myself alone in Silverlake. A personal reset. Then the good-luck-hundred kicked in. I’d be led to my current partner of 16 years. We’d build a life together 6,000 miles east of Los Angeles where the people work to live not live to work. An honest and simple life of luck.