Sunday Scribblings - "Money" 11/4/07

The subject this week of “money” brought to mind events in my life where legal tender was painfully hard to come by. I take you back to a simpler time:

When I was a child I could be very happy with a dime. It provided me with many options. Among other things, I could choose between ten pieces of penny candy, two cokes, two big assed Hershey bars (twice the size of the standard Hershey bar today), or a game of pinball. Any combination of which were very satisfying to me. With a quarter I could have a world-class sugar high (unknown in those days) and the beginnings of life-long dental issues.

In 1972, I purchased my first “new” car. My dad had instilled in me the importance of a warrantee, so I set out to find the cheapest car with a warrantee, meaning it had to be a new car. I checked out the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto, and Volkswagen Beetle, but the cheapest I could find was an AMC Gremlin, $1, 400 bucks. Stop laughing. It was bright red with white stripes and so ugly it was cute. Kind of like a Pug breed of dog. The only car actually less attractive than the Gremlin was also made my American Motors some time later. It was the Pacer, which looked like some sort of perverted fish bowl. Thankfully, I never owned one of them. Early on, I loved that Gremlin. If you closed one eye and squinted, it actually looked sporty. However, you will notice the photo of the Gremlin I included in this blog pictures it with the hood up. That is an accurate depiction of my Gremlin. I actually had a Gremlin-X. I came to find out that the X stood for Xtremely Shitty Car. When I bought the Gremlin I was working for the Bunker Hill Company making well over $3.00 an hour (huge money for a nineteen year old in 1972. I was a carefree, single guy with a "hot" ride. Luckily, girls in Kellogg, Idaho in 1972 were a little like Amish girls, they would ride in anything that had a radio. All that came to a screeching halt when I received my induction notice and joined the Air Force, found out my girlfriend was pregnant, and got married, all in a matter of months. My payments were $38 a month and there were a few months that my dad made the payment for me. Plus, the day after the coveted warrantee expired the car self-destructed and I gave it to my dad for liquidation. I have owned and forgotten a lot of cars but even in my current state of dementia, will always remember that first new car. Plus, any time Hollywood wants to portray a character as a real dork, you can bet your ass he will be driving a Gremlin or Pacer. The international symbol for loser. Thanks a lot, Paramount.

When I was a twenty-year-old enlisted man in the Air Force living in Denver with a wife and baby, money was nonexistent. I remember that the $100 a month rent on our small apartment took up the majority of my monthly pay leaving very little for such extravagances as food. We sometimes collected soda bottles (yes, they were worth money then) to return for deposit in order to purchase baby formula. We would often invite single friends from the barracks over for a home cooked meal, providing they brought the food. A special treat for us was to go to Arby’s for a roast beef sandwich. Boy, did that sandwich taste good. No fast food is nearly as satisfying these days. I have visited Arby’s later in life but could never duplicate the joy. I don’t think Arby’s has changed, I think I have. I have become so accustomed to having what I want, when I want it, that there is no sense of a “treat”.

I was once an avid and competitive bowler. When our financial back was against the wall it would be agreed, reluctantly, that I would take our last five dollars and enter a bowling tournament. You can’t imagine the pressure when my wife and baby were seated behind the lanes, their livelihood depending on my scant talent. Whether it was providence or not, each time that this occurred I placed high enough to generate income. Even though I look back on this as foolish and risky, it often allowed us to purchase some necessities of life. I have never experienced greater pride than holding out the $50 or $75 that I won to my wife. Then we were off on a shopping spree for milk, bread, Dinty Moore Beef Stew, and TV dinners.

If you are looking for where this is all going, you have obviously not read any of my previous blogs. I think what I am clumsily trying to say is that some of my most memorable times were when money was in scant supply but my austere life brought great joy and appreciation. For the current, jaded, me, true delight is the scarce commodity.