Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is the Love of Money the Root of All Evil?

“But there was a time I asked my father for a dollar and he gave it a ten dollar raise.” –Indigo Girls “Prince of Darkness”

I’m bad at math. I am so bad at math that I am currently not seeking the “Literature, Language and Writing” degree at the state university. I would love to complete it if it weren’t for the harsh math requirements. Requiring a class one level HIGHER than College Algebra for basically a fancy creative writing degree, really? I say I’m bad at math, but I’m just lazy at math. I can do it if I try, but I don’t like math and I’m really lousy at making myself do things I don’t like. I’m too spoiled to burden my brain with all those numbers.

Any pseudo-shrink could tell you I don’t like math because I associate it with money, and I associate money with my dad, a retired accountant. My dad is capitalism incarnate. He would call me communism incarnate, but he would mispronounce it and I would have to remind him I'm actually a socialist democrat. I'm the armchair Sen. Bernie Sanders to Dad's armchair President Reagan.

Dad spent Saturday mornings at his desk, fingers tap tap tapping on his adding machine like Fred Astaire’s feet on the dance floor, reconciling our bank account. I say “our” bank account loosely because in theory it paid for the entire family’s expenses, but my dad had final say on how the money was allotted. Steak for dad. Tuna casserole for mom and the kids. A bitchin’ Camaro for dad. A shitty Vega for mom. A window air-conditioner for Dad’s bedroom where you were not allowed to open the door and let the cool air out. Window fans for the kids’ bedrooms. Regular mattress and box springs in an actual bed for Dad. Roll-away fold-out beds with springs that poked us if we laid a certain way that we'd inherited from my great-grandmother for my sister and me. Canned pop for my dad’s lunch, another thing we weren’t allowed to touch, and 2-Liter bottles of pop for the rest of the family. There were all these rules in our house about who got what, and they amounted to Dad growling until he got his lion’s share.

When I was in junior high I stumbled upon the expression, "The love of money is the root of all evil" no doubt while reading about some anti-money but nonetheless rich celebrity in “Star Hits” magazine. Living in suburban Johnson County Kansas during the Regan-era, a community hit hard with affluenza, I was relieved to discover I wasn’t the only person who despised money.

Much later I discovered the quote’s biblical roots (1 Timothy 6:10, KJV). It made sense that someone like Jesus who had the audacity to love the poor would say something like that.

Christ comforting a poor man. Glazed terracotta, ca. 1493. Workshop of Luca della Robbia the Younger (Italian, 1435–1525.)

I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense, white bearded old guy hanging out in the clouds. Most Sundays I can’t be bothered to drag my ass out of bed to congregate with my spiritual brothers and sisters. The way the Bible is used by some to condemn others, particularly homosexuals, offends me. So I don’t call myself a Christian. But I really dig a lot of what Jesus said, if you believe his biographers, and I’ve tried to live my life accordingly.

But I’ve twisted my ankle many times wandering along the path of hating money, especially while wearing my Jesus sandals. For one thing, I’ve discovered in my forty years that paying attention to something you hate is important. As any self-help millionaire/guru will tell you, ignoring something doesn't make it go away. Simply hating greed doesn’t innoculate me from having to pay my bills. And if I don't pay attention to what happens to the money I earn to pay for my comfortable life, it gets quite uncomfortable.

A while back, Will and I boosted the economy of the auto repair industry by $473 so we could continue to electronically roll down our window as we stimulate the fast-food industry's economy at various drive thrus. I used to just swipe our credit card to pay for an unexpected expense. Savings account? What's a savings account? If you mean my five year old daughter's piggy bank, I emptied it the last time I desperately needed an eyebrow waxing or a massage, you know, an emergency situation.

I was trying hard to stimulate the credit card industry less so I'd have more money to stimulate other more caring businesses I care about, such as Whole Foods, Costco, and the local Ethiopian restaurant.

So I looked over our, well, uh, it's not exactly a check book ledger. It's a mini calendar where I write down when bills are due to be electronically debited from our checking account, and also when my most fertile ovulation days are. Maybe I should move the mortgage payment date to a couple of weeks away from when I'm ovulating to alliviate the stress in my life and improve my chances of conception.

I checked in my mini ovulation calendar/bank account ledger and it looked like we could squeak by paying for the car repair out of our checking account. We'd have to eat up our canned goods instead of going to the grocery store, and I might have to skip a few washings to conserve on the contents of our nearly empty shampoo bottle, but it was worth it to not pay The Man interest, man. And I'd look like a dirty hippie while stickin' it to the man - right on!

My excitement subsided a couple hours later when I opened my email and saw the nice, cheery email from Shutterfly telling me that the 600+ pictures I ordered a couple days earlier had been shipped. Panic. Look at ovulation calendar/bank account ledger. More panic. I had not written down the Shutterfly purchase. Our bank account would be overdrawn.

Immediately it felt like someone hit me at the top of my shoulders with a sledgehammer. I could hear my dad's voice nagging me even though he lives thirty miles away.

I started thinking, "Maybe I could call the car repair place and have them re-run the transaction so I could pay for it with my credit card."

The car repair place was already closed.

"Maybe I could return the flea medicine I just bought for the dogs and cross my fingers that a few days Frontline-free wouldn't be an open invitation to all neighborhood fleas to jump onto my dogs."

Nope, they're closed too.

"Maybe I could borrow the money from my mom."

I'm still paying off the loan her husband gave me to pay off the freakin' car that needed the repair in the first place.

"How much can I get for selling plasma? Is there a place open this late at night?" My thoughts only grew more desperate from there.

My friends whose dads weren't so greedy/frugal/authoritarian have no idea why I panic when I make stupid financial mistakes. They say, "Don't worry about it. Pay the overdraft fee and forget about it. We all make mistakes. You're human!" But I always sink into self-loathing instead.

Is it ironic that something I hate, by not paying close attention to it, causes me to hate myself? I'm not sure because I haven't taken the Calculus prerequisite needed to take the "Literature, Language and Writing" course that goes over irony. But I think it's interesting, and maybe I should do something about it.

In the meantime, I'm going to wrap myself in the comforting arms of my husband, and my husband's mom and dad. As I sat crying on our futon telling Will what a dumbass I am, he started whipping out some cash. He got up, wordless, went to our bedroom, one of many rooms cooled with central air conditioning, and came back with his piggy bank. He emptied the contents onto our table and started counting. "Call my dad. He'll lend us some money til Friday."

I was astounded. What? No, "How could you be so stupid?" No, "What were you thinking?" No, "This is coming out of your eyebrow waxes and Ethiopian food binges!" My husband just stopped, calmly found a solution to the problem, and without much ado, pulled together enough cash for us to deposit into the ATM so we'd be covered. I called my father-in-law to make sure.

"Uh, um, I did a really stupid thing and our checking account is overdrawn. Is there any possible way we could, uh, um, borrow like $20 until Friday?"

Before I got the rest of "until Friday" out, he cut me off and said, "Sure, no problem!" No questions asked. No judgment given.

He immediately drove over and handed us not one, but two twenties. "Just as a little cushion. Do you want more?"

Ask and ye shall receive. Haven't I heard that from someone before?