People say money is the root of all evil, that all that glitters is not gold. This may be true, but at the end of the day, when you’ve found happiness and your own rustic high, money lets you go home to that big fuckin’ house on the hill and enjoy your Zen moment in comfort.
Among the more frustrating disturbances in life, monetary debt ranks up there with castration and severe head trauma. The majority of the unwashed masses on this planet – college students included – will tell you that the largest problem with legal tender is a general lack thereof.
Last Tuesday, I was sitting at my desk in the Nexus office, trying not to bother the world and naively hoping that it would return the favor.
“Curt, call on line one.”
Damn. I took the receiver, expecting to divulge nothing more than our standard editorial policy or mailing address.
“Mr. Brainard? My name is Marsha Whogivesashit, I work for the bookkeeping department at the Albertson’s supermarket off Storke Road. The bank returned one of your checks. You have an outstanding balance of $143.62.”
First thought: Sure, let me pull that straight out of my ass right now. Second thought: Cover my ass, and let nothing pass neither in nor out.
I attempted to convey an attitude of genuine concern. I verified the date the check was written, the date it was returned, the original amount of the purchase and the penalty surcharge. I thanked the evil demon, assuming the conversation was over. Wrong again.
“Soooo… we’ll see you in here this week, right?”
Dammit! I hung up the phone, far less concerned about my financial status than how I had slipped and allowed those greasy vultures to find my office number. There is a reason you don’t see popular fiction depicting tax collectors and creditors as happy-go-lucky philanthropists – they’re not, and they must be shunned like 12th-century lepers.
Debt and credit are a necessity in the modern world. They are driving forces in the economy. If consumers were forced to pay for their purchases up front, we’d still be churning butter by hand. Nobody wants that, so we’re inducted into the capitalist spiral soon after we learn to walk.
I committed my first act of fraud when I was but a lad of 13. I fancied myself the biggest Billy Idol fan on the West Coast and signed an agreement with Columbia Records for 11 free CDs. The understanding, at least on their end, was that I would purchase six more at a later date. Yeah, and I might pay Albertson’s back before the week is over.
At 13 I had never worked a day in my life, I did not receive an allowance and I sure as hell didn’t ask my parents’ permission. I signed up, confident that minors could not commit to a legally binding contract. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the monochrome white security envelopes, with nothing more than a New Mexico P.O. Box in the upper, left-hand corner, came rolling in. Professional collection agency. Bad juju.
Today I forward my statements directly to the trash, unopened. There isn’t a financier in America that would, in good conscience, give me a credit card. So I use my checkbook. I horde overdraft protection like firefighters horde life insurance and let the good times roll.
I never attempt to balance my checkbook. Nor do I pay my bills until I am sure my utility providers are serious about cutting me off. There is a simple method for this. The first two reminders come in white, the third in pink and the fourth in dark red. By the time the final notice arrives nearly a month has passed since the original deadline. Fine, take your damned money; I slap on the stamp with gusto, hoping the check will clear. They often don’t and now I owe Albertson’s $143.62.
Will I pay? Certainly not in the near future. Debt is a way of life. I knowingly assume the risk of bad credit because I have no other choice. The private sector would have one believe that this is a bad thing, but they know as well as I do that buying on the margin is the meat of American economics. This comforts me, and I know I won’t cough up the dough until I see that New Mexico P.O. Box in the corner or a bright red sheet of paper glowing through the envelope.
Curtis Brainard is the Daily Nexus’ managing editor. We all watch our paychecks very carefully around here.