Show Me the Money
I miss money. I don’t mean having or not having it. I mean, I miss money; paper money, coin money, real money. I miss the jingling of my fathers’ pockets as he walked up the stairs after a day in the factory. Or filching a smooth dollar bill hidden in the folds of my mothers old alligator wallet. I love holding a new ten-spot up to my nose to breathe in its familiar and distinctive smell that is as indescribable as the scent of a freshly painted room. And the taste of money! I know you’re not supposed to put it in your mouth but admit it, we all have and its sharp, piquant flavor is like no other.
My first real job was working at The Mart. A family owned women’s apparel store in downtown Paterson, NJ. I worked the main floor; accessories and sportswear, the basement; coats and better dresses and the 3rd floor which housed the fine lingerie, layaway and the switchboard. The minimum wage was 2 dollars and fifteen cents and every Friday I was handed a 3 x 6 manila bank envelope filled with cash and a little change to spend as I liked.
In college it was the Extension Diner conveniently located next to the Extension Lounge heralded as the “longest bar in NJ”. There, I would put a black polyester uniform over a frilly slip to ensure better tips when I bent over to wipe down a table or to scoop up my booty of quarters, nickels, dimes and the occasional buck or two. It was like dying and going to cash heaven. The harder I worked, and the nicer I was the more legal tender I could squirrel away for fifty-cent pitchers at the campus pub.
Growing up, I loved looking through the coins my parents carefully counted and rolled for our yearly vacations down the shore or put aside for their Christmas club. Now a days, I use Visa for everything; restaurants and movies, lipstick and groceries, taxis and Weight Watchers. I have cards for Starbucks, massages at Continuum Spa and Borders books. I don’t need money for the bus or the El because I have a CTA card. Everyone does. Even tollways and bridges have jumped on the cashless bandwagon and installed I-Pass. Sometimes I wonder how panhandlers, Salvation Army bell ringers and strippers are coping in this cashless culture. My God child gets his allowance deposited into an account that he manage with a debit card- and he’s 9 years old!
I miss the joy of opening a Christmas or birthday card from Aunt Rose and watching the five-dollar bills flutter to the floor. Remember how great it felt to put your hand into the back pocket of your jeans and find a crumpled ten-dollar bill? And I hate that there is never any loose change in my couch or my car anymore to get a Slurpie or a .99 cent burrito when I’m running a little low. It seems to me that the only place that cash is still used is in the summer blockbuster where the ransom note demands a suitcase of unmarked bills in exchange for the kidnapped kid.
My sister Diana once swallowed a quarter on Thanksgiving. It caused a block-wide panic. The pumpkin pie was abandoned, my sister was shaken upside down and we all took a trip to the emergency room. For days afterwards, my mother had to check her poop for the wayward coin. This would have never happened if Diana had a Discover card but then my family would have been denied one of our favorite stories that we tell and retell every holiday since then. Incidentally, my mother still has the quarter safely wrapped in tissue and tucked into an envelope marked “Thanksgiving 1965”.
Even the wallets we use today are different. There is hardly a place to put your paper money and forget a zippered pouch to collect your coins. Instead, they’ve been replaced with long rows of empty slots to store your green or gold or platinum cards. Yes, I agree that real money is sometimes heavy and unwieldy and messy. That it may make our hands dirty or pass germs. And yes, I agree that using cash and making change makes everything little slower. Just stand behind someone in the checkout line who pays for their lunch with exact change. Nevertheless, in the big picture is that such a horrible thing?
Not that I’m waxing rhapsodic for the good old days, but I liked how it felt to use cash. When I am using my Master Card I can get something when I need it or want it even when I don’t have the funds for it. But lately I’ve realized my relationship with money has changed. When I use an American Express card, it doesn’t even feel like I’m spending. When I used currency it felt like a real transaction. When I used ready money, I knew how much I had to spend and I saw where every dollar went. It made me realize what I got in return for my hard work. When I had money in my life- hard cash, my money was gone when it was gone. And while it’s still true that money does indeed make the world go around I for one am going to make cash the new credit and you can take that all the way to the bank!