Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Move-Out, Part III:
The Change

I've been keeping my loose change in a drawer in my nephew's bedroom in my mom's house, in a dresser that backs up against a navy blue wall with a larger-than-life-sized picture of Mariano Rivera with his teeth gritted and his right arm behind him, poised to uncork a devastating 90+-mile-an-hour cut fastball at some unlucky hitter. I was keeping my change right out on top of the dresser for a while. But my mother has cleaning people who come to the house every week, and I started to feel vulnerable about letting it sit where it could literally be nickled and dimed away from me, even though the cleaning people - from what I'm told - are very well paid.

So now my change is vigilantly guarded by a shut drawer and the legendary Yankees closer.

I'm weirdly hung up on this change. $10.00 of it is a roll of quarters from the day before I moved out of New Brunswick. I went to the good people of Commerce Bank (stop by and tell them I sent you - there's money in it for both of us), turned in my blue ceramic pot o' coinage (actually, I poured the coins into a machine called the Penny Arcade; Commerce is tres self-service that way...), and walked out with $20.00 in quarters and another $20.00 in plain old American greenery. I'm talking cash.

The cash is long gone, along with half the quarters. The other half I'm hording like a miser.

It's not generally in the realm of what I consider my style to hang onto money so tenaciously, particularly money made of metal. Change is eminently ignorable. I even met a girl recently who gave all the change she had in her purse to a homeless person while we were walking in the East Village, and in so doing, presented me with an option that I had never before considered, and that felt pretty damned amazing once I tried it on for size. More on the girl in later posts - hopefully a lot more.

My frivolity with less dense forms of currency is well known among my peeps. It's the predominant reason why both of my attempts at early retirement didn't last too long. Ask me about my sunglasses sometime, which do not have prescription lenses and are therefore useless if, along with protection from harmful UV rays, I need to see any of the things I'm looking at. I paid the whopping and irresponsible sum of $375 for them back in 2002. But the kicker is this: I bought them to replace a pair that cost me $275, which had slipped from their perch in the frenulum of my shirt in the parking lot of a country club near Donegal, Ireland and been flattened by a Mercedes sedan registered from Warwickshire. $650 on two pairs of sunglasses, which annuitizes to a little more than $100 a year since the original purchase. This is not, how you say, the emblem of financial responsibility.

And now you don't have to ask me about my sunglasses sometime, since I just told you. In fact, please don't ask. I don't like that story.

In the cosmic scheme of things, money is the most replaceable commodity I know of. I have a job now that directly deposits a paycheck into my bank account every two weeks with postal service reliability. It has an enormously cleansing effect at times, like the night in June when I took several of my coworkers to a margarita bar and bought the entire first round - nineteen margaritas - only to have a replenishing supply of dollars show up in my online balance the very next morning. I kind of wish the post-that-night hangover had been as easy to take care of, but oh well.

So why am I hung up on this change?

The ex, when we left New Brunswick, was into yours truly for two debts. One was half of a $140 utility bill, and the other was the agreed upon sum of $50 for breaking my bed. It's true. The girl dismantled the delicate latticework of the headboard for no good reason, vowed to replace it, and then never even tried.

That bed cost me $300 back in 2002, which annuitizes to right around $75, since I only slept on it through 2006 when the ex and I broke up. I moved from a bed I had bought and owned to a saggy blue couch covered with dust and fabric pills, and I slept on that too narrow, too short piece of... furniture for seven months.

It's not that I care so much about the bed. I had already been considering replacing it before ol' Exey decided to rape the headboard and run away. But in an odd burst of frugality, I had also been considering keeping it in the hopes that having one less piece of furniture to buy might, you know, actually save me some money. And it's not that I particularly care about the $50 either, which is precisely why I only asked for $50 to begin with. "Okay, how about this," I had said, "you're gonna fix it, right? So let's just say if you can't fix it, then you can just give me... I don't know, fifty bucks?" That all sounded perfectly reasonable. Hands were shaken. Deals were made. Enchiladas were served to everyone.

What bugs me is the trail of correspondence concerning the $50 and her half of the utility bill, which add up to the lackluster sum of $120. In her typically passive aggressive fashion, she nodded in a pretend display of blank-eyed capitulation every time I asked her if she was going to be writing me the check any time soon. She disappeared the last four days of our cohabitation, leaving me and her cat behind, and still omitting to pay me what she owed me. After she handed in the keys to the apartment, along with a letter directing the management office how to disburse our security deposit, she sent a text message to tell me everything was done, clean, and handed in. I text messaged her back, "you can mail the check to my PO box. Let me know if you need the address." Then I texted her again to ask if the refrigerator was emptied and cleaned.

Her response: "the refrigerator is clean. Take care Matt"

You may notice, much like I did, that these words do not constitute a cash payment, stock option, or line of credit of any kind.

It was easy enough to get over the loss of the money. I have even come to give the ex a great deal of credit for having toyed so viciously with my expectations. I get surprised by people all the time, but I think it takes a great deal to leave me gaping in slack-jawed wonder, which is what she did. But I'm still clinging to this plastic bag full of change, stowed next to the amazingly comfortable mattress where I've been sleeping every night.

There are two somewhat poetic epilogues to this story. The first one was the paycheck that arrived a few days after I moved out of New Brunswick. My job pays overtime, but because my hours fluctuate slightly, the amount of the overtime is usually hard or impossible to gauge. But I had an idea, a figure around which I had prepared my monthly budget for June. The paycheck exceeded said figure by exactly $121.

The second was concerning the final utility bill at the apartment, which in the most technical sense, was also half of the ex's responsibility. PSE&G, New Jersey's friendly neighborhood utility company, deducts your final payment out of an initial deposit that they force you to give them, then they refund you the balance. I had paid that deposit and forgotten about it until a notice came in the mail that my final bill, in the amount of $141.62, had been paid automatically. I called up PSE&G so they could reassure me about my refund check, and they told me they had just put a check in the mail to me that morning in the amount of $118.38.

I know neither of these are evenly $120, but I still find it pretty remarkable that, with a little bit of change, it ends up panning out perfectly. As for the bag of change in my dresser, maybe it's time to let that go. I'm getting ready to move to New York, which can list among its inventory plenty of homeless people who could use it more than me, as well as the lovely girl who reminded me of that. And anyway, I'm sure I'll get it back when I need it.


Pete said...

May I suggest the $6 pair of sunglasses at your local gas station?

Since you seem to break yours with the same frequency that I break mine, this would be a viable, frugal option.

In the time that you break yours, you spend $650. I spent $15, and that probably includes a Dr. Pepper for the road.

And I'm such a "frugal" bastard right now, that I refuse to replace my broken sunglasses.

The entire left arm has fallen off, but they still manage to stay on my face just fine. Hey, they are performing the sunglass function just fine.

I don't see why I should rid myself of a perfectly good pair of sunglasses.

And I can't see why you are complaining about your sleeping apparatus.

If I remember correctly, I spent six months sleeping on what amounted to a fold-up cot on the floor of your Remsen Avenue apartment.

Is it any wonder that is precisely when my back problems started?

Pete said...

A follow-up thought:

Regarding the change on your dresser, I wouldn't be so quick to give it to the homeless people.

Maybe it is the frugal side of me coming out again, I collect my change in an upside down hat.

I usually cash it in about once a year, and it is good for about $130 to $160, and I use it specifically for some sort of road trip.

It doesn't cover all costs, but hell, if I can pay for my gas to go to and from Moab, then it is well worth it.

(That, of course, was when we lived in Colorado).

Ericka Bigelow said...

We want Matt. We want Matt.

Waiting for an update...