Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Role of Money in My Life

Throughout my life money has had varied pronounced effects on me.

I grew up in a home dominated by my parents' history as destitute orphans during the depression.  My father worked hard, became a successful insurance professional, and provided us a decent and secure, if not opulent, lifestyle.  In our home, my parents were always certain that the spectre of financial disaster was at our door, and that at any moment we would be on the street.  Money seemed to me this great evil that was always there, lurking, and about to plunge us into devastation and misery.  That never happened thanks to my parents, but it was always a nightmarish source of anxiety, even strife in our home.

It affected everything in our lives even as I recall, my toilet training.  I have always remembered my father’s careful instruction to little Tommy as I sat on the toilet learning to wipe up after a bowel movement.  There was a right way to do everything…...and only one right way.  One must use three sheets of toilet paper.  Two was ineffective.  More than three was extravagant and worse yet wasteful.  One did not want to incur the consequences of being wasteful on the toilet….after all your pants were already down and your bottom quite exposed.  Once one had carefully overlapped the three sheets into a pad the size of one sheet they might then take an initial swipe at sanitization.  That having occurred, then the pad was to be folded in on itself creating a new unsullied pad the size of half a sheet and twice as thick.  Once the cleansing properties of that configuration of toilet paper had been applied, it was to be folded in half again creating a final pad the size of one quarter sheet.  That, in light of its smaller size, had to very carefully be employed, and then, and only then, might the used toilet paper be discarded in the toilet.  If necessary one could use more...but only three sheets of course, and adhering to this precise protocol……..OR ELSE.

Money was the topic of frequent maternal lectures.  She feared I wouldn’t measure up to life.  I was troublesome, ill a great deal,  struggled learning reading, and thus other academics in elementary school.  She would rale I was likely to never be able to support myself as a man, let alone a family, and would spend my life in a poor house.  I was never quite sure what life in a poor house would entail, but I was certain it had to be a chamber of agonizing horrors, judging from my mother’s affect during these predictions.  I felt very weak and sad that I would never be able to become a great man like my father.

Life progressed.  I grew, wiping  correctly at every stage of course, and eventually I caught up in school, became healthier, and money became a source of power and independence.

At age 16 I got my first job.  I worked in a kitchen at a summer training and development center for the National Cash Register corporate headquarters.  I was paid all of $1.25/ Hr. sometimes clearing nearly $40.00 all in the same week.  I was a man.  I could make a living.

And I was suddenly a working guy among a crew of other working guys.  Getting money meant a new peer group.  My co-workers noted, with great concern, that I did not smoke as they all did.  They undertook convening after lunch smoking classes for me to remediate my neglected development.  They also gave me an entirely new understanding of the mysteries of sexual intercourse.  I’d already attended a YMCA sex ed class my father had taken me to: (six weeks of the glorious moral virtuousness of a sexually upstanding and moral life...without ever explaining HOW ONE DID IT!).  They also managed most weeks to get a few 6 packs of beer, despite our underage status, so that we could head to a park pavillion after a hot summer afternoon’s work for a few beers and cigarettes.  Yes it was the lure of money, the vanquished fear that I would be unable to ever sustain myself, and my huge sense of power when I in fact earned a real paycheck, that let me feel empowered for the first time to enjoy “adult pleasures.”

Each week most of my check went into savings for college someday, but I was able to keep enough to buy a record album and a few 45 RPM’s….the beginnings of my rock collection.  I remember acquiring the Rolling Stones albums: Painted Black and High Tide and Green Grass, and singles Bus Stop, Summer in the City, and Hey There Little Red riding Hood that summer.  There was enough to buy cigarettes (they were $0.18/pack in a carton), gas for going to and from work and some personal travel, and beer contributions to pool with my co-workers for our after work celebrations.  Money could be said to have expanded my horizons in ways my parents had never anticipated, nor were they aware of my new lifestyle features.

I went to college: at first paid for by my parents.  I was finally free of the strictures of our family.  I went wild.  I took advantage of the money my parents provided and the freedom of campus life.  I fell in love with the girl who became my first wife.  I recall I lived pretty well in my dorm with meals provided and my $12.50/week allowance which provided snacks out, dates, trips to the bars with my girl Saturday nights, cigarettes and most of the “good things” of life.  I worked hard at living up to the motto I coined: never allow college to interfere with your education.  My academic performance was terrible.  I was continually in dropped or probationary status with the university.  My parents tired of paying for my revelries (having done so far longer than I would have in their shoes.)

I struck off on my own the next fall.  I returned to the town where I’d been in school and where my girl friend was enrolled.  I found work in a mobile home factory and we moved in together.

Broadmore Homes of Ohio paid $2.45/hr. to start and I could bring home $79.86 for a 40 hour week.  Life was good.  My partner and I played political radical, she studied and I worked, and we partied; relying on a wide variety of intoxicants.  We were free.  My work was brutal, and the hours long under harsh conditions, and workers were frequently injured sometimes seriously. I enjoyed the company of a whole cadre of co-workers who were a derelict bunch of roustabout roughneck hippies. I named us “the Broadmorons”. This was a much harder life than I wanted for long, and I missed classrooms and intellectual pursuits.  I returned to college two years later having accumulated some savings.  My girl friend was by then my wife and a public school teacher, and I, paying for my own education, with earnings of my own intensely hard work, became WONDER OF WONDERS a straight A student!  It took me 8 years to complete my undergraduate education: 5 actually in school the rest out working.  But once I was committed, sacrificing my own money, I became a diligent Dean’s list student: an influence of money in my life.

Freud, wrote (paraphrase) that money and the work it requires of us, connects and moderates our Id and Superego empowering our ego, creating our relationship to external reality.  My life, in all its various stages, bears that theory out.

As my life progressed, my struggle was to prove my mother wrong: that I could succeed Though I would not become a traditional middle class professional, I became economically independent by engaging in social activism.  My need to be nonconformist while economically viable became a central theme of my life.

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