I have to confess, childhood is my safe place. When I’m most stressed out or scared, I just wish I could become a child again–lost in a world of total safety and pleasure.
As a child, my biggest worries were that the cereal I wanted was out, and that my brother hid the last of the cookies. Maybe on a really bad day, I shit my pants in the car. I won’t lie, that traumatized me just a little.
I never had to worry about money, because for me, money was some vague cosmic thing that cut short a vacation or caused my parents to fight. Money wasn’t tied to the real, tangible world that I skipped through. Money was out there.
This basic idea followed me through adolescence. Now, even though money was something I could touch, smell and spend, it’s essence still belonged to another world. Sure, with forty-five bucks I could go to King’s Island, and with twenty more, I could buy food there, but there wasn’t a direct link between the twenty dollars and the satisfaction of my hunger. Money bought the food, but the food fed me, and in my mind how I got the food was arbitrary. Food just exists, and sometimes you happen to get some when you give twenty dollars to someone.
Even with my first job, money had no real value to me. If something is of value to you, you hold on to it. I made one hundred bucks a week selling pizzas, and to me, this one hundred dollars was just a path to the things I wanted. Money had value insofar as it could get people to give me the things I wanted. And work had value insofar as it earned me money that could get people to give me the things I wanted.
Suddenly, I had a fundamental shift in values. Yesterday, I cared about satisfying my desires. Today, I care about the work I put into getting what buys the satisfaction of my desires. My happiness is now a reward for the work I do, rather than a result of living life. And the whole time this crisis is taking place, my parents and bosses and peers are cheering me on. It’s not that I’m becoming a slave to myself, they say, like a pavlovian dog that rings it’s own bell out of a sense of duty, forever ringing and wanting, ringing and wanting.
“No,” I’m told, “you have a tremendous work ethic. You see the value of labor.” And I believe them.
And the whole thing is oxygenated and lubricated by money. None of it means anything without money.
I go on this rather depressing philosophical rant to make a point about my new life and what I perceive as reality. In many ways, I still had little pockets of my childhood way of thinking about money and objects, pockets I believe I was holding onto as long as I could, because I knew when I lost them, I would lose another connection to my safe place.
There comes a point in many people’s lives when their parents try to impress upon them the importance of money. For me, it came wrapped the package of a car. That is not to say my parents bought me a car, quite the opposite. The nearer to driving I came, the more money became a subject of conversation–specifically the saving of money, a concept I still do not have a grasp of. Eventually, it was the longer I went without my own car, after getting my license. As I said, I’m not good at saving. Consequently, after deciding I wanted to move to Montana, for which I needed a car, I still had nothing saved.
It is here that I became aware of a concept my Uncle John refers to as goodwill. This same Uncle John and his wife Sandy took me into their California home for six months and gave me a job. Not only was it a way to save money, it gave me training for the future. You see, John is a carpenter. Now in my irrational mind, I was thinking of pastoral scenes. I know that doesn’t make sense, but my reference for carpentry was Jesus. Again, don’t laugh. Now you hear the words Jesus was a carpenter, but he’s always sitting with flock of sheep. You can see the conclusions I drew. Cut to me breaking up a concrete patio with a jackhammer, and a flock of fucking sheep are the last thing on my mind. But it got me money, and it gave me experience. It also gave me awareness of how much goodwill I have–something I can rely on when I don’t know how I’ll pay the rent next month.
Anyway, I saved enough money for a car and a couple months rent once I got to Missoula. But after years of hearing, “save money for a car,” I had it in my mind that I was saving for a car. I guess it never crossed my parents minds to let me know about registration fees and title fees and smog check fees and hey, your trying to make it somewhere in life, so give me a cut, fees. A slice here and a slice there, and I’m running way lower on money than I thought I would. At least I got a fuel efficient car.
But now, my friends, we come to the real point–toilet paper. You see I can buy a car, and pay the fees, and save up quarters in a jar for gas, but if I don’t have the money to buy toilet paper, I might be returning to my childhood in a way I really don’t want. You see, one thing that never left me from my younger years is my perception of where things come from. Toilet paper, olive oil, pepper and aluminum foil all just exist. You don’t have to buy these things. You need to wrap something up, you just open the drawer that has aluminum foil in it. Sure, you have to buy food, but seasonings and pots to cook it in, those things just come with the house. No one thinks to mention buying these things to their kid, because no one is supposed to think that way, but I’m pretty sure most twenty somethings out on their own for the first time can relate.
Toilet paper just never crossed my mind. I wasn’t told to save up for that. Who saves up for toilet paper? Well you better believe that next time I live on my own for the first time, I’ll have money for toilet paper.