This story takes place in 1992. Kindly reacquaint yourself with some facts relevant to life in that bygone era:
1) The vast majority of paychecks were corporeal things, paper checks you needed to possess, sign, and slog off to a brick-and-mortar bank to access your money.
2) Often, businesses mailed these checks to your home, rather than hand them to you.
3) No one had a cell phone. Cell phones didn't exist.
4) Virtually no one had a mobile phone. Mobile phones did exist, but no one you knew had one.
5) You may — possibly — have known someone with a car phone. My father was one such person.
6) Before you even think of word-lawyering me, "car phones" were only "mobile phones" in the sense that you could use them wherever your car was, because car phones were bolted to your car's interior and powered by your car's battery. Not at your car? Tough luck. Go find a pay phone.
7) Oh yeah, pay phones were still a thing. We all used them, not just Clark Kent.
8) The DC Universe in 1992 only had two variant timelines of Superman. Three if you count the movies. By now, they probably have 500 of them, since they license that shit to every cartoon producer and reboot their goddamn comic universe every seven minutes.
9) Calling collect was practiced by all and sundry.
10) ATM's were universally called "MAC machines" in the greater Philadelphia region.
11) All such "Money Access Centers" dispensed ten dollar notes back then, and some even gave you fives.
12) The odious practice of any bank charging you any amount of "fee" for doing any action on any ATM machine anywhere had not yet been foisted upon the human race.
Got all that? Great. Now: I spent a good deal of 1992 living in Ocean City, NJ, in a flat two blocks from the beach with my good friends Anthony "Sandy" Sandmiller, Shawn Crowe, andMax Wolff. It was a summer of discovery, of having wild times whilst growing into our own, and all that Wonder Years bullshit (see numbered list above). I had to quit my job as a shift-manager at the corporate-owned Altoona Piggy Pizza, where paychecks got handed to you, in order to take the same position at the franchisee-owned Somers Point Piggy Pizza, where checks got mailed to your home. Anyone out there who's changed jobs — even if done in the same day — knows that there could be a gap in your paychecks.
I did not yet have a credit card, beyond a Sears one. And Ocean City ain't got no Sears. But I was 19, and therefore automatically an invulnerable asshole who knew everything. There was no possible way I could run out of money before my first Somers Point check came in the mail. And even if it did, my Altoona boss, Crispin Wellesley, was going to mail my last check there down to me. I could totally afford all the cigarettes, devil-sticks, and papers I needed. (To be clear, only one of those three items were for smoking. Devil-sticks were a juggling device that was all the rage in 1992. Papers were these leafy things with news and sports scores printed on them. Where was your mind?)
A couple weeks went by, with me merrily handing over all the cash I had in the world for VHS rentals, extension cords for my equalizer, and quarters to use in the arcades' Gauntlet II and Cyberball 2072 machines. And when I wasn't playing Super Mario World on my SNES or jamming to my "Roll the Bones" CD by Rush, I was listening to Howard Stern on WYSP and composing a wonderful post-nostalgia novel about that summer's momentous events and the effects they had on four young lads in my head. That's right: this story you're reading, which I am just now typing at 6pm on 1-7-2015, is part of a book I composed in my head 22 years ago, to be published in full on the 25th anniversary of 1992. I shit you not.
By group vote, Shawn, Sandy, Max, and I — the Longshoremen — gave this not-yet-extant novel the title "Death of a Lampshade." Said lampshade will not perish during these events, though. We'd only just gotten there, and as I was relating, we were livin' it up!
And the third week of Ocean City life came, and my big fat black wallet was rapidly becoming a thin limp thing, that dangled sadly when I took it out and gripped it in my hand; and no matter how much I shook it, very little came out. (My wallet was made of black pleather, and apart from my license and Sears card, I had no plastic [q.v. above], and I — like many of you — kept two quarters in the wallet in case I got stranded somewhere and needed to make a call at a pay phone. These quarters sometimes fell out when I pulled the wallet from my ass pocket. Again, where was your mind?!)
Soon came a day when Crowe — as Shawn was known then, before the face-replacement and fingerprint-rescrambling surgery that followed his complete new-identity creation which came after his glorious Noriega-assassinating turn with the CIA — and I were sitting around, starving. We had a five pound vat of mustard, but nothing to put it on, as, sadly, all the corn dogs were gone, and the ground meat we'd bought to cook had been left out on the counter by two visiting assholes who "surprised us" by jamming our fridge with seventy-two bottles of Labatt Blue at the expense of any actual food that was in its way. They even took out the butter tray and stuck a bottle in that compartment, for fuck's sake.
Anyway. Crowe and I got in my car and puttered off to the supermarket. We parked and got out. It was a grotty place, with a pot-hole parking lot and bent carts stolen from other supermarkets sitting here and there. The area near its entrance smelt of old feet.
"I'm broke," I declared.
Crowe gave that nervous, but still reassured, laugh. If you know him, you know that laugh. "You are?"
"Oh. Me too."
"I got two quarters in my wallet," I noted.
"So do I. What can we buy for a dollar?"
The steam in this wonderful, character-building, post-pre-post-nostalgic moment was gone. Crowe and I had no more laughter or quips.
"I got five bucks and change in my bank account," I said, sadly.
"Oh!" Crowe said, in his eureka voice. Again, if you know him ... "The MAC machine here gives out fives!"
"Awesome!" I said, for 'twas the thing we said, unironically, in 1992. I trundled up to the MAC. I put in the navy blue card, two-thirds of which bore a bright white "MAC" logo with some rainbow trails flowing leftward from the M. I punched in the ID number, hit savings, hit 5 (you didn't need to add the two zeroes back then), and fetched my money.
The receipt came out. I always kept them, and reconciled my accounts with them at home. I went to show Bob how sad the "Remaining Balance" part of the receipt was, with only 83¢ to my name ...
... when what to my wondering eyes did appear the figure "$313.70" next to those words. "Holy shit!" I shouted. Some old woman, who to be fair may have been younger than Shawn is now, gave me a rotten look on her way past us. "Look, Crowe!"
Crowe looked. "Holy shit!" he barked, and now the old woman was frantically running to her Buick. "Thought you only had like five bucks and change!"
The penny dropped. "That's my paycheck," I said. "From Altoona. How the hell did it ..." I curled by brows. Wellesley was going to mail me the check. And if he forgot, the assistant manager there — the inimitable Rita Graham — was sure to have done it for him.
But how did it end up already in my account?
There was a pay phone next to the MAC. I picked it up and called home (collect, of course). My dad accepted the charges and said, "Hello!"
"Dad!" I said. "I'm rich and I have no idea how it happened."
"Yeah, I got your check," he said. "I stopped by Piggy Pizza and Rita gave me the check."
"But how did you cash it?"
"I didn't," he said. I could hear him smiling. "Anyone can deposit money in your account. It only has to be you if you're withdrawing."
I was so happy for this blessing. On the verge of tears. "Thanks, Dad — you have no idea how you just saved our asses!"
"I figured it was quicker than mailing it," he said.
"Gotta go," I said, "call you later." I hung up, did another withdrawal at the MAC for a hundred bucks, and looked at Crowe. "We should have steaks for dinner tonight!"
"Awesome!" Crowe said. We went in the store with all due verve. When we got to the butcher section, it occurred to us that we knew nothing about steaks. I'm pretty sure we just bought corn dogs and got a Domino's delivered when we got home. They were on the same block as us, but it was fun getting some guy to walk down the street and up three flights to deliver us a pizza.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my Compaq Deskpro 8086 to play Infocom games on 5¼" floppies while washing down my McJordan rib sandwich with an ice-cold Jolt.
(c) 2015 Christopher M. Morlock. All rights reserved.