When I was in high school, I wasn’t allowed to get a job. I begged my parents to let me work part-time, after school, but they said no. My Dad was very adamant about this.
“Your job is to be a student and get good grades,” he said. “Why do you need a job? What do you need money for? If you need something, you come ask me. I’ll determine if you really ‘need’ it or not.”
Well of course, most of my “needs” were determined to be “wants” (which they were) and denied.
It was like, so unfair.
Finally, I got accepted into a good private university and was about to graduate from high school. I again asked my Dad if I could get a job.
“Please?” I begged. “Let me get a summer job. I’ll be able to save money for college.”
“Save money for college, huh?” said my father, skeptically. “Well. Ok. Deal. But you’re gonna do what your mother and I did once we got jobs and were still living at home. You’re going to have to pay rent.”
“What?!” I yelped. “Pay rent? Are you kidding me?” Who had heard of such a thing? What eighteen-year old kid’s parents made them pay rent the summer before moving away to college? My father said that $80 a month was the best rental fee in town and that I’d never pay less again as long as I lived. This fact did not soothe me. This was unfair. This was Iran.
Granted, the rent was only $20 a week, but when you worked at the record store in the mall for $5.35 an hour, $20 a week was a lot. I told my friends who couldn’t believe it either and offered their sympathies. Each week I slapped another twenty into my father’s hand, fuming, narrowing my eyes, counting down the weeks left under this cold dictatorship.
Finally, weeks of putting away cassette singles of C’mon n’ Ride It (The Train) by Quad City DJs and Always Be My Baby by Mariah Carey and selling one of those Pure Moods CDs to each and every household in the greater Chicagoland area, my summer came to an end. I slapped the last $20 in my father’s hand. I had done it. I had paid rent to live in my own house, to sleep in my own bed. I had suffered the indignity with grace (if not for a little pouting), I had become a martyr among my friends, a reminder of how bad life could be if they were only unlucky enough to be born to such tyrants, thus making them appreciate their own lives just a little more. Lives filled with $50 I.O.U. sweatshirts of every color and Z. Cavaricci pants from Merry-Go-Round instead of the Kmart clothes and knock-offs one’s mother had purchased from someone who sold them to her at the bank where she worked. She, so pleased at her purchase and thrifty cleverness, thinking it would make me so happy. Me, horrified, knowing it was better to go without than walk into school with such an obvious counterfeit, yet too ashamed at my disgust and guilt-ridden inability to hurt her feelings. No, I would suffer greatly, as was my destiny.
“That’s the last one,” my Dad said, taking the twenty from me. “So. How did you like your first job?”
“Fine,” I said.
“Good. And how much money did you end up saving for college?”
Um. Saving? Oh. Right. That.
That had been my big pitch, hadn’t it? Please let me get this cool record store summer job because I um, can save money for college. But the gig was up. I hadn’t saved much. Out of the $1,000 or so I had earned over the summer, I had saved about $50. The rest was spent on god-knows-what. What does a teenager in 1996 buy, anyway? Clothes? Earrings? Food? I don’t remember. All that I know is that I was broke and about to tell this to my father.
“I’m not exactly sure,” I tried.
He made me go get my savings account book. There was no way I was going to get out of this one.
“Fifty-two dollars and thirty-three cents,” my father read from the ledger. He looked at me. I felt more ashamed than sitting in science class in one of my knock-off sweatshirts. Far more.
I waited for the lecture. For the raised voice. Instead, my father walked over to his desk and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to me.
“Open it,” he said.
I opened it. Inside was a stack of twenty-dollar bills.
Oh no. I see where this is going.
“Count it,” he said.
I counted. $240.
I am an asshole.
“Two-hundred and forty dollars.” I said.
“Two-hundred and forty dollars. That’s what you paid me in rent. See, if you put just $20 a week away, in a few weeks you have $240. That’s more money than you saved all summer. Now go put that in your savings account,” my father said softly.
I had just been Bill Cosbied.
I learned an important lesson that day. Well, no I didn’t. Because I ended up getting one of those credit cards they hawk to college kids and running up a $2,500 bill on stupid stuff that took me years to pay off. But I learned an important lesson later. Save your money. Even when you fuck up, try to save, even if it’s just $20 here and there. It adds up. I’m still working on that. And I also learned that my Dad is pretty awesome. I hope I can be as good one day with my daughter.