Banks Don’t Give Lollypops to Adults Who Spend All of Their Money

Banks are where grown ups go to do important things, like taking out home loans, cashing big pay checks, or making investments like a Certificate of Deposit. Today, I was doing the rough equivalent of smashing my piggy bank to keep from going broke while waiting for our Vermont home to sell.

As I walked into the well-appointed lobby at northeast Connecticut’s Liberty Bank, with its sleek leather furniture and fancy tile floor, I felt like a kid again. There were lollypops at the counter and hot chocolate packets alongside the coffee maker. It’s as if the friendly staff in their navy blue blazers knew that someone would need to sweeten his quarter-life crisis while sitting in the waiting area.

We just had to last one more month until our house sold.  

Just a few days earlier, I didn’t think we were going to make it until the sale went through. It had sat on the market a few months too long before finding a buyer, and our reserves dried up as my work hit three major setbacks in a row and we waited for my wife’s salary at her new position to kick in. It seemed like every potential source of income dried up just when our bills were doubled and our new salaries non-existent.

bank-organizedI had been praying (Read: Despairing) about our finances, when it hit me: we still had several emergency funds sources to draw from. One of them, the easiest and fastest to access, were my savings bonds. They were just what we needed to make ends meet.

I sat with my briefcase on my lap which safely preserved the neat appearance of an envelope holding a small stack of matured savings bonds from 1987, gifts for my First Holy Communion back when I was Catholic. They were still crisp and sharp on their edges,  kept in a plastic sleeve all of these years. Apparently Catholics often give them as gifts to mark the occasion. I started the day of my Holy Communion without any clue that I’d be receiving the bonds, but after a few $100 savings bonds piled up, I started to think anyone who gave me a $50 bond was being cheap.

When I was called back for my meeting, I jumped to my feet. Would they reject the bonds? Would they say I’d made a mistake and they were only half of what I’d thought?  In the past four months, worrying had become my default.

I stepped into the back office to meet with a well-appointed woman in a business suit, accustomed to dealing with mortgages in the half million dollar range, this was Connecticut after all, rather than cashing a grown man’s Holy Communion bonds to keep his bank account from hitting zero. After a few minutes of tapping on her keyboard she printed out our new balance statement and handed it over with a smile.

“Have a nice day,” she said, as if I was one of those responsible adults who take out loans or earn interest on “things.” My relief was clouded by the shame I felt for being such a screw up for failing to provide for my family when we needed it the most.

In the following months our house sale flew by without any problems, I landed a steady job selling books online for a quirky used bookstore in town that more closely resembled a yard sale, and my hit or miss article writing income was replaced by steady writing work for a manufacturer. In the words of Monty Python, “I got better…” However, I’m still not entirely at ease among the perceived “adults” at my local bank these days. Remember, I’m still a writer!  

Cowering in the couch at Liberty Bank, wondering if my bonds were valuable enough became my rock bottom moment. But, when you’re going to bottom out, the lobby at a fancy Connecticut bank isn’t too bad of an option. I would have served myself some hot chocolate if I’d known that things would turn around so quickly.

Ed bio YAH

Cinnamon Rolls and Aluminum Cans

nc-aluminum-can-recycling-cansThe garbage bags, smelling of beer and slimy with drops of liquid, are what I remember most.

Before recycling was a thing, Dad, in his worn clothes and scruffy beard, bought aluminum cans for 10 cents a pound at the Farmer’s Market.  I was his 5 year old helper.

The locals brought them in various containers–bags and beaten-up trash cans, old cardboard boxes and feed sacks. The cans would shift and jingle as they were weighed on a kitchen scale, rigged with a little platform.  What my dad remembers most was getting smart—learning to watch for rocks in bags and cans loaded with dirt. Once he found a half-eaten turkey adding extra weight to a bag.

When there weren’t customers, our old blue Ford got loaded with the purchased metal. As the Market was winding down, we would make home visits, picking up loads from around town.

My dad engineered 6-foot extensions to the sidewalls of the truck, a cage of sorts made of scrap lumber and chicken wire.  On the drive home, with the back of the truck full of aluminum, we wouldn’t speak.  My dad isn’t much of a talker.  And, over the rumble of cans shifting and vibrating, we couldn’t hear one another anyway.

At home, the cans would be released from their temporary captivity and spill onto the ground.  The tool wielded by my father crushed the cans flat. If he used the truck to crush them, we knew his back was acting up.

In addition to mighty tools, the little feet of my brother and I would stomp on the cans, trying to hit them just so. A can might curve perfectly around our little feet and our work would turn to play as we danced around in our shoes made of cans.

Newly compacted, the smashed cans were shoveled into reused bags and tied off. Once there was a full load, they would be sold in the city for 32 cents a pound. That small profit kept my family afloat while my dad recovered from a serious back injury.

It was a lean time—an in-between time where making ends meet was the adult focus. My grandma put $5 in her weekly letter; my mom used it to buy hamburger meat.

Because the ingredients were cheap and it was a recipe she had mastered, my mom made cinnamon rolls to sell in the park. With darkness still blanketing the house, the oven baked batch after batch of the sweet treat, my mom sacrificing sleep. Always attentive to the clock, she could time the last batch perfectly to arrive at the Farmer’s Market just as people started to show up.

The hot rolls, darkened with cinnamon and whitened with sugar frosting, would 6a00e54efbe3a1883300e551c6372c8834-800wimoisten the plastic wrap. In the trip down the dirt road, the wrap would begin to creep up leaving the edges of the rolls exposed to flying critters. My job was to stretch the wrap back over the edges and keep an eye out for pesky flies.

$1.75 for 8 rolls, fresh from the oven. Some had raisins.

Once that first plateful sold, I’d be given money to go and buy a bean burro from a lady from church. She brought pre-made burritos wrapped in tin foil. I loved holding that warm burrito in my hands on those early mornings and running between the can station and the cinnamon roll table.

My mom hasn’t made cinnamon rolls in years. I bet she still could if she needed to.

But, since I can remember, my family has collected cans, eventually taking them into the new Recycling Center that opened in town.

The Recycling Center closed several weeks ago—the resale price of scrap metal wasn’t high enough to keep him in business.

The tides have changed for my parents. They can now afford organic grass-fed beef. But, they can’t bring themselves to throw the cans away.

And the bags of cans are piling up on the front porch.