I had a magical moment in the spring of 1988. While I was at work as night shift cleaner at McDonalds, the shift supervisor came up to me and handed me an envelope. I stared at it in confusion and asked him what it was. He told me it was my paycheck. So I said “Oh,” tucked it in my breast pocket, and didn’t think about it again for three days.
Perhaps some background is in order. I had a weekday job as walker courier, in which I hand-delivered letters and small parcels from one location to another in Toronto, mostly downtown. The job usually had me on the go from 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, walking nearly constantly. Then, on the weekends, I was working the cleaner job. So I had two jobs and was piling up the bucks. I had completely ceased to think about money because I always had enough of it.
Then there was the ugly moment on Christmas Day in 1999. I took a trip to the old casino in Windsor, about a five-hour drive southwest of here. At the time I had a job earning more than $35,000 a year (in 1990s dollars) and could afford casino trips. At the tables, I turned $500 into $4,000, then went back to my hotel room happy. But the money in that safe in the room kept gnawing at me. I wanted more. So I kept going back downstairs to the casino until dawn had come and I had only $300 left. I wanted to die. My observation is that people who want more and more and more without limit, do often end up wanting to die just to escape their own greed.
These two memories jostle for space in my head as that special time in my monthly cycle arrives. No, not that kind of monthly cycle. I mean the monthly cycle of all of us who subsist off handouts from the disability folks in government. The current special time is called “check time.” It’s when our monthly subsistence money arrives in the mail. If I were practical and level-headed, I wouldn’t care about check time. I have to disburse most of my check anyway, so I end up with not much more left than I have at any other time in the month. Also, it’s not really my money; it’s money our government happens to give me because it feels like it. But it’s not something I’m rational about. Around this time every month, I enter a mental state I call the check vigil, in which I try in futility to stop thinking about the mail arriving and not to go downstairs to the block of mailboxes more than once an hour. And I never know on which day the check will arrive anyway. When the mail comes on a particular day and the check isn’t in it, I feel deflated and demotivated, as if I had suffered some real and substantial disappointment rather than just being a de facto bookkeeper for the landlord and grocery store.
So that’s where my mind is right now. Where is yours?