April 13, 2007

First Person:

Cash money is redundant

By Al Carlos Hernandez

We are living in an increasingly cash-less society. It never ceases to amaze me when you see someone buying a cup of coffee or a sandwich with a debit, or even worse, a credit card. When this happens two things come to mind; first is that the person is so broke that they are living on their cards; second is that the card is stolen.

It never occurs to me that some people don’t like to handle cash anymore. In this age of direct deposit, on-line bill pay, etc, people are losing touch with cash money.

I am of the old school and love to floss a wad of cash. My stack often times manifests in what is called a “Chicago” bank roll, which is a fat roll of one’s with a twenty, fifty or C’ note on the top. What I used to carry was what I called a “Chicano” bank roll, which meant all of the rent money and half the car note.

In urban culture we had a certain credo we lived by when it came to carrying or holding money. If you intend to go out for the evening you need at least a half a yard, meaning 50 bucks, (a yard being one-hundred dollars) in your pocket or else don’t leave the house.

The thinking behind this was, if you had a job you were theoretically paid, but if you didn’t have enough money after feeding the kids and paying your bills, to really enjoy yourself, you were functionally broke. None of us qualified for high interest credit cards because they were not invented yet. Back in the day you could only get a card if you had good credit and a non Latino last name.

We even handled money differently. For security purposes we would fold it once and stick it in the top of your sock. This was during the days when your sock covered at least your entire calf, and ended just below your knee cap. Any sock worn shorter than that, and you would be loudly accused of wearing your Grandmother’s clothing.

Nowadays very short bootle socks are the vogue, the socks are so short all you can see is the hundred dollar tennis shoe, that doesn’t know how to walk to find a job. This means there is no place to put the money, maybe that’s why some new millennium homies have gone to the debit card.

I’ve given up the sock thing, after an embarrassing incident where for some unknown reason several of my twenties and a whole lot of ones smelled like pop corn. We have since gone to direct deposit. The check goes directly to my wife and I’m issued a small stack allowance. The Benjamin’s are folded once and I put it in a money clip, as I am reticent to do the whole wallet ritual thing because it seems so, Bill O’Reilly.

A good example of this is when you are in line at the check out counter and the total comes up. The guy in front of you, thinking about golf, somehow not anticipating the paying part, reaches in his back pocket for his Kenneth Cole wallet. He opens it like an accordion and all the bills from the biggest to the smallest are lined up starched, ironed, and in order. He then jiggles his Docker’s pants and comes up with a handful of exact change.

I on the other urban hand, have a different methodology; pull out the money clip and hold the bread in my hand like the Daddy Mack banker in an ally dice game. As soon as the tally comes up, expertly shuffle through the stack like a crooked card shark and come up with the bill closes to the amount and never give exact change.

We went through a phase when my wife wanted me to write checks for everything in order to keep the household finances in balance, but that system quickly ended after she realized that, as a writer, most of my financial prose (read checks) was fiction.

She as the money manager is starting to acquaint me to the use of cards. I have an Am Ex. Gold, but buying things with it is too easy. You don’t feel the loss, you don’t notice the roll is smaller - the bank is thinning out. This loss of touch with the green is causing me to value the hard earned dollar less and inspiring me into buying stupid things on impulse because it doesn’t hurt.

Maybe if we got back into a system where merchants only took cash, we wouldn’t be so haunted by debt, so dependent on oil, so living beyond our means causing so much stress and angst.

Like they say in Oakland, “It’s not what you are driving; it’s what you are keeping”. This means that, just because you are driving a new car today, doesn’t mean that it cannot be re-possessed tomorrow, keep it small and keep it all.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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