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Must be the Money

I hate money ’cause it makes me numb. – M.I.A.

Yesterday, I had to stop by the main library on campus to return a recalled book.  (I’m coming for you, book recaller! What am I supposed to use for coasters now that you’ve taken a liking to all my books on racial passing?  You suck!)  There were a bunch of first years standing in line waiting to take their ID photos.  People were smiling at each other; they seemed both nervous and… happy.  Which is totally weird for the place where fun comes to die.  Then I remembered: school is about to start.  And I became happy, too.  Why?  The beginning of autumn quarter means money is about to come to me.  Please cue Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid.“  (By the way, I think back in ’88 I might’ve had a crush on the woman in this video.  She was in Kwame’s “The Rhythm” right?)  It’s time for my beginning of the year shimmy + two-step.

Sometimes I wish I had M.I.A.’s problem.  Money does not, and maybe has never, made me numb.   Its presence and absence in my life promotes visceral, curmudgeonly responses.  It makes me, an otherwise emotionally even person, a histrionic mess.  I have buyer’s remorse before I buy things.  I freak out in front of grocery store cashiers about the money I’m about to spend.  I once spazzed out so completely at a retail store that they gave me a student discount after witnessing my “As a graduate student I really shouldn’t be spending money on this…” speech.  I don’t even think they had a student discount, they probably just wanted me to shut up.  I gladly accepted the 20% off.

Spending money is bad luck.  Once I called my mom because I was having second thoughts about buying a t-shirt and a hat.  She told me I was buggin’ and that I needed to chill out.  You know what happened on the way home?  My alternator caved.  And even though the money I’d spent on clothing wouldn’t have paid for a 1/2 hour of labor at my mechanic’s shop, to this day I firmly believe had I not purchased something that wasn’t a necessity, my car wouldn’t have decided to act a fool.  The money god hates my guts.

I loathe the way money makes me feel.  I am ashamed of how cranky I am when I don’t have it; embarrassed by the euphoria I experience when I do.  I want to feel indifferent, neutral to money.  Instead, I festishize it.  And the first day of every quarter feels like Christmas.

Money is voodoo; it is cursed.  It’s hypnotic, luring me into fantasy.  At least twice a week I leave my apartment on the north side of Chicago and head to campus on the south side.  On the way home, I pass the ginormous Mega Millions billboard on the Kennedy Expressway.  Sometimes I drive by while the current weather is posted, before the amount of the jackpot is flashed on screen.  Other times, I catch the screen just as the amount of the Mega Millions jackpot is shown.  I take that number, divide it by two (gotta pay The Man), and spend the rest of my time in the car daydreaming about what I’d do if I hit the lottery.  If the dollar amount is especially ungodly, my traffic jam reverie usually includes me taking out ads in several major cities that tell the world to kiss my grits.   Mostly, I decide how I’d give the money away, who I’d give it to.  I know it’s harmless, but I don’t want the idea of (having) money to be the source of such dulcet ruminations, especially when I should be channeling all my energy into convincing my car, Octavia that she totally has enough petro to make it home.  Still, I just don’t think I can help but wonder about the person who won that $328 million the other week.  Every time that billboard flashes $12 million, an angel gets its wings.

I wonder if this is just fate, more of the dirty residue of growing up in this capitalistic, money-hungry country.  The only people I’ve ever heard say that money doesn’t matter are Prince and other people who have a bunch of it, never had to grind for it.  My father has this whole “You can’t take it with you” philosophy that I just can’t seem to grasp.  Then again, he’s a gambler, and during our “bonding” trips to the casino I’m the only who who remembers that the chips are mere substitutes for presidents who never, it has become clear, seem to have a desire to represent me.  Scared money don’t win none.  That’s probably why I never seem to have any.

Admittedly, I have felt the effects of the recession, and I’m proud of myself for not totally melting down at certain moments.  My perspective has indeed changed.  I am much more disciplined; my sneaker problem has been (temporarily) checked.  If I could just find a way to stop treating money like an unrequited love, like some pretty girl who only occasionally winks at me, I’d be even better.  I just don’t know where or how to start.  Oprah hasn’t done a show on this yet, and frankly, I don’t want to hear a billionaire co-signing her expert, telling me dough isn’t everything.  That’s why I quit following Russell Simmons on Twitter.  My commas have never met numbers.  They only know words.

Still, I try.  Is my effort futile?

I probably am better off making sure my soul’s all right.

Oh well.  Let the dollar circulate.

And just in case you don’t know the reference in my title, please enjoy:


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