April 5, 2000
Mo' Money


The night before I moved to California, there was a knock at the door of the Tree House.

David and I looked at each other in surprise. Kneeling on my living room floor in front of the bookcase, he was painstakingly wrapping each one of my CD's individually, in newspaper and bubble wrap, and packing them into a cardboard box. I was sitting on the green plastic lawnchair in front of the dining room window, weepily "enjoying" my final Oregon sunset. Neither one of us was expecting company. (Unless it was Next-Door Neighbor Dog, come to lift his leg on my Welcome mat one last time, for old times' sake. In which case he probably wouldn't knock first. But you never know.)

It was Debbie, my friendly neighborhood delivery person from Trail Dust Pizza, down the hill. Except that at this particular moment, Debbie wasn't looking quite as *friendly* as usual. In fact, she looked downright homicidal.

"Your check bounced again, Secra," she said.


So much for one last quiet, contemplative Tree House evening. And so much for turning over a new leaf, financially: I hadn't even ordered the new California checks yet, and already things were frucked up.

This did not bode well.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

During most of the time I lived in Oregon, I was making nine dollars an hour at The Knife Company, answering phones and bulk-mailing catalogs. The rent on my Tree House was $650 a month. I was supposed to be sending $250 a month to TicTac for child support.

You do the math.

While I was still drinking, of course, I always found a way to *afford* my box of Franzia or Peter Villa ... even if it meant subsisting on Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls and four-day-old potato soup. Every month I made a partial payment on the one or two utilities closest to disconnection, and stuffed the rest of the bills under my sofa cushions. I almost never checked  my bank balance -- it was too emotionally "jarring" -- but I always had a vague idea of how much I had (or didn't have) in my checking account. Twice a month, on the night before payday  --  when I knew my account was dipping dangerously into double-digit negative balance territory  --  I routinely called whichever local pizza restaurant would 1.) deliver to my out-of-the-way apartment and 2.) accept my personal check. (Read this: any local pizza restaurant that didn't have a Wanted Poster with *my* face on it, taped above the cash register.)  And then I would basically order one of everything on the menu  --  that would be my breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days  --  and pray that there was no glitch in the payroll direct-deposit process, the following day.

It was a flawed financial system, I admit it. (And not exactly "nutritionally sound.") But for a while, that's how I lived.

By the time I was packing for that move to California, though, I'd already started to make some fundamental changes. I'd been sober for a couple of months, and I was committed to staying that way. I was trying to fix the things in my life that were broken. I was repaying my debts, karmic and otherwise.

And I'd quit deliberately writing rubber checks. Especially to pizza restaurants.

So Debbie showing up that particular night  --  my last night in Oregon: the eve of my brand-new life in California  --  was not only a surprise, it felt like a personal affront. 

"There is no way that check could have bounced!" I screeched at her, and I demanded 'proof.'  Which, of course, she supplied on the spot.  Sure enough: my last check to Trail Dust had failed to clear. (Later, when I checked my last bank statement, I realized that my virgin attempt to "balance" my checkbook had been off by more than fifty bucks.)  I was so overwrought that David literally had to step in between the two of us. He wrote Debbie a check for the full amount, plus the returned check fees ... apologized to her for the drama ("We're getting ready to move to California in the morning, and I think we're all a little tired"), and then spent the rest of the evening attempting to calm me down/reassure me/prevent me from flinging coffee mugs across my empty apartment.

"Your life will get better," he said. "Little by little, every day that you stay sober, your life will get better."

When I'd calmed down sufficiently, we finished packing most of my earthly belongings  --  everything except my computer, which we saved for last  --  and later that night, after we'd carried everything outside to the U-Haul, we ate leftover KFC on paper plates and played "You Don't Know Jack" and fell asleep on a makeshift bed in the middle of my living room floor.

In the morning I felt a little better. Some of my faith in the process had restored itself. I was ready for The Big Move.

But I still thought that Debbie's "visit" had been a terrible way to end my Tree House days ... an inauspicious beginning to a new life.

A bad omen.

It took me a long time to shake that feeling. (And it was another eight months before I could bring myself to have a pizza delivered again. But that's another story for another day.)

      *      *      *      *      *      *

So what, you ask, does all of this have to do with the price of pepperoni and Panda Toasters?

Nothing much ... except that it's a year and a half later now, and I'm still sober, and I haven't bounced a check once since I got to California ...

... and I got a raise at work yesterday. The first *real* raise I've ever received, at any job I've ever had..


Mind you: it's not much of a raise. As raises go, this one is a mere blip on the radar screen of raises. I'm not gonna be running out and buying that hilltop estate in Piedmont, anytime soon.

But you know what? That's OK. I'll take it anyway.

I got the raise, for one thing, without having to go through the personal horror of a *review lunch* with Franz.  (I think they realize that if anyone won't tolerate the "Let's-put-it-on-the-calendar-and-then-blow-it-off" treatment,  it's the beleaguered SecraTerri who does the scheduling.)  My pal, the Human Resources Director Person, came into my office yesterday morning, and after half an hour of preliminary niceties and requisite chitchat ... I got my raise. Boom. Just like that. 

"It'll show up on your next paycheck," she said.

And for another thing, every increment of progress, however small, raises the ante a little for me professionally. If things blow up around the Totem Pole Company tomorrow, I can walk into my next prospective place of employment and say "Howdy! Here are my *salary requirements.* Where do I plug in my hairdryer??"

But most importantly, I think, is that it reinforces everything that David has been telling me, all along. I've stayed sober ... and my life really has gotten better. ("Don't you ever get tired of being right all the time?" I asked him in the car this morning.)  I didn't quit drinking to make my life better. I quit drinking to avoid HANGOVERS. The "life getting better" stuff has merely been an added bonus.
But what a bonus. 

Pizza, anyone?

twenty-two years ago

throw a rock