Raiders of the Lost Aunt; Part 3 - February 23, 2007

(Reconditioning Batteries)

"Guys, what are you doing? Wait...what? What is all of -- WHAT THE FUCK?!"

Caught red handed, Marty and I frantically searched each other's eyes trying to conjure up a way to correct the situation. I can't imagine how awkward it must have been for my dad when he woke up to two of his sons wading in a massive pile of money in his childhood bedroom.

He shut the bedroom door behind him, sat down on an antique radiator and rubbed his eyes while we explained everything to him. Marty and I were both afraid that this was going to play out with Dad guilting us into giving all the money over to Pop Pop. My dad may have done a lot of shitty, underhanded things in his life that directly impacted his family, but he always went out of his way to treat his father like a king. He'd want to pay tribute to the king from Aunt Laura's Arc of the Convalescent, making sure his pockets were lined, of course. After all, the court jester needed to pay rent too.

"You know we need to give this to the old man, don't you?" Dad tossed his first guilty knuckleball over the plate - strike one. Fuck, was dad right? Were we being ridiculously selfish about Aunt Laura's treasure? "You guys found this in his house. You can't just keep this for yourselves. I didn't raise you two like this." Steeee-rike 2. My stomach started to turn. I felt like a scumbag. What the hell was wrong with me? That money was stashed away year after year by my recently deceased aunt for Christ's sake, and all I was worried about was not being able to keep it for myself. I couldn't believe that it was over, just like that. No walkman, no snowboard, nothing. The reaper of hopes and dreams came to me in the form of a middle aged, saggy underwear-clad man with a popsicle stick adhered to an orange stain on his shirt. I was crushed.

Marty snapped to his feet and pointed at dad with a determined look on his face. "Look, if you shut the fuck up, we'll split it three ways."

I shifted around on the bed out of pure discomfort and shock. Stacks of bills crinkled under my ass. Dad and Marty stared at each other, not saying a word. I thought about how dad might react to the offer. Why would he take a third of the money when he could take the whole thing right then and there? I didn't realize the genius in Marty's thinking until later.

Dad reached for a pile of hundreds on the bed. "How much money is here? Did you guys count all of this yet?"

"It's...uh...$9,000." I almost choked when Marty shamelessly low balled him by over four grand. I wiped the sweat from my palms on my cargo pants. Marty and I stared at Dad, while he squinted and thumbed through the bills. You could see the gears grinding in his head.

I sat silently on the bed and mulled the situation over -- If dad took all of it from us and skimmed off the top before presenting it to Pop Pop, he ran the risk of Pop Pop somehow finding out that his son had taken some for himself, ultimately making Dad lose face. If he took Marty up on his offer, he had three thousand dollars in his pocket, no questions asked. Dad had to know that if he went with the former, there was a distinct chance that one of us disenchanted children could "accidentally" let slip that we found $9,000 in Aunt Laura's box. The only surefire chance of dad walking away from this unscathed and in the black was to go with the latter.

"Alright fine, but not a fucking word of this, not to anybody." It worked. Marty was a fucking genius. Dad walked out of the room to hide his cut while Marty and I split the remaining $10,000 between us, giggling like little girls at a slumber party, flipping through an issue of Tiger Beat magazine.

The three of us crafted a fall back story, just in case family or friends had questions about why we had money on us, which was very probable considering Marty and I never had any kind of expendable fun money our entire lives. We decided to tell people we hit the jackpot on a $5 lotto scratcher that we split the cost of at a local gas station. I actually told people that same story until I was about 23 before I finally confessed to friends about the shameless pilfering of dead Aunt Laura's life savings.

The next day, my dad drove me back to my mom's house in Stratham, New Hampshire with $5,000 in cash tucked away in my backpack. On the way, my dad and I stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up a little safe for me to keep my stash in. I remember standing in line at the register with him, thinking how fucking cool my dad was to let his 14 year old son wander around with thousands of dollars to do with as he pleased. Then I thought about how most dads would want their kid to lock it up in a savings bond or something, so they wouldn't blow it all on useless shit, like a 14 year old was bound to do. As we shuffled through the line, I started wishing that my dad would have taken the initiative and done what was right, something that I just didn't have the maturity or the resources to do by myself at that age.

I knew that saving the money for when I really needed it--like for college tuition or a down payment on a house--was the right thing to do. As lame as it sounds, I desperately craved structure in my life. It was something that my single mother just couldn't provide a young boy like me when it really comes down to it. I needed my dad to sit me down and teach me how to be a man. This would be one of those moments that would shape the delicate house of cards that is my ability to discern right from wrong to this day. I would have to figure everything out on my own. I went from thinking that my dad was a superstar hero to an irresponsible playmate by the time we walked out through those automatic doors.

The first thing I did when I got home was look around for a place to stash the money. I couldn't hide it in my room; my mother was known to do some private investigation from time to time. I certainly couldn't bury it in the backyard. I would need to dip into it from time to time. I ended up finding a little space in the loft of our garage, nestled in exposed Pink Panther insulation. It was the perfect place to hide a briefcase sized fireproof safe and there was no set of stairs or a ladder to reach it easily. One actually had to open the breezeway door and use the handle as a foothold in order to monkey themselves into the rafters, which was something I knew my mom would obviously never do.


A few weeks after I returned home, my mom took me out to dinner to celebrate my 15th birthday. We went to my favorite restaurant, Abercrombie & Finch (a British pub/restaurant, not the paper shredder accident clothing bazaar). After our meal, she handed me a card with $50 in it, which was a big deal to me because I knew my mom really struggled financially to take care of me and my sister. I knew I didn't need the money and I wanted to give it back to her, but I couldn't - it would have looked far too suspicious for me to turn down cash on my birthday. On the other hand, I couldn't just tell her about the money because she would have taken all of it.

I thought about one of my earlier birthdays, when my dad bought me a sweet BMX bike and drove all the way from Massachusetts to deliver it at my party. I was so excited. I had spent a chunk of my youth awkwardly peddling around the street on my sister's embarrassingly old, oversized bike; a women's bike with pink spoke clickedy clacks and faded My Little Pony stickers all over the frame. Those days were over - I finally had a dude's bike. The next day, I woke up to find that my mother had returned the bike to our local Wal-Mart for a refund. "Mike, your daddy doesn't pay child support. We need the money. It's not right for us to not have money to eat while he is showering you with expensive gifts. I wish you could understand. I'm so sorry."

No amount of logic, reasoning or Book It! personal pan pizzas could have lifted me out of the pediatric cavern of despair that I crawled into when I found out that my bike was gone. If I could have set my mother's hair on fire with lasers from my eyes at that exact moment, I'm sure that I would have. I just didn't understand why I couldn't have that one thing to make me happy while we all waded through lower middle class Caucasian hell as a family.

I knew that my mom could have used that $5,000 for a lot of important things, but I just couldn't give it up. I couldn't give up the electric feeling of having something so important, something that would finally afford me the opportunity to live like all the other kids. I fiddled around with a rolled up $500 wad in the pocket of my shorts while I shamelessly ate a slice of cheesecake, my mother looking on and smiling the entire time.


A few weeks later, Marty picked me up at my house to spend a weekend at dad's place while he was still in Vermont with Pop Pop. We talked about what we'd spent our money on since we last spoke. He had picked up that Brother word processor he had his eye on and spoke about it like it was the greatest technological achievement Mankind had ever produced. I, on the other hand, hadn't spent a dime. I wanted to, but I needed transportation to get to stores, or the mall, in order to do so. Hitching a ride with my mother wasn't an option, and springing for a taxi in New Hampshire was more expensive than fabricating a set of makeshift rollerblades out of shellacked $100 bills and skating there.

We decided to spend some of our money together at the mall the following day. I was ecstatic; it was the first time in my life that I would be able to buy what I wanted and actually enjoy a shopping experience. Before that, my experiences as a consumer revolved around August school shopping with mom at Marshall's, begging and pleading for the newest Five Star First Gear organizational supplies, but settling on dusty, two year old Trapper Keepers designed by Lisa Frank that had been mistakenly placed in the tube sock discount bin.

I broke my rich man cherry at Radio Shack, where I picked up the biggest, baddest Sony Sports water resistant walkman that I could find. Big, yellow, clunky. It was awesome. After that, I wandered into Strawberries to buy some cassettes. It was amazing. I remembered all the times that I flipped through those little Columbia House membership pages, tearing off the album stamps that represented the music that I was dying to hear and pasting them on the wall next to my bed. I tore through each aisle, picking up each and every album whose cover I used to stare at before I went to sleep every night. Black Flag's "My War", Slayer's "Divine Intervention", Ozzy's "No More Tears"...I was fucking psyched. After that, I went to Foot Locker and bought four pairs of shoes without even trying them on. When we were done shopping, we decided to take a limo down to the then-brand new Fleet Center to catch a Celtics game, first making the driver pull into a gas station so that we could split the cost of an entire roll of scratch tickets, out of which we won another $750 each. I was quickly learning that spending money was a whole lot of fun. I came back to New Hampshire with about a dozen shopping bags and an untamed penchant for buying useless shit.

I walked into my first day as a freshman in high school with an unusual lack of social anxiety and a wad of cash in my front pocket. After going through a few rounds of "meet your new teacher and pick up your new textbook", I sat down with a handful of friends to eat our bagged lunches in the cafeteria. As I was about to tear into a mediocre turkey sandwich, I longingly looked up to the lunch counter just in time to watch someone walk away with a six inch Italian Subway sub. I was about halfway through my soggy prison food when I remembered that I brought money with me. I walked over to the counter and ordered myself a sandwich. While I was waiting, I turned around and watched my friends at the table eating their equally disappointing meals. When the lunch lady came back with my sandwich, I ordered 7 more and threw them all on the table. "THROW THOSE SHITTY LUNCHES IN THE FUCKING GARBAGE, FRIENDS!" Everyone's eyes lit up as they thanked me and tore through the wax paper. I felt like a fucking king, not because I had a ton of money to toss around, but because I realized I could make people happy with it. It didn't seem like a waste to me, especially if I could enjoy the spoils with friends.

My spending got more and more outlandish as the months went by. If someone would hit me up for lunch money, I would hand them a $20. If my buddy had a birthday coming up, I would buy him the expensive video game that he wouldn't shut up about for weeks prior. On the weekends, I would go to Wal-Mart with friends and buy ridiculous remote control cars that we would set on fire and launch off of ramps, spattering the driveway with burning plastic until they stopped working. I bought a gas powered remote control helicopter, taped fireworks to it and purposefully made it climb to an altitude that it would lose radio signal at, just so we could watch the rotor cut out, sending it spiraling to the pavement and exploding, after which we all laughed and screamed "AIRWOOOOLLLFFFF!!!" I brought my best friends to an arcade and gave them $100 each to blow on Killer Instinct and skee-ball. There was no amount of teenage boredom that money couldn't cure, and there was no amount of money that I wouldn't spend to cure it. Fuck responsibility, we were having the time of our lives.

A few months down the road I was finally starting to run out of money, so I started returning some of the useless shit I bought at Wal-Mart for refunds. Hell, I even returned shit that I didn't buy at Wal-Mart. at Wal-Mart, I found out, it was possible to bring the charred remains of my Airwolf helicopter--without a receipt, box or instructions--to the customer service counter and get my money back. They didn't even have a SKU number for a toy that came remotely close to the description of the one I brought in, but some knuckle dragger just handed me cash and I walked out the door. When I got into my friend's big brother's car, I realized that I had actually purchased the helicopter at Toy's-R-Us. I started visiting Wal-Mart weekly to make returns, clinging to the dwindling remnants of false security that was the few hundred dollars left in my little safe.

The day finally came when I was forced to spend the last $5 of Aunt Laura's fortune, which I reluctantly handed over to the lunch lady in exchange for one more delicious Subway sandwich and a frosty can of Coke. When I sat down to eat, I accidentally knocked my soda over onto my sandwich. Even a half retarded 15 year old kid could catch the symbolism in that set of events. I could almost hear Aunt Laura cackling in the distance, partly because the defeated look on my face must have been priceless, but mostly because she knew that she had taught me a valuable lesson from the grave that I would take with me to mine.

"Don't be an asshole with your money, bub."

Posted by KungFu Mike at 6:15 PM

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What a great end to a story that had me laughing, crying, laughing again, and making my neighbors wonder why a skinny whiteboy is so loud at 2am.

I love how you turned the story into a morality tale at the end.

Posted by: at February 23, 2007 06:59 PM

What a mix of satisfying and trajic. That's what I'd say if it was fiction.

As it is, I can recognize many rich/poor scenarios from this that I've experienced myself. Smoking in socialist Canada does that to a man. Hell, buying beer for friends tonight kind of qualifies... since I just got my un-earned socialist money.

Keep 'em coming.

Posted by: Ironman at February 24, 2007 05:15 AM

This is a great story! I grew up kind of the same way, living right out side of Philadelphia and kind of being picked on for being the "poor" one also. Lucky you got to stumble upon money. Glad you had a good time with it all though. Keep up the stories, they are awesome!

Posted by: Kimberly at February 24, 2007 10:30 AM

I'm glad you got to keep a major part of the money that was cool. Like you said though, it kinda sucked that you didn't have an authority to turn to for help in truly managing the money for something important later on. At least you had fun and made memories.

Posted by: Wayland at February 24, 2007 12:33 PM

Best story I've seen on here- much better than ripping on random chicks who IM you.

Posted by: at February 24, 2007 01:09 PM

This reminds me of when my brothers and I spent our teens living the latch-key lower-middle class life under a single parent. One time in particular, we decided that we were tired of the raggedy, talking (the heels would flip when you walked) shoes we had and decided to take a stand and save our money up so we could buy new ones. Saving is definitely hard for teens.

We finally came up with a large enough sum of money to buy what we wanted only for it to be snatched up by dear old mom, who promised us she'd buy the shoes. Long story short, she didn't buy us the shoes. We had to wait like we always did for that certain time of year (income tax time was a holiday for the lower middle class) when there was enough to buy them, and settle for the mediocre ones we were given. Reebok BK's all around, yay.

Posted by: Tone at February 25, 2007 08:20 AM

In response to what Chris said...better yes, but don't stopping ripping the IMs.

Posted by: Wayland at February 25, 2007 01:56 PM

and now you're in LA watching a bunch of assholes spend money they don't have

Posted by: twistfunk at February 26, 2007 12:44 AM

I remember your "scratch-card winnings" stories and had no idea you were in fact using your back-up story.

Great story Mike.

Posted by: Zach at February 26, 2007 11:08 AM

This story rocked!!!! Please keep doing stuff like this. You are really good.

Posted by: at February 27, 2007 07:14 PM

When I was 24 I blew 17 grand of "free money" in a year on booze, food, gadgets, and a car I couldn't afford. So yeah, I know the feeling.

Posted by: at March 1, 2007 01:58 PM

I love this story.

Posted by: Chris at March 6, 2007 01:00 PM

I had a story like that in recent years actually. I moved a trust fund I had set up since I was born to a new bank, and got all the interest from it from my old bank which ended up being about $6,500... Being a jobless teenage girl it was gone almost as quickly as I had it, sweartagod it's depressing how happy money can make you. I'd buy the most ridiculous things!!

Posted by: K at January 15, 2008 05:08 AM

Amazing story. Definitely one of your better ones.

Posted by: kakutogi at June 30, 2008 09:53 PM

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