29 March 2012

For Deposit Only: My Life in Checks, Part I

Yesterday, I discovered two boxes of canceled checks dating to when I opened my first bank account. It was August of 1997, and after having screwed off all summer since graduating high school, the time had come for me to at least take a job since I wasn't going to college. I went to work at Walmart, unloading trucks on third shift. I had the presence of mind to diligently use the memo line on each check (with rare exception), so more than mere records of transactions nearing 15 years old, this cache is a sort of archive of a specific period of my early adulthood. Here are a handful of observations, notable purchases and anecdotes triggered by my find.
I've blurred out any relevant information. Also: I HAD JAMES BOND CHECKS!
23 August 1997 - [My Mom] - $82.00
Somehow, it seems fitting that the first check I ever wrote was to my mother. It was a counter-check, since I had just opened my account and was waiting for my first real checks to arrive in the mail. (Counter-checks have since fallen out of favor; they were sort of like fill-in-the-blank generic check templates.) Strange amount, though!

27 August 1997 - BMG Classical Music Service - $17.32 - "Handling (7 CD's)"
With my fourth check, I joined BMG! I joined BMG Classical because I would still have access to their mainstream catalog, but also their classical stuff. Confession: I was only really interested in the movie soundtracks that were part of BMG Classical. You picked out seven CDs, paid for one and got three more free, and you agreed to buy however many more at full price over the next however many years. As best I recall, my introductory selections were:

Waking Up the Neighbours, Bryan Adams [I owned this on cassette previously]
Seal, Seal
Blue Clear Sky, George Strait <--- I still have this exact CD!
The Woman in Me, Shania Twain
Space Jam soundtrack

Not sure what the other two were, but if I can identify them, I'll revise this list.

11 September 1997 - various
A friend of mine in his senior year of high school showed up at my house early that morning, saying he was having a rough day and just needed to get away for a bit. We promptly decided that the therapy he needed was going shopping for Star Wars toys. Now, you must understand that at this time, each wave of Hasbro's newly-resurrected Star Wars line was gobbled up by speculators and scalpers within moments of hitting the sales floor. These vultures got there while the rooster was hitting his snooze button. You had to be very competitive and quite lucky to get your grubby paws on those toys. Off we went, starting with the Walmart in LaGrange, then off through Louisville. I won't embarrass myself with the details, but I will say that my total expenditures for the day are obscene by any standards. I hadn't been employed two whole months. Whatever. It was fun, and my friend and I still recall that day fondly. It was an important building block in our friendship and for that, it was worth every penny.

2 October 1997 - Walmart - $36.21 - "G. Strait Box CD"
Another friend had lured me back into listening to country music through George Strait's 1997 album, Carrying Your Love with Me. I began exploring King George's discography and quickly I became enamored enough that I accepted his challenge to own all of it. I still have this four-disc Strait Out of the Box. There are numerous other checks written to acquire more Strait, many of them to BMG Music Club.

8 November 1997 - ACT - $20.00 - "ACT Test"
It didn't take me very long to realize I didn't want to unload trucks the rest of my life but it took me a while longer to decide what I did want to do with it. I thought about my aptitudes and interests, and eventually I realized I ought to go into teaching history. History is, essentially, just storytelling and I love telling stories. Step #1: Take the ACT test that all my classmates took while we were still in high school. I didn't study for it and I only took it once. I'd like to think my math score would have been higher if I had taken a practice test, or taken the ACT while I was still an active student but the truth is, I was a terrible math student in high school and I don't know it would have mattered. Confession: I got through much of the science section by asking myself which of the multiple choice answers sounded most convincing if spoken by Mr. Spock. I'm not advising that as your Plan A, but as Plan Bs go, it seemed to work well enough.

25 November 1997 - Wal-Mart - $7.52 - "Sevens"
The new Garth Brooks album went on sale just past midnight, and I was on my first 15 minute break of the night at the same time. I clocked out and flew across the store to the electronics department, just in time to see the floor display revealed. How old school was I? I bought my copy on cassette. How much do I love Sevens? I still have the cassette. Also, I'm listening to it on CD as I type this. It is my favorite album by anyone, ever and that is not hyperbole meant to amuse you.

28 November 1997 - various
My first ever Black Friday outing, with my three core friends. I'll have to defer to their memories as much as the narrative constructed by the canceled checks, but we left way early and went just about everywhere we could think to go that day. I don't know what it says about me that my clearest specific memory is of Target putting out tables full of free donuts. But mostly, I just remember the sheer fun of the four of us caught in the frenzy of the shopping. What stores were near us? Which ones were opened already and which ones hadn't opened yet? We had some ideas, we gleaned information from other shoppers but we mostly just improvised. For me, that has always been the "spirit" of Black Friday--young guys with nary a plan in the world, just bouncing from hoopla to hoopla for the sheer hell of it. No one getting trampled, no one getting cussed out or pushing through lines or any of the unpleasantness that we tend to associate with the busiest shopping day of the year. I'm sure those things happened that day, too, but we were having way too much fun to notice or care. Every November, I wish I could recreate that magical morning with my friends.

5 December 1997 - Book Barn - $13.36 - "Grinch 40th"
The first Friday each December is Light-Up LaGrange, our town's variation on the annual festivities that take place in many communities and cities each Christmas season. Well, my friends and I happened to discover that the microphone and speakers for the main ceremonies were still active and abandoned. Me being me, we ran to the Book Barn whereupon I purchased the 40th anniversary edition of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Then we ran back to the courthouse lawn, where I seized the neglected microphone and did an impromptu dramatic reading of the story for a handful of amused onlookers. I had performed the book that December and the one previous for preschoolers in the school system and I enjoyed doing it. Then, we whisked me off to work just as the snow began to really fall.

I still own that copy of the book, plus the original copy that's been in my family since (at least) my childhood.

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