When I was growing up, my Mom always told me to stash a $20 bill somewhere in my wallet. This was called “mad money.” I never understood the term mad. I thought I could use it if I were stranded somewhere. Perhaps “stranded money” or “pissed off enough at one’s companions money” doesn’t have the same ring? Truth be told, if I were stranded anywhere in the Bay Area, I would have called Mom to fetch me, and risked the ensuing ass-chewing. A $20 bill wouldn’t have helped me much because it wouldn’t fit into the slot of a pay phone. You may now explain to your children what a pay phone is.
Back in the days before cell phones (egads), Uber apps, social media, kids being showered with credit cards at a young age, kids being handed their own cell phones when they could walk…we had to be more resourceful. Our parents, for the most part, were less helicopter and more “get the hell out of the house.” As long as my grades were good, (and I wasn’t permitted to define “good” in that sense), I was given a fair amount of freedom. When my grades were bad, I was grounded. Not much grey area there, but I learned to live with the rules. Had I been permitted to determine what constituted a good grade my freedoms would never have been restricted because of the errant B- on a test. I kid you not. As wily as I became in later years, I’m surprised I didn’t just go for the gusto and tank tests if the end result would have been the same. Always go for panache is my current motto. However, young Mari had a tinge of obsessive compulsive personality disorder percolating merrily away and the thought of deliberately getting a horrible grade never occurred to me. I knew that I needed to move out of my dysfunctional family abode, and the only way I knew to do that was to go to college and then get a grown up job. Stat. No matter how wonderful I was, universities were not going to be flinging open their doors for me if I consciously got bad grades just to be spiteful. Institutions of higher learning are funny that way.
I digress. Quelle surprise.
So back to mad money. Mom tucked the occasional $20 bill into my purse or pocket. When I got older, I discovered her subterfuge and generally gave the money back to her. She’d pout, try again, I’d assert my independence, refuse the moolah, and our little dance would play itself out until Mom called Uncle. Then, when my back was turned, she’d sneak the cash into something where I’d find it later.
The first time I tried to assert my independence and run away from home I was unsuccessful, since Mom had not slipped me some greenbacks. I was also four years old, so she hadn’t thought that I’d need mad money then. Oh how wrong she was! The upside, for Mom, was that I would not have tried to refuse the banknotes when I was plotting my escape before first grade. She certainly could have consoled herself knowing that, though her wee miscreant daughter was on the lam, she (being me) had a $20 stowed in my hobo pack. Okay, yes, I thought that running away from home at age four was a capital idea. I’d watched enough cartoons to know that the truly sophisticated fugitive wrapped up all their worldly belongings into a large bandanna which was then tied onto the end of a stick or tree branch. I imitated this masterful method of stowing my crap then marched authoritatively down the driveway, turned right to stomp down the street, and then was stymied at the corner. I was not permitted to cross the street alone at that age, and was faced with a dilemma. How do I run away without crossing a street, fer crying out loud? If I’d had mad money, I would have found a way to summon a taxi to take me somewhere. Likely to my grandparents’ home which was only a couple of miles or so from mine. All I knew was that I couldn’t get there without crossing a street or two or five. Now: I would have called Uber on my iPhone, which my overindulgent and helicopter parents would have thrust into my grimy hands when I stopped teething, and I would have been in Disneyland before my Mom knew what hit her. Then: I stomped sullenly around the block a few times until Mom yelled at me to get inside for dinner.
Again I digress. You can’t possibly be surprised.
Later in my pre-adult life, when I wasn’t grounded, I did enjoy some freedom from parental meddling. Although I did not try to run away after I turned twelve or so, my Mom kept one squinty eye permanently focused on me. I would have been way ahead of my time if I’d called her Mad Eye Mooney. Mad Eye Mommy would have had a nice ring, but I was not that forward-thinking. Neither did I want to be whacked. My younger brother gave me a run for my money, so in my mid- to late-teens, they were more intent on figuring out what the hell he was doing. I didn’t care except to realize that they didn’t mind so much what I was doing. As long as I kept my grades within acceptable standards.
Why else would otherwise over-protective parents let their seventeen-year-old daughter to go Todd Rundgren concerts at Winterland? What WERE they thinking?! My bestest high school buddy and I were permitted to drive ourselves into the City to attend the first of a few TR concerts we would eventually see together. We used to joke that one could scrape the walls at Winterland and get high off the residue. Yes, it was that skanky. I didn’t care. I was full on in my Todd Rundgren obsession, and didn’t care where I could see him. The Utopia Ra concert was one for the ages, complete with a massive pyramid set. Because I was such a TR devotee, I dyed my hair with food coloring. If that look was good enough for Todd in the 1970s, by Akhenaton, it was good enough for me! I didn’t realize that food coloring applied to white-blonde hair would not wash out quickly. I awakened the next morning, ears still ringing (bliss!) and jumped into the shower, only to realize that my hair held onto the vivid primary colors. I was mortified. My parents would surely never let me go see another concert again. So under the guise of my well-established quirky personality, I donned a Tyrolean hat for two weeks. They never even questioned me. My brother must have really been behaving poorly.
I had a $20 bill in my pocket, but was not mad enough to use it at that seminal event. I was enthralled by my freedom and by the music scene. I was a bit perplexed about why my parents let me gallivant about the countryside, permanently destroying my hearing by going to concerts, but not perplexed enough to question them. I practically lived at the Old Waldorf – so much so, that I knew a couple of the bouncers who would let me in for the early show, then stay for the late show without buying a ticket. I was not 21. Hell, I was not 18 when I discovered the Old Waldorf, but that didn’t seem to concern anyone or dissuade me. The acoustics were not fantastic, but it was a cozy, intimate venue. I saw Todd several times. I was in heaven. I also saw Elvin Bishop, Greg Kihn, Moon Martin and the Ravens (so fun), the Ramones, The Beat, The Tubes, and the Talking Heads. Feeling brave, we also went to the Mabuhay Theater, and Bimbos 365 Club, although not as frequently. I attributed my new-found freedom to my Mad Money. I was immortal and indestructible as long as I had that magic $20 tucked somewhere on my person. Probably I should have realized my parents didn’t give a rat’s ass where I was or what I was doing, since I had solidified my future in the adult realm by getting into a good school.
Once I proved my parents right about good grades and was well ensconced at Berkeley, I ventured to numerous clubs and musical venues. I admit that my musical tastes were not what one would normally attribute to a sorority girl. I kind of feel badly for dragging several sisters to Keystone Berkeley and seedier venues for New Wave music. I loved the Old Waldorf and Keystone Klub in San Francisco so much that I’d persuade them to accompany me to concerts across the Bay. Sometimes even on school nights. We were so brave! Brave, and armed with mad money. Nothing could harm us. Thankfully, nothing ever did.
Speaking of mad money and Berkeley… There was one occasion when I was happy that I followed Mom’s instructions. I was mostly a serial monogamist in college. I had two long-term boyfriends (not simultaneously) who were really great guys. I’m still friends with one, actually. We just were not each others’ destinies. I knew in college that, as much as I liked a committed relationship and later dates with a couple of smart, fun, success-oriented men, marriage in my 20s was not in the cards. When my boyfriend of nearly two years broke up with me in my senior year, I was initially devastated. I got over it, however. I dated a charming and handsome Navy P-3 pilot for a little while. He wanted to get married, so I jettisoned him. Strangely enough, we remained friends for years. Then, I met a fraternity guy who was attentive and wealthy, so I accepted his invitation for a date. That went well and we went out a few more times. I can’t remember his name, so we’ll call him Sylvester. He was free to spend his daddy’s money which amused me. We went to Chez Panisse and other high-brow eateries. No Fondue Fred’s for poseur Sylvester! Truth be told, I much preferred my evenings at Fondue Fred’s, but at the time I was happy to benefit from this asshat’s willingness to take me to otherwise unattainable restaurants.
Sylvester asked me out to dinner one evening, and said we were going to The City. That meant San Francisco. I was game. I didn’t know our ultimate destination, but how bad could it be? When he picked me up, he headed southeast, not toward San Francisco. I asked if he was lost, and if so did he need me to drive? He was not amused. I cracked myself up, and should then have demanded to be let out of the car. A few moments later, he pulled up to a massive, Revival style edifice in Piedmont. Reacting more to my ladylike outburst of “where the FECK are we,” than to the incredulous look I had on my face, he informed me that we were at his childhood home so we could have drinks and hors d’oeuvres with his parents. Mind you, I didn’t even know this guy knew what hors d’oeuvres were, let alone how to pronounce the term. I was intrigued.
We were ushered in by a domestic (his mother’s term, not mine). We sat in the formal living room and the door-opening domestic became a bar tender. Magic! Huzzah! A tasteful selection of hors d’oeuvres appeared, then I was asked what I wanted to drink. I asked for a glass of wine. I should have asked for a PBR in the can. Or a martini. Sylvester’s father was vapid and rather pleasant. I was dressed nicely and could hold my own in most conversations with grown-ups (thank you, Mom). I relaxed a bit and believed I was even charming the paternal unit. Then, Sylvester’s uppity, judgmental, nouveau-riche harpy mother swooped in for the kill. Clearly, I was not good enough for ittums. Fine with me. I didn’t want any relationship with her mama’s boy son, I just liked being wined and dined. Madame Snot-Uppington was rude, unpleasant, and condescending. I could deal with rude – I was a guest in her home and was raised to be polite to my elders. However, I grew tired of her looking down her beak at me, so I decided to play her game. And win. Mme. Snot-Uppington was not only nouveau-riche, but overwhelmed by labels, high society, and other trappings of the upper class to which she was not born.
My Mom did, in fact, have an enviable pedigree, but no money by the time I came into the picture. Her evil consort, the late Fulldemerde made sure that he spent as much as possible, then used his powers as an attorney for evil, not good, to have everything else signed over to him. No worries – even if my beloved Mom had money, it was hers not mine (it certainly wasn’t Fulldemerde’s but he didn’t get that memo. Turns out Mom needed mad money more than anyone else did). Mom did teach me some valuable social skills. Namely, don’t let the envious wannabe bastards get you down.
As luck would have it, Mom’s family was well-known and well-established in the Piedmont area. They were actually THE EXACT FAMILY that Mme. Snot-Uppington aspired to meet and with whom she desperately wanted to rub elbows (and whose arses she longed to kiss). I had zero contact with that branch of the family. I may try to trace the branches of the family tree in a future blog-missive; for now, suffice it to say that even though I had nothing to do with the society-entrenched name that Snot-Uppington craved, she did not know that particular detail. I could take no more of her snooty derision. I sweetly and innocently informed her that my very family lived nearby. It took a few more careful and strategic comments, but I baited the hook. When she finally could stand her bad self no longer, she icily asked me what my family’s name was. (I rarely divulged this information, mind you. There is a significant building at Cal bestowed / built by and named for my family. I did not need to be associated with that name, nor launch into the detailed explanation as to why that had nothing to do with me). I feigned discomfort then launched the B-bomb. The room fell silent. Even the door-opening-turned-bar-tending domestic dropped the tray of drinks he was carrying. I smiled then reminded Sylvester that we had dinner reservations. Mme. Snot-Uppington’s thoroughly whipped husband told me I was delightful. I wished he’d grow a pair. His demon wife turned immediately into a simpering sycophant and begged me to visit her soon. I declined.
I was relieved to be out of there, sad that the butler dropped my drink, and I foolishly believed that the worst of the evening was behind me. Sylvester then told me we had reservations at Trader Vic’s. I looked forward to a massive rum-based concoction served in a campy Tiki themed container, and platters of Polynesian pupus. Sylvester owed me. I was going to have appetizers, the most expensive entrée, and a flaming dessert. Damn it. How dare he take me into the hyena’s den without warning? Sylvester, it turns out, went to see his parents to get more money; his allowance had run dry. I guess I successfully spent the infusion of funds he just wrangled out of his neutered father at Trader Vic’s. I had no remorse. After dinner, we drove on some surface streets, rather than heading to the Bay Bridge. I expected to barreling towards Berkeley. When Sylvester pulled up to a vacant parking lot, overlooking the water, I glanced at him then let loose with a typical invective. “Where the FECK are we and why have you parked? Are you stupid enough to have run out of gas? After the hell I endured with your hateful mother, I now have to deal with this?!” If only it were that simple.
Sylvester informed me then and there that he’d spent plenty of money on wining and dining and he expected something in return. Huh? He tried to make his case; I was furious. Firstly, I would not pleasure him or anyone else in a car. A car?! Sumbitch. Holy Hell NO – his mother may have done something so base, but I would not. Then, I informed him that our relationship would never take the next step (or gigantic LEAP) to intimacy under any circumstances. Did he really want me to explain my reasoning? He did (arrogant twatopotamus that he was). I explained. Then I asked him what he spent on dinner. I whipped out my checkbook and wrote him a check for exactly half that amount. After that, when he was sputtering that I didn’t understand, I told him I understood completely and demanded that he take me home. I was irate. I am thankful that he didn’t try to overpower me while we were parked in an isolated area. He was a wimpy guy, so I’m sure I could have beaten the snot out of him. Nonetheless, I had just done my nails and was happy not to have to test that theory. Once we were back in civilized San Francisco, I let myself out of the car at a stop light. Since we were in the general area of the Embarcadero Center, I was comfortable. I worked there over a few summers; I spent too much time at the Old Waldorf. I was in familiar territory, and Sylvester was not. I ducked into an open restaurant that happened to have a nice, dark bar. Kids – don’t try this trick. It was foolish. Bravado is not often successful. This time it was. After I was sure that Sylvester was long gone, I asked the bartender to summon a cab.
I was in a nice silk dress and high heels, and carrying a ridiculously small purse. A purse that was large enough for my house key, my lipstick, my checkbook (why, I wonder now, did I put that in the wee handbag), my ID, and my mad money. I had no credit card. Cell phones had not been invented. But, I had cash. Dipshit had an unsigned check for my share of the dinner but I had enough cash to get back across the Bay and into the safety of my sorority house. Mom was right. One should never, ever leave home without mad money.
Since then I have always squirreled some cash away somewhere. Because of this particularly traumatic experience, I have kind of tended toward overkill on the “hide money” spectrum. I started by concealing $20 bills in various handbags, wallets, and coat pockets. When living overseas, I would stash large denominations of the appropriate currency in my wallet. Again, this was pre-technology-as-we-know-it-today. I felt more secure when I knew I could be in charge of my own destiny if a date went bad or if I were suddenly stranded somewhere. An unplanned upside was finding crumpled bills much later. When said wrinkled currency was lire, Egyptian pounds, rupees, Botswana pula, drachmae or basically not US greenbacks, my reaction tended more to mirth than financial satisfaction. But still…
Fast forward to the present day. We have smart phones. We have myriad ways to reach out and touch someone, to summon an Uber, to cope with any situation. And yet, I am firmly rooted in what Mom taught me. Mad money rules supreme and can save the day. You don’t need it until you need it! Hunky Hubby believes that one should have a $100 bill secreted somewhere (inflation, don’t you know). Hunky Hubby and I both have cell phone cases with pukas for credit cards and whatnot. The whatnot pukas in my phone case are for mad money. I also have a shoe box somewhere that I use to collect $1 bills. After sufficient time, this can become a veritable fortune. Or enough in HH’s case to finance his he-man-woman-haters weeklong golf outing to Hilton Head every year. In my case, I just toss dollar bills into the box and hope that someday I have enough to buy a Porsche. Hah!
Did I digress again? Yes, indeedy, I did.
Once again…back to mad money.
Hunky Hubby and I recently had to replace our cell phones. I emptied what was in the case of my old phone, lest I had to swap it for the new mini-computer-web browser-camera-that-can-also-make-calls. I dug around in the credit card slots, behind business cards and found some mad money. Hunky Hubby looked over at me, eyes wide, and asked me just how much money I thought I had to squirrel away for a rainy day. Apparently the magic number was $650. Yes, I had $650 in my cell phone case. I guess I was ready in the event I was suddenly overcome by a mighty anger. I also had a couple hundred dollars in main wallet and my smaller auxiliary card wallet. Then Hunky Hubby asked me if I still some of the $100 bills left from when I sold my 1974 VW Thing. I gave him my best Mona Lisa smile. He shook his head. I told him that I’d learned a valuable lesson from my brilliant Mom. Then I told him to thoroughly search every wallet, every purse, every pocket, every seemingly-innocuous shoe box in the house when I croak.
My new cell phone case, in case you are wondering, does not have $650 in it! I may or may not have hoarded little wads of various currencies in numerous other places. I have found that it is better to be prepared and independent than mad. If I’m mad, I can make a break for it. Mad money rules. Mom was right.
25 March 2018