By Trish Kelly
My life was nearly ruined today. Okay, that’s a little strong, I guess, but I had a shock that nearly upset the delicate balance keeping the obsessive neck and neck with the compulsive portion of my personality.
It’s a high stress time. I haven’t had a paying job in six weeks. I’m living off my credit card, and my EI claim won’t be assessed for another two days. I’m trying to keep my head level. I’m catching up on my e-mail, brainstorming about how to get the stains out of the porcelain in the claw foot tub, and taking brisk walks to my post office box.
There’s a wishful part of my brain that thinks maybe something is going to arrive in that mailbox that will save me. A redirected GST cheque I totally forgot about will arrive, or my senile grandmother will decide that it’s my birthday (again) and send me twenty discreet dollars.
I signed up for a mailbox when I was seventeen. I had just started publishing my zine Random Thoughts, under the pen name Miscellaneous. I was anonymous and very excited about my knack for secrecy. The box was only seven dollars a month and if I called after noon, someone would actually check to see if there was any mail for me.
Box 33 holds good memories for me. I’ve even made some friends on the other side of the Plexiglas. Dave and Patrick were there when I got my letter of acceptance to school. They saw the look on my face when I got my first income tax refund.
Few of the Money Mart clerks from my late teens are still working at the East Broadway location. I like to think they’ve gone on to bigger and better Money Marts.
There is no longer a number plate on Box 33. It fell off about two years ago, and I like the fact that only me and the staff know which box is number 33.
Today when I opened the square door with no number, there was no mail. Though a cheque would have been nice, a day without mail is not exactly a rare occurrence. But the box was not empty. A large computer generated note that read NO MAIL IN THIS BOX PLEASE! covered the bottom of the box.
I closed the door and slipped into the lineup. When it was my turn, I pressed the note to the Plexiglas.
“What does this mean?!” I begged the woman who was not Dave or Patrick.
“Your box has been closed.”
“But, but,” I stuttered.
She asked my name and consulted a large black binder.
“Your box was due on August first,” she said with the deadpan voice required when one’s job is doling out money to desperate people.
“Do you take Visa?” I managed, though my chin was quivering. I was calculating how many months I already owed, and how much closer I was about to come to reaching my credit card’s limit.
Of course they don’t take credit cards at Money Mart. Credit cards are for people who have credit ratings, who have relationships with financial institutions! Money Mart does not cater to upwardly mobiles like myself who are just waiting for the EI to kick in!
I returned after a trip to the ATM for a cash advance and entered the line again.
“Your box has already been closed,” another woman who was not Dave or Patrick told me.
Again, the stoic Money Mart countenance stared back at me.
I was panicking. I wanted to explain to the lady, I’ve had this box for eight years! I’ve published twenty-five booklets with the contact address listed! I’ve brought your coworkers chocolates at Valentine’s Day and fruitcake at Christmas!
“But what does that mean?” I pleaded.
Stoic moved to impatience. “You didn’t pay, so we closed the box.”
My mind leapt to the new owner of box 33. Some creepy yuppie from the lofts on East 2nd Avenue would rent it out for the design company he started when his dotcom went under and he’d renovate using the Swedish design principles explained in Ikea’s “Think Cubicly” campaign.
He’d last two years before moving into an office in Yaletown.
Fruitcake at Christmas! My first love letter from an army girl in Texas! Did these things mean nothing to Money Mart?
I pressed my face up to the glass so the clerk could see my desperation better. With my face against the glass, the expanse of eye burning yellow wall behind the clerk came into focus.
I remembered where I was.
“Does that mean I can’t give you the money?” I asked.
“Of course you can,” she said with a retail smile.
I slid my cash advance from Visa through the small slot at the bottom of the glass, and she reopened my account, and passed me a receipt for six months’ worth of mailbox time. It had a personalized footer which read, “See you again, Trisha #33!”
I guess the day was salvaged. But it is the end of an era. A few years ago, when the provincial government decided to crack down on welfare and UI fraud, Money Mart changed its mailbox policy. Suddenly, it was not okay to get mail addressed to Miscellaneous. They wanted a complete list of all mail recipients for each box. I gave the clerk a complete list of everyone who used my box — Random Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Trish Kelly, Trisha Chornyj, The Make Out Club, Riot Grrrl Press, High Phukovsky, and other names I made up just to prove how silly this new policy was.
“I’ll need to see ID for all these people,” Patrick said.
“I don’t have ID for all these names!” I said.
“I’m sorry, I need proof that they’re real people.” He shrugged.
“But they aren’t real people, Patrick.”
No one ever tried to send a cheque to Miscellaneous. And I never collected Unemployment Insurance under the name Hugh Phukovsky. The box filled with invites to book launches and the erratic birthday cards from my Granny, made out in the name I was born with.
There were some questions I was afraid to ask, like when the box was due again? Had I lost my seniority? How many assumed names were acceptable under the terms of my new tenancy?
I was too shaken to ask. But I promised myself, my first pay cheque, I’m paying for as many years as Money Mart will let me because I don’t ever want to get that note again.