Rags to Less Filthy Rags

The Time I Had To Hawk My Souvenir $5 Canadian Bill To Buy Enough Gas to Get to the Used Record Store to Sell my CDs to Buy More Gas to Get to Work the Next Day

Have I mentioned yet that I am now gainfully employed? No? Well, I am gainfully employed. There: I’ve mentioned it.

And have I mentioned how grateful I am to have a fucking job? Answer: really fucking grateful.

Not that being unemployed doesn’t have its perks. Like, umm…. Well, o.k., “perks” isn’t really the right word… Maybe… “quirks”…

Such as this little episode, which I was recently thinking about…….

So you know how it is when you’re on your last dollar and wondering how you’re going to make it ’til the next paycheck? Or, rather, how you’re going to make it until the next loan or miraculous discovery of a bag of money? And you’re digging through the pockets of all your old coats and pants and pulling up the cushions of not only the couch but every chair in the house in search of enough change to buy a loaf of bread and maybe a 2-liter of Coke and — if you really dig — a pack of cigarettes?

Well, on this particular occasion, we didn’t find enough change to buy a Snickers, let alone a pack of Luckies. (I think we had already resorted to the desperate nickel and dime search earlier in the week.) And we desperately needed to put gas in the car in order to get to work the next day and etc., lest our situation become all the more desperate….

The logical question that comes to mind in this situation is: What do I have to sell?

Once in a while I’ll realize I actually have a lot of unnecessary electronic equipment lying around — extra hard drives full of digital video — mainly recordings of CSPAN and History Channel that will never be watched, from back when I had a Tivo-type-thing for my computer. A few minutes on CraigsList and I’m in the money! (Not MUCH money, mind you, but enough to eat.)

No such luck this day. Aside from selling my computer — the sole source of income for me at this point (I was scraping together a few bucks here and there doing freelance graphic and web design — on those rare occasions when people would actually pay me…) — or my car — actually, no, we had already sold that… Or my kidneys…..

The next obvious thing to sell, of course: CDs and DVDs.

After all, you can’t whine about being broke when you’ve got a stack of these taking up space on your shelves. (The shelves themselves, of course, would be the next thing to be sold…)

Fortunately, there was a little independent music shop near our apartment that bought and sold used albums — not for much, of course, but when you’re desperate and hungry, $2 for a CD you haven’t listened to since Bush’s pappy was in the White House seems pretty damn good. (By the way, that’s not meant to be a comical hyperbole, but an accurate estimate.)

So we begin the search: finding those 5 or 6 CDs and/or DVDs which A.) do not suck, and B.) [this is the really tricky part] do not look like they’ve been used as cat toys, coasters, and/or hockey pucks.

Then the inevitable debate ensues: “Is it wrong to sell that which was given to me as a gift? And, more to the point, given to me as a gift by you?”


At some point we come to an agreement: “O.K.: I don’t mind if we sell the Tom Waits CD you gave me for my birthday, if you don’t mind if we sell the Dimitri Martin DVD I bought you for YOUR birthday.”…..

Most of the CDs I still possess are somewhat rare and obscure — which is why I haven’t ripped them into iTunes and sold them already. So I’m hesitant, but… well, I’m desperate.

So I toss them all into a paper grocery sack and head to the local record shop — a hippy-ridden store called “Know Name Records” in which the reek of patchouli is so pungent that you will literally choke from the god-awful smell upon exiting your vehicle in the parking lot. Once actually IN the store, well, god help you. (Let’s just say you don’t want to browse the racks without a gas mask…)

I pretend to browse for used CDs while waiting for the hippy behind the counter to examine my wares and determine their resale value.

He calls me over: the moment of truth: …….. “Sorry, I think we’ll have to pass on these.”


These are my rarest and most valuable CDs! I’m selling these only out of sheer desperation! Don’t you underSTAND?!

He does not.

Back in the car, on the way back home, to work out Plan B. (Hoping I have enough gas left in the car to get back home to work out Plan B, that is….)

“Those fucking hippies have no goddam taste in music,” I say as I (thankfully) return home.

“They didn’t buy ANY of them?”

“Fuck no.”

All is not lost, however: there’s another local music store, “The Electric Fetus,” which sells all sorts of great and eclectic music, including lots of local bands, and also buys and sells used CDs. I KNOW they’ll buy my John Zorn and Secret Chiefs 3 and Mike Patton and my Miles Davis box set… The only question is: Do we have enough gas to get there?……..

It seems extremely unlikely. When that little “out of gas” light on the dash starts flashing, you have to ask yourself: “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well? DO ya?” There could be a gallon in there, or there could be just fumes — it’s difficult to say……..

Plan C…..

I remember that I have a couple secret boxes downstairs filled with random stuff — old rolls of undeveloped film, notes and post cards from years ago, keep sakes and suchlike…. I rummage……..

Yes! There it is: the Canadian $5 bill I’ve had since I was about 6 or something, from some trip my family took when I was little! I’ve had this since I can remember. Used to think it was worth something — because it was unique and interesting to me — then later thought it was worth something still — because it was from this trip and had “sentimental value” — and now I KNOW it’s worth something: $5 fucking goddam [Canadian] dollars, to be exact! YES! That’s at least a gallon of gas!!

Shit is lookin good. All I have to do is buy some gas with this, then head to the “Electric Fetus” and sell my wares, then use that money to buy some more gas, and we’re SET (for a day or two, anyway…).

With great optimism I head out the door.

For some reason I suspect that paying with Canadian currency might cause trouble. So I decide to go to the nearest gas station I know of where you can pump the gas first, THEN pay. I put in less than $5, and head inside.

They do not accept Canadian currency. FUCK.

Now what? I’ve already taken their gas.

“This is all I have,” I explain. “You can keep the change — I just ran out of gas, and this is all I’ve got.”

“Sorry, we just can’t take it.”

The guy next to him seems as confused and annoyed as I am: “Seriously? We don’t?”

“Nope, says right here.” (Pointing at a little note taped to the counter.)

“But it’s worth more than American.”

(Guy shrugs.)

(Other guy shrugs.)


O.K., I’ve got the gas in my car. I can now make it to the Electric Fetus…….

“I guess I can try to go find a bank and exchange it…”

“Yeah, you’ll have to, I guess.”

“If there’s still a bank open…”


“Or, I could… If I can just go talk to my wife, I think she’s got some cash — I just — this is all I have on me…”


“Well, yeah, but, like…”

“I mean I’d leave this, obviously.”


Finally he agrees that if I leave the Canadian $5 bill, I can leave and come back later with some REAL money, and then we’ll set things right.

Thing is, there IS a bank open — a Wells Fargo, and they’re less than a block away. I run over there, confident now that things are gonna work out…

Turns out, they do not exchange Canadian currency.

That’s right, you read that correctly: the FUCKING BANK will not exchange Canadian currency for American currency.

Why? Don’t bloody fucking ask me. They just don’t.

(It is possible that they will exchange large amounts, just not a single $5 bill. But they did not tell me this — perhaps just so that I would not look/feel like an asshole. A stupid broke asshole trying to exchange a keepsake from his childhood for a lousy 5 bucks to buy a lousy gallon of goddam gas with in order to get to the fucking used record store in order to sell his stupid old esoteric CDs in order to get some money with which to buy some MORE goddam overpriced gas with in order to get to work the next day….. That’s possible, too……..)

At any rate, at that point all I could do was head for the “Electric Fetus” as fast as I could, sell my shit and get back to the gas station before they closed to set things right and not have my license plate listed with the “fuzz.” (As I call them.)

As luck would have it, the good folks at the “Electric Fetus” paid me top dollar for my obscure bizarro music, and I walked out of there with over $30. Bought some gas, bought some smokes, even bought myself one of those awesome Mom’s egg salad sandwiches from the cooler to kill the hunger pangs.

Life was good.

(But, then, I should really just shut my bloody trap. Shouldn’t I.)

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