Of Mercury and Money

Vintage ad borrowed from https://oldadvertising.blogspot.com

One would think that money matters, being mathematical, are purely practical, as opposed to emotional or mystical. But one would be wrong.

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, financial problems are the second most commonly cited reason married couples divorce (after poor communication, but ahead of infidelity). So I think that covers emotional matters. Q.E.D. as we used to say in geometry class (OK, I never said that but I like to imagine that people who didn’t stop taking math classes after sophomore year of high school did).

At the risk of getting all Nancy Reagan on you, I’m starting to think that money is largely astrological as well. Because every time Mercury goes retrograde, all my money matters go wildly out of whack. The rest of the time they hum along smoothly enough for someone who is a freelance writer, not a salaried employee, and therefore essentially gets paid in piecework, like a medieval hausfrau embroidering underwear for the gentry. That is to say usually I write an article, turn it in, and four to six weeks after it’s approved I get a check for it. I have an ATM card and two credit cards, like a normal person. I get by.

But then on March 30th, Mercury went retrograde, wreaking cosmic havoc, or, as astrologer Rob Tillett puts it on his website, “sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup!” For me, the retrograde period was signaled when I woke up one morning to find the electricity had gone out on my entire block–for no apparent reason–on a day I was to travel to New York, and did not want to spend the afternoon emptying the refrigerator, tossing out spoiled milk and leftover shrimp Santorini I had lovingly cooked the night before. (As a piecework employee, I work from, and eat lunch at, home.)

NASA photo of Mercury Retrograde. Ugly little sucker, isn't he?

I made it to New York OK, but in a series of rides from Manhattan to Princeton, NJ, to Hoboken, and and back to Manhattan for an otherwise superfun wedding, I managed to drop my ATM card and AmEx onto the floor of a NJ cab while paying (they were loose in my evening bag–not a good idea, I know, but what’s a girl with a small purse to do?). The cabbie, whom I had tipped lavishly, apparently did not think to return the cards but instead tried to use them the next morning to buy gas. Once I figured all of this out, having noticed the cards missing, I cancelled both cards. I was just glad that I hadn’t lost my license, so I could fly back to Miami.

…Where I eventually arrived to retrieve my mail and realize that the payment for articles that had been submitted THREE MONTHS AGO had still not arrived (despite the editorial assistant’s assertion that both checks had been sent out two weeks ago), nor had a personal check that someone who owed me money had sent to my New York address, not realizing that my mail gets forwarded to Miami. Eventually.  Just not eventually enough for me to cover my own bills without incurring late fees.

In any case, no one lost a limb, my new AmEx card has arrived, the pal who owed me money sweetly went to the bank and deposited a check into my account so I was able to pay my credit card bill, and I didn’t have to pay for the evil cabbie’s gas. None of this is a big deal. But the feeling of powerlessness, and subsequent rage, it created in me on Monday reminded me that money matters (and airline delays and any procedure involving the DMV) are among the few non-life-threatening situations in which we still feel as our ancestors did, at the mercy of the gods, or the stars, or some other, capricious higher power.

Why are we so sensitive about money? Is it feeling cheated when we don’t get what we think we deserve? Is it feeling like a failure that you don’t have stockpiles of ready cash sitting around for those times when people are going to steal from you and not pay you all in the course of one week? I’m not sure. Maybe Dr. Phil and Suze Orman can discuss and get back to me.

Assorted Jolly Ranchers; image provided to Creative Commons by MissingHailstone. As you can see, it's a fair bit of work to pick out the watermelon.

But there is one yearly financial ritual that I actually enjoy–doing my taxes (which are due this Friday, PS). I know this is something we’re all supposed to hate but I love it for three reasons: one, I often get money back. Not always, but it has happened, and when it does, that feels like the universe is showering blessings on me. Two, I love my accountant Jerry, who is reassuring and sensible and who keeps a jar of Jolly Ranchers on his desk and doesn’t mind when I pick out the watermelon ones, depriving his next customers (taxes clearly make me greedy). Three, I actually enjoy preparing for my meeting with Jerry…getting out all my receipts from the past year, looking at plane tickets I bought to research travel stories and attend conferences, taxi receipts, office supplies, and remembering where I was, and with whom, when I made each purchase. It’s a life in receipts, and it pushes all my nostalgic buttons. Even the receipts I can’t write off and don’t bother bringing to Jerry–especially those, like the one from Vivienne, who altered my wedding dress, or the hotel on Corfu where I hosted a bed-making cocktail party two nights before my wedding–make me happy remembering the past year. I have them tucked in a cubby in the desk (office supply!) in my home office (write-off!).

I know, there’s a name for people like me: hoarders. But there’s something therapeutic about putting the previous year in order. (Especially that one time I was audited, brought my masterful receipts to the IRS and received a verdict of no change–my integrity was questioned and I emerged triumphant! See, there I go, getting all emotional about money again.)

When I saw Jerry last week, he was on the phone, speaking soothingly to a client. “We’ll figure it out,” he promised the person on the other end of the line. “Call anytime. Just not at 3 AM.”

“You’re like a therapist,” I told him once he hung up.

“Doing their taxes makes people anxious,” he replied.

“I like it,” I confessed. “I get to relive the year.”

“That’s not a good thing for everyone,” he said.

Jerry was right; if tax season leaves you feeling blessed, and I hope it does, consider yourself lucky. I do. Or at least I try to, although there are days, like Monday, when I don’t always succeed. And Mercury, it is early in 2011; you do not get to win this round.


Speak Your Mind