THE RIVER REPORTER CLIMATE CHALLENGE
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$100

The check came on Christmas. I had scoffed at the envelope when I first saw it, deliberately opening it last when the rest of the colorful, oddly shaped mysteries under the tree were already unwrapped.

I was nine and the check was, by far, the most money I had ever been given. A whopping $75 from my great-grandmother Oma.

The check fluttered to the floor as I ran to the small, gray, metal safe I used as a piggy bank. I had been saving change by stuffing it into the coin slot on the top for months.

I twisted the combination into the large red dial and eased the tiny door open. Inside among crumpled singles and rolled change was $28.45, my minor fortune. But this was old news. Now, I began counting the change in a new and different way, starting at $75. I had a funny feeling that it just might be… $103.45.

Triple digits. The big time. I counted it over and over, starting with the check, then starting with the change, pretending to lose count and forced to start over again.

A few days later, I walked with my mother across Main Street in Narrowsburg to the local bank. I gripped my safe tightly with both hands, the check in my jacket pocket.

The teller was kind enough to cash my check and consolidate my change into one crisp, beautiful one-hundred-dollar bill. I held it in my hand for a few fleeting moments before handing it back to the teller to deposit into my brand new bank account.

I left the bank with a sense of excitement, maybe even pride. One hundred dollars. I couldn’t begin to imagine the possibilities.

Years later, the bank on Main Street became part of the Bank of America Corporation. I graduated from Honesdale High School and moved to New York City, the whole time keeping the very same bank account.

Last week, I watched that bank account dip down to roughly the same amount, $100. And let me tell you dear reader, roughly 17 years later it was a very different feeling. Standing in the lobby of the new Bank of America branch on Canal and Broadway, I stared at the receipt in my hand.

Fear. When will these checks I’m owed come? What am I going to do about my rent? I tighten the scarf around my neck and step out into the cold.

As a freelance editor, I may work for many different people in any given month. I stay very busy, often too much so, and have finished four separate projects that, as of writing this column, I still haven’t been paid for. It’s not that I won’t be paid; I have total faith that I will. The question always becomes when.

It’s the part of being freelance that I really dislike: the lack of a steady paycheck, the constant negotiations over money, the following-ups with various producers, the gentle reminders that they owe me money. It’s time consuming and frustrating.

A few days earlier, I activated my first credit card, a shiny new MasterCard that makes me both relieved and nervous to have among the IDs and Metro cards in my wallet. But it has been my lifeboat through my current cash-flow problem.

The only thing I can do is keep my fingers crossed that the checks will come before my rent is due and I won’t be forced to seek a bailout from various family members. I guess I know how Citibank is feeling right now. I’m with you guys!

Being broke is a drag and one thing’s for sure, $100 ain’t what it used to be.

- Zachary Stuart-Pontier