I am cheap. I am. I admit it freely. I’d like nothing better than to say with the straight face of absolute conviction that I’m frugal, but I’m not. I’m cheap. I loathe spending money, be it the understandable indecision over the several hundred thousand dollar purchase price of a house or the less understandable thirty minutes of pacing around Target worrying about the $37 sale price of a pair of jeans. Buying stuff causes me distress.
I wasn’t always this cheap
This has not always been the case. I was never a spendthrift by any stretch; nurture kicked nature’s ass on that front (thanks Dad). But there was a time when my wallet was not wedged quite so firmly up my least appealing sphincter. Admittedly it was a brief time and like most neuroses-triggering moments it involved youth, alcohol, a credit card, and a (*#@$ing) roommate.
The year was 1996 (I know! Almost before time itself!). A crescendo of excitement enveloped me and my classmates as our five year university degrees neared completion. The real world beckoned with promises of jobs and money and freedom and no exams. Sleep was optional; health was optimal. Life was pretty good. And I was savouring this crowning year of education by living with one of my best friends from high school. Let’s call him Sgt. Benedict, you know, to mask his identity but not his role in this tale.
As was the case most weekends during that year (and the entire decade, frankly), Sgt. Benedict and I had joined a group of friends for a Saturday night of revelry. And by revelry I mean drinking to the brink of spontaneous guttural expulsion. Somehow these purposeless hours of self-abuse become the best days of your life even if just thinking back to such behavior now makes your head ache and your stomach churn as though the flu vaccine you just received wasn’t inactivated as promised.
I don’t remember where we went drinking that night or who specifically comprised our group of friends but the two of us had returned home in the early morning hours well and goodly blitzed. By all accounts a successful evening by our standards of the day, I long before having discarded sexual conquest as a likely culmination to an evening. As was our custom, we were enjoying a $7 large cheese pizza from the joint across the street. The pizza wasn’t particularly special but at $7 it was perfectly priced for two twenty-something university students with booze-deadened taste buds, besides, who wishes to spend more than $7 on something that has a better than 50-50 chance of reappearing within the next hour?
Pizza in hand, along with large glasses of water to dilute the alcohol and hopefully limit next morning’s hangover, we turned on the television to see if the pay TV porn channel had accidentally been left unscrambled that night. Sadly, they had not, so we just started flipping through the channels looking for the type of show only two drunkards would find appealing; like Ed the Sock. That was when we stumbled upon the infomercial that would irrevocably change my life, my spending habits, and the way I’d be viewed by my peers for the rest of my life.
There was a time when CD compilations were all the rage
It seems almost laughable in our world of downloadable, digital music but in the nineties CD anthologies were the greatest audio creation known to mankind. They were essentially studio quality mixed tapes that allowed you to own all your favourite songs without having to purchase entire albums worth of unwanted music. This was particularly appealing to audiophiles vulnerable to the lure of one hit wonders. And if you wanted a piece of this CD compilation miracle, or wished to grill your meat like aged, overweight boxing legends, infomercials were must see television. Thanks to Guitar Rock and Sounds of the Seventies there’s an entire generation that thinks Time Life sells music not magazines.
On this fateful night our attention was grabbed with a vigour typically exhibited by teen boys the first time reaching second base by a massive 116 songs on 6 CDs compilation of the greatest hits of the eighties. Okay, maybe they weren’t the greatest but some of them were most definitely hits. The entire collection was grouped into 3 double CDs using a tenuous attempt at subgenre categorization resulting in the brilliantly named Awesome ‘80s (because the concept of oxy-moron was lost on these people), Totally ‘80s (because, like, gag me with a spoon, what else would you call it), and Forever ‘80s (because you can’t ever have enough cheesy ballads).
Needless to say we were both enthralled. Yes, because we were drunk but also because this was our music. Just look at that track listing. We’d grown from kids to adults with this music. The very first album I ever purchased was Colour By Numbers by Culture Club and there were two Culture Club songs in this collection. TWO! This was the first band since The Beatles to have three top ten US hits on their debut album (let that chilling fact sink in for a moment). One of the CD covers featured the images of Sheena Easton, Robert Palmer, Boy George, and The Bangles or as they’re sometimes referred to, the Mount Rushmore of Pop. David Bowie is on it for shit sakes. How bad was the heroine the day he signed those rights releases?
This was most definitely a must have collection and I … I just happened to have my own credit card. This may not seem like a big deal in today’s age of the great debt orgy, but back in the nineties banks weren’t yet whoring credit cards out to anyone with an identifiable pulse. University students were still viewed with some caution when it came to money management and credit-worthiness in no small part because of what I was about to do.
Not only did I have the magic of credit in my pizza-greased hands but this spectacular CD collection was priced at an almost incomprehensible $40. FORTY DOLLARS! It was almost like they were giving me money to own this music. In fact, that might have been the very reasoning Sgt. Benedict put forth as he set about convincing me to dial up that 1-800 number and order this fantastic musical collection.
I was keen but apprehensive. My wallet was not yet fully wedged into my sphincter but my cheeks were firmly grasping it. I was not one for rash decisions, drunk or otherwise. Luckily friends like Sgt. Benedict are far less discerning when it comes to other people’s credit card activities. There may have even been (what now seem dubious) promises of fame and rewards from the ladies upon purchase, not to mention several “Oh man, you have sooooo got to buy that”, an argument that works surprisingly well with males. And so I did. I then crashed into my bed tingling with anticipation and drifted off to sleep while visions of hair metal bands danced in my head.
Details of what transpired next are a bit fuzzy, I’m afraid. My brain cells have proven to be none to resilient to the ravages of time and many subsequent Saturday nights of boozing. There’s also the shock factor. My memory keeps insisting that my beloved CD collection arrived C.O.D. but that doesn’t seem to make much sense considering I’m 100% sure I purchased this with my damned credit card. Regardless, at some point in the weeks following that fateful night a horrifying truth was abruptly revealed to me.
Four Easy Payments Of?!?
Recall that extraordinary price of $40 for the entire collection of 116 mega-hits from the ‘80s? Well, it would seem that squinting at scrambled pornography along with crippled pupil dilation capabilities due to alcohol consumption had caused me to overlook two very important facts regarding that price. The first fact was that this offer was actually priced in US dollars. In those days dollar parity was the stuff of legend and the Canadian dollar was lovingly referred to as the Northern Peso. Suddenly that $40 was a touch more money. The second fact was that this offer was FOUR EASY PAYMENTS OF $40. In other words, $160! American!
Oh dear, vengeful God, I had just spent over $200 for six CDs worth of the cheesiest songs ever recorded. $200 for music that, had it not been released immediately after the disco era, would undoubtedly be considered the most embarrassing period in recording history. For $200 Sgt. Benedict and I could have had unscrambled porn for the entire school year! What miserable hell had I unleashed upon myself?
Surely my loyal friend and roommate, instigator in this ill-fated purchase, would empathize with my plight and offer to help cover some of the unexpected cost. I was hardly the lone perpetrator of this crime no matter whose name adorned the credit card. Alas, my estimation of Sgt. Benedict’s capacity for sharing in buyer’s remorse was wildly miscalculated, much like everyone else’s in my circle of friends. To this very day my infamous CD collection, all 200 1996 dollars worth of it, continues to elicit chuckles from friends and requests to see them “in real life”. In a way, I suppose Sgt. Benedict was partially right; it did make me famous.
I still own this monumental CD collection. In case you’ve forgotten how this epistle began, I’m cheap. And when you’re cheap you don’t just throw away a $200 purchase because it’s silly. Pop culture cycles and one day this will be worth, well, nowhere near $200 but, hey, it’s a great conversation starter. It’ll also be an invaluable personal finance lesson for the kids one day or at the very least a startling explanation as to why dad is such a miser. Lucky for them the heyday of late night music infomercials have passed so they needn’t worry about wobbling in front of a TV screen staring at the glossy photos of Bieber, Perry, Swift, and One Direction emblazoned upon a huge 6 CD collection at an unheard of price.
This was easily the dumbest thing I’ve ever bought but it’s part of me now; part of my legacy. And when I die my will states that the funeral service forgoes any eulogy and simply makes you all listen to this entire, painfully glorious collection from start to finish in my honour. And Sgt. Benedict, if you’ve outlived me, you’ll be front and centre dancing for everyone; wheelchair be damned!
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