Dec 19

Scrounging the Smelting Pool

One thing I kinda miss (not really, but Nostalgia Feels) from childhood Transformer collecting was the money gathering exploits to buy my plastic robots.  My family’s income…fluctuated throughout most of my childhood.  My dad worked the same job since I can remember until we move to Arkansas when I was 14, my mother flipped between trying to run her own business and going back to bookkeeping/accounting for different companies, usually in the restaurant business.

I got a 5 dollar allowance for pretty much my whole adolescence, so if I wanted toys, it was buy one or two small ones maybe on Saturday or supplement/find/scrounge up cash otherwise, cause Christmas was once a year and that was pretty much my parents’ rule for the only time they would just buy me stuff (until we spent that year REALLY on the high hog, but that’s another tale).  I got the occasional off-season toy purchase when my mom or dad were just feeling like it (comics were a free pass weekly from the drugstore, my parents had no issue with me reading, same for comic strip collections and regular books, just had to ask), but mostly, it was up to me.

The summer between 3rd and 4th grade, my mom owned a restaurant in Temple, GA.  My summer was spent hanging out there, fighting off abject boredom, sometimes playing with local kids, occasional trips to the city pool, but a lot of nothing.  Eventually, I surveyed the lay of the land and realize people drop a lot change.

I had a new hobby.  While I never would touch the tip money on a table, under the table and the seats were fair game.  As were the general floor area, outside the doorway, and eventually, up and around the block and surrounding area.

On a good day, I could pick up three to four bucks in loose change if there were a lot of loose quarters and the occasional dollar bill that had floated out of someone’s grasp, but generally it was under a buck, mostly dimes and pennies.  I think my biggest find was a five.

Once a week we stopped by the Piggly-Wiggly (I swear that’s how I remember it, but I also think they were grocery only) and I bought my plastic crack.  Lots of basic sized stuff and single carded GI Joes were got that summer (usually around four bucks, IIRC), and sometimes a good week plus allowance and what not I could score a larger size class.  The scramble city leaders were a big catch, $10.44 or $11.44 after tax I’m almost positive (I knew the tax for every price point to the penny, when you’re scrounging, you have to).

The waitresses picked up my game and offered me the tip change under a quarter if I helped clear the tables (if that sounds funny that people would throw pocket change in a tip, it was the 80s and rural GA.  Was kinda the norm for a lot of people).   Suited me.  Often if they were busy, they’d throw me an extra dollar or two from the tip pool.

My first lesson in slave wages came from this.  We got SUPER busy one evening and I began to do my thing, and was busting my 10-year-old hump.  The waitresses praised me and promised me a monetary bonus for all my hard work.

Man I was stoked.  My childhood fantasy factory kicked into high gear, and Primus knows how high I fantasized the amount would be, but I eventually settled on the reasonable amount of 20 bucks.  Totally fair.  Should I get that Perceptor I’ve had my eye on (14-16 bucks, roundabout)?  Sock it away as a decent start-up for getting that Holy Grail Omega Supreme that’s been sitting there all summer?  Maybe just a bunch of SC limbs and Joes?  One leader SC and a few limbs or small guys?  Oh, the mind raced.

Clean up and close down came and went, and I was presented with five.  Fucking.   Dollars.  You shitting me?  I put in a full afternoon busboy shift for that?  Urgh.  Well, lesson learned, and they never got anything out of me afterwards that wasn’t my picking and choosing (wait till the tip laid down, pick the tables specifically that had the minor change).

Biggest event besides that I remember was coming to work on toy day lacking under a buck for a Motormaster purchase.  I wanted him bad.  I was determined that would be an easy scrounge, leave no stone, literally, unturned.

And you know where this is going.  Any day to have a bad scrounge day, it had to be this one.  No pocket change tippers, very meager droppings in the store.  The change fairy had taken the day off.

My net spread for the blocks around downtown Temple.  Every sidewalk scoured, every newspaper machine checked under and change return swiped; same went for phone booths and vending machines.  Walked into various surrounding stored scouring the floor, but not trying to be conspicuous (dunno how successful I was).

By the end of clean and close up, I was close…but 10 cents short.  Deflated, I pondered asking my mom for the dime, but I think I had pulled the “I’m a tad short, can I get a nickel/quarter/whatever” too many times by this point and had raised her ire over it, so I didn’t think that would fly.  So as I forlornly walked to the car after the place locked, not even bothering to look down, really, because I had scoured the parking lot probably eight times by then.

But a glance to the left saw something shiny.  Hurrying over, the angels played trumpets and the sun in particular twinkled extra hard on that Alexander Hamilton head.

A FREAKIN’ DIME!

Motormaster was bought, my Stunticons were complete, and I probably wore out his joints the first weekend.  Goddammit, I felt I earned that truck.

That fall the factory next to us that supplied our lunch rush (and 60 percent of our income) shut down, and we had to follow quickly after.  The next summer my mom had opened a deli in Cobb County, and I remember mostly playing a lot of Ms. Pac Man, LifeForce, and Return of the Jedi at the launder mat next door.

Here’s to the resourcefulness of the determined kid.

–        Recharge out

1 comment

  1. Addendum: That “hobby” actually became a compulsion for several years. I don’t know when I stopped (sometime in my teens), but I know I used to scan the ground, corners, etc everywhere I went for a looong time. I was pretty damn good at spotting change.

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