Holiday lessons worth their weight in lunch money

January 02, 2006|by Tim Rowland


All righty, Christmas has come and gone, so now let's all get into a great big fight over what to call Easter. To get the debate started, I'll just toss out Bunny Day, Groundhog Shadow Statute of Limitations Day and Our One Annual Visit to See if the Church is Still Standing Day.

I worried my way through Christmas well enough, although I fear a definite sign of age is when the list of things you want for Christmas is shorter than the list of things you don't want for Christmas.

"Please Aunt Bessie, I'm begging you - not another kitchen appliance." I don't need an electric cinnamon-stick grinder, even if they are the latest thing in the Village.


I thought the most heartwarming story of the Christmas season was the one about the Washington County School Board snatching food off of kids' trays if they exceeded their lunch money credit limit. Here's your tuna surprise, little Johnny, enjo ... oh I am sorry, but your lunch bill is 30 days past due - yoink. Here, in the meantime, you can gnaw on this stale pizza crust.

Lunch denied. Ouch. How'd you like to be maxed out on fish sticks? I suppose the purpose is to shame the kids into paying up. Like it's their fault and not the fault of some deadbeat parent who just spent the family's last $30 on a carton of Jacks. If there were real justice in the world, the superintendent would walk into the living room, snatch the Budweiser out of pop's hands and replace it with Old Milwaukee.

You know how sensitive kids are. Imagine the horror of having your lunch repossessed in front of all your classmates. What's next, they threaten to break your kneecaps?

But as usual, I think we're making too big a deal of it. Kids, this is just a good lesson in life for the first time your credit card gets denied at the makeup counter. Sooner or later it happens to every adult, whether or not they've exceeded their credit limit.

I got my credit card denied once in an amber store in Montreal in front of three lovely French-speaking ladies. There was much tittering and I was mortified. When I got back home, there was an urgent message on my answering machine from the credit card company, saying "Do you know that somebody's been running around Canada trying to use your credit card?"

Just the other day I got chewed out by the Money Changer in High Heels because she said a $300 charge to our debit card at Zales had been denied. I knew that had to be wrong, or thought I did, until I called up our online bank Web site and discovered that instead of paying $80 to our insurance company I had accidentally typed in $800. In my hyperventilating frustration, I forgot to ask the more salient question, which was "Why are you spending $300 at Zales?"

So see kids? Plastic can do that to you. If you have a weak heart, you could die of a typo.

But most adults have all kinds of ways of dealing with that embarrassment. There's the old, "Oh yes, that card's been giving me trouble lately, here, try this one." Or "Silly me, I forgot to activate the card before I left home; I better make a note to remind myself."

Blaming the wife is good. "Uh-oh, looks like Shelly's been to the clothing store again, ha ha, oh that vixen, I'm going to have to take her card."

Some people take the offensive. "That can't be right. Let me call the credit card company right now!" Then they get on their cell phone, dial the number on the back of the card and loudly say to the recording, "This is an outrage, I demand to speak to your supervisor!" before sprinting out the door and leaping down the up escalator eight steps at a time.

Instant-verification technology was the bane of those who danced on credit's cruel edge. You don't remember this kiddos, but there was a time when they just pressed your credit card number onto a piece of carbon paper and mailed it into the bank. By the time they figured out you were maxed, you were safe at home and the worst you could expect was a nasty phone call in the privacy of your own living room.

When instant validation began to take over, you would drive 20 miles out into the country looking for a gas station that would still process credit cards with the old ka-chunk method.

Now, if you have the reputation of being Chief Dances With Credit Lines, there's always that 30 seconds where you don't breathe and your heart doesn't beat as you wait to see whether the card will clear. Your eyes will bug out, straining to see the little green screen, hoping to see the letters appv. When they pop up, you breathe a sigh of relief, knowing you have lived to charge - and eat - another day.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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