What's in my wallet, Part One

You’ve seen those TV advertisements for the “credit card” mafia front called Capital One. “What’s in your wallet?” they ask. Well, I used to have a Capital One so-called “credit card”1 in there , but I cancelled the account last year –I’m still paying down the balance– so I have nothing with their name on it in my wallet to remind me that I’m still their bonded serf. What I do have in my wallet is this:

photo of warn and folded pawn ticket.
It’s the pawn ticket from when my wife pawned her jewelry, including her wedding ring & family heirlooms, for cash to keep us going when we were homeless in 1996 when I was writing Acts of the Apostles.

Here’s a picture from our wedding day, when I put the ring on Betty’s finger.

Sixteen years later she pawned it. That was nearly sixteen years ago now.

I wasn’t able to come up with the money to redeem the ticket by the default date, and the jewelry was lost. So we got $550 for precious things made of gold and gemstones that meant a lot to my wife and which were probably sold for three times that much by the pawnbroker. It was a painful episode and a painful loss.

But there was something gained as well, at least by me, and that is that I developed an inability to get angry at my wife. I just can’t get angry at her anymore — although I sure could in the first 16 years of our marriage.

This change didn’t happen instantly.

Like (I’m supposing here), all married couples, we have had disagreements. As you can imagine, when we were homeless and destitute with three school-age children, things got kind of tense sometimes and we used to get angry with each other. Actually, even when things were going relatively well in the years before we went broke, we use to have some real donnybrooks.

These days we still have enormous stresses in our lives. Although our children are older now, they all have chronic, severe health issues, and we’re always on call. I’ve been largely unemployed for more than two years now. I get occasional paid gigs as a freelance technical writer, but mainly I make money selling my own books. (I heard on the radio yesterday that there are fewer people employed in Massachusetts than there were a decade ago. Thousands of jobs have been lost, with high-tech leading the way. Looking for work at my age, in this economy. . . oy.) So money is tight. Really tight.

[Although I don’t make a lot of money doing selling my own books, I make some, and I have high hopes for 2010. I’m developing a real plan, and I think I’m going to be making a lot more this year than I’ve made in the past. I just have to stay focused and work hard.]

So there are obviously plenty of opportunities for my wife and I to disagree, and sometimes she gets quite angry at me (sometimes with good reason, in my opinion, and sometimes without). But I’ve lost my ability to get angry at her, and I think it’s due to the talisman that I keep in my wallet, the pawn ticket from Magic Pawnbrokers, Inc. Oh, I might get a momentary spike of anger from time to time, but really, I can’t remember the last time such a spike lasted as long as a minute. It just doesn’t happen. I attribute this to a kind of Magic Pawnbroker magic.

(Those of you reading who have perfect marriages in which neither party ever gets angry at the other are probably wondering what the big deal is. You can stop reading now. This article is for that other portion of married people, folks who do have a blow-up from time to time.)

I can’t count the number of times since July 6, 1996, the day the ticket expired and we lost the jewelry that I had hoped to buy back, that I have taken out that ticket and contemplated its meaning.


We were Indiana at the time, five of us camping out in my in-law’s basement. I was working on the book that would become Acts of the Apostles. On July 6th, I walked down to the pay phone at the corner of Washington Street and Boeke Road, by the old and run-down “strip mall” with all the failing businesses–a pharmacy, a shoe-repair shop, a small grocery– that had been vibrant when my wife was a child–and pleaded with the pawnbroker six states away to give me one more month to redeem those rings and bracelets and necklaces. But our contract said four months only, and four months was up. End of conversation.

“No extensions”. Ah, well. So it goes.

I’m not saying that I’m a perfect husband, mind you. You only get so much for $550, after all. I have plenty of other failings. Among other things, for example, I certainly retain my ability to blow my top. I’m not Dalai Lama. I’m fully capable of getting unreasonably angry at anybody in the world. Except my wife. I’m not saying that my wife is a saint, by the way. She can act impulsively and bull-headedly; she can be unfair or or unthinking or unkind. She’s still human, in other words. But she certainly has kept up her end of the bargain. How much more of a commitment could she possibly have made to my crazy idea to be a writer? What further proof could she have given me that she would stand by me through thick and thin? No, she has earned at least that much from me, that I forgive her her trespasses as she has forgiven mine. I have that ticket to remind me of that every day.

So that’s one thing that’s in my wallet. Capital One, you can keep your hookworm.

1. They call it a “credit card”, but it’s really a species of hookworm that you can read about in this great book.


  1. This is a flavor of sad/beautiful that the word “bittersweet” fails to capture.

    The sinister authorial side of me, however, thinks that “magic pawnbrokers” (common noun) would make a terrific seed for a story/fable.

  2. Helen,

    Thanks. Someday when I strike it rich, this story will form part of my “creation myth”. I think Robin Sloan should take the magic pawnbroker idea. I would have said Rod Serling, but he’s dead. Now that I think of it, I would be surprised if there *isn’t* a Twilight Zone episode called Magic Pawnbrokers.

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