Thanks for the money, dad


The day I left for college, my dad gave me a $10 bill and told me to use it for “an emergency.”

I folded it up and put it inside my wallet, behind my driver’s license, away from the fives and singles that would be spent on frivolous items. Dad’s money needed to be saved, stashed away and be spent only on something important, something that when he would ask me years later what I used the monumental Hamilton on, I could give him an answer that meant something.

It’s been four years and that very $10 is still in my wallet, folded in four parts, in the same way I folded it before making my move to Selinsgrove. When I first took it, I was just a high school kid, unknowing of whom I would meet, what I would do and whom I wanted to become. I would learn these things, some of them in greater certainty than others, and all the while, I never had that “emergency” that required taking the $10 from my wallet and handing it over. I never saw a reason to make the grand gesture that would have symbolized so much to me and absolutely nothing to the lucky soul who received the magic bill.

But, man, there were times when I could have spent it.

I could have spent it freshman year, when four friends and I drove to Reading on impulse to see Avatar at the IMAX. I could have used it on popcorn or soda or for the extra charge for the 3D. I could have given it to my friend to help out with gas. But no, it wasn’t the $10’s time.

I could have spent it on my girlfriend’s 20th birthday, the first one we shared together, when I took her to King of Prussia. I was broke, a college student surviving on work-study money, and an extra 10 bucks then would have felt like a gift from God. I could have bought a bigger dessert, maybe a gift that was a few dollars nicer. But the money remained in my wallet.

I could have spent it on my first pair of Phi Mu Delta letters. Buffalo Bills fabric with a blue outline on a rose-colored shirt. The fraternity who appeared when I felt like I was missing something out of my college experience, who took me in and made me a member of their family before I even had time to think it through and turn them down. Who gave me lifelong brothers, not friends, who provided me with experiences and memories that I couldn’t even begin to list without taking up the length of this editorial. Surely, that would have been a symbolic way to spend the money. But it wasn’t.

How about all those Monday nights at BJ’s? The week I turned 21, I got the invite and I can count the number I’ve missed since then on one hand. Even on the days when I could barely afford to pick up the $6-dollar tab ($12 if I got wings, so usually $12), I would go. There’d be days where I’d leave with less than a buck in my checking account, where $10 would have made me breathe a little easier while I waited for Friday payday, but no. It’s still there.

The bill was with me the day I interviewed Jim Kelly— my football hero, the guy who dons my wall in Fathead form-the summer after my junior year. That was the day I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, that I always wanted to have a notepad and recorder in my pocket. That day, I finally answered the question: What’s the point of working if sports and writing can’t be somehow involved?

I’ll take it out of my wallet sometimes, unfolding, refolding, thinking about the things we literally carry around everyday. Most are insignificant, some aren’t. My dad always believed in me, always thought that maybe letting his kid be a creative writing major wasn’t as crazy as some may think. That maybe a directionless major for a directionless 18-year-old whose answer to “what are you going to do with that?” was “I’ll figure it out,” might someday, somehow result in a direction, an end.

In the days before I left for college, my dad would say to me, “You are going to be a great writer someday because you love to tell stories.” It took me a while to realize what kind of stories I wanted to tell, but I always thought about that, what this crazy business is about. And now, here I am, graduating with four years worth of them and thousands more that have yet to be told, and at least one that will result in my passing on that emergency $10 bill.

And to think I could have just spent it on chicken wings.