Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Wallet Hell

My wallet
I don't want to boast but I have a wallet that rivals the 'Costanza', that enormous money-containing monstrosity carried by the Seinfeld character. It currently holds three credit cards, one debit card, two airline loyalty cards, one security swipe card, one supermarket loyalty card, one combined supermarket loyalty card and credit card, two medical cards, one Hong Kong ID card, a photograph of my wife and I (that much from memory) plus two bookshop loyalty cards (one expired), my Octopus card, one gym membership card, another debit card, two plectrums and a UK driving license. And maybe twenty dollars in cash, and forty or fifty invoices, receipts and bills that I should really have removed and thrown in the bin.

Bear in mind that this is after I've stripped my wallet down to its bare essentials. Somewhere in a drawer is my university library card, a handful of loyalty cards to restaurants and bars I've been terribly disloyal too, two Starbucks cards with no credit on them, a brace of spare Octopus cards, my London Oyster card, at least three cards for different mass-transit systems in two different Japanese cities, an organ donor card, and I dread to think what else.

What I'm trying to say is that a card in my wallet occupies a privileged position, given how precious the space within that wallet is. I'm not saying I'm a big deal, I'm saying my wallet is.

Now, a long time ago, in fact I think before she was my wife, my wife gave me a Cafe O card with $100 loaded onto it, so I would go and eat there. I saw through her ruse, because the nearest Cafe O to my office is up a hill, and as any fule noe, you walk downhill for lunch, not uphill. Unless you're a madman, or French, or regularly mistaken for a French madman. So I never went to Cafe O for lunch, which meant I only used the card randomly, when I at the correct latitude before lunch, which was rare.

But, no matter how large my wallet is, yesterday I was still strapped for cash, so I collected forty dollars in small change from my desk, checked the Cafe O card was (implausibly) still in my wallet, and took the walk of shame up the hill to Cafe O, ready to find out if the combination of the card and all those coins would pay for a bowl of soup.

I had twenty five dollars on the card. And the soup was thirty eight.

What should have been a simple act of arithmetic that left me with twenty seven dollars in my hand or on the card has instead turned sour. The geniuses at Cafe O have decreed that you can't split a payment between a card and cash. Which is fair enough: it's not like shops will let you buy things using different denominations of bank note, or different value coins, or a mixture of coins and notes.

Oh, hang on, they will.

Well, never mind: I had all those coins, I could just put the value of them on the card, right?

Oh no. Minimum top-up on the card is a hundred dollars, and yes, I did have a 500-dollar bill on me, but it wasn't mine, it was already the property of Mr American Express because I needed to pay off my credit card bill. But I needed soup too. Difficult.

I gave in to hunger. Now I have 87 dollars on the card (25+100 less cost of soup), and I'm feeling angry at Cafe O for not letting me spend the money that was mine without giving them _more_ money first. So today I tramped back up the hill (breaking my no-uphill lunch rule for a second consecutive day). No good can come of this.

I bought a panino (at least they get the singular of panini right) and an espresso slice, which is like a particularly dissolute chocolate brownie ... But that was only 72 dollars. Now do you see the nightmare world I've trapped myself within? On Wednesday, for a third time, like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill in order to have his liver pecked out by a bird who failed to study Greek legend properly, I'll have to make the ascent to Cafe O and find another hundred dollars to give them, and then try to buy enough things to spend 115 dollars in one go.

And before you think that's an easy thing, remember the constraint that I'm trying to lose weight before Christmas, not cram myself full of chocolate muffins. The other alternative, four espressos, spells mid-afternoon psychosis and is no alternative at all, and besides, I'll probably end up with seven dollars left on the card and I still won't be out of this mess. I'll have to go back on Thursday, (a day off work!), put another hundred dollars on the card and see what I can do to work it off.

It's a horrible combination of Newton-Raphson iteration, malnutrition and overeating. Why is life so hard?


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