Omaha Motivations #1
In January of 1978, the minimum wage was raised from $2.30 to $2.65 per hour all over the country.
By the second Saturday of that September… after a little over two weeks in this mid-sized Nebraska town, I cashed my first paycheck as a full-time laborer in Norfolk. Nearly two hundred dollars after taxes. It was the first significant amount of cash I’d had in my hands since leaving Rochester and MAN! Was that a relief!
In less than two months, I had gone from the excitement of leaving my hometown on this great adventure, to my disappointment that it was far from what I’d hoped, to the fear of violence I’d witnessed by George, to the blurry haze in Guy’s car, to visions of despair though rural Kansas, to offers of a well-paid life as a roughneck on the oil fields of the Oklahoma panhandle, to instead deciding to dangerously thumb my way back to a (now quickly fading) dream of joining up with my cool friend Fred’s rock band…
This was a far more conventional, familiar (and thus friendly) feeling of having just been paid a fair wage for a fair two weeks of hard work. It felt real good. Like I finally had something. Something I could work with.
That feeling was gone in a matter of seconds, however. My momentary relaxation (the kind that only a nice infusion of funds can bring) turned completely around, and around and around… until I was spinning. I was spinning in a frantic tizzy because suddenly, the cash was gone.
All of it!
The money wasn’t gone due to any irresponsible (or even reasonable) spending on my part. I didn’t buy a car or gamble it away. The cash was stolen, along with everything else in my wallet.
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. That it just disappeared like that. We were all at the Laundromat and I had placed my wallet on top of a machine for just TWO SECONDS! I turned around ONCE! And it was gone.
I was standing right next to Fred. Maria was over at the dryers and Fred and I were loading our clothes in a washing machine. Neither of us had enough to fill one machine so we were sharing. I’d just taken a few bills out to get some quarters. I placed my wallet on top of the machine and turned to look for the change machine and… it was GONE!
I looked at Fred. He was leaning over the machine, fiddling with the clothes.
“Where’s my wallet?” I said, the frantic voice beginning to well up in me right away.
“What are you talking about?”
“It was right here. RIGHT HERE!”
“Calm down and stop shouting, you must have bumped it. Maybe it fell on the floor, on the other side of these machines.”
I hadn’t bumped anything but of course I immediately ran over to the isle on the other side. The machines were lined up back to back so it couldn’t have fallen between them. If it had fallen back off the top of the machine, it would either be on the other machine, or the floor on the other side. It wasn’t there and there was no one around.
“Maybe someone took it.” Fred suggested.
“Did you see anyone?” I was now looking everywhere, in places where it was impossible for the wallet to be. Dropping to my knees, I looked at the floor like I was hoping it would simply appear before me. As if it was right in front of my face and I just couldn’t see it. Then I ran back around and looked inside the washing machine Fred had just put some jeans into.
“It’s not in there.” Fred said, almost laughing.
I ignored my friend and stuck my hands in there. Fishing around among the dirty underwear, t-shirts, my work clothes and Fred jeans.
“FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!”
Yea, I was fucked all right.
“What am I going to do now?” In my frantic tizzy, I really was feeling lost now. I was lost and alone. I needed help… a friend. I couldn’t believe my world could’ve taken this turn and I needed someone to tell me what to do.
My friend Fred was right there. He was right there and he had an idea of just what could be done. Looking back, I’m now convinced that there is no way I would have listened to him at that point otherwise. If I hadn’t been in the state I was in after loosing my wallet like that. After suddenly loosing all the money I had… and my ID and everything.
I’m also convinced (only now of course) that Fred was the one who’d stolen it.