“I Stopped Carrying a Wallet When I Became Homeless”

george wallet seinfeld

Maybe I should start carrying a wallet again. Maybe a nice, grown-up wallet would act as a talisman, attracting wealth and prosperity. The pink vinyl change purse I got at Target seems to only attract change. It’s not big enough to hold more than several bills and cards. Maybe a nice, leather upwardly mobile billfold would change my luck.

Since I was old enough to carry my own lunch money to school, I have had a wallet. Usually, I carried them until they fell apart, transferring them daily into whatever handbag matched that day’s outfit. Having a wallet felt like being a grown-up.

My father carried a wallet. Having lived through the Great Depression, he didn’t have full faith in banks, so at times his billfold was thick with over $1,000 in cash. My mother didn’t have a wallet. She placed her meager money in a delicate hankie, folded up into a tiny square and pinned inside her bra. Loose change went into one of those plastic oval holders that opened like a mouth when both ends were pinched. Momma didn’t work, but Daddy would always give her a few dollars for incidentals, nothing more. Early on, I learned that he who had the thick wallet had the power.

And when I got old enough to wear a bra, I never felt secure with a hankie and a safety pin.

When I became an adult, with a real job and responsibilities, I got a nice, fancy wallet to match. I remember the pride I felt when I placed by very first credit card in my wallet. As the years passed, I filled all of the slots in my wallet with every credit card known to man, while the amount of paper money dwindled. Even though all of those accounts are closed now, either by choice or by default, I still keep some of those cards, like photos of old friends that I used to know but have lost contact with over the years.

I stopped carrying a wallet in December 2011, when I became homeless. It made no sense for me to continue to carry something filled with expired cards from a life that I no longer inhabited. It was a nice wallet too, a brown leather number that I had gotten at the Fossil Outlet Store in Las Vegas when I went there for my 50th birthday in 2007. This wallet had room for at least 15 cards as well as photos. But by 2011, the wallet only held my driver’s license, a debit card for an overdrawn and closed bank account, a HMO card for medical coverage that I lost in 2008, a check cashing card for the few checks that I received, a frequent shopper card for Eddie Bauer, where I was no longer a regular customer, a VIP card from a beauty supply store that is too expensive for me to afford, a Sacramento Public Library card, and an expired Target credit card for a closed account.

The only photos it held was a photo of Momma sitting on our back porch in Pennsylvania in the 1950s and a 1986 photo of my favorite rock musician. I transferred the still current cards into the pink change purse and left the wallet and the photos in the suitcase that I stored at a friend’s house while I stayed in emergency shelters in Los Angeles.

In the last three years, I have accumulated more cards. I have a new bank account with a new debit card, a ZipCar card, even though I don’t have money to rent a car, an EDD debit card for the three months of Unemployment Insurance I have gotten in the last two years, an EBT card for my food stamps, an AARP card, two Medi-Cal cards and a Panera Bread card. I have SoCal cards that I don’t carry: a Los Angeles Public Library card, a Los Angeles Emergency Shelter card, a Hostelling International card that I have used several times in Santa Monica, a TapCard for LA Metro, and a Ralph’s card. Maybe I need two wallets now, a Northern California one and a Southern California one. I even have my own business cards these days, but they haven’t gotten me much business.

I suppose I could use my old wallet, but it’s full of memories from a life that I no longer lead. The owner of that wallet once had an apartment, a full time job, and disposable income, an abundant life that utilized all of the slots. Maybe I need a wallet to reflect the transitional life that I lead these days: a long-term unemployed, freelance writer with no permanent residence. I don’t have the funds to commit to a brand new wallet, so I have been checking out the selections at my local thrift stores.

I got a small, flat, black leather Cole-Haan wristlet for $2.99. It has slots for only three cards and a zippered compartment for change, along with hot pink lining and a wrist strap. Maybe that is all I need these days. I also found a green leather Hobo International wallet for $3.99. I found out on eBay that it is called an apple green double frame clutch wallet named Lauren. But I’m not sure I want to carry a wallet from a company named “Hobo” nor a wallet that I have to clutch. Will a secondhand wristlet or clutch be enough to grab and contain the good life that I hope is just around the corner?

I’m still undecided about this billfold dilemma. Maybe I’m not ready for commitment yet. I fear that I will never reach the level of security that my father obtained. Maybe I’m still too broke, or broken, to make any grown-up decisions involving leather and finance.

Beatrice M. Hogg is a coal-miner’s daughter and freelance writer who was raised in Western Pennsylvania and has lived in Northern California for twenty-five years, where she wrote her novel, Three Chords One Song, and continues to write about music, long-term unemployment and life in general.

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