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Sciatic Plastic

I was poised to go to the doctor. There was this pain in my leg that was at its most repulsive when I was driving the car. I was complaining about it on the way to golf one day and Don Klein asked if I was sitting on my wallet. I was. He suggested I try taking it from its residence under my left cheek and putting it in another pocket. I did and the pain that he diagnosed as being in the sciatic nerve went away. With it went half an inch of plastic.

I got my first credit card as a senior in college with uncharacteristic good grades. The card was issued by Mobil Oil: the accompanying letter congratulated me on being a responsible student and thereby eligible to use the card for gasoline, Western International Hotels and any other other vendor that accepted that card. With gasoline at 27 cents a gallon, it came in handy.

Later, as a parole officer I had occasions to extradite miscreant individuals who had violated their paroles. The first one I had to go after had been involved in a bar fight and stabbing in Deadwood, South Dakota. I flew into Rapid City and would take custody the next day. Well, I was short of money and having the Mobil Oil card, asked the sheriff who met me at the airport if there was a Western International Hotel in town. He drove me somewhat out of town and left me at a Best Western. Not knowing, but suspecting a difference in the two lodgings, I went to the desk and presented my Mobil card, and was politely advised it was not honored there. I scraped up enough cash to pay for my room.

Wandering in the lobby after a skimpy dinner I came across a table that had application forms for Diners Club and American Express. In the 1960s one had to be royalty (based on the ads) to qualify for an American Express card. You had to have an income of at least ten thousand a year. I was not even close, but somehow they sent me a card. I remember remarking to my wife that one of my relatives must have been the person that handled my application.

That was the beginning of the curse. American Express was soon joined by BankAmericard, Frederick and Nelson, Pay ‘n Save and I was on my way to the poorhouse. When I became a bachelor, I discovered that an account at Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin, Bon Marche and a few others tended to impress the ladies. I obliged some with purchases.

If you have ever seen the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza can barely wallk because his wallet was so fat with cards, that episode overstates--but not by too much--the status of my hip pocket. You never know when you’ll need a Bergdorf Goodman card in Carlton.

The most recent assault has been by organizations which, for a minimal donation, send not only a “Free Gift” but a plastic card as well. I speak of National Wildlife and Audubon: I send both a pittance annually. What makes Audubon’s more preposterous than its bulk is the place at the back where you are to sign on the line so indicated. Can’t you visualize getting pulled over by a cop and asked for I.D. and you present your Official Audubon membership? “Look officer, it even has my signature.”

To make matters worse, Audubon and National Wildlife are not content with an annual membership and as long as you send them the money they beg for, you get another plastic card. This year I have accumulated two cards from each. They join REI, Ford Motor Co., NW Golf Media Ass’n., The PGA Partners’ Club--with Gloria’s name on it, not mine--Senior Pass for federal lands, NCNB (bank card), Blue Cross, Triple A , a driver’s license and Mastercard in my collection. And there are more, unremembered in a drawer someplace.

I now carry just the bare minimum of plastic in my wallet and even that is too much. But to Doctor Klein’s credit, I no longer sit on it.


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