I strode on out of the theater, that last scene from Casablanca still fresh in the ole noggin. Bogart and Bergman make the perfect couple. More than what I can say for the next twosome that I saw.
As I made for the door, I saw a babe walking out of the Maxwell’s clothing store, her man was right behind her. They were carrying more bags than Bonnie and Clyde after a visit to the bank. His back was bent from carrying all those sacks. He looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she was the dame. Someone needed to straighten them out. I was going in.
When I got 10 feet away, she looked at him and said “Honey, how much do we have left on the American Excess card?”
His top was about to blow. He dropped all the bags on the ground where he was. “We maxed it out, DEAR!” he said.
She stopped and looked back at him. “Oh, uh, well … what about MasterFraud?”
He shook his head.
She looked confused. “We maxed them out already?”
Just then, I arrived on the scene. “How many spots have you hit tonight, honey?”
She looked at me and said, “Excuse me, but it’s none of your business.
“Just the opposite, babe,” I countered. “Killing debt is what I’m in business for.”
“And just who are you?” she said, sassy.
I opened my trenchcoat. Dave Ramsey’s “I See Debt People” shirt showed proud and true. “I’m the DEBTective, and you’re in debt. Now, what places saw your mug tonight?”
After a minute, she finally spilled the beans. “Oh, I don’t know, let’s see. We went to Maxwell’s, Amber Jane’s, The Pit, Mucho Grande’s, Tuba or not Tuba, Spendy Spender’s and As Seen On Late Night Basic Cable Wrestling.”
I stared at her. Her hombre stared at her. It took a couple of minutes. She still wasn’t getting it.
“Honey,” he finally said, “I think we spent too much.”
“Oh, you always say that. We just did a lot of looking, that’s all,” she countered.
“I think we did a lot more than looking. Look at all these bags,” he said.
“Honey, it’s not that much,” she whined. She turned to me and asked, “Is it?” She was trying to get a little sympathy. I’m not about sympathy, I’m about saving.
We found a bench so the poor guy could cool his heels. The chick and I went through each bag and found the receipts for each store. She told me she bought all these threads because she likes to look pretty. I’ll tell you, there’s no way this ugly situation is going to be pretty.
We found 11 receipts. Apparently, she didn’t get everything the first time around and backtracked to some of the stores she’d already hit.
I went into my inside pocket and pulled out The Crusher. I started adding the receipts up. The guy looked at me like a lost puppy. He didn’t need to worry about getting help; it was on the way.
I finished running the numbers and looked at Plain Jane. The guy was on the edge of his seat. Time to deliver the goods.
“You spent $795.13 tonight,” I told them both.
His head fell into his hands. Her mouth hit the floor. Reality hit them both.
“I knew it. I knew it. I knew it!” he said.
She tried to calm him down, put her hand on his shoulder.
“Well, now wait. How could I have spent that much?”
“Things cost too much at the mall, babe.” I pulled out one receipt. “Here you spent $62 on one sweater.” I pulled another. “$75 on a pair of shoes.” And another. “$31 on two paperback romance novels. You got the plastic fever and spent all this dough without realizing it. What’s the interest rate on your credit ca-“
“Twenty-one percent,” the guy said, cutting me off. He knew all the cards they were holding. “And she only makes the minimum payments each month,” he said.
I looked at her. “How many cards do you have?”
She looked at the ground. I knew the look. Before I found Dave Ramsey, I had the look. “I’ve got six credit cards, and they all have a balance,” she said.
I ran some more numbers through The Crusher. When it was done, the whole thing looked uglier than a blind date with a good personality. “Sweetheart, if you pay $20 a month, it will cost you $1,371 to pay off this one little shopping spree, and it will take you until the year 2012. Hope you like the sweater and shoes!”
She looked scared. It was about time. “What do I do to fix it?”
“First thing you need to do is get out of the mall and don’t come back for nothin’. Second, spend cash for clothes. It hurts to see cash leaving you, but your brain doesn’t register putting a piece of plastic down. In fact, I can show you the smartest move to make with those cards right now.”
She grabbed her purse and handed me six pieces of plastic poison. I took the Plasectinators out of my coat. “Time to make credit … history,” I said, cutting the cards to pieces. Dave Ramsey would have been proud. “The only good debt is no debt.”
She looked at me and nodded her noggin. “Honey,” she said, “Can you help me with the bags? I want to return this stuff.”
The kid smiled for the first time that night. He looked at me and nodded, like he was saying “thanks.” They gathered up the bags and headed off.
I walked toward the door, shaking my head and smiling. Almost too easy, I thought.