Everyone who has ever worked low budget anything remembers the struggle to get paid.
Minutes would slow to hours as one sat, face pressed against the window, scanning the street for the elusive postal carrier, hoping against hope that today, finally, that precious check would arrive.
One would call the payroll company and be told that the checks were cut, but that since there was no money in the account, they couldn’t be mailed.
Calls to the production company, of course, would go unanswered.
Then, after two weeks, one had the sinking realization that the check probably wasn’t coming and decide to take a more pro-active course of action.
I personally have planted my ass outside an accountant’s office with my back against the only door, knowing that I could wait longer to pee, eat, drink, sleep, whatever. Get a group of production workers together and every single one of us will have a story about the extreme measures to which we’ve gone to get checks.
The labor board was never much of a help because they didn’t move very quickly, and productions were notorious for closing the office and dissolving the LLC before they suffered any retributions for screwing the crew out of pay.
There was no pain in the world like the “this number has been disconnected” phone message – it meant there was never, ever going to be a check, no matter what.
So the power got cut off, and the gas got turned off (the phone could never, ever get cut off because how would one get jobs?), the car insurance lapsed, and the landlord got yet another excuse, and one loaded up on snacks from craft service because there was no money for food.
When one did manage to get a check, one hauled ass to the bank in the hopes of depositing it before it bounced.
Bounced payroll checks were the worst. Not only did one not get money, one had to pay for the bounced check.
I will confess to, on more than one occasion, having contemplated homicide when faced with the consequences of a rubber paycheck.
I will also confess to having accepted dates from men in whom I had no interest just for the free dinner.
Don’t judge me.
My grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, once told me that hunger and desperation change you forever.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve worked a job where the status of the checks was…indeterminate, but even now, when the check for the mid-month low budget is a few days overdue, the old fear grips me.
The empty mailbox makes me grind my teeth, and I frantically snap off lights while eating a cold dinner so I don’t have to use the stove. My pulse quickens as I try to figure out how to get to work without using any of the precious, precious, expensive gasoline in the car’s tank. I start a mental inventory of anything I own which has resale value.
Yes, thank you, I’m well aware that I’m completely overreacting. Intellectually, I know the checks will show up eventually, and if they don’t I can call our union and they’ll do the work to roll out the legal guns (so to speak).
But it’s so hard to be calm.
I guess now I’ve gained more understanding of my grandmother, who was almost as rich as Midas at the end of her life, yet still spent time clipping coupons and screaming at us to turn off the lights because the meter was running.
I really need that check.