Cheque day, for someone receiving their income from the government, is like the last day of school before summer for a student, or Sunday for a Catholic.
It’s a day you dream about for a week, maybe two or three, and when it comes it’s the one time all month you feel comfortable taking a shower, fixing your hair and wearing a nice shirt.
But there’s “cheque day” and there’s “check day”. ‘Check day’ is usually the day before the cheques arrive, when the anticipation grows so high that you convince yourself “check day” is really “cheque day”.
So you put on some nice clothes, gather up whatever identification papers you have, and walk the ten city blocks to the social assistance office. Once you’re there you wait in a room, or a hallway, or a staircase with all the hundred other people who convinced themselves the cheques might be in early because, maybe one time, they really were.
Check day sucks, because the cheques are never early. Or they were early just enough times that for the last four blocks you can almost taste the hamburger you’ve been thinking about for five days.
The one time the cheques do arrive early is if the end of the month falls on a holiday.
Like this week, because of July 1, Canada Day. I was sure today was going to be a check day. I thought there might be a possibility of my cheque waiting in my post box, but I only went because I was passing by the post office anyway. And there it was.
When I was on social assistance the first time, between 1990 and 1993/4, I always marked cheque day as an occasion. An event. For a few months, while I lived with my friend Jason, we’d go to the local Chinese restaurant for their $8.99 lunch buffet.
There was a time when I’d go to the Royal Oak on Bank St. in Ottawa for a Guinness and a French onion soup. But that got old fast.
Cheque day was also generally the only day of the month when I could afford to take my girlfriend to the movies.
But the one thing I did most often, or the tradition that lasted the longest, was buying a 500mL carton of chocolate milk. During the worst years — 90-93, 01-04 — that half carton of chocolatey awesomeness would be the only milk I’d drink during the entire month.
One other thing about cheque day, back in the early 90′s, was the signature cards.
Social assistance would not send a cheque if you had no address, or no bank account. So we’d have to pick up our cheques at the office, and in order to get them cashed we had two choices, a cheque cashing operation, where they took 3-4% off the top. Or the Royal Bank on Bank Street.
The RBC would keep our signatures in a card file, and if the signature on the cheque matched the one on the card, we got our money.
On cheque day there’s be fifty people inside the RBC, and another fifty or more waiting in line outside. We were a pretty rough looking bunch. There was usually yelling, and an occasional fight outside on the sidewalk.
There was usually a weird mix of people, especially on a pay day. I remember they had us segregated, a couple of tellers for us, and a bunch more for anyone who didn’t look hungry. Or something.
The problems really started when the signature’s didn’t match. People go a week or two smoking smashed cigarette butts they found on the street, then you hand them a cheque, which they carry for ten or twenty city blocks, building up fantasy after fantasy, only to be told their signature isn’t quite right.
I honestly didn’t blame the RBC for stopping the signature thing, even when I had to open an account at a cheque cashing place so I could eat.
Anyway. I thought today was going to be a check day, and it turned into a cheque day. So that was nice.
Today was a beautiful, sunny day, so my son and I stayed inside and enjoyed the air conditioning. Mostly we handed toys back and forth to one another.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) we have to get outside. This air conditioner thing is dangerous, I can easily see myself leaving the apartment only for toilet paper and apples.
The photo is my girlfriend and our son falling to sleep on my couch.