Many years back, after an extended moment of silliness with some friends, one of them turned to my beloved and proclaimed, "You sure got a bargain with this one!"
This one. Meaning, uh, me.
I have no idea now what grand kneeslapper prompted that remark. I can't even remember what we were doing at the time (Was it that night of the failed pumpkins? Or that dingy motel room we all shared in Vegas?), but like so many expressions that enter our lexicon by way of revealing a fundamental truth, the bargain comment has remained on the tip of my family's tongue for nearly thirty years.
With the passage of time the exclamation has taken on, as these things tend to do, a life of its own. Which means that it's now used exclusively in its ironic sense, when my cost-to-value ratio is particularly high, when I'm up to something that's clear evidence of the non-bargainness of me.
And then—Lo! Behold! Up turns a document to prove I am—I was—a bargain after all! A bill from the hospital for the cost of my birth, 55 years ago next month. The grand total for my mother's hospital stay?
Seriously. And this was a five-day holiday. $25.00 per day for room, board & nursing. A scandalous $30.00 for delivery room charges. $2 for a birth certificate. Miscellaneous pharmacy and supply charges and yes, sales tax on the consumable items.
The hospital appears to have been rigorous with collections—my parents wrote two checks during my mother's time there, and the third and final payment was made the day following her release, Receipt No. D 8833.
By today's standards, the numbers are astounding in their lack of complexity, handwritten on the patient's standard yellow copy. Sure, there aren't any doctor's fees included in this bill, fees which surely would have tipped the tab over that ghastly $200 mark. And if you look closely at the upper left corner of the sheet, you'll see the notation (in red!) by the staff that payments by insurance weren't a factor in the billing.
In 2012 dollars, the purchasing power of that $182.13 would be $1446.92. With all of the establishments' smoke and mirrors, can we even guess what a baby "costs" today?
I'm certain that if you could ask my mother, she'd tell you there were days, far far too many of them, when it didn't seem to her as if she'd gotten such a deal. But I'm enjoying this moment of discovery, liking the fact that push-pinned to my biography is just one single document attesting to my value, the evidence unequivocal that yes, indeed, I was—I am—a bargain.
(This one's dedicated to you, LMR.)
Nancy Carol Moody
I'm a poet and a letter-writer. Yup, that kind. The kind who uses pens and paper and actual stamps. The kind who will leave the house with nothing on the agenda but to get to the mailbox before the scheduled pick-up time. The kind who understands that technology is a wondrous thing, but nothing quite beats finding a real letter with a real stamp on it amid the credit card solicitations, pizza coupons and seminar catalogs.