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Emmitt James telling his story at the AfterDark: For the Culture StorySlam in 2023.
Photo by Art Montes
Emmitt James telling his story at the AfterDark: For the Culture StorySlam in 2023.

This episode of Real Stories MKE focuses on the almighty dollar! Money can be a source of temptation, corruption and greed. But it can also be a boon and a gift for those who truly need it. Whether you’re counting pennies or have money to burn, this episode is worth your time. Episode 5 of Real Stories MKE was hosted by Kim Shine & Joel Dresang, edited by Sam Woods and features four stories from Emmitt James, Patricia McNamee Rosenberg, Angela McManaman and Justin Eiland.

Episode transcript below from Ex Fabula's Real Storie MKE series.

Joel Dresang: Welcome to Real Stories MKE; part of Ex Fabula’s work to connect Milwaukee through real stories. I'm Joel Dresang.

Kim Shine: And I'm Kim Shine. Everybody has personal stories worth sharing and Ex Fabula fosters storytelling through workshops where folks explore their stories and build their skills in Ex Fabula hosts StorySlams also, where true tales get shared on stage. In this episode of Real Stories MKE, we are sharing four of those valuable stories.

Joel Dresang: That's right, our theme in this episode is money. For what it's worth, we live in a capitalist society. Money matters. Life can be challenging without it, but at the same time, plenty of us are resourceful beyond our means. Money can help us afford moments that become experiences we’ll never forget. And in some cases, money or the lack of it teaches us valuable lessons.

Kim Shine: Well, I already told you that money stresses me out.

Joel Dresang: Yeah, yeah, but it's more in the past tense, right?

Kim Shine: It's more so in the past tense, but it's always in the back of my mind that something is going to happen and I'm going to be broke and have no money and not be able to care for myself. So it is crazy.

Joel Dresang: I think that's healthy to a degree. Yeah. Actually. Yeah. So, I mean, one of my money anecdotes was when I was in high school, my first girlfriend was like a year older than I was. I was 15/16. And she had had I wasn't her first boyfriend. She had older boyfriends before. And we went out for like a couple of months or something, and she broke up with me and she explained that she needed to go out with a boy who- who had a car and oh yeah, had money and stuff, you know, and I was like, well, you know.

Yeah, it wasn't anything about me. It was about, you know, what was in my wallet. And then after that, I got a job. And then I didn't have any time for going out with women. So...

Kim Shine: Yeah. I wonder if she looked back when you got the job, she said, “man, I wish I was with him now”. Maybe she’s listening! You missed out!

Joel Dresang: I was working in a kitchen in KFC. She wasn't after that money. Well, let's go to our first story here. You know, a risky way of making money is by gambling, betting on uncertainties. And there's an expression among gamblers. Put your money where your mouth is, which is what Emmitt James did in this story he shared at an event in 2023.

Here's Emmitt.

Emmitt James: So, though I don't look it, at the top of this year, I turned 30 years old. Jamae, relax. Relax. She said “damn!”. Relax. And so, as I get older, I don't know about you guys, but as I get older, the more and more I think it's important to focus on the things that are really important to you.

You know what I'm saying? So, for different people, that's different things. What I'm learning is for some people, that's their pets, their jobs, the kids, their vacation time, their professions or their careers. And for me, lately it's been dental care.

Y'all laughing. But I'm one of those people who think that dental care truly is self-care. You know what I'm saying? But it's been it's been, what’d you say? Yeah. Yeah, yeah, it's been it’s been a journey though. Is it just me or do y'all beef with y’all dentists too? You never almost have to curse your dentist out?

Never had to squabble with your different dentists? Translation: squabble just means fight. Fisticuffs. So, I want to tell y'all about the time I almost, keyword: ALMOST, cursed my dentist out. Is that cool? All right, in order to tell you that story, we got to go back in time to November 2018. I was living in Los Angeles, tiny As* apartment.

Me and my ex-girlfriend. So, in L.A., everything is expensive. So, the rent expensive, going out is expensive. Just breathing is expensive. So, on this particular night, we didn't go out. We was in the house just vibing because vibes are free at the crib. Y’know what I'm saying? So, I don't remember what we was talking about, but I remember revealing to my ex-girlfriend at the time, this is before Jamae, sorry Jamae.

I remember telling her it had been ten years since I had been to the dentist. She said something like that. Her exact words were actually, “oh, my God, you have cavities!” She said that immediately, and I was like, “no, I'm an adult. I got bills and student loans. I don't got cavities. I'm a grown as* man.” But she said, “since you're so sure about that, let's make a bet.”

Now on the north side of Milwaukee, when somebody says bet before you discuss further details, you just say, “bet” back. Let's try it: Bet! (Audience repeats “bet” back to Emmitt.) So, we made a bet. she's like, “for every cavity you have, you owe me 30 bucks.” And so I'm thinking to myself, this is the quickest $30 I ever made. You should just Zelle it to me now.

She was like, “no, but how will we know if you have cavities?” I was like, this is a bet. That's right. And so, she said, for every cavity you have, you owe me 30 bucks. So, I did what all mature adults do. I grabbed my laptop. I made sure the Wi-Fi was connected and...Made sure the Wi-Fi was connected.

And I got a Groupon for a light cleaning for $24. Fast forward the story. I go to the Groupon dentist. He examines my mouth and he immediately tells me I have three cavities. I'm absolutely terrified. Not because of the cavities, because that was the quickest $90, I ever lost in my whole entire life. Now, I don't know about you, but if $90 just left my account today, that would throw my whole budget off for seven months minimum.

So, I was f*cking terrified. but he continues to give me bad news. He says, hey, “I know you came here for a light cleaning, but bro you need a deep cleaning.” That's a little extra more bread. Then he gave me more bad news. He says “for each cavity, it's going to be $271. Bringing your balance.” “Balance!?” “…to $1,400.”

Mind you, I got a Groupon for $24. I didn't come in here to hear the word balance. So, when he told me that, I said, “the devil is a lie!” Because when I don't- when I hear sh*t that I don't like, I just say, “the devil is a lie”. You should try it. It might not change nothing, but it'll make you feel better.

He saw that my... the look on my face and that I was getting more upset, and he tried to calm me down. He said, okay, listen, for you today, I can do this for you. Sound like he was about to give me a deal. I said, “doc, talk to me”. He said, “for you today we could take the $24 and deducted from the $1400...

No problem.” And in that moment, almost slapped the shi- Nah. That's my story about the time I almost cursed my dentist out. Thank you.

Joel Dresang: That was Emmitt James. He told that story as part of AfterDark: For the Culture, which is an occasional collaboration between Ex Fabula and Hyfin Radio, Milwaukee's urban alternative radio station. And we have an update from Emmitt, who is a Milwaukee based hip hop and jazz artist. He said. “This story is inspired by real life events that have inspired an EP, series, one called ‘The Jazz Cavities’, and a sequel dubbed, (I like this one)

‘Jazz Cavities 2: This could be us, but you don't brush.’”

Kim Shine: I could see the memes that could come with that. The social media memes. I really enjoyed his story. Obviously, you know, I work for Hyfin. I've said that I think a few times on the podcast. So, I got to see this live, which I thought about...

Joel Dresang: I was there too! Yeah, yeah.

Kim Shine: Because you and you see a lot of the stories live, which is awesome. And Emmitt, he by himself is just a hilarious guy. But hearing this story and him talking about $1,400 for this bet and then Groupon, when Groupon is supposed to make your life easier. It just- It reminded me of so many things and put me in so many different spaces.

Joel Dresang: That's right. Yeah. And sometimes you get what you pay for, right? Another money lesson.

Kim Shine: I know! Well, our next money story touches on temptation and the belief that money is the root of all evil. That's what Justin Eiland found out, as he explains in his story from an Ex Fabula-Teen StorySlam. Here's Justin.

Justin Eiland: So, this was like a year ago, but I'm gonna bring it up right now. It was a book fair. I was in fourth grade and I really wanted money, but my mom said, nah, “you can’t get books, I can’t buy them”. But me, I'm pretty sneaky. So ,the night before the book fair, I decided to go inside because I stayed up.

I decided to go inside my mama's room. I seen a purse, I got happy, I hit the jackpot. So, I go inside. I take like probably like $20 to $40, but I didn't know I grabbed the whole thing, so I walked back. I'm feeling happy right now. Like I then I go to sleep. It's time to wake up.

I go to the book fair. My mama calls me and say, “Where did all my money go?” I said, “I don't know because I didn't take any because I was asleep” and I came home with plenty of books and she said, “I thought you didn't have no money because I didn't give you none”. And I said, “oh, I asked my dad for some money”.

Then she call my dad, and my dad said he never gave me no money, so I know- I was stuck so much to my room. She came in, I said, “where did you get the money from”? And I said, “okay, don't get mad, but I took only like $20 to $40”. She said, “no you didn't...

You took all my $80 in my purse!” I was just booked at that point I didn't know what to do. So, my dad came and said, “I never gave him no money”. She said, “that's what I'm talking about”. Then I went to the living room to try to get on my game, and next thing you know, she turned it off and I'm on punishment.

And now I can't do anything. I'm inside my house, just bored. And then the next day she returned all the books. She got her money back. And that's why you should never steal out your mom’s purse.

Kim Shine: And that was Justin Eiland from a 2023 Teen StorySlam with the theme “Spill the Tea”. What’d you think?

Joel Dresang: It was great, guys- you be careful what you're getting out of your mom's purse.

Kim Shine: I know. Well, so I, I remember the book fairs back in the day, this Scholastic book fairs. And I'm telling you, I definitely was a reader back then. I like to do it now, but obviously, when you're a kid, you got a lot more time, and all the books are just so good. And I remember never necessarily having enough.

I would have a whole bunch of books on my list and would have to choose, which is still good. But man!

Joel Dresang: He could buy a lot of books with that money.

Kim Shine: He could have!

Well Joel, how about some UltraShorts?

Joel Dresang: Yes. Well, tell us again what those UltraShorts are?

Kim Shine: So, the UltraShorts are just very short stories written on a tiny piece of paper when folks don't want to get on stage, but they would like to participate and have a little bit of their story shared with the theme.

Joel Dresang: That's great. Yeah, and the MC reads it on stage so they don't even have to stand up and talk.

Kim Shine: That's true.

Joel Dresang: That's right. I've got one here. It's from anonymous. “One time I bought a wallet, I was showing it off and someone asked, ‘where's the money’? I replied, ‘I spent it on the wallet’”.

Kim Shine: You need to work a little bit harder. Get some money for one.

Joel DresangGot a place to put it at least.

Kim Shine: Right? This one is from Jack B “Vacation, Coming back from Florida. Family vacation. Dad spent all of his cash money in Tennessee on fireworks. Had to drive all the way back to Milwaukee without stopping for a hotel. Mom was not happy.”

Joel Dresang: Kim, I've got another UltraShort. It’s from D. “If you hang out in the barbershop long enough, you'll find out almost anything is for sale. I've been offered dogs, TVs, tapes, CD's, food, bootleg DVDs, you name it. But I learned the hard way to keep my money in my pocket. My personal copy of Shrek came complete with the couple in front of the bootleg videographer center screen for the whole movie.”

Oh my God.

Kim Shine: That is hilarious too. I have a memory from that as well. Growing up in Chicago, you would be, at the gas station and you'd have folks selling CD's, DVD’s and stuff like that. And we bought a few of them in the past, and there were some where you could see the person all the way back, all the way in the back of the theater, and you can see all the seats and all the heads in front.

Joel Dresang: And hear people eating popcorn.

Kim Shine: I mean, it took you right there, okay?

Joel Dresang: You get what you pay for, right?

Kim Shine: Talk about an immersive experience.

Joel Dresang: Well, you know, as we heard in our first money story from Emmitt James, amusing stories can come out of our attempts to try to save a buck. Next, Patty Rosenberg tells us of the time she made an interesting romantic move to help her landlord save some money. Here's Patty.

Patty Rosenberg: So, I was about 25 years old and, home from college, and I got an apartment on the south side of Chicago where there were no men, and, I worked as a social worker. So here I am, living in this apartment on the second floor of this old house in the middle of nowhere. And there were skylights.

One Saturday afternoon, I'm taking a shower, and I'm hearing this noise, and there's a skylight in my bathroom. And I see a foot and I'm like, Holy crap. And so, I literally had to grab in order to keep- If the foot saw me, I had to grab a shower curtain. So, I grab the shower curtain, throw it around me, run out and put some clothes on, and then there's a side skylight that you screw open.

So, I open a skylight. They look out there. There's this man! “Sir, sir, what are you doing on my roof!?” He goes “Oh, yeah. Mike wanted me to do the roof”, and so he goes, “do you mind if I come in and take a look at the leak”? So, I said “Sure, sure”. So, he comes in and he was nice enough, and he looks at the leaks and he's kind of talking to me.

He's young, kind of grumpy looking. And I said, okay, and and he leaves, and then I get a call from my landlord that night and the landlord goes, “Patty, I get a 25% discount if you go out with the roofer”. And I said- and I didn't tell him about the skylight thing, I figured I'd take it. Did he see me or did he not? This is a big question.

And I go, “you know, I don't know. He didn't look very good.” And he goes, “just talk to him on the phone.” So, the guy calls me, I talk to him on the phone. He goes, “well, I just need this date for this thing. And if you don't mind, I know this- I'm a model” and I'm like, “no way!”

And he goes, “yeah, I'm a model. And my picture is going to be in this thing is Excalibur nightclub in Chicago. And because the guy won a prize for my picture” and I'm like, fine, this is a great story. So, he comes, and he picks me up and I'm like, you know, and I get dressed nice, and he shows up and he is six foot five.

He is 200 of the finest pounds I'd ever seen. I mean, he's a bodybuilder. He is fabulous. And then he shows me the picture. And the picture is like, this is the day of mad Max, the first mad Max movie. And this guy's in leather pants and he has no shirt on. He's sitting on the mountain, and he is hot.

And I go, I don't know about you, but I want to go out with your friend here. That's who I have a crush on. And he goes, okay. So anyway, it all worked out. He really liked me. And then what happened? And we went out for a while. We went to this thing, and he was all over the place.

But I was worried. And I kept saying to my friends, I'm just not sure about this guy. One, I don't know if he saw me naked, and what he likes me for and two, is we don't have a lot to talk about. He just doesn't have a whole lot of interest in things. And so I go, I just might have to, you know, to break it off.

And so anyway, what sealed it is on Valentine's Day, he decides- you know, he says to me, he goes, “I really have a special day for you”. And I said, “well, what are we going to do?” And he goes, “well, I thought first of all, we'd watch the news together.” And I'm like, “watch the news again?”

He goes, “well, you're just so smart. You always like to watch the news”. I said, “okay, okay”. And then as we go and watch the news, he brings me this present and I open up the present. It's a globe. And I said, “what is this about?” And he goes, “well, you're the smartest person I know.”

He goes, “I thought you'd like a globe.” And I said, oh, this is just not going to work out. And he was crushed. But I broke up with him. So thank you.

Joel Dresang: Okay. That was Patty Rosenberg, who shared that story at a 2018 Ex Fabula StorySlam with the theme crush.

Kim Shine: So, I laughed at her story, but I don't know. I don't know if I would have done it.

Joel Dresang: What, broken up with the guy or actually agreed to go out in the first place?

Kim Shine: Agreed in the first place! I don't know, I don't know.

Joel Dresang: So, Kim, I told you about my first job, what was your experience?

Kim Shine: Oh man, I wish you I wish my job was at KFC because I loved the bowls, like they were fantastic. And I love the wedges very much, so...

Joel Dresang: You wouldn’t have loved where I was working.

Kim Shine: Well, my first job, my first professional job. I cannot believe how much money I was not making. I said I went to school and I chose this career only to be making, what was it, $25,000 a year?

Joel Dresang: Yeah? And- oh, this isn't a high school job?

Kim Shine: Oh, no.

Joel Dresang: This is your job out of college?

Kim Shine: This was after I got my master's.

Joel Dresang: Oh! Okay. Yes, yes.

Kim Shine: This is after I got my master's degree. I got my first job, which was in television. Television news, which I'm grateful for most definitely because here we are doing the podcast together. But yeah, I was so shocked that it was $25,000. And then I had met some other, up and coming reporters who later told me that their first job would pay them $18,000 or $19,000.

Yes. And I'm like, how can you live off that? That is noodles every night. Thankfully, I do make more now. And with every job I did get more and more money, but man!

Joel Dresang: Sure. But the low pay in those early years, as regrettable as it was, helps make you more frugal and appreciate it more as you go on.

Kim Shine: You know I'm going to take that positive route from you. I am so frugal now. It is crazy. My friends, over the years have made fun of me because of how frugal I am. They call me cheap. Yes, and I am okay with that because at this point, now that I make a little bit more money, I don't know how to manage it to get more out of it, I'll say.

Joel Dresang: And the point is, when you had little money, you had better stories about it, right?

Kim Shine: Mmmm (laughs) All right. So, we have one final story, Joel.

Joel Dresang: Yes, we do. This story was from Angela McManaman. Yeah, and you know, for most Americans, home ownership is the biggest money commitment they'll ever make. And for Angela, the burden on her first house went beyond money. As she explains it, it came with unexpected costs and benefits. Here's Angela.

Angela McManaman: I had a three-year-old son at my side and a ten-day old baby. He weighed about as much as a bundle of papers in my arms. I'm asthmatic. Excuse me.

And when we walked up the front porch and we opened the door, I was excited until I looked around and I saw a 65-year-old man's entire life spread out before us in the living room. I cried because his faded cowboy prints were still on the wall. I cried because the area rugs, he promised me he'd removed before we moved in...

We're still on the floor, and I cried every time I opened a drawer in a kitchen or a bathroom, and I found a collection of stubby yellow pencils or a rubber band ball, or the white housewives Cookbook, circa 1920. Turns out they cooked with a lot of lard in the white House back in the day. And I cried until my new baby started crying.

And then I fed him. And I walked up the gleaming wooden stairs of our new home. And the second floor looked kind of like a dormitory. One long hallway with three large bedrooms opening up off the main hallway in a tiny bathroom. I opened the closet, and I cried again when I saw more of the previous owners entire life in those closets than I ever expected to see, and things that I never expected to own.

Old geometry notebooks from Marquette High School, wig stands, metal cots. And so, I realized my first night in that new house would not be about moving me in. It would be about moving him out when the rest of the family slept, even the newborn baby. I scrubbed the bathroom, that he was sickened with cancer for years, clean. I don't know why I didn't see the dirt during the open house, but I didn't.

But it took me two hours that night, and I got through the clearing of that house with the kindness of strangers. The sanitation department came twice for a special collection, and I cried when the woman backed up the truck and I brought her brownies, and she cleared the entire concrete slab in our backyard of all of his possessions, they were mounted high and she said, “honey, that's our job...

You don't have to cry.” And when two pickup trucks full of Hmong gentleman came to my house, I cried because they went to the basement and lifted up heavy old pieces of German furniture, and they carried it out the door. And I think the final straw was when I tried to give them a tiny little Christmas tree decorated with tinsel.

Not my most culturally sensitive moment. So, eight years passed, and for all those eight years, I carried the weight of that man's possessions with me. I don't quite know why. Was it postpartum? Was it the work? Was it how damn rude it was just to leave, you know, most of your stuff in that house that he'd grown up in his entire life?

So, I started in places in the house that I'd never really been before. As I began to clear it and prepare it for the next owners, I was in the basement with my mother one Sunday afternoon, clearing old misshapen coat hangers that he had used for fishing, and I cleared them from nail hooks that were embedded in the rafters, and I put them in a big plastic bag, and we probably spent an hour in that basement.

I found old shoemaking equipment, among other things. And then as I cleared what I thought were the last of the hangers, I heard a little tiny thud. And I was about eight months pregnant at the time, but I was able to kind of awkwardly get down, and I picked it up and it was a steel band aid box retailed at the Pill and Puff at some point in the last 40 years for about $0.83.

So, I opened it up and I saw a series of $50 bills neatly rolled inside, and before I could even count the $50 bills, I opened them up to see that there were $20 bills rolled inside of those. And if you've never been in an episode of The Sopranos, I can promise you it kind of feels like that.

I opened the box, I looked at the bills, I gave it to my mother. She said a few square words, and then we gave it to my husband. I was pregnant. Very emotional. This house was a burden for me in some ways, as well as a joy. $3,000 later, we decided to keep the money. The previous owner had died.

He was the last of the family. We learned many of their secrets over the course of the years, and I understood why we still have most of those $3,000. The steel band aid box is about ten rows back from here, but it turns out everybody's forgotten what a vintage 1960s era $20 bill looks like, because when my 14-year-old son tries to spend it at Jimmy John's, they won't take it unless he brings an adult in the room.

Thank you.

Joel Dresang: That was Angela McManamon from a 2016 Ex Fabula StorySlam with the theme forgotten.

Kim Shine: You know, I have never found money in any house nor apartment that I've lived in, but if I did, I have a requirement that it must be at least $10,000.

Joel Dresang: Oh, my goodness. Well, have you looked? Have you looked that hard? Because you should look pretty hard to make $10,000.

Kim Shine: I need to look under all the cupboards and all the things and all the spaces, the crawl spaces. I gotta go back and look.

Joel Dresang: So yeah, especially if you're in an old place where they used to put money in the walls and stuff because they didn't trust the bank, because that's a thing, you know. Yeah, yeah.

Kim Shine; I actually- I live in, like, an old factory building or something. So, maybe there's money in one of the doors that we don't go to.

Joel Dresang: Somebody was embezzling or something and...

Kim Shine: I know. Yeah. You see. Oh, my fingers are like. Oh!

Let's go find something that would be nice if you had that much money, though. I mean, I know $10,000 is kind of relative depending on where you are in the times that we're in. But if you had 10,000 that you just found somewhere.

Joel Dresang: It's a windfall. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I'd put it away. No, I-

Kim Shine: What? And then you forget about it. Somebody else will find it!

Joel Dresang: I'd share it with you so you wouldn't have to be so cheap. How’s that?

Kim Shine: Joel came with jokes today, but I guess I'll take that. Okay. Thank you very much.

Joel Dresang: You're welcome. What do you think? More UltraShorts?

Kim Shine: I think that'd be great. You got one?

Joel Dresang: Sure. This is from anonymous. “In real life, I work hard for my money. I used to play the Sims computer game. That allowed me to live a virtual life, building dream houses on beautifully landscaped lots, kitchens with trash compactors and granite countertops, living rooms with jacuzzies and 60-inch flat screens. The thing is, my sims never went to work, so how could they afford to live in such luxury?”

“The answer? Hold down Ctrl shift and then type in motherload 50,000 simoleons magically added to your funds. Welcome to the virtual 1%.”

Kim Shine: Oh wow, I wish I knew that.

Joel Dresang: Yeah, it’d be nice if it worked now, right? Talk about.

Kim Shine: It might!

Joel Dresang: Might be keyboard shortcut.

Kim Shine: Yeah, I do know some people still play the Sims, so I have to give them that. This one's from anonymous. “When I was in my 20s, I was asked to take money and go bail a friend out of jail. While I waited, an officer called my name, and when I answered, I was told that I was under arrest for an unpaid ticket for fishing without a license...

I was booked and use the bail money to get myself out. I laughed as I looked down at my friends from the cell waiting for me.”

Joel Dresang: Oh, my goodness. Well Kim, that's all the time we have for this episode of Real Stories MKE, but there's more storytelling where this came from. Ex Fabula has been around since 2009 and has plenty of audio and video stories available at exfabula.org.

Kim Shine: The Ex Fabula-website lists upcoming storytelling workshops and StorySlams, and you can check it out and then join us at an event. Share one of your stories with us. You can also connect with Ex Fabula on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. They get pretty funny over there. You can also listen to more Real Stories MKE episodes wherever you get your podcasts.

Joel Dresang: Yes, and thanks to everyone who makes this program possible, including Ex Fabula staff, the storytellers, of course, our producer JJ Draper and audio engineer Sam Woods.

Kim Shine: Thanks, Sam. Real stories MKE. My name is Kim Shine.

Joel Dresang: And I'm Joel Dresang, remember everyone has stories worth sharing. Think about telling yours.

The hosts of "Real Stories MKE" are Joel Dresang and Kim Shine.