The Best $14 I Ever Spent

It’s well known that spending money you don’t have leads to ruin. Not spending money you do have can lead to grief of a different kind. What’s the point of making money if you never spend it?

There are, of course, many reasons not to spend money immediately, such as saving for retirement. But one must remember to enjoy life’s little purchases along the way, those small investments that repay themselves a thousand times over.

Here’s one from the summer of 1986, amid my Generation X’s coming-of-age decade. This was when I learned you could record over commercial audio-cassettes if first you scotch-taped over their topside indentations. Instantly, I knew the tape on which I’d practice weird science: “Screaming for Vengeance,” Judas Priest’s eighth studio recording.

There really was no other choice. That entire summer my brother Jack, then 13 and two years my junior, considered it his “lifting tape.” Time and again he would retrieve this cassette from his bedroom and march it down our basement, where the free weights were. 

From young Vulcan’s lair came a cacophony of clanking iron and power ballads, leaving me not screaming for vengeance so much as variety that never came. Jack was territorial toward this cassette, keeping the close custody you’d expect of someone guarding our nation’s nuclear launch codes.

This behavior was odd because nobody else in the family was very much into metal. My mom, for instance, was not likely to opt for Judas Priest over Judy Collins on her morning commute. Nor was any power or principality going to stop my dad from listening to “The Gambler,” the Kenny Rogers cassette he played on a near-continuous loop throughout my childhood.

Jack was fondest of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin,’” a surprise hit buried on side two. The song’s howling lyrics bounded up our basement stairs like ear-plundering Visigoths, day after summer day. That is, until I did something about it. I found the infernal Judas Priest tape on my brother’s bedroom dresser.

It wasn’t that hard to locate; the only other cassette Jack owned at the time was Rush’s “A Farewell to Kings.” A strange pairing for sure—if you Venn-diagrammed tapes owned by people who possess only two cassettes, you’d hardly expect to see those two in an overlapping area—but no matter. I found what I’d come for, his dreaded lifting tape.

I worked my scotch-taping-and-dubbing magic over Jack’s favorite jam, returned the tape to his dresser and waited for chest day. When it arrived, I tiptoed a safe distance behind my brother on the walk—his day’s only cardio—from bedroom to basement.

Jack popped in the cassette, rewound and began his favorite song. Nothing was amiss at first, and why would it be? Only a rookie would have messed with the opening chords, and this was not my first rodeo. When it came time for the eponymous refrain—“you’ve got another thing comin’”—everything went silent.

Well, not everything. Just all instrumentation and front man Rob Halford’s vocals, which suddenly had been replaced by my adolescent cooing. I sounded like Kermit the Frog performing an a cappella gig with a head cold. Then the drums, guitars and Halford’s macho pipes returned, as quickly as they’d disappeared.

“You owe me a new tape!” Jack bellowed from the bench press, rightly guessing I was savoring my handiwork nearby. He had, after all, purchased the cassette with his own money, and I didn’t protest. Frankly, I’d been prepared to cover from the moment I sang over the chorus.

In the end it was Judas Priest that came out ahead. Jack destroyed his corrupted version and, after I’d replaced it at the mall, the Kerrigan boys had purchased “Screaming for Vengeance” twice.

Can I retire on that investment from a quarter-century ago? Hardly, but not every positive return is monetary. In my portfolio of childhood memories, I consider it among the best $14, give or take, I’ve ever spent.

About Mike Kerrigan

Mike Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Charlotte Observer, and at Fox News.

Photo: Gabriel Grams/Getty Images

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