Monday, June 27, 2016

I'm In Trouble ... Two-Dollar Bill's Worth

The Prelude ...

It is no secret that those of us that are intimately involved in running a cash register at a little country store watch for what, in my family, is called "funny money."  Now I am not talking about counterfeit bills though occasionally we do receive notices from the Vermont State Police that fake scrip is making the rounds in the area.

What I am talking about is the occasional bit of silver coin, 50-cent pieces, wheat pennies, a two-
dollar bill or anything out of the ordinary. Just last week, I found a buffalo nickel -- standing out like a bison in deer country -- as I counted the cash drawer. Turns out it’s worth about six cents without a readable date. I saved it anyway. I always think about the stories those odd bits of coin would tell if only they could speak of the hands that had spent them over the years.

The Story ...

Today I went to a flea market where the modest size and mellow weather dictated chit-chat with the motley crew of vendors. If you have time to really explore a flea market you will find it part history lesson (American Flyer sleds, coal shuttles, grinders for everything from meat to raisins), part creative entrepreneurship (crocks and wooden wheelbarrows planted with geraniums and necklaces woven and beaded with ladder yarn) and part Comedy Central (where else could you find a prosthetic leg complete with tube sock and worn sneaker?).

Always drawn to the closed glass cases that house shiny bits of old jewelry and miniature treasures, I stopped in the shade to gaze at an array of coins ... Mercury dimes, Indian-head pennies and the like. Telling the scruffy and bearded tender of this stall of the family penchant for saving oddities out of the cash register, he launched into the curious story of his old friend, Constantine.

Constantine, it seems, ran a little country store with his longtime girlfriend, Gracy.  He kept a little waste basket under the cash register where he placed every two-dollar bill that came his way. He promised Gracy that when the basket was full he would take her to the altar and marry her.

Now, Gracy had been his trusted employee for a long time and she was a patient woman but her patience was growing thin and the basket's contents grew ever so slowly. Over the years she had helped Constantine solve a lot of problems and now she set about solving what she saw as the problem of her lengthening spinsterhood.  She called everyone she knew and enlisted their help to call everyone they knew to come to the store and pay for their purchases with two-dollar bills. If the bank tellers in the small Vermont town knew the reason for the sudden requests for two dollar bills, they kept the secret.

In a surprisingly short time the little waste basket was full, almost overflowing. Constantine knew he was in trouble. For so many years his word had been his bond and it did not even occur to him to renege on this most solemn promise. Besides, he did love her and knew she would not be a troublesome wife.

And so, the wedding was held, paid for by two-dollar bills. Because they were modest people, the ceremony was modest, with wildflowers picked from the meadow and iced tea and cupcakes for the guests.  After so many years of hard work, Constantine and Gracy wanted to spend their money on a trip ... a real honeymoon.

So off they set for Cape Cod. They didn’t live so very far away but this seemed like a charmed place of mystical and mythical proportions. Dressed in his best new Carhartt pants and a new plaid shirt, over a thousand dollars’ worth of two-dollar bills secured by red rubber bands tucked here and there among their modest luggage, Constantine stepped up to the registration desk at the Holiday Inn. 

No, he did not want to pay with a credit card ... he had cash. So he began to unroll the bills and place them in front of the startled registrar.

It may have been company policy. It may have been the very strangeness of the transaction. Whatever it was, the authorities were called, and before Constantine and Gracy had their first honeymoon Heineken, the Massachusetts State Police were at their door wanting to know where he had obtained such a stash of cash. They were quite convinced that no one would have come by this legally.

It took a bit of explaining and a half-dozen phone calls to corroborate their story, but suspicion was eventually cleared and the newlyweds enjoyed their honeymoon -- tipping lavishly with two dollar bills -- and laughing at the new credit card society that had been thrust on them. They spent every last one of those two-dollar bills before returning to the comfort of their small town and cozy little store

They figured that if this was the worst of their troubles then their union would be blessed. And it was ... a dime and a dollar at a time they prospered and chuckled at their old-fashioned notion that cash was king!

I wonder, in the days of fraud, stolen identity, and massive debt, if Constantine and Gracy were so far off the mark. After all, a piece of plastic will never be able to tell the stories of a coin or a crumpled banknote. A piece of plastic will never have the appeal of a two dollar bill with old Tom Jefferson, peering as mysteriously as the Mona Lisa from his engraved minting.

How many stories like Constantine and Gracy’s would he tell if he could only speak?

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