“If money talks,” standing in line eager to cash my pathetic paycheck, my money was telling me to rob the guy in front of me. He wore what looked like an expensive business suit, and without blinking an eye, he instructed the teller to give him five thousand dollars and he wanted it all in hundred dollar bills. I couldn’t imagine what he was going to do with all those hundred dollar bills in the middle of the day. I imagined maybe that his daughter or wife was being held in somebody’s basement. Or maybe he planned one of hell of a Las Vegas weekend full of giggling blond strippers, drugs and liquor. Maybe it was just his weekly allowance. But it seemed it would be an annoyance to always have to break hundred dollar bills. I still felt jealous. If I could’ve walked up to the teller, a black man in baggy jeans, baseball cap to the back, headphones in my ears and asked for five thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills, the person behind me would've thought I was a drug deal or even worse, a rap star. Money just didn’t talk, it also carried a reputation. Two days before, I was heading home from a one night stand. It was about six o’clock in the morning. On the walk home, there’s a McDonalds close to my house, I decided to stop and get me a McMuffin but I wasn’t for sure if I would have enough change. At the street corner, I searched through my pockets and book bag. I stood there counting the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, hoping they add up to at least two dollars. But before I counted the last nickel, a couple stepped out of their BMW, walked passed me, and placed two dollars in my hand. I was shocked. I knew because I was counting change, they figured me homeless. It seemed odd. But I took the money.
It is a cliché, but you really don’t know the value of a dollar unless you’re poor. And when you quit your job to become a famous writer, poor becomes "po" because you no longer can afford the entire word. I’m not just broke anymore, but learning to start to learn the value of a penny. If my money could talk it would say that it was lonely and starving to death. If my money could talk if would tell me to get a real job.
At the local CVS on a Thursday night, what appeared to be a normal transaction turned into pity --when I handed the cashier my money. She looked at me like I stole something because I wanted to pay for a pack of starbursts with a ten dollar row of quarters. I knew what she was thinking --why didn’t I just take three quarters out of the pack, but I wanted crispy dollar bills back. I had originally gotten the row of quarters from the bank earlier that week to wash clothes. But it was a Thursday night, which meant dollar drinks at the local bar, so I figured the clothes could wait. I got paid that Friday. Actually the quarters was the only money I had left, and when my friend called me and told me the gang was getting together, I made an executive decision. Yes, I needed clean underwear, but I knew I could always turn them inside out and spray them down with cologne. I figured, amongst my friends, it would be more aesthetically pleasing to pay for my drinks with dollar bills instead of quarters. I wanted to hide my poverty. But what I found amazing was how much of a snob the cashier who probably made minimum wage turned out to be. I was already nervous and didn’t know why. Maybe I was embarrassed.
If my money could talk it would say that I was too damn self conscious. I was nervous because I was afraid the cashier would think that I was a street person and not trust me. I thought she would try to embarrass me further by making me take the row of quarters apart and count them.
If my money could talk it would turn me in for being an irresponsible bastard. The cashier handed me back the crispy dollar bills I so desired with a devious smirk on her greasy face. I took the bills in my hands and suddenly felt safe. I felt lighter because the quarters weighed down in my pocket. I was ready for the night to begin.
As I walked to the club, I started thinking about money. I always thought that money was supposed to be money, universal, but it wasn’t. Different types of money spoke different types of languages. Money itself carried a reputation and people discriminated. Money was just as arrogant at the English language. Americans just expected others to speak it, and if you didn’t they expected you to learn or get a translator. And if different types of money spoke different languages, pennies definitely spoke "Broke."
Everybody hates pennies. Pennies are like cockroaches, people feel ashamed if they have too many. One very “broke” week at the grocery store, I had to debate if I wanted to use the CoinStar machine to save face. It was just another bureaucratic device that made you pay to translate your jar of abandoned change into a proper and more attractive language like dollar bills. After scavenging my entire apartment, I only had about three dollars in pennies and I needed to eat for the next four days which meant a ten pack of Ramen noodles, a loaf of bread and a pack of generic hotdogs. The CoinStar machine charged one cent for ever nine cents it changed into a dollar and I knew if I used it, I would lose 30 cents which meant I would lose 3 bags of Ramen noodles, which meant I would stave for a day. So I had to make a decision, and I decided to make the cashier earn her minimum wage. I splattered the pennies on the counter and they scattered like a gang of roaches in a dark apartment when the lights are turned on. It didn’t help my humiliation that it was a long line, and I could fell the collective angry sigh and shifting of the bodies. I was afraid they were going to attack me. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to starve so that strangers could buy their groceries quicker. The cashier of course gave me that look like she didn’t have the time. She just asked me how many pennies I had like I was on welfare. I told her three dollars worth, she just scooped them up in her fat well manicured hands. She didn’t even count them.
If my money could talk and had legs, it would probably leave me for someone with more dignity. I come to find that nickels, dimes and quarters are like pop quizzes. It’s the more accepted change, but don’t have too much of it. People seem to get confused because they can’t count on their fingers and toes but have to resort to memory. It’s like watching a third grader learn its multiplication all over again. They stare at the shiny pieces, stack them in their categories and pray they don’t fail. A pocket full of nickels, dimes, and quarters can make the average human being feel real stupid, real quick. They always count at least five times to make sure its right, and they still aren’t sure.
Half dollars and the dollar coins are like the retarded cousins of the change group. It makes everyone stare twice at their large heads. It’s as if they are freaks, people at first don’t know what to think because they don’t see the country cousins of change that often. They usually resort to primitive apes just gawking at the big heads, biting on the coin, smelling the coin, flipping the coin over to read its value. I once gave a cashier a hand full of dollar coins, she had to call her supervisor because she didn’t know if the money was real. The supervisor came over and had to call the bank. It was as if they never seen a dollar coin in their lives. I was amazed and disturbed. I couldn’t help but feel sixty years old and shake my head and yell, “What are they teaching you dumb kids in school these days.”
When it comes to paper money, ones, fives and tens are the normal. They are like middle class white people, nobody is really ever suspicious, because people just assume they belong. I have yet to see anyone check the validity of a dollar bill. Some may choose to check a five or ten every once in awhile, but never a dollar bill. I also like to think of ones, fives and tens as stripper and hustler money. At the end of the night, strippers all over the world are usually pulling such bills out of the cracks of their g-string. One, fives and tens are the universal language of money. It can get you a lap dance or a smoothie with no problem.
The black sheep of money is easy the twenty dollar bill. It is the most widely circulated "big bill" and the most counterfeited. It doesn’t come with the best reputation. Maybe the twenty dollar bills are the black people of money, because everyone is always suspicious like a sales-clerk in an expensive department store who watches any black person like a hawk when the white suburban bored house mom with a kleptomania addiction is stealing all her shit.
But I’ve always been afraid of large bills. I don’t like when the bank gives me large bills. It makes me feel like a drug dealer. And nobody ever has change. I don’t have the type of lifestyle that requires large bills. If my money could talk and I had a pocket full of large bills, it would laugh hysterically. It would be like, who the fuck are you kidding. I don’t like large bills, because if I lost a hundred dollar bill, I would throw up and then cry like I got kicked in the nuts. I’m nervous with large bills because I don’t like my money consolidated. I liked my money broken down like a pretty boy in prison. I like it weak and vulnerable and needy. Large bills are too damn arrogant. And as I stood behind the man at the bank wanting to rob him, I knew money just didn’t have a reputation but it also defined the people who carried it. I could never pull off five thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. I would have to carry a gun because in my neighborhood the crack head would smell it on me. I would have to kill somebody. If my money could talk, it would tell me to stay broke, it’s safer.