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Friday, January 21, 2005

The Truth Behind the Story

I'm a coin collector. I collect coins. My most rare coin, besides my collection of confederate money, is a buffalo nickel that has a picture of Calvin Coolidge taking a leak on a Communist sickle and hammer that the Department of Treasury stamped in 1927. My wife has always thought that my collection was silly. The other day, as a joke, I thought it would be funny to give her a couple of toy million dollar bills, a way of admitting that my obsession is a little silly--the kind of self-deprecating humor that Rodney Dangerfield used in his stand-up routine ("I get no respect," he used to say).

Alice has always been a little gullible. Once while attending a dinner party, she embarassed the both of us by taking a bite out of one of the plastic bananas in the bowl on the dinner table, citing hunger as her motivation. Another time, on our vacation to New York City, she got us kicked out of Madame Tussaud's for embracing the wax dummy of Brad Pitt and asking for his autograph. I probably shouldn't even mention the hospital bills we had to pay off when she ran, Wile E. Coyote-like, into a mural of a landscape painted on a brick wall.

Knowing all these things, I feel like I should take some responsibility for what happened to Alice next. True, I was away on a vacation and had no way of knowing that she would do what she did, but there are some things you just don't do. You don't give a baby sharp objects, you don't take a dump while talking on the phone, and you most certainly don't give my wife play money.

When I got home from the coin-collectors convention in Boise, I found, much to my surprise, that Alice had been arrested for attempting to pay with one of the bills.

Apparently, Alice thought I was giving her a per diem while I was away, and tried to pay for some goods at our local Wal-Mart using one of the bills. In her defense, she did try to use one of her Wal-Mart gift cards that were given to her by her mother first, but she just didn't have enough to cover the $1,671.55 bill that she chalked up on her spending spree (there was $1.82 left on one card, and $.50 on the other). Alice, chagrined to find she couldn't complete the transaction with the cumulative $2.32 on the cards, remembered another way to pay.

"Of course!" I can picture her thinking, slapping her forehead. "A million dollars is way more than the $1,671.55 needed to pay for these goods!" So, she pulled out a bill and handed it to the cashier, apologizing "All I've got is this," knowing what a bother it must be to produce $998,328.45 in change.

I'll tell you what: they do some serious training at the Wal-Mart in Covington, Georgia. The clerk took one look at that bill and handed it back to her, asking if she had another way to pay. Alice, looked down at the returned bill, did the math in her head, and thought to herself "No, I was right. That is enough." She smiled patiently at the cashier, and handed the bill right back to her.

Alice is quite headstrong, and I have no doubt that had the clerk not taken further measures, the passing back-and-forth of the bill would have lasted for at least twenty to thirty mintues. Sam Walton does have a busines to run, for gosh sakes. The clerk called the police officer that stood nearby, and he asessed the situation. I can understand how it would look to someone who doesn't know her: a woman attempting to pay with toy money, and refusing to back down? My first thought would be counterfitting and forgery, which is exactly what the courts are calling it: forgery in the first degree.

Of course, if I had been there, I would have been able to explain, and tell the police the story about how Alice fought a blow-up alligator to the point of exhaustion last summer at our neighbor's pool in order to protect me, or the time she turned herself in to the police when my boss' son played dead subsequent to a finger-gun game of Cowboys and Indians.

Unfortunately, I wasn't there, and the police took her to jail. If and when this case makes it to court, I fully intend to defend my wife. With the way the Treasury Department works nowadays, who really knows who prints what bills? It's true, I knew that the million-dollar bills were fake, but how could the average person know? We aren't all coin collectors.

"I wasn't trying to pass off the bill," she said. "That's ridiculous." I agree with you sweetheart, and I'm in your corner.

Alice, still pleasant after tolerating
wild accusations about her intentions with the
million-dollar bill.