There’s been a $20 bill sitting on my desk for three months. I’m not going to spend it any time soon. It’s been ripped in half. By me. What happened was I was in some weird NYC bodega trying to buy a nice carton of about-to-be-expire-anyway milk, and that’s when the gypsy who minded the store told me he only took cash. I, of course, had anticipated as much. I whipped out my money clip—yes, I carry a money clip as opposed to a wallet, for reasons I don’t want to get into in this particular post—but when I tried to liberate the $20 bill tucked tight into the clip, the thing ripped cleanly in half like Darth Maul.
It was an infirm bill in the first place. Extra worn down and silk-like and faded. If it had come into the possession of a responsible government official, he would have taken it to the bank post haste and had them officially retire it. But no, I’m not a government official. I’m just an idiot with a money clip and a diaper-rashed $20 bill. Now available in two pieces!
Luckily I had some younger, more spry paper money on my person, so I paid for the about-to-be-expired-anyway milk with that and I tucked the two halves of my twenty into my back pocket. When I got home I immediately verified that the two halves accounted for all necessary material to reconstruct the full twenty. If a little refugee triangle of twenty had fallen to the floor during the initial tear, I’d surely have a harder time convincing anyone to accept my wounded twenty as legal tender.
Because that’s what was at stake here: the monetary value of the bisected strip of paper that, at one time, was a twenty dollar bill. A lot of questions spring up (for me, at least) when it comes to taping back together a torn in half paper-money bill. The biggest one being: how can the recipient of my taped-together twenty know that all material is accounted for? Sure, they can eyeball it, can even compare it in size to a second, uninjured twenty; but, short of whipping out a microscope and ruler, how can they know for sure the bill’s 100 percent?
Surely there’s some kind of rule of thumb here. I’m sure a quick Internet search will tell me all I need to know. Something like: if the bill is 70% accounted for, it’s legal tender. Or perhaps 51 percent accounted for would make the most technical sense. But no matter what the number is, how can the clerk in question ever be sure that the taped-together bill qualifies. Like, what if I were to hand a clerk a weird horizontal, zig-zag 51 percent half of a twenty dollar bill? How could anyone, even a seasoned bank clerk, accurately establish that the segment of paper qualifies? They’d freaking need a team of NASA Rover designers to figure it out!
Likewise, what becomes of the other 49 percent? The other weird horizontal zig-zag strip of former paper money? If the tear had been done cleverly enough, a shady fellow could probably make the 49 percent look as big or even bigger than the 51 percent. Meaning, if you go to the right bank hungover bank clerk, you can pass off you 49 percent as legal tender. Turn a twenty into a forty.
Of course, a store/bank clerk could always just shrug and say, “Uh, sorry sir, but store policy prohibits me from accepting your weird fraction of paper money.” But that’s a total cop out. Said clerk should at least come up with an official ruling as to whether or not he considers your fraction of paper money official legal tender or not. Who hired him anyway?
The fact of the matter is, my bisected twenty dollar bill is 99 percent accounted for, material wise. I can’t say 100 percent, because surely some microscopic fibers were lost in the original tearing. I’m pretty confident my twenty dollar bill is still a twenty dollar bill. But this knowledge doesn’t ease my suffering.
I haven’t even bothered to tape it back together yet, if you want to know the truth. I’m too embarrassed at the idea of handing some clerk somewhere a taped-together twenty dollar bill. Basically, I don’t want to do that to the clerk. It’s cruel. Because, damnit, how could he know for sure? He’d like freak out with indecision and perhaps quit the workforce entirely.
So what’s happening here is that my severed twenty has become a sort of permanent fixture on my desk. Whenever I need money, I just hit up the bank or ATM, as if the Darth Maul twenty doesn’t even exist. One of these days I’ll face my fears and tape it together and try and pawn it off as a real bonafide twenty.
Or, if I’m feeling particularly daring: a forty.