twenty dollar bill


I consider myself a fairly right-minded, law abiding citizen. While I’ve been known to not always feed my meter and I may have run a few reds in my day – for the most part, I’m a rule follower. Always have been.

While attending elementary school in the criminal underworld that is suburban Ohio, my worst offense against the state was probably stowed under the banner of “Playground Roughhousing” and spoken about for thirty seconds at a Parent-Teacher conference before being dismissed to talk about my shitty spelling. Or my use of the word shit. One of the two.

(Worth mentioning that I appreciate the occasional email from readers who point out spelling errors in my stories. It’s way more common than I’d like to admit.)

As short of a rap sheet as I may have had, I certainly wasn’t perfect. And my lack of criminal experience surely reared its ugly head on the rare occasion I chose to step out of line. “What are you alluding to, Drew? Sounds like a story…”  Sure is.

In second grade I had no concept of money. I knew that everyone wanted more of it and that people got really upset about it. As far as I could tell it was just like chicken nuggets or mint-condition action figures, just easier to carry. And considering my ‘income’ was based on tasks like washing the dishes and cleaning up dog shit… er, poop (sorry, Mom) – my financial experience had been limited to one dollar bills or, occasionally, a Five.

One fateful day, outside the second grade classroom of Mrs. Potratz that all changed. I was standing at the elementary equivalent of the water cooler – our lockers – and overheard two classmates speaking to each other in a hushed tone. I couldn’t tell what they were saying but ask any seven year old and they’ll tell you: if people are whispering something, you definitely want to know about it. So I asked them what was up.

The look they gave me was that of utter amazement. I felt like the villain in a movie and these guys, my henchmen, were bringing me their loot to inspect. Their shifty eyes moved back and forth before glancing up to me and saying:

“We found a twenty dollar bill…”

A what? You might as well have told me that you successfully just drilled for oil on the playground. I had no clue what to do with a twenty. I just knew that I wanted to have it.  Which lead to the incredibly important second piece to this puzzle. They said:

“… and we don’t know whose it is.”

BOOM! It couldn’t have been set up more perfectly. All the other kids had gone into class. It was just me, my two henchmen and a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, they weren’t going to settle for “oh, it’s mine.” I knew I would have to come up with a strategy of persuasion they couldn’t ignore.

I called upon all of my criminal might. I considered all of the tricks I had for duping my peers – which was equal to the amount of tricks I had for talking to giraffes – and before they whipped the bill behind their backs (a classic defense mechanism in those days) I stared at it for as long as I possibly could. I was trying to find any anomaly I possibly could. I was searching for a torn edge, a deformity, a birthmark. And, like a miracle, I saw it. A small purple squiggly line. What was once a fleeting act of amateur graffiti that went unnoticed by owner after owner was now the very center of attention.

With confidence and my best acting skills I said, “Oh, that’s mine! I dropped it!”

The leader of the henchmen, having all too late concealed the treasure behind himself, responded for them both with, “How can we know it’s yours?”

Oh, a fair question my friend. Some day you will make a great detective. “Well, I think, it had like a little purple squiggle line on it” I said with an over-acted sense of indifference. I was aiming for “I can’t really remember and twenty dollars is nothing to me anyway” what I got was probably more “I don’t understand how to use words and I’m not sure where I am!”

Whatever it was, it worked. Crabbe and Goyle (as I’ve decided to refer to them) looked at the twenty and, lo and behold, there was my fateful purple squiggle, practically glowing with victory. Unable to deny me, they handed me my prize and we walked into the classroom.

In the classroom, Mrs. Potratz, the sheriff of this town, stood totally clueless to the clean and perfect crime that had befallen in the hallway. I sat, unable to pay attention to her lesson and likely missing vital information about state capitals or ‘I’ before ‘E’ rules but all I could think about was my $20. It would seem that waiting to spend the money never occurred to me, as I kept wondering to myself: “how many extras could this buy me?!”

(Side note: For those of you who didn’t go to Fort Meigs Elementary, “extras” were the treats that we could purchase half way through lunch. Delicacies like ice cream sandwiches and “Choco Tacos.”)

So yes. I was planning on spending all of my dirty money on dessert. This explains the size 38 pants that would await me in the coming years. As I was attempting to count out how many treats I could physically carry in one trip, my heart stopped.

Walking in the door was Dorothy Rimmel. One of the cutest girls in school, a picture of small town innocence, and she was crying. Mrs. Potratz leaped into action, asking “What’s wrong?”

This was a mistake. If my years have taught me anything it’s “if you see a cute girl crying. Never ask her what’s wrong. You’re not gonna like the answer.” This time was no different. Dorothy opened her mouth and seamlessly pulled all of the air out of my body.

“I lost my money.”

Nobody could hear her because she was blubbering through her tears but I knew. Dorothy had been my victim. It all sounded much worse with a name attached to it but plain and simple – I had robbed Dorothy Rimmel. It was the end of the road for me. She gave her plea another go and this time with more poise.

“I lost… my money. A twenty dollar bill.”

The shock on our teacher’s face, in retrospect, was probably more based on “who the hell would give a seven year old a twenty” but I assumed that she knew it was stolen. Crabbe and Goyle wasted no time; their heads whipped around in their seats and locked on me like missiles. I can forgive them for staring, it’s a common reaction, but when Goyle blurted out: “Well, Drew grabbed one in the hallway” I vowed those to be the last words we would ever share. Nobody likes a snitch.

The whole class glared at me. Where a true villain would have cackled and ran out of the room with a triumphant “you’ll never catch me!” I merely started sweating and then sulked into my chair.

It was at this point that I think I blacked out from embarrassment. Another trait not suitable for a life of crime. When I came to, I was back in the hallway, the scene of the crime and I was face to face with Sheriff Potratz. All I remember her saying was “Why?” and I’m pretty sure my answer was just me crying.

Was I crying about being caught? Was I crying about never talking to Goyle again? Or was I crying about the 15 Choco Tacos I wasn’t going to enjoy? We’ll never know.

I was let off the hook. Public humiliation was the equivalent to capital punishment in elementary school so that was more than enough. I went through the rest of the day and was met with little backlash until lunch. When the lunch ladies came around the corner, ringing their bell and shouting “Extras!” (which was the only sound more lovely than the song played by the ice cream truck). I was forced to just sit there. I watched as a slew of kids purchased delicious confections. My jealousy was curbed however, when I looked to my left and saw Dorothy sitting at her table. She wasn’t buying extras. She was satisfied with her meal. Despite her overflowing wealth, she was totally content. So mature.

Or she has a beat on a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card and she’s holding out for it. That’s probably it.


- dc


Comments are closed.