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Buddy, Can You Spare $100?

by Stephen Lautens


February 15, 2002

Little signs have been popping up all over town. Everywhere I go I see little cards, notes and stickers by cash registers announcing: "This Store Does Not Accept $100 Bills". And I have to admit, it's starting to bother me.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I have a big wad of hundred dollar bills burning a hole in my pocket like a Vegas high roller or an Enron Vice President. In fact, I don't recall the last time I even had one of the brown bills in my wallet. It was probably after a graduation or wedding - and I haven't had either one of those for a while.

What bothers me is that we essentially have a useless bill in circulation. Right on the front of it is written: "This note is legal tender", but try to get someone to take it. Okay, don't expect someone at a convenience store to let you use a C-note to buy a copy of this newspaper or a pack of gum, but with everything getting so expensive it doesn't take much to hit a hundred dollars anymore.

For example, today I bought four red peppers at the local - and not very fancy - grocery store. The price was $10.41. Or when I took my wife to the movies last week. The tickets, plus four kernels of popcorn and a thimble of Coke was almost thirty dollars.

At the risk of sounding like one of those tedious old codgers who remember when movies were a nickel, I remember when the five dollar bill was the standard unit of currency. For five dollars you could pick up a loaf of bread and a jug of milk, or have a suit cleaned if it wasn't very dirty.

Pretty soon you needed a ten to get anything done. And then the twenty dollar bill became the smallest denomination you could do anything with. ATMs spit out twenties so fast they have to be refilled several times a day. In fact, in the United States twenties have become known as "yuppie food stamps".

Fifties are a great denomination, but have never been that popular. Although they're very useful as currency, they don't really say that much about the person using them. Someone who puts down a salmon-coloured fifty is likely viewed as some who is trying to show off - a little short of both flash and cash.

Which brings us back to the hundred dollar bill. It's brown, ugly, and bears the picture of one of our least exciting Prime Ministers, but at least you can have a night on the town (or trip to Loblaws) with it.

If you can get anyone to accept it.

Even though they're legally obliged to, store after store refuses to take them because they're a prime target for counterfeiters. Offer one to a bank and they'll eye you suspiciously while they're in the back subjecting your money to more tests than an Olympic athlete.

What surprised me the most was when I saw a sign at my local Post Office announcing that they too no longer accepted hundred dollar bills. Of course the irony is that Canada Post is an agency of the same Canadian Government that prints and guarantees our right to use hundred dollar bills. I suppose if it's not good enough for them, why should anyone else accept them?

Pretty soon all the only thing you'll be able to do with a hundred dollar bill is use it to light your five-cent cigar.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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