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In Praise of Pablo
I am a poor person with money. ~Pablo Escobar
You’ve got to hand it to the drug cartels; at least they still appreciate the value of cold, hard cash. No one in a back alley would be caught dead trying to buy an eight ball of blow with a Capital One Rewards Card®. If a man is going to get high the old fashioned way, he will have to forego racking up frequent flyer miles.
Now, I don’t snort anything harder than orange juice up my nose (and that is nearly always accidental), but I do appreciate the Kingpin’s dedication to hard currency. A briefcase full of hundred dollar bills is much more appealing than a plastic gift card to Red Lobster, regardless of how much one may like those cheddar bay biscuits.
I’m not just talking about monetary value here. I mean the aesthetics of it all. There’s nothing elegant about swiping Visas hither and yon. There’s no intrinsic beauty in a Mastercard. But stacks of cash? That’s a sight to behold.
And this ability to appreciate the finer qualities of hard currency is not limited to the rich. My stepmother, for instance, used to take great delight in hiding singles in the mattress. My grandpa loved the melodious clink of pocket change dropping into his Harley Davidson piggy bank, knowing that when the sound was barely audible he would be able to buy another rifle from his store of quarters. My Dad, who wads his money into tight little balls and stuffs them into the pockets of his jeans, delights in finding them in the dryer, as though laundry day was also payday. And then there’s the famous Widow and her solitary mite. It’s doubtful that story would have the same lingering potency if she had simply chucked a Macy’s card with three cents worth of store credit into the offering plate.
Digital money, despite its buying power, lacks the same ability to sell. Ironically, it's nearly unmarketable. When’s the last time you heard a power ballad extolling a card, either debit or credit? Yet Billy Joe Shaver sang about the “Bottom Dollar,” Ray Charles moaned the blues about a “greenback dollar bill, just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll,” and the Man in Black crooned over a “wrinkled, crinkled, wadded dollar bill.” Eddie Rabbit took us to the honky tonk with “Two dollars in the jukebox” and Travis Tritt allowed us to share in his payback to a lover who left him with “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.” I’m saying that plastic doesn’t pack that kind of rhetorical punch. Whereas the late Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” manifests the sheer poetry of tangible money. “I spent the groceries and half the rent / Lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.” This is a true, hard money description of being in the red.
Common expressions like “pocket change” and “folding money” are all but relics of a bygone age. Teenagers these days rarely get to experience the pride of framing their first earned dollar. In the coming days, I expect that even the fairies will have gone digital and snaggletooth children will wake to find QR codes under their pillows. For my part, I’m with the dope dealers.