MAD DOG: Funny Money

As loyal, red-blooded Americans we all feel it's our civic duty to be preoccupied with money. How to get it, how to save it, how to keep the Federal Government from taking it all, and how to justify having spent so much of it on those expensive new shoes that we add up all the money we threw away on those lame Batman sequels, including, of course, the barrels of well-oiled popcorn we ate in the process, a product, incidentally, which has the highest profit margin this side of a defense contract.Obviously money is important to us. Maybe that's why it's so disconcerting to look at the new $100 bills that have been floating around for the past year or so and wonder whose Monopoly set they came from. Of course, my problem could be that I see hundreds so rarely I forget what they look like.But the hundred was only the beginning. Take the new $50 bill. Take a couple, they won't buy much anyway. The Treasury Department (motto: "Spend as many as you like, we'll print more.") has moved beyond the really big bills and is working its way down to money the rest of us might see in our wallets. Well, for a few minutes at a time, anyway.The problem was technology. Apparently the old bills were getting too easy to counterfeit. One day someone woke up and realized that anyone named McGyver with a broken spatula, a piece from a Lego set, some kite string, and a friend who was a government engraver could duplicate one in minutes. This had to be stopped.The new $50 bill -- like its predecessor, the $100 -- looks just like the old one only different. First there's the microprinting, which mean lots of teeny-tiny words are buried in Ulysses S. Grant's shirt collar and in the border. This was done so you'll have something to do while standing in long lines at the bank waiting to be charged for not using the ATM: "Find the hidden words on the new $50 bill and win big prizes!"Then there's the security thread which is embedded in the paper to the right of the portrait. When you hold the bill up to a bright light the words "USA FIFTY" and a flag appear on the thread; when held under an ultraviolet light the thread glows yellow. This is how you can tell the $50 bill from the $100 bill -- the thread on the hundred glows red. Well, that and the big numbers all over it.This is actually part of a secret plot by the government to help out the black light industry, a group which still has warehouses full of old Jimi Hendrix posters they want to get rid of. The government also figures this will keep kids off the street and in their bedrooms checking out the new bills while saying "cool" and "rad" and "I can't remember -- did I steal this fifty from Mom or Dad?" This helps explain why they're using color-shifting ink on the number in the lower right-hand corner. When you look at it straight on it looks green, but from an angle it looks black. How fun! Mood money.But the biggest change is in President Grant. Besides making him look a lot like Ernest Hemingway, his portrait -- like Ben Franklin on the hundred -- is larger than the bill itself. According to the Treasury Department this was done so the bills could double as Famous American Trading Cards. Just kidding. Actually they said the enlarged portraits would make the bill easier to recognize. If that was the case why didn't they just take Grant off completely and put a huge "50" on the front, kind of like they did on the back where they slapped a big number in the lower right-hand corner in a sans-serif typeface that looks about as out of place as a government worker in an efficiency class.They say they're planning to make similar changes to all our paper money, though probably not to the $1 bill. This is because they're still talking about eliminating the dollar bill completely and replacing it with a coin. They claim this simple move would save the government $100 million over the first five years. Big deal, they could do that by cutting President Clinton's Big Mac allowance. Apparently it costs 3.7 cents to print a $1 bill that lasts for 18 months. A coin, on the other hand, would cost 8 cents to make and would last 30 years. The problem is 85% of the people polled say they prefer paper.The solution is to subsidize the dollar bill. Companies already pay to have their name plastered on everything from race cars to baseball stadiums to the Olympics. Why not put ads on money? You don't think the public would go for it? Think again. Another poll found that 35 percent of Americans already favor placing ads on the dollar bill if it will help cut the deficit or lower taxes. Hey, even I couldn't have made this one up.So any day now you may be able to walk into your favorite store and pay for your purchase with Coke ones, Roto-Rooter fives and an Earl Scheib ten. Or, of course, you could whip out your broken spatula, that piece from an Lego set, and some kite string and print your own. Hey, they probably wouldn't look any sillier.

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