In my first year after high school I lived in Corvallis, Oregon, attending a small theological college and working part-time at Bob’s Burgers, a small Oregon-based fast-food chain, now defunct. One day I was at the front taking orders and received as payment for a milkshake a 1928-issue two dollar bill in pristine condition.
Two dollar bills in the USA have something of a mythical status. Though they have been in almost continuous circulation for many years, consumers rarely use them, preferring instead to collect them and store them away. For that reason, the US Treasury prints very few new ones. In fact, it is quite commonly believed they are no longer legal tender. A cursory internet search turns up confirmed anecdotal evidence: “A Taco Bell patron attempted to pay for a burrito with a two-dollar bill. The cashier and the store manager both refused to accept it as valid U.S. currency, believing that there was no such thing as a two-dollar bill. When the patron then said that the only other bill he had was a fifty-dollar bill, the manager said that since it was less than an hour to closing, he didn’t want to open the safe. When the patron insisted on paying with it, they called the security guard, who then explained that two-dollar bills are actually valid U.S. currency.” Another man, a “patron of Best Buy, attempted to pay for an electronics installation with 57 $2 bills. The cashier refused to accept them and marked them as counterfeit. The cashier then called the police, and the patron was handcuffed until a U.S. Treasury Agent arrived to clear up the issue.”
In keeping with American tradition, when that beautiful 1928-issue two dollar bill slid across the counter to me at Bob’s Burgers, I discreetly slipped it into my pocket. Later I added two regular dollar notes to the till to make up the difference. I took my trophy home, showed it off to my house-mates, and put it away for safe-keeping. What a prize!
Almost three years later, in the summer of 1983, Renata and I were finding our way as newlyweds. As far as sexual ethics go, we could be exhibit “A” for the Roman Catholic church: abstinence before marriage really is possible, as is faithful monogamy in marriage. We’re as straight as they come. Only to say that, three weeks after our wedding, our new-found freedom had us jumping into bed on any and every occasion which presented itself.
Our candidacy for the annual Papal awards ceremony, however, was always going to be dashed on the rocks of another aspect of sexual ethics: birth control. Sure, we wanted children eventually, but we absolutely did not want them right away! As zealous as we were about sex, we were equally so about preserving our status as married, without children. Indeed, upon surveying all the various paraphernalia filling our shopping basket after one of our first visits to the drugstore, I wondered if we shouldn’t add an Epi-pen to the purchase; one of us was bound to go into prophylactic shock.
One evening, on a hot July day, the amorous delirium infected our brains again and we headed for bed to sleep it off. I reached for the box of condoms, but to my utter amazement it was empty. How could this be? It seemed just yesterday we had bounteously replenished our supply. Enough for weeks to come, we had reckoned then.
We discussed our options, and decided (wisely, I’m still convinced) that we really shouldn’t proceed without a condom, no matter what else we were additionally relying on. It was getting late, but the Fred Meyer’s One-Stop-Shopping was open 24-hours, so I would nip down there and be back in a jiffy. I got on my clothes, grabbed the car keys, and started looking for some money. We soon discovered, however, that not only were we condom-less, we were also cash-less. Money there was, in the bank; but these were the days (just) before the ATM established its ubiquitous presence. What to do?
Well, I’m sure you can guess the rest of the story. “Love,” St. Paul says, “always perseveres.” Faint with passion, sure we would not make it through the night without satisfying our ravenous appetites, our thoughts turned presently to my precious two dollar bill, stowed away in a small box of personal treasures. Renata can laugh now, as can I, but she has never forgiven herself for the fact that it was she who first dared speak what should not be spoken.
Disheveled and dejected, this uxorious young man slid a crisp 1928-issue two dollar bill across the counter at Fred Meyer’s, watching with deep envy and contempt as the eyes of the cashier lightened ever-so-slightly upon seeing the note, watched him as he suppressed any display of emotion that might jeopardize his unexpected windfall. With disgust I witnessed how he set it aside as he fished-out my change and gave me the receipt for a box of three condoms.
That night I discovered, for the first time, that sex is not always what it’s cracked up to be.