Diary of a Dollar by Caroline Roy

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2. 21st birthday

Dear Diary,

 I just realized that I’ll be 21 years old this year. You may wonder why I have been out and about for so long. The average life expectancy of a one-dollar bill is 6.6 years; just about two years longer than a five-dollar note. Yes, fivers do have a shorter life expectancy for some reason. However, technically, I am closer in age to a hundred-dollar bill, which according to the Federal Reserve statistics, circulates on average for 22,9 years.

I am glad that the recent coffee-cup-accident did not affect my looks. I owe my well-preserved youth to the fact that I was stuck in a toilet for many years. Let me explain. I was the first dollar earned by a guy named Chris Allen in 2001. At age 11, he became the top dog-walker in a leafy New England neighborhood. He made his first cash by walking dogs through a community park. As he could not walk more than a couple of hours every day, he was often seen with ten or more dogs at the same time.

Chris had a dream: he wanted to do well on Wall Street, make it big and quit young to finally collect and restore classic cars. To remind him of the promise he made to himself, he framed the first dollar he ever earned – me! – and kept the frame on a shelf in his bedroom of his parent’s house. Years later he dropped out of college and became a day trader.  During this time, I lived on a shelf in his tiny room in an equally tiny Greenwich Village apartment he shared with a friend. They never were home. The fridge was always empty, and one day the utility company switched off the gas as the guys never used the gas cooker. It was just a place for them to crash whenever they were not at the gym, at work, at dinner or at a party.

Chris did well. After a few years my glass frame moved to the wall of the guest bathroom of Chris’ new weekend house in the Hamptons, right above the flush. As a result, I had a special perspective on the New York financial elite. I’ve seen lines snorted, people getting fired and insider trading tips delivered by phone from that very bathroom. I will spare you the details. Just that much: Shit happens. But at least I was able to keep my youthful appearance.

One day, a cleaner took the frame off the wall and opened its back. He removed the tape that had kept me in place for 17 years, then he put the frame back on the wall and slipped me in his pocket. After he was done cleaning the empty house – it was always empty during weekdays – he got in his truck, drove to a gas station and got a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for his daughter and I ended up in the cash register of a Hampton Gas station. I doubt anyone noticed the missing item back in the house until much later. In the gas station, I thought, the odds that I would go back to Manhattan were not too bad.

Now you know the secret of my crisp looks. Given that bank notes will not ever live as long as a British pound coin or a euro, we must hope our life counts, don’t you agree? A low denomination bill is always in danger of ending up in a gym bag or some drawer where nobody misses it. A dollar bill’s biggest fears are a) being forgotten in some smelly old Jeans b) loneliness, and c) inflation. We want to count, improve lives and make a difference like every other note or coin. As a one-dollar bill, what can you really expect from your existence? you may ask. Clearly, one dollar isn’t really money, right?

But before you dismiss us, think about me in that frame. I was the symbol of success for Chris, and a reminder of what he wanted to do with his life. And then the cleaner interchangeably used me to buy chocolates for his daughter, which, hopefully, made her day. Maybe he didn’t mean to steal me, but was just short of cash? Perhaps he replaced me the next day, who knows? How would that affect my value? One thing is certain: It must have been important to the cleaner to bring something home for his daughter that day. So even if a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, our value is defined by circumstances. What something is worth – and that is even true for small amounts of money – is not absolute, but relative.

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