The Mysterious Case of the Old Lady and the $1,000 Bill (And My Mom)

Mom emailed to tell me about something interesting that happened…

“We volunteered at a local theater. Dad gave out the programs and I worked the food concession. A really older lady purchased a cookie and coffee. She handed me 4 singles to pay for them. When I looked at the bills to put them in the cash box, one of them had 3 zeroes. Yes, it was a thousand-dollar bill.

“I have never seen one before and was so amazed. I don’t even know who is on it. Anyway, I gave it to her and told her to be very careful and put it somewhere else. Who would even carry such a bill? Dad asked me to point her out to him, and I was still so amazed, I couldn’t do it … Just thought I’d share the experience with you.”

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OK, first off: How old was this lady? Mom is 84 and here she is calling someone “a really older lady.” 95? 100?

Second: Yes, my Mom is a very kind and honest woman, and she immediately felt protective of this woman. I’m surprised she didn’t take her home with her and Dad. And make her some soup.

Third: Grover Cleveland. He’s on the $1,000 bill. GC was the 22ndand 24thPOTUS, the only person to win and serve two non-consecutive terms (1885-89 and 1893-97).

According to the Federal Reserve: “On July 14, 1969, the Federal Reserve and the Department of the Treasury announced that banknotes in denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 would be discontinued due to lack of use.”

There are still several of these big bills around, and they’re worth a lot more than their face value.

Mom: “I looked up the bill. It is worth $2,750 if in fine condition. It looked fine to me. I wish I knew who the lady is, as I would like to tell her what it’s worth and to be more careful. Dad and I are trying to figure out the story. What about you?”

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Mom also went on to say that, because I’m a writer, I should write a short story about it “for the New Yorker.”

I emailed back to tell her I’m on it, and that she should alert the New Yorker. I know, I know, but Mom thinks I’m the greatest writer in the world and the New Yorker would be lucky, darn lucky, to have my short story about the old lady and the $1,000 bill.

Hey, maybe the woman is Grover Cleveland’s great granddaughter. Nah, too simple. But, I promised Mom I’d wrote a short story about her short story (which, by the way, is how John Irving got the idea for The World According to Garp – and he never once thanked his mom, the ingrate), and so I’ll write the story even though fiction isn’t my strong suit.

I always listen to my mother.

Stay tuned, I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my story (and post it here if for some reason the New Yorker doesn’t want it), and let you know if Mom runs across this woman again at the theater. Feel free to send me your thoughts, plots and dialogue and humorous anecdotes that tie in with this story. And if you happen to have a $1,000 bill lying around, send it my way. It might inspire me.

 

 

Delivering Love (and Flowers) on Valentine’s Day

In case you forgot, Valentine’s Day is coming up. Real soon. And here’s my Valentine’s Day gift to everyone: An old column about a flower delivery guy (with some updates at the end) …

Len Conway doesn’t deliver just flowers. He delivers love.

“You better check with my wife on that,” he said with a smile.

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I spent Friday with Len, delivering flowers on Valentine’s Day, which is to flower deliverers what Christmas Eve is too reindeer and Super Bowl Sunday is to pizza-delivery drivers.

Len, 66, a retired appliance repairman, works for Quakertown Flowers, a small florist shop that takes a lot of pride in what they do. Maryann Glazier is the owner, and Valentine’s Day finds her hip deep in roses, carnations, daisies and baby’s breath.

“I haven’t been home since 7:30 yesterday morning,” Maryann said as she, Gloria and Cheryl keep their assembly line of colorful arrangements moving along. “I did spend an hour last night lying down.”

Her husband, Joe, who works for the Navy as a computer specialist, is there to help, along with their son, Joe Jr., and a few friends. Although Maryann says she runs a small shop, she’ll sell more than 750 roses and will fill more than 100 orders today.

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But the real action is out on the road, and it’s time for Len to load up and deliver another van full of love … I mean flowers.

“I once had a customer who ordered a dozen roses and the woman refused to accept them,” Len said with a chuckle.

Not today.

“That’s from my son,” Ernna said proudly as she slips a dollar into Len’s hand after he delivers a nice basket of flowers. “He lives in Florida and never forgets me. He’ll call later.”

Amazingly, Ernna is one of the very few flower receivers who tip Len. I’m shocked, but Len accepts it with a shrug.

Next stop is a nursing home.

“You’d think there would be more deliveries to nursing homes, but there’s not,” Len said. “They’re like warehouses ’til the people die. It’s very sad.”

We get a lot of “oohs” and “aah” as we enter with two arrangements, one roses, the other carnations. “That’s the best one today,” someone says of the roses, wishing they were for her.

As the day wears on, I learn more and more about Len, who’s more of a romantic than he’d ever admit. He and Mildren have been married 43 years (“44 in July”) and he’ll give her a planter with four plants and some decorative flowers after the last of his 50 or so deliveries.

“What’s the secret to being happily married for 43 years?” I ask.

Len thinks for a few seconds. “It’s just a case of people being willing to give a little instead of always talking. As long as you can talk to each other, most things can be straightened out.”

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Len has developed a greater appreciation for Valentine’s Day since he started delivering flowers five years ago. “I’d get my wife something and that was that,” he said. “Now, I see all these people and the sense of happiness they get from flowers and … well, it’s a lot better than going to someone’s house to fix their washing machine.”

Sitting on the porch in front of our next stop is a large, brown dog. Len, who was bitten a couple of weeks ago, eyes the dog suspiciously. “I was at this house and there were three little dogs,” he said of the biting incident. “They ran up and one got behind me and bit me.”

That was the 12th time he’s been bitten, although most occurred when he was repairing appliances. Who knew this was such a dangerous profession?

“I’ll put him inside,” Lisa said, and the big, brown dog turned out to be a teddy bear who craves affection.

“I was on the phone with my friend,” Lisa said, full of excitement, as she signs for the flowers. “I said ‘Ooh, the florist is here,’ and my friend said she’d stay on the line so I could tell her what I got.”

Our next delivery is in a mobile house development to Josephine, an older woman who has trouble getting around. “It’s my birthday today too,” she tells us. “I’ve been waiting for you all day!”

Back the flower shop, Maryann is wrapping up a long, long two days.

“What are you going to do tonight to celebrate Valentine’s Day?” I ask.

“Sleep!”

“Joe, are you getting Maryanne flowers?”

They look at each other, laugh, and in union shout: “No!”

“I want airline tickets,” Maryanne said.

As you’re reading this, Maryann and Joe are on the way to Florida and Key West for a well-deserved vacation.

This ran on February 17, 1997 … 22 Valentine’s Days ago. My 5th with Susan.

I did a little digging, and … Len passed away about 8 years after this column came out. Rest in peace Len, and happy Valentine’s Day. The Quakertown Flower Shop closed several years ago. According to the Intelligencer (the newspaper where my column first appeared): “The biggest reason for her going out of business has been the addition of flower shops in area supermarkets.” Interesting, and sad. And darn, I was gonna get Susan flowers at Trader Joe’s, but now that just doesn’t seem right. Double darn, the florist shop near our house just closed. It was a craft brewery, for about a week. And then it too closed. Turns out the owner has been accused of sexually harassing several women. Sorry to put a damper on all the romance … but it is what it is. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

What Men (And Women) Want…

The new (out today) What Men Want movie starring Taraji P. Hensen is a remake of the 2000 What Women Want movie starring Mel Gibson. So, if they can remake a movie, I can repurpose my old columns on this very same topic.

What Women Want

Unlike Mel Gibson’s character in What Women Want, I can’t read women’s minds. Or my wife’s handwriting.

However, unlike Mel’s character, I’m a newspaper reporter/columnist and can ask women what they want, and then totally listen to and care about their answers – or at least pretend to totally listen and care.

So, I asked several women what it is they want from us men and…

Debra (my sister, who lives in England): “When my friends used to ask me what I was looking for in a husband, I would say that all I really wanted was someone who had a short last name and was taller than 6 feet. I found Ken.” Ken is about 6-feet, 4-inches tall and my 4-foot-10-inch sister went from Debra Wartenberg to Debra Corey. She lost five letters and found a husband.

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Mercy: “Women want a man who can both listen and talk. It seems there are a lot of good listeners and a lot of men who love to hear themselves talk. What a woman wants is a man who can do both.”

Are we also supposed to be able to chew gum at the same time?

Kim: “My turn on the couch with total control of the remote while my husband tackles the ‘tower of terror’ in the laundry room.”

Amy: “For men to stop trying to find some magic answer to this question.”

Amy’s poor husband must be totally confused.

Claire: “We don’t know what we want; we want a man who knows what we want!”

Claire’s husband must be even more confused than Amy’s husband.

Fiona (one of Debra’s British friends): “We still dream of a cross between James Bond and the man in the Milk Tray adverts.”

I checked with Fiona, and Cadbury makes Milk Tray chocolates and, in the adverts (which is British for TV commercial), the Milk Tray guy is handsome and mysterious and sky dives, skis and swims past sharks to deliver chocolates to women, then “vanishes out the window and absails (this is either British for sails or Fiona is a really bad typist) away so she never knows who he really is. The key is mystery and romance – someone who will go to all lengths to please his lady.”

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Joyce (my mother-in-law): “A sense of humor and he has to be a Democrat or at least left of center, and smarter than me.”

Oh, the jokes I’ve refrained from adding!

Susan (my wonderful and beloved wife): “I want you to always hear and remember everything that I say and do; a new outfit with boots to match; a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant where we can talk; and chocolate … and stop writing about me in your stupid column!”

Victoria (my sister-in-law): “Shoes!”

Freda: “A man who knows his way around the washing machine, how to listen without offering unsolicited advice, likes to dance and doesn’t look ridiculous doing it … and he puts the lid down.”

Sandy: “Funny, sensitive, sympathetic to our needs, really listens, will pitch in and do a load of laundry without being asked and, this is a clincher, replaces the empty toilet-paper roll and puts it the right way!”

Women do seem a bit obsessed with laundry and toilets. And yet, I bet the Milk Tray guy never did a load of laundry in his life.

OK, I’m out of space … and I’ll leave it up to all you men out there to heed the advice of these women.

December 24, 2000 … 

Soon after this column came out..

What Men Want

It seems my recent column about what women want from men sparked a lot of interest … from men. Several responded, telling me what they want from women. Now remember, this is what they want, not what I want, so don’t get mad at me.

Dave Bayer wrote: “Let’s put it in Hogan’s Heroes’terms; we want a Sgt. Schultz – ever faithful, but a bit ditzy.”

Yo, Dave, are you sure you want a woman, who, every time things get romantic, says: “I see nothing!”

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Al DeVries sent a lengthy e-mail with about 40 things he wants from women. He obviously put a lot more time and effort into his response than I put into the actual, original column, which is exactly what I’m looking for from readers.

Some of the things Al wants are:

*If you think you’re fat, you probably are. Do not ask us, we refuse to answer.

*Do not cut your hair. Ever! Long hair is always more attractive than short hair.

*Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work. Strong hints do not work. Just say it! Better yet, go get it yourself and give it to us to give to you.

*Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what girlfriends are for.

*Check your oil … please!

*Whenever possible, please say what you have to say during commercials.

To sum up: Al, who has been married six times (only kidding), wants a thin, long-haired woman who is straightforward, mechanical, strong and concise.

My Uncle Wes wrote to say he took issue with Mercy’s desire for a man who can both listen and talk.

“Men DO listen,” he began. “You can catch every fifth sentence and still get the whole story. It’s like watching soaps. You watch once a month and can catch up completely. Men just need the facts. Women have to relive every moment in living color, with aromas, tastes and lots of touchy feely.”

I think Al and Uncle Wes would hit it off!

Mike Russo also got into the spirit of the debate.

“I can’t speak for all my brothers, but as for me, if I met a woman who is into the arts – music, drama, etc. – has faith in God, a wicked sense of humor, can sing, enjoys the childlike aspects of life, knows how to take care of themselves, wants someone for the long term, wouldn’t mind having kids, and can deal with my schedule of day job and working actor/musician, then I’d consider a date.”

Sorry Mike, but I’m not running a dating service here in this column, you’ll have to find this perfect woman all by yourself.

There you have it ladies, what several men out there want from women. And remember, this is what they want, not me. So, you know who to get mad at.

January 7, 2001

Can’t Slip Out Of The Bet

Like so many of my obsessions, this one began with a Seinfeld rerun. The one where Elaine’s gruff father comes to visit and totally intimidates the crap out of Jerry and George, which, come to think of it, isn’t very difficult.

At some point in this show, Jerry is wearing slippers. That’s right, slippers!

I turned to Susan and said something along the lines of: “That’s just plain ridiculous, men don’t wear slippers.” She told me I was wrong, and that most men wear slippers.

“How the heck do you know this?” I asked suspiciously. Susan ignored me.

“Seriously,” I added. “I know men, and we wear socks – sweat socks. Not slippers.”

pair of blue socks hanging
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This went back and forth, pretty much ruining the next episode of Seinfeld, until finally, we made a $100 bet about whether or not men wore slippers. I was totally and absolutely confident I would win. I’m a guy, I know what we wear and it’s not slippers. We laugh at slippers.

Or so I thought.

A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was James, my pasty-faced, computer geek friend.  “James, do you wear slippers?” I asked, knowing the answer was no.

“Yeah,” he said.

I was too shocked to speak.

“But only in the winter,” he quickly added, embarrassed to admit the awful truth to another man. “We have hardwood floors and they’re cold. And the slippers were a gift; I didn’t buy them.”

A few minutes later, another friend called, and I asked him if he wore slippers

“Yes,” Jim said.

He too could immediately tell I was stunned and he quickly began backtracking. “It’s not like I bought them – someone gave them to my father and they didn’t fit, so he gave them to me.

I called my friend Howard. Surely he would bail me out. Not only was his answer yes, but he actually bragged about his big, fluffy slippers.

“And I wear a nightshirt,” Howard added.

“Without any underwear?”

“You betcha,” Howard said – and I could see the gleam in his eyes right through the phone lines. Note to self: Howard can never sleep over at our house.

Since this pretty much covered all my friends, I had to wait until work the next day to continue my investigation, which wasn’t going the way I had expected.

Kyle: “In the winter I do – I have a nice pair of fleece-lined slippers.”

When Kyle saw the look of disgust on my face, he quickly added they were a gift and he’d never, ever bought himself a pair of slippers.

I was starting to think no man, in the history of slippers, has ever actually bought himself a pair of slippers.

Vance: “Sure, what am I supposed to wear?”

Jeff: “Yes, I wear moccasins.” His mother-in-law gave them to him.

Gary: “Sure, they keep my feet warm.”

Damon: “No, I go barefoot.” Finally! Someone to restore my faith in mankind.

Harry: “No, that’s an old man’s thing.”

Mike: I wear socks.”

The tide was turning in my favor.

Leo: “No way, they’re girly.”

A few seconds later, Leo asked if Toasties counted.

“Toasties, what the heck are Toasties?” I asked. “You mean Post Toasties, the cereal. You can’t wear them on your feet.”

“No, those thick socks with padding on the bottom,” Leo said.

For the next three hours, the newsroom debated whether Toasties count as slippers or socks. We finally decided they don’t qualify, but are even more girly than slippers and Leo would have to buy us all the first two rounds of beer.

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Finally, I called my father. Dad would have my back. Then again…

“I wear slippers, a beautiful pair your mother bought for my birthday,” he said, breaking my heart.

“But I only wear them in the winter,” Dad added. “And I never used to wear them when I was your age.”

“When did you start?”

“When I was around 45.”

Uh-oh, this means I’m genetically predisposed to eventually wear slippers, and that I owe Susan $100 bucks. Oh God, I hope she doesn’t use the money to buy me a pair of slippers. That would be just plan cruel.

“Oh no, I wouldn’t do that,” Susan said. “I saw a beautiful pair of slippers that cost $100 in the Nordstrom catalogue for me that I am in love with. I never would have spent so much on slippers, but now, why not?”

Note: This is a column I wrote back on September 19, 1999 in The Intelligencer. And … I still don’t wear slippers. Sweat sox! How about you?

 

Check Out My New Biking In France Blog (Please!)

DSCN0360I’m putting my More Stuff blog on sabbatical … and launching Biking France Blog.

Why?

Well, I’m leaving for France – to bike, of course – in 14 days – and decided to focus more on the biking and less on the stuff. But who knows, I do love the stuff and could re-activate the More Stuff blog at some point. Plus, who knows, all sorts of stuff happens on a bike trip, some of it when you’re not even on the bike. If so, you known I’ll write about it. For example: The Great Guepe Attack! Or how new, high-tech underwear is changing bike trips (for the better).

So, to sum up: Please read my Biking France Blog.