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Sailust | Counterfeit Twenty

Counterfeit Twenty

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Twenty Dollar BillSomewhere along the line I picked up a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. I didn’t know it was dubious until I tried to spend it at a restaurant in La Libertad. The waiter asked me if I had another bill, he said the one I gave him was bad. I protested, a little offended. It’s not like I counterfeited the bill and regardless of its authenticity, the restaurant could just pass it off to the next unsuspecting customer and so the bill would circulate like a hot potato.

The waiter took me to the cash register and showed me what it looked like under a black light. There were several creases that had worn away to white from wear, the white creases shining under the black light. I had noticed the bill was worn before I tried to spend it but I thought it was just because I had put it in my shoe for safe-keeping on one bus ride. I finally agreed the bill was fake and I borrowed money from my captain for the bill, figuring I’d spend the twenty at some less vigilent establishment, even if I have to wait till I get back to the States–they never check there.

The authenticy of the bill was of no concern to me. I only cared that I’d be able to spend it and I vowed that I’d keep trying to spend it until someone accepted it. I did nothing wrong. Why should I have suffered? And really, other people wouldn’t have cared if the bill were fake either, were it not for the fact that everyone in Ecuador scrutinizes them. Every time I see someone pay with a twenty (that is if the vendor even has change to accept the twenty) , he always holds it up the light, squinting at it. He feels it with hands. It’s almost an instinctual talent they have. Really he isn’t deciding if it’s fake or not, he’s really deciding if other people will think it’s fake, and so won’t be able to spend it.

I got to thinking where I chanced upon this twenty. It couldn’t have been a shop because that would have meant that I bought something for more than twenty dollars and paid with a fifty or something. No, the only sources of money I’d had, (I was certain because my wallet was stolen before this) was an ATM machine in Cancun, an ATM machine in Miami and a money-changing booth in Quito, Ecuador. I doubted any ATM machine, foreign or not, would harbor any counterfeit money, figuring that’s where the buck literally stops, and guessed that I must have picked the bill up at the money-changing booth. Whether or not they were planning on screwing me, I didn’t know. Most likely, they were in the same boat as me. Got the bill by accident and tried to pawn it off. Or maybe it was a convincing fake before I wore it in my shoe.

In Montanita, I tried to spend the bill again at a restaurant. The waiter took it and stretched it out. He held it up to the light. Probably to avoid responsibility for accepting a bad bill, he took it to his manager, who did the same thing with it, over and over again. Meanwhile I was trying not to look guilty, trying to look like this bill had never been rejected before. They brang it back, I shrugged and gave them another twenty, which they looked at quickly, then brought back the change.

Later in the evening, I went out for some drinks with Pierre, from my hotel. I told him about the cursed bill and we laughed about it. He bought the first round and jokingly told me not to pay him with my counterfeit twenty. We went to another bar and racked up at twenty dollar tab because we’d bought drinks for some other people. I pulled out my twenty to give it another go. The bartender looked at the bill suspiciously. I could tell that he didn’t want to take it but somehow Pierre had charmed him into accepting it. I felt so relieved finally having unloaded the twenty, that I didn’t even mind that I had picked up the tab because in my mind I already wrote off the twenty dollars as lost.

Pierre and I went back to our rooms to get some more cash. On the way back, one of the bartenders from the last place stopped us in the street and gave us a “what gives?” sort of an expression, holding the bill as if it were a piece of toilet paper. I wanted to say, sorry sucker, it yours now. Thems the breaks. But Pierre was more sympathetic. He said he’d take the bill. Later he told me that he had told the bartender, that if there was any problem, he could just give it back; that’s how he convinced the bartender to accept it in the first place. At least the bill wasn’t my worry anymore. I knew that eventually, I, he or anybody else would be able to spend the bill sometime, so I didn’t feel to bad about letting him take it.

At the next bar we went to, Pierre came back with drinks in his hand saying, “It’s so sad, man. I don’t have your twenty anymore.”

“Really?” I asked. He just grinned and nodded.

Since this incident, I’ve made it a habit to check all my large bills for any signs of falsehood.


  1. dad Says:

    good post.Glad it was not a$100.00 or you never would have gotten rid of it. Re pickpockets In crowds it is recommended that you put your wallet in a front pocket> I once grabbed a guy with his hand in my front pocket on my wallet in a subway station in Madrid. fyi Chris won the National Geographic Bee for the third time in four years.Also notified today he is accepted toJesuit High. smooth sailing

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