The Dope and the Danish Doozy

(Provided photo)

One of my favorite rock groups is the Boston wildmen, The J. Geils Band. And one of my favorite songs of theirs is “First I Look At The Purse.” The essence of the song is, the singer cares about only one thing in women — “if the dollar bills are crisp.”

The song itself is a classic, originally sung by the Contours in 1965 and written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, members of the classic Motown group, the Miracles.

And there’s something else classic about it, namely that it was written in the distant past when people bought things with literal (not virtual) money. Today it seems if anyone buys anything, from a pack of gum to a Pontiac, they do it with plastic. Of course, this makes perfect sense — if they pay off the card each month. If not, not.

Me, I try to pay for everything in cash, except when impractical. But this gets ever-harder since prices are ever-increasing, while wallets have stayed the same size. This sounds like when it comes to paying for things, I understand what’s going on … but I don’t.

For example, I don’t understand how businesses can refuse to accept cash, and instead take only credit cards. On my lucre it says right there, in stark black letters: “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

So if the government has given my bucks such a ringing endorsement, how come a restaurant can refuse them?

I understand it makes things easier for the business, not having to tally up the day’s take and then either shlep it to the bank or stash it for the night and worry about being ripped off. But that comes at a price — the cut the credit card company takes out the sales.

Still, it just seemed weird they could flat out refuse to accept coin of the realm. At first I thought it couldn’t be legal. But finally I concluded that, free enterprise being what it is, a business can choose to accept cash, they don’t HAVE to. Fair enough. Besides, they don’t need my business anyway.

Next step in The Wonderful World of Plastic is the businesses which accept credit cards A-OK, but charge the customer an extra fee for the pleasure. I understand it, since it saves the business money. But I don’t like it. My way of thinking is a business takes credit cards to make it easier for their customers. Which it sure isn’t doing if it tacks their fee on the customer’s purchase. Some businesses will offer a discount if the customer pays by cash or check, which is a balm of sorts — provided the customer isn’t strapped for cash.

To further confound the issue — and me — was the whole Bitcoin shtus. When it first happ’d on the scene I had no idea what it was or how it worked. So I asked the Maven of Moolah, Adam Harris, to explain it to me, which he did in his usual condescending and elliptical fashion. After he did, I had even less of an idea. And now all I know is it earned its name, since the only thing a whole bunch of its investors got was bit.

All while those money matters generally just confuse me, last week I had a money mishegas that turned my head crosswise.

When your money’s no good

In a magic journal I read about a trick made by a Danish craftsman. According to the article, it was a fabulous trick, plus its craftsmanship was matchless. My interest was piqued, so I went on the internet to see where it was for sale. It turned out the craftsman was long dead and the prop had long since sold out. Beyond that, there were no used ones for sale. In fact, there was only one to be found, worldwide, in a small Danish magic shop.

I checked it out online, liked what I saw, and immediately put it my order…but it wouldn’t go through to completion. I resubmitted it, and again it got rejected. My next attempt was done slowly and with perfect attention to every detail. And once more I got turned down.

I was boggled. I knew my card was good. I also knew I shouldn’t have any problems with an overseas order, since I’d made others, including one from another Danish magic store.

Finally, I emailed the owner and told him about the problem. When he replied he said he’d checked everything out in detail and the problem had to be something to do with me and my credit card. This, of course, was the last thing I wanted to hear.

I fussed over this a bit, and then came up with an alternative solution. Or more exactly, what I thought was a solution.

My solution: Bag the credit card; I’d send him a cashier’s check. Yeah, sure, it’d take longer, having to wing its way to Viking Land, but I’ve got nothing but time. Plus I knew you can’t lose on a cashier’s check — at least not in the Good Ole US of A. In Denmark, however, it’s a whole different story.

Right after I emailed him my cashier’s check idea, I got his reply, which was a shock to my nervous system.

A check, he wrote, was not a good idea, for two reasons.

First, it’d be too expensive for him. A credit card always pays immediately and pays the best exchange rate. Plus the businesses pay a set fee, from 1.5 to 3 percent. A cashier’s check is a whole diff ballgame. The exchange rate could be higher, plus the bank fee would be a whole lot higher. That was the first reason.

Then there was the second reason, which was real Danish Doozy: He said it’d been so long since he’d seen a check, he didn’t know if they were even around anymore!

Immediately, I checked into it. And — lo and behold! — as of 2016 Denmark’s banks agreed they’d cash checks only from their own banks. Instead, there’s a national debit card and all sorts of payments by smartphone, so the check is, as we say in Copenhagen, Ferdig!

Finally, through a bunch of gymnastics I won’t bore you with, the transaction went through. So there was a happy ending.

But — maybe even more important — there’s a vital lesson learned in this.

True value

Money buys goods and services, but that’s it. In this case, I’ll get my magic trick and its instructions. But, of and by themselves, they’re worthless, no matter how much I paid for them.

So how do I make them valuable?

By this: I first have to read, reread and keep rereading the instructions till I figure out all the steps in the trick. Then I have to take the prop and put it through those steps and sleights till I’ve memorized them. After that, I have to practice them till I can do them smoothly (and hopefully perfectly) which is at least a matter of weeks. And though I hope not, even after months, it may be too hard for me to master and I’ll have to just put it away.

But let’s be optimistic and say I do master everything. Now what?

Well, magic — as opposed to other arts — only works in the mind of others: It’s magic to the onlooker, not the magician. This means in order for the trick to be fulfilled, I need an audience. My target audience for this particular trick is September’s Art Walk. And even if I get it mastered by then and I get my audiences, that’s still not it.

Nope, having an audience is again only a beginning of sorts, because I have to give them Magic. Some people think magic is about fooling people, but it’s not. If people get fooled, they may be puzzled, but they won’t be pleased, because they’ll feel taken advantage of. Nope, the magician;s job isn’t to trick them, but to transport them to a place they probably haven’t been in since childhood, since to children the whole world is Magic. But too early on in life, that Magic World disappears and is replaced by that four-letter word — Reality.

I don’t want trick or puzzle people — I want them to give them fun, laughs and delight. It’s that simple. Or, maybe more accurately, it’s that difficult.

So, really, the money I paid for the trick did nothing substantial. And that is pretty much the essence of money: Of and by itself, it’s worthless.

What isn’t worthless is what good things it can do to help others and make the world a better place for others, if only for a little while, and if only in a very small way.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today