Saturday, January 15, 2011

Counting to a Billion

I received a very peculiar phone call last week. The man’s voice sounded unusually similar to that of my Great Uncle Seymour, which is why I didn’t hang up in the first place. The call started with, “Hello, Sir or Madam,” (At this point, I had a hunch it might have been a recording, but I was committed.) “You have just won one billion dollars!”

At the words, “one billion dollars,” my latent listening skills went into over-drive.

“Yes, you, Sir or Madam, have won a billion dollars! All you have to do to keep your winnings is stop everything you’re doing the minute the money arrives at your front door and count it, one bill at a time to check for accuracy. The money will not be yours to spend or invest until you, Sir or Madam, have counted every single one dollar bill in the billion that will be shipped to your home, office, or alternate address. There will be a C.O.D. charge for postage and handling which we will charge to your credit card. Please, Sir or Madam, at the sound of the tone, provide us with your name, address, telephone number, credit card number with the expiration date, social security number, and your mother’s maiden name. Thank you and congratulations, Sir or Madam. This has been your lucky day. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.”

Okay, now before anyone begins to think I was born yesterday, I didn’t fall for the scam. And I knew I was in error thinking it was my Great Uncle Seymour. He still tries to slip me a twenty-dollar bill every time I see him at a relative’s wedding, but I know he’s on a fixed income, so a billion dollars is really pushing it.

The phone call did make me think, however. The idea of winning a billion dollars simply by counting it began to fester in my brain. Things often fester in my brain.

So I started doing the math. I used a calculator to check for accuracy.

I made the assumption that I did, in fact, win that billion dollars. And, as in the phone call, it would be mine only after it was counted. I would do this alone without assistants or a money-weighing machine. I would be diligent and efficient, taking no breaks. I would count until I was finished.

I figured I could count a bill a second. That seemed reasonable. In a minute I could count $60, which would be $3600 in an hour. I kept multiplying. $3600 per hour times 24 hours would be $86,400 per day. If I continued for 365 days, I’d be at $31,536,000 at the end of the first year.

Thirty-one and a half million dollars and I still haven’t slept, eaten, showered, used the phone, paid my bills, paid my income tax, or gone to the bathroom! But those would be only minor inconveniences. I’d have a billion dollars waiting for me! Yippee! A billion dollars would be mine. I’d drive expensive cars and eat in the finest of restaurants. I’d have a maid! I’d be doing the Dance of
Joy in my mansion on my own island in the South Pacific.

Back to counting one bill at a time, one bill per second.

At five years I’d have counted out $157,680,000.

At ten years, I would be at $315,360,000.

At twenty years, I’d be more than halfway there, having counted $630,720,000.

I figured it would take a little less than 32 years to get to a billion dollars. The year would be 2032, and the money would finally be mine.

True, I’d have a Charley horse from sitting so long, my hair would be gray, my hands would be permanently cramped, I’d have developed a nervous twitch, and I’d be over seventy years old, but the money would be mine.

Unfortunately, I’d also have stopped writing for 32 years. This, more than any of my bodily functions, would be a major problem. I might get the label of the world’s most efficient procrastinator. People might say I deliberately counted the money just to avoid facing the day-to-day struggles of being a writer.

But the money would be mine.

Yesterday I had a thought. If I typed a word a second without a break, I’d have a billion words written in 32 years. Then I was thinking I could type really short words like “a” and “an” and “it” and “in” and be done in half the time. Then maybe, I could finish my novel. I could even write another novel, or even two more novels.

The idea of typing a billion words began to fester in my brain. Things often fester in my brain.

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