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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©2002, Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. This blog is copyright protected. No item on this blog, including this essay or any photographs, may be used without the author's express written permission.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Close Encounters of the Canine Kind by Felice Prager


My Dog, The Matchmaker

by Felice Prager

My dog, Tiffany, a large white Samoyed, greeted me at the door as she always did with her leash in her mouth. I was already drenched from the storm we were having. It had been raining for days with no end in sight. My hair was matted down, and all I really wanted to do was jump in the shower and warm up. However, walking Tiffany was necessary and part of the responsibility that comes with dog ownership, although it was not what I wanted to do at that moment. I attached Tiffany’s red leash and rushed her downstairs on the elevator hoping we would make it to the curb on time without my excited dog having an accident. It was embarrassing when that happened.

Typical of my dog, when it was raining, she took the most time to find just the right spot to do her thing. I kept saying. "Hurry up, Tif! I’m freezing. Look at my hair! I’m drenched. Come on, Tiffany. Get done already." She continued to sniff every rock, every tree, and every puddle.

Just then, I saw Sam’s car coming down the boulevard. We had been introduced by mutual friends who lived in the same building as we lived in several weeks before and nothing had come of it, but I thought I saw a hint of interest in him. I was definitely interested. He was handsome and tall and from the few words we exchanged, he seemed intelligent and interesting. I tugged Tiffany back behind a bunch of trees and hid. "Come on, Tif," I said quietly, "I like this guy. I look horrible. Help me hide. Don’t bark. Shhhh. Be a good girl." Together we spied as Sam parked his red Prelude at the curb and ran toward our building with his attaché case held over his head.

That’s when I formulated my plan: I was going to "accidentally" bump into Sam while I was running out of the high-rise apartment building to the curb with Tiffany while he was parking his car. Only this time, my hair would be perfect and I would not be sopping wet.

I began my vigil from my 18th floor apartment window on the first sunny day after the storm. I arrived home from work and waited for Sam to pull up to the curb. As I saw his car approaching, I ran like a maniac to the elevator with Tiffany. Yet, when I got to the street, Sam was not there.

No matter how hard I tried, I kept missing him each day. I would get to the curb and see that he had parked his car and was nowhere in sight. We never bumped into each other. Time after time, I would grab Tiffany’s leash and attach it, but the elevator was too slow for me to accidentally run into this guy I liked and wanted to know better. Or the elevator would stop at every floor for other passengers.

I decided it might be more effective if I were already walking Tiffany when he parked his car. I sort of knew what time he got home. Tiffany had to be walked anyway. What difference did it make, as long as my hair looked good? I would call to him, "Sam, hi. We were introduced by Jerry and Maddy at their party last month. Remember?"

Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. I walked Tiffany for hours and never timed it correctly. It seemed Sam’s schedule had changed, or maybe he had a business meeting --- or a new girlfriend who was eating into my courtship time with him.

Then, one day, as I was taking Tiffany downstairs for a walk on a different schedule, the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, and Sam stepped in. He was as handsome as I had remembered.

"Hey," he said. He seemed genuinely happy to see me again.

"Hi!" I responded, totally forgetting my planned conversation. I had practiced it in front of the mirror for the occasion when our paths crossed.

"What a great dog. What’s her name?" he said.

"Tiffany," I said. Conversation was a foreign language to me.

With that, he bent over to pet her. "Hey, Tiffany! You are a pretty girl. Is Mom taking you for a walk?"

Tiffany jumped up and grabbed onto his leg. The elevator stopped at the lobby where we both were planning to get out, but Sam couldn’t move.

My dog would not let go of his leg. I kept apologizing. He kept saying it was okay. And Tiffany held onto Sam’s leg, not letting him move an inch.

Then the door closed, and the elevator started going up again.

At this point, Tiffany let go of Sam’s leg, rolled on her back, and spread her legs.

"Bad, Tiffany!" I said with a complete lack of sincerity.

"It’s okay," Sam said. "I guess she didn’t want me to leave." If he only knew!

Sam and I rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor. Other people got on.

Then the elevator started its descent again. When we reached the lobby again, Tiffany pulled me off. Sam followed. We walked together for a long time on the boulevard that afternoon. At one point, Sam asked for the leash and he ran with Tiffany giving her a great workout.

We were married several months later.

That was twenty-five years and several pets ago. When asked how we met, Sam tells people, "Get this! We met on an elevator. Her dog grabbed my leg and never let go." I have never let on that this was a planned canine encounter and Tiffany was my accomplice.

(A version of this essay appears in Chicken Soup for the Soup - What I Learned from the Dog.)

©2000 by Felice Prager. No part of this essay may be used in print, online, or in any format without the WRITTEN permission from the author.