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05/21/2003 Archived Entry: "Funny but sad"

I'VE STARTED SAVING UP CHANGE FROM GROCERY SHOPPING. Every time I go to the grocery store, or for that matter the hardware store or Wal-Mart, I take some of the ones or fives I receive in change and stash them in the undiewear drawer. This is how I make little luxury purchases without feeling too much of an ouch. Once or twice a year, I buy something nice. A week ago it was a DVD player.

When the clerk at the appliance store asked "Cash, check, or charge?" I pulled out this handful of mostly $1 bills. And the three clerks standing nearby all said the same thing at once:

"Aha! A drug dealer!"

I joked back that yeah, I must be the biggest big-time dealer in the state, doing all my transactions in ones. We all laughed, they rang up the sale, and I took my new electronic toy home.

But you know, it ate at me. These three guys all came from very different places -- one a retiree who can't afford to stay retired, another a kid just marking time, and another a middle-aged guy involved in mainstream small-town politics on the side. Yet this idea that cash = crime has become so ingrained that all three of them thought the same thing at the same time. And TIPS-type paranoia has gotten so ingrained into my own consciousness that, by god, I actually wondered afterward if they did report me as a suspicious character. (This is a small town and at least two of those clerks know who I am and where I live, cash purchase or no.) No, a DVD purchase is hardly enough to trigger the letter of the Patriot Act or any of the other noxious anti-cash laws. But with today's amorphous standards of "suspicious activity" and with increasing threats that if you don't report someone "suspicious," you might end up in prison yourself ... well, it's created an extremely weird climate, even in the friendly little towns of the world. Very Stalinesque.

This is what "they" are doing to us.

Posted by Claire @ 01:51 PM CST

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