Funny money

WHERE spending money is concerned, Americans are unbalanced. They can balance a checkbook, but not a budget. Americans don't worry about a balanced budget but the rest of the world does. To an American, money is terribly important only when a lunch bill is 38 cents over the cost. He can go into a tirade worthy of TV's J. R. Ewing of ``Dallas.'' But having a $2 trillion federal debt causes him no more concern than fleas on someone else's cat.

If television can be believed, US coastal waters are teeming with Soviet sailors jumping ship looking for asylum. But once ashore they beg to go back to the Soviet bloc. Possibly because they find out about the $2 trillion debt and believe it to be real money. Could they think that if they become American citizens, they will have come up with $8,000 to help pay it off?

American ambivalence toward finances goes back to when Congress got sulky and wouldn't raise the debt limit. It was announced that government would run out of money. It sounded like a scenario for an end-of-the-world sci-fi movie. Technically, the government did run out of money but nothing happened.

Well, it might have spoiled a few tennis games. Some of the old geezers down at the town courts thought that a government running out of money would be like the 1933 depression days when banks ran out of money -- they began to hoard tennis balls.

These days Americans don't put many dimes in those little jars beside cash registers for local charities. One tends not to believe in American poverty. But African poverty . . . Americans send millions although no one is sure how much of it gets there.

Whales get money, too. When Humphrey the humpback whale took a notion to swim up the Sacramento River in California, experts said it would be bad for him. Americans all but forgot the Geneva summit to concentrate on Humphrey. Someone even set up a money market account for him. For whatever reason, Humphrey decided to go back into his native, less exciting environment -- not unlike the sailor who changed his mind. Total expense for Humphrey was only $60,000. But in his case it was real money.

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