WHEN my monthly bill comes from the biggy mail-order house, it informs me pleasantly that I have a ``credit line'' of much more than I'll ever buy, and then down at the bottom it says I owe them $00.00. I never have, but someday I swear I'll mail back a check for $00.00 and then sit back with my smile hanging down and see what happens. But of course I shudder at the thought; I believe I couldn't bear up under the computer hang-up that would fetch on. An excellent good friend of mine lately gave his complete trust to the computers, and I just heard that a wrong button got pushed and everything he'd laid away against future use got erased, so that a $25,000,000.00 corporation is twiddling its thumbs and can't spin a thread. It just goes to show. ``I can't make change,'' the lad told me when I tried to pay him for his errand, ``everybody this morning is going to ketch me later.'' That's the way we charge things out here in our benighted boondocks. ``I'll ketch you later'' means ``charge it,'' except that no buttons get pushed and nothing gets set down. It means the husband went to the village and didn't leave any money. It means I'll get to the bank tomorrow and will pay you Friday. So everybody on the lad's route would ketch him later, and he didn't have $2 to give me my change. ``That's all right,'' I said, ``take the five and you can ketch me later.''
More and more of late I find myself musing on the happier times when things didn't get complicated and the biggest question of the day was one egg or two eggs for breakfast. There was one transaction that went on and on for quite some time and would put an electronic miscue to shame, but it never really got complicated, and it didn't bog down over a credit line or 18 percent a month. It, too, had to do with $00.00. I came home one afternoon from getting a haircut and found a note on my back door, tacked up with a horseshoe nail, and the note said, ``You owe me $10. Please. Jim.''
I carried the note into the house and showed it to my wife, who was resting on a chair after finishing the chores I had set for her while I was away, and I said, ``Who's Jim?''
She said, ``Jim who?''
``Who's the Jim I owe $10?''
``Why would you owe him $10?''
I showed her the note again.
``I must-a been down sulla; I didn't hear nobody.''
So we thought and thought and we ran through all the Jims we could think of, and none of them rang any $10 bill. There were Jim Andrews, seven Jim Coombses, Jim Potter, the two Jim Grants, Jim Blake, Jim Merithew, and quite a few others. And Old Jim Merithew, Jim Merithew's father.
During the next few days I made a systematic search for the Jim in question. I stuck a note under the door every time I went by a Jim's house; my notes said, ``No, I don't. John.'' I figured only the right Jim would respond, and I'd soon know which Jim was the right Jim.
Nothing happened for a week, and then I got another note that said, ``Yes, you do too. Jim.''
The whole thing was a comical mistake, something like this $00.00. The difference is that we smiled then, whereas now we grump and villify the computer and its sycophants. Our mistake could be, and was, easily rectified. The Jim who thought I owed him $10 saw me at the benefit supper for the new lawyer and made some remark about our billy-douze, and I said, ``So what about the 10 bucks?''
``For the eggs,'' he said.
``Them hens' eggs.''
``What hens' eggs?''
``Come to think about it,'' he said, ``it warn't you at all! 'Twas that other John, up the road. Goodwin. John Goodwin. He buys eggs sometimes. Case of eggs. He bought a case of eggs and didn't have the money on him, so he said he'd ketch me later. Been four-five months. Meant to remind him, and guess I got the wrong house! I sure got mixed up that time, didn't I? Haw, haw, haw!''
For some time whenever I met a Jim, he'd say, ``You been leaving notes to my house?'' And all the other Johns got that question, too. All of which certainly adds up to $00.00.