Race to the Bottom

“House salad and a sea bass,” I said.

“And I’ll just have the soup,” said Spencer, closing the menu.

The waiter raised an eyebrow expertly before he went away.

“Just the soup,” I said, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing,” said Spencer, “I’m just not very hungry.”

“How can you not be hungry?” I said, “It’s dinnertime on the dot. You’re being cheap.”

Spencer was clearly offended. To refute my comment, he pulled out his wallet, relieved it of a five-dollar bill and tore it in half.

“You’re perfectly deranged, you know,” I said.

The two halves lay forlornly on the table. Blue-faced Wilfrid Laurier looked if he’d never seen the Canada Arm before, and it had been there all along, right behind him like a pantomime cow.

“I don’t know what came over me,” said Spencer, and was clearly embarrassed.

To try and make him feel better, I found my wallet, took out a fiver and, just as he had done, I tore it in half.

I slapped the wasted pieces on top of his own halved banknote.

To destroy money, it turned out, was exhilarating. Well worth the five dollars it had cost me.

I casually wondered if the money still existed. If a banknote is not money, merely a representation of it, where was that money now? Were there five dollars of pure money sitting around in a vault somewhere, trapped forever? In Ottawa.

“What do you think you’re doing?” said Spencer.

He pulled out his wallet again, procured a note and demonstrated, rather ostentatiously, that it was a ten-dollar bill.

He had, it seemed, mistaken my act of solidarity as a reassertion that he was a cheapskate.

It was clear what he intended to do but I couldn’t stop him. More money deducted from the GNP.

Before I knew it, I was reaching for my own wallet again, producing a hard-earned tenner and tearing it in half, John A. Macdonald and The Canadian passenger train together at last.

Incensed, Spencer did the same with a twenty and the Queen took at trip to the Vimy Memorial.

This was getting expensive.

I didn’t have any cash left so I took out my debit card and bent it in half. No matter how many times I bent it back and fourth, I couldn’t get it to snap, so I melted a hole in it against the candle on the table.

By now, we were getting an audience.

Spencer pulled from his wallet a picture of his wife and children. He tore it up. He ate the pieces.

I showed him my library card. Access to every book ever written in the course of human history. I pierced it cleanly with the fish knife.

The waiter came over. He asked us to leave.

Out on the street, Spencer took out a penknife and slashed the tires of his own car.

Neither of us had any money for the bus, so we turned our backs on each other and walked home.

The next morning, I was eating breakfast in my apartment and mulling over the strange events of the previous evening. I didn’t know quite what to do about it.

There came a knock at the door. I answered it to see Spencer standing on the mat. He looked wild and excited. He handed me something which looked like the remote control for a model airplane: a little black box with a single button and a wire aerial sticking out of one end. I took it.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Press it,” he said.

I pressed the button.

“Quick,” he said, pushing past me. He pointed out of the window and said, “Look.”

I looked. An almighty explosion on the horizon. Sirens.

“Was that…” I stammered, “Was that your house?”

“Yes,” he said, proudly.

“Okay,” I said, “I take it back. You’re not a cheapskate. You’ve literally got money to burn. Or explode.”

“Thank you,” said Spencer, “Mind if I sleep on your couch tonight?”

Needless to say, absolutely none of this happened.

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