Tuesday, August 10, 2010




1 : one that drills wells in the hope of finding oil in territory not known to be an oil field 2 : one that promotes unsafe and unreliable enterprises; especially : one that sells stocks in such enterprises

The term WILDCATTER comes from a panther symbol that appeared on some risky counterfeit bills produced by certain U.S. banks prior to the Civil War. Hence, the wildcat became the symbol for phony, false enterprise.


My mother raised me a skeptic. I was instructed never to entirely trust anyone, including family members who may turn on you at any given point. "Blood is not thicker than water," she would often say, "don't let anyone try and convince you of that." This put me on guard at a very young age, developing a sort of "guilty until proven innocent" mentality in my underdeveloped brain.

Another idiom I harnessed was of course, "too good to be true,*" a phrase that can be applied to almost anything good when you're a skeptic. Well, to clarify, the phrase would describe anything not earned. A paycheck is not too good to be true. Requited love, although it may sometimes appear so, is not too good to be true. It is random goodness that fosters the skepticism—a bus arriving just as you approach the stop, the rain clearing right as you're about to mount your bike, having the exact amount of change—all too good to be true.

A few years ago while walking to work I decided to take a different route than usual because I was bored to death with my routine. On a quiet side street I spotted a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. I stopped and looked down at it for what felt like ten minutes. Then I reached for it, sure the bill would blow away in the spring breeze right before my fingertips touched its surface, but it did not. I picked it up and examined it. It looked like a twenty dollar bill. It felt like a twenty dollar bill. I looked around to see if someone was watching, or scanning the sidewalk for a lost bill. No one. Anywhere.

Convinced the bill was a WILDCATTER I still pocketed it, just in case there was some way this whole ordeal was actually happening to me. When I got to work I approached the cashier supervisor with the twenty.

"I need you to tell me if this is real."
"I don't think it's real."
She held the bill up to the florescent lights. "It's real."
"Are you sure?"
She handed me the bill and nodded.

I kept it in my pocket all afternoon, trying to fathom why I stumbled upon this bill. I must have done something to deserve it, otherwise there would be no rhyme or reason in the world and I may as well jump off a bridge. But I couldn't figure it out. I think I held onto the bill for days before I spent it. And I eventually used it to buy a gift for someone else, thinking I had to dissipate some weird mojo attached to the found bill.

Things are sometimes complicated for me.

*When I look up this phrase online I get a few descriptions unraveling its meaning as "so excellent that it defies belief." That has a far more eloquent ring to it than the phrase it describes.

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