by Father Mark Goldasich
I can’t help it. Every time a cashier dos this, my heart seems to skip a beat. It’s probably happened
to you as well. You hand over a $20 bill, for example, and the cashier will swipe a special pen over it to make sure that the money is genuine.
I’m sure that there are many people we have to “thank” for this cautionary behavior, but one of them is certainly Emanuel Ninger, who in the late 1880s became known as “Jim the Penman” because of his counterfeiting skills.
The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tells a variant of Ninger’s story in his book, “See You at the Top.” According to Ziglar, Ninger used to pay for his groceries each week with a $20 bill.
All went well until one day the clerk noticed some smudges on her sweaty hands. She picked up Ninger’s $20 and saw smudges there as well. She then showed the money to her manager. Naturally, the guy called the police and the bill was declared counterfeit. The clerk fingered Ninger as the culprit.
After getting a warrant, the police raided Ninger’s apartment and found an easel to which a genuine $20 bill was clipped. Apparently, the counterfeiter would hand paint each $20 bill.
Supposedly, a police search of Ninger’s attic yielded three portraits that Ninger had painted, which brought in $5,000 a piece at auction. The funny thing is, it took Ninger about the same time to paint a $5,000 portrait as it did to hand paint a $20 bill. (Adapted from a story found in Brian Cavanaugh’s “Fresh Packet of Sower’s Seeds.”)
Whether or not the above story is true, it does point out that we humans can be incredibly creative when it comes to thievery. Granted, most of these misguided attempts end badly — as documented in shows like “World’s Dumbest Criminals” — but, still, the perpetrators’ ingenuity is fascinating.
On hearing these stories, I’m always left with the question: Why didn’t this felon use his creativity for good, rather than evil? Why didn’t Ninger, for example, stick to painting portraits of living, paying customers rather than portraits of dead presidents on fake currency? After all, both apparently took the same amount of time.
Happily, at least here in the archdiocese, people are using their creativity and ingenuity for good, not evil. Our cover story this week is a great example of what can be accomplished when creative people put their minds to work. TurnStyles, the thrift store that Catholic Charities operates in Overland Park, is now using eBay to bring in even more much-needed funds.
Several years ago, probably like a good number of people, I thought that eBay would be my gateway to untold fortunes. I checked out a couple of books on eBay from the library, to see how easy it would be to sell my unwanted stuff. I could see an island retreat in the Pacific in my future. Poring over the books, however, and seeing what type of products sold, the steps to put items up on eBay, the time involved in preparing and shipping them . . . well, let’s just say that my enthusiasm quickly evaporated, along with my island paradise dreams.
Now my eBay dreams are back — but with a twist. For now the focus is not on what eBay can do for me, but on what it can do for Catholic Charities. While I can’t imagine that I have any hidden treasures among my possessions that could turn into a bonanza for Turn- Styles, I do have unused stuff in my closets and drawers that can be a treasure of sorts for others. I’m feeling an urge to get them out of the door here and into the sorting room at TurnStyles.
Economically, it’s still rough out there for many people. In such a climate, it’s easy to think that we’ve got nothing to give to others. Perhaps a little creative thinking is in order — and no, I’m not talking about counterfeiting money like Ninger did! Instead, one of the ways that we can help others is by going through our homes and identifying just a few items that we no longer use or love …or even know we have. If you’re an avid eBay user, why not put those items up for sale and donate at least part of your profit to a worthy organization?
Or maybe you’ll just be lazy like me and drop off the items at TurnStyles and let them see if a treasure might be lurking there to post on eBay. Or consider donating some time at TurnStyles or at another nonprofit as a volunteer or a “treasure hunter.”
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to check out eBay to see just how much this bowling ball ice bucket I have might be worth to TurnStyles.