The $20 Theory of the Universe

There isn’t much in the world that can’t be had with the timely application of a simple twenty. Let loose with a roll of bills, our author confronts some of a great city’s most formidable closed doors. Guess what he got from the one-hour-photo guy?

  • Editors' Pick
  1. When it comes to the language of money, credit cards are nouns. Dull, concrete, limited by rules and restrictions and creepy fine print, credit cards have all the élan of aluminum foil. Personal checks—the coward’s stand-in for cash—are ugly and static pronouns. But a twenty-dollar bill, now, that’s a thing of beauty. Nothing static about a twenty. Used correctly, a twenty is all about movement, access, cachet. Forget the other bills. The single won’t get you much more than a stiff nod and, these days, the five is de rigueur. A tenner is a nice thought, but it’s also a message that you’re a Wal-Mart shopper, too cheap for the real deal. A twenty, placed in the right hand at the right moment, makes things happen. It gets you past the rope, beyond the door, into the secret files. The twenty hastens and chastens, beckons and tugs. The twenty, you see, is a verb. It’s all about action.

    And me, well, I’m all about action, too, because I am the original twenty-dollar millionaire. Give me a stack of twenties and I’ll pass them off as well as any mogul. Maybe better. My fortune rises and falls with the double sawbuck. And because of that, I’ve always wanted to test myself, to establish the weight and worth of a twenty in the world. So last month I took two grand in twenties, rolled them up, and left for New York. I was going to spend three days greasing palms from gate to gate and see what it got me.

    I’m not talking about buying here, by the way. When it comes to things with a pr...

Originally published in Esquire, March 2003