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Keeping It Together

Jeffrey K. Actor

WHEN I MENTION THE word “bands” to my friends, most think of the Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead. Among fellow financial nerds, the word can prompt a discussion of rebalancing strategies. What about me? I think about my billfold, which has been to more places and countries than I have.

Many years ago, I spent a week away from home attending a scientific conference. By the meeting’s conclusion, I was exhausted. I had a history of returning from longer trips bearing token gifts for my twins. This time, however, I was simply too tired to shop.

Lucky for me, the conference I was attending was huge. Along with the scientific proceedings, there were more than 50 vendors showcasing their latest products and equipment. Many companies were vying for our attention by giving away swag to promote their products.

At the time, brightly colored, thick silicone wristbands were all the rage, the kind that say things like “Stamp out Philatelists” and “Save the Whales—Collect the Whole Set.” The vendors had jumped on the bandwagon, offering their own versions that promoted products that combated diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even bad breath. I gladly exchanged my e-mail address for bright blue and pink bands to bring home to my twins. Yes, I’m cheap when it comes to gifts. It was certainly more cost effective than purchasing Beanie Babies at the airport kiosk.

The kids loved the gifts. Frugality sometimes reigns supreme.

Coincidentally, my birthday was a week following my return. I awoke to two rug rats jumping on my stomach, singing out of tune and bearing presents. Two handmade cards were accompanied by a small box wrapped using newspaper comics, with the handwritten words “I Luv U Daddio” crudely stenciled on the top.

I opened the package, and was initially confused by the contents. The box contained a set of blue rubber bands with PLU #4060 embossed horizontally. PLU? Isn’t that a grocery code? Aren’t these the bands that bind together vegetables in the store’s fresh produce section?

Then I noticed that the “P” had been altered so that most of its cup was missing, turning the writing into ILU, shorthand for “I Luv U,” which matched the stenciled spelling on the box. Teary-eyed, I slipped the bands around my wrist, trying hard to conceal the discomfort caused by insufficient blood flow to my digits. I winked at my wife. She was doing a great job teaching the kids that not all presents need to cost an arm and a leg.

Alas, I had to wear the bands for days, with the unspoken acceptance that the kids could snap them whenever I wasn’t looking. After three days and multiple welts, I suggested to the twins that I could abandon my wallet and instead repurpose the rubber bands to hold together my cash and credit cards, along with a wallet-sized picture of them. They acquiesced. Indeed, the flexibility of the gift allowed me to carry my library and insurance cards as well.

I never looked back. Immediately, my pocket felt lighter and, within days, I lost that sciatic feeling that runs down your leg after sitting for too long with an oversized wallet creating unforgiving space between bum and chair.

I’ve continued this elastic tradition for more than 20 years, and never returned to using a customary wallet. Indeed, over the decades, I’ve occasionally noticed other men with similar billfolds. For us banded kinfolk, there’s always a wink and a nod, with an understanding that there must be an untold story underlying their money-clipping ways. I also assume there’s a genetic component, since I recently caught my brother using a similar technique to unite his cash and cards.

As for me, I must admit that I scour the grocery produce section in a manner different from most folks. Freshness takes a backseat to the bright bands that clump veggies together. For individuals who have an aversion to vegetables, I noticed that you can order similar bands directly from Amazon.

This is why my wallets have been to more places than me. Indeed, I always pack an extra band when I travel, in case of miss-snap. My personal ranking of global favorites includes #4080 (asparagus from Peru), #4547 (broccoli florets from China) and #3166 (Lacinato kale from Mexico). Someday, I hope to accompany my billfold on a trip to their homelands.

Jeffrey K. Actor, PhD, was a professor at a major medical school in Houston for more than 25 years, serving as an academic researcher with interests in how immune responses function to fight pathogenic diseases. Jeff’s retirement goals are to write short science fiction stories, volunteer in the community and spend time in his garden. Check out his earlier articles.

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