The Gift Economy

by | Dec 8, 2020 | CNF, Issue Eighteen


Recently I’ve written my last will and testament.

Well, truth be told, I just filled in some blanks on a boilerplate. My partner, Megan, and I took it to her bank to get it notarized along with a medical form our doctor gave us entitled “5 Wishes” about end-of-life care.

The banker looked over the forms.

He said, “We can’t do wills here.”

“Why,” I asked, “is it because I don’t have an account here?”

“Huh?” the banker said.

“You’re not doing Will’s, but you’ll do Megan’s?” I asked.

The banker looked blank. “What’s megans?” 

“These,” I said, pointing to Megan’s documents.

The banker blinked. He squinted at the form; blinked again. I gazed over his shoulder at the autographed Tim Tebow cover of Sports Illustrated he had framed behind his desk. “No,” he said, “We can’t do wills here, sorry—Wells Fargo doesn’t notarize anyone’s will. Liability concerns.”

“Then you’ll do my other form, the medical one?”

“Yes, but you’ll need two witnesses. We apologize, but bank employees cannot be used as witnesses.”

“So then…?” Megan asked, “We need to round up some randos to sign-off on our dying wishes?”

“Precisely,” the banker intoned.


I went back home to Delaware to see my Poppop, who recently had brain surgery for aggressive stage-4 cancer. I wouldn’t be going back again for the holidays, so my mother took the opportunity to give me a present, even though I explicitly told her no presents this year.

She handed me a package in the dingy hospital parking garage after visiting hours. I unwrapped the gift. It was a business card holder. A business card holder engraved with my name and an inspirational quote from St. Augustine.

Anyone who knows me in the slightest would know that a business card holder is the absolute last thing I would ever want. Giving out one’s business card, ok, I understand, sometimes it needs to be done. But to have a heavy, sterling silver card holder to do it from? That makes one look like the epitome of a tool. And to have an engraved business card holder, with one’s name and an inspirational quote. From St. Fucking Augustine? Jeez, I think I want to barf.


I have a good friend who over-tips. I mean, like, a $5 tip on a $5 beer. Recently, I saw him tip $100 on a $20 pizza order. If he’s using cash, he’ll often just wad up the money and fling it toward the counter of the bar. The way he holds it at arm’s length by the tips of his fingers, it’s as if the money’s dirty; he’s afraid of soiling his skin. It reminds me of Freud’s symbolic equivalence between lucre and shit. Sometimes, later in the evenings, when he gets drunk, he’ll make it rain, hurling crumpled wads of fives, tens, even twenties everywhere and letting them blow around the barroom floor and soak up the dross like sawdust. I usually pick up a few and stuff them back in his pants.


At the bank, Megan and I try to rustle up a couple strangers from the lobby. But nobody’s game. A young Asian man glances at the carpet when we explain our plight. An older lady with frizzy hair and pink tortoise-shell glasses bustles past us to get in line for the teller. Another man in jeans and a sweater chatting with the lobby attendant ends up being a bank employee who came out from his office for a water break.

Finally, after twenty minutes of petitioning strangers in the bank lobby, we find two willing signees who will sign, not our wills, but the “5 Wishes” medical form the bank will notarize: a middle-aged white lady named Cynthia DiFranco, who was there to open a business account, and an older Diné man, Thomas Kanuho, who used to work in car loans. Likely, we will never see Cynthia or Thomas again.

The banker took their IDs and scribbled their names in his logbook. He had the worst handwriting I’ve ever seen. He told us his handwriting was so bad he’d failed his notary test on his first try.

Cynthia and Thomas don’t bother to read the “5 Wishes” document. If they did, they’d see I crossed out statements such as: “I wish to be massaged with warm oils as often as I can be” and “I wish to have my favorite music played when possible until my time of death.”

I don’t even get massages now, so who’s this caretaker who’s going to lubricate me up with warm oils when I have dry, crepelike skin? Avoiding bed sores is one thing, but “warm oils” sounds disturbingly kinky. And, as much as I enjoy music (and things that are kinky), if I didn’t cross off the other directive, I foresee lying on my deathbed for days, weeks, months at a time listening to the Smith’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” on an endless loop.


The thing is, this isn’t the first card holder I received from my mother. About four or five Christmases ago, she gave me a business card holder she purchased from the exact same store. Sterling silver, engraved with my name and an inspiration quote. I imagine the engraver wondering why someone would need two of these items. Zero would be more than plenty.


My friend that flings money and I went to a hole-in-the-wall strip club in Phoenix called Band-aids. Yes, Band-aids. Normally, a strip club is one of the few appropriate venues in which adult males are allowed to fling money around, after all. It seemed like a place he’d enjoy.

We got to the strip club right as they were about to close. There were maybe two or three songs left to the evening, so the doorman doesn’t charge us a cover. My friend uses the ATM in the club’s dim-lit foyer, which charges $6 per withdraw. The cash comes, but he has to tug on the bills to retrieve them. When he pulls them out, each bill has a little rip in the corner. The doorman is looking at my friend tug the cash out of the machine. Many people likely fail to rip out all their cash.

My friend grabs us beers and we go sit by the stage. By the time we sit down, the last song of the night is just finishing. The stripper closes her knees and rises from her squat-and-pop, sweeping up her earnings flung across the stage. The DJ plays another song, but no stripper comes out. My friend takes his bills with the little rip in the corner and throws them around the empty stage. He hands a few to me so I can join him. The bouncer is giving us the eye. I’m a little worried. Then the bouncer comes over, gathers up the mound of cash, and pockets the bills. He’s our new best friend for the next fifteen minutes until the club closes.


In my will, I’ve decided to be cremated and let Megan turn my ashes into cubic zirconia. Maybe two cubic zirconia so she can wear me as the dangly earrings she prefers. I wonder whether I’ll end up clear, pink, yellow, olivine, or lavender. At least, I’m assured by Wikipedia, I’ll finally be “optically flawless.”

If Megan’s not around when I die, then I’ve decided to donate my body to science. Either science or poetry.

Seriously, I need three witnesses to sign my will. The bank wouldn’t notarize it, but three witnesses apparently are just as good. Any takers? I might even gift you a little memento to remember me by.

Read more CNF | Issue Eighteen

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