Friday's Favs

(Note: every Friday I'll post a favorite rant from the archives)

from April 23, 2009

His John Hancock

If I was a retail worker in the late-18th century, and John Hancock came in to my establishment and signed a check, then it would replicate the feeling I had that night in the drugstore in Ann Arbor, circa 1983.

I used to work the liquor counter and help the pharmacists, part-time, at Perry Drugs when I wasn't attending classes and parties at Eastern Michigan University. Not necessarily in that order, by the way.

EMU is in Ypsilanti, just a beer can's throw away from Ann Arbor, which is where I worked. Ann Arbor isn't all that far from Plymouth, which will become relevant shortly, I promise.

So I'm hanging out, chatting with the "druggist" (remember when we called them that?), late one evening, maybe after 10:00.

A man strides to the liquor counter and wants to buy some, well, liquor. Natch.

I load him up, with some of our most expensive vodkas and whiskeys, and he wants to pay with a traveler's cheque. Fine.

With a traveler's cheque, the clerk simply needs to have the customer sign it, below the signature that was placed on it originally when it was purchased from the bank. To make sure they match up. And to authorize payment.

So the man, perhaps in his 60s, signs it, quite eloquently. I mean, the signature flowed out of his pen as if it had been expelled by a machine.

He leaves, but I can't stop looking at the signature. It seemed like one that I should know.

But how? From where? I'd never seen the man--I didn't think, before in my 20-year-old life.

The evening droned on.

About 30 minutes later, I did another transaction and, upon opening the cash register, I saw the signed traveler's cheque. It was teasing me now. I looked at the signature again.


Then, for whatever reason, it hit me. Like the proverbial ton of bricks.

I opened my wallet. Withdrew a dollar bill. 1977 series.


The signature on the traveler's cheque matched, exactly, the one on my dollar bill.

The man who came into my store 30 minutes earlier, the one who bought some of our finest booze, was none other than W. Michael Blumenthal, Secretary of the Treasury under President Carter.

Here's the signature: (found it on Google)

Blumenthal was in charge of the old Burroughs Corporation, which became Unisys. And Burroughs was located in Plymouth. (Told ya it would be relevant).

Excited by what happened, I ran into the office and told the pharmacist on duty.

"You'll never believe who was just in here!"

He wasn't as impressed as I was, if I remember correctly. Oh well.

To this day, I rue not making a photo copy of that traveler's cheque. Not to prove the story (though it would make a wonderful visual aid among company), but just to look at the damn thing from time to time.

Werner Michael Blumenthal: Secretary of the Treasury (1977-79)

It's one of my favorite stories to tell, the night Mike Blumenthal bought liquor from me without me knowing it. And signing his traveler's cheque precisely the way it appeared on U.S. currency for all those years.

I was nearly knocked over by actor Donald Sutherland in downtown Detroit, at the old Trapper's Alley, when he was in town filming The Rosary Murders. He and I bumped into each other, literally, at the base of some steps. He's a tall dude.

There've been other brushes with celebrity that I've had, some that have occurred naturally in my role as a freelance writer. But none can top that night in Ann Arbor, some 26 years ago, when I sold booze to the former Secretary of the Treasury.

Blumenthal didn't say much, that I can recall. Just picked out his libations, signed his cheque eloquently, and went on his way.

I'll never get tired of telling this story. I'm sorry.


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