A Billion Dollars

Damon Runyon


May 20.

DEAR SIR my wife Ethel was reading the paper the other night and she ses Joe how much is a billion? I ses a billion what? She ses a billion anything. Are there different kinds of billions?

I ses no Ethel not that I know of. I ses a billion is a billion but if you tell me what you are thinking about maybe I could explain it better. She ses well I am thinking about a billion dollars. How much is a billion dollars Joe?

I ses Ethel a billion dollars is a billion dollars. I ses a billion dollars is a thousand times more than a million dollars and she says is that a lot of money Joe? I ses Ethel it is an awful lot of money and she says what does it look like? I ses how do I know what a billion dollars looks like? I ses I never saw a billion dollars.

Ethel ses well then if you never saw a billion dollars how do you know it is an awful lot of money? Could you put a billion dollars in your pockets? I ses Ethel of course you could not put a billion dollars in your pocket unless it was in a check and she ses whose check? I ses anybodys check and she ses would anybodys check for a billion dollars be any good?

I ses look Ethel I am starting to get a headache and she ses all right there is some aspirin on the second shelf in the bathroom but why do you always start to get a headache when I ask you a few simple questions? Could you put a billion dollars in dollar bills in this room Joe?

I ses no Ethel. I ses you could not put a billion dollars in this room in dollar bills or in a whole lot of rooms the same size. She ses could you put it in this room in ten dollar bills? I ses no not in ten dollar bills either and she ses how do you know Joe if you never saw a billion dollars?

I ses well Ethel I know that a billion dollars in ten dollar bills would take up a terrible lot of room. I ses I know that from what I have read about how much a billion dollars is. I ses I guess there is not a building in Brooklyn big enough to hold a billion dollars in ten dollar bills.

Ethel ses why Joe that is foolish. The bank would hold it. I ses no Ethel the bank would not be big enough and she ses do you mean to set there and tell me if I had a billion dollars in ten dollar bills and went down to the bank and asked them to put it away for me they would not have room? I ses thats right Ethel and she ses well what on earth would I do with it then if there was not room enough in this house for it either?

I ses look Ethel sweetheart lets not worry about that now and she ses well I only wish I could talk to somebody that has really seen a billion dollars. I ses Ethel it will be a mighty cold day before you ever see anybody that has seen a billion. I ses nobody has ever seen a billion dollars all at once and Ethel ses why Joe thats crazy. President Roosevelt has seen a billion dollars.

I ses where did you get that idea Ethel? She ses why he has seen a lot of billion dollars. It ses right here in the paper that he is going to spend seven billion dollars and he could not spend something he has not even seen could he? Joe if a billion dollars is an awful lot of money seven billion dollars must be an awful awful awful lot?

I ses yes Ethel I guess it is at that and she ses Joe where does that money come from? I ses well it comes from taxes and she ses who gets it? I ses well the idea is everybody gets it and she ses do you Joe? I ses no Ethel I do not get any of it and she ses why not? I ses well one reason is I do not need it and she ses O is that so Joe Turp? Well how about me wanting to get my ice box fixed and you claiming you cannot afford it?

I ses just a minute Ethel. I ses that money that President Roosevelt is going to spend is to put people to work and help people who are on relief and Ethel ses will old Missus Dolan get her money back? I ses what money and Ethel ses why she was on relief and getting fourteen dollars a week and they cut her down to ten and she needs the extra money. Will she get that four dollars a week back out of the seven billion?

I ses well Ethel I guess there are more important things than Missus Dolans four bucks and Ethel ses there is nothing more important to Missus Dolan right now. That extra four dollars meant a lot to her and they ought to be able to spare it out of seven billions. Joe I want to ask you something else now. How big a building would it take to put seven billion dollars in if I had it in ten dollar bills?

I ses look Ethel where did you say that aspirin was?

Yours truly