Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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from Echo Park

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The subject: money-facturing

twenty.jpgWay back in the day, before Chicken Corner owned hens or had even heard of Echo Park, she was an 11-year-old who was driven past a stolid-looking building every day on the way to and from school in Washington D.C. They said it was The Mint, and I used to wonder if that really were true. The building looked too ordinary and boring to be the place where money is created. By money, I was thinking quarters.

It turned out that this building was not The Mint. It was (and is) the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing. But they do make the money there -- paper notes -- as well as stamps, White House soiree invites, and miscellaneous special portraits.

They were doing it then, and they've been doing it all this time, seven days a week, apparently without rest, while we are sleeping, when we're awake, when we're driving to the airport, or yawning. It never stops. (And who said we don't make anything in this country anymore?) I learned this last week when I finally toured the D.C. building.

So, we saw them making twenties, big sheets of them, which are printed, reprinted, stamped, cut, sorted, photographed, judged to be worthy, or shredded and sold in the gift shop. It was a 45-minute tour, with no bathroom breaks allowed, we were told at the outset by a guy who sounded like a drill sergeant. First we watched a video that showed twenties being made in a Texas facility (there are two, including the DC shop). Then we followed a young guide through some tunnel-like hallways with Plexiglas windows that looked down into the printing shops, which were staffed by good-looking folks in uniforms who sometimes waved, winked or even pretended to offer an uncut sheet of 32 "subjects," as they call each bill. We saw paper and ink, and big sheets of cash being shuffled in the air before being passed into a new machine to be stamped.

The subject of counterfeit ran through the tour guide's spiel like a ribbon. It seems to inform every decision made in the printing process. And there were lots of jokes about "making" money. Which is why Chicken Corner won't be making a joke about making money, not here, not now. Though I do like their URL: Cluck, cluck.

More by Jenny Burman:
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Recent Jenny Burman stories on LA Observed:
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