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Love my tender, love my needs

It's hard to buy a tie-dyed T-shirt bearing the likeness of State Attorney James T. Russell from his office, although I'm in the market if anybody has one. And copies of documents from the files of career criminals are not available from Grateful Dead Merchandising.

But Russell and the Dead have one thing in common. They don't take cash. The Dead don't even take checks.

Doing business with both last week, I discovered that it doesn't matter either Russell or the Dead whether you left home without it _ they don't want it.

Despite U.S. currency's insistence that THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE, the chief law enforcement officer for all of Pasco and Pinellas counties wants none of it, thank you very much.

I guess it's fair to note that the legend on the buck only says it is legal tender, which means it is legal to offer it _ it doesn't say anybody has to take it. In fact, there have been cases where the Internal Revenue Service has refused cash payments from taxpayers.

Still, Russell is an elected official, and who ever heard of an elected official who wouldn't accept cash? It's almost un-American.

Thing is, usually a refusal to accept cash is a security move _ a protection against theft from inside or robbery from outside. I'm sure Russell trusts his capable and honest staff. It must be those criminals who hang around the district's court buildings who bother him.

It's a little more understandable with Grateful Dead Merchandising, which always has had a rather strange way of doing business. Try buying mail-order tickets some time if you think I'm kidding. But what a yuppie acquaintance said about Deadheads _ that most of us don't have checking accounts as a condition of probation _ is not true.

Russell's office finally accepted a check from my office, but the Dead will take only U.S. Postal Service money orders, probably basing the policy on the theory that people who like the music of a rock group heavily associated with the 1960s will feel at home with the facial expressions and speed of movement displayed in most post offices.

But the truth is, money just gets harder and harder to spend.

Fifteen years ago I wrote a column we headlined Fistful of Nickels, about how I almost starved to death in downtown Dade City because I was living in a rented room, had no food, and the one restaurant in town _ one of two at the time _ where I had a charge account was closed.

Both convenience stores and the other restaurant refused my neatly rolled and labeled $4 in nickels, and I couldn't buy enough gasoline to drive to the next town because the gas station wouldn't take them, either.

Now that convenience stores and restaurants are combining, I've run into other problems _ the "No Bills Over $20" signs and the "No $20 bills" signs. I had one store refuse to take a $20 bill and a $1 bill for a purchase that totaled something like $20.50. I thought of arguing with her over the intent of the regulation, but she swore to me she would be fired if she took a $20 bill.

And in some of the area's swanker stores and shops, on the other hand, it's always fun to watch a clerk go into information overload when he or she says, "Cash or charge?" and you actually answer, "Cash."

The response I usually get is a blank stare, followed by an expression of distaste at having to handle green, sweaty, crumpled pieces of paper and a tone of voice that is vaguely condescending to a customer who obviously has been denied credit cards.

It's okay. A supervisor usually is around to help them through the hard parts of ringing up a cash purchase and ... ugh! ... making change.