THE OTHER day, my wife and kids attended a financial-management workshop taught by our neighbor, who happens to work in finance.
Upon hearing his sharp money advice, they acknowledged that their frequent trips to the mall and the ice-cream truck are financial no-no's, but they each received a free counterfeit detector pen to help them deal with their self-loathing.
Before you dismiss the counterfeit detector as some useless trinket you can only order with 50 box tops from your favorite sugary cereal, you need to realize that it's a real thing. Perhaps you even saw one the last time you pulled out a $50 bill at your local pizza place.
Right after giving you a look that said, "Oh sure, you've got a 50," the overworked clerk held the bill up to the light, pulled out her trusty counterfeit detector, and you held your breath while waiting to see if your bill was the real deal. A yellow mark meant you ate pepperoni that day. A black mark meant you didn't.
When LaVeta and I saw the children demonstrate the miracle of the counterfeit detector on a one-dollar-bill in the kitchen, we got to thinking: What if someone came up with a giant pen that could spot the counterfeit items that are far more valuable than a bill? There could be a pen for counterfeit designer accessories, or a pen for counterfeit jewelry. There could even be a pen to detect the biggest threat of all - counterfeit people.
I'm not talking about fake people who grow in pods in movies like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Nor am I talking about the fake people we're hoping to clone in the future. I'm talking about the kind of fake people who make our lives miserable on a daily basis.
You've met the person of your dreams through an online dating service. Their profile says that they're educated, adventurous, and culturally well-rounded. They share your values on everything from marriage to child-rearing. On top of all that, their picture could've come from a magazine. All this can mean only one thing: something's wrong.
You try to flesh them out through an email exchange, but their answers read like something from a Hollywood script. Finally, you get them on a video chat, and lo and behold, they look exactly like their profile picture. Still, something isn't quite right, so you excuse yourself from the chat, pull out your Counterfeit Person Detector, and swipe it across your computer screen. The screen turns black, then cloudy, and in a few minutes, the truth is out.
The object of your affection is a Howdy Doody lookalike who's been projecting a picture of a hottie onto your screen.
You've been looking for a car for months, but nothing seems to fit your budget, until you walk into your final dealership, and meet Mister Me Too.
"Are you into being a parent? Me too!"
"Do you support charities? Me too!"
"Are you a dog person? Me too!"
You have so much in common with this guy that it's impossible not to buy whatever he's selling. In fact, after the car sale is complete, you're planning to hang out with him at your favorite sports bar. But just as you're about to sign the papers for a car you can't afford, Mr. Me Too says he likes turkey on brioche with avocado and Asiago cheese. This is not a "me too" moment, so you pull out your trusty Counterfeit Person Detector, and before he can protest, you sweep it across his face.
When the smoke clears, you realize you were just about to buy a car from Charlie Manson. Thanks to your handy Counterfeit Person Detector, you won't have that on your conscience.
He hangs around, encourages you to flesh out your ideas and even offers to help think them through. He goes to lunch with you at least twice a week, and brings his laptop so the two of you can get your ideas down pat. The day before you're supposed to take the ideas to the boss, however, you find him printing out spreadsheets in the lunchroom.
"Just something I've been kicking around," he says, with a nervous smile.
You whip out your Counterfeit Person Detector, and as the black mark dries on his forehead, you decide to do some kicking around of your own.
The Counterfeit Detector. It's not just for money anymore.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appearsTuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.