Yesterday was a sad day and I woke up this morning tired and unhappy with myself. After taking a shower and dressing, I thought, “Maybe there will be something fun in the mail today. Like a package or a check. Or a package full of checks.”
Upon opening the mailbox, I found a large envelope from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It looked like a generic plea for donations, so I went to throw it out at the corner trash bin. On the way there I realized there might be some information about the beached finback whale inside, so I opened the letter.
A $5 bill fluttered to the ground and blew away.
I chased the bill, stamping it with my shoe, bending down, accidentally setting it free, chasing it down again and finally pinning it to a can of soybean oil . Now I was confused. Had the bill been included in the envelope? Had it been in my pocket, and I’d somehow liberated it in ripping open the envelope? The bill appeared to be real. It wasn’t in mint condition, but it wasn’t ancient, either.
I unfolded the page inside. “Your household has been randomly selected for a scientific survey,” the letter said. “We have enclosed a small token of thanks. Please return the survey in the enclosed prepaid envelope.”
I opened the survey. It asked if I owned my apartment (no) and whether I’d engaged in saltwater fishing during the past year (no). That was it. I checked the boxes, replaced the survey in its envelope, and mailed the envelope to a PO box in Maryland.
Once I’d absorbed the fact that NOAA was randomly sending cash through the mail, I immediately determined that the saltwater fishing survey had been a ruse, and that some bureau of behavioral economics had instead tapped the Administration to help conduct a study about how to incentivize people to take random surveys. The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like the only possible solution to the following questions:
1. Why send cash instead of a check?
2. How many bills would be wasted by people who tossed their envelopes in the trash?
3. How many New Yorkers could possible engage in saltwater fishing on at least a yearly basis?
If you have any ideas or received a similar bill in the mail, please let me know!
In the meantime, I’m grateful that my wish for an undeserved cash supplement has been fulfilled. I’m even more grateful that the cash arrived under circumstances mysterious enough to distract me until I feel better.