Passing The Buck

by: Sony Hocklander & Barbara Bartocci

I N MAY 2000, Ozarks artist Dean Bracy reached dejectedly inside his mailbox, expecting the same emptiness he’d found for nearly half a year. A look of disbelief, then a big grin, spread across his face. Stuffed inside were 37 picture postcards and letters. Was his “crazy idea” starting to pay off?

Six months earlier, Bracy had opened a bank account and withdrew 10,000 $1 bills. Each bill, as it went into circulation, was carrying his handwritten message:

“Where does a dollar go? Send me a postcard! D.D.B., Rte 1, Box 282, Highlandville, MO 65669. Have a great day!”

Now, replies were soon averaging 70 a week. To date, February 2004, over 7,400 strangers have poured their dreams, joys, wit and woe into hastily scribbled notes, thoughtful letters, original poems and, yes, even prayers. Some have sent handdrawn illustrations and funny photos. Steven discovered a dollar in his wallet while buying Starbucks coffee. “It was the first day of my honeymoon with my beautiful bride,” he wrote on a postcard that pictured California sea lions, “which means the dollar was in my wallet in my pocket through the whole ceremony and reception! Your dollar has traveled up and down the beautiful California coast this last week ... have lots of happy days!”

A self-styled poet, whose signature was a happy face, penned: “Peek-a-boo/Don’t know you/Got your dollar/Spent it too/What’s your name?/ What do you do?/Want to know/Just what and who.” Neither the poet nor anyone else who wrote knew whether Bracy was a man or a woman, young or old. They didn’t know why he penned his message, nor could they guess the inspiration that lay behind it.

The idea for the project came to Bracy on a visit to Seattle, Washington. in 1999. He attended an exhibit of mosaics, each fashioned from hundreds of squares, all meticulously hand-painted. Boom! Like a thunderclap, he envisioned himself creating his own giant mosaic made from hundreds of picture postcards. He imagined that if he circulated thousands of $1 bills, he could generate enough postcards to create several works of art. After learning from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that writing on the edge of bills wasn’t illegal, he then approached a friend for a loan: $10,000 to purchase new one-dollar bills. And consumed by his vision, Bracy quit his job. For ten weeks, nine hours at a stretch, he carefully wrote his message with a black felt-tip marker. (Talk about faith)

But as winter melted into spring and no replies came, a disappointed Bracy went to work for his dad, a building contractor. Forget your crazy idea, he told himself. Then came the day in May when the postcards began to arrive. Some made Bracy laugh out loud. Elizabeth, age 11, wrote from Georgia: “Dear D.D.B., I got your dollar I have two stinky mean brothers, two birds, one cat and two dogs. Do you have any stinky brothers or pets?” Chris, a California cabbie, filled a jumbo-sized postcard: “So waddya write to a stranger anyway? There I was drivin’ along in my taxi on a killer, sunny, San Francisco day when my adventures were interrupted by a dollar bill with writing all over it. Missouri, huh? Is that one of the square-shaped ones? Kidding, of course. I’d guess Highlandville is nothing like SF, home of the double half-caff Chai Latte and Web designers’ pizza.”

“Dear Dollar Bill Buddy,” wrote another inventive writer, “Some crazy lady stuck me on her refrigerator. I couldn’t move. Now I’m in an envelope on my way to buy an ID tag for her newly adopted black Lab. I feel so used. She treats her dog better than me, but at least my life now has a purpose. Love, your $1.00 (aka “Bill”).

Kirk from Florida sent a large box holding a Sunday Miami Herald, color snapshots of his pets (Dma the dog, Sweet Pea the cat, and his parrots, Frick and Frack) and a fresh green coconut. Karen from Sacramento sent a photo of herself stuffing an oversized sandwich in her mouth. “Here I am, doing what I do best!” she wrote. Before long, travel brochures, maps, menus, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, baseball cards, five lottery tickets showed up. People detailed their lives, politics and their towns. “Your dollar bill made it to Lincoln, Montana,” wrote another Westerner. “Our small town is known for three things: home to the Blackfoot River from the film A River Runs Through It, the coldest temp in the lower 48 (-70 degrees) and the place where they found the Unabomber.”

Bracy’s dollars have turned up at the scene of a crime, as a gift to a newborn, and in the garter of an exotic dancer. They have been wagered by gamblers like Donna (who won $900 at a casino in Redding, Calif.) and unselfishly given to charities. Dean tucks each reply—and anything that comes with it—into a clear plastic sleeve, which he files according to postmark date. The intimacy and pain of some notes is enough to bring one to tears. “Your dollar went to help bury a mother and four-year -old son who had no reason to die,” a distraught writer from Illinois wrote. A father from Sikeston, Mo., whose son had recently passed away, also asked, “Would you be so kind as to use this postcard in your project as a memorial to our son?”

 The messages have enlarged Bracy’s vision. He believes he has a snapshot of the American spirit. You can glimpse part of it on his website: “What’s most amazing is the effort some people put into their responses, Bracy says. “It’s very humbling.” A writer from California, who precisely penned his note backward in neat letters, perhaps said it best. Bracy read it reflected in his bathroom mirror: -

“Everything you do, everything you experience,

                  everything you think affects who you are. You

                  have an incredible amount of input into the

                  creation of yourself.”




February, 2004, (pgs.143-145)





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