Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Taste of Money

Karma, they say, is a bitch.

On this day in 1961, the city council of the fictional TV village of Mayberry held a meeting in the episode "Mayberry Goes Bankrupt" of the Andy Griffith Show.

Mayberry, as everyone should know, was a very small town, so small that its entire city council could meet in the mayor's office.

And it did. I suppose that is where the council always met. Viewers wouldn't know that because the city council meetings were seldom seen on the Andy Griffith Show. Having been a reporter and having covered my share of city council meetings, I can understand why. No one in his/her right mind would deliberately watch a city council meeting on TV. With rare exceptions, small–town city councils tend to discuss things like stoplights and sidewalks and zoning ordinances. The agenda is distributed a day or two before the meeting, and usually the only people who attend are those who are directly affected by something. Once their matter has been addressed, they leave.

You would think that such a modest group wouldn't get too carried away with itself. But in the episode that aired 55 years ago tonight, Mayberry's city council did.

When the show began, Andy was protesting a decision the council had just made to evict an elderly citizen (Frank, played by Andy Clyde) because he was behind on his property taxes. I always suspected that the real reason why the council was in such a hurry to evict him was because the councilmen had concluded informally that the house was an eyesore. When the old man was evicted, they could tear the house down and start over again.

As sheriff, it was Andy's job to serve the eviction notice.

"This is one part of sheriffin' I can do without," Andy said as he left the meeting.

The councilmen were right, though. The house was a mess with all kinds of clutter in the yard and chickens running loose, and the house itself was old and run down. The screens on the windows were torn, and the house needed a paint job. The old one was peeling in many places. Some of the boards needed to be replaced, too.

Andy felt bad about having to serve the notice. But Frank told him that he was glad Andy had been the one to do it. "It made it easier," he told Andy.

That evening, as Andy and Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and Opie (Ron Howard) sat on the porch and Andy played his guitar, they spoke about Frank and what a shame it was that he was being evicted.

Opie wanted to know what the word evicted meant. Andy tried to explain that Frank was losing his home because he was behind on his taxes.

Opie said that because Andy was serving the eviction notice, it seemed only fair that Andy should provide Frank with a place to stay. Andy and Aunt Bee tried to object, but they could never get around Opie's logic. It was decided that Frank would be invited to stay with them.

And he must have accepted because the next thing the viewers saw was Frank arriving at the house with Andy with his belongings in tow.

One of his belongings was his strongbox, in which he kept his "valuables" — like a medallion from the 1906 World's Fair and a slotted spoon with the Milwaukee skyline carved in it.

And a $100 bond issued by the town of Mayberry in 1861.

The bond had no expiration date. It only said it was redeemable at 8½% interest compounded annually.

After a conversation with the folks at the bank, Andy called a special meeting of the city council. At first the mayor and the councilmen insisted they were too busy to deal with Frank again, but they soon learned that they would have no choice. Frank's bond was worth nearly $350,000.

As the councilmen oohed and ahhed over a document that was a century old and worth more than a quarter of a million dollars, Frank remarked, "I'll take it in cash."

The fly in the ointment, though, was that Mayberry didn't have the money to pay Frank. Andy was recruited to offer Frank a settlement. He agreed to try, then, as he was leaving, he observed, "Just a few days ago we was ready to give Frank the boot. Now, for all we know, he may be giving the town 24 hours to get out."

Andy came up with a compromise that seemed to please everyone. The members of the council fixed up Frank's house — gave it a fresh paint job, did some repairs to the exterior, made it a showplace (Andy's word) that was sure to attract out–of–towners. And the banker worked out financial arrangements with Frank to get his taxes up to date. All this would be a settlement in lieu of paying off the bond.

Yep, everything seemed to be going just fine — until the councilmen realized the bond was bought when Mayberry was part of the Confederacy — which meant it had been bought with Confederate money — which meant it could only be paid back in Confederate money — and, since the Confederacy no longer existed, that meant the bond was worthless.

Once again, the councilmen were ready to evict Frank from his home — until Andy urged them to consider it a good deed for a citizen in need and let it go at that.

That was pretty good reasoning — and by agreeing to it, the council members might have spared themselves another visit from karma instead of a couple in a convertible who mistakenly thought they were in some place called Elm City.