In news that may be far less exciting to you than it is to me, today completes my 100th blog post this year!
Despite the fact that this doesn’t even represent one third of the year, it feels like a big accomplishment, and it’s fun to have made it this far.
And in celebrating it, I’m going to choose to ignore the fact that I would have gotten there a week ago if I hadn’t been a bit delinquent at various points over the last month or so. After all, sometimes life has other plans!
In thinking about this mini-accomplishment today, I realized that the number 100 actually has a strange sort of significance in common parlance. Perhaps you know what I mean.
I think that it probably starts out when we’re young children, just learning to count. At that age, being able to count to 100 is a huge accomplishment! In fact, it can be somewhat comical to watch the look on a child’s face when you tell her that there are numbers beyond 100. Usually, it’s some combination of amazement (How can something be so big?) and dismay (You mean I have to learn more?)
From there, the number 100 becomes incorporated into our childhood games—particularly hide-and-go-seek. You absolutely can’t start looking for your friends until you count to 100, and you have to do it out loud so that everyone knows you’re playing fair. Why choose 100? I’m not exactly sure. Probably because it’s recognized as big enough number to give everyone time to hide, but not so big as to be unreasonable. After all, requiring anyone to count beyond 100 would just be insane.
Then, there’s the question of money. I think that to a young child, $100 is a lot of money. I’m trying to recall how old I was before I ever saw that much money in one place. I remember mowing lawns and shoveling driveways and watching the balance in my little savings account creep up until it reached that magic number, then wanting to take it all out just so I could look at it and see that it was real.
Maybe it’s partly because that’s the largest bill we tend to use in ordinary circulation. I’m aware that the Treasury Department has printed bills in the increments of $500 (featuring William McKinley), $1,000 (Grover Cleveland), $5,000 (James Madison), $10,000 (Salmon P. Chase), and even $100,000 (Woodrow Wilson), but these notes have not been circulated by banks for forty years—ever since Tricky Dick signed a presidential order in 1969.
100 points for you, by the way, if you can tell me who Salmon P. Chase was without looking it up (be honest…)
By sheer coincidence, it was only today that the Treasury Department gave our $100 bill a dramatic new facelift for security purposes. Check it out here. Our money gets more colorful every day!
It’s funny that now, $100 seems like very little money to me. I’m not sure when it happened. I mean, I’d still be devastated if I lost that much money, but somewhere along the line, you buy a pair of shoes or pay for a dinner that costs more than that, and the magic spell is broken.
Then, aside from the money, there are the lists.
It seems that we make lists in multiples of ten. Oh, there are plenty of ‘Top Ten’ lists, but if you get beyond 10, the list almost always jumps straight to 100. When was the last time you saw a list of the ‘Top 60 This’ or the ‘Top 82 That’? Somehow, we remain fascinated with 100.
Simply start by typing ‘100 best’ into Google and see what auto-appears. I got: 100 best movies, 100 best companies to work for, 100 best books/novels, 100 best songs, 100 best rap songs (evidently a separate category—I couldn’t agree more), and 100 best colleges—all without even scrolling down.
You’d think that the list of ‘worsts’ would roughly correspond, but you’d be wrong. When I typed ‘100 worst,’ some of the categories (like movies, companies, and songs) remained the same, but here are some of the other categories Google came up with for me: 100 worst ways to die (certainly too morbid for my taste), 100 worst guitar solos (not counting my upstairs neighbor, evidently), 100 most dangerous cities in America (Boston, you’re at 85; Milwaukee, 57), 100 worst album covers (Prince’s Lovesexy tops that list), and 100 worst pick-up lines.
I know you’ll hold it against me if I don’t tell you the worst pick-up line on that list, so let’s just get it out of our system:
“I’m the biggest lady-killer in Buffalo since O.J. Simpson.”
Of course, O.J. Simpson never killed anyone in Buffalo, so this admittedly horrible pick-up line is made still more wretched by its false statement of fact and the fact that the poor fellow must live in Buffalo, which (beyond his obvious lack of social skills) is reason enough for feeling pity for him!
In any case, the number 100 has gotten me significantly off topic today, but I’m still looking for a reason why it seems to be so fixed in our minds. I mean, think of it! Our monetary system, our method of counting years (decades, centuries, and millennia), even our pop cultures lists and childhood games all seem to focus on that one little (big) number.
Perhaps it’s because of percents.
After all, strictly speaking, you can’t have more than 100% of anything. You can have growth beyond 100%, I suppose, but in general 100% represents fullness, completeness, wholeness. Coaches who ask you to give 110% are calling for more than everything you’ve got. The whole reason that 101 Dalmatians was an intriguing title was because that’s just one more dalmatian than anyone could possibly comprehend. And in fairy tales, nothing (even Sleeping Beauty’s slumber) seems to last beyond 100 years.
In fact, conventional wisdom states that the human mind is unable to grasp the real meaning of numbers beyond one hundred, which are simply too abstract for most of us to truly comprehend. (Some of you may recall Richard Adams’ oblique reference to this truism in Watership Down, in which he states that “Rabbits can count up to four. Any number above four is Hrair—’a lot’ or ‘a thousand.’)
In the end, perhaps that’s the real reason for all of this attention to 100.
But whether or not I can realistically comprehend numbers beyond 100, I can grasp the fact that tomorrow is Day 101.
And it’s going to be a fantastic day!