A Harbor of Hope in a Sea of Suck
“I need $2.00 in quarters,” demands a disheveled woman, as she’s dropping a overflowing pile of coins into my foolishly extended palm.
“What?,” I ask politely; desperately trying to buy myself enough time to make sense of what’s happening. Making change isn’t tough; it’s something I do nearly everyday. But this pile of coins. It’s just a clinking mass of metal and… stuff in my hand.
The kind of stuff you generally don’t want anywhere near you.
I can see pennies poking out, some quarters fighting with her dimes and nickels for equal face-time. All mixed in what I hope is/was lint and a few slivers of tree bark.
Yes, you, dear reader, have read that right: slivers of fucking tree bark. It’s as if she had slept out in the woods the night before, and then decided to bring some of it in with her.
“I said ‘I need $2.00 in quarters,” she repeats, clarifying, “for the bus.”
If I learned anything in 10th grade geometry class, it’s that the shortest (i.e. fastest) path between two points is a straight line. So I stop trying to figure out where this borderline hobo’s change came from, and just start counting.
I start by cleaning out/off the playing field. Dust, lint, dirt, bark; all gets wiped off the counter. I start sorting through the coins; trying to group each denomination alike.
One, two, three, four quarters: a dollar. So technically she only needs one (more) dollar in quarters. My one wise move of the day: I did not point this out to her.
Four dimes are unearthed from the Pigpen coin pile and a smile lights up my face. I’m now so close to ending this nightmare.
The nickels lifted my spirits even higher. Only three of them. 15 cents. An amount so small I wouldn’t need to create a new pile for them.
Now come the pennies, which are always way too many, way too messy, and discomfortingly way too slimy. Not full-on, “your hand is now wet” slimy, but just damp enough to make you notice, wonder, then dread.
Thirty-seven. 37 fucking, partially wet pennies. 37 greasy, slimy, tiny little pennies to be corralled into equally greasy, slimy, tiny stacks of five.
Looking down at all the change, I was pretty sure something was wrong. Something, along with our entire interaction, just felt off. A cursory count confirmed my suspicions. $1.87. Not the $2.00 she professed she needed.
Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I start recounting. Thinking that maybe I had missed something amongst the pine needles. (Dimes are small after all.) Something that would make up the difference, and place her on a bus on its way out of my life.
No dice. Instead of apologies for any inconveniences, I received insults.
“What? Do you need help counting?,” she jeered.
Stopping, looking at her, and speaking just loud enough so that everyone nearby could hear, yet without raising my voice, “No, ma’am, I’m just double-checking the amounts here. You said it was $2.00, but there’s only $1.87 here.”
She quieted down real fast.
“You’re 13 cents short.”
She digs deep into her grass-stained shorts, turning its tiny pockets inside out only to come up with two more wretched pennies.
Looking down, “Okay, now you’re 11 cents short…”
“I don’t have anymore change,” she admits.
I just start silently off into space. I’ve found it best, in uncomfortable silences like these, ones where I have nothing personally at stake, to not say anything. Allow the person a modicum of dignity before they walk away defeated; no matter how hostile they were mere moments ago.
All this, and we’re still 6-7 weeks out from Christmas. If things stay on this course, I’m in for a wild 4th quarter…
[While searching for the above link, I stumbled across this here, further proof I need to just stop counting.]