|(social caterpillars are fond of toast.)|
The Secret Currency of Gutter-Coins
Always pick up change. People think pennies are like gravel, or gum wrappers, or cigarette butts; you know, the kind of thing that gets in your way and makes noise when you scuff your foot across it, and comes up green and rusty underneath car seats when you finally shop-vac after ten years.
So yeah. Pennies might just be weird disks of metal that get in the world’s way. But some people pick them up, and I heard once that if you get one-hundred of these common-as-bird-stuff annoyances together and drop them on a teller’s desk at a bank, he has to give you a dollar. Isn’t that awesome? And if you were really awesome and gathered five-hundred, that would get you a tall macchiato. Gum-wrappers won’t get you coffee. You could collect five-hundred gum wrappers and march into Starbucks and the barista would laugh at you. You could collect five hundred little rocks and slap them on the counter and the barista would give you a weird look. But if, out of the same gutter, you scraped five-hundred pennies and marched into Starbucks, the barista would give you a weird look and laugh, but he’d have to give you coffee too. It’s the law.
I don’t know who decided that paying with change is stupid. Paying with gum wrappers would be stupid, because gum-wrappers would get soggy if they went through a washing machine. Coins don’t. Paying with rocks would be dumb because if you sat down while you had rocks in your pocket, you’d soon wish you hadn’t sat down after all. Pennies don’t hurt your tush. But paying with pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters is pretty cool. Your pockets feel all heavy, like you’re walking through sand on a warm, sunny beach, and you jingle with every step. Have you ever jingled? Some people have to wear wallet chains to sound cool; not so to the brave soul who will pay with change.
You walk up to the counter and order a drink--a complicated drink, so the nervous kid behind the cash register will have to check three or four boxes on the side of the cup--and the kid says something about the total. You ask for the total again because, you know, paying in pennies and then having three-too-few would be a little awkward.
“Four eighty-three,” he snaps.
When you’re reasonably satisfied you have enough and it won’t end awkwardly, you bring out your faded, twisted ziplock bag of coins and start counting.
The line queues up behind you, but you don’t mind because your pennies and nickels and dimes are just as good as their credit card--better, because you actually have it here with you and aren’t having to pay interest and go into debt. The barista starts frowning like, if you’re going to pay with change, you’re not cool enough for coffee. Do you care? No. Well yeah, you might care just a little bit. In fact, just enough that you’ve lost count and you smile softly at the kid and say, “Sorry, lost track.” and start over again, sliding pennies across the counter with the zingy smell of warm copper mixing with the normal scents of espresso and steamed milk. Your palm starts to warm after getting to three-hundred-seventy-eight and the three-hundred-seventy-ninth penny sticks to your skin. You laugh and shake it off, and it bounces behind the counter. The barista kid just stares at you.
“Could you get that for me?” you ask, because when you’re sorting pennies, everything counts.
“Are you kidding me?” He’s gawking--his scraggly “cool” beard is hitting the top of his green apron because his mouth is open so far.
“I’m not kidding,” you say. “Not unless my total is going down to four eighty-two.”
You give him a cheery smile when he returns your penny because everyone knows everyone else could use a little extra grin in their day, and continue parsing out your coins. It’s taking a long time, and your whole body is warm now, but you’ve gone too far to stop now. You shoot over the final dime and wipe your palms on your jeans.
“Feel free to check my math,” you say in an offhand way that sounds completely innocent but sends the barista into a fit of stiffness that looks like the start of rigor mortis.
“It’s fine.” He dumps fistfuls into the cash register.
“Won’t need anymore change for a while now, will you?” You nod to the people behind you in line; some of them look like they want to laugh--maybe they’re change-spenders too--and the others stand in an empathetic silence, making doe-eyes at the employee. Then, when you’re done with this nodding and smiling, you move off to wait for your drink.
It comes five minutes later, looking absolutely like every other drink that has slid across that counter since 5 a.m. But it’s different. It was paid for with the secret currency of gutter-coins. A penny from the pocket of each person walking by. You plug up the little drink-hole with one of those little sword-straw-things you never know what to do with, and you walk out with a smile on your face. Sure, the employees at this Starbucks will hate you forever more, but you’ve gained a little victory with your hazelnut latte. And as soon as you’ve got more pennies, you’re coming back for more.
Advice From a Social Caterpillar is an unofficial work in progress and is nothing but a brain-dumping file wherein I muse on life, liberty, and the pursuit of soft pretzels. Also, anything and everything that runs through my crazy little mind. Periodically, if you like it, I might share a new dose or two.