Wednesday, March 19, 2014

129. Spare Change

I don't remember the first time it happened, but I'm sure it went something like this:

I am a small child, sitting next to my father on the couch. My legs are just long enough that my feet can bounce a little, my ankles resting on the edge of the cushion. We are watching the BBC's 1988 miniseries production of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," being played back on a scratchy VHS that was recorded directly off of PBS. I am learning from the miniseries that Turkish Delight is a type of candy so delicious that it would make a boy betray his entire family to an evil snow queen. I make a mental note to never take candy from strangers, but to buy myself some Turkish Delight once I am a grownup.

My dad asks me if I would like anything from the kitchen. I say yes, please, I'll have a fudgesicle, which I will inevitable smear all over my face even though I'm way too old to be smearing food on my face. Fudgesicles are my achilles heel of mess-making. As he stands up, approximately 50 cents, made up of various different coins, rains out of my dad's pants pockets on to the couch.

Each coin bounces in slow motion in my mind, the early evening light coming in from the window to reflect off of each glorious disc: Beautiful, thick round nickels, cheeky, slender dimes, one robust quarter, and several hard-knock pennies. It is a waterfall of riches, a cavalcade of opportunity.

"Wait," I say, "Some change fell out of your pocket."

My dad turns around and looks at the smattering of loose coins, "If coins fall out of my pockets on the couch and I don't notice, then you can have them."


I like to believe that this last part happened. I like to believe that I was a thoughtful enough child to have alerted my father to his loss, and gotten permission to swoop, hawklike, onto any couch my dad sat on for the rest of my childhood. Although, if we're being honest, I don't think that I said anything. I think that I watched him leave, and then scooped up the change like a magpie, hypnotized by the shininess.

From then on, it was a silent battle between me and my sister. We tried to keep it fair, taking turns with who would get to collect the treasure after my dad left the room. It never amounted to more than 75 cents at a time. But sometimes we would lose track of whose turn it was, and we would each sit on either side of my dad on the couch, giving each other the side-eye around his shoulders. When he'd get up we would rock-paper-scisssors to decide who got the loot or something. I don't quite remember how we solved this conundrum, but I know that it never escalated to fisticuffs.

This was back when I still appreciated pennies. Every penny was important. If I got 5 pennies, that was an entire individually sized caramel that I could buy from the gas station/restaurant and the bottom of the road. The gas station/restaurant that declared in 5-foot-high bold lettering: "EAT HERE GET GAS." Pennies were gold! I never understood how they could be so easily discarded and forgotten by adults.

Because that is what we do as adults. We ignore loose change. Whether or not we realize it, change is literally cold, hard cash. Dollars are neither cold nor hard, unless you freeze them in a block of ice because maybe you're in the mob or something and it just seems like a good idea. We mostly pay for things with cards. But sometimes we pay in dollars. Afterward we toss the loose change into random pockets, or in little cups in our cars, or into the bottom of cavernous purses or backpacks never to be seen again. If you're like Dumptruck, you'll walk around wearing jeans whose pockets have long since gotten holes in them, and you spend an entire day with one coin after another raining out of the hem of your pant leg and left behind you like a trail of breadcrumbs.

I started to notice something very quickly while hiking the Appalachian Trail: change is HEAVY. If you let it pile up, then you can be carrying around an entire quarter of a pound of money that could be converted into dollars that would only weigh a few grams. And as a result, I started being incredibly mindful of my loose change, and paying for things exactly. I would not leave a town until I had (wisely) spent all of my coins. If I wasn't able to spend all of my coins on wise things, then I would use them on unwise things, like a rocket ship ride outside of a grocery store.

Because of my vigilant adherence to this rule, I think I probably ended up saving myself at least $20, if not more. Have you ever stopped to think about how much money you have lost in loose change in your lifetime?! I realize that this is just another addition to this 200 Terrific Things list that might not seem as though it is directly related to the physical act of hiking. But that's just the thing. A lot of what was great about long-distance hiking is how it helped me to be more aware of myself, and more mindful of doing things carelessly.

Since I have stopped hiking, I have continued with this (occasionally obnoxious) behavior of using up all of my loose change whenever possible. Just yesterday I paid for a hot chocolate at a drive-thru window with a dollar, 2 nickels and 17 pennies. And you know what? It felt pretty good.

Clever Girl

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