For the offended

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Change is hard


     My younger boy is moving to Virginia, and in my capacity as a full-service dad, Friday I helped him close up the apartment that, last September, I had helped him move into.
      Not that difficult. Drag some furniture to the van.  Not much. A desk. A chair. A lamp. A coffee table. The new bed will be delivered there. 
     Carefully fit it all in, add boxes and laundry baskets and assorted piles of blankets and coats. The starter set for possessions to come. What someday trucks and squads of burly moving men will do—gather up his possessions to drag them from Point A to Point B—took us two an hour. 
     When I tried to convey this to him, he scoffed. He's never going to own a bunch of stuff. No need to add the contemptuous, "Like you." It was implied. Prudent investments instead.
     "Smart," I said.
    Afterward, upstairs, while he touched up a scuff on a wall, I grabbed a broom and swept. Something spiritual about sweeping, fine dust across a dark floor.
    "You know," I thought to say, but didn't. "I once spent five days cleaning the basement. When I went into rehab. The basement was dirty and it just seemed the thing to do. Almost like being in a monastery, sweeping that black dust across the grey concrete floor."
     But I didn't say that. Shutting up is an art form.
     What I did say was this. I had noticed some coins scattered across his floor. A few quarters, some dimes and nickels. 
     I swept them toward the dust pan.
     "You've got some change on the floor," I said aloud. "Do you want it?" 
    "No," he said. "I don't like change."
    "Nobody does," I replied. A joke. I glanced over for reaction. None. 
     So here was my dilemma. Does dad hoover up the money? At first it felt like a petty, peasant thing to do. Scrabble the coins out of the filth. It was his money, not mine (of course, all his money is my money at this point; might as well get a little back). 
     Still, his dwelling, he's the guy in charge. Do I pluck up the quarters?
     If, in a few years, when he's at a big law firm, pulling down the elephant dollars, how will he look upon this memory, his old father, in his laughable baggy cargo shorts, carefully lifting coins out of the dirt and scraps of the dust pan? With contempt, right? Rich people feel enough contempt as it is for those negligent enough to spend their lives doing what they love but never getting rich at it. Careless of them. Add to that the dubious light that falls upon almost anything your parents do. The losers back in Loserville, losing.
     Is that the message I want to leave to him, as he embarks on this new phase of his life? Leaving and most likely never coming back, except to visit. Dad scrounging change out of the trash? 
    I lift the dustpan to tip it into the garbage. And paused.
    I'm a frugal guy, Alinea notwithstanding. If he weren't there, I'd certainly sky up the coins. A buck's a buck. I did insist he start work at 16. Maybe letting money slip by out of pride is also a message worth delivering. Every quarter counts. If he's going to feel contempt, might as well be for this. 
     He seemed focused on dabbing paint on the wall. Decision time.
     I knotted the big black trash bag and dragged it downstairs and out to the loading dock. 
    "That's it," I said, coming back into the apartment. "Ready?"
     He walked to the door.
    "Don't you want to do some sort of ritual?" I traced a cross of benediction over the room with two fingers, held high. "Your first apartment?"
     He walked wordlessly out onto the street, I followed, letting the door slam behind me. In my pants pocket, the coins jingled. 
     $1.50, not bad for a few seconds' work.
     That evening, in line to order dinner at Once Upon a Grill, I held the stack of coins up between my thumb and forefinger and showed them off to him.
     "Your change," I said, dropping the money into the white plastic tip bucket. "They'll appreciate it."
     He smiled. 


  1. I once saved my change in a 5 gallon water bottle. After about 10 years the bottle was full and I started hauling it to the bank, two coffee-cans at a time. I ended up with a little over two thousand dollars. It paid for a trip to Ireland. Change is a good thing, if you're patient.

    1. I don't do that anymore. The places I've brought my extra pennies charge something like 10 cents on the dollar. Better off spending the pennies as they come in. If you want to save, put dollar bills in the water bottle. Or in the bank. Hardly any interest, but you do get back what you put in.


    2. One of the banks I use has a self-serve change counting machine that you can use at no charge if you have an account. It's the little things that keep me loyal to a business.

    3. tate, some banks will not charge a customer. Tony, I have a friend from park City who saved in a 70s era glass water jug, bigger than the plastic ones used today. He had it filled to the top but someone made off with it one day while he was up the mountain. he probably had at least what your bottle held. A few weeks later his dog died and Mike left Utah in tears.

    4. Mine was glass, too. When I dumped it over, the bottom was all spider-webbed. I'm lucky it didn't break.

  2. I used to work for people who owned a bunch of studio apartments & a small SRO.
    It always amazed me that after someone was evicted for not paying rent, or just moved out & left a mess, there were coins scattered everywhere.
    One place, a studio in a Gold Coast high rise, I picked up over 300 pennies, plus some larger change.

  3. Wow. Not to sound sappy, but that was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. What a beautiful story with a wonderful ending.

  5. A couple years ago I bought a little clear plastic container meant to hold nuts and bolts. It has a nice slotted top that allows coins to be easily inserted. When you pay cash in life, you generate small change. I save the quarters for the laundry in my building. All the pennies, nickels, and dimes go into this container that I keep in my vehicle. My bank refuses to accept coins for deposit. But--the self-checkout registers at Home Depot will accept coins. When I am there at a non-busy time, mid-afternoon and in the right mood, I can be one of Those Guys - I'll bring my change container in with me. While it may take me 8 minutes, I will insert each coin, one at a time into the slot, to pay for my purchase. Yesterday I bought two items, total was $6.43, all in small change. It can be immensely satisfying.

    1. It's like getting something for free. Right?

      I usually pay for the paper with a dollar bill, but when I use 4 quarters, or 8 dimes and 4 nickels, or 10 dimes, or a first a few days ago, 20 nickels, I feel that I'm contributing to the financial wellbeing of the gas station where I buy the paper, to make up for the rare occasions I have to slap a $20 bill down as the 1st customer of the day.


    2. Thank god I shop at Lowes.

  6. If and when your son ends up at a big law firm (you never know--even law school has its share of dropouts), it sounds like he already has a lawyer's outlook ("I don't like change...") before he even enters his first classroom: smirking and sneering at his cheap and fussy old father, in his laughable outfit, and looking at him with contempt and disdain as he scrapes unwanted coins off the floor.

    Rich people feel sorry for those who do what they love (from which we get the word "amateur") when the big bucks don't follow. But you only get one life...better to struggle while doing what you love for pennies than to waste each day of that life doing something you've grown to despise, no matter how big the money. And it's normal to pity one's parental units as a twenty-something, and to regard them as losers, wasting away again in Loserville. Given enough time and enough birthday candles (35? 45? 55?), acquired wisdom, and accumulated maturity, even that snarky viewpoint seems to fade away. Actually liking...or even loving...your folks also helps.

    Lastly, a penny picked up is a penny found...without having to earn it. Money is money. I'm relieved to hear that other old geezers still pick up pennies. And I'm reminded of that tired old joke about the two Jewish guys who fought over a penny in the street...and invented copper wire.

  7. Hell, I'd have taken the change, the screwdriver, the fingernail clipper and that pen if it worked. I have no shame.

    Count me among the frugal people (or misers, YMMV) who save coins in containers. A cute antique green bottle, in my case. Every few years I score $200 or so. Not bad.

  8. My uncle had a great system. Each month he would stack up his bills in order of their priority. The first check he would write was to himself. He would continue down through his stack until the money ran out. The unpaid bills would get reprioritized with the new the following month. Regardless of the stack he would always pay himself first. He also never through money away which is why he died much richer than most.

    1. I'm not sure that's such a great system in the present day. Unpaid bills may get reported as late pays, harming one's credit rating and raising the rate one subsequent credit. Also, the borrower will likely be charged interest and/or late fees on the deferred bills. And that interest will be considerably higher than the return on a retirement account.

  9. A story beautifully told, and thank you.

    I pick up the change. A friend has a story on how a $1.39 overdraft triggered a financial crisis. Her bank charged her a $35 fee for being a $1.39 overdrawn, which triggered other $35 fees, and led to her having to get a second job for a while. I have other friends who literally throw their pennies in the garbage . Makes me insane!

  10. I sure liked your story. Speaking of sons: I can, from some experience, do that too. The older they get, the smarter you get. Twenty some years ago I was the world's biggest idiot. Now I'm a pretty intelligent dad of a very intelligent son. We have a pretty great relationship now, which is something I never really had with my own pop.


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