The times they aren’t a-changin’

I liked the idea of keeping the change right up until everyone started keeping mine.

Today I face a new and creeping epidemic. Namely that keeping the change – my change mind you – is no longer optional.

Instead, I pay $1.40 for a $1.39 soda and the clerk drops my money in the till with a cheery “thank you come again!” and no intention, it seems, of fishing the penny out for me.

Keep it? In another store I hand over three dimes for a 25 cent candy and I am thanked by rote as the clerk drops the dimes into the drawer, clicks it shut, and turns away.

The clerk is intent on whatever it is clerks do behind the counter that require near total concentration when you are attempting to get their attention for something minor like a price check; assistance; or informing her that there is a masked gunman in Aisle 12.

All of this leaves me down 6 cents and wondering where the notion of not keeping the change has gone?

Take it. Perhaps it all began with those little “take a penny, leave a penny” cups that cropped up overnight at cash registers everywhere.

Sure, they seemed like such an altruistic idea at the time, but like so many insidious “random acts of kindness” soon turned mercenarily sour.

Ask yourself: How do we really know that all those leftover pennies went to the penny short among us?

Perhaps they actually went into a giant corporate till where, over time, these pennies saved earned the ability to buy obscenely large shares of Enron stock, fuel private jets, or pay off members of Congress?

Do you really need that on your conscience?

Even as someone who routinely treats pennies like the nuisances they are (not even gumball machines take pennies anymore), I still want control over my money – no matter how meager the amounts.

This being my money we are talking about, I can assure you that I’m used to dealing with really small numbers.

Big spender. Now, should I choose to wave off my change, I enjoy a moment of Rockefeller-like largesse.

Why, this must be exactly how Carnegie felt when he was endowing all those libraries!

I am one with the elite. Clearly I am above the need for something so pedestrian as worrying over every penny.

Momentarily rich, even. That’s a pretty good feeling to be had for one red cent.

On the other hand, let someone keep your penny – a penny taking – and you’ve been robbed!

Balance. Not to mention that after falling hook, line and sinker for the ruse that in today’s electronic world every single transaction must line up perfectly in the great fiscal computers or risk the wrath of angry corporate accountants, it’s a bit hard to swallow this newfound free and easy way with my money.

Did you ever try to just “best guess” at an un-priced item at the checkout?

Clerks scoff at your suggested price as if this might be part of your elaborate ruse to bilk the retailer out of millions, three cents at a time.

Ever committed to getting that price they head off, sometimes in teams, to trek the store in search of the answer to whether the potatoes were $1.99 or a $1.97 per pound.

All of which begs the question: With such diligent regard to receiving every last red cent owed to them, doesn’t the extra change showing up in the register when they fail to return the same not throw the whole thing off?

In my case will some hapless bean counter at Candy Corp. Central work long into the night trying to figure up where the extra nickel came from?

Will heads roll? Will the IRS have to get involved? We can only hope.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is just cheap enough to really miss that nickel. She welcomes comments c/o kseabolt@epohi.com or P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460.)

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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