digging deep

hand full of coins

I am plagued with strange compulsions. Some have been with me as far back as I can recall and I have added several through the years. Compulsions rarely make sense to others, but I often find that those folks who scoff at my compulsions usually have their own rituals that seem perfectly reasonable to them. I find it particularly galling when someone who jumps over sidewalk cracks or changes direction to avoid crossing with a black cat makes fun of my rituals.

One compulsion is ordered reading. I do not like to stray from first to last order. I read the newspaper in order, first page first. For most of my life I read books in the order in which they came to be on my shelf. Now I not only have shelves in every room but I have stacks on end tables, night stands, kitchen counters, and some dangerously tall stacks on the floor. Reading books in any kind of order is impossible. I just pick a book near where I finished the last one. So I consider that compulsion conquered. Of course that means another compulsion added. I buy books. Lots of books. I cannot leave a thrift store or garage sale without perusing the used books. Bookstores are the crack cocaine of book addicts. Imagine throwing a crack head into a pharmacy and saying “just take whatever you find interesting.” I try to stay out of them. And those people who read the end of the book first? I don’t think I could knowingly be friends with them. I can only imagine the conversation when my girls come to clean out my remainders.

One of my most disturbing compulsions came on gradually, building to the current state of must do. It is the curse of correct change. I know that a curse is usually thought of as a hex of some kind, like the curse of the mummy or the curse of the Hope Diamond. Extreme bad luck comes to those cursed. My curse is not in that category so I suppose it might be classified as a paltry curse, as curses go. I inherited this from my mother, whose digging in the bottom of her purse humiliated me on so many occasions. Mama felt that she could not be flimflammed if she provided correct change. Because who knows how many people want to short change old ladies by a quarter or two? She held up check-out lines while she dug in her large purse, making sure every nickel, dime and penny was right. And then she grinned like a bushel basket of possum heads. Her purse could have been filled with bricks it was so heavy. She called one day all a flutter. She had gone to get gas and after it was pumped she realized she had left her wallet at home. But no worries, she actually paid for a full tank of gas with the change from the bottom of her purse.

It crept up on me slowly, that compulsion to provide correct change. I usually apologize and explain that it is my curse to count change. I dig deep into my purse and pull out a fist full of change that is littered with bits of Kleenex and the occasional Advil tablet. As I add the coins up to the total I get a measure of satisfaction in knowing that mama would be relieved to know that I was finally protecting myself from swindlers and cheats.

Recently I was surprised to see my first born digging deep into her bag seeking exact change, rooting like Jack Russell after a chipmunk. She looked pleased when I pointed out the curse was creeping up on her. Pleased by the curse of the correct change! Imagine that. I think I just found out who will inherit my books.


Image: hand full of coins by Jenn Durfey via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.
Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton has recently added "writer" to her biography. She works in the health insurance industry which has somehow become public enemy number one these days. She is proudest of her role as a wife, mother and grandmother (although writer comes dang close) and wishes she could still claim to be someone's daughter.

  1. Will Cantrell

    Nancy, Nancy, Nancy:

    So you’re probably the one who got this whole country-wide exact change business started in the first place!!! I swear, having exact change is always a problem for me. There used to be a drive-thru BBQ sandwich place in my old neighborhood that INSISTED on customers having exact change on the weekends . They also had a policy of “WE DON’T ACCEPT BILLS HIGHER THAN $10.” The BBQ was great but the girl working the drive-thru window always looked mean enough to eat rocks. She always looked like she was just itching to kick someone’s ass, quite possibly mine. These were the times when the bill for the BBQ might be say $13.67. It was at these times the ONLY change I could find in my pocket was a $20 bill, three pennies, an AA battery and a piece of blue lint. Hell, I just quit eating BBQ which is a high price to pay for not having exact change. The rest of us hope you’re proud of yourself for cooperating with “the man” and causing the national exact change problem in the first place.

    On the other hand, I’m with you when it comes to these people who insist on reading the back of the book (or the ending) first. It’s an unholy habit if you ask me and not what the universe, the book’s author or Evelyn Wood ever intended. What these people deserve is for the last ten pages to be ripped out of any book leaving them to truly wonder what happened in the end. Great piece. Will

    1. The people you should blame are the chiselers, who put one price on the shelf and try to collect another at the check out counter. I first encountered them in LA in 1950. Lo and behold, 20 years later they were on 125th Street in New York. By that time I had learned to make a big fuss instead of digging in my purse for a few more pennies. And there was many a chuckle in that long express line behind me.
      I expect chiseling is also a compulsion, and a particularly nasty one. Correct change is a preemptive strike.

      1. Thanks for sharing! I always love getting a new perspective. Can I correctly say that correct changes is a prophylactic measure? I love any excuse to use prophylactic in conversation since it makes everyone (dare I say) pregnantly pause.

        1. Indeed! Prophylactic is more accurate. Please proceed!

    2. Thanks Will. I agree that giving up BBQ is quite a toll to pay. I’m not sure have your strength of character to take such a stouthearted stand against change. But we stand in solidarity on reading front to back. I am quite sure it is as God herself intended.

  2. Trevor Stone Irvin

    I have to admit I read the NewYorker every week, starting in the back and working my way to the front … don’t know why, I’ve always done it that way.

    1. I don’t understand, it is even more trouble to start at the back. I beg you to reform!

      1. Trevor Stone Irvin

        Sorry, I find it rather enjoyable that way.

  3. Frank Povah

    I only pay for things with notes and then hoard the change at home, promising myself that one day I will take it to the bank. And I know, I just KNOW, that one day I will be invaded (so much more dramatic than breaking and entering) because everyone has heard about the “eccentric old muso come writer who lives up on Braeside with the three cats, the pigeons and cupboards full of $2, and $1 coins and 50 cent pieces, and so many 20 cents, 10c and 5s that he probably buries them in the veggie patch”. They will, though, have trouble getting past the piles of books, cardboard boxes that might come in handy and bits of papers with scribbled notes I can’t read and phone numbers with no name attached.

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