As I was standing in the grocery checkout line the other day, waiting for the kindly cashier to bag my purchases, and thinking, "Is she judging me by the food I buy?," my concentration was interrupted by the sight of a hulking green machine a few steps away, near the gum ball dispensers and the rack of real estate guides.
This shiny, new metal tower had been placed on the premises to help customers sort all of the spare change that has piled up in their homes. Simply pour in the metal and it spits out the green, saving you the time-consuming task of placing nickels, dimes, pennies and quarters in those pesky little paper rolls.
I was more than a little offended.
This may sound odd--in fact, I'll go ahead and admit that it is odd--but I happen to look forward to the little chore that this machine hopes to usurp from each of us. Don't we all admit to having a chore or two that we secretly enjoy more than others might guess? Maybe you don't mind ironing so much, because you can watch the Redskins game while pressing a pair of pants. Perhaps you favor the vacuum cleaner, because the noise and carpet tracks leave others with the false impression that legitimate work has been completed (or perhaps you're just glad it drowns out the Redskins game).
But rolling change--that's the only chore that leaves you with $20 or $30 in your hand. And here was a machine offering to do all the work, for a "small convenience fee," of course. Yes, in small print on the face of the machine are the words, "Nine cent charge for every dollar processed." What kind of people would consider paying for this service? And when they bake brownies, do they hire someone to lick the spoon?
Maybe I'm alone in this fervor, but I think not. After all, everybody does it. Somewhere in every home in America--and, I imagine, the world--there is a jar, a glass, a mug, a plastic cup, a dish or a drawer that holds all the spare change we accumulate during the day. And when that container is overflowing, who doesn't enjoy spilling those misfit coins onto the kitchen table or the living room floor, to see the tinkling avalanche of silver and copper?
There's just something nice about using the simple skills we learned in kindergarten, like counting and sorting. Arranging the towers of coins into little silver skylines. Poking your finger through the brown paper sleeves, then guiding the coins in an orderly manner, until one of them decides not to cooperate, which often means getting everybody out and starting all over again.
Pennies always seem to be a problem. I'm so torn when a "wheat penny" shows up in my hand: I can't imagine it's worth all that much, but I cringe before forcing it to mingle with all the "regular" pennies. When I was younger, I would save those "elite" coins for a while, but they always ended up in the same place, and I'm not nearly so emotional about it anymore. I still get that same nervous feeling when I tuck in the ends of the roll and find a little more paper than one would normally expect. I usually recount the contents.
Now some people don't run into these problems, of course, because machines do the counting for them. I say, if you have enough money to pay a "convenience fee" for the use of a machine, or worse, purchase a device to do the work, then you'd probably be better off avoiding the chore entirely. Just give your change to the neighborhood kids.
Of course, futurists have been saying that cash purchases will soon be a rarity in the United States anyway, meaning an end to coins. Others, however, say we're nowhere near that point, and that with the rising cost of replacing damaged and old paper money, legislators may decide to mint coins for even larger denominations.
Now that would be change for the better.