Yume Meets a Mathematician

(Originally published June 2012)

Several weeks ago, I went through the drive-thru of a local fast food restaurant that used encourage diners to dine “South of the Border” (#hipsteradvertisingnostalgia). I ordered several items from the drive-thru attendant and the total came to $3.17.

Now, whenever possible, I like to pay for sums under five dollars with cash. And, as a general rule, I try to avoid accruing large amounts of change. In my mind, a dollar loses its intrinsic value once it’s converted to coin. After all, everyone wants to own something, but no one wants to own part of something. (Well, except for timeshare owners, perhaps.) Dollars are no different.

So anyways, I decided that perhaps, being as I shun the coinage, it might be a good idea to give this fellow exact change, or as close to the exact as I could muster. So I produced a sawbuck from my wallet and rummaged around in the coin drawer of my car and fished out 17 cents – one dime, one nickel, and two pennies. When I got to the drive-thru window, I waited several moments while a rather sleepy-eyed teenager with a Bright Eyes haircut stood at the window, paying more attention to his vaguely-comely coworker standing behind him than his assigned register. Eventually, young Connor inclined his head towards me and said languidly, “That’ll be three-seventeen, please.” I very politely handed him my little wad of scrilla with this sage injunction: “Ok. Here’s five-seventeen,” to which he replied, “Right on.” I sat back and awaited my fistful of dollars.

After this interchange, he returned his attention to Miss Teen Taco USA for a few seconds. Whatever she was saying must have been riveting. Perhaps she was detailing her plan for Peace In The Middle East. Or how to make Cold Fusion power every home in the greater Baltimore area. I couldn’t tell for sure. But eventually, her young devotee returned his attention to the task at hand. And it was at this point that I saw a change come over his countenance. He stood transfixed in front of his register, my cash in one hand and a furrow in his brow. He pondered the till, as though perhaps the words on the register had suddenly been replaced with Sanskrit. And then, eventually, he put my money on the counter and began counting out my change. This proved an epic process, and involved much muttering and counting of money into small piles, and putting money in the till and pulling it back out again. I had ceased to pay attention by this point, but I was somewhat perplexed at how long the process was taking… and also at how much jingling of change I heard. After all, I had given him moreorless exact change. The only sound I anticipated hearing was the sweet, sweet sound of the rustling of dollar bill against dollar bill.

After a small eon, he finally put the money away and deposited my change into my hand. “Here you go!” he said, with the tone of a job well done. “One dollar and 83 cents!”

The wheels of my world ground to a halt. Now, in retrospect, it is easy to see what happened. This poor chap, unfavored by evolution as he was, apparently entered in my transaction as five dollars even – and then proceeded to give me the change appropriate to the lesser amount. And it must’ve registered somewhere in his simian brain that perhaps $5.17 – $3.17 does not equal $1.83, as he displayed no little confusion, but eventually he placed his faith in the register… and gave me my incorrect change.

Is this a dollar? Yes, but it’s a very shitty dollar.

“But I gave you five dollars and seventeen cents!” I protested with no little degree of shock, holding the proffered change in my outstretched hand.

“Oh, right bro. My bad!” responded our intrepid hero. He then delved into the bottomless chasm of his till again, and after much of the aforementioned grunting and pondering, produced what he reckoned to be my correct change. Slamming his till shut, he turned to me and plopped 17 cents into my hand. “Sorry about that,” he offered, lamely.

I looked with abject horror at the growing mound of change in my hand. Scrooge McDuck would’ve envied the coin collection I was accumulating. “Couldn’t you just give me an actual dollar?” I asked, with mounting tension in my voice. “Nah, sorry man – I already closed my till.”

I stared him, the veins in my forehead beginning to distend and darken. Finally, I found my voice: “OH, FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”

At this point, this chap’s manager, who had been watching the entire interaction (he also wanted some facetime with Miss TTUSA, apparently), silently stepped in and opened the till. “Perhaps you could give the man his dollar,” he suggested. And so this hapless fellow retrieved his pile of ore from my hands and deposited two crisp dollar bills in my hand. “Thanks man. You want hot sauce with that?”

My point here is simple. Use your credit card for everything.

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