Close Enough?

I think that it all started with the "penny bowls" - you know the ones: "Take a Penny - Leave a Penny." When did that start...20 years ago? I think that I was a teenager, so maybe 25 years. You're at the register and your tab comes to $3.31. You have $3.30 and don't want to break a new bill, so go ahead - take a penny to bring your total to $3.31. And, when you get 1 penny back from handing the cashier a 5 dollar bill for something that came to $4.99, you leave the penny in the little bowl. When this tradition started, I remember liking it, thinking that it was a nice gesture. It somehow seemed supportive - a common recognition that we all need a penny from time to time! Looking back, I'm not so sure that it was about helping your fellow man or woman...I think it was just a sign of the truer coming trend - the limited value of the penny.

The more recent trend has surprised me, though. Somewhere in the past few years I was a penny short and there was nothing in the penny bowl. Just as I reached for another dollar bill, a cashier said to me, "Don't worry about it. This is close enough." Close enough?, I thought - "Really?" I asked. "Sure," she replied, "Don't worry about it." For a concrete thinker like me, I was flabbergasted! I had not fully paid for a product and the cashier granted permission for me to take it anyway. Since when was this okay? And, the bigger question...since when did the penny not matter? Further, what were the limits? One penny clearly does not matter. Customers have been leaving them in bowls for decades now. But, now the store owner doesn't seem to care either. But, what about 2 or 3 pennies, does this matter? It has been my experience that a cashier will say, "That's close enough" for up to 3 pennies. Anything beyond that - a customer is expected to pull out another bill. So, 3 pennies seem to have no value anymore in the American cash system. 

My readers must remember what a concrete thinker I am. Neil sometimes has to ask me to put the concrete block aside and use the more flexible and adaptive parts of my brain, even though I am pretty sure that I was born without those parts. Ignoring the full price of a product still continues to floor me, but apparently even I can adapt. The other night I was leaving Bridgewater after teaching until nearly 9pm and staying at my office until even later. I was tired, I had a long trip home ahead of me. I made my usual stop for a fountain soda - caffeine-free Diet Coke with a splash of lemonade. I got to the register and the cashier said, "That's $1.27." I pulled out a dollar bill and a quarter. I picked up a penny from the penny bowl and this time, without reaching for another bill I looked at the cashier and said, "Is this close enough?" 

I try to measure the value of everything in life by "whether I will remember this when I am 80." Well, just for the record, this, I will remember when I am 80. 


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