The Pinched Penny
Clerk (teens to early 20s)
Customers #1 - #7
Setting: Busy checkout line. Clerk rings up Customer1.
Clerk: 19.96... outta 20, (to register, pulls out four cents, turns around) Four cents is your... (Customer1 is gone, Customer2 steps forward, Clerk starts ringing up everything, looks up, talks to audience.) Just left, four cents was his change, and he left. (dumps it in change cup near the register) He didn't want it; didn't even register. More and more people are doing things like that, can't be bothered to take the small change. I think they must be making a calculation: the extra weight of those four pennies in their pocket is more than four cents in labor costs to them.
(to Customer2) That's 37.55.... Outta 40.... 2.45 is your change... thank you, have a nice night. (Starts on Customer 3, talks to audience) See, that customer had 45 cents worth of coins. Quarter, two dimes, must have been worth it to her. Course, with women, sometimes, I think it's different, a lot of 'em throw everything in their purses... you can fit a lotta change in those things. Maybe that's all it is: a question of space. Guys have small wallets, or tight jeans, so change doesn't fit, doesn't feel good in the pockets. Women have purses or pocketbooks, they hold more.
(to Customer3) 12.97... outta 15... 2.03 is your change... (customer takes it, dumps the three cents in the change cup, Clerk starts on Customer4) I'm kinda conflicted about it all... it's become so bad that I don't know what it means when I give people pennies for change... I actually get very anxious when I have to do it... especially if it's only a penny... what's the customer going to think? Are they going to be insulted? Annoyed that I wasted their time with a miserable little penny? Are they insulted that I just didn't have the decency to take all their money? Like I'm rubbing it in to give them a penny or two back... I don't know, but I have to do it. I have to take the change out of the till and offer it to the customer, otherwise my till won't balance at the end of my shift, then I catch hell from the manager. I often give a little derisive snort when I'm giving back a small amount of change, I'm trying to make a connection with the customer that I'm in on the joke... you know, it's a silly amount of money for us sophisticated folks to bother with... But the penny doesn't deserve my snort. It did nothing to me. So, in a weird way, I then end up feeling guilty for insulting the whole denomination.
(to Customer4) 68.34... outta 70... 1.66 is your change.. (customer drops penny in cup, Clerk starts on Customer5) You see that, one of each major piece of change, one quarter, one dime, one nickel, one penny, and she tosses the penny. So unfair. I'm young, but I think I was born old-fashioned. It seems to me that way, way back in the day, like the 50s, ya know, like a penny was worth a lot more... before that, it was maybe even worth a whole dollar.. people didn't throw them out... that's what happened yesterday, guy paid, left his wallet open, starting dumping a handful of pennies out of it, then he scooped them up, and tossed them in the big garbage can as he was leaving the store. Just threw them out! Probably about twenty cents! I don't understand the reasoning. just giving my best guesses here today. I guess that's why I started thinking about it so much. You know, it kinda disturbed me to see someone actually throw away money like that.
(to Customer5) 33.33... huh, cool... outta 50... 16.67 is your change...
Customer5: Can you just keep the 67? Give it to the next person.
Clerk: Sure... thanks, have a good night... (starts working on Customer6) There you go again. I guess we could really simplify things, if everything cost an exact dollar amount... oh... but what about penny candy, nickle candy, or whatever it is now... No one would have to carry around all that heavy change, the government would save a ton of money not producing metal money... but what about coin collecters? Maybe it'd be better for them, there wouldn't be any new, rare coins to worry about, just the standard old ones... I have no idea, but I think I remember reading somewhere that it actually costs the goverment more than one cent to make each penny. Seems sorta silly to keep making them. I guess I could understand that argument.
I think we should make a law that says all money is legal tender, both ways. We, as a a store, have to take whatever money someone gives us. If it's legit American money, then we have to take it. Someone could pay us in all pennies, I guess... man! I'd hate to have to be the manager who had to count that till at the end of the day! But! Then the flip side would be that customers had to take the change that we give them! They just had to, to help me and clerks all across the country avoid those awkward do-I-give-this-guy-a-penny-change moments. Probably not a good law from a civil liberties standpoint...
(to Customer6) That's 71.95.... outta 80... 8.05 is your change...
Customer6: What are you doing?
Clerk: Just giving you your change, sir...
Customer6: No... you're not! I don't want all that extra change!
Clerk: Well, it's just the last customer said I should just give his coins to the next customer.
Customer6: What if he told you to shoot me dead? Would you do that?!
Clerk: No... of course... I think he was just being nice, and I thought...
Customer6: You thought wrong! I don't want it! (leaves quickly, starts helping customer7)
Clerk: Yikes... O.K. You see my point. I can't give this stuff away! Maybe, it's a metaphor for how conservative the country has become... no one can accept even small change. Maybe. I know it's about inflation; I know it's about capitalism; hyper-consumerism... (louder) don't even stop people unless there are dollar signs behind you... we just can't be bothered... besides, we're all rich anyway... right?
(overly dramatic) We have gone from a nation of penny-pinchers, to a nation of pinched pennies. Pinched out of existence. Snuffed out. We've killed one. One cent. The basic building block, the root, the force, the DNA of our entire currency. Dead.
What happens when you cut off the source of the revenue stream? The rest must dry up.
(long pause, he hangs his head, calmer) O.K., maybe that's overstating my case. (getting into it, more energy) But, you've seen them here tonight. Some of them leaving behind almost mountains of change, not just pennies, but it's nearly-as-useless cousin, the nickel, the dime, too small to be significant, right? Some even toss quarters into the cup! What's to be done?!
(This speech has to get louder and more crazily dramatic as it progresses)
(Putting hand over the digital readout on the cash register, to Customer7) Now, sir, before I show you your total; I need to know something.
Clerk: You're going to pay me, and you'll get change... included in that change there may or may not be a certain number of pennies, perhaps as few as one, perhaps as many as... Four! Sir, I need to know, will you accept those pennies into your hand... into your pocket... into your life!! (leaping on top of the counter, voice changes tone to become a grandiloquent orator, or a general speaking to the troops before the most dangerous battle, he strides back and forth, addressing not only Customer7, but also the whole store, the whole world)
You! You ... are faced with a decision tonight, sir! A decision that cannot be made in haste! Cannot be just a reaction, a routine, a rapid reply! You must think about this! If I have pennies to give to you... will... you... take... them? Will you, sir?! I don't ask for me, no, no, no. I don't ask for you. No. I ask if you will take these possible pennies.. for.... AMERICA! They are worth so much more than one cent to this great land of ours. They are the very foundation of that system we like to call... Monetary! This is not a mere fiscal decision, sir! It is a decision of the heart... your heart... and the hearts of all those who need to know that the bedrock still exists, that we all stand for something, that our beautiful mountains will not crumble to our crashing shores; indeed... that the very sun will ascend, that the sky will not descend, that the heavens will open up and accept us into her comforting bosom, to suckle us, the greatest nation in history, to suckle us on the great teat of freedom. Will you do it, sir? Will you accept these dying pennies?! Will you take them, care for them, love, honor and cherish them. Again, I ask you! You may be the last hope; we need to know that things will move forward, that the world will not stop its rotation, its revolution. We are counting on you! On your decision! Don't fail us!! (jumping down, grabbing Customer7 by the shoulders, Customer7 is very intimidated, embarrassed) What... is... your... choice?!! Freedom... or Slavery!? Love... or Hate!? America or... not-America!?
Customer7: (quivering voice) Uhhh... I was going to... pay with a credit card...
Clerk: (same intensity, in Customer7's face) Visa or Mastercard!?