He was young, and his expression was less like a man and more like an old beached ship-worn by waves and salt, yet refusing to just simply slip back out into the sea and disappear. He gave me a big smile and said “brotha, where ya goin t’day? I’m just headin’ over to ma sistahs and I run outta gas. You got some change?”
And this was the part that made me stop. I did have some change. I had exactly two dollars and fifty cents that I’d counted out in dimes and quarters and put into my pocket this morning. And that’s all the money I had. I knew I would come to this coffee shop after I was done with the lunch shift. So I’d counted it out before I left. Two fifty.
I typically drink two cups of coffee a day. In the morning it’s not really worth noting the expense, since I roast my own beans and thirty dollars in quality, green coffee can last me four or five months. But a cup of coffee from this particular shop-the one I’m going to as I’m stopped by the man with a fuel deficiency-costs two dollars. And then I tip at least fifty cents, because I’ve been that guy behind the counter.
And it’s not just any cup of coffee. The beans are fresh-no more than a few days from the point of roasting. The roaster is a master of the art, far greater than I can hope to be with my amateur equipment. After being ground the beans are mixed with steaming water in a French press and brewed no longer than three minutes before sliding into my cup.
And this is what I pay two fifty for every afternoon. The thing is that my wife and I are running pretty tight on money. She just started a new semester of school and I’m still waiting tables. I come here, sip a damn good cup of coffee and mooch the wifi for the next three hours, sending off my resume to the offices of all the lawyers and business execs I wait on every day. I ask them if they’d like a cup of soup with their salad, when I’d really like to ask them how it feels to provide health insurance for their wives.
But this morning we looked at our available funds and our regular expenses and notice a two dollar cup of coffee every day can add up. So rather than cutting the cost out all together, I reasoned that paying in change would be a proper solution. Because apparently change is not money, but don’t tell that to the guy approaching me on the street.
So now I’m faced with a dilemma. This guy asks if I have change. And I do. And normally the people like me that he approaches carry the same belief regarding change that I used this morning with my wife: change is not money. And it usually holds true with me. Getting hit up for change is a simple fact of life in this part of the city. And occasionally I comply. I pull out any change in my pocket followed by a variety of responses. “Thanks”. “I said I needed a dolla, not sixty cents”. “Fuck you”. That sort of thing.
But right now, in this instance, these six quarters and ten dimes are the only thing that can provide that thing I’ve been waiting for all day.
But this is not what needs to be going on in my head at this moment. This guy doesn’t need an essay, he needs a response. Do I give it to him and go home? Do I keep it and defy the very logic I used with my wife to justify coming here this afternoon?
“I’ve got enough for a cup of coffee and that’s it.”
He looks at the shop’s sign. “It’s cool man,” he says with a suspicious look as he walks away. He probably thought I was lying. And in truth I’ve lied about this to guys before, so it’s not out of the question.
And now I can’t get this interaction out of my head. I wasn’t heading to a movie. I wasn’t going out to dinner as I’ve been before in this instance. I was walking into the coffee shop with exactly the amount of money I needed for one cup of coffee. I picked that change from the bottom of my dresser drawer.
And in that instant I’m in the same situation as this guy walking away from me, and at the same time very far away. I’m on the edge, scraping for what I can to make rent in two weeks. Yet I’m one good interview away from health, dental, 401K and a steady check. It’s a strange life we sometimes live.
The Calico Rebellion