Overthinking a Dollar

I can’t decide if I was a big jerk the other day or not. I probably was. As the queen of second guessing myself, I’m pretty sure I made the wrong choice. Last Sunday, Virginia and were on our way home from the pool, when we decided to stop off at the corner deli to grab a water ice, which is, for those who don’t know (I didn’t know until moving to the east coast) a cross between a snow cone and an Icee. We stood in line behind one other person, and I slipped out my wallet from my pool bag. I wasn’t carrying a ton of cash, but let’s just say my wallet was bulging with ones like I’d just gotten off my shift at the Wild Pony. The guy in front of us turned around, looked me in the eye, and asked if he could have a dollar.

“What for?” I asked.

“A sandwich,” he replied.

I hesitated and then shrugged. “OK, I guess,” I said, reaching for my wallet. I’ve certainly come up short when I’m at the front of the line to order lunch. A dollar sounded like kind of a lot to come up short, though.

The man continued, “I wanted the seafood salad sandwich and need a dollar more.”

I stopped. The seafood salad sandwich? The most expensive item on the menu? That’s a major upgrade from turkey. I put my wallet away.

I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. I changed my mind.”

He shrugged. “All right. Whatever.”

I felt both mean and right at the same time. Because it’s true, I’ve been in that same situation countless times, and you know what? I figure it out. I would never dream of turning to the person behind me and asking for a dollar, especially for something frivolous. If I’m ten or fifteen cents short, I’m not above raiding the penny bin. But if I’m short by more than a quarter, I order a cheaper sandwich instead and chastise myself for being stupid enough not to check to make sure I had enough cash for what I wanted. Or I go back to my car and dig around in the hopes of finding a few stray quarters and nickels. Or I give up, go home, and make myself a peanut butter sandwich. I would be too embarrassed to ask for a dollar and clearly, people are not embarrassed.

Still, I couldn’t shake how mean I felt. And to make matters worse, after the guy left, and I was pondering my meanness, VA gets to the front of the line and orders her water ice. The woman behind the counter handed it over and looked at me expectantly.

“Need a dollar, kid?” asked a kind man who’d sidled up to the deli counter.

I snapped to. “Oh, geez, no—thanks,” I told him sheepishly, scrambling to hand a dollar to the woman for the water ice.

In the end, it’s a dollar. If I had just given the seafood salad guy a dollar, I wouldn’t feel so mean. Now who’s frivolous?

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