Just now I was in a coffee shop, buying a coffee. The smallest I have is a $50 note, I hold it out with shame in my eyes. The angry little man behind the counter looks at it as though it’s covered in ants. “Don’t you have anything smaller?” he asks.
“No, …” I refrain from saying sorry. I’m not sorry. I didn’t design the ATM (or cash point, or whatever the hell you call the little machines that spit out money in your country). I didn’t decide that money would come out in a collection of the most annoying denominations known to man. In fact, I always take out $210. I get three $50’s and three $20’s, a nice mix. I’ve given this great amounts of thought. When I was younger and not as street hardened as I am today, I would take out $80 at a time. I went a decade without touching a fifty. They were good times.
Then life happened. I got busy, I adopted some children, I no longer had the luxury of time to allow such frequent ATMs visits. I upped my cash out to $130. One $50 and four $20’s. I tried $180, also a pleasant mix. Many years of my life were dedicated to finding the sweet spot in the compromise of ATM visit frequency and $50/$20 note ratio. Today it stands at $210 but I’m considering bringing it back down to $180 (my favourite). I’ll keep you posted.
So when I’ve done all I can, and – through no fault of my own – I find myself with nothing but a fiddy in my wallet, I don’t want to be made to feel like a puppy that shat in the soup. I want to ask the angry little man who the twenty dollar notes are for. I want to watch him try to think, I want to see if he’s capable of going from angry to any other state in the time that I stand before him. I want to interrupt that thinking and say, too loudly:
“The $20 notes are for people that pay with $50 notes. And no one else. You have a pile of notes in your till with one and only purpose: change for people that pay for things with $50 notes, like me, now. If they’re so precious to you, I imagine you’d hump my leg in glee if I paid with a $20, right? I’d need new pants if I paid with $20. I might need an abortion later if I paid with a $20. Because you love those fucking $20’s. You see me paying with a fifty and all you can think of is those poor $20’s having to leave the comfort of your till. Heart breaking. I imagine it’s a lot like when the Nazis took away my two adopted Jewish children during the war. It was hard, but I knew the risks when I adopted Jewish children. I didn’t really care for them anyway.” At this point I would take a breath. “I’ll be back tomorrow, and I’ll pay with a $20, and after making sweet sweet love to me, I want you to write my name on it and tape it to the under-side of the till. Next week I’ll pay with a $20 again, more swe’ swe’, write on it, tape it under the till. Then the week after that I’m going to pay with a $50. You’re going to take the two $20 notes from the underside of the till, chuck in a $5 and a few coins and hand them over. And if you furrow that fucking brow one millimetre I’m gonna set you on fire. I will literally get a cigarette lighter and hold it up against your clothing until you begin to combust. You’ll have to stand still and it might take a while but so help me god you will burn in flames.”
But I don’t. I’m too nice. I say sorry. Twice.