My friend Lenny lives by the sea. He and his family dwell in one of San Francisco’s older neighborhoods, where houses were built for working people. Unpretentious homes, packed tightly together, with the Pacific Ocean in their backyards.
Clanging streetcars ratchet up and down the avenues, northbound planes yawn overhead. Crashing surf echoes, its rhythm bouncing off succulents and paving stones. Fog sidles.
Lenny walks. He walks the family’s two little dogs. Sometimes he and Melvin (the Mutt) head down to Saturday ‘Little Dog Days’ on the beach. Penny the Puppy isn’t invited. She gets too excited by the congregation of multiple breeds, sizes and shapes. The dogs excite her too.
Mostly Lenny and Melvin walk to get the newspapers, post mail, and gather this or that at one of the neighborhood markets. Melvin is welcomed at the markets, often treated to doggy biscuits by one of the ‘mom and pop’ store owners.
Lenny describes his options: “There’s the Tax Exempt Market, the Price Negotiable Market and the Count Your Change Store. Which one shall we visit today, Melvin?”
The ‘Tax Exempt Market’ is run by a Chinese woman (no doubt fifth generation Californian) who rocks back on a wooden stool, balancing herself against the wall, supported by only two of the stool’s four feet. Her little doggy seesaws the fulcrum of her lap, as she reads every page of a local Chinese newspaper.
Like at a backroom poker game, a pile of money, coins and bills, rests on the counter between her and the customer’s. Lenny places his quart of milk and newspaper on the counter.
“$4.59” the woman nods to the pile. Lenny puts his $5. bill onto the pile and makes his own change from the assortment of coins, under her watchful eyes.
“Have a good day.” The door sucks itself closed behind him with a smack and jingle.
“The Price Negotiable Market is great. Very friendly people, clean store. But nothing is marked. Nothing!
Lenny holds up a six pack of beer from the chiller.
Hamid quotes, “$10.99” from behind the counter.
“Have you got any $8.99 six packs?” he responds.
“$8.99” Hamid calls back. “Same beer! It’s all negotiable.”
“The Count Your Change Store” is actually a chain. But our version is very much a neighborhood shop. The clerks are friendly, welcoming customers by name. But when you purchase anything, anything at all, and pay with cash, the change is always wrong. Without fail! Sometimes it’s wrong in your favor. A few weeks ago, Lenny paid for my purchase with a ten spot. The clerk gives back a ten, some ones and change.
Lenny tells her, “You’ve given me too much change.” She stares at the register unconvinced. “I gave you a ten; you made change for a twenty”.
Count your change.