September 09, 2010

Years Ago, or Maybe Yesterday

So yesterday, there’s a $2 bill in the tip jar.

I didn’t think much of it; we’ve been getting a lot of them lately. One customer in particular tips us with the most obscure legal tender he can find (gold dollars a specialty), and I make a point of snaking the Susan B. Anthonys and centennial half-dollars for my private collection, along with the wheat pennies often weeded out of the tills as “some weird foreign money.” So, we’re used to it.

Customers, however, don’t see a $2 bill. They see a unicorn. A freakish anachronism caught by wondrous chance, like a coelacanth in a lobster cage. Every middle-aged woman, every sixth-grader, even an Asian couple point and exclaim in what must be the Mandarin for Thomas Jefferson. The staff, having seen money before, is nonplussed. Even I, who has been known to Snoopy-dance over a particularly lucky S-penny find, am completely over $2 bills. So when three girls no older than thirteen stop at the counter for their midday Frappucinos, I am not surprised that they marvel over the bill in the tip jar.

The first one, laden with little bags, is beyond excited. “Oh my god—can we look at your $2 bill?”

Since she asked, thereby saving herself from a tamping wound as most people who rudely mistake my tips for a take-a-penny will do, I nodded. She pulled it out and turned it over, exclaiming to her friend, “It’s a $2 bill!”

“I know,” the other girl boredly replies. “I have like, three at home.”

The girl is unswayed by this. She’s flipped it over to study the reverse design: the signing of the Declaration of Independence. “Oh, it’s got all the presidents on the back—that is so cool!”

Normally tweeners get right on my tits with their Twilight musings and spangled mini-purses, but I was tempted to go right on down into dorkout mode: Did you know the bill was originally printed in the fifties, discontinued, and reissued in the aughts (to lukewarm reception—but still!)? Did you know about the rivalry between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? And for the love of god, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT PENNIES!

The girl sighed, and replaced the bill in the tip jar. As she handed me four wrinkled bills for her drink, I said, “You know, if you want to put two dollars in there, you can have the bill. Everything in there’s just going to the bank anyway.”

The girl’s head snapped up. She looked at me like I couldn’t possibly be serious, and when I blinked, all six of her bags hit the floor. She frantically turned out her pockets, digging for bills. She surfaced a handful of silver, dropped it on the tile and hunched over it, counting. Her friend rolled her eyes, sighed, and opened her tiny sparkly purse and handed her a dollar. The girl handed me the total, and I put it in the jar, leaving her free to pluck the treasure out herself. Her friends moved down to the handoff counter, where her drink had just popped up. The girl remained there, staring at the bill, and I turned back around to the coffee urns.

“Sarah! Hurry up!”

I turned around. The girl put the $2 in her pocket, and started to collect her bags when her generous friend came up to scold her. “Oh yeah, of course Sarah’s got a million bags, let’s all just wait for her,” the girl teased, picking two of them up for her. They moved down the line and I leaned over the counter after them, looking around the court for a hidden camera—or perhaps the TARDIS.

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