Change yields another lost art

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

As we Twitter our way through life these days, the more we are left to our new devices, the more we lose some small portion of our ability to communicate on a human level.

We can text and instant message without worrying the least about spelling and punctuation. Damn the grammar and full speed ahead. The faster we deliver the message, the more we lose a little of the personal communicative touches that used to accompany it.

Capitalization? ALL or nothing. Commas? Comatose, if not dead. And is it really necessary to shorten OK to "K"?

This shortcuts-at-all-costs pattern, I've discovered, has even resulted in the lost art of counting out change.

That almost sleight-of-hand, nimble handing over of our change is going the way of black-and-white TV and the buffalo nickel.

When's the last time a clerk popped a couple of crisp new bills and counted them out to you before handing over your change?

Remember when you would buy something for $2.19 and hand the clerk a $20 billl? Almost magician-like, he would palm the proper coins and snap up the requisite bills until he had $17.81 in his mitts.

Then he'd flip his hand over, displaying the coins in an open palm before deftly dropping the penny and nickel in your waiting hand. Three quarters followed in rapid succession.

"Twenty-five ... 50 ... 75 ... three dollars," he'd count out with the staccato beat of a drill sergeant.

Snappily the bills followed like he was dealing blackjack in Vegas.

"Four, five; five makes ten, and ten makes twenty," he'd enunciate while presenting the bills and then snapping them back together in his hand. Snap. Crackle. Pop. Always same side up. Always facing the same way.

Only then would he hand over your cash. Quick, accurate and subtly impressive.

But those days are gone. And with them has vanished the pride of doing something so simple so well.

Most of the time these days, the kid at the cash register unceremoniously dumps your change in your palm and hands you an obviously disorganized wad of bills, sending you on your way to untangle the green mess and stuff them into your wallet.

Is it any wonder so many customers have resorted to plastic payment at even McDonald's and Wendy's?

The other day at a local fast-food place, I bought a drink for 96 cents and handed the young lady at the counter a dollar bill and a penny.

She pushed the penny back at me, saying, "It's only 96 cents."

I pushed the penny back at her and replied, "OK, but humor me and see what happens when you ring up a dollar and one cent."

Surprise, it's a nickel back (hey, now there's a name for a rock group). Not a cluster of copper pennies, just one shiny nickel.

I nodded and dropped it in the collection canister for Ronald McDonald House.

Change is good. You can still count on it -- at least until we lose that, too.