Our four year-old son attends preschool three afternoons a week for a couple of hours. We live just far enough away from the school that it doesn't make sense for me to return home. I went through this with our two older sons when they were preschool age. In the past, I've used the time to run errands, go for a jog near the school, meet Chris for lunch, and purchase [then return] stuff we don't need. It's amazing how many things you think you can't live without at Target, Home Depot or Costco when you're killing time three afternoons a week... for a year.
My current goal while the 4YO is at school is to accomplish real, productive, must-be-done [not buying-stuff-we-don't-need] errands, or find free Wi-Fi so I can dork around on the internet. For one dollar per visit, I can use the public library's Wi-Fi, not have to purchase an expensive cup of coffee or too-large muffin, and "work" in a quiet environment. I've enjoyed my afternoons at the library and consider my time there a display of sincere effort to adhere to one of my 2010 resolutions -- living more frugally.
I arrived at the library one afternoon last week, and I handed the young, persnickety, male librarian-in-training a one-dollar bill. Not just any one-dollar bill, but a crisp, clean, wrinkle-free, good bill.
Self-Disclosure: When I have good money in my wallet, I hate to spend it. I can't get rid of bad money fast enough. Handing a cashier a good $20 bill, then receiving crumpled, bad bills as change makes me feel like I've lost a bet. When I receive good bills as change, I win... obviously.
I hated handing over that perfect dollar. I ensured no other perfect bills were clinging to it, as is a common occurrence with good money. The librarian-in-training handed me my temporary Wi-Fi card and I headed to the Quiet Area.
As I approached the information desk located in front of the Quiet Area, I saw an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of white paper taped to the front of the desk with the words, "NO WIFI TODAY".
I made eye contact with the older, heavy-set woman sitting behind the desk. She shrugged her shoulders and mouthed, "Sorry." I softened my expression and mouthed, "Oh well..."
I returned to the librarian-in-training and told him that the Wi-Fi was unavailable today, and asked if I could please have my dollar back. He apologized and thanked me for letting him know. I handed him the temporary library card and he handed me... a soft, faded, over-used, dirty one-dollar bill. It was not my dollar.
It had been less than 60 seconds since our initial exchange. It was a straight shot from the information desk to the library entrance. No one had entered or exited after me. I would have noticed with my peripheral vision, or the eyes in the back of my head. My dollar should have been the first dollar on the small pile of dollars in the drawer.
The young, persnickety, male librarian-in-training looked at me, and in an instant, I knew that he knew that I knew that he purposely gave me the bad dollar.
I have been known to request a different piece of money from a cashier if I'm handed a particularly ratty bill. Some cashiers are noticeably annoyed, but occasionally, a more mature [or equally neurotic] person sympathetically apologizes and honors my request.
On this day, I was looking into the eyes of an equally neurotic, yet competitive [likely bored] individual. Without uttering words, we had a conversation with our eyes. He began...
"I know you want the good dollar back, but I'm going to make you ask for it so you'll feel awkward and petty as you out yourself as a neurotic person."
"I won't give you the satisfaction, because I know that you prefer having my dollar in your cash drawer to satisfy your own neurosis. You like good dollars, too. I'm tougher, more flexible, less neurotic than YOU."
"Ha! I win! You lose! Now you'll have to thank me, walk out of the library, bathe your hands in the giant container of Purell, that I'm certain you have in your car, then you'll drive to the nearest Starbucks so you can unload that bad dollar in the tip jar. Ha!"
"You may have gotten the good dollar this time, you weird, little, librarian-in-training person, but I'll be back. And next time... I'll have a bad dollar. A reeeally bad dollar."
I gave the librarian-in-training a pursed-lip smile as I tried to smooth the flimsy hard-lived dollar into the type of bill that stays where it's supposed to when placed in a G-string, willing the bad dollar to behave like it had been starched. Didn't work.
I shoved the dollar in my wallet... then I drove straight to Starbucks.