Paper Money

So, this is the state of things, what it has come to at last.

Last night the wife and I decide to order out – pizza. As I’m taking out my phone she says, “Wait. I’ve got some coupons.” She’s got a lot of these hidden away in places men would never think to look. I hear the rustling of paper and then she returns to the hallway, thumbing through the stack. She hands me one, which reads: Large 1 Topping Pizza, 7.99.

I make the call, informing the girl on the other end that I have a coupon, that this is take-out, not delivery, and that we’d like mushrooms for the topping and light sauce under the cheese. She says that’ll be $8.51 and she’ll see me in about 20 minutes.

As the 20 minutes is about to expire, I walk through the pizza parlor’s front door to stand at the counter. “Yessir!” says a very young woman, mildly pretty. I like them that way.

“Pick-up for Bill?” I answer.

She snatches it off the oven, places it on the counter and starts punching the register. The keyboard, I should say. “Eight fifty-one,” she announces cheerily.

I don’t have the exact change so I pull out a dollar bill and a penny. She takes it, stares at it resting in her palm, and then repeats, “Eight fifty-one?”

“I gave you a coupon,” I said.

“But a large is normally 13 dollars,” she reminds me.

“So the coupon’s not worth anything?” I ask.

“Yessir, it’s worth a five dollar discount.”

I didn’t feel like arguing, so I pulled out a twenty to replace the one and let her keep the penny. She gave me change; then I took my pizza and went home.

I walked through the front door, much to my wife’s pleasure, who was very hungry after a long day at work. “Hi, pizza man!”

“It won’t be as good as mine,” I grumbled, “but I don’t feel like making one.”

“That’s okay. This will do fine.”

“You know,” I said, “she charged me eight fifty-one.”

She nodded, following me to the kitchen. “Yeah, with tax, that’s about right.”

“But didn’t the coupon you gave me say seven ninety-nine?”

“Yeah.”

“She told me a large is usually 13 bucks.”

“Uh-huh. So you got it for 5 dollars less.”

“Shouldn’t I have only had to pay the 51 cents in tax? I gave her a coupon.”

My wife looked at me, her mouth open, eyes filled with a grave concern.

“You thought the coupon was worth seven ninety-nine?”

“It was a piece of paper. It had a monetary value written on it. It had to be worth something,” I bluffed, but with her question, light had returned to my mind. I don’t know why, but it was back. I felt like an idiot.

“Oh my God,” she murmured. “Did you argue with her about it?”

“No. Not exactly. Sort of. I got tired of asking questions so I paid up.”

“You call her back right this minute and apologize.”

“I ain’t apologizing for nothin’. She got my money. What more could she want?”

She just stared. “You’re going to leave me, aren’t you? You’ll be here physically but you’ll be gone.”

“It’s a good thing you’re the math teacher,” I chuckled.

Her concern had not abated. “Id laugh,” she said, “but I’m not sure it’s funny.”

“It was pretty bad, wasn’t it?” I reminded her I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, other matters preying upon me.

“That better be the reason,” she said. “Now give me my food.”

I obliged, and as she left the kitchen with her pizza, she called back, “I can’t wait to tell the kids.”

“Yeah, enjoy yourself.”

This might have been a tale about the real value of money, the illusory worth of pieces of paper. But it probably was about something else. I’ll think about it later.


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