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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Change for a Knuckle(Head)

Something has fundamentally changed in my life. I just noticed it today. I can’t say yet whether it’s a change for the better or a change for the worse, but it’s definitely different. And probably a lot easier. I’ll explain.

At work, I keep these little piles of change on my desk. Any spare dollar bills go in the car, but the coinage goes on the desk, in neat little orderly stacks. I’ve done it for years, and don’t really know why. I suspect it’s some sort of borderline OCD symptom, boding disaster for my future as I sink into tapping my toe three times with every step, or compulsively licking every button in the elevator. Or every passenger. Maybe both.

Meanwhile, it’s just me and these little stacks of coins. They’re quite a little feat, really, in an overly anal-retentive, mad accountant sort of way.

(How come we never hear about ‘mad accountants’, anyway? Or ‘mad hair stylists’ or ‘mad fry cooks’ or ‘mad toll booth operators’? It’s always ‘mad scientists‘, like they have some sort of exclusive rights to egomaniacal mental illness.

I mean, sure, they’re really good at it. Don’t get me wrong. But surely someone out there is stark raving take-over-the-world loony who doesn’t have an advanced graduate degree in particle physics or structural biomechanics. Where’s the love for the evil not-so-much-geniuses of the world, I ask you?)

Clearly, the world would collapse on itself if there were only two and a half dollars per stack in one of my quarter piles, so for the sake of the entire planet, those stacks get twelve quarters.”

Back to my piles of coins. I’ve always had them stacked side by side, with ten coins per pile. Except the quarters get twelve, so it’s an even dollar amount. Clearly, the world would collapse on itself if there were only two and a half dollars per stack in one of my quarter piles, so for the sake of the entire planet, those stacks get twelve quarters. No need to thank me. Just doing my part.

If there are partial stacks of coins, they go in the front — the better to stack more onto them, when spare change comes my way again. If there are multiple stacks of ten or twelve, they go behind, forming neat little rows of dimes, pennies, nickles and quarters. And there are always multiple stacks, because frankly, I don’t have a lot of use for spare change most of the time. Once in a blue moon, I’ll need a quarter or two for parking. Maybe I need to make an important life decision — should I weep softly under my desk this afternoon, or retire to a stall in the bathroom? — and I’ll need to flip a coin to seal the choice. But otherwise, the change just sits there in neat little piles in neat little rows, side by side, accomplishing nothing except keeping in check that twisted little bit of my brain that evidently needs them to be in piles and rows.

I can’t explain what’s going on in that little bit of my brain, nor do I assume particular responsibility for it. It reminds me of a doting old matronly librarian, endlessly wandering through the stacks, making sure everything is in order. She’s not using the books herself. Possibly, no one’s using the books, ever. In my case, I’d say the proverbial library has been closed and condemned for quite some time, as a matter of fact. Still, the books have to be in order just so, or it’s not a proper library. And so it seems to work with those little stacks of coins. The other bits of my brain call that one the ‘Coinbrarian’.

Yeah. I’m beginning to think all the bits of my brain are a little cockeyed. Maybe it’s contagious; who knows?

For years, my little coin-keeping ritual was a source of mild amusement — and probably, occasional petty theft — for the people who worked around me, but otherwise pretty harmless. I’d get change from lunch or the soda machine, and — *stack-stack-stack* — I’d throw it on the appropriate piles, maybe straighten a stack or two, and forget about it until the next time my pockets jingled with fresh change. The routine changed a bit, though, soon after I moved into my current office, which I share with another person. And who’s sometimes here without me. And who often has meetings in our office, if I happen to be occupied elsewhere.

All of which is perfectly fine and reasonable. But occasionally, the person she’s meeting with will use my office chair. Again, no problem. And they’ll sit at or near my desk. Which I’m perfectly okay with. And then, they’ll play with the stuff on my desk, including the neat little rows of neat little stacks of coins.

Wait. Sons of bitches did what, now?

Most of the bits of my brain look over this behavior completely. So what if a few papers have moved? Maybe the pens that were over there are over here now — big deal. The speakers are on the floor, the phone’s glued to the ceiling and all my personal effects are in a box labeled ‘TRASH PICKUP’ outside the door? Oh, ha. Nice one, guys. Now change the locks back so I can get in to my computer. That Freecell isn’t going to play itself, you know.

But if a couple of pennies are dumped off a stack, or that back pile of quarters was accidentally knocked over? The little bit of brain responsible for such nonsense seizes up like a smack junkie in a methadone shortage, and pounds on all the other bits to fix it, fix it, fix it, fix it!

At least, that’s what it used to do. This morning, I came into the office, saw that someone had borrowed my desk and toppled a few nickles onto the desk. I sighed and waited for that insistent little voice to compel me to tidy up the piles and smooth out the rows for the umpteenth time.

And waited. And waited some more. Nothing. Not a peep out of that part of my brain. Either it’s asleep, on a long getaway vacation, or something finally killed it off for good. I knew alcohol was good for something — I just have no idea why it’d take so long to kick in.

I decided to test the waters, and see whether the little bit of brain was lying dormant, or just being lazy. With one sweep of the hand, I jumbled all the orderly little stacks of coins into a single amalgamated mess. No objection. No protest, not even a whimper.

My cockeyed coin-stacking bit of brain appears to be kaput. A little part of me has died — not a part that I expect to miss, especially, but still. We coexisted for years together, stacking and restacking, obsessively lining up and carefully piling, and now it’s gone. Today, there’s just this big metal gemish on my desk — maybe six or eight bucks’ worth — and I’m perfectly okay with that. All the different kinds of coins are touching each other, and I don’t know how much is there or how many piles there should be, and there’s no inner voice shrieking at me to make it right, lest the heavens open up and swallow us all for my coiny transgressions. It’s kind of a load off, really.

Now, then. If someone could just remind me how to tie my shoes, which order the days of the week go in, and where the hell I parked my car this morning, that would be super. Maybe that little brain-killing dealie wasn’t quite as specific as I’d hoped for.

Permalink  |  3 Comments

3 Responses to “Change for a Knuckle(Head)”

  1. Karen says:

    Wait. The days of the week come in order?

  2. It’s good to let go sometimes, especially of loose change. I mean, who uses the stuff anymore? Do you live in a city with a lot of meters? Don’t you have permit parking?

  3. Charlie says:

    Karen: Yup, they sure do. Monday, Monday, Monday, Monday, Friday, Saturday, Almost-Monday.

    Except some weeks, Friday’s also Monday. You never really see those coming.

    Rambler: Sadly, I’ve been left to slum it with on-street parking. Which still doesn’t require change, if I can avoid the metered spots.

    Hence the neat stacks — now messy pile — of loose change I’ve got no use for. Does Goodwill or somebody take that stuff?

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