Saturday, September 22, 2012

What is money to me?

Scene 1: Saturday; Around 11 am; Rest Area on I-5 South; 1 hour from San Diego:

I went to a cool drink dispensing machine and punched the number corresponding to coke. Then put in $1.25. I was expecting the coke to be delivered but nothing happened. I kept punching the “Done” button but nothing happened. I tried retrieving the amount I had paid but there was no option to do that too. I thought something was wrong with the vending machine. So I went to the neighbouring one. Somebody was there. I saw what he was doing. He input the dollars and then punched the number corresponding to the drink. The drink got delivered. So I realized I was trying the other way – punch the drink number and input money, when actually I had to input money and then punch the drink number. Now since I had already input money, all I had to do was to punch the number corresponding to the drink.

Just then, someone came to the vending machine where I had input my money and input his $5. So now the vending machine had $6.25 and still waiting for a drink to be delivered. This new person then punched a drink number that was costing $1.25, got the drink and the machine returned back the change $5 to this person. This person was surprised that he got a drink for free, grabbed the drink and his money and went smiling away, thanking his stars. While all this happened in front of me, my mind was too numb to assimilate the facts and it shocked me that I unwillingly, like a stupid moron, donated a $1.25 drink to perhaps a very affluent person.

It just pissed me off real bad and I felt like tearing out my hair.

***

Scene 2: The Same Saturday; Around 1 pm; An Indian Restaurant in San Diego:

Paavani had slept off in the car and we didn’t want to disturb her. So we parked the car in the parking lot near the restaurant and thought it was better to order a take-out instead of going for the buffet. After I ordered the bare minimum that would fill our stomach, I realized that if we had waited till Paavani had woken up (which could not have been more than 30 minutes anyways) and gone for the buffet, we all could have had unlimited food with wide variety and for half the price.

This too pissed me off real bad and I felt like tearing out my hair.

***

Scene 3: The Same Saturday; Around the same time; The same Indian Restaurant in the same San Diego:

While I was waiting in the car for our order to be processed, I saw my dad coming out of the restaurant with the food. Since I had not paid yet, I ran towards the restaurant to fulfill the bill but my dad mentioned he had paid in cash since I wasn’t in the vicinity. Now it had just so happened that I had registered for 5% cash back for billing in any restaurant through my credit card. The only solace for this seemingly enormous bill was my 5% cash back and, thanks to my dad, this hope of a meager saving too vanished. If only I was waiting in the lobby instead of in the car, I could have paid the bill myself.

This too pissed me off real bad and I felt like tearing out my hair.

***

Scene 4: The next day; Around 11 am; A barbershop in Tustin:

What with all the feeling of wanting to tear my hair out, I thought I had enough hair to be cut anyways. So I went to a barbershop near my home. While I was getting my hair cut, the barbers were talking in great animation. Apparently the previous customer had not paid the money and had gone missing for almost an hour, with the promise that he will return back as soon as he got hold off an ATM. Since this barbershop accepted only cash, and the customer just had a card, he had excused to go to the ATM, get the cash and pay the barber back. Considering that the ATM was right outside the barbershop and considering that he had not come back even though it was almost an hour, the suggestion was thrown around that the man had escaped with a free haircut. And this caused great anxiety to the barbers because they were all well beyond their 50s and not used to being cheated out of their money like this. Apparently this customer was an Indian too. So my barber asked me if there were many people who cheat like this in India. It is a tough question and ‘many’ is a relative adjective. I dodged the question saying that I was sure he is going to come back and pay his dues.

For the rest of my hair cut, I kept waiting (like all the barbers too, I am sure) but this customer never came. Finally I was done and it was time for me to go. I decided on the spot that I would pay for the previous customer too and funded the full dues despite the barber’s resistance. The barber said that I was a good man, standing for my countryman, and made me promise that I had to return the next month. As I made my way out, I felt light and happy with what I had done.

***

These four episodes made me wonder. There I was, getting pissed off on losing few dollars but here I am, not minding paying completely for someone else. On all the instances, I became lighter on the wallet but few made me sad and one made me happy. So, the question which I could not answer myself was:

What is money to me?


Post Script: About a month later when I returned to the same barbershop for my next haircut, I didn’t have to pay anything (apart from the tips), as the Indian customer had returned and paid his dues immediately after my departure…

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