There I was, picking up dinner at my favorite roast chicken joint, CCC.
Believe it or not, the girlfriend used to make dinner almost every single night, and I'd gotten used to being Mr. Domesticated. I'd slip on my smoking jacket and read the evening paper in front of the fireplace while she brought me my martini and tobacco pipe.
But now that she's never home, I've gone back to my old bachelor lineup of Westside takeouts: Wahoo's, Baja Fresh and CCC. Sure, every once in a while I'll throw in Panda Express; and an eerie, primal craving for KFC erupts occasionally too. I used to hit Hurry Curry, but now so does every Asian person in West LA, and the parking lot is overflowing with Civics and Integras every night.
So what the hell was I writing about ... ah yes, CCC.
There I was, picking up my dinner. The total came out to $5.50, so I handed the guy a ten and a one dollar bill. I try to get as many fives as possible 'cause I love me my green Lincolns. So versatile for so many situations, the five dollar bill is the Swiss Army knife of cash. How many times at the end of a group dinner have you opened your wallet and cursed silently when you found you only had twenties?
"Damn you, Andrew Jacksons," you'd mutter. "Now I've got to break one of you."
Anyway, the problem was the CCC guy had punched in $10 on the cash register. I figured he'd either take or give back my dollar, then give me the appropriate change of either $4.50 or $5.50.
Instead his arms fell limp to his sides, and he looked down for a long time. Then he looked at me, and then cast his eyes down again at the register. My extra dollar had completely thrown his brain off its horse.
He started picking up some dollar bills, and then he pulled out a five. And then, yet another five. He paused, just long enough for me to hear the loud crashing sounds inside his head. I shit you not, the guy reached for the $20 tray - I was about to make a healthy profit off my chicken dinner. Then his fingers abruptly stopped as he tried desperately to regain a sense of order in his universe. His pupils began to dilate, his nostrils quivered like a donkey in a barn fire.
"Get it together, man," he was telling himself. "Don't break down on me now."
Taking a deep breath, he looked at the cash that was already in his sweaty hands and decided to take a leap of faith. He put one of the five dollar bills back, then handed me the rest. It was $7. Then he realized something and nervously dug into the quarters to give me 50 cents. To make sure it was all over, he slammed the register shut.
Part of me wanted to just walk out with my extra two dollars, Lord knows I'd walked away with more than that due to other cashiers' mistakes over the years. But this time I handed back the money.
"You gave me too much," I said.
That look of mathematically induced panic returned to his face. It's as if he never wanted to see money ever again. He shoved the two dollars back into my hands like they were poison.
I figured I should just pocket everything and leave. But another part of me just wanted to do the right thing. Yet another part of me decided to make a compromise: I gave him the other dollar.
"Just take it, dude," I said.
Then I turned and quickly walked away with my bag of roasted poultry and vegetable soup. Outside I could still see him standing there, staring at the dollar bill.
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