UNITED STATES—Every drug dealer knows there’s only one way to carry cash. A wallet is too much hassle to flatten out and insert the bills, and then take them out again. The money clip is a nice piece of jewelry that instills panic whenever it is not immediately locatable in a pocket. The money roll is the best there ever was. The cotton fibers in the bills endow them with a springlike curl to maintain the perfectly cylindrical shape of roll, even without a rubberband. Nevertheless, the roll must be circled by a rubberband wound around it a couple times, and the band’s rubberiness serves to keep is in the pocket and no thief can snatch it without making you feel something. It’s insurance against getting shaken, knowing that a roll the size of a fist is in your pocket.
Even with this surefire technique for guarding money. Lew could be caught unawares. He drove into the market parking after a long delivery to Reseda. After getting out of the car and stretching his legs, he felt his pocket: it wasn’t there. Panic. He looked to the side of the driver’s seat. Darn those skinny jeans pockets that spilled out coins and pens. Vexations never cease. Maybe it spilled out when he meditated in Reseda on the sidewalk by the oak tree, after he had completed the delivery. Lew was prepared to drive all the way back, prepared to face life without the 800 kopeks, and then it struck Lew to feel his shirt pocket. There it was, the cylindrical form reassuringly met his palm.
He laughed. He got down on one of his knees, thankful for the restoration. Out the corner of his eye, Lew was aware of that guy who always stood by the market entrance, hand out. Today was going to be that guy’s lucky day. Lew was going to lay two bucks across his palm in thanks for the remanifestation of his wad, which had been lost as the Titanic. In this city gratitude was the only way not to become dry and hard as a leaf in the wind.
Lew saw a skinhead pass unresponsively by the guy who said, “Spare change?” And Lew got a perverse satisfaction out of knowing, he just knew that they had some change. Another guy leaving the store, zero response. It made Lew feel good how they shrugged and mugger their way past. Today was his day to be good, giving felt food.
But first Lew went into the market for a few items. He picket up some veggies and a bottle of vodka. He had already set aside a couple bills in his back pocket for the man by the door.
Out he walked into the parking lot, and the man he wanted to give the dollars to wasn’t there. Wow, it was like Lew had found two dollars in his pocket. He recoiled back in the store. There was a lottery vending machine. It beckoned. The funny thing is Lew never played the lottery. On a whim he said, “If there’s a two kopek ticket, I’ll buy it.” He noted that all the lottery tickets were selling for upwards of three kopeks these days, and cynically noted that all the suckers who bought lottery tickets must look at it as an investment: in luck.
His eye fell on a scratcher dubbed “Spare Change.” That had to be a winner.
Lew pressed button, and out the virgin scratcher came. He immediately set to scraping away with the rim of a Lincoln penny, revealing esoteric markings below. He deferred to the check-out girl to see if he had a winner. Lew walked out of Yucca market with a jaunt in his step, $50 richer.
The man was back. He was standing in his usual place. “Spare change?” he said automatically, eyes not meeting Lew’s, not even displaying the least expectation that Lew would give. Lew kept on walking, playing the role assigned by the man. Hey, that guy had had his chance and he wandered off. Lew got back into his car, the cad, the jerk, the asshole, and he felt good about it.
Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection, “The Havana Brotherhood: Tales from South of the Border.”