I have been reminded of some facts about paper currency lately. It’s a blend of fibers, about eighty percent cotton and twenty percent linen, with no wood pulp in it at all. It has more in common with the clothes you’re wearing then with any paper you handle today. The money will last for years and will still be legible and usable and in one piece if it accidentally stays in your jeans pocket through a wash cycle, like has happened to most people
I did not know that it is magnetic because a liquid ferrous chemical is mixed with the black ink. This is how electronic money counters work. They scan the engraving down the center of the portrait and the machine reads the signal it gives off, like a tape head reads the sounds on a music cassette. The stuff is so common it’s easy to overlook and take it for granted, but there’s a long history of its creation, attempts to counterfeit it, and making it stable so we trust it.
I’m going to be standing at a cash register most of my working day today, handling a lot of that currency, counting it back to customers, keeping it organized in the drawer. I’ll look at it with fresh eyes, always a good result. To see things afresh, make old things new.
I’ve spent the last twenty four years working in the grocery industry in various capacities and never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be here that long. Much is made of the fact that for a lot of working actors, maybe most working actors, and creative types like writers, artists, musicians, sculptors, and photographers it’s hard to make a living doing what you love. So you end up in a place like a grocery store or a restaurant waiting on tables. It’s an accepted fact of life, a cultural trope even.
Bagging groceries is also an iconic place to fall in hard times, right up there with working at McDonald’s or some other food service gig or sweeping floors. If you are familiar with the Shawshank Redemption, you’ll remember the scenes with the two felons who each got jobs upon their release bagging groceries at the Foodway. It’s portrayed as so simple that an ex-con could walk in off the street after being in jail for years and still find something to do. If jobs were states, I guess bagging groceries would be Alaska, the Last Frontier, like it says on their license plates. When I was up there I met a lot of people just like that, for whom this was the end of the road, the last shot for a misfit.
I’ve also worked with lawyers, nurses, teachers, retired cops, all kinds of people who found their way into the grocery world for all kinds of reasons. There’s nothing more iconic than going through a cash register lane. It’s a commonplace. A few minutes at most, a brief clot, an exchange of money, then whoooosh, you’re heading for the door. Just good daily work.
There may not be an AHA! for you every day or in every workout or in every recipe you try or about everything upon which you meditate and seek for meaning. Today may feel a lot like yesterday and you may not see it with fresh eyes. We could do worse than heed the words of the late Mary Oliver, who wrote that “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”