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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Cashier

I had a few hours free on Wednesday afternoon, so I decided to go watch the 3:30 show of Boyhood at the theater around the corner.

The ticket price was $9.50. I took out a twenty and two quarters and handed them to the cashier, a short, pudgy guy in his late twenties to early thirties with a scraggy and rather inadequate beard. He opened the register and stuffed my bill into the twenty-dollar slot, and then started pulling out one-dollar bills one after another after another. 

Being a mildly obsessive-compulsive neat freak with an aversion to small changes, I had a gloomy suspicion that he was going to give my change in a fiver and six singles. "What are you doing?" I wanted to say, "Look, you've got several five-dollar bills in the slot. Just give me two fivers and a single." 

He didn't though. I watched his two fat fingers pulling out a dollar bill, crumple it into a ball in his left palm, and another one, and another, four or five times, until he finally switched to the right hand and handed me a one-dollar and two fivers. The other crumpled dollar bills stayed in his other hand. 

It was not until I sat down in the darkened theater that I realized that he was probably stealing from the cash register while I stared at his fingers --- drawing the dollar bills and crumpling them in his palm. He did it calmly and paid no attention to me whatsoever. 

Then I remembered the few years in which the green stuff passed between my own figures, first at a small independent drug store in Monterey Park, California and later at the outpatient pharmacy at Kaiser hospital in West Los Angeles. At the former, I was paid five dollars an hour sitting or standing between the low counter in the front and the high counter behind, through which the pharmacist would hand me bottles of prescription meds to give to mostly Cantonese-speaking little old patients. There wasn't any kind of security measures guarding the cash register, but then the bosses --- pharmacists and part-owners of the outfit --- were by configuration always standing behind me. The senior technician and the boss's favorite girl, Brenda, would take cash straight out of the register to buy us lunch every day. Later at Kaiser, I would run the cash register only occasionally when it was short-handed in front, as I mostly worked in the back on dispensing, as I was a licensed intern pharmacist then. Every tech was assigned a specific register on the counter with a PIN. At the end of the day anyone manning a register was required to reconcile the sales printout and the money in the register. Pharmacy interns and pharmacists shared one register, under the assumption that they were less likely to steal. Indeed during my three years of employment, the pharmacists' register never seemed to miss more than a few bucks at any given time. 

Anyway, in those years the thought of palming a few bucks here and there never crossed my mind, as far as I can remember. It's not like I have never thought of stealing in my life, but when the thought did cross my mind, it was never induced by currency. That's not because I don't like money in a general, practical sense, but rather money in itself is so impersonal and abstract --- pieces of paper or cloth --- that seeing and holding it never quite inspires a salivating desire to possess it, somehow. Its allure is one or two steps removed for the actual pleasures it promises. Impulse is not enough; one has to think and imagine. 

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