No Mormon history content here. Just a little personal history.
BCC’s sidebar links to a Yahoo news report about three incidents (in Utah, Maryland, and New Jersey) where people caused a ruckus by attempting to pay debts entirely in pennies or other small change. In the Utah case, a Vernal man was charged with a misdemeanor for paying a $25 bill with 2500 pennies, because, evidently, the office staff to which he was paying the bill was “alarmed” and “upset.” The man left the office, but the police actually tracked him down and charged him with disorderly conduct. The assistant police chief asserts that the man’s actions served “no legitimate purpose.”
Sheesh. It isn’t often that I outperform anybody in the diplomacy department, but the Vernal business and their police department could take lessons from me this time.
About 25 years ago, I was the entire office staff for an American Fork attorney. One day a very angry young man stormed into the office with a large bag of coins and small bills. He was there, he said, to pay an unjust bill – hundreds of dollars of legal fees awarded by the court to my employer, the divorce lawyer for this young man’s ex-wife. He dumped the coins on my desk in much the same manner, apparently, as the Vernal man did recently in a medical clinic there. Ours was a much larger bill and must have made a much greater mess as coins spilled onto the floor.
The young man dared me to refuse his payment. I smiled and acknowledged that the coins were legal tender, and I would be happy to write him a receipt. I filled out a receipt for $27 and handed it to him.
He exploded when he saw it. “There’s $560 [or whatever it was] there!” he protested.
I smiled apologetically and said I wasn’t very good at estimations. “It looks like about $27 to me. If there’s more here than that, you’ll have to show me by counting it.”
He demanded that I count it. I apologized again and said that I couldn’t do that, but I’d be glad to watch him do it, and even produced some plastic cups to hold the counted coins. I repeated that I was happy to accept his coins as payment, but that I would have to make up the difference to my boss if there wasn’t as much money there as the man said there was.
Angrily he began sliding coins into the cups and counting. He was upset, and his jerky, angry motions sent more coins rolling across the floor. “… 75, 80, 90, $1 …” he spit out.
“Oops!” I said, again very apologetically (I can be very meek and humble when I’m not actually at fault for anything). “I think you counted that nickel as a quarter. Sorry, but you’ll have to start again.” He dumped out the coins and started again.
We went through that routine two or three times, with me being as polite and sympathetic as anybody could wish, as I humbly apologized for my failure to keep up with him.
Finally he stopped and looked at me. “You aren’t going to let me get even with my ex-wife by doing this to you, are you?” he said.
“Not today!” I grinned.
His shoulders sagged, then he returned my grin and began to pick up coins from the floor and to organize it all into piles for systematic counting. I pitched in at that point and helped. We counted for a while, until both of us were laughing at the absurdity of it all. I asked him if the full amount was really there; he said it was; and I wrote out a receipt for the full, uncounted amount. He shook my hand and left, in a much better mood than when he entered.
When my employer came back to the office and I showed him that pile of coins and small bills, he shook his head. He fished out a little of the paper money, then said it was too much trouble to roll the rest of it for deposit in the bank and told me to just take it home with me. I happily complied.
The staff of the Vernal clinic was silly and unimaginative in the way they handled their incident. The Vernal Police Department wasted their time tracking down a man who had really done nothing more than raise his voice and scatter some coins around an office, and squandered the resources of the court that will have to deal with the citation they issued.
There are better ways to deal with upset people. I mean, it’s not like somebody said something stupid in an online discussion, is it? Now that’s serious!