When I was a kid my mom used to put two quarters in my lunch box for the snack bar. One day when lunch hour rolled around my money was missing.
Years later, I’m still missing quarters.
In the newspaper business we track our papers from the time they get off the press. We know how many go into each rack every day, how many are sold and how many were paid for. If, for example, we put 20 papers in the rack in front of The Triplicate, we should collect 40 quarters when the papers are sold out. If only 10 papers are gone, there should be $5 in quarters in that rack.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Rarely do the numbers match. Some people pay with foreign coins – last week a strange-looking coin larger than a quarter jammed the mechanism (“mech” as we call it) and we couldn’t sell any papers until we took the mech apart and got the coin out.
One Saturday I was at the Farmers Market giving away free papers as a promotion. One woman told me she already got her free paper. “How?” I asked. She told me some kind person stuck a paper in the door of a rack so it wouldn’t close. She said it was like that most days.
Then there was the man at the post office who put in 50 cents and took out three newspapers – right in front of me. I was in my car about to leave when I saw a fellow about my age put his two coins in, grab three papers and turn to walk away. He was wearing a lanyard with keys and it fell into the machine when the door shut.
Karma, I thought.
He yanked the lanyard so hard that the rack door flew open. I got out of my car, walked right up to him and said, “You’re stealing.” He sneered at me. “Do you have any idea how hard people work to put that paper out for you?” I asked.
He complained that the rack nearly ate his lanyard. Imagine! As he got into his truck, a passerby who heard our conversation got his license plate number. The next day I filed a complaint.
Stealing is stealing, even if it’s two Triplicates valued at a dollar.
Last Wednesday I had a breakfast meeting in Brookings. As I approached the restaurant two couples were blocking the entrance as they bent over to read a headline in the Oregonian about the attempted kidnapping of Gert Boyle, the 86-year old chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear. “Oh, I want to read that,” I said. “Gert is a friend of a friend.”
The two women opened their purses and the men dug into their pockets looking for change. I put my hand in my small, over-stuffed purse, trying to feel for quarters. What happened next happened fast. One of the women put her quarters in the rack, opened the door and took out two newspapers. As she scooped out the papers, she handed one to me.
“Oh, no, I can’t take this,” I said, holding the stolen property like a hot potato.
“It’s OK,” she said, “It’s only a newspaper. They have lots of them. Besides at this price, it’s highway robbery.”
I stood there in disbelief. I still can’t believe it. I found three quarters in my purse and put them in the rack. I still owe the Oregonian 75 cents and I plan to pay it the next time I’m in Brookings. It’s the right thing to do.