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She's Slowly Flipping Out for Quarters


SAN DIEGO — I crave quarters.

I want quarters.

I need them.

I collect them.

I horde them. They are my obsession.

Up on the top of my refrigerator sits a yellow plastic baby bottle, and in that bottle I keep quarters. Those quarters are vital to the well-being of my household. Without them my family's life would grind to a halt. To keep things running smoothly we need at least five of them every day, three for the washer and two for the dryer.

With a toddler who does not enjoy a meal unless she's wearing half of it, an infant who does not merely spit up, but spouts like a fountain, and a husband who at least twice a week drips toothpaste on his shirt or dumps a bowl of cereal in his lap after he's dressed for work, my day revolves around quarters. It is essential that I know how many of them are in the yellow bottle at any given time.

If I skipped even a day of inserting coins into those ever-hungry slots in the laundry room of our apartment complex, I would be hopelessly buried under a pile of smelly laundry. And even if I don't skip a day, for every load I finish there's at least one replacement load waiting.

Serious Mathematics

So to maintain my relationship with the washer and dryer, I am constantly thinking of quarters and how to get them.

Whenever I make a purchase, whether at 7-Eleven or a department store, I calculate how to get the most quarters in change. If the purchase is $4.26, I give the cashier $5.01. If the total is $3.45, I hand over $5.20.

My biggest source of quarters is the grocery store. But sometimes the checker balks when you write a check for $5 over the purchase and ask for the change in quarters. So I know where the quarter machines are in the neighborhood.

One is a few blocks away at a Laundromat, the other is a mile away at the coin-operated car wash. Each has its pluses and minuses as a supplier.

The biggest drawback to the Laundromat is the attendant. She insists the machines are for the exclusive use of the patrons. If you come within six feet of the change machine without a laundry basket she's liable to chase you out the door wielding a mop handle. If you're desperate and have enough nerve, you can sometimes make a dash for the machine when she's across the room. But as soon as the quarters hit the change receptacle you have to run for the door because her ears are tuned for the metallic clatter that accompanies the payoff.

The coin-operated car wash is another story. It has no attendants, aggressive or otherwise. The main obstacle here is the temperamental machine. It's spoiled rotten. It must have nice new bills, no ragged corners or crumpled edges. Sometimes you can fool it if you smooth out the wrinkles and insert the bill very slowly, but the machine can also get the last laugh and hand over only three quarteres. It charges a percentage for the indignity of handling soiled bills.

Forget the Bank

Then there's a trip to the bank. Of course, that's the logical place to get change. But the drive-up window won't send any rolled coins down the chute, and who wants to wait in a 20-minute line for a few dollars change? I won't even talk about the waiting time if you walk in.

Even when I manage to keep an ample supply in my bottle on top of the refrigerator, there is always the possibility of a raid. When this occurred on a recent morning, it threatened to harm my marriage.

After spraying the laundry with pre-wash and measuring out the soap, I discovered there were only three quarters in the bottle, not the five I had counted the night before.

"Where are my quarters?" I screamed in the receiver when my husband answered the phone at work.

"Well, I, uh," he stammered.

"How could you?" I wailed. "I need five quarters for a load."

"Well, I'm playing tennis this afternoon and I didn't have any money on me so I grabbed a couple to get a Coke with when I finish playing."

"A Coke!" I howled on the edge of hysteria. "Next time take the check book. You're so thoughtless. I needed those quarters."

I slammed the phone down and fumed all day. My mind filled with pictures of Coke cans every time I passed the laundry basket. Spending quarters, my quarters, on a Coke. I never expected that type of betrayal.

When my husband walked in the door that evening I was seriously considering not speaking to him.

"I have something for you," he said as he took off his jacket.

"What?" I sniffed. Inwardly I discarded the silence campaign. He had probably brought home two quarters.


He held out a roll of them.

Before I went to bed that night, I took my bottle off the refrigerator, peered into the top and gave it a shake. My craving would be satisfied for a week.

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