Love is like a penny
If you give it away
You give it away
You give it away
Love is like a penny
If you give it away
It comes right back to you.

It's just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you don't have any.
Roll it up,
Hold it up,
Or give it away,
It comes right back to you.

The above is a song from my childhood. At first it seems like it's about the virtues of being free with one's love. I have just learned, with Life as my ever-vigilant teacher, that it is really about detachment.

Money has been woefully tight lately. I do not say that lightly. The last three paychecks have not been enough to hold me over until the next. I always seem to come up about 4 days to a week short of funds, wondering exactly how I'm going to afford to eat, put gas in my car or pay rent. But somehow, in the most amazing ways, things come up where money seems to fall in my lap. Of course, I have to earn the extra dough (I do have my principles), but the odd jobs are relatively easy and actually involved things I'm good at.

The paycheck before last it was a minor website update ($75) that swayed the tide. Last paycheck it was clearing a computer virus off a friend's system ($50). Both instances were just enough money to keep me afloat until the next paycheck came along.

This morning, at about 3:30 AM, I stopped by an ATM and learned that my bank account was once again empty- and I had only $5 on me, which was just enough to buy me breakfast, get me a pack of smokes and buy me a 99-cent Big'N'Tasty from McDonalds. By the time I got off work tonight, I had 10 cents in my pocket and I was curious as to how I was going to eat until Wednesday- nevermind cigarettes. For some reason, though, I wasn't worried... just curious. I had divested myself of all concern. Something would come up. Somehow.

So, I clocked out of work and decided to go to the cafe and visit with my friends, whom I haven't seen in a few days. When I got there and meandered into the smoking room, I saw that someone had left behind today's newspaper. The crossword was untouched as well as the CryptoQuote. It's the small pleasures in life that keep us going. I strolled up to the bar, ready to ask if I could open a tab until Wednesday. Ginny, the bartender, didn't look happy. As a matter of fact, she looked downright sullen. I'm a regular there. I see these people almost every day. I know them all by name and consider them to be friends, and make no mistake, we hang out and chat from time to time, so the feeling is mutual. "What's wrong, Ginny?" I asked.

Her face soured. "It's going to be hell night at the cafe. I just got word that our dishwasher won't be coming in, one of our cooks is sick, our busser just sliced her finger to the bone and is limited in what she can do, I just sent the other bartender home because she's worked 40 hours in three days... and it's a Saturday. It's going to suck ass."

I took exactly five seconds to think about it. These people have helped me out in times of need more than I count. They've been accomodating, patient and kind when I needed it most. I would be remiss in my duties as an honorable man to not offer assistance. "How can I help?" I asked.

Ginny looked up at me with a glint of surprise in her eyes. "What?"

"How can I help?" I repeated. "Cafe Coco is practically my second home. You guys are always good to me and you're my friends. I don't like seeing my friends suffer a hard time if I can avoid it. You need help. What can I do?"

Cory, the busser, joined Ginny's side as she wrapped her ruinded index finger with tape. She'd heard my offer. "I think I can do some bussing," she told Ginny, "but washing dishes is impossible with my finger like this. I'm afraid to get it wet."

"Say no more," I told them. "And if you need help bussing tables, lemme know." I took off my trench coat and sweater. I was now clad in my cargo pants and a tank top, ready to work. I had worked all day last night until 3 AM and all day today. My feet were killing me and I was tired. But I paid it no mind. After all, I would have spent the next few hours at the cafe anyway. The only difference now would be that I was going to be productive at the cafe. Get the ol' blood pumping.

Ginny poured me a cup of coffee and handed it to me. "On the house," she said. "You look tired as hell. Drink up. When you're done, I'll give you the grand tour of the kitchen and dishwashing area. Thank you, Jay."

I accepted the free cup o' joe and smiled. "It's all about the karma, baby." I went back to the smoking room, dithered with the unused crossword I had found just minutes before, completed it and finished the coffee. When I was done, I went back to the bar and reported for duty. "Let's do this."

It was bound to happen, really. I mean, after hanging out there for nearly 5 years, it would just have to come up that I would throw in my lot and help out. It's, like, the way things go. When you fit in at a place, it's just normal that you should rise to the occasion from time to time. So, I went back, filled the sinks and began washing. I started at 7:30 PM. I got done with the first round of dishes (of which there were a lot) at around 9. Gleb, the Russian immigrant who washes dishes during the week, came in just to hang about. He poked his head into the washing area, recognized me and said in a thick Russian accent and broken English, "You not work here. You wash? For why?"

I smiled. "The cafe is short staffed. I'm helping out."

This seemed to surprise him to no end. "You pay?" I took it to mean, "Are you getting paid?"

I thought about it a bit. "You know, that never came up. I didn't ask. If I do, then great. If not," I shrugged, "no big deal."

Gleb didn't miss a beat. "I help. I wash. You bus. Da?"

I nodded and smiled. "Spasebah." It's one of the few Russian words I know. And handed the dishes over to him gladly. In all honesty, I hate doing dishes. But I will do them in a heartbeat if it means that I can be of service to my friends.

I wound up bussing by myself until 11:30 and Cory ran orders. Bussing is something I know how to do very well, having done it for a few months at TGI Fridays. It was no sweat at all. I got to sit on the stairwell and smoke cigarettes when there wasn't anything to bus and make idle banter with the other regulars.

When it was time for the shift change and all the graveyard shift crew came in, I was free to go. I took the second cup of coffee that Ginny had given me when I started (which I still hadn't finished off) and sat in the smoking room to relax my feet. A few minutes later, Ginny came up to me. "Here's $10 cash, two packs of your brand of cigarettes and twenty dollars in Chuck Bucks," she said, shoving the items into my hand. Chuck Bucks are, basically, gift certificates that can only be used at the cafe, named after the cafe's owner Chuck Cinelli. Ginny hugged me. "Thank you for all your help. You were a Godsend."

I blushed. "I really didn't do all that much," I protested. "Bussed a few tables, did a few dishes. Certainly nothing to warrant this much." I felt this to be 100% true.

Ginny shook her head adamantly. "You were the difference between having a shitty night at work and running around like crazy to catch up in comparison to having things go smoothly. You were a bigger help than you think. Thank you. You rock."

Well, what could I say to that other than, "Thank you for the compliment. If ever you need help, just lemme know. Payment isn't necessary. I am here to serve."

Ginny patted me on the shoulder and smiled sweetly. "I know. You deserve more than what I gave you, in my honest opinion, but I hope this will help you."

Then I was reminded of my financial dire straights. I used the thing that passes for a calculator in my head to tabulate just how far two packs of smokes and, effectively, $30 would carry me. Sure enough, holding out 'till Wednesday would now no longer be a problem. I could eat at the cafe and buy my coffee with the Chuck Bucks. The $10 can pay for my lunch breaks- more 99-cent meals from fast food joints, but not really any different than what I expected.

Moral of the story? I could have just gone home after work, sad and depressed over my financial woes. Instead, I chose to be amongst my friends and took the opportunity to help others selflessly- with no thought of recompense. I was detached from my situation and willing to just... let it go, and trust in that age-old mantra of the Pilgrims, "Providence will provide."

...if you give it away, it comes right back to you....