This happened in South Beach Miami a few days ago. I was standing on SW 8th Street just across from the Little Havana Cigar Factory waiting for the 208 bus when a young woman walked up and asked if I had 5 cents. (5 cents! Not a dollar. Not spare change. But 5 cents!)  She was clutching a dollar bill in one hand and her handbag in the other.

I said, ‘I think so’ as I fished around in my pocket before eventually dredging up a nickel. When I handed it to her she smiled warmly and by way of saying thanks gave me a hearty, ‘God bless you’ and then wandered down the street. As I watched her walk away I thought, ‘I think he just did’.

I transferred to the 120 bus at Government Center for a ride back out to South Beach. I dropped off my cigars, changed into a pair of swim shorts, slapped on some sunscreen before heading across the street for my last walk on the beach before returning to Mexico in the morning.

As I was heading up the beach I got to thinking about that 5 cents. It occurred to me that there were two different and meaningful approaches to trying to understand the significance of that nickel.

Oh and don’t kid yourself; that paltry sum of 5 cents was highly significant. Just think about it and ask yourself, ‘Why did she need it’? Sales tax in Florida is 7%. And what can you possibly buy with a $1.05 (or $1.07) anyway? Parking meter? Don’t think so. And she had to have had a debit card. I’ve watched people here on this trip make the most trivial of purchases with plastic. So why did she need the 5 cents?
I can tell you for sure that I certainly don’t know.

One way for me to think about that nickel was from the slightly selfish and materialistic perspective inasmuch as it was without a doubt the best nickel I ever spent in my life. Think about it; God’s blessing for a nickel.

And another way to look at it was to think how marvelous it was that such a tiny sum could make someone happy.
We have all known or heard tales about how some of her sisters while operating in the guise of titty dancers, whores, ex-wives or snooty wait-staff have been positively contemptuous over much greater sums.

My mind teased over this nickel for the entire hour I was on the beach. And while I was walking I suddenly remembered another nickel from 40 years that I tried to borrow from my buddy Behan. It was an easy memory because it is singularly my favorite cheap bastard story of all time.

The memory was spookily coincidental in that it took place on a beach just few miles north of where I was walking at that moment. And for all I knew, that winter day back in ’74 could have been January 28th just like this one. And the time could have been 1:06 pm; just like today.

The cheap bastard story goes like this: Behan and I are in S. Florida in a convenience store. I ask him to lend me 5 cents so I could buy a pack of smokes. He asks me why I need 5 cents. I said because otherwise I’d have to break a five. He looked at me with a very straight face and said, ‘You’re going to have to (break it) sooner or later’.