In for a groszy, in for a zloty

Until fairly recently, I’d been a letter writer my whole life.

When I say “my whole life,” that’s not an exaggeration. In grade school I had pen pals, and as soon as I learned to print, I wrote thank-you notes. Granted, the thank-you notes were written under both duress and my mother’s gimlet gaze, but write them I did.

Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, since most of my friends lived elsewhere and phone calls were prohibitively expensive, I kept writing letters. And I continued writing them for decades, to the tune of four or five a week, receiving as many in return.

But thanks to all the advances in civilization, letter writing has become as quaint and outdated as pince nez and pocket watches. Now I’m lucky if I write or receive a letter a month.

I admit it’s my choice. If I wanted to join the 21st century and the cyber-stoned, I could get a modern phone with all the bells and whistles and master the fine art of texting. And then what? Then I’d have the dubious pleasure of getting upward of 100 non-literate daily blips masquerading as actual messages.

Or I could go whole hog and get into Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. Then I could follow the lives of celebrities I don’t care about or see pics of my friends’ suppers and hernia scars.

Some fast food for thought: Americans average 94 texts a day, almost 3,000 a month. But, still, li’l ole Luddite that I am, I’d rather get one letter a week.

The PO in the GOD

Back when letter writing was our primary form of communication, the post office was a hubbub of town activity. People were in and out of it all the time, and I was one of them. As a kid, I dropped off letters — both mine and my mother’s (she also was a fiendish letter writer) — and got to chat with someone or other.

Plus, back then there was a special PO entertainment — the wanted posters. One bunch was in a showcase on the wall; a whole lot more were in a ring binder on the table. Heady amusement for a little hick like me, checking out American’s most wanted, and least loved.

But my schadenfreude aside, the focal point of the PO was the counter people. They were always friendly and helpful, and had mastered the art of a hurried chat. The one I best remember from the Good Old Days is Del Oldfield. Del had bright blue eyes that always had a mischievous sparkle, as if he knew some secret you’d never find out. Of course I remember him best because I liked him the most.

I still go in the post office several times a week to buy stamps, even though I rarely buy more than one at a time.

Why don’t I buy a book of stamps, like everyone else? Simple: If I did that, I’d miss a bunch of visits with the counter people. It’s the same reason I don’t bank online — I like dealing with people a helluva lot more than dealing with computers.

Sure, my interactions with the counter peeps are mundane and trivial, but still they offer the possibility of an exceptional experience — a good one. The only exceptional experiences I’ve ever had with computers is when they get bollixed up … which is never good.

And speaking of an exceptional experience in the PO, I had one earlier in the week, with Matt at the counter.

Not worth a plug …

I’ve known Matt for several years and have always found him fun to talk with. He’s upbeat, has a great sense of humor and a first-class mind. Most of our interactions are of the “Hey, how ya doin’? Fine thanks, and you?” variety, which while lacking any impact or import are still a great improvement over tapping on a keyboard. But this week, while I can’t say our interaction was important, it was fun.

It started as it almost always does.

First we exchanged greetings.

Then we asked how each other was doing.

Then I cut to the chase.

“One of your finest stamps,” I said.

He handed me the stamp; I handed him two quarters and a dime and waited patiently for my change. Good thing I did, because I wasn’t going to get any change.

“This isn’t a dime,” he said, holding up my dime.

“Whattaya mean it’s not a dime?” I said.

“I mean,” he repeated slowly, as if dealing with a dense little kid, “it’s … not … a … dime.”

“So if it’s not a dime, what is it?” I asked.

“Dipped if I know,” he said.

I took the coin back and looked at it. He was right — it was NOT a dime. It was the color and same size as a dime, but that was it. On one side was an eagle, with lettering surrounding it. I looked closely and saw one of the words was “Polska.”

“It’s Polish,” I said, handing it to him.

He looked at that side, then the other.

“It says 20 something,” he said.

“Twenty something?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, and spelled out the other word: “G-R-O-S-Z-Y.”

“How much is that?” I asked.

“Let’s find out,” he said, grabbing his phone.

A tap here and a swipe there, and he had the answer.

“OK,” he said. “Their main currency unit is a zloty, and there are a hundred groszy in a zloty.”

“And how much is a zloty worth in American money?”

“Lessee,” he said, tapping some more. “Um … says here a zloty is worth 25 cents, American.”

“So,” I said, demonstrating my lightning calculation skills, “if there’s a hundred groszy in a zloty and a zloty is worth two bits, then my 20 groszy piece is worth … um … ah … ur … one-fifth of a zloty … or five into –“

“– five cents,” he interrupted.

“Yeah, five cents,” I said. “I was just about to say that.”

He gave me his Cheshire cat smile and was nice enough not make any comment, especially one about my calculation skills.

I then gave him a real dime, he gave me a real U.S. nickel, and we said our goodbyes, thus ending that chapter of Post Office Memories.

And that was my big adventure for the week.

I realize many people wouldn’t think that was any kind of adventure, let alone a big one, and maybe it wasn’t.

But I’ll say this much: Regardless of what label you put on it, I sure got my 20 groszy worth.