Roll of Quarters

Fresh off a divorce, I moved into a one bedroom apartment near downtown Seattle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the spring of 1995. My possessions included an aging computer, an old Aztec patterned couch, and a calico cat with a bad attitude.

My post-college life wasn’t on the trajectory I had anticipated.

Finances were tight, and I was beginning to understand the cost of living in Seattle was a lot higher than Rock Springs, Wyoming, where I’d moved from a year earlier. I’d recently taken a job with an internet service provider, and I was learning skills that would pay dividends much later. But I didn’t make a lot of money, and those last few days before payday were rough.

My apartment was small. It wasn’t particularly modern, but it was clean and well maintained. And best of all, it was free because each month I took deposited checks from the 19 other tenants and occasionally showed apartments to potential renters on the weekends.

Near the end of each month, a maintenance man would show up and make sure the two washers and two dryers in the tiny laundry room were working properly. He also dropped two rolls of quarters through my office letter box. The first time he did this, he included a note detailing how the quarters could be used for refunds if a tenant had a problem with a machine. Otherwise, I could keep them.

What the maintenance man probably didn’t realize was that $20 worth of quarters often was enough to cover food for a week or more until my next paycheck arrived. When I’d open my office door to retrieve the rent checks at the end of each month, it felt like Christmas seeing two rolls on the dingy orange carpet. That $20 felt like $200.

Even today, when I hold a stack or roll of quarters I’m reminded of that incredibly kind gesture from a man I might have seen three times in the four years I lived in that apartment.