Questioning the Ethics of Small Change

A coffee shop is primarily empty at 8:27am on a Wednesday morning. It’s hump day, the first truly cold morning since the 2007-2008 school year has begun and the world is spinning around according to schedule. An old man is behind the counter, he’s poured my drink and I’ve been enjoying it for awhile. He’s a bit of a crabby old coot, prone to mood swings and I’ve heard he likes to pretend like he was in ‘Nam. I ask him for a coffee with some room for skim milk, and he obliges by stopping the pour a quarter inch short and handing me the gallon of skim. I pour it, to his reply “I’m glad you did that and not me.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’m not exactly concerned either as I’m used to his unusual attitude.

Several minutes later a man comes in, squared jaw, blue shirt, black slacks, maroon tie. He’s ordering a coffee for himself, the total comes out to $1.26 or something similar, an amount requiring a penny. The customer reaches into the tip jar on the corner and I can hear the server behind the counter mutter something.

“You’re upset because I took a penny out of your tip jar?” A scour falls over the customer’s face and his voice tones sarcastic. The guy behind the counter mumbles something else, laughs to himself in the most patronizing way he can (to whom he’s patronizing isn’t quite certain.) “Here, here’s a nickel,” the customer retorts, takes his drink and sits himself down.

Who was wrong in this situation?

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