Ed Ackerman, optimist

By Ed Ackerman

June 21, 2014

“You’re such a good boy, Eddie,” I said to myself as I spotted the sign “Enter Here” and walked straight toward it.

There was not a soul in the bank but still I was going to wind my way through the Disneyworld-type maze rather than walk right up to a teller. Why? Because the the sign said to.

I smiled at the that. “They probably don’t even care,” I continued in my head, referring to the ladies at the windows. “But I do,” I added to myself, emphasis on the I.

I even had a $20 bill in my hand ready to go, not wanting to waste anyone’s time. To be honest, I expected a line at this mid-morning hour at the Nanticoke branch of this big bank.

I had run to the bank between classes at the community college to purchase two rolls of quarters. It’s something I do at the end of each semester for the final Intro to Mass Communications Class. Since the text book devotes an entire chapter to the influence of recorded music, the last class is always a version of the old TV show Name that Tune. The prize for shouting out the name of a classic rock song is 25 cents. I’ll go through all 80 quarters in the 55 minute class period. After a long semester, it’s good to send the students off with a little fun.

Quarters have become part of the professor Ed Ackerman brand, if you will. I pass them out all semester as rewards for exceptional comments in class. I cannot remember exactly when it started but it must be at least ten years ago. A student knew a little tidbit that I found impressive. Perhaps it was that Daniel Defoe, who produced the first magazine in the English language, is also the author of Robinson Crusoe. Or that Benjamin Day wrote the words “Go west, young man, go west.”

Doesn’t matter. The point is, I was so impressed, I reached into my pocket and handed the student a quarter. It took off from there. Man, did it take off.

Students often ask me how many quarters I shell out in a semester and I tell them I never stop to count because if I did, I’m afraid I’d stop. I’m sure it’s more than 300 a term and thousands since I started. But while I may not know the exact number, I do know every one was worth it. You cannot imagine what a motivator 25 cents can be.

A student once told me he was short on bus money and too proud to ask for a handout, but he wound up collecting four quarters for clever things he said in my class and that meant he didn’t have to walk home. Often I will walk past a student eating French fries and he’ll smile and say, “You bought this.” I respond, “No, you earned it.”

On their final exam I often ask students to tell me why they think I toss quarters around the room. Most just write about motivitation, but some get pretty creative. One student said I have a softball team and I toss quarters to students to see who can catch. Another student said I am a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing vending machines of the rich to give to the poor. Each of those students found a quarter taped on their exams when they got them back.

Sometimes at the bank, a teller will recognize me and comment on how another semester could not have flown by already. But not this year. This year the teller, all of perhaps 19, looked at the 20 before her, heard my request (replete with a please) and sternly asked if I had an account with the bank.

I started to explain how I do this all the time, but she cut me off. Sheepishly, I admitted I had no account but quickly added that my wife does. I didn’t go into the details, but one of the quirks, if you want to call it that, about Mary Kay and I getting married at 50 years old is that we never pooled our money. She has her bank account, I have mine.

“What’s her account number?” the young teller asked.

Of course, I had no idea.

“Then, what’s her name?”

Gulp. Another thing about getting married at 50 is that Mary Kay goes by a lot of names. She’s Mary Kay Ackerman here, Mary C. (the Kay comes from Catherine) Ackerman there, and that’s just the beginning. She can still be Mary Kay Hrab (her maiden name). Or Mary C. Hrab. Or Mary Kay Hrab-Ackerman.

I began sharing these combos with the young lady and nothing worked. They can probably hear her sighs all the way up on campus, I thought.

“Let me see if I can text her,” I finally said, feeling a drop of perspiration trickle from an arm pit.

The young lady said nothing, but as I fished in my pocket for my cell phone, in my peripheral vision I saw her take two rolls of quarters out of a drawer and slide them toward me. “Just this one time,” she hissed.

I thought about saying “on second thought, you can keep them,” but that darned good boyness kicked in and I just whispered thank you.

At home, I told the whole story to Mary Kay and added, “I’d love to write a column about it, but I know you hate me telling the public personal stuff about us.” I didn’t think she heard me, what with her boisterous laughter, but when she finally caught her breath, she said of course, she wanted me to write about it.

I should have known. Mary Kay delights in all situations in which it seems I should have been wearing a propeller hat.

Well, I said, at least as I took my quarters and headed toward the door, the young teller didn’t shout at me, “And I don’t want to see your sad, senior citizen behind in here again.”

“Maybe she didn’t shout it,” Mary Kay said, “but I bet she was thinking it.”

And she started laughing all over again.