Beating The Bell Ringers

Man, the holidays are stressful. It’s all because of the Salvation Army bell ringers. You know who I’m talking about – those folks waiting in ambush outside stores this time of year, the ones with the big red kettles who wear aprons and ring bells and wish you a “Merry Christmas” when you’re coming and going. Let me make something clear: I want to help them out. Most years, I contribute spare change, or maybe a dollar or two, whenever I pass by. It’s for a great cause, and besides, charity is good for the soul. But being unemployed, money is tight this year, so I can’t afford to give every time. I feel guilty passing by them without dropping something into the pot, though. Fortunately, after much thought, I hit upon the perfect solution to this little holiday dilemma: I’d simply sneak by undetected.

Ho-ho-hope you don't catch me sneaking by! (Image courtesy of

Only, you know what? That’s damn near impossible to do. Those guys (and gals) don’t miss a beat. I’ve tried every trick in the book – using the door farthest from wherever they are standing; timing my entrance or exit to coincide with a crowd of folks coming or going; pretending to be with somebody who has just dropped change in the bucket; telling them “I’ll give on the way out” when I’m coming in and “I gave on the way in” when I’m coming out; even – I’m ashamed to admit – conjuring up a fake conversation on my cell phone, preferably one in which I am receiving really bad news. The more dramatic my reaction, the better. I’ll be like, “She what?! How horrible! Is she going to be okay?” I have no idea who the phony “she” is. Probably an aunt – not that it matters. If I’m feeling especially creative I’ll add something like “What time are visiting hours?” or “Will it be a closed-casket service?” Nobody wants to hit up some poor fellow wallowing in grief for money, right?

They always catch me, though. To make matters worse, they’re super cheerful about the fact that I continually stiff them. Almost like they’re riding a sugar plum high or something. (As an aside…what on earth are sugar plums, anyway? All my life I’ve heard them associated with Christmas, and yet, I’ve never seen one for sale anywhere, and certainly haven’t ever tasted one. Are they fruit? Candy? Candied fruit? I suppose I could Google the answer easily enough, but I’m feeling lazy at the moment. So lazy I haven’t even clicked on the link above). Even when I’m practically dashing out the door because they turned in the other direction for a second, they’ll spot me just before I reach safety outside and assail me with a “Merry Christmas!”  And then, of course, I have to return the sentiment, which makes me feel about a hundred times worse since they nabbed me trying to leave without a word and pretty much called me out on the fact that I’m a cheapskate. Those guys are good. If I could, I would run out the door and into the parking lot as fast as I could. I might elude them that way, but then I’d probably end up tackled to the ground by security. Let’s face it, if you’re sprinting outside a store like there’s a tiger on your tail, it looks just a tad suspicious.

There is one final move you can make that, if executed properly, makes you look good without breaking the bank. I call it the Three Penny Fake-Out. It’s dangerous and not for the faint of heart – kind of like stepping into the lion’s den with raw meat shoved down your pants. One false step, and you’ll be eaten alive. Kids, don’t try this at home.

To pull off the Three Penny Fake-Out, you’ve got to have steady nerves and a poker face. The trick is to keep those pennies hidden in the palm of your hand by curling your fingers into a fist. Smile, make eye contact, but do not linger. The goal is to get in and out of there quickly. Wish the bell ringer happy holidays and, in one swift motion, let the pennies drop into the kettle palm down. Only the most skilled experts, those who have been practicing for years, can pull off the far trickier palm up maneuver. You’ll want to use three pennies because they sound like a lot of change falling into the bucket. Three pennies could be seven silver dollars, for all the bell ringer knows. It’s best to utilize this scheme when you’ve got somebody with change in their hands leaving the store right behind you. That way, should the bell ringer happen to empty the kettle in the next sixty seconds and discover that he’s been faked out with pennies, you can always blame the guy who followed you out.

I’m not a Grinch, I swear. I just play one on this blog.

Seriously, though, if when my novel is published and I’m a big-shot author, those three pennies in my hand really will be seven silver dollars. I promise.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

11 thoughts on “Beating The Bell Ringers

  1. Holy Moly, Mark–were you raised Catholic or Lutheran? You have issues, man…with guilt!
    (How do I know? “Hi, my name is Jane, and I was raised Lutheran…my husband was raised Catholic…yes–we feel guilt…all the time…”)

    fun post!



  2. LOVE your Three Penny Fake Out! That’s absolutely brilliant, man!

    But even more so, I love this one…….

    “I’m ashamed to admit – conjuring up a fake conversation on my cell phone, preferably one in which I am receiving really bad news. The more dramatic my reaction, the better. I’ll be like, “She what?! How horrible! Is she going to be okay?””


    I’m coming down to the finish line at work right now, and the next two days are going to be insane for me. So, I wanted to stop by to wish you a very Merry Christmas, Mark!

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog this year!



  3. LOL too funny. I guess I just ignore them and don’t create such elaborate plans…but they probably find me to be incredibly cheap! I need to give more, monetarily. I give with my time more often (ie, going to volunteer tomorrow morning at a nursing home) but I’m usually pretty cheap with my money. Maybe should work on it – either that, or master the three penny!


    1. You volunteer at a nursing home?! For crying out loud, Catherine, you can skip the Salvation Army kettle – you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a spot in the Pearly Gates!


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