A Grain of Sand
I had been watching one of those educational programs on my TV when the daily customer walked into Mount Perry Office Supply, Inc. The program was about the universe and the many stars therein. The program made a point of saying there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the world.
I was jarred back to reality when the customer told me he only wanted one paperclip. “GOOD GRIEF!” I thought, “How does one get rich selling just one paperclip?” I pulled the single paperclip out of the box and did a mental calculation of the price I had to charge. This was ridiculous. The price came out to three-tenths of a cent.
Jokingly I said, “You owe me three-tenths of a cent plus tax.” The smile faded from my face as the customer pulled out three tax paid one-tenth-cent notes. The customer smiled politely and left me standing there wondering what the heck I was going to do with the three bits of paper.
On closer examination the bits of paper were exactly one, one thousandth of the size of a dollar bill and were indeed printed by the Mount Perry Bank and Mint. Using my magnifying glass, I found the little notes stated they could be reclaimed at any Mount Perry Bank for exactly one tenth of a tax paid cent in pure silver. Somehow I got the feeling my time might better be spent in some other endeavor.
It was a beautiful day and the sky was clear of any clouds. It would be a perfect day to go to the beach and watch the surfers manipulate their way through the huge waves that crashed continuously on the shore of Kreepon Beach. Those intrepid surfers who got past the shark feeding station were usually given a tumultuous welcome if they made it to the beach.
I knew it would be quiet at the beach and I could set my mind to the more important things in life. Thoughts of the stars in the universe kept floating in and out of my head. The question that seemed to stand out in my mind was, “Exactly how many stars were there in the universe?” There had to be some sort of answer to this.
I arrived at the beach just in time to see the world famous surfer De Howlie, from Hawaii start his first run of the day. He was perched atop a monstrous twenty-foot tall wave. He almost made it past the shark feeding station.
One day, I’m sure someone will put up a sign warning surfers of the danger of shark attack at the feeding station. Until then the beach will be a quiet peaceful place to commune with nature.
I found a nice spot where the sand looked nice and soft. I plopped myself down and removed my shoes so I could wiggle my toes in the sand. As I was so engaged, the thought of the stars in the universe returned to me. I picked up a hand full of sand and examined it carefully. There were one heck of a lot of grains of sand in my hand. I wondered how I could count them and keep track of the numbers.
Off to the left I spotted a large plastic cup and a little further out was an abandoned bucket. I had my answer. I would pick up the sand one-cup full at a time, count the grains of sand in the cup and dump the counted grains into the bucket. This was simple.
After carefully washing and drying the bucket I filled the cup with sand and began counting. I guess I had about two cups full of sand counted when someone came up to me and asked what I was doing. I lost count of the number of grains I had counted when I tried to explain what I was doing. After carefully washing and drying the bucket again, I filled the cup with sand and began counting once more.
As it began to get dark, I realized how difficult it was going to be to keep on counting grains of sand at night. I picked up the bucket of counted grains and headed for home. I’d simply remain closed tomorrow and spend the whole day at the beach counting grains of sand. Unfortunately, on the way home I once again lost track of the grains of sand in the bucket. I could see now a piece of paper and a pencil was going to be a necessity.
By the end of the third day I had counted 36,289,763 grains of sand and my bucket was full. Now a new horror manifests itself. Where was I going to put the sand from this bucket while I started counting the next bucket full of sand?
About this time a man approached me and stood admiring the small hole I had made in the beach as I scooped up the sand to count the grains. After a considerable time he said, “That’s a really neat hole you have made here. Would you mind if I dug it up and took it home with me?”
I had already made up my mind that no matter what I did with the sand in the bucket, it would eventually wind up back on the beach and get mixed with uncounted sand. I was ready to quit! “Sure.” I said, “Go ahead and dig it up. It’s all yours.” The man ran to his car and returned with a shovel.
As he dug, I dumped the sand out of my bucket and said, “You can even have my bucket to carry the hole home in.”
The man thanked me over his shoulder as he feverishly dug around the hole I had made in the sand. About the time he was ready to lift my hole in the sand out and place it in the bucket, he stepped back and took another look at his project. “WOW!” I heard him mutter, “That’s an even nicer hole. I’ll take the bigger one instead.”
Somehow, I realized this worthy individual had a greater need than mine. Content in the knowledge that I alone knew exactly how many grains of sand there were in a bucket full, I climbed into my car and made ready for the trip home. As I started my car the thought came to me, “Was it a heaping bucket full or a level bucket full of sand?”
As I pulled out of the parking lot and pointed my car toward town, I gave up on the sand idea and went back to thinking how long it would take to get rich selling one three-tenth of a cent paperclip a day. The prospect didn’t seem to be all that good either way.