Pennies Saved


There are more than a hundred pennies crammed into a corrugated tumbler on my desk. I am not particularly interested in imbibing this elliptical manifest, but the thought of putting my money where my mouth is might allow for a strange and stomach-destroying hobby.

The pennies share this impromptu open-air housing with a few random dimes and several Canadian coins left by the person who used to live in this room. I can only assume that this ex-roommate experienced a moral dilemma similar to my own, but I’ve been too polite to ask. It’s worth pointing out that, with the present exchange rate, the Canadian dollar is worth slightly more than the American dollar. There’s no easy way to trade in this small-time currency.

My problem is hardly unique. This isn’t some drastic situation comparable to a Weimar Republic citizen rolling in a wheelbarrow of hyperinflated marks for a loaf of bread. Should I collect two or three more tumblers and bide my time, the currency, if accepted by a kind clerk, may very well depart from my hands. But I don’t wish to burden someone else with this problem. I’ve done my best to get rid of these Lincolns, offering two extra pennies on a $9.27 purchase, a gesture I’ve seen increasingly rejoined with confusion. I can’t very well put these into a tip jar or give it to someone on the streets. Beyond the insult, it presents again this needless problem of transference. I’ve tried shoving off these pennies one at a time, but prices have become more increasingly aligned with even sums.

I don’t blame designer Victor D. Brenner, who surely could not have foreseen a day when his beloved penny would be both ubiquitous and relatively useless. (Brenner, interestingly, was born in Lithuania. It was he who included the phrase IN GOD WE TRUST, which President Theodore Roosevelt believed to be in poor taste. But the penny’s religiosity was secured by William Taft, Roosevelt’s successor. It was the first coin to depict a U.S. President, replacing the Indianheads that had been in circulation for fifty years. Brenner, incidentally enough, is buried in Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens. I will make a future reconnaissance mission to determine if his considerable impact upon American life is being properly respected.)

Somehow I like the penny, perhaps due to pleasant memories of now extinct gumball machines or the contraptions that flattened a penny into an ovoid souvenir. Nostalgia is a silly reason for holding onto anything, but somehow I can’t resist. I don’t support any of the half-hearted penny abolition movements in recent years.

I regret that the pennies have accumulated, and take personal responsibility. About five years ago, I used to keep change in a small pouch within a unisex wallet. When I discovered that ATM cards, IDs, and stray bits of paper were escaping into my pocket, their journey hastened by a leather seam intended to contain, I was forced to conclude that the wallet had reached the end of its life span. I purchased a new wallet in haste, but it did not contain a pouch. I accepted this, and I began carrying change in my pockets, throwing the elliptical remainders into a porcelain mug.

This tactic proved effective for nickels, dimes, and quarters. But the pennies continued to accrue. Because there were so many pennies, it was difficult to name them, but I was impressed by the deeper grooves contained within the 1960s and 1970s pennies (although the Lincoln Memorial sometimes loses detail, even when you can make out the Lincoln Statue between the two pilasters). It became easy to line them up by year and imagine the picaresque paths that had led them to me. Some of these pennies have been puttering around longer than I have. No doubt that many who have owned these pennies have not always appreciated them, or have kept them fleetingly. Perhaps a penny might be likened to a book checked out from a library. It is a coin more public and less inclined to be picked off a sidewalk. The penny’s value is too small to be of any serious capitalist threat. Maybe they’re now meant to be revered in moderation.

Back from My Hiatus

Liz Spiers has excerpts from the new Peter Biskind book, Down and Dirty Pictures. From what I can tell, Ben Affleck tried to give Harvey Weinstein a fruit basket, with unfortunate results (“Apples! That’s bad taste. Do you know who I am? I don’t eat fucking apples. Who is this guy? I’m going to go outside and kick your fucking ass. You take your apple bitch home and fuckin’ kill him.”). (via Greencine Daily)

Dave Pelzer is now trying out the “regular guy” angle. But how regular can a guy be when he’s made as much money as Pelzer has? Pelzer’s quoted, “Everybody thinks, ‘Oooo, Dave Pelzer. Oooo, Dave Pelzer.’ That’s why I just say, ‘Just shut up and sit down.’ I’m just a regular guy trying to keep my family together. I’m just the village idiot that wrote a book.” Five now, actually, with the just-releaed Privilege of Youth. If Pelzer’s such a regular guy, if he truly is a self-proclaimed village idiot, then why do people keep buying his books? And why does he keep landing those lucrative lecturing gigs? Hey, Dave, I’ve got your “regular guy” right here. It’s called unshaven, unpublished dude, maybe collecting unemployment, having a Top Ramen fiesta.

Speaking of regular guys, the Globe has an obituary up for Samuel Albert. Albert was an insurance executive who worked long hours and raised five kids, squeezing in a poem when he could find the time.

Need an angle to pitch your project? Try the grey market. The Financial Times writes, “Eighty per cent of the country’s wealth is controlled by the over-50s but 95 per cent of adspend targets people under-50; 86 per cent of over-50s say they don’t relate to most current advertising yet, for example, 66 per cent of new cars are bought by people over-45. The over-50s in employment outspend their under-50 counterparts by 20 per cent. And over the next 20 years the over-50s market in the UK will grow by 30 per cent, while the under-50s market will shrink by 5 per cent.”

The possibilities here are limitless. We’re talking a Steely Dan reunion, a fiction market saturated by endless Anne Tyler-like variations on suburban white males descending into mid-life crisis action when their $200 fillet mignon arrives slightly undercooked, and more sex and nudity involving older people (Diane Keaton’s flash was just the tip of the iceberg). So go at it, brave new marketers! You’ve spent a small lifetime getting hep to the demands of a coddled generation just out of high school. But do you have what it takes to get acquainted with the likes of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number?”

The funny thing is that thirty years from now, people will be demanding a reunion of OutKast.