You’ve heard it said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Well, that’s not the case anymore, not in this day and age when a red cent ain’t worth the holes in Swiss cheese. In fact, if you look closely enough, you’ll find these coppers strewn about places like a parking lot without anyone having the slightest notion of stooping down and retrieving them.
The reason why my youngest son has a few extra coins in his bank is because he won’t pass one by without taking action and has handed that notion down to his four children. Even the 2-year-old has enough “sense” to gather “cents” when opportunity permits.
The other day, I went to the paint store and fetched $19.99 in merchandise. The guy behind the counter said, “That just about takes care of that twenty dollar bill.”
He rang up the amount and neglected to give me back the penny change. I brought the oversight to his attention.
“Am I getting any change back?” I asked him.
“You’re right,” he replied. “I didn’t think you wanted the penny. Most people couldn’t care less.”
“Well, I’m not like most people, thank you.”
He took a copper coin out of the register and handed it over. I took the penny and inserted it into a tray he had on the counter. The sign made me smile.
“Give a penny. Take a penny.”
It was empty. My guess is that he took all the remnant coins in that dish and credited his own account. Well, it left me with an impression — a bad one at that. I found the whole act insolent. About the only thing that came out of it was the idea for this column, which isn’t a bad compromise.
I scurried out of the store and was about to get into my car when a book store caught my eye. I went inside to do a little browsing and picked up two Neil Young CDs (I really like this guy) and a Robert Fulghum book. He’s also a favorite.
What are the chances? The purchase came to $9.99 and I waited for my penny change. The same scenario occurred. I never got it back. Just as I was about to remind the clerk about his short-coming, he proceeded to tell me how bad business was in this electronic age when people are ordering and reading books online. Maybe that’s why he kept my penny.
Years ago — need I remind you — a penny could buy you a nice chunk of candy. The copper coins helped fill a bank and gave you some security. You never learned to grow penniless. You weighed yourself at a machine for one cent — and got a fortune in return. We fed them into parking meters and turned them into good luck charms.
The penny arcades did a bustling business. You could feed them into pin ball machines and get the Lord’s Prayer impressed on a coin. It took care of your sales tax which, I believe, was devised to prevent the penny from becoming obsolete. It still comes in handy for a person’s thoughts.
One of my favorite songs growing up was, “Pennies from Heaven.”
Nobody sings it better than Louie Armstrong. It goes like this. “Every time it rains, it rains, pennies from heaven …”
At the end of a day, all my spare change goes into a large plastic container. When the grandchildren pay me a visit, the first priority is to go into the closet and play the money game.
There’s a fistful of change for anybody that’s been good. Nobody’s ever naughty unless an argument erupts as to who gets more quarters over the pennies. Then the place turns into a jungle.
I dated a girl once whose name was Penelope. I called her Penny. She was very valuable to me as a friend. Penny sat in front of me in a math class. She was a whiz at geometry and more than once, she helped me with homework and exams. I peeked over her shoulder when the teacher wasn’t looking.
Her support led to a passing grade, for which I was indebted. Penny was worth a million. I treated her to burgers and fries at my dad’s luncheonette and we remained friends through high school. She lived up to her name. You never caught her not wearing her penny loafers.
People have little regard anymore for copper cents. They’ll snub them at the coffee shop and turn a blind eye to them on the pavement. They’ll leave them behind in a bank. One day, they will become as extinct as dinosaurs.
Gotta run! They’re having a one-cent sale down the street and I don’t want to miss it.
Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Eagle-Tribune. He contributes this regular column.