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Pennies from Hell

Veena Thomas

Cleaning out my room, I came across something innocently lying in the corner. But upon closer inspection, the small, circular object turned out not to be so innocent after all. It was a penny.

I can hear you scoff, "A penny? A penny is innocent! What has a penny ever done to you?" I could have forgiven one penny. But as I continued to clean my room, I found another one in the opposite corner.

Both were heads up, which to some people might mean good luck. But to me, there is nothing lucky about a penny. Pennies are the most useless form of currency. Even the strange and inconvenient Susan B. Anthony dollar can be forgiven because it's worth a dollar. It can buy a soda. A penny can't buy anything anymore. Even penny candy costs more than that nowadays.

I hate change in general, but pennies are the worst. I am so anxious to get rid of all of my change that I carry around some of it with me, and I attempt to pay for everything in exact change. I don't mind receiving a quarter back, but it's the pennies that irritate me.

I carry around some pennies with me, but they are harder to eliminate than other coins. If a bill comes to be $2.31, it's easy enough to hand one penny over to the cashier. This works for an extra two cents, perhaps even three. Four pennies becomes a little trickier. If I need to pay $2.39, either I can dig out nine pennies and risk incurring the wrath of both the cashier and the people in line behind me, or I can swallow my pride, spend four dimes, get one penny back, and appease everyone but myself.

I didn't realize how obsessed I was over eliminating spare change until I went to a store with my sister. We waited in line together as she stood there with a pile of spare change in her hand. The bill required thirty-six cents in change, which I noticed she could easily pay exactly with what she had in her hand. But instead, she handed over two quarters to the cashier, and received a dime and four pennies back. Four pennies? Oh, no!

As we left the store I realized that I was practically shaking. She didn't have to get those pennies! She could have gotten rid of a penny, instead of acquiring more. I tried to explain this to her. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was insane.

When I was younger and the world seemed brighter, I believed in the power of a lucky penny, especially one found heads up. If I saw a penny on the street, I would stop and pick it up, marveling that I would have good luck for the day. Then I grew up and became bitter and cynical. I realized that all the pennies I had picked up were still sitting in my change jar. And good luck? I wasn't going to get good luck from a piece of metal. And why were all those pennies on the street anyway? No one ever sees a ten dollar bill lying around in the street. Just pennies.

Those take-a-penny-leave-a-penny jars are a good idea for some, but I don't like them either. I suppose they provide a way for me to get rid of the pennies I receive in change by leaving them in the jar. But in addition to being obsessive-compulsive, I'm also cheap. Why should I give away my hard-earned penny just so a total stranger can take it? I might hate my penny, but it's still mine.

I vividly recall my proudest penny moment. It was a seemingly ordinary afternoon in January when I headed to the Coop. After presenting my purchases to the cashier, she told me the total came to be $12.13. I immediately found the twelve dollars, but then said the words that I say so often, the words that every cashier dreads: "Let me see if I have some change." There was no one in line behind me. I fished around in my wallet, in my backpack, and in my spare change pouch before finally emerging triumphant, clutching thirteen pennies in my fist. I proudly handed them to the cashier, who didn't seem to care. I guess some people just don't understand these things.