A thought for the penny

Standing at the supermarket checkout stand, my great-uncle noticed that his tab had come to $19.99. He handed over a twenty-dollar bill – the cash register opened and closed – and then the female clerk just stood and looked at him.

“Will there be anything else?” she finally said.

“Yes,” Great-uncle replied. “I believe I have some change coming.”

The clerk, with eyes rolling like a pair of marbles, opened the register and produced a penny – which she deposited into my great-uncle’s timeworn, outstretched hand. He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

That incident happened perhaps 50 years ago, but I still remember it. It was a time when – at least to people like my great-uncle – a penny meant something.

In 1913, according to Time magazine, a penny had nearly 25 times the purchasing power it has today. But now it costs more than two cents to produce a penny. I was never much good at math, but that sounds like a bad deal – as if a penny saved is a deficit earned.

Earlier this month, Canada stopped circulating pennies – and there are some who think the U.S. should too. My grandma would have said, “If Canada jumps off a cliff, should the U.S.?”

When I was a kid, there were actually things you could buy for a penny – specifically bubble gum. My friends and I used to stop often at a small grocery store in our neighborhood for that very reason.

But the guy who owned the place hated kids – and resented us coming in to buy single pieces of Bazooka. So he began wrapping the gum – five pieces at a time – in scotch tape, so we’d have to pay a minimum of five cents for gum. He broke us. Look up the word “evil” in my dictionary, and you’ll see the guy’s picture.

Things these days aren’t much better for the nickel, which now costs 10 cents to make. Anybody ever notice that the nickel is twice as big as the dime? Could that possibly be the reason?

The US used to have a $100,000 bill, but stopped printing it since it was so hard to break one at Quizno’s.

If the US eventually eliminates the penny, what are we going to insert into penny loafers?

What’s to become of all those penny slot machines at the Tulalip?

What are we going to use as makeshift screwdrivers?

What will we use in the garden as cheap slug repellants? (Pennies supposedly give slugs a tiny electric shock.)

How much will we have to pay for someone’s thoughts? Seems like a nickel ought to get you five of them – but I know people with only four thoughts, max.

Every time it rains, what will it rain from Heaven?

And what will kids have to place onto railroad tracks for the purposes of flattening?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions. And even if I did, my opinion wouldn’t be worth a red quarter.