RARE, but not so much as to be wholly fabulous are the coins which, as though by intent, are beneath the notice of those to whom the sums are of no great value. As a school boy, about once a week I found money in the street. Never much. To one whose allowance adds up to twelve dollars a year a penny looms large, five cents is a goodly sum and the rare dime or quarter presents vistas of sybaritic delight. Once I found a dollar. A kite (10¢) with a ball of string (also 10¢), or a reasonably good balsa-wood model airplane (25¢); the big fat jawbreakers--only slightly smaller than the inside of the entire mouth, held slightly open--are two for a penny, and do in fact last all day, considering that they have to be taken out, as offensive to the grownup eye, during class and at the dinner table. Licorice whips a penny a foot, red (still flavored with raspberry-chemical nastiness in the undreamed of future) or black (rich and succulent like hot tar), come off a big roll in lengths of edible rope, measured out on a wooden yardstick nailed to the counter. Candy bars are too extravagant, and remorse attends the nickel so easily spent and so quickly gone, a lesson in frugality not to be forgotten. Shop keepers, presiding hugely over their glass cases, jars and boxes of sugar in its many guises, generally want to see the color of your money first. Satisfied, remarkably patient, considering the complexity of the transaction and how little gain they have by it, they negotiate with one grubby, greedy fist after another.
The occasional Saturday morning at the local movie house was an exercise in juvenile chaos:-for the tenth part of a dollar, parents could unload their children from eight in the morning to twelve noon. Inside, the movie's sound could only faintly be heard over the din of hundreds of popcorn fights, shrieks and hoots. The floor was thick with spilled sweet drinks over a substrate of chewing gum and smashed candy. A horrifically violent, action-packed feature, two busy, but somehow dim and unsatisfying Republic serials, a newsreel chock full of war, murder, rapine and arson, plus a padding of at least a dozen frantic cartoons filled out the bloated fare. I have no idea how the management got the place cleaned up for the matinee.
Carved in memory, walking home from school on a brilliant fall day I found first one penny, in a few feet another, and yet another, until in the length of a city block I had picked up twenty or thirty cents. The splendor of that trail of pennies has remained bright in my mind. That miraculous leaking pocket. To continue the emotion amongst my kind I have from time to time dropped a handful of pennies behind me as I walked, one at a time, along a route that little kids take to and from school.
July 11, 1994
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