We’ve been phasing out pennies for quite a while now, the pretty ones and the dull ones, emptying pockets, purses and piggy banks. Cashiers no longer sheepishly hand over three or four into the hands of sighing customers. Gone are the Have a penny? Give a penny. Need a penny? Take a penny. containers where we pooled our resources with strangers to avoid inconveniencing those in queue behind us.
It’s an efficiency, for certain, ridding ourselves of those cumbersome coins that cost too much to mint. Instead, we have an abundance of bright and shiny nickels to create a more satisfying plink into tips jars, their actual consequence disguised by volume in a deep sea of bulky silver.
Our rounding up and down for cash transactions is slowly but surely influencing other areas, too. Retailers are overhauling pricing strategies, because ending with an eight or a nine to evoke the sense of a bargain is passé in our penniless society. Things are mostly rounded up, of course, and not just for cash transactions. I pay exactly $2.00 for a certain kind of coffee in a certain size of cup, regardless of whether the transaction occurs by cash, credit, debit, gift card or e-card. It used to be nifty when that happened “by surprise” at the till – when the all-in price was an even dollar amount. Now it means I’m paying more. And I’m paying more attention as well.
On another score, math homework about counting and currency has yet to catch up. Sketches of pennies still abound in exercise hand-outs representing the ones. “Sweetheart, that’s a penny. It equals one cent. Yes, they still exist but we don’t really use them anymore. This exercise must be from an old textbook.”
Oh, I know, it’s just a penny, right? I admit that I’ve regarded them with disdain, too. But I miss them just a little, for their metaphorical and poetic value, if nothing else. They used to buy someone’s innermost thoughts, rained down from heaven, and brought good luck when you happened upon them. These things were worth something in terms of sensibility, if not cents ability.
You can still rub two Canadian pennies together if you can find them, perhaps at the back corner of the kitchen utility drawer with the rubber bands and transparent tape. Their presence, though fading, is actually less tarnished in memory because of the sentimental yearning for a time when a handful of pennies actually bought something. If I find a penny on the sidewalk now, you bet your bottom dollar that I pick it up. There’s still a bit of magic in the whimsy of a wish – the copper-hued, tactile promise of a better day.