Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Coin Toss

There’s a scene in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, one my favorite holiday movies, where Magoo, portraying Ebenezer Scrooge, sings as he greedily counts his coins.

“Ringle, Ringle, coins when they jingle,” he goes, while Bob Crachit freezes his tuchas off in the next room, “make such a lovely sound.”

I’ve recently embarked on a mission to clean up all loose change in my house and I have to say that the sound of all that jingling hasn’t been lovely at all.

There are pennies all over the place. They’re in plastic soup containers, glass jars, any kind of canister that can possibly hold pennies…holds pennies.

Part of the problem stems from the dark days of coinage, when banks refused to take your change unless you put it all in those awful paper wrappers.

Nobody wanted to sit down for hours at a time, counting the pennies, then losing count and having to start all over again. So the pennies piled higher and deeper.

I think that’s why pirates buried their treasure. I can't see Long John Silver trying to put all those gold doubloons into paper wrappers. Arrh, Jim Boy, bury the booty and let some other schmuck deal with it.

And they’re just pennies after all. It’s not like they’re really worth anything. When I was a kid if someone stooped so low as to pick up a penny, he was quickly branded a “brown bender” and mocked without mercy.

I did a newspaper story several years ago about a bank in Connecticut that decided to waive the wrapper rule and take the coins straight up.

The place was quickly overrun by every brown bender in a three-state radius. The bank's president called me to thank me for the publicity, but added that “you’re killing me with kindness!”

They pulled in enough pennies to fill an armored car, which swayed from side to side as it drove away from the bank.

But we’re in the 21st Century now; banks don’t need wrapped coins, so my girlfriend advised me to get my tail up to the nearest place with a counting machine.

My first attempt was a bust. I had decided to wash all those dusty old pennies (yeah, I know, money laundering, ha, ha, give it a rest) but one of the suits at the bank told me that wet coins would kill the machine. They want dirty money?

So I trudged home with nothing to show for my efforts except severe case of lumbago.

Take two. I took the bus this time and kept my money dry. One bank’s coin machine has this stupid little character called—are you ready?—Penny Arcade, who guides you through the coin dump in a squeaky rodent voice.

“Boy, you sure have a lot of coins,” the pre-adolescent android said, stating the excruciatingly obvious.

I finally got the first batch of coins cashed in and then hauled out the next one. I went to a different bank this time, which was closer, thank God, and had a counting machine that didn’t talk.

I joked to myself that I’d probably break the machine with all these damn coins. And that’s exactly what happened.

Halfway through feeding the machine my pennies, the little conveyor belt stopped dead and the screen called out for help. I had killed Penny Arcade’s silent cousin.

As I waited for the tellers to fix the machine, I looked at blown-up photos of old Bay Ridge that the bank had put on the walls.

It’s hard to tell when exactly the pictures were taken, but it clearly wasn't Christmas time since people were in their shirtsleeves. You can see the Alpine Theater’s marquee—back when it was just one theater--advertising a Blondie movie from 1946.

Trolley tracks are also visible, so we’re talking about a time when you can actually buy something with pennies. My mother always said how much she loved the trolley, how it was so roomy and comfortable, and how angry she was when they were replaced by buses.

A bank staffer got the coin machine up and running and I finished off the count. I came home satisfied that the house was now penny free.

Then I walked into the dining room and saw a ceramic figure of the Little Girl with the Curl, which my mother had made years ago. The top is bowl-shaped so it can hold fruit or little doodads or, in this case, a hell of a lot of pennies.

Where’s Mr. Magoo when you need him?

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