Just Leave It Alone

On our anniversary a few weeks ago, we went up to Boston for brunch at the Langham Hotel. We stuffed ourselves full of rich (and expensive) food, took a quick walk through Chinatown where we bought some moon cakes, and then headed home. It was the first time we had ever left our son in someone else’s care, so we didn’t dillydally, but we enjoyed our brief outing.

We came home with some accidental mementos: dollar coins from the machine at the parking garage. When the attendant warned us that we’d get dollar coins as change, we thought they’d be Sacagaweas and were surprised to see James K. Polk instead. When the hell did Polk get a dollar coin? And why?


It seems the U.S. Mint is doing the same thing now with presidents as they did with states, but in gold-colored dollar coins rather than quarters. Polk is one of the four presidents to be honored with a coin in 2009. Who knew? You’d think I would. I am, after all, an American citizen. You’d think I’d recognize my own currency.

But apparently I don’t. The Mint has gone completely overboard. The Sac was fun. The state quarters were fun. But then there were all the new nickels. And now these presidential dollars. And don’t even get me started on the changes to the paper currency (foiling counterfeiters is a good idea, but I’m used to my cash being green, thank you very much).

“At least they haven’t changed the penny,” I thought to myself. Then, with a premonition of dread, I went to the U.S. Mint’s website and did a search on the word “penny.” Sure enough, they have new penny designs. Four of them. The first was scheduled to be released in February. I haven’t used much change lately, but it’s hard to imagine I could fail to notice the new designs for this long. I checked my change jar and Faithful Reader’s. No 2009 pennies. Another Internet search revealed that the release of the pennies was delayed. Phew! I thought for a moment that I’d completely lost touch with reality.

The cent is such a tiny monetary amount that the penny’s continued existence is slightly ridiculous. It’s probably worth less than the cost to make it, but it’s still my favorite coin. I admire Lincoln, I think copper is a pretty color, and I still follow the old saying–“See a penny. Pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.” I like the penny just as it is. I’d rather they did away with it than change the design.

When I was a kid, it was a big thrill to find a bicentennial quarter. It was special because it was the only common coin that was different. Now we have a different coin every other day. I think it shows something about our culture. We, as a society, are suffering from a form of ADHD. Everyone’s a fashionista, if not in the arena of clothing, then in the realm of books, music, television, art, crafts, or some other form of entertainment. We move from fad to fad. We crave the new and we demand variety. Stop giving it to us and we will ignore you. The Mint, it would seem, does not want to be ignored.

But money should be something solid and unchanging, something that provides a sense of security. Especially at a time like this, with the economy in ruins, I’d like be able to recognize money when I see it. Please just leave it alone.

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